A/N. I struggled over continuing this, I'm not going to lie. I was challenged to do so, and I follow through on my challenges, so ... Here you are. This was a hard story to write, in many ways. The subject matter is strange and unexpected but somehow still comes very much from the heart -- not something I've experienced before. Thank you for giving it a chance. The lyrics are from Rest My Chemistry by Interpol. D: gawrsh
But Mr. Lupin does not die, not for a while.
He goes away on holiday. It's been one summer since Hogwarts drifted into the distance, like a fading shoreline; he floated aimlessly through autumn and winter, doing as was asked, and now fate brings him with dirty boots back to London. July again. The air is heating and swelling and Remus plans to do nothing but read and think about exercise. He hopes nobody will recognise him, lurking in the corners of muggle bookstores and coffee shops and icecream stands. He wants nothing to do with wizards for the whole of five days. Only five: no Diagon, no butterbeer, no wand. He wants everything to be as it was when he was a child, when magic was something his father must have used, vaguely. When magic existed only in the dream of a peripheral. It was then that Mr. Lupin was so imaginative he did not understand the difference between what was real and what he hoped could be, someday.
Upon inspection: it's a very empty room. A very sterile one. Remus is given a saggy bed, a table, two chairs. A wireless sits on a table by the window, and outside the buildings loom like towers he once admired: a nice place to be. Mr. Lupin would have made an even better professor as he aged, you know -- there was a certain world he imagined where school never ended, and it didn't matter about wars and evil-this and phoenix-that. That sort of person would be good at teaching. He'd never ask for anything else: not a wife, not children, not even a house. He would have lived in the center of books. It would have been like having a new ghost at Hogwarts: eventually and politely Mr. Lupin would have talked himself to death about various ways of avoiding that very fate. Just one of those things -- one of those things.
The first two days, he wanders. He buys a new pair of shoes, and a warm cap. He's not sure where the money's come from, but can't ask anyone: no bank account. And there's a memory of being here before, younger, and more ready, and hopping curbs. Mr. Lupin is still just as thin as then, just as strong: it's just that there comes a time where a man stops anticipating and simply witnesses. When did Remus last flinch?
That time, long ago -- leaving Harry for a while. He will not think of that boy for five whole days.
A break in the scenery.
Swallowing pills as he leaves the coldish confine of the lobby. Remus likes muggle medicine because it's reliable; magic makes sense, of course, and has a higher efficiency rate, but there is something so steady about bottles and prescriptions. There is something irrefutably correct in Grey's book, in going to a school primarily for medicine, in holding a certificate. Mr. Lupin enjoys the concept of a doctor -- it was a dream of his, as a child. A doctor always seemed like the sort of person that made life better for everyone involved, really. A kind of golden man. Remus did not think he'd ever be able to do such a thing on his own -- but he still did his best, regardless. He did his very best and tried his very hardest and now Sirius is alive again and it's too much.
There is nothing you can swallow to make your heart shrink. Mr. Lupin has never felt more alive than the moment they explained themselves, embraced -- together again, and not dead, and not like the others. Himself and his dearest of friends: a moment simultaneously here and altogether there. It was as if for a moment Sirius was seventeen and brilliant and Remus could only agree with him, feed him small truths until they were both honest boys and proper strategists. It would be like Black to rush ahead -- but now that's all he does, and Mr. Lupin may not see him for weeks. It goes as it will. It's only five days. But there's nothing Remus can do to feel less the way he does, less tender and surprised; even more than a year later, the thought of Sirius being real again is like a murmur, a hole in the wall of a beating organ.
It's an adventure to laugh about. One of them a criminal, jail-bound, and the other destroyed in a most permanent manner. Mr. Lupin spends day three of his vacation simply waiting on a corner, drinking horrible thick coffee; it's the sort of thing he imagines a well-intentioned person would do, when idle. You can't get in trouble at an outdoor cafe -- not even when you're trying, as Remus never does.
There was a dream about something that already occurred. Eighteen years old and he mumbles about how it's too much, he's not sure he can really do it, he's tired of hurting people, he wishes -- he wishes a lot of things, he doesn't think he can go on much longer --
And Sirius burns him with a cigarette. Hard. He grinds the burning edge straight into the neck of Remus Lupin, saying something about cowards and would-you-just. His voice is angry; it's a voice that isn't forgotten, really, it's part of a new psychology they carry to the end of their lives. James makes a noise somewhere between approval and concern: Black, you bastard. Then Remus cries out in pain, cursing -- well, fuck you! -- and the two argue for what seems like forever. They push at eachother and hit eachother on the arms roughly, angrily. Remus bares his teeth like a wolf.
"You know," says Sirius, "that mark will stay on you forever." And it does.
It stays through the next fight and the next fight and the next and in the dream Lupin watches it bloom from light to dark and back again. Like a lover's mark.
His friends were proud. They were proud of him.
But then something happens. He's in between the porcelain and his lower lip. He's in between a hand and a pocket and a broken watch. He's in between wishing there was a faceless woman to fondle and perhaps a book, which can't speak to him or make him insignificant. He doesn't really know what he'd want with a woman anyway -- he knows himself, and there's a good chance no one of the opposite gender ever will. Anyway, Mr. Lupin is not the sort of man who can simply go out and fondle a stranger for the hell of it; at least, not in daily practise. Every man could manage it, probably, but Remus knows himself.
(And it's true: he certainly does, but perhaps not well enough. The sound of Cho Chang's voice in the middle of these ponderings is inappropriate, shocking even, and it shows.)
Thankfully she is not speaking to him; the syllables fall over his head, strangely familiar, as she tells her father to wait and then simply to leave. Mr. Lupin is frightened to turn and look, as he is sure they are both situated just behind his chair. He is frightened to do much of anything as they remain, arguing about curfews; when they slip into Mandarin the tones make him bristle, as though they are hissing to eachother about the back of his mousy head. So Remus sips his coffee, and wonders if the clothing he wears will be noticeable to her -- the fact that he wore this suit to at least half of his classes does not go unremembered. Honestly, Mr. Lupin could not cower more thoroughly: not even with Mr. Chang finally leaves, informing his daughter that she cannot simply do as she pleases.
But that is exactly as Cho will do, apparently. He feels her move sharply behind him, as if throwing her father a withering look -- Remus imagines she is very good at those -- and then she begins to walk, swiftly and with purpose. She is going to walk past him, he is sure. He cannot move. He cannot really do anything. He holds his coffee cup in both hands, as if hoping it will make him even more a part of the scenery: someone who is truly here to enjoy London as London will be, the accent he never mastered. Lupin talks slower, more deliberately -- he talks like his father, actually. He probably looks quite a bit like his father as well, but it's hard to remember at times; it's especially hard to remember when Cho Chang comes into view, as he's never seen her out of school uniform.
She looks much smaller.
She has lost weight, even: thinner than before. The widest part of Cho is her shoulders, which seem to jut bonily; he senses that this mirrors another sharpness, one he can only smell in hints and whispers. It boils beneath her skin like water or blood or both, and in all that she studies. Her eyes are steeped in the sharp, her teeth glinting with its potential. A different girl. Or perhaps there is merely something different in what he observes; there's a history of vision conflicting with the rest, if only because the mind is still wired to spend so much time there. It's the pupils, the retinas. Iris -- the mind has a love affair with the optical nerve. Delicious space, movement, color: heavy on the tongue like a bit of candy, or Cho Chang's thickish dark hair. Remus had only ever seen it in braids. Now it's down, and long, and straight -- like a ruler, something devised to document inches. Connections.
Remus stares a little too long because he can. Nobody stops him, as he expected; his coffee is still hot, his clothing still too large and too old. People still walk by, and the cars are still loud; perhaps too loud. A brake squeals and Cho turns, startled at the noise. Her hand is at her chest, in a gesture often employed by frightene-
Familiar. So familiar.
Something, as her eyes find and keep his. Mr. Lupin suddenly forgets the name for the shade: not black, not brown, but something deeper, more fierce. Cho calls it black. He has heard her say so, in class -- oh, so many things. He has heard her say she lives in London, which allows for a branch of logic: perhaps this is not a coincidence he can blame entirely on himself. If she was here to begin with, Remus cannot be expected to avoid the city. She won't leave. She lives here, and the city is wide and large and wild -- there was never any reason to believe he'd see a single one of his pupils, and who could doubt such reasonable statistics? Mr. Lupin could not.
Because of this, Cho Chang wets her bottom lip nervously, a little too quickly. She considers walking past him, he senses -- but then her fingers curl up and she is waving, and Mr. Lupin curses into the coffee submerging his tongue.
"Hi," she finally manages. There is a simultaneous nerve and nervousness about her: Cho is frightened of him now that he's been revealed for what he is, Mr. Lupin guesses, but there is a better part of her that is somehow not frightened of anything at all. He knows because she does not blink, does not even flinch, when his mug hits the top of the outdoor table loudly. Obtrusively. He hopes it will warn her away, but her eyes only glint brightly, even happily.
"Hello, Miss Chang," says Remus.
"Hello. How are you?"
"I am quite well. Yourself?"
She pauses for a moment, and shrugs in a manner that reminds him of someone he doesn't remember. Only a thought and it would come to him, but Mr. Lupin rarely has time as it is. "I'm not sure," Cho finally says. "I'm having a lovely day, apart for my father."
"Your father, Miss Chang?"
"Yes," she nods. "You know."
Remus does not, but: "Of course." His smile is gummy, probably dull, and his breath is black as tar. Still, Cho continues.
"You must be enjoying yourself. I shouldn't bother you, should I? It's only I've nothing to do, really."
"You haven't?" (Mr. Lupin is in the habit of repeating established facts; this way he never has to ask what he means directly.)
"No, not exactly. I do like simply wandering, though -- this is a good place for that." She looks at him pointedly, as if implying something, and then shies away; her eyes flit from his to the mug to a flurry of movement somewhere to their right. A flash of light on the necklace around her neck: Mr. Lupin is hanging on a white collarbone.
"Yes, I've been... I've been wandering," he manages. "My hotel is near; I've wanted to learn the area. This... this part of London."
"Your hotel, Professor Lupin?" Cho asks, suddenly curious. "Oooh! Where are you staying?"
The name of the establishment: the name on his napkins and various free tolietries.
"Really? There? I've always wanted to know what it's like! Is it nice? I hope it's very nice." She is strangely earnest. The glow of her body puts a tilt to Mr. Lupin's head, as if he's been spinning in circles for the length of their conversation: a bit out of control, a little out of control, yes. Totally out of control. He imagines his smile must be repulsive, but Cho is calm. She steps forward. "Maybe you can -- maybe you can show me! Just for a moment? My father's always having guests in. We'd love to know a better place to put them."
When Remus was sixteen, there was a way of making things easier in turns. It involved a lot of reading, a lot of marks -- because good ones implied there was meaning in the things he did, even if their meaning had little to do with other people. He often felt he did not contribute enough. He was a happy teenager, but entirely unsuccessful. There was some promise in the field of transfiguration -- he could have had apprenticeships, a reasonable career. He could have had a good many things. But it's not that Mr. Lupin regrets! It's simply that he knows. It's something he marks as bravery, to acknowledge what is and is not present in his every day existence: things like love, and peace, and visible honor. Many things Remus does in his life nobody will ever fully understand. Much of what he contributes to the cause goes unremembered, or recalled only in the briefest slices and slivers. Bare boned.
It's all right because he doesn't know more than anyone else; not even about his own life, the most personal of things. Remus is knowledgeable when it comes to magic and history and defense and simple remedies. He doesn't know why it is that sometimes he hates Sirius still -- even with the truth staring them both in the face, and all their previous reality, the very realness of being what they are. There are moments he is not sure how he did -- or how he will ever -- survive without Black. (He suspects it will be much the same way he survived without James, but it's hard to tell before it's even happened.)
The largest thing Mr. Lupin shares with anyone now -- Padfoot or not -- is a sense of duty. There are things he is supposed to do, and he is going to do them. No matter what Harry gets up to on his own. No matter how five days will never be enough.
No matter how tired he gets along the way.
(Secretly: Remus wants to fall in love, even for a moment, with anything or anyone on the planet. He wants the comfort of knowing that little he does will matter in the face of lovely things. He wants the comfort of knowing that they're just the same as horrible ones, in the end.)
And it only happens because Mr. Lupin cannot believe she has suggested anything at all. He is literally having trouble understanding the content of the words Cho Chang has chosen so happily -- half-dancing, even! He tells her yes because he needs a moment to think, and prior experience has proven that until something is said she will simply smile -- and so it has to be yes, because Remus squirms too much under her gaze to begin with. He does have dignity. Actually, he has a very good sense of right and wrong is what they always said; so when the pair get back to the hotel, he is sterile, polite. He opens doors for Cho, who glimmers at him in a truly maddening way, and keeps his eyes away from any maids or attendants he can recognise. He wipes his feet on the appropriate carpets, and checks his (ragged) appearance in a large gilded mirror.
For the most part, really, Remus is concerned for the safety of his soul.
The essence of what he is doing, after all, is inconcievably wrong. Taking a sixteen (seventeen?) year old girl back to a hotel room is -- in the most basic sense -- never a very nice thing to do when you are lonely and have no one. Remus can say that he has less than a sixth of the intentions your average man would have, in such a situation; he pictures ushering Cho Chang through his quarters, mentioning an earlier problem with laundry machines, and sending her on her way. He imagines this so vividly, in fact, that he is still having trouble with English on the elevator ride up -- mostly because a part of him assumes this has already happened, and the proper outcome established. He thinks to himself over and over that she will disappear and be gone forever in less than ten minutes. Nothing will go wrong and everyone will end as they began. But she smells lovely, doesn't she? Yes -- and as they stand with the proper button lit up, her reflection is fifteen times more pleasant than the flesh and blood standing next to him. Mr. Lupin imagines he would like Cho Chang a great deal if she were nothing but a piece of glass: not pulsing, not alive. In strange dreams she would not tickle his soft palate with her whispering blood.
(He has dreamed about her, in the way that werewolves will have... much the way he's dreamed of Harry, and Lily, and most anyone he's ever noticed beyond basic structures: staring between their eyes rather than into them.)
"Thanks, Professor," she mentions idly. "I'm tired of having to sleep on the couch. Dad will be better about sending people on their way if they've got somewhere to go."
"You don't have a spare room, then?" Remus immediately kicks himself for this, for showing interest. "That's too bad."
It's the sort of conversation one would expect, but that doesn't make it any easier: mostly because Cho is amused, and beams up at him accordingly. "No, I don't. Small apartment, sir."
"Where do you live, Professor Lupin? Do you have a small place, too?"
"You might say something like that." And then he pauses, thinking. "Yes -- it's something you might very well say."
Things become even worse in the hallway. They pass a woman Remus made eye contact with earlier. He suddenly wishes desperately that Cho would not insist on walking next to him -- they definitely look like some sort of pair, and it's not a very reasonable one. Not at all. It's strange to think that a few months ago he'd nearly forgotten her. It's strange to think that even an hour ago this would have been a fairly decent time away. It's strangest to think that those bird-bone wrists (the ones Mr. Lupin remembers sometimes, when hearing certain strands of music) are now with him again, and an awkward step brings one sliding along the skin of his own. It's the smallest moment -- not anything he would have noticed, were he a man only -- but there's something about being a werewolf that makes soft skin even softer, and now he'll always remember the firmness of veins underneath. Perfection in how they continue -- how they connect. This is the second time he notices so intimately, but today neither of them says riddiukulus. Ridiculous.
And of course --
It's thinking like this that makes Remus struggle with getting his door open. The card slips out of his hands twice; he's forced to bend over and pick it up nicely, well aware that Cho's smile has not faded even once.
They go in.
What do you want? he wonders, suddenly frightened. What in the world do you want?
She walks slowly over the carpet, kicking her shoes against the tile of his dirty kitchenette. He watches their leather and canvas roll and come to a stop, foreign and girlish and worn with use -- not fancy shoes, but Cho makes them appear priceless, elfen-made. He enjoys the contrast of their fat heels and the narrow backs of her ankles: something simple, pleasant. It distracts him from how readily she wanders, so close to everything he owns. (All bags are unpacked, you see, and the room is a small.) A shin grazes the fabric of an old carpetbag. She is larger than all four colorless walls, and perhaps the crooked windowsill as well. Perhaps even everything at once! It makes Mr. Lupin uncomfortable in a way he immediately regrets. It makes his heart pull in his chest, like a punch. Like a lever, like a string.
A petal from a flower! There it is. Things like that drift away so easily.
Returning, We Hear The Larks
Sombre the night is.
And though we have our lives, we know
What sinister threat lurks there.
Dragging these anguished limbs, we only know
This poison- blasted track opens on our camp –
On a little safe sleep.
But hark! joy – joy – strange joy.
Lo! heights of night ringing with unseen larks.
Music showering our upturned list'ning faces.
Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song –
But song only dropped,
Like a blind man's dreams on the sand
By dangerous tides,
Like a girl's dark hair for she dreams no ruin lies there,
Or her kisses where a serpent hides.
-- Issac Rosenberg
Here is what Mr. Lupin looks like, today.
He is wearing an old sweater even in the heat, his very best -- it hides the ripped fabric of the shirt underneath, something he's likely owned since he was at least twenty-three. Horrible trousers that have been out of style since the seventies. Shoes with several holes just above the sole. Moths adore Remus! Remus looks like one of them: he is pale, and fuzzy with the aftermath of losing his only razor. (Using magic in the facial area makes him nervous, and rarely happens.) His eyes are a watery, clearish green -- nothing to note, and unimpressive especially when they stare out from beneath fur. His jaw is slight and almost stiff with apprehension. The general demeanor is calm, studied, though nervous in a way that cannot be denied: Lupin has almost always been both self-assured and self-demonised. He has a large lower lip and greying hair and his ribs can be counted if he takes the smallest breath in.
It's not a good look, but it's better than he expected at this age. Years of eating poorly have caught up to Mr. Lupin; his weight fluctuates, as does his mood and intrinsic motivators. He is not particularly strong physically. He is the strongest with his wand, and his wand is now at the bottom of a suitcase -- if only for the afternoon.
Five days. How many hours?
They will all pass by slowly if Cho Chang continues to sit at the table: her place one that was coyly taken, so quickly. She adopted the seat with a confidence that made Remus unable to keep out of the one next to her, if only to honor the friendliness she hoped to exude. It's more than he's seen in weeks. It's better than he probably deserves, for trying so hard and failing miserably. Majestically. But that's how it's going to be: it's the way of things. The manner of things. Mind your manners.
So she talks to him. Slowly at first, and quietly.
Remus leans in slightly -- he feels odd, he feels very odd, but it's not to be helped. It's what he expected. It's the little rush of color in Cho's face, a sweetish youngish face, and how the capillaries bloom: much like a smile she gives him a moment later as he hovers, nervous and bright and oh-so-very-aware of himself.
The table is too small -- and yes, that's the only thing that's wrong here. It must be. The table is too small, and it's not that Cho is however many years old, or that he is starting to go grey. It's not that, if anything, becoming something to her will mean the world really is ending: not beginning, or mending, or growing. None of those things will happen here if Remus is as inconsiderate as he feels. If he's inconsiderate he can sense the heat from that spot there, where her heart is bursting in tones he can't hear, and the pit-pat-pit-pat of its movement, which shocks him. Cho doesn't seem to mind the expression on his face; she doesn't mind very much at all. Her eyes are steady, focused -- they examine him and then fall away, down, to where Remus has laid his hands on the table. He can smell the almost-tears on her breath.
"Your father must be wondering where you are," he finally says, authoritative. "I wouldn't like him to worry. It's -- it's..."
But suddenly Cho laughs, waving him away. "Professor, it's two in the afternoon!"
Mr. Lupin flushes, sort of. "You really don't have to call me professor, Miss Chang." His chair is too close to hers! Perhaps that's why the room feels so large. What in the world was he thinking? What was he ever thinking? It's two in the afternoon, and Cho Chang is in his hotel room, and there is no propriety in this. Remus adores propriety, and propriety is absent; thus, by the transitive property, it can be said that he does not adore what is happening. Not in the least. "I'm not your teacher anymore. I haven't been for a very long time."
"What should I call you then, sir?"
"Mr. Lupin," he says immediately. "Mr. is appropriate. Or -- or you may call me Remus, if you like."
Cho's eyes dance. "Is that your name? I thought it was something with an R. Richard... Ronald... Remus. Have you got a brother?"
"I was an only child, no."
Was? Still am! Silly, silly Mr. Lupin. His tongue tumbles over itself like shining liquor: and half-brothers, he thinks of mumbling, but they've never mattered.
"Oh!" She pouts for him, playfully, and returns to a look of ease, nonchalance; her fingernails are painted a distracting blue-green, but colors are easy for a werewolf. It's not always about what you see, really -- rather what you smell, what you taste. For Mr. Lupin both have momentarily gone sweet, and he wouldn't mind a little color instead. For the longest time he simply watches her fingers, until a small army of them touch him on the shoulder. "It's only -- wouldn't it have been cute, if you'd a brother named Romulus? I think so."
Remus has heard this hundreds of times, he's sure; but he still nods, and laughs abruptly, and smooths down his hair with the palm of a hand. "Yes."
"Yes? Of course!"
Her fingers remain on his shoulder -- worse than a stunning spell -- until there is a sound out the window, and she turns abruptly to look out of it.
For the briefest moment Mr. Lupin is given a moment: the last, he is sure, until Cho Chang disappears again. She is not his student any longer. After this afternoon, he'll have no reason to contact her, to speak to her again -- and that would be better, Remus is sure. If one moment out of her sun (those black eyes burn!) is peaceful, he cannot imagine what a life without her must be like. It must be the loveliest thing in the world. He takes an uncomfortable sip of tea, thinking of how he has arranged his things in their drawers; for a panicked moment he is sure he will forget all of his possessions here, and wants very badly to go and look in on them. Irrational -- like everything, lately -- but it's true, and he sort of quivers, and god. God. It's not like what he's imagined, when he's permitted himself any imagination; Mr. Lupin is not confident today, and though he likes himself he feels totally unlikeable. And old. Old, old...
"Miss Chang," Remus blurts. "I know -- I know for certain -- your father wouldn't want you to be here. After it came out about ... About me, I know.... I know he would be unhappy to think of you speaking with me."
Cho turns to him; he can sense her pulse shift and boil. "He'll never have to know. Besides, we're only talking! And you're as safe as can be anyway, Mr. Lupin. It's not even dark out."
"In fact! In fact, I'm not even sure the moon is anything more than a crescent. You're just a man now."
He would like to tell her that there is nothing really separating him from the creature than the transformation -- that there is no difference, really, because after years you're more the beast than you are the man. You can remember what you would have done, if you were a wolf: the place you would have bitten, the little weak beat in Cho Chang's wrist, or the pieces you would have kept for yourself afterward. Small ankles, small hands. The senses are separate, but honest. He would like to tell her that even as a werewolf there is no place that is not shameful -- even as a wild animal. Not even the people who are like him understand. His missions were failures. Everyone knew he was no killer, not really; someone had always been there to stop him, and he can't even remember if he's ever had the nerve to kill anything.
He doesn't even want to kill himself.
Most of all -- oh, most of all -- He certainly doesn't want to kill Cho Chang, but it's not hard to imagine things that are similar to death, in other lights. She might enjoy the attention of an older man. Mr. Lupin can tell, Cho must be that sort of girl. She must want anyone to admire her today; she must tell herself it's romantic, and sit back to analyse the truth in her own statement. It must be enjoyable to know that nothing will ever be difficult; that even a man who cares little for her, like Remus, dreams about standing so close in a little office, keeping her perfectly safe and thoughtful. Yes -- pathetic, desperate. Yes -- he's remembered her. And Cho Chang is exactly the same, minus the new sorrow in her shoulders, at the small of her back. Holding something heavy. Holding something very close.
She sips her tea; she's left a small red sheen along the edge of the cup. There is nothing Remus has seen -- for months -- that lingers so perfectly as that. It smells of lipstick, and strawberries, and breakfast, and -- and breath. The same, exactly the same.
When you turn, you get caught up in muscles. It's as if every muscle pulls in at once, and you feel you're wrapped in flesh like a tight wet blanket -- swaddled, and carried, and held still by the force of your own chemistry. Your skin unfolds and stretches; if you're lucky this distracts you from the crunch of bone as it extends and thickens and shifts, pulsing under a sheath of liquid and sinew. Everything around you grows sharper, better. Like the line in that poem: muscles better and nerves more.
Nevermind that that was about sex. But --
Then you know nothing, nothing at all, because a stronger part of your mind blinks into existence -- the part that will protect your delicate morals and memories, harnass them in tightly, and make sure you do not die from the shock of what you are doing, who you become.
Everything that happens in this place will be something you remember only fuzzily, as if the idea has been transplanted by outer forces. Alien. Unreal. Like dreams, learned reflexes: your experience manifests in new ability and uncovered sensitivities. It's not anything you control, but it's never out of your hands. When you're a werewolf, hands are always new. Scent is eleven things at once, and you find your tastes change slowly ... completely ... but inevitably. You begin to crave things you'll never humanly obtain. You go mad, a little. It's not very difficult. Madness is a relative of the moon: a dear cousin to invite for tea, and he's got the mirror of your father's eyes.
Kill me ten years, hate me four, and try to say you didn't.
"Are you cold, Mr. Lupin?" Cho wonders absently. "It's a beautiful day."
"I thought so."
"Do you go outside? Do you do anything?"
If you only knew, Remus thinks, and shakes his head. "No. I don't."
"Neither do I. I don't think there is anything worth doing, lately." Her mouth flits up at the corners: some arrogance, the sort he thought he saw over the top of a paper. Dreams and unrealities! Or was it sonnets..? What --
"What a shame," she mumbles.
"Yes, what a shame," he agrees. There is something more comfortable in a Cho Chang who has no idea what to say. Mr. Lupin likes her even an inch better; but it's not the right inch, because that's the one between her lip and the bottom of a pointed chin. A cute angle -- acute angle. Remus is rather emotionally obtuse today.
"I would like to go on vacation," she tells him, leaning back in her chair. "Very much."
"I am on vacation."
"Are you? Merlin -- why London, then? London makes for a sad summer."
"I like it here," says Mr. Lupin, because she is right.
"I don't anymore. I want to go somewhere nicer -- with better air."
It's better to simply sit here, and talk, and say anything that will make her bored, make her awkward -- stand her out against the muted grey and blue of the hotel room, a place she was never meant to be. Make her uncomfortable, make her strange; and Remus would like Cho to feel strange because he does, and perhaps if it's enough she will leave and let him be alone. That is all he's wanted, this summer -- he's been dreaming of one moment entirely to himself, with no thought, no wish, no regret. And no memory, either; Mr. Lupin has permitted himself alcohol only in honor of that. London makes for a sad summer! Who knew?
But she does not seem perturbed; she doesn't seem to have noticed that he is still (painfully, frustratingly) close, and the legs of their chairs are only that much of a hand apart. If he moved his foot just so, it would tap against hers. But perhaps that's something Remus should do; perhaps that would be appropriate of him, if he is going to be a horrible old man.
"Though I suppose I'm biased," muses Cho, interrupting his mental suicide. "I never wanted to spend summer here. I rather like London otherwise, you know."
Mr. Lupin has been leaning in for the better part of his conversation; he rests an elbow precariously on the edge of the table, wondering if perhaps he has found the one place where manners will not haunt and belittle him.
(He hasn't; the elbow is gone in a moment, replaced with memories of what he thinks must be his mother, his soft and merry mother, before his mother forgot everything like that. Before his mother met someone else -- that was it.)
"I wanted to leave England altogether," Cho tells him, softly. The littleness of her voice strokes him along the spine, pinching at the base of his neck; and her fingers would feel like that, he thinks, if she were as audacious as her chemistry. "I don't want to be here anymore."
And then -- just like that -- Cho Chang begins to cry.
Remus did not smell it coming; he'd thought there had been tears hanging in the back of her throat, a weight pulling at her joints, but he'd wanted to be wrong. Like any other time, however, he wasn't very wrong at all -- such a hard thing. It seems to be common in Mr. Lupin's life, that he always knows but cannot usually remember. The sound and scent and truth of Cho's sorrow takes up the entire room; she sounds like a child, breathing into her hands, soft skin on softer. The honesty drips from between the cracks of her fingers. And Remus is watching, though she hides her face from him for the longest time -- he watches carefully, not intimidated, not worried, and upset only in that there must be anything to cry about at all. It reminds him that he has done the same thing; he once cried in front of Sirius for an entire half hour, shamefully, twisting away from the boy and into a wall. There is no shame in being sad -- it's the thing about being human, about being any animal, and Mr. Lupin's tears were sharper than Cho's. He watches her and he is thinking of her mouth and how potent the heat rings and spirals, even as she freezes in place. Her chest heaves, searching for breath.
"I'm sorry," repeats Remus, interrupting her. It sounds like English, but he's completely forgotten what language to speak: hopefully one that doesn't involve pheremones and cell counts. Cho's body throbs. It is a dirty thing to watch a girl cry and do nothing about it.
She stands woodenly, exposing the wetness of her face; it's gone red in places and a parched white in others, much like its own pair of tight lips. For a moment Cho Chang is taller than Remus will ever be; she towers over him menacingly, mingling with air that hasn't moved in days. He can see she must be angry -- whether it's at herself for crying or at him for being there to see it he cannot tell -- and Mr. Lupin has to look away or his mind will simply crumble under the weight of the situation. He has never been good at angry people, much the same as he has never been good at pretty girls; Cho Chang is both of these, and he swallows his tea nervously at the thought.
She lets out a small, frustrated breath, one that now smells of ceylon; she looks over him carefully with her hard black eyes, as if assessing the value of his suit.
"I'm going home," says Cho. "I'm tired of you!"
"You're tired of me?" It's an incredulous statement -- not anything but surprised. Mr. Lupin can hardly believe what he is hearing. With that tone, he wouldn't be surprised at hearing she hated him, or that his nose was a bit crooked. (She wouldn't be lying.)
"Yes!" Then she cries again, only now she's standing and crying, and it's not very discreet, and she doesn't even bother to hide her face in her hands this time. Cho allows a few more furious tears while staring at him, and thinking, and before Remus can really say much of anything at all she is pulling out her chair again.
"You shouldn't sit at the table, Miss Chang," he begins to tell her. He wants to say that it's a horrible idea -- that she should go home and cry there instead, because he hates to see young people upset, especially if he can't think of why. It's only that, of course. It's not because it is Cho Chang, a creature of dependability and singing nerves; anyone could stand here and Remus would feel bad for them, if only because they happened to be in the company of a vacationing werewolf. Or at least.... that's sort of what he'd like to believe, and it's definitely what he's thinking when Cho surpasses her chair altogether.
She has pushed it aside to have better access to Remus. She is climbing into his lap, not slowly, with little consideration; she buries herself in his sweater, hiding her eyes in the worn material. Her legs shift against his to find their place and then -- this really is the worst -- her hands reach up and arms wind around his neck.
Mr. Lupin cannot move. She is heavy. She is at least ninety pounds; this poor man rarely lifts more than a book of anatomy. Her thighs are thin and very white, like his, and from the corner of his eye -- here is why he cannot move, wouldn't dream of it -- he can see a bruise along the skin of one of them, a rose of bluish blackish blood. Mr. Lupin cannot breathe. There is a world of Cho Chang, covering him with all her horrible inches; the scent of her skin, the scent of her hair, of shampoo, the faintest hint of where she must sleep at night, her favorite perfume, the memory of genes and replicated fluids. Remus inhales deeply -- exasperated -- but does not slip even a millimeter. His arms do not encircle her; that's because he can't think. He can't think at all, and Mr. Lupin really is nothing but an animal when he can't get his mind proper. Connections! His mind is thinking the sort of things a mind prefers, when there is little order -- when he can't number the impulses, or sort out what it really feels like to be holding anyone. If he could only remember another time something like this had happened: place the sensation elsewhere, away from Cho's heaving back. Perhaps it would be easier not to close his eyes against the softness of her poor girlish head; perhaps he wouldn't wonder if all tears smell so heavy and dark, like cologne. There is something about being a werewolf that makes thoughts like that -- of dabbing her sorrow all along his neck and pulse points -- very honorable, a very good thing.
"Miss Chang," pushes out of his teeth, shyly. A little late.
She sniffles against him, and slips her face upward; he can suddenly feel her lashes against the skin of his throat. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Mr. Lupin." Her arms tighten. "Nobody cares about me."
"I'm sure someone cares about you." He says this because girls like Cho are often wrong when it comes to things like that; they have the liberty to overlook them because there are so many. It's not very fair.
"Cedric died," Cho sobs. "Cedric is dead!"
Oh, thinks Remus.
Her littleness tears at him: addictive. They spend a long time simply sitting, listening to the cars and the people and the noises of the hotel -- a world that perhaps was not meant for Mr. Remus after all. He'd known that a vacation would do little for his nerves. He'd known that there was always something to worry about, whether it was papers or travel routes or the correct thing to say to the valet. As it is, Remus is not sure he has ever been entirely truthful in his life -- there is always a word he would prefer but cannot utter. It's the fate of someone who is thoughtful. The fate of the kind man.
He would like very much to tell Cho to leave. But as the minutes wear on and a cloud of her breath rises about his mouth and ears, it's really all Mr. Lupin can do to slowly -- awkwardly -- bring his hand up and pat her on the head.
Yes. That's all it is.
He pats and pats her soft small head. The hair is smooth and black and Cho holds herself loosely, as if she were on her father's lap. (The thighs of a beloved uncle, and the shoulder of a grandfather.) She is comfortable and pale-faced and heavy. Remus meets her back with the palm of his hand sturdily, heartily, as if they are old friends.
"Mr. Lupin," a small voice says. "I hate everything."
"No -- no you dont."
"Yes, I do."
"Then so do I," he tells her wearily. "I suppose."
It's July and I'm tired of holidays. You should come round again. My mum's been gone all week, swear she's missing. Trust I'm not calling anyone about it. I've got the apartment to myself for once. It's a small place. You remember.
You make fun because school follows wherever I go, if I remember. I thought that was the jokeanyway -- but it's followed me again. I'm in research. Think you should come with me to the library; it's something you'd like. Interesting. Large proportions.
And! And I know you're in the country, Black, you can't brag about Greek girls anymore.
Haven't heard from Peter.
If this is about that night -- your silence -- I'm telling you I don't know anything about it anymore. I haven't got anything to say. I'm sorry for all the times you've had to help with things you shouldn't. It's not any of our faults. I was doing something I shouldn't and you were there to see it.
I just want things to be easy. I don't like being sixteen very much. Just come round again. James already has. We're going away down to the lake.
Pain is strange, when you aren't sure of its source. Remus cannot decide what hurts more: that he stopped trusting Sirius, or that Sirius has returned to remind him. It was a long time of hate and disbelief and pain and long nights. There were tears shed, and knuckles bruised, and nails bitten. Here is a story: Mr. Lupin saw the sunrise over a hill in Scotland. He'd been looking for Black estate, months after the deaths; a letter in James' last letter had prompted him to wonder, and something told him Scotland, Scotland. There he went. He wandered after the moon. And no -- Remus hadn't ever been sure of what he'd wanted to see, much less would be there instead. There were people he'd hoped to speak to, actually. A part of him had wondered if seeing this -- the place where Black had grown up -- would help explain why. But Remus never found the estate. He never understood that part of Sirius; a history the boy would only laugh about, and relatives he did little but make fun of. There'd been Bella, and Cissa, and funny Andromeda. Bella, and Cissa, and funny ...
A piece of history that faded with a face on a tapestry. Never continued. A death without a death. Lupin is sure Sirius will carry it until he carries nothing: the question of how it is two brothers can be so different, when raised together. The question of how it is that a mother can see her son for what he became -- at least partially the fault of her own attempts and failures and broken habits -- and hope he will die regardless, never hearing the last word. Love? Well! Blood means little but duty, in the frame of a working miracle. It didn't make sense to fight Regulus. Remus never could, but Sirius prayed to.
In the end they were both were abandoned by their parents, and like orphans made a game of replacing all four -- one by one -- for eachother.
Father, mother, father and mother again.
Cho sways close, with small white hands. Remus shies from them, if only to keep from touching -- he can't stand to touch her. He never wants to, ever again; but she leans in so that they are nose to nose, she's only sixteen(?), oh and he can smell it. The scent of young and woman: two years, four years, one year just under the edge of his lip. Her hands hang idly between them. He can feel that she has started to quiver, whether for fear or desire! or teenage dizziness. Blindness. Fumble forward, but he himself has stiffened. He is frightened to move because this is her honestly, she is innocent, and he will ruin everything thoroughly. Cho Chang trusts him as much as she ever will: under skin the blood shifts to match his, heart pressing forward, and a collective pulse falls even. Two, four, six, eight. Deep sweetness. Even her biology has nothing to say.
Terror most strange: how her hair is so soft as to never be there at all, merely a shadow, like every smooth wandering of her. Though their fingers loop and bend it's as if she will be gone in the blink of an eye. Her form is unanchored by disbelief. Sugar melting in water -- but this is the sort of dream Mr. Lupin pretends never to have.
And he is not unaware, you know. He understands that this is a novelty to Cho Chang. He is nothing but a passing interest -- something to distract her from more important matters, from the things that will still mean something within a month. A year. Ten years. He's going to be forgotten by her eventually: the professor, Professor Lupin, a man she'll think of later and cringe in memoriam. It's cruel of him to even be here, beneath her; it's wrong and horrible and he can't do anything about it. He doesn't want to be rude. Cho insists -- her entire being insists one way or the other, and she believes she knows something about the world. About attraction and sex and truth and money and ethics. It's youth. Youth! But Remus will be a better mistake; he'll never say she was wrong, and he'll never blame it on the girl. Remus is a gentle regret -- he knows when it's his fault. He'll tell you, no matter. He doesn't mind. Maybe because he's old -- because he's lonely -- because he can't sort through the happened and did-nots -- because he loves everything and can't let go of anything anymore. Oh, Sirius. It's hard to grow up alone! Mr. Lupin never knows who will stay and who will go.
Cho Chang must think that an older man will protect her, keep her safe; and of course he will. He'd protect anyone without a thought -- it's the Gryffindor, as Gryffindors know. Cho Chang must think that if she goes through with this, if she stays here for a moment longer, everything that's gone wrong will set itself right again: because someone still wants to be near, and listen, and doesn't mind if she cries.
Merlin -- Remus can double her lifespan in the palm of his hand. She must think he has all the answers. She must think he's picked up a thousand pieces.
But he doesn't, and he never will. Especially Cho's. "Miss Chang, I don't--"
She hangs her head. The weight on his thigh is balanced, distracting; an odd heat. Mr. Lupin could stop thinking altogether, here. Between her legs -- He could disappear in his own disgust for himself, imagining the patch of warmth against his trousers. And he's not moving! He's not moving, and he'll drown like a kitten.
A reflection in a black eye. Fabric.
"What are you doing?" he mumbles finally, as they hover.
"I can't remember. I thought..."
"Go home, sweetheart." A term of endearment; Remus will question its reasoning for the rest of his life. He's never called anyone sweetheart before, and won't again. He's never called a girl anything, not even the ones who ended up dating him for awkward weeks and months -- not even in dark bedrooms, or dim ones, or the back of a friend's living room. Here's the problem: can't show affection. Never learned how, except for desperate movements far out of mutual control. Can't --
Even now, with their faces soft and close. Remus does not touch her, nor does he look gentle; he looks certain of what he says, yes, but with purely academic reasoning. This is the reason people who have attempted such things -- sitting on Mr. Lupin's lap, for example, or looking him straight in the eye -- often give up with little benefit. They wonder how a man can say anything and mean it, when his face betrays no emotion at all. It's like speaking another language: Remus can tell you anything, he can understand twice of what he shows, but it all comes out in counts and gauges. Nerve.
What nerve --
"My fault," Cho whispers. "It's all my fault."
"I'm all alone."
"What a silly thing to say. Look in front of you." Logic -- comfort.
And she smiles at him, momentarily. Thankfully. Perhaps Cho Chang agrees that simplicity is an appropriate preference. Neither of them can say they know better than the other. Remus is not comfortable, but he takes comfort in this. It's something to know. It's a fact.
After a long moment she rests her hands lightly between them, forgetting to invade. He must close his eyes to keep from staring at their idle joints. (Eye contact is polite. Polite man -- making a connection. He does so love connections. He does so love--)
"You're in front of me, Mr. Lupin," she tells him, nonchalant.
"Yes, I am."
The darkness of her eyes is astounding. Remus can only nod against it; his mouth opens uselessly, even desperately. Leave. Stay. A world without girls like this -- a world without this moment.
A beautiful jewel of a world.
"I mean to say," Cho continues, "that no one will ever believe me. I might not even believe it, when I've left."
And then he is incredulous all over again. The change must be palpable; he feels the slightest twitch in the hard muscle of her leg, and scent branches into a mess of questions and simultaneous answers. That she would say anything -- That she could tell anyone --
And what would she tell?
Mr. Lupin cannot name the nerve she punctures, but it spasms and so does the corner of his mouth, twisting downward; perhaps an audible reminder of what is true distresses him, tugs at the pull and swoop of his summer's heart. It's not what he expected from himself. He knew. He knew better. There's a novelty in years. There's a novelty and a comfort, he thinks, for Cho; she can walk away from this with what she needs. A story. For anyone to be honest. Confirmation, and --
But Mr. Lupin is hurt. He feels. He feels.
Anyone would know the smile was not for him -- merely the idea of someone like him. Bookish and sensitive. Knowledgeable. Trustworthy. Inconspicuous, silent, meaningless. Mature. The look on his face must be pathetic. Cho doesn't understand why. She watches him emptily, passive; her concern washes over him and away, as if he is merely obscuring another and more interesting person. Remus wishes it weren't so true: inconspicuous, silent! He might as well have never been here at all. If she did not rest against him -- her featherweight -- he might float up and disappear into the ceiling. All of life is so difficult. How will he ever do the things he must? The things he's been asked to do?
But a part of him knows. It's not a question.
Stop asking questions.
Remus thinks of Harry.
Has Harry kissed a girl? Has Harry felt everything there is to feel?
And there was another dream, about something that might have occurred but simply did not. A memory that should not exist. He wants to blow it away like a bubble to pop, disappearing against brick walls and the corner of a sharp elbow.
Sirius looked up at him through the blood. He wiped his brow. Remus is naked after changing back again and everyone thinks it's funny -- funny! -- but they're all so tired and they sleep in the field like animals. Black gives him a sweater to wear; there's a monogram on the breast that he picks with a fingernail. Beatles music --
Smashed on the head.
"I'm sorry," Lupin remembers saying then. He put his fingers through his friend's hair tentatively, then again and for a third time: expressionless, motionless but for the slip of hand and darkish head. "I'm sorry for hurting you."
"It wasn't you, stupid," said Sirius, who never flinched. And then James shifted in the grass, dreaming; he kicked one leg and there was a rat running up it, a rat settling beneath his pale arm. Remus loved all three of them: the burn on his neck. A hickey, they joked. A promise, he imagined.
Never a place without shame. Without the honesty of shame. In the memory Lupin leaned forward shyly; he kissed the crusting of blood as a brother, and it colored him likewise. Red. Fire. On fire.
Sirius looked him in the eyes, turned away, and spat.
Cho remains. Remus cannot stand her. He doesn't want to touch her, he doesn't want to be near her, doesn't want to hear her stories or listen to her voice or watch the pocket of air below her heart burst. One more time, or twice, or again -- He doesn't want to hear her pulse, or watch it tick-tick at the hollow of her throat. He doesn't want her to look at him so openly. He doesn't want her to think of him. He wants to disappear for five days, two days now -- a number of hours only. He will reincarnate as man, as someone real. A man for phoenixes. No hotel rooms.
And the organization attracted Lupin because of one word only: Order.
But it's all disordered now, frankly, one step before the other. For the first time Remus feels a feeling, and it's with real color; the shade seeps from him and into Cho, and though they aren't speaking it's a spark, a beam from one island to the next. Thousands of words! One pain and the other -- not unlike -- similar only in that they have cried and that maybe (hideously) it feels all right. Mr. Lupin is ill. He looks her firmly between the eyes: not in, not through, and not under. Nowhere near the burning core of them, where he disappeared earlier: burning wings, like Icarus. But Mr. Lupin cannot even kill himself. This was established. Admittedly, this means very little.
"Miss Chang?" Not so strong as he imagined; his voice is soft as his chin, a rush of wings against stomach lining. "You can't -- you can't make a game of me. You can't make a game of knowing me."
She presses forward and into him, as though for warmth; the tilt of her head hints at questionable regret.
But Lupin says: "We're both adults, Miss Chang."
"This is not appropriate."
But then her scent is a shift of air and an intake of breath. Sharp. So much sharpness, and Lupin can't think -- can't. Cho is sour. Cho hurts. Remus has never hurt anyone like this, cannot imagine the strength in doing so: in doing what is needed. He wishes he were another person, one that would either take advantage or run: a real man, a conglomerate of real decisions and real self-esteem. With eyes half-open Lupin straddles the realization of two things: that there is really nothing wrong with her, it's all centered in the cooridor of his own harsh breath, and that she is guiltless, even in the hearts he knows she must plan to break. That scent -- oh, death. That sweetish perfume-oil wind ribbon silk bowstring rice leather smell; and what a sick old man, what a sad man to want to cry because it is pure. She is in mourning.
So her mouth unfolds and slides against his, with the beat of blood under thin skin; an artery he tastes, the strangeness of her tongue, and straight teeth to hate thoroughly, bitterly. War. But she is warm -- she tastes pleasant, waxy, sweetish, deep -- and this makes him angry, she makes him quite angry with himself. It hurts to kiss anyone but Mr. Lupin can't argue, he can't raise a fuss; he opens his mouth and they merge and fumble and her hands hang between them, unsure. Butterfly wings. And god -- what a horrible person, to taste tears again, to enjoy them. There is something about being a werewolf that makes this easy and Remus will hate himself forever, he will never forgive himself, he will never think of this again. He is aroused and unhappy and disturbed. As soon as she's gone, he will vomit everything in his stomach and never sleep again.
He knew --
He knew it.
Cho mumbles, a sound in the back of her throat -- where the sadness hung and now falls into him, rolls in like smoke. Her body destroys time. Her body opens a void, and then Mr. Lupin floats in its wake. Not unlike what people recall, in near death experience: that they see themselves, hear voices, admire light in a rounded darkness. That they float over their own shoulders. It's like this, actually, but Remus can only hope he'll forget. Cho's core is heat and fluttering; when he takes her wrist in his fingers, the heartbeat is frantic and his tongue envelops in speed, potential. Disgust.
Despair is forceful. A part of him hopes that in her anger Cho will do what others have threatened, and rip him from one ear to the other; he'd laugh and be glad, in that case. He would happily die now, because there is nowhere else to go. There are no words that could frighten Remus more; he's heard them all, he knows them by heart, and in two languages. Still; if Cho would only think of something, he'd die here. He would die immediately and honestly.
But then --
Another moment, and Mr. Lupin is already dead. Numb. He cannot tear his hands from her; they hang uselessly at his sides. There is some disbelief in a kissless mouth, once newly kissed; there is an echo of fear in a loveless room, especially when it is revealed as containing nothing at all. White magic, whitest of white.
"Please," he finally spits, through the spray of imaginary blood. "Please go, Miss Chang."
Suddenly her face darkens. She seethes for a moment, in disbelief, and pushes at him roughly with small hands. "You are just a dirty pervert, aren't you? I should tell everyone."
Remus crumples. He would rather kiss her again than imagine the consequences. Neither is desirable, but there is no choice. He breathes and breathes and breathes and suddenly Cho cries out, pulling her hand from his -- he's been squeezing too hard, and then his teeth grind, his eyes narrow. For a moment he nearly cries at the horror of everything: what he's just done, what he will do, and everything he won't. There is knowing the truth and knowing the truth. Sometimes having things to say can be the same as simply saying them -- but the look in Cho Chang's eyes is palpable, unparalleled. Nothing numbs the sensation; he'll always remember this feeling, even when he is flying on all fours, even when he can't recall his name or the faces of people who will care for him when he is hurt. People who will be the ones that hurt him, in the end.
But suddenly the hardness in Cho's face disappears, wholly and unexpectedly; her hands fall from where they've pulled angrily at his collar, replacing themselves in her own lap.
Demure again, and --
"I'm sorry," she tells him softly. "I -- I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm... I'm sad. But you're nice, sir. You're a nice man."
"Thank you," manages Mr. Lupin.
"I didn't mean to... To."
"It's all right."
And it is, after a moment. People have said a lot of things to Remus. Remember? He can recite them all like poetry. It rolls off the tongue.
"We'll forget everything," says Cho; she sounds as if she's said this before. "It never happened."
But every cavity -- every hollow and dip and porous bone of his head fills, and it fills with the breath of someone else, and that man is not here.
That man is not here.
I live my life filled with no pain:
just some rage & three kinds of yes.
& I've made stairways
such scenes for things that I regret.
those days in the sun, they bring
a tear to my eye.
Tonight I'm going to rest my chemistry.
Tonight I'm going to rest my chemistry.
But you're so young;
you're so young, you look in my eyes.
You're so young.