Astronomy Tower
Angst Romance
Multiple Eras
Published: 11/29/2003
Updated: 11/29/2003
Words: 3,372
Chapters: 1
Hits: 5,246

The Caretaker


Story Summary:
Harry's second wife reflects upon life with him and the memories of his first wife, the late Hermione Granger. Inspired by "Rebecca" by Daphne DuMaurier

Author's Note:
This story is an alternate universe cookie to my PoU canon. Although it's based on the PoUniverse, it does not reflect my future plans for the characters, so no one flame me, please.

The Caretaker

an alternate-universe PoU cookie by Lori Summers

Author's Note: I wrote this for the list birthday, and specifically for anyone who might not want to read the NC-17 cookie I linked to (though I'm not sure who would fall into that category).

I am currently re-reading "Rebecca," one of my favorite books (isn't it one of everyone's favorite books?) and the tone and point of view inspired me, and the idea for this cookie occurred to me. I sat down and wrote it in about an hour and a half, and I'm extremely proud of the result. I actually made myself cry near the end, which is a first for me.

Please note that this is an alternate universe cookie, in other words, this vignette does not in any way, shape, or form represent events that I actually plan to have happen. It is entirely free-standing and not connected to anything. It should not be considered PoU "canon" in the way that the other cookies I've written can be. In fact this cookie goes directly against my plans for Our Heroes, so no one panic when you realize what the cookie is about. It's just an exercise, a little thing I noodled out for fun. Okay?

I hope you enjoy it. I'm really happy with it. And yes, the first line is an homage to the legendary first line of "Rebecca," one of the all-time great first lines of literature.

Last night my husband dreamt of her again. I have come to know his nighttime remembrances as I know the shape of his eyes. He turns in his sleep and he whispers her name. Sometimes he cries. Sometimes he talks to her, as if she were still in the bed with him. I lie there next to him, where she once lay, and I listen to him and sometimes I can almost feel her there with us.

I do not begrudge him these sleeping dalliances. Waking, he is loyal to me. He smiles at me and we walk together in our gardens, holding hands and talking of nothing of consequence. When he makes love to me he is tender and passionate. If he shuts his eyes and pictures another's face, I will never know. And I will never tell him that more than once he has called me by her name in the throes of ecstasy. I accept these unconscious slights, they are my own private legacy that she has left me, the inheritance from a woman I never met but whom I feel as though I know intimately.

When she died, the whole world mourned her. I mourned too, because she had been a symbol to us of heroism and courage, almost as much as he is. I was a teacher at a wizard primary school at the time, I never dreamed that I would meet him, let alone that five years later I would marry him.

I was warned against it. Everyone I know, including my parents, told me not to do it. It was common knowledge how much they had loved each other. He'll never get over her death, they said. He can never love you, they said. I believed, perhaps foolishly, that he could. I may have been hasty to ignore the advice of my friends and loved ones, but I did not enter into my marriage blindly. I knew what I was getting into. I had seen the indulgent smiles whenever we went out together. I had borne the pity of his friends, I had withstood the anger of his children. With each new person to whom he introduced me, I felt their gaze sweep me up and down, measuring me, evaluating me against a yardstick bearing the name I heard everywhere whispered: her name, the name that dogs my footsteps and shadows my every waking moment.

It has been ten years for us now. Ten years since the day I went with him to the Ministry, accompanied only by Sirius and my sister Gwen, and he placed upon my finger the ring which rests there still. We are growing older together. He turned sixty-five last year, and I will be sixty in a few months. It seems as though age does not touch him. His hair is a bit grayer now, but only slight wrinkles have taken up residence at the corners of his eyes. He is as handsome now as when I first met him, when I first shook his hand. I was a bit starstruck, as people so often are. I told him I was sorry, so sorry for his wife's death, even though it was three years distant on the day we met. Everyone knew he wasn't the same, that he would never be the same. As for me, I cannot say if he is the same or not. I never knew him any other way. I have never seen what he was like before the grief swallowed him, never seen him without that invisible mantle of sadness he wears like a shroud, even now after all this time. She has been dead for fifteen years, and still he carries it with him, a burden I cannot help him shoulder.

And yet, much as some people wouldn't believe it, our marriage has been a happy one. We share many common interests, we are comfortable in each other's company. Perhaps we have survived because I do not expect too much from him. I knew when I accepted his proposal that I could never take her place. I do not deceive myself that he loves me the way he loved her, the way he loves her still. He does love me, of this I am certain, but as we all know there are many kinds of love, many complex levels to that simple emotion.

Just before we were married my mother asked me, as she still does from time to time, why I accepted him. She didn't want me to, although she is fond of him herself. She thought I deserved better, that I should have a man who could truly love me, a man unencumbered by the impossible standards of a relationship dead and buried. I can see her point. All I can say is that I was almost fifty years old and single, the veteran of one disastrous five-year marriage in my youth and still bearing the scars left by my first husband, a man I loved passionately and who broke my heart, perhaps beyond repair. I had given up on finding any companionship as I entered my middle age. Meeting him was a surprise. I certainly did not expect to feel for him as I do.

I love my husband, very much. It is a different sort of love than one reads about in storybooks, that one hears extolled in sonnets and songs. That sort, that is what he had with her, and sometimes I envy it. They had a passionate, legendary love affair that people still talk about, only now in hushed and regretful tones that it could not have lasted longer, such a pity that it had to be cut so short. He and I have a peaceful, companionable love that demands little and has withstood much. He may have married me to escape his crushing loneliness and his despair. I have never questioned his motives, perhaps because I fear the answer. Lord knows enough others have called our marriage one of convenience that I do not need to add my own voice to the chorus of naysayers. Whatever his motives, I am confident that he does not regret his decision. He and I have talked, at length, of his persistent fear that by marrying me he has betrayed her memory, betrayed what they shared together. This fear comes more from the unspoken accusations of others than from his own sense of betrayal. She did, after all, give her blessing to this marriage in her own words. He has shown me the private note to him she attached to her will, in which she urged him not to let himself vanish into grief. She told him that if he should find someone who could make him happy, he ought not to let her memory stand in his way. She wanted above all else for him to be happy, and in that I find in her a kindred spirit.

I have often wished that I could have known her in life, though I do believe that in death I know her better than I ever could have if we had been friends. People often assume that he doesn't talk about her, or that her name is not spoken in our household. They assume that to hear her discussed would distress me, and inspire resentment or jealousy in me. That is not the case, as I assure anyone with the courage to actually ask me. He talks of her often, and it does not bother me. Indeed my curiosity about her, and about their life, knows no bounds. In my desire to know and understand him, I am always eager to learn more about her. I also believe that it is better for him to feel free to talk about her, and that if I were to forbid it he would only come to hate me for it.

The only thing he will not talk about is her death. She was taken from him by an enemy, one who got the better of her in a difficult situation. I know every detail of the manner of her death, but not because he has told me. If I know how it was, it is because I have heard it from others who were witnesses. Sometimes I see it in my mind and I wonder how it must have been for him. He came upon her just after it happened, just after she had been dealt a mortal wound. He found her dying and her killer unconscious on the ground before her, felled by her own hand as she herself was struck. I know that at first he was calm, taking control of the situation as was his job, calling for medical assistance and bending to help her as much as he could. She had been hurt in the line of duty before, he had every reason to think she would be fine as she always had been...but when he knelt to examine her, he saw the seriousness of her wound. He tried to reassure her but she was not fooled. He gathered her up and held her tightly as the blood ran from her body. He wept as she touched his face, asking him to say goodbye to all their friends and family for her. She sent her love to their children, and he promised to take care of them. Her last words, as was only fitting, were "I love you." And then she slumped in his arms, dead.

I have been told that he voiced a terrible cry of anguish as he felt the life leave her body, a cry that stays still in the ears of all who heard it. He held her body and sobbed in grief, crying out her name like a lost child. When they came to take her away he would not let her go. Napoleon has told me how he was forced to physically pry his arms from around her body and then restrain him as they removed her. And then, the woman who had killed her regained consciousness.

This is the part of the story which gives me sleepless nights. My husband, who is by all accounts a gentle, caring person, killed his wife's murderer with his bare hands. He was allowed to do this by a half-dozen of his co-workers, agents of the Federation, who stood by and watched him do it. It was not reported. I know not what became of her body, or how her death was explained. I do know that he blamed himself later for not having ended her villainy sooner. He paid the ultimate price for his soft-heartedness towards this woman, and he has never forgiven himself for it. His revenge was a cold, meager comfort, and I know he takes no pleasure in it to this day.

I watched her funeral, everyone did. It was broadcast worldwide via remote Apparition. She was famous because he was famous, but together they had become even yet more renowned, and not only for their many acts of bravery. Their love story was cherished by millions, and their life together made people believe in happy endings. When she died, all that died with her. We all watched him shuffle up the aisle to take his seat at her service, appearing as broken and despairing as I know he was. We wept sympathetic tears as her friends and family members made brief statements, speaking of her intelligence, her courage, her devotion to her family and her work. We held our breath as he got up to give her eulogy, insisting on delivering it himself despite advice to the contrary. How he managed it is anyone's guess. He wept while he spoke, but he held himself together admirably...and yet as he left the service, he appeared barely able to walk.

Ben and Helen were devastated by their mother's death. Ben was 16 and Helen 14 when they lost her, and although they both live happy and full lives now, I know they still miss her. At first, they despised me. They were angry too at their father, feeling he ought not to be dating me. By the time we were married, their anger had cooled, but they made their displeasure known. Now, all hostilities are behind us. I did not begrudge them their feelings, it is only right and natural they should have been upset. To their credit, they never attacked me personally, perhaps sensing that in the future they would get over their shock and anger. I'm glad to say that they have, and I enjoy good relationships with both of them. Helen and I often take day trips together, and Ben has made me part of his family as well. I think they are both appreciative of the fact that I never tried to replace their mother in their lives, offering myself only as a friend and as someone who wished to make their father happy. Their love for him helped quiet their anger towards me, and over the years I have carved out my own relationships with each of them.

Ben's young children call me Aunt. This was at my urging, not his. I didn't need to be told that he would not want them to call me Grandmother. They both know they had a grandmother who went away before they were born, but they are too young to make the distinction and so they love me, as I do them. Helen is engaged to be married next year, and she and I have been enjoying working on her wedding plans together. She told me once that she wishes more than anything that her mother could be there to see her get married, but that she was very glad that I would be there. I had to turn my face away so she wouldn't see the tears in my eyes when she said that.

Our lives are simple, leisurely. My husband retired from intelligence work a few years ago, though he had been wanting to for far longer. After her death, his enthusiasm for his profession began to wane. Now, he teaches at Hogwarts and most people believe he will someday be Headmaster. I no longer work, I felt no great desire to continue in my job and we have no need of the money, so I retired as well. I am active in many charities, and I sit on the board of the foundation he established in her honor. We give out grants to young wizards and witches who wish to study abroad or take up new fields of study. I represent my husband at many of the innumerable events to which he is invited daily, and I am pleased to do so. His fame keeps me busy, and at times I feel almost as if I'm his manager. He receives many requests for endorsements, all of which I refuse, and many more for speaking engagements, most of which I refuse. He prefers to keep to himself and his teaching, although I have been known to persuade him to make appearances if the cause is worthwhile or the request comes from a friend.

We make frequent trips to visit friends, and we enjoy traveling. We spend as much time as possible with his children, and my family are never overlooked. We try to get as much time to ourselves as we can, and when we are alone, we are easy and casual with each other, quick to converse and slow to argue. I find myself quite contented, and I do not regret my decision to join my life with his.

And yet...she is always with us. When we make trips to London, we visit her family. We are fortunate that they do not resent my presence, and they seem to like me well enough. The wedding ring she gave him is still on his finger. He wears mine on his right hand, a practice that was actually my suggestion when I saw his torment at the prospect of removing her ring and replacing it with mine. I saw no reason to force the issue, he is still married to me regardless of which of his hands bears the symbol.

Evidence of her presence is everywhere in our home. Pictures that she chose hang on our walls, furniture that she bought sits in our rooms. Her office is still as she furnished it, an unused room that is steadily filling with clutter we have no other place for. Their wedding photograph sits on the mantelpiece next to ours, and images of her keep their places on tabletops, in frames, on walls. The images of me co-exist peacefully with them, but they are outnumbered and cannot hope to catch up.

I admit I went through a phase when I resented her, when I even thought I hated her. I wonder now if it was truthful, or if I felt that way only because I thought I ought to. I soon concluded that it was folly. I surrendered to her, because to do otherwise would be to champion a hopeless cause. The fact is that I can never be to him what she was. I will take what he can give me and be happy. Some would call it unfair, but I am not sure that it is. In fact, he could be said to be equally ill-served by me. I am no more capable of the kind of love they had than he is. We are both wounded beyond all hope of recovery by the past, and in coming together we have found some measure of peace. All the same, we must be patient with each other, and accept the limits of our relationship.

I know that secretly, in a place he doesn't think I know about, that he waits for death. He waits to be with her again. If one believes in an afterlife, and I confess that I do, then he deserves to find her there. Once he is gone and they are together again, I will be no more than an afterthought to him. I will be remembered, I hope fondly, as a kind-hearted woman who eased the pain of his grief and who stood by his side as the years passed. I hope he tells her about me. I hope she's as curious about me as I have been about her. And I hope that when my time comes, I will at last have the chance to meet her. I hope she is pleased with the care I took of her husband and her children. I hope she approves of my guardianship of her family.

I hope she says "thank you." And I hope she smiles.