The water beaded, then ran down the imperfections of the shower wall. A trail followed in the water's wake and disappeared after it. Lupin ran his finger down the now invisible path and lent his head, gently against the cool glazed surface of the tile. The warm water of the shower stung the open wounds that he had received, but it felt good. It was white noise drowning out the relentless tumult of guilt. He shut his eyes briefly, and felt the skin on his forehead start to cool. He knew that in half an hour he was going to try to explain all the events of the night before to Dumbledore. It wasn’t something he particularly wanted to do right now.
All he really wanted to do was go to sleep, every muscle ached within him, and if he was honest with himself, sleep would offer a much-needed oblivion, at least until the dreams started. He knew though he wasn’t the only one in the house having those dreams, on several occasions he had heard the children screaming in their sleep. No one seemed to have escaped trauma and no one seemed to be able to escape his or her dreams for long. Every time he saw that hollow eyed look in the morning from one of the children it made his heart break, it made him want to rage against the unfairness of it all, mostly it caused a paternal like feeling akin to parental righteous protection and fury.
Lupin realised the water had started to turn cold and he knew he must have let time slip by. He finished washing and stepped out of the shower, grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Standing in front of the sink, he wiped the condensation off the mirror above. He looked at his face and saw his wet untamed hair hanging in his eyes.
There was nothing feral about his face, nothing wolfish, but there was something haunted about that face, something that said it had seen and felt too much. The grey flecks in his hair emphasised the belief that there was too much lost, and framed it. Lupin looked into his own eyes for a moment, there was a flicker of emotion across his face, and then it was gone. Lupin dried and dressed, he didn’t look into the mirror again.
As Lupin quietly crept down the stairs to the kitchen he heard many voices, some laughing, some chatting animatedly, the rest were concentrating on eating. He could hear the sound of knives and forks on china. His stomach turned slightly, he wasn’t ready to eat anything but he knew he should try otherwise people would worry. He knew that he had got a little thin recently; he knew that Molly Weasley had noticed it too; she was constantly cooking biscuits and cakes. She never asked him if he were hungry, she just put the plate of biscuits and cakes in front of him and hoped to tempt him. Sometimes, she even succeeded. Lupin smiled and pushed open the door.
There were quite a few people sitting at the large table, which seemed to have got a little longer. All the younger Weasleys were there, as well as Harry and Hermione. As Lupin glanced at Hermione, he saw concern etched in her face and then looked to see that look echoed on Molly and Tonks' faces; he saw the two of them exchange a meaningful glance that communicated some important message. Molly jumped up and moved around the table toward him.
“Remus, come and sit down. There’s plenty to eat, would you like a drink?” Molly was smiling that genuine sunshine smile of hers while she mothered him to a seat at the table without giving him the chance to say no.
He decided just to go with the flow and did as he was told and sat in the empty seat next to Tonks. He was now sitting in front of Hermione and Harry. Ron, who was sitting the other side of Lupin, Fred and George openly stared at Lupin’s face, quite shocked to see how badly scratched up it was. He saw their eyes glance to Hermione, who must have told them what had happened.
Lupin dropped his fork on his plate and it made a loud clattering sound that almost immediately silenced the room, at the same time, he cried out a yelp of pain. Tonks put her hand on Lupin’s shoulder and said quickly “Remus, are you ok?”
He nodded and said “Just a shooting pain from my cracked rib, don’t worry I’m fine, really,” at her look of doubt, he repeated himself. “Really.”
Tonks didn’t look too convinced but everyone started to eat again and the moment passed. Lupin bent down slightly and massaged his now aching shinbone and he looked at Hermione, who had turned crimson. Lupin could see that she had been trying to kick Ron who was sitting on the other side of him, probably because he’d been staring at his injuries, but had missed and kicked Lupin instead. She looked mortified and close to tears.
Lupin smiled at her warmly and tried to convey through the look that it wasn’t anything to worry about, although he couldn’t help the dance of amusement at the corners of his mouth. Hermione on the other hand did seem to think it was something to worry about because she shortly finished her meal and left, mumbling her thanks to Molly on her way out of the door, her face still red.
Hermione went and sat upstairs in one of the sitting rooms, she often went there to read if she wanted or needed some peace and quiet. She especially liked the many bookshelves that littered the walls. She was still glowing red sitting in the high backed armchair but she at least felt less exposed. She thought about poor Professor Lupin’s leg again and her face burned hotter. It was sweet the way he had covered up her embarrassment, but when she thought about the way he smiled at her afterwards she felt her face burn hotter still. He had seemed to find the whole thing quite amusing, a fact that he had kept so poorly hidden; she remembered the twitching at the corners of his mouth. At least he hadn't shouted at her, which would have been a lot worse. Hermione smiled a little and tried not to think of it anymore.
Professor Lupin had seemed very quiet and insular at dinner as if he had a great deal on his mind, Hermione thought. She could remember how dreadful he had sounded the night before when he had been having those terrible convulsions, it must have been awful for him. Her mind drifted to the way he looked after exiting the cellar after last night. He really had looked very ill, but then he didn’t know what had been happening to him, did he? It made Hermione very sad when she thought about how Lupin suffered sometimes, he never complained, never grew angry with his lot in life. Sometimes Hermione wondered at his patience, it seemed bottomless, but then with Sirius and James as friends she really didn’t find it that surprising at all, not if Harry was anything to go by.
It was at this point Hermione decided to look through some of the books on the shelves, there were quite a few on werewolf lore, Sirius had thought it a joke and bought some via Tonks because he couldn’t leave the house. Hermione smiled thinking of how devilish Sirius could be - “Or was…” - Hermione’s mind corrected her, and her heart dropped a little.
She reached up and selected a book called 'Madly Ravening Beasts' and started to read.
It was probably about fifteen minutes later that Ron and Harry came to find her, they found her snuggled up in the high backed chair with a book in her lap, her face was almost too close to the pages and she was reading avidly. They tried sporadically to engage her in some sort of conversation, but she became tetchy from being disturbed whilst trying to concentrate. They soon gave up and moved on to pestering Ginny in the downstairs sitting room for a game of exploding snap.
As Hermione read, her mind began to wander a little and she found herself thinking back to dinner. It wasn’t long before she was red faced again. It was at this point she tried to shake off the embarrassed feeling by concentrating harder on the book.
After the meal, Lupin tried to help tidy the plates away but was shooed into sitting at the table and watching everyone else do it. Once all the cleaning and tidying had been dealt with, Arthur, Molly, and Tonks sat down with a fresh pot of tea. Molly poured Lupin a cup and placed some freshly baked fruitcake in front of him. He left it untouched. They were chatting about the meal and who was going to be present at dinner tomorrow when Dumbledore walked into the kitchen, followed by Snape and McGonagall. Molly made some more tea and everyone quieted to hear what Dumbledore had to say.
Snape made no disguise of staring openly at Lupin; he had taken out his wand and placed it on the table in front of him. The look he was giving Lupin was one of disgust but Lupin ignored it and allowed a small benign smile at Snape, which of course, infuriated him more.
Lupin noticed at this point that Dumbledore was also watching him but he just tilted his head and said, “How are you feeling Remus?”
Everyone turned to look at him and he felt a little uncomfortable. “I ache, but physically I have recovered from last night. I’m still not sure what happened but tonight I am going to sleep in the cellar, just to be sure.” He looked down at his teacup not wanting to see anyone’s face.
“I’m sure that it won’t be necessary, Remus, but for safety’s sake I believe that would be a good idea,” Dumbledore paused and then added, “I had been hoping that you would be able to give us a little more information about last night, including the circumstances that led up to you being locked in the cellar.” Dumbledore looked a little apologetic but his eyes were serious.
Lupin nodded, knowing that this moment was going to come. He took another sip of tea and placed his cup back on its saucer, mostly to delay the inevitable and try to think where to start.
“Well, yesterday I spent a great deal of time researching some of the old tomes that you gave to me to look at, Albus. In fact, that’s what I had been doing for most of the week. I felt that I had been making a little progress and I needed to cross-reference some details with a few other books, so I went to the bookshop in Diagon Alley to find some copies of these other books. It went well, I found all but one, and I was quite eager to get back to check to see if my theories were right. It was getting late and I was going to Apparate back to my house when I was knocked over by this young girl. My books went everywhere and she was most apologetic, helped me up right away, and assisted me in picking up my books. She then left, in a rush to be somewhere I guess.“ Lupin paused feeling more than a little foolish, he sipped some more tea and his hand shook a little, no one spoke in the silence and then he continued.
“I Apparated home and set myself back to work. The first strange thing I noticed that was wrong, was that I felt very emotional,” he saw the others exchange glances. “My work wasn’t going well and I was becoming very irritated by it, to the point where I threw my notes across the room. It was then that I realised something was very wrong. My heart had started to beat strongly in my chest. I could feel my…er…” He paused looking a little embarrassed, trying to find the right wording, “My more base instincts were overwhelming me. I knew I had to find someone, and get help. That was when I Floo-powdered to your office, Albus, that was also when I could feel myself being lost.” He looked a little wan at describing losing his mind, but then he was used to changing into a werewolf every month. It had always been a horrid thing and he remembered the fear he felt when he entered Dumbledore's office. He was afraid that he was going to lose himself forever, but Dumbledore had calmed him for a few minutes.
Lupin looked up at Dumbledore at this point and saw sympathy and understanding within that jewel like gaze. Dumbledore nodded encouragingly and said, “Tell me how you felt before you passed out in my office.”
Lupin nodded and said, “I felt as though the beast within me were rising as if it would have on a full moon.” There were a few gasps of surprise and Molly looked horrified. Lupin continued, “I knew then that I had made a terrible mistake in going to you, Albus, in going to anyone. I should have gone to the secure room I have at home and I should have locked myself in. I was terribly afraid I would kill you, Albus, and that was when the convulsions started and I blacked out. When I woke up in the cellar at Grimmauld Place I knew that I couldn’t have killed you, and I realised that I never actually changed into the werewolf. I knew this because I was still clothed and because there is usually a specific feeling that lingers after the change. I am sorry it's hard to explain if you’ve never experienced it. Some of it felt like I had changed though, the pain and the aching were the same.” Looking at the faces around the table, Lupin could see that this had disturbed them rather a lot; he really couldn’t blame them for that.
Lupin remained quiet while Dumbledore and the others explained the events in the kitchen the night before. He realised then why Hermione had reacted to him so strangely, rightly so too. That just seemed to emphasise the feelings of self-disgust and horror at what had happened. He should have been more careful.
The meeting broke up and everyone started to chat in general. Snape left in a whirl of black robes, no doubt to carry out Dumbledore’s requests for the Order. Not Remus though, active duty for the time being had been ruled out. So had going home by himself. The last thing in the world he had wanted was to be caged up at Grimmauld place. With a frown and the churn of his stomach, he realised that this indeed must have been how Sirius felt. He suddenly felt very crowded and the need to be alone was immense. He left the kitchen without saying a word, which was noticed by Dumbledore, who watched his retreating back as he talked to McGonagall.
From her place in the sitting room, Hermione heard someone coming up the stairs. This in itself was not unusual. The unusual thing was that the person traversing the stairs continued up to the attic. Hermione got up from her chair and stumbled a little from the poor circulation her legs had been getting for the last hour or so. She made her way to the doorway and peeked to see if she could see who was on the stairs. She didn’t see anyone, but did hear a door shut. She made a mental note to look and see who the person was when they came downstairs.
The silhouette of a tired face hovered near the small grimy window recessed in the attic wall. Only a small amount could be seen out of such a window, though surprisingly it was the sole source of light in the room. Lupin clutched a glass in his hand and the amber liquid within shined from the dim light of the grubby window. He sipped the drink and felt the fire in his chest from the alcohol. His eyes were glazed slightly and he stared at nothing in particular through the window.
The room still smelled of Beaky, which wasn’t an entirely nice smell but it reminded him of Sirius. Lupin knew that Sirius had spent an increasing amount of time in this room towards the end of his life. That little fact made him feel as though he were a little closer to him. He missed Sirius dreadfully. Having to mourn for him once and then even in anger at the thought of a false betrayal was bad enough. Losing him a second time after realising all the time that they had lost, was unbearable. He felt the weight of his grief bear down on him and his chest tightened at the leaden feeling of his heart.
He sipped the whiskey – Sirius’ whiskey – it was his silent communion.
Lupin turned away from the window and pressed his back against the wall for support. He laid his head back and it touched the cold plaster. With his eyes closed, he imagined James and Sirius, as they had been in their first year at Hogwarts. Then the anger rose and his heart thudded painfully beneath his chest. They hadn't deserved what happened to them. As he felt his grief rise, he lost his grip on the glass he was holding and it fell to the floor, smashing. It broke him from his reverie and he bent to clean it up.
Downstairs Hermione heard the thud and tinkle of smashing glass. Slowly putting her book down, Hermione rose with her eyes locked to the ceiling. Without moving her eyes from the ceiling, Hermione instinctively reached out for her wand and grasped it. She didn’t think that anyone else had heard the noise because there hadn't been a sudden rush up the stairs from below. Briefly, she wondered whether she should call out and ask someone from downstairs to come and look. She shook her head visibly. They were safe here; it was probably Ron or Harry, or both mucking about. She considered this as she walked over to the door, which was still slightly ajar. It probably wasn’t them; she would have heard more noise by now. She opened the door and took a cursory look to check that the landing was clear. It was clear so she slowly moved towards the stairs leading to the attic. Hermione didn’t know why she felt apprehensive, there wasn’t anything to be scared of in this house other than the paintings. It was just that experience had told her that the unexpected could and would happen.
Placing her right foot on the stairs, she winced slightly as it creaked. Carefully she made her way up and was soon in front of an aged wooden door. Hermione’s right hand gripped the tarnished silver serpentine handle and opened the door.
At first, she didn’t see anything in the gloom, other than the grubby window, which allowed a dim light. “Lumos!” Hermione waived her wand in the direction of the window. It was then that she saw the figure of Professor Lupin sitting against a wall in the corner of the room, closest to the window. She saw that there was a bottle on the floor by his feet and there was a glass in his hand. His back lent against the wall and he rested one elbow on a raised knee, the other leg lay out flat. This was probably the most relaxed position Hermione had ever seen the Professor in. He was also looking straight at her.
“Good evening, Hermione,” Lupin said quietly.
Something about the way his voice sounded made Hermione look at him more sharply than she had intended. Was he perhaps a little drunk? Hermione wasn’t sure and she stepped further into the room.
“Are you alright, Professor?” Hermione’s voice was shriller than she would have liked but she was concerned, and couldn’t hide it. She heard the Professor moving before she registered it with her eyes. He stood, still holding the glass.
“Yes, Hermione, I’m fine,” Lupin smiled at her and stepped forward. He muttered an incantation and a few candles in the room lit up; the light accentuated the lines around his eyes. Any hint at what he had been feeling before Hermione had entered the room was banished.
“I heard a noise. It sounded like glass smashing. I thought I ought to take a look and make sure everything up here was … alright.” Hermione explained, feeling stupid because she knew how he would respond to what she had just said. She was sure that she was about to receive a lecture on not investigating strange noises by one’s self, which in hindsight she guessed she deserved, he didn’t though.
Lupin stepped forward and patted Hermione on the shoulder. He seemed to struggle with what he wanted to say and when he spoke a few moments later, his voice was quiet.
“I was just saying goodbye to an old friend.”
The statement hung in the air and Hermione’s heart felt heavy; she didn’t know how to respond to that. Her mind immediately went back to the night before when Lupin had been in the cellar. She was also surprised that he had told her what he was doing but not surprised at what he must be feeling.
After he had spoken, Lupin looked down at Hermione and saw there was a strange look in her eyes. A strong look of grief and pity mixed into one, but there was more to it than that. There was acknowledgement and recognition as though she had expected it from him. For a moment, she seemed a lot older than she was. She looked as if she was going to say something and then changed her mind.
“Are you ok, Hermione? You seem …troubled by something,” Lupin spoke, concerned that perhaps he had upset her in some way.
“Well no…that is to say that I am ok. I’m just…” Hermione struggled cursing herself for even starting to speak because now she couldn’t finish the sentence. “It’s just that, the other night when you were in the cellar…” Hermione looked up to judge the reaction from Lupin, which seemed to be closed and rapt. “In the cellar you said something, or rather called out for someone,” she finished hoping blindly he wouldn’t ask whom even though she knew he would.
He ran his hand through his grey-flecked hair and sighed a little and as he looked up, he noticed Hermione biting her lip nervously. He could guess what she was not saying but felt that he had to ask. He felt a little exposed and wondered what else she had heard him say.
“What did I say?” he said simply.
“You called out for Sirius,” Hermione said quietly, almost whispering, not wanting to be the bearer of this piece of news.
Lupin smiled benignly at Hermione, “I guess it must have been on my mind. Had Sirius been around to hear I’m sure he would have teased me mercilessly,” Lupin tried hard to hide the feelings that swelled up inside him, even though he had known what she was going to say. He tried to make light of the situation. He could see that revealing this had caused her some discomfort. He gestured to the door and they both walked out. Lupin left the glass and the bottle behind.
Hermione turned and spoke, looking down at the floor. “I wasn’t the only one that heard you. Professor Snape and Tonks heard you also,” Hermione sounded apologetic but then hastily added, “I haven’t said anything to Harry or Ron, I didn’t think it was my place to tell them.”
Lupin nodded, his face impassive. “Thank you, Hermione. I know I can rely on you to act responsibly. I appreciate your tact in this situation,” his face softened and again tried to reassure her. “I’m fine now, so let's go downstairs and have a cup of tea. We can discuss why it's a bad idea to go exploring on your own when you hear strange noises,” he smiled, amused at the look of surprise and reluctance on Hermione’s face.
As Lupin followed Hermione down the stairs, he thought about what she had told him. It almost felt as if he were struggling to contain his feelings about Sirius and he wondered if he was coping with it badly. The thudding of the journey down the stairs was accentuating the thud that was starting drill into his head. What had he been thinking? Drinking Sirius’ old fire whiskey. He shook his head to himself as he reached the bottom of the stairs and followed Hermione through to the kitchen.
Hermione was bustling around making tea and Molly directed Lupin to the table to sit down. She placed a plate of biscuits in front of him. He left them untouched. Lupin rubbed his temples until Hermione placed a cup of steaming tea in front of him. She looked at him, he glanced up, and a moment passed between them, a quiet understanding. He smiled a little and sipped his tea.
It didn’t take long for Lupin’s mind to wander back to Sirius and deep in his thoughts, he barely registered the fact that Dumbledore and Snape had entered the room. His headache had got worse and he was finding it difficult to concentrate. His heart pounded in his chest and he got up from the table and stood by the window where no one could see his face. He rested his hands either side of the window frame and gripped it. Lowering his head, he tried to push down the feelings that arose within him; he feared they might consume him. He felt his heart thumping in his chest harder and more swiftly than before and he let out a small whimper of pain. He raised his head quickly knowing that it was going to happen again and turned around; Dumbledore had his wand out.
“Remus, you must go to the cellar, do you understand me?” Dumbledore’s eyes burned like ice fire.
Lupin felt his limbs starting to shake and his muscles spasm, he cried out in pain, “No…No…not now.”