Last One Left Standing
Disclaimer: You know the drill by now, I'm sure. As much as I'd like to keep him all to myself…Remus Lupin and the rest of the denizens of the wizarding world belong to J.K.Rowling…not me. I'm just trying to get him to talk to me…the poor man keeps too much inside. :)
Remus Lupin pulled himself up that last bit and grasped the rough grass tightly with his hand. With a final effort he swung his leg over the edge of the outcropping and hauled his tired body up onto the grassy spot on the ledge. He lay for a moment panting thankfully from the exertion, happy to have made it in one piece. The climb that had seemed like nothing as a youth had definitely gotten harder with age, and this was as high as he'd ever managed to go.
Once his breathing had eased into a normal rhythm, he sat up and placed his back against the sheerness of the cliff face that still stretched on above him. His eyes roamed over the familiar valley spread out below and warmth filled his heart at the sight. The land rolled off green and rich in all directions until met by an endless expanse of trees to the south and east and a range of hills that blended seamlessly into rugged mountains to the north and west.
Within the valley below nestled a small village full of comfortable lives and a lake of immense beauty with its feeder streams branching out like gossamer webs in the glow of the afternoon sunshine. The view, as beautiful and impressive as it was, was dwarfed and overshadowed by the most striking item in the panorama. Hogwarts castle perched on its small precipice over the lake like a proud hawk scanning his territory for his next meal…ever watchful…ever on guard.
Lupin sighed and let his tired eyes play over the huge building taking note of the twinkling windows, the fairy tale towers with their lacy crenellations, and the ageless grey stones that made up its structure. It dominated the landscape that it watched over as it had always dominated his life. Once he'd set foot within its venerable walls, it had ensnared him within its spell and had never truly let him go no matter how far from its walls he roamed. It always pulled him back as if he'd been placed on a leash that he couldn't ever break.
"That's where this all began for us, Sirius. Yes, we saw each other on the train and exchanged curious looks and tentative words, but the real connection between us…among all of us, truly began once we heard the magic word issued from the brim of that ragged hat. Gryffindor, it sang…and sealed our fate. And shaped our lives. And we were happy. For awhile."
"The four Musketeers. The Marauders. Arrogant in our youth. Fearless in our pride. Sure of our superiority in the world. We laughed at Fate. That was our first mistake…one of many."
"Those early days were the happiest days of my life. I'd never had friends before. Never belonged before. With a secret like mine, I couldn't take the chance. It was a whole new world for me, and I embraced it willingly and desperately and so tightly that it's a wonder I didn't strangle the relationship at its inception. I was so pathetically eager to be wanted, to be accepted, to be loved."
"I know you thought that Peter was the desperate and needy one…the coattail hanger along for the ride because it made you feel more important to have his adoring eyes gazing up at you, but truthfully…I was the one who desperately needed your friendship. I was just better at hiding it than Peter was. Of course, he hadn't spent years hiding the truth about himself from everyone whose path he crossed like I did."
"Being a part of the whole, spending my life with you, and James…and Peter, was like basking in the warmth from the sun. I never thought it would end, but the coldness of evening was coming whether I wanted to admit it or not."
"Snape was the first whisper of a cloud passing over the sun. I never took any particular notice of him at first. Slytherin was a word that applied to a faceless mass of lesser beings…I took no particular notice of any of them. Gryffindors were the only ones who were real and individual and important to me, but you and James had a wider vision, didn't you, Sirius?"
"As your tormenting of him became more frequent and the battle that raged amongst you became more bitter and heated, I became more and more uncomfortable. It was a crack in the wall of my happy life and I hated it…and hated him for causing it. He wasn't worth the trouble as far as I could see; why couldn't you simply leave him alone? He'd have slunk back into the sewer that he came from if you'd only let him be, but you simply couldn't, could you? Neither you nor James could ever let things be…always picking at scabs…turning over rocks…looking trouble in the eye. Thrill seekers, both of you…while I was a coward."
"I looked up to you…to both of you, but you made me question it when you forced me to choose between what I knew was right and what I needed to live. I always chose you, but you made me feel ashamed of myself, and that was the beginning of the end of the golden days of youth."
"Then there was the worst "prank" of all. The blackest cloud yet to sail across my happy sky. I still look back on that night and shiver to my soul so thankful that James at least realized what could have happened. I hated you for a long time after that. When I think how my life could've ended that night right along with Snape's I still cringe inside. How could you have done that to me, Sirius? How? I loved you like a brother, and you treated me like nothing more than a tool for revenge."
"It took a long time to forgive you for that…a long time. But you begged my forgiveness so sincerely, and I loved you so deeply…how could I refuse to forgive you? You could grovel with the best of them when it suited your purpose, and I still needed my place at your side. So I put my anger and pain and disappointment aside and went on. The sun came out once more and life was fine…for awhile."
"The next few short years were some of the happiest I'd ever had. I floated through them on a cloud…never looking deeply below the surface…not seeing what was true, but only what I wanted to see. We were grown up and facing the world together. The Marauders were tackling real life and winning, as far as I knew, but I was always an optimist when a dose of reality would have been far more healthy."
"I grew up quite a bit. Facing the reality of being a werewolf in the real world made sure that I had no choice, but I didn't ever complain. There wasn't any point to it, and I still had my friends to stand by me and boost me up when I was down. You were always so good at that, Sirius. Life was a game for you in so many ways. You never really released your grasp on childhood; if anything I think you became more determined to enjoy life to the fullest. You were ever the grasshopper…while I was always the ant at heart."
"Still, my glasses were as rose colored as yours in so many ways. I knew that James and Lily were in danger, but I didn't want to believe how much. Like most of the wizarding world, I thought Voldemort and his Death Eaters were less of a problem than they turned out to be, and I never could've imagined how badly they'd impact my life."
"I noticed that once we'd graduated, Peter became more distant…more nervous, but I didn't think anything of it. I assumed that real life was just turning out to be a bit more challenging than he'd expected. It certainly had been for me. You seemed as fun loving as ever, and James and Lily now had Harry. Life seemed to be going on wonderfully for all of you. Who knew what lurked just below the surface? Not me."
"When they died and you were accused, I was shocked. I couldn't believe it. How could you betray your friend…your brother like that? Then when Peter seemingly died and you were convicted of his murder, I felt more betrayed than I ever thought possible. In one unbelievably short period of time, I'd lost everyone who'd ever meant anything to me. It was the most shocking and horrifying time of my life. Suddenly I doubted everything I knew about you…and the doubts brought back the demons."
"I remembered the way you'd treated Snape and any other lesser being who could be good for a laugh when we were in school…remembered that horrible night when I discovered just how far you'd go for revenge…for a prank. It made everything else so much more plausible…and once more I was ashamed. Ashamed that I'd defended you…sat by and never stood up to you…had called you my friend when I'd never known you at all."
"Life went on, and somehow I managed to pick myself up and continue, but all the fun had gone out of it. Life was a more difficult scrabble than ever, and I was the only Musketeer left standing."
"Then a miracle occurred. Nothing before or since has had quite the effect on my soul as discovering that you weren't guilty. It renewed my faith in my judgment. I wasn't as wrong in my affection and trust as I'd thought. Yes, in a way, I was exchanging faith in Peter for faith in you, but that was okay. As hard as it might be to admit it, Peter had never meant as much to me as you and James had. I had you back…I wasn't the last Marauder after all."
"Yes, life was still difficult, but I had my best friend back so I felt happier than I had in years. Yes, you were still immature and selfish and rash, but I didn't care. You were back in my life, and it made me happy…and it made Harry happy, too."
"I should've known it was too good to last. I could see how hard it was for you to live in hiding, but you swore you understood the reasons for it. That you'd abide by the rules, that you'd play it safe. I should've known better. You never met a rule you couldn't get around, and you'd never played it safe in your life."
Tears glittered in his eyes and he blinked them back fiercely. "So once more I'm the last one left standing, and it feels even more awful this time than it did before. I should just be grateful to have had those extra couple of years…a bonus that I never could've expected, but I'm not. I don't feel grateful. I don't feel blessed. I don't feel lucky. I feel angry and cheated. I had you back, and you blew it. You couldn't follow the rules, you couldn't be the grownup, no, you had to play the hero riding to the rescue on your white charger…and damn it…I held the reins! I boosted you up into the saddle and played sidekick once again!" He beat his fists against the rocky ground in frustrated anger.
"This time the fault is mine! I knew how you were…what would push your buttons, it was my place to be the voice of reason, my place to be the responsible adult, my place to keep you from rushing headlong into danger, but did I? Did I keep you safe? NO! And now you're gone again…and I'm alone once more and it feels worse than ever."
"I stood at your memorial service and listened to Dumbledore praise you as a hero and tried to let you go and mourn you properly, but I couldn't. There wasn't anything to hold on to, to say good bye to, to help me to understand. There was no body…no ashes…no you. Once more you'd left me without saying good bye, and I was adrift in a sea of painful might have beens."
"So I decided that if I was going to say good bye to you properly, I was going to have to do it privately in a way that you'd appreciate. So I took all the best pictures of you and James and Lily out of my albums and had some copies made, then I took Harry on a picnic to one of our favorite spots down by the lake where you used to go to try to get a glimpse of that cute mermaid, you know the place. And we spent the afternoon talking about you and James, looking at pictures, and I told him every interesting and funny and touching story that I could remember about you. It helped…at least a little. I think it helped Harry, too."
He smiled a crooked smile. "Then I bribed Dobby to put itching powder in Snape's underwear with the next load of his laundry…just for old times sake. Then I sent a dozen roses to that cute witch at the pub around the corner from the house on Grimmauld Place…you know, the one you were always flirting with whenever you could escape from us watchdogs for awhile."
He sighed. "Then I hauled my arse up this mountain without a wand just to show you that you were right, and I could do it if I really tried. You and James always climbed higher and farther than I did, but you always had faith in my ability to get up here eventually. You said that all I had to do was get over my fear, and I'd be able to do it. So Sirius, just for you…here I am. I'm still afraid though, but not of the height. I'm afraid to go on without you by my side once more. Afraid that I won't have the strength, or the courage, or the will to keep going when it all seems so pointless, but I'm going to try because I know you'd want me to. Then there's the fact that your leaving has left me a responsibility, someone has to keep an eye on Harry, and frankly, it appears that I'm the only one left to do it; so I'll do my best to fill your shoes, I promise, but you need to keep on watching, too, from wherever you ended up, okay? 'Cause I'll feel whole lot better about this if I know that you're looking in from time to time."
"Good bye, Sirius, my old friend, I'm going to miss you…more than words can say."
With a sigh and a resigned frown, Lupin looked over the edge of the cliff with trepidation. "At the moment, there's one thing I really wish you'd found the time to tell me, though. How the hell am I supposed to be able to climb down again now that I've gotten myself up here?"