Chapter 1 : Astute Observations
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"...it had not been Sirius that Tonks had fallen in love with after all..."
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, p. 582
He had returned from his mission, shoulders hunched and face gaunt. The greyish hue to his face was broken only by the black smudges beneath his eyes and the pink scars that ran across his cheeks. It had not been a peaceful mission, then, but she’d known that. She couldn’t imagine any of his kind – it was torture to think of him as one of them – being peaceful. Even he, who was so gentle, so soft-spoken, contained a monster in the darkest reaches of his being, a part he would never let her see.
That mystery was enough to keep her intrigued.
The kitchen was frigid. Kreacher was off again in the attic, bundling away some more of the Black treasures, if there were any left. It made the house very quiet. No running footsteps on the stairs, no voices calling out around the kitchen table, no endless stream of people entering and leaving again. How he was managing to stay here all by himself – he’d never admit that he had no other place to go – she couldn’t fathom.
It must have been Sirius. Even just the memory of him was enough for Remus. Her cousin wouldn’t have let go so easily, would he? Not only had he left Harry behind – and everyone knew how Harry had handled that separation – but Remus, too.
There had been no funeral, no memorial. It was as though Sirius had never left Azkaban at all. The only difference was that the pain had worsened. Remus wouldn’t even smile.
He sat slumped in a chair at the kitchen table, eyes vacant. Did he even know she was there?
She tried to leave the doorway silently – give him some time alone – but crashed into the empty milk bottle she’d put there herself, making him leap from his seat, wand raised.
“Oh, it’s you, Nymphadora.”
Just her. Only her. No one special. Not to you, Remus J. Lupin.
“Dumbledore said you’d be returning today.” There was an unusual tremor to her voice.
He blinked. A slow, painful movement.
“So you came to bid me welcome. How kind.”
More of a bother, his voice said. Maybe he wanted to be alone, with only the ghosts to keep him company.
Wait. That didn’t make sense. Then he wouldn’t be alone. She narrowed her eyes, trying to work this one out.
“Is something wrong?”
He sounded annoyed now, or was that worry? With all the lines on his face, it was impossible to tell.
“Sorry. Nothing. I just thought because the house is so quiet that you’d–” Her jaw was too clumsy to spit out the rest of what was in her head. None of it ever came out right, not in the way that she wanted.
“Not like to be alone in Sirius’s house?”
That name. He’d said it, the s-es lisping through his teeth.
She nodded too quickly. “Yes. Everyone’s left.”
His face hardened. No response.
Silence. The house was steeped in it. Aching, dreadful, spooky silence. She felt it from the stuffed house elf heads – still sans-Kreacher, but hopefully not for long – to the blasted tapestry. This was not, had never been, a place completely free of silence. Even when filled with the Order and the Weasleys and Mrs. Black’s screeching voice, there had been something lurking in the corners. Now it could only whisper Sirius’s name.
A whispering silence? She was contradicting herself left and right.
“Well. I’ll get back to... um... checking on that... um...” Better stop before she dug herself too deep. “I’ll be around if you need me, Remus.”
She sped from the room, knocking over the milk bottle a second time.
After an hour or so of killing spiders in the library, she heard him moving about the house, into one room, then the next, listlessly wandering. He did not come near the library. But how long can you keep away, Remus? How long until the silence gets to you, until you hear the ghosts in the eaves and floating down the stairs?
He was a werewolf, used to the silence, the aloneness. Having someone else around when all he wanted was to be alone must have been pretty annoying. What was Dumbledore at by sending her here? Only for a few days, but still, to take her off duties at Hogsmeade, it didn’t seem right.
“Spend a few days at Grimmauld Place, Tonks. The others will maintain the peace while you are gone.” The Professor had been so grave lately. Even the twinkle in his eye had dimmed.
She had screwed up her face so tightly that her nose squished itself into a different shape.
“But Professor, my assignment–”
“Remus needs someone to be with him.”
The question “why me?” had screamed through her head, but she didn’t dare ask it. His omniscience had probably read through every sad glance and mournful look she’d thrown Remus’s way. Merlin, he didn’t know about that other night, did he? It wouldn’t have been beyond Dumbledore to know things he shouldn’t have.
Her feelings about - for? - Remus had started out as just sad, feeling rotten for him because he’d watched his best friend die and been attacked by a rabid teenage wizard at the same time (she did also feel sorry for Harry, but only when he wasn’t talking in capital letters). But while everyone had paid the most attention to Harry, Remus seemed to pass into the sidelines, mourning quietly, too quick to take that mission with the werewolves.
Oh Remus. I’m worried for you.
The more she watched him, the more she knew how easy it would be to lose herself in him. The more she knew this, the more she wondered why. Greying hair, scarred face, glum moods. He’d never make Witch Weekly’s “World’s Sexiest Wizard” list, that was for sure. And to think that the Weasleys were practically shoving Bill her way, if only to avoid Fleur as a daughter-in-law....
Maybe it was the way he said her name.
“Yes?” She tried turning gracefully, but her foot snagged on the rug. Struggling to regain her balance – literally and metaphorically – she managed a stupid smile.
He watched her, his gaze unclassifiable. “Is there anything to eat here?”
It was good question.
“There’s bound to be something.” Like that chip shop four blocks off.
A sour look crossed his face. “Nothing, then.”
There was no real sense in lying to him. She’d forgotten that maybe he would want some dinner when he returned. What did werewolf colonies eat, anyway? Had he been expecting to come back to one of Molly’s sumptuous meals? Well sorry, Mr. Remus J. Lupin, if Nymphadora Tonks wasn’t good enough for the likes of you.
“Not a bit.”
He let out a sigh and turned to leave. “Sorry to have bothered you.”
No, not already. Couldn’t she do anything right?
Things had been different months ago, when she had blamed herself for Sirius’s death and he had been there to comfort, to help her realise many things about herself. He had come to her then, out of guilt or kindness, she wasn’t sure. It had been in this room, together with a bottle to warm their icy bodies.
It was then that their game of avoidance had begun.
His laughter, however induced by inebriation, was pleasant on the ears. Though her own head was spinning from the strength of Sirius’s Firewhiskey, she retained enough of her senses to feel proud of herself. Yes, she had put him in a far better mood, however influenced by copious amounts of alcohol. He was slouched back in a giant leather armchair, glass balanced on its arm, the honey-brown liquid precariously near to sloshing out.
Another swallow of the glorious stuff and then he spoke again. “Sirius always did have the finest taste.” He hiccoughed. “Always the best for him.”
They had been talking of nothing before this. Random jokes about the Ministry and certain Ministry officials. Of strange things he’d seen in his travels after the first war. Of her ridiculous antics when first trying to become an Auror. But now Sirius had returned, his ghost lurking in the doorway.
She nodded demurely, the pride and pleasure ebbing away. “Wish I’d known him better.”
“You didn’t?” It was a far more sober question than she’d expected.
After another mouthful, she responded. “Once or twice when I was little, then not until last year, here in this house.”
Remus slumped down another inch, eyes staring into the flames. Surely he felt the ghost, the essence of Sirius wafting through the air. Her mother’s cousin, a man she barely knew, and yet the presence of his absence was painfully strong. Why? Only to see Remus smile again? A fleeting vision, his smiles, all lost potential and the knowledge of future suffering.
“You would have liked him, the way he used to be. Always causing trouble.” His voice was so distant, slurred by the alcohol and drifting in memory. “He loved to laugh.” Another pause. “Him and James, the things we got up to. The Weasley twins have nothing on what we could do together, even with–” He swallowed the unnamable, the one who had destroyed all of that potential, all that the Marauders were.
The tear dripped down her cheek unbidden. Crying? For what?
But Remus hadn’t noticed. He was still drifting, the ghost of Sirius egging him on, as he always had.
“That ridiculous flying motorcycle of his. You know that he and James almost got arrested by the Muggle police when flying it? Now that’s a story....” He shifted in the chair, a few drops spilling from his glass.
Instead of telling this wondrous story, he remained silent. She waited for some minutes, only wanting to hear him speak again, the light tenor of his voice. With a glance at the bottle, nearly empty, she tried to calculate just how much of it he had consumed. Should she be expecting him to start snoring soon?
She looked from her empty glass to the bottle, hesitated, then reached out her hand to grab it. Might as well. It was good stuff.
Her fingers had brushed against the still-cool bottle when his voice broke the silence.
“I hated him for all those years. I wanted to kill him, wished it so many times.”
Hand retreating, fingers curling in on themselves, she peered into the darkness where he sat, face lit by the dying flames. Something glittered on his cheeks.
“It’s not your fault, Remus.”
It was her fault, too. And everyone’s. They’d all believed that he was guilty. He had lived guilty, died guilty, all that guilt consuming his whole being. Now that guilt was left for those who had loved him most.
Another silence, a horrible one. Must end it.
“He died laughing, remember?”
His hand clenched on the arm of the chair.
“You didn’t see his face.”
So much for getting him drunk. The thought of Sirius’s death had brought back all the things that had haunted his mind for the last year. Did he see that last glimpse of Sirius’s face in his dreams, hear that last laugh again before waking?
The sob cut through the air, strangled, but not stifled.
Her eyes widened. What was she supposed to do? This was not the sort of thing she was trained for. She went to stand by his chair and gently touched his shoulder. He shuddered beneath her, not rejecting her touch, but experiencing the novelty of it. She must have been the first person to touch him in some time... since Sirius? Oh Merlin.
“Please don’t cry, Remus.” She tightened her grip, knowing how empty her words must have sounded. Sirius, in all his arrogance, would have said the words Remus needed to hear. Whatever they were.
The glass fell from his hand, but she grabbed it in time and placed it on the table.
“Dammit Remus, look at me.”
Watery brown eyes met hers, the eyes rimmed with red.
“I miss him.”
Her fingers twitched on his shoulder. If only she could touch his cheek, run a comforting hand across his face, wiping away the hideous tears.
He gave a clumsy nod and swallowed, bracing himself to rise. She helped pull him up, but his lack of balance meant that she also had to hold him upright. They stood, her fingers wrapped around his arm, faces inches apart. The scent of Firewhiskey on his breath made her senses reel, but she did not turn away, did not step back. His other hand brushed against her waist, as though he was still trying to gain his balance. She did not relax her grip.
“I know.” Her words parroted back, emerging from his lips in a whisper. “Nymphadora, I know.”
His skin was clammy. Neither fire had warmed him.
“I know why you came here tonight.”
She felt more than heard the words, their syllables wafting against her face. It felt as though he was pulling her closer, yet it seemed as though she was pulling him closer at the same time. This had been meant to happen, so why did it terrify her? How could he terrify her, quiet, unassuming Remus Lupin? It didn’t matter that he was cursed, that he turned into a creature in the full moon, that he could tear her apart if she gave him the chance. She didn’t know why it didn’t matter. That was the mystery of it.
“For you. I came for you.”
He had fallen asleep quickly, the drink and the tears stealing away whatever strength he’d had left. After half-carrying him up to Sirius’s old room and depositing him on the bed, she flopped down on the nearest chair. Eyes on the ceiling, she traced the swirls etched into the plaster, endlessly turning and turning.
She knew that when he woke up, he would ask her to leave. In any other state, he would have never allowed her to be so close to him. There were still two weeks to the next full moon, but he was so sensitive to hurting others with his condition. He was only a werewolf for a short time each month, and then only at night; during the day, he remained harmless and subdued. All the alienation he’d suffered had fractured his spirit; the slightest human touch could make him shudder in fear.
Entirely irrational, and it never failed to break her heart.
A groan from the bed made her look at him. So vulnerable, alone.
But could she call it love? These things she felt? Having never experienced them before, she had no idea. Her pulse drummed in her ears, she could feel the blood moving through her veins, and she wanted to say “yes, I’m in love with him,” but the words wouldn’t ring true. Not yet. You can’t love someone who has hidden away his heart.
Another groan, one that took on the tone of a word.
She went to sit on the edge of the bed, putting aside the slight dizziness in her head – fatigue, too much alcohol, the sufferance of loving – to be there for him, to be with him in the nightmare. What he saw, that was for him to know, and him alone. Sirius was gone, yes, but there were more ghosts in Remus’s past than that of his beloved friend.
Her fingers twined around his. The touch of her skin against his set him off. Eyes flying open, limbs scrambling across to put the bed between them. He was more like an animal now, his curse taking shape beyond the light of the full moon. She did not fear him like this; she feared for him.
“It’s me, Remus.”
His eyes glared, wild and unforgiving.
She blinked, understanding taking its time. He took it upon himself to fill in the blanks.
“I am a werewolf.”
It was painful to twist her neck to look at him, but she did not move.
“Why does that matter?”
His face was contorted with emotion. Pain, hatred (for her or himself?), even – she could have been seeing it wrong – longing.
“It matters because I could kill you without even knowing who you were.”
The words hung in the silence, another ghost.
Neither moved from their places; even their eyes remained motionless, focussed on the person on the other side of the bed. An intimate setting. He had seen what she had not. In the comforting touch of a hand, she had unleashed all his fears.
“I’m willing to take that chance.”
He looked away, gathering himself to rise.
There was a tremor in his voice. She could win this yet. But did she want to?
They sat in silence again, now unwilling to meet each other’s eyes. She should have cried, thrown herself on the floor in front of him to prove the depth of her undying love. Should have, should have. Just as bad as what if. It would have helped if she could be certain that what she felt was real. What if she only wanted him because he was unavailable, hard-to-catch?
Scars across his face – one could assume scars marking all his skin – hunched shoulders, thinning greying hair, emaciated form. It was not the physical form that drew her to his strange, quiet wizard. That Patronus he could cast without hesitation, the strength of his courage, so unexpected from someone in his condition, the crushing kindness, offered no matter what the price, even to those who didn’t deserve it.
To love the wizard meant having to also love the werewolf. Loving him would mean loving all of who – and what – he was.
He was standing, looking at his stockinged feet.
“You deserve better, Tonks.”
She didn’t even look up to watch him leave. When she heard the front door close, she understood what it meant to love.
He’d never come near her now. She was young, impressionable. A better wizard would come alone and lure her away, and then he’d be free.
Free. What a word to use. Had she entrapped him in her unwanted affections?
If anything, she had entrapped herself in him. A lost cause, if any. He would never allow a relationship, even if he did love her. If he could.
The fire had burned low, barely more than a smouldering heap of ash. Her heart must have looked like that by now, burned away at the edges, ignored by the one who could re-ignite the sparks. The sparks of first love. How pathetic.
Her hair hung over her shoulders, mousy and boring. She felt as drawn and ill as Remus. Perhaps she had brought herself to this point to mimic his appearance. Ugh. No matter why, she looked disgusting, felt disgusting. Here she was, wallowing in self-pity while the world struggled against the forces of evil. Very melodramatic.
She wondered why he’d taken to calling her that? Probably because she hated it.
That wouldn’t be like him. Had to be another reason.
The response she gave him was an indeterminate noise, enough for him to know she was there. Nothing more. Nothing less.
“I got you something to eat.”
Food. The food of love? She did not move.
She heard him sigh and set down a paper bag on the table near the door. He stepped into the room with hesitation, as though unsure of her exact location. He should have guessed that it was in the same chair he’d slouched in months ago, that she would now be seeking the same solace for all her failures.
To think that she’d been looking forward to seeing him again.
The memory of how she’d come to sit in this chair was as dim as the dying flames. This room was far from the library where she’d been killing spiders, chasing ghosts.
“I’m not going to change my mind, Nymphadora.” He seemed to cut off his words before saying something more. I want you as well, but it’s impossible. Another Romeo and Juliet, except that her Romeo was too scared to take the risk.
She swallowed, her throat constricted with... what was it? Pain? Love? Some sort of emotion, unnamed and unwanted. It was now that she should leap up and consume him within her embrace, make him realise just how much she wanted him, even needed him. A little persuasion might be all that was necessary.
But that would take energy she no longer had. She was growing tired of waiting. Maybe she didn’t love him after all. Maybe he’d never love her.
That single moment they had stood face-to-face, closer than they’d ever been. I came for you. Had he not passed out, what would have happened? If they had kissed, it would not have ended with that alone. It would have led to all the other things and then....
She was Nymphadora Tonks. She was not going to give up, not on him, not on herself, not on them together. A little spark of flame against the kindling, and she was alive again, not set to join the ghosts of Grimmauld Place, lonely and silent. There was something still to hold on to, still to hope for.
Turning, she leaned out from the chair, taking in his silhouette by the door.
“Neither am I, Remus.”
She rose too quickly from the chair, almost falling over a sidetable in the dark. Not the way she would have preferred to demonstrate her strength, the stubbornness she’d inherited from the Blacks.
“Now let’s get to that food before it goes cold.” She came up to him, her smile still weak, but defiant. “I’m starving.”
He let out a sad sigh, but she was sure that, somewhere in his eyes, there was also relief.
One day, she would have him.