A/N: Another gift-fic for Russet022, this one for the Christmas that just passed. Again, if you don't know about Tilia, check out Bound By Moonlight, by Russet. This fic is post Battle of Hogwarts, but it's hopefully not *too* depressing...

Disclaimer: Don't own Remus Lupin, anything related to Harry Potter etc. Don't own Tilia.

Ashes of Our Youth

Remus Lupin stood silently before the mouldering tapestry, lamenting the need for it's resurrection from storage in the first place, and wondering at the fact that McGonagall had not repaired it at all. He waved his wand until all the loosening threads wove tightly back together and the holes had been closed and the frayed edges had become crisp and new, and the faded colours sprang back to life. He nodded in satisfaction as the sad unicorn lifted up its head and pranced about its wild-flowered field once again. Then he gently lifted one side, and stepped behind the tapestry. If anyone had been watching the Marauders' Map, he would have disappeared.

He stood still for a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the faint, blue-ish light emanating from the ruined Room of Requirement. The Fiendfyre had gutted the Room of Hidden Things, leaving mountains of ash and the stench of heavy smoke. It had burned for days after the Battle of Hogwarts, and while Professors Flitwick, McGonagall, and Slughorn along with Arthur and Bill Weasley, Tilia, and Remus himself had been able to contain the rampaging flames to the Room, they had not been able to quench it. The fire had consumed everything in its path—everything that had ever been left in the Room of Hidden Things as well as the Room of Requirement. It was a devastating loss.

Not that the Room hadn't fought to save itself. Water had poured from the ceiling the entire time the Fiendfyre was burning, but it hadn't been enough. Eventually, the Room had exhausted itself, and with a sighing groan, had sagged into the demolished shell that remained. Remus stood where the door had once been and felt like crying.

There was a ragged hole in the wall, the stone twisted and melted. Beyond that, there was a field of ash. A wispy haze hung in the air and the ground was covered with a layer of fine grey dust, like snow on Christmas morning. Remus sighed and his breath floated into the murky depths of the room, swirling the hanging ashes. He stepped across what had once been the threshold and stared sadly at the footprints that appeared behind him as he ventured further in. Footprints…

Remus could never look at footprints the same way again. Back in fifth year, when they had started working on the Map, the footprints had become the logical suggestion for tracing the way people went. Sirius's joke that footsteps were the first thing that warned a lurking prankster, and the first thing that let him know the coast was clear, had made James's head snap up and that mischievous gleam shine in his eyes.

"What if each dot on here left a trail of footprints?" James had asked. "Then we'd see which way they came from, which direction they're going."

"We can already see that," Remus had said, thinking despairingly of all the Charms work footprints would need, and knowing full well to whom the Charms work would fall. "The dots move fine on their own."

"But think how cool that would look!" James had persisted, and sprang off on a wild tangent, Sirius chiming in with ideas of his own, Peter nodding to whatever their fearless leaders said, and Remus, with a stricken expression, already pulling quill and parchment closer to begin writing the spell to make it happen.

But ever after, footprints had held special meaning to Remus. They had been a vestige of James, a remnant of Sirius, a trace of who Peter used to be. A memory of brighter days, happier times. And even now, in the Room of Requirement—one of the only two places in Hogwarts that had never found their way onto the Map—the footprints followed him, haunted him. Made him remember their voices, the expressions on their faces, the way they laughed. Remus drew a deep breath, and coughed, choking on the dusty air.

A glass of water appeared before him and he seized it from the hand that held it out to him, gulping it down, clearing his throat of the sticky, dry ashes. He looked up into the sardonic face of his wife, and smiled.

"Thanks," he said.

"Any time," Tilia said, raising an eyebrow. Remus's smile faded as she Vanished the glass and cleared the air around them with some conjured wind. "Is there a special reason you're trying to give yourself lung cancer?" she asked. He winced.

"You seemed to be engrossed in conversation," he redirected. "Slughorn certainly knows how to organise a spectacular party."

"Which you were not enjoying?" she asked, gesturing to where they were. "The party is down in the Great Hall, not up on the seventh floor."

"I got lost—"

"I might have accepted your age-old excuse, but I think Harry is the only person who knows this castle better than you. So I ruled out 'lost' some time ago, and came to see where exactly you were wallowing."

"Wallowing?" Remus said, insulted. "I'm not wallowing."

"Yes, you are, dearest." He looked down, sheepishly, before meeting her eyes. "Why here?" she asked, glancing around the Room.

"It… I don't know," he said honestly. "It seemed right." He didn't mention that he felt much like the Room—gutted, empty, full of the ashes of old memories that would not clear the air and the footprints of friends long dead. Tilia sighed and wrapped her arms around him. He responded in kind, burying his face in her hair.

"You know I hate Christmas," he muttered, closing his eyes in a desperate attempt not to cry like a small child. "Everyone goes on about how it's a time for family and friends and its so hard not to punch them all in the face. You are the only family I have left."

"False," Tilia said matter-of-factly. "Harry is your unofficially adopted son. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Luna. They're your metaphorical nephews and nieces. Tonks is like your little sister, thus making Charlie you brother-in-law and Teddy another nephew. You are, by dint of being an unofficial relative of Harry's, a member of the Weasley family, because Molly would never have it any other way. McGonagall is a rather stern aunt; Flitwick is like a sweet great-uncle. I'm your wife. Now tell me again that you have no family."

"I… Til, that's not what I mean. What happened to our generation? Everyone we loved when we were growing up, when we were Harry's age. All the people we spent the best days of our lives with. Our entire generation was wiped out. And we are the only two survivors. Christmas is impossible with that weight crushing you."

"Remus… you're not blaming yourself, are you?" Tilia asked hesitantly.

"God, no," he whispered. "But all those memories… When we first lost them all, I knew that I would never see them again, never hear their voices again, never make a new memory with them. But now that everything is over—that I have time to rest, and think, and breathe—no war to fight, and everything in the world is put to right… I can't help thinking of them again, and wondering what they would have made of this new world."

Tilia was silent for some time, holding him closely. The ashes swirled around them in the stillness, and Remus couldn't help staring at the two sets of footprints that were the first to disturb the blanket of snowy cinders that lay as thick as memories on the floor.

"I'm sorry," he said finally, kissing her gently on the top of the head. "I am wallowing. And it's stupid. They would want us to be happy, and Sirius would kill me for not making Christmas especially joyful." Tilia rolled her eyes as Remus gave a rueful smile. "Let's go back downstairs."

"Joy, rapture, and other expressions of glee," she muttered.

"Or we could stay up here," he suggested, waving a hand at the gloom that clung to the air around them.

"Now you're being funny," she said, taking his hand. "You said Sirius would have wanted us happy on Christmas. How are we supposed to be happy in the burned out remains of the Room of Requirement?"

"Because it still is the Room of Requirement," he said, pointing upwards. She looked to where he was indicating and saw, hanging in the air just above their heads, a spray of mistletoe, glowing gently among the ash that could have passed for snow. She couldn't help laughing. Remus smiled, and bent to kiss her.

"Happy Christmas, dearest," she said. "All may yet be very well."

"Yes," he said, kissing her again. "Thank you."

"Any time." She pulled him out of the room, and brushed the ashes off of him, complaining that he never could keep even the nicest suit clean for long. He looked back through the ragged doorway before the tapestry fell in front of it, and thought he saw, for a moment, the smiling faces of the past, dancing in the snow. But when he looked again, the vision of their younger selves had dissolved into ashes, and there were only his and Tilia's footprints. He smiled sadly, and followed Tilia back down to the party, where Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Tonks and Teddy Weasley pounced on him, and made him quite the happiest he had been in a long time.

"See," Tilia said later that night, as they watched the younger children dive happily into the mountains of discarded wrapping paper and the older children drifting off in pairs to find their own sprigs of mistletoe. "Family."

"It was a wonderful Christmas evening," he admitted.

"Once you stopped wallowing."

"Once I stopped wallowing," he agreed, laughing.

"Let's go home and make it a wonderful Christmas night," Tilia whispered. He kissed her to show his agreement, and they took their leave of Hogwarts in a whirl of happy good-byes, and see-you-tomorrows.

If Remus had looked closer at the Room, he would have seen several more sets of footprints—old, familiar footprints. Footprints belonging to a young James and Lily Potter, Sirius and Jessy Black, Remus and Tilia Lupin, Peter and Hestia Pettigrew. He would have heard a faint laugh, a sigh of music from a long-ago dance the Room had once hidden. And he would have known that, while he had one family now, the family he used to know was still with him, and always would be, safe in his memories, forever in his heart.

End

A/N: Since Tilia exists in this universe, I married Tonks to Charlie Weasley, hence Teddy Weasley. And the "Joy, rapture, and other expressions of glee" line I must disclaim as belonging to Anne B Walsh, or Whydoyouneedtoknow, from her absolutely amazing story BE CAREFUL. Thanks for reading, and now go read BBM! :D