Title: The Way Back To Daylight
Rating: PG-13 throughout (I'll post adult versions of later chapters at my livejournal)
Other Pairings: Remus/Tonks (prologue only), Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Snape/Regulus, James/Lily, Luna/Parvati
Disclaimer: The Harry Potter series (and all it entails) belongs to J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros. and various publishing companies, not me. No infringement intended. I'm not making money out of this.
Summary: A search for a gift turns into an unexpected quest; a chance for Remus to regain everything he's lost. Or, at least, the most important thing. (RemusxSirius)
Night and day lie open the gates of death's dark kingdom:
But to retrace your steps, to find the way back to daylight—
That is the task, the hard thing.
- Virgil, Aeneid, VI. 128-130 (Oxford World Classics Ed.)
Two letters, one photograph. Tonks knelt on the bedroom carpet and laid them out in a row. Both letters were in the same hand, but one had been written the usual way, on parchment, while the other was pencil-scrawled on paper.
Fingers pressed to her mouth, Tonks picked up the photograph. It was a casual shot of two young men, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, taken by someone sitting opposite them at the Leaky Cauldron. They were saluting the camera with overflowing mugs, grinning like they owned the world.
This, Tonks realised, was the earliest photo of Remus she'd ever seen. As far as she knew, there weren't any others, not even childhood albums. She'd never asked why. Actually, she'd never given it much thought, but now she wished he'd kept them; she'd never seen him so flushed and happy. He would have looked completely different if it weren't for his golden-brown eyes, and his grin that, even then, was full of secrets.
Sirius, too, was almost unrecognisable. His face was unlined and open, too smooth and delicate to be handsome, though he was beautiful in a not-of-this-earth kind of way. He was trying his best to look tough, though, in his bulky leather jacket and stud earring, with a pirate tilt to his mouth.
Remus always spoke of Sirius as though he'd been reckless, powerful and charming, but Tonks could only remember desperation and helplessness, and the sound of Sirius yelling at someone in another room, the words muffled. Now, with the photograph clutched in her hand, she saw Sirius through Remus's eyes. Everyone else had focused on the changes wrought by grief and Azkaban; only Remus had tried to bring Sirius back, to restore him. He would have succeeded, too, if Sirius had lived. Tonks was sure of it.
She'd often wondered what their relationship had been like in their youth, and she couldn't help being interested by their behaviour in the photograph. Remus's arm was looped over Sirius's shoulders, his long-fingered hand dangling loose and open above his lover's heart. It could have been a gesture between friends, nothing more, until Remus turned to kiss Sirius's earring, his mouth curving with bliss. Sirius twisted in his chair and their lips met, wet and open.
Tonks turned the photograph over and set it down. On the other side, yellowed with age, someone had written March 1979. She'd turned six in 1979. Thinking back, she couldn't remember anything about that year except her birthday party (fairy costumes and a purple cake) and a few Christmas presents (The Amazing Agatha: Auror Adventuress, a box of sparkly hair-ties, and a puffskein she'd named Squeak).
She picked up the parchment letter and decided she wouldn't read it. She'd only wanted a thicker pair of socks because the heating charms were down and Remus wasn't home to warm her up. That was all she'd expected when she'd reached into his sock drawer.
Well, there was no harm done. All she needed to do was put everything back and pretend she'd never seen it. She glanced down at the letter, then looked at the open drawer. She imagined putting the letter back in the drawer without reading it; tucking it in under the socks, then closing the drawer and trying to forget. The letter smelt of old ink and paper and faintly, strangely, of sweat. It was creased all over; it had been scrunched and folded and straightened and pressed a hundred times. She couldn't put it away.
Tonks scowled. She sat, glaring at the letter, and chewed her thumbnail to the quick. In a moment, another nail had grown to take its place, so she chewed that one as well.
She was going to read it. She had to. Fuck it. She would read both of them. Why not? Remus had hidden them in his sock drawer and hadn't transfigured them into socks, so he deserved it. Besides, she'd been living with him for more than two years. If she didn't have the right to go through his sock drawer, then who did?
Still kneeling, Tonks lifted the letter close to her face because the handwriting was jagged and loopy, nearly impossible to read.
I used to be able to say it's been a month and fifteen days since I've seen you, I miss you so much and I'll see you soon. Now I don't know what day it is. I don't know where you are or what you're doing.
It was a dark day. I mean really, actually dark. The whole forest burned. So much smoke the sky was black. It turned the moon red at night. Really pale red, though, not like blood at all, more like it was blushing, it was ashamed of what it saw. I don't know why they did it. Maybe just because they could. I keep saying we should get back to England to fight but apparently this is more important right now and I'm sure this is boring you so I'll shut up.
I love you. I know I said it before but I thought it was just love. I thought it was just like people normally mean but honestly I can't do anything without you. Fuck, I hate you. You're so bloody cold. So cruel to me when I know I was wrong. How many times do I have to apologise? I feel like you want me to die saying sorry over and over until I can't breathe. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It was one-off and stupid and I was lonely because it had been a really long time without you and he looked like you.
I know this sounds half-arsed but it's the best I can do when I don't know where you are and you won't talk to me. Please be there when I get back. I'll make you tea and read to you and we'll sit up late talking and I'll kiss you. Moony. I love you. I belong to you.
Tonks closed her eyes and let the letter drift to the floor. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and realised her feet were still freezing. Her shoulders were cramped and one of her legs had gone to sleep, but she couldn't move.
She'd never read or written a letter like it. Why had Remus kept that letter? There must have been hundreds of letters between them and he'd kept that one, the most desperate, aggravating, loving words Sirius could have written. Despite the intensity of the letter, something told Tonks that it wouldn't have swayed Remus. Sirius, undoubtedly, had returned to an empty flat; and yet, Remus had kept Sirius's letter.
Shaking her head, Tonks picked up the second letter. In for a penny, in for a pound, as her dad would have said. This letter was even more difficult to read, because it had obviously been erased and rewritten a number of times.
I can't tell you where I am or anything about what I'm doing. I just wanted you to know that I'm alive. And, as it turns out, I still have most of my teeth. Buckbeak is well too, although he doesn't favour the heat, has shed lots of feathers and squints all the time. I bought him a pair of sunglasses but he didn't appreciate my sense of humour.
I hope you're all right. Dumbledore told me you're not working for him anymore, but he didn't say why. I hope maybe we can meet soon but I'm not sure where or how. There are a lot of things I don't remember well and I'm hoping we can talk about them. I'm looking forward to seeing you again.
I never forgot about us and I still feel the same way I've always felt. Of course it's been a long time for you and you've moved on and everything. I just thought I should tell you. Maybe that means you won't want to see me again and if that's true then don't write back because I don't think I can hear it.
That was all, then. Tonks set the second letter down, stood up, and slumped backwards onto the bed, her arms and legs spread wide across the covers. Staring at the ceiling, cracked and cream-painted, she remembered how Remus had kissed her goodbye two days ago, with a brush of lips against her cheek. His breath had smelt of marmalade-on-toast and he'd said, "See you soon."
The letters and photograph were remnants of a relationship that had shaped his whole life. Tonks knew him well, but until now she hadn't understood how he'd handled his grief. As she stared up at the bedroom ceiling, she could see it clearly.
Most of the time, Remus didn't let himself think about Sirius. He hadn't reread the letters in years, but he took out the photograph every once in a while, to see Sirius's face. He'd thought about getting rid of them, but he couldn't bear to. They were all he had left. He kept them buried in his sock drawer because he didn't want his girlfriend to find them. He didn't want to hurt her. He'd never wanted to hurt her.
Tonks knew what she had to do. She stood, stretched, re-hid the papers, then grabbed a pair of Remus's thick woollen socks. He'd be gone all week, so he wouldn't notice. He was off on a trip with his students, studying kobolds. He wrote every second day or so, and his letters were about what the kids had been up to and the book he'd been reading and the film he wanted to see. He always asked how she was and how work was going. He never wrote I love you. I belong to you. and he rarely said he missed her; but maybe he'd written normal letters to Sirius, too. After all, he hadn't saved any of his own.
Frowning, Tonks padded to the kitchen and made herself a mug of tea. She put on a Weird Sisters record, full blast, but she kept hearing Sirius's voice, low and rough, saying Moony. I love you. She wasn't sure why those particular words had stuck. Maybe it was the nickname, Moony. No one called Remus by his nickname anymore. The tight-knit group he'd belonged to, the Marauders, no longer existed. He was the last surviving member. His adventures were over and, Tonks sometimes thought, if someone wrote a book about Remus's life, it would end at Peter's death. She and Remus were living in a hastily written epilogue: And the two of them resided contentedly in a little house in Dorset for the rest of their days.
The house was small, clean and redbrick; on the outside it looked like every Muggle house in the neighbourhood. It had a front yard of trimmed rosebushes and trees, and a neat lawn at the back that sprouted white daisies and dandelions in the spring. Every day, The Times and a bottle of milk were delivered to the door.
Appearances were deceiving, of course. Inside, the house was filled with colourful furniture from around the world, most of it magical. The walls were hung with moving pictures, and lined with ceiling-high bookshelves stocked mainly with spell books. Potions ingredients took up several kitchen cupboards, and there was a large black cauldron on the bench beside the stove.
None of this was new to Tonks; she'd lived in a house like it for most of her life. What was new was her feeling of responsibility; she was in charge now, she was the co-owner, and it was up to her to spend the rest of her life living in this house, making it a home. Well, it was up to her and Remus.
Tonks sipped her tea and stared out the kitchen window, watching as the wind shook some last leaves from an oak tree. She imagined a tyre-swing hanging from its branches, and Remus pushing a laughing, squealing child.
There was no going past it; Tonks wanted all the usual things out of life. Things Remus hadn't wanted for years, if ever. His story might have reached the epilogue, but hers was only getting started, and she was looking forward to the next chapter. She wanted to experience everything Remus had experienced and more. Above all, she wanted someone to send her a love letter that she'd keep in her sock drawer forever.
On Friday night, Remus returned by floo. He found Tonks asleep on the couch, wrapped in her favourite violet blanket. She was snoring, loudly, and her feet twitched against the armrest. Her hair was the colour of oil shifting across dark water, with occasional bursts of bright yellow. With a smile, Remus summoned a glass of Ogden's Finest and sat for a while, watching her. He took slow sips of his drink, savouring it after his weeklong break from alcohol.
When he finished, he set his glass down on the coffee table and picked up The Daily Prophet, lying open at the real estate section. He wondered why Tonks had been looking at that part of the paper. House hunting for Harry and Ginny? He noticed she'd circled a couple of flats, both in London near the Ministry. They were tiny one-bedroom, one-bathroom flats, but they boasted talking mirrors on the bathroom cabinets, something Tonks had always been fond of.
Remus frowned and looked up at his lover. She mumbled something in her sleep and rolled over, her snoring cutting off. He reread the flats she'd circled and decided they certainly weren't for Harry and Ginny. Why had she circled them, then? He couldn't think of any reason except one, but he didn't want to contemplate it. He just wanted to take a shower, go to bed, and discuss this in the morning, when Tonks would hopefully provide another explanation.
He was about to move, but Tonks snorted and sat up suddenly, rubbing her eyes with her palms. As she stretched her arms above her head, her muscles shifted and reformed several times before returning to their usual shape. Remus tried to fold the paper back to the way he'd found it, but as soon as it rustled she turned to face him, smiling.
"Oh," she said, after a wide yawn. "Wotcher – oh fuck." She'd noticed The Prophet, and her expression told Remus everything he'd dreaded.
"Yes," he replied. "I expect you weren't planning to tell me like this."
"I just closed my eyes for a minute. Didn't realise I was so tired," she said. "Look, Remus –"
"It's all right," he said, with a strained smile.
It wasn't, of course. He'd been feeling pleasantly warm and numb from the Firewhiskey, but now he was just numb. He'd had so much practice with being hurt, in every way imaginable, that he'd become like a stone at the bottom of a riverbed, smoothed out by the current but still hard, down in the cold and dark.
Tonks curled up, her knees to her chest, and put her face in her hands. "Honestly, Remus, I was only looking," she said, then shook her head. "Well, actually…I was thinking about things. I was thinking a lot, while you were away. I picked up the paper, and I thought, that flat looks nice, and I just started…I mean, I didn't mean to –"
"As I said, Nymphadora, it's all right."
She looked up at him, her eyelashes wet and her mouth turned down. "Please don't call me that."
"You're leaving me," he said, his voice still mild. "I'll call you what I like."
Tonks stood up, moving as though she wanted to walk over and touch him. Then she paused and said, "Remus…"
He stared up at her. "Is there someone else?" he asked.
Tonks didn't look guilty, but she didn't seem surprised by the question. Briefly, he wondered whether she knew what Sirius had done, years ago, to the boy he'd been. She couldn't know, of course. He'd never told her.
"No," she said. "There's no one else. I wouldn't do that to you."
Remus stared at her for few more seconds, then pressed his hand over his eyes. He wasn't crying; he hadn't cried in years. He wasn't even shaking, but Tonks was there in a moment, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and rocking him. He could smell her shampoo, her mild soap, and the scent of her underneath; her hair, her sweat and her breath. She was sleep-warm and supple, and her breasts were crushed against his collarbone. He pressed his lips to the smooth skin of her neck.
"I love you," she said.
"I love you, too."
"I'm leaving you, though," she whispered, into his hair.
In 1981, when Sirius was arrested, Remus returned from a mission in Helsinki to the flat they'd shared since Hogwarts. At first, he didn't know how he'd sort through their possessions. He wanted to vanish them all, or to send them far off into the ocean, but he didn't have the money to buy food, let alone furniture. In the end, he divided his possessions from Sirius's with a ruthlessness that, the year before, would have been unimaginable to them both. It only took two days.
The worst part turned out to be the ordinary traces of Sirius; not the objects he left behind, but rather his use of them. There was a mushy bar of soap in the shower, a crumpled towel on the hallway floor, an unmade bed that reeked of alcohol and masturbation, and a kitchen stocked with mouldy, half-eaten food.
Remus kept expecting to find evidence of Sirius's infidelity, but there was none. The most interesting discovery was a teetering stack of photographs on the bedside table, blurred with fingerprint smudges. Most were of Remus, just Remus, dating back to when he was child, before he was bitten. A few were of the two of them, though, out at parties and pubs and on holidays, with Sirius behaving as though he was in love.
While looking at these photographs, Remus realised he'd never be able to trust anyone again. He destroyed them, one by one, with wordless burning spells.
He decided to keep the last photograph as a reminder, and slipped it into his pocket. For the next thirteen years he took it everywhere with him, along with one of Sirius's letters. He rarely looked at them or even thought of them, but like tremors deep within the earth, their hidden presence shaped the landscape of his life.
Tonks decided not to move to London. When she left for Romania, she sold her half of the house to Remus. He tried to live in it for a while, but like the flat he'd once divided in London, there were too many reminders of a shared life. One morning, while searching for an egg cup, he discovered her second favourite mug, glittery-pink, in the cupboard above the sink, where it had been misplaced months before. Her favourite, orange-swirled with a chip on the handle, was long gone.
Remus sat down, set the mug on the table in front of him, and knew he was going to sell the house. He would sell it in the spring, to a Muggle family who'd hang tire-swings from the trees and clutter the doorway with muddy shoes. It was a house for a family, after all. He wasn't sure why he and Tonks had bought it in the first place.
"…in everybody's life there's a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can't go forward any more. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That's how we survive."
– Haruki Murakami, from Kafka on the Shore (Vintage: London, 2005), p. 173