Remus Lupin loved his job.
After the war he found that it gave him structure, something he had been unable to attain since his days at Hogwarts. A regular income didn’t exactly hurt either. But most importantly, he was doing a job that he enjoyed and that meant something, a feeling that he knew his colleague shared.
Sharing an office they had slipped into an easy routine together almost immediately.
Every morning she would bring him a cup of hot chocolate and a croissant from her favourite bakery. She always had something for herself, of course, and she never said why she did it but he knew that she still considered him too thin.
Every lunch time she would accompany him to the little pub where they always ate. Sometimes they were joined by friends but more often than not it was just the two of them. He was utterly predictable in what he ate but she sometimes varied. It was rare, but it always amused him that she would try something that sounded perfectly satisfactory and then proclaim that it wasn’t quite as good as the pasta she preferred. She wasn’t one to be confined though, she told him, that would be unreasonable.
Every evening she would pack up the day’s paperwork and file it as he tidied up the books, quills and scraps of paper that managed to work themselves around the room. He never quite understood how two people who both seemed on the outward to be extremely neat could let their office get into such a state in a few hours. Perhaps it was because when they found something promising they both dropped everything else to pursue it.
That had, in fact, happened several times since they started working together six months ago. The first night they had found records of a legal case that related to their current research. Both had worked at it through the night without realising the time, only to be disturbed by Kingsley the next morning when he came to collect a report and asked them why they were both wearing the same clothes as yesterday. That had prompted a blush from both of them.
There was a weekly pattern to their schedule, too. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays were for research, Thursdays for compiling the reports and Fridays for presenting them to the Head of Department or Kingsley. Then it was on to someone else to actually implement the changes. Neither of them minded, he knew. Research was what they were best at.
Saturdays and Sundays were blissfully free of work but, more often than not, they saw each other at gatherings of their friends. Remus didn’t mind one bit. She had learnt how to switch her brain off since she was at Hogwarts, and didn’t feel the need to talk incessantly about work when they saw each other outside the walls of the Ministry. Even at lunch the conversation usually revolved around the books they were reading, the people they had seen, the Daily Prophet’s main article that day. Unless their friends joined them, in that case the conversation usually included Quidditch and the latest hijinks of the Auror Department.
The monthly pattern was more complicated. Every few weeks he was forced to take a few days off work. He had spent them alone for the first two months, until his young colleague had turned up on his doorstep one afternoon with a pot of soup and a bag of pain relieving potions. She had felt guilty all day, sitting alone in their office, she said, when Remus was at home alone. She never mentioned his transformation in the casual, callous way he was used to from others but neither did she avoid the issue. She knew he was in pain and she was here to help if he would let her. He had to admit that, while it was outside the new routine he was forming, he might be able to get used to the company.
Hermione Granger could have been whatever she wanted after the war. What she had chosen was a research job that was far beneath her skills, no matter how much she appeared to enjoy it. There were many who criticised her for such a move, expecting her to be one of those who would lead the Ministry in a more involved, more public role. But that had never been what she wanted, Remus knew, she wanted to help those who had no one to speak for them. She wanted to work her way up the ladder rather than leap up it due to her role in the war.
She wanted people to stop expecting things from her. She had given her youth for a cause that had also almost claimed her life itself. What she wanted now, she had told Remus, was to sink into anonymity for a few years and learn the game of Ministry politics from the ground up.
And he admired her for that, though she was hardly anonymous. For the first few weeks after they had started their new jobs together Hermione had received a constant stream of admirers in and out of the office. At the time Remus had told himself that his annoyance stemmed from their interference with his work. He couldn’t say he knew that to be the case now.
He had always admired Hermione for her intelligence and her loyalty but he had never been on the receiving end of her absolute and complete selflessness until the first time she came to his house. He remembered staggering to the door as best he was able and nearly collapsing in shock at the sight of her standing there, shuffling her feet and biting her bottom lip, unsure is he would welcome her presence or not after such a hard night. It wasn’t that they hadn’t got along before then, but since that evening Remus had found himself opening up more and more of himself to her. More, in fact, of himself than anyone had seen since James had died. And he had come to know her in return, a thousand inconsequential, wonderful, meaningless little things that he had never known before, each one pulling him in.
It was at that point, about two months ago now, upon her second visit to him after the full moon that he had first admitted to himself that he was in very great danger of having more than simply platonic feelings for his former student.
But that isn’t how you think of her now, the nagging voice in his head that always reminded him somewhat of Sirius piped up. She doesn’t exactly look thirteen anymore, does she?
And as much as he hated the voice, he thought as he looked over his desk at her, he had to agree. Her hair had become dramatically less wild over the years, now sitting in loose curls down her back instead of the frizzy mess Remus remembered her sporting at school. Her once athletic and boyish body had filled out into more womanly curls that he had heard more than one young man commenting on in the mail room. One look for Remus usually silenced them, though. If they weren’t afraid of him, they were certainly in fear of her own reaction to reports of their co-workers talking about doing things to Hermione that Remus would (although they didn’t know it) never have dared to repeat to her. She didn’t need him to fight her battles for her, she was perfectly capable of doing it herself.
She was a young woman now, he knew, and at nineteen had seen more of the world than most muggle women twice her age. Her eyes revealed that truth, he thought. There was a depth and a sincerity they held that he had never seen in any other.
While one she had been small and more than a little shy, at nearly twenty Hermione was confident and collected. It wasn’t that she was necessarily proud of the scars on her forearm but Remus had never seen her try to cover them or detract from them in any way. She frowned slight when she saw other people stare at them upon first meetings. But then, she did the same if anyone was obvious enough to stare at his own scars, the long-healed lines on his face and neck. ‘They make us who we are’, she one told him, apparently out of nothing as she had waved on an incredibly rude young man who couldn’t seem to be able to decide if her arm or his face was more interesting.
It was that confidence and unwavering concern for others that he found most appealing about her. He was, after all, a man and had noticed the changes in her appearance but he had never fallen or a woman due to simply her looks before and he wasn’t about to start aged thirty-nine.
And that was the crux of it really, he sighed, hiding his face behind another draft of their report. He was too old for her to ever feel for him even a fraction of what he felt for her. But she had made it clear that she enjoyed his friendship, that she liked working together. And so he would be her friend, he had decided, it was better than nothing. There were, however, times that she made that decision very difficult.
Currently, he thought with an internal sigh, she was sitting with her legs flung over one side of her seat, leaning back and looking perfectly relaxed as he read through her report. That in itself was no great temptation but Hermione had earlier insisted that, due to the chill in the February air, they should light the fire in their box of an office (which had, incidentally, been originally meant for only one occupant). As the room had heated up she had shed her coat and jumper, kicked off her warm boots and was thus sitting bare-legged to her mid-thigh and with the top button of her blouse undone.
Five minutes to go, he thought wearily as he glanced at the clock. He knew that as soon as Hermione left him after work he would miss her (pathetic sap that he was) but it was becoming more and more uncomfortable for him alone with her in their cramped little office. He kept his eyes firmly on the parchment without taking in another word until their clock emitted the familiar squawk that signalled the beginning of their weekend.
Thank Merlin for that, Remus thought as he completed his routine of tidying their space while Hermione sealed their reports and sent them off. He was just about to bid her goodnight walk out the door when her voice stopped him.
‘Remus?’ he turned back, breathing a small sight of relief when he noted that she had put out the fire and put on some layers. ‘Harry and Ron were meant to be coming to my house for dinner tonight but they’ve just had to cancel.’ She tossed a piece of the Ministry’s purple memo paper into the bin before continuing. ‘I don’t suppose you like orange ginger chicken do you?’
As a matter of fact he did, but what came out of Remus’s mouth was a sort of stuttering sound that had her backtracking immediately.
‘I mean, of course you shouldn’t feel obligated, if you have plans or… well anyway, it doesn’t matter I can just…’
‘I’d love to,’ he said, suddenly finding his voice again at the sight of her so flustered.
Her face brightened immediately, ‘Alright then, let’s go.’
Remus followed her out of their Department, nodding goodnight to their co-workers as they left. It wasn’t unusual for them to walk out together and so no one batted an eyelid no matter how much Remus felt his stomach churning at the idea of being in Hermione house with her, alone. He had, of course, been to her house before with some friends from the order, but Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Tonks had always been there as a sort of buffer to the awkwardness. Well, in part, he recognised. Remus had never really got around to asking exactly how the youngest of Molly’s boys had ended up with Nymphadora Tonks (who had once shown a completely unrequited interest in him, of all people) but whatever the group decided to do after dinner usually resulted in something couple related which saw him paired up with Hermione.
Hermione grabbed his hand firmly as they walked out the doors of the Ministry and the next step Remus took found him on a garden path rather than a city pavement. He followed her into the house, following her example as she kicked off her shoes at the door.
Hermione had obviously charmed the oven to cook the food itself, he realised as he smelt the powerful aroma coming from the kitchen. ‘It smells wonderful,’ he told Hermione as he followed her down the hall.
‘Thanks,’ she said with a smile, ‘the boys are usually “starving” after work so I always make sure that the food’s ready as soon as we walk in.’
She waved Remus over to a seat at the table despite his offer to help. With a flick of her wand the table set itself for two people and Hermione grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge as the spatula filled their plates with rice and fragrant chicken.
They ate in a comfortable silence, neither feeling the need to fill it with inane chatter, and Remus absolutely insisted on helping with the dishes after, even if all her did was charm the cloth to dry them and empty the sink of water.
Now they were in uncharted territory, Remus considered as Hermione put the last of the plates away. He had been invited over for dinner, so what did he do now? Did he stay?
He was still fidgeting in place when Hermione turned back to him. Her smiled faded as she took in his appearance and she frowned slightly. She walked over to him slowly, stopping less than a foot away.
‘Honestly, Remus, what do I have to say to you?’ His confusion must have shown, ‘I’m running out of ways to make you see…’
‘What do you mean?’
Her brilliant brown eyes looked up at him as she took the wine glass from his hand and set it on the table. Though Remus had been unwilling to believe what he was being confronted with, the feel of her mouth moving against his was unmistakable. And so much more than he could ever have hoped for.
She drew back slightly, looking up into his face hopefully. ‘I mean that we can’t be back and forth like this for the rest of our lives, Remus.’ She released a slight sigh, ‘I want this, us, I have done for some time now. And I thought that you wanted it too.’
‘Hermione,’ he said, taken aback, ‘I’m not suitable for you, I’m old and poor never mind the fact the toll that the lycanthropy has and will continue to take. You should have someone…’
‘Remus, I don’t care about any of that,’ she cut him off with a tired sort of smile. She let her hand rest of the side of his neck, against the scarred surface of his skin and whispered quietly, imploringly, ‘if I’m not mistaken, if you feel even the slightest echo of what I feel for you, please, just say yes.’
‘Well of course I…’
He was not allowed to argue his point to completion and for that, in years to come, he would be very grateful. Hermione once again captured his lips, this time with unrestrained enthusiasm. He knew that there was no turning back now; he could never deny Hermione anything she might want. The thought that she felt for him as he did for her was confirmed when she whispered the three words he had never expected to hear as they awoke the next morning.
Remus Lupin loved his job. But he loved his colleague more.