Remus closed the Weasley’s kitchen door softly behind him, taking care not to spill the contents of the two brimming mugs he carried. He savoured the cool night air on his face and gazed up at the sky. Tonight it was cloudless and spattered with stars, resulting in one of those cold evenings that come at the end of a scorchingly hot day.
He turned to look down at the figure by his feet. Tonks was sitting on the step, her legs drawn up and her chin resting on her knees. He could tell from her posture that she had something on her mind; it was in the set of her shoulders, the way she clutched her legs to her chest. Her sleeves were pulled down to cover her hands and her cloak was wrapped tightly around her against the chill, suggesting that she’d been sitting that way for some time.
It had been a difficult month. The Death Eaters had, unsurprisingly, become increasingly zealous in their efforts to cause chaos since Dumbledore’s death. Several goblins from the Egyptian office of Gringotts had been attacked and signals on the Muggle rail network had been sent haywire, causing gridlock all over England and puzzling engineers from Berwick to Plymouth, though fatalities had, mercifully, been avoided. Most recently, a St Mungo’s Healer had been found to be under the Imperius curse only after he had murdered six patients on one of the Spell Damage wards. However, Voldemort’s supporters were becoming careless in their enthusiasm, and that, Remus suspected, would ultimately be their downfall.
He lowered himself onto the step beside Tonks, handing her mug to her handle first. “I thought I might find you here.”
“Mmm. Ta.” Tonks took the mug of chocolate from him gratefully, cupping her hands around it and lifting it to her lips, allowing its steam to warm her nose and face. “How’s Molly?”
They had spent the evening having dinner at the Weasley’s, with whom Remus was currently staying on Mrs Weasley’s insistence (she “couldn’t bear”, she said, to think of him “rattling around in Grimmauld Place”). Bill and Fleur had departed just that morning for an extremely brief honeymoon and the family were just beginning to settle back into everyday routines. Despite the continually worsening situation in the world at large, it had been a pleasant and jovial evening, with copious amounts of Molly's excellent home cooking.
However, in the commotion that had followed Fred and George spiking the washing-up water with a Wildfire Whiz-bang, Harry, Ron and Hermione had slipped out of the house, with various belongings stuffed into their rucksacks.
The three had spent much of the time since Harry and Hermione had arrived at The Burrow huddled in corners, whispering between themselves and poring over books and maps. There had also been a heated argument two weeks before, between Mrs Weasley and Ron, after he announced that he wouldn’t be returning to Hogwarts the next year, whether the school opened or not, but would (along with Hermione) be accompanying Harry while he completed his mysterious task. The argument had continued sporadically for more than two days, before descending into an uneasy stalemate.
Molly had, understandably, been very upset by their departure, and, after she had finished reprimanding the twins for their part, it had quickly fallen to Remus to, however unsuccessfully, placate and soothe her.
Remus sighed, bringing his mind back to the subject of Tonks’ question. “She’s still upset, understandably. I think any mother would be. Arthur’s home now and he’s talking to her. To her credit, I think she’s as worried for Harry and Hermione as she is for Ron.”
Tonks turned slightly to look at him, leaning back against the doorjamb and fixing him with a questioning stare. “This mysterious mission of Harry’s, has he said anything to you about it?”
Her knee was pressing against his thigh. Remus still hadn’t quite got used to the casual intimacy of her touch and it sent shivers up and down his spine.
“A little.” Remus chose his words carefully, “I have… some idea of what they’re doing… and I expect I’ll hear more about it as time goes on.” He paused. He felt terrible being so evasive with her, especially after all they’d been through in the past year, but Harry had been so adamant that as few people as possible should know what he was doing.
“In other words,” she said, “you can’t tell me.”
“No, not really. I’m sorry to be so vague, but I promised Harry-”
She cut him off. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not offended – it’s not your secret to tell.” She smiled, her expression teasing, distracted now from whatever it was that had been worrying her. “At least I know I can trust you not to tell anyone any of my secrets.”
He raised his eyebrows in flirtation. “Oh yes? And what secrets might these be?”
She grinned coyly, leaning towards him, “I might not have told you any of them yet.”
“Oh really? Well I’ll look forward to hearing them, then,” he said, bringing his lips gently to hers.
She shifted closer to him, returning his kiss more intently and placing her hands on his face, while he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer still. They continued in this way for several minutes, revelling in each other’s warmth and the softness of lips, before breaking apart and returning to their position side by side, though much closer this time.
They settled, his arm still around her waist and her head against his shoulder, her face becoming as pensive as when he had first found her outside.
He tightened his hold. “What is it?” he asked, brushing a strand of hair from her face. “What’s bothering you?”
“It’s nothing.” She sighed, picking at a loose thread in the seam of her cloak. “Just… I hate this war. It keeps getting worse and worse. Will it ever end?”
“It gets worse before it gets better,” he replied, amazed at how sure he sounded when really, he was anything but.
“But what if it never gets better?” She gazed up into his eyes, apprehension in every contour of her face. “What if it just carries on getting worse? I’m scared, Remus, more than I ever have been.”
“So am I,” he admitted. “I’m bloody terrified.”
That was partly what last year had been about, he now realised, fear, and his method of coping with it. If he denied himself everything, pushed everyone away, then he had nothing to lose. He’d been selfish, he thought, though his intent had been to be selfless.
And now? Now the thought of losing her, of life without her, didn’t bear thinking about.
“What if we lose? What then?” Her words broke into his thoughts once more.
“How do you know? We might.”
“Because we can’t. The alternative is too terrible. You only lose if you stop fighting, and we can’t afford to.”
“No,” she said quietly. “We can’t.”
They lapsed into silence once more, each absorbed in their own thoughts.
His wandered naturally once more to the woman beside him. She so clearly loved him, trusted in him, had such faith that they were meant to be. And he knew that he loved her in return, that he could never envisage life with anyone other than her. He wanted so much to give himself up to these feelings, to abandon himself to the exhilaration of being loved, but always there were the niggling doubts, the underlying feeling that everything should be easier for her than he could ever make it. Part of him knew that she didn’t mind, but all the same, he never could entirely silence the other part, the part that wondered whether it was really enough.
“It’s never going to be easy, you know that.”
“What isn’t?” she asked, though he suspected she already knew what he meant. They’d had this conversation a hundred times before.
“This.” He gestured vaguely. “Us.”
She let out a tiny, almost imperceptible hiss of frustration.
“I know that Remus. And I’ve told you, time and time again. It doesn’t matter to me. The money doesn’t matter. What people think doesn’t matter. I don’t care if people like me or not. If they have a problem with us, then stuff them, they’re not worth knowing.”
He knew she was right, that this was about them, and the opinion of the world shouldn’t matter. And yet, he could never quite shake the worry that people would think he was taking advantage of her, couldn’t help wondering if maybe he was…
“I’ll never have anything much to offer you…”
“I don’t mind Remus. I don’t need expensive robes or flashy gifts; I’d rather be poor and happy. What I do need, Remus, is you. I can’t face another year like last year.”
That last sentence really hit home. He really did feel terrible about how he’d treated her. How he’d avoided the issue. Merlin, how he’d avoided her.
“I know,” he said. “I’m sorry.” Remus tilted her face to his, kissing her gently and slowly, in what he hoped was a reassuring and apologetic fashion. He understood it must be frustrating for her to keep reassuring him. But it was working, slowly but surely, drip by tiny drip, she was convincing him that it really didn’t matter. Maybe one day he’d believe it wholeheartedly.
Their kisses deepened once more, her fingers finding the hair at the nape of his neck, sending shivers down his spine and across his scalp. His hands grasped her waist, moving slowly up her back as any awareness of the world beyond the feel of her lips on his and her warm body pressed against him slipped away.
When they finally broke apart, she hugged him close, resting her head on his chest and sighing in way that was part contentment, part weariness and part sadness.
“Stay with me tonight.”
Remus looked at her in surprise. Was she really suggesting…? Surely that couldn’t be the case, because, though their relationship was moving at a fair pace, they hadn’t yet reached quite that level of intimacy. “Really?” he replied. “Not that I wouldn’t love to of course, but are you sure this is…?”
She cut him off, returning his gaze and blushing slightly, but smiling all the same, “Just to sleep.” she said, by way of clarification. Her fingers worried at a stray thread in his jumper, before smoothing it down. “Not that I wouldn’t love to as well, of course, at some point. I just don’t really feel like being alone tonight. I could do with some company.”
“I’d be glad to stay. I’ll go and let Molly know where I’ll be…”
She raised her eyebrows, “You’re just going to waltz in there and imply to Molly Weasley that we’re going to spend the night at it like a couple of rabbits? I’m not sure that’s information I want her to be privy to, thanks very much, especially when it’s not even true.”
He laughed. “Give me some credit love; I can be more subtle than that.” He planted a kiss on her forehead, “Don’t worry, she won’t suspect a thing. The sordid details of our sex life are safe with me.”
She smirked, punching his arm playfully. “Come on then, let’s say our goodbyes, I’m knackered.”
“I can’t help wondering whether I should be worried about how well you lie.” Tonks said, after they had bid farewell to everyone and Remus had collected the spare back door key from a hook in the kitchen.
He feigned an indignant expression. “That wasn’t a lie, Molly just assumed I’d be coming back tonight, I never said I would be.”
Tonks laughed. “You’re just too clever for your own good, you know that?”
“But you love me anyway?” He shot back in return, almost without realising what he’d said, and the atmosphere changed very suddenly from light-hearted to extraordinarily serious.
She looked at him intently. “Yes.” Her voice was quiet. “Yes, I do.”
He gazed back into her eyes, so full of love, and hope. “So do I,” he whispered, reaching for her hand and kissing the tips of her fingers. “So do I.”
And with that, they stepped back out into the night, her hand in his, fingers entwined, both of them clinging on for dear life, because, together, it felt like they could face whatever the world chose to throw at them.