Chapter 1 : Three Simple Words
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Remus Lupin watched Harry Potter leave the train station. He was more than a little worried for the boy, who had been dispirited for days. A cloud of melancholy hung about him, a cloud that had taken shape when Sirius Black had fallen backwards through the mysterious veil.
How will I ever forget? He could clearly and painfully recall every moment of watching Sirius fall as though it were yesterday. Every agonizing second was burned into his mind and the scene replayed mercilessly before his eyes at the most unexpected moments. Now all I have is Harry, the only connection to my friends…
His throat tightened as his other friend’s face swam before his vision. James, grinning wickedly after a successful prank…James, smiling proudly as he held his newborn son…James, his life cut short because of an evil wizard’s insane bid for power. Remus had thought all his friends lost that day – two dead, one a traitor.
And yet here I am…Two friends dead, and one a traitor. How absurd that the one he first thought to be the traitor was one who was now dead. Years of lies and misunderstanding had blinded him to the truth and had cut short what should have been a happy relationship between Harry and Sirius.
And Remus suffered as well. Few people desired to confide deeply in a werewolf, but Sirius had trusted him. Harry did as well, but he was young and trusted Remus as a teacher, not a friend. At times Harry reminded him of James, but he was still not the same person.
Remus was used to being the one who listened carefully, the one who comforted people and gave them rational advice. What he needed at the moment was for someone to listen and advise him for a change. But who would want to do that with a werewolf, other than those few good friends who were now beyond his reach forever?
James and Sirius would have. But they were dead.
He had become so lost in thought that he did not notice a gentle hand upon his shoulder until it gave him a small shake. “Remus?”
He turned to see a young witch with a heart-shaped face and bright pink hair, but he said nothing.
She let her hand fall. “We’re going. Back to Headquarters.”
“The Apparition point?”
A jerk of the head indicated the direction. “Moody’s over there. Arthur’s already gone home.”
“I’ll be there shortly, Nymphadora.”
She made a face. “It’s Tonks. I told you not to call me that.”
“An old man has a short memory.”
“And yet Dumbledore remembers to call me Tonks when he’s around me,” she countered swiftly, smiling slightly. “Let’s go.” She put her hand gently on his arm and led him to the Apparition point.
“All ready?” Moody growled. “You could have been less conspicuous, Miss Tonks.”
Tonks rolled her eyes. “Less conspicuous? I like my hair this way, thanks – though I fancy that Harry’s aunt didn’t.”
The former Auror’s scarred face pulled into a twisted grin before he said, “Right, this isn’t safe. Enough chatting, let’s get back to Headquarters.” With that, he pulled out his wand and turned sharply on the spot, disappearing with a loud Crack!
“Less chatting, ha! And he’s the one who decided to give a lecture!” she huffed.
Remus stifled a laugh. “Well, he’s gone now…Or do you plan to talk more?”
She shot a glare at him before smiling. “No.” She took out her wand. “Hurry, people may come around this corner soon.” She turned and vanished.
Remus slowly drew out his own wand. Tonks’s spirits were bright today – unusually so. Something was wrong, that she should act so forcefully cheerful. It was probably Sirius’s death; they had been cousins, after all. But really, how close were they?
No, something else was wrong. Perhaps he would talk to her later.
He turned sharply on his heel, picturing his destination in his mind: number twelve, Grimmauld Place.
Dumbledore had called a meeting for that night. Remus sat listening, but also watching Tonks out of the corner of his eye. Her appearance had not altered at all, but her expression seemed strained as she listened to Dumbledore speak of the events during the past week.
“As you all know, we have lost an honorable member,” Dumbledore said quietly, holding a glass of wine. “A man of loyalty and action, whose fate forced him to sit idly by as we all did the work. A man who felt it was his duty to protect his friend’s only son, and who died because of it. A man whose loyalty never wavered, despite what the rest of the world may think.” He raised his glass. “To Sirius Black.”
“Sirius Black,” the gathering murmured in response.
After a few moments of silence, Dumbledore set his glass upon the table, waiting for others to do the same before he spoke again.
“Sirius’s death throws what may be an obstacle in our path. We cannot stay at these Headquarters for long; I do not know whether Sirius managed to overcome the spells binding this house to members of his family alone. If he has not, the ownership of this house passes to his oldest living relative – Bellatrix Lestrange.”
“No!” Murmurs of alarm sprang up around the table. Dumbledore held up his hand for silence.
“We must leave these Headquarters for now. I have already found a new place to meet.”
“When do we leave?” Molly Weasley asked.
“Tomorrow, by night,” Dumbledore responded. “Leave Sirius’s possessions untouched. His will has yet to be read. If he has been successful, perhaps we shall return. But in the meantime – or perhaps permanently – we shall vacate this house lest some Death Eater find a way in.”
Everyone rose silently, understanding the meeting to be over. Remus hesitated at the door, looking to the house’s entrance first, then to the stairs. I have to walk around the house one more time. It may be the last I see of Sirius.
He quietly walked up the steps, not noticing the figure that followed behind him.
Cold and empty – that described Grimmauld Place at the moment. It had always seemed a daunting and dismal place in which to live, but the presence of the Order had somehow made it seem less so. People were always coming and going, making the downstairs area a hive of activity. Sirius had often escaped upstairs whenever he did not want to interact with anyone. Before Azkaban, he had been lively and gregarious. Twelve years at the wizard prison had turned him into a much more lonely man, one who had been less prone to confide in anyone.
Remus had watched his friend through his last two years of life and freedom – though freedom could hardly be the right word, considering that he had been imprisoned by lies within the confines of his own home. Nevertheless, Remus had seen flashes of the old Sirius coming back ever so slowly.
Not that Remus was the one Sirius used to confide in. That had been James – two friends who were as thick as thieves and closer than brothers.
Remus paused outside the door to the uppermost room before pushing it slowly open. Here Sirius had spent hours tending to Buckbeak. The Hippogriff had been moved to the Hogwarts grounds a few days before, but telltale signs of his presence were scattered around the room: shiny steel-gray feathers, scratches upon the dark wood floor, a lingering scent of blood from the rodents Sirius fed to Buckbeak. This was where Sirius went whenever he wanted to escape.
“What were you able to tell Buckbeak, Sirius, that you could tell no one else?” he wondered aloud. “Did you not trust anyone capable of speaking?”
Only the echo of his own voice ringing off the bare walls answered. Remus slowly backed out of the room, letting the door click shut behind him.
He climbed down the stairs for a final time, wondering if Sirius had managed to work past all the enchantments his ancestors had laid upon the house. Of course he did, he said to himself. He was one of the best in our year –
He was brought up short by the sound of soft sobbing coming from just beyond the stairs. Pausing, he listened harder. Yes – it was coming from the sitting room just ahead. Remus descended silently, strode quietly to the door of the sitting room, and gave it a gentle push. He saw Tonks sitting on a couch, holding an album in her hands and weeping.
She looked up, brushing the tears from her eyes roughly and trying to smile. “Wotcher, Remus.” She indicated the photographs upon the page. “I was just looking at a few pictures, saying…saying goodbye…” Her voice trembled, but she gulped back her next sob.
Remus moved to sit beside her and look at the pictures. “I never knew Sirius’s family kept albums.”
“They must have forgotten about these – they’re quite old. It’s not much…” she said, turning the page. Her hand passed over the picture on the upper left, and she gave a ghost of a smile. “My mother Andromeda, look. And Sirius, too…”
Remus saw a young girl with dark hair holding a baby boy in her arms, trying to stop him from squirming as she sat for what looked like a family portrait. Next to her were two girls – a younger one with pale hair, and another dark-haired one who looked a few years older. Bellatrix and Narcissa, Remus knew. Andromeda had her older sister’s dark coloring, but her younger sister’s more delicate features. “She and Sirius were very close, weren’t they?”
Tonks nodded. “She was Sirius’s favorite cousin, and he was hers. They were the only ones who hated that Pureblood rubbish – and the only ones who didn’t get Sorted into Slytherin.”
“What House was Andromeda in?”
“Ravenclaw. Not nearly as shameful as Sirius’s being Sorted into Gryffindor, but still…it wasn’t Slytherin.”
“She would never have fit in,” Remus mused, looking at the picture. The three girls were all smiling together, not knowing that down the road of life they would become divided against each other.
“She never did, not with her family. She was devastated when Sirius got sent to Azkaban twelve years ago. I was at school, but I remember that the note she sent me was all blotchy from her tears.” Tonks’s lip trembled as her fingers passed next to the young Bellatrix’s face. “And when she heard that her own sister had cast the curse that killed Sirius…”
At that, a sob rose in her throat, cutting off her voice. Remus watched her fight back her tears. She’s an Auror, she knows how to be strong.
At the same time, he wanted to do something about it. He could not bear the fact that she, like himself, felt the heavy weight of guilt about Sirius’s death. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked softly.
Her dark blue eyes met his, tears threatening to spill from them. “Yes – but at the same time, no.”
“Why not?” He laid a hand on her shoulder. “I feel guilty, in a way, knowing that I was not there to help him, guilty that he was not able to trust me twelve years ago with any of his secrets. If I had proven myself worthy of his trust, perhaps things may have been different.”
He suddenly became aware of the fact that she had stiffened under his touch. Quickly, he withdrew his hand. “Or do you not trust a werewolf like myself?”
Something akin to anger flared up behind her eyes. “How could you even think that? Do you think that I am that…that prejudiced? Look at my mother! Look at her sisters! She taught me never to judge the way they do!”
“I didn’t imply – ”
“Yes, you did! Don’t you understand, Remus Lupin, that you’re one of the few people I know I can trust?”
It was nice to hear that for a change. “I never knew – but thank you,” he said quietly.
Tonks shook her head in an exasperated fashion as she turned the page. The next picture was not secured to the pages of the album, but rather thrust between as though someone wanted to hide it. It was a picture of a teenaged Sirius, laughing as the little girl he held kept changing her appearance.
“Is that you?” Remus asked.
Tonks gave a watery smile. “Yes.” Glancing at the picture again, she added, “I wish I’d known him better. He hardly visited, and Mum didn’t talk about him after he was put in prison.”
“It’s Voldemort,” Remus said. “He’s the one who ruined so many lives, who drove friend from friend…and I may well be next,” he added with a trace of bitterness. “Dumbledore wants me to spy on the werewolves – but if Sirius could die after being trapped in here for so long, being among the enemy could hardly be any safer.”
When he looked back at her, her hands were gripping the album very tightly and her eyes were full of tears again.
She shook her head.
Not sure what else to say, he continued, “I’m sorry that you miss him so much…He was one of my best friends at school…” he trailed off as a single tear fell from her lashes to spot the page and a sob shook her shoulders.
She was not Lily, the only woman with whom Remus had been close friends. Nevertheless, he comforted her as he had often comforted Lily, folding his arms around her in a gentle, cautious embrace of friendship.
The album fell to the floor as she wound her arms around him and cried into his chest. “It was my fault,” she said, voice muffled by tears and the front of his robe. “If I had been strong enough to continue fighting Bellatrix…”
“It isn’t your fault,” he said, rubbing her back consolingly. “You did the best you could.”
“But it wasn’t good enough,” she sniffed, looking up at him. “Sirius is dead.”
“The only reason it wasn’t good enough was because Lestrange used curses that are far from legal.”
“I’m an Auror. I’m supposed to be able to fight people like her!” she exclaimed vehemently.
“And she’s a Death Eater, unable to see right from wrong.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that I was too weak to fight her.”
“You’re not weak. You’re one of the strongest people I know.”
Silence was her only response to this. Remus suddenly realized the closeness of their position – and so, apparently, did she, for she stiffened in his arms. But she made no move to extricate herself; on the contrary, she looked directly into his eyes.
Her own eyes were still dark blue and so wet with tears that they reminded Remus of the ocean’s depths. He inhaled the scent of her hair, an elusive aroma that reminded him of a fresh rainfall on the Hogwarts grounds.
Two fresh tears trailed down her cheeks as her eyelids fell shut. Her face was inches from his own…And quite suddenly, her lips touched his own in an innocent kiss. He drew back abruptly, and her eyes snapped open, blazing with emotions that he could not allow himself to comprehend.
It had been too long. Too long since he permitted himself to feel anything of the sort, too long since anyone knowing his secret had even offered anything more than friendship to him. But he could not suppress the growing tide of emotion and longing that threatened to engulf his rational half. I cannot…
Then her arms moved from his waist and her hands came to rest at the back of his neck. Abandoning reason, he closed his eyes and allowed her to bring him closer. Their lips met once more…and this time, it was no longer innocent. Her lips were soft and warm, playing gently across his own; tears had fallen upon them, mingling the sweet taste of her mouth with their salt…
His hands moved upward and pulled her closer to him as he breathed in her scent. She was the aggressor, not he – her tongue darted to his lips, teasing him again and again before he surrendered. The soft velvet of her tongue flitted within his mouth, gently exploring, provoking his own into a dance that he had not partaken in for too long…
She drew him downward so that his upper body lay across her own. It wasn’t until her hands wandered down the neck of his robes to sweep the skin of his back that his eyes snapped open. Realizing what he was doing, he broke the kiss and pulled away abruptly, moving quickly to sit away from her at the end of the couch. She sat up slowly and looked at him, but he avoided her eyes.
“I can’t,” he said breathlessly.
She drew in a ragged breath. “Why not?” she asked, eyes flashing in a mixture and anger and hurt.
“I’m…I’m a werewolf,” he replied feebly.
“Are you that stupid, to think that that would matter to me?”
Don’t say it, he begged silently. Aloud he said, “I’m dangerous.”
With a wicked grin, she countered swiftly, “And I’m an Auror. Danger is part of my job.”
“Nymphadora, I can’t let you! I’m old, I’m nearly penniless, I’m a werewolf – I have nothing to give!”
The grin melted from her features. “Remus – ”
She pressed on, ignoring his plea. “You may be an older, penniless werewolf, but…”
It was too late. “I love you.”
Three simple words. Three words that nearly felled him, words that were deadly in their meaning and power.
He had thought that her flirting was nothing serious – there were plenty of other younger members in the Order that could catch her fancy. But no, she had chosen him. And she deserved so much more, young and talented as she was.
“You have too much to give to the world, Nymphadora. Don’t waste yourself on me.”
“Are all men this thick?” she asked after a few moments. “It’s as simple as that. There may be younger, richer men out there, Remus – but they’re not you. I don’t care that you’re a werewolf, I don’t care that you’re old and poor! I’ve tried to convince myself otherwise, to look at all those other men and picture myself with them, but I can’t.”
“You will care,” he said in a voice that was harsher than he meant it to be. He looked into her stricken eyes. “You will care after the first few full moons, and you will resent the fact that I cannot give you everything – ”
“I was not raised as a Black or as a Malfoy,” she protested. “My mother inherited none of her family’s wealth, and my father was never rich. I don’t mind.”
“I am too old…”
“And I don’t care about that! You’re not so much older than I am, anyway – ”
“Nymphadora, there is no future in pursuing a relationship. I have no wish to hurt you, no wish to see your heart broken every time I transform. The transformation is painful, and I have no wish to lay part of that burden on another’s – ”
“Do you love me, Remus?”
The silence following her question filled the room. Did he feel anything for her? Love for a werewolf such as he was rare, and anyone would tell him to take what was offered if he felt even the slightest stirring of emotion for the young woman sitting across from him. But his rational side had returned once more – no longer could he allow his emotions to rule his actions. He could not allow her to be hurt beyond what he was going to say next.
The bright light of hope fled from her eyes, leaving tears in its place. “Yes, you do. You care too much to admit it.”
Still he said nothing.
“I’m an Auror. We’re trained to recognize what people feel, trained to read what their eyes tell us. Look at me, Remus, and tell me that you don’t.”
He was already looking right into her dark blue eyes. Taking a deep, ragged breath, he repeated, “No. I don’t.”
His emotions were still jumbled, and he could not sort them out at the moment. All he knew was that he was too dangerous for this young woman, undaunted though she seemed.
She rose and turned her back on him. “And what you did earlier – what we did earlier – means nothing to you?”
With an effort, he said, “Nothing at all.” He saw her hands clench into white-knuckled fists. “Nymphadora – ”
She whirled to face him. “Bloody Hell, how many times do I have to tell you to call me Tonks?” With that, she turned and fled from the room.
Remus was left alone on the couch, sitting among all of Sirius’s possessions. “I wish you were here, Sirius,” he whispered to the stillness. “You always knew how to handle young women; I’d give anything for a bit of advice now.”
But only silence responded.
With a sigh, Remus stood and left the room, bidding farewell to Grimmauld Place – and farewell to Sirius – one last time.