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Love Is Not
that alters when it alteration finds
R, het. On the longest day of the year, Hermione meets Remus Lupin in a pub. They are both suffering from midsummer madness. A slow-burning story, for Am-Chau with a pink carnation.
All things eventually come to pass. When the day is nearly over, Hermione receives a message from Ron, scrawled in shaky handwriting and dropped from the talon of a Ministry owl. She reads it quickly – he will be there when she gets home – and screws it up and throws it at the bin. She gets it in first time.
“Good shot!” calls Ginny as she passes through on her way to the Auror headquarters.
“Thanks!” Hermione calls back.
She wants to finish her work first. She is working on implementing the new Ministry directives for daylight saving time, but she feels there are much more important things she could be doing, and accordingly, she is also conducting research for an Order mission to Bulgaria in the winter. She is looking forward to it in some strange way; it will be something different, and in the dark forests and valleys, she may well have the chance to practice her Defence spells, battling against zombies and trolls and werewolves and other forces of the dark.
If she is perfectly honest with herself, just stepping into the streets of London could be considered battling the forces of the dark, and perhaps she is looking forward to Bulgaria as an escape. But as of this moment, it is still June and she has other things to think about. For example, the working time directive and the fact she is a civil servant with all the duties the term implies.
She closes the files on her desk and picks up a folder that has fallen to the floor – it is a sealed file, charmed against the touch of anyone without authorisation – and reluctantly gathers her things together. Although it is nearly seven, it is still broad white daylight outside.
She has to go home. Sooner or later, she has to go home and face him.
When she does, they do not exchange words, for the air is already thick with bitterness and Hermione is tired of lovers’ quarrels. She stands in the doorway, waiting. Ron is walking round the room, picking things up off the floor and putting them into a cardboard box. Toothbrush, comb, wizard’s hat, crumpled Chudley Cannons t-shirt, the CD Harry lent him; everything goes in higgledy-piggledy, and although Hermione would normally have shown him how to arrange his possessions neatly, she keeps her silence.
At length, it is done. Ron looks up, and Hermione speaks first. “I’ve got to go out,” she says abruptly. “Order work. Are you… will you be all right?”
Ron nods. “Fine.”
“Good.” She waits for a second, then turns and leaves, closing the door behind her. She doesn’t listen to hear if he calls her back, she doesn’t turn around. She walks down the street with her head down and her coat flapping in the breeze. She is tired, but she knows she has to walk; Apparition is out of the question tonight.
Ron will be gone when she gets back. She knows that without a shadow of doubt – she never expected him to have a sudden change of heart and stay, the way they do in Muggle films. But even if that did happen, she wouldn’t go back. Her life is different now, and she doesn’t want to be one of those women who lies on one side of a double bed and sleeps with ghosts. Ron has gone and that is enough. When she goes back, she will be tired beyond belief, and she will sleep sprawled in the middle and take up as much space as possible. She promises herself she will.
She doesn’t break promises. She isn’t Ron.
Fifteen minutes’ walk is enough. She glances around to make sure she is not being followed, then slips in through a door into a crowded Muggle pub. She has been here before; she knows the drill. Moving as though she is much more familiar with this place than she really is, she squeezes through the people and tables and seats herself at the bar.
The moment she does so, a bright-eyed Cockney girl in an apron catches her attention. “Excuse me, love?”
She looks up. “Yes?”
“Miss Granger? Would that be you?”
“Yes,” she says quickly, and fearing the worst, “Is there a message for me?”
“Yep. Bloke came in before, said you’d be in. Gorra tell you something.”
“Tell me what?” Her impatience could betray her.
“It’s all off, apparently. Whatever that means.”
Hermione knows what it means. The contact has bailed. The proposed mission, a relatively simple pick-up, will not go ahead; there will be whys and wherefores thereof, but for the moment, she is in no mood to contemplate Order politics.
But she doesn’t get up and leave. She has an evening free, all dressed up and nowhere to go, and this pub, this noisy, anonymous pub, seems as good as a place as any to spend it. She catches the eye of the barmaid again and orders a drink – gin and tonic, no ice – and watches as she walks across to the other end of the bar to retrieve the bottles, exchanging a few words with the customers. As she tosses the drink into a glass, Hermione wonders if the bright-eyed girl is a witch; it is a distinct possibility, but Hermione isn’t about to blow anyone’s cover. She takes the drink and fumbles in her pocket, pulling out a handful of coins, but the barmaid pushes them back. “No need for that,” she says, smiling. “The gentleman over there said he’d take care of it, with his compliments.”
Hermione looks across, following the pointing finger. The gentleman in question is not looking at her, and his hood has fallen across his face, throwing it into shadow.
Idly, she gives the drink a stir, takes a sip, then picks herself up and moves across. She sits down on the barstool next to the gentleman and lays her glass on the counter with a clink.
He looks up, and the hood falls away. She grins. “I thought it was you.”
“Was I that obvious?” asks Remus Lupin, whose eyes are resting mischievously on the glass in front of Hermione.
She is still smiling. “Not many people of my acquaintance are gentlemanly enough to buy a girl a drink even when they’re not trying to pull.”
He laughs outright at that. “Why, thank you. I think.”
“Of course, I’m going to remember to buy you one,” she tells him. “Little thing called feminism.”
He bows, then deliberately ruins the effect by leaping back onto the barstool. “As you wish, my lady. Tell me, what drink did you actually have?”
She grimaces. “Gin and tonic, no ice.”
“Gone off Butterbeer, have we?” He smiles; despite the fact they are in a Muggle pub, he can bandy the term “Butterbeer” about with impunity. In the smoky atmosphere, no-one is listening.
“Grown out of it, more like.” She looks up at him. “Besides, I like Muggle drinks. They remind me of my mum and dad.”
“Me, too.” He smiles.
“You? I thought you were pureblood.”
“Half,” he corrects.
There is an awkward silence; neither seems to be able to think of anything to say for a moment. Finally, Hermione bows to the inevitable question. “What are you doing here?”
He glances at her. “Another Order member was supposed to be making a pick-up here. A contact from Gringotts in Egypt is doing his bit to help finance the war effort, and some items of some value, shall we say, are headed for English soil. Unfortunately, said contact has suffered a crisis of confidence and won’t be here tonight.”
She is staring at him. “You were supposed to be here instead of me?”
Remus shakes his head. “No, no. Do you think Dumbledore lets anyone do anything without some kind of backup? I was here in case anything turned nasty. When the whole thing was scrubbed, I was left at something of a loose end. And so, of course, were you.”
She still isn’t convinced. “But Harry and Ron…”
“Worst possible choice, no offence intended. They’re not good at blending into a crowd, either of them. And you’d never expect me to be here, so you wouldn’t have blown my cover by turning round to look at me.”
“Right.” She nods, and then: “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. It’s my job, after all.”
“So it is.”
She sighs deeply, and Remus, quick to catch on changes in mood, asks, “Something the matter?”
She takes another sip of her drink. “I wouldn’t want to bore you with it.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”
“I would.” She gives him a look that he has seen before on many different faces; a look he has learned to fear.
He spins round to face her. “Hermione, I’m not going anywhere. And neither, I suspect, are you.”
“You’re right.” This time, the sigh is almost a groan. “It’s not as if someone’s waiting up for me at home.”
Remus nods. “Ah.”
“What?” She is genuinely surprised at his look of understanding.
He smiles briefly and says, “It’s about Ron.”
“Is it written on my forehead?” she asks, letting the bitterness show through.
“Only for me.” The gentleness in his manner makes her want, for a brief moment, to wrap her arm around his shoulders and let him make her tell him everything.
There is silence.
Then she bursts out with it. “Yes, Ron!” For a moment, she is angry. “Ron. Everyone thinks it’s, you know, meant to be,” she continues bitterly. “We were best friends for years, then when we finally took the next step it seemed like everyone knew about it but us. And we did everything we were supposed to. You know, go out, hold hands in public, plan what we’d call our children. And now…”
“And now?” Remus prompts, gently.
“He only thinks he’s bloody gay, doesn’t he?” she bursts out, and if she was looking closely enough, she might have seen a flicker of amusement cross Remus’s features. In the meantime, she has realised whom she has said this to, and immediately adds, “Oh, God, sorry! I didn’t mean…”
“Don’t worry about it.” He lays a hand on her arm. “Did he really say that?”
“Something along those lines. He wants time to find himself, he says. Where’d you last see yourself, I said. He got annoyed, he said it was probably over between us, he said, I said, we said, they all said…”
Remus halts the diatribe with a word. “Hermione. Upsetting as it might be, I think you may have to allow him this. Neither of you would have been happy.”
“Oh, I know.” And she does know. “I know. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.”
There is another silence, but no awkwardness this time; Hermione is rubbing the fabric of Remus’s cloak between her fingers, the material thick and soft on her skin. Finally, she takes it upon herself to speak. “Maybe I need another drink.”
He grins. “Maybe. Maybe I do, too.”
She looks straight at him. “If we’re drowning our sorrows, it’s your turn to kiss and tell.”
He shrugs. “Nothing new. Love, loss, the futility of life, same sort of thing as you.”
She makes a face at him in reply. “I’ve never been in love.”
“You don’t want to be. It’s very messy. Involves you behaving in ways you never would normally. In fact” – and he is warming to his topic – “I do think that being in love should be a valid defence in court. Beats temporary insanity by a long shot.”
She is smiling a little. “That’s very cynical.”
“I’m an old cynic, so sue me.” More seriously, he continues, “And I have been in love. Grant me the wisdom of age.”
“You’re not that much older than me, surely?” Her eyes are shining with mischief, and he knows it, but he goes on anyway.
“Hermione, I was your teacher. I am an entire person-who-can-drink older than you are.”
“That was a long time ago.” Hermione looks thoughtful. “Seven years. You’re not my teacher any more.”
“I haven’t been a teacher since then,” he tells her, shaking his head ruefully.
“I don’t believe you. You’re a born teacher. We all thought you were.” She hesitates, then plunges on: “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I had something of a crush on you when you were teaching. Lots of girls did.”
“Surely you’re getting me confused with Gilderoy Lockhart?”
His look of discomfiture is so comical that Hermione wants to laugh. “Sadly, no,” she says. “By the time we got to you, we’d learned to hide it better. You did that whole vulnerable academic thing very well. You still do, actually.”
Something seems to strike him. “Is that why you kept my secret?”
She has the grace to look a little embarrassed. “That could have been part of it, yes.”
He shakes his head, but is smiling. “Well, well. You learn something new every day.”
“Of course,” Hermione says, “all of that was before we discovered you were terminally unavailable.”
“Sirius?” he asks, a familiar note of sadness clinging to his voice. “Of course, yes. Terminally unavailable, indeed.”
“Well, no,” she replies. “Sirius was only part of it. You’re not all that interested in female company, are you?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say that. I’m enjoying this little talk very much indeed.”
He brushes his hair out of his eyes. “Hermione, I’m not actually gay, for the record.” He pauses, then smiles. “I am in fact dichotomy personified. Half-blood, half-human, half gay and half straight.”
“Oh!” She is rather pleased. “I didn’t know that.”
“Not many people do. Sirius took over my life for a long time.”
“Which is the real reason you’re happy to sit here with me and get drunk.”
He blinks at how quick she is. “Quite so. Sirius, who drank beyond reason; Sirius, whom I loved beyond reason; Sirius, who used to claim his one ambition in life was to see me drunk beyond reason. Sadly, he never achieved it.”
She laughs. “Maybe I will.”
“Probably not. Unless you really want to make a night of it, and even then it would still be unlikely.”
She catches onto the implication in the sentence. “Make a night of it? Well… do you have somewhere pressing to be?”
He shakes his head. “Not at all. You?”
“Me neither. Haven’t we already established this?”
“So we have. We’re just two lost souls in a goldfish bowl…”
He raises his eyebrows, clearly impressed. “Very good.”
“Thank you.” She pauses. “Does this mean I’m allowed to get you drunk?”
“Well, that depends. It’s probably not a good idea for Dumbledore’s brightest and best to indulge in such unseemly behaviour, but call me irresponsible.”
“You’re irresponsible.” Hermione realises as she says it that she is unconsciously playing off his verbal cues; they have both slipped into a state where they are faintly aware of what the other is about to say before it is said.
She picks up her glass and drains it. The sight of the empty glass reminds her for a moment of how she had originally planned to spend the evening. “You’re not supposed to Apparate drunk, are you?” she remarks.
“A risk of being splinched, so no,” he agrees. “Why, do you have to?” He wonders why she has brought the conversation round to the subject of departure, but confusion is averted by the barmaid’s clear voice.
“Last orders, please!”
Hermione shakes her head, and with a sigh, swings her legs off the barstool. Without thinking about it, he follows suit.
“I can walk,” she elaborates. “I’m staying in London for the time being. Ron came by this afternoon and moved all his stuff out, but I’m not sure I can face going back to the flat.”
“I couldn’t do it,” he says.
They are at the door of the pub, caught on the threshold. Hermione steps out first. After a moment, Remus follows.
Last orders are late, but this is the longest day of the year. The darkness is still far off as they walk slowly down the streets of London, eyes adjusting to the stark blue-white daylight after the dimness of the pub. There are still Muggles out and about, not all of them sober.
Hermione finds herself still leaning on Remus’s shoulder, feeling curiously disembodied and comfortable. On a whim, she lifts one of his hands in hers, inspecting it. The long fingers and clean translucent nails are disappointing in a strange way; she had expected some outward sign of the fact this hand is sometimes a paw, but she lifts her eyes, notices him laughing at her, and shrugs and lets go.
He is still thinking about what she has said. “There’s nothing worse than the space where someone ought to be.”
She decides not to ask how he knows, and steers the conversation over to safer waters. “I suppose I could have stayed at Hogwarts. Dumbledore did say…”
“Me, too.” He nods. “I’m not really living anywhere full-time at the moment. If it comes to it, I can go back to Hogwarts.”
“Back to the age of innocence,” she says, laughing, and he raises his eyebrows.
“For you, maybe.”
“No, not me either. They say your schooldays are the best of your life, but when you consider everything we got up to…”
They both look out towards the horizon, as if they expect to see Hogwarts looming somewhere close at hand. “That is very true. All those lovely rites-of-passage. Your first trip to Hogsmeade, your first drink, your first awkward fumble behind the greenhouses…”
In mock-indignation, she says: “Professor Lupin!”
“Yes, Miss Granger?” he asks, all innocence. “First times are very important, I hope you realise.”
“First time doing what?” She is still feeling mischievous. “Seeing as you’re asking…”
“I am not!”
“You are, though.” She sighs, and feels that she may not be behaving characteristically, but finds it hard to care. “And I may as well as tell you, seeing as we’re confessing all. First time – during the summer holidays after seventh year. With Ron. At the Burrow. Very discreet.”
“Oh, I’m sure.” After a moment, he realises she is waiting for him to say something. “What?”
She looks expectant. “Your turn.”
“Oh, come on. Please? You’re not my teacher…”
His eyes are narrowed. “Even so, I don’t think…”
“Remus!” She sticks her tongue out at him and stops walking. With her arm wrapped around him, he can go no farther.
He makes an attempt to glare, but relents. “Oh, all right. With Sirius.” And his eyes are dancing with mischief again. “In his bed in the dormitory. Quietly.”
Her eyes widen. “Did you… did you have the same dormitory as Harry and Ron had?
“That depends. Could you see the lake from the window?”
Her eyes widen further. “Yes! Oh, god… I didn’t think…”
Remus is already laughing. “You did ask for it!”
“I did, that’s true.” She pauses before going on. She has been caught up in their banter, without thinking about where she is and where she going, and the flat she was sharing with Ron is getting closer.
Remus feels her silence long before they come to their destination, but it is only then he speaks, soft meaningless words about a pleasant evening in good company.
Hermione wonders about what she is about to do; whether it is sensible, or practical, or even normal, but such considerations are losing their importance in her mind. There is a certain inevitability about it all.
She knows he knows. There is something strange about this; something almost wicked about having those thoughts about a man her thirteen-year-old self lusted after, but she is older now. She doesn’t use the tired old euphemisms; instead, she simply beckons.
He tosses his head, making the light catch in his eyes, and he follows her.
Her room is all white and pale blues; clothes are all over the floor and books are lying open on every surface. She ignores all of it, with eyes only for the familiar figure standing in front of her. The context has made him into a stranger.
They will both wonder later if events would have unfolded like this if there hadn’t been alcohol involved; in any case, there is no way of going back and finding out. Neither of them says, “This isn’t a good idea,” because they both know this is midsummer madness, but this is something that had to happen.
She looks up at him, still mischievous even when they have fallen back on the bed with her underneath. He is balancing on his elbows, letting his cloak fall into a brown puddle on the floor. “Hermione,” he mutters, not allowing his weight to crush her and destroy the moment.
She wonders when exactly they arrived on first-name terms, whether it was years ago or whether it was tonight, and is profoundly grateful that it did happen; and she is grateful in ways she cannot express that this, this is about to happen.
She has let her hands wander into his hair, pushing it back from his face and then letting her fingers entangle in it, and kissing him is ridiculous but something she does anyway.
His hands are moving as hers are, fingers deft with buttons and clasps, and she feels herself falling into his arms so her weight must be crushing him, filling his world and changing it. She breathes in his scent of coffee and cigarette smoke, clinging to him, digging her fingers into his shoulders so she feels the outline of the bite-scar cut into the skin.
They fuck messily and gracelessly, entwined in a tangle of limbs and clothing and white sheets, bathed in late-night daylight from the window. She finds her face buried in the cool of the pillow, her fingers clutching at the sheets, and somewhere among the alcohol and lust, she has lost the capacity for rationality. Half-formed thoughts flit through her head: what will Ron think, he must never find out, this is twisted, bizarre, the definition of rebound….
But she can’t think any more.
She comes but doesn’t scream, he remembers not to bite, and they both forget to fall asleep at once, lying there breathless and pale through the short night.
In the cool of the morning, Hermione wakes amidst the mess and sees the slivers of light playing over the ceiling. She needs no clichéd moment to remember; she knows at once what happened, and that Ron is gone. There is a breeze blowing in, and the curtains, light and translucent, are billowing into the room.
She feels movement close by. Hermione tugs at one of the sheets and feels it again, the smooth sweep of a bare foot against her skin. Remus is lying face-down, with only his shaggy hair visible above the covering. He shifts again. Hermione realises it must be his movements that have woken her. The decadence of the moment makes her shiver. Remus Lupin, a sleeping, naked werewolf, her teacher, is lying in her bed with limbs splayed in flagrant insolence.
She knows he will wake soon, within minutes, perhaps, and there will never be a way to recapture this silence before the day, so she lies still.
And presently he does wake; his eyes are wide and amber and amused. She doesn’t speak, and neither does he. But she gets out of bed, trailing a sheet, and goes off to get dressed. She takes her time in the bathroom; at first, she is self-conscious about her actions, but she begins to forget. Once she has taken a shower and charmed her hair dry, she takes a minute to stare at her reflection and think about where the frizzy-haired thirteen-year-old has gone.
Then she has to go out again and face the werewolf in her bed. She sits on the side of the bed with a thump, making sure she lands on his foot.
“Serves you right.”
“What for?” His eyes sparkle. She thinks of Ron for some insane reason; Ron who would never have looked at her like that, particularly in those last days; Ron who could never have looked so doe-eyed and innocent while sprawled in someone else’s bed.
“For everything,” and she laughs suddenly. She pads across, leans down and kisses him once. He doesn’t resist.
For a moment, she considers just falling back into bed with him. She wonders what it is about him that makes her behave differently, and the thought is mingled with a rising feeling of desire. Maybe – and her subconscious warms to the idea – she could skip work, skip life, forget about Ron and the Order and the fact her hair is fresh-washed, and just remember the night-like-daylight and bedsheets still warm from sleep and sex.
But now it is morning and she is Hermione Granger and she can’t do that.
So she turns her back on him, grabs bag and wand from the table by the window, and darts for the door.
She throws herself into her work that day. The Working Time Directive is being implemented in all wizarding workplaces, and her quill is busy, busy, scribbling away ceaselessly until the day ends.
By the time she returns, there is no real sign he was there. A few crumpled sheets and the occasional stray long brown hair still linger, but she knew he would be gone.
The flat is so empty. She drops her bag on the floor and walks round, pulling the bed straight and watches as her wand drops out of her hand and rolls across. It is so quiet that she can hear every skitter of polished wood on cotton as it comes to a stop.
The kitchen is no better, with the light from the window reflecting bleakly off the white tiles and the sound of the kettle unnaturally loud in the silence. She leans against a radiator and looks out, telling herself she is interested in the movement of the lime tree below, watching each yellow-green leaf wave in the gentle summer breeze, but she knows she is waiting for something or someone to appear and make it so she doesn’t have to use a full kettle of boiled water for one cup of coffee.
As she stands there, she feels tears rising up. She hates the sound of crying in the quiet, so she stifles it and tries not to listen to her own shuddering breathing. She concentrates on anything but that – the whistling kettle, the dripping tap, the birdsong, the sound of her own footsteps – and walks, round and round, through into the bedroom and back to the kitchen and to the bedroom again where the sheets are straight and clean and have been slept in, and she cries.
She is sitting at the kitchen table, nursing her cup of coffee, waiting as the storm recedes, when it occurs to her to wonder for whom she is crying.
And at that moment, someone with flaming red hair marches through the door. The bright flash of colour is all she sees for a second, until the tears clear. “Ginny?”
“Hello,” Ginny says matter-of-factly, and sits down at the table opposite her. “I didn’t think you’d hear me knocking, so I let myself in. It’s Ron’s key, I’ve brought it back.”
“Ron?” she asks, and looks up properly to see the light bathing the other girl’s unexpectedly pale face, drawn in concern.
“Yes, Ron,” replies Ginny. “My brother, whom you have been living with for the last six months and generally spending a lot of time with for a year and a half.”
“And you’re here…” Hermione stops. “Why are you here?” she asks, but feels she knows the answer. She has no brothers, only a younger sister who is a Muggle and too far removed from her life and world, and so has never felt outrage on another’s behalf, but perhaps Ginny is no stranger to the feeling.
“Oh, Hermione.” Ginny looks at her keenly. “Do you know where Ron is tonight?”
Dumbly, Hermione shakes her head.
“He’s out with Fred, George and Harry. They’ve gone to the Three Broomsticks to get royally pissed.”
“You know, pissed. Rat-arsed. Bladdered. Arse over tits. For Christ’s sake, drunk!”
“I heard you the first time.” Hermione almost smiles.
“Just so long as we’re clear. Anyway, they’re off getting pissed, and Mum’s all in a tizzy and apparently of the opinion that Ron’s going to kill himself when we all know he’s going to end up under the table singing… what is that stupid song he always sings when he’s drunk?”
“The Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered At All,” Hermione provides automatically. “It’s a Muggle song, I think Harry taught it to him.”
“Right. Yeah, so Mum’s throwing a wobbly and only then do I discover that no-one’s so much as checked up on you since last night, so I knocked a few heads together and Apparated my arse over here.”
Hermione blinks. “I thought…”
“I thought you would be angry with me,” she explains shamefacedly. “Because I broke your brother’s heart, or something.”
Ginny snorts. “Sounds more like he broke yours. Or it was mutual. Or whatever, it doesn’t matter. You’re still my friend. And I brought you a present.”
As she speaks, she lifts something heavy out from under the table and puts it in front of Hermione, who pulls away the polythene bag wonderingly. The plastic crackles and reveals a set of six bottles, gleaming in the cool light. She feels herself begin to smile. “Ginny! You shouldn’t be buying alcohol!”
“And why not, pray?” demands Ginny indignantly. “I’m nineteen years old, I’m legal, plus I’m in funds. What, you’re telling me you’re not going to enjoy this little lot?”
Hermione says nothing, but she is smiling properly now and Ginny continues, “You like Smirnoff, don’t you? It’s not much, but we’re going to share it and get very drunk and bitch about men. Fuck ‘em all.”
“Fuck ‘em all,” Hermione repeats, and grins. “Sounds like a plan.” She extracts the contents of the plastic bag and uses her wand as a bottle-opener. “Did you get Black Ice?”
“No, it’s bloody foul and I don’t know how you can drink it.”
Hermione opens another bottle and throws it across. “Pineapple Bacardi?”
“Welcome to the Latin quarter,” Ginny says, tipping the bottle so the clear liquid pours into her mouth. They both laugh and Ginny chokes.
The sun continues edging towards the horizon and shadows move across the table and onto the floor. The alcopops are sweetened and luscious and make the world mellow.
When they have quite settled into bottle number three, and have worked their way through emotional insecurity, commitment phobia and every other common-room cliché in the book, Hermione lays the bottle down and abruptly starts crying again. Ginny stays recumbent at first, lazily tapping her fingers on the glass, but continued tears have a sobering effect and her arm slips around Hermione’s shoulders as the tears become harsh, broken sobs.
“Hermione?” Ginny’s voice is soft and anxious. “What is it?”
Hermione grabs fretfully at the bottle cap and twists it, her fingertips aching from the ridged metal. She can’t stop herself from doing it, just as she can’t stop herself from crying.
“Hermione!” Ginny is becoming really worried, watching her out of large, fearful eyes. “Please tell me.”
And in a few strange and difficult words, Hermione tells her about the night before, who was here and what happened and the scene that played out in the cold blue daylight below the window.
Ginny listens in silence, not moving, until at length she sighs deeply and sits back. “I don’t know what to say,” she says finally. “Hermione… you… Lupin… no, I really don’t know what to say.”
Hermione giggles a little hysterically. “Me neither.”
There are still tears running down her face, and on impulse, Ginny moves forwards and hugs her, holding her close so she can feel the shuddering sobs. “Why are you crying?” she asks gently.
“Because” – oh, she is hysterical – “because I only bloody fucked Remus Lupin, oh, God…”
“And this is a reason to cry because?”
“Fuck, I don’t know.” And she is laughing, too; laughing and crying and choking with giggles while her body is wracked with sobs, and Ginny doesn’t let go, recognising the feeling of alcohol, the loosening effect that brings out tears and laughter and emotion like splashes in a glass.
Eventually, she is quiet, weak with crying and beginning the slide into sleep, right there on the floor among the tears and glass. But Ginny’s eyes are open, have been open all this time, looking out from the embrace up to the window and the stars, new pinpoints in a cooling sky.
“It will be all right,” she says. “It will be all right.”
And Hermione begins to believe her.
In the morning, Hermione is dry-eyed, her manner tight and controlled. She is almost embarrassed about her alcohol-fuelled confessions, but not quite. She is not ashamed of what she did, and somehow, in a way she cannot define, she feels better this morning. Something was released overnight, and she walks around the kitchen picking bottles up off the floor with something approaching a spring in her step.
Ginny emerges from the depths pale and hungover, fretting about using the Underground because she is too tired to Apparate, and although she is sleepy and getting late (“Tonks is going to fucking kill me!”) she catches herself before she leaves, blows a kiss and mouths good luck before disappearing through the door.
Hermione watches her go, and waves at her out of the window before getting back to the serious business of skiving off work. She has an owl, a young tawny creature that Ron named Harry for no immediately apparent reason, and she whistles softly for it, waiting for it to land on her shoulder before attaching a brief note to its leg. It hoots at her and departs into the morning light. It is only just past seven, but the sun is well clear of the horizon and there should be someone at the Ministry to receive her message.
There will be no comment. Hermione Granger never skived a single day at Hogwarts and probably isn’t starting now – she must be genuinely ill. And even though she is hungover, it’s not as if she’s just going to stay in bed all day, she tells herself. She needs the time to work out the Order mission to Bulgaria, and she can even work from home, with Harry-the-owl carrying Working Time Directives for her.
But she doesn’t do that yet. Instead, she Apparates out of the London flat and presently finds herself in the still morning air of northern Scotland. The spreading countryside and the small village somehow cure her of claustrophobia she didn’t know she had, and without looking back, she starts off down the path through Hogsmeade to where the castle looms on the horizon.
The Hogwarts grounds are quiet as she crosses them. The students are here, but with two weeks left of school and all the laziness that implies, and it is still too early for many of them to be stirring. She slows her pace as she passes the lake, watching as ducks skim over the surface and are startled by the giant squid. The wind off the water ruffles her hair and wakes her up; she is no longer in a daze as she makes her way through into the entrance hall. She has to stop herself from immediately turning towards the Gryffindor common room. Instead, she moves in the other direction, silent as the ghosts who sweep through the corridors.
When she is safe within the stillness of Hogwarts’ library, it is as if she never left. She can feel her feet moving of their own accord to her particular chair in the corner, where she sat so many times, writing, revising, escaping from Harry and later Ron, for here in the safety and sanctity of the wisdom of ages, she can come to no harm.
Someone else’s books are on her table, now, and someone else’s wand has been left out. She waits, but no-one returns to claim them, so she sits down with a muffled sigh and breathes in the scent of the past. She is here to research the Dark Arts as practiced in Bulgaria and the means of defending herself against them, but she is so tired, and it is so quiet, that she thinks she will just sit for a moment… yes, just sit and have a minute to herself. Nothing can happen to her here. Just sit, and lean back in the big winged chair, and maybe let her eyes close. Just sleep, just to sleep and perchance to dream…
She hated being in the library again.
She hated Ron. Yes, she hated him, and she hated Harry too for taking his side. She was trying to save him and he didn’t understand it – didn’t understand that his precious Firebolt could have been sent by Sirius Black, the man who was trying to kill him, the way he killed Lily and James Potter, and because she was Harry’s friend and trying to keep him safe, he hated her. And now Ron hated her too because of some stupid rat. She stabbed her quill at the parchment in anger. She was here again, Friday night in the library, doing Professor Snape’s Defence essay days before it was due because now everyone in the Gryffindor common room hated her. She hated them too.
Back to work, then. Snape’s Defence essay. Her quill scratched out the words. A werewolf in its lupine form…
God, she was so tired. She couldn’t go to bed yet, it would mean going through the common room.
A werewolf in its lupine form…
So tired. What was that sentence? It didn’t seem right; what had she written?
A werewolf in its lupin form…
Not lupin, lupine.
His hands are on her shoulders, and her head tips back to see amber eyes looking down. “I was asleep,” she explains thickly. “I was dreaming about…”
About you, she finishes silently. He has drawn back, his hands slipping away and falling by his sides. The dust motes swirl in the sunlight as they stand and look at each other.
“Well,” she says after a while. “This is awkward.”
“Is it?” he asks. “You’ve seen me at my worst. I don’t think we need be awkward.”
“But,” she hesitates, “we… you know…”
Surprisingly, he laughs. “We did indeed you know. Has it ruined a friendship?”
“No,” she decides, and feels a sudden stab of guilt. He is her friend. He is her friend and she never noticed, not when he was the only teacher she really trusted, the only Order member never too busy for her, even in those first hectic days at Grimmauld Place during a summer like this one.
She forces herself now not to see him as a background figure, standing there with shadows cast over his pale face and sunlight falling into honey in his hair. “Why are you here?” she asks.
“Morning lessons with the seventh years,” he says. “The Defence teacher is indisposed.” When she fails to react, he adds, “It’s lunchtime. I’m guessing you’ve been asleep longer than you thought.”
“Yeah.” She yawns and rubs at her eyes. “I only sat down for a minute, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
“So it seems.” He sits on the edge of her chair and reaches out over the table in front of her. His wand, she realises. His books that had been left on her table.
“Let’s go out,” she suggests. “What are you doing this afternoon?”
“Nothing that can’t be studiously ignored,” he replies easily enough, and she decides she likes the way he talks, with dry humour and unexpectedly long words.
Her conscience tells her that getting to know him was probably something she should have done before… well, you know.
They go out into the sunlight together, and although he has half a dozen volumes under his arm and so does she, they sit together on the warm grass and fairly soon, important Order work is being conducted with laughter that drifts over the quiet grounds.
After an hour, Harry and Ron arrive. Harry is here to consult Dumbledore on something; Hermione nods and smiles at him and thinks indulgently how grown-up and serious he looks. Ron is another matter.
“Hermione,” he says stiffly. “Professor Lupin.”
She resists the urge to curtsey as she replies. “Ron, it’s good to see you.”
Remus nods at him, and perhaps Ron realises he is interrupting something, but most likely not; after a second he moves to follow Harry, who seems less than perturbed by the whole encounter, caught up in his own thoughts. “Moony,” he says dreamily, and drifts off with Ron in his wake.
“Now that was awkward,” Remus comments, and Hermione laughs and doesn’t kiss him.
“Maybe it’s Harry,” she says thoughtfully.
“He said he thought he was gay, remember?” She looks towards where Ron is visible as a departing back. “Maybe Harry…”
Remus shakes his head. “I fear Harry will never… you know. Not properly. He’s growing up in a time of war.”
“So am I,” she said, and added, “So did you.”
“But for him, it’s personal.”
“Yes.” Hermione sighs. “Sometimes I forget Voldemort killed his parents. How can you go round with something like that hanging over you?”
“You can,” he states definitively, and Hermione remembers the barely-moving image of a child in the Ministry sealed files – Lupin, Remus, aged six years three months, lycanthrope.
“But Ron,” she persists. “Maybe not Harry, I don’t know.”
“He’s young yet,” Remus says softly. “He has all the time in the world to make mistakes and learn from them.”
“You’re a cynic,” she tells him.
“I’ve been in love.” He laughs suddenly. “I was so much in love, it’s nauseating to look back on. This is the place” – he waves a hand at the grounds in general – “and the right time of year, it’s summer, and sometimes I think I’ll see myself at seventeen come flying out of the bushes with Sirius.”
His voice is wistful and soft. She looks at him, lying back and swept away by memory, and considers perhaps if the old sorrow has lost its sting and left only sweetness.
“You loved him,” she says clearly, feeling it ought to be said.
“I did.” He nods. “I loved him. Even when he was in Azkaban, I think I still loved him and that was why I hated him so much.”
For a moment, Hermione allows herself to remember the night in the Shrieking Shack, how they clung to each other, and marvels at how dense, how blind her thirteen-year-old self must have been not to see it.
“People have to move on,” he states finally, and she feels the conversation is shortly to be over. “Love is not love that alters where it alteration finds, but when the alteration is death…”
She smiles at the lyrical quality of the words, and wonders, vaguely, if Ron could have said something like that, or understood it if he heard it said.
Remus is silent. She says, “Maybe you need a drink.”
“You’re right. Maybe I do.”
“I’m buying.” She holds up one hand. “I’m a feminist.”
“So you are. And I’m a gentleman.”
She laughs as he stands up and holds out a hand for her to pull herself up. A short while later, on the way down to the village, she kisses him again and he never resists.
At night, Ron appears outside and knocks at the door, begging to be let in. Hermione wonders if he knows that Ginny has his key, and is perfectly aware she is thinking about that tiny detail to prevent herself from thinking about other things. Ron saw her leaving the castle grounds in the afternoon; saw her and gazed after her with something approaching regret.
She lets him in, has him sit down, offers him a drink. She is sure to walk into the kitchen with her head held up high, offering tea or coffee and not herself on a plate.
He asks for tea and she makes it, with coffee for herself. And only then, when they are sat on opposite sides of the kitchen table with steaming mugs in front of them, does she ask, “Ron, what are you doing here?”
He shifts uncomfortably. “Just thought I’d see how you were doing,” he says with barely-concealed awkwardness.
“That’s nice of you.” She sips her coffee. “Ginny was here yesterday.”
“Yeah, she said. Tonks was dead pissed off with her, turning up for training hungover.”
Hermione snorts. “Like she didn’t do the same thing a hundred times while training.”
“She could hide it better,” Ron says, and smiles.
Hermione grins at the thought. “That’s true.”
“Mum was pissed off, too,” Ron adds. “She told Ginny she’d disown her if she ever did that again.”
“She always says that,” Hermione replies, and is suddenly aware that against all the odds, they are having a normal conversation. She remembers all their silly fights at Hogwarts and how the pattern worked. Usually, it would take a box of Chocolate Frogs, two bottles of Ogden’s and a great deal of Harry’s patience to get them this far.
This time, it is different. She doesn’t want to kiss and make up, not again.
“Yeah,” Ron says. “That’s why I think Ginny’s staying in town whenever she can nowadays.”
“It was nice to have her here,” Hermione replies. And because she can’t stop herself, she goes on: “Where have you been staying?”
Ron shrugs. “The Burrow. I’ll have to move out at some point or else Mum will drive me crazy. Maybe I’ll get the twins to put me up.”
“Rather you than me.” Hermione grimaces. “They’ll have you turning into a canary before you know where you are.”
He laughs. “Occupational hazard, isn’t it.”
It feels nice, talking to him. But there is a barrier between them now, something she can never tell him, never share with him, because he will be jealous, and righteously angry, and jealous, because that is who Ron is and what she loves him for.
“Pity this flat doesn’t have a spare room,” she says.
Not like that, any more, not love like that. But he was her best friend and one day he will be again; when Harry is finally lost to them, he may be all she will have.
“Pity,” he agrees. He is reaching the bottom of his mug, and he pauses, peering at the dregs. He smiles and she knows what he is thinking.
“I walked out of Divination,” she says, a little smugly.
He nods. “Wish I had. Can you see anything in this?”
He lifts the mug and she takes a look at the distorted remains at the base of it. For perhaps the only time, she can see a real pattern there.
“A circle,” she says.
“A ring,” he replies. “Romance.”
She laughs wryly. “Not bloody likely.”
“Ditto that.” He sets the mug down with a clunk. “I ought to be going.”
She doesn’t attempt to dissuade him. “It was nice of you to come.”
“I’m glad I did.” He stands up, picking his cloak up off the chair. “I’ll see you soon, I suppose.”
She nods. “Order meetings. And Harry’s birthday is coming up.” They walk to the door and she holds it open. “Goodbye, Ron.”
“Bye,” he says, and for a second their eyes meet. She loves him, she decides; she loves him and likes him and maybe when the war is over they will be friends.
Then the door closes.
She moves back to the table, gathering up the two mugs and putting them in the sink, and then she stops by the window, looking down to see Ron walking away. She only pauses for a moment, but before she turns away, her eye is caught by a white gleam in the sky. Despite developments and the passage of time, she cannot prevent the sharp intake of breath. The moon is waxing gibbous.
In the morning, Hermione goes to work at the usual time. She feels she has had enough of difficult break-ups and her emotions all in a mess on the floor; she wants to get back into the steady routine of a working week, with Order missions serving as her bit on the side.
She finds it somewhat difficult to concentrate. After a few minutes spent doodling crescent moons and flowerpots on the corner of her parchment, she throws down the quill and forces herself to return to more important matters. There are letters to write as always, policy to co-ordinate and memos to send and work to do.
She is productive, scribbling away, and she only looks up as Ginny appears, bouncing into the room with her usual red-haired exuberance. “Can’t stay,” she says breathlessly. “Darling Nymphadora” – a grimace – “quite literally wants me dead. Um… just checking you’re okay. Yeah. Cool. Bye!”
She is gone before Hermione has a chance to respond, and she smiles to herself. Somewhere beneath her, Tonks is yelling at the top of her voice, and the windows rattle a little in their frames.
By lunchtime, Hermione has had several owls concerning working time technicalities, all of them less than polite, and she makes a mental note to reply in the afternoon when she is less likely to lose her temper and start writing things she will later regret. She throws the papers into a pile without a second thought, and doesn’t look at the calendar. She is getting quite good at sweeping things under the carpet.
She grabs a sandwich – tuna with mayonnaise, no lettuce – and works steadily through the afternoon. When evening comes, she has almost finished implementing the directive, and makes a note to send a report to the permanent secretary. Her thoughts wander, and vaguely she wonders if her work has been affected by the events of the last few days. She hopes not. She has always set high standards for herself.
On her way down to the Atrium, she looks out for Ginny or Tonks or maybe even Harry, but none of them appear, and so she makes her way home by herself. She passes no-one she knows on the streets, and lets herself into the flat undisturbed.
She feels the emptiness after the day. She wishes that Ginny would come again, or Ron, or… no. Better to have routine, she decides. Better to work until she is tired and sleep.
But she finds it difficult to sleep that night. Daylight lingers until late, and even after that, the moonlight is too bright and harsh on her pillow, and she wishes for darkness. When she finally sinks into unconsciousness, she dreams fitfully, clichéd dreams where she is trying to escape something terrible, she knows not what, and she is trying and trying but her limbs are too heavy to let her run free, and she staggers and falls and sinks into oblivion knowing she has failed.
Her eyes snap open, and she knows she will not fall asleep again. She paces round the kitchen in the dim light from the streetlights outside, enjoying the coolness of the tiles against her bare feet. She only pauses to look out of the window at the gently swaying lime tree, her eyes skimming over the moon’s reflection in the glass. The silence and the distance are too thick and suffocating, and she feels restless again. That old childhood need, to make a difference, to do something, is back again in full force tonight, and she tells herself she doesn’t know why.
Finally, she cracks. At her whistle, Harry-the-owl flaps across to her, and she whispers a few words in his ear. Although he stares at her with all the inscrutability of his breed, she is sure he has understood. She takes a piece of paper, not parchment, and sits down to write:
I’ll meet you in the morning when you wake.
She doesn’t sign it. She folds it twice, attaches it to the owl’s leg, and opens the window. A winged shadow moves across the glass and is gone, soaring into the night sky and heading north. She stays and watches, but there will be no reply, not yet, and she wonders if she can bear the hours of quiet before morning. Waiting among the strange shadows thrown over the floor, she is grateful for small mercies and short nights.
Slowly, the hands of the clock edge round. She is nervous.
By first light, she has been travelling for some time already and is now walking barefoot over the soft grass. The dew is evaporating and the sun is just visible in the east, throwing the castle into silhouette against the dawn. The Hogwarts grounds are silent except for the birds, the soft chirruping of nocturnal animals, and fairly soon, the quiet footsteps she has been waiting for.
She doesn’t jump forwards. Even as her sleep-deprived mind formulated this ludicrous, preposterous, beyond ridiculous idea, she knew she couldn’t do that.
Remus’s eyes are dead. He is clutching her note loosely in one hand, but his fingers are still curled into loose claws and he walks with the slow steps of one remembering how not to be hunted. She falls into step beside him, silent as the creeping light, and tries to see through the drugged and docile blankness to the man she knows, somewhere beneath the aconite working in his blood like silver.
They walk through the grounds together, step by step, and although there is exhaustion apparent in his every movement, there is no blood, and Hermione is pathetically, absurdly grateful. There are no words spoken, because she is not red-haired with a way of taking away blood but not pride, nor does she have years within a soft-edged rendering of a lupine mind, and she cannot have a lifetime’s experience of loving a human along with a wolf, but she is here in the morning light and maybe that is enough.
It is still so early. She cannot stop the quickness of her mind, dancing through calculations – if this is June, and there were six hours between sunset and sunrise, then in December (she will be in Bulgaria) there will be nineteen hours of darkness. Nineteen hours of thick blackness and freezing cold, more than twice as long as this one night she has paced and fretted through.
She makes herself stop there, stops thinking, remembers the calming effect of the Wolfsbane, and reminds herself not to be involved. She has to go to work today. Perhaps enough is enough.
They part company at the entrance hall. Somewhere in the castle, Poppy Pomfrey is waiting, unable to forget the child drowning in blood from thirty years before, and Remus is quiet but aware he is not alone.
She touches his shoulder, knowing he will shrink from anything further, and whispers, “Goodbye.”
There is a flash of recognition, a brief gleam of human intelligence, and he holds eye contact for a few moments while his fingers clutch tightly at the slip of paper in his hand.
It will have to do.
She watches him leave, and then moves quickly. Within ten minutes she is back in central London, blinking in the sunlight. She sighs deeply, then disappears into her bedroom to get dressed. It takes her all of ten minutes, despite the fact she is beginning to yawn from lack of sleep, and she tugs a brush through her hair, gathers her bag together and walks out through the door.
Out in the street, she buys two newspapers, the Daily Prophet and the Evening Standard, and by the time she has skimmed two sets of headlines, the half-light of dawn is vanishing like a dream.
After that, she doesn’t go back. That afternoon, she strides into the permanent private secretary’s office and slaps a ring binder on his desk. Hundreds of neatly numbered pages, analysed, documented, guillotined: the Working Time Directive. Off his surprised look, she offers only two sweet words of explanation, “Carpe memorandum.”
Then she walks out without a backward glance.
She spends the rest of the day in Diagon Alley, specifically Flourish and Blotts. She buys quite a few books, some of which are about Bulgaria and most of which are out of print. They tell her the books will arrive in two weeks, and she sighs and says she’ll wait.
Each day is four minutes shorter than the day before, she calculates. By the time the books come, there will be nearly an hour less daylight.
Ginny stays over for a few days, and although she gets pink hair dye in the sink, Hermione doesn’t mind. Mrs Weasley sends a Howler and enough food to last for a month.
Remus thinks this is utterly hilarious, and doesn’t stop laughing until Hermione hits him.
Tonks reconsiders her decision to throw Ginny out of the Auror training programme. Ginny celebrates this by getting drunk. Mrs Weasley threatens to disown her, then asks if she needs any washing done.
This time Remus is still laughing even after Hermione throws two pencils and The Standard Book of Spells at his head.
A week later than stated, the bookshop deliver the books. At the end of July, Hermione and Ron go halves on Harry’s birthday present, which consists of the new edition of Quidditch Through The Ages, Advance Defence For Hogwarts Students Post-1991, and Hairy Snout, Human Heart.
Remus recommends the latter, although he has some quibbles over the technical details. After he has held forth at some length about the absurdity of acquired characteristics re-writing the relevant aspects of the human genome, she recognises the enthusiastic stance of the born academic and tunes him out.
Harry is delighted with his presents. He is sitting in the garden at the Burrow in a vague state of inebriation, when Ron, sure that his best friend will not interrupt, beckons Hermione over to a secluded corner and asks slowly, awkwardly, if she’ll consider, well, think about, if she wants, you know, sort of, well, getting back together.
She shakes her head. No. She made a promise to herself back at the beginning of all this, that she would not go back and become someone she didn’t want to be. She is herself, herself without Ron, and even if that means she is now devastatingly unattached, that’s all right, for now.
In the meantime, she has Remus: to talk to, to get sloshed with, to recommend books to, to laugh hysterically when she considers getting a tattoo, the list is endless but Remus is always there. He is the last of the living Marauders; being there is what he does so well.
She’s happy, against all odds. The winter mission will go well, she feels; they will be gathering allies for the Order of the Phoenix, and maybe Tonks will accompany her and they’ll have a good time exchanging gossip and battling the forces of evil.
Remus’s next batch of Wolfsbane is slightly more potent than the last, as it has to stay in effect for eight hours and not six. She can’t sleep that night either, so she heads over to Hogwarts in the early morning, sits on the dew-soaked grass and waits for him. This time he recognises her.
The seasons are turning.
On the last day of August, the Wizarding Working Time Directive receives royal assent and commencement order.
She finds herself almost regretful as the dog-days wear away. Despite the heat and loneliness, there is something magical about careful blue daylight that lasts and lasts.
But she knows nothing lasts forever.
One day, the first of the lime-tree’s leaves curls brown and drops to the pavement where the wind sweeps it away. Hermione watches it from her window, feeling the change. There is a slight chill in the air.
Remus is standing behind her, drinking coffee and warming his hands on the mug. His eyes are misty, and she follows his gaze through the window and up to the frosty Dog Star, brightest in the sky.
She is glad he is here. She thinks he will stay tonight.
It will not be the first time. Sometimes the nights are long. Sometimes he is here. And her bed sheets are always clean and white and inviting, and sometimes things happen and sometimes they don’t.
Above her, a star falls. In the cold air from the window, Remus is shivering and pale.
If she ever falls in love with him, she’s sure she’ll be the first to know.
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