They are Three after all; one and one and one together in magic's oldest rule. Snapshots in the life of Moody, Remus, and Tonks.
It's half noon on Sunday, and Remus is still dressed for bed. Pajama bottoms, dark green flannel, white cotton t-shirt of uncertain vintage, and the navy dressing gown Tonks gave him last Christmas. He's in the front parlour, stretched out on the heavy old sofa in front of a crackling fire. Flexing his bare toes into the sofa arm, a big hardbound book propped on his stomach. Moody, passing by with an armload of scrolls, thinks at first that Remus is the picture of afternoon decadence. Except that this is Remus Lupin, and he's reading An Historical Compendium of Counterjinxes in those baggy pajamas and his long white feet sticking out. So Moody thinks maybe the picture is studious afternoon decadence, but that doesn't make much sense, and he goes to file his scrolls.
Minutes later, he's clumping back through the room with a basket of clean pillowcases for the linen cupboard. Remus is sitting up crosslegged, book in his lap and scratching idly at his knee. He reads the encyclopaedia the way some folk read adventure novels, dabbing his fingertip to his tongue before turning the page, happily fascinated by the contents. A thatch of brown-grey hair falls over one eye when he looks up, notes Moody standing there. His faint smile deepens all the little creases at the corner of his other eye, then he's back to his book. Moody frees his clawfoot from the looping fringe on the parlour rug, thinks that the fire could use more wood, and moves on.
When he comes back with the wood, Remus has shifted again. Slung his right elbow over the sofa arm, knee drawn up to help balance the book's spine. His head's propped on his right hand, and his left index finger is tracing down the page. Moody tips a log into the grate, watches the yellow-orange sparks fly up. Behind him, he can hear the rustle of clothing, an uneven sigh, as Remus scoots himself into yet another position. Moody works a second log in, making sure it settles well above the coals, feels the baking heat on his face and hands.
"Got a Doxie in that sofa?" he asks. "You've been monkeying all over it for the past hour."
A half-chuckling chuff comes from behind Remus's book. "And I'd swear you've been inventing chores since ten."
Moody looks over his shoulder at Remus, and lifts his eyebrow.
"Do me a favour?" Remus asks, and Moody straightens, turns around to face him.
In two hours, Tonks will slip into the room, now shadowed by early nightfall. The fire will have burnt almost all the way down, but in the faint light of the last embers, she'll see that Remus is still dressed for bed. Stretched the length of the big old sofa, sound asleep with his head in Moody's lap. One hand rests atop the giant book splayed open on his chest, and the other is tucked securely under Moody's thigh. Moody will stir from his doze the moment she touches the doorknob, but by the time she's inside, he's still and marking her presence with a heavy-lidded eye.
"Shhh," he will whisper, and finger strands of Remus's hair back from his forehead.
It's Yuletide, and the house is infested with Weasleys and mistletoe. The former Moody can dodge; the latter, he hexes off the lintels and doorjambs with yellow-orange sparks from his wand. Kicks the smouldering remains toward some discreet corner or underneath furniture, and goes on his way. No one in his earshot dares protest, though Snape stares at him. On reflection, Moody thinks the look is an envious one.
He sidesteps exploding crackers, and sends errant pastry hotfooting back to the kitchen with a smart rap from his walking staff. The house has hidden passages he could use to bypass everyone, but he's never trusted that they end up where they seem to. The direct route is most reliable here, but his Eye scans this way and that to be certain.
In the kitchen, Molly works an army of plates and ladles, pots and mugs with an intense, nearly beatific expression, reminding Moody of war generals he's known. On the paving in the kitchen garden out back, Arthur and Dung Fletcher brave the cold, dissecting what Moody recognises as a Muggle Tell-o-Fission in near darkness. Likewise, he's the only adult witness to Harry Potter's initiation into Blast-Ended Knuts, the ancient drinking game in which George and Fred would naturally excel. He considers taking a detour into that situation in the Library, partly to see the look on their faces once caught, but also to inquire into the precise extent of Potter's suicidal recklessness, imbibing anything offered by a Weasley twin. But in a rare flush of Christmas spirit, he instead makes a mental note to reinforce Potter's understanding of the need for vigilance. At top volume, first thing tomorow morning.
Mistletoe at the first floor loo, Weasley boys arm-wrestling in the conservatory across the hall. Miss Granger blushing, spying from a hidden space behind bookcases, at William and Charles arm-wrestling. Interesting. Moody exchanges a grave nod with her curious familiar, Crookshanks, rounding up creeping scraps of enchanted gift-wrap at the base of the stairs. The feline bats a sprial of winding ribbon off the steps and Moody ascends.
At the third doorway, right side of the second-floor hall, he stops and hangs his head. He is tired and thirsty and wants nothing more than to unstrap his wooden leg and put his wand aside. He has two wrapped packages in his pockets, and no strength to endure foolish holiday superstitions. The mistletoe at his bedroom is simply too much. Feeling a crack in his vertebrae, Moody draws his wand on the last scrap of parasitic flora he will encounter tonight.
He will never be quite certain about what happens next.
The door flies open, and there's a wand aimed at his chest. His response is instantaneous, and in the millisecond where he thinks /Ambush/, the Girl is saying "Mad Eye, don't you /dare/," and the curse is pure reflex, blue light sparking from his wand at the same instant he realises /It's Her/, she's in a perfect drop-roll, thumping her head off the doorjamb; ducking the curse and bounding up to grab his robe fastenings in her fists.
Pride, irritation, and relief are all clashing in him (the curse hit a wall, no casualties), and that rap on the wood will leave a mark on her, but he's off-balance now. She's finally done it, after trying hard all summer: her feet planted firmly, shoulders and hips twisting to make him stumble. Only one step, but enough that he's half across the threshold , and damn.
The crease in her forehead is livid already, but her grin outshines it as she eyes the mistletoe, still in place. He takes the opportunity to observe that she's wearing one of his old jumpers and, well, socks. Further in the room, Remus leans against the bedpost, shirtless in his trousers, and quivering with unspent laughter. From downstairs comes the crash and shriek of holiday cheer, and not for the first time, Moody wonders if he isn't simply too old for this. That curse might've scorched her head off at that range. His back will be a misery tomorrow, and he needs to catch his breath.
Tonks smiles impishly and pats his cheek, having generously chosen to forget about the scuffle. "Happy Christmas, you grumpy old thing." She reaches up and plucks the mistletoe from the door moulding, flings it into the hall as a truce offering, and takes his hand to lead him in.
"Hold on," he says, wondering if he's lost his mind. "What about my kiss?"
She tastes of nutmeg and sweetness, and he finds he's neither too tired nor too old to respond to the curves and warmth pressed against him. She's wearing knickers under that jumper, but that really is all.
"Ahem," Remus coughs.
"Get over here," Moody tells him, elbowing the door shut.
It's nearly four a.m., and he has to stand up. Chairs were not meant for spending the night in, and Moody's gone to pins and needles from the waist down. He plants his hands on his knees, gathers himself and slowly rises, a soft groan escaping him. From behind the heavy oak door comes a curious snuffle, the click of claws on brick, and a high faint whine.
"S'Alright," he tells the werewolf. "Just up to stretch a bit." Across from the door, a shape stirs on a pallet of blankets.
"Errrmmph," Tonks yawns, pushing herself up. "Cor, izzit morning yet?"
He looks to the casement window, sees the moon going pale and blurred in the predawn sky. "Not quite," he judges. "You could sleep a bit longer."
"Mmmm." She rubs at her eyes, and scratches her bed-rumpled hair. "How's he been?"
"Quiet," he answers. Through the door, he sees the massive bristling shape and yellow-orange eyes lambent in the darkness. The creature sits on its haunches, ears cocked toward the door, and Moody realises he's listening to them. "Seems he was right."
"You mean his Pack theory? Us being here with him?"
"Aye," Moody nods. He paces out a big slow circle, stretching his arms to get the blood moving.
Tonks lays on her side, watching the door. "I can't imagine," she muses, "how he did this all alone, for so many years."
The trouble is that Moody can imagine it. Can picture Remus's decades of solitary suffering in acute miserable detail. But thinking about it generally makes him want to rave and break furniture, so instead he grumbles an agreement, shrugging.
All night, he's meditated problems of geometry. How their bed upstairs is too small for two people, restless and cramped. For just one person (they've all agreed on this), the bed is alarmingly large and cold. Yet by some arcane twist of nature, the bed is perfect for three, even though Tonks complains of being squashed between two men, and Remus swears he is forever sweeping pink and green and silver hairs from the sheets and pillows. He laughs and demands to know why, if he is the werewolf, they are the ones who shed.
Moody paces back to the window, to watch the moon's light ebb away. Like a spot of melting frost, edges fading slowly to nothing. In his mind, he speaks to the dying moon. Give him back to us. You've had him, now give him back. A willful sort of longing comes to a head in him, and he clutches at the windowsill. None of them sleeps alone any more. It's as though they've forgotten how.
A cold and dusky purple bleeds into the trees and shadows outside, and Moody can nearly taste the precise moment the air changes from darkness to dawn. From the locked chamber behind him comes a wheezing whine, and the thumping of a heavy tail on the ground. He'd have spent the night down here even if Remus hadn't asked, and so would Tonks. They are Three after all; one and one and one together in magic's oldest rule. Moody looks to that for comfort, as the wolf's whines sharpen into pained yips, claws scrabbling the floor in his distress at the Change upon him.
Tonks is at his side, when the yelping escalates to animal shrieks, and the snap of bones comes unmistakable through the door.
"I hate this part," she says vehemently, burrowing into his chest when he pulls her close. "It hurts to hear it."
Moody rubs her back, trying to reassure them both. "It's almost over. He'll be alright soon."
It is one hundred sixty-eight terrible seconds before the basement chamber is quiet again, and he feels he can breathe. Tonks's death grip on his shoulders loosens, and she breathes too.
Within the chamber, the air is dank and stale. But for the first time in Moody's recollection, there is no blood. Only Remus, naked and huddled tightly on the floor. One and one and one, he thinks, as Tonks drops to her knees by Remus, taking his hands and talking soothing nonsense. Moody pulls off the cloak he's worn all night, and together they wrap the man in it. By unspoken agreement, they keep Remus close between them, until the tremoring in his limbs subsides, and he lifts his head, opens his tired sunken eyes.
"You're here," he whispers, with a gratitude that's heartbreaking. "Both of you."
"Rest now," Moody tells him. "We were always here."