You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com


Dawn and Dusk by space333

Format: Novella
Chapters: 13
Word Count: 41,726
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence

Genres: Romance, Angst
Characters: Ginny, Harry, Dumbledore, Hermione, OC, Remus Lupin, Ron, Snape, Voldemort, Fred/George, Tonks, M. McGonagall
Pairings: Others

First Published: 05/13/2005
Last Chapter: 02/06/2006
Last Updated: 02/06/2006

Summary:

Hermione. Remus. Can they love each other? No. Because the wizarding world is at war, because she's innocent, because Remus is a man haunted by his past. Because they live in two different worlds, two worlds that will remain forever separated...


Chapter 1: Seeing you again
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It’s like a fire
Burning inside me,

It’s like a large hole,
Deep inside my soul,

It’s like a river,
Becoming a sea.


CHAPTER 1
Seeing you again


“Remus just arrived!” Harry practically raced into the living room of Grimmauld Place, grinning from ear to ear. Noticing Ginny scowling at him he added, “Am I interrupting something?”

Ron got up joyfully from the couch on which he had been eating along with his sister and Hermione, and stretched his legs. “Nope, just talking about next year, that’s all.”

“When did Lupin arrive?” Ginny enquired, getting up too and turning to Harry as he was already walking into the corridor.

Her voice faded out as she followed Harry and Ron out of the room.

Hermione sighed, now left alone on the couch. She wasn’t particularly thrilled about seeing Remus again. The idea disturbed her slightly, though she wouldn’t have been able to say why.

Shaking her head, she realized there were too many things on her mind lately. They were all─ again─ stuck at Grimmauld Place even if she, Harry and Ron had graduated the year before from Hogwarts. Well, true, it was temporary, because they were all going to apply for a job soon, but that was also paradoxically the problem: at Hogwarts, she had homework and grades and exams to worry about. Now who knew what her future would be made of?

Ginny would go to Hogwarts and enter her seventh year; Ron and Harry were both going to apply for an Auror training─ Voldemort hadn’t disappeared just because they had left Hogwarts; on the contrary, more and more Death Eaters kept joining him, creating chaos everywhere. Who could hope to defeat the one who had already come back from the dead? Too few kept that optimism.

And as for her, she also intended to find a job at the Ministry─ but rather in the Department for the regulation and control of Dangerous Creatures. There they debated the rights of every being who asked for some recognition. She had no desire to fight in battles; there was much she could do for the ones who were oppressed… surely if wizards gave them rights they would join the Ministry, all of them: Goblins, House Elves, Dementors, Trolls, Giants…

Werewolves.

Hermione got up and started walking towards the entrance hall of Grimmauld Place, though with much less enthusiasm than the others. A part of her, surprisingly, dreaded to see Lupin again. She knew it was stupid, but still…

She remembered what a great job he had done as a teacher in her third year, then how Harry had almost considered him as a replacement godfather after Sirius’s death. However, the years had passed. They had all grown up, she had grown up. And they’d been through so much together… numerous fights against Voldemort… constant fear… killings…

And, god, it wasn’t over.

It was exactly what Remus had in mind too when he saw Harry, Ron and Ginny come forward to him. Every time he saw them he thought of one thing only─ when he’d leave, should it be after an hour, a day or a week spent with them, he’d fear never to see them alive again. They were the ones he was fighting for, the ones every Order member fought for. They were young, they had plenty of things to look forward to, they wished to live in a world of peace, and they wanted a job, a family. A normal life.

It wasn’t just a job that he had to watch after them─ it was something he needed to do with every fibre of his body, because if they died, then what use would it all have been?

Remus wondered where Hermione was. Thinking about her made him feel slightly guilty. It was something he couldn’t explain, something that puzzled him, something that he wished he could understand. He simply dreaded to see her. He had no idea why─ at least any idea he wanted to consider. Hermione was just a student he had had in class; a very intelligent and brilliant young woman, a friend of Harry, James’s only son, and one who would soon start a promising career. Full stop.

Except… that full stop wasn’t simple to place there. She wasn’t a student any longer; she was eighteen, she had graduated, she had her whole life awaiting her.

He’d noticed it. That odd uneasiness whenever they saw each other, an odd uneasiness that had slowly, over the weeks, turned into embarrassment. They weren’t avoiding each other, it wasn’t that. No… just… they couldn’t find the right words to speak to each other.

Of course, maybe it was just an impression. After all, he’d been gone most of the time… away on Dumbledore’s missions… he had been away for weeks.

Hermione took the last few steps that led into the entrance hall nervously, as Ron and Ginny gave Remus a bone breaking hug─ not much unlike the one Harry had already given him. That was it. He was like Bill or Charlie, an older brother to them, or an uncle. He returned the embrace, passing a hand through Ron’s messy hair in an affectionate way. He liked being back at Grimmauld place. At first it had been difficult; the place had brought too any memories of Sirius. But after that, it had been like a refuge, a shelter where he knew he’d always find friends, the only family he had.

“Hello, Remus,” Hermione said with a warm smile.

“Hermione,” he replied, awkwardly advancing to greet her. However Arthur and Molly Weasley arrived in that instant and he was saved the trouble of finding something to tell her when Arthur came to shake his hand.

“Snape, Tonks, and Sturgis will be away longer than usual,” Molly found a way to mutter to him while they all walked to the kitchen. “Dumbledore’s assigned them to a new mission,” she gave him a knowing look. He knew it meant they’d talk about it later.

“So, Remus?” Ron asked casually once they were all comfortably seated around mugs of hot tea. “What have you been up to?”

“Yeah,” Ginny continued innocently, leaning closer to him over the table. “How’s business?”

Remus gave them a half amused, half annoyed sort of look. “Honestly…” he chuckled.

Molly glanced reproachfully at Ron and Ginny. “How many times have we told you? Nothing the Order does will be discussed while you’re here.”

Hermione smiled. It had been three years since they had learned about the existence of the Order of the Phoenix, but none of them were allowed in yet. Fred and George had just been accepted, so she assumed they’d have to wait a bit more… but she knew it would be soon; as soon as Harry and Ron would start their Auror training they would enter the Order and become helpful spies from inside the Ministry, just like Tonks was. She didn’t know if it was good news; but she was accustomed to Ron, Harry and Ginny’s incessant questions.

“Erm, kids,” Ron’s father said loudly, “Remus must be tired, and we have things to discuss. Could you leave us for a minute?”

There were some groans and complaints, but Ron, Harry, Ginny and Hermione left the kitchen.

“They could at least tell us what exactly is happening,” Ron grumbled. He gave a kick at empty air the same way one hit a ball out of frustration.

Meanwhile, Molly had closed the kitchen door tightly and checked that it was impermeable to everything─ including Extendable Ears or latest twin inventions.

“So, now that we’re alone, how was business?” Arthur grinned.

Remus took a sip of tea and smiled. It was always pleasant to see Arthur and Molly again─ they were whom he considered his closest friends, and to his eyes they had succeeded in raising a family he would have been proud of─ except for Percy, but that was another story.

“Dumbledore told us what you managed to do, I have to say that’s quite impressive,” Molly offered him some cookies which he gladly took.

“I did what I had to,” he replied humbly. “All I did was follow Crabbe and Goyle. If Kingsley and Moody hadn’t shown up I wouldn’t be back to tell the story.” He grimaced, thinking of how close he had been to receive the Killing Curse when Mad-Eye and Kingsley had shown up, Apparating in front of the two Death Eaters. At least he hadn’t completely lost his time─ capturing two of the most merciless Death Eaters they’d been tracking for years turned out to be a great victory. Maybe Crabbe and Goyle were dumb, but they’d followed Voldemort around for years─ and when they threw the Avada Kedavra curse their wands did as much damage as anyone else’s.

Too bad their sons were about to follow the same lead─ what a waste that was.

“How long until you leave again?” Molly questioned.

Remus shrugged. He needed to rest before anything else. Following Death Eaters for nearly four entire weeks had been exhausting. He had had to hide from their sights, he had had to infiltrate some places, he had had to ignore how much sleep his body needed to concentrate on where Crabbe and Goyle were going, what they were doing, who they met─ and who they killed.

He shook away the memories. “Dumbledore sent me an owl telling me I had some time. Sorry─” he said apologetically, “you’ll have to put up with me for a while.”

Molly pretended to be upset, then she added with a beam, “at least the kids will stop mumbling that they’re bored and always by themselves.”

Remus nodded and then he got up, placing his empty mug on the sink. “Wonderful tea, Molly, as always. Well… I’ll go and settle in again,” he thought of his trunk waiting for him. There were also the kids, as Molly called them, who weren’t kids anymore, but who surely had plenty of things to tell him.

Then he’d teach them a few more tricks, he’d rest, and he’d laugh with them for a while and forget about worries, to live this well-deserved carefree existence just for a few days. Harry, Ron, Ginny would keep bugging him about the Order, that never changed, and Hermione… well…

He shut his eyes. Hermione.

Why did he constantly end up thinking about her?


A/N: I'm working on the next chapters, but in the meantime you can always review! lol I really hope you liked it!


Chapter 2: A game of cards...
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

CHAPTER 2
A game of cards...



Settling again at Grimmauld Place didn’t take Remus long, and as the days passed it became more and more difficult for him to concentrate on what work Dumbledore had given him; he felt more like relaxing than carrying out his numerous duties for the Order of the Phoenix.

Every afternoon he trained Ron, Harry, Hermione and Ginny as he had done in Defence Against the Dark Arts in Harry’s third year. The rest of the time he simply stayed with them for as long as he could. He spent hours with Harry, Ron and Ginny having fun, discussing more important issues such as their future jobs, or simply talking or showing them the few things they didn’t know yet, like a few tricks with the wand that had much more funny applications than defence techniques.

Grimmauld Place felt like home with them around.

He snickered. Home. He had no home.

Home was the place where you could stay and be happy. Of course, he’d be staying at Grimmauld Place for longer than usual; probably two weeks─ but even two weeks meant nothing. He’d have to leave, as always: it wouldn’t be long before unexpected news would lead to Dumbledore sending him to another assignment right away.

Every day was the same. It brought news of, again, Aurors who had died, Muggles who had been assassinated, and wizards who had joined Death Eaters. That often made him wonder why all this hatred. The men dressed in black were humans. Were they so unlike?

Probably. Death Eaters shed blood. They had to shed tears.

The only thing that seemed worth it was seeing someone everyday. Hermione.

Seated in the living room, Remus shook his head. He just didn’t seem to be able to stop thinking about her. Strangely, they rarely chatted together. It seemed strange that she acted so weird lately; she never spoke to him unless he addressed her, never took part in the fun with the others in his presence.

Remus took a breath as he realized it wasn’t just her who was acting oddly when they were together. It was him too.

He laid his book down. He’d been reading for about an hour now, but his mind was truly somewhere else. Why did his heart seem to burst every time he saw her? If only he could just stop thinking about how she looked… how smart she was… he wanted to, but was incapable of shutting the door inside his mind that let such thoughts in.

These feelings felt unreal, like a dream that had become true. Or rather like a nightmare that was no longer one but that had come to live.

“Want to play?” Ron abruptly came forward to Remus, showing a game of Exploding Snap he had taken out. Harry was there in the living room too, and so was Ginny. It was already late in the afternoon; they had all trained for a couple of hours after lunch─ nothing really exciting, in truth─ and they had scattered to find some interesting activities, each on their own.

“Sure.” Remus immediately came over, gladly accepting and jumping on the occasion to think about something else. He rose from the couch and came over to the table that Harry had already cleared. It was an antique table made of solid oak wood, and it was one of the little furniture they had, saved from the Black’s old house. Most of the others had been rotten, unusable, or plain ugly.

Remus had a look around, as he often did. Even more than three years after he had entered the house for the first time, it was still gloomy when the sun went down. Lights sent ghostly shadows on the walls and he couldn’t help but wonder how Sirius had survived in such an unpleasant environment─ because with what he, Remus, had glimpsed of his parents, they had been just as horrible as the place they lived in.

“Here.” Harry dealt the cards. Remus went back to what was happening in front of him and took his cards carefully─ they could explode anytime, couldn’t they?

Soon the game became a real set of explosives, because each card laid on the table could make the one next to it blow up. Suddenly there was a detonation and one of Ginny’s card burst into flames in her hands. She leapt in shock and quickly withdrew her hands.

“Hey that’s cheating!” she exclaimed, and then she caught sight of her brother. “Ron!” She playfully punched him in the shoulder. “You can’t set fire to cards in somebody’s hands, only when they’ve been played!”

Ron put on an innocent expression, though looking really pleased with himself.

“How did you do that, by the way?” Ginny asked as Harry sniggered.

“Oh,” Ron grinned, “Fred and George’s tricks.” He shrugged, seemingly proud.

Remus shook his head. He wouldn’t have guessed they were eighteen, and Ginny seventeen, by the way they behaved.

“What are you shaking your head at?” Harry pretended to look offended.

“Grow up,” Remus replied.

Harry and Ron rolled their eyes to the ceiling.

Then Remus took out his wand. It had been too long since he had had fun─ fun without limits, that was; reckless fun. In a quick twist of the wrist, he set fire to both Ron’s and Harry’s cards.

Harry jumped from his chair. “Now, you are going to pay for this,” he said with a nasty wicked smile, taking out his wand.

“No─ wait─ that’s not fair!” Remus said, laughing, seeing Ron getting up too. “That outnumbers me!”

“Oh really?”

Remus eyed both their wands carefully. He could probably take them out, but he’d rather not take risks. Even though they were allowed to use magic now that they were legally adults, he’d rather not play too many games outside of their training sessions every afternoon. He knew it might be fun─ but wands could make some nasty tricks.

“All right,” Harry put his wand away, “but then everything’s allowed.” He and Ron both grabbed Remus’s arms to make him fall off his chair. As Ginny came over too and sided with them─ she wasn’t truly upset at Ron, and after all it was much more fun to all be against Remus, wasn’t it?─ it became a real game of who would nail who to the floor, and Exploding Snap was totally forgotten.

“Ouch─ hey, Harry, that was my arm!” Ron grunted.

“Ginny, grab his legs!” Harry managed to get back on his knees.

Trying to reach him so that he didn’t rise, Lupin seized one of Harry’s hands and pulled so that he fell to the floor. Remus looked around as he realized he was near the couch now. His first idea had been to find something to throw at them─ a cushion or something─ but his eyes fell on a person standing against the wall, staring at them. He immediately realized who it was─ and felt foolish for having not seen her arrive.

Hermione felt her cheeks burn as she became conscious of the fact that he was looking back at her, and she averted her glance. She was feeling a pang of jealousy at the sight of Harry, Ron and Ginny having fun with him. Ron was coming back to grab his arms, and even Ginny was running her fingers along his skin to tickle him, not feeling any kind of embarrassment.

Why would she have? He was like an older brother to them all.

To them all but for her. Hermione looked at her feet and then turned away. She had made a mistake coming in the living room; because now she couldn’t help but wonder, again, why every time she saw him she felt like she was on the edge of an abyss, unable to jump over it and at the same time unable to turn back. There was no solution, no running away, no pretending she didn’t feel anything.

Suddenly Remus felt a lot less like laughing, and his smile vanished like a tree leaf in a gust of wind. As the fun washed away instantly, he quickly grabbed Ron by the waist, and, using all his strength, lifted him. Taking the boy by surprise enabled him to get to Harry and stop him from pinning him to the floor. Ginny let him go of his arm when Harry and Ron did.

Rapidly Lupin excused himself, saying he needed to talk to Ron’s mother, leaving the boys and Ginny alone to a game of their own, and then he went look around for Hermione.

Walking out to find her surprised even him. What exactly was he doing?

Somehow he already knew the answer, but he couldn’t admit it. She was just a young girl, nothing more. There was no way she should puzzle him, no way he should feel drawn to her like that. He shouldn’t be so embarrassed and awkward in her presence. He shouldn’t care so much for Hermione.

And he shouldn’t think so much about her.

Yet despite himself he kept checking room after room─ until he found her in the kitchen, staring outside through the window, alone, an image of beauty in a world that darkened more and more as the hours passed. He realized it was already late in the afternoon; soon it would be time to eat dinner, and then the night would be there. Another day would have gone by, just slid past him and passed his grasp without him being able to control any of it.

His footsteps echoed strangely on the tiled floor as he entered the kitchen but she didn’t turn to look at him, keeping her face hidden from his view.

He walked to her slowly, stopped as soon as he was level with her, and leaned against the wall. Instead of staring at Hermione he imitated her and looked outside the window.

And so they both stood there quietly, gazing at the sunset and at the last rays of light that gradually went down across the horizon, lighting the roofs of the houses nearby and sending golden colours over the edges of the trees.

Seconds ticked by insignificantly. They were both absorbed in their own thoughts─ and they both knew that eventually they would have to break this moment of tranquillity by saying something.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Remus said softly after several minutes. She was beautiful, too.

So hauntingly beautiful.

Now the remaining sunrays faded away, disappearing as though they had never existed, and still she didn’t react. Was she so absorbed by the dusk she didn’t care that he was here? Or was she in pain, totally ignorant to what she saw outside and yet also incapable of looking at him? Would she eventually say something or should he leave her alone?

As he hesitated to depart she gave a nod, one that was barely perceptible, so small he thought for an instant it was an illusion.

“Hermione…” Remus came a little closer, though keeping a reasonable distance between them. “Can I help you with anything? Is─ is anything wrong?”

He saw her stiffening. And then abruptly she wheeled around, looking quite mortified. She didn’t dare look at him─ he didn’t deserve this. He had just come here to help her, she knew it, and now she was really acting stupidly. What game was she playing?

In a way she knew perfectly what she wanted─ yes, he could help with something. Maybe he could take her in his arms and─

She closed her eyes.

No. He should walk out, shouldn’t he? That was the only thing that would be right.

But… why did the barrier between right and wrong suddenly feel so blurred and indistinct?

Remus stared at her for a moment, and then he started stretching out a hand. Just to put it on her shoulder, to reassure her… to tell her she wasn’t alone, that he would always be here for her if she needed something. But he stopped halfway, rapidly withdrew his arm and let it fall back to his side, feeling weak and unable to help.

Hermione didn’t look at him. She desperately cast around for something to say─ perhaps he was worried because he didn’t understand why she had stared at him in the living room? Or perhaps he had sensed something wasn’t right with her since he had come back?

He must have noticed something was wrong in the way she behaved. She rarely laughed along with Ron, Harry and Ginny anymore. The truth was that she sometimes did. But when he wasn’t there─ because in his presence, she just couldn’t.

She remembered when he had announced to them that he’d be staying for longer than usual at Grimmauld place. The news had made her strangely happy, though it puzzled her that her reaction was so out of proportion. Harry had seemed delighted, Ron really thrilled and Ginny had beamed, but it was nothing compared to how she had felt.

“Everything’s fine,” she declared, pretending to look surprised but failing at it miserably.

She knew she needed to sound convincing, so she summoned some courage and looked at him. He was wearing a white pullover that was tight, at least enough to reveal his muscled arms. Her eyes lingered on him, but quickly she caught herself and glanced at her shoes, fearing that her eyes betray her and wishing that she could stop being overwhelmed by emotions she had no control onto.

“Look, I─” Lupin started breathlessly, seeing her blush slightly. Somehow he couldn’t find the right words. He knew she was staring at him, and it felt frustrating that she could be judging him like that. On the other hand─ why was he suddenly so pleased? Was it just because he was the one she had been staring at? Because he so wanted, deep inside, to draw her attention?

Remus attempted to speak again. “I just─”

But there was a scream in a room nearby─ instantly followed by the sound of someone dropping something on the floor. It was like a glass had just broken into a thousand pieces.

“Stay here,” Remus muttered quickly to Hermione. He gave one last look at the dusk and left hurriedly in the direction from where the noise had emanated, looking for the source of the commotion.

Hermione remained alone, still beside the window. Whatever was going on didn’t immediately shake her out of her secondary state of lethargy. She turned to watch the darkening sky again.

“It is beautiful,” she whispered to herself once he had left the room.

Meanwhile Remus ran to the living room. As soon as he entered he realized something was wrong. Molly was holding a piece of parchment in her hand, very pale and seemingly shaken by some piece of news. A vase lay broken on the floor, flowers scattered all around.

“Reparo,” Remus said by reflex, pointing his wand at the mess. The flowers flew back inside the vase that had magically repaired itself. He seized it mechanically and set it on the table.

“What’s wrong?” He came forward to Molly with a frown as Ron and Harry arrived into the living room.

Molly opened her mouth to answer, still frozen on the spot, but she closed it back when she glimpsed the boys.

“Ron, Harry,” Remus said harshly but distinctly. “Out.”

Harry looked hurt, and Remus wished he hadn’t been so unsympathetic; but on the other hand something was obviously wrong and he didn’t have time to explain to them patiently that it was most likely secret Order business.

As soon as the door closed Molly feverishly handed him the parchment she had been holding and Remus read it in silence.

Severus Snape hurt─ send someone over to St Mungo's immediately for protection.


The short message was signed by Albus Dumbledore.

There was a silence, the time needed for the message to sink into Remus’s mind. It didn’t take him long to make a decision─ Arthur was out, and Molly was the only person besides him in the house who could do anything. He didn’t want to expose her to danger─ so that left only him.

“I’ll go,” he said shortly. “Stay here with the kids─”

He didn’t finish because every second was precious. Death Eaters not only attempted to kill their enemies when nobody was watching; they also managed to leave no witnesses of whatever they had done. Which meant they didn’t care if it was in Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade or St Mungo's that they finished off their prey. Snape was in danger even in a hospital bed, and as much as he still despised the man, he couldn’t not go.

In a swoosh of Floo Powder Remus was gone.

A/N Well... obviously still hoping you're enjoying this!

Chapter 3: The Heart of St Mungos
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

CHAPTER 3
The heart of St Mungos


He hated hospitals. He hated everything about them; their white immaculate walls that were too white, their odor that smelled of sickness and death, their Healers that kept running along the never-ending corridors, inside which doors were always shut as though to keep hidden what no one could abide seeing. Even the flowers he spotted here and there in the waiting room among the visitors seemed illusory.

“May I help you?” A tall witch in the entrance hall came forward. She was wearing a white cloak with the badge of Saint Mungo’s, and had the soft, light features of someone who didn’t spend much time outside. She, too, sounded falsely cheery.

“Erm─” Remus hesitated, realizing he had absolutely no idea where to go. He had taken Floo Powder to the hospital, but now in the maze of bedrooms, healing rooms, waiting rooms, training rooms, etc, he was lost. Of course, he could always try every floor and every corridor to try and find Snape without having to talk to anyone, but it seemed very improbable that he would find him─ as an Order member he surely wouldn’t be sharing a bedroom with another wizard who had had too much to drink.

Therefore if he wanted to reach his destination before the night had fallen he had better answer to the witch named Corzelia, as labeled on her insignia. “I believe someone must have left a message for me,” he guessed.

The witch raised an eyebrow, her intense blue eyes widening slightly. “Who is the message for?”

Remus didn’t reply immediately. As an Order member on a mission he couldn’t divulge his true identity, and had he been able to he wasn’t sure he would’ve done it─ he had rather not too many people knew him. “It must be from Albus Dumbledore,” he avoided a direct answer, hoping he was right. He conjectured that if Dumbledore had sent the message to Grimmauld Place he had already taken care of a number of other things.

In other circumstances Remus would have laughed─ if he were wrong, if for once this hadn’t been planned, then the witch might as well bring him to the ward for the mentally ill.

“Albus─” the witch’s smile disappeared, and then she lowered her voice considerably. “Yes… yes, I’ll take you, of course.”

Remus followed, wondering where she was going to lead him. At least he had been right about the message, but Corzelia’s sudden anxiety didn’t seem like good news.

At first he tried to follow the path she was taking, but he soon lost it in the numerous twists and turns. Progressively they left the corridors where a lot of visitors were and entered a seemingly more restricted area. Then she took a lift─ at first sight he would have thought it was abandoned─ and, once they had gone down for a while, the door opened on a very tiny corridor with a single door on the side.

The witch didn’t move so he looked at her questioningly.

“In there,” she showed him the door. “I’m not allowed to go forward.”

Quietly he nodded. As soon as he stepped outside, the lift the door behind him closed and the witch was gone, leaving him in the semi-darkness.

He advanced apprehensively. What would he find behind the door? As he pushed down the knob he had the horrible impression that his insides were melting. And then the door opened─ and a horrible smell reached Remus’s nostrils. It was far worse than in the upper levels─ far worse than he could have imagined.

Fighting not to throw up, he walked forward and closed the door.

***********
Hermione wished they would find something else to talk about now. It was almost midnight, and yet Harry, Ron, Ginny and she were in the boys’ bedroom, quietly talking together. Ron and Harry desperately wanted to know what had happened that had made Remus leave so precipitately in the evening; but she, Hermione, would rather not have talked about Lupin. Her insides squirmed oddly every time they mentioned his name; as for her, she completely avoided pronouncing it.

“What about you, Hermione? What d’you reckon?”

“What?” She’d been quiet for a while.

“What do you think’s happened?” Harry repeated. “With Molly and Remus─”

“I have no idea.”

Ginny yawned but Ron frowned at Hermione.

“Come on, Hermione, you always have an idea on what’s going on, don’t you?”

“I don’t know, listen, it’s late, we should go to sleep.”

Ron and Harry stared at her strangely. “You all right?” Harry finally asked.

“Sure, why?” She knew she sounded out of herself, but she couldn’t help it.

“Let’s go to sleep,” Ginny cut in abruptly, for which Hermione was thankful.

Hermione was about to shut off the light when there was a tap on the window. She got up smoothly and opened it, and an owl came in.

“That’s a Ministry owl,” Ginny pointed out.

“Yeah…” Hermione detached the parchment from it in a distracted manner. She shook her head with annoyance; she knew Ministry Officials worked all night, but surely they could avoid sending owls this late, couldn’t they?

Miss Hermione Granger,
The Ministry cordially invites you to present yourself on the morning of the 2nd of July at the Apparition Centre of the Ministry of Magic to pass your class E Apparition test. Please arrive at 8 o’clock.
We have also registered your appliance for a job at the Department for the Control and Regulation of Dangerous Creatures, and therefore you will be interviewed right after your test.

Regards, the Ministry of Magic


Hermione beamed. “Finally I’ll get to go out!”

Ginny took the parchment from her hands and read it too. “Do you think Ron and Har─”

The door burst opened. Harry and Ron walked in wearing their pajamas, each holding a piece of parchment similar to the one Hermione was holding.

“We got pre-selected for Auror training,” Ron said, looking really thrilled. “I bet you got what you wanted too, right? Second of July, eight in the morning for the Apparition tests, then interview?”

**********

There wasn’t much to be seen: a bed with a body on it, and a man standing next to him. When the unfamiliar Healer looked up at Remus, his eyes bulged out on his face from tiredness. Then the man retreated without a word and exited by a door at the far end of the room, leaving Remus alone with Snape.

He fought against his desire to turn away and, step after step, reached the bed.

Snape was there, his eyes closed, lying with his head on a pillow. The rest of his body was covered with a white sheet, but his face was as white as chalk.

Remus stared at the one he had known since school, the one who had never been his friend─ but the one he was here to protect. He knew the chances were remote that Death Eaters would reach them, here, in this place it seemed almost nobody knew existed. And yet─ one never knew.

Remus looked around for a chair but found none. The minutes passed, until abruptly Snape opened his eyes. He gave a slow look around, ignoring Remus─ was he not seeing him?─ then closed his lids again.

When he opened them back his eyes focused on Remus and, this time, he didn’t look away. Severus opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“Don’t try to─” Remus started, but suddenly Snape spoke.

“He sent you─” Snape’s voice was only a throaty muter, but Remus nonetheless knew it was full of sarcasm. “You, of all people.”

Remus didn’t answer. Snape grimaced from the pain and Remus felt horrible, standing there with him so badly hurt. “What’s happened?” he asked, coming closer.

“They─ got me,” Snape let out in a breath. He looked tired. So tired. “They got me, Remus.”

Lupin froze. Why was Snape calling him by his first name? He never had.

Snape paused to gather strength. “Listen to me,” he whispered in a drained voice. “Protect them... protect them all…”

Remus swallowed. “You don’t mean that.” He had no idea who exactly Snape was talking about, but that wasn’t important. He refused to believe these words might be Snape’s last. Where was Severus’s scorn, his hatred, and his disdain?

“Harry, Ron…” Snape went on, “everyone else… they’re just kids. I meant that…” he gasped, “that and everything else.” Snape attempted to snigger cynically. “We thought we were superior to all these Muggles, just because we wizards could do─ could do great things with a twist of the wrist and a stick of wood…” he said weakly, “well we’re far worse than them… we’re─ we’re destroying our own selves just the same… except it’s worse… because we should be wiser…”

Remus didn’t answer because his throat was too dry.

“You’re a good man, Remus. Much more human than me…” Snape said with a rasp intake of breath. “We should’ve been friends, you know. It’s no use to hate… I─ I hated everyone around myself, and look where it led me…” it looked like it was taking him a great effort to continue; “don’t waste you life, Remus… find yourself something worth living for… something far better than all of this...” his voice faded. “We─ we should’ve been friends…” he repeated. The words died, and then he closed his eyes.

“Severus!” Remus yelled. The door opened, and this time two men came in. One took Remus’s arm and brusquely pulled him from the bed, while the other, the first one Remus had seen, bent over Snape.

“What’s happening?” Remus almost shouted. He tried to move but the Healer was blocking him, quietly but surely pushing him farther from the bed.

“Calm down,” the Healer answered, letting go of his arm at last.

“Will he be all right?”

The Healer shook his head. “We’re not sure yet.”

“What does that mean you’re not sure yet?” Remus said aggressively. He didn’t like at all the way this was happening; nor did he like the tone of the Healer’s voice. He didn’t want to be treated like a kid who must be protected from a painful truth.

The Healer sighed, scratching his forehead resignedly. “He’s badly hurt… fractures we can heal… but he’s got internal bleeding… torn limbs… dark magic in his blood─” he paused. “Want me to go on?”

Remus shook his head wearily. “No.”

“I’ll get you a chair,” the man muttered. He went out of the room and came back almost immediately, then motioned for Remus to sit down. “Don’t attempt to speak to him.”

Then they left again.

So a long wait began. Remus was so bored he wished he could sleep─ but now wasn’t the time. It lasted hours. Long hours. One man, the first one, came back at regular intervals but didn’t say a word to him. Snape was in a profound sleep─ so profound Remus feared he would stop breathing.

When the door opened he was sure it was already three or four in the morning. Remus jumped up and took out his wand.

“Relax, Remus, it’s me,” Mad-Eye Moody came in with a growl. “What news?” he then asked more quietly.

“Not much,” Remus replied tiredly.

“I’m here to take over.”

“It’s all right, you needn’t bother, I can stay here.”

Moody’s eye rolled around in his socket a few times, and Remus felt he was being x-rayed. “You need a break.”

“I’m fine.” Remus had no wish to admit he was worn out past exhaustion.

“Get back to Grimmauld Place, you’re supposed to be on a two weeks long rest.”

“There aren’t enough people to do what needs to be done.”

“Whatever,” Moody shrugged, “but go back there.”

Remus exhaled then nodded. Without a word he went out, breathing in deeply some fresh air once he was far from the suffocating room, took the lift and went back to the entrance hall of the hospital. He took a handful of Floo Powder and fled, breaking free of the insufferable tension that had been building up ever since he had taken that lift down. A few seconds later Remus was back in the living room of Grimmauld Place, alone in the dark, quiet, undisturbed room.

It took a while for his eyes to get accustomed to the lack of light, and quickly he realized the entire house was dark. The clock on the wall in front of him indicated that it was six in the morning. Now he felt even more powerless than ever. He looked at the vase on the table; the vase that Molly had dropped but that was no longer broken. He came closer to it─ it would feel so good to fling it to the floor, because he felt so powerless─

Remus swore under his breath. Then he went to the library─ that’s how they called it because the room was filled with shelves of old books─ extended a hand and sat on the couch. What else could he do? Sleep would never come anyway. Here, in this sanctuary, at least he had things to occupy his mind, and to forget.

He ran his hand over the dusty title of the book he had picked. The light on his left flickered. Philosophy. Of all the books around, he had found one on philosophy. He almost got up to find another one, but decided that his legs could use some rest.

So he opened the book somewhere near the middle, not really caring what he would be reading. The pages were filled with very small characters. He stated at the title of the chapter, freedom, and let his eyes wander over the text.

Freedom… Choice… Good and evil… He turned the page over.

Democracy. The basis of a democratic state is liberty. Aristotle. Again, he flipped the page over. It seemed this whole book was about famous quotes, from Muggles and Wizards alike. He usually enjoyed them─ each one reflected its writer’s point of view on a particular event in history. However, tonight─ or rather that morning─ he was too tired for it.

War. He didn’t even read a word. It was all the same thing, wasn’t it? Violence and harmony. Peace and war. He turned the pages again.

Hatred and love.

He stared at a line from Friedrich Nietzsche. There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness..

He didn’t try to understand the enigmatic quote. He wished neither love nor hatred had ever existed; the former was too hard to think about. The latter…

The latter was linked with too many memories, too much trouble, and too much pain.

They were all pawns in a game played by powerful wizards none of them could ever match. So they hated one another alike; Death Eaters, purebloods, Dark Wizards, Mudbloods, with no understanding, because they didn’t know how to do anything else but battle and hate.

Remus stared at the lamp in front of him until he was blinded by the light. He looked away.

Why did Death Eaters have to exist? They were humans, weren’t they, so why did they never bother themselves with human dignity, with what made life worth living, with the basics of human principles of decency and morality?

We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction. Aesop.

Maybe that was true. And maybe it was even worse than that; maybe they’d end up destroying themselves. What were they doing but fighting a war against humanity? Remus skipped to the bottom of the page, where the name Ovid caught his attention.

We can learn even from our enemies.

He doubted it. What would Death Eaters teach to him but the art of abhorrence? He was so tired of it. Tired of uneven fights, tired of pointless fights. Tired of being responsible for the lives of others… of those he wanted to stay alive.

Sometimes he wondered if fighting really made things better. Maybe it just delayed the inevitable. They were trying to win a war to make the good side win because they wanted to avoid seeing Voldemort as an all-powerful Dark Wizard controlling the world. Except he already was, wasn’t he? Why couldn’t Dumbledore admit it? Where they really fighting for something, or were they just trying to hang to the last thread of hope in a fight for a lost cause?

Remus clenched his fist. Good over evil, that was what he was fighting for. Friendship over hatred, human dignity over immorality.

And love, above all.

He stared at the shelves with the image of someone smiling back at him, holding a book in her hands. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again, the vision of Hermione had disappeared.

Snape was right. Remus had found himself something far better than any fight, war, or anything else in the world. Except it wasn’t that simple.

He, Remus, hated himself because he had discovered something that was far better than any of these hostilities. It was incredible, that gigantic capacity humans had for tremendously passionate love or merciless hate alike. It would never cease to amaze him. And it would never cease to haunt him.


***

A/N: yes, I know, I'm evil for leaving it there..... however I'll do try and post chapter four as soon as I can, and meanwhile reviews are very much appreciated. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 4: Confession
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Hi there! Well here's chapter 4 if you're still with me, which I truly hope. I'm glad you've read this far, thanks all who reviewed!


CHAPTER 4
Confession


“Did Remus come back?” Hermione heard Harry ask Molly quietly over the course of breakfast.

“Yes, he did,” Ron’s mother replied coolly. “He’s probably asleep; he came back late. We’ll not get him until lunch, he needs to rest.”

There was something definite in her tone, as though the matter was to not be discussed. Ron resumed eating grumpily as Hermione passed around some bacon. What mysterious business had Remus carried out the last evening? She wondered. Why had he left so hurriedly and why had Molly acted so strangely afterwards? It usually meant something bad had happened, something they were, once again, to be kept away from.

“We need to get hold of the Daily Prophet,” Harry muttered quietly as soon as Ron’s mother wasn’t listening.

“That’s not a good idea,” Ginny scowled. “You know Mum’s still watching─”

“I know that,” Harry replied, avoiding looking at Ginny for a reason Hermione couldn’t fathom. “I know she’s forbidden us to read the paper, I know she’s careful as to what we’re reading. But maybe we could manage to get one. I hate being left in the dark. If something happened, it’ll be headline news.”

There was a short silence. “He’s right,.” Ron decided. “It’s not fair. We have a right to know what the world’s up to. Imagine if we apply for Auror training without a clue as to what’s going on. We’ll look like idiots.”

“I’ll try to sneak one in this afternoon,” Ginny declared to everyone’s surprise. “Or get some information from Susan.”

It took a good three seconds for Hermione to realize what she was talking about, and then she remembered that Ginny had the authorization from Dumbledore to visit a friend that afternoon. Why had she been allowed to leave Grimmauld Place whereas they’d been locked in for a month? She suspected Dumbledore wished for Ginny to keep socializing before she lost all her friends. Harry had complained. He and Ron had wanted to visit Dean, Seamus or Neville, but they had hit a categorical no. All, probably, because Harry needed to be kept safe. There was so much at sake if he was hurt…

Anyhow, she would have the chance to bring them fresh news, a too rare opportunity.

***

Remus hadn’t slept long. At nine he had woken up and settled to work, seizing the opportunity of everyone believing him asleep to quietly take care of some Order business.

At twelve there was a knock on his door and Ron’s face appeared inside his room. Just as a precaution, Lupin flipped his parchments over. From where he stood, Ron gave an interested look in his direction and tried to catch a glimpse of whatever was written on them, then─

“Lunch, Remus!”

He’d been working non-stop for three hours, planning the upcoming duties of the Order members as Dumbledore now knew that they were one member down─ or rather two, since Snape had to be protected at all times. It really was a brain twister; some people like Tonks had to work at the Ministry in parallel and not arouse suspicions that they might have to carry out other missions; others had secret occupations only Dumbledore knew of but that he had to accommodate in their schedules. In short, there were just too few people for everything that had to be done. Maybe even Remus would need to help and leave Grimmauld Place sooner than expected─ though he expected Dumbledore wouldn’t let him without having rested first.

Remus stood up and locked the parchments in a drawer─ he hoped Ron and Harry weren’t desperate enough about joining the Order to the point of sneaking into his room, but it was basic safety.

Then he went down the stairs, passing through the living room, then through the empty room they used every afternoon to practice defensive spells─ at least that gave them all something to do─ went down the stairs and finally arrived in kitchen in the basement. Harry, Ron, Ginny and Hermione were there, and further into the room Molly was ordering the huge cauldron on the fire to spin, directing the pan to fry corn, etc, waving her wand around in the air in all directions. Remus didn’t dare look at Hermione when he sat down. What he felt now after that strange awkwardness between them the previous evening wasn’t something he wished to think about.

Soon they were all comfortably seated, talking about, in truth, anything and everything. Remus carefully avoided mentioning the previous night, even though he sensed some radiating curiosity from Harry, Ron, Ginny and Hermione. Molly was probably aware of what had happened since Dumbledore and she had communicated─ the others were to be kept out of it.

“Where’s Dad?” Ginny asked suddenly over lunch as Harry was trying to convince Ron that maybe they ought to come up with new Quidditch tactics in case they ever played it again.

Molly glared at her and Remus couldn’t help but grimace. Arthur was the one who had taken Moody’s place at St Mungo’s. Of course, replying shortly that it was Order business would end it, but Remus felt they wouldn’t, this time, find the answer sufficient.

“Your father’s out,” Molly said severely. “I told you he wouldn’t be back until late in the evening.”.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Ginny scowled back. “Where has he gone to? Ministry?”

“He’s with Professor Snape,” Remus declared, surprising even himself. Since when had he called Snape Professor? “And Dumbledore,” he added. It wasn’t a lie since Dumbledore was supposed to be visiting Snape during the day. Molly addressed him with a reproachful glance but he ignored it and turned to Ron who, he sensed, was about to argue.

“So it’s Order business again, right?” Ron looked pleased to have some of his questions answered at last.

“Yes, it is.”

“What’s happened?” Ron said, and at the same time Harry asked for the umpteenth time, “When can we join the Order?”

“You’ll know when you join the Order what’s happened. And no, I don’t know when.” Remus shook his head. If he’d been given a galleon every time they asked, he’d be rich enough not to worry about anything anymore.

“Kids, help me clear up the table now,” Ron’s mother interrupted. She wasn’t very angry; just glad that Remus had said no more.

Later, they were cleaning up the table and the low voices of Molly and Remus talking by the sink reached Hermione’s ears; she quickly understood they were talking of Ginny.

“…think it’s safe, after all that’s happened?” Molly was whispering.

“Dumbledore said not to change plans… it means he trusts there are few risks…”

Remus stopped talking as he crossed Hermione’s gaze, and she felt herself blushing as his eyes lingered on her. The conversation was over, leaving Hermione with a strange sensation in the pit of her stomach.

After they had all drank tea Ginny and her mother left, leaving Harry, Ron, Remus and Hermione alone for the afternoon. Hermione quickly excused herself and went to the living room where she had a book to finish, while Remus and the boys remained in the kitchen to talk.

Naturally the subject of conversation turned to the one Remus feared. He found himself wishing, for once, that they weren’t there bugging him again on when they’d be allowed to join the Order.

Perhaps it would have been better if had never told them that Arthur was with Dumbledore. Of course, it meant nothing, it didn’t give out much, but now they wanted to know more, maybe thinking he had started to include them on Order secrets already. “No,” he repeated again and again. He couldn’t say more, and he didn’t know when they’d be allowed to join.

That wasn’t exactly true; there had been talk of it at the last Order meeting.

Some had said that since Harry, Ron, Hermione were out of Hogwarts; they were also legally adults by now and had the right to join if they wanted to. Those had been Tonks, still young and intrepid, and Snape who, with a grim and perfectly disinterested air, had declared he was on their side. Lupin had almost fallen out of his seat─ but that had been before the Potion master had added, with a sneer and a perfectly unmoved expression, that it was up to them if they wanted to get themselves killed.

So they had argued for a while as the others kept quiet. Arthur had hesitated, Molly had been totally against the idea, McGonagall had remained neutral─ she saw both pros and cons in letting them in. Kingsley had declared maybe they should wait until they were older; after all, Fred and George had just been allowed in, long after they had turned 18. Moody had simply pointed out that the twins were much less serious than Harry, Ron and Hermione─ luckily Fred and George hadn’t been there to hear it.

He, Remus, had said nothing as the debate went on and on. He didn’t particularly like the idea of some new innocent youths risking their lives for a cause that was far from being won─ even though, god only knew, they needed some members to fight in the Order. It was good to protect them. They lived in an era of hatred and violence, in the middle of which Grimmauld Place stood out as a bubble of peace. One last heaven, one last untouched refuge that remained before all hope would be lost.

On the other end─ what good would it bring to keep them there doing nothing but waiting to be accepted as Aurors, if the world collapsed around them? They must not like the idea of being locked up.

Sirius hadn’t.

“Come on Remus, we’re not kids anymore! We’re all eighteen! And besides, we’re going to work soon,” Ron insisted, and Harry nodded resolutely to show how much he agreed. “We got our Ministry letters yesterday, they accepted us to take the Auror tests─”

The news shook Remus slightly. Of course, he’d known they’d be accepted─ but hearing it meant realizing it would happen soon.

Still, it didn’t mean they were in the Order yet. Now his patience was wearing out. He clicked his tongue with annoyance, searching for something to end the conversation. He knew it would take them nowhere but to a dead end─ once again. “Look, it’s not up to me to make you join the Order, but if ever it was then you wouldn’t.”

There was a silence; Ron and Harry looked stunned by his suddenly clear-cut tone. It didn’t take long before Harry opened his mouth to argue again. “So you’re not on our side,” he said, as if trying to take in the idea but failing at it. Then anger flared in his eyes. “Not you too, Remus,” he said with growing irritation. “Don’t tell me you’re having us train every afternoon for nothing,” he clenched his jaw. “You want us to know how to fight for battles, then you can’t admit yourself that you’d let us join the Order! Don’t you think it’s time to─”

“Shut up!” Remus unexpectedly roared.

Harry fell silent, taken aback by this unexpected outburst of rage, but somehow it didn’t calm Lupin. They didn’t understand why he was so mad? He’d make them understand. He wasn’t only mad when he had Death Eaters in front of him─ for once, he would shout at them.

“You don’t get it, do you?” He bolted up so that he was above them. “This isn’t a card game where you get to roll on the floor laughing and blow up your friends’ cards. People DIE in this war!” Remus pushed his chair aside loudly and walked out, banging the door and leaving two stunned eighteen-year olds with their mouths open.

He tried to calm down; he had overreacted and he knew it. They couldn’t understand, and it was perfectly normal; they were just boys… neither of them were mature enough to imagine what it was like, and neither of them had truly seen how terrible a war was. They’d known battles already, Cedric had died, then Sirius, and other people too after that. Of course. But it wasn’t as though they had seen tens of killings everyday. The mental resistance it needed wasn’t something they were accustomed to; the pressure on friends and families wasn’t something they could even imagine.

They hadn’t been the one tracking Death Eaters for days, they hadn’t been, truly, out there. And they had never ended up killing someone.

God keep them from ever knowing what it felt like.

For now they were all children. It was normal if they didn’t yet act like grown-ups.

Well, maybe one of them did, he thought as he saw Hermione in the living room. The book she was reading was one he’d read himself; one about the rights House-Elves deserved. At least she seemed to be mature enough; her ideas on the freedom of creatures were great. Given the fact that he was a werewolf he especially respected people who wanted to fight for the rights of those who were… well, different.

Hermione heard his footsteps and laid her book aside when he entered. “Is everything all right?” she asked nicely, having heard the shouts but not wanting him to get angrier than he already was.

He sighed and started pacing the room in silence, seemingly disturbed, making her wonder for a moment whether she’d made a mistake asking. Maybe she should’ve kept quiet; his irritation was imprinted on every line of his face.

“I didn’t─” she started, wanting him to understand he didn’t need to speak if he didn’t feel like it.

“It’s all right,” he cut her off. “Only─” he seemed to be looking for the right words. Then he said breathlessly, “they don’t understand what fighting is all about.”

She knew he meant Ron and Harry; she’d often wondered, too, if they knew that in a war people died. Two years before, they had known the danger; but now that they had seen nothing of it, no battles, no deaths for two years… Maybe they had become reckless. “They just want to help, that’s all,” she said without taking sides.

“I know that,” he replied, his eyes in the distance. “They’re young,” he added as an afterthought. She was their age, too, and both of them were aware of it. “They don’t know what it feels like to wake up in the morning not knowing if you’ll ever come back.” He came to sit beside her on the couch, resting his head on his palm, his elbow on a knee. She shivered. His tone had become harsher, darker, but his gaze was as piercing as ever as he stared at empty air.

“They think they know… but they know nothing!” Remus thought of Snape, lying in his hospital bed.

Hermione kept quiet. She didn’t know what to answer.

“They think it’s easy…”

Remus left the words hanging, stood up again and went to the window. He pulled open a curtain, revealing what lay behind. It was raining outside; heavy, dark clouds filled the sky. He stared out, feeling as lost as a small rowing boat on a tumultuous ocean. There was no land in sight, no refugee, nothing to indicate a location. There was almost no light either; it was as though colour had never existed; everything was grey, endlessly grey, as was his mood.

Finally he turned around. “Fighting isn’t about being brave. If you’re not scared you’re a fool, because there is nothing good in war… no honour, no bravery…” he closed his eyes. “It’s all sickening anyway… and when someone dies… you don’t feel glory, you don’t feel pride. You only feel revolted. Revolted because you’ve taken a life.” His voice was full of bitterness, the words coming out with difficulty.

Hermione took a long time to answer. “They know it’s everything but a game.”

“Do they?” he shook his head, his voice cracking. “They think they’re strong and ready…” he spread his hands apart helplessly. “But they aren’t prepared for it. They have never killed dark wizards─” he broke off and she suddenly felt an urge to come closer and comfort him. She didn’t know why he was telling her all that, but somehow, she didn’t care. It felt good hearing his voice. She knew he’d feel better after talking to someone; and however strange his confession was, she wanted him to feel better.

“I’m sure their desire to do good is as strong as one’s could be,” Remus took in a deep breath to regain assurance, “but they don’t know that when you fight, it doesn’t matter. Killing a man, taking life away from him… if you have a heart, it breaks you from the inside, no matter how much training you have─”

He interrupted himself there, realizing who was beside him. Why was he saying all this to her? Telling the deeper secrets, the most profound dreads of his heart?

He opened his mouth to justify himself. He knew he shouldn’t tell her what had happened with Snape─ and he knew revealing Order secrets could lead him to worse things than just being expelled from it. They had secret agreements, and that wasn’t for nothing. Except─ he was sure she could understand; sure that she wouldn’t tell anyone, not even Ron and Harry. Since there was no one around…

“I used to hate the man, you know.” He became quiet.

She froze in the ringing silence, not daring to move. As the rain started to fall again she knew he could only be talking about Snape. Snape was the only one beside Death Eaters and Voldemort she knew Remus to have hated so much.

Her eyes widened for a slight instant but that was it, and suddenly he was sure she knew what he was talking about. “Now I can’t help but wonder whether it could have been different.”

Still she didn’t answer but gave a thoughtful nod of comprehension.

“I was blinded. But that’s too late, isn’t it?” he said with derision. “A bit slow on the uptake, am I not?” Now fury sparked in his voice. “He told me─ he said we should have been friends. I would never have taken the first step toward him, but he did.” He gave a hollow laugh. “And I’m supposed to be more human?!”

Hermione was almost scared now. Scared because of what he was saying, scared because she knew he was hurting himself. And scared because she had never seen him like that.

“I just can’t bear that... I despised him like I despise Voldemort and everyone who fights at his side…” Now it was self-disgust that came out, self-disgust and desperation. “God, Ihated him like every Death Eater I’ve ever met!”

She had never wanted to share the burden he carried so much. “That doesn’t make you one of them,” she found the audacity to say.

He turned his head to her sharply, as though he had almost forgotten she was there. For an instant she had a feeling he’d reply heatedly, but no. Both of them listened for a few seconds at the pounding of the rain on the window, and as the sound intensified Hermione thought that, had it not been for the heat, she could have believe they were already in December.

“I’m sorry,” Remus said after a while. No trace of anger remained on his face as he came back to sit, this time in a more relaxed manner; just exhaustion. He crossed his arms on his lap. “I’m not very good for bringing about happiness in others…” he attempted a bit of humour to lighten up the atmosphere, but she didn’t feel at all amused. She felt more like crying, actually.

Remus got up again and this time walked to the door. Hermione couldn’t help succumbing to her desire to look at him when he got up. He paused with a hand on the serpent-shaped door handle. “This war should never have been started,” he said quietly with his back to Hermione. On these words he left and climbed back up to his room, to his sanctuary where, in the broad daylight, he could dwell on his thoughts without anyone to stare at him.


***

A/N: until chapter 5, you can always review! lol that'd be nice. I'm working on it now and should update quite fast since I'm almost done. Thanks Rosie for your help!


Chapter 5: Reckless... Or not.
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Hi there again... a bunch of thanks to Rosie, my beta-reader (you rock!) and to all of those who gave me some wonderful feedback through reviews. I hope you enjoy this chapter as much as the other. Have fun!


CHATPTER 5
Reckless... Or not.


“We really need to know what’s happened,” Harry said for at least the tenth time as he threw away the useless edition of the Daily Prophet.

Ron exhaled, shaking his head with frustration, and Ginny stared in the air pensively. She had been the one to sneak the paper in under her shirt unnoticed from her friend’s house─ but it had been quite a waste of time. They had just found a short article saying there had been a wizard-fight near a village called Little Hangleton; but they weren’t even sure it was related to what was bothering the Order.

Ginny retrieved the Daily Prophet from under the bed where it had slid, pointed her wand at it and set it alight so that all that remained were ashes.

“Scourgify.” Ron cleared the floor morosely.

Hermione kept quiet. Should she tell them about Snape? She could already anticipate their reactions: “you waited all this time to tell us?”; “how come you’re aware of this?”; “Snape’s hurt? Better him than someone else…”

But as she hesitated, Remus’s voice rang in her head again; that and the tone of a man who had just realized Snape was a person worth knowing. No. She wouldn’t reveal anything. In normal circumstances Remus would never have disclosed such a secret. He had just been nervous, that had been it.

Nervous.

It was a word that described her feelings well lately. The last few days had been… strange. Many Order members had come and gone, staying for a meal or only a few minutes, all wearing equally disgruntled expressions and muttering under their breath every time they thought Ron, Harry, Ginny or Hermione weren’t looking.

Remus was also away from time to time, but he never told them where he went.

Hermione sighed. Their relationship had become so formal that it hurt. Every time they saw each other it was the same settled routine: a quiet hello, a few insignificant words exchanged and most of the time a deep, embarrassed silence that kept them both looking in opposite directions.

Her feelings were there. She was only starting to discover just how complex these emotions were… they were different, all as vast as a thousand universes, all entwined together in a scheme she wouldn’t have been able to understand after years of analysis. It was odd, to want to be around Remus and, at the same time, to wish never to see him again.

***

He couldn’t help thinking about her. It was all a nightmare. It would have been hard enough to see her occasionally─ but having to live under the same roof was too much. Even if he was sometimes at St Mungo’s─ Snape hadn’t awoken since he had spoken to him─ he still had to face Hermione all the time: they shared meals, they passed each other, and they sat together in the living room. God, why was it so hard?

Unable to stay seated at his desk any longer, Remus decided to stretch his legs. Ron, Harry, Ginny and Hermione were probably in their rooms playing Exploding Snap, reading or practicing magic spells. His feet carried him to the first floor, where their rooms were─ and surprisingly he didn’t meet the silence he had anticipated.

“What’s going on?” Remus banged the door open. In the boy’s room, Ron and Harry were facing Ginny, who seemed quite mad; Ron’s desk had been reduced to smoke, and Harry’s nose was bleeding. Hermione was nowhere to be seen.

What’s going on?” Ginny repeated, fuming. “I’ll tell you what’s going on!”

Ron gave a swift glance at Remus and then cast a warning look at Ginny, but she ignored him. “Ron─” Ginny pointed a finger at her brother, “Wants to become an Auror, so he pretended I was the enemy.”

Remus stood perplex in the doorway.

“It’s all right, no one’s hurt─” Ron started.

“NO?” Ginny shouted, her hands on her hips. “GOOD THING I DUCKED, RON!” she screamed, “OR I WOULD HAVE ENDED UP LIKE THAT DESK!”

Ron seemed hurt. “Harry’s as responsible as I am, why don’t you blame him too for a change?”

An odd expression passed over Ginny’s face, and it looked as though she was about to respond before she closed her mouth again.

“Enough,” Remus said firmly. “Ginny, I’ll have a word with them.”

Ginny cast Ron a dark glance before walking out. Remus repaired Ron’s desk in a wave of the wand and raised an eyebrow. “Care to explain?”

“We just tried some curses we’d read, that’s all,” Harry muttered, not quite meeting Remus’s eyes. “It was just both of us, we were in control of the situation. But then Ginny came in, and we almost hit her─”

“We want to be Aurors,” Ron added. “We have to get some training!”

“You need instructions and someone to make sure everything goes right when you try curses,” Remus said severely. “That’s way I’m here to help when we train in the afternoon─”

“In truth we haven’t had training sessions for five days,” Harry retorted. “Our appointment at the Ministry is coming closer─”

Remus exhaled. “It’s not my fault if I’m away; it’s no reason to be foolhardy.”

“Come on, Remus, you sound like Hermione─”

“Do I?” Remus replied quietly.

“Look, we’re sorry,” Ron grumbled. “Can we at least continue, say, some stunning spells?”

“Stunning spells if you want,” Remus said. He turned on his heels. He didn’t like having to be the strict one; but it seemed Ron and Harry were getting reckless. He hated to admit it, but they were acting exactly as Sirius had, doing stupid things just because they were frustrated.

He was halfway up the stairs again when he heard a scream. Turning back with annoyance, he went back to the boy’s room.

“It’s Hermione─” Harry said quickly. “I was stunning Ron when she walked in─”

Remus rushed to her. She was lying, immobile, on the floor; blood was dripping from a large cut on her arm, where she had apparently hit a corner of Harry’s wardrobe. For a moment his heart stopped. Was she─

“Enervate,” Remus said. He clenched his wand tightly, feeling like cursing Harry and Ron. They had hurt her. Hurt.

Hermione got up quickly when the stunning spell wore off. “I’m all right,” she murmured. It felt so stupid being here on the floor in front of them all. “I’ll─ I’ll get this cleaned up,” she pointed her chin at her arm and walked out quickly, feeling Remus’s eyes on her back.

Remus didn’t move for a good ten seconds, rooted on the spot, staring at the place where she had been. “I’ll have to tell Molly,” he finally told Ron and Harry in a feeble voice.

***

“They what?” Molly exploded.

“I wanted you to know… but it wasn’t that bad,” Remus muttered, somehow thinking Molly was over-reacting. It was one thing to tell her what had happened─ but he didn’t want her to lock Ron and Harry in their room for the rest of the month.

“Not that bad?” Molly shrieked. “They could have killed themselves!”

“They were having fun…” He didn’t want to be too harsh on them. Either they tried to understand Harry and Ron, and things would get better. Or else they used repression… and god only knew what they’d end up doing. “Let them be… they’re young,” Remus said, chasing the image of Sirius from his mind.

They are young?” Molly scowled. “Who teaches them tricks? You do! You’re about one year older than they are.”

Remus stiffened. Unfortunately, no, he wasn’t as young as they were. He wished so, because then he wouldn’t have so many horrors in his past. He could see in his mind’s eyes the bodies of Death Eaters. He had killed them. He, Remus Lupin, had murdered those men and women, just because he had been an Order member who had come across them, just because he was an insignificant soldier in a war threatening to engulf an entire world. It was he who had muttered the spell; not an ugly, monstrous Death Eater, not an evil Dark Lord called Voldemort.

Just he.

They fought for freedom, and justice, and good. And yet they were no better than the other side, were they?

“I’m sorry─” Molly said quickly when she caught sight of his face. “I didn’t mean─”

“I’m fine,” he said quietly. “Honestly,” he forced himself to add as she hesitated.

It was a lie; he wasn’t all right at all.

***

“We thought you all needed something to do with your hands,” Molly announced to them later in the afternoon. Hermione had a glimpse of Ron and Harry while they exchanged a glance.

“You’ll all have your own rooms from now on,” Mr Weasley added brightly. “There are two rooms available; one of you can have the twins’ old bedroom on the first floor and the other the free room on the second floor next to Remus’s. You’ll share Remus’s bathroom, he said it doesn’t bother him.”

“That room’s kind of gloomy,” Ginny pointed out.

“Well it’ll be your jobs over the next couple of days to make it fit for human habitation then,” Molly replied.

“What room d’you want?” Harry asked right after that.

“Dunno,” Ron shrugged. “I don’t necessarily want to move. I bet they just did that to separate us.”

“I’d be happy to take any room,” Ginny declared.

“Same here,” Hermione said with a sinking feeling. To share Remus’s floor would turn out to be beyond her courage, she feared─ yet there was no way she’d say that out loud.

“All right,” Harry decided. “I’ll move upstairs if it doesn’t bother you.”

“Then I’d rather take Fred and George’s old room, Hermione,” Ginny said. “I’m tired of routine.”

Relief washed over Hermione. “That’s fine with me.” At least she wouldn’t have to wake up in the morning dreading to open her door in case he was there…

The feeling of guilt that had never truly left her these past days came back in a rush. She needed to find a way out of it. Remus was way out of her league… he was just the former friend of Harry’s father… Harry’s father, she told herself. He was there as a guardian, and working hard against Voldemort. He had no time for anything else… he probably didn’t even consider anything else anyway. How could she have been so stupid to think he would want to be with her?

Still─ why were they so embarrassed in each other’s presence? Was she the only one feeling uneasy? Perhaps Remus was just acting as he always had, and she had been so keen to see something else that she had made things up.

But he had cared for her when she had been stunned… he had stared at her in a way nobody ever had, as though longing to reach out for her… as though hating Ron and Harry, suddenly, just because they had stunned her…

“You all right, Hermione?” Harry asked with concern.

“Sure, why?” She replied quickly.

“I dunno… you were sort of… lost in thought.”

Hermione stared at Harry. Lost in thought. What would her friends think of her if ever they knew?

Well, Ginny would certainly understand…

No. Even she wouldn’t. She would think it was a betrayal of trust, her and Remus… And Ron and Harry… same thing…

God. She would have hit herself in frustration.

***

Moving turned out to be a very occupying task. The twins’ old bedroom had been used as a storage room even since the previous year when Fred and George had decided to stay at their joke shop. It was full of a number of things, from old furniture to piles of clothes nobody was wearing anymore; there were also boxes full of silver goblets, dishes, portraits that no one had ever bother to take out. Hermione, with a pang of sadness, realized that these were now Harry’s.

“You want to keep these, Harry?” Remus asked. He had arrived about an hour earlier to help them and was pointing his wand at the boxes of silver plates.

Harry hesitated. “Well… they were Sirius’s…”

“Sirius never considered anything here as his,” Remus replied in a sinister way. He didn’t like thinking about what Sirius would or would not have wanted; but sometimes he was compelled to do it. “We could store them in the attic.”

“Yeah,” Harry seemed quite glad it was Remus who had taken the decision. “Let’s do that.”

“How about these?” Ginny gestured at other large, brown boxes. “What’s in there?”

Ron opened one of them, and quickly banged down the lid. “Nothing,” he said, but everyone else noticed the expression of delight on his face.

“Come on, what’s there?” Harry said playfully. He bent over another box and soon shared Ron’s glee; it was as though Christmas had come early. “Fred and George’s early inventions. All stored here for us to have fun with.”

Ron was holding a large pair of scissors. “I wonder what this does─” He waved it in the air. “What─ arg─ get off me!” the pair of scissors was climbing along his arm. When it reached his ear it turned into Fred’s face─ or George’s─ and started singing in a thunderous, booming voice.


This is private property,
So stop right there, you nosy─


Ron stood petrified. Any of his attempts to pull away his brother’s face from his shoulder, where it was seemingly glued from the base of the neck, only made the voice grow more deafening.

Don’t be stubborn and turn around,
Leave these boxes safe and sound,

Forget the treasures you’re seeking,
Cease at once your rummaging,

You risk much if you go ahead,
Play tricks and have fun instead!



By the time the song ended, Ron was as white as the wall behind him; Harry, Ginny, Remus and Hermione were all howling with laughter. The face turned into a pair of scissors again and fell, lifeless, to the floor.

“That was just to discourage us,” Ron didn’t want to be dispirited. “I bet they put in on top as a warning, but there’s nothing dangerous here─” he dug into the box. Next came a bag of puking pastilles that Hermione recognized at once─ purple and orange─, a couple of fake wands, some tricked chocolate frog cards that also started singing─ Ron hastily declared he was thirsty and zoomed out of the room─; and tens of other items that Ron’s mother, Remus was sure, would not have liked to see.

Ginny moved in the room in the afternoon; so that in the end Hermione was left with a room larger than she needed. The room next to Remus’s took a longer time to clear; it was, as Ginny had pointed out, gloomy.

“Just need a bed!” Ron exclaimed by the time they had changed the wallpaper.

Harry looked around. “Yep.”

The two girls went back down the stairs, leaving Ron and Harry to handle the furniture. Hermione quickly found that her room felt empty; she took her quill and parchment and entered the Drawing Room at the end of the corridor. It was, as she had expected it to be, a lot brighter since the sun was now on this side of the house.

***

Remus had emerged from his room and ended up in front of the drawing room on the first floor. He was about to turn back when he heard the scratching of a quill on a parchment, quite easy to hear because the rest of the corridor was silent. Deciding to find out who it was, he knocked and entered. The door opened smoothly but for a creak at the hinges.

There was a worn-out couch and a table and chairs in a corner. The old Black Tapestry was still there, having resisted all their attempts to put it down.

Hermione raised her head when she saw him enter, and then quickly set her eyes again on her parchment, reddening slightly.

Remus smiled, though not without feeling like he had a sudden stomachache. What on earth was he supposed to tell her now? That Harry or Ron had called for her? That Molly wanted a word? Definitely not.

“So Harry’s moving in then?” he began, coming closer. The Black Tapestry glowed in background, sinister as ever, as though menacing him of death if he dared take a step forward. Another reminder that he had to stay away from it─ and away from her.

“Oh─ yes.” She set down her quill and saw that he was looking at her parchment. She had just finished her conclusion.

“What are you writing?” He gave an attempt at normal conversation.

She stared at him. He sounded genuinely interested. “I’m writing an essay. On─” She paused and then said very fast, “On how the rights of Goblins have changed in the last century.” She hesitated. “I just thought it might help to become part of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures… in case they want to know what I’m capable of writing.” She accompanied her last words with a shrug as though he was going to laugh at her.

Remus simply nodded. A thought crossed her mind; he sounded so interested─ why not? It was a crazy idea; but the words were out before she could stop herself. “Would it be okay if I asked you to─ I mean, to have a look at it?” She felt herself blush.

“Of course,” he replied in a tone than was colder than he would have wished. “I’ll try to give it back to you soon.”

As he grabbed the parchment and rolled it he tried to convince himself that he missed teaching. But he knew perfectly well, when he walked out, that it was just a pitiable attempt at finding excuses.


****************************

A/N: Reviews are welcomed as always: comments, questions, things you liked/disliked... anything! Thanks for sticking with the story and I hope the next chapters won't disappoint you. Great things are planned! (*winks knowingly*).



Chapter 6: Hide and Seek
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

CHAPTER 6
Hide and Seek


Up in his bedroom, Remus sat at his desk and unrolled the long parchment. He stared at Hermione’s round, rather pleasant handwriting for ever-lasting seconds before he started reading.

Every now and then he looked up but instantly felt drawn back to the parchment. It was wonderful; some sentences were remarkably well written, and the general ideas Hermione had developed denoted a rare maturity. It was impossible, it really was, that it was she and not a professional who had written these words ─ yet he had a proof in front of him that she had indeed written them.

He felt helpless; why had he accepted to read this? Was he really that thoughtless? He knew perfectly well Hermione didn’t believe in herself, but there was no way he could help her with that. He couldn’t go to her saying she was the best, saying she was the most intelligent person he’d ever met. Saying he loved her so deeply.

He pushed the thought aside, thinking hard. Get a grip, he told himself. She’s eighteen. He bet he had imagined it all; she felt nothing for him. He was just… a father figure. Yes, that was it; her parents were away, she was growing up, the constant menace of war was unnerving and she needed someone to help her through all these changes in her life.

She would hate him if she came to know what he thought about her. The idea would devastate her. God, he was pathetic. Remus stared at his desk for long minutes. What would Harry think of him, too? Hermione was the best friend of James’s son; what would James have said of this? Of him suddenly having a crush─ well, more than a crush, in truth─ on a teenager? And if Sirius had still been there…

This was way wrong. Getting a glimpse of the parchment again Remus wished, for maybe the first time in his life, to disappear under the ground. He’d have to comment her work in the end, wouldn’t he? Or maybe─ yes. He could simply write the remarks down; it would be better that way. He took out a quill and a bottle of ink, took a deep breath and started to write.

Hermione,
You essay was extraordinary; I wish I knew how to tell you just how good it is, but unfortunately words don’t exist to describe ─

It was so bad he felt like crying. Remus tore the parchment, and then he crumbled the halves in his hands and flung them to the bin, starting with a new blank parchment.

Hermione,
I think it is better if we talk about this now; the sooner the better. Our relationship is quite… complicated; so maybe it would be best if we left it as it was before… we’ll just remain friends, so consider me as an uncle and─

It wasn’t much better than the first anyway. Uncle? Honestly, he couldn’t even convince himself of it.

Remus sat back in his chair, dejected, giving up.

***

Hermione felt feverish. It’d been a day and she hadn’t met Remus yet. If he hadn’t returned her essay maybe it meant that it wasn’t good at all, and he didn’t know how to tell her?

It was terrible to feel that way; a part of her wanted never to see Remus again, because she had been foolish enough to show him her work. What would he think of her now, judging her on a piece of parchment? However the other half of her wanted it back… and what was more disturbing was that she didn’t care that much about the essay itself; in fact, she wanted to see Remus again.

***

Remus had to talk to her. He approached her in the evening, when she was talking to Ron at the bottom of the stairs. In fact, it turned out Ron had something else to do, because he left, leaving them alone.

She stiffened when she saw him move toward her.

“Your essay.” Remus offered her the scroll of parchment.

“Oh─” She held out a hand to grab it. “Thank you.”

“It’s pretty good.” It was a lie. It was way more than just good.

“Really?” Her face lightened and she smiled an irresistible smile, one that made him die within because he knew he would never have it. His head spun, the blood rushing to his temples.

“Really,” Remus repeated. He hesitated, knowing that, had he wanted to act normally, he would have sat down beside her and talked about the essay. He would have commented her work and debated her views: that was what he would have done before.

“Well…” Remus could only mutter. “I guess I’ll go now.”

Hermione held his gaze for a split second before nodding, trying to erase from her features any sign of disappointment. He hadn’t told her a single thing about the essay─ and furthermore, he hadn’t… well… he wasn’t staying any longer. Maybe it was for the best. Probably.

“Er, Remus?” someone called from the door. Both Remus and Hermione turned to look at Harry. He had arrived, looking quite unusually embarrassed.

“Yes?” Remus jerked his head aside, jumping on the occasion to turn away from Hermione.

“Could I… er… talk to you for a minute?”

Remus nodded shortly, though not without surprise. “All right. Go ahead.”

“Er─” Harry blushed, looking anywhere but at Hermione. “Could I talk to you somewhere else?”

Hermione watched them as they strode out. Without knowing what she was doing she had stood up, walked around the table and followed them quietly. The corridor was quite deserted but she had the time to glimpse Harry’s foot that turned the corner. Her heart thumping loudly in her chest, she let two seconds fly by and took muffled steps toward the room where they trained every afternoon and in which Harry and Remus had just walked.

“I’ve─ well─” she heard Harry say. “I’ve never felt like that before,” he let out in a breath. Hermione wondered what on earth they were talking about. She knew what she was doing was not forgivable; if someone found her listening to the door like that she would have no excuse. And yet she did not turn away; in fact she did not move at all but remained there, taking in everything that was being said.

“Like what?” Remus was asking, his voice posed. “Are you sick?”

There was a short pause; maybe Harry had shaken his head because Remus then questioned, concern perceptible in his tone, “then what is it?”

Hermione heard Harry sigh. “I─ er─ I think I’m… in love,” he finished in a faint voice.

Comprehension dawned on Remus, though he wished it never had. He simply could not believe he was having this conversation. “Love is a beautiful feeling,” he said quietly. Closing his eyes he added, “but it should be handled with care.”

Hermione’s heart was now tearing her chest apart. Hearing these words from Remus hurt more than any spell she had ever experienced; they had pierced her heart like a thousand darts. She leaned more heavily against the wall, knowing she should have left already but strangely incapable of detaching herself from the cold, hard wall. She let the silence penetrate her, waiting for another word, anything.

“What’s bothering you so much?” Remus asked, though he hated himself because he knew where this discussion was going. “Do you think it’s wrong to have feelings for someone?”

“No─ well… maybe.” Harry fell quiet, his hands tucked deep into his pockets.

“Why?” Remus asked suddenly.

“Why what?” Harry took his hands out of his sweater and scratched his chin with disquiet.

“Why feel so guilty?” Remus questioned. God. Why? Because it was so terribly wrong.

“It’s someone I know, someone who is a good friend.”

Remus remained silent, praying wordlessly that someone help him.

“I don’t want to destroy our friendship,” Harry went on. “She’s… she almost like a sister to me…”

Closing a fist behind his back, Remus inhaled. If only someone could tell him he wasn’t hearing this… because if Harry was talking about Hermione… who else was like a sister to him? “Who is it?” He let out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, pretending to look only curious.

At first Harry avoided answering. “Furthermore I don’t want to hurt anyone… But every time I’m around her… every time I see her…” He looked up. “It’s Ginny.”

Relief washed over Remus, and slowly he relaxed his fingers that had been clenched into a ball. He would rather have died than admitted it, but he was relieved.

“What do I do?” Harry sounded really miserable. “She leaves here with me and I can’t even look at her in the eyes without blushing…”

Advice. Harry was seeking some advice. Remus felt paralyzed; his brain seemed to have jammed because he didn’t consider himself specially qualified to answer these kinds of questions… he knew for sure Sirius would have had more to say about how to deal with a girl.

“I mean, should I… maybe write her a letter?”

Remus didn’t laugh, but the idea of writing to someone living in the same house was rather comical. On the other hand─ he swallowed─ living in the same house as someone one loved wasn’t easy, was it? And he himself had almost done it, hadn’t he?

“You can try,” Remus knew he sounded a little off as he stared at empty air.

“Remus?” Harry said hesitantly after an instant.

Finally he moved, and Hermione heard him mutter: “Yes. You can write to her.”

“Did you─ Do you know if it works? I mean, have you ever─?”

Written a love letter to a girl, no, Remus never had. But loved one─

God, if he ever did it was now.

It was quite a personal question in truth. However much Remus appreciated that Harry considered he could talk with him as freely as he did with Sirius─ considered him a godfather, in fact─ they had never truly talked about… these things. And considering his feelings at the moment he knew it wasn’t a good idea to keep having this exchange.

“Look, try writing and you’ll see,” Remus said brusquely. “I have things to do. I hope it turns out the way you want.”

Hermione retreated from where she stood and quickly crossed half of Grimmauld Place before Remus came out of the room.

***

“Anyone want a drink?” Ron asked at large the following afternoon. They’d been training for about two hours already.

“Water would be great,” Remus said. Harry soon came back with a tray and five glasses, and they all gladly took a couple of minutes to rest.

“Why’s it so cold here?” Ginny shivered. “This is supposed to be summer.”

Remus looked at her. “Voldemort’s influence,” he said shortly.

“Voldemort’s─” Harry started, then stopped and frowned. “Surely he doesn’t control the weather, does he?” he went on with sarcasm. “Or that would have been headline news.”

“He doesn’t,” Remus explained patiently, “but there are subtle changes you have to learn to decipher. Faint signs, for example the weather getting colder, the darkness that sometimes seems to last longer than usual. Voldemort’s influence, as it extends, becomes more flagrant.”

“Now─ you’re all getting better,” Remus resumed the topic of conversation. He felt satisfied; Ginny and Ron still had problems with their Patronuses, but other than that they had all made truly spectacular progress. “I’ll show you something new,” he declared once his glass was empty. “Get into pairs again.” He waited until Ron faced Harry and Ginny and Hermione were paired.

“Now, this is called an ‘Obliter’ charm.” Remus waved his wand unexpectedly, pointing it at Ron. “Obliter!” A yellow beam emerged from his wand and hit Ron, whose eyes became strangely unfocused.

“Who─ who are you?” Ron spluttered. “Where am I?” He cast a look around as though seeing the room for the first time.

Harry came closer to him and shook him slightly, one hand on his shoulder. “Ron? Are you─”

“Ron?” Ron burst out laughing. “That’s such a funny name… is it yours? And… is that a new haircut?”

It took a couple of minutes before Ron started talking normally again. He was slightly paler than before, as if he’d been just come out of a trance. “What’s happened?” he asked, a little shaken.

Remus was prepared for the question. “The Obliter charm is an incomplete form of Obliteration. Meaning you won’t remember anything but only temporarily; your memory is not deleted and you’ll recover it after a certain lapse of time. Very useful if you’re being detained; you’ll never divulge important information to your enemy, but it doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten it. That’s assuming you still have a wand, of course, but you can cast the spell right before being captured.”

“Why not a simple Confundus charm though?” Ron pointed out. “And why did it have to be me?”

“To answer your first question, a Confundus charm doesn’t last long and you can’t try to make plans to escape if you’re Confunded. As for your second question,” Remus chuckled, “Harry was the last guinea pig, if I remember rightly and I wouldn’t want to hurt─” Remus caught sight of Hermione, “these ladies,” he said quickly, gesturing at Ginny.

“What’s difficult with the spell?” Harry questioned.

“You have to think hard of how long you want the charm to last, and also what you want the person to forget. Here I made it so Ron would remember nothing for a couple of minutes. It would have been a lot harder, for example, to make him forget only that his name was Ron and nothing else. You ready to try?”

“Yeah,” came of collective answer.

By the time the training was over they were all exhausted; but even though she knew she needed to rest Hermione couldn’t sleep fall asleep that night. She kept thinking about the one thing she ought to forget─ so she went on a night stroll. Hopping out of bed she tiptoed out of her room and aimed for the ‘library’, a round-shaped room they had named after its shelves full of books.

She was trying to escape her thoughts, trying to escape herself in some reading, trying to be buried in a see of books. The house was silent and plunged into darkness, and had it not been for the few candles lit here and there Hermione would have found herself incapable of finding her way without her wand. She knew for sure that Harry, Ron, and Ginny were asleep. Both Ron’s parents had gone to bed too as it was almost two in the morning.

Hermione wasn’t scared─ Grimmauld Place was probably the safest place in England with all the spells that had been cast on it; and beside she knew not a single Boggart or weird creatures remained because she herself had taken part in the cleaning of the house from the basement to the attic.

She reached the library and opened the door absent-mindedly, taking a step forward─

And then she froze, feeling as though someone had thrown a bucket of icy water over her head.

The room wasn’t empty; there was someone seated on the couch beside the shelves, someone reading a thick brown book by the light of the candle.

Remus looked up when she came in.

************

A/N: I wouldn't want to spoil the fun so I'm not going to tell you what's going to happen next... I hope you liked it!!!
btw, anyone who wants to be on the mail list for updates, just tell me so!


Chapter 7: Hypnotising
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


Chapter 7
Hypnotising


Remus.

Without realizing it Hermione closed the door. She hadn’t planned on this; it hadn’t even occurred to her that she might meet someone in the house. Was it that Remus couldn’t sleep either?

He smiled slightly but hesitatingly. As an unpleasant silence settled Remus could already picture himself walking out of the room─ because he did very much feel like running away─ but on the other hand, he was the one seated. Hermione, of all the people. She was so young… so innocent. So beautiful too, but he knew that such feelings had no place in his heart.

Both their eyes met for a short instant, stopping the course of time as Hermione met Remus’s troubled gaze. The charm was quickly broken when she took a step forward, knowing she must justify her presence here in the middle of the night. She had no choice but to say she wanted to borrow a book now. Yet, she thought, not wanting to speak─ why did she have to give him a reason? He wasn’t her parent, and no one had forbidden her to roam Grimmauld Place in the middle of the night.

“Trouble sleeping?” Remus asked, laying his book down on the small table beside the couch. He attempted to sound calm but his voice came out choked.

Hermione noticed his unusual tone. It was as though there was something in his throat making the words scrape, or something constricting his chest. At the same time it sounded fake. False, somehow. She didn’t know why; it was just a feeling that he was just talking to relax the almost palpable tension rather than because he wanted to converse. Was he tired? Worried? Had he had a long day; maybe he wanted to be left alone?

Or maybe─ she swallowed─ maybe it was something else. She’d rather not think too much about it. Right now she needed to say something… give an answer to his question. What was it again? Oh, yes, he wanted to know if she had trouble sleeping.

“Yes, trouble sleeping,” she replied nervously. Then the words came out before she could stop herself, and she blurted out, “Apparently I’m not the only one, Professor.”

He stared at her, his face half in the shadow, glad there was almost no light to reveal the sweat on his forehead. He knew he ought to be distant─ he had to─ but he simply couldn’t. “Hermione…” He spoke so quietly it was almost a whisper. “I’m not your teacher anymore; you know you can call me Remus.” Saying so many words cost him a great effort. At least he had managed to make a complete sentence; how many times before had he told her to call him Remus? Harry, Ron and Ginny did.

She opened her mouth to speak, closing it back almost instantly. She didn’t know how to answer, she didn’t know what to answer. There was no way she’d ever call him Remus. Calling him by his first name would break her, it would mean reaching a state of impossible intimacy she knew she wouldn’t be able to bear because it would be nothing more than an illusion.

Her voice, when she spoke, was at least as strangled as his. “I’m sorry, Professor,” she whispered. “Habits don’t come off easily.”

It was her way of implying she was aware of the degree of complexity in their relationship. He understood.

The ghost of a smile formed on the corners of his mouth, as he didn’t miss the irony of the situation. Both of them were here in the middle of the night, alone, by the candlelight. Both wanted nothing but to throw themselves in the other’s arms. It was human to imagine some things could happen.

Both knew it was an unattainable fantasy.

He set his gaze on the door handle on her right, trying to stay composed. He had to refrain himself from succumbing to his desire to look at her intently. “You know, your essay was… truly good.”

Hermione stared. Why on earth was he talking about her essay again? “Oh.” She was quite at a loss for words. “Thanks. I didn’t want you to lose your time─”

“I didn’t lose my time at all,” he cut her off. “I didn’t,” he repeated, his lips barely moving. Finally he took his eyes off the door, thinking that if only he could just get closer to her…

No. That was insane, it really was. He wasn’t who she wanted, just a dream. She was too young, he was too old. He was the adult here, the one responsible. The one supposed to be responsible.

“I just─ just wanted to ─” Hermione stammered to break the silence. “Er─ borrow a book.” Awkwardly she advanced to the numerous shelves against the wall, feeling his stare on her back.

When she found herself in front of the alignments of books she realized she had no idea which one to borrow. Even after three years, she only knew an insignificant part of them. There were so many… so many. Rows and rows of dusty books were aligned. She stretched out a hand and a very old, green book slipped into her palm. She hadn’t even chosen it; she could as well have taken the one next to it, or the one above.

Her eyes fell on the title: Ancient remedies for ancient illnesses.

It wasn’t what she had had in mind, but it was a good excuse to leave.

Remus stared at her while she went to the shelves. Then despite himself he got up, knowing already that it was the wrong thing to do but incapable of stopping. A part of his mind knew just what he was doing: for the first time in a week he was walking to Hermione and not away from her because, deep inside, it was what he had been longing for all these past days.

She was holding the book now, so that the only thing she had left to do was to say ‘good night’and leave.

She wheeled around and jumped in surprise, gripping tightly on the book to avoid her hands from trembling. Remus had gotten up but he hadn’t just stayed in front of the couch; he had also silently walked to her. Now he was staring at the book she had in her hands, not truly seeing it but not daring to look anywhere else. He had never noticed how delicate her hands were. So frail…

He saw them tremble slightly, bit his lips and took a step back. He knew he was close, very close to her. Much too close.

“Here,” he muttered, scanning the rows of books and choosing one he knew, thus justifying the fact that he had approached. “This will be much better.” He handed it out for her to take. The title read History of Curses: how they were invented.

He knew she’d like it more; she had always enjoyed history. Ancient illnesses were boring, they had disappeared, and though he was sure she’d read anything, he remembered books on curses were by far her favorite.

She took it carefully from his hands and their fingers met for an instant. Hermione reddened─ she was also glad it was dark. Remus stared at his own feet more intently, knowing he had blushed too. She placed her first book back on the shelf. “Thanks,” she said quietly, then looked up.

It hadn’t been her intention to cross his stare; she would rather have disappeared under the ground, or done anything to forget he was there next to her.

They eyes met for the second time that night and both felt drawn to the other, submerging themselves in the sea of the other’s gaze. Remus’s eyes had a deep, blue-gray color that Hermione found immensely attractive; her own eyes were light, pure. Remus found himself lost into them, lost so deeply he forgot everything else in that moment because he was discovering the vastness of the worlds concealed in her eyes, the immensity of what she offered. She was so outstanding, so ideal. So striking.

He gawked at her face, his mouth slightly opened, and came nearer until he was merely inches from her body. Then he brought his hand to her face, slowly, very slowly, and caressed her chin with a finger. Her skin was smooth and warm.

“Hermione…” he muttered in a breath. He knew that against his own feelings it was a pointless fight. His heart pounding in his ears, Remus placed a soft, gentle kiss on her forehead.

Hermione closed her eyes─

And the clock rang two o’clock, bringing them both back to their senses with a jolt.

When he realized what he was doing Remus gritted his teeth and stepped back. “I’m sorry─” he said very quickly, holding out a hand between them. “I didn’t want this to happen, please accept my apologies.” The words were louder than he would have wished because the room was empty. He felt terrible. “I mean I didn’t─ I never─” he stammered.

Hermione wanted to die. Die, rather than have to listen to this. His very voice was enough to make her shake madly from head to toe; his mere presence made her want to run to him. But having to hear apologies from him─ she just couldn’t stand that. She would have wanted to tell him that he hadn’t hurt her at all, that he could do it again, take her close, and enfold her in his arms. She would have wanted to make him feel better, make him forget he was a werewolf, persuade him he wasn’t disgusting.

“I─” Remus started again, but she silenced him with a wave of her hand. His face had lost all its serenity and she had noticed despite the darkness that he was awfully pale. She wanted to comfort him but she couldn’t do that, not now.

Quickly she walked away, passing him, running toward the door. She opened it without a glance back, and as soon as she was out of the room she closed it, leaving him alone, disturbed and bare in the darkness.

Remus stared at the door for a long moment, strongly shaken. She had disappeared now, because he had─ god, what had he done? He felt sick. What had he wanted to do?

He swore inwardly. Losing control was dangerous. It would lead to nothing good. He couldn’t let this happen again, he wouldn’t let it happen again. He just needed to… to convince himself to forget about it.

Hermione climbed the stairs two steps at a time. She didn’t care if she was too loud, she didn’t care if someone woke up. She needed to be alone, she needed to cry. She locked herself in her room, the tears flowing freely from her eyes, rolling down her cheeks.

She felt utterly miserable now because everything had been her fault. She hadn’t forced Remus to get up but she should never have entered the library… Now she’d never be able to face him again, because it was entirely because of her that he felt guilty, it was because of her that Remus had─

She brought her hands to her chin.

She had no idea how long she cried but the sobs didn’t stop. It must have been nearly ten minutes before she heard footsteps.

Remus was getting up to his own room that was located a floor higher than Hermione’s. When he reached the first floor he noticed some light inside under the door of her room. His feeling of nausea increased His heart pumping fast, he let his feet carry him almost unconsciously to the door. Shaking his head, he hated himself for what he had done. Why had he destroyed their friendship?

Well, it wasn’t really friendship, he thought, his throat dry. It was mutual love, a reciprocal feeling neither of them had ever truly expressed.

The sobs stopped abruptly when Hermione raised her head to listen, holding her breath, knowing perfectly that Remus was outside.

He wanted to say something, to try the door to see if it was locked, to apologize again, to talk to her and maybe sort things out between them before anyone noticed. At the same time, in a way, he knew he’d done enough damage already.

Hermione waited without making a noise. Deep inside she wanted him to come in. She knew it was a crazy idea, particularly now, but she wanted to see him again… an instant… to stare at him for a just another second…

Remus hesitated, then brought his hand toward the handle. There was no point in them waiting on each side of the door. She was crying, for god’s sake.

His hand was on the handle now, his fingers slick with sweat on the cold metal─ and still he was not moving. As suddenly as if the handle burned he let go of the it and turned on his heels determinedly. Desperately trying to ignore the sobs that had started again, he came back to the stairs with a feeling of total emptiness, climbed to the second level, swung his door open with his palm, and locked himself inside. He fell on his bed fully dressed, remaining in the dark, trying to calm his breathing. He wasn’t a boy any longer, he was mature, an adult in charge, who was to take care of Hermione and her friends. He was to protect them as a father would have done.

But god...

In the story, he was never supposed to have feelings for her.

Eventually Hermione went to bed, exhausted, and managed─ she later had trouble remembering how─ to fall asleep despite all the thoughts twirling in her mind.

Remus’s eyes had closed before he had had the time to undress or get under the bed covers. He wanted so much to forget that he managed to draw a black veil over his mind.

And then he was witnessing something he should never have witnessed…

There was a man in front of him; that man had his back turned on Remus, who could not see his face. But he knew it was Severus Snape.

There was a flash of light.

They were in Dumbledore’s office, which was dark and gloomy. The headmaster was talking to the portrait of Armando Dippet, a former headmaster. His beard was grayer than ever, the half-moon spectacles on the tip of his nose.

“Time flows─” the portrait said loudly.

“But heroes are never forgotten,” Dumbledore finished.

Another flash. The scenery changed.

They were in the heart of a forest; the trees were so close together that it was almost dark. And suddenly the trees were dead, the ground was covered with snow… things were blurred and mixed up…

Yet another flash of light.

They were again in Dumbledore’s office.

“Time flows─” the portrait said and Dumbledore completed the sentence, “─ but heroes are never forgotten.”

Hermione awoke with a start.

********


Late in the next morning she went to take a shower then came down the stairs to the kitchen, hoping with all her might she wouldn’t cross Remus on her way. She didn’t believe she could ever bear talking to him again; not with what had happened. The memories of the night came back in a rush, and as she saw him seated at breakfast upon her arrival the blood rushed to her cheeks.

He didn’t look up as she entered; he seemed engrossed in a wizard magazine he had probably found lying around, his hands clasped tightly on each side of it.

Remus knew she was coming before she entered; she had footsteps he couldn’t mistake with anyone else’s. It was a trait of her personality. He stared ahead at a dull article on a wizarding contest, not seeing it at all, just as an excuse not to look up. Form the corner of his eyes he saw her stopping slightly on the threshold, then muttering a quiet ‘good morning’ around.

All the others answered: Molly, Arthur, Harry, Ron, and Ginny.

Remus felt tense, and he cursed the window that let in so many sunrays at a time. The kitchen was so hot he knew his face was sweating again, but most of it wasn’t due to the heat.

Hermione went to the fridge and took a bottle of milk out, then went to the table. The only seat left was beside… beside him.

Slowly she walked toward Remus and sat there, with him on her right and Ron on her left. His insides squirmed when he smelled her perfume; she had tied her hair with a purple ribbon that matched her dress and when their sleeves touched he literally jumped.

Thankfully, no one seemed to have noticed. Mrs Weasley served Hermione fried eggs and bacon and she started eating in silence, trembling slightly every time she brought her fork to her mouth, knowing that Remus wasn’t reading at all.

“Slept well?” Harry attempted to engage the conversation.

“Er─ oh, yes, thank you,” Hermione tried to smile in order not to arouse suspicion. Remus frowned when he recalled the dream he’d had.

“Everything all right?” Mr Weasley inquired, taking a glance over Remus’s shoulder as he passed him to get to the fridge. Ron’s dad had come home for the day although he’d be back at St Mungo’s the next morning, at seven o’clock sharp.

Remus looked up, thinking hard for an answer. Hermione stared at her dish more intently than ever, her jaw clenched.

“Oh, yes─” Remus said in reply to Ron’s father. “I just thought I knew the man on the picture, but no, it was someone else.” He folded the paper, willing them to stop looking at him. He especially wanted to avoid that someone took a glance inside to see who he was looking at─ in truth there were no pictures on the page.

Hermione had had the time to take a glance aside. She knew he’d read nothing of it, she knew he had just made up that excuse.

Remus turned to Harry in that instant, crossed her gaze, and swore inwardly. His insides shriveled with embarrassment because she knew he had invented it.

As Arthur turned around he met Remus’s eyes, who realized Arthur had been looking at him with a slightly concerned expression.

“Harry, Ron,” Remus started hastily, “anything you plan to do today?”

The conversation took boring turns; Hermione couldn’t believe she was there, lost as him, as the others continued to eat, oblivious to what could be going on between them.

When Remus could have no more he dropped his fork in a clatter and everyone fell quiet. “I’ll be back,” he said, and then he got up and left.

Ron and Harry exchanged a questioning glance, then Ron shrugged and they resumed their conversation.

As soon as he was outside the kitchen Remus leaned against the wall, breathing hard. He felt imprisoned, the air was suffocating─ and what was worse was that he saw no escape, no way to solve this situation.

Suddenly door he had just closed opened and hit him quite hard in the shoulder. Arthur emerged from the kitchen, quickly coming forward to Remus, who was still against the wall, rubbing his shoulder.

“Sorry,” Arthur muttered.

Remus said nothing, knowing Arthur was not only worried about that.

“Are you all right?” Arthur grabbed Remus’s arm, speaking quietly because the door was still ajar. When again he received no answer Arthur added concernedly, “Remus?”

******************************


A/N: Sorry for the delay, I know it's taken me some time to update. However I promise I won't stop writing (never!) so check frequently for updates.
Also, thanks everyone who reviewed, it's really great to get some feedback!



Chapter 8: Guilty Feelings
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


Chapter 8
Guilty Feelings



So... He must really be pulling a face. “No─ Nothing’s wrong, why?”

“What’s troubling you?” Arthur asked in a low voice. The staircase was only dimly lit, so that his eyes were almost lost in the darkness.

“I’m fine,” Remus answered forcefully.

Arthur shook his head. “Come on, you know that’s not true.”

“True…” Remus replied. “The truth should always be handled with care.” There was a note of desperation in his voice now that he was trying, with no result, to find something to elude the talk.

Arthur blinked, looking more mystified than anything else. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

Remus leaned heavily against the railway. He and Arthur had known each other for a while now, and in a way they had become good friends. They lived very different lives─ one had a family and a job, the other no relatives and no job but the missions Dumbledore gave him─ but they understood each other perfectly. Both knew what friendship, death and war meant. Ever since Sirius had─ well, ever since the war had become more real, Remus and he had kept nothing from the other. It was as though they were from the same family; a family who fought against Death Eaters. When Arthur had met some trouble at the Ministry a few months before, he had shared his problems with Remus.

“What’s wrong? Job?” Arthur tried, speaking as though he was about to talk about what they were both doing for the Order. “Full moon?” Ron’s father continued when no reply came.

Remus tried to find something to say that could stir the conversation out of these dangerous waters, but nothing came, no bright ideas. Arthur chuckled, attempting to lighten the atmosphere. “Girlfriend?”

Remus gulped, thankfully not to the point of choking himself, but wishing for once that Arthur left him alone.

“Girlfriend… Who─?” Arthur asked, seeming half-serious, half-amused. Did he think it was a joke?

Remus said nothing, listening to the voices that reached his ears. Everyone else was still in the kitchen enjoying his or her breakfast. Remus tried to keep an impassive face as Harry spoke, but couldn’t help jumping when it was Hermione who answered Harry’s question.

A slight crease appeared between Arthur’s eyebrows. Remus hoped against all hope that Arthur would never put two and two together; but a sudden realization seemed to have reached his friend’s mind. “You mean…” It was a quiet denial─ but that he spoke at all was a miracle. It was as though Arthur had been hit hard in the stomach; he was thunderstruck. “Remus─”

It sounded like a warning, making Remus fear what would come next.

“She’s not my daughter,” Arthur declared quietly. “But if I have an advice─”

Remus didn’t say a word; in truth, he didn’t want to hear it.

“Just… be careful,” Arthur said. He patted him thoughtfully, leaving Remus standing alone and feeling as sick as one could feel.

“Arthur─” Remus called back. Arthur turned around, peering down at him from the top of the stairs. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

Arthur stared at him for a while. It was a good five seconds before he spoke. “No. I promise I won’t.” He waited then added, as if reading Remus’s thoughts, “not even Molly.”

***

Remus held his wand high, ready to strike. He had to cast a spell; it was part of what they did during their training sessions.

Hermione, her breath strangely caught in her throat, knew that in a real battle she would be about to die. Remus had disarmed her and now he had to mutter a spell, anything to see if she reacted. For example, he could mutter an Unforgivable Curse ─without truly casting it, needless to say─ to check that she had the reflexes to roll over and move out of harm’s way. So what was Remus waiting for? She was defenceless on the floor and still he was doing nothing.

Remus closed his eyes. They had not spoken to each other since the previous night, not even a single word. She hadn’t asked to talk to him but he hadn’t made any effort either. He knew that eventually he’d have to say something, but… he just couldn’t convince himself to do it. Maybe it was shyness, or cowardice─ it didn’t matter anyway. It was strange, that a man who had repeatedly fought Death Eaters was suddenly unable to summon enough courage to say two words to someone who lived in the same house…

As these last thoughts crossed his mind Remus opened his lids. Hermione was still on the floor. He was supposed to convince himself that she was an enemy here… he had to mutter a curse. It was what happened every time someone died.

Had Snape been on the floor vulnerable when he’d been hit by a spell? He wondered. Had he seen death coming, had he been waiting for what he knew was inevitable, unable to evade his destiny? Had the Death Eaters laughed before they condemned a human being to death?

Fresh hatred rose in the pit of Remus’s stomach. They had to pay for that, and for everything else.

Even if he didn’t raise his wand Remus opened his mouth. Just to speak the words. Even if it did nothing; through it, he’d convince himself to go back looking for those Death Eaters and never rest until he had found them. “Ava─”

He swallowed. The problem was that it was not a Death Eater who was in front of him. Just Hermione. And he couldn’t say it, he couldn’t hurt her. He was now left in front of his own feelings, fighting against himself, against this wall of bare emotions paralyzing him.

The room blurred. He hadn’t felt this drained in days. Though he had no idea why, Remus found himself staring at the bottle of water that had been hit by a spell and that no one had bothered to repair. Water was spreading on the floor, drop after drop after drop, maddeningly, as though no one on earth would ever be able to stop it.

His face was as pale as the wall behind him when he turned around. Get a man a wand, he thought, and let him look his opponent in the eyes─ then you’ll know who he truly is.

When the door banged Harry and Ron stopped fighting, and only when silence filled her ears did Hermione realize that they had still been casting spells at one another. They were staring at her questioningly now. “Training’s over for today,” she muttered before opening the door. She reached the kitchen and poured herself a glass of cold, almost freezing lemonade.

***

Music was the only thing he could think of that could help him relax. Remus went to sit on the couch in the living room and tried to concentrate only on the melody he was hearing─ but it was hard to calm down.

“I love this song,” Hermione walked in with her glass, looking anywhere but at him. She had finally forced herself to enter the room, knowing that they’d have to face each other sooner or later. At least they’d be over with it.

Startled that she had spoken Remus looked up. Would she pretend nothing whatsoever had happened between them the previous evening? Or would she want to talk about it? He believed he’d rather go with the first solution─ even if it hurt to turn away from what they could have had. “You’ve heard it before?” he chose to ask cautiously.

She hesitated on the threshold then walked forward, set down her glass on the table and said, “My grandfather used to listen to it when I was younger.”

“Oh.” He remembered she was from a Muggle origin. She was so good at magic that he tended to forget it. He realized he didn’t know anything about her family─ why hadn’t he ever asked?

“I remember how he just sat there in front of the fire listening to music…” Hermione went on. She was half lost in her memories, half conscious of the fact that Remus was still there in the same room.

“You no longer visit him?” Remus regretted asking as soon as the words were out.

An odd shadow passed in front of her eyes before she muttered, “he died five years ago.”

He remained mute, with the impression of having gone under a cold, even freezing shower. “I’m sorry,” he said numbly. He really was sorry. For that. For everything.

For the previous night.

“I never saw him much, he lived far away,” she said quickly.

“I never knew my grandparents,” Remus said before he added bitterly, “I barely knew my parents either.”

During the silence that followed Hermione fixed her gaze on her watch. It was half past five. Though she didn’t know why, she suddenly remembered her dream of the previous night. Remus was staring at the cover of a book that had been left on the table, so, thinking he couldn’t hear she spoke to herself, “Time flows…”

“But heroes are never forgotten.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped. It was Remus who had spoken, and Remus stared at her for a long time, a crease of surprise─ even of fear─ between his eyebrows.

The door burst open. Ron and Harry looked thoroughly confused. “Remus? We thought you had left for some kind of Order mission─”

“I needed a break,” Remus said rather coolly.

“Oh. Okay. Well we’ll erm─ continue later, then,” Harry and Ron walked out. Remus seized the opportunity to get up too and climbed the stairs hurriedly. When he reached the bathroom he bent over the washbowl and buried his face under some cold water. It was impossible that they both knew that sentence, because it had been a dream, only a dream… nothing more than a dream.

Hermione had taken a mouthful of air as soon as the door had closed, desperately trying to bring oxygen to her brain. How could Remus know the end of that stupid quote from her dream? It had been a dream, right? She remembered seeing Dumbledore in his office… there had been that portrait on the wall… then that sentence, repeated over and over again…

“Hermione?”

She came back to herself in a jolt. Harry was back inside the living room, making her wonder where Ron had gone.

“I just─” Harry hesitated. “Could I have a word with you?”

“Yes, of course,” Hermione looked around at the empty room, suddenly afraid that Harry knew her secret.

“Look, it’s just…” Harry took a breath and said, “Remus.”

Hermione’s heart missed a beat. Oh, god. What if Harry had guessed everything? No. She was suffering from paranoia, that was all. “What about him?” she asked slowly.

“Do you have any idea why he’s so…er… off lately?”

Her heart sank horribly. “They’ve probably got a problem with the Order.”

“Yeah, probably.” Harry nodded. “I hope you’re right. But there are some strange things happening nowadays. More than usual, I mean. Ever since that night when Remus left nobody seems to be themselves anymore, it’s unusual.” Harry shrugged and then asked innocently, “have you seen Ginny?”

Had she not heard his conversation with Remus, Hermione wouldn’t even have guessed Harry cared about Ginny more than he was showing. “In her room, probably,” she answered.

“Thanks,” Harry walked out too, leaving Hermione alone once again. She ran a hand feverishly over her sweaty forehead. What on earth was wrong with her? She was eighteen; she was supposed to find herself a boyfriend who was her age, one who was young and handsome and─

Remus was handsome.

Why did she like him so much? Because of who he was. For everything and for nothing. Just because of what he represented, being here with them and understanding how they felt confined in Grimmauld Place, when nobody ever seemed to care that they existed. Just for the way he had spoken her name quietly the previous evening, and for the way he had told her things about how he felt toward Ron and Harry’s behaviours…

Maybe he wasn’t perfect─ but who was? If asked she wouldn’t have changed anything about him; not one thing. Even him being a werewolf was part of why he fascinated her. God, she loved him so much because he was himself.

Would she die from it? It consumed her inside, and she was scared because it wasn’t right, it didn’t feel right… or rather, it felt right, and that was what was wrong … She had always considered love as a beautiful feeling. In books, in stories, it seemed so amazing she had wished for it to happen to her.

In truth, it was terrifying.

***

“Molly?”

“Yes?” She raised her head from the piles of clothes she had been stacking in the laundry.

Remus checked over his shoulder that they were alone. “I’ll go to Diagon Alley tomorrow morning. I need─ er─ some Wolfsbane Potion.”

Molly nodded. “All right. Hadn’t Severus made some extra last time?”

“Not much... and I thought I’d better try to find someone to make some more, I don’t know how long he’ll be… well, anyway, it takes six months to brew. So don’t expect to see me tomorrow morning, I’ll be gone early, I’ll take the Floo Network.”

Molly pursed her lips as though she wanted to protest. Then she sighed. “Just be careful.”

“Always,” Remus replied with a tired smile.

***

“No. Like I said, I have none in store,” the witch eyed Remus suspiciously, waving a hand covered with rings in front of him. Ever since he’d opened his mouth to ask about Wolfsbane, she had taken a step back and become rather discourteous.

“Are you going to get some soon?” Remus insisted.

“I might,” she replied shortly, still eying him as though he was a very contagious plague. “Excuse me, I have other customers… may I help you?” she said in the direction of an old wizard peering around at bottles of potions.

Remus sighed. He hated it when people looked at him like that─ and yet, sadly, he was rather accustomed to that sudden change of attitude. It didn’t matter if people weren’t sure that he was the wolf; even knowing one was considered dangerous.

“Remus, is that yeh?” Someone spoke loudly as soon as he was in the street again.

“Hello, Hagrid,” Remus greeted the Hogwarts Gamekeeper. “Still looking for Dragon skin?” Remus had heard Hagrid complaining several times in the past weeks that nobody sold anything anymore. After his quick conversation with the witch with the enormous rings, Remus was growing convinced that Hagrid was right.

“Arg, yer can’t imagine how rare tha’s becoming,” the shaggy gamekeeper replied. “And what are yer doein’ here?”

“I’m done, actually,” Remus muttered. “I was on my way,” he lied, hoping Hagrid would go.

“Oh. Okay, I’ll see yeh later then.”

Remus aimed for the Floo Network Centre; but when he arrived within thirty feet of the first chimney he stopped and took another path. There was another thing he needed to do. He didn’t want anyone to know about that. Not Hagrid, not the kids, not even Arthur or Molly. No one.

***

“Nothing has ever been proved,” the man eyed Remus carefully. “But there is an ancient saying on dream sharers; you want to hear it?” The wizard drew Remus apart in a corner of his dusty Astrology shop.

Remus hesitated, squeezed between crystal balls and protective gauntlets, then nodded.

“I presume you’re the one who shared a dream?” the man went on. He had a long beard, not unlike Dumbledore’s, and his small, square glasses conferred him a wise air.

“You presume correctly,” Remus answered flatly.

“Very well. If the other person was a man, the saying tells us you are in a quarrelling situation with that person. Often this other person will turn out to be an enemy.”

Remus waited. When the man gave a half-smile he asked with annoyance, “and if it’s not a man?”

“Ha! Lady, unh?” the man snorted, betraying his apparent wisdom, before catching the look on Remus’s face. “Usually”, he said hastily, “dream sharers, as they’re called, are two people meant for each other.” He blinked knowingly. Remus thanked him numbly and left with the distinct impression that his brain had jammed.

He felt torn apart; in a way, where was the problem? Hermione and he were both adults; whether by wizarding or Muggle law they were legally responsible and had every right in the world to be together, even get married, have children─

As guilt rose in the pit of his stomach Remus chased the thought away. In a way, there was a problem. Was there a way out of it? Probably not. It was just impossible, because of the war, because of Harry, Ron, Ginny, Dumbledore and everyone else. Because it would be so wrong, he a former teacher and she his former student, he a werewolf old enough to be her father and she a brilliant young witch whose future he couldn’t bear jeopardizing.

He had to let it go, he had to let this love fade, become a shadow, a memory, nothing more than a ghost in a falling darkness.

It lasted for two endless days. There they were with so many things left unspoken, only pretending, with the others around, to be normal people having perfectly normal conversations but during all that time: meals, mornings, afternoons, evenings, they were just forcing themselves to adopt an everyday behaviour.

But the fact was there. The days passed, countless, endless; every second became a fight, every minute was harder to live than the one before. A simple chuckle or the flicker of a smile, a sigh or a glimpse of the other, and the flame in their hearts was alive again, ten times brighter than before, burning painfully in their chests. It hurt even more to turn away after that, but still they did it as though they were both locking the gates to their own freedom, letting this unspoken passion eat them from the inside, quietly but surely.

It would have lasted longer and forever if something had not happened. It was early, very early in the morning judging by the faint light that was visible behind the curtains of his room. Something was unusual and simply… not right. It was just a feeling in the pit of his stomach, but one that became more distressing when he found out that the noise that had stirred him away from sleep was someone tapping on the window─ an owl, probably.

Remus got up in a rush before the sound woke up anyone else.

“Fawkes?” He leapt in shock. Dumbledore had sent Fawkes to deliver a message? What on earth was going on? What could have happened that had led to Dumbledore using his most urgent and safest messenger?

Remus opened the window. The phoenix refused to enter but dropped a note in Remus’s stretched-out hand. The parchment was tightly sealed with three glowing red letters on it: RJL. So this was what Dumbledore had prepared them for. He had each given them a special, top-secret password that, he had warned, was only to be used to open critical messages. Should anyone else other than him try to read the message and the parchment would burst into flames. There was no way to get around Dumbledore’s magic.

Remus’s sense of foreboding only increased until, at last, he had taken out his wand, spoken the password and unrolled the parchment.


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx



A/N: I know what you're all going to say: I should have updated sooner! My apologies for the delay. I've had a lot of work lately but I'll try not to keep you waiting for too long until chapter 9.
I hope you're still enjoying this. Thanks to all of you wonderful reviewers and also to Rosie my beta-reader!



Chapter 9: Emergency Meeting
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

CHAPTER 9
Emergency Meeting



Attack on St Mungo’s. Severus Snape dead. Charlie Weasley hurt but alive. Emergency Order meeting at eleven o’clock, Grimmauld Place. All members will be warned.
AD


That was Dumbledore’s style: short, concise messages. Remus ran a hand through his hair wearily, his sleepy eyes following Dumbledore’s words once again. He read the message a second time, somehow failing to understand the gravity of what he had before him. Then it finally sunk into his mind─ and he winced, thinking he’d had better morning presents.

Snape was dead. Dead.

“Molly! Arthur!” Before he knew it, Remus was banging on their door. “Open up!” He shouted, oblivious to the fact that it was five in the morning. The entire house was silent and he had trouble understanding why nobody was awake. God, Snape was dead. “Arthur, Molly!”

Someone behind the door grumbled. Remus heard footsteps and he had to wait until a face finally appeared in the doorframe. “ ‘s’going on?” Arthur raised an eyebrow at him. He seemed both irritated and slightly worried, as if he already knew he was about to hear a terrible truth.

Wordlessly Remus handed him the parchment. Arthur’s expression quickly switched from annoyance to incredulity, and then to concern. “Merlin─” He muttered. “Charlie…” Arthur looked up at Remus, a sudden note of dread in his now wide-open eyes, before he called his wife. “Molly! Molly, wake up─”

Remus turned away to allow them some privacy. He realized he wasn’t even dressed, so he went back to his room only to find Harry’s door ajar.

“Er─ Remus?” Harry swallowed. “Anything wrong?”

Remus stared at him. He felt a sudden urge to tell Harry to go back to bed; the boy seemed so fragile, shivering in the cold morning air. He was leaning against the wall, barefoot, obviously wondering why on earth Remus had made so much noise. “Harry─”

“Don’t tell me to go back to bed and that nothing’s happened, I know that’s not true.”

A smile Harry couldn’t see reached the corners of Remus’s mouth. Harry sometimes sounded so much like his stubborn father… “All right, not this time then,” Remus agreed. “Actually we can use your help. Can you wake up the others?” He didn’t wait to see Harry nod before he added, “Tell them to get down to the kitchen at once.”

Harry had already turned around and had a foot on the first step. When he had disappeared from view Remus sighed and quickly went to his room to get dressed. He didn’t yet know exactly all that he would have to take care of during the following hours─ but it would be a long day.

***

“Erm, kids?” Remus said quietly when they were all seated in the kitchen. Four heads turned to him. There was a mixture of eagerness and also dread in their expressions, and that, more than anything else, made Remus despise the war. How could you stand seeing such young people having to grow up and hear bad news, when they shouldn’t be worrying about such things? “There will be an Order meeting here this morning at eleven, and therefore everyone will start arriving around nine or ten. You need to be upstairs by that time and remain there until it’s over. It’s five thirty, but we need to get this place tidied up. Understood?”

Ginny and Ron nodded but Harry seemed to want to know more. Hermione felt she knew what he had in mind; usually they were informed of upcoming Order meetings at least three or four days in advance. Personally, she kept quiet. Had it been someone else, like Ron’s mother for example, she might have asked more questions─ but with Remus in front of her, she felt at a total loss for words.

“How come we’re being warned on such short notice?” Harry frowned.

“It’s an emergency meeting,” Remus replied grimly.

“Emergency as if someone died or something?” Harry’s tone was almost eager, making Remus feel sick. He made no answer and instead attempted to prepared breakfast, handing over porridge, corn-flakes, toast and a leftover of fudge, then orange juice and milk.

***

“You see anyone else?” Ron asked impatiently about fours hours later. He was in a squat position directly behind Ginny, who was watching the Entrance Hall from the top of the stairs. Although no one could see her there from downstairs, she had been spying for the past few minutes.

“Yes… Here goes Kingsley…” Ginny muttered. “That’s Charlie… Fred and George... Tonks…”

“You seen Snape?” Harry asked in a whisper.

Ginny didn’t reply immediately, scrutinizing the scene attentively. “Er─ no. Snape’s not there, that’s strange.” She carefully turned back to her brother. “I think that’s it─ Hang on, here comes someone else.” She listened intently, gazing once more past the railway. “It’s Moody. And─ oh no, Mum’s coming!”

They all scattered; Harry and Hermione hurried into the drawing room, which was at the end of the corridor, and Ron and Ginny stormed headfirst into Ron’s room.

When Molly opened the door Harry and Hermione pretended to be deep in conversation, bent over the Marauders’ map. Harry had forgotten to put it away the day before when they’d had a look at it with Ron, and therefore it was a perfect excuse.

“The meeting will start shortly,” Molly said severely. “Whatever you do, stay here and keep quiet.”

“Is everyone here?” Hermione seized the opportunity to ask, putting on the most innocent expression she could muster.

“Yes,” Ron’s mother replied distractedly.

“Everyone?” Harry insisted.

Molly’s brow furrowed in suspicion. “Yes.”

It didn’t take long for Ron and Ginny to come back after she’d left. “So where’s Snape?” Ron questioned. He sounded unconvinced by their former teacher’s absence; as if anything concerning Snape had to be abnormal. “Are you sure you haven’t missed him, Ginny?”

Ginny eyed him with irritation. “Of course not, I saw everyone.”

“But─”

“He didn’t come!” Ginny cut in loudly.

“So where do you think he is then?” Ron replied angrily. They were all in a rather despicable mood; the result of never-ending hours spent cleaning the place instead of being in bed.

“Maybe he’s dead,” Harry suggested.

Hermione froze. The idea didn’t seem to upset Harry too much─ but this was a human being they were talking about. And besides, if she had understood well, Snape was injured. “That’s not funny,” she said coldly. She was sick of them talking of Snape as if he was some kind of monster or plague that had to be eradicated.

“What? You know something we don’t?”

Hermione didn’t hesitate too long, lest they glimpsed her embarrassment. “No. But he’s an Order member, you could at least respect him.”

“It doesn’t explain why he isn’t here.”

Hermione looked away. When silence stretched on, Harry shrugged before taking out a deck of cards. “Fancy playing?”

***

“They’re eighteen now,” Remus interrupted the talks. Dumbledore glanced up at him for an instant, and then went back to his passive position at the end of the long table while the rest of them went on arguing.

“So you think they should be in the Order,” Arthur said nervously. He made it sound more like a statement than a question. Remus was well aware that he had better answer cautiously; Arthur didn’t want to have his kids in the fight, but he knew that if he agreed it might make him change his mind.

“I’m just saying we’ve kept them out of everything for too long. They’ll end up doing something stupid if they have the impression we don’t trust them─”

“They’re too young, Remus,” Molly interrupted categorically.

“He almost sees them as much as you,” McGonagall said with an apologetic glance to Molly. “We should consider it.”

Kingsley glanced at Fred and George, who were curiously quiet, as if uneasy for the first time in their lives with so many grown-ups around. “We don’t hear you two talking much,” he commented.

Everyone turned to them, most members putting down their goblets of wine on the table and leaning closer to hear better what the twins had to say.

“Harry, Ron and Hermione are of age,” Fred was the first to say something. “We waited longer than them before entering the Order, but we also know what it’s like to be confined here without knowing what’s happening.”

George spoke with an unusual gravity, “They have to sit around all day as we come and go out to fight. We all change because of the war, we come back upset, and they have to watch us leave again. None of you have any idea what it feels like to be so powerless.” George paused before he added slowly, “Personally I would have ended up doing something stupid if we hadn’t been allowed in.”

There were five long, uncomfortable seconds. “Well, thank you for being honest,” Molly finally told her son quietly. She seemed thoughtful─ probably, Remus mused, because she was anxious to know what Harry and Ron might come up with.

A few minutes later Dumbledore got up─ the discussion was starting to take a little too much time─ and everyone fell silent. But he didn’t have the time to speak; there was a rather aggressive knock on the door. A deep, unsettling silence greeted it as they all stared at one another.

“Only the kids are here,” Arthur finally broke the tension in the room. “They know they’re not supposed to disrupt us…”

Hermione’s face came into view when Molly went to open the door. She was blushing slightly at the idea of interrupting an Order meeting, so she didn’t linger. “Ron’s sick,” she said quickly to his mother, doing her best not to peer inside and give the impression that she was nosy.

Remus had turned around automatically when the door had opened. He wished he hadn’t; Hermione was precisely looking at him, looking troubled. His hands clutched the arms of his chair, trying to behave normally. At any rate he had to stay seated─

“Remus,” Molly called over her shoulder. He was the closest to the door. He reached it quickly, knowing the Order still had many things to discuss. As he arrived Hermione stared at her feet, anywhere but at him, and had she been able to Disapparate she probably would have.

“Remus,” Molly whispered. “Could you tell Dumbledore that Ron’s sick and that I’m going to see what it’s about?”

Her voice was lost in the distance. Remus remained frozen on the threshold, feeling that maybe his legs might give away. As he realised what Ron’s mother had said he came out of his reverie and shook himself. Everyone, he hoped, would think his reaction was due to the news. Then he turned around and crossed Dumbledore’s inquisitive glare at the end of the long wooden table. The headmaster seemed a little surprised, as though he had just found out something he had been totally unaware of, and that only made Remus more uncomfortable.

He walked around the long wooden table, going around Dedalus Diggle, Tonks, Kingsley, and the rest of them, very conscious of the fact that his footsteps were the only sound in the room.

Still uneasy that so many people were looking at him this way, he bent down to Dumbledore at the end of the table. “Ron’s sick,” Remus muttered to Dumbledore. The old wizard didn’t react; instead he stared at Remus curiously, as though he wanted to hear something else. Remus felt himself redden. He crossed Dumbledore’s cold glare, crestfallen, but nonetheless looked up in defiance.

Now he knew Dumbledore had seen how strangely he had reacted in Hermione’s presence.

“Very well,” the headmaster said as soon as Remus had sat back down. “Ronald Weasley is sick. Arthur, maybe you want to help Molly with it?” Arthur walked out. “Now where were we? Oh─ right, letting Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny in the Order. As it’s still not settled, I suggest we all think about it and vote for it during the next meeting. Some more important issues have to be addressed.”

Dumbledore straightened his half-moon spectacles, peering at the parchment in front of him. “First, Charlie, you will stay here for the night,” Charlie nodded silently. His broken leg had been healed, but he still looked very pale. “Tonks, Fred, George, so will you. Kingsley, Moody, you continue tracking down Voldemort’s Death Eaters and find their lair. Diggle, you keep bugging your source for information on the attack. The rest of you, resume your different missions. And you three─” he gestured at two Order members that Remus didn’t know very well and at Tonks, “─are to tare care of organising the funeral.”

Everyone looked at his or her feet. “Every one will assist.”

There was a collective murmur at these words. It was common knowledge that whatever the situation, however terrible events had been, the Order was to keep functioning: those who tracked Death Eaters kept tracking, those who fought kept fighting. Remus didn’t recall Dumbledore ever asking for everyone to be in the same place at the same time─ even if it was a burial. If the gathering was discovered, the safety of the entire Order of the Phoenix would be compromised.

“I assume you have found a safe place for it then?” McGonagall asked slowly.

“Hogwarts,” Dumbledore replied shortly.

Remus considered the news. It was a strange idea, that Snape was to be buried at Hogwarts. On the other hand─ Snape had taught there, and Hogwarts remained one of the safest places in the country. Moreover, no Ministry officials came.

“Remus,3 Dumbledore called before he left. “Please inform Ron, Hermione, Harry and Ginny that they are to assist too.”

On these words Dumbledore took a last sip of wine, gave an approving nod at the bottle, rolled the parchments in front of him, waited for the room to clear a bit, and Disapparated noiselessly as only he knew how to.

Remus hastily climbed the stairs to Ron’s room. It was already crowded. There were Arthur and Molly, bent over Ron (Remus couldn’t see him properly), then Harry─ holding hands with Ginny─, Hermione, and finally Tonks and Moody, conversing in a low voice beside the door, taking glances from time to time at the bed on which Ron rested and looking seriously concerned.

“What’s happened?” Remus came forward to them. Moody and Tonks exchanged a glance, before Tonks said quietly, “We’re not sure.” She seemed hesitant to say more.

“Well what’s wrong with him?” Remus asked again, trying to peer inside the room, but all he could see were Arthur and Molly’s backs.

“He’s in a sort of conscious coma. Talks to himself but doesn’t recognise anyone, then starts yelling as though having a nightmare. But he’s not asleep.” Moody gave a low growl. “The one person who would know what to give him would be Snape. Unfortunately…”

Remus looked away and finally got a glimpse of Ron. He was sitting on the bed with his back very straight, his eyes were strangely unfocused, and he seemed to be muttering to himself.

“How did he get like that?” Tonks asked Harry, who had come to them.

“We─ we’d started to play wizard chess… we were tired of Exploding Snap… well anyway─” Harry sounded exhausted. “Suddenly he… well he started shouting that he was tired of it all, then he collapsed on the floor. Nothing seemed wrong with him… I mean no one’s hit him or cursed him or poisoned─” Harry drew a breath, running a hand over his sweating forehead. “Hang on…” he said slowly. “He asked me if I wanted some of his Chocolate Frogs and I said I didn’t feel like it so he started eating them by himself─”

Where did he get them?” Moody said urgently.

“Er─ no idea,” Harry shook his head. “I’ll get them for you,” he sped past them. When he came back he handed Mad-Eye a bag of treats. Moody sniffed it before carefully retrieving a Chocolate Frog with a gloved hand. “They’re poisoned,” he muttered finally.

Remus noticed that there was a hand-written card attached to the bag. He retrieved it. It was signed Neville Longbottom. “Just a present from Ron’s friend.”

Arthur had overheard their last sentences. Feverishly, he took the card from Remus’s hands. Then he closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. “Ron knows better than that…”

“Better than what?” Harry asked tensely.

“The handwriting is Malfoy’s,” Arthur said. “Not Longbottom’s. Lucius is after me these days and dreams of finding out our headquarters. This─” he gestured at the note, “─doesn’t mean they know where Grimmauld Place is. It’s a warning,” he finished grimly.

“Does this have anything to do with the meeting?” Harry asked.

Arthur stared at him for a while. He seemed about to answer when Remus interrupted him. “No. The meeting wasn’t about Ministry problems.” He didn’t add what the meeting had been about. He didn’t have the heart to tell them all that Snape was dead. Not just yet.

Arthur was still looking at Harry. “While I’m thinking of it, I’ll tell the Ministry to postpone your Apparition tests. You’ll take them when Ron’s better.”

Remus went down the stairs trying to find something that would improve Ron’s condition, but he could think of nothing. He headed for the kitchen but decided for another direction when he heard voices. He didn’t feel like talking much, even if everyone but Charlie and the twins had left by now. The living room was most likely empty.

Hermione turned her head toward him. She was crying. For all that he wanted to get out of the room, and quickly, he found himself strangely rooted on the spot. He just couldn’t turn away now that he’d seen her; it would really be rude to go now.

He bit his lip, berating himself for being unable to get his mind off her. “Are you all right?” God. Was that the only thing they could ever manage to say to each other? “Is it Ron?” he asked quietly.

She nodded. Of course it wasn’t just Ron. It seemed like a good excuse though.

“He’ll be fine,” Remus came forward to her. Whether he and Hermione would ever be fine, though, was another story. “Ron will recover,” he tried to reassure her. Just for once in his life, he could at least forget everything else and talk to her normally, couldn’t he?

She sobbed. She felt so stupid, crying there in front of him.

“It was just a bag of treats, we’ll find something,” he said gently.

Hermione didn’t answer. She would have preferred if he had shouted rather than tried to console her. Maybe it would be better for both of them if he left.

He didn’t know what else to say. Words of comfort again, maybe? She probably didn’t want that. It wasn’t what he truly wanted either, in truth. “Hey─” he whispered, and then, in a moment of total recklessness, he pulled her into a hug.

She fell into his embrace, crying in silence on his shoulder, her mane of brown hair shimmering in the morning’s golden light. The door was ajar but nothing mattered anymore as Remus held her close, utterly convinced that they shouldn’t be doing this but unable to pull away.

Footsteps. They seemed to ricochet on the corridor tiles, coming in a measured cadence. When Arthur opened the door Remus and Hermione were already a good foot apart from one another.

Ron’s father came in frowning slightly, but he didn’t comment on what he had─ or not─ seen. “Remus,” he said instead, “Dumbledore wants to see you.”

Remus blinked. “Right now?” His voice scraped. When Arthur nodded, he followed him outside.

Hermione watched him go, drying a last tear with her sleeve. She could still feel Remus’s shoulder against her head; she could hear his voice trying to soothe her.

And she wondered what on earth had got into her, the day she had fallen in love with him─ because in love she was indeed.



*****

A/N: I know you must hate me by now for not posting more lol. I still thank Rosie a lot for all her help as a beta-reader; thanks also to everyone still reading and reviewing this story... I'll post more soon, I promise!

Chapter 10: Windows to the Soul
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



CHAPTER 10
Windows to the Soul


***
“Remus,” Dumbledore acknowledged after he had closed the door and come forward, balancing awkwardly from one foot to another. Remus had just taken the Portkey to Hogwarts but wished to be done with this already. “It’s always a pleasure to know that someone still cares to visit an old man,” the headmaster chuckled softly.

Remus winced. Subtleties had always been Dumbledore’s empire. He understood too well the unspoken message; it only meant Dumbledore wanted to know why he hadn’t come in a long time and why he had been avoiding him. True, they had seen each other only a few moments before during the Order meeting− but it was far from being as private as this one-to-one.

“The world changes faster than one might think,” Remus replied carefully, which implied that a lot of things were happening these days and that he didn’t have time to visit often. It was a lie, and though he was perfectly aware that this excuse would never convince Dumbledore he hoped he wouldn’t have to answer too many questions. A lot of things had changed since his last visit. But not ones he wished to discuss.

He used to enjoy talking with Dumbledore; speaking in riddles had almost become a game. Right now, it was torture.

“I will be short,” Dumbledore said, his gaze narrowed. Remus blinked. Dumbledore rarely went straight to the point.

“Mr Potter, Miss Granger─” The headmaster paused and Remus forced himself not to react at the mention of Hermione’s name. Was he being paranoid or had Dumbledore weighed slightly on her name? On purpose, to see his reaction? “─and the Weasley children will be alone at Grimmauld Place with Molly and Arthur next week.”

Remus raised an eyebrow. Where would he be?

“I have a special mission for you.”

Remus grimaced. He didn’t like Dumbledore’s special missions. Normal ones were secret and dangerous enough; special ones were deadly.

“Arthur informed me that the childrens’ Ministry appointment has been postponed to two weeks from now due to Ronald’s health condition. Severus’ funeral will also be around that time. Meanwhile I believe it would be better if nothing out of the ordinary disturbed the routine.”

Ah, yes. All right. Dumbledore wanted him to leave for the full moon. The headmaster would presumably be absent and if the others were away... Sirius used to be there to protect the others from the wolf he was if anything turned wrong. Then it had been Snape─ that had been a lot less pleasant, but at least he was guarded. If there was no one, it was preferable not to take risks.

But surely Dumbledore hadn’t called him just for that? Or else he could have sent an owl, right? “What’s my mission?” Remus tried to ask the question politely, but couldn’t, for some reason, keep the edge out of his voice.

Dumbledore peered at him for a long moment from behind his half-moon spectacles, giving Remus the rather unsettling impression that he was being x-rayed. “When your transformation is over,” the headmaster finally said, “You will not go back to Grimmauld Place immediately. I understand how exhausting these transformations are; however I believe it would be better if you didn’t come and go out of Grimmauld Place too often.”

Remus’s mouth felt dry. He knew exactly what Dumbledore meant. If he never came back, then it was better to say good-bye only once.

“You leave in two days,” Dumbledore added. “Friday evening. You’ll receive your mission orders at that time.”

“Very well,” Remus nodded formally. He felt tired, so tired. But as much as he hated these additional worries, he couldn’t refuse. He had never turned Dumbledore down and it would look suspicious.

“That is all.”

It was time to leave. Remus rose from his chair as Dumbledore said quietly, “I hope the world settles down.”

It was just an invitation to come back and talk to him when he had the time. Just a friendly advice, not an order at all.

“Yes,” Remus said rather dryly. “Let us hope so.” He walked to the door and opened it, not remembering having ever felt so glad to get out of this office. What on earth was the matter with him, that he couldn’t even bear talking to Dumbledore in a friendly way?

“Remus?” Dumbledore called back as he was almost outside. Remus turned back to him, surprised by the sudden change of tone he heard. The voice was icier than before. More distant. There was something in it that made the hair on Remus’s neck stand up.

“Please keep in mind,” Dumbledore didn’t quite look at him in the eyes, “That you never get to see the dawn and the dusk at the same time.”

Remus stopped dead, feeling like his heart had missed a beat.

He also understood what that meant─

It was as if a sledgehammer had been driven into his heart, leaving him in shock and painfully short of breath. Dumbledore couldn’t know. Not him.

Remus had always thought the headmaster knew everything, but couldn’t see through feelings. Apparently he’d been wrong. He was sure that Hermione was the dawn; young, innocent, coming into life. He, Remus, was the dusk; wiser, darker, older.

Yet he had nothing to say about it; it was their problem, their feelings. Only they could decide what would be and what never would. Once again, Dumbledore’s words were a friendly advice, nothing more.

But then why did it sound so much like the announcement of an imminent disaster?

***

He didn’t want to think about what Dumbledore had told him. He didn’t want to think about what it meant, because the implications were too great. Remus knew that Dumbledore would never do anything else to stop them if Hermione and he ever went further in their relationship− and yet he understood why the headmaster had chosen to warn him. After all, this could jeopardize the work of the Order, especially if she influenced him− for example if she asked him not to go on this mission and risk his life. Because he had to leave. Of course, even if he, himself, didn’t want to go in the first place, he’d have to do his best to convince her of the necessity of it.

He just hoped his best would be enough.

If he remembered correctly from when they’d been cleaning the place almost two years before, there was an old piano somewhere at Grimmauld Place. Remus climbed to the highest level ─ the fourth− looking for comfort in music. That was what he used to do when he was a kid and wanted to escape his thoughts. It used to help, especially when the full moon was coming. He wondered if he still knew how to play.

The piano was still there, covered with dust and looking lonely in the large, bare room. There were some old scores on top of it. Remus sat down on the stool, running his fingers on top of it thoughtfully before he finally convinced himself to sit down.

Hermione was coming out of her room when she heard the melody. It puzzled her. She had no idea someone here played the piano; and she’d almost forgotten about its existence. Her curiosity sharpened, she climbed the stairs and pushed open the door.

Remus flipped a page.

His hands flew over the piano in a hypnotic rhythm impossible to follow… right, left, middle, right, middle again… it was mesmerizing. The notes were pure and light; they swivelled around in the room, dancing in the air as thought with a mind of their own. It was terrifying. So melancholic, so terribly full of sorrow… and so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Suddenly Remus became conscious of the fact that he wasn’t alone. Maybe it was due to the way the notes resonated in the room, or maybe because he just felt it, somehow, at a subliminal level. But he knew with definite certainty that a person was here not far away. He lifted his hands from the keyboard abruptly; all desire to play having left him. The sound died as suddenly as if someone had cast a silencing charm on the piano.

Remus turned around, angry half at himself for having been so into the music he had forgotten everything else, and also at the intruder for having disrupted him.

“You don’t have to stop,” Hermione smiled shyly. She let the rest hanging. It was truly beautiful.

There was a silence, deep and uncomfortable. Remus didn’t smile back. Then he slammed the piano shut and got up from the stool. “I was never a good player.”

The words fell like a death sentence; razor-sharp, so cold in the morning air that he hated himself for them. But they simply couldn’t do it. They couldn’t be nice to each other. If she didn’t understand it now then it would be too late.

He knew he’d be lost without her. But with her, they would both be.

“I have to go,” he muttered as he walked to the door. Yes, that was it. He had to leave the room… and soon, he’d have to leave completely. “I’m sorry,” Remus added.

Gods, he was so utterly sorry for everything.

***

“I wish we could have found out what their meeting was about,” Ginny said regretfully when they were alone the next morning. “Er− is anything wrong, Hermione?” Ginny added when she received no answer.

“Wrong?” Hermione feigned puzzlement, becoming unnaturally intent on piling a stack of books. She knew it must look like a totally fake preoccupation─ but she was never going to tell Ginny what worried her. Nor who. “Nothing’s wrong,” she added heartily. Too heartily.

“If you’re worried about Ron, Mum really said he’ll be all right. Dumbledore’s consulted Madam Pomfrey and he gave Mum a list of medicine to buy.”

“I know,” Hermione replied. Of course she did; Molly was currently in Diagon Allay buying the needed remedies. She wished Ginny would give up questioning her, though.

“Then what’s the matter? Are you…?” Ginny hesitated. Hermione kept quiet. “Who is it?” Ginny asked quietly, confirming Hermione in the idea that she had a good idea what sort of thing was weighing on her mind.

“Who?” Hermione shook her head. She just couldn’t tell her. At least Ginny didn’t yet know it was Remus− because when she did, when everyone would find out, gods only knew what would happen then.

“Come on….” Ginny whispered. She sounded hurt─ Hermione and she always shared these kinds of secrets. “It’s not Harry, is it?” Hermione shook her head slightly. Ginny could stay with Harry, it didn’t bother her.

“Ron?” Ginny tried, her expression somewhat more relaxed.

Hermione merely stared at her.

“Do I even know him?”

“Drop it,” Hermione said in a rather definite tone, and Ron’s sister didn’t push further.

***
Molly aimed straight for Remus went she came back. He knew before she opened her mouth to speak that it was no good.

“I’m sorry… no one sells Wolfsbane Potion… especially─” She looked uncomfortable. Arthur walked in at that moment and he began checking the bottles of potions for Ron that she had bought.

“Especially now that the Ministry has ruled werewolves as dangerous and outcasts,” Remus finished grimly. No Wolfsbane Potion. Great. He had told Molly he’d be leaving to transform, then on Order mission.

“Have you told them yet?” Molly asked tensely.

Remus shook his head wordlessly. No, he hadn’t yet told Harry, Ron, Ginny or Hermione anything. He knew he’d have to talk to them, but now he had more to announce: that Snape was dead− he hadn’t decided himself to tell them yet− and that he’d be leaving the next day.

“Look, I’m sure you could find a way to get Wolfsbane,” Molly hastily started again. “You could ask Hermione to try and brew some, she’s good at Potions, got an O at her NEWTS.”

“No, it’s all right. It’ll be fine,” Remus muttered. He felt too ashamed to ask Hermione anything.

“Just ask her! I think she’ll be delighted; it’ll give her something to do. And you’ll suffer much less─”

“Molly, don’t insist.”

“Look, Remus, just do it!” Molly said reprovingly.

Arthur, who had witnessed the whole discussion and hadn’t spoken at all, grabbed her arm. “It’s all right, Molly.”

“What’s all right?” She fought back.

Arthur gave Remus a swift glance that was full of comprehension. “Let him be. It’s his choice.”

Turning around, Remus hurriedly walked out of the kitchen as Arthur’s voice faded away.

***

Hermione found Molly in the living room. She wondered for a brief instant where Remus was. She hadn’t seen him since she’d found him playing the piano; had he left to do some Order work with Ron’s father? She didn’t believe so. But then where on earth had he gone? She truly hoped he was all right─ and she didn’t understand his sudden distant behavior.

“Oh, Hermione─” Molly handed her a pile of clothes when she walked in. “Here you go.”

“Thank you Mrs Weasley,” Hermione smiled at her pile of neatly folded clothes. Molly had already moved to dusting the furniture and the portraits on the walls, taking advantage of everybody’s absence to put some order to the room without bothering anyone.

“Where is everyone?” Hermione asked lightly. It was a good way to ask where Remus was; she knew where Arthur, Harry, Ron and Ginny were. Everybody else had left; even Charlie and the twins.

“The boys and Ginny are playing upstairs, I think,” Molly answered. “Arthur won’t be back until tomorrow morning.”

Hermione hesitated. “What about Remus?”

Molly continued to straighten a portrait but Hermione sensed her embarrassment, so she quickly changed the topic of conversation.

Back up in her room, she opened her timetable. Today was the twelfth of August. Weird, but that date ringed a bell. She took out her ancient diary from the previous year and opened it at the same date. On the page were written the words “Order Meeting.” Nothing else, of course, since she had not attended it. But what was stranger was that she recalled that meeting perfectly. Yes. It had been the one right after a busy afternoon when Order Members had come in and out all day, because Bellatrix Lestrange had been killed the day before.

The atmosphere had been rather joyful then, until Snape had started to fight with Arthur. They had never known what the argument had been about; but what Hermione did recall was that Remus hadn’t been there.

“Interesting…” Hermione muttered under her breath. Remus had been absent exactly a year before. And she didn’t believe in coincidences.

He came back that evening for dinner without a word, and Molly and Arthur asked nothing. Hermione saw Harry and Ron whispering when he wasn’t looking, but they asked nothing, probably taking in the rather unusual haggard appearance of Remus. His face was pale, very pale as if he hadn’t eaten nor slept his days− but he merely stared at the food in his dish getting cold and didn’t touch any of it. Hermione could only hope that she wasn’t the cause of it all.

The house felt lonely as she made her way slowly down the stairs in the evening. Harry was entertaining Ron up in his bedroom, playing cards again. Ginny was with them too. Ron was doing much better; Molly’s potions had done wonders. He’d be on his feet in a couple of days.

Everything in the house seemed unusually dark; but after all, it was already eleven in the evening. Hermione kept touring the place until she noticed some light filtering under the door of the kitchen. Well, good. She’d been willing to ask Ron’s mother about whether or not she would go to Diagon Alley again the next day, because she needed new quills and rolls of parchment. Hermione opened the kitchen door and walking inside.

She almost slammed the door shut in surprise.

Remus looked up at her. He had dark circles under his eyes and his hair was ruffled, but not even that could draw Hermione’s attention away from what he was doing. A bottle of dark brown liquid was on the table, half empty already.

Remus poured himself another glass of Exploding Vodka. He didn’t know what he was doing anymore− or maybe he did. He no longer cared. The sight of Hermione stopped him for an instant and he stared at her, lowering his glass a bit. “Want some?” He tilted his head at the bottle.

“No, thanks,” she replied coldly. As much as she felt drawn to him, she had never even considered drinking. “Professor, are you−?”

“Drunk,” he finished for her before shrugging. “Isn’t everything just p-e-r-f-e-c-t?” He waved the vodka around. “They’re dead… all of them.” He brought to his mouth the brown liquid, swallowing it in one burning gulp.

Hermione was too stunned to move. This was so unlike him… She kept watching Remus, transfixed, as he grabbed the bottle again and poured himself another glass, drinking deep. He placed it back on the table harshly, threatening to make the glass shatter.

She took a step forward before he spilled the drink all over the floor. “Where have you been, Professor?” she asked hesitantly. She was wondering why Ron’s mother hadn’t stopped him from getting drunk. Surely she knew Remus was here…

Then it hit her. Molly knew exactly what Remus was doing− and she had let him do it. It scared her. The world felt upside down; Ron’s responsible mother didn’t seem so responsible anymore, Remus was drinking, and she was here, standing in front of him, wondering what on earth could have happened to make Exploding Vodka the best solution. Because she wasn’t stupid: Remus was only trying to drown his sorrow into the alcohol.

“Where have I been?” Remus repeated as though it was terribly obvious. “Where have I been?” he muttered, now looking thoroughly miserable. He drank a swallow of Exploding Vodka and crossed his arms on his chest. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore.” He looked down. Strangely, paradoxically, vodka made it feel better. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry anymore, but it did seem easier to say the things he’d always kept to himself before. He fixed his gaze on the table and whispered, “Well, maybe you matter a lot.”

Hermione’s blood rushed to her temples while her heart raced in her chest. Gods, he was just drunk… he didn’t mean that, none of it, and it hurt so much to know that this was only the incoherent word of a drunken man. She wanted with all her might to disappear somewhere far away now, because if he said something like that again, she was sure she was going to break from the inside.

He saw her expression change. Slowly, as though he was holding a delicate flower that might disintegrate between his fingers, Remus put his glass down. Some more vodka would surely feel great− but somehow he no longer wanted to open the bottle again and fill his glass. He was dizzy, and the thought of what he had just said made him feel sicker than ever. He finally broke the silence, speaking in an oddly strained voice. “I think I better go to sleep.”

Yes, that was it, he could use some sleep. But then what?

Then maybe, when he woke up the next morning, he’d be able to summon up enough courage to talk to her, really talk to her the way he had wanted to do for so long. He would tell her Severus was dead. He would tell her what he felt for her.

And then he would announce to them all that he was leaving, and that he didn’t know whether or not he would ever come back.



********************************************************************
A/N: omg I can't believe this was the tenth chapter already! If you're reading this it means you've already read everything else, so thanks a lot for sticking with the story, and also thanks again to all those who reviewed.
This chapter was pretty hard to write, I wondered for a moment whether it would seem probable to see Remus drinking... before you tell me that it's a bit ooc, however, wait until you know why he's done it!!! (and yes, he was
that desperate).
Other than that... chapter 11 is on its way!!! (and it
will include the moment you're all waiting for!)

Chapter 11: Just a Dream
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Just a quick note before I let you read: all the quotes in this chapter are authentic, and don't belong to me!!!


CHAPTER 11
Just a Dream


Remus could actually feel the sweat forming on his back. He couldn’t believe what he’d done; and above all, he couldn’t believe he’d been stupid enough to get drunk in the kitchen. It had been a bad idea− and that was an understatement. Now the mere though of seeing Hermione made his insides shrivel with embarrassment.

He took his time getting to Ron’s room where he suspected Harry, Ginny and Hermione were, holding a couple of his CDs that he had managed to find downstairs. It felt like he was walking to his grave, one foot after the other, insanely going forward, advancing on the path that led only to his own destruction. All morning he had thought about what he was going to tell them and how he was going to do it, but nothing felt adequate.

Maybe being direct would be the best solution. I have something to tell you something… Severus Snape is dead, and I’m leaving. No, that would be a bit too blunt. Remus sighed− and caught sight of someone walking his way.

Hermione stopped abruptly, feeling highly discomforted. What Remus had told her the previous evening was following her around, and now it seemed to hang in the air between them. You matter a lot. She couldn’t believe he’d actually said that, and couldn’t help but wonder whether there wasn’t a remote possibility that he might have meant it. What if hadn’t just been the effect of the vodka, what if it reflected his deeper thoughts?

Remus hesitantly came up from the last step. “Er─” he started awkwardly, feeling like a fifteen year old in front of his first date. Hermione was stunningly beautiful, he realized, but that only made him feel worse after what had happened.

“You, erm─ I mean−” Hermione stammered, her cheeks on fire. More to find something to say than because she really wanted to discuss clothes she added, “Well, you… look better.”

That he did. Remus gave a rapid glance aside, rubbing rather self-consciously his cleanly shaved face. “Look, I’m really sorry… I know what you must think─”

“I’m not thinking anything,” she lied quickly, only hoping that they talked about something else. Even if she was curious to know why he had done it, it made her uneasy to have to think about the incident. Somehow she refused the idea that he had been drinking so much.

Remus gave another look around. They were alone in a corner of the corridor and hidden from sight. “Yesterday was the twelfth of August,” he declared quietly.

She noticed the regret in his voice, and it only made her fear the explanations he might give her.

He was clutching the CDs so hard that one of the covers might actually rip. He took a deep breath, like a diver ready to jump. “Lily and James married on that day... Every year, I go back to Godric’s Hollow─” Remus interrupted himself there, leaving the rest for her to guess. “I know it’s not an excuse for what I did, it’s really not,” he added quickly. “And it will never happen again.”

“Yesterday you said─” Hermione reddened, suddenly very interested in the tapestry that was hanging on her left.

It was his time to flush. Remus tucked his hands in his pockets to stop them from visibly shaking. He had been drunk, but not to the point of not remembering what sentences he had spoken. The Exploding Vodka had just been enough to make him speak the most intimate things he kept to himself.

She opened her mouth again. “I… never mind, I shouldn’t have asked−”

“I remember,” he interrupted quietly. She met his eyes and they stared at each other for a very long time.

“Professor, I−”

“Yes?” He was left there, stupidly standing beside her, so close, and at the same time so far away considering the wall that was always there between them, resisting despite both their desires to smash it down.

“I just─ nothing,” she avoided his glance. “Never mind,” she muttered silently. She was certain now that with him, she could never be herself.

His heart sank. He had thought for a second─ well, if only she had had the courage to say it… god, why couldn’t they just spit it out?

She managed to change the topic of conversation, suddenly noticing the discs he was holding. “Are you going anywhere?” She attempted a light-hearted tone.

He raised his eyes sharply, and Hermione’s heart skipped a beat. God, it should be forbidden to have such a beautiful gaze. There was something in his posture that wasn’t normal though. Remus should have laughed and replied that no, he was only trying to put some order to his things that had been lying around… and instead he was keeping quiet. He didn’t even chuckle, instead swallowing as though shielding himself for what he knew was to come.

“Yes, I’m going away.” He couldn’t believe he was managing to keep such a calm façade.

“Oh.” A sudden realization hit her. How could she have been so stupid as to forget? “I’m sorry, I─”

“Don’t worry about it. I do this twelve times a year… I’m used to the full moon.” He didn’t add what he feared he’d had to tell her eventually; that he wasn’t only leaving for a couple of days.

She nodded quickly, hating herself for having asked. Remus looked away, but she had the time to distinguish shame in his eyes, a shame that discredited his apparently casual words. Hermione started to move forward, wanting to get back to her room, but she realized that Remus wasn’t taking a step aside to let her pass.

He didn’t move, even as she glanced up at him. “I, er… There’s something else... something Ron, Harry, Ginny and you should know…” Gods, he needed to tell her that he was really leaving this time, but he couldn’t manage to say it aloud. “How… how is Ron, by the way?” Remus winced inwardly at his lack of tact.

That took Hermione by surprise. Why this sudden change of subject? “He’s better. What Molly gave him this morning did wonders; he’s awake.”

“Good.” Remus clenched the CDs harder than ever. He was so relieved Ron hadn’t been brought to St Mungo’s. The place was cursed. “Yesterday when I said that they were all dead─”

She recalled these words too. She hadn’t thought they had been important; just the incoherence of a drunken man.

“I don’t drink every year because I go back to Godric’s Hollow,” he muttered, then, seeing her puzzled expression, he added, “I come back depressed but not to the point of making Exploding Vodka the best thing.” There was a silence, then finally he declared grimly, “Severus is dead.”

She opened her mouth but no sound came out.

“You are to attend to his funeral that will take place in a couple of weeks.” Remus’s voice sounded oddly detached, as if it was not him but a stranger who was speaking. “I have to tell the others.” He looked at his feet for a moment, then walked away resignedly.

She found she didn’t have the courage to hear him break the news to them, so she slowly made her way down the stairs.

***
Remus knocked on Ron’s door. This time even Hermione was inside, whereas she hadn’t been there to see the shock on Ron, Harry and Ginny’s faces when he had announced them earlier on that Snape was dead and that he was leaving. He couldn’t believe he still hadn’t told them he was going away on a mission. One truth at a time had seemed like enough− he had just said the full moon was close− but he knew he had just delayed the inevitable.

Ron was chatting happily with the others, although Remus could feel their nervousness.

“Do you… do you have a place where you can go and transform?” Harry asked tensely when Remus came forward.

“I’m going back to Hogwarts,” Remus answered evasively. In truth he was going to the Shrieking Shack again for a couple of days.

Harry nodded quietly. “Take care,” his tone was more anxious than usual. He shook Remus’s hand, then Ron and Ginny both hugged him good-bye.

Hermione stared at them throughout the process.

“Erm,” Remus took a deep breath. Four heads turned to him. Well no, three in fact, Hermione was resolutely averting her eyes. Gods, he wished he could be a thousand miles away from here… “I’m not only leaving to transform.” He spoke carefully, testing the way as though he had to choose a path that led into the Forbidden Forest, afraid of what would happen if he made the wrong choice. “I’m going away on a mission. I’m really going away,” he added. He waited for their reactions, keeping Hermione in his side vision. He had thought maybe she would try to make him change his mind, or protest loudly just like Ron, Harry and Ginny were doing at the moment.

But she remained silent, as pale as if she had been slapped in the face.

Remus raised a hand tiredly, a gesture that made Ron and Harry fall silent. “Take good care of yourselves. Ron,” Remus nodded, “Harry.” He turned to Ron’s sister. “Keep a good eye on them for me, Ginny.” The girl smiled. Finally, Remus could no longer hide from Hermione.

“Good-bye,” he said quite formally. Hermione’s throat was so dry she couldn’t speak.

“Good-bye,” she formed silently on her lips. Remus opened his mouth again, but no sound came out. Another word would break him, he knew it. So he gathered what energy he had left to turn on his heels and walked out before… before he ended up doing god only knew what in front of the others.

***

Remus went back upstairs to grab the parchment that would explain to him the mission he was to carry out. He had left it securely locked in his desk until the very last minute, even if no one would be able to decipher the message except him. The magical ink would appear when he would be out of Grimmauld Place.

Hermione arrived in front of his room the moment he was walking out. Neither of them spoke but Remus made up his mind in a split second. There was no one around so he quietly opened his door and let her enter.

She followed him inside. She’d never been there yet. There was scarcely any furniture and the room felt empty except for the desk, closet and bed, a feeling of bareness reinforced by the white walls. Some of Remus’s personal items were scattered around; a couple of his quills, a bottle of ink and what looked, on the desk, like a photo album.

Remus saw her glance at it and wondered if she knew what these pictures meant to him. They brought out so many memories that she would never share with him… yet he suspected she would understand. Without a word he closed the door. She waited, standing in the middle of the room, shuddering suddenly. How could he even think of leaving? His place was here at Grimmauld Place, with them… with her.

Remus tried to erase all emotion from his face, to make it blank and expressionless. Polished. Composed. He gestured at the CDs that he had stacked on the desk. “You can have these,” he pointed at the discs.

She backed away. Why on earth was he giving them to her? She attempted to meet his eyes─ but he kept them down on purpose, knowing that they would betray his true feelings.

“Keep them for when you come back,” Hermione said, trying to sound casual. As he didn’t answer another thought dragged its way into her mind and she wanted it to storm out as fast as it had come. He had never lied to her; and she realized that he would keep staring at the wall rather start now…

Her voice quavered. “You’ll come back…”

It wasn’t a question, rather an affirmation she wanted to be true with all her might. She wanted to make him nod so much. She felt like slapping him hard across the face, once, twice, more if necessary… through her grief she wanted him to finally comprehend that he could stay, that he had to stay, because the moment he would set foot outside it would be the end of the world, the end of her world… she wanted to cry on his shoulder, to shout at him that he ought not to leave and, at the same time, to fall into his embrace at last.

He looked up at her fearing that he knew exactly what she felt, but he also dreaded what was to come. “Hermione, you concentrate on what you have to do in the following weeks. Ministry… career… that’s what’s important,” he tried to convince himself with his own words too, but deep inside he knew he didn’t believe a single one of them.

“I don’t care about the Ministry.”

“Sure you do…” Remus replied, the words strangely caught in his throat. He ran a hand in his hair, then said brusquely, “We all have our own paths to follow─”

“Getting killed isn’t a path, it’s a stupid order and you perfectly know it!”

Remus stared out of the window at everything and nothing. “This is my assignment, and only mine.”

She shook her head slowly, biting her lip. It would soon be too late. “Refusing the equivalent of a death sentence doesn’t make you a coward,” she said in a whisper.

“A coward turns away, but a brave man’s choice is danger.” He was quoting Euripides. “Dumbledore─”

“Dumbledore is not here! The wisest men follow their own directions,” she replied, quoting the same philosopher. She had read the same books. If he wanted to make this a spoken battle, so be it.

Remus kept staring outside the window unseeingly. Where was a man’s duty, if not for the ones he loved and wanted to protect? And yet he couldn’t say that, he wasn’t even allowed to think about it. Here, he had to end it. “It’s only my duty to─”

She didn’t let him finish. “Duty? You believe duty is a good enough excuse to leave?”

“Duty is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more, you should never wish to do less.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Robert E. Lee,” he muttered. “Muggle general.”

“I didn’t know that… But you can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” She shook her head, before adding, “Jeannette Rankin.”

In other circumstances Remus would have laughed because he knew they could have spent hours speaking in quotes. Right now, however, he feared nothing would ever make him cheerful again. Seconds were slipping by and he would soon have to go. He knew it, she knew it, yet there was nothing they could do. It was as though in a single half an hour, ever since he had announced her that he was leaving, a lot more time had gone by.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his throat tight, whishing he had the power to stop the course of time. He was about to break her heart─ but saw no alternative. This was all Dumbledore’s fault; his fault, and Voldemort’s. Would Hermione ever forgive him for accomplishing his mission? He turned to the door. “I can’t stay.”

Her hopes shattered. The hole in her heart was deepening, becoming so profound that it was killing her, second after second.

“Remus, wait!” She took a couple of steps towards him and grabbed one of his shoulders. “Wait.”

He stopped but didn’t turn around to face her. He felt agitated─ maybe because she had, at last, spoken his name; maybe because she had a hand on his shoulder. Or maybe because of everything.

“I’m not about to get killed,” he attempted to chuckle to break the tension between them. All that came out was a raw, derisive sound that he knew sounded pathetic.

“If you believe what you just said, swear to me that you’ll come back.”

She was waiting, but he couldn’t say that, because it was a promise he wasn’t sure he could hold.

“Swear it to me, Remus,” she repeated. “Swear it to me,” she implored. If only he could just answer...

She had already understood he wouldn’t, though. Because he didn’t believe it himself.

Taking out his wand Remus pointed it at the door and muttered a quiet silencio. “There is one thing I can swear to you,” he muttered with his back still to her. “One thing I’ve never told anyone…” He paused and gave a swift glance at the door, as though to make sure his silencing charm had operated properly. “I love you, Hermione.”

Tears rolled freely down her cheeks as he turned around, and he hated himself because everything was his fault. “I love you so much but I─ I have to leave…”

Her hand was still inches from his shoulder. She was now looking at him insistently, silently pleading for him to stay. It was what they both wanted; if only─

He smiled sadly. “I wish it were that simple; but I don’t have a choice.”

“You’re wrong… There is always a choice.” She scrutinized his face through her tears, looking for something she could no longer find in his gaze. There used to be a flame there, bright, burning with a desire to fight for everything worth it in life. It was gone, replaced by exhaustion; that, and something new Hermione had never seen before, a sort of terrible resignation. “There was a time when you would never have given up,” Hermione whispered. “Not on hope. Not on anything. What happened to you, Remus?” She resisted the need to ask, What happened to us?

He bit his lip with a mixture of longing and ache, before he muttered, “Things changed.”

Nothing changed.” She paused. “Only you.”

And me.

An uneasy silence fell between them, during which he wondered whether he had ever heard words that were so true─ and so painful to hear, too. Things would never be the same again from now on. Every second that passed drove them away from one another, irremediably.

Now his deep blue-gray eyes glimmered strangely as he fought a war inside against his own feelings, a war she could not understand and even less help him to win. “You have no idea who I truly am, do you? What my life is… what I’ve done…” Quietly, he thought, what I can’t give you..

“All right.” She didn’t seem offended─ only doomed to hopelessness. “Who are you, Remus Lupin?” she whispered.

“I am─” he detached the words, “─a werewolf. Don’t tell me the contrary. You might think, because I’m in the Order, and because I fight, that I’m a hero.” He looked away once more. “But what are soldiers but assassins? Hermione, I’m nothing more than a werewolf, and a murderer.”

She ignored the self-disgust in his voice. “You’re much more than that. Those who don’t see it are fools.”

He became aware, as he looked at her, that he was losing his silent battle now; the stream had become a cascade, a torrent of grief rushing down the cliffs and mountains of his heart. He spoke softly, “Love can do much, but duty more.”

The words hit Hermione as a thunderstorm, and though there were a thousand things she would have wanted to tell him she found herself staring at her feet and saying, “Johann Wolfgang Von Goeth.”

He nodded without a word.

“But you don’t really believe that, do you?” She raised her eyes with expectation and hope that he would, at last, give her the answer that she wanted.

He took a long time to respond. “No.” He shook his head slightly. “But what I believe doesn’t matter, does it?” He opened his mouth but took a long time to speak, lost in her gaze. “I’m sorry…” He knew he would soon break inside. There were so many things he had thought about telling her in his dreams, so many things he knew he’d never be able to say now that they stood face to face.

She was staring back at him, seeing, for the first time ever, tears in his so extraordinary eyes. She had never seen a man cry before. “You’re sorry,” she repeated. Her voice cracked.

Remus had never know a situation where he would so much have liked to run away, and at the same time─ he wanted to be here with her, he had craved for it to happen.

“Listen…” He came closer to her. He hadn’t meant for it; he was supposed to leave right now… get away from her; as far away as possible… But he was now feeling something else for the first time, greater than he had ever known, different from anything he had so far experienced. It was beyond his grasp but menacing to come out, a silent call to reach for her, nameless, powerful─ and uncontrollable.

“Try to consider this was only a dream…” he spoke quietly. “Beautiful, and impossible.”

“A dream,” Hermione repeated as a tear rolled all the way down to her chin. “Don’t tell me you want nothing more than a memory.”

Remus did not answer. He couldn’t leave her; not when she was crying, not now that they both knew they loved each other, not when knowing it was for the last time in days, maybe weeks, maybe eternity. “What I want isn’t important; it never was….” he answered. With hesitation he brought his hands to her face, those hands that had played the piano so well just days before. He seized her head on each side and dried her tears with his thumb, cursing himself already for what he hadn’t done yet but knew he was about to do. “What I want,” he shut his eyes, shaking his head quietly, “Is this.”

He opened his eyes and brought his lips to hers for this last moment, at the same time the first one but the one both knew would be the last.

The world stopped spinning; in that moment she lived only for him, and he for her. Quietly he held her close, savoring this instant but at the same time wondering if it would ever happen again. He stood there with his hands in hers, desperately wanting to believe that from this time forth nothing would separate them, and then he pulled away.

This time Remus turned around for good, trying to persuade himself that it had been nothing more than a good-bye kiss, knowing that from now he would be struggling to break free of this illusion, of this great, distant fantasy.

Both of them had nothing to do now but hope. Hope that they would see each other again, hope that he wouldn’t die, hope that he’d come back from the deadly mission he was to carry out.

Despite his will to linger behind Remus walked out in the fading daylight, swearing quietly under his breath.

He hated Voldemort, he hated Death Eaters, he hated Dumbledore and his missions, the Order of the Phoenix, and everything that parted them and the fact that it was an impossible love.

And above all he hated being the dusk, if Hermione was the dawn.



**************


A/N: I know this sounds quite final, and I could actually have ended the story there!!! But I don't want everyone to throw cyber objects at me so I WILL continue it! I really don't feel like it's finished (and neither do you, right? lol), and I still have lots of ideas for what'll happen next. So yes, I'll post another chapter soon, and there'll be plenty of more!!!
Other than that, thanks so much to everyone who reads/reviews, and I'm looking for a beta-reader who already has some experience to beta-read the following chapters of this story (my beta-reader is very busy at the moment). If anyone who's familiar with the plot is interested, e-mail me!!


A/N: I'm sorry for not updating sooner, I've had a lot of work lately. Thanks to everyone who reviewed, you must know by now how much it means to me! It seems you're all glad I'm continuing this story, and thanks for not throwing too many things at me (I did get a candy cane though, now that I think about it lol). Anyway, enjoy!

CHAPTER 12
Reunion


The nine days that followed were the longest in Hermione’s life. Every single second was ever-lasting, and she wondered how she survived with no news. Not one single word from anyone, not even Order members, to tell her whether or not they knew how Remus was doing. She didn’t dare ask more often than Harry, Ron and Ginny did in case it looked suspicious; but the worst was not to know when he would be back─ if he ever was. It could be the next second, the next hour… the next day…

Or never.

He came back on a drizzly, rainy day. It was about four in the afternoon and Grimmauld Place felt terribly lonely as Hermione sat in the couch of the living room, letting her thoughts wander. Harry, Ron and Ginny were in their rooms, occupying themselves in some way or another. As for her, she just sat there, her mind numb, feeling, as she had felt for the past nine days, as though she had nothing to live for. She couldn’t bear it. What would she do next? Nothing. If he never came back, it would be the end of her.

It was the sudden, unexpected voices that shook her out of her drowsiness. She heard the pounding of feet as Ron, Ginny and Harry rushed down the stairs and into the entrance hall, then the front door shutting. It was deafening and almost unbearable: one minute the entire house had been surrounded by a deep, depressing silence; the next one was accompanied by an explosion of joy.

Hermione stood up− and remained immobile. She was alone and surprisingly feeling, if possible, more disconcerted than before. It was strange. For the past week she had been waiting for this─ because it was unmistakably Remus who had come back, judging by the distant voices now animatedly talking together─ but now… what on earth would she tell him?

Given the way they had left each other, it would be quite… complicated. Would he act as though nothing had happened? She hoped not. And she had a feeling he wouldn’t, because she knew, somehow, that he had been sincere. What he had told her, that evening in his room, wasn’t something he had said because he knew she had wanted to hear it. No. He had been honest.

But then what? Would they have to hide from the others, would they have to lie and pretend nothing was going on between them?

Or maybe−

Gods, no. Would Remus want to end it? He had seemed pretty desperate that evening, and it had sounded as though he was only kissing her because it would be the last time they’d ever see each other again. But now… would he want to leave it at that, would he tell her, again, that their relationship was impossible?

“Get me some air─” Remus gasped, though he couldn’t help a chortle of amusement. It was so good to be back. Just the smiles on Ron, Harry and Ginny’s faces, plus the relief in Molly’s expression were worth a million Galleons to him. He had been so afraid never to experience that cheerfulness again.

Harry had taken a couple of steps backwards and was staring at Remus’s right hand, which was wrapped in a bandage. “Don’t worry about it,” Remus said in response to his silent question. He drew the sleeve of his coat over his hand. “I’m fine. Really,” he added, seeing the unconvinced expression of now Ron and also Ginny. Molly gave him a quick glance but said nothing; he’d tell her what had happened later, when they would be alone. It seemed she couldn’t help but wonder whether or not he was about to pass out from exhaustion and hunger though, because she was looking at his pale face, tired eyes and thin body with concern.

Harry and Ron lost no time questioning him about what he’d been doing. “So you’ve made it, haven’t you? You succeeded in whatever mission you had to accomplish?” Ron started.

“Ron,” Molly said reproachfully, “Remus needs to rest, and besides, it’s Order business…” Her voice was covered by Ron, Harry and Ginny’s complaints that they were of age now to know about Order secrets. Remus let them argue, the corners of his mouth quirking up in a smile. Some things definitely didn’t change.

“So what, when we’re thirty you’ll still be ordering us around?” Ginny told her mother indignantly. She wore a scowl that would have made anyone back away− but then again, this was Molly she was talking to.

Remus saw Ron’s mother about to retort something, so he quickly decided that it was becoming urgent they talked about something else. “I’m going out again in two days,” he suddenly declared. He wasn’t sure he had spoken loudly enough for them all to hear; but apparently he had, because they all fell quiet.

Ginny turned around, her mouth slightly opened as though she could not believe a word of it. Ron slowly took out his hand from his pocket, and Harry blew out a gust of air. “No way,” he muttered. It seemed he didn’t know whether to laugh or panic. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”

Remus chuckled. “I was only just informed by Dumbledore. You’re taking your Apparition Tests and applying for a job the day after tomorrow. I’ll be coming with you to the Ministry of Magic.”

“We’re going out… out…” Ron repeated dreamily, as if the word brought out a distant memory. “Yeah… Isn’t it when you get to see the sun, the flowers, and the trees?” He pointed out at their pale faces, and then added jokingly, “Isn’t it also when you have a chance to get a tan?”

“I doubt there’ll be any occasion to see much of the sun at the Ministry, but yes, that’s it,” Remus replied. He tried to sound casual, not wanting to scare them, but he already knew it wouldn’t be a fun day. He wasn’t so keen on going out again, not after what he had just lived through. He didn’t have the details yet, but they’d probably not be going to the Ministry flanked by ten too-easily recognizable Aurors; instead they’d be disguised as ordinary Muggles. No, it would be a dangerous journey; one during which, he hoped, nothing would happen. He’d have to make sure they all came back safe and sound.

“Where’s Hermione?” Ginny suddenly asked, taking a look around.

Remus froze. It was indeed a good question. He had gone to transform, he had fought Death Eaters, he had been hurt, and he was exhausted− but for the sake of it he couldn’t fathom what he’d ever be able to tell Hermione now. She had been in his thoughts from the moment when he had slammed shut the door of Grimmauld Place upon leaving to now. She had been the reason he had fought so hard to stay alive; she had been the one he had made sure to come back for.

And now he was wondering what on earth they would tell each other when they were alone again. He was half-hoping that she’d chosen to forget about what had happened− the other part wanted nothing more than to hold her in his arms again.

“She probably doesn’t know Remus came back, I’ll get her,” Ron declared, but just as he was about to turn around Hermione walked in.

“We’re going to the Ministry in a couple of days!” Harry said brightly when he saw her. “Finally!”

Hermione stared at him; for some reason she hadn’t registered a word of what Harry had said. “We’re− what?” She eventually asked. Harry repeated that they were going to the Ministry soon. “That’s great,” Hermione answered absentmindedly. Her gaze was fixed on Remus, who was looking back at her now. They didn’t talk and didn’t move, instead communicating silently.

The others were oblivious to the messages they were exchanging, but it was all there. Hermione’s lips trembled slightly as Remus stared back at her, because in his eyes she saw the love that he had for her and everything else, the tiredness, the weariness, the images that haunted him.

Remus didn’t look away. For a moment he struggled to make his gaze devoid of all emotion, but he couldn’t hide any of it, not from her. He let her see it the bottom of his feelings, dropping all pretense, uncovering without even realizing it every secret he had ever kept to himself. He was like a soldier seeking comfort, wanting nothing but to forget the fights, the pain and the murders. He couldn’t believe he’d been wondering just instants before whether or not their love would have faded away by now. It was as intense as ever before.

He could have stared into these eyes forever, but it would have looked suspicious, so instead he turned to Molly, who asked him immediately whether he wanted to eat, drink, or just go to sleep. Sleep… he had almost forgotten what it felt like. However, some solid food would feel great too, and after he’d eaten he’d be able to sleep better than on an empty stomach. He spoke to Molly with a slightly hoarse voice. “Did you mention having some stew left?”

***

“Are you sure you don’t want some more?” Molly handed him some cake again. Remus shook his head; he had eaten so much already. “I’ll go and sleep a bit, just a couple of hours and I’ll be back for dinner. Just−” he hesitated. “Do you have antiseptic?” he pointed at his hand with his chin; he’d have to clean the bandage.

“Of course,” Molly said with unease. “There’s some upstairs in the Potions cabinet. You want me to help you?”

“No, thanks. I’ll manage.”

“What happened−” Molly started, but he shook his head slightly. “I’d rather tell you this evening, when Arthur’s back. That way you’ll hear the entire story. As for now−” Remus stood up and stretched his legs, “I need some rest.”

Yes, that was it, he thought as he helped to clear the table. He also needed to talk to someone again. Crossing the living room, he told Harry, Ron and Ginny that he was going upstairs, satisfied to know that Hermione must be alone in her room. She opened the door as soon as he knocked and he entered, feeling very unsure of himself suddenly. Being in front of her, alone, was proving harder than he had thought. It had been ten days, after all. Ten long days.

“You must be exhausted…” she started hesitantly when the door was closed.

He nodded. “Yes… I am.” He didn’t seem too bothered by the idea though, because he came closer. His hand was in pain, but that didn’t matter at the moment. He noticed the scrolls of parchment on her desk, the light filtering through the curtains and every other insignificant detail he normally wouldn’t have cared about but that he now wanted to remember forever.

Hermione gawked at his face. She couldn’t sort out her own feelings. She had been waiting for this for so long, but this was so sudden, so… unexpected… well, no, it was expected, but she was still embarrassed. They hadn’t really spoken to each other yet; nothing had changed, had it?

“I thought─” she started in a strangled voice. All the accumulated tension that had been building up in the past few days was threatening to come out at once. “I thought maybe you were─ that you were─”

“I’m here,” Remus whispered.

“I know, but I thought you were…” Her voice caught when she muttered, “Dead.”

“Hermione, it’s all right,” he whispered. She was like a tangible dream, a vision he was almost afraid to touch lest she might disappear. He reached out for her, stopped halfway in getting her arm, not quite knowing if he should cross the invisible barrier between them. He would have liked so much to tell her he loved her again, but that was something he couldn’t quite decide himself to say. He didn’t dare cross that almost indistinguishable line between what was said and what was implied, between what both of them knew and what neither of them was able to say aloud. Maybe they needed to take a bit of time, not rush this moment too much.

On the other hand−

Remus had waited enough already. The idea that someone might see them like that entered his mind but he pushed it away.

“I came back…” He took her hand, forcing himself to relax, and then he smiled slightly and drew her quietly into his arms, wrapping them around her. Nothing in the world had ever felt so good. He hadn’t realized just how much he craved to be with her. She rested her head on his shoulder, squeezing his hand, even crushing it as though to make sure he was really there.

“I−” he gritted his teeth. “Hermione−” He blew out a gust of air, biting his lip against the pain.

She let go of him. “What did I−” she started worriedly, afraid she had done something wrong, but then she noticed he was holding his injured hand with his other. “What happened to your hand?”

He stared at the bandage grimly. “It was a− it’ll need some time to heal.” Remus said no more. She would be better off without the details anyway. Maybe later, when he’d have enough courage and when he’d have had the time to forget some of the horrors he had witnessed in a single week, he’d explain her. Right now, it became more and more urgent that he get some sleep.

“Oh. Of course,” Hermione said, mortified. “Sleep well.” God, Remus had barely come back and she was already trying to hold him back with her.

“I’m glad you’re back.” She met his gaze again. He was exhausted and wanted a shower and a couple of hours to rest, and yet he had come to see her. She couldn’t have been able to tell how much it meant to her.

“So am I,” he spoke quietly, hardly managing to keep his voice steady.

***

Dinner was very enjoyable. Remus felt a lot better; even two hours of sleep had done wonders. It also helped that he had been able to wash, shave and stop being constantly on the watch. He sat beside Hermione, and, even if they didn’t dare talk more than usual with the others around, both were glad that there were no more things left unsaid between them.

The joyful reunion lasted a long time. They took out some chocolate, sipped some tea, talking all the time, until finally it was so late that Ginny and Harry started yawning every other minute.

“All right, bed everyone,” Molly declared. Harry frowned but didn’t argue, and exited the room followed by Ginny. Ron soon followed suit, dragging his feet reluctantly for good measure, but otherwise not complaining too much− Remus knew that he was as sleepy as the rest of them.

Arthur turned to Remus, who knew that now they’d have to discuss some much more serious business. Order business. He wasn’t particularly thrilled at the idea of having to relive everything again, but it was necessary. “Where do you want me to start?” he asked Arthur.

Ron’s father didn’t answer immediately. Remus was startled for a moment, surprised at his lack of response, but then he understood. God, was he such a fool? He’d have to be more careful from now on and not take Hermione’s presence at his side for granted. “Er−” he hesitated before saying, “Hermione− would you mind−” he looked away. Why did it have to be him asking her to get out of the room?

That gave her pause. “Oh.” She had totally forgotten about the Order. “Of course.” She smiled slightly at Remus, not wanting either Arthur or Molly to notice anything strange. Remus looked back at her; it was a gentle, longing and romantic glance that made her breath catch in her throat.

Hermione left, getting back to her room. She tried to fight off her need to sleep, attempting to stay awake until, maybe, she could speak to Remus again before he went to sleep… but she was tired… and after all, they would have all the time in the world together now… gods, she was just sotired…

Remus was exhausted too. It felt like eternity again ever since he had had some sleep. At least he was done with this. He finished his tea, the liquid soothing his raspy throat. He had talked so much… “Hey, I’m fine,” he felt the need to add. He had never seen Arthur and Molly so pale; Molly’s face seemed to have no more colors than his mug, come to think of it. “Really,” he added. It had been a tough week, but he was home now.

“The kids are going to ask about your hand,” Arthur pointed out. “What will you tell them?”

Remus didn’t give Molly enough time to speak. “The truth, for a change.” He had just made that decision. “Oh, Molly, stop fussing about them not being old enough to hear this kind of news,” he added with slight irritation. Molly looked taken aback. “Whether it’s in a week or a month, they’ll join the Order anyway, and none of us will be able to prevent it. Now,” he gave a glance at his hand, “I’m not going to say I fell and cut my wrist. I’m going to tell them it was a curse and that it’ll take some time to heal. Molly, face it: they’re old enough to fight… they’re old enough to have a place of their own now, to do whatever they please, to fall in love−”

Remus stopped there. Hopefully Molly got the point by now.

“I only want to protect them,” she whispered.

“I know,” Remus replied softly. Yes, he definitely knew what it was like to consider it a duty to look after them all. “I wish I could, too. But we have to let them live their lives, eventually.” Remus rose from his chair. Arthur nodded to him quietly, as though to thank him for trying to make Molly understand.

His legs stiff, Remus walked through the silent house and climbed the stairs. Upon arriving to the first floor he hesitated, then walked quietly to Hermione’s door. She was probably asleep by now; it really was late.

He opened the door quietly. He just… wanted to see her just for a second. But it was dark, and he knew she would probably not like the idea that he had sneaked into her room. So he stopped on the threshold, not entering, and, smiling to himself, he drew out his wand.


Chapter 13: A Promise
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Ok so this chapter is longer than the others (about 4,500 words, I think)... I know chapter 12 was a bit too short so I hope this one will make up for it. Thanks for all the reviews, as always, and keep on reading!!!


CHAPTER 13
A promise


Hermione wasn’t sure what woke her up, but judging from the amount of light that filtered through the curtains, it must have been quite late already. She didn’t get up immediately, instead lying still in her bed, looking at the ceiling. It was white and spotless, a smooth surface that was infinitely reassuring. She could hardly believe that in twenty four hours she’d be in front of a panel of Ministry officials about to give her a job. There were so many changes happening in her life that it felt like being suddenly in another universe.

The window grabbed her attention. Rays of sun slanted the room and she followed them with her gaze, smiling when she saw that they illuminated the top of her quills on the desk and her clothes on the back of a chair. The golden light went all the way to her bedside table, where the sun-rays ended up on a rose.

Her heart skipped a beat. A red rose.

Gods. It was beautiful. She knew of only one person who might offer her a rose. She wondered for a second where he had picked it up, because she knew of no rosebush around− but then she remembered that being a wizard sometimes had often unknown advantages, such as, for example, conjuring and levitating a rose to someone’s bedside table.

Extending an arm, she carefully seized the delicate flower, making sure she didn’t touch the thorns, then brought it to her face and breathed in its fresh scent.

However, it wasn’t long before she lowered it. It wasn’t so warm in the room after all. She sat up straight, listening to the silence as a new realization dawned on her.

She had thought it would be easy to be with Remus; after all, they were in love and they knew it. But it wasn’t simple at all; it was, perhaps, even more complicated than before. Firstly, she had no idea what she would tell him when they would find themselves together again. Secondly, it made her uneasy to think that no one else in Grimmauld Place would know; what would happen when they found out? She didn’t want to think about it. And, last but not least, she was terrified at the idea that she might do something wrong and lose all hope to see Remus again. How could she have been foolish enough to think it would be an untroubled and blissful life? They were at war, Remus was in the Order, and she would soon have a job.

She closed her eyes. There was one thing else. Her parents would congratulate her if she got the job at the Ministry of Magic, but Remus… what would her parents think about that?


***

Remus rubbed his bleary eyes, and with them the last tendrils of sleep. He got dressed, frowned at the sight of his surroundings− he hadn’t had the time to put everything back in place in his room the previous day− and went to the bathroom to shave. He would skip breakfast, for once; it would soon be lunchtime anyway. He had really overslept. He crossed the landing and opened the door, not even bothering to knock because it didn’t occur to him that there could be someone inside.

“Oh− sorry,” Remus said, mortified, when he glimpsed Harry. He had forgotten they shared the bathroom.

“It’s all right,” Harry said immediately. He was holding toothpaste in one hand and a toothbrush in the other. “I overslept, too. But you can come in, there’re two washbowls.”

Remus hesitated, but it didn’t seem to bother Harry. They were like family now. “All right,” he ("All right. " He) decided to accept the offer. Maybe it would give him the opportunity to have a serious conversation with Harry; not the kind where there were others around and all they could talk about was the weather.

The bathroom wasn’t huge; it merely consisted of two washbowls, a shower and a cabinet in the corner beside the door. Remus headed for it as soon as they were inside; before he did anything, he had to clean the wound that left him with a constant throb in the forearm. He had left the antiseptic he had used the day before inside the cabinet, so he retrieved the glass bottle from the highest shelf and grabbed some clean bandages on the way.

Harry hadn’t moved and was instead giving him glances now and then. Remus removed the bandage he had wound tightly around his wrist the evening before and grimaced because of the pain. The antiseptic was like a thousand needles piercing his skin, an authentic but unneeded reminder of the pain Death Eaters could inflict.

Harry still hadn’t uncapped his toothpaste. “Does it hurt a lot?”

Remus closed the bottle. “Yes,” he said simply.

There was a short pause. “How did you injure it?”

No more lies, Remus thought. He had decided to tell the truth. “A Death Eater aimed poorly when he cast his spell,” he said calmly. “He was aiming at my heart and instead slashed my wrist.” He waited for Harry’s reaction. Sure enough, he thought he saw him paling under the bathroom lights.

“It’s− er− a good thing he missed then.”

“Yes, it is,” Remus replied, having noticed the edge in Harry’s voice. He seemed… shocked, both because of what Remus had just told him and because he had gotten an answer at last. “You’ll be in the Order soon, Harry,” he said finally. “But there’s something you have to understand. When we go against Death Eaters, it’s our lives and those of everyone else we’re risking. We have no second chance.”

Harry took a long time to respond. “I get the point.”

“Good.” Remus nodded, satisfied. He finished dressing the wound and then attempted to lighten the atmosphere. “You can brush your teeth, you know. Before it’s time for lunch… I doubt toothpaste and Molly’s cooking go well together.”

Harry grinned. When he had finished brushing his teeth he grabbed a comb and struggled with his hair for a while, before giving up. “It won’t lie flat… I don’t think I’ll ever manage,” he pointed at himself through the mirror.

Remus laughed. “You wouldn’t believe the number of times I heard James saying that.” He winced inwardly as soon as the words were out. He knew the comment wouldn’t bother Harry− on the contrary, the boy liked to hear that he was like his father; it made him feel closer to the parents he had never known. No, Harry wasn’t the problem. Remus was hurting himself.

Harry put the comb away while Remus finished shaving. The silence was a bit awkward for a moment; Harry averted his eyes and Remus started washing his hands.

And then Harry spoke, staring ahead fixedly. His voice was barely above a whisper, but Remus, he knew, would never forget the question that wrenched his heart. “Where were you, the night they died?”

Remus opened his mouth but found he couldn’t speak. He gazed at the tap instead, as if, by looking elsewhere, he would be able to evade the question. He was simply too… caught off guard. Harry was only curious; his tone wasn’t at all accusatory. It was just that, a question. Just a question. And yet−

“I’m sorry I asked,” Harry said quickly when he caught sight of Remus’s expression.

But Remus answered anyway. “Sleeping,” he said. His voice was oddly flat. He had never told anyone that, not even Harry or anyone else. It felt strange to be here with the boy in front of a washbowl telling his best friend’s son what he had been doing the night his parents died. “I was asleep,” he said again. Gods, he’d been sleeping while his best friends were being murdered. The truth that he had never spoken made him feel sick, as if, by acknowledging it, he was reliving every moment of the nightmare.

“What about everyone else?” Harry asked again. “I know Sirius went to Godric Hollow that night. And Hagrid, too, and that Peter was hiding. But the rest of the Order?

Remus quit pretending he was interested in rinsing his hands and turned his head to Harry. He knew what the boy was doing, but it wouldn’t work. Harry wasn’t going to find answers here. Why he had decided to ask questions now, when he had had three years to do it, was a mystery to Remus. But it wasn’t the problem. “There’s nothing to it you don’t know yet, Harry. Your parents died because Peter betrayed them, and that’s the end of the story.”

“But−”

“No.” Remus took a breath. “There is nothing else… no hidden secrets there. I, too, sought answers for a long time. Ever since you were in third year and I found out Sirius was innocent, I tried desperately to find something else that would explain why they had died, thinking that maybe we had overlooked something else. I made theories, all, as unlikely as the others.” Remus paused, rubbing his knuckles in the palm of his other hand, trying to ease his nervousness.

“I wanted to find someone who could have prevented this,” he went on. He wanted to make Harry understand, once and for all, but this was proving harder than he had thought. “I know how you feel. It’s always better if there is somebody to blame that looks more like a monster than a man you can only pity. Peter was the only one who knew, Harry. He and Voldemort.” Remus struggled for the right words, a feeling of guilt he knew only too well rising in the pit of his stomach. “At first I tried to find a way that would have prevented it all, telling myself that I had made a mistake or had been blinded… and I wish I had been able to prevent your parents’ deaths.” Remus swallowed, surprised that he had said so much. “But I didn’t.”

“But the other Order members? Dumbledore?” Harry bit his lip, then said, “Snape?”

“Snape was with Dumbledore.”

“Snape always hated my parents. He hated me, too.”

“It doesn’t make him guilty of betrayal. Snape wasn’t responsible for their deaths,” Remus replied.

Harry scowled a bit. “He always taunted you as much as Sirius. Why didn’t you hate him?”

Why hadn’t he hated Snape? Remus hadn’t found the answer until a few weeks ago. The sight of Snape’s pale face, his hollow eyes and cold body would haunt him forever, but at least, now, he knew why. “Snape had a human side, Harry.” It wasn’t until he had finished speaking that he noticed how choked his voice had sounded. There was a time when he would never have admitted that speaking of Snape in the past tense hurt so much.

Harry seemed to consider Remus’s answer, before he gave a small nod. “I’m really sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” Remus asked. This didn’t sound like Harry much.

“For what happened to them. My father… Sirius… and Peter. I’m sorry you lost all your friends. And er−” he hesitated. “I’m sorry for never having understood that before.”

There was a silence. “I’m glad you said that,” Remus finally whispered. He could hardly believe Harry had changed so much in a week.

“I grew up,” Harry chuckled as if reading his thoughts. “Actually…” he laughed, breaking the tension, “I had to, because Ginny kept saying I reacted like a ten-year-old.”

“Really?” Remus raised an eyebrow. “Ten? Not two?”

Harry feigned offense. Then, becoming serious again, he said thoughtfully, “I guess love makes you change, right?”

Biting his lip, Remus thought his answer over. Then finally he muttered, “Yes. Love does that to a person.”

Harry smiled. “Well… I guess I’ll get going.”

“All right,” Remus answered. He didn’t turn around to see Harry closing the door; instead listening, waiting. When he didn’t hear it shutting, he sighed. He knew why Harry was hesitating. He would never stop hesitating, Remus knew, and it only hurt to think that some questions would never receive a satisfying answer.

Remus glanced at Harry through the mirror. It seemed easier to talk that way, as if the mirror allowed him to be farther away at that moment. Maybe, just maybe, with that shield between them, words would be less painful to hear. Then he muttered, “It was an ordinary night, Harry.”

The boy gazed back at him, his reflection wavering slightly as he moved out of the light. Remus watched as James’s son turned around and closed the door. So much rested on his shoulders. How fair was that? Grown-up wizards and witches were powerless to win this war, and yet he had to carry the burden of an entire world? It was heart-breaking to watch him resist everyday against the outcomes of life, a boy who should have been raised by his parents and who, instead, had had to grow up too quickly.

Remus stared back at his own reflection in the mirror.

He couldn’t help but notice the gray in his hair, or the small wrinkles on the corner of his eyes. There seemed to be more every time he came back to Grimmauld Place. He just wished Sirius was there to tease him about his looks again. There was a time when he had found that annoying, especially when they were at Hogwarts and it was before an exam and well, Sirius just wasn’t letting him study. But gods, he’d give anything to have Sirius laugh with him again.

Remus sighed and caught sight of his eyes. There was something in his gaze, he realized, that hadn’t been there before. It struck him just how tired he looked, and also how… ghostly. He had lost too much in this war; down to his own self. He simply wished he could be the cheerful Remus again; it would be so much better for everyone around. If only he could have offered Hermione more… because he knew she deserved someone much better him.

And he wondered what James and Sirius− and Peter, too− would have thought of him now.

***

“It’s important that we go over tomorrow’s agenda,” Remus told Ginny, Harry, Ron and Hermione early that afternoon. He had called them all to the kitchen for a briefing.

Arthur was there too; he had come back for lunch but wouldn’t be staying long. He unrolled some parchments that he had just brought. One of them was larger than the others; it was a detailed map of the surroundings of the Ministry. Every building was labeled, along with its entrances. There were also the names of every street, store or Muggle bus stops that went as far as approximately a mile around the Ministry, along with a series of red and blue dots that must look mysterious to anyone who had never been in the Order, but that Remus knew to be spots for guard duties.

Ron and Harry had bent over the map as soon as it was on the table. Hermione and Ginny peered at a second one, this one showing the inside of the Ministry, with its different floors and offices. Since she was just seventeen, Ginny would come along with the rest of them in order to take her Apparition test.

“How are we getting there?” Ron finally looked up from the map. “Floo Powder?”

“No,” Arthur shook his head. “It’s not the safest way. I’ve arranged with the Ministry for a car; Remus will drive you there. You shouldn’t meet any trouble; you’ll all be dressed as Muggles and no one will know you’re heading for the Ministry until you’re there. To come back, you’ll Apparate in the cellar; it’s been cleared for Apparition. That way if someone recognizes you at the Ministry−”

“Is that likely?” Ginny asked tensely. Her father gave her a swift but worried glance.

“Let’s put it this way−” Remus took a breath. “We can only hope some such as Lucius Malfoy don’t find out you’ll be taking your Apparition tests tomorrow. But if they do−” he made a vague gesture that could mean anything and everything, “Well… it’s worth the risk anyway. If you end up working at the Ministry, you’ll probably cross his way everyday.”

“But what if a Death Eater follows us and tries to Apparate with us? Wouldn’t that lead him directly inside Grimmauld Place?” Harry enquired.

“You can’t Apparate anywhere unless you picture the place inside your mind,” it was Arthur who replied. “So unless you tell them what the cellar of this place looks like, it should be safe.”

“All right. What if we don’t pass our Apparition Tests?” Hermione said nervously. “If we fail, how are we going to come back?”

“I doubt you’ll fail, Hermione.” Arthur replied with the barest trace of a smile. “Nonetheless−” he added quickly when she looked more anxious than ever, “It wouldn’t be such a problem, you’d either use Side-Apparition with Remus, or, if more than one of you fail, you’d come back with the car. Now,” he pointed at the map, “I’ll tell you exactly what paths you’ll take tomorrow. The car will be waiting for you outside Grimmauld Place. Once you land near the Ministry, right here−” he showed them a street that ended up in a dead end, “Tonks and Kingsley will meet with you and escort you inside. Don’t talk loudly, don’t stroll around, don’t stop and don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Once inside the Ministry, you’ll all head to the Apparition Center. After that, Hermione will go with Kingsley, Harry and Ron with Tonks to apply for a job. Ginny, if you passed your test, don’t linger around and Apparate back immediately. Any questions?”

Ron was still looking at the map. “Does this map belong to the Order?” he asked.

Arthur replied cautiously. “Not anymore, why?”

“I was just wondering what all the dots where for.”

“Some Order members patrolled around the Ministry a while ago,” Remus answered. His mouth felt dry suddenly, though he didn’t know why it should. It was just a map, wasn’t it? He found himself staring at the dots intently, noticing the patterns, some lines and arrows… and a few scribbled words here and there in a familiar handwriting…

“How old are the maps?” Remus asked quietly.

Hermione glanced up at him when she heard him speak. She didn’t think any of the others had noticed, but Remus’s voice was shaking slightly, as though he was having trouble keeping it steady. When Arthur averted his eyes and started rolling the parchments without a word, she became sure that something was going on between the two men that she had no idea of. Ron’s father was looking from Remus to the maps with a strange, unreadable expression on his face; he seemed both horror-stricken and sad at the same time.

Remus finally spoke with an enormous effort. “Do you have any questions?” he asked.

Harry, Ron and Ginny shook their heads.

When he crossed Hermione’s gaze, Remus noticed the small frown she wore. He knew what she wanted to know; but he wasn’t sure he could tell her what was wrong. “Very well,” he declared. “We leave at seven thirty tomorrow morning; be ready.”


***

“Arhur?” Remus entered the living room. It was late; everyone else was asleep, resting before what would be an exhausting day. He had just found the man seated, staring absent-mindedly into the fire. It was a shame that it was so cold when it should have been a warm and pleasant summer evening.

Ron’s father looked up; he was holding a bottle of beer. “Do you want one?”

Remus gave the bottle a glance before shaking his head. “What are you doing?” He went to lean against the mantelpiece near the fire. The light it cast projected shadows all around, shadows that were nothing more than the ghosts that had haunted the house for so many years.

Arhur made a vague gesture. “I couldn’t sleep…”

“Nor could I.” Remus kept quiet for an instant, maybe regretting having refused the drink. He ran his fingers over the mantelpiece, trailing them along the irregular carvings. He had no idea how ancient the furniture in his house truly was− but that only reminded him that time was a luxury they didn’t have. “How old were those maps?” he asked finally.

A muscle in Arthur’s cheek twitched. “About three years old.”

Remus’s heart tightened. They were the maps Sirius had worked on. He had known it, unconsciously, but had feared to find out that he was right. He let the silence penetrate his soul; he didn’t feel much like talking about what was going on inside of him every time someone mentioned Sirius. The wound was still too recent and too deep; it might never heal.

“I hope everything goes well tomorrow,” Arthur spoke.

“So do I,” Remus replied.

“I wish I was there to go with you−”

“No you don’t.”

Arthur made a small sound, close to a quiet laughter; but it was strained. “You’re right. I don’t.”

Remus stopped leaning against the mantelpiece and walked slowly to the armchair beside Arthur. He sank into it gratefully and looked into the fire too, trying to stare past oblivion. Would this be the last time he saw Grimmauld Place? One never knew. He felt a pang of sadness at the idea that Sirius’s last days had been spent here in these gloomy rooms and corridors. It wasn’t the most comfortable house Remus had ever lived in, but he was familiar with it now, and it felt like home somehow− but then again, he hadn’t been raised here, nor had he had to put up with its inhabitants.

“A Knut for your thoughts.”

Remus took his gaze off the flames. “I was thinking about tomorrow. Wondering… whether I’d ever see this house again.” He felt a bit foolish for admitting his fears, but he knew no one here would laugh at him.

Arthur shook his head slightly, as if he wanted to speak but couldn’t find the appropriate words. He tapped the bottle he had been holding with a finger agitatedly, then finally he laid it down and said, “Make sure you come back, all right? With all four of them.”

There was something hard in his voice, an unspoken message that Remus had already heard too many times before and that meant don’t let my kids die, protect them and swear to me that you’ll come back safe. “I will.” Or at least, he’d do his best. Arthur already knew that, but it wasn’t enough− it would never be enough.

Remus resumed staring at the fire, at the annihilating splendor of the flames that devoured the wood. He couldn’t help comparing them to Death Eaters, powerful in their destruction, a transfixing power that left nothing behind. He felt the muscles in his arm tense, and the Death Eater was aiming at him again, and again, as if he was having a nightmare while his eyes were open, and he was falling, falling, endlessly into a bottomless abyss…

“Remus?” Someone called frantically. “Can you hear me?”

The pain was so unbearable… His arm gave a spasm and Remus shuddered, suddenly finding himself back in the living room of Grimmauld Place. Arthur’s face was inches from his own, a crease of utmost concern between his eyebrows. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Remus straightened up. “Just−” he took in a deep breath. What if this happened tomorrow? For all he knew, any of them might get hurt, or worse, and he knew he would never be able to bear it if one of them died, whether it was Harry, Ron, Ginny… or Hermione. Remus closed his eyes. What if she died? What would he do then, if he came back and she never did?

“Nightmares?” Arthur asked quietly. Remus merely nodded, and the man went back to sit in the second armchair. They both resumed their staring at the fire for a moment, before Arthur spoke again. “You should talk to someone about these nightmares.”

Remus didn’t reply immediately. “I know,” he said after a few seconds had gone by. He also knew he wouldn’t do it.

“They’re not going to get any better,” Arthur said patiently.

“I know that too,” Remus replied quietly. It was true; it was getting worse year after year. Who could he talk to anyway? It wasn’t like there was anyone he could open his heart to except maybe Hermione… But he himself wasn’t sure where they were going, and he didn’t want to worry her about his nightmares.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” Arthur muttered.

“What do you mean?” It sounded like Arthur had something particular in mind.

Arthur gave him an appraising glance. “Come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Was he that easy to read when he thought of Hermione? Remus sighed. He knew Arthur only wanted to help…but he was quite uncomfortable talking about it. On the other and, if he left Grimmauld Place with too much on his mind, it might hurt his concentration. And concentration was vital.

“Can you do something for me?” he asked abruptly.

Arthur nodded. “You know I will,” he whispered quietly. “Anything.”

“All right.” Remus nodded. Then he said, “When that Death Eater almost caught me… I thought it would end there… and when I saw him aiming, I only had a split second to think, and you want to know the only thing that I could think of?” he didn’t make it a question. “I could only think that I’d never had the opportunity to be with her…”

Arthur became very still, and then he slowly turned to Remus. He talked in a whisper, almost lost among the cracklings of the fire. “What do you need from me?”

Remus drew in a shaky breath. “Only a promise. If she comes back and I never do…” He bit his lip. “I want you to− to promise me that you’ll tell Hermione that I’ll always be with her.”

There was a silence. It stretched on and on, and Remus felt it weighing on his shoulders. Then at long last, Arthur gravely held out his hand and Remus shook it forcefully, at the same time sealing the pact, as if somehow his whole future depended on that handshake.


http://www.harrypotterfanfiction.com