On the seventh night, the shabby door of Monkshood Croft is answered by a Remus who is clearly in pain. Well -- the changes in his appearance are not so pronounced that anyone but a closest friend (or the woman who loves him) would notice, but as the woman who loves him is the person in question, the alterations of his features do not slip by unnoticed, as they did the last time he was in the presence of humans just prior to transformation: with Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald Weasley in the Shrieking Shack.
All week his face has grown increasingly more lined than the usual crow's feet at the corners of his blue eyes and the creases around his mouth, but tonight's drawn appearance is more than fatigue. Tonks' shape-shifter's eyes note how the muscles beneath his ashen skin strain, as if in a heroic attempt to retain their current shape -- which, though Remus does not know it, is precisely what is taking place.
The way he moves is the most telling difference. Ordinarily -- last night, even, as they danced -- he moves with an effortless grace, a power belied by his thin physique. Now he seems to require deliberation and sheer force of will just to lean in and kiss her cheek, to take her cauldron from her while he holds the cottage door open for her with his shoulder so that she can pass through, to shut it behind her and then carry her things to the cleared-off kitchen table. She would believe him if he told her that most of his day has been spent in his armchair, grateful for the wand that allows him to move as little as possible, though of course he does not tell her this, and indeed these little acts are performed not so much for manners' sake as for that of his fragile male ego desperate to prove himself virile and in his prime as his age would indicate.
Tonks thinks she has an idea of what Remus is experiencing now in his body, though she cannot be sure, not feeling what he is feeling. Her hypothesis is, however, correct, and it would be a fairly accurate comparison to describe pre-transformation for Remus as much like wearing a new morph is for her: he is uncomfortable in a skin that is no longer quite his own.
If only Remus knew that these empathic thoughts are the ones going through Tonks' mind as she scrutinises him, then he would not drop his eyes down from her attentive Auror gaze, or tug at the hair at his nape, or make a ridiculous excuse:
"Forgive me. I should have warned you that just before moonrise I am a sight that makes eyes sore."
Flushing, Tonks' eyes swing away from his face and settle just over his shoulder to the mantel Lunascope, which shows that scarcely two hours remain until moonrise. Plenty of time to brew the potion -- though she would not have minded a little longer, just for comfort -- and to sit with him, and chat like normal, if that is possible.
Unfortunately for her, it's not -- at least not tonight, with Remus on edge and anxious about what is to come for this transformation and their relationship. Not knowing these next two hours are doomed to awkwardness and tension, Tonks nudges him aside not quite as gently as she means, she takes her usual place at the table to get his potion brewing.
"You look a bit tired's all," she says, "and you sure as hell aren't the only one."
Remus has enough of his wits about him yet to know better than to tell a witch she looks tired, but the faintly purple skin beneath her eyes does not escape his notice. Though he suspects that nightmares about werewolves kept her up again last night, he says nothing, for soon enough she will see the nightmare in reality, and he will know it, and she will not be able to hide from the truth any longer. And anyway, she is already talking again:
"Kingsley noticed and asked if Rainbow stayed up all night dancing with Romulus."
"Did he now?" asks Remus, amusement adding a lilt to his voice and ebbing some of the strain from his face, though Tonks doesn't see, as she is intently measuring out potion ingredients into her cauldron.
Also, she is hoping Remus won't read the truth, which is that no, Kingsley didn't now. What he actually said was, 'Did Rainbow stay up all night doing the horizontal tango with Romulus?' but in light of where their dance ended last night -- Remus making a relationship beyond a few fevered kisses contingent upon whatever happens tonight -- it hardly seems the best time to talk about innuendo, though Remus himself, on the other hand, might lead an outside observer to believe other things.
"What did you tell him?" he asks.
She didn't tell Kingsley anything so much as she made a rude hand gesture at him, which showed Kingsley, for the first time, the family resemblance between her and his 'fugitive'. She's been out of sorts all day, due to her sleepless night, irritation bubbling close to the surface, and just as it didn't take much for her to boil over at Kingsley, she feels a similar rise toward Remus, even though he hasn't even teased her.
"Now's not exactly the time for chit-chat, is it? I mean, I presume you don't want your report to the Wizengamot to be, 'The Auror botched my potion, so I was unable to test whether Wolfsbane Potion enables werewolves to transform around humans without incident'?"
"Of course not, I'm sorry," says Remus in a pinched voice, almost as if it is painful for him to talk. And indeed it is. His throat hurts, for one thing; but more than that there is a tightness in his chest, a burning, as if he has held his breath for far too long, or is drowning.
Fumbling for the armchair, he recalls having felt this way before, many times, whenever Sirius told him off for making up excuses not to be with girls. He wonders if all this week is just one more excuse, if he's subconsciously set out to sabotage whatever this thing is with Tonks because he is afraid of love.
He is afraid of love -- or of losing it. He sees through the lenses of his own past experiences (which do not exist, as he has never let a woman into this part of his life), and so his mind is too plagued by insecurity and desire to see that this week has been one of the more defining Gryffindor periods of his life, or that the only way he can sabotage himself is not to follow through. As he will not look at Tonks and see how wretched she looks as she watches him so stiffly into his chair, he can only think the worst, and question again if this is really safe. She spent three years training to be a Dark Wizard chaser -- not apprenticing with a potionsmaster to brew sedatives for Dark Creatures.
But then she blurts: "Isn't there anything we can do about the pain?"
Remus looks at her at the table, her heart-shaped face wreathed in steam rising from her cauldron which bubbles over an enchanted flame.
"Sirius told me your transformations are..." Her pause tells him she's not quoting directly. "...quite painful."
Remus stands again, with such effort that she almost wishes she'd kept silent to preserve whatever precious strength he's got left, though what weighs him down, slowing his steps, is actually not physical limitation so much as internal battle with rising annoyance at Sirius for talking about his condition behind his back, and vexation with himself for being such a bloody hypocrite when his very own plan is to bare all to her.
"It was much worse in the days before the Wolfsbane Potion, when the mind of the werewolf compelled me to bite and scratch myself in the absence of..." He pauses, but a little voice in his mind whispers 'sodding great hypocrite' and he recalls how plainly he said it to Harry and the kids, so he forces the words out. "...in the absence of human prey."
She sprinkles the measured amount of aconite into the cauldron. "The transformation itself, though -- it hurts? You're the one that thinks I need to taste the bitter truth, Remus, so don't sugar coat it now, okay?"
Her eyes glitter with tears. He reaches for her, but withdraws his hand when she picks up the ladle to stir the potion, clutching the handle so tightly that her knuckles turn white. "Why does it have to be different from Animagus transformation?"
"Because it is a curse."
She fills the mug he set out for her with potion. Their fingers brush as she offers it to him, and as before, a connection passes between them, of so much more than mutual attraction, beyond even emotional connection. As a Metamorphmagus, Tonks recognises the particular energy pulsing through him:
He is already changing.
Remus sees a look of comprehension on her face, though he doesn't quite grasp what she's sensing in him. She looks troubled, and sad, though still not particularly frightened as he drinks his potion, and he ponders what to say to her to put her worries about the pain to rest, though it's just as well she speaks first as, 'Don't worry your pink head about me, I've got a high threshold for pain' would hardly be the right ones.
"When you finish that, why don't you make us some hot chocolate?"
It is not a suggestion so much as a command, which surprises Remus slightly, as she's never said anything remotely bossy to him before -- though she does to Mad-Eye and Sirius on a regular basis, and occasionally Kingsley. What Remus doesn't realise that behind it is a firm decision on Tonks' part that she will not change just because he is changing. All he can think about is that the last time she drank hot chocolate was after nightmares about werewolves, or a werewolf, which he strongly suspects might not have been just any werewolf, as she told him so emphatically.
"Are you all right?" he asks, and does not miss the way her shoulders stiffen, even as she smiles, a more characteristic sparkle lighting her eyes.
"Fine," she says. "Only if you're planning to kiss me again, I prefer the taste of hot chocolate to Wolfsbane Potion."
For a moment Remus continues to look at her in some surprise and uncertainty, but then his features relax into a lopsided grin that almost wipes away the weary lines from his face.
Some of them, however, are beyond Tonks' powers of flirtation to wipe away, and as she and Remus sit, sipping their hot chocolate, neither of them hears a note of The Witching Hour, not even Celestina Warbeck belting out high notes: he for being rather preoccupied with what is taking place in his body at the moment, and on controlling his reactions so as not to give her alarm any sooner than is necessary; she for staring alternately at the Lunascope creeping closer to full moonrise and at Remus' increasingly more rigid posture. His white-knuckled fingers curl around the arms of his chair (claw-like, though she tells herself she doesn't actually think this horrible thing). He blinks his glazed eyes hard and often, as if against tears, and they are rimmed with dark circles. The firelight throws into relief his flexing cheek muscle; he is gritting his teeth.
The strain is his unconscious struggle against the change, and though Tonks is unaware of this, she sees what is happening and hates it, unable to think of anything more horrible than having no choice in the matter of her body changing.
With minutes to go, Remus gets up and begins to pace, not realising how this action hearkens back to her nightmares of the grey wolf pacing, which she hates herself for thinking, because Remus is not the werewolf of her dreams.
He walks because his muscles and limbs and joints feel awkward sitting, and are stiff, and he feels caged -- but she does, too, and by what's coming.
At last, his halting gait and the vein throbbing in his temple become too much for her, and she cries out:
"I can't do this!"
He halts, his back to her, and leans heavily against the mantel. Full moon is so close now. He can smell her, and it is a torment, her slipping away from him like this just as his human mind is giving way to the wolf's.
"Then go, Tonks. You have done more--"
He turns just as she clatters to him, grabbing the front of his shirt, twisting the fabric in her fisted hands. The wildness in her eyes, the fierceness of her expression makes her face look angular, strange, and it startles him.
"I'm not leaving you," she says, "I just don't think I can bear to watch the transformation. You'll be in pain and I can't stand the thought of not being able to do a bloody thing about it. You're already in pain, and it's tearing me apart. I'm not a Gryffindor, Remus, I'm just a Hufflepuff--oh!"
The exclamation is because he is gripping her upper arms and pressing his mouth to hers, his lips parting hers and his tongue gliding into her mouth, his teeth raking along the edge of her lower lip, so that when he pulls back, just as abruptly as he kissed her, her lips are red and swollen.
"I think you need to see to believe that I am a werewolf, but I cannot bear to hurt you. You can go into the bedroom," he tells her, taking her arm and guiding her across the shabby living room. "You will know when it is over."
He speaks tersely without meaning to, because his tongue and lips, though still their proper human shapes, are not quite right for speech, and to Tonks' astonishment, when his hand leaves her arm, he begins to work at the buttons of his shirt.
"But never say just a Hufflepuff, Dora Tonks, unless you mean just spectacularly amaz--AGH!"
The cry is drawn out, hoarse and higher than his voice as his body seizes up.
"Remus!" Tonks cries, and he is shedding his shirt quickly (his scar is a fresh, open wound now, red and raw as the day he was bitten), unbuckling his belt with shaking hands.
"If you're going to go, go n-AGH!!"
She turns, then, and bolts to the bedroom, mostly to hide her crumpling face from him, but her sob reaches him anyway, cutting him more deeply than the moon's power that rips through him to the marrows, because her cry sets off a voice in his mind. Not a human voice, but one which snarls:
'Humans know naught but pity and revulsion for our kind. We must make her like us.'
"NO!" he screams, or tries to; it comes out more a roar as his neck snaps back, thickening and elongating as his face broadens into a canine snout.
The word is discernable enough to Tonks, who stops dead in the bedroom doorway, back to him still as he hastens to strip off the rest of his clothing before his hands change into paws useless for anything but tearing into human flesh. His 'no' rings in her ears against the white noise of agony and her own promise to do 'Whatever you need of me' in duet with Remus' not 'just a Hufflepuff.' She does not know that the werewolf's mind -- not dead, as Damocles Belby theorised, just not alone -- is poisoning him as effectively as the potion would have done if brewed incorrectly. (Which it is not, though it has crossed Remus' mind that he would not be hearing the werewolf's thoughts, feeling his desires, if the potion were working.) She does know that what Remus needs right now is not courage, which he possesses in scads.
What Remus needs of her is loyalty.
That is all that is required to make her turn round again and bellow over the howls:
"I'm here, Remus, I'm here! As long as you need me, I'm with you!"
She weeps freely as she says it, because the extent of disfigurement before her is not something that ever crossed her mind when she lay awake between nightmares last night, trying to visualise what this might be like.
And certainly in her fantasies of seeing him naked, her imagination never supplied anything remotely like this scenario.
It is indecent to watch, but she does not avert her gaze, or attempt to hide her tears, because Remus' blue eyes are locked on her, also watery.
Remus' eyes, positioned further apart than normal over the long, rounded canine snout inside of which human teeth have not lengthened into a carnivore's incisors...
Remus' eyes, beneath a heavy brow and pointed ears positioned atop his head and laid back against grey-brown hair. It is his own hair, as yet, not a coarse fur coat, and in fact apart from his natural, light body hair his mutating form is still covered in pale human flesh, mottled blue and yellow-green with bruises from dozens of blood vessels rupturing as bones snap and muscles build. Though Tonks is unaware of the medical reasons for the bruising, she understands what Remus has been telling her:
Lycanthropy is a curse.
Yet Remus' rich eyes contain a measure of peace, of being blessed as they hold her, even though he is now no longer at eye level to her, his hips rotating to accommodate a canine stance as he drops on to all fours; the arms she admired last night are a werewolf's rangy forelegs, and his lean man-legs are shortening, shins bending backward, breaking to form the hock joint. He yelps as this occurs, in a strangled voice that is not his own, not human, but wolfish, and Tonks starts to reach out to comfort him, but catches herself. It would not be decent--
And from his open maw, the even rows of human teeth grow into fangs full of the poison to perpetuate his kind.
There is a shared gasp as grey bristles sprout suddenly from millions of follicles opening in his skin, like blades of grass springing from the earth in a fast-motion Muggle video recording; together they sigh at his being covered, at last given a modicum of dignity in this cruelly immodest situation.
Remus' sigh, however, contains a note of exasperation, as well, at the little smile Tonks gives him, as if, now that the worst part of the transformation is over, he is just as ordinary as ever to her, an Animagus in wolf form. Which is precisely what she is thinking, as Remus Lupin's blue eyes peer at her out of that wolf face which she cannot help but think is rather beautiful. He looks lonely to her, and young.
Technically, he is young, the transformation not yet complete, the dark magic still surging through his veins, yet to reach every unseen part of him.
And he is lonely, too -- the sort of lonely that gnaws like physical hunger in the pit of your belly.
Only hunger is not strong enough a word.
He is ravenous.
True wolves are social creatures, miserable when cut off from their packs. Werewolves are no different, and therein lies their danger:
A werewolf without a pack will create for himself a pack.
The female has let her guard down. We must make her our mate.
Tonks does not hear the growling voice in Remus' mind, but she does see the round black pupils of his eyes stretch into menacing slits, streaks of amber shooting through the blue before exploding amber throughout like a firework.
She startles back against the wall, clutching at the frame of the open bedroom door as her other hand scrabbles for her wand.
Eight-inch alder, unicorn hair core. As familiar to her and tractable as if it is part of her own body. If not for the light, smooth wood gripped firmly in her right hand, she would think she is having a nightmare, because it is exactly what she has dreamt ever since the second night, when Sirius told her of his one-time scheme to give Snape the fright of his life, and it occurred to her that she might as easily make Remus feral as kill him.
The werewolf's nostrils flair, sniffing warm human flesh and blood.
Black lips curl, dripping with saliva as he bares his teeth in a snarl.
It is not the growl emanating from his belly that makes her legs buckle, then give way, causing her to slid down the wall to the floor. It is the amber eyes, locked on her and gleaming with mad hatred.
"It's you," she whispers. "In my nightmares -- you -- you're the werewolf."
The growl dies.
Tonks stops breathing. Her heart hangs suspended in her chest.
Monkshood Croft is silent as a grave.
The werewolf stares at her.
She stares back at the werewolf.
He thinks of her as prey.
She knows he thinks of her as prey.
She does not move.
The werewolf raises a paw to step toward her.
"Please don't do this," she whimpers. "You know me. I'm Tonks -- Dora -- Nymphadora, if you like. Just...Remus, please..."
His heavy grey pall falls to the floor again with a faint thump on the rough floorboard.
The amber eyes stare into the black ones...
And then Remus drops onto his belly, turns his back to her, curls up on the tatty woven hearthrug, tufted tail tucked neatly around him, and sleeps.
Tonks sleeps, too.
If Mad-Eye ever finds out his protégée slept in the same room with a transformed werewolf, he will lecture her as he has never lectured her about constant vigilance and the wiles of Dark Creatures whose minds may or may not be tempered by potions.
(If Mad-Eye ever finds his protégée slept in the same room with an un-transformed werewolf, he will want to lecture her about the un-tempered lusts of wizards whose minds are almost always under the influence of Firewhisky and the disastrous effects they have has on vigilance in times of war; but instead he will only blush to the bottom of the deepest crags in his face and grumble under his breath without meeting her eye.)
Remus, waking up, a man again -- and a naked one at that -- is not sure whether the Wolfsbane Potion did temper the werewolf's mind as much as it should have done, as he does not recall having sensed any of the horrifying desires he felt last night back in his teaching days, though if he had ever transformed in the same room as a human, he would know that the potion Tonks brewed for him was brewed as perfectly as Severus Snape ever did it -- and better-tasting, too.
Whatever the case may be, it is enough to know that he feels none of those things now, as he lies on the thin rug on the hard wooden floor, watching her chest rise and fall in even breaths.
She fell asleep sitting up, her fingers still loosely curled around the hilt of her wand. Her head lolls on her shoulder, tilted back against the wall. The promise that when she wakes she will have the mother of all neck cramps prompts Remus to push himself with trembling arms up from the floor, pull on his trousers, which look rather worse for the not-wearing after a night crumpled on the floor where he stepped out of them seconds before his feet turned to paws.
Padding to her in his bare feet, he notes that despite the less than comfortable position of her neck, her heart-shaped face looks peaceful and untroubled, as he has not seen her look this week, her hair the same bubblegum pink as it was when she turned up at Monkshood Croft -- though then her face was lined then from the restless sleep of the previous night.
No nightmares trouble her now, despite Remus' fears that last night would make them worse than ever for her. She was afraid of him in his werewolf form, he knows it, and it will be useless for her to try to deny it. But there is no sign of fear as he drops to a crouch in front of her.
Fear, in fact, is at this moment being driven away in her dreams, as ragged black robes bearing cold and the stench of death scatter like frightened birds in the wake of an enormous loping figure.
"Dora," he whispers, laying his hands on her shoulders, gently shaking her.
His voice reaches her dreams, swirling around her in a silvery tangible form, and she smiles, gives a little hmm of laughter, scrunching up one shoulder as if something is tickling, nuzzling her neck. And then her eyes flutter open.
The beautiful dark eyes that refused to close on him last night, which drift down to look at his bare chest and torso, pale in the morning dim, which makes her face break into a full grin and him into a flush that fizzes warmly in his belly.
She stretches her arms over her head, reaches back clumsily to massage her neck. Immediately his fingers slip around to the back of her neck, rubbing the knots at the base of her shoulders.
Giving him a grateful look, Tonks goes on, "You went to sleep, and I got bored, and when I get bored I get sleepy." Abruptly, her smile vanishes and her forehead wrinkles between her eyebrows as they knit. "I thought I'd wake up when you changed back."
"I didn't even wake when I changed back. It is considerably less traumatic."
"Good. Only I was afraid you'd have to go through that torture all over again..." Her eyes bend, and she draws in a shuddering breath, leaning into him. "Remus, it was awful."
He starts to slide his hands down over her back to pull her into an embrace, but instead lets them fall to his sides. "The worst part was what I wanted to do to you--"
"Not you. The werewolf."
Sitting back on his heels, Remus looks up at the ceiling and grits his teeth. "I swear to Merlin you are the most stubborn witch--"
"I prefer loyal. Hufflepuff, remember? And not just a Hufflepuff."
"Nymphadora, I and the wolf are one!"
"Exactly! You're the wolf, but the wolf is also you. And don't call me Nymphadora, Remus."
"Last night you said I could."
"I take it back." Her hands skim over his chest, fingertips brushing his neck (he shivers) on their way up to cup his face. "But that's the only thing I take back."
Sat knee to knee, their foreheads are so close that her pink hair feathers his skin, and his greying fringe tickles hers. The sensations of her are overwhelming, and he feels himself giving in...
"You were afraid," he says. "I felt your fear. It fed the wolf's--"
"I felt yours, too. That was how I knew I wasn't in danger."
"But your nightmares--"
This time, his words are cut off by his own voice breaking. His head drops forward onto her knees, and she cradles him against her breasts as her fingers rake through the silver strands of his hair.
"Do you know what I dreamt last night?" she whispers.
He shakes his head.
"A silver werewolf spirit that drove fear out of my heart."
He looks up at her, wonder wiping away the careworn lines of his face. "You mean like a Patronus?"
"Like a Patronus. Remus -- I know what you are. But it's because I know who you are that I'm not afraid. Because I love you."
She has said it.
She loves him.
Three little words, spoken rather quietly, and yet striking him with all the force of the sea, sweeping the ground from beneath his feet, rousing him from a life which up till now he has walked through asleep. He takes her face in his hands and kisses her.
He clings to her as he kisses her, and his body, pressed so close to hers, trembles. Trembles -- this man who last night made her tremble with fear that he would curse her. Yes, she will admit it now: in that moment of staring into hateful amber eyes, she feared Remus.
But just as in the nights before that, when she looked into blue eyes darkened with desire, and the man would not take what he wanted when she was there for the taking, the wolf would not take, either. That is how she knew, how she will always know (for there will be no going back from this; she is caught in an undertow where the nightmares well may continue to haunt her, but he will lie beside her, his voice waking her); that is why she allows him to enfold her in his arms, and bless her, as he receives the blessing she pours out on him. For he is trembling not out of fear, but as she does, with the magnitude of this thing. He is like a drowning man -- a drowning man who is quite content to lose himself in this tide that wakens him to life.
Fear will return later -- when harsh reality rears its head to remind him that he cannot afford to take her out to dinner, or buy her the Christmas presents she deserves; when he dare not go out with her wearing her true face, lest her sterling reputation be tarnished for fraternising with Dark Creatures -- lest she be made an outcast because of him, a cursed mate even without his administering the bite.
But for now, Remus is a Gryffindor through and through, eager to leap into the rising swell of blessing life has seen fit to grace him with, not mindful for the moment of the fact that the tides change, governed by the moon just as he is. He loves this woman, and she loves him, and there is a potion she can brew to tame him, and she believes in the power of his human mind over the monster's. She feared him in her dreams, and yet she came to him for comfort.
And now she dreams of a Patronus.
He cannot reject this. It is too much to reject, too wonderful; he is no fool -- or at least not for any other reason than for love. He can sleep no more. He must answer the call, her call, to wake, and live this sweetest of dreams.
He breaks their kiss to tell her that he loves her, but manages no more than a tremulous whisper. They are both breathless, and shaky, as if the very air of Monkshood Croft tremors with the floodgate opened in the two hearts, pounding beneath the thatched roof and between the walls of crumbling brick.
In the midst of it, Tonks' husky voice begins to croon:
"Oh come and stir my cauldron..."
She brushes her lips against his.
"And if you do it right..."
She kisses his cheek.
"I'll boil you up some hot, strong love..."
Her lips nip at his earlobe, and her breath makes the hairs at the back of his neck rise as she whispers, "To keep you warm tonight."
Pressing her back onto the floor, covering her body with his own, he nuzzles her neck.
"But it's not night," he murmurs.
And then he loves her.
A/N: Thanks so much for all who have followed this fic, and especially for your feedback. If you let me know what you think of the end, a half-naked werewolf might drop in and give you a wakeup call tomorrow morning...