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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!!

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