The day Tonks fights her first Death Eaters, a real fight, face-to-face combat with hexes blazing around her in malevolent fireworks, it's as though something slides into place in her brain. Click: Tonks is going to die.
It doesn't have anything to do with the injuries she sustained. It doesn't even have anything to do with her cousin Sirius, here one moment, gone the next, blimey her mum's side of the family isn't all there. She didn't have time to adjust to the notion of Sirius in the Order before a whole childhood of Sirius the Death Eater could get out of her head, and she'd liked him, she really had, but he'd always been dead and the look of surprise on his face as he fell was the moment he'd realised what Tonks has known all along. She lies in her bed at St Mungo's, staring disenchanted at the ceiling while her bones resettle, and she feels old. She's never felt old before. She's felt grown-up for years, ever since getting her Auror's license, prepared to defend wizardkind in a world with Voldemort more than a decade gone, felt grown-up since being inducted into the Order. This is different. This, Tonks decides, carefully wiggling her fingertips and feeling no pain, is the difference war makes.
Back on her feet, she goes to King's Cross with Mad-Eye and Remus and the Weasleys to check in on Harry. She wears her hair bubblegum-pink and a Weird Sisters tee, wears all of last week's truths. Harry looks surprised, lies that he's fine, hangs on just a second too long and hard when Ron Weasley shakes his hand in farewell. Tonks wonders when Harry's knowledge of his own death slid into his head. Maybe when Voldemort was resurrected right in front of him, she guesses. Or maybe he's had it all the time and he simply hasn't heard it yet.
Tonks wonders if the rest of the Order know yet. The Weasleys can't afford it. Moody must live with it all the time, like an extra gnarled crutch. Remus -- Remus looks tired, much more tired than Tonks can remember ever seeing him before. He looks, for the first time, old. And Tonks wonders what Harry intends to do with the small precious moments before his death, what Remus and Mad-Eye intend to do; what she intends to do.
She goes back to Grimmauld Place with Remus. They tidy up, Remus doing most of the work. Tonks keeps knocking things over. She wishes she could blame an improperly healed wrist. Kreacher is nowhere to be found, which is all for the best; Tonks might 'accidentally' drop a rubbish bin on him if she sees him. Remus begins packing his shabby suitcase.
"Can't you --?" Tonks says.
"No." Remus straightens, snapping the suitcase shut. It says Professor in peeling letters. The edges are worn down. "It's Harry's now, or it will be when the legalese works itself out, and it's time I moved on."
"Where?" Tonks asks, for a moment not feeling very old at all.
"I imagine Dumbledore intends some undercover work for me," Remus says, and meets her eyes. He's wearing a look of faint apology, as though he expects she'll be in some small way inconvenienced by the intelligence that he's going to live among the sort of werewolves children are cautioned against before they go to bed. Tonks searches for grief under the apology, looks as hard as she can, and can't find it. It's as though everything but a sort of weary patient acceptance has been worn right out of him.
"Well," Tonks says. "Good luck, then."
Back in her own comfortable bed, she wakes in the pitch-dark of too-early morning and sits straight up in bed, shaking with adrenaline and trying to breathe normally. It's not a nightmare: it's just that little click in her head. She's going to die. She wants safety and peace and last week's innocent immortality; she wants to sleep through the night without the Dark Mark behind her eyes.
She wants connection before she dies.
That can't be too much to ask.
Tonks does what Dumbledore tells her. She's going to die. Tonks does recon with Kingsley and Mad-Eye. She's going to die. Tonks needs to make a damn connection with someone who is a person first and an Auror second. She's going --
She's going to the Burrow, and having a cuppa with Molly.
"Your hair, dear," Molly says, dropping in the two sugars Tonks likes. Tonks is settled into a comfortable and much-repatched armchair that nearly matches her jeans, and she accepts the tea gratefully. It's June but her hands pull in the heat regardless. It's been foggy. There are dementors everywhere, reports pouring in from London. Tonks sips her tea and looks at Molly expectantly, and Molly says, understandingly, "The pink's a bit too much these days?"
"Yeah," Tonks agrees, and snuggles down a little more in the chair. Tonks the hip young Auror enjoyed making her nose go funny shapes, wore her hair electric shades not found in nature, liked listening to the Weird Sisters too loudly, would eat even the most unappetizing Every Flavour Beans on a dare, and wanted to give Remus Lupin a sharp elbow-jab to the ribs every one of the few times he'd slipped up and called her Nymphadora, although she'd never actually followed through on that one. Tonks the tired Auror in a dementor-fogged summer shapes up for espionage because it's her duty, wears her hair mouse-brown the rest of the time, drinks tea in Molly Weasley's sitting room and just wants to connect. Yeah; the pink's a bit too much these days.
"I just want --" Tonks says. Molly waits, mother-patient, and Tonks remembers that Molly lived through the last war too. "Someone," Tonks says, in a breath, in a rush, half-embarrassed.
"You have my ear anytime you need it, Tonks dear," Molly says, but she says it smiling, and Tonks knows Molly understands what she really means.
She sees Remus again in August. He's tired, worn down, all the things he was before but more so. They run smack into each other at the Leaky Cauldron, catch eyes from across the room. Remus' hair is going greyer and Tonks' breath catches in her throat. I want, she thinks, and doesn't know how to finish the sentence, even in her own head. She buys him lunch. He doesn't even refuse her that.
They don't talk about Order business. They know better than that. Tonks recounts the fortunes of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, tells him to stop by the Burrow anytime he likes. "Molly says the door's always open," she says. "And she's always baking up batches of chocolate. Because of the ..." She gestures vaguely.
Remus tries a smile. It looks as though it almost fits. "I appreciate the offer," he says. "I'd like to take both of you up on that someday soon."
"Good," Tonks says. "Good." She reaches out and squeezes his hand. Remus looks startled, the smile sitting more awkwardly on his face, but he doesn't pull away. His hand is warm, warmer than Tonks's, and she can feel invisible-faint scars crisscrossing the back of his hand under her palm. There they sit, the two of them in the dim deserted tavern, and after a moment Remus' smile becomes real again; tired, tired, worn, real. He shifts his hand in hers, curls his palm around hers, and they fit, tight together against the world.
Remus is the one to let go, of course. "I'm sorry," he says gently. "I have to run some errands, and -- it may be some time. Before I can visit the Burrow."
"See you around," Tonks tells him firmly, because she will. She has to.
She goes to the loo, and stares at her reflection in the cracked and spotty mirror above the washstand. The mirror says nothing, and Tonks is just a little grateful. The very tips of her mouse-brown hair have turned bubblegum-pink.
Tonks comes back out and stares at the deserted table where she and Remus had sat. Tonks thinks, I want, and her death is tangling in her chest, wrapping around the warmth of Remus's scarred hand, pulling her down in the clammy fog of mortality, and Tonks remembers the moment when Remus's smile became genuine, and Tonks thinks, I want him to be happy.
Dementors in midday traffic at Trafalgar: Kingsley and Mad-Eye fight them off before any of the Muggles sink into the depths of despair that will make them stop caring about collisions, and Tonks is useless. She crouches with them and she whispers Expecto Patronum Expecto Patronum and her wand spits out faint useless silver wisps that mingle in the unseasonable fog.
"I'M NOT TAKING YOU IF YOU'RE ONLY GOING TO BE USELESS!" Moody bellows at her afterwards, when they're well away. Tonks stares at her feet and wills her eyes to not fill up with tears. Kingsley snaps off half a chocolate bar for her, and she eats it miserably. Moody doesn't take any, of course, as though he actually thinks that Kingsley Shacklebolt is likely to poison him. Crazy paranoid old bastard.
Back home, Tonks practices. She thinks of summers by the seaside; she thinks of her dad stringing up a swing for her in the back yard, the Muggle way, because he likes not taking magic for granted; she thinks of the other girls in her Hogwarts dorm being very impressed with her Metamorphmagus powers; she thinks of her first kiss (with Adrian Vinwood, during a Gryffindor-Ravenclaw Quidditch game, in the spirit of inter-House cooperation); she thinks of the absolute glowing pride she felt when she was handed her Auror's license. Her wand billows out indistinct silvery shapes. Tonks grits her teeth, wracks her brain, and thinks of a moment of connection in the Leaky Cauldron, Remus's hand warm in hers.
The Patronus that bursts forth isn't what she expected; it flows out gracefully, plumed tail last, and sits there gazing at her, huge and fierce and protective, silver wolf-ears pricked, silver wolf-eyes kind.
"Oh," Tonks says, and sits down very hard in shock.
She's stationed in Hogsmeade, with Proudfoot and Savage and Dwalish. Not the Order, just Aurors, comrades from another life. She keeps to herself. On the weekends she double-checks every anti-intruder ward on the castle and grounds before Apparating from Hogsmeade to the Burrow.
She hasn't told Molly what she's realised. She doesn't know how to say it. She keeps Molly updated, tries to remember all the Hogsmeade village gossip she can so that she'll have something to say, listens in turn to Molly's less-than-pleased words about her daughter-in-law-to-be. Tonks mostly makes sympathetic noises at that; she knows that Fleur Delacour can be trying, but she's also seen Fleur with Bill Weasley and what she feels for Fleur has more to do with jealousy than annoyance.
Molly, being Molly, has caught onto this. "You were friends with Bill in school, weren't you, dear?" she asks Tonks the week before Halloween.
"We were," Tonks acknowledges. She and Bill had detention together more than once, the times Filtch caught them sneaking out of the library after-hours. A few girls in Tonks's year had thought they were dating, and had been wildly jealous -- after all, Bill was an older boy, and good-looking too -- but she and Bill had been researching anti-jinxes, trying them out together. "Just friends, though," she adds, to be safe.
"Ah," Molly says. It's a very specific 'ah'.
"I think he really is in love with her," Tonks says, a little desperately. "I wouldn't want --"
"Of course not," Molly agrees, quick enough that Tonks knows she's right. She can't blame Molly for it, though; it's actually quite sweet. Molly wouldn't mind having her as family, and Tonks -- Tonks wouldn't mind having Molly for family either, so she gives Molly the best smile she can and nods for a refill of her tea. "But what about you, Tonks dear?" At Tonks' startled look, Molly gestures with an understanding smile to Tonks' plain hair, plain robes, whole sorry state. "I know a lovelorn woman when I see her."
"Oh," Tonks says, and for a moment feels so miserable she almost starts crying. It would be perfect to pine after Bill Weasley in the safe and happy world of two years ago. To have her worst problem be Fleur Delacour ... But this is how Molly Weasley stays sane. Tonks takes a deep breath. "It's not about Bill."
"Who, then?" Molly asks gently.
"Remus," Tonks says. There. Now it's spoken aloud. Now it's real.
"Remus," Molly repeats, and to Tonks' surprise she starts to smile. "That's the very thing! He needs someone like you in his life, Tonks. He's been worse since Sirius died, of course, and to have to infiltrate ... He needs something to look forward to. Someone to come home to and love."
Tonks nods, nods along to what Molly's saying while her heart pounds double-time, because the last thing she needs right now is another responsibility, especially a responsibility as big as the one Molly's describing, but she ... wants. She wants Remus to be happy. She wants something to look forward to. She wants someone to come home to and love.
"Tell him," Molly adds, and waits until Tonks nods again, and enfolds her in a hug.
She doesn't see Remus again until November. She's tired all the time. She wakes up from nightmares and can't fall back to sleep. She practices her Patronus whenever she can, keeps to herself, reads spell theory books and Prophet bulletins and the ridiculous romance novels Molly's been lending her. Then Remus owls to alert her, the operating Order member near Hogwarts, that he'll be staying at the Three Broomsticks for a couple of days.
She visits him after his debriefing with Dumbledore, bringing him dinner up to his room. He gives her a tired smile that probably mirrors her own, tells her that a number of werewolves are seriously considering defecting to Voldemort, leans tiredly against her shoulder while her heart goes pounding away in her chest. I want you to be happy, she thinks, and the words stick in her throat.
"I appreciate you staying through dinner," Remus tells her. "Do you have anywhere you need to be?"
"No," Tonks says. "It's just me in Hogsmeade."
She's never told Molly that. Molly would tell her to stop being silly and spend a bit of time around other people. Remus doesn't. Remus just nods, like he knows exactly what Tonks is feeling, and the warmth in Tonks' chest expands outwards until she blurts, "I missed you."
Remus ducks his head. "And I the Order." He looks back up at her. "You especially. I'm sorry to see you so tired."
He understands. He understands. Tonks smiles at him helplessly. She wants to live before she dies; she might die tomorrow. She leans forward and kisses Remus softly on the lips.
He jerks backwards.
Tonks feels her face heating, the horrible flush of embarrassment completely divorced from any warmth of happiness. She can feel a hundred hopeful tomorrows tumbling away into nothingness.
"I'm sorry," Remus is saying, a little desperately. "I'm sorry, Tonks, I -- I can't. You're a wonderful person. I just can't."
"It's okay," Tonks mutters, and it's really, really not.
She cries on Molly's shoulder. She spends Christmas alone.
If only Remus hadn't said You're a wonderful person, Tonks might have given it up. But he did say it, and it goes through her head again and again, looping back on itself, crueler and crueler in each repetition. If he found her unattractive, he should have said so. Tonks wants to know why.
She hates Molly's romance novels. They take too much time on flowing locks and sculpted chests, none at all on the way warmth in a man's eyes might undo his lover more than any amount of heat. Tonks curls up at night in a tight little ball and remembers Remus's hand in hers and wants to be kissed like that.
She wants --
In February, after Valentine's Day (to alleviate the pressure), she corners Remus in Hogsmeade. "Why," she says.
He looks around nervously -- thin, worn, it squeezes at her heart -- and ducks into an alley. She follows him. "Why what, Tonks?"
"If I'm a wonderful person, why not -- why not us?"
"Oh," says Remus, and Tonks wants to turn back time, back at least far enough to erase the wariness from his face if not the weariness. "Tonks, you're young. You have your whole life ahead of you. I --"
She can't help it. She laughs. She laughs and sags against the brick wall of the alley until she can't breathe, until the frigid February Highland air chokes in her lungs, until she wants to cry. Tonks hates it, hates that he's the only one she can trust with a breakdown when he's the only one she wants to be strong for anymore. "I don't," she manages between gasps. "I don't."
"Tonks," Remus says, taking her shoulders, gently, holding and steadying until she calms down. "You do," he tells her, seriously enough that for a moment she even believes it.
"Okay," she whispers. "That's all?"
"No," he says, releasing her slowly. "I have nothing to my name; I have nothing to offer you."
"I don't need anything," she tells him.
He shakes his head; it's not even a denial of the truth of it, just a simple refusal to understand. "Tonks," he says again, "you need someone human."
Tonks stares at him. "You are human, Remus!"
"Do your Metamorphmagus powers allow you to transform into an animal?" Remus asks. When she reluctantly shakes her head, he smiles, a faint bitter smile. "You're more human than I am; I would be a constant danger to you."
"That's not true," she whispers. "You're safe."
"Tonks," he says harshly, and begins backing away. "Please don't."
It's so much like what she herself wants to say that Tonks ends up just nodding, and watches him run away. "Coward," she tells the empty air, her breath puffing out visible for a moment, like a mocking unformed Patronus. She wants ...
Whenever she sees him she tries again. The answers are always the same: evasion when he can; too old, too poor, too dangerous. Tonks wants him to say he's not interested, not attracted, anything definite. Tonks wants him to hug her, hold her tight, tell her she has a future in a voice that sounds like the truth.
In March she tries the trump card to his trump card, sees his monthly affliction and raises him I love you. For a moment it stuns him, and something in his face seems to crack. "Oh, Tonks," he says, like she's broken his heart, and actually cups her face in his hand for a moment, eyes memorizing her. "I'm sorry," he says, "I wish ..." and another barb of hope digs deep into Tonks, holding her fast. There are whole galaxies of possibility in his unspoken words.
She falls asleep considering them all, everything from I wish I could feel love to I wish I felt I deserved you. A small part of her mind hates it, everything she's devoting her thoughts to, because she needs to save the world and she's acting like a teenager all over again. But I can't save the world alone, Tonks tells that part of her mind. No one can, and drifts off in that certainty.
Three or four in the morning she wakes, as she does too often these days, but the adrenaline she feels isn't that of nightmares. Instead she's having a thought, a single thought pared down from all the contradictory ones into a solitary truth: Remus has been in love. It's almost stupidly obvious now. Since the fight in the Ministry, Tonks has been on a long slide of misery and fear; Molly has mistaken it for lovesickness. Since the fight in the Ministry, Tonks has recognised herself in Remus; maybe that's lovesickness after all.
"Oh," Tonks says, and flops back down in bed. "Bugger," she tells the dark ceiling.
In the morning, over porridge and feeling slightly saner, Tonks is no less sure of it than she was in the middle of the night. Now that she thinks about it, she'd noticed for ages. Remus was always in and out of Grimmauld Place; they bought everyone Christmas presents together, one from both of them, both of their names scribbled on one card; they deferred and listened and responded to one another at every Order meeting. Tonks hadn't thought much of it, as they were, after all, best friends; maybe Remus' sadness can be explained with that, but not his shying away from intimacy with her.
You'd think, Tonks muses, frowning at her porridge, he could have just said he only liked men.
Unless his I wish had been an I wish I could move past Sirius, because I'm also very attracted to you. "Bugger," Tonks tells her porridge again.
"Is it about Sirius?" she asks him in April.
Remus spills butterbeer all down his front and stares at her like he hasn't even noticed, which does more or less answer the question.
Working it out, Tonks realises quite quickly that in peacetime she would probably take a nice deep breath and move on; she can't possibly hope to overcome a lifetime's worth of emotion for another. But this is war, and they're going to die, and Remus must realise this too. Remus is all she wants out of this stupid horrible mess; all she wants is for him to be -- happy.
Between one breath and the next, going over Hogwarts' defense perimeter for the thousandth time, Tonks is struck still by the sudden revelation that she doesn't need to overcome a lifetime's worth of emotion.
That evening, shakily, she pulls out a little album her mum collected of the Order through the years. She finds Sirius, about her own age, grinning and waving up at her from the page, and she tries an approximation back: pale eyes, dark hair (longer than the picture's; she lets it fall in the shoulder-cut she remembers her cousin wearing), taller, thinner, the superficial outsides. She goes to her mirror and examines herself, examines the Sirius in the photograph, adjusts herself slightly until a reasonable approximation is looking at her out of the glass. She wonders if she should try a full-scale change; she can swap up vital bits of her anatomy if she concentrates hard enough, but it usually gives her a headache and she feels a bit silly.
She decides to just work on the vocal cords. That seems reasonable.
Then the Death Eaters get into Hogwarts.
Tonks fights for her life, fights for the students' lives, fights for the whole damn world, and all the time terror is singing through her, that horrible knowledge, she's going to die, she's going to die, she's going to die, and she still doesn't even know what it feels like to kiss Remus.
Her head is still full of the buzz of fear and regret when she makes it to the hospital wing. It smells of antiseptic and faintly of electricity, the afterburn of complicated spellwork. Remus is there, and so is Bill Weasley, torn up, torn down. Tonks wants to hold Remus's hand. She stays professional. The room fills up with important people and all of their important, terrible news. Fleur is crying quietly. Tonks stays professional.
Molly laments her son's lost wedding, and Fleur is indignant, Fleur is beautiful, Fleur wants to stay with Bill, and every last vestige of control in Tonks snaps, silently, all at once. Here is a room of witnesses.
"You see!" she hears herself saying. She can't help it. "She still wants to marry him, even though he's been bitten! She doesn't care!"
Remus doesn't want to do this here, but Fleur doesn't care and Tonks doesn't care, she's frightened and she's going to die and she loves Remus and she's going to get this right. Just this one small thing. She has to.
Later, in Hogsmeade, when the Dark Mark has stopped glowing sickly down on the grounds, Remus follows Tonks up to her room at the Three Broomsticks. "You shouldn't have put me on the spot," he tells her quietly. "Not in front of everyone."
"Then when?" she asks him. "When, Remus? Shall I wait until we're all dead?"
"I didn't say that," Remus says, but he knows; Tonks looks in his eyes and sees that he knows his death, has known it since Tonks was a little girl and invincible, and what he's chosen to do are the motions. He'll drink his tea and smile when he can and go where the world needs him, keeping nothing for himself. She wants him to be happy.
"I want to show you something," Tonks says. "Please? Before you go?"
Remus follows her into her room and shuts the door politely behind him. Tonks stands straight, looks him in the eye, and shifts just as she's been practicing, hair and face and body molding into something older than the photograph but more whole than what Azkaban wrought. She changes and she watches Remus's face change, astonishment, raw open terrible pain, and -- there: under it, the shock stripping Remus down to honesty, he's relieved, unutterably relieved to have his understanding finally echoed back at him, and though he doesn't smile, something like joy suffuses his face.
"I --" he says. "You shouldn't --"
"I wanted to," Tonks says, in her Sirius voice, and watches Remus shudder, the tremors rolling down his body like a spell. "You're not too dangerous," she adds, and she wants to say Moony, the inflection she's been practicing, but she knows not to push it. Not yet.
"I will give you that, at least," Remus murmurs wryly, coming up to her, entranced. He swallows. Says again, "But you shouldn't ..."
"I just want you to be happy," Tonks tells him, with perfect honesty.
This time, when she kisses him, he doesn't pull away.