Chapter 3 : Pretend You're Okay
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“Thanks, Molly,” Tonks murmurs as the older woman holds the door of the Burrow open for her. She moves into the kitchen, sidling against the wall so as to avoid the other Order members. Upon reaching the back of the room, she scans the crowd for an empty seat. Due to arriving late, she is the last one there besides Dumbledore, and her eyes light on the only available space besides standing- situated next to Remus.
Just my luck, Tonks thinks ruefully. She considers standing for a moment, but after guarding Harry all day on Privet Drive, and thanks to the lateness of the hour, she is exhausted. She slowly sinks into the rickety wooden chair, avoiding Remus' eyes. Instead, she fixates her gaze on Mad-Eye's hip flask, tracing every little detail in her mind.
There are only a few centimeters between her thigh and Remus' hand, which is resting lightly on his leg. She can feel the heat radiating from his body, longs to reach out and touch him, kiss him, tell him how she's missed him. She clenches her fists around the sleeves of her jumper, breathing through her mouth so that the smell that is Remus and only Remus- wood tones with a hint of chocolate- cannot penetrate her brain.
She feels as though she might go insane from the close proximity. It is her own brand of torture; she would truly rather be experiencing physical pain. Physical pain she can do something about. It is the emotional pain, the pain that makes her want to scream and cry and throw things and tear her hair out, that she cannot deal with. She doesn't know what this is, why it renders her nearly unable to function. She has never experienced anything similar to it. She imagines that this is what the Cruciatus Curse feels like- to be in such unbearable, excruciating pain that she cannot do anything except scream and scream and writhe. Her body does not know what to do with itself; she shifts in her seat, her muscles clenching and unclenching, restlessness overtaking her. She bites her lip, hard; the coppery taste of blood flows onto her tongue, and she focuses on it. It gives her something to concentrate on, something other than the man sitting next to her, as she traces the gilded edges of Mad-Eye's hip flask with her gaze.
She starts, nearly looking round at him. But no- she must have imagined it. It was barely audible, after all, and Merlin knows how much she wants to hear his voice.
She stiffens, still staring at the flask, giving no other sign that she has heard the slightly hoarse whisper. She traces the snout of the bear decorating the top, willing herself not to respond.
“Nymphadora?” It's louder this time, almost a normal, conversational tone.
She squeezes her eyes shut, trying to ignore the urge to answer him.
“Nymphadora, I know you can hear me.” He is speaking above a normal volume now, and she shakes her head as though warding off an irksome fly.
“Damn it, Nymphadora, answer me!” His voice has risen to a shout.
She flinches and turns to faces Remus, whose visage is less than an inch from her own. The room, previously buzzing with activity, has become deathly quiet, and every face is turned toward them. Tonks feels her cheeks burning and spins away from Remus, hiding behind the curtain of her hair. The silence stretches on, tense and heavy. Tonks can feel eyes boring into her; she peers through her hair to find Charlie Weasley watching her, expression pained. Confused, she looks away, staring down at Mad-Eye's hip flask once more. She wishes someone would break the silence, someone would say something, anything, to take people's attention away from her-
“I apologize for my late arrival,” a voice says from the front of the room. “Perhaps we can begin the meeting?”
She looks gratefully into the penetrating blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore, and she flashes him a small smile as everyone turns forward once more. Sinking down in her chair, Tonks rests her head against the wall.
Why had he tried to talk to her? It has been two weeks since they've had any contact. She closes her eyes again, half listening to Snape give his report on Voldemort's activity. If she misses anything important, Hestia or Charlie can fill her in later. Snape is droning on about the details of a recent attack on a group of Muggles, and Tonks feels herself zoning out. She doubts that any of what Snape says is truly relevant; Dumbledore will recap details that they need to pay particular attention to. Bored, she opens her eyes again, letting her gaze wander about the room. Snape is at the front, his greasy black hair hanging in curtains around his face; he prowls in the small space between the door and the front row of chairs, looking like an overgrown bat as usual. Dumbledore leans against the door, watching Snape with rapt attention. He is wearing spangled purple robes under his traveling cloak, and he has tucked one hand into the pocket of these. Her gaze shifts to her left, a few rows ahead of her. Hestia and Charlie are sitting side by side, Charlie performing his famous Severus Snape impression, Hestia stifling her laughter into her hands. Tonks feels a twinge of annoyance that they hadn't saved her a seat, but quickly stifles it. She never told them she was attending; they probably thought she was “busy” tonight, as she had been for the last two meetings Remus had gone to.
Remus. Her eyes unwillingly travel to him. His light brown hair has a few new gray strands, and he has dark circles under his eyes; has he not been sleeping? His threadbare blue jumper is patched at the elbows, and the hem of his jeans are tearing. There is a light shadow on his jaw; he obviously hadn't had the time to shave this morning. Rather than considering his appearance scruffy and unpolished, Tonks finds it endearing.
Snape has stopped speaking now, and Dumbledore is calling the room to order.
“As Severus explained,” Dumbledore says, surveying them all over the rims of his half-moon spectacles,” Voldemort is planning to build an army of werewolves, rallying them around Fenrir Greyback.” Here, he pauses, waiting for the outbreak of murmuring to subside. It seems Tonks was not the only one to tune out Snape's lecture. “We, obviously, do not want werewolves, as is the case with anyone, allied with the Death Eaters. We are going to need every werewolf who can be convinced of the opposite of what Greyback preaches, every werewolf interested in living a normal life. Therefore, in an attempt to convince some of them to join our cause, Remus has kindly consented to run with Greyback's pack.”
There are gasps and murmurs of concern and shock through out the room.
“NO!” Everyone turns to look at Tonks once more; she doesn't remember standing, but finds herself on her feet. She stares at Dumbledore with wide eyes, unwilling to believe he could actually suggest this.
“Nymphadora?” Dumbledore asks politely.
“You can't send him there!” She cries, glancing at Remus. He returns her gaze, expression unreadable. “Don't you know what Greyback's like? He's savage! He could get killed!”
“Nymphadora, I assure you that Remus will be perfectly safe.” His calm demeanor only infuriates her more.
“You don't know that! You-”
“Tonks, this is war,” Snape sneers. “Things have to be done.”
“Shut the bloody hell up, Snape,” Tonks snaps. “You go out there into hell and risk your life and then you can talk.”
His lip curls. “I risk my life every day, you silly girl.”
She laughs humorlessly. “Oh, yes, how silly of me. I forgot. You cavort with Death Eaters. It's just so convenient you sit in Voldemort's pocket, isn't it?”
Snape's hand goes toward his wand, and she reaches for her own. Remus seizes her wrist.
“Nymphadora, stop,” he hisses. “Sit down.”
She wrenches her arm out of his grasp. She sees Hestia and Charlie shooting her warning looks, but she ignores them.
“You've never made a sacrifice in your miserable life, have you?” She shouts at Snape. “You let other people go out and risk everything while you sit and snivel behind the two most powerful wizards in the world, saving your own neck- you're a coward-”
“Enough.” Dumbledore puts his hand on Snape's shoulder, restraining him. “Nymphadora, I appreciate you concern, but please do not suggest that I'm throwing Remus into a needlessly dangerous situation.” He looks down his crooked nose at her sternly, and she stares back at him, fuming. “Please sit down so we can finish the meeting.”
She does not do so, but continues glaring at him while he turns to talk quietly to Snape. She feels a tugging on her sleeve and glances down at Remus.
“Please calm down,” he implores, pulling her down into her chair. “I know you're upset, but let's just get through the meeting and then we'll talk.”
She narrows her eyes, tucking her hair behind her ear. “And what if I don't want to talk to you?”
“Then that's too bad,” he says firmly. “We need to talk.” When she sticks out her chin mulishly, he sighs. “Please, Nymphadora?”
“Fine. And don't call me that.”
As she turns to back to face front, she misses his smirk.
“That's my girl.”
“What?” she says sharply.
After the meeting, she grudgingly follows Remus out into the yard and away from the prying eyes of others.
“What do you want?” she asks irritably.
“I- why is your hair different?”
She snorts. “I can't Morph.”
“Probably because I'm depressed.”
Guilt fades into his expression. “Nymphadora...”
She waves him off. “Whatever. Don't feed me your lies again, Remus.”
“They're not lies!” he protests.
“It's the truth whether you like it or not.”
“Of course I don't bloody like it, Remus! And now you're about to go off and live with Death Eaters and you could die! You have a very good chance of dying, Remus, don't tell me you don't. Have you thought about this at all?”
“Of course I have. I'm very cautious-”
“That's the understatement of the century.”
He frowns at her. “I wouldn't blindly jump into a mission; I'm not Sirius.”
She flinches. “I know you're not.”
“Look, Nymphadora, it's not something I want to do. But no one else can and it has to be done.” Seeing she is about to protest, he holds out a hand to stop her. “This is war. If you're going to fight you can't pick and choose your battles. You fight when you need to and you listen to the commanding general- or, in our case, Dumbledore. If it's a cause that you believe in, you'll do what ever it takes. I'm deeply invested in this war, Nymphadora. It took my best friends away from me.”
She bites her lip and stares at the ground; the grass is browning due to drought. “But... what if it takes you away from me?” She is embarrassed to find her eyes filling with tears.
“Oh, Dora.” He cups her cheek and lifts her chin so he can see her face. “I'm not going to die,” he assures her. “Greyback is the werewolf who bit me. He's going to try his hardest to get me on his side.”
“When do you leave?” Her voice is barely audible.
A tear slips down her cheek. “I'm going to miss you.”
He enfolds her in his arms and she buries her face in his chest. “As I am you.” It is silent for a few moments, and a wind rustles their hair. “Dora, I- I don't know when I'm going to see you again, so.... I want you to know that even though we can't be together the way you want to, I- I really care about you. You're an amazing woman and one day you're going to find a man who's worthy of you.”
“I don't want anyone else!” she cries, pulling away from him.
“Not yet, you don't,” he says softly with a wry smile. “Goodbye, Nymphadora.” He kisses her gently on the forehead and releases her, taking a few steps backward.
He Disapparates, and the resounding crack could be her heart breaking once more. She collapses onto the ground, her chest heaving as she sobs. She curls her fingers into the ground, her nails biting into the hot earth as she tries to relieve the pain, her body convulsing as raw emotion floods her mind, rendering her incapable of thought.
She does not want to say goodbye.
It is a mark of her current emotional state that she does not hear two people approaching until one of them kneels beside her and enfolds her in his arms, pulling her against his chest and smoothing her hair away from her face. A pair of smaller hands wrap around her waist, and out of the corner of her eye, Tonks sees a flash of long, dark hair.
Thank Merlin for Hestia and Charlie, she thinks to herself.
“Do you want me to take you home?”
“I can't face my parents like this.”
“Do you want me to take you to Hestia's?”
Charlie frowns and scratches his head. “Hm...”
“I'll just go to the Leaky Cauldron,” Tonks mutters, picking herself of the ground.
“I really don't think you should be alone, Tonks.”
“I'm not five, Charlie! I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
“Oh, really?” Charlie asks, also getting to his feet.
“Really! I'm fine.”
“Yeah? Because you didn't look fine to me, Tonks.”
She glares at him fiercely, ready to explode at him and tell him just how wrong he is, but she can't. Her shoulders slump in defeat.
Charlie wraps his big arm around her and leads her back to the house. “Why don't you have a cup of tea with Mum. She'll be up til Dad gets home, which won't be for a half an hour at least. I've got to get back to Romania, but Mum's good at listening...”
Charlie raps on the door with his his knuckles. There is the sound of footsteps and a wary voice Tonks recognizes as Molly's answers.
“Who is it?”
“It's Charlie, Mum.”
“Oh, goodness! I thought you'd already gone back to the dragons.” They hear Molly unlatching the door, but Charlie seizes the handle.
“Mum! You've got to ask the question.”
“Oh, yes, of course, dear. What did you wear to bed up until you were sixteen?”
Charlie colors. “The footsie pajamas with Babbity Rabbity on them.”
Tonks giggles in spite of herself. “You wore those?”
“Open the door, Mum!” Charlie snaps, releasing the handle.
Molly flings the door open, beaming at her son. “Charlie, dear-” She stops, seeing Tonks' disheveled appearance. “Tonks, dear! What on earth-?” Understanding floods her face. “Oh, you poor dear.” She folds Tonks in a hug that the younger woman returns awkwardly. She'd never got the impression that Molly is particularly fond of her.
“I've got to get back, Mum, so could you look after Tonks for awhile? Make her a cup of tea?” Charlie asks, ushering his friend into a chair.
“Of course, dear,” Molly says, already bustling over to the cabinets and taking out a mug. “It was lovely to see you, Charlie. Come visit dear old mum and dad, do you hear me? They're not feeding you enough over in Romania; you're so peaky.”
Charlie rolls his eyes but embraces his mother warmly. “Alright, Mum. I'll be back in England in a fortnight to pick up a new specimen from the Americans, so I'll try to stop by. 'Night, Tonks.” He kisses the top of her head. “Look after yourself, and be sure to write me.”
Tonks nods slowly, not going to bother promising. Charlie knows that in this state, the chances of her writing to, let alone talking to, anyone are few and far between. She's not one to socialize when upset. Molly follows Charlie to the door, locking it as he Disapparates. She returns to the counter, waving her wand at the cupboards so that the mug, a small pitcher of cream, and sugar float to the table.
“There you are, Tonks,” Molly says warmly, taking the seat across from her. “Is there anything else you'd like?”
Tonks shakes her head, spooning a little sugar into her tea. Molly pats the back of her hand.
“This must have come as a terrible shock to you,” the older woman says sympathetically. “I can't imagine how I would feel if I was told last minute that Arthur was going on a dangerous mission!”
“'S different.” Tonks mutters.
“Well, now, of course you and Remus aren't married, but- the feelings are there. After all, marriage just makes it official. You don't have to be married to be in love!”
Tonks snorted into her tea.
“I beg your pardon?” Molly says, eyebrows raised.
“He doesn't love me.”
Molly appears taken aback. “Of course he does!”
“Has he- has he never told you how he feels?”
“He's made it very clear that he doesn't reciprocate my feelings, Molly.”
“Now, dear, he's very self-conscious; you must have just read into something he said-”
“No! I know he doesn't love me, I know he doesn't care, I know I'll spend the rest of my life pining over him like a pathetic school girl.” And in spite of herself, Tonks tells Molly everything, from when Tonks first realized she was in love with him to the constant rebuttals to the kiss in the Leaky Cauldron to her inability to Morph. Molly sits in silence until she is finished, and tactfully looks towards the Weasley clock, which is perched on a basket of laundry, so that Tonks can wipe her eyes on the corner of her cloak.
“Arthur should have been home over half an hour ago,” she mutters, before turning to Tonks. “Dear, I'm so sorry he's being such a... well, do excuse my language, but he's being a right foul git!”
Tonks cracks a grin. It takes a lot for Molly to resort to phrases such as “right foul git.”
“Remus is a wonderful man. He's kind, considerate, intelligent, chivalrous... everything a woman could want in a man, really. I think his calm demeanor will balance out with your, er, wilder side quite nicely. The problem is he can't even get out of his own way, dear. He loves you very much, but he's not used to loving anyone as much as he loves you.”
“He doesn't love me!” Tonks snaps, frustration welling within her due to Molly's inability to see it. “You- you don't treat people you love like that. You don't just cast them aside like they're disposable. I know who he loves, Molly,” she says in a strangled voice. “He loves Harry. He loves Sirius, and James, and Lily, and some girls named Mary and Marlene, because they'll never be fully gone from him even though they're dead. He loves with his whole heart, Molly, but he doesn't love me.”
Molly smiles sadly and takes Tonks' hands in her own. “But he does, dear. He does. I can see it, plain as day, just from the way he looks at you. You're the center of his world, even if he'll never admit it- he doesn't have much to live for, does he?- but he has you, and when everything and everyone else has been taken from him, you're what will bring him home alive from Greyback's path in the end. You're the best thing that could have happened to him. I truly believe that. Do you think for a moment he would have kept living once Sirius fell through that veil, if he didn't have someone to live for? James and Sirius, and Lily, and whoever else, they were all he had; but he still has, don't you see? When you love someone with all your heart, you'll do whatever it takes to come back to them, especially in a war, because it means being able to keep them safe for a moment longer.” Tears are flowing freely from Tonks' eyes now, and she ducks her head to hide them. “You can't give up on him, dear. No matter what. He'll come around, I promise you. Is it alright if I tell Arthur? He's the closest to Remus these days, besides you; he might be able to talk some sense it to him.”
“If Sirius wasn't, I doubt Arthur will be able to... but go ahead and try,” Tonks relents.
Both women jump as three, loud raps on the door interrupt their conversation. Molly leaps up from the table, and, drawing her wand, hurries to the back door. As Molly demands that the visitor reveal their identity, Tonks puts a hand to her pocket, gripping her wand tightly; it is an odd time of night for someone to be calling. A calm voice answers from behind the door, identifying himself as Dumbledore and his companion as Harry.
Molly throws open the door with relief, exclaiming, “Harry, dear! Gracious, Albus, you gave me a fright, you said not to expect you before morning!” * Tonks releases her wand and hastily takes a sip of tea to calm herself.
Dumbledore's unexpected appearance has brought her fury with him back to the surface, and she clenches both hands around her mug to stop them from shaking. She hates this. She doesn't hate him, of course. She just hates that he doesn't take other people's well-being into account. First locking Sirius up in that god-forsaken house, supposedly for his own safety- but didn't he realize what that would do to him? It drove him nearly mad, to the point where he got himself killed because he couldn't stand staying behind for one more minute. Now, he sends Remus off to live with werewolves who are almost undoubtedly all savage and cruel, under the influence of Greyback. It could destroy him, being with those other people. He already thinks he is a monster; what will become of him if he spends large amounts of time under the influence of those who are?
“-I had expected. Harry's doing, of course. Ah, hello, Nymphadora!” *
Tonks grimaces as Dumbledore notices her. She has to acknowledge his presence, pretend she doesn't want to see how well his frail old limbs would take to an experiment in Muggle dueling.... she shakes her head to rid herself of those particular thoughts.
“Hello, Professor,” she mutters, forcing a smile. “Wotcher, Harry. I'd better be off. Thanks for the tea and sympathy, Molly.” *
“Please don't leave on my account! I cannot stay, I have urgent matters to discuss with Rufus Scrimgeour.” *
Tonks breaths sharply through her nose. Only a minute, she thinks reassuringly to herself. Say goodbye, pretend you're okay, and then you won't have to talk to him or see him again until the next Order meeting....
“No, no, I've got to get going. 'Night.” * She ignores Dumbledore's scrutiny and Harry's curiosity as she refuses Molly's invitation to lunch with Remus and Mad-Eye for the next day, and hurries out into the yard.
Spinning on the spot, she concentrates with all her might.
Hestia's... Hestia's.... Hestia's....
She materializes in front of the quaint cottage where her friend lives and knocks feebly on the door. “Hess, it's me,” she calls.
When Hestia lets her inside the house and leads her into the small foyer, the tears begin again.
How much longer can I keep this up? She thinks miserably.
* * * * *
A/N: All dialogue marked with a * comes from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, "Horace Slughorn." Please review :)