He stubbed the cigarette out on the wooden tabletop and listened. For someone who spent three nights in every thirty screaming until his breath bled into his veins, Remus Lupin was a remarkably good listener.
It also happened that he was twenty-five years old, and so the conversation he chose to listen to probably wasn’t worth the time and effort. In fact, being that he was twenty-five, male, a werewolf and sitting opposite a girl who wouldn’t meet his eye, Remus decided he definitely shouldn’t be listening to this conversation and should ideally leave. Now.
Unfortunately he didn’t seem to have the use of his legs, primarily because his heart was breaking.
"And so I think we should leave it. You know, I’m only nineteen, and –"
He wanted to remind her that they’d gone through the age gap drama – she’d been the one who’d convinced him age didn’t matter.
"Besides, it’s not like we were really in love, or anything, were we? Just hormones, and sex and all that. I mean –"
No, we hadn’t been in love, he thought ruefully. He’d obviously been the only one in love. Remus made a mental note never to get involved with anyone who didn’t believe in love at first sight. It made things difficult in the long run. He believed in love at first sight. Perhaps he should invest in a pair of sunglasses.
"So, you’re okay? I want us to be friends before I go –"
To America, studying werewolves. How stupid of him, how ridiculously, impossibly stupid to get involved with, sleep with, fall in love with a student whose specialty was werewolves. If Sirius and James were here he’d never have heard the end of it. All too predictably she’d worked it out, gone along for the ride – several rides – then fled when he told her that he loved her. She didn’t want a blighted life, she didn’t want to be persecuted on his behalf. Remus didn’t blame her. She wasn’t that sort of woman. She wasn’t a woman. She was just a girl.
Then she was kissing him on the cheek – she smelt so wonderfully wild, like grass and night air and rain – they were both making their goodbyes and she was gone. That was that. Done. Finished. Over.
She’d been wrong for him. Very, very wrong. Sighing, Remus lit another cigarette, the practised flick and click of the lighter soothing him ever so slightly. As any smoker will tell, the first drag of the day is the best – in his opinion, this was the best cigarette he’d ever smoked. He let it burn his lungs, inhaling too quickly and too much, craving the pain, allowing the ash to fall on to his fingers.
It was better this way, after all. He couldn’t keep her, his indifferent and passionate lover. Such a contradiction, reminding him far too much of his youth. He had to laugh at that, a trademark hollow chuckle. He still was young, wasn’t he?
No, he counted his youth as all the time before October 31st. When everyone was still alive. Then that night came, his youth died, and he started his adulthood after months of mourning by working in a bar in Oxford. Oxford, where the Agrippa Academy was based. The Agrippa, where he’d been accepted and had been studying at before he dropped out ‘due to intense traumatic stress’.
It hadn’t been one of his brightest ideas.
She was a student there, taking the very course he’d enrolled in all those years ago. Seven years ago, to be exact. They’d met in the bar one night, and he’d been bowled over by the deadly combination of striking looks, intelligence, and a little bit of crazy.
Reminded him of someone else he knew, come to think of it. Several someones.
That was probably part of the attraction. For a while, in her company, he’d almost, almost, been able to hear Sirius’ voice making the same outrageous comments, seen James’ devil-may-care smile, felt Lily’s cool hand on his shoulder.
Nothing of Peter, though. Poor Peter, always the odd one out.
"This is pathetic," Becky said, giving him a reproachful glance, picking up the stray beer bottles that littered the tables nearby. Lysander joined her, and took a swig from Remus’ own pint.
"Sorry, mate," he said grinning. "But you’re not allowed to drown your sorrows."
"It’s my night off," Remus replied dryly. He liked the people he worked with, but he wasn’t close to any of them. He wasn’t close to anyone, not anymore.
"Poor baby," added Becky, giving Remus a kiss on the forehead before chiding Lysander and chasing him back to the other side of the bar. Remus raised a smile. He knew she was sweet on him, and also knew that he’d never end up with somebody nice like Becky.
He’d been spoilt for fire and wildness and aversion to the word ‘nice’ in his childhood. Nice was boring, nice was being good, nice wasn’t breaking rules and rebelling and living. Nice wasn’t something Remus could ever want.
Strange, because he himself was a nice bloke. Thought of as a nice bloke, anyway.
"My only vice," he said under his breath, practically eating the next little white stick he produced from the welcoming packet. "That and the tendency to try and devour my date every romantic moonlit night...what girl could possibly resist?"
"Talking to yourself again, Remus?"
"No, actually I was talking to my friend here, Mr Doesn’t-Exactly-Exist," he returned, every word heavy with sarcasm.
"Jolly good," Mr Linmer said with his usual air of joviality. "Mind if I take his place for a moment?"
The old man perplexed Remus. He seemed to have attached himself to the werewolf, and turned up at the strangest of times in the oddest of places. Linmer was old and wizened, with clever eyes, a sly mouth and a beard that had a mind of its own. There were a great many eccentrics in Oxford, and Remus didn’t think much about them one way or the other – it was another matter entirely when one followed him around constantly.
"No," he sighed, and Linmer busied himself with sitting down. Rubbing his hands together gleefully, the other man jerked a thumb in the direction of the door.
"I see she’s finally come to her senses then? Left you high and dry?"
"I see you still insist on insulting me," replied Remus wearily.
"Insults? No dear boy, not at all, merely a few well-aimed jibes to get you talking," Linmer said, seeming completely oblivious to the looks he was getting from a few other customers. Remus had a reputation as something of a lone wolf – he was a curiosity to most of the students, an enigma that they’d like to figure out – perhaps a few recognised him from Hogwarts. More than a few. They tried to ask him about his famous pranks, about that incident involving a toothpick, three House Elves, a pair of fluorescent pink underpants and James Potter – then they went quiet and mumbled some half-heard apology. Oh, so sorry, so sorry that all your friends had to die like that and now we can’t mention their names, ever so sorry about it, won’t bother you again.
Yes, the eager students had all been rebuffed by Remus at one time or other – now they wondered why this Mr Linmer should be able to bend Remus Lupin’s ear.
"What are you, a psychiatrist?"
"I just think that you seem in need of someone to talk to, Remus. Not a friend in the world..." He paused, noting the way Remus’ cigarette shook slightly. "And by your own choice," Linmer reprimanded gently. This was too much for Remus.
"I thought you’d done your research," he said harshly. "It wasn’t my choice that my friends died – it wasn’t my choice that I was the only one left."
"They aren’t all dead. Sirius Black..." The ash fell wide of the ash tray. "Sirius Black is still alive. Barely."
Linmer seemed too coherent, too serious for Remus’ liking. "So what, Linmer? I should go and see him? And say what, exactly? Hey, Sirius, long time no smell," Remus retorted, hearing his voice crack slightly. Long time no smell. They used to say that to each other all the time at Hogwarts, in their first year. They stopped saying it in third year, realising how immature they sounded, then started saying it again in seventh year, because it was ironic.
"See?" Linmer crowed. "You haven’t forgotten at all, have you? How you were brothers, and how deep the cut runs."
"What?" Remus was confused. He couldn’t hear very well at all, could only hear Linmer, in fact. And what the old man was saying seemed to resonate in his mind, the way a bell jangles in a school hall, and above all the chatter all Remus could hear was the bell, because the bell was an order, and to disobey the order was to be wrong.
"Somewhere he lies awake, crying, and you lie asleep, unable to cry. There is sadness inside that will never heal, injustice that presses at your throat so you can’t breathe and the ridges of your windpipe feel like blades that rub and cut deeper, ever deeper. Bludgeoned with a blunt knife, my boy, and the blunt causes greater hurt than the sharp. You have to mend it."
Then Linmer sat back, noise and colour returned. Remus dropped his cigarette abruptly; it had burnt down to his fingers.
"Ow!" he yelped, then eyed Linmer suspiciously. It was like waking from a daydream, he was confused - all the hallmarks of magic.
"You won’t mend it, of course. You’ll fail."
Linmer stood up, pushed his chair under the table, and started to pull on his coat. "I always think it’s the trying that matters, personally. It should matter. Take Merlin for example."
The old man started walking towards the door, and Remus had no choice but to follow. He grabbed his own – ironic - tweed jacket from the coat rack and fairly flew into the street, trying to catch up with the infuriatingly sprightly Linmer.
"Why? He never accomplished anything," Remus said, casting his mind back to History of Magic, lighting another cigarette. "He died trying to stop Salazar Slytherin and the Dementors storming Hogwarts."
"Quite right, lad. He failed. And what do you learn about him, eh?"
"That he was one of the greatest wizards ever to have lived, a good and valiant man," Remus said, parrot fashion, then grabbed Linmer by the arm. "You don’t like to be subtle with your metaphors, do you? Die trying, is that it?"
"Always do the right thing," Linmer replied with a shrug. "Common sense, old chap. Common sense."
With that, he Disapparated. Remus never saw him again.
It was exactly as he expected it to be. Cold, damp – cue menacing howl, chilly blast of cold air and suitably deformed prison guard - one of the few human prison guards - to escort him in the cheerfully titled Visitor’s Pen.
"Points for originality there, mate," Remus said, feeling rather light-headed. He couldn’t believe what he was about to do.
He thought the guard grunted, and although he wasn’t sure if it was a shut-up-talking-or-I’ll-rip-your-head-off grunt or a please-carry-on-with-your-interesting-prattle grunt, he carried on anyway. He was nervous, damn it. He was allowed to babble.
"Visitor’s Pen, I mean. Sounds sort of ambiguous – like it’s meant for animals. Suppose most of them are animals – the visitors, I mean, ha ha. No, actually, that wasn’t funny at all, was it – why not Visitor’s Area, hmmm?"
"Because it’s a pen," the guard squeaked. Remus stared. The guard looked indignant. Well, as indignant as a seven foot hulk with knuckles that scrape the floor and a forehead that obstructs their vision can look. Which was, Remus observed, fairly indignant.
"What’re you looking at?" he squeaked again. "It’s very practical, actually. This way, it’s still uncomfortable for the prisoners and the Dementors can be on standby. He sniffed haughtily. "I didn’t spend five years in Guarding School for nothing, you know. It’s a very demanding course. Now if you don’t mind..."
He used one tree trunk of an arm to gesture to what seemed to be a small sheep pen. There was chair inside the pen and a chair just outside the pen. "Sit down," said the guard. "And don’t move. I need to do some magic," he added, puffing out his chest.
"Bibbity bobbity boo hoo to you," Remus muttered, feeling decidedly odd.
The guard sloped off to do whatever he did, and Remus waited. He knew that there was some sort of shielding enchantment around the pen – the people at the Front Desk had explained everything very clearly. No need to fear for your personal safety, Mr Lupin...don’t usually grant high-security prisoners visits...he’s been well-behaved...if at any time you feel in danger, say the word...escorted by a Dementor at all times...really wonderful those Dementors...whenever you want to arrange the visit, Mr Lupin...just don’t get too close...if Black causes problems...he is under consideration for extermination at the moment...just say the word.
Just say the word. Sirius Black, deliriously joyful, delightfully irrelevant, darkly passionate Sirius Black reduced to a subject for extermination. Once, Remus would have laughed out loud even at the mention of such a ridiculous idea. If Sirius ever committed a crime, they always said, he’d never get caught.
"They’re coming now," intoned the guard. Actually, he squeaked, but Remus felt it gave the proceedings more gravity if he intoned.
The Dementors had a peculiarly dark sort of magic of their own; they Apparated in an oily swirl and there, on the chair, in the pen, was Sirius.
Sirius screamed, and the Dementors fell back a little. Remus didn’t know why; then he saw why. Positive emotion was some primitive defence against the dark of the Dementors, and Sirius Black was screaming with wild and raucous laughter.
He wasn’t handsome, not any more. Hollow cheeks, greasy hair, lanky limbs, broken nose prominent in a face full of shadow – Sirius Black, such a peacock, resembled Severus Snape more than anyone else. Yet there was something uniquely Sirius in the bright blue eyes. Eyes that bright shouldn’t be allowed, they were captivating and blinding, insane.
"This was a bad idea," Remus said, standing. That noise, that terrible laughter, the way he’d laughed when he’d killed Peter, that sound was hurting his head. The guard sighed.
"Mad bugger," he said. Squeaked. "We’ll just send him back dow-"
"NO!" Sirius yelled. For a moment all they heard was the torturous rasp of his breathing. That thin chest rose and fell in disjointed rhythm – Remus couldn’t move his eyes any higher than that sparrow chest. Both fearing and hoping that it would stop, and Sirius would keel over, and that, my friend, would be that.
"Tell those Dementors to back off," Remus said quietly. "He won’t do anything, don’t worry. There are wards..."
"It’s policy," the guard said – squeaked - looking shifty.
"Policy. Bloody hell, policy," Remus replied, in the same dejected voice. "Why d’you think he was laughing? It was so they couldn’t get in. I want to talk to him, and he can’t talk with them around."
"Actually, I can," Sirius interjected, perched on the edge of his chair, naked save for a ragged pair of trousers. "I was just giggling at something Penelope here said," he added, jerking his thumb in the direction of the nearest Dementor. "She and Tarquin had a jolly little dinner party the other night, and Mrs Bostonberry had the most alarming little beret on that you ever did see – really bad taste, chaps."
The guard sighed. "So be it." He clapped, and the Dementors disappeared.
"That was just a tad melodramatic, don’t you feel?" Remus said, after a long pause. The guard shrugged.
"Don’t get many visitors," he said, before limping off again. That was new. He hadn’t limped on their walk to the Pen.
"Nice limp," Remus called after him. "Every little helps."
"Thanks," the guard called back.
That was it. No Dementors, no guard. Just say the word. Just him and Sirius. Look up, Remus. Move your head up, look the murdering son of a bitch right in those insane eyes - blue eyes, blue eyes, how could you tell so many lies - and see exactly what you expected to see. Dark, cold, miserable Azkaban and a murderer that deserves to die.
He looked up.
"Hello, Remus," Sirius said.
And he didn’t see a murderer, and he didn’t see the Sirius he’d loved as much as he’d loved anyone. He saw a pitifully thin man, with hair that was too long, shivering in the cold, and staring at him with a hangdog expression – no, that wasn’t quite right – mournful? Hopeful expression? Yearning? All of those things, maybe. Maybe none of them.
"Why," Sirius started, his voice painful to hear. It was croaky and thin, ruined. Ruined. It was all ruined. "Why did you come?"
"Because I think it was the right thing to do," Remus said, his tone neutral. Sirius wouldn’t get to see him cry.
"I killed them, you know," Sirius replied, in a conversational tone. He stretched out his matchstick legs, and looked Remus right in the eye.
"You’re a complete bastard," Remus said, equally conversational. "But I do need to know, Sirius. I need some answers before I can sleep properly at night. Why did you do it? I know how you did it. Everyone knows how. But why?"
"So you don’t believe that I’m Voldemort’s spawn?" Sirius replied, raising his eyebrows. "Because I seem to remember the words ‘spawn’ and ‘Voldemort’ tripping quite easily off your tongue when last I saw you."
"Was I really that clichéd?" Remus asked. "How terribly gauche of me. No, no, I can quite believe that you were mad enough to do it. You were capable of insanity and evil, even at school. You even tried to murder Snape, but we forgave you, because we were young and we loved you. So very young...I just don’t buy into you supporting Voldemort. Much more your style to set up your own Corporation of Wrong-doing. You hated the rules, Sirius. You always broke them. So why listen to him? Why work for Voldemort?"
During this long speech Sirius had listened carefully, and now he looked confused. Remus waited for his reply.
"Oh!" Sirius said in genuine surprise. "Oh! I didn’t do that! I didn’t go to him, to Voldemort. I killed them because I told him to tell him the secret."
Now it was Remus’ turn to be confused. "What?"
"I told him to tell HIM the secret. And then HE told Him and he got killed. So you see, it all came down to me. I’m guilty, Moony. I’m guilty as sin."
"Don’t call me Moony," Remus said, annoyed. Sirius was mad as anything. He’d obviously wasted his time. "We aren’t friends, you sick idiot. I’m going now. When they exterminate you, remember, I said the word."
He stood up, and tried to light a cigarette, but his hands were shaking too much. "Shit," he muttered. "Shit."
"If it’d been you in here, I would’ve fought for you until my hands were bloody. I would’ve loved you until my heart was raw. I would’ve believed you blindly, no matter what they told me, because you were all I had left and because you were you. I am guilty and I am innocent, Remus, as are you. You’re innocent because you’ve been lied to by everyone, and you’re guilty for believing the lies. I lie awake, crying, and you lie asleep because you can’t cry."
Remus turned around slowly.
"You’re right. I’ll die in here. I’ll never fall in love. I’ll never see the sky, I’ll never listen to music, I’ll never even get to brush my teeth. I’m dying a little every day, and you know what, Remus? When they told me that you wanted to see me, I heard music. It was like music, like something in me grew, and I knew that if you loved me and believed me and fought for me I could stay alive. I could do it."
Sirius was standing up.
"I was trying to think what to say to you, to make you understand. But my words are gone, it’s all gone wrong, so wrong, I can’t – when I think about it I can’t speak about it, WHY CAN’T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE!" he screamed.
Remus was brought sharply back to reality. Insane. He was insane. None of it was true, it was all just the ramblings of a madman.
"GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT NO! REMUS! NOT YOU, I MEAN THEM, SCRATCHING AT MY HEAD, Remus, don’t go, don’t leave me..."
Sirius threw himself at the fence.
"MY BROTHER! HE’S MY BROTHER! HE’LL FIGHT FOR ME, HE’LL BRING YOU ALL DOWN, HE’S MY BROTHER!"
"Help." Remus said, his breathing fast. Too fast. "Help. Guard!" he said a little louder. "Guard!"
"HE’S MY BROTHER!"
"I did warn you," sighed the guard. He clapped his hands, and the Dementors reappeared. Remus looked down at his cigarette.
"NO! NO! REMUS, PLEASE, THEY’RE HURTING ME, LEAVE ME ALONE! PLEASE! SOMEONE HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP!"
It wouldn’t light, the lighter kept blowing out. He tried cupping it with his hands. They weren’t shaking anymore.
"I’LL LOVE YOU UNTIL MY HEART IS RAW! I’LL FIGHT UNTIL MY HANDS ARE RED! I’LL BELIEVE YOU BLINDLY, MY BROTHER, BECAUSE I AM NOT THE GUILTY ONE! YOU’RE GUILTY AS SIN –"
Remus took a long drag on the cigarette. When he look up, the pen was empty.
"Come on, Mr Lupin," the guard said, checking his watch. "It’s time for you to go home."
He raised his hand, and knocked on her door.
"Just a minute!"
The door opened, and she poked her head out. Her hair was damp, messy, her trousers too big - with a large hole in the knee - and her T-shirt too small – emblazoned with the legend ‘Where Wolves?’ and a small picture of Red Riding Hood looking lost. Remus felt like Red Riding Hood. He was lost, hopelessly lost, and he needed to be somewhere other than here, with someone other than himself. Someone who he could be with completely, and lose himself in – losing himself in love was infinitely preferable to being lost once more in impotent rage.
Remus didn’t want to think about Azkaban. Not yet.
Her expression was...unexpected. He’d expected shock, annoyance, maybe even distaste – not this vulnerable confused look. She hadn’t expected to see him again, and she didn’t know how to feel – that, at least, was a start.
"Yes?" she managed, suddenly aware of how she looked, folding her arms over her chest – her clothes, her bare feet, her hair – Remus always found bare feet strangely intimate.
"I want to come to America with you." That’s right Remus, straight into it. Might as well get everything out in one go. "Because I can’t be here anymore."
She eyed him skeptically. "You’re supposed to say ‘because I love you’."
"I loved you yesterday and you still dumped me."
"What?" He really hadn’t expected her to get indignant. "You loved me? You didn’t tell me that. I was under the impression I was just some fling to you – we had good, no, we had great sex, and that was that."
She didn’t give him time to answer.
"You were in love with me? You wouldn’t let me in, Remus. We never talked about anything that mattered."
"You were the one who said we were never in love," he interjected, weakly.
"As far as I was concerned, we were never in love. I was the one in love. And you didn’t even seem to want to dignify this, this tryst as a relationship by ending it properly, so I ended it for you."
"I didn’t want it to end – I thought..."
She sighed, then leant heavily against the door frame. "Why can’t you be here anymore?"
He looked her square in the eye. "Too many ghosts. Too lonely without you. There’s no-one else I’m interested in talking to. I have no other friends – I have acquaintances, but no-one I can open up to. I want to open up to you. I know the...’ I’m a werewolf, darling. Deal with it. ‘...situation isn’t really what you want – you said as much earlier – and I know this doesn’t sound very romantic, but there’s nowhere else I can be, other than with you. Does that make sense?"
"Do you love me?"
"I love you."
"Then it makes sense." She relinquished her hold on the door frame. "You’d better come in."
He stopped by her, feeling the heat of her body on his, her breath on his cheek. He leant down close to her, and kissed her gently on the lips.
"I went to Azkaban today. I saw my best friend, Sirius Black. You know, the one who killed my other best friends, Peter and James, and James’ wife, Lily? He said some things to me, about innocence, and guilt, that made me think about it all, brought it all back. I realised I couldn’t think about it too much or I’d go insane, then I thought about how much I loved you, and how I’d feel if he’d killed you, and then I realised how lucky I was, because he didn’t get you – and yet I was letting him kill us both, because I couldn’t talk about it, I couldn’t open up..."
At least, he said it all in his head while she kissed him back, deeply, passionately. He’d tell her the whole story later tonight, on the plane. And she’d listen, and understand, and perhaps they’d be okay.