Chapter 1 : Catalyst
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As the beast turned and started for a break in the trees, she felt compelled to follow it. Her fear turned to dread as she caught the scent of a wood fire; the thing in front of her seemed to be spurred on by this, and it began to lope away in the direction of the odor. She ran to keep up, the need to stay close to it spurring her onward until suddenly, she was in the open again, standing in the yard of a small cottage. The werewolf was nowhere to be seen.
Her heart beat a desperate rhythm in her chest as she crept around the perimeter, searching desperately for…something. Whether she needed to seek the residents of this house or the beast that hunted them, she was not sure—she only knew that it was nearly too late. Too late it was, for as she stole around to the back, she saw something that chilled her blood and nearly made her heart stop.
A small boy, no older than six or seven, was standing frozen in terror, staring at the werewolf. She kept screaming at him to run, but she made no noise. She tried to throw herself in front of him, but was rooted to the spot. As she wailed soundlessly, the horrible thing howled in triumph and leapt at the child…
Nymphadora Tonks woke with her pillow clutched to her face, tears forming a puddle around her head, her body drenched with sweat. It had seemed so real. She sat up slowly, struggling to regain a normal heart rate and wiping the wetness from her cheeks. Disjointed images from her nightmare kept floating before her eyes—the image of the werewolf against the moonlit sky, the tawny-haired boy cowering in fear before it struck…
Feeling slightly cold, Tonks rose and reached for the fluffy bathrobe she kept on the chair by the window. She was glad for the warmth, even on this muggy summer night, as she glanced involuntarily out the window and saw the almost-full moon. For the first time, she looked at it as he probably did—with an odd mixture of fear and fascination.
A noise pierced the nighttime quiet, and Tonks clutched at the windowsill for support—the suddenness of the sound had brought a rush of adrenaline as the events of her nightmare came crashing back to her in sharp focus. She closed her eyes, trying to shut out the images, but this just replayed them in a sort of slideshow against her eyelids. The forest, the moon, the silhouette of the werewolf…she opened her eyes quickly. The image in front of her had so much in common with the one she had just seen in her dream that the cruelty of it brought a lump to her throat.
It was Lupin. He stood in the small yard, his shabby bathrobe and bare feet giving credence to her suspicion that this was an unplanned outing on his part. He was looking up at the moon, his scarred features outlined in moonlight. Whether it was luck or heartless fate, she could see his face, and her sleep-muddled mind overlaid his profile with the one from her dream for a painful second. She shook her head forcefully, dispelling the image from her mind and telling herself firmly that no matter what he said, no matter what the evidence showed about werewolves in general, this one in particular was different.
He just stood there, as still as a statue, and stared at the moon. Her heart ached to know him so well—this was no man to rant and shake his fist at fate. No, he would simply observe it with a reproachful calm—but even as she thought this, his actions proved her conclusions false. He lifted his head, and the soft moonlight illuminated the streaks of tears on his face.
It was too much for Tonks. Any other night she might have raced downstairs and thrown herself into the yard to comfort him (whether he wanted it or not), but not tonight. Tonight, her personal bravery was outweighed by general sadness, and she wept for Sirius, for Dumbledore, and most of all, for her heart and his.
It was the dream again. Remus Lupin woke up with the familiar yet chilling taste of copper on his tongue, and for one terrifying moment he wondered if he’d done something… He hadn’t, of course, but the fear of it, the fear of losing control—it was ever-present. He sat up, feeling a dull ache in his right hand as he did so, and upon inspecting it, discovered that he was bleeding. I must have stuffed my fist into my mouth to stop from screaming, he thought with a shudder.
This pleasant thought made him get up and reach for his robe; he didn’t want to create a bloody mess for anyone to clean up. Lupin crossed the hall to the bathroom, pausing at her door when he thought he heard movement within. She hadn’t been sleeping well, he knew, but without Sirius or Dumbledore to talk to her about it… This reflection made him move away where his self-control had not. He studiously ignored the nagging idea that she’d listen to him if he asked her to take better care of herself, answering the thought with the painful one he kept around for just such an occasion. She is not for me. It hurt, always did hurt, no matter how many times he’d said it to himself.
Somehow he knew that with the way his thoughts had turned, and the awful nightmare he’d just had, sleep would not come easy. His heart was just too full with the events of the past weeks—the past years. Knowing that Fenrir Greyback was still out there, preying on innocents like Bill—
His breath hitched in his chest at the name, his sorrow for what the younger man had suffered mixing with his pain and the damned lingering hope that had hovered around him during the conversation in the infirmary. He’d almost lost his resolve.
A creaking sound disrupted his reverie, and he saw with a start that he was in the process of opening the back door. Lupin looked at his bare feet for a long moment, finally deciding that it wasn’t worth the possibility of waking the house just to get his slippers. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he was far too weak-willed for their usual conversation, should he manage to wake Tonks with the sound of his prowling through the hallway.
The grass felt wonderful on his bare feet, the dew cold but cathartic. He hadn’t gone barefoot since he was a little boy, he realized. Inevitably, that thought brought others with it, ones far less innocent than the memory of being an innocent child. The knowledge that no matter what he thought about tonight, his mind would connect it to his lycanthropy, and that one by one he’d lost everyone who had bothered to look beyond it brought him to the brink of despair. The further thought, ‘not everyone’ tipped the scale, and Remus Lupin cried, truly cried, for the first time since the night he’d been bitten.
A movement on the grass woke Tonks from her bout of misery. Not bothering to wipe her cheeks of the tears that still fell, she looked outside to see that Lupin had fallen to his knees, his hands to his face, actually sobbing. Self-control be damned, she thought to herself as she dashed through the house to the back door. Once there, she allowed herself a long moment of decision. She knew that if he rejected her this time, the one time she’d ever seen his emotions master him instead of the other way around, he’d break her heart. For good.
For once in her life, Nymphadora Tonks felt her courage fail her. Given the choice of resolution one way or the other versus the pain of loving coupled with the hope she always carried, she found with surprise that she’d rather have the latter. The realization shook her, and she shut her eyes before her mind could construct the word ‘Coward’ and display it for her. She lifted her hands to cover her face, partly to catch the tears that still fell, and partly to block out the sight of the man she loved caught up in the same desperate weeping.
Is it always like this? Excruciatingly painful but cleansing? He asked this in the back of his mind, his penchant for observation seeming to be irrepressible even when he was crying like all hope was lost. He’d felt like this before, but not allowed himself the luxury of these wracking sobs. James and Lily… For a bittersweet moment, he imagined them there with him, both of them comforting him as they had done when they were alive. They had not cared about what he was, they had loved him unconditionally—they’d helped to share the burden.
The clarity of his sudden realization, grounded as it was in the truth of past events…it took his breath away and nearly knocked him flat. He could hear her voice clearly, repeated over and over with that truthful simplicity of hers. ‘I don’t care that you’re a werewolf!’ ‘I love you anyway!’ ‘I want to help…’
He was a fool.
James wouldn’t have backed away, no matter how many times Remus shouted that he was dangerous. Sirius would have laughed in his face if he’d told him to go away—and he had, many times. Lily had taken the news with unwavering loyalty, never once even changing her facial expression from the gentle smile as she told him it didn’t matter to her. Even Peter…
Lupin’s tears redoubled at this thought. His mind reconstructed every argument he’d ever had on this subject with Tonks, lovingly recreating the earnest expression on her face and the precise moments when it turned to heartbreak. His refusal of her might just as well had been him telling her he trusted Peter Pettigrew more than she, for he’d never have turned away his one-time friend’s help, before the man had become a betrayer. He finally allowed the question that hovered always on the brink of being asked—would she had let herself suffer so much punishment, so many denials, if she didn’t truly love him? The more pertinent question—would he, if their roles were reversed, take no for an answer?
He’d be damned if he would.
And so, apparently, would she.
His sobs subsiding now, Lupin wiped his face on his bathrobe and tried not to care that he was sitting in his skivvies in the back yard. His hand trembled as he brushed his hair back from his forehead—he was scared, he was excited, he was…
A muffled sound caught his attention and he looked up to see the faintest outline of someone in the kitchen. His heart pounded as he realized who it was, and he sat there for a long few minutes, waiting, until he felt a pain in his chest. He’d been holding his breath. His brow furrowed as he realized what was wrong.
She hadn’t come out to him.
She always took any chance she could, particularly if they were alone.
Was it too late?
Lupin leapt to his feet and headed for the house, a look of fierce determination on his face. As he strode through the kitchen, his foot brushed something soft and wet—a crumpled tissue. She’d been crying. He hoped to Merlin it wasn’t his fault.
Tonks made it to her room just in time. She threw herself on her bed and wept into her pillow, furious with herself for her stubbornness and cowardice. Her imagination went into overdrive as she gave way to choked sobs, presenting her with a slideshow of images. Lupin shaking his head, Lupin saying ‘no’ to her one of many times, Lupin walking away and not looking back. It was all she could do to stop herself from wailing, and in fact, she was, repeating the same words over and over.
“I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it, I-“
She was so caught up in her own misery that the sound of the door opening hadn’t registered at all. She continued her keening sobs even as the object of her affection lifted her, unresisting, into his arms. It was only when he gently stroked her hair and spoke to her in the voice she’d dreamt of for years that she became aware of his presence.
“Don’t cry, dear, don’t—I’m here, shhhhh, I’m finally here.” His voice broke on the word ‘finally,’ and she knew it wasn’t a dream. He never cried in her dreams.
“Remus?” she asked, her hoarse voice barely above a whisper.
“Yes, Sweet?” he said softly in her ear.
“Don’t ever let go.” She clung to him, burying her face in his shoulder, as he stroked her hair comfortingly.
“I can’t promise that,” he said, and she froze, her entire body becoming tense in his arms. He shocked her by swearing lightly under his breath, the hand on her hair coming around to cup her face, forcing her to look at him.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, voice breaking again, and now it was her hand that stroked his hair in comfort. “I don’t want to make a promise I might not be able to keep. I-“ he broke off, and she kissed the tracks of his tears almost reverently. Tonks copied his gesture and gently touched his face, almost shyly.
“I love you,” she said, looking into his eyes. “It is enough.” He looked back at her, steadily, his expression barely changing but for a single tear that escaped to course down his face, its path chosen by the scars he bore. She watched, mesmerized, until he spoke.
“I love you, too,” he said, and though her heart leapt with joy, she fiercely mastered her emotions; this was no time to be bubbly and enthusiastic, he needed her to be calm, she should be-
“What?” she said warily, for his expression had turned from gentle sobriety to bemused.
“Your hair,” he said, and he kissed her. The tender pressure of his lips mixed with the salt of both of their tears seemed to melt away all of the hurt, the purifying heat coursing through her until she could feel his touch to the very tips of her toes. When finally the kiss ended, she felt her scalp tingle and realized what he’d meant. She looked across the room to the mirror, dimly lit by the moonlight from the open window. It reflected the image of herself and Remus, bodies entwined in a way she would have thought impossible but a day before. His cheek was resting on her hair, but instead of the dull brown shade she’d resigned herself to, her head was crowned by a familiar shade of pink.