Chapter 1 : Sunlight
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He understood now, of course, although it did strike him as very peculiar that he himself had never wanted to hurl such insults at the moon, though Merlin knew he'd have enough of a motive to. Lupin didn't blame the moon any more than he imagined that bears who loved the sunlight hated their long months of hibernation. It wasn't the moon's fault that it caused such havoc, just as it wasn't his own fault that his body reacted the way it did, though again, Merlin only knew how long it had taken him to come to that peaceful of a conclusion. The werewolf tipped his head back, allowing the lukewarm tea he'd just sipped to trickle slowly down his throat, savoring the flavor just as he savored the scents of the world around him. Grimmauld Place wasn't the most tranquil or organic of places, but it would do, for now--especially considering where he had been not three days before, and would be going back to in less than a week.
He heard her footsteps long before she reached the kitchen door, allowing himself the luxury of straining imperceptibly to smell her hair as soon as the rusty screen door opened. She didn't speak, instead moving softly to rest her shoulder against the porch in the same manner that he did, leaning her own head back to gaze at the night sky with what he thought was a slightly wistful look in her eyes. They remained like that for a long period of time, neither one speaking or even shifting their view to acknowledge that the other was there. He liked that about her--for all that her friends teased her for being unable to stay silent about the subjects she was passionate about, Hermione Granger knew the value of a shared silence. As soon as he'd recalled his often-made conclusion about his companion and silence, however, he knew that she would be the one to break it.
"What did your mother think of the sky, Remus?" she asked, a barely noticeable catch in her voice. Miss Granger had lost her mother to an entirely Muggle happenstance--a car crash due to a faulty mechanism in her vehicle--earlier that year. With Hogwarts closed, the young woman had castigated herself repeatedly for not having been there, not having been able to do anything about it--but Lupin suspected that her real frustration was the very notion of someone she cared about dying in a non-remarkable way, as though it didn't matter that she was a witch at all. He shifted his position to look at her, noting as he set down his teacup that she looked every bit as worn out as the rest of the Order; he decided that, though her question was deeply personal, he would make an exception this once.
"My mother loved sunlight," he answered simply, knowing that Hermione was bright enough to catch the undertones without his explaining any of the subtlety.
"So did mine," she said softly. "She always said that the sun told the truth, and the moon was full of lies--never staying the same from night to night." Hermione looked over at him, having spoken the last with a firm, almost angry tone; the challenge in her brown eyes purely Gryffindor.
"I don't hate the moon, Hermione," Lupin told her.
Lupin sighed. "Do you hate automobiles?" he asked mildly, knowing that this wasn't precisely the confrontation she'd been gunning for. He watched as she fought with her answer to this question, his respect for her increasing as her face twisted with memories even as she brushed a fallen leaf from her shoulder with a hand that trembled not at all. He waited, knowing she would appreciate this new kind of silence as much as he'd treasured the first. Not for the first time, a thought occurred to him... and it wasn't as out of place as he would have expected it to be. The werewolf looked back up at the sky, not trusting his eyes not to reveal such thoughts. Now was not the time, anyway.
"I want to," she finally said, her voice full of the yearning curiosity he'd heard so often as her teacher. It told him that she found her own reactions worth studying, that she'd pondered his question before he'd ever thought to ask it, and hadn't fully researched her heart's answer to it yet. Hermione turned to him, the rigid way she held her jaw the only indication that she was still fighting with herself. "I want to," she repeated, "--but I keep coming back to the fact that it's a thing, just like a wand is a thing before you pick it up and use it." Her brown eyes caught his, and he saw a bitter sort of mischief there before she spoke again and he understood its origins. "I wanted to hate The Veil, too," she challenged.
Remus kept his eyes on hers, trusted her to see his reaction to her riposte. She didn't turn away--instead, she took a step forward, as though to press her advantage. It occurred to him that she possessed more danger at this moment than his fleeting thought about the way her hair curled out stubbornly from the bun she'd stuffed it into. I should feel too old for this, he thought to himself with passing amusement. A frisson of... fear? went through him as he realized he'd maintained eye contact with her during his assessment of her hair, knowing that she couldn't fail to see the difference in him, whether or not she guessed its cause. His former student stopped just shy of half a yard away, the jaded, painful expression having fallen from her face as softly as the leaves that dropped dead and withered from the trees behind them.
"You're going back, aren't you." To his surprise, neither her tone or expression indicated that her statement was a challenge; the wistful look had returned to her face, and she again looked fragile and weary. If anyone but Hermione had asked in any tone but the one she'd used, Remus would have responded with 'of course.' He wanted to reassure her--and in no small measure, himself--that he would be fine, he could handle it, everything would be just--
In the distance, a wolf howled. It was a strange enough sound for any London night, but the coincidence of it happening just then of all times was enough to give them both a shiver. It seemed natural to him to step forward and pull Hermione into a comforting embrace, natural that she would bury her head in his shoulder and sigh, natural that he'd rest his cheek on her hair.
"Yes," Remus said, more sigh than word, piercing the air around them and sounding much louder than the quiet tone he'd meant to use.
"I know," she said with a sigh of her own that he felt rather than heard, a warmth that spread from his shoulder across his body and into his face as almost a blush, but not quite. He suddenly felt very uncomfortable and wrong, as though by virtue of his liking the smell of her hair and the feel of her hands clutching his jacket he was behaving inappropriately.
"Hermione," he said gently, knowing instinctively that if he moved in any way at all just now, she would feel utterly rejected, even though neither of them had offered anything.
"Remus," she responded, using a tone that implied just the barest hint of strong will in it as she smoothed his jacket with her hand and rested her cheek on it rather than on his lapel. The movement brought her hand close enough that he could sense its proximity to his own, and he twitched involuntarily. "I thought you respected the value of a good silence," she added, and he could swear that she was baiting him, though there wasn't even the tiniest bit of mirth in her voice.
"Touché." Remus stepped back, allowing himself to touch her hair with the barest of gestures before settling himself back on the porch's wooden post and cocking an eyebrow at her gravely. Hermione held his gaze, the whisper of pink high on her cheeks the only indication that she was as keyed up as he was. For the first time in a very long time, Remus Lupin felt as though the person standing across from him just might understand him well enough to...
"You will come back," she said with a voice that should have sounded firm but had a strong undercurrent of vulnerability to it. Her face changed as she recognized it too, but in true Hermione fashion, she turned that as well into a challenge.
"I can't promise--"
She'd stepped forward, shocking them both by placing a trembling finger to his lips and repeating her earlier charge. Remus could see that she hadn't meant to do it, saw somehow that she feared she might not see him again, and that fear had prompted her bold action. The hand that had reached up to move hers curled around it instead. He closed his eyes, for once overcome by the emotions he usually kept at bay; the should nots and the wants and the must nots all swirled together and confusing. Lupin did as he had trained himself to do--he focused on his heartbeat. Always this would calm his wild thoughts, even at his most wild. At those times he would ride his quickening heartbeat, thump by thump, focusing his very soul on the beats instead of the tearing, the pain, and the dreadful hunger.
This time he had not one heartbeat to focus on, but two. Hermione's pulse beat strongly through her hand, more steady than his own irregular rhythm. He opened his eyes, catching her off-guard, the naked emotions showing plainly in her expression and the way she looked at his hand holding hers. She was so focused, she hadn't even realized he was looking at her. It was written on her face, all of it--her uncertainty, the depth of her regard, and he could even sense her insecurity, though he had no clue what caused it. The purity of it took his breath away, and it was the impact of that in particular that showed on his face when she finally looked back up at him. Remus would have expected her to be glad--grateful even, that despite himself his emotions were displayed clearly for her to see. To his surprise, however, Hermione Granger pulled away from him and seemed to crawl inside herself, her arms crossed over her chest and her expression almost wan.
"I... I had no right to say that--to do that," she stammered, standing frozen to the spot almost like a trapped animal. "You do great work for the Order and of course you can't promise you'll come back none of us can," the words fell from her lips in a cascade, barely stopping in time for her to catch a breath. "I had no right to presume--it must be horrid in that place--oh Merlin, what a thing to say!" She looked horrified, and he took a step toward her, wishing he could erase whatever it was he must have done to turn her from a confident, challenging woman to a frightened trapped animal. His tried and true intuition kicked in, however, and he sensed that--oddly--what she needed most wasn't comfort.
"I've never seen you run away, before, Hermione," he said in a voice that bordered on commanding but not quite.
Hermione gasped at him, apparently speechless. Again he watched the play of emotions on her face, feeling intensely grateful himself that he had the privilege of doing so. Remus Lupin decided that he wasn't going to let the Hermione he'd seen earlier go so easily.
"I--I'm not running away," she finally said. When he opened his mouth to object, an eyebrow raised and a skeptical expression on his face, the fire that he'd been hoping would show itself flared up in her again. "You--you did that on purpose!" she spluttered incredulously.
"Did you think I would just let you run away and tell yourself this never happened?"
He hadn't meant to say it that way, but now that he had, he realized it was exactly what needed to be said. Something had happened, something that could have been ignored uncomfortably for a few days until he left again, forgotten roughly as each went about their business, left to rot in the cemetery of might-have-beens. Perhaps that would have been appropriate, better even, in a world that wasn't going to hell in a handbasket where they weren't two of the people meant to prevent it from doing so. Remus walked over to her, pleased to see that she didn't back away from him, angry though she may be. Her body tensed as he approached her, her jaw settling into that determined expression that meant she was prepared to fight.
"What never happened?" she protested, cocking her head to the side in a confrontational manner, as though begging him to put a name to their encounter. They were inches apart, both keyed up emotionally and physically. He told himself it was inevitable--that, come what may, he needed more than just the hope of a victory to last him through those dark days ahead with the feral werewolves.
Remus Lupin closed the distance between them, pulling Hermione to him roughly and angling them both against the porch post. He told himself that he wasn't going to do this in a way that she could ever tell herself was a fluke--and besides, the part of him he kept buried everywhere but in Fenrir's awful Den hadn't quite gone all the way back into seclusion, and it had caught her scent by now. The kiss was strangely gentle, surrounded by all the unrestrained fierceness that only a long-denied first kiss has the potential for. She'd given up all pretense of fighting him by then, one arm twined around his shoulder and into his hair, the other clutching desperately to his shabby coat's collar as though holding on for her very life.
It was violent and perfect and shouldn't have happened--but when their hands stilled and their breathing returned to normal, they could look each other in the eye without a hint of regret.
"Was that supposed to be some sort of incentive not to ask that kind of question?" she asked, stunning him with her perfectly deadpan delivery. Remus was caught so off-guard that he began to blush furiously.
"You--" he paused, shook his head, and leaned back to study her face. "You did that on purpose," he teased. She charmed him by nodding shyly, flushing slightly as she looked away from him and up at the sky.
"My mother believed that when the stars had that sort of haze to them, it would be a cloudless, sunny day in the morning." Hermione spoke with a quiet dignity, her tone dropping in pitch as she spoke again. "You don't have to promise me anything, you know."
"I know," he repeated. "But, you have to know by now that I hardly ever do things unless I want to, Hermione." Remus knew that an intelligent woman like Hermione didn't need the various meanings to that statement spelled out for her, and he loved her for it.
"I'm glad," she replied, smiling warmly at him and touching his shoulder before turning and walking back into the house, leaving him to his thoughts and the now cloudless night sky.