The defense teacher looks Cho Chang in the eye.

She has pretty eyes, in a youngish way, in a sly way -- over the top of the paper she's just handed in -- and she's looking back at him, of course, unflinchingly.

This goes on for the longest time: as long as it takes for either to say anything about what she's written, which is about werewolves, and as far from the truth as Remus has ever imagined. What's worse is that Cho seems to know this very well, and she even seems to be smiling at him, amused in the strange way of hers, cat-like and potent; the tone of her paper is such that perhaps she hoped large words would distrat him from the content of the piece. Perhaps she hoped even a stab at logic would warrant favor for the oldish man, that odd man who is trying to make a difference -- swear!

Swear.

The defense teacher looks back to the paper (finally; the girl is making him uncomfortable) and circles a large paragraph with red ink. Cho lets out a breath, raising her eyebrows at him.

"This is false," he informs her bluntly. "I would advise further research before you turn in something that will affect your grade."

"I had other things to worry about," she tells him honestly; for a moment it's obvious that this is something she rarely says, and Remus would be sorry if he were not a teacher.

--

Mr. Lupin was never as good at girls as his friends. Girls made him nervous, in fact; it was difficult having them everywhere, as often they found him a suitable replacement for a Black or a Potter. Remus left a great many people disappointed when they realised he was nothing like the company he chose to keep: a little shy, a little strange. A recluse. 'A very bookish young gentleman'. Mr. Lupin found it hard to be himself sometimes, in the presence of girls; he mumbled ten times more, walked a bit stiffly, gestured woodenly with his hands. Even Pettigrew had an easier time striking up a conversation with such elusive creatures -- at least when the boys first met. Remus only really got a hold of himself when James set on Lily, and there were less new girlfriends to meet and pretend to like. (Less new girlfriend's best mates to entertain.)

But nonetheless, he likes women. He likes women with pretty hair and intelligent things to say. The sort of girls who can keep a straight face when they like. Remus didn't always have an easy time smiling, you know; sometimes now without his friends, he goes back to his old ways. But then -- he doesn't have many reasons to smile now. James is gone like Lily is gone, and the only thing left of that world sits in his Defense class with no idea that it ever existed. Don't get Mr. Lupin started on the Blacks, either. Mr. Lupin could lecture hours on the kind of fool who would trust a boy with that sort of name.

That kind of fool is sitting behind his desk now, thinking about high tea and those fancy saucers his mum used to collect. That kind of fool has two half-brothers in America and a deep scar on the curve of his shoulder. He can remember sitting in a room like this once before; there were a few redheads then, too, and maybe a girl with green eyes rather like that Potter boy's. It puts an odd tilt to his smile, as if Mr. Lupin is waiting to laugh but wants everyone to hear. He's smiling like that as class ends, and instead of saying goodbye to the children just looks at them, each and every one.

--

In the library, the defense teacher sits at a familiar table. He considers the lesson laid out for the next session, where he will introduce something else that is necessary and easy to grasp. Mr. Lupin believes in establishing one step before the other. He enjoys the process of teaching. He is methodical; if making a personal connection is difficult lately, an intellectual one certainly is not. Connections do thrill Mr. Lupin. The world is made up of connections.

Someone must have charmed the initials off the surface of this table, he thinks. He runs his hand along its edge, saddened by the age apparent in his fingers; there are years there, and even he can't remember all of them. Half-abandoned journals found in his suitcase profess that Mr. Lupin is a consistent worrier; apparently he does nothing but think of where he will go for the next moon, who he will hurt, what will become of them, and why there is no one left to fight him.

It's not that he's feeling sorry for himself, not exactly. It's just easy in a place like this, a quiet library; there's little to do but think, and it's not his fault that he has so many things to think about. It's not his fault that when there is finally movement somewhere along the wall to his left, he looks up from his notes for the first time in three hours; although he's written little, it's been important to Mr. Lupin that they are as thorough as possible. If they are not, terrible things could happen. It's a little trick getting older has played on poor Remus; the smallest things can destroy counterparts six times their size.

Is that true about Cho Chang? he wonders, as she browses the shelves. It's making him a bit ill to watch her walk along like that, in Mary Janes, and that isn't his fault either; she has a way of moving that makes him remember someone else, and it hurts his head to decide exactly who. Remus imagines Cho Chang has very intelligent things to say indeed. He also imagines she must be around the age he was when he would never have been able to speak to a girl like her; the kind of girl she must be, if she's going to braid her hair like that. Mr. Lupin finds himself wondering what James would have said about Cho Chang, and then realises that he has been watching her, and maybe he isn't really thinking about James. It's very strange and it makes him three times more ill and he abruptly straightens his papers, hoping to leave before he can wonder about the speed of her pulse one more time. (There are variants, you know, and they are intimate in a way Lupin understands.)

But --

The sound of the papers startles Cho, and she flinches; it seems to take an eternity afterward, but like any mammal her head turns to locate the source of such a scare, and then she is smiling, bringing a hand to her chest in that way people have when they've been frightened. Mr. Lupin is human, of course, but there are some things he'll never understand about being a man.

"Hello, professor!" She says.

He makes a show of being busy; he straightens his papers again, and again, very quickly.

Cho seems to understand, but she will not stop smiling at him, even when the defense teacher appears to have somewhere very important to go.

--

Remus thinks it quite odd to see Potter outside of class; he's even less prepared for that than he is for pretty girls, and it makes his breath catch a little when he spots the back of Harry's head from the other side of a crowded cooridor. It looks a little too much like James, and for the smallest moment Mr. Lupin even believes that it must be James, and has to stop himself from calling out to say hello. The times he does speak to Harry he can't help but be a little impressed, a little taken aback by the boy; he seems so much like his parents that it seems impossible that he never knew them.

And Lupin likes Harry's friends, too. He likes Ron and his impatient rambling in class. It's obvious that he is a good friend, maybe the sort of friend Remus hoped for as a child: amusing, honest, and loyal in a way that might almost be like having a brother, if it were possible to adopt one. Remus likes Hermione even better than Ron because she is curious, and very good at magic, and doesn't lie about werewolves in her papers. Hermione would never think to do such a thing; he is sure of this because she's nothing like Cho Chang.

And yes -- it occurs to him that he wouldn't know, really, what it is to be nothing like Cho Chang. In fact, he has no idea what it is to be like Cho Chang, or even to be her, be a person that is close to her. He doesn't like the idea of finding out, but he wonders how the frankness in her smile translates to things like friendship and Quidditch and the boyfriend he is sure she has. Once in a while Remus catches Harry watching Cho from across classrooms and in the Great Hall, where she sits with a gaggle of similar girls; similar, of course, in that they are all female and all wearing blue, generally. Mr. Lupin enjoys generalizations in a controlled setting. Mr. Lupin enjoys the thought that Harry is more confident than he ever was, and perhaps he'll witness that side of James one last time.

It's hard to mourn a friend you weren't aware you lost: because, you know, it's one thing for a man to die and quite another when you begin remembering him differently. Remus has always had difficulty with this because he's made a habit of thinking so hard, and sometimes he simply cannot discern what is true and what he has simply considered. Perhaps a good portion of James is a silly fancy of his, a dream Mr. Lupin has never quite abandoned -- but it's a privilege to have one like Potter, and he deserves something to remember fondly. It's hard. It's a very hard thing to be a survivor.

That's why Harry gets chocolate, and Remus doesn't talk much with the other teachers, and wy his office is the nice quiet sort of office. That's why he's good to Snape, as good as Snape will allow, and if things are slow it's because he's alive in a way that makes it so. Something about the breeze at Hogwarts puts things at ease. Lupin knows better than most that it's never really safe here -- but it's never really safe anywhere, not as long as a consicence can be stifled by years of neglect.

--

Tonight, he's thinking about how quickly Cho Chang's heart must have sped in the library. There is something about being a werewolf that makes a heart a fascinating thing, you know, and the defense teacher has heard a heart speeding from six feet away, from a field away. He is the sort of man that likes connections, and there is no connection more thorough than that of an organ and its system: miles of veins and the blood that rushes through them will touch every inch of a girl or a man or his dark side. Then the heart will touch everything. The heart will touch everything, and know everything, and that's why it can't be ignored.

Mr. Lupin likes the heart more than the mind, though he relies on one more than the other. There is more occupying the latter than the former; he's never had anything to fill his heart but moon sense and questions about people he used to adore, but his mind can go on and on and on. Still, he can't deny there's one thing about the mind that makes it difficult to trust, and that is you can never really be sure of its status. You can never be sure if a person is thinking clearly at all, with intent, with full knowledge of what they do; but you can always be sure that a heart is working properly because it belongs to a person that is alive. And people are alive with such vigor. There is something about being a werewolf that makes live things so curious, so difficult to ignore. There is something about the smell of an alive thing that is intoxicating, and there are millions of such intoxicating scents. They are often so intrusive that Lupin can recognise many even with his small man's nose: this is why he is also thinking of how Harry smelled, rather how James might have smelled at thirteen, and how Cho Chang's scent rang like a bell in his head for hours. Even in the midst of paper and ink and stuffy librarians she was quite clear to Mr. Lupin, and now in his office he can recall the odd tang of her: something sweet and flowery, something red and full and pulsating like a heart that is much too big for small girl's bones.

There is something about being a werewolf that makes bones collectable. It is unspeakably strange when a part of you would like something that the rest of you does not understand.

--

Mr. Lupin knows it must be cold outside because the students on the lawn are quite bundled, for it only being October. He can see a few with thick house scarves; they seem to be quite happy with themselves.

Mr. Lupin also knows it must be Saturday because he has had nothing to do yet; after breakfast his legs took him quite delibrately back to the office, as if there was nowhere else to go, and apparently this has been the case for some time. There are days Remus cannot remember exactly why he is back in a place like Hogwarts; those are the days that detailed notes are most important. There are days he feels like crying because it is too much responsibility -- it hurts because he's not that old, not really, but all of his friends are gone anyway and it's like he's been put in alternate version of someone else's life, understanding things that he was never meant even to imagine, teaching things he should never have learned in the first place. And Remus doesn't like to be melodramatic; when he feels like this it means its time for a walk, time to do something productive, because there's no reason to be upset when there is so much to be done. But it's Saturday today, and the defense teacher has no classes. His sweater is a little too thin, and his tastebuds a little too sensitive; breakfast was a bit much, and now his stomach grumbles angrily from under a layer of wool.

There was a time in his youth when many things were indestructible, and he liked to drink. He liked rides on motorcycles even if it meant clinging to Black's waist like a girl.

They used to walk hallways like this together sometimes -- maybe even the same hallways, though Mr. Lupin's office is a bit far from old haunting grounds. He had to make sure of that.

He hadn't realised that it would be easy to imagine Sirius anywhere, however, and because he's alone he lets out a deep breath. He leans against a wall, bringing his hands to his temples, and wonders what in the world he was ever thinking.

Too many bad decisions is the thing, and here is the next one Remus makes:

He doesn't move, when a familiar scent reaches his nostrils. He does very little but stare at his shoes, actually, even when it grows closer and he can smell the sweet center of it -- perfume or something close, except it's the oils of Cho Chang's skin and hair, and Mr. Lupin wishes he couldn't be so specific.

She appears at the end of the hallway, a champion at hiding the uncertainty in her step; a werewolf would know that she did not really mean to come here, was perhaps a little nervous even, and a man that can tell such a thing is more dangerous than he realises. Fortunately Remus is not dangerous, just old and unsure and a little ahead of himself. Perhaps he has no idea what he was ever thinking, but at least this is comfortable.

Cho saw him from her first step into the hallway, but pretends not to notice the defense teacher until she is a few feet away -- what a pretty girl thing to do. She rummages through papers and studies her nails, quite determined, but Mr. Lupin clears his throat.

Mr. Lupin is through with thinking of silly things, and would like to make her look just as ridiculous as imagining the joints of her fingers makes him feel. Cho Chang is fifteen years old; Remus would rather not think of how old he is.

"Chang," he says.

"Oh! It's you."

"Yes."

She smiles at him like before, from the library. He smiles back because that is something he does, and when Cho speaks he nods along because that is something else. "I thought that your office was somewhere.... somewhere near here. It's my paper, Professor Lupin. I've revised all of it."

"You have?" The teacher is surprised. "That's very good of you, Chang, but I'm not sure I can give you proper credit."

And she hangs her head slightly at that, but continues smiling, rocking slightly on her heels. "That's all right, professor. I just felt awful for turning in something that must have been a horror to grade. I'm a good student, you know, or I mean to be."

Remus hadn't doubted that yet, not really; he is fairly certain Cho could have done the same thing twice before he'd managed. It's not that he likes all of his students, of course, but he would like to give most the benefit of the doubt. He is a responsible man. He is responsible for teaching. But this is not something the girl would know, and perhaps it's a bit touching to see her color slightly, reaching into her bag. Or it would be touching if he was not Mr. Lupin, and impressed at pitch of her voice -- a lightness he can nearly taste, and the thought makes him iller than ever.

"Thank you," he says anyway. "I will enjoy reading a proper attempt."

"I hope so." Cho is honest; she shrugs amiably. "I've just been so busy with... Quidditch, and... Oh, you know. I shouldn't make excuses, I don't think."

"Be more diligent next time," says Mr. Lupin, who would rather stare at the neat coil of her cursive forever than know that she is looking straight into his face. He can feel it, like he can feel if anyone is watching, but it's different because Cho Chang makes him sick and years of being alone can make that harder than it should be. Years of being alone can make anything seem like feeling sick, and years of being a werewolf can make simplicity overwhelming, but it's much easier than facing what he is really feeling, which could be a multitude of things. Mr. Lupin would like for things to be easy, when they have to be anything at all; when they can't be, however, someone has to do something about it. That's why he's here in the first place.

So he looks up from the paper, and Cho is still watching him; she seems to be piecing something together, working out what to say, and finally --

"A-are you all right, Professor Lupin?"

Remus slips a bit of chocolate from one of his pockets; it's quite warm, but he smiles anyway, and the warmth drives straight to the heart. "I'm perfectly all right. Would you like a bit of chocolate?"

Cho is not sure what to say. Her mouth hangs open for a moment -- Mr. Lupin can sense the heat of her tongue -- and then she nods very slowly.

They stand in the hallway eating the candy for what feels like forever, though he is certain he will return to the office and realise no time has passed at all. It seems to happen to him quite often lately, especially in the classroom; he forgets himself, and the minutes fly when he is not alone. Cho looks away from him as she slips the chocolate into her pink mouth. Mr. Lupin has never wished harder not to be a werewolf, or that he could be less of one -- but as it is he is so much a werewolf that the smell of her saliva grows on him like fire (no, ivy) and a strange part of him thrills at the sensation. It slips past a knit brow and straight to the softness behind it, to the place where Remus thinks things through so diligently. It's disgusting.

And of course, it's like this with anyone. Knowing a person by scent is not intimacy; it's basic fact. That is the only thing that lets Mr. Lupin stand near Cho Chang, who is growing comfortable in his shadow. She turns to glance at him after a moment, looking quite frank, and then simply stares: dark-eyed, and the angle of her jaw shifts as she chews.

Remus looks back. He is not sure what he sees. It's not like looking at Harry; he doesn't see something he knows, and he can't feel nostalgic for something that has never existed before. Harry grins like his father; Harry laughs like his father. Even Harry's friends are familiar to Lupin in a way that is comfortable, in a way that has context with the things he considers personal; that's why they've grown on him so quickly. But there is no context for Cho Chang, who is the only person who smells like that in the entire world; Mr. Lupin can only imagine the sort of boy who would date a girl like her, and it was certainly never a boy like the one he used to be, wishing he was Mark Twain and wearing sweater vests to Hogsmeade. But Remus lets her look at him anyway, Remus lets Cho stand across from him with her bag and her knee socks and the high sharpness of her collarbone, and he looks back at her. He looks back.

"What's wrong with you, Professor Lupin?" She asks him.

"I don't know."

She smiles again, with white teeth, and leaves.

--

The paper is quite nice.

Mr. Lupin is impressed.

But after that, Cho Chang doesn't look at him anymore in class, and does not approach him with questions. She talks with her friends in a corner and gets very good grades -- good enough to rival Granger, if only -- but with little to no interaction with Remus, which he supposes is for the best. He didn't want anything else, and that sentiment is familiar enough that it feels believeable no matter the circumstance: another little trick of getting older, which seems to get harder the more he cares.

If Mr. Lupin were sixteen again, he would look at himself and have plenty to say, if not in a mumbling, semi-embarrassed fashion. He knows very well that this is not the future he imagined, in joining the Order; but nobody could have known that he'd be left to pick up so many pretty pieces. There was always trouble in how they operated, anyway. Remus had been for research and planning, always -- he'd been a formidable duelist as well, but he was also a pacifist, and it was difficult to turn wands on people he'd known and been intimidated by his entire career at Hogwarts. Remus had been the last one to abandon any regret. He'd never been prepared for a life where no one was there to be certain of things for him; it had always seemed that James and Sirius had big ideas, and Lupin had merely been there to make sure they were plausible.

But then a lot of things are not, when it comes down to it. A lot of things cannot manage plausibility; it is not in their make up.

Remus feels his secret must be safe because it would make no sense for a werewolf to be teaching at Hogwarts. Though it's taken great effort so far, he sees no reason why it should ever be dangerous for him here, even if that is what it will always be. There is a connection between security and its opposite, after all; the two are separated by something as insubstantial as the way a scent takes shape in air.

If Mr. Lupin were sixteen again, there were a lot of things he would say that he simply did not when he had the chance. He can only wonder if everyone else feels the same. Sometimes even the children he doesn't teach seem capable of more bravery than he ever managed, even as a Gryffindor; sometimes it seems that the only bravery Remus has ever possessed was bravery he traded for the approval of people, boys who needed no more of the only quality he could share with them.

--

It really is cold out today, and Mr. Lupin knows this because he is outside. There is a very thin layer of ice on the lake this morning -- the sort that disappears by the evening -- and he is enjoying the frost on the grass. There is a cleanliness to it that he cannot help but appreciate; Mother Nature is a neat woman, the kind of woman who would have intelligent things to say.

He can remember times he asked to die, with his lips around a bottle of scotch; something to share with Black, who he simply cannot hate, not really. There is a terrible quality in remembering things that made you happy before -- before is such a defining word, and after is even worse. The defense teacher, however, has gotten very good at discerning between the two. Sometimes a spell looks the same from beginning to end; sometimes when you're mourning it's as if you've traveled ten thousand miles at the roots of the very same tree. Sometimes a scented memory is not the same as the real thing, but then there are so many things that are more disappointing.

But Remus is blinded by scent.

Another Saturday.

He talks to Harry because he needs someone, someone to talk to that is not Snape and will not curl lips at him so expertly; if there's anything Lupin cannot stomach it is when people hate him for things he cannot control, and Merlin there are so many things. The defense teacher is so good at connections, so good at easy. What's easier than being the friend of a thirteen year old boy? What's easier than teaching something he tested in the field himself? Six pages of notes, six pages of notes --

And then the page after, which is blank, and that is where the defense teacher can stop his review. It's far too cold outside to sit here. He is growing tired of his own handwriting, but there is another bit of parchment in his bag: something that will make it a little bit easier until after dinner, when Lupin will attempt socialising.

Here --

Chang's revisions, again. Her charming dots and crosses. Her silly fat A and the bluntness of X and Z and the cute curve of an uppercase P. The other day Remus realised that she (out of countless hands) is the only one of his students to put visible effort into her penmanship -- other than Hermione, who is in a league of her own. Hermione is so much in a league of her own that Mr. Lupin cannot gauge where she stands compared to classmates anymore. It's not that she's leagues more intelligent, or that she has more potential; it's that she is willing to take the gamble that neither is true. Granger does not care whether or not she really will be successful, not like the other children -- she has simply decided she will be, and that she really is the best. That is bravery, Mr. Lupin thinks; and of course Cho is similar, but much less obtrusive. There is a part of her that resigns to concepts like biology and geneology, which could very well dictate the height her perfection will reach; thus, Remus enjoys watching Chang in class because she is more aware of her body than Hermione, who he would rather listen to. Chang has a way of doing things that he has not witnessed in a very long time; it makes him frightened, and it makes him wobble, and it is generally quite unpleasant.

But Remus likes the paper. He likes the research, and the way she has numbered her ideas -- as if this weren't an essay, but a collection of facts. There is nothing Mr. Lupin likes better than facts.

--

He hears all sorts of strange things, overhearing his students chat in class. People are oddly vocal about things that are none of their business; gossip is the first priority, apparently, and then odd conspiracy theories, stories about pets and professors and back-home. Sharing interests, sharing hobbies -- offering free time to eachother, wanting to get-together or study or go off to Hogsmeade as a group. Lupin is well-versed in all of these topics; although he was never a particularly confident teenager, he was very good at pretending to be one when it counted. Except when it came to girls, of course, but girls tended to complicate things anyway.

And they still do. The defense teacher cannot count how many hints are dropped, how much flirting occurs, how many boys really are 'blind', as they say. He is beginning to sympathise with his female students, most of which are realising that they are more mature than their male counterparts. Mr. Lupin does not have the heart to tell them that this will not change, no matter how they fret over it; by the time they've all graduated, even, the balance will be quite off kilter. He listens to stories about unhappy dates and awkward conversations and questions of what was really said on this or that afternoon, or what it means that so and so has been avoiding you, etc. It is all quite interesting, actually; it nearly makes him believe that he knows these children, as he certainly knows how they feel about all manner of things.

Including Cho Chang.

Terry Boot is thinking of asking her out. Michael Corner is jealous and insinuates that there will be little success. Anthony Goldstein reminds his companions that they are all friends, that Chang thinks of them as simply that, and to stop being ridiculous little boys. Mr. Lupin cannot put his finger on why, but finds that he immediately likes Goldstein; he's a smart one, that.

Cho herself talks to Marietta Edgecombe and a fourth year named Lucy the most in class. They gossip about other girls -- especially girls in Gryffindor house -- and muse over things like cosmetic charms and sports. Chang especially likes to talk about Quidditch. She will often bring it up when there is nothing else to say, simply as a means of having something to contribute; it is the easiest thing to complain about, after all, because everyone knows what she's talking about. It's something of a scandal that Cho is seeker for Ravenclaw; many girls appear threatened by this, though they can't deny that is is rather decent at the position. Boys think it is fascinating, and Chang herself is arrogant in the most charming way.

Not that Mr. Lupin really thinks so, mind you; it's a collective opinion, and anyway he has had quite his fill of arrogance.

He has had quite his fill of a lot of things. He would really rather think of something else.

--

The food here has gotten better in the last few years. Remus eats his fill but gains no weight; you see, the only real change in his appearance has been grey in principle. He is prematurely grey, even, but that hasn't stopped it from happening. Though Mr. Lupin is well-groomed, there is something about his appearance that will always be slightly off center, a little bit wrong. It's like the feeling one might get when a possession they can't recognise has gone missing; a feeling that it must be fixed, but no real idea of what 'it' might be. Remus has some idea himself, but would rather not say; he'd rather not point out the things that should be obvious. It's good to give people a little bit of the benefit, after all. Society is full of people who need nothing but benefit.

He is enjoying his time at Hogwarts, contrary to realistic opinion. Though a great deal has been painful, an even greater deal has been rewarding in a way Lupin could never fully explain if asked. He has found more comfort in teaching than he imagined, even in coming up with the idea to try it -- and though there have been other reasons behind this visit, Harry has given Remus a reason to forget what they are at times. Sometimes he can convince himself that all of this is as it should be: moments when he does not feel bitter, or frustrated, or as though he's been cheated out of some sincere loveliness. It's not that Lupin is lonely, or at least not as much as it used to be. Though he can't help but miss the people he misses -- no names tonight, please -- he doesn't really need anyone. He doesn't even need Harry, when it comes down to it; Remus just needs to know that he's doing what he should, and it helps that the boy makes him remember better times. Even when things grow urgent, difficult to explain and conceal: he'd be lying if he said that Harry's smile didn't affect him in a familiar way.

But anything can be familiar, with effort. Anything can be a custom, a habit, a way of life, even if it makes you feel like a dead waterbug. Even if it makes you squirm.

"My partner refuses to work with me," says Cho, and it's the first thing she has said to him in weeks. Her shoulders are down, head bowed lightly -- because of course she is well aware that the silence has been obvious, and that she has also needed his help with new spells regardless of it. Chang may be quick to pick things up, but her classmates aren't always the best at demonstration. Lupin has felt sorry for her, in many ways; the oddity of a person who will always attract others without understanding why.

And he feels nothing for her, of course. Remus feels absolutely nothing for Cho Chang, but he looks up at her for the sake of that being true -- because Harry mentioned her the other day, and it was quite odd, and for the millionth time in his life he has found himself wishing that he were empty of everything.

"I can't think of why," he replies, rubbing his chin. "What are you having difficulty with, Chang?"

"What we went over in class today, actually. I haven't got the hang of it."

She appears embarrassed, and after a weighted moment holds out her wand, which seems to quiver oddly, purposefully. Remus nods -- students seem to have been having difficulty with this lately -- and wets his lip, suddenly nervous.

A demonstration of wrist technique.

Cho is very quick at drawing wands, which is a customary test in a Defense classroom. You must understand. Mr. Lupin is even impressed at how soon he is at point, and applauds her in front of a rather sullen partner. She finally grins at him, a small, pleased little slip; it ignites one of those hideous feelings, an odd thought of blood and those twisting little fingers, and Remus is struck by how suddenly he has nothing to say at all. That is the only pleasant thing about being near her; he knows he'll never sound the way he means to, and it saves a lot of effort thinking of what to do about it. As a grown man, he has never felt so ridiculous and disgusting in his life.

--

There was a girlfriend, ages ago. This was after the Order, after the collapse of everything -- when Remus had nowhere to go, and nothing to do, and very little to think of but himself. It was a bad reflex; it had to be fixed. He lashed out at everyone and everything because that was what appeared to have betrayed him: anything capable of hurt and anguish had fallen through with great enthusiasm, and no one could blame Lupin for ages after when he'd been able to hear a motor roar without shuddering.

It was true, what they said about Benjy Fenwick; there really had only been bits of him. And Marlene was quite dead, though Remus managed to steal a few of her books afterward. It had been strange, but a part of him hadn't wanted them to go to waste, grow lonely in that odd old house. The same volumes remained on his dresser for the longest time, until a particularly paranoid winter had forced him to burn them in a wood pile. He burned old textbooks and a tattered old cloak and his father's old chess set and clothing of Black's that he'd been borrowing from before. Remus did not want to handle things that were not his anymore. That was why the girlfriend came.

Her name was Caroline; she had thick blondish hair and a kind of innocent look about her, a kind of silly useless space in her eyes. She was particularly attractive because she had no idea what had happened, and never caught on that anything had. Lupin was happy to assume the same apathy, and so: for a few months they were pleased with eachother, and he liked her breasts, and once in a while she didn't mind if he forgot to drop by. It was a good arrangement until Remus grew tired, and then he'd had no choice but to be a wizard again; Diagon Alley called, and a few of his old schoolmates were still alive and wondering where he'd been. One or two of them had started families. Remus thought the babies were unfair.

And he missed Caroline for nearly two days. But he wasn't a heartless boy, just a realistic one; he'd never been the sort to thrive in places with too much sunlight. It was too much to ask that he forget crawling around in the dark -- maybe one or two nights with Sirius at his back, before the vermin had thought to tear through it like paper. It's not the same as being betrayed by someone you don't love.

It's always only a matter of time before things shift again. It will be a landscape Remus does not know, and he will have to think of a way to connect it to the landscape before: this one bleak and full of wool and parchment and oddness. The place where he sleeps is drafty and leads to dreams that make him feel like nothing, nothing but a crooked little man who can smell the air in someone's lungs, smell its hot memory of being something more than the giver of life. A collection of cells is a collection of cells.

--

The defense teacher is not sure he will survive until Harry is ready to let him die. He already knows this almost as certainly as he knows that today he isn't ready for much of anything, either. There are thousands of things Remus could have done, or would have if he'd known better; but science doesn't permit doing things over yet, and the only comforting thought lets him betray before being betrayed; a terrible thought, a difficult one in a land where he is the only one left. All heroes are dead or changed, and Mr. Lupin will change, but not into anything that will make this an easier knowledge to bear.

Hogwarts winds on and on. Familiar and not so familiar space: a hallway, a table, a boy with green eyes just like that.

He holds Cho's warm hand in his own -- tightly, just for a moment -- and smiles at the truth of her, which is that a body remains a body and you know the heart is working. His own heart is working; it jumps blindly at the mention of Harry and it's James he sees, even as Cho grins up at him, wrist pressed anxiously to his. They swing her wand together, mimicking the current of wind drifting through the office. There is some joke about partners, and tutoring, and Gryffindor girls. The defense teacher will die, just like Cho, but she is fifteen and her blood knows nothing of this; it pulses and pushes and he burns with it.

Breathe deep --

"Riddikulus," says Remus. "Riddikulus!"