Title: New Beginnings and Old Tree Houses
Rating: Very nearly but not quite R. Perhaps a hardish PG-13.
Summary: Three small children are the only survivors of a horrible attack on a school. Ron Weasely decides that someone needs to look after them. He also decides that that someone needs the sort of help that only Remus Lupin can provide.
New Beginnings and Old Tree Houses
The office for the Welfare and Protection of Magical Creatures was in the basement of the Ministry in a small, musty room that was once a storage facility for illegally charmed Muggle objects. Remus Lupin felt its locale was a testament to how the Ministry really felt about the new department it was forced to create after the fall of Voldemort. It was a sub-division the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures and a way to get a bit of good press after so many Ministry officials turned out to be traitors, cowards, or simply incompetent-- a "positive" step toward a kinder, gentler Ministry.
The department's lone staff member was responsible for processing hundreds of cases everyday involving mistreated magical creatures, who sought simple justice from a world that deemed them pariahs and a Ministry that deemed them unworthy of basic rights.
It was 10 A.M., and he was well into his fifth cup of coffee, when he heard a knock on his door.
"Come in," he called out without bothering to look up from the file he was currently reading.
There was a long pause before he heard the door creak open. The visitor stood at the doorway a moment, the bright lights from the corridor outside the office cast a long shadow on the ground that stretched to Remus's desk. Remus eyed the shadow that lay stone -still on his poorly tiled floor, waiting for it to move. When it finally did, he looked up to find a most unexpected sight.
"Ron? Ron Weasley? Is that really you?"
Remus was taken aback. He hadn't seen Ron in a couple of years. The boy he taught so many years ago was now over six feet tall. Did he ever stop growing? Remus thought with wonder. Ron looked a bit like his brother Bill had but with shorter hair and broader shoulders. But he also had Molly's eyes, which made his face more expressive than Bill's ever was.
"It's Remus now," he said with a small smile. "Just Remus." He walked towards the door with his hand outstretched and received a surprisingly strong handshake in return. "Please come in. Come in. Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'm fine. Thank you…Remus." He seemed to be testing the use of his former professor's first name, and while it sounded mostly natural, Remus knew he was probably very uncomfortable using it. Most of his old students were, but hearing them say 'Professor' brought up as many bad memories as it did good, and he'd rather not hear it anymore.
"Have a seat," he offered. "My word, you've grown. How are you?"
"Fine, thanks." Ron sat in the only chair other than Remus's that wasn't covered in stacks of files and papers. "Nice office you have here."
"It's a pit but thanks for trying." He gave Ron a broad smile. "How are Harry and Hermione?"
Ron shifted in his seat. "Busy. Harry is still working through the bureaucratic red tape to get Hogwarts rebuilt and Hermione is in France organizing the Beauxbatons annex for the displaced Hogwarts students. Both are still annoyingly good at keeping in touch… and good at telling me I'm crap at it," he added with a laugh.
Remus laughed with him. "And you?" he asked. "Are you still running the Search and Recovery Division of the Aurors?"
Ron's smile faltered slightly. "Yes, I am. That's sort of why I'm here."
Remus had the feeling this wasn't a social call; he sat up a bit straighter. "All right. What can I help you with?"
"I'm sure you've heard of the recent attacks."
Remus nodded slowly. The death of Voldemort didn't stop would-be Dark Lords from trying to take over the world. Unfortunately, they had neither Voldemort's intelligence nor his finesse. Their raids were sloppy and ill planned. They destroyed without purpose. They killed without discretion.
"About three days ago," Ron began, "there was an attack at a Prepatory school. Over fifty children and staff members were killed. "
"My God," Remus let out in a strangled breath. Prepatory schools were places where small children often went prior to Wizarding school to learn things like reading and math, the building blocks needed before one could even attempt to learn Transfiguration, Charms, or Herbology. The children would all have been between 5 and 10. Remus felt his stomach twist.
"We caught those responsible, and some might even survive to make it to trial," Ron said in a low, hard tone. Combined with the look in his eyes as he said them, the words left Remus cold. Ron's line of work was obviously taking a toll on him.
"While we were canvassing the area, we found three survivors. Apparently, they were inside the school when the attack happened and the building collapsed around them. It was sheer luck that saved them. The walls fell just so, creating a recess that kept them safe until we got there." Ron paused for a moment before continuing. "They…these kids…they had serial numbers on their wrists. Ministry numbers."
Remus's eyes went wide. "Werewolves? They're all werewolves?"
"From what I've been able to piece together, I think so. I don't know much else about them." He held out a piece of parchment with three sets of numbers crudely written on it. Remus took the paper and read the numbers as he walked over to the wall of file cabinets. He began to scour the dense archive looking for a match. Several minutes later, he returned with a thick file.
"The Tristis family. Aaron and his twin brother, Gregory, aged 7 and their sister Carolyn, aged 9. The family was on a trip when they were attacked by a feral pack of werewolves. The parents were killed outright, and all the children were infected." He looked up at Ron. "Didn't they tell you any of this?"
Ron's gaze remained sullen. "They're not talking."
It surprised Remus little that the children didn't willingly share this information. "According to this file, they were living with their only living relative, an aunt."
"She was a teacher in the school. She died in the attack."
Remus felt the air leave his lungs. "So they are orphaned again?"
Ron gave a quick nod. "Apparently, they were kept inside during recess because the other children wouldn't associate with them. The school took to separating them from the general population to keep the fights at a minimum."
"And it was being inside that saved them?"
"Ironic, isn't it?" There was no trace of humor in Ron's voice.
Remus's only response was a quick flick of his eyebrows. It was probably he first instance he'd ever heard of where being ostracized actually saved a werewolf's life. "Where are they now?"
"At my mum's. No one can spoil kids like my Mum and I thought they could use a bit of spoiling."
This made Remus smile. Ron was right: Molly had a knack for that sort of thing. "Why didn't you bring them to Werewolf Processing at the Ministry?"
Ron didn't answer; he sat stone silent with a deeply furrowed brow. Remus understood what Ron was feeling. He himself had an intimate knowledge of the processing center; it was unpleasant enough for an adult let alone three twice-orphaned children.
"What will happen to them?" Ron asked.
Remus took a deep breath. "They will be put into foster care."
"They will be put in Ministry custody while we find adults who are willing to care for children with…special needs. We hope to find someone who will take all three, but most likely they will have to be split up."
"Split up!" Ron shouted, going pale. "They've already lost the only family they know, all they have is each other. You can't split them up."
"We have little choice, Ron," Remus replied sadly. "Werewolf adults usually don't have the resources to care for orphaned children. Very few other people are willing to take on a child stricken with this sort of problem. Finding one person to take all three will be nearly impossible, and I'd hate to leave them in Ministry care until we found someone who would."
"I'll take them," Ron interrupted abruptly.
"I'll take them. I'll look after them."
Remus looked into Ron's determined face. "Ron, that is noble of you, but this isn't a decision to enter into lightly. These are children's lives we are talking about."
"That's the point, isn't it? It's their lives we are talking about. They've been through enough and they deserve a break. At the very least they deserve to be together. They can't…. can't lose each other as well. It's just not fair."
Remus shook his head. "Life is seldom fair, Ron. Besides, you don't know the first thing about raising werewolf children."
"No," he said with dawning comprehension, "but you do."
Remus just stared at Ron, as if waiting for the punch line to a bad joke. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"You'll help me."
Remus opened his mouth to answer and then closed it again. Had he heard that right? "I will?"
"Of course you will," Ron said plainly. "You don't want those children to enter into foster care any more than I do. And you certainly don't want to see them split up and torn away from the only family they have. You know exactly what life has in store for them if someone doesn't step in and you won't let that happen if you can help it." He paused to smile softly. "But mostly you'll do it because I am asking you to. I'm asking for your help. I need you and you would never turn down a friend in need."
Remus stared at the man seated before him. This was most certainly not the Ron Weasley who sat in his classroom nearly a decade ago. "You can't continue to be an Auror, you realize. The constraints on your time are bad enough, but to be in a job where your life in constant danger is irresponsible to the children and, werewolves or not, no one will just hand those kids over to you."
Before Remus finished speaking, Ron replied, " I'll resign the second I leave this room."
"Just like that you'll resign," he said in disbelief. "Just like that you'll throw away a brilliant career."
Ron sat back in his seat and gave Remus a somber look. " I just came from a memorial service for forty dead children. How much of that do you think I can take? My brilliant career is killing me with each mission, taking a bit more of my sanity every blasted day. It's time I moved on. I…I need to move on. I can't think of a better thing to move on to."
Remus just shook his head. "And what will you do for employment?"
Ron smiled. "Looks like you're terribly understaffed."
Remus soon learned that when Ron Weasley put his mind to something, there was very little he would allow to get in his way; call it a fierce loyalty or a stubborn pigheadedness. Within eight weeks he had petitioned for, and had been granted, custody of the Tristis kids, resigned his post and quelled the small uproar that it caused, and somehow managed to convince the Ministry that the Department for the Welfare and Protection of Magical Creatures needed to double its staff size.
It was simply awe-inspiring.
Ron, it seemed, had pull within the Ministry and a determination that was just what Remus's fledgling department needed. Perhaps now he wouldn't have to wait quite so long to have his petitions reviewed.
"Coffee," Ron rasped as he dragged his carcass into the office.
Remus smiled. Ron, it appeared, wasn't used to steady office hours or a workday that, in many cases, began before the sun rose. "Didn't get a chance to shave today, I see."
Ron poured himself a cup of thick black tar, his preferred brew. "You're lucky I was able to Apparate here without splinching myself into tiny bits." He picked up his mug and cradled it in his hands, inhaling the wafting smoke deeply. "Any chance of a muffin hidden some where in this office?"
"Not his morning, sorry," Remus replied sympathetically as he wiped this desk clean of the crumbs from the rather large lemon poppy seed muffin he enjoyed less than an hour ago. "How are things going with the children?"
"Good, I think. The final paperwork should be coming through today. I'll tell the kids they're coming with me tonight."
Remus's eyes went wide. "They don't know yet?"
"The final papers wouldn't come through until I had spent at least one full moon cycle with them. And I had to see all kinds of specialists; I think they thought I was tapped in the head for wanting to adopt three werewolf children. It all made me nervous that they would change their minds. I didn't want to say anything to the kids until I was sure I could take them home with me. It's didn't seem fair unless I was completely sure. Besides, I moved into a bigger a place and I had to get their rooms ready. I wanted that to be a surprise."
"What have you been telling them?"
"Just that we are trying to find them a good home. They seem all right with that; in the meantime, my mother is having a joyous time fattening them up."
Remus pictured Molly in all her glory, playing mother to a brood once more. "How does she feel about your adopting the kids?"
"She loves the idea. After Hermione, she thought I'd never give her grandkids and I've somehow managed to give her three almost over night."
Remus stayed silent for a moment. This was the first time in the two months since Ron appeared in Remus's office that he mentioned anything about his relationship with Hermione. Remus was always curious what happened but never pried.
"You can ask, you know."
Remus blinked himself back to consciousness. "What? Ask what?"
"Ask what happened between me and Hermione. Frankly, I'm shocked you didn't ask ages ago. Most people bring it up right after, 'Hello, it's been a while'."
Remus gave him a crooked smile. "I had thought of it actually, but didn't feel it my place to ask."
"It's all right. Not like it's a secret or anything. We broke up about six months after the fall of Voldemort."
"You grew apart?" Remus guessed.
"I reckon that's one way of looking at it. I'm not sure we were ever really together to tell you the truth. Not like a couple should be. We needed each other, I think, to get through it all. You spend a lifetime fighting for your life you need something to cling on to. When it was over and Harry was still alive, there was nothing to hang to each other for, so we…we let go. She went off to do Hermione things and I stayed here. We both seemed better for it. She's been dating this other guy for nearly a year now. Bookish, just like her. I've never seen her more happy."
Remus remained quiet for a moment taking in all the information Ron had just shared. "Is that the answer you tell everyone who asks?"
"No, normally I tell them to bugger off. Nosy bastards." He gave Remus a sideways glance as he sipped his coffee and smiled a bit out of the corner of his mouth.
Remus couldn't help but smile back. "Of course." He returned back to the pile of files on his desk and began to make smaller piles based on urgency.
Ron eyed the small mountain of files. "What's on the agenda for today?"
"I need you to contact a few clients and interview them about their complaints." He handed Ron a thick stack of papers. "I've made notes in the margins that detail the information we need before we can proceed. Then I need to go to and visit some others to take some photographs of injuries and of damage done to their homes and belongings. After that, I need you go to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and file this stack of petitions with Director Mills."
"You need all that done today?" Ron asked as he reached for the paperwork.
"I need it done this morning, before lunch. We have a hearing this afternoon."
Without blinking, Ron replied, "No problem." He took the files to his desk and began to work
Remus couldn't help but be impressed with Ron. He never complained at the amount of work Remus gave him to do, and he met every deadline. Remus wondered if Hermione's work ethic had rubbed off on Ron during their time together or if, perhaps, the war changed him from an insecure, and often lazy, schoolboy to a man with a sense of purpose and responsibility. A little of both, he would wager to guess.
Whatever the cause, Remus liked the result. They were really making a dent in the backlog of cases, which was imperative, as new ones continued to come in daily. Ron respected the work and those he was there to help, which was a nice change of pace from most others Remus had to deal with on a constant basis. Remus also liked the company. Ron was funny and often joked, which made the long hours they kept fly by; Remus couldn't remember the last time he laughed so much. Ron was also brutally honest but there was never a trace malice or spite. It was a trait that Remus really appreciated as he'd seen enough dishonesty and cruelty to last a lifetime. It didn't hurt that Ron was thoughtful and often brought in baked goods from Molly's kitchen to share with the over worked staff of the small office – she made the best lemon poppy seed muffins.
"What are you doing tonight?" Ron called from across the room.
Remus's head snapped up. "Wha…what?"
"I'd like you to come with me when I tell the kids. I think the boys will like the idea, but I'm concerned about Carolyn. She doesn't seem to like me very much. You have a better way with people than I do and I could use your help."
"Oh, of…of course. I'd be delighted."
"Great, because I already told Mum you were coming and I don't think either of us would like to tell her that you're not." He returned his attention to his desk and began to read another file.
Remus returned to his files and dove into his work, intent upon ignoring the way his face blushed when Ron initially asked his question.
The Burrow was the only place Remus ever thought of as a home. Not his home, per se, but a home to anyone ever fortunate enough to walk through its creaky wooden doors. The walls were covered in pictures of children; Remus was happy to note that pictures of the Tristis kids were intermingled with the Weasley grandchildren. Other grandchildren, Remus corrected himself.
"Can I help, Molly?"
The Weasley matriarch stood amid stirring pots and loaded frying pans. "That's very nice of you, Remus, but I've got it."
The kitchen counter was full of platters brimming with food. Roasted chicken and pork chops, sweet potatoes, buttered peas, tomatoes from Molly's own garden, homemade bread, two pies, three kinds of cookies and a chocolate cake for dessert. All in ludicrous amounts. "Still cooking for an army, Molly?" he joked.
Molly blushed prettily. "Force of habit, I suppose." She began to slice the bread. "It's been nice cooking for a house full of children again. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed taking care of a growing family."
"They won't be too far," Remus offered. "Ron's new place is only a few miles away."
"And don't think I won't be visiting there often," she said with a wink. "I just wish…well, never mind."
"Wish what?" Remus asked, seeing that something was really upsetting her.
"It's just…well Ron's been so lonely since Hermione broke his heart."
"I'm not so sure his heart was all that broken," Remus replied, remembering his conversation with Ron earlier that day.
"Something broke, Remus," she said sadly.
Before she could continue Arthur and Ron walked in, each carrying a small child on their shoulders. "Smells wonderful, darling. As usual," Arthur said. He removed Gregory from his shoulders and leaned over to give his wife a kiss. "Why don't you boys go get washed up?"
Ron returned Aaron the ground and watched silently as the boys ran off.
Remus watched them run off as well. "They look good. Considering all that they've been through that's pretty remarkable."
Molly gave a small but proud smile. "All children need is room to run around, a steady supply of healthy food, and a bit of love."
"Three kinds of cookies after dinner don't hurt either, I suppose." Arthur found his hand being slapped as he reached for a chocolate walnut confection.
"It'll hurt you if you reach for another. Listen to your own advice and wash up, the both of you." She motioned to Ron. " You're filthy."
Knowing better than to argue, they both slunk off to the to wash away the grime that managed to accumulate on their hands and faces.
"See," Molly whispered over to Remus as they left, "Ron hasn't said a word all evening. Something's not right."
"He's fine, Molly. He's just nervous about telling the kids that they are coming home with him."
She waved him off. "He needn't be. They adore him."
"I think he's more concerned about Carolyn. Where is she anyway?"
"Where she always is," she said with a sad smile.
Remus only nodded and went out to look for the eldest Tristis child in her usual haunt: Fred and George's tree fort and secret laboratory. It was the place they tested out the concoctions they didn't dare to bring into the house, which was probably a wise move on their part as it was in its sixth incarnation. Carolyn discovered this place on her first day at the Burrow and spent most of her time there. While the boys were content upon flying Charlie and Bill's old brooms and chasing garden gnomes, Carolyn seemed to prefer her solitude.
He bypassed the sun-faded signs-- "Trespassers will be cut up and used in experiments" and "Abandon hope all ye that enter here…and that's no joke"-- and climbed the rickety ladder up to the tree house. "Carolyn," he called out as he knocked. "May I come in?"
The trapdoor slowly squeaked open and Remus made his way inside. Carolyn had taken it upon herself to clean the place up. Gone were the broken cauldrons and charred remains of potions gone horribly, horribly wrong. A little desk covered in parchment and quills and emptied inkwells stood by the only window. In one corner of the desktop stood a glass with a bouquet of wild flowers from the garden, in another was a faded picture in an old picture frame. Seated in front of the desk, her thin legs tucked beneath her, was Carolyn.
Where her brothers were short and stocky, she was long and lanky. Her brown hair was tied at the nape of her neck and loose tendrils fell about her small face. Two large blue eyes stared at his, biding him to speak or leave her alone.
"Sorry to bother you, but it's nearly time for dinner."
"I'll be right down," she said softly before she turned and began to gather the papers on the desk.
"What have you got here?" Remus asked, curious as to what she'd been working on so fastidiously.
"Nothing," she said quickly as she placed everything in a desk drawer. "Dissimulo." Upon her command the drawer locked with a clank and disappeared until all that remains was a smooth wood exterior with no trace of a drawer being there at all.
"Was that a spell?" Remus asked incredulously.
"Not really," she replied timidly. "George made it up for me. He set it up and all I have to do is give the commands."
Remus smiled. "That George is a decent fellow."
She only nodded and walked over to the ladder. Remus went down first and waited for her to follow, holding the ladder steady for her. Together they made their way to the house.
Molly had just placed bread on a table that was already straining under the weight of the food upon it. A hungry troupe soon swarmed in and found their seats. Remus took the empty chair next to Ron.
There was something comforting about eating dinner with the Weasleys, an instantaneous feeling of belonging, of being part of the family whether you were a family of orphaned children or a shabby old werewolf. Remus watched as Molly served the children just as they liked their food to be served. Aaron liked his food compartmentalized so nothing ever touched, but Gregory like to mix everything together so his food was all piled in the center of this plate. Carolyn's plate was proportioned according to how and what she liked to eat: lots of chicken, just a few peas, and the sweet potatoes thoroughly mashed with lots of butter
It was about more than just feeding the children, however. Gregory loved to tinker with things, taking them apart and putting them back together. Almost daily, Arthur brought home some Muggle contraption for Gregory to disassemble. Aaron loved to draw and paint, and Arthur made sure there was a growing pile of supplies at his disposal. He would sit for hours with the boys as they explored and often dove in with them both, emerging after hours of play covered in paint and with a handful of parts that never found their way back to whatever apparatus they came from.
Carolyn had dozens of bottles of ink in a kaleidoscope of colors and a never-ending supply of quills and parchment. She also had privacy. The transition seemed much harder for her than the boys and everyone was sensitive to that. They involved her when she wanted to be involved but also gave her space, allowing her to make her own choices about how to spend her time. It saddened them that she spent most of her time alone but they hoped she'd come around when she was ready.
As the night progressed, and the plates emptied, Remus found himself agreeing with Molly. Ron was especially quiet. More uncharacteristically, he barely touched his food. It was while they were having dessert that he cleared his voice and spoke.
"I guess this is as good a time as any," he said as he turned to the kids. "It would appear that we've found you a permanent home."
Both boys stopped eating mid chew. Carolyn turned pale. "We…we're leaving?"
"Yes. Tomorrow. First thing."
"Where are we going?" asked Aaron, his mouth still full of cookies.
"It a lovely house, just down the road, actually. You'll each have your own room." They didn't seem won over. "It's got a huge back yard for you to play in." That didn't seem to help quite as much as he had hoped either.
Gregory took a hard swallow before asking: "Who will we be living with?"
Ron paused and took a deep breath before replying, "Well….you see… the thing is….I've …"
The children became more anxious with each sputtered word. "It's someone awful, isn't it?" Aaron said, sounding painfully defeated.
"Of course not," Ron insisted.
Gregory folded his arms defiantly. "Then why won't you tell us?"
"It's complicated." Ron was visibly terrified which was disconcerting to everyone in the room.
The boys were quickly getting whipped up into a frenzy and soon they began talking so rapidly it was impossible to tell who was saying what:
"It's can't be that complicated."
"All you've got to do is say a name. How bad can that be?"
"There was that one guy whose name no one would say."
"What the evil one that killed people?"
"Yeah, 'He Who Called People Names' or something."
"Is that who it is? Is that who we are going to live with?"
"Him? You can't be serious."
"I thought you liked us."
"What did we ever do to you?"
"It's me," Ron said plainly, trying to sound calm. "You're going to live with me."
They both stared at him for a few second, and then Aaron jumped up with a "Woohoo" and a "That's awesome". Gregory just slumped in his chair. "Why didn't you say so in the first place? You scared me."
Everyone around the table gave a hearty laugh and then, one by one, they all turned to face Carolyn who sat stone-faced starring at Ron.
"How do you feel about it, Carolyn?" Ron asked carefully.
Her eyelids seemed to droop over her large blue eyes as she looked down. "Does it matter?"
"Of course it does," he said his voice thick with sincerity. "I want more than anything else for you to be happy. And, I think, if you give me a chance you'll be happy with me."
She stared at him for a moment. "Do you know anything about being a parent?"
He smiled. "I know some things. The rest I reckon we can learn together. Besides, I've grown up with two of the best teachers, both of whom will live just a few miles away. Both of whom will tell me in no uncertain terms if I've made a mess of things. Does that sound all right?"
She gave a small shrug. "I suppose." Then she mumbled something softly that only Ron seemed to notice.
"What was that?' he asked gently.
She seemed shocked that he heard. "Nothing."
He gave her a small smile. "Carolyn, something else is bothering you and it's all right to tell me so. You've a right to voice your opinion on this. You've a right to voice our opinion on anything, really, but especially this." She seemed to shrink into her seat. "Please," he added softly.
She shook her head. "It's silly."
"It can't be that silly if it's bothering you."
A faint flush of pink colored her cheeks. "I'll…I'll miss the tree house," she stammered.
Ron stared at her for a long moment, a look of half relief, half befuddlement, clear on his face. After a quick glance over to Remus he brought his hand up to his chin and rubbed it as it he were contemplating the most important decision of his life. With a wave of his hand he declared: "Then we'll have to take it with us."
Her eyes shot up and met his and they just stared at each other while the rest of the room was watched silently.
"We'll take the whole thing to our new house," he reiterated. "Every single plank that makes up the walls. Every single leaf that sits on the branches. Even the warning signs will come with us. It will be our first project together….as a family."
She blinked at him for half a minute before she gave him the tiniest of smiles.
Right then and there, Remus Lupin fell in love with Ron Weasley.
Remus came to the conclusion that there was no way he couldn't fall in love with Ron. Ron was a caring, compassionate man whose enthusiasm shone through everything he touched. He had a fierce loyalty and dedication to every part of his life: his family, his friends, his job, and now, three small children. That devotion is what first caught Remus's attention, what first separated the boy of Remus's memory from the man he had he shared an office with. What didn't escape his notice were the six foot four inch frame, wide shoulders, and muscled arms.
Poor Remus never stood a chance.
He discovered that this boy he once thought of as hot tempered and terribly insecure, had grown into a man he respected and admired and wanted to see much more of…in various states of undress.
The problem, other that the pesky fact that Ron was straight, was that he was a few decades younger. Remus learned from his disastrous relationship with Nymphadora that age does matter, and it can make a difference. Just because two people like each other, and are attracted to each other, doesn't mean that they can overcome those differences. Remus decided it was best to keep his feelings to himself, for the sake of the man he came to think of as a friend, and for the sake of his own fragile ego, which wasn't up to the challenge.
Days like today, however, tested that resolution more than Remus cared to admit.
Moving the tree house, tree and all, wasn't a mere matter of wands and incantations. The tree was a living thing and needed to be handled with careful hands as well as complicated magic. It was an unusually warm autumn day and half way through it, Ron saw fit to remove his sweat soaked shirt to reveal a slim, tight torso, the best Remus had seen in decades.
For the briefest of moments he reconsidered his decision to keep his distance, and doubted the wisdom of it as he watched the muscled torso that should be immortalized in marble or bronze or gold or some other precious material. Then he thought of his own body, thin and scarred, and mercifully hidden beneath his shirt. It wasn't nearly hot enough for him to remove it. Frankly, he'd have to be on fire before he took it off.
Hours passed, and Remus found his eyes habitually wandering to Ron's sculpted back and his thick arms. More than once he had to excuse himself for "a drink of water", a bathroom break", "another drink of water." He drank so much water he wondered if he had suddenly become part camel. Thankfully, they were soon done and the whole crew went into the house to find that Molly had prepared a housewarming feast to end all feasts. And, like the best of the Weasley's gatherings, they ate and drank well into the night.
When everyone else had left, Remus remained to help with the cleanup while Ron put the children to bed. He stood by the sink washing dishes by hand, a habit he picked up from his Muggle grandmother, and wondered briefly why Arthur rushed Molly and the others out of the house so suddenly. And why he winked at Remus when he left. He was absentmindedly rinsing off a dish when he heard a noise behind him. He turned to find a sleepy looking Carolyn standing there in pink pajamas decorated in pygmy puffs.
"Hello there," he said genially. "May I get you something?"
She rubbed her eyes and gave a small nod. "A glass of water, please."
"But of course. Have a seat m'lady." He gave a deep bow before he got a glass and filled it with cold water.
A minute later Ron came in. "Carolyn, what are you still doing up?"
"I was thirsty," she said in a hushed voice.
"It's all right to be thirsty," he replied gently, looking as if he'd thought he just said something horribly wrong. Ron was always so nervous around Carolyn, always tripping over his words and seemingly terrified to say something wrong. Remus watched as Ron looked at her appraisingly for a long moment. "Do you always sleep with you hair down?" Ron asked Carolyn.
She lifted a hand to her long hair. "I suppose."
"Do you wake up with it all knotted?"
She gave him a quick nod.
"Ginny used to, too," he said sympathetically. "She used to plait it before bed so it would be easier to brush in the morning. Want to give it a try?"
Carolyn stared up at him, her dark eyes twinkling in the light of the kitchen. "I think I would," she said softly.
A minute later, Ron stood behind Carolyn and began to slowly brush out her hair. Remus looked on with great interest as Ron carefully pulled the brush down her hair so as not to hurt her. Ron then separated the hair into three strips and overlapped them until Carolyn had a long braid down her back.
With a quick flick of his wand he fastened the end. "What do you think?" he asked proudly.
She touched the back of her head and ran her hand down the long plait. "It's good," she said timidly. "I like it."
Ron's face broke out into a wide grin. "I'm glad. Now off to bed with you."
"Good night," she said as she walked down the corridor still running her hand down her hair.
After her footsteps faded up the staircase, Remus turned to Ron. "Where did you learn to do that?" he asked with awe.
"Ginny," he said simply. "Not having a sister was hard on her sometimes. I was closest in age to her so – more often then I'd ever admit to in front of Harry - I got recruited to play with dolls, or have a tea party, and I learnt to braid hair."
"That was rather nice of you."
"Not really," Ron said with a dismissive wave. "Ginny was vicious when she didn't get her way. Bit me three times before she could walk. I've still got a scar on my calf. "
Remus laughed as he always seemed to do when he and Ron spoke. He looked around and realized, with some disappointment, that the house was clean, the kids were in bed, and the guests were gone. Also gone were his excuses for loitering about. "I guess I should be going."
"Sure," Ron said as he stretched. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Remus paused. "What's tomorrow?"
Ron stared at him. "My first day alone with the kids."
Ron flashed him a mischievous smile. "You don't expect me to do this alone, do you?
Remus quickly became a fixture at the house. After work, he'd stop over for dinner at Ron's insistence and Molly's persistence. He came over on the weekends to spend time with the kids. He'd help Gregory build or Aaron paint, and he was the only Quidditch referee that all sides seemed to trust.
After a few weeks the full moon came again and he stayed the night for the first time. He'd stay over again several times over the next few weeks, when a conversation or a game of chess took them to the wee hours of the morning, or they wanted to do something very early the next day. It seemed easier to find excuses to stay than not to. Eventually it became so common that Ron considered adding another bedroom so his friend wouldn't have to sleep on the lumpy sofa, which, to Remus anyway, seemed to get lumpier each time he slept on it.
It was a Saturday afternoon and they were having a picnic in the vast yard behind the house. Remus was on the sidelines watching Ron and the boys play Dragon Hunter when he noticed Carolyn watching him wistfully from the window of her relocated tree house. When she realized she'd been spotted, she quickly darted inside. Remus stared at the empty window for several minutes waiting to see if she'd come back and when she didn't he grabbed a couple of apples and headed up the tree house.
"May I come in?" he called out. "I've brought food." He held out two apples, as if to prove he was telling the truth.
After a bit, the door creaked opened and he made his way inside. Carolyn was sitting at her usual spot by the desk, which was already cleared of whatever she was working on.
"Red or green?" he asked holding up two shiny apples.
"Green," she said as she took the apple he offered.
He took a seat on the floor across from her and bit into his apple. "You spend a lot of time up here," he remarked casually as he continued to eat.
She gave a slight shrug. "It's quiet. I like the quiet." She took the apple in two hands and held it to her face as she took a small bite.
"I like the quiet too. But I think I like to be outside more. I always thought it was because I was a werewolf that I liked it so much. Now I see that that was merely an assumption on my part. We don't all feel the same way."
Carolyn gave a small frown at his words. "Did I say something wrong?" he asked, concerned that he had upset her. She only shook her head in response. "It's all right. If I've upset you or angered you, you've a right to tell me off. Everyone else does you shouldn't feel bad about it."
"It's just…" she began and trailed off.
"It's just what?"
"It's just that you talk about so it indifferently. Like it's nothing."
"What? Being a werewolf?"
She nodded slowly and it suddenly dawned on Remus how small she really was. She was older than the boys, and more mature than any child he'd ever come across before, but she was still a child herself. Somehow he'd forgotten. "Well, it most certainly is something, I suppose. I've been one so long I don't even think about it anymore. And working where I work, I meet many like me, and so many with other… eccentricities that I don't feel nearly as out of place as I once did."
"So it changes?" she asked as she sat up.
"Feeling so...so different."
He smiled at her softly. "I don't think you ever stop feeling different, nor should you. You are different. You have more responsibilities than others do and you should attend to them, religiously. But you should never forget that whatever else you are, you were a young girl first. Just like all the other young girls of the world. And if you want to do the things that other girls do, you can. And you should. Ginny's been aching to take you out and show you off."
She gave him a small smile in return. "I know. She keeps bringing me clothes and tries to fix my hair. She keeps saying how much she wants to take me shopping."
"Do you want to go?"
She began to respond but stopped. Instead she turned to the desk and stared at the spot that held her secret drawer, suddenly she slumped in her chair. "I can't," she said softly.
Remus stared at her sadly. "Carolyn, may ask what you do up here?" he asked slowly.
She remained silent, a half eaten apple left forgotten in her small hands.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," Remus quickly added. "But sometimes…sometimes it helps to talk about these things. To say them aloud and share them. You don't have to hide anything, certainly not from me.
After a few moments she replied. "I…I remember."
He cocked his head to the side. "You…remember?"
"I try to anyway. Everything about our parents I can think of. How they looked. The places we went. The things they said. I write it down so that I'll never forget."
"What makes you think you'll forget any of it?"
"I've…I've already started to."
She had a pained look on her face, one that clearly said this was something she'd been struggling with for some time. "The hurt does lessen over time," he said softly. "That doesn't mean you're forgetting, just that you're moving on. It's what your parents would have wanted."
"You don't know that," she said angrily. "You don't know anything…not about me or them. They wouldn't want that at all, they wouldn't want me to forget them."
Her face was flushed and her lips were tight and she looked about ready to burst into tears. "You're right, I don't know them," he conceded. "But I do know what it's like to lose someone I loved very much. Someone who was taken away well before his time."
Her face softened and she looked down; she began to the fidget with the apple still on her lap. Remus continued: "In the beginning you think about them everyday. And you cry. Everyday. One day you finally do stop crying, but you don't stop thinking about them. Then, one day, an hour goes by when you're preoccupied with something else. Another day, another couple more hours. Suddenly, you realize a whole day passed and you didn't think about them at all. Now you feel guilt as well as loss; that never truly goes away." He gave her a warm smile. "You never forget, Carolyn. Things become fuzzy, memories are not as crisp perhaps, but they never go away. They merely soften around the edges, just enough so that you can remember them, those you love so much, with happiness and not sadness."
There were fat tears pooling in her eyes. "It doesn't seem fair."
"Life seldom is fair, Carolyn." He thought briefly of a conversation he'd had with Ron not too long ago where he said the exact same thing.
"But us being here…playing games, having fun, and them being…."
"Is that why you won't go shopping with Ginny or play with Ron and the boys? Because it isn't fair to be happy when they can't be around to enjoy it with you?"
She didn't answer and looked away. "Carolyn," he said gently, "think about all the things you've written about your parents. All the memories you've saved on those pieces of parchment. Do you really think that your parents would ever, ever want you to not be happy?
They sat in silence: Carolyn letting the tears fall down her face and not bothering to wipe them away, Remus just sitting beside her, watching each tear leave a silver trail down her cheek, but letting them fall untouched as well.
After a few minutes Remus spoke: "One day, when you're ready to share them, I'd very much like to read your stories. I'd very much like to meet your parents."
Carolyn slowly looked up at him and tilted her head slightly, contemplating him. For a moment their eyes met and Remus could almost see her mind cataloging each part of him as if to deem him worthy or not of seeing her private thoughts. Then, without a word, she mumbled something and a drawer appeared in a spot that was previously just smooth wood. The drawer sprung open and she pulled out a dozen or more rolls of parchment and placed them on the desk. She sorted through them until she found the particular one she was looking for and handed it to Remus.
They spent the rest of the afternoon together reading and remembering.
With Remus's encouragement, Carolyn shared her memories with her brothers, and with Ron. They spent many nights together reading over her scrolls and as they did Carolyn began to remember more and more. The quiet girl who locked herself away in tree house began to smile and laugh more regularly, and even learned to play Dragon Hunter. The boys also had stories of their own to share and before long the already sizable pile of parchment doubled.
"I miss having a mum," Aaron said one night after listening to Carolyn share a story about their mum healing a rather large scrape on Carolyn's knee. They had been sitting in the parlor finishing off Mrs. Weasley's latest batch of cookies. Aaron and Gregory were on the floor hording the cookies between them, Ron was sitting next to Carolyn braiding her hair for the night, and Remus was sitting on the sofa listening in. At Aaron's words Ron and Remus's eyes met across the room.
"I miss Mum, too," Gregory replied, "but we do sort of have a mum now."
"Yeah, we have Remus."
Everyone turned to look at Remus whose face had gone white.
"He can't be a mum," Aaron replied. "He's a boy."
"Why not?" Gregory demanded. "Everyone always says we can grow up to be anything we want. Why not a mum?"
"Because girls are mums," Aaron said exasperatedly. "Boys are dads."
"But we have Ron for that. He does the dad things like playing Quidditch and letting us fly the brooms when he knows we're not supposed to. Remus does the mum things, like reading to us and making sure we eat our dinner before we get dessert."
"He's playing with her hair." Aaron pointed a stern finger at Ron. Carolyn began to giggle madly. "Mums do that so Ron's the mum. Besides, he's the one who tucks us in at night."
"Yeah, but Remus is the one who sends to us bed before it gets late."
"But Ron's the one who makes us brush our teeth."
"Remus gives us lessons."
"Ron does, too."
"Maybe they're both the mum," Carolyn interrupted causing everyone to turn to her. "And the dad. It doesn't really matter in a family. Does it?"
Ron gave her a warm smile and Remus could swear he saw Ron's eyes water a bit. "And on that note," Ron said brightly, "It's time for bed. Now all of you go and brush your teeth before they fall out of your mouths from eating a dozen cookies each."
"See," Aaron mumbled as they made their way up the stairs. "That's mum talk."
"I'll be up to tuck you in and read you a bedtime story," Remus called up the steps.
"Ha!" Gregory shouted triumphantly.
An hour later, when teeth were brushed and stories were read and three children were sound asleep in their beds, Ron and Remus sat in the kitchen finishing a bottle of wine left over from dinner.
"You're quiet tonight," Ron said as Remus swirled the wine in his glass.
"Hmm." Remus looked up, startled. "Did you say something?"
"With all the mum and dad talk. You were very quiet."
He lifted and dropped his shoulders. "What could I say, really?" asked a distracted Remus.
"I know," Ron laughed and gave Remus a pointed look. "It's so obvious. You're the mum."
Now he had Remus's full attention. " Pardon?"
"You're the mum," he repeated, the side of his mouth curling up.
"I'm the mum."
Remus was lost for words. He sat there, his mouth slightly open, and he might have stopped breathing. When he regained the ability to speak he asked: "How, exactly, am I the mum?"
"Oh, come on, Remus. You're the touchy-feely one. I could never have gotten Carolyn to open up the way you did. You can relate to people on a very personal level and talk about feelings and whatnot. There's no shame in that. Besides," he paused to drink some wine, "I'm taller.
"Traditionally speaking, dads are taller."
"You've gone mad," he said shaking his head.
Ron laughed and threw back the rest of his wine. He poured himself another glass and topped off Remus's glass. "Probably. It was a funny conversation, though."
"I suppose," Remus answered. He took a hearty sip of wine. "It…I wonder…"
Remus quickly flicked his eyes up to Ron's face and then quickly looked away. "Well, I wonder if I haven't been spending too much time here."
Ron stopped mid drink and put his glass down. "Too much time?"
"The kids…the kids are starting to think of me as part of your family. More than that, as a parent. I just wonder if that's a good idea. "
"What's wrong with it? You're just as much a part of this family as my mum or my sister. As much as I am."
"I love being part of this family, Ron. But being an uncle, or something, is different from being thought of as the mum or dad. One day…one day you're going to meet someone and bring her here and …I can't help by wonder if that wouldn't be tough on the kids."
Ron just stared at him incomprehensively. "What are you talking about? Who's this bird I'm allegedly bringing home?"
"I don't know who she is but you will meet her one day. Someone you'll want to really be mum to these kids. I don't want to complicate that in any way."
"Remus," he said with an understanding smile, "I've no intention of bringing anyone home. As far as I'm concerned I'm both father and mother to these kids. You are father and mother to these kids. In fact, these orphans have more family than they'll ever know what to do with. It will be years before they learn everyone's name."
"Ron," Remus stopped to rub small circle in this temple. "One day you are going to meet someone ….special. Someone you'll want to share your life with. My presence here….my being so ingrained in the lives of your children…in such an intimate way, may make things difficult for you."
Ron sat up a bit straighter. "What if I've already met that person?"
"What?" Remus felt the wine churn in his stomach.
"What if I've already met that person whom I want to share my life with?" Ron continued. "Who I want to be parent to the these kids."
"That's….that's good….great….fabulous." Remus began looking for more wine.
"What if the kids know this person?" His voice went soft and low. "What if they already like this person? Love him even?"
Remus froze. "Him?"
Ron shook his head and looked as if he might laugh. "You."
Remus was still frozen. "Me what?"
"You. Someone special. Rest of life. Mum to the kids."
At this, Ron finally did laugh. "Didn't we cover that?"
Remus blinked several times and really did stop breathing for a moment. "I don't …I can't…you're straight."
Ron simply shrugged. "Mostly. Not always. Not lately."
"Straight?" For the first time since this exchange started Ron looked uneasy.
"What? Yes. No. Not …always. Frankly, I was going to say old."
Ron nodded. "Right. I think I've heard that speech before. 'Too old. Too poor. Too dangerous.' Something like that, right?"
Remus's face tightened. "All those things are still true. "
"Stop right there." Ron stood with his hand up and his fingers splayed open. "I've been preparing for this one. First of all, don't start with all that dangerous nonsense. You are no more dangerous than those children upstairs. Secondly, not that it ever mattered, you are no longer poor. You do all right for yourself. More importantly, so do I. In the grand scheme of things how much money someone has doesn't mean a damn thing. That is something we both learned from experience."
"Ron," Remus sighed, "I'm old."
Ron contemplated him for a moment. He tilted his head to the right, and then the left, and to the right again. "You're right," he gasped. "You are old. Terribly old. Old and feeble. Old and useless."
"Is that supposed to win me over?"
"It supposed to show you how asinine it sounds. We could both live to be over a hundred, Remus. That gives us the possibility of sixty odd years together. Do you really think the fact that you are a bit older than me really makes any difference?"
"It does make a difference," he said weakly. "It does matter. We're from two different times, Ron. It mattered with Nymphadora….and it will matter with you."
"Maybe it mattered with her because you weren't right for each other. Just like Hermione and I weren't right for each other. Maybe you have to keep testing the waters until you do find someone who's right. Someone who fits."
"And you do? You fit? I fit?"
"How've you felt these last few months?" Ron asked pointedly. "Cause I'll tell you how I've felt. Happy. Happy and comfortable, and for the first time in my life, completely connected to another person."
"Ron…we …we work together, everyday and things would get very complicated-- "
Ron threw his hands up in the air. "Why are you being so stubborn?"
"I'm not being stubborn. I'm being realistic. We could ….everything could fall apart. The thought of my screwing this up and losing you and the kids. I don't think I could handle it."
"There's nothing to screw up," he said softly. "Nothing changes. The only difference is that you don't have to make up excuses to stay the night and I can stop making the sofa lumpy and uncomfortable."
Remus stared at him for several seconds. "You did that? On purpose? I thought I was going insane. I swear the damn thing bit me the last time I slept on it."
"It did," Ron said sheepishly. "Sorry about that, but you've been making this rather difficult."
"Yes, you've been. You can't imagine my disappointment when my walking around shirtless didn't do the trick. I mean, that's the best weapon in my arsenal. I was at a loss. The lumps in the sofa was my Mum's idea."
Remus heard the words as they were being said but it took a while for them to sink in. "Your mum?"
"Yeah, Dad suggested I send you chocolates but that seemed so cliché – I might as well have knitted you a cardigan. And you don't even want to know what the twins suggested. I'm still not sure it's all that legal -"
"I…you…" he slumped over defeated. "All right. All right. I obviously have no control over this situation." He looked up. "What happens now?"
"You kiss him!" shouted three voices in perfect unison from the top of the steps. This was followed by the sound of three pairs of feet scurrying into bedrooms and three doors being slammed shut.
Ron let out a barking laugh. "That's sounds about right." He walked over to where Remus sat and reached out a hand. Remus looked at the offered hand for a moment before taking it. Ron's hand was slightly bigger than his own, rough skinned, lightly calloused, and wonderfully freckled. With a soft pull, Ron guided him so that they stood together, face to face.
"I believe you were given an order, " Ron said softly. His voice rasped and low.
Remus felt the rigidness fall away from his shoulders. Felt his spine relax and his breath ease. The lines around world began to fade away until he could only make out blocks of color that surrounded Ron. The only sound he could hear was his own quick breaths and a bird's song playing somewhere in the distance. "I believe I was."
He had kissed others before that moment; Remus was almost, very nearly, sure of it. But the things he felt when his lips touched Ron's, the way his legs wavered and his knees buckled, the way his hands shook, was unlike anything he'd ever felt in his life. Perhaps he hadn't kissed anyone before that moment after all; the mind had been known to play some cruel tricks on people. Or, more likely, Ron was right and this is what it felt like when two people fit together properly. When it's right.
It was, in essence, a simple act. The interlocking of two sets of lips. The pressing together of soft, moist flesh. But this simple kiss was making the blood in his veins burn and his fingers tingle. This simple kiss was making the world disappear bit by bit. Was making him younger. Stronger. Alive.
He placed a hand on Ron's chest, as he had wanted to do since the day he's seen it in all it glory, glistening with sweat on a warm day not too long ago. The last time he was this close to another he would have found the soft curve of a full breast. Now, instead, he found firm, broad muscle and, much to his intense joy, a quickly beating heart.
It was, however, when Ron's arms wrapped themselves around Remus and pressed their bodies even closer together that Remus thought he might never come up for air. Suddenly his mind was exploding with images of two bodies wrapped around each other, twisting and enveloping each other, an endless expanses of bare skin meshed together. He wanted to know what Ron tasted like, he wanted to run his mouth from Ron's ears to his neck, to his shoulder, down his chest, and further and further and back up again.
This simple kiss made him want to spend days exploring Ron's body inch by precious inch. Made him want to be inside Ron, to have Ron inside him, to control him and be controlled by him. To bite and claw and claim.
The rest of the world was now completely gone and all that remained was Ron. Ron's arms around his body. Ron's tongue moving slowly in and out of his mouth. Ron's hips against his own. Ron's quickening breath.
Remus's body was melting. Melting into Ron's. Disappearing and being reborn. There was no turning back now.
Poor Remus never stood a chance.Finis