For LadyMoriel, who never got her birthday fic, and for myself, because denial is a good place to be, because it really wasn't supposed to happen (even JKR admitted it), because I've had that Decemberists song going through my head for weeks now, because I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground, because I need to write this before I can go on writing anything else in this universe, because of all people, they deserved to live. (I haven't bothered to explain how they got out of the battle alive, but it's really a simple chancy thing of being in the right or wrong places at the right or wrong times; the smallest tweaks and side-steps could have changed it, I think. Anyway, the war is not this story's primary concern: rather, it is after the war, and how the survivors learn to cope.)
Note: oh Lord, I've become one of those people. I've just written one of those fics. Oh dear. And I used to be such a goody-two-shoes canon girl...
(And yes, I am the absurdly fickle author formerly known as Vintage Blue.)
After the Bombs
This is the way the world ends. And begins.
Lately he is no good at sleeping. He stares at the ceiling of the flat, memorising the cracks, Dora's quiet breathing against his shoulder, a still-fevered edge of his mind waiting for something to happen. The world cannot settle quietly, he is not used to quiet anymore; in his head explosions still go off, glimmer behind his eyelids when he closes his eyes.
She says, "You're not sleeping again."
He says, "Neither are you. I thought you were asleep."
He feels her stir against him. "Hmm. Practising not-sleeping. Mothers never sleep. At least mine didn't. Doesn't. Well, I suppose she does when she hasn't got me to look after, tripping over the bathtub in the night, and – " She falls very suddenly quiet, a thing she does too much these days, and he feels her body go a little rigid.
She is thinking of her father, he knows, and he does too, a little blindly; Ted Tonks who had him over for Christmas, 1981, when he had least wanted to see people, pulling him into the small intimate circle of family life whenever he could –
(There have been too many deaths.)
He reaches for Dora's hand under the bedcovers, and she clutches it and nestles closer, legs curled against her chest and pressed to his side, her face against his shoulder. She shudders a little, and he can feel her tears, wet through his nightshirt.
"What do we do?" he says quietly to the ceiling. "What can we ever do?" There is bile rising in his throat; death makes him sick, sick, and it always follows him like some great hound; he will never be rid of it. He shuts his eyes.
"Love me," says Dora, into his shoulder. "Love me, and Teddy, and Harry, and – oh, anyone, because it's all we've got. Oh, Remus, it's all we've got."
She is confused most of the time, trying to settle into a life that constantly trips her up with its strangeness. She isn't used to being a mother, and between the ecstasy and the frustration of it there is also terror. How does one raise a child, anyway? She thinks of things her parents taught her, things like how to ride a broom and how to tie her shoes, how to survive a war and how to love, and she wonders how they did it, staring into the cradle at the side of her bed, watching this small, breathing thing, part herself, part Remus, all impossible human self. Love and fear clasp hands inside of her.
She isn't used to not being at war; when Remus leaves the house, she worries, like she used to, until her throat aches, and then she remembers she doesn't have to. Suddenly she doesn't know what to do anymore. She's on paid leave now, with baby Teddy to care for – and recover from. She hadn't known how much birth would take out of her. Remus does work for the Order – there is still so much to patch up – and she stays at home, lonely, confused, trying to remember about things like peace and hope, and learning how to nurse her child, what to do when he cries.
And somewhere, horribly, inside of her is a great gaping wound, black with gangrene – her father, dead. This is more impossible to understand than her being a mother: death is more confusing than life. She tries to shut it out, fold it away, wait – she is so very close to falling apart, but she can't, not now, not –
One night she wakes up screaming, and Remus waves on a candle, and she can't stop – grief and horror and loss and confusion are making caverns through her, and he kisses her temple and holds her, holds her, holds her very very close, because he knows, he knows. Teddy fusses from the cradle, and Remus lets go of her and reaches across the bed for the child. She watches Remus soothe him, rocking gently as he settles back onto the mattress, humming something very softly, and oh, God, how she loves him suddenly, both of them, with an ache deeper than grief.
Remus turns to her, and lays Teddy in her arms – his hair is yellow, yellow and slightly green, and she smiles at that, dimly – and holds them both close. The candle flickers.
"You told me something, once," he says. "Not terribly long ago."
She looks at him, solemn in the dimness.
"You said, 'I am not resigned – I am not resigned to the shutting away' – "
"Yes," she says, muffled into his chest, and then her throat closes up.
He says, "I love you, Dora," and the three of them sit in the candlelight, waiting for wounds to heal.
They comfort each other in turns.
Remus feels he is absolutely inadequate at comfort; he feels brittle and jagged-edged and altogether hollow so that to reach out a hand might as well be to reach out a shard of glass. It's Dora who has always been so good at life, whom he draws from, hungrily, as though he has never been so desperate for love.
(Perhaps he hasn't. Once upon a bleak November morning he opened a newspaper and his life fell away from him like a building falling down, leaving him with rubble and grief and fury and helplessness, but he no longer remembers much after that. He slept a lot, he thinks. He shrunk out of the world until the living no longer clawed inside of him. Now he has duties, and responsibilities, he's got a wife and child to comfort and protect and for whom to keep up something of a brave face, and there is no room for the small death he was granted last time.
Why must there be a last time, and now a this time?
Some days he does not even want to wake.)
He also has various personal inadequacies from which to recover, ones which rise in his mind those nights he never sleeps and those days his mind is raw until he is sick with shame. Dora's forgiven him, and oh, he doesn't doubt her, but it is a long road towards forgiving himself.
(And he is so tired.)
Now he is doing whatever he can accomplish for the Order and the straggling new Ministry – rebuilding and organising and occasionally offering strange comfort to strangers which he hardly feels himself. He wonders how much use he really is, wandering through his days like a ghost, and some days he thinks, the war is over but there's nothing left but rubble.
(He wishes Sirius were here, to laugh at him, and tell him what a maudlin bore he is being, and that was a preposterously pretentious thought anyway, Moony, you great prat, and then rattle on at length about something blessedly absurd that has nothing at all to do with war.
Oh, he is full of holes.)
He almost welcomes the first full moon after (his life is divided into befores and afters, whole sets of them), something he hasn't done since – last time, he supposes. There is a blessed mindlessness in the wolf, a thing which has no capacity for grief, or inadequacy, or regret, or uncertainty.
Dora makes the Wolfsbane potion very carefully, and savoury, spicy lunches to mask the awful taste. She moves through the tiny kitchen with unusual grace, Teddy bound to her back with a vivid sheath of cloth, and he watches them – her hair is red-gold, very dark, and spills in little waves over her neck, and Teddy keeps reaching for it, and she morphs it shorter away from his fingers – watches them with a feeling of being in the wrong world, peering at the right one through a screen.
He turns to her at night and says, "Dora, Dora, I'm so tired."
"Yes," she says. "Yes, I know."
"There are holes – oh, Lord, Dora, I'm missing – limbs, pieces – "
"I know," she says, and she is weeping, quietly. "Oh, Remus, I know." And she holds him tightly, desperately tight, and they try to be each other's missing pieces as best they can.
And he feels like a slow convalescent.
One day he doesn't go in. He sends an owl to Kingsley Shacklebolt and then he sits outside, on the balcony, staring down at London that teems beneath him, at the window-boxes, bright with pansies Dora planted there in the spring.
The world hums around him. He lets it. And slowly it comes in closer, small things, slipping in gently: pansies, purple and gold, nodding like tired women; London, red-yellow-black-blue-noise, doors opening and windows closing and figures on the pavement below, motorcars winding their inexplicable ways. Someone laughs a floor or two below. He does not, this time, wonder how it is that they managed it. He waits.
Dora comes out, Teddy in her arms, and something lurches inside of him.
(What is this strange and beautiful creature that is his son?)
She lays a hand on his shoulder, and he feels the warmth of it through his shirt. She says, "What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to remember," he says, "about living." And now that it's said, he knows it's true.
"Oh," she says. "Oh. That's good."
Teddy fusses, reaching out his hands haphazardly as though he is not quite sure what to do with them. Dora makes hushing sounds, lulling sounds, and sways back and forth, very gently, like a pendulum, a tide, like she has been practising all her life. He wonders where it comes from, and how it comes, how it is that his ever-clumsy Dora is suddenly steady and graceful with her child – theirs – in her arms.
She catches him watching and says, "Here. Take him," and suddenly Remus is confronted with this infinitely small person staring bright-eyed and – momentarily – black-haired up at him, and he remembers rhythms he had not known were there to be remembered. Teddy – small beautiful impossible child of his – pulls Remus' sleeve to his mouth, and smiles.
The world is beginning again.
In August, Nymphadora Lupin buys curtains, yellow ones, and when she puts them up she opens all of the windows. Teddy laughs at the breeze, and his hair goes a lurid shade of gold, and she grins and likes the feeling on her face.
She secures him on her back with a brightly coloured sheet of cloth while she makes dinner, which she is getting better at. She could always cook, when she remembered to pay attention, although she supposes Teddy pulling at her hair while she stirs stew in a cauldron to keep it from sticking is not particularly helpful, so she morphs her hair shorter where he can't reach. She thinks he must look disappointed, behind her, but he takes to chewing the collar of her blouse instead.
And she likes this. The world is settling into new rhythms, and they are oh so strange, and oh so lovely.
When Remus comes home, he bashes through the front door and sweeps her up, Teddy and all, and kisses her, very firmly and a bit recklessly, while Teddy on her back lets out a startled yelp.
"Oh," she says, beaming and dishevelled, when he lets go. "Did you have a good day, then?"
She can't remember the last time she saw him smile this way, the light of it taking the lines off of his face. "Hmm. Well. Yes. And, d'you know, I've suddenly realised how nice it is to come home in the end."
And she doesn't know why, but her vision's gone blurry, and she wants to burst into tears, or laughter. Teddy tugs on her hair impatiently, which seems to have grown out again, so she picks laughing. "I'm afraid I haven't got any domestic bliss for you at the moment."
"I'd be a bit worried if you had," he says wryly, and she swats at him. He peers over her shoulder. "It isn't supposed to smoke quite like that, I think." She whirls around. Yes, her stew is smoking; rather enthusiastically, like a small, meaty forest fire.
"Ohhh," she hisses, and, remembering Teddy, bites back the curse hovering on her tongue. (He's too young to notice – she thinks, but she learned things from Sirius when she wasn't quite two that horrified her mother.) Instead she lunges at the pot and gives the meat a vigorous stir. It's sticking. Another almost-curse. "I was doing so well," she moans, and stabs at the mess. "I was paying attention, and I got everything in the right order, and I've tried evanesco-ing the blacker bits, but the meat goes away with them, and – plagues."
Remus leans over Teddy and kisses the skin just before her ear. This, she thinks, is very distracting. It is making it very difficult to go on being frustrated, with his mouth doing – hmm – pleasantly inappropriate things. She tells him this, but she is not sure her tone was cross enough, particularly as he shows no sign at all of deterring and is playing with her hair, which has gone long again, quite without her permission.
He tickles Teddy's nose with it. Teddy laughs, then sneezes. It is not terribly romantic, but it is certainly less distracting than – other things.
"I am attempting to salvage your dinner," she says in her best imitation of the imperious tone she learnt from her mother. "If you would like a nice even coating of burnt – er, stuff, by all means, distract me."
He says, "I think I can manage tonight," and twines a hand in her hair, and kisses her very distractingly.
They eat dinner and it isn't as bad as she thought and she watches the man smiling at her from across the table (and picking some of the blacker bits off of the meat with his fork) and the child at her breast, and somewhere inside of her she feels bridges going up over some of the gaps.
In August, Nymphadora Lupin buys flowers and puts them up all over the house.
It's a little cold; the year is stretching towards autumn, and dawn stretches over the sky, a ripple of ivory silk. And the rhythms are new, and they are patching the gaps, and sometimes Dora wakes in the night, and sometimes Remus can never sleep at all, but they try to fill each other's holes, and they try to learn how to walk through the rubble.
Look. The world is beginning again.