Missing Moments Chapter 12 A/N: This was positively a bear to write. I hope it works. Let me know. And So This is Christmas Remus Lupin sipped at his tea in a carefully-studied attempt to appear benign. There was a contrived half-smile on his lips, and he had controlled his breathing until it seemed slow, calm, and gentle. Only a careful observer would have been able to notice the storm brewing in his mind, as evidenced by the darting grey eyes and tapping fingers. There were only two people on Earth who had ever observed Remus that carefully; one had passed through the veil six months previously, and the other was far away, in a dingy second-floor flat, hating him. Christmas with the Weasleys, as always, was a loud and hectic affair. In the sitting room after a massive and chaotic meal, there were blurs of red hair flittering everywhere. Ginny was attempting to secure bundles of mistletoe to the ceiling, unaware that Fred and George were charming them to fall down just to piss her off. Molly and Arthur were dancing some sort of drunken two-step to a scratchy warbling twang that passed for festive music on the Wireless. Harry and Ron were playing exploding snap with a deck that had been charmed to blow, with near-nuclear magnitude, at the slightest touch. In the resulting bedlam, no one seemed to notice the Professor, slumped forward in his chair, tea resting on his knee, attempting to make a choice that was tearing at his soul. He sighed. He had nearly choked from shock more than a few times during dinner. He had been stunned to learn that Nymphadora’s Patronus had changed to a large, four-legged creature. Merlin – that wolf had been real. He had seen it on more than a few occasions. It appeared to want nothing more than to be close to him. He had thought he had dreamt it, but noted that he had slept soundly the nights when the vision appeared to him. But only a great emotional upheaval could change a person’s patronus. What did it mean? Even more disturbing was the news that Tonks would not be spending Christmas with her family. Remus allowed himself to reminisce about the previous year, when she had been unable to spend the holiday at Grimmauld Place. She had told Sirius that her father would be heartbroken to spend Christmas without her. Remus allowed himself the tiniest of smiles. Nymphadora was nuts about her Daddy. He couldn’t imagine what would keep her from home, but he was more than a little concerned that it was somehow his fault. Finally, he could sit no more. He borrowed Pigwidgeon, dashed off a hasty note, kissed Molly’s cheek and promised to be home shortly. She stopped him long enough to straighten his tie and said, “You’re doing the right thing.” He wasn’t so sure, but he disapparated to Tonks’ flat nonetheless. ______________________________________________________________________________________________ As was her habit these days, Nymphadora Tonks was cleaning. It was a none-too-pretty sight, truth be told. She was on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor, in a pair of faded overalls and a greying t-shirt. Her hair was matted and sweaty, her eyes were sunken and her cheeks were hollow. This compulsion to clean had taken her by surprise. She had always hated spaces that were too tidy. Antiseptic, she called it – it reminded her of hospitals, which she also hated. That said, she had noticed that lately the only time she could clear her mind of her troubles was when she was cleaning, and so she found herself sanitizing with psychotic fervor on a daily basis. She was about to take on the nearly-empty ice box when she heard a knock at the door. Oh, Merlin’s balls, she thought. Carolers. The knocking at the door persisted. “Fuck Off!” The knocking at the door persisted. “If I have to hear jingle-fucking-bells another fucking time heads are gonna roll!” The knocking at the fucking door persisted. Tonks heaved herself from the floor and stomped to the front hallway. She undid the latch and threw open the door with blazing fury in her eyes. A fury which melted once she registered that the spectre of a man on her doorstep was Remus Lupin. The twitching smile on Remus’ lips at Tonks’ invisible tirade vanished the moment she opened the door. He barely recognized her. She was almost frail-looking, with long, thin arms and legs. Her inability to morph had left her skin pale and her hair a mousy brown, streaked with grey. Her eyes, grey with amber flecks, mirrored his own. Gods, he found himself thinking, what have I done to her? Remus was not the only one to register shock. Tonks stared at the gaunt and angular man before her. He had been pleased to have the chance to shower and shave at the Burrow, and Molly had been kind enough to trim his hair for him. Even so, his appearance this evening was disturbing. He was rail-thin, and had new, jagged scars covering all visible parts of his body. What was worse, the warm sparkle in his eyes was nearly gone. Tonks’ heart broke again at the sight of him. She sighed sadly before meeting his eyes to speak. “Remus.” “May I come in?” Tonks seemed to consider this for a moment before throwing her door wide and allowing him to follow her into her flat. He paused and took a look around. “The place looks…” he searched for words. “Clean.” The expression on Tonks’ face was sardonic. “Awful, isn’t it?” Remus shook his head. “It’s not awful , exactly.” His search continued. “It’s just…not… exactly you.” He knew that came out wrong the instant he said it. Tonks pretended to be offended. “I’m not exactly clean, am I? Thanks loads, Lupin.” She wandlessly charmed the kettle to boil for tea. Even in all this state, it was amusing to watch him fumble. “Merlin, Nymphadora, you know what I mean. It’s kind of…antiseptic, isn’t it? Like it isn’t even being lived in.” “It isn’t.” Tonks crossed the room to hand him a mug of tea, and motioned for him to sit on the sofa. They sat in silence for a few moments, and his eyes wandered to the bookshelf in the kitchen. He could just make out the scene around that ridiculous pink Barbie camper he had given her for Christmas the year before. The last time he had seen it, it had displayed a rather frightening image of bondage and S&M. This time it was perhaps an even more frightening scene of domestic bliss. The Barbie and Ken dolls sat at a picnic table, holding hands, with a dog at their feet and a baby carriage at their side. Their bland, moronic smiles seemed to shock Lupin out of his reverie. What the hell was he doing here? “What the hell are you doing here?” Tonks asked, as if reading his mind. He sipped his tea deliberately before answering. “Molly mentioned that you weren’t spending the holidays with your family. I didn’t think that could be true, but I thought I’d better check.” He leaned closer to her. “You can’t do this to them, Nymphadora. Your father will be heartbroken.” Tonks’ cheeks were crimson. “As much as I appreciate your concern for my father,” she managed through clenched teeth, “it’s really none of your business.” Remus leveled her with a stare that could cut glass. “I made it my business.” “What the hell does that mean?” “I owled them. I told them you were finished work, and that you’d be able to make it for Christmas after all. I told them I would bring you.” Tonks was blinking so wildly it appeared that she was attempting to respond in Morse Code. Finally she hissed, “You WHAT?” “I owled them. So, unless you want to break your Daddy’s heart on Christmas, I suggest that you start packing.” Tonks seethed, motionless, on the sofa. “Fine then. I’ll pack. Just imagine the delightful ensembles I’ll pick out for your stay.” He ambled off to her bedroom, pulled a kit bag from the closet, and started sifting through her things. Every few moments he called out to her, attempting to elicit a response. “Ah, look – a yellow sweater with kittens on it. A gift from your godmother on your last birthday, wasn’t it? It’s a shame I’ve never seen you in it. Won’t it be lovely for Christmas dinner?” He could have sworn he heard a grunt from the living room. He got similar responses when he suggested the grey saddle shoes and the Charles and Diana commemorative brooch. He headed to the dresser and felt a twinge of embarrassment. Before he opened it, he called to her, doing his best to sound jocular. “Honestly, Nymphadora, do you really want me picking out your knickers? I’m sure I’ll find something interesting, but I can’t promise that they’ll be too comfortable for the festive season…” He was cut off when she stormed into the room, dumped the contents of the half-packed bag on the bed and began stuffing it with jeans and t-shirts. He could have sworn there was a glint of amusement in her steely grey eyes. He forced himself not to smile, and found his way back to her sitting room. Twenty minutes later she emerged, showered, packed and dressed. She appeared resentful but resigned, which Lupin figured was the best that he could hope for under the circumstances. Before she could argue, he grabbed her hand and apparated to the Tonks’ home. As he was about to knock on the door, she flashed him a naughty grin. “They don’t know.” “They don’t know what?” he asked. “They don’t know that we’ve broken up. I never had the heart to tell them. They liked you. They never like anyone I bring home. I couldn’t get over it when Daddy called you ‘son’…” Her voice trailed off. Remus swallowed uncomfortably. Tonks continued. “Feel free to tell them. It will break their hearts, but I suppose it’s about time they knew.” With that, she knocked heavily on the door. “Couldn’t you tell them now?” Tonks shrugged. “I could, but I'm not going to. So unless you want to break my Daddy's heart on Christmas, you'll have to be my boyfriend tonight. Tough choice, I suppose.” With that the door flew open, and Ted Tonks, wild-haired, red-faced and rum-soaked, threw his arms around the two of them. “Welcome, welcome! Thank heavens you’re here.” He called behind him. “Andromeda, love, they’re home!” He ushered them into the front hallway, holding his daughter in a one-armed hug and shaking Remus’ hand vigorously. Mrs. Tonks appeared in the threshold, blinking back tears and smiling. She hugged Nymphadora and then kissed Remus on the cheek, whispering “Thank you for this.” Neither appeared to notice the disheveled state of their guests, so delighted were they to have family with them on Christmas. “Mr. Tonks. Mrs. Tonks. I’m afraid I can’t stay. I only came to deliver Nymphadora. Unfortunately I’m needed elsewhere.” Ted Tonks was incredulous. “Sweet yodeling Merlin on a cracker, son! You can’t leave. You’ve brought me the best gift I’ve ever received! What would I have done without my little Nymph on Christmas? The least I can do is give you a drink!” Try as he might, Remus seemed unable to extricate himself from Ted’s bracing hug and good humor. He agreed to one drink, and was offered a substantial measure of hot buttered rum. Tonks linked arms with him and led him to sofa in the sitting room. As one drink turned to three, Remus couldn’t help but notice Nymphadora’s unfettered amusement at his discomfort. She batted her eyes at him mercilessly, she took every opportunity to kiss his cheek, and she was now resting her hand lightly on his knee. He could feel her warmth through the thin material of his trousers, and it caused his breath to hitch. Even in her plain state, there was still something quintessentially Tonks-ish about her naughty demeanor tonight, and it was immensely attractive to him. Over it all, he couldn’t help but notice that the wild, woodsy scent that had driven him mad for over a year now was still working its magic. He wanted her terribly. He needed to do something to break the spell. “Ted – do you fancy a game of cards?” That was all the invitation Mr. Tonks needed. He poured more drinks and they settled themselves at a small table in the corner of the sitting room. “Are you a poker man or gin?” Ted asked. “Gin. I’m not much of a gambler, sir.” Tonks let escape a rather sarcastic snort before crossing the room to stand behind Remus. He wasn’t getting away that easily. “Do you need a hand, darling? I know you’re not great at cards.” “I’ll be fine, sweetheart, ” he said, not looking up from his hand. “Why don’t you help your mother in the kitchen?” This time both Tonks and Ted snorted noisily. “Mum doesn’t let me in the kitchen, Snugglebottom. Daddy’s not allowed in either. Silly really. All we did was burn the place down.” She grinned. “Twice,” Ted added. “In the same week!” Tonks and her Daddy hooted, and even Remus himself couldn’t help but allow himself a wee chuckle. He rubbed his shoulder absently, and winced. He didn’t realize that Nymphadora had noticed, but as he picked up his cards from the table, he felt small, warm hands touching that tender spot just below the nape of his neck. “Let me get that for you, love.” There was no longer any silliness in Nymphadora’s voice. He knew he should stop it. This was feeling less like the little game they had been playing all evening, and more like something…familiar. Something real. It was too easy to have fun with Nymphadora. It was too easy to be charmed by her. It was far too easy to love her. But before he could form the coherent thought that would remove him from the situation, he was astonished to hear himself whisper “Could you do that a bit harder?” In seconds the ache had left his shoulder, and the stress of these past few months living underground seemed to melt away. She had always been able to do that – to make things better with the simplest of words or gestures or touches. Damn! This felt so real. He loved her. He loved this family. He loved this life. He needed to get away before he convinced himself that he deserved this…this…perfection. He purposely lost miserably at gin, and then begged off, explaining that he was expected back at the Burrow and that Molly would be waiting up. He accepted warm hugs from both Ted and Andromeda, and then Tonks walked him to the door. The smile on her face was pure wickedness. “You deserved every bit of that tonight, you know.” She gave him a playful, but very unexpected smack on the ass. “Tonks! -” he was about to chastise her when he noticed something about her face. Her eyes – they had changed. He wordlessly turned her towards the hall mirror and she saw it for herself. Her eyes were suddenly a vivid, twinkling violet. She beamed at his reflection behind her in the mirror. She reached up and covered his hand that was hovering on her shoulder with her own. “Even if it only lasts a few seconds, this is a great gift, Moony.” Her eyes shone. “I feel like myself again. Thank you.” Remus nodded and smiled, savouring the warmth of this touch that might very well be her last. “Oh – and by the way,” she added, “in case you didn’t figure it out, your gift was that I didn’t tear you a new one when you showed up at my flat.” “I appreciate that. Thank you.” His chuckle was warm and genuine. She turned, and without a moment’s hesitation brushed his lips with a quick, soft kiss. Then she enveloped him in a hug that was not sexy, not passionate… just…real. Her heart beat wildly as she whispered in his ear, “I will always love you, Remus. I wish I could have…this…forever.” He pulled away and put his forehead on her own. He had to leave now or he never would. “I’m sorry” he said, and he braved a look into her eyes. As he watched, they changed back to a warm, sad grey, and filled with tears. As he stumbled out of the Tonks’ home and disapparated into the the night, his own grey eyes welled up. He wiped away a single tear before returning to the Burrow, to his cold, loveless life. The remains of his life without Nymphadora. (A/N: You may have noticed that I left a number of things unsaid here. For example, Remus and Tonks don't really discuss their feelings, nor do they discuss what life has been like for them these past few months. In a sense, it's written all over their faces, isn't it? Remus also doesn't mention the Patronus at all - he did at one stage, but the conversation seemed too familiar for this awkward position that they're in right now, so I edited it out. (I like that what remains is sort of familiar, but sort of awkward as well - they love each other, but aren't really together - it's a pretty strange dynamic, really.) Also, I had a fun description of the Tonks' sitting room, but it seemed extraneous and my word-count was getting massive, so I edited that out as well. You would have liked it, I think. Andromeda had attempted to decorate with a cool and classic hand, but got vetoed at every turn by Nymphadora and Ted. The result was that the walls were a simple, elegant beige, but they were covered with tacked-up sombreros and "Merlin on Velvet" portraits, a take on "Elvis on Velvet". In Remus' eyes, the result was comfortable and terribly amusing - which appears to also be his response to the Tonks family in general.) (I’m a little skittish about this one – reviews would be scrumptious!! Paloma)
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