Title: The Vacant Interstellar Spaces
Format & Word Count: Fic, 2,282 words
rtchallenge prompt (March 2008 ficathon): 12, image of the Andromeda galaxy
Warning: DH spoilers; character death; fluff that turns into a little angst and then into a whole truckload of angst; more geekery and Eliot-quoting (from East Coker again).
Summary: Blacks pick names from the stars, so they are stargazing for their child. They don't pick a star-name, but it ends up coming from the sky anyway.
Author's Note: I'm pretty sure Jo didn't tell us exactly how this all happened, so...I made stuff up. Originally this was just going to be fluff, only the stargazing bit, and...things happened.
"Well, there's that one."
Remus squinted upward. "Isn't that Betelguese? Funny name, even for the Blacks."
"You know I barely passed Astronomy." Dora swung her slippered feet back and forth above the ground, the stone bench cool through her coat. She pressed in closer to Remus' side, and he tightened his arm around her. "Suppose we should get one of Mum's star charts or something."
"Mmm," Remus agreed. Neither of them moved.
"It's so quiet out here," Dora murmured after a moment. "Peaceful. Like there's nothing going on outside. Don't you think?"
Remus nodded. "I've always liked Andromeda's house. Came here with Sirius a few times. Although I'm not sure she actually liked having us around, after Sirius destroyed her rosebushes that one time…which, by the way, didn't involve me at all."
"'Course not." Dora rested her head on Remus' shoulder. "What's the one…some warrior, three stars in his belt…"
"Orion." He pointed. "Right there."
"Three stars. Okay." She turned her head and focused on the pinpricks of light high above, glittering points in the black. "Not seeing the warrior bit."
"Well, if you just want a name from a constellation you can actually find, that pretty much narrows it down to the Big Dipper, and I doubt our child will really want to go by 'Ursa.'"
She elbowed him. "Okay, you pick something."
"There's always something…you know, non-Black. Not hauled from star charts or obscure mythology or dead languages, as fond of those as I might be."
She grinned. "Well, when I was 12, I decided I was going to marry the Weird Sisters drummer, and when I found out he'd already been married and divorced twice, I figured I'd just name my firstborn after him. That or the lead singer of Magelight."
Remus groaned. "I love you, Dora, and I'd do just about anything for you, but I'm pretty sure naming our child after someone in popular music doesn't qualify."
"Oh, like you weren't going to suggest Paul or Ringo or something."
"I was not," he said indignantly. He paused. "Now…Eliot's not a bad name…even has a little something to do with astronomy, you know, 'the vacant interstellar spaces' and all…"
She laughed. "I knew you were going to say that."
"My name is Remus Lupin, and I am a geek."
"Now you've just been watching too much Muggle telly."
"Maybe a little…"
She nestled into his shoulder. "You know what would be good? Cassiopeia. For a girl, I mean. Maybe our next child. 'S kind of a family name, but we could still call her Cassie, something normal. Anyway," she added, her voice a little dreamy, "I think it's pretty."
"Mmm." He rubbed his chin across her hair. "Your mum would like it."
"Uh-huh." She yawned. "She's got a pretty name too. Andromeda…best of the lot in more ways than one…" She fell silent a moment, then added, "'S probably just hormones, but I'm starting to get her state of mind when she named me, even…"
"What, a desire for flowery, obscure names goes with a craving for pickle tarts?"
"Nymphadora," Remus said, sounding out the name as if for the first time. "Hm. I don't know."
"I take it back," Dora murmured. "I have no idea what she was thinking. Crazy woman."
"Like you, then." He kissed her forehead.
"You married me, what does that make you?"
He didn't reply for a long moment, and she twisted to look up at him. "Impossibly lucky," he said finally. "Or blessed, or something. Dora…" A wistful tone crept into his voice. "Why did you take me back? Again?"
Her hand found his and gripped it. "You know why."
"Maybe. I'm just not sure I really…I know I don't deserve you."
She was silent for a long moment, and he looked down at her hair, silver-pink in the light of a waning moon. "When I kept saying I didn't care, I meant it. But I think…you thought I just didn't understand what 'too dangerous' really meant. But I did, and…and I knew why you left. What you wanted to protect me from. I still don't care," she added, raising her head, "I still called you all kinds of horrible things after you left, and I still think you were a bit of a stubborn fool—but so am I, anyway, and…that was why. I thought you were wrong all along, but…I understood. I think I always knew you'd come back."
"I didn't," he said quietly.
"Then I know you better than you know yourself," she said. "Haven't I always?"
He swallowed hard, and his voice came out husky. "Oh yes. My Dora…"
She shifted against him. "He's moving," she whispered, "feel," and tugged on his hand to place it on her rounded belly. Remus spread his fingers and the tiny person inside Dora's womb pressed back.
"Hello, little one," Remus managed. "My little one…is that…"
"It's real, love," Dora said, a fond exasperation in her voice. "He's real. Promise." She winced. "Otherwise he wouldn't kick so hard. Another little Gryffindor, are you?" she asked, looking down, covering Remus' hand with her own. "And not a werewolf, either. I think I would know. Haven't felt, you know, fur inside me or anything."
Remus pressed against her, wonder welling up in him—at her, at the baby, at the idea that he could still be allowed these things after—everything. He let his head rest on her shoulder and closed his eyes, the world narrowing to his Dora and the life inside her.
"I still think a star name would be pretty," she said, her voice next to his ear, sleepy again.
"Mm," he said. "Boys don't really want pretty names, as I understand…"
She went stiff in his arms, the pulse in her throat accelerating. "Remus."
He pulled back, saw her staring fixedly at the horizon, over the hills, and turned to look.
Something green and sinuous floated in the sky, a gangrenous wound against the black—too far to make out with certainty, near enough to be certain anyway.
"Is that—" Dora's voice shook, and she leveled it with a visible effort. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Maybe not. It might…" He glanced at her, shook his head. Lying to each other would help nothing and bring no comfort. "Yes. I think so."
"It's not far away," she said, her voice still perfectly neutral. "Not very. Maybe a few miles."
Remus stood and drew his wand and did not say anything about Ted Tonks. "I should go," he said. "See what's happened."
"Someone could recognize you—either side, you know what could happen, if there's—a body, and you're found with it, no one will care full moon was three days ago—"
"I'll Disillusion myself. I'm only going to look."
She grabbed his arm, the convulsive grip of her fingers conveying everything she'd crushed out of her voice—opened her mouth to speak, closed it again. He saw in her eyes what she wanted to say: the flash of fear that he would not come back, for either reason, a desire to insist on going with—she was an Auror, a soldier, this was her bloody job—swallowed by the realization that she had another life to protect now.
Instead she said, "Remus, be careful."
"I will," he said, and kissed her hard, then ran to the edge of the Apparition barrier and Disapparated.
Andromeda met Tonks at the door. "Is something wrong? I heard someone Apparating—"
Tonks shut the door behind her, automatically checking the wards. "That was Remus. He just went to—to check something out."
Her mum frowned, and the fine lines that had appeared in her brows since Ted's flight tightened with worry. "What aren't you telling me, Nymphadora?"
"Don't call me that," Tonks murmured, unable to inject even the slightest annoyance into her voice. She crossed to the kitchen and filled the teapot. It's probably nothing, Mum, we just saw…in the sky, there was a—well, it looked like a Dark Mark."
"Oh," Andromeda said, and that clipped syllable said everything.
"It's probably nothing," Tonks repeated, setting the water boiling and pulling down three mugs. "Probably…I mean, it wasn't far from town." She didn't say that surely Ted had gotten farther than that by now, that he wouldn't have come back already, that the Death Eaters didn't need to advertise their presence with Dark Marks now that Voldemort had the Ministry.
Andromeda didn't say it either; instead she took a mug and slid into a seat at the kitchen table. "Shouldn't I be the one saying that? Telling my little girl the monsters aren't real?"
Tonks caught the hint of yearning nostalgia in her mother's voice and felt a pang of her own. "I'm an Auror, Mum." And I married a werewolf. "I know there are monsters." She carried her mug to the table, lowered her heavy body into a chair with a sigh, and stirred her tea aimlessly.
Several minutes ticked past on the kitchen clock. Tonks sipped her tea without tasting it; Andromeda sat stiffly erect across from her, staring at nothing, occasionally glancing at the stack of Muggle albums near the wireless. Neither spoke.
A silver-white eagle glided through the door and hovered just inside the kitchen. Remus' voice came from its mouth: "I'm coming back," he said, his tone strained, and nothing more. The Patronus disappeared.
Tonks pushed away from the table and made her way to the door; she reached it just as the crack of Apparition echoed through the back garden, followed by heavy footsteps, a knock. "Security question, Dora," Remus' voice said, sounding hollow of all emotion.
"I…" She couldn't think. When had she last heard him sound so…empty? "What did I give you for your birthday?"
"First-edition Eliot, Four Quartets," he said, his voice still empty, and she flung the door open.
Remus brushed through, closing it behind him, and caught her elbow. "You should sit down." He glanced at the table, where her mum was starting to rise. "Andromeda, don't get up."
Tonks seized his arm. "Remus, what's—"
He looked at her, and his ashen face and blank gaze frightened her more than the green scar in the sky had. She realized she was shaking, and didn't resist when Remus gently pushed her down to sit on the couch. He stood silent for a moment longer, knuckles white under his scars where he gripped the back of the sofa, and then he said in a voice that wasn't his, "It's Ted. I…they found him and…left him there under the Dark Mark. There wasn't anyone else by the time I got there. I…" He looked back and forth between the two women, not meeting their eyes; Tonks felt the earth turning beneath her in the twisting, tightening, chrning in her stomach, and she wanted to be sick.
"I brought his…his body back," Remus said, very quietly, and the world fell apart.
Andromeda slowly stood up, her chair skidding back behind her, her eyes dark and wide in her white, white face. She walked to the door, each step placed with obvious care as if she'd shatter at the slightest jolt, her reserve visibly disintegrating.
"Mum—" Tonks managed, a tiny choked sound.
Remus reached for Andromeda, and she drew away, fumbling for the latch. "Have to see," she said, "have to…" and slipped out the door.
Tonks sat very still, staring at it, at Remus, waiting for him to say no, just an early April Fool's joke, Ted's here, he's fine, everything's fine; only he didn't smile, didn't say it, just stood looking sickened, and a wrenching finality spun through her.
She was breathing hard and fast, heart thundering in her ears, nauseating cold dampness covering her skin, and she was going to be sick.
Remus caught her when she didn't make it to the sink, kept her from dropping to the tiled floor, held her until she'd emptied her stomach of what little was in it, his hands on her shoulders anchoring her to the world and her mum's kitchen and the cold tiles under her knees and oh god daddy it isn't real isn't real isn't—
She clung to him, gasping for breath, unable to cry, unable to think. Remus Vanished the mess and pulled her against him, his arms trembling, his heart pounding under her ear. "I'm sorry," he whispered, rocking her like a child, "I'm so sorry, Dora, I'm so sorry…"
She curled her hand around the collar of his worn coat and drew a shuddering breath, thinking how long it had been since she'd been little enough for her dad to hold her like this, and then the sobs did come, tearing out of her, and she couldn't breathe. She wanted to wake up, this had to be a dream, just a dream, had to…
The baby stirred inside her, and she flinched, one hand dropping to her belly. He'd never see his grandchild.
"Ted," she said, forcing the words out through a throat that felt ravaged by her tears, "we'll name him Ted…little Teddy…" She couldn't manage another word.
(the vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant…that's what they'd missed, all the wide black in between those tiny points of light, the wide black of vacuum that took everything and didn't give anything back)
"Yes," Remus whispered, his voice thick. "Yes." He held her close, and she wondered what kind of world they were bringing a child into, whether she even wanted to find out, and she didn't think she would ever stop crying.