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Chapter 13 I own nothing. Thanks to JKR. (Go raibh míle maith agat a Jess, chomh maith. Is brea liom é sin á dhéanamh!) Thanks (and apologies) to Garth Brooks for the title, of course. Friends in Low Places Nymphadora Tonks did her best to hurry through the thick, dark forest in the early June mist. Her wand tip illuminated her way and saved her from the majority of tree roots and fallen branches that threatened to trip her at every turn. The few times that she did fall, she was able to scramble back to her feet before a rather gorgeous silvery whisper of a wolf could hover over her, his eyes filled with concern. Each time she had brushed herself off, and uttered a quick “I’m fine, Moony, love. Go on,” before continuing on her treacherous path. The Patronus moved quickly, thank heavens – they were running out of time. She had been surprised that morning to find Dumbledore at her favorite table in the Three Broomsticks, where she had headed for a bite of breakfast. He had not been in much contact with her of late, and in fact seemed to be keeping to himself moreso than ever. She nodded to him and made to plunk down elsewhere, but he motioned for her to sit with him. “Good morning, Nymphadora. It’s good to see you.” “Professor.” Her voice was more curt than she had intended it to be. She hadn’t been happy with Dumbledore for allowing Remus to take on his dangerous mission underground with the werewolves, and was less pleased that the Headmaster had not been forthcoming with information about Lupin’s health and safety. Even so, this was a man who, for many reasons, deserved her respect. “Do join me.” He pointed to a basket of scones and a tea service set for two. “You seem to be waiting for someone. I wouldn’t want to interrupt.” “Oh, I assure you, Miss Tonks, you are not interrupting anything. It’s strawberry jam for your scone, is it not?” Tonks gave him a quizzical look– how the hell did he know that? She seated herself across from him. They ate in silence for what seemed like ages. Any anger that Tonks had held towards the Headmaster seemed to melt in his presence. He looked… frail, she decided. He had never seemed like anything other than an incredibly powerful wizard to her, but today, with the morning sun’s rays catching the exhaustion in his eyes and lines in his face, he seemed old. Old and tired. A sense of understanding dawned on her. So much rested on his shoulders. So much of the wizarding world relied on him for leadership and guidance. So many young lives were held in the balance of this war they were waging. She was certain that he was feeling the gravity his role as protector. She offered her first genuine smile of the day, and reached to cover his good hand with her small, warm one. “What can I do for you, sir?” “Well, Nymphadora, I’m glad you asked.” Dumbledore’s eyes sparkled, and it was clear from his tone of voice that he understood himself to be forgiven. “I need your help. I have to be away from the castle for a time this evening, and I was wondering if you could do a few hours of extra patrol.” “Of course. I’d be happy to.” “Ah – but I’m afraid there’s more to the job. I’m concerned that there be enough reinforcements, so I was hoping that you help me in that regard, also.” “I’ll see what I can do, sir. Kingsley may be able to be spared, and I might be able to find Dung in time, and - ” “Actually, Nymphadora, I was hoping that you could bring Remus on duty with you.” Tonks swallowed hard before answering. “I don’t know where he is, sir. Even if I did, I have the sense that he doesn’t want to see me. I haven't seen him in months. We, ah, had been dating, but we’ve broken up.” If her cheeks were as red as they felt, she was certain that she could glow in the dark. She avoided the Headmaster’s gaze. “You don’t say?” He cocked one eyebrow in a manner that must have been quite charming when he was younger, but was quite alarming on a wizard in his late hundreds. Tonks squirmed uncomfortably. “Well, Nymphadora, I’m given to understand that your new Patronus should be able to find our dear Professor Lupin.” Huh? “What makes you say that, sir?” “Well, he has been keeping him company during the past few full moons. Curls up next to him and falls asleep. Remus has mentioned that it has been a great source of comfort to him that you have sending your Patronus along for visits.” Tonks seemed stunned for a moment. “But I haven’t, sir! I had no idea. I tend to summon Moony myself for company on occasion.” “Moony? Indeed.” “Yes sir. My Patronus has changed to the shape of a werewolf, so it seemed fitting…” Again with the crippling embarrassment. “Go on.” “Well, I do often summon him on the night of the full moon, when I happen to be particularly concerned about Remus…but why would my Patronus go to protect someone else?” Dumbledore offered a small smile. “My guess is that your Patronus understands that you will not feel safe while Remus is alone and in danger. It considers bringing a measure of comfort to the one you love as a means of protecting you, I suspect. It’s lovely, really.” He paused, and his mind seemed to wander for a moment. “Whatever the reason, it is very useful. If you follow your Patronus, you should be able to find Remus and bring him back for duty this evening.” “I will, sir.” Tonks was still reeling from the news that Moony had been seeing to Remus. She had never heard of such a thing. “Nymphadora – Remus has been living with very little these past few months. You might be surprised by the state of him.” Tonks nodded. “He really needs your friendship right now. I know you love him dearly. He loves you too – of that I am certain. I am also certain that your time together will come. However, right now, I have the sense that Remus needs, more than anything, to feel that he has a friend in the world who cares for him. And I think you could be that friend.” Tonks nodded. “Oh – and Miss Tonks – you might want to run home and get your warm cloak. I believe it may be cooler where Remus is living right now.” With that, Dumbledore stood, offered a polite bow, and turned to leave. He seemed to think better of himself, though, and turned around to face Tonks once more. “Nymphadora?” “Yes sir?” “If Remus ever wanted to name a child ‘Albus’, you’d put a stop to that, wouldn’t you?” The absurdity of the question made Tonks laugh out loud. “I can’t imagine that I’d have much say in the matter, sir.” She chuckled to herself. “Even so – as a friend, would you try to dissuade him? It would be my wish.” Tonks crossed the room and offered the Headmaster a quick kiss on the cheek. “I promise to try, Sir. Best of luck tonight.” And with that, Dumbledore turned and left. Tonks drew her cloak around her, thankful for the grandfatherly advice to wear something heavy. It was indeed quite cool, and nothing like the spring weather that had been warming Hogsmeade for the past few weeks. She scurried deeper into the forest, wondering how much further they could possibly have to go. They were miles in at this stage – where could Remus be? As if to answer her thought, Moony stopped in front of a strange-looking makeshift hut of tree limbs and mosses. To its left was a fire pit that was still smoking – someone had been here recently. Tonks bent a little at the waist, and moved inside. A flick of her wand revealed the simple room. She could barely stand at her full height, which meant that Remus, who was at least a foot taller than she, would be very uncomfortable moving around at all. There was a bed roll to one side, a few candles on a low stump that was being used as a table, and a number of well-worn books, as well as the small painting of the full moon that she had given him. She smiled to herself. That was all it would take to keep him happy, really. She was just bending down to see what he had been reading when she heard a noise outside. She peered around the threshold, only to see Remus approaching. She was thankful to have this moment to adjust to the sight of him. His appearance was heartbreaking. He was thin and terribly gaunt, and his pale skin seemed to glow. His hair was long and bedraggled, as was his beard. His eyes were dim, but seemed to light up at the sight of something in the distance. Moony. “Hello, boy!” he called out to the Patronus. “It’s a bit early for you, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to see you.” The silvery wolf came out of the shadows and tilted his head, blinking in the direction of Remus’ hand. “Ah – sorry about that. Supper musn’t look too appealing, hey boy? Still – I was happy to get it. It’s not often I can get ahold of a rabbit.” He held up the bloodied, rather unappetizing-looking rodent. Tonks caught her breath. It was all she could do not to cry. She had had no idea how difficult things had been for Remus these past few months. This was atrocious. How could the most civilized man she’d ever known be reduced to living like this? It was too heartbreaking to fathom. She blinked back the tears that were forming, just in time. Moony tilted his head towards the door of the hut. Remus jumped back a little at the sight of her, and the rabbit dropped from his hands. She smiled warmly. “Hello, friend. Nice place you’ve got here.” “T-Tonks. What are you doing here?” Remus seemed suddenly quite mortified by his surroundings. “Dumbledore needs you for duty at Hogwarts tonight. He figured my new Patronus here could find you. That was news to me. I had no idea that you and Moony were such great friends.” Remus looked confused. “You mean you didn’t send him?” “Nope. He found you on his own. I’m glad he did, though. I think you needed him more than I did.” “I did. Thanks. Moony, eh?” Tonks nodded. “Well, that seems about right.” He motioned to his little home. “What do you think of the Palace?” “I think it needs a woman’s touch. Maybe some wallpaper to spruce it up. Hmmm – and some windowboxes, perhaps?” Remus smiled. “That would necessitate windows, Tonks.” “So it would.” She offered him her friendliest wink before continuing. “Come one. We’ll go to my place and get you cleaned up before duty. You can have a shower and everything. I won’t even peek – I promise!” Remus chuckled and shook his head. Before he could consider her offer, she had grabbed his hand and apparated back to her flat. ______________________________________________________________________________________________ Remus was hovering between embarrassment and delight. It was certainly a thrill to be out of the woods and in the warmth of Tonks’ flat, but he was mortified by the filthy and ragged state of himself, and more than a little concerned about what Tonks might be expecting of him, now that they were in close quarters. She had been acting quite strangely with him, though - friendly without being too forward or suggestive. He felt both elated and a bit sad at the thought that she may have found someone new. That would explain her pleasant demeanor and non-threatening behavior. Even so, it felt good to have a friend in the world right now. As she rummaged through her linen closet for towels, he sauntered over to the shelf in the kitchen that held the now-infamous Barbie camper. This time, Barbie and her man were sitting next to each other, legs dangling over the edge of the shelf, in hip-waders and holding fishing poles. Huh? What the hell? “Here - ” She strolled into the room and handed him some towels “The loo’s down that hall and to the left. Leave your clothes outside the door and I’ll clean them up.” Remus considered this for a moment. “I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble.” “Don’t be so foolish. You may as well put on clean clothes after your shower. Oh, and I’ll cook us up some supper, too.” Remus looked nervous, recalling a batch of sugar cookies accidentally baked with salt that even he in all his politeness, couldn’t choke down. “Are you kidding me? You were about to chow down on mutilated rodent, but you balk at the thought of my cooking?! I’m hurt, Lupin – really hurt.” Tonks folded her arms and tapped her foot, while Remus shuffled uncomfortably. “It’s not that, Tonks, really. I just really don’t want you to go to any trouble.” “You are SO transparent, sir. What if I told you that I have leftovers from Molly in the icebox, just waiting to be heated up?” At the thought of Molly Weasley’s cooking, Remus’ stomach gave a rather violent growl. “Ah – that seems to have done the trick. Well then – go get cleaned up, and I’ll re-heat supper, since that’s all you’re willing to accept from me.” With that Tonks shooed him off towards the loo. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Remus turned the tap to scalding hot and allowed the spray and steam to surround him. God – it had been ages since he had felt this relaxed. He reached for the soap Tonks had left for him, and stopped suddenly. As he inhaled the scent of the soap in the water, he sensed something wild and woodsy. Ah – so this was it. It brought back fleeting memories of drinks shared and quiet moments together and stolen kisses and long, soft limbs splayed on his bed and – “Hey Tonks,” he called out, “What kind of soap is this?” “It’s Patchouli. If you don’t like it, there’s probably some regular stuff in the cabinet above the sink.” “No, no, it’s fine. Just unusual.” He inhaled deeply again. “I know. People either like it or they hate it – there doesn’t seem to be much in-between with Patchouli. Did you know that for some people it’s an aphrodisiac?” “You don’t say.” Remus dared not tell her that the sense memory of that scent, and all that it meant to him, was the only thing keeping him sane during these past few months of hell. Warm, dry, shaved and dressed in a rather gaudy kimono, Remus sat down to a supper of roast beef, potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Tonks sensed that he was starving, and attempting to eat slowly out of politeness, so she started eating like a fiend herself. “Cripes, Lupin – there’s no time to stand on ceremony. We have duty in half an hour. Eat up, for god’s sake.” She gave him a sly grin. “If you don’t hurry, you won’t have time for dessert.” Remus raised an eyebrow, and Tonks continued. “I have pumpkin pie, and a big bar of chocolate.” At the thought of his favorite treats, Remus started shoveling food into himself like a teenager. Tonks chuckled at the sight of him. He looked ridiculous and gorgeous all at once. As much as she might have wanted to jump him, she was happier just to see him properly cared for. Maybe Dumbledore was right. Maybe she could be Remus’ friend. She was damned well going to try. After they finished their pudding and tea, Remus got dressed in his freshly-laundered clothes, and was about to head for the door. He was stopped by Tonks, brandishing a rather menacing looking pair of shears. “One more thing, Lupin.” He swallowed hard. “That hair. It’s ridiculous. Let me trim it for you.” Remus stared at her through a fringe that was reaching his long nose, and shrugged. “That’s probably a good idea. As long as you’re quick.” Tonks nodded and pushed him into a chair. Remus tried his best not to look skittish as Tonks flitted around his head with sharp scissors. Tonks tried her best not to take too much delight in the blissful domesticity of the scene. She managed to shorten the back of his hair quite reasonably, and then moved in front of him to attack the fringe. “Sit still, Remus,” she ordered, and then settled into his lap, biting her lip in concentration as she snipped away at the wall of sandy hair that was hiding his eyes. She was too short, though, and her legs barely made it to the floor. She faltered a little and Remus grabbed her by the hips to steady her – it was that or be accidentally stabbed, he reasoned. She did a good job of focusing on her breathing as well as the task at hand, and managed to keep herself from being overwhelmed by this fine-smelling man whose lap she had invaded, who now had a warm, firm grip on her waist. She was holding up well until a final snip of the lengthened fringe revealed all – grey eyes, flecked with amber, staring at her with a warmth and curiosity that stripped her to the essence of her soul. She jumped up. “Well, my friend, we ought to head off to duty. Shall we?” She handed him his cloak. Before she could apparate to the relative safety of the gates of Hogwarts, he grabbed her hand. “Thank you for seeing to me, Tonks. It’s been ages since I’ve felt this good.” Tonks attempted to be flippant, but her response was sincere. “What are friends for?” Remus nodded. “Shall we go together, then?” She gave him a genuine smile and a nod before they apparated to their duty, blissfully unaware of the evening that was to befall them. I’d appreciate any reviews you might wish to leave. Thanks. Paloma

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