Stages

Disclaimer: Of course not.

A/N – This is very long, and I am very anxious. Ack. Anyway. Happy New Year, everyone! :)

"I'm so sorry. So goddamn sorry. Headquarters has been compromised. You h-have to tell everyone that they can't g-go back there."


Chapter Seventeen: Like His Reason


Remus Lupin loves Hermione Granger.

Dumbledore doesn't stay long after Hermione's announcement. With a promise to be back as soon as possible, he disapparates with a crack that seems to vibrate through everyone, leaving behind a very shaken family and a man who won't let go of his partner for fear of losing her. The fear is irrational, Remus knows it is, but still he sits on the floor in his dead parents' makeshift library and hugs Hermione to his chest with hands that clutch.

It's a very long time before anyone in the room moves. Remus isn't really surprised when Harry lets out a gusty sigh and runs a hand roughly through his hair before holding out said hand to Ella. The young witch sniffs and looks like she isn't going to remove herself from her mother's lap, but with the encouragement of a certain dog's wet nose, she takes Harry's hand.

"We need to finish the game, yeah?" Harry says quietly, smiling when Ella nods and allows herself to be pulled to her feet. Remus watches as the boy – the young man now, more than anything – looks to Hermione for permission and then leads Ella back into the kitchen to finish the chess game Remus and he had abandoned. Padfoot looks conflicted from a moment, and then noses Hermione, who sends him a flicker of a smile and rubs a hand over the top of his head.

"Please go. I'll feel better if they aren't alone."

Padfoot's ears perk up. His tongue comes out in a doggy grin, and then he's trotting after the two youngers of the house with purpose in his step. It makes something niggle in the back of Remus's head, but then Hermione turns in his arms and the thought vanishes.

His head falls to rest on top of hers. His heavy exhale makes her curls dance over her cheek.

"Why would you go to the ministry?" he whispers to her, arms tightening at her shudder. Sounding just as young as her teenage daughter, Hermione sniffs and burrows herself closer into his chest.

"There's important things I couldn't leave there. Things we need to talk about. All of us, together. I didn't expect… he just appeared out in the open! Why would he take that type of risk?"

"I don't know," Remus says, then doesn't say anything else. He holds her to him and tries to settle his heart down; to make it stop trying to slam its way out of his chest. Her fingers dig into his upper arms, and Remus sits and breathes in lungful after lungful of marigold, his mind hissing dreadful things, repeating them over and over, making his chest contract.

He could have lost her. For however brief a time, Hermione had been in the hands of a Death Eater.

He could have lost her.

Again.

His heart won't accept it. Can't accept it. And because he knows if he doesn't do something, even just getting up and making sure the rest of the household's occupants are all right, he'll do something else that'll make Hermione's trip to London look like child's play on the idiot scale, he forces himself to his feet, bringing Hermione with him.

Hermione resists for just a moment and then lets out a long sigh.

"Must we go adult?" she whispers into his chest. Remus cups her chin and gently lifts it before lowering his head and kissing her, long and slow.

"I'm right next to you. Did you happen to get supplies before your little… jaunt? Firewhiskey, perhaps?"

Hermione tilts her head and regards him curiously, questions in her eyes at his tone. Ultimately, however, she chooses not to ask them. Instead, her mouth twists up in a wry look of amusement.

"It's not even noon, Remus John Lupin."

"I think we can forget that fact this one time, don't you? Come on. You need family and whiskey."

They spend the rest of the day in the kitchen, drinking copious cups of tea, only the first three or so laced with firewhiskey, and playing multiple games, both wizarding and muggle alike. Remus sits beside Hermione and watches her interact with Ella and Harry. He watches Harry grin and laugh and throw up his hands, and he watches Ella subtly and not-so-subtly tease her mother about her relationship with Remus – something that both he and Hermione realise around the same time that they'd revealed to Harry without meaning to in the library. Remus watches Harry a bit closer after that, but doesn't see any disapproval from the youngster. Then again, he wouldn't, would he?

Harry has always been a champion at minding his own business – unless he doesn't want to, that is.

Afternoon becomes evening, the evening meal is made, and drinks become firewhiskey minus the tea. Remus can't stop himself from touching. He just has to know she's there; that's she safe. His hand is on her waist, on her shoulder, on her back. He tries not to make it too obvious, knowing he's failing miserably, and expects some protest. But for reasons only she understands, no protest comes.

Hermione smiles at him when his knee presses again hers. She leaves the room twice, and although Remus doesn't push it as far as following her – it disturbs him a little how much he wants to – she immediately takes his hand once she's come back in and sitting down again. She's leaning against his shoulder when she shoos the kids to bed, head on his bicep, and by then, Remus is lagging, too.

It's been a very long day. One that's best to be over, he thinks.

"Come to bed?" she asks him, smiling when he nods silently. Padfoot has followed the kids up the stairs, and they encounter him curled up on the floor in the corridor, exactly halfway between Harry's and Ella's bedrooms. His head lifts and Remus stops, confliction tugging at his stomach.

Sirius is his best mate.

"Give me a moment?" he says quietly. Even he can hear the reluctance in his voice, and Padfoot snorts and proves that, yes, indeed, dogs can smirk as Hermione murmurs agreement and brushes her lips against the corner of his mouth before continuing to their room

Their room. Yes. It's theirs.

"I know, I know, don't give me that look," he mutters to the dog laughing at him once the door closes and they have the hallway to themselves. "I'm whipped. So be it. Let's talk about you."

The dog's head lowers immediately. Remus sighs and runs a hand through his hair, eyeing his oldest, most loyal friend. Padfoot's ears flicker. His nose digs further between his paws.

"You can't stay like that forever, you know," Remus says, tracing Padfoot's spine. It was still standing out more than it should, despite Poppy's regeneration potions. Come to think of it, he hasn't really seen Padfoot eat much since they'd gotten here. He'd only nibbled at his steak and kidney pie that evening, but Remus had thought that was because his canine stomach couldn't handle human food the way his human one could. Remus smooths the hair down over the dog's leg, worry niggling under his breastbone.

"You're not okay at the moment, are you? M'sorry, mate. And I'm even sorrier to have to say this, but we need you, Sirius." He swallows and shoves the guilt away. Sometimes you just had to do the things you really didn't want to do. "Harry needs you. Try to keep that in mind? I don't want to force anything on you, but… just try to keep that in mind. At least until we've destroyed the bastards."

Remus sighs again, then gets to his feet. Padfoot's head doesn't move. "Sorry, mate," he repeats, very softly. Then, with his heart horribly heavy, he turns away from Sirius and heads towards his room.

"Everything all right?" Hermione asks from her position in the middle of the bed. She's changed into some sort of sleep set, a cool blue that look slippery to the touch.

Remus wants to touch her.

In more ways than one.

"No," he says, and Hermione grimaces and holds out her hand. He goes to her willingly, the bed just as soft as it was the night before. She leans forward and kisses him, and Remus finds out that her sleep set is indeed, very slippery, the fabric warming under wandering hands, the soft, encouraging noises she makes making his head spin. Following her as she falls back on the mattress, Remus pulls away from her mouth and finds home in the curve of her neck and collarbone, his hands pushing up slippery-cool material and drifting along the hot skin of her stomach. He presses his lips and drags his tongue, and Hermione shifts anxiously and lets loose a little sound that goes straight to Remus's very rapidly becoming interested groin.

He wants to make her make that sound again. He wants to hear it repeated like a mantra, the sound running off into his name as he makes her come apart under him. He wants his name on her lips as he makes her break, and he wants to be the one to sooth her back together again. He is going to be the one to sooth her back together again.

But not tonight.

Shoving the fabric up until it sits under her breasts, Remus ducks his head and breathes softly against her stomach, lips pressing kisses he won't take any further. Her muscles quiver a little under his touch, her hands finding their way into his hair. The feeling of her fingers against his scalp is wonderful, and Remus presses one last kiss to her skin before looking up, his chin coming to rest on top of his hands just below her belly button.

Hermione's looking down at him with heavy-lidded eyes and cheeks warmly flushed. Remus has to stifle a groan and lower his head, cheek making contact with her midriff, his eyes drifting shut when her fingers begin to move in a gentle massage that he feels right to the ends of his his toes. He sighs and leans into her hands, smiling to himself when she chuckles.

"Do you want to change?" she murmurs. Shaking his head, he breathes in her glorious scent and lets himself relax. He wants to sleep like this. He wants to wake up like this.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

He doesn't want the world to intrude. Her question tightens the muscles in the back of his neck, something Hermione must sense, as her fingers pause in their massage. The thoughts and feelings that he's done his best to keep at bay all day surge to the forefront, and Remus squeezes his eyes shut, his gut churning.

When he lifts his head a second time, Hermione is looking at him steadily.

"I don't like that you went off to London by yourself. That you made that decision by yourself. You could've gotten seriously hurt."

Hermione sighs. "I know you don't," she says, fingers beginning to move again. "But I can take care of myself, Remus. You know I can. I've been doing it for years, haven't I?"

I want to take care of you, Remus thinks but doesn't say, because he's not entirely sure if she'll appreciate it. He's never been this possessive of anything before – anyone, really, and it's a bit startling, if he's honest with himself. The fact that she's let him act the way he has all day surprises him to no end, and Remus lays his cheek down again.

"We're together in this. All of us. Please don't do it again."

She doesn't answer his quiet request, but then Remus doesn't expect her to. His hands pet her skin as the room settles into a deep, not-quite-confident silence, and his chest loosens a little at a softly murmured word and the lights going out. Letting the darkness do its best to wash away the feelings that make him want to grab her and run, to never let her go, he breathes in the rich scent of marigold and closes his eyes.

It's quite a while before either of them sleep.

~0~

Dumbledore comes back the next day. The wards don't scream like they had before he'd known about the fidelius, but they do warble through Remus's head, the two adults and the still-Padfoot looking up and then at each other at the feeling. Remus hadn't let his disappointment show when Padfoot had trotted down the stairs – he'd tried to not even feel it, because Sirius had been through so much more than anyone could be expected to deal with and come out the other side healthy. Time is needed, and if it was just going to be him and Hermione in the house with magic at their fingertips, then he'll do his best to give Sirius exactly that.

There's a knock on the door. Hermione squeezes his hand before she answers it, and Dumbledore sits at the opposite end of the kitchen table to Remus, calm blue eyes falling on Harry and Ella, then Padfoot, then looking back at Remus and Hermione. "Perhaps the children can leave us to speak in private?" he suggests, smiling across the table and steepling his fingers, "I'm sure they both have summer homework to do."

"No," Hermione says, just as Harry opens his mouth to protest. Surprise lights up his face, and then a grin keeps the light. He folds his arms and sits back, looking extremely pleased with himself. "Harry and Ella are staying. We're in this together. Whatever you want to say to us, you can say to them, too."

Dumbledore doesn't look happy with this statement, but he doesn't argue. Clearing his throat, he sits tall and straight, his face the very picture of good intentions.

Good intentions path the road to hell, don't they?

"You were indeed correct in your assessment of Headquarters being compromised, Miss Granger," he begins, his silvery robe lying perfectly over his bony frame. Remus wishes he wouldn't wear those grandfatherly glasses. They don't fit with the real person hiding beneath the character, and the fact that Remus recognises that hurts more than it should. "Grimmauld Place has been ransacked and is no longer considered safe to return to. Thankfully, you were also correct in your assessment of Headquarters being empty at the time of compromise, so none of our operatives were caught unawares. This does bring us to a problem, however."

He pauses there and leans forward slightly, his earnest expression making Remus feel sick. Because he knows where this is going. He can see it coming from a mile away.

Padfoots growls, low in his chest. Hermione's fingers tremble around her coffee cup.

Can they even say no?

"With no Headquarters, we no longer have a place to meet. A place to plan. With Headquarters compromised, we no longer have a place to be safe, and that is simply not acceptable. Which is why I must ask you a favour."

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

"You already have the appropriate wards set up here," Dumbledore says. "You are in the middle of nowhere, and this house isn't known to the Death Eaters like number 12 was. It is close enough to London to apparate and disapparate. It would make the perfect place for a new Headquarters."

"No!" Remus spits, his voice echoing Padfoot's louder growl. All Hermione does is stare at the headmaster, expression unreadable, and Ella and Harry sit close together and watch the exchange carefully. Dumbledore sighs and shakes his head, his disappointment apparent.

"You took Mr Potter to keep him safe, did you not? He will be hiding in a remote part of the country with the Order surrounding him until he goes back to school. How can he possibly be safer than that?"

"I can take care of myself!" Harry pipes up indignantly, but is by and large ignored by all except Ella, who shushes him with a wave of her hand. Remus's teeth grind together, his jaw aching with the effort of holding himself back from telling the old man exactly what he thinks of him. Dumbledore always has to be in control.

It isn't fair.

"Harry isn't the only one who needs a safe haven, either," Dumbledore continues calmly. In that moment, Remus hates him. "We all do. You would turn away your fellow Order members? I take it you are still part of the Order, despite your rebellion. Your friends need their safety secured as well. Will you not give them that security?"

"Fuck your security, and fuck you!" a voice barks. Remus's head snaps around to see Padfoot now Sirius Black, tall and dark and angry. He plants his hands on the table and bares his teeth, hair falling in stormy cold grey eyes. "Both these kids are mine, and you will have nothing to do with them, do you hear me? Harry is not a fucking pawn in your game! We took him away to reinforce that, and you will not guilt us into letting him back into your clutches!"

"We can't let the Order fall to pieces, though," comes another unexpected voice, speaking very quietly. Dumbledore smiles at Harry's comment, and Harry, himself, looks incredibly nervous when all attention turns in his direction. "Um, we can't not give them somewhere to… be. We can't. Turning them away isn't an option. Is it?"

There's a plea in his eyes, and for a long moment, there isn't any reaction from his three guardians. Finally, a very soft "fuck," cracks the silence.

They can't break Harry's heart.

"Excellent," Dumbledore says, beaming now. "I shall let them know. Remus? Care to walk me out?"

Walking the old man out is the last thing Remus wants to do. Feeling resigned, however, he gets to his feet and follows him to the front door, Dumbledore stopping once he steps into the driveway. He turns to Remus expectantly, and in an instant, Remus's hackles rise.

"What?" he asks, unable to help the way he speaks through his teeth. Dumbledore's brow goes up.

"I have already mentioned that you and I need to talk, my boy," he says mildly. "Isn't now as good a time as any?"

Remus groans and rubs a hand over his face, hiding the panic starting to bubble up in his gut. "Does it even matter that I know what you're going to ask, and that I already know I don't want anything to do with it?"

Dumbledore looks surprised. "Of course it does. You have a choice, Remus. I've always given you a choice in this."

Remus's answering laughter is bitter in both in taste and sound. His raised hackles bristle, eclipsing the panic in a most satisfying way, and for once letting the hot beast in his chest have its head, he takes a step closer to the man he's seen as a hero most of his life. Anger licks at his breast, and Remus breathes it out like oxygen, fuelling the words kept tight inside him since he'd realised Dumbledore game plan.

Enough is enough.

"A choice?" he repeats, very quietly; so quietly that Dumbledore frowns and leans in closer. "I never had a choice, Headmaster. You are an expert at playing on people's sympathies, something that happened perfectly inside. You know all the rules and see all the outcomes, and you have no trouble in manipulating events until everything comes out rosy in your eyes. That's exactly what you did with me, isn't it?"

Dumbledore's frown deepens, and Remus has the distinct satisfaction of seeing wariness grow in those ever-jovial eyes. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."

Remus snorts derisively. "Bullshit. You know everything you need to know. You knew what would happen if I spent a lengthy amount of time in a werewolf pack's company. The entire point of sending me to the wolves was to for me to learn what it felt like to be a wild werewolf, yes? For me to know what it was like to be a wolf in human form, so that I knew how to act in the future. That was why you told Hermione not to join me when I was first on wolfsbane at Hogwarts. So that that I could learn to be a werewolf on wolfsbane alone."

He takes another step closer, his anger downplaying the jolt he feels when he realises that he is, in fact, taller than Dumbledore. "It was all for the greater good, wasn't it, Albus? My pain and fear, the suffering I went through, it was all so that I could become an effective pawn. Just like you're trying to make Harry. I know how to act like a wolf in human form now, and I know how to act like a wild werewolf under the moon while still having my human mind. I'm the perfect spy now, aren't I, Headmaster? All for the fucking greater good."

He growls the last part, low and threatening, and somewhere inside him, he gives Albus Dumbledore credit for not backing down from the threat. Regret is stamped across his face for the briefest moment, making him look his advanced years, and then his chin lifts. Dumbledore sighs, his mouth twisting.

"I've done many things in my life that I wish I'd never had to do, Remus," he says, "and I'm sure they'll be more to come still. For what it's worth, I am sorry, my boy. Very sorry for what you've had to go through."

He steps away from Remus and folds his arms into the opposite sleeves of his robes, his head hanging. If Remus hadn't been so agitated, he would have laughed at the display.

The crafty old wizard sure knew how to put it on.

"I am sorry, too, for what I have to ask of you next," Dumbledore says, turning back, his voice quiet. "You are, unfortunately, right in everything, and also unfortunately, you are now needed more than ever. The man who has been your objective from the very beginning is out in the open, and we need to get as close to him as possible, for he has information that could be very helpful to our cause. I hate to ask you this, Remus, I really do. But will you go back? One last time?"

Standing on the spot in the driveway of his house that has just become the new Headquarter of the Order of the Phoenix, Remus gapes at the man in front of him. The red beast in his chest roars its disapproval of the question, and Remus's hands shake, his skin prickling. He stares at the Order's leader without saying a word – unable to say a word – and perhaps sensing that he's pushed it a step too far, too soon, Dumbledore smiles a little and inclines his head.

"You don't have to decide just yet, of course; we do have a little time. Nothing will happen until the new school year starts. I will send the Order members your way as soon as I can, and be back myself, so that we may situate ourselves and have our first meeting. Until then, I say good day to you, Remus."

He disapparates with the usual crack, and Remus stares at the empty spot he's left behind, his mind a jumbled, angry, miserable mess. Eventually, he manages to pull himself together enough to go inside.

Hermione frowns the moment she sees his face.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Remus says, heading up the stairs and ignoring the way her mouth pinches at the corner.

~0~

Just as Dumbledore had said, the Order members begin arriving not long after. The wards shriek constantly, as none of the members are in on the fidelius, and Hermione, Remus, and Sirius take turns at going out to meet them and bringing them inside. They come few and far between, the Weasleys one of the firsts to arrive, and Remus is in the kitchen discussing recipes with Molly – and turning his back on Hermione's thoroughly amused smirk – when Sirius escorts the last couple of members inside.

"Wotcher, Remus!"

Blinking in surprise, Remus swings around to find a brightly grinning Nymphadora Tonks standing just inside the kitchen doorway. "Dora!" he exclaims happily, walking over to pull the currently rainbow-haired girl into a hug. "I didn't know you were coming!"

Dora laughs and hugs him back. "'Course I'm gonna be here, tosspot. Order member, aren't I?" she says, pulling away from him. When Remus looks startled, she laughs harder and smacks his arm. "Mate, your face is a picture. Didn't know that, then?"

"No," Remus says faintly, a little bemused. He'd known he hadn't met every Order member the year before, as many of them had been away on long-term missions. He hadn't known that little Dora had been one of them.

Dora still looks amused. "That's okay, isn't it?" she asks, rather dryly, sharing a look with Sirius. Remus smiles at her and shrugs.

"Sure. 'Course. We need all the help we can get."

"Well, that's all right, then," Dora says cheerfully. "'Lo, Hermione! Where's Harry?"

"Out back," Hermione answers. Remus feels movement at his elbow and then her hand slips into his. "Hello, Tonks. Bedrooms are upstairs, make yourself at home."

Dora grins. "Will do!" she says before turning and bounding up the stairs, only just stopping herself from tripping up the first few steps. Remus shakes his head at her energy.

The girl makes him feel old.

It isn't the only thing she makes him feel, he realises in the days to come. Just as she had at his house a couple of years before – a social call that had had hidden intentions, it seems, as Dora had come looking for her cousin in an official capacity, her nostalgic visit to Remus only a front; something that makes Remus frown and Sirius laugh his arse off – Dora Tonks brings his past back to him without painful shadows haunting the memories. He laughs a lot in her company, and Dora smiles wider whenever he does. It seems to be her aim, to make him laugh, but after a couple of days, confusion sets in as well.

Hermione's avoiding him. He knows she is, but he doesn't know why, and it hurts some – more than some – because he misses her. They're still sleeping in the same room, in the same bed, but there's no more warm presses of a palm on his back, no more smirks across the kitchen table, no more mouthing hot skin to produce desperate little sounds. She's all grumbles and mutters and nose-in-the-air, and Remus is at a complete loss.

He has no fucking clue what he's done.

What makes it worse is Sirius seems to know. The arrogant git is laughing to himself constantly, and Remus gets the impression that occasionally, Dora is joining in. It pisses him off, being kept deliberately out of the loop, and when Hermione heads to bed one night without asking him to accompany her, and Sirius practically giggles into his knees, he's had just about as much as he can take. Shoving his chair back, he stomps up the stairs.

"Go get her, Moony!" Sirius calls after him, almost choking on his laughter. Remus flips him the bird and keeps going.

"What the bloody hell's wrong with you?" he demands the instant he slams the door open and walks into their bedroom. Hermione's half undressed by then, in the process of removing her jeans when he enters, her pyjama top already in place. Her fingers pause on the zipper and her head comes up very slowly.

"Excuse me?"

Two words have never been so icy.

"I said, what the bloody hell's wrong with you?" Remus asks again, too annoyed to take heed of the warning signs. "You've been ignoring me for the past three days, and I've no clue why! What've I done to piss you off so badly, hmm? Nothing that I can recall!"

"Nothing that you can recall?" Hermione repeats, drawing the words out in a dangerously soft tone. "Nothing that you can recall? Oh, that's rich. Conveniently lost your memory, have you? A pretty girl catches your attention and your brain turns to mush?"

Remus blinks, bemused and more than a little thrown by the completely unexpected statement. "What?"

"Don't you 'what' me!" Hermione hisses, striding forward to poke him painfully in the chest. Remus blinks again and glances down, then looks back into her face. Her eyes are firing at him, but there's something there, hidden beneath the anger, that makes him take pause. He frowns, his own irritation draining.

It's like she's been waiting to get this out; a pot simmering, just itching to boil.

Well, let's get to boiling, then, shall we?

"Hermione, please, I need you to explain this. I don't know what you're talking about, love."

"No, of course you don't," Hermione scoffs, "you're a man, aren't you? Men can do whatever they bloody well want, smile at whoever they bloody well want, have whoever they bloody well-"

"Stop," Remus orders sharply, cutting her off and making her gawk at him owlishly, taken aback by his tone. "Why are you saying these things? You're not making any sense. You almost sound like you're… Hermione." He sighs her name as the pieces fall into place. The last time she'd acted like this, they'd been back in school and he'd been with… fuck it.

"Hermione, why are you jealous?"

"Jealous? I'm not jealous!" Her voice is shrill, her step away swift, and Remus folds his arms and looks at her pointedly. Hermione huffs loudly, then shows him her back. Her spine is very stiff.

"Yes, because that's clearly not jealousy," Remus mutters under his breath. Then, because he can't handle the distance between them – literally and figuratively – he crosses to her and stops a hair's breadth away, very much wanting to reach for her. But whatever barrier she has up is stopping him for doing that.

Which only brings his annoyance right back.

"You're being ridiculous," he says, holding his ground when she gasps in outrage and spins around. Not expecting him to be so close, she wobbles, and Remus steadies her in a movement he couldn't have prevented if he'd tried, letting her go just as quickly. "Don't get huffy, you are being ridiculous. The only person I want is you."

"Then why the bloody hell are you flirting with Tonks?!" Hermione snaps, finally boiling over and making Remus's eyes go wide.

"What? I'm not!"

"You are, and I hate it, and I want it to stop!"

"How can I stop something I'm not even doing?" Remus barks back, glaring at her. "You're seeing things that aren't there, nor will they ever be! I don't want Dora! She's just a girl!"

"She's an adult and she wants you, and I can't stand the way she looks at you-"

"She can want me all she bloody well likes, but she's not going to get me, as I've been in love with you half my fucking life!"

Hermione's mouth drops open. His shout dies into silence, and Remus mutters to himself, his anger slowly slipping away at the absolutely gobsmacked look on her face. He frowns and takes her hands, squeezing gently.

"Why are you acting like you didn't already know that?"

Hermione's burst of laughter seems to startle her as much as it does him. "Um… m-maybe because I didn't?"

Her words only make Remus's frown grow. He's more confused than he's ever been. "Er… how can you not?"

She laughs again, a sound of indulgence, and light, and relief, and then his arms are full of the woman he loves. She laughs and kisses his neck, and then his cheeks, both sides, and then his mouth, again and again. She still laughing, and Remus kisses her back until he feels wetness against his skin.

She's crying. Why is she crying?

"Hermione?"

"Come to bed," she whispers, letting him go and tugging at his hands. "Remus. Come to bed. Take me to bed. Please?"

He searches wet eyes and finds something that makes his heart swell. He's right in front of her in one firm step, and he swallows her renewed laughter, pushing back until her calves hit the bed. She sits and Remus leans over her, cupping the back of her neck and sliding his lips over hers, coaxing a sigh, then a gasp, then a moan.

The sounds delight him. He wants more.

She gives those sounds to him when he sucks at the skin of her throat, running his teeth along her collarbone and dipping his tongue into the hollows, searching out the areas that make her gasp and whine and mewl. Marigold floods his head like a drug, and he's soon shifting his hips and climbing up onto the bed, Hermione shuffling herself back and taking him by the back of his head, drawing his mouth back to hers. Her tongue wraps around his as her torso arches up, and Remus's answering groan is ragged. He breaks away, breathing heavily.

"My s-shirt. T-take it off."

Sucking in air like it's about to run out, Remus shakes his head. "Don't wanna… move too quickly. Want this to… last."

"We can go as slowly as you want next time, I swear, but Remus, please, please, take off my shirt. I n-need you."

He smiles against her shoulder. "Well, if you insist," he mutters, grinning at her before kissing her again, his fingers surprising him as they make short work of her buttons. Hermione mouth is open and eager, and his hands smooth down her bare sides, his thumbs just scraping the edges of her breasts.

She isn't wearing a bra.

Pyjama shirt. Right.

He kisses her, drinking in her noises, and explores hot skin that isn't really as smooth as he's always imagined, fingers gentle. When he hesitates and then ventures up over her breasts, circling peaked nipples in a continuous pattern, she whimpers into his mouth. Her whole body jumps when he finally drags his thumbs over those peaked nipples. He chuckles against her lips and falls away to pay attention to the sensitive skin under her ear.

"Do you want my mouth on you, love?" he whispers softly, nibbling at her lobe. It thrills him that he can make her react like this, giving him confidence he'd never thought he'd have their first time. His Hermione is a strong witch, her own witch, and he's the one making her come to pieces. His hands are playing her, and his mouth will be the one that makes her cry out. Makes her beg.

Sweet Merlin, he wants her to beg.

"Hmm? What's that? Was that a yes, my sweet witch?" He chuckles again when her nodding becomes rapid. "I think I can accommodate you. Here?" He dances his tongue down the line of her throat, sipping languidly at her pulse. She shifts and sighs and arches her head back, hands fluttering up off the bedspread before falling to grip hard. Remus flicks her nipples a final time, the runs his own hands down her arms and intertwines their fingers.

"Or perhaps here? No?" he breathes into the valley between her breasts. It's just a little bit sweat-slick, and more than a little burning hot, the faint taste of soap and daytime and marigold so additive, he almost misses the way she wiggles impatiently.

"Reeeeeemuuuus… God, stop teasing! Please!"

"No, not there, then. Is it here, Hermione, my love?"

"Yes!" Hermione cries when his lips surround her nipple. "Yes! Ah-h, fuck! Remus!"

Remus's head pops up with a grin. "Patience is a virtue, you know."

"I don't fucking care about virtues or patience, you prat! I want you want inside me and I want it now!"

Remus hums quietly. "Okay."

Letting go of her hands, he darts to the fastening of her jeans, finding it already undone and the zipper half down. His mind flies to the way he'd found her when he'd walked into the room, but he's soon brought back to the present when she sits up and scrambles for the bottom of his jumper, pulling it up his torso in awkward tugs that only succeed when he stops to help her. His shirt quickly follows, and then his shoes – kicked off so hurriedly he nearly falls off the bed – socks and trousers, but he halts her at the waistband of his pants.

"Not so fast," he murmurs. Hermione bares her teeth in frustration and pulls her shirt off the rest of the way.

"Anyone would think you don't bloody want me," she mutters. Remus laughs quietly.

"Oh, I want you, sweet witch. Very much. But you'll get fast when I give you fast. Understand?"

Hermione's eyes go round. "Remus, I- o-oh-h."

"My thoughts exactly," Remus says through gritted teeth, his hips canting upwards in search of desperately needed friction as his fingers explore soaked folds. His sight of his hand moving inside her jeans is filthy and delicious, and he watches himself finger-fuck her for a while, his other hand drifting toward his aching erection, palming himself through the material of his underwear. He licks his lips and slides himself across his palm, a groan escaping when her body begins to buck into his hand.

"Are you coming, Hermione?" he asks roughly, already knowing the answer. Needing to taste her collapse on her lips, he leans down and takes her mouth, her sex spasming around his fingers, her heart slamming against his. Hermione moans, low and drawn out, then sighs and smiles up at him when he pulls back.

"In me now?" she asks, voice a slur. Remus bites his lip and nods, pulling his hand free of her jeans and hurriedly getting rid of his pants.

"Lift your hips, love. Good girl. Legs around me. There you go."

He touches himself to line himself up, the feeling making him gasp. Then, hooking her legs up around his back properly, he brushes her tangled hair out of her face and slowly slides inside.

"Ohhhh… fuuuuck… Remus…"

"Fuck, I love you," he groans, pausing once fully seated for a long, trembling moment, then drawing back and sliding smoothly back in. "I love you so much. So much."

"I bet you say that… to all the girls," she sighs, her laughter soft and teasing, dark eyes dancing. "No?" she continues, imitating him, her voice rising an octave on his next thrust, her hips rising to meet his. "Just me, then. That's good. That's very… good. That's the way it should… be. Fuck, you're good at this."

"Hermione?" he whispers, stroking into her, his hands framing her face. When she blinks and smiles up at him lazily, he leans down and breathes in her ear.

"Shut up and let me fuck you, all right?"

Her laughter vibrates through his chest. "All right, then. Do your worst."

My best, actually, Remus thinks, then sets out to prove it. The pace is slow, gliding long and achingly thorough, and Remus stares down into murky, hooded eyes, keeping his gaze locked with hers. Rolling his hips on every other thrust, he watches as her jaw gradually, gradually, slackens, her eyelids beginning to flutter.

Her body starting to bow.

"Look at me," he whispers. Hermione's eyes waver open and meet his again, and Remus reaches down between their bodies and finds her clit, moving his fingers in time with hips that have abruptly picked up speed. She gasps and stiffens, and he captures her loud cry when she jerks and clenches around him, gripping him hard, coming in waves that shakes her body.

And his.

Remus releases her mouth and presses his face into her shoulder, hips now moving rapidly. She's very wet, and very hot, and she feels so fucking good, and when she slowly begins to move with him again, her hands sliding down over his back and squeezing his arse to urge him on, he thrusts a handful more times and then lets out a strangled gasp, sensation building, travelling, slamming down his spine, legs shaking and cock buried deep. His gasp turning into a long groan, Remus manages to find just enough fortitude to stop himself collapsing on top of her.

His still tingling when she rolls him onto his side and cuddles in close, kissing him with enough sweetness to set his heart racing. Her sigh is satisfied, her eyes droopy, and her words…

Her words blow his world apart.

"I love you, too. Always have, always will."

She falls asleep with a spare blanket thrown haphazardly over them and her breath blowing steadily across his chest. It isn't until her breathing evens out that he realises he hasn't worried about her seeing his scars. Not once.

Remus stares into the darkness for a long, long time.

~0~

"Remus?" Hermione murmurs sleepily at him much later, bare skin warm, body soft and slow. Remus smooths her hair back and leans down to brush his lips over the four freckles shaped like a diamond on her shoulder that he'd noticed at some point during his sleepless night.

His diamond.

His woman.

"Go back to sleep, love. I'm just getting some water."

"Hurry back," she sighs, fluttering eyes closing firmly, her spread hand finding place on the empty bed space he's left behind. A second sigh drifts from her as she turns to bury her face into the bedspread a little, giving Remus a brilliant view of the curvature of her back, her magnificent hair falling over her shoulder to rest as a highlight to the freckle-diamond.

The werewolf has to force himself from the room.

"I'll do it," he says into the floo in the library once he's pulled his trousers on and scampered through the house – the only floo that's connected to the headmaster's office at Hogwarts. Dumbledore, the man who never sleeps, sets down the document he's working on and smiles at Remus quietly, looking extraordinarily pleased.

Sometimes you just had to do the things you really didn't want to do.