DISCLAIMER: Characters and setting belong to JK Rowling. The book Hairy Snout, Human Heart was invented by JKR as well. Plot? I don't think she'd WANT credit for this one!
A/N: A plot bunny that hopped into my brain while writing Secrets of the Heart. I've been intrigued with this idea for months now – perhaps it is my inner cougar that makes it appeal to me so. Or maybe it's just that I love Remus Lupin so freaking much. And plus, I got to paraphrase my dear old Dr. McCoy, aka Bones.
A/N 2: Special thanks to Grande.Vanilla.Skim.Latte and Felena1971 for beta reading, and to Felena1971's teenaged son for suggesting a raven for Remus's patronus. Ravens are intelligent birds, and according to wikipedia they like to play with wolves. Thanks also to Bmdohmen who helped me pick a book from Remus's bookshelf.
WARNING: Rather large age difference between romantic leads in this little story (though no larger than between Hermione and Severus, Sirius, or Remus, and most of you don't seem to mind that too much – the difference here is that the female is the older of the pair). It squicked Felena a bit, and I suppose it might squick you. Hope not. Also, Remus may seem slightly OOC – a bit more self-assured here than he usually is.
Blame it on the Moon
After the Welcoming Feast, Remus J. Lupin – Professor Remus J. Lupin, that is (he keeps reminding himself) – goes up to the hospital wing to see an old friend.
He pushes open the door and there she is, looking exactly as she did fifteen years ago, when he graduated from Hogwarts. She looks up from her paperwork and smiles warmly.
"Remus Lupin," she says, an unmistakable fondness in her voice as she speaks his name. "Welcome back."
"Thanks, Poppy. It's great to see you – and you haven't changed a bit."
He has been on a first-name basis with the hospital matron since his sixth year. He spent more time in her care than any other student – two or three days out of every month, for his entire academic career – and over the years they became friends. When he turned seventeen that March, and was officially an adult, he asked if he could call her Poppy, and she told him she would like that. These days, whenever he thinks of her (and he thinks about her at every full moon), he thinks of her as Poppy.
"You flatterer," she teases. "You must be after my chocolate stash, with sweet talk like that." She sits on one of the crisp white beds, and pats the space next to her.
He sits. "I did give away my last bar on the train, now that you mention it," he says with a grin.
"You gave Potter a whole bar of chocolate? That Dementor must have affected him very badly indeed!"
"Heard about that already, did you?" He raises his eyebrows, impressed. Not much gets by Poppy Pomfrey. "No, I split it among the several children who were in the compartment. Potter was affected worse than the others though – which, given his history, doesn't really surprise me."
"Nor me," she agrees. "So, you're back, and as a Professor. Defense Against the Dark Arts was always your favorite class. You'll do well. The students will adore you."
"I hope so," he says, though he looks far less confident than she. "But whether they like me or not, I want to make sure they learn what they need to know so they can take care of themselves. Dumbledore's a great man, Poppy. He keeps giving me opportunities that no one else ever would. Imagine – a headmaster inviting a werewolf to teach!"
"It would have been a lot harder before the invention of the Wolfsbane potion, but you know Dumbledore – he always finds a way to get what he wants. I imagine Severus will be brewing it for you every month?"
"He will. I can't wait to try it. It ought to make things much easier, not to mention safer for everyone, myself included."
"You haven't tried it yet, Remus?" Poppy looks aghast. "Why not? It's been available for six years now!"
Remus casts his eyes down to his scuffed and tattered shoes, peeking out from under the hem of his patched and frayed robes. "It's a rather expensive potion, Poppy. And it's hard for someone in my condition to keep a job for long. People won't hire you if they know you're infected with lycanthropy. And if they don't know it, they tend to get a bit irritable when you miss so much work."
"Oh, Remus," she sighs, "I'm so sorry. After the potion was invented, I just assumed you would be using it every month. It made me happier to think that your suffering was being eased."
"No matter now," he says softly. He is touched by her concern, but feels a bit guilty about the tears he sees gathering in the corners of her blue eyes. "Now I have an income, thanks to Dumbledore, as well as access to one of the best potioneers in Great Britain. And I know someone who has vast stores of high quality chocolate," he says cheekily. "Things are definitely looking up."
"You keep your hands off my sweets, you naughty thing," she says, chuckling. "Now, will I be seeing you at all after the full moons? Or will you be leaving me up here playing Solitaire instead of playing Poker with you?"
"I don't know, to be honest," he admits. "From what I've heard, I will be tired the day after the full, and stiff and sore, but able to function. Of course, I could always play it up a bit, if you want me to come spend a day with you…"
"You don't have to pretend to be ill to spend time with me, Remus. You're welcome to drop by anytime. If I'm not busy with patients, we can play cards and tell stories, just like old times."
She stands, her figure still trim, and her face warm and friendly. The soft lines around her mouth and eyes speak of decades of hearty laughs as well as care and concern for her many charges.
"That sounds great, Poppy," he tells her as he rises to leave. "I'll be sure to take you up on that offer."
They stand awkwardly for a moment, face to face, neither knowing how to end the visit.
"Well," he says. "I'd best be going. Don't want to be unprepared for my very first day of teaching tomorrow."
"Right," she says.
"So, I'll see you later," he says.
"Anytime," she repeats.
Another long moment passes as he looks into her face, the face he knows so well, and which he always associates with care and comfort. Poppy Pomfrey has never feared him, never judged him, and never made him feel anything less than completely accepted, just as he is. He can count on one hand the people who have treated him that well: Poppy, Albus Dumbledore, and three of his best friends – Sirius, James, and Lily. With James and Lily now dead, and Sirius as good as dead, rotting in Azkaban for murder, Remus's circle of true friends has dwindled greatly. Dumbledore is his employer, and a mentor much more than he is a friend. That leaves Poppy. And, one day, perhaps, he might be able to count Lily and James's son Harry as a friend. Harry resembles them so much physically – the image of his father at thirteen, but with his mother's emerald almond-shaped eyes – that Remus finds himself hoping he is something like them in spirit as well.
"It's good to be back," he finally says.
"It's good to have you back," she says, at exactly the same moment.
They laugh then, and, the tension broken, envelop each other in an affectionate embrace.
"Goodness," she says, her face pressed to his sternum, "you've grown into such a tall young man!"
"Tall, yes," he chuckles. "But I don't feel that young, Poppy."
"Well, you'll always be young to me," she says, pulling back from him.
"Oh, no," he groans, feigning a knife-stab in the chest. "You wound me, Poppy!"
"Silly thing," she teases. "Why should it wound you that I think of you as young?"
"Because…" He pauses, unsure how to proceed. "Well, I had been thinking, for a moment there, that I'd like to take you to dinner sometime. You know, away from the castle. Maybe the Three Broomsticks or something." He examines his shoes again.
She laughs good-naturedly. "Remus Lupin, you aren't asking me on a date!"
"Well, why not?" he protests, looking up again. "I finally have some money to spend on someone special, and you are the person whose company I'd most like to share for an evening."
She blushes, but she does not look displeased. "I'm nineteen years older than you! I'm old enough to be your-"
"Don't say it," he interrupts. "I don't give a damn how old you are, Poppy. Come on, it's just dinner. What do you say, Friday night? Pick you up at six?"
She considers him gravely, arms crossed, and toe tapping.
"All right," she agrees finally. "But it's not a date. It's just dinner, you said so yourself."
"Brilliant," he says, grinning at her. "Until Friday, then!"
"Until Friday," she repeats, shaking her head in disbelief.
He turns to leave, and as the door closes behind him, he hears her muttering to herself, "Well, I never. Asked out by a thirty-three year old man."
At the Three Broomsticks, Rosmerta greets them pleasantly, but with raised eyebrows.
"You see," Poppy whispers, as Remus holds her chair for her. "I'm too old for you. Rosmerta thinks I'm robbing the cradle."
"The cradle," he chortles. "For Godric's sake."
They enjoy their meal, share a bottle of wine, and reminisce.
"Have you been out to see the Whomping Willow yet?" she asks.
"I haven't," he says. "Why? Do you suppose it misses me?"
"I'm certain it must. You are, after all, its raison d'etre."
The violent tree guards a tunnel to the Shrieking Shack – the place where Remus had been quarantined for his monthly transformations while he was a student. His screams and howls left no one any doubt that the Shack was, as advertised, the most haunted building in Great Britain.
"True," he says, smiling ruefully. "Poor thing must feel its existence is pointless now, guarding an abandoned passage to an abandoned shack, with nothing but birds and squirrels to keep it company."
"Birds, squirrels, and the occasional adolescent boy in a flying Ford Anglia." She takes a sip of wine and watches his face, her eyes twinkling.
He puts down his fork and goggles at her. "What in Merlin's name do you mean, Poppy?"
Remus always loved hearing Poppy's stories when he was laid up in the hospital wing recovering from his transformations. They fall into their comfortable roles of storyteller and rapt listener, as she tells him the story of Harry's dramatic arrival at Hogwarts a year earlier. He and his best friend Ron stole an enchanted car from Ron's father after they missed the Hogwarts Express, flew it to school, and crashed into the tree.
"Oh, no," he groans. "Of all the trees to hit!"
"Professor Sprout had to bandage some of its limbs, as you can imagine, but it's fine now. Fully recovered."
"That tree can take care of itself," he says. "I was more worried about the boys."
"They're fine now, too," she assures him. "Though you must know that already if you shared a compartment with them on the train. They had some cuts and contusions, but I patched them up."
"And the car?"
"I don't know," she says, laughing. "I guess I never worried about the car. I'm a healer, not a Muggle mechanic."
"Tell me about Harry," Remus says softly. "Is he very much like James and Lily? I know he got sorted into Gryffindor, so I suppose that tells me something already."
Poppy places her fork and knife neatly on her plate, having eaten her fill. She smiles tenderly at Remus. "It does help, doesn't it? Knowing that some part of Lily and James lives on? I imagine you will soon know him better than I do, as you're his new Professor. I only see him when he gets injured."
Remus chuckles quietly. "If he's as reckless as James, he probably gets injured pretty often."
"Well, yes, I suppose that's true. Let's see… In his first year, Harry discovered that He Who Must Not Be Named was using the body of Professor Quirrell, his first Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, as a vehicle. He fought You Know Who to keep him from getting the Sorcerer's Stone, and got knocked out. He spent a bit of time with me after that, of course. In his second year, he got beaten up by the Whomping Willow after hitting it with a flying car. Then he lost all the bones in arm after a Quidditch match-"
"How did he lose his bones while playing Quidditch?"
"That, actually, was the fault of his second Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Harry's arm had been broken by a rogue bludger, and rather than bring him up to me straightaway, that idiot Gilderoy Lockhart tried to fix it himself – wound up vanishing Harry's arm bones. Poor child had to regrow them that night."
"Well, at least it sounds like it won't be too hard to outshine my predecessors."
"Er, no. You're in fine shape there."
"So he's already playing Quidditch, then! I can't wait to watch him fly. James always seemed more at home in the sky than he did on the ground."
"You'll get your chance soon enough. They'll be starting practices before long."
"He does sound like James so far – Quidditch and getting involved in whatever possible trouble is going on at school. Any other notable injuries?"
"Oh, definitely," Poppy says with a mischievous grin. "But I didn't get to heal them."
"Then who did? He wasn't hurt so badly that he had to go to St. Mungo's, was he?"
Even as he asks the question, Remus notices that he is already deeply concerned about Harry's well being. He wishes he were the boy's godfather, instead of Sirius. How could any of them have foreseen that Sirius would betray Lily and James, leading You Know Who right to them? And then murder their classmate Peter and a dozen Muggles? Harry needs a protector who is not responsible for his parents' demise, and who is not a psychopathic killer currently in a high security cell in Azkaban Prison. Remus silently vows to do his best to be an unofficial protector for Harry.
"No," she chuckles. "He wouldn't have made it to St. Mungo's. He had been poisoned by Slytherin's monster, a basilisk, while trying to rescue a young girl who had been taken into the Chamber of Secrets."
"What happened? How did he make it out of the Chamber alive?"
"Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, saved him. Phoenix tears have incredible healing powers, you know."
"Wow." Remus was at a loss for words. Twelve years old, and the boy was saving damsels in distress, battling Dark Lords and basilisks, and being miraculously saved by magical creatures. Protecting the boy could be a more difficult job than he had anticipated.
"You'll love him, Remus. He's a fine young man – loyal and kind. I've had both of his best friends in my care a time or two, and he visits them faithfully, even when they're not conscious."
Madam Rosmerta winds her way through the tables to their corner of the dining room. "Anything else?" she asks, as she takes their empty dinner plates.
"How about some dessert, Poppy?"
"Oh, Remus, I shouldn't," she says, but her eyes tell him that she would really love some. "I try to watch my figure…"
"And you're doing a spectacular job of it," he teases.
Rosmerta rolls her eyes and taps her foot impatiently.
"Come on," he says, "let's get something really chocolatey and share it."
He turns to Rosmerta. "What's the richest chocolate dessert you have?"
"Avada Kachocolate," she tells him, quoting the menu. "So dark and dangerous, you won't know what hit you."
"We'll take it," he announces. "One serving, and two forks, please."
When it arrives, they each scoop a bite, and, eyes locked together, close their lips over their forks. They both moan with pleasure as the sinful dessert melts over their tongues.
"Sweet Mother of Merlin," Poppy sighs, her eyes closed, her attention entirely absorbed by the intense flavor. "This cake is incredible!"
Little by little, they finish the cake, and lick their forks clean.
"So decadent of you, Poppy," says Rosmerta, as Remus signs the bill.
"I don't think she was only talking about the dessert," Poppy whispers with a frown as Remus helps her into her cloak for the walk back.
He laughs; never before in his life has he considered the idea that a woman might be considered decadent for going out to dinner with him.
"I hope it doesn't bother you," he says, wrapping an arm protectively around her as they step into the breezy night. "I've really enjoyed our evening, as I have always enjoyed our conversations."
"I actually think she might be a bit jealous, Remus. Rosmerta is used to monopolizing the attentions of the young men at Hogwarts. You were so focused on me, I think she might believe I am trying to compete with her."
"I barely noticed she was there," he tells her. "Why should my attention stray from such a beautiful and charming dinner companion?"
"You can't be after my chocolate stash now, after a dessert like that," she chuckles, patting her belly appreciatively. "Yet still you flatter me shamelessly!"
"Have you considered the possibility that I am telling the truth?"
"No," she says, "I haven't. I'm too old for you, Remus. Go chase a younger girl." She draws her cloak tighter around herself, and shivers. "It's awfully cold for September, isn't it?"
"Dementors," he says, drawing his wand. He pulls her closer, and as his eyes rake her face, he says, "Expecto Patronum!"
A silvery shape erupts from the end of his wand, and takes the shape of a large bird. It circles the pair, protecting them from the Dementors, as they continue their walk toward the castle.
"It's beautiful, Remus," she says, "and I do feel warmer already. What kind of bird is it?"
"A raven," he says fondly. "For it to stay with us until we reach the castle, I will need to keep concentrating on it. I'm sorry, but I won't be much of a conversationalist until we are safely inside the gates."
They walk on in comfortable silence, his raven patronus flying iridescent rings around them, keeping them warm and safe.
He walks her all the way back to the hospital wing.
"Thanks for a lovely evening," she says, suddenly seeming shy. Then, her shyness overcome at least for the moment, she rises onto her toes to give him a good night kiss on the cheek. When she relaxes her feet, however, she does not descend back to the floor – Remus is holding her, his arms wrapped around her. His head, bowed to accept her peck on the cheek, turns toward her, and his lips brush hers lightly. "Oh," she gasps, and he feels it, too: the contact of lip on lip created an almost electric connection.
"It was lovely, Poppy," he murmurs. "Let's do it again. Soon."
"I- I shouldn't, Remus. It's not right."
"It feels right to me," he whispers. He kisses her again, tenderly, and she moans softly, her body seeming to melt into his arms. He cannot believe that it doesn't feel right to her, too. But Remus Lupin is a gentleman, and does not push his advantage. He keeps his tongue and his hands to himself, and releases her.
He is unsure what to do or say next, though. Sirius would have turned on his heel and tossed a casual "goodnight" over his shoulder, leaving the woman panting for more. Of course, Remus knows he could never pull off Sirius's swaggering confidence when it comes to the ladies. And besides, Sirius is not one to emulate – look what became of the man.
"I think it feels right to you, too, Poppy," he says gently, his large hand tipping her chin up toward him so he can watch her expression carefully. "I think what doesn't feel right to you is the reactions you expect from other people."
Her eyes break from his, glancing down and to the right. He must have hit on some part of the truth.
"I've lived for so long outside of society's conventions that other people's opinions can't affect me much anymore," he tells her. "Werewolves, of necessity, have fairly thick hides."
"It's not just that, Remus," she tells him. "You're a young man. You should find a young woman, start a family. You shouldn't be bothering yourself with an older woman like me."
"I don't think of you as an older woman, Poppy. I think of you as an old friend. One I'd like to get closer to, if you'll let me. I'd like to bother myself with you."
"I think of you as an old friend, too," she says. "And though I knew you as a boy, clearly you have become a fine man. Give me some time to get to know you as an adult. This has all been so… sudden."
"Hardly sudden," he chuckles. "You've known me for twenty two years."
"In a manner of speaking, that's true," she concedes. "But really – I knew you for seven years when you were a boy. I've only just met you as a man."
"All right, then," he says, a smile spreading across his scarred face. "Operation Get-to-Know-Remus commences. You do realize that means you'll have to spend more time with me. Lunch at the Hogshead next Saturday?"
She smiles back, in spite of herself. "Okay," she says. "If I don't have a wing full of patients, and can get away."
"Good enough for me," he says cheerfully, turning to leave with a renewed bounce in his step. "Goodnight, Poppy."
Over the course of the next two weeks, Remus and Poppy spend many hours together, sometimes enjoying a meal together in Hogsmeade, sometimes whispering quietly in the back of the hospital wing so as not to disturb any sleeping patients.
Putting Operation Get-to-Know-Remus into action means a reversal of their usual roles. Now, more often than not, Remus is the storyteller, and Poppy hangs on his every word, gasping in horror in all the appropriate places, and laughing at all of his jokes.
One evening finds them sitting together in the otherwise empty hospital wing. Tears spill down Poppy's cheeks as he tells her about sinking into a deep depression after the murders of James and Lily Potter, and the imprisonment of Sirius Black for murdering their classmate Peter and all those Muggles. Remus had left the Wizarding world for a while after that. In fact, he had left civilization in general, and had lived for a couple of years with a pack of feral werewolves.
"I can't believe you would abandon society like that, Remus," she says, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her white hospital matron's apron. "You, one of the most gentle, intelligent, and well-mannered people I have ever known, living like an animal in the wild. It's just hard to imagine."
"I didn't feel I was abandoning society," he tells her, pulling his handkerchief from his pocket and handing it to her. "I felt I was the one who had been abandoned. Everyone I cared for was gone – even my parents. The house I grew up in was burned to the ground. I suddenly had nobody left and no place to go, no past, and no future. So I disappeared."
"Oh, Remus," she cries, "You always had Hogwarts! You could have come back here. Albus would have found a way to help you."
"I know that now. But at the time, I wasn't thinking straight at all. I think I'd gone a bit mad with my grief."
They are both quiet for a while, lost in their personal reflections.
"Eventually," he continues at last, "I came to my senses and realized how much I missed being among people. And so long as I hid my condition, I was able to get odd jobs here and there, doing whatever it took to earn a little money…no matter how, er…, degrading." He blushes.
"You've really led an interesting life since you left Hogwarts, haven't you?"
"That's one way to put it," he mutters darkly.
"Well, thankfully Albus found you. It sounds like you needed Hogwarts as much as we needed you."
"A match made in heaven," he quips, taking her hand.
"I hope you'll stay with us for a long time," she says, watching their intertwined fingers, rather than his face.
"Poppy, next week-"
"I know," she says. "After seven years of escorting you to that tunnel before every full moon, I have become very attuned to the lunar cycle. I still feel anxious right before the full, even after all this time."
"You felt anxious before full moons, on my behalf?" His eyes are wide with disbelief. "Poppy, how can you stand being a healer if you empathize so completely with your patients? You must constantly feel ill, or in pain!"
"I would be a mess if that were the case," she chuckles. "No, Remus, you always held a special place with me."
He leans over and kisses her again, the first time he's kissed her since the night they shared the Avada Kachocolate cake.
She doesn't push him away, but gently traces the scars on his neck with her fingers. She continues stroking his face even after he withdraws his lips from hers. Her brows are drawn together pensively.
"What is it, Poppy?"
"I can't stand to see you get hurt anymore. Are you sure the potion will work?"
"I've never taken it before, so I'm just not sure how effective it is. Add to that the fact that Severus and I were never great friends-"
"That's putting it mildly!"
"Well, exactly," he agrees. "Back in school, I would never have trusted anything he brewed for me. And now… Now I will depend on him to brew it flawlessly every month, for me – and it's no secret he used to despise me."
"I've worked with him for many years now, Remus. Severus Snape may be surly and sarcastic, but he's very good at what he does. He keeps me well supplied with all of my healing potions, and they've never been anything less than exemplary."
"Dumbledore assured me that I can rely on Severus for a safe and effective potion every month that we are both in his employ."
"Then you can count on it," she says confidently. "Where will you make your transformation this time? In your quarters?"
"I've been planning to go back to the Shack, actually, for this first time. Just in case. Just to make sure that the dosage is right, and the effect lasts until dawn." He laughs, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "It'll be just like the good old days."
"No, it won't," she says, squeezing his hand. "This time you are supposed to be a tame wolf. You won't hurt yourself anymore, right?"
"Well, yes," he agrees. "That is the plan."
"I can't tell you how many times I wished I could be there and stop you, somehow, from tearing yourself up. It was so frustrating to lead you to the Willow every month, knowing that the next time I saw you I would be patching you up yet again from self-inflicted wounds. I wished I could prevent those wounds, instead of only being able to repair them, month after month. If there was any way I could have helped you to avoid all that pain…"
"Now who is tearing herself up unnecessarily?" he teases. "You always made my recuperation fun. Just think: if you'd prevented me from hurting myself, we never would have become such good friends." He looks around the familiar room, unchanged since his school days. "We did go through some murtlap tentacles and dittany, though, didn't we?"
"We did," she says, nodding.
"Listen, Poppy," he says, and his tone is so serious that she freezes. "If this works… If I really do pose no danger after using the potion…"
She nods again, encouraging him to go on.
"Would you like… would you stay with me through the change the next month? You did say you wanted to get to know me better, and this… well, like it or not, it's a huge part of who I am. It would mean so much to me to be able to share such a deep part of myself with you."
She bursts out laughing.
"What? Poppy, what is so funny about me asking you to be with me through a full moon?"
"A few dinners, a couple of kisses, and now you think I'll spend the night with you?"
"Well, I was hoping," he chuckles, getting the joke now.
Remus makes it though the full moon in the Shrieking Shack without becoming mad. He turns into a wolf, but spends a quiet night in the Shack. When he wakes the next morning, he has aches and pains everywhere from the actual transformation, but no wounds, self-inflicted or otherwise. He dresses gingerly (having set his clothing aside before the transformation – he has learned by now that he cannot afford the luxury of destroying another set of clothing every month), and with much moaning and groaning that will probably cause the residents of Hogsmeade to give the Shrieking Shack a wider berth for many months, makes his way slowly back to Hogwarts through the passageway that ends under the Whomping Willow.
His first stop is the hospital wing. He knows Poppy has been worrying about him.
"Remus," she gasps as he shuffles into the room, "How are you?" She steps away from a bed where she had been administering a potion to a small boy, and inspects his face carefully. "No new injuries?"
"No new injuries," he says, sinking onto a hospital bed with an unavoidable groan.
"Oh, you're hurt," she cries.
"Poppy," he sighs. "Stop fussing. I'm better than I've ever been after…" He glances at the occupant of the bed across the aisle from him, a first year Hufflepuff he recognizes from class. "Under the circumstances. I'm just sore. Do you have some of that ointment that always helped so much?"
"The Ligament Liniment – yes, of course I do," she says, and hurries off to get it.
The Hufflepuff looks at him curiously.
"It's Robbins, isn't it?" Remus asks him kindly. It is early in the term, but he has been trying hard to memorize the names of his students.
The boy nods, shyly.
"What are you in for?"
"Pnctack," Robbins mumbles, blushing.
"Pardon me," says Remus, "but I didn't quite get that."
"Panic attack," the boy replies, picking at his robes. "I've got Potions this afternoon, and Professor-"
"I understand." Remus rises slowly, stifling his moan of pain, and crosses the aisle to sit nearer the boy. "Professor Snape can even make grown men panic. Try not to let him get to you, though. You must never let anyone know I told you this, but I believe Professor Snape's bark is far worse than his bite. He just wants to keep you on your toes. You have to be really careful when you're brewing potions, because a very small mistake can cause a huge difference in the outcome."
"Thanks, Professor," Robbins says, smiling. "I know you're right. And I think the Calming Draught must have taken effect, because I'm feeling quite a bit better."
"Let me see," says Poppy, who has been standing behind Remus listening to this exchange. She bends over the boy, checking his pulse and the color under his fingernails. "Yes," she concludes, "you are doing much better. Your heart rate and breathing have slowed to normal, and you are getting all the oxygen you need. You'll be fine for the rest of the day, if you use those breathing exercises I taught you, and don't do anything to get yourself too excited. You can go."
"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey," says Robbins. With a smile and a nod for both of them, Robbins exits the ward, leaving Remus alone with Poppy.
"That was very sweet of you," she tells him, giving his shoulder a grateful squeeze.
He gives an involuntary yelp of pain, and she apologizes profusely.
"Here, I've got the Liniment, Remus," she offers. "Where do you need it?"
"Merlin, everywhere," he says, and he removes his robes and begins to unbutton his shirt, wincing with every movement.
"Wait, Remus," she says, pulling curtains around the bed. "I- I'll help you with it, but I think a little more privacy is in order."
"You never had any problem with rubbing that stuff all over me when I was a student," he observes. He would have smirked, had he the energy.
"When you were a student, we weren't seen all over Hogsmeade together. I'd just rather not have anyone watch this. People would definitely talk."
"Fair enough," he concedes. "You can do anything you want, just as long as you rub some of that stuff into my shoulders and my back."
She helps him remove his shirt, and stands behind him. Seconds later, a warm, soothing sensation sinks deep into his muscles and joints everywhere her able hands touch him. She kneads the salve into his neck, and across his aching shoulders. She works carefully on his broad upper back, massaging the tender areas all around and between his shoulder blades, and spreads her hands wide as she moves down his tapered form toward his hips.
"Gods, Poppy," he says, with a deep, satisfied sigh. "You've got the best hands in the world. I don't know how I have lived without you for fifteen years."
She walks around the bed to face him, a strange, almost hungry look in her eyes. "I think," she says, swallowing hard, "that you can reach everything else yourself."
"My arms, Poppy," he says, his eyes glued to hers. "Do my arms, please. It'll feel so much better with you using two hands on them, instead of me trying to do it myself."
She takes a deep breath, and nods.
"Of course," she murmurs. She adds more salve to her hands, and sits next to him, taking his large hand in hers. She works over each finger, and carefully, delicately massages his palms and the backs of his hands.
"Yes," he sighs again. "Merlin, it hurts when they turn into paws. That feels incredible."
She kneads his forearm, pressing firmly into the hollow between the two arm bones, making him gasp with pleasure. When she moves up to his upper arm, however, it is she who gasps.
"What is it, Poppy?"
"Nothing," she says, blushing furiously as she works the Liniment into his ropy biceps. "Er, these odd jobs you've been working for the past umpteen years…"
"Manual labor, quite a few of them?"
"Hmmm. I see."
"You've, er…, become quite, er…, muscular over the years, haven't you?"
He laughs. "I suppose I have. I did a lot of hard labor in the Muggle world, where my symptoms wouldn't be as suspect. Muggles don't believe werewolves are real, so they tend to chalk it up to coincidence if an employee is ill at the full for a few months in a row. I could sometimes keep a job for four or five months before I'd have to move on. But, of course, I couldn't use magic. So I had to swing hammers, lift boxes, dig holes, or whatever was required, and yes… I guess it did have an effect on my musculature."
She moves to his other side, and repeats the procedure – first soothing his aching hands, then forearms, and then up to his very defined biceps and triceps muscles.
"Thank you, Poppy," he says tenderly, reaching his much-improved arms around her waist and pulling her to him for a kiss. "Ouch!"
She pulls away, alarmed. "What, Remus? What hurts?"
"My chest, my stomach… I got carried away wanting to thank you properly for your care, and pulled you too tightly to my chest. Oh, owww…."
"Let me help you," she says, laying him gently onto the bed and putting more of the salve into her hands.
"I thought you wanted me to do the rest myself," he says, a smile playing around the corners of his lips.
"Oh, be quiet. You are the noisiest patient I ever had."
She spreads the Liniment across his chest, massaging it gently into his firm pectoral muscles, and stroking it down his ribs.
He bites his lips to try to stay quiet, as ordered, but cannot suppress a few soft moans as the sweet relief sinks all the way through to his bones.
She does not reprimand him again for being noisy. She is silent as she strokes his abdomen, smoothing the ointment gently into the flat, hard planes.
He is silent, too, as her small, capable hands follow the trail of short hairs that lead from his navel to the waistband of his trousers, and then out to the hollows of his hipbones, where her fingers work the inner and outer edges of his iliac crests. Oh, he wants to moan – the pleasure is exquisite. He just doesn't want to break her concentration. If he makes a sound, she might stop.
She doesn't stop, but doesn't go any lower, either. Poppy's hands reverse direction, back up his taut abdomen to his chest, where certainly she can feel his heart pounding. When their eyes meet again, her hungry expression is intensified. Again, he pulls her to him, pulls her on top of him, kisses her soundly. His pelvis aches, as much from want as from the aftereffects of his transformation. Even the light weight of her hips on his is painful. He doesn't mind. He would rather feel that pain all day long than miss this moment.
Always the gentleman, even when in pain, and half-naked, and half-crazed with desire, Remus keeps his hands to her face, her hair, her shoulders, her back.
Poppy's hands, however, having already explored his torso so thoroughly, are unstoppable. She strokes down his muscular arms, back up his ribs, and across his chest, pausing momentarily at his nipple, which makes him gasp into her mouth as he kisses her. Her tongue takes advantage of the opening, and she deepens the kiss, sighing as their tongues find and caress each other.
Remus wants to spend every morning after the full moon exactly like this. But some part of him knows they are getting carried away, and need to slow down.
"Poppy," he pants, pulling back from their kiss (which is difficult, with her on top of him, and snogging him quite enthusiastically). "Poppy, this isn't the time, or the place."
She looks around as if suddenly remembering where they are, and her face, already flushed, becomes even pinker. She climbs carefully off of him, and straightens her hair and her clothing. "You're right, Remus," she says apologetically. "I, er…." She looks around the room again, as if she might find the rest of her sentence on one of the efficient white hospital beds. "I don't know what came over me. I'm sorry."
"Don't be," he says, wincing again as he stands on his still-aching legs, but wanting to look into her deep blue eyes to make sure she is all right. "I'm not sorry at all."
"Your legs," she says, having noticed his discomfort.
"I'll get them myself, don't you think?"
"Yes," she says, still embarrassed. "Maybe that would be best. Do you need any help… you know… with removing your trousers… or…"
"Thank you," he says, trying hard to suppress his grin. "I think I can manage. Now that I'm up, gravity should do most of the work for me."
She nods, and swallows hard again. "True. But…Remus. You may really need some help with…"
"With what, Poppy?" He cannot help but chuckle. She sounds like a nervous schoolgirl.
"The, er, gluteal area," she whispers.
He roars with laughter, and she turns as dark red as a beet. "Oh, dear gods, you're absolutely right," he says. "I certainly could use your help. Do you think you can?"
"Of course I can," she says, indignantly. "I am a healer. I can rub a salve anywhere it needs to be rubbed."
"You're the best," he tells her.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake," she says, rolling her eyes. "Just slide off those trousers, and lie face down on the bed. I'll be back in a moment to take care of you." She steps outside the curtains to give him privacy.
He chuckles again, as he unfastens his trousers and lets them fall to the floor. He hooks his thumbs under the waistband of his pants, slides them over his hips, and lets them fall, too. He steps out of the pile of clothing and his shoes, and climbs gingerly back onto the bed. It isn't terribly comfortable, as he is still experiencing the inevitable results of the massage and the kiss, but he arranges himself as best he can, and waits.
She taps on the frame of the curtained divider, all business. "Are you ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose," he answers. He is suddenly very self-conscious to be lying on the hospital bed, nude except for his socks, with Poppy coming in to rub his arse. "I couldn't get my socks off as easily as the rest," he admits. "Would you mind removing them for me?"
"Not at ahhhhhhh," she says, entering the enclosure and laying her eyes on him. She gulps, and tries again. "Not at all."
He turns his head toward her, to find her eyes roaming appreciatively up his long, lean legs to his bare arse. The bed becomes, if possible, less comfortable than before as he stiffens even more in response to her attention.
"Relax," she instructs him, as she peels off his socks and deposits them onto the now large pile of his clothing.
He puts his face back in the pillow, and does his best to comply.
"I, ah…, might as well get the back of your legs while I'm here," she says.
"You don't have to, Poppy. I can get them. No need to make this any more awkward than it has to be."
"Don't be silly," she says. "What could be awkward about alleviating a patient's pain?" She starts at his feet, and works the salve deeply into each toe, his high arches, and his calloused heels.
"Okay then," he sighs. "I won't argue anymore. You do a far better job than I could."
Achilles tendons, calves… the sensitive skin behind the knee… She massages every part of his legs, working her way from bottom to top. Any other time, her touches on his inner thighs might have tickled, but today, he craves the relief her hands bring, and only sighs contentedly. And then he feels her thumbs sliding around the crease between thigh and arse cheek, and her fingers spreading wide to stroke the curve of his backside. She puts her weight into the massage, and the warm, soothing feeling seeps into the deep tissues.
At the same time, he is acutely aware that her fingers are very close to some extremely sensitive areas, and that her eyes must be focused intently on his bare bum. He shifts a little, trying to find a more comfortable arrangement on the hospital bed, and remembers similar sensations from his sixth and seventh years.
He had lost his virginity with Lily, early in his sixth year – a secret he would take with him to his grave. Their sexual relationship didn't last long – while they were very close friends, their unions were based more in curiosity than in love, and they both knew that eventually she would belong to James. And partway through his final year of school, curiosity got the better of him again, and he and Sirius experimented a bit. So it was no surprise to him that, with his hormones raging and his sexuality awakened, he had begun to enjoy some of his treatments with Madam Pomfrey a bit more than was… customary. This is not the first time he has found himself lying naked on a hospital bed, his erection grinding into the mattress painfully and yet somehow pleasurably at the same time, with Poppy Pomfrey rubbing salve into his arse cheeks.
It is, however, the first time he is aware that she is enjoying it anywhere near as much as he is.
She finishes her work, and stands abruptly. She is visibly shaking. "I'll leave the Ligament Liniment on the bedside table for you to finish up," she says, the words tumbling out of her. And she exits to the other side of the curtains. He hears a distinct "phew" as she walks away.
Poppy has massaged the Liniment now into almost his whole body, so there isn't much left to do. He rolls onto his back, feeling very much better than he had when he entered the hospital wing, and applies the ointment to his tender shins, his knees, and his aching thighs. He doesn't hear Poppy anywhere, and assumes she must have taken herself to her office where she can recover. Well, as long as he has a little privacy… and he lets his hands continue to work upward, reaching his throbbing member, and wrapping his long fingers around the base. He strokes gently at first, listening to be sure he will not be interrupted. Again, he is forcibly reminded of his later school years. How often had he jerked off in the hospital wing? As many times as there were full moons in his last two years, probably, though back then, he envisioned Lily, or Sirius, or… well, sometimes he fantasized about being with both of them together, another secret he would take to his grave. Now his thoughts are only of Poppy: her deft hands manipulating his needy flesh, her soft lips, her small frame. Before long, his practiced hands achieved the desired result, and he manages not to make much noise as he comes in spurts all over himself and the bed. He stands, digs in his robes for his wand, and whispers "Tergeo" to clean up the mess. He dresses quietly, and oh, so much more comfortably than he had in the Shrieking Shack just after dawn.
He steps out of the enclosure, and she is nowhere to be seen. He turns the corner to her office, and finds her, sipping tea, and holding a bar of chocolate. She hands it to him.
"All better?" she asks.
"I'm a new man."
"Pity," she says, taking another sip of her tea. "I rather liked the old one."
"The new one is very like the old one, only far less achy."
"In that case…" she shrugs.
"In that case, you might like the new one as well?"
"I'll give him a chance."
"Brilliant," he says, grinning broadly. "Thanks for the chocolate, Poppy. And… everything else. I'll see you later."
"No doubt," she replies.
He turns to leave, but changes his mind.
"Are you still considering it?" he asks. "Staying with me, that is, for the next full moon?"
"I'll think about it."
"Now that we know I'm safe, and you won't be in danger… I would love to have you there. It would mean a lot to me."
"Still trying to get me to spend the night with you, I see," she teases.
"I don't see why not," he replies, "since you've already had me naked in your bed."
"Remus!" She throws a book at him. "A hospital bed, not MY bed!"
"Details," he chuckles, picking up the book. It is Hairy Snout, Human Heart, an anonymous memoir about being a werewolf. "Why are you reading this, Poppy?"
"I wanted to have as much insight into your experiences as possible, Remus."
"Then do it. Stay with me next month. You'll understand so much more."
"I'll think about it," she repeats.
"That's all I can ask," he says, and, waving goodbye, heads down to his quarters to shower before classes start.
Three weeks later, Poppy has still not agreed to join him for his transformation.
The only people who have seen him transform (other than other werewolves in the feral pack he had joined so long ago) were his dorm mates – James, Sirius, and Peter – all of whom are gone now. Dead, or as good as dead. He wants Poppy to understand how monumental this is, for him to share with her this darkest aspect of his being. He's not even sure why it's so important to him, but he knows that if she sees this, and still claims him as a friend, or – dare he even hope for it – maybe even as a lover one day, he will have found a treasure above all others. He trusts her. Her compassion has never before, to his knowledge, run up against any limit. She knows all about his lycanthropy, and has even been reading up on it to understand him better. All that remains is this – taking her knowledge from the theoretical to the practical. It is one thing to know that a friend transforms into a wolf at the full moon, but possibly quite another thing to actually witness it with one's own eyes.
He doesn't want to push her. If it doesn't happen this month, there will be, he hopes, many more full moons, any one of which might be the time she changes her mind. So, although he has continued to take her to dinner or lunch when their schedules allow it, and has spent almost as much time in the hospital wing (fully clothed, naturally) as he had before, he has not brought up again his desire to have her stay with him during his transformation. Until tonight.
They are out walking on the grounds after dinner, visiting the Whomping Willow, and enjoying the evening. He has gathered a small bouquet of night-blooming moonflowers and four-o'clocks for her. She sits on a large rock near the lake, and he gives her the bouquet with a flourish and a bow.
She giggles. "Remus J. Lupin, the gentleman werewolf," she teases.
"Twenty-seven parts gentleman, and one part wolf," he says soberly. "The full moon is coming Poppy."
"You knew me as a boy, and now you know me as a man. Incredibly, miraculously, it is now possible for you to know me as a wolf. Will you stay with me this time? You are the dearest friend I have. I want you to know me – to know all of me."
"Remus," she says, burying her nose in the flowers, and not meeting his eyes. "You've made it clear that you don't see me strictly as a friend."
"Does it matter? Whether you and I remain strictly friends, or become something else over time, I want this bond with you. I- I guess I just need someone to know the real me. It's so lonely, Poppy, being a werewolf. No matter what I do for twenty-seven days of every month, I am set apart by the twenty-eighth. I am part of this world, but excluded from it in so many ways as well. I want to belong, Poppy – in someone's eyes, I want to belong, all of me, just as I am." He finds himself, somehow, down on one knee, as if he is proposing marriage. The moment feels that sacred.
He has made a compelling case, and she cannot resist him. "Yes," she says, her blue eyes sparkling. "Yes, I will stay with you this time. I will owl St. Mungo's and ask for a healer to take my place in the hospital wing for a day so that I can be with you all night, and help you recover the next day."
His face breaks into a wide grin, and he jumps to his feet, pulling her to her feet as well, and embracing her perhaps a little too enthusiastically, as she is literally swept off her feet.
He sets her back down, carefully. "Shall we go to the owlery now?"
She laughs. "I don't have parchment or a quill, Remus. And I should write the note on official Hogwarts parchment anyway. I promise I'll make the request tomorrow, though. For now, why don't we just enjoy our walk?"
The rest of their stroll is quite pleasant, especially the part where they snog underneath the beech tree by the lake.
Remus paces the floor of his quarters, waiting for Poppy. Just to be sure she is safe, he has taken an extra dose of the awful-tasting Wolfsbane potion. It is a price he will gladly pay, if it keeps him from becoming a mindless, dangerous beast.
When Severus brought him the potion yesterday, Harry had been in his office. It was Halloween, and the castle was quite empty. Most of the students were enjoying the first Hogsmeade weekend of the school year, but young Harry had been unable to get his permission slip signed by his guardians. He was wandering the halls, and Remus had invited him in. Once again, Remus wishes he were the boy's godfather, instead of Sirius. If he were, he would be able to sign the paper, and let the boy enjoy the day in Hogsmeade with his friends.
As he chatted with the boy, Remus drank the entire smoking goblet, much to Harry's evident dismay. If only he could tell the boy the truth. His father, James, had known of his secret, and stuck by him. Would Harry do the same? Alas, it is too much to ask of a thirteen-year-old boy to expect him to cope well with learning that his teacher is a werewolf. Remus will have to keep his secret from all of the students, even from the son of his dear friends. "I think perhaps I should have a little more tomorrow," Remus had told Severus. Harry had gone so pale Remus was tempted to offer him more chocolate.
A knock sounds at his door, interrupting his ruminations, and he lunges for it. "Poppy," he says, "welcome. Thanks for coming tonight. I was a little afraid you might change your mind."
She rises on her toes to kiss him lightly. "Now why would I do that? It's not every day a girl gets an opportunity like this."
He pulls her in, and closes the door behind her. She looks around, her eyebrows lifting in surprise.
"Not what you expected?"
"It's… fairly Spartan," she says. "Not much here but books and a bed."
"Those are really the only things I need," he says. "I don't entertain much."
"I like your color scheme," she adds. What little he owns is decorated in a rich, dark brown. "It's earthy and organic."
He laughs, and she looks at him curiously. "It reminded me of chocolate," he says.
"You are a man of simple pleasures, Remus," she giggles.
He suddenly realizes he has no place to invite her to sit, except the bed. "Let me make a few changes." He conjures a plush area rug, a couch, two armchairs, and a coffee table. "Please," he says, gesturing to his new furniture, "make yourself comfortable."
"How long?" she asks, taking a seat.
"About an hour." He paces the room again.
"Join me," she suggests, patting the seat next to her on the couch.
"I- I'm not sure I can. I get so agitated right before it happens."
"Tell me about it, Remus," she says softly, rising and meeting him in the middle of the room. "Tell me what to expect when you change."
"I don't know how much I can tell you, really," he says, wrapping his arms around her. "In an hour or so, it'll hit me. It usually hits hard, and last time was no different, even with the potion. I'll suddenly be hit with pain, incredible pain, all over. I will double over in agony. Stabbing pains in my hands and feet as they transform into paws, and in my face as it lengthens into a snout. Shooting pains in my arms, legs, and back as they reconfigure. I've cast a silencing charm, so that the noise will not travel through the castle."
"Noise? Like, of bones breaking and stretching?" Her blue eyes are open wide in horror.
"Well, maybe some of that, I don't know. No, I meant vocal noises. In my human form, I will scream and curse. As I become more wolf-like, I'll likely howl, and growl, and yelp, and whine."
"Oh, my gods," she whispers. "How long does it last?"
"Thankfully, it is over very quickly. I don't really know how long it takes because by the time it's over, I am not thinking like a human anymore. But I would guess it takes less than three minutes. Maybe you could time it, for the sake of research."
"I'll try, but I'm not making any promises. I might be too frightened for you to think clearly myself!"
"Don't be frightened for me, Poppy. I've done this… I don't know, hundreds of times. Every twenty-eight days for the past twenty-eight years. It's not pleasant, I assure you, but it's survivable. It is what it is, and I am resigned to my fate."
"Oh, Remus," she sighs. "What can I do?"
"Just… stay clear during the change. I might be terrifying during the transformation, but after it's over, you should be able to approach me. If, for any reason, you begin to feel unsafe, get the hell out. Promise me."
"I promise. I'll get out, I'll seal the door behind me, and I'll get Albus and Severus. They'll know what to do."
"Excellent. Now, after the change, I might be rather boring. You could leave, if you wanted to, but I hope you'll stay. I have a lot of good books, and you may sleep in my bed if you like. I'll probably wind up sleeping on this rug, eventually."
"Wolves are nocturnal by nature. I will probably pace the room for some time, before finally settling down."
"All right. So, I should expect three minutes of sheer terror followed by several hours of boredom?"
"That's what I'm hoping for," he chuckles.
"You do know how to show a girl a good time."
"That I do," he agrees. "Er, speaking of which, there's something else I probably should mention." He fingers the hem of his shabby shirt. He decided earlier to remain clothed as long as possible, so as not to make Poppy uncomfortable, but dressed in the clothes he deemed most expendable.
"Oh?" One eyebrow rises toward her hairline.
"When I transform, I change shape dramatically. My clothes will shred off of me. I'm not sure how human I might still look when they fall away. But regardless, in the morning, I will wake up in the altogether. You… you could cover me with a blanket, once I'm asleep."
She laughs. "You DO know how to show a girl a good time! Terror, followed by boredom, followed by nudity."
"I'm not kidding, Poppy. Will you be all right? I don't want to shock you."
"Don't be ridiculous. I can just about guarantee I will be shocked tonight, but not by seeing you in your birthday suit. You don't have anything I haven't seen before."
"Fine," he says, chuckling. "You're forewarned. That's the best I can do."
"Tell me about your favorite books," she requests, leading him to the bookshelf. "Give me an idea what I might enjoy reading tonight."
They spend the rest of the hour perusing his bookshelf, Remus offering plot summaries and reviews of all of his favorites. He thinks of the characters in his novels almost as friends, and he has so much fun introducing Poppy to them that he forgets the time.
Suddenly, he arches his back and cries out. His transformation has begun. His eyes take on a wild, hunted look, and he screams a string of curses he would be embarrassed to utter in front of a woman were he in any shape to care. The pains come – shooting, stabbing, piercing pains – and he screams incoherently as his body is bent, stretched, ripped apart and reconfigured. The last thing he sees with his human eyes is Poppy, backing away from him in terror.
When he wakes, she is still there, sleeping peacefully on the couch. He rises from the floor as quietly as possible, biting back the groans as his aching muscles protest. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein lies open on Poppy's chest. He lifts it carefully, noting the page she had reached, but even this small movement wakes her.
"Remus," she says, stretching and rubbing her eyes sleepily. Then, as if suddenly remembering where she is, she sits upright. "My gods, you're in human form again!" Her eyes rake his body, and he remembers his nudity.
"I should put something on," he says hurriedly.
"Wait." She puts a hand on his arm to stop him. "You- you don't have to dress yet. You must be sore again. I brought the Ligament Liniment, and…it'll be easier for me to help you, if you're already disrobed."
"That's true," he concedes. "Would it be easier for you to work on me here on the couch, or on the bed?" He blushes again, realizing that he is not just naked, but naked and inviting Poppy to his bed.
"The bed might work better," she says, blushing as well. "I'll have an easier time getting to your whole body without the arms and back of the couch in my way."
"Then that is where we shall go," he says, moaning involuntarily as he stands, and staggering clumsily to the bed. She follows, bringing the jar of salve.
He falls, face down, onto the simple dark brown duvet, and she starts working on his feet immediately. She slowly works her way upward, taking the same care she had taken twenty-eight days earlier.
Remus attempts to make conversation. "So, how long did the transformation actually take?"
"I can't be sure," she replies, now kneading his calves. "It was as if time stopped while you made the change. I don't think I even breathed until it was over. It was…terrifying, as you had predicted, because it's such a violent transformation. But it's amazing, too. It's hard to imagine how you can go through that kind of metamorphosis – twice, actually, in one night, since you change back again at dawn – and come out the other side in one piece."
As she rubs the soothing Liniment into his gluteals, they both become silent again. He feels himself stiffening from the intimacy of the contact, but tries to ignore it.
"I'm sorry I missed the change back to your human shape," she comments, as she moves up to his low back. "It must be a gentler transition, or you'd certainly have woken me."
"It is, and I'm not entirely sure why. I suppose it's because my body resists the change to the alien form of wolf, but readily accepts the change back to its natural human form."
She smoothes the ointment across the planes of his broad shoulders, working all around his shoulder blades. He moans again, but this time in pleasure, as the relief radiates from her small hands into his deep tissues.
"That's a very interesting idea, Remus," she says thoughtfully. "If you're right, that suggests that your transitions might be less painful if you could somehow embrace the wolfish part of your nature. If you didn't hang on so fiercely to your human nature, but let the wolf come forward when it is time, perhaps…just perhaps…it might not be as violent an event."
"Embrace my wolfish nature," he repeats lazily, as she kneads his neck muscles. "That might be difficult to achieve, Poppy. I've been resentful of this curse – this dark difference between me and my fully human friends, that keeps me an outcast and makes me a target for discrimination – for longer than I can remember."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Remus, but you remind me in some ways of the monster in Frankenstein. Like you, he didn't ask to be the way he was. And he couldn't control his violent urges, though he wanted to be good. And he was lonely – terribly lonely, just as you sound sometimes."
"Maybe that's why I have always loved that book. Thank Merlin – and thank Severus too, actually – that the potion does allow me finally to control the violence."
She finishes work on his neck. "Roll over, Remus, and I'll do your arms and chest again."
"Poppy, I'm not wearing anything."
"I know. It's fine."
He rolls. His cock, half-erect, slaps heavily against his thigh.
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, then opens them and reaches for his hand. Carefully, methodically, she rubs the Ligament Liniment into all the muscles and connective tissues in his hand, wrist, and forearm. The pleasure is intense, and he feels himself harden as she works.
As she moves on to his upper arm, she makes a small noise in her throat, but her lips are pressed resolutely together. She does not want to say anything.
"Poppy," he says, as she moves to the other side of the bed and begins work on his other arm. "Poppy, look at me."
"I can't hide how I'm feeling, Poppy – how you make me feel. But please know that I will not pressure you for anything that you don't want."
"I know, Remus." She turns back to her work, massaging his palm with firm strokes of both her thumbs. "If only I knew what I wanted," she adds softly, as if speaking only to herself.
"Tell me, Poppy," he says encouragingly. "Tell me how you're feeling."
She is silent for a while, working his forearm. But when she reaches his upper arm, she sighs. "I don't know," she finally says. "I find myself confused."
"Go on. What is so confusing?"
Her small, but practiced hands squeeze and rub his aching arms as she tries to find the words she needs. "Maybe I should start at the beginning," she says.
"A reasonable plan," he agrees.
"I always felt closer to you, Remus, than to any of my other patients. You were a delightful boy, mature beyond your years, and very good company. I was proud to see you growing up and graduating, and, at the same time, sad to see you leave the school. For the past fifteen years, while you were away, I thought of you every time I saw the full moon. More than that, even – every time I saw the moon in any phase, I would relate it to you, and where you would be in your cycle. I was fond of you, we were friends, I missed you, and I wished you well."
He lifts himself onto his elbows to kiss her, but his abdominal muscles protest loudly, and he makes it only a quick peck before sinking back onto his bed.
"I missed you, too, Poppy. Every time the full moon passed, I'd wake up and wish I could be with you again. When I was a student, the days after the full moon were like a reward to me. The moon made me suffer, but I knew that at the end of the suffering, you would be there."
She spreads the salve onto his chest, and works it into his muscles. "And then you came back," she continues. "No longer a boy, but a handsome, rugged-looking man. Yet still the same Remus I knew and loved. I don't know how you stayed so gentle in nature after all the hardships you endured, but I am grateful to have your kind and loving soul back in my life. I welcomed my friend back to Hogwarts. I couldn't believe it when you hinted that you wanted something new from our relationship. It excited me, but unnerved me as well. I was worried about what other people would think if I were to date a man almost twenty years my junior. I was worried that you would lose interest in me if someone more your age came along. I was worried that you were misinterpreting your gratitude for my care, mistaking it for romantic feelings."
"And now? You say you used to be worried about those things. Do they worry you still?"
"A bit. To be honest, they do still concern me a little. Not as much as they did at first, because the more I get to know you, the more comfortable I get. You have a wonderful knack for making other people comfortable, Remus."
"So maybe you just need more time, to get more comfortable still?"
She scoops more salve from the jar, warms it in her hands, and begins to stroke it into his abdomen. This time there are no trousers to act as a boundary, and her hands move in long sweeps from his ribcage almost to his pubic hair. He shivers, and his cock stiffens more completely.
"I'm sorry," she says, blushing. "Do you want me to stop?"
"Gods, no, Poppy. That is not what I want at all. I told you, I can't help my body's reaction, but I can control myself. You needn't fear any unwelcome advances from me."
"That's the confusing part," she says, closing her eyes and stopping her strokes for a moment. "I- I can't say your advances would be unwelcome, Remus."
"No." Very deliberately and carefully, she massages the Liniment into his hipbones, avoiding his now achingly erect cock. Then downward again, massaging his quivering thighs. "You have become a truly beautiful man, Remus," she finally says. "I can't deny that I enjoy looking at you, touching you, and kissing you, and that I want more. These past weeks have dredged up feelings and sensations I haven't thought about in years."
Finally, the only parts of him left requiring the healing ointment are his shins, and she turns her attention to them dutifully. She is turned toward his feet, and he can no longer see her facial expression.
"What more do you want?" he asks softly, hardly believing what she is telling him.
"Remus, I… I don't long just to touch you, but… to be touched by you. I want to feel your strong hands on me, and your lips lighting my skin on fire. I want to feel you moving inside me."
He is able now to lift himself without pain, and he sits up, puts a hand on her shoulder, and turns her back to face him. His eyes blaze with passion. "Poppy, I want those things, too, so very much. I've been restraining myself, waiting to get a clear signal from you, not wanting to make you uncomfortable."
She kisses him, taking him by surprise. "Is that a clear enough signal for you?" she asks.
"But your concerns," he says softly. "You are still worried about things. I can't do anything about what Rosmerta or anyone else might say. But I can tell you I'm not interested in any other women, younger or older than you, and that while I am very grateful for your care as a healer, my feelings for you are much broader and deeper than gratitude. I don't expect my words to convince you, of course. If you need more time, I'll understand."
"Remus," she says. "Stop talking." She presses him back onto the bed, and unbuttons her blouse. "This is the time to forget about your twenty-seven parts gentleman, and to embrace your one part wolf."
He growls in response, deep in his throat, and helps her out of her clothing, placing kisses on her soft skin as he uncovers it.
She is a skilled lover, knowing from experience exactly how he likes to be touched, and he gives himself over to his animal instincts as he pleasures her in return. When she climaxes, and he follows seconds later, neither of them sounds remotely human.
Later, they lie sated in each other's arms.
"Good Godric, Poppy," he says, drawing her palm to his mouth and kissing it. "Can we do this every full moon? With your help, I may just be able to embrace my inner wolf after all."
She looks at him in mock horror. "You're going to make me wait another twenty-eight days?"
"Gods, no," he laughs. "I'd rather not wait even twenty-eight hours! But I did rather think…"
"Oh no," she chuckles. "Has anyone ever told you that you think too much?"
"James and Sirius used to tell me so almost daily."
"Well, go on," she says, a note of resignation in her voice. "What were you thinking this time?"
"I did rather think, seeing as how you still had some reservations about being with me, that you might only want to spend the night with me after my transformations."
"What on earth would give you that idea? Not that the terror, boredom, and nudity weren't great, but… it might be nice to spend a night with you in human form the whole way through."
"I guess I was worried that, later on, you might think better of what happened here this morning, and want to blame it on the moon."
"The moon is definitely responsible," she agrees.
"What do you mean?" Hadn't she just said she didn't want to wait another twenty-eight days? If it was just the excitement of the full moon that got her carried away, and nothing more…
"Just that if the moon didn't affect you in the way that it does, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to get to know each other so well. We probably wouldn't have become as close as we were, laying the foundation for our friendship now."
"Our friendship," he repeats, sitting up, bunching some of the duvet into his lap, and toying with the stitching along the seam.
"Yes," she says, sitting against the headboard next to him. "Our friendship. Remus, I am your friend. And for as long as we both want it, I'll be your lover."
"I love you, Poppy," he says, searching her eyes, looking for the emotion he longs to find there. "I had hoped you shared my feelings."
"I might," she says. "Give me a bit more time. I care for you deeply. I… I think, deep down, my reservations are based in my work, if you can understand that."
"Tell me," he says. He hopes his voice doesn't communicate the plea implicit in his request. He wants desperately to understand.
"As a healer in a school, it is neither appropriate nor wise for me to get too attached to the students."
"I'm not a student anymore, Poppy."
"I know, but hear me out. Love takes many forms, Remus. I have loved some of my patients – not romantically, but a form of love nonetheless – and you were chief among them. And every time I have let it happen, I wind up breaking my own heart, because… they leave. They all leave. It's the nature of working in a school – they grow up, they say goodbye, and they leave. You did it, too."
"I'm not leaving this time. I love this job, I love this school, and I love you. I'm here for as long as Dumbledore wants me to teach."
"I'm used to getting left. It's a hard habit to break, this self-protection, this necessary holding back of my heart."
"All love inevitably ends in someone leaving, Poppy. Even when it's 'until death do us part,' one almost always leaves the other behind. You never know how much time you have with someone. The best you can do is to love fully and completely while you are together."
"It feels like madness to consider opening myself to these feelings, Remus."
"Then do something mad. Something wild, something dangerous. Maybe you have an inner wolf you can embrace, as well."
She smiles, a new glint in her eye. "I like that idea," she says. "Perhaps if we reconnect with our natural impulses, we can both go a little wild."
"We can always blame it on the moon," he says, as he lowers his hungry mouth to hers again, and she winds her arms around his neck.
She growls softly in reply.
A/N: Whew! Still a one-shot, but much longer than I had anticipated. And I struggled with the ending for quite a while, but I think I'm pleased with where it wound up. I know this is an unusual pairing, but I hope you enjoyed it regardless. Please review and let me know what you thought!