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Chapter 2 : Falling Together
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Dilley & Littleton’s was an old-fashioned little bookshop situated at the south end of Charing Cross Road, near Trafalgar Square, its slightly slanted black-and-white front squeezed in between those of two larger stores. Its main window was made of dark-stained glass that always seemed grimy, regardless of how often Emilie sponged it down.
Low tables and small wooden boxes on which books were displayed were scattered haphazardly across the dimly lit store - Emilie had stumbled over them on countless occasions. The mint-green walls of the decrepit building were hidden behind fading, flowered wallpaper that had started to peel at certain places.
Behind a wallpaper-covered door, there was a windowless storeroom filled to the ceiling with books that were not yet for sale. After every rainfall, water would leak from the roof and drip down on the floor and books. In anticipation of the heavy rains of November, Emilie’s boss – Mr Derek Dilley – had ordered his employees to keep the books stored in plastic garbage bags. The mouldy stench of rotting books and putrid wallpaper, however, seemed to have penetrated the walls of the room permanently - the smell was almost unbearable in summer.
It was in this room, in the meagre light of the bulb dangling from the ceiling, that Emilie spent most of her afternoon, inventorying the second-hand books Mrs Littleton had purchased the past month. She was more than grateful when Lora, her forty-year-old colleague, came to switch places with her. The smell of old, frequently read books and dusty cabinets welcomed her as she walked into the front room of the shop – Emilie inhaled deeply in appreciation of the familiar odour. Her love for books was the only reason she had not yet quit her job: she would choose working at Dilley & Littleton’s over working in a stuffy office any day.
Emilie was halfway through reorganizing the shelves behind the counter when a soft, raspy cough drew her attention. “Pardon me, ma’am,” said a slightly hoarse voice.
She turned around, her lips drawn into a polite smile. Her smile faded the second she took in the familiar face of the man that had addressed her, however. Her heart plummeted to her stomach, beating erratically. She had to look twice to be certain, but the scarred face of the man standing before her was unquestionably and unmistakably Remus Lupin’s. Her chest constricted as her mind travelled back in time, to Little Angleton and the river near the willow tree, their kisses in the sun. She could almost taste the sweet flavour of the ripe berries they had eaten, the memory so real to her that she could smell the fresh scent of summer grass and heather.
His eyes hadn’t changed, she noticed – they were still as gentle as ever – and neither had his smile. His sleek, dark blonde hair had grown longer and curled down just over the tips of his ears. Emilie wasn’t sure how long she had been staring at him when he opened his mouth and said, somewhat hesitantly, “Emilie?”
Her mouth was dry, and she had to lick her lips before she responded to his question with one of her own. “Remus?”
He opened his mouth as if to say something, but no words came out – or if they did, then Emilie didn’t register them. She couldn’t help but stare at him - stare at his pale complexion, his high cheekbones and sunken eyes. A day’s worth of beard stubble covered his chin and cheeks, the tiny hairs catching the little bit of sunlight that managed to filter through the dark shop window.
She stared at him staring back at her, overwhelmed by the old, familiar feelings that came rushing back. “What – what are you doing here?” she asked, still trying to sort out her feelings.
“I – er – I came to –” stammered Remus, looking somewhat flustered. He raised his right hand, showing her a thin novel of which the cover had started to curl.
Emilie’s heart sunk. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, right.” For a fleeting moment, she had allowed herself to believe he had come to see her – a thought which was ridiculous in itself, for why would he want to visit her after four long years of silence? She took the book from him and peeled the orange price tag off the cover. “That’ll be four pounds, then.”
He smiled awkwardly, his lips drawn together. She realized with a pang that she had missed his smile - the actual, lopsided smile he would give her when genuinely amused. She swallowed down the sudden pain. She had missed his face, his calm, polite demeanour and his kind eyes - she had missed all of him.
When he pulled his wallet out of his faded jeans, she couldn’t help but notice how shabby his clothing appeared. His long, dark blue jacket had been patched with pieces of black fabric at the elbows, and one of the knees of his jeans was torn.
“Four pounds?” he asked, his voice deeper than she remembered it, and slightly hoarser. Thinking of the things he had whispered in her ears during their summer in Little Angleton filled her with a childish giddiness that made her knees go weak.
“Yes, please,” she said, her throat dry.
He rummaged in his wallet and took out several coins, placing them on the counter, one after the other. “Sorry,” he mumbled, digging in the pockets of his jacket. A dark blush tinged his cheeks as he searched his clothes.
She tilted her head and took the three pounds he had already laid on the counter. “That’s quite all right. Take your time.”
“I’m certain I had –” he said, but the words died on his lips when he found the last coin and fished it out of his pocket, triumphant. “There it is.” He handed her the coin, the tips of his fingers brushing over the palm of her hand in the process. She shivered.
Ringing the cash register, she gave him a strained smile. “Is it a gift? I could gift-wrap it, if you’d like.”
Remus’s eyebrows rose. “Oh – er – no, there’s no need, really. I just needed a good read.”
And yet she still held on to the book, reluctant to give it away. “I think you’ll like it,” she said, fingering the book’s spine. “His style is quite similar to Salinger’s.”
His smile led to one of her own as she felt a familiar nervousness bubbling up inside of her – the nervousness that had been there when they had been younger and hopelessly in love. The bell above the counter rang that very moment, the melody slightly out of tune as another customer stepped into the shop. The open door allowed daylight and a whiff of fresh air to enter, breaking the moment.
She quietly shut the cash register drawer. “Well,” she said, handing Remus the book, “here you go.”
His eyes didn’t leave hers. “Thank you.”
She smiled, but was unable to hide her disappointment. “My pleasure,” she said, meaning to say more, but the words slipped her mind. A second customer had queued behind Remus, waiting impatiently for her turn.
“I –” he started, but he swallowed his words at the last moment, forcing a small smile upon his face instead. “Take good care, Emilie.”
She nodded. “You, too,” she said quietly. She watched as he walked away, the shop bell ringing as the door fell shut.
“I'll have this, please,” said the customer – a middle-aged woman wearing lipstick that was several shades too dark.
Emilie looked down at the book the woman had pushed across the counter: a well-read romance novel with a scarcely clad man on the cover, hovering above a starry-eyed woman who seemed to be in the throes of passion.
“I-” Emilie started, still somewhat shaken up. “Would you please excuse me?”
She marched out of Dilley & Littleton’s, picking up the pace when she spotted Remus’s long dark coat amidst the throng of people hurrying down the street. His dark blonde hair reflected the light of the sun, which had just started to set over Oxford Street. She jogged after him and called out his name, still not quite certain what she was going to tell him.
When Remus had reached the end of Charing Cross Road, he took a turn to the left. She wove her way through the people on the street, noticing just in time that he turned to the right. By the time she’d reached the road he’d gone into, she saw him taking a turn to the left again. The streets, which had narrowed enough to be considered alleyways, seemed to grow darker – whether that was entirely due to the falling of twilight, Emilie couldn’t say. She slowed down a little, shivering in the cold breeze.
“Remus!” she called. He continued down the road, his long coat blowing in the wind. She called his name again, but the wind carried her voice right back to her.
She had almost caught up with him when he took a final turn, into a dark alleyway that smelled like sewage water and rotting food. Slowing down a little – out of breath and tired of running down the streets of London – Emilie rounded the corner and walked into the alley, but not before hearing a soft but distinct pop. “Remus?” she asked, looking down the alley. He was nowhere to be seen. Her uncertainty grew when she heard something clatter to the ground in a dark corner of the alley. She backed away quietly, scared of whatever was hiding in the street’s darkness.
On her way back to Dilley & Littleton’s, Emilie felt like she had started missing something she had never really had.
The cold October air swept up Remus’s coat. He shivered and refastened the two buttons that seemed to come undone at the most inconvenient times - something which was most likely due to the too large buttonholes.
He couldn’t stop thinking about her. His heartbeat still sped up when he allowed himself to think of what had occurred, of how close he had been to her, of how she had smiled. She had been so different, and still so similar to the Emilie he remembered. Her hair had been shorter and darker, but as curly and messy as it had been four years ago. She had grown into her body - the long arms and slender fingers seemed to fit her better, somehow.
Still as beautiful as ever, he thought, smiling lightly. Time had been kinder to her than it had to him. He had gained a number of scars - one on his neck, several on his chest - and on his nineteenth birthday, he had found his first grey hair.
He wasn’t able to wrap his mind around what had happened just yet - it had gone by so fast, almost as though in a blur: his hand touching hers, her eyes on his face, a timid smile on her lips… the ringing of the shop’s bell as another customer had entered...
Hurrying up the stairs to his flat, Remus’s fingers lingered on the knobbly, wooden railing. He had to see her again. How could he not go back to that dodgy little bookshop, knowing she worked there? He had to ask her how she was, what she was doing, how her father was… whether she still thought of him like he did of her - every now and again.
Remus took a shuddering breath and stood still in front of his door. What if she didn’t? What if she didn’t want to see him again? The fear was so sudden that it was overwhelming, and he had to grab the door handle to steady himself. He took a deep breath and slowed down his train of thought - no need to get ahead of himself.
He turned the key and entered his flat, which was in a condition that could rival the state of the dilapidated bookshop in which Emilie worked. The moth-eaten curtains didn’t do much to keep out the pale, unfriendly light of the streetlamp behind his window. His flea-bitten couch was threadbare; it squeaked in protest when he sat down on it.
The desire to go back to see Emilie again was strong - he had to inhale deeply to clear his mind and think straight. The timing was less than perfect: the missions the Order sent him on required a hundred percent of his attention, dedication and time - he simply could not be bothered with his past. Not when his life and those of others were at stake.
He wasn’t sure he could keep away, though.
He ran a tired hand through his hair and aimed his wand at the water boiler on his kitchen table. The rickety thing sprang to life, the sound of water boiling soon filling his flat. As he sipped his tea, Remus leafed through the parchments Professor Dumbledore wanted him to study for his next mission. But no matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn’t get Emilie off his mind.
I’m very sorry for the long wait - first, there were finals, then there was a labcourse and then there was the week where I did have time but simply didn’t know what to write. I hope you can forgive me!
Thank you so much for your continued support - I’m thrilled to see so many Ennui readers have found Into The Fire.
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