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Chapter 160: November
Chapter One Hundred Sixty
Word got to them shortly after Halloween that Ron had appeared a couple of days previously on Bill and Fleur’s doorstep (actually he’d been wandering about looking for their house, since it had been Fideliused and was invisible from where it should be standing, and if it hadn’t been for Fleur spotting him he might’ve spent the night outside), but Ron was insistent that Bill and Fleur not tell Molly and Arthur about his being there. Remus and Nymphadora were okay though, so long as they swore to keep it a secret too, which they did.
Remus and Nymphadora, for their part, had spent a lovely Halloween with Briony, Lettie, and Nigel, which included Briony helping Nymphadora to perfect her confectionary skills when making Halloween treats, which Remus came home to shortly after Potterwatch’s special Halloween broadcast (Briony and her children remained in the dark about Remus’ involvement with the program, just for safety’s sake—though Remus had to wonder if they were insulting Briony’s intelligence a little too much, the way she smiled oh-too-knowingly that evening as he picked up a pumpkin biscuit and took a nibble on it).
Now with this business of Ron being there, Remus was genuinely disturbed, only because he had to wonder why he was here while Harry and Hermione were off somewhere else, presumably still on their quest left to them by Dumbledore to bring down Voldemort (thankfully Remus didn’t have to censor his mind concerning Voldemort’s name the way he had to with his voice).
So he decided to pay Bill and Fleur a visit to see Ron a few days after Bill and Fleur came and saw them (and delightedly met with Briony, Lettie, and Nigel, with Bill more than glad to explain his own werewolf-inflicted scars while professing that he was not, in fact, a werewolf).
Nymphadora wanted to come along too, but Remus wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. Granted, she was wasn’t at all showing (the bump they felt was so slight, and even so, she still looked very much unpregnant), but she was also much more susceptible to colds and flues, and seeing how it was prime cold and flu season—
“Oh Remus,” Nymphadora lamented, “you have got to let me out, my only outings can’t be with Mum to get food from the market—now that I can do that again and everything.”
In the end, Remus relented, on the condition that Nymphadora take precautions with immunity-boosting potions.
When they did go to visit however, Ron was very quiet about what he was doing at Bill and Fleur’s instead of off with Harry and Hermione. But Remus, who was practiced in this, could recognize the shame in his face that he was trying to hide.
He’d done enough running away of his own to hazard a guess, but they would have to wait to hear about it on Ron’s terms.
In the time since Briony and her children had come to stay with Remus and Nymphadora, their relations had taken a turn for the better following the full moon. Briony was still cautious, but she exercised more respect, where Remus was concerned in the true depth of his trials against adversity, maintaining his humanity and integrity throughout, and Nymphadora for her loyalty to him as his loving wife.
Over the month of November, the Collingwoods remained in hiding with the Lupins just as a precaution, until the area wasn’t deemed a hot zone of interested and phased out of notice to the Death Eaters who had attacked the Collingwoods’ home (who, Remus had learned from Fred and George, had been severely punished for their drunken misconduct, but Remus felt it was mostly because for all of that wanton destruction nothing had been accomplished—in other words, the Collingwoods weren’t killed in the process).
The passing of time was marked with Remus’ incredibly dangerous patrol details (which Remus and Nymphadora talked of to each other in bed at night in the privacy of their room as if it were all business as usual because they were both painfully aware of everything that could go wrong on those details), equally dangerous Potterwatch broadcasts, Order meetings at the Burrow, Kingsley and Denise dropping in now and then to make reports, a visit or two to Bill and Fleur’s to chat in pleasantries and in information exchanges, and to see how Ron was—he spent most of his time loitering by the sea, staring off onto the grey, misty horizon like he was waiting for something. Perhaps it was courage. Not the usual kind that every Gryffindor possessed at heart, but a different kind, the kind where you have to defeat something inside of yourself.
Again, Remus knew about summoning up that kind of courage only too well.
The other markers for the passage of time were Nymphadora’s steadily progressing pregnancy, and what a transformation Briony underwent beyond her first glimmers of understanding towards the Lupins, no less her appreciation for their hospitality, all things considered. That and Lettie and Nigel were both terribly delightful children, moving on from their initial trauma of the Death Eater attack. Which is not to say they were perfect (Nigel had an even greater tendency to knock things over and cause breakages and spillages than even Nymphadora had, which was saying something, and Lettie could turn very sour when things didn’t go her way), but they were, on the whole, just about as good as you can expect perfectly normal children to be. Not only that, but Remus and Nymphadora shared a secret liking together for the sound of their prattling when they were using Remus’ childhood bedroom as a playroom, off in their own little worlds and being more candid than most people managed to stay when they grew up.
“Just think,” Nymphadora said, taking Remus’ arm as they drew away from the door, “if anything, we’ve got to survive this war just for that, because we can have that too: the sound of our own kid making up stories that wonderfully make no sense.”
And Remus’ smile just widened at the dreamy thought.
The Collingwoods though, still slept in the study, and this was out of a kind of sensing premonition that something was about to happen in Remus’ (and briefly Ramirus’) childhood bedroom that would make their sleeping in it (much less playing in it) quite difficult.
And that something was of course making it ready to function as a nursery for Remus and Nymphadora’s new baby. While Nymphadora took her time with steadily gaining weight to support the growing life inside her, Remus decompressed from his patrols by turning to his sketchbook, and this time he drew with an interior designer’s eye and made little thumbnail sketches of a possible nursery layout, filling in notes on color schemes and the like.
In the middle of eating dinner, he would turn to his sketches right at the table. Nymphadora, sitting next to him, would ask, “Are you going to finish that, love?” pointing to his half-eaten fish filet or shepherd’s pie or chicken kabobs.
“Great,” and before he could say anything else, she’d pull his plate toward her and polish off the rest of his meal.
To which he would smile as he watched her fondly for a moment, cautioning her with her some amusement to be careful not too eat to fast all at once, before turning back to his sketch, ignoring how Lettie and Nigel sniggered and Briony would tell them to shush, hiding her own timid laughter.
When he got a day off from patrol, he rearranged things in his old bedroom to accommodate the baby’s arrival, bringing down a few old things from the attic, like packed up toys and clothes and supplies. After working for a few hours, he would descend the stairs to find Lettie and Nigel on the floor coloring (sometimes Nigel would have fallen asleep over his drawings), Briony occupying herself with a book before making good on her usual offer to put lunch together, because Nymphadora would be laid up on the sofa with her feet propped up on the arm to help with the swelling while she tried to banish a headache with a cool compress.
On another day off, Remus came down from making more progress in the nursery-to-be to find that while Nymphadora dozed, the book Briony had chosen this time was his copy of Hairy Snout, Human Heart. He didn’t make any mention of her choice of reading material, but instead insisted that he was overdue to make lunch so he could let her keep reading, for she seemed satisfyingly engrossed.
Even though Nymphadora had taken a bath to help ease the ache of her lower back, Remus was more than happy to give her a massage when she crawled into bed with him that night.
“Oooh, I think I like this better than the bath,” said Nymphadora with a kind of purr as he sat cross-legged behind her on the sheets exposed by the overturned duvet.
“I think I know why,” Remus teased and she giggled before going a bit quiet.
But Remus didn’t have to wonder at her silence. With the necessary weight gain, not to mention the steadily gaining prominence of her belly, which was still a shallow curve one had to look for, but one could tell in the way she carried herself that she was carrying a growling life inside her if they did look for it, and of course the fact that she’d gone up a few sizes in her bras, well…from the moment he met her he knew her to be someone who had her own bright individuality to offer the world, but at the same time was very self-conscious (which probably contributed to her proclivity for clumsiness).
Her unspoken question was, did he still find her beautiful? Did he consider her enlargement something weird and grotesque, or rather as a peach-like ripening?
Well, he’d watched his mother turn pregnant with Ramirus when he was a teenager, and it had been much like when he had seen other pregnant women in public. He had even drawn her pregnant in one of his many sketchbooks, finding beauty in that inward look she’d get as she sat in a chair knitting, her hand resting on that great curve in a gesture mingled with protectiveness and reflection.
Of course Joanne Lupin was his mother while Nymphadora was his wife, that and he hadn’t been home for most of his mother’s development, so that being the case, he had never been privy to any of the intimate details that his father had been. On the other hand, he had observed John Lupin treat Joanne with nothing but tender love, albeit it was careful during that time because she’d already suffered miscarriages in the past, and there was that sense of, “if this doesn’t work out, that’s it”.
As it happened it did work out, and Joanne Lupin had cleaved to her second son like he was proof that there were some games in life love could still win if given the chance. Remus and Nymphadora were hoping that this coming baby of their own would be that same kind of proof.
In the wake of that he supposed nothing else mattered, and anyway, who was he to judge when he bore appalling scars year-round?
He leaned into the hollow of her neck and pressed a kiss there, slipping his arms up from her lower back and around her to touch her growing stomach. But he was careful, seeing as how lately she simply was not in the mood to do anything more than cuddle.
She gave a little sigh of contentment, and then she really relaxed, more so even than when he was massaging her, and that was enough to let her know that no matter how she looked—even if she obtained the girth of a sea cow—the truth of the woman he loved was in her bewitching indigo eyes, the scent of her hair, which she’d been wearing white lately, though still in those wonderful, soft, punky, spike-tufts.
They settled in each other’s arms underneath the sheets and the duvet, sharing in each other’s warmth.
Pressing his hand in hers and stroking it with her thumb, Nymphadora whispered, “I think now the baby can kind of hear us, hear our voices I mean, when we talk. That’s what the book said it would be able to do now, anyway.”
“Well then,” said Remus, kissing her again in her white hair, “let’s talk.”
One who wasn’t talking was Ron.
Bill and Fleur had informed Remus and Nymphadora that he had come to them a little worse for wear, like he’d been in a bad scrape. They had looked after his minor cuts and bruises, but otherwise left him to it, trusting him to speak about why he wasn’t with Harry and Hermione in his own time. But Remus felt that if he had known anything particularly vital to them, like if Harry or Hermione were dead, he would have said that at least. Since he didn’t, Remus was further reassured that Harry and Hermione both were still alive.
Their listeners on Potterwatch however had their doubts about Harry’s being alive, seeing as how Harry hadn’t come up in the public eye since the incident at the Ministry. Part of Remus’ personal segment, “Pals of Potter” was maintaining that Harry Potter was still alive. That and if Harry Potter was dead, the Death Eaters would have an open festival celebrating it and Lord Voldemort would have returned to deal out the deed himself and announce it to all, seeing as he was so bent on killing Harry himself.
Anyway, Remus felt he would somehow know it deep down, if it were true. Or maybe that was just more nonsense from the fuzzy sphere of Divination.
As far as Ron went however, Remus couldn’t help but notice something that perhaps no one was drawing attention to on purpose. When the kid ventured into the sitting room while he, Nymphadora, Bill, and Fleur were talking, he spotted it when Ron took it out of his pocket to wave away Fleur’s offer of a biscuit:
His right hand was missing two fingernails.
Ron tilted his head sideways, frowning with his freckly face that somewhat resembled Bill’s, seeing Remus look at him so peculiarly. “Remus?” he asked, his voice still hoarse from being so quiet and shaken. “What’s wrong?”
Remus could’ve kicked himself. He worked a smile. “Nothing. It’s just…good to see you’re okay, even if we can’t let your mother know.”
Ron shrugged and stuck his hand back in his jeans pocket. “Well, it’s common sense, I’m supposed to be over there sick with spattergroit, remember? I want to keep it that way in their minds, like I said, so they don’t have to lie.”
“I know, I understand.”
Afterward though, on their way home, Nymphadora asked him why he had looked at Ron funny.
“You caught that, huh?”
“Of course I did.”
“Well, he’s missing two fingernails on his right hand.”
Nymphadora’s eyes widened. “Is he? Like clean-like? Not like they were pulled—?”
“No, not at all,” said Remus as he took her arm before Apparating them away. “I think somewhere between separating from Harry and Hermione and coming here, he managed to Splinch himself.”
Over the course of his life, Remus had become accustomed to the nature of war, in that it seemed to have an uncanny ability to spill into places one wouldn’t think of it spilling at first. When the First War had first spilled into his own life, that had been with the deaths of his parents in his seventh year of Hogwarts.
But another pocket of the world it spilled into, almost gallingly, was into people’s dreams. A place where people were supposed to be able to escape the horrors of the real world—though of course they always didn’t, hence nightmares.
Still…it seemed a violation that even in his nighttime wanderings, Remus couldn’t get away from one recurring dream that left him shaking in the dark and holding Nymphadora closer, not uttering a peep so as not to wake her: it was always the same, he would come home from a patrol or a Potterwatch broadcast, and there he would find the green and deathly Dark Mark looming over Lupin Cottage, the Fidelius Charm somehow broken, leaving a waste of the happy little house that once stood there.
After that he would wake himself, knowing what he would find and afraid of finding it.
To his intense relief, these visions stayed in his nightmares alone.
But then one day he returned home late at night from a patrol, tired and a bit surprised to find Nymphadora not there.
“She’s gone to her mother’s, about an hour ago,” Briony informed him gently. “They got a communiqué from her father, and Nymphadora rushed over there before I could stop her. I’d have gone after her, but I didn’t want to leave Nigel and Lettie….”
“It’s fine,” Remus assured her, giving her shoulder a grateful squeeze, to which she didn’t even flinch but simply smiled shakily. “I understand. Let me just pop over there and make sure everything’s okay. If you haven’t heard anything, I’ll just take that as a good sign.”
Meanwhile on the way to Buckhurst Hill he was torn between reprimanding his wife for dashing off in her condition, alone, and just hoping that she would be there at all for him to reprimand.
When he got there though, while the house was still intact to his magic-perceiving eyes, there was a gathering of curious Muggles huddled in the street, pointing at the horrid form in the sky that had come looming out of his nightmares in as bright a green as a Killing Curse—
The Dark Mark.