She drifted awake slowly . . . still in the grip of the dreamed feel of teeth raking her throat. Still aware of her body shuddering at his hands moving over her skin.
Hermione bolted upright in her bed, breathing heavily as she snapped fully into consciousness.
Swallowing hard, she pressed a hand to her forehead. Her skin was slick with sweat . . . and it wasn't cold sweat, either. Damn, not again. She shifted beneath the covers only to cringe. Yes, she thought with mild exasperation, there it was again. Her knickers were damp.
"Bloody hell . . . ."
Throwing back her blankets, she climbed out of bed and padded quietly to the en-suite bathroom of the room Harry'd lent her at 12 Grimmauld Place while all the tedium that came with the end of a war was sorted by official means. It was still the middle of the night, and she did not want to wake Harry or Ron, what with their constant fussing over her as it was. She didn't know exactly why she'd lost it the way she had when she'd seen Remus' body, she simply . . . .
Shaking her head at herself, she switched on the faucet to splash some cold water on her face. But that was not the worst of it, of course—losing her friend was terrible, absolutely—the worst of it were the dreams.
The ones that had plagued her since her encounter with Fenrir Greyback in Malfoy Manor. She hated him. Feared him. Wanted to run from anywhere he might be as fast and as far as her legs could carry her. She heard his voice in her ear so many times, that rumbling growl that edged his words as he'd talked about wanting to take bites of her.
He was monster, and yet . . . .
Bracing her palms on the edge of the sink, she bowed her head. She couldn't even meet the gaze of her own reflection in these moments. Ever since that day, she'd been plagued by the most shamefully sinful dreams of that deplorable creature. In her waking hours, she loathed the very thought of him.
But in her sleep, she responded to his touch. She adored the feel of him gripping her tight and dragging her away to do with her as he liked. So many images flashed through her mind then, like a map of these woefully inappropriate dreams.
His hand cupping roughly between her legs as he pulled her back against him . . . . Him stripping every stitch of fabric from her body before throwing her down on the staircase and sinking into her. That one when he'd dropped to his knees in front of her, parting her thighs to bury his mouth against her.
The way she begged for more without a word, in pleading whimpers and ecstatic, screaming moans.
"Dammit, Hermione," she said in a hissing whisper, shaking her head once more. "He's a vile beast, what the hell is wrong with you?"
A knock at her door roused her from her thoughts. Her shoulders slumping, she dried her face and went back through her room. What could be wrong at this time of night?
"Hermione, open up."
She rushed the last few steps at the sound of panic in Harry's voice. Pulling open the door, she met his wide, exhausted but startled green eyes. "Harry, what's—?"
"Get dressed, Kingsley and Arthur need our help, now."
"Dammit, Harry! Tell me what's—"
Her heart shuddered at the mention. "Remus?"
"His body's missing."
With that, her heart plummeted into her stomach. Nodding numbly, uncertain just what she felt at those words, she closed the door, rushing to change her clothes with quick, mechanical movements.
Charms had been used to preserve the battlefield at Hogwarts, and the bodies of the fallen, since there had been so much mayhem and destruction, that tending to everything was proving a long, arduous task, even with volunteers and the full force of what was left of the Ministry. When the three arrived at the castle grounds, none of them expected the place to look nearly exactly as it had when Voldemort had fallen.
Though it was dark, the area was illuminated by magic. Hermione didn't wait for the new Minister—in all but official title, yet—and Ron's father to cross the war-torn courtyard toward them. She could hear Ron and Harry calling her name as she made a beeline for where she'd recalled Remus' body being.
Those working with the scene had the decency to cover the fallen, that was something she supposed, though it was decidedly morbid to have to keep the place intact in this moment of sorrow and ruin for days on end. There, Tonks' shrouded form was exactly where it had been. But Remus?
Hermione swallowed hard, feeling her throat tighten as she walked passed the other witch's body and saw Remus' shroud . . . cast aside. Had someone pulled it off? Had he been affected by some spell that had put him into a near-death state, and he'd come to and thrown it off, himself?
No, no. It made no sense that such a thing could happen if he hadn't reached out to anyone to let them know he'd survived.
Harry and Ron exchanged a troubled look with the elder wizards as they all crossed the courtyard to stand with her. They could tell by her expression, by the way her gaze was touching upon everything in the vicinity, that she was processing the possibilities of what might've gone on here.
And she wished their concern was only that she might make some observation that they didn't want to hear, but she knew that after her outburst just days ago on this very same spot, they were concerned she'd have another meltdown.
She couldn't fathom how such a response would be possible this time with even the notion that he could be alive.
"Hermione?" Arthur Weasley started in that gentle-dad voice he affected so easily. "Do you notice anything?"
"Nothing you probably haven't already realized, I'm sure," she said with a shrug and a shake of her head. "He was taken, or got up and walked away."
Kingsley ran a hand down his face. They wanted to keep this quiet until they knew where the hell the body'd gotten to, and Merlin knew that meant hoping she—with that blistering intellect of hers—might be able to confirm one or the other for them. "Here's the problem. There's perimeter markers to let us know if anyone enters this scene. We can't exactly have wands and artifacts turning up missing at the hands of scavengers, now can we? No one entered the battlefield since the volunteers and Ministry workers left at sundown. But they did detect someone leaving the area. That was what alerted us."
"So . . . Remus isn't dead, or someone used some sort of enchantment to cover themselves as they stole the body?" Ron asked, his expression just this side of horrified.
Harry was trying hard to contain himself. He wasn't certain if he should be happy that Remus might be alive, or furious someone would do this to the man. Hermione couldn't say she didn't understand.
But for all their sakes, someone had to look at this logically. And the only way to keep herself from getting happy or angry without evidence to support either feeling was to pursue that logical path.
"What about the werewolves who fought for the Dark?"
Kingsley and Arthur shared a glance before returning their attention to her. "We haven't checked them recently. You think this is part of some larger . . . scheme?" Mr. Weasely asked, looking incredibly like Ron just now as he made exactly the same face as his son had.
"Well, there are some Dark spells and magics that call for all manner of morbid things. Body parts, vampire saliva, who knows. What if someone needs a werewolf's corpse for something . . . nefarious?"
Harry scowled, shaking his head. "Gee, I don't imagine someone needing a corpse—werewolf or otherwise—for a non-nefarious purpose, Hermione."
She narrowed her eyes and met his gaze, answering with a headshake of her own. "Well, that would sort of be my point. We can't dismiss the possibility that Remus seeming to get up and leave the scene on his own might be someone simply . . . dragging his body across the perimeter with magic. I hope he's somehow alive, too, but until we know more, it's . . . it's wisest for all of us to operate under the assumption that someone took him."
"That is the wisest, yes," Kingsley agreed with a nod. "However, the best way to handle this is to pursue both avenues. Arthur and I will handle investigating this as theft of a corpse. You, Harry, and Ron have my authority to investigate this as a missing persons case."
The Golden Trio exchanged a look before all speaking in unison. "You're sure?"
His eyebrows shooting up, the Minister nodded. "One of the most helpful things in finding information in a situation like this is a familiarity with the missing party. At this moment, the only living people who knew Remus that well are all standing right here. That aside, you're not children anymore, and your efforts leading up to, and during, the Second War have more than earned you my trust in your ability to handle this."
"Of course," Hermione said, painfully aware that she was speaking for the three of them, just then. She looked to Harry and Ron before nodding. "We'll start right away."
"Bugger," Ron murmured under his breath as they turned as one and started back across the courtyard. "There goes any sleep for the next few days."
Hermione grabbed Harry's shoulder by instinct, stopping him from turning and having a go at Ron for being his usual Ron-self. She knew ginger-haired wizard was only trying to bring levity to the situation, and not actually being selfish, and she knew, too—or hoped, at least—that in a moment, when Harry'd decided what he was really feeling about all this, he'd realize it, too.
Fenrir was on pins and needles. For days he'd eluded capture, easily. But now? Now someone was very clearly dogging his tracks—canine pun unintended.
He should've known hiding out in Knockturn Alley, abandoned as it was from the moment the War ended, was going to bite him on the arse. But, really, he'd thought a setting like this was the last place anyone would look for a werewolf hiding out, that was why he hadn't retreated to the tranquil comfort of a forest, instead.
He had no idea who might've followed him here . . . until a few moments ago. Then he'd caught a familiar scent.
Ducking into an open storefront, he waited.
Fenrir found himself impressed this one had managed to follow him, as it could've only been by scent. It was more than he'd have given him credit for, previously, being that he was raised by a vehement hater of werewolves who'd probably been the one who taught him to hate himself.
The moment the other werewolf's shadow came into view, Fenrir lunged from his hiding place. Claws out, his fanged jaw gaping in a murderous expression, he latched his fingers around his stalker's throat and smashed him backward into the nearest wall.
No sooner had he paused, deliberately and in mid-attack, than did he feel the point of a wand pressing into his side, just beneath his ribs. That was only further proof of the injustice Lyall Lupin had done his own son—the man before him thought more like a wizard than a wolf.
But something had changed. As Remus Lupin glared him, Fenrir found amber eyes blinking back at him. Eyes much more like his own, now.
And yet, Remus didn't strike him down. He was being given the opportunity, but he wasn't taking it.
Curious as to his purpose here—and wasn't this pup supposed to be dead, now that Fenrir thought on it?—he backed up just enough to ease the press of the weapon against his side. "What are you doing here, little Lupin?"
"Did my father lie?"
Sputtering out a surprised chuckle, Fenrir actually dropped his hold on Remus and backpedaled a step. "Oh! Oh, you're funny! That question could be about somany things!"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about!"
"Do I?" Fenrir growled under his breath. "Half the Wars' slogans were based on things that man said!"
Remus' features pinched in anger, those newly-amber eyes flaring with his simmering rage. "Don't toy with me, Greyback!" He lifted his wand, aiming it square between Fenrir's eyes. "The night I was bitten! Did he lie about how it happened?"
"Of course he did," Fenrir snapped.
"No, that can't be true."
Fenrir's wickedly arched brows shot up. "He was one of the 'good guys,' remember?"
Now a father himself, Remus couldn't stomach the thought. "That means nothing in this!"
"Doesn't it?" Uttering an angry chuckle, Fenrir bared his teeth as he said, "How else was he to explain that he used his own son as a shield?!"
Feeling as though he'd been punched in the gut—yes, yes, that was exactly the terrible revelation in his own father's handwriting on the crumpled pages in his pocket, but he couldn't bring himself to believe it.
"I don't—I don't believe you," Remus said, his voice trembling.
Shaking his head, Fenrir sighed, forcing his anger to subside. "Yes, you do. Otherwise, you'd have done something with that wand besides wave it at me."
Remus felt the wind rush out of his lungs as though he'd been struck. His own father, his father . . . such a . . . .
"That bloody coward," he said, a glittering sheen filling his eyes as his wandarm fell lifeless to his side.
Fenrir stepped back a moment, nodding as he watched the other man's bereft expression. For what seemed minutes, Remus' gaze darted about, but he clearly wasn't able to register a single thing upon which his attention landed.
When he clamped his hand over Remus' shoulder, he wasn't at all surprised that Remus nearly jumped out of his skin. "You could use a drink, I think. Now that you're willing to listen, we've got a shitload to talk about, pup."
Remus looked up, miserably meeting Fenrir's gaze, his logic winning out even in a crushing moment like this. "You can hardly go into the Leaky Cauldron and sit down for a pint, now can you?"
Once more clapping the other werewolf on his shoulder, Fenrir wagged the forefinger of his free hand in Remus' face. "Now you just wait right here and leave that to me."
Hermione, Harry, and Ron had stopped into Diagon Alley on their way to check in with Andromeda. There was every chance Remus had gone straight to the Tonks house to see Teddy. As she stepped from the Leaky Cauldron—just a moment, a quick stop off for a bite to eat, as it was the only place open at this hour—she could swear she spotted Fenrir from the corner of her eye.
In a terrible flash, those damned dreams shot through her mind. Swallowing hard, she gave herself a shake and snapped her eyes shut. That was just her imagination, she reprimanded herself, willing her body to calm, despite how the memories sent a sweet, heated curl through her.
"Hermione, you okay?"
Looking up at Ron's question, she nodded. "Yes, sorry. I think I'm just tired. Maybe we should pop back in real quick for some coffees, yeah?"
In that moment, Harry and Ron both appeared to think this was the most amazing idea they'd ever heard. Nodding, they all trooped back inside, though Hermione could not help casting a quick glance over her shoulder—back to the spot where she was so sure she'd seen him—as she went.
He watched her disappear back into the establishment with her little friends. She'd seen him, he knew she had. But that wasn't the interesting part, no.
The interesting part was the scent that had wound off of her just then. An inviting smell—one of arousal, for certain—before she made that obvious effort to get ahold of herself. And it had only happened a heartbeat after her gaze had skittered over him.
He made no attempt to stifle the wicked grin curving his lips. "Looks like someone's missed me," he said, sinking his teeth into his lower lip as he turned and started back down Knockturn Alley, wondering if he could somehow plan for them to cross paths again, sometime soon.
The werewolves sat in the basement of one of Knockturn Alley's closed down shops. The place was hardly spectacular accommodations, but one of them really had nowhere else to go, the other couldn't return to the life that awaited him until he had answers.
Fenrir swallowed back another mouthful of perhaps too-perfectly aged Fire Whiskey as he simply watched Remus.
"So, we've a deal? A story for a story? I tell you what really happened, you tell me how the fuck you're alive?" And maybe share a bit about that sweet little witch, but for now, Fenrir would settle for one mystery solved.
Closing his eyes as he exhaled slow, trying to keep himself together, Remus nodded. Ever since he'd come to in the silent stillness of the battlefield a few hours earlier, he'd felt like an exposed nerve. It made the discovery of his father's secret—something he'd been repressing for weeks, now—leap to the front of his mind, demanding his attention.
"Your dad's story is right in parts," Fenrir began with a sideways tilt of his head. "We first met when I was picked up on suspicion of being the werewolf who was attacking Muggles, along with a bunch of other werewolves. Your dad, who fancied himself an expert on lycanthropy, was convinced it was me. He was made to leave, but not before looking me square in the eye and telling me all werewolves were soulless, that we were evil and deserved nothing less than death. I think he just didn't like the look of me, to be honest, but those words stung. They cleared me, and were letting me go."
Remus ignored how much hearing what his father had said to Fenrir hurt. He's always been told his father had loved him, but as he'd grown older, as he looked back on his childhood through an adult's eyes, he began to suspect Lyall's fatherly devotion toward him was exactly that—simply what he was told, like so many other things.
"The story goes that you were being released when you and the other werewolves overpowered the wizards escorting you out, and fled," he ventured, grabbing the bottle Fenrir was offering by the neck and taking a long swig.
"That did happen." Fenrir shook his head. "But it was only because they were going to memory charm us, and I wanted to remember your father's face. The man didn't know me from a bloody hole in the wall, but he decided that I—and everyone who shared my affliction—deserved to die. Can you imagine? People who are infected with a curse and shunned for it as though it's their own fault, being told they don't even deserve to live? He became the reason I hate normal wizards. You became the reason I believed those who are bitten young should be raised away from normal wizards . . . away from men like Lyall Lupin."
Remus took another drink at that.
Fenrir threw up his hands. "I know! You were told I choose to bite them young. That I prefer it, that I do it intentionally with hopes to raise them away from normal wizards and teach the pups to hate them." At the way Remus' brows shot up, Fenrir scowled. "I've kept up on what's said about me. I'm 'savage,' not stupid."
"Go on, then." Though it seemed a reluctant movement, Remus handed back the bottle.
"All right, so you get that what I actually felt and what I said was taken and twisted—exaggerated—to fit the needs of a campaign against werewolves by the Ministry."
Remus' narrow features pinched in a mildly fuzzy look of disbelief. "But you served Voldemort."
Fenrir rolled his eyes so hard his lids fluttered. "That was nothing more than a business arrangement. I went to him for protection. In exchange, I had to do what he said. I just wanted to be left the fuck alone, but the Ministry didn't want to let that happen. Anyway, I got it in my head that I wanted to set your father straight . . . wanted to rip his head off and set it on a pike was more like it, but I thought I'd figure it out how far I'd take things when I got there."
"Is anything he said about that night true?"
At the hurt in the other werewolf's strained tone, Fenrir's eyes narrowed. He'd been correct all along, Lyall Lupin was a complete and utter shit. "I didn't break in through the bloody window. I showed up on the doorstep and knocked. Like an actual person. I suppose, though, that didn't fit the mold of a 'savage monster' enough for his liking. And oh, yes, I bit you . . . but I certainly didn't go there with the intention to bite you."
Remus thought he'd have fallen down on the spot at that, were he not already sitting down. "You meant to . . . to . . . ." He could scarcely believe the words.
Taking another drink, Fenrir nodded. "I meant to turn your father into the thing he so hated. To make him live as what he condemned."
Lowering his gaze, Remus thought for a few strained heartbeats on whether or not he wanted to ask the next logical question. Of course, he knew he had to—that was the very reason he was here. He couldn't bear to face any of his friends who'd survived the War with this secret hanging over him.
He needed the truth confirmed, even if no one else would believe it.
"Then how did you manage to bite me, instead?"
Fenrir blew out a breath from between pursed lips and sat back. "There was a fight. You, brave little snot you were, tried to get in the middle. And, rather than pushing you out of the way, Lyall . . . pulled you in front of him. It all happened so fast, my bite that was meant for him caught you, instead. I knew the moment it happened there was no way out for me. He was the good guy by nature of his position, and I, some scraggly werewolf. So I ran.
"Next thing I know, there's this story making the rounds about how I broke in through your window while you slept and bit you to get back at him. That he came in and 'fought me off', but it was too late. But now, you see how the reality of the situation was bent to fit his needs? He came out the dutiful father defending his son, while the incident 'served to prove' that I must've been behind the Muggle attacks. And the stories about me, about my so-called savagery only grew from there."
"What about the Montgomery boy?"
Fenrir made an ugly scoffing sound. "Never laid a finger on that boy when the Death Eaters went after his mum." At Remus' incredulous look, he shrugged. "Fine, claw, fang, whatever. The point is I didn't kill that witch's son. That boy died because he was ill, it was just bad timing. Well, bad for me, anyway. And while we're at it, I'm not a fucking cannibal, either."
"So I'm just supposed to believe everything said about you has been a lie? You don't think that's a bit of a stretch?"
Shaking his finger in the air, Fenrir frowned. "Not everything, and not lies, warped and exaggerated versions of real events. Very wide margin, there."
"So there is something that's true?"
With a sigh, Fenrir knocked back a long swig of the whiskey. "Tales about me . . . trying to build an army might not be too far from the truth."
"For fuck's sake, Greyback."
"I wasn't trying to build an army! You'll never understand," Fenrir said, shaking his head as he gritted his teeth. "You're too domesticated to understand what I was trying to do."
Remus pointedly locked his newly amber eyes on the other wolf. "I'd say something's changed in me recently, wouldn't you? Try me."
Another sigh rumbled out of Fenrir as he winced, wondering how this would sound, after all. "Fine. One of the things that's never been a lie about me is that I'm more wolf-than-man than any wizard who was ever bitten. To that end, I was trying to live like a wolf. I was trying to—"
"You were trying to build a pack."
Nodding in agreement with Remus' awed voice, Fenrir scratched at his chin through the bristle of his beard. "Yep. But, of course, every time I bit someone who survived the transformation, they wanted fuck all to do with me and went off on their own. So then, I'd be onto the next. The only reason we seemed like something as cohesive as an army was because we knew that with Voldemort, we had a chance to not all be locked up just for existing. You got special treatment in that regard."
"For all the good it did me," Remus said in a sour tone, propping his elbows on his thighs and dropping his head into his hands.
He had no reason to disbelieve a word Fenrir had said just now. Why? Because Fenrir had nothing to gain from lying to him. If it was something so simple as not wanting to be jailed, Fenrir could kill him and go on about his business, or could flee the moment Remus Apparated away to alert the new Ministry and be long gone by the time authorities returned.
He'd spent so much time hating this man. Now? Knowing how much of that anger had been misplaced? Remus wasn't sure how to feel about that, or what to do with that excess of rage he was so accustomed to keeping tempered in the back of his mind at every waking moment.
No one had any idea how angry he was on a day-to-day basis. He sometimes thought the effort to hide that, alone, was what kept him so damn weary all the time.
"Now, what happened to you?"
Remus lifted his head, meeting Fenrir's expectant gaze. "Strangely? I've no idea."
Fenrir's shoulders slumped. "Well, that's disappointing."
Holding up one hand in a placating gesture, Remus sighed. "No, no. I recall being struck down, I remember feeling myself die. Just, I knew that was it, I knew the battle had ended me. And I was furious. I wanted to live. I wanted to find the truth behind this." He spared a moment to fish the torn pages from his father's journal from his pocket and toss them on ground at Fenrir's feet. The other werewolf merely arched a brow at the gesture. "But I knew in that moment, I was going to my grave without an answer. I died enraged."
"And yet, here you sit."
"Your guess is as good as mine as to how the bloody hell that happened."
Fenrir frowned in thought, stroking his beard idly as Remus snatched the bottle from his hand and polished off the last of the Fire Whiskey. "Maybe, now, bear with me on this, maybe it's because of what you are. I mean, your eyes, alone, are enough reason to think something in our affliction pulled you through."
Remus pinched tiredly between his brows as he squeezed his eyes shut. "Surprisingly, that hadn't occurred to me. It's been a hell of a few hours, and it seemed all I could think about when I awoke was the very same thing I'd been so furious over when I'd gone."
"Well, let's trace it back. Who cast the fatal charm?"
Sitting back, Remus folded his arms across his chest. His mouth pulled to one side as he considered the other man. "Why are you so interested in this?'
"Mate? You pulled your own arse back from the dead. Seeing as the only thing we have in common is our affliction, I'd like to know as much as there is to know."
"Worried for your own mortality?"
Fenrir snickered and nodded. "Always."
Closing his eyes for a quiet moment, Remus thought back on that terrible moment. He knew perfectly well who'd felled him. He'd seen his face, he'd watched that flash of purple flame cut through the air toward him, too quick to defend against.
Fenrir shook his head as he emitted a low whistling sound. "Then it's got to be due to what we are. No one's ever survived a direct hit from that curse of his, but I don't recall him ever using it on one of us, before."
The younger werewolf chewed at his lower lip as he considered that. "No, no, that's not true. Hermione survived it. I mean, she needed a veritable concoction of daily medicinal potions in the days that followed, but she pulled through on her own, initially."
Fenrir's brows had drawn upward as Remus talked. "Hermione?" He smirked. Now they were getting somewhere, and without any effort on his part. "Granger? The Mudblood girl Potter's always hanging all over?"
He knew it was his newly sharpened instincts that alerted him to it, but Remus could tell Fenrir's curiosity was piqued by this information about Hermione, in a way that was by no means innocent. And he did not like that one little bit.
"The word you're looking for is Muggleborn, Greyback. And what do you care?"
"I don't care," Fenrir said, a smirk curving his lips. Was that a hint of jealousy edging Remus' scent, just now? Oh, this just got more and more intriguing, didn't it? "I just have a . . . we'll call it a vested interested in her."
Remus could feel that now-so-familiar anger sparking through him as he fixed the other werewolf with a glare. "What sort of vested interest?"
Tipping his head back in a defiant look as he held Remus' fuming gaze, Fenrir uttered a rich chuckle as he answered, "The sort that ends with me shagging her pretty little brains out, over and over again."
Remus didn't know what came over him, only aware that he was launching himself at the other werewolf after he'd already started moving.
To say Andromeda was surprised to find the Golden Trio on her doorstep first thing in the morning was a dramatic understatement. She did not take it as a pleasant surprise, either. She'd, honestly, not seen very much of anyone since receiving the terrible news. After the recent losses she'd suffered, the last thing she thought she could manage was hearing another crushing revelation.
She nearly expected it when the younger witch broke from of her companions and rushed through the open doorway to hug her. But, what she'd not expected, was what they asked her after they were settled in the sunroom with tea and nibbles served—she might be grieving, and a blood-traitor, but she was still a dutiful hostess.
With trembling fingers, she set her cup down against its saucer as she blinked a few times in rapid succession. "I . . . Remus is . . . missing? I'm not certain I understand."
Harry cleared his throat awkwardly. "Well, we really don't understand, either. That's actually why we're here. We'd thought, well, we'd thought that the first place he'd come would be here, to see Teddy."
As though on cue, the child in question started kicked up a fuss from his nursery. His grandmother offered a small, sad smile. "You'd think he knew you were talking about him," she said as she started to rise from her seat.
"Oh, um, no, no. We've put you through an imposition, already, popping up unannounced like this. May I?" Hermione asked, shocked at herself for the offer. Other than a few younger cousins, she didn't have very much experience with children, though she supposed she was overwhelmed by sympathy for Andromeda's current situation.
Harry and Ron both looked at her with their brows high on their foreheads. She didn't bother so much as glancing in their direction, or her conviction to help out with something with which she wasn't familiar might wane.
Andromeda smiled and nodded. "Of course. First room on the right upstairs."
With a nod of her own in response, Hermione rose from her seat and started out of the room.
As she went, she could hear the conversation continuing behind her. Harry and Ron went on to inform Andromeda of precisely what had happened and what information they did have—which was barely anything at all, yet.
Hermione wound through the house and made her way up the staircase. She was perfectly aware she might have ulterior motives for not wanting to be in the room as they discussed the Remus situation. It was just a little too painful for her—in a strange and acute way—to be down there discussing the possibility that Remus was still alive. That there were no answers gave her a terrible hope that he was out there, somewhere, and she hated that. Hated it, because she knew that there was also the potential of feeling like she'd lost him all over again if he really was dead.
She paused at the second floor landing and shook her head. At least this all served to successfully distract her from that moment she thought she'd glimpsed Fenrir Greyback in Diagon Alley barely a few hours ago.
Dammit, Hermione . . . she thought with another shake of her head as she turned and walked into the nursery.
The sight of the bassinet nearly made her halt, again. Tonks would never again get to stand where she stood. And Remus . . . well, no point in wallowing in what-if's, she told herself as she crossed the room.
There, in a swaddle of perfect blue and white fuzziness was Teddy, complaining his little heart out as he stared up at her. She thought he had Remus's nose, but that was definitely his mother's chin.
"Oh, listen to you," she said in a cooing tone as she slid her hands carefully beneath the baby to lift him from the bassinet. Holding the warm bundle of him against her, she cradled the back of his head with delicate fingers and started rocking him. "It's okay, Teddy."
The young witch was a bit shocked at how abruptly the infant settled down once she had a rhythm going—she had no true basis for comparison on whether or not that was to be expected. Smiling, she pulled him away just enough to peer into his sweet little face. "This is the first time we're meeting, isn't it? I suppose you can think of me as your Aunt Hermione. 'S going to be a long while before you can say all those syllables correctly, I suspect."
Teddy uttered a sound that was somewhere between a giggle and a hiccup. He was smiling, now, so she supposed it might just be gas . . . .
"Oh, you are a charmer, aren't you?" she asked, opting to focus on his glorious toothless grin.
Andromeda's voice startled Hermione so bad she was surprised she didn't drop poor Teddy. In fact, she'd moved protectively, instead, cradling the child more closely against her as she whirled on her heel to face the door. Bloody hell—she'd never shown an ounce of maternal instincts with her young cousins, so what was different, now?
In the doorway, the older woman stood with a very surprised looking Harry and Ron at either shoulder.
"You really startled me," Hermione said with a laugh, unaware that she'd gone right back to rocking in place to keep Teddy calm. "What are you all doing up here?"
Ron and Harry exchanged a glance before Ron shrugged. "Well, we figured since he's not here, we'll go on to the next place he might be likely to show."
"Grimmauld Place?" She nodded, the words tumbling from her lips with barely a thought—it made sense. Unofficial Order headquarters, and all, and Remus might not know the location had been compromised during the War, or he might and have figured that wasn't an issue any longer, what with the War being over.
God, why was everything so bloody confusing?
Harry's brows shot up, though by now he was more surprised at himself for not expecting Hermione to be a step ahead than he ever was about her being ahead of them. "Yeah. We thought, though, one of us should stay here. You know, in case he does show up."
"And you thought it should be me."
"Well, not at first, but, now . . . ?" Ron raised his hands in a well, here we are gesture.
Snickering mirthlessly, Hermione shook her head. "I suppose I could, but only because someone should stay with Andromeda and you two do make for terrible company when you're antsy." As they laughed, she detected a soft snuffling sound close to her ear. Looking down at Teddy's face, she saw that his eyelids had drifted downward. "And it's just as well, I suppose, as it seems Little Sir has fallen asleep on me."
Andromeda's narrow, pretty features pinched in shock while the wizards quietly scrambled into the room to drop kisses on Hermione's cheek and bid her goodbye.
"If he comes here, contact Grimmauld Place by Floo, straight away. Leave a message with Kreacher, if you have to, and we'll pop right back here," Harry said with a nod.
"You, too. If you find him, let us know immediately."
And with that, they were gone. Hermione found herself alone with the sleeping infant and his grandmother, who, she was perfectly aware, she barely knew. Awkward.
"I'm sorry," she said, biting her lip as she met the other witch's gaze. "Would you like to take him?"
Andromeda smiled gently. "No, no. He's sleeping, we should let him. I'm simply . . . I suppose I'm surprised, is all."
Hermione furrowed her brow at that. "Why?"
Folding her arms under her breasts, Andromeda shrugged. "I would say it's because the only person I've seen Teddy so comfortable with is his father. Even . . . ." She paused, sniffling. "Even gave Dora a difficult time, but never Remus."
Her brows climbing her forehead, Hermione looked at Teddy's tiny sleeping face, once more. She had no idea what to make of it that the baby responded to her the same way he responded to Remus.
Fenrir barked out a laugh as he hit the ground hard on his back, one hand braced against Remus' shoulder, his other holding him by the throat. The younger werewolf was having some serious issues controlling his primal urges, that was for certain.
"Oh, oh, oh." He shook his head, finding himself amused—strangely, he was so amused because he knew that with the state Remus was in at this moment, he should actually be fearful of what the once so-docile creature might now be capable of. "Is that jealousy I smell off you, Pup?"
Remus could barely think straight. He wasn't used to this, being this ball of seething rage. A raw nerve, ready to snap, and yet . . . hearing Fenrir say that? No, absolutely not. That couldn't be it! He couldn't be jealous over Hermione. Protectiveness, yes, yes. That was all this feeling was.
That had to be all this feeling was.
"This isn't jealousy," he said through clenched teeth, his tone thick and growling. God, his voice even sounded foreign and guttural to his own ears.
Again, Fenrir laughed—a deep, rich chuckle that he well knew would only agitate Remus' new wrathful side. "Oh, no, of course it's not. No reason for you to be so very angry at that thought of me bedding that sweet little thing, now is there?"
The sound of fury that tore out of Remus just then surprised both of them. Yet, he refused to back down. Remus shifted in Fenrir's grasp, managing to sink his claws into the other werewolf's side, even as he snapped his teeth in a threatening gesture.
Every charitable notion he'd just had toward this man who'd been so unjustly maligned all these years fell to the wayside the second he'd talked about her this way.
Fenrir cringed, letting out a hissing breath, but that didn't stop him from speaking with humor edging his tone. "C'mon, you've got to start understanding yourself a little better, now, Pup. How can you be so certain this isn't pure, unadulterated envy you feel, hmm? So furious at the thought of anyone else touching her, couldn't it be?"
"No, no, that's not . . . ." Remus' words devolved nearly entirely into rumbling growls. Hermione was his friend! And his wife was barely cold in the ground, he couldn't be feeling the way Fenrir insisted. "It's not anyone, it's just you."
Fenrir could smell the acrid twinge of regret winding the other wolf's scent, momentary and flickering. This just kept getting more and more interesting. This pup was learning some harsh lessons today, wasn't he? He'd wager Remus had no idea how to unwind himself from all the knots his emotions had him in right now.
"Oh, so you don't picture yourself in my place at all when I say I want to throw her down on her knees and grab hold of that wild hair of hers? That I'm going to sink into her and listen to her scream and beg for more?"
Remus pulled his claws free and slashed downward, again, unable to articulate his anger with words, any longer.
"Or maybe we could share her, hmm? How's that sound?" Fenrir smirked as the amber of Remus' eyes deepened, sparking and metallic in his fury. "Oh, some part of you likes the sound of that, doesn't it? Your wolf knows you better than you know yourself, Pup."
Choking out a shocked gasp, Remus looked down between their bodies. He wasn't certain when it had happened, yet at some point, Fenrir had relinquished the hold on his shoulder. Now, one hand gripped his throat, still, but the other had sneaked down, slipping inside his robes. He had not realized that he'd—impossibly, embarrassingly—grown hard during this very bizarre confrontation. That Fenrir's fingers gripped him and were stroking over him slowly.
Snapping his eyes shut, he growled. "What're you doing?"
Again, Fenrir smirked, though Remus couldn't see the expression. "Teaching you a lesson all your years of forcing yourself to be so very human never taught you about being a werewolf. Notice how your first instinct wasn't to tell me to stop?"
Remus lifted his head, wincing as he forced a gulp down his throat. Bloody hell, Fenrir was right. He'd not thought to stop him. Even now, the sliding of Fenrir's hand was sending delicious, wracking shivers through him, yet the word stop seemed nowhere in his vocabulary.
"It's because you're so very riled up, right now." Fenrir, oddly, sounded as sympathetic as he did amused. He let his gaze trace over Remus' strained features as he continued, his voice low, gravelly, and his movements steady. "You've spent your entire adult life avoiding this very thing, so you've no idea how werewolves respond to emotional outbursts of this magnitude, do you?"
His throat still clutched in Fenrir's other hand, Remus somehow managed to shake his head. "I don't . . . ." He paused, drawing in a ragged breath. "I don't know what you're saying."
Fenrir tsk'ed. "See, our kind? We get worked up all the time. 'S never a big deal . . . unless we let ourselves get too worked up. When that happens, there's only two ways to get it out of our systems. The first, of course, is to spill blood. The second, is well, is what I'm helping you with right now."
Remus sank his teeth into his lower lip and dropped his head down, his forehead pressing to Fenrir's bearded chin as he growled at himself. This wasn't supposed to be happening. None of this. He wasn't supposed to be vulnerable like this . . . . He wasn't supposed to think of Hermione in the way Fenrir talked about her . . . he wasn't supposed to feel himself on the verge of exploding because of Fenrir Greyback's fingers wrapped around his cock, for pity's sake!
Yet, here he was.
"Bet you can picture it, though, hmm? That woman on her knees in front of you, her perfect mouth wrapped around you?" Snickering, Fenrir continued talking as he quickened his pace—Remus was close, he could tell by the tremors running through him. "Just imagine it though, sharing her. Your wolf did like the sound of that, after all. Picture this, Remus. She's sucking you off, and you look down, along her body . . . there's me taking her from behind. I think she'd like it."
His voice shivering, Remus forced himself to speak, even right at the edge as he was. "I . . . I don't think she would."
"Oh, but I know something you don't, you see . . . ." Fenrir deliberately trailed off, listening to the feral sound the other werewolf uttered as he came. "I saw her when I went to get that bottle, and she saw me. Just for a moment, really, but in that moment, the scent I caught from her told quite a different story. That's a girl who wants a werewolf's head buried between her undoubtedly gorgeous thighs."
Remus threw back his head, all but screaming out as he spent himself. Somehow Fenrir's words sharpened the sensations rolling through him.
When Remus was finished, Fenrir withdrew his hand and carefully pushed the other werewolf off him. Sated and mildly exhausted from the rush of emotions and his release, Remus couldn't fight it when he toppled over onto his back, catching his breath.
Fenrir sucked at his teeth as he stared up at the darkened ceiling. He tried to make sense of it as he listened to Remus' slowly steadying inhalations. If it was only his fascination with her, he'd understand, but once-docile Remus Lupin going for his throat over her? Her response to him even after he'd deliberately frightened her that day at Malfoy Manor?
There had to be more than this, he thought, knowing there must be some reason. Remus' wolf seemed to know more about the situation than either of them. What secrets might it have about Hermione Granger?
"So . . . ." He turned his head against the floor to look at Remus, waiting until the other werewolf mimicked the movement, meeting his gaze, before he continued. "I think we should have a chat about that tasty little witch of yours."
Remus swallowed hard, aware there was something he was missing if Fenrir was being truthful about what he'd scented when he'd seen Hermione a short while ago. Something he was missing if he hadn't tried to stop himself from picturing exactly what Fenrir had told him to.
Something was there that he couldn't quite see. He didn't think there was anything unusual about his friendship with Hermione, but then he hadn't expected his curse would drag him back from the dead, either, so what the bloody hell did he know?
Fenrir had already demonstrated that he knew much more about werewolves than Remus, himself, did. Perhaps he could help sort out why this one witch appealed so to both of them.
Shaking his head, he let out a sigh. "I met her when I was invited to take the Defense Against the Dark Arts post at Hogwarts four years ago . . . ."
"He's not here," Harry said, his voice echoing in the brick and mortar enclosure of the Tonks House's fireplace. "No sign of him there, either, hmm?"
Andromeda and Hermione exchanged a glance before returning their attention to the wizard's face in the flames. "We'd have said so, don't you think?"
He nodded in reply to Hermione's question. "Yes, you're right. Sorry, I'm just . . . ."
When he didn't seem to know how to finish his sentence, Hermione sighed. "We know, Harry. We're all a little out of sorts about this."
"Right, well, Ron's going to stay here in case he does show. Are you okay with staying there and I'll go check out Remus'? I can't think of any other spot he'd return to if not one of these places."
"If he's even gone of his own volition," Andromeda tossed in with a frown. She let the 'if he's still actually alive' bit slide—none of them needed the reminder.
Hermione looked from Andromeda to the sleeping child she still cradled, and then back to Harry. "Wait, no. I should go to Remus'."
Arching a brow, he asked, "Why?"
"Well, for starters, I'm really not good with infants—evidence to the contrary aside—second, you've even said it yourself that Remus and I are alike." She shrugged, ignoring that in his slumber, Teddy'd latched onto one of her fingers and had yet to relinquish his hold. She sincerely wasn't good with infants, but Teddy clearly didn't seem to take such nonsensical grownup logic into account. "If there's any clues as to somewhere else he might've gone that we simply don't know to check, I'd be the one most likely to know where to look for them. Also . . . ."
As her voice trailed off, she turned her gaze on the other witch.
Andromeda nodded. "It's okay. If it'll help, I think he should know."
Frowning, Hermione had to force a gulp down her throat before she went on. "Andromeda was telling me something about Remus. Um, she said when she last saw him on the day he accompanied Tonks and Teddy to stay here, he seemed . . . despondent. I mean, yes, with everything going on at that time, perhaps that was only natural, but Remus was always a pensive man. She said this seemed . . . ." She winced, looking to Andromeda, again. She was uncertain quite how to explain.
"This was something different," the older woman said with a weighted sigh. "He wouldn't talk to either of us about it, but you could tell there was something troubling him, greatly. I even felt—it's terrible to say, now—I even felt that perhaps he suspected he wasn't going to come back from the War."
"Worse." Hermione had to press herself to get the words out, as her throat seemed to tighten, as though attempting to keep what she was trying to say locked inside her. "Tonks said it seemed like he maybe didn't WANT to come back. And so, if there was something that was bothering him, we need to know. And he's not the sort of person who would carelessly leave such a thing lying about. Therefore—"
"If anyone will know where to look, right," Harry said, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration. "Right. Okay. I'll come there to relieve you, and you go to his flat. I'll be there soon."
Hermione tried for a smile as they bid goodbye, but she could feel that the expression fell flat. He returned the gesture, regardless, and then was gone from the flames.
"Okay." She turned toward Andromeda. "I suppose you should take little sir, then."
Her shoulders sloping a bit, Andromeda grinned at her sleeping grandchild and crossed the floor. The witches were incredibly careful in transferring such a delicate parcel, but still, Teddy seemed to notice the difference the moment he was parted from Hermione. His tiny face creased in a silent cry, but Andromeda acted before any noise escaped, rocking the child and singing softly to him.
Hermione thought she might collapse in relief on the spot when the elder witch managed to settle him back down. As Andromeda's lilting voice melted into a sweet hum, an idea struck the other woman.
"This might be asking a bit much, and I'm so sorry if I'm overstepping, but this was the last place Tonks was before she left to join Remus at the Battle of Hogwarts. I was wondering—"
"If you could go through her things and see if there's anything there that might help?"
Her jaw dropping, Hermione averted her gaze, suddenly feeling incredibly awkward. "I know how it sounds, and I'm so sorry, but—"
"I understand, Hermione. It's fine. The room beside the nursery. I've not touched a thing."
Patting Andromeda's arm, she murmured a quick thank you and started for the staircase. As she moved, another thought occurred to her.
What if it wasn't a coincidence that she'd glimpsed Fenrir Greyback in the wee hours of that morning? She couldn't know his destination, or his purpose, but there was a strange inkling coiling through her.
What if he was searching for Remus, as well?
With a sobering shake of her head, she picked up her pace, rushing up the stairs in hopes of finding some clue amongst Tonks' things.
Remus furrowed his brow, pulling himself to sit up, finally. It nearly seemed as though he hadn't the strength to do so while he's spoken in the wake of, well, in the wake of what Fenrir had done to him. But now, as Fenrir's logic bounced about in his skull, he couldn't help himself.
"She doesn't have werewolf blood, she can't. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
Fenrir had since folded his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling, still, while he'd listened to the other wolf reminisce aloud about his history with the witch. He rolled his eyes, holding in a sigh. Would Remus Lupin's naiveté about his own kind never cease to surprise him?
"Think about this . . . when you're transformed, you know the difference between the sounds of a human and the sounds of a wolf, yeah?"
"And they sound completely different, don't they?"
Fenrir turned his head, meeting Remus' expectant gaze. "So, if you mistook the sound of her faking a howl for the cry of another werewolf—convincing enough that it lured you away from potential kill—then she must have something of the wolf in her, already. Human vocal cords can imitate us, enough to fool other humans, but they'd never actually sound like another of our kind to us."
His face falling, Remus shook his head, but he knew there was truth in Fenrir's words. "How didn't I see that?"
With a headshake of his own, Fenrir finally sat up. Resting his elbows over his knees, he shrugged. "Because you didn't want to. You said it yourself." He adopted a high-pitched tone as he said, "Oh, no, she's my friend, I'm just protective of her."
"No need for snark, Greyback." Remus frowned, shaking his head. He didn't bother mentioning that he didn't sound like that, aware it would only make the other man laugh at him.
"My point is valid, though. Now that you've thought on it, you know I'm right. And, if she went through the same thing you did with Dolohov's curse, well, considering what happened to you, maybe it strengthened whatever wolf blood's in her veins, too, when she survived it."
Climbing to his feet, Remus paced as he let that sink it. He . . . he did feel closer with Hermione after that night in the Department of Mysteries. He'd originally thought it was merely the lot of them bonding, as a whole, in the wake of losing Sirius.
But what if it wasn't? What if recovering from that only masked his connection to her strengthening all on its own?
"Would explain why I was willing to risk Bellatrix's bat-shit mad wrath to try and claim her, too," Fenrir said, a thoughtful look on his face.
Fenrir shrugged. "You have any idea how rare a female werewolf is? I could count on one hand the number I've come across in my entire life and still have fingers left over. That she's not a true werewolf, but someone with werewolf blood, would explain why she doesn't smell quite like one of us."
"Wait . . . ." Remus spun on his heel, locking his attention on Fenrir's face. "If something like Dolohov's curse could strengthen werewolf blood, what's to say enough trauma couldn't push her into actually becoming one of us?"
Fenrir shrugged again, grinning suggestively. "All the better for us, wouldn't you say?"
Baring his teeth, Remus couldn't help himself from taking a menacing step closer to the other werewolf. "Dammit, Greyback, this isn't a joke! If the potency of the wolf's blood in her increases after bodily trauma as, I dunno, some sort of defense mechanism, would it be possible?"
"I suppose. How much bodily trauma are we talking?"
Remus rolled his eyes as he thought, shifting his weight. "I don't know, exactly. But Dolohov's curse, Bellatrix torturing her, who knows what she went through during the Battle of Hogwarts. Hell, the woman was petrified by a bloody Basilisk when she was thirteen years old, from what I was told . . . . What's to say she's not on the brink of becoming a werewolf, herself, after all that?"
Fenrir frowned, darting his gaze about as he climbed to his feet. "And first full moon following War's End hasn't risen, yet, but it is only a few days away. If what we're talking about is even possible, she could very well have her first shift."
"And she'd never know it was coming. She wouldn't know to get herself away from everyone."
His broad shoulders slumping, Fenrir uttered a growl under his breath. "It'd be a slaughter, and she'd end up locked away."
"We've got to find her." Remus tamped down on a sudden rush of anger as he thought on Hermione caught, vulnerable and alone in the wake of a first shift with no understanding of how she'd changed in the first place. "Now."
"All right, Pup." His hands out in a placating gesture, Fenrir nodded. "Settle yourself and think. Where do we start?"
Hermione felt bizarre, like she was intruding when she stepped from the Floo into Remus' flat. Of course, she was intruding if he was still alive, but at least she could apologize for the disrespect when she found him. If he wasn't—she gave herself a shake as she forced a gulp down her throat—if he wasn't, then she was invading the privacy of a dead man.
"Get it together, Hermione! There might not be time for standing about like useless little lump."
Nodding to her own words, she turned in a slow circle. Despite what she'd told Harry, she had no idea where to start looking for clues.
Stepping over to a nearby bookcase, she ran her fingers along the spines of some volumes. She'd read quite a few of these, but some of the titles weren't familiar to her. Maybe when they were reunited and all the hysteria of how and why quieted down, he'd let her borrow them.
"Books," she said in a thoughtful whisper. "Remus Lupin, d'you by chance have a journal?"
But no. If he did have one—which she had no way of knowing for sure—he wouldn't keep it out here in the open. She knew when she was in her journaling phase, she'd kept hers in a drawer of the desk in her bedroom.
Oh, if she felt weird simply being in his flat without him here, entering the man's bedroom was going to be awkward. Not . . . not that she imagined being in Remus' bedroom with him. Because that wasn't what she meant, at all.
Scowling at the ridiculous direction of her own thoughts—where the bloody hell had that even come from?—she poked about, looking for which doorway was the room in question. Perhaps he didn't even have a desk in there and she was entirely off-base about that. She'd just have to pop her head through the entryway and see for certain.
Yet, as she peered into his bedroom, trying to reserve judgement on what a mess it was, she did spy a desk in one corner. Her shoulders drooped a little as she stepped inside and crossed the floor. She picked her way across strewn clothes and rumpled bedclothes. Clearly, he'd been in a hurry the last time he was here. And so much had happened the past year, he could've ducked in and made this mess in his rush to grab a few things at any point before he'd . . . .
Sighing, she pulled out his desk chair and took a seat. "I'm sorry, Remus," she said as she started opening drawers and rifling through their contents.
Bills . . . some old scrollwork left over from his teaching days . . . a few photographs of him and Sirius with the rest of 'the Marauders.' Smiling sadly, she ran her fingers over his smiling face in one of the pictures. Harry's mum was with them, and from the look of the scene, she'd been telling a joke, perhaps. Something that made them laugh while James beamed proudly with his arm around her.
She swallowed hard and set them aside. If Remus was really dead, those pictures should go to Harry.
Pulling at the handle of the last drawer on the right side, she found it locked. Her brow furrowing—none of the others had been—she pulled out her wand. With another whispered apology to her hopefully-only-missing friend, she tapped the drawer and uttered a quick Alohomora.
The witch drew a steadying breath as she put down her wand atop the desk and opened the drawer. Inside, she found a pair of aged, leather-bound books. Journals, as she suspected, but they seemed too aged to belong to Remus.
Frowning, she removed them from the drawer and flipped open the cover of the first. The name on the inside caused her to gasp. Just a small, quick sound, but still . . . .
"Lyall Lupin?" Of course it made sense that Remus might have his father's journals, but why keep them locked up? Hadn't the elder wizard's life been an—she hated herself for the pun—open book?
There was every chance this had nothing to do with his vanishing from the battlefield, but she couldn't discount it, either. And there was that damn feeling in her gut, again. Telling her she was on the right track, even if she couldn't see how, yet.
With a shake of her head, she thumbed through both books, looking initially for anything glaring that stood out. In the second, she came across a few torn out pages.
A puzzled expression colouring her features, she ran her fingertip along the ragged edges. They didn't feel like old tears. This was . . . . "Recent?" Setting down the books, she looked around.
Getting out of the chair, she rifled through the room. The desk, under the bed, the small rubbish bin tucked beneath the desk. Made more of a mess by tossing aside everything that had been on the floor. She even looked for ash residue—if there was something in this book Remus didn't want anyone to read, she couldn't think burning the pages would be out of the question.
But no. Wherever this missing information was, it wasn't here.
She opened the journal and flipped back to the section of missing pages. Lyall Lupin's life had been an open book, whatever dates were missing had to matter. Whatever events were missing had to do with Remus' disappearance, she could feel it.
Hermione almost didn't trust her eyes. The dates before and after the missing section were around the time Remus had been bitten as a child. But Remus knew the story better than anyone else, of course. Why would he need to—?
She cut off her own thought, turning her head slow as she heard the unmistakable creak of a footfall against the floorboards somewhere behind her.
She heard his voice in her ear before she'd turned enough to see the speaker. Sooner than she could think to stop herself, Hermione was out of that chair and running across the room.
In her rush, she didn't even truly look at him. The witch threw herself on him, hugging him tight as she half-screamed through a sudden rush of tears. "Oh my God! Remus? Remus! How are you here? What happened? Where did you go?"
As his arms closed around her, he could feel the tightness of his own throat. He could feel words struggling to get out and answer her that just wouldn't form. He hadn't believed Greyback's assertion about their connection before now.
Remus could detect that very possessiveness about which Fenrir had spoken creeping around his heart as he held her against him. The need to soothe the anxiousness that mingled with her relief was absolutely crushing. Just as when he'd first entered his flat, he could scent her mixed emotions—grief, agitation—and beneath that, something else. Something more familiar, still.
Crinkling the bridge of his nose, he held her tighter. There was something in the image that drifted to him with the scent that took the edge off his own agitation. Something that felt impossibly correct deep down in his gut.
"You were with Teddy?"
Laughing, she sniffed and nodded. Pulling back to finally meet his gaze she said, "Yes! We went to check on him to see if you were there. He took quite a shine to me. He's . . . ." Her face fell and her eyes widened as she stared up at him. "Remus . . . your eyes?"
Looking down into her face like this, her skin against his as she'd moved back, her palms having slid along his forearms to clasp his hands in her own, he just knew. Hermione Granger belonged with him.
But that was madness! And she wasn't going to understand until they explained everything. Perhaps not even until the full moon had passed, if his theory about her blood was correct.
She gave him a slow once-over. He appeared exactly like Remus. And just now, when she'd stood on her toes and had her face pressed against his neck . . . . She never thought she'd take notice of a man's scent before, but—
Closing the distance between them once more, she again inhaled deep at the side of his throat. The way he shivered at the sensation of her breath rushing over his skin had her fighting for a moment to keep her focus. What was wrong with her?
"You're Remus," she said, confirming it for herself in a breathy murmur.
When she lowered her heels to the floor and returned to gaping up at him, he struggled to get out what he needed to say. Concentration wasn't easy with her doing something so feral without even realizing. "We have much to talk about, Hermione. My eyes being the least of our worries, right now."
"Like I said," another voice she recognized called from further out in the living room, "let's get somewhere we won't be so easily found, then we can talk. I doubt her little friends will listen to anything I have to say, anyway."
Her heart hammered against her ribcage as Remus rolled his eyes. "Greyback?" she asked, her tone sharp and anger pinching her features.
"Whatever you're thinking, it's not—"
Hermione shouldered past Remus to step through the doorway. She would ignore how very aware she was of the way Remus moved with her, turning so that her back was to his chest as she faced the other werewolf.
In spite of herself, Hermione shuddered at the sight of Fenrir Greyback. "I don't understand . . . ." All she wanted was to be afraid of him—that was the normal, sane, healthy response—and while she was fearful, the feeling was clouded by her cognizance of Remus' nearness and that troubling little zing of sweetness she'd felt course through her, just like when she'd spotted Greyback in Diagon Alley during the wee hours of that very morning.
As she watched him, Greyback tipped his head back, flaring his nostrils and inhaling deep. "There it is. That scent I told you about. You know exactly what it means."
Understanding that he was speaking not to her, but to the man standing behind her, and that she'd heard Remus breathe deep at the same moment Fenrir had, Hermione spun on her heel. Returning her attention to Remus, she found herself trapped by the way he was looking at her.
Those newly amber eyes of his searched her face, the color flaring brighter than it had been only moments earlier. She found herself too aware of the gulp he forced down his throat, of the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed.
There was something so strangely primal in his look, in his movement as he leaned closer to her, that she felt her body responding before she could think to stop herself. The sensation of his breath against her lips as he ducked his head had her trembling in place and her eyes drifting closed. She had taken half a step forward, pressing herself to him, the pressure of her form against his slight but plainly obvious.
She heard the footfalls behind her as Remus' mouth brushed over hers. She was hyper-aware, it seemed, of Fenrir's presence at her back, but she couldn't bring herself to pull away from either of them. Hermione was fully cognizant of the way she tilted her head, of the dual purpose in the movement—trying to meet the kiss she expected from the man in front of her while exposing her neck to the one behind her.
But that deepened kiss never came, nor did the grazing of teeth along the side of her throat. She tried to pretend she was relieved, but as she opened her eyes in a reluctant blink, she looked up at Remus' face to find his gaze fixed on the other werewolf's. His lips were peeled back from his teeth in a fierce expression that set off an icy churning in her gut.
Her attempt to sidestep any impeding confrontation, however, was stymied as Fenrir wrapped his hands around her wrists. Holding the witch pinned with her back against his chest, he held Remus' furious gaze with a smirk while he backpedaled a step.
Hermione only stared back at Remus, feeling helpless and angry at her own body. She wanted to be angry, and she wanted to be horrified by what had nearly unfolded. Yet, the sensation of Fenrir's heart beating against her back and the warmth of his skin beneath hers, even the way his breath whispered against her skin as he snickered quietly, set off that damn sweet little aching tingle between her thighs, just like earlier.
Just like in all those awful dreams she'd had since their first encounter at Malfoy Manor.
Worse was the way her heart felt ready to rip itself to pieces as she watched Remus tip his head back to inhale deep and long through his nostrils. But his wrathful glare never left Fenrir's face. She was so at odds with herself, as though there was a need to justify to him the scent she knew he was picking up from her—the need to ease his raging emotions at how her body was reacting to Fenrir's closeness.
"I thought we talked about this, Pup," Fenrir said, humor edging his voice. "I didn't want to get into things here and now, but you two were the ones starting it, weren't you?"
"I wasn't trying to start anything, neither was she, and you know it."
"Oh?" Fenrir nodded his expression one of feigned curiosity. "Then you tell me what happened just now, hmm?"
Remus loosed a growl, giving a start when Hermione trembled at the sound, her eyes widening. Digging his nails into his palms in an attempt to ground himself, he spoke through clenched teeth. "She doesn't understand what is happening. She shouldn't be expected to decide anything until she knows what's actually going on."
Hermione wasn't bothering to struggle in Fenrir's hold. She knew it would be a wasted effort, he was far stronger than her, and attempting to fight him like this would only wear her out. The last thing she wanted was to not be in full control of herself around him and weary. Lord only knew what she might let happen under those circumstances.
But the way they were talking . . . . Had Remus been keeping something from her? Somehow that idea alone felt like a gut-punch.
She didn't recall being this sensitive to his feelings, or to their dynamic, before today.
"Greyback, let go," she said, her voice slipping out low and steady.
"Somehow, you don't smell like that's what you really want."
"I don't care how I smell. I asked you to let me go." Swallowing hard, she gave a nod as she forced herself to go on. "You said we have to go somewhere and talk, Remus said this isn't what it seems, and there are things I don't understand. How can I have any trust in either of you if you won't do the simplest thing I ask of you for my own peace of mind?"
Her words seemed to diffuse some of Remus' very visible anger. The idea he'd done anything to make her question her trust in him hit him harder than he'd expected. His gaze dropping to capture hers, his lower lip jutted out, shivering a bit.
"Let her go," he said with a shake of his head. "She's right, this won't get us anywhere."
She felt herself slump a bit as Fenrir's hands dropped away from her. He was grumbling something under his breath behind her about sentimentality being the death of them all if they weren't careful. But she couldn't focus on that.
"Remus, please. I truly don't understand what is happening right now and it's scaring me." There was so much going through her head that she scarcely understood and she wasn't one accustomed to not comprehending her own thoughts. She shouldn't feel this way about Remus. Any of these things she felt toward him in the last few minutes—giddiness like some infatuated school girl, lust, heartache—confused her. None of them were the emotions that should've rocked through her at finding him still alive.
None of them were the emotions she should've experienced for her friend standing before her. Yet it all felt so natural. This sudden shift in her own perception of him was jarring. They'd just kissed, for pity's sake!
Remus shook his head. "I never want to scare you," he said, his voice a low, gravelly tumble of sound as he held out his hand. "Come with us, please, and I'll tell you everything you need to hear."
Her attention shot from his face to his outstretched hand. She glanced over her shoulder at the werewolf standing behind her. She didn't imagine Remus Lupin would trust Fenrir Greyback around her, at all, if not for there being something she truly wasn't aware of. Something . . . something to do with those missing pages in Lyall's journal.
Fenrir only met her gaze briefly, shrugging and rolling his eyes as he waved his hand in Remus' direction. He made no attempt to stop her, or force her along. She was just one little witch—war hero or no war hero—and they were werewolves as well as wizards. She was more than aware they could force her into compliance if they really wanted.
That Remus was asking, and that Fenrir was letting him have the lead just now had to mean something.
Nodding, she placed her hand in Remus'. "All right. But you do not leave a single thing I ask unanswered. I don't care if you think that answer will scare me or hurt me. You tell me . . . ." She paused, her voice shivering a little and her lips trembling as she said, "everything."
Remus tightened his grip on her hand, his hold firm but gentle. He stroked over the backs of her knuckles with the pad of his thumb in a calming gesture as he nodded. "Everything, Hermione. Anything you want."
He let it go unsaid that everything and anything didn't only mean what he was willing to tell her. Suddenly, somehow, it meant what he was willing to do for her.
Looking down into her familiar chestnut eyes as he led her through the flat by her hand, he just knew. Anything and everything for her.
Fenrir followed behind, exhaling through pursed lips as he shook his head. If the pup's damned father had let him know what being a werewolf was really all about, what the witch really was to him wouldn't be such a damn shock to his system.
What she could be to both of them was certainly going to be another unpleasant confrontation, all together. But one scuffle-inducing argument at a time.
"You poor, naive little bastard," he muttered under his breath as they continued out the door.
Hermione shook her head, her eyes wide with disbelief as she turned the crumpled pages over in her hands and started from the first word for what had to be the tenth time. The journal she'd found—the one from which the smoothed-out papers had obviously been torn—was open beside her reading, she could plainly see the seamless transition of days from before the missing portion, to the missing portion's content, and then onto the rest of the journal after the tearing-out. Somehow, though, she seemed to be reserving judgement on how true she found the evidence that she had before her very eyes, that she was literally holding in her own hands.
Knowing that Ron and Harry would likely be trying to find her, she'd sent a semi-cryptic message about following a lead she didn't want to say too much about unless it turned up something via Floo, and then brought the werewolves to the one place she was relatively sure her friends would not think to look. Not when they'd never be able to connect the location to a search for Remus.
The currently-empty home of her Muggle parents. Of course, she hadn't very much relished the idea of having Fenrir Greyback under the same roof as her bed and undergarments, but she trusted Remus, and he had some strange trust in the elder wolf that she knew she'd never forgive herself for dismissing.
As she combed through Lyall's very distinctive handwriting again and again, she lost all awareness of her surroundings. Completely closed off to the presence of the two males sitting not far from her around the coffee table—Remus at the other end of the sofa, leaving the middle cushion empty between them so she would not feel crowded, and Fenrir, stretched out and lounging in the high-backed armchair on her other side—she muttered under her breath, and sometimes not so much under her breath, about how implausible she wanted to find the information before her.
Fenrir looked up from cleaning his nails with the pretty, gold-toned letter opener he'd snatched off the nearest bookshelf to catch Remus' attention over the top of the witch's head. He sucked his teeth and nodded. "You know, the first, oh, say, five times, I understood her reservations. But now it's just getting insulting."
Remus scowled and made a shushing gesture.
Hermione slapped down the wrinkled pages and buried her face in her hands. Groaning behind clenched teeth, she then collected herself . . . . Or seemed to. Bouncing up to stand, she took a few steps, rounding the coffee table before halting.
She did not appear at all cognizant that she'd come to a stop almost directly in front of Fenrir.
"I can't . . . ." Swallowing hard, she shook her head, her voice a bit numb and lifeless. "I read it. It's his handwriting, I can feel its authenticity, but . . . . Knowing so much of what we thought was a lie." Somehow, this felt distinctly like a gut punch.
Fenrir noted her scattered state. Pursing his lips in thought, he set aside the letter opener and shifted in his seat. Remus looked at a loss for what to say—he hadn't truly allowed himself to grasp his father's lies, either, it seemed. Returning his attention to the potential she-wolf in front of him, he decided to use her current disorientation to his advantage . . . just to see if her change in demeanor toward Remus since his coming back from the dead might extend to him, too, now that she knew the terrible things she'd thought about him were no more than propaganda.
Reaching out one hand, he laced his fingers through hers and pulled her down to sit on his knees. Still in a fog, she merely turned her head to meet his gaze, those chestnut eyes of hers impossibly wide as she tried to come to terms with her new understanding of him. Remus, on the other hand, shot up from his place at the far end of the sofa, his features pulling into an expression of anger.
Holding up his free hand, Fenrir made a placating gesture and then patted the cushion nearest him, though he never took his eyes from those of the witch seated on his lap. His movements reluctant, Remus complied, though it seemed more out of not wanting to startle Hermione than doing something Fenrir suggested.
"At . . . at Malfoy Manor, the way you talked about me, the things you said to me . . . ."
"Let's get some things clear, pretty thing. I wanted you and was acting on impulse." He shrugged, going on before she had the chance to interrupt. "But if I hadn't made it sound like I wanted the things I'd do to you to be terrible, there was going to be no chance of Bellatrix handing you over to me. She'd've killed you as sure as we're all sitting here."
Hermione didn't know what was worse, that his confession seemed to lift a weight from her, or that for the weight it lifted from her, it put a strange heaviness in her heart. It certainly helped to banish the guilt she'd been feeling for those steamy dreams of him, but then . . . there was this new closeness she felt with Remus that she wasn't sure could balance with the rush of emotions that her new knowledge about Fenrir was bringing with it.
Furrowing her brow, she shook her head. "You were trying to save me."
Bracing one elbow on the armrest, he stroked his beard. As he answered, he circled the arm of the hand that still held hers around her hips. "To be fair, I'd probably have still bitten you, but yeah."
Her entire frame seemed to slump. "I'm sure I'd have been grateful for the rescue, not so sure I'd be grateful enough to let you turn me into a werewolf."
"Might be a moot point, that."
She titled her head, as though she'd not quite understood the words he'd spoken. "What?"
Looking past her, he nodded at Remus. "I's all you, Pup."
Hermione didn't know if she thought it was strange or not that she felt no drive to remove herself from Fenrir's lap. Instead, she dropped her heels to the floor and stepped around until she was facing the other werewolf.
He met Fenrir's gaze with a stern look before sighing and locking his eyes on Hermione's. "You asked earlier about my eyes, about the change in them. Why . . . why they look likehis, now."
She nodded, repressing an urge to glance at Fenrir. And God, why was she still perched on his knees as though it were the most normal thing in the world?
"It has to do with how I died." Forcing a gulp down his throat—and painfully aware that one of her hands was occupied by one of Fenrir's—he took her free hand between both of his. "Something in Dolohov's Curse isn't designed to take werewolf physiology into account. It is intended to strike dead any witch or wizard—that's to say any human—who catches the full force of it as I did; to burn them from the inside out without leaving a mark behind."
"But . . . his Curse struck me, too. Full force. I . . . ." She shifted uncomfortably, suddenly aware of the slash of pale-purple fire that marked her skin after she'd fully healed from Dolohov's attack in the Department of Mysteries. "I actually have a scar from it."
Again, she nodded.
His curious gaze trailed over her before he gave himself a shake. They could not sidetrack right now, or he might never get to tell her what she needed to know. "Well, we'll get to that, and to . . . to you. Um, Greyback and I got into a lengthy discussion—"
"And a lengthy other thing," Fenrir quipped in an amused whisper.
At the way Remus' eyes widened and a hint of red bloomed in his fair cheeks, Hermione couldn't help but look from one werewolf to the other and back before she asked, "What does that mean?"
"It's rather a private matter, I should think," Remus said, his teeth clenched.
Fenrir bit back a feral grin. "Was just referring to teaching the pup a few things he didn't know about being a werewolf, is all."
Deciding she wasn't sure she wanted to know what their private meaning was, she drew a breath and collected herself. "Anyway, back on topic, please?"
Clearing his throat, Remus nodded. She could diffuse him with a few words and the continued press of her hand between both of his. Just another sign that Fenrir's prediction about his connection to her wasn't that far off, after all. "Right."
Sighing, he managed a shake of his head. "Understand, I had just found my father's journals. He'd hidden them away in our old home, I don't think he ever expected anyone to come across them, otherwise he'd never have recorded the true events of that night. I was . . . I was so angry, I took the pages and decided if I survived, I was going to confront Fenrir and get the truth. But then—"
"But then Dolohov."
"Right. But then Dolohov." Remus shrugged. "I'm not even sure I knew I'd fallen at first. I just came to in the dark, in a rage. My lycanthropy seemed, for lack of a better term, to come screaming to the foreground when I fell. It is the thing that brought me back. Nothing seemed to matter, but that the War was over, and I needed my answers. I'm ashamed to admit it, but seeing Tonks there, I . . . it hurt like hell, but it was the easiest part of the whole thing to accept. I think, somehow, when she came to join me on the battlefield, I knew it would the last time I'd see her."
Hermione closed her eyes against a wash of tears. Tonks. She knew he'd loved Tonks, in fact, so did she in her own way. So why wasn't her passing, so recent and so raw, more of a factor? Why wasn't it keeping them from holding hands like this? Why hadn't it kept them from so closely near-kissing earlier?
As though he read it from her thoughts, he nodded, his own eyes suspiciously bright. "My lycanthropy saved me from Dolohov's otherwise lethal attack spell. And in talking to Greyback about that, it brought us to you."
"To me?" She shook her head, once more looking from him to Fenrir, and back. "But why? I . . . I survived it, too, so what? You can't possibly be saying that I'm a . . . that I could be a werewolf."
"You misunderstand." Remus shook his head, struck with an odd need, he lifted her hand to brush his lips across the backs of her knuckles. "It's not simply that you survived. It's that you are the only other person to have survived besides me. I didn't make the connection until we came to talking about that full moon when I nearly attacked Harry; when you—"
"When I howled," she finished for him, her tone hollow as she shook her head. Already her mind was jumping to connect the dots, even if the rest of her psyche was otherwise disconnected from the moment at hand. "It shouldn't have worked. You had the hearing of a wolf, you should've been able to detect that it wasn't another werewolf making that sound."
His shoulders drooped and his expression crumbled, those newly amber eyes of his glimmering as he nodded. "Precisely."
She slumped back against Fenrir's solid frame behind her, again acting as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be using the burly, towering werewolf as a chair. "So what's this mean? I'm a werewolf, but not? I don't understand."
"We think," Fenrir ventured, his voice rumbling in his chest—and secretly delighted at the way the feel of it caused her to shiver against him, though she didn't pull away, "a recent ancestor of yours must've been one of us. And . . . the Pup has surmised that physical traumas you've suffered have caused the wolf's blood in your veins to overreact to protect you. That it's possible that, much like his new ferocious side, it's part of some—what'd you call it?"
"Defense mechanism," Remus supplied, his worried gaze on Hermione's face.
"Right, that. The same defense mechanism that caused the wolf in him to surge stronger and drag his scraggly arse back from the dead is what pulled you through the same curse taking your life. There's a chance every trauma you've suffered since setting foot in the Wizarding world has made whatever werewolf blood you've inherited stronger. Toss in what the War put you through, and, well . . . ." The dark-haired werewolf trailed off with a shrug.
"You think I could actually turn into one of you without being bitten?"
They both nodded.
"If that . . . ." Her brow furrowing, she swallowed hard and shook her head. "If that's possible, then the process has been underway for . . . God. There's no way to stop it, is there?"
"No. We still don't know that it will happen, but we need to err on the side of caution, here." Remus shook his head. "We need to all be somewhere secure when the full moon comes."
"And it's only night after next," she said in a whisper that was barely a thread of sound, the breath escaping her lungs in a whoosh.
"Right. Seems like all the time in the world, and like nothing at all, all at once, doesn't it?" Fenrir said, heaving a sigh.
Her head was swimming with everything she'd learned. She might be turning into a werewolf, Lyall Lupin was the villain of Remus' childhood, not Fenrir Greyback . . . . The Ministry of old had bought his lies without investigation to support their persecution of werewolves. So much she had to do. So much to set right . . . .
Though she doubted even Kingsley would believe the proof of Lyall's own words without examining the matter from every possible angle. But she knew. In her heart, in her gut, she knew it was all true. She had to get a message to Harry and Ron to let them know Remus was alive and well, and they were both safe.
Yet, just now she couldn't seem to think about anything but the coming full moon. About what it might feel like to shift, if that was what her future had in store.
About where on earth she could find to safely contain the three of them separately from each other in case she didn't shift and needed to be protected from them. But even if she didn't shift, the evidence still supported that she had wolf's blood in her veins.
Seeming unnoticing of their hands still clasping hers, Hermione curled her arms against her chest. Only when she dropped her face down against the backs of her hands did she realize. She was practically cuddled in Fenrir Greyback's lap. She'd just pulled his and Remus' arms up, inadvertently pressing them tight to the soft weight of her breasts. She knew they could feel the warmth of her breath against their skin now that she held their hands so very close to her face.
The awareness altered the entire mood of the situation. In the space of a heartbeat, two memories thrummed through her mind. That sweet ache that coursed low in her body whenever she had one of those dreams of Fenrir, and the way her skin had warmed and her pulse had quickened, beating hard beneath her skin as Remus' lips had brushed over hers when they'd stood back in his flat just earlier that afternoon.
She could feel the way Fenrir's chest rumbled against her back as he uttered a low, soft growling sound. Lifting her head slow, she saw Remus' golden-amber eyes locked on hers, his fair cheeks flushed and his lips parted with short, ragged breaths.
Hermione turned, the movement careful and paced, to look at Fenrir. The elder werewolf's attention was on the vulnerable spot of her throat, just below her ear as he sank his teeth into his lower lip. The hazy look in his eyes and dazed expression on his face kicked up that sweet, pulsing ache between her thighs.
Strangely aware of the rise and fall of her own chest with her breathing, she turned back to face Remus. A sound that was more animal than human tore out of her as his mouth crashed down over hers and she felt the light, sweet-edged pain of Fenrir grazing his teeth over that soft spot below her ear.
Her eyes drifting closed, she told herself this couldn't happen. She had to push them away and get right to sorting this decades-long anti-werewolf hysteria in the Ministry.
Somehow, though, she instead found herself caressing Remus' plunging tongue with her own and shifting back in Fenrir's lap to press herself more tightly against the solid muscles behind her.
"She's not there, either?"
Harry turned on his heel, glaring at Ron's face in the hearth flames. He knew what Hermione'd said. Following up on a lead, hadn't wanted to say more until she saw for herself whether or not it would pan out.
But still, he'd thought now that Ron was the one on Teddy-Duty at the Tonks house, he could come help Hermione with whatever this lead was.
"Would I be checking in to see if she'd shown up back there if she were?"
Ron winced. "Sorry, stupid question. She really didn't say where she was going?"
"Not a word. This place is wildly untidy, but can't find anything actually a miss, so I assume whatever she found that gave her said lead, she must've taken with her."
"Too bad you're not a werewolf. You'd be able to sniff out her trail."
Harry renewed his glare, his lips pressed tight together and a harsh breath rushing out though his nostrils.
Again, Ron winced. "I . . . I didn't mean anything by that, I'm sorry, Harry. Teaspoon, remember?"
Groaning, Harry wiped his hands down his face. Even after everything they'd all been through, he didn't think he'd ever felt this tired before. "No, it's—I'm just being overly sensitive. I'm bloody exhausted."
"Stop driving yourself mad. You're no help to Remus if you're a sleep-deprived lunatic. Look, catch a quick nap, recharge—shut up and don't argue with me, you need it—and in an hour or two, get back to it, that's all."
"You know, when you snap commands like that, you sound like your mother?"
"Shut up, Harry. Besides, she might not even need your help right now. If there's anyone who can handle themselves in a tight spot, we both know—"
They finished the statement in unison, "It's Hermione."
She was aware of heat curling through her body—coursing along her limbs and reddening her cheeks—as the mouth covering hers broke the kiss. In a haze, she lifted her eyelids. The hungry look in Remus' wolfish eyes as his gaze swept over her made her ache. He looked like he wanted to devour her whole.
That little voice in her head, the one insisting there were more important things to do had all but silenced. Except for just now, as it piped up to wonder about the feel of Fenrir's hands against her bare skin.
Managing to tear her gaze from Remus', she lowered her chin. Oh, look, they'd removed her shirt and bra. She couldn't remember precisely when that'd happened, but it had been a button-down . . . perhaps she'd even removed it, herself? There was something completely captivating in watching Fenrir's hands cup her breasts. His mouth still lapping and nipping at the side of her throat, she noticed he didn't toy or tease, his golden-olive fingers instead merely seeming to lift her breasts in display.
Her breath caught as she realized what he was doing. Not even a realization she'd made on her own—why were her thoughts so fuzzy and scattered? She couldn't seem to think around her want of the werewolves surrounding her.
No, it was the way Remus slid from the sofa, crashing to his knees before her and ducking his head. Fenrir had been lifting them in display, after all—an offering to the other werewolf.
She choked out a whiny-edged moan, a sound that almost seemed pained, as Remus closed his lips around one of her nipples. With the edge of his teeth and the flicking tip of his tongue, he worked the delicate skin to tighten beneath his ministrations.
Remus' hands scrambled with the opening of her jeans, wresting the button free and the zipper down after what seemed far too long. But then his hands slipped up along her body, replacing Fenrir's while the elder werewolf's slid down her sides.
With a bit of a start she understood what they were doing. Working in unison to seduce her. As if they'd done this a hundred times before and anticipated one another's actions. Still, that little start was not enough to jar her out of the heady stupor. No, it only made her think this was a delicious upside to being a werewolf possibly no human had ever imagined.
She probably was one of them, after all. She was responding so readily to them. She needed release, she needed it now.
She needed it from them.
Fenrir took one of her hands in his own and tugged, guiding it into her jeans and underneath her knickers. He used her hand to part the soft, slick skin, used his fingers to press the tips of hers tight against her clit. At the way she shivered against him, he uttered a gravely sound that was something between a growl and a chuckle.
"C'mon," he murmured in her ear, his mouth moving along her pulse as he spoke, "show me how to touch you."
Even in her daze, she hesitated, aware of Remus allowing her nipple to slip from his mouth and lifting his head to look at both of them.
Fenrir grinned wickedly, his gaze meeting Remus'—lowering for a flickering heartbeat to note the very obvious bulge in the front of the younger werewolf's robes. "Show me how to touch you, and I'll show you how to touch him."
The breath rattled out of her lungs and she found her fingers moving, seemingly of their own volition. There weren't words for the look on Remus' face as he watched. Intoxicated was the least of it . . . . She wondered dully the picture they made, Fenrir holding her hand between her thighs like this, the way she couldn't help moving, rocking her pelvis against the pressure of her own fingertips.
"Dammit, pup," Fenrir said his voice breathless and stammering. Whatever was happening between the three of them, he was not immune, he was only acting like he was in control. He beckoned Remus to his feet with his free hand before he tugged Hermione's jeans and knickers down around the middle of her thighs. "Get within reach of the poor girl."
Remus couldn't account for why he wasn't furious with Fenrir right now. He didn't want to see anyone touching Hermione like this. Those should be his hands on her. His lips at her throat. Yet, he thought he could sense something more in the air. There was no room for possessiveness here. He could feel their desire like it was his own, beating at his skin and curling through his veins.
And she was watching him. Even with the way her head had fallen back, helpless, against Fenrir's shoulder, her gaze was locked with his.
Fenrir's voice was a low, gruff tumble of sound in her ear as he spoke, moving his robes out of the way so she could feel the hard length of his cock against her bared skin. "You want more, little she-wolf?"
She held back the whimpering noise she felt building in the back of her throat. "God help me, I do." Of all the things she might've imagined once more crossing paths with Fenrir Greyback could result in, being half-naked while she performed assisted masturbation under the watchful, hungry gaze of a visibly aroused Remus Lupin had been no where on the list.
And now that it was exactly what was happening, she thought it should've been the only damned thing on any such list.
The sound of her voice, so thick with pleading and need, drew Remus closer, still. Close enough that when Fenrir reached out to open his robes, he thought he could feel their combined breath on his heated skin.
Lifting Hermione's other hand in his free one, Fenrir guided her to wrap her fingers around Remus' cock. Fenrir bit down on the side of her neck, muffling a growl over the way they both shivered at the contact. Something too good, too . . . natural was happening here to interfere.
The would-be she-wolf didn't even cry out at his bite—he'd been careful not to break the skin—instead, she let out a moan and he could feel her fingertips beneath his working her faster now.
Fenrir urged the other hand to move over Remus in careful, steady strokes. She seemed utterly enthralled at how smooth the skin under her fingers felt.
"More?" Fenrir asked again.
She didn't think she could speak, instead lifting her head and nodding, her attention dropping from Remus' hazy amber gaze at last to lock on the rather impressive bit of him bared before her. She didn't need Fenrir's guidance anymore, but he didn't let go just yet, either, his hand still on hers as she brought the head of Remus' cock to her lips.
His gaze was locked on her face, watching as her eyes drifted closed. Watching as she lapped and nibbled, as she drew on the head, alone, in a teasing suckle. Watched, as Remus, unable to help himself, gripped his hands into her wild hair. There was a moment of pure mischief in her face as she held back before giving in to work her mouth along him in slow, deliberate pulls.
She was trembling against him, her hips jerking erratically under the unsteady circling of her fingertips.
And the Fenrir removed his hands from hers.
Hermione knew what was next as he slid one hand beneath them. She titled her hips back, lifting herself just a little out of his lap, just enough for him to position himself. For that moment, she fought hard to focus on Remus, on the steady, quickening motions that had him rocking in uncontrolled thrusts through her hand, still gripping the base of him, and into her mouth.
She felt herself clench tight, reflexive, at Fenrir's entry. He moved slow at first, merely guiding the head inside her. Then he'd clamped his hands over her hips and pulled her down, sealing her body against his. Her entire frame shook with a violent tremor and she stilled, even as her hand continued moving frantically between her thighs.
He growled again, his voice loud enough in her ear that they both heard his words, "Now you take care of him, and I'll take care of you. Seems your instincts will be taking care of me," he clenched inside her, enjoying the little sound she emitted in the back of her currently-busy throat to feel him pulse within her like that. Fenrir dropped his voice to a gravelly whisper as he pushed her forward and pulled her back against him, meeting his motions and he ground himself forward into her. "Everybody's happy."
Hermione didn't know how she was expected to focus on anything with Fenrir filling her and withdrawing again and again, his pace rough and deliciously frenzied. Funny, even in her hazy state, she'd have thought with how inexperienced she was, his ferocity would hurt, but it felt right, as though her body would demand nothing less.
She gave herself over to it. All of it, relaxing, she let Remus' hands cupping her head, and the motions of his hips guide her—Fenrir had already taken the lead of what he was doing with her. They were literally giving her nothing more to do than enjoy her predicament.
If she could've smirked around Remus' cock, she would've just then as she determinedly focused on her own hand stroking her clit, still. She'd listed for a moment, her movements becoming lazy when they'd both distracted her, but now that they were doing all the work, she quickened her fingers, trying to match Fenrir's thrusts.
He once more uttered that half-growling, half-chuckling sound as he felt her body stiffen against his. "C'mon, she-wolf, just a little more," he whispered, pulling her against him harder.
She could feel it. Remus was almost there. As she stilled over Fenrir, his motions wonderfully violent and sharp now as he neared the edge, as well, she could only brace herself. Her lips were sore already, and her jaw was aching, but it seemed a small price to pay for the lovely animal sounds Remus was making.
Instinct told her to hold her breath as the orgasm washed over her. She could feel sharp little pinpricks dance along her skin, the tingling warmth coursing through her mingled with it. Remus cried out as he lurched forward in one last motion, and she felt the pulse of it against her tongue as he spent himself. Felt his grip tighten on her hair as she drank it down, coaxing every drop from him.
Fenrir gave her no respite, her orgasm was ending just as Remus' finished, but then the other werewolf climaxed, pulling her against him harder, still, and forcing her to come a second time before she'd even truly finished the first.
She couldn't believe there were tears, literal tears, rolling down her cheeks. Letting Remus slide free of her lips, she gasped, long and loud, frozen against Fenrir as he came in a final, sweetly vicious thrust.
The world seemed to shift and swirl around her as the orgasm ebbed and she sagged back into Fenrir, who'd dropped his head down on her shoulder. Remus fell back to his knees and turned sideways, leaning against the two of them as he caught his breath.
"That . . . ." Remus swallowed hard and started again. "That escalated quickly."
"We should've probably warned you," Fenrir said, his voice muted by his rushing breaths. "When a werewolf gets worked up, there's only two ways to calm them."
"Bloodshed or sexual release," Remus tacked on helpfully.
Hermione nodded, lifting her hands to wipe tiredly at her damp cheeks. "Next time make sure to give me all the pamphlets before I join the cult, yeah?"
Both werewolves chuckled at her quip.
"Was it just me or did that, just now, feel, I dunno . . . ." She shrugged as she lifted her head.
"Natural?" Fenrir asked.
"Right?" Was Remus' very reluctant guess.
Again, she nodded. "Yeah, both."
"Shit." Remus shook his head. "Any idea what this means, oh wise elder wolf?"
"No' a fucking clue," Fenrir said with a sigh. "I'll find out, though. It might mean nothing at all, so don't get your knickers in twist."
Hermione laughed at herself and shook her head. This had certainly cleared her mind, but for all the ways she'd thought she might feel if she ever gave into something this completely untamed—anger at herself, worry over what others might think if they found out, sorrow for the breaking of boundaries, shame for enjoying it all—she felt none of them. All she felt was sated. Well, exhausted, too. Like they should all curl up together and take a nap.
"Can't believe I actually cried. I mean, I've heard and read about people crying during orgasm, but I never thought I'd do it, myself."
"Eh, that just means it was really good." There was no mistaking the pride in Fenrir's voice. He caught Hermione's chin in his hand and turned her face toward his. "Let me se—oh bollocks."
"What?" she demanded, hating that Fenrir Greyback sounded worried.
"Hmm?" Remus lifted his head, looking over as well. In a blink he was on his feet, cupping her jaw in his hands and tilting her face side to side. "I . . . I don't . . . ."
"What? What is it?!"
Remus looked about. Spying a decorative mirror hanging over the fireplace, he rushed over and pulled it from the wall. Returning to them, he held it up before Hermione.
She saw herself blinking back from the reflection. Only, those weren't Hermione Granger's eyes staring at her. They were like Fenrir and Remus'. Golden-amber . . . . She blinked, almost not believing what she witnessed as the wolf-eyed witch in the mirror blinked at the same time.
They were right. She was turning into one of them.
Swallowing hard, she dropped her gaze from the mirror, feeling real tears gather in her eyes now as she asked, "When's the next full moon, again?"
Hermione threw back her head, helplessly threading her fingers thought Remus' hair as his mouth moved between her thighs. It seemed barely any time at all had passed since they'd last been at this, since her panic over her body's strange and unexpected evolution.
She watched through heavy-lidded eyes as Fenrir had slunk up behind Remus . . . . Felt Remus tremble against her at the other werewolf's entry, uttering a brief sound of discomfort in the back of his throat before he relaxed again, his focus returning to the witch he feasted on. In a daze she tried to recall what had led to this second go, only she realized as she watched Fenrir loop an arm around Remus' hips, his hand working over Remus' cock in strokes to match his thrusts, that this was not their second go, it was only the second time Fenrir was joining them.
Unable to face them, unable to be sure even of what she was feeling, she had extracted herself from their embrace and hurried to the bathroom. Trying to calm herself, to clear her head, Hermione started the shower and stripped off her clothes. She could hear them talking downstairs, she couldn't make out the words, but she thought she could infer the context from their tones. They were worried about her—hard to imagine a world where Fenrir Greyback was worried about someone other than himself, but there it was.
She stepped into the tub, letting the hot water beat down over her head and against her shoulders. Alone with her thoughts against the white noise of the streams hitting the basin, the reality settled over her. Hermione Granger was turning into a werewolf, and in some odd twist of fate—and because this was her, apparently, and nothing could happen to her 'the normal way'—she'd never even been bitten.
Had she been bitten, she'd have had some warning, some . . . some time to emotionally prepare, but this? And only a few days until the full moon! Stepping through the spray of water, she'd braced an arm against the wall and dropped her forehead down against it, feeling overwhelmed by her emotions for a moment. She was scared of what the transformation would feel like, angry that she'd never had a clue about this secret buried in her own DNA, strangely curious about how different she might feel after her first shift. Before she knew it, she was crying.
A little ripple coursed through her, and she knew what she would see when she turned. Looking past the steady pulse of water, she saw Remus there, peering in through the shower door she'd not bothered to close. She realized as he made movements just on the other side while their gazes stayed locked—peeling off his clothes—that she'd not forgotten to close the bathroom door. That she'd not accidentally neglected to slide shut the shower door. She'd done both on purpose, so that he could come to her.
It was just as they'd said. There were only two ways for their kind to wind down from emotional upheaval, and only one of those ways was something Remus Lupin, or Fenrir Greyback for that matter, had in mind when it came to her. With that knowledge, and the understanding that she was on the verge of a breakdown, she had left him unbarred access to come and rescue her from herself.
He stepped into the tub, and she felt her attention slip from his eyes to wander over his bare lanky form. His limbs were long, leanly muscled. Pale skin dusted with freckles here and there, with smatterings of scars from so many years of nasty full moon incidents.
As Remus moved under the water closer to her, she reached out, running her fingertips over the marred flesh. So much pain spread across a lifetime of self-hatred. Her eyes welled up and lower lip trembled. She thought her heart might absolutely shatter with how much his pain hurt her. Her entire chest ached with it for a few stilted heartbeats.
Returning her gaze to his face, she found that he was watching the movement of her hands over his skin, delicate and unsteady. How much more pain would it have taken to realize what they were to one another? How much more loss? Never in a million years would either of them have imagined that somehow Fenrir Greyback was so important in this. And yet, the elder werewolf made not attempt to intervene, they both realized in the same moment.
Remus' amber gaze lifted to meet hers. Fenrir was giving them this moment without him.
Remus didn't understand any of what was going on, not really. She was crying for him, that he knew. Wrapping an arm around her, he pulled her body flush against his. His entire life, he'd been hurting in one form or another. Always aching, always some sting somewhere that wouldn't ever truly abate.
Except with her. Hermione's touch drove all that away. The very awareness of this new, unfamiliar painlessness, in itself, was bliss, causing his breath to rush out in a long, shivering exhalation as he recognized how wonderful the relief was.
She stood on her toes, craning upward to brush gentle kisses along his collar bones. Instinct and the press of his damp skin against hers drove her; anchoring one leg around his hip, she slid a hand down to circle him with her fingers. So deliciously hard in her grasp, she guided him to enter her.
They shared a gasp as he sank into her. She let him push against her, trapping her weight between him and the cold, slick tile at her back. He braced his palms on either side of her and she wound her arms around his neck, her mouth still nipping at his throat and chest in hungry, teasing little bites as he moved his hips, filling her and withdrawing again and again.
A growl erupted from him when her body clenched tight around him, the sound a low, satisfied rumbling in his chest. He brought her to orgasm, his movements slow and deep and she bit down on the lean, flat muscle of his chest to keep from crying out.
He uttered a warm, affectionate chuckle at the feel of her teeth pressing into his skin. Remus leaned into her more tightly still, cradling her against the wall as his thrusts had her shivering, her entire body taut for several mindless heartbeats.
The tension drained from her as it ebbed and she ground her pelvis down over his, pushing him closer to the edge.
He pulled back, covering her mouth with his own. Already breathless, she was gasping for air when he broke the kiss, shaking his head at her. "Not yet," he said, his voice pitched low, barely a rumbling of sound beneath the streaming water.
Hermione was in daze, she thought, as he turned off the water and carried her from the tub, her legs around him and he kept her locked against him with an arm secured at her waist. She grabbed a towel blindly as he whisked her from the bathroom and down the corridor.
In her bedroom, she barely had time to throw the towel down on her bed before he laid against the pillows. She whimpered, a strangely animal sound of disappointment as he withdrew. He was still hard, how dare he not finish! But then he dragged his lips along her wet skin, a beautifully feral and ravenous gleam in his wolfish eyes.
As his mouth lingered at her navel, she felt another sweet, prickling awareness zip through her. Lifting her gaze from his lips on her, she saw Fenrir in the doorway. He only lingered there, watching them. She couldn't miss the question in his face, though.
Silent, she looked to Remus again. He'd raised his head a little, just enough to meet her eyes. His nostrils flared and she understood that he knew the other werewolf had entered the scene. Something in his expression changed. It was darker, growing more feral still, somehow. His hunger . . . it couldn't be met by her alone, not now. He nodded, and she returned the gesture to Fenrir.
The witch could tell by the way a surprised breath rattled out of Fenrir as he crossed the room—undressing as he moved—that he knew what the other man needed. He needed Fenrir in the same way she'd needed him in the living room just earlier.
As Remus felt Fenrir's weight settle on the mattress behind him, he lowered his head, burying his mouth between her thighs. That was how they'd ended up together once more, the three of them. That was when Fenrir had taken a chance—aware the younger werewolf was silently pleading with him, and equally aware he could change his mind and panic at that initial thrust. Remus had tensed at first, a pained groan shaking through him, but then he'd eased into it, opening to him more easily. The other man's hand circling to stroke him in long, steady pulls certainly helped.
Hermione had never seen anything so beautiful. These towering wolves of hers were so different from each other, sandy-haired, fair skinned Remus with his lean frame, Fenrir only slightly taller, dark haired and olive skinned and so broad the width of his shoulders was sigh inducing all by itself; they were both gorgeous on their own, there weren't words for how lovely they were together. There was something that—just like their first time downstairs—was so natural, so familiar, about all of this. And watching them joined like this as Remus brought her to orgasm once more, this time with the delicious, suckling pressure of his mouth, she pondered the possibility of staying like this with them forever.
Just the three of them, fucking, laughing, easing one another's pain and loneliness with nothing but looks and touches . . . .
Both of her wolves let out harsh, growling screams as they came, and once more the three collapsed together in a heap of tangled limbs and rasping breaths.
For too long, no one moved. Until Hermione noted that it was dark outside her window.
Gathering just enough strength to speak, she managed, "Can we . . . can we sleep now?"
Her wolves shared a look before nodding. Crawling up on either side of her, they curled protectively around her.
"As soon as we wake up, I'm raiding your pantry," Fenrir said around a yawn, burrowing his face against her neck.
"Oh, God, yes, I'm starving," Remus agreed with a weary laugh, his cheek pressing down over the top of her head. "But I'm too worn out to move."
"Both of you shut it so we can sleep, yeah?" Hermione admonished unable to help a giggle.
Somehow, this was natural for them. Somehow, it was their normal.
And it was absolutely perfect.
"So it wasn't just me." Harry shook his head, a worried frown creasing his features as he paced. "You don't see any clues?" He'd sent Ron to take over searching Remus' as he'd gone home to catch a nap, as Ron'd suggested, but he hadn't been able to catch a wink. Andromeda had vowed to reach out to them immediately if Remus did pop up, which had set his mind at ease, but not nearly enough to keep the gnawing worry in his stomach at bay.
"Nope," Ron said, his voice coming through the flames staticky. "Thought you said she was checking up on a lead?"
With a shrug, Harry sighed. "Yeah, she did, but I can't help but worry. It's getting late."
"Look, you know how Hermione is." There was some noise in the backdrop and Harry wondered what the devil Ron was up to. "She probably doesn't want to say anything more until she has an answer to share one way or another."
"What are you doing over there?"
"You were right, it's a mess in here, looks a bit like the place was ransacked."
Harry's frown deepened. "It's got to be where she found her clue. I just don't understand why she wouldn't say anything else. Why wouldn't she share what it was?" He kept the words 'with me' out of his question—Harry wouldn't say it aloud, but he knew Hermione was more prone to let just him in on anything than she was him and Ron.
"She probably didn't want to get our hopes up. I mean, if she doesn't find anything, or if she finds . . . you know, finds him . . . dead," Ron said after a hard swallow, "she probably wants to spare us. If she gives us hope, then accepting that he's really gone will just be worse for all of us. You saw how hard she took his death."
Harry nodded. Yes, Hermione had a very difficult time with Remus' death. Even—he dared to say it—even harder than he had taken it, and Remus held a special place in his heart, given that he'd been the last link Harry'd had to his parents.
Now that he was thinking on it, he hadn't noticed it before because War's End had been so very rough on everyone, but Hermione had really lost it when she'd seen Remus' body.
He dropped his gaze from the fireplace. No, it couldn't be anything more than what anyone else was feeling. Shock, anger, sorrow at losing her friend. Because to be anything more would mean there had been something more between them.
No. Harry slapped a hand against his cheek and tried to rouse himself a little. He felt as though he was falling asleep standing up.
"Harry, you still there?"
"Hmm? Yeah, sorry." Clearing his throat, he was about to ask Ron—Ron was sometimes less observant than Harry, himself, but every now and again he became aware of things before anyone else—but then decided against it. This was not the time for such thoughts. He was far too exhausted, his mind throwing things at him that might not even make sense by the light of morning and over the smell of fresh coffee.
"I'm fine," he said, insistent. "You were right, I need some rest. It's just been a very long day for all of us. Maybe she's even catching some sleep right now. As we should be."
"Okay, then." Ron nodded, now that Harry had mentioned sleep, he couldn't stop himself from yawning. "I suppose I'll meet you at Grimmauld Place first thing in the morning. Maybe one of us will have heard from her by then."
"Bring coffee," Harry instructed before bidding his friend goodnight and snuffing out the flames in the fireplace.
Yes, he needed sleep, before his tired brain could drum up any more nonsensical notions about some more-than-friends dynamic between Hermione Granger and Remus Lupin.