So many thanks and appreciation to everyone who has reviewed. It's so lovely to see people are at all interested in what you're writing, and even more wonderful to have such kind reviews. You're the best, every single one of you.
Now, don't be upset, but this is much shorter in length than the other chapters, but this just felt like the proper place to break it off. I hope you'll forgive me and read it anyway. :)
Damned letters, Severus thought as he walked about his bedroom, picking up the items that seemed to have thrown themselves around the room in his absence. As he reached his wardrobe to put away the cloak he had worn to St. Mungos earlier in the day, Severus stopped. He braced himself against the large wooden door of the armoire and sighed.
He had spent the day pausing at the most random moments - at the market, twice at the bookshop, and once when he saw Draco, who had asked if he'd be joining him at the Lupin home for dinner - to remember the letter sitting on the side table by his bed. I don't owe him anything, he thought again, closing the closet doors defiantly.
He had refused to open the letter the night before, when Remus had given it to him. Truthfully, Severus didn't want to open it at all. He threw on his night clothes and finally shoved the letter into the drawer, out of his sight so that he could rest easily.
Unfortunately, he was not able to rest comfortably.
Sometimes, not always, but when he went to sleep particularly troubled, he tended to have awful dreams. Memories, more often than not. Those were particularly worse, he had realized long ago.
It's said that one dreams nightly, but doesn't always remember; Severus supposed that was true of him. He almost never remembered his dreams.
In the quiet nights he lay in the Hogwarts infirmary, tucked away in his own small room, he supposed, that he rarely remembered his dreams due to his constant need to protect and shield his mind and memories.
After the war, in those nights he lay in the infirmary and the dreams came to him every other time he slept, he realized he had given up on continuing to protect and shield his mind. There was no point; he was too weak and too tired to pretend otherwise. There was no Dumbledore, there was no Dark Lord; there was nothing.
The nothingness is what brought on all of the memories and emotions that played out in his mind's eye as he slept. He had wanted that nothingness for so long, but laying there, willing himself to stay awake against the sleeping draughts Madame Pomfrey had given him, brewed with his own hands, he'd have given anything to keep the nothingness away.
Once, years before, only months after the war, he had dreamt of a mousy-haired boy from his school days, he, Severus, the too-tall, too-awkward boy he was, had sat across from him at a table in the Hogwart's library. In his dream, they had sat quietly, for who-knew how long; only the ruffle of parchment and the occasional scribble of a quill or the turning of a page disturbed the quietness. At the end, when Severus had begun to wake from his sleep, the boy, who had actually resembled an older, tired man, had looked up at him as he stood and gathered his books, with amber-speckled blue eyes, and smiled.
That dream had been the first that after which he had not woken up wand at the ready, drenched in sweat, his heart racing, the whispers of an Unforgivable ghosting his lips.
Severus tossed a bit, his hair shaking free from under him and splaying across his pillows. While the air was cool in the room, his body was warm. He rubbed at his arm, where the Dark Mark had once been. When his dreams were particularly bad, when he dreamt of the Dark Lord, Severus would awake with red scratches on the inside of his arm. Tonight, though, there would be no scratches. This was a different sort of dream. Not completely as unpleasant as others, but even in his sleep-addled mind, he felt different.
Often, he dreamt of Albus. Not always very specific, he could never tell whether it was a dream or a memory - the two of them having tea in the Headmaster's office, or taking a stroll around the courtyard at night. Sometimes, he dreamt of his friend, Lily, when they were just children.
The dreams of Albus and Lily were always his favorites, but they did leave him feeling so tired sometimes, like he hadn't slept at all. The excitement that those dreams brought him, how real the seemed to him, left him drained the next morning. Still, he liked them best because, if he was lucky, they lingered with him throughout the day; they were there with him when he needed their guidance, just as they had been before…
Those nightmares were the worst - the after. After he had caused Lily's death; after, when he had watched Albus fall…
Falling. Was it he who was falling? Why was he falling? …No, he wasn't falling.
Grey eyes looked at him, pleading, brimmed with tears that didn't dare fall. Draco!
Severus tossed about, his left foot slipped down the edge of the bed for a second before he jerked it back. That disturbed his mind and he felt something shift inside him.
No, it wasn't Draco who was falling either. Draco was safe. He's fine. He'd done all he could to protect his godson; Draco was fine.
The jolt of having control over his body, for even just that moment, had cleared the vignette in his mind and things became a bit clearer.
Severus wasn't falling, nor was Draco. The logical part of his mind told him who was falling; he hadn't needed the flash of blue, twinkling eyes to show him.
Those eyes had pleaded with him, asked him so politely. It was Albus who was falling; it was always Albus who was falling, he remembered. He had caused him to fall.
Severus' hands had been gripping the duvet when he heard the whispered Avada Kedavra in his own voice echo in his mind. The voice he heard was surely his own, but it sounded weak and horsed. He didn't even remember anymore what he sounded like that night on the Astronomy Tower; he didn't want to remember.
His white-knuckled grip unclenched from the duvet as his kicking pulled it from his hand. It was almost a relief to have the blanket thrown off of him. He was sweating, he could feel the heavy shirt clinging to his chest. Or was that just an ache he felt? It hardly mattered. He knew that deep ache in his chest always formed when he thought of Albus.
Reaching. He was reaching now, but grunted in frustration in his sleep. His arms laid still by his side, but he was reaching nonetheless, his fingers stretched out, but there was nothing to grab hold of. His hand itched and his palm sweated, but he couldn't quite reach out far enough to grab what he was reaching out towards.
For a brief moment, it struck him odd that Albus had already been falling before he heard the Unforgivable. He hardly had any moment to ponder that though, as suddenly there was a burst of green. That was him, casting the curse that had sent Albus falling. In vain, he reached out further. Hoping he'd feel something.
The color was too blinding; it was so loud Severus heard it ringing in his ears and he struggled to keep his reach extended. He could feel it, his body was giving up. He was going to let Albus fall because there was nothing he could do; he was so exhausted now. He was letting it all happen again and it was going to make him sick to have no control over himself as he relived this fall.
Lily's eyes. But they weren't; they were attached to James Potter's face. Harry.
Severus gasped and his body relaxed. Suddenly, he wasn't blinded, and the ringing had stopped; he wasn't falling and his hand had finally given up and lay limp at his side. His chest still ached, but his rapidly clearing mind told him it would always remain that way.
While his vision was no longer blinded, what he saw now was no better. Potter. He looked like he had when he was a first year - defiant and naïve. And then, his face fell. Like he had been listening in on him, had heard him say those words and watched as Dumbledore fell. Like, he had just realized what it meant.
Severus thought about the nothingness and how heavy it felt within him. Perhaps watching Dumbledore fall, the nothingness inside him, after his parents, after Black, maybe Potter's nothingness was heavier now, as well.
Severus wanted desperately to wake up. His mind was exhausted and his throat dry. He forced himself to push away the boy and close his mind. Just before his eyes flew open, Severus had a flash of that mousy-haired, tired man from the library. He hadn't looked up this time, but Severus thought it best. He wasn't sure he could stand looking at him just yet.
Finally, he awoke. His body felt warm, but the cool summer breeze coming in through the open window chilled him as it hit the sweat-soaked cotton shirt he wore.
His chest felt heavy and his body clammy. He removed the shirt and tossed it to the floor as he grabbed another from nearby. By the time he had finished shaking out the duvet from the floor, his gasping breaths had evened out. Once his mind had settled a bit, after a swig of a calming draught, he lay back in his bed and rested against the headboard. With a steady hand, Severus reached into the side table drawer.
Looking at the letter - it wasn't even that, really, just a scrap of parchment folded in four - he let his eyes close for a few moments. Thankfully, the faces he had dreamt up were no longer in his mind's eye.
All that remained was the darkness of the summer night surrounding him and the cold air coming in from the sea chilling him as he sat alone in the house he could not bear to think of as his home. Cold, dark, and alone. The way I've spent life, I deserve no better.
With these thoughts in his head, Severus unfolded the parchment and read the note Harry Potter had written to him.
Remus and Teddy were tidying the sitting room in preparation for their guests. Teddy had already made sure to make his bed and clean up his toys. He was being quite helpful, but being his dad, Remus had noticed how much quieter Teddy was becoming as the day wore on.
Teddy hopped up onto the arm of a chair. He was thinking about what it was he was going to ask, Remus noticed. Whatever it was, he'd been thinking about it for a while now. Teddy started picking at a loose thread and squared his shoulders.
"I know Draco is my cousin, so," he hesitated here and worried his lip a bit. He didn't want to say aloud whatever it was he was going to say, Remus realized. "Why wasn't he at Gram's funeral?" Teddy finally asked, his voice quiet, but confused.
Remus' chest tightened at the shaky question. He'd guessed he'd have to answer a few awkward questions from his son about Draco, but he hadn't exactly been expecting to answer that particular question just yet.
These sorts of things seemed so much easier when Andromeda had been around. It was bearable, explaining to Teddy about the war and what had happened to his mother when he was finally old enough to understand.
He had had Andy by his side, one hand holding Teddy's, the other arm draped across his own shoulders. It hurt so much to see the tears run down his boy's face as they told him how bravely she had fought. He had tears in his own eyes, but Andy, she had been strong for them.
Later that night, after Remus had tucked Teddy into bed and they had shared a few more tears for wife and mother, Remus had hesitated at the bottom of the staircase when he heard Andromeda trying to steady her sobs.
Remus had steeled himself before going into the kitchen and putting his own arm around her so that she could grieve openly for the daughter and husband she had lost. With a toddler to take care of on top of everything else, it had just been a whirlwind of one thing after another.
They had grieved, yes, but there hadn't been much time to remember. Remembering hurt the most, so they kept busy - planning and attending funerals for the fallen, teaching Teddy to repeat his ABCs and 123s, helping rebuild at Hogwarts, attending trial after trial, giving testimony after testimony. There just hadn't been time.
As he hugged her, he wondered if perhaps Teddy was alone upstairs dreaming of the mother he'd never know. Remus closed his eyes and pictured his son asleep in his bed, his hair changing from his normal brown to the perfect shade of bubble gum pink. Dora would have thought him the most wickedly brilliant three-year old.
She'd never get to see that though. Nor would she ever get to see Teddy waving goodbye to them as the train left platform 9 ¾. And Teddy, he'd never get to bring home the woman he was going to marry to introduce her to his mum. And all those little things between, all the things only mothers could take care of and make better… Teddy wouldn't have any of that.
They don't deserve this kind of pain, he thought. I can't do this.
Remus shook his head to get rid of those memories.
Teddy was balancing himself on the arm of a chair, swinging his legs. Before Remus could find a suitable answer, he had to reach out and keep Teddy from losing his balance and falling back. That made him smile. He'd never really know his mum, but Teddy was so much like her.
He could do this.
Remus thought for a few moments of how to best explain the generations long situation that had put Teddy and Draco into this peculiar arrangement.
"Teddy, sometimes, the ones we love… we lose our way from them," he started. "Your gram and Draco's mother, they lost their way from each other. Now, that doesn't mean they didn't love each other, in some way. I think they did, actually. When one loses their way, it's just hard to find the way back."
Remus wasn't sure if Teddy understood what he was trying to say. Teddy was looking at him the way Dora would sometimes look at him, like he'd gone around the bend. That's when Remus started to second guess himself.
The loss Teddy'd suffered was terrible, but through it all, he was so strong - just like his mother and grandmother. But Teddy was still just a five year old boy; there had to be a limit of how much he could suffer at such a young age, of how much he could accept.
What if Remus couldn't help him to understand this new, strange situation? What if it was just too much, and still too soon after losing his gram?
Maybe this was a bad idea. It was just too soon to be introducing Teddy to new people, new family. Teddy liked Severus, he'd made that clear, so was it Draco who was just too much?
Introducing new family so soon after losing Andy, maybe Teddy felt like Remus was trying to replace her in his life. Or, Merlin forbid, Teddy thought he had to try to forget her.
Finally, Teddy gave him a crooked smile.
"So, me and Draco, we have to find the way back for them," he said with all the confidence in the world, even as he stumbled from jumping off his perch on the couch.
Remus let out a sigh. Wickedly brilliant, indeed.
"Yes, that's absolutely right," Remus said, grabbing his son and hugging him close.
Remus wasn't sure how he'd gotten so lucky, but he had. He woke every morning just to hear Teddy's laugh, to see him flash a mischievous grin at him, and to hold him tightly and tell him he loved him.
Teddy had lost so much, and too quickly, but he never let that stop him from smiling. All those days that Remus felt like not smiling, he need only think of Teddy.
His son had suffered greatly, certainly, but he was stronger for it. Teddy would be fine.
As always, be gentle.