A/N: This story stands alone, but I'm going to leave this one Incomplete for the time being, because I honestly have no idea where it might go. I haven't written (or read much) fanfic since I was sixteen, and never in this fandom. And yet, four years later, I get this insatiable plot bunny. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in and all that. R n R appreciated as much as when I was a bashful teenage scribbler.
When he first disappeared with the pack, she had heard from him every couple of weeks, even if just a torn scrap of card with a few pencil-scrawled words on it. But it had been six weeks since the last communication. Even so, her assignments for the Ministry and the Order were so frequent and time-consuming, not to mention frequently overlapping, that she didn't really have time to think about it. Worrying had become a leisure activity, reserved for the few minutes between falling into bed and her eyes involuntarily closing, ready to be up again in a few short hours.
So when there was a soft tap at her door one night, just as she was about to lay down to sleep, she didn't give much thought to what it could be. All manner of Ministry officials, allies of the Order and other contacts were prone to knocking on her door at all hours anyway - in one unfortunate incident, even apparating into her front room and almost scaring her to death in the process. She redonned the dressing gown she had just taken off and crossed the living room towards the door.
The first thing she noticed were his eyes; sunken and hollow, blankly staring out into the middle distance from a grimy, emaciated face. Only a sick, feverish glow distinguished them from the eyes of the dead. Only after that moment did she take in the rest of him, the sodden clothes weighing down a frighteningly gaunt frame. His shoulders were hunched, as he supported himself by leaning against the door frame. He did not say anything, the only sound he made being the ragged breaths catching in his throat.
Without thinking - unable to think - she took his arm, softly as though it might break at the grip, and brought him into the living room. His steps were more like guided staggers, and she was almost afraid to let go in case he simply fell down. There was utter exhaustion plain in every limp movement, every trembling limb. Beads of water ran off the hem of his thin coat, trickled over his face from hair plastered flat with rain, seeped into the carpet beneath his feet.
"Well," she said. The calmness, almost cheeriness, of her own voice astonished her. "You'd better get those wet things off. Get warm," She pointed at the blanket folded on the sofa. With a flick of her wand, the fire in the grate stirred into life. She looked at him, but he was still gazing vacantly ahead. He slowly turned his head to look at the fire, with a longing that twisted her stomach. "I'll get you something to eat. You look starved." For once, the expression was not an exaggeration.
There proved to be little of substance in the kitchen - she had hardly been a model of nutrition herself lately. After an unproductive rummage amongst cans of condensed milk and jars of jam in the cupboard, she suddenly remembered a bowl of pasta in the fridge, tomorrow's lunch. She put it in the microwave and set the timer. Most wizards were wary if not outright scared of these sinister Muggle appliances, but her father had insisted on having several such contraptions in the house when she was a child. He had always found something comforting about them, and it must have rubbed off, for when she first leased the flat she did not quickly dispose of the appliances as any other witch would have done. In fact, her domestic talents being what they were, if anything this strange beast was safer than a supposedly simple charm.
She lent against the counter while she waited, finally allowing her mind to come off autopilot and go over what was happening. It was like he didn't recognise her, she thought, remembering him shambling in. When he had looked at her, or rather when she had happened to be in his eyeline, no flicker of emotion had crossed his face. She could only imagine what might have befallen him, and unfortunately that was what she proceeded to do. The ping of the microwave brought her back to this strange reality. She poured a large glass of water and carried it, and the bowl, into the front room.
He was slumped in front of the fire with the blanket around him. His back was to her, but he smelt the food the moment she entered, his head jerking round to fix his eyes on the bowl and obsessively follow her progress across the floor. As she got closer, she could see that he was quivering all over, fighting the urge to wrench the food from her hands. Hastily, she handed it to him and stood the glass of water in the carpet by his side. One arm wrapped around the bowl, gripping it to his chest, the fingers of the other hand struggled numbly to hold the spoon she had provided, he bent his head low over the meal and began to devour it. At first he ate without pause, shovelling one spoonful on top of another, but after a few minutes he began to intersperse mouthfuls with gulps of water, the cords of his neck standing out plainly as he tipped back his head to drink.
It felt awkward to hover over him, so she retreated to the kitchen and put the kettle on. A cup of tea will sort out anything, she heard Molly's voice say in the back of her head, and it seemed so strange now. What on earth would sort this out? What had brought him here, when she had heard him say time and time again that while he ran with the pack he would never, never visit anyone's home. It was too dangerous, even if it meant some food and warmth and a chance to speak freely rather than weigh up each word with the fear that it might get him torn to pieces. And yet, here he was.
When the tea had brewed, she carried the mug and a packet of chocolate biscuits back and placed them down beside him. The bowl was empty now, even the sides carefully scraped clean with his fingertips. He was panting wetly, breathless from the effort of consuming so much so fast. She stepped back and looked at him hunched there, feeling totally helpless.
He hadn't said a word to her since arriving. She wondered, with a sudden knot of fear, if he was able to speak. Trying to distract herself from the thought, she looked around the room for his clothes and finally located them: neatly folded and placed on the windowsill where they wouldn't make a mess of the carpet. That was exactly like him, she thought, feeling a wave of relief wash over her. There was hope, then.
She laid a hand on the material and it was wet right through, so he must have been walking it in for a long time.
"Why didn't you apparate?" she asked, holding a sodden sleeve between her thumb and forefinger. Her breath was tight in her chest as she watched for a response anxiously.
"I didn't have the strength," the voice was a cracked whisper at first. His eyes rose to meet hers for the first time since he had entered the room, still expressionless but at least focussed. He took a sip of the tea and when he spoke next, he sounded more like himself, only rather hoarse. "Couldn't take the risk of tearing myself in two."
"Are you hurt, Remus?"
He grimaced and shook his head slowly. "No. Really, Tonks - no," he added as she opened her mouth to query this point. "I just needed something to eat. Quite badly, actually."
That was an understatement, she mused. She could see the ridges of his shoulder-blades before they disappeared under the thick blanket. He was nibbling at the biscuits with such controlled restraint that she nearly grinned. He couldn't have been politer if he'd been taking tea with the vicar. In any case, she didn't want to push him when he was clearly so used up, so she resolved not to ask him anything else until he was up to it. However, it was he who spoke next, without any prompting.
"The pack has broken up," he said and she looked up quickly at the words. "Things were getting out of hand. The Muggle police... anyway, Greyback decided the pack should go their separate ways for the foreseeable future."
"Eat more of them," she urged, waving a hand at the biscuits. "Where were you when this was decided?"
"Somewhere around Wimbledon Common."
"That's got to be ten miles away," she said in surprise. "You can't have walked all that way!"
His lips stretched slightly, into a thin smile. "Au contraire." And then, suddenly, his face fell and he seemed terribly tired once again. His head and shoulders started to sag forward, his arms hanging limply at his sides.
"You need a good night's kip," she said gently. "Do you want a shower or anything first?" she added, taking in the grimy face and hands and imagining the rest of him to be in much the same condition. He shook his head, even though she knew his tastes for cleanliness and saw that the prospect of a warm shower was a sore temptation.
"No, I'd better not. When I go back, it won't do at all to look like I've been living the life of Riley with purebloods."
Her lips parted in surprise. "What do you mean, when you go back?" she asked sharply. The thin face looked up from between the drooping shoulders and said in a tired but resigned tone:
"The pack's broken up for now, but Dumbledore might well want me to try and track down Greyback. Or one of the others. And in that case-"
"You can't!" The loudness of her interruption surprised her even more than it did him. "You can't go back! Look at you!" she was aware that her voice was wavering. "It'll kill you," she finished, trailing into a whisper.
"I'll do whatever I'm asked," he replied stiffly, with none of the fire that had been in her voice. "He knows what's best."
There was a firm finality about his words that made her decide any argument was pointless. Even in this weakened state, he wasn't backing down any time soon. Besides, it felt cruel to argue with him when he was like this.
"You'd better get to sleep, then," she said as brightly as she could muster. "Have my bed. Please. I'll be fine on the sofa."
"Absolutely not," he said. Before she could open her mouth to protest, he added: "I'd much rather be out here near the fire, if you don't mind."
Once again, the gesture was so familiarly him that she felt a smile creeping onto her face. He had a way with diplomacy, she had to admit. "Alright then. Seeing as you prefer."
He eased himself onto his feet slowly, and with frequent hisses of pain, his colourless lips clamped together over gritted teeth. A few shaky steps later, he sank onto the sofa and gingerly arranged his stiff limbs into a suitable sleeping position. As she walked past after turning out the light, she trailed her fingers briefly across his cheek.
Suddenly, he grasped the fingers with an unsuspected strength and kissed them briefly in the dark. He did not say anything.
He was asleep before she had cleared away the dishes.
As soon as he was out, all the gentleness of her manner disappeared entirely. She marched into her room, sat at the desk, pulled out some parchment and scribbled a Howler to Dumbledore which, had it been sent, would surely have ranked among the most venomous that long-lived gentleman had ever received. As it was, after reading it over with grim satisfaction once or twice, she took a deep breath and crumpled it, tossing it into the wastepaper basket. Taking out a fresh piece of parchment, she wrote simply:
Remus is here.
The strategic bulletin out of the way, she felt rather at a loss as to how to proceed. Finally, she touched quill to paper again a line further down the page.
The man you took away from us – she almost wrote 'me', but checked herself at the last moment – was strong and full of life. 'The one you sent back' she continued in her head angrily, but eventually settled for the more neutral the one who has come back is broken. He hardly knew me at first, and his bones are standing out beneath the skin. But he will go back out there if you so much as say the word.
She took another deep breath, gnawed on the end of the quill and reread what she had written. Then she went on:
If you have a fraction of the compassion in your soul they say you have... And she had always been rather more reserved on this point than Remus. He might be older and supposedly wiser, but as much as she respected the venerable wizard, she could not ignore what he could drive his allies to the way Remus could… then please spare Remus for the time being. He has done enough. She underscored this last word twice, her hand shaking with anger rather than fear, and then finished: Otherwise, you might just as well cast the Killing Curse yourself.
She signed off hastily and entrusted the rolled-up message to Wiglet, who perched expectantly on the window-sill. Within minutes of watching the downy creature flutter into the night, she was in bed and fast asleep.
It was the light tapping at the window that awoke her. She rolled over drowsily to see Wiglet with its head stuck fast in the few inches she had left the window open. His small feet batted at the glass as his legs squirmed in discomfort. Immediately, she was on her feet and at the window, where she freed the imperilled owl and took the message it held in its beak. It was written in Albus Dumbledore's hand and consisted of only one line.
You have my word.