Chapter 1 : Falling By Thousands
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Remus Lupin turned to face his friend Lily Potter and gave her a strained smile. “No, thank you,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”
“No trouble at all,” she said, looking sadly at him. “You know that.”
She touched him gently on the shoulder. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”
He nodded, if only to release her from his presence, and she returned to her tidy, little kitchen. He turned back to face the window and rocked back slightly in the large rocking chair. He had been there for at least an hour, staring at nothing, and he knew that he was giving his friends cause to worry.
He had shown up at their door about a week and a half ago. He had lost yet another job due to his frequent “illnesses,” and his landlord had kicked him out for not paying his rent. He hadn’t wanted to take advantage of his friends’ hospitality, but there was simply no place else for him to go.
The anti-werewolf attitude of the Wizarding world was really weighing heavily on him, and he had slipped into a deep depression. Lily and James made a fuss over him, even though he knew they didn’t mean to. He supposed that they had the right. Their friends and allies were falling by thousands due to the coming war between Dark and Light.
He knew that he wouldn’t try to kill himself. Or would I? But they didn’t, and that’s what had them worried so much.
He sat there, day by day, watching the leaves fall from the trees. Falling by thousands, just like our friends. He didn't know how he could think so morbidly when the autumn outside was beautiful. The sky was a nice, light blue, and nearly all the trees had lost their leaves. James and Lily had let the leaves stay scattered across their lawn, but most of the houses had stored them away into bags, hiding them from the world.
They lived in a Muggle neighborhood, and perhaps, Remus tended to think, they didn’t truly appreciate the quiet beauty of the leaves. Or maybe they just enjoyed raking.
No, that can’t be it, he thought, shaking his head. There’s only one person who does it.
And, as he thought these words, the girl stepped out of a house down the road and headed to the house across the street from the Potters. It seemed that raking leaves was her job, although she seemed young enough that she should be in school this time of year. He was absolutely fascinated by the way this willowy, unimpressive being managed to tackle the vast amount of leaves that spread themselves against the lawns.
He counted on her appearing at least once a day from the house down the road. She was his only source of entertainment. Books no longer filled his life with joy, and he couldn’t seem to grow used to the Muggle television that James had bought on a whim. Instead, he liked to imagine what kind of life this girl must have where she raked leaves everyday and never left her house otherwise. He wanted to know her. He wanted to know her secrets.
“Watching little leaf girl again?” asked James, startling him.
Remus looked up at his friend to see James grinning at him. “I suppose I’m officially a stalker,” said Remus dryly.
“Not at all,” said James, trying to coax a smile out of him. “But come on now, the Moony I knew at Hogwarts would’ve gone right across the street and asked her if he could help with the leaves, all the while intending to shag her that night.”
“Well, we’re not at Hogwarts, are we, James?” said Remus moodily, pushing himself up out of the chair and starting to leave the room.
“For Godric’s sake, Moony,” said James. “It would do you some good to get out of the house and speak to someone besides Lily and me.” He added in an undertone, “Not that you’ve been speaking much to either of us anyway.”
Remus stopped for a minute before facing James and the window again. “You really want me to go talk to her?” asked Remus hoarsely.
“You’ve been watching her for a week now,” said James. “I’d kill you if you didn’t.”
Maybe it could do me some good, thought Remus, feeling a slight ray of hope for the first time in months.
“She wouldn’t know about your condition, mate,” said James quietly, voicing Remus’s constant fear. “She doesn’t even have to know who you are.”
“Right,” said Remus, grabbing a scarf from the cloakstand. “Well, I’ll give it a try.”
“That’s my boy,” said James, slapping him on the back.
Remus attempted a smile, but the expression he achieved came out strained. “Put on your coat, too,” said Lily, appearing from the kitchen.
“Good Godric,” muttered Remus. “I feel like a schoolchild.”
James and Lily chuckled slightly, and James whacked him on the arm. “Don’t pull her pigtails.”
Without another word, Remus opened the front door and stepped into the chilly autumn afternoon. A breeze blew by and his hair flew into his face. He pulled his coat tighter around him and stopped at the bottom of the porch steps. What am I supposed to do? he asked himself. I can’t just march right over there and demand to know everything about this girl.
He turned to go back inside when he heard the click of a lock.
James and Lily were playing unfairly.
With no other choice, he crossed the street. As he drew nearer and nearer to the girl, he could hear the scratching of the leaves as she raked them into separate piles, and he could see the fog that her breath made as it left her delicate lips. She didn’t look up as he approached, but he understood that she knew he was there. When she finally lifted her head, she did not look surprised.
“I was wondering if you would ever come over,” she said quietly.
Remus flushed and tried to speak, but she continued over him, “I’ve seen you watching me every day.”
“I’m sorry, miss,” he said, turning a little more pink. “I just didn’t have much else to do.”
“It’s fine,” she said, removing one of her gloves. “I’m Jane, by the way.”
Jane. He repeated the word over and over in his mind. It was perfectly plain and simple, just as she was. “Remus Lupin,” he said, shaking her hand. It was chapped from cold and wind, but her touch still warmed him.
“That’s quite a mouthful,” she said, pulling her glove back on and picking up the rake again. “You’re making my poor little name ashamed.”
“No, it’s lovely,” said Remus quickly.
Jane ducked her head a little more into her hood and blushed a little. Remus felt a little embarrassed, as well. “I’m sorry to be so forward, it’s just that-“
“Why are you here?” she asked, not looking at him.
Remus stopped trying to speak for a moment before simply saying, “I don’t know.”
“You’re lonely,” she said quietly. “And you think that I’m lonely.” She glanced up at him, her dark brown eyes meeting his sad blue. “Is that right?”
Remus sighed heavily and said, “Yes. I think that’s it.”
“I’m not lonely, really,” she said, raking a new pile of leaves. “I’m too used to it to call it that.”
“I don’t want to bother you,” he said, turning to go.
“That sounds like a very practiced statement,” she observed, her voice stopping him in his tracks. “Would you like to help with me?” He looked a little startled at her suggestion. “Maybe it would make you feel like less of a bother.”
For the first time in ages, Remus felt a real smile tugging at his lips. “I think it might,” he said, reaching out for the rake she was offering him. “And in return, you’ll talk to me?”
“Awfully pathetic request, don’t you think?” she teased him gently. “I can’t be very interesting anyway. All I really know are the leaves.”
“You never leave your house otherwise?” he asked.
“No, I live with my mother,” she said, showing him how to scoop the leaves into a large paper bag. “She’s a widow, and she doesn’t like being alone for too long. We’re one of those war tragedies you read about in the papers.”
“War?” asked Remus dumbly, forgetting for a minute about Muggle history. “You know about that?”
Jane looked incredulously at him. “Of course I know about that,” she said. “I grew up hearing about how daddy was a big important soldier over in ‘Nam.” A wistful expression came over her face. “I used to dream about the day that he would come home, y’know? Money was tight around here, and that’s why I started raking leaves. Folks didn’t really have much to spare, but I think they felt sorry enough for us to let me rake for them.” She looked up at the trees as another blood red leaf fell from the nearest tree. “I hated it. It reminded me of the soldiers too much. Do I sound mad?”
“Falling by thousands,” he murmured. “No, you don’t sound mad. I was thinking the same thing myself earlier today.”
She gave him a half-smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “He never came back,” she continued. “And they never found his body. He was just another fallen soldier.” Another leaf drifted down. “Another fallen leaf.”
Remus didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how to comfort for years of pain. But isn’t that exactly what I’m looking for? “Don’t look at me like that, please,” she said, studying him. “You don’t need to feel sorry for me. I have moved on. I’m only here to be with my mother. For now, the leaves are enough.”
“You’ve moved on?” asked Remus. “Just like that?”
“Of course not ‘just like that’,” said Jane. “But I know that my father would’ve wanted me to live a full life, and I can’t let myself be ruled by self-pity.” Suddenly, he felt as if she was looking into his soul and wryly wondered if she had some untapped Divination powers. “I don’t know what you’re holding onto, Remus. But it’s time to let it go.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, turning away. “It’s much more complicated than you think.”
“If you let it, it will kill you in the end,” she said softly. “You can’t let that rule you.”
Tears began to trickle down Remus’s cheeks as he let his words into his heart. The autumn wing nipped at his nose and threatened to freeze the droplets on his face. Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way, he thought desperately. Maybe I can just-
He heard a slight ‘poof’ from behind him and turned to see that Jane had fallen back into one of the piles of leaves. -live. He fell back to join her- this girl who was, until only a little while ago, a complete stranger- and watched the leaves come down, falling by thousands.
He would not become another casualty of war. He would not become another victim of his condition. He would not be another name that would go unremembered. He would come home, and, most importantly, he would live.
From that day on, Remus met Jane every day outside the Potter house to rake leaves. When the snow came, they shoveled snow together until it had melted completely. In the spring, however, Remus awoke one morning to find a note on the front porch. He knew then that Jane had gone to find her own life, now that her mother had passed away.
He was not sad at her abrupt parting, though. Though he had grown to love her, it was not her love that had changed his life so much. It was the gift he had received under those leaves, falling by thousands.