Disclaimer: The author is not directly affiliated with J.K. Rowling or any of the publishers of the Harry Potter series. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: The opening lyrics come from the musical Miss Saigon, and funnily enough, they fit a scene I long have had in mind but have yet to write. By the way, I wonder if anybody noticed the silver necklace that was shown to be with Remus in the sixth chapter? I think somebody did and speculated that it was given to him by Hermione. Well, you'll find out in this chapter. :)
Chapter Summary: Separate, they are light: the sun brightens the day and the moon illuminates the night; together, as in an eclipse, they shroud the world in darkness. The fate of the Wizarding world depends on two young lovers, though they know it not—and destiny, master of its craft, has one final ace to deal.
Chapter 22: Bound by Destiny
You are sunlight and I moon
Joined by the gods of fortune
Midnight and high noon
Sharing the sky
We have been blessed
You and I.
Bright'ning the sky with
The flame of love.
--- Richard Maltey (Sun and Moon) ---
Struck by a sense of déjà vu, James lifted the blanket to his nose. There was no mistaking the scent of vanilla, and as he inhaled deeply, he felt his heart lift. Things were definitely always better in the morning. Smiling slightly, he lovingly folded the blanket and tucked it under his arm as he headed upstairs for a quick shower. He arrived at the Great Hall twenty minutes later in high spirits, almost skipping his way to where Hermione and the rest of the Marauders were seated.
"Morning," James greeted cheerfully as he slid beside Hermione. Nobody responded, and James saw Sirius' eyes dart towards Hermione. Dread stole over him, and he chanced a brave look at her; her face was hard, unwelcoming, the way it was a mere week ago.
He nervously took a sip of his pumpkin juice. "Er—hi," James ventured hopefully, but she showed no outward indication of having heard.
"Thanks for the blanket, I'll return it to you later."
Still she ignored him, and James shot his friends a pleading look. Sirius simply shrugged, Remus offered him a sympathetic frown and Peter seemed helpless. Annoyed, James studied Hermione's profile, and he thought he had never seen her so beautiful. Beautiful, yes, but cold. Cold and untouchable. He could not even bring himself to place a hand on her arm.
"Regina," James said, more quietly this time and abandoning pretence of cheerfulness, "about last night—"
"I know what I saw," Hermione gritted out, determinedly not looking at him. "Don't bother thinking up an excuse."
James swallowed visibly, tensing. "What exactly did you see?"
"Nothing I'd want to relive again, even in my mind, thank you very much," she snapped.
"No, you listen, James Potter!" Hermione fiercely whispered, drawing curious glances in their direction. She turned in her seat to face him, eyes blazing and nose flaring, and James had to fight the impulse to scoot a few inches back. "Didn't you tell me you would explain everything last night? I understand now, all right? I understand perfectly." She threw her fork down her plate and stood.
"Hey!" James protested, standing up to follow her as she stomped out of the Great Hall.
Hermione looked back, whipped her wand from her robes and wordlessly shot the Jelly-Legs Jinx at him.
"Regina!" James called, staggering somewhat as the curse hit him. He took another step and stumbled on rubbery legs, earning snickers from his fellow students. "Damn," he muttered angrily, retrieving his own wand and lifting the curse off himself. Able to stand again, he attempted to run after her, but again was hit by another jet of light that slowed him down. He struggled against the effects of the hex, and by the time he was able to freely move again, she was gone. He was about to take another step when he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Sirius.
"I think we can safely assume that she's angry, mate," Sirius said. "You better stay away from her for the meantime." He helped James as he gingerly stepped towards the bench and they both resumed their seats.
"Tell me," he demanded from his friends, unmindful of the attention that was still on him. "Does she really think I'd cheat on her?"
Sirius unconcernedly brushed locks of dark hair from his forehead. "Yes, she does," he answered. "She thinks you kissed Evans last night."
"I didn't—" James straightened from his slump. "Is that what she said?"
Sirius rolled his eyes. "No, Prongs, the girl would never tell on you. But you know," he went on, eyeing him shrewdly, "you do look rather guilty. Don't tell me you were indeed kissing Evans last night."
James didn't answer, lost in his desolate thoughts. Remus, as though reading his mind, reasoned gently, "You must've done something to upset her, James. I mean, she knows you do rounds with Lily every night, and it's never been an issue until now."
In the glaring light of day, everything that had happened—that he had allowed to happen—the night before seemed utterly foolish, and James wanted to bang his head on the table in self-rebuke. But he knew even that wouldn't take his mind away from the loud, painful thudding of his heart, hollow as though something essential had been lost.
But then again, he thought defensively, tempted though I was, I didn't give in, did I?
He had stopped himself kissing Lily just in time, and he had stopped because he remembered Regina.
Right, he affirmed defiantly to himself. I didn't do anything wrong. There's nothing to worry about. He looked up from his plate, his brow clearing.
"Prongs?" Peter timidly asked. "You okay?"
James smiled reassuringly. "I'm fine, Wormtail," he said. "Regina, well, she's probably just mad because I lost track of the time and forgot to meet her. She thinks I blew her off."
"You blew her off, Prongs," Sirius commented carelessly, wincing afterwards when Remus elbowed him sharply at his midsection. "What? I mean, Regina just doesn't think that. She knows she was blown off."
"I know, Padfoot, so sod off," James replied irritably. "It was my mistake, all right, and I know I have to apologise to her and make up for it, big time. You can stop reminding me now." The squeaking inside his head told him he wasn't as certain as he sounded, but he silenced his doubts with the argument that the conclusion he had drawn from his musings was logical.
It's fine. I'm in the clear. I didn't do anything wrong.
To James's utter disbelief, she did not think the same way. This much he could conclude, for he sat with her throughout class and during meals, attempting to engage her in conversation every other minute—to get her to notice him, damn all things to hell—but she resolutely, frustratingly, refused to acknowledge his presence. Were it not for the minute clenching of her jaw whenever he demanded her attention, he would have believed she didn't care the slightest about him.
By Tuesday afternoon—Merlin, it had only been three days, and he didn't feel like he could endure any longer—James was ready to explode. He walked into Charms to see a male Ravenclaw seated beside Hermione and, his temper igniting, he flicked his wand upwards: Levicorpus!
His classmate yelped as he was suspended mercilessly by the ankles, and the rest of the class gasped at this disturbance. Lily, who was sitting in the front row, stood and flicked her wand as she cast the countercurse in her head and immediately added aloud, "Impedimenta!" The boy fell headfirst to the floor, slowly so that he wasn't hurt, and after getting on his feet drew his wand and pointed it at James.
"What was that all about, Potter?" Dirk Andrews demanded angrily, punctuated by an infuriated snort from Lily, who also had her wand directed at James. "You try that again and you—you'll get what you're looking for!"
Momentarily distracted by the renewed display of displeasure from Lily, James found himself at a loss for words.
"And here I thought you had traded your immaturity for something better, James," Lily said, ignoring the muted gasp around the room that resulted from her use of her archenemy's first name. It was, after all, common knowledge that she hated James Potter, and when she had become quite cordial towards him nobody could figure out. "You were lucky Flitwick wasn't around to witness that little stunt."
Reluctant to address Lily, James spoke instead to the Ravenclaw. "You took my seat," he told him calmly.
"I what?" Dirk rolled his eyes. "I've been sitting there since the start of term, Potter."
James glowered. How could the punk fail to miss such a crucial point? "Yes, well, my place is always right next to hers." He nodded toward Hermione. "Therefore—"
"Whatever, you can have it then," Dirk scoffed, grabbing his things on the chair. "As for you, don't ever sit beside me again," he snarled at Hermione.
Hermione didn't flinch at his words, but James advanced on him, his wand at the ready. "Apologise to her," he said threateningly. "Apologise!" When Dirk showed no signs of relenting, James shrugged and said, "Fine. Fifty points from Ravenclaw."
"James!" Lily exclaimed, appalled, her words echoed by growls from the other Ravenclaws. "You know you can't do this—Andrews, that's enough!" she scolded Dirk, who had his own wand at the ready again as well.
"Boys, boys! Is something the matter?" they heard a voice squeak, and after a moment, tiny Professor Flitwick had propped himself up on the stool behind the front desk so that he was visible. He warily eyed James, Dirk and Lily but, seeing none of them sporting any injuries, he said, "All right, wands away now, you know you shouldn't be behaving as such with your exams coming..."
Lily had by this time returned to her seat, Dirk had chosen to move an empty desk, and James had dumped his bag carefully on what was now his table before carefully settling himself in. A quick look at the board told him Professor Flitwick had started his lesson; not in the mood, James shifted slightly in his seat to study the girl beside him. He clenched his fists under the table in frustration; she seemed unperturbed by the recent disturbance. Her quill—the one he had given her—streaked across the parchment in tandem with the lecture.
James sighed; it took all of his self-control not to grab the quill from her and force her to talk to him. The minutes crawled by, the drumming of his fingers becoming more impatient, and the moment Professor Flitwick had dismissed them, he encircled Hermione's wrist with his fingers to keep her from leaving.
Hermione went rigid in her seat, not daring to look at him, or to even breathe, for that matter. She fixed her eyes on his hand around her wrist and waited.
"Regina, please," James murmured urgently. "I cannot stand this... this cold treatment any longer. I'd rather you yell yourself hoarse at me until all your anger's spent, but please, please, let me talk. Before or after you yell, I don't care, as long as you hear me out."
Hermione smiled without humour. "Well, if you really need to talk, why don't you go over to Lily?" His grip on her slackened, and she heartlessly ploughed on, "After all, the two of you seem to understand each other better—enough, in fact, to be in each other's arms." Her voice cracked. "I don't want to talk about it, James, do you understand? Not yet, and maybe not ever." She jerked her arm, stood and rapidly walked away.
"Damn." Not bothering to follow her this time, James groaned and cradled his head in his hands. So she saw that, you stupid arse. "Damn. Damn." He forcefully seized his bag and saw, when he turned around, his friends staring concernedly at him.
"Let's go," he told them, unwilling to discuss what had just happened. As they made their way to the dungeons for Potions, Sirius asked, rather conversationally, "She still doesn't want to talk to you?"
"Yeah," James muttered. "But at least I know now what she's really angry about." Not that it tells me explicitly how to go about things, but still.
"You'll just have to keep at it, won't you?" Remus said. "Try until either you or she concedes, whichever comes first."
James's expression darkened. "Giving up on her is the last thing on my mind, Moony."
"Funnily enough, that's the story of your life, isn't it," Sirius mused. "Blimey, you spend years on Lily, and then decide you're in love with another, and when you get her, you do a lousy job of keeping her and so must try to win her back again."
James smiled crookedly despite himself. "Thanks for that enlightening piece, Padfoot. But if you could channel your brain waves into helping me, I'd appreciate it more."
They walked in silence. As they descended the dimly-lit steps to the dungeons, Peter volunteered, "If it was me, I'd make her talk to me. I'd do anything to make her listen, make sure she had no other option." He blushed afterwards; he rarely spoke of his interest in girls, and it was a relief for him to hear nobody laugh at his words.
"Are you suggesting that James kidnap her and have her at wandpoint?" Sirius ribbed.
"No, of course not," Peter replied. "But I rather remember the time James locked Lily and himself in a broom cupboard just so he could confess his love and ask her out again—"
"Only Lily was just as good with a wand as James and so our boy here had to relent, lest he be jinxed beyond repair," Remus finished, laughing at the memory. "Operation Number, what was that? Two hundred and forty-two?" James had to be brought to the hospital wing to be sorted out after that brilliant plan.
"Nah, it was two hundred and sixty-three," Sirius answered. "But I've lost track, to be honest..."
James was no longer listening to them, the wheels of his mind starting to turn. "Wormtail," he suddenly said, "I think you're on to something." He turned sharply to face Sirius and asked, "Do you think you can lend her that thing?"
It only took a split second for Sirius to understand. He gaped at his best friend. "You're asking me to do what? You know how precious it is to me, to us, Prongs." He shook his hair out of his eyes. "No, no. I cannot do that. No way."
"Come on," James cajoled, ignoring the other Marauders' confusion. "Just this once. You can have it back tomorrow. Or, you can lend me yours if you want to, and I'll give her mine. Whichever." They were at the door to their classroom now. When Sirius didn't answer, James prodded, "Come on, Sirius. I need your help."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "All right, all right," he agreed, finally caving in. "I'll lend you mine." He rummaged in his rucksack, his hand emerging with a package wrapped in paper. He gave it to James, who immediately slid it into his pocket.
"In your bag, Prongs, you might end up sitting on it," Sirius chided, and with an exasperated sigh, James did as he was told.
Remus, finally understanding, chuckled as he turned the handle on the door and pushed it open. "I certainly hope to Merlin neither of you lands detention tonight."
Hermione sat back on the couch and curled her legs under for comfort, letting out a huge sigh as she stared thoughtfully into the fire. A book on Herbology, which she had borrowed from the library, lay open on her lap but had gone unnoticed for the past half hour. Giving it up as a bad job, Hermione sighed again, closed the book and put it aside.
Exams are less than three weeks away, Hermione, a stern voice scolded her. Pick that right up again. This isn't how you work.
She ignored it. The voice had been spot on; this wasn't how she was, but then this wasn't where she was supposed to be anyway. This wasn't how she was supposed to feel... The dam of doubts that she had kept in place with her happiness washed over her in great waves, and she closed her eyes tight in the hope that it would lessen the impact.
I made considerable effort to be here, Professor. I could have failed, but I succeeded. That means I should do what I've come to do.
Would fate have allowed me this liberty if it wasn't meant to happen?
Her words came back in a nauseating rush, and she had to exhale loudly to release the tension. Looking back, she wondered now: if she had failed with the Time-Turner then, would she have stopped trying to return to the past?
I don't know. Does that matter? I succeeded anyway!
Deep down, Hermione knew she would have sought other means, extinguished them all one by one until no hope remained. But she had done it on her first attempt; surely, that meant destiny had a place for what she wanted?
But she had been warned against using it, just before she turned the hourglass three times. Harry... He seemed so far away now, and yet, that thought—that horrible thought she could not bear dwelling upon persisted.
You know that if you carry on with James, Harry will not exist.
She could have a son with him, yes, could even name him Harry, but Hermione wasn't stupid enough to fool herself her son would be the same as Harry, Lily's son. And she was forgetting herself, of course. What was to be done, what was going to happen to her own birth?
I don't know either.
Hermione passed her hand across her face in frustration at the things she didn't know and struggled to continue walking down her memory lane. She had arrived nineteen years back with nothing, absolutely nothing, but her wand, and she had expected to find herself in the arms of the man—no, boy—she had come back for... Only to find that, of course, he had been pitifully vying for Lily Evans' affection for years.
How she had wanted to go home then! But she had stayed, had chosen to do so, had befriended him and the other Marauders, in the hope that he would, in time, come to love her.
And he did. A small smile curved her lips. I know he did. But perhaps he never stopped loving Lily.
You're a fine one to be jealous, stealing another woman's husband. There it was again: that self-righteous, annoying know-it-all voice that seemed intent on pointing out every one of her mistakes. She didn't suppose it was her conscience, for surely, a conscience would not consider only the hard facts but also how she felt about these? And to use such crass words—stealing another woman's husband, oh Merlin... She shuddered. Crass or no, wasn't it in every sense true?
Shame pounded Hermione's being mercilessly, and she could not find it in her heart to argue that in this time, James wasn't Lily's—anybody's—husband yet. Not that it mattered, for if destiny was to have its way, James would be with Lily.
Realisation dawned on her face; all her ponderings had not been for naught. She saw now, that always, every step of the way, she had been given a choice: to turn her back on what was happening or to persist. And always, she had persisted, had decided to go on, and thankfully she had been rewarded.
Now, in the midst of all her hurt and doubt, another choice had to be made.
Maybe I should give in and listen to him, she thought, mindlessly tossing a log into the fire. It wouldn't hurt to hear what he has to say. Maybe there is an explanation, maybe he really is sorry... maybe it's really me he wants to be with.
Hermione started and looked up to see Sirius, Remus and Peter settling into the couch opposite hers.
"Are you all right?" Sirius asked, watching her closely. "We were watching you from there—"
"—And you kept making funny faces," Peter chimed in. "So we thought we'd see how you were doing."
Surprise must have been etched that clearly on her face, for Sirius said defensively, "What? Just because you and James aren't on speaking terms doesn't mean we can't talk to you, right?"
The Sirius Black charm, came a rueful thought. Hermione offered him a small grin in apology. "Yes, of course." She turned away from the fire to face them fully. "So what did you want to talk about?"
"Oh, nothing in particular, really," Remus assured her.
"Yeah, we wanted somebody to mess with and we thought you were most qualified for the job," Sirius said, and they all snickered at that.
"Say," Remus began, leaning towards her, "we're sending our application to Auror Academy within the week. Have you any plans of applying?"
That's right. If she had intentions of staying, she had to prepare for her future. "I don't know," Hermione answered, reminded of how many times she had said that to herself earlier that night. "Perhaps, but I suppose I'll have to talk to Dumbledore first."
"Probably to fix your records and all, right?" Peter said knowingly. "Get you grades from your old school or something."
"Yeah," Hermione said, cringing inwardly. "I'll have to do that."
"I don't think you'll have any problems though," Remus told her kindly. Frowning, he added, "I think I'm going to have trouble with Potions. No grade lower than an Exceeds Expectations, mind you..."
Sirius snorted. "I expect an Outstanding in every required subject and an E in Potions, so what is there to worry about?"
Peter, by this point, was looking very much terrified. "What if I don't secure the minimum grade?"
"N.E.W.T.s aren't for more than a fortnight, Wormtail," Remus said consolingly. "We'll help review you, don't worry."
Talk about their prospective careers temporarily pushed James from her mind. Hermione leaned forward, engaging herself in conversation. "The route to Healing pretty much requires the same, doesn't it?" she asked, and at Remus' affirmative, added, "I thought I also fancied doing that."
Remus smiled. "I do as well," he said, "but Sirius here is attracted to the glamour of being an Auror."
"Course not, Moony," Sirius contradicted indignantly. "It's more about being in the thick of the action, leading the fight against Voldemort and his Death Eaters." His grey eyes were suddenly overbright, and he continued hastily and in a less passionate voice, "But there's three more months of additional training to qualify as an Auror."
"Well, that's better than a year or two of additional schooling, isn't it?" Peter chirped. "Three months doesn't sound so bad."
"It's two years worth of training squeezed into three months out of necessity, Peter," Remus said quietly, "which makes it a million times more difficult."
"Then they must be in dire need of Aurors," Hermione mused.
Silence fell momentarily, which Sirius broke by saying, "I haven't been getting the Daily Prophet since yesterday. Last time I read, some Wizarding village was burned down—"
"You read the news," Hermione commented mildly, impressed.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "So now you know I'm not the complete idiot you think I am."
"What're you thinking then, Sirius, that somebody's taken over the Daily Prophet now?" Remus enquired.
Sirius shrugged. "It's not a far-fetched possibility. Control the newspaper, and then the Ministry..." He lost his train of thought as the portrait hole opened and saw James climb in with Lily, both of whom were immersed in their own conversation.
Hermione craned her neck to check what had distracted Sirius, and her expression instantly turned wooden. She smiled tightly at Sirius, Peter and Remus, grabbed the Herbology book beside her and jumped up from the couch. "I'm turning in. Good night." She began walking to the stairs to her dormitory, not daring to look at James and Lily as she passed them.
Hermione stopped in her tracks; recognising Sirius' voice, she deemed it safe to turn around. "What is it?"
"When you change from your school robes," Sirius said, "be careful, all right? I wouldn't want you to break something you weren't aware of." The three Marauders sitting on the couch broke into mischievous smiles.
"Right," Hermione replied with a confused frown, wanting to get away fast. From the corner of her eye she knew James was looking at her. She'd be damned if she was going to say anything to him. "Good night then."
It was only upstairs, after dropping her robes to the floor and hearing a muted thunk, that she remembered Sirius' strange words. She dug into the right pocket of her robe and fished out a package messily wrapped in paper. Anybody could've slipped it in, she knew, but the pounding of her heart told her that only James, who sat by her side almost the entire day, could've done it.
She carefully removed the flaps of paper to reveal an oval, handheld mirror. Hermione reached for her wand, lit it and tapped the back of the mirror while muttering, "Specialis Revelio!" Blue light radiated from the glass; even so, she couldn't figure out the mirror's enchantment. She slowly turned it over and looked into it.
What a surprise, she thought in sarcasm as she saw her own reflection. Deciding there was nothing more to the mirror and that it had been surreptitiously placed to annoy her, she put it beside her pillow, pulled the curtains and sank into her bed. As was usual as of late, whenever she was alone, her mind strayed to James. She hugged her pillow tightly and sighed, allowing her desolate thoughts to wash over her without pity. After a while she laughed aloud at the irony of it all, murmuring, "Well, well. How many times in her life will Hermione Granger not know what to do?"
I thought you were Regina Weisz now.
"Shut up," she ordered the voice in her head. "Stop bothering me, I've got enough going on as it is."
Hermione stilled, wondering if she was hallucinating. She fixed her eyes on the ceiling and was startled to find a circle of light projected there.
There it was again, that firm voice somewhere to her right, more urgent this time. She swiped her hand blindly and hit nothing. Shifting on her side, she finally noticed that the light came from the mirror. She cautiously picked it up, feeling its warmth, and held it up to her face.
She dropped it with a gasp.
"Hey, it's me! It's nothing to worry about," the voice, now muffled, said.
Hermione hastily retrieved the mirror from her chest. "What is this mirror?" she hissed at the chiselled face with hazel eyes that stared back at her.
James had the nerve to grin, apparently pleased at catching her off guard. "Whatever happened to hello, how are you?"
She merely raised an eyebrow and said haughtily, "I haven't got time for pleasantries." His grin turned down a notch. "So what is this mirror?"
"A two-way one," James replied slyly. "Sirius and I have one each; we use it to talk to each other during separate detentions."
"Well thankfully, I am not in detention, James. So good night."
James's eyes flashed. "No, wait, please!"
Something in his voice, a ferocity that she had never heard before, made her look into the mirror again. His eyes, startlingly beautiful without his glasses, had darkened, and it was with determined calm when next he spoke.
"Look, Regina," he began. "I've been doing my best for days to talk to you. Surely I deserve some credit."
"Oh yes, it was absolutely brave and so very charming of you to jinx Andrews just so you can sit next to me," Hermione interrupted tartly.
Unrelenting, James pressed on. "The point is, I tried. All I want is for you to listen to what I have to say. After that, you can do whatever you want—hex me, break up with me—" His jaw clenched. "Never speak to me again. Your call."
When Hermione didn't answer, he said gently, "So, can we talk now?"
Hermione grumbled, "I suppose so. It doesn't seem like I have any choice."
James nodded slowly, as though in consideration, and then suddenly...
Hermione jumped and gave a little half-scream, which she immediately silenced by clamping a hand to her mouth.
"I'm at the window," James said, a small smile twisting his lips. He had put his glasses back on. "Would you mind opening it?"
She stared disbelievingly at him, wondering if he was serious.
"I thought it would be better for us to talk in person."
Hermione felt that familiar warm, tingly feeling begin to spread, and she pursed her lips to conceal her amusement. You don't believe in doing things halfway, do you? "In a moment," she whispered. She stood, smoothed down her clothes, pulled the curtains and slid the window open.
The cold night wind blew past her, but she hardly noticed. Her undivided attention was on the young man on his broomstick, hovering outside her dormitory as though it was the most natural thing on earth. His hair stuck up in all directions, and his eyes gazed at her with such painful, honest intensity that she was suddenly finding it difficult to breathe. Oh Merlin, he had such power over her, it was dangerous!
James manoeuvred his Nimbus so that he closed the distance between them. "Hi," he greeted nervously. "Thanks for agreeing—"
"Get to the point, James," Hermione said curtly, his words jolting her into reality.
"Er, sure." James swallowed, his hand tensing around the wood. "So Regina, about what happened that night..." His eyes met hers. "I was with Lily, and we were doing our rounds. And then... Lily began to talk about Voldemort. She said things that, well—that sort of mirrored my heart, what I was going to say to you. What I thought about confiding in you. Remember I was supposed to be with you that night?"
Her expression became frighteningly stony, and he hurriedly went on, his gaze unwavering, "I won't deny it, the way she made me feel. It was as though she understood me perfectly, without me having to say a word, because we had gone through the same thing. She was crying, so yes, I held her, and yes, I got carried way, I almost kissed her—"
"Almost?" Hermione repeated bitterly. "I saw you leaning towards her... What, don't tell me you missed her lips? Or no, wait! Perhaps, finally, you remembered me and stopped just in time?"
A short, poignant pause, and then—
"Yes, that's exactly what happened," James admitted softly. "I remembered you."
Hermione crossed her arms and snorted derisively.
"I'm not making excuses, nor am I trying to defend what I did. I mean, regardless of whether or not I kissed her, it was my fault for letting things go that far. But please believe me when I say that I had only wanted to comfort her as a friend, nothing more crossed my mind..."
"Are you done yet?" Hermione snapped. "Because our deal was that once you've had your say, I can have mine."
He looked as though she had struck him, but he calmly held up a hand. "Just a few more things then," he said, his voice only slightly trembling. "First, I want to apologise. I never meant to hurt you."
Tears sprang into her eyes, turning them into liquid chocolate, but she did not speak. Oh, how he wanted to hold her!
"I know I made a mistake and screwed us up, and I don't suppose it's right for me expect you to forgive me now, but maybe someday..." His words trailed off and, unable to stand it any longer, he turned towards the inky black sky. He gazed at it for what seemed like hours, wanting her to speak and at the same time dreading it.
With a regretful sigh, James braved another look at her. "Well, that's all I really wanted to say," he lied, knowing full well there were three words he yet had to utter but felt were pointless. "Sorry for bothering you. Good night."
He had just whipped his broom in reverse when he heard her say sharply, "Now you're leaving without listening what I have to say? You're not good at keeping promises, are you, James?"
He instantly wheeled around, his heart thumping, his face wary and stricken. And then she spoke again, her voice so light he could have imagined it, bringing words he had been longing to hear.
"I'm not mad at you anymore."
James's hands slipped off the broom in shock, and he staggered. "You're not?"
A wobbly smile curved her lips. "No, not anymore," she said tiredly. "Anger is exhausting, you know."
Hoping against hope, James dared ask, "Does this mean... I get a second chance? I mean..." A shadow crossed her face, and he faltered. "Does this mean I have a chance to get a second chance?"
Hermione smiled sadly. After all her earlier ruminations on destiny and whether her foray into the past was enough a fight against fate, she had come to the realisation that always, she had had a choice.
Unfortunately for her, so did James.
"I think that maybe you should think things over first. No, listen to me, James," Hermione said firmly, for he showed signs of interrupting. "I know that you've fancied Lily for years, and that morning after you got drunk, when you acted like you were over her..." She gazed pensively into the distance. "I found that difficult to believe. And then you started paying attention to me." She turned to him now, her expression tortured. "You told me then that you weren't using me, not at all, and maybe you didn't intend to, but maybe... Maybe you didn't realise then that you were still in love with Lily."
Hermione dropped her eyes once again, scared of what she would read in his. Now it was her turn to wait for his response, but he maintained his silence. Her trepidation grew with each second that passed, tightly squeezing her heart, and just when she couldn't bear it any longer, he opened his mouth to speak.
"All right," James said seriously and with utter conviction. "I've thought it out, and I've decided." His eyes locked with and bore into hers.
"It's you I want."
Hermione thought she would faint with relief at those four words, didn't realise that she'd been holding her breath until then.
"It's you I love, you I need to be with," he solemnly continued, drawing closer to her. "I think the real question here is..." He hesitated for a moment. "If you'll still have me."
Without warning, he dipped his head and touched his lips to hers, waiting for her to push him away. When she didn't, James kissed her fully, the way he knew how, aching to convey his love, his longing, his desperation that she take him back. He felt her begin to respond, but then, to his chagrin, she pushed him away gently.
This is so unfair. As much as his kiss had moved her, had made her want to put her arms around him and kiss him back and never let him go, she could not. She just could not. There was a time when she needed only for him to look at her and the happiness that filled her would vanquish her doubts, but for some reason she had yet to fathom, that time was past.
An infinite, unexplainable sadness overwhelmed her, and despite the wary, pained hazel eyes staring at her, Hermione started sliding the window close. "Goodnight, James."
The next couple of days were, at the very least, quiet. Hermione was grateful for the peace this little truce afforded her; she and James had yet to argue, but then again they had yet to talk properly to each other. Even though he still sat next to her in class and during meals, their interactions had been dry as History of Magic.
"Excuse me, what did Slughorn say?" he had asked her politely in Potions class yesterday afternoon.
"To sprinkle powdered dragon claw instead," she had answered flatly. It was driving her crazy, blunting her affect on purpose when she was so damned conscious of every movement he made!
"Thank you," James had said blandly.
And again, her response had been just as mechanical. "You're welcome."
Whenever they were in the Great Hall, he would only ask her to pass the roast, the potatoes, could she please hand him a glass of pumpkin juice. She would comply, struggling to keep her face blank, because she knew what he was doing. She had seen him act quite as coldly towards Lily back then.
He was angry with her.
I suppose I asked for it, Hermione thought unhappily. She was sitting in the Gryffindor common room with Sirius, Peter and Remus, all of them supposedly studying for their N.E.W.T.s, which were a mere fortnight away. She glanced at the huge clock that hung over the fireplace and saw that it was half past nine; James and Lily were due any minute now.
Talking and laughing, as if they had been friends for years...
"I could use a cup of hot chocolate," Sirius said, momentarily stretching on the couch before curling up again. "All this studying's making me sleepy."
"I wonder what the rest of the world would say if they saw you like this, hitting the books," Remus mused, his voice startlingly hoarse. "Probably that it had gone crazy, huh?"
"Moony, Moony, Moony," Sirius said mockingly, shaking his head. "The rest of the world studies to pass; I study to perfect."
Hermione snorted at his arrogance.
Sirius glanced at her. "You can laugh, but I can tell you aren't having much progress there, are you." It was true, he noticed. She was sitting next to Remus, flicking idly for the past fifteen minutes through the pages of the book she'd borrowed.
A rueful smile curved her lips. "Yeah, I could use some hot chocolate as well. Might help me concentrate."
Peter, whose face was scrunched up in thought as he pored over a long parchment of Remus' notes, volunteered, "Well, it's almost ten. James will be back soon with five steaming cups of chocolate."
That's about as normal as he can act, Hermione reflected, thinking on the past nights, because even then we wouldn't be speaking to each other. At least not directly. Or at all.
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and you know what? One of these days, Evans might actually join us for a nightcap." His voice was heavily infused with sarcasm.
Remus threw him a dirty look, but Sirius just shrugged. "What? You can't deny they're friends now. I never thought I'd live to see this day. Lily Evans actually talking to and seemingly having fun with James Potter." He jabbed a finger in the air. "Now that, Moony, is what you call the world going crazy."
Remus was looking worriedly at her, understandably waiting for her to react, but sadly, Hermione knew Sirius was right. Dead on as usual. This—she didn't know, spectacle, she had witnessed for herself. Seen them kidding around, Lily even punching James playfully on the shoulder. Wonder of wonders, Lily seemed to genuinely like the man she had not too long ago declared she hated.
She didn't know why it didn't surprise her that James wasn't shying away.
Concerned, Peter addressed her, "You and James have broken up?"
Hermione didn't know how to answer. "Well, I—"
"Because that's a shame," Peter continued, gnawing at his bottom lip. "You two were good together, and I rather liked having you around."
Hermione smiled wobbly at this, taken aback. "Thanks."
"Not that you can't hang out with us anymore, Regina," Remus reassured her.
"Wait, who said anything about breaking up?" Sirius demanded, eyeing her. "You can't be serious?"
"Well of course that would be you, mate," Remus interjected dryly, but Sirius was too busy with Hermione to even glare at his friend for stealing his joke.
"What really happened?"
All I wanted, Hermione explained in her head, was for us to take some time off so he could think us through. So that if—when—we get back together, he's certain it's me he loves, not Lily.
But he told you already! another voice shouted. It's up to you, he said, and you didn't answer him!
And then a third, snide voice. After all you've been through to have him, you're pushing him away? You're insane!
"All right, forget it," Sirius said, raising his hands in surrender. "It's not as if you're going to tell us. Sorry I asked." He stood and gathered his things. "I'm calling it a night. Have to put in some sleep before tomorrow."
Peter stood as well, glancing meaningfully at Remus. "You should get some rest too. Night, Moony."
"Night." Remus watched Sirius and Peter climb the stairs to their room before turning to Hermione, who was now studying him intently. He felt the blood drain from his face.
"You do look tired," she commented worriedly. She put down the book and moved closer to him to lay her palm on his forehead.
She withdrew her hand, frowning. "You don't have a fever, but you do look peaky."
Not knowing whether to be alarmed or embarrassed at the attention, Remus inched away. "I'm fine. Just quite stressed, you know, from studying."
But she wasn't buying it, Remus realised. In her large, beautiful eyes flashed a light of sudden recognition, as though she knew the truth about what was happening, and no, she could not be... She couldn't really know.
"I forgot," she breathed. "It's the full moon tomorrow."
Remus closed his eyes briefly and clenched his fists. James had been telling the truth back then! "Did James tell you?" he asked, his voice rigidly controlled.
Hermione was startled at this implied accusation. "No, no, I figured it out on my own." She reached out and covered Remus' right hand. "I've known since my first month here."
He looked at their hands and was aware of his heart beating too fast for its own good, too fast that it was simply wrong. Yet even so a rare lightheadedness stole over him, and he heard himself asking, "You don't mind? You aren't, I don't know, disgusted or ashamed that you're friends with me?"
Hermione looked like she wanted to cry; instead, she put her arms around him, and Remus, swallowing his gawk of surprise, awkwardly returned her hug. She disentangled herself from him after a few seconds and sat down.
"Remus, how could anybody think that way? You're so kind, so gentle," Hermione said, her voice vibrating with intensity. "You're a wonderful person, Remus Lupin. Don't ever believe otherwise."
And when she smiled at him—that smile, meant only for him, Remus swore he'd died and gone to heaven. All the emotions he had harboured for her yet kept hidden rose with a ferocity that stunned him.
He wanted to kiss her.
It would be fine, he reasoned. She's practically over with James, isn't she...
Remus shook himself out of his fantasies and shyly returned her smile. "Thank you, Regina," he told her, deliberately so that she would feel how much her acceptance meant to him. "Thank you."
Her smile grew even brighter. "You're welcome, Remus."
They sat in comfortable silence for the next few minutes, each one acutely aware that a significant moment had just passed. Hermione felt like she had rediscovered something that had been lost for a while, and perhaps that was warranted considering that Remus had been her first good friend in this time.
"I've missed talking to you, Remus," Hermione told him truthfully. "It's been quite some time."
"Yeah," Remus agreed softly. "It's been some time." An idea hit him, and he sat up, mouth suddenly dry. "Hey, listen. It's Hogsmeade weekend this Saturday. If you're going, would you like to go with me? With u-us, I mean," he stammered.
There. I've asked her out. Kind of. His heart was suddenly silent now, waiting in suspense.
Hermione wrinkled her nose. "I suppose so," she answered hesitantly. "I mean..." If James still isn't speaking to me, that is. Fat chance he will anytime soon, though.
Remus bit the inside of his cheek in self-reproach. "Of course, you might be going with James."
She stared at him for a long time before nodding slowly. "I would be, normally." I should hope so. No, scratch that. I desperately wish it so. "But it doesn't seem probable at a time like this."
Remus watched her as she resorted to staring at the crackling flames, her features cast in melancholy. "The War does strange things to people, doesn't it."
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, her eyes still on the fire.
"Well, it brings some people together and pulls some apart, or at least attempts to."
Hermione's head snapped in his direction. What he had just said bothered her, though she couldn't quite put a finger on it. "Funny you should say that..."
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sudden bursting of the portrait hole; James and Lily had just entered.
"No way you're going to get an O on Potions, James," Lily said. The words were insulting but her tone was light; it was obvious they were in the midst of banter. "And if you don't get that, you know what that means. Your chances of being selected for Auror training significantly drops."
James actually laughed. "Well, better an E in Potions than in Defence Against the Dark Arts, Lily," he retorted jokingly. "I'm sure those stooges in the Academy will prefer—" He stopped short at the sight of Hermione and Remus on one of the couches.
"Hey," he greeted, forcibly casual. "How come you guys are still up?"
"Studying," Remus replied promptly. From the corner of his eye he could see Hermione determinedly staring at everywhere except at James and Lily standing together.
Lily sighed. "Right you are, I should be doing that too." She looked around with a smile and said, "Well, goodnight, everyone," before turning towards the girls' dormitory.
Remus' eyebrows knitted. Since when did Lily Evans wish anybody a cheerful goodnight? Sirius is right, the world is going mad! He glanced at James to say so, but the black-haired Marauder didn't even seem to notice. He was staring at the Regina with an unfathomable expression on his face, and this time, she was staring back at him. Remus could feel the electricity charge between them, given the distance, and he could do nothing but watch. Watch and wait.
Hermione broke their connection, angling her head so that they wouldn't see the tears that threatened to fall. Without another word, she stood and left. Remus saw James reach out to touch her arm as she passed him, but he withdrew it at the last second. His eyes followed her every step, lingering on the threshold where she'd passed from his sight, standing immobile for so long it was as though he had been Petrified.
But then James turned to him and smiled feebly. "Catch some sleep, Moony. Tomorrow night's—"
Trust him to think about his friends at a time like this. "I know. I'll just finish this chapter. You go ahead." And then, his voice softening, "You should get some rest, you look tired."
James ran a hand through his hair and exhaled noisily. "Right. I'll go ahead then, if you don't mind."
"I don't," Remus waved him off. Just as James started on the stairs, Remus remembered something he needed to ask.
"Are you going to Hogsmeade on Saturday?"
James frowned; the question seemed to come from nowhere. "I have Quidditch practice; the match is a week from Saturday. But I'll try to after practice. I'll be seeing you there?"
Remus nodded, waiting until he heard the footsteps disappear before relaxing on the couch, his eyes closed. There was no denying it this time.
He felt guilty.
The night had raced her by. It was probably only a couple of hours before sunrise, and yet here she was, sitting on the window sill with arms hugging her knees to herself. She couldn't get herself to sleep and, after endless tossing in bed, decided to simply get up. She had paced around the dorm, flopped back onto the bed, stood up and crouched by the window, and still the same words kept running through her mind.
The War does strange things to people, doesn't it. It brings some people together and pulls some apart, or at least attempts to.
Remus' words troubled her because they were in every sense correct—and they hit close to home, were frighteningly similar to her own fretful thoughts. Destiny was struggling to reassert the pattern it knew it should be, and it was using the War to bring Lily and James together.
But to what end? To a marriage everybody expected, to a beautiful son? Just because it made perfect sense that James be with the one he had wanted since everybody could remember? The golden boy, the golden girl—together the ideal couple? Was that all there was to it?
There has to be something else. Something...
The answer came to Hermione in a horrifying, dizzying rush, she stuck her fist in her mouth to keep from crying out.
Of course! she choked silently. The War! Voldemort! It all ends when James defeats him!
Tears started streaming down her face, but the words kept tumbling out—words that, like destiny, she was and would be unable to defy.
And James was with Lily and Harry that night he defeated Voldemort, he was married to Lily and had Harry with her, and it's not as if Harry or Lily had anything directly to do with that triumph, they were just there, but that's exactly it! They were there, I wasn't, and it's not as if I had anything to do with him being saved, but he lived that night because things happened the way they did, the way were supposed to!
A sharp pain seared through her. James's handsome face, gazing at her lovingly, swam before her cloudy vision. She heard his voice, low and resolute. I've decided. It's you I want. It's you I love, you I need to be with.
Hermione sobbed unabashedly into her hands. Oh Merlin, I love you too, James! But she would not have the chance to say those words again. The crossroads before her were clear now, unmistakable through her tears. She didn't want to leave him, never wanted to do so, but if she didn't give in to what had long been and rightfully decreed by the heavens, she might never see him again.
He might die. Fear clenched her heart, strengthened her resolve. There was a chance, if she decided to do things differently, that he would not be attacked at all, that he would live peacefully. But how could he, when the peace of the world was his burden, though he knew it not yet? And who was to say he wouldn't be the one even if he didn't marry Lily, who knew what would happen after then?
She didn't know.
The window was closed, but she felt an icy chill course through her. Trembling, Hermione jumped down the sill and climbed into bed, pulling the covers to her chin. Everything she'd been through had been for naught. Destiny's way was painful, but it was best if James was to live.
And he would live, that she vowed. Never mind that she couldn't be with him. He would live even if it be the death of her. And it would be, for she had to watch over him to the end. She would make sure he'd get into Auror training, marry Lily, have Harry, defeat Voldemort. And she... She would have to get that Timeturner back, return to her own time, after she had ensured James's safety.
Everything will be as it should be.
Hermione smiled sadly as she rolled to her side, sleep as elusive as ever, and she suspect it would still be many nights from now. She had been ruthlessly played. Destiny had stolen her own ace—her timeless, immeasurable love for James—and had used it to trump her.
Part it a little more to the left... There, and then maybe some on the forehead...
Remus smoothed down his hair and smiled slightly at his reflection. He appeared to be in better health. It was to his relief that this month's transformation wasn't as painful as he was used to, but he couldn't help but wonder if his anticipation of this particular trip to Hogsmeade had anything to do with it.
Just then, he felt a hand on his shoulder and saw, through the mirror, James beside him. He was already dressed in his Quidditch uniform.
"You seem to be spending an awful lot of your time styling your hair, Moony," James observed good-naturedly. "Meeting up with a girl today?"
Remus slightly coloured. "No—er, just me and Sirius and Peter." And Regina.
James raised his eyebrows in mild surprise but proceeded with messing up his hair until it was all spiky. "Is Regina going?" he asked nonchalantly.
"I think so, yes," Remus answered, also trying to be casual. "She'll be with us."
James adjusted his glasses, his mood brightening. He squared his shoulders and said, "Good. I'll meet up with you guys later." Clapping Remus on the back, he added seriously, "Take care of her. You know, times like these..."
Remus swallowed. "Sure."
A quick thanks and James was gone. Remus glanced at himself again in the mirror. Sighing, he ran a hand through his sandy brown hair. Once, twice, thrice, until it was quite mussed up.
It didn't stand up in all directions like James's, but it would do.
When he got to the Great Hall, Sirius, Peter and Hermione were already halfway through breakfast, James presumably already at the pitch.
"Moony, what happened to your hair?" Peter enquired, munching on a toast.
Remus couldn't meet his eyes, feeling the heat creep up his neck. "Nothing, I didn't do anything."
"You looked like you slept on it," Sirius commented, bored. "I mean, it's supposed to be sleek, like mine." As if to demonstrate his point, he blew a few wisps of hair away from his eyes.
Hermione groaned in disbelief. "Why in Merlin's name are you talking about hair that way?"
Sirius gave her the one-over. "Yeah, you wouldn't understand, with hair as unruly as that." He reached over and pulled a sprig from her ponytail, which bounced back like a spring. She looked at him with reproach.
I think her hair's just fine, Remus contradicted in his head. Without the curls framing her face, her eyes stood out even more.
"You'd go well with James, all right. He adores his messy hair," Sirius continued.
To which Hermione replied impishly, "I adore it too, you know."
Surprised, Sirius and Peter burst into appreciative laughter, and Remus forced out a chuckle. He had lost his appetite.
As they made their way to the village along with the other students, Sirius continued pestering Hermione about her relationship with James. Irritated, Remus decided to tune him out but couldn't help listen in vaguely.
"Come on, you can't tell me you don't like him anymore," Sirius prodded after Hermione refused to answer any of his questions. "I've seen you look at him! And all those nights you pretended to be studying, staying up late, it was only so you could wait for him!" He peered closely at her. "So why aren't you together anymore?"
Hermione felt her insides lurch, but she managed a small, wistful smile. "I can't tell you," she replied simply.
Sirius grimaced at her, but Peter jumped in before he could speak. "I've seen him look at you too!" he squeaked excitedly. "When you completed that potion yesterday, you should've seen James's face." He paused and stared thoughtfully into space, searching for the right words. "He looked really proud, as if your accomplishment was his."
An odd expression stole into her face. "Did he now?"
"And incidentally," Sirius said, a note of steel this time, "didn't you promise me, sometime before James's birthday, that you would never hurt him?"
The words slapped Hermione hard, but she stood her ground, masking her pain. "I did, and I would never." Her eyes narrowed slightly. "I don't owe you any explanation, Sirius. And besides, you don't—you wouldn't—understand."
Sirius' icy eyes darkened. "Maybe," he concurred. "But it seems to me you and James are making things more difficult than they ought to be. It's no secret you..." He made an awkward hand gesture. "Well, you love each other, so what's stopping you?"
Hermione could not believe her ears. Not too long ago Sirius wouldn't give her the time of the day, and now he wanted her to be back with his best friend!
I wish it were that simple.
She opened her mouth, but Peter grabbed Sirius' arm and exclaimed, "Look, Padfoot! Zonko's having a sale!"
Their eyes flickered to a store whose displays were blocked with a crowd milling around it. Sirius touched her arm briefly and said, more gently, "Just think about it, okay? Because amazingly, Peter was right. You two really were good together."
His words only made her feel worse. Hermione watched morosely as Sirius and Peter bounded for the joke shop and then turned her attention to Remus, whom she realised only then had been silent throughout the entire exchange.
"Remus?" she prompted with a smile. "Is something the matter?"
It took some effort to clear the haze in his mind and focus his attention on her; Sirius had been chattering obnoxiously for quite a while, after all. "Where's Sirius and Peter?"
"Zonko's," Hermione said, pointing. "Wow, you did zone out."
"Yes, well..." Remus took a deep breath. "What would you like to do now?"
Hermione shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. Walk around maybe?" She motioned to the path they were treading and started to walk, with Remus catching up.
"Do you know if James is going to Hogsmeade?" she asked him quietly.
Remus looked at her searchingly, after which he muttered sullenly, "Yes, after Quidditch practice."
They strolled in silence, Hermione humming a nameless tune under her breath and taking in the sights around her. Which actually didn't do much to lift her spirits. All around her, Ministry of Magic posters were tacked, and some of the shops have been boarded up. And then, up ahead...
"That's the Shrieking Shack," Remus suddenly spoke, pointing to a dilapidated house in the distance.
"I know," Hermione said. "James told me. It's the most haunted house in Britain."
Remus exhaled sharply. "It's where I go when I transform." He saw her gape in astonishment and further explained, matter-of-factly, "All the screams and howls that the villagers hear... They were made by me. Dumbledore encouraged the rumour that this was haunted to keep people away. In fact, the Whomping Willow was planted in Hogwarts to ensure nobody would stumble upon the tunnel to it."
"The Whomping Willow leads to the Shrieking Shack?" Hermione repeated, amazed by this new piece of information.
"Yeah." Remus smiled at the memory. "Dumbledore did it all for me, for my... condition. Said I could still attend Hogwarts if we took certain precautions. At first I kept it secret from my friends, but they worked it out in third year."
Hermione laughed quietly. "I'd imagine they were inquisitive."
"That they were," Remus agreed. "They've helped me a lot, James and Sirius and Peter."
"But why do they go out with you during the full moon?" Hermione wondered. "Isn't that dangerous, will it not cause more trouble?"
Remus grinned mischievously at her. "I'm sorry, I can't tell you that much," he said. "It isn't my secret to tell." She rolled her eyes at him, and she looked both annoyed and adorable at the same time he couldn't help laughing.
"Well, whatever it is you're doing, I'm sure it's not allowed," Hermione concluded haughtily, crossing her arms.
His eyes twinkling, Remus replied, "Your confidence in us is heartwarming."
It was on this lighter note that they made their way to The Three Broomsticks, where they each bought a butterbeer. Taking their drinks out of the pub, they resumed their walk around Hogsmeade, unmindful of where they were going.
"Hello Remus, Regina!" a cheerful voice greeted them, and they both saw Alice walking towards them, waving. Lily was standing beside her, her red hair in a braid, smiling politely.
"Hello Alice, Lily," Remus returned courteously, nodding at each girl as he said her name. Hermione echoed his greetings.
"Where are the others?" Alice asked, eyeing them interestedly.
"Well, we left Sirius and Peter at Zonko's, and James has Quidditch practice," Remus glibly answered. "You're looking for them?" At this, his eyes flickered to Lily, who looked away.
"Oh no, just wondering," Alice said. She tugged at Lily's arm and stepped past them. "See you!"
After a few steps forward, Hermione couldn't resist looking back and saw, to her grim satisfaction, Alice and Lily whispering to each other and also casting them backward glances. She pursed her lips in exasperation.
"Don't mind them," Remus advised, his eyes on the far road. "They're just wondering the same thing half of the school's thinking about—why you aren't seen with James anymore." He cast her an appraising, sidelong glance.
"Honestly!" Hermione exclaimed, irked. "Is he really that popular that the other students mind everything he does?"
Remus chuckled. "You bet, big Quidditch hero that he is. Good looks and cheek don't hurt his chances either." He rubbed at his ear and said, "Before you came along, most people had always assumed James would end up with Lily, no matter how many times she rejected him. They'd make a charmed couple. But you jumbled it all up, with your sudden arrival and how quickly you stole James's heart. And then just as quickly, you're not together. Don't you realise how fascinating all of this is?"
"To someone not involved, of course," Hermione muttered.
"Of course," Remus concurred. "But don't let it get to you." He tapped her bottle of butterbeer. "Here, take a swig."
Hermione took one large gulp of her drink and looked around, noting with mild surprise that they were on High Street, standing outside Dervish and Banges. She handed her bottle to Remus.
"Would you mind? I just want to check something inside."
Remus considered her. "I can accompany you—"
"There's no need to," Hermione interrupted. "I'll be quick." Without waiting for his response, she pushed the door to the store open and entered, glancing at the strangely-shaped objects surrounding her and carefully edging forward.
The small, stout witch she had met before was busy polishing with a rug a silver instrument that seemed to be a telescope; she spoke without looking at her. "Good morning, please have a look around. I'm certain you will find many things to your liking—"
"I'm not buying anything, Madam Allegria. Or selling anything either, for that matter."
At her name, the woman started; there was a flash of recognition in her eyes, and she put down her rug.
"Do you—" Hermione hesitated. "Do you remember me?"
Madam Allegria gave a small laugh. "My child, of course I remember you! How can I forget?" She wagged one stubby finger. "You sold me a precious thing, a Time-turner. A very powerful Time-turner." She picked up her rug again and moved to clean another object. "Well, did the young man like the watch you gave him on his birthday?"
Disconcerted, as though it was so long ago, Hermione stammered, "Y-yes, yes he did." She looked around the shop. "Madam, the Time-turner... Have you got it safe?"
"Of course," the older lady answered calmly. "Will you be needing it back?"
"I might," Hermione answered slowly. "I don't know when though."
"Pardon my asking," Madam Allegria said, her tone still cordial, "but why did you make one in the first place? To go years back—it must be something of utmost significance."
"It is." Hermione left it at that, playing with her fingers, wondering if she must, or could, confide in her.
Understanding her caution, the storeowner smiled reassuringly. "I know it must be kept secret, my dear. What the Ministry would do if they found out..." She gave a small shudder. "I asked because I wanted to know what you aimed to achieve with this, going to such lengths."
"I wanted to be with the man I love," Hermione said plainly but softly.
"Couldn't you be with him in your time?" Madam Allegria asked. "Did he..." Her voice caught. "Did he die?"
Hermione shook her head. "He was..." She faltered, embarrassed. "He was married. To somebody else." There. It was out, and she waited for the woman to pronounce her judgment.
Madam Allegria dropped the cloth she was holding. She hastily picked it up and gathered her composure. "You love him that much?"
"Yes." Her throat constricted, but she spoke past it. "Yes," she repeated defiantly. "But it turns out I can't be with him after all."
"Is he in love with somebody else?" Madam Allegria asked sympathetically.
A look of anguish crossed Hermione's face. "No, he's in love with me."
"But..." Madam Allegria knew. There was a but in there somewhere, she was certain.
"But I can't be with him. Because I know his life. He would be involved in the War, and he would survive, but I wasn't originally a part of that." Hermione's fists were now clenched tightly. "So I have to stay away so everything will happen as it should be. So that he'll live."
Madam Allegria stared at her for a long time with mingled pity and sadness on her face. "I see. It's a paradox," she breathed.
"Paradox," Madam Allegria repeated. "Time travel, especially into the past, entails all sorts of paradoxes, the kinds nature does not usually allow. But forget it." She sighed heavily. "I'm so sorry to hear all this, my dear." She glanced out the window. "Is he that young man there?"
Hermione followed her eyes and saw Remus watching them with a confused frown on his face. "No, he's a friend," she mumbled. The short conversation with Madam Allegria had drained her. "Well, I've troubled you enough," she said, taking her leave. "I'd better go. The Time-turner..."
"It'll be kept safe," Madam Allegria said.
Hermione responded with a quick, grateful smile and exited the shop, where she was met with mistrust in Remus' blue eyes.
"What took you long there? You know that woman?"
"Yes, I know her. I bought James's watch there. We just, you know, caught up on some stuff." Hermione took her butterbeer and emptied it. "Do you think we can go back to Hogwarts now? All of a sudden I don't feel too well."
Remus took her bottle and tossed it in a nearby garbage bin. His eyes were now warm and oddly protective as he took in her pale complexion. "Of course, Regina. Whatever you want."
"George, the Quaffle!" Katherine shouted at her teammate as she passed the red ball to him, both of them zigzagging through the air towards Matthew, who was hovering expectantly by the goalposts. Neil swung the Bludger in their direction but missed, and Matthew, distracted, flew to meet George. Unfortunately for Matthew, George returned the Quaffle to Katherine, who kicked it, aiming for the right hoop.
James grinned to himself as he continued tailing the Snitch. "Good one, Katherine!" he cheered, never taking his eyes of the golden ball. Many times he could have reached out and captured the Snitch, but he restrained himself. This is good practice for the game on Saturday, he thought. Slytherin was two hundred points down; they would make sure, of course, that they wouldn't catch the Snitch until they were at least sixty points up. Or that he wouldn't.
Certainly, he could catch the Snitch and immediately end the game like he did in their previous. But where was the thrill in that?
What he really wanted to do was let Slytherin take the lead up to sixty points and then mercilessly catch the Snitch from under their pug Seeker's nose. Which made this routine necessary practise. James rubbed his hands in excitement. I can hardly wait.
"Potter, I know what you're doing!" Katherine yelled from the other side of the court, where the rest of the team was watching him. "Catch the Snitch so we can all go to Hogsmeade!"
James frowned at her. "I'm bloody Captain, Lyons!" But he urged his Nimbus forward and accelerated. Almost there... He leaned forward and, with an expert swipe, secured the ball in his left hand. The Snitch struggled, its wings flapping wildly, as he soared over to his team.
"Excellent practice!" he told them, beaming. "We'll be alternating with Slytherin for practice next week, so that'll be..." He thought a moment. "Monday and Wednesday, six to eight in the evening. There'll be none on Friday, we need our rest." He signalled for a huddle, and after piling their hands in the middle, they roared, "GRYFFINDOR!"
After some seconds of whooping, the team then sailed back to the ground, rushing to the showers. James went straight to the Gryffindor tower and was about to dash through the portrait hole when it opened.
"Hi!" James acknowledged spiritedly, still high with adrenalin from practice. Alice and Lily had just come out of the common room, bulky bags slung over their shoulders. "Where are you off to?"
Alice nudged Lily, who seemed to have been spellbound at the sight of James in his Quidditch robes. Although, Alice had to admit, he was quite a sight, with his unruly hair and sweat-soaked clothes...
Lily blinked and smiled shyly at him. "Library." She patted her bag. "It's about ready to explode with the books and parchment I've packed. And you?"
"Oh, Hogsmeade, to catch up with my friends," James answered. "I'll just be taking a quick shower."
"Yeah, we saw them," Alice chimed in. "Remus and Regina walking around. They said they left Sirius and Peter at Zonko's. But that was more than an hour ago."
James's forehead wrinkled slightly at her mention of Remus, but he wilfully eased it and flashed his trademark smile at Alice. "Thanks." His eyes flickered towards Lily again. "See you later." He pushed open the portrait and clambered in, sprinting up his dormitory. He was dressed in record time; without wasting a second longer, he slipped on his glasses and raced to the sixth floor of the castle.
It usually took an hour to travel through the secret passageway to Honeydukes, but he was in such a hurry that it took him fifteen minutes less to reach the trapdoor. Praying there were still enough students milling around to disguise his entry, he gingerly climbed up and tiptoed out of the storeroom.
Thank Merlin. James blended with the crowd, searching for friends, but he could not find any one of them. He had checked The Three Broomsticks, Scrvivenshafts and, driven by the image of Remus and Regina together, even Madam Puddifoot's, but to no success.
Not that it bothered him the slightest. In fact, this is probably what I've needed all along. Already, walking alone had refreshed him, cheering him up even more than Quidditch practise did. And this time, he could freely think about everything that had happened in the past couple of weeks.
He sighed deeply, releasing all the tension he had kept within. He missed Regina—terribly. He didn't have the nerve to let it show though, nor did he want to. Looking back, he realised he had always made quite a fool of himself when it came to—well... Girls. First Lily and now Regina. While he knew men were expected to do the chasing, the courting, the works, his pride could only take so much.
James clenched his jaw. Women.
At least you do not have Sirius' reputation. He grinned at this and then more soberly thought that it was quite lucky he had enough to distract him. Quidditch and exams and career plans all on his plate required his concentration and drove away problems of his relationship with Regina for stretches of time, and for that he was thankful.
He had almost forgotten what it was like to be carefree, to live life the way he wanted, unencumbered by matters of the heart.
Not that he wouldn't do anything to have Regina back. It's just that... He heaved another sigh. What more can I do? I already apologized, I already told her I loved her. It's all in her hands now. He massaged his temples with his fingertips. It's all in her hands now, so you should stop thinking about it! he scolded himself.
But he missed her—terribly.
I wonder if she misses me. He thought he saw her looking at him sometimes, and every time he caught her eye he fancied there was longing written over her face. But the moment would pass and when next he glanced at her she would be busy with something else, leaving him free to stare.
And stare to his fill he did, realising that there were so many things he did not yet know about her. That she had a habit of answering questions correctly, that her shoulders twitched the same way just before she was about to raise her hand. That she tuck her hair behind her ears whenever she was flustered. That she practised her spellwork whenever she was bored, her favourite conjuring birds out of thin air.
James chewed on his lower lip in fond reminiscence. They simply had had too little time shared with each other. Come to think of it, we're only on our second month. A lump formed in his throat.
Too short. Definitely too short. I want a lifetime.
When he was thinking like this, of the plans he had made about his future, he couldn't include Lily. He didn't know where she fit in, even now that they were friends. Or sort of friends. Oh, he had been surprised to discover that Lily could be wonderful to talk to when she wasn't screaming at him, had been amazed that she was actually more beautiful when she laughed. Not too long ago he would have been elated at this development, and only last week she had him both thrilled and confused, but after that night at the Astronomy Tower, she meant nothing to him. She meant nothing but the mistake he kept making in the past and almost made again.
Merlin, how he missed Regina.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, James saw that he was standing outside Dervish and Banges. Bloody hell, might as well have a look if they're in there.
The soft tinkling of the chimes announced his arrival. His eyes swept the room in renewed astonishment; he had been here before, certainly, but the disarray of bizarre magical instruments never failed to awe him.
"Take a look around, m'dear, you might find something to your liking," a kindly voice said, and James jumped as a stout witch appeared from behind a tower of boxes. She smiled kindly at him, and he recognized her as the storeowner. "Looking for anything?"
"No, er—I was looking for my friends," James replied. "But seeing as they aren't here... Well, I'll just leave." He raised his left hand in goodbye and turned to leave.
"Wait!" the witch exclaimed before he could reach the door.
James looked back questioningly. "Yes?"
"Could you please tell me the time?" she asked, gesturing towards the watch he wore on his right wrist. "I'm afraid I'm uncertain as to whether the clock in this store has been set properly."
James glanced down with some surprise. "Oh, this one doesn't tell the time." He smiled at her. "I just wear this because it was given to me by er—somebody special on my birthday."
The woman nodded as she considered him. "You've just come of age then?"
"Yes, last March." James made his way once again to the door, his forehead slightly wrinkled. Strange. It's almost as if she knows. He passed a display of jewellery, his sight zeroing in on a silver chain with a circular pendant laid on black velvet.
Eclipse, the propped card in front read.
His frown deepened.
"Interesting, isn't it?" the woman said, noticing where his attention was directed.
"Sure," James said politely, dragging his eyes away.
"It's in reality two necklaces combined," she continued, now approaching the case and taking out the piece of jewellery. She held the circular pendant with two hands, between the tips of her index fingers and thumb, and made a pulling motion.
James blinked as the circle disintegrated to indeed produce two intricate pendants, one of a sun and the other of a moon, each hanging on a silver chain. Was it his imagination, or did the sun and moon gleam more than the circle in which they were confined?
"They're brighter this way," he murmured, reaching out to touch the sun pendant. "Beautiful."
"Isn't that always the case?" the storeowner softly replied. "The sun and moon shine more brightly when they're separate than together, for when they do, they shroud the world in darkness."
James allowed the words to wash over him, still entranced with how the silver caught the light. "Eclipse," he said, comprehension now dawning.
"That's right," she said cheerfully, breaking through the mysterious atmosphere that had before then enveloped them. "But no matter the meaning, it would make a good gift to somebody special, I should suppose, as good a way as any of telling somebody they light up your life."
A light bulb switched on in James's head, and he smiled broadly. "I'll take that," he declared. "I know just who to give it to."
"The same person who gave you that watch?" she enquired shrewdly.
"No one else," James agreed.
The storeowner had a satisfied smile on her lips as she merged the pendants once again and replaced it in the velvet box, closing it with a snap. James reached in his robes for his bag of money while he followed her to the counter, where she rang up his purchase.
While waiting for James to count his money out, she added conversationally, "You know, legend has it that lovers who wear necklaces with unified pendants have their hearts and souls intertwined so that no matter what happens, they always find each other in the end."
Amused, James thought, I bet that's just for sales. He handed his money and took the bag in return. "Well, I'll do better than that, 'cause I swear I won't lose her in the first place. Ever."
Again, there was that piercing, knowing look from her, but before he could demand an explanation from that kindly old face, she smiled warmly at him, and he swallowed his indignation.
"Good luck, young man. I hope she likes it."
Whether she liked it or not, James hadn't had a chance to find out. It was Wednesday, four days after he had bought the necklaces, but an opportunity to get her to himself had yet to arise. They were both just too busy, he realised ruefully. He was preoccupied with Quidditch and rounds and N.E.W.T.s, and she was, according to his friends, keen on studying as well. She didn't return from the library until it was past eleven, and probably only because Madam Pince had kicked her out.
Her and Remus. James squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated instead on his shower. But she and Remus had been spending a little too much time together, and... He suppressed a growl. The very idea irked him.
Remus is your friend, a voice in his head reasoned, and at once he was shamed. How could he even entertain such disloyal thoughts? It was utmost betrayal!
James sighed and turned the knob to put out the water. He reached for his towel and winced as a sharp pain coursed through his nape and spread to his shoulders.
"Damn," he muttered, reaching to rub the spot and ease the pain. He had strained his neck earlier in practice, after having lost control of his broom—which was in itself strange. His Nimbus had always obeyed his command at his slightest touch, but now... James shrugged into his clothes, exited the stall and grabbed his broom, propped against the wall, and again there was that unpleasant tingle up his arm.
Something was wrong.
Probably just game jitters, Prongs, he imagined Sirius reassuring him. He tightened his grip on the broom, as though claiming ownership once again, and at the back of his mind nagged the doubt that it could have been tampered with. It would have been all too easy for somebody from Slytherin to sneak in the locker room and break the protective Charms on his Nimbus while he was in the shower—
James snorted, dismissing the possibility. As if any one of them had enough brains to do so!
It was to his satisfaction that he entered the Great Hall just in time for dinner. He walked over to where the Marauders and Regina were seated and had just started piling the food on his plate when she suddenly stood up.
Confused, and forgetting that they were not actually on speaking terms, James asked, "Where are you off to?"
Hermione met his eyes with a startled look. "Dumbledore. I have an appointment with him."
"Do you want me to go with you?" James offered, silently praying she would say yes.
But she only smiled and coloured slightly at the attention. "I'll be fine, James. It's just about N.E.W.T.s. Go eat your dinner, I bet you're famished after practice." With that, she turned her back on them and walked down the Hall.
James watched her until she was out of his sight, a smile creeping into his face, and began digging into his meal with much gusto.
"Merlin, Quidditch must've starved the heart out of you," Sirius dryly commented.
James merely beamed.
"Ah, Miss Weisz, I've been expecting you," Dumbledore greeted her the moment she entered the oak door of the Headmaster's office. He stood up from his desk, several rolls of parchment in front of him, and motioned for her to take a seat.
Hermione closed the door carefully behind her and gingerly took the chair Dumbledore had offered. "Good evening, Professor."
"I trust you had a good dinner?" Dumbledore courteously asked. At her nod, his blue eyes strayed to a nearby clock; it had just struck eight. "Just on time," he murmured.
"Well, Miss Weisz, I gather you're here to convince me to allow you to take the N.E.W.T.s."
Hermione took a deep breath. "Indeed, Professor. I think you will find my performance in all my classes to your satisfaction."
"I do not doubt your abilities," Dumbledore agreed. "In fact, all your professors have given testimony to your extraordinary aptitude, and if this was the basic and only premise ruling my permission for your final exams, I would have given it without further discussion."
The Headmaster's voice was kind, but her instincts were telling her he meant to say something else—a contradiction. "Thank you," Hermione nevertheless answered.
"But I cannot in good faith allow you to continue without knowing who you really are," Dumbledore declared firmly. He put his fingers together in a prayerful tent. "You see, Miss Weisz, with your refusal to disclose information when you first came to this school, I have made considerable effort to confirm your identity and from where you've come."
Hermione's face paled, her eyes wary, but she said nothing.
"Fortunately, existence has but two dimensions—space and time," he continued. "I have searched for records of you in every place and past imaginable and have failed." His blue eyes suddenly pierced her, and he smiled.
"I can only conclude then, Miss Weisz, that you've come from the future."
Hermione surveyed the Headmaster for several moments, her jaw tense. "Professor, I apologise for my insolence, but have you considered the high possibility that I have been using another name?"
"Indeed I have," Dumbledore said, nodding. "Yet your face is your identity, yes?"
"I ask you now, Miss Weisz, the same question I asked you then," Dumbledore interrupted gravely. "What was your purpose in coming here? Surely there was something you wished to change; you went to this much trouble, after all—"
"My intentions have changed," Hermione sharply declared, not attempting to deny that she indeed came from another time. "I have decided to keep things the way they are, so further discussion is pointless."
"Even if you intend to do so, your mere existence is a difference," Dumbledore stated evenly. "You've realised that, I presume?"
She was trembling so badly now, she had to grip the edges of her seat to steady herself. "I assure you, Professor Dumbledore, that I'm doing all I can to ensure that everything will be as it should be, to the best of my knowledge. Believe me," she emphasized, almost pleadingly, "it might not be in my best interest, but I choose to do so lest I endanger..." Her voice trailed off, her heart thudding in fear. Had she said too much?
Now we're getting somewhere. The lines on the Headmaster's face became more sympathetic, and he kindly replied, "I see. Let's leave this thread of conversation for now." He saw her features sag with weary relief and said, his tone now brisk, "As for your N.E.W.T.s, you've been taking the classes required for Auror training or Healing. I am aware it is rather late for career counselling, but did you want to pursue those after school?"
"I—er—yes, those were my options," Hermione stammered, surprised at the change in topic and in the Headmaster's disposition.
Dumbledore peered at her. "You'd need top grades for both, I assume you know that?"
Hermione nodded. "I've been studying hard to earn those marks, Professor. I hope I can manage."
"Judging from the feedback I've been getting from your teachers, you'd do just fine," Dumbledore concurred. "It would be good to have something to do while you're here, wouldn't it? For you would not be able to participate in the War, if things were to remain the same..."
Hermione grimaced but nodded again, keen to leave the office. "If there isn't anything else, Professor...?"
"There is," Dumbledore said slowly, "one more thing. You never mentioned how long you planned to stay."
The cogs in her mind turned as she wondered how best to answer. And then she softly admitted, "As long as it's necessary, sir. As long as it takes to see him—people—through..." Hermione hesitated.
"Through the War?" Dumbledore finished astutely.
Hermione's throat knotted, so she nodded for a third time.
Dumbledore leaned back in his seat, satisfied for the moment with the answers she gave. He observed her through his spectacles with an expression akin to pity. "That's all for now. You may go, Miss—"
Brown eyes directly met his, resigned yet unwavering. "Granger, Professor. Hermione Granger." She mustered a smile and left without another word.
"You can go ahead without me," James waved Lily off happily as they passed the kitchens on their way back from rounds. "I have to get some hot chocolate."
Lily smiled coyly at him, uncertain about his drastically upbeat mood. "It's fine, I don't mind waiting." She followed him as he sailed into the kitchens and watched him approach a house-elf. While waiting for him to receive what he had requested, she asked him interestedly, "Why do you always prepare a nightcap?"
"It's for my friends," James answered at once. "It's become sort of a tradition before we turn in." Awkwardness struck him, and he supposed it was just right for him to invite her. "Do you think you'd like to join us? I can ask Tinky to get another cup."
The corners of Lily's mouth turned up in another small smile—but only almost. "There's no need for that, but thanks."
One of the house-elves, to which James expressed his gratitude, cheerfully handed him five porcelain cups on a gleaming silver tray. They were sent off with wishes of return and were walking in companionable silence when Lily was reminded of a question she had been wanting to ask him. To do so would be out of character, and yet there was that secret, burning desire to know. Besides, she was unwilling to waste any more of her nights speculating on and fretting over the answer.
Merlin, sometimes she really hated James.
"Hmm?" He turned and looked expectantly at her.
I've been meaning to ask you for ages... "Are you and Regina still together?" Lily blurted out in what she attempted and hoped to the heavens was a nonchalant manner. She glanced at James, half-expecting him to fly off the handle or smirk smugly or anything but frown thoughtfully. How he'd changed!
Lily didn't want to break his silent musing, inwardly cringing at how stupid she'd been to succumb to that desire to know. But he astounded her yet again when, as they neared the Gryffindor common room, he grinned and confidently said, "I think so, yes. We've just run into one of those troubles, you know, everybody has once in a while. But things are looking up."
Relief at finally having the answer soothed her mind, but disappointment and envy bubbled in the pit of her stomach all the way up to her heart, it was difficult to say which was stronger. Lily smiled weakly. "Good for you," she told him, wanting so much to be sincere. "But what if—"
"Then I'll just have to pursue her again, won't I?" James cut her off, rather strongly now, his eyes flashing. "Because there is definitely no way I'm letting her go easy." The tray which he was levitating rattled as he lost some control, so he steadied his wand once again.
"Right you are," Lily approved, swallowing a lump and realising for the nth time how terrific the boy standing next to her was, how she desperately wanted him after all. But she didn't wish to wallow in this misery, for self-loathing often followed such thoughts, because once he was hers for the taking, but foolishly, she didn't... She didn't...
"Auror Academy," she heard James announce to the Fat Lady. It was the first password they had agreed on, for it was a dream they shared: to be a part in Voldemort's downfall. Numbly, she climbed through the portrait hole and returned James's goodnight in a mumble. She couldn't wait to be rid of him, afraid of another wrong move that would reveal the truth of how she felt...
James curiously watched Lily leave, trying to decipher the strange expression he last saw cross her face; he couldn't remember ever seeing her like that. He wondered whether the shadow of the Death Eaters' attack still weighed heavily on her, but she had seemed so much better as of late. Could it be...?
"Earth to Prongs!" Sirius exclaimed from the couch near the fire. "The chocolate's getting cold, have you noticed?"
Startled, James turned to face his friends, Sirius wearing the most indignant mask of all, and headed towards them, the tray hovering in front of him. He carefully set it on the table and sat beside Peter. The other Marauders immediately took their share of the drinks and, after their first sips, yawned with content.
"You're welcome," James told them sarcastically, his eyes now straying to Hermione, lounged on a chair all her own and with a book on her lap. He handed her a cup, craving her attention and winning, revelling in seeing her face light up and his reflection in her eyes.
"Thank you," Hermione sweetly said, smiling genuinely for the first time in awhile. Her conversation with Dumbledore had somewhat been a comfot; it was a relief to be able to unburden some of her secrets. With the road she must take mapped before her, her resolve had hardened and her strength to take on that journey, however alone, had intensified.
But James, misinterpreting, grinned at her in response. No doubt encouraged, he further enquired, "Still studying for the exams?"
Hermione shivered; it was like being doused with cold water for a rude awakening. If she was to push him out of her life forever, she was to start now; otherwise, how could he ever end up with Lily? Her heart throbbed, but she would be stronger than her heart.
"Yes," she answered him curtly, feigning impatience to return to her reading.
She didn't know, for she couldn't bring herself to look at him, but James was crestfallen.
An unpleasant silence descended upon them. Sirius, Remus and Peter quickly drained their cups and with forced ease bade James and Hermione goodnight, almost scrambling up the stairs in a hurry. The moment they were alone, James rounded in on her.
"What do you think you're doing?" he demanded, glowering. "And why are you doing this to me?"
Hermione's eyes flitted to him then away. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said evasively.
James grabbed the book she was using as a distraction and flung it to the opposite couch, but she didn't protest, nor did she appear to be taken aback by his vehemence. This infuriated him further. "You know damn well what I'm talking about," he said, his patience hanging by a deadly thread. "You've been avoiding me, but it's about time we talk."
Her brows knitted, as though in confusion. "Maybe I haven't forgiven you completely yet, have you thought of that?"
"Then why did you thank me when I handed you your chocolate? Why did you even talk to me during dinner? Why did you tell me you weren't angry with me anymore? Why... Why did you even let me kiss you that night?" James raged, pulling at his hair in anguish. "Tell me, just what exactly are you playing at?"
Hermione struggled to keep a facade of bland incredulity, even when she could hear her heart shattering into a million more tiny pieces with every word he stabbed at her. Oh Merlin, this was going to be so much more difficult than she had expected! And she was helpless to do anything else but be ruthlessly cruel and must instead inflict on him more pain...
But with no heart left to break, to feel, it would be easier, wouldn't it?
"I was merely being nice, James," Hermione reasoned as she would a petulant child. "We were, after all, friends to begin with."
His jaw clenched. "I don't believe what I'm hearing. You don't mean it, do you? If you want to be kind, just stay completely out of my life!"
Isn't that exactly what I'm trying to do? Hermione averted her eyes, swiftly engulfed by a deep sadness. "You're right," she conceded. "It's just as you said—I was harshly unfair, and I'm sorry. I'll do my best to keep myself out of your way. I can start now, in fact, refuse to discuss this any longer. Please don't bother yourself with me anymore."
She stood to leave, but James grabbed her arm and whirled her to face him. She caught a glimpse of his hazel eyes, dark and stormy, and then she saw no more, for she had closed her eyes the instant his lips brushed hers. It was reflex, to concentrate on the emotions that coursed through her whenever he kissed her, and he was making her remember, every single memory they've shared flashing through her mind.
No, you're not supposed to let this happen!
Hermione lifted her hands—which, in her cloudy state of awareness, she realised with mortification, were secured at his hips—to his chest and pummelled to push him away.
James caught her wrists and dragged them down again, pulling her closer instead. She resisted, but he caught her lower lip, and she sighed instead, rational thought defeated. Emboldened, James deepened the kiss. There was no fight left in her now, and he was to end it on his terms. He allowed himself to taste her thoroughly—it had been too long—before slowly pulling away. He stared down at her flushed cheeks, her ravished lips, watched her flutter her eyes open and saw there the veil of tears.
His hands enfolding hers, held between them, James challenged hoarsely, "Now tell me, Regina, that you don't love me anymore."
The veil thickened, and James could almost hear wands being drawn and duelling inside her head. What was troubling her, he couldn't imagine, but it angered him.
"Tell me!" James repeated forecefully, gripping her hands more tightly.
She wordlessly shook her head, looking lost and vulnerable, and James suddenly hated himself for bringing this upon her. But his selfish nature immediately took over, and he fiercely whispered, "You love me. I know you love me still."
Trembling, Hermione stood on tiptoes and, with crushing tenderness, kissed his cheek, allowing her touch to linger. Stunned, for the gesture carried with it the bittersweet twinge of a love affirmed and an inevitable farewell, he dropped her hands. She started walking away, determined not to spare him a backward glance.
Seized with panic, James rushed to her and embraced her from behind. "Don't go, please." It wasn't like him to beg, but he'd do whatever it took to keep her. "I love you. I'm not giving you up without a fight."
Hermione smiled sadly, stroking his fingers that were splayed on her waist. "How can you fight, not knowing what you're up against?"
James exhaled, his breath blowing past her ear. "Does it matter, as long as I know what I'm fighting for?"
Tears flowed down her face, freely but silently. Damn destiny, damn all the odds! She couldn't bear to lose him. Hermione turned and pressed her lips to his, wanting to make up for the time they had lost, hoping he could feel the love she offered without reserve.
After many frantic heartbeats, they paused for breath. James was smiling weakly when he reached out to wipe away the last of her tears. "Does this mean you'll stay with me?"
Precious seconds ticked by. James was lowering his lips to claim hers, to once again convince her, but a fraction of an inch away, Hermione whispered in surrender, "Yes."
Had she, with that one word, sealed the fate of the Wizarding world?
"I'd like that, yes," she sighed.
Hermione leaned against his chest and felt his strong arms lead her possessively into the safety of his embrace.
For the meantime.
Author's Notes: There you have it, guys. I sure hope you like it. The very long wait was due to second year in med being unbelievably toxic. People say third year's easier, so I do hope to update more frequently. I'm sorry I can't change the length of the chapters because they do have to end where they should. Chapter 23 will be pivotal, so do watch out for that. Thank you so much for waiting and still reading! :)