After the publication of Remus's bio, I wanted to write a story about the events following Dumbledore's death up to the wedding in Scotland (possibly a little beyond), which would be in sympathy with the new information. That is, that they had a year of 'increasingly warm friendship', followed by nearly a year of 'barely speaking', about certain matters at least, until Remus is forced to admit the strength of his feelings. This has caused a few headaches, mostly because I've written HBP reconciliation fic before and wanted to say something new this time, but here it is.
Soft Falling Rain
In the immediate aftermath of Dumbledore's death, there seems to be little requirement in the hospital wing for Nymphadora Tonks. At least in any useful capacity. Professor McGonagall has removed Harry from the scene, a tearful Hagrid has been sent to break the news to the Heads of House, and the Weasleys are gathered silently round Bill's bed. Only Remus is left with Ron and Hermione in the corner, and she can hear them asking what happens now, that is now the unthinkable has occurred; and Remus quietly answer that Hogwarts may have to close its doors, before it's forced into doing so.
That's unthinkable as well. She wants to protest, loudly, but she's done enough loud protesting for one night. Exhaustion is covering her like a second skin and she can feel her limbs starting to ache, legacy of the recent battle. All that's left is to go home.
As though he hears that unspoken thought, Remus turns his head and looks at her. Seeing as how he's spent the best part of the year avoiding doing any such thing this is something of a surprise. It's even more of one when his eyes come to life in the shocked grey mask of his face, and when he mutters "Excuse me" to Ron and Hermione and walks slowly towards her.
She can tell he's hurting from the way he moves; a little too carefully, as though his ribs are catching him. His robes are covered in dirt, like hers, and there is a splattering of dried blood along the bottom edge. The fighting in the claustrophobic, dust-filled dark of the corridor had been terrifying; spells ricocheting off walls and windows shattering all around. He'd said that Killing Curse had missed him by a fraction. How small the margins were between life and death; between love and fear.
First there was Sirius, and now Dumbledore has gone. Not just sad losses but gut-punching ones of irreplaceable people that the world can't do without. That she can't do without. How will they go on from this?
"Are you leaving?" Remus asks softly.
"I need to be out of here if the Ministry are on their way." So does he but then he'd know that better than anyone. "Besides—" she shrugs, wearily marvelling at how matter of fact she sounds, "—someone needs to tell Kingsley and Mad-Eye before the rumours reach them."
He nods. "Dumbledore will have left instructions in the event of—" He stops. "That is—"
"And Severus Snape. Dumbledore had the utmost faith in his loyalty. I still can't believe it."
"Me neither." She looks at him. "You need to get going, Remus."
He takes a quick glance over his shoulder and then gestures at her to precede him out through the doors and into the corridor. Only Tonks sees Molly, even in the midst of her preoccupation with Bill, lift her head to watch them as they go. Good old Molly, forever hoping for happy endings in a world in which they're in short supply. She's been such a good friend.
Remus has stopped. He's seemingly fascinated with the arrangement of the floorboards, or perhaps it's the scuff marks on his shoes. It seems they're back in the all too familiar situation of this last absolutely hellish year, and the bloody stupid way he has avoided saying what he feels. She wants to shake him all over again. Or shake herself, because if she can't take the hint after making a public exhibition of them both, then there really is no hope for her.
Perhaps he doesn't love her. She's hardly an expert on the subject, after all. She's backed her instinct that he feels as strongly as she does, and based it on… What, exactly? The way he always sought her out; the way his eyes fastened on hers; the way a wasted day was a day she didn't see him and feel alive. Not much there in the way of hard evidence. They've never even touched, beyond the casual touches of friends. Maybe he's simply screwing himself up to say goodbye to the only remaining Order member currently not watching a son bleed into a pillowcase.
"I would like to talk to you, Tonks."
Now he wants to talk to her? "There's no time," she says.
"Please. I know I've no right to ask." He hesitates. "No right to ask anything. You can say whatever you want at the end if you'll just hear me out first."
A long time ago, she'd have given a great deal to hear this. Now Dumbledore's dead and Remus could have been; life will never be as she once imagined it.
"Oh, I wouldn't dare do that," she says, dryly. "Tell you the truth, I mean."
There is a pause.
"Nymphadora." A faint smile appears on his face; a ghost-like imitation of the old one that he used so readily but a smile nonetheless. "I doubt there will ever come a time when you wouldn't dare."
It's the smile that does it. Or the warmth in his voice. Damn him.
"Come on then," she says. "Let's go and be honest."
Tonks's flat is indisputably hers; it's been decorated by someone more concerned with what they like rather than traditional colour combinations, and the result is a bright, busy little home with a welcoming feel. She'd told him how hard she'd saved to buy her own place; it's quite beyond him tonight to tell her that she'll probably have to leave it once the Death Eaters start to hunt the Order members down, if events follow a similar pattern to the first war. He does, however, tell her to change the security and concealment charms.
"As quick as that?" she asks, while reaching for her wand and doing so.
"Voldemort won't make a proper move until after the funeral." She glances at him in unspoken query, with no break in the spells flying from her wand, and he adds, "Snape will tell him Dumbledore's dead, and from what Harry said there were other witnesses up there, but he'll still want to see it with his own eyes and make sure. He doesn't trust anyone, even his own people."
"Perhaps that's something we could use against him." Tonks pushes a hand through her unfamiliar-looking brown hair. "We need to make the most of this time then."
As soon as they're properly inside, Tonks sends her Patronus to Mad-Eye. Break it to him gently, he hears her whisper, he's not so young anymore and he's seen too much. He watches the large, silvery wolf, watches it paw the ground impatiently before racing away, and has to fight to control his composure. How can this have happened? He turns away and makes himself produce the non-corporeal cloud that spins away at speed to find Kingsley. She is now watching him, with an expression he can only afterwards describe as indelibly sad.
The Patronus exchange goes on for a while, and only serves to reinforce how few answers they can provide to stunned questions. Almost every Order member asks the same: "Why did he trust Snape?", "Is Harry safe?" and "What do we do now?"
What Tonks does is to put the kettle on, while Kingsley's final lynx Patronus appears with a reiterated warning to trust no one at the Ministry. Mad-Eye calls a meeting for early the next day. Remus mutters about needing to get home before then, and about spoiling good reputations, and Tonks tells him, in no particular order, to shut up, sit down before he falls down, and that she's got a perfectly good sofa he can borrow for the night. Reputations – unless he's referring to his own of course – be damned.
He blinks. He doesn't argue. It doesn't seem to be in him right now to do so any more, and besides, he has to hold back an involuntary grin that surprises him. It's been a while since he found anything to grin about.
"Sorry about the mess," she says, picking up a stripy cushion from the floor and looking momentarily perplexed to find a t-shirt lying underneath. "I wasn't planning on entertaining. Make yourself comfortable. Are you hungry? You remember where the bathroom is, don't you?"
He does. After she uses it first he washes the sweat and grime away as best he can, attempts some healing on his bruised side, and stands there staring at the unkempt, grey-haired stranger. ("Oh dear," says the little mirror above the basin. "Lots of beauty sleep for you, pet.") He's been here twice before, and the last time, which seems like several lifetimes ago, he'd stood on the doorstep and told her he was going away and to forget him. He remembers being convinced she'd thank him, quite soon afterwards, for sparing her the inevitable disillusionment and misery.
If time has made anything clearer, it's that he hasn't spared her anything. Perhaps he really is ridiculous, as Molly frequently told him.
Back in her main room, the silver carriage clock shows almost 1.30am. It's a new day: Dumbledore has been dead since yesterday. She'd been awarded the clock for coming top of her Auror training class; Mad-Eye had told him that, gruff with pride. Remus notices how brightly the little clock shines, as though it is taken down and regularly polished.
He has no right to be here. No right at all to ruin her life.
"There's only some bread and a bit of cheese, which isn't very exciting," she calls. "And can you get the mugs down off the shelf? I can do us a sandwich each but I should have gone to the grocers in my lunch break—"
Her voice trails away. "Do you know what?" she says, slightly muffled from behind the kitchen door. "I'm cursing because I've got no food in, and a hundred or so miles away Albus Dumbledore is lying dead."
"Come and sit down," he says, and she comes in with two plates of sandwiches precariously balanced in one hand, a jug of Butterbeer in the other, and a white, stricken face. He moves to rescue her before she drops the lot, which means his hands brush against hers and she looks up at him with those dark eyes.
It would be the easiest thing in the world to take her face between his hands and kiss the lines of strain away. He sits down on the sofa with two clear feet of space between them, pours the Butterbeer into a mug, and says, "Drink this."
"I was so angry with him, Remus. I shouldn't have been."
"Who? Dumbledore?" He frowns. "Why?"
"Because he used you."
"He was trying to win a war and I offered. He needed the werewolves on our side, or at least on no one's side, and who was better qualified than I?" He takes a gulp of Butterbeer and it's cool and smooth against his parched throat. "Shouldn't you have been angry with me?"
"Oh I was, don't you worry. When I wasn't imagining you lying dead in a ditch somewhere."
"Well I'm here now, and I'm fine." It's hardly adequate and he knows it.
"Of course you are. So tell me, Remus," her voice is harsh, with a challenging edge to it. "When that Killing Curse missed you tonight, were you relieved or gutted? Or did you just think better luck next time?"
He stares at her. She can't possibly think— Surely she couldn't imagine— He realizes she has every reason in the world to think exactly that. It is well-nigh impossible to explain that while he's never sought death, he has been guilty of seeing if it would seek him out. So that he'd never have to live through her hating him.
"I was glad," he manages at last, quite truthfully. "Glad it missed." And so very glad to see you, Tonks.
"Well," she says, more quietly now, "that's something at least."
They eat the sandwiches in silence, but something has shifted between them and the air is clearer. Less full of tangled emotion. The bread is slightly dry, and the cheese rather tasteless, but it's the best meal Remus has had in a very long time. The company of the young woman sat next to him has a great deal to do with this.
"Didn't you have something you wanted to say?" she asks.
There is so much to say—which he has to explain—he has no idea where to start. Instead, he looks at her, with the flickering light from the candles reflecting in her eyes, and the gentle rise and fall of her breast as she watches him. He thinks of Dumbledore, who gave him the opportunity to make a life; Nymphadora, who wanted to share hers with him. And who unbelievably still seems to want to, and who told a room full of people tonight that she did.
He thought he'd lost all feeling when he heard that Dumbledore was dead, but now it seems impossible to feel so much.
"Only—unless you're planning to leave again—I feel it should wait till tomorrow. That is today." She glances at the clock. "We both need to rest. You look done in and I feel it. This isn't the time after what's happened."
He is immensely relieved. But he has to give her something when she has given him so much
"Tonks—Nymphadora." He's endlessly imagined being able to say words like this in dreams; now it's real he's afraid he won't stop. "I still don't feel this is right or fair, in any way, but I don't have any plans to leave like before."
"Right. Well, of course your cover's blown now Greyback saw you here tonight. And the Order needs you."
"Yes, but that's not what I mean." He hesitates. "You must know you're everything to me, Dora. You've always known."
She sits very still for a few seconds, her eyes growing suspiciously bright. She nods once, almost imperceptibly; sits up a little straighter, and raises her mug in determined fashion.
"To Albus Dumbledore," she says. "May we do him proud."
"To Dumbledore," Remus echoes, and then, because the pressure inside that he's carried around for so long has miraculously eased a fraction, he adds: "and to a little more love in the world."
There is little chance to talk the next day, because breakfast is a hurried affair. Fortunately, the bread stretches to a couple of slices of toast each, and she still has a packet of cereal in the pantry so starvation is narrowly avoided again. Actual sleep was elusive, for various reasons, but Remus takes charge of the tea and toast while she sorts out cereal bowls, and it's reminiscent of some early morning starts for them with Sirius at Grimmauld Place, long ago.
"This is—" She stops, uncertain whether the mood of last night has carried over to this morning.
"—nice." He smiles. "Yes."
It appears it has. It also appears that the easy companionship they once had is back to some degree. Tonks pushes away thoughts that have nothing to do with friendship – such as how near to each other they are in her tiny kitchen – and eats at an unladylike rate.
"I've got to work an afternoon shift," she says, round mouthfuls. "Will you come back here tonight?"
He nods. Looks quite composed. Doesn't look as though the invitation is about to send him running out the door to disappear till next Christmas.
"I need to go home and pick up some fresh clothes. See a couple of people. But yes, I'd like that very much."
More nods, this time from her. More thoughts about his hands, and his eyes, and his mouth. She takes a gulp of hot tea instead, and reminds herself that the way she looks right now, with her hair and her face, his only consideration will be whether to put jam or marmalade on his toast.
The Order meeting is, unsurprisingly, a sombre and shell-shocked affair. With their leader gone, other voices come to the forefront: Mad-Eye taking a leading role is no surprise, given his reputation and authority, but Kingsley speaks out strongly, and Remus also makes himself heard on several matters, talking with the experience of one who has survived a previous war, and who has heard himself what Voldemort is promising to those who join him.
Tonks realises he's one of the most senior Order members left. Of course he always was before, but now he's acting like one.
Arthur's at the meeting but Molly stayed at Hogwarts overnight, where Bill is remaining under the care of Madam Pomfrey for the next few days. Molly's sent an invite to dinner for them both, which is welcome news because it saves Tonks having to think of something to cook. She'll still have to get to the shops; Remus looks as though he needs something more substantial than toast with those paper-white smiles of his. Having arranged to meet up with him at The Burrow after work, her rush of pleasure at the thought vanishes as soon as she crosses the Ministry threshold. Every department is buzzing with the news about Dumbledore. Entering her own, she finds that Gawain Robards wants a large and immediate Auror presence on the streets to reinforce calm and deny ill-founded rumour.
"You join our happy workforce at a time when incompatible words are being bandied around," Kingsley greets her, low-voiced. "In summary, we're to stall like mad until Scrimgeour issues an official statement."
"Do you think he'll include the part where McGonagall wouldn't let him interview Harry and told him to get lost?" Tonks whispers back, but events seem to have moved on at speed. An investigation team are on their way to Hogwarts where a Stupefied Death Eater and two broomsticks were found on top of the tower where Dumbledore died, and where Harry Potter has been reported as running from the scene by several witnesses.
"There's talk that Scrimgeour will invoke the Decree for Justifiable Confiscation," Kingsley mutters. "He's pushing to have Dumbledore's will read by tomorrow or the day after at the latest."
"But that Decree's designed for when there is hard evidence that Dark artefacts are being passed down through families!"
"Quite. But if it goes through – and who's going to stop him – it'll give him the power to confiscate any inheritance items listed in the will. Job done."
Job done, indeed. She, however, is apparently barely up to her own; Robards asking, as he has at regular intervals these last few months, whether her morphing ability has returned yet.
"What a pity it still isn't available to us at a time when the department could be making excellent use of it." He gives her a look which can best be described as unimpressed, before handing her a list of streets to go and be present on. Tonks finds herself out there with a headache and a mounting sense of fury. Mostly because she agrees with him.
The majority of people only want reassurances she tries to give without actually lying, but there are a few scuffles and an uneasy atmosphere that is at odds with the warmth of the June sunshine. Some shops are boarded up for the day (including the grocer, which does nothing to improve her mood). Most disturbing of all is her encounter with Amos Vassey, proprietor of Obscurus Books, who she's always classed as the meek and mild type unlikely to say boo to a Pygmy Puff. It has to be said that Amos isn't looking particularly meek as he runs up Diagon Alley waving a placard proclaiming Death to all Dark creatures!
"Get rid of that thing before I arrest you for disturbing the peace," she says irritably, blocking his somewhat erratic path.
"It's true though, isn't it!" Amos brings his bespectacled face up close to hers, so she can see every sweating pore. He reeks of Firewhisky and she takes an involuntary step backwards. "Dumbledore was always too friendly with those things and now they've gone and killed him! What hope have the rest of us got, eh? I've heard it was a vampire up at Hogwarts! Ripped him to shreds it did! Or was it that half-giant he has working for him? And he had that werewolf for a teacher a few years back. They'll be murdering us all in our beds soon!"
"You need to get a grip and stop being so bloody stupid, Amos. Giants aren't even Dark Creatures. Evanesco!"
The placard vanishes and Amos gropes around in confusion in the air for far too long. It amuses those who have gathered round to watch, but Tonks doesn't find any of it remotely funny. Hagrid's distress at Dumbledore's death is still too raw in her mind, as is Remus's.
"Where do you live?" she snaps at Amos, but it's one of the crowd that shouts out the street as he gapes at her hopelessly. Another prat wolf-whistles and calls out that lucky bastard Amos is going to get tucked up in bed by the nice little Auror.
"Go on home!" she says to the crowd. "The show's over here, unless you want to be in trouble as well."
They reluctantly begin to disperse, which leaves her stuck with Amos. On a normal day, she'd haul him back to the cells to sleep if off there, out of harm's way, but this is a long way from normal, and he's the one who'll be liable to harm if they're filling the cells up with possible Death Eaters. She wastes time she could usefully be spending elsewhere seeing him to his door and almost pushing him inside.
"Watch your back!" he cries, stumbling over the doorstep. "It's decent folk like us that they'll target first!"
It's a relief when her shift amongst the decent folk finishes, and she can go home and shower and change into a favourite top and jeans. She sends an owl to her parents who have been fretting. Remus has neatly folded the blankets he used and placed them on the arm of the sofa; he's washed up and put the pots away in the kitchen. In the old days, she could tease him about making a good house elf; now she sits and looks at the sofa and thinks about him lying there all night, within a few paces of her own room. Easy to imagine him sleepless like her, watching the shadows play on the ceiling till morning came.
She wonders if he thinks of Sirius whenever he sees shadows like that. She does.
The Burrow, with all its familiar eccentricities and smells (whatever dinner is, it promises to be wonderful) is a most welcoming sight. As is Molly, who gives Tonks a long and wordless hug as soon as she sees her, and then ends up clinging onto her for a few minutes more.
"How's Bill doing?" Tonks asks gently.
"Oh, Tonks. It's awful."
She hears all about Bill, who is asleep most of the time but still has sanity and humour intact when awake, and who has knocked back an enormous breakfast. Madam Pomfrey is issuing positive bulletins, though not about the likelihood of his scars ever fading.
"Fleur's sat with him all the time." Molly dabs at her eyes with a lace handkerchief. "I want to be there too, but it's her place, isn't it? Not mine anymore. It's just…"
Molly sniffs. "You and Remus, you always understand. It's made me think that if anything happens to him, who would care for him? Would anyone even come to tell me? I can't bear to think that he could end up like Bill and I'd never know about it. And then there is poor Albus; if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone." She sniffs again and gives Tonks a watery smile. "But it's no good going on like this; I'm driving myself mad and that won't help anyone. Remus has been talking for ages in the garden with Arthur, so quickly, tell me before he comes back: are the two of you together? Has he stopped being so ridiculous?"
"We haven't really talked or anything. Too shattered last night." Tonks drops her voice to a whisper as she hears approaching footsteps, "But he says he's going to stay."
Molly looks delighted – so much so, Tonks wouldn't have been surprised if she'd attempted a high five – and then they hastily straightened their faces and feign interest in the pots bubbling noisily away on the stove.
Arthur comes through the doorway first. She hears her voice say "Wotcher" to him, but her eyes slip past him to the thinner, paler man following behind. Who is already looking at her.
Merlin, she thinks, warmed from head to toe by the intensity of his gaze. Are we courting now?
Molly manages some impressive sleight of hand to slip Remus extra portions of both the casserole and the blueberry cheesecake that make up the absolutely delicious dinner, all washed down with elderflower wine. At least until she overdoes it. Remus, giving Tonks poker-faced glances as yet another spoonful gets added to his plate, is well aware of what's going on, and eats the lot. They consciously avoid topics like Dumbledore and Bill and stick to safer ones: the scent of the blossom still on the trees in the orchard; the steadily rising success of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes as a business venture; whether Tonks can cook Molly's famous chicken and ham pie. (Annoyingly, everyone looks slightly doubtful, including Tonks, who'd voiced the suggestion.)
"I hear the barber's was shut today with all that was going on," Arthur says conversationally to her. "Any idea if the shops will be opening normally tomorrow? I could do with a short back and sides."
Tonks doesn't get chance to reply, which is possibly as well as what's left of Arthur's hair doesn't look in need of anything resembling shortening. But Molly gets in first.
"Arthur Weasley! Why you won't let me cut your hair when I do all the boys' I do not know! You're as bad as Bill!"
Arthur, realizing he's made a noticeable error, begins to hurriedly backtrack, but Remus, apparently in a misguided attempt to divert attention, runs a hand through his own, far more substantial hair.
"I need a cut myself, sometime," he begins, and then his eyes meet Molly's.
"I'll do it," she says, and pushes her chair back.
Remus looks as if he's turned a blind corner and found a group of waiting Death Eaters.
"It's most kind of you to offer, Molly, but I don't want to put you to any trouble."
"No trouble." Molly is already reaching for her apron. "You've just said you need one, and you don't want to be going into town at the moment. All sorts of silly things being said. Arthur, push that table back a bit. Now where did I put my scissors?"
"Molly, really, this is unnecessary—"
Tonks is forced to turn her back to look out the kitchen window as Molly places what looks like an old tea towel round his shoulders. She can feel her own shoulders shaking with supressed laughter. Arthur has melted away, muttering something about checking on his workshop, with an apologetic farewell glance at Remus.
"You men are like a lot of sheep these days," Molly grumbles, as the scissors start clicking away. "Shaggy!"
Tonks bites her lip. "Not too much, Molly," she calls. "It suits him that bit longer."
There is a pause, which is enough time for her to regret her impetuosity, then Remus's voice: "As the lady says, please, Molly."
Tonks smiles to herself. She stares out at the gathering dusk; it's another beautiful, warm evening. The simple domesticity of it all charms her: the click of the scissors and the light from the lamps that have just been lit. In a moment she'll start on the pots in the sink; everyday things that still needed doing. She should feel guilty but it's the first moment of real peace she's had in a long, long time.
"There," Molly says, sounding pleased. Tonks turns round to see her handing Remus a tiny hand mirror. There's quite a lot of hair on the floor, but Remus seems to have plenty left.
"Oh my," the mirror says approvingly. "You scrub up well." Tonks is inclined to agree, though Remus's face is getting redder by the minute.
"Thank you, Molly," he says firmly, attempting to stand up and remove the tea towel while still being brushed down.
"If I say so myself, it's a vast improvement. You look like—" Molly breaks off, staring across at Tonks. Remus stares as well.
"Tonks! Your hair!"
"What?" For one frankly horrific minute, she thinks Molly is suggesting she's next in line at the Weasley Hair Styling Salon. Then she feels it: the faintest of magical tingles at the roots of her hair, gently vibrating down the strands. Remus passes the little mirror across without a word, and she takes it from him with a hand that's not quite steady.
Her hair is no longer dull and straight and mousey brown, but a reddish shade of chestnut. Much shinier. A whole lot bouncier. The ends are even starting to curl a little. If she concentrated right now she might be able to—
"Try the pink!" Molly says excitedly. "Or the blonde!"
But she's not quite ready for that. She's certainly not ready for failure, not after so many this year have rocked her to her core, and she can feel the magic isn't strong enough yet, isn't really there yet. Even while she's thinking about it, the vibrations start to fade.
"Early days yet." Remus is watching her closely. "You need some rest, like all of us."
"Have you thought about a fringe someday, babe?" the mirror asks, and it breaks the silence as they all laugh and it gives her precious time to pull herself together.
"Let's clear up while Molly has a rest," she says to Remus when she's sure her voice is in full working order again. "We owe her for that wonderful meal."
Leaving aside the obvious: it's an excuse for them to work together.
Later, as they walk back through garden – Molly has told them they must look at the blossom as they go – she wonders if they're walking in silence because they're each afraid to break the spell of calm the evening seems to have cast. It's an uncertain future they face, and the deep sadness of recent events is everywhere, but human nature is what it is and it's impossible not to be aware that she is alive on a golden evening like this. And she's going to fight very hard to have many more of them.
Surely Remus must feel this too? Or does she only think that, because she wants him to so badly?
Haltingly, she tries to express some of this to him. He listens gravely.
"Oh, Nymphadora. You're very young." He's smiling, though. To himself it seems, as much as to her.
"Am I? I feel very old." She doesn't really mean to say that. They've reached the apple trees and Molly is right: the scent is sweet and intense and the late blossom beautiful. They're standing under a large canopy of white, but there are crab apple trees here as well; lower and wrinkled and gnarled, and in full pink flower. It's the most glorious sight.
"What were you and Arthur talking about earlier?" she asks, simply for something to say.
"This and that. Mostly that." He smiles.
There is only the sound of their breathing, apart from the hum of a solitary bee who should surely be tucked up in bed by now. He's very close to her; watching her. She barely has to move her hand to touch his sleeve and feel the warmth of his arm.
"What are we doing, Remus?" she asks. "Am I making you miserable pushing things again?"
"No. You make me believe—" He stops.
He leans slowly forward and kisses her. Gently, hesitatingly; his mouth barely brushing hers. He looks searchingly at her, his fingers stroking her cheek, and shakes his head as though in disbelief at something.
"Yes," she whispers, and he buries his hand in her hair and pulls her to him. She clutches at his shirt and slides her hand round his back. His mouth is warm and then gently insistent; she has a glimpse of the passionate man who has held himself in check for far too long. Merlin. It makes her sway back, tugging him with her, till she's leaning against the reassuringly solid trunk of the tree.
There is a curious silence when he finally raises his head, his fingers still lingering in her hair. Tonks is out of breath and she thinks Remus is too. There is longing in his eyes; he must surely see it reflected back in her own.
"Let's go home," she manages at last, meaning, let's go home and talk. Let's not lose this moment.
"What?" Remus looks like a man coming out of a dream he can't quite remember. "I can't— No, I can't do that to you. I shouldn't have—"
"Stop it!" She's suddenly furious that this seems about to be spoilt. "We are not going to have the same conversation we've had a million times before! Remus, please. You look as if someone's told you to get your hands off me, and we couldn't be any further away from that if we tried!"
But somehow she's said completely the wrong thing. He looks as though she's struck him to the heart.
"Not my hands, my filthy werewolf paws," he says bleakly, and takes a couple of rapid steps back before Apparating, disappearing right before her eyes and leaving her standing there under the tree, quite alone.
She wonders how she could ever have been so naïve as to imagine that if she loved him enough, he would learn to love himself.
Part II to follow soon...