Part Three: Sound of Silence
(A/N) Britishism: Zimmer frame = walker
Remus jerked his head round in the direction of the catastrophe. At the other end of the St. Mungo's waiting room, a woman stood over a mess of shards, flowers, and water. She was a slight woman, with dull skin, unremarkable features, and dishwater-blond hair. She was the sort of woman whose name nobody could ever remember, five seconds after they'd met. It took a couple of glances to make sure she was even there. Remus supposed she was . . . His attention slid away before he could even finish the thought, and he got up to help them clear the mess away.
woman cried. "Sorry! Sorry! I wasn't looking where I was going, and--"
Something about that voice . . . no, not the voice. The words.
"Tonks?" he said in disbelief, and the dull woman turned.
He stared. He wanted to say, Is that you? but that would be daft.
Had the moon not been nearly new, he would have known the instant she walked into the room. Even now, with his sense of smell nearly as dull as any other man’s, he knew her scent, and his body reacted enthusiastically.
Merlin's wand. That plain woman--that woman who took unremarkability to new lows--that woman who very nearly blended into the wallpaper--that was Tonks.
Anxiety surfaced in her muddy eyes as they crouched together to clear up the mess. "Arthur?"
He had to shake his head. "Nothing yet."
"Who else is here?"
"Just Molly. She’s in with Arthur and the healers. She’s part of the life-support spells, apparently. An anchor."
"Oh my god," she breathed. "That bad?"
He let his silence answer that. "There’s just us to sit and wait here, I’m afraid. Everyone else is--busy." With a quick flick of his wand, he repaired the vase and handed it to the nurse, who cradled it like an infant and gave Tonks a dirty look before sweeping away.
Tonks made a face after her, then jittered in place
. Remus shifted in front of a vulnerable lamp. "I wish I were busy," she said fretfully. "I've just come from Dumbledore. My job tonight's done."
He recalled what she'd been sent to do. "What happened at the Ministry?" he asked in a low voice, leading her to the quiet corner he'd claimed, which was breakables-free.
She told him in the same low voice. It was almost as dissatisfying as his own news. The snake had disappeared and nobody seemed to know anything. "I imagine Kingsley will tell us a bit more tomorrow. I just sort of hung about and listened. Didn't ask anybody anything too weird. Didn't want to draw too much attention to meself."
"Is that why--" he gestured at her overall forgettability.
She looked down at herself. "Well--yeah." She gave him a crooked grin, and it brought her face momentarily to life. "How d'you like the real me?"
"This is your--umm--natural state?" It seemed like the biggest oxymoron in nature--a forgettable Tonks.
"It's--a shock," he said honestly. Now that he put his mind to it, he remembered that Metamorphmagi were usually unremarkable in their natural state. The book, he felt, had not done enough to stress just how unremarkable.
She concentrated, and her hair shortened to spikes and turned its accustomed bubble-gum pink. "Better?"
"A bit." Unbelievably, even under the brightened hair, her face seemed to fade into nothingness. She grinned at him again, and the face he was used to took shape around the grin, as if she were a crazy sort of Cheshire cat. He relaxed.
Wearing that face and hair, she made even her bland grey jumper and dull brown trousers look colorful and cheery. "What's the time?" she asked.
Remus checked the clock. "It's gone two."
"And it was, what, midnight
"Only two hours." She rubbed her arms, her palms shushing against the wool. "It doesn't seem like only two hours."
"Tonks," he said.
"Sorry," she mumbled, and sat still. For a minute. Then--
He looked at her.
"I'd be fine," she burst out, "if it weren't so bloomin' quiet."
In fact, it wasn't the least bit quiet. Besides Tonks's restless noises, there were footsteps, the rise and fall of voices, the zip-sizzle of spells, and a hundred other little noises. St. Mungo's was alive with sound, even at this hour of the night. But Remus knew what she meant.
Without any information about their friend, the place was simply too silent.
After what felt like three or four eons, but was probably more like ten minutes, Tonks leapt up. "I'm going to ask for news." Her voice was too quick, the words jumbling together, and she dashed off before finishing the sentence.
"They won't know at the front desk," Remus called out, following. His legs were longer, but he still didn't catch her up until she had stopped in front of the reception desk. In spite of the time, there were a few people in front of her. "Wait--they won't know here."
Tonks bounced up and down on her toes as if she had springs in her shoes, trying to see over the shoulder of the man in front of her, who was
scowling and holding his arm as it oozed something purple. "They'll know who to ask--" She started to dart around the grouchy man, and Remus caught the back of her jumper.
"Just wait," he said.
Some smell, something that wasn't disinfectant or blood or Tonks, tickled his nose. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, like a dog's hackles, and bit down hard on his cheek. What was it?
To distract himself, he focused
his thoughts on Arthur. There was probably no news
to be had. Someone would have come to get them if--
If something had happened.
Tonks stayed in line, but she practically vibrated in place. It surprised him that her outline didn't blur. He thought of touching her--arm, shoulder, back--to calm her down, but he had the feeling that if he did that, she might just go off like a Dr. Filibuster's.
Or he might.
He hadn't seen much of her since that day in July, in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, but he thought of her. A lot. Every time she wasn't around, he told himself that the tingle in his blood and the fizz just under his skin were imaginary. That he really wasn't as attracted to her as he thought he was. That she was a friend and co-worker, and nothing more.
And every time she turned up, hair a brand new shade of impossible, eyes sparkling with her lifelong joke, he knew he was lying to himself.
It had all been so easy on him when he'd still thought of her with friendly affection and rather amused tolerance. But that morning had changed everything. Her cycle didn't coincide with the moon's, so he'd never since gotten as strong a dose of the woman smell as he had in that sunny kitchen.
But the damage was already done. After she'd become
a woman to his senses, it had all been downhill from there.
Little by little, Nymphadora Tonks had invaded his thoughts and dreams until he felt as if he were drowning in the wanting of her.
He truly doubted she felt the same way about him.
She probably thinks you're an antique. A dinosaur. On the waiting list for a Zimmer frame and a nice bowl of gruel before your nine o'clock bed-time.
He grimaced. He hated gruel.
The smell--not Tonks, the other--hit him again. He clenched his fists until his short nails bit into his palms, fighting to distract himself from the growl that clawed at the back of his throat. Why
now? He was human right now, mostly, with the moon a thin, waning fingernail in the sky. Why was the wolf snapping and snarling within him?
Tonks said, "What?" and he jumped.
She studied him, her brows drawn together. "D'you want to sit down? You look tired."
He sighed. "No, I'm fine."
In front of them, the nurse on duty was arguing with the grouchy man
, their words jumbling together as he interrupted her and she interrupted him back. "Sir,
" she tried. "Sir. Sir. Sir. We can't--sir, please, just listen. We can't treat you properly unless we know what it was that bit you."
"It doesn't matter," he said impatiently. "Wild dog. Look, it's infected, that's the point, and I need you to do something about it."
Remus's eyes dropped to the purple ooze on the man's arm. He could practically feel his teeth grow, even as his heart filled with compassion. Ah, god.
"Was there venom?" the nurse wanted to know.
"I don't know, it was a dog!"
"Are you sure?"
"It was a dog, why do I have to keep telling you that?"
"What did it look like?"
"A dog! Fur, paws, teeth, I noticed the teeth straight off, seeing as how they were lodged in my arm--"
"This happened when?"
About two weeks ago--damned dog came out of nowhere--
I thought it was nothing but--"
e full moon was two weeks ago, wasn't it?
Remus barely stopped himself from saying "thirteen days."
The nurse dropped her voice. "Sir, could it have been a werewolf?"
The man choked.
Tonks shot Remus a quick, worried glance.
"No!" the man shouted, half a second too late.
"Sir," the nurse said quietly. "You'd better come with me."
"It was just a dog! Common variety--pit bull, that's what it was, a pit bull. Or-or maybe a terrier! Not a werewolf, I'd know a werewolf if I saw one--"
"Sir, we're going to the fourth floor, all right?" She took him away, as he continued swearing that it hadn't been anything like a werewolf, no indeed, perhaps it had been a Chihuahua, those were evil little buggers all right--
They had to wait at the desk for a few minutes before the nurse returned, and then a few minutes more for her to obtain the information that there wasn't any--information, that was. Arthur was still being worked on. Remus hadn't expected anything else. They returned to their seats.
The silence had become a sucking tar pit, threatening to drag him under. Remus tried to catch his breath and couldn't. On the wall, a clock ticked like a giant's footfalls. There was a faint roaring in his ears, like a waterfall a long way off.
"It wasn't me." The words leapt out on their own, falling into the silence like stones into a pond.
"I know," she said straight away.
"It wasn't," he said. "I took the potion. I always take the potion." Since his slip a year and a half before, the night Peter had escaped, he'd been twice as careful about the Wolfsbane potion.
"I know," she said again.
"Oh." He let out his breath, slowly, but the tension didn't slip out with it.
The clock ticked on. Damned thing was really awfully loud.
"Did you--know? When you saw him, I mean."
He swallowed, and something in his ears clicked. "No. Not precisely."
She didn't say anything, and the silence was a question.
"I smelled it. Him. I reacted, but I didn't understand why."
"You tensed up all of a sudden."
"But you didn't know why?"
"No. It was automatic. Instinctive. Like a--" wolf. "An animal. I don't run into a lot of--others. And he was . . . new. Didn't smell quite--like one or the other."
"His body's still changing."
She fell silent then, and he listened to her. The hush-hush of cloth against cloth as she shifted, the soft in-out rush of her breathing--was it a bit fast?
He almost fancied he heard the beat of her heart.
"What was it like for you?"
Caught by surprise, he didn't answer straight away, and she jumped in. "Never mind. Ignore me. Stupid question. Really brainless. I shouldn't--"
"I didn't understand," he said.
"Me? You didn't understand me? That's all right, never mind--"
"I didn't understand what was happening." He looked at her. "I was--four. Perhaps three." Half to himself: "Surprised I remember it at all."
"You don't need to--"
"My father. I remember my father shouting. My mother crying. All I knew was that a big dog had bitten me, and that it was the worst possible thing that could have happened. But I didn't understand." He took an unsteady breath. "And nobody would tell me why."
She said nothing. He looked at her. She was staring at her hands.
"Sorry. That's probably not what you wanted to hear about."
She looked up quickly. "No. No, it was. Really."
When Sirius, James, and Peter had asked, Remus had told them what happened. He'd been bitten while on a walk with his parents. They'd known it was a werewolf from the first. Twenty-eight days later, he'd changed form for the first time. All very matter-of-fact.
At that time, he'd been a twelve-year old boy, talking to other twelve-year-old boys whom he desperately wanted to remain friends with. He hadn't told them how terrified and confused he'd been. He'd never told anyone that. Except, now, Tonks.
"Did it hurt? Not the bite," she added. "The--change."
He considered that. "No," he said. "Things about me changed, but--it didn't hurt. Not until my first transformation."
"I've heard about that," she said quietly. "Is it really that bad?"
"Human skin's not meant to warp like that.
Organs aren’t supposed to shift around the way they do. Bones weren’t made
to change shape. It hurts."
"Every time without the potion. Half of that is really just
a painkiller that works on our bodies. We're not really--one thing or the other, so it's difficult." He smiled and felt the muscles of his face creak. "The other half's a sleeping draught."
She said nothing, and he looked away. Across the room, an arrangement of dried flowers sat in a vase. He concentrated on that, tracing the brittle lines of stem and petals. One of the stems had broken, and the heavy head drooped down almost to the table.
She shifted, her trousers rustling against the material of the chair, and took in a breath. "Remus?"
He looked back at her, wondering what she would say.
She smiled, but it was an effortful smile, like his own. Her words came out haltingly, as if she wasn't sure of them. "I'm glad you have the potion. I don't like to think of you hurting."
"Thank you," he said, and felt foolish. Thank you? But what else was there to say to that?
He looked back at the dried flowers.
Why had he told her?
Because she'd asked, he thought. Because she had asked, Nymphadora Tonks who hated her first name and turned her hair colors that would glow in the dark and laughed in a way that made his fingers itch to touch her and his mouth yearn to taste her. Because she'd wanted to know.
The clock had ticked away ten more minutes before he felt he could look back at her. When he did, he found her slumped in her chair, her cheek propped on her hand, and her eyelids drooping.
Relief washed over him. He'd half-convinced himself he would see her huddled in the corner farthest from him, staring as if he were a mortal danger to himself and others. Which of course he was, but not right this minute. "Boring you to sleep, am I?" he asked.
Her head jerked up, and she blinked furiously. "No! No."
He felt the tug at the corners of his mouth. "There's no shame in it. It's been a long night."
"I don't really need much sleep. A few hours."
"And when was the last time you got that much?"
She thought. "
A laugh escaped before he could smother it. "Get some rest. It'll make the hours go faster."
She frowned at him for the laugh. "But one of us should be awake."
"It'll be me in any case.
"How do you know?" she challenged.
"I get insomnia." Usually around the full moon, but she wasn’t to know that.
Her frown changed to one of concern. "Does nothing work? You should sleep."
"This from you," he mocked gently.
"Sweetheart, I'm not ready for the quiet of the grave just yet." He pulled his cloak off the chair next to him, rolled it into a ball, and handed it to her. She looked at the makeshift pillow as if it were the biggest hunk of chocolate in the world.
"I'll just close my eyes a moment. If you're sure--"
"I'll wake you if anything happens."
"Or if you get sleepy," she said firmly. "Promise."
"Of course," he said
, so she would go to sleep.
She put the cloak against his arm and curled up, smaller than he would have thought possible. After some wiggling around to settle herself, she went still. Just as he thought she was asleep, she lifted her head. "Of course you're not ready for the quiet of the grave. You're much too young to die." She put her head back down. In the pause between one breath and the next, she fell asleep.
Through the dregs of the night, he sat in the waiting room, listening to her sleep.
And when his eyelids got so heavy he couldn’t keep them open, he surprised himself by waking her, as he’d promised, and letting her watch over his slumber as he’d done for her.