"Come on," Mad-Eye growled in an undertone as we filed through the kitchen door. It was pitch black, and my general clumsiness was heightened in the dark. I stumbled over my own feet, and threw out a hand to catch myself. Instead of a smooth wall or countertop, my fingers found something warm. Another hand. Whoever it was gripped me instinctively, anchoring me into place, and I managed to regain my footing.
I straightened up and turned to thank my saviour, to find myself nose to nose with Remus Lupin.
Suddenly, I was acutely aware that his hand was still holding onto mine, and my palm began to tingle. I swallowed around a sudden nervous lump in my throat. I hadn't seen the man in fourteen years, and I still felt like a star-struck seven year old.
"I… uh… thanks," I muttered, now glad of the darkness – it disguised my blush.
Remus was almost exactly as I remembered him from when I was younger – dark blue eyes that seemed to sparkle with intelligence, light brown hair that was a little greyer than my memory, but the same handsome, youthful face, the same infectious – if rare – smile.
He gave me a fleeting glimpse of a grin and awkwardly relinquished my hand. I still felt the ghost of his touch after he'd let go.
"Try to stay on your feet, Dora," he whispered. I opened my mouth to tell him to call me Tonks, but promptly shut it again. I found, for the first time since I went to Hogwarts, I didn't object to my first name. Not in his voice.
I turned away from him, determined not to behave like a schoolgirl with a crush, and felt my arm brush against cold china. There was a resounding crash, and everyone froze in their places, heads swivelling in my direction.
"Tonks!" Mad-Eye groaned. "Right. Hallway, everyone. Now."
We bustled through, a lot quicker than we had intended, and sandwiched ourselves at the foot of the stairs. I somehow managed to be squashed in beside Remus, and I could feel the hairs on the back of my arms stand to attention as his shoulder brushed mine.
Merlin, I really was pathetic.
A creak of the topmost stair caused us all to look up. There was a skinny figure silhouetted in the glow from the streetlamp outside, and he had his arm extended. A wand protruded from his hand, glinting threateningly at us in the faded amber light.
"Lower your wand, boy, before you take someone's eye out," Mad-Eye growled.
"Professor Moody?" came a hesitant reply. I felt a spark of shock run through me as I realised that this was the same boy, the same baby, that I had begged to hold when I visited his parents with my favourite cousin. It was surreal.
"I don't know so much about "Professor", never got round to much teaching, did I?" Mad-Eye replied gruffly, true to form. "Get down here, we want to see you properly."
Harry's wand lowered an inch, but it was still pointing into our midst. I felt Remus shift slightly at my side, and then his husky tones rang out softly in the hallway.
"It's alright, Harry. We've come to take you away."
"P-Professor Lupin? Is that you?" Harry asked, incredulous. Professor Lupin smiled. I could sense it. One of those rare, genuine smiles that I had come to recognise in the last few days at Grimmauld Place.
I felt a sudden, burning urge to see that smile properly. "Why are we all standing in the dark?" I wondered aloud. "Lumos."
I got my first good look at Harry, then, and I swear, I thought I was going to pass out. He was James Potter's doppelganger, save for the bright green eyes that were currently blinking down at us all, shell-shocked.
"Ooh, he looks just like I thought he would," I declared to nobody in particular. I shot the teenager a wide grin. "Wotcher, Harry!" He gave me a nervous half-smile.
"Yeah, I see what you mean, Remus," Kingsley boomed from the back of our little wizard sandwich. "He looks exactly like James."
"Except the eyes – Lily's eyes," Elphias wheezed.
Mad-Eye was, of course, constantly vigilant. "Are you sure it's him, Lupin? It'd be a nice lookout if we brought back some Death Eater impersonating him. We ought to ask him something only the real Potter would know. Unless anyone brought any Veritaserum?"
I caught Remus's eye and rolled mine skywards. He bit back a laugh.
"Harry, what form does your patronus take?" he asked quietly.
"A stag," Harry mumbled.
"That's him, Mad-Eye," Remus assured.
Harry descended the last few steps, tucking his wand into the back pocket of his jeans as he did so. Mad-Eye threw out an arm to halt his passage and glared at him with his mismatched eyes.
"Don't put your wand there, boy! What if it ignited? Better wizards than you have lost buttocks, you know!"
I turned to survey my mentor with amused interest. "Who do you know that's lost a buttock?"
"Never you mind, you just keep your wand out of your back pocket!" Moody grumbled. I grinned at him, affection bubbling in my stomach for the grouchy old man who taught me everything I knew about being an Auror. He was still grumbling as he clanked off towards the kitchen again. "Elementary wand safety, nobody bothers about it anymore…"
I rolled my eyes again. I couldn't help it.
Harry and Remus were shaking hands warmly when I turned back to the rest of our Guard.
"How are you?" Remus was asking.
"F-fine…" He seemed to be wrestling with something he wanted to get off his chest, and I could hardly blame him. Whatever it was, he decided not to voice it. "I'm – you're really lucky the Dursleys are out…"
"Lucky, ha!" I crowed. "It was me who lured them out of the way. Sent a letter by Muggle post telling them they'd been short-listed for the All-England Best Kept Suburban Lawn Competition. They're heading off to the prize-giving right now… or they think they are." I shot Harry a wink – he seemed to be enjoying this particular nugget of information.
"We are leaving, aren't we? Soon?"
"Almost at once, we're just waiting for the all-clear," Remus told him instantly.
"Where are we going, the Burrow?" I could hear the edge of hopefulness in his voice. He surely wouldn't be so excited when he found out where we were actually headed. Of course, by that time, he wouldn't have a choice, because we'd already be there.
"Not the Burrow, no. Too risky. We've set up Headquarters somewhere undetectable." We all began a tight procession to the kitchen in Mad-Eye's wake as Remus continued to explain. "It's taken a while…"
Mad-Eye was drinking from his hip flask at the kitchen table, his magical eye whizzing all over the shop. He was still sulking, I could tell.
"This is Alastor Moody, Harry," Remus introduced.
"Yeah, I know," Harry replied softly.
Remus turned to me with a slight smirk that made my heart hiccough in my chest. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling.
"And this is Nymphadora –"
Mad-Eye looked up from the table in shock when I didn't immediately swat at Remus and start cursing. Panicking at the betrayal of my crush, I said loudly,
"Don't call me Nymphadora, Remus!" I shuddered theatrically to help sell my indignation. "It's Tonks."
Remus grinned. "Nymphadora Tonks, who prefers to be known by her surname only."
"So would you if your fool of a mother called you Nymphadora," I muttered darkly.
The introductions went on, and I could barely concentrate. I was too preoccupied with wondering why on earth my name sounded so horrendous coming out of every mouth but Remus Lupin's.
The welcome dinner for Harry hadn't gone quite as planned. Kingsley had left just after Sirius and Molly had retreated to their respective rooms in high dudgeon after their little confrontation over Harry's well-being – personally, I was inclined to agree with Sirius, though I'd never say so in front of Molly. It was only Arthur, Remus and I in the kitchen now, and Arthur's head was starting to droop into his goblet of pumpkin juice.
"If you're tired, Arthur, go to bed," I told him gently, prodding him with my index finger. He sat up sharply, grunting. "Wassat?"
"Go to sleep," I half-laughed. "You're exhausted."
"You know, you're right, Tonks. Goodnight, dear. Remus." He nodded at the pair of us and disappeared out the open door. I heard his muffled footsteps retreating until he reached the staircase.
The problematic thing was, this now left me alone with Remus. I hadn't really thought that far ahead when I'd told Arthur to get some sleep, and now I was wishing I could call him back down, just so there would be someone to serve as a buffer.
Remus was staring pensively into the crackling fire, his brow slightly furrowed. He looked an odd combination of wise and lost, of young and weary.
"Remus?" I prompted, when there had been nothing but silence for a few moments.
"Oh? Yes?" He snapped out of his reverie pretty quickly, turning his head to look at me. It seemed to dawn on him after a second or two that we were alone, and I saw the flash of panic in his eyes before he managed to rein it in – or was that my imagination?
"Are you okay?"
"I'm tired. It's been a long day."
"Yeah, I think we're all dead on our feet." He paused, and gave me a fleeting smile. "Except you."
I shrugged. "One of the perks of being twenty-two."
"I dimly recall," he remarked wryly.
"Hey, you aren't that old," I cajoled him, wondering why I felt it so vital to play down the age difference between us. Twelve and a bit years was quite a big gap, but it didn't feel that way.
He laughed, he actually laughed, and I felt a wave of triumph wash over me. "Really? You've changed your tune. According to you, I was ancient at twenty."
I felt my cheeks flush slightly at the memory. "Yeah, but I was seven. Ten was old to me, then."
"You were nearly eight," he reminded me, eyes sparkling with good humour. I smiled.
"Oh, yeah. I forgot about that."
"Sirius said you had a crush on me," Remus remarked, then seemed taken aback by his own words. I felt my blush intensify.
"I did. Most definitely," I responded in a moment of recklessness, and I saw his eyes widen infinitesimally.
"You didn't admit it at the time," he teased.
"Women are like that. But I'm telling you now," I said cheerfully, trying not to hear the truth still in that statement.
"Why?" Remus blurted out. "Why did you like me?"
I tilted my head to one side, considering him. What was it about him that I found attractive, hell, that I still found attractive after all this time?
"You were intriguing. Smart, but not showy, handsome, but not arrogant. And you were mysterious. That's probably the werewolf thing," I replied, not really aware of what I was saying.
"You picked up on that at seven?"
"I'm calling it like I see it now."
There was a very pregnant pause, where neither of us knew how to formulate the next sentence. There was a charge in the air, something somewhere between chemicals and magic. It wasn't a bad feeling, just strange. The feeling built and built as the silence stretched on.
"I… uh… I suppose I'd better turn in," Remus announced when the silence got too much to bear.
"Yeah… um… goodnight," I murmured.
That time, I didn't even try to correct him.