Author's Note: This was originally written for the MetamorficMoon Winter Wonderland Advent (so it's Christmas!) - but was much shorter back then as there was a word limit for it. This version restores one scene I regretted having to leave out, adds to several more, and probably makes the story a little darker as well as dafter. I don't think 'pantomimes' are universal so, briefly, it's a musical play (I've skipped the musical bit, for which we can all be very thankful;)) loosely based on a famous fairy story such as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast etc. Men frequently play women's roles and vice versa, and they're enjoyed by adults and children alike. I hope you enjoy this one. :)
The Glass Slipper
She taps the side of one black boot absently against the other, hearing the familiar chink of buckle meeting buckle. Thought meeting thought. It probably isn't the best moment to be honest with herself but it's been long overdue.
Remus Lupin is keeping her awake at night.
At least thinking about him is. It's been far too easy to put the recent sleepless nights down to the unevenness of Christmas shifts, the not-so recent down to a strange unwillingness to ever stir from the warmth of Grimmauld's fire, and the ones from the very start down to uncertainty over her place and worth in the Order which Remus, with those blue eyes which see much more than most, had made her feel was never in any question at all. She'd got used to Apparating home and sinking into bed, dimly aware that his voice and the image of him gently smiling at her in the flickering light, glass in hand and legs outstretched, is still with her, on her and, somehow, in her.
And now there's this realisation. Made not in a romantic way (she doesn't do romance, or it doesn't do her), as their eyes meet across a crowded room, but a sudden dawning on her as she stands by Grimmauld's ancient sink filled with cold leftovers from dinner, watching the snow flakes outside cling to the grimy window frame like tiny ghosts seeking entry to the living world, and absently listening to Fred and George's voices in the background wondering whether she's ever going to pass the chocolate digestives over like she'd said she would.
She's been keen on men before and got over it (usually when she realises they weren't who she thought they were), but this already feels different, feels exhilarating, and feels right. (She's sure Remus is exactly who she thinks he is. Which is immensely likeable, reassuringly kind, and incredibly tricky because he's not keen on letting anyone see beyond the first two.)
And now a simple Christmas tradition, and their far from simple responses to it, has made it abundantly clear that she wants to do something about this right now, and he seems to have got it firmly into his head that he shouldn't do anything of the sort. (Why is it romantic when the man chases the girl and smacks only of desperation when it's the other way round?) Which leaves her with the unalterable fact that he hasn't kissed her politely (or otherwise) under the mistletoe and somehow it's turned into A Very Big Issue for them both.
Possibly she should take a hint, thank her lucky stars that she had a narrow escape before she was in too deep, and run. She's never had much luck at Christmas anyway. It means a day at the Ministry where the wizard who has more days off than everyone else put together is named employee of the year and gets the very large bonus to go with it. Where working your fingers to the bone to get away early means you end up with, well, bony fingers, and sod all chance of doing so because dead on three some high up plonker comes round with an insincere message of gratitude for the workers, a carol-singing candle for all as the ultimate in cheap gifts, and lets those married with families go home so the sad, unwanted and, presumably, unloved single bods can stay behind and hold the Ministry. And it's where Alderman Fitzwarren, with the dandruff, and the roaming hands, is always first in line for a kiss at the lunchtime party. (She'd felt a bit mean morphing the world's most unsightly cold sore, but not mean enough not to do it.)
The snag is that it's not in her nature to run. At least not away from things, and not when she has no inclination at all to run from Remus Lupin and the look of longing she sometimes sees when he watches her.
With an effort she brings her mind back to where it should be. Everyone upstairs is keen to get going before the snow gets any heavier. She is too, in theory, as she's planning to be up early to go and see her parents, and make a show of doing impress-your-mother type things with the sprouts while avoiding questions on a large range of subjects. While still managing to sound like the happy, successful and temporarily single daughter that no mother in her right mind would worry about. (And can also boast about to her friends, like that nosy cow of a next door neighbour.) Then when her dad's nodded off with the stilton and crackers sliding dangerously sideways in his lap, and her mother has mellowed to older friend rather than anxious, irritating inquisitor, she can dash back here and spend the evening with Sirius and the kids.
And Remus. Who asked if she was coming back. He gave her that slow smile, which creases his face and the corners of his eyes just so, and they might still have been stood there looking at each other if Sirius hadn't burst noisily in to ask their opinion of the joke he was putting in Mad-Eye's Christmas cracker. (Why wouldn't Mad-Eye make a good teacher? Because he couldn't keep his pupils in order.)
Of course, all this was before she'd had the pleasure of seeing this same Remus stood right here in this kitchen, locked in a passionate embrace with yet another female under the—
"Merry Christmas, Tonks!" A wet kiss is planted unexpectedly on her cheek as she gazes up at the plant hanging from the beam.
A freckled face looks back at her with bright eyes. Fred's. No, George's. They've swapped their blue sweaters with the F and G on them round and are having fun causing endless, bleary-eyed confusion to Dung, and enjoying even more the sneer of disgust on Snape's face and his comment about infantile humour – and infants - belonging in the nursery.
"Er, Tonks?" The bright eyes are looking at her with a rather touching flicker of uncertainty. "You were day-dreaming right under the mistletoe, you know."
"So I was. That'll teach me." She grins at him and returns the kiss quickly on his flushed cheek. "Have a cool Yule yourself, George."
Fred, sitting at the table, and watching his brother almost approvingly – she bets he dared him to do it - clears his throat.
"I'd say a Sickle for them," he says, resting on a pile of innocuous looking brown boxes with his elbows, "but that tea's been stewing for five minutes and you've hogged all the biscuits."
"Oh, sorry." She holds them out absent-mindedly, watching as the freckled hands eagerly swipe several each. "Hey!" She whisks the plate away. "These are for the workers upstairs, you know."
"We're working too, aren't we, George?"
"We are indeed, Fred, and if Tonks wasn't so distracted—"
"—must be something very important on her mind to be able to ignore us—"
"—and our best ever invention, which could well solve all her last minute Christmas worries—"
"—especially if she wants a very special gift to show him how much she cares," says Fred grinning slyly at her.
"What d'you mean?" Tonks bites the sharp words off. "I mean I am curious," she says more carefully, "as to what is in those boxes you had so carefully hidden under the table earlier on when we were all having dinner. They look completely harmless so obviously they're not."
"Tonks, Tonks, Tonks." George beams at her with approval. "As wise are you are witty. As sharp as you are sweet. As pink as you are—"
"Able to see through any amount of flannel, boys, so don't waste your breath." She adds indistinctly round a mouthful of biscuit, "As pink as I am perspicacious."
"I'd have gone for pretty myself. Easier to spell too." Remus' head appears without warning round the door, an amused smile hovering round his lips which fades slightly as he looks at her. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, fine, you just made me jump, that's all." Tonks swallows hastily. Pretty? She puts out a hand to casually lean against the sink in a relaxed pose, but as he walks towards her she misses the edge completely and puts it straight into the dinner leftovers.
"Sorry." He delves into the cupboard just to the side of her. "Dumbledore wants the dispatch box with the rosters in as he's keen to wrap things up now everyone's given their reports. He and Severus have got to get back to Hogwarts shortly. Everything ready to go?"
"Yep." Tonks resorts to the back of her jeans to surreptitiously wipe her hand, and tells herself that if he can be cool, calm and infuriatingly oblivious, then she certainly can too. Once she's got cold mashed potato out from between her fingers that is. "Does everyone else think I've absconded with the tea?"
Remus nods gravely. "There was an urgent discussion about the prolonged absence of any biscuits – and yourself - and an eventual majority decision that we should send out search parties, along with tracker dogs. Sirius was all for that one, of course, but I said we could probably find you by listening out for the guitar solos." He lifts a hand and she thinks he's going to touch her snowball earrings but he stops just short and smiles instead. She's charmed them to play, very quietly, a medley of her favourite Christmas hits.
Of course, he had sat next to her during the meeting, like he usually – always - does, so he'd probably heard them then. But proximity, private jokes, and the tiny piece of parchment he'd found so they could play noughts and crosses under the table simply meant that he wanted to thrash her five times in a row (smug git), and was not some personal, secret code for let's get out of here and I'll kiss you till neither of us can breathe.
"I was just," she glances at the twins, who suddenly look a lot less certain than they did before. Professor Lupin still gets plenty of respect around here it seems. "About to find out what's in those boxes Fred and George are trying very hard to pretend don't exist."
"Really?" Remus looks intrigued. "I nearly picked one up earlier on thinking it was the dispatch box and wondering why it was left lying around."
"Cripes! Thank God you didn't! We kept them ordinary-looking so Mum wouldn't spot them." Fred looks at George.
"Try me. My bark's worse than my bite." Remus suggests, having caught on that he is the concern. "No, actually, that's not true, is it?" He gives a soft chuckle and Tonks sees the watchfulness in his eyes, the momentary fear that one day people won't join in and laugh with him.
"So," Fred clears his throat, still checking George is providing silent, grinning approval, "it's Christmas, and you know that can only mean one thing—"
"There's never anything decent to listen to on the wireless?" puts in Tonks.
"—it's got to be panto time!"
"Pantomime time?" Remus places his box down on the table and frowns. "Have you-?"
"Yes! We've been playing around for a while with the Daydream Charm and—"
"—created a seasonal version that lets you take part in your favourite fairy tale panto!" Fred pats the nearest box fondly. "Just think about it! How much would Hagrid love waking up on Christmas morning and then having the time of his life being chased around for hours by a lunatic, murderous giant in Jack and the Beanstalk? What about Hestia and Emmeline sitting down to sample the joys of Babes in the Wood? And can you even begin to imagine the look on, say, McGonagall's face when she unwraps Puss 'n' Boots?"
"Yes, actually, I think I can." Remus is very dry. "And how does this work then?"
George smiles proudly. "You simply open the lid and breathe in the smoke for a few seconds, and then you'd swear you were Grumpy the dwarf without moving a muscle off your chair. It'll cast you as the character and in the role it decides that you're most suited to, it works for a number of people at one go, and it even lets you bring your own personality to the part. In fact it's wonderful family entertainment at a very realistic and reasonable price."
"With notable reductions for friends," Fred adds quickly.
"Any side-effects?" Tonks looks from one to the other. George looks at Fred. Who looks at George.
"Er… We've had the odd little minor difficulty along with the drooling." George pulls a face, looking slightly cagey. "Teething problems, that's all."
Remus frowns again. "Like what exactly?"
"Oh, it's just a sad reflection of the times we live in, that's all," says Fred, quickly. "Wizards find it hard to announce with a straight face that they're looking for their one True Love and witches seem to have a lot of trouble saying that some day their prince will come." Fred purses his lips reflectively. "Perhaps not that surprisingly."
Tonks can see Remus' rigid shoulders out the corner of her eye. She's fighting back a laugh herself when Fred goes on, "It's all just tradition, anyway. It's not as though it means anything. Everyone manages to snog everyone else under the mistletoe without any fuss or bother."
Tonks thinks dimly that it will be all right as long as one of them fills the gap right away. But while she's thinking that right away has already passed. Fred and George are talking to each other – thank Merlin – but the seconds of silence are stretching on and on.
Remus will say something.
Or she will.
But Remus is gazing at her; eyes dark and unreadable and his face expressionless. It's just like earlier on when Sirius had decided at the last minute to lick her wetly on the nose with his long tongue instead of giving her the polite, cousinly Christmas kiss that she'd assumed he'd leant down for. She'd shoved him away, he'd chased her round and round the kitchen, and they'd eventually collapsed in an undignified heap on the sofa, threatening dire recriminations and pelting each other as hard as they could with the magical snow, while Remus looked over the top of his newspaper at them in apparent disbelief. But he was pleased to see Sirius in such a good mood, something seemingly more than pleased as he looked at her, and they were all laughing like mad, right up until the moment when Sirius abruptly announced he was off, hauled himself to his feet, and pointed his wand at the mistletoe which shot across the room and fell neatly into Tonks' lap.
"Make it count, Moony," he'd said with an evil grin. "Seeing as you've been through every woman in the house and noticeably saved the best till last."
Silence. Except for Sirius' cackle as he went up the stairs.
What had Remus said to get them through that moment? She couldn't remember, only laughing as though it was all some huge joke to hide everything she felt inside. He'd laughed too, but his eyes avoided hers, and all she could think was dammit, Remus, why are we in this mess and how do we get ourselves out?
It feels slightly odd to think that upstairs is a boy, scarcely more than a child, who carries the hopes of them all on his narrow shoulders. They all believe in Harry. (She thinks even Snape must, otherwise why would he take such risks?) And it seems even more appropriate to believe at this time of year in a child to save the world.
So why can't she tell the man in front of her that she believes in him just as much as the still centre of her ever-spinning one? Somehow in the telling, the words will be twisted and misunderstood, or he'll only hear those of his own that he's told himself for so long.
She remembers seeing him under the mistletoe. Seeing him stood there three times, in fact.
She looks down, catching sight of her heavy boots. She's jazzed them up with silver buckles (currently inscribed with 'I've been naughty and nice, Santa') but there's no getting away from the fact that they reek of practicality and war. There's an emergency potion kit hidden under one of those buckles, for a start. The heels are low because when you're on duty all night long the last thing you want is your back and feet killing you, and the laces are made of magical cord that bind a suspect's wrists, or anything else that needs binding, and won't let go until the release spell is given.
They'll even cut off circulation, if needs be. Till the suspect passes out.
She doesn't do romance, does she? It certainly doesn't do her.
"Let's get cracking," she says. "I don't want to be hanging around here all night wasting my time." She sends the tray on its hurried way with a brutal flick of her wand.
"Of course." Remus holds out a hand, which for a second doesn't seem quite steady. "Fred, the dispatch box please."
"What? Oh right." Fred, who's been muttering low-voiced to his brother, takes his elbow off the box he's leaning on and passes it across.
Tonks whips up the stairs with Remus some paces behind and George watches them go with a puzzled frown.
"Bit odd, don't you think?" he says to Fred.
"Were they?" Fred isn't interested. "Look," he says, "they're perfectly safe."
George shrugs. "Maybe we should have tested them a bit more and make sure that— What's up?"
Fred is moving the boxes from one side of the table to the other, and looking underneath them with a frown, which has turned to amusement by the last one. "You might be about to get your wish," he says.
"Get my what?" George looks puzzled and then sits up hurriedly from his slouch. "Bloody hell, Lupin's never gone and got the wrong box? Which one—"
"—it's quite funny really—"
"—we've got to stop them!"
"Yeah. I suppose, at first thought, we should." Fred leans back and stretches his legs out, grinning at his brother who's half risen out of his chair.
"We … can't." But George stays where he is, neither up nor down.
"We certainly can't from here," Fred nods after a long minute while a trace of smoke makes its way down the stairs and curls gently into the kitchen with a faint breath like a sigh. "But we can always get the Extendable Ears out."
There's a blue, shimmering haze in front of her eyes, a knocking sound in the distance, and a heavy feeling in her head, as though she's slept far too well and far too long.
The feeling is strangely familiar and she knows there's something she must remember, something that she can't quite put her finger on, but there's no sense of worry or panic and as the haze clears in front of her she remembers the one thing that is of the utmost importance.
Once upon a time, there lived a pretty young girl called Cinderella...
What a bloody awful name, she thinks. Her mother must have been drunk or something.
Oh crap, it's mine, isn't it?
The knocking sound comes again, along with the realisation that there'll be hell to pay if her stepsisters come down and she hasn't dusted, swept, or scrubbed anything, simply because she's been daydreaming again. There's a mountain of sewing and mending to do as well because it's amazing how hard her stepsisters are on their socks.
She knows she shouldn't complain about her lot in life, but if she could just have some sort of fulfilling and independent career (law enforcement rather appeals), a sexy, sensitive boyfriend (an older man, perhaps?) and something decent to wear besides dull hair and the street urchin look…
"Cinderella! Gawd blimey girl, 'ave you gone deaf or somethin'? Get the bleedin' door!"
With a guilty start – her oldest stepsister hates to have to shout like that with her smoker's voice - she runs to the door and opens it to reveal a pale, tired-looking man, wearing a rather faded brown uniform.
"Wotcher," she says, wondering if he's a salesman or something (the last thing she needs is another sewing kit), though all he seems to have tucked under one arm is what looks like a slightly soggy and lumpy newspaper.
"Good morning!" He smiles brightly at her. "I'm looking for three ladies by the name of Stepsister One, Stepsister Two and—" he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a card, edged in purple, "-Cinderella Hardup?"
"Yeah, I'm…" She stops, frowning.
He raises an eyebrow. "You are?"
"Yeah, I'm … the last one you mentioned."
"Excellent. Well, Cinderella, I'm here to—"
"Don't call me Cinderella."
He stops, the other eyebrow showing signs of joining the first, and she adds, hastily, "I'm not keen on my name, you see. Didn't like it when I first heard it."
"Oh, I see." There are two kinds of smiles; those you don't even notice and those that you end up hoping for when you know the person. It's a shame she's not going to get to know him. "What shall I call you then?"
"Who are you?" she asks, killing time.
"I'm the Royal Messenger." He says it calmly but the smile's gone.
"Oh, but I thought they wore—" She stops, cursing her wayward, runaway tongue. She's always being told to know her place and she never does.
"I'm not entitled to wear colours. I'm an outsider, am therefore considered 'contaminated' in many quarters, and only have the job through being an old school friend of the Prince's. I have to identify myself as such by only wearing brown or grey so that people know they don't have to afford me any particular courtesy or consideration."
"But that's not fair!"
He gives a soft chuckle at her indignation, making her feel rather young and naive. As though she knows nothing of the outside world and its harshness. "Please," he passes her the card. "This is for you."
It takes her a moment to focus:
Prince Siriusly Charming, of The Noble and Most Ancient House of Charming, invites you to a ball tonight where he hopes to meet a lovely young lady for True Love, a prenuptial agreement and living Happily Ever After. Low-cut dress required and bring a bottle! N.B Free motorcycle parking is available round the back.
N.B Free motorcycle parking is available round the back.
"I still don't know what to call you," the Messenger says softly.
"How about … Tonks?" she asks, wondering where on earth that's come from, but they're interrupted by the clattering of some very big feet and the arrival of both her stepsisters at once.
"What have we here then, Cinderella? Not attempting to keep secrets from us again, are we? How fortunate that you lack the temperament and the duplicity to be a successful spy." The tone is the usual sneering one and the invitation is snatched from her by a familiar hand, stained with potion ingredients.
"'Ere, let's have a butchers at it." A pointed elbow from the other side jabs Tonks in the ribs. "Bleedin' 'ell! This isn't a wind-up, is it? Does this palace 'ave lots of antiques, like, and a back entrance you can get out of quick?"
"The Charming Palace has everything a young lady could desire." The Messenger looks at her with interest and Tonks thinks the pipe hanging out of the side of her eldest stepsister's mouth probably isn't helping her cause.
"I may have to—" Her other stepsister is rubbing her hooked nose in thought. "Wash my hair."
"It would certainly give you a head start," says the Messenger politely.
Both sisters look at him with instant dislike.
"'Ere, you're one of them … outsiders. Who decent folk won't pick their noses with."
"It's true I'm very fortunate in a lot of ways." The Messenger nods gravely and suddenly sniffs the air as the stepsisters take a menacing step towards him. "Is that the smell of a burning Face Pack Potion?"
Both sisters shriek and run upstairs in a flurry of skirts and green pipe smoke while he looks at Tonks, firstly with amusement and then a moment of worried doubt. "Did I go too far? It is a useful little trick though."
"Not far enough," Tonks is still laughing. "Hey – you're not going?"
"You were my last delivery of the day." He takes another step back and hesitates in the doorway. "And by far the most pleasant."
"Well, can't you hang on for a bit? I mean, I could fix you a sandwich or, er, something." The last word trails away lamely, like the uncertain gesture she makes with her hand.
It's much too long as well.
Then he holds the soggy bundle of newspaper out to her like a very tentative offering, which is being made against his better judgement. "I, er … don't suppose you'd like to share my chips?"
"Why yes," she says, and after a long moment where they both stare at each other as if not entirely sure what they're doing, or why they're doing it, leads him out into the garden, to the creaky bench where they'll be undisturbed as her stepsisters loathe fresh air. It's certainly fresh enough now with the clouds low and heavy with the threat of snow to come.
"Where do you live?" she asks while he keeps offering her chips, and as they're piling up in her hand she eats them, and it turns out they both like them covered in salt but don't think vinegar should be allowed anywhere near them.
"Prince Siriusly lets me rent a property in the palace grounds. It's new as he doesn't like ancient houses, but it's built round a tiny cottage so it's got an old heart."
She can see him so clearly in this little house on the edge of woodland, filled with uneven bookshelves, the few belongings he has which are old and worn but his, and all those dreams he never gets to say out loud to anyone else.
"What's it called then, your home?"
"Lupin's Place." The faintest trace of caution, of doubt, touches his voice as he licks the salt off his thumb boyishly.
"Is that your name?" She's already thinking that she likes it. If she knocked at the door, she thinks he'd come to answer it in an old shirt with his sleeves rolled casually up his arms, running a hasty hand though his hair to tidy it, and with a quizzical look on his face because he's not expecting visitors. Certainly not expecting her.
But he'd smile that slow, kind smile when he saw who it was and reach out a friendly hand to invite her in.
"Do you really want to marry a prince?" His eyes, which have never left hers, are suddenly asking quite another question altogether.
"Fred." George pulls on the thread attached to his twin's Extendable Ear to get his attention. "We've got to stop this."
"Why? It's just getting interesting."
"Interesting? I don't remember the story of Cinderella that well, but I'm pretty sure the Messenger just delivers the invitation and clears off! This is never right!"
"Yeah, so it's interesting." Fred looks at his watch to check. "The Charm only lasts an hour so we're certainly going to have to whiz through something or other."
"Like the entire bloody ball?" George asks, sarcastically.
"Cripes, I hope not." Fred looks aghast. "That's my favourite bit."
Tonks isn't sure which is the most surprising; the fact that a Fairy Godmother has appeared in the fireplace, or just her appearance in general.
The very long beard is rather … unexpected. But then her stepsisters don't seem to have much of a feminine side either.
"What a lovely dress," says the Fairy Godmother appreciatively, looking down at all the yards of lace. "I've always wanted to try something like this on, but there's never been quite the right occasion. I do wonder where I'm supposed to keep my spectacles though. And," she adds, looking behind her to either side, "no room for the Sherbet Lemons either, it seems."
"Er," Tonks starts, but the Fairy Godmother holds up a large, authoritative hand.
"Yes, quite right, no time to waste. It's a shame as I'd enjoy talking knitting patterns on another occasion. You did well making dresses out of the curtains for your stepsisters – though for future reference don't ever try washing that material by hand, it's specialised wash only, and unfortunately it creases terribly when worn - but I've something else in mind for you."
"Blimey," Tonks says, taking in first the long mirror that appears in front of her, and then the pink satin dress that shimmers and sparkles at every turn.
"I've always had an eye for fashion, if I say so myself. Even nicer when you've found a little more True Love in the world for yourself and can make your hair match. These glass slippers are for you too. Do you dance?"
"I don't normally when sober." Tonks looks doubtfully at the elegant, slender shoes. At the heels.
"That's a shame. It's the choices you make that define who you are."
"Yeah, well, my choice is to try and remain upright as much as possible. If it's all the same to you, I'll just keep my boots on while I nip outside and get the pumpkin—"
"No time." The Fairy Godmother shakes her head and beard firmly. "Fortunately I'm very good at manipulating events and people for a higher purpose so when you next blink you'll be at the ball."
Apparently this is quite true. She has to blink many times in fact to get her eyes to adjust to the brightness of the golden room and the dazzling colours of the gowns and jewels as they flash past her. It takes another moment to focus properly on the couple nearest – a tall, dark and haggardly handsome man dressed rather incongruously in a brown leather jacket and jeans. Who appears to be dancing with her younger stepsister.
Possibly 'dancing' isn't the right term. They were either fighting for the right to lead or … just fighting.
"It's a simple promenade which any fool can manage," she hears her stepsister say, with an accompanying sneer. "Not a sidestep in a duel."
"So you claim." The man seems to be trying to dance – or dodge - at a distance of more than arm's length, with rather obvious distaste on his face. Tonks is certain he'd just attempted a deliberate ankle kick, which is only thwarted by several layers of heavy curtain. "Personally, a good duel seems rather appealing right now. Or we just forget these last few minutes, cut our losses, and go and have a drink. Seperately. Never to meet again in our lifetimes."
Her stepsister gives a heavy, pained sigh. "So typical of you royals and all those years of inbreeding. The slightest challenge or difficulty and you simply refuse to face up to a few unpleasant facts."
The man stops dead, disentangling his hands angrily. "At least we have some kind of breeding."
"Stop making excuses for your own inadequacy."
"Stop being inadequate without your own excuses."
"You drunken twit."
"You hook-nosed idiot."
"It's perfectly obvious you're only having this ball for one nefarious reason."
"If you think I'd ever have the slightest interest in seeing your knickers—"
"Oy! Break it up now!" Tonks steps between them, pushing them firmly apart with a hand against each chest. "Why don't you—" she turns to her stepsister, thankful the width of her own skirt is helping to keep them apart "—go and cool off for a bit, and you—" She turns to the tall man, whose expression changes rapidly from one of intense irritation to sudden interest as he looks at her. "You can go and cool everything down."
He gives her a look of such hurt innocence she wants to laugh. An indrawn hiss of anger comes from the opposite side. "Oh, please, no. I can't bear to watch." Her stepsister looks as though she wants to explode. "Not Cinderella putting the nasty old world to rights again. This is rapidly turning from a so-called ball into a convention of people I like least."
With that she turns on her heel and flounces off, the dark green curtain material trailing behind her like a long cloak.
Unfortunately the Fairy Godmother was absolutely right about the creasing.
She turns, feeling a pair of light grey eyes fixed on her.
"Thank God. A half decent one at last." He's looking her up and down, her stepsister apparently instantly dismissed from mind and memory. "Good evening. Do you fancy a waltz or a tango?"
"You're … Prince Siriusly Charming?"
"At your service." He grimaces. "What a bloody awful night! I'm not sure which was worse, her or the one before, who was absolutely paranoid about the palace security arrangements and has gone off to check them out. Odd kind of walk she had as well. I tell you, I've had far more interesting conversations in prison."
"You've got a prison record?"
"A misunderstanding, that's all. The real culprit was actually down a drain at the time." He shrugs and grins endearingly at her. "Believe me, the prosecution had a field day with that one. So do you fancy a go at reforming me?"
"Only if I was interested." Which should make it clear she's not. "You don't really want to get married, do you?"
"God, no. Only doing this to shut mum up." He jerks his head in the direction of a plump, red-haired woman, who seems to be organizing the buffet queue. "She thinks everyone should have seven kids and a second mortgage by thirty." He looks at her more closely. "Why are you here then, if not to get your hands on my money and name like everybody else?"
"I've come to see Lupin."
"Have you now… Well, that explains why he so quickly agreed to attend tonight when I'm normally faced with endless arguments about how he's an unwelcome dinner guest at any table. Talking of which – he's behind you!" He propels her round by the shoulders to see Lupin standing quite alone in the far corner. Watching her.
Their eyes meet across the crowded room as a clock starts to chime.
The prince threads her arm smoothly through his, and starts to walk her across the room. She's grateful for the support as her legs don't seem to belong to her suddenly. "Of course, it's not going to be an easy choice for you this. Or him. Not very romantic, sometimes, True Love."
"Mmn?" She's watching, frowning as people give Lupin a wide berth. Casting glances over their shoulders at him and whispering.
"No. You never know where it leads, but you know where it ends and the only mystery is when. If you love people, you try to protect them because you can't bear to think of anything happening to them, and somehow you make very bad decisions because you're afraid of that so much, and then …"
She looks up at him, curious as to why he's stopped.
"The trick is not to find out too late what you should have known all along." His smile looks very brittle for a second and then he gives that engaging shrug, squeezing her fingers hard. "But I don't think you'll make that mistake. And here's Prince Bashful for you!"
"Siriusly." Lupin gives him a cool look, which could curdle milk.
"I know, I'm clearing off." A final grin and a shake of the head, either in disbelief or something more flattering, as he claps Lupin on the shoulder. "Try not to dip your quill in the royal ink, mate. I think I might retire with Motorcycle Weekly and a pint to the loo for a bit. Some of these women are downright scary."
Tonks stares at Lupin, not even noticing the prince leave.
Despite the diamond-light from the chandeliers, the corner here is full of shadows. Slanting across his face. As though something has decided that this unlikely liaison is never going to be allowed to work itself out.
Sod that. She shakes her head fiercely, willing him to feel what she does. That it's a thin line between cowardice and pride, that the only thing that's his fault in all of this is if he won't fight any more …
He reaches out a hand towards her.
"Your hair… It's pink."
"Yes," she says. She can feel it, like a flame shooting from root to end. Rippling and tingling with energy. "I need to tell you—" She stops, aware that the air is that much colder and the room around them is growing hazy.
"You should always look like this." He says it lightly, but there's a thick wedge of everything that's unspoken hanging there between them. The opportunity to break through it fading with each passing second.
There's a clock chiming somewhere…
No. He's fading as well but she knows how this works, how to fix things to get the right ending.
Her hand touches not the elegant glass slipper but a thickly laced boot.
She didn't change them, did she?
"I'd like to dance with you," he says.
"Too right we will, though I'm hopeless at it. If I can just get this damn boot off—"
"But it's you who'll suffer for it when people see." He shakes his head. "It's you who'll pay the price for what I want and that's never right."
"Don't you dare think about making things easier for me." She tugs frantically, nearly over-balancing. "If I wanted easy, then I wouldn't be the person you want, would I?"
His hand drops back to his side.
"You should marry a prince," he says softly, sadly. "Live Happily Ever After. Some fairy tales aren't meant to be."
He's letting her go. He's not fighting, but fading away into the distance. She's got to make him see—
The last feeling is the gentle kiss of a snowflake – but not of her prince – upon her lips as the blue smoke engulfs her.
"I'm really sorry, Tonks." George says it for the third time, and she tells him not to worry and that she's got to dash. Fred's apologised as well, the amusement in his eyes somewhat spoiling the sincerity, but Sirius is still laughing so much he can hardly speak and wants to place an order at once. Snape has stormed off (if she was in the mood to laugh, the billowing black cloak is just like a curtain) and Dung is swearing never to drink again while knocking back a large brandy to help get over the shock.
Dumbledore seems to have taken it all remarkably well too; his only apparent regret is that he didn't get to sing Bibbity Bobbity Boo.
Which just leaves her then.
She's too busy leaving to look at him because what she can't get over is that he just let her go. All right, it was a charm, it was a fairy tale, and a ridiculous one at that, but it seems to her to have summed up everything she's felt ever since she realised he was avoiding kissing her under the mistletoe.
Of course, she doesn't do romance, or it doesn't do her. Romance is for schoolgirls who dream and she's packing all that in right now.
What she does do is slog through the thickening snow, making her way grimly towards the Apparation point, in those excellent, practical boots of hers, vowing silently to spend the entire day tomorrow with her parents, eating all the damn sprouts, listening to their favourite violin concerto on the wireless and not even once thinking about—
A pale, long-fingered hand catches her arm and spins her around without warning.
"Are you deaf?" he demands as she opens her mouth to ask him just what he thinks he's doing.
"Can't hear anything in my horse and carriage," she says sarcastically. "Just out for an evening stroll, are you?"
"Why didn't you wait?" He ignores the question as the snowflakes gather in his hair. Tiny ghosts of the past clinging onto him for all they're worth and trying to keep him there. "You must have known that I wanted to talk to you."
She all but gapes at him. "No," she finally manages, "no, now you mention it – I didn't. I rarely know what you want nowadays. In fact, I thought you'd be off to snog someone else under the mistletoe."
She didn't just say that.
Why is it so bloody humiliating when the girl chases the man and the man really doesn't want to know?
"I didn't kiss anyone," he says finally, very quietly.
"They kissed me. There's a difference."
She starts to argue and then has a sudden vision of Emmeline offering him a smooth white cheek, Hestia (the tart) all but grabbing him, amid giggles, in front of everyone else, and Molly hugging him fiercely and affectionately as she walks in on them both.
Remus' face showing relief and gratitude as his eyes meet hers.
Relief that they want to be that close. Gratitude that they like him.
"You plonker," she says at last, and grins.
"Bit pathetic." But he smiles slowly too.
It's the kind of smile that says she's the only person who can make it happen. The one you always long to see when you know someone that well.
"So," she swallows, wondering if she can actually say this out loud. But then she never did know her place. "Was there anyone you were thinking you might actually like to, er, kiss yourself, at any particular time?"
"Well I wasn't entirely sure for a long while that I was being fair to her when I was imagining what it would be like if we were together. But now I think that perhaps there is nothing she can't do, and nothing she can't change, and even nothing she can't help me face. So I've run through the snow in search of my one True Love, who, unfortunately, has turned out to be as deaf as a post—"
"I am not—"
Did he just say—?
Soft, warm lips meet hers, and suddenly she's in his arms, held hard against him, while he's kissing her with a tenderness and passion that is everything she's dreamt of through all those sleepless nights.
Her hand has found its way fiercely into his hair and the snowflakes of the past have gone, been swept aside.
"I'm no good at all this," he says when at last he lets her go, but there's wonder in his voice as he touches her face with gentle, questioning fingers. "You know you just rewrote an entire fairy tale for us both when you invited me in, don't you?"
"There's always room for you at my inn." She grins again.
But he was the one who made it happen when he said yes. She's not such a fool as to think all their problems vanish simply because of one heart-stopping embrace in the snow, but for now they don't matter at all. She reaches up to pull his face down to hers again, being very careful not to show she's as joyfully demented as she feels inside, but he steps back, raising her hand to his lips and kissing the palm, folding her fingers down upon the kiss, his eyes holding hers all the while with the faintest hint of a grin he can't seem to quite suppress. Until he bends down rather stiffly and exaggeratedly onto his knees at her feet in the snow.
She stares at him. What on earth—?
"Get your boot off then, Cinderella Tonks." He smiles mischievously up at her, his long fingers working on the laces. "Let's see if it fits perfectly and then we can make a start on the Happily Ever After."
The End as they say in all the fairy stories. Reviewers get my thanks and can choose whether they fancy a romantic dance with Prince Siriusly, Prince Bashful Remus ... or even that Ugly Sister?! ;)