Chapter 1 : Like Coming Home
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My favorite place in the world is the Hufflepuff common room. If I could replicate it in my own house I would in an instant. There just isn't any place in the world that is more cozy and happy, although Remus did say the same about the Gryffindor common room. The two are pretty similar in terms of what they have in them. They're both filled with squashy armchairs, couches, and odd tables with mismatched chairs surrounding them. The Hufflepuff common room is yellow and black whereas the Gryffindor one is scarlet and gold and the latter is circular whereas the former is square. But the most noticeable difference is the smell. The Gryffindor common room smells of parchment and smoke from the fireplace, but the Hufflepuff common room happens to be located near the kitchens. The place never smells the same and always smells of tasty things to eat. Pies and cakes, breads and puddings. It's always a surprise as to what it smells like.
When I was a first year the smells comforted me because they reminded me of my mum's kitchen and being home and sitting there while she cooked. If I was quiet and well behaved she would let me sample whatever it was she was baking. As the year went on and I adjusted to Hogwarts I still liked to be reminded of home by the smells in the common room. Even now, decades later, I still smile whenever I remember it.
They say smell is the most powerful sense in forming memories. Even after the sights and sounds of a memory begin to fade, a smell can bring it back nearly as clear as it was when it was first experienced. That's why I wasn't afraid that my memories of Hogwarts would disappear after I graduated, to be slowly replaced by memories of adulthood. All I have to do is smell a treacle tart or a Shepard's pie and it brings everything back.
“Ainsley,” my best friend, Heidi, said as she collapsed into the chair next to me, “Remus is waiting for you outside.”
I smiled and set down my book as I got up from my chair. It was our last night at Hogwarts, the last night before the rest of our lives. It was strange to think that this might be the last time Remus would wait outside the Hufflepuff common room for me. The thought almost made me want to walk slowly, to relish every second of the journey to the corridor. Almost. Instead I nearly ran there.
Remus was leaning next to the entrance to the kitchens and he looked up when I stepped into the corridor. I smiled again as he walked towards me. I slipped my arm around his waist, but he didn't do the same. Strange, I thought. Maybe he was thinking too much about the next day, when we would leave the castle forever. It was enough to make anyone depressed.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” he replied, not saying anything else.
We walked silently through the corridors. Both of us knew where we were going, without the other saying a word. It was one of those things I liked best about Remus, his predictability. A lot of people wouldn't like that, but I did. He was safe and I could always count on him. If I was being honest with myself, that was what caused me to notice him in the first place.
It was fifth year and I was in danger of failing my Transfiguration O.W.L. My parents would have murdered me if that happened since they both came from a long line of Ravenclaws and I was the first ever to be sorted into Hufflepuff, so after severe begging on my part, Professor McGonagall arranged for me to be tutored by Remus. He never missed a single session and I got an E on my O.W.L., far higher than anyone expected.
That seemed so long ago now that we were taking what was probably our last late night journey through the corridors. We did this practically every night, always ending at the Room of Requirement, except when Remus had Prefect rounds or was ill. This particular walk was quiet since no one else was in the corridors and neither of us were talking much.
We hadn't talked much about the future. I was afraid to bring it up and Remus never did either. The unknown had always scared me, even more than spiders, and it always had. When I was five I insisted upon visiting my dad at work just so I would know where he went when he left everyday and my parents even took me to Hogwarts three days before term started my first year so I would know where I was going.
When we reached the Room of Requirement I paced three times in front of it to turn it into the Hufflepuff common room since it was my turn to decide. On the days Remus decided, he turned it into the Gryffindor common room. Once, we showed each other our bedrooms, but other than that we always chose the common rooms. The only thing was, the smell of the Hufflepuff common room could never be replicated. Instead, the Room of Requirement smelled of parchment and smoke, just like the Gryffindor common room.
I sat down on a comfy yellow couch and patted the spot next to me. Remus remained standing and turned towards the wall. I swallowed hard and walked towards him. I took his hand and led him over to the couch, kissing him as we sat down.
“Ainsley...” his voice trailed off as he turned his head away.
“What's wrong?” I asked, my heart speeding up. Remus was my first boyfriend so I'd never been broken up with before, but from what I knew this certainly seemed like the beginning of it. “I know things are going to change but-”
“There's no buts,” Remus said as he suddenly stood up. “Things are going to change and that's it.”
“Of course they are,” I replied as I got up and took his hand. “We're graduating tomorrow. We can't stay here forever, even though I want to.”
“I want to, too,” Remus said quietly. He shook his hand out of mine and walked towards the wall.
I slowly followed him. Why was he acting like this now? We both knew we would have to leave Hogwarts eventually even though neither of us wanted to. The real world was scary, now more than ever, but we still had to enter it. But we had each other and that's what would make it survivable. I bit my lip as I thought of facing the real world without my best friend. It would be horrible. And if he felt the same, why did it sound like he wanted to break up with me?
I never wanted to be one of those girls who needed a bloke to survive. My older sister was like that and she worked her way through practically every bloke in Ravenclaw before she graduated and it always slightly nauseated me how she would be in despair when she was single. Now here I was, on the brink of graduation, and the thought of being single again was just as nauseating. No, no, it wasn't the idea of being single. It was the idea of being without Remus.
“We're going to move on,” I began, “but that doesn't mean we have to do it apart. I certainly don't want to leave Hogwarts, especially with this war, but we have to. And it's going to be a lot better if we do it together.”
“That's the thing,” Remus replied. He almost sounded like he was trying to hold back tears and that just made me want to cry. “You have something to move on to. You're going to make an excellent nurse. I don't have anything to move on to.”
“You will,” I assured him. “Not everyone knows what they want to do right out of Hogwarts. You're smart and you can do anything you want, once you decide.”
Remus collapsed onto the nearest chair and rubbed his face. “I can't, though. I can't do anything I want.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “You've aced all your N.E.W.T.s.”
“That doesn't have anything to do with it.” He stood up again and stared me directly in the eyes. His eyes were piercing and they had that odd yellow tinge to them that they only sometimes had. They almost made me step back, but I held my ground. I was not going to be the kind of girl who collapsed to pieces the moment she was broken up with. “Look,” he continued, “I thought I was going to break up with you tonight-”
“Why?” I demanded, suddenly on the offensive. “Why? Just because we're leaving Hogwarts?That's stupid, Remus. I love you, ok? And up until tonight I thought you loved me, too. If we both love each other, why the hell would you want to break up with me?” I was breathing hard now and had to close my eyes for a second to calm down.
When I opened them I saw that he looked completely grief-stricken. That made no sense, but my anger dissipated. All I wanted to do was hug him.
“I love you, too,” he said quietly. “Dammit, I've loved you since you snuck that entire chocolate cake into the Hospital Wing without Madam Pomfrey knowing.”
I cracked a smile and giggled. That had been fun. It had been in the beginning of our sixth year, and he wound up in the Hospital Wing for four days. The two of us ate that entire cake.
“Then why did you want to break up with me?” I asked again.
“I don't want to,” he said. “I have to.”
This was too confusing, especially for eleven o'clock at night. There was a reason I never did homework after ten and I was beginning to think serious talks should also be in that category.
“I was going to but now I'm not because you're right,” Remus went on. “Being in the real world will be a lot better if we're together. I should break up with you but I'm not going to.”
“Then you'd better explain,” I said as I crossed my arms. Now I was even more confused. Why 'should' he break up with me?
“Just sit down first,” he said as he himself sat down.
I didn't take my eyes off of him as I sat down in the chair across from him. I took a deep breath and waited for him to begin.
“I told you that I didn't know what I wanted to do after Hogwarts,” Remus said, “but that's not really true. I want to get into research. New spells, charms, that sort of thing. There are teams of witches and wizards that work on research. Some through the Ministry and others through private organizations.”
“Then why don't you do that?” I asked. “It sounds like you would love it.”
“I would,” he said quietly. “The thing is, no one will hire me. Not the Ministry and not any of those private organizations. In fact, I couldn't even get a job sweeping the floor of one of those organizations.”
“But, but, why?” I sputtered. He was telling me everything except the one thing I wanted to know, and clearly he didn't really want to say it.
Remus stood up and began pacing around the room. “You've got to swear not to tell anyone about this. Not your friends, not your family, no one.”
“I won't,” I promised, wondering what could possibly be so secretive.
He stopped pacing and looked at me, with the most pained expression I'd ever seen on his face. “There's a reason I'm ill every month. It's every month, Ainsley. Once a month. I know exactly when it'll happen, too. It's because I'm a werewolf, Ainsley. I'm a werewolf.” He sat back down and put his head in his hands.
My mouth fell open and I continued staring at him, this boy, this man, whom I had thought I knew everything about. He knew everything about me. He knew that I was secretly jealous of my older sister's success and how I was proud of being the only Hufflepuff in my family. He knew stories from when I was little, even the embarrassing ones, like the time I threw a tantrum in the Leaky Cauldron because my mum wouldn't let me have a butterbeer. Yet, here was this huge thing about him that I didn't know.
I thought of everything I'd been taught about werewolves. How they were vile and less than human and all they wanted to do was inflict their lycanthropy on other people. Then I thought of Remus, who had kept me from failing Transfiguration, took late night walks with me when I couldn't sleep, brought me butterbeer from Hogsmeade when I was stuck in the library studying. I thought of my best friend, Remus. My boyfriend, Remus. Remus, who I never wanted to be without. Then I pushed everything I'd been taught out of my head and got up and put my arms around him.
“Why didn't you tell me?” I asked. “Didn't you trust me?” There was a part of me that was hurt that he didn't trust me enough to tell me.
He looked up, as if surprised that I hadn't run away screaming. In fact, he probably was, considering what we learned about werewolves in Defense class. I cringed as I realized I had bought into all of that and still would if I didn't know Remus was a werewolf.
“I trust you,” he croaked. “Otherwise I wouldn't have told you now. I trusted you a year ago. I just didn't want this to end. I didn't want it to end before it had to. I was afraid you would be horrified and so I didn't tell you. I was selfish and I'm sorry.”
“It doesn't have to end,” I told him. “I'm not going to run away. I love you and if I ran away just because you're a werewolf then I wouldn't really love you.”
“Ainsley, thank you,” he said in barely more than a whisper.
I kissed him and then shifted so I was sitting next to him. “But, I am curious. When did it happen? Who else knows? Where do you transform?”
Remus gave a slight laugh, which sounded slightly strange since he had been close to crying just a minute ago. “Those are the same questions everyone asks.”
“Then I'll ask a really weird one, too,” I replied. “What happens to your clothes when you transform?”
He burst out laughing. “No one has ever asked that.”
“Good.” I smiled.
“It happened when I was four. I saw the reflection of the moon on the pond in my backyard and thought it had fallen from the sky. My parents were asleep and didn't know that I knew how to unlock the back door, so I slipped outside without them knowing. I was halfway to the pond when I was attacked. My parents woke up to my screaming.”
I was even more stunned than I had been when he told me he was a werewolf. “You were four?”
“The Healers were surprised I survived,” he said as he lifted up his shirt. It revealed a large scar on the right side of his chest. “It never fades.”
“Does it hurt?”
“The scar? No, not anymore,” Remus replied.
I reached out and gingerly touched it, thinking it would feel strange, but it didn't. It felt like normal skin. “That's horrible.”
Remus shrugged. “I'm used to it by now. Anyway, hardly anyone else knows. The teachers and Madam Pomfrey, and James, Sirius, and Peter. And now you.”
“When did you tell James, Sirius, and Peter?” I asked.
“They figured it out,” Remus said. “My second year. I don't think I would have told them otherwise. You're the only one I've actually told.”
“Wow. I can't even imagine keeping something like that a secret.”
“It's not that hard since if the wrong people found out I'd get kicked out of Hogwarts.”
That made my stomach churn. How could someone get kicked out of Hogwarts for something they couldn't control?
“And to the answer to your third question is the Shrieking Shack-”
“The Shrieking Shack?” I exclaimed. “So you're the one who does the shrieking?”
“Yes,” he said sheepishly. “I do the shrieking.”
“And here I thought it was haunted.”
“And for your last question, well, if I didn't take my clothes off before the transformation they'd get destroyed.”
“You're going to figure something out, you know, for your career,” I told him. “Eventually the Ministry is going to learn that not letting you have a job is stupid. You're going to be fine.”
“I wish I had your optimism,” he replied.
“That's why we need to do this together. I'll be optimistic for the both of us,” I said as I squeezed his hand.
“What do you need me to do?” Remus asked.
I turned and our eyes met. “Just be there,” I said quietly. “That's all. Just be there.”
I hastily removed the treacle tart from the oven before it had a chance to burn. It wasn't the first time I'd nearly burnt one while reminiscing about my years at Hogwarts and it happened more often now, in the days following Voldemort's defeat. The war that had began while I was at Hogwarts, a time when I was naïve about the world around me and feared the unknown. I still fear the unknown, but I know that everything will be fine as long as I'm surrounded by the ones I love.
My first boyfriend had died in the Final Battle, along with his wife. My family had gotten away unscathed. I hadn't spoken to Remus in decades, but I still shed a tear as I stood in the back of the crowd at his funeral. We had something special and nothing would ever change that. I was his first girlfriend and he was my first boyfriend and that's a bond that will never go away.
We parted on good terms, a few short years after graduating from Hogwarts. As I predicted, he was fine even though no one would hire him. He got directly involved with the war and worked under Dumbledore's command, along with Sirius, James, Lily, and Peter. I shied away from the direct offense against the Death Eaters and that's what originally drew us apart. I spent too many nights worrying about where he was and soon Dumbledore sent him on months long missions where I had no contact with him whatsoever. By the time James and Lily were murdered, Remus and I had grown apart. We spent one more night together, just grieving and catching up, the night following James and Lily's funeral, but that was it. I moved on. He moved on.
He'll never be gone from my heart, though. Even now that I'm married with three children. It's always the smells that bring me back, too. A freshly baked treacle tart brings me back to the Hufflepuff common room, where I would wait impatiently for Remus to come meet me, so we could wander the corridors late at night, only to wind up in the one place that was like home to both of us.
A/N: Thanks to Dancer_of_Starlight, witnesstoitall, and darkladyofslytherin for their imput and help on this story!
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