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Tonks can’t wriggle out of it this time. It was easy when she was a third-year because hardly any third-years went, and she got out of it fourth year by being in detention all of Valentine’s week. But now she’s a fifth-year, and every fifth-year girl is supposed to get a boy to take her to Madam Puddifoot’s on Valentine’s Day.

Tonks knows perfectly well no boy is going to ask her. The reason for that is situated somewhere just beyond the knowable world of her mind, like the villages up the road beyond Hogsmeade, the villages she knows exist but no one ever visits. If anyone does mention what’s up there, they only talk about the caves, where students aren’t allowed to go because you can get lost inside.

The best way to get it over and done with, Tonks thinks, would be to take the initiative herself and ask a boy to take her. If she can pull that off, it will get her mother and the other fifth-year girls off her back. But it has to be a boy she can stand to ask, one who won’t laugh at her, one who might actually agree to what Tonks knows is a preposterous situation, even if she can’t say exactly why.

It’s not that she doesn’t like boys. She likes them better than girls sometimes; they’re easier to talk to, and she doesn’t feel as clumsy around them, knocking things over because her morphing abilities make it hard for her to sense her body’s edges. Sometimes in her dorm room when no one else is there she even morphs into a boy herself. Sometimes she does it in the shower, too. And then she does it in the shower. And then she thinks she shouldn’t and tells herself she won’t do it again, though she’s not sure why; when she rubs one off as a girl she doesn’t feel bad about it. But morphing into a bloke and then tossing off seems like a thing she absolutely should not do. And although Tonks is nothing if not a rule breaker, breaking this rule no one has even told her about (because who would think to make a rule for such a thing?) always leaves her feeling hot and unsettled.

The boy she decides on is not in her House. She’s barely ever spoken to him, and in some ways he’s the opposite of her—lithe in the air as if his broom is a sentient animal, something that loves him so much it will do what no one else’s Comet 100 can manage. He’s clumsy at lessons, though, the way she’s clumsy at mealtimes. He did so poorly fourth year that he threatened to leave school, and rumor has it that his older brother had to have a long talk with him in McGonagall’s office and that he cried. No one dares make fun of him though—he’s the best Quidditch player Hogwarts has seen in half a century, and his brother is Head Boy. But what makes Tonks decide to ask Charlie Weasley is that he hasn’t been to Madam Puddifoot’s either. Not third year, not fourth year, not once. Girls give him the eye all the time, and hang around in the Quidditch stands during Gryffindor practice hoping to talk to him but he doesn’t see or doesn’t care. Tonks waits for him in the corridor after Arithmancy, when he’s had to hang back because Professor Vector is giving him a talking-to about his grades.

He comes out of the classroom a little red in the face. Although it’s only 10:30 in the morning, as usual Charlie is wearing his tall leather Quidditch boots. Tonks had once wondered, briefly, if he wore them everywhere because he’d got no others. But now, seeing his cinched mouth and his Arithmancy text jammed in his book bag with the cover bent back, it occurs to her that he wears those boots everywhere because they remind him of who he is when he’s flying.

“Shall we go together then?” she asks quickly before he can get past her.

His ginger eyebrows furrow. “To transfiguration? You haven’t got transfiguration with me.”

Tonks wonders if he knows she got special permission to take her transfiguration OWLS last year, and that she passed with an O.

“To Puddifoot's,” she explains. “You know, on Saturday. All the fifth years go.”

He looks at her without speaking for a moment. But he doesn’t fidget or laugh at her or say something cutting, and she congratulates herself on choosing him, because somehow she knew he wouldn’t do any of those things.

She waits, watching him work out what it would mean to say yes, what it would mean to say no.

“Yeah, all right,” he says at last. “Yeah. We should do.”

And just like that, Tonks has a date.

No, not a date. No no no no no no no no no. She hopes to God and Merlin that Charlie isn’t going to show up with flowers, or worse, one of those dreadful candy engagement rings laced with Amortentia. She also hopes he doesn’t expect her to wear a dress. She won’t—not for her mother, not for the Yule Ball, and certainly not for him. Besides, it’s bloody cold in Hogsmeade in February; she’ll wear her flannel-lined trousers and the Muggle combat boots she got last year when her parents took her to London. She feels a bit more confident in her clothing plans the following day during Herbology when Charlie’s robes get caught on a corner of a potting table and she sees he’s wearing Quidditch leggings underneath. The regulation kind, with leather all down the inside of the thighs. Perhaps Charlie feels about those leggings the same way she feels about her Muggle combat boots and her flannel-lined trousers. What that feeling is, though, she has no idea.

~o~

Madam Puddifoot’s is horrible. Charlie insists on paying but he’s a few sickles short, and Tonks knocks over the teapot, and there are too many people in in a room so overheated that the windows are dripping with condensation. And worse, all around Tonks and Charlie their classmates are tangled in each other’s arms and mouths and fingers. It’s not the snogging that repels her. It’s the way the boys are all doing this boy thing, and the girls are doing the girl thing she knows she's supposed to do too, and if she could do it, her mum would be so very relieved. But Tonks can’t. If she could do it, she’d lean across the table toward Charlie, her head tipped to one side, smiling at everything he—

Ugh, she can’t even finish the thought. She sends the thought off into a ditch on the road out of Hogsmeade, and then, to compensate for having had the thought at all, and with the same impetuousness that makes her such a frequent recipient of detention, she puts both elbows on the table and leans across to Charlie and says in an undertone, “D’you wanna see something?”

Just like that, the light comes back into his eyes. He’s a boy who always wants to see the something, whatever it is, he’s good like that. If there were OWLS in that, he’d get Outstanding. Tonks leads him through the litter of two-person tables toward the corridor at the back of the shop, but when she reaches the two sets of doors to the loos she realizes Puddifoot is watching them from behind the till. With Puddifoot’s eyes on her she can’t very well go into the gents to morph. And she can’t morph out here either, not in front of the entire restaurant.

“Out back,” she decides, and hurries Charlie on, past both loos and a stockroom and out the rear door of the tea room, out to the alley that runs behind the Hogsmeade shops.

After the claustrophobic atmosphere inside Madam Puddifoot’s, the bracingly cold air outside is a relief. A light wind is blowing down from the hills beyond the village, crisp and dry and sprinkled with snow flurries. Tonks exhales a long puff of breath, feeling as as if she’s just been freed from a too-tight jumper. The alley is just the right amount of dark. Not so dark that he won’t be able to see what she’s about to show him, but dark enough that Tonks feels protected. Dark like she imagines the first few steps inside one of those caves would be.

Charlie looks around curiously at some rubbish bins and a wooden crate filled with empty bottles. “What is it, then?” he asks, turning towards her. A few snowflakes have caught on his bright hair and eyelashes. He’s looking right at her, waiting for her to answer.

Tonks takes a deep breath and morphs.

Charlie stares.

Tonks waits, heart racing in her suddenly flat boy’s chest.

Charlie’s face turns bright red.

And now it’s Tonks who’s staring. She knows what that sudden flush means. She’s seen it a million times on girls when the boy they like asks them to pass them the parchment they dropped or can I copy your homework. She’s seen it on boys when the girl they like looks at them and then whispers to her friend. Whatever she expected Charlie’s reaction to be, she didn’t expect this.

She doesn’t know what to do next. She’s only fifteen and has somehow stumbled much deeper into this cave than she’d intended to go. And yet she doesn’t want to back out, not now.

Boots crunching on the snowy cobblestones, she takes a step closer to Charlie.

Charlie appears to have forgotten how to breathe. His eyes are fixed on Tonks’s boy face and his whole body is as still as if he’d been hit with an Immobilus. Only his gaze moves. He drops his eyes and says to the snowy cobblestones, in a voice so husky it’s almost a whisper, “Everyone says if you go to Puddifoot’s together on Valentine’s Day, you’re supposed to snog. If you—if you want to.”

Does she want to? Standing in the snow beside a rubbish bin in this bloke body that no one ever sees, and Charlie Weasley so close that she can see the snowflakes melting on his cheeks, what Tonks wants is

is to

to kiss a boy without being a girl.

Tonks closes the distance between them, her heavy Muggle military boots coming toe-to-toe with his tall leather Quidditch ones. And then she’s falling into him, bending her head down a bit because she’s taller, and she wasn’t sure what it would feel like but it’s this, his mouth hot-soft-stubble-scrape spark like the strike of a Muggle match. Kissing him is rubbing two sticks together deep inside the cave and suddenly fire. Her dick is hard in her pants and he makes a sound in her mouth and leans into her and now they’re all up against each other and he’s hard too.

This is what they’re talking about, the giggling, giggling girls who somehow make Tonks feel like an elephant with four left feet whenever she walks past them.

His mouth is so hot in the winter air and she imagines she’s in the shower in this body and Charlie’s there with her, the two of them naked and the hot water sluicing over them while they slick each other’s dicks with the school soap that smells like lemons and the steam makes a world where this is okay.

It is okay.

The village up the road exists.

A sudden noise down the alley makes them jump apart. The back door of The Three Broomsticks blowing open, or a stray dog knocking over a bin.

Jumping apart is an acknowledgement:

This is a secret.

Their eyes meet and another acknowledgement passes between them:

We did this. This is a thing that can be done.

Another bang, and this time it’s the door just behind them, and in a panic Tonks digs her fingers into Charlie’s shoulders and morphs back, stumbling as she does it, and Charlie catches her and spins them both around, like the Quidditch player he is, gripping her arm and pulling her forward so that they’re walking in step as fast as they can go without actually breaking into a run. Someone shouts something behind them, but neither of them turns or breaks stride.

Tonks’s whole body is alight, the kindled fire of the cave alive inside her, her breath coming in smoke puffs as they rush down the road toward the castle. Not until they reach the bottom of Hogsmeade Hill does she slow their pace and look over at Charlie.

Charlie’s face is bright red again but not in a good way this time; he’s pressing his lips together hard, his eyes on his boots trudging forward through the snow.

Tonks feels her own fire gutter inside her. She unlinks her arm from his and they walk the rest of the way back to the castle in silence. But when they reach the castle steps, their last possible moment of privacy, she catches up his hand.

“Charlie, mate. I won’t tell anyone.”

Charlie looks up, then, quick and grateful.

“You won’t?” His mouth unscrunches itself and his shoulders ease down from his ears. “Ta. I won’t tell either.”

His blue eyes search her face as intently as when she first approached him outside the Arithmancy classroom. Like he’s trying to read something written there. Tonks isn't sure what he's seeing, now that she looks like a girl again.

“Out with it,” she tells him, dropping his hand in favor of giving him a little poke in the chest.

“We’re playing Hufflepuff this Saturday. D'you want to come?”

“Oi, I’m a Hufflepuff, you prat. Of course I’ll be there.” She doesn’t know whether he’s asking her on a date the way a boy asks a girl, but she hopes he isn’t. She doesn’t want to go on that date.

“Oh!” Charlie says quickly. “Not to—I didn’t mean— I just.”

“Right, yeah, no. Of course.” Tonks thinks briefly about the possibility of morphing into a turnip.

“Well, then, I guess I’ll see you Saturday.” Charlie digs at the snow with his boot heel. Tonks shivers a little. The wind has picked up and the cold has got under her jacket but she doesn’t want to leave things like this.

“I wish I could fly,” she blurts. It’s true enough, though what she really wishes is that they could talk about the other thing.

“You should go out for the Hufflepuff team, then you could fly all the time.” Charlie gives her a small smile, his awkwardness losing ground to the prospect of talking about Quidditch.

“Oh, I’m too clumsy to ride a broom.” Tonks jumps up and down a bit to keep warm. “But I love the idea of flying. I want to get a flying motorbike.”

“A flying motorbike? That’d be brilliant.”

“I could take you for a ride sometime,” Tonks offers. “After I get one, I mean.”

“All right. Cool.” Charlie gives a proper grin, then adds with a sudden burst of feeling, “You know what I’d really like to fly on, though?”

“What?”

“A dragon. Or a hippogriff.” In his enthusiasm for the idea, he takes a step toward her. “With an animal, you don’t have to use words to . . . you know. Communicate. But they understand you anyway, animals do. They know you. D’you get what I mean?”

Tonks thinks about it. About being known. About understanding things even if you haven't got the words for them. About the fact that Charlie might understand some of those things too.

“Yeah,” she says, suddenly feeling warmer despite the wind. “I think I do.”