Chapter 3- Don't Say Anything
Tonks couldn't have told you what Kingsley was saying if you'd paid her.
A small voice in the back of her head was hopping up and down, saying things like This is probably very important somehow, not that you'd know and This is hardly professional Auror-like behaviour and What if you need whatever Kingsley is saying about centaurs in some sort of life-threatening, potentially war-winning situation? Then how will you feel? Mostly, though, she was absorbed with trying to get Remus to look at her. He was staring down at the table, had been for most of the meeting, and seemed to be picking splinters off the wood. His brow was furrowed in concentration, but he didn't seem to be paying any attention to Kingsley either. She watched his hands, picking at the table with jumpy little movements, and noticed with an odd mixture of satisfaction and regret that like hers, his nails were bitten to the quick.
Don't say anything. Not yet.
The table at Grimmauld Place had never looked so interesting.
Remus sat with his forehead in his hand, staring at the knots in the dark wood, tracing a long groove with a fingernail. Look at the line, he thought. Nothing else. No-one else. It goes right past Kingsley's elbow, then sort of loops around Molly's tea, then under Mundungus' bag- which is wriggling, why is it wriggling? - and then splits off two ways, one line towards Arthur and the other one towards-
He couldn't stop his eyes from moving upwards. He couldn't avoid her eyes, even though the sight of the dark smudges under them, the pinched red rims, made him feel suddenly winded. Her face lit up and she grinned at him, oblivious to everyone else around them, especially Molly, who looked from Tonks to Remus and then hid behind her mug of tea and turned her attention back to Kingsley's discourse on whether or not it might be possible to get the centaurs on-side.
Remus felt his ears go red. Does nothing escape that woman? He attempted to tune himself back into what Kingsley was saying, but he understood only odd phrases, like '…careful of their pride' and '…not do an Umbridge, OK?' He was just worrying that he might be expected to contribute something somehow, since Kingsley seemed to be pausing for breath, when he felt a tap on his leg and nearly jumped out of his skin. Craning his neck, he saw that Tonks was waving a crumpled piece of parchment at him under the table. The burning heat in his ears spread to the back of his neck. How had everyone not noticed? Had they noticed? Molly seemed to be suppressing a fit of giggles, and he doubted it was because of anything Kingsley was saying.
Tonks pinched his leg with unnecessary viciousness.
Well, they've noticed now.
Remus' ears seemed to be throbbing with heat. Kingsley stopped mid-sentence to glare at him from under his eyebrows and Molly gave him a look of supreme smugness from behind her tea mug.
'Sorry… um, splinter.'
Kingsley raised an eyebrow at him and turned away. The piece of parchment had now been balanced on his knee, and Tonks was gazing with unconvincing rapt attention at Kingsley, casting glances back at Remus and waggling her eyebrows.
Remus fumbled to smooth out the parchment.
'What's an Umbridge? I mean, as in Doing One. Ew.'
Remus struggled to conceal a snort, turning it with limited success into a strangled cough. He looked up to see that, again, the entire table was staring at him.
'Erm. Dusty in here-'
Molly choked on her tea. Remus glared at her as with agonising slowness people turned back to Kingsley. He flipped over the parchment and wrote:
'Thanks for that image. No, really.
And in answer to your question, that mistress of diplomacy called a large, armed group of creatures well-known for their pride and intelligence 'filthy half-breeds'.'
As he passed the parchment back to her, he felt her bitten nails catch on his palm and could not suppress a shiver. She was staring at him, and at that he saw a flash of suppressed glee light up her eyes, so that for a moment it was as if no-one had died.
'Oh, I don't know. I would have thought she'd be quite saucy, that kinky little bow etc etc.'
Remus controlled himself, although he felt as though steam might come out of his ears.
'I- buh- wuh- fuhsuhbluh-'
'Wow. That's that answered.'
'It is possible to stammer in note form. I wouldn't have thought even you could manage it.
I know why you're so red, you're thinking about the kinky little bow. Don't try to deny it.'
'I'm not red. Am I? Oh God. Molly is staring. I think the game might be up.'
Tonks looked over at Molly, who glanced hurriedly away.
Remus felt slightly hysterical. He was a grown-up, he was old, he really shouldn't be passing notes in the middle of an Order meeting and he definitely shouldn't be feeling like this, his ears burning like fiery suns, his mouth dry, constantly twitching in case someone noticed that he was breaking rules. He hadn't been like this since Hogwarts. Since Sirius.
'What are you doing to me? I'm a grown man, I haven't passed notes since I was seventeen.'
'Have you seen your ears recently?'
'No, but I can feel them.'
Tonks was shaking with suppressed laughter, so much so that she nearly knocked over her tea. She glanced conspiratorially up at him from under her hair and then looked away, for a moment looking exactly like Sirius. For a brief, mad second, Remus felt so in love it was all he could do not to leap at her across the table.
She was watching him again. She bit her lip, then bent her head and wrote:
'I meant it. Just so you know.
I still do.
You don't have to reply to this. Grown man that you are, passing notes in a meeting, etc.'
Something cold and heavy dropped into the pit of his stomach. Tonks was clutching her tea and staring with determination at Kingsley, her teeth worrying her bottom lip until he thought it would bleed. This is a bad idea. I can't, can't, can't…
'Stay behind after the meeting?'