Disclaimer: Definitely not JKR, just borrowing some of her characters for a day out.
Notes: Revenant, in folklore, is a mythical, visible ghost, or animated corpse, that has returned from the grave to terrorize the living. The term is also used to describe someone who has returned after a long abscence. This was originally written for the All Hallows' Moon Jumble at Metamorfic Moon, where my prompts were mystery/suspense, day of regrets, Deluminator and a jolly picture of a graveyard in a woods. It's my first real go at mystery/suspense so any feedback is much appreciated as I didn't find it at all easy (though not helped by writing every other genre going with it, lol), and there will be another chapter after this.
Revenant: Chapter One
Darkness. Closing in fast and bringing with it stealthy grey mist as its companion for the night. The ground damp and sinking softly beneath his feet as he paused again to listen and stare into the gloom.
Still nothing. No one following or if they were then their Stealth and Tracking skills far surpassed his. They'd have presumably learnt theirs in a very different way, after all, and did years of necessity outweigh practice? Fear versus self-preservation? As it was, the trees were the only things which seemed interested in him. Bare branches reached out from the shadows, like withered arms seemingly asking for his attention or directing him.
Or were they warning him? It was the perfect night for ghosts, after all, and he had far too many to call on in case he needed reminding of the past.
"So why are we all sitting here, like a load of dozy old men with our pipes and slippers at the ready? It's Hallowe'en! We should be soaking up the heady atmosphere outside!" Easy to imagine Sirius smacking the table with his hand after already soaking up a few too many other things. Chivvying a bleary-eyed James into reluctant action, not even glancing at Peter who would follow anyway, and kicking, none too gently, at Remus' outstretched foot as he sat by the fire, momentarily lost in the warmth and colour of the flames.
"Never mind, Moony, it'll be even cosier to come back to after you've had your balls frozen off! Now come on!" A roar of laughter and, of course, he was rising to his feet in response, catching the cloak and gloves which were chucked at him across the table, half-heartedly cursing friends who couldn't resist breaking school rules. He'd always hated the cold, was tired and longing for bed, but there'd still been a wide grin inside at the thought of sharing this latest adventure with them. Of always being included with them.
It had turned into one of their worst ever detentions, he remembered. Everyone was always careful at Hallowe'en, Minerva McGonagall had emphasised through lips that were thin, tight lines of barely suppressed fury. There was no need to positively invite trouble in with a welcoming hand unless you were a bunch of gormless, great Gryffindor idiots, now was there? It was a night things tended to happen, things you couldn't foresee, things of great significance, and with that final pronouncement those tight lips had clamped firmly together and she'd strode off. Leaving them with only their forced, rather uneasy laughter at her reaction, which seemed out of all proportion to the crime.
Years later, his eyes had met hers for a second as they'd stood together in the rain at James' and Lily's funeral. He wondered if she recalled her words to them all on that day.
An owl hooted somewhere up ahead and he wrapped this cloak a little tighter round him. No gloves this time, his only pair stolen shortly after arrival. No little luxuries he used to take so much for granted. No Sirius, either, several months dead and mourned, though there'd barely been time for that. Just regret and anger that a life once so vibrant, which had seemingly been given a miraculous second chance, and which therefore surely must fulfil some of that brilliant, glowing potential, had ended in such a manner.
"The Blacks as a family are rubbish at compromising with events," Sirius had said, eyes hollow and dispirited, only days before he and the others had set out to save Harry at the Ministry. "We always fight things if we don't like them. It's all or nothing. Not like you, Moony. You always adjust accordingly and do things the reasonable way. That's why you're happier, I suppose. Because you want and ask for less."
Remus thought with the sort of humour that seemed all too common to him these days, and which wavered worryingly between black and bitter, that Sirius had given him far too much credit – you had to be reasonable when your choices were limited. Much as he told himself that he should have adjusted to the situation by now, that she would be well over everything after months apart (with him topping the list of everything), each day seemed to do little except make him begrudge reason even more. There was nothing like a life spent watching the phases of the moon for teaching you about the passing of time.
Or dwelling on what might have been.
He took a last look over his shoulder and all around, wincing as the movement made pain shoot across his back. It was hardly the ideal condition to be in before tonight but hopefully Mad-Eye would have brought what he asked.
There was little point dwelling on that so he walked on, seeing the countryside as if for the first time, familiar and yet perceptively strange tonight. There seemed nothing random about that pile of leaves to his right or the mound of twisted brambles he'd just passed by. Had there always been this much moss, soft and velvet-like beneath his feet? Many times he'd walked this way and yet he'd never felt as he did now; as if he was walking into a role, into a drama, that had been assigned especially for him.
Something knew he was coming. Something was waiting for him.
He told himself not to be ridiculous because obviously someone did and was – though why had he thought something? – and concentrated on following the vague path, which was easy to miss. It was only his state of mind which made things seem out of the ordinary. The trees were more mature and thicker now, the mist gently flickering round the base of them. He put a hand out for the reassuring, solid touch of the iron gate, and muttered the charms to release both it and the protections he'd placed there earlier.
As always, he saw the grave first and then, alongside, the small, light grey building which represented so much. Looking like a Muggle chapel, though he had it on good authority it wasn't, nor ever had been. The trees were arranged rather anxiously behind, their tops dipping inwards and brushing together like an encircling cloak as though keen to protect it from the elements. Most of them looked to be beech and he thought he'd read somewhere that they symbolized understanding and preservation.
If only he had his books to see. But he should be grateful he hadn't. Personal belongings of any value were either something to be sold or something to be resented when they weren't yours. Better to remember that spies who refused to recognise their new circumstances as reality were doomed to failure.
Why was this so hard for him to grasp? Why did he still dream of impossibilities at night and carry them with him like a perpetual ache throughout the day?
He took a step forward towards the building and stopped. The breath caught in his throat even while his eyes and brain were still registering what he was seeing.
The figure was in dark shadow against the pale background of the stone. Leaning back against the wall; one hand thrust characteristically deep in a pocket, the other holding a wand in almost unnoticed readiness. A bulging, heavy looking bag on the floor. Everything as requested. All waiting for him.
Except the figure wasn't Mad-Eye.
Tonks thought there was a lot to be said for just a simple, honest-to-goodness headstone in most cases, and definitely in this one. The ornate, rectangular stone monument was far too suggestive of an actual box, and the length of it was … well, just about the length she'd be if she lay down next to it.
Thanks a bunch, Isabella, she thought, walking round it again because simply standing still and waiting was much, much harder than pretending to do something constructive out here. Here being a night sensible witches would be snug by the fire with a glass of something warming in their hand, and that was before she'd even set eyes on those famous last words.
She bent down again, careful not to touch anything.
Here lies Isabella Eleanor Moranna Montague-Lacey, died 31st October 1947 aged 19 years. Erected by Marius Black in anticipation of the day they will be together once more, beyond the boundaries and judgements set by mortal men and wizards. Death is a debt to nature due, which she has paid and so will you.
Death is a debt to nature due, which she has paid and so will you.
Apart from it not being the cheeriest epitaph she'd ever seen, it was always a worry when somebody called Black had had a usually murky hand in these things. Tonks straightened up slowly, thinking that the bite in the air promised it was going to get extremely cold later on, and that she could think of at least one thing she and Marius had in common. Whether that boded well was another matter entirely, but possibly it was slightly reassuring.
After all, he was wasn't likely to have been blasted off the Black Family tapestry for behaving like a model family member, now was he?
And also reassuring was despite everything that might have suggested the contrary; she thought the grave itself was rather peaceful. Not unhappy. Nor unfriendly, or unwelcoming like others she'd seen. But try as she might, her main preoccupation during the last twenty minutes had been wondering just how friendly and welcoming her reception was going to be by someone else.
Two months was a long time not to see anyone. Especially after you were used to seeing them each day. Especially after the last time you saw him at an Order meeting he could barely look you in the face.
She walked back to the little building, which looked like a Muggle place of worship to her admittedly inexperienced eyes. It was a pity Arthur wasn't here, he'd have a million and one questions. She had quite a few herself. Remus' instructions for dismantling the protective enchantments hadn't mentioned this at all, and if she did yet another security sweep of the perimeter she'd know she really had turned into Mad-Eye. Especially as her eyes kept being drawn back to the silent trees and the strange scarring on their bark, which looked exactly like scorch marks from a wand. Which left only waiting and ignoring the fact that her heart was thudding just that bit too fast, and thinking about Isabella of the many names, that dubious wordsmith Marius Black and were those even more of his words carved in the stone arch above her head?
Can't right my rights or right my wrongs, except in dreams where we belong.
Actually, that one Tonks felt she certainly could relate to.
She'd never dreamt as much as she did lately and they seemed to leave her utterly exhausted. Some kind of after effect of prolonged exposure to the Dementors, probably – there had been a Healer at work who'd given them a talk, suggesting a rotational shift system which had sounded good in theory and been totally impractical to enforce when there simply weren't enough Aurors to go round.
So it was back to the dreams and she had a recurring one. Of course, you could never find your wand in these things, though you knew damn well it was there. Your pockets had somehow turned into bottomless pits, your fingers into quivering jelly, and by recurring she meant … well, perhaps, once or twice a week.
Ever since Sirius had died, really.
What happened was that she was in a house. A nice house, one she liked - no, absolutely loved. Plenty of her favourite belongings and pictures strewn around (and if it really was going to be home one day, then she must decorate the bedroom in those wonderful coffee and cream shades. As well as find that wine-coloured rug she scrunched her bare toes into). The bed she woke up in was so comfortable, the thick duvet thrown back as though someone had just stepped out of it, and the imprint left behind was exactly his shape. She knew just how he'd be as well. Warm and rumpled like his pyjamas; creases in them and round his eyes. Smelling of softness and sleep and ... him.
But he wasn't there right now and it appeared that the pair of them had lived there for some time without noticing the staircase at the end of the room. Or realising it even existed. Only once she became aware of it, seeing it each time suddenly out of the corner of her eye, she knew that she had to go up and investigate. The only thing which differed from dream to dream was whether she climbed it with the eager anticipation or cold dread.
She'd always wake up before she reached the final stair. Sometimes she'd catch a glimpse of the open door at the top, but never enough to see round and inside. And she always woke with either a huge sense of relief at not seeing what was through that door or overwhelming sadness at yet another opportunity gone by.
The symbolism to all this didn't take much working out. And it made a fairly pleasant interlude to the others about Sirius, Emmeline, Bellatrix and, oh yes, that glorious one with a stone-faced Remus telling her they had no future together, that he had no business ever thinking they had, and how he hoped she'd forgive him one day for his terrible temerity in ever laying an unsavoury finger on her. All this as she focused numbly on his long, shaking white hand and watched him walk out of her life. While Dumbledore said it was really a great shame he hadn't anticipated this and offered her a Sherbet Lemon.
She was never able to find her wand, or the words, to stop him in that one either. The one thing that the dreams had in common was that she was always reduced to being powerless in some way.
A wisp of a breeze passed through the brittle leaves on the nearest tree like a tiny sigh. She looked up and with no sense of surprise saw Remus stood watching her.
Coming here had been a test of herself in a way, a question she wanted answered, and that answer came immediately in the first breath of recognition.
"Wotcher." The mist seemed to catch hold of the word and bear it away through the trees.
"What are you doing here, Tonks?" His voice was quite expressionless. Like his face.
"You're the one who sent the request in for urgent assistance. I'm here to assist." She straightened up from the wall. Fool that she was to think this would be any different.
"Which I sent to Dumbledore."
"Which he showed to me. I'm stationed at Hogwarts, remember? On the spot, as it were."
"Yes, but I asked for—" He stopped, staring at her, his eyes flickering up and down. Resting on her hair so that she had to resist the impulse to put a hand up to push it back self-consciously.
"What's the only colour I said I didn't like on you?" he asked abruptly.
"Wh-what?" She stared back at him indignantly as realisation belatedly dawned. "You think I'm a—"
"Please answer the question." Incredibly, those long fingers were actually tightening on his wand, the taut, white knuckles glinting at her.
"That very pale blue," she said, fighting the urge to lift her own wand and hurl the most painful hex she could think of at him. Telling herself he was absolutely right to be this cautious, and she should be as well, but fighting to hold the rising anger back because this was the last thing she needed, the last start she needed, and, damn him, it bloody hurt. "You said it reminded you of your gran and that rinse they kept giving her at the Talking Heads."
The hand relaxed. "Right. Sorry. I—"
"What's the very last thing you said to me before tonight?"
A pause. She could feel her own eyes boring into him and his shifted away from her, blinking a couple of times before he said softly, rather sadly, "That you were always my friend."
Another pause, longer this time, with Tonks' mouth very dry because they both knew it wasn't quite the last thing he'd said. "Friend," she repeated eventually, just as she'd done once before, though without the dumbstruck disbelief of that night.
He looked at her then, a swift upward glance. "It's a big word, Tonks."
She nodded, not trusting herself to say anything further. No need as it was hanging there in the air between them.
There's bigger words than that, Remus, and you know it. You've said them.
He walked slowly, stiffly up to her and she couldn't think of a thing to say. His face was thin and drawn and the black cloak she remembered seemed to be far too big. He put his wand carefully away and she saw that the long, elegant hands were so white now they were colourless.
Ill hands. She remembered she'd thought not long after she met him that Remus' whole nature, his kindness, his thoughtful, considered ways towards others, was the very antitheses of everything this war stood for.
Except for once a month, he'd probably say. And that overrides everything else.
She moved towards the grave to give herself time, looking unseeingly at the inscription, and after a little while realised he was stood next to her. Shifting his stance uncomfortably to favour one leg.
"I did ask for Mad-Eye," he said quietly.
"No." She made herself speak matter-of-factly, to squash her emotions. "No. You said …if Mad-Eye was available. As it is, he's at the other end of the country. I, however, was ready, willing and more than able." She saw him start to speak again and said quickly, "Dumbledore sent for me, Remus. Possibly because it's to do with werewolves and let's face it, let's both admit it for once, I do have some experience with them. And Dumbledore thought I was the best suited for this. Maybe you could work on getting the same idea through your thick skull. In the meantime, we can argue some more and shiver out here if you want to, and I'll smile sweetly and tell myself this is your way of manfully restraining your joy on seeing me. Or you can tell me what's up with your back and why you look as though you might lose a fight to the death with a Pygmy Puff."
The crease on his forehead had deepened as she spoke and she was sure he was going to argue in spite of her words. But then he glanced at her, his eyes clouded with some emotion she couldn't read, and shook his head slightly.
"All right. I am," he said and his lips twitched slightly.
"Working on getting it through my thick skull. You know I have every confidence in your abilities. You know it's not that." He looked at her hesitantly for a few seconds, then, apparently making his mind up, his gaze moved intensely over her face as it always used to. Her heart beat faster, just as it always used to as well, but this time embarrassment and humiliation stabbed at her. Whispering the words he must be thinking: She looks so plain, so drab, so mousy. What did I ever see in her?
She felt the colour rising in her cheeks.
"Wands don't work here, by the way," he said. "I've tried but once you're through the gate, that's it."
"Oh." She frowned. "That's not very reassuring?"
"No. I'm afraid not many things are around here." He was staring at her hair again. "How- how are you, Tonks? I mean," he added hastily, "I know I've no right to ask but—"
"I'm fine. I face Dementors most days, you know. There's a lot of them very keen to spend time round Hogwarts. Constantly trying to think of happy memories tends to take it out of you, for some strange reason."
He made an awkward, embarrassed gesture with his hand. "Can you morph now?"
"Yes, thanks. About your-"
"Only you're not at the moment." He added quickly, "Please, Tonks. It's … it's important to me."
"I'm fine. I can morph." She met his gaze defiantly. "You don't look so hot yourself, you know."
Although he didn't move, she felt him flinch from where she was.
"You're quite right. I'm sorry." His eyes met hers for the briefest of seconds, the look in them was a word she could only describe as haunted, before the shutters came down again and she thought she simply couldn't bear any more of this.
"Look," she said abruptly. "I don't know about you but I'm not up to speed with the book on how to talk to your ex without extreme awkwardness all round. But I'm here because you need help and if we keep this up it's going to be a very long night. So if we agree that we're both touchy, and that I am almost certainly going to say and do completely the wrong thing at some point, do you think we can try and get along for a bit? Like we used to?"
Even as she said the words, she suddenly wondered at her insensitivity in coming upon him like this. She'd had hours to think about it, he'd had no warning whatsoever. Yes, she'd come because she wanted to help him, but it wasn't her only motive, and she'd never forgive herself if she was a distraction that led to disaster.
I learn nothing, she thought. Nothing.
But he was nodding, almost absently, looking down at the grave. "You haven't touched it, have you?"
"No." She looked at him sideways, his hand fingering his unshaven jaw and she wanted to yell at him that she didn't care in the slightest that he'd obviously been living rough, and looked pretty rough, because, damnit, he was still Remus. But instead she said evenly: "I think the fact that you underlined that it wasn't to be about ten times on the parchment was pretty clear. Now are you going to tell me what's going on and get your clothes off so that I can see why your back's killing you?"
A pause. Then a sound escaped him that was so unexpected, and yet so familiar, it took her a moment to recognise it. That soft little chuckle of amusement he used to give. Almost in spite of herself, she felt an unwilling smile start to form in response.
"We'd better go inside if I'm going to strip off," he said, and this time when his eyes met hers there was a glimmer of something in them, a faint spark of something she knew. A half smile on his lips. "And in case my words have put you in any doubt … I am."
She blinked at him. "Am what?"
"Glad to see you, Tonks."
They'd argued, and he'd tried to think of another possible way, but the truth was there wasn't. And, as she'd pointed out, he would have asked Mad-Eye to do it all without a second's thought, and that rather proved he hadn't got a leg to stand on. So it was surely time to shut the hell up?
Besides, a tiny voice he couldn't quite silence inside, was telling him what a shame it was that he wasn't going to be able to see Nymphadora Tonks versus possibly her much older equivalent, and that she was much better suited to the task than Mad-Eye would ever have been. Though he very much doubted she was relishing what she was doing now.
Considering she'd seen him without any clothes at all several times, it was a shock to find how difficult standing in front of her with just his shirt off was now.
Embarrassing, almost. Humiliating.
Her fingertips were fresh and cool as they lightly touched the swelling on his back. He heard the quick, indrawn breath.
"I have to say … I don't think this is the best look for you." The fingers pressed down very gently and he tried not to flinch or show any reaction, but she quickly said, "Sorry", and he could hear the anxiety in her voice.
She still cared for him then, even after the way he'd treated her.
"It's all right," he said lightly, "it looks much worse that it is."
"You've still got those handy eyes in the back of your head then, have you?" He could visualise exactly the scowl on her face, imagine the small nose wrinkling up in disgust. "Stop talking tripe and be honest. When did this happen? Last night?"
"Yes." Both to distract her and stop himself grinning inanely at her words, he said, "You know it's very hard to have a dignified conversation while I've got my shirt off and you're making rude remarks. I thought you'd be too busy marvelling at this place."
"Oh, I've marvelled all right." She gave a soft snort of derision from behind his shoulder and her breath was warm against his skin. It was a smaller echo of the choking sound she'd produced when he'd carefully undone the enchantments and revealed what lay inside the building. The large, ornate pavilion, divided into sections by long white curtains tied back with silken cords, was indeed a sight to behold, as was the gold-painted roof, decked here and there with stars. A fire had been charmed to burn whenever needed in the corner, and was crackling merrily now, while a round, white marble table sat in the centre, surrounded by dark red and green satin cushions, along with some brightly checked rugs.
Her breath touched his shoulder again, light as the faintest whisper, and he covered the urge to shiver by putting a hand up to rub his arm.
You don't look so hot yourself, you know.
He'd dreaded and longed for this meeting in equal parts, and when it came it was so unexpected he'd been catapulted back in time to when he'd first set eyes on the young woman with the dancing black eyes and hair the colour of champagne.
But now that flawless, creamy skin had a grainy, tired quality to it, and those eyes flickered, sparked, but didn't dance. Death and despondency and Dementors and, all right, yes, him, had done this to her. The vibrant glow had vanished; just like he'd watched it start to dim in front of him when he'd told her he was leaving and it was goodbye. While she, voice pitched so low, so fervent, he thought even now he might have imagined the words because he wanted to hear them so badly, said, "No, it's not."
All this time and he'd tried to put ice round his heart and told himself things would have improved for her, that she may have met someone else and realised her lucky escape, that she was far, far better off without him in her life, but … She didn't look much like someone who'd moved on.
She was like a colour photograph drained to sepia.
Her breath brushed against him again. Was it his imagination she was only a few inches away?
"The fire smells nice," she said, close to his ear, and he gathered his wits together.
"Apple logs. They smell like the fruit itself."
"One of Marius Black's better ideas then. What else does this place do?"
"When you sit at the table and tap it with your fingers, a fountain in the centre sends different coloured jets of water in the air," he said dryly. "And the lamps dim on a word of command. There's a selection of music available if you clap your hands – I don't think you'd like the choices very much, though Molly might – and a variety of very sickly perfumes for the air you can choose."
"So in other words, it's a naff, crass, really excruciating, would-be seduction pad. Wasn't he blasted from the Black Family tapestry for embarrassing them by being a Squib though?" Tonks said. "Or…" She paused and he could sense her looking round behind him. "Or is it the kind of place a head-over-heels young wizard might create to get his wicked way with an impressionable young Muggle girl?"
She was always quick on the uptake.
"The Squib tale was what was commonly believed but it wasn't true. Far from it." He tried to twist his head round gingerly to see what she was doing, only to have pain shoot across his shoulders. "Haven't you finished giving me the once over back there?"
"It's a proper Healer you need giving you that, not me." She walked round to face him, her face grave and still. "It's a nice rainbow of red, blue, purple – every colour you can think of. I don't think there's any internal bleeding but it hurts like hell, doesn't it?"
"Only when I laugh, as the wizard said with a crossbow bolt stuck in his middle. Did you bring the potions?"
"Yep." She bent over, tossing a couple of cushions roughly out of the way, and started rummaging in the bag as he pulled his shirt back on again. "Can't tell you how thrilled Snape was to be summoned in the middle of class and told by Dumbledore that he had to rustle this up, and for you of all people. He's probably put extra aconite in it, specially. Still, you'd know the taste of that, what with the Wolfsb-" She broke off quickly and held up two bottles, one of a thick, grey paste-like consistency, and the other a deep purple liquid. "I made him put extra Sleeping Draught in, too."
"Tonks, I can't afford to be out of things for too—"
"You'll go through the bloody roof shortly after I slap it on, and you know you will. You're going to have to be asleep while it does its stuff. It's not exactly easy having a potion that gets rid of all the inflammation, leaves you able to move normally, but the skin still looks bruised. As Snape took great delight in pointing out to me at least twenty times." She glared at him and the room was all at once gloriously full of Nymphadora Tonks and that unmistakable, defiant, upward tilt of her head and chin.
He held back a smile with some difficulty. "You're not really going to slap it on, are you?"
"Depends how much you annoy me. And the night is still young." She reached for what looked like a pillow case, and began spreading the paste on it. She said lightly, "So as you clearly need to still look injured to someone after this is over, and have an alibi for tonight into the bargain, I'd guess you've got in the way of someone?"
"It appears that way. Someone certainly wanted me out of action tonight. Which…" He made to shrug and then remembered not to. "Makes me even more uneasy about what's planned."
She raised a questioning eyebrow at him and he said, "It was all very neatly done. There was no one near me at the time. But something tripped me and it just happened to be by the edge of the pit where we store boulders and rocks for the shelters, and it's quite deep and … I didn't land that well." He smiled at her. "Would have been worse face down, so I was lucky."
Some more paste came out of the bottle with considerable force. "Which means that someone doesn't trust you, someone wants you out the way, and it could be someone you sit there and eat and laugh with each day."
"No." It came out sharper than he expected, not least because he'd asked himself the same thing over and over. "None of my peo-, none of the werewolves I'm with are that proficient with a wand, some of them don't even have them. Also, ever since Lovel and Randall brought me rumours of this, I've felt as though someone was watching me. Caught a glimpse of someone in the trees who I didn't recognise. And everyone who has spoken out about this in any way, or come to me to say how much they dislike it and wanted me to try and stop it, has either mysteriously decided to leave the camp for a few days or suddenly gone very silent on the whole subject."
For a moment the dark eyes stared at him and he realised how much he'd given away. "Lovel? Randall? Will they be there tonight?" she asked, after a pause.
"Yes. They're two of the very few I might have made some impression on. But I'm not sure if-" Remus broke off and reminded himself the one thing he was sure of these days was that she didn't need any of this unloaded on her. He cleared his throat. "Lovel can still remember what it was like to have parents till he got bitten. Remembers going to school and being considered normal. Randall's older, bitten when even younger. He won't talk much about his past."
"Where are Lovel's parents now?"
"He doesn't know. They threw him out." He saw the look on her face and said harshly, "That's exactly how it is for most of them, Tonks. Shunned and not wanted. The chances I've had, the advantages, my family standing by me, the friends I've had—" He stopped abruptly, wanting desperately to say, "And, most of all, having someone like you to care about me." Instead he said quietly, "My life would be just a dream for them. It's very hard for me to convince them of anything when there's so little I can promise or guarantee in return. Whereas Voldemort can make promises."
She nodded quietly. "Come and sit down. We need to get this stuff working."
He hesitated and then sat down beside her on one of the rugs, their shoulders not quite touching.
"You'll have to take your shirt off again," she said with resigned amusement.
A few months, even weeks ago, he'd have turned that into a joke. Into a kiss. Into a—
She placed the pillow case very gently against his back, smoothing it down, and he could feel the heat flare against his skin straight away.
"You ought to be lying flat on your stomach," she said, looking at her watch.
"There's still things I need to tell you, Tonks. Things you need to know before you do what I've asked."
"Start talking then." She was digging deep in the bag again. "You've got fifteen minutes of increasing light headness, sweating, burning, disorientation and general delirium before you go through the roof. That's according to our most caring Healer Severus Snape. So you need to take the Sleeping Draught a couple of minutes before it peaks, and—" She broke off and all but stuck her head in the bag. "Where's the damn… Aha!"
He looked at the silver flask she'd just passed him and back at her. "Aha?"
"Pumpkin," she said, helpfully.
He raised an eyebrow. "How long have you been thinking they looked like this, Tonks?"
"Soup," she said, pulling a face at him. "Very seasonal. Molly made it, so it's safe. She sends me a weekly food parcel and it takes three owls to deliver the thing. Really embarrassing when Aberforth announces its arrival in front of a packed and far from sober inn, and they all cheer me on as I stagger upstairs with it. Some of the cheeky sods even time me and take bets on it. The Hallowe'en cupcakes are mine, though." She triumphantly held up two remarkably square and solid-looking buns. "You look as if you're starving."
"I mean," she interrupted hastily, her face reddening and soft-focus beautiful in the low light, "you need to eat something before you take those potions."
"You're right, I am very hungry." He smiled at her reassuringly but felt a mixture of conflicting emotion. Hating that she was so worried about saying the wrong thing, hating this uncertainty between them, and hating, most of all, the fact that he was ferociously hungry and she could tell.
He'd didn't think he'd ever been vain, but the thought of her counting his ribs was another humiliation.
You don't look so hot yourself, you know.
His stomach chose that moment to contribute to the conversation rather loudly. He chuckled and, even if it sounded distinctly forced to him, her lips twitched and then she laughed with him, leaning forward on her elbows on the table to close the distance between them.
"Do you remember that Order meeting when Mad-Eye was telling us the tale of the river trolls, and how you should never go near them in red swimming trunks, and your stomach kept going every time he paused?"
"I do. Do you remember when Sirius passed round those disguised Hiccough Sweets, and Hestia had three at once, and was in such a state she had to have about twenty shocks to bring her out of it?"
"Oh, I do!" Tonks laughed. "I loved it when we'd all tried everything and then Emmeline coolly announced she was pregnant and we were all so shocked no one could speak. She was quite put out when she had to say it was just her way of trying to help Hestia." The wide smile faded as she remembered, like him, who'd never be able to shock anyone again. She quickly turned back to the bag and placed what looked like a silver cigarette lighter in front of him.
"It's Dumbledore's Deluminator." She was watching him carefully. "He said you might find it comes in useful in ways you don't expect."
"…Yes." Remus felt rather dazed and drank some soup, not quite knowing what to think or say, and deciding it was better to do neither. He could feel beads of sweat starting on his brow and the light-headedness was making it hard to concentrate.
"So, the tragedy of Marius and Isabella?" There was a forced, business-like quality to her voice, and he did his best to match it.
"She was from a very rich and influential Muggle family and they were horrified by her association and infatuation with Marius. Her father forbade her to see him ever again, but they continued to meet secretly, out here. They planned to run away together, but her father found out and locked her in the house, and two employees were sent to deal with Marius. They were found miles away with no memory of where they'd been, or what they'd done, and Marius had vanished."
She nodded. "And Isabella?"
"Climbed out a window and came out here to wait. No one knew where she'd gone or where to look."
The dark eyes looked at him. "And?"
"It was another freezing Hallowe'en night. She sat down by a tree to wait where the grave is now and the story is she's waiting for him still."
"I wish I knew if a Muggle ghost was the same as one of ours. I thought only wizards could choose to come back?" Tonks frowned and shook her head slightly. "And he did all this as a memory to her?"
"Depends which story you listen to. The one where he goes mad with grief on finding her and is never seen alive again. Or the one where he goes mad with grief, puts in place some highly sophisticated and worryingly Dark enchantments, which no one's quite got to the bottom of all these years later. Then he renounces magic for ever more by giving a Muggle what she wanted most – the ability to grant wishes herself one night a year. And he is never seen alive again to ask about any of this."
Tonks' frown had deepened. "Both of those don't sound like a cosy bedtime story. Not least because there's always a loophole in these things, isn't there? What kind of wishes?"
"Rumour has it they were good ones. See the face of the person you love, or will love most in the world, and know you'll be with them for ever. The things she wanted while waiting for Marius, presumably."
"As Mad-Eye frequently says, never believe a rumour until you've seen it for yourself. And when you see it for yourself, don't trust what you see." She smiled rather fondly. "Okay. So you lot came out here, led by hey-I've-got-a-great-idea-for-an-exciting-night-in-the-woods Sirius, did you? And no one thought to examine you all for evidence of brains beforehand?"
"It was a fashionable thing to do at the time," Remus could hear the ache of regret in his voice and saw her face soften as he put up a hand to push back the hair which was sticking to his damp brow. "We were young and reckless. And very, very stupid."
"So what happened?"
"Nothing much. We came out here; Sirius touched the grave and said the only face he saw was James' drunken one looming over him. James touched it, very reluctantly, and Peter wasn't going to but then decided to at the very last minute, so as not to be left out."
"I … didn't. I don't know why." Apart from the overwhelming certainty there'd be no one's face for him to see. "None of us really talked about it much afterwards. We certainly didn't see the ghost of Isabella floating about in her nightie, but McGonagall tore a strip off us afterwards and we all felt pretty stupid."
"So we've no idea what the loophole is then?"
He swallowed. Forced himself to keep looking at the dark eyes, which were now looking increasingly hazy to him, as was the entire room. "No."
She nodded and he didn't think she was convinced for a second, but she didn't press the matter, which was just as well as he suddenly had no idea what they were talking about.
"How are you feeling?" She was looking at him with concern.
"Fi- fine." It didn't seem a good idea to tell her that it was getting very hard to focus. Mustn't worry her, after all. The tingling and burning was now like being squeezed in a red-hot vice; his skin, from what he could see, was slowly turning puce and and pulses he didn't even know he'd got were rhythmically hammering all over.
"Room keeps mov– moving about a bit, that's s'all." He put a hand out to make it stop doing that, but there didn't seem to be a handle to grab onto.
Well, of course, there wouldn't be. Talk about stupid. No wonder she was looking at him oddly.
Or was that because he'd said something out loud? Must watch that. He wasn't allowed to say what he really thought any more. Mustn't tell her how he missed her, how lonely he was. It was a rule and he didn't break rules. Because when he did, people suffered.
Mustn't worry her. Must protect her.
"Finish your soup," she said. "It'll help with the potions. Line your stomach a bit."
He looked into her eyes as she held the flask to his lips. It was all right to feel like this, wasn't it? As long as he didn't say it out loud any more because that wasn't fair. Who wouldn't love a girl who thought of pumpkin soup on a night like this?
So much she didn't know about him though, and she'd despise him if she did. If he let her in like he wanted. Like he did in his dreams.
He wanted her so much.
He knew what she was like when she made love. When she kissed him and touched him and moved with him. The joy of it. What they shared. He couldn't forget it, didn't want to ever forget it.
He hadn't said anything out loud, had he?
"It's time." She was reaching behind her for the Sleeping Draught.
"No!" Had he told her enough? Probably not; he never did. "I – I need you to go and see her. Get her to tell you the truth. Ask about the Muggle baiting. Not the ru – rumours."
"I know. You told me. Drink this." Her face swam into focus in front of him.
"The address –"
"I know that too. I'll find it. Now drink this or I'll knock you out with my bare hands."
He drank obediently, feeling the room instantly start to dim around him as the internal furnace grew unbearable, and she put an arm swiftly under his. "You're going to have to lie down before you fall down."
Both her slim arms were pulling him towards her.
Stop it. Mustn't
"Stop fighting me, you great prat."
Oh, all right then. Just this once.
"I absolutely cannot believe you were going to do this with Mad-Eye," she said, breathless against him.
He found himself giggling as she seemed to be trying to manoeuvre them both sideways for some strange reason, and then they'd fallen onto the cushions while she was muttering what sounded like a string of unladylike expletives. Well he'd fallen on her, really, which was just like old times. He was going to point that out when he remembered that that wasn't allowed any more, but as it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity while he was in the vicinity, he kissed her.
On the eyebrow, as it happened.
He hadn't been aiming for there, had he? But kissing on eyebrows was all that he was allowed to do now and it was time to go home before he ruined her life.
"Thanks for having me," he said cheerily, as he found himself floating face down, in a sea of red satin cushions, and with all consciousness disappearing rapidly into welcoming black oblivion.
His last recollection was of her lips against his ear, her hand very gentle on his face.
"I wish I had," she said.
To be continued... In the meantime, reviewers get their choice of Noble!Remus, who is trying very hard to do what he thinks is the right thing, or Delirious!Remus, who is long past caring about any such thing. ;)