'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 tonight.'
Remus had never thought that Celestina Warbeck's songs would ever apply to him, yet, as he found himself listening to her warbling voice sing 'A Cauldron Full Of Hot, Strong Love' from the Weasley's wireless radio, he was stuck with a fine sense of longing. It was Christmas Eve and he had accepted Molly's invitation to spend the holiday with her family, Fleur Delacour and of course, Harry, at The Burrow. Fred, George and Ginny had started up a rather loud game of exploding snap, Fleur – after stating that she found Warbeck rather boring, was perched in Bill's lap, loftily speaking about nothing in particular, whilst Ron – Remus noticed, watched the pair interact rather interestedly. Remus was sitting in a deep armchair, beside the large fire, staring absent-mindedly into its dancing depths. Molly had been gradually turning up her favourite singer's song, in a fight against her future daughter-in-law's loud and musical voice, so Remus was having great difficulty listening in on Arthur and Harry's conversation from his left.
However, the jazzy number soon came to an end, just as he heard Harry pause, gathering his thoughts before speaking. "Mr Weasley, you know what I told you at the station when we were setting off for school?"
Arthur nodded, turning to catch Remus' eye, but failing as he was more interested in the half-peeled satsuma in Arthur's hands. "I checked, Harry. I went and searched the Malfoy's house. There was nothing, either broken or whole, that shouldn't have been there."
Remus internally sighed as Harry persevered. He couldn't understand why the boy was so certain that the Malfoys had dark deeds on the horizon; he was far more concerned about what had happened between himself and Tonks on the night of the search. "Yeah, I know, I saw in The Prophet that you'd looked." Harry continued. "But this is something different… Well, something more."
Lupin quietly listened to Harry tell Arthur about an overheard conversation between Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape. It was slightly suspicious, he agreed, but not something to worry about. The was a small silence after Harry had finished, during which the only noise was Warbeck's softer ballad of 'You Charmed The Heart Right Out Of Me'. Slowly closing his eyes, Remus tried to block out the images which came to mind as he let the lyrics wash over him.
'Oh, my poor heart, where has it gone?
It's left me for a spell…'
He had not seen, or even heard from, Tonks since the night that she had told him that she hated him. 'Really, it's for the best.' He thought, as he looked back into the flames. His own heart-ache was far better to suffer through that it would be if he'd let her in, then only to savagely harm her as he feared. But, even as he told himself that, he couldn't help but wonder if he would be in an entirely different place and situation if he'd acted differently on either of those two nights. If he had spoken the truth instead of hiding it all behind false words of no emotion.
But for now, he turned his attentions back to where Arthur seemed to have thought the same the thing as Remus had earlier, for when he again spoke, his voice was unconcerned. "Has is occurred to you, Harry, that Snape was simply pretending –"
Harry quickly cut in. "Pretending to offer help, so that he could find out what Malfoy's up to? Yeah, I thought you'd say that. But how do we know?"
"It isn't our business to know." Lupin broke through, much to everyone's surprise, as he fully turned away from the fire. "It's Dumbledore's business. Dumbledore trusts Severus, and that ought to be good enough for all of us."
The boy couldn't take 'no' for an answer. "But, just say – just say Dumbledore's wrong about Snape –"
"People have said it, many times. It comes down to whether or not you trust Dumbledore's judgement. I do; therefore, I trust Severus." Lupin spoke as if to end the argument, but Harry did not seem to listen. Either that, or he ignored the finality in Lupin's voice.
"But Dumbledore can make mistakes; he says it himself. And you –" He looked Lupin in the eyes, which, in turn, made him feel uncomfortable. He hated anyone looking directly at his eyes; they held the proof of the monster which he really was. "-do you honestly like Snape?"
"I neither like nor dislike Severus." Harry pulled a disbelieving face, which wholly reminded him of the stubborn expression he'd last seen on Tonks wear. "No, Harry, I am speaking the truth. We shall never be bosom friends, perhaps; after all that happened between James and Sirius and Severus, there is too much bitterness there. But I do not forget that during the year I taught at Hogwarts, Severus made the Wolfsbane Potion for me every month, made it perfectly, so that I did not have to suffer as I usually do at the full moon." Lupin spoke truthfully; he could still remember how close to normal he'd felt during that year; not having to worry about his usual transformation. The time that he'd felt almost worthy to those around him. To be sane in the wolf body – it was something remarkable to him, having spent the pre-80s living in constant fear of his lycanthropy.
Harry angrily scowled at him, showing his true dislike of Snape. "But he 'accidentally' let it slip that you're a werewolf, so you had to leave!"
Lupin shrugged, already becoming tired of the conversation. "The news would have leaked out anyway. We both know that he wanted my job, but he could have wreaked much worse damage on me by tampering with the Potion. He kept me healthy. I must be grateful."
"Maybe he didn't dare mess with the Potion with Dumbledore watching him!"
Remus couldn't hold back a faint smile from spreading across his mouth. "You are determined to hate him, Harry, and I understand; with James as your father, with Sirius as your godfather, you have inherited an old prejudice. By all means tell Dumbledore what you have told Arthur and me, but do not expect him to share you view of the matter; do not even expect him to be surprised by what you tell him. It might have been on Dumbledore's orders that Severus questioned Draco."
'… and now you've torn it quite apart
I'll thank you to give back my heart!'
Just at that moment, Celestina's song ended on a high-pitched and long note, after which Molly enthusiastically joined in with the applause issuing from the wooden wireless. Remus let out a long sigh – that of which most people in the room thought of relief. Molly was the only one who knew its true meaning; a mother was intuitive, even to those not in her family. He knew that she'd be questioning him on the matter before he left the next day, and, to be frank, he rather wished that she would just leave it alone. Then again, wishful thinking had never gotten him anywhere.
Fleur broke the heavy silence which had issued after Remus' sigh, by standing up and loudly exclaiming "Eez eet over? Thank goodness, what an 'orrible-"
Arthur, seeing the maddening tension in his wife's face, jumped to his feet, clapping his hands together, in an attempt to diffuse the situation. "Shall we have a nightcap, then? Who wants egg-nog?"
At a few hurried replies, he left to fetch the drinks, leaving everyone else to break out into chatter. Molly sat, her face still a dark red colour at Fleur's disrespect to her favourite singer. It was fairly common knowledge that Molly and Fleur did not see eye to eye on a lot of things – it was not that long ago that Molly was trying to set Bill and Tonks up instead. That was, before Tonks had admitted everything to the caring Weasley mother, in hope of advice. Now Molly's matchmaking attempts had greatly changed, much to Remus' annoyance.
After Arthur had left, Harry turned back to Remus, attempting a more civil attempt at a conversation. "What have you been up to lately?"
"Oh, I've been underground," Lupin replied. "Almost literally. That's why I haven't been about to write, Harry; sending letters to you would have been something of a give-away." He had been meaning to clear that matter up; Harry was probably lonely in outer school interaction, since Sirius' passing.
"What do you mean?"
"I've been living among my fellows, my equals." At Harry's nonplussed expression, Lupin continued. "Werewolves. Nearly all of them are on Voldemort's side. Dumbledore wanted a spy and here I was… ready-made." Remus did not mean to sound bitter about the situation; it was more about that last time he'd had this conversation it had been with someone very different. "I am not complaining; it is necessary work and who can do it better than I? However, it had been difficult gaining their trust. I bear the unmistakeable signs of having tried to live among wizards, you see, whereas they have shunned normal society and live on the margins, stealing – and sometimes killing – to eat."
"How come they like Voldemort?"
"They think that, under his rule, they will have a better life, and it is hard to argue with Greyback out there…"
"You haven't heard of him?" Lupin clasped his hands together, in his lap, his brow furrowing. He did not wish to enter into such a topic, but neither wanted to leave Harry without information which, someday, may have been vital. "Fenrir Greyback is, perhaps, the most savage werewolf alive today. He regards it as his mission in life to bite and to contaminate as many people as possible; he wants to create enough werewolves to overcome the wizards. Voldemort has promised him prey in return for his services. Greyback specialises in children… bite them young, he says, and raise them away from their parents, raise them to hate normal wizards." By Merlin, Lupin loathed that word – 'normal'; it was something which he had always wanted to be, but never could. "Voldemort had threatened to unleash him upon people's sons and daughters; it is a threat that usually produced good results." He paused for a moment, deliberating over the next bit of information as he wringed his fingers together. "It was Greyback who bit me."
"What?" Harry looked extremely surprised and, to some extent, disregarding. "When – when you were a kid, you mean?"
"Yes. My father had offended him. I did not know, for a very long time, the identity of the werewolf who had attacked me; I even felt pity for him, thinking that he had had no control, knowing by then how it felt to reform." Lupin swallowed, remembering how repulsed he had felt during the fight he'd had with Greyback a few weeks prior, how the snarling man had told him that Lupin would always be below him – creations were under their creator. "But Greyback is not like that. At the full moon he positions himself close to victims, ensuring that he is near enough to strike. He plans it all. And this is the man Voldemort is using to marshal the werewolves. I cannot pretend that my particular brand of reasoned argument is making much headway against Greyback's insistence that we werewolves deserve blood, that we ought to revenge ourselves on normal people."
"But you are normal!" Harry exploded with anger. "You've just got a – a problem –"
Lupin could not hold himself back from bursting out in laughter at Harry's ignorant expression. He couldn't understand how people even attempted to persuade that he – a born killer – was like the rest of them. Harry, or even Tonks, would never be able to make him truly believe that. "Sometimes you remind me a lot of James. He called it my 'furry, little problem' in company. Many people were under the impression that I owned a badly behaved rabbit."
With a word of thanks, Remus eagerly accepted a glass of egg-nog from the returned Arthur, suddenly in a much more cheerful mood than before. James – and now Harry – had always had a knack for making him smile in the most unlikely circumstances. Even fifteen years after James' death, memories of him could always make him laugh. Harry now looked over at him, an eager look in his green eyes. "Have you ever heard of someone called the Half-Blood Prince?"
"The Half-Blood what?"
"Prince." Harry answered calmed, intently watching his face.
"There are no wizarding princes." An amusing thought struck him, for he again smiled. "Is this a title you're thinking of adopting? I should have thought being the 'Chosen One' would be enough."
The boy scowled, exclaiming "It's nothing to do with me! The Half-Blood Prince is someone who used to go to Hogwarts, I've got his old Potions book. He wrote spells all over it, spells he invented. One of them was Levicorpus –"
"Oh, that one had a great vogue during my time at Hogwarts," Lupin murmured, remembering all the times that he – and his friends – had randomly been yanked upwards, feet first, in the corridors. "There were a few months in my fifth year when you couldn't move for being hoisted into air by your ankle."
"My dad used it." Harry tried to say casually, but Lupin still picked up on the note. "I saw him in the Pensieve, he used it on Snape."
Lupin understandably smiled. "Yes, but he wasn't the only one. As I say, it was very popular… you know how these spells come and go…"
"But it sounds like it was invented while you were at school."
"Not necessarily. Jinxes go in and out of fashion like everything else." He looked directly at Harry, knowing what the boy was trying to get at. "James was a pure-blood, Harry, and I promise you, he never asked us to call him 'Prince'."
Harry glanced down at his sock-covered feet, on the verge of abandoning the topic. "And it wasn't Sirius? Or you?"
"Oh." Harry turned to gaze into the dying fire, as Lupin had been doing earlier. "I just thought – well, he's helped me out a lot in Potions classes, the Prince has."
"How old is this book, Harry?" Remus kindly asked.
"I dunno, I've never checked."
"Well, perhaps that will give you some clue as to when the Prince was at Hogwarts." Harry nodded, looking once more down at his lap as Remus look a sip of his drink. It wasn't long after this that Fleur started up her own version of Celestina's 'A Cauldron Full Of Hot, Strong Love', at which Molly's thunderous expression, everyone took as the cue to go to bed.
Remus was glad that he had managed to escape Molly's wrath – the formidable conversation was best not to take place whilst she was in such an irksome mood. He retired to Bill's old bedroom at a speedy pace – managing to dart into the bathroom before any of the Weasley children, at which Fred and George declared war. He made sure to thoroughly check his room for any magical pranks before setting foot back inside it – however, was more worried when his revealing charms showed nothing to fear. After closing the rickety door behind him, he stepped over towards the window. It was a simple, thin pane with leaded strips separating it into squares, distorting the reflection of Lupin's face in the glass. Lupin gazed out into the Weasley's back garden, which was quickly becoming buried in snow, watching what he thought were garden gnomes frantically jumping about in it.
His heart heavy with angst, he looked up towards the sky, its moon covered by the thick clouds. It did not matter that his orb of fate was blocked from view – he always knew where it was in its cycle. That much he could tell from his mood. It was the night before the new moon, usually when he felt at his calmest, but that night, he was far from it. The sudden amount of human contact and interaction had left him weary and restless; now was around the time that he would have usually been fighting over a few scraps of food, the night only beginning. His body clock really had become out of sync. Sighing, with one more glance at his sallow and old reflection, he drew back the covers of the narrow bed and slid between the sheets.
Lupin tossed and turned on the old and lumpy mattress that night, barely managing even a few minutes of sleep until the twilight hours of the morning. He couldn't get Tonks off of his mind – she haunted him in a way that no vengeful ghost ever could. Hundreds of images of her over the past few years ran through his mind on a film reel, in a perfect clearness and colour. Her laughing at a joke he had told - her eyes, a deep purple at the time, shining with mirth and contrasting with his favourite bright pink hair. Her crying at him, yelling for all she was worth; red, puffy eyelids, a dark mousy coloured hair and furious expression. And a final one – from the night at the Ministry. The two of them had returned to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, completely devastated over the loss of Sirius, to collapse down on the sofa in the sitting room, stunned into silence. He could remember that when he had started to cry, she didn't ridicule him, but rather held him close as he sobbed into her. He could remember how her hands had soothingly rubbed circles on his back as she murmured sweet nothings into his ear. Finally – perhaps the worst of all, he could remember how soft the jumper around her waist had felt under his palms as he clung to her, how balmy her throat had been against his nose as she had tucked his head under her chin, how warm her lips had felt whilst they were comfortably pressed to his forehead. It was those last few moments of peace and well-being which he had really been content in, before she had whispered those fateful and startling words, causing him to jolt upright and begin gabbling furious nonsense.
It was his last happy memory of this series which suddenly made him rather hot under the collar. He needed to get out of the stuffy room and fast. After becoming so accustomed to dank, dark forests and similar places, he found the enclosed space almost unbearable. Only bothering to slip on his shabby overcoat over his pyjamas, from its hook on the door, Remus debated for a moment about leaving his wand behind – he rather liked the idea of being completely inhabited and defenceless. But, at the last minute, decided upon tucking it into his pocket; it was irrational to risk his life in such times, simply upon a whim.
It was fairly easy to creep down the several flights of stairs, casting a silencing charm upon them so that no-one in the household would be woken at such an early hour. The back door was locked with a password-encrypted spell which could be extremely tricky to undo by an outsider, but Remus breezed through it, having been told the code the previous night. As he stepped out onto the blanket of snow, it came up over his bare feet and some way up his calves, but he relished in the biting physical pain - it gave him something better to concentrate on, instead his emotional turmoil. Over the past couple of months, he'd become accustomed to having bare feet and as a result, now hated any casing around them. He was glad of the numb feeling spreading in his toes as he trekked his way down the garden, leaving deep footprints in his wake, which were quickly covered from a steady dusting of snow still falling from the sky. The freezing air felt as if it was taking large chunks out of his lungs from inside his chest, but even this he enjoyed. Pain was becoming a quick release.
Remus roamed the surrounding fields for a couple of hours, loving that he could forget everything going on in his usual world. For a short amount of glorious time, there was no war raging. There was no Voldemort threatening those around him. Perhaps the best of all, there was no endearing witch plaguing his thoughts of burning desire and riddled lust.
It was almost dawn by the time that Remus was finished with his roaming. He returned to the Weasley's back porch, dried his wet clothes with a simple spell, and returned back to Bill's room. This time, when his head hit the pillow, he slept soundly with no worries, no concern, no Tonks whatsoever.
Remus woke only a few hours later, but even the small amount of sleep had refreshed his troubled mind. Mid-morning light seeped in through the thin curtains, portraying that it was around mid-morning. Judging from the bustled noises below, he'd been left to sleep upon his will, for which he was extremely grateful. There was a single wrapped package at the foot of his bed and this surprised him - it had been many years since anyone had been thoughtful enough to send him a Christmas present. He had no family, no friends left. Sirius could never have given nor received anything from his cell in Azkaban, but even when he was free, he had never been one for gifts. With the exception of his teaching year at Hogwarts, Remus could truly not remember the last time he'd received a present of such nature, which, in turn, led to the question of whom it was from.
A delighted smile spread across his face as he pulled the brown paper wrapping from its contents, revealing a large, very soft, dark green woollen jumper, knitted by the one and only Molly Weasley. Even as a child, Christmases and Birthdays were small, inexpensive events - all of his parent's wealth had been exhausted in vain attempts to find a cure for his 'problem' as everybody so wished to call it. Such a caring made him feel almost wanted; that he was not a waste of space and that someone had taken the time to make him feel happy.
He quickly dressed into his new jumper, along with a white shirt and his least patched corduroy trousers, before making his way down to the kitchen and planting a large kiss on Molly's cheek with a word of thanks. She'd turned pink and started giggling like a school-girl, almost causing the magically controlled knife to stop chopping carrots and start on her fingers instead. Accepting her request for him to peel the parsnips, he surprised not only himself by doing it by hand; he wanted a bit of manual labour for once, and, if he was being honest with himself, he thought that they were definitely the best-peeled parsnips in the entire country.
Lupin deliberately pretended not to notice Molly, as watched him as he peeled the vegetables. He had just managed to rid his mind of troublesome thoughts, at yet, here was she, wishing to bring them back up again. "Remus, dear, I-"
He slammed the knife down on the countertop a little more heavily than he meant to. There was a rattling of plates, cutlery and glasses, along with a surprised squeal from Ginny's purple Pygmy Puff, which rolled off onto the floor and scurried into the pantry. "Molly, I understand that you mean well, but please do not bring that subject up."
"But even you must see how badly this is affecting you! If you would just think for one minute about what you really wanted, then –"
"Enough." Lupin bellow, his voice cracking; it was rare that he shouted. Down casting his eyes to where a single half-peeled parsnip lay, he picked it back up and continued finishing his task.
"Well," Molly's voice was sharp. "you needn't have been so curt. I was simply trying to help, but, I see when that's obviously not wanted. All I was going to say was that I have Tonk's present still and I thought it might have been nice for you to take it to her. Ron forgot to send it off with the rest of them."
Remus did not reply, instead he skinned the last bit of peel off, placed it back in a baking tray, and abruptly left the kitchen. It was unlike him to be so brusque, but stress can take a heavy toll even upon the most mannerly of people.
Molly had thankfully seemed to have forgiven him later, as they all sat down for Christmas lunch, dressed in the variety of Christmas sweaters – except from Fleur Delacour, Remus observed. Molly herself was wearing a gold necklace and midnight blue witch's hat – presents from Fred and George, as apparent appreciation for years of sock washing. As George loaded some of the proudly-peeled parsnips onto his plate for him, Remus couldn't help but smile at the interaction between the young around the table.
"Harry, you've got a maggot in your hair." Remus noted, with a small smirk, how a faint blush ran up Harry's neck as Ginny leant over to pick it out for him.
" 'Ow 'orrible." Fleur shuddered, whether it was real or forced, no-one was certain.
"Yes, isn't it? Gravy, Fleur?" In his haste to help, Ron's elbow caught open the gravy boat, and knocked its contents across the tablecloth, which Bill quickly cleaned up with a lazy flick of his wand.
Once she had finished giving her fiancée a hearty kiss as thanks, at which many members of the table turned pointedly away, Fleur spoke back to Ron. "You are as bad as zat Tonks, she is always knocking-"
"I invited dear Tonks to come along today," Molly interrupted, slamming the carrot dish down with brute force, as Remus had earlier done. "But she wouldn't come. Have you spoken to her lately, Remus?"
At Molly's accusatory tone, Remus looked back down to his plate, ignoring the eyes which had turned upon him. "No, I haven't been in contact with anybody very much. But Tonks had got her own family to go to, hasn't she?"
"Hmmm," Molly's eyes focused properly on him, her annoyed expression disconcerting him. "Maybe. I got the impression she was planning to spend Christmas alone really." To fill the silence which fell, other than Fleur's giggling as she fed Bill turkey off of her own fork, Remus simply stuffed an entire slice of the bird into his mouth.
"Tonks' Patronus had changed its form." Harry suddenly said to him. So, he had not been the only one who had noticed. "Snape said so, anyway. I didn't know that could happen. Why would your Patronus change?"
Remus took as long as he could in chewing his turkey whilst thinking of a suitable answer, eventually having to swallowing it and slowly reply. "Sometimes… A great shock… An emotional upheaval…"
"It looked big, and it had four legs," Harry interrupted, then lowering his voice so just Remus heard, continued. "Hey… It couldn't be-?"
He was, rather relievingly on Remus' behalf, interrupted by an exclamation from Molly, who was gazing out of the window, her hand over her heart. "Arthur – it's Percy!"
"Arthur, he's – he's with the Minister!"
There was a scramble as everyone turned to look out of the window, Ginny even stood up, and sure enough, there was Percy; striding across the lawn, with no other than the Minister for Magic himself; Rufus Scrimgeour. Lupin felt an acidic presence in his gullet as he realised that; he held a great dislike for those high up in the Ministry. Most were intent on greeting a great divide between the werewolves and the rest of society; something he was completely against. The back door opened, grating into the silence, and there was a moment of discomfort before Percy finally spoke, rather stiffly, however. "Merry Christmas, Mother."
"Oh, Percy!" Molly promptly threw herself into his arms, whilst everyone else, still stunned, looked on, Scrimgeour included.
"You must forgive this intrusion." He said when Molly finally drew back, tears of joy streaming down her face. "Percy and I were in the vicinity – working, you know- and he couldn't resist dropping and seeing you all." Lupin rather thought that Percy's uncomfortable expression showed quite the opposite, but he was not one to judge.
"Please, come in, sit down, Minister!" Molly flustered, trying to discreetly straighten her clothes. "Have a little purkey, or some tooding… I mean-"
"No, no, my dear Molly. I don't want to intrude, wouldn't be here at all if Percy hadn't wanted to see you all so badly." Lupin couldn't understand why the Minister didn't drop the façade – everybody except from Molly, who was tearfully kissing her son's face, knew that Percy would have rather have been anywhere in the world, except the Weasley's kitchen. There was, quite obviously, another motive for the visit, which was quickly revealed as the Minister continued. "We've only looked in for five minutes, so I'll have a stroll around the yard while you catch up with Percy. No, no, I assure you I don't want to butt in! Well, if anybody cared to show me your charming garden… Ah, that young man's finished, why doesn't he take a stroll with me?"
Every pair of eyes turned onto hair, and the air became cold and stiff. To not call Harry by his name and to choose him, when several other members of the group had also finished – it was fairly clear what the true reason for the pair's visit was. "Yeah, all right." Harry broke the silence, standing up. Lupin also did a half-rise as Harry passed him, only to be seated once more as the final and firm "It's fine."
They left through the back door, leaving Molly to continue cooing over her son. Remus watched as the twins and Ginny mashed up his hard slaved-over parsnips with their forks, slowly loading the mush onto the end of them. He had no doubt that in a few minutes time, the now sludgy vegetable would end up somewhere on Percy's face. He quietly excused himself – no-one took much notice anyway, and left the table, making his way through to the living room, where a fire was still steadily burning in the grate. The twins, Ron and Harry had been left in charge of creating the fairy for the top of the tree, which he had just noticed and much to Remus' amusement, looked uncannily like a stupified garden gnome from the bountiful colony that lived in the Weasley's hedgerow.
It was then, that Remus spotted the present resting on a chair's arm. Stepping over to it, he read the address written in the same green ink as his had been, slightly dismayed that it was addressed to the woman that he had just managed to banish from his thoughts. After a few moments, he picked the parcel up, tracing the name with his forefinger. 'Nymphadora Tonks'. Remus doubted that he would ever understand why she seemed to hate her first name so. He found it rather charming and beautiful; there was a softness to it, a purity and a nickname within. It was all a name could ask for.
Remus closed his eyes, heavily tried to block out all of the images which were returning to him. He wanted nothing more than to see her face again – a happy face, so unlike the one he had last seen her with. He did not want his parting memory to be one of despair and so, he slipped out of the house as silently as he could, tucking the package under his tattered travelling robes. It was, however, at the last minute that he changed his mind. Once he had turned upon the spot, exited from the tight space that was apparition, Remus looked up to find himself on the doorstep of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. He had not returned here since the night of Sirius' death – the one which also marked how stark all romantic relations within him lay.
The front door gave an ominous creak as he opened it and as he stepped into the hallway, Remus easily avoided the troll-leg which Tonks had always had great difficulty with. The air was still and thick with dust - Remus found it amazing how quickly a house could become abandoned and lonely. The Order had had great discomfort in using the house for meetings since Sirius' passing, preferring to switch location each time. There had not been too many, Remus thought, but then he had been out of contact for some time. Mrs Black started up her usual screaming as he walked past; "Treacherous mutt, in my house! Be banished, be gone!", and Remus found himself greatly missing Sirius' usual remarks at her to shut up.
The sitting room, he found to be laced with cobwebs, the mantelpieces much more bare of ornaments than he remembered. Then again, Remus was hardly surprised; Mundungus Fletcher knew of the house's existence and the fiend had probably made a large profit from selling the stolen goods. Any items left were ones of no significant value - broken objects, worthless things and, much to Lupin's surprise, a couple of old photo frames. The first was the somewhat familiar one of the original Order, from during the first war. He picked out the faces in a row, which he knew so well; Sirius, James, Lily and at one point - himself, looking a great deal younger and less ragged he noted. The second was almost the same, but the figures changed significantly if one looked closely enough. The second Order. He could remember the day that someone had brought an ancient camera to the house, for reminiscing's sake, and Sirius had been almost beside himself with excitement - he'd wanted a second photo. After much ordering everyone about, he'd herded them into the kitchen, threw some nasty words at Kreacher, which were very much returned, and ordered him to take the photo before darting in and slinging his arm tightly around Remus' neck.
Next to this frame was a stack of other photographs; ones that Sirius had used the rest of the film reel on. Most of them were blocked out by hands, mainly Moody's, who thought that during a war was not a time to be as so juvenile with a camera. There were, however, a few decent ones; Molly and Arthur, Kingsley, Dumbledore, and even a whole one of Moody thunderously glaring and making an irritated hand-gesture. The final in the stack was one of Remus himself, sitting at the kitchen table, between two others. Sirius was on his right, cracking what Remus could remember to be an extremely crude joke. His own figure slowly shook his head in distain towards his friend before turning towards the person on his other side. Tonks. This was the bit that he had no memory of. His hand was resting upon her shoulder, the nearest one to him, and he gave it a gentle squeeze, both of them giving each other a slow, long smile. It was a smile that Remus had seen between many people before; Lily and James, Fleur and Bill even Molly and Arthur a few times. It was a smile of young love blossoming, when the pair were still head-over-heels, with eyes only for each other.
But between Tonks and himself? Never.
The characters in the picture must have been playing tricks on him, he decided; he had found that they occasionally did that. Somewhat angrily, he placed the stack on photos back down upon the shelf, face down so that they could not ridicule him anymore.
It was late by the time that Remus decided to leave. He'd had a very comfortable sleep in the room which Sirius has assigned for him the previous year, and felt much less irked than earlier. Before he exited the lonely house, he did allow himself to look at that photo one more time. 'It's for Sirius,' he firmly told himself. 'It's the last ever picture of Sirius.' And, to some extent, that was true. However, he could not stop his eyes from sliding across the glossy image to where Tonks sat, still beaming at him. He wanted to see her smile again, just one more time. Feeling the package still under his cloak, Remus sighed. He couldn't hold himself back from just seeing her more time. It was innocent, correct? Giving her the Christmas present from the Weasleys and simply talking to her so that she smiled. Surely, by now, she understood that his intentions towards her were only amicable, and wouldn't take his visit for anything more? Yes, that was it; Remus was certain that she would think only that.
He was confident as he stepped out into the chilly night air, ready to apparate to the address upon the parcel – outside, mind. Not inside the actual place; that would have been extremely rude. Tonks, he found, lived in a small flat in the middle of a cramped part of London. The sky was infested with stars, but void of the moon completely. Remus loved the time of the new moon; he felt completely safe that one night. Smartly rapping on the front door, he stood back and waited.
It was sometime before he heard any movement from inside, but eventually there was a scuffling noise and the door opened, the honey-coloured light from the hallway bathing onto his face. Tonks stood in the doorframe, looking a lot thinner and more frail looking than he remembered. They stared silently at each other for a few moments before she promptly slammed the door straight in his face. Remus sighed; he should have known that this was going to happen. Knocking his fist against the door once more, he called through to her, knowing that she could hear. "Nymphadora! Open the door! Don't think that I wouldn't let myself in!"
"You wouldn't dare." Her muffled, angry voice came back to him.
"Don't put it past me." Remus stopped, realising that the way he was going about it was perhaps not the best. Placing his forehead against the mottled wood, he spoke once more, quietly. "Tonks, please. I have a present from Molly. Just let me give it to you, at the very least." The door reopened a crack; just enough for her to poke her arm through and grope around, indicating for him to give her the package. Remus sighed and stepped forwards, wedging his foot in the gap so that she couldn't close it again, murmuring softly. "Please don't be like this… Let me in, I want to talk to you."
"You've never wanted to talk to me before." She grumbled, but slowly let the pressure off of his foot and allowed him to step into the warm house, closing the door behind him.
"On the contrary," Remus murmured, looking sadly down at her. "I've always wanted to talk to you."
Tonks held back a biting remark at him and turned away, walking through to her miniscule sitting room. She heard him falter for a moment before his soft footsteps followed her through. 'He has nerve.' She thought. 'Coming here after what he'd said and acting as if he cares in the slightest.' She sat upon her sofa, watching his tall figure pick its way through the assortment of junk upon the floor. She hadn't had a desire for cleaning recently, nor for much else.
Remus was silent as he took the present out from under his cloak and passed it to her – he wasn't sure whether he was invited to sit down or not, so he remained standing. Tonks took her time in unwrapping it, finally pulling out the bright pink sweater, trying to find words to break the tension. "Oh… How thoughtful! It'll be warm for sure."
He nodded, his eyes never leaving her face. "Mine, so far, as kept me so."
There was a moment where she held his gaze – for the first time ever, she found that he did not look away. "Remus… Why are you really here?"
"One should never be alone on Christmas." He replied thoughtfully, as if there had never been any problems between them. "I thought that you may have liked a visit."
An angry haze clouded over her rational thinking as she stood up, her chin coming level with his chest. Tonks did not remembered being so small against him, but that did not deter her in the slightest. "Like a visit? Remus, what the hell are you on? I've been waiting for months to hear just a word that you're still alive. I see you once, during which you coolly stated that you wanted nothing to do with me whatsoever and now you have sheer audacity to waltz in here and act as if nothing has happened? Yes, I would have liked a visit very much." She finished off, the sarcasm seeming to ooze from every last syllable of her words.
Remus blinked, unsure of what to reply. "I apologise for any misgivings I have given you, Nymphadora," - she snorted at that; it was so like him to act all calm and gentleman-like. "But I do not wish for any bad feelings to harbour between us. I care for you, as a friend."
Even as he said it, they both knew that it was not to be true; they could never be merely friends. "Why aren't I good enough for you, Remus? Why?" She eventually whispered.
"Don't call me that." It didn't sound right coming from him. He was the one who resolutely stood by his wish to call her by her first name - much to her disgust. But now, suddenly changing it, was alien to her. She'd never be Tonks to him just as much as she'd never be Nymphadora to anyone but her parents.
A small smile spread across Remus' mouth; he enjoyed it when she was mildly annoyed with him over the name issue. "If I can't call you by your surname, nor your first name, then what am I to call you by?"
"Dora." The word was out of her mouth before she could stop it. "Call me Dora."
"Dora. Yes." It made sense to Lupin; it was the half-way point between formality and friendliness. His hand reached to gently touch her cheek, and she screwed her eyes shut at his touch. "Dora, the answer to your question is rather that I am not good enough for you."
"Enough for me?" She squeaked, opening one eye as his fingertips still traced her jawline. He wasn't entirely sure why he was doing it; he supposed that he simply liked the feel of her soft skin against his.
"Yes, for you." Remus quietly repeated. "You're young, beautiful, intelligent and a damn-fine witch as there ever has been. I could never give you anything; you deserve someone far better than me. Someone young, wealthy enough to put food on the table, and certainly someone who is not... What I am."
"So that's what this is all about?" She reached up to take hold of his fingers, to stop the unbearable torture of his caressing touch. "It's because you're a werewolf?"
"A werewolf that is thirteen years older than you, with not a knut to his name, yes."
"Remus, I don't care!" Tonks exclaimed, grasping his hand tightly in hers. "I don't care about any of that! It's not what matters! The only thing that's important is who you are, not what. And I know that you're a gentle, caring, intelligent man who would never harm another being at his control!"
"No!" Remus' face flushed with a dark red as he shouted, pulling his hand free. "No, Dora, you don't understand! I'm a killer. A born killer who hunts the blood and flesh of those around him. I'm hated by the ministry, shunned by society, I'm a dark creature. You have no idea what I could do to you - make you an outcast, lose your job. I could MURDER YOU!"
"You're killing me anyway!" Tonks whispered, her eyes scanning his worn face for any hints of a revelation.
"Albeit, a little less literally."
"Remus, look at me! I can't morph my hair colour, let alone much else, anymore. If I can't do that, I don't know who I am! You say that you'd hurt me, but how do you know when you haven't even tried?"
"I have tried, I have!" Remus cried. "And it went disastrously wrong! Do you think that I'm not allowing this for no true reason? I could never take even the smallest risk of harming you, not matter what either of us could gain from it!"
"How have you tried? All I've seen is you push me away at every opportunity!"
Remus heavily sat back upon the couch, massaging his temples with his fingers. He did not want to lose his temper with her, especially during such an argument. Merlin only know what sort of ugly things he could say and do whilst in such a rage. "Dora, please," He eventually managed to say in an even tone. "I did not come here to fight."
He indicated with an arm for her to sit down beside him. She did so, took speaking more calmly. "So why did you come here?"
Mournfully, Remus looked up to her, and after a moment's though, reached out and took her hand gently in his. "To give you a true and thorough explanation as to why it could never work between us." She did not reply but gave an inclination of her head to show that she was listening. Gathering his thoughts for a few moments, he turned her hand over in his, surprised at how small and delicate it looked in his scarred palm. "Dora, I... I've only ever had one romantically inclined relationship in my life... I was a couple of years out of Hogwarts, I was maybe twenty or so; still young and I thought that I knew everything that there was to know. I thought that I had control over my transformations and that I would never hurt anyone; James, Sirius and even Peter had helped me so. I met her at a party the Potters held - she was a great friend of Lily's as a young child." Tonk's eyes widened at the last bit and Remus slowly nodded. "Yes, she was a muggle, but through Lily, she knew of our world. She was not horrified by it, nor envious, merely accepting. We dated for many months and a point came where I thought that I loved her, so I decided to be truthful and tell her about my lycanthropy.
"She, like with the existence of wizards, was not disturbed by it as I had thought. Perhaps she thought that it was a common and controlled thing in our world. Anyhow, many more months passed and she decided that she wished to see me in my transformed state; to know me completely as who I really was. The Wolfsbane potion had been invented a few years prior and after much persuasion, I eventually agreed to it. As I said earlier, I was young; foolish enough to believe that I would bring no harm. Somehow, she managed to get hold to a dosage of the potion for me and we made plans to meet in a forest one night - in the highlands, James and Sirius in their animagi forms came too; they hid from sight under James' invisibility cloak. But the Potion is extremely difficult to brew and it had not been around for long - even some highly skilled potion makers still made vital errors. This happened in my case; the Potion did not work. I attacked her, Dora, I almost killed her."
Remus heavily shut his eyes, his breathing erratic and shallow as he remembered the sight of her mauled face a few days after the attack, when he was finally allowed to see her. "I didn't bite her; it's an absolute wonder. Sirius managed to rip me off before I did, whilst James side-along apparated her to St. Mungo's. I had torn her face and throat up so much that she couldn't talk properly for months after. I saw her three days after the attack; the image still haunts me beyond any comprehension. No-one called me up as the attacker; they named it as an unknown werewolf. That surprised me greatly; that she did not blame me whatsoever. She said that she knew the negative consequences of what could have gone wrong before she took the risk and still loved me regardless of what had happened.
"But I couldn't carry on with it. I left her; I was a coward. I couldn't face up to what I had done to her." He whispered, the tears beginning to leak out of the corners of his eyes. Tonks reached up and gently wiped them away with her jumper sleeve - that made him give her a sad, grateful smile. "You should understand why I can't allow us to happen, Dora. I don't want to ever hurt you as I did to her."
"But you won't, Remus." She murmured in reply, cupping his rough, unshaven jaw in her palms. "I wouldn't have to see you in your transformed state, and even if I ever did, I can protect myself; I'm not a muggle."
She resolutely shook his head. "And I'm too old, too poor -"
"And I love you." Lupin closed his eyes once more, feeling at such a great loss as he had when she'd said the same words that night, many moons ago. "Part of which means that I love everything about you; it makes you who you are. I just wish that you'd let me show you that and receive it in return."
Remus slowly wound his arms around her waist, pulling her towards him and tucking his head into the side of hers. "Believe me," He spoke softly into her ear, "If I could have it my way, nothing would ever stop us."
"Then make it your way. I don't care what happens to me. I just want to be happy with you."
"That's exactly what she told me." His voice turned hoarse. "And look what happened there."
"We'd be careful. We could do it, Remus, we really could." She drew back to look at his face, running her thumbs along his jaws once more. "What do you want, deep down?"
"You." He whispered, avoiding her gaze. "I want you... But I also want you to be safe; away from me."
"But nobody is safe in times like these..."
"I know, and I tell myself then that you'd be the safest with me, in my arms." Placing his forehead against hers, he looked down into her eyes, meeting the fully once more. "I'm sorry, Dora, believe me, I am. If we weren't fighting a war, and the ministry wasn't run by anti-werewolf campaigners like Umbridge, then maybe, just maybe, it could happen. If I weren't an evil, moral-twisted creature, then maybe. If I was certain that I wouldn't ever hurt you, then maybe."
Remus knew that he no longer wanted to push her away, physically or emotionally. He knew that she had a grip on him like no other - he'd be completely selfless when it came to her welfare. He knew, oh damn did he know, that her proclaimed feelings towards him were not in the slightest unrequited.
Even so, he still knew that it was wrong when their lips hesitantly met. They were too soft, unscarred and innocent against his own, but felt too mind-blowing for his own rational contemplation. He should have pulled away, released his arms from their tight embrace of her waist, but he could simply not bring himself to do it. For the first time in many years, Remus felt truly content – he may even have gone as far to say that he was happy.
When Remus eventually drew back, opening his eyes to look down at Tonk's soft face, he neither wanted to deny nor confirm anything. She, too, was accepting of that; she knew from his expression that he did not wish to speak. It was not until many hours later, when he was lying back on the sofa with her along his side, her head tucked under his chin, that he finally addressed one problem – although one less conventional. "You do realise that you did not question me upon my arrival. I could be an imposter and you wouldn't know."
"Moody put a charm upon my door." She murmured in reply, fingering the collar of his shirt. "He knew that I would be the type to forget such things; he had a great, only half joking, grumble about my inability as an auror, hence the spell. It's one that they use in Gringotts; annuls all physical disguises. Even so, do you wish to proclaim yourself?"
"To some point, maybe. It is I, Remus Lupin, werewolf, Marauder and…"
She raised her head to look at him staring wantonly at the ceiling. "And what?"
"And I love you."
It was mid-morning by the time that Tonks awoke. She was upon the sofa, alone, but with a soft blanket wrapped tightly around her torso. Slowly sitting up, she ran a groggy hand through her hair, the memories of the previous night – that one chaste kiss and Remus' latter words. She smiled at that – months of longing had surely paid off, but where in the flat was he now? "Remus?" She called out, standing up. "Where are you?"
It was then that she spotted the scrap of parchment upon the coffee table. It was placed upon a stack of spell books, pinned down with a tea cup to stop it blowing away. Recognizing his tight, upright script, she pulled the parchment out from under the mug, beginning to read.
I cannot even begin to tell you how sorry I am. No words, neither written nor spoken, could ever portray the affliction I have about writing this. I'm sorry that I could not say this to you, face to face. It's a coward's way out – I know that, but a Mackled Malaclaw never changes its spots. I am a coward, Dora, and I apologise profusely for that. I can't go through with this. I cannot harm you, no matter how you say that you have no care about that. It would happen, eventually; I'm no longer as foolish to think that I have control over my non-human self. All that I said to you last night was true, and I'm sorry, so, so sorry for making the eventual outcome of this worse than it should have been. I hope that someday you can forgive me, but I understand if you never can. I do love you, Dora, and it is wrong of me to write this in such a letter, but I do not wish you to think that I have ever lied to you for my own benefit. I'm sorry.
Of course it was from him - it was so gentleman-like, so selfless, so sacrificial. It was so Remus.
AN: Well, it took a lot longer to get out, but then, it was A LOT longer that I thought it would be. Review, pretty please! :D