The click of the key in the lock was the one sound I'd dreamed of and dreaded for far too long. It made me start backward a bit, skin prickling on the back of my neck, but I didn't look up. My head still rested in my hands, elbows braced on the table, an unfinished mug of tea festering in front of me. I already knew who it was; there was only one man who could pass the spells guarding that door. There was only one man who knew where I lived nowadays.
"I thought you were staying with your parents." The husky voice was tired, that much was sure, but it carried something else threaded underneath extreme fatigue. Disappointment. Worry. And something almost…almost like relief.
My own voice surprised me. It bit and scratched and tore its way out of my throat, the harsh sounds flying like arrows across the room. Two long months of pain poured out into being. "Did you think I'd be able to take that kind of scrutiny for so long?" I was looking at him now, staring with a measured intensity only just contained beneath my skin. It made him uneasy. "I love my parents, Remus, but did you honestly think I could take much more of that? Listening to my mother dropping hints that I'm better off this way?"
He said nothing. He wouldn't look at me.
"You said you'd be right home." I accused, "You even kissed my forehead before you closed the door, just like every other night. Made me feel like nothing was wrong." A bitter smile curved up half my mouth. "The next day I found this on my pillow."
The little note was now so tattered it was long past the point of being readable. It had been crumpled and smoothed out, thrown away and hunted back, torn apart and taped together a hundred hundred times since then. I scanned the thing one more time, eyes pausing on the most important phrases even though I knew it all by heart.
…made a grave mistake…afraid I may never see you again…for the best…wrong to have a child…wrong to chance passing on my condition…so sorry…I'm so sorry…I love you…
"You tell me you love me and you can never see me again all in the same breath? That you made a mistake, marrying me? Tell me, Remus, where the hell was I when you made this 'mistake'?" I spat. "Merlin, I thought we were past all that nonsense! Last time I checked we were in this together. Last time I checked that ring meant something to you." He'd left it with the note that night, and I'd strung the thing onto a chain in hopes he'd come back for it someday. The thin gold band still rested at my throat, shimmering dully in what little moonlight filtered through the window.
His eyes were screwed shut, face set and steeled and turned away as if I'd hit him physically. "Tonks, I thought—"
"Really, 'you thought'? What did you think the ring meant? That it was only worth anything so long as you were wearing it? Like a switch you could turn off when being married was too much to take?"
He spoke quietly, breaking the long silence that echoed after my words. "That ring means everything to me."
I narrowed my eyes, let the pain seep through to color the fury already smouldering there. And yet my voice was cold. "It might have, once. Though your child should mean a bit more to you now than some jewelry."
Remus turned to look at me this time; he hadn't been prepared for that. His jaw was clenched, muscles tight and back held ramrod straight. "I…I was never supposed to…werewolves don't usually breed. It was wrong of me to chance passing on the condition to an innocent creature without thinking of the consequences."
I sat rigid, one arm held stiffly around my swollen stomach, the other hand curled, white-knuckled, around the edge of the table. "A little late for remorse, now, isn't it?" The glance I shot his way was fierce. "I did not 'breed' with a werewolf, Remus John Lupin. What made this child was the night you, the man I married, made love to me." I held his gaze steady, and he met mine in kind. "I don't regret that."
He gave no reply. I continued.
"Well? What would you have me do, then, if the child is born like you? Raise it by myself? Lie when it asks me why the full moon hurts so much?"
A long pause stretched between us. Things left unsaid hung heavy in the air, expanding, suffocating, until I spoke the words I knew would break both of our hearts.
"Or would you have me put it out of its misery, before it ever learns what misery is?"
I know I curled in on myself then, the thought I'd voiced assaulting my head with things too painful to acknowledge. But it had to be said, even though I knew he'd rather kill himself than ever in his nightmares dream of harming our baby. Now I was the one who couldn't look at him.
"Gods, Tonks," he began, after an eternity. I'd been right when I thought those words would break us both. All at once he managed to sound so hollow and so full of agony I thought my heart would burst. "How could you ever—"
"I don't know." The voice that cut him off was weak, shaking with the weight of all I'd said. "I don't know how I could ever think like that." Shaking strands of mousy hair out of my eyes, I stared down at the veins in the tabletop. When I spoke again, I sounded tiny, defeated even to my own ears. "Two months, Remus."
I could feel his eyes on me, those beautiful, sad brown eyes that used to glitter whenever I saw him. Without looking, I knew those eyes were searching me for something.
"Two months you left me here alone. The Order knew nothing when I asked about you. They wouldn't let me go look, wouldn't let me do anything else of any use to them. Insisted I should keep myself safe, that they couldn't let me work because of my 'condition.' Even had a trace put on me, just to make sure." My hands twisted themselves together in my lap. I could only imagine how pathetic I looked, a wilted, brittle ghost of what he remembered. "Two months with nothing to keep my mind away from you."
I laughed, a vicious sound that tore my throat as it left. "Two months is a long time to think. Things started piecing themselves together. Those pained looks you gave me the few weeks after we married, the ones I never understood. The mix of feelings on your face when I told you I thought I was pregnant. The long walks you insisted on taking alone the couple of days after that. How you kissed me the night you left. The note. I…" Another laugh ripped its way out. "I think I knew then you regretted ever loving me—"
The inexpressible finality in that one, curt sound surprised me enough to look up. Those gorgeous eyes I loved so much stared at me through tears.
"Dora, sweetheart. Dora, the only thing I regret is ever making you feel like this in the first place." His remorse washed over me like a shiver, the kind I'd only felt once before, at the phoenix song the night Albus Dumbledore died.
I looked away again before I forced myself to hold his gaze. "How do I know?" Every inch of me ached to believe him. My heart begged me to let it believe him. "How do I know you're not telling me this to put my mind at ease, so you can grab your things and leave again in the morning?"
"Dora, I promise you—"
"'Til death do us part,' Remus, remember? You broke the last promise you made me."
I didn't need to see him to know I had hurt him again, like I'd been doing since he walked back in the door.
"Listen to me."
Those words weren't angry, or forceful, or even sure at the moment that they belonged where I could hear them. But they begged me to hear all the same.
"For a long time after I left I didn't know where I was going. I went to the Burrow, but never knocked on the door. Visited the house I grew up in, my parents' graves. Ended up at Grimmauld Place.
"It was Harry Potter who told me what kind of coward I was. Told me what I needed to hear. For a couple of weeks afterward I wandered around some more, trying to convince myself the boy was wrong. The last place I found myself was Godric's Hollow. It was standing at James and Lily's graves that I realized…" His gaze left my eyes, falling with an intense emotion I couldn't describe, on my stomach.
"I realized that I would give for this child what the Potters had given for theirs, and then some."
I couldn't cry. I couldn't breathe. And I let him hold me until I remembered how. Clutching the front of his robes as if he'd disappear when I let go, the last thing I heard as I fell asleep was I love you, Dora, I love you, whispered over and over into my hair.