Summary: Three years after the war, a stranger arrives at Hogwarts with a letter addressed to Minerva McGonagall by the familiar hand of an old friend. Before the summer is through, the contents of the letter will bring together several lives that might otherwise never have touched.
Chapter Two: A Stranger in Someone Else’s Home
Serena drew a slow breath in through her nose and looked at the door.
It was a simple wooden door, befitting this tidy little house in a sleepy village. It didn’t look like the home of a woman who had let her daughter marry a werewolf. It looked even less likely as the place where Quiet himself had spent the last months of the wizards’ war, along with his wife and their infant son.
But then, how many things ever looked like what they truly were?
Serena glanced down at River, standing by her side on the doorstep and fiddling unselfconsciously with one of her plaits. River was small for her age and a child of such a sunny disposition. You would never know to look at her that she also had a will of steel. River was determined to learn wizarding magic, as well as the ancient, wandless magic of the werewolf pack. It had been a fascination of hers since she’d first listened to Quiet’s stories when she was small.
Serena had always hated the idea. She hated the thought of relinquishing any werewolf child into the grasp of wizardkind, who had not always (rarely; almost never) proved kind to werewolves. Serena had fled that world and had no wish to return. No one but River, this child she loved more than her own life, could have brought her to where she was standing now.
But the desire for learning burned in River, more than any fears could quench. And Serena refused to be the one to extinguish that bright burning in her beautiful child.
River stood beside her now, patient but quietly eager, ready to meet this woman whom Professor Minerva McGonagall believed would be unprejudiced enough to guide them through the steps of readying River for Hogwarts.
The headmistress had said this woman, this Andromeda Tonks, would be understanding and kind. Serena was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, since the headmistress herself had been both of those things. But Serena had also experienced enough of wizards to know kindness was the exception, not the rule. Was any witch or wizard, on meeting a werewolf, capable of seeing beyond their own idea of who a werewolf was?
“This is the house, right, Mama?” River piped up from beside her. “You said the professor told you it would be the house with the grey trim around the edges, and that’s this one.”
“Yes, this is the house, Little One,” Serena agreed. “I was just gathering my courage a bit. Shall we knock?”
“Can I do it?” River enthused. Everything was novel to her, here in the world of wizards. Unlike Serena, River had been so young when she became a werewolf that remembered hardly anything from her life before.
It was better that way.
Serena nodded her permission, so River reached out and rapped her knuckles smartly against the door’s wooden surface. Serena smiled at that, because River’s life so far had not had many doors in it, and no one had explained to her how to knock on them. She’d simply worked out on her own that her knuckles would make a louder sound against wood than her fingers or the flat of her hand.
The door swung open swiftly. The woman who stood inside it was tall and pale-skinned, with silvery hair swept up in an elegant knot. She had a sharp, intelligent face, with eyes, too, that were sharp and seemed to take in the whole of Serena and River at once.
“Welcome,” she said, and even in that first word her voice was rich and melodic. “I’m Andromeda. Minerva McGonagall was in touch by Floo to let me know to expect you. Please, come in.”
She stepped aside, holding the door open, and Serena and River crossed the threshold into the house.
“Come through to the kitchen, if you don’t mind,” the woman continued. “My grandson Teddy is just finishing breakfast.”
She gestured for them to walk ahead of her, down a hallway and into a small but brightly sunlit kitchen. The table there had four wooden chairs set neatly around it, one of which must have been magically augmented to bring its seat closer to the level of the table, where it accommodated a little boy who sat happily munching on a piece of toast spread with jam.
Serena would have recognised that child anywhere. Even with bright red hair that stood out from his head in exuberant tufts, even with his roundish child’s face, his eyes were exactly those of the werewolf Serena had known as Quiet.
“Teddy, love,” the silver-haired woman said, following Serena and River into the kitchen, “these are the friends I told you about, who’ve come to visit us for a bit so we can show them around and take them to Diagon Alley.”
“Hi!” the little boy said, turning in his chair to study the newcomers with frank curiosity, not the least bit shy, his toast still clutched in one sticky-fingered hand. Then, to Serena’s amazement, the boy gave a slow blink of his eyes and suddenly his hair was turquoise instead of red.
Serena must have made some small noise of surprise, because the woman – Andromeda – gave a small and slightly apologetic laugh and said, “I should have mentioned: Teddy is a Metamorphmagus, which means he can change his appearance at will. And very frequently does. His mother was the same,” she concluded with a catch in her voice.
His mother. Serena had met the mother of this child with the heart-shaped face and the colour-shifting hair. She was the woman Quiet had loved desperately and from afar all the time he was with their pack. The woman he’d returned to at last during the final year of the wizards’ war. Serena had met Nymphadora Tonks only briefly, but she’d found her to be one of the rare humans able to meet a werewolf with an open mind.
“Hi!” River said, in answer to Teddy’s greeting. She went over to him, equally unabashed, and asked, “What’re you having for breakfast? Toast?”
“Uh-huh.” He nodded emphatically, gazing up at River. Though she was small, River looked so grown up standing there next to a chubby-cheeked three-year-old child. Serena’s heart clenched, hard and fast, to see so clearly before her that her child really was leaving her for this wider world.
“I haven’t had toast in a really long time,” River confided to Teddy. “We make it sometimes over our campfire, you can hold it over the fire if you poke a stick through it, but we don’t have bread very often, really.”
“Want some?” Teddy thrust out his arm, offering his half-eaten, jam-smeared piece of toast.
“Oh, Teddy –” Andromeda interjected. “That’s very generous of you, thank you, but we can offer our guests their own whole pieces of toast, if they would like.” She glanced at Serena with a questioning look, as if she didn’t quite know what was appropriate to offer. “Are you hungry? I can provide something more substantial as well, if you would like.”
Serena’s first instinct was to decline politely, but she glanced at River’s wide-open, curious face and thought of all the wizarding customs she would have to get to know. Foods cooked in appliances and cauldrons instead of over open fires. Conventions about what was considered good manners while eating them. Chairs to sit on instead of rocks and logs. Cautiously she said, “Toast might be quite nice, actually, if you truly don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t mind. Here, let me just get Teddy tidied up first.” Andromeda turned efficiently to her grandson, Conjuring a wet cloth with her wand even as she moved, and wiped down his sticky face and hands.
Serena’s heart raced at the sudden unexpected sight, even though she had braced herself before coming here for the likelihood of seeing wand magic performed. When had she last seen a wand used? By Quiet, most likely. There was one time he had taken her and another member of the pack by Apparition to visit Hogsmeade. But Serena had never known any werewolf but Quiet to carry a wand. Werewolves had their own magic.
“Teddy,” Andromeda said, “why don’t you take River outside and show her the garden? You could show her your gnome house, too, and see if any of the gnomes are there today.”
“Gnome house!” Teddy echoed eagerly, wriggling down from his high chair. “River, you wanna see my gnome house?”
“Okay!” River agreed, after she’d cast a quick glance to Serena to make sure it was all right. She followed the little boy out of the kitchen, her head held high and fearless as always. If Serena had ever in her life been as confident and self-possessed as River was already at this age, she certainly didn’t remember it.
Andromeda opened what Serena assumed must be a breadbox and withdrew a loaf of bread. “Do you go by Serena?” she asked. “Or is there another name I should call you?”
“Serena is fine.” It had always seemed right to keep it that way, that humans could use her human name but pack names were only for the pack. From the day she’d finally been strong enough to break free from the cellar where her human parents chained her during full moons, no one had called her Serena again. No one, that is, until Quiet, who had sometimes slipped and called her that, unaccustomed as he was to werewolf names. It was the first time Serena hadn’t hated that human name, when Quiet said it.
“You have another name, I suppose, within your pack,” Andromeda said, as she deftly sliced several pieces of bread from the loaf. “But I won’t ask it, if that would be rude. I apologise, I’m not as familiar with this etiquette as I ought to be.”
Serena shook her head. “I don’t mind. It’s not secret, just…separate. My werewolf name is ‘Trouble’.”
It was hard to know how a human would respond to werewolf names, these names that often began as teasing in response to some incident or interaction early in one’s first days with a pack, but eventually one or another thing stuck and became a permanent name. The names felt personal and right, rooted as they were in shared history, but they doubtless sounded odd to human ears. Serena chanced a glance at Andromeda and found her smiling. It greatly softened the otherwise severe lines of her face.
“You don’t strike me as a ‘Trouble’, I must admit,” Andromeda said. “Though of course I don’t know you enough to be the judge of that.”
“I was much wilder before I had the responsibility for a child,” Serena admitted.
“What a true statement,” Andromeda agreed wryly.
She opened a cupboard and fetched down a contraption Serena had never seen, the size of a middling river rock with a metallic body and two parallel slits in the top.
“A Muggle toaster,” Andromeda explained, seeing the direction of Serena’s gaze. “We keep a few oddities like this around, because my husband –” That catch came into her voice again, but she pushed on. “My husband was Muggle-born and he had a few Muggle conveniences he was fond of, despite being proficient at magic.” Her back had gone very straight.
“I’m so sorry for your losses,” Serena said softly. “Minerva McGonagall told me.” The headmistress had explained, before Serena left her office at the school: Andromeda Tonks had lost first her husband during the war, then her daughter and Quiet in the final battle at its end. All she had left was her grandson Teddy.
“Thank you.” Andromeda nodded curtly as she dropped the bread into the open slits in the metal box. But Serena recognised her demeanour. If she was curt, it was to keep despair at bay.
Andromeda’s wand was in her hand again and she waved it at the Muggle contraption, then waited for the charm to do its work.
“It’s an odd sort of hybrid solution, really,” she said, her voice composed once more. “Muggle technology, but it runs on magic.” Andromeda brushed a hand over her forehead as though waving away any stray wisps, although her hair was still perfectly in place. “What about your daughter?” she asked. “I assume she has two names as well. Which will she use at Hogwarts?”
“She does have a human name,” Serena confirmed. “But she was young when she came to us. For most of her life, she’s known herself only as River. Or River Run, really, her full name, after the course of the river we travelled along when I found her and brought her to the pack. But it will be her choice. Normally, a werewolf has two names, but she could be River everywhere, if she chose.” Serena felt that tightness again in her chest, in the very core of herself, at watching her child move beyond the reach of where Serena could protect her. “It’s not something I could ever imagine for myself, but perhaps she’ll be a werewolf who lives in both worlds and doesn’t feel the need to divide herself.”
“I hope that for her very much,” Andromeda said, and Serena looked at her, surprised by the intensity of her tone.
Just then the toasted bread popped up from the toaster, startlingly loud in the quiet room.
Andromeda moved the toast to a plate and inserted another two slices into the machine. “What is River’s other name?” she asked. “If you don’t mind the question.”
“Joy,” Serena said. “Her name among humans was Joy.”
Unlike her own human name, Serena could never bear any ill feeling towards River’s other name. It was the name Serena’s sister Irena had chosen for her daughter, before Irena was killed and Serena had come to take and raise her daughter. A werewolf raising a werewolf child, the girl who had been turned in the same attack that killed her mother. Her human name was one of the last threads River had of her lost human mother.
“That’s a lovely name,” Andromeda said. “But of course, so is River.” She set her wand carefully aside on the worktop, to wait for the toast to be ready.
It was quiet in the kitchen as they waited, and it was peaceful in that silence.
“Tell me, if you would,” Serena asked. She was thinking of River who had once been Joy, of Irena who had been torn so violently from her daughter, and of Quiet who had barely had a chance to know his child. And she realised she was not afraid of this stranger, Andromeda Tonks, this human woman who had also had a child torn away from her. “Tell me, what did you think of Quiet – of Remus – when you first met him? When you first knew he was a werewolf, what did you think of him?”
With the smallest of motions, little more than a gentle release of breath, Andromeda shifted back so she leaned against the worktop behind her.
“I knew Remus for a long time,” she said. “He was friends with my cousin Sirius from early in their time at Hogwarts. Sirius…he’s gone now, too. I didn’t know about Remus’ lycanthropy when they were young, and I didn’t know him well. He was just a kind and quiet boy who was friends with my cousin. Unfailingly polite, if perhaps a little too indulgent of Sirius’ wilder excesses. When I met him again, through Nymphadora –”
She sighed, a long exhale. Then she looked right at Serena, meeting her eyes unflinchingly.
“I wanted better for my daughter,” she said. “I hope you won’t think poorly of me for that, but if you do, I don’t blame you. My reservations weren’t because Remus was a werewolf, although that’s still not an excuse. All I knew was that Remus couldn’t hold a job, because employers kept firing him as soon as they discovered his condition, so he was always poor, always looked half on the edge of starvation. That wasn’t his fault, not in the least, but it didn’t inspire confidence that the life Nymphadora could live with him would be a healthy or a stable one. And Remus himself was so guarded, so desperately afraid to let her love him.”
Serena thought of Quiet all that year he had lived with the pack, insisting there was no one and nothing for him back in the city he had left behind, despite the longing that always travelled with him in his eyes.
“But I was wrong,” Andromeda said, her voice firm. “I was wrong, that’s the important thing. Lycanthropy wasn’t the problem. Remus’ fear was the problem, and it took time and hard work but he was learning to master it. He was still poor, he would always be somewhat sickly, but they were happy together, in what little time they had. And in the end, it was the war that took Nymphadora. It was always going to be the war that took her, because she wasn’t someone who could ever stand back from fighting for what was right –”
Andromeda’s voice broke then and her hand flew up to her throat, as if she would choke on the grief trying to claw its way out. Her eyes were wide as she fought for breath. One strand of hair broke free of its knot and flapped wildly, a tiny silver distress signal at her temple.
Serena had lived so long away from humans. She didn’t know what rules governed contact between them, what gestures were and were not allowed. But she couldn’t do nothing.
Tentatively, she reached one hand out and rested it on Andromeda’s shoulder.
Andromeda gave a last great gasp, shuddered, then found her normal breath again. Very briefly, she lifted her own hand and rested it on top of Serena’s, then let it fall again to her side.
“They’re gone,” she said softly. “But we go on. What else can we do?”
Into the quiet, the toast popped up from its Muggle contraption. Her movements carefully measured, Andromeda reached out to set it on the plate with the other slices. Then she fetched jam and butter and butter knives from a drawer, setting everything neatly on a wooden tray.
Andromeda met Serena’s gaze with a smile, her eyes once again calm and kind, her demeanour once again that of the even-tempered hostess. She didn’t seem embarrassed by her brief outburst of emotion, only ready to move past it and go on. It was a choice she must have to make for herself every day, to keep going on.
But Serena wouldn’t forget, either, the glimpse she had seen of the pain that dwelled beneath the rest of who Andromeda was. She knew it was an honour she’d been given, to have been shown something so private and to be allowed to carry a little bit of it with her.
“We’d better go and make sure Teddy hasn’t torn the garden apart in the time he’s been out there,” Andromeda said. “Would you be so kind as to carry this tray, so I can fetch some pumpkin juice for the children as we pass by the pantry on our way out?”
Serena nodded and took up the tray. Then she followed her hostess out to the sunny back garden where River and Teddy were playing. Two children of lost parents, two stubborn harbingers of hope’s endless unfurling.
She could hear their laughter ringing out even before they stepped outside.
(continue to CHAPTER THREE: A Day at Diagon Alley)