Written for the Quidditch League Fanfiction Competition. Thanks to Lizzie for being my beta!
Prompt: Write about your OTP dealing with a death. I have many OTPs, so it was a hard choice, but I've had this idea for a while and it all came together pretty well, so...
Word count: 2,994
Eduardus Limette Black was the first member of The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black to be disowned, and he likely wore funny scarves and whispered innuendos over the edges of dainty teacups at tittering witches in bonnets while being utterly inappropriate under chessboards when no one was watching. He was probably disowned for dramatically freeing one hundred and fifty three slaves; muggle bootlicker, they probably called him, and he might have fled the family home on horseback, dark hair flowing in the wind, vowing to never again set foot upon such accursed grounds.
It must have all been quite dramatic, really.
It's the early afternoon on a Friday, late June. The leaves of the tree outside brush against the window pane – she's closed the window to stop the cold wind from permeating the kitchen. The darkness makes her small, cluttered flat remind them of Grimmauld Place.
Remus leans forwards with his elbows against the table. Tonks has given up on tablecloths – they cause unnecessary spillages when one misplaces elbows, and it's not like she's hosting dinner parties often, anyway – so between their two cups of tea and a small pile of spilled salt, they make a dreary scene.
She drags her index finger through the salt she has spilled, making satisfyingly neat lines. Her legs are curled up on the bench beneath her and she's a burst of color in the shadowy kitchen, which is lit only by the cloudy light bouncing off her neon orange T-shirt and violet hair.
"What are you doing?" Remus asks, breaking the silence.
Tonks looks up. The lines on his face – already too marked for a man his age – look even more pronounced than usual due to his stubble and lack of sleep. The greyish-green of his eyes is hollow, and it reflects the desperate confusion of a young man rather than the calm resignation of an old one.
She shrugs. "I've been interested in them for a while, you know," she says. "Mum hated talking about them; but I was always sort of a rebel." She grins at him.
Remus raises a weary eyebrow. "So you draw family trees into your salt?"
She exhales a low laugh. Tiny specs of salt creep across the table towards him. "I just – it's like I'm a part of them. Sort of. In a weird way. I know they were all nasty old codgers; one of them just tried to kill me, for Merlin's sake, but… you know, they can't all have been like that."
His eyes have grown dark at her mention of Bellatrix. She's covered up the bruises and cuts that the Healers say will take weeks to heal – it was powerful Dark Magic, and Tonks is thankful she's a metamorphmagus, if only to avoid seeing the pain in Remus' eyes. Ironic, that the man covered in scars is the most horrified at seeing them in others. Remus' knuckles are white against his worn sweater, muscles tense as he almost physically holds himself together. She looks away.
"But, you know, with these old families," she continues, and takes a sip of her tea. It has cooled, and she swallows it easily. "It's the infamous ones that are always remembered – the crazy ones who did horrible things."
A mirthless smile stretches Remus' lips. He hasn't touched his tea. "There's always one side of the story that's favored. And the more prejudiced the family, the more that story becomes the only one. With them more so than any other, I dare say. They were all prejudiced in some way."
He won't say the last name. Sirius Black Being Dead is at the top of the list of Things Remus Doesn't Talk About, followed closely by Peter Pettigrew Isn't and Remus Lupin Lives In A Room At The Back Of A Muggle Store Because He Can't Afford Anything Else.
She respects the list.
He doesn't call her Nymphadora.
"That can't be true," she says. "We're all prejudiced in some way, aren't we? They weren't any different. The forgotten ones, I mean."
He relaxes his fists and leans back, resting against the frame of the couch. The flat is so small that all the pieces of furniture touch each other in some way. He offers Tonks a look of pained skepticism. "They all were. Look at Kreacher."
And she knows what he means; he's talking about Sirius, and it's so bizarre to discuss him in the past tense when a little over a week ago the three of them had sat much in this same way, but at Grimmauld Place, sharing stories and trying to stop Sirius from maiming his House-Elf. She knows Remus is referring to the hatred Sirius directed towards Kreacher until he sealed his own fate.
She reaches forwards and pushes his teacup towards him to remind him to drink, because Remus forgets to eat and drink sometimes; and she wonders about her ancestors, burnt off a tapestry for actions she will never discover. And as her breath stirs the salt on the table and the thin lines of the family tree fade away, she wonders what will come of Sirius Black in family records – remembered as little more than a boy who ran away from home and ended up in Azkaban for murder.
And the worst part is, there isn't anyone left to care.
Isla Black was sister to Phineas Nigellus, which was likely a factor in convincing her to get the hell out of the house. She probably dressed up as a man and visited muggle taverns, where she met Bob Hitchens, who shared her love for literature and very small dogs, and had no inclinations towards politics or large families, but enjoyed being in the countryside. Once they straightened out whether she was a man or not, eloping fit both her love for dramatic romance and isolation from pretentious family members, and she hopefully spent the rest of her life caring for pets in the countryside and trying to explain to Bob Hitchens why the garden roses sometimes walked around the sitting room.
The next morning is sunny, and they meet at her flat before going to King's Cross to pick up the kids from Hogwarts with Mad-Eye – except Remus arrives an hour early, which she's glad of, because Remus looks like he's fading slowly, and even though he smiles at her when she sees him it's not alive enough, so she sits him at the kitchen table and feeds him carrot cake, because why not.
It's the sort of thing they used to do for Sirius, anyway.
She's wearing a blue halter top while she looks for her Weird Sisters T-shirt, and she relishes in his amused surprise when he catches sight of the dragon that is writhing on her left shoulderblade, emitting silent puffs of red fire.
"I got it last year during my holiday – makes a nice change, I think."
"A tattoo?" he asks. "Is there really a point?"
Tonks shrugs. "It's hard to morph something so good, and even harder to get it to move." The dragon hisses at Remus; she puts on a jacket before grabbing another slice of cake.
The dragon must remind him of something, because he leans back again, running a hand through his thin hair.
"You know," he says in a hoarse voice. "I spent twelve years hoping he was dead, and now he is, and I can't –"
"That doesn't make it okay."
She clutches her fingers together and forces her hair to stay pink; the grief is collecting in her throat and the words tumble out, dark against the sunny day. "It's not okay he died. It's not okay that it happened in front of Harry. It's not okay that the only reason she got to him was because she got through me -"
"But that's understandable."
She laughs shortly. "But it doesn't make it okay."
His jaw clenches. He holds her gaze, and she wonders if he feels the same way she does.
"We shouldn't have left him alone so long," he says.
Tonks takes the plate full of crumbs and throws it into the garbage.
Phineas Black would have been Isla's nephew, but his reasons to be disowned were likely much more principled than hers were. He might have been Norvel Twonk's friend, and after many wild adventures encountering magical creatures, his friend's heroic rescuing of a muggle child may have precipitated his interest in muggle rights. He must have scandalized his parents, and after escaping his father's furious confinement, dedicated his life to scandalizing more people by fighting against the abuse of muggles.
Or something of the sort.
They leave the Order meeting together, and they drink tea, because it's tradition, because it's how they learned to avoid getting Sirius drunk.
She doesn't ask him where he's living now, or ask him how he feels about the news of new attacks. The Order spent the past five hours discussing plans in agonizing detail, just as they did in Sirius' kitchen, as if nothing has changed.
Tonks grinds her teeth and watches Remus pour the kettle into the china he's charmed for her – teacups have always been the death of her, what with all the times she's dropped them – and she can't bring herself to think about sleeping, because she doesn't want Remus to leave… she's heard enough of Dumbledore's delicate silence to understand that there's something in store, something too dangerous to mention now.
Remus sets the warm teacup between her cold hands and sits beside her. The night is cold and she has drawn her knees up to her chin, and so they sit shoulder to shoulder, leaning against the back of the couch. They probably look ridiculous.
"What was he like?" Tonks asks, and maybe it's the warmth of the tea, but she thinks there's an appealing curve to his lips. "Before?"
"He was a lot like you," he murmurs. "Rebellious." She shoots him a playful glare; the curve of his lips turns into a smile. "More rash than you, though, more careless – but less clumsy."
And then they laugh, because the noise covers up heartbreak, and the fact that she never knew a cousin before Sirius – a cousin who knew about magic, who approved of her pink hair and her dragon tattoo; a cousin who could make Remus smile, even if it's through memories – and she wonders if rebelliousness is the link between the scorch marks on rotting tapestries, wonders if it means anything, wonders what it must do to a person to be so isolated, spending fourteen years imprisoned, be it in Azkaban or in a house, or even in their own mind…
She wonders if being locked away makes one begin to fade.
She wonders if Sirius was afraid of fading away.
Marius Black was a squib, despite all his family's attempts to hide the fact. Unlike his squib predecessors, Marius must have been different; daring, cunning. He must have immersed himself in sciences that perplexed his family and become a close associate with muggle criminals, using his wider knowledge to keep both sides in the dark as he moved stealthily between the magical and the muggle world, creating alliances everywhere. His family was likely terrified of crossing him, and blasted him off the tapestry in an attempt to forget the confusing terror of his existence.
But Marius would continue to lurk as a shadow, defying the rules of both his worlds and thriving until death.
Tonks slams and locks the door behind her and faces him with fiery eyes, and he stands with his hands in his pockets and that stupid, sheepish, noble look on his face that she wants to tear off because it's painful to watch.
"This is insane."
"Necessary?" she echoes. "This is Greyback! He's dangerous!"
She tosses her jacket onto the kitchen bench. Striding towards him, she fixes him with furious eyes.
"Don't try to hide it from me, Remus. This wasn't in Dumbledore's plans."
"You don't know that–"
"I know that it wasn't a factor until suddenly, now–"
"There's a war!"
"I'm well aware of that!" she exclaims. His eyes are irritatingly understanding, as if he's planned this conversation and is prepared, while she most certainly is not. "But I know Dumbledore didn't tell you to do this – you suggested it."
His silence is enough of a response.
She steps away, suddenly breathless, as if she's been slapped. The tiny living room feels cold, and she can only think of Sirius and his stupid sense of self-destruction, his badly-grown vengeance that trumped any instinct of self-preservation. She wonders how many werewolves have been erased from the family tree, consumed by their own grief – men who, having lost all things, found power at least in choosing their manner of death.
Remus reaches for her elbow. His fingers are rough against her skin, blistered. She doesn't want him to leave – not her flat, not London, not her life, not now.
"You're an Auror, Tonks, you know that this is necessary. This is war, and there are sacrifices–"
"Sacrifices, yes." She's proud that no tears fall from her eyes. "Not mad acts of self-destruction." Her stomach tenses and she lets out the one last resource she has left. "Sirius wouldn't have let you."
There's a beat, and she's suddenly terrified that he'll let go of her arm, but he doesn't – his grasp is firm and she can feel the rise and fall of his chest against her. When he speaks, his voice is barely more than a breath. "Sirius was far from rational, Tonks… he was a danger to himself."
"And you're doing the same thing. You're trying to get yourself killed."
His eyes are dark.
Cedrella Black married Septimus Weasley, which probably shouldn't have gotten her disowned since he was a Pureblood, but Weasley must have been a Blood Traitor name since the beginning of time, and she accepted forgetting her maiden name in favor her new one. She clutched the tumultuous years of her childhood close to her heart and chose innocence rather than harsh reality for her offspring.
She likely died a mother and a wife. But not a Black.
Tonks doesn't know how long they have – maybe a week? He talks among the Order like he still intends to return, with that collected voice of his that sounds so much like Sirius' did in meetings. She hardly sleeps; the Ministry keeps her busy and she's grateful for the distraction, even though the stories of Greyback's assaults somehow manage to make their way to her ears.
Her mother sends letters begging her to be careful, and she wonders if Andromeda still considers herself a Black. There are so many similarities she's found between Andromeda and Sirius. It's in the little things; Sirius' laughter at her mother's quirks, their shared habit of eating pickles whole, a mad passion for Quidditch teams and something about their expressions…
And she wonders if Remus is taking all his things, or if he will leave them behind in that room, or if he even has enough things to carry… it makes her think of Sirius' bedroom, filled with memories of his childhood that are collecting dust. The Order never talks about Sirius anymore. He's left very little mark.
When Remus appears at her flat again, she knows he's leaving soon; there's something about his eyes.
She doesn't ask.
He silently helps her make tea, and when she drops two plates with a crash, he repairs them. She's got an imaginary fist clutching at her heart, and this time they sit on the couch and pretend to drink tea. And she thinks she's about to reach for the sugar, but instead she reaches for his hand.
He sets down his teacup so serenely it's almost infuriating, and she doesn't have time to react to the way he's looking at her, like he's found something, like he needs her, like he understands the words she can't say – because her other hand has found his chest and his lips are hot against hers, and she couldn't imagine, couldn't dare to think that he would feel like this, that he would reach around her waist and pull her closer, kiss her like he's been craving her.
And now the Things Remus Doesn't Talk About don't matter, not while her hands are warm under his shirt and he's holding her impossibly close on his lap in warm acceptance–
"I'm the only one left," he whispers.
And me too, she thinks, though she doesn't say it – because it's not the same, but she feels that she's lost something, somewhere in the long lists of names that share her blood but would never value her because of it; once there existed Blacks who should have been remembered, but weren't. Once there was a Sirius Black who shouldn't have lived the way he did and shouldn't have died the way he had.
"Something got them all in the end – James, Sirius, even Peter… though Peter died long before we ever thought," he breathes into her hair, eyes clenched closed. "And I don't know how long it'll take until it reaches me."
She skims his cheek with her lips and whispers: "I won't let you go."
And she knows Remus knows that she doesn't mean the mission – it was never really about the mission – he understands, and the warmth of his body envelops her as he opens his eyes and presses his lips to hers.
And she doesn't know if Eduardus, Isla, Phineas, Marius or Cedrella ever lived the lives she hopes they did; she likes to think that eventually they died in all the ways they wanted to die, as the people they had wanted to be.
She hopes that they all found peace, in the end.