C O W A R D

by Gueneviere

I

THE QUINTESSENCE OF DUST


"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;

And enterprises of great pith and moment,

With this regard, their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action. "

- Shakespeare; Hamlet, Act III, scene i.


- - - -

He was watching her again.

He was watching her again and he knew it: he knew he was staring, and he knew that despite his skills as an Auror, she was clever and cunning, and bound to find out eventually.

Others would start to notice soon too. After all, Grimmauld Place was home to the Order of the Phoenix; its members were supposed to be able to effectively disarm a Death Eater creeping out on them, they should be able to realize he had been ogling the eighteen-year-old girl rather inappropriately as of late.

He knew all of this and yet he could not help himself; he stared.

He stared and he cursed under his breath because the bloody chit was wearing the little white sundress again. That little white sundress that just screamed I'm a young, naïve, virginal, teenage girl and you're a filthy pervert for leering at my gorgeous, womanly legs.

God, sometimes he was inclined to think that she did it on purpose.

But, of course, that was insane, because Hermione Granger would never look at him twice. She would send him a charming smile, nod her head, and go onto hug the next Weasley.

She had actually never looked at him any differently than she looked at Moody.

Merlin, there was a depressing thought.

It wasn't not like she did not acknowledge his skills. He wasn't joking when he said she looked at him like she looked at Moody—she was the only of the young ones that respected the former Auror like he deserved. She would observe him, and she would study him, and she would learn. Yes, she would learn. She had, actually, saved the lives of her silly little friends countless of times ever since they had left school last summer.

She would make a brilliant Auror one day. At least that's what Mad-Eye had told him--or rather, what he had heard Mad-Eye mutter, for Alastor Moody would never praise another human being as long as he lived.

He did, though, give her a slight recognition over her peers. He called her by her name.

Not 'Hermione', of course; he would rather be stomped by a herd of mountain trolls in heat, than call someone by their first name.

No. He called her 'Granger'.

"Granger and the lot of them are going on one of their little secret missions this afternoon. The last one, the Potter boy, says." The old, former Auror had announced in yesterday's Order meeting. "Also, I want the Weasley girl to train with Auror Tonks on her defensive spells; we will not be having any more situations like last week's. People won't always be around to save you from a silly slicing hex…"

Kingsley sighed and sneaked another look around but Hermione and her indecent white sundress were gone.

He quickly suppressed the childish pout that was tugging on his lower lip. Gods, he was a thirty-two year old man! Senior Auror, member of the Order of the Phoenix and all that shit! What the hell was wrong with him?!

Hermione, an annoying little voice that sounded much like Nymphadora's whispered in his head. Hermione Granger is what's wrong with you.

It wasn't that she ignored him, oh no. In fact, they had held some very interesting conversations on some new Arithmancy theories he hadn't found anyone else to discuss them with. Plus, she had helped him quite a bit with some basic muggle-knowledge, and since then his part-time job as secretary to the muggle Prime Minister had been going much more smoothly.

At least now he wasn't afraid of the bloody coffee machine… (It had burned him, okay!?)

So no, it wasn't lack of attention. The problem was the kind of attention she gave him. She talked to him like he was some kind of unofficial Professor, which, of course, he didn't want to be since the things he was interested in teaching to her were… er, of a different nature.

Still, Lupin was much more of an unofficial Professor than he would ever be and she did hug him!

In fact… ah, yes, there she was: standing by the kitchen counter, talking to him animatedly about some book or another. Probably 'Macbeth', or 'Romeo and Juliet'; all the bloody werewolf ever seemed to read was Shakespeare.

He approached a pink-haired Tonks, who sat in the breakfast table near the pair, being uncharacteristically quiet as she sipped her glass of butterbeer.

"Wotcher, Kingsley!" she greeted him with that bubbly grin of hers.

"Hey there, Tonks," he answered vaguely as he sat across her, his dark eyes still fixed on Hermione and Lupin.

"So…what do you think about the 'quintichence of dust'?" She asked him, evidently pleased to be using a big word-- even if she did so incorrectly.

He laughed, he couldn't help it. "'Quintessence of dust', Tonks," he grinned and sighed, "'Hamlet' tonight, huh?"

Tonks shrugged and took another swing of her butterbeer, "I wouldn't know, they just started talking about how people think themselves almighty, but are actually just dirt. Sounds like a load of bull to me, though," she answered, but smiled a little as she watched an incensed Lupin trying to convince Hermione of something.

Good luck with that.

He scowled at the sandy-haired man whose hand rested for a second on the brunette's slightly tanned shoulder, growling softly despite himself.

Tonks turned her pink head turned to face him. "You alright, Kings?"

He was startled and broke off his glaring context with the unaware lycanthrope. "Alright? Me? Sure, of course… it's just that…"

"It's just that what?" she prodded scooting closer to the table. Damned Tonks, she was supposed to be the oblivious one.

He sighed deeply. "It's just, well…doesn't it… you know, bother you?" he inquired tentatively nodding at Lupin.

"Bother me? Why should it bother me?" She sounded confused. Kingsley glanced at her uneasily. Bloody hell, would he have to spell it out for her?

"Um, I don't know, because he's your boyfriend, maybe?" He tried to be his usual sardonic self, but ended up sounding hesitant.

Damn.

Tonks stared at him for a second, then looked back at the pair, wrinkling her brow in puzzlement. "Wha-oh!"

To his surprise, she didn't seem upset at all. She was grinning!

"Y-you think there's something going on between Hermione and Remus?" she laughed, "Merlin, Kingsley, you're so blind; he thinks of her as his little sister!"

"Really?" he tried to ask in a disinterested tone, but somehow didn't manage to keep his relief from seeping into his question.

"Yes, really," she answered, but proceeded to stare at him with a very unusual calculative gleam in her phosphorescent violet eyes. Then she asked him calmly, "Kingsley, does it bother you, perhaps?"

Damn!

"I don't know what you're talking about, Tonks, you must've had too much butterbeer," he answered with a confidence that would have fooled anyone.

Anyone other than Tonks, of course, who had been his partner ever since she got out of Auror Academy and up to last year; and thus, knew him quite well.

Plus, he was blushing slightly under his dark skin.

"Wow. Hermione Granger, huh? So that's why you've been staring at her like you've been confundused, for the past few days…"

Damn, damn, damn, DAMN!

"You're delusional, Tonks," he assured her, his voice wavering just a little.

She laughed again, and shook her pink head in disbelief, "Hermione Granger…" she whispered to herself, "eighteen-year old Hermione Granger… schoolgirl Hermione Granger!" she gushed both excited and stunned. "Holy Merlin, Hermione Granger, who would've thought…"

"Shut up, Nymphadora!" he hissed to her urgently, as he realized Lupin and the girl in question had apparently agreed to disagree and were approaching them slowly. "I get the point!"

Tonks waved a hand in dismissal. "Relax, I won't say anything. Remus would probably kill you anyways; I don't think he would take it kindly that a thirty-two year old man fancies his 'baby sister'." She snickered, but he frowned and pursed his lips because it was too true.

"But if you ask me, he's a hypocrite, I'm thirteen years younger than him anywa-"

"And why, pray tell, Dora dear, would I be a hypocrite?" Remus Lupin questioned, sitting besides his girlfriend, blue eyes twinkling in amusement.

"No reason," she answered simply, and grabbed his hand, pulling him to his feet, "come on, Remus, we've got to go make sure Ron and Harry haven't murdered my cousin yet."

Lupin trailed after her, sighing at the prospective of breaking up yet another fight between Malfoy and the male two-thirds of the Golden Trio.

"You're not going with them?" Kingsley asked Hermione while leaning back on the table, attempting to look cool and mysterious.

The girl turned to face him; wavy chocolate-brown hair falling down her back, coffee-colored eyes studying him in silence. After a couple of seconds she smiled at him and he realized he had been holding his breath.

"Oh, no, the boys will just have to fix their issues on their own. I've made my peace with Draco already," she answered and daintily took the seat besides him.

He felt himself go warm and his heart beat just a tad faster. Merlin, it was pure torture having her so close.

"Draco?" He tried to suppress the jealousy that hit him hard on the gut.

"Well, yes, I decided 'Ferret Boy' is not a suitable name for an ally, after all."

He gave her a fake laugh—'Ferret Boy' seemed like a perfectly good name to him.

She frowned a little, and looked at him strangely. A small, awkward silence ensued.

"What's up with you, Kingsley?" She finally asked.

"W-what do you mean?" He replied apprehensively, trailing a scratch on the table's wooden surface with his index.

She didn't answer. There was something up with him; she knew it and he knew it, but if he didn't want to confide in her, then she wasn't going to prod.

Hermione continued to analyze him with those hypnotizing almond-shaped eyes, making him feel much more of a prey than the predator he was supposed to be.

He looked up to meet her stare but as he fixed his dark gaze on her surprisingly even darker one, he realized it had been a mistake.

He suddenly had the most urgent need to kiss her senseless.

Those rosy lips looked soft and sweet…

Too young!

Yes, too young, but so, so lovely.

He leaned over just a bit. Just a bit.

Eighteen!

Yes, eighteen and she smelt like jasmines.

Maybe he could lean over just a little closer. Just a litt—

This is wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG!

"G'night, 'Mione," he whispered quickly, and in three long strides he was out of the kitchen. He then silently ran upstairs to seek refuge in his room, wanting to get far away from Hermione Granger's confused dark eyes and her teasing white little sundress.

"Coward," Alastor Moody's snickered from somewhere in the shadows as he closed his door that night.

- - - -

TBC


A/N: Just a little plot bunny that wasn't letting me study for my biology exam. Plus, HG/KS fics are almost none-existent, except for Inell's of course. Why it is so, being Kingsley such a mysterious, unstudied character, I'll never know.

Anyways, please do review!