Author's Notes: Set during OotP so definitely no DH spoilers. Also definitely JKR's characters and not mine.
Originally written for the MetamorFicMoon Last Chance Fic Showdown. As I'm not sure if blancmanges are universal, it may help to know they're sweetened milk puddings. There's a slightly mangled song title in here, too, for the oldies amongst us. It's up to you whether you think of the Nina Simone version, The Animals, Joe Cocker etc. The fic itself is dedicated to Mrs Tater. Thanks for everything, Lisa. :)
She's standing in the hallway of The Burrow looking in, the cramped front room having been specially cleared and widened for this night of Anniversary celebration. The two new walls look and even wobble like the best of blancmanges thanks to the ingenuity of the twins, but they also smell deliciously of vanilla and lemon and it reminds her of being back in her mother's kitchen when she was very small.
Odd that she should think of that, because she has no memory of ever helping to make what were no doubt immaculate jam tarts aged six and a bit like most kids did; only of her Dad's face grinning up at her as she waved at him from the lop-sided castle she'd made in the tall oak tree. That was just before he was told to get her down at once.
"Tonks, dear." Molly has come up behind her, her round face glowing in the heat. There's a smudge of sugared icing on her brow from the cake that sang congratulations amongst some highly questionable lyrics and had to be quickly silenced by being sliced roughly down the middle. The traces of all the happy tears that followed the many speeches are still there.
How many years is it again? All those children and all those hard times, but Arthur had swung her round like a young girl on the floor and everyone had cheered, Tonks loudest of all.
"You were dancing with Remus!" It's an exclamation rather than a question; stating clearly that Molly's already made her mind up as to what's gone on and is just awaiting confirmation of her rapid surmising. Tonks could do without this in more ways than one but there's a wave of affection for this busy little woman, who cares enough to spare a thought for others in what is essentially her evening, simply because she wants them to be happy too.
"Yeah. I was." She watches the other dancers as they swing and part on a swirl of music, her own body swaying internally with the rhythm.
She wants to shut her eyes and just listen and feel.
"And…?" Molly looks as though she can hardly bear to leave it at that one expectant word; her eyes are so eager, shining in anticipation.
Tonks starts to bite her lower lip and then stops. "It was just a dance, you know. That's all. Nothing more than that."
"Oh, but surely, dear—" Molly's face has fallen and Tonks turns away so she doesn't have to see it.
"That's all," she repeats. The dance in front of her now seems to be a country reel, with steps at least half the crowd more or less know, though the twins, not surprisingly, and Kingsley, very surprisingly, are inventing their own risqué ones. She watches as everyone comes to an untidy, disorganised halt, a few voices raised above the others in shouted instruction and laughter, then sees them do a ragged about turn and retrace their steps...
"I can't," she says, conscious of the heavy Doc Martens beneath the hastily thrown on skirt, and her rapidly beating heart. Merely walking in a refined manner seems highly unlikely at present.
"You can." The familiar smile; one side of the mouth curling upwards first and then the other following. It says he has complete faith in the recipient's ability to carry out the task ahead of them. She's seen him use it with the children, with Sirius, and with Molly, and it has never once failed in instilling confidence and more besides.
Until now. Remus Lupin seems to have forgotten that Nymphadora Tonks frequently walks on thin ice and is liable to slip in a puddle of her own sweat if his warm hand squeezes hers like that again.
"I know you can, Tonks." This time the smile is the one he just gives her and she's lost. Perhaps he's right and this night she really can, even though she's a most unlikely candidate for romance. There's magic in the air and it's not the type she's studied all these years and understands. This one whispers to her of mystery and wonder while his other hand is resting firmly – possessively? – on her waist.
"What's this music called?" she asks in a panic because it seems quite hard to dance to even for those gifted with a left and a right foot – Bill and his glamorous blonde partner have given up in disgust, for a start - and it also seems to not quite fit the occasion.
"Please don't let me be misunderstood," he says quietly, an unreadable expression in his eyes, and it takes her shocked brain until the music ends to realise that was the title and not a comment on his thoughts, which just happen to echo hers at this very moment. Thankfully a much more upbeat number replaces it, but what she wouldn't give for The Weird Sisters right now and the freedom to throw herself around everywhere, without having to worry about impressing people she desperately wants to impress.
She's never seen his face this close before.
The lines are deeper but he looks younger. It's hard to look at him, though; she can only do it when he's glancing down at their feet to sort them out as they tangle together. Nor is it helped by the fact that she keeps catching him looking at her and there are no smiles then from either of them.
They take it in turns to look away first. It's very polite. Almost funny.
All the whirling around and concentrating is making her light-headed. Either that or it's the home-made Sangria punch, which she's downed several glasses of, and which Arthur has sworn with a twinkle in his eye is almost alcohol free.
Does a Spanish punch provide Dutch courage? Now that's one she'll look forward to discussing at length with Sirius. It's so unfair he can't be here. Remus arrived late with Dumbledore and has said that like Cinderella he'll have to be gone again before midnight. Such a lot is wrong with this world but she knows Sirius would tell her to take every chance that comes her way.
And stop mucking around. The Blacks were all for positive action. Even her mother believes in that.
"I'm not cut out to be a dancer, Mr Lupin." Especially not to a swinging, jazzy Celestina tune which requires smooth, co-ordinated movements, and the point is embarrassingly reinforced when her foot clouts him on the ankle.
He nods. "I'm not cut out to advertise the latest in wizarding fashions, Miss Tonks, but you don't seem to mind."
What on earth…? "Of course, I don't—" she starts, indignantly.
"Well, then. Just enjoy it like I am. Either of us could be dancing with Mad-Eye instead, you know." He grins as she relaxes at last in his arms and laughs with him because, after all, she's wanted this for ages so she should relish every moment –- and he has said that's what he's doing, and that's, well … amazing - and then he shocks her by tracing a crescent-shaped moon with a long fingertip just to the side of her mouth. An inch of air between it and her but she can feel that finger on her skin. "You've got a hidden dimple just there, Nymphadora. Does anyone else know about it?"
"Don't ca—" She stops as something seems to loosen within her.
"I know." He says it very gently and his eyes hold hers. Neither of them looks away this time.
If someone asked her to explain what's happening, she thinks she'd have no idea how to put it into words. How do you describe such a mixture of terrible knee-trembling anxiety and joy? Only that the moment is so incredibly, wonderfully intimate, and now they are slipping out of the laughing throng, sliding past the trestle table piled high with gifts, and through the French windows which stand open to the mildest of May nights.
Her skirt brushes against narcissi while his shoulder touches first the spring leaves on a young, eager tree and then jasmine, loosening a shower of tiny white stars that float to the ground. The music follows them at a respectful distance. They don't speak and this magic spell, that doesn't involve wands or words, and which has been written for them alone, holds fast as they dance clumsily through the overgrown grass and into the dark shadows which are waiting for them at the far end.
His arms tighten round her. They're so close it's as though she's breathing him in. "And now…?" he says, hesitating for the first time since he came through the front door and his eyes didn't rest till they found where she was in the crowd. There's unexpected colour rising in his face and uncertainty in his hands.
It suddenly comes to her that he thinks he is an unlikely candidate for what is out here too. All those hard times lived through and he's still giving her the chance to walk away. Not taking the easy option.
She feels as if she's remembered something vital, like an answer, although actually she's never known it.
It's Molly again, interrupting her thoughts again, the kindly face still hopeful but mixed with the hint of a frown because she's not happy with the answers so far. Tonks makes a silent promise to tell her what she wants to hear later on, but not now.
Not now when it's all still alive within her. Turning her into this new person whose only worry is if something stops her ever feeling like this again. One who can out-dance any of this leaden footed lot because the touch of another human being has changed the world and how she views it for ever.
"It was only a dance, Molly." She says it again, slightly ashamed of the deception, and quickly ducks her head down as she feels the light from the lamps catch her face.
If Molly looks closely she'll see the telltale blurring from stubble around her lips. Recognise that the dishevelled pink curls have had fierce, unsteady fingers tangled in them, see the pulse still thudding far too fast in her neck and realise that even the blood is now different in her veins as it burns through her. Molly will understand because she's felt it, too, and so Tonks thinks she'll forgive her when she knows.
Because the secret of love is in her and about her and something inside her is saying that this is so very special, and so very easy to carelessly lose, that you really have to glory in it while you can.
Reviewers get my thanks and appreciation, as well as a dance with Remus, which may extend into the garden if you so wish...