A/N: I know, I know...I shouldn't be starting another WIP while I have 2 outstanding, one of which I haven't touched in a year & a half, but I realized that both of those are heavily SBHG & I'm on an RLHG kick at the moment - plus I've had this in the works for YEARS.
Thanks for the beta, Amy! I miss you already!
Gli Amanti Immortali
Chapter One - Time
Hermione Granger found herself racing down the corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and for the first time in the six years she had attended the lauded educational institution, she hadn't a clue nor a care which direction she was going. Her feet pounded against the stones, hot tears stinging her eyes as she sped down the countless staircases and rounded corners, continuously fearful that she would meet another soul but knowing that on that night - that horrific, endless night - no one would be there to see her.
When she felt like her lungs would explode and her legs would give way from exhaustion she stopped, wiping her eyes and taking deep breaths as she collapsed against the wall. She wanted nothing more than to sob; to let out the strangled cry of unfathomable pain that was tearing her heart apart. But all she managed was a quiet whimper. In the vast expanse of the cavernous castle, that whimper echoed and bounced off the walls, managing to convey all that she felt and more.
She froze, slapping her hand over her mouth as a myriad of unfamiliar, conflicting emotions wracked her body. The calm, concerned voice of the one person she could not look at filled her with a new wave of heart-wrenching sadness. Unable to face him, she bolted into the closest room she could find, shutting the door as quietly as she could before falling against it, eyes awash with new tears.
It was not like her, running and hiding like a coward or a common criminal. She had always been the steady, stoic one - terse, even, if the situation called for it. But she knew, as blindingly clear as if it had been one of those dreadfully accurate prophecies, that if she had stayed one minute longer; if she hadn't escaped to the gloomy halls and spidery byways of the castle; then she would have most certainly said and done something from which there would be no return.
A pop and crackle from a lit fire made her jump, opening her eyes to see whose solitude she had interrupted. The room was blissfully empty, though the merrily-lit fireside told her that it hadn't been empty for long. A quick sweep told her she was in Professor Slughorn's rooms, and she found almost amusing that the one place she had always dreaded coming to throughout the year would be her sanctuary toward the end. Pushing away from the door, she now almost relished the cozy comfort of the overstuffed cushions and the pompous shrine of former Slug Club members. Even the swirling sand of Slughorn's beloved hourglass held comfort, and she wiped her eyes as she walked over to examine it more closely.
It was a curious thing: time. The steady, ticking constancy of it. There were times when she felt like she would never have enough of it. Then there were days like that day when she could almost feel it stretched before her, empty and lonely and seemingly stolen from those who deserved it more than she.
The latch on the door clicked and she held her breath. Her time had run out.
She didn't turn to the voice in the doorway and as the door shut quietly she held on to the wild hope that she hadn't been discovered. But then she heard his footsteps drawing closer and she prepared herself for the inevitable.
"What on earth are you doing in here?"
She closed her eyes. That voice. His voice. Deep and calm and intelligent with a hint of a rasp that sent shivers down her spine. It turned her brain and body into jelly. It had always done so. But only recently had she realized what it meant. A realization that had been slowly killing her for almost two years.
"I'm sorry, Remus," she whispered, hoping her own voice didn't betray the tears that still fell freely. "I just...I ran and ended up here."
"You gave us quite a turn. Usually you're so..."
"I know," she said, her fingers caressing the glass of the silly little hourglass and finding an oddly comforting warmth to it. "Yes, I know I'm usually not one to just skip off. I'm sorry."
"Well, can't say I blame you. It's been an...emotional evening for all of us."
She turned to look at him, taking in his haggard appearance and worn, exhausted face. But his eyes - those warm, fathomless grey eyes that sparkled amber at moments of anger and excitement - his eyes never stopped being one of the loveliest things she had ever seen. Eyes that didn't show the premature aging of the rest of his body. Eyes that had a haunted quality about them but still carried the light and hope of a man who, in spite of everything, still yearned to find some good in the world.
Eyes that now gazed at her.
"I...er...I suppose there's a silver lining in all of this," she said, quickly drying her eyes as she tried to put on a brave front. "You and Tonks...congratulations."
His eyes darkened.
"There's nothing to congratulate," he said coolly. "And I'd thank you not to make assumptions."
In spite of feeling like a scolded school girl, Hermione couldn't help but feel her heart leap at the that hope his words were true.
"I try not to make assumptions on this particular subject, Remus," she replied, rather boldly. "After all, for all your arguments, you didn't deny that you feel..."
"Of course I didn't deny it! I've slept with her so I can't very well deny anything!" he snapped. Then he sighed, sitting on the back of one of the sofas. "I'm sorry, Hermione. That was wildly inappropriate of me."
"No, you're right. I shouldn't have assumed..."
"It's okay. You're a smart girl...woman, I should say. I shouldn't have snapped." He sighed again. "It's just...it's quite complicated now that she's said something in frontof people."
"I suppose seeing Fleur and Bill sparked something."
"She hasn't said anything new from the countless times we've argued about it. The problem is, now that she's expressed it in public, she's hoping I'll give some type of answer."
"Have you?" Hermione whispered.
Hermione said nothing. She felt for Tonks. Loving a man who wasn't willing or able to love her back was a fate Hermione understood all too well. It was a bitter irony that the feeling of camaraderie could never be shared openly, considering they were both in love with the same man. The difference being, of course, that Tonks had expressed her feelings quite plainly, while Hermione had suffered in silence.
Remus suddenly chuckled.
"God, what you must think of me," he said.
"Why should it matter what I think of you?"
He gave a small smile.
"It's always mattered. You kept my secret for almost a year. You've always been exceptionally kind, even when I haven't really given you a reason. You're incredibly bright, which makes it a delight talking to you. I respect you."
"I respect you too, Remus. It can't be easy, living in a world where no one understands just what you go through. I just...I just want you to be happy."
"But why?" he pressed. "Why would you still wish that for me when you knowwhat I've done, seenwhat I am? Jesus, Hermione, I had sex with Tonks and led her on and you still look at me as if...as if I'm still a human being and not this monster..."
"If anything, Remus, I think you're more human for...for sleeping with Tonks," she said softly, the last words bitter pills as she said them. "We all crave human contact. It's a basic instinct."
There was a moment of silence as he looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. She held her breath. He was so close, so vulnerable, so tortured. She just wanted to make him smile again, to repair whatever had taken that smile away. And if that meant pushing him back into another woman's arms...well...she would always know he was happy about it. And that was all that mattered.
"When did you get so wise?" he asked finally.
She gave a short laugh.
"Oh, not so wise. I just...I know you. Not well, or anything, but I can see your pain." She chuckled again. "You have a terrible poker face."
"Sirius and James used to say the same thing. Usually after they had won a few sickles off me playing a hand or two." He inhaled deeply, running his hand over his face. "They would know what to do in this situation, wouldn't they?"
"I'm sure Sirius would probably tell you to stop sulking and go be with the woman who loves you," Hermione half-joked, wishing he knew he could choose between the one upstairs and the one in front of him.
He looked up at her.
"And if I don't love her back? What then?"
Hermione swallowed. His eyes were pleading with her to give him the answers. But for the first time, she didn't have any to give.
"I don't know, Remus," she replied softly. "You have to decide how you feel."
Their eyes met, locked and searching; she for anything that would quash her hopeless dreams of a future with him and he for a way to decide his future himself.
"Why do I get the feeling that no matter what I decide, you'll still be here for me?" he asked finally.
"Be...because we're friends," she stuttered. "Aren't we?"
"It's more than that. We don't know each other very well but...you can read me. And what you see seems to be a better man than I am. Why?"
Hermione opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. She had the overwhelming desire to flee again, but she knew he would just follow. She gripped the desk behind her to steady her resolve and in doing so, bumped the hourglass. It tipped precariously and would have fallen had Remus and his lightening-quick reflexes not darted over to catch it.
Unfortunately, that also placed him right next to her.
"Hermione," he whispered softly as she looked away, determined not to ruin whatever their relationship was by opening her mouth and saying what her heart was screaming for her to say.
"Hermione," he said a little more forcefully, turning her head to face him. "Why do I get the feeling you're hiding something from me?"
She looked into his eyes and knew all at once what she was about to say, and what it would mean.
"You're not going to like my answer, Remus, so please don't ask," she begged in one last, futile attempt to keep the status quo, however painful it may be.
"Tell me," he said.
She closed her eyes.
"I see the man I want you to be because...because I want you to love yourself the way I love you," she breathed.
She didn't speak. She didn't even dare to breathe. She waited, and waited, and waited. And when the silence became too much, she opened her eyes again. He was staring at her and for the first time in a very long time, his eyes were completely unreadable.
"You...love me?" he finally asked.
"I told you not to ask me," she said, hurrying to fill the space between them as she felt tears coming to her eyes again, preparing herself for the inevitable rejection. "You couldn't bear hearing it from Tonks so I can only imagine..."
"You're different," he interrupted. "For one thing, we haven't slept together and for another, I know you well enough to know that you're not frivolous with your emotions."
"I'd hardly consider Tonks frivolous with her emotions..."
"Why do you do that?" he asked suddenly. "You're pushing me to her. How can you do that when you...when you feel the way you do?"
She frowned, realizing that he had not, in fact, summarily rejected her the way she thought he would.
"I'm being realistic, Remus," she said cautiously, not daring to hope that all of her silent suffering could possibly have been returned in equal silent suffering. "Why aren't you arguing with me the way you did with her?"
"Because you're not her."
"Honestly, Hermione...I don't know how to feel about all this. You're young enough to be my daughter and yet you're so wise and mature...this isn't easy for me to handle."
"Really? Because it was a real picnic for me to say it," she replied sarcastically. "Look, just say what you need to say in this situation. You're too old, you're a werewolf, you don't have money...just say it."
He looked into her eyes.
"Do you want me to say that?"
She felt her breath hitch in her throat and as she blinked, she could have sworn that he was closer than he had been before she had said anything.
"I'm not saying there aren't obstacles but...I don't know."
"If you don't know, just go to Tonks and be with her so I can move past this."
He looked at her and shook his head.
"I don't want Tonks. And I know I shouldn't want you. But..."
Hermione's heart stopped.
"'But?'" she repeated.
He let out a breath, looking down at the hourglass still clutched in his hands.
"Merlin, what I wouldn't give to have the twenty years between us disappear," he said softly.
She looked into the swirling sand, tears starting to fall yet again.
They looked at each other, both unaware that the sand inside the hourglass was starting to swirl faster, spinning within the glass. Sparks of gold jumped and stirred and before either of them could react, the glass shattered, releasing a blinding golden light.
Then all went dark.
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