Summary: Remus and Tonks have been referred for relationship counselling by Tonks’s mother.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Title, Author and URL of original story: No Blinding Light by justholdstill.
Notes: Many thanks to westwardlee and asterie_smiles for reading through.
Lilac Seasons (The Land of Dreams Remix)
‘Good afternoon. I’m Jane Smith.’ The counsellor gave her warmest, most caring smile, shook hands all round and slid into the seat opposite her two o’clock appointment.
They were a rather unusual couple she thought. The woman was at least fifteen years younger than her partner, her hair a garish fuchsia. It did her no favours, hardening her still-childish features and draining the colour from her skin. She looked unnaturally pale, like a Goth who’d mistaken pink dye for black.
The man, on the other hand, could only be described as shabby. If she’d seen him sitting outside a bank with a sign saying Homeless and a cap beside him on the pavement, she wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. In fact, she might have tossed a pound coin into the cap and walked away feeling sorry for him. According to her notes he was in his mid-thirties, but he could have been ten years older.
‘Well,’ the counsellor said, taking a breath to launch into her preliminary spiel. ‘You’ll have had our letter and leaflet. Relationship counselling isn’t a last-ditch event these days. We usually aim to get couples back on the rails, so to speak, if something isn’t going quite right.’
‘We aren’t off the rails. We’re fine. My mother arranged this,’ the woman said sulkily. The counsellor got the impression that if she could, she’d swing her legs and kick her chair and the desk, like a schoolchild.
‘And why would she have done that?’ the counsellor asked.
The woman glanced across at her partner. ‘She’s pissed off because Remus hasn’t got a job.’
The man said nothing. The counsellor noted the nicotine stains on his fingers. It was astounding how many unemployed people, even in this day and age, still managed to scrape together enough money for cigarettes. She asked, ‘Have you got a job, Miss – well, may I call you Dora?’
‘Yes, please do. I’m with the police. Trainee detective.’
The counsellor was surprised as well as impressed. ‘Goodness! That’s challenging.’
‘It is. But it’s really interesting. ’
The counsellor switched her attention to the man. ‘Now, let’s hear from you, Mr Lupin. Remus. What is your usual profession?’
The man shrugged. ‘I used to be a teacher.’
Again, the counsellor was surprised. ‘But surely... I mean, we’re always hearing that there’s a big shortage of teachers.’
‘I have a health condition,’ he said flatly.
The counsellor squinted at the letter from the girl’s mother, which was right at the top of the newly-created Tonks-Lupin file. ‘My daughter’s partner stays in bed all day, while my daughter works twelve-hour shifts.’ Presumably that was because of the health condition. ‘May I ask what it is?’
‘I really don’t see –’ Dora protested, but Remus said, ‘I’m anaemic. I get tired very easily.’
He avoided the counsellor’s eyes, and she pressed on, in spite of the obvious lie. ‘Right. So, any other problems? Besides health ones?’
‘There are no problems at all,’ Dora said. ‘We’re happy together. My mother just doesn’t understand us! She’s always been rich. She’s always lived in a big house. She doesn’t believe you can be every bit as happy in a rented flat. I wish she’d come and see for herself, because our flat’s amazing! We even have a lilac bush in the back garden.’
‘Technically, we don’t ‘have’ anything in the garden,’ Remus pointed out, drawing the quotation marks in the air.
Dora’s voice shook a bit. ‘All right. We’re not exactly allowed in the garden, it belongs to the basement tenants, but we get the benefit, don’t we? In spring, when the window’s open, you can smell the lilac from our bedroom. You can’t say that isn’t romantic! But it’s no use trying to explain anything to my mother. All I can tell you is that we shouldn’t be here, really we shouldn’t.’
‘Perhaps we should,’ Remus said. ‘We are here, aren’t we? And you said you’d never do anything like this, and your mother should mind her own business, but we’re still sitting in front of Ms Smith’s desk.’
‘Mum wants to break us up.’
‘She wants you to be happy.’
The counsellor looked down at the mother’s letter again. ‘I do hope my daughter will avail herself of this opportunity...’ She folded it and put it away in the file. ‘How long have you been together?’ she asked.
Dora started counting on her fingers. ‘It must be about, well, seven months. We haven’t been living together all that time. Only for a few weeks.’ She pulled nervously at a strand of her short hair. ‘It took me long enough to persuade him just to go out with me! I want to be with him as much as I possibly can. I mean, I don’t mind if he’s sometimes still in bed when I get home. He’s not well. He can’t help it. I just want to be there for him.’
‘You are there for me.’ Remus took her hand for a moment. ‘And hey, I’m not that bad! I don’t sleep all the time. We have fun, don’t we? Sometimes. We go to the cinema. And I took you to the theatre on your birthday.’
Dora made a rueful face. ‘But I’m the one who falls asleep at the cinema! Remember? You told me I was the only person in the world who could sleep through an action film.’
‘You wear yourself out at work.’
‘I do! I enjoy it, though.’
The counsellor tactfully allowed for a moment’s silence before asking the next question. She was a professional, after all, and she did this every day, but she was fully aware that some topics might make her clients a bit uncomfortable. ‘So. As you’re living together... I hope you won’t mind my asking, but how is your sex life? Everything all right there?’
Dora, unexpectedly for such a young woman, went bright scarlet, almost the colour of her hair, and looked at the floor, fidgeting with the strap on her bag.
‘It’s okay,’ she said.
‘Dora.’ Remus’s voice held a warning. ‘It’s not really.’
‘Well, it’s okay enough, right? You get it up, you get it in me. Maybe I help a bit sometimes. What more d’you want?’ She glared at the counsellor.
Remus moved his chair closer to the counsellor’s desk, and leaned across. She could suddenly understand what Dora saw in him: his good bones, his fine, warm hazel eyes, his neatly-clipped nails. He looked like a beggar but he smelled clean and pleasant, of soap and aftershave with a hint of musk.
‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘and don’t interrupt me, Dora. The thing is, we should never have got together. It’s my fault. I’m older than Dora, and I should have known better.’
‘But we love each other,’ Dora said, helpless, her eyes overly bright. ‘I learned to cook for him,’ she told the counsellor. ‘I shop for us, when I get home in the evening. Or sometimes we go to the supermarket together. I make wonderful apple pie, don’t I, Remus? With custard. Custard from a tin, obviously, not home-made.’
‘I love your enthusiasm,’ Remus said, smiling. ‘And your cooking, of course. You do make the best breakfasts I’ve ever eaten. But I’m not sure that’s enough. I have to tell you, Ms Smith, that I’m bisexual. For many years, I assumed I was gay, until Dora came along, and, well, obviously I’m not. Not completely. But I spent all my adult life in love with another man.’
It briefly crossed the counsellor’s mind that maybe his health problem might be HIV. But of course it wasn’t, she reprimanded herself, worried that she might be verging on homophobia. After all, the gay community was fully aware of the risks; far more than the straight one.
‘He was in love with my mother’s cousin,’ Dora explained, her lips twitching. She laughed. ‘I mean, it’s actually quite funny. And you know, Remus, that’s one reason Mum’s so pissed off.’
She looked lovely when she laughed, the counsellor thought. She looked like a young woman embarking on an exciting career, a woman with a bright future: a woman who should be with a healthy man her own age, not with Remus Lupin and his mysterious, ominous malady.
‘I can’t blame Dora’s mother for worrying,’ Remus said. He leaned forward again. ‘Dora’s second cousin Sirius was at school with me. One of those dismal boarding schools that look wonderful on your CV and are hell to live through. We...we helped each other survive. And when we left, he went to university and I went straight into teacher training. But we kept in touch. And a few years later, we both started working in London, so we got together again, and the magic was still there.’ He stopped abruptly, as if he’d said too much, and looked round at Dora.
‘It’s all right. Tell away,’ she said lightly, but the counsellor could see her compressing her mouth, and not to hold back laughter this time. ‘D’you know, Remus and I met through Sirius? Sirius used to babysit for me.’
‘Yeah, and he’d bring his boyfriend along. Me, that is.’ Remus laughed briefly in his turn. ‘We had some good times, didn’t we?’ He turned back to the counsellor. ‘Dora’d be about, what? About eight. And we used to allow her to stay up and watch TV until her parents got home, but we always managed to get her to bed just before we heard their key in the door. They thought Sirius and I were fantastic babysitters. Dora’s dad used to slip us an extra tenner each.’
‘Do your parents know about Remus’s previous relationship?’ the counsellor asked Dora.
‘Goodness, they do now! You should hear my Dad ranting about it. Or maybe not. You know, neither of them want me to marry Remus, but I’m going to, and nobody’s going to stop me.’
‘Marry?’ the counsellor said and Dora said, ‘Yes, marry. You know. Make it all legal. So they can’t come along and break us up. We got engaged, didn’t we, Remus? We couldn’t afford a ring, but we’re still engaged.’
‘We are,’ Remus said. ‘We went out to the local Italian, and I proposed. Over the lasagne. I bet you’ve never heard of anyone accepting a proposal with their mouth full of pasta. Only Dora would do that! It was quite an experience. I never expected I’d ever ask a girl to marry me.’ He turned to Dora and smiled, a private smile. The counsellor tactfully averted her eyes.
‘There was a storm that evening,’ Dora said. ‘It blew down most of the lilac blossom, but I didn’t get too upset, because there were early roses too. Remus sneaked down to the garden at midnight, in the rain, and stole a rose for me. A pink rose.’
‘To match your dressing-gown.’
‘Which you were wearing!’ Dora said indignantly.
‘Well. Congratulations to you both,’ the counsellor said, but felt compelled to add, ‘What about Sirius?’
Remus looked down at the floor and didn’t reply. Dora hesitated for a moment, then said, ‘He’s dead, actually. He died just over a year ago. Which may be why Mum and Dad are suddenly up in arms about me and Remus, what with the anniversary and so on.’
The counsellor couldn’t help thinking of HIV again, though she resolutely tried not to. No doubt it would be easy enough to trace Sirius through the records and find out what he died of, if one had the heart to do it. And perhaps she should steer the conversation towards safe sex. She’d do that next time; if there was a next time.
She sighed. ‘Well, we’ve made a reasonable start. There do seem to be a few problems, and Remus feels counselling mightn’t be a bad idea. I can offer you a regular slot on Mondays, if you want it. But it’s up to you.’
‘May I talk to you alone for a minute?’ Dora asked. ‘You don’t mind, do you, Remus?’
‘We’re not really supposed to do one to one,’ the counsellor objected.
‘Okay, I’ll say it in front of him. Look. I know what you must think of us.’
‘I don’t judge clients,’ the counsellor said.
‘But you can’t help but judge us! Remus is much older, he’s unemployed, he spent years and years in love with another man. Okay, I’m the one who’s got to live with that. I can manage. And no, our sex life isn’t the greatest in the world. But it’s getting better. And maybe other things in our lives aren’t so great at the moment. But that’s not important. Look, can you see?’
She stood up and smoothed her skirt over her stomach, and the counsellor saw the almost imperceptible swelling. ‘It’s going to be legitimate. It’s going to have a loving mother and father. And who cares what’s happened before? Our baby’s the only thing that matters now.’
The counsellor took a deep breath, as she’d been trained to do, and once again gave her best, most professional smile. ‘You’re certainly being responsible, Dora. I can’t fault you in that. But I would advise you to take the opportunity to come back here and discuss your relationship further. Having a baby is a life-changing experience, and not always for the better.’
‘This baby will be amazing,’ Dora said, tucking her hand into Remus’s arm.
‘I’m sure,’ the counsellor said. She didn’t want to contemplate Dora’s pregnancy and its implications; in fact, she could feel the sweat breaking out on her forehead. ‘Well. Good luck to you both! And please make an appointment at Reception for next week, if you think it will help.’
She already knew they wouldn’t. After the door had closed behind them, she waited a few minutes then stood at the window to watch them leave. They held hands as they went down the front stairs together: Remus really was very thin, almost transparent in the sunlight, the counsellor thought. When they’d crossed the road, Dora gazed up at him and gave that lovely, transformative smile again, then stopped, reaching out for something. The counsellor noticed for the first time that there was a white lilac bush, still in bloom, growing against the area railings of the house opposite. Remus plucked a sprig and handed it to Dora with a mock bow, before they walked off down the street and disappeared into the city.