I sighed heavily as I leaned back in my chair, fighting my ever-drooping eyelids. It was just so… tiring. This whole war was tiring.
It didn't help that it was nearly the full moon.
"You okay, Remus?" I cracked open one eye to see a curtain of long, red hair and a pair of bright green eyes blinking at me.
"I'm fine, Lily. Just tired."
"Man up, Moony," James's voice drifted to me from the open kitchen door. I could hear Harry fussing as his father attempted to feed him. James could never get him to settle the way that Lily could – for the six-month old, any time with Dad meant playtime, not bedtime. "Lil! He's not taking the bottle!"
I watched as Lily rolled her eyes, shooting me a 'what-is-he-like' glance. "Well, that'll teach you for being such a soft touch."
I snorted. If someone had told me even two years ago that James would ever be described as a soft touch, I would have bust a gut laughing. Yet here we were, barely twenty, and James had gone from crimes and misdemeanours to bottle-feeding and marriage.
I had to say, maturity suited him.
I doubted Padfoot would agree, somehow.
"Here, let me," Lily extended her arms for her son as James entered the room. Harry wriggled in her grip as she tilted him back – he was worse for fighting sleep than I was. Stubbornly trying to remain alert, he turned his cheek away from the bottle his mother had offered him, frowning and pointing imperiously to his father.
"Sorry," James said sheepishly to his wife, rumpling his hair in a nervous habit. He shot me a sly grin, which I returned somewhat half-heartedly.
"Remus, why don't you stay here tonight?" Lily suggested kindly. "You're dead on your feet."
I gave her a wry smile. "No more so than usual."
"Listen to the woman, Moony," James advised sagely. "She's never wrong."
Lily fixed him with an appraising look, amusement and exasperation warring for dominance on her face. Amusement won, and she cracked a wide smile. "Flattery will get you nowhere, Potter," she muttered.
"Not in my experience," he replied, winking.
Just as Harry was starting to drift off to sleep, there was a loud rap on the door. The dozing baby stirred, but didn't wake – he was already too far gone.
"That'll be Padfoot," James declared, as if we'd been expecting anybody else. Bounding to the door like an overexcited puppy, James yanked it open to reveal Sirius, grinning broadly. His beaten up leather jacket and windswept dark hair could mean only one thing – he'd come on his motorbike.
This time, however, he was not alone.
Bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet, and clinging to Sirius's hand as though it was the only thing anchoring her to the ground, was a little girl of around seven or eight. She was exceptionally pretty, with wide, kind brown eyes that glittered with the same mischief that I had seen so often in my fellow Marauders. Her face was pale and heart-shaped, and surrounded by a cascade of curls that were an eye-watering shade of… magenta.
"Sirius! I want to see the baby!" she demanded imperiously, leaning around James and craning her neck to try and catch a glimpse of the sleepy bundle of blankets in Lily's arms.
"Wait a minute, Dora, we aren't even in the house properly," Padfoot chided, but his criticism was entirely weightless.
Ah, so that was who the girl was. Nymphadora Tonks, Sirius's cousin Andromeda's daughter. I vaguely recalled him saying that she was pestering him to come and get a glimpse of Harry.
Without waiting for the invite, Dora rushed past James, and she had made it almost halfway across the room before she stopped dead. Instead of looking at Lily and her son, she swivelled to face me.
"Who're you?" she said with evident interest. I smiled at her commanding tone, and the way she propped her tiny little hands on her hips in a bossy gesture that reminded me forcibly of Molly Prewett, the old Gryffindor prefect.
"I'm Remus," I told her patiently. She tilted her head to one side, studying me for a moment.
"I've heard about you. You're Sirius's friend."
"I know I am."
"Did you know, I'm going to be eight next week?" she informed me brightly, as though this should have some significant meaning to me. I raised my eyebrows.
"Really? That's quite grown up."
"I know! How old are you?"
"Dora! You don't ask people how old they are, it's rude!" Sirius admonished, but the grin was still plastered across his face.
She spared her cousin a disparaging look. "Yeah. But I don't care. 'Sides, I wasn't talking to you, so there!" And she promptly stuck her tongue out at him.
I let out a chuckle. I could certainly see the family resemblance, in personality if nothing else.
"I'm twenty," I responded to her question.
"That's old!" she cried.
"Shush, Sirius!" Tentatively, she took another step towards me, as though she was daring herself to come closer. "Can I sit over here?" She pointed one skinny finger at the empty space on the sofa beside me.
"I thought you wanted to see Harry?" Sirius remarked slyly.
"I changed my mind," she decided.
"Ooh, Dora, do you have a crush on Remus?" Sirius teased lightly. James and Lily laughed at the shocked expression on her face, and the sudden blazing heat coming from her cheeks even made me smile, despite my lack of energy.
"No!" she protested defensively, going redder still.
"You do!" Sirius insisted, enjoying watching her squirm.
"Remus doesn't mind if I sit here!" She glanced back at me, as though suddenly struck by the awful thought that I might mind. "D-do you?"
I shook my head. "Of course not."
Her answering smile was blinding. I had to say, it was adorable. And certainly flattering.
Lily was grinning as she watched our exchange. She caught my eye and mouthed 'Bless her!'. Sirius shook his head almost despairingly, and walked over to Lily with his arms out for his godson. "Give us Prongs Junior, then."
James was watching little Nymphadora looking up at me with a slightly star-struck expression. "Bit of a cradle snatcher, aren't you, Moony?" he joked. I rolled my eyes at him, and turned back to the little girl beside me, who began jabbering away like she'd only just discovered how to talk.
Grimmauld Place was crowded, as usual. Molly Weasley was busy shelling peas at the sink, and Arthur and Bill appeared to be having a debate in the corner of the room. Fred and George were using their parents' distraction to their advantage, and were muttering conspiratorially by the fire with Dung. Sirius was staring morosely into his bottle of butterbeer, nodding along to whatever Kingsley was telling him without really listening to a word of it. I had seen the signs often enough to be able to tell when he wasn't paying attention.
He was just waiting for Harry to finally show up, which of course, wouldn't be until the last members of the Guard arrived.
I idly wondered who Mad-Eye was bringing. Hestia Jones, I knew, and probably Emmaline. Oh, and his dear protégé. Whoever that was.
There was a sudden explosion of noise from the hallway, and we all jumped in unison.
"FILTH, SCUM, SHAME ON MY HOUSEHOLD, BESMIRCHING THE NOBLE HOUSE OF MY FOREFATHERS WITH MUDBLOODS AND VERMIN AND HALF-BREEDS!"
Mrs Black's portrait was the loudest voice by far, but there was another, unmistakeable shout.
"Merlin's beard, Nymphadora, you didn't even see the umbrella stand?" Mad-Eye growled in frustration.
"Don't call me Nymphadora! I've told you…"
As a group, we all traipsed out into the hallway to welcome our noisy newcomers. Sure enough, I spotted Emmaline and Hestia, as well as Dedalus Diggle and the gruesome profile of Alastor Moody.
But there was someone else. A very pretty witch in her mid-twenties with a shock of violet hair framing a pale, heart shaped face.
"Dora!" Sirius roared, rushing forwards to hug his cousin. I stared, amazed. The one and only time we had met, she had been no taller than my hip. Now, here she stood, grown up and… beautiful. I gulped, suddenly feeling a little nervous.
"Wotcher, Sirius," she smirked. Her dark eyes roamed over our company, before they finally settled on… me. "And it's Tonks."
I suddenly didn't know where to look.
"Hi, Remus," she greeted me warmly. I gave her a weak smile, confused by the sudden pounding of my heart. "Wow, you haven't changed a bit."
"I couldn't say the same to you," I muttered, and she beamed, throwing back her head and laughing enchantingly.
"Well, puberty had to happen eventually," she responded cheerfully. I gave her a surreptitious glance. Yes, it did. And it had certainly been kind to her.
"Let's not stand around gossiping like a bunch of housewives," Moody said gruffly. "Come on, we don't have the time. We've got serious matters to discuss."
"You need to start taking life more seriously, Mad-Eye. You're far too care-free. Anyone would think there wasn't a war brewing," Tonks said conversationally, winking at me as she passed.
I laughed a little breathlessly, and didn't miss the darkly significant look that Sirius threw me. I thought back to the conversation we had had in the Potters' living room nearly fifteen years ago.
Who'd have ever thought James was prophetic? One look at Sirius's expression, and I could tell he was thinking the same thing.
"Hey, Remus," Sirius began in a sing-song voice. "I'm starting to think Prongs had a point."