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Chapter 17: Number Two, Polaris Crescent
THE SUPERSTITIOUS SIX
by Odessa Waffling
10 June 1998
As I’m sure we’re all aware, the races do not truly begin until you can count the names of every contender on one hand. That’s when the real action begins, no doubt about it. Anyone who has been paying close attention to the Devil’s Duel, however, should not allow themselves to overlook a traditional bit of excitement associated with the present stage of the tournament. Just because there are still a healthy variety of possible champions left does not mean that we should all relax for the time being.
For as long as anyone can remember, there’s been quite a lot of a dark history concerning the six remaining contenders after Round Two is said and done. This perhaps is where the centuries-old Cliodna’s Clock nursery rhyme comes into play: When the clock strikes ten and two, no one shall sleep. At eight, they must count the friends they keep. Midnight is no friend to its parallel, six; and four is an hour for mavericks.
Midnight not being a friend to its parallel, six, it is believed, refers to the six contenders left after Round Two. There are a myriad of theories about why this could be, the most popular one being that the visual images of twelve and six on the face of a clock are both straight lines pointing north. What lies north of Cliodna’s Clock’s blackbird statue? The answer to that question would be the Grotta, of course. In a mystifying coincidence that has baffled experts for years, losers of Round Three – two of the Superstitious Six – notoriously have gone bad and ended up in the Grotta.
Does the tournament drive them to insanity? Is there something singular about Round Three that makes them psychologically incapable of coming back to reality – which means, in essence, that they are mentally trapped in Round Three until they’re able to regain their senses or else be tossed into the Grotta? The reputation of the Superstitious Six is so deeply entrenched in our culture that reserve members of the Guard are annually borrowed to keep a twenty-four-hour vigil over the two losers of Round Three, lest they do something mad. *
Our options this year, should our village lose one or two of its residents to lunacy, are as follows: Cedric Diggory, Nymphadora Lupin, and Fred Weasley of Victus; and Vincent Crabbe, Colin Creevey, and James Potter of Mortuus. Which of the listed contestants has the potential to go mad, do you think? Will it be Nymphadora Tonks, the only female contender? Will it be Vincent Crabbe, who suffered deliberate disadvantages in Round Two for attempting to cheat with Felix Felicis? And then there’s James Potter, who’s had to watch his wife narrowly escape certain death thirteen times, which has to do something to the psyche. Cast your votes and opinions now, and a select few will be eligible to appear in tomorrow’s issue of the Daily Departed!
*We are obligated to state here that there is no guarantee one of the Superstitious Six will lose their marbles within the next two-hundred years, as the statistical chance of this occurring is only – you guessed it – six percent.
“There’s a lot to be said for trying to keep death interesting,” Remus mused, folding his newspaper in half so that he could observe his wife over the top half. “Their talents with stretching lackluster news as far as it can go would make Skeeter envious.”
Tonks chortled. “Ha. Keep talking about them that way and they’ll probably run a scandalous story on you tomorrow.” She grinned, eyes trailing across one wall while she thought about it. “‘President of Gobstones Club sneezes and Remus Lupin does not say ‘bless you’: Reasons why the one-time hero should not be trusted.’”
Remus laughed. He switched his focus back to the newspaper, biting the interior of his cheek when he came across the vacant properties section once again. He’d read one particular advertisement so many times that he could recite it from memory, but he cleared his throat and said, with a façade of idle curiosity, “Hmm. Geraint Ollivander’s house has been on the market for nearly a year now, with no takers. Interesting.”
“Nearly a year?” Tonks repeated, whipping open a drawer to stow Remus’s freshly-laundered socks within. The socks were already faded, their blue heels bleached almost white from so much washing. There wasn’t much else for Tonks to do in Cliodna’s Clock except repeatedly clean their small quarters in the boardinghouse. “When exactly did he move out?”
Remus had hoped she wouldn’t ask this. “Last July.”
“Not July first, by any chance?”
“That’s the one,” he responded tiredly.
To his surprise, she sauntered over and arranged herself behind him, one hand draped on his shoulder with her cheek hovering right next to his. “Ahh. Number two, Polaris Crescent. You just discovered this, then? Just now?” She tapped the tiny picture of a house with seaweed-colored gables and a large round chimney that looked like a Hogwarts turret.
“Mmhmm.” Remus tried to sound as innocent as possible.
“Curious.” Tonks’s lips curved into a secretive smile. She drifted back to a pile of sleeves and undergarments strewn across the bed that needed to be sorted and then organized according to color, a seemingly simple process that Tonks had successfully turned into an hour-long endeavor. “This must be fate, then, because you were talking about that exact same house in your sleep last night. Imagine that?”
Remus watched her smooth a crease in one of his shirts with gentle fondness. The local seamstress, Melinda Gladrags, made a fortune by duplicating clothes left behind on earth, going off of sketches or verbal descriptions. Remus had told Tonks not to bother, that he didn’t need the same attire that he once owned, but his wife was insistent that at least one aspect of their lives would remain the same. The shirt she now held was soft cream cotton with gray pinstripes, faint with magically-perfected age, and her absolute favorite article of his clothing. He frequently caught her wearing it, now more than ever. “I don’t know how you could hear me over your snoring," he replied. "That’s impressive.”
She opened one drawer and began to pull all of its contents out, but stopped. Turning lightly on her heel (and astonishing both of them with how graceful it looked, since she was the least graceful person either of them knew), she inquired, “Do you want to go and have a look at it, then? The house?”
“Number two, Polaris Crescent?” he asked quickly, his optimism beginning to rise. Maybe all of his fears were unfounded. Maybe she wanted this, too.
“That’s the one.”
Mr. and Mrs. Lupin were relieved to leave the boardinghouse for an evening, exchanging deep breaths and smiles that they hoped displayed confidence. After penning a letter to a witch called Mrs. Darby, who was chiefly in charge of Cliodna’s Clock’s estates, they received an answer to their query in less than six minutes.
“I will say that their postal system here is quite favorable,” Tonks admitted. Remus raised his eyebrows at her by way of replying; it was something he did often when he agreed or disagreed with someone but didn’t feel it necessary to speak. It was an intimate gesture, and Remus’s way of trusting her to know exactly what he was thinking without having to expressly state his thoughts. Tonks could never pinpoint why, but she always loved it when he responded without talking, when he was just looking at her in that quiet, reserved way of his…
Her expression softened as they began their eighteen-minute walk down the main avenue to Polaris Crescent, glancing up at her husband every so often. It still amazed her that she had successfully talked him out of all of his doubts once upon a time, that she had made him love her just as much as she loved him. He told her it was inevitable, but she liked to pretend it was all her own doing – her unyielding willpower, as she so often credited.
“So what are we doing, then?” she murmured, low enough so that Mrs. Darby would not hear her. The estate agent was strolling along far ahead of them at a brisk pace, eager to make a sale on a property that hadn’t aroused any interest since its owner, Geraint Ollivander, lost in the Devil’s Duel the previous year to none other than Lily Potter.
Remus gazed down at his wife, whose arm was looped in his. “I thought we were going to look at a house,” he answered in an equally low tone.
“Well, yes.” Tonks’s eyes strayed to the chipped mosaic of bricks that constructed the road, appreciating the drop in temperature that evening afforded. Dewdrops stained iris stalks that decorated either side of the road like a garnish, the earth sweating out its fever with humidity. “But, I mean, what are we going to do if we actually like it?”
“Then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he replied with a small grin, just as they pattered across a literal stone bridge linking one bank to another over a stream. Freshwater plimpies rose out of the water, diving over each other in elaborate rainbow arcs.
Tonks rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “All right, but let’s just say that we get in there and it’s perfect. Are we expected to pay for it? Forgive me, but I didn’t grab my pocketbook on my way out of Hogwarts. I was rather in a hurry.”
“Shhh,” he reprimanded softly, eyes darting up to Mrs. Darby. They were catching up to her, almost close enough to read the bold letters on a contract attached to her clipboard.
“I wondered when you two would start looking into your other options,” Mrs. Darby told them with a broad smile, turning around just as they reached a black spiked fence. “The boardinghouse really is lovely, though. Perfect for those who like a sense of community.”
“Yeah, that’s not really us,” Tonks quipped with a laugh. “We don’t like other people.” She realized that the estate agent and Remus had both turned away from her, engrossed in something else, and belatedly registered the house rearing up before her. It took her a few seconds to connect the view as being the same one from the newspaper ad, since a few of its shingles had gone missing since the photograph was taken, and there was no snow on the ground. Two new cobalt-blue fir trees grew up along one side, shrouding an upstairs window. A few of its branches poked right inside the tin gutter, undoubtedly clogging it up.
It’s beautiful, she thought.
Breathlessly, she trotted forward after Mrs. Darby through the rusted gate. It made a musical clanging sound when Remus shut it behind them; Tonks watched his face to read for an expression and he merely raised his eyebrows at her again. She knew that a smile hid not far beneath.
He reached for her hand, lacing his fingers through hers with a familiarity that felt like home, as they approached the sagging wooden steps. On the left side of the front door (whose storm door was dented at the bottom, as well as scratched up by some sort of animal desperate to get inside), was a letterbox with peeling metallic stickers: G. H. OLLIVANDER.
The estate agent beamed widely over her shoulder. “It’s a one-bedroom. Will that be enough?”
Remus slid an arm around Tonks’s waist, pulling her close to him. He could feel her body tense in reaction to the question.
“That’s fine,” Tonks responded. The fact that she could keep her voice level, even determined-sounding, renewed Remus with admiration and love for her, proving wrong the mindset that he couldn’t possibly love her any more than he already did at the start of the day.
A red-haired woman ducked out of a food shop sitting diagonally across the street from them, her arms laden with bags. She stopped dead in her tracks in the middle of the street, staring at the couple in front of number two, Polaris Crescent. Dilys Derwent raised her hand in merry greeting, but she didn’t seem to notice. Before Remus and Tonks could glimpse her standing there, Lily Potter hurried back into the shop, torrents of guilt washing over her.
No one had stepped inside Geraint’s house in months; no one had slept there since the twenty-ninth day of June in 1997. He’d lived there for so long that no villager could look at the colorful little home without instantly recollecting Geraint rocking away in his chair on the front porch. He was that house – a part of the walls, a layer of paint. For some reason, Geraint’s loss would be felt more strongly if new people were to take over his house than it would if it were left abandoned forever.
She wondered what the Lupins might think of her when they learned why its owner was gone.
Once inside the house, Mrs. Darby found a spot of floor to stand on while she patiently waited for the couple to explore at their leisure. She began to unravel about the house’s history in a long, boring speech – something about a ghoul a few decades ago who escaped from Ollivander’s attic and looted several houses, giving an elderly witch named Mauve quite a turn. After a few weary verses, she acknowledged the cool silence of disregard, and for her own enjoyment, opted to chat about inappropriate topics with the awareness that none of it was being listened to.
As was usual in house-showing, the Lupins waited until they were isolated in another room before commenting on anything, so as not to be overheard.
The rooms were small and square, but the ceilings tall and open, and the plumbing was still in working condition. Remus nodded his head towards a fireplace in the upstairs bedroom that he knew Tonks would absolutely love; it was made from small, smooth white stones and the luminescent pink underbellies of seashells, all melded together. The interior and hearth had been stained a glittering green hue from centuries of Floo powder use. There weren’t any logs to be found, but Remus could still smell the ancient vestiges of burning wood, as his sense of smell was exceptionally strong as of late. It was like catching the scent of memories.
“Oooh,” Tonks commented, the oak floor creaking as she joined her husband. “I like that. Look at how oddly it’s shaped, Remus, all round like that. Have you ever seen a round chimney before?”
“Nope,” he lied. He wanted her to see the house as he saw it – as potential, as novel. There was something special in it, despite its simplicity. The walls were in dire need of being repainted and there was some funny-looking green carpet in the bathroom that might’ve actually been grass, but neither could pay those details any mind. “And the windows are interesting, as well.” He cleared his throat, motioning with two fingers up one wall to a wide casement window. All of the windows in the house were different from each other in architecture and year of creation, ranging from a round stained glass one from the Middle Ages to a set of three rectangular windows in the drawing room that had self-tinting sashes.
Tonks wound a hand-crank anticlockwise, listening to the window’s right panel push out over the tree branches with a rustling whisper. From here, she could better witness the damage that the tree’s branches had inflicted on the gutter, which would need to be replaced.
Remus walked over to her side, pressing one hand to the still-closed left window panel. The glass was thick, the ivy paint on the crisscrossing lattice design rubbing away to reveal lead origins. He studied the contours of Tonks’s cautious reflection in one of the diamond patterns, wanting and waiting to hear her say that she was ready for this, that she was willing to help him pick up the pieces. He couldn’t do it without her.
“The secondary address is on Winter Walk,” he told her. “The advertisement says that the house usually goes back and forth between Polaris Crescent and Winter Walk, so at least we’ll have some strange seasons.”
She returned his sober smile, knowing at that moment that they would of course take the house. She could deny him nothing, not when she had the opportunity to make him just a little bit happier. Making Remus happy was her very favorite thing in the world.
“There is a small catch,” Mrs. Darby spoke up from behind them. She looked friendly and pleasant, but there was a note of hesitance that she was trying to screen. “I hope you’re not averse to animals.”
“What sort of animals?”
“Houses here are…well, I suppose you could say that they’re inherited. If you claim this house, you will inherit everything that comes with it. Most of his things are gone, taken by Mr. Ollivander’s living relatives. There is one thing, though, that no one has been able to take.” She licked her lips. “As it so happens, Geraint had a dog. Moira Abbott’s been taking care of her on a temporary basis, but Pepper is eager to come home.” She frowned, worried. “You’re not allergic to fur, are you?”
Remus turned away from her, shoulders shaking with laughter.
Mrs. Darby looked from him to Tonks, who’d given a loud snort, quizzical of their reactions. “Umm, yes. Okay, then.” The estate agent consulted her clipboard before plastering on another megawatt smile. “What are your thoughts? I’ve got you listed here as a professor, Mr. Lupin.”
“Nothing’s been set in stone yet, I haven’t formally agreed to it –”
“Which qualifies you,” Mrs. Darby went on, purposefully ignoring him. “Minimum of fifteen years for professor duties and you’ll have purchased this in full.” She gave him a conspiratorial wink. “If I can just say something off the record here, the deal isn’t all bad. We rarely get anyone school-age in Cliodna’s Clock. You’ll mostly have students who are much older and have been here for a number of years, curious about modern developments in magic and society. They’ll just be wanting a brushing-up of what recent life in the magical world is like. It’s not a very demanding job, and you’ll be in rotation with other professors, so you might not even be needed every year.”
“What’re you trying to say?” Tonks retorted. “You saying he’ll just be sitting on his hands?”
“Dora, don’t –” Remus began, but she cut him off.
“He’s a professional,” Tonks spouted defensively. “Not very demanding, eh? What’re they teaching the students nowadays? Recent spells, you say? Fat lot of good that’s doing them – I met a bloke this morning who couldn’t even tie his shoes by magic! They’ll need Remus immediately.”
The man in question released an exasperated groan.
“Get this roof fixed up proper and we’ll take it,” Tonks finished decisively. “And I want a warranty with the dog. Some of them like to bite me. Also, I sometimes forget to feed them.”
“I’ll remember to feed the dog,” Remus interjected before Mrs. Darby could grow alarmed.
Mrs. Darby’s shock from Tonks’s brusqueness died away, replaced with a wry smile. “If you wanted to negotiate the roof being fixed, Mrs. Lupin, you could’ve just mentioned it. We’re very flexible, you know. We planned on repairing all of the damages, anyway.”
Tonks sniffed, unable to come up with a response. Mrs. Darby closed the distance between them, her heels clicking across the floorboards. She extended one hand, her fingernails coated with a shiny orange blossom varnish, and dropped a key ring with two keys into Remus’s palm. “One’s for the front door, the other’s for the garden shed.”
“I didn’t see a garden shed on our way in.”
“That’s because it’s on Fortescue’s roof today. You can probably expect it to return in three days or so.” She surveyed Tonks through her auburn fringe. “I’ll let you two lock up when you’re finished. You can contact me at my home office if you decide to accept the terms of agreement.” She swiftly exited the room, leaving the house suddenly silent and colorless in her wake.
Tonks let out a deep breath that she’d been holding in for the past half hour, mentally following the stout estate agent with only a fourth of her concentration, listening to her click-clacking down the darkening street. A cool breeze gushed through the blue fir’s needles, floating into the bare bedroom. The walls and ceiling seemed to shrink in the waning sunlight, growing smaller and smaller until it might swallow the pair of them.
Remus’s eyes slid to his wife, shining with amusement. “Demanding that they fix the roof? Your selective memory is really something to behold.” When Tonks only looked confused at this, he added, “Our first house didn’t even have furniture that was built in the twentieth century. The bathtub was the size of a walnut and if you talked too loudly, the whole roof would come crashing down.”
“I’m sure I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. That house was perfectly lovely.”
“It was a glorified cardboard box.”
They proceeded to tour the house – sometimes together and sometimes alone, until they knew each of the five little rooms by heart, every nook and every cranny. Slowly, their minds began to redefine the barren space as not belonging to the unseen ghost of Geraint Ollivander, but as their own. None of it was anything like their old home, of course, which had presumably been abandoned or put up for sale by Andromeda Tonks. Tonks wondered if her mother had taken any of their belongings, if she’d had to dig through Remus’s writing desk or Tonks’s wardrobe yet, making the heart-wrenching decisions of what to donate and what to save for Teddy.
Andromeda would keep the picture albums, of course, and all of Teddy’s clothing, for surely she would be the one to raise Teddy. Andromeda wouldn’t allow anyone else to raise her only grandchild – would never pass him off to an orphanage. Harry Potter was godfather, but not nearly old enough yet to care for a two-month-old child. Andromeda would take care of everything, no matter how hard it might become for her. She might put aside Tonks’s and Remus’s wedding rings if they hadn't been buried with them, maybe to hang on a chain over Teddy’s mobile so that he could watch their tiny diamonds catch the light.
Most of their books would be given away, and honestly more of Remus’s possessions would probably be parted with than Tonks’s, since Andromeda might have a more difficult time getting rid of her daughter’s things than her son-in-law’s. Some of it was destined to pass to Harry, as Remus had mandated in his living will that he never got the chance to update before his death.
Tonks felt tears sting her eyes, picturing her mother kneeling on the floor beside Tonks’s unmade bed in England, pulling out shoebox after shoebox of love letters Remus had written for her; he never actually intended to give them to her, but she’d discovered them one day while he was at an Order meeting and, much to Remus’s mortification, refused to give them back. Poor Andromeda would have to filter through all of those emotions, words, and promises of growing old together all by herself, with little to no assistance to help shoulder her grief.
She wiped her eyes on her sleeve, turning around. “Just looking at these curtains. They’re really awful.” He must have noticed the watery pink tinge to her eyes, but he didn’t press her with questions, and so she didn’t have to lie and try to attribute it to the Vampyr Mosp venom. They both knew that injuries sustained while inside the Pensieve disappeared the moment contenders returned to Cliodna’s Clock, anyway, but she hated crying in front of her husband.
“We can get new ones.” He rubbed her shoulder blade, listening to the house settle. Through the open windows, they could hear a tinkling of music from a neighbor’s wireless, and the town’s communal children playacting in everyone’s gardens, chasing each other around streetlamps buzzing with moths. One of the little McKinnon girls was steering a small bicycle around a winding gravel path, kicking pebbles up into its metal spokes. Fabian Prewett jogged by, mussing up her hair with one broad hand as he passed, and the girl shrieked indignantly at him until he was gone, and then grinned at her friends, delighted with the attention.
Tonks noticed that Remus was still watching her. She reached for his hand without searching for it, thankful to find it warm today. The heat seemed to be coming from all around him, not just from within. She met his gaze, which was all deep purple shadows and pearly lights from a silver moon, twisted up neatly into an inscrutable expression.
He was looking at her in such a way that she felt like she was burning.
Remus pulled Tonks into his arms, tilting his head to see into her eyes. They reflected the swollen moon, something he hadn’t been able to look at properly since he was a small boy. He was either crippled with potion or out of his senses as a wolf whenever the full moon appeared, punishing him month after month after month, wearing him down until he was just raw bones.
But now, there was no physical pain or fangs pushing through his gums, no humiliating ripping noises as his clothing split at the seams. He would never have to curl up underneath a desk again, his very blood numb from the effects of Wolfsbane. He would never tear through a forest, blinded by animalistic rage and confusion; he would never have to howl ever again.
“I wonder if it’s the same one,” Tonks marveled, looking up at the sky. “The one from back home, shining over Teddy.” She sighed. “Isn’t it pretty?”
Remus arched his eyebrows in that mysterious way of his again. “I can think of something prettier.”
He kissed her, ignoring the wolf-whistling children spying on them from their streetlamp that doubled as a home base for games. The Lupins could not give their son memories or affection, but they had given him something far more precious.
A photograph tumbles into the front garden of number two, Polaris Crescent in a somersault of leaves, blowing up the tree boughs and onto the roof. It soars through a casement window, dipping from side to side like a bird over water before coming to a rest on the bedroom floor:
Her face is blurry but you can tell that she is smiling. Her glasses are reflecting the white light of a camera’s flash, the round lenses like little moons.