Almost Like Home
They lived in a small, homely cottage, right in a calm muggle neighbourhood. There was a well-kept garden in the front with children’s toys strewn around and a bicycle leaned against the crisp white wall.
All in all it seemed entirely unmagical from the outside. No one would have guessed that this could be home to the oldest daughter of the House of Black. The closer Remus got, though, the clearer he felt the powerful wards surrounding the whole property, thrumming with energy and no doubt alerting the inhabitants of his arrival.
Nervously clutching a piece of parchment in his scarred hands, he considered turning around again, still not sure that this was such a good idea after all.
One year had passed since everything had fallen apart. One year filled with odd jobs and lonely nights and pain refusing to disappear.
The letter had come as a surprise – and if it hadn’t appeared at the evening he had lost another job, he would have probably never considered coming. As it was, though, he had needed those words of comfort, and he craved some friendly faces. And little Dora –
‘Nymphadora is missing you,’ Andromeda had written. It was so easy to reply and accept their invitation. Now, however…
He hadn’t been in Britain since the funeral. Hadn’t even talk to anyone who knew what had happened. This meeting might just be too much, especially with Andromeda looking so much like her cousin.
But before he could decide whether to stay or to leave, the door opened and it was too late for second thoughts.
“Ted,” he greeted cordially, taking care not to betray his inner turmoil.
“Remus.” They shook hands, then the older man smiled mischievously. “Andy sent me to bring you in. You looked like you were going to run away.” Chuckling at Remus’ sheepish look, he added, “Dora would have never forgiven me.”
Together they entered and Ted led them into a spacious kitchen where Andromeda was busy making tea.
“Remus,” she called out. “How good of you to join us.”
She smiled and he felt some of the tension leave his body. They had never had a close relationship other than the occasional meeting with Sirius and through Order business, but her demeanor was genuine and there was no pity in her eyes, so he thought his worries might have been for naught. She motioned him to sit, before calling out to her daughter.
It didn’t take more than a couple heartbeats before loud trampling could be heard and a small bundle threw herself into his arms.
“Remus. You’re here,” the girl cried out in obvious joy. “I’ve been waiting for ages.”
A smile crept onto the young man’s face, wide and honest, causing several years of age to drop off him.
“I’ve missed you, too, Dora.” She looked up happily at that, glancing at him almost conspiratorial through thick black hair adorned with a couple pink streaks.
“You don’t look so sad anymore. That’s good,” she stated contently. The a grin split her small face. “Are you going to tell me another story?”
“Nymphadora,” her mother chastised, but Remus waved it away, indicating he didn’t mind.
“Gladly.” She beamed at him, grabbed his hand and started to drag him up, when Ted stopped her.
“Now, Dora, we invited Remus for dinner. You might get your story afterwards.”
The girl pouted but sat down, right next to her friend. “I’m not hungry,” she murmured, making amused looks appear on her parents’ faces.
“But Remus is,” Andromeda stated, her voice leaving no room for further discussion.
After winking at his hosts, Remus leaned towards Dora and whispered, “I’ll hurry.”
Dinner was delicious. While Andromeda, due to being a Black, never learned how to cook, and still hadn’t developed any talent for it, Ted loved spending time in their kitchen and took over the responsibility of feeding the family without complaint. Remus, who had tasted Sirius’ abysmal tries, was very glad for that.
He enjoyed the rich food and the chance to eat until he was full – he had given up the hope of ever getting used to all the meals he missed due to his insufficient and irregular income.
It almost felt like coming home, being welcomed in this house, sharing smiles with people of his past. He even found comfort in Andromeda’s grey eyes, despite them being so similar to Sirius’. They reminded him of before, of the golden times. It made him forget – if only for a moment – that he was the only one left.
Remus had barely time to clear his plate before Dora jumped up and grabbed his hand again. Her mother opened her mouth as if to protest, but he smiled at her and shook his head.
Dora’s room was all in blue, toy dragons lay strewn around and the only thing not drowning in the overall chaos was her bed – probably a courtesy from her mother. The girl hurried towards it, more stumbling and hitting against furniture than actual walking, but she didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she threw herself onto the dark blue duvet, awaiting him with impatient excitement.
Looking around, Remus located a small chair in corner and moved to get it, but was interrupted.
“No, silly,” she grinned cheekily. “You have to sit here on the bed.”
Shrugging, he complied, positioning himself at the foot, with his back leaning against the wall, so she would have enough room to lie down.
“How have you been?” It was such a grown up question, that he automatically began to work through his standard answer, but something in her eyes startled him. They bore a sincere, caring expression.
‘I’ll be your friend.’ She had said a year ago, and it seemed she had not forgotten it, despite all the time that had passed, despite him being away.
“I’ve been waiting for a letter from you,” she added, as if she had read his mind. “Mum said I shouldn’t bother you. That you’d come when you’re ready.”
“I don’t think I will ever be ready,” he confessed, not knowing what had compelled him to say that, to be so honest with her. But she simply nodded, as if she understood completely. “I thought it would get easier. Everyone else is doing just fine. And I –“
“But you are here.”
He nodded. “A friend asked me to come.” Her smile was the most beautiful thing Remus had ever seen. It made warmth blossom in his chest, flowing all the way into his fingertips. Better even than chocolate, he decided.
“Now about that story –“
“You don’t have to,” her young face had turned serious again.
“But wasn’t that why you invited me?” dramatically clutching a hand to his chest, he added in a mock-hurt tone, “I traveled through the whole wide world, facing dangers and discomforts with no regard to my personal well-being because my Lady called for me, and now I am dismissed in such a heartless manner. Oh, cruel life.”
Barely able to keep a straight face, she replied pompously, “I did not want to offend you, kind sir. I just thought you might be too tired after your strenuous journey.” At his pained face she finally erupted into laughter, and he did not manage to keep up the act for much longer either before following suit.
After they had calmed down, she tried it again, “I mean it. I don’t mind if you don’t want to.”
Remus shook his head gently. “I do want to. With you, it is safe to remember.” Somehow, he knew that was true.
He waited until she had settled comfortably, and her eager face almost set him off laughing again, but then he smiled and began.
“Once upon a time, in a deep forest far away, lived a very peculiar group of friends. First there was Prongs, a royal stag. He was brave and smart, and no adventure was too dangerous for him.
“Second there was Padfoot, a big, black dog, rumored to look like a Grim. But he enjoyed life too much to be a sign of death, so you found him always laughing. And he was loyal to a fault.” Until he wasn’t, but this really wasn’t a time for that.
“Third, there was Moony, a wolf who was intelligent and had a gentle heart. He had spent most of his life alone, so he valued his friends over everything else.
“And lastly, there was Wormtail, a rat. And though he was the smallest of the four, he was just as big a part of their group as everyone else. He was cunning and funny, and he always was a good listener.
“They were well-loved by most other animals in the forest, but one doe in particular was very dear to Prongs, and in extension to the others. It would come a day, when the two of them would marry, so her safety was of great concern to the friends.
“One day, there were rumors of a very poisonous snake roaming their home, that sought to be King over all the others, and he was seen talking to Prongs’ love. So of course, our four friends had to investigate –“
When the story was finished, Remus left Dora upstairs to get ready for bed and rejoined her parents, who were sitting in the living room in front of a merrily burning fire. Ted nursed a drink, offering one to their guest which Remus accepted gladly.
Putting her book down, Andromeda inclined her head. “Is the little monster asleep?”
Remus chuckled. “Not yet. But she’s on her way there.”
“I can’t remember the last time she went to bed willingly,” there was a grin on Ted’s face, but with his next words he turned serious. “You should come more often.” Before there was any time for Remus to answer, he continued hastily. “The offer stands. Just think about it. Running away forever is no solution.”
“I’m not running away,” when the words come out sharper than intended, Remus looked sheepishly down at his hands.
In an attempt to ease the tension around them, Andromeda asked, “Where do you live now?”
“France,” he offered, squirming nervously, which caused both of his hosts to raise their eyebrows.
“That doesn’t sound too convinced.”
His cheeks turning a faint red, Remus gave in. “I had a small flat in Lyon. But – I’ve lost my job and, well, I couldn’t afford it anymore.”
Ted leaned forward, and refilled his guest’s glass with amber liquid. “And now?”
Remus shrugged uncomfortably. “I stay here or there. It’s okay, really,” he added when he saw the other man frown and open his mouth to say something.
“It is sad,” Andromeda spoke up pensively. “To see how prejudiced people are. You’ve got excellent NEWTs, if I remember correctly, and still, no one bothers to look behind those scars.”
Her words left Remus shell-shocked and uncertain and wary. Did they know? Then why was he here? His rising panic must have shown on his face, because Andromeda lay her hand on his arm and smiled softly.
“Of course we know. There was only a bit of logic needed to figure it out.” Then she chuckled. “Also Sirius was never good at appearing inconspicuous when he was up to something.” At his sharp look she shook her head reassuringly. “Don’t worry, he never told. I just know –“ Tension spiked up, causing her to correct herself. “Knew him.”
Silence settled around them, in which Remus tried to battle down the shame burning in his every fiber. “Then why did you invite me? Why did you leave me alone with Dora? Why –“
“Because,” Ted interrupted in a voice that left no room for discussion. “We trust you. Because you fought beside us these past years, no matter most of the people you were protecting wouldn’t even look at you if they knew. Because we don’t care about such stupid prejudices.”
Andromeda took over. “You’re a good man. Don’t ever doubt that.”
Remus sat with his eyes closed, caught between elation and disbelief, until he heard steps coming closer which interrupted his musings.
Dora barked into the living room, clad in her pajamas, with tooth paste still sticking to one side of her mouth. She was smiling from ear to ear and engulfed Remus into another hug. The young man hesitated to put his arms around the girl, watching her parents carefully for any sign of discomfort, anything that would betray their earlier words as lies. But they only smiled, looking utterly comfortable with a werewolf hugging their only child. Taking that as an encouragement, he held her close.
“Good night, Dora,” he said. “Dream well.”
She nodded. “Thank you for the story.” Then she was off, hugging her parents good night as well. At the door she turned again, her face serious. “Don’t forget to write this time.”
“I won’t,” but she was already gone, trusting him to do so without waiting for his answer. Smiling, he settled back into his chair, noticing that all tension had left his body.
“Thank you,” he spoke softly, meaning much more than he could ever put into words. He knew he would have to leave soon, to return to France and his futile search for a permanent job that paid enough to keep him alive.But he didn’t want to think about that. Right now, right here, he felt almost at home.