A/N: This time of year is fairly knackering for me so forgive me for the slower rate of posting at present. Thanks as ever to the Usual Suspects, to Snockackcatcher and to everyone who has kindly reviewed. :)
"Molly says she's stable."
As his wife pulled her head out of the emerald-lit fireplace, Remus had the disconcerting experience of seeing his son's face staring at him from two directions. Tonks came to her feet, shaking her head as the morph fell away, revealing her own familiar heart-shaped face and dark eyes. She moved quickly across the room to settle back down next to Teddy on the sofa, a position she'd only vacated only in order to satisfy her son's desperate need to find out how Penny was. Still looking thoroughly miserable, Teddy leaned into her shoulder in an almost child-like manner as she wrapped an arm around him once more and pulled him back into a hug.
In spite of everything, Remus couldn't help but smile slightly as he looked up from the fourth cup of tea he'd been pouring to calm Teddy's nerves. Discomfort or not, hormones or not, there was no doubt that seeing Teddy upset had done more than a thousand spoken words or silent personal resolutions in helping Dora to bond with their son.
Placing the tea down on the small table by the sofa, Remus met his wife's eyes over Teddy's shoulder.
"What else did she say?"
Tonks twisted her lips grimly as her hands tightened around her son. "Just that, mostly. She was completely swamped with distressed redheaded grandchildren and couldn't exactly spare long to chat, which was probably a good thing considering it meant she didn't try to question me-as-Teddy about anything that might have blown my cover. She said that Penny's stabilised and she's breathing on her own again but the shock's put her in a kind of coma and the Healers haven't a clue when she's likely to come round. It could be hours or…" Her eyes flickered down to the brown head cradled in her arms. "Or it could be weeks. Even months."
Remus closed his eyes for a moment. He remembered Penelope Clearwater – Weasley, as she was now – as a dark haired, serious Ravenclaw Prefect, always thinking her way around the problems he posed in class, looking and analysing, never happier than when she was working something through. He remembered her smiling and holding hands with Percy in the corridors and the two of them huddling together in the library as they contentedly studied together…
It was strange to think that that young woman he remembered from his N.E.W.T classes, the face he pictured as he saw her lying injured in St Mungo's in his mind's eye, was now a wife and mother in her early forties, older in years lived at least than he was…
"I'm surprised Molly was at the Burrow," he said quietly, more to shift his thoughts away from focussing once more on the bizarreness of their situation than anything else. "I'd have thought she'd be at St Mungo's with Percy."
Dora sighed, ruffling Teddy's limp brown hair with her breath. "Oh, she wanted to be, believe me; poor Molly, she was all over the place. But she couldn't go; it's the school holidays and I could tell she was already minding half the grandkids before this even happened. But Arthur went with them from the Ministry and he'd just updated her when I – well, Teddy – called."
Slowly, shakily, Teddy lifted his head from his mother's shoulders. "I'm sorry you had to call for me. But… but I just couldn't ask. I don't know what I'd have done knowing I'd just all but killed her daughter-in-law and then having to speak to her like everything was normal…"
Tonks smiled wryly, her hands still resting gently on Teddy's shoulders as he pulled himself upright once more. "No trouble. After all, it's not like I've never disguised myself as my grown-up son to talk to an old friend who looks twenty years older than when I last saw her yesterday about the health of a daughter-in-law she hadn't even got when we last spoke before." She shrugged with a quirk of her eyebrow. "It's just a day in the life for me."
But Teddy, it seemed, was not seeing the funny side of her remarks. "I didn't think – I'm so sorry, it must have been so uncomfortable for you seeing Molly like that…I should never…"
"Oh for the love of…" The roll of Dora's eyes was very familiar to Remus. "Teddy Lupin, you are so like your father it's frightening. Now I've been telling Remus this ever since I met him…"
"She has," Remus intervened with a faux-weary nod, knowing well where the lecture was heading. "Brace yourself."
"… and quite clearly you need me here just so I can tell you too." Tonks regarded her son sternly. "So listen up and remember this. Relax. A joking remark does not an accusation make. If someone does something for you, it means they don't mind doing it, so don't go telling yourself different because it's a disservice to you both. A tiny mishap is no reason to indulge in a litany of self-blame. Even big mishaps aren't going to be solved by wallowing around and blaming yourself for everything until the people around you either bugger off or beat you with sticks until you stop. In other words, young man - the entirety of the world's ills are not your fault. So don't keep making out they are because all it does is annoy the rest of us and make you feel insecure for no good reason. Okay?"
Teddy, in a feeling that Remus could more than relate to, did not look entirely convinced. "But this is my fault…"
"I'd watch it," he intervened, cutting across whatever remark his wife had been about to inflict. "She means it about those sticks."
To his surprise, Teddy's lips gave a wan quirk. "Well, I remember her slapping you quite firmly. So I guess I'd better watch my step."
It took a few moments for the impact of Teddy's words to sink in. "Wait. What slap?"
Remus felt a surge of guilt as the hint of a smile was swamped without trace in an instant. "Well, when you came back to mum… When she was expecting me?" His fingers began to twist awkwardly at the hems of his robes. "I did tell you I'd used the Portal to watch you in the past…"
He had told them. But this revelation had come so soon after the chaos of their arrival in the future that it had barely registered with Remus, and he certainly hadn't thought it through. He hadn't even considered how he felt about the idea that those intimate, private moments he'd shared with Dora, such as their first kiss, the arguments they had when he left to infiltrate the werewolves, the talk they had had after Dumbledore's death, and of course, their tense and highly-charged reunion following his ill-thought out departure after Bill and Fleur's wedding, were no longer theirs and theirs alone…
One glance at Dora's face showed the same flickers of uncertain emotion. And Teddy, it seemed, had not missed the looks on his parents' faces either.
"Merlin, I didn't think… Who'd want to be spied on by their son? I'm so sorry, I've made such a mess of everything…"
"Don't start that again." Tonks tried for a light-hearted tone, but her expression had lost its playful edge, leaving only the seriousness of her previous words behind. "Dear Gods, you need to lighten up. I'm starting to think we got here just in time."
Teddy was staring at them both now, eyes flicking from Remus to his mother and back, face set and eyes grimly sorrowful. Gently, he shrugged his shoulders out of Dora's grasp. "But should you have?" he whispered softly. "I'm going to ask and I want you to tell me honestly – no jokes, no trying to spare my feelings, nothing but the truth." He closed his eyes for a moment, breathing hard and when he opened them again, his face turned almost unconsciously up towards Remus, rich with a plea for an answer he clearly wasn't sure he wanted. "When I rescued you and mum from the past, do you think I did the right thing?"
This was going to be painful. But they needed to have this conversation, needed to sort through these truths, and the look on Teddy's face was enough to tell Remus that he truly wanted honesty, he truly wanted, not vindication or flagellation, but to know his father's opinion on what he had risked so much to do. And in being honest with himself, with the doubts that had nagged at the back of his mind for the last twelve hours or so, Remus knew there was only one answer he could give.
"No," he said.
Teddy closed his eyes, head dropping down against his chest. Tonks' eyes were on her husband, but there was no accusation or approval in her gaze, only a quiet understanding that these words needed to be said.
"From my own perspective, it's hard to admit that." Remus quietly leant himself against the back of a nearby chair, in deference to the ache of his tender bones, staring at his wife and son almost blankly as he shuffled his thoughts into order, and tried not to think about how painful they were likely to be for his son to hear. "Obviously, not being dead has far more appeal than the alternative, and Dora not being dead is even better. But from an impartial view, you broke the law and damaged a rare and valuable magical artefact in such a way that an innocent woman was unintentionally injured; all in the name of rescuing two people you barely knew and, if you're honest, don't really need anymore, at least not to look after you. And even from a partial viewpoint…" He smiled sadly. "You're my son and I love you and it's wonderful to have this chance to meet you and know you that I would otherwise have lost. But when I look at what you've risked to do it; your career, your family, your freedom… You've been forced to lie repeatedly to the people who loved you and raised you in our absence just in order to protect us, and it pains me to watch you do something I can tell that you loathe doing just for us. I can't help but feel that you should owe them more for twenty years than you owe us for two short months. I'm sorry, Teddy. But that's how I feel."
Teddy had neither spoken nor moved during Remus' gentle assault on his sensibilities, staring down at his lap with hollow eyes. Though his lips moved, he did not raise his head.
"Mum?" he said softly.
Tonks was staring at her son now, her expression weary and resigned. "I wouldn't have put it so bluntly, but yes," she stated softly. "I'm sorry too, but I agree with your dad. We went into that battle knowing we might lose our lives. But we did it for you, so that you might have a safe, happy, free future and the thought of you throwing that away just to save us…" Her chin quivered slightly as she too bowed her head, eyes glistening with held-back tears. "It hurts, Teddy. It hurts to think that by choosing to leave you behind to fight in order to protect your future, I may have destroyed your future anyway."
Teddy's eyes slowly closed. "I see," he said, both words drawn out and breathless. "Well. That's pretty much what Harry said you'd think. And I guess I've known all along that he was right." He took a deep, gasping breath. "It was just nice to pretend for a while…"
Dora's hands shot out, catching Teddy's cheeks and forcing his head up to face her. His eyes flew open in apparent surprise.
"Now you listen to me," she said, her voice low but resoundingly powerful as her dark eyes burrowed into her son's. "I meant what I said earlier, Teddy, and I will not let you sit there and tell yourself that just because we don't approve of what you've done, that we hate this and we can't really love you because of it or some other such rubbish, because I know that's what you're sitting there doing, isn't it? So like your father…" She allowed herself a moment to roll her eyes. "We love you. And I'm not saying it to make you feel better or because I feel I have to, I mean it." She took a deep breath. "I'm sitting here stuck in a body that won't stop mourning a baby I haven't even lost – and if you start blaming yourself for that, twenty or not, I will put you over my knee and spank you," she added sternly as Teddy's eyes widened with horror at this fresh revelation. "But if you think I'm going to let myself chuck away my chance at a relationship with the son I still have because of it, think again. And if you think I'm going to let you chuck away a true relationship with us by losing yourself in guilt and angst over this, then you really didn't learn a damned thing from watching me slap the daylights out of your father. What's done is done, Teddy. What matters now is what we do next." Withdrawing her hands abruptly, Tonks came to her feet, resting her fingers against her hips as she swivelled her gaze sternly from one Lupin man to the other. "So here's what we're going to do. We're going to sit down, all three of us and we're going to work out where to go from here. There will be no exclamations of guilt or self-blame, no regrets and no dwelling on past mistakes. And if I hear anything along those lines pass through either of your lips, I'm getting the whacking sticks. Understood?"
Remus stared at her, standing there in the middle of the room with her hands on her hips, dark eyes intense, features rife with steely determination, so vibrant in spite of the natural brown she had currently left her hair, and in spite of the history books, so completely alive… She was emphatic in the cause of what she knew was right, so unrelenting and beautifully stubborn, her own pain nothing in the face of helping others, in helping him out of the miserable rut he'd allowed his life to tumble into, trapped so strongly by his own fears of hurting others that he hadn't even realised the greater pain for her was seeing him fall away from himself in turn. She had always been so since the day he had met her, and he had seen her this way so many times as she had battered down his defences and fought her way into his heart.
And now she was his heart. She was his wife. And he couldn't imagine a world without her.
Sweet Merlin, I love that woman.
The feeling almost overtook him. And he knew then that whatever this uncertain new future held, she was going to live it. He was resolved. Whatever might become of him, whatever repercussions they might eventually face, he would not – could not – have it any other way.
He was wrong to save me, perhaps. But how can I begrudge him giving her another chance to live?
His gaze slipped to Teddy. The young man was staring at his mother with a kind of bewildered awe that Remus knew very well indeed. He only hoped that his son would come to the sensible conclusion rather quicker than the year it had taken his father.
Paternal trust was rewarded. Uncertainly but with a hint of carefully summoned resolve, Teddy managed a wan smile.
"Understood," he replied. "No more wallowing from me." The smile quirked in one corner. "I wouldn't dare."
Remus felt himself smiling in turn. "Smart decision. And Dora…" As his wife's eyes turned in his direction, he flooded his gaze with all the love that surged down through his veins. "Thank you. I think we needed that."
Her returning smile was gentle, her eyes silently echoing the unspoken sentiment as she dropped back down to the settee, and placed one hand softly back against Teddy's shoulder as she wriggled closer to her son. Remus shifted upright as he stepped around the chair he had been leaning on and sat himself down on it, resting his elbows on his knees as he leaned forwards towards his family. "So, the question on the table is – where do we go from here?" His eyes drifted to Teddy, who was now smiling with quiet happiness as his mother leaned against his shoulder. "Now, I hope you don't mind me saying this, son. Because while I have the utmost respect for your strategy, planning and execution in our rescue, I can't quite escape the feeling that you didn't give the slightest thought to what to do with us once we were here." Carefully, he suppressed a brewing grin at his son's gesture of rueful acceptance. "I knew it. You've got brilliant short-term plans of action, but give no real thought as to the consequences. But don't be downhearted about it. It happens to be a trademark of your mother's."
Dora fixed him with an icy stare as Teddy actually chuckled. "Oi!"
There was no holding back the grin now. "Dora, I love you dearly but you know it's true."
"You're still a git for mentioning it."
"This from the woman who just ranted at our son about the perils of being too much like his emotionally insecure father?"
"Which was true as well!" Tonks grimaced abruptly. "Damn! I said as well which means you're going to pounce like a tiger and tell me I just agreed with you. Fine, I concede the verbal battle. But just remember who's got the whacking sticks at her command."
Remus laughed quietly at the mock frown on his wife's face, secretly more pleased about the slowly dawning happiness of his son. For the time being at least, wallowing was off the agenda. "How could I forget? Anyway, back to the point." He sighed, painfully aware that he was turning the conversation back to more serious matters just when his son was starting to relax. "Teddy, I don't think you really thought about what would happen once word of our… well, rescue I suppose, got out. I suspect it only really dawned on you when you had to lie to Harry and then Victoire."
Solemnly and with a sigh Teddy nodded. "I suddenly realised just what would happen if word got out and they knew about it. I didn't want anyone else to get in trouble because of me. It wasn't until after I realised…"
"That it would mean we wouldn't be able to go out in public." It was Tonks who finished the sentence, her voice low. "At least not without risking you going to prison." She squeezed his hand slightly. "And I think you know that's not an option."
"So where does that leave us?" The list of possibilities that ran through Remus' head were uncomfortable to say the least. "Option One: We stay in seclusion and never leave this house again. Not really realistic, I suspect," he added at Tonks' deliberately pointed look. "Unless, of course, you want your mother to go stir crazy. Option Two; we live our lives in disguise and avoid everyone who might recognise us. Tonks morphs herself permanently into someone else and I use Polyjuice Potion or transfiguration to hide my true identity for the rest of my life. It would mean that no one could ever know who we truly were – we would most likely be peripheral at best in important events in your life such as birthdays, your marriage, seeing any children you might have, out of necessity. I can't say that really appeals very much but we might not have much choice. Option Three: We move abroad, go to somewhere that nobody knows us and start a new life with new identities." He pulled a face. "Unfortunately not as simple as it sounds. Unless the rules on werewolf emigration have changed drastically, my lycanthropy will have to be declared and explained to any new wizarding society we join and enquires will be made about me to the British registry, which wouldn't work with my real name or a fake one. Even re-registering under a new name isn't an option, since it'll be blatantly obvious to even an idiot that my bite isn't new and of course you can't use any charms or transfiguration to change the appearance of or fake a cursed scar, for the worse or for the better. We could go into the Muggle world but as two intrinsically magical people, I'd rather not do that unless we have to. Not to mention of course that going abroad will mean we will see very little of you, Teddy, and nothing of the friends and family we've left behind."
"I could come with you," Teddy offered suddenly, his expression painfully sincere. "We could all move abroad together."
Remus regarded his son with pointed kindness. Leading with the heart and not thinking things through. So like his mother…
"And leave your grandmother?" he rebuked gently. "Leave Harry and the Weasleys? Leave your job and your friends behind? They'd want explanations and you'd barely see them again, if ever. And what about Victoire? What will you do? Tell her the truth and ask her to come? Ask her to choose between her love for you and for her family?" At Teddy's chastened expression, Remus felt a stab of guilt. " We won't – we can't ask you to choose between us and them, Teddy. I suspect Option Three isn't the way."
"And I don't like Option Two much either." Tonks was staring at the mantelpiece, her eyes fixed upon a picture of what looked like Teddy's last time off the Hogwarts Express at Kings Cross – their son, his hair the vivid turquoise that seemed to be a favourite, had one arm wrapped around the waist of a pretty blonde Remus could only assume was Victoire and the other embracing the shoulders of the greying but still elegant form of a smiling Andromeda Tonks. "I don't like any option that means I don't get to see my son's life. And all those options can go and jump off the north battlements if I can never tell the truth to my mum."
"Which leaves Option Four." Remus sat up straight in his chair, his eyes fixed upon his son. "We tell the truth and face the consequences."
"No!" Teddy was on his feet with such abruptness that Tonks went sprawling on the sofa. "No, they won't understand! They'll probably try to reverse it all or send you back to die or something stupid! And if people find out I pulled you from the past, they'll be on at me to save their loved ones too! That's if they haven't locked me in Azkaban and thrown away the key, and what'll happen to you if they do that?"
"Teddy, calm down." Remus rose too, staring at his breathless and wide-eyed son with a serious expression. "That's occurred to me too. But I'm not talking about taking out an ad in the Daily Prophet here. I'm talking about trusting the people who love you. Believe me, I understand that you're trying to protect them." His eyes slipped to Dora, who had righted herself on the settee and was watching him with a suddenly intense gaze. "But if there's one thing life has taught me, it's that the people we protect don't always want protecting. I think they have the right to decide what to do for themselves."
Remus deliberately ignored his wife's quiet but fervent exclamation and ploughed on regardless. "And since we badly need an Option Five that the Head of the Aurors might just be able to provide…" He smiled slightly. "I think it's time to talk to Harry."
Frown lines immediately creased Teddy's forehead. "Harry?"
Tonks was nodding her head. "Seems like the best option to me. Though like I said, I want my mum to know as soon as possible too."
"I don't see why not." Remus agreed with a shrug. "But since it's probably better that Teddy do the telling rather than having two apparently dead people turn up on the relevant doorsteps to give the residents a heart attack, it'll have to be one at a time. And Harry first, I think."
Teddy still looked uncomfortable. "But I lied to him. I swore him an oath and he'll know I didn't mean it."
"He'll understand why."
"He could lose his job because of me if word got out."
Remus regarded his son seriously. "I think he'd be more upset that you didn't confide in him if he found out after the event, don't you?"
Teddy gazed absently up at the ceiling as though it alone held the answer to his dilemma. "Well, yes, I suppose, but…"
But the young man got no further. For at that moment, with a burst of light, the fireplace sprung into emerald-flamed life.
Remus didn't need his son's frantic exclamation to get the message. Talking of telling a trusted friend was one thing, but allowing their discovery by random persons unknown was quite another.
There was no time to reach the door. Diving ungracefully behind his chair, Remus cast a hurried Disillusionment Charm over his body and stared about frantically for Dora.
Alarmingly, he found her.
There was a wail of frantic irritation, a too familiar thud – from his concealment, Remus could only watch with horror as his wife tumbled to the ground with her feet wrapped in the hearth rug, her legs and back in full view of the fireplace and the figure spinning within it, coming closer, closer, closer…
And Dora was still half in the open.
They were out of time.