Author's Note: Originally written for the Rt Challenge in August, where my prompts were first person, romance and "I'll be your mirror..." song lyrics by The Velvet Underground. A fair old while ago, MrsTater and Godricgal, asked if I'd write a kind of sequel to a R/T fic I once wrote where part of it was written from Ron's POV, and this was the scene they wanted. It's therefore dedicated to them both with much affection. Any spoken dialogue, up to a certain point which you'll all recognise, is JKR's, not mine, and I have tried to keep it to the barest minimum because of that, and because I'm sure you can all quote it backwards, lol. Hopefully, Ron's viewpoint is very different to that Harry person's, and feedback is always much appreciated. :)

In the Aftermath.

Bill Weasley is my brother.

He's lying on a bed in the hospital wing in front of me now and he doesn't look much like the older brother I knew. He doesn't look much like anything at all, really, unless we're talking some kind of patchwork quilt here. Like the ones Mum makes when she's engrossed in the wireless on an evening by the fire, and I'm wondering when on earth we're going to get some dinner, and if all the sausages are going to be burnt to a crisp when we finally do.

Of course, Mum's great at getting the stitching of the squares dead straight, not a zig-zag in sight, but this quilt is my brother's skin and the lines on it are all over the place, running into and through each other. I suppose that's what happens when you don't use a needle but slash and tear with teeth and nails instead. It certainly wouldn't win a prize in the Witches' Institute Quilt Sensation Event that she got a highly commended award in years ago. Not only that but these lines are weeping blood and dirt too, you can see what looks like fresh pink meat peeping through underneath them, and some other clear liquid stuff is seeping out amongst it all. I've never seen Mum's do that. She'd throw an absolute fit.

I'm thinking rubbish, aren't I? Shock, I suppose. Shock because it's all dripping down Bill's neck, and into his ears, and into his hair, and the pillow's a soggy, pinky-red mess. Madam Pomfrey is dabbing at it all with horrified hands and some pathetic green ointment. Like that's really going to work.

I'm usually thanking my lucky stars I'm not like my brothers, and thinking that Harry might have it tough but an only child sometimes sounds like a much better deal. But if there was one I had to choose to be like it would be Bill every time. He's good-looking, and he's got an ace job, and an incredible girlfriend and, on top of that, he's all-round cool. He doesn't take the piss that much, and he can shut Fred and George up, and when prat-features Percy turned up at Christmas I saw that Bill just gave him one swift glance and then turned back to Fleur. No messing. He knew right off that Percy hadn't come for any reconciliation but he didn't want to spoil the hope of it for Mum. That's just like him.

The green ointment really stinks as well. Like owl droppings or something. Somehow that's the final indignity along with everyone standing round his bed and staring at him like this. Thankful it's not them. Thankful it's not me.

I can't believe I'm thinking that but I am. Along with how the hell we're going to cope if he really is a werewolf now because The Burrow hasn't even got a cellar.

How's he going to have a normal life? How are we?

We'll have to move. That's all there is to it. No way is he going to face this alone.

Ginny's just come in with Harry, and I'm glad he's okay but, of course, he's now asking Madam Pomfrey all about Bill, and whether he can be cured, and I really want to tell him to shut the hell up because I don't want to hear the answer unless it's yes and you can tell she hasn't got a clue what she's on about.

Besides, it's not his brother lying there. It's mine.

I mutter something about Bill not being bitten at full moon – that makes a difference, doesn't it? – and Greyback not being transformed – that's got to be in his favour, hasn't it? – and look up to find a sea of eye-avoiding, sympathetic, and completely useless faces in front of me. Then, miraculously, in amongst them all, is the one person who is looking straight back at me and understands.

He won't waste time with sympathy because what use is that when what we need is solutions here?

I look at Remus Lupin, standing gravely next to Tonks, whose dark eyes are on me too, and I know it's the crazy way my mind's working right now, but both of them do look as though they've been standing there just waiting for me to ask the obvious. Lupin looks a lot more shocked by it all than she does, somehow, but then I suppose it's a bit closer to home for him and, shocked or not, I know he'll still give it to me straight.

So I ask him. Or try to.

I can't get the werewolf word out, partly because that might make it come true, and partly because Lupin's eyes are so full of horror it's hard to look at them. He takes what seems like an age to reply and I make a quick deal in my head. If Bill isn't a you-know-what, then I'll even be nice to Malfoy - no, Crabbe and Goyle - for the rest of my life. Or the year. At least a month.

All the while I'm thinking what we'll do if Bill isn't… normal. If we know he is but everyone else thinks otherwise. What it will mean for him. And I'm looking at the man in front of me, so damn clever and so damn smart, yet his robes are so shabby and he's so thin and tired-looking, and he can't get a job and … he's all alone. Isn't he? Everyone likes him, likes him a lot, but no employer wants him and he's got no family to care about him.

Bill mustn't end up like that. It's not right. Someone's life can't change so quickly.

"No, I don't think that Bill will be a true werewolf," Lupin says at last, and goes on to talk about what he calls possible contamination and something about wolfish characteristics. There's what sounds like loathing in his voice as he says it.

To be honest, I lose track after the first sentence, because I'm so relieved, and he's fumbling a bit over his words, which isn't like him and shows that he's taking this personally. Like I am. Which makes me so bleeding mad because it occurs to me that Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of our times and if there's any bloody contamination going on around here than he should be the one doing something about it.

"Bill fought those maniacs on Dumbledore's orders. Dumbledore owes him," I say, trying to hold back my rage, but the words are running away from me and every time I say 'Dumbledore' it gets worse. "He can't leave him in this state—"

"Ron – Dumbledore's dead," says the red-haired girl, who I barely recognise as my little sister, Ginny, any more. She was fighting Death Eaters alongside me not long ago, for God's sake. She looks about ten years older all of a sudden and she's got her hand on Harry's arm. It's funny how we're all standing in pairs. Luna's wandered silently off to stand by Neville's bed and that's left the six of us, Harry and Ginny, Lupin and Tonks, and Hermione just behind me. All clustered round in a tight little circle while we watch Bill and Madam Pomfrey.

Ginny looks so hard. I don't like her looking like that. I feel as if the world's gone mad.

Then I register what she's just said.

I don't believe her for a second but Harry's face says it too, and someone's saying, almost crying no, and eventually I realise that the same someone's now in a heap in the chair by Bill, that Tonks is asking how it happened in a voice barely above a whisper, and the rest of us are stood around like we've all been hit by a mass Stunning Spell.

Harry starts to explain but the word Snape says it all really. Especially as it's followed by Malfoy. Harry can't finish what he's saying and I can't look at him because I don't want him to see what I'm thinking. Which is that with Dumbledore gone, we're finished, aren't we? I mean, Harry's great and all, but he's just a school kid like me, like Hermione, and in a world where people get their faces chewed off by monsters, and you can't do anything about it, then I don't think we've got much hope left.

I turn away but that's no better because I realise it's Lupin slumped in the chair with his head in his hands. If even he's cracked up at last, then that can only be because he's thinking exactly the same as I am. Tonks knows it too; she's staring at his back as though she can't believe it's him either. Almost boring holes into the poor bloke and she's as white as a sheet. But then she's looked as if she's been at the end of her tether all year about something or other so there's not much difference really.

There's more blood and a tinge of green on Bill's pillow now. I think I'm going to throw up and someone's crying, while my sister, the hard-faced one I don't know any more, is telling her to "Shh!"

Madam Pomfrey does shut up and, dimly, I register that there's music outside the castle in the darkness. Very faint at first and then growing stronger. I nearly say, "What the-?" but realise it's a phoenix singing and the sound, eerie and incredibly sad, is all around us. Still outside, but somehow it's in here too.

And then it's … in us.

Sounds mental but it really is. Even Lupin's lifted his head to listen. And I don't know how but I start to feel a bit different. Not better exactly, because it's as though I'm listening to how I feel about it all – about Dumbledore dying, Bill being savaged, everything being hopeless – and I think, well, all right, that's all happened but…

…I'm going to deal with it. I'm going on.

We all are. You don't give up just like that, do you? I don't know what I was thinking of for a minute there.

The door opens right behind me, making me jump about a foot, and McGonagall comes in. Her hair is all over the place and you can tell she's been in a fight – she didn't half give that Death Eater bitch she was up against what for – and when she speaks everyone else jumps too.

"Molly and Arthur are on their way," she says, and Ginny looks at me and we're both thinking the same thing. It's ridiculous how much I want Mum and Dad here but not like this. Mum doesn't have favourites – apart from Ginny - but if she did, it would be Bill, I know. He's kind of their pride and joy; first born, first son, a big success and all that.

It would probably be easier on them all if it had happened to me. Probably been better all round really; for them, for the Order and for Fleur.

But life's not like that, is it? Never does what you expect. Always smacks you in the gob.

Explanations are going on for McGonagall, who has got her tartan-edged handkerchief out – thankfully I've missed the whole 'Dumbledore is dead' bit again – and now everyone's putting their two Knut's worth in. Lupin's come back to life in no uncertain terms, he sounds angry now which, again, just isn't him, but he's still Lupin because McGonagall's beating herself up about bringing Snape into things in the first place and when he tells her it's not her fault she looks at him as if she wants to cry all over him in gratitude.

Which reminds me that I need beating up too. I let bloody Malfoy, of all people, get past me from the Room of Requirement. Fred and George and their bleeding Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder have a lot to answer for as well but…

My fault. I was pathetic.

It's as though we're all confessing to Harry. How we've all let him down. Messed up what he told us to do and he's been on about Malfoy all year, about him being up to no good, but I just thought Harry was a bit paranoid on the whole subject. Harry's really wound up, fists clenched at his side as we tell him about the fight and if he and Malfoy faced off right now I know who wouldn't stand a chance.

Hermione's upset too, upset that Snape fooled her, and I stand a bit closer to her and just touch her arm a bit with my elbow so she knows I'm there. I hate seeing her like that and I can't see that she was any more stupid than I was. Snape fooled us all, didn't he? Lupin tells her firmly that it wasn't her fault either which, thankfully, seems to reassure her because she gives him and me a watery smile. I try to grin back, and give her arm a friendly nudge again, thinking I'd like to put mine round her but can't, while everyone's telling the story of the fight for Harry's benefit. Which I really don't want to think that much about.

I know I'm going to dream about it tonight. Probably for a lot of nights.

I only caught bits and pieces of what was going on at the time. Too busy shitting myself and trying to remember spells and look out for Ginny and, Merlin … It was absolutely terrifying. Nothing at all like that practising we did with Harry. I don't think any of us would have got out at all if we hadn't had the Felix Felicis potion. If only we'd had some for Bill.

I can feel my stomach knot as soon as I think about it. Everything was so bloody fast. No time to think or breathe.

Just one thought in my head: Stay alive.

Tonks seems to know most of what was going on – I suppose that's Auror training for you. She's recounting who was where, who was down and how none of us could get up the stairs (I didn't even try, though Neville did, which is why he's ended up in a bed here), and I chip in with a bit about the huge Death Eater as he was the one who scared the shit out of me, firing jinxes and curses all over the place that were going everywhere and could have hit anyone. Like a madman he was.

Lupin says a curse nearly hit him and I'm not surprised. Tonks swings round to look at him when he says that and she's obviously shocked that we could have lost someone else. Perhaps we did get some luck after all tonight.

Then I remember it was Tonks who was fighting the bloke. About half his size she was and half his width, yet she held him off, and kept him pinned down for ages. And, again, I can't make out why she looks so pale and drawn, because I caught sight of her fighting him and the women didn't half put us blokes to shame today. I can't believe I thought she'd lost her nerve after what happened at the Ministry.

Though that doesn't explain what has happened to her because she's certainly lost something. She's like a shadow of the girl she was last year with that crazy pink hair. The one who used to crack jokes, and ask embarassing questions, and was usually a good laugh to be around. Quite pretty, too, and very nice legs. Not a patch on Fleur, of course, or Hermione for that matter, but I still used to think she was okay.

I don't buy any of Hermione's theories about this survivor's guilt crap. I never saw her spend that much time with Sirius, she was always a lot more pally with Lupin and Mad-Eye. So while I'm sure she was upset about him, no one stopped Bellatrix, did they? It wasn't just her. I know Lupin came over several times to our place to talk to her afterwards (Mum insisted we all got out the way, which was really annoying because you know that means something interesting is going on), but if anyone was going to be upset over Sirius it was him and Harry, wasn't it?

And I didn't like to scoff at Harry's one about her being in love with Sirius but… blimey, I don't know how he came up with that. I know she was round at Grimmauld a lot but I'm fairly sure we'd all have noticed something going on between them. These things tend to stand out a mile.

Anyway it's not just me thinking all this because Lupin's watching her too. He keeps looking away and then back again, as though he can't help himself. His gaze resting on her hair, then her eyes, and then her mouth, and he looks like he's worried half to death about her because you can see every line in his face. Which, I suppose, you would be if you thought an Order colleague was cracking up in front of you and you didn't know why.

Perhaps he's got an idea what's wrong. They seem pretty close and he's smart like that. Perhaps that's why he —

The damn door flies opens without warning behind me and I jump that foot or so again.

"Molly – Arthur –" says McGonagall and I swing round, just as Mum catches sight of Bill and runs forward, with Dad close behind. Lupin and Tonks head as one for the corner to give them room to get to the bed and Mum leans forward and kisses Bill. Blood, mess and everything. Dad picks up Bill's hand and grips it between both his like he's never letting go.

The knot in my stomach is back. I spend a lot of time thinking my parents only exist to drive me mental but then there are times like these, the times that count, and I know I love them both to bits.

Whatever's going to happen to Bill, we're all going to be there for him.

Dad's quizzing McGonagall and Lupin and we're getting the contamination line from him again – I think I hate that word - and Mum's taken over putting the ointment on. I suddenly realise that Fleur's stood there too, and I wouldn't have believed she could walk in a room without me noticing her, but she doesn't look like the usual stunner at all. Really, she reminds me of Tonks right now, all strained and plain looking as she's staring at Bill. It must be hard on her and I see Ginny's face out the corner of my eye and it suddenly makes me fear the worse.

She's a lovely girl, Fleur, but she can be a bit spoilt, if I'm honest. And Bill doesn't look that great…

No, I'm sure she wouldn't.

Would she? I think about Lupin again and how he's all alone.

Mum's sobbing her heart out and mumbling something. She's obviously thinking along the same lines. Not being Fleur's number one fan, she says something amazingly tactless that makes me wince a bit about Bill going to be married but …not any more. At least she didn't use her normal Fleur expression with it, the one where she looks like she's just swallowed a large amount of malt vinegar. I just have time to think that she should be giving Fleur time to let this sink in, because it's not up to Mum how they sort it all out, when Fleur absolutely goes for her.

I mean goes for her as well. Seems the wedding's very much still on in her mind and Mum, and all of us, get told this in no uncertain terms. I'm already taking a step backwards when Fleur – oh, bloody hell – whips the ointment off Mum and gives her a shove out the way to crown it all.

I brace myself for the biggest explosion of all time but, to my complete disbelief, Mum starts talking about Great Auntie Muriel – never have an aunt who looks like her and always wants to kiss you on the mouth – and her flaming tiara, which Mum seems absolutely convinced for a reason known only to Mum that Fleur would just love to wear at this wedding. The one which is now back on.

Like that's really going to happen. I'd put a few Galleons on the fact that Fleur wouldn't be seen dead in it, but only a few because suddenly Mum and Fleur are hugging and crying like bosom pals in front of me. The world really has gone mad today.

"You see!" Tonks is glaring at Lupin for some reason who, as far as I know, has been minding his own business in the corner while the women embrace each other and generally go mental. "She still wants to marry him, even though he's been bitten! She doesn't care!"

So she's just said… Blimey.

I can hear Hermione gasp behind me, and I know my eyes couldn't possibly get any wider but I still can't get them far enough open to take all this in.

Because now I seem to be watching Tonks grab Lupin – Lupin? - by his robes and declare undying love or something for him in front of us all.

Lupin and Tonks? Tonks?

To say we're all transfixed – again – is putting it mildly.

It's weird because I'd never have known beforehand, been gob-smacked like I am now if someone had said to me – Tonks and Lupin, for goodness sake – but now I'm watching it with my own eyes I can't believe I didn't see it before. And from the way Mum and Dad are talking to him about it, and now even McGonagall of all people is as well, it seems the ones who didn't know about any of this are in a small minority.

It's been going on a while then. God, Mum's been really sneaky. It explains a lot though; not least why we all got shoved out the way at home every time the pair of them were there together.

Isn't it supposed to be the adults who don't know what the kids are up to?

The thing that's fooled me with this, though I'm taking a bit of satisfaction from the fact I was a damn sight nearer to the truth than Harry and Hermione for once, is that it's not like it is in books, nor anything I've seen or done. Certainly not like that romantic trash that Mum reads, where the women have heaving chests, and the men always seem to have powerful thighs, and they spend three hundred pages pretending not to fancy each other before snogging once and living happily ever after. Or so I'm told.

But this is … desperate.

Like a kind of grief. The look on Tonks' face is painful to see.

It's so painful, I look at him instead. Which in many ways is worse. I've never seen Lupin, who's always so cool and calm, refusing to meet anyone's eyes and with spots of colour burning high in his cheeks. There's a muscle going in his jaw, and his hands are jammed in his pockets, and this is so far removed from the Professor Lupin I knew, and the Order member I know, that I can't grasp it's one and the same bloke.

What the hell's been going on between them? Then I remember he's been on this mission and I think I get some of it. Can't be easy living with people who get treated like shit, and sound as if they behave like shit in return, and not feel that way yourself.

No wonder he was on about contamination.

He does look at Tonks then, quickly, just for a split second after McGonagall's done her 'little more love in the world' Dumbledore quote and…

There are some things, some looks, so private you shouldn't ever see them.

Well, it's bloody obvious to me that he's been saying no to a little more love anywhere near him, and equally bloody obvious he doesn't want to, and she knows that only too well. So does everyone else, apparently. I have to look away myself then because this is all spinning round and round in my head along with what's happened to Bill, and how I know Bill's still entitled to a normal life, contaminated or not, whatever other people think or don't think. And while all this is going on, I'm remembering the days back at Grimmauld when Lupin and Tonks were together. He laughed a lot in those days, like he hadn't a care in the world, and she was all pink haired, or green, or purple, and … happy.

They both were. They were always talking to each other. Smiling at each other. Sitting by each other. It stood out a bloody mile. I should have got it back then but, honestly, who'd have thought? The Werewolf and The Metamorphmagus. It does sound exactly like one of Mum's books. No wonder poor old Tonks has looked a bit like Moaning Myrtle at times after her boyfriend started doing a I'm-not-worthy number on her.

This time it's a relief all round when the door makes me jump again and a tearful Hagrid comes in. McGonagall says she'll have to see the people from the Ministry when they get here and wants a word with Harry in the meantime. The rest of us are left in what can only be described as a state of disarray. Or just a state.

Mum, Dad and Fleur go back to Bill. Luna seems to be having a deeply meaningful conversation with Neville who, luckily for him, is still unconscious. Hermione and Ginny are frantically whispering together, you can almost see their thoughts racing round in their heads like demented rabbits – Bill and Fleur? Lupin and Tonks? - and I'm thinking Lupin was right when he said Dumbledore was dead and that's what we should all be thinking of.

But that's too awful and I can't do anything to change that. I should go back and wait for Harry, find out what he's going to do and what happened with the Horcrux he and Dumbledore went to get. They must have got it, mustn't they? It can't all have been in vain.

I don't want Bill to be lying there in vain either.

I look round for Lupin, and as I do see Tonks hug Ginny and Hermione, then go up to Mum and say something to her in a low voice. Mum nods and says something in return, patting her on the shoulder, and Tonks, without looking back at anyone else, goes out quickly through the door.

Lupin's quite still and pale again, and gazing out the window in the corner of the room. Almost resting his head against the glass, he's so close to it. Must be quite a view as it's pitch black outside. I catch Hermione's eye and she nods, which makes me feel a bit better about what I want to do.

It seems a long walk to get to him. "R-remus?" I stutter slightly and it's his turn to jump, as though he hadn't realised I was there. "Wha-what do you think the Ministry are going to say when they get here?"

Of course, I didn't mean to say that at all. But I'm not sure what I do want to say, wild sentences are floating round in my head. I don't know how to express what I feel about Bill and about him. How can I say that I think he has just as much right to be happy as the next man? Because my brother certainly does.

"I expect they'll want to talk about closing Hogwarts," he says calmly, just as though he's discussing my essay on vampires and their eating habits, which, I have to say, was one of my better ones.

I can't find the words I want.

He smiles slightly at me. "I must go," he says. "I ought to see if I can … do anything." He nods, more to himself than me, as if confirming the wisdom of what he's just said.

I don't think I'm the only one struggling to decide what it's best to do here.

"Prof-Remus," I say as he's starting for the door. Why do I keep wanting to call him 'Professor' again? "I want—" I stop as he turns politely to face me. Waiting. I've got to get this right.

"I think it's good about you and Tonks," I say in a rush. Then I realise I sound as if I might mean it's good they're not together and I can feel the tips of my ears burning. "I mean, I think you – and she – both of you, I mean. Well, I think you're a great match."

Oh, bloody brilliant, Ron. Like that's going to help. I might as well have said Mum's usual nauseating favourite, 'You make such a lovely couple!'

He's blinking at me though. Surprised. At least he doesn't look upset, though from the look of him he's too knackered to be.

"Do you really think so?" He says it slowly, watching me closely with his red-rimmed eyes, and for some reason I think that maybe I haven't blown this and I have said something right somewhere.

"Yeah. I do." I swallow. "And it was great what Fleur said about her and Bill, wasn't it?"

There's a pause before one side of his mouth curls upwards. "Yes." He says it tiredly but he's definitely smiling. "Yes, it was."

"Right then." I haven't got a clue what to do or say now and I'm all too aware of Hermione watching us closely. "Yeah, well, I'd better go wait—"

"Good night, Ron." A faint glimmer of that smile again. "And … thank you."

I watch as he goes through the door too and wonder if he's going after Tonks. Hermione says she's going to stay with Ginny when I tell her I'm going back to the dormitory to wait for Harry. She looks shattered, like us all, but, typical Hermione, starts coming up with a list of reasons why she didn't get house points for spotting Lupin and Tonks were an item long before the rest of us.

It seems there were lots of extenuating circumstances. Excuses, I think she means.

I can't resist it, when she pauses for breath, I say, "It wasn't written down in Hogwarts: A History then? On page seven hundred and ninety-two?"

Her eyes widen, in what starts off as annoyance and, as I grin at her, ends in her almost smiling back. It fades as she looks at Bill, and Mum and Dad, and then at me.

"He's going to be all right, you know," she says, and this time her hand touches my arm, very gently.

"Yeah." I nod, not quite so sure, but thinking that her doing that, just being there, makes me feel better. As though everything's under control again, daft though that sounds.

I say goodbye to Mum and Dad and Ginny gives me a hug as well, which all but crushes my ribs. She looks like my little sister again when she does that. I hesitate a bit and then hug Fleur too; that silver hair and amazing perfume of hers is all round me, but it's not dazzling like it's always been before. She still looks quite ordinary somehow.

I take a last look at Bill. All quiet in the bed. His face is swollen and closed up now, covered in green. Madam Pomfrey says she's going to stay with him all night, and Mum and Dad are too, so I'm okay to go as they'll let me know if he wakes up or anything.

My mind's wandering again as I make my way slowly down the stairs. Wandering from Bill to Dumbledore and back to Bill again. Thinking how much I'd like a sandwich or two and, as my legs seem to have taken me downstairs instead of up, I might as well nip into the kitchens and get one for Harry while I'm at it. I'm just starting down the main staircase and thinking how quiet the castle is here compared to upstairs, when I see the figure of a man stood in the Entrance Hall at the bottom.

It's Lupin.

So much for thinking he'd gone after Tonks. He's stood there completely motionless in that long, shabby cloak of his, almost as if he's weighing something up, head tilted to one side. I don't really want to have to say good night again and, fortunately, no sooner have I thought that than he turns his back on the front doors and moves towards the door to the right. Which is fine, except it happens to be where I'm going.

I can't think why he'd be going down to the kitchens, but perhaps a fight to the death and a shit-load of anguish makes everyone fancy a bacon buttie. Whatever he's doing, he's moving pretty fast now, so it seems easy to trail along behind and think he's a bit of a plonker for not going after her and try to work out why it bothers me so much. It's all wrapped up with Bill again; I feel as if I've made another of those silent deals in my head. If Lupin sorts it all out with Tonks, then Bill isn't going to wake up in the morning and think Fleur's wrong for still wanting to marry him.

Part of me thinks Bill's too sensible for that, but another bit thinks Lupin and Tonks are too, and look what's happened to them. Lupin's walked right past the fruit bowl painting and the kitchens now – where is he going? – and if I follow him a bit further the sandwiches will still be there when I come back. Harry will surely be a while yet.

Besides, I want to keep trying to make sense of all this in my head.

I feel as if I've spent the year thinking I wasn't good enough to be invited to Slughorn's parties, wasn't good enough to be Gryffindor's Quidditch Keeper, wasn't good enough for Hermione because she preferred Krum and his doubtless very muscular and powerful thighs. I got in such a mess with Lavender. She seemed like such a good idea at the time, and sometimes it was, but then there was the nightmare of her always wanting to go further than I did, and me panicking about having to say no to her and worrying about her telling all her pals I was absolutely pathetic. As well as wondering why I didn't want to go further with her.

It's so easy to get in a mess and so hard to get out of it.

The thin figure up ahead has stopped in front of a huge, mainly yellow tapestry, and I'm so busy thinking about all this I'm only just in time to nip behind a handily jutting out piece of wall. We're right down in the basement, but it's all very light and pleasant. I've never been here before in my life.

"Hello Dora," says Lupin.

Dora?

Then I see the figure sat on the stone bench underneath the tapestry, twirling her wand round in her hand. She's only a dark shadow against it from what I can see but it's a very clear one, not hazy or indistinct at all. All a bit ironic when she's looked so hazy herself lately.

"Thought you'd be long gone," Tonks says, looking at the tip of her wand.

"I … did think about it." Lupin leans back against the wall opposite her, folding his arms and resting his head back on the cool stone as though it's aching. "I thought you'd have gone back to Hogsmeade."

"I did think about it." The shoulders of the shadow shrug slightly.

"But you thought…?"

"Yeah, I thought I fancied a nostalgic trip down here instead. Remind myself what being in Hufflepuff was all about once upon a time." The wand is flicked up in the air like a baton, somersaulting up towards the ceiling and back down again, before being caught one handed. "What's your excuse? Just decided you wanted to see the Hufflepuff common room, did you?"

"It's been a long held ambition of mine." There's a note in the tired voice that isn't quite like the normal Lupin. "It's a fair old way from the Gryffindor one."

"Do you think they were designed like that on purpose? So it's really obvious they should never, ever mix?"

"I wanted to see you too."

"Did you now?" The wand flies up in the air again. I don't think she's looked at him once since he got here whereas, from what I can see from round my wall, he hasn't taken his eyes off her. "Well, now you've found me, and if you think we're spending the night doing another pointless round of—"

"No. I don't."

"And I'm not apologising—"

"You've nothing to apologi—"

"Though I probably should.

"I definitely should."

"Yeah." This time the wand goes so high it almost touches the ceiling, yet she still catches it. With her left hand as well. "Yeah. You should." She looks at the wand intently, running her finger down it. "However, I haven't got a week to spare, and I doubt you have, either, and it's been a hell of a night during which you've lost someone I know meant a huge amount to you, the Order's been brought to its knees, and I've made a complete arse of myself as usual. So unless you've got something new to say—"

"It's not loving you I'm afraid of, Dora." The words are spoken very softly but clearly, and, somehow, I imagine she's like me, suddenly finding her breath caught in her throat. "Don't ever think that. It's you living day-to-day with the consequences of it which terrifies me."

Silence. She's looking at him now and I know I should go and leave them to it. The wand's very carefully put down on the bench beside her and I stay where I am.

"Why are you here?" she says at last. "How'd you know where to find me?"

"Dora—"

"Why are you here, Remus?"

Another silence. I have to say it's a great relief, after the shock of the 'Dora' bit, to find out she doesn't call him Remmy or something equally stomach churning. I've already been scarred for life by Mum and Dad and their stupid pet names for each other. And I can't help thinking it's just not fair how handily placed the Hufflepuffs are if they fancy a midnight snack.

"I was looking out at the night upstairs," Lupin says eventually, almost unwillingly. "At the stars. Remembering how we used to sit on the back step at Grimmauld and eat toast and look at them together."

She says nothing, just waits, and after a bit he continues. "All this year, I've tried so hard to do the right thing, the thing I know I should do. But all the time, every single day, there's the sunrise followed by the sun or the rain, or the wind or the clouds. There's birds crying, the colour of the fields and the sky, the smells and scents in the air. And I look at them all and they're still exactly the same as they've always been. But when I saw them with you," he hesitates, "when I saw all those things with you, Dora, then that was different. Because then I was alive."

I'm not sure if she starts to say something or not. There's the faintest of sounds but I'm not sure what it is. A sigh?

Lupin steps forward, pushing himself away from the wall with what looks like an effort. "I can't go back to how things were, no matter how I try. Because I know now that things can be different. Because you make them different."

There's that tiny sound again. The shadowed head is motionless, staring up at him.

"And I want that feeling always," he says. "It's kept me going all year. All the time, whatever I'm doing. Wondering if you're thinking of me, though I know I shouldn't. Wondering if you've met someone new and dreading Molly telling me you have. I don't know how I knew you'd be down here but I did. I haven't changed my mind about anything; I still think I'm being completely selfish in wanting you, and I should let you go, but - I don't care enough about that any more. And after tonight – after Dumbledore - I'm not even sure what I do care about any longer. Except you."

This time the pause is so long, I think she's never going to answer, but then she does.

"I was going back to Hogsmeade," she says, and my legs don't wait to be told, but start to back away because of how her voice sounds this time. How her shadow rises as she gets to her feet and it sways slowly towards him, then back again as though she's holding herself in check. "To hope you'd come there. Only I knew you wouldn't. And then I thought - I thought there's no way he can know I'm down here. And he won't come, anyway, even if he does, because I finished things for good up there."

"I'd have kept looking till I found you." I'm backing away and I can still hear him swallow, hear him breathe out unevenly. "I think the Gryffindor common room is seven floors up from here because its inhabitants are full of lofty, romantic ideals. I think – I think what they lack, and I think what they need most, what I need most, is to hear some common sense every now and then from one of those very down-to-earth and very true Hufflepuffs."

"Or … just a kick up the arse?" Her voice is a wobbling whisper. "Every now and then."

"Or just a kick up the arse from someone who never gives up on anything. Or me."

I can barely hear the words because they're so quiet. I don't really want to because I know what that odd note is now, that crack in his voice. I hear that tiny sigh sound again.

I'm almost safely round the corner and out of earshot when I think I must take one more look. Just to make doubly sure.

There are some things so private you shouldn't ever see them. I suppose I should feel guilty but somehow I don't. Normal rules don't apply tonight. I walk back slowly upstairs and think Bill and Fleur are going to make it, whatever the future brings. That what I've seen tonight is so different to what I did with Lavender, which all seems a bit cheap in comparison.

I think about Lupin and Tonks, who didn't look like they'd be letting go of each other any time soon.

I'd like a girl to look at me like Tonks looked at Lupin. Not just a girl but Hermione. I'd like Hermione to give Mum what for, or anyone else on my behalf, like Fleur did for Bill. I'd like her to believe in me, Ron Weasley, and not think I'm pathetic because I'm not that brainy and I haven't got powerful thighs. I'd like to say things to her like Lupin did to Tonks. About ordinary things meaning more because she's there to share them with me.

"I can't go back to how things were, no matter how I try," Lupin had said.

I realise suddenly I'm nearly on the seventh floor and I've forgotten all about my bacon sandwich. It doesn't seem to matter. I've got to find out what happened to Harry tonight and try and help him. There's time to worry about sandwiches tomorrow when I see what happens in the morning.

Bill Weasley is still my brother but the world in which we live is now a very different place.

Reviewers get my gratitude and a meeting with Remus in the depths of Hogwarts, without anyone else being there to observe it. ;)