„So, what do you think about this one?“ Dora’s playful voice stood in a stark contrast to the dark shadows beneath her eyes. It still held the same tiredness Remus felt deep in his bones. That did not matter right now, though. They were home and together and safe for the moment.
“I’d rather reserve judgement,” he answered, one eyebrow raised mockingly. “I am quite happy with my momentary state of health.”
Cocking her head, Dora frowned and looked back at the – thing she had shoved into his face mere seconds ago. “I think it’s cute,” upon getting no response, she corrected herself. “Well, it could be worse.”
“Like the one you tried last week,” Remus dodged her fist with ease. “No, you’re right, of course. You are getting better at this.” That was when he could not fight off the grin any longer. “Give it to me.”
“No,” Dora squealed when he reached out, a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. “You’ll just ruin it.”
Remus laughed out loud.
“Now you’re just mean,” she pouted, but looked happy nonetheless. Laughter was rare these days, and those short moments at home with only their family and none of the worries about their world and future were all that kept her going at times.
That, and their son, who was watching them curiously from where he lay on their bed, young eyes focused on them, a smile on his lips – and hair that, for the time being, was bright orange, which clashed horribly with his Gryffindor red rompers.
Which was why she had tried to change the colour of another one to something that would make Teddy look less ridiculous. Only, it seemed, as proficient as she was at transfiguring herself, inanimate objects seemed to be completely out of her league. Though she was sure, even someone who was actually good at this would be hard-pressed to manage this exact shade of neon-green. Or the lilac polka dots she was not even aiming for.
“I promise I won’t ruin it.” Any more than you already did, hung in the air between them, as obvious as if he had said it out loud, causing her to harrumph, not yet willing to give in.
“Or,” he relented, still grinning widely, “we can just wait which colour our dear son will sport next. Maybe it will match and –“ At that, he was cut off by the green monstrosity hitting him right in the face.
He fully expected Dora to use his momentary distraction to jump at him and maybe start another tickling war – something they would probably never grow tired off – instead she smiled and came to engulf him in a warm embrace, full of underlying meaning.
Dora loved the way he would say ‘our son’ every now and then. The way his face lit up with wonder whenever he looked at the tiny child they had made. How his voice would grow soft. How he seemed years younger and more healthy than she had ever seen him.
It gave her hope. For the days to come. For their future. It made that dream image in her head, where they were old and grey and surrounded by grandchildren in the same cottage she had grown up in, all the more possible, the more alluring.
“I love you,” she mumbled against his chest, taking in his strong heartbeat.
“And I love you,” he answered, somehow understanding all that went unsaid, like he had always been able to, ever since they had met a lifetime ago on that graveyard, when his life seemed to be all but over.
They could have stood there for hours, comfortable in each other’s arms, with nothing but their breaths to fill the silence around them. Teddy, however, seemed to feel left out – or he was disappointed that his night’s entertainment had ended so abruptly.
Either way, both of them turned immediately at the demanding babbling and made their way over to the bed. Dora took up their son, placed a kiss on his forehead and returned to her safe spot with her husband, Teddy held carefully between them. He seemed more than happy with that, trusting his parents to be there for him. Always.
“How about you tell us a story?” Dora asked, lips curled up in a half-smile. “You know, for good dreams, and all that.”
Remus chuckled at that. “I’m pretty sure you already know all of my stories.”
“Teddy doesn’t,” she shrugged. “Also I like listening to your voice.”
“Ah, there it is, the bitter truth,” he intoned, nodding gravely. “All this years you’ve kept me around for my voice only. I bet you never even paid attention to what I said.”
“You’ve found me out,” then she scrunched up her face thoughtfully. “Though I vaguely remember something about – was it a giant cat wandering around a forest and doing all kind of boring things?”
“Do you hear that, Teddy,” he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Never believe a woman’s word. They’ll say anything to get what they want. And before you know it, you’ve parted with all your wisdoms and are left with nothing, while they never even cared.”
“My, what an insightful man you are,” Dora grinned, “I shall never let you have any say in my son’s education. You’ll corrupt him –“
“I will corrupt him?” he looked at her aghast. “Oh the shame, having my virtues doubted by a flighty character such as yours.”
She felt the trembling of his chest as he tried to contain the rising laughter. In response, she snuggled deeper into his embrace.
“You know,” she said finally, thoughtful and content, “I think I will very much enjoy listening to you telling our story to Teddy. We’ve had our rough patches but-“
“It is a good story to tell,” he agreed. “And it is not yet over.”
Looking up at him, Dora nodded. “No, it is not.”
Two days later, the news spread like fire.
Potter is at Hogwarts. You-know-who is on the move. Be ready. We’re fighting.
This is it. We’re fighting. We’re fighting.
Dora would never have admitted it out loud, but she was afraid. Holding Teddy close to her chest, she really tried to listen to her mother’s voice, but the pressure on her ears blocked out every sound.
Kingsley’s patronus had roused them rather painfully from the peaceful routine their home life had turned into during the last weeks. They had tried to keep the war out, to create a safe haven to gather strength and use every single moment of calm as if it were their last. Until it was.
The voice of her former colleague had been collected, but he did not manage to hide the underlying tension, the trembling trepidation of knowing what was to come. It told them more than his words ever could.
This was no routine raid. No false alarm. It was the real thing, that would decide their future – or whether they would have one at all.
Remus had gotten up immediately, seemingly unhesitating. There was steel in his eyes and, for once, there was no trace of a smile on his lips when he looked at her and Teddy. Determination was oozing from his very being, resolve to fight and win and avenge everything he had lost.
She had envied him that, if only for a short moment. Then, there was all-consuming fear. For him. For them. For her dream.
As an Auror she should not feel that way. Danger was her area of expertise, fighting for her life, baiting death. And, truly, it was not herself she feared for. Mainly it was for her husband, whom she had had only for so short a time, and their son, who was so innocent and so dependant on them. For her mother, too, because she could not imagine the pain she would be going through if anything were to happen to them. Not after her father’s death.
So she rose, only a couple of heartbeats later than him, needing the reassuring warmth of her son in her arms to gather her courage, before she could stand as strong and ready as Remus.
“No,” he had said, when his eyes fell on her shrugging on her Auror robes, voice flat and unyielding. So very similar to his resistance to give in to his feelings what seemed like a lifetime ago – or mere seconds, now that their being together was suddenly threatened to be over again so soon.
“Yes,” she had answered, not even bothering to look up at him. Oh, how she regretted that now, missing out on the chance to see his face and eyes and lips. Who knew how changed he would come back, or if – no, she was not going there. He would come back. He had to.
“Dora,” the word held nothing of its usual warmth. Instead it was a drawn out, impatient sound.
“Yes, Remus,” she snapped, while fastening her wand holder with one hand.
He had been silent then for a moment, tension filling the room, until she could feel him deflate.
“Dora,” he repeated, allowing the chaos of his thoughts to show in his voice, causing her heart to stop and jump. Then he was there, right in front of her, cupping her face in caring hands.
The emotions in his amber eyes hurt almost physically. “I –“ she started, but found she did not know what to say.
“I cannot lose you,” Remus whispered.
Dora had been prepared to argue, to point out that she’d rather fight and do her part in securing their son’s future than sit at home waiting and staying safe. She had waited for him to point out all his clever reasons as to why she should stay behind, that she should not risk her life when Teddy needed them, that there were enough people, that her wand, while greatly appreciated, would not be what would change this day’s outcome.
She would have been able to fight that. But this – Remus being more vulnerable than she had seen him in a long time, letting all barriers fall. Not for a single second did she doubt his sincerity. The pain in his eyes was too real, the fear in his trembling fingers too familiar.
“I –“ she tried again, feeling her resolve crumble. Finally she threw herself into his arms, needing to feel his warmth again, his heartbeat, strong and undeniably alive.
“Come back to me,” she said, her tone urgent and longing. “Don’t you dare die, Remus Lupin.”
He held her, breathing a kiss onto the top of her head. “I won’t leave you,” he promised. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere where you are not.”
Her eyes started burning, and she found herself oddly unwilling to fight the tears back. “Come back to me,” she said again, the words echoing in her mind without pause.
“I love you.”
A gentle, yet desperate, kiss, a squeeze, then he let go of her, and it seemed like all the warmth had left her body. Remus’ movements seemed just a tad more reluctant than before, but she was not sure at all if she should be happy about that. He would need all his strength out there.
Gathering up Teddy in his arms for a last goodbye, their eyes locked again.
“Go down to your mother. I don’t want you to be alone.”
She must have nodded, because he handed their son over to her, took a deep breath, and was gone. It was all she could do, not to collapse right there and then.
Instead, she hugged the small body of her boy, and left herself, afraid of what she might do if the sudden silence would press in on her any longer.
Not that sitting in the kitchen with her mother, clinging to a mug of tea which had grown cold an eternity ago, was any better. Andromeda sat with her back straight, like she had been taught to, but her face was not as emotionless as she might have liked.
“I’m glad you are here,” she had said, a strange emphasis on ‘you’, like she knew something Dora did not.
All that came after was slow, agonizing waiting, fear of being left behind mingled with the horror images of what might happen at Hogwarts while she was sitting in her childhood home pretending to listen to her mother’s calming muttering.
It was impossible.
Like in a trance, she took hold of one of Teddy’s tiny hands, squeezing it gently before placing a kiss on his brow.
“I love you,” she choked out, “And your Dad loves you, too. Never doubt that, Teddy.”
When she looked up, her mother was staring at her, a strange mix of resignation and panic warring in her eyes.
“Nymphadora,” she started but fell silent again.
“I cannot,” Dora answered nonetheless, trying to sound apologetic. She handed her son over, and made all her promises with the small smile gracing her lips.
“I love you, mum,” she hugged the older woman goodbye and straightened.
Breathing seemed to be much easier, now that she knew what she had to do.
It was utter chaos.
Hogwarts was in near ruin. Walls were broken down, windows shattered, rubble filled the hallways were once carefree students had made their first steps into their own life. And where they were now dying.
It’s madness, Dora thought, as she tried to make her way through the castle, dodging curses and throwing her own left and right. There were bodies covering the ground, and most of them were too small to allow her any illusions about which side they had been on.
They are children, she wanted to scream at a Death Eater who pointed a wand at some boy in Ravenclaw robes. The green light missed its target, but it was only a matter of time until someone else was hit.
The air was filled with dust and emerald and crimson. And she was sick of it.
“Where is Remus?” she had asked a thousand times by now. “Have you seen Professor Lupin?”
That was madness, too, she knew. She should focus on the fighting, on staying alive and taking as many of their enemies down as possible. But ever since she had appeared at what seemed to be the end of the world come true, all rational thought had been banned from her mind. All the endless hours with Moody in Auror training gone for the basic need to find her husband and hold him and make sure that he was safe.
As far as anyone could be safe here.
A spell grazed her, causing blood to soak her torn sleeve, but Dora never felt any pain. There was no time for anything to distract her.
“Have you seen Remus,” she called out again, faintly registering someone answering something about the courtyard.
Seven years of living in the castle directed her steps automatically to her new destination, even if nothing looked like she remembered it.
When she stepped out into the waning light, relief flooded her veins. There he was, a mere hundred yards from her, alive and fighting. She wanted to call out to him, but she did not, not daring to distract him.
Instead she rushed through the mass of bodies and curses and death, calmer now, reassured somehow that everything would turn out fine. They were together again now. They would get through this like they had done before.
“If that isn’t my dear little niece,” a voice shrieked from her side, making her gut clench in fear. “Nymphadora is it?” Bellatrix’ mad laughter filled the air.
Dora closed her eyes for a second, cursing her bad luck, then she readied herself to turn and fight. But when she looked up, she stared right into Remus’ face, shocked and pale and full of disbelief.
“Dora,” he mouthed, and some of his strength seemed to shatter, now that he knew her to not be safe at home.
Time seemed to slow then, as if the two of them were the only people left in their world.
Dolohov moved his wand in an elaborate arc and Lestrange danced in closer from behind. Dora saw both of that, but it seemed to have no meaning, no importance to them. She just continued her way, adamant on reaching Remus before this short moment of calm was over.
She almost did.
Her eyes were fixed on those of her husband, transferring a thousand words none of them had the time to speak out loud.
As her world was drowning in crimson and emerald she closed her eyes, not able to stand the thought of seeing him fall, though the picture was there nonetheless, his face growing blank, staring off into that future they would not have.
You’re wasting time, a voice thundered in her head that sounded suspiciously like Moody. She knew that. Still, if she opened her eyes, it would be real. If you do nothing, it will be real.
Her heart, hammering wildly in her chest, stopped for a moment, filled with Remus’ smile and Teddy’s orange hair and her mother waiting for them to come home.And then she was moving.