And now, the story you've all been waiting: Difference III!
Title: Difference III – Rich and Poor
Author: sea_thoughts aka Starsea
Word Count: 2457
But it can’t sing and dance,
And it can’t walk.
As long as I can have you here with me,
I’d much rather be forever in blue jeans.
Sirius is triumphant, of course. He grins at Remus from behind his fringe and hums the Wedding March whenever they’re alone together. Remus endures this teasing because every idea of retaliation is either too childish or too cruel. Nymphadora has no such inhibitions. She waits until her cousin is asleep, then turns his hair every colour of the rainbow. When Sirius wakes up and sees the result, he comes storming into the disused ballroom, where Remus has been teaching her to waltz, and turns the air royal blue. Nymphadora throws back her head and laughs at him while Remus tries (and fails) to hide his own laughter at the sight. Eventually, even Sirius cannot resist and he starts laughing as well.
“Well played, coz,” he says, shaking his head. “Worthy of me or James.”
“Not Remus?” she demands, her hand curling around his arm, jealous for him. Remus cherishes this more than she’ll ever know.
“Nah, way too immature for Moony the Prefect,” Sirius says mockingly. “He’d think out something elaborate.”
“I once made you fart every two minutes, hardly elaborate,” Remus reminds him.
Nymphadora snorts with surprised laughter. “Did you really do that?”
“Oh yes,” Sirius says with a smirk. “McGonagall was so disappointed. She called it a ‘waste of talent’.”
Green eyes meet brown, sweet with love. “And what were you talented in?”
“Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts. Not that they got me anywhere,” Remus adds with a sad smile.
“They got you the job at Hogwarts,” Sirius points out, frowning.
“Most people don’t care that I got Os in my Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts NEWTs, Sirius. They do care about the fact I turn into a dangerous monster once a month and the longest I’ve ever held a job is one year.” He knows that talking to Sirius about work is insensitive but he can’t help himself.
“But the Order pays you, doesn’t it?” Nymphadora asks, looking puzzled.
Sirius snorts. “Are you kidding? He’s too proud, thinks of it as charity.”
“You and Dumbledore are not made of money,” Remus says through gritted teeth. He doesn’t want to talk about this in front of Nymphadora. He doesn’t want to talk about money, or think about how she is developing a high-flying career while he can’t hold down even a part-time job, never mind the fact that he had to quit the only job that has ever made him happy.
Sirius is getting angry again. “Maybe not, but it’s not like my inheritance is doing much, is it?! It’s not like I can just stroll down Diagon Alley and buy whatever I want! At least you can use the money, which is more than I can do!”
Remus pulls away and walks to the door. He can feel Sirius glaring at his back but he doesn’t turn around. Nymphadora calls out his name but the door cuts her off and he leans against it, breathing heavily. Despite the inevitability, he still feels humiliated that they had to discuss his financial situation in front of her. Why couldn’t Sirius think for once?
Nymphadora is not stupid. She doesn’t bring up the subject in private, but Remus knows that she hasn’t forgotten the argument. It’s too important for her to forget. As an Auror, she’s been trained in interrogation and she knows when he’s at his most vulnerable. So when she marches into the kitchen near the full moon and asks him, “How much money have you got, Remus?” he knows that he shouldn’t be surprised. But he is surprised, and he hates being caught off guard, which makes him sharper than normal.
“Is that any of your business?”
“I’d like it to be,” she replies quietly and he drops his goblet of Wolfsbane onto the floor, where the potion spills uselessly over the flagstones. He stares at the spreading puddle, his mind whirling. Oh God. Oh God, he did not just hear that. She did not say that, she does not mean that. She has no idea what that means.
“No,” he says immediately, shutting the idea out in panic.
“Why not?” she presses.
Remus grabs a cloth and begins to mop up his potion, his nose wrinkling at the smell of burnt herbs and dishwater. “You have no idea…” he begins.
“No idea about what it means to be a werewolf?” she interrupts, her eyes burning blue with determination. “Maybe not, but I know you. And I’ve done some research. I took a shift at the Werewolf Unit for the last full moon.”
He stops mopping for a moment, stares at the floor in shock. He realises that for some ridiculous reason, he had been hoping to protect her. Not from the idea that he’s a werewolf, but the reality of it: the trembling limbs, the nausea, the fatigue that belongs to people whose bodies are racked by an illness that can be contained, but never cured; the look in people’s eyes when they realise what you are; the constant rejection, which hurts worse when it’s polite; the knowledge that it will never, ever, get better, that you will never, ever, get better. This is your life. Be grateful for what you’ve got.
He does not want her to be grateful for what she’s got. She should wake up every morning full of joy and energy, full of purpose. She should be happy. And he knows that his life cannot make her happy.
Long white fingers appears in his vision and take the cloth from him, mopping the rest of the potion up. “For God’s sake, let me help,” she says quietly, her eyes now looking into his. The blue is no longer so fierce; it is quieter now, turning towards violet. He opens his mouth, but the look silences him. She stands up and wrings the cloth out over the sink in one practised movement. Remus pushes himself to his feet and watches her. He is trying to think of an argument: you shouldn’t have to help me; you should find someone who can pull his own weight; I’ll just be a Jarvey around your neck.
“Nymphadora,” he begins, when he senses a movement in the doorway and turns to see Severus, hovering in the shadows like a great bat. Remus frowns slightly. How long has he been there?
“Not interrupting, I hope,” Severus says, as he sweeps into the kitchen. His eyes note the overturned goblet, which Remus forgot to pick up, and his mouth curls with familiar scorn. “Did you manage to drink any of that before you spilt it, Lupin?”
“Like you’d care if you were interrupting,” Nymphadora flashes, turning around after pegging up the cloth to drip dry. She leans against the sink and watches Severus with cool eyes that have gone back to their usual dark grey. Remus smells the gunpowder scent of danger in the air.
“No, I didn’t manage to drink much, Severus,” he says.
Severus lifts one bony shoulder, as if this incompetency is only to be expected. “I can’t be expected to bring you Wolfsbane any hour of the day or night,” he says, his tone contemptuous. “You’ll just have to go without it for tonight, thought what effect that will have on your… other self, I can only speculate.” His eyes dart to Remus’s face, sharp with malice. “Of course, if you could provide the ingredients for me yourself instead of relying on my poor stock…”
Remus sees the hidden edge that Severus’s words always carry, feels the sly point digging into him: Ingredients for potions? You can barely afford to clothe yourself. He opens his mouth but a hoot of laughter interrupts him. Severus’s face tightens as they both turn to Nymphadora, who raises her eyebrows and gives him an innocent smile.
“Poor stock? You have a huge cupboard, Professor,” she says, emphasising his title just a little too much. “Not to mention a… comfortable salary.” Her pause is worthy of Severus himself. “I don’t see why you need to be so ungracious about helping a colleague.”
Remus sees Severus’s jaw tighten at the words ‘ungracious’ and ‘colleague’. Severus never wanted him as a colleague so Nymphadora refering to him as such is like cuttiing Severus with his own knife, and having a girl that he taught call him ‘ungracious’ would be galling enough, but the fact that it’s Nymphadora who says these words makes things much worse. She can’t know that having the daughter of Andromeda Black call him ‘mean’ is like reminding him of who he used to be: the poor half-blood, the kid in robes that were either too big or too small, the kid who never washed his hair or his underwear, the oddball, the outcast… She can’t know that reminding Severus of his past is just about the most dangerous thing she could possibly do.
“Ungracious?” Severus repeats, his voice silky with the promise of pain. “Possibly, Miss Tonks. Perhaps you might want to wait and see how gracious you feel after having to pay for his robes and food for a year, after having to nurse him each and every month, after seeing how people look at you for being married to a monster.” His voice lingers almost lovingly over the last word and Remus sucks in a breath. So Severus did hear their discussion.
“The habit of eavesdropping is so hard to break, isn’t it?” he says, and Severus shoots him a look of pure hatred, but his eyes look wild, almost caged.
“Perhaps you might want to remember, Lupin, that eavesdropping is my job,” he hisses.
“Eavesdropping on the enemy,” Nymphadora says, bringing him up short again. “Do you have to be reminded that Remus is not your enemy?”
Remus sighs. He knows that this is a fight she won’t win. It’s too old and the wounds go too deep. “Nymphadora…”
“No, Remus,” she says fiercely, and Remus closes his eyes, because for one unbelievable moment she sounds so much like Lily, saying that he must never call himself a monster again in her presence or she’ll hex him. When he opens his eyes, he sees that Severus has gone even whiter than usual and he is staring at Nymphadora like he has never seen her before. But this doesn’t stop her, she’s too angry to stop now.
“Nobody calls you a monster in front of me, Remus, especially not the man who spends his days sucking up to the biggest monster alive! That’s what a monster is, Remus! Someone who throws away their humanity voluntarily, someone who kills and hurts without a thought for other people!” She steps forward and Severus takes a step back automatically. Nymphadora’s eyes are blazing, flashing from grey to blue and back again, and she suddenly reminds Remus of Sirius, alive with reckless, righteous anger. “Remus may not have as much money as you,” she says, her voice ringing in the large room, “but he’s richer than you’ll ever be, Professor. He has people who love him and care for him, because they know the difference between a monster and a man!” She lowers her voice slightly and lifts her chin and the Black family resemblance becomes even stronger. “And if you’re so worried about your precious stock, you needn’t bother making his potion anymore! I brewed Wolfsbane for my NEWT exam, I’ve still got the recipe. I can whip up a batch tonight. So run along and do your eavesdropping.” The word drips with Black contempt, Sirius would be proud of her.
Severus takes another step back. He glances at Remus, his eyes glittering, his lips white with anger. “Still lettting other people defend you, Lupin?” he says.
“I think Lily would approve,” Remus says quietly, and he feels the petty satisfaction of having the last word as Severus turns and stalks from the room.
Nymphadora whoops and hugs him. “Go on, admit it, that felt good!” she cries, beaming up at him. Remus lets out a shaky laugh and hugs her back, feeling her warm and lithe against him, burying his face in the pink spikes of her hair.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” he admonishes. “You shouldn’t have said…”
“I don’t care,” she says, immediately fierce once more. “Nobody says those things about you in front of me and gets away with it, Remus. I don’t care how important he is to the Order, that doesn’t give him the right to treat you like shit. You’re a better man than he’ll ever be.”
“Nymphadora!” He feels a guilty swoop of pleasure in his chest. “That’s not true… Severus is very brave, there aren’t many men who could do his job.”
“Oh!” she scoffs. “Bravery!” Her gaze softens for a moment. “Remus, you’re such a Gryffindor! As if bravery is the only thing that matters. Oh yes, he’s very brave… but when it comes to acting like a decent human being, he hasn’t got a clue. Didn’t you hear what he said about you? You’re one of the most human men I’ve ever met, Remus, and I mean that. You care so much about other people – a little too much, frankly, but I’d rather have that than you not caring at all. Everybody here likes you, do you know that? That’s a pretty impressive achievement.”
“Severus hasn’t had my advantages,” Remus protests. “I had Sirius and James and Peter when I was at school, I had parents who cared about me…”
“And he’s had a cushy job at Hogwarts for the past fifteen years!” Nymphadora retorts, grinning up at him. “See? You’re still trying to be fair to him, even though he acted like a complete bastard! Sorry, Remus, but there’s no way you’ll change my mind about Snape. As far as I’m concerned, you will always be the better human being.” She buries her face in his chest with a smile, satisfied that she’s made her point, while Remus stands there, hugging her and blinking back tears. He wishes that he could Floo Lily or write a letter to her, tell her that she’d been right, that he had found a girl who would love him no matter what. He closes his eyes and sees her standing there, smiling, green eyes alight.
Of course I was right, Remus. I’m always right.
“Remus?” Nymphadora is looking up at him, curious. “You look sad.”
“I was just wishing that you could have met Lily,” he says, touching her cheek. “She would have liked you.”
She smiles shyly. “You think so?”
“I know so,” he says and kisses her full on the mouth, wrapping his arms around her and enjoying her squeak of surprise. At that moment, he knows he’s the richest man in the world.
DISCLAIMER: Remus and Tonks live inside my head for the moment but they belong to JKR.
Author's Notes: So, here we are: rough and a bit clumsy but I hope you don't mind. Obviously this takes place before Snape's remark about Tonks's 'weak' Patronus in HBP but it's retroactive revenge for me, if that makes any sense. (It's Friday afternoon, my brain is rapidly grinding to a halt.) Perhaps I made her a little too mean, but I think when it comes to Remus, the gloves are off for Tonks. It took me a while to get Snape's voice right because the Harry filter is so hard to shake off, but I think I managed him in the end. As for the song, it just seems to reflect Tonks's POV. And yes, I am going to write Part IV. :)