„What if no one will like me?“
Remus looked up surprised at the sudden question, confused for a moment, because he had never heard that particular voice sound so nervous. Dora stood in the door to her home’s living room, where he had been reading, small and uncertain and so very unlike her usual vibrant self, that it took him a couple of heart-beats to remember that she had asked a question.
When he did, however, he almost laughed. “What?”
She gestured impatiently, looking away almost shyly. “What if –“
“No, no,” he interrupted, shaking his head. “It’s just – why would you think that? That’s utter nonsense.”
That made her eyes snap up at him in irritation. “Be serious.”
Laying his book aside, Remus leaned forward. “Look at me and tell me what you see.”
“My best friend,” she answered promptly, causing him to smile. Even after all these years her trust would warm his heart, never knowing how he, of all people, deserved someone like her in his life.
“I mean other than that.”
Sitting down across from him, she pouted. “I don’t know what that has to do with anything.”
He ignored her. “You see a tired old man,” she slid to the edge of her seat at that, ready to protest or jump up and hug him and show him what nonsense that was, but Remus didn’t let her interrupt him. “And this tired old man was a tired and lonely boy once, who was not only very excited about going to Hogwarts, but also terribly afraid.”
He smiled softly, remembering that last week before he was to board the Hogwarts Express for the first time, when it had suddenly become real. That he would leave home. That he would be alone, more alone than ever, for he would not even have his parents.
“Because, contrary to the charming and funny and loyal girl you are, he had real reasons why finding friends might prove just a tiny bit difficult.”
The frown on her face was exquisite. “That’s stupid. You’re great and smart and –“ Then it seemed to dawn on her what he meant, but the next second she eyed him almost chastising. “No one who matters cares for stupid prejudices.”
‘Prejudice’ was her favourite word, ever since she learned what it meant. She used it often and with much fire, ranting about everyone who dared have them, especially against her personal storyteller.
“You found good friends, best friends, despite your worries.”
He grinned at her, and she blushed. “Exactly. And, believe me, I fought them very hard in the beginning, and still they stayed by my side. So,” cocking his head to one side, he turned serious again. “There really is no reason why you’d need to be nervous.”
“But I’m –“
“Charming and funny and loyal,” he repeated his earlier description. “You’re also kind and strong-willed.” Chuckling, he added, “And ferocious and absolutely terrifying when you’re angry.”
A smile crept on her lips and he counted that as a victory. “Do you really mean that, or did you say that only because you like me?”
“I like you and I mean it. Also,” he narrowed his eyes playfully, “do you want to imply that I would ever lie?”
Giggling freely, she answered, “Not to me.”
“Right you are,” he nodded. “Never to you.”
Dora slumped back into her seat, relaxed again, now that her fears were dealt with. Smiling lazily she motioned at the book laying at his side. “What are you reading? Something interesting?”
He sniffed. “Nothing for little girls.” Leaning forward he said pompously, “You wouldn’t understand.”
Crying out indignantly, she threw herself at him, trying to snatch the book out of his hands which he held right above her reach. Suddenly she grinned and changed her tactic, starting to tickle him where she knew it would hit him hardest.
“You just declared war,” he stated grimly, with his eyes laughing. And the big tome lay forgotten as he tackled her and repaid her in kind.
Their happy laughs and squeals were causing quite a commotion, echoing through the small house. Ted, who had been busy with preparing dinner, came to see what they were up to, and found them lying in a breathless heap in front of the fire place, panting and holding their sides. He shook his head fondly. Andromeda and he had long ago gotten used to the sudden bursts of childishness from their favourite guest, no matter that he was closer to their age than their daughter’s. He was glad for both of them, and went back to the kitchen without making his presence known. Their time together would be over soon enough. No need to interrupt their fun.
Oblivious to their secret observer, Dora giggled at Remus being out of breath. “You’re getting old.”
“Take that back,” he answered, his tone indignant. “Or do you want to get some more?”
She eyed his hands which he had raised threateningly, and answered cheekily. “No thanks, I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.”
He only chuckled in response, while Dora put his momentary distractedness to good use and fished for the book that had started their little all-out tickling war.
“Math?” she asked in obvious disbelief. “Really?”
“That’s Arithmancy, little girl,” he eyed her grinning widely, while his voice was mock-condescending. “I did tell you that you wouldn’t understand.”
“Oh, the shame,” sighing she threw up her arms. “I called you friend. And all the while you were doing math. Willingly.”
At her accusing tone, his eyes widened comically and he clutched his heart. “You wound me.” Then he leaned in closer and whispered, “How could I ever do such an evil thing willingly? But-“, hesitating he seemed to contemplate whether he could tell her. “There’s that evil gremlin who is forcing me to. I swear.” And, thinking about his current employer, ‘gremlin’ did seem like an appropriate description.
Dora regarded him in silence, causing him to look more miserable with every passing second. Finally, she announced very matter-of-factly, “Then we will have to get rid of that gremlin.”
Remus almost fell over in his haste to kneel in front of her. “You honour me, my Lady. Now I know that there is nothing more to fear. With such a formidable hero at my side.”
The look of hero-worship on his face was too much for her to remain serious. And when she burst out laughing, he, naturally, followed.
“I don’t want to go,” Dora admitted quietly after they had both calmed down. Upon seeing his expression, she added hastily, “No, I want to go. I just don’t want to leave you.”
That made him smile. Until now it had always been him leaving, back to France or wherever he was trying to settle down, back to odd jobs and lonely flats, back to grim thoughts and painful what-ifs. Her being sad had made it, somehow, better every time. Showing that he would have something to come back to.
Now it was her going away. To her first big adventure. To make the first step into the rest of her life. And still, she was thinking about him. That would probably change when she made her first friends, but right then it was heart-warming and very welcome, because, if he was honest with himself – and he usually was – knowing that she wouldn’t be here for the better part of the following years hurt. He liked Ted and Andromeda well enough, and he knew they would make sure that he would not stop coming over, but it would all be different with Dora gone.
“I want you to have the time of your life at Hogwarts. I want you to find the best friends imaginable, play pranks and maybe learn something useful when there’s nothing else to do,” he chuckled quietly. “But in all truth, I, too, don’t want you to leave.”
She smiled at him, both sad and happy. “I will write, of course.”
“I never thought you wouldn’t.”
At that she engulfed him in a bone-breaking hug and he thought, maybe, she wouldn’t forget about him after all.
Of course she did not.
She was gone two months already, but she wrote to him faithfully, at least once a week. And whole novels at that, describing in detail what she had been up to, what she had learned – most of what had nothing to do with her actual lessons – and about Charlie Weasley.
Guess what, she had started her third letter. You were right (of course). I’ve found a friend.
He could almost see her in front of him, jumping up and down, bursting with the need to tell him. And he was happy for her, really. That didn’t change that irrational feeling of sadness settling in his bones, the disappointment of losing her so soon. His reply was nonetheless cheerful, congratulating her (When have I ever been wrong?) and giving practical tips for all kind of mischief that wouldn’t get them into too much trouble.
He was honestly surprised when her letters did not grow shorter. And when she called Charlie her ‘second-best friend’ he was positively giddy, laughing about his idiotic fear of being left behind again. Hadn’t it been him who told her how loyal she was?
Hufflepuff. Whatever else. Mum was probably a bit disappointed, but surely Dad did his ridiculous victory dance and snapped her out of it. The only problem, my green hair clashes horribly with the yellow on the uniform. Red does the trick, though.
Grinning widely Remus imagined her sitting at her House Table, her young face crunched in concentration while trying to pick the perfect colour to go with her house colours while still driving her mother mad.
Charlie mocked me about my hair. Asked if I secretly wished to be in Gryffindor with him. I turned his green in revenge. Said it would match his desire to be in Slytherin. By the way, do you know any secret passage into the Snake Pit? We’ve got an idea…
Unfortunately he didn't. And not for lack of trying. James and Sirius had spent every single night for a fortnight trying to find possible entrances in the whole dungeon. Without success. That didn't stop them from pulling the most clever of pranks on their least favourite house in Hogwarts. Knowing the official entrance and having an invisible cloak at hand did do the trick.
Time until Christmas was flying, as Dora reminded him several times in every letter. (You’ll be there, right? Mum wrote me that she already asked you to come. No excuses!)
He was there, of course. In fact, he awaited her at King’s Cross, impatient and giddy, and he was not disappointed at all. Because as soon as Dora laid eyes on him she started running and threw herself into his arms, all red hair and shining eyes.
“Remus,” she shrieked. Then she turned and greeted her parents, who were shaking their heads at her behaviour. But she did not seem to notice. Instead she babbled on excitedly. “There’s so much I’ve got to tell you.”
When she spotted a group of redheads in the crowd, she called out, “Charlie.”
And there he was, grinning just as wildly as she was, and extended his hand as if he had known Remus all his life. “You must be Dora’s very best friend. I’m only her second-best, as she is so fond of reminding me. She told me all about you.”
“I might remove that ‘best’ completely if you don’t stop being a brat.”
He only shrugged cheekily. “You gotta love her.” Then he waved at her parents and was gone again, off with his own family.
Ted shook his head. “You completely stole our show.” But he smiled. “Though that was probably good. Or we might have embarrassed our dear Nymphadora in front of her friend and Christmas would have been a very sour affair.”
The girl nodded emphatically at that, then grabbed Remus hand and pulled him towards the exit, trusting that her parents would follow. Not even Andromeda could find it in her to chastise her for her improper behaviour, happy to have her daughter back, to see her smiling and healthy and not at all changed. Instead she turned to her husband and repeated the Weasley boy’s words, one eyebrow raised. “You gotta love her.”And they did.