A/N: This was originally written for The Stocking Filler Exchange at rt_morelove, in response to a prompt for: "Remus in teacher/wise mentor role (not being a teacher *to* Tonks, though she gets to observe him in action and admire him for it) – maybe one of his former students turns up and needs help or advice? (Though this definitely isn't a former student.)"
Thanks are due to bratanimus, who kindly let me pinch her idea of what Lily Potter once did with Remus' Water-Making spell. It's taken from her terrific fic Nothing But Fighting, and if you haven't read it and like hints of Remus/Lily along with the rest of the Marauders, then you really should. (It's listed in my favourite fics at this site.)
This story happens not long before the night of Tonks' 'you'd know... who I've fallen for' declaration, as described in Remus' bio at Pottermore. It's set after the Christmas hols, OotP.
Protecting All Others
The January rain wasn't so much coming down as coming at her sideways, but then grey and dismal was perfect for Grimmauld Place. Sirius' parents, despite not being short of a Galleon or two, had obviously hankered after a style and décor based upon your average mausoleum. Anyone would think they'd deliberately wanted to put visitors off popping round for tea.
But pop round she had on this Monday morning, a cup of tea would go down nicely right now, and she was anticipating a far warmer welcome from the occupants inside. From one of them in particular, hopefully.
And that one was Remus Lupin. Who'd have thought? Well, she had thought all right, and once she had it had hit her with the force of a runaway Firebolt. There was only the minor inconvenience of a war to worry about, his suspected-but-as-yet-unconfirmed feelings on the matter, and a few other details that should probably be considered one day soon.
She tapped on the door with her wand and considered none of them.
But it was Sirius who finally opened it to her after a lengthy wait, Sirius who said "Come on in then" in the tone of one who wasn't bothered if she did, and Sirius' gaunt face which, in the moment before he led the way down to the kitchen, seemed to have been swallowed up by the dark shadows of the hall. Tonks made her way safely past the troll's leg umbrella stand for once, leaving only a trail of raindrops behind, and saw, with some surprise, Molly's green cloak hanging on the hook next to Remus'. There seemed no obvious reason for her to be here now the kids had gone back to school. Also—
"What's making that racket?" she asked Sirius' fast retreating back.
The back shrugged its shoulders and kept on walking. Tonks pulled a face at it and followed. It sounded like spells were ricocheting off walls somewhere, which seemed as unlikely as Sirius' lack of interest if it were. Whatever the noise was, it stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
Sirius had been visibly struggling again ever since the house had gone from bursting with people and noise at Christmas back to the eerie quiet and emptiness. He'd returned to his old habit of hiding away with Buckbeak for hours on end, and being sullen and touchy when he did appear. Remus avoided talking about the Order work they were doing, and steered conversations towards subjects where Sirius could reminisce a lot, boast a little, and rib them both. Remus, she'd long since come to realise, had a lot of experience in keeping people happy. Tonks had more in the way of speaking her mind.
She didn't lack sympathy for Sirius, though. Lonely, angry, and with little to do; it wasn't a great combination for anyone, let alone for a Black. Her dad always said her own mother was the hub of the family, and he was right. A busy and subtle force to be reckoned with was Mum.
"Want some?" her mother's cousin grunted from the table, without much subtlety, and without making it clear what he was offering out of leftover mince pies, a goblet of something that wasn't going to be orange juice, or the Daily Prophet which he was hidden behind. Fudge was busy looking pompous and all-knowing on the front cover again. Shame he achieved only one out of two in real life.
"No thanks." She walked over to the fire and ran her wand over her damp clothes. Her hair seemed to have frizzed up into pink candy floss, if the reflection in the cauldron was anything to go by. She must have a go at Mad-Eye again about finding things for Sirius to do.
"What are you up to then?" she asked him, stupidly, because she could answer that one for herself. Nothing much. "Is Remus around?"
"Bored with me already, are we? He's helping Molly out, as it happens. Very popular with the ladies these days is our Moony, and so very useful to everyone it seems."
It appeared her sympathy had limits after all.
"So what's really up?" she said, walking over and more or less snatching the paper off him. "Apart, obviously, from the gross injustice of getting banged up for a crime you didn't commit, escaping from a place no one ever escapes from to go on the run for the crime you hadn't committed, and then getting banged up in here instead, which is a place no one would ever want to escape to. Don't make me say all that again, for Merlin's sake. And what is that noise?"
As soon as the words had left her mouth, it died away again. A brief burst of spells, surely, but why?
Sirius was looking at her grimly; face smoky and amber-shadowed in the candlelight. For a moment she feared he was, with some justification, going to tell her where to take her herself, and her attempts at levity along with it, but then he shook his head so that the dark hair fell becomingly round his face.
He must have been breath-taking to look at once upon a time. Still was, in a haggard and rather sexy way. But her breath stayed where it was all the same.
"Oh Tonks," he said. "Sometimes you really remind me of your mother."
"No. Andromeda always had such nice table manners." He laughed at her expression, and though things were no better for him – how could they be? – they were friends again.
"I didn't mean it about Remus," he said, tilting his chair back and regarding her. "I only said it to rile you. He's far too good at being reasonable when I want to put my fist through something. There are only so many games of chess a man can take without—"
"Admitting you're not half as good as me?"
Sirius rolled his eyes and reached for his goblet. Tonks thought about the effects of exposure to Dementors over so long a period, all she'd read and all she knew; it was amazing he'd survived to be sitting here, really.
But then he'd had a purpose, something to sustain him.
"Harry needs to know you're alive and well and staying put," she said. "He's safe at Hogwarts with Dumbledore."
It was hardly the most convincing of arguments, bearing in mind the ease with which criminals and imposters seemed to walk into and out of Hogwarts these days, but Sirius wasn't listening.
"Remus was talking about meeting Harry on the train when they were travelling to Hogwarts. It should have been me there, seeing Harry off. All those years when I should have been the one looking out for him because James and Lily were gone. All that time Harry didn't even know he had a bloody godfather!"
Tonks wondered what it had been like for Remus, falling asleep in a deserted train carriage after the full moon, and waking to find himself sat facing a thirteen year old replica of James Potter.
"There's that noise again," she said, frowning. "Didn't you get rid of all the Doxys? Or is Kreacher attempting some cleaning at last?"
"Remus is helping Molly with something."
"Helping her with what? Something that involves a load of spells and—" She broke off, wondering why the obvious explanation hadn't occurred to her before.
"Molly's been upset ever since Arthur got hurt, hasn't she? Brooding on things, I expect." Sirius said it as though it was very obvious. "Apparently, there's a lot of that going round."
If what she was starting to suspect was true, then good for Molly. If you were frightened, you went and did something about it. What's more, you went and got the best possible help.
Meanwhile, the man who wasn't allowed to do much of anything these days, was saying rather sullenly: "Of course, she wouldn't ask me for help, would she, because no one does these days. I'm just the spare part. But don't worry, Moony will be down once he knows you're here to say hello. I'm ready for the dopey smiles, admiring glances, and prolonged exchange of each other's names."
She reminded herself that only minutes ago he'd been spoiling for a fight. Probably still was.
"I always was rubbish at stealth. I'll have to cut out the dopey smiles, it must be embarrassing."
"I note you're denying nothing," said Sirius. "But I meant him."
Oh. She had to hold back a very dopey one indeed now. But this could wait.
"You do know I come round here to see both of you, don't you?" she said, truthfully, and put her hand gently over his long, bony one where it rested on the table.
His hand turned at once to grasp hers, surprising her. The grey eyes were bleak as they stared into hers. Grief that he'd let James and Lily down in the worst possible way? Fear that he'd be denied the chance to protect Harry from the same fate? A wave of pity rushed over her as the door pushed open and Remus stood there on the threshold.
He had such a great smile. It always started in the eyes and he always meant it.
Tonks opened her mouth to say "Wotcher," but it didn't quite come out. Merlin, it was so good to see him.
His expression was changing into something far more guarded, more watchful now, as he took in her and Sirius. But when he spoke it was as pleasantly as always.
"I was hoping it was you, Tonks. I wonder if I might borrow you when you can spare a minute? Something you could help us with, perhaps. Molly and I are upstairs in the drawing room."
"I'll be right on up, Remus." She took her hand away from Sirius', trying to make it seem like a casual, unhurried movement to one man (because it was), and not as if she was withdrawing her support to the other now they had company (because she wasn't). Somehow she only succeeded in knocking the goblet sideways with her elbow. Sirius caught it just in time.
"Thank you, Tonks." Remus smiled again, at no one in particular this time unless you counted the empty space above their heads, and was gone.
"Bugger," said Sirius, after a brief pause.
"He wouldn't—?" Wouldn't what?
"Nah." A brief look of doubt flashed over his face all the same.
She tried to work out why she felt guilty, when there was nothing to feel guilty about, and couldn't. Bloody hell.
Sirius was watching her. "It's tough when you've been told all your life you're a dangerous monster, and nearly all the people who told you otherwise are long since dead. Or escaped convicts."
"I'm not a fool, you know." It came out sharper than she meant it to, because she was aware that there was this chasm between them that Remus only ever let her catch glimpses of. Not in years, which were only numbers, but in life.
"No, but he might be one. You're going to have to make all the running with Moony, I fear. You'll need to be sure because he doesn't do casual. Won't do anything he thinks he shouldn't."
"Are you protecting him now? From me?"
"I'm protecting you both, if you did but know it."
She didn't know whether to be mad at what he seemed to be implying about her (casual?) or touched how much he cared about Remus. How many friendships could survive what theirs had?
"Thanks for the concern. But nothing's happened. And now I'd better get on upstairs so we can exchange admiring glances and see if it does." She looked at him, tilting backwards on his chair behind the table, and remembered the fierce, grateful grip on her hand. "Anyway, Sirius, I hear you've got some time to kill. When I come back can we have a few crumpets instead of those crappy mince pies? A mug of tea wouldn't go amiss, either, and then we can have a good old chinwag about life in general. The shocking price of bread these days and the sad lack of a new Weird Sisters' album this last year. What d'you say?"
Sirius looked down into his goblet and swirled it round thoughtfully, as though there might be a message hidden in there. Perhaps there was, because when he looked up again the glint of humour was back in his face.
"I can't tell you what a nice change it makes for Moony to have pulled something other than a muscle for once. Just a shame it has to be you, Tonks."
She was still laughing at that one when she stopped outside the drawing room. As any half-decent Auror knew, you didn't casually stick your head round a door and say hi when spells were flying, and the sounds coming from inside suggested they were. Mad-Eye had any amount of scary tales he was always happy to share – even if the listeners weren't that happy to listen - including the eye-watering perils of getting hit by an Instant Scalping Hex in the wrong area.
Besides, she wanted the chance to see Remus at work, if she had this right. Teaching. Fighting. How intriguing a prospect was that? She'd been out with him on plenty of missions of course, and knew he was skilful and lightning fast when it came to handling a wand, but there had never been an opportunity for her to see anything like this. It was a thought worthy of creeping forward the last few feet or so.
She pushed the door an inch or two further open, murmuring Silencio to the squeakily ancient hinges, and peered through the gap. Apart from the dilapidated velvet sofa, now back against the far wall with a little side-table alongside, the rest of the furniture was gone, presumably Vanished elsewhere. It had left a fairly large and clear area for the two figures who were stood opposite each other, and for Tonks to see what she'd guessed at earlier was indeed true.
Remus and Molly were duelling.
Their wands were raised. At least Molly's was; she was sending a volley of jinxes and hexes at Remus, while he, calmly, and with measured, precise flicks of the wrist, blocked them with hexes of his own.
Like swatting Lacewings, thought Tonks. Make him work for it, Molly!
The same idea seemed to occur to the older woman. She visibly set her shoulders and started to vary the spells, mixing them up as green sparks flew from her wand. Remus met like with like, matching her moves, before suddenly breaking the pattern and attacking with a Revulsion Jinx. It sailed harmlessly by but the accompanying purple flash of light was right at her face. Instinctively, Molly ducked. Off-balance and flailing, she finally managed to retaliate with a couple of powerful-looking hexes.
Trouble was, a Death Eater would have Stunned her long before that, if she was lucky. If she wasn't lucky…
Remus cast a Shield Charm with seemingly all the time in the world, gave Molly a moment to catch up, and sent a mild jinx whizzing towards her. Then he smoothly switched wand hands.
Merlin, he looked good moving at speed. And he was enjoying this, she could tell; there was exhilaration as well as concentration on his face. Then she remembered what Sirius had said about admiring glances and laughed at herself.
Molly didn't lack for spirit or for skill, even though she was breathing heavily now. Tonks found herself automatically identifying the spells, as if it was her under bombardment. A Stinging Hex followed by Impedimenta, Jelly-Leg Jinx – blimey, was that a Bat-Bogey? Where on earth had she got that from? – a powerful Trip Jinx, which did make him have to hurry…
"Better!" called Remus.
Molly lowered her wand, panting. Her hair had fallen forward into her face.
"I'm too slow!" she wailed. She gestured round the room, rather despairingly. "I'm even worse than I was on Thursday!"
"Nonsense, Molly. You're being far too hard on yourself."
"It's not nonsense, you know it's not." Molly took out a spotted handkerchief and mopped her face. "You're running rings round me, Remus."
"If you feel that – and I'm not, I hasten to add – then this is probably a good time for us to take a break. Give us both chance to draw breath."
Remus, who didn't appear to need to draw anything, walked towards the table in the corner of the room, tapping a small yellow clock with wings on either side with his wand. Presumably he was resetting it. It was customary to have duelling bouts last about five minutes when practicing, which didn't sound that long until you tried it for the first time. It was hard, fast and sweaty work.
Only last week, in Auror practice, she'd ended up with a split eyebrow, a dead leg, and what felt like a migraine. The only consolation was that her opponent had all that times two. It could be tough being the most recent recruit in the office - and female as well - as a couple of colleagues seemed to harbour a strong desire at such times to remind her of both. She knew better than anyone how much she had to learn but one day soon they were going to learn about her.
Remus had turned round. "Have a drink, Molly. And perhaps Tonks would like to come on in and have one as well."
So much for thinking her Stealth and Nosing had been worthy of an Outstanding. She straightened up with as much dignity as she could muster when caught peering through an inch wide crack in a door, and marched in, scowling at Remus who was wearing his most innocent look. Molly, still mopping her brow, gave her a tired smile of greeting.
"Hello, dear," she said. "Welcome to duelling lessons for the thoroughly unfit and well past it."
"It was nice work with the Bat-Bogey Hex, Molly. Shame you didn't land that one on him."
Molly went even redder than she already was. "You see what I'm reduced to!" she cried, looking even more despondent. "I give Fred and George a rocket when I catch them using that awful spell – and I'm sure they've gone and taught it to Ginny on the quiet – and then I get so desperate I'm using it against poor Remus, of all people, when he's trying to help me!"
"That's kind of the point, though, being sneaky," Tonks said, grinning, and Remus, nodding, passed Molly a mug of Butterbeer, and added, "It was a good move and if you'd been only a fraction quicker it would have worked. Tonks is right about doing the unexpected. One of the things to avoid is developing a signature move that an opponent can anticipate."
"I'd be horrified if the Bat-Bogey Hex was my signature move," said Molly, taking a deep gulp of the Butterbeer as they both laughed. She looked a bit happier when she put the mug down but her eyes were anxious as she started trying to pat her hair back into shape again.
Remus, standing next to Tonks, said quietly by her ear, "How's Sirius doing?"
"OK." She shrugged. "Not great."
"Couldn't he help with this?"
Remus gave her a look, which she understood to mean that Molly and Sirius were an uneasy mix since their arguments over Harry, and that this was Molly's party, which she was nervous about anyway, while he was just trying to help out as best he could. She should be flattered Molly had agreed to her coming up. Tonks gave him a look back, in which she attempted to convey: yeah, right, I get the problems and the personalities, but now Sirius is being left out of something going on in his own house! Besides, duelling must be right up his look-at-me-being-ever-so-brilliant alley? Can't we sort this out, somehow?
Remus nodded imperceptibly. They seemed to have had an entire conversation without exchanging a word. She looked at him, standing so close in his jumper, which had probably once been a rich brown in colour, and not had those patched elbows. He was still looking at her. His hair, she thought, would be soft between her fingers. Eyes that now seemed to be burning into her own. His mouth, oh his mouth…
If Molly hadn't been there she'd have kissed him.
But Molly was there. Tonks turned to see her sat on the sofa, watching them over her mug with interested eyes. Bollocks. Remus also turned quickly, in the opposite direction, checking the alarm clock again, presumably in case something had happened to it in the brief minutes that had passed since he'd last done so.
She sat down next to the older woman, ignored the heat she could feel rising in her face, and reminded herself why they were there. At least why she presumed they were.
"This is because of Arthur, right?"
Molly stiffened, and then sighed heavily. "Do you remember the night I couldn't get rid of the Boggart here? I started thinking about it back then. That I might feel better if I knew I could fight to protect them against the evil out there. I knew I had to ask Remus, because he was the obvious choice, but I didn't realize how out of practice I'd be. Top of the duelling class at Hogwarts I was, too, and now my brothers would be ashamed if they could see me. It's all those years of householdy spells and not much else."
Remus was frowning, Tonks saw. Something Molly had said?
"You had a secret duelling club at Hogwarts?" she asked. "And there I was thinking ours was the only one."
"I doubt it, dear," Molly said, rather dryly, at the same time as Remus said, "We had a club as well. At least for a short while until Gryffindor versus Slytherin threatened to turn into a weekly bloodbath. Much to the relief of one prefect, who was running out of excuses to give Poppy Pomfrey for the run of broken limbs and severe concussions every Saturday night."
So we were all at it, thought Tonks, amused. Rites of passage, as it were. Or even duels of passage. Probably best not to tell his mother what Charlie Weasley used to get up to with his Dungbombs (let alone how he obtained dragon dung), or how he used Belching Powder. But back then it was all fun – doing something dangerous and flouting authority at the same time. Whereas in Remus' time they must have fought because everyone was afraid.
Now everyone was afraid again.
"It's one of the reasons why I thought you could help us here, Tonks," Remus was saying. "You're the trained Auror. What did you think of what you saw? Though I appreciate your view was somewhat limited."
"Well… You were both being very polite, and not throwing any nasty stuff. No Incendios, for a start. Which is a common problem when you're—"
"Practicing," said Remus.
"Fighting someone you like," said Tonks.
"Exactly," said Molly.
Remus said gravely, "I promise to try harder to be unpleasant to you, Molly."
"You should," Tonks said. They looked at her and she shrugged. "I don't like using the nastier hexes against friends, either. But these days the Aurors are told to Stun first, ask questions later, and not to muck around being nice. There are those out there who wouldn't even consider them harsh spells. You both know this better than me."
There was a pause while Tonks wondered if she'd shocked them – but no, she'd heard exactly how far Remus would go for his friends from Sirius, several times over, and Molly must feel the same or she wouldn't be here in the first place - and then Remus began to talk to Molly in detail about the technical aspects of duelling. He pointed out what Molly had done right and what she could improve upon; he said any rustiness would soon disappear if she practiced regularly. And he talked about using perceived weaknesses and turning them to your advantage.
Tonks could see why he was a good teacher. He was clear, he was concise, and he was encouraging. He also knew more useful little spells than anyone she knew.
"What weaknesses do you have then?" Molly asked.
"Well, sometimes I look rather unwell." Remus hesitated. "You both know why. But while that means I tire quicker, and therefore have to avoid long duels, I can exaggerate the symptoms and try and make an opponent overconfident." He gave a small smile. "It can be, um, good fun, sometimes, when it works."
Tonks made a mental note to quiz Sirius on who'd ended up sat on their backside and when. She hoped it was Snape, and that buttock-losing had been involved.
"All sorts of tricks come and go in popularity," Remus went on, a nostalgic note creeping into his voice. "Sirius and James were always trying something different, egging each other on. I can remember once using an Aguamenti against Lily Potter, who promptly let the jet of water soak her and her blouse, and carried on fighting without a pause. It certainly distracted me and everyone else." He belatedly realized what he was saying as Tonks snorted and Molly's eyes widened to saucer-like proportions. "Um, so that's the kind of example I'm talking about. It's one of the reasons I wanted Tonks to give us her thoughts."
"You want some observations on wet t-shirts, Remus?" she asked innocently.
"I was leaning more towards observations on duelling in general, Nymphadora," he replied solemnly, though his mouth did curve upwards a little.
So it was her turn to talk. How best to explain?
"People tend to judge you if you have coloured hair, bright t-shirts, and are young-looking. Which is all to the good, because I'm only average height, so realistically I'm never going to match some great big bloke for reach. But I'm fast, and I can move quickly, and if he or she starts off thinking 'pushover' in their head, then by the time they've thought that, there'll be a Stunning spell coming at them. I can't fight for long and hold onto an entire morph; it takes too much concentration and energy, but I've changed my hair colour, and my nose, and my eyes – all to distract and confuse. I know I have a big advantage, being a Metamorphmagus and all, but it does pay to be underestimated, like Remus says."
"So what do you think your strengths are, Molly?" Remus said.
Molly had been listening intently, but now she looked at them glumly.
"Being plump, short, and good at shouting when I'm angry?" She pulled a face.
Tonks started to say something, but Remus was quicker and, surprisingly, blunter than she would have been: "So use it."
"You may be short in stature, but you're strong and capable. You'll get faster again. As for shouting – duellers intimidate each other all the time. If you'll forgive me saying so, Molly, few will be expecting a respectable witch like yourself to come out and start yelling insults at them. Harness that anger, channel it, and you may well give yourself a second or two's advantage. And a second or two can be all you need to save yourself or somebody else."
He'd leaned forward on the sofa, the lines on his face showing quite clearly. A history of suffering right there. It suddenly seemed a long time since they'd been laughing about Bat-Bogey Hexes.
"It could come down to a question of how far you would go, Molly. Whether you'd lay down your life to save someone else?"
Tonks started to protest, because this felt like too much, too soon. She didn't need to be reminded of a grim reality she already knew. Not here, not when she was happy in this dismal room. She'd thought he was as well.
But it needed saying, she admitted silently. He was right to do it. Sirius, sitting alone downstairs in the gloom, was living proof of that. And she'd started this, anyway, when she told them how Auror orders had changed; Fudge's public protestations of nothing to worry about to the contrary.
Everyone was scared; for themselves and for somebody else.
Molly was fingering her mug in silence.
"I'd do anything to save my children," she said at last, turning first to Tonks and then to Remus. "To save Arthur. You know that. That's why I asked you, because I knew you'd understand. Of course I would do anything to keep them safe. Anything at all."
Remus nodded. He didn't look at Tonks.
"People generally do for those they love," he said.
Later, after Molly had gone downstairs, having agreed to both staying on for tea and (more doubtfully) to talking to Sirius, Tonks stayed behind under the pretext of helping Remus clear up. More accurately, it was putting stuff back, as there was a great deal of furniture Summoning involved. Molly had been tired but seemed pleased; another duel with Remus had lasted longer and she'd landed a good Stinging Hex on his arm.
She'd made them promise not to breathe a word to Arthur, who she said was still somewhat shaken. Tonks thought the pride in learning what his beloved Mollywobbles was up to might buck him up no end.
Maybe not. She didn't know much about marriage, after all. Maybe protecting those you loved meant keeping the truth from them sometimes.
Remus was directing the sofa back to its original position. The atmosphere seemed light and easy, their old teasing, jokey relationship quickly re-established, but that moment between them, when she knew beyond any reasonable doubt that what she felt wasn't one-sided at all, still lingered. They both knew it had happened.
She wanted that moment back.
"I hope those two don't eat all the crumpets," she said, preparing to replace the items that belonged in the glass display cabinets. "I put in a request to Sirius," she added, in response to Remus' quizzical look.
"Perhaps we should hurry up then," he said, but he carried on with the sofa and made no noticeable attempt to do so.
"How's your arm?"
"Stinging. I'm so glad you impressed upon her the need to forget about being polite."
She grinned. "You were verging on smug when I first saw the pair of you. Doing all those clever little defensive spells. There's a couple I didn't recognize you'll have to show me one day. But Molly was giving you an easy time because she likes you."
Remus was examining a silver-framed photograph of some distant Black relative who looked like a ghoul. Or a ghoul who looked like a relative. "Do you think that was it?"
"What?" Tonks took her gaze away from the snakeskins and the boxes of Wartcap Powder – just what every family would want on display, obviously – to look at him in bemusement. "Molly liking you? Of course she does! It's sickening, actually, just how much. Even Arthur doesn't get the amount of roast chicken you do while the rest of us sit there with our tongues hanging out. Why ever would you think different?"
"Oh…" Remus had an oddly blank look, despite his lightness of tone. "Lots of people don't, you know. Molly wasn't always sure about me. Neither was one of her sons. When she said I was the obvious choice to ask about the horror of war and evil, I did wonder if she meant because I was a Dark creature myself."
Tonks felt her mouth drop open.
"Well, you're a right plonker then, aren't you?" she managed at last. "Because I'll tell you what she was thinking. She was thinking that you're an ace teacher, a good friend, and someone who has lived through a war already. It's not really that hard to work out, is it? She was thinking you're the best possible person around to teach her about helping her own family survive this one, you great idiot. And stop grinning at me!"
"Sorry." He made an apparently valiant attempt. "It's just… you're rather amazing when you get all worked up, Nymphadora. Even more so when it's on my behalf." He added hastily, as he saw her face, "But I am frequently a right plonker, as you know. Would it help if I Oblivate your memory now?"
"The stupid bit is calling me Nymphadora," she said, threateningly. "And while we're at it, I really can't believe you went and recommended the wet t-shirt look to Molly, of all people."
"Neither can I." He shook his head, in seeming disbelief.
"Yeah, and I bet you'll get double cake slices now, next time you're round at The Burrow," she said, and caught his eye and laughed with him.
Eventually, with some kind of order restored, they carried on putting the room to rights, but she wondered if she was being the stupid one here. Was it that surprising that he'd expect the worst, even from friends, when the worst had happened so many times? Wasn't this her being naïve? Had he just gone and made her feel better, like he did everyone else?
She grasped now what Sirius had meant when he said Remus wouldn't do casual. He wasn't having a go at her lustful motives; he was telling her that everything Remus did was careful. He never casually said, "Let's go for a drink later, Tonks," or "Let's grab a bite to eat," which would have been the easiest thing in the world to do lately; he'd go along with whatever she suggested but no more than that. He was never going to ask her out, never going to take advantage of a situation no matter how much he might want to. He didn't think he should.
She did, though.
"We ought to fight some time," she said abruptly, when they were stood together by the last cabinet. "Duel, I mean," she added, as his head swung round in surprise. "Don't you think it would be fun?"
"Why… yes." He looked as if he was debating what to say next. Not entirely sure where she was going with this.
"Unless you're frightened of losing to a girl, of course."
He smiled, on surer footing now. "I'm holding back the fear. Bit concerned for you, though, when you get crushed."
"That's a date then," she said. "When Molly's here for her next lesson, perhaps. And we're doing something for the Order together on Friday, aren't we? Watching someone's house?"
"Lots to look forward to then." She watched his face soften as he looked at her. His eyes darkened like they had before, and she felt her own emotion threaten to overwhelm her. They were two steps apart, and while she willed him to take one of them and meet her halfway, she knew he wouldn't.
Damn them all, for doing this to him. And damn him for letting them, and for settling for this.
For him, everything came back to being a werewolf. For her, everything came back to him being Remus. How could she protect him from himself?
"They'll have drunk all the tea at this rate," he said hoarsely, and looked away from her. He seemed to straighten and set his shoulders, almost like Molly had earlier. "We're done here, aren't we?"
"For now we are," she said, full of resolve and plans, and full of love, and together they made their way back down to the kitchen.