Ever have that dream where you're standing naked in the middle of a room full of people? I would gladly take that right about now.. Every face in the now-silent room was turned toward us; even Bill roused himself long enough to peer at us with his good eye. I felt my face & hair turned fire-engine red. Had I really just done that? Had I really just declared my feelings for Remus to a room full of people, only to be shot down once again? I had a feeling this would not be solved by a simple "Wotcher! Kidding folks!" I looked down; my hands were still clutching the front of Remus's robes, & he was still looking everywhere but at me. Just when I thought the room might actually spontaneously combust with the shocked silence, the door flew open & Hagrid, bless his big, furry, half-giant ass, lumbered in. As everyone else's attention was mercifully diverted, I felt Remus tug lightly on my hand. I looked up, & he inclined his head toward the door. Grateful but surprised, I followed him out into the hall. Once there, he pulled me close & Apperated us both to the closest empty classroom.
Once there, Remus released me instantly & started pacing to the opposite end of the room, as if he couldn't put enough space between us. I wrapped my arms around myself, staying where he'd left me. I felt cold in the sudden absence of his embrace. I didn't know what to say, but he didn't seem to have that problem. ""Nymphadora" he moaned, "why are we doing this to each other? I thought I had made myself clear. This" he gestured between us "simply cannot happen! I thought you understood.." "No!" I cried, finding my voice at last, "I DON'T understand! I don't understand why you won't see what I see, what everyone else that really knows you sees! We don't see you as an old, poor, dangerous werewolf! We..I..see you as a man Remus. A man that's had to suffer more than most men could even imagine, & yet a man that none the less still manages to be good & kind & brave.." I stood shaking, trying to catch my breath as he watched me silently, his handsome face still impassive, his posture positively rigid.
Suddenly the most terrible thought occurred to me. No.. I thought. That couldn't be, it would be too humiliating, to cruel.. "You.." I stammered "you don't love me, do you? That's it, isn't it?" I shook uncontrollably, hot tears streaming down my face. He was still irritatingly calm & impassive, which just made me all the more hysterical. "That IS it!" I felt myself screaming, but couldn't seem to stop. "You don't love me, but instead of just saying it, you fill my head with your..your excuses of being noble & doing what's best for me.. But you're not brave or noble, Remus Lupin! You're a coward, you're afraid to love me & let me love you, you're afraid to tell me the truth! You're a coward!" I finally fell silent, unable to go on anymore. I felt myself crumple to the ground, but didn't care. I buried my hot face in my hands, sobbing till I couldn't breathe for sure. I just knew I was going to pass out at any moment, my embarrassment coming full-circle.
Through my sobs I heard the unmistakable 'pop' of Apparition, & two large, strong hands were gripping my shoulders & hauling me to my feet. Before I could react the same hands were pulling mine away from my face, & Remus was kissing me roughly, gripping my shoulders to the point of pain. It was over almost before I even realized it had started, but then those warm, wonderful hands were sliding up my shoulders to cup my face oh-so-gently. He pressed a soft kiss on my forehead then pulled back slightly too look into my eyes. His were full of tears as well. "Of course I love you, you silly, beautiful, over-emotional girl" he murmured, his normally slightly hoarse voice thick with emotion. "How could I not? You're so brave & beautiful & full of life & light..I couldn't stand to be the one to take that light from you, to burden you with all of my baggage.." I finally found my voice. "You won't burden me, Remus" I whispered, covering his hands with mine. "Let me love you, let me help you shoulders these 'burdens'. That's all I've ever wanted.." My voice cracked & I could feel the tears start again. But that was ok; these were tears of hope & love.
I held my breath as he continued to stare into my eyes; he seemed to be holding his breath. "Are..are you sure Nymphadora?" he stammered. "You know it will never be easy for us. We'll always be facing some sort of challenge.." I squeezed his hands. "I'm an Auror, Remus. I'm good at challenges". He leaned his forehead against mine, taking a deep breath. I could almost feel the tension finally start to leave him. Was he really going to open himself up, let himself love me, & I him? He closed his eyes & gently traced my face with his fingertips, seeming to memorize my features by touch. I closed my own eyes & returned the gesture. I sensed him coming closer, then, finally, he brushed his lips softly against mine. I sighed happily against his mouth. I had never felt more at peace, especially when he deepened the kiss & crushed me to him, holding me even tighter. I could feel his wall of resistance & fear crumbling, replaced hopefully by one made of unconditional love & trust. As I ran my fingers through his soft hair & felt him sigh peacefully, I suddenly remembered Minerva McGonagall's words after my outburst in the hospital ward; that no one would be happier than Professor Dumbledoor to know that there was still a little more love left in the world. Looks like the dear old man would get his wish after all..