Hungry like the Wolf
Brushing aside the thick coating of dust, Hermione Granger released a squeal of delight. The young woman leapt to her feet and hugged the artefact she had just unearthed. Harry was inured to the exhibition, having witnessed it too many times to count over the past few weeks as they finally sorted through Remus and Tonks's things, which they had hastily boxed and ignored in a cupboard for a year after the war. Whenever Hermione pulled out one of Lupin's old books, she acted as if it was the greatest discovery since Carter found Tutankhamen's tomb.
"Another book?" he asked dully.
"No!" she grinned and thrust the item into his hands.
"Duran Duran!" she said, as if it explained everything. "My mum loves them. I've been trying to figure out what to get her for her birthday. Oh, Harry, please let me give it to her."
He laughed, not an easy thing for either of them lately. Since they started sorting the Lupins' things, their mood had been heavy as memories and regrets took up too much room at the forefront of their brains. If it weren't for Hermione's fawning over old books, and now one tattered old EP single, he was not sure he could have managed the task without crying. For her efforts he was more than happy to reward her.
"Yeah," he said with a smile. "You earned it."
"Oh, thank you!" she hugged him and danced around the room as much as the boxes and piles would allow. "My mum will be thrilled. She still sings along whenever this stuff comes on the radio." The young woman paused and considered the record in her hands. "'Hungry like the Wolf.' That doesn't seem like Lupin's taste."
"Probably belonged to Tonks," Harry ventured.
"I don't know," Hermione muttered, trying to imagine the punkish Nymphadora Tonks swooning over the overly made up and pretty boys of Duran Duran back in the early '80s. Even at nine years old, she seemed more likely to prefer sneers and safety pins in her idols. No, she could not see Tonks buying it any more than she could Lupin shelling out what little money he had for the record. She would have loved to ask them, but neither had survived the war. She had been crushed by it at the time, both having been good friends; a year on it still hurt. The days she had spent with Harry sorting gem from junk had only proven just how much she missed them, Lupin especially.
Hugging the record close to her chest, she entered her home, a modestly furnished flat not too far from the Ministry, where she worked. She stepped over the trail of dirty clothes Ron had left between the door and the bedroom, gritting her teeth and clenching her eyes in irritation. How many times had she asked him to pick up after himself? He refused to learn.
"'Mione?" he called from the bedroom. "That you?"
"Yes, Ron," she replied. "Are you going to clean this up?"
"That's the 'hello' I get? It's our anniversary, you know; eight years ago today, I helped save you from a troll," Ron chided, entering the sitting room with a bottle of firewhiskey. She would have preferred a dry white wine, but the fact that he remembered at all was something worth drinking to.
"I know that," she sighed, "which is why I'm annoyed to come home to this. You don't even live here, and you leave more clothes on the floor than I do!"
"Well, we could fix that…"
She nodded her agreement. "Yes, you could leave your clothes in the basket if they need washing."
"No, I meant the me not living here bit," Ron said, turning slightly pink around the ears.
"Oh." Hermione dropped her eyes, not sure what to say. She liked Ron well enough. So far as boyfriends went, he had turned out to be pretty decent. He remembered their anniversary, though the fact that it was within days of the fall of Voldemort helped tremendously on that account. But he had not forgotten her birthday, taking her out to dinner and the theatre. He was a fast learner in the bedroom, and he had, thankfully, given up any hopes of winning her affection through culinary pursuits after setting his own jumper on fire while trying to boil pasta. No, she could do worse.
The problem was that she kept wondering if she could do better.
"I…" she paused. "I need a shower."
"Oh, right," Ron muttered and stepped aside so she could pass.
The shower gave her time to think. Unfortunately, she didn't come up with any answers. She had the same dilemma stepping out of the shower that she did when she stepped in, the only difference was that she was clean as well as confused.
"Ron," she called as she towelled her hair dry, "I know it's a big step for us, but I don't really want to think about that right now, okay? I've been thinking a lot about what we've lost, Remus and Tonks and everyone… It's too much. I can't do any more tonight."
She waited for his reply, anticipating his disappointment or his anger, but she heard nothing. That was unlike him. He was known for his ranting outbursts. She had just denied him his request to move in, to advance their relationship. If anything would cause one of his outbursts, that would be it.
Towel on her hair and a dressing gown clinging to her damp skin, she searched the apartment. Ron was not there. His dirty clothes still littered the sitting room floor, but he was gone.
'Maybe he went for a take away,' she thought.
She picked up the record Harry had let her keep. It was in rather poor shape, the cardboard cover worn through on the edges and corners. She had been too excited earlier to notice the damage. Seeing it now, she hoped the record itself was still intact and playable. Pulling the disc free from the cover and the white, protective paper, she sighed her relief. The black vinyl looked as pristine as it had the day it was created.
From the inner cover fell a small piece of parchment.
'Dear Remus,' it read in a loose and carefree hand, 'I saw this at the shop and thought of you. I remember just how hungry you got at certain times of the month. Don't worry, I'm not planning on exposing you in either sense. I'm happily coupled with a very good man, although if you asked I might consider giving him up! Don't be a stranger. Love, Tildy.'
Hermione frowned at the note. Tildy. The name was unfamiliar, but she did not like that the woman sent such personal information in the post for anyone to read. It would not be at all difficult for someone to figure out what she meant by 'certain times of the month' when it was attached to 'Hungry like the Wolf'. She also felt oddly jealous of the woman, though that was completely foolish and she knew it.
Lupin was gone.
Whatever affair he had with this Tildy woman was well before he met Tonks, so it was stupid to hate her for it.
Sighing, she took out the suitcase record player she had cherished as a child and set the EP spinning on it. The music came out, synthetic and energetic and completely at odds with her mood. She wondered if Remus had even bothered listening to it or if he had simply shaken his head and put it away. As the song filled her head, she felt a familiar tug inside her. Not the tug of nostalgia that she had been feeling for days, but a real, physical pull, like a hook behind her navel.
"No!" she cried as the portkey carried her from her flat.
"Bloody hell!" a man cried, pulling his dressing gown tighter around himself to cover his body.
"Sorry!" Hermione apologised quickly and spun around. "I didn't see anything!"
"Neither did I!" the man insisted.
Glancing down, she yelped to see she was still in her flimsy dressing gown. She tore the towel off her hair and wrapped it around herself for extra protection. If she had her wand, she could conjure a blanket or a dress or something more suitable, but it was still on the basin in the bathroom of her flat. Wherever the portkey had taken her, it certainly wasn't her flat.
"Where am I?" she demanded, though her voice still shook slightly from embarrassment.
"My flat, obviously," the man replied with equal unease. "Who are you? Why are you here? … And why would you turn such a bloody awful record into a portkey?"
Hermione dared to look at him. He was holding up the EP she had been playing just seconds before. As he turned, she could see his face was pulled into a conflicting mixture of amusement, concern and disgust. She could only stare.
"You actually like this stuff?" he asked.
He looked at her properly and his lopsided smile fell. "You all right?"
"No," she shook her head.
"Did you hurt yourself when you arrived?" he took a step forward, worry for her health and safety taking over his impossible face.
"No," she said, taking a step back.
Her action made him stop. He adjusted his dressing gown again, covering himself even further as if his skin was the thing that was wrong with her.
"Not possible," she gasped. "This isn't possible. Give me that record!"
She leapt at him and stole the vinyl disc, turning it in her hands to study it. There was nothing to tell her what had gone wrong. "Impossible!"
"You keep saying that," he muttered. "What's not possible?"
"You!" she said and stared up at him, studying every curve, hair and scar on his face. "You are impossible."
He smiled sadly. "I've been called worse things."
"I know," replied the girl without thinking.
They fell into an awkward silence as she stood too close, alternately searching his face and the EP for some indication of what had happened to her. It had been a portkey, she knew that much, but she had never once heard of a portkey traveling to a different time as well as a different location. Time travel. She knew it was possible, had done it herself third year… the same year she had met him, the impossible man standing so near she could smell his soap.
"So," he said uncertainly, "since you don't appear to be going anywhere… would you mind telling me your name?"
"Um… Hermione…" she said quietly, terrified that she might be altering all future events with every syllable uttered.
"Hermione," he repeated with something of a smile. "I'm Remus. This is my flat. This is me, being extremely awkward and uncomfortable because I'm in my dressing gown in front of a pretty girl. Excuse me." He turned on his heels and all but ran from the room, leaving Hermione to stare, open-mouthed at the floor.
'He called me pretty,' she thought, and knew that she should not be feeling so giddy because of it.
'Lupin is gone,' she reminded herself.
"I'm back," Remus announced, smile on his face.
"And dressed," she added. The threadbare trousers and jumper had certainly seen better days, but they did leave him with a distinct advantage over her.
He nodded. "I couldn't help but notice that you're in your dressing gown," he glanced down at her body before returning his gaze to her face. He smiled when she blushed from that slight look. "I put something out for you, if you wanted it. Just through there." He gestured to the door. "I won't look. I'd promise, but you've no reason to believe me."
"No, I believe you," she said, walking through to his bedroom, finding a jumper and trousers on the bed for her. They looked almost new compared to what he had thrown on. She tried to imagine what Ron would have done if she had appeared barely dressed in his room, and knew that leaving his best clothes for her to cover herself with was not likely his first course of action.
She had to roll the sleeves on the jumper and cuff the trouser legs up several times before she could move unhindered. She felt childish, but it was still better than her damp dressing gown.
Her thanks died on her tongue as she returned to the sitting room and saw Remus once again eyeing the record.
"You know, I have this same one," he commented. "Complete shit."
She snorted. "Then why do you have it?"
"It was a present," he shrugged. "That and every time I try to get rid of it, it comes right back. Bloody Tildy charmed the damned thing."
"Say that again," Hermione demanded.
"Every time I give it away, the record comes back. Tildy, the girl who gave it to me, charmed it," Remus replied, looking at her sideways. "She's forgetful, so I think she does that with all her own things in case she loses them."
"That's it!" she grinned. "That's what happened!"
"I played the record and it came back to you!" she said as if it were obvious. "Has it ever brought a person back with it before?"
"No," Remus shook his head, pausing to consider all the times he had given the record away. "It brought an entire record player back once, quite expensive one, too. I was very disappointed when I managed to find the rightful owner."
She dropped onto the couch and considered the problem, chewing on her lip and looking at nothing in particular. After some time, she came to the conclusion that she needed help. She had no wand, no money, no clothes of her own, no clue what charm Tildy had used. She didn't even know what year it was.
"Remus," she said, looking at him. She had expected him to be reading or to have otherwise gotten bored with her just sitting in silence, but he was already looking at her. He had been looking at her the entire time she sat thinking. The idea made her blush slightly.
"I need some help, if you wouldn't mind."
"What with?" he asked cautiously.
Exactly how much information did he need to help her get back home, she wondered. It would not take long for him to realise that she wasn't just from out of town, but she hated to tell the whole truth for fear of altering something. 'Start small,' she decided.
"Well, I need to find out what charm Tildy put on your record," she said slowly. "So we've got to find her."
Remus shrugged, "That's easy. She owns a record shop near World's End."
Hermione waited, hoping for more information, but none came. "I don't know where that is."
"Not far," he replied. "I'll take you there."
She couldn't help but stare at him, dumbfounded. "Do you always go around escorting strangers who ask for your help?"
"Only the very pretty ones that land in my sitting-room in their dressing gowns," he smiled.
"Oh, so you do this all the time, then," replied Hermione with a smile of her own.
"Constantly," he said with an exhausted sigh. "I can't go a day without some gorgeous bird falling into my lap and asking for help. It is so tiresome. Just once, I'd like a quiet evening at home."
She laughed and wished she had seen more of this Remus, but the years had not been kind to him. By the time they met third year he had lost nearly everything. How many more years was it until 1993, she wondered. "How old are you?"
"Twenty-two, and I can even tie my own laces," he smirked. "You?"
"I can tie my own laces as well, thank you for asking," she smiled. "And twenty."
He nodded slowly as if he was considering her reply. "Okay, let's go."
"Now?" she asked, worried about what Remus's old girlfriend would make of her – wet hair, borrowed clothes, no shoes.
"Do you not want to go home?" he questioned as an eyebrow rose condescendingly. He held out an arm for her to take hold of, smirk pulling at his mouth once again.
Scowling, she stood and took the offered arm, gripping it a little tighter than was strictly necessary and making the man's breath hitch.
"To World's End," he said.
"Might just be if we can't fix this," muttered Hermione darkly.
If Remus heard her comment, he did not respond. He turned and Disapparated with a barely audible 'pop'. The room where they arrived was dark and cramped. Something pressed hard into her back, forcing her to pull closer to him. The whole situation was one far more intimate than she had ever been in with her former professor. Add to the close quarters the facts that he was only two years older than her and quite handsome and that she was naked beneath his clothes and Hermione was instantly flushed a virginal crimson.
"You know, you're even cuter when you blush," Remus told her in a low voice that did nothing to alleviate the tension she was feeling.
"Where—" she had to stop when her question came out as a squeak. "Where are we?"
"A sampling booth Tildy keeps so our kind can Apparate in," he replied quietly. "Occasionally, she uses it for snogging, too."
"You know this from personal experience?" she questioned tightly.
"As a matter of fact, I do."
For the second time that day she felt the sharp sting of jealousy, though she knew it was foolish and could not have explained it. Lupin had been her friend. She had never formed any romantic attachment to him. It was only in the past week or so, as she read the loving notes he and his wife had exchanged, that she found herself wishing it had been her and not Tonks who claimed his heart. He was, she had decided without ever putting conscious thought into it, perfect. He was the reason she had grown dissatisfied with Ron. She had fallen in love with a dead man.
Remus cleared his throat. "Come on."
He opened the door to the booth and led the way through to shop. There were dozens of people looking through the albums, laughing and dancing in the aisles to the music blaring through the speakers. Hermione struggled to keep from laughing at some of the ridiculous clothes people had on; they looked more like they were attending a fancy dress party than shopping for new music.
Her thoughts must have shown on her face because Remus leaned into her, shouting over the music, "It's Hallowe'en. Tildy has a contest every year."
"Hallowe'en?" she parroted, her face turning a ghastly white. She was desperate to ask what the year was, but held the question in. There were enough oddities about her without asking what ought to have been common knowledge. Still, she prayed that this was not 1981. Despite knowing the laws regarding time travel and really, truly understanding the importance of the sacrifice the Potters made, she did not think that her conscience could handle the burden of being able to stop the attack at Godric's Hollow and wilfully choosing not to.
Remus turned away from her, drawn by the woman calling his name.
"REMUS!" the woman squealed as she latched onto him, hugging him so tightly it looked as if he might die from lack of oxygen. Again, the jealousy spiked in Hermione's chest, but she said nothing as the pair hugged before her, as the woman kissed his mouth and leaned in to speak as privately as they could in such a place. "I knew my present would bring you round!"
"That it did," he agreed with a crooked smile. "Not quite as you planned." He pointed to Hermione, who had gone unnoticed by the exuberant young woman.
Tildy turned, grinned toothily and attacked Hermione with a hug of equal strength to the one she had given Remus.
"It's how she greets everybody!" Remus called over the music. "Tildy! We need to talk… quietly!"
The woman pouted slightly at the idea of leaving her own party, but waved them toward the back of the shop, up the stairs into her office. It was a cluttered mess of papers and boxes, which Tildy only made worse by pushing stacks of important-looking invoices off the chairs and onto the floor. "Sit," she said with a grin. "Who is your new friend?"
"This is Hermione," Remus said. "She's not from around here."
Hermione looked at him sideways, studying his inscrutable expression, unsure why he chose to introduce her like that.
"Hi. Tildy Moorehead," the woman held out her hand, gripping Hermione's and pumping her arm twice before releasing it. "What happened to your clothes?"
"Your gift happened," answered Remus, irritation colouring his voice. She had been right when she said 'Hungry like the Wolf' was not his taste. Having seen the state of his flat and clothes, Hermione knew that he was already experiencing the prejudiced treatment his kind received in the wizarding world.
"Please," Hermione said before his anger at the jibe could come through, "the charm you put on his record brought me here. I need to know what it was so I can figure out how to reverse it."
Tildy frowned. "You seriously expect me to remember a spell I cast almost half-a-year ago?"
"It's some type to ownership or return charm," she prompted.
The woman's face pulled downward, her brow knitting together as she thought. "Well, I only ever cast three versions of that type of thing. There's—"
The door flew open, filling the messy office with a heavy bass beat and the cheers of the guests below. "You're on in like two seconds!" a man dressed as Debbie Harry announced and ran back down the stairs to re-join the party.
"Bugger!" Tildy cried and leapt up.
"Wait! Tell me the spells!" Hermione insisted, grabbing the woman's arm.
"I'll tell you later," the woman said, pulling herself free. "Go change. I've got spare clothes in my flat." With that, she raced down the stairs and into the mass of revellers.
"Dammit!" she swore and jumped as Remus placed a calming hand on her shoulder.
"I know where she keeps the spare key," he said, gesturing for her to follow.
"But I need those spells."
"What's difference does a couple of hours make? You'll get them and leave, just a little later," reasoned the young man. He tilted his head to the side, smiling in a way that was both sexy and endearing, "Am I such terrible company?"
She sighed. How could she possibly explain that she had to leave as quickly as possible precisely because he was such wonderful company? That she feared the more time she spent with him the more likely she was to want to warn him. Avoiding his eye, worried he might be able to read her thoughts on her face, she studied the office a moment. Her gaze fell on the wall calendar, and she felt a small amount of relief. 1982. It was 1982. Lily and James had been dead for a year. She was free of that one burden, at least.
"Come on, let's see if she has something for you," Remus said gently and pulled her toward the door, reaching behind a framed picture and removing the key Tildy had hidden there.
"How do you know where the key is?" she asked before she could stop herself.
Remus offered only a smirk in reply and pulled her up the stairs to Tildy's flat. It was as messy as her office, but he still managed to find the woman's bedroom. "Don't assume it's dirty just because it's on the floor," he told her and started picking things up at random, holding them up to see what Hermione might look like in them and discarding them back to the floor.
"Maybe I should tidy up since she's letting me borrow her clothes."
He shook his head. "She would only complain. There is order in the chaos… even if only she can see it. Best leave it where you find it."
"How is it you know so much about her?" Hermione asked.
"We were at school together," he said absently, reaching down to collect what looked like a mass of rags off the carpet. "Ah, clean and festive. Try this." He offered up a dress that looked as if it had been sewn from various bits of old tee-shirts, a band name or logo on every side and sleeve.
"You cannot be serious," she frowned at the offered dress. "I don't care if it is Halowe'en, I am not wearing that."
"You'll fit right in," he assured her with a smile. "It can't be worse than wearing my jumper. Not that I'm complaining, but it is putting ideas in my head having such a pretty girl in my clothes." His glittering eyes and playful tone implied that he was joking, but Hermione thought some part of him was being perfectly sincere.
'As if this isn't awkward and complicated enough,' she sighed.
"Give me that thing," she grumbled and tore the dress from his hand. "Where's the bathroom?"
He grinned and pointed. As soon as the door closed behind her, she could hear him laughing. It had been so long since she had heard Lupin's laugh, she almost didn't remember it. Like so many things, it had been lost to war. Nothing that wonderful and infectious should have been allowed to die; her own face was splitting in a smile just listening to him. When he saw her in the ridiculous dress, he would have even more to laugh about.
"You, sir, have no taste in dresses," she informed him through the door. "This thing looks even stupider on me than it did on the floor."
"What would you rather wear? I've something very short made of rubber or a quite fetching see-through lace dress to offer. Tildy is nothing if not diverse in her tastes."
"Doesn't she have any jeans?"
"None that I can see. Must all be too dirty," he said. "You're stuck with what you've got."
She cursed and grumbled and wished that Remus had more sensible friends. "At least it's Hallowe'en," she muttered to her reflection, frowning and pulling at the dress to make it sit where she wanted. The dress, like Remus and his flighty friend, was being highly uncooperative. It was no use. Resigned sigh falling heavily from her lips, she left the bathroom.
Remus' smile fell. "I think you ought to put my clothes back on."
"Told you it was bloody awful," she groaned.
"It's the opposite of bloody awful, Hermione," he assured her after he swallowed audibly. "I'm getting way too many ideas in my head. You were safer in my jumper."
She cleared her throat, trying desperately to maintain her composure despite knowing just how flushed her face was, "We should go downstairs."
"Yeah," he agreed, though he made no effort to move and continued to stare open-mouthed at her.
Hermione tore her eyes away from his, frightened and a little too excited about the glint in his eye that was bordering on desirous. She forced her feet to move, stepping into a pair of heels that Tildy had discarded by the door. She froze when the groan escaped Remus and dared to look at him again.
"It's even better from the back," he commented. "More ideas happening."
She flushed again. "Stop thinking thoughts about me," she warned as severely as she could.
"Can't help it."
"You can, too. Think about Tildy instead. She'd clearly like it if you did," she suggested, the barest hint of displeasure sneaking into her voice. Remus caught it, wrapped his hopes and devious mind around it and looked back at her, unblinking and an unashamed smirk taking over his face.
"I couldn't care less what Tildy likes. At the moment, I would much rather do what you like," he practically purred. "What would you like to do, Hermione?"
'YOU!' she cried desperately in her head, but through sheer strength of will and determination not to completely bollocks up the timeline, she kept her mouth firmly shut.
"I think I know," he continued, his deep voice hitting all the right notes to make her want to sigh and fall into his arms. "I'll play the good boy and wait till you say something, though."
"You're not a good boy naturally?" she breathed. "And here I thought you were a gentleman."
The smirk on his face was devastating, something she had never seen in all the time she had known him. "Didn't you know? A gentleman is just a very patient wolf."
She squeaked again or perhaps it was a chirp of excitement from the promises his voice held. Regardless, the sudden and quite embarrassing noise brought her closer to her senses. She took a step away from him. "I think I ought to put your jumper back on."
Remus shook his head. "Pointless. I'd know what's hiding under there now. Better just to stay as you are, I think."
"Still…" she said and moved to collect his jumper from the bed, but stopped dead when it vanished. "Remus!"
The man just smiled angelically, an unassuming look on his face. "What? Oh, were you serious? I'm sorry. It's clear across London now."
"Well, bring it back," she ordered.
"I'm good but even I can't summon a jumper from clear across town."
Narrowing her eyes dangerously, she stalked closer. "Bring back the jumper, Remus Lupin, or so help me you will regret this."
His eyebrow popped up as the glint shifted in his eyes, moving from devious to curious in the blink of his pale blue eyes. Hermione ought to have caught it, noted the alteration of his posture and smile, but she was so close that his smell was dulling her senses, addling her brain as not even a full bottle of firewhiskey could. "There are more than enough jumpers here, ones that might actually fit you. No need to threaten my life just yet," he informed her calmly as he stepped away. "But, it's Hallowe'en. If you can't be daring tonight, when can you be?"
"I don't want to be daring. I want to go home," she reminded him with a sniff of annoyance. 'I also want to shag you,' a happy little voice cried from inside her mind. She silenced it with the harsh reminder that Remus Lupin was dead. It was enough to soften her anger at him. "Can we just go find Tildy, please?"
With a silent nod, he opened the door and gestured for her to go first.
"Oh, no, I'll not have you watching my backside with ideas in your head," she waved an admonishing finger at him as she would have a third year she caught with a sack full of dungbombs.
"Damn," he cursed softly, smile on his face. "Can't get anything past you."
"After you," she said firmly.
He studied her a moment. "Are you sure you don't just want to check out my arse?"
As he descended the stairs ahead of her, Hermione did take advantage of the position to admire his backside in the worn trousers. It was a very pleasant view, she had to admit, but looked away quickly before he managed to catch her spying. They went through Tildy's office and down into the shop, which had grown more crowded while they had been flirting upstairs. The noise was so great, she could barely hear her own voice as she shouted to Remus.
"Where is she?"
He pointed to the front of the shop, where the crowd was thickest, took her hand and pulled her along behind him. Panicked as the physical contact made her, Hermione was grateful he was holding her hand; the revellers were dancing so wildly, she would have lost sight of him within seconds had he not thought to take hold of her. He brought her to the front, where a small stage had been constructed and was now filled with a dozen costumed guests. She laughed at the sight of them, their wild hair and insane streaks of makeup, but her smile fell when Tildy pointed to her and gestured for her to come onto the stage.
"Wha-?" Hermione gaped and shook her head.
"And finally, from out of town, we have one last contestant!" Tildy squealed into the sleek microphone, her amplified voice reverberating through the store and out through the open doors, pulling passers-by in to gawk and browse.
"No!" Hermione insisted as Tildy gestured for her again. Her protests did nothing to quell Tildy's enthusiasm as she began to lead the chant, calling for her to 'come on up'. Even with the entire store saying the words in time to Tildy's insistent clapping, she would not have budged from her spot, stubborn and embarrassed as she was. Unfortunately, Remus was not on her side. The man lifted her bodily until she was sitting on the stage. He stood smirking between her legs, making it quite clear that she had nowhere to go but up. Scowling, she stood, somehow managing the task without giving him or anyone else a show, no mean feat in a dress so short and while not wearing any knickers.
Tildy was on her in a heartbeat, hugging her arm and grinning like a madman at a tea party. "Soooo! Mysterious girl from out of town, what's your name?"
"Her-Hermione," she squeaked into the microphone.
"Got a boyfriend?"
"Um…" she hesitated, thinking about Ron storming off when she refused his request to move in with her. He was rather childish in his moods, swinging back from a ranting bad humour in a week if left alone, but she wondered if he would get over this. She wondered if she truly wanted him to. Glancing down at Remus, his eyebrows knit in thought, hanging onto the air in anticipation of her answer, she knew. She knew she did not want Ron. "I don't think I do, not anymore."
"Oooh. Rather mysterious answer there," Tildy commented, much to the crowd's delight. "Bit of a tiff?"
"Sort of," she replied.
"Aw, so sad," the woman pouted into her microphone and turned to her assembly. "What do you think?" The crowd cheered making Hermione flush from anger. Were they applauding her breakup? Frowning, she opened her mouth to protest, but Tildy was speaking again, loudly and merrily, overruling any objection the girl might have mounted.
"Let's see who our winner is!" she cried, pushing Hermione back until she was in line with the dozen already standing on stage. Skipping to the far end, she put her hand over each person's head, gauging the volume of the crowd and determining who had the most support. Hermione wanted to run away while the woman wasn't looking, but there was nowhere for her to go; the crowd was pushed tightly against the stage, leaving no room for her to squeeze through. One look at Remus was enough to know that he was enjoying himself immensely and would not help her even if she promised him a thousand Galleons and a cure for lycanthropy. No, she was stuck.
"And finally, our mysterious, single lady from out of town," Tildy announced and raised her hand high over Hermione's head. She didn't know what criteria they were being judge on, but, whatever it was, she had it in abundance. The crowd roared in a way they had not for any of the other contestants, making it plain to half of London who had won the competition.
"Congratulations, Hermione!" the woman shouted and hugged her tightly. "And here's your prise! A CDP-101 compact disc player. Brand new, straight from Japan, not yet released anywhere else in the world!"
"Wow," Hermione said with as much enthusiasm as she could while looking at the clunky and outdated piece of machinery. While she did have electricity in her flat, she still had no use for such a machine. Everything she wanted came through the Wizarding Wireless. However, she saw the anticipation on Tildy's face and hated to disappoint her since, to her, this was clearly something special. "That is… something…"
"Isn't it? That thing is worth over seven hundred pounds!" Tildy crowed.
Hermione's mouth fell open and she stared again at the machine.
"Congratulations!" Tidly cried once more and heaved the weighty box into Hermione's arms. The girl staggered under the gravity of the thing. "Let's party!"
The customers and guests cheered and the music started blaring once more. Hermione called after Tildy, "Wait!"
"Oh, yeah, that spell," the woman said, holding the microphone away from her face so the Muggle party-goers could not hear her. "I remember I got distracted when I was casting it on that EP for Remus. I think I added a little something extra."
"I'll say you did," Hermione muttered.
"It's supposed to be 'addiome', but the bell rang for a delivery and I got mixed up and started casting the spell to find the keys to the shop. It's so hard keeping track of things around here. You wouldn't believe how much paperwork and nonsense goes on in a business like this! I've got invoices and deliveries and special orders and payroll and then there's the rent and lights and all this other stuff. Magic is so much easier. I mean, if I could just—"
"TILDY!" Hermione shouted. "Focus!"
"What?" the woman blinked. "Oh, right. Yeah, so I was casting the 'addiome' spell and added the Here and Now charm on top of it, so I'm pretty sure I cast the spell as 'addiome nuncio'… but don't quote me on that."
Hermione scowled as the woman flit past her and joined the party offstage.
"Congratulations," Remus said, leaning in close to her ear so she could hear him over the music.
"Can we leave now?" she said, not bothering to shout. Her annoyance and desire to depart were evident in the crackle of magic coming off her skin.
He took the heavy box from her hands, easily carrying it under his arm, and taking her hand in his to lead her back to the sampling booth. Thankfully, no one was snogging in it and they could leave without making a fuss. Ignoring the wolf-whistles from the Muggles who assumed they were going into the booth to make out, the pair shut the door tightly behind them and Disapparated from the shop back to Remus's flat.
"That woman…" Hermione ground out, dropping onto the couch to glower and grumble her discontent.
"She takes some getting used to," Remus agreed and set the box down gently on the floor. "Seven hundred pounds that box is worth…"
"Bin it," she muttered, already distracted trying to think up a reversal spell that she might cast to take her home.
"Hm?" she looked up and saw him watching her intently.
"You're not just going to get rid of it, are you? It's worth a fortune!"
Looking at the box, she admitted, "I've no use for it. Keep it. Sell it. I don't care."
His jaw dropped and he studied her as if she were a patient in a mental hospital. "You don't care about seven hundred pounds? Do you realise how many Galleons that equates to?"
"Yes, but I've larger concerns on my mind," she informed him crisply. "Would you please leave me alone? I didn't anticipate the spell being a mistake. It's going to take a considerable amount of corrections to account for it."
"Yeah…" he replied and sat down at the far end of the couch, saying nothing despite clearly wanting to.
Hermione sat for hours, thinking, drawing diagrams in the air with her hands only to bat them away. She had not had to think on so complicated an issue in over a year. Her job at the Ministry had little to do with spells and the most complicated charm she performed at home in the past year had been the one she used to extinguish Ron's jumper when it had caught fire in the kitchen. She felt like she had gone soft, and hated it.
"I'm not sure…" she muttered.
"Have you thought about 'redio'?" Remus asked quietly.
"Not specific enough," she replied without looking up from her thoughts.
"'Redio ergo' perhaps?"
"No, that wouldn't—" Her words failed her and her head snapped to the side as the Latin translated itself in her mind.
Redio. Return me.
He did not suggest she return to a different place. He suggested she return to a different time. He knew.
"It wasn't exactly hard to sort out," he commented with a smug grin as he held up his own copy of the record he so hated. "How could my record bring you to me when it was on the shelf already? Why would you need Tildy if it wasn't my record that brought you here? Why would you stare at me like you knew me? How could you know my surname when I never gave it?" His raised eyebrow indicated that his list could go on. Every question he put to her, rhetorical now, were details she had failed to notice.
"So, when are you from?" he inquired politely with a smile.
"I don't think I should say," she said.
"The future, then."
"How could you possibly sound so certain?" she demanded.
"If you were from the past, it wouldn't matter if I knew," he shrugged. "Plus, you would have been completely awed by that bit of musical mass. Even I know how impressive it is, and I'm rubbish at keeping up with Muggle technology." He pointed to the first ever compact disc player, a marvel of technology and the beginning of a whole new age of musical distribution, and she knew he was right. She ought to have been in wonder of it.
"Fine, I'm from the future," she admitted, crossing her arms over her chest in vexation.
"But still near enough that you know me… and I don't anticipate living much past thirty-five," he said slowly, performing some odd maths in his head. "Twenty, you said? And not impressed by technology, though clearly a Muggle-born. I'll guess you're from somewhere around 1995. How close am I?" He grinned, eyes bright with the challenge she had offered him.
"A few years off."
He clicked his tongue in disappointment. "Damn. How many? Fewer than five?"
"Yes!" he crowed and jumped to his feet. "Still undefeated!"
"Undefeated?" Hermione balked. "This isn't a game! There's an entire history at stake here!"
He shrugged. "Maybe for you. For me, it's unwritten. The future isn't set in stone, Hermione. If it were, then prophecies would be a hell of a lot more reliable." He sounded so much like the professor she knew that she nearly ceded the point to him; she herself thought of divination as the lowest form of magic, woolly at best, fraud at worst.
"Be that as it may, there are some things that cannot be changed, much as I would like them to," she insisted. "I have to leave before anyone else realises where I'm really from and how much I know."
"If you stay here, nobody will ever find you," he promised, a sly smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. "I wouldn't let you out of bed long enough to tell anyone anything. I promise."
A series of shocked and indignant noises sputtered from her mouth at the blatantly sexual suggestion. "Remus Lupin! What is wrong with you?" she demanded once she finally found her voice. "You realise you are just eight years younger than my father? You are twenty years older than me!"
"Not right now I'm not," he smirked, sliding closer to her, hand on her bare knee and fire in his eyes. He was too close, his smell taking over her brain again. She had been catching ghosts of his scent over the past week, lingering molecules that clung insistently to his old clothes and books. How many times had she put her nose to one of his old jackets just to lose herself in that smell? Too many. And now it was there, heady and pungent and clouding her thoughts when she most needed them clear and straight.
"You're married," she whispered against his lips.
Those two words were all it took to stop his advance. He pulled away, his face akin to horror as he repeated the word. "Married? Not possible. I would never inflict—No, I'm not."
Hermione nodded. "You are. You have a son."
His jaw shook for a brief moment before he forced the motion to stop. "A son?" he breathed. "Is he… like me?"
"Not a fang or overbite in sight."
"Not even during…"
"No matter how full the moon is," she assured him gently.
He sat studying his hands for a long moment. "Who… who is she?"
"Your wife?" Hermione questioned and he nodded. "I shouldn't say. It might change how you see her when you finally meet."
He nodded again, more slowly with the added weight of his understanding. She thought he was angry or disappointed, but when he finally turned to face her, his eyes were bright. "I always thought we were doomed, my kind," he said. "Most that try to live like normal people, they're too afraid to have children. Any that are born in the wild… they all change, same as their parents. It was assumed they were born that way."
"They're bitten," Hermione said angrily. "I've been trying to change that."
"What could you possibly do?"
"Change the law, make it easier for you to live and work and be free as everyone deserves," she insisted, rising with her voice to pace as she often did when she was overcome by the ignorance of the status quo. "If half the werewolves out there had the chance to earn a decent wage, they would never have to turn wild to survive! It isn't right! No one deserves that!" She stomped her foot and cringed at the pain the high heel brought her.
"Are idiots, I know," she agreed irritably. "Believe me, I know. I have to work with them. Three supervisors I've had to bypass to get someone with enough brains and authority to even glance at my suggestions. Even after all we did…"
"We?" Remus asked, leaning his chin on his hand to watch her aggravated movement across his sitting-room.
"Ron, Harry and I," she said absently, too lost in her annoyance to remember that she was not pacing in her flat, not ranting to a living friend. "You'd think after all we did, they would have a little more interest in what we have to say; that perhaps we know more than your average entry level employees, but oh no, 'I'm sorry, Miss Granger', 'That is an interesting idea, Miss Granger', 'Thank you for all your hard work, but you just don't understand how these things work, Miss Granger'," she repeated in their simpering, smirking voices. "Gits. The lot of them. I thought they cleaned house afterward, but apparently not."
"So, Miss Granger," Remus said, a smile on his face when she turn to look hard at him. "What precisely did you have in mind for me and my kind? Kittens and rainbows for all?"
She snorted as she fought the laughter. "Maybe for you, but, no, there are a few lycanthropes that give you all a bad name. After the way you've been treated, I can't say I blame you. It's why I'm so annoyed that Tildy would have given you that bloody record." She picked up the disc and glared at it. "She ought to have known better."
"Tildy takes some getting used to," he said once again. "She's a bit...absent, I suppose."
"Inconsiderate, you mean."
"No, she's very considerate. She just doesn't realise the hidden meanings sometimes. She lives in Tildy World, which is a wonderful and colourful place as you saw. When seen through Tildy World, that is a fine and amusing gift that thumbs its nose at stereotypes and nudges the rib of fond memories with a wiggling eyebrow and a 'Say no more'."
This time the laughter couldn't be stopped, it filled the dismal flat to capacity as she fell back on the couch beside him.
His smile dimmed slightly even as she continued to laugh. "You must not see me much anymore," he commented.
"Why do you say that?" she questioned, her laughed petering out.
"Because I keep surprising you. I can't imagine I'll have changed too much. Things can't really get too much worse," he said with a resigned shrug of his shoulder. "But you keep looking at me like I've grown a second mouth." He watched as she fought to keep her smile fixed in place and failed completely. "You don't see me at all, do you? I never thought I'd live past thirty-five. I don't, do I?"
"You do," she said, her voice cracking.
"Four years off again?" he said, something of a smirk touching his lips.
"It's under five, I'm still undefeated," he grinned.
"Remus," she chided, though her heart wasn't quite in it since they were discussing his death.
"What? I'm a lonely werewolf. I have to do something to entertain myself," he said. "Wanking just isn't the joy it was as a teenager."
His grin broadened. "Well, after you've had the real thing, it's a bit disappointing."
"I cannot believe you," she hid her face in her hands, not sure if she ought to laugh or be thoroughly scandalised to hear her professor say such things. She could have imagined Sirius saying that sort of thing at twenty-two—. Her head shot up at the thought of Sirius. He was alive and in prison at that very moment, falsely accused, convicted without trial or any review of the evidence against him. Guilt twisted her stomach.
"You're not thinking about me anymore, are you?"
"I need to go home. Now," she said and started pacing again, this time considering every possible method she might use to get home via the record.
"I'm sorry. It was just a joke," Remus said, standing before her. She just walked around him and kept wearing a path in his already threadbare rug. "I didn't mean to offend you."
She snorted. "You haven't met my boyfriend yet, but, trust me, that is nothing compared to what comes out of his mouth. No, it reminded me of someone else. Someone here. I want to save him, but can't." She stopped her pacing long enough to look him in the eye and see the question there. "Please don't ask."
He did anyway, though it was not the question she had anticipated. "You have a boyfriend?"
She blinked slowly, amazed that of all the things he might have pulled from her rambling the one thing he was concerned about was her relationship status. "I'm not sure. He left without saying anything after I basically told him he couldn't move in with me. What does that mean?"
Remus shrugged. "I'd say it means he's cross, but he'd be an idiot to leave you."
"He is a bit of an idiot."
"Well, then you should leave him," he said. "And I have the perfect replacement in mind. He's a little older than you, but I'm sure you're clever enough to deal with that. Very tidy. Well read. Fantastic cook if you don't mind eating only spaghetti and tinned beans for the rest of your life. He can get a little cranky at certain times of the month, but, in fairness, most women do as well."
"Really?" she bit her lip to keep from smiling. "And this replacement bloke of yours, he doesn't happen to stand about, oh, six feet tall, have sandy blond hair and blue eyes, does he?"
"I've heard it described as fawn on occasion, but, funnily enough, yes, he does." He grinned as he stepped closer, standing well inside what any person might call a comfortable range, close enough for her to feel the heat off his body and the air stir whenever he exhaled.
"I've told you—"
He interrupted her weak protest. "And I've told you that it doesn't matter," he stepped closer still. "If I'm dead to you, then it won't matter what happens when you go home. It might actually be better, if you think about it. No awkward silences over holiday meals. No longing sighs as you pine for me, knowing what might have been if only you had the courage..." He sighed dramatically and looked with enormous eyes across the ever-diminishing space between them.
"You are such a prat," she said, but could not force her face into the stern mask she wanted.
"And you love it," he grinned and reached across that final, miniscule gap to pull her to him, taking her mouth with far more vigour than she had expected. In the few days that she had started thinking romantically about her lost friend, the time spent in daydreams of them together had included a Remus of considerable gentleness and deference. This Remus was assertive, taking command of her tongue and mouth the second their lips connected. While one hand knitted itself into her wild curls, the other roamed freely, sliding with tantalising lightness over her throat, brushing across her breast and down her body to grasp her backside tightly, pulling her against him and leaving absolutely no doubt in her mind that he was quite taken with her.
Somehow he managed to break away from her mouth, though his hand still kept them pressed together. He looked into her eyes, studying them a moment, though what he was looking for she couldn't say. Possibly he was reading her desire, because he did not move to kiss her again. Instead he spoke quietly, "I should warn you, the full moon is tomorrow and I'm feeling a little…frisky."
"A little?" she repeated with what breath he had left her. "It feels like more than just a little."
The smirk was back on his mouth, pulling at the corner of his lips in a way that left her feeling weak-kneed. "You've no idea."
He dove in again, sucking on her bottom lip and tracing every available inch of her mouth with his tongue until she was mewing for more of his attention elsewhere. Her own hands, which had been gripping his jumper, started to explore his body. They tangled in his hair, cupped his face, grasped his arms, squeezed his arse, but none of it was enough. She needed to feel him. She moved to the hem of his worn jumper, sliding her hands beneath it to trace his torso. As her cool fingers touched on his stomach, Remus broke away.
"Don't," he panted, holding his hands up to keep her at a safe distance.
"What? Why?" Hermione frowned, stepping closer only to have him move away again.
"Just leave it, please," Remus begged, all his smirking confidence gone. "We can keep going, but don't touch my… just leave it."
Her frown deepened as she stared at the man before her—aroused and yet terrified. It had been so long since she had seen him alive that she had nearly forgotten his scars. They were clear enough on his face, but they also covered his body. He was ashamed of them.
"Remus," she said as soothingly as she could, stepping closer and ignoring his attempts to retreat. "I know what you are. I know what it does to you. And I don't care."
He shook his head so hard she feared his neck might break, "You might know, but you haven't seen—"
"I have," she interrupted. "We lived together, very briefly, but long enough for me to see your scars. And that was after several more full moons, so you know they were a lot worse than they are now. They don't bother me."
His brow folded in on itself as he considered her words. "We lived together?"
Hermione laughed, she couldn't help it. Twice he had selected the oddest detail when she had spoken with far different intentions. "Yes. Some time ago."
"And I didn't hit on you? I must have gone senile…or blind."
"No," she sighed. "You just developed more self-control."
"Clearly not if you've seen my scars," he said, his head tilting as his eyebrow rose condescendingly. "Let me guess. I happened to forget my dressing gown when I went to the shower?"
Hermione blushed at the long-delayed reaction to Lupin's actual intentions. "I thought you had, yes."
He shook his head, but the smile remained. "Shame on me flirting with such an innocent little thing. What were you, then? Fourteen?"
"Undefeated," he grinned and kissed her again. She felt him stiffen as her hands neared his jumper again but he permitted her hands to slide beneath the coarse wool and thin cotton tee-shirt to touch his skin. His lips stilled as her hands travelled up his stomach, her fingertips tracing lightly over the scars she found there. She frowned slightly as she felt a deep valley of scar tissue running from his navel across his side and up toward his shoulder blade.
"Grotesque, isn't it?" he muttered.
Hermione studied his face, surprised to see it so far from her own. So intent was she in following the path of the scar, she had not noticed his lips parting from hers. "I don't remember this one," she said, following the scar back to his stomach. "Do they fade?"
"Some," he said. "That one's new. It was a bad moon last month. It only just healed completely…just in time for tomorrow." He shook his head and broke away from her. "This was a bad idea. You should concentrate on getting back where you belong."
"You're right," she agreed, but her feet brought her closer to him. Her hands took hold of his jumper and tugged it hard over his head, taking the tee-shirt with it and leaving the man's naked, scarred torso exposed. Remus moved to retrieve his clothes, but she threw them well out of his reach.
Trying pointlessly to cover his chest, he scowled. "What the hell?"
"Shut up," she ordered and smacked his hands until they were hanging awkwardly by his sides. Again her fingers traversed the hills and valleys of scar tissue on his naked skin, looking with her eyes at the new, pink lines of fresh injuries, the stark white of old ones and the pale skin that was Remus in between. He looked unreal, like a lump of clay not yet completely moulded or one of the strange, mildly off-putting humans found in a Pablo Picasso painting. As she ran her hands down his sides, feeling the contrast of textures and the washboard of his ribs, she seized on that thought. "You're like a work of art."
He scoffed. "Yeah, Michelangelo had a storeroom full of marred statues just like me. Shame none made it into the museums."
"You are absolutely beautiful, Remus, and I will slap you if you say otherwise," she warned him with narrowed chocolate eyes.
"Ooh, promise?" he grinned, though it was half-hearted. "If you're done winding me up, may I please put my shirt back on now?" Hermione slapped him hard, a red handprint marking his skin instantly. "Ow!" he complained and rubbed his shoulder.
Compared to his transformation and the wounds he inflicted on himself once a month, he likely felt almost nothing from her attack, so she ignored his complaint and pulled back to hit him again. She paused, and glared menacingly at him again. "Take it back."
"You said you'd slap me for calling myself ugly," he protested and held a hand protectively over his red shoulder. "I said nothing of the sort."
She slapped him again, this time on his other, unprotected shoulder. "I do not wind people up. Saying I do implies that I'm lying and that you're ugly. You might as well have just come out and said it properly instead of implicating me in it. Now take it back."
He ducked to avoid another slap. "Fine, fine. You're not winding me up."
"That sounded in no way sincere, but I'll take it," she said. "Now kiss me."
"I don't know if I want to anymore," he muttered and watched her cautiously over his shoulder.
She straightened her posture and waited patiently with a smug smile as he studied her, his blue eyes raking up and down her frame and face. "You're naked under that dress, aren't you?"
She nodded, letting her smile turn even more wicked.
"Oh, fuck it." He threw her over his scarred and slapped shoulder and carried her easily into the bedroom, dropping her without ceremony onto his bed, and laying himself atop her. "I did warn you about the full moon, yeah?"
"Twice now," she said. "Stop stalling."
"Are you always this bossy?"
"Usually," she said, her hands tracing his scars without him flinching. "Most people hate it."
"I rather like it."
"Good," she brought his face down to hers and took command of his mouth, stealing his breath and denying him the ability or chance to protest, not that she expected him to at this point. He was out of reasons to stop; she knew his secret, his scars; he knew her secret. What was left to come between them?
"Remus!" the sing-song voice called from the sitting-room.
"Dammit, I jinxed it," Hermione groaned.
"I'll get rid of her," Remus muttered and pushed himself off the bed. "How do I look?"
She looked him over. His hair was sticking up in every direction. His lips were moist and swollen. His chest was bare and heaving as he worked to regain his breath. His trousers looked ready to break. "Ravaged."
"That will work," he grinned and hurried through the doorway. Hermione could barely hear their voices, hushed and embarrassed and laughing. He and Tildy got on well even in this situation that would have the majority of men shouting and most women cringing from embarrassment or screeching in jealousy. She wondered why they weren't together.
As if knowing Hermione was thinking about her, the woman popped her head into the bedroom. "So sorry to interrupt. No worries, Remus can recover from any setback. Just wanted to tell you I remembered the spell I put on the record. Wrote it down and left it in the sitting-room for you, so you can head home as soon as you're through with Remus… that might take a while, though. I know how he gets this time of the month. I am so jealous right now! Have fun!
Hermione barely had time to register the words before the woman was gone, a quiet 'crack' signalling her departure. "What was that?"
"That was Tildy," Remus said, smiling from the doorway. "She takes some getting used to."
"You've no shirt on," she commented rather stupidly.
"Yeah, you wouldn't give it back to me."
She laughed. "No, you went to see Tildy without a shirt on, as if you had nothing to hide."
He paused, a slow smile taking over his face. It was a smile unlike any he had worn so far, neither smug nor condescending. This was a smile of absolute happiness. "I guess I don't."
Dropping down beside her, he kissed her gently. "Thank you. I never would have done that without you."
"You're welcome," she replied, a pout taking over her lips. "It seems to me that this is quite a momentous occasion in your life. And it never would have happened without me… I wonder what would be the proper way of showing thanks…"
"I wonder that myself," he admitted. "I think the first step would be to help you get naked, too."
"Unlike you, I don't need help with that," she chided. "No, simply being naked wouldn't be nearly thanks enough."
He offered a feigned frown. "Well, as a lonely and barely employed werewolf, I've little to offer. I can't buy you anything. All I have is myself," he rolled himself on top of her. "Would that be thanks enough do you think?"
"Well, that would depend on what you do with yourself," she replied, the dry tone lost to her breathless excitement. The thin dress and threadbare trousers offered little barrier between them; she could feel his every movement against her, and it was driving her mad.
"What would you like for me to do with myself, Hermione?" he asked, somehow managing to keep his voice even and unaffected as he twisted his hips against her.
"Stop teasing me."
"Oh, you want me to stop?" he pushed himself up, making her whine from the loss of contact.
"You prat, get inside me," she ordered, gripping his hair and pulling down hard.
"Ow," he groaned against her lips. "Merlin, I love how bossy you are."
"I told you to get inside me."
"Yes, Miss Granger. Whatever you say," he smirked and slid his hand between her thighs, teasing her only slightly before slipping his fingers into her. "Is that what you meant, Miss Granger?"
"No, but it's still wonderful," she groaned and threw her head back as he demonstrated just how wonderful he really was. "Why did you have to die and take your clever fingers with you? It's not fair!"
"Should I be insulted that the only thing you care about are my clever fingers?" he asked as he brushed his thumb roughly over his most sensitive spot, making her cry out. "There are lots of over parts of me that are just as wonderful and clever, you know?"
"I had no idea!" she gasped. "Why don't you show me?"
"Well, if you insist, Miss Granger," he said with a smirk. "I have a very clever tongue."
Hermione was more than willing to agree with him on that. His tongue was just as clever as his fingers. She cried out her agreement twice before he moved on to show her how clever his manhood could be. It seemed there were very few parts of Remus that were not clever. She could only lie in awe of his cleverness for hours after his demonstration, boneless and naked and completely desolate that she had to leave him.
"I don't want to go," she admitted.
"It's my cleverness, isn't it?" he muttered, barely conscious, and pulled her closer to him in the darkness.
"Not just," she replied. "I missed you, though you were never mine to miss."
"Well, maybe that will change now. I'd never marry anyone who isn't you. No one else would appreciate my cleverness."
"That isn't funny," she chided gently. "This shouldn't have happened."
He was silent for a painfully long time. When he finally replied he was quiet and distant as he took his arms from around her, "So not as clever as I thought, then. Tildy's note is still in the sitting-room. You can go home whenever you like."
"The sooner the better," he said coldly. "I'd hate for you to ruin the timeline."
"Just go, Hermione."
She felt the sting of tears and a stab of pain in her chest, but refused to let either cripple her. Slipping the dress back on, she stood and marched from his bedroom, slamming the door shut behind her. Tildy's note was spell-o-taped to the box containing Hermione's new CD player. The woman's carefree hand was too hard to read; luckily, Remus had taken the time to write the spell more legibly at the bottom of the sheet. He had also seen fit to formulate the necessary counter-spell.
She really could go home whenever she liked.
The trouble was that she didn't want to go home at all. If she went home, there would be no Remus there. Although, his coldness made her think she might not have a Remus here either. She knew him well enough to know that he was not playing a game, that she was not a notch in his bedpost, but she did not understand why he had turned on her, pushed her away and told her to leave. It was hurtful and, worse, it made no sense.
"Remus," she said, opening the bedroom door. "I—" Her words fell onto the empty bed. She threw the door wide and searched every inch and corner of the room, even getting onto the floor to see if he was hiding under the bed. Remus was gone. He had left while she was in the sitting-room.
"I don't understand," she told the empty room.
She took up his wand, which was still on the bedside table, and returned to the sitting-room. She took her time setting up her old record player, putting the charmed EP onto it and casting the spell that would take her back to her proper time, a time that made sense, a time without Remus Lupin. Once everything was ready, she sat down on the couch and waited. Dawn came, but Remus did not. She grew hungry as the hours ticked past, but she refused to move. Her muscles burned from sitting in the same position, but still Remus never came back.
He had left her; she had no reason to stay.
"Goodbye," she said and set the record playing. The song was once again at complete odds with her mood and she felt the hook behind her navel.
Through teary eyes she managed to identify her flat, the cream coloured walls and the shelves bowing under the weight of her books. She even saw the dark trail that Ron had left between the front door and the bedroom. Nothing had changed.
"Hungry like the wolf," Simon Le Bon sang through the tinny speakers of her record player.
"Shut up, this is all your fault," she spat and threw the record across the room. As she watched it shatter against the wall of her flat, she frowned because Simon continued to sing that hateful, taunting song at her. She followed the sound, which oddly followed the same path as Ron's clothes, hunting it down until she found the source and her mouth fell open. There on her bedside table, blaring out a song she now hated more than any in the world, was the clunky and out-dated compact disc player that Tildy had given to her. She had left it in Remus's flat in 1982. It could not possibly be there beside her bed, surrounded by candles and dark rose petals.
"That's impossible," she said.
"Welcome home," a man called.
Hermione spun and stared, her mouth moving but unable to find any word beside, "Impossible."
"You keep saying that," Remus replied, "What's impossible?"
"YOU!" she said and ran to him, pulling his face down so she could study it. He was older, the Remus she had known before finding that record, the one she had lost along with Tonks and so many others in the war. "How are you here?"
"I picked the lock," he said apologetically.
"No, how are you alive?"
"Well, there was a hex and I managed to not get hit by it. It's not exactly complicated."
The weight of her confusion was too great and she fell to the floor, landing not on a dirty shirt left by Ron but on a thick carpet of rose petals like those that now adorned her table. The dark trail she had seen through blurred eyes came into focus now and she saw that there was not a single sock among the petals. "That's wrong," she muttered and turned her face to look at the impossible man. "If you're alive, then I wouldn't have gone back in time. I only got that record because I was helping Harry sort your things."
He shrugged and sat down beside her, leaning against the bed casually. "No idea, but if it's alright with you, I would dearly love to not set the timeline straight. I enjoy being alive."
"Where's Tonks?" she demanded.
"Tonks? Was she the one I was meant to marry?" he asked. Hermione nodded and he laughed. "Now that is impossible. She's too much like Tildy, I could never fancy her."
She nodded again, slowly, still not believing what her eyes and ears were telling her. This was impossible. "I don't understand. You can't be here."
"Yet I am," he smiled.
"No, I mean, you can't be here. You died. If my going back changed that, then you still would have died."
"How do you figure that?"
"I went back because you died. I found that record in your things and went back. We… got together, and you lived because of me. If you lived I never would have found your record, I never would have gone back, we never would have… and you would still be dead," she insisted. "Besides, if you did live, I shouldn't have any feelings for you! I only fell in love with you because I read your notes to Tonks. If you didn't die, I never would have read them and I would still be with Ron."
His nose wrinkled up. "Ron?"
"Will you stop focusing on the wrong bits of what I tell you!" she snapped.
"Which bit would you rather I focus on? Because I'm rather keen on the bit where you admitted that you love me," he replied.
She glared at him. "That's another thing. You were never so smug before I went back, even before you died."
"You have that effect on me."
"Hermione," he said, his tone the hard, sensible one she remembered from before this mess started. "I don't know what happened or why. This is why time travel is forbidden without express permission. People go mad trying to figure out this sort of paradox. Call me selfish, but I would rather not lose you to madness after having to wait seventeen years to finally be with you again. I managed to keep myself in check and play the good boy all those years as your professor, housemate and friend."
She took in his words and smiled. "You aren't a good boy naturally?"
"Not when I'm with you," he smirked. "Now tell me, Miss Granger, are you still naked under that dress?"