To anyone who has been patient enough to wait for this chapter, thank you.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Late Nights

"DUMBLEDORE SACKED. Dolores Umbridge replaces him as Head of Hogwarts."

The newspaper sat on the coffee table between them like a curse. After twelve hours without word from their leader, the Order began to worry. Mad-Eye had temporarily taken over as head of the Order, and things were running at normal, if a little chaotically.

Kingsley sat on an old armchair in the library, clearly deep within his own thoughts. Tonks worried at the knees of her jeans and shifted a little closer to Remus, whose hands were clasped on his knees. On cue, Molly entered, holding a tray of sandwiches to tide them over. The night was disturbed by deep thunderous rain and the occasional flash of lightning. Sirius dove for the food and dug in enthusiastically.

Arthur and Dung were deeply engaged in a game of chess, which Arthur seemed to be winning. Several Order members were missing from the meeting.

"Are you sure he gave no clues, Kingsley?" Sirius asked, for what seemed like the thousandth time.

"As I've said,"Kingsley barked, sounding very unlike his usual, calm self, "he simply vanished. No one was able to track him."

"Dumbledore wouldn't have left us without word if he didn't believe us capable of carrying on ourselves. The last thing we need is for Dumbledore to be tracked down and taken. I say we have nothing to worry about."

"But still, we should wait," Molly nodded.

"Yes, we should wait."

The atmosphere remained electric. Tonks had been in the Auror office when she had received the news. Almost no one had known about the plan to take Dumbledore in. Kingsley had filled her in on the eventful day as soon as they were out of earshot of Scrimgeour and Fudge, both of whom remained uptight and puce-faced for the rest of the day, barking orders to find Dumbledore and take him straight to Azkaban.

Either forgetful of the company they were in, or simply to agitated to care, Remus took her hand in his and held on tight. They had reached a point in their friendship with the others that it was unthinkable for any of them to disapprove of their relationship.

Tonks turned her face up to his. "Wotcher," she whispered, and it pulled a small smile from him.

Everything was silent, and then; "You could have stopped them!"

All eyes turned to Hestia Jones, who was glaring directly at Kingsley. "You could have stopped them from taking Dumbledore and then none of us would be in this mess."

"I beg your pardon," Kingsley replied icily, rising to his feet. "Exactly what good would it have done to draw attention to the fact that I'm a spy in the Ministry? It's all so easy in the Administrative Office, isn't it, Hestia? Safe behind the lines."

"And you!" Hestia continued, her pretty face an angry pink as she turned towards Tonks. "You're an Auror too! Did it occur to neither of you that Dumbledore chose to have spies in such a position so that you might protect him in situations like this?"

"You don't know what you're talking about," Tonks ground out. "To reveal ourselves to Fudge would have been the last thing that Dumbledore wanted. Calm down, Hestia."

"No, I will not calm down. I can't believe that we've failed him so badly!"

"We have not failed him."

"Dumbledore told both of us that in the event of the Ministry coming after him we were both to lay low and let events unfold," Kingsley said, fists clenched at his sides.

"And what are we left with? No leader and no idea where to find him. Nowhere to start and a school under the rule of possibly the vilest woman to ever have worked at the Ministry. What exactly are we supposed to do now?"

"We stay calm," Remus supplied quietly, "as Dumbledore would want us to."

Hestia took a deep breath, nodded once, and sat back down, eyes on the floor. She seemed almost embarrassed. Tonks did not blame her; they all felt the strain and worry, but Hestia had evidently reached boiling point before anyone else.

"Do you think he's alright?" Molly asked, her voice hushed, "do you think he's safe?"

"Dumbledore can handle himself, Molly," Kingsley soothed. "Wherever he is, he's more use to us than if he had been locked away in Azkaban."

"Surely they wouldn't have gone that far?"

"They would stop at nothing to silence him."

Tonks watched the clock strike three, and took a deep breath. Her tea was still mercifully hot on the table next to her, and she took a grateful sip. Her feet throbbed within her boots, aching to be free after a long day at the office.

"Has anyone heard from Severus?" Remus asked.

"Snape," Sirius piped up at last, "just the man we need."

"As a matter of fact, he may be useful when it comes to keeping an eye on what's going on inside Hogwarts," Remus reminded his friend.

"Harry can tell us," Sirius said.

"Harry," Remus reasoned, "should not focus on anything but his studies. It sounds as though Umbridge is making his life hard enough as it is."

"Yes," Molly agreed, "the children should be focusing on their work. None of us should burden them with our worries. Especially Harry. He's had enough trouble for a lifetime."

"Harry can handle himself," Sirius objected loudly.

"He shouldn't have to!"Molly countered, equally as riled. "He's just a boy! Or perhaps you've forgotten that. He's a boy and he's been through some terrible things. But he's not a man, not even close."

"He's braver than some men of forty!"

"But he shouldn't need to be," Molly repeated, "he should be able to count on us to be brave for him, so he can have the childhood he deserves."

"You can't go back to being a child after the things he's seen Molly. He's already grown up well beyond his years."

"No! You're blinded by how much he looks like James," Molly said angrily.

"Not this rubbish again," Sirius roared, standing from his chair.

"I don't think its rubbish at all. You're placing the burdens of a man on the shoulders of a boy. Burdens that you should carry yourself," she said.

"Exactly what have I burdened Harry with?" Sirius asked.

"Simply the knowledge of what we do will pique his interest and you know it. He can't hear of a group against you-know-who without wanting to be directly involved!"

"And he's got good reason to be!" Sirius said. "Voldemort took everything from him!"

Molly paused, breathing deeply, her hand held over her heart as though attempting to calm its racing. "He's got us," she said shakily. "We won't leave him."

"I certainly won't," Sirius said, his voice a little softer. It sounded like reconciliation.

"Neither will I," Remus said gently, and then, "no one here will. We all owe more to Harry than we could ever express. And Dumbledore or no Dumbledore, we will continue to fight for Harry."

"For Harry," Molly agreed. "And Ron, Ginny...Fred and George and Charlie and Bill and...and Percy."

"For everyone we love," Remus concurred. He squeezed her hand. She squeezed back.

"And dear Hermione, of course," Molly added.

They were distracted by the arrival of an owl rapping smartly on the window. There seemed to be a collective intake of breath. It was a smart, tawny owl; a stranger to all of them. Its feathers were sleek and glistening with the rain. Hestia let it in, and it shook itself importantly, holding out a steady leg.

Hestia read:

"Do not fear, the thing that you seek is not far from your heart. In dark times, we can become separate from the ones we need the most, but in time, two parts of a whole have a penchant to find each other despite the odds.

Keep strong."

Everyone was silent, staring; Sirius' mouth had fallen open. Tonks understood; to the more poetic and sentimental of the group, this may seem to be sound advice, but they had been hoping for more word from their leader.

Kingsley took the letter and scanned it with a dubious eyebrow. "Well, it looks like his writing. I suppose he couldn't risk the owl being intercepted."

"But there's cryptic and then there's just vague," Sirius gawped. "Or in this case, bloody poetic. We're none the wiser as to where he is."

"No, but we know that he's alive and thinking of us," Tonks reminded them. "That's something."

"Mad-Eye can continue as our leader until we hear more from Dumbledore," Kingsley said, "he's strong. I'll help, where I can. Remus, we'll need you too."

For a moment, Tonks pondered the wisdom of mentioning Remus as a leader and making no mention of Sirius. Indeed, her cousin's jaw clenched tight, and he glared at Kingsley for a moment, who was still absorbed in the letter. Arthur had risen to pace slowly, rhythmically. He had had a long day at work too, and Tonks could see the dark circles under his eyes. She empathised.

"Alright," Kingsley sighed, and rubbed a hand over his bristly face. "Time to go home. Good work, everyone."

It was something she was used to hearing; in Auror training Kingsley's lessons had always concluded with good work, everyone. It seemed almost out of place, because all they had done for the past few hours was sat and waited. Good work for not falling asleep, perhaps.

Or good work for not falling apart...

"You'd trip over your own head if it wasn't fixed to your shoulders."

"This coming from the man who has to carry his head in a trolley because it's too big to stay up on its own," Tonks snorted, and winced as Sirius gingerly prodded at her swollen ankle.

"Well, it's definitely broken," Sirius sighed, looking uncertain. "I could try to..."

"Oh, God, you don't know how to fix bones, do you?"

"Of course I do!" Sirius protested. "I'm just a little out of practice. And, well, I haven't fixed an ankle before."

Tonks let her head fall back to the dusty arm of the sofa and grimaced as her ankle throbbed a little harder. Her toes felt huge and immobile. The blood seemed trapped in her ankle, swirling around and pressing against the sensitive skin until it was frantic to escape.

Whoever had left the rug rumpled and waiting for a willing foot would find themselves on the end of a nasty hex, she decided.

"Okay, so, if I remember rightly, this needs elevating. I'll try to feel where it's broken," Sirius said.

He found a plump cushion on one of the armchairs and sat at her feet, black hair thrown over his shoulder so that he could see what he was doing. She studied her own toenail in an attempt to keep quiet, watching the polish glint in contrast to the dusty velvet of the cushion.

"So," Sirius said, and she bit her lips as his fingers began to run in small circles over the sore skin, looking for the fracture, "word on the street is that Emmeline's after your pretty little hide."

"Don't trust everything Dung tells you," Tonks reminded him through gritted teeth.

"Ah, Dung's breath is less than peachy but the quality of his gossip is nothing short of rose petals, I can assure you."

"Funny," Tonks smiled tightly. "And I think she's far more interested in Remus' hide, and for far more pleasant reasons."

"I had a feeling it would be something like that. Moony's a little too popular with the ladies now he's in his thirties. He must be one of those wizards that get more alluring with age. Still, it makes up for Hogwarts I suppose."

"He wasn't a draw for the ladies, I take it," Tonks smirked.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that. More that he was more focused on books than girls. Bloody fool, if you ask me," Sirius countered.

"And you're aim was to what...conquer Hogwarts one witch at a time?"

"Oh, of course. Sometimes, even two at a time."

"Oh, shut up," Tonks snorted.

His thumb found a tender spot at the side of her foot and she hissed. The pain grew, blooming until she had to bite down on her lip hard in an attempt not to scream.

Mad-Eye took the opportunity to enter through the open doorway, his appearance heralded by the ominous sound of his wooden leg on the old floorboards. "The rug wasn't cursed," he informed them helpfully, "you were just clumsy. Still, doesn't hurt to be-"

"Vigilant," Tonks finished through her teeth. "Ouch!"

"Is it broken?" Mad-Eye asked, and limped over for a better look. "You'll want to make the binding as swift as possible, Sirius. The more she screams the better."

"Oh, I'm so lucky to have broken my ankle in the company of you two. I've got the man who's never fixed more than a toe and the militant sadist. You know what; just take me to St. Mungo's will you? I'm not risking this."

"Absolutely not, we're not taking you out when you're off your guard. You'll be a hindrance," Mad-Eye said.

"I think there's a pretty bad break right here," Sirius said thoughtfully, tracing a small line across the top of her ankle leading down to the side. "But I can't be sure. I've only ever fixed a big toe. Mad-Eye, what if you...?"

"No bloody way," Tonks growled.

"Don't be insolent," Mad-Eye countered. "Let me see, Sirius."

Sirius gave her an apologetic shrug and backed away to give Mad-Eye a better view of her swollen ankle. His magical eye roamed over the break, no doubt seeing every swollen tendon and fracture. He pursed his lips. "Tonks, how on earth did you manage to do so much damage by tripping over a rug?"

"It's a gift," Tonks ground out. "Look, is anyone going to do anything about this or are we all going to gawp at the balloon ankle until the ministry gets involved?"

"Hmm," Mad-Eye said thoughtfully. "It's going to be a tricky one to mend. Once it's all fixed it should be fine to walk on though. It's a clean break. Might be sore for a while."

"Just get it over with," she sighed, and closed her eyes tightly.

She braced herself for pain, and sure enough Mad-Eye muttered episkey! and her ankle shifted painfully back into place. She cried out, and heard Mrs Black answer in the hallway downstairs. He hadn't lied; the initial shift had been extremely painful, but now it was back in place she felt much better. Her toes were still swollen, but she could wriggle them without biting pain shooting through her foot.

Tonks sighed in relief. "Thanks."

Mad-Eye gave an answering grunt and heaved himself up. "Sirius, bind it for her so she can be up and on her feet for duty tonight."

"Ah, I knew it was too good to be true," Tonks half smiled.

When Mad-Eye was gone, Sirius retook his place at her side, and gently poked her ankle. A swift flick on his wand and he had conjured some bandages. Carefully, he began to wrap them around her foot.

"I'll do it by hand, so there's less pain," Sirius assured her, looking sympathetic. "Sorry. If I'd set the bone you might have ended up with no ankle at all. It would have gotten you out of guard duty but you probably wouldn't have thanked me."

Tonks scoffed. Her cousin's hands worked slowly and carefully, threading the bandage up and over her ankle and back around, tightening it every time until the precarious appendage began to feel sturdy again.

"Remus told me that you spoke to Harry," Tonks said gently, watching her cousin's expression.

"Hmm," Sirius agreed through pursed lips. "I'm not entirely sure how he managed to get such a grasp on rule breaking. I certainly wasn't around to teach him. It must be in the blood. I can't imagine he learnt anything from those muggles."

"So you wouldn't have pulled off breaking into a teacher's office and using the floo network?"

"Me? I was a model student," Sirius exclaimed, and then gave a short bark of laughter. "He had some questions about his father, actually."

"Remus said he was worried," Tonks prompted.

"Seems he was given a little snapshot of, well, not James' best days," Sirius said, "not that Snape didn't deserve it, the smarmy git. Remus still beats himself up about all of that. He got it into his head that if James had left well alone then Snape would never have joined the other side."

"And we never would have gotten a spy," Tonks reminded him.

"Precisely," Sirius said smugly.

"Was it bad, how you treated Snape?" she prompted further.

"It was...childish. But Snape gave as good as he got most of the time, and James grew out of it quickly. Snape carried it with him all through school. In fact, I don't think he ever got over it. At least with James it was a phase. We weren't saints. Not even Remus."

"Oh?" Tonks smiled.

"He didn't exactly object," Sirius explained. "I think a part of him wanted revenge for Snape's jibes over his 'recurring bouts of illness'."

Tonks laughed, "Right."

"Well then, my favourite cousin, I think your ankle is just about ready to go," Sirius exclaimed proudly, spreading his arms as though expecting a round of applause.

Tonks wriggled her toes and gently flexed the joint. It felt tender, but otherwise workable. There was no more throbbing, and the swelling already seemed to be dissipating. She sighed in relief. She hated being incapacitated, especially when it was her own fault. Which, of course, it wasn't. It was the rug's fault.

On that positive note, she let herself be heaved to her feet. Sirius grumbled about how heavy she was and missing the days when he could carry her under his arm. On impulse, she hugged him, wrapping her arms tightly around his waist in a squeeze of thanks. He was like the big brother she had never had.

"I might get Kreacher to remove all trip hazards from this place," Sirius mused. "Or you'll have no bones left by September."

"Make sure to get rid of that bloody umbrella stand," Tonks grumbled, pulling away from him.

Remus returned during dinner. The clatter of knives and forks against china plates halted as the fireplace burst into a litter of green flames, bringing forth a tired looking Remus and a stunned silence. He seemed to be out of breath, and his robes looked ragged. The floo was emergency only, and for a moment everyone simply stared. Mundungus' fork hovered halfway between his plate and his mouth, a carrot waiting patiently on the end. Remus smiled a little at the attentive reception, and Tonks half rose from her seat, but gently sank back down as she felt all eyes turn to her.

"It's alright," Remus assured. "I'm fine."

Molly rose, hand held over her heart, and crossed over to him, brushing the remnants of Floo powder from his cloak. "Oh, dear, what happened?"

The gentle, comfortable chatter began to flare again, and Tonks felt a little more comfortable. Remus unfastened his cloak and straightened out his thin grey jumper. He looked extremely tired.

"Bloody hell, Moony," Sirius gaped, leaning forwards over the table as Remus took a seat next to Tonks. "What happened?"

Arthur had put down his fork and was listening intently as Remus began to explain. "I had a run in with some Ministry officials. They said they wanted to take me in under suspicion of consorting with dark creatures. I spent the last three hours explaining my way out of the Ministry. It seems that in the absence of catching Dumbledore, anyone will do."

"Good lord!" Arthur said, brow furrowed. "That's barbaric!"

"Yes," Remus agreed gently. "They claimed to have evidence that I had been associated with known criminal werewolves and had been seen to be making plots against the Ministry."

Molly placed a plate of pie and thick chips in front of Remus, with a liberal chunk of bread. Remus looked ravenous, and he dove into his food. Everyone seemed to wait with baited breath until he swallowed the first mouthful and could continue speaking.

"They escorted me in," he said, "while I was in Diagon Alley. Two heavyweights that clearly didn't have more than two brain cells to rub together. I tried explaining to them that it was all a big mistake but they wouldn't budge. Eventually I got in touch with Amelia Bones. She dealt with my inquiry after the incident at Hogwarts, and pulled a few strings for me to get me out. She thinks that the prejudice that's arisen towards werewolves is ridiculous."

"Bloody hell," Tonks breathed. "If I'd known..."

"You couldn't have risked being seen to be affiliated with me," Remus reminded her gently. Under the table, away from prying eyes, he squeezed her knee. "There were at least two other werewolves in the office while I was, all charged with the same offence. It seems that Fudge has hit rock bottom."

"I'll bet its Scrimgeour," Tonks said. "You remember all that nonsense about dark creatures being allowed to live out in the open?"

"Yes," Remus said. "It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest."

"I'm sorry, Remus," Arthur said morosely. "I'm sorry about all this. I couldn't be more ashamed to work for the Ministry than I am right now."

"It's alright, Arthur," Remus smiled kindly. ""I'm lucky that there are still decent people who work for the Ministry. If there weren't I might've been looking at a stay in Azkaban."

A fork clattered against a plate heavy, and Sirius drew a shaky breath. Everyone watched as he lifted his head and gave a tight smile. "You don't want to go there, mate. The catering's got nothing on Molly."

Remus smiled and dove back into his food. Tonks took an unsteady breath and watched.

Emmeline's eyes flickered towards them for a moment, lips tight. Tonks felt a rush of shame. At a time like this, jealousy felt like such a petty and dirty thing. The world could be ending; good men like Remus were getting blamed for things they couldn't help. It wouldn't do to fight over another human being. Emmeline was just Tonks, in another life. A Tonks where Remus hadn't returned her feelings. A Tonks that had to sit and watch and love in silence.

Mad-Eye was in deep, animated conversation with Molly. Emmeline turned back to Hestia and struck up quiet conversation, and Arthur became absorbed in the Prophet, brow furrowed behind his glasses.

"Are you alright?" Remus asked gently, finishing the last of his food. He pushed the last few chips to her and she gratefully finished them.

"I'm fine," she assured through a mouthful of potato. Remus lifted the corner of his mouth in a fond smile. "I tripped earlier but it was nothing."

"Nothing?" Sirius scoffed. Tonks silenced him with a glare. "Alright, if you say so."

Her cousin leant back on his chair, rocking idly and scanning the room.

"Come back to mine tonight?" she asked, holding Remus' eyes.

Remus looked hesitant for a moment, and then said "alright."

"I have guard duty tonight, but I'll be back around three," she told him.

"I'll wait up for you," he nodded.

"You don't have to," she reasoned empathically, "you've had a hard day."

"I'd like to wait," he said, with an air of finality.

Molly cleared the plates away. With the meeting and dinner behind them, the unusually large congregation began to head homebound, and only a few people remained. Kingsley made sure that Tonks could handle guard duty alone – which she assured him that she could – and took his leave. Mad-Eye lingered a little longer, and Tonks was sure that she could feel the gaze of his magical eye linger on her tender ankle, bound in its firm bandage.

"Bugger off," she said out of the corner of her mouth. "It's fine."

"You could be a liability," Mad-Eye countered.

"I'll be absolutely fine," Tonks insisted brightly. "I think I can handle sitting on the floor for a few hours."

"It's not always that simple," Arthur reminded her gently, with a shudder.

Tonks winced in sympathy and apology. "Right. Of course. Sorry, Arthur."

"I'll go," Remus offered quietly, firmly.

"No bloody way," Tonks argued. "If you think I'm going to let you be a noble git after the day you've had then you've got another thing coming."

"But you-"

"I'm fine! I can handle it. End of conversation," Tonks finished.

Remus didn't argue, but she could see the tension in his shoulders for the rest of the night. She wanted to go home with him and curl up and make him feel better. Her eyes were tired, but her body sang with a sense of duty. She had joined the Order so she could fight. And fight she would. Especially now, when the Ministry was targeting people that she loved.

The hours until midnight seemed to fly by, in a flurry of conversation, some laughter and joking, and goodbyes. Molly stayed, and put some scoring cloths to work on the dirty old pots and pans that Sirius had left festering. Every now and then, she would let forth a great tut or sigh of deep disapproval. Sirius seemed not to notice.

When the time came to leave, Remus cast a wary eye around the room and pulled her bodily towards him for a kiss. She closed her eyes and sighed against his mouth, hoping that it could tide her over for the next few hours. She could feel the tension in him; the need for her. She prayed time would go quickly.

As it was, the time went extremely, extremely slowly. Her bum went numb and the corridors that lead towards the Department of Mysteries were unusually cold, leaving her shivering and clutching the invisibility cloak around herself for warmth. Her ankle was sore, and as time went on began to throb with stiffness. She wished that she could walk about, or even better, crawl into bed.

The arrival of two o'clock was extremely welcome, and Tonks apparated back to Grimmauld Place to hand over the cloak to Hestia Jones, who was deeply buried in a mug of strong coffee. Finally homebound, she relaxed.

Her flat was quiet and dark when she entered, and she lit a lamp next to the fireplace. She bent down and placed it on the hearth, considering lighting a fire and letting it sooth her chilled, aching bones.

Warm arms came around her from behind, and a smile bloomed across her face.

"Wotcher," she said quietly, so as not to disturb the peace of the room.

Remus kissed the side of her head in greeting, and sighed against her ear. His body seemed to sag against her, as though he had been waiting, tense, for her arrival.

"Okay?" he asked.

"Fine. No problems. Boring as ever."

"I would say good but I don't doubt that you would have revelled in a fight."

"With this ankle? I don't think I would have won."

He led her over to the sofa, and urged her leg up onto the coffee table. Easing her boot off gently, he ran his fingers over the bandage.

"It's all fixed," she assured him. "Just sore. In fact, take the bandage off."

"Are you sure?" he asked, eyes concerned.

"Positive," she nodded. "Can we go to bed? I'm so tired."

"Of course," he agreed, and helped her to her feet. They made their way into the dark bedroom, not bothering to light the room before collapsing onto the bed.

It was heaven, and for a moment Tonks lay face down in the soft duvet. She heard Remus laugh softly next to her. He gently unwound the bandage from her foot and she stretched gratefully. Unfortunately, this resulted in a particularly nasty kick to his eyebrow.

Tonks rolled over and gaped up at him in horror; one eye scrunched up in pain, watering slightly.

"Oh, God! Remus, I'm so sorry," she exclaimed, rushing to the proverbial rescue, "so, so, so sorry."

He laughed a little grimy and rubbed the red little patch, primed to develop into a nasty purple bruise. "No harm done," he assured her.

To her surprise, he tackled her to the bed gently, and playfully nuzzled her neck. She laughed jovially, and tried to escape, but he held her tight.

Eventually, they made their way under the sheets, too tired to get ready for bed properly. Tonks shed her robes and jeans and settled in her t-shirt, wriggling her feet in the cool, pleasant sheets. Remus settled next to her in his underwear, and held out an arm in invitation. She settled against his side gratefully.

She mused for a while that they only seemed to find time to be together while they slept. She had forgotten what it was like not to be tired.

Tonks sighed and dragged the warm cloth up Remus' arm. The blood clung to the tiny blonde hairs and he hissed. She winced, dousing the soft fabric in the warm water and redoubling her efforts. He lay face down on a blanket in his room, a clean sheet covering his hips and thighs as she cleaned his wounds. His eyes watched her face as she worked; skin dark and covered in a thin sheen of sweat from the discomfort. Every now and then, his eyes would become damp with light tears.

"Alright?" she asked, wincing in sympathy for him.

"Yes," he muttered. The goblet of pain relieving potion sat empty next to them, but wasn't standing up to the deeper cuts. It had been a nasty transformation. She could see the scar at the back of his neck was an angry pink. The scar she hadn't been able to save him from; months old but fresh in her memory.

His eyes fluttered shut. "Still with me?" she asked. He nodded slightly.

He hadn't yet found the strength to move himself off the floor. She tended to his wounds as best she could.

On impulse, she bent down to press a soft kiss against his temple. He hummed gratefully, but painfully.

Morning light came through the little gaps in the heavy brocade curtain, guiding her to the worst of the damage. He had only had half a course of Wolfsbane, and Sirius had had to bind him magically to stop him hurting himself or anyone else. The attic had been sealed carefully, but the bindings had come loose, and he had sunk his sharp teeth and claws into his own precious body. He had pulled him arm out of its socket escaping; it had fixed back after the transformation, but there was an angry purple bruise marring most of his arm, and he cried out whenever she tried to touch it. Sirius had helped him to his room and fixed some of the wounds, but when Tonks had entered an hour later, he was on the floor, unconscious.

Her own tender ankle throbbed in response, and she shifted her leg so that she could stretch it out in front of her. Very gently, she ran her wand along one of the deeper cuts. It came together a little, and the bleeding lessened, but the skin refused to knit. She sighed; magical wounds.

He reached a shaky, long fingered hand out towards her, and her heart bled for him. She took it and kissed his knuckles, whispering reassurance.

"It's fine," she said. "It's looking much better now. Does it feel better?"

"Yes," he said, barely audible.

With pupils wide from the potions racing through his blood, he watched her. Lips parted slightly behind his short growth of sandy beard. She hated to think that he had been in this much pain at a time before he would allow her to help.

"Do you think you can stand? Just to get onto the bed?"

"No," he admitted. "Not right now. I'm fine here. Lay down with me."

She settled, a little awkwardly next to him. It wasn't comfortable on her side, so she lay on her back and tilted her head to face him. He blinked sleepily, mouth set in a sweet pout. She ran her fingertips along his cheek, and tried to smile. She tried to lighten the atmosphere. He had told her once that she was better than the sun after a transformation. She felt like she wasn't serving her purpose. It would do him no good for her to be glum.

He settled a hand over her stomach, slipping under her t-shirt to feel the reassuring warmth of her skin. Tonks smiled, and he answered with his own.

"What would I do without you?" he croaked.

"Be miserable and gloomy," Tonks told him, laughing lightly.

"Ah, yes, of course."

"And sexually unfulfilled."

He laughed; a wheezing, strained laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. It creased the sides of his eyes and the corners of his mouth.

She shifted closer; felt his warm breath on her face.

"I have to go to work in an hour," she whispered. She glanced at the clock, which read half past seven.

"I'm sorry," Remus said.

"For what?"

"You hate getting out of bed," he croaked.

"I'm more than content to get out of bed for you," she reminded him. She pressed a kiss against his forehead, and heard him sigh.

"I don't know what I'll do without you," he muttered, on her verge of sleep. Tonks frowned; it sounded awfully finite; the gaping difference between what would I do without you? and what will I do without you?

"You won't have to do without me," Tonks said lightly. "I'll always be here."

Remus' hand tightened on her stomach, and then moved away completely in favour of her face. He wrapped a lock of pink hair around his knuckles, his nails scratching pleasantly across her scalp.

"We love each other, don't we?" she whispered, eyes imploring him. "We can make it through anything together."

Remus looked sad. "I would never want to hurt you."

"You don't have to," Tonks reassured. "As long as you're here, I'm fine. It doesn't matter if we can't marry. Doesn't matter if we can't go and sit in the Leaky Cauldron and have a drink for fear of being caught. None of it matters, as long as you're here. As long as we can stay like this."

He looked fit to cry. She had whispered, as though conveying a great secret.

"Remus?" she encouraged.

"Yes, you're right."

She winked playfully. "I always am."

She placed a hand over his heart and it beat firmly against her palm; reassuring and steady. His body went through such strain. Her mind wandered, as it so often did, to the years to come. Would a cure for his condition be discovered? It wasn't so long ago that Wolfsbane was a breakthrough treatment. No one had considered lycanthropy as a legitimate illness before then; no one had cared enough.

"So," Tonks said, eager to keep him awake until he gathered the strength to move to the bed, "I hear that at school you were more into libraries than girls. I'm not sure book fetish would be appropriate, but should I be concerned?"

Remus snorted, and said, "You should learn to take everything that Sirius says with a pinch of salt. Especially things regarding our days at Hogwarts."

"And here I was waiting for you to ask me to sit in the library in my underwear while you play saucy librarian."

"Oh, Dora, don't," he laughed painfully.

"I could need help with some referencing, and accidentally drop a book..."

He turned his head away, his body shaking with mirth, "You'll give me a heart attack."

She laughed heartily and waited for him to turn his head back to her. A playful smile played around her lips, but his eyes still looked weary. Tonks pressed a chaste kiss against his lips, his cheekbone, and then his ear. He tested his weight on his tired arms, but they gave way, and they both decided to lie there a little longer.

A knock on the door, and Sirius called through; "Everything alright in there?"

"Fine," Tonks called back, and got to her feet. "Come on, Remus, bed is the best place for you."

She heard her cousin move on.

With great effort, she helped him to his feet, and then to the edge of the mattress, which he gratefully and promptly collapsed onto, gripping the sheet around his slim hips. She brought the glass of water he had initially gotten out of bed to fetch and returned to him, perching on the edge of the bed. He sat up and gulped down the drink like a drowning man in need of air.

The clock read quarter past eight, and she sighed, her stomach rumbling. Duty called.

"I have to leave for work," she told him. He nodded and kissed her palm, closing his eyes and finally surrendering to a comfortable sleep.

Tonks watched him for a moment, in the early morning light. She brushed his hair back from his face, kissed him once on the forehead, and left.

To be continued...

Please leave your thoughts!