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Call Me By Name

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To: starduchess
From: Your Secret Santa


Title: Call Me By Name
Author: nightfalltwen
Pairing: Harry/Hermione
Summary: Harry returns to England a 'changed man' after having been missing in Germany for a month. Hermione finds a way to undo this change, but she has to be willing to trust that he won't hurt her and Harry has to be willing to believe as well.
Rating: NC17
Length: 13,025
Warnings: Nothing terrible. Possibly a bit of violence at the start.
Author's notes: I may have taken a fast and loose interpretation of Christmas/Yule traditions and 'magical bonds' but I hope that is alright. I chose werewolves over vampires only because a terribly insistent bunny bit me and I couldn't put down the idea. It was such a pleasure to write for you and I hope you have a fabulous holiday season and a wonderful 2015. Many thanks to my beta without whom I would 5-ever be lost.

*~*~*~*~*~*


October 25 2007

Skidding to a stop, the black pine crunching beneath his shoes, Harry used a small tree to keep himself from toppling over the edge of the steep slope. He looked around frantically for his partner, hesitant to light his torch and give away his position. He cursed Auror Wexley for splitting up him and Ron. Working with a new partner had been the worst mistake. Harry didn't care if new recruits needed training. Pip was too green to be on such a mission.

A pained scream cut through the dark night.

Harry reached for his wand instinctively before he remembered that it had been long lost in the chase.

When Fenrir had been killed during the battle at Hogwarts, most of the Ministry had thought the wolves in his pack would come forward and allow themselves to be registered and medicated with wolfsbane. That hadn't been the case. The pack had scattered to the continent and hid themselves well. Every now and then they'd surface, usually when one of them killed a muggle. When that happened, Harry (and, more often than not, Ron) would be sent to find them.

This time Ron had been sent to the Orkneys and Harry had been sent to the Black Forest of Germany.

Harry tried to slow his breathing, closing his eyes for a long time and listening to the sounds of the forest around him. Behind him a twig snapped. Harry bolted and started running, sliding on needles and stones as he practically tumbled down a steep embankment. If he could get to a road, he could flag down a car and somehow get to a city where he could find some help. Without his wand he was fucked. Thoroughly and royally.

However, the 'getting to the road' plan was short lived.

A shout came from behind. Suddenly Harry's feet were tangled in roots that grabbed at his legs and wound themselves around his knees. The sudden entanglement, mixed with his momentum meant that he ended up plowing directly into the ground with a sickening crunch. A stab of pain knifed its way up his arm and his glasses hung from his ear, cracked and twisted.

Harry scrabbled his hand around in the dark, looking for anything he could use as a weapon.

"Poor little Auror," the voice said from above, a boot connecting with Harry's side and knocking the wind from his lungs. "I'd say you're a bit far from home, wouldn't you?"

In the haze of pain, Harry managed to turn over, only to be faced with a blurred shape above him. "There's more of us," he said, gritting his teeth against whatever had happened to his arm.

"You mean that other one you were here with? Soft little thing," he the voice paused and Harry could barely make out a hand being held aloft. "'Bout this high, you'd say? Don't think I need to worry 'bout that little scrap of nothing. We made short work of him already. Though I'm sure you could find a few bits and pieces to take home to his sweetie."

Laughter filled the forest and Harry wasn't sure if it was coming just from the man above him or from the branches of the trees as well. Kicking against the roots that held his legs, Harry reached for the man in a fit of anger. Pip had annoyed him with his eagerness to please and fondness for paperwork, but he'd not wanted the man to die. There were no words for what Harry was feeling. He wanted to scream, but he also didn't want to give his captor the satisfaction of triumph.

Knees and wrists came into view, a face a little more in focus than before, as the man crouched beside Harry. "You picked a dangerous time to come after us, Harry Potter," the man said, dirty teeth on display in a wicked smile. "Full moon soon."

"So kill me and be done with it," Harry challenged.

The man grabbed the front of Harry's robes, pulling him closer, tightening the fabric until it pressed hard against Harry's throat. "I thought about that," he said, acrid stench floating out from between his teeth. "But I have a frightfully better idea."

The last thought that went through Harry's head before the fist connected with his temple was that at least it wasn't the killing curse and he wasn't dying. Though if he'd known what the frightfully better idea was, he might have changed his mind.

*~*~*~*~*~*


November 24, 2007

Search for Harry Potter and partner, Pip Lachlan, in its fourth week; Ministry fears the worst!
Have we lost our Boy Who Lived?

Hermione glowered at the paper and flung it into her fire, pushing aside her supper plate, her appetite long gone. The headline slowly vanished as people in the various photographs ran from the flames that crept along the typeface. Luckily the owl that had dropped it off in the morning was long gone or it would have also received the brunt of her frustration. Not that Hermione would ever harm an animal for the sake of her own anger, but she probably would have scolded it and sent it off without a treat.

To say that she was worried about Harry wasn't even scraping the surface of how she felt. She stayed up for hours, hoping upon hope that the next crackle in her Floo would be him finally getting in contact or Ron calling with good news.

With a sigh, Hermione got up from the table and carried her plate into the kitchen. He didn't live with her, but Harry's absence was keenly felt and her little cottage in the Cotswolds had an empty chill to it. She rubbed her arms, summoning a woolly shawl to wrap around her shoulders. She opened a cupboard, taking out a container of cat kibble to feed Crookshanks.

Normally the senior cat was instantly at her side the moment the cupboard squeaked open with his rattling meows. Hermione gave the container a shake, but Crookshanks remained absent. With a sigh, Hermione walked to the back door, giving the flap at the bottom a bit of a nudge with her foot. She shook the container again and waited. No cat.

"Brilliant," she said, setting the cat food on the counter and grabbing her boots.

The weather for mid-November had taken a colder turn and Hermione grumpily tightened the shawl around her shoulders, calling for Crookshanks. She got all the way to the back of her garden, the gate leading out to the wooded acreage behind her cottage. Pushing open the gate, she marched toward the trees, heading for the hollow one that her ginger beast liked to curl up inside.

It was only when she was out of sight of the house that she realised the woods were a lot darker than she'd first realised. Light from the full moon cut through the trees, but only barely. When she found the hollow tree and no Crookshanks, Hermione sighed. She didn't want to leave him outside, but she also didn't want to leave the cat door open to other creatures that could get into the kitchen. Puffing out her cheeks, Hermione turned back toward the house.

A low growl caused her to freeze in her tracks.

Slowly she glanced back and between the ribbons of moonlight, she could make out a shape. A distinctly four legged shape. Everything fell into place in a rather terrifying way. The growl. The full moon. There were no wolves in the England. Every time someone brought up the idea in parliament, it was shelved due to public outcry. This was no wolf. It couldn't be.

Without another thought, and without time to defend herself, Hermione's fight or flight response veered off to the flight side. She bolted, dropped her shawl and even though she was wearing boots, she ran as fast and as hard as she could back toward the cottage. A howl cut through the air and she could hear the sounds of the approaching creature. Somehow she managed to get through her gate, her garden and into the back door of her house. How, she didn't know.

Thrusting out her wand, Hermione cast a locking charm on the door just as a sturdy thump hit it. There was another howl and she set off the protection wards on her home. The thumping at her back door grew muffled as the charms settled over the house. Nothing could get in. Unfortunately the side effect was that she couldn't get out.

Hermione inched toward the door and peeked out past the curtains, spotting the werewolf just on the other side, pacing back and forth. Every so often it looked back at the house, howling in frustration.

A grumpy meow startled her and Hermione clutched her chest, spinning around, ready to hex. "Crookshanks!" she gasped, blurting out the first thing that seemed reasonable. "Where on earth have you been?!"

The ancient cat didn't give her an answer.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Hermione woke the next morning, half sitting on the sofa. Her neck ached and one leg was completely asleep from having been sat on all night. At first she couldn't remember why she wasn't in bed. She didn't normally spend evenings on the sofa. Even when she was caught up in a book, she almost always remembered to call it a night and make her way upstairs. Stretching, she went to stand up. That's when she realised she was still wearing boots. And that's when she remembered what had happened the night before.

Protocol stated that she was to contact the Ministry straight away and really she knew that she should, but curiosity got the better of her and she went over to the window that overlooked the back step to see out into her garden. Nothing was destroyed. There were a few clods of grass that had been kicked up by the werewolf's feet, but that seemed to be the extent of the damage.

Pressing her nose up against the glass, she peered down to the back step. Hermione let out a gasp, covering her mouth with her hand.

When she'd sealed herself away, she'd expected the wolf to grow impatient and find another place. Normally when one prey was taken from them, a werewolf would go in search of another. By morning she had fully expected to be alone once more. So she was shocked to see a bare leg hanging off her back step.

The internal debate lasted but a moment and with wand in hand, she took down the wards and tugged open the door. Hermione ignored the fact that the man had no clothes on but had somehow managed to find her discarded shawl and wrap it about his hips.

"Get up," she said sternly. "I've sent word to the authorities."

"No, you haven't." The man said painfully, pushing himself up on one elbow, his back to her. "You just took the wards down. And I rather think you want answers before you give me up." He slumped back down on the step and turned onto his back.

Hermione felt her heart leap into her throat the moment the man started to speak. When he rolled over onto his back, she dropped her wand and let out a little shriek. "Oh my goodness... Harry!"

"Hey, Hermione," Harry said, squinting up at her.

Hermione didn't know what to say. She just stood there, mouth open. Four weeks without word and Harry shows up naked on her back step? And that didn't even begin to scrape the surface of the questions she had. But she didn't know what to ask first. She didn't know if she was to be angry at him or pleased that he was there. She was relieved, of course, that he wasn't dead, but there was still so much else that needed to be answered.

Harry sat up and rubbed his bare arms. "Bit cold out here in nothing but your shawl. Mind if I come in?"

"Yes! I mean no. I mean, of course I don't mind. Yes, please come in." She shook her head to clear the thoughts away and turned around to grab her Ministry robe, holding it out to him. It wouldn't fit and she knew that, but it was something more than just her shawl.

He wrapped himself in the black robe and got to his mud stained feet. Hermione looked him up and down before stepping out of the doorway so he could come in, watching as he moved. She'd not seen Harry so scrawny. Not since they were eleven. And it made her wonder if he'd been out on his own this whole time.

"I'll put on a kettle," she said, feeling stupid for even saying it. But she didn't know what else to say other than the obvious questions that she wasn't sure he was ready to answer.

"Sounds great. You still have a change of my clothes here?" he asked.

"Of course. I always do... for both you and Ron," she said, drawing in a deep breath.

When they'd gone into the Auror department, she'd offered to keep an emergency set of everything in case they got in a fix. Both had always been welcome to pop into her home if they were in trouble. It was the least she could do as their friend. Digging a towel out of the linen cupboard, Hermione pointed toward the shower before fetching his clothes and letting him have some privacy. When the water came on, she returned to the kitchen and set out the cups.

The tea had gone cold by the time she decided to go check on him. Hermione crept up the stairs to the shower but found only her Ministry robe and a dirty towel. With a frown, she flicked her wand at both, sending them toward the hamper.

She found Harry in her room, sprawled on her bed and fast asleep.

"Oh Harry," she said softly, sitting on the edge of the bed. She reached out and brushed back some of his hair. Even at his worst, during the horcrux hunt, she'd not seen him look this exhausted. There were dark circles upon dark circles under his eyes.

Pushing herself off the bed, Hermione went over to her dresser and tugged open the top drawer. Along with a change of clothing, she also kept an emergency pair of glasses for him. Sometimes occulous reparo just wasn't enough. Placing the specs on the nightstand, Hermione left the room and went back downstairs.

Harry was back. After four weeks, he was back. And she had so many more questions than answers.

*~*~*~*~*~*

"It just doesn't make sense, Harry," Hermione said, pushing the platter of roast beef towards him. "If you weren't bit on the full moon, you shouldn't be able to change."

Harry carefully selected the rarest pieces of beef, piling them on his plate. When he'd woken to the smell of roast and drippings, he'd thought he had died. It had been weeks since he'd had a proper meal and the comforting scents wafting from the kitchen below were almost too good to be true. But it had not been the afterlife and tucking into a hot meal was possibly the best thing that had happened to him in the last four weeks. Stuffing a dripping piece of meat into his mouth, Harry closed his eyes in sheer bliss. This was definitely worth letting someone in on his secret.

After the first full moon, Harry had come to the decision that no one would know about what had happened to him. But the pull of England had been much stronger than he'd bargained for and the next thing he'd known he'd woken on her doorstep.

"I can't explain it," Harry answered with a shrug. "Pip and I knew we had to be out of there before the twenty-sixth because that was the full moon. It was the night of the twenty-fifth. Someone bit me that night. The next night... I remember a lot of pain. And a lot of running and waking up in the middle of Germany without even a shawl to cover myself."

Hermione pushed aside her plate and flipped through one of her manuals from the Ministry. "It's just, that goes against everything the registration department has written about werewolves."

Wiping the side of his mouth with a napkin, Harry reached for the manual. "Or it’s just that no one in my situation has lived to update them."

He watched as she tried to comprehend what he was saying. Harry couldn't explain it. He didn't exactly have a desire to return to the Black Forest to try and find the alpha that had turned him in order to ask. He knew it was difficult for her. Having so many questions without any answers would frustrate anyone. For Hermione to have questions she couldn't answer from the books in her house was probably driving her mad.

It still drove him mad.

She pulled a new book into her lap and thumbed through it while Harry looked at the Werewolf registry manual. After a moment, she glanced up at him. "You have a month." It was a statement and not a question.

"Until the next change, yeah. I figure I can get myself to the Outer Hebrides by then." Hitchhiking had managed to work so far, so he didn't see a reason to give it up just yet.

Hermione snapped the book and placed it on the table with a heavy thump. "Harry Potter you will do nothing of the sort." Standing, she picked up her plate and the leftover dish of peas. "I won't have you vanishing on me... on us... again. If anything, I can find a way to get you wolfsbane potion."

Harry opened his mouth to point out that if she was asking for a dose of wolfsbane, there would be more questions that she would have to answer. Questions he didn't want her to answer. But his protests were silenced by the sharp look that crossed her face. Harry had seen that look a number of times in the past and he was very, very reluctant to continue arguing against it.

"But what I really want to do," she said, taking her dishes to the sink, "is search through the archives to see if there is anything written that will help us."

Harry picked at his beef, now cold, and stuffed a particularly drippy piece into his mouth. "Us?"

Spinning around, Hermione put her hands on her hips. "Yes, us. Harry, if you think I'm going to let you bash about England and Scotland, unregistered, you've got another thing coming. And if you think I'm just going to let you leave without helping you, like I've always helped you, then obviously you've forgotten just how important your friendship is to me."

He watched her for a moment, her nostrils flaring a bit as she waited for him to protest. But he knew that she was right. She always helped him. It didn't matter if she was trying to stop him from chasing Malfoy on a broom to get back Neville's remembrall or if she was making potions in the loo or following him into battle. Hermione, like Ron, was always on his side. Harry rubbed the back of his neck, his thoughts drifting to the other side of their triangle, Ron. While he was alright with Hermione knowing the secret, Harry still hadn't decided either way if he wanted Ron to be involved.

"Just you," he said after a long moment. "I'm not ready for anyone else. Alright?"

Hermione gave him a small smile. "Just me."

Rising from the chair, Harry started to clean up his plate, snatching up one last piece of meat before the plate was whisked away. Putting away the supper dishes seemed almost too domestic considering the situation, but he relaxed into the routine, wanting to enjoy the moment as long as he could. Heaven only knew the next time he'd have the chance to just be at home with someone. They talked briefly about things he would need, clothing, toiletries and the like and had the sink not been draining, they might have missed the woosh of the fireplace in the sitting room.

Harry grabbed the edge of the counter; Hermione put her hand on his forearm.

"Oi, Hermione!" Ron's familiar voice called from the other room.

Hermione dropped her towel and made a 'stay here' signal to Harry before leaving the kitchen. It took Harry a few breaths before he could let go of the counter. Then he moved over so his back was pressed to the wall next to the open archway. Exhaling softly, he was glad to realise that Ron's voice was only coming from the fireplace.

Hermione knelt in front of the fire, mostly blocking Ron's face from view. "I didn't think you were back from the continent just yet."

"They called us back yesterday. I tried calling you last night but it was blocked off. Are you alright?"

"Yes. Yes of course." Hermione waved her hand. "I just wanted some privacy."

Harry didn't have to see to know that Ron was smiling. "Ahh, I see. Well don't let me keep you if you're... busy. I just wanted to check in and make sure you knew I was back."

"Ron! It's not like that..." Hermione protested. The fluster was obvious in her voice. "In any case, that was last night. I'm glad you called. Might I stop by the house after work tomorrow?"

Ron went quiet for a moment and Harry wondered if the call had been cut short. But then his friend spoke again. "Sure thing. I've got Pansy coming over at seven, but that shouldn't interfere with anything."

"Thanks Ron," Hermione said, standing up after the fire went dark.

Harry stepped around the corner, eyebrows raised. "Pansy? As in Pansy Parkinson?"

"I don't even know how to explain that," Hermione answered, hands up. She gestured to the stairs. "Started after you disappeared and he's never really told me how or why. I don't ask him about it." She led him to the small bedroom she'd converted into a library. "I'll go get the airbed from the attic if you wouldn't mind moving some of the chairs."

Harry nodded and watched her leave before pulling a fat armchair over to the window. Crookshanks, who had been sleeping under it, let out a grumpy meow and left the room, tail high in the air. He shook his head at the departing feline. Things had changed all around him. But at least he could take solace in the fact there was still a grouchy, old cat he could rely on for being the same.

*~*~*~*~*~*


December 3, 2007

Hermione stretched her arm out, balancing on a step stool and tried to wiggle a parchment out from between two large tomes on the top shelf. It would have been easier to get at it had she been allowed her wand, but the items in this section of the archives dated back to the Battle of Hastings and even earlier. In this section no one was allowed to use magic. They even had to don little white gloves in order to touch any of the writing. Poking her tongue out between her teeth, Hermione wiggled the parchment a bit more, nearly losing her balance as a cloud of dust rained down on her.

Sputtering, she waved her hand in front of her face.

"There you are, Granger."

Hermione jumped in surprise and grasped the shelf, sneezing twice before she looked over her shoulder. "Here I am, Malfoy."

"I've sent you no less than six office memos over the last week and a half. I should think that someone as invested in the revising of current creature legislation as you are would not want to miss important meetings of the wizengamot on the subject." Draco crossed his arms over his chest and wrinkled his nose at the dusty, dimly-lit surroundings. "What on earth has you squirrelled away down here?"

"Research," she said, finally tugging the parchment free and closing her eyes as dust fluttered down around her once more.

Draco snorted. "Don't you have every piece of creature lore memorised by now?"

Stepping down off the stool, Hermione turned and sat on one of the steps. She brushed her gloves over the parchment, trying to rid it of some smears of dirt. "This is something new," she said, reading the old English and struggling through the translation. She sighed when all it seemed to talk about was fields and faery rings. "I want to see if there's something written that I don't know about."

Draco picked his way through the piles of books and came over to where she sat. "I didn't think that was possible."

A laugh turned into a sneeze and Hermione batted away the dust motes that tickled her nose. "That sounded oddly like a compliment."

"I might not particularly enjoy your company when you get your mind into the 'save the creatures' mode, but that doesn't mean I don't acknowledge the fact that you are practically Ravenclaw in your appetite for learning." He made a face and picked up a book, thumbing through the pages before Hermione could stop him and shove gloves into his hands.

She glanced nervously back along the stacks. "Well, have you ever heard of someone getting bitten the day before the full moon and still able to change?"

Placing the book back onto the shelf, Draco shook his head. "I haven't. Because it doesn't happen." He turned to look at her. "Don't tell me some poor sod thinks they're going to shift because they think they've been bitten. There are better ways to get aid from the Ministry than claim werewolf."

Hermione wiped her nose with a gloved hand and then frowned, tugging them off finger by finger. She reached for a new pair that didn't have oils from her skin all over them. "It isn't anything like that," she said, pursing her lips. "I just want to have every angle. Every legend. Every witness report that is out there. I can't make strong cases without facts to back them up."

Draco's eyebrows rose slightly. "Legend isn't fact, Granger."

"I know that, Malfoy. But legends lead to studies and studies produce theory that becomes fact in a lot of cases. Especially with werewolves."

Folding his arms across his chest, Draco shook his head. "None of which will help anyone if you don't attend the meetings." He turned on his heel. "I'll ask around if anyone has any other thoughts on the subject, but I suspect you're grasping at straws."

Hermione watched as Draco left and she looked at the shelves and shelves of archived information. A sinking feeling started to drag her down. He was right. She was chasing an idea that had no merit. Whatever odd circumstances Harry had come upon, she was starting to think that there wasn't a solution. It was either black market wolfsbane or Harry would have to face the fact of being a known and registered werewolf.

Both options seemed equally dismaying.

Sadly, Hermione picked up the few books that she had brought with her into the archives for cross referencing and made her way back to the front desk. With a tight smile, she signed herself out. As she waited for the secretary to return her wand, Hermione thought about what she might say to Harry about all of this, but came up short. There was no good way to phrase 'your situation might be hopeless' to one's best friend.

With a sigh, she left the ministry, only pausing long enough to summon her pocketbook and coat before she disapparated.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Surprisingly, Harry heard the wards on the house shift before he heard the pop of Hermione as she apparated into the kitchen. It was an odd sensation, noticing things that he'd never noticed before and Harry wasn't quite sure if he liked it or not. When Hermione didn’t immediately turn the light in the kitchen on, Harry frowned. He walked over to the archway and leaned through. She was unloading a shopping bag in the dark.

"Isn't it easier to do that with the light on?" he asked. Hermione's response was a yelp and Harry snatched the clementine out of the air before it smacked him in the face. "Good arm," he said, reaching over to flick the light on. "And I didn't even know you knew those words."

Hermione clapped both hands over her face and moaned a soft apology. "I knew you were in the house. I just didn't expect... I don't know what I expected. I was just thinking about something else and thought I'd come find you." She dropped her hands and looked at him. "And what do you mean by not know those words? I spent years in Ron's company..."

Harry laughed. She had a point. Ron tended to err on the side of colourful expletives and both of them had heard more than their fair share. He walked over to the counter, reaching for one of the plastic sacks. The milk went into the fridge along with a stick of butter and some mascarpone. Hermione took a ready-made shepherd's pie out of a package and slid it into the oven, turning the dial. She flicked her wand at the rubbish and sent it off to the bin.

"You're not finding anything, are you?" he asked, placing a box of corn flakes into the cupboard.

"I've not looked at every bit of information in the Archive. There's something there. I just know there is and all I have to do is find it." Hermione leaned against the counter. "I just can't imagine that there's not a single person in the world who hasn't had the same thing happen to them that happened to you."

Harry shrugged his shoulders and flicked a glance at the calendar hanging on the wall. A wrinkly looking dog in reindeer antlers peered back at him. Dropping his gaze, Harry focused on the red circle around the twenty first of the month. It was less than two weeks away and he didn't think there was a chance to do anything, despite Hermione's best efforts. He'd just have to get used to the change. Sucking in a breath, Harry turned back to her.

"I don't want to think about it right now," he said, holding his hand out. "C'mon. Let me show you something."

"Harry," Hermione said, taking his hand and letting him lead her from the kitchen, "we have to think about it. We don't have the luxury of time and I won't give up on this just because I'm hitting a little bit of a stumbling-- oh!"

Harry let go of her hand and gestured to the large pine in her sitting room. "I saw a box of Christmas decorations in the attic." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It was something to do. I wasn't sure if you decorated on your own, but they were there... and there are all those trees out behind your house, I figured no one would notice."

When she didn't immediately respond, Harry started to feel a little self-conscious. He shifted uneasily and then went over to the sofa where the last box he'd emptied, putting the unused strand of fairy lights into it along with some empty ornament containers. Glancing back, he paused, watching as Hermione drew close to the tree, reaching out to touch a few of the ornaments. He'd been about to ask if she wanted him to put it all away, but the shine in her eyes and the soft smile on her face made him think otherwise.

"It's lovely," she breathed.

Harry crossed the room and stood beside her. "I had a hell of a time trying to get it straight. I didn't realise how difficult it was when you're doing it by yourself."

"I can only imagine," she said with a laugh. "I've never attempted it. Thank you, Harry." Hermione turned and flung her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "It's perfect."

When she released him and almost bounced over to the fireplace, flicking her wand at it to light the fire, Harry keenly felt her absence. He'd been trying not to get caught up in the moment, but she'd left behind a cloud of scent that went straight to his head. It was a bit dizzying and he'd not been expecting the response to be as strong as it was. Closing his eyes, Harry clenched his hands into fists and pressed them to his thighs and waited for the moment to pass. He heard her turn around and snapped his eyes open, giving her a smile.

"Have a seat... I'll go check on the food," he said and then, not giving her a chance to respond, he retreated to the kitchen.

It was an awkward moment of his own making and Harry knew this. He knew that he had to just ignore things that he wasn't quite used to. Reaching for a bowl, he busied himself with getting plates and whatnot ready for the food. He contemplated putting together a salad from the bag of mixed greens she'd bought, but part of him seemed to rise up and protest the whole idea of salad. Harry warred with himself for a moment before grabbing a bowl and tossing some of the lettuce into it. He was sure she'd appreciate not having a meat only meal. Even if the idea of it really appealed to him these days.

Flipping a tea towel over his shoulder, Harry walked back to the living room, stopping when he realised that Hermione wasn't alone.

Pacing in front of the fireplace was Ron, hands buried in his red hair and soot all over his auror robes. So engrossed in his own thoughts, Harry hadn't even heard the flare of the floo. He froze, watching his friend wear a hole in Hermione's floor with every agitated step.

"Why are we still sitting around, Hermione? You and I should be out there looking for him!" His fingers tightened in his hair. "They're giving it another week and then he'll be officially listed as presumed dead and I'm supposed to just carry on. Carry on without Harry!"

"I'm sure that's not the case, Ron," Hermione said quietly, holding out her hands in a calming gesture.

"It is the case!" Ron's voice rose and he sped up his pacing. "This is completely my fault. I should never have agreed to them splitting us up. Harry and I never ran into this sort of danger when we were working together because we worked together. But oh no, I listened to Wexley with all his praise saying that we were both due to train new personnel because we were so good at our jobs." He shrugged off his robe and tossed it onto the sofa, glancing over to where Harry stood. "Hey, Harry. And so Harry goes off to bloody Germany after the Greyback pack with a green auror? And that's not even the best part, Hermione..."

Ron's voice trailed off as his brain caught up. He slowly turned, looking at Harry, his mouth hanging open. They stared at each other for a long moment; the only sounds in the room were Hermione's quite gasp and the crackle of the fire behind Ron. Harry took a step into the room, fully prepared to explain himself, but didn't have a chance because in the next moment, Ron was gone. His crack of disapparation almost furious in its intensity.

"Oh no," Hermione said, covering her mouth with her hands. "Oh no, I should have told him."

"No, this is my fault," Harry came over to the sofa. "I told you not to tell anyone and I didn't go to him first."

"Why didn't you go to him first, Harry?" she asked. "Why me?"

"I'm not sure. It just felt like I had to come here and not anywhere else." Harry reached for her hand but stopped, thinking better of it. He rubbed his neck. "I can't explain it. I just know I needed to be here and not anywhere else."

They sat there until the timer in the kitchen beeped to signal the oven was done. Hermione got up and hurried to the kitchen. Harry got up to follow, but the sudden crack that sounded behind him and the hard shove he received stopped that. Harry stumbled forward and would have smashed into the wall, but managed to shift his momentum and spin around. He looked at Ron, raising his hands in surrender and bracing himself for the punch that he was sure would follow. And it almost did. Ron had his fist raised. Instead he turned and punched a dent into the wall.

"Where the fuck have you been?!" Ron pointed an angry finger at Harry, his nostrils flaring.

"Ronald!" Hermione said, appearing from the kitchen, holding the shepherd's pie in her hands. She thumped it down on the dining table.

Ron swung around. "Don't you 'Ronald' me, Hermione. How long have you known he was back? 'Oh, moths have eaten your emergency clothes, I need a few new sets' my arse! How could you not tell me?" He whirled back to face Harry. "I'm your best mate! I thought you were dead!"

"I know Ron," Harry said. He held out an arm in front of Hermione, moving slightly to put himself between her and Ron. "It's not her fault."

The three of them stood there for a few heartbeats and Harry was brought back to the tension during the hunt for horcruxes. But there was no locket to blame for anyone's anger, especially Ron's. This was all on Harry. He'd chosen to stay away and he'd asked Hermione not to say anything and he'd kept it all to himself and burdened this secret on her without letting anyone else share the load. He drew in a deep breath and then let it out.

"They bit me, Ron," he said finally as he slowly lifted his shirt and showed the scarring along his side.

Hermione gasped softly. She hadn't seen the angry marks before this.

Ron frowned, confused. "They bit..." His eyebrows shot up and he swore under his breath. All the fight seemed to drain right out of him and he sunk down onto the sofa. He opened his mouth to say something but Harry shook his head.

"I don't know the answer to 'why', Ron. I was frantic... and it was a blur. Somehow I managed to make my way back to England. But what was I supposed to do? Tell the Ministry that they turned me? You've both seen how werewolves are treated."

Ron leaned forward resting his arms on his knees. He looked about as defeated as Harry felt. All of this had put such a strain on them. Harry wasn't even sure that their friendship could recover and while he'd resigned himself to being out of their lives, facing the reality of Ron's disappointment was harder than Harry had ever imagined. It tore at his insides.

"So what do we do?" Ron said finally, looking up at Harry.

Before Harry could answer, Hermione piped up. "We don't tell anyone for starters. Secondly, I am still doing some research. Harry wasn't bit on the proper full moon and when he chased after me... oh Ron stop making that face, I'm fine... but when he chased after me, he could have easily caught up with me. But all he did was follow and then wait the night out. I think there's something different with his lycanthropy. I just need a bit more time."

Harry stood up. "The next full moon is in less than a fortnight... it's not a lot of time."

Ron also stood, taking a few steps towards Harry. "Then we'd better help her." He then turned and swung a fist at Harry, clipping him in the jaw. Hermione gasped in surprise and jumped to her feet. Ron shook out his hand and rolled his shoulders. "The next time you make me think you're dead, I'll kill you myself, you ruddy git."

Holding a hand to his chin, the rusty tang of blood filling his mouth, Harry nodded. "Noted."

*~*~*~*~*~*


December 17, 2007

As it turned out, having Ron in the know proved to be quite helpful instead of a hindrance. He'd manage to convince the Ministry to wait until the New Year before calling off the search, threatening to quit if they gave up on Harry at Christmas time. He'd also brought changes of clothing and other supplies over. They spent evenings together, pouring over books that Hermione brought home from the Ministry and while it felt good to work as a group, Hermione knew they were not making much in the way of headway. Everything she found was standard Ministry knowledge.

And they were running out of time.

She glanced at the desk calendar, frowning at the glaring red circle around the twenty-first. It was only four days away and she didn't even have time to seek out an underground way to obtain wolfsbane potion to give Harry an easier time of it. Failure was not something that Hermione was very good at, nor did she enjoy the feeling of letting Harry down. She'd been so sure there was something that could be done. What, she didn't know, but she'd had such a strong feeling that if she could just find the right text, it would explain everything.

With a frustrated sound, she gathered up her files and threw them across her office, the papers scattering as they hit the door. She folded her arms on the desk and buried her face against them.

"I'm not sure if I like this new filing system of yours," said a voice from her door.

Hermione looked up and couldn't stop herself from groaning, dropping her head back down onto her arms. "Go away, Malfoy." But instead of the click of her door closing, she heard him start to rustle about in the papers on the floor. She sat up again and frowned at him.

"Well I had thought you would be interested in this old book of mine; you seem so intent on following through with this wild goose chase," he said, holding out a book with a black cover. "I did spend a lot of time looking through the Malfoy library to find it. But if you'd rather I go..."

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes; Draco was obviously fishing for a grovelling plea. She refused to capitulate and held out her hand, waiting for him to stand and give it to her. Once in hand, she flipped through the old pages, taking note of the age of the paper and the style of the writing. It looked very similar to the book of fairy stories she'd carried all through the countryside while hunting Horcruxes. And that brought back memories of the Hallows and how she'd tried desperately to believe that something so outlandish couldn’t be real.

"They're legends." Draco stood in front of her desk, peering down as she looked at the different bits of writing. "Celtic, especially that of the continent, mostly. A lot of it centered around France because of our family name. My grandfather was a fan." He reached down and put a finger on a page, stopping her. "You asked if I'd heard of anyone not being bit on the full moon, but changing anyway. I haven't heard of a real person. This myth talks about reversing such a change... " Draco paused and waved his hand. "But as you can see, it's just a story."

But Hermione wasn't listening. She was carefully reading through the folk tale, running her finger along the print. It was exactly what she was looking for. It wasn't proof. But it was a glimmer of hope. She flipped the pages faster and faster, skimming the text and committing the illustrations to memory. A smile broke out on her face.

"This is perfect," she said, getting to her feet. She grabbed her coat and her purse, hurrying around her tiny office to gather other papers. Then without even thinking, she flung her arms around Draco, hugging him tightly. "This is brilliant."

Draco went completely rigid, and then awkwardly patted her back. "Yes. Well. You're quite welcome. Please stop."

She gave him one last squeeze and without even ushering him out, Hermione fled the office, hurrying down the corridor to the lift system. Her mind was racing. None of it made any sense and she was so used to going off of established theory that flying in the face of legend was unheard of. There wasn't anything else she could try other than giving up on Harry. Ron was already talking about how to get Harry registered without the press coming down on him, which Harry was completely against.

Stepping off the lift, she dashed straight for the Floo and it was only a moment before she was stumbling out of her own fireplace. Twenty minutes and a reading of the complete legend, Hermione looked expectantly at both Ron and Harry who had been in the middle of a game of chess. There was a mixture of healthy skepticism (Ron) and blatant horror (Harry) on their faces. Her heart sank.

"It's all I have," she said. "And we follow myth and legend in so many other situations, why not this one?"

"Because other situations don't involve the possibility of me biting you and turning you into a monster," Harry said. He took the book from her and flipped the pages, shaking his head. "It's just a story. And we don't even know if it's a known legend. Just something that Malfoy passed to you and I don't know if I feel comfortable enough trusting it for that reason alone."

"The story of the Three Brothers was just a story that Dumbledore passed to me," Hermione pointed out.

Harry rubbed his arms, looking restless. "I've got four days. That's not enough time to even look into it."

"It's the only lead I have!" Hermione crossed her arms over her chest.

Ron started to put away the chess pieces and folded up the board. "It just doesn't seem safe. Harry and I have already done some talking about him getting to someplace remote. It's all set."

It was then that Hermione noticed there was a packed rucksack sitting on the sofa. She looked first at Ron and then at Harry, both shifting uncomfortably and avoiding her gaze. Her lips tightened and she sucked in a breath. So in leaving them to their own devices, Ron and Harry had made plans without her. Her stomach clenched angrily and she could feel a temper she'd not felt in years start to push itself up to the surface. The same temper that had sent angry flocks of birds at Ron for being such a pillock.

"Well. If it's all set then, don't let me get in the way," she practically hissed, turning on her heel and stomping to the kitchen.

She heard the low hum of their voices, but chose not to focus on what they were saying. After a time, the roar of the floo signalled Ron's departure. By the time Harry finally joined her, Hermione had a pot of tea, and eleven angrily slapped together ham and cheese sandwiches sitting on the counter. Ignoring him, she furiously dug around in her cupboard looking for a box of digestives. She slammed the door closed and tore open the box, dumping the biscuits onto a plate. She returned to the loaf of bread and pulled out another two slices, tearing one slightly as she scraped butter across a side.

"Don't be angry, Hermione," he said. "You had to know that I couldn't stay."

"It's a chance," she bit out, not looking at him. She pressed the sandwich together until it was flattened against the cutting board. What was left was a tightly squashed square with mustard leaking out around the edges. "You don't know that it won't work."

"And you don't know that it will!" Harry's voice rose. "Do you even realise what it would do to me if I hurt you on a hunch?"

Hermione whirled around. "It's the solstice, Harry. A full moon, on the solstice and you were bit on the last night of the waxing gibbous... and you still change. That isn't possible and it still happened. So something has to be different and I want you to let me try!" He started to shake her head and Hermione stomped her foot. "No! No, I'm not going to let you do this to me a second, no third time. Do you even know what it was like when you disappeared? Do you even know what it was like to see you on the battlefield and think you were dead? My heart can't take it again. You and I have been through enough and I love you too much to give up and let you go it alone!"

Realising what she had said, Hermione closed her mouth and spun around facing the window over the sink and the cutting board full of sandwiches. If she said nothing else, perhaps he would just dismiss it as a friendship thing. When she looked back at him, the surprised expression filled with questions made it clear that he had not dismissed what she had said. Hermione flushed and fiddled with the little plastic tab to clip the bag around the bread slices.

"You had to have known..." When he didn't answer, she set aside the plastic tab and looked at him. "I used to think it was obvious when I didn't end up staying with Ron." At his lack of response, Hermione felt her neck go white hot and her stomach clench. This was a confession she'd been carrying with her for years and quite suddenly she wanted to reach out and pull the words back, denying they had even been spoken.

"Of course, you didn't know," she said finally and then waved her hand, looking down at the floor. "No, that's alright. It's not important. I just needed you to know what was pushing me. It's so much more than being your friend and I--"

Before she could finish the sentence, Harry had crossed the space between them, his hand curling around the back of her neck and his lips colliding with hers in a kiss that was so fierce and demanding that it pulled the breath right out of her. Her hands froze, half raised and she blinked in surprise. When Harry drew back, all she could see was green eyes and slightly foggy glasses. Those eyes crinkled up slightly and she knew, without flicking her gaze lower, that he was smiling.

"You talk too much," he said softly and he was close enough that his words brushed across her lips like feathers.

"You can't kiss this away, Harry," Hermione said breathlessly, knowing that he very easily could and that she very easily wanted him to.

"You know, I wondered for a long time why I was drawn to your house, Hermione," he said, ignoring her statement. "I thought it was just the wolf pulling me back to something familiar. I needed to be here. I needed you." He cupped either side of her face, his palms warm against her cheeks. The kiss that came next was soft and quick. "I still need to leave, but it's not like I won't come back. I don't think I could keep myself away."

Hermione stared at him with wide eyes. Unknowingly Harry had just given her an idea. It was one that would probably make him very cross. But it was an idea and the only one she had. Wrapping her arms around his neck, Hermione pulled Harry into a kiss. It was neither simple, nor sweet. Instead this kiss had all the pent up feelings she'd kept from him in a mixture of teeth and tongues, lips and breath. Her fingers wound their way through unruly hair, tangling in it somewhere close to the base of his scalp. He gave a little groan and pressed her up against the counter suddenly, enough to send the plate of sandwiches clattering into the sink.

Harry drew back and opened his mouth to say something.

"Ignore them," she said, grasping his hand and tugging him toward the stairs.

*~*~*~*~*~*

As they crossed through the sitting room, Harry briefly entertained the idea of pulling Hermione toward the sofa and onto his lap with the intent of leaving some very obvious marks on her neck. When he'd started the day, he'd not expected this to be the outcome. He'd been aware of his feelings for her for quite some time, but hadn't thought they were anything but friendship on her part. To find out that her insistence on helping him stemmed from more than just friendship.... well it certainly changed everything.

It didn't take much time, nor did he really pay attention to much of anything, before they were in her bedroom. There was almost a desperation in their movements as shirts and shoes, socks and trousers, ended up on the floor. Harry's glasses managed to make it safely to a windowsill. Soon he was sitting on the edge of the bed, Hermione standing between his knees.

"You're sure?" Harry asked, running his hands from the edge of her knickers, up over her waist and ribs until the rested just below her bra.

Hermione leaned over and kissed him, nipping lightly at his lower lip before straightening. "I have never been surer."

His arms went about her waist and he pressed his lips against the spot just below where her ribs met. The skin there was soft and felt almost like silk against his cheek. Fantasies could not compare to the reality of her body and Harry closed his eyes, just wanting to commit this one sensation to memory before he moved on. When he felt her fingers push at his shoulders, Harry smiled. Maybe there was time for poetic thoughts and whatnot later.

Scooting back on the mattress, Harry swallowed as Hermione climbed onto his lap. All the best warm parts of her were fitted against him, separated by torturous bits of fabric. Before he could say anything about removing more clothing, she leaned in and kissed his neck. Her hand slid up his chest and he was grateful to note that she kept her fingers away from the bite marks. He wasn't ready for her to touch them and he felt that she knew that.

Her thumb made lazy circles around the flat of his nipple, her lips kissing their way along his jaw. Every part of Harry strained, wanting to know her better. His hands moved up from her waist, fingers skimming along her back. Instead of struggling with the clasp, knowing he would fumble, Harry merely hooked his thumbs under the straps and pulled them down. Hermione chuckled against his neck, but made no move to help him with the removal beyond pulling her arms from the straps. The bra slid down and sat at her hips, circling her waist.

There had been one other time he'd seen her. It had only been a glimpse while she'd been putting on pyjamas while they shared a tent in the forest of Dean and it had been enough of a glimpse to send him off into the trees for a furious wank. His memories of the soft curve of her breast and the rosy pink of her nipples were nothing compared to what he saw now. Cupping his hands against them, Harry lifted only slightly to feel their weight, letting her nipples rub against the center of his palms. Hermione lifted her head and looked at him, lips parted as she drew in a low breath.

With a smile, Harry nudged her to lean back, dipping his head down to the space between her breasts. The sound that came from somewhere inside her chest thrilled him to no end. He peppered kisses across the slope of her breasts, taking one nipple into his mouth and worrying it between his tongue and teeth until he managed to elicit a moan. By the time he'd finished with the other nipple, Hermione was squirming so much in his lap that he was near to the point of breaking.

If he'd had a wand or if he'd known where her wand was, he would have vanished the remaining bits of clothing without even hesitating. As he had neither choice available, Harry reluctantly urged her off his lap, muttering about knickers under his breath.

To his surprise, Hermione giggled. In all the years he'd known her, Harry had no recollection of Hermione giggling. She'd laughed. She'd chuckled. But this sound was completely different and it caught him off guard. Enough so that he also started to laugh as well, getting caught up in her amusement. Soon her giggles turned into laughter and in between laughing kisses, they managed to remove the last bits of clothing.

When she was finally bared to him, all laughter died in his throat. Harry's mouth went dry and he swallowed. Somewhere in his brain, the remaining part that was still somewhat functioning, he knew that she truly looked no different than she had with her knickers on. But the rest of him was reacting as if that wasn't the case. And he couldn't convince himself otherwise. So reaching out, Harry clasped her hand and pulled her towards him.

Their lips met in a hungry kiss, Hermione's arms wrapping around his neck and Harry's hands resting on the flare of her hips. To his surprise, she didn't allow him to roll the pair of them over. Instead he found himself sprawled on the bed with Hermione astride his thighs. She looked down at him with a soft smile, leaning forward into the hands that had crept back up to cradle her breasts. Her hair fell down all around them in a wild curtain and as she moved, her curls tickled his cheek and his erection rubbed achingly against her stomach.

Quite suddenly, Harry was glad she had not seen fit to cut her hair short.

He sucked in a breath, fully ready to tell her how beautiful he thought she was. Before he could, though, she'd sat back enough to slide her hand between their bodies. Her fingers curled around his cock, sliding along its length. Words failed him completely and utterly. All Harry could manage was a garbled sort of sound, his head falling back against the bedding, eyes closing as she stroked her hand along his cock. Occasionally her thumb circled around the tip and Harry died a thousand times over.

Intelligent Hermione could be scary at times. Sexually confident Hermione was downright dangerous.

"Stop," he said, voice strangled, after a bit. "You have to stop or I'm... I'll..."

Hermione leaned forward again, kissing him and the next thing he knew she had shifted forward enough that the head of his cock was pressing against flesh too hot to be real. Harry opened his eyes and watched the intense concentration on her face as she sank down and the warmth that enveloped him was near to perfection. A strangled sound caught in his throat; she'd managed to do something with her hips that caused white hot electric bolts of sensation to swamp his senses.

The movements continued. She was in control of them and Harry was happy to let her set the pace. It started slow, but as her breathing turned to pants, the movements became more frantic. One hand stayed at her breast, lightly plucking at her nipple and with every movement she gave an encouraging moan. The other hand slid down to her hip and then across her abdomen. He moved it lower until his thumb had worked its way to the spot just above where their bodies were joined.

"Oh god," Hermione whispered as his thumb began to circle around her clit in time with each rocking motion of her body.

Taking that as a positive sign, he continued. How he managed to worry her nipple with one hand and flick across her clit with the other without losing himself, Harry didn't know. All he knew was that his body was clenching up and he couldn't stop himself from bucking up against her with a wild shout when he came, spilling into her white and hot. Moments later, his thumb still flicking back and forth across her clit, Hermione stiffened and started to shudder, clenching all around him with a gasping cry.

In the shuddering aftershocks, she curled against his chest, tugging a throw up over her shoulders and back. They lay there, his fingertips running over the back of her neck and hers making little circles around his shoulder. After a while the movements stopped and when Harry was certain she was asleep, he gently rolled her to the side, curling himself around her.

He kissed her forehead. "Whatever happens," he whispered. "Know that I've loved you for years."

*~*~*~*~*~*

It was full dark when Hermione woke. The light from the nearly full moon pooled on the floor of her room. She carefully untangled herself from Harry's arms, freezing every time she thought he'd stirred. When she was free of his embrace, she slid off the bed and tiptoed barefoot to the wardrobe. Grabbing a t-shirt, she slipped from the room and quietly made her way down the hall. As she descended the stairs, Hermione dodged the one squeaky step and then hurried to the kitchen. Her wand sat on the counter beside the open jar of mustard. Ignoring the rest of the cleanup, she quickly screwed the lid back onto the jar, shoving it into the fridge. She then left the kitchen and hurried back up to her room, casting silencing spells as she went to keep from being heard.

Harry was still asleep, sprawled on his stomach, the fuzzy throw blanket barely covering his arse and while she definitely wanted to stand there and admire said arse, she knew there was something else she needed to be doing.

Crouching low, she pulled a large book out from under her bed and quietly began to flip through the pages.

When she found the bonding spell, Hermione looked up at Harry, biting her lip nervously. He would be furious if he knew what she was planning. No amount of sex, no matter how good it was, would change things if it all went arse-backwards. So, she thought, it was just going to have to succeed. Then he wouldn't have a reason to be angry with her. And maybe, just maybe, he'd say he loved her again and not just when he thought she was asleep.

Hermione stood up and held out her wand, silently weaving the bonding spell between them until the thread of magic stretched from his body to hers.

When it was over, Hermione put the book away and got a spare blanket from the linen cupboard. She climbed back into bed, curling up against Harry and covering them both. The magical connection between them warmed her fingertips and wound its way up her arm. When the bubbling warmth hit her chest, Hermione sighed.

The last thing she thought before she went to sleep was that she knew he was going to leave.

He just didn't know that she was going to follow.

She hoped, in the end, he would forgive her.

*~*~*~*~*~*


December 21, 2007

The next few days had passed in an odd sort of blur. Various rooms of her house were used in ways that were certainly not intended and Hermione was sure that she had grievously offended her cat on more than one occasion. If Ron had guessed at the change, he made no mention or comment. Not that Hermione expected he would. That would have opened up a conversation that none of them were prepared to have and at this point it was just easier to avoid the subject and not talk about him dating Pansy or the number of times Hermione and Harry had shagged in the kitchen.

For the record it was only twice. Burning a pan of scrambled eggs in the process. Both times.

Looking up from the book of legends, Hermione glanced at Harry as he stuffed another shirt into his rucksack. They had been careful not to speak of his departure, both of them knowing it was going to happen. She didn't fight him on packing. He didn't argue against her continued study of the book Draco had given her.

Hermione turned the page as Harry started pulling things out of his rucksack again and started repacking. "Ron said he'd be here by half past four."

"I'm just restless. It was like this the last time. I feel like everything is starting to coil up inside me and not in a good way," he said, glancing at her.

She shifted under his gaze, knowing all too well the change in his energy. The pleasant ache between her thighs was evidence enough. Sucking in a breath, Hermione looked at the clock and tried not to calculate whether or not there was time for one more quick shag before he left. In all the times she'd imagined being with Harry, Hermione had not counted on just how much her desire for him would spike once she'd had a taste. But before she could propose the idea, the fireplace flared and Ron stepped out into the sitting room.

"Alright," Ron said, holding out a heavy winter cloak to Harry. "Everything's all set and sundown is in about ten minutes. Moonrise is in about an hour and a half."

Hermione closed her book and gave them both a pleading look. She had to try one last time for permission, but before she could even ask, Harry was already shaking his head. Despite how she felt about him, Hermione wanted to shout and rail at him for his damn sense of nobility. But she managed to keep herself quiet, crossing her arms across her chest. She pinched her eyes shut, lips twisted into a frown. When she opened them again, both Ron and Harry were gone.

Leaping to her feet, Hermione dashed to the coat closet, grabbing her own cloak, scarf and mittens. She looped the strap of her old beaded purse around her wrist, knowing that the things inside could most likely help in some way or another. Once those tasks were complete, she hurried back to the sofa, lifting the cover of her discarded book and taking out the letter marked simply with: Ron.

He was due to return to her house once Harry had been dropped off and she had written that she was going to spend the night working to keep her mind off things. Neither of them had told her where they were going, which had infuriated her. However, Hermione didn't focus on that; instead she bundled herself up, tugging a woolly hat down low over her ears. The magical bond pulsed under her skin and filled her thoughts with directions. North. She was meant to go north. She needed to go north.

Soon, through a series of apparition hops that only succeeded through sheer force of will and the connection she had to Harry, Hermione found herself on a tiny outcropping in what felt like the absolute middle of nowhere or the very end of the world. Below her the surf broke against the rocks and even through warming charms and an enchanted cloak, Hermione could feel the bracingly cold North Sea wind. She could only guess as to where she was, hoping it was still in the United Kingdom, one of the twenty uninhabited Orkney Islands perhaps, but she didn't rule out somewhere in Norway.

Stepping back from the cliff face, Hermione turned. She peered across the scraggily rock, wincing at the lack of anything. What few trees remained were bent and twisted from endless sea winds. Hermione swallowed and rubbed her arms. There was no other tug of magic within her, nothing else to pull her away from this place and on to another location. So this had to be it.

"Harry?" she called out softly as the clouds rolled back, moonlight being added to the endless wash of stars above her. "Harry can you hear me?"

A low rumble had her looking skyward, searching for thunderclouds amongst the wispy cloud cover with none to be found. It was then that she realised the rumble was something she'd heard before. It was the same sound she'd heard in the woods behind her house, low and guttural. Drawing in a deep breath, Hermione commanded her feet to turn and slowly she pivoted on the spot.

Werewolves were supposed to be almost man-like in their appearance. They were supposed to be a twisted combination of wolf and man with long limbs and vicious eyes. What crouched before her was something entirely different, something less magical and almost more natural. Harry was a wolf. He was enormous and quite obviously not your average wolf, but a wolf nevertheless. Four legs, long fur, sweeping tail and eyes that saw right through the very heart of her. His fur didn't glow in the moonlight. As black as it was, it seemed to draw in all light, appearing as a shadow in the night. He was terrifying and beautiful all at the same time.

Hermione tugged off her mittens and held out her hand to him, hoping that there was some recognition in the green, not gold, eyes. "Harry..."

Wolf-Harry bared his teeth and growled, crouching low.

Hermione swallowed, closing her eyes, and kept her fingers extended to him. "I trust you, Harry James Potter. I love you, Harry James Potter."

She kept repeating his name, keeping her hand out to him and her eyes tightly closed. The folk tale had talked of love and trust and how a name was one of the most powerful things in the world. Hermione's fingers ached in the cold and all she could hear was the growl of the wolf and the whistle of the wind. Her heart clenched painfully and she wondered if perhaps she'd been wrong. It was just a legend after all. You couldn't cure a werewolf simply by calling out that person's name. How could she have been so stupid? How could she have been so desperate? Tears slid down her cheeks and just as she started to pull her hand back and reach for her wand, a hand clasped hers.

Hermione's eyes popped open and she almost yelped in surprise. "Harry!"

He didn't answer but pulled her down into his arms, pressing his very human lips against hers in a fierce kiss. Hermione enthusiastically returned it, tears mixing with lips and the kiss tasting like salt and relief. Her hands tangled in his hair and it was only when her hands slid down over his shoulders that she realised those shoulders were bare. She pulled back suddenly and looked at him.

"You haven't got any clothes on!" she exclaimed, looking around for the satchel that he'd packed earlier.

Harry smiled and sat back, looking down at his side, where the bite mark remained and then up at the moon, full and fat above them. Hermione watched in astonishment as his hand slowly began to shift into a paw and then just as slowly shift back into a human hand. He blinked and then looked back at her, squinting in the moonlight. "I think being naked is the easiest question to answer at this point."

Hermione pulled out her wand and summoned the satchel from wherever it was. She handed him his glasses and then various bits of clothing until he was fully dressed. He'd barely finished fastening his cloak when a crack sounded behind him. Ron stood there, wand raised, ready to fight. When he took in the scene, his arm dropped. Reaching into his pocket he tugged out the letter and held it out to Hermione.

"You don't take your entire winter kit to the Ministry," he said to her, not taking his eyes off Harry. "She was right? She was able to cure you?"

Harry shook his head, but put up his hands to ward off Ron's sudden raised wand. "I'm not going to change," he said quickly and pointed at the clear sky and full moon. "At least I don't feel the urge to."

Ron's brow furrowed and then he looked at Hermione, expectant. She shook her head. Obviously what was happening with Harry was outside her scope of knowledge. Wrapping her cloak tightly around herself, she stooped down to pick up her fallen mittens. A gust of icy wind skimmed across the rocks and no amount of warming charms could keep out the bite.

"Should we go then?" she asked, looking first at Ron and then to Harry.

Harry shook his head. "I don't think it's safe. What if this is all temporary?"

Ron nodded. "He does have a point."

Hermione held up her beaded purse. The colour drained from both Ron and Harry's faces as memories of an uncomfortable tent on an uncomfortable trip washed over the both of them. She felt a twinge of satisfaction and started to untie the ribbons. It had been years since the last time she'd needed to use the camping supplies tucked away in this handbag. Reaching inside she looked around for an open space.

"Though there's something to be said for the warmth of a house and access to a shower," Ron said quickly. "Plus I promised not to stay out so late. There's a Christmas do I'm supposed to attend..."

Hermione looked to Harry. Ultimately it truly was his decision. After a moment he gave a nod. "Might be better to go back to the house, I think. You do have all those books. Perhaps I'm not fully cured... but maybe we can find the real answer this time."

Hermione tied the handbag closed and held out her hand, first to Harry whose fingers laced neatly with hers and then to Ron. She gave his hand a bit of a tug until he was slightly hunched over. Hermione pressed a kiss to his cheek, thanking him for coming back and thinking of her and doing all that he'd done to help.

Then in an instant they were gone from the deserted North Sea island.

*~*~*~*~*~*


December 25, 2007

"Found it!" Hermione pressed the book down onto the bedspread, her finger against a small passage.

Harry's hand stopped its slow climb up under her jumper and he lifted his head from her neck, leaving a red mark under her ear. Twisting slightly, he looked at the book she was pointing at, half wanting to shove it all aside and roll her over so he could bear her down into the mattress. She tapped at the book and made an impatient noise. Harry pinched his eyes shut and then focused again on the words.

"Loup Garou... I can't read the rest. It's written in French."

"It's small. It’s a legend written by a Muggle. It says the Loup Garou changes at will. That it retains all sense of self and loses all sense of the wild beast. Of course it's only a legend. But I think it's talking about you. Oh, we should go to France and see if there's more writing. I'm sure I could book some holidays; I haven't taken any in years. But I think this is you." She crawled off his lap and rolled over, holding up the book. "Look.... right here it says that there are tales a Loup Garou --Hey!"

Harry tugged the book from her hands and tossed it on the floor, pushing her back onto the bed and easing up the edge of her jumper so he could press his lips against the plane of her stomach. "Tell me more," he said, his voice low and started to tug her jeans and knickers down over her hips. "But perhaps later..."

Hermione started to argue the point, but the protest died on her lips and was replaced by a moan as his tongue traced a line down between her legs. He felt her fingers grip his hair and one knee come to rest against his shoulder. Soon he had her shaking and arching beneath him.

"I'm not done with this topic, Harry," she said, stretching almost cat like as she drifted back down from her high. "Didn't I tell you that you couldn't kiss things away?"

Harry kissed his way back up her stomach, pushing at her jumper again. "Give me Christmas?"

Hermione pushed at his shoulders until he was on his back and she was straddled across his hips. "Fine. I shall give you Christmas. But no distracting me with sex afterward just so you don't have to research with me." She held out her hand. "Deal?"

With a chuckle, Harry took her hand and shook it. "If I can have Christmas, I will let you follow any mad lead you might find." Tugging her down, Harry kissed her deeply. "I love you too much to say no."

He felt her smile against her lips. "Good. Because with all this reading, I've learned a number of really good hexes... I wouldn't risk my wrath."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

She pressed a kiss to his chin, teeth scraping across his jaw. Her lips made a trail of light kisses over his neck and then his chest. She paused to nip gently at his nipples before continuing her downward trail over her stomach and lower. Then her mouth slipped around him and Harry saw the sun, the moon, the stars and the end of the world.