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Talking with Tonks

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January 19th, 1994, Ass End of Nowhere Romanian National Dragon Reserve, Romania

God was real, Tonks was sure, and he hated her on a deep, profound, and highly personal level. That was the only explanation for her current circumstances.

“What do you mean,” she said dangerously, “when you say ‘snowed in?’”

Because he’d known her since they were both very young, Charlie Weasley scratched his beard instead of paling, stuttering or otherwise apologizing for existing.

“It happens sometimes,” he said, apparently unconcerned. “The Floo Network in these parts has been pretty unreliable since the fall of the Soviet Union, and you haven’t got a Portkey. The border crossings for Apparating are all closed because of the weather, too. That’s what I mean when I say ‘snowed in.’”

She should have brought a Portkey. The requisition forms were a pain, of course, but Moody carried one everywhere he went in case of an emergency. She’d chalked that up to his paranoia.

God. If Moody was right about Portkeys, what else was he right about? Hopefully not the accidentally exploding ass cheek thing. He was already insufferable, but to be proven right, too? She shuddered to even think about such a thing.

Tonks wanted to whine and complain and stamp her feet, but instead, what came out of her mouth was, “I have too much paperwork to do to be stuck here.”

“Never a dull moment in the life of an Auror, huh?” Charlie asked, shuffling his own stack of papers. He still looked amused.

She scowled at him. It was not her fault that trainees and rookies got all of the worst assignments, like traipsing around the ass end of Romania after what proved not to be a smuggling operation after all but still necessitated a mountain of forms, expense reports, and regular old field reports.

Dragons, as it turned out, had large territories and no respect for national borders. They were perfectly capable of transporting themselves across country lines. They didn’t even need to fill out seven different forms to do so.

Tonks, on the other hand, did have to fill out seven different forms in order to work in another country. Because she’d gone to Slovakia before arriving in Romania, she’d had to fill out the forms twice. She was getting a hand cramp just thinking about it.

“Come on,” Charlie said, tucking whatever he’d been working on into one of the reserve office’s many filing cabinets. “You can come back to my cabin. I’ve got the stuff for hot chocolate and space if you want to stay the night.”

Tonks perked up a little at that, but her excitement vanished as soon as Charlie opened the door outside.

She could see maybe four feet in front of her, and she was pretty sure she could feel her nose hairs freezing. Visibility wasn’t helped by the sun, which, while hidden at the moment, was setting. “You weren’t kidding about the blizzard, huh?”

“Follow me,” said Charlie. “There’s a rope system set up so we can go back and forth between buildings without wandering off and freezing to death. Also, my boss is hoping to get a grant to dig tunnels between the buildings so we won’t even have to do that.”

“Can’t you just magic it?”

“Nope,” said Charlie. “Need a permit since the park is technically public land, and that shit’s expensive.”

As a government employee herself, Tonks supposed she understood that.

If Charlie said anything after that, she didn’t hear him. The wind was howling too loudly, and she was focused on keeping the bright red of his jacket in sight.

An indeterminable amount of time later—Tonks’ eyes had watered in the sharp wind, and the tears had frozen in her eyelashes, making them catch when she blinked—Charlie stopped at a small cabin.

“Here we are!” he shouted over the wind and then proceeded to fumble with his keys for what felt like forever.

Tonks got even colder, which she hadn’t been sure was possible. She understood him not wanting to take his mittens off, but Christ.

When he finally got the door open, she almost bowled him over in her eagerness to get inside.

She’d planned to be suave or charming or something like that. As Moody was fond of saying, however, plans rarely survived the first contact with the enemy.

“Hot chocolate,” she said, too busy trying to stamp a bit of feeling back into her feet to avoid sounding demanding.

“With fire whiskey?”

Perhaps Charlie wasn’t so bad after all. “Yes, please,” she said.

He got a fire going while Tonks reluctantly removed her scarves, then set about heating a bit of water with cocoa, sugar, and several spices.

She took a moment to observe the cabin’s interior. It was just one room, or two, she supposed, but only if you counted the small bathroom. There was a twin bed shoved into one corner, made sloppily and covered with a patchwork quilt she recognized as Mrs. Weasley’s handiwork. He had stacks of books on almost every flat surface, primarily scientific texts about dragons but with a few mystery novels she recognized from her father’s shelves thrown in. There was laundry all over the floor.

“Take your boots off and sit by the fire,” he advised. “I’m doing Mum’s recipe, and it’ll take a minute.”

Tonks did as she was bid, and after several minutes of sitting so close to the fire she was pretty sure she was singing the ends of her hair, she started to feel more like a person and less like a popsicle.

“Doesn’t the cold bother the dragons?” she wanted to know.

Charlie, who was zesting an orange, did not pause. “Nope. They’re basically volcanoes with legs. They generate plenty of their own heat. The bigger ones create their own little microclimate, actually. It’s fascinating.”

“Really,” said Tonks. She might be able to grow scales if she concentrated, but she was still beholden to regular human vital signs. A shame. This was the perfect weather to have a more advanced internal heating mechanism.

He spooned a bit of vanilla into the pot on his little stove, stirred it, then ladled up two mugs of the cocoa. To each, he added a generous splash of fire whiskey from a bottle with a label in a language she couldn’t read.

“Cheers,” said Tonks when he handed her one of the mugs. Then, after taking a sip, she said, “oh, wow. This is fantastic.”

“I’m a man of many talents.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, no,” Charlie amended. “Dragons like me, and I make good hot chocolate. That’s about it.”

“Why half-ass two things when you can whole ass one thing?”

“Something like that,” he agreed.

They sat in silence for a while, sipping their cocoa and staring into the flames. It was delicious cocoa.

“So,” said Tonks after a while. “Did you want to fuck, or…?”

Charlie choked on his drink. “What? No.”

Romance novels about being snowed in and her own life experiences when it came to potential partners in close proximity to someone who could shapeshift had betrayed her, apparently.

“Is it the face?” Tonks asked, genuinely curious and doing her best not to be offended. “I never wear a pretty one when I’m working, but I’ll change it if you want.”

Charlie stared at her, the way Shacklebolt stared at Moody when the older man said something particularly disturbing.

“What?” she demanded.

“No,” said Charlie. “I mean, you can be yourself if you want, but that’s not it at all.”

Tonks had fallen for an offer to wear her real face exactly once. The man she’d gone home with had been a little older, and he’d gone so pale when her features had melted into their natural shape that, at first, she’d thought it was the transformation itself that upset him. It was a little nauseating if you weren’t expecting it, but only when you tried to focus your eyes.

“You look like Lestrange,” he had said, complexion waxy, and her stomach dropped.

“My aunt,” she had told him. “You’ve met?”

And he’d nodded. Opened up, just a little, about the war. He’d finished training and left the academy in 1978.

Then, he’d watched half his cohort die in the next three years and lost most of his family too.

“I’ll let myself out,” Tonks had said. “Sorry for…” she had made a vague gesture that encompassed her face, firmly returned to the unobtrusive one she wore to work.

“Yeah,” he had said. “I’ll see you around.”

Back in the present moment, Tonks propped her fists on her hips. “Oh?” she prompted.

Charlie sighed. “Do not tell my mother,” he said, “but sex isn’t really my thing.”

“Okay,” said Tonks. “That’s like, not something that would ever come up in any conversation I can imagine having with Mrs. Weasley, but alright.”

“No, it’s—asexuality. It’s a thing. Some people just don’t want to have sex.”

“Like, at all?” Tonks asked, torn between being wildly embarrassed—she wasn’t used to rejection, and she’d have to see Charlie again, their mothers were in a knitting club together, so she couldn’t just leave the country and pretend it hadn’t happened—and completely mystified. “How can you tell?”

“That I don’t want to have sex?” Charlie wanted to know. “I don’t know. I just. Never see someone and think about it. How do you know when you want to?”

Tonks considered that. “Well, when I’m bored or stressed, it seems like the thing to do, I guess.”

That didn’t sound particularly romantic, now that she said it out loud. Her partner selection process involved exactly one criterion: they had to be a stranger she wasn’t likely to encounter later.

Maybe two criteria. Tonks really hated kissing anyone that chewed tobacco.

“Why not just…,” Charlie trailed off, but he made a half-hearted crude gesture that got his point across.

“I’m not talking about this with you,” said Tonks, turning scarlet and then beating the blush back mercilessly. She missed her Time Turner less often these days than she had when she first graduated, but times like these—when she’d like to go back and stop herself from ever opening her mouth—made her wish desperately for it.

Charlie shrugged. “Sorry,” he said. “I want you to know that it’s not you, though, so don’t feel bad? I just don’t want to have sex.”

“It’s fine,” Tonks assured him. “I’m sorry, too, if I made you uncomfortable or anything. I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“It’s all good. It took me a while to figure out, and I’ve felt this way my entire life.”

He still looked a little tense, she noted, but that was an olive branch if ever there was one.

She still felt bad. It wasn’t his fault she was stuck in Romania during a blizzard while Moody was probably gleefully hunting down new and exciting types of paperwork to drop onto her desk “for the experience,” the bastard, and it wasn’t his fault that she’d misread the situation so badly, either.

“How did you realize, anyway?” Tonks asked, realizing she’d been silent a beat too long. She was curious, yes, but also eager to keep the conversation moving in a direction that didn’t involve her putting her foot in her mouth.

Sex wasn’t something she thought about until she felt cooped up alone in her flat, and there was nothing interesting on the wireless. By extension, she didn’t spend much time thinking about sexuality—her own or anyone else’s—either. It hadn’t really occurred to her that there was anything to think about.

“In Hogwarts, I thought I was just busy, you know? I was a Prefect and a Quidditch captain,” Charlie began. “And that was fine, right? It’s not that I can’t tell when someone is attractive, so I can still be like, you know, ‘nice face’ or whatever whenever the guys were talking. I just never really wanted anything else.”

“Nice face?” Tonks repeated.

Another shrug from Charlie. “Some people are really aesthetically pleasing or funny or kind.”

That was true, Tonks conceded.

“It wasn’t until after Hogwarts that it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t just a late bloomer or something,” here he smiled a little self-deprecatingly. “People spend a lot of time thinking and talking about sex, and I never did. I thought I was bad at being a person, maybe. So, I went to a little used bookstore in Muggle London, and the owner gave me a whole stack of books about gender and sexuality and also—have you used the Internet? It’s amazing. She showed me more information there. When I saw the definition, everything kind of clicked.”

“That sounds nice,” she said. She’d felt something similar, she was pretty sure, when she learned what a Metamorphmagus was. Learning that someone else out there had similar experiences was surprisingly powerful.

“It was really affirming to realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with me,” Charlie agreed. “I still feel weird about it, sometimes. It seems like everyone is getting married or having children, and I’m out here in the middle of nowhere hanging out with dragons. Like, everyone I know is leaving me behind or something.”

“I get that,” said Tonks. “Half my graduating class is married, and I’ve never gone on a proper date. It’s like everyone mentally places you at the kid’s table and decides you’re immature or naive or something.”

Charlie nodded slowly. “That’s an excellent way of putting it, actually. But, wait. You’ve never been on a date?”

Tonks rolled her eyes. “Oh, don’t frown at me. At Hogwarts, everyone assumed I was sleeping with Snape. Which I wasn’t, for the record. Now, I’m one of four women in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement that aren’t secretaries. That doesn’t make me very attractive as a long-term partner.”

The other three women were Emmeline Vance, Hestia Jones, and Amelia Bones herself. Vance and Jones had both earned distinctions for their service during the war, and the Director was quite possibly the scariest and most amazing woman alive. Usually, Tonks would be flattered to be lumped in with them, but the only thing she’d done to earn the association was identify as a woman.

“Huh,” said Charlie. “People are stupid.”

“So, so stupid,” Tonks agreed. “Is there any more cocoa?”

There was, in fact, more cocoa. There was also more fire whiskey, which meant fairly well-reasoned if awkward personal discussions devolved into Tonks attempting to replicate different species of dragons based solely on Charlie’s descriptions.

She couldn’t do scales, which was disappointing, but she could raise scale-shaped bumps on her face and adjust their coloration to look similar.

It would have been much easier with a mirror.

“Hungarian Horntails look meaner,” Charlie informed her, squinting. “They’re the worst. I love them, but they’re awful animals. Terrible temperament. S’like if a goose weighed twenty-five tons and breathed fire.”

Tonks furrowed her brow, sharpened her teeth, then bared them.

Charlie considered her. “That’s closer. You don’t have the air of menace, though.”

“I am wearing wool socks patterned with reindeer,” Tonks said, relaxing back into her actual shape. “I can’t do menace right now.”

“I like your socks. Wool socks are great.”

“My mum knit them for me for Christmas,” Tonks confessed. “I love them.”

“I feel guilty for not telling Mum about being asexual,” Charlie said, and Tonks blinked at the non sequitur. He tried to slouch moodily, listed to one side, and almost fell out of his chair instead.

“Then tell her,” Tonks told him.

“She wouldn’t understand. Or maybe she would. Maybe I’m not giving her enough credit.”

“Your mum is great,” Tonks said. “But like, it’s your life, you know?”

“I think she thinks everyone wants to settle down and have a family,” said Charlie. “Which I could do, I guess. I wouldn’t mind. But I don’t think she’d understand how that would work without sex.”

“Adoption is a thing,” Tonks pointed out.

“I mean, yeah, but I think it’s the relationship part that would get her. How can you have a romantic relationship without sex? Who would want that?”

“You?” Tonks hazarded. “Probably lots of other people, too?”

“I know, but would she get it?” Charlie asked. “What about intimacy or whatever?”

“Probably, I am not the person you should ask about that,” said Tonks. “I pick up Muggles at bars and then never see them again.”

“How come?”

Tonks considered that. “The Metamorphmagus thing, partially. No one likes my real face, and being someone else isn’t fun when you don’t want to be acting. Muggles don’t know that’s a thing. And I don’t risk running into them at work, either.”

“Hmm,” said Charlie. “That sounds exhausting.”

“Tell me about it,” said Tonks. But, then, “I won’t tell your mum anything, and I don’t think you should feel bad about not telling her, either. You’ve known her for twenty whatever years, right? You probably know how she’d react better than anyone, and if that’s not something you want to deal with, you don’t have to.”

“That’s a good point, actually. I guess I never thought about it like that.”

“I’m very wise,” Tonks informed him and then sloshed whiskey down her front. “Fuck. Can I borrow a shirt? If I try to Scourgify this right now, I’m going to set myself on fire accidentally.”

“That pile is clean,” Charlie said, pointing to one of the mounds of clothes on his floor. “Help yourself.”

As always, standing up after drinking was much worse than Tonks had been expecting. The room didn’t quite settle even when she gave it a moment, and her brain and stomach both lodged complaints when she bent to examine her clothing options.

Eventually, she managed to extract what looked like an undershirt. She held it up for his inspection. “This?”

“Sure,” said Charlie.

Tonks changed in the bathroom, then reemerged. She inspected the cabin some more. “Space to stay the night, huh?”

“There should be a sleeping bag...with Luca because I let him borrow it last week after his got singed,” he said, closing his eyes in defeat.

“And Luca is…?”

“Camping on a beach somewhere in Greece, probably. He’s on vacation this week and next.”

Tonks looked at the twin bed. Charlie followed her gaze.

“Will it be weird if we do?” she asked.

“Probably not? But maybe.”

“I don’t care if you don’t,” Tonks decided. “Fire whiskey makes me want to lay down, and it’s been a long week.”

Charlie nodded. “Merlin, it has, hasn’t it? Let’s do it, then.”

He went to change while Tonks attempted to situate herself in the bed in a way that left room for an entire other person. “Want to know the best thing about being a Metamorphmagus?” she called.

“What?”

“I can shift my circulation around a little bit, so my feet aren’t cold.” Of course, she had to be careful when she did so—redirecting too much blood from her core messed with her digestion, and that, she knew from experience, sucked—but it was a neat trick.

Charlie emerged from the bathroom. “That’s nifty,” he said. “I can’t do that, so apologies in advance.”

He crawled into bed with her, and, as promised, his feet were fucking freezing.

“Do you have enough space?” Tonks asked, already knowing the answer was no. She was lying on her side, nose almost touching the wall, so it wasn’t as if she could do anything about it.

Charlie shifted a little. He was lying with his back to hers, and Tonks was pretty sure he was halfway off the bed. “Would you believe me if I said yes?”

“No,” said Tonks. “Rollover and put your arm around me before you fall out of bed and die.”

“There’s enough laundry on the floor that it probably wouldn’t even hurt,” he argued but did as she asked.

In unison, they asked, “is this alright?” and then began to laugh.

“I’m fine,” said Tonks. “Well. I think I have heartburn. That’s probably the fire whiskey. But other than that, I’m good. Are you?”

“I’m good,” Charlie confirmed. “Will you elbow me if I say this is nice?”

Tonks considered that. “No,” she decided.

It was nice. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d just hung out and been close to someone. Now that she was, she found that she’d been missing it.

Behind her, Charlie began to snore.