"Do you know the best thing about this wine?" Nymphadora Tonks inspected a jam jar full of what - to the uninitiated - looked and smelled an awful lot like urine.
"That we might not get hepatitis from drinking it?" Sirius Black suggested hopefully, his face scrunched up after having taken a sip.
"That unlike real wine, you don't need a particular type of glass in which to optimally enjoy it?" Remus Lupin had a row of eggcups in front of him, each holding a mouthful of wine.
"That it is called Sauvignon Blanc-flavoured wine product on the box?"
"That it came in a box?"
"No," she slurred, leaning forward on the kitchen table while staring into the yellow depths of the wine, as though she hoped to divine truth from it. "It's that it actually cost me less to buy this than it would have cost me to buy the same amount of milk."
The two men groaned.
"Oh. Neither of you two are allergic to fish, shellfish or egg, right? Because according to the box you probably shouldn't drink this if you are."
"That's quite enough of this for tonight," Remus said, picking up the sad, deflated bladder and tossing it in the direction of the sink. "Are you sure we're out of wine?"
"Oy, don't throw that out!" Sirius lurched for the sink, grabbing the silver sac and holding it up to his mouth. "Drinking Muggle wine makes me feel like I am having an intercultural experience. Like I am an exchange student, or something. This is the closest thing to a dangerous Order mission that I will ever get."
"Where is the rest of the liquor, then?"
"Finished it all off at the beach party." The event he referred to deserved neither the appellation of 'party', nor the modifier 'beach': someone had brought a bucket of sand to cover up vomit stains after a particularly raucous meeting had got out of hand, and Sirius had worn rolled-up trousers. All in all, it had been one of their more productive and engaging meetings. "Don't suppose you're keen to nip off down to the shops and buy some real stuff, Tonksy?"
Her first reaction was primarily non-verbal, though vulgar. "It was fine. Not sure of what you're complaining about. Here I am, slaving away in the office all day to provide for you, risking life and limb, and I come back here to have my bread-winning efforts spurned by ungrateful man-children?" She leaned back in her chair, lolling her head back to stare at the ceiling. "One of these days, I'm going to go find a man who appreciates my exquisite knowledge of viticulture and you'll all be sorry."
Upstairs, someone bashed at the front door, and within seconds the piercing wail of Mrs Black's portrait shrilly filled the air. Remus and Tonks got up wordlessly, rushing up the stairs and through the corridors to put an end to the din. Remus took to the stairs two-at-a-time, fighting with the curtain while panting heavily and resounding to incorporate more aerobic fitness into his daily routine. No sooner had the house fallen silent again did he hear another loud, piercing cry: "Charlieeeeeeeeee!"
He looked back down the stairs to see Tonks clinging, like a limpet, around the waist of a bemused Charlie Weasley. "He brought Ogden's, Remus! Isn't he the most wonderful?"
"He truly is." The two men shook hands. "No beard this time around?"
"Caught fire. It was only a matter of time." Charlie ran his hand over his jaw. "Makes me look like a seventeen year old again. I don't know if I like it or not."
Tonks released him from her grip. "S'nice. I liked the beard too, though."
"And you, Remus? You ever considered facial hair?"
"Once. It was embarrassing. Come on downstairs."
He ushered Charlie and Tonks down to the kitchens, stopping only when Tonks seed a step and nearly crashed down the remainder. "Sirius! We have a saviour!"
"We love you," Sirius said, eyes firmly locked on the Ogden's. "You should taste the piss Tonks has been making us drink."
"Your palate still lousy, Dora? She once drank a bottle of preserving alcohol in sixth year. I thought Snape would actually let her die of alcohol poisoning."
She blushed. "Weirdo. Open it up!"
"Your mum and dad not home, Charlie?"
"Well," started Charlie, who twisted off the cap with stubby fingers, "Dad's still at work and Mum's on duty. And last time I was home I walked in on Bill and Fleur, and that's an experience I am not keen to repeat. If there's a spare sofa here, I'll eagerly claim it for the night."
"Study upstairs is free." Sirius tipped the dregs of his wine down the sink, and eagerly refilled it with firewhiskey. "Room and board are always provided for people who actually keep us in the lifestyle to which we are accustomed," he said, shooting a glare at Tonks for the wine transgressions.
Charlie laughed, and as Tonks passed him, he roughly pulled her into his lap. "Give us a try of this legendary plonk, then," he said, indicating to her jar.
Remus watched her reach for it, her hips twisting and grinding in his lap as she held it up to him, and he watched as Charlie's fingers brushed against hers as his own breath caught in his throat. The room suddenly suffocated him: too hot, too airless, and too claustrophobic. She was holding the bottle of Ogden's, her lips flush against the rim, and as she swallowed, tiny drops trickled out her mouth and down her chin.
He felt a soft kick from under the table, and his eyes locked on Sirius, who was looking at him pointedly. "Er -- don't you have work in the morning?"
"Shit!" She set the bottle down on the table. "I don't want to go."
"Come on," Charlie said, jiggling his leg with her still sitting in his lap, "you better head off."
"Do you want me to walk you to the apparition spot?" Remus said, pushing his chair back.
"No, no, it's all fine, you stay where you are, you've already got comfortable," Charlie said in what Remus found to be an intensely affable yet annoying tone. "I'll go for a walk. Up you get."
She pulled herself to her feet unsteadily. "I reckon I might be sick unless I head soon. Night, you rabble," she said, walking backwards towards the stairs while staring at the two seated men.
As the front door closed quietly behind them, Remus settled back into his chair, staring miserably at the eggcups of wine in front of him. He knew Sirius was staring at him. He didn't need to look up to be able to tell that. The room was still uncomfortably warm, and he didn't know if it was the wine or recently departed company, but a wave of nausea started licking against his feet.
"Eighty proof, this stuff. It'll put hairs on your chest," Sirius said, holding the bottle in his hand, eyes still firmly glued to Remus.
"Generous offer, that. Like that kid a lot."
"That stuff has hit you hard. Old mate what's gone to walk her down the road."
"Right." He picked up an eggcup, and with the grim determination of a man who knows yet does not care that he is soon to die, he downed the wine in a flash. "I don't know. This stuff grows on you."
"You're lying." Sirius refilled his teacup. "You were always terrible at lying. Why do you think the Potters never made you their secret keeper?"
"Because you were too sexy to overlook."
Sirius snatched the remaining eggcups from a weakly protesting Remus. "He seems to quite like her, I think."
"And she seems to like him too."
"Delightful. Oh, to be young again."
"You've never been young."
"I have had extensive second hand experience in it, and apparently it is great."
Remus reached for the Ogden's, but Sirius's hand snatched it from his grasp. "No jealousy?"
"The look you were giving her. It was hardly subtle."
"I drifted off for a moment. Do you never drift off?"
"I never have attractive young women I'm not related to in my presence." Sirius uncapped the bottle and took a swig. "Why do you even bother lying when you're just plain no good at it?"
"If you're not going to share the drink, then I think I might head off to bed. Your infinite wisdom will be perfectly good company for you."
"That is some good giving up, right there," Sirius sneered as his friend passed him on the way out. "We should put you in charge of the Order. Look, Lord Voldemort, you have made a really convincing argument about just rolling over. We might just do that. Fancy a chosen child or two to seal the deal? Rub your shoulders for you while I'm at it?"
It took Remus until halfway up the stairs to the second floor to think of a decent rejoinder, but by this point he was too tired and uncoordinated to make the round trip back to the kitchen. When he reached Regulus's room, he tried in vain to pull open the jammed window, to no avail (adding, to his lengthy mental list of self-improvement projects, enough strengthening exercises to assist him with basic daily tasks like opening windows, tricky jars, and over-tightened taps).
The evening was excessively humid and stifling for mid-May, and he felt his clothing cling to him with the static electricity in the air. It felt overdue for a late spring thunderstorm, and he wished for even the smallest bit of circulating air in the room. He shucked his shirt, the night air no cooler now he stood bare-chested. He fell back onto the sheets, hoping that they would be cooler, but sadly not.
His mind turned to Charlie, and he clutched at his pillow as a shot of pain rang through his temples. Stocky, muscular Charlie, who could certainly open his own windows, and buy his own top-shelf liquor, and grow a beard without it looking wispy and stupid.
His mind turned to Tonks. Tonks who, tonight, wore her hair in an offensively bright shade of turquoise to her shoulders (which went better with her dark eyes than it had any right to). Tonks, who did not once make eye contact with him that evening. Tonks, whose legs were wrapped around Charlie Weasley's torso in the open doorway, her head nestled into the crook of his neck, her waist encircled by his hands at the table.
He slept fitfully, woken every few hours when his body twitched violently after an extremely vivid series of dreams about falling off broomsticks, no doubt brought on by a third of a bladder of inappropriately cheap Muggle wine product.
"So," Tonks said, pulling the invisibility cloak over her briefly exposed sneakers. "Say you had the choice of dying by one extremely painful stab to the heart, or a hundred mildly painful paper cuts."
That night saw them waiting outside a garage in Islington. The heat had not abated: if anything, it had only become steamier and muggier.
"I don't feel well enough to answer that question."
"I reckon you and Sirius were right on that wine," she murmured. "I reckon I would have been sick about twenty times when I got home. Thank goodness Charlie decided to walk me back home, I think I'd have splinched myself if I'd tried to Apparate."
Remus frowned. "Wouldn't that have taken ages?"
"Yeah, reckon it took about an hour or two. Probably would've been shorter if I didn't need to sit down every hundred yards or so."
"You friends with Charlie at school?"
"Yeah... Not really, no. Kind of."
"Well," she said, pulling herself in closer to him in order to fit under the cloak, "it was weird. He was more a friend of a friend. Nice enough to me. Most people thought I was a bit of a loud mouthed loser, though. I wasn't really popular at school."
He felt her head brush against his shoulder. "I find that quite hard to believe. Almost as hard to believe as me being popular."
"You peaked in high school," she said, laughing. "You're such a stereotype."
"Speak for yourself!"
"What," she pressed, a little too loudly. "How am I a stereotype? What am I a stereotype of?"
He paused to think for a moment. "Middle class nerdy girls who are having their moment of respectable and predictable rebellion once they leave school."
"I am not!"
"The pink hair? I am surprised you don't have a tattoo and a nose ring."
"I do have a tattoo," she mumbled in reply, crossing her arms in faux indignation.
"My point proven."
She rolled back the sleeves of her shirt, and with her wand tip lit, she held her forearm up to him. "Fine. The cap fits."
He leaned in to read. "Toujours Crasseux. I like it."
"I thought Mum would have liked it more than she did, you know. Dad reckoned it was smashing. Mum just got mad."
He leaned his head back on the crumbled bricks behind him. Despite the heat and the ergonomics, there was something intensely comfortable about the moment. It was probably the most he could ever expect, and as he looked at her pale skin with the black, spidery lettering, he saw her head cradled in Charlie Weasley's neck again, and he felt the moment sour.
"When did Charlie say he was going back to Romania?"
"Friday. He's on duty tonight, then seeing other friends on Wednesday. He's taking me out Thursday."
He clenched his jaw, hoping she couldn't feel his body tense. "Oh?"
"I don't think anything too fancy, knowing him."
He watched her fingers twirling a shoelace around them, her fingernails bitten off, and he had to fight the impulse to reach for her hand and hold it still. She was avoiding his gaze now, her head held low and her breathing shallow. From outside the alley, he could hear pedestrians bustling along the footpath after having been deposited by a bus. "This is a bit of a bust tonight," he said aloud. "If Yaxley was going to come, he'd have been here hours ago. I reckon he'll leave it for tonight."
"You sure? It's only ten thirty."
"Ages ago. I'm sure of it. I can check in again tomorrow night." As he pulled himself upright, he felt a dull ache in his knees. You sad shit, Lupin, he thought to himself, you can't even sit cross-legged without getting pains. This is why she wants Charlie over you. Gallantly, though secretly doubting his ability to provide any real help, he held out his hand to her. She accepted, and as she stood, she clung to his hand softly.
Wishful thinking. Nothing but wishful thinking. He held his breath, waiting for her to release his hand, which she did only after a spell. "Wasted night?"
"Not entirely," he said, a weak smile on his face which she hoped he couldn't see in the dark. "Your company is always slightly better than I think mine is."
"You didn't answer my question earlier," she said, walking beside him to an empty squash can at the far end of the alley. "Knife to the chest, or paper cuts to the webbing of your toes?"
Despite his fear of all things sharp and certainty that he would not come out the better in a knife fight with anyone, he thought of the tiny little wounds inflicted each day watching her brush Floo Powder off her front, or when she borrowed his jumpers and returned them smelling of her, or when she laughed and snorted a bit at the end.
He realised his would be a death by a thousand little cuts, and the thought was worse to him than anything else.
"The stab to the chest. I'd prefer that any day."
After apparating into what smelled like a puddle of brake fluid that had leaked onto the bitumen, Nymphadora Tonks swore she would never buy another pair of cheap, glued Muggle sneakers.
The evening had not gone well. A no-show from wannabe Death Eater number seven. Obvious attempts at flirting not detected. And - she realised with disgust - she had likely been sitting in cat wee for the better part of four hours.
Present personal hygiene aside, she was starting to have serious doubts about her own market value. Her appearance was the least of her problems: she reckoned that she looked all right, and nobody had said anything to her face that she'd ever heard, so it couldn't be that, right? (The hair issue was another matter altogether: she reckoned it was a useful filtration system to protect against the sort of blokes who might make fun of her for being too butch, too indecisive or too prissy, and on that front, it was doing a marvellous job at quality control.) But when the chronically unemployed and socially ostracised didn't even rise to the bait, surely something would have to give.
She would scheme more in the bath, with better wine than she'd had the night before.
She turned the corner, and her ugly red-brick block of flats jutted out in the streetscape of dingy garages and shopfronts, like one crooked tooth in an all-but gummy mouth. And, sitting on the curb, red hair glinting in the fluorescent light cast from her block's foyer, was Charlie.
She paused for a moment, hand on wand. "Duty over?"
"Elphias is the best person the Order ever could have recruited. Always turns up ten minutes early, never complains if you're late. What a gent."
"That's what he wants you to think," she said, closing the gap. "Blokes like him are the ones you want to watch for. You know, the polite and quiet ones."
He looked her up and down. "You want to come for a drink?"
In the low light, Charlie's blond eyelashes and brows disappeared into his face. She had had friends who were very vocally in the anti-blond-eyelash camp. Secretly, she was very firmly in the pro-camp. "I've just worked a seventeen hour day. And I think I sat in cat wee. You're welcome to come upstairs to mine if you are keen to carry on conversation through a bathroom door."
She only remembered the miserable state of her housekeeping upon unlocking her door and turning off her wards. Dirty clothes trailed on the floor between her bedroom and bathroom, and ants sipped at a saucer full of sugary, milky tea. "Sorry about the state of things."
"You don't have dragon blood on anything. Instant improvement on my place. More importantly, you don't have any of my blood on your countertops."
"There is a nice bottle of red under the sink. I need it. Help yourself to some." She closed the bathroom door behind her, peeling wet jeans down her legs. "There might be clean glasses on the sink."
"Sorry?" Though she could tell he was yelling, his voice was extremely muffled. Annoyed, she opened the door and left it ajar.
"Glasses. Sink. We drink from real glasses in my place. Not like in that hovel on Grimmauld Place."
She unhooked her bra and let it hang on the door handle. Washing would have to wait for the weekend. Flicking her wand at the taps, she watched as hot jets of water spurted into her tub.
"Am I right to just pass this through?"
She reached out, and accepted the glass gladly. "I really need this."
"This is way nicer than that shit you lot were drinking last night."
"Mum and Dad got it for me when I finished my training and got commissioned. It's meant to be really good. I don't know, though, I think you have to have reached a certain age before you can tell if wine is good or not. I don't think I'll be there for a couple of years yet."
"I would concur with that."
The bath, by now, had filled three quarters of the way. She turned the taps off, and gingerly lowered a foot in, wincing at the heat initially before stepping all the way in. "You all right out there?"
"Once I pulled those coat hangers out from between the cushions on your sofa, I have been really comfy, actually."
"Don't you go messing up my carefully curated hanger storage, there," she said, smiling as she settled into the bath. "It took me countless minutes to deposit those there haphazardly, in the event that handsome visitors would want to sit down."
"Such a wonderful hostess."
"If I can be completely honest, typically when I entertain, I do it face-to-face, while clothed. And preferably, not here."
"Surely this is not the first time you've entertained visitors naked?"
She exhaled, flexing her toes while sipping slowly. "Well, it's the first time I've been naked that they haven't been able to enjoy it."
"In that case, I revise my initial assessment of your hostess skills."
"For the better or the worse?"
"Well, that would depend," she heard him say with a deep sign. "On the one hand, your commitment to the comfort and entertainment of others is admirable. On the other, I am not presently a beneficiary of this largesse, so I feel somewhat left out."
"You're not missing much tonight," she said, peering down at her legs, propped up on the enamel edge of her bath - shapely, yes, on account of a commitment to stairs over lifts, but covered in scrapes and bruises and at least a week of spiky regrowth. "I'm like the Wreck of the Hesperus tonight. Not fit for human consumption."
"What does that even mean, anyway? What's a 'hesperus'."
"Dunno. Dad used to say it a lot. Mainly about the state of my room. Then Mum used to say it. Also about the state of my room."
Outside the bathroom, she could hear the sound of feet hitting the floorboards, and she heard him cross the room to her tiny kitchenette. "Do you mind if I have another glass?"
"Only if you pour me some."
"Right, -accio gl--"
"Oh, just come in here and pour some." She pulled herself up into a sitting position, and wrapped her arms around her knees. "You won't see anything."
He tentatively pushed the door open, his eyes scrunched closed while brandishing the bottle in front of him as though it was his last defence against her. "Am I close?"
"If you don't open your eyes, you'll hit something." She realised that this was said bitingly, almost as though she was trying to smack him with her words, and instantly her voice softened. "Sit down with me. It's fine."
He did so, easing himself down and leaning against the cupboard under her sink. His eyes made pointed contact with hers, as though daring to look elsewhere would be rude. "How much do you want?"
"Please, fill it up." She leaned forward, and watched as his callused hands tremble while he poured wine into her glass. His hands were much like the rest of him: thick, muscular, covered in a multitude of little burns, scrapes and discolouration. His nails were very short - too short - and the top of his hand was covered in a fine layer of vibrant orange hairs, contrasting against the yellowish tint of his freckled hand.
"I feel you've only let me come in here because you felt guilty that I was missing the full hospitality experience."
"I don't like to leave people out," she said. She sipped slowly, her body warming from the alcohol. She knew she flushed when she drank, and she knew he was seeing it too - and maybe it was the terrible lighting in her flat, but she could have sworn that his face was also growing redder. "I'm not like this because of the company," she said, lying somewhat.
"I think I am." Charlie shifted uncomfortably on her bath mat. "Sorry. Used to far more masculine company."
"I wish you could stay longer," she murmured, setting her wine glass down on the tiles beside her.
"You have me until Friday. I mean, not uninterrupted, but--"
"Right. I mean, there are other people you probably want to see. I mean, you've got friends from--"
"You're my friend, too."
"Friends you've had for longer, though. I am sure you want to see people you were mates with at school."
"Once again," he said softly, now averting his eyes and looking at his bare feet, "aren't I doing that now?"
"I didn't know you even really liked me back then," she said, her typically blunt self made even more so by the addition of alcohol.
Neither spoke for several minutes. She sat, her skin now uncomfortably warm, and watched him drain his glass slowly. His cheeks were flushed, and she watched a rivulet of sweat course down his neck and dampen his shirt collar.
It is a powerful thing, to know a person wants you: often, she found it enough to turn her own tide. She watched him awkwardly try to set his now empty glass down on a solid surface, and failing to find a spare patch of floor, he turned to reach up and place it on the sink bench.
Everything about him was compact and heavy: the feet shorter than average, yet the high arches made them look even shorter. She guessed that under the shirt and jeans was a body that probably tended to cling to weight, both wanted and unwanted, yet he still seemed firm and substantial. Even his hair - this time clipped short on the sides and back - was heavy and dense on top. The only thing that seemed light were the eyes: beautiful turquoise green, framed with blond eyelashes. And when they met with hers again, she had to take a moment to inhale deeply.
Wordlessly, she reached for his hand, knowing that the movement was probably more revealing than appropriate. Her finger brushed against the fine red hairs on his wrist and forearm, and she gently (or as gently as she was able to manage) took his hand in hers and raised it to her lips.
She watched his eyes shut slowly and his head lean back against a closed drawer. She felt the blemishes on his skin under her fingertips, and she brought her lips to meet with a particularly long, jagged scar on his hand, she heard him softly breathe in deeply.
"Are there girls in Romania?"
"I'm pretty sure that in a country of roughly four million that there are, yeah," he stammered, eyes still firmly shut.
"Where you are."
He shook his head. She kissed the tip of his thumb, and she felt his fingers curl and hold hers. The room felt far, far smaller than it was - and as it was, it was already only a refurbished walk-in pantry that the original landlords had built in to get more flats.
His mouth fell open, and when she let the tip of her tongue press against the coarseness of his thumbprint, she heard a soft groan, and for a moment she felt intensely guilty and filthy, but enjoying the moment too much to stop. Sweat stained the neck of his shirt, and she realised too that she was sweating herself, beads trickling down her back and over her sternum. She reached forward, and her fingers brushed over a scar that jutted out from the top of shirt.
"You liked me like this?"
He nodded feverishly. "Sorry. I didn't want to say anything unless it weirded you out."
"Help me out, please."
He finally opened his eyes, and she saw his pupils dilated, staring at her. Reaching for her glass, he pulled himself out, and offered up his free hand.
Standing, he was only a few inches taller than her at the most, and their eyes were almost level with each other. And when she closed the distance by standing on the balls of her feet and leaning in to kiss his cheek, she realised she wouldn't be able to rest her head against his chest or his shoulder while standing or lying face to face, much as she'd imagined so many times before.
He nodded, and leaned forward to kiss her, his tongue pressing into her mouth eagerly. Her hands clumsily attacked the buttons of his shirt, failing on their first attempt before finally guiding the buttons out of their holes. His own hands were everywhere - one moment, softly against her cheek, and then in an instant brushing over the swell of her breasts and lower as he turned her around to press her against the basin, lifting her to sit her on the counter. The taps dug into the small of her back uncomfortably, but she said nothing as she grabbed one of the errant hands to kiss again.
If she had to choose a favourite, it would be that heavy, slightly nauseous feeling at the onset of arousal, when blood rushes from the brain and the extremities became electrified and jumpy to any stimulus. It was often too good to ruin with relief. Now, though, she just let it build greedily, her eyes darkly wandering over his chest, her own fingers kneading her breasts softly, and she felt damp stickiness cling to the delicate skin of her inner thighs.
"Are you sure you want--" he said, struggling with the simple task of getting the shirt off. A long, pale, crinkled burn ran over his chest, and she felt herself squirm as she note the pleading note in his voice and his gaze.
"Just fucking... what do you think? Obviously!"
"Sorry," he said, stepping back as if scalded. "I didn't want to--"
"I've had my life's worth of men not wanting to," she whispered, kissing the hand and pulling him close into her. "Charlie, I very much want you to."
He nodded slowly, fiddling with his belt buckle one-handed. He tried to pull his other hand from her grip, but she shook her head, and keeping her eyes locked on his, she pulled it down between her legs. He raised his eyebrow, as if asking permission, and she granted it by shifting her hips and opening her legs wider to meet him.
Objectively, she knew she wasn't at her best that night: her skin was pale from far too many late office starts and too many cancelled holidays; even a neaten-up with scissors had been neglected for a couple of weeks. But tonight she couldn't care, aching so much she thought that the sound of her pulse could be heard on the other side of the city, and neither did he, his middle finger delving inside her roughly. She bit her lower lip. "Careful," she hissed, the ache intensifying.
He nodded, and letting his other hand slowly stroke her muscular legs, he tempered his pace, turning his hand palm-up and crooking his finger, the movements mimicking a beckon. He kissed her again, groaning into her mouth as he did so.
She thought the roughness of his hands and fingers might scrape at her painfully, but fortunately it provided just enough friction and firmness to give her something to work with. He'd found a better rhythm now, and when he broke off his kiss he looked at her desperately. "Anything you want and I'll do it."
He complied, and his free hand pushed loose strands of hair from her eyes as he leaned in to kiss her at the juncture of her clavicles. "Tell me what you want, please, I'll do--"
She opened her legs wider, and saw his hand working hard, grinding against her, covered in her own juices. She could smell herself, and let her hips bear down harder against him. "You're doing all right so far, Weasley. Just... keep that pace. you're killing me." She arched her back, and felt her clammy skin rest against the coldness of her mirror.
She felt hardness, encased in denim, press against her leg, and she sat up, her hands no more steady or competent than his at the job. Eventually, she felt the top button shift, and fumbling with the zip she gasped as his other hand made its way up the inside of her thigh.
Then, he was out of her grip, kneeling on the bath mat in front of her, hand now pressing her knee out wide, and when his lips made contact with her, she knocked both glasses to the floor as she desperately clutched at the sides of the basin, her back killing her but not enough to change positions. Not now.
"Leave them," she groaned, and this time he didn't even look up or nod.
He clearly hadn't done this much before, she thought, somewhat ungratefully, as her hands stroked the back of his neck and the top of his shoulders, but the keenness - the keenness is always so very welcome. She felt wetness on her inner thighs, and gently taking his wrist in her hand, encouraged him to keep up his ministrations. She heard the rustle of fabric and the soft chinking of metal hitting a cheap bathroom cabinet, and soon she felt his pace change. She peered down, and saw his elbow jerking back hastily as - from just out of her line of sight - he stroked himself, his hips thrusting forward as he moaned pathetically against her.
The thought of him almost ripping his own cock from his body in lust forced a groan from her, finally, and she shut her eyes, one hand playing with the spiky hair at his nape while her other slid between her and his mouth to hold herself more open to him. Everything about her was on the brink: her labia puffy, her breathing ragged and halting, her back aching and her hips bearing down, grinding down on his hands, pressing into his mouth more.
He almost whimpered now, his voice hoarse and strained, and in just one moment, the hoarseness and the scars merged and she realised she was being eaten out by two men, one not there in the room, but the thought of him rapidly colonising the other. In her mind, short, iridescent ginger faded to muted brown and grey, long enough to really wrap around her fingers.
"Please, fuck me," she cried. He pulled away and stood in front of her. His cock was so like the rest of him - thick, pale, the head almost violet in his closeness.
He nodded. "Guide me. Please."
She leaned forward, kissing him on the tip of his nose, his smell her smell. As her hand wrapped around the base of his cock, she heard him exhale so fully she worried his lungs would come up his throat. Slowly, agonisingly slowly, she pulled him from his base and rubbed the head of him against her slickness, pressing his head against her clit. "Fuck," he whispered in an unseemly tone.
"You liked me like this?"
"Say you want me." Almost all of the blood in her body was pooling between her legs now: her head felt so light, and her fingertips tingled from the anticipation. He tried to jerk forward to press against her, but her hand held firm, and she felt his cock twitch in her hand.
"Dora, yes, I fucking wanted you, I fucking want you so much now I'm about to lose myself all over you pussy and thighs, now please." His panting was almost embarrassing in his craving, and by now all of his body had flushed pink.
Now she pulled him closer, and he breathed a sigh of relief as he pressed against her entrance. He lowered his head to rest on her shoulders, and she gently cradled his head in her arms, shifting her hips so the head pressed almost fully into her.
And had it not been for the wisp of silver appearing in the open doorway of her bathroom, she might've impaled herself on him fully, rather than screaming and making Charlie jump back in surprise, only to land on a shard of broken wine glass.
"Fuck," Charlie shouted, almost falling back onto the closed toilet as blood gushed from the bottom of his foot, the toilet roll unspooling rapidly as he rushed to stem the flow.
"Oh no, please, are you--"
"I'm fine," he gritted, "really. Go check out what they want."
She ripped an old brown towel from the rack beside the basin, and stepped outside to see the patronus seating itself in the middle of her carpet - the vague, indistinct tail curling around its legs.
"Charlie - you need to get back to Headquarters. Urgently."
And then it vanished, the sound of a soft, polite, raspy voice hanging in the air awkwardly. From inside the bathroom, she could hear the sound of broken glass being pushed over tiles, and soft swearing.
Guilt formed as a little pebble in the base of her stomach, and she let the towel fall to the floor as she realised, with no small amount of disappointment, that the evening had come to a halt. And when Charlie emerged, shirt incorrectly buttoned and water splashed over his face and hair, she could only smile weakly. "Typically," she mumbled, starting to feel that it might have been a wiser move to keep the towel on, "people don't tend to lose much blood when they come over to see me."
"I put it right," he said, lifting his foot to show her a bloodied - yet unbroken - sole. "Don't you worry about me."
"Charlie, I'm sorry. I promise to make it up to you on Thursday."
He shoved his feet into his boots, not even bothering to pull out the scrunched up socks from the ends. "I know you will," he said, not looking up, a smile forming.
She knelt in front of him. "Please, I feel things were so one-sided tonight," she whispered, her hand running along the inner seam of his trousers. She watched his eyes roll back into his head, and the bulge in front grow before her eyes, but after a few seconds he stopped her hands gently with his own.
"I have something to look forward to now." He kissed her, this time with a closed mouth and soft, dry lips. "Thursday. Um... maybe we should try and find a safer spot."
She nodded. "Not unreasonable."
"Erm... patronuses-- they don't... they can't see, right?"
"I bloody well hope not."
He stood, and pulling her to her feet, kissed her again. She remembered the night before as he stood before her in the doorway, her legs wrapped around his waist and the ache - now fully fledged - merely embryonic.
"Night," he said, and let himself out.
She stared after him, the sweat and water on her skin drying. By now her situation was untenable: not even pausing to shut her curtains or to pick up her towel, she fell back onto her couch. She didn't let her hands get a reprieve until she was coming loudly and hopelessly, the image of two eager men fighting to imprint another tattoo on her skin not nearly vivid enough as her toes gripped and curled against the upholstery of her cushions.
The rain had started to bucket down just as Charlie landed a hundred yards from the front step of Headquarters. Without the downpour, he'd be uncomfortable enough as it was: all he wanted was to pull his trousers down far enough for him to wank himself into oblivion. He strode quickly to the door, watching steam rising from the asphalt under the street light. The door soon slid into view, and he wrenched it open angrily, shaking in the hallway.
Voices came from the kitchen - as it was, there was always someone down there, regardless of the day or not. Not caring one bit about the trail of mud and water left behind on the carpet, he took to the stairs three at a time to find Remus Lupin and Alastor Moody awaiting him impatiently.
"F'crying out loud, you could have checked in in a more timely manner than this," Moody grunted, hoisting himself noisily out of his chair.
"I got caught up," he admitted, his eyes meeting with Remus's. "I'm sorry, I really am, it won't happen again, I promise--"
"It's fine, Charlie," Remus said gently. "It's Elphias - did he make it to the Ministry on time?"
"Course he did. Eleven minutes early."
The two older men looked to each other, and Moody nodded. "I'll send word if there are problems," he said, "but I'm sure it's nothing more sinister than him not having an opportunity to send a patronus."
He stomped up the stairs, every second step an unnecessarily loud thunk, until it faded into the carpet on the ground floor landing. Charlie exhaled, a little annoyed at being made to rush back. "We are sorry about that," Remus said, his eyebrows furrowed, "but he's normally so reliable about checkpoints."
"It's fine. I'm not used to duties, is all."
"No harm done."
"Sirius?" Remus indicated to the empty bottle of Ogden's in the sink. "He will not be in a good mood tomorrow."
"Sorry, once again."
Remus stood from the table, looking Charlie up and down. "Did you meet up with friends?"
"Dor-- Tonks. Ran into her as she was coming home from her shift."
If Remus thought anything of this, he made now show of it. Instead, he'd turned to rinse a teacup in the sink. "I don't think tonight's watch was very entertaining for her. Alleyways are never the most exciting or romantic of places to spend one's time in."
"Figure of speech." Remus turned, and saw the momentary flash of jealousy on Charlie's face. "You obviously have nothing to worry about from me. If that's your thinking, that is, it's none of my business."
Something dwelling in Charlie's memory fluttered against the wall of his mind, and the intent eyes locked on him the night before suggested otherwise. He wondered if, indeed, patronuses worked as a two way message system, because Remus was so polite, and so calm, and so agreeable, that he almost seemed rattled. "It's nice to be able to catch up with people again," he said, his voice quavering somewhat.
"It's after midnight, I really need to get to bed."
"Of course." Remus stopped in his place, and looked to Charlie apologetically. "I'm afraid where we had you last night has been snapped up. Mundungus Fletcher. I'll take the love seat in Regulus's room, I've put clean sheets on the bed for you--"
"Really, that will be totally unnecessary--"
"Please," Remus said, smiling. "I am used to sleeping on the ground most nights. It is absolutely no trouble." And without allowing Charlie a second to respond, Remus placed his hand on the small of Charlie's back and guided him up the stairs.
Charlie's annoyance grew with every single step. Annoyance at his thwarted evening, annoyance at the disingenuous politeness from Remus Lupin, and the greatest amount of annoyance of all was reserved for what would no doubt be a complete lack of privacy for his feverish, obscene state of mind.
He followed Remus into a stuffy, stale room. "Sorry about the lack of airflow. I think Walburga has put a sticking charm on the windows to stop the boys open--"
Remus's voice had been cut off at a loud, cracking sound, as Charlie heaved the window open, a shard of rotten wood cracking and pulling up as the window edged open a crack. Though only a space of a few inches, the cold air from the storm outside swirled in, lifting the curtains and blowing them halfway across the room.
"Well," said Remus, bashfully, "I'm glad one of us could get it open." And with that, he disappeared quietly to a bathroom down the corridor.
Charlie wished he'd kept his bag somewhere more central - the thought of walking in on Mundungus was not a particularly enticing one - and frustratedly, he tucked himself naked under the sheets, the covers only just pulling over him as Remus walked silently back into the room.
And with barely a good night, the two men turned away from each other, and the light flicked off.
Charlie was used to sleeping in close confines: lodgings at the compound typically entailed at least five or six men sharing a room, and over time he'd learned to filter out the sounds of other people - snoring, talking in their sleep, stomachs settling - to his desire. He knew, instinctively, what a man falling asleep sounded like: the breathing becoming heavier, and louder, and slower, occasionally punctuated by a twitch or jerk.
And he knew the sound of a man who couldn't sleep.
He shucked the sheet, the room pitch black and the rain lashing against his window, as he felt his cock stiffen in the cool air. He hoped desperately that the sound of the rain and wind would be enough to cover, and without wasting a second, he grasped himself, almost gasping aloud as the coarseness of his palm brushed over his sensitive, overstimulated head.
He heard the springs of the love seat squeak as Remus rolled further to his side, and hesitated for a second. Nothing: then the softest, barely noticeable sounds of cloth being rubbed against.
Charlie had done it with others around before, no doubt, and he had been mainly successful in avoiding detection. Growing up with a large family in a reasonably acoustically-poor house and a stint in boarding school had aided in this, obviously. But it felt so different now, with only one other man in the room: one so old, and proper, and locked away from almost any sign of warmth or affection.
He forced back a grunt as his hand pumped harder, his balls clinging closer to him now, and his free hand clutched at the pillow under his head. From across the room, he could hear a soft sigh - tired, lonely and achingly needful - and he realised grimly that his own actions were being repeated on the love seat.
He stopped, his heart racing, the sweat from his palms trickling down his length and dripping, and listened. He was seconds away, and he gritted his teeth, half angry and half aroused.
Instead of the deep, slow breathing of the newly asleep, he could only hear short, rasping breaths, increasing in pace. He knew that breathing and in his mind's eye glimpsed Remus curled on his side, furiously pulling at himself, long gangly legs tensing and flexing involuntarily, and before he knew it he was pulling at himself, the tip of his cock burning, almost seared by the moment brushing against Dora, so keen to push deeper into her pussy, and - without a second of self control - he came, grunting louder than he meant to, come hitting his belly and thighs hotly.
He held his breath, almost wishing that he could suck the sound back inside himself, fear and shame hitting him square in the chest as he listened vainly to the man on the other side of the room. He heard a few more rustles of the bed sheet, a soft, sharp intake of air -- and then nothing.
He exhaled silently. For a moment, he heard nothing, and then the springs twanged again as he heard Remus shift onto his back, his breathing becoming slower, though still soft.
It was an odd moment: he'd heard other men before, but not like this. Not when the proximity and intimacy was so that their sounds could almost encourage and drive the other further into madness. He thought to the man on the other side of the room: tired, pallid skin, bare bones sticking out at the top of his shoulders pitifully, lines etched into skin through self-neglect and starvation. He didn't do as Charlie had done because he'd been overstimulated, or had had a moment interrupted: he touched himself because that was all there ever was, and would be.
Charlie felt pity long enough to remember Tonks's words about quiet, polite men who would murder you in your sleep, and wondered if this description fit his roommate of the night.
Tonks arrived in the kitchen at headquarters slightly before ten at night, her forehead arriving mere milliseconds before and making immediate contact with the edge of the fireplace.
The pain probably shouldn't have come as a severe shock: she'd dinged her head on the mantle so many times now that by all rights there ought to have been a small, Nymphadora Tonks' forehead-sized divot in the bricks to accommodate her. And yet, there wasn't.
"Watch your head."
She stepped out of the Floo, brushing herself down while swearing softly under her breath. The kitchen, for once, was cool, owing to an open window allowing a chilly swirl of wind to flow through, and the soft gaslight over the fire cast deep shadows across the room, the longest of them made by the man at the sink with his back to her.
"Wish I could remember to duck," she muttered, pulling the battered log book over to her and swishing her signature on the page with a tired flick.
"Did you want anything to eat?"
"I'm not even remotely hungry."
Remus turned from the sink, a look of concern in his eyes. "How many days on has this been for you"
"Six. S'arright, though. I have the next two days off."
"Before another six days on?"
At this point, he had his arms folded, and she noted the weariness with which he leant against the countertop. He was smiling, but there was something odd and stiff about his smile that prevented it from reaching all the way to his eyes.
"Really, mum, I'm fine."
"Do I need to give you Moody's lecture about what happens to sleep-deprived Aurors in wartime?"
"It's still early. Where is everyone?"
"Sirius? Upstairs looking for Kreacher - he's choofed off again. Meeting ended twenty minutes ago. I think Charlie has gone to bed."
"Probably shouldn't wake him."
Remus smiled, and then turned back to the sink. She heard the sound of metal chinking against the basin, and watched as he steadied himself against the bench. "He is bunking in with Mundungus tonight. Apparently I am a noisy sleeper."
"You know, I think I'll pass on paying him a visit, then. I would hate to interrupt a romantic evening between those two."
He laughed softly, but she still saw him tense. "Probably not for the best."
The kitchen fell silent, save for the sound of water splashing as he swished cutlery through the suds. She watched tiny patches of perspiration form on his back, and she took a step closer to him.
"You don't know the spell for the dishes?"
"My mum could only ever do them by hand. Dishes were my job. Do you know the spell?"
"Not even remotely."
"It doesn't bother me, really. It is extremely meditative. Little manual, repetitive jobs can be very calming before bed."
"I suppose I have other bedtime rituals," she said softly, taking another step closer to him - so close, she could smell his sweat from his shirt. She heard a handful of spoons fall to the bottom of the basin, and watched him brace himself against the counter with his hands.
For what seemed like hours, neither spoke, silenced and separated by the inches of dead space between them - no dishes being washed, and only the bare minimum of breaths being taken in long, ragged gasps.
Then she closed the gap with her forehead - still stinging and bruised from its collision with the brick wall - as she rested it gently against his back.
The silence remained syrupy and thick, and millimetre by millimetre her hands slid down his arms, stroking the fraying fabric on the sleeves and resting on his wrists until she was leaning so far forward that her chest collapsed against him, and she was closing her eyes and breathing him deeply in.
He didn't have thick, hairy wrists like Charlie: they were fine, only slightly thicker than hers, and she watched his long fingers and bony hands slip back into the washing up water. She turned her head to let her ear rest against his back, and she felt the soft rush of his pulse against her skin.
He's distracting himself in that water, she thought as he urgently plunged a saucer into the basin and scrubbed at it with more force than one might ever apply to a reasonably clean saucer. And her curious, forceful mind took the most direct route possible to making her point, and her hands delved beneath the surface of the washing up to seek his out.
She felt him breathe in sharply as her own fingers curled around his, and against her own hips she felt his shift forward, and she pressed even tighter against him. The back of his shirt brushed against her lips, and she kissed his back, feeling the warmth through the thin material.
"It's late," he whispered, hands entwining even more tightly with hers. His head tilted backward, and strands of grey hair fell over his shoulders.
She leant forward even more, pressing a kiss where she could reach onto the back of his head. "I can go."
"No, please... just another minute."
And she stayed, her arms wrapped around him, her hands in his, eventually falling into his rhythm of breathing. She wondered how odd it might have looked to anyone who could walk in - her almost trapping him at the kitchen sink in a one-sided embrace - but she didn't care.
She wished dearly that he'd turn around, and that she could feel his chin rest on the top of her head. She wished she could pull him back on the table with her, and pull him inside herself. She wanted eager, trembling hands, a starving mouth, and eyes that raked her over piece by piece.
But all she would get was the warmth of his back, and the squeeze of soft hands around her own. When he finally did pull away from her it was to beg her off with a kiss to the forehead and an apologetic disappearance out the door, and as the kitchen doors swung back in his retreat, she realised it might be a long time before she may ever get that closeness to him again.
The wall - the kind, warm, polite, appropriate wall - would go back up, and the little moments of make-believe would have to linger in her memory.
She'd never been a huge fan of wearing shoes any more risky or tall than plimsolls or canvas sneakers, but tonight she figured a night on the town deserved no less than the pair of amazingly tacky patent heels that a former housemate had left behind.
This turned out to be a poor idea upon reaching Number Twelve, as very little thought had been put into trifling matters such as 'level surfaces', 'health and safety' or 'complying with building codes', and she'd had to steady herself by clinging to both walls as she walked down the stairs into the kitchen.
Charlie and the men had started the party without her, a half dozen open bottles of Muggle beer open around them as he roared in laughter at something Sirius had said.
"Honestly, I don't know why they don't let you out of this place. One night out on duty and you'd have the whole Voldemort issue sussed out."
"Sirius telling you about that time he weed on Lucius Malfoy's front lawn again?"
"How do you know that story," Sirius slurred, gesticulating so wildly that beer spilled from the bottle onto the table. "You would have been, like, three when that happened."
"Pads, everyone knows that story. Arabella Figg knows that story. Dumbledore knows that story. And after you got arrested, Lucius Malfoy made sure The Daily Prophet knew that story."
Tonks sat between Charlie and Remus. Charlie smiled broadly, offering her a beer, which he opened by twisting the cap against his forearm. "Any wishes for our night out?"
"You know that Albanian restaurant you reckoned was really good our first year out of school?"
"Well, you're making this extremely difficult for me, narrowing down our options so prohibitively."
Tonks laughed, but caught herself when she caught the look on Remus's face. He sipped his beer slowly, a frown on his forehead. "You right, old man?"
A funny look came over his face. "Never better, actually. Just thinking things through."
"You seem to do an awful lot of thinking at the moment," Sirius said breezily, though while refusing to meet Remus's eyes. "Whatever could you be thinking about?"
"How beautiful the waxing moon looks, and how romantic that night is going to be when I lock you in my room with me on the full moon and bar you from transforming into a dog."
"Such a natural romantic."
Tonks patted his arm. "You not feeling well?"
Remus smiled at this, and stared at the spot where her hand had been seconds before. "Don't you go concerning yourself with me."
"You ready to head off soon?" Charlie's hand fell on her arm gently, giving her a soft squeeze.
"I'll go up and feed Buckbeak, then," grunted Sirius, picking up his beer bottle and clutching it to his chest. "Kreacher better have killed those rats for me before he flew into his little funk."
"We've a bedroom free again - a proper one, no sleeping on the sofa - should you need it, Charlie," Remus murmured, staring off into the distance while peeling the label off his beer. "I am sure if either Sirius or I aren't up that you'll be able to sort yourself out."
"I think we'll have to see where the night takes us," Tonks said, pushing her chair out and getting to her feet.
She thought to herself that that funny look had come back onto his face, and made to move to him - or would have, if the rotten corner of her heel hadn't given out and she didn't embarrassingly crash to the floor in front of both Remus and Charlie, her heart sinking as she heard the fine bone of her ankle crack.
"Oy, you right?" In an instant, Charlie had rushed to her side, and had a hand to her back. She winced, and upon trying with Charlie's assistance to get to her feet, cried upon putting weight on her broken ankle.
"Please, I can't--"
Remus appeared by her side, and pushed the hair out of her eyes. Tears - more from shock and embarrassment than pain - had smudged the lower line of her eye makeup, and she forced them back with a blink. "We've Skele-Grow in the bathroom cabinet upstairs," he said, lifting her leg and resting it on his knee, his eyes fixated on the rapidly swelling ankle. "Charlie, could you please have a look for it? It should be in the cabinet behind the mirror."
Charlie looked at once concerned and put-out, but nevertheless rushed out. Tonks gripped the chair to pull herself up, and she felt Remus's hand on her lower back.
"Does it hurt badly?"
She nodded. "Do you think I'll be able to go out?"
"Well, not in those shoes you're not." And with that, she watched his fingers deftly wrangle with the tiny buckle on her shoe, gingerly pulling it off her injured leg. "I reckon you two will probably want to stop in at yours and get more sensible shoes."
"You're doing that thing where you're being my mum again," she said softly. She looked down at her foot, horrified at the purple colour it had quickly taken on. The ache was unbearable, and even the gentle and careful transfer of her leg onto Remus's caused a horrible jolt around the injury. She whimpered, and caught Remus look at her with severe concern.
"It's not up here," Charlie shouted from upstairs.
"Sirius ought know, he used it last," Remus shouted back. Tonks only then realised that one of his hands was resting on the top of her leg, and that her dress - short enough to be fun, but not short enough to be indecent most of the time - had ridden up high on her leg. Before she had a chance to complain, though, he quietly and gently pulled her skirt down over her thigh, his cheeks going red. "Do you want me to take the other one off?"
It was an action that hardly needed to be taken: in moments, she would be healed, and could have done it herself. But she carefully raised her good leg, trying not to jolt the injured one, and lay it in Remus's lap also. She felt her face go hot as she watched thin, nimble fingers make short work of the buckle, and she realised he was working very hard to avoid eye contact or even looking at her legs (thankfully hair-free, due to a well-spent hour in the bathroom that day).
"No running all around town tonight now," he said, his voice only very slightly shaky.
"I'll be fine once I'm sorted out," she said softly.
He smiled, and squeezed her hand, then leant in to kiss her on the forehead.
And that's when she took the chance - boldly, directly, stupidly - to lean in and kiss him on the lips, though softly and chastely. It took him by surprise, clearly, and when she stopped she saw him look at her sadly and longingly.
"Say the word," she whispered, leaning in and kissing him on the jaw again, her stomach fluttering and her skin alive with firing nerve endings, "and I'll stay in."
"You can't," he replied, pulling away from her slowly and fixating his gaze on a spot on her chin. "You cannot leave Charlie waiting like this."
She pulled her hand from his grip, and the blood rushed back into her head rapidly, the silence only broken by the sound of Charlie stomping back down the stairs, bottle in hand. Remus pulled further away from her, the frown returning to his face.
"Better have your beer to wash it down with," he said, voice cheery in light but looking at Remus suspiciously. "Between the two of us, it has not been steady sailing for the whole walking without injuring ourselves business."
She recalled blood on her bathroom floor and shards of wine glass, and as she swallowed the bitter potion, she remembered sitting naked on her vanity, Charlie naked before her, hands roving all over.
A brief period of warmth, and she watched her ankle deflate. "It's good that stuff."
"You going to be all right?" Remus lowered her legs down, taking care to not let his hands linger too long in front of Charlie.
"I solemnly swear that I will go home and put some plimsolls on."
And as Charlie led her out of the house, she heard Remus say "how many more bottles of this stuff we got left?", and an ominous vision of the night ahead grew in her mind.
"Why not your place? Didn't you clean up?"
Tonks let her hand swing with his, occasionally nudging up close to lean her head on his shoulder. "Didn't get a chance today, sorry. Besides, if that's the bed in the second floor junk room, it is really comfy."
"Are we really going for comfort?"
She pulled him against a railing that separated the pedestrian footpath from a subterranean stairwell, and he exhaled softly as her hips ground into his. "Well," she whispered, or as softly as a woman with no indoor voice can whisper, "it depends on how much sleep we intend to do. Me? Not a lot."
He felt a hand playing at his belt buckle, and he closed his eyes, resting his chin on her shoulder. "Not right here."
"Then get me back there as soon as possible," she said, and leveraging her weight against the railing, wrapped her legs around his waist while sucking hotly on his neck.
He was often surprised at how heavy she actually was for her size: strong thighs gripped around him tightly, and he felt a solid row of oblique muscles frame a waist covered by little more than a thin layer of skin and cheap dress. He only had forty yards to make it up the alley, but could last little more than twenty as he collapsed with her drunkenly against the house next door, hands grabbing at her buttocks as he pressed his lips to hers. She moaned and shifted, and her hands bunched his hair into fists.
"Come on," he said, releasing her and grabbing her by the hand. The light of the kitchen came faintly through the grime of the windows, and she fumbled for the key as she pulled him in by the shirt once again to kiss him.
They almost fell in through the open door, and with his eyes closed he didn't know where she was pulling him until he felt him collapse onto her over a hard surface, her legs splayed opened and her hands wrapped around his neck.
"Good evening, you two."
Charlie sprung off her, and looked up to see Remus and Sirius at the far end of the table by the fireplace, dozens of empty brown bottles lined up like soldiers beside them. Sirius was sleeping, his face buried in an arm and deep snores emanating from him. They both looked filthy, and Remus's unshaven face was bloated and red from sleeplessness and the drink.
"Wotcher, Lupin," Tonks said, not even bothering to sit up, but staring at him upside down from on her back, her legs still open wide. The top of her dress had pulled down, and even Charlie was a little affronted by her hands clutching at the fabric even more to reveal more of herself.
"Hello, Nymphadora," Remus said, as though addressing a distant relative he didn't know very well.
"You know I hate it when you call me that."
Perhaps it was the low light, or the half a dozen shots they'd only just done in the hour before returning, but Charlie swore he could see a malevolent little glint in her eye. Slowly, languorously, she pulled herself up, and grabbed onto Charlie as she lowered herself to the floor.
"Did you have a nice evening out?"
"It was lovely," she said, wrapping her arms around Charlie possessively. "Meet me upstairs in maybe two?"
She kissed him on the cheek, and with one last angry dagger flung at Remus, she departed the kitchen, almost kicking her shoes off where she stood. Charlie stared after her, watching the fabric of her skirt swish at the tops of her thighs and he felt a wistful grab in his stomach.
"Well, it sounds like you two had a lovely night out," Remus said as he stood and collected the empty bottles in his hands. "Obviously we couldn't have outdone that, but I reckon between us Sirius and I had one person's version of a roaring good night." His voice was slurry, and every so often, Charlie felt that the odd word was punched out with more venom than necessary in civil discourse.
"Are you all right? Do you need a hand getting Sirius upstairs?"
"Your expertise stops at dragons," Remus sneered. "Don't you worry about me. I'm stronger than you think I am."
"I never thought--"
"Just because I can't grow a real beard doesn't mean I can't take on fearful beasts, you know."
Charlie felt, at this point, that a certain image he'd had of Remus was cracking. The patina of civility and manners - all patched-up suits and unthreatening demeanour and soft voice - was fraying at the edges, and the Remus Lupin he'd experienced second hand through his mother's insistences was nothing more than an affected veneer.
"Would you like me to help clearing up those bottles?"
"I think you've helped enough for one night." The bottles clashed into the sink, and yet Sirius didn't stir where he was. Remus turned back to the table, and swept another armful of bottles into his grasp.
Charlie noted, with mild concern, that Remus was scanning the table for his wand, and pre-emptively, reached for his own. Remus caught him, and chuckled darkly.
"Think I want to challenge you? Daft kid. Go to bed, for heaven's sake. She's waiting for you. You wouldn't want to keep her waiting long."
"Very well. Good night."
He'd nearly made it out of the kitchen before he heard Remus call back to him. "Oh. And pass on a message to her for me, will you?"
Charlie barely had time to respond before Remus closed the distance and forcefully pressed his lips to Charlie's mouth and forced his tongue inside, hands gripped firm around the back of Charlie's head.
Every inch of the man smelled of alcohol, and his mouth tasted stale and boozy, and Charlie could do little as he was pressed violently against the doorframe. He barely knew what to do with his hands, so blank was his mind, that by the time he had his wits about him enough to fight the older man off, Remus had already broken off the contact, and took a bashful step backwards.
"Only, more nicely, and gently, of course."
Charlie nodded dumbly, his mind swimming, and when he finally made it out of the kitchen, he took to the steps three at a time.
When he opened the door to the junk room, he found her lying on the bed, fully dressed, flicking through an old Black family photo album.
She'd kept the shoulder-length hair - only tonight, it was a vivid emerald green, and it made her heart-shaped face seem even sharper. No makeup, save for smudged liner and mascara, and he watched a beautifully shaped calf and ankle bounce off her backside with every kick back.
She looked up at him, her dark eyes almost black in the low light. "I heard shouting - everything all right?"
He nodded, clenching his teeth. "They've probably had enough to drink. Especially Lupin."
"That's not like him," she murmured, rolling onto her back and knocking the album to the floor. He watched the skirt bunch at her waist, and nearly lost his mind when she didn't move to cover herself back up. "He's normally the one who bundles us into bed after we've had too much."
She looked up at him, and offered out her hand. "I'm not very drunk, though. I'm warm. And friendly. But not drunk."
Red wine had always had a funny effect on Charlie; when with others, he became far more gregarious and handsy. When alone, just handsy. And when he let her pull him down onto the bed beside him, he shifted to lie beside her, and let his hand rest on her stomach.
"Where were we up to the other night?"
"Well," she said, hand straying over her breast and down to lie gently on his, "I was soaking wet, sitting on my bathroom vanity cabinet, and you were standing there with your pants around your ankles, just about to enter me."
"And then Remus--"
"Enough." By now, he'd rolled on top of her, pinning her wrists into the mattress and forcing her legs apart with his knees. "No mention of him. Not tonight."
"Envious? You know we've never done anything." She raised her hips off the bed, pressing them to his, her eyes drunk and drowsy and full of sex on the mind.
"Envy is when you want what someone else has. Jealousy is when you're worried someone will take something away from you that you already have."
He transferred a wrist so one hand held both hers down, and after pressing a kiss onto her nose, reached between her legs. "Ought I be?"
"What do you want the answer to be?"
"You don't belong to me, Dora. You don't belong to anyone."
She smiled and closed her eyes, and pressed herself into his hand. "You don't seem to mind talking about this as much as you let on."
"What would you do with him, if you got the chance?"
Her hips fell back to the mattress. "Are you upset with me?"
Charlie sighed, then released her hands, lying back down beside her. "No. I'm not."
"Charlie, all I want tonight--"
He pressed his thumb to her lips, and tilted her head to face him. He pressed a kiss against her neck, and let himself breathe in the scent of her. He desperately wanted to shuck his trousers and release his cock, but he watched her chest rise and fall, her hand in his, and he steadied himself.
"Whatever you want from me tonight, I'll give it to you."
He watched her hands slowly move to the long line of buttons along the front of her dress and unbutton them, her eyes closed, her lips parted, her pale skin flushed. He sat up, and picking up the opposite end of the row, began unbuttoning between her legs.
Neither spoke, and as their hands grew closer to meeting and the dress came closer to falling open, their movements became more desperate: her fingers fumbled, and it took him almost three goes before the one last button gave way and her dress peeled open. Save for the pair of green knickers that matched the colour of her hair, she was naked under the dress, and as she peeled the sleeves from her shoulders he took a moment to marvel at the beautifully developed deltoids and arms that pushed down the cotton with little effort. When her eyes made contact with his, he saw in the pupils a deep feverishness, and he almost fell off the bed scrambling between her legs again.
"Please don't let anything stop us tonight," she said, breaking their silence.
"Not one thing," he whispered in reply, unzipping himself hastily and pulling his shirt off over his head awkwardly with one hand. "What do you want?"
She pushed his shoulder, and following her lead he fell back onto the bed. She tugged roughly at his jeans, and he only lifted his hips for a second before the jeans were around his ankles, and she was staring at him, full pillowy lips only inches from his cock. "You're not one of those blokes who're quiet when they get sucked off?"
The thought of her with another dick made him moan, and he felt himself twitched. "Oh, fuck."
"Didn't think so." And with that, she kissed his head gently before engulfing all of him, her eyes closed reverently as she bobbed down.
She'd done this before - not that he gave one second of a fuck. He felt her hand gently stroke at his hips, and his eyes rolled back into his head as he felt the roughness of her tongue that had teased at his thumb two nights earlier press forcefully against the fleshiness at the tip. "Fuck," he whispered harshly. "Is this what you want to do to him?"
She pulled her mouth off him, and he felt a twinge of fear when he saw her fingers clasp tightly around his base. "Thought you didn't want to mention him?" Her voice was throaty and soft and extraordinarily dangerous.
He shook his head dizzily. "Would you, though," he begged.
He felt the grip on him loosen, and seconds later, she was straddling him, the satiny gusset of her knickers rubbing against him. "I would make him suffer even more," she whispered, her voice cracking with every thrust against his groin, and at that moment, Charlie realised, with horror, why she had made him stay here - in this room - overnight. And he realised with even more horror that the thought of Remus Lupin next door, going out of his mind with envy and lust and loathing, made his cock harder than it had ever been before. And before she had a chance to move back down, he grabbed at the soaked crotch of her pants, pulled them aside roughly, and shoved himself into her.
He saw her eyes widen and her lips fall open into a little O as he entered her, and he worried for a second that he'd breached a boundary that needed more explicit consent for the removal of. But then she took his hand to her lips, and gave his thumb the same treatment she'd been lavishing on his cock only seconds earlier.
She dropped his hand, and groaned throatily as she rode against him. "This too," she whispered, and grabbing his hand, pressed it against her.
Charlie had been with others: an older French woman staying at the inn, a Canadian bloke with a back full of tattoos who would have come for almost a full minute as he thrust his own cock against Charlie's. And yet, as he ground his thumb against her nub forcefully and felt her tighten around him as her own climax built, keening and gasping for air, she was the one who got into it with the greatest spirit of gusto. There was not a speck of self-consciousness about her, and as he saw a flush form over her chest and belly as her hips ground deeper and harder against him, he had to grab her wrists to slow her.
"You're going to make me blow any second if you do that," he stammered.
She interpreted this, however, as a dare, and with a cocked eyebrow bucked even more furiously, and he could barely muffle his own grunts as he spilled into her, quadriceps tensing and his feet flexing frantically with every thrust.
"You're not stopping there," she murmured into his ear as she stood over him, the knickers now sodden through and the mischievous glint back in her eyes. Running her thumbs under the elastic, she divested herself of the pants, dropping them onto the floor. He watched wetness - his and hers - run down her inner thigh, and as he opened his mouth to protest that he wouldn't do such a thing, she knelt over his face and lowered herself onto him, thighs pressed tightly around his ears and cheeks as she smothered his mouth.
It was a moment he knew was clearly meant for someone else: the mingled tastes of sweat, her own wetness and his semen were meant for another mouth, and he felt his own body twitching and pulsing with need as he breathed in her scent greedily, letting his tongue work its way into her grooves. His face was slick and messy with her, and he toyed with everything with his tongue: the tiny little tuft of dark brown hair at the very top of her, the skin lining her clit (which made her buck even more violently against him), and her full, parted lips, which moved with every stroke of his tongue. She grabbed at his hair, and he moaned into her as she pulled his face even more forcefully into her groin until he almost suffocated on her.
"And you'd do this to him," he groaned, lifting her hips for a moment and watching the patchy swirls of hair on her lips matted down by wetness.
"Uh huh." She was incoherent.
She nodded. "The mess is the best part."
He lifted his head up to suck at a labia, flush and swollen with arousal. "You'd make him eat out my mess?"
He knew that realistically, the thrust of her hips only journeyed a few inches at most, but as she came against his mouth this time, he felt his head pressed so hard into the pillow he worried she'd break his nose. He clung to the back of her legs, his hands smoothing over the terrific convex muscles of her hamstrings as she whimpered and pushed down onto him.
She almost fell off him, her hair messy and her eyes wild. "Charlie, please--"
He was hard again, and he felt almost as animalistic and loose as she looked. "By the way," he whispered, pulling her back on top of him, chest to chest, her hair swinging over his face, "he asked me to pass on a message to you."
"Oh?" Her voice was sleepy and she took in deep breaths on top of him, opening her legs and rubbing her opening against him again.
The brush of slick, wet pussy against the top of his cock emboldened him, and when he forced his tongue into her mouth he felt an incredible surge of lust as she pulled back involuntarily from the forceful kiss, a mixture of him and her on his tongue as he groaned into her mouth. He held her wrists, and tried to push back inside her again blindly. "He wanted you to know that," he said, when he eventually broke off the kiss.
At this, her eyes were fearful and hungry and afire with hope. "He didn't. He never would have."
He nodded. "He's next door now, isn't he."
"I heard him going back in when I was sucking your cock earlier."
His cock twitched again. "Do you think he can hear us?"
"When we were getting the house ready for business, I could hear your brothers in here. He can probably hear every word."
It was a mix of shame, guilt and arousal that flooded him upon hearing it. He looked into dark eyes, and saw the flash of anger he'd seen earlier in the kitchen. He felt her gently rub herself against him, and desperately he thrust up to push himself into her, but she shifted out of his grip. "I want you to fuck me so hard he can feel it," she almost shouted.
And with that, she was on her knees, bracing herself against an old oak headboard, her legs parted and her hips out. Her waist looked so waspish between her well-muscled shoulders and beautiful, wide hips that came together at the top with two deep dimples in her lower back.
He reckoned, in different circumstances, that she could fight him, and come very close to winning. He saw an intricate framework of muscles tense between her shoulder blades, and he reached forward to kiss her. The tiny, fine hairs that stood on end were his favourite part: he loved how they caught her sweat, and revealed her heightened sensitivity.
He knelt behind her, hands clutching at her waist, and tilted his hips upwards. She did the bulk of the work, and with a gentle press backward and an urgent, animalistic groan, enveloped around him with hot, flushed lips, her insides still coated in him. It felt even more incredible this time: they were both dripping in sweat, and he watched a droplet run from the top of her spine right into the cleft between her buttocks, and thrust even more deeply into her, not holding back his groans.
"Do you know what is on the other side of this wall?"
He knew, precisely, that it would be the headboard of Regulus's bed - where he had slept two nights earlier, where Remus would be lying now, likely doing as he'd have done the other night. Charlie grabbed the headboard, and with his free hand reached around in front of her to stroke between her legs. Her keening was incredible, and he felt her thighs tremble as she screamed into the wall so loudly she could have woken the comatose Sirius Black. Her buttocks stuck to his thighs with her stickiness, and she fell forward as her legs gave way.
"And what do you think he'd be doing?"
He knew what he'd heard the other night: soft, desperate, gentle stroking, and a man too locked away in himself to make sounds as he'd come. But he knew tonight would be a different story: he could imagine the older man, thin and naked, legs splayed open as he jerked violently, coming time and time again over his stomach, barely having a moment's repose before his cock grew hard again, desperate for relief. "Do you want me to describe what he sounded like the other night?"
He saw the back of her head nod up and down, and he slowed his rhythm so she could grip against him tightly. He felt the pulsation around him, and bit his lip to hold himself back.
"Well," he said, slowing down even further, his thrusts now exquisitely slow as she tightened around him, her legs closing slightly to create friction, "I couldn't stop thinking of you when I came home. I couldn't hold off. And I think it set him off. I know the sound of him set me off."
She made a sound he couldn't even categorise as language. The friction of her against his cock was unbearably intense, and he stopped, leaning against her back and smelling the perfume in her now lank hair. "He's quiet," he whispered, fingers slowly stroking her breast as he kissed her neck and shoulder. "So reserved. Only a soft gasp when he came. He--"
Her cry cut him off as she thrust back into him, and he had to grab her by the hips to stop himself losing his mind and load again. "Please, I was speaking."
"One more time, just give me one more--"
"Dora, you'll get as many as you want, but I need to finish my story."
She whimpered softly, and he heard her breathing as hard as she might after running ten miles.
"Can I continue?"
"Could he hear you?"
"He could. I tried to be quiet but-- stop, please, I'm so close -- and I know he could hear -- we won't be able to do any more --"
She stopped moving, her head and arms braced against the wall, and for a moment he caught his breath until he felt her tighten around him again. "Fuck, please--"
She turned her head, and he was taken aback by the viciousness of her smile. "You'll need to hold on, not me," she said, and pressed herself against him firmly.
He nodded. "If you like hearing your men, he might not be your style. Unless, that is, you approach him as you approach everything else in life."
"That's part of his allure," she whispered, and he felt her hips shift into dangerous territory as he nearly fell out of her pussy. "I want him to break for me. I want the silence. I want to watch him hold his reserve until he has none left, and he cannot help but love me and give into me."
And with one last shift back, she pushed herself on his cock, and he came hard, slipping out of her as he emptied himself onto her exposed skin, his arms wrapped around her waist and his mouth on her shoulder, biting down hard.
They remained in place for as long as it took Charlie to take enough of a breath to allow himself to collapse beside her on the bed. She joined him moments later, not taking time to clean herself or even wipe hair from her face, and he lazily held his arm out so she could nestle in the crook of his arm.
It was a moment he would never get again, he thought to himself as he watched her impish eyes lock onto his and felt her fingers tiredly entwine with his own. Her lips beckoned to him, and he kissed her softly, smelling her own saltiness on her. He brushed the hair from her face, and she closed his eyes.
He wondered if she was imagining Remus doing this to her: touching her face, pulling the sheets over her, feeling the rise and fall of her chest as she lay against him. He wondered if she was erasing his bulky muscles and thick joints into thin, whittled limbs that were barely thicker than her own, and if she had light brown, greying hair bunched in her fingers instead of his own. And, with sadness, he realised who she was thinking of.
He kissed her forehead, not caring that he got a mouthful of stringy green hair in the process. "Talk to me. What's on your mind?"
She didn't respond verbally, at first: she tightened her grip on his neck and drew herself closer to him, her head on his chest and her fingers entangled in his hair. When he felt warm wetness against his chest, he pulled her closer, and let her cry herself out until she looked at him with bloodshot eyes, ready to talk.
When pressed, only days earlier, if he would prefer death by a single catastrophic blow or by a million oozing papercuts, Remus Lupin had chosen the former over the latter.
In his mind, a lingering death would have been her growing indifference to him: she would grow up, allow the flush of lust to fade into chaste affection, and move onto someone else, preferably far from his sight or mind. It had been more painful a thought before that night - but not any more.
In the course of the evening, someone had come at him with the straight end of a crowbar, and had hammered one swift blow to the chest.
The sound came through in snatches every few minutes: a squeak of a mattress spring, or a headboard clashing against the wall, or a shout, or a muffled moan. Things would fall silent for a few minutes - long enough to lull him into thinking it was all over - and then it would recommence with fervour.
It took the dawn light softly bleeding into the room for him to realise that he hadn't slept for even a minute that whole night. Every part of him felt disgusting: from the furry filth coating his teeth to the churning nausea in his gut, right through to the dirty, clammy sheets underneath his sticky, sweaty back. The air in the room was so stale and still it felt liquid in the heat.
Lurching for the door, he was dismayed to not have his wand in his back pocket, as he only made it a few metres before being quite explosively sick onto the corridor wallpaper. Upon ascertaining there was very little difference between his vomit and the pattern, he left it as was, and stumbled down the staircase as quietly as he could without waking Mrs Black.
The kitchen was cool and silent compared to the rest of the house, and the cold slate under his feet was a relief as he staggered to the sink, turning the tap on with force and blasting the basin with a stream of cold water. He hung his head under the spout, and let the water run through his hair for several moments. The throbbing in his temple and scalp eased, and he felt minutely better, but the grease still clung to his skin and hair, no matter how much he rubbed, and as he opened his mouth to gulp water down desperately, he realised he couldn't return up to bed even if he tried: even if he had nothing on that day, even if he was desperately sleep deprived, even if the hangover from Hades threatened to turn his gastrointestinal tract inside out, he would still not go back up there.
Then he saw the sneakers on the ground - almost a yard away from each other on account of the terrible aim of their owner - and he saw them up there in his mind.
He fumbled for his wand on the kitchen table, and softly summoned his bedsheets, which arrived seconds later in a sad heap at his feet. He banished them outside into a tub which instantly filled with soapy water, and reaching for the box of teabags beside the kettle, set about making himself feel better.
As teenagers desperate to hide the evidence of having been drinking while at school, Remus and his friends had spent inordinate amounts of time trying to determine the best hangover cure. His had come about rather more organically: tea with extra milk and sugar seemed to cure anything. Whether it did anything clinically or not was another matter. He stirred a third teaspoon of sugar in, his eyes glued mindlessly on the tub outside, as its contents started to swirl fretfully, froth and suds spilling over the side onto the pavers.
He took his tea and followed the sheets outside, sitting on the stoop of the backdoor and letting his head rest against the doorframe. The motion of the water in the tub was hypnotic, and he let himself watch his sheets swish against the side of the tub.
Upstairs, a door closed. He prayed it was Sirius, but the footfalls on the steps were too soft and measured, too considerate of the other sleeping bodies in the house. He dared not turn to look behind him into the kitchen, and when he heard the sharp clicking of heavy leather boots on the stone floor behind him, his stomach dropped.
"Did you go to sleep last night?"
"Of course," Remus lied. "I usually wake with the birds."
The footsteps grew louder behind him, and he reluctantly shifted over to allow Charlie only enough space to sit uncomfortably. He sipped from a glass of water, and was dressed in his travelling clothes. He reeked of sex, and his hair was matted to his hair with sweat and grease.
"You all right? After last night?"
"What happened last night?"
Charlie shifted his hips uncomfortably on the step. "You'd had a bit to drink, I reckon. You weren't yourself."
"Can't remember anything." Another lie.
"Yeah, right." Charlie didn't sound convinced in the slightest. "So, didn't get woken up at all?"
"Slept right through. Couldn't hear a thing." A third lie. A trifecta of terrible, unbelievable, pointless lies.
"Hear a thing of what?"
"I think I need to duck inside for a moment, stove's on." Remus hauled himself to his feet, and almost tripped over them in an attempt to get inside away from the look Charlie had been giving him ever since he sat down.
"Think I might head home for the day before I go back to Romania. Haven't spent nearly enough time with Mum."
"Sounds like a good idea."
"Hey, you know something, Mum reckons you're terrific."
"Yes?" Remus opened a cupboard and peered inside it, grateful of the barrier created by the door between him and Charlie. "Well, your mother is also a lovely lady."
"Reckons you're a legend. You know. Years in the Order, fought off the same blokes who killed my uncles and lived to tell the tale, all that guff. Whizz with the dangerous beasts and everything. The way she talked about you when she joined the Order, it was like she had a new husband, and a new favourite son, and her brothers back, all at once. Looking after her when Dad was in hospital over Christmas, sorting her out when she was upset by Boggarts--"
"-- and so, when I got here, I was expecting this legendary bloke who could put out fires and tame wild beasts and wouldn't be fazed by anything."
Remus slammed the cupboard shut. "Sorry to disappoint you."
"Dora did not shut up about you the night I arrived either, you know that?"
His gut dropped again. "I doubt that."
"I mean it. Every few metres she had to stop and have a blub. She was as drunk that night as you were last night."
"That must have been unpleasant for both of you."
"And despite that reputation, despite everything she reckons, I think that you would have to be one of the most frightened, fearful men I have ever met."
Charlie's voice was soft as he said this, and when Remus turned to look at him his eyes locked on Charlie's.
"I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I get it, it's cool and all that you feel for Dora and everything, I mean, I think we can empathise with each other on that. But if you don't intend to act on it, then don't treat--"
The sound of splintering china being crushed between a well-muscled young man and a wall cut off Charlie's words, and Remus's sick, drunk brain noticed long after he acted that his wand was in his hand, held aloft, a nasty sneer pulling his top lip up towards his cheekbone.
"I've defeated far nastier things than dragons," he whispered furiously.
"Yeah, and you're still terrified by a twenty-two year old woman. You're pathetic."
Charlie wiped blood from the back of his neck, and Remus immediately felt stupid. Guiltily, he offered a hand to Charlie, only for it to be slapped away. Charlie hauled himself to his feet, groaning as he straightened. "I saw what you were like last night," he sneered. "Don't think I didn't see you in the kitchen with her. I don't care about that. You know why?"
"Go on," said Remus, the wand pointed at Charlie Weasley's heart with white knuckles and a slight tremor. "All ears. I'm sure it will be enthralling."
Charlie's voice was so soft that Remus almost had to strain to hear him. "No ticker. You're too cowardly to put a name and face to your thoughts or feelings. You're fine when it comes to duels or creatures, things you don't need to actually care about and converse with. But any time you need to take responsibility for things you just clam up. Pathetic."
Remus lowered his wand, and with a sigh he sank into a chair. "Could you put some water in the kettle, please? My cup outside has gone cold."
Charlie stared at him askance for a moment, then complied, his heavy brow line furrowed.
"If I was inappropriate, or aggressive, or unkind last night, I apologise."
"Once again, no judgement if you have feelings--"
"Please don't presume to know how I feel."
"Oh for crying out loud," Charlie said as he dunked a teabag angrily into a cup of boiling water, "your feelings are as obvious as dogs' bollocks."
"It doesn't mean they have to be acted on."
"So why make my life hell? Why make hers hell, either? Fine, don't be with her, whatever, but why make her feel like dirt for wanting you? Why make her feel like dirt for wanting anything? You know how she feels about you."
"You're misinterpreting the situation."
"There's not much to misinterpret from the words "'I love Remus Lupin, and it kills me that he won't reciprocate'."
"Are you going to put milk and sugar in that?"
"No." Charlie set the cup down in front of Remus, then settled in opposite him, a steaming mug in his own hand. "Why are you hurting my friend?"
"Why are you hurting her? I'd have thought after last night that if you liked her so much you wouldn't want to leave her side?"
"Because," Charlie said softly, nursing the cup and staring into the vapour rising off the top, "I think I know where we stand with each other. Unlike you two."
"You are mistaken, and if you are not, then she is mistaken."
Charlie laughed an angry, hollow laugh. "That is about the most insulting thing I have ever heard anyone say. Right, the girl who finished top in her year at school and is one of the few people with-it enough to side with the Order can't be trusted with her emotions. Sounds reasonable."
The tea was bitter, and Remus made a mental note to give up drinking it when Charlie had left. "You'd be perfect for her. I don't know why--"
"I'm not you."
"And that's the point. Look at you. Look at what I have."
"I don't know," said Charlie, pretending to look as though he were in deep thought, "I cannot imagine why a bloke with fuck-all except bad memories and dicky joints would ever want to have something meaningful in his life like a rewarding adult relationship. Unless he were intellectually incapacitated, or was some seedy martyr who gets off on feeling bad for himself."
"Well, you've found me out then. Sorry, I cannot finish any of this tea. You over-brewed it."
"Probably because you're just used to drinking piss-weak, under brewed tea. Oh, look, that seems to be a recurrent thing for you, doesn't it? Wonder how you could ever stand to be around blokes like James Potter, or Uncle Gideon--"
Remus's hand hit the table with such force that all of the cutlery and china left on it rattled violently. The forcefulness shocked even him, and he forced himself calm. "Yes, I dearly loved watching my brave, idiot friends rush headlong into their own deaths. That's all I've ever wanted. If there's anything I like doing, it's filling my social calendar with more brave idiot friends to die. Terrific. More of that, immediately."
Charlie fell quiet, and Remus watched the frown on his face soften. "Charlie, better you than me. I am sorry for the prurient interest. But you are cut from the same cloth and it is better than the cloth I am cut from. It just makes more sense."
"Then why did you hex me if you're fine with it? Why the carry-on, the anger?"
"I don't have to like it, even if it's the best option."
Charlie drained his tea and set the cup down, then stood in his place. "Well, you're wrong, and you're an idiot. So shut up and make a move. Right, best be off, before--"
"She wakes up? And you call me the coward?"
"In case you couldn't hear us last night," Charlie snapped, picking up his travelling cloak and holstering his wand in his belt, "we stayed up all night chatting. Looks like you're not the only one in the house that didn't fall asleep last night."
"I think you should go to her."
Remus stood after Charlie, and ushered him from the kitchen. "You know I won't."
"You're a miserable old shit, Remus Lupin."
"I surely am," Remus said, smiling faintly for the first time that morning.
"And your pashing game needs work," Charlie said, pulling the front door open in front of him.
"Lose the teeth. Maybe brush them first. Tell Sirius thanks for the hospitality, by the way."
The nausea returned. "Right."
The two men shook hands. This time, Remus didn't even bother to affect any force or strength in his grip, and as he watched Charlie - genuine, forthright, unaffected Charlie - counter with warmth and vigor in his shake, he felt that things were sadly not going to go as they should. And, minutes later as Charlie apparated from the street corner, all he wanted was a bath and a sleep.
He slouched back to the kitchen and out the back door, and with his remaining strength pulled the sodden sheets from the tub. Sweat beading down his neck and chest, he clipped them to the line Molly had strung for them when they'd first taken up residence at Headquarters, cold water running along his arm and soaking his undershirt. The sun would come over soon enough, and with the breeze that flowed through the back alley way, it would not take long before he could make his bed and fall asleep.
And when he turned back to go inside, he saw his entry blocked by all five feet and five inches of Nymphadora Tonks, her hair lank in the humidity and eye makeup smeared down her cheek, wearing the same dress she'd had on the night before.
He couldn't read her expression: her eyes were bleary, though he could not pick why. Her feet were bare, and she'd tied her hair back into the world's saddest, thinnest ponytail. She looked so much younger than she likely was, and it was at that point he knew the approach he'd have to take.
"Come back to bed with me," she said, her voice as low and hoarse as his own. "Please. I'm so tired, and I know you must be as well."
"I've things to do today," he replied, forcing a tone of friendliness into his voice.
"Remus, about last night--"
"--it sounds like you had a wonderful night," he said, giving her arm a gentle squeeze and a smile as he passed by her back into the kitchen and up the stairs.
He could hear soft sobbing as he reached the second floor landing, and it took all his nerve to slam the bathroom door shut behind him and run the bath so loudly it drowned out any sound possible to hear.
All things considered, Charlie Weasley felt he deserved his first smoke in nearly two years.
Wizard tobacco is nothing like the piss-weak, acrid Muggle variety: it is chopped more coarsely and depending upon the taste of the smoker weaves just the right amount of other herbs through the mixture. It is satiating and enveloping and the taste can be savoured long after the last puff is taken. But it didn't make it any more popular with his parents, and in deference to them he cracked open the window in his fourth-storey room, opened the wine he'd brought with him from Romania, and let himself go.
He took a long drag and exhaled out the window, the smoke curling up into the night air outside. The house below was quiet: he knew his father would stay at the hospital, and Fleur would stay with him. He'd volunteered, but one look at his future sister-in-law suggested that there would be enough moral support that evening. The only sounds from below were from the two people talking in the kitchen: a soft, male voice occasionally broken off by the louder, more frantic female voice interjecting.
"Hand it over," Tonks whispered, her arm brushing against his. He relinquished it, and watched her draw in. He didn't imagine anything could make her cheek bones seem even more prominent or her face hollow and gaunt, but the action rendered her almost skeletal in the low light. "This is nice stuff."
"I brought back another couple of packets. You want to take some with you?"
She shook her head, and leaning over him, tapped the ash onto the window sill outside. "Thanks for letting me sneak in."
"You know." She handed the cigarette back to him, and stared out the window. "Everyone running around like a chook with its head cut off. No sign of Snape, or Greyback. Sorry about that."
He didn't realise when she'd snuck in earlier that afternoon that they could have been twins: aside from the beard, which had returned with vigor, both wore dark jeans and thick knitted khaki jumpers. Only his actually fit him: hers fell off bony shoulders, and she'd messily scraped whatever was left of her hair into an elastic.
They'd barely spoken when she had come in earlier that afternoon: she tried to talk, but every time she did, the words got caught in the back of her throat, and he'd pulled her into his bed, where she was asleep in minutes. He stayed with her through the afternoon, and when she woke he realised with a pang that it was just over a year since they'd slept together, and the distance created by time was only slightly too long for him.
"You know I won't be here for long," he said softly. He was trying to catch the gist of the conversation downstairs; every so often, he'd hear a laugh, and with a sense of relief was glad to recognise it as his mother's. "I'll be back for the wedding, but I can't stay."
"He's so good with women, isn't he? So comforting." Her words were venomous, and she almost spat as she reached for the wine bottle, ignoring his earlier words.
"Fuck him," she said softly, the bottle shaking in a tremulous grip. "Anyone but me." She took a sip, and he watched droplets of wine spatter on his floor. "Do you ever wonder about him and her? He's so eager to comfort her, to befriend her--"
Charlie wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and kissed her temple. "Come on. You've had enough of that stuff by now. You haven't eaten all day, and you're exhausted. You'll make yourself sick."
"Don't tell me what to do," she barked, and when he caught her gaze he almost recoiled at how anger contorted her face. She'd lost so much weight that her skin wrinkled, and the pallor of her skin only called attention to the dark circles under her eyes.
Twelve months ago she was so substantial, he thought to himself: she had muscle and curves and her hair stood up at all ends. And now she was thin enough that he could close a hand around her arm at just about any point and the fingers would touch. "I'm worried about you," he whispered, not letting her out of his grip.
Downstairs, a floorboard creaked, and he held his breath. He saw her look too, her eyes lighting up with rage. "I shouldn't have come tonight," she said.
"I'm so glad you're here," he relied, and took her hand in his. Outside, on the windowsill, the cigarette ashes and fell into dust, but he didn't care. "You can stay as long as you like."
"I don't want to go back to my parents. I don't want to have to answer their questions, or--"
"So you're keen to answer my parents' questions?"
She finally cracked a smile. "Yours have wine and mine don't. Also, Molly doesn't go off at me for my job choice, or try to convince me to chuck sickies. That's the last thing I need right now."
For the last year, she'd occupied every thought: day, night, appropriate, obscene, and now she was here, beside him on his bed with a bottle of wine nursed in her lap, and all he wanted to do was to take it off her and kiss him. Perhaps he hadn't been honest with her, and he hoped she had been equally dishonest with him in her confession.
"Do you think of us?"
"Hmm?" She set the bottle on his bedside table, and lowered her head onto his shoulder.
"Do you think of last year at all? The night we got together."
He felt her nod, and his heart belted against his ribs. "That was the last time I've done it."
"It was for me, too."
She kissed his shoulder, and he tightened his grip on her hand. "It was the last time I felt anything. I haven't--
He leant in, and kissed her, keeping his lips closed and his breathing light. When he pulled away, he saw her lower lip tremble, and she forced her lips closed.
He heard footsteps course along the corridor, and he pulled away from her just as she reached out to clutch at his jumper, and when the feet settled outside his door, he hoped it was his mother. He felt her heave against him, and he wrapped an arm around her. "I'm sorry," he repeated.
"Tell me I'm stupid." Her words were swallowed up by his sweater, and he felt a pang as her fingers found the belt loop at the back of his jeans and toyed with it.
"For my terrible life choices. For my awful job, and for my love for unavailable men."
"And what would me calling you stupid accomplish?"
"Dunno. Would be the truth?"
"Nah. Not even. Don't be mental."
She let out a wail at this, and he held her even more tightly, worrying that by pulling away she would finally lose all her grip.
The doorknob creaked, and the door pushed open slowly, and he involuntarily ground his teeth as Remus Lupin peered through in silence.
If Tonks knew he was in the room, she didn't show it, her head buried into Charlie's chest. Charlie let his hand rest on the back of her head, and he shook his own head silently at Remus, who stood dumbly in the doorway, hands in pockets.
For minutes, the only sound in the room came from her soft crying. Charlie's eyes never left Remus for a moment, and he let his fingers weave defensively in Tonks' hair, loosening the elastic and pulling her hair out.
Remus was the one to eventually break the silence, and he cleared his throat softly. "Tonks, I didn't--"
The speed with which she sprung away from him caught Charlie unawares, and he watched her land on her feet, wand out defensively. With her hair out, she looked wild, and Charlie pulled his own wand out cautiously. "What are you doing?"
"Don't do anything rash," Remus whispered, his eyes darting to the door. "Please. Come downstairs, we can talk--"
A shot of red light hit the skirting board as she took aim at him, Charlie's quick reflexes the only thing standing in her way of laying a blow as he grabbed at her, pinning her to his chest. "Let me fucking--"
"Stop it, Dora," Charlie said, struggling to hold her arms by her side. He'd forgotten the strength that had been so intoxicating the year before: she might've been thinner, but she was incredibly explosive, and she'd lost little strength. "Don't do anything you'll regret."
She wrenched out of his grip, her chest heaving and her face red and glistening with tears and sweat. The level wand never dropped, and her pupils fixated on her target. "I want to hurt him like he hurt me," she said through clenched teeth.
"You're exhausted, you're drunk, you need to calm down," Charlie murmured in her ear, and he reached out to her again. "Stay with me."
"No, he needs to feel--"
"And you can," Remus said, raising his hands, the soft crack in his usually calm voice betraying his terror. "Take me outside, and you can do whatever you want. You can hex me, you can curse me, you can kill me, anything-- only, not here. Not where Charlie can get hurt. Not where we might damage Molly and Arthur's home." He reached a hand to her, and Charlie felt ill when it brushed against her cheek. "Please come downstairs, Dora."
Her wand still aloft, she glanced at Charlie, and he nodded to her against all of his instincts. "Go talk with him," he said, forcing a smile. "Clear the air."
"That's right." Remus too was smiling, and he brushed hair out of Tonks' eyes. "I'll listen. Anything."
The wand arm fell, and she closed her eyes. And then she wrenched herself away tom the two men, and stole out the room and down the stairs.
"I didn't know she--"
"Nothing was happening then," Charlie said, reaching for his packet of tobacco and sitting back down on his bed. He pushed the window open more, and looked up at Remus.
"Not that it would ha--"
"Would you shut the fuck up and go down to her?" Charlie packed the leaves down into the roller paper, tamping the fag with so much fury the delicate paper tore in his fingers. "I am feeling pretty keen to see you get hexed."
"I never wanted to hurt her."
"Are you going to let me enjoy my wine and smoke in peace?" Charlie resisted the urge to reach for his own wand, and forced himself to stare at his handiwork. "If she uses the Avada Kedavra on you, I'll say I saw nothing, by the way."
"So much for the understanding."
He watched Remus dash out in Tonks' wake, and with violently trembling fingers, lit the cigarette on his fifth attempt, eyes fixated out the window at the two figures on the grass.
The grass was wet underfoot, and there was little to cast light save for a waxing moon and a light from Charlie's room. The kitchen was dark - Molly having gone to bed in the ensuing crisis - and Tonks regretted not having brought a cigarette down with her to calm her nerves.
She startled as the back door closed softly, and watched the tall, slender figure approach her slowly, arms out as if to show that he was holding nothing. "I've left mine in the parlour," Remus whispered, and indeed, his hands were empty, fingers splayed open. "It's just me."
"Did you think you were going to duel me? Is that what you thought?"
"I'll honour my word." He stood in front of her, and she watched him roll the sleeves of his shirt up. "Aurors have been granted permission to use Unforgivable curses. I am a suspect, a half-breed who--"
"Shut up," she whispered tremulously.
"Do it," he called to her. "I embarrassed you in front of everyone in the hospital wing, I have done nothing but--"
It wasn't a spell that caught Remus, but her fist, balled up tightly and striking him with enough force to cleave cheek muscle in two. The downward force with which she struck him surprised even her. She pulled back, clutching at her hand and watching him stumble for a step or two before he righted himself, a hand coming up to soothe his face.
"That was a good hit. Do you want me to look at your hand?"
The softness and gentleness in his voice had the opposite effect to what he likely intended, and she felt her nostrils flare. "Don't patronise me."
"I'm not patronising you. I have never been able to land a clean hit. I'd tell you to ask my mates, but... you know."
"Do you want sympathy? Is that what you're here for? You want to go back inside the kitchen tomorrow covered in bruises and blood and have Molly kiss it better?"
He took off his robes, and lay them on the ground. "I've had enough sympathy for a lifetime."
"Yeah, right. You feed off it. You're pathetic."
A dull ache in her hand at the point of impact grew, but she ignored it. "Was it me? Was it me personally? Or would you have done this to anyone who showed an interest in you?"
"So I'm not special, then--"
"That's not what I meant, and you know--"
He fell quiet, and in the dim light she caught a desperate, pleading look in his face. He raised a hand - perhaps in longing, or perhaps in defence - but when she raised her wand again she watched him bring it rapidly to his chest, as if to brace himself.
"You're right about the Unforgivables," she said softly, casting a glance back at the house to see if anyone was watching. "I could do whatever I wanted and be excused - nay, rewarded. I could make you walk a hundred paces into that field, far away enough so I couldn't see you, and then I'd kill you. I'd transfigured your body into something so small that even I wouldn't be able to find your burial place in the morning, just like Barty Crouch did. I could put a bucket of water in front of you and use the Imperius curse on you, and watch the last of your breath force its way out of your lungs as I make you hold your own head under."
Remus lowered his hand. The breeze played at his thinning hair, and she watched him careful step backwards away from her. He was breathing slowly and calmly, but the trembling fingers betrayed his fear. He made to talk, forgetting the silencing spell, but no sound came out.
"Do I need to immobilise you to make you listen?"
He shook his head, and raising his hands in surrender, knelt on the grass in front of her.
"You're actually going to listen to me?"
A nod. His eyes were lowered to the ground, and he was breathing more heavily.
"If you never loved me - if I truly misread your intent and projected something on
you, then I am sorry," she whispered. "If that is the case, I let you go, and I hope you find it in yourself to forgive a tired, grieving friend who has made a simple misunderstanding." She knelt in front of him, wand in her hand, and rested the tip gently against his heart. "Was this the case?"
It took a minute for him to respond: a minute in which the clouds covered the moon, the chickens in the coop nearby clucked, and her wand hand started to hurt, so tight was the grip. But finally, with the most imperceptible of movements, she watched him shake his head before burying it in his hands.
For nearly a year she wondered how she would feel upon hearing him confess the truth and in honesty she never visualised that she would feel so enraged - at both the sad, cowardly, pitiful man in front of her, and at herself for falling for him. Her arm jerked, and he twitched in fright at the wand pointed at his chest.
"How much force will I need to use to find out how long you've felt like this?"
He looked up at her, his eyes fearful as he shook his head violently.
"No to the force? No to telling me what I want to know?"
Gingerly, he grasped at the tip of her wand, and angled it towards his mouth, raising an eyebrow. She whispered the incantation, and as his voice flooded back to him he sighed loudly. "Whatever you want from me, I'll tell you." His hand reached for hers, but she pushed it back roughly.
"Perhaps a year and a half, maybe two years."
"Even when Charlie and I..."
He nodded again, refusing to make eye contact. "I don't care about that, I truly don't. I wish you chose him. I wish you'd chosen any other man--"
The stunning spell hit him in the gut, and he was thrown forcefully into the the ground behind him. She felt a knot in her wand bite painfully into her knuckle but she didn't care: standing over him, she felt a loathing she'd never experienced in her life, and she advanced over him, readying herself to serve another blow.
Above her, Charlie's light flicked off, and the yard fell pitch black and silent, save for soft groaning and heavy breathing. The tiny red light in the window told her she had an audience, but she didn't care anymore. "Then why treat me like dirt? Why ignore me, and close up, and pretend I didn't exist after you heard us?"
Remus seemed to weigh up his choices in his mind before, defeatedly, he sighed. "I never meant to hurt you, or make you feel bad. It was honestly for the best, what happened."
"You listened to me with Charlie. You... you imagined you were him."
"You forced me to overhear you." His voice was now loud, and he spat the words out bitterly.
"You're pathetic," she whispered.
"I seem to get that a lot."
"You never would have told me, would you. You'd have kept it quiet because regardless of what I thought or felt of you, you wouldn't have been able to stomach the fallout, would you?"
"You would be very correct." By now he'd pulled himself upright, and was back to kneeling in front of her.
"And you would have rather me curse your bones into the ground tonight - to hurt you, to even kill you - than to have to run that risk. You would have rather hear me fuck another man than to make that move yourself. Because you could still feel something, and it was better than feeling nothing."
"And I did. Mea culpa."
She collapsed onto the grass, and dropped her wand by her side, her sides aching and her hands numb. "I hate you so much."
"I am so sorry." He reached his hand out and let it rest on her shoulder, and he leaned in close. With his other hand, he reached for her wand, and placed it back into her hands. "Please. I deserve so much worse than what you've given me."
She met his gaze. He finally looked calm, and he nodded to her gently. "Please."
"I don't care how much it hurts. I cannot give you what you want in the long term, but in the short term: that I urge you to take."
"I've never done it before."
"What was all that talk about grinding my bones into the dust and drowning me in a bucket?"
"All talk, only talk, I couldn't--"
"Do you feel hatred? Do you feel anger?"
"Then raise your wand." He took two steps backward, and looked her dead on. "You will need to focus for this."
"Please, don't make me do this."
"It is only right."
"Do it, for heaven's sake."
Remus took a step toward her, arm raised, and for a moment her heart raced and she thought she would be sick. It was only upon hearing a voice cry cruciatus and seeing Remus spasm and convulse on the grass in front of her that time seemed to play at normal speed.
Recipients of the Cruciatus curse are never able to predict the severity or intensity before they are hit, and few - upon experiencing it - are ever willing to endure it again in lieu of acquiescing to their torturer's demands. It was only the passage of decades that permitted Remus to forget the agony, but it was only took seconds to break his resolve.
Whoever cast the curse held it longer than he anticipated, and when he was released his lungs burned upon that first breath of air. His mouth tasted of blood and he was sure one of his incisors wobbled loose in his mouth. His eyes had been clenched, lights and colours flashing and exploding behind his eyelids, and when he opened his mouth it took nearly a minute for his eyes to focus on the stocky, masculine figure standing between him and Tonks.
"You're not going to try that again, hear me?" Charlie's voice was quiet, and even though asking a question his voice was declarative and final. "You'll not push her into hurting you because you're such a sicko that you'd rather be beaten up than shagged silly."
Despite the pain and the taste of blood that seemed to start even lower than in his mouth, Remus felt himself laughing involuntarily, and clinched at his aching, likely broken jaws to stop himself doubling over in agony.
"Don't give him what he wants. This is as close as he'll get to sleeping with you in his mind."
Charlie was standing beside Tonks, and Remus felt his gut ache even more as he leaned over to kiss her on the shoulder. He couldn't tell her facial expression, and he was equally glad that his own was masked in the dark.
"Charlie, I... I can't hurt him anymore."
"Do you want me to continue for you?" His tone was almost chivalrous, and Remus regretted leaving his wand inside. "I'm sure it won't have the same satisfaction for him."
"Please, no," Remus cried, collapsing to the grass. "I-- I'll stop. Anything."
"Do you feel absolved now? Like you don't owe her - us - anything?"
"I don't," Remus whispered. "She deserves so much more."
"She does. Dora, are you all right?"
"She's too good a person to ever be able to cast an Unforgivable on an old friend. Right? Not like me. You think the worst I've dealt with are dragons? I think you and I have that in common. Not much else, but."
"Look at her," Charlie cried, so loud Remus worried that Molly would wake. "Look at what she's done to herself over you this year."
"Have you felt how small her wrists are? Have you noticed how her ribs jut out under her skin, or how you can see her veins in her temple?"
"I'm so sorry."
"Have you noticed the colour of her hair? Bit hard to forget, given it's been the same for the last twelve months."
"What else will you take from her?" Charlie loomed over him, and Remus could smell smoke and wine on his breath.
He was only vaguely aware of the body kneeling beside him, and he felt denim roughly scratch against his cheek. The absence of the pain began to feel incredible, and he reached out to grasp at the knee - regardless of who it belonged to. "Do you want a hand up?"
He accepted it, and let Tonks pull him into a seated position. He collapsed his weight against her, and she took his hand in hers. He felt the gracile bones, and his body moved with hers as she breathed.
"Tell me I'm stupid," she whispered, and Remus went to speak before he realised that she wasn't speaking to him."
"For my terrible life choices. For my love for unavailable men."
"Then you're stupid."
What Remus would have given for another time, another place, another body, and when she rested her chin on his head he clung to her tightly for what felt like hours, sensation rushing back to his beaten extremities. He looked to Charlie - his expression unknowable in the dark - standing silently over them, and wished for the millionth time that he could be him instead. But it was the five seconds of realisation in which he reminded himself who she was holding that swayed his opinion enough, and even as Charlie stormed back into the house, swearing and slamming the door shut behind him, he didn't release her.
When she'd kissed him in the kitchen of Sirius's house, he had been afraid: of being caught out by Charlie, of having his interest and arousal registered, of what would happen when she broke the kiss off and the space would need to be filled with words. And when she kissed him that night, the same amount of terror - though for different reasons - flooded him until she broke it off, and for the first time in the time he'd known her, she let the space fall silent and his fear fell away with it.
As he led her down the front garden to a place shrouded by trees and shadows, he looked back to see the little red light in Charlie's window had been extinguished, and he vowed he would one day try to make amends with him too.