Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

A/N: Again, I apologize for the wait. Christmas was crazy. My computer got a virus and then I did, too. And then it took, like, a friggin' week to hook up the damn cable modem I got for Christmas.

Anyway, I hope you find the chapter worth the wait. It *is*, I believe, the longest chapter I've written so far. Really agonized over parts of it. I'm horrible at editing. I'm too self-critical and too much of a perfectionist. And after awhile, I lose my patience and get sick of reading the damned thing and decide, "I'm not going to make any difference on it at this point - if it sucks, they'll tell me."

All the stuff later in the chapter about the Etchroi is directly and shamelessly stolen from Madeline L'Engle's "A Wind in the Door" for lack of any decent original ideas of my own.

Many endless thank yous to: mischiefmagnet, Waterdoggie, JediHermione, Aragorn's Girl, hermieg12, Poe Kittie, JustAReader, Michiru-san, Bre, Wild Mage, Sarah T, Serpent de Feu (I promise there'll be a 'Turnabout' sequel in the not-too-distant future), Witchy-grrl, Croft, Astraea, Bansh, websterwitch13, Rage Point, Shelly Salmalin, Tekki, Clavel, erisnymph, Lyra Lupin, NewMoon589, Kate, Once in a blue moon, bmiller669, Castaspella, Sabrinalupin (shall e-mail soon.god, why is Christmas soooooo time- consuming!), SacBeagle, bcalimano, Lina the Inverse Dramata, Sandy (ask and ye shall receive!), innocentimmortal, two wonderful people whose reviews on AFF.net got lost in the server change, everyone over at Lunar_ChartsRLHG, and anybody else who I'm forgetting (hopefully no one) for the amazing feedback. It's unbelievably helpful to my muse!!!! (making-up for lost time, since this relative ff newbie has been neglecting to thank her lovely reviewers)

And, of course, my deepest gratitude and appreciation to Essayel, who not only betas my fics beautifully, but humors my creepy Teacher!Remus- Student!Hermione fascination (

If you're a Remus-Hermione shipper, hop on over to Lunar_ChartsRLHG: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Lunar_ChartsRLHG/

HAPPY NEW YEAR and, of course, ENJOY!

Chapter 7

You can't avoid her

She's in the air

In between molecules

Of Oxygen and Carbon dioxide

Only in dreams

We see what it means

Reach out our hands

Hold on to hers

But when we wake

It's all been erased

And so it seems

Only in dreams -Weezer

"Remus -" Her voice rang distant, yet resonant, as if she uttered her words from the end of a long hallway, the sounds bounding off the walls to his ears.

But she was near. He could feel her steady breath on his stomach and he looked down. There she was, lying beside him in what appeared to be his bed. Her head was nestled upon his bare chest. The sheets were gathered at their waists, her bare belly and breasts pressed cozily to his side. He couldn't see under the covers but he was certain she was equally as naked beneath the sheets. From the intimate cling of the linen below his waist, so was he. He felt breathless. She was so close and he longed to touch her again. Captivated by her presence, he slowly drew his fingers across the chestnut curls scattered about his torso.

"Remus?" she repeated, peering up at him questioningly.

"Yes?" His voice felt foreign, completely detached from his body. The words were coming from his mouth, but the sound was emanating somewhere above him.

"I just wanted you to know - how much this evening means to me," she said quietly, gazing into his eyes. Her own eyes blazed with vulnerability and affection. "I - I think maybe - I - love you."

She turned away and settled her head back upon his chest. "You don't have to say anything, Remus. It's all right."

Remus *did* want to say something. He just didn't know what that something was.

As he fought for words, his body began to transform. The werewolf was gradually emerging, but as it never had before. He had retained his human form, morphing into a hirsute, fanged man-beast rather than the usual incarnation of his lycanthropy - a four-legged, feral creature with an urgent taste for blood and violence.

There was no pain. His flesh didn't feel as if it was being ripped from his body. His mind didn't ache as if it were about to explode. His eyes didn't tear up and burn with pain. On the contrary, it felt rather pleasant - a strange, gentle, soothing sensation he was helpless to resist.

Hermione didn't react. She lay tucked up against him, seemingly oblivious to the masses of fur sprouting all around her.

"Hermione," he said with urgency, uncertain she was safe with him.

She glanced up at him expectantly, neither scared nor pitying, and smiled tenderly, reaching up to rub the fur on the bridge of his nose.

Remus flinched and began to push her away. He was sure the hungering wolf would emerge and harm her. But all he felt was the warmth of her touch. He still had control of his mind, though it felt somehow separate from his body. He had no urge to hunt or bite or kill. Aside from his body, he was utterly unchanged.

"What's happened to me?"

"Well - It would appear that you've become a werewolf," she said simply, speaking into his chest. "-or you've gone a terribly long time without shaving."

"But how? Why? It's not even a full moon!"

She shrugged slightly, tracing soft, swirling patterns into his fur, "Strange things happen when you get caught up in another person."

"But aren't you scared? I mean, none of this makes sense. What if my mind catches up to my body? I could attack you out of the blue!"

"You won't."

"How do you know?"

"Because this is a dream and dreams usually come from your self-conscious. Your becoming a wolf has far more to do with your emotions and instincts than your literal physical form," she said, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.

"So you're telling me I'm hairy and clawed right now because I'm feeling out-of-sorts?!"

Hermione turned to face Remus. She set her elbow on his belly and propped her head up on her hand, looking very much like she was about to reveal the meaning of life in a long, pretentiously-worded lecture.

"When you're a wolf, you react out of pure instinct and feeling. Logic plays a very small part. In a sense, you're out of control. In another sense, you're free. That's how you feel with me and that's why you're scared of me. In fact, that's probably what prompted your change this evening."

"But you're not at all troubled about lying in bed with a werewolf?" Remus asked, unable to move past his fixation with Hermione's utter lack of distress at his metamorphosis.

"No," she shrugged, shaking her head.

"Why? I mean, do you often bed wild, blood-thirsty monsters?"

"Don't be silly, Remus. You know you're my only 'wild, blood-thirsty creature,'" she smirked. "I love every single piece of your personality, everything that makes you Remus - including the werewolf."

"The werewolf is *not* me."

"*That's* your problem," she said matter-of-factly. "Like it or not, the wolf is as much a part of your identity as the professor. If you hate the wolf, you hate yourself."

"I don't hate myself," he replied, defensively.

Hermione bowed her head and laughed gently. "If you honestly believe that, Remus, we've far bigger problems than your fear of intimacy."

"The werewolf is a curse. He does nothing but cause misery."

"Sometimes - yes. And sometimes the werewolf is wiser than the professor - you just won't listen long enough to hear any of his insight."

She settled down against his chest again and pulled his arm back around her shoulder, snuggling into his warm pelt.

She sighed languidly and kissed his furry belly, "I really just want to lay here with you and fall asleep"

"Remus, what are you thinking?"

"I love you-"

Remus' eyes burst open with a gasp. He drew his hands over his face and slowly sat up, his breathing shallow and fast. A glance about his himself proved he was alone and entirely human. The realization neither relieved nor disappointed him. He sat up, looking dazed and overwhelmed, and held his head in his hands, miserable.

The nights had become neverending since his encounter with Hermione. Alone in his bed, surrounded by darkness and silence, Remus found it nearly impossible to evade the emotional and sexual longing he felt for Hermione. He saw her body every time he closed his eyes - the silkiness of her flesh, the shapely lines of her long legs, the slow curves of her breasts, the soft triangle of curls massed between her thighs. At the outset, it was always a sweet torment. He thrilled at the recollection of her naked body and the sensations that rose within him as he explored every inch of her flesh.

Yet he couldn't have her. And if he was going to uphold any semblance of propriety, he never would. That caused him a degree of heartache he hadn't quite expected.

Hermione Granger was forbidden fruit. Still, Remus kept sneaking over to the tree to have a gander at the ripe, round apples, imagining what it would be like to sink his teeth into one again.

* * * *

All the untested virtue

The things I said I'd never do Least of all to you

I know he's kind and true

I know that he is good to you

He'll never care for you more than I do

But I don't believe in love

And I can't be changed

All alone as I've learned to be

In this mess

I have made the same mistakes

Over and over again -Ben Folds Five

"Those are all the notes for today," Remus told the class, casually leaning back against the front edge of his desk, "but we still have about a half an hour left before class is over. Get out your text books and start reading chapter seven about consciousness manipulation. And before you all go this afternoon, I've your tests on chapter five to return to you."

Remus took a seat behind his desk while the students pulled out their textbooks. It took them several minutes to settle down and actually crack open their books, as they had apparently interpreted the end of Remus' lecture as a cue to whisper and snicker amongst themselves for a bit. Hermione was the only one to begin reading without delay, though she was almost immediately side-tracked - pausing and laughing quietly as Harry said something to her.

As he was making notations in his grade book, Remus stole a furtive look at her. She had loosely twisted her hair back and speared it in place with her wand after repeatedly brushing her long curls from her face while she tried to read. And though the academic in him found Hermione's dedication to uninterrupted reading admirable, he was primarily appreciative that, with her hair gathered to the back of her head, he was treated to a lovely view of her long, slender neck.

What a neck she had. So lovely to behold, but even better to kiss - on that soft space where the nape began to mesh with the sensitive flesh below her ears. He remembered how she'd shuttered when he'd moved his lips against that particular spot. She'd liked it, as well, when he slowly, scarcely traced the path of her pulse with the tip of his tongue. He'd continued to her jawline and her earlobe, sucking and nipping at her skin all along the way.


He dropped his eyes back to his gradebook and continued to log test grades.

**Where was I? Ah - Bulstrode, Millicent. B-. Crabbe, Vincent. D-. Finnegan, Seamus. C. Goyle, Gregory. F. Granger, Hermione - A+.**

He ran his eye over her row of grades. A's straight down the line. He smiled to himself, amused by her unyielding academic consistency.

** "Oh - Professor Lupin, I'm beginning to think you're the case I've been studying for."**

Her words returned to him as clearly as if she were speaking in his ear.

**"See - you-you not only engage my mind, but my body, too - even more than I had ever imagined. You make me respond in ways I didn't realize were possible."**

Remus cleared his throat loudly, but already knew she wouldn't be drowned out. She'd spoken to him before when the room was quiet and his mind was still. She'd sneak in through some unguarded corner of his thoughts and taunt him with his own recollections.

**Do you remember?

But of course you do. How could any of it have fallen through the cracks of your mind and into obscurity?

In fact, it's quite clear in your mind, isn't it? How her eyes, half- closed, shone both hazy and intense at the same time. How her skin against your tongue tasted sweet and fresh. How her moans of pleasure dissolved into a low purr that moved as a soothing rhythm against your cheek. How her small hands in your hair spilled over your scalp like rainwater pouring down in a singular torrent. How her flesh felt warm and alive against your lips. How her arms wrapped around your neck so tenderly, so longingly as if she might never let go. How her voice, her words -**

"*Harry!!!*" Hermione barely whispered, in giddy shock.

Remus' eyes shot up from his grade book to the boy and girl directly in front of him. Harry had his hand at Hermione's side, apparently trying to rouse her attention with ticklish fingers. She tried to slap him away with playful annoyance, but he wouldn't relent. Her suppressed giggles were becoming noisier as Harry snickered devilishly at her inability to control neither him nor her own reactions. They abruptly stopped their horseplay, however, and returned, solemn and silent, to their reading when they noticed their professor watching them.

Remus did not react.

"Good going, Potter," Remus heard Hermione hiss quietly, her eyes frozen downward to the text. She kicked Harry in the shin, smirking.

Harry looked over at Hermione. Hermione looked over at Harry. Like merry conspirators, their eyes locked - dancing with wordless communication - and they shared mischievous grins. It was the kind of unspoken concurrence of thought that only the best of friends - or lovers - can share.

Remus went back to his grade book and tried to ignore the twinge of envy in his chest.

**Okay - Malfoy, Draco. A. Parkinson, Pansy. C-. Potter, Harry - Potter, Harry - The Boy Who Lived, the savior of the wizarding world - the boy for whom I'm responsible - a good boy, a kind boy, a brave boy - the boy who had Hermione, who she loved -

-- loves?

Potter, Harry - the boy who broke up with Hermione - right? He told her he didn't love her anymore, didn't he? They're friends - best friends. Six years of friendship breeds that kind of familiarity - As does young love-

Oh, sod it! You don't love her - remember? You were right to turn her away that morning. You've enough on your mind - don't need a silly girl on your heels, demanding your time, your life. It's just you. Safe. Secure. Alone.

Potter, Harry - B - **

The students were getting restless, riffling through papers, shifting in their seats, chatting with increasing volume. Remus realized class was almost over.

"Alright everybody," he said, rising from behind the desk. "When you get your test, you're free to go."

He wove about the classroom, handing tests to antsy students ready to bolt from the room.

"Dean - good job - big improvement over the last test."

"Ron - you might want to study next time."

"Draco - excellent work."

"Hermione - Perfect as usual," Remus said, forcing himself to remain casual and comfortable while passing Hermione her test.

Their eyes met, hers twinkling happily - void of reservation or intimidation. She offered him her usual charming smile and took the test from him, her hand momentarily sweeping against his. The contact shot like a bullet of warmth through his veins and he could feel his flesh prickle with goosebumps. It was all he could do to keep hold of the tests he clutched and avoid crawling across the desk and right into her lap. Hermione, however, appeared completely unaffected, as she slipped the test into her notebook and gathered her bag. Harry grinned, watching her prepare to leave, and grabbed her hand, squeezing it gently.

"Wait for me, speed racer," he said, pulling her back down into her seat. They both laughed.

Remus couldn't help but think that for a friend - an ex-boyfriend, no less - Harry held Hermione's hand just a bit too long.

They fleetingly reminded him of another couple he once knew. A couple he loved, but often resented in spite of his best intentions.

He used to watch Lily Evans and James Potter as he now stood watching Hermione and Harry. In fact, he used to study them - like everything else in his life he could only experience second-hand. There were times he was as absorbed in their romance as they were. He took keen note of all the nuances of their interaction. The casual way they held hands on the way to class or the Great Hall - as natural and automatic to them as blinking or breathing. Or the way James would stare at Lily when her head was turned - so clearly admiring her, marveling at the amazing stroke of luck that brought her to him. Or the way Lily used to attend every one of James' Quidditch matches, cheering him on with rapt enthusiasm and nervous anticipation. Any time he was injured on the field, she sat by his side in the infirmary, holding his hand and watching him sleep, until he was sent back to the tower with a full bill of health.

It was beautiful and terrible to observe - at least for Remus. To be friends with James and Lily was to watch his greatest desire play out before him, life flaunting his unrealized dreams right under his nose. Of course, Remus got attention from females. He bandied about the castle with a number of attractive girls, but they never stayed around for much more than that. He carried far too much baggage. He was far too damaged. He had too many secrets.

And perhaps exactly because of that fact - because he *knew* his horrible secret meant no one would love him the way Lily loved James - it sometimes seemed all he ever wanted was a partner, a lover with which to bear his burden. Transforming into a werewolf was never a pleasant experience, but it could be made tolerable with the company of someone whose appreciation of him was total. The Marauders had taught him that. They were exactly the support he needed as a child, but as he grew older he always longed for something greater and all-encompassing. He wanted a girl who could love him without fear, completely and unwaveringly. What scared Remus, however, was the possibility that sixteen year -old Hermione Granger, his best and brightest *student*, could be that woman. And just seeing her smile at Harry or laugh at something he said with the easy affection of familiarity, friendship, history, made him feel he was watching a repeat of James and Lily - another hard reminder of having been denied happiness yet again.

* * * *

But your taste still lingers on my lips like I just placed them upon yours

and I starve for you.

But this new diet's liquid

and dulling to the senses.

And it's crude but it will do. -Dashboard Confessional

" - Remus, please. Let me make love to you. Let me show you how my body responds to you -"

She took his hand and guided it beneath her skirt, to the wet patch of silk between her thighs. She looked up at him, her eyes assuring him that it was only the slightest indication of her arousal.

"No one's ever made me ache like this - do you know why, Remus?"

He shook his head mutely.

Her hair was loose and free, curls tumbling wildly about her face and shoulders, like an uncontrollable mane of silky-smooth chocolate. He wanted to consume her. He tried. But he found his legs too leaden to move.

"Because you're inside of me - all the time - inside my head - my soul - my gut -"

She gazed at him with an unnerving sort of intensity. Her lips, glistening moistly in the candlelight, were a brilliant, bold shade of red. They cast a chilling contrast to her naturally pallid complexion, leaving Remus both unsettled and aroused. Again he sought to go to her and again he went nowhere.

"-but that's all I have - I want more - I want you - all of you, all the time - I want to feel you under my skin and across it - I want you to possess my mind and my lips - I want you to make my heart and my body quiver -"

She crawled toward him on her hands and knees - confident and hungry, like a lioness slinking in for the kill. Creeping past a shadow, the light struck her face and Remus' eyes were again drawn to the shocking crimson glint of her lips. A note of trepidation edged into his enticement.

"I want everything you can give me - everything - I promise you won't regret it -"

He began to squirm against his paralysis as she drew nearer, suddenly uncomfortable with the hungry passion in her gaze.

"Why are you so scared? You won't lose a thing - I'll fill you full with me - we'll sustain each other - just surrender and I'll take care of you -"

But he knew she already had him. She would consume him. He could already see the blood on her lips -

He groaned and rolled on to his back. Once again, he'd been dreaming. His forehead was beaded with sweat and he could feel his heart thumping against his chest. He wanted her so badly it seemed he could almost taste her on his lips. His body throbbed for her. Beneath the covers he could feel his penis strain against the cotton material of his pajama pants, demanding immediate attention.

"Not again -"

Frustrated, he slammed his head down into his pillow and fought to ignore the burning in his groin, resolving to clear his mind of Hermione and drift back to sleep.

The resistance lasted perhaps a minute.

He pounded his fist against the mattress and growled with uncharacteristic ferocity.

"Fuck! Why?! Dammit - why won't she leave me alone?!"

He was livid, but uncertain whether his anger was toward Hermione or himself. First his mind had yielded to her magic. Now his body bent to her. Even in slumber. The long-maintained control he'd struggled to cultivate was beginning to slip from his grasp. And as his psyche clung to the safe haven of his inhibitions, his body urged him to let go and seize hold of something else.

He flung the sheets back and plunged his hand beneath the waist of his slacks. Clutching his erection, he fisted himself with a fury he'd never known. It was a dangerous mixture of hostility and painfully intense arousal. His body was so charged with the specter of Hermione's touch, he was agonizing inside his own skin. When he began to release, it struck him with a violent intensity - his muscles seizing and shuddering spasmodically, his vision fading and eyelids involuntarily slamming shut, face straining with a look of anguish. Semen bled down his hand and pooled warmly onto his belly, wasted and messy.

There was no pleasure, no actual release.

It didn't cure his hunger for Hermione. He knew it wouldn't.

It was a sad, desperate, frantic gesture. A gesture of defeat.

* * * *

"It's cold and dark outside your spell." -Zumpano


He paused and tapped his foot against the front of his desk, feeling the resistance nudge his toes.

**No - Not a dream - This is all real -**

He looked up from the papers he'd been grading and found himself looking not at Hermione, but Arabella Figg, who was smiling at him from the doorway of his classroom.

"Are you terribly busy," she asked lightly, her eyes gleaming with expectation.

"Of course not," Remus replied, attempting to mask the disappointment in his voice. "Please come in."

He set down his quill and rose as Arabella approached the desk.

"Well, I see you *are* keeping quite busy," she said, nodding toward the pile of parchment before him.

"Oh - yes - my earlier levels just turned in some essays - I've a bigger pile in my office," he said with resignation, bracing his arm against his desk and leaning against it casually.

"Well, that's good to know."

She opened her mouth and began to say something, but stopped herself, standing silent and thoughtful for a moment.

"I - oh, this is so silly - I was starting to think you were, y'know, giving me the brush off," Arabella commented. Her voice was timid, but her face bore a deliberately pointed expression.

A touch of pink crept into Remus' cheeks, as he guiltily raced to cover his tracks. "No - I've just had a great many demands on my time lately. I'm terribly sorry if I've caused you any anxiety."

"I understand," she said warmly, placing her hand atop his on the desk, "but don't you ever take a break?"

He laughed quietly, "Not often. 'Idle hands do the Devil's work.'"

"Perhaps the Devil's work isn't such a bad thing," she spoke softly and smoothly. She drifted around the desk, intentionally maintaining eye contact with Remus, and moved nearer to him. "Idle hands can be quite useful in the right circumstances."

He edged back slightly, nervous. "O-oh, not mine - B-believe me."

She regarded him thoughtfully, her head slanted, "What is it that frightens you so, Remus?"

"I'm not sure what you mean," he lied, dragging his fingers through his thick brown hair.

"Oh, please, Remus - You're a handsome, intelligent, honest man. You're *single*. Women tend to notice these things - and I'm *certain* you don't go unnoticed. So why haven't you taken advantage of your god-given gifts and found yourself a good woman to keep you company?"

"I-I just have other priorities right now. You're well aware, I'm sure, that decent jobs are hard to come by for me - and this one is among the best. I need to concentrate on my duties here at Hogwarts. Dating someone would just - just get in the way of that."

"Now, why is that, Remus?"

"W-well - well, I - uh-"

"Remus, when was the last time you were with a woman?" She edged forward a bit, her body in dangerous proximity to his.

"I - I don't think-"

"What you need, Remus, is to learn how to relax and appreciate life," she said quietly, nearly pressed against him. "I could teach you how if you gave me the chance."

She brought her hand to his cheek and caressed it. Her eyes, full of intent, traveled his face eagerly.

"Arabella, I don't think this is a good idea."

"You needn't be afraid of me, Remus. I only want to help you enjoy yourself."

She gently slid a finger across his lips, tracing the outline of his mouth. Her touch was soft and soothing. He blinked heavily, swallowing hard, and let his mind begin to sink into the sensations - the sensations so reminiscent of Hermione's fingers moving over his face, his body.

Arabella's hand rounded to the back of his neck and cradled his head. The other hand sunk into his thick graying hair. Rising slightly on the balls of her feet, she pressed her lips to his.

Remus was initially non-responsive, standing rigid in her arms. But his body began to feel *her* again. *Hermione*. Arabella opened her mouth beneath him and slid her tongue across his lips, leveraging its way into his mouth. As the warmth of her body and the heat of her actions spread over him, he drifted into the passion of the moment, returning and deepening the kiss and hesitantly embracing her. But it was *her*. It was Hermione. Only Hermione.

His clarity, however, soon returned. His eyes flew open and his posture once again stiffened. He grasped her by the shoulders and forcefully tore her away from his body.

She looked at him helplessly, her eyes straining with confusion and frustration.

"No, Arabella - This isn't going to happen."

"But, Remus, you wanted me - I-I felt it. You -"

"No - I'm sorry if I misled you, Arabella, but it was a mistake - you're a very attractive woman - but - I simply can't be with you."

She watched him wordlessly for a moment or two, looking slightly dazed. Then her expression changed and she moved closer, studying him as if he was the new creature at the sideshow.

"There's some one else," she said, as if answering a question she hadn't even uttered.

A flash of terror moved across Remus and one mad idea began to scream through his head.

**She knows.**

"N-no, Arabella," he breathed nervously, his words fumbling out of his cottony mouth. "I'm working all the time. When would I have time for a - a relationship?"

She scrutinized him all the harder.

"Perhaps when no one's looking."

Remus felt his stomach drop and panic begin to take hold of his mental processes.

"Arabella, I assure you I have no idea what you're talking about," he said, his voice a bit too hurried and high-pitched to sound convincing. "I've hardly *touched* a woman in years."

"Mmm-hmm," she nodded slowly, her face settling into an expression of thoughtful substantiation. "As I suspected - so when do you meet? How do you manage to carry on the affair without anyone knowing the truth?"

"What truth?! What affair?!" he screeched. "Please - You're - you're not making any sense, Arabella."

"It's alright, Remus," she said gently. "I'm an enlightened woman. I wouldn't let a little matter of sex get in the way of our friendship. You can be honest with me. It won't hurt my feelings or make me uncomfortable. I understand - we don't choose who we love."

Remus stood dumbstruck before Arabella, his mouth moving as if beginning to express a thought, but repeatedly failing to grasp hold of the words. She smiled sympathetically and soothingly slid her hand over his arm.

"I have to admit, I'm terribly smitten with you and I've entertained many a naughty fantasy about you," she said with a bawdy laugh, "but that's all water under the bridge now, as far as I'm concerned. You can't change the fact that you're gay and, honestly, I can't believe it didn't occur to me earlier."

He sighed loudly and hung his head in exasperation.

"Why does everybody think I'm gay all of a sudden?"

"It makes total sense now that I think about it," she said, beginning to tick off the reasons on her fingers. "You're dreadfully good-looking. You're polite and nice - definitely one of those men you can take home to your parents. You're honest - well, about the necessary things. You're not the type to make crude remarks about women. You're intelligent - You also never seem interested in pursuing women and you spend a suspicious amount of time with Sirius Black -"


Arabella was taken off-guard by Remus' angry outburst - so divergent from his typically soft-spoken, innocuous demeanor - and blinked at him in stunned disbelief.

"Okay, okay - sorry!" she said calmly, "I didn't think Sirius was gay, anyway."

Remus gave her a cold stare. However, seeing her clearly wounded expression softened his annoyance a bit.

"Listen, Arabella, I'm not going to stand here and defend my sexuality. I love women. I'm terribly attracted to them. I'm sorry if I in any way gave you the wrong impression, but I have other, extremely important concerns right now that require my full attention. I'm far too overloaded to give you the level of commitment you deserve."

**Nice save, Remus. Perhaps Sirius has finally begun to rub off on you after all these years - No. Sirius would have shagged her right here on the floor.**

Arabella appeared appeased by his gentle rejection. She gave him a slight smile, a thin veil of uneasiness nonetheless hanging between them.

"I know, Remus," she said quietly, a tinge of pity in her voice. "You are shouldering quite a bit of responsibility these days. It was terribly selfish of me not to have considered that."

Remus regarded her compassionately, pausing to reflect on the sheer solitude she betrayed in her dogged pursuit of his affections.

**She still misses Jeoffrey.**

"No - You weren't selfish. You simply expressed your interest in me - and I'm very flattered by that. I just need to - focus on other things. It's not in the slightest bit personal - you're a marvelous woman - And I hope this won't cause any strain between us. I do value your friendship."

An uneasy silence hung between them, neither knowing what to say to the other. They smiled weakly and tried to pretend they were oblivious to the edgy atmosphere in the room.

"I see you still have a great deal of work to plow through," she said anxiously, nodding toward the stack of papers, as she took her opportunity to back away from the stilted exchange.

Her eyes swept about him with a strange glint.

"Just make sure you're not working too hard. Take care of yourself - and give yourself a break every once and awhile, alright?"


"Well - I must be on my way. I've work to do as well," she said.

Remus couldn't help but notice the lonely strain in her eyes, despite her lovely smile. He came over to the other side of the desk, giving her a quick sympathetic hug.

"You take care of yourself, too, Arabella."

"Oh, don't worry. I always do," she grinned. "See you later, Remus."


He sighed and slumped a bit, tired and relieved, feeling as if he'd just wrestled a bull and barely escaped alive. He took his seat at his desk and resumed his exam grading.

"Professor Lupin?"

Another voice broke the calming silence of the classroom. He paused, wishing for a bit of undisturbed silence and fixed a smile upon his face. He drew his eyes away from the test he'd been grading, dreading what new annoyance might be awaiting him.

It was Hermione Granger - in the flesh. She stood at the threshold of the classroom, a becoming vision in her Gryffindor sweater and gray skirt, addressing him with earnest formality.

He wasn't sure whether it was cause to celebrate or curse.

"Hermione," Remus greeted her, fighting desperately to keep a benignly neutral expression affixed to his face. "How can I - help you?"

She walked to his desk without a hint of trepidation, her notebook folded beneath her arm. Her robes blew about her a bit, revealing a vague outline of her curves and an improved view of her of her skirt swaying just above her knees. It smartly accentuated her long, pale legs.

Remus immediately and indulgently took note, but hurriedly drew his eyes away as that familiar warmth began to creep over his body.

"I had some questions about my paper. I wanted to clear them up before I handed it in. Are you busy?"

"No. Not at all," he said with slight distraction. She had frequently come to him with similar requests in the past. She was thorough and curious and didn't like to finalize a paper without ensuring she had all her facts straight and question answered. He was impressed by her dedication, so rare in students of her age. Indeed, he'd always enjoyed their private academic discussions - in retrospect, at least. Could he possibly have known how much those conversations meant to him at the time? How they turned his mind from darker concerns and eased his feelings of loneliness? How her enthusiasm and curiosity made him smile and engaged his intellect in ways no one had in years?

It was quite different now. The dynamics had changed radically and he wasn't quite sure this confab would yield anything but misery.

Hermione, for her part, didn't appear particularly concerned about the exchange. With a flick of her wand, she repositioned a chair beside Remus' and settled in next to him at the desk, as she always did, so she could go over certain passages of her paper with him.

She gingerly crossed her legs and smoothed her skirt over her thighs. Remus immediately perceived the distinct aroma that had become so familiar over the past couple of weeks - the scent that effused his body with warmth and expectation - that honey-peach odor that seemed to emanate from her every pore. When Hermione looked down to retrieve a handful of parchment from her notebook, Remus' eyes fell shut and he inhaled deeply in brief moment of weakness. It was all he could afford to indulge himself.

Hermione, however, was all about business and leapt right into her inquiries.

"I found some information about Echthroi in a book I bought at Flourish and Blotts. It said that the Echthroi prey upon people with an antipathy toward their community or society in general, but I was under the impression that they had the capacity to seek out weak egos and establish a parasitic relationship with those people. From what I understand, those people are more susceptible to negative influences. So I'm just a bit confused about that."

Remus scanned the first page of her report and nodded approvingly. "Well, you're both right. People with ill-formed or conflicted identities often have a tendency to disassociate themselves from the world around them in some form. There are more occurrences of negative thought and emotion, which can result in hate, resentment, or utter indifference. When the Echthroi detect those qualities in a person, they're drawn to it and seek to attach themselves to the person and leech all remaining forms of individuality, self-esteem, and positive thought from them. That's how they breed hate and conflict so effectively."

Hermione, industrious as always, was furiously taking notes while Remus spoke. Her long brown curls fell forward as a shroud around her face, which was set in an expression of concentration and active thought. The trace of a smile flickered across Remus' face, musing how becoming she looked when immersed in academic frenzy. He'd seen her like this hundreds of times since he'd met her, but it only just struck him how fond he'd grown of it.

"Okay," she said, looking up from her parchment, quill at the ready in her hand. She regarded Remus with an unaffected openness. He marveled at the fact that her behavior toward him was so utterly unchanged. There was no hesitation or uneasiness in her body language or interaction with him. No indication of strain or anxiety between them. No suggestion of any lingering issues over the fact that her favorite professor slept with her and then quite unceremoniously dismissed her the next morning. Indeed, judging by Hermione's behavior, that night might as well have never happened.

**I'll give it to her - she's certainly true to her word.**

"Now," Hermione continued with her inquiries, "the Echthroi have been eliminated for the most part, but there are still pockets of them in certain areas, right?"


"Do we know where these areas are? I really couldn't find any specific information about that in my research."

"That's because they're difficult to pinpoint," Remus replied. "Their basic form is imperceptible, but they can morph themselves into human form or even take over a human body if their effects are fully absorbed. So it's extremely tricky to locate groups until there's been a clear, pronounced pattern of discord and strife in a particular area. And by then it can be too late to repair the situation."

"How so?" she asked, glancing up at Remus as she wrote away.

"Well, there are instances of Echthroi outbreaks causing conflict, violence, destruction that simply can't be undone. Once an individual or community reaches a certain level of decay - caused by the Echthroi - there's very little that can be done to rehabilitate them. The effects are simply too strong to offset, so there are occurrences of extreme greed, corruption - negative behaviors along those lines. They can do a great deal of damage."

"Hmm-mm," she nodded, scribbling out a sentence. "And in order to cure a victim, they have to undergo a sort of reprogramming to restore and reinforce identity?"

"Yes. It's a lengthy process. Not at all easy, from what I've been told. I'm afraid I'm not entirely certain what this process entails or exactly how it's administered. These are rather recent developments, and I fear I've only a rudimentary understanding of Echthros at the moment."

"Oh, that's fine," she said, smiling good-naturedly at him. "That's really all I needed to know anyway."

"This is quite a unique topic for your paper, Hermione. What drew your attention to it?"

She smiled, her eyes sparkling in an oddly incisive manner as she rose from the chair.

"Oh, I stumbled upon it in a book I'd borrowed from the library. It intrigued me, so I decided to look into it a bit more. Such a timely issue, you know - since it's been suggested that what remains of them may now be in league with Voldemort."

She magicked the chair back to the other side of the room. Remus stood to see her off.

"Well, you've done a fine job. I'm impressed."

Hermione made her way toward the door.

"Thank you Professor Lupin," she said evenly. "Have a nice evening."

He wished the door would close and lock itself before she could leave.

**Where's Voldemort when you actually need him?! **

But the door remained as it was. He watched Hermione's easy gait through it, as he stood, unmoving, behind the desk. He gazed at the empty, open door frame long after she was gone, hand stuffed in his pockets in an effort to keep his desire to hit himself in check.

**Good - I'm glad she's not hurting. I behaved inappropriately and I was a complete ass afterward. She doesn't deserve to suffer for that -

Still -

It would be comforting if she seemed at all affected by it - a plaintive look toward me now and then, a little open hostility, perhaps some reluctance to be near me - especially alone, just a little vibe of tension radiating from her body -**

I remember the first time

I was lonely without her

Can't stop thinking about her now -The Beatles

Alone in his bedroom, Remus struggled to stay focused on academics - or nearly anything else besides Hermione. The images, the sensations, the emotions of that one night with her were burnt into his consciousness and they refused to leave him be.

He couldn't shake off the memory of waking in the dead of night to find himself caught up in her arms, surrounded by her soft flesh and bathed in the affection she radiated even in her sleep. He couldn't elude it and he wasn't sure he wanted it to. For a sliver of time, he was golden and blessed. Contentment and joy mingled in his very blood. The prospect of becoming rooted and settled seemed, magically enough, possible.

It haunted him now. Promise and potential thwarted - dead - leaving only the bittersweet aftertaste of memory.

**It's tiring to deny yourself constantly.**

Remus was drawn from his thoughts by the sounds of scratching at his door.

**Ugh - what now?!** He thought wearily, as he reached for the door and drew it open.

A large black dog bounded in and quickly transformed into a familiar figure - a lanky man who ran his fingers through his dark, unkempt hair and smiled widely.

"Came by to see Harry and thought, since I was in the neighborhood, I'd pay a visit to my favorite wolfman," Sirius said jovially, whacking Remus on the shoulder. Sirius' blue eyes sparkled warmly. He strolled past his friend and made himself quite to home, stretching out comfortably on Remus' bed, folding his arms behind his head, and sinking into a downy pillow. "I had no idea the professors' quarters were so cozy. Nicer beds than the dorms. Fireplace. Complete privacy. It's a wonder we didn't tunnel into one of these when we were kids. After all, we nosed into every other inch of the castle."

Remus chuckled as he returned to his desk and turned his chair toward Sirius. "If memory serves, we did consider hunting out McGonagal's room and sneaking into it to steal her grade book when she was away during our fifth year."

But Sirius, for once, didn't seem interested in reminiscing over their past indiscretions. On the contrary, he was studying Remus with intense concern.

"Mate, you look like the bloody dregs of hell. What's troubling you?"

Remus hadn't checked himself in a mirror for days, but realized he must look a mess. He'd not had a decent night's sleep in weeks. He spent his every free moment reading until his eyes ached, in hopes of distracting his mind from thoughts of Hermione.

"Don't beat around the bush now, Sirius - how do I really look?" he smirked.

"Joke all you like," Sirius said soberly, "but you look worse than after a full moon."

Remus' smile faded. He turned his eyes from Sirius. "There's nothing wrong with me besides too many papers to grade."

"You're a bloody liar, Remus Lupin. Quit the self-effacing bullshit and come clean. I get enough of that with Harry."

"Well, maybe Harry's got it right," he said quietly. "Some things are private."

"Alright then," Sirius shrugged, adopting an aloof tone, "don't tell me. Keep it bottled up with all those other *private* matters you're too cowardly to discuss. I can't imagine how much fun it must be to be so repressed and miserable all the time."

Remus rolled his eyes and neither said a word for several minutes.

"There - there's a - a woman -" Remus admitted grudgingly.

Sirius turned on his side suddenly, propping his head up on his palm. "Well, well, well - will wonders never cease. I thought that kind of thing was too - what was the word you used? - **messy** for you."

"Yes, I did, too. It was completely unanticipated -"

"Well, it's about time. I told you you'd benefit from some female companionship."

Sirius sat quietly for a moment before a broad, wicked smile crossed his face.

"Out with it, then - who is she?!"

Remus shook his head vigorously. "Oh no. I'm not telling you *that*. You'll never shut up about it."

"Do I know her?" Sirius asked thoughtfully. Remus shrugged his shoulders indifferently.

"I do, don't I?" Sirius stubbornly forged ahead, the wheels already spinning inside his busy mind. Remus remained silent.

Sirius' face suddenly lit up and he slowly nodded his head. "It's Arabella, isn't it?!"

Remus was stony-faced. "I'm not telling you."

"It's so obvious now that I think about it. No wonder she was itching to get you alone after the Phoenix meeting," he snickered quietly to himself. "Itching - yes, certainly did seem to have an itch she was hoping you could scratch."

Remus let out an exasperated sigh, but neither confirmed nor denied Sirius' suspicions.

"So, what's the situation? Are you together? Are you dating? Or are you two just shagging for fun."


Sirius shook his head in incredulity, "It *has* been awhile for you, hasn't it? If there's *nothing* going on, what the hell are you making such a fuss about?"

"There's not anything going on right now. I didn't say there wasn't anything going on *before*," Remus replied matter-of-factly.

Sirius slowly sat back down on the edge of the bed, his interest obviously piqued. "Before what?"

"Listen, it - it was quite spontaneous. In fact, it was a fluke. We were - *thrown together* under very strange circumstances and we, uh - we - I -"

Remus' face reddened rapidly as he regarded Sirius with a sheepish admission of transgression.

A delighted smile spread across Sirius' face and he slapped Remus across the knee. "You finally got some!"

Remus thought for a moment, looking mightily conflicted.

"Sirius, I don't know exactly what happened that night or where it came from. All I know for certain is - is that she awoke something inside of me -"

"An erection," Sirius suggested, smirking.

Remus scowled at his friend and shook his head. "That's not quite what I meant."

"What then? What was it?"

"It -" Remus was clearly struggling for words. "It - was something real and vital. I don't know - I'm not even sure if I know a word for it. It's just that - no matter how hard I try, I can't turn back - I can't let go of the idea of her and I."

Sirius crossed his arms over his chest and sighed deeply, "Then *why* aren't you with her now?"

"Because it's not practical - or wise - It could mean trouble for both of us."

"In other words, you *really* do have feelings for her and that scares the shit out of you."

Remus' eyes shot up to Sirius' with an urgent swiftness, "Sirius, I've never, ever felt this way before. It was immediate and overwhelming and automatic - and when it was over -"

He struggled for words.

"Well - it's still not over. I've always been able to shut out the emotions that scared me, that complicated my life -"

"Which is *exactly* why you're talking to me right now instead of off with her getting laid - like you *should* be!"

"Thank you very much for that expert analysis of the situation," Remus said acerbically, grimacing, "but I'm afraid it's a little thornier than that."

"Alright - don't keep me in suspense," Sirius said with a tinge of sarcasm.

"Listen, Sirius, I've tried my *damnedest* to purge her from my system, but she will not go."

"Well, of course not - she's a woman, not some bad fish you had for dinner."

"I realize that," Remus said edgily. "It's just that - her voice, her body, her smell haunts me every minute of the day and night. I can't even sleep anymore for dreams and thoughts of her. I feel as if I'm going mad."

"Well, well, I guess Arabella Figg gives as good as she looks."

"I never said it was Arabella."

"Never said it wasn't, either - she's guilty until proven innocent in my book."

Remus began to say something, but thought better of it. He nervously drew his lower lip between his teeth and bore down so hard on the flesh he could soon taste a faint metallic tang as he tensely swallowed down his saliva.

"Of course," Sirius said with a menacing mischievousness. "I suppose Arabella's not the *only* possibility. I mean, there's - well, there's always Sprout - a bit on the stout side, but no doubt more than willing to dig in and get dirty. Or Hooch, who, if memory serves, always *did* mount a broomstick quite adeptly. And, McGonagal, at her advanced age, must be *crackling* with experience. And those transfiguration skills - well, she *is* a pus-"

"*Shut up!!!!* You are so utterly *vile*," Remus said with only partially amused disgust. "Why do I still talk to you?"

Sirius crossed his arms over his chest and sat back, grinning, "Because I, my friend, am the only one of the two of us who knows how to live."

"Right," Remus rolled his eyes. "Because I forgot - socializing with Dementors for twelve years does wonders for one's ability to function fully and effectively amongst human beings."

Remus regretted the words as they left his mouth. Sirius' expression turned severe, first with injury and then with anger, and he slowly rose to his feet, clearly agitated.

"Lupin, you can be a *real* prick when you have to acknowledge that you don't know everything - and you don't, by the way. You could O.W.L. circles around me, I won't deny that, but you're fucking useless when it comes to human relations. How is it that you're thirty-six years old and you're still getting spotty over whether or not to ask a girl out?!"

"It's not that cut-and-dry - I told you!"

"Name me a relationship worth pursuing that *is* and I'll surrender myself to the Ministry," Sirius said, pacing the floor.

"Point taken, but this is still an impossible situation."

"Then drop it. Forget her. Forget the sex. Forget your feelings. Move. The fuck. On!"

Remus was quiet, looking at Sirius helplessly.

"I-I -"

"You can't?"

Remus shook his head woefully.

"Why? What is so devastatingly amazing about this woman that you can't function without her?!"

"I - I don't know, Sirius - she's just - different - different from any other woman I've even - ever met."

Sirius nodded his head back-and-forth impatiently, tiring of the banality of Remus' sentiments.

"Yes, yes, go on - I've heard this bullshit before - tell me something *new*," Sirius said with annoyance, hoping his rudeness might light a fire of emotion under his friend.

"What the fuck do you *want* me to say?! I mean, she's - she's a beautiful girl - surely, in all your goggling over women, you *must* have happened to noticed that she's matured into an extremely attractive woman -"

Sirius perked up a bit. "Hmm - so I *do* know her."

He shot a meaningful look at Remus, adding smugly, "but I knew that already -Anyway, I still haven't heard a valid explanation why you - Mr. Composure - can't simply write this one off."

"We-sh-Well - I mean, she's beautiful-"

"We've already established that."

"Yes! I know! Give me chance to finish my thoughts, dammit!" Remus yelled. "Sh-she - doesn't take her beauty for granted. I mean, it's like she's - not even aware of it-it just shows all over her, so natural and-and genuine. And-and -"

"And? Is that all you have?"

"No! Dammit! She's fucking brilliant - amazing. Sometimes - sometimes *I* feel stupid when I talk to her. God! No one - absolutely no one - has ever challenged me like that. It's - it's - *exciting*. And it's not just her mind - it's her soul and her heart. She's - wiser about things than I am. She's good and honest and real and -"

"And *what*, Remus? What? Because you're still sitting here like a sad-sack - bloodshot eyes and pathetic expression and all - stuttering yourself into oblivion over this woman instead of *doing* something to make your words worth anything."

Remus couldn't respond. He accepted his reprimand quietly, well-aware he was entirely responsible for his own misery.

"You're a fucking mess over this woman, mate, but you don't care enough to do anything about it - Or maybe it's just the fact that you hadn't gotten laid in a really long time. Maybe all this drama has started because one good screw was all it took to send your entire system into overload and now you're blowing your feelings for her completely out of proportion as a reaction."

"No! No, Sirius - No! I've had lots of sex - lots of meaningless one-night- stands, my share of passionate love making - but never once did I wake up with a woman after sex and feel utterly - alive. I did - I did with *her*."

"Did you? Really? Because you don't *look* very alive right now."

"Sirius, when I looked down and saw her laying there all tangled up in my body - god, she looked so serene and fulfilled - and fuck, I've never felt so content and whole and happy and safe - SAFE, SIRIUS, SAFE!!!!!! Do you know the last time I felt safe was when James and Lily were alive and Peter hadn't betrayed us all - when we were all dumb kids here at Hogwarts, hatching silly schemes and looking out for one another?! *No one* has been able to make me feel that way since I decided -"

"Decided what? That you had all the answers and you didn't have to be bothered with humanity anymore? That it was too *messy* to let yourself go and enjoy life every once in awhile? That you were *above* daft ideas like passion and emo-"

"I THINK I'M IN LOVE WITH HER!" Remus yelled, jumping to his feet and coming face-to-face with his friend. He stood, flushed and breathless, for a moment before becoming aware of his actions and turning away, almost shocked at himself. He slumped back into his chair and stared forward dumbly.

"I think I love her," he said in a hushed voice.

Sirius gaped at Remus for a moment and then shook his head in exasperation. "Then remind me again why you aren't with her?!!! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"I *told* you. It's just not possible - in fact, it's a mistake. I've no right to feel the way I do about her."

Sirius snorted. "What, Remus? D'you fancy one of your students?" he joked, grinning wickedly. The smile, however, drained from his face when Remus made no reply, merely stared at the floor, guiltily. "Remus! No! What the hell are you thinking?!"

"I'm not! That's the problem. Hell, my mind won't even operate when it comes to her. She's leading me around by my emotions and it scares the hell out of me."

"Okay - let's try this again - do I know her?"

Again, Remus said nothing, but his eyes darted nervously about the room. Sirius knew his friend well-enough to know that was a sign of admittance.

"Well -" he said contemplatively. "I really *only* know one girl at Hogwarts right now, but that's im-" Remus' expression wavered, once again betraying the truth.

Sirius jumped to his feet, roaring, "Remus, have you lost your mind?! You had sex with Hermione Granger?!"

"Twice," Remus croaked, gazing at the floor shamefully.

"She's sixteen years old! She's dating Harry!"

"Not any more."

"Not any more?" Sirius furrowed his brow, completely bewildered by what information had just come out over the last several seconds.

"Harry broke up with her a few weeks ago."

"He never said anything to me about it - least he could have done was tell me about it," Sirius mumbled indignantly, pacing the floor. He stopped in front of Remus and gave him a hard look. "So this is one of those middle- aged, 'relive-your-youth' things, right?"

"No," Remus said plainly. "I wish it were. It would be easier to accept that way - I don't know, Sirius - there's no way I can explain this to you without sounding utterly fucking clich├ęd - All I know, whether you believe it or not, is - it's *never* been this way before."

"Of course it hasn't! You're twenty years older than her!"

Remus smirked slightly, "Obviously twelve years in Azkaban did nothing to dull your math skills."

Sirius was not amused.

"Listen, I'm the smart-ass, here," he snapped ferociously. "You need to focus on keeping yourself out of trouble and let me worry about the snide remarks."

A laugh sputtered past Remus' lips, despite his best efforts to suppress it. Sirius glared at him.

"What's so funny, Lupin? *I'm* not the one putting my entire living on the line for a piece of sixteen year old ass."

Remus kept laughing. In fact, the situation struck him as so comical he was scarcely still in his chair. "*Please!* *You're* lecturing *me* about sexual conduct - *and* yelling at me for cracking wise - This is absolutely the most fucked-up conversation I've ever had with you!"

Sirius kept a hard stare on Remus for several moments, but then began to laugh in spite of himself, "Okay, okay - so perhaps I'm not the person to be handing out that kind of advice, but, Remus, you're an intelligent man - you *must* see how utterly insane this situation is."

"I do. Why do you think I'm not with her right now?"

Sirius sat back down on the bed again, looking slightly dazed. "And - you love her?"

"Yes," Remus replied with near regret. "I think I do - I-I've fought it so hard - but I can't stop thinking about her -"

"Listen, I can't say as I think this is the wisest idea, but I haven't seen you like this in ages, either. You clearly care about her - If she feels the same way about you, it won't do either of you any good to deny your feelings for each other. In fact, I think it's rather daft. You have the opportunity to be really happy, Remus. You should take it."

"There are rules to uphold."

"Rules - y'know, you just told me that the best times of your life were here at this very school, sneaking around the castle with our Marauder's Map and pulling pranks at every turn. You didn't seem so very concerned about rules then."

"Yes, but I always felt guilty. I mean, it was terribly disrespectful to deceive Dumbledore like that after he'd gone out of his way to make a place for me at Hogwarts."

"But would you take it all back - all the great times, all the friendship - if you had the chance?"

Remus didn't answer.

"Well, what are you missing out on now?"

Neither of them spoke for several moments before Sirius cleared his throat and looked uncomfortably at Remus.

"I shouldn't want to know this, but since you get to be a lecherous old perv -"Sirius cocked an eyebrow and leaned in close to Remus, speaking in hushed tones - "Was she as good as I think she was?"