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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!)

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