Hogsmeade, December 21. 1:30, a.m.
Remus sat huddled in the Shrieking Shack, trying unsuccessfully to get warm without actually lighting a fire. The locals might just assume it was the non-existent ghosts, but if any of Greyback's people were nearby, they would know he'd come here, and they'd know why. He'd managed to avoid group transformations since August's horror, but the excuses were wearing thin. The suspicions were growing, the accusation beginning to arise: "You want to be like them."
It was all Remus could do to refrain from shouting an affirmation. He'd awoken many times with the memory of blood in his mouth, the smell of the woman they'd cut down together just a bit out of reach. In the week before a transformation--like this week--the memory of August's hunt was nearly an obsession. He'd been on the fringe of the kill himself, hanging back, a clear part of his mind watching it all from the outside, but he had participated.
Had tasted, when Fenrir had thrown the now-unidentifiable chunk of meat down on the ground in front of him.
He pulled a blanket down from the shattered bed, and a second blanket of dust exploded up from it. It didn't matter. He wrapped it around his shoulders.
It didn't help.
He took a deep breath, tried to focus on the idea of being warm, on the idea of being in a house he owned (technically, he was), on the elusive sense of being well-being that had begun to seem usual to him last year--comforts that he had taken for granted, moments of normalcy he looked at now like faded pictures in an old scrapbook. Moments of being loved and loving and...
"Stop," he muttered. Those memories were even worse than the obsessive and violent ones.
It had been all too easy to imagine a normal life last year.
He no longer had that luxury.
Downstairs, the door opened.
Footsteps in the hall. Not coming upstairs, pausing.
"Is anyone here?"
Remus's heart leapt somewhere into the region of his nasal cavity. Why was Dora Tonks here? What business would she...?
"Is anyone..." Her voice died away.
He didn't answer, and cast a charm to make himself Undetectable. Unless she came here, to this room, and saw his footsteps in the dust...
What are you doing?
The footsteps started again, coming up the stairs, creaking along the hallway. Remus saw her feet at the base of the door.
He could Apparate out, avoid the conversation--yet another version of it--not see her until she was in company again.
"I'm here," he said.
She remained behind the door. "You didn't answer when I called."
"No." He swallowed. "You are... Er, who was my favorite character in Hadria's Hope?"
"Redwald," she said, her voice wistful. "You liked him because he wanted Hadria to teach him to read. What's the name of my new Patronus?"
Remus's jaw tightened. "Moony," he said.
The door opened. She slipped in quietly, closed the door behind her, and crouched on the floor across the room from him. Her hair was still light brown, a natural color even she'd forgotten about, inherited from Andromeda and rejected early on. Her shoulders were slightly hunched, her face pale and drawn. Only her eyes seemed completely alive, searching his face.
"Why have you come?" he asked her. "I didn't know I would be here."
"I come here sometimes," she said. "I sleep here, if it's bad in my flat."
"It must be bad to want to come here."
"It's very empty."
"It's empty here, as well. Well, usually."
A faint smile. "Not really. I imagine you and Sirius and the other two here, waiting for moonrise, planning out some adventure. I hear you all laughing sometimes. I miss hearing you laugh. I miss hearing Sirius laugh."
"I hope you don't mind."
"No. Not at all. I suppose we did laugh here. It's not usually what I think of..."
"I miss hearing you talk, as well. And seeing you reading at your desk and marking papers."
She nodded. "I'm sorry. I just don't understand. You thought it could work last year."
"It was a lot easier to play let's-pretend while living on the largess of a wealthy friend who needed a bit of a hand from time to time, and having a job I could go to every day and be... human."
She looked at him steadily, blinking, and he expected her to argue with him, but in the end, she just sighed. "I suppose I should be glad that you still feel you can speak honestly with me."
"I love you. That's not the problem."
Her eyes scanned him more greedily, then she abruptly crawled across the room to him, put her cold hands on his cheeks, and kissed him. He let his hands rise up to hers, caress her wrists. He imagined her running from the pack, imagined her blood spilling onto the grass, imagined Fenrir throwing down a bloody piece of her and snarling until he...
He pushed her away gently. "We shouldn't."
She blinked a few times, nodded, stood up. "Of course not." She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Remus. I do understand what you're feeling. I just... I miss you. So very much. Just having you to talk to, even. My colleagues don't speak to me--they think I'm a traitor for being in the Order last year and hiding Sirius, even though they know he was innocent. My parents are so busy. My friends... " She shrugged. "They're a bit miffed at you, and they don't care that I'm worried about you. They won't listen to me; they just want to beat you up or some such thing."
He was surprised by a laugh. "Your friends want to fight with me?"
"My dad, too. Sorry. You know... Daddy's little girl, and you made my hair turn brown. Heaven forbid, you know. A fate worse than death." She managed a smile. "At any rate, I don't really seem to be able to talk to anyone in particular. Except for Dumbledore. I talked to him in the Hog's Head for quite awhile."
"You talked to Dumbledore about this? In the middle of everything?"
"Hmm? Oh, I wasn't going to. He just tugged my hair and said he missed the pink." She shrugged. "He wanted to know how things were between us, and apologize for having to send you off on this bloody mission and so on. He thinks you're right for this year. Greyback. I told him Greyback wasn't the only reason you were giving."
"And I didn't tell him the other reasons. Those are yours." She sat down beside him again, a warm spot in the chilly air, and his arm crept over her shoulders, seemingly of its own accord. Hers slipped around his waist. "It's funny. My friends tell me to stop twisting myself into a knot over you, and Molly keeps saying you'll 'come around,' whatever that means. But Dumbledore just says that I've chosen a good man, and I can trust you."
"Dumbledore said that? After everything I did--or neglected to do--when I was teaching?"
"He says you're a good man," she repeated. "A perfectly normal, decent, human being."
"Hey, if I can't trust Dumbledore's judgment..." She smiled and sighed at the same time, then closed her eyes and leaned against him. "Can't we just stay here?" she asked. "Forever?"
"Just sitting here in the dust and cold?"
"Mm-hmmm. Is it cold?"
"No. Not really. But we can't do this. It's not going anywhere."
"Do what?" she asked. "I'm just planning to go to sleep. If you have some other idea in your head..." She looked up with a wry grin, and, though it was difficult to see in the dim light, Remus thought a flash of pink passed along her eyebrow.
"I'm full of other ideas," he said. "But none I plan to do anything about."
She shook her head and nuzzled closer to him, perfectly trusting, even this close to the moon.
They didn't speak anymore, and after some amount of time, she drifted off to sleep. Remus carried her to the dilapidated bed and tucked the dusty covers around her. She reached for him sleepily, but he put her hand down beside her, only kissing her fingertips before letting go.
It was too cold here.
He looked out the window, scanning the landscape as far as he could. Nothing was moving in the shadows, no telltale scratching suggested that anyone was looking.
He took a chance, and closed the shutters.
He sat in the ragged chair beside the bed, Conjuring a handful of flames that he held between them, lighting and warming the room. The uneven light flickered over her face, sending lovely shadows swimming across it. In her sleep, she leaned toward the flames, and smiled.
He watched her there, caught behind the fire, for longer than he could keep track of, until the first light of dawn started to seep into the room and change her.
Then he kissed her forehead.
And Apparated out before she had a chance to wake up.