This piece was originally written for the All Hallows' Moon Jumble at the LiveJournal community MetamorFic Moonfor the following prompts: Genres - Angst and Horror; Day of Discombobulation; Cauldron; and an image of a dilapidated cottage.
Many thanks to Godricgalfor cheerleading, putting up with my whinging, reassuring me about this experiment, and as always, beta reading, along with WriterMerrinfor her help in the editing department. Thanks also to GilpinandLadyBracknell for their input.
Till Human Voices Wake Us
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Coming the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wretched with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
(T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock")
"You know, dear," says Molly, as soon as The Witching Hour breaks for a commercial, flicking her wand to lower the volume on the little wireless that perches precariously on the ledge of the high, grimy sill of a kitchen window, "if you can brew a potion, you can cook. A simple meal, at the very least."
Tonks looks up from her cauldron to Molly, nearby at the sink doing the washing up, and it isn't lost on Molly or on two of the three men at the table (Remus and Arthur are playing a lackadaisical game of chess while Sirius is buried in the Evening Prophet crossword puzzle) that this is the first time Tonks has smiled since she turned up just before dinner, pale and jumpy and clumsier than usual, looking like she hasn't had much sleep. Which she hasn't, and Remus knows this, as she asked him to swap night duties with her two nights ago because Rufus Scrimgeour had her down for back-to-back patrols in Cardiff, where Sirius had been 'sighted'.
What Remus doesn't know is that while Tonks slept most of this afternoon away, she doesn't feel rested because she dreamt the whole time. Dreamt about being here, doing this, and about what might come after, which involves him.
And they weren't at all pleasant dreams.
They were, on the contrary, the sort of dreams that make you wake up with your mouth open in a silent scream, your hair damp and plastered to your forehead, your sheets twisted round your legs, your pyjamas clinging to your skin, and for hours afterward, your eyes burn with the images that haunted your sleep.
Even though when Remus greeted her at the front door, gallantly stepping in front of the troll-foot umbrella stand to prevent her falling over it, she wanted to fall into his arms and weep with relief that her nightmare hadn'tcome true, she cannot look him in the eyes (and it isn't lost on him and Molly that she has not) without seeing the beautiful blue extinguished of the light of life, staring blankly out of an ashen face.
But Remus, of course, hasn't any idea of any of these things. He is a little hurt by her avoidance, as she usually seeks out his company readily, but he is not particularly baffled by her demeanour, as there is a logical reason for it: brewing Wolfsbane Potion for him isfinally making it real to her that he is a werewolf. Therefore he cannot blame her for feeling skittish, and though he is sorry to lose the sometimes flirtatious camaraderie they've shared up till now, it was fun while it lasted, he really couldn't have expected it to turn out any differently, and he's just glad to see her smiling again.
"That's what my mum said when I got my Potions N.E.W.T," Tonks tells Molly as she stirs the contents of the cauldron with a grace she's never managed to reproduce in cookery. "I swear to Merlin, instead of making her proud, that high mark only made her more disappointed in my lack of domesticity."
"Funny," says Remus. "When my O.W.L. results arrived with a Troll in Potions, mymum said I'd better spend my last two years of school finding a wife, as I'd never be able to cook for myself."
Tonks glances over her shoulder at him with a look and a laugh that makes him move one of his bishops into a very stupid position on the board, indeed, though he is, as yet, unaware that Arthur's next move will be to capture it with his queen.
"So it's your abysmal Potions marks us single witches have to thank for your still being an eligible bachelor?"
"Yep," answers Sirius, whom everyone thought was oblivious to the world beyond his crossword. "Since he wasn't allowed to go on in Potions, and all the girls likely to make good cooks were taking N.E.W.T-level classes, Remus decided it just wasn't worth bothering with dating. Pitiful excuse for being a bachelor, isn't it? Especially compared to mine."
"You mean that you've always been slightly more in love with yourself than any witch you've ever known?" Remus ribs, as Sirius has been in a pretty good mood today, and it would be a shame to spoil it with thoughts of Azkaban, even ones made in jest. "As Wolfsbane Potion is an extremely difficult potion to brew, Nymphadora," he goes on, shifting his gaze back to her, "I am sure you've an inner gourmet chef."
"Does that mean Professor Snape's culinarily inclined? And don't call me Nymphadora, Remus."
Molly, also troubled by Tonks' uncharacteristic mood, though the explanations Remus has attributed it to never cross her mind, glances at him and mouths her thanks, and she even laughs when Sirius, with whom she bickered before dinner, says, "I'd never eat anything cooked by Snivellus, as odds are it was cooked in oil that dribbled out of that lubricious hair of his."
"Lubricious," Remus repeats. "Did you just read that in your crossword?"
The other three laugh and exchange eye-rolls over chessboards and sinks full of dishes and bubbling cauldrons as Sirius huffily defends his vocabulary, tweaking Remus in return by accusing him of flirting with Tonks, which makes her face flood with colour and Molly's eyes gleam and dart to Remus, who fights to keep his face neutral, leaving Arthur to change the subject.
"What is it that makes Wolfsbane Potion so difficult to brew?"
"It's got poison in it," says Tonks.
The kitchen goes silent, even the wireless only crackles with dead airtime as if it, too, is waiting for a punch line, because Tonks doesn't make grim statements like that, despite being Alastor Moody's protégée, unless she's doing her best impression of him for comical effect.
"No, really," she says, and holds up a deep purple flower like the one she has just been mincing. "See? Aconite."
Again, Tonks is met with silence and blank stares, and her eyes meet no one's as she twists the stem between the tips of her thumb and forefinger, staining her fair skin green, Remus notices, while her other hand fiddles with the delicate petals.
"I'm sure you remember from day one of first year Potions that aconite's lethal to werewolves," she explains.
"My stars," sputters Molly, holding her dishtowel like a lifeline, while the silence of the others is tangible and smothering as a rising tide.
"Actually," Remus says, "if memory serves, Professor Slughorn always taught Babbling Beverages on the first day, to help the first years feel more comfortable speaking out."
"How do you remember our first day of Potions, Mister T Is For Troll?" says Sirius, scribbling an answer onto his crossword.
Before Remus can seize this golden opportunity to steer away from the awkward and disturbing subject, Tonks speaks again:
"Damocles Belby theorised that in just the right amount, aconite would literally kill the mind of the wolf so that at transformation, the human mind would retain control over the body. It's a very precise science, getting the right amount of aconite, and if there's even a fraction too little, it won't work at all, and if there's too much..."
Her face goes ghastly white, with the exception of two spots of deep colour on her high cheekbones, a mirror image, though thinner, of course, of Molly's, who pats her hand and offers a few words that would be encouraging if only her tone didn't communicate that she can hardly believe she is hearing this sort of talk about monsters and how to kill them in the midst of something as mundane as the washing up. Arthur smiles and reminds Remus that it's his move and he's short a bishop now, but Sirius lets out a low whistle.
"Damn, Moony! Did you realise you were putting your life in that bastard Snivellus' hands when he was brewing it for you?"
Sirius' steely eyes cut sidelong, indicating Tonks, and something inside Remus coils and knots at his mate's (thankfully) unspoken implication that now he's putting his life in a pair of very clumsy hands, and does he really trust her?
The truth, which he will not admit, even to himself, not in so many words at least, is that Remus is not certain he does trust Tonks to do this for him, though it has nothing to do with her apparent affliction of being all thumbs and no fingers.
Potions N.E.W.T. or not, she never had to brew Wolfsbane Potion during Auror training, and she didn't volunteer to do it, though she didn't --couldn't -- say no when Snape told Dumbledore that working as a double agentanda teacher did not leave sufficient free time to brew complicated potions, and perhaps Black could brush up hisskills since he has nothing better to do, or Nymphadora, who mightbe up to the task if she can avoid tripping or spilling. Remus is sure Tonks won't get in her own way, but Wolfsbane Potion...Only a handful of wizards and witches who brew Potions for a living can brew Wolfsbane Potion. He cannot afford -- literally -- to be ill, and Dumbledore needs him healthy, not to mention alive, to carry out a bit of spy work himself, for which he is as uniquely suited as Snape is for his.
Which is also why he cannot refuse Wolfsbane Potion. Though he cannot tell Sirius any of this.
"Harry thought so," he says, and though usually he tries to avoid getting Sirius het up about Severus, it is, undeniably, a sure-fire way to distract him from an unwanted conversation, and this is no exception, as Sirius immediately lays aside his crossword and tilts his chair back on two legs, arms akimbo as his fingers rake through the back of his long black hair.
"There was a Hogsmeade weekend he didn't have permission to attend," Remus goes on, though he immediately wishes he'd begun differently, as Sirius' thick brows knit heavily over his eyes, which cloud with his guilty thoughts of not being there for his godson, "so I invited him for a cup of tea in my office, and while we chatted, Severus brought my potion. Harry told me I shouldn't drink it, as Severus wanted my job and Harry wouldn't put it past him to poison me to get it."
Sirius lets out his barking laugh. "Smart boy! Good to know he takes after his dad and me."
"Somewhere, a pair of green eyes are rolling and Lily's asking James which one of you was the size of a Hippogriff for nine months preceding twenty-nine hours of labour--"
"Why didn't you listen to him?"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake!" cries Molly, whirling around and, hands-on-hips, looking at Sirius as she does the twins. "Severus might not be the friendliest man in the world, but he wouldn't poisonanyone to get a job!"
"Wouldn't he just?" Sirius says. "Rule number one for How To Get Away With Murder: Poison a Werewolf."
"Sirius!" Molly rebukes; at the same time, Remus corrects, "You mean: How To Get Away With Murder and Get An Order Of Merlin For It, Too."
Sirius howls, but Remus' chuckle dies in his throat and he wishes he hadn't let himself get carried away with his friend, even though it's been ages since he's had someone he can joke about this with and it feels so good, because clearly this is not something anyone else is comfortable enough with to joke about, and if he'd just thought about it, there wouldn't be this painful silence. Molly's wringing that poor dishtowel to death and looking with alarm at Tonks, whose shoulders are taut and hunched, and if Sirius weren't sat in line with her, Remus would see that Tonks' slim white fingers are curled claw-like around the hilt of her knife, the blade of which has sliced into the edge of the wooden cutting board.
She did this at the moment Remus piped in about Order of Merlin, thesnick of the knife accompanied by a rather blatant gasp of horror, which Remus, of course, couldn't hear over Sirius' laughter. If he had heard it, he would not have put it down to her hating that such things are true, and even more, hating that he is so accepting that injustice is his lot that he can laugh about it; his mind would not go there, because he cannot fathom anyone but James and Sirius, once in a lifetime friends, getting that far past The Werewolf Thing (though he had thought, once, that Peter was that sort of friend, so he has been wrong before), especially now, when everyone looks sofrightened.
Everyone except for Arthur, who pushes his glasses up on his nose as he hunches over the chessboard and, in that wise tone it's so easy to forget he possesses when he's lit up like a child at Christmas, in wonderment at eckletricity and fellytones, says, "The Ministry might have forgotten what justice means, but Dumbledore hasn't. He wouldn't keep Severus on at Hogwarts if he were disloyal to the other teachers any more than he would be part of the Order if we couldn't trust him with our lives."
"And you--" Molly regains her balance in the wake of Arthur's level-headed speech, and brandishes a wooden spoon coated in cake batter and soapy dishwater, which she wags at Sirius, making Remus regret his words all the more, as there is nothing like a quarrel with Molly to send Sirius into his darkest and unreachable moods. "Youhad best un-poison Harry to Professor Snape before the children go back to school, or--"
"Oh, come and stir my cauldron..." Sirius bursts out in falsetto, as Celestina Warbeck's jazz hit strikes up on the wireless. He leaps up from his chair and flicks his wand to turn up the volume. "...And if you do it right...I'll boil you up some hot, strong love...To keep you warm tonight!"
As Sirius grabs Molly's soapy hands and twirls her around the kitchen, Remus sits back in his chair, inhaling deeply of the air which no longer feels quite so thick now that Molly is blushing and singing along with Sirius when she's not telling him how she and Arthur used to dance to this song before they were married. Remus apologises to Arthur for taking so long to take his turn at chess, but of course Arthur hasn't been paying any more attention than he has, and doesn't expect him to move any time soon, and not just because Sirius is so entertaining.
Tonks seems utterly oblivious to the hilarity swinging around her, and now Sirius is out of the way, Remus sees her carefully gathering up the aconite blossoms with violet-stained fingertips and dropping them into a mortar. Her brow furrows as she grinds them, dark eyes trained on the task, the same intense focus with which she approaches her Auror work. But when she lays aside the pestle and tilts the shallow bowl over the cauldron, she hesitates, catching her breath, biting her lower lip, before adding the aconite to the boiling mixture.
Remus' breath hangs in his chest, too, and his heart pounds, though not with an intuitive realisation that her current train of thought echoes his a moment ago, that she is an Auror, not a potions expert, and the Order cannot afford to lose Remus because she killed him with a potion she hasn't got the credentials to brew. His heart would pound even harder if he realised that she is also thinking of how such a loss would touch her at a deeper and more personal level than guilt or sorrow for a fallen comrade, especially as he is aware of her stirring something deep within him which has lain still since Halloween, 1981, though in actuality it is something acutely different to what he found -- and lost -- with his friends, something which has never moved in him before. He is not sure exactly what that is, but nonetheless he obeys its prompting to excuse himself from the game of chess and go to her.
It might cross his mind that her hesitation ought to make him nervous about drinking this potion, and some small part of him might even actually fear that doing so will not go well for him, but that is inconsequential, unimportant, in light of what this means to Tonks, and what she needs of him.
The floorboards creak beneath his feet, and though Tonks hears his approach, and knows he's stopped just behind her, when his hand comes to rest lightly on her shoulder, she jumps.
The pulse in her neck quickens, and in his wrist, his own responds, matching it.
"I can't thank you enough for this," he says.
Drawing a deep breath, Tonks whispers -- or Remus thinks it -- "Now or never," and adds the aconite to the brew, sighing heavily as the purple petals dissolve into nothing but potent magic.
"Shouldn't you save your thanks till you're sure I haven't poisoned you?" she asks, summoning a serpentine-stemmed goblet from the cupboard.
She ladles a measure of potion into it, then, turning toward him, offers the cup.
As Remus accepts it, the tips of his fingers brush hers. Her touch makes him shiver, and his causes the same reaction in her, though he doesn't know it, and neither of them is aware of Arthur getting up to cut in on Sirius' dance with his wife to show the younger wizard 'how it's really done.'
"I did," Remus says.
A swirl of steam rises from the goblet they hold between them, and he is at once frustrated by the illusion of a barrier between them and glad of it, because her eyes, holding his, also contain something which tilts his world on its axis, and he is certain he would fall right over the edge if she touched him fully. What he does not consider is that she will balance him, and as he flails to keep himself steady, his mind reverts to a time when the mere touch of a girl's fingertips to his had the power to make him go weak in the knees.
Which was when he was around fourteen and even greater impulsive idiot than he is now.
Remus has acted on many a stupid whim, but it is difficult to imagine anything more ill-thought than gulping down a goblet of Wolfsbane Potion, standing stock still for a moment as Tonks watches him in breathless anticipation, looking as if she can see the stuff making its way into his bloodstream, then letting his fingers slacken around the goblet, which shatters on the stone floor and brings the dancing to a halt, as his other hand clutches at his heart while he staggers backward into the cupboards.
"Oh, great Merlin!" cries Molly, as Tonks goes dead white and also falls back against the cupboards, hands flying to her mouth.
Immediately, Remus realises his mistake.
He lets go of his jumper and springs forward to support Tonks, who looks on the brink of fainting. He never imagined she'd fall for it, never thought she would do anything other than roll her eyes at him and call him a great daft idiot, breaking the unsettling tension between them...No -- he never thoughtat all. If he had, she wouldn't be trembling in his arms.
"It was just a joke," he tries to reassure her. "I was only kidding. I'm sorry."
In the background, Molly gives a shaky laugh and thanks Merlin as she leans against Arthur, and Sirius howls and begs for a Pensieve so that Tonks can see her face. But she will not want to see her face, and Remus wants his memory modified so that he will not be haunted by that white mask of horror, or the dark eyes rounding and pooling just before they narrow against the tears, and then she is pushing him away and turning, running, stumbling, helter-skelter up the basement stairs.
Oh, come and stir my cauldron,
And if you do it right,
I'll boil you up some hot, strong love,
To keep you warm--
No longer laughing, Sirius flicks off the wireless and says, "Mate. You'd better go try and stir her cauldron right--"
He goes on, 'as you've stirred it spectacularly wrong', but Remus is already taking the stairs two at a time, calling for Tonks to wait, though she doesn't, nor is there any sound from up ahead of him except a heavy thump, and as he rounds the corner into the corridor, she is picking herself off the floor after falling over the troll foot umbrella stand and is pulling the coat rack over on top of herself in the attempt to grab her woven handbag off of it.
He uses his wand to right the coat rack and frees her bag, which she's only managed to tangle around the hook. "Tonks, I'm sorry--"
"You don't have to apologise." She snatches her bag from him and slings it over her left shoulder, settling the pouch on her opposite hip.
His hands fall to his sides. "I do. I shouldn't have joked. It was in very poor taste--"
"Maybe." She shrugs. "Or maybe I'm just being stupid because I got so wound up about that potion." She shrugs again. "I'm sorry. Tomorrow I'll try to be a normal human being with a sense of humour."
Turning away from him, Tonks reaches for the doorknob, but Remus catches her hand and stops her from opening the door.
"Wait...You really were afraid of poisoning me?"
"Wouldn't you be?"
"Yes, but then, we have already established that I got a Troll in Potions, whereas you've got a N.E.W.T, so I really don't understand why you would doubt your ability--"
"It's not about the bloody potion."
The quietness of her voice knocks him for six, and as he watches her watching him try and puzzle out what it isabout, it hits him.
But not before her hand moves beneath his, turning the doorknob.
And before he can fully process this realisation, or say or do anything about it, she steps out into the darkness and bids him goodnight.
A/N: This fic totals seven chapters, and as it is complete I shall do my best to update as promptly as possible. Until chapter two goes up, I'd love to know what you thought of this one. Reviewers get to play a prank with Remus, or dance with Sirius. :)