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Chapter 159: Briony
Chapter One Hundred Fifty-Nine
At first Remus felt at once that he certainly couldn’t help this woman and her children, not after the way she had ridiculed not just him, but his wife as well. After all, was it really worth the risk of taking her and her children in when she’d done nothing to deserve it? Of course, even if she decided to betray their location simply out of her ill feelings towards werewolves and the company they keep, she wouldn’t be able to, because she wasn’t the Secret-Keeper for their Fideliused home.
And anyway, this was how most werewolves tended to respond, and he wasn’t about to let all the time he spent trying to convince people of his goodness despite what he was go to waste over something like this. But he did, just for a moment, lose his sense of pity for the woman, only because of what she had done in her ignorance.
Besides, it might be that because she recognized him, she would resist his helping her on those grounds. He prayed she had a little more sense than that, considering the circumstances.
But he knew that he had made this decision long ago, when he set out to prove the world wrong about not just werewolves, but himself as a person too. A person.
He reached out his hand to the woman.
“Here, let me help you up,” he said. “The coast is clear, I think.”
The woman hesitated, and then she swallowed—her pride perhaps?—and accepted his proffered hand.
The woman sat huddled with her two children on the sofa in the sitting room with cups of hot tea. Nymphadora watched them from the kitchen as Remus fixed a little broth for them to eat, after seeing that they were otherwise unharmed. Just shaken.
“Remus, are you sure about this…?” she whispered to him so the woman and her children couldn’t hear.
“I couldn’t just leave them there, Dora. Would you have done that?”
“No, of course not, that’s not in my nature, especially when there are children involved but still…she was so horrible to us.”
“She can’t help her ignorance, love. And anyway, we’re bigger than pettier people who would have left them to fend for themselves, aren’t we?” Remus raised his eyebrows at his wife, but he was smiling.
Nymphadora returned his smile. “Yes, I’d say we are. At least…I’d like to think so. I know I’d be no better than them if I excluded them because they excluded me—or those I care about—no less for pretty much the same reason.”
She followed her husband back into the sitting room as he floated a tray laden with bowls of the hot broth onto the coffee table before the mother and her two children, a boy and girl, just as he remembered from before.
“Thank you,” the mother mumbled, but while the two children set aside their mugs of tea and tucked into broth, their mother didn’t touch a spoonful. Though she didn’t stop her children from eating at least.
“It’s quite alright if you’re not very hungry,” Remus told her, taking a seat in one chair across from the sofa and Nymphadora in the other. “But I will let you know that I put in a little Strengthening Solution, just to help you regain some of your strength. And I will understand if you don’t wish to tell either me or my wife about what happened. Just know that you’re perfectly safe here.”
The mother nodded but did not say anything else.
“Would you like to at least tell us your name?” Nymphadora offered kindly, tactfully avoiding the fact that they had met in public before, quite unfortunately under such horrid circumstances.
“Briony Collingwood,” said the woman. “My daughter’s name is Lettie, and my son is Nigel.”
“Remus Lupin,” said Remus, inclining his head and also avoiding the subject of past grievances. “And my wife, of course, Nymphadora.”
“I prefer Tonks, my maiden surname,” Nymphadora put in, trying to lighten the mood but failing miserably.
Perhaps pressured by the awkwardness of the situation, Briony took her spoon and had a timid bite of broth.
“Well, whenever you’re ready,” Remus said, clearing his throat, “we’ll have the guest room set up for you. It’s next to the study.”
Nigel and Lettie had both finished their bowls of broth, so Briony pushed hers away. “I think we’re ready now,” she said, clearing her throat as well. “Come along you two,” she said to her children.
The three of them were settled into the guest room well enough, and once Remus was sure that they had everything they needed, he closed the door and left them to it.
“Do you suppose it was a band of Death Eaters that came to their house?” Nymphadora wondered as she and Remus climbed gratefully back up to their bedroom.
“Possibly.” Remus closed their door behind them and turned to his wife as she removed her dressing gown and hung it up next to his. “Whatever did happen, we’ll have to let Briony or the children tell us in their own time. For now all we can do is offer them what we can in terms of hospitality.”
“Once they leave—if they feel that they can—do you suppose they’ll keep this place a secret?” Nymphadora wondered as they got back into bed. “I mean I know they can’t break the Fidelius on it because they’re not Secret-Keepers, so the protection won’t lift, but they could still draw—”
“I don’t think we need to worry about that, honestly,” said Remus as he curled up with her underneath the blankets. “She may despise me for being a werewolf, and you for marrying a werewolf—and probably more if she finds out you’re pregnant with my child—but I doubt she’ll have much of a desire to turn us over to the Death Eaters or anyone else who might want to see us dead. For all of the things there are for us to be worried about, this, I don’t believe, is one of them.”
The two children, Lettie and Nigel, were much more open than Briony. Lettie was nine and Nigel seven, and at breakfast the following morning, though they were certainly mum about what had happened to them last night as much as their mother Briony was, and quite frightened about it, they were more willing to speak, if with some sobriety. Lettie even said, “We’re very glad that you can let us stay here. It was quite scary out there.”
“Well you’re very welcome, my dear,” said Nymphadora as she pushed some toast onto the girl’s plate before squeezing in next to Remus at the rather crowded little breakfast table in the kitchen. “Now, I’d like to let all of you know that my mum will be round so my husband can—well, he aids the resistance effort, and while he’s gone my mum comes round. Just in case anything untoward should happen, but we’re very safe here. Still, she and Remus don’t like the idea of my being left alone in my condition.”
Remus tried to hide his smile as he dug into his cornflakes.
Briony raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Your…‘condition’?”
Nymphadora caught Remus’ eye, and they both knew what Briony was thinking: that this “condition” had something to do with his lycanthropy. Not that there was any possibility that it could be, even if it wasn’t that Nymphadora was merely pregnant, but one such as Briony would naturally draw that conclusion, especially since most people were still under the impression that werewolves were sterile.
Remus cleared his throat. “My wife is pregnant, Mrs. Collingwood.”
“You mean she’s going to have a baby?” Something like a light illuminated in Lettie’s eyes, her golden curls bouncing as she twisted around to share a look with her dark-haired little brother.
Meanwhile, Briony’s raised eyebrows disappeared into her fringe, and she pursed her lips. But at least she had the wit to remain discreet.
“She doesn’t look pregnant,” said Nigel with that child’s lack of censorship, peering over to try and get a good look at Nymphadora’s stomach.
“Nigel!” Briony hissed. “Stop that at once! That’s very rude.”
Nymphadora chuckled. “It’s alright, Mrs. Collingwood.” She gave the hint of her emergent baby bump a gentle pat. “I’m only a little over three months along.”
Briony gave a kind of huff and segued straight into a different topic of conversation. “So your mother is coming, to see you’re looked after?”
“Yes. And don’t worry about her. Actually I think she might be glad of the added company. My dad’s on the run at the mo, cos he’s Muggle-born, but we get news from him every now and then, but with her being all alone—she’s protected by her own pure-blood but all the same, does get lonely and she could use a bit of diversion—oh, I think she’s coming now.” Nymphadora’s caught sight of her out the kitchen window.
“I’d better let her in,” said Remus, rising from his chair.
At the entrance, after security questions were exchanged and such, Remus informed Andromeda of his and Nymphadora’s unprecedented houseguests. Not to his surprise, Andromeda pursed her lips as much as Briony was doing upon learning this.
“Are you sure you want to be letting people in willy-nilly? Not to mention you’re saying this is the same woman who ridiculed Nymphadora for being married to you in the local public market.”
Remus ignored the slight dig at his lycanthropy (he’d come to expect this as a regular thing from Andromeda at this point for not being able to let go of the fact that she got a werewolf for a son-in-law).
“The poor woman needed help,” he reasoned. “And anyway, if she’d lived to tell the tale, she’d just have more evidence that all werewolves are cruel and heartless beasts. And that’s just the sort of person I’m not.” He raised his eyebrows pointedly at his mother-in-law, for in a way he was saying these things as much to her as he was in reference to Briony Collingwood.
Andromeda raised her usual critical eyebrow at him before pushing past him, muttering under her breath.
But Remus found himself smiling. “I think I might be growing on her,” he said to himself.
Remus went on patrol with the proper precautions, and later that evening he appeared on that night’s broadcast for Potterwatch. When he returned home, Nymphadora was there in his arms, having listened raptly to the broadcast not only with her mother, but with Briony, Lettie, and Nigel too.
“Mr. Lupin, you missed a terrific broadcast,” said Lettie—since to protect their identities, Nymphadora and Andromeda had not mentioned that the one called Romulus was actually Remus.
“Indeed?” said Remus, catching sight of her mother, who was determinedly knitting something to take her mind of things, seated in the armchair opposite the one Andromeda was occupying as she too knitted.
In fact, Nymphadora had been knitting too.
“It’s going to be a blanket for the baby,” she proudly announced, holding up her thus far knotty attempt.
“Not yet it isn’t, not with more practice,” her mother said, taking the bit of knitted cloth from her and inspecting the shoddy handiwork. “Love, are you certain you don’t want me to just to teach you how to charm your needles to knit by themselves? It’ll be much simpler.”
“No, I want to do this with my own hands it’s for my baby, after all. Anyway, it keeps me busy.” Nymphadora chose not to add, “while my husband’s off God knows where and I haven’t the slightest idea if he might be alive or not.”
After Andromeda left, Briony left to use the washroom for a moment, though she left with her eyes lingering on her two children, sat on the floor with some paper and crayons Nymphadora had dug out of Remus’ old childhood art things, as if she was wary about leaving them in the room alone with Remus, even though Nymphadora would be there too.
Remus shook his head and sank down on the sofa. Nymphadora sat beside him and rubbed his back.
“Look at what I drew,” Nigel announced, and held up his picture for Remus and Nymphadora to see. “It’s a hippogriff.”
“That’s not a hippogriff, this is a hippogriff.” Lettie held up her drawing, which looked more like a hippogriff than Nigel’s, though while his coloring was very accurate to that of a real hippogriff, she had colored hers an inaccurate pink.
Remus smiled, thinking of Sirius and how he had befriended Buckbeak the hippogriff while on the run from the law, and in his Grimmauld Place confinement. “I think they’re both very nice. Anyway, when you’re drawing, it doesn’t always have to look like real life. Just how you would like it to look.”
“Do you draw a lot, Mr. Lupin?” asked Nigel, withdrawing his picture to add a few more touches to it with the crayons.
“I used to, when I was young.” He glanced over at his wife, thinking of her carrying their child, and thinking of how he had once drawn his mother while she was far along with carrying the as yet unborn Ramirus. “I might do it again.”
The sound of Briony’s return was announced by her clearing her throat very loudly. “Mr. Lupin, may I speak with you? In private?”
Nymphadora gave Remus’ hand a squeeze. “Go on,” she mouthed.
Remus nodded and followed Briony back into the hallway outside of the sitting room, out of earshot of Nymphadora and the children.
Briony steepled her hands, focusing on her wingtip shoes rather than on Remus. “Mr. Lupin, I won’t say that I’m not grateful for your hospitality…indeed I can see that…among your…kind…you set yourself apart with a great expression of human kindness towards those who are in trouble—and your wife—” She swallowed “—said that you’re involved in the resistance against You-Know-Who’s regime, and I can’t very well not commend you for that I mean—” She swallowed again, her words coming out of her quickly as though she needed to get rid of them as fast as possible “—that’s what happened to us last night. We were chased out of house and home. We thought we were safe where we were but…my late husband—he died years ago…werewolf attack—” Her eyes flickered for a moment up to Remus’ face before continuing “—but he was Muggle-born, and because I married him, even though he’s dead—though I think the Death Eaters that came to us last night were drunk and looking for a bit of unbridled sport, but as it is, that’s what partly helped us to escape was the fact that they were intoxicated at the time.
“However, I feel that I must speak.” Briony paused here for proper breath, took a deep one, and plunged on, this time looking Remus squarely in the face at last. “Marrying her is one thing, she was happy to join her life with you of her own volition—I don’t understand it myself, but it’s not my place to say, I suppose—but this…child—if you can honestly rightly call it that—is just too much, and as far as my children go, you would do well not to—”
Remus held up a hand. “Mrs. Collingwood, that’s enough.” He could hear the disgust in her voice when she said the word, “child”, and he wasn’t going to stand for this, houseguest and refugee or no. “You are a guest in my house, I’ve taken you in for your protection, and I will continue to do so. But I tell you now that you would do well not to insult my child while you’re here. I have indeed considered the possibility that it will be born a werewolf—though my wife believes it is highly unlikely, since it has never rightly happened in that way before, probably not even in unknown cases where both parents have been werewolves. Regardless of what happens though, this is my child, and I intend to love and care for and protect it with all that I have in me, as much as I would do for my wife. So I’ll thank you not to fling your disgust around like an old coat while you’re here, and show some respect.
“I’m sorry for what happened to your husband, but his killer being a werewolf is not my fault. In fact, my being bitten was not my fault either, it was a way for the werewolf that bit me to hurt my father, who insulted him. So you see how the vicious cycle truly gets perpetuated. I would not be what I am if my father had not insulted him, though at the same time, I bear no hatred for my father. He loved me, and we all make mistakes and in hindsight we wish we could take them back.
“If you are uncomfortable however, if perhaps you fear for your children’s lives, I give you leave to depart whenever you wish. I don’t want to corner you into anything, though whatever you choose, I hope that you and your children will be all right, just the same. You’re as much as a victim of circumstance as anyone else is. As I am, in fact, and I’d feel terrible if something happened to you or your children. Though I don’t know you very well, I can see that for all of that, you are all very good people. I just hope you can bring yourself to see that about me, and about my wife and my child as well.
“That is all I want to say on the matter.”
Remus gave a nod before returning to the sitting room to be with Nymphadora, leaving Briony standing a bit dumbstruck and lost for words in the hallway.
The following evening was full moon. In all honesty, Remus could understand if part of Briony’s outburst was instigated by this, knowing that while under his roof, she would have to face what it would be like to live with a werewolf during such a time as this, when they truly are dangerous, no matter what kind of person they are normally.
But she didn’t leave. Though maybe it was simply because she didn’t want to risk her children not just because of rampant Death Eaters over the countryside, but a rampant werewolf too. Most wizarding parents knew well to stay in during full moons, but not always. Not when they—like his father, like poor Ian Montgomery’s poor mother—thought they were surely safe, so long as the children stayed near the house where they could see.
Either way, Nymphadora managed to rope her into dealing with the whole charade. Remus was in the kitchen trying to eat something (he was always a bit put off food on the day of the full moon, whether it was his lycanthropy or whether it was nerves, or both, he never really knew for sure), and he caught the sound of Nymphadora’s voice with Briony in the sitting room, telling her how everything usually goes (Lettie and Nigel were upstairs in the spare bedroom, looking at books they had borrowed from the bookshelf).
“…so the house is always well protected. Been that way since his parents, when they had to take the same precautions. I can’t even imagine what his poor mum went through every time, though I imagine it’s something like what I go through as his wife, but…as a mother, to hear your own child screaming in pain like that, and nothing you can do….”
Briony made a non-committal sound, but underneath was a kind of understanding that gave Remus’ insides a bit of an unanticipated lift.
“Anyway,” Nymphadora went on. “I try to get some sleep—and what with me being pregnant Mum usually comes round, and then helps me out with him in the morning.”
“And how does she feel about that?” Briony asked very cautiously.
There was a chink of china as Nymphadora set down her teacup on its saucer. “It’s a bit of a touchy subject that,” she said with a laugh, trying to lighten the mood of it. “But she knows he makes me happy, and she knows that he loves me so much, and that I love him so much, and want him to be happy too, so she helps out any way she can. Maybe one day they can be on chummier terms, but for now, we have an understanding that he’s my husband and she’ll just have to deal with that.”
“Well…what precisely do you have to do…erm…do for him in the morning?”
“Mmm, help him into the house. He can walk fine, but he’s exhausted and sore all over, and usually there’re cuts and scratches and bruises and maybe a bite or two and the like. So I get him inside and clean him up and wrap him up in warm pajamas and tuck him in and feed him a bit and help him rest. He always bounces back after a day.”
“You make it sound like it’s an illness.”
There was a heavy pause, and then Nymphadora said with very cutting coldness: “It is an illness.”
“I—” Briony’s voice became very small.
Remus hadn’t even realized he’d stopped stirring his little pot of stew and now it was getting overcooked. Quickly he extinguished the fire below the range. But he managed to catch Briony add very timidly, “I’m sorry. I—I’m very sorry.”
“I certainly hope so,” said Nymphadora, losing none of her coldness. “Because I’ve asked Mum to take the night off this round. You’ll be the one to help me, since you’re here. Keep your mind occupied. And perhaps maybe you can appreciate more of what that man really goes through—ostracism and public insults aside.”
Remus sighed as he gingerly tested his overcooked stew, knowing this was one of those situations when pregnancy hormones could not be blamed, not even a little.
“I—I’m going to be—”
“Helping me,” Nymphadora cut across her. “I think it’s the least you can do.”
“The least I can do?”
But Nymphadora said nothing more, and after a moment, while Remus ladled some stew into a bowl, he heard Briony say, “Oh. I see.”
“Exactly,” said Nymphadora crisply. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Shortly after the clinking of collecting crockery, Nymphadora entered the kitchen, floating in the tea tray.
“Dora, you oughtn’t corner her like this,” Remus admonished her very quietly so Briony wouldn’t hear.
“Well, you told her what for when she expressed her disgust with my being pregnant.”
“That’s different, I wasn’t pushing her into anything. You can’t make her understand.”
“Oh can’t I?”
But Nymphadora had that gleam in her eye that told him she fancied challenging him with putting her theory to the test. And at that point, Remus knew there was no arguing with her. While he didn’t profess to being constantly overruled by his wife—far from it, actually, they did their best to maintain equality—there were times when he knew better to just step aside and let her have her fun.
If you could call looking after a werewolf post-full moon fun. Nymphadora did, naturally, but…that was because she loved him.
Remus kissed his wife farewell as he always did before going off and leaving the protection of the house the same way he left it to go on patrol and Potterwatch airings, to go and transform by the light of the full moon.
Most unfortunately, this turned out to be one of his more terrible transformations. There was a lot of new pain, and plenty of carnage on woodland deer. Nymphadora and Briony found him curled up by the creek covered in deer’s blood. To add to his splitting headache, Briony gave a shriek at the sight of all of the blood.
“Calm down, it’s only deer’s blood, now keep a lookout for danger like I told you,” Nymphadora snapped at her as she bent over her husband, covering him up with a toasty warm blanket to shield against the late October air. “Wotcher, love,” she told him, kissing his brow.
Remus blinked against the painful glare of the sun. “Oh…you’re a sight for sore eyes.”
“Was it bad last night?”
“Very. Maybe it’s all of this stress….”
Nymphadora frowned as she helped him up.
“I hate putting you through this when you’re pregnant,” he murmured as he limped along beside her. “I mean…how’re you going to manage when your belly’s four times the size of a quaffle?”
“I’ll manage, love.”
When they returned to the house, Nymphadora roped Briony into stepping in to assist with washing Remus up and tending to his wounds. After they get him into pajamas and then bed, Nymphadora leaned over and kissed him again.
“Do you need anything else, darling?” she asked him, brushing his bangs out of his eyes.
“No, I’m all right, love,” he told her, taking her hand and pressing it to his lips. “Thank you.”
Nymphadora’s smile widened and she kissed him again before leaving him to rest.
Some time after Remus gave himself up to the oblivion of sweet sleep, he emerged on the edge of sleep to the sound of voices: Nymphadora and Briony were talking quietly.
“…ever remember what he’s done afterward?”
“No. And he can’t control it either…though he always does his best to take precautions to prevent as many possibilities of that happening as possible.”
“I suppose I…never really thought about that….”
“After everything most people put him through, he’d still never forgive himself if he bit any a one of them. Would never wish something like this on anyone. He’s a good man.”
“I—I can see that.”
“Look, Mrs. Collingwood—”
“Please…call me Briony.”
“Okay…Briony. Remus told me about what happened to your husband…and I’m sorry. I can’t even bear to think—every time Remus goes out there on patrols…anyway, I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry. I mean…a werewolf took something from the man you love too. My husband had his life taken and…well, so did yours just—just not in the same way.”
There was a pause, and Remus vaguely wondered what kept Nymphadora silent so long, until she said: “It’s alright. No one’s perfect, eh? As I’ve said, I know I’m not.”
After that Remus fell back asleep, but he felt certain from this point on, Briony’s presence in his and Nymphadora’s home would be less of a cause for tension.
Later, when he woke again in the evening, he found Nymphadora sitting at her vanity in her dressing gown. At the sound of his voice she turned toward him and smiled, crossing over to him and sitting on the edge of the bed.
“How do you feel?”
“Much better, sweet, thank you. How’re Briony and the children?”
“They’re asleep in the spare room.”
Nymphadora reached for his hand, and he took hold of hers. “Remus…I think you should know that Briony—”
“It’s alright, love.” Remus smiled. “I heard the two of you talking earlier.”
“Oh.” Nymphadora went a little bit pink and Remus laughed as she ran her thumb over the back of his hand. “You know, Remus, I’d like to think—actually to thank you—being with you, well…I always knew how love was this powerful thing that could compel you to do extraordinary things. But I never realized how truly extraordinary—how strong it could make me, until I fell for you with no intention of turning back, from the moment I agreed to marry you, from the moment I said I do.”
“Oh sweet.” Remus covered Nymphadora’s hand with his other, so that he had her hand pressed in both of his. “Dora, you’ve made me a stronger person too. You’ve made me feel that it was okay to stand up for myself, when I always spent my life thinking it was better not to say anything at all.”
His eyes lingered over her belly, still unnoticeably flat, the hint of a baby bump only there if you were looking for it.
“And now I think…when the baby’s born, if there’re still some arses out there that give our child a hard time for what its father is, it’ll have an even stronger father to be proud of.”
Nymphadora chuckled and touched her forehead to Remus’. “Oh Remus…I was never worried about that.”
And Remus chuckled too, and for a time the two of them just stayed that way, just breathing together with the quiet of the October night.
“Oh, and by the way, darling,” she whispered in his ear. “Just to give you an idea of how late it is: Happy Halloween.”