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Chapter 44 : Winter
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Tonks missed the ball because of another argument with Gideon. I wasn't here for it but Mary Ann tells me that it was quite spectacular, and it must have been in order to possess Tonks to refuse to go to the ball and to make her hair fade to brown. All she'll say about it is that "I just wish things could go back to the way they were at Hogwarts."
Mary Ann says she should just dump the @#$%%^ for good, which has done nothing to make things better.
I agree but I know it isn't that easy. I used to watch my friends in school go through all sorts of problems with boys and wonder why they put up with it. I assumed that once I was older and had a boyfriend myself, I'd understand it better. Well, I don't. Love makes no sense at all.
So since Tonks had to miss the ball she seemed to take a vicarious pleasure in preparing me for it, starting hours in advance. It began with torturing me with all sorts of facial creams and masks, one papaya based, one composed of mint, clay, and lavender, and another one with tomato peel. "I really hope that washes off." Mary Ann told me, laughing as I was systematically tortured.
After that it was hair, dress, and makeup. Tonks put my hair up and secured it with pins embellished with red enamel roses. The eyeliner was "Bengal" -- "It's a nice soft brown that will look natural," The shadow was "Vanilla Sugar" --- "Also very natural but with a little sparkle." I don't even remember what shade the blush and lipcolor were because I was half numb with boredom at that point, but I have to admit that Tonks did a very good job.
It was only after she'd put in all that work that Remus's emergency owl arrived to inform me that his father had died and he'd gone to be with his mother.
"Guess my dad was right after all." was Mary Ann's dispassionate reaction. "If you're staying, I guess you're going to eat some of our food, aren't you?"
So I had to change out of my dress, wash my face, take down my hair, and send Hagrid an owl letting him know that we wouldn't be by after all. Then I sent an owl to Remus with condolences that I knew must be very flat in light of what had just happened and asked if I could bring a covered dish or something. I haven't heard back yet but I know he's very preoccupied. I wish I could do something to help but I know that really there isn't. Nothing is going to make this situation better. The best I can do is just be there for him.
To think I was dreading meeting his parents, and now I'll never meet his father. I was dreading it, but anything is preferable to this.
I went over to the Lupin residence tonight. Remus responded to my last owl this morning, telling me that I could come by in the evening and that food would be appreciated. The weather being especially nasty, with wind so vicious that rain was falling almost horizontally, I decided on a hearty beef stew. I didn't have all the ingredients but I was happy to go out and by them, just glad to be able to do something somewhat useful.
I brewed the concoction up in a small cauldron so that they'd have enough that they wouldn't have to worry about cooking for a while. It simmered all day long and I had to constantly guard the kitchen door from Mary Ann who kept trying to sneak samples. "I can't believe you're actually giving that all away." she griped as I carried it out the door.
The place to which I apparated did not seem very welcoming, although that was probably due to the gloomy weather whose earlier rain had now become snow. The house was a two story farmhouse and was dark except for a solitary candle glowing in the front window. To the right was a low wooden rail fence and the dim outline of an outbuilding that I think was a barn judging by the sound and smell of horses which I did not find to be unpleasant. There was an identical fence on the left side of the gravel drive on which I was standing and an open space beyond that, bordered in the distance by a moving wall of trees that were being whipped and twisted by the wind.
I shivered, and tightened my hold on the handle of the cauldron, which being composed of iron and full to the brim with stew, was getting very heavy. Walking carefully to keep from slipping in the gravel, I approached the door and knocked. I was greeted by the sound of a dog barking, followed by a familiar masculine voice raised in command. The barking ceased and the door opened to reveal Remus with a collie standing at his side.
He looked extremely tired and about ten years older than he had the last time I'd seen him. "Come in." he said, his voice husky as he relieved me of the cauldron.
"It's beef stew." I answered softly.
The house was dim except for the candle in the window which gave the place a feeling of grief and the sense of the nearness of death. I couldn't get much of an impression of it other than the dim outlines of furniture and a clock ticking somewhere.
"Down." Remus told the Collie, who was looking interested in the meaty smell coming from the cauldron. It immediately turned tail and disappeared from the room. "Thank you." said Remus indicating the stew.
"No problem. I'm sorry about your father."
"Thank you." he answered as he began leading me back through the house.
The lights were on in the kitchen where the collie was sitting at the feet of a woman who was standing by the window. It was pitch black outside and I knew she probably couldn't see anything beyond her own reflection, though I didn't think she was looking at it. Remus's mother stood still and erect, her arms wrapped around herself as she stared unseeingly at the window. She was wearing an old fashioned, high collared black dress and her silver hair was tied into a neat bun at the nape of her neck.
"Mother. Kerri is here." said Remus quietly. "She brought some stew and it looks like enough that we shouldn't have to worry about cooking for some time. Kerri, this is my mother, Sophia."
Remus's mother turned around to face me, and looking at the grief in her eyes almost made me flinch. She took a deep breath as though to steel herself and then said in a quiet but calm tone, "I'm very pleased to meet you at last. I'm sorry it has to be under these circumstances." Each word was spoken slowly and deliberately as though it was a struggle for her to speak them without crying.
"So am I." I answered.
Remus had set the cauldron down on a large wooden table that dominated the room. He was watching us closely and with interest. I remembered that I was the first girl he'd ever brought home to his family.
Sophia Lupin was looking at me intently with gray eyes like her son's. I wondered what she was thinking. Probably that I was too young.
"Mother, this is warm and you really should try to eat." Remus coaxed.
"No. I don't think I can keep anything down right now. But thank you. It's been a very long day. I'm going up to bed." As she made her way around the table enroute to the door, she stopped to place a hand on my arm. "I an very glad to meet you. Later when things have settled down I'll have you over for tea and we'll get to know each other properly."
She left the room, her spine straight and her chin up. I suddenly knew where Remus had acquired his coping abilities. Sophia's skirt disappeared around the corner along with the collie who trotted at her heels. Remus was watching them leave with an expression on his face that suggested his own coping abilities were stretched to their limit.
"I don't think I can eat just now either." he told me, sitting down at the end of the table nearest the fire.
"That's okay." I told him, taking the seat next to him.
"She meant it, you know. She really is glad to meet you." He paused for a moment, breathing deeply as though trying to maintain control of his emotions. "I regret not bringing you here sooner, before this happened. But there is something I want to thank you for." Another pause. "Do you remember when my father was hospitalized last year and you convinced me to start spending more time with him?"
"Thank you so much. I can't begin to imagine the guilt and regret I'd be feeling right now if you hadn't suggested that. My biggest regret is that he didn't get to meet you. He was looking forward to it." Remus broke off and stared at his hands folded on the tabletop for a few moments.
I put one of my hands over his and he took it. I couldn't think of anything useful to say. "I'm sorry" may be true but is not particularly helpful.
"I won't be good company tonight." he warned me.
"I'm here to be company for you."
An especially violent guest of wind rattled the window and howled beneath the eaves. It made me feel safe and cozy, appreciative of the sturdiness and warmth of the house. It seemed to have the opposite effect on Remus, who shuddered. "I hate the winter." he said darkly. "You can't imagine. I've always been aware that my illness would cut my life short. I know it and feel it most strongly in wintertime. It's morbid and irrational but I hate the thought of dying in winter and going into a frozen ground. Like my father."
I couldn't think of a useful reply to this either so I just slid closer and put an arm around him. I wondered if he'd regret telling me this fear in a few weeks time when grief over his father's death had softened.
"I've been helping plan the funeral. You don't realize what's involved until you have to do it. And everything is so mercenary. It all has a price, down to the smallest detail. I know that the undertaker has to make a living but it seems so cold. I could never do his job."
"What happened to your father?" I ventured.
"You know that he hadn't been well since last summer but it happened very suddenly. My mother didn't even have time to send for me until it was over. She was with him when it happened though, and it was quick. I can't think of a better way to die." Another of those long pauses and then he cleared his throat with a noise that sounded like a muffled sob. Just seeing him hurting that much hurt me too. "I'm going to stay here for a while, though I'm not sure how long. At least until after the funeral but perhaps until the next full moon. I won't do...that...here. I'll help take care of the farm. It's a bit much for my mother to keep up on her own so I suppose it will have to be sold. A little cottage might suit her."
"Or maybe you could just move here to be with her." I suggested, looking around the neat, homey little room. "It's better than where you are now."
"No. If I wanted to do that I could have done so while my father was alive. I'm much too old to be moving back home and besides...you know why I don't want to be here. It's bad enough that all their friends and neighbors will see me at the funeral. The neighbors don't even know I exist as far as I know and I'd rather have kept it like that. Now more than ever, with my mother here alone, she needs to keep people from knowing she has a werewolf for a son. It will change perceptions about her."
"Whether you're a werewolf or not, I know she loves you, and so do I." I told him, choosing not to argue with him under the circumstances. "Listen, I want to do something to help."
"I appreciate it. People will probably be coming by to pay their respects and we'll need refreshments and that sort of thing. I'll ask my mother and let you know what she says in the morning." Remus shook his head "I know it's taking every bit of her effort not to go to pieces. It's taking all of mine as well."
I knew that, of course. Remus usually takes his problems as they come, accepting them as part of life and just dealing with it. This grief was naturally going to be harder to cope with. "I wish I could do something." I said helplessly.
"You are helping just by being here right now." There was another of those long pauses before he said, "Nothing prepares you for this. I've lost people before, good friends who were like family to me. I was about your age when the Potters and Peter were killed. Prior to that I'd lost other friends too. Things were so bad during those years that I was attending funerals on an almost weekly basis. This is infinitely worse, which seems odd in a way. You naturally expect your parents to die before you do and yet I still wasn't ready for it. And maybe it's selfish of me but I can't help thinking that when my mother is gone too, I'll be completely alone."
I tried to imagine losing my mother. We live apart but she's still just...there. I'm grown up and living in a different country but she still feels as much like the center of my world as she did when I was five. The idea of her not existing was just impossible to fathom.
"And I keep thinking...he's just gone." Remus thoughtfully continued. "Just that quickly. You'd think I'd be used to that too, but it's just so hard to realize that he'll never be back. It makes it more difficult because it was so sudden. All of his things are here just as though he is too. Everywhere I look I see evidence of his presence and it's so hard to realize that he's not here. That coffee cup over there for instance."
Remus indicated a heavy, plain white mug setting on the counter beside the sink. It was as though the owner had been standing there looking out the window, and being called away briefly, had set it down there to return to later.
Yes, Remus's father had indeed been called away, but to a place from which he would never come back. "Do you really think that this is all there is?" I asked.
"Right now I don't know what I think about anything. It's hard to think at all when I'm feeling what I am. I told you I'd be horrible company." he apologized. "And I'm sorry about the ball. I know you had bought a dress for the occasion. I had roses for you. They're at home. They'd be wilting by now."
"Oh Remus, don't worry about that. Balls are more Tonks's thing than mine. I just hate seeing you like this and it makes me feel completely helpless. I wish there was something I could do to help now. What about the animals? Who's taking care of them?"
"I can do that. I can." he added, perhaps seeing my skeptical expression. "I grew up with horses." he reminded me.
The conversation seemed to be winding down. I felt like it was time to leave, but didn't want to. "You're okay?" I asked uncertainly.
"I will be. I think it will be easier once the funeral is over and things settle down. Then I'll have time to think for myself and realize what's happened."
"I don't want to leave you." I admitted, looking at my hands folded on the table. "I could stay... if you want." Even I wasn't entirely sure what I had just offered. I just knew that I didn't like leaving him alone to brood and grieve and that I wanted to do something to give him some respite from his pain.
Remus was quiet for a few moments. Probably he wasn't sure what I was offering either. "Mary Ann would never let you hear the end of it." he finally answered.
"I'll hear from you tomorrow?"
"After I talk to my mother I'll let you know if she needs any help."
Remus walked me back through the darkened house to the door and helped me back into my coat. "Stay warm."
We shared a long goodbye embrace. I didn't want to let go of him, leaving him there alone to grieve. But perhaps privacy was what he needed to gather up his strength to face the next few days.
It's been a busy week what with school, band, Mary Ann, and helping Remus and his mother with the funeral, both the preparations and the aftermath. Like Remus, I didn't realize how much goes into it either, having been lucky enough that I've never lost anyone close to me like a family member. Mostly I've just been helping get the house in order for receiving guests and cooking in anticipation of them.
I am completely over any nervousness that I once had about meeting Remus's mother. The death of his father has put everything into a different perspective for me. It hasn't been so bad anyway, although Sophia and I haven't really talked to each other much other than to discuss our tasks. We work together companionably though and I think her silence is due more to grief than to any dislike of me. I'm just honored that I'm allowed to be there in the midst of the family at a time like this, almost as though I belong.
While Sophia and I have been cleaning the house and preparing food for the guests who will drop in after the funeral, Remus has been concentrating on caring for the animals and doing other jobs that his father used to do. I know he grew up doing those sorts of chores, but somehow it's hard for me to get used to.
Every so often neighbors drop in and Remus makes a point of disappearing back outside, whether he has anything to do out there or not. If he hoped that this would keep people from noticing his presence in the household, he was out of luck because Sophia invariably introduced me as "my son's girlfriend." I had the impression that she was doing this with the same purposeful stubbornness that he was displaying in avoiding the neighbors.
I like Sophia I think. She impresses me with how strong she seems to be. If it was me and I'd just lost Remus, I know I'd go to pieces, but she's really handling it well. Her eyes are still burning with grief but she's keeping calm and busy. Keeping busy, adhering to routine as much as possible, seems to be her coping method. Yesterday I washed the mug that her husband had left setting beside the sink and she calmly dried it and put it away without ceremony.
Through all of this, the only time I've seen her cry was at the actual funeral, which was today. Remus kept close to her and I kept close to him. Afterward they both seemed relieved to have the ordeal over but couldn't quite settle down yet because of the people who were coming to the house. For once Remus did not vanish when they started showing up although I knew he was itching to.
Not being part of the family and not quite being a guest either, I somehow managed to just blend in with everyone else. Most people were not aware of who I was and had no reservations about speaking their minds in front of me. They're Sophia's friends and neighbors and supposedly they meant well, but much of what they said made me extremely angry.
The first time I heard what people saying, I was standing near a couple of older ladies who were nibbling some sandwiches Sophia and I had made together the night before.
"Who is that man with Sophia?" one questioned. "He doesn't leave her side."
"Didn't you know?" asked the other one in a tone of superiority, "That's her son."
"I didn't know she had children."
"Oh yes. Just the one. I think there's something wrong with him." The knowledgeable one tapped her forehead with one of her fingers significantly. "That's why they stopped having children. They were afraid that others might be mentally handicapped too."
"He looks normal enough. That's good that he can get out in public like anyone else. How old is he?"
"He must be about forty or so."
I almost choked. I wasn't sure which accusation I found more insulting, 'handicapped' or 'forty'.
"He looks good for forty. Where has he been all this time? Is he able to take care of himself?"
"I think he works at a cauldron factory." the know-it-all answered. " You don't have to be all there or have skills to do that. It's good that he can support himself and not be a burden on poor Sophia."
I had the distinct feeling that "poor Sophia" would have been as incensed as I was over this conversation and probably would have set them straight. They were her friends though and it wasn't my place. I didn't think she would continue to approve of me if I got into a fight with them only an hour or so after her husband had buried. I walked away to avoid getting into trouble.
I heard quite a few similar conversations as I milled about. Everyone seemed to think they knew everything, but not one of them had the true story.
"She told me that he was a tutor or something, but I don't believe it. She admitted once that he was out of work." I overheard someone whisper.
"Where has he been all this time? I've never met him before. He seems decent."
"Decent? If he was decent he'd have paid more attention to his parents before this happened, wouldn't he?" asked the first person with what I thought was an uncalled for amount of venom. "Where was he while his father was keeping this place up alone?"
"Not really alone. You know Sophia."
"Oh she's capable enough, but it's the principle of the thing. He ought to have been here. I'd write him out of the will if I was her and leave it all to charity."
I had to walk away from that conversation too. Remus's attempt to protect his parents from the werewolf stigma had completely backfired. I felt both anger and embarrassment at their words, just knowing how he would feel if he'd heard them himself. That was the last thing he needed to hear on the day of his father's funeral. I attached myself to his side in the hope of heading off any of the rumor mongers who got too close. Once I caught Sophia looking at me across him in a searching sort of way. I wondered if she knew what was being said and how much of it I'd heard.
I found out later after I took some dishes to the kitchen. On my way there I passed another of those poisonous little conversations.
"Who's the woman standing by Sophia's son? Oh, she's gone now."
"That's his nurse. They let him out of St. Mungo's for the funeral."
I hid out in the kitchen for a few minutes after that one.
"Are there more biscuits?" asked Sophia, entering.
She didn't seem in a hurry to take them. If anything, I had the impression that she'd also come to the kitchen to get away from the stress outside. She stood staring out the window with her arms wrapped around herself as she had on the night we'd met. "Have you heard any of the nonsense being said out there?" she asked at last.
"Actually, I was hoping that you hadn't."
Sophia shook her head. "It's our fault. Mine and John's. We wanted to protect Remus from being teased so we encouraged him not to discuss his problem with anyone. He misconstrued that to mean that he should be ashamed of it. By the time we realized that, the damage was done. Personally I would gladly go out there and tell them all the truth. 'This is my son, the werewolf. He's also brilliant, compassionate, and better than most of you.' But I won't because it would mortify him." Sophia turned to me with a humorless smile. "And the boy believes that he's here to protect me."
I almost laughed to hear Remus referred to as "the boy." No, Sophia with her calm demeanor and straight spine did not seem to need protecting at all.
"We'd probably better get back out there." I suggested.
"I suppose so. Before someone says something horrible to his face. They're friends and they mean well but they don't know what they're talking about. I'm glad that this will be over soon. I'm completely exhausted. I really do appreciate your help."
"I'm glad I was able to."
So we went back outside to take our places on either side of Remus, the glue of what I think is going to turn out to be a good friendship.
Author's Note : Thanks as always for the reviews and chocolate.
Next Chapter : Kerri tries to get Mary Ann to make friends with one of Royal and Celestia's daughters. Basil and Augustus land another job.
"Kerri -- we have another job. Washing dishes." Basil called up to me.
"Do you get to wear lacy aprons?" taunted Mel.
"I'll still be making more money than you." Basil shot back. "I wouldn't care if they made me wear a bikini."
"When do you start?" I asked.
"Just don't play with your broomsticks this time."
"Yeah. I know. We learned our lesson." Basil laughed.
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