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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.

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