It was February thirteenth, and Remus still hadn’t bought Tonks’s gift. Well…he had bought a gift, of course. He wasn’t one to leave things until the last minute and had never taken much enjoyment in eleventh-hour shopping; unlike many of his fellow men, he found the experience stressful and tiresome. His opinion of Valentine’s Day fell in the same dismal region. Since his adolescence, when steady girlfriends had been few and far between, he had sustained barely a nodding acquaintanceship with the ridiculous holiday and would have been perfectly happy for things to remain so.
He shrugged into his heavy coat, doing up the buttons with careful fingers. The second one from the top was loose; he’d have to attend to it later. If the forecast on the wireless was to be believed, this stretch of particularly foul weather was due to last some weeks. It would be a matter of common sense to purchase a new coat, but, wretchedly shabby though it might be, he couldn’t bring himself to discard this one. It had belonged to his grandfather, he believed, and carried a sense of history. And the scent of mothballs, according to Tonks.
Smiling a little at the echo of her voice in his head, Remus picked up the small paper bag on the bed and tucked it into his pocket. It was a feeble offering, there were no two ways about it. He certainly wasn’t keeping it himself, however, so he’d have to give it to her tonight and look for something better in the morning. As if he hadn’t already scoured the shops in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Perhaps he’d best venture into London. With the variety of stores there, surely he’d find something that would appeal to Tonks’s eclectic tastes. And hopefully satisfy what a harassed Bill Weasley had assured him were the hallmarks of an acceptable Valentine’s Day gift. Gently touching the bag once more, Remus sighed. He’d felt foolish enough purchasing it that it would probably endear itself to Tonks, but it was neither exorbitantly expensive nor sappily sentimental and obviously wouldn’t pass muster with a woman like Fleur. A faint, wistful remembrance of his bachelor days – when the only concern about the fourteenth of February had been the possibility of its marking the full moon – was abruptly replaced by a sense of deep gratitude that he was at least spared Bill’s troubles. Poor bloke. Remus might be rather dismayed by Tonks’s apparent worship of Saint Valentine, but at least she hadn’t asked for stocks in a diamond mine. He supposed he oughtn’t be surprised that she was so enthusiastic about tomorrow’s horrors. The holiday gloried in an excess of emotion and the colour pink. It suited Tonks from her candy curls to her painted toes.
Securing the warded latch on the window, Remus reached for his wand, barely holding his shudder as he scanned the room in one last surveillance check. Frankly, he couldn’t wait to leave the place. The prospect of Molly Weasley’s cooking was always enticing, but he would have accepted an invitation to tea with Dolores Umbridge if it entailed an evening away from Spinner’s End. If there was one place he’d never imagined residing, it was Severus Snape’s decaying cottage. Fortunately, he was sharing one week shifts with the other Order members, which meant he could fully escape his duty on Saturday. Every time he left, it was like a welcome gust of fresh, untainted air. He was suffocating in the cramped, dark rooms. Tonks had been no less sickened by the assignment, and they both privately considered it futile. Snape could claim many sins, more than Remus had ever imagined, but blatant stupidity was not among their number. He’d either fled to his master or had abandoned ship on all sides; he wouldn’t be coming home any time soon.
Hestia Jones had kindly offered to house-sit for an evening; he could hear her humming in the living room and silently saluted such fortitude of character. Five minutes spent watching dust settle on Snape’s moldy books usually denigrated his mood to the point where he was more likely to burst into tears than song. He stuck his head through the doorway to offer one more word of heartfelt thanks, and she waved him off cheerfully enough. He still harboured strong suspicions that Tonks had wheedled her into the job, but he wasn’t about to complain or nobly refuse. The temptation of a warm fire, wonderful cooking and even better company was too much for a simple man’s resolve. Twisting his wand, he heard the familiar pop in his eardrums before the tight, nauseating pressure squeezed his body into uncomfortable proportions. Even the unpleasantness of Apparition was a welcome discomfort tonight, however, if it meant a tighter grasp on his sanity than was permitted by hours in Spinner’s End.
When the dizzying rush of sensation stopped, his body was assailed by cozy warmth, his nostrils with the delicious smell of hot pastry. He opened his eyes to find the soothing sight of Molly, clothed in an apron and smudges of flour, with an open cookbook balanced on her arm. Several pots bubbled on the stove, wooden spoons stirring in their depths, and the aroma brought his feet an instinctive step closer. Her smile when she saw him was genuine but weary.
“Remus, dear, hello. You’re right on time.” Her voice was infused with determined cheer and the maternal attitude that never failed to reduce him to a bashful schoolboy. The fact that she hadn’t so much as flinched at his abrupt appearance, Remus noted, was as telling a sign as any of her preoccupation. They were all worried about Harry, Ron and Hermione, who had been in patchy contact for the past few weeks, but he realized that Molly probably felt it most keenly. She was terrified for her missing children and reluctant to reveal that fear to the ones who remained behind.
“Hello, Molly, how are you? Everything smells wonderful,” he said sincerely, looking around. Crookshanks was snoring on an armchair, but the house felt almost spookily quiet. “I bumped into Arthur yesterday, so I know he’s overworked but well. Have you heard from young Ginny recently?” He carefully avoided mention of Ron and hoped that he wasn’t straying into sensitive territory.
Molly sighed heavily and slid a tray of berry tarts into the oven. “She writes now and then. Not as often as I’d like, of course. I expect she’s saving her letters for someone else. She’s…she’s safe. At Hogwarts. It’s safe.”
Nowhere was safe, not anymore, and Ginny was probably desperately unhappy in that sanctuary. Remus didn’t bother to emphasise the obvious. Deep down, Molly knew.
“Oh, heavens,” she said suddenly, closing the oven door and straightening to peer out the window. “It’s starting to rain again. You really ought to find Tonks, Remus; I meant to go out there myself, but the potatoes boiled over, and it slipped my mind. She was walking over by the pond when I last looked out.”
Remus switched his gaze from the drab view of rain-drenched trees to Molly’s disapproving frown. “Tonks is here already?” he asked in surprise. “But…what on earth is she doing out in this weather?”
“Oh, she insisted on “blowing off the cobwebs”. I warned her that it isn’t wise to linger long out of doors, especially at night, but…” Molly broke off and shrugged. She wore the expression of one well-acquainted with Nymphadora Tonks. “Don’t use any magic out there, if you can possibly help it. Bill’s updating our perimeter wards at the moment, and minor spells interfere with the Charms weave. Not seriously, but Arthur says it’s better not to test it.”
The advice followed him out the door as he tugged his collar up against the sudden rush of cold. It was a perfectly miserable night, not at all windy, but drizzling with the damp that managed to pervade all layers of clothing.
“Nymphadora,” he called sharply, searching the backyard through the gathering gloom. Shielding his face with his hand, he peered up at the sky. It was dark and heavy with clouds, any hint of stars completely obscured. Despite the distinctly unromantic dreariness, however, he took a moment to be thankful for the hidden moon in its new state. Whatever the faults of the heavens tonight, the lack of his old boggart was their saving grace. “Nymphadora!”
Where the devil was the woman?
Concern gathered in his stomach as he stood alone in the Weasleys’ garden, listening to the faint rustle of leaves and a series of muted grunts that he dearly hoped were emanating from a gnome. Just as nagging worry peaked into serious fear, a soft laugh drifted down about his ears.
“I’m glad you’re so eager to see me, love, but there’s no need to get all hot and bothered about it.” Tonks’s voice was light and teasing, and raked like jagged nails on his agitated temper. “You know I’m yours for the taking.”
Remus peered up at the border of trees by the pond. Finally, he spotted a magenta trainer, swinging airily between the boughs of a large oak. The frivolous shoe was attached to a familiar denim-clad leg and led up to Tonks’s smiling face, surrounded by a cloud of pale pink hair. The relief he felt was tremendous in its intensity and roughened his reply to a sharp edge.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Top marks for observation there, professor.” She grinned, completely unperturbed by his angry concern. “I’m sitting in a tree, you silly man.”
Remus felt his eyebrow arching before he could stop it. Tonks often commented on what she called his “who is this dimwit before me?” look. “It’s raining, Nymphadora. And extremely cold.”
“Crikey, does the Ministry know about you?” she asked, wide-eyed. “Surveillance skills like that, you’ll make head office in a week.”
“Tonks!” His frustration was largely born out of discomfort and the remnants of a momentary but very real terror. “Get down from there at once. You’ll catch a chill.”
She regarded him silently for several seconds, unexpectedly lapsing into seriousness. “No,” she said eventually, calmly. “I’m not done up here yet.”
“And what are you doing up there? Knitting?” he asked sarcastically, shifting his feet in the muddy grass.
“It is possible to have thoughts inside, you know. By the fire. With a plate of food.” Remus sighed and unconsciously gave in. He was able to recognize by now when Tonks was having one of her moments. It was no good pushing her, or she’d dig her heels in further. “I’ll just wait here until you’re done thinking, then, shall I?”
He had no intention of leaving her in an open garden, in the twilight. Molly was right; it was a sad fact that even the settings of the happiest of memories had become too dangerous for complacency.
“Come on up,” Tonks suggested. “It’s really quite nice up here.”
“I haven’t climbed a tree since I was a boy of twelve.” He stared straight ahead, determined to ignore her large, beseeching eyes. “I don’t intend to rectify that situation tonight. Especially not when it’s dark and cold, and a perfectly good meal is waiting for us in the kitchen.”
“Do men ever think of anything except their stomachs?” Tonks complained. “Remus, come on. It’s Valentine’s Day. Well, almost.”
“You say that like it’s something sacred,” he muttered, eyeing the quivering leaves and privately wondering when he’d lost the ability to refuse her anything. Of all the stupidly indulgent fools. He knew perfectly well that his battered limbs would regret this behaviour but was aware that she wouldn’t stop short of hauling him up by the ear. “How did you get up there? Molly’s asked that we don’t use magic outside.”
Tonks laughed and leaned back against the heavy trunk. She looked like a wood sprite, nestled in the foliage and waiting to make mischief. “We’re doing things the old-fashioned way, maestro. No wand required.” Pink eyelashes fluttered outrageously. “Your arms and legs look pretty fit to me. Or do you need a hand?”
“No, I do not,” Remus retorted through clenched teeth. With a loud, grumbling curse, he gripped the closest branch and swung himself up. He wasn’t a big man, thank Merlin, but every muscle in his torso immediately branded him the worst kind of idiot. As he maneuvered himself onto the bough at her side, an ominous tearing sound issued from the hem of his trousers. Ruefully, he inspected the damage, reaching to poke at the small rip above his sock. It was probably a lost cause; at this rate, another patch would barely go noticed. He raised his eyes and encountered Tonks’s sparkling gaze.
“You love me,” she announced smugly. Tiny dimples bracketed her delighted smile.
“I’m growing less fond of you by the minute,” he informed her crossly, pulling his coat tighter across his chest and refusing to be softened. With any luck, Molly would be too distracted to leave the kitchen in search of them. He cringed to imagine the sight they made: a winsome bright-haired minx and a middle-aged werewolf perched in a wet oak tree.
To his surprise and slight annoyance, as he was in no mood to make concessions for Tonks’s impulsiveness, it was not as unpleasant as he’d imagined. The thick span of leaves guarded against all but the occasional drizzle of rain, and he could smell pine in the still air.
“Do you make a habit of this?” he asked with reasonable curiosity, and Tonks turned to pull a face at him.
“You think I’m completely daft, don’t you?” He opened his mouth to reply, and she shook her head. “Don’t answer that.”
A drop of water splashed on her cheek and rolled down to the corner of her mouth. Remus followed its progress and fought the sudden urge to kiss her. Heaven knows, this situation was ludicrous enough without the Weasleys discovering them…cavorting in their garden.
“I just came out for a walk,” she said suddenly, looking out through the green canopy towards the Burrow. Remus could just glimpse the side of the west wall from his vantage point and wondered what Tonks could see that he couldn’t. It occurred to him, in a drifting, elusive thought, that he often felt like that. She had a way of viewing the world that was entirely unique in his experience, and he rather envied her for it.
“I wasn’t planning to stay out here long,” she continued, picking idly at her red jumper. “The weather isn’t good. And I know it’s dangerous to be anywhere alone, especially in the dark.”
He refrained from comment.
“But I was looking at this tree…and the next thing I knew, I was climbing it. I feel like you can see everything from here.”
Unable to keep quiet, Remus said dryly, “It isn’t Mount Everest, Nymphadora. I don’t know about you, but I see a wedge of stone wall and a great number of leaves.”
“Even though it’s impractical and even though it’s dangerous,” she continued, ignoring him, “we’re sitting in this tree because we want to.”
“Because you want to.”
“I’m taking a stand.”
“I wouldn’t,” he advised. “The bark is slippery.”
Tonks shot him an exasperated stare.
“Don’t be so literal,” she scolded, gesturing so wildly that he feared a rapid descent would follow. He reached for her, and she batted his fingers away impatiently. “I’m not going to fall.”
“Yes, you always say that,” he said pointedly, seizing and maintaining a firm grip on her arm.
“If you’re going to manhandle me, Remus, you could at least make it interesting and shift to the right a little.”
She smirked at him and settled back again. “All right, don’t get your knickers in a twist. I’ll behave. At least while Molly’s within a hundred feet.” She shuddered. “Can you imagine? It’d be like getting caught shagging by your mum. Actually, no. Scratch that. I did get caught shagging by my mother. Molly would be much worse.”
Remus closed his eyes.
“I hope you’re not counting to ten again,” Tonks warned, her tone suggesting that he proceed with caution. “It’s very rude when you do that.”
“It’s also rude to malinger out of doors and be late to tea when you’re an invited guest,” he said with exaggerated patience. “That being the case, shall we go back?”
“I asked Molly if she needed any help,” she retorted, a bit huffily. “She was quite…adamant that she didn’t.”
Remus remembered very well what had occurred the last time Tonks had offered enthusiastic assistance in the kitchen and suspected that Molly was equally blessed with a sound memory.
“Besides, she said it wouldn’t be ready for at least half an hour,” Tonks finished triumphantly.
“And when did she tell you that?” he enquired mildly. Tonks was perfectly capable of whiling away a good hour doing absolutely nothing and, as much as he adored her, was the last person he would accuse of efficient timekeeping.
“Twenty minutes ago.” She pulled back her sleeve and displayed the child’s watch she wore, with its garishly patterned face. “I’ve been checking, see? I knew you’d have an aneurism if I was late.”
Ignoring the dig, Remus focused his disgust on her wrist. “I can’t believe you’re wearing that ridiculous watch.”
She cupped a protective hand over it and glared at him. “I love this watch. You gave it to me!”
“As a very poor joke,” he said, sighing. “I didn’t expect you to actually wear it.”
He really ought to have known better, and Tonks, shaking her head mournfully, apparently agreed. “How little you know me.”
“I know you very well, thank you.” He slid his hand down her arm and pushed his fingers through hers, feeling an unexpected need for contact.
She smiled at him. Her cheeks were flushed, and strands of vivid hair fell in disarray across her forehead. A wave of affectionate desire kicked Remus in the stomach, and he tightened his hold.
“Did you ever think you’d be here?” she asked abruptly, her gaze fastened on their joined hands.
“Sitting in a tree, in the dark, in the rain?” He quirked a brow at her. “I didn’t, at that. Extraordinary, the things I’ve found myself doing since you came crashing into my life.”
Tonks bit her lip, not cracking a smile at his levity. “No, I mean, here. With me. About to celebrate Valentine’s Day with me.”
Remus carefully unfurled his other arm from the tree, releasing his death grip on the opposite bough, and touched her face.
“No, Nymphadora, I never envisioned this.” He smoothed away her quick frown. “I never imagined I would be this lucky.”
His voice was rough, and he didn’t attempt to hide the fact. Stroking her smooth cheek, he watched the hated vulnerability retreat into hiding.
“Oh,” she said huskily, then beamed at him. Beautiful, bright, bubbly Tonks was back in force. “I would never have thought, either. It’s what I always wanted, you know.”
“To sit in a tree with a werewolf?”
“No.” She gestured again, in the unwise fashion that could give him a mild heart attack if she kept it up. “To fall in love. Not in bizarre lust like my aunts, not in polite love like my mother, but properly in love. Real love. Curls your toes, twists your insides, makes you feel like a million galleons love.”
Remus was silent for a moment. The words were so very Tonks – typically silly and exaggerated, a little immature and bestowed with the power to drive right to his heart. “And you found that…with me.”
He cuffed her lightly about the head, and she laughed.
“Actually, I always hoped it would be with Donaghan Tremlett.”
“And who exactly is Donaghan Tremlett?” he inquired mildly. He suspected she was about to indulge in her favourite pastime of provoking him.
“Even you listen to music, Remus,” she remonstrated. “Donaghan Tremlett! The bass player from the Weird Sisters. He’s very well known. He even has his own Chocolate Frog card.”
Remus stared at her, feeling his lip curl upward. “Big bloke? Looks like a gorilla?”
“He does not look like a gorilla.” Tonks bristled. “And when I was at school, excessively hairy men were just very…masculine.” She smiled nostalgically. “I used to dream that he would rescue me from kidnappers and we would go and snog in the south of France.”
“I don’t quite see you as the damsel in the distress type,” he offered skeptically, and she shrugged.
“Well, of course I wouldn’t actually need his help, but I’d hold back, you know, to preserve his manly pride.”
“Ah, of course,” Remus said dryly. “Give him the opportunity to beat his overly hairy chest.”
Tonks pulled her hand from his and folded her arms across her own, very attractive chest.
“Thanks to Sirius, I’ve known your dirty little secret for ages,” she said loftily, a smirk hovering about her features. “And men who once fancied Celestina Warbeck have no call to stand in judgment on others.”
He choked and hastily coughed once to clear his throat. And then a second time. A searching look told him that denial would prove fruitless.
“That buggering bastard,” he said bluntly, feeling no remorse about it. He had the most disconcerting suspicion that somewhere Sirius was barking with laughter.
“He was plastered. And I should hope you were, too. I mean, really, Remus. Celestina Warbeck. She’s old enough to be your bloody grandmother. I had serious doubts about our future when I heard, I really did.”
“I did not fancy Celestina Warbeck,” he insisted, scrambling to gather his lost dignity. “I happened to mention – once – that she was rather pretty when she was young.” Tonks’s expression seemed to indicate that he was making things worse. “Do you want your present or not?” he asked tetchily.
As anticipated, Tonks lit up like a firecracker at the mention of gifts. Her grin, however, suggested that the subject of Mrs. Warbeck was being put on temporary hiatus only.
“My present?” She immediately reached for Remus’s pockets, and he chuckled, holding her hands at bay. “But we’re not supposed to exchange them until tomorrow.”
“This is a sort of…pre-Valentine’s Day gift,” he explained, feeling tired anew at the thought of further shopping. “I want to get you something…right.” He shifted awkwardly, and flushed. “I know it’s supposed to be special…and expensive…”
It was hardly practical for a man of limited means to spend great sums of money on a present, especially when – thank Merlin – he would be back to paying bills next week, but for once logicality meant little. If he’d found the perfect present for Tonks, he would gladly have handed over his last knut. He supposed it was all part and parcel of it. Real love. Curls your toes, twists your insides, makes you feel like a million galleons love.
She was shaking her head vigorously.
“Remus, no,” she said, all humour gone from her voice. “God, no. I never wanted our relationship to be a burden on you, not in any way.” She smiled weakly. “I know I flip for Valentine’s Day, but…it’s just been fun, now that I have you. And if I have you, that’s so much more than enough. I don’t need a present. I definitely don’t need two. Don’t you dare buy anything else, or I won’t give you yours.”
She clearly meant it, and he felt the tension lessen a little. “Well, that would be a sorry thing, indeed,” he said. “Does that mean you don’t want this?” He drew the paper bag from his coat and held it up.
“Well, now that you’ve bought it… Waste not, want not, right? Whatever that means,” Tonks burbled, almost snatching the parcel from his hands. She paused in the process of opening it and stared at the label. “Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes?” she asked warily. “Er…”
“It’s safe,” he assured her quickly, ridiculous nerves clawing at his throat as he watched her draw out the small box and peer curiously inside.
There was a short pause.
“Remus!” she exclaimed, her tone unreadable. He swallowed, and she broke into instant raptures. “I love it. Honestly, it’s the best present I’ve ever gotten.”
Remus sighed. She had absolutely no idea what it was.
“You once told me that your mother never allowed you a pet at home or a familiar at school.” He gently retrieved the box and lifted the lid away. The tiny ball of white fluff within didn’t move in response to his gentle prod. Carefully extending his hand beyond the cover of the tree, he held it in the rain for an instant. The effect of the water was rapid and startling. The creature jerked its head up, immediately swelling to the size of the average Quaffle. Remus hastily pulled it back into their shelter and gingerly placed it on Tonks’s lap. Her mouth was open in astonishment, and her eyes widened as a tiny pink tongue darted out to lick her hand.
“What is it?” she whispered, slowly petting the small head. Her fingers leapt back as the white fur underwent a rapid transformation, flashing from pink to blue to purple, before settling on green.
“Oh, look at that,” Remus said, grinning. “Another show-off.”
Tonks didn’t bother to retort; she was fully preoccupied with her new charge. He was relieved to see her look of growing infatuation. He still thought it was a terrible gift, but thus far, it hadn’t proved a complete catastrophe.
“It’s the latest Fred and George brainchild,” he explained, offering a finger for an exploratory sniff. The brightly coloured fluff-ball squeaked at him, and Tonks laughed. “It’s a Wazzigibbet.” He shrugged in response to her unspoken question. “Working title, apparently. According to Fred, they’re very loyal but independent, so you can safely leave it at home while you’re on duty. With a bit of effort, you should also be able to use it in your work. They can channel basic spells and be used as a last reserve of magic. Or, of course, you could just keep him as a pet.”
“It morphs,” Tonks pointed out in amazement. In corroboration of that statement, the Wazzigibbet produced a very familiar shade of pink, and she patted him proudly.
“A very neat bit of illusory magic.” Remus looked at her meaningfully. “Inspired, I believe, by yourself. I think George Weasley is harbouring a crush.”
“Sod off, he is not,” she denied automatically. She lifted her squirming pet to face level. “Is he, Professor?”
“You’re not calling it that,” Remus said flatly. It was one thing for her to like the gift; it was quite another to be eternally associated with it.
“Excuse me,” Tonks said haughtily. “My present, my decision. Besides, he looks rather scholarly, don’t you think?”
He really ought to have bought her the scarf from Madam Malkin’s.
Tucking the Wazzigibbet carefully under her arm, she turned to him with a suggestive smile. His body immediately went on high alert. He recognized that look; it usually spelled danger.
“I suppose it’s only fair that I give you a sneak preview of your gift, then.”
“Well, that’s really not necess…” Remus’s voice lurched to a halt in his mouth as Tonks stretched back and tugged at the waistline of her tight jeans. “Oh, my.”
On the silky white skin covering her hipbone, his initials were engraved in small, cursive script. Reaching out an unsteady hand, he traced the faintly red area with gentle fingers.
“What have you done to yourself?”
“This is the initial phase of your present. Actually, of your Valentine’s Day experience. And before you get on your high horse about it, it really didn’t hurt that much.” Tonks covered his mouth with her palm before he could protest. “You once told me that you sometimes find it unsettling that while I’m constant to you emotionally, I’m not consistent physically.” She gave a wary half-smile. “Now you’ll know that part of me will always be the same. It’s permanent. I’ll have to use a concealment charm on the job, of course,” she added. “Or my undercover abilities will be worth bugger all, but still. You’ll know it’s there. I’ll know it’s there… You hate it, don’t you?”
Remus stilled his movements on her flesh and contemplated her anxious face.
“No,” he said finally, his throat dry. “No, I don’t hate it. In fact, it’s rather…intriguing.”
Her lips curved.
Tonks laughed. “Well, you’re going to love the second phase, then. I was going to present you with the tattoo and myself tomorrow. Wrapped in ribbon. And nothing else.”
“Good heavens.” Remus blinked, his insides sparking into life even as he kept his face bland. “And have you changed your mind on that commendable decision?”
“Well, I hadn’t factored in the weather, see. And my heating system’s shot.” She frowned. “I didn’t reckon turning blue and freezing my tits off in the name of romance would be that sexy.”
“Oh.” He tried not to sound too disappointed.
She grinned. “But we can negotiate. Later. We really are late now. D’you want to get down first, and I’ll pass you Professor?”
“What?” he asked, distracted. “Oh – oh, yes.”
Tonks paused, braced against her branch, and took a deep breath. “Remus? I’m so glad we’re here.”
Remus knew she didn’t mean in the Weasleys’ garden. And, sitting in the rain, watching her try not to fall out of a tree, he also knew that he was staring his future in the face.
“So I am, Nymphadora,” he said softly, truthfully. “So am I.”