It was a curious thing, Mr. Odo thought as he listened to Regulus brag about how he could function on less sleep than everyone else he knew, that not a single person in his pub had yet to utter a word about the races today. After all, it was the eighteenth of May – leaving only a couple of weeks left until the committee plucked several of them from the pool and bound them to the tournament. Knowing, as Odo did (and Odo generally knew everything about anything, being the eyes and ears behind the biggest gossip center in Cliodna’s Clock), that at least three people sitting before him had signed up for the races already, he found it remarkable that they could all chatter on about anything except for the elephant in the room.
Fred Weasley and Cedric Diggory sat at the counter, the former poking suspiciously at his sandwich and the latter looking hopeful for some invigorating conversation. He kept glancing Fred’s way, his brain buzzing with all sorts of questions he wanted to ask about his family and friends; not knowing how sensitive Fred might be on the subject, since he could no longer see any of them, either, he had yet to bring himself to ask.
“Spit it out, Diggory,” Fred said lightly, not looking up from his food. “You’re starting to make me nervous, it’s like you’re working up the best angle to ask me out on a date.”
Cedric’s eyes narrowed. He blew a strand of stray hair away from his forehead that had been dangling over his nose, semi-irritated. He’d forgotten that Fred could never quite take him seriously. Some had guessed that the Weasley twins were jealous. He would have liked to agree – it would be a simpler explanation for why the two boys who always seemed like so much fun had never bothered to make friends with him. “Don’t like Odo’s cooking?” was all he decided to say.
Fred gave him a look that was not unlike the vacant, glazed expression of a dead fish. “I once licked the bottom of Lee Jordan’s cauldron on a dare. It tasted better than this.”
Cedric resisted the temptation to wince. He’d also forgotten how crude the Weasley twins could be. But then again, there was only one Weasley now, which left ample room leftover for someone else to fill in the gap. Cedric had been waiting too long for friends to give up just yet. “Want to play some Quidditch later?” He inclined his head toward Sirius Black, Fabian Prewett, and Emmeline Vance, who were very loudly engaged in a raucous game of Exploding Snap (or rather, that should have been the title, but Sirius had charmed the cards to look like variations of a rather angry Severus Snape wearing women’s clothing, and thus he called it ‘Exploding Snape’). “They’re usually good for a match or two in the evenings, if you’d like to join. I’ve got room on my team for a Beater.”
Fred took a large bite of his sandwich, smacking his jaws together to exaggerate how tough the bacon was. With his mouth still full, he replied, “Yeah, beating really isn’t at the top of my to-do list at the moment. Thanks, anyway.”
Cedric sat back, resentful in spite of himself that Fred kept spurning his attempts at friendship. What else was Fred supposed to do? Was sitting by himself in a pub, feasting on a meal that tasted like leather, preferable to playing Quidditch with a group of other people? Cedric had never known Fred to shy away from social scenes. As he recalled it, both twins loved attention and being at the center of a mob of people. There was only one thing for it, then.
He raised a suspicious eyebrow at the boy. “What are you up to?”
“What do you mean?” Fred responded innocently.
Oh, yes, he was definitely up to something. “You’re always off by yourself, hiding. What exactly are you doing all day long?”
Fred raised an eyebrow at Cedric as well, mimicking his expression perfectly. “For a bloke who never sees the Snitch half the time, you sure have been paying plenty of attention to me.”
Cedric ignored this insult, as it was meant to distract him. After all, Cedric was a spanking good Seeker and everyone knew it. “Seriously. What are you –”
“Someone say my name?” a boisterous, obnoxious voice interrupted. A chair appeared out of nowhere between the two young men with Sirius Black following closely behind, popping out of thin air. His hair smelled singed, the smoke from Exploding Snap still fizzling around his ears. He slammed his fist down onto the counter between Fred and Cedric, grinning when they jumped. “Give me another pint, Odo.”
“You don’t have to ask for a pint if it’s only butterbeer you’re after,” Odo started to say, but Sirius waved him off as if he had no time for these trifles.
“Oh, just give me one.” Odo wordlessly obliged, and a pewter mug skated down the granite surface into Sirius’s expectant hands, sloshing golden liquid over the sides. Sirius turned and fixed each boy with a smile so inappropriate for a Monday that it was almost psychotic, his eyes wild and sparkling. “So. Which one of you chaps has signed up for the Devil’s Duel? Both, I’m going to guess. You’re still young enough to be brash, got plenty of air between your ears.”
The pub immediately hushed up, a wealth of chairs making a hullabaloo as they all pivoted to fix Sirius with their impolite curiosity. Sirius paid them no notice. “Well?” he prompted, spilling some more of his butterbeer onto the floor. Odo made a growling noise in the base of his throat.
“I did,” Cedric vouched.
“So did I,” Fred said after a minute of careful measuring. “You?”
“Oh, no.” Sirius clapped him heartily on the shoulder. “Not this year. There are entirely way too many people who might actually stand a chance. But I wouldn’t say no to giving you a few pointers.”
“Hmm.” Fred surveyed him with a critical air. “If you’ve got friends who are going to be going against me, who’s to say that you won’t purposefully give me bad advice just to give them better odds?”
Sirius chuckled. “Their odds are already better, trust me.” He turned his attentions to Cedric. “What about you, mate? Want some mentoring?”
Cedric rolled his eyes. “I’ve been here longer than you; I hardly think you could tell me anything I don’t already know.”
A bell on the door clanged as it opened, temporarily blinding a few tables with white sunlight as a woman slipped inside. She shook a leaf out of her red hair and made her way over to Emmeline Vance’s table, which Fabian Prewett had left. Not too far from them, Salazar Slytherin was sipping wine from a goblet and looking mutinous. Rumor had it that he was very cross about the sudden flood of newcomers in his town. He’d gotten rid of the two other chairs that were supposed to accompany his table so that no one would try to sit down next to him.
Fred had quite forgotten himself while he was gawking at the woman, and when he regained his senses he found himself pitted against two very broad smiles. “So.” Sirius’s grin deepened, eyes flashing evilly. He nodded his head casually toward the woman who’d just entered the pub. “Her, eh?”
Fred cleared his throat. “Well.”
“Well?” Sirius urged, leaning in conspiratorially. Fred had seen that sort of emotion plenty of times on George’s face – it was the smile one wore when they were oozing with delicious information.
“Well, she’s pretty,” Fred stated impassively. Cedric turned away with his elbow on the counter, one hand over his mouth to hide a smirk. “What?” Fred demanded, suddenly defensive. “You think she’s out of my league?”
“Oh, she’s way out of your league,” Sirius confirmed cheerfully.
“It’s not like I was planning on asking her out or anything, but I do believe you’re wrong,” Fred retorted, side-eying Cedric with scorn. “I’ll have you know that I’m actually quite a catch.”
Sirius raised his eyebrows, mentally begging him to continue.
“Where I’m from, I ran an incredibly successful business in a financially broken climate, my revenue increasing during war rather than going down like all the other businesses. I’m funny, I’m eligible.” He smoothed the sleeves of his shirt, flicking nonexistent crumbs from them. “Plus, I’m ginger. Everyone loves gingers.”
Cedric snorted. “There’s no denying the allure of gingers,” Sirius declared dryly, following Cedric’s movements in amusement (his shoulders were shaking from trying to contain his laughter), “But I’m not convinced. I think I’d like to see you take a shot at it.”
Fred’s eyes grew large. He half-turned, throwing a quick glance at the red-haired woman. “You mean ask her out?”
Sirius nodded sagely, mouth twitching.
If Cedric hadn’t been cackling like a mad old witch with one eye, maybe Fred wouldn’t have agreed to it. But as it so happened, he was exceptionally offended on behalf of his masculinity and he thought that George would have been very let down indeed if he’d seen his brother ignore a challenge.
“Fine,” he told them, jaw lifted stubbornly. “Watch and learn.”
“O-ho, how delightful!” Sirius chortled. “I am going to enjoy this.”
Fred ironed out his clothing one last time with his hands and smoothed back his hair before standing up. He then swaggered over to Emmeline’s table, feeling much more nervous than he looked, and severely hoped to himself that he would not strike out in front of a Hufflepuff.
“Excuse me,” he said to the back of the woman’s head. She went on talking, not paying a whit of attention to him, until Emmeline cleared her throat.
“Behind you.” Emmeline nodded upward.
The woman turned around, her face changing from pleasantly friendly to an empty slate. “Hello? Can I help you?”
“Er.” Fred suddenly felt foolish. He could sense Sirius praying enthusiastically in the background for him to fall flat on his face. “I was just wondering…well…I was wondering who you are.” His last notes ended with a bit of a croak.
“I’m Lily.” Her brow furrowed in confusion. “Lily Potter. Why do you ask?”
A piano might very well have dropped out of the sky and landed on his head, judging by the shocked state of him in response to that. His overlarge eyes swept up and down her puzzled face. “Lily Potter?” he repeated hoarsely, all of the blood flushing out of his head and down into his shoes.
“….Yes,” she answered slowly. “You’re the boy from the Town Hall, right? The one who knows Harry’s owl?”
“Uhh.” His right shoe squeaked as he ground his heel into the floor, right in a puddle of Sirius’s spilled butterbeer. “Harry. Harry has an owl, yes. Err, he used to.”
Emmeline was working hard to restrain a smile, but Lily seemed to be genuinely concerned about Fred’s sanity. “I say, are you all right, son?”
It was this last bit – the ‘son’ – that stung Fred's pride enough to jolt some blood back into his legs. He turned around with robotic movements, so flabbergasted that he could scarcely see straight. Lily Potter! Harry’s mum! Harry’s mum was attractive! He had just tried to come on to Harry Potter’s mother!
His eyes rolled back to appraise the ceiling. George would have been hysterical. On either side of him, Sirius and Cedric were both rolling around in fits of uncontrollable laughter.
"How did someone like Harry come out of someone like that?"
The silence stretched on and on between the husband and wife, wavelengths of strain traveling from pale brows to dry lips to the skin on their hands, clenched taut over their knuckles. Each sat on a neatly-made twin bed sitting opposite the other, in the only vacant room that the boardinghouse had left to offer them upon their arrival.
It was a consuming silence, thick with one person’s anger and the other’s desire to be forgiven, to be understood and pardoned. But there was guilt, too, and there was sadness. But mostly there was love.
I can’t believe you didn’t consult me first, one might have said, if he’d been steady enough to articulate language.
I knew that you would try to stop me, the other might have responded, if she’d been able to lift her eyes from the thrumming of Remus’s Adam’s apple, watching him swallow repeatedly. Swallowing words? Disapproval? Maybe he was swallowing the silence, trying to abate it.
I would have every right to try. How could you do this to me?
“I’m sorry,” she said at long last, responding to the accusation burrowing within the lines in his forehead, between his grinding teeth. “Not sorry that I did it, but sorry that I did it without telling you.”
His eyes flashed up to hers. They were dark, almost wolfish. “Lily signed up.”
A pause, and then – “I know.”
Remus’s mouth contorted in fury. “Lily. You’ll be going up against Lily.”
“Not necessarily,” Tonks amended quickly. “If she’s on the other team, she could get knocked out in the first four rounds. It doesn’t have to be me and her. Ten people are going in…for all I know, I won’t even get selected by the committee.”
This did nothing to alleviate Remus’s desperate helplessness. He looked away from her now, hot tears pricking his eyes. She had scooted to the edge of the bed, her back ramrod-straight as her eyes followed him with edgy anxiety. “I already lost Teddy. And now you…and now you’ve gone and done this.”
The silence grew. It bloomed into shadows left by the falling sun, gliding around all four walls with dusty moonlight. Forever and a day passed before Tonks ventured to say, “I lost him, too.”
“Then how could you be so hasty? How could you be so impulsive about something like your soul?”
“Why should I lose?” she demanded. “Why? I’m – I was an Auror, for god’s sakes. You think I don’t know a few more spells than Lily Potter? I have an advantage. She’s been dead for years; she doesn’t know about developments in charms and curses. She doesn’t know what I know.”
“She was in the Order of the Phoenix at the height of war –”
“So was I.”
He finally met her gaze again, meaning to say something, but the ferocity of her glare bit him into retreat. He had to calm himself enough to rationalize a statement in advance before he spoke it. Calculation. He needed to be careful or they were destined for another argument. “You should have told me first. You should have given me the chance to interfere.”
“I know.” Her temper softened and she crumbled away from her bed, crossing the distance in two easy strides to sink next to him. She could feel his worries ease somewhat when she rested her temple against his shoulder, thankful she couldn’t hear what was going on inside his head. It would be a madhouse in there, all of the resignation that he’d come to adopt that he was dead, that this would be his life now, completely paralyzed in the wake of new fears. He could lose her. And then what? Who would he be without his wife? “I heard what the prize was and I couldn’t stop myself.” She couldn’t force herself to appear guilty, though. She didn’t want to apologize for it anymore, not when she wanted this so badly.
“I hadn’t even considered entering,” Remus said quietly, speaking to the slanted blinds on the window that separated the two beds. The bed they currently sat on had never been slept in. “I didn’t think you would, either.” He turned his hardened profile, angling his face so that he could view hers better. “I can’t protect you in there, wherever you’re going, whatever you’ll be doing. I can’t keep you safe.” His gaze slid down to her lips, parted while she waited to speak. “I can't watch you die again.”
“Remus.” She smiled ruefully. “You can’t keep someone like me safe. I’m not sure when you’re going to learn that. Besides,” she nudged him playfully with her elbow, “this wouldn’t be the first time I refused to stay put like a good girl, going against your wishes. Worked out smashingly last time.”
He threw a scowl at her. “Are you trying to be funny?”
“Remus.” She pursed her lips, a gentle reproof.
“How is that going to make me feel any better? I wish you would just…” He felt like yanking fistfuls of his hair out. “I wish you would have stayed at home, Dora. I wish you would have stayed away.”
“Oh, what’s next?” she snapped. “Going to tell me you wish we’d never met? Would that help us avoid all this pain, wishing you were still a werewolf outcast and I was still just another member of the Order, barely even acquaintances?”
“That’s not what I was going to say,” he shot back heatedly.
“Don’t lie to me, Remus, I know that’s exactly what you’re thinking. It’s all you’ve been thinking since we got here. I hope it’s doing something spectacular for you, all this self-pity and regret, because you’re all alone in it. You can’t undo the past two years. You can’t fall out of love with me, you can’t un-marry me, you can’t make Teddy disappear because it might make your hurt disappear, too.”
“Stop it,” he countered sharply. “I would never take it back, any of it.”
“Well, then, we can only go forward!” She threw her arms up in the air, frustrated. “Don’t you see? It’s the only way to go. So why are we still here?”
“How am I supposed to go forward if you die and leave me all by myself?” he snarled. “You threw yourself right into danger, Dora, and I was an idiot for not seeing it coming, for not…” he wrung his left hand, trying to think properly, “for not stopping you before you did it. I should have known you would do something this stupid.”
“Yes!” she agreed. “You should have. But guess what? I didn’t ask for your permission. So now what are we going to do? Are we going to bicker about it or are you going to support me?”
He squared his shoulders, looking her up and down in a way that clearly displayed how affronted he was. “Of course I’m going to support you. It was never a question of support –”
“Well, act like it. Have you stopped to imagine how I’m feeling right now? This is scary as hell! But it’s worth it.” She straightened herself up, recovering a more dignified stance. “I already have plans for what I’m going to do when I get back home.”
“I’ll bet you do.”
She ignored his sardonic tone. “We’re going to write him letters, both of us. I’m going to leave them in my mother’s letterbox.”
Remus stared at her, his incredulous expression gnawing away at Tonks’s resolute exterior. “Are you out of your senses? What is your mother going to think when she opens up her post to find letters from her dead daughter and son-in-law?”
“I really don’t care,” she admitted. “Her reaction isn’t important. My only concern is that she keeps them for Teddy so that he can read them someday. We’ll be able to say all the goodbyes we didn’t get to say before we left.” And though neither of them spoke it out loud, they both knew that she meant Remus hadn’t gotten to say his goodbyes. Tonks had lovingly planted a kiss on Teddy’s head before she left for the battle. That last kiss was enough to get her through most nights, listening to her husband pretend like he was peacefully asleep. But she knew that the way Remus had been taken from Teddy was too abrupt. It lived in his heart, eroding it with a thousand different ways of what-if.
She grasped his hand. It was clammy with sweat. “We could tell him good morning and good night. We could tell him that we love him, that we’re listening to him and that we hope he has a beautiful day.”
Remus’s shoulders collapsed, all of the guilt and regret calcifying his insides seeming to shrink. She was right. He knew why she’d done it, and he didn’t blame her at all. He should have wanted to do it, too.
“But the rules,” he couldn’t resist adding. “I’ve heard all about them. You’re not allowed to be seen or heard. You’re not allowed to interfere with the lives of the living.”
Tonks rolled her eyes. “It’s just a letter. He’s not even old enough to understand what it says yet. But I know my mother, and I know she’ll read it to him. This will be his piece of us that he gets to keep forever. He can carry it around wherever he goes through life. Even if we can’t truly listen to him or watch him grow up, he’ll still have that.” Her voice broke. “When he graduates Hogwarts and everyone’s parents are clapping and hugging their children, telling them how proud they are, he’ll have that.”
Remus gave her hand a squeeze. “I just don’t want you getting close enough to see the house he sleeps in and then not be able to walk away from it.” He could feel her freeze beneath his touch. She’d stopped breathing. “It’s going to be very, very difficult to walk only to the letterbox and not any closer.”
Their eyes locked on each other, cautious and alert. They were both thinking precisely the same thing: Would Clidona’s Clock have any way of knowing if Tonks crept inside Teddy’s bedroom? If she sang to him? If she held him in her arms one final time?
But they didn’t dare say it out loud.
He trailed his thumb down her cheekbone, tucking it under her chin so that she would lean forward to accept his kiss. They curled up together on the still-made bed, so small and narrow with both of them occupying it that Tonks could drape one arm over the side and touch the floor with her fingers if she wanted to. Instead, she kept both hands clasped firmly over the strong arms wrapped securely around her. The bedding was stone-cold, their bodies not emitting any heat. Sometimes they produced heat and sometimes they didn’t – it was a malfunction in their deceptively perfect world that served to remind them that they were not actually alive.
Tonks waded in the comfort provided by her husband’s arms, knowing that she was right and that his support for her would always be unwavering. “For Teddy,” she murmured sleepily, eyelids fluttering closed.
But Remus’s eyes were wide open, pupils staining the entirety of his irises with black ink, and they were fixed painfully on a spot of nothing somewhere near the ceiling. His heart beat fast against his ribcage, keeping tune with the nightmarish rush of thoughts spinning inside his mind like a cyclone.
“For Teddy,” he echoed.
Thank you so much for reading, and if you have the time, I would appreciate it greatly if you left a review.