Remus Lupin slouched down Diagon Alley, both hands shoved deep into his
pockets. His shoulders were pummeled with the falling rain, but he didn't
bother pulling the hood of his cloak over his head. Instead, he let his
hair be plastered to his forehead, hiding the icy grey eyes that stared
blankly at the wet pavement.
It was late. Witches and wizards hurrying home shot him suspicious glances,
skirting his bent form and keeping close to the edge of the sidewalk.
Doors opened and shut, stray sparks from their locking charms fizzling
in puddles. Lights blinked briefly in the approaching darkness before
curtains were drawn quickly across the windows.
You were afraid to stay out after dark. Voldemort and his clan of followers
seemed farther away, once you were curled up in your parlour with a mug
of hot tea. Poring over the evening paper, you would force yourself to
read between the lines of the Ministry's optimistic reports, picking up
snatches of rumours before you turned to the obituaries with a mixture
of anticipation and dread. Searching with a pounding heart, you would
pray that you couldn't find the familiar names standing out in black and
white like leering tombstones.
Maybe you would set the paper aside, breathing in quiet gasps of relief.
Maybe you would find the name -- the cousin, the teacher, the friend --
"killed this afternoon in her home," "presumed dead," "found this morning
in Oxfordshire." And you would thrust the paper from you, its pages fluttering
to the floor like the wings of a dying bird, leaving the words to glare
black on white on scarlet carpet. Even if you let the flames in your hearth
devour the paper, each sentence hissing and crackling as it crumbled to
ashes, you could not rid yourself of those words.
Remus stopped on a street corner, tilting his face to the fading sky.
Angry grey clouds smothered London in a thick blanket, blotting out the
stars and casting mottled shadows at his feet. Somewhere on the street,
a wireless was turned on, strains of music flitting through the raindrops.
Just as quickly, a window slammed, and then the only sound was that of
the pounding rain.
A stray dog trotted out of an alley across the street, whining through
a mess of dark and matted fur. It disappeared behind a dustbin like a
forgotten shadow, but not before Remus' stomach tightened and his fists
clenched. He realized that he was shaking, but whether it was from cold
or anger or a wretched combination of both, he did not know. He glared
at the spot where the retreating mutt had been, hot tears squeezing themselves
from his eyes and mingling with the rain on his hollow cheeks.
Why? He could ask himself the question a thousand times, and he
would never find an answer. Why had Sirius led Voldemort straight to Lily
and James, supposedly his two best friends? Remus had thought that Sirius
would be the last person he knew to ever cross over to the Dark side.
He hadn't seemed to be any different in the weeks that led, inevitably,
to his friends' deaths. Remus had known that Sirius was planning something
with the Potters, a sort of secrecy charm they'd hoped would keep them
safe. But, when Remus had asked Sirius about it, he'd refused, rather
uncomfortably, to tell Remus anything.
He winced now, as he remembered what had been their last conversation.
Remus had slowly become aware of the underlying tones in Sirius' voice,
uneasy chords of something Remus had never felt from his friend before
"Good God, Sirius," he had accused suddenly, voice short with horror and
fury, "You think that I would ever -- I -- whose side do you think I'm
on?" he had demanded, as Sirius turned away and covered his face with
his hands. "Who do you think I am?"
"I don't know anymore, Moony," Sirius had whispered. "I haven't seen you
lately --" He wouldn't let Remus interrupt. "And Peter and I got to talking
-- Remus, don't be like this -- don't think that I don't trust you --"
"Get out," Remus had breathed, throwing himself into an armchair. "Get
out of my house. Go!" he had cried, trying to hold back his indignant
sobs, watching Sirius back out of his apartment, still trying to explain.
The slamming door had echoed down the long hall.
And only days later, it had happened. The Prophet screamed the news before
Remus had even suspected anything to be wrong. Lily and James gone --
Peter dead -- Sirius imprisoned -- numb with shock, he'd locked himself
in his room, shivering in his bed and trying not to let himself think.
Peter! Peter, who Sirius had defended against barrage after barrage of
jeering Slytherins; Peter, to whom Sirius had slipped folded answers during
a Transfiguration test he'd been too nervous to study for; Peter, who
had bubbled his profuse thanks when they'd been caught cheating and Sirius
had taken the blame. Remus tried to picture Sirius harming Peter in any
way at all, but he simply couldn't do it. He tried to force himself to
imagine Sirius threatening Peter -- pulling out his wand -- a street of
crumpled bodies --
Remus shut his eyes. If Sirius was bent on receiving Voldemort's honour,
why couldn't he simply have let Peter alone? It wasn't as if Pettigrew
could possibly stand in his way. He'd scarcely been able to pull off simple
Transfiguration spells, and Professor McGonagall had despaired over him.
Why wouldn't Sirius spare one of his oldest friends? Would he have done
the same to Remus?
Even as Remus had begun to accept what had happened -- a cold, biting
reality that gnawed at his stomach -- a part of him fervently believed
that the Ministry had made some mistake. Sirius wasn't a murderer, wasn't
a spy, wasn't guilty of any crime that couldn't be punished with one of
McGonagall's famous detentions. This was the nagging part of him that
wouldn't let him sleep at night, but hissed in the impenetrable darkness
that hovered over his bed. You should have done something...you should
have helped him fight for a trial...our only friend...you could have saved
Evanescent and illogical though it was, the voice permeated his dreams,
filled his ears, would fade and then return when he least expected it.
You could have helped...as he would have done for you...
But I'm not a murderer, Remus thought bitterly. He crossed the
street unsteadily, drunk with guilt, ignoring the muddy water that splashed
his boots. The scrawny dog was still rooting in the dustbins, chewing
hopelessly on a dried bread crust. At Remus' approach, he looked up with
intelligent canine eyes, giving his tail a tentative wag. Remus' wet fingers
fumbled in his pockets, clutched a crumbling biscuit that he'd meant for
breakfast, but had forgotten. He gave it to the dog, watching it gulp
the crumbs eagerly, and then let it lap at his hands with a warm tongue.
When it saw he had no more, it trotted back to the dustbins, settling
for someone's leftover roast duck. The dog's movements were somehow familiar,
and Remus had to make himself leave the corner and wander dejectedly down
the street. He didn't realize where he was headed until he'd arrived --
the place where Diagon Alley turned into Knockturn Alley.
Murmuring forms shifted in the darkness: wizards slouched in the shadows
of abandoned buildings, passing a bottle back and forth. Voices, mixed
with the rain, echoed from the dimly lit windows of opening taverns. As
Diagon Alley was falling asleep, Knockturn Alley was just waking up.
Remus shuddered. He couldn't help wondering if Sirius had ever slipped
into this narrow street, which Remus had been warned to keep away from
as long as he could remember. Maybe he'd met with one of those furtive-looking
wizards, passing the information that had led to the events that would
ruin his life. Turning, Remus stalked angrily back up the street. Muffled
footsteps padded after him, and he stopped to look over his shoulder,
heart pounding. It was only the dog from the dustbins, which had followed
him since he'd left the corner. It now looked toward Knockturn Alley,
enticed by the smells of the rubbish heaps, but did not venture in. Instead,
it looked up at Remus, who had to remind himself, painfully, that Sirius
was locked in Azkaban, not roaming the streets as an Animagus.
"Get away!" Remus exploded at the dog, just as he had to Sirius months
before. "Stop following me! Just leave me alone! It's not my fault! D'you
hear me? It's not my fault!"
He tore up the street, not bothering to see if the animal had gone or
not, and wrenched open the door to his flat. As he stormed up the stairs
to his apartment, leaving a wet trail on the carpet, he could not stifle
the unearthly howl that wrenched itself from his throat. Collapsing against
the wall of his tiny room, he slid to the floor, burying his face in the
wet robes stretched across his knees. No matter how much he tried to convince
himself, no matter what the papers said, he could not separate himself
from the broken man who had been his friend -- the man who cowered now
in his cell across the sea. Just as he was tied to James and Peter, Remus
Lupin would never let go of Sirius Black.
He would always be the last Marauder.
He wondered if Sirius, smothered by rain and cold and the gliding Dementors,
was thinking the same thing.