June 1997

She is one of the first to leave; she's not needed here anymore. She's not sure where to go, so she walks around the castle though she can barely see what's in front of her through the tears. Eventually she just gives up, finding a side hall and sinking to the ground.

She cannot believe what she just did. She cannot believe she said all those things, but after months and months of this shit and death and a thousand horrible things she couldn't take it anymore. It came out before she could stop herself, a desperate plea with feelings she wasn't sure she'd ever express again, least of all to him.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

If this is how it was going to end, she's surprised she made such an end. She figured a slow fade would be how it would work. Not this. Fuck, not this.

And Dumbledore is dead. Killed by Snape. Somehow, that's so peripheral to her life right now and to the humiliation taking hold of her body. All she can think of is how big of a fool she is and how she wants to curl up and die right here, maybe turn into dust. Is it possible to cast an Unforgiveable curse on oneself? They never covered that angle in Auror training.

She sees the trouser leg before she hears him speak.

"I think its best we leave," he says and she nods, waiting for him walk away. She doesn't want to deal with him right now.

"Are you coming?" he asks and she looks up at him. He looks so old and tired and she still loves him but she can't, anymore, not after tonight.

"I don't know," she says quite plainly. "I don't think it's the best idea."

"Oh." He nods, and turns to leave. She hears his footsteps retreating down the hall and struggles with what's going on inside her.

She could run to him, beg for forgiveness. She would be rebuffed.

She could do nothing, and say nothing until she sees him at the meeting scheduled tonight.

She could just curl up and die right here.

She chooses to do nothing. She's said her piece, and there's nothing she wants to take back except the delivery. If she can leave him behind knowing one thing, it's that she told him what she really felt, that she loved him and always will love him despite all his supposed shortcomings. And that, she thinks, is the truest sign of maturity she's ever mustered.

Maturity? She needs rest badly.

She stands up and stretches. She must have been there for over an hour, the way her limbs have cramped and there are murmurings of students in the hallway. It must be around eight in the morning, or so.

As she leaves, she sees a familiar trouser leg poking out from a stairwell and stops.

"I thought you left," she says quietly and he looks up, startled out of his thoughts. He shrugs.

"You look like shit," she tells him. "Come on, you can sleep at the house for a bit, until the meeting. Get some food, too."

"I…" he trails off and she smiles sadly.

"We're Order members," she says, "and if nothing else, friends."

"I thought you said our friendship was a charade," he says as he stands.

She grimaces. "I was angry when I said that," she says, looking away, "and if the only way I can have you now is as a friend, then I'll take that over nothing."

"You have every right to be angry," he tells her. She shrugs.

"So do you."

"No," Remus says softly. "I deserved everything you've ever said to me."

"I can't believe we're having this conversation now," she says and he laughs.

"Isn't this the perfect time?"

"I'm sorry. But we have other things to worry about than the fact I'm a total fool." She shuffles her feet and doesn't want to look at him, so she smiles at the ground.

"Let's go," he says, and follows her down the passageway to the Willow, through the shack, up to Hogsmeade.

She sits on the bed, and gestures for him to take the chair. He sits down slowly, and she thinks that, once again, he looks far older than he really is. The world is chiseling wrinkles into his face and cutting scars across his flesh and that's not fair for someone with such a decent heart-

No. Maybe not decent, but for the most part, kind and caring. She cannot help that she was what he needed then, those months ago, but everyone makes mistakes.

Remus sighs loudly, and buries his head in his hands.

"You're not going to cry, are you?" she asks, knowing she sounds insensitive so she smiles when he looks up. "It might ruin the manly image I have of you. Unless you want me to offer you comfort because – "

Remus sighs again. "It seems like before anything else happens, we've got some things to discuss."

"We have nothing to discuss –" she starts but he interrupts her.

"You didn't seem to think that several hours ago at Bill Weasley's bedside." His eyes remain fixed on hers, and she can tell that he's angry – and rightfully so – for what happened those hours ago.

She swallows. "I already said I'm a fool, I don't need you to –"

"Actually, Dora, I think you need me to tell you everything on my mind –"

"You're a vindictive shit, you know."

"- and you can tell me everything on your mind. We can't ignore the elephant in the room anymore."

"But you're so good at that," she says and he smiles.

"Who's vindictive now?"

"You first."

"Actually, I think you should tell me first, in case I need to counter any ridiculous charges you make."

"Fine - whatever." She takes a deep breath and suddenly all the speeches she has planned every day in the shower since he left seem inadequate. "I don't know where to start."

He doesn't say anything, just nods.

"I guess," she starts, "I just really…loved you. Love you, even, in some way. And it really hurts to know that you don't feel the same for me." The words seem hollow, echoing in her tiny room and making her feel younger than her years. She's been feeling these things for so long that saying them makes her feel ridiculous. But the truth, however painful, needs to be told and she's ready to accept it - all of it.

"I never said that-"

"You said being with me was foolish, Remus."

"But I never said I don't love you." He stands up and looks out the window. His clothes are so threadbare, she thinks, patched and repaired and worn for all those months with Greyback and the pack. For some reason, it makes her want to cry.

"You never said it either," she says.

"I just thought it was implied," he says, turning. "I love you, Dora, as insane as that may sound to you."

"Can I finish?" she says, heart in her throat. "You may love me but you still left me. You pushed me away for months and then you'd do these ridiculous things like send me presents? Try to take some interest in my life? I just – I don't need mindfucks, least of all finding out nine months later oh, you really do love me."

"I'm horrible at relationships," he says, leaning on the window sill, "friendships, and dating. For the longest time, I was wrapped up in everything that my affliction brought with it, and I didn't notice people. And I certainly didn't understand why people would notice me. So naturally I tend to bugger it all up, every time."

She says nothing, nods for him to continue. She needs to hear this. And inside, that little place where she's been holding a shred of hope is growing bigger and bigger.

"When Dumbledore asked me to go with the pack, I was so incredibly angry that I said some really shitty things to him. i Horrible /i things, Dora, because for the first time in years I was – well, I was with you and I was happy and I knew that I could be killed or kill others and it just didn't seem fair to me. All that crap McGonagall said tonight about love being revered above all else by him and yet – I don't know. I was being selfish, but fuck if I wanted to go."

"You were being human," she says. "That's completely natural."

"Yeah," Remus concedes. "But I realized that I couldn't get out of it – I was going whether I liked it or not. And things started crashing down – why would you want to be with me if I could be killed? Why would I hurt you like that? And then - why would you want be to be with me to begin with? Just a lot of ridiculous questions I kept asking myself and I knew I couldn't be with you, and I couldn't give you any hope because honestly, love, you're much better than I am."

"Rubbish," she says, gesturing for him to join her on the bed. "But you did hurt me by all those ridiculous things. I was convinced you were using me for sex all those months." Her cheeks burn when she says these words, words that seem so stupid right now but were so real and forceful all those months before.

"Do you honestly think I'm someone who would do that?" he says softly, taking her hand in his.

"Wasn't sure. Everything was really hazy and I just –"

"I'm sorry. I did what I thought was best. I – killed people, Dora. I killed people and did horrible things because I had to – for my cover. Which is blown now, and Snape – fuck."

"You know," she says, "he did what he had to do, just like you did what he had to do. For cover."

"Knowing that makes it a little easier," Remus says. "I'm sure Dumbledore knew it would come to that. But I – I never apologized for what I said to him. Uncharacteristic for me, and he knew it and –"


They sit in silence, side by side on the bed until she leans back, falling on the soft comforter and looking at the ceiling. Slowly, he lowers himself beside her and she takes a deep breath.

"I – " she starts but stops. "Look," she turns over, propping herself on her elbow next to him, "I think if we want to try this again, all of this, we should start off slow."

He quirks an eyebrow. "This?"

"You love me, and I love you, and all that ridiculous garbage that goes with it," she says. "I'd like to see if somehow this past year could be worked through – if we survive and all."

"And here I thought I'd confess my sins and you'd automatically forgive me and then we'd shag and I'd pop the question," he says with a dramatic sigh. She hits him and he pulls her towards him and she buries her head in his neck.

"I agree," he says. "Little tiny baby steps to see if this is what we both want. And if not -"

"Or if we die –" she adds.

He brushes a kiss in her forehead and she breathes in his scent, feeling tears well up in her eyes.

"Thank you," he says quietly and for a moment, everything is splendid and right with the world.

When she wakes later the day, she is under the covers and the shower is running. Her clothes are still on, and Remus' are a crumpled pile on the floor. She wonders if she can transfigure some of hers to fit him, but when he exits with a towel around his waist, she stops to look at the new marks on his chest and arms.

"So what I've been wanting to know," he says, "is about that time I saw you, in March. After –"

She picks up a pillow and buries her head in its fluffiness.

"Dora," he says, placing a warm hand on her back. "Seriously, I just need to know."

She rolls over and looks at him.

"I got ridiculously drunk with Rowena one night and made a stupid decision involving a Muggle solicitor who vaguely resembled you. Happy?" she asks and he nods.

"I just needed to know," he says. He sits down on the edge of the bed and runs his fingers through his hair.

"Why did you need to know?" she asks. "We weren't together then." It bothers her that he might possibly take offense

"It still hurt, to think that you had someone else in your life. I was jealous, I guess, that they could be with you when I couldn't." He smiles, half-heartedly, over his shoulder and she sits up. She leans her chin on his shoulder, their foreheads touching and it's just i so nice /i to be together, in any capacity, even if it's a shaky reunion.

"I was pretty lost those months," she admits. "I loved you so much and you didn't want me but you did and it was really hard and I just wanted to be young for once."

"So I'm the perfect choice, huh?" Remus asks. "You'll always be younger."

She laughs into his shoulder, biting it playfully and saying, "Yes, I can't just make myself younger."

"Touché," he says and she smiles.

"I just wanted to forget there was a war. I wanted to be my age and not worry about death and dying and stupid ex-boyfriends –"

"Hey!" he protests, turning on her. "I happen to resemble that i boyfriend /i …" he pulls her by the leg into his lap and she laughs.

"Whatever," she says, and then notices the drop of water running down his cheek and his scruffy chin down his bare chest and his hand is creeping up her thigh.

"Hey now," she tells him, "I do not think this is appropriate," but he nuzzles her neck anyway.

"Mmm," he says and she struggles just a bit. Now is not the time or place. They have to be somewhere soon, she knows, and they need to eat before the meeting. And…they can't do this, not now, not when all her emotions are so fucked up she can't see straight. Sex will not solve anything, or push problems aside. As much as it pains her to admit it, she'll have to be the mature one.

"Remus," she says softly, pushing him away, "no. Not now. I'm not in the mood." She slips out of his lap and walks towards the loo, turning to look at him once she gets to the doorway. He shakes his head.

"I'm sorry," he says and she smiles.

"Baby steps," she says softly, closing the door behind her.

It is dark when they return to her room – she has insisted her stay here, more because they're both so tired than any other reason. They have evade questions and sideways glances all evening, and she has told Molly that i No, we're not together /i because she doesn't know what she can call this. The tangible weight of his hand in hers is nice, as is the feel of his body pressed against hers when they hugged after the meeting, and the way he smells which makes her feel calm and collected.

"I'm going to wash up," she tells him.

"I thought you did that earlier," he points out. She shrugs.

"I – it just feels nice," she says and he nods. "There's some old pajama bottoms of yours in the bottom drawer."

"You kept my clothes?"

"Stole them last May," she admits, once again slipping into the bathroom to avoid him. As she slips her shirt over her head and starts the water running in the shower, she thinks about how easy that is, and why she's doing it. She's so used to being alone that two people – being with him most of the day – is crowding her head.

The water is hot on her back. She always thinks clearly in the shower, and so she lets it hit against her skin, the steam enveloping her as she tries to digest today. Dumbledore's death, despite its suddenness, seems to be part of a plan to her. At the meeting, she learned Moody and Kingsely had both come to similar conclusions, but despite the way everything fits – he's still gone. He's not going to lead them anymore, and the one person he feared is dead.

Just like Rowena. Just like Sirius. Just like she could be, any moment.

But Remus is back, for what that's worth, and she thinks that will mean more in the oncoming days.

She feels hands on her hips, cool lips against the heated skin of her shoulder, and she's angry for a moment. They need to figure this all out, not keep rushing in where their feelings lead them. But his arms circle around her waist and pull her to him and it's nice to feel for a moment like she's safe, loved, protected.

She turns and leans into him, wrapping her arms around his wet torso and leaning her head below his neck, where it belongs she feels. He kisses the top of her head and pulls her tighter and she cries. She can't help it, things have been building inside her for so long that this – touch, him, everything – makes her break.

In bed, he kisses her exposed shoulder, hugging her tighter to him, like she'll be gone in the morning like everyone else. She's surprised at how well they still fit, despite all the changes they've been through.

They have fought over the past two days, disagreeing over everything and nothing. She's still angry he didn't say anything about how he felt earlier, and he's upset she's drinking so much, for reasons that are very worthwhile (rumours of madness in the Black family and all) but after what she's been through she thinks he's exaggerating the severity of the issue and slaps in across the face. She's tempted to apologize but she can't, because it's not fair and he pays for dinner later and holds her hand across the table.

It's trying, being so far away and re-establishing a rhythm that came natural months before. She's giving it her best effort because she thinks it's possible, it's just hard.

"You're not going like that, are you?" he asks and she turns around, hands placed indignantly on her hips.

"Why – is there a problem?" she asks.

"Your hair," he says. "I really hate the colour."

"Oh," she says. It hasn't occurred to her that she can or should change her hair color since she hasn't these past months, work and all, fear of Bellatrix and all. But there should be peace today – there has to be peace – and maybe…

"I haven't done it in a really long time," she says. "I'm not even sure I still can."

"He would have wanted it," Remus says.

She closes her eyes and concentrates and when she opens them, violent pink flashes before her eyes, from the tips of her hair to the roots, brilliant and lovely and for the first time in forever she feels light, not heavy, full of hope that she thought she had lost.