You’re gonna reach the water
You’re gonna get across
You’re gonna walk miles
You’re gonna get lost
You’re gonna fall down
But when you fall
You’ll get back on
–Roland Satterwhite, Get Back On
Mostly, Remus walked.
All those first bright days of summer, as the world bloomed and burst into colour around him, Remus walked and walked, not caring where to, only following wherever his desperately escaping feet led him.
Molly and Arthur had found him at St Mungo’s and brought him home with them, telling him to stay as long as he needed. So Remus sometimes slept there at the Burrow, or tried to sleep, lying on the narrow bed in Bill’s old room and staring blankly up at a poster Bill must have stuck to the ceiling years ago, of a pretty witch waving from a flying carpet. When Molly put food in front of Remus, he ate it. When Molly and Arthur asked him how he was, their concern painfully evident in their voices, Remus said he was fine.
In the rare hours when he did sleep, Remus found himself back in Godric’s Hollow, watching Lily fretting over baby Harry and James laughing and reassuring her, but reaching out, too, to hold his son close when he thought Lily didn’t see.
Then Remus was on that street among the twelve dead innocent Muggles, and saw Sirius as Remus and all the world had believed him all those years, mad and laughing.
Then it was September and Remus went to King’s Cross and James and Lily were there, no older than the day he’d last seen them, seeing Harry off on the train with the rest of the Order.
Remus was in the Department of Mysteries and Sirius fell through the veil again, and again, as Harry screamed in grief. Then it was Tonks who fell, landing still and cold as death in the white shroud of a bed at St Mungo’s.
Most mornings, Remus started awake from these dreams in a cold sweat, long before dawn. Then went out again to walk and walk, to keep himself moving until he was too exhausted to think.
His legs first burned with exertion, then grew numb with fatigue, and Remus would raise his head late in the evening, when the midsummer sun was finally, reluctantly slipping away behind the trees, to find that dusk was falling and a chill creeping into the air. Often, when Remus finally looked up, he had no idea where he was.
Far worse was when he looked and did know where he was. A field where he and James and Lily and Sirius had once picnicked. A rocky stretch of coast on the Isle of Mull where Sirius had dared James to jump into the icy sea fully clothed. A little neighbourhood park in London where they’d once all got very drunk and had to restrain Sirius from running to his parents’ house for an ill-conceived confrontation.
Remus didn’t mean to Apparate to these places, but he thought of them and then he was there.
A cottage on the coast where they’d once holidayed all together.
The village square in Godric’s Hollow.
It shouldn’t matter. He had lost everyone else. Surely he could bear to lose Sirius, too. Remus just had to keep breathing, and walking. If he walked long enough, perhaps this terrible weight of grief would ease from his throat.
Those early summer days were so bright. All through the horrible, endless, unreal days in which Remus wandered the length and breadth of Britain, the sun was blinding, bleaching out even the most vibrant leaves and trees and flowers into a nightmare wash of white, so painful Remus could barely stand to look.
If only he had ordered Sirius to stay back at Headquarters –
If he had battled Bellatrix, if he had been the one to reach her instead of Sirius, if he had been faster and interceded –
If was how Remus spent so much of his life.
If only he had made sure they all kept talking to each other, in those increasingly tense days when Lily and James and Harry were in hiding. If only they had talked to each other, instead of withdrawing into their individual suspicions, retreating from one another to the point that James and Lily hadn’t even told Remus when they switched Secret-Keepers.
If he had gone looking for Sirius, somehow, after that horrible Halloween, instead of running away to nurse his grief alone.
If he’d pushed Dumbledore to find something, anything, better for Sirius than staying trapped in the house at Grimmauld Place until he’d grown reckless with his own life.
If, Remus thought, as he walked himself beyond the point of exhaustion all through those first bright days of summer, those stark sun-flooded days that pained his eyes and wrenched his heart. But what good was if? If could never turn back time.
Sirius was dead. Like James and Lily before him, and like Remus would be someday after him.
Sirius was dead, and his death threw Remus’ world into sharp relief. That naïve man who’d begun to believe he might truly be able to embark on a second courtship with Tonks and do things right this time – that man now belonged to a world Remus could barely remember having once inhabited.
Sirius was dead. Harry, too, could be dead now, if Remus hadn’t held him back from flinging himself after Sirius through the veil.
But Harry wasn’t dead, and Tonks wasn’t dead, and Remus would give anything to ensure that both those things remained true. Even his own happiness.
Out of the morass of guilt through which Remus struggled each day, three cold, solid facts began to crystallise, like rock salt left behind when an expanse of sea evaporates into the air. He must do all he could for the Order. He must keep Harry safe. And he must reverse the damage he had caused when he’d let himself believe that he, a dangerous Dark creature dogged relentlessly by tragedy, should ever have allowed himself near Nymphadora Tonks.
– – – – –
On Tonks’ first day back at work, after she’d recuperated from her injuries from the battle at the Ministry, she drifted through the Auror Office, feeling weightless and unreal. She traced one hand along the edge of her desk, glancing around at the others’ workstations. Buckwaite, Dawlish, Buckle. None of them were in the office at the moment – all were out chasing after Death Eaters. From across the way, Savage raised a collegial hand in greeting from behind a mound of paperwork.
Tonks nodded to him, then glanced towards the corner office, with its walls of magical glass that could be rendered opaque or translucent with a flick of a wand. Gawain Robards, formerly a senior Auror, reigned in that office now. Their new head of the department, he’d replaced Scrimgeour when Scrimgeour became Minister for Magic.
Robards’ office walls were transparent at the moment, and Tonks could see her new boss hunched over his desk with his hair standing wildly on end as he raked his fingers through it. Tonks didn’t envy him, thrust into running the whole department in a country that was plunging into war. And it was war. No one denied that anymore.
Tonks glared at the pile of parchment rolls waiting for her on her desk. But she threw herself down into her chair, resigned to fighting her way through the backlog of work that had accumulated while she was in hospital. Fact-checking reports was dull and she loathed it, but at least it was something she could do. Tonks so desperately needed something to do, some way to feel she could make a difference in this war.
And besides, if she threw herself into her work every waking hour, maybe she wouldn’t have to think about the hollow ache in her chest that was all that was left of Sirius.
– – – – –
Arriving at the Burrow for the first full Order meeting since that night at the Ministry, Tonks was met at the door by Mad-Eye Moody, who flung a barrage of security questions at her before finally allowing her inside. When she reached the kitchen, most of the members of the Order were already gathered around the table.
“Wotcher,” Tonks said to the assembled crowd, aiming for cheerful and falling short. She got a round of nods and greetings in response. Remus wasn’t there yet.
He’d been avoiding her. He’d disappeared from Tonks’ bedside after the first time she woke up in St Mungo’s after the battle, and she hadn’t seen him since.
Give him some time, Moody had said, when he came by the hospital to lend Tonks his gruff but welcome company.
I don’t think he’s ready for company just yet, dear, Molly had said, her mouth tugging downwards with worry, when Tonks saw her after being discharged from St Mungo’s.
It hurt, knowing that Remus was grieving the same grief as Tonks was, but he wouldn’t share it with her. Things had been good between them, strangely and sweetly good, despite the bleakness of the gathering war. They had been working their careful way back together, making sure they knew how to really be friends to each other, first. And then – this. Remus gone, frozen away behind his own grief.
Tonks kept telling herself to be patient, because Remus had lost more than anyone should ever have to lose, and he deserved the space to grapple with his grief in whatever way he needed. But she missed his company desperately.
She slid into one of the few remaining seats at the kitchen table, and was absorbed in apologising to Emmeline for jostling her elbow when she heard someone say, “Hello, Remus.” Tonks’ head jolted up and her eyes snapped to the doorway.
He looked straight at her and his face contracted painfully in a way that might have passed for a smile to someone who didn’t know better. But Tonks knew better. Before she could react, he looked away.
Tonks dug her fingernails into her palms and reminded herself fiercely, Give him time.
Dumbledore swept into the room then and took his place at the head of the table, tall and majestic in his midnight blue robes. “Welcome,” he said, his piercing gaze taking in all of them in turn. “Before we turn to business, I would like to say a few words.” Dumbledore cleared his throat, uncharacteristically sombre. “As you know, we lost one of our own in the battle at the Ministry.”
Tonks’ throat ached. She hadn’t even known how much she’d come to depend on Sirius to always be there, until was gone.
“It’s a small comfort, I realise,” Dumbledore was saying quietly, “but Rufus Scrimgeour has agreed to open an inquiry into the mistrial that sent Sirius to Azkaban. I have every confidence his name will be cleared.”
Tonks’ eyes burned. Some comfort that was. Sirius was dead.
An enormous sob rent the stillness: Hagrid. “Sirius was a good man!” he wailed. As Hagrid sniffled and dabbed his eyes with his enormous handkerchief, Tonks looked around the room, and saw her grief reflected back at her. Even Molly, who’d so often been at odds with Sirius, was red-eyed. And Remus – Tonks looked away again, unable to stand the sight. His face was a mask, and it terrified her.
After a respectful silence, Dumbledore moved on to business. They talked of Hogwarts’ defences, Arthur’s promotion at the Ministry. Kingsley would be protecting the Muggle Prime Minister. Mad-Eye and Emmeline had been able to retrieve sensitive documents from 12 Grimmauld Place.
Dumbledore gestured in response to a question from Moody, and Tonks noticed that his hand was blackened and withered. It quickly disappeared out of sight again into Dumbledore’s sleeve, but not before she saw. It hadn’t been like that at the last Order meeting.
Tonks jerked her gaze back to his face. “Yes, sir?”
Dumbledore smiled in that crinkling-eyed way he had. “I know you’ve come to expect always the same from me, but I do have a specific request for you this time. There’s a possibility that a few select Aurors will be asked to take up a position elsewhere, outside of London. If this falls to you, might I ask if you would be amenable? The assignment would, however, require you to live away from London.”
Summoning all her strength of will, Tonks managed not to look at Remus as she answered. “Yes, sir,” she said to Dumbledore. “Of course.”
When the meeting wrapped up, Tonks saw Dumbledore step aside with Snape. Curious, she strained her hearing just a bit – one of those little Metamorphmagus advantages – to hear what they were saying.
She’d just caught Snape’s “– and he’s very angry about failing to get what he wanted. It looks as though he may –” when his voice cut off and a low buzzing filled her ears. Snape had cast a spell to block her from hearing.
Well, fine. She didn’t need to know what those two were planning. She trusted Dumbledore and, oh, all right, she could trust Snape too, if she had to. She didn’t have much of a choice, did she?
Just as long as their plans didn’t involve sacrificing anyone else she cared about.
– – – – –
Life went on as normal, if anything about Tonks’ life could be called normal now, with the Aurors working overtime every day, trying desperately to stem the flood of violence.
She was part of a response team that managed to stop a Dementor attack before it happened, for once, which was gratifying. Merlin, she hated being around those things, though. The morning after that mission, Tonks didn’t even bother to transform anything about her appearance, though she usually altered at least something, even if it was just her hair. But after a day of driving back Dementors, she didn’t much feel like it.
Then, arriving home after another long shift, Tonks opened the door of her flat to the sight of Moody’s raven Patronus diving in through the window.
Tonks’ stomach clenched. Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, had been killed just two days before, and all signs suggested Voldemort had committed the murder personally. Moody’s Patronus had found Tonks that time, too. It seemed to be a horrible new Order protocol, individual Patronus messages to all members, informing them of each loss.
Tonks shut the door and pressed her back against it. Her stomach had gone clenched and icy cold. “Who is it?” she asked aloud, even though she knew very well that wasn’t how Patronuses worked, you didn’t hold conversations with them. All you could do was listen for the message they’d been sent with.
“Emmeline Vance has been killed. She was murdered in her home by Death Eaters,” said Moody’s implacable voice. Anybody who didn’t know him as well as Tonks did wouldn’t have been able to hear that this news upset him, but Tonks could tell.
“No,” she said out loud.
Tough, stoic Emmeline. Another person Tonks had thought would simply always be there.
“No,” she said again, but Moody’s silver raven faded back out the window and Tonks found herself staring at a blank stretch of wall. Amelia Bones was dead. Emmeline was dead. Sirius was dead. Before she had time to think what she was doing, Tonks had flung herself back out the door of her flat and Disapparated.
She landed on the front step of her parents’ house slightly off-balance, caught herself, and rang the bell before she had time to question herself for this, twenty-three and still running to Mum and Dad when things got to be too much.
Her dad opened the door, surprise on his face. “Doradee?”
“Dad,” Tonks said, then she burst into tears and flung herself at him.
“Dora,” Ted said, his arms enclosing her, strong and big and warm like his hugs always were. “What is it? What’s happened?”
“Nothing – nothing’s happened exactly, it’s just –” Reluctantly, Tonks pulled her face from the comforting softness of her father’s jumper and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “It’s not one single thing. It’s just – it’s just – everything is falling apart!” she wailed, her voice spiralling up and out of control.
Her dad got one gentle hand around her elbow and steered Tonks inside the house. He settled her on the sofa, sat down next to her and offered her a handkerchief. Tonks sniffled gracelessly into it and blew her nose.
Finally, she balled the handkerchief up in her fist and glared down at it. She didn’t trust herself to look at her dad and not burst into tears again. “Did you hear about Emmeline Vance?” she asked, making her voice as matter-of-fact as she could. “She was murdered by Death Eaters, earlier today. And that’s right after Amelia Bones…”
“Emmeline Vance?” Ted’s voice was shocked. Tonks nodded helplessly.
“Nymphadora? What’s going on?” Her mother stood in the doorway.
“Emmeline Vance is dead,” Tonks’ father answered, looking across the room at her mother.
“Oh, Merlin,” Andromeda said, and came and sat down on Tonks’ other side.
Ted looked between the both of them and declared, “I’ll make tea.” He pushed himself up from the sofa and headed for the kitchen.
“Did you know her?” Tonks asked her mum, her hands still twisting the handkerchief in her lap.
“Emmeline? Not well. But I remember her from school. I always admired her.” Andromeda’s gaze was distant. “And here I’d hoped we’d finished with all this a generation ago.”
Tonks tossed the handkerchief down on the sofa. “You do know that Voldemort’s been back and gathering the Death Eaters together for over a year now, right? This isn’t exactly the first sign that he’s fighting a war again.”
“Yes, Nymphadora, I do pay attention to current events. I said ‘hoped,’ not ‘believed,’ which is unfortunately not the same thing.” Andromeda glanced over at Tonks and her tone softened. “How are your Order people holding up?”
Tonks shrugged. “Fine, I guess. We go on, because we have to.”
Tonks tensed. “What about Remus?”
“He and Sirius were very close. How is he holding up?”
“Hard to say, since Remus isn’t talking to me,” Tonks said bitterly, before she could stop herself.
“I’m sorry, he what?”
Oh, no. There was that dangerous tigress tone her mother got when she felt one of her own was being threatened. And well-meaning though that attitude might be, Tonks didn’t have the nerves for it just at the moment. “He’s got a lot to deal with, okay?” she snapped. “And I’m trying to be understanding about it, because he just lost his best friend.”
Andromeda’s expression was still dangerous. “Does that man know you’re the best thing that ever happened to him?”
“Actually, yeah, he does, and that’s why he pulls this oh-I-am-not-worthy crap, but it’s really complicated, and I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” Even as the words left her mouth, Tonks knew it was a petty thing to say.
Her mother’s eyes flashed, as she stood in one fluid motion. “Well. I can see my sympathy isn’t needed here.”
She stalked towards the sitting room door, just as Tonks’ father appeared there with a teapot and cups set out on an old flower-patterned enamel tray they’d been using as long as Tonks could remember.
“Excuse me,” Andromeda said frostily, and Ted stepped back to let her pass. Tonks heard her going upstairs, her footsteps as measured and controlled as ever.
Her father came and set the tea tray down on the end table next to the sofa, then gave Tonks a look. “What was that about?”
“I – oh, Merlin, I don’t even know. I said – she was – she brought up Remus and – she doesn’t get it, Dad!”
Ted raised his hands in surrender. “I’m not going to pretend I understood that last sentence.” He sat down next Tonks and turned to the tray on the end table to pour the tea. “But sweetheart, try to remember you’re not the only one who’s just lost her favourite cousin. Your mother is grieving for Sirius right now.”
“Hard to tell, when she doesn’t act sad,” Tonks grumbled.
“But she is. Here.” Her dad handed her a teacup, wafting fragrant steam, and Tonks lifted it close to her nose and breathed in the familiar scent. Her dad made the best tea, a blend of his own that nobody else ever got quite right. “Now,” Ted said. “What’s this about Remus? Anything you want to talk about?”
Tonks opened her mouth and what tumbled out was, “I keep thinking he blames me. For – for Sirius. I – when I look at Remus and he won’t look back, I can’t help thinking he blames me.”
“Sweetheart, why in Merlin’s name would Remus blame you?”
“Because I was duelling Bellatrix!” she burst out. “And I let her get me, and then she got Sirius, and that wouldn’t have happened if I’d defeated her first! And Remus didn’t want to let Sirius come with us to the Ministry that night, and I said he should let him, and he came to the battle and he d – died!”
To Tonks’ embarrassment, she was crying again. Her dad reached over and took her teacup out of her hands, set it down on the table, and pulled Tonks to him, letting her press her face into his shoulder. It was immoderately consoling, that familiar scratch wool against her cheek.
“Sweetheart, listen to me,” he said. “Sirius was a grown man. So is Remus. They’re responsible for the choices they made, not you, not anyone else.”
“But if I’d killed Bellatrix when I had the chance –”
She felt her dad’s shudder. He pulled away enough to look her straight in the eye and said, “Then you would be a murderer. And Sirius might still have died in that battle at the hands of some other Death Eater. Dora, please don’t go down that path. It will make you mad.”
“It’s the damn Auror code,” she growled. “Not using lethal force without cause, incapacitating suspects instead of harming… It’s the right thing, I know it’s the right thing, but when they’re aiming to kill? Seriously, are we just supposed to stand there and cast Impedimenta at them?”
Her father looked at her seriously. “Could you have cast Avada Kedavra at Bellatrix? Truly?”
“Now I could.”
“For your sake, my love, I hope that’s not true.”
He smoothed a hand over Tonks’ hair. Strands of it flicked past the edges of her vision, and she remembered it was brown today, again. She’d forgotten again that morning to bother with her appearance. It just didn’t seem important lately to have amusing hair.
“Have you talked to Remus?” her dad asked. “You could at least give him the chance to tell you he doesn’t blame you.”
“Can’t,” Tonks grumbled, and leaned into her father’s shoulder again. “He’s been avoiding me since – since the battle.”
She felt her dad’s shoulder lift in surprise beneath her cheek. “But it seemed like you two were doing well. You seemed quite close when we saw him at your birthday.”
“We were,” Tonks sighed. “I thought we were.” Her birthday had been one of the last good times before the battle at the Ministry. A quiet evening in the basement kitchen at Grimmauld Place with her parents, Sirius and Remus, with cake and presents and the warmth of being surrounded by the people she cared about most.
Officially, she and Remus had been “just friends” at that point, but in truth they’d been each other’s main bulwark amidst the stress and fear of the war. They’d been slowly building back up the trust between them, trying to take it slow, but that night they’d given in and kissed in the darkened dining room of Sirius’ house. And Remus had given her… Tonks’ hand hovered over the locket she still wore under her T-shirt. Remus’ mother’s locket.
She stilled her hand and made it drop to her lap. “And now – he won’t even look at me. He’s my friend, Dad, if nothing else. I want to be there for him and he won’t let me.”
Her dad smoothed her hair again and Tonks sniffled angrily, determined not to cry anymore.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” Ted murmured against her hair. “You come from a proud family tradition of picking the difficult ones.”
Tonks snorted. “You gave Mum the run-around? Right.”
She could hear the smile in her father’s voice. “Not quite. More the other way round.”
Tonks pulled back and stared at him. “She left her family for you! What more could you want in the way of grand, romantic gestures?”
Ted’s smile was fond. “All true, but she left me hanging for quite a while first. Up to the very day she cut ties with her family, she would never tell me for certain whether she was going to be able to go through with it.”
Tonks shook her head, still sceptical. “That doesn’t sound like Mum.”
“Your mother never does anything until she’s absolutely sure it’s the right choice,” her dad said. “Anyway, the point is that she came around in the end. Or maybe the point is that I didn’t give up on her. Frankly, I’m not sure what the point is. Love is hard, sweetheart. I wish I could tell you otherwise.”
“I never said I loved Remus,” Tonks grumbled.
Her father just smiled and let her snuggle back into the curve of his arm.
– – – – –
“It’s good to see you, Remus.”
Dumbledore’s smile was warm as he opened the Hogwarts gates, but there was sympathy in his eyes, and Remus ducked his head, not wanting to see it. “You as well, sir,” he said.
“If you’ll just follow me.” Dumbledore locked the gates behind them, and swept up the long drive towards the school.
Following half a step behind, Remus steeled himself for the conversation to come. He’d known what this meeting would be about from the moment a Hogwarts owl had arrived at the Burrow with a letter bearing Remus’ name in Dumbledore’s spiky hand.
“I’m very sorry about Sirius,” Dumbledore said, as the castle’s enormous oak front doors swung shut behind them. Remus’ step stuttered at his words. “You have my sincerest apologies, for everything.”
For everything. Remus’ mind reeled back through Sirius’ life – his cold upbringing, the family tension after he was Sorted into Gryffindor, the Ministry’s shameful mistrial, his twelve years falsely imprisoned. His rashness, his cruel streak, his unbending loyalty to those he loved. All these had had a hand in his death. For how much exactly was Dumbledore claiming culpability?
“Thank you, sir,” Remus said, his voice coming out brittle, his steps uneven on the cold flagstones of the floor. They walked in silence the rest of the way through the castle’s labyrinthine halls to the headmaster’s office.
“Have a seat,” Dumbledore said, offering the chair across from his desk with a small but precise wave of his hand.
Remus sat. He felt, as always, strangely young and old at once, to be sitting here across the desk from his former headmaster.
Dumbledore produced tea from – somewhere. The teapot wasn’t there and then it was, Conjured with the slightest flick of Dumbledore’s wand. Dumbledore directed it to pour into two cups and politely enquired, “Lemon?”
“Yes, please,” Remus said, because why not commit fully to everything that was bizarre about this encounter? Sirius was dead, Remus was about to risk his life, and Dumbledore was offering him lemon with his tea.
Remus took the offered wedge of lemon, stirred his tea, then sipped and found that it was perfect, of course. One couldn’t expect otherwise, with Dumbledore. Then he looked up at the headmaster, who was regarding him seriously.
“I won’t spy on them anymore,” Remus said. “But I will go and live among them.”
Dumbledore tilted his head politely.
Remus shrugged, only half apologetic. “Well, we know what it is you want me to do. It’s only a matter of discussing the terms.”
Dumbledore’s face creased into a smile. “Ah, Remus,” he said. “All these years, and I continue to underestimate you.”
Not sure what he ought to make of that, Remus said, “This past year, it’s been about keeping an ear to the ground, dropping in here or there to see what they were saying, which way they were leaning. Keeping a low profile, burning no bridges but making no ties. But how much have I ever really learned, spending a night with a pack, then moving on? If I’m to do this, I want to do it properly. Which means choosing one pack and joining them fully.”
Dumbledore nodded, all traces of his smile gone. “It will be dangerous.”
“Do you wish to go because it will be dangerous?”
“No,” Remus said, then he stopped and gave that question the consideration it deserved. He knew what Dumbledore was asking: Was Remus running into the embrace of danger because he would rather sacrifice himself for the sake of the Order than go on living with his grief? “No,” he said again, finally. “I want to go because there’s at least a hope that it might help.”
Dumbledore nodded, still grave.
“I’ve thought it over,” Remus said, “and I won’t go as a missionary. I won’t go there telling them that rejoining human society would be better than what they have now, or better than anything Voldemort can offer them. How can I claim to know that’s true? I don’t know who they are or what they need. And I don’t want to lie anymore. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not. So before you suggest I spin some story to gain their trust, pretend I’ve been rejected by human society and am seeking refuge… It won’t work. They can smell deceit, and they’ll know if I’m lying.”
Remus could lie well when he had to, but not well enough to fool a pack of werewolves over the long term. Because yes, he had often been rejected in his life, but never completely, never by everyone. And for better or worse, there were humans for whom he cared deeply.
“If you were to say you were disappointed with the life human society has afforded you – would that be a lie?” Dumbledore asked quietly.
Remus swallowed. “No. I suppose not.”
“Or that you want a better life for werewolves, within or without the society we call human, and that you’re searching for the best way to make that idea a reality?”
“That wouldn’t be a lie,” Remus agreed.
“Or, perhaps, that you’ve lived all your life among humans, and now that you sense a great battle coming, you feel a need to live among your own kind and understand what this fight will mean for them?”
Remus shivered. “No. None of that is a lie. I can tell them all those things honestly.”
Dumbledore gave him a small smile, and gently swirled the tea in his cup. “You’re a very good man, Remus. Please don’t forget that.”
Remus squared his shoulders. “There’s one other thing. I will never run with Fenrir Greyback’s pack.”
Dumbledore’s expression turned grave. “And I would never ask you to.”
Remus nodded. “Then I’ll go.”
– – – – –
Arthur must have waited up for him.
Remus returned to the Burrow late, after his meeting with Dumbledore. He undid the layers of defensive charms that protected the back door of the house and let himself inside. He hadn’t wanted Molly and Arthur to show him their defensive spells – it was yet another vulnerability, when they’d already shared so much – but the alternative would have been to leave them waiting up for him when he went outside to walk and walk at all hours of the night through the very worst of his grief, so Remus had acquiesced.
Tonight, though, he found Arthur at the kitchen table.
“Ah, Remus, hullo,” Arthur said, as if it were commonplace for him to be sitting alone at the table in the dim kitchen, and just as normal for Remus to be passing through so late at night. Arthur had a bottle of beer in front of him, a rare sight in the Weasley household. “Like to join me for a drink?”
Remus blinked at him. “Sure,” he said. Then, “Sorry I’m back so late. I had a meeting with Dumbledore.”
Arthur’s tense posture eased at those words. A meeting with Dumbledore, that was an understandable reason to be out after midnight. Remus knew the real reason Arthur was sitting up so late was out of concern for Remus, with his uncontrollable grief and his restless nights. It was time for Remus to get himself under control and stop worrying his friends.
Arthur waved his wand and called, “Accio beer,” and a second bottle slid out of the cold cupboard, landed on the table and neatly uncapped itself.
Feeling now how weary he was, Remus slid gratefully into the seat across from Arthur and lifted the bottle. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Arthur replied. He took a sip, then ventured, “What was your meeting with Dumbledore about? Anything you’re allowed to talk about?”
Remus considered it and decided, if he couldn’t trust Arthur, who could he trust? “I think it’s all right to give you the general outline,” he said. He paused, running a finger around the lip of the bottle. “I’ll be trying to gain acceptance as a member of one of Britain’s werewolf packs.”
“Ah, another spying mission,” Arthur said sympathetically.
“Not precisely. If all goes well, I’ll be living with them for a while.”
Arthur’s pale eyebrows shot up. “Living with them! Why?”
Remus sighed, finger still tracing the shape of the bottle in front of him. “I’ve spent this last year travelling the continent, visiting different werewolf groups, and all I’ve really learned is that a day here or there isn’t enough for me to get a full picture of what they think and feel. It’s time for me to go and live among my kind, and try to understand how they see the world.”
“They’re not your kind,” Arthur said, and Remus glanced up, surprised by the fierceness in his voice. “Remus, you’re one of us. You’re one of our kind.”
“I – I suppose so,” Remus agreed, touched by Arthur’s support despite the factual inaccuracy of the statement. “But you can’t deny I’m uniquely qualified for this. It would be remiss of me to waste the opportunity.”
Arthur rested his drink on the table and whistled softly. “So you’re going to live with werewolves. For how long?”
“As long as necessary. It’s hard to say until I’m there. I’ll most likely start out around the next full moon – it’s generally the time when werewolves are at their most receptive to outsiders.”
“Merlin, Remus. Molly’s going to be distraught when she hears this. Speaking of which…” Arthur rolled his upright beer bottle thoughtfully back and forth between both hands. “Have you talked to Tonks yet?”
Remus looked at him, trying to keep his expression carefully blank. “Why would I need to talk to Tonks?”
“Remus,” Arthur said, and Remus read everything he needed to know in the tone of Arthur’s voice. Apparently his connection with Tonks, which he’d tried so hard to keep strictly private, was not so secret after all.
Remus dropped his head into his hands. “How many people know?”
“Not everyone!” Arthur hastened to assure him. “Certainly not everyone. But for those of us who are paying attention, and who care about you… Well, I’d have to be blind, frankly.”
Remus groaned, but forced himself to lift his head and meet Arthur’s gaze. “I’ve been a fool.”
Arthur gave a slow shake of his head. “I’m not sure anyone else really shares your definition of ‘fool,’ Remus.”
“I let us grow close, which I never should have done, even though I knew better. Now all I can do is try to reverse that damage.”
Arthur stared at him. “You’re not serious?”
“I’m very much serious. And in fact, going away is the best thing I could do. At least I can give Dora a chance to move on.”
Arthur was still staring at Remus as if he had said something inconceivably strange. “But – did I misunderstand? I was quite sure – I mean, you do love her, don’t you?”
“That doesn’t enter into it,” Remus said firmly.
“Arthur, please don’t argue with me. I’ve done enough arguing with myself, and this is for the best.”
Arthur continued to stare in disbelief, and for a moment Remus thought he really was going to continue to argue. But finally Arthur said, still sounding shocked, “So, er, the werewolves…where will this be, exactly? If you’re allowed to say?”
Remus grasped gratefully onto this less painful topic. “There are four active packs still living in different parts of the British Isles; we’ve decided I’ll try to join the one in Scotland. They live on the moors there, near the edges of the Highlands, and they’re a bit more open-minded than the others, from what I’ve seen. Less likely to attack a stranger simply for being there.”
Arthur’s eyebrows rose again. “Will it be very dangerous?”
“Not particularly,” Remus said, far more breezily than he felt. “I know what I’m doing,” he added, which was at least halfway to the truth. “The members of this pack don’t behave savagely, under normal circumstances. They don’t set out to turn humans, not like Greyback and his pack do. Mostly they keep to themselves and hunt animals, and they don’t bother humans if humans don’t bother them.”
“But if humans do approach them? Or, I mean, a werewolf who’s spent a great deal of time in the company of humans?”
Remus smiled wryly. “I go in with my belly low to the ground, head straight for the Alpha and bare my throat. Metaphorically speaking, I mean,” he added, when Arthur’s eyes widened in alarm. “Truly, Arthur, I’ve been doing this for months now. I know how to approach an Alpha werewolf.”
“Goodness,” Arthur said, taking a shaky sip of beer. “I certainly hope you do.”
– – – – –
Remus stood in the doorway and gazed at Tonks across the dimly lit pub.
The place was crowded with Muggle employees loosening their ties over a pint of bitter, but Remus’ eyes found Tonks unerringly through the throng. She was at a small table near the back, hunched over a pint glass, and she looked terrible. Beautiful – she was never not beautiful – but so weary. And her hair was its natural brown, never a good sign.
In avoiding Tonks, Remus knew, he had been taking the coward’s route for too long.
He worked his way through the noisy crowd to the bar and ordered himself the cheapest cider on the menu, more for something to do with his hands than because he wanted to drink it. Then he crossed the room and slid onto the seat opposite Tonks.
Tonks looked up, and the smile that swept across her face in that first moment of her surprise erased some of the weariness there. “Remus!” she cried. She started to reach out towards him, then arrested the movement and jerkily returned her hand to her glass instead.
Remus gripped the edge of the table with both hands, because he didn’t know if he could do this, sit across a table from Tonks and not care.
She slipped her wand from her sleeve and cast a spell that would mute their voices in the ears of anyone nearby. Then she asked softly, “How are you doing?”
Remus nodded automatically. “I’m fine.”
“Remus.” Frustration rendered her voice ragged. “How are you really?”
Remus lifted his cider and sipped it, tried to focus himself around the sour, cheap taste of apple on his tongue. “Dora –” he began, then stopped himself. “I’m doing all right,” he repeated.
Tonks scowled, then visibly forced herself not to scowl. “Okay,” she said. “I’m glad.”
“I’ve been staying at the Burrow,” he said, for something to say. “But I’ll clear out before Harry arrives. Molly has her hands full enough, with Hermione arriving, and Fleur. And there are Ministry security experts in and out every day, double-checking everything before Harry gets there.”
Tonks’ mouth twisted in concern. “Where will you stay?”
“At Headquarters, if Dumbledore finds it’s safe to return there.” There would be work to do to re-establish the place, and Remus might as well be the one to do it. No reason not to return to 12 Grimmauld Place except his own ghosts, and he had lived with those long enough.
Emotions flickered across Tonks’ face. “You’re going back to Sirius’ house?”
“I’ll be fine,” Remus said, because if he said it aloud enough times, it might become true. It had worked last time, hadn’t it, fifteen years ago? Clumsily, he shifted the conversation away from himself. “What about you? Is that, er –” He gestured at her brown hair. “Is that a fashion choice?”
Tonks blew out a frustrated breath. “It’s been getting harder to change my appearance. Since – since Sirius. That’s never happened to me before. I guess it’ll get easier again in a while.” Then she lifted miserable eyes to meet his and blurted out, “I’d understand if you blame me. For Sirius.”
Remus felt the shock of what she’d said in the centre of his chest. The desire to respond by reaching out to her was so strong, but he mustn’t, he mustn’t. “Why in the name of all magic would I blame you?”
The pain in Tonks’ face was unbearable. “Because I was the one fighting Bellatrix. Before. And I didn’t stop her.”
Remus shivered at the memory of Tonks lying chalk white and deathly still amidst the rubble on the steps in the Death Chamber. “Dora, I don’t blame you for that. I could never blame you for that. I’m only glad she didn’t kill you, too. If there is fault, it’s mine. I should never have allowed Sirius to come with us that night.”
“Don’t blame yourself,” Tonks said fiercely. “I don’t blame you for what Sirius chose to do.”
Staring down at the glass in his hands, Remus said softly, “Harry must surely blame me, though.”
“What does that mean?” Tonks’ voice was sharp with worry.
“I held him back,” Remus said. He cleared his throat against the growing tightness there, but it didn’t help. “When Sirius fell – in that first moment, when he’d only just fallen, Harry was screaming, he was trying to go after Sirius, he thought he could still pull him back from behind the veil – and – I stopped him. I held him back.”
“Yes, because otherwise Harry would have died, too.”
“And I would never let that happen. But perhaps he was right. Perhaps there was still time to pull Sirius back, and I took that choice away from him.”
“Remus.” Tonks’ voice had taken on a deeper note of alarm now. “I know I’m not an Unspeakable, but I do know that’s not how it works. Once you pass through something like that, that’s it. You don’t come back.”
“Maybe not,” Remus said quietly. “But I can’t help wondering. It was my fault Sirius was at the Ministry that night. I should have been the one to try to bring him back.”
“Then you would be dead,” Tonks said, her voice rising. “Do you hear what you’re saying?”
“It’s my duty to protect others. That’s always been my duty. And I failed.”
Tonks’ eyes were wide with alarm. This pain, this worry – this was why he had to let her go.
Quickly, before he could lose his nerve, Remus said, “Dora, I’ll be going away soon, for the Order. By the end of the summer, and perhaps for a long time. I wouldn’t want you to – to wait, or to expect that – things could eventually be again as they were before.”
Her mouth rounded in surprise. “Where are you going?”
“On another mission for Dumbledore, but for longer this time. So, truly, it would be better –”
“That’s not an answer,” Tonks growled. “Remus, where are you going?”
“Does it matter where?”
“It matters to me!”
His resolve to protect her from the dangerous details was crumbling. Remus closed his eyes for one brief moment and sighed. “I will be trying to gain acceptance to live full-time with one of the British werewolf packs. The one in Scotland.”
“What!” Tonks yelled. Her glass slid from her shaking hand, skidding wetly across a pool of condensation on the table. “You WHAT?”
Remus reached out and halted the glass’ progress. Tonks grabbed it back, then shoved it distractedly aside. Her face had gone white.
“You – you – you bloody idiot. What, are you trying to get yourself killed? I thought you’d gone to all the packs already. I thought you’d done everything Dumbledore expected of you. What good does it do anybody, you risking your life?”
Remus glanced around them – yes, their raised voices were beginning to attract attention, breaking beyond the confines of a muffling charm that wasn’t meant to contain more than a conversational level of noise. Leaning in so he could speak quietly, Remus murmured, “There’s a chance I can forge real contacts, establish allies, if I stick with one group long enough to build up trust. The Order needs this, and I’m the only one who can do it.”
Her voice shaking and her elbows planted on the table, her words quiet but furious, Tonks said, “What if I asked you not to go? Would that change anything?”
Remus shook his head, throat tight. “Dora, I have to do this.”
She was breathing hard. “I know things are awful right now, I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through, but don’t – don’t throw yourself into something this dangerous. Please. I’m worried about you. You’re making me worried.”
“I’ll be fine –”
“I’m trying to be understanding here, okay? But it’s hard. This is really hard. And I want – I still hope –” She scowled down at the scuffed surface of the wooden table, then back up at him. “Remus, after we’ve got through this worst part, I hope –”
“No,” he said, and he heard how harsh his voice sounded, in the urgency of needing to make her understand. “I made a – mistake. I’m sorry for it.”
Tonks glared at him. “What was the ‘mistake’? Was it me? Am I your mistake?”
“I don’t mean it like that.”
“Then how do you mean it, Remus?”
This shouldn’t be so hard. Remus knew he was right. He clenched his glass between his hands. “The mistake, the only mistake, came in allowing us to become close. You deserve better, so much better, and I…I would always put you in danger.”
Tonks waved an arm in frustration, and from force of habit Remus shot out one hand again to catch her glass before she knocked it over. He righted the glass, and Tonks glared down at it, then at him. “You know what?” she said, her voice fierce and low. “Tell me that you’re happier not being together. Right now. Can you look me in the eye and tell me you don’t want this? Because if you can tell me that and mean it, I’ll get up and walk away right now.”
She glared across the table at him expectantly. And Remus tried and tried, but he couldn’t say it. He couldn’t bring himself to lie to Tonks. But he couldn’t allow himself to tell her what she wanted to hear either.
“I’m leaving,” he said doggedly. “I can’t promise anything beyond that.”
“And will you keep yourself safe?” Tonks demanded. “Are you even going to try?”
“Of course I will!” Remus said, feeling irked at last that everyone seemed to think he had a death wish. “I’m doing this for the Order, not for a lark. But I’ll stay as long as the Order needs me to stay. My duty is to the Order first.”
“At the expense of yourself?”
Remus had no answer to that. This was how it had always been.
Tonks pushed herself up from her seat, her breath ragged. “You know what? Fine. You’re always going to do whatever you want, aren’t you, no matter what anybody else thinks. No matter how much anybody else cares. You want to walk away, you want to throw yourself into danger, fine. Since apparently it doesn’t matter to you what anyone who cares about you thinks, you just go on and do whatever you want, Remus.”
She slammed her hand down on the table, then turned and stormed away, leaving a startled swath of interrupted conversations in her wake as she burst out of the muffled bubble of their conversation and through the room at large. The pub door slammed shut behind her.