For one horrible moment, the world fell dizzyingly away from beneath Remus’ feet, as all the air was sucked from his lungs as though he’d been struck in the chest with a blunt object.
Then he remembered the gaggle of Muggle onlookers and through a numb mechanicality cast a spell similar to the one used on Hogwarts that made Muggle passersby to the perimeter suddenly remember something and go away.
Once these Muggles had dispersed, Remus approached the house, heart thudding yet so tightly wound he still could scarcely breathe.
Then the door opened and Nymphadora’s punky, white-haired head poked out cautiously—her eyes found Remus’.
“Dora!” he gasped, the air rushing in, and his feet couldn’t carry him fast enough to the front gate, where Nymphadora met him just outside the wards.
Minding the baby bump, he gathered her into his arms, trembling himself with relief that for one terrible moment he never thought would come. She trembled just as much against him, clinging to him as he pressed his face into her white hair, closing his eyes and just feeling her. Nothing existed but the two of them.
Their trance was broken by the sound of Andromeda’s stern voice as she cast a spell, and the illumination of green from the Dark Mark vanished, as did the Mark itself. That reminded Remus that he ought to be furious with his wife and he drew back, holding her at arm’s length.
“Now what did you think you were doing? Tearing off like that in your condition? Alone?” he admonished.
“Remus, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it, Mum had news about Dad and—” Nymphadora looked up at him with glittering eyes, her voice cracking.
“Well, tell me what happened,” said Remus, remaining firm but assuming his usual calm and collected self. “Come on, let’s get inside it’s much too cold out here.”
They turned into the house behind Andromeda, who had watched the whole scene with an unreadable though unmistakably sober expression.
“Bellatrix came to visit again,” she explained when Nymphadora proved to be too upset to do so; she set mugs of hot tea in front of them both on the coffee table in the sitting room. “Nymphadora and I were just going over this communiqué we received from Ted—” She waved a folded square of parchment before sitting down in an armchair with her own tea “—when Bellatrix came strutting up the road. I concealed Nymphadora in the cabinet again, and my sister and I had it out. Bellatrix was looking for her niece again. Things got a bit ugly—” She gestured to the unusual mess of things about the room “—to the point of her coming just short of killing me to get to my daughter—though with me she’d have to because otherwise I’d be damned if Bellatrix took her—and when she left it seems she decided to leave the Dark Mark behind to intimidate you Remus. In fact you showed up not long after Bellatrix left.”
“Well it worked,” said Remus bitterly, leaving his tea untouched. Nymphadora sat beside him on the sofa, huddled into herself as much as possible, wiping tears that were part-fear and part-hormones. Hormones probably had something to do with her clouding her judgment and flying off wildly into the night despite the dangers it posed.
But the fact that Bellatrix left the Dark Mark for Remus to see meant not only did she wish to frighten him into thinking even for just a moment that Nymphadora was dead, but also that she might be monitoring Nymphadora’s movements much more closely than previously supposed.
“Did she look in the cabinet?” he asked quietly.
He felt Nymphadora looking at him, and when he turned toward her she looked away, but instead of letting Andromeda answer, she forestalled her mother and answered for herself.
Even though the cabinet had succeeded in concealing Nymphadora when Bellatrix looked in the cabinet, it was still too close of a call.
“This cannot happen again,” said Remus. “No more leaving the protection of the Fidelius Charm, not even for Order meetings. Not even to fetch me after full moon.”
“But I always go with you to the meetings,” Nymphadora argued. “Even though I can’t be out there in the field, I still go with you because at least then I can still feel useful, or at the very least informed.”
“And I shall keep you informed,” Remus promised her, “but you’ve got to stay here and lie low again for a while until Bellatrix—”
“She won’t ease up, you know that. She’s unyielding, always has been.”
They were having a disagreement—though managing it quietly enough—in the confines of their bedroom while Briony and the children slept in the study as usual. Remus was pacing though, unable to bring himself to sit, and Nymphadora sat on the edge of the bed, gripping the sheets and betraying her desire to ball her hands into fists.
“Well I know you can manage on your own getting back to the house after full moon—though I’d much prefer helping you,” said Nymphadora with a slight edge to her voice, “but I’m not going to be caged up again like we were a couple of months ago.”
Remus quit his pacing and approached the bed. “Darling, I don’t want to cage you up, but you’ve got to be kept safe. You’re pregnant, and no matter how great you are at magic, that makes you vulnerable, you and the baby.”
Nymphadora threw him a sharp glare. “Are you insinuating that I’m a terrible mother then? That I’m going to be a terrible mother?”
“No, not at all, I’m just saying you can’t afford to let emotions cloud your better judgment.”
“So, what, now I’m too emotional?” his wife demanded, getting quite emotional indeed as her voice grew high and thin and her indigo eyes grew sparkly again and filled with tears.
Remus turned away with a groan, his head in his hand with his elbows leant on his knees as Nymphadora set to crying beside him.
“You haven’t even asked me…what I learned from Dad,” she hissed at him, gulping.
Remus sighed. “What did you learn from your father then, love?”
He reached into his pocket and handed Nymphadora a handkerchief for her to blow her nose in, and she told him that her father was doing all right, traveling with a few other companions on the run, though he couldn’t say who for fear of the missive getting into the wrong hands.
“Well that’s a comforting thought, he’s not alone then,” Remus tried to tell her consolingly.
“I s’pose so.” Nymphadora hiccupped, dabbing at her eyes.
“Now I don’t think you’re going to be a terrible mother,” he began, reaching for her hand, but she recoiled.
“Of course I bloody well am,” she groused, fiddling with the handkerchief. “I trip over my own two feet half the time. You’ll have to keep a watch on me all the time when I’m holding the baby just to make sure I don’t drop it.”
“Dora, you’ve been doing fine so far.”
“This is different though, I’ve got it inside me, when I’m holding it—”
“I thought you’d died, Dora.”
Whatever Nymphadora was saying she ceased altogether and stared at her husband at these words.
Remus went on, now resting his chin on folded hands, staring at the bureau next to the bed. “Well I didn’t know what to think, but when I saw that Dark Mark floating above the house, it was like something out of my nightmares.”
“You have nightmares…?”
“Nearly every night.”
Nymphadora sniffed. “You’re right, you know,” she admitted after a minute. “I can’t afford to be even the least bit reckless. Even if it weren’t for the baby.”
Remus looked up at her soberly. “You have nightmares too.” It wasn’t a question.
Nymphadora drew the back of her hand across her brow. “I dream I wait, and I wait, and I wait, but you never come home….” Her face crumpled and she hid her face in the equally crumpled up handkerchief.
Remus sat up and tugged her into his arms, and this time she let him. “Would you come after me, if that happened?” he asked her, thinking of that day when Lily, pregnant with Harry, had showed up at his doorstep when James had gone missing with Sirius, Aurelia, and Peter.
Nymphadora sniffled and shuddered into his shoulder. “I don’t know. If I wasn’t pregnant, I would in a heartbeat but…oh! Sometimes I feel like I’m going mad, not being out there with you to do my bit, and if that wasn’t enough, I’m stuck here worrying about you every time you step out that door…and then there’s Dad who’s Merlin knows where…. I do my best but there are times when I’m just…weak.”
Remus held her closer, unable to think of anything certain that he could tell her, and could only offer her soothing murmurs of reassurance that might have been empty, but the important thing was he was there, with her, close and warm, touching her hair and pressing kisses to her shaking hands.
“And on top of all of that and I just can’t help thinking I’m going to be just a terrible mother, I just know I’ll drop the baby and that’ll be that. Worst mother ever.”
“Enough of this,” Remus told her sternly, drawing back and taking up the handkerchief to dab at her eyes again, the little makeup she was wearing streaming in dark trails with her tears down her pale cheeks. “You are going to be a wonderful mother. In fact, when our child grows up and goes off and makes friends, he or she’ll introduce you to them and they’ll remember you as ‘one of the cool mums’. For goodness’ sake, you got Sirius’ genes in you, how could you not?”
Nymphadora managed a watery giggle at the thought. “Yeah. Maybe.”
“Oh Dora.” Remus wrapped her up in his arms again and held her close. “My darling, darling Dora. No matter what, we’ll see this through. If anything the baby will. I’d die before I’d let anything happen to our child.”
“I know. And I’m…sorry I was so careless.”
“Yes, well…we all lose our heads sometimes. Even the best of us.”
Nymphadora blinked up at Remus and he thumbed away a stray tear.
“But you must promise me,” he implored her more sternly, “you will not do this again. And that at least for a while, you’ll stay here, where it’s safe. I’ll keep you up to date on the meetings, and then of course there are the Potterwatch broadcasts….”
Nymphadora kept her eyes steady with his. “I promise,” she told him, and he knew in her face that she could be trusted to keep her word.
But of course, he would have known that even without looking at her.
He gave her shoulders a squeeze and sighed as she tucked her head underneath his chin. “You know, I don’t want to be that sort of domineering kind of husband who keeps his wife locked up from the world. We’re a partnership, right?”
“Remus, I’ve never thought of us any other way,” said Nymphadora with the trace of a smile in her voice.
“Even after all the times I’d try to protect you from something I knew deep down you could’ve handled? That you can handle?” He shared her smile as he tucked a lock of her white hair behind her ear.
Nymphadora sighed against him, and he sheltered her closer to his heart, which throbbed still with the faint ache of what he had thought he’d lost for one frightening moment that night.
Then his wife gave a little, “Oh,” and he drew back, looking at her with brow knitted in concern. “Dora?”
Nymphadora put a hand on her stomach.
“Dora? What is it?”
“I dunno. It feels like there’s a kind of rumbling inside me. I think—I think it’s the baby.”
Then Nymphadora gave a tiny gasp, her eyes widening as she met Remus’.
Remus stared at her for a moment, and then he laid his hand on her stomach too. After a moment, underneath his palm a small rumble, a quickening—just like when his mother was pregnant.
His slack look of surprise widened into an even bigger smile, and then he laughed. And Nymphadora laughed too, and the two of them clasped hands over her belly, touching noses and pressing close in the happy quiet of the night.
The mist of the dementors brought on an early chill and a crisp layer of frost at the close of November. Nymphadora stayed behind like she promised while Remus left for full moon, returning to Lupin Cottage on his own for her and Briony to look after him, and then shortly after he left to the next Order meeting alone at the Burrow. Even there though he had to take precautions as they were being watched just as closely as he and Nymphadora were at Lupin Cottage, and Bill and Fleur at Shell Cottage.
At the end of the meeting, after everyone gave their patrol reports and accepted their new patrol assignments, as well as went over details for the next broadcast of Potterwatch, Molly took Remus aside and wondered if she could accompany him home to see Nymphadora.
“I’m not sure if that’s wise yet, Molly,” Remus said.
“But I haven’t seen you two in weeks, and it’s not like it’s any less safe than you coming here for Order meetings,” Molly pointed out. “And I want to the meet this Briony you’ve told me about. I’ve things in this basket for her and her children as well.”
With a little more wheedling, Remus realized he was fighting a losing battle and once he promised Arthur she’d come home safe, Molly wrapped herself up in her traveling cloak and went with Remus back to Lupin Cottage.
Briony, as it transpired, was reticent with Molly, but polite as she was a friend of Remus’. That and she was glad for the things Molly brought for her, Lettie, and Nigel, a few sweets and some treacle tart. And for Nymphadora she brought a magazine with some more knitting pattern ideas for a baby blanket, and a tonic to help with the headaches and backaches.
“I’m just glad to see you’re coming along so well, dear,” said Molly, patting Nymphadora’s cheek. “And to see that you’re doing well after the…incident,” she added, delicately referring to the night of the Dark Mark over Andromeda’s house.
“Cheers, Molly,” said Nymphadora with a grin, taking it all in stride and happily clutching the magazine and the tonic.
“And Briony, so lovely to meet you too, at last,” Molly went on, turning to Briony. “I hope you enjoy the sweets.”
“Oh, you haven’t lived until you’ve had some of her cooking,” said Nymphadora in the midst of flicking eagerly through the magazine.
“Thank you so much, we really do appreciate it,” said Briony truthfully. “Especially seeing as how, we don’t plan on encroaching on your hospitality much longer.” She glanced between her two children on the floor pawing through the sweets, and they both looked at her with gravely disappointed expressions, including drops of the jaw.
Remus, too, found he was a bit saddened by this news, and in the middle of taking a sip of tea he lowered his cup back onto its saucer. “What do you mean?” he asked after he swallowed.
“I mean that I think it’s time we were leaving,” said Briony, taking a sip of her own tea. “I think we’ve waited for things to clear up long enough. And I assure you,” she added with hasty delicacy, “it has nothing to do with…the particulars of your life, but I only feel that it is time we were moving on. I can see how precarious your position is here, protected as it is, and I don’t want us to be the cause of more trouble.”
“Where will you go?” Nymphadora asked, sounding just as saddened by the idea of losing their houseguests.
“France, I think,” said Briony.
Remus sighed. “Well it’s just as well. Advice is to anyone who has any connection to Muggle-borns—” He gave a respectful nod in Briony’s direction since he was referring to her late Muggle-born husband, who despite his being dead was still a threat to this new pure-blood regime of Voldemort’s because of the survival of his children “—that if you have young children, it might be best to flee the country.”
His and Nymphadora’s eyes met for a painful moment—this “advice” he spoke of had been a topic on their last Potterwatch broadcast. And Remus thought again of the price on Ted Tonks’ head for being a Muggle-born, Nymphadora’s head for being the daughter of a Muggle-born, and probably one that would be laid on their baby’s head for the being the grandchild of a Muggle-born, not to mention the child of a half-blood werewolf no less.
And for a second, he entertained the idea of sending Nymphadora out of the country once the baby was born, though he knew she would never agree to it. She might consider the idea of sending their baby abroad with a trusted connection of some sort, Fleur’s family perhaps (though that was a long shot, seeing as how the separation from their child would probably cause her—and him—great pain), but the fact of the matter was that Nymphadora would never leave. The minute she was deemed fit after giving birth, she would fall right back into the fray. She had no intention of running. It wasn’t in her nature, any more than it was in his.
Well, except perhaps from his own happiness.
And he had Harry to thank for making sure he didn’t make that fatal mistake.
He smiled encouragingly at his wife, and she returned it, and he watched as she went back through the magazine and chattered on about how sad she would be to not have Briony, Lettie, and Nigel in the house anymore, and meanwhile Remus was drawn to the sitting room window, where his thoughts drifted out to the world beyond, to where Harry and Hermione might be right now, and wondering if Ron was looking out a window at Shell Cottage and thinking of them too, and if so, what might he be thinking about them? Had he too run away from them for some strange reason? Had something happened that drove him away from the other two?
He sensed that it did, only because if it had been a simple matter of a Death Eater or Snatcher attack separating them, Ron would have left Shell Cottage by now to go back out there and look for them.
I just hope they’re all right, he thought, and went over again and again in his head the same thing he’d been telling Potterwatch listeners, that if Harry Potter was dead, Voldemort would make sure the whole world knew it at once. And as far as anyone knew, Voldemort was still abroad, on some sort of personal quest, while his puppet Thicknesse took care of the day-to-day affairs, and Death Eaters and Snatchers ran rampant, ransacking homes and attacking people like Briony, Lettie, and Nigel Collingwood.
“Well, I’m just glad I had the chance to meet you then,” said Molly, doing her best to sound cheerful despite the lines of worry about her shadowed eyes. Remus wanted so to tell her that Ron at least was safe at Shell Cottage.
But he had promised not to, so he turned away again to the window, where he spotted drifting flurries that melted upon hitting the ground.
So the Collingwoods left at the beginning of December, and there was much hugging and crying in the cold, withered lupine field and the surrounding forest, especially from that of Nymphadora, Lettie, and Nigel.
“Really, thank you so much for everything,” Briony said to Remus, taking him a little aside and speaking in an undertone. “I can’t possibly thank you enough.”
“Briony…” said Remus, unsure of what else to say.
“I’m afraid I’ve done some terrible misjudging, and I apologize.”
“There’s no need to apologize. That is, I understand.”
Briony wiped hastily at her eyes and sniffed. “I finished that book of yours. Harry Snout, Human Heart. And I must say, I’m glad to see that your story seems to be turning out much more happily than that of the narrator’s, all things considered.”
She and Remus both glanced in Nymphadora’s direction, watching as she talked with Lettie and Nigel while one hand rested naturally on the shallow curve of her growing belly.
“Yes well, I’m quite happy about that too,” said Remus with a smile, though he felt pricks at the corners of his eyes.
“And I wish you—all three of you—all the best of luck,” said Briony, and at first she offered him her hand to shake, and then before he knew what hit him she embraced him, embraced him in a way that begged him for a sign of his forgiveness.
And he gave it to her, by returning the embrace.
“Best of luck to you too,” he told her sincerely. “And the children.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, and sniffed again, smiling and blinking much more rapidly than was probably necessary.
Remus did a final security sweep before seeing them safely beyond the protection of the Fidelius Charm, while Nymphadora watched from within it by the front gate, shivering in her dressing gown. Once they were beyond, Briony, Lettie, and Nigel (who clutched the basket of a few loaves of bread and some cheese for their journey out of the country) turned and looked back at the cottage they could no longer see, and waved, and though they couldn’t see Nymphadora waving back, Remus could tell by their smiles that they might have known somehow regardless.
And then Briony turned, and she, Lettie, Nigel, and basket all disappeared with a pop!
Remus withdrew back into the safety of the Fidelius, and Remus could feel the relief ripple through his wife when he reached her, and bringing the warmth between them in the bitter cold of the morning, he took her in his arms again: a mark of how dangerous it could be just for one of them to take even one step outside of the Fidelius’ protection, that she would worry like that even when he was so near ad within sight.
When he looked down into Nymphadora’s face, he felt the hot pricking in his eyes again as he returned her smile, his heart overcome with an overwhelming rush of love that was like some kind of joyful ache that was like dying from happiness.
“Darling, what is it?” She reached up and touched his face, and it nearly broke him.
He pulled her close against him with breathtaking suddenness and murmured into her ear with a cracked voice, “I need you.”
Despite his eagerness, he did have apprehensions as far as possibly hurting their growing baby. There was a solution to that however, and otherwise, Nymphadora admitted that when Remus told her of his need for her, it awakened within her her own need, and with both of them side-lying front-to-front, they came together in a deliciously languorous interlude of lovemaking that left them both sated and further desirous for each other in the aftermath.
Remus clutched Nymphadora close to him beneath the sheets, in the dark of their quiet bedroom, and tenderly watching her tenderly watch him with her glittering dark eyes, he said, “I love you so much, Dora…so much,” and he took her hand in his and kissed her fingertips softly, the wanting emerging into a joyful ache inside of him again.
“Oh Remus. I love you too. So much.” Nymphadora sighed and cuddled closer to him, burying her face in the crook of his neck.
Remus pressed one last kiss to her knuckles and then bent his head to kiss her forehead, her eyelids, her nose, her cheeks, her lips. She giggled and kissed him back in kind, and for a time they whispered, kissed, and touched in their sanctuary, stroking fingers and hands gentle over shadowed skin, hearts beating as they basked in the white sunshine of love, lost in the presence of each other.
“You’re my life, Dora,” he told her, touching his forehead to hers, cupping her face in his hand. “You and the baby. You’re my life.”
“And you’re mine,” she murmured back, nuzzling him. “You and the baby. You’re mine. You’re mine.”
“Mine,” Remus echoed, and found her lips again.
In the morning Remus woke to see a world of white out of the window. He slipped out of bed and drew on his dressing gown. Downstairs, he found Nymphadora standing by the window, looking out at the silent snowfall, the first of the year.
He came up behind her and slid his arms around her, clasping her hands in his over the swell of her belly; he pressed a kiss to her temple.
“Wotcher, love,” said Nymphadora as he hugged her closer and she settled back into him. “Mmmm, you’re warm.”
Remus laughed as he nuzzled into the crook of her neck. “So are you.” He pressed another kiss to her smooth cheek and looked out of the window. “Mmm, it’s beautiful out there.”
“It is. It’s like magic.”
Remus felt his heart beat against her back, and swore he could feel her heart beating with his. And he knew that within her the little life of their unborn child was pulsing too, making little uncertain movements as it began to develop its abilities with its forming little muscles. Though it wasn’t yet kicking, it would be, and Remus could be in no doubt that it would vehemently demand its mother’s attention.
For the present they stood still and breathed as they watched the snow, the lupines frozen and the forest all dusted in white, and later it would glitter in the sun like spun sugar. For the present they remained in each other’s warmth, in the face of the cold snow and the war on the other side. For the present they loved while they still could.