BTW, I am quite aware that all three villages I mention in here aren't real. They are utterly made up. If Rowling can make up Little Whinging in the perfectly Muggle world, I can make up Harrington-on-Sea. So there. ;p
Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Ted Tonks offered to loan Remus a few suits, but the thought of actually wearing Dora's father's clothes was somewhat repulsive, so, instead, Remus went to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, to gather up the tiny collection of clothes he'd accumulated last year. They were in a trunk in the third floor guest room--the room Sirius had offered to Remus and Dora, the room where he'd been taken to recover last month, the room where... He avoided looking at the bed, or thinking of the warm smoothness of Dora's skin, or the not-quite-gentle pressure of her nails pressed into the flesh of his back. It would do no good to think of those things.
Instead, he Transfigured the trunk into a suitcase, carried it out to Ted's car, and put it in the boot. He got into the passenger seat, and Ted gave him an unreadable glance from behind the wheel. They were quiet as he drove them out of London, and it wasn't until they were halfway to the sea that Ted took a deep breath and said, "I know what happened, Remus."
Remus looked out the window at passing countryside, which was suddenly deeply interesting. "Dora told you?"
"She didn't need to."
"You scried it?"
"I didn't need to."
"It's not all right."
Remus turned to him. "I beg your pardon?"
"It's not all right. Andi doesn't know, and I'm not going to tell her, because I don't think she'd tolerate it. I'm doing my level best, because I know my daughter, and I know it's as likely to be her as you that pushed things. More likely, actually," he admitted. "But she's worse than she's been all year, and even Dumbledore is worried about how she's behaving."
"I'm sorry," Remus said, and it sounded quite pathetic to his ears. "I don't know what to do to help her. Every time I see her, I seem to hurt her again."
"So your natural choice was to abandon her entirely." Ted deftely maneuvered the car into the right lane. "It's Torchester first," he said. "The call came when Dumbledore was barely out the door. They need an art teacher for a week. It should be right up your alley."
He turned onto a new road, then continued to turn, pulling the car into the car park of a tiny shop. He slammed on the brakes and sat at the wheel, gripping it tightly, his jaw clenched. "It's not all right," he said again. "If you want to stop hurting her than stop hurting her."
"You've tried to run away." He peered intently through the window at gull who was making a meal out of someone's dropped sandwich. "When I looked after you that year, after James and Lily died, I remember you telling me that you felt there was no one left who wanted you around, or would care if you stopped being around. I thought you'd learnt better since."
"I know she cares for me, but she shouldn't. There's nothing... I'm nothing. I have nothing."
Ted closed his eyes and pressed his thumb and forefinger against the bridge of his nose for a moment, then opened them and re-started the car. He pulled out of the car park and back onto the main road. "Dumbledore found you a flat in Harrington-on-Sea with a more likely address for these three schools. It's an easy enough distance from Torchester and Draedway that no one will question it. Don't ask me how he found it; seaside flats aren't easy to get. But you know Dumbledore. I suppose he'll have a telephone for you before your next assignment."
"I gave Dora your address."
With that pronouncement, he stepped on the accelerator and drove the rest of the way to the run-down village of Harrington-on-Sea without further comment. The flat Dumbledore had found was the upper story of a yellow house with peeling paint. Remus could see a lace curtain in one window, and was not in the least surprised to see a thin, pale hand drawing it closed. Before he had even got out of the car, Dora had come out of the ground level entrance, her hands in the pockets of her jeans. "You're late," she said to her father.
"He insisted on a sidetrip," Ted said, opening his door. Dora came around to the passenger side and looked in at Remus. She looked a bit low and too thin, and he expected her to make some comment about... what, exactly, he could not imagine. But he did not expect her to say softly, "Do your appearance charms before you get out of the car. We have visitors."
She leaned across and hissed, "Dad!"
Ted bent back to the window and looked across the interior of the car at her. "What is it?"
"Go along with whatever I say when we go in. I told them that my dad was bringing 'Raymond,' so that should be all right. Remember, they know Mum. They think she's a bit of a flake, but they know her."
"And who, exactly, are you meant to be?"
Dora grinned sheepishly. "I wasn't thinking on my feet very well. I just told them my name was Dora. Then I had to say I was named after my dear old aunt--Aunt Narcissa will love that, won't she? So I'm still Dora. Only Mum also has a sister named Dora." She turned her head slightly to look at Remus. "I'd just got here when they came knocking. I couldn't morph. I told them that 'Aunt Dora' was still in Australia and you were back for a family emergency that was taking longer to sort out than you'd expected. I hate lying to them. I hate it. And I hate Alan being polite to me."
"Alan! You don't mean Alan Garvey?" Remus floundered, his head spinning. Garvey had shared his office space at Smeltings last year, and they'd become friends, as much as it was possible to be friends while telling enormous lies about oneself.
"Alan," Dora confirmed. "And Anna. And Joe and Miriam. Blythe told them you were back in the country, and they decided to accost you to see why you didn't say hello."
Remus gulped and did his appearance charms as well as he could remember them--fully gray hair, slightly wavy. He'd worn a beard last year, but he opted against it this time. And... something else.
"Specs," Dora said, pointing at her eyes. "They had gold rims."
Remus Conjured the plain glasses and put them on. "What should I tell them?"
"That your communication skills leave a bit to be desired." She gave him a weary smile as he got out of the car. "Come on. It's actually good to see them again, and Joe brought cards."
The entrance flew open again, and Anna Garvey burst out of it, dressed in a pale green sundress and a floppy hat, even though the day was cool and cloudy. She threw her arms around Remus and kissed his cheek. "Oh, it is good to see you. We worried when you dropped off the face of the earth. Gravity really isn't meant to let you do that, you know."
"Oh, well, I--"
But before Remus could stammer anything out, Alan was outside, shaking his hand. "Lewis! Damned good to see you."
Stunned and a bit wrong-footed, Remus let them lead him inside while Dora introduced them all to Ted, who was looking nearly as uncomfortable as Remus felt.
The flat was furnished sparsely, but Dora seemed to have set up a card table, and they took their seats in beach chairs around it. Miriam Levinson, the wife of Joe Levinson, for whom Remus had allegedly been substituting last year, picked up a picnic basket from beside her chair and started to hand out sandwiches. "I thought you mightn't have had time to shop," she said crisply.
"Cards?" Joe asked, shuffling a deck.
"Oh, no," Anna said. "First, I want to know how Dora is! And don't skimp."
"The man can talk about his wife while he's playing a hand of cards," Joe said.
"Raymond?" Alan said, rolling his eyes. "He can talk about his wife while doing just about anything. I swear I heard all about her macramé while he was marking essays on the Black Death." He took the deck from Joe and started to deal, then stopped. "Odd number. We can't play bridge. What's the game?"
The distraction, much to Remus's relief, veered the conversation away from making up a story about where the ebullient Dora Lewis was and how she was doing in Australia. Last year, Dora--the real one--would have started spinning an elaborate story that undoubtedly would have ended with one-on-one combat with a dingo, but this year, she seemed as eager to get off the subject as Remus did. They finally settled on whist, and played for a few hours. Dora finally came up with a thin story about her "aunt" doing a great deal of traveling and seeing things she always wanted to see, and Remus fleshed out the "family emergency" with garbled details about the conflict over Sirius's will, though of course he didn't use anyone's real name. Ted was called upon for information on Andromeda, who had impressed Joe mightily last year, and he did well enough under pressure. It was long after dark before they left, Remus finally begging off with the very real excuse that he needed to make lesson plans for his first day as the Torchester art teacher. He stood with Ted and Dora at the window and watched his old friends go, wishing it was all different, wishing he could have spent the day with them with no lies, and wishing he were going to be at Smeltings tomorrow in his ugly, cozy office, with an evening at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place to look forward to--having a mulled mead with Sirius, joking with Dora, listening to Walburga Black scream her curses.
But it wasn't to be.
They watched the car back away, Alan at the wheel. Just before it hit the road, Anna leaned out the window and called, "We're stalking you, Raymond! We'll be back!"
Remus shook his head.
Alan leaned out the other window. "Welcome back to the top side of the world!"