It never ceased to amaze her how quiet the Castle could be in the middle of the night. The quiet made her feel like every single sound she inadvertently made was going to echo all the way down the halls to the teachers' quarters, and she was concentrating much harder on not making any noise than she ever had on any of her class work. She'd already been informed in no uncertain terms that if she got caught roaming around after lights out again she'd be facing severe detention and worse yet, an owl home to her parents.
Her mother would give her "that look" and her hair would shock bright yellow from the stress and stay that way for a week.
Madame Pomfrey had locked the doors to the Hospital wing, but a quick Alohomora worked as well as a real key. Once she was inside, she could see that his bed was at the far end of the room, well away from where any other students might be put. She stopped a few meters away to just look at him for a long moment.
The first thing that came to anyone's mind when they heard that Charlie Weasley had landed in the infirmary was Quidditch practice. Surely, it had to be because he'd fallen off his broom and ended up with a concussion, or two broken arms, or maybe his legs! In reality, it hadn't been a rogue bludger, or a dueling accident, or an unfortunate potions mishap that had felled the great Quidditch champion...
It was just the muggle flu.
Of course, in his defense, wizards weren't used to getting muggle colds and flus. Muggle-born witches and wizards were already in school before flu season really got started, and Madame Pomfrey always kept a very close eye on the students that went home over the winter hols to make sure that they were quarantined and treated if they brought back any kind of sniffles along with their new books and mittens. Percy'd decided that Charlie must've gotten it from their father who had gotten it from some of the Muggles he'd come into contact with through work. In any case, he was supposed to be under quarantine to help prevent the spread of the illness so she hadn't been able to see him.
Lying in the hospital bed, he looked far less impressive than he usually did. Sweaty (but not in the attractive post-game sort of way), pale (even more so than usual - his freckles were standing out like he had Paisley Popping Pox), and his mouth was hanging open with a wet area on his pillow where he'd been drooling in his sleep. Right now he was snoring, with a cough thrown in every so often for good measure.
She wasn't entirely sure why she was there, risking another detention and her mother's wrath, but the last three days without seeing him in classes had been awful. Emma Hidgeforth had berated her for looking like a love-sick puppy and she'd been right. In private, it was easy for her to admit to herself that she, Nymphadora Tonks, was completely head-over-heels in love with Charlie Weasley. It wasn't a hard thing to be, and she knew she wasn't the only one. She liked to think that she was special though, and different - well above the normal flutterings of all the other teenage girls, but she wasn't, not at all. Ever since he'd gotten into a fight with Nate Billgerbog in third year over whether or not it was appropriate to call her a multi-coloured freak, she'd been in love with him.
Just as she was getting close to the bed, he stirred in his sleep, and she froze. His eyes opened slowly and he blinked several times as if he was trying to bring her into focus.
"Dora?" he mumbled softly, and tried to raise up onto his elbows, but after about halfway he sunk back down onto the bed with a small moan.
"Uh... hey. Charlie," she whispered quietly. Tonks glanced around quickly to make sure that Madam Pomfrey wasn't sneaking up behind them, or something like that.
"Hey. What're you doin' here?"
"I... I came to see you. You haven't been in class..."
"It's the middle of the night."
"I know. I just..."
"'s ok. I don' mind- kinda lonely down here...," He tried to sit up again, and she moved quickly over to the side of the bed to help him this time. It was a bit awkward, because she was suddenly very aware of him (and herself) but she managed to help him struggle into a sitting position. Once he was settled, he weakly patted the bed beside him. Nervously, she perched on the edge of the bed, then became irritated with herself for how she was feeling and behaving - like a silly, flighty girl rather than her usual no-nonsense self. With that in mind, she settled herself more securely on the bed. It put them hip-to-hip, and a little thrill ran through her to be so close to him.
"You missed the exam in Potions today." Talking, even in a whisper was dangerous, but she wanted the distraction. And she missed hearing his voice.
"How'd it go?" he asked, seeming a bit more awake than he had been a few moments ago.
"Boring. Hard. We had to create dreaming draughts - but specific ones, not just general ones."
"Glad I missed it then. I don't know how to do those yet." He was shivering a little bit, and she laid a hand on his forehead.
"You're running a fever, aren't you?" she asked, frowning.
"Yeah. Have been all day."
Tonks looked around until she saw a wash basin on a nearby table. Scooting off the bed, she went and got the cloth lying next to it and wet it. Then she stood close and laid it on his head like she remembered her mother doing when she'd been sick as a child. "Does that help at all?"
"Dunnow, but it feels good." He smiled at her, and her heart flipped over. Oh yes, she was completely gone over him, even though they were supposed to be best mates. It was stupid, she chided herself, because he was going to be leaving as soon as they graduated. She remembered quite clearly him telling the entire Care of Magical Creatures class about getting accepted at the Dragon Preserve in Romania.
"Are you really leaving?" she blurted out before she could stop herself. She felt her hair change color with embarrassment and hoped that it was dark enough he wouldn't notice.
His eyebrows drew together in confusion. "I don't think I can go much of anywhere right now. I can barely walk across the room without help. Dunnow how Muggles stand it, and Dad says this happens to them every year."
Tonks scooted back onto the bed. "I meant... after school. Are you really going to go to Romania?"
"Sure. What else would I do?"
"You could always try out for Quidditch," she suggested. "As good as you are, you'd probably get your pick of teams." She wished she would stop talking, but she no longer seemed to be the one in control of her voice. If he played Quidditch, he'd still be around, here in England or Ireland at the worst. She'd get to see him sometimes. Romania was farther than the Floo Network reached, so he would only be able to travel by Portkey.
He shook his head. "I've been dragon-mad since I was three. Bill talked Mum and Dad into getting me a book on them - I think 'cause he wanted it, actually - for my birthday. I couldn't read yet, but Mum would read it to me, and I spent hours looking at the pictures, watching them fly around and scorch things and thought it looked like the best fun I could ever have. It's why I started flying - so I could be like a dragon. Quidditch just seemed like an excuse to do more of that. But it's not something I want to do forever."
She realized he was wonderfully oblivious to the fact that she was on the verge of pouring her entire heart out at his feet. She imagined he still saw her as the grubby-kneed little girl that his mum used to babysit on occasion, or the Potions lab-partner that he could always count on to help him with last minute revising.
"Hey - you okay?" he asked suddenly, and Tonks realized with horror that she was very near crying.
She rubbed vigorously at her eyes, and nodded her head sharply. "Fine. Well, no - I don't think I feel very well myself."
He seemed to accept that at face value, and frowned. "Don't you go and catch this too - Madam Pomfrey won't ever forgive us. Though, I can't say I'd mind the company in here."
"Here," Charlie said, and shifted sideways a bit more. "You can share with me, like when we were kids and you stayed over." He patted the space next to him again, only this time closer to the pillow.
"Madam Pomfrey will kill us in the morning, you know that, right?"
He shrugged. "We'll just tell her you felt like you were getting sick and didn't want to infect anyone else."
"Oh yes, that will explain why we're both lying here nicely," she mumbled sarcastically, but she was smiling as she stretched out on the bed next to him. It felt awkward now, but it was a lot like how they used to sprawl on the grass behind the Burrow in the summer when she would come to visit. He was starting to drift back off to sleep again, and he looped a flannel-clad arm over her mid-section. It made her feel like there was a whole swarm of butterflies inside her stomach. Staring at the shadows on the ceiling she wondered if she'd ever get up the courage to tell him how she really felt.