She could have Apparated back, but she didn't. Something about the thin web of mist hanging in the air made her feel safe, protected. It had been one of the worst evenings of her life, and she needed time to think it over in peace. About a hundred yards away from the castle, she heard his voice call her name, but she was sufficiently far off to pretend not to notice. On she tramped, steadily, her face damp and chilly. A few moments later, she heard his footsteps behind her and then, suddenly, he was at her side.

"Where are you off to?" he said, in a flat, neutral tone of voice, not looking in her direction but down at the ground squelching under their feet.

"I thought I'd nip down to Hogsmeade for a swift half," she replied, equally flatly. That was a lie. She hadn't given any thought at all as to where she was heading, in fact. It had simply been the first thing that had sprung to mind.

"I'll walk you down, then," he said.

She should have said she was going back to her flat, she thought. That was one place he would never have offered to accompany her. That was where it had happened, where he had lent in one evening after work and kissed her. It had been a textbook impulse kiss - sudden, hot and dissolving quickly into nothingness - and he had scarpered immediately afterwards. Since then, he had managed to arrange it so that they were never alone together.

In any case, she didn't reply to his offer and they walked in silence down the damp and grassy slope towards the village. Her feet were getting cold as the specks of dew soaked through her thin canvas sneakers and her head ached furiously. Painful thoughts ran through her mind before she could check them: Dumbledore was gone, the Order was in tatters, and the last thing she wanted was to be here with Remus. Yes, her own problems were minor in comparison to what the wizarding world was facing. In fact, it was like a speck on a windscreen. But it still hurt, there was no point in denying that. Months of stiff silence had taken their toll on their friendship, and tonight's outburst had only compounded her misery.

Once, they had been an undisputed pair when it came to Order missions - he was cautious and she was wilful, and both were brave; but since that incident, that stupid incident, it hadn't been the same. Alright, she thought, so she had been aware that Mr and Mrs Weasley knew how she felt, because she couldn't help confide in the face of Molly's motherly concern and Molly told Arthur everything, whether or not the information was of any interest to him. But to make it so public... Awful. Hideous. What on earth had she been thinking, she cursed herself glumly.

"Tonks..."

She started. She was so wrapped in her own thoughts that she had entirely forgotten his presence at her side. He took hold of her right forearm in his long, thin hand and she froze on the spot.

"What's the matter?" she said, as calmly as seemed possible. He was staring intently at her, his eyes almost feverishly intense. The bony fingers were close to uncomfortably tight around her arm.

"Did you mean..." his voice faltered a little as though strained and he struggled momentarily to regain it. "Did you mean what you said a moment ago? About my being older. About my condition."

Here we go again, she thought, almost bitterly. "Remus," she glanced up at him sadly, steadily. "You know I've said it a thousand times!"

"I know, I know." He smiled wanly at the pointlessness of his own demand, and his grip on her arm loosened, his fingers starting to stroke her forearm gently. "Just say it this once more."

"Yes." Her voice was firm, unwavering, clear as crystal in the foggy night. "I meant it. I always have."

His eyes were fixed on her face as she spoke, as though drinking in the words, but quickly darted up over her head as though looking for danger. "Alright," he said, not meeting her eyes but continuing to glance around into the gloaming, warily. "Alright." His was shaking all over, she realised, terrified of what lay beyond, both in the woods and in her answer.

"Alright?" she prompted softly.

"But we must be very careful. Very." He punctuated each word with a breath. His voice was rapid, still trembling a little, eyes darting every which way. "And we mustn't rush things or do anything stupid-"

"Remus!" she interrupted. He finally looked back down to meet her gaze, as she rested her hands on his arms and held them still. "I'm not a daft little girl and I'm not one of your students," she said firmly, staring into his eyes. "Have some faith in me."

For a few seemingly endless moments, he looked at her in silence. Her words seemed to have chastened him, and his eyes lost their wild aspect and softened as they roamed over her face.

"Okay," he muttered under his breath, craning gently forward. Their lips met softly as he held the edges of his cloak and wrapped his arms around her until it encased her in its folds. She could feel the warm, humid flush between them. At first she was hesitant to move, hardly believing what was happening, but finally she slid her hands upwards, into his hair. He flinched at the first touch, as though unused to such intimacy, but quickly relaxed into the grip.

"Wait. Wait a minute," she said suddenly, wriggling back from the embrace with flushed cheeks.

"What?" he said, panicked, his arms tensing around her, his eyes worriedly searching her face for doubt, even for disgust.

"If I'm not mistaken," Tonks said, her fingers lightly resting against his cheek, "in return for months of moping around like a wet Wednesday, all I just got in return was an 'alright'. That hardly seems like fair play, does it?"

"Mmm," Remus agreed, holding her tightly, his cheek against hers. "Well, about that half... my treat?"