Chapter 1 : Free Fall
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So I watched the world tear us apart
A stoic mind and a bleeding heart
You never see my bleeding heart
- Mumford & Sons, Reminder
You've always loved fires.
Loved the white-burnt centre amidst the flames, the soft glow caressing your face, almost like a hand tracing the contours of your lips. A lover's touch. Such fiery touch.
Breathe in, into this house, caress the woven threads. Allow them to string you to the corners of the brick walls. Watch the smoke circle, spiraling higher and higher, flying towards the sky. Retrace every sigh and smile, submit to the history of these roaring shades around you.
We all do it, you know.
You've always loved fires.
You’re splendid when you’re born.
We suppose everyone considers themselves special in some way, but you were really something. You had already changed your hair five times by the time the midwife had you cleaned up.
“A girl,” your mother had breathed, all weak-mouthed, sweet-lipped with candyfloss-eyes. Your father was there, breathing joy to the air as you had looked at them with blue sweet-toothed eyes and gold-glistened smile. Yes, they were quite taken by that beauty of yours.
Such sweet beginnings can have terrible ends, too. And for that, we are truly sorry.
Your childhood was average. Plain.
And, no, there is no need to scowl at that. Your father took you for walks in the park and fed you Cornish ice-cream with 99-flakes despite your mother’s reprimands. Your life was a joyous one, filled with happiness and sunshine-smiles.
“Changing your hair, you get that from me.” In his eyes the pride was as deep as the river. But how could he have known? That you’d drown in that river of his.
Surnames can surely be replaced but blood is blood and yours is one quite extraordinary type. Special child, remember?
Because, dear, you’re missing the point here.
Steel-eyes and roaring minds all string you to a dark canvas where burnt holes mark your rightful place, the thread is tightening. Tightening, closer still.
You’re getting it now?
It’ll be years later, when confronted with your legacy inside gilded frames and nameless smiles that you’ll be forced to face the threads. Family's smart like that, no matter where you run off to it'll catch up with you. You can change your face a million times over and it still won't change the fact. You have their chins, you know.
You want to be able to stop it, despite your mother’s gruesome tales of hatred and misdeeds. Even back then, you were still able to make out the catch of love in her voice. Love is like that; tying you to people you do not desire, only to rip you apart with the despair of it.
There is only one way families like this burn.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves, here.
The first time you meet, you’re both too young and time has yet to mature.
We know waiting is one horrid affair.
You won’t remember the first time he held your hand. Nor will you remember the last time.
Andromeda has invited her favourite cousin for a cup of tea. He’s brought his three friends. You'll see fate here soon enough.
You’re but a wee little thing, playing with ships and mermaids on the grass. The tail of one of the mermaids breaks off and suddenly he’s crouched low in front of your five year old face.
His eyes are the colour of your toy, Emmet the Elephant, which means you’ll love him forever. He’s repaired it in seconds and is gone, leaving you with this:
“You’ll be alright.” He ruffles your hair, returning to the table. He’s bare-skinned beautiful with no deep cuts marred across those acres of skin you’ll come to miss one day. It’s almost as if time is cruel this way; stripping him of things while building you up.
We are quite sorry.
Encounters pile to form a sign. Like most things, you won’t remember this. The feel of his fingers stroking through your hair or the way his smile had curved deliciously so. The change to the air, as if the world could sense that this was important. But this will be the memory he’ll recall and retrace when nights are cold.
Take it as a comfort, that even unbeknownst to you, he’ll take comfort in your innocent three-toothed smile and rosy sweet-cheeks lips. Butter-me-up-butter-noses and sweet smelling hair. Your son will smell just the same. He’s pretty sure you’re the best-smelling babies in the world.
Time is like that, bending over backwards, turning the memories until we have nothing but our own idealistic images of the past.
You’ll forget your last encounter, too.
It’s your supposedly, but not really-uncle who makes up your mind about becoming an auror.
“The thing about the future is… we can’t really do nothing about it but try and change the outcome as best as we can.”
He’s too young know-it-all with bright-eyed ideals and an unconquered cockiness-tilt to his head, youth blaring out from every tilt and turn. Quietly handsome, too, in that dark-headed way your family is. You’re seven and frankly just bewitched.
“We just need this damn war ended.”
He believed he could change the world, too.
You finish your first year and he finishes it in prison-cells with brick-walled beings hoarding next to him. You’ll have too much in common for comfort, come the end.
He nearly saw the end of that war, too.
“So you want to become an auror, do ya?”
Beacon eyes press against each nameless face in the shivering crowd. It might be the haunting shadow of a man who's lost so much, humping towards your group. Funny. The sneer clear on his drawn face scares you the most, not the words coming from his mouth.
“By the end of the year, five of you will have made it, another five will have died in the process.” The man straightens, eyeing the large crowd. “Welcome to the Academy, best you realize that you have no dear mother here.”
Welcome to your place.
You’re nineteen when you meet Remus Lupin again, for the not-really-counting-as-second time. It’s in an office, with white-clipped papers and lounge-music playing on the speakers. It’s safe. Protected. Dull.
You’re naïve and so young and brash. Bubble-gum pink brash.
“I want to fight, I want to win this war.” Your hands grip the table tightly, the skin stretched tightly across bones.The air is clogging up and eagerness tints your cheeks.
His eyes are patient. “Nobody ever wins wars.”
You'll consider him old-fashioned and that haughtiness of yours will have you rolling your eyes.
In the end when looking back, you'll see the wisdom. It's always been like this. Wisdom comes in reverse, and it tastes like metal between your teeth.
The first time you recognize he’ll make a difference in your life, it’s not a good difference.
His reputation has proceeded him. So has yours.
Needless to say, he’s not impressed. You can practically carve the disdain from his eyes, the betrayal of his former best friend deep-set in his eyes as a ghost shielding you from view. It won’t be the last time Sirius Black will come to stand between the two of you.
He leans away from the table, his arms crossed tightly over his chest, a petulant jut to his jaw. “I don’t trust you.”
There’s an angry tilt to his head. The light plays across his skin, shadowing him partly in darkness, his scars flashing in warning. It would be wise to be afraid, but when have you ever been wise?
“I’ve learnt to have a healthy portion of distrust when it comes to you Blacks. You’re all too… slippery.”
Of course, when he says it like that you can’t help but make it your mission to befriend this idiot. You come to think that you preferred ignorance to this. Taking responsibility for a past out of your reach. Humans tend to do this; taking time and holding it accountable as if this will make a difference.
It won’t, we can tell you this.
“I’m a Tonks.”
Your tone is ice-cold and clipped, anger a violent rush below your stomach. His eyes are baby-blue-bright like shadow-days and blinded warriors. But you can be a warrior, too.
He eyes you for some time, silent. The corner of his mouth twists, and it changes his entire face, giving it a handsome touch. You’re slightly fazed, the anger drying up when he reaches for your hand. The now full-blown smile on his face is gut-wrenching beautiful.
“Welcome to the Order, Tonks.”
We should tell you, but you already know:
This has no happy ending.
You’re still too young in that fooling around, not responsible-way that people have a habit of calling “finding yourself”.
Pink becomes your trademark, seeing as it’s as far removed from Black as it’s possible to get. The first time anyone calls you Black, they leave with their knickers glued to their foreheads.
You’ve been at the Ministry for two months when he calls you in for a mission. His face is a warning-sign that should have you running far away. It’s dented and greyish-blank with the screams of too many innocents still etched onto every pull and frown of his face. You’re quite sure it takes courage to wear his sorrow so blatantly on his sleeves. Later, you’ll learn that like most things, he does not have a choice.
Instead of fear, all you feel is a sharp interest, pulling you towards an older man – a deadly man.
He’s worldly, dry and quite beautiful in-between frowns.
“So, it seems I’ve been designated your mentor until you learn the ropes.” His stiff mask reveals nothing to your keen eyes. You’re a slight daredevil, falling for the older guy. But you just can’t ignore the kindness in his eyes.
“My lucky day.” Your voice is tense, flippant, as you flick your hair at him.
He smiles then, a half-arsed smile, but the first you’ve seen from him.
Yeah, we all know how this will end.
The first watch is always the hardest.
He’s brought coffee that he hands you wordlessly in the frigid dark. You grab the cup, warming your frozen digits on its steams as he watches you with a small smile. You lean your head against the brick-wall, searching for a more comfortable spot.
You learn to associate tilted heads with beaming smiles and nods with hugs. Yeah, Remus Lupin’s language is quite simple when understood.
“Is it always this… boring?” You ask through chattering teeth.
The smile that follows, warms you all up.
“You’ll get your blood and guts soon enough.”
For this, we are sorry.
People from good families don’t always turn out good. And people from bad families don’t always turn out bad.
Disappointment is to be had.
There are things you don’t discuss.
Like the way his eyes reflect fear as corporal as the landscape, how he’ll double-check his locks at night and those monthly visits to a grandma you both know he doesn’t have. He won't tell you of the truths found at the bottom of whiskey-glasses, or the ways a human can die without stopping to breathe.
You won’t discuss the harsh lies you tell him underneath the stars, and you won’t discuss Sirius, not ever. You tried once, though.
“How does it feel?”
“How does what feel?” He asks gruffly, his head snapping back to stare at you. There's something there in his eyes. It might be fear, but you're lacking in years, still unable to tell weaknesses on wizard-frowns. You blanch, only for a second, before grasping at the small bit of courage you possess.
“How does it feel to lose everyone you hold close?”
“Tonks,” Remus chides.
You should probably know:
Saving people for a living won’t save you. You’ll still die the exact same way as everyone else. The images will burn through your mind leaving nothing in its wake. It won't ease the fear; it won't ease the loss. The sooner you accept this, the easier it will all become.
You will lose this battle.
The empty eyes stare straight through you as you lift his head, neck jolting side-ways, your breath stutters and your arms give way. The body slumps to the ground, head lolling backwards, twisting out of way. The angle is all wrong and the face is too blank, too indifferent for such an important moment.
"Easy does it."
Remus's hand squeezes your shoulder, his soft touch contrasting against the bitter wind whirling against your stinging skin. "It's always strange seeing a corpse the first time."
But it isn't the first time, not by far.
You’ll kiss him first, you will.
His mouth is too large on yours at first, the tightness of his lips giving way to surprise, poised to escape. You won’t let him, though.
Your name, tinted with succulent surprise and - dare we say it? Tenderness. So much tenderness that you’ll surely drown in it. We’ve heard this before, haven’t we? That river of his may be lethal. Most love-stories are.
His tongue meets yours, caressing soft sweetness with tinged lips. As if saying, I surrender.
It’s a sweet, sweet surrender with his fingers gripping your hips too tightly, the taste of him earthy and tangible like the bitter taste of death on an otherwise silent night.
Makes you wonder.
Maybe signs do exist?
“I didn’t – I mean...” His voice falters as you sit in the darkness, always darkness, clutching each other’s hands. His hands are toasty warm, contrasting to your icy digits. Looking back, you'll surely see the signs.
“It’s okay,” you say, but for what, you don’t know.
"It feels like falling into a bottomless pit, hollering at the world, desperately reaching for something, but no one hears you, no one's there. You're just falling."
He's looking at you with unbarred honesty, eyes too full of something you have yet to grasp. It's like horror, your mind screaming stop!, suddenly terrified of that sadness inside his eyes. There is little to agree to, to nod or comfort, a hand too weak and ignorant on his sleeve, a small comfort in the end. It'll always be like this for you; terrified whimpers in shaded moments, when you tried to grasp a reality crueler than your own dreaming.
He continues, his voice too soft, catching in the wall, nearly bleeding into the room. It'll settle there, surely, a ghost of pasts lived inside your sallow walls, standing between the space of you.
"Losing them is free falling. Free falling into nothingness."
The point of no return slivers in while you’re not looking. He’s been this way for years, that sneaky bastard called time. Twisting and turning moments on you to make them unfathomably important. You’ll get this eventually. That it is not the cries, the roars of thunder nor the words that change you.
It’s the silences.
“Come here, dammit, come here.”
You stretch yourself to reach about him, to cradle his body within your arms. He's much too big for you, your arms straining to reach. His heaving breaths jut out against your collarbone, wet and cold in this darkness. You press a hand tightly against his wiry shoulders to stop the trembling. The milky-white light slivers across your heaving bodies, clutching you tightly. He's much too big for you.
You press your lips against his sticky rust-coloured skin. Your eyes are tightly shut and you murmur the words, pasts echoing in and out around you, slipping into the shadows, bleeding into the walls to settle between you.
“You’re alright, you’re alright.” (Tell us, does this seem familiar?)
It’s never been a secret, this two-faced monster that looms between the rise and fall of you.
There is only one way people like this burn.
He’s stunning in his sleep.
Leaves change their colours and so you can, too. The feel of his chest is a constant in this chaos. You’ll draw maps across cobweb-miracles of a heart that’s much too broken. Whisper quietly, I’ll save you.
Earning his love is like a slowly treasured treat threatening to bubble up. He’ll whisper love-notes and leave them in the corners of your mouth, only to recollect them like flowers, plucking them neatly from that rosebud of yours. Love means this, too. Even in a catastrophic war.
Not even wintry days can chill you.
Memorize this, please. We beg you.
Don't feel bad about staring at the family portrait at the Order. You all do it.
Don't mistake indifference for brashness. When you're not careful, you'll stop in front of the wall, eyes tracing each singed smile. You can almost see the smoke rising, higher still. The threads cutting through the smoke.
The heat crackles on calmly.
When the Ministry falls the only hope goes into hiding and disappears from view.
You fall pregnant. It's strange to wait for things one's not supposed to have. Guilt hangs around, impatience laced in the soft ticker of a heart that's much too innocent.
Remus looks at you with fear splayed across every pull of his mouth. You'll catch him staring at your stomach, his mouth upturned, a lost expression on his face. You'll pity him, surely, clutching at his weak smiles.
Some day, with enough courage to win this war, you may toast to this, to quiet surrenders, lonely houses and cotton-floss hair.
Nobody said your life would be average. Blacks never led boring lives. Yes, we know, Tonks, then. Remember; blood doesn’t change over time, and you may run like hell, change your face a million times over, but this is one thing you cannot change.
This is no tragedy. Don't you dare think that, don't you dare.
In the aftermath of Sirius's death it seemed as though the ghosts were as corporal as the two of you, standing in doorways and playing with the curtain. You'd find him in the breeze sweeping across your cheeks, the rumbling of thunder under dark clouds.
Now, you'll start to remember strange things. Like how he liked his tea black. The way he'd watch the tapestry, eyes drawn towards the names as if not even by choice.
He had done it, too.
It’s not romantic in the end.
It’s morbid, desperate and hurtful, especially the way he looks at you. Razor-sharp, black glances that’ll cut you open. Like maybe happy does exist and it's what you'll never have inside these shallow halls. You’ll make love every night and barely breathe for mere fear of losing this inside you.
You’ve taken to call it the Worm, just to keep the emotions at bay. There are moments, weak moments, when you’re not even sure you love it or him. Then there are moments when you think you can’t possibly love anything more.
“Best choose your own poison, huh?” You joke during the evening news, his body slumped in an armchair by the fire.
“It’s not funny.”
“I’m not laughing.”
It’s not the first time you’ll cry yourself to sleep, his breathing too fast beside you. Still, he doesn’t reach for you. Everyone’s allowed to be scared. You’re still a little girl sometimes, his role slightly too old for you, his posture too mature.
He wasn’t meant to feel this old.
You had golden days, too.
He gives you a ring, promises that he never should have made laced into the very air he breathes. There are tears here, joy, too, surely. You can't dismiss this, but neither can he.
It's feeble in the beginning, tentatively reaching for the future. Dreaming up happy endings that you'll never have. Picket-fences and 1.5 kids. Your smile stretching far across mountains and Remus's face free of scars.
Sorry, we are so sorry.
You'll wait with impatience, flirty on most days, his blush urging you on. There is laughter, lingering touches that say much more. It'll brighten days, that sweet beginning of first-loves.
For now, though, there is a notice crackling through the radio, the voices going in and out of focus, but the message clear.
"Tell... me..." Your breath hiccups, your arms curling around the open wound in your chest. There are images here, snapshots of pride and joy, your mother rings clear but to no avail. You suddenly get the phrase if I could turn back time, and you so, so would. It's the hiss of the blade, the finality of a wand raised. Life leaving open eyes. You know death, you just didn't think he'd become a close acquaintance. Daddy's girl is quite lost.
"Tell me what how it feels to lose everyone you love?"
His eyes are endless. He presses his lips against your forehead, the touch scorching as he holds you tightly to his chest, his heart a stutter against your hand. In the end, he is just a boy. He's still just a boy.
"It's free fall. Free fall into nothingness."
This is what burning feels like.
You'll stand in front of the mirror and change yourself, your father's warm gaze stuttering into view for mere seconds before the pain becomes too much. You'll keep at it for days, the burning urge to see his face enough motivation to keep your will to stand, to move, to live.
You won't master it in the end. His face will be too young, or there will be a wrinkle wrongly placed, his eyes slanted slightly too much. See, memory is like that. Inaccurate.
It's always been a power, being able to change yourself to suit your needs. Now it feels more like a curse, your head evolving, morphing into face after face. No matter how many times you close those eyes and conjure an image of your dead father, the replica won't ever commit.
As the weeks drone on, it becomes harder to master it, his face becoming more and more anonymous. You'll find pictures, memorizing the right curves, the slanted nose. It still won't work, the reflection off. After a while, you won't even be able to tell the difference between right or wrong anymore.
It's still a work in process, forgiving yourself for forgetting.
In a quiet moment of surrender, you’ll whisper against that weak hollow of his neck, the baby-bump lying between you, heavy on the bed.
(and you’ll sound so sincere, so truthfully accurate that he’ll still have trouble evading this memory, come the end).
His voice is bottomless.
“I wish I could be more for you.”
And you’ll remember, the memories twisted and out of order, some too vivid to remember, but you’ll remember that sweet timid smile of his and his laughter inside the office on a summer’s day. Joy so real you could taste it.
You’ll force yourself to traipse along those succulent days and ignore the grey clouds outside your window, just to remember what it is to breathe.
You keep on forgetting, see?
It's alright to imagine how it would look. It's okay to watch your hand ignite the curtains, watch the flames consume acres of land, eating away the carpet, the tapestry, the paintings, the velvety blue couch. See it burn it all, erase everything.
It's alright to want to forget, to want to erase history. To erase your story. Let the flames consume all you are, all you'll ever be.
It'll take everything until all you'll be is Dora.
Dora. Pretty eyed Dora with the baby and her own love. No flames. No horrible past. No strings tied onto a canvas. No dark-eyed blood inside your veins.
You are both broken, so perhaps that’s why you let him break you a bit more. His arms encircle you, holding you tightly against his chest, his breathing loud and harsh in your ears, egging you on. You can feel his heart beat against your back, your own a deafening drum in your ears.
There’s the brief, familiar, acid taste of panic as you eye this lonely house, these lonely walls with the sound of two lonely people fighting for life. Remember, you’re twenty-five. It’s time for the big girl-panties now.
Come on, now. Lift that head up high.
His voice breaks behind you, rough with fear. You didn’t know there could be so much love in one word. Your body cramps up again, he pushes back your hair, his fingers stroking the softness of your skin. You can feel his tears on your cheek, wet and hot against your skin. Your pain is his pain.
You break yourself for love.
Three screams mix, echoing into the world. All beginnings are bloody.
(“A boy, a boy, he’s perfect, perfect…”)
The radio drones on and on, their voices slightly off, panic lacing the tone as they read up the names of the dead. It's monotonous, a blank tone as they name faceless stranger.
Silence descends, the crackles of the radio playing as the only sound before they continue on. It's almost as if you can hear the sobs from families, cries rising. This can't be happening -
You know that feeling. Can't be.
“He’ll be Prime Minister, he will.” You lift your son up into the air, his hair flickering rainbow-yellow, pink, green. “Or better yet, cure the world of evil. You're brilliant, so, so brilliant.”
His tooth-less smile is so beautiful it makes you ache.
“He’ll save the whole world, surely.” Remus presses his lips tightly against your neck, love thick in his voice. Ted gurgles, sticky kisses against the nape of your neck, sweet-smelling baby-breath.
You’re overestimating yourself, here.
There will come a time with his breathing curling in the hollow of your throat, the baby cooing in the corner, that your hands will stroke his face, bringing his eyes to meet yours. The fear feels corporal, as real as you in this room.
The flowers are blooming.
His eyes are the colour of your Emmet, the Elephant, so you'll let him take it all. Trust is like that, all or nothing. Giving until you have nothing left. He presses a hand against your lips, one touch for the memories. You'll kiss each finger quietly, your eyes holding his.
It’s the silences that will do you in.
And we are sorry.
We are so sorry that he had to die, and we are sorry, too, for that orphan-son growing up next to photographs, searching out resemblances between frowns and too narrow noses inside gilded frames.
Bad people don’t necessarily come from bad families and good people don’t necessarily come from good families.
Let this bring you comfort.
Allow yourself five seconds of grief. Five seconds of grief, but only five seconds. Imagine your would-be-future, the kids, the smiles, home-baked cakes, Remus's lingering kisses along the nape of your neck, his breath against your mouth, in, out, in out.
Gather it all.
And let go.
You’ll watch his grin turn five shades of desperate happy-sad, and watch as he takes ribs for ribs, turning backwards, arching towards the ground, and you’ll remember what it is to burn.
“You’ll be alright,” you’ll whisper sweet-soft in his ear. You’ll hold his hand, too. And kiss those deadly lips. Notice how much Ted looks like him in his sleep. Tears are drowning his face, washing away the bloodstains coating his lips and neck.
This can't be, can't be.
It's a kaleidoscope parade of memories, of his smile and laughter. And then it's free fall. Free fall into nothingness.
Like a thread snapping free. Snap, snap.
You nearly saw the end of this, too.
There's a house on the hill, a grand house with large windows and a garden full of flowers, so full of all you could ever want. And in that house there is a canvas of a family's legacy.
Don't feel bad. We all do it.
In that house the walls are burning, flames licking up the sides of coal-eyes and curled tapestry. It's as if the screams are silent, a violent sweep of wind against the windows as the flames eat across threads. The strings will snap, one by one, as it crumbles.
Don't feel bad. Everything ends.
The heat crackles on, calmly.
There is only one way people like this burn.