How To Be A Hero

Falling Into Place

The door bell rang loudly in the post-Christmas silence, causing Dora, who had been dozing in an armchair, to jump up in alarm. At once her heart was beating wildly, and different scenarios were running through her head of what might have gone wrong that would result in such a late-night visit.

Then logic caught up with her. Her floo network was always open, and neither there nor via her Auror badge had anyone tried to contact her. So, this was probably old Mrs. Graham from across the floor. She still readied her wand, half-hidden in her sleeve, on her way to the door, Mad-Eye’s well-known words echoing in her ear.

She was all the more surprised when it was not Mrs. Graham, nor her parents or Charlie or some other Order member. And that fact did not help at all to calm her still racing heart.

“Dora,” Remus greeted softly, taking in her slightly stiff posture with a sheepish smile.

“What are you doing here?” she blurted out, cringing inwardly. She may have never been very good with words, but even she could certainly do better. “Did something happen? Is Harry all right? And –“

“Everyone is doing well,” one hand raised to placate her worries, he regarded her intensely. “Are you all right?”

Feeling her cheeks turn hot, Dora let her gaze drop, seeing the small paddle of water gathering around his feet, indicating that he must have walked here through the snow. Pointing at it, she asked, “Did you get lost, or do you need a place to warm up before continuing your late-night walk.”

Remus chuckled lowly. “No, no. I always wanted to come here. I just had to gather my courage.”

Dora did not know what to make of this, but her heart rose higher in her chest, beating even faster. They had not been alone together since Sirius’ death, not really. Whenever they met, it was either at Grimmauld Place with other Order members present, or for dinner with her parents. And he had not been in her flat for long before that. There were a thousand questions running through her head, but they all melted down to one: Had he finally accepted her – and his – feelings?

Noticing that he was still standing on the floor outside, she stepped aside to let him in. Her expression carefully neutral, but she was sure he would have no difficulty to recognize the hope brimming in her eyes.

“Well, come on then. Get to the fire before you freeze. I’ll make us tea.” While part of her wanted to press him for answers immediately, she knew that she needed a couple minutes to gather her wits. If she was right, then this was her chance to get what she had been longing for these past years. And she really did not want to muck this up by putting her foot in her mouth, as she was so wont to do.

When she returned to the living room, the tea floating next to her, she found Remus sitting cross-legged in front of the fire-place. “I didn’t think you’d take my words so literally,” she smiled. “You can have a chair, you know.”

“That’s quite all right,” he shrugged, turning around so that he could face her, his back to the flames. This way, his face was shrouded in shadow, making it much harder for her to gauge his reactions or to glimpse at the emotions he had gotten so good at hiding. She almost complimented him for that ingenious move. But, mostly, she felt a surge of anger. Why did he have to make everything so complicated all the time?

Biting her tongue, she poured tea for both of them and when she gave him his cup, she had the feeling that he took extra care that their fingers had no chance to touch. Yes, it was definitely anger, bubbling down in her stomach, but still she sat down gingerly.

“So,” she drawled, and flinched slightly at her own tone. “What is it that I owe your visit to?”

Cradling his cup as if it held not only comfort but answers, too, Remus regarded her for a short time, before he shrugged again, and answered casually. “Hermione.”

That was not what Dora had expected. “Our Hermione?” Earning herself a mockingly raised eyebrow, she hastily added, “Does she know?”

Only a week earlier, he would have gotten up and, on his way to the door no less, would have told her there was nothing to know about. Now, however, he shook his head. “No, she does not.”

“Then what?”

When he elaborated, it was with a small smile. “Ron has gotten a – necklace from his girlfriend. Which upset our Hermione quite a bit.”

Not getting what he was trying to tell her, Dora cocked her head to a side. “And?”

“She came to me later on to ask me a question.” They shared a quick smile, because that did sound like their Hermione. “She asked whether boys ever really grow up.”

Remus fell silent, leaving her to contemplate that. Though she was still confused about what he wanted to tell her. “So?,” she finally asked slowly. “Hermione wants Ron, but he doesn’t notice because –“

Trailing off, Dora’s eyes snapped to Remus, who seemed to avoid her again. But he had come here, voluntarily at that. Deciding that she was done with beating around the bush, she put all on one card. “Do boys ever grow up?”

It was then, that he looked at her, really looked at her. And even shrouded in the relative darkness of the room did she see something in his amber eyes, trained unflinchingly on her. “Do girls ever grow out of us?”

“Well,” Dora intoned clearly, but the nervousness left a small tremor in her voice. “I don’t.”

Disappointment welled up inside her when there was no obvious reaction. No relieved exhale, no grateful blinking of his eyes, no jubilant jumping up and taking her in his arms. But wait, was that a twitch in his lips?

“What does this mean, Remus?” Dora asked, moving her hand between the both of them, all the while wondering how such a simple question could take so much air out of her lungs.

“Mostly that I am an idiot,” he confessed, shrugging one shoulder uncomfortably. “But –“

“But what?” unlike a dozen times before, there was no heat behind her words. It was a simple question, though she had no illusions that the answer would be simple, too.

“But I am still what I am.”

There was no special emphasis on his words, no judgement. But that was probably even more painful, erecting it like a fact between them. They could work on problems and on fears. Saying this like an undeniable truth, however – how was she to fight against blind acceptance? She would not have been Dora Tonks, though, if she had not tried.

Getting up slowly, she put down her rapidly cooling tea, and made her way over to him. Sitting down right in front of him, their knees not-quite touching, she let her face bathe in the flickering fire light. He may have been afraid to show too much emotion, but she had Black blood running through her veins. And Blacks did not hide, not from those who matter the most.

“You are still who you are,” she said simply, announcing a truth she had carried around with her for years. “You are still the first and best friend I’ve ever had. You are still the person who drilled me in DADA when I thought I wouldn’t make it. You are still the person who stood at my side when Mum was railing against my decision to join the Aurors.”

Raising a hand slowly but deliberately, she laid it down on one of his and left it there. She did not squeeze, did not hold onto him. No, she just created a connection between them. “You are still the one I fell in love with. And don’t ever think that I have stopped loving you.”

For a minute or two – or a hundred – none of them moved. They sat across from each other, the only sounds coming from the fire, which kept burning merrily, oblivious to the fact that the world had momentarily stopped turning. Then, Remus took his free hand to cover hears, a confession maybe, and a promise.

“I’m sorry,” Remus said, but the smile playing on his lips told her it was not a refusal but a step into the right direction.

Moving forward, she sank into his readily opening arms, relief making her heart light but her limbs heavy. But she knew that he would always catch her.

“I know, you great prat,” Dora murmured against his chest, taking in his warmth and his familiar smell, his steady heart beat against her ear.

And she had never felt more at home.

They kept it secret. Though, at first, there was not much to be kept secret. Between work and running themselves ragged for the Order, their lives did not change much. But Remus did not avoid being alone with her, anymore, and Dora did not have to spend an extra half hour in front of the mirror every morning to make herself look as if she got enough sleep and was not unhappy. In fact, she practically glowed all on her own, these days. They spent most of their free time together, and returned to their easy companionship of their earlier years.

The more observant of their friends found out about them all on their own. Moody, as grim and tight-lipped as always, clapped Remus on the back after one Order meeting, having had his magical eye on them the whole two hours, not missing a single one of their ‘accidental’ touches or how Dora’s lips brushed his ear when quietly commenting on something or other. He nodded in what they could only interpret as approval and left with an almost chipper sounding “Constant vigilance”, leaving Remus sputtering and Dora laughing wildly.

Kingsley, having noticed how eager Dora was to leave work in the evenings all of a sudden, put two and two together when Remus took her out for lunch one day, bringing flowers and wearing a bright smile not often seen on the usually so reserved werewolf. “Finally,” he had smirked, waggling his eyebrows when Dora had blushed. But any other suggestive comments were cut off, when Remus answered him with a resounding “Yes” and kissed her right in front of his eyes. Something Dora gifted Kingsley a bottle fire whiskey for later. For ‘helping her to get Remus out of his shell’.

Dumbledore, while not saying anything, seemed to smile at them for a tad longer than usual, the twinkle in his eyes despite the dark times almost up to its usual brightness.

Thankfully they avoided detection through Molly until much later, for her tirade about inappropriateness and ‘Oh, dear, you are still so young,’ was something they could really do without. Arthur, who had winked at them inconspicuously a couple times, seemed to share their sentiment and kept silent.

The other parental figures in Remus’ life, did not, to his eternal relief, give them any grieve at all. In fact, the first time he had arrived together with Dora to their weekly dinner, Andromeda had eyed them carefully, while Ted had grinned and said, “You just have to tell me how you’re doing it, Remus. None of my younger friends want to go out with me.”

Andromeda, of course, had only smiled sickly-sweet, muttering something along the lines of ‘having to dust off my old poison kit if any of those friends even thought about getting close to my husband’.

And that was that. No long talks about his intentions, no warnings, no threats. They just welcomed him to their table and into their home like they had done a thousand times before. And even though expecting anything else from them was foolish and ridiculous, Remus could not help but feel relieved. They were his family of sorts, so, naturally, their approval was important to him. It was even worth Dora’s cheeky smile as she rolled her eyes at him. “Told you so.” And that she had.

Dumbledore was dead.

The message had spread like fire through their ranks, as well as through the rest of their world once morning had come and owls had reached parents and the Ministry. Hogwarts had been under attack. And Dumbledore was dead.

Remus had fought in the battle, had wounds to show and nightmares to live through. He had seen the body. And, still, he could not believe it. Could not believe that their leader, the symbol of the Light side had fallen. Could not believe that Snape, of all people, had done it. No matter the enmity between them, no matter years worth of bitter words and bad memories.

That was what had hit him most. For the second time betrayed by one of their own. Peter had been easy to trust. In fact, it had never been a question not to. As a friend and brother, there had never been any doubt.

And still, Snape’s betrayal hit him just as hard, maybe even harder, if he did not count the emotional part of losing everything he had once called his own that first time. He had actively decided to trust their Potion Master, despite their history, despite all the evidence suggesting that he should not. And that trust had backfired most spectacularly.

A warm weight at his side snapped him out of his musings. “I can’t believe it,” Dora said quietly, her head against his shoulder, to get as much as to lend support. Just like his, her eyes were fixed on the coffin, not on the Ministry official standing up front, droning on and on about Dumbledore’s great achievements.

The serene tension filling the air on Hogwarts’ grounds seemed wrong. Too calm, too closed off. Days ago, there was blood running through the millennia-old school and curses flying through the hallways dedicated to learning.

Remus knew that had been the first step into chaos. With Dumbledore gone, they had lost more than just a Headmaster. Their world would be descending further and further into darkness if they did not step up to do something against it. Tiredly rubbing the bridge of his nose, he tried to shake off the bad feeling trying to get hold of him. They would need all the strength they had, if they still wanted to win.

Win, hah. He could barely keep himself from laughing. Not losing would be more than enough.

When it was time to lower the coffin into its final resting place, Dora took his hand, gripping it tightly, and tried to crawl even deeper into his side. He could not blame her for that. Also, he knew that she would stand tall later, when they would need her. So, how could he protest her small display of weakness?

They went together, to pay their last respects and right before they were about to step away again, Dora looked at him.

“Marry me,” she said simply, causing his head to snap around, speechless.

“What?” Remus croaked, but she only smiled sadly and took his hand, leading him back down from the podium. It would not do to cause a scene.

They did not stay long after that, making their rounds more out of respect than any will to linger longer than necessary. Dora seemed depressed somehow, and Remus was kept busy by mulling her – request? over and over in his head, caught between panicking and thinking it was just some – very bad – try to take his mind off recent events.

But as soon as they were back in her flat, though it was really already theirs because Remus seldom spent the night elsewhere, she eyed him with that same strange intensity and repeated her words.

“Marry me.” Simple as that.

“But –“ Remus started to protest, not even knowing where to begin, because, surely, she knew that this was impossible. Madness.

“No,” she interrupted softly. “I don’t want to listen to your usual ‘reasons’. I don’t care for any of that.” She could not help but add, “Just like Fleur does not care that Bill had a run in with Greyback.” Dragging him gently off to the couch, they sat down, facing each other. “I love you, Remus Lupin. And I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Then she chuckled lowly, thought there was no humour in the somewhat brittle sound. “I would have left you more time to get comfortable with this idea. But it seems we don’t have it,” shrugging nonchalantly, she continued. “No one will dare say it out loud, but without Dumbledore, our chances have just dropped significantly. I don’t know how long the ‘rest of my life’ will be, but I know that I want to live it as ‘Dora Lupin’. To have you as long and as close as possible.”

Remus did not speak immediately after she had fallen silent. Instead, he looked at her, long and utterly calm. His mouth opened and closed a couple times, as if he had to retrace, reformulate his words, fighting an inner battle.

“I would love nothing more than –“

“Then do it,” she intoned urgently, noticing how carefully he had worded his statement. “We can marry the Muggle way first, so we won’t attract attention of the wrong people, if that is one of your arguments. Mum and Dad did that, too. When everything is over,” – and if we’re still alive, hung unspoken in the air – “Then we can make it official in the magical world, too. It’s just – It would mean a lot to me, if you would finally stop hiding behind this stupid condition that, contrary to your constant insistence, makes you a better man, not a wor-“

“Okay,” Remus interrupted her rant, his voice gentle, and he looked a bit surprised at his own concession.

“What?”, Dora asked dazedly, believing her mind was playing tricks on her.

“I said okay,” he repeated, a smile appearing on his face. Then he jumped up, feeling more energetic than he had in weeks, only to fall down on one knee right in front of her.

“Dora Tonks,” he intoned solemnly. “I might need a couple days to get my mother’s ring from my vault, but – Do you want to marry me?”

Feeling a beaming smile spread across her face, she took his hand to pull him up against her. “Yes,” and it came out louder than she had intended, nearly a shout really, holding much of her usual spark and the deep-rooted knowledge that she had finally triumphed over Remus’ constant concerns.

“Thank you,” he breathed, and then, “I love you, Dora.”

She kissed him in response.
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