Remus was up early, as usual. After dressing he headed down to the kitchen. It was rather messy. Three empty bottles of wine stood among the abandoned glasses, and open packages of crisps and biscuits sat on the table surrounded by the crumbled remains of their contents. Remus shook his head, and started tidying up, while brewing himself a cup of tea. Once the table was clean, he started a batch of porridge, and put on a pot of coffee for Sirius. Finally, he sat down to enjoy his tea with his latest book.
A few minutes later he heard some steps coming down the stairs. He glanced up with a smile. “Good morning, Nymph-”
“Watch it, Lupin!” she said, pointing at him with a glare on her face. “You only got away with that last night because I was drunk and half asleep. But you won’t get away with it again.” Her hair this morning was a short, spiky neon orange. It seemed that his guess about her not wearing her natural hair was correct.
“I’ll be careful to restrict my use of your Christian name to times when you’re inebriated. Do they happen often?”
“Very funny,” she said, slumping down into a chair, and running her hand through her hair.
“Would you like some coffee?” he asked.
“Merlin, yes,” she replied.
“I thought you looked like a coffee person,” he said.
“And I thought you looked like a tea person,” she replied, eyeing his cup.
“It’s nice to know we’re both so predictable.” He summoned a mug as he rose, and poured her some coffee. “How do you like it?”
“Cream and sugar, thanks. I don’t think you’re predictable.”
“I never could have predicted those God-awful pajamas of yours.”
He chuckled at little. “They were a gift. The ones I bought for myself are solid navy blue. How about some porridge?”
“Yes. I’m famished,” she said. “Navy—now that’s predictable.”
He set the coffee and breakfast in front of her, and took a serving of porridge for himself. “The neon hair, on the other hand, was not. So I suppose you win for unpredictability.”
“Thanks,” she said, taking a large sip of her coffee.
“You’re welcome. And it’s Remus, by the way.”
He sat down with his porridge, and looked into her eyes. They were looking very bright this morning. “You called me Lupin. I don’t like it when friends refer to each other by their surnames—it seems too impersonal.”
“So it’s not just a matter of driving me batty, then?” She gave him a hard look.
“Not entirely,” he said. He took a spoonful of his porridge, and watched her out of the corner of his eyes. Her tee-shirt was a little rumpled, but otherwise she seemed surprisingly chipper for the morning after a night of drinking with Sirius.
She took another sip of coffee, while stirring her porridge absently with her spoon. “So we’re friends now, are we?”
“We could be. If you can put up with a predictable old curmudgeon who delights in driving you batty.”
“I might be able to.” Her smile was open and guile-less. He had never known her father very well, but from what he knew of Ted Tonks, she was much more her father’s daughter than her mother’s.
They ate in quiet for a few minutes. As she neared the bottom of her porridge bowl, Tonks reached across the table, and picked up his book. She held it in front of her, and read the title aloud with an amused smile on her face. “Denizens of the Deep: Dark Creatures of the Caves of Europe. Planning a spelunking trip, or something?”
He smiled wryly at her, and shook his head. “No. No spelunking for me. The author is a friend of mine—we used to work together.”
“Huh,” she said, putting the book back down. “So are you some sort of dark creature expert, or something?”
“Or something,” he said. That’s something of an understatement. “I’ve done some work with dark creatures over the years.”
“What do you do now?”
Remus let out a small sigh. Here it was: time to confess his rather pathetic employment status to her. But he thought he knew a way to put a positive spin on it. “I’m… in between jobs at the moment. But with the reconvening of the Order, that’s actually a good thing. We have need of more people who can devote their whole attention to the needs of the Order. Right now, the only members capable of that are Alastor and myself.”
“Hmmm,” she responded. Much to his relief she refrained from probing him any further about his career.
They both swallowed their last few bites of porridge. Then Remus asked, “Did you and Sirius get on well last night?”
“Yes,” she said. “He’s a fun guy—which is surprising, considering… you know.”
“I know.” He nodded.
“It was a little strange though. I spent so many years resenting him, and having to do a complete turnaround in just a few days like this…. It’s just been a little odd, I guess.” She toyed with her spoon.
Remus smiled at her. “Odd is an understatement. I found out the truth more than a year ago, and yet there are still moments with him that feel very—surreal.”
A hint of mischief seemed to be dancing in her smile—or maybe it was just in his head. “More than a year ago, eh? So I guess you’re the one we should have been talking to all this time, instead following all those inane tips.”
“Kingsley personally interrogated me more than a dozen times, I assure you. Sirius spent most of the time hiding from me, as well, for my own good. He can be considerate, from time to time.”
“Yes, it’s always very thoughtful when friends don’t let friends get arrested for aiding and abetting a fugitive.” He wasn’t imagining the mischief in her face this time.
“Isn’t it though?”
Her eyes were twinkling. “Sirius told me some very interesting stories last night. All about you Marauders.”
“Oooh. That can’t be good.”
“That depends on what you consider good.”
“What I consider good now differs vastly from what I considered good then.”
“So you no longer consider mooning a group of seventh-year girls good?”
He tightened his lips and took a deep breath. Apparently any last hopes of appearing respectable and dignified in front of Tonks had already disappeared. “No, I would say not.”
“How about recklessly abusing your power as a Prefect to let your friends do some co-ed skinny dipping in the prefect’s bathroom?” She looked wickedly gleeful, staring right at him with a grin on her face.
Oh dear. He’s telling those stories already? He looked down at the table and rubbed his forehead. “Not one of the high points in my Prefect career, I’m afraid.”
“What I can’t figure,” she said, “is why you weren’t doing the skinny-dipping yourself?”
“How are you so sure I wasn’t?”
“Because you’re so sodding predictable—remember?”
And she was absolutely right. The one time James had offered to return the favor and stand guard for Remus and his girlfriend at the time, Remus had lost his nerve at the last minute. After building her up for a “big surprise,” all day, he ended up just taking her down to the kitchens for some clandestine chocolate cake and ice cream. Which had been pleasant enough, in its own way. But not pleasant like nude bathing with his girlfriend would have been. One of his many life-time regrets.
“Apparently so.” He looked down, and swirled around the last dregs of his tea.
“Remus?” she said, her tone of voice suddenly tentative and soft—a dramatic shift from her playful attitude of just moments earlier. “I owe you an apology.”
“An apology?” He looked back up at her, and she looked astonishingly meek, for someone with bright orange hair.
“You were right. About that joke last night. It was in pretty bad taste, and I shouldn’t have said it. I’m sorry about the way I reacted when you—you know.”
“When I chastised you?” he said, raising one eyebrow.
“Yeah. That.” A timid, apologetic smile formed on her face.
“Apology accepted. Although there was really no need—I don’t hold grudges.”
“Hmm,” she said, biting her bottom lip and looking down at her hands as they tapped on the table. “I do.”
Remus wasn’t quite sure how to reply to this sudden admission, and was still trying to formulate a response when she went on.
“That’s what has me in such a muddle right now. You see, when I made that joke last night, I wasn’t entirely lying. I really have spent most of the last year wanting to be the one to catch him.”
“I see,” said Remus softly, nodding at her as she looked back up into his eyes.
“I didn’t get my promotion to full Auror until just after his escape from Hogwarts,” she continued. “I begged them to let me assist on the case—but they refused. Said it would be a conflict of interest, for me to track down my own relative. So then I asked to at least look over the case file. They refused again. It had been classified, and access was restricted to only Fudge, Scrimgeour, and the Aurors directly assigned to the case.”
Remus was fascinated. He had heard tales of growing corruption in Fudge’s administration, and he suspected that this story was headed in that direction. She went on. “It’s not standard procedure to classify a file like that. In fact, that was the only instance I’d ever heard of. And earlier this week, Kingsley told me why. He said that the file contained statements from Dumbledore, and other witnesses, that elicit grave doubts as to whether or not Black was guilty at all.”
No wonder there was no publicity about the statements from Dumbledore and myself, thought Remus. They were all hidden away in this “classified” file.
“Kingsley said that he’d begun to think that Sirius was innocent, but he never let on, or they would have taken him off of the case,” said Tonks.
“Kingsley told me much the same story,” said Remus. “And when Fudge publicly came out against Dumbledore and Harry, saying that Voldemort had not returned, that was when Kingsley came to Dumbledore, and joined the Order. Because if the administration was corrupt enough to imprison an innocent man for twelve years without a trial, then it is certainly corrupt enough to suppress the truth about Voldemort’s return.”
Tonks nodded, her face serious. “He told me something else, as well. He said that the reason the file had been classified, was because of me and my mum.”
This took Remus aback. “What does your mum have to do with the classification of internal Auror files?”
She smiled grimly. “Mum wrote letters to the Minister of Magic and to the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot every single month of Sirius’s imprisonment, asking them to give Sirius a fair trial. They were afraid that if I saw the file, I would start following in my mum’s footsteps, and publicly champion Sirius’s innocence. They classified it because they didn’t want me to be suspicious about why I’d been singled out.”
“Great Merlin. I never thought that Fudge would go that far to protect himself from scandal.” Remus’s dislike for the Fudge administration was compounding almost daily. He should have expected this from someone who would put the likes of Dolores Umbridge in positions of power. “Did Dumbledore never respond to your mother’s letters?” he asked.
“Only with polite notes of refusal,” replied Tonks. She ran her fingers through her hair, absently ruffling it. “He was as convinced of Sirius’s guilt as the rest of us. He apologized profusely to me for my mother’s sake when we met earlier this week. It was a very strange experience having the world’s most respected wizard apologize to me for making a mistake. What made it worse was that I need to apologize to Mum just as much as he does.”
She had piqued his curiosity. He knew that she must have many layers to her personality, to seem so young and jovial yet attain a position like Auror. He was fascinated to watch those layers start to unfold before him. “Why is that?” he asked.
She sighed, and looked down at her fidgeting fingers again. “Mum hid her true opinions about Sirius from me for years, and when I finally caught her writing the letters, we got into a huge row. I felt like she was betraying everyone who had been hurt or died in the war. But she refused to give up on him. I’ve been a little bit angry about it ever since. But all along, she was right.” He noticed that as she was tapping her fingers on the table, her fingernails were cycling through different colors. He decided it must be a nervous tick.
“So it seems you do owe her an apology,” he said carefully. He didn’t want to interfere in her family business, but neither did he want to turn her away when she needed help.
“I owe her so many apologies,” replied Tonks. “The oddest thing of all this past week wasn’t trying to forgive Sirius—it was trying to forgive her. For some reason, I was ready to forgive Sirius; even eager to forgive Sirius. But not my mum. Sirius had always been more of an abstraction, or a matter of principle for me—not a real person. So when a happier reality presented itself, I was ready to embrace it. But I’ve had to deal with my mum each and every day of my life, and things haven’t been very good between her and I for a long time. This week I’ve had to look inside myself more than I ever wanted to, and reexamine all the old grudges I have against her. And the more I’ve thought about them, the more I realize that she was right about a lot of the things I’ve held against her for most of my life—or at the very least, we were equally wrong.”
Remus nodded encouragingly, pondering her dilemma.
Her fingers were tapping quickly on the table, and the colors of her nails were changing so rapidly that he couldn’t keep track of them. “I know I need to do something—I need to make amends somehow. But I just can’t figure out how to explain all this to her without telling her things that I’ve sworn to secrecy. I’ve made such a muddle of things with her that I don’t even know where to start.” Tonks looked up into his eyes, then shook her head with a little smile on her face. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you all this. I’m sorry—I’m sure the last thing you wanted this morning was for this nutty lady you just met to dump all her problems on you.”
“Don’t worry about it, Tonks. I really don’t mind listening.”
Remus said, “I wish I could be more help with your mother, but I’m afraid I haven’t any constructive advice other than be patient. And, as my father always told me, when someone says something that upsets you, stop and count to five before you reply.”
Remus laughed. “I still haven’t figured that one out. It was just the only advice I could think of.”
“Well,” she replied, the twinkle in her eye re-igniting, “I’ll have to try it sometime, and see if your dad might have known what he was talking about.”
“If it actually works, let me know. I’ve never tried it myself.” They were both laughing now. She was amazingly easy to talk to. Remus wondered if she knew how quickly she made people feel at ease, or if it was just so much a part of her that she had never realized she was different from anyone else.
“Thank you. For listening,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” he hesitated before continuing, but the openness of her expression emboldened him. “I may not have been much help with your mother, but I think I know why you told me all this.”
“Oh really? Why?”
He glanced away from her briefly, and rubbed his chin. Then he looked back up at her, and said, “All of us in the Order learned, in the first war, to confide in each other. Not because we would have necessarily chosen each other as friends under ordinary circumstances, but because there was no one else we could trust. All of us shared the same knowledge, and were privy to the same secrets. We were all fighting the same fights, and facing the same danger. There really was no one else we could turn to without compromising everything we were fighting for—not even our families. So we had to become a new family, of sorts. Because if we couldn’t be there for each other, then we were truly alone. And no one should be alone. I think that’s why you shared this with me. There was no one else.”
Her fingers had stopped tapping on the table. She was staring intently at him with an unreadable expression on her face. “That was… very profound,” she said. “I’m beginning to think you might not be so predictable after all.”
Remus felt a little sheepish. He’d never thought of himself as particularly profound, and had never been comfortable with people complimenting him. He shifted in his seat, and looked down at the table again, to escape her penetrating gaze. “It was just the truth. That’s all.”
“You got one thing wrong,” she said. “I think that even if there was someone else to confide in—I still would have chosen you.”
He looked back up in mild bewilderment, and involuntarily held his breath when he saw the soft smile on her face. He wasn’t sure if he should be flattered, or … something else. They sat in silence for a moment, just looking at each other.
“Coffee,” moaned Sirius, stumbling into the room, breaking their comfortable silence. “I need coffee.”
“Coming right up,” said Remus, rising to his feet, somewhat relieved. As Sirius slumped heavily into a chair, Remus poured him a cup of hot black coffee. Tonks was favoring Sirius with a chipper morning greeting as Remus set the coffee down before him. Sirius merely grunted unintelligibly in reply.
“You’d better be patient, Tonks. He’s never fit for conversation until he’s had at least two cups of coffee,” said Remus.
“Git,” muttered Sirius, in between lusty gulps of coffee.
“See what I mean?” said Remus.
Tonks helped herself to another cup of coffee, and Sirius to another two. The playful banter between Remus and Sirius never let up. She found herself hoping that she would still have that kind of relationship with Cory and Danny in ten years time. God willing, we’ll all still be here in ten years time.
Finally, when breakfast was finished, Sirius leaned back with a sigh. “So,” he said, “what’s on the agenda for today?”
“The Weasleys are planning on moving in tomorrow, so we’d better finish getting those bedrooms ready for them, or Molly will be very unhappy,” said Remus.
“Heaven forbid we make Molly unhappy,” said Sirius.
Tonks had once seen Molly in a fury over a prank played by the twins. It hadn’t been pretty. “She’s a force to be reckoned with when she’s unhappy, Sirius,” said Tonks. “It would be better to just have the rooms ready—trust me.”
“How do you know?” asked Sirius. “Did you shag one of her boys?”
Tonks’s mouth gaped open. “Sirius!” she said. Apparently she wasn’t the only one in the house with an inappropriate sense of humor.
“I do have it on good authority that she used to be friends with Charlie,” said Remus with a quirky little smile.
Remus’s humor wasn’t so different from Sirius’s after all. “You rat,” she said, scowling at him.
“Oh,” said Sirius, raising his index finger and waggling at her. “There aren’t many rules in this house, but one of them is we never call our friends rats. It’s the worst possible insult, and I won’t tolerate it.” He finished his warning with a smile and wink—which lessened the threat level considerably.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“So. Charlie?” said Sirius, leaning back and putting his feet up on the table. “Is he one of the one’s we’ll be housing?”
Remus shook his head. “Sorry to disappoint, but Charlie is currently living in Romania, studying dragons.”
“Damn,” replied Sirius. “And there were so many questions I wanted to ask him. Very interesting questions.” He smiled at her wickedly.
“I guess you’ll just have to use your imagination,” said Tonks.
Sirius leered at her. “That might be just as fun.”
Tonks laughed. She’d never realized that being sexually harassed could actually be fun. It must depend on the person who was doing the harassing. “You’re disgusting, you know.”
“It’s a trait I’ve striven to cultivate.”
“I hate to interrupt this delightful exchange,” said Remus, “but perhaps it’s time to get to those bedrooms?”
“Slave driver,” grumbled Sirius, but he stood to follow Remus.
Tonks was beginning to think that a large part of Remus’s current duties for the order involved keeping an eye on her volatile cousin. As she had watched Remus this morning, she found that much to her surprise, being sober had in no way diminished the appeal of his dimples.
Once they arrived at the rooms destined for Weasley occupation, Remus took charge in an amusing stern-nanny fashion. He led them from room to room, captaining them in tasks ranging from doxy-extermination to dusting, and from laundering the linens to disposing of unwanted family heirlooms. For the first hour, Sirius and Remus dominated the conversation, trying to one up each other by telling embarrassing school-days stories about one another. Finally, after Sirius had finished the story of how he hit Remus with a nosebleed-hex during his first kiss with a girl that he’d fancied for ages, Remus abruptly declared that it was rude of them to exclude her from the conversation.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m learning the most extraordinary things about you two—I think could listen for hours.”
“But Moony does have a point, cousin. Maybe it’s time to start learning some of your dark secrets—if you have any?” Sirius cocked his eyebrow at her mischievously.
“Perhaps I don’t have any dark secrets?” she said.
“Oh, you’ve got them, all right,” said Remus, his eyes twinkling as he looked at her. “It’s just a matter of whether or not you’ll share them.”
“Come on,” said Sirius. “I’m sure you managed a few spots of mischief when you were in school. Fess up.”
“Well,” she said, “I did misbehave a little—a few times.”
As they all continued to work, she favored them with a few of her school-girl exploits. They were delighted by her sabotage of the Slytherin-team Quidditch brooms as a celebration when she made the Ravenclaw team. They laughed out loud at her tale of how, at the beginning of her fourth year, she wore a different guise to every new Defense Against the Dark Arts class, and each time insisted that she was a new student that was starting the term late due to illness. The new teacher that year—a doddering old man—had taken three full weeks to catch on. And they were particularly impressed by her invention of the inside-out jinx that caused a person’s underwear to suddenly appear on the outside of their clothes.
By the time she was done with her stories, it was time for lunch, and they all headed downstairs for some cheese and tomato sandwiches. She sliced the tomatoes while Remus sliced the cheese, and Sirius lounged at the table with a bottle of butterbeer. After a few slices, she looked up at Remus’s face, a good eight inches above her head. He seemed to feel her eyes on him, and he turned slightly to look down at her, offering her a little smile. She smiled back. After the third such glance-and-smile exchange during the sandwich-making process, Tonks began to wonder why she was suddenly so intent on flirting with a graying, unemployed six-and-one-half who, on first glance, had reminded her of a shabby book-seller. Because he’s undeniably fanciable, came the thought, unbidden, into her mind.
As they sat down with their sandwiches and butterbeer, she forcefully quelled any further such thoughts, as she felt somehow certain that no good would come of them.
“Please tell me we’re done?” pleaded Sirius as he finished his lunch.
“I’m afraid not,” replied Remus. “We’ve got two more dressers and a desk to clear out, the floors to scrub, and the clean linens to put back on the beds.”
“Oh, hell,” said Sirius. “Can we at least find a way to make it fun?”
Fun? How can those sorts of chores be made fun?
Remus said, “That all depends on Tonks.” He turned to look her in the eye, and asked, “So, what do you say to game of Rubbish-Quidditch?”
Forty minutes later Tonks found herself cheering as the last item of Black family rubbish—a stained ink jar—circled noisily around the rim of a rubbish bin before landing neatly inside. “Yes!” she said. “I do believe that makes me the undisputed champion of Rubbish-Quidditch.”
“Well done,” said Remus, grinning at her.
“My hat’s off to you, cousin,” said Sirius. “Are you sure you were a Beater, and not a Chaser?”
“I’ll have you know that excellent hand-eye coordination is an essential skill for someone of my profession,” she replied.
“In that case,” said Remus, “you should excel at our next challenge.”
“And what is that?” she asked.
“Scrubbing races?” she said, raising her eyebrows.
“Scrubbing races,” he repeated. “We’ll each have two rooms, one bucket, and one sponge. Whomever finishes scrubbing their floors the fastest—and has them cleaned to my exacting standards—wins the prize of watching the losers make-up all the beds by themselves.”
“Now that,” said Sirius, “is a prize worth winning.”
Tonks, however, felt her spirits falling. Scrubbing charms were among the plethora of household spells at which she was completely inept. And she knew that these two would never let her hear the end of it.
Remus gathered the supplies while Sirius and Tonks divided up the rooms. Soon, she found herself standing in front of a large bedroom, a bucket of sudsy water at her feet, and her wand at the ready. Sirius was down the hall from her, and he caught her eye with a wink. Remus was on the floor above them, and his voice called down the stairwell. “Ready, steady, go!”
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Sirius’s sponge leap out of its bucket and swoosh into his room. Okay, you can do this Tonks. Just a flick of your wand, and… She watched as the sponge flopped lazily out of the bucket and landed with a splat on the dark wooden floor. It sat there, unmoving, as if it were taunting her. So much for her scrubbing charm.
She glanced over at Sirius, who was staring into his room with a look of concentration, expertly flicking his wand back and forth. She sighed. Perhaps some creative levitation would do the trick. She levitated the sopping sponge a few inches off the ground, and sent it lazily floating over the bedroom floor, dripping suds all along the way. This might work, she thought. I can just douse the whole floor with water from the sponge to let it soak, and then use a quick drying spell to finish the job.
Unfortunately, though she might be expert with a levitation spell, she didn’t know any wringing-charms, and the sponge was depositing water on the floor at an excruciatingly slow rate. After a few tries of dipping the sponge in the water, and soaring it across the floor, she realized that her plan was destined for failure.
“Hah!” came Sirius’s voice from down the hall. She looked over to see him dashing, bucket in hand, to his second room. She wasn’t even half-done with her first.
“Bugger this,” she muttered under her breath. It looked like she was going to have to resort to extreme measures. She lowered her wand, strode purposefully into the room, snatched the sponge out of the air, knelt down, and started scrubbing furiously. Every time her sponge started feeling dry, she levitated it quickly back to the bucket, dunked it with a splash, and pulled it soaring back into her hand. Although the hand-scrubbing was going faster then the magical kind had been, she was still going dreadfully slow, and getting soaking wet in the process.
Splash, scrub. Splash, scrub. Splash, scrub. She tried to concentrate on speed and no longer even looked over her shoulder once she’d gotten a hang of finding the bucket with her soaring sponge. Splash, scrub. Splash, scrub. Splash…. This time, instead of soaring back into her hand, the sopping sponge failed to reappear. She sat back on her heels, and looked over her shoulder in confusion. Remus and Sirius both stood in the doorway, staring at her with huge grins on their faces.
“Looking for this?” said Sirius, holding out the dripping sponge. He and Remus burst into laughter, and she felt the warmth of a blush spreading across her face. “Did I forget to mention that I’m total shit at scrubbing charms?” she said.
They laughed even harder, with Sirius leaning against the doorframe to supporting his shaking body. This time, she even joined in a little.
After the laughter began to subside, Remus said, “Don’t worry, Tonks. I’ll finish it up for you.”
“Thanks,” she said.
“So what was that about hand-eye coordination that you mentioned earlier?” said Sirius.
“Get stuffed,” she replied, eliciting more laughter from her cousin.
“I won, by the way,” said Sirius. “I think the two of you can handle making the beds without my supervision, so I am going to go get a drink.” With a wave, he headed down the stairs.
Tonks brushed the damp hair back from her face, and rose to her feet. She looked at Remus and asked, “Isn’t it a little early yet for a drink?”
“Not for him,” said Remus. “It’s something I’ve been meaning to bring up with him, but I haven’t found the way yet. I guess I’ve been hoping that Molly could sort him out for me, once she moves in.”
“If anyone can sort him out, it’s Molly,” said Tonks.
“I certainly hope so.” He took a deep breath. “Well, I’ll finish up here. You go ahead downstairs and collect the linens.”
“You really don’t have to finish my rooms for me—I can do it myself, really.”
His smile took on a teasing slant. “I seem to remember seeing some rather compelling evidence to the contrary.”
She glared at him. “Go ahead,” he repeated. “I’ll be finished when you get back.”
Begrudgingly, she slogged down the several flights of stairs to the basement laundry, and then slogged back up, levitating the massive pile of bed-linens. True to his word, by the time she returned Remus had finished scrubbing her floors, and appeared to have scrubbed the hall and some of the stairs as well.
She allowed the linens to settle in an untidy pile in the newly-cleaned hall. She stared at Remus. He stood at the base of the stairs, effortlessly sending the sponge swiping across each step, with the bucket of soapy water floating lightly beside it. Within moments the top stair was clean, the sponge was settling without a splash in the bucket, and the bucket landed lightly at his feet.
“Sirius didn’t really win, did he?” she asked.
“I…neglected to mention to him that I was already working on the upstairs hall when he finished his second room.”
He smiled. “Because, as you would put it, he’s shit at bed-making charms.”
She chuckled. Sirius was lucky to have a friend like him. “I must warn you,” she said, “bed-making charms are another weakness of mine as well.”
“Hmmm. I’m sensing a pattern here.”
She laughed again. “Unfortunately, yes. I have always been a complete dunce at house-work charms, and I can’t seem to get over it. I suspect that it’s due to witches like me that our kind started using house elves.”
“If you’d like one for your flat, I’m sure Sirius would be glad to give you his.”
“That nasty little monster that was lurking in the corner the whole time we were clearing out the rubbish?”
“That’s the one,” said Remus.
“Uck. No thanks.”
Remus was looking at her closely, as if appraising her for something. “If you like,” he said, “we could make-up the beds the Muggle way. If we work as a team, it won’t take us long.”
She nodded happily. For some reason, she didn’t mind spending a little extra time alone with Remus.
As they worked, Remus told her a few stories of the work he and his colleagues had done in the Order during the first war. She was glad to listen to him talk—he had a soothing voice, and an engaging story-telling style. It was also comforting to her to hear of the good the Order had done in the last war; it helped to reassure her that she had made the correct choice in joining.
As they were working on the last bed in the final room, Remus suddenly asked her an unexpected question. “Why don’t you like your name?”
Ever since she had left school, no one had ever actually asked her why she didn’t like it. Once she said she didn’t, they would simply let it drop. It took her a moment to collect her wits enough to answer. “Well,” she said, “it’s so silly, isn’t it? So overblown? I’ve always thought something simpler would have suited me better—like Jane, or Lizzie, or Sue. Not that overdramatic atrocity Nymphadora.”
Remus shook his head. “I disagree. Simple would not do for you. You’re no Jane. I think dramatic is just right for you as a matter of fact.”
Tonks laughed. “Now you’re just teasing me.”
“Not at all. And I think naming you for a nymph was quiet appropriate—when we found you dripping wet in that room, you looked every inch the lovely young water nymph.”
“Now I know you’re teasing me,” she said with a laugh.
Remus gave her his most mischievous grin. “Maybe a little,” he admitted. “But I still think it suits you. Nymphadora—a gift from the Nymphs.”
She felt her heart skip a beat as she lost herself in the dimpled smile that he was flashing at her.
Quickly, she looked down as she finished tucking in the coverlet. She took a deep breath to collect her wits, and looked back up at him. “That’s it then. We should go down and check on Sirius.”
He nodded agreeably. “After you,” he said, gesturing toward the door.
Remus and Tonks had caught Sirius half-way through a bottle of wine, and had stopped him by pouring the rest for themselves, and handing him a butterbeer.
They were just finishing another round of sandwiches—this time ham—when a red-haired man stepped through the kitchen door with a grin on his face. “Tonks!” he said.
“No one told me you were in the Order!”
“Bill!” she cried, leaping to her feet with a smile, and bouncing over to Bill Weasley to throw her arms around him in a warm hug. Remus watched them in amusement, wondering if Charlie was the only Weasley with whom she’d been “friends.”
“I’m the latest recruit,” she said, loosening her hold on him to look into his face with a brilliant smile.
“Smashing! Who brought you into the fold?”
“I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself,” he declared.
“So what brings you to my humble abode this evening?” said Sirius.
“Hello, Sirius. Remus,” said Bill, nodding at them. Remus nodded back, as Bill went on. “My mum sent me over to assess your progress. She doesn’t seem to have too much faith in your abilities.”
“No need to worry, Bill. With slave-driver Lupin here, everything has been attended to.”
“All of the needed bedrooms, and two bathrooms, are ready for use,” added Remus.
“Awesome,” said Bill.
“Care to join us?” asked Sirius. “I can open another bottle of wine.”
“I’d love that. Mum’s been running us all ragged. I really need to find myself a flat somewhere. I don’t think I can stand all this family togetherness for much longer.”
“Amen to that,” said Sirius, rising to get another bottle of wine and an extra glass.
Bill had a sandwich with them, and helped them work their way through the new bottle of wine. All the while he and Tonks chatted amiably, catching up on each other’s lives. Sirius was grinning like a fool and butting in with obnoxious jokes whenever he got a chance. Remus didn’t say much. He was watching them. And as he watched, he was formulating a plan.
An hour later, Bill rose to leave. “It I don’t get home soon, Mum’ll have my hide. She’s probably already breathing fire.”
“Good luck with that, mate,” said Sirius.
“Thanks,” said Bill. Then he looked at Tonks. “So I’ll see you at nine, then?”
“I’ll be there,” she replied. She had agreed to go over to the Weasley’s in the morning to help with the move. “It’s good to see you again, Bill.”
“Good to see you, too, Tonks.”
Not long after Bill left, Tonks sighed. “I’d better go, as well.”
“What for?” asked Sirius. “The night is still young.”
“I know, but I really need to get some groceries on the way home. There isn’t a speck of food in my whole flat, and I doubt I’ll have time for shopping tomorrow, what with the move. I really need to get this done before Monday, when I go back to work.”
“Fine,” said Sirius. “Abandon me. Leave me broken-heart and miserable.”
“Don’t worry, dear,” she said, standing and patting Sirius on the cheek. “At least I’m leaving you in good hands.” With this, she turned to Remus and flashed him a charming smile. He smiled wryly in return.
“Goodnight, Sirius,” she said.
“Go on. Go on,” he said, waving her out.
“I’ll see you out,” said Remus, rising to his feet.
Sirius grunted, and turned back to his wine.
Remus walked Tonks up the stairs. They paused at the top. “It’s been a pleasure having you here,” said Remus.
“It’s been a pleasure for me, too,” she replied.
“In fact,” said Remus, “I think we’d both like to see more of you around here.”
“Of course!” she said, readily. “I was planning on it.”
“Wonderful. You see, I was hoping you could help me with something.”
She raised her eyebrows. “What?”
“It’s Sirius. You’ve already caught on to his drinking problem. As jovial as he pretends to be, he’s actually been very depressed about being forced to hide away in this home, surrounded by reminders of the childhood he despised.” Remus paused. “He hasn’t gotten over his time in Azkaban as well as he would like us to think. The reason he always drinks himself to sleep, is because he can’t stand the dreams he has when he’s sober.”
Tonks looked stricken. “I didn’t …” she started.
“It’s alright. It took me some time to realize the problem myself. What he needs most right now, to keep him from falling into a truly deep depression, is as much friendship and society as he can get. That’s where you come in.”
“Yes. Yes,” she stammered. “I’ll come over every day, if I can.”
“You don’t have to do that much, if it’s trouble to make the time.”
“No,” she shook her head vehemently. “He’s family. And he needs me. That’s all I need to know. Besides,” she added, “I owe him. Or at least the Ministry does. It’s time I started paying back their debt.”
“Thank you,” he said, genuinely grateful. “This whole time you’ve been here he’s seemed so much happier than I’ve seen him since… since we were first reunited.”
He nodded. “Yes. I’m afraid I’m not quite enough for him any more. You see, he went to prison when he was twenty-one, and he never had a chance to grow beyond that age. He seems more at ease around people younger than myself. That’s why you’re so good for him.”
She smiled. “I’m sure I help, but I think you’re underestimating yourself.”
“Maybe, maybe not,” he answered. “In any case, I’m glad you’ve decided to help me.” She nodded. He said, “It might be a good idea to ask Bill to come around more often, as well. Sirius has taken quite a liking to him.”
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll say yes.”
“No problem. Well, I should be going now.”
He walked her to the door, and helped her open the myriad locks. As she stepped out into the warm evening air, she turned to give him one last smile. “Goodnight, Remus.”
He unobtrusively slipped his wand into his hand. “Goodnight, Nymphadora.”
The look of shock on her fast lasted only an instant before her wand slid into her hand, and rose with an angry flick.
But Remus was ready, raising his own wand just in time. The hex bounced harmlessly off of his shield.
He smiled calmly at her look of astonishment. “Did I forget to mention that I’m brilliant at Shield Charms?”
Her eyes widened, and her expression flickered from annoyance to amusement. Finally, she grinned and shook her head. “You’re too much, Remus Lupin.”
“Thank you,” he said, grinning back. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you,” she said, shaking her head at him one more time, before turning and walking away.
A/N: Yes, I know a good old Scourgify would have been a much easier way to clean the floors—but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun, would it? Much thanks to all my reviewers—I love hearing from you.
Thanks go to my beta reader, Logical Quirk, for her help throughout this story. And thanks to the community over at Metamorfic_moon on LJ: your insightful discussions did a lot to help me develop the backstory of Tonks’s relationship with her parents.