Searching for Jane
By Rurouni Star
"Grief teaches the steadiest minds to waver."
He knew there was a point at which he was going to have to face the truth. Something like this just didn't undo itself, couldn't go away because the event itself was past. Even if he could ignore it, will it away, and pretend like nothing had ever changed.
He knew he was going to have to face it, yes.
But he hadn't expected it to be that summer.
Remus Lupin stood in front of the plain, white-washed, perfectly muggle door, and wished he could will his hands to stop trembling.
Well yeah, Harry's pretty bad off and all, Ron's letter had said. But I really think she's taken it bad too, and no one ever said we had to ignore Hermione just because Harry's feeling out of sorts.
But he remembered her smiling. He remembered it. She'd given him a very brilliant smile, hugged him tightly, and whispered for him to cheer up. Told him he could talk to her, if he needed it.
Had there been pain in her eyes, then? Had there been exhausted, grief-stricken shadows inside and underneath them? That, he couldn't remember, because he hadn't looked. And it made him curse himself, even though he'd been much too distressed to even think of such a possibility.
He felt personally responsible. Because while grief was a private thing (he knew this, he knew it well), he should have noticed. Or, barring that, he should have guessed, or even cared to think on it. To think that something so important had escaped his notice for so long that Ron Weasley had to owl him… though it made sense. Now that Sirius was gone – he had to face it – he was the most trusted older figure, the one at once most near and most separate from them each.
So it was that his hand was paused, loosely fisted, in front of the door, hesitating to knock and insert him into her privacy. But he was being counted on, which only compounded the problem either way…
Finally, without his conscious consent, his fist rapped sharply on the door.
He held his breath, surprised at his own bravery for a moment, listening intensely for footsteps. He probably shouldn't have been so surprised. After all, he had been in Gryffindor for some reason.
His shoulders sagged in relief as no one came to the door. He could put it off, or better yet, he could later lose his nerve and not come back at all-
Lupin frowned at these uncharacteristic thoughts and set his teeth. He would have to make certain, not go running away at the first sign that fate had let him off the hook.
He pulled his wand from his robes, tapped the door gently, and murmured the incantation. This spell was usually not used, for the sole reason that it was incredibly impolite and slightly invasive of privacy. But as his wand tip glowed a dull green, he nodded to himself. Someone was home.
He knocked again, louder this time. Another few moments passed without response, and he raised his fist again, beginning to feel suspicious-
The door opened, and he stopped, lowering his hand.
A woman was standing in the door, in a bathrobe. Her hair was dripping wet, limp in front of her eyes – he only had the time to understand she'd been in the shower before he realized she didn't seem to mind his interruption at all.
"What can I do for you?" she asked him cheerily, surreptuously taking in his bedraggled robes and tired face. He knew what people saw when they first looked at him. It didn't bother him anymore.
"I was wondering…"
He stopped, realizing this woman was Hermione's mother. How on earth could he communicate what he was there for?
Lupin inwardly shrugged and decided to give it his best try. "I was wondering whether Hermione was home. I'm her prof-" He stopped, realizing this wasn't true anymore. "I'm one of her close friends," he corrected. "And some things happened at the end of her last school year that I would like to straighten out with her."
Hermione's mother seemed to take the news well, but her face turned inscrutable, the water dripping slowly from her burnished brown hair, down her slightly frowning mouth, to fall to the wooden floor beneath her bare feet.
"Go ahead and come in," she said after a minute. "I'll make you some tea. It's almost tea-time, isn't it?"
Lupin inwardly winced. He hadn't realized it was any such thing.
"Thank you," he said, nodding and following her in as she stepped back. "I hope this won't take too much of your time."
Her smile was back now. "Aren't you very polite? Don't worry, Mr…?"
Ah. He hadn't introduced himself. How intelligent.
"Remus Lupin," he finished for her.
The woman tip-toed into the kitchen – a homey kind of place, filled with warm colors and fall leaf-motifs, despite the summer view out the window. He remembered Hermione commenting now on how her mother liked decorating in her spare time. It was hard to set this personality trait to the dripping woman in front of him now, but he filed it away into the part of his mind that now held her image within it. He'd have to discreetly find out her name later – he only knew her as "Mrs. Granger", which was slightly incongruous with the true thing. She must have thought he already knew her name, as he'd found the house… but then, all Ron knew was a numeric address, with no name to put to the house but 'Granger'.
"So you're one of the members of that… organization she stayed with last summer?" the woman guessed shrewdly as she set a pot of water on the stove, one hand holding the front of her robe shut.
Lupin sat down uneasily in one of the cushioned chairs, pinching the bridge of his nose. He wasn't supposed to say anything about anything lately – now that everything had come to a point, any information was dangerous.
"Yes," he said in a quiet voice, apologizing mentally to Dumbledore and deciding to tell it all anyway. "The Order of the Phoenix." He paused, trying to collect his thoughts and decide how best to approach this matter. "Hermione… has been helping with a lot of what we're doing. I don't know how much she's told you."
Her mother sat down opposite him and pushed under the bottom fold of her robe more securely. "No more than she's had to," the woman said carefully. "Apparently, it's a very secret kind of thing. But she did let us know up front that it was dangerous. We…" She hesitated. "We trust her judgment. She knows her morals, and we raised her to do what she feels she has to. But I can't deny I've been wanting to know a few things more."
Lupin closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. So Hermione had been responsible and discrete. It was more than he could've asked for. He opened them again and went over a few things in his mind. "A dark wizard is rising," he said grimly. "He's a dangerous man, and he has many followers from the last incident he was involved in. Influential people. If he has his way, muggleborns such as Hermione will be thrown out of Hogwarts… and much, much worse. I'm sure I don't need to inform you of just how bad things can get, going from historical experience."
He had to admit that she was handling this rather well. Her face was pale white, her hands now clenching the table, but she was, on the whole, perfectly composed. "I do understand," she affirmed. But she said nothing else – she was clearly hoping to get more information from him by remaining silent.
Resigned, he went on. "Hermione has… been through a few unfortunate things. Nothing that directly affected her own person, if you understand me, but some other distressing things…"
He was loathe to say just what had happened. Not only had Hermione probably kept it from her mother for a reason, but he wasn't quite sure he could deal with it himself in front of this near-stranger. And it wouldn't inspire much confidence in him or in Hermione's safety if she saw him break down at her table.
As it seemed he was finished, the woman swallowed and hurriedly tucked her robe in again. "I'll go get dressed," she said quietly, forgetting about the water on the stove (which, as he now saw, was not even being heated). "And… Hermione is in her room. The last door down the hall."
Before he could say anything else, she was gone.
He didn't expect she would be coming back soon. He'd probably given her a lot to digest.
Lupin sighed and wiped at his face with his hands, feeling terribly off-balance. His responsibility – but her privacy – and there were things not to be discussed – but if she needed it, and he wasn't there for her –
He rose in a daze, his knuckles white on the table's edge, and walked to the specified hallway softly. His footsteps made no noise – they padded like an animal's stalking movement, though he wasn't feeling particularly predatory. No, if anything, he was frightened. If he went into this room, this door at the end of the hall, he would be acknowledging something he had been putting off for a month and more.
His hand was on the doorknob now, but he stopped to listen uncertainly, wanting to know what she was doing, out of sight, and at the same time dreading the thought that he was putting this off even more.
There was a flurry of quiet sound from inside – paper and books, it sounded like. A panicked kind of disordered chaos, which was strange – because Hermione never gave in to such a thing, she fought the idea of disorganization tooth and nail…
It stopped, for a moment, and he wondered whether she'd heard him. But there was only silence.
Drawing up his courage, knowing with a sinking feeling that he wouldn't be able to knock properly, Lupin opened the door quietly.
The room was sunlit – beams of radiance broke through clouds of dancing dust-motes, diffusing a golden glow throughout the bedroom, touching on perfectly arranged shelves and desks and papers. But the dust had been pulled up by something – some kind of desperate activity – and he realized what it was as he took in the uncharacteristic mess of books on the floor. They had been tossed carelessly into a pile, pages bent, covers open and curled beneath themselves…
Hermione was sitting behind the books, leaning against her bed. Her face was in her hands – and the golden sunlight from the window glinted on her spilled chestnut hair, dripping down the individual strands like liquid drops of fire.
She hadn't noticed him. Lupin privately doubted she would have noticed anything short of him slamming the door open.
"Hermione," he said softly. And though she might not have noticed before, something about her name, said in that particular way, caught her attention.
She jerked her head upward, eyes widening in horror and disbelief. And he saw; whether they had been there before or not, there were dark smudges beneath her eyes, near black in their intensity.
She froze in her position, obviously uncertain of what to do. Truthfully… he didn't know either. He hadn't precisely planned his conversation.
Lupin turned around with a sigh and closed the door behind him. He then moved to the pile of hastily discarded books, sitting down slowly opposite her. He let his robe settle out behind him – it made him feel slightly awkward, but there was really no reason to be concerned about that with Hermione.
She stopped with her mouth open, and he saw the change in her face as she thought up a logical reason for her behavior. She had hidden it, again, and was now smiling painfully. "I was looking through my books," she offered up, gesturing with one free hand at the mess. "I'm getting rid of some."
Lupin realized she was speaking some form of the truth. There was a trash bag near her bed, and a few books had indeed been tossed into it. But now that he could see a few of the titles on the floor, he knew they were stories she'd talked about countless times with relish – she had no reason or desire, to his mind, to want them gone.
"Moby Dick?" he asked her softly, reaching out to pick the abused paperback up from its face-down position.
"It grows boring after a while," she said confidently, but he saw a flicker of something go through her face, just for a moment.
Lupin nodded once in understanding – then set it, neatly closed, to his side. He picked up another. "Fahrenheit 451?" he questioned now.
Hermione's smile wavered only slightly. "I can only read so many dystopic novels, you know."
Again, he said nothing – but he straightened this book out as well, and stacked it on top of its companion. He began to gather the others wordlessly: Great Expectations, The Scarlet Letter, The Time Machine, Beloved. Classics. The kind Hermione had always adored reading over and over.
He glanced up at the top part of her bookshelf, where a built-in ladder reached upward toward a flat, empty plane, now devoid of dust.
"All of your books?" he asked her quietly. "You're getting rid of all of them?"
He didn't look at her, but he knew her lip was trembling.
"Yes," she managed in a choked whisper.
Lupin looked back down at the next book – and stopped. It looked very well loved; dog-eared pages abounded, while the spine was bent almost to ruin.
"Jane Eyre?" he said then.
The reaction was immediate and drastic; Hermione's hands flew to her mouth, and she gave a soft cry of distress at the sight of the book. Her eyes glistened, but she merely breathed more quickly – not a tear made its way outside the boundaries she'd so strictly set for herself.
"I take it this has some sort of special significance," Lupin said, crossing his legs and setting himself against the bookshelf patiently.
Hermione's frame shook slightly as she held something explosive within her. "No – yes. I – it's stupid."
He found himself amazed at her sudden lack of articulation. "How so?"
Her hands found each other, and she curled them together in her lap, composing herself forcibly. "It's nothing. But why are you here, Professor Lupin?"
He inwardly winced at the name. He would cover little ground this way. Something more drastic would have to be done.
"To talk about Sirius," he said, watching her closely. "You offered, didn't you, Hermione?"
"Yes," she said in a small voice, instead of denying it as he might have imagined. Brave – always brave. He wondered sometimes if it might be more of a hindrance than a virtue.
"You miss him," he observed, much more confidently than he felt.
"I – of course I miss him," Hermione said, staring down at a book in her hands in a fiercely focused way that suggested she was trying not to cry. "Everyone misses him. Harry misses him – why aren't you talking to Harry?"
Lupin sighed. "Harry is not the only person in the world, Hermione."
She was losing composure quickly, uncharacteristically. She lowered her head to her knees, her forehead touching them in a strange gesture of vulnerability.
"I was going to lend him the book," she said in a slightly muffled voice. "He said he'd never – never read much… but that he'd always been interested to try a few muggle books…"
Lupin looked down at the book in his hands, wondering for a bare moment at how incredibly potent it had become. A small collection of paper and ink, loosely bound… and it had the power to stir such memories…
"So you were going to throw it out?" he questioned her softly.
Hermione didn't say anything. She didn't say anything at all for a very long time, so long that he began to suspect she was crying.
When he looked closer at her, he could see it – the slight shaking of shoulders, the tight set of her body, and the clenched hands.
He wasn't the best person to deal with something like this. What had he been thinking? She was just doing what he felt like doing, after all – and it would be useless of him to tell her everything would be okay, because it wouldn't, especially not when he considered that he himself might not be there in just a few days, a few weeks…
"I was going to throw it out," she said finally, in a choked voice. "I was. Every time I thought I'd found some kind of peace of mind, it made me remember all over again… but then I couldn't find it, and I realized that even if it weren't there, the lack of it reminded me too… I don't know what to do. If I throw it out, I'll always remember why I did it, but if I keep it, I'll never forget…"
Lupin privately thought there was something wrong with this, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Instead, he took a very long, hard look at it.
"Is it a good book?" he asked quietly.
Hermione laughed, but it carried an undertone of sadness. "It's a very good book," she told him.
Lupin looked at it just a while longer, then opened the well-worn cover, folding it back and paging through the title page and dedications…
The language was surprising, for all that he'd known Hermione a long time. The words were long and slightly unwieldy, but when strung together, they commanded a certain eloquence and elegance all their own. And with only one sentence, part-way down the first page, he realized why she had wanted to give it to Sirius.
"Jane is an outcast," he observed with a wistful smile.
Hermione gave a tiny hiccup. "Yes. She's an orphan – her family doesn't want her, so they send her away to school."
Lupin leaned back against the wall, his eyes working their way down the pages, taking in the words Sirius should have read. Hermione sat quietly by, trying to regain control of herself.
After a few minutes, he came to a page that had been dog-eared before – he folded the corner again and closed the book.
"Could I have this, Hermione?" he asked amicably. "As you were going to throw it away anyway…"
She looked up at him for the first time in a long time and he thought he saw her mind working around the concept and coming to the same conclusion he had.
"Yes," she breathed. "Yes, of course you can."
He smiled at her and tucked it into a pocket of his robes. It was a good solution, he thought. He knew that throwing it away would hurt her more than simply lending it indefinitely to a friend. Hopefully, when she looked at the gap in her shelf, she would remember only that she had given it to him and not the reasons for it.
Lupin stood up, wincing as the blood returned all at once to his legs, and offered her a hand up. She took it gratefully, then looked carefully at the pile of books on the floor.
"Um," she said sheepishly. "Would – would you mind…"
He chuckled and pulled his wand – with a gesture, the books went flying back to their places, leaving the floor just as neat and tidy as every other part of her immaculate room.
He turned to leave, feeling much better about everything in general, when Hermione stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"I – Professor?" she said quietly.
Lupin turned. "Yes, Hermione?" he said.
She bit her lip. "You will return my book? After… after all of this is over?"
He sighed. He wanted to tell her he couldn't promise, wanted to tell her she was being childish… but instead, he said, "If you'll be here for me to give it to."
Her breath stopped for a moment – she looked at him strangely, then sighed and laughed at herself.
"You're right," she said. "I can't promise any more than you can"
She smiled wanly at him, with a kind of faraway look on her face, then let him go.
He gave it back to her, just before the end.
"I haven't finished the last page," he cautioned her quietly. "I'll want to borrow it again."
Hermione smiled tearfully at him, then engulfed him in a tight hug. "I'll do my best to get it back to you," she told him, holding it close to her heart and forgetting that she couldn't promise.
And for that one moment, he believed, truly and fervently believed, that they could all get through this together. That they could come out of it, every single one.
But then, he had always been hopelessly optimistic.
In the end, it was Harry, a downcast Harry, a tired, half-destroyed Harry, that gave it back to him.
A short few sentences on the last page were underlined in cheap black pen; he managed to read them only barely before breaking down entirely:
"And why weep for this?" the old paper asked him. "No fear of death will darken St. John's last hour: his mind will be unclouded, his heart will be undaunted, his hope will be sure, his faith steadfast."
When they buried her, he threw the book down into the earth with her casket, but knew its absence would haunt him forever.