The knock on the door was frantic. The erratic rhythm grew louder and more panicked the longer it went on, which was quite some time. It was well past midnight. No one in their right mind would be knocking on his door at such an hour, not so insistently, not so soon after the full moon, not if they knew what was good for them.
Still the knock continued.
Remus Lupin growled his displeasure as he hauled himself from his bed and made his ponderous route down the stairs to the door, all the while plotting bloody murder for whoever lay on the other side of his front door and thanking Merlin his son was a heavy sleeper.
“What?” he demanded as he threw the door wide, his anger vanished instantly. “What is it?”
“Remus!” Hermione cried and flew past him. “I’m so sorry. I know it’s late, but I need help. Can’t do this alone. I thought I could, but it’s too much.”
“The legislation again?” he asked, confused why the woman’s work would have her up to such hours and looking half-mad. Her eyes were blood-shot from lack of sleep. The mane of hair that she had managed to tame into the sort of thick curls that other women envied was in wild disarray, bushier even than when she had been a student.
“No,” she said, somehow sounding distraught with just the one word. She sent the contents of his kitchen table tumbling to the floor and started littering the now-clean surface with maps and schematics. She poured over them for a tense minute, turning them around and around until she had each one facing the correct way.
“What is all this?” he asked. “If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were planning a heist.”
She drew her bottom lip into her mouth. Remus had known her long enough to recognise that as an admission of guilt.
“Not stealing,” she insisted. “But I have to break into the Ministry. I thought I could manage it on my own, but they’re taking too many precautions.”
He paused, a frown taking over his face. “You did it before, fifth year. Why not have Harry and Ron help? What’s this all about?”
She shook her head, the bushy curls flying wildly around her face with the motion. “They’ve no reason to help me.”
“Hermione, they’re your friends. You asking is reason enough.”
“You’re my friend, too, Remus,” she pointed out. “I’m asking you. Is that reason enough?”
He clenched his eyes shut and sighed. Why was he such a pushover? If it had been anyone else, he would have demanded explanation, not just for the mad scheme but for the timing of it, the damage to his salt and pepper shakers, the lost sleep. But this was Hermione. She needed his help, and help her he would. “All right.”
“Oh, thank you!” she cried and wrapped him in a hug. “I really am sorry about this. I thought about asking Harry and Ron, but it wouldn’t work. They would have just charged in, guns blazing, and been fired for it. We need subtle, stealthy, cunning. We need one of those plans you used to make up when you were at school.”
She clicked her tongue. “It is a figure of speech. Now will you please focus!”
“Right, focusing,” he said. “A cunning plan.”
“Yes, that is precisely what we need.”
“A cunning plan to break into the Ministry… which bit?”
She pointed to one of her maps, “Fifth level.”
“Fifth level?” he repeated with a frown. “Are you sure? That floor is nothing but International Magical Cooperation.”
“And the Department of Marital Duties and Affairs, headed by Draco Bloody Malfoy,” she snarled and glared so angrily at the map that he was afraid she might set it on fire.
“I’ve never heard of that department.”
“It’s brand new, just approved last week,” she said, her volume rising with her anger. “I heard rumours but didn’t want to believe it. They’re dusting off some ridiculous old marriage law, but adding a few new amendments. They’re forcing every single witch and wizard to marry, but we don’t even get to choose our partners. They formed a council, headed by Malfoy, which gets to choose who marries whom! And as near as I can tell, from what little they’re telling anyone, there is no formula, rhyme or reason of any sort. It’s all up to whim!”
“Calm down, Hermione,” he advised.
“I WILL NOT CALM DOWN!” she shouted. “I am going to be forced to marry some total stranger because DRACO MALFOY decided it was a good idea! You as well! They don’t care about widowers, Remus. They don’t care if you’re in mourning. They will force you to marry.”
His advice seemed rather hollow now. He did not want to be calm, he wanted to get even. Jaw tight, he stared down at the map of the fifth level, the schematic of the entire Ministry and the wedding ring he still wore on his left hand. He would not let some mindless bint chosen by his former student waltz in and rob him of his life with Tonks, however brief it might have been.
“How much time do we have?”
“The pairings are going to be published in the Daily Prophet – Malfoy’s idea, public humiliation,” she ground out the words. “I found out that the list is being hand-delivered to the Prophet Thursday morning. I know I’m cutting it close.”
His anger cooled slightly with the news. “Hermione, we won’t be able to stop the law. The Ministry will be watching and they will expect us to marry someone. The best we could do is change the names to people we can tolerate.”
“That was my plan,” she insisted. “I don’t know who Malfoy paired me with, but you should have seen the look on his face when he taunted me in the lifts this morning. Whoever this man is, Malfoy knows I will hate him. I can only imagine the imbecile he’s paired me with.”
Remus nodded and tried to picture who Draco Malfoy would pick for her. Images of the young man’s own cronies came to mind, dim-witted lumps of flesh too slow and idiotic to even call human. Somehow that did not seem quite right. Next came the boasting braggarts that Hermione so often rolled her eyes at; the sort of bloke who would insist the brilliant witch quit her job and provide him with meals and children aplenty. That, certainly, would be the sort of man Hermione would detest. But he knew Malfoy; even in third year he was more cunning than any of his knot of snakes. He would never be so obvious. There had to be someone else, some other type of man that he thought Hermione would despise, but such a person was not coming to his brain.
“So, I have a list of people I could stand,” she said. “All I need is help getting into that office to change the list before it’s mailed. Once it’s published, Malfoy would never demand a correction for fear of looking incompetent. Please tell me you can think of something.”
He just smiled. “I have a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel.”
“I thought you might. What do I need to do?”
“Get some sleep,” he said. “I’ll work the kinks out by morning.”
“Go to sleep, Hermione.”
She frowned and grumbled, but marched herself up the stairs to the guest room. It was a room she occupied frequently. His flat was closer to the Ministry than hers, so she often came by for a visit after work; they shared dinner and thoughts on her attempts to get werewolf legislation rewritten. He had to confess that the few hours he spent in her company were the brightest spots in his otherwise dull and despondent life. Even with Teddy to look after, he had a difficult time pulling himself together after the war, after Tonks died. Hermione was invaluable in that sense.
“Teddy,” he frowned and wondered at the sort of woman that would be thrown into his son’s life. The thought of losing the last traces of Dora was one thing; to have a strange woman claiming ownership of their son was quite another. He could not let that happen.
He set a kettle onto the cooker and sat down to study the papers Hermione had brought. The ghosts of his friends, Sirius and James, even young Peter Pettigrew, floated around his head as he plotted.
‘Invisibility cloak?’ James suggested, his hazel eyes bright with mischief.
“I haven’t got one,” Remus muttered.
‘Well, go steal it from Harry,’ Sirius shrugged. Even as a figment of Remus’s exhausted and angry mind, he was effortlessly elegant, leaning back in the chair, feet propped up on the table.
‘Probably have charms to detect that sort of thing,’ Peter frowned. ‘No, we need something way more tricky.’
‘Psychological warfare,’ he said, eyes glowing. ‘Just like that time fifth year with the Slytherins.’
“That could work…” Remus muttered and studied the schematic, noting that it was hand-drawn with Hermione’s neat writing recording every charm that was in place to protect the fifth level and the Department of Marital Duties and Affairs. “Yes, that could work very well.”
‘I love it when you get that look on your face, Moony,’ James commented with a grin.
‘It always means trouble for someone who isn’t us,’ Sirius smirked.
Hermione practically pouted up at him, but he managed to stand firm. “No.”
“Because I said so.”
“That is not a real reason,” she frowned.
“Nor was the one you used to get me to help you,” he countered. “Now get up.”
“I don’t want to,” she groaned and pulled the pillow down over her head. “I’m tired.”
“Whose fault is that?”
“Not entirely true, but I will accept that answer,” he said and tore the pillow from her hands. “Up. You have to be at work in an hour. You’re my ticket inside, Miss Granger. My entire cunning plan rests on you getting your arse to work on time.”
She squinted at him. “Professors shouldn’t talk about their students’ arses, you know.”
“Well, then it’s a good thing I quit before they sacked me for it, I’d say. Arse up now.”
“That sounded dirty. Guess we know what your fetish is, then.”
Remus blinked down at her, too shocked to reply. Hermione never mentioned anything even remotely sexual around him; she would briefly complain about whomever she was dating, but never the details, never the sex. This was different. It was probably because she was tired.
“I’m up,” she said and pushed past him. “What’s this cunning plan of yours?”
“I-I’ll tell you over breakfast,” he said hurriedly and all but ran from the room.
‘Someone’s thinking naughty thoughts,’ Sirius sang.
“Shut up,” Remus hissed, knowing full well that the voice was in his brain and memory and that if Hermione heard him she would think him mad. Better mad than a dirty old man.
He went to the kitchen and made breakfast, arranging the eggs, bacon and toast as he had learned to do just for Hermione; only she would enjoy a plate of food that smiled back. If only she had not taught his son to enjoy such oddities. The woman sat down and waited patiently for him to start explaining his plan while Teddy dug into his food, too eager for jam to care what they were talking about.
“Psychological warfare,” Remus said.
“Well, there’s a first,” he said with a slight smirk which only grew when she slapped his arm. “The Ministry is clearly trying to keep this new law and department under wraps until the Prophet article is published on Monday, so why would Malfoy tell you about it?”
“He’s a git.”
“Yes, but he’s also taunting you. You said as much yourself. He’s playing mind games. He wants you to try something stupid, preferably with Harry and Ron,” he reasoned. “There are sensors and charms that you don’t know about, I’m certain of it. So, when you go to work, I’ll go with you. I have to reregister on level four; today is as good a day as any.”
“How will that help?”
“Remus,” she said, her voice taking on a dangerous edge.
“You are no fun sometimes,” he sighed. “I go register. Normally, I would have to leave immediately being the dangerous creature that I am, but if I have a reason to stay inside the Ministry, say… to visit an old friend at her office, for example, I am permitted to remain in the building for as long as that meeting lasts. So long as you are in the building, I can be in the building.”
“Okay. And the psychological warfare.”
“Fancy term for being a ballbuster,” he grinned.
“Remus!” she laughed and gestured to his son.
He shrugged knowing Teddy had heard far worse language when he visited with any of the Weasley boys. “Do you have a better term for intentionally setting off every single one of Malfoy’s security charms all day until he gets so irritated he’ll take them down himself? Well, Miss Granger?”
Her brow furrowed and lips pursed as she considered it. “Psychological warfare.”
Hermione jumped up and hurried to get ready. She ran from the flat twenty minutes later, leaving Remus to clean up and sort out how he had managed to get roped into this odd war. It was not really that difficult to deduce the reason, but he refused to admit it.
“Name?” the surly woman behind the thick glass demanded.
“Lupin, Remus J.,” he told her flatly, refusing to show just how humiliated he was by this. Hermione had once asked him what he would want to have changed about being a werewolf, offering up all manner of injustices. His reply had surprised her. He had not wanted to do away with forced sterilisation of female lycanthropes nor had he demanded employment rights. Of all the things he wished to do away with, this office and the woman behind the impenetrable barrier were highest on his list. He hated having to come every year to register as a dangerous creature. He hated the humourless Ministry worker hiding inside a cage as if Remus might attack at any moment. If it was within her power, he wanted Hermione to change this.
“Wand,” the woman barked and opened a small door inside the barrier.
He pushed it through, watching as the woman took it with only two fingers as if she might catch his disease. She recorded the length and type of wood from which the wand was made before passing it back through the glass.
“Next,” she said without offering Remus a ‘thank you’ or ‘good day’.
He turned and left, eager to see Hermione and to begin his plan. After a restless full moon and being treated so disdainfully, some good old fashioned pranking was just what the doctor ordered. He followed the corridor to the left but ignored the arrow directing him toward the lifts. He chose instead to stop at a closed door.
“Come,” a familiar voice called.
Opening the door, he stepped through into the office where the laws against his kind were made. He was actually amazed the first time he entered it, that he was able to enter at all but also that it was not a dark and foreboding realm filled with villainous laughter and moustache twirling. It was just an office, with desks and chairs and bored witches and wizards sighing over fine print. Hermione was one such witch, though she was anything but bored.
“Remus!” Hermione smiled as if she had not seen him in weeks, putting on a show for her co-workers. “How are you?”
He shrugged. “Tired. Care for some coffee?”
“Let me finish this real qu—“
“I have places to be soon,” he interrupted. “I’m sure you can finish that when you get back.”
“Oh, right,” she said, a slight blush touching her cheeks as she stood and hurried around her desk. “Sorry,” she whispered. “I get caught up.”
“I know,” he smiled. “Let’s find that cupboard.”
Anyone with ears keen enough to hear him would think the pair was sneaking off to have an illicit encounter. Even the Marauders in his head were send out loud wolf-whistles. He ignored them and Hermione’s co-workers as he pulled her from the office and out into the hall. They strolled casually, chatting about Teddy’s latest precocious antics and Hermione’s plans to visit her parents in Australia over Christmas, seemingly at ease despite how tense they both were. Remus was amazed at how easily Hermione played along, smiling and laughing all the way to the lifts until they reached the fifth level, when she groaned.
“What is it?”
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” she sighed and shook her head. She took his arm and pulled him through the doors just as they were about to close. “We’ll have to catch another lift.”
Alone on the fifth level, their false fronts dropped. “Hurry,” Remus whispered and all but ran down the corridor toward the Department of Marital Duties and Affairs. His senses were still heightened after the full moon and he could smell the magic in the air, it was thicker than he had expected. There were at least twice as many security charms than had been listed on Hermione’s papers.
“There,” Hermione grabbed his arm and pulled him into the cupboard.
“I wasn’t expecting such tight quarters,” he muttered as he pressed into the dark closet behind her. On paper the storage space had seemed roomy enough, but the paper had not taken into consideration the cart filled with buckets and mops or the ladder and step stool consuming one third of the cupboard. They were left with barely room enough to stand.
“You’ll have more room once I’m gone,” she whispered. “You know where the office is?”
“I can smell it,” he commented. “There have to be at least thirty different defensive spells in place.”
“Relax,” he said with a smile. “That will actually make it easier.”
“You’re mad. That will make it easier to get caught.”
“You’re the one who dragged me into this.”
“I just asked for your help.”
“Exactly. You dragged me into it,” he said. “Now, let’s start small, shall we?” He pulled his wand from his sleeve, somehow managing to avoid bringing the contents of the overburdened shelf down on them, and traced the outline of the door as he muttered a spell. Praying he had performed it correctly, he pushed the door open just enough to see the polished, black door to the Department of Marital Duties and Affairs. Taking careful aim, he sent a hex across the hall and slammed the cupboard shut as the protective charms set the entire level into chaos. Alarms deafened them and the lanterns flashed, security wizards scrambled from their posts, searching every corner and cupboard, save theirs.
“Why aren’t they coming in here?”
“I set a charm on it. It’s Unmappable now,” Remus said.
The alarms cut off, but ringing still filled their ears. The lanterns returned to a steady glow. All was calm again, though it was far from quiet. Even through the door and the echo of the sirens, they could hear the shouting in the hall.
“What is the meaning of all this?” a hard voice demanded.
“Sorry, sir, there’s nothing here,” a man replied.
“We have a delegation of some of the most important European witches and wizards in our office,” the man shouted. “Do you have any idea what it looks like when your alarms go off for no reason?”
“Martin Kellinger,” Hermione said. “He’s head of the Department of International Magic Cooperation.”
Remus nodded in the dark and continued to listen to Martin Kellinger shout.
“What is it?” a familiar voice demanded from the hall.
“Malfoy,” Hermione said as if it was a swear word.
“We never had any such problems before you moved in down here, Malfoy,” Kellinger said and Remus could imagine him jabbing a hard finger into the young man’s chest accusingly. “Keep your sensors under control or I will have the Minister down here to have you removed. Nothing interrupts my meetings.”
A door slammed, followed by a second, and Remus was grinning. “This is going to be even easier than I thought.”
“You’re actually enjoying this, aren’t you?” Hermione muttered, and he felt her hair whip his arm as she shook her head disapprovingly.
“Only a little,” he defended. “Give it a few minutes, then you can go back to work.”
“Will you be alright?”
“Fine. This will prove plenty entertaining for me. I can do this all day… in fact, I think I will.”
“You are horrible.”
“And you love it,” he said, opening the door again. “Go on.”
“I’ll be back after work,” she promised and ran for the lifts.
Remus was enjoying himself a little more than he should have been, and he knew it. He also knew that Draco Malfoy was a hair’s breadth from getting sacked. All the charms and sensors and protective spells he had put around his office without permission kept going off, bringing guards and Aurors and the wrath of the Minister himself down on the young man, who could only stutter out one lame excuse after another as to why the sensitive negotiations with the European delegates continued to be disrupted.
‘Serves him right,’ Peter sniffed.
‘One more,’ James grinned.
“Not yet,” Remus insisted, ear pressed to the door as Aurors made another sweep of the corridor. The cupboard was Unmappable, only he could find it now, but he would not take any chances where Aurors were involved. He knew from Harry and Ron just how many tricks the dark wizard hunters had up their sleeves; he would not put it past them to break the spell and discover him. He waited as Malfoy was shouted at, knowing it would only take one more chaotic episode.
It took an hour before everything calmed down, for the Aurors to return to their level and the guards to trudge back to their posts. Malfoy himself ran a sweep of the corridor but found nothing. When all was quiet, when Remus was certain no one would catch him, he cracked the door open and shot a spell out into the hall. As with the dozen times before, the alarms deafened him, the flashing lanterns blinded him and his laughter consumed him.
“THAT IS IT!” Kellinger shouted. “Malfoy, you will take these charms down immediately. I have lost more ground because of you than I have in twenty years of negotiations with these people! Do you have any idea of the concessions I have had to make because they think us incompetent?”
“Really, sir,” Malfoy started, but Kellinger shouted over him.
“Take them down NOW!”
“I don’t think—“
“Clearly, you don’t,” the man growled. “Minister!”
“Mister Malfoy,” the cool voice of the Minister of Magic said. “I allowed you time to sort out your little problem, but I must insist you rely on our existing security measures. I have had calls from the tenth level complaining about the noise your alarms are making. Security tells me Muggles out on the street can even hear the commotion.”
“But, sir, the content of the list—“
“Is nowhere near as vital as the security of our entire way of life,” the Minister finished for him. “I will not allow one foolish man’s pride to reveal our world to the Muggles, Mr Malfoy. Takes these charms down now before I have the Aurors do it for you… after they remove you from the premises.” Malfoy must have nodded a silent reply because the Minister continued, “Thank you, Mr Malfoy. I look forward to seeing the joyous bonds formed by your hard work.”
“Sir,” Malfoy said, sounding in no way pleased.
Remus waited another hour and a half before testing the charms. He shot a severe hex out into the hall, one so nasty it would have brought the entire weight of the Ministry down on the fifth level but it did nothing more than draw the attention of a single guard. Perfect.
The day went on with Remus sitting in the cupboard hoping Teddy was behaving himself at his grandmother’s house and wishing he had thought to bring something to read. He tested the corridor periodically, but the alarms never rang out again. The guard walked past every hour on the hour, as reliable as a German-made clock. It took far too long, but quitting time finally came for Draco Malfoy and all those who worked under him. They filed out, wishing one another a good night and congratulating themselves for their hard work. Remus had no idea how many people worked in the office, so he could only hope that no one had decided to stay late.
Twenty minutes after the last set of feet echoed down the corridor toward the lifts, he smelled a change. A familiar perfume came to him in the cupboard and he opened the door before Hermione could start hissing his name.
“Here,” he whispered and welcomed her into the small space.
“What have you been doing?” she asked. “I could hear the alarms upstairs. Everyone has been in a state all day. Nothing got done.”
“Psychological warfare,” he replied. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Draco ended up on suspension after today.”
“Brilliant. What now?”
“Now, he wait.”
“We’ve been waiting all day!”
“War is waiting, Hermione,” he said.
She clicked her tongue in the darkness.
Right on schedule the guard came past rattling all the doorknobs save theirs and walking back to his post. “Now,” whispered Remus and bolted from the cupboard, across the corridor and through the door that was now secured only by a simple lock. Hermione followed, closing the door behind and leaning against it.
“We’ve only got an hour before he comes back,” he said in a hushed voice.
“We’re inside,” she countered. “We can stay as long as we need.”
“He’ll test the knob.”
“We can re-lock it,” she pulled out her wand to perform the charm.
“No!” Remus pulled her hand away. “If it’s locked from the inside an alarm will sound.”
She looked at him sideways. “How could you possibly know that?”
“I might have broken in to the Department of Magical Games and Sports when I was fifteen,” he said with a noncommittal shrug.
“I might have.
“Why would you do that?”
He just smiled and turned away. “Let’s find that list of yours, see what moronic half-wit Malfoy thinks you deserve.”
“But why would you break into the Ministry?” she persisted.
“Because you asked me to.”
“No, when you were fifteen.”
Again he smiled but said nothing more on the subject. “There are security charms on this door. It must be in here.” He felt the wards on the door as he raised his wand. It took too much time to remove all the precautions Malfoy and his people had placed on it. They wouldn’t have much time to find the list and change it. The door opened without a sound and they hurried in. “Oh, hell.”
“There are that many single witches and wizards in the UK?” Hermione gaped at the countless filing cabinets crowded into the room. “This is going to take more time than we have.”
“Merlin, I hope it’s alphabetised,” Remus breathed and pulled open the nearest drawer, cursing loudly.
“It isn’t?” she tore into a cabinet and started reading the names aloud. “Cartwright, Vermeer, Morgenstern, Hooper… there is absolutely no system here! I’ll never find my file!”
“Accio Granger!” Remus called, but the only thing he managed to summon was the woman herself. “Bugger. There’s nothing for it. We’re just going to have to check every drawer.”
She stared in horror at the magnitude of the task. “There’s not time enough.”
“Then quit standing around, get your arse moving.”
“Professors aren’t supposed to talk about arses, remember?” she replied curtly but he swore she put a bit more sashay into her movements than she normally did as she went to the nearest cabinet and started her search. “I’ll look for yours while I’m at it, shall I? Who do you want your partner to be if I find it?”
He frowned. For all the thought he had put into this cunning plan, he had not bothered to consider an alternative partner. He tried to picture the woman who would take Dora’s place in his life; he was well past the age of selecting the prettiest model from a magazine page, if he had ever been that sort at all. He knew so few single women, it wasn’t long before Hermione’s face entered his head. No, that would be wrong.
“I don’t know. Let’s worry about that if we find it,” he said. “Where’s that list of yours? I might be able to find one of them instead.”
Oddly, the woman blushed. “Uh, no, I’ll hold on to it. Let’s just look for my file.”
His frown deepened as she turned away and riffled through drawer after drawer without saying another word. She was all about proficiency; surely, she would want to find the names of her potential husbands in addition to her own name. It struck him as odd that she didn’t want him to even look. She could not possibly be embarrassed by the men she would choose. Unless Hermione was hiding a shallow streak that he was unaware of. Had she picked out some wizard from a magazine, pulled a face at random simply because of how he looked?
Knowing she would not tell him even if he asked, he continued to search, watching the clock as he went. Their time was dwindling fast. They still had too many cabinets to search.
“We have to go,” he insisted.
“No, one more,” Hermione begged. “It might be in the next one.”
“Hermione—“ he said but stopped as his eyes fell on his own name – ‘Lupin, Remus J.’ – just as he had offered it to the surly woman so many hours earlier. He tore his file from the drawer and ripped it open, anger boiling up at the nerve of Malfoy forcing marriage onto a grieving man. He searched the document, reading his vital statistics and finally the name circled in red ink at the bottom of the page: Granger, Hermione J. He glanced at the woman, who was still digging frantically for her file. What should he do?
‘Change it!’ Peter cried. ‘Quick! Felicity Johnstone, that’s who you want. Gorgeous bird, great big—‘
‘Shut up, Peter,’ James said, shoving him sideways. ‘Leave it. Put it back, pretend you never found it.’
Time was running out. The guard would be back soon and they still had to make it out of the building without being seen. He knew that once the file was back in place, he would never again have the chance to change it. ‘Fuck, what do I do? Padfoot?’
The Sirius of his memory looked over at Hermione, studying her before shrugging. ‘She’s got nice legs.’
‘And she’s the only woman you know who can get Teddy to eat his veg,’ he said. ‘You could do worse. Besides, how better to annoy that git Malfoy than by actually liking the wife he assigns you?’
“Find it yet?” Hermione asked as she hurriedly shoved the file she was holding back into the drawer and slamming it shut.
“Uh, no,” Remus said, putting his file away and closing the drawer. “I think we have two more minutes, though.”
“I don’t want to risk it,” she shook her head. “Let’s go.”
“But we didn’t find it, don’t—“
“Remus,” she said forcefully, “we have to go. Now.”
He nodded. “Right.”
Together they left the office, putting the wards back up and closing the broom cupboard door just as the guard turned the corner. He rattled the doorknobs and shuffled back to his post while Remus began to second guess his actions. They had a bit more time, maybe twenty minutes before the cleaning staff arrived. It was time enough for him to change the name. Hermione appeared to think differently.
“Let’s go,” she said.
“We have time…”
“No, we don’t. I will not risk you being thrown in Azkaban because of me.”
He sighed, feeling every bit the dirty old man.
Even after five scalding showers the feeling clung to him; the filth was internal and no amount of scrubbing would ever remove it. He was just counting the hours until the Daily Prophet arrived and showed the wizarding world just what sort of man Lupin, Remus J. was. Selfish. Thoughtless. Lecherous. He wanted to curl up and disappear, but Teddy was bouncing happily around the sitting-room and he had no choice but to pay attention to him.
“’My-nee!” Teddy cried happily as the door opened and Hermione let herself in.
“Hey, Teddy!” she smiled and lifted him into the air. “How’s your daddy?”
“Lost? Will you help me find him?”
“No! I know where he is!” the little boy pointed with his tiny fingers to Remus, who was barely registering the happy scene before him.
“Oh, I see,” she said. “His mind is lost. I wonder where it went…”
Teddy threw his shoulders and hands up in an adorable shrug. “I no know.”
“Well, look under the couch for it, I’ll check over here,” she said and sat down beside they boy’s father. “Lost in thought?”
“Something like that,” Remus said with a sigh. “Just waiting for the Prophet. I’m sorry we couldn’t find your file, Hermione.”
She nodded slowly and dug into her bag, bringing the paper out and handing it to him. “Mine came a few minutes ago, I thought you might want to just get it over with.”
“Have you seen it?” he asked, his voice as shaky as his hand as it took the rolled up paper from her. If she had seen it, she was acting very calm.
“I don’t need to,” she said and moved to the kitchen to make some tea.
He frowned at her comment, but said nothing as he opened the paper. The headline shouted the passing of the law, a picture of Draco Malfoy looking smug just under it. “List of couples page three…” he read and flipped to that page, scanning the list for their names. Sure enough, they were there, Granger, Hermione J. and Lupin, Remus J. It was official.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t find your file,” he repeated as she held the teacup out to him.
She just smiled. “Oh, I did find it.”
“I found it just before we left, saw your name and put it back,” the woman explained as she sipped delicately on her tea.
“But,” he said, mouth falling open. “Your list. Your list of blokes you could tolerate.”
“There was only one name on my list, Remus,” she smiled again. “Yours.”
“Oh, shut up and get your arse over here,” she demanded. “I am your fiancée now. You’re meant to kiss me.”
“Students shouldn’t talk about arses in front of their professors, you know.”
She smiled. “Good thing you quit, then.”
The Marauders in his head started whistling excitedly.
‘Oh, I can’t look,’ James swooned and fell back into Sirius’s arms.
“Daddy! That’s my speshul kiss!” Teddy protested and climbed onto the couch between them, pouting and crossing his arms. “You said it was mine.”
“No, Teddy,” Remus smiled indulgently. “This is your special kiss.” He leaned down and placed the kiss on his son’s cheek. “See?”
“Why you kiss ‘My-nee?”
“Yes, Remus,” Hermione grinned. “Why did you kiss me?”
“Oh, lots of reasons,” he said with a false frown of deliberation. “But I think the biggest reason is that I love her. Do you love her, Teddy?”
The toddler nodded his head.
“Can she stay over more often?” Remus asked.
Teddy nodded. “We get happy eggs when she stays! More happy eggs!” He clapped his hands excitedly and leapt into the woman’s lap. “Can we have happy eggs now?”
Hermione smiled, “Tomorrow, Teddy. I think your daddy will need a great big breakfast like that after the night he’s going to have.”
‘Oooh, you got a good one, Moony,’ Sirius grinned. ‘She’s already planning to have her way with you!”
“Shut up,” Remus hissed, but his mouth fell when he realised he said the words aloud.
“Make me,” the woman smirked, inclining her face toward him, making it clear just how she wanted to have her lips sealed. Remus was more than happy to oblige.
“No, that’s not my speshul kiss,” Teddy agreed and climbed off the couch to find the toy he had been playing with.