The Sugar Quill
Author: Scribbles  Story: Always the Last Marauder  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

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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 -- suspicion.

"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 him...

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.

 

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