Author's Note: The beginning of this story is a mild spoiler for the end of "Tutoring."
Tonks tried to roll her eyes, but found she couldn't force the expression. "You wrote to me for this?" she asked, her eyes widening on the face across from hers. Hermione nodded; her expression went from hopeful to unsure in seconds. "After you said what happened with us was a one time thing, I thought—"
"No, that's not it," Hermione interrupted. She leaned across the table and the Auror could see the faint color painting her cheeks. Even in the darkness of the Burrow's kitchen, Hermione managed to glow when she blushed. "I know you said you liked that I was younger than you, and you found my inexperience sexy, and since Ginny's birthday is in a few weeks—"
"You thought I could show your friend a good time?" Tonks winced and glanced towards the narrow hall leading to the stairs. Her voice had come out louder than she'd expected, but she'd been taken by surprise. It was one thing for the two of them to get close again, she might be able to excuse herself that one last indulgence, but Arthur and Molly's daughter? Molly would have kittens. Though, if the stories her own mother once told her of Molly's younger days were true, she might eventually come to understand. Remus might not.
"No, not like that—" Hermione said in a low haltering voice.
Tonks placed a hand over hers on the table. "You remembered the night we were together—the excitement of sneaking around the school, the way I touched you." Tonks let a small smile touch her lips as Hermione's eyes dropped from hers. She ran her fingers lightly over the girl's wrist, smiling wider when Hermione's fingers curled into her palm. "You thought about the way I made you cry out," she whispered, "and you wrote to me in the middle of a lonely summer night…so someone else could have what you enjoyed so much?" Tonks smirked as the blushing girl met her eyes again. "So yes, exactly like that. What a selfless gift."
This time she did roll her eyes. "You realize I'm married now? If we were to get caught—"
"You know how to be discreet," Hermione said. "And I don't think Lupin would mind—"
"He'd mind very much," Tonks corrected her. "I promised him there'd be no more secrets between us. He knows what I've done and I know what he—" She stopped abruptly, just remembering she was talking to one of her husband's former students. "I know what he'd feel about this. I mean, if it were you, he'd probably forgive me, but I'm not sure about someone else."
"Why would he forgive you for me?" Hermione said.
Tonks stared across the table in silence, her fingers still tracing a lazy pattern on the girl's wrist. As she watched, Hermione became flustered and began playing with her hair with her other hand. Even now, well over a year later, she was as easily embarrassed as she had been that night. Tonks didn't know whether she should be flattered or if Hermione still found sex an intimidating subject regardless of who she was speaking to. The girl's obvious embarrassment was bringing back feelings the Auror had been pretending were long buried.
"He would forgive me because he knows what it's like," she said quietly. "He knows what it's like to become so infatuated, one can't help going after someone even if it's a bad idea on the outside. He knows how I felt about you leading up to and after that night." Turning her hand, Tonks squeezed Hermione's wrist until the girl's eyes met hers. "I told him I still think about how you tasted and what it felt like to have you fall apart at my hands." She couldn't tell Hermione how her husband had reacted to that story. It would only make her more uncomfortable. "It took a long time for me to accept your decision, and I don't feel quite the same way about you anymore, but if I were to slip once…" She shrugged and let Hermione fill in the end of the sentence.
"You—" Hermione swallowed hard and pulled her hands into her lap. "You never said you felt more than just physical things."
"Lust," Tonks supplied. "You felt it too. But we both felt more than that. I know that, even if you'll never admit it." She sighed and crossed her arms. They were going nowhere, rehashing the past as if it would change anything. And she was growing dangerously close to leaping across the table and giving Hermione a vivid reminder of exactly what they'd shared. That was someplace neither of them needed to go. Especially if she intended to stay in her marriage.
"Is this really what you want from me?"
Hermione frowned and drew her arms around herself. "I just thought that, with everything that's going on…"
The escalating war. Muggles being killed left and right. Dumbledore's death and the turmoil at Hogwarts. Tonks could practically see these thoughts flitting through the other girl's mind, as sure as they passed through hers every minute of every day.
"I'm not supposed to tell anyone this," Hermione whispered, "but we're not going back to school. The three of us. Ron and I have agreed to help Harry do something Dumbledore asked of him." She paused, waiting for Tonks to interrupt her with questions. When none came, she continued. "I don't know when we're leaving, exactly, but it'll likely be before Ginny's birthday."
"And you want her to be…distracted on the big day?"
"If it's at all possible," Hermione said. "I know it's a lot to ask from you, but with all that's happening, I think she'll need a distraction. Even if it's not for long. I want her to have just one moment of happiness. Something she can think about during the worst moments ahead."
Tonks glanced towards the window in the corner. The sky was beginning to lighten. It would soon fill with the oranges and pinks of sunrise. "Who is giving you moments of happiness these days? Ron?" Tonks knew the tone of her voice was anything but the light note she should've attempted, but she couldn't help herself. She had to live with her jealousy as much as she'd had to live with the wanting that had haunted her for weeks after their one encounter. She wasn't above expressing the frustration that still lingered.
"He and I are not, precisely, anything more than friends," Hermione answered, each word growing quieter and more unsure. "I don't know what will happen with us."
"But you want something to happen," Tonks said, turning back to her. "It's all right. You don't have to explain. I want you to be happy. And I'll do this for you. For her." She smiled and was relieved the gesture felt genuine. "I did promise I'd do anything you asked of me. I meant that." She stood and walked around the table, noting the growing light in the room made Hermione appear younger than her almost eighteen years. She looked vulnerable in that light, overwhelmed and asking to be kissed as much as she'd been the day she'd bumped into Tonks in Hogsmeade.
Tonks answered the unasked question, pressing her lips to Hermione's until she felt the girl lean forward, a sigh escaping as her tongue traced the edge of Tonks's teeth. "I'll see you at Harry's party," Tonks said as she straightened. "Take care of yourself."
That was the last time the two would speak alone.
Tonks knocked on Ginny's bedroom door; several long moments passed before the teary-eyed girl finally answered. She frowned as she spotted the Auror. She crossed her arms over her rumpled shirt. "Did my mother send you? You can tell her I am still not in the mood to eat and I am perfectly fine sitting in my room by myself. Death Eaters can't snatch me from here." She gestured to the room behind her. "See, not even a suspicious book."
"Molly didn't send me," Tonks whispered. "I wanted to see you, to wish you a happy birthday. May I come in?"
Ginny moved away from the door, backing across the room until the back of her legs hit the bed. She sat hard and crossed her legs at the ankle. Tonks sat next to her on the bed. "You didn't have to come," Ginny said. "I don't expect anything about my birthday to be happy. Not this one."
"I don't know about that." Tonks placed a hand over hers and offered the girl a small smile. "I remember what my sixteenth birthday was like—I was going through a terrible phase when my hormones made my features change at random, I'd just broken up with my boyfriend and the only thing that made me feel better was spending the entire day with one of my closest female friends." Tonks squeezed Ginny's hand. "She found a way to distract me I never would've imagined." She raised a hand to Ginny's face and wiped the traces of tears from her cheeks. "Would you like me to help you forget?"
Ginny nodded, following when Tonks stood from the bed and before the long mirror that covered the back of her bedroom door. With a flick of her wand, Tonks locked the door and made the room soundproof. She stood behind Ginny, looking at the joint reflection. She smiled. Ginny's hair glowed in the late afternoon sunlight. For a moment, it reminded her of the day she'd been with Hermione. She'd let own hair fall to her waist in a burst of inspiration; Hermione had enjoyed pulling it when she'd lost the ability to form words. She closed her eyes briefly.
Tonks placed one arm around Ginny's waist and another on her hair and ran her hand over the soft waves, smiling as the girl gasped. "Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?" Tonks whispered. And she was, a vision in spite of the sadness that came from her in waves. Or perhaps because of it. There was something about the delicate vulnerability of the girl in front of her—all porcelain skin and wide eyes—that drew Tonks to her, feeding a need to protect, to explore, to possess all that was sheltered behind the wary gaze.
Ginny's reflection frowned. She raised a hand to wipe at a tear. "I look like a mess," she said, gesturing to her red eyes and the dark smudges beneath them. "I am a mess," she whispered. "I've lost weight and I can't sleep and…I don't think he'll come back."
Tonks refrained from asking if she was talking about her brother or Harry. She didn't blame the teenager for thinking first of the boy who had her heart. "They'll come back. All of them." She said the words in a voice more sure than her thoughts; she knew better than to speak in uncertainties when Ginny's heart was already telling her what she'd lost. They both needed the distraction this time would allow.
"I am as sure of that as I am that we'll win this war, whatever it takes," Tonks said. Catching Ginny's eyes in the mirror, she moved closer, enveloping the girl in a hug that brought their bodies flush against each other. The curves of their forms molded together; she felt and heard Ginny's breath catch as her hand slipped over stomach and edged higher. A faint smile traced her lips. Tonks moved her hands to tease open the first button of Ginny's shirt, waiting for the other girl to push her hand away. When she didn't, Tonks leaned her head down, her eyes never leaving the reflection of Ginny's stare. She kissed the back of her neck; her lips parted to allow her tongue to trace along the pale skin. Ginny sighed and clutched at her head with one hand, leaning into her touch.
"You are beautiful," she said. Tonks released another button. Then another. Soon, the shirt had dropped to the floor. The rest of Ginny's clothes followed. Tonks stared at her reflection, taking in the pale creams and rosy blushes of her naked flesh. She closed her eyes and inhaled the faint perfume of the girl's soap, reveling in the feel of soft skin beneath her questing touch.
They could have this time, this one last escape. The times almost demanded it.