Remus does not use magic anymore if he can help it.

Usually, he can help it; he makes sure that he can help it. He surveys the sticky mess of unnaturally blue something that is currently terrorizing French Philosophy. Some sort of slushy beverage, spilled by some young ruffian. Shameful.

He inspects the books, trailing loving fingers over the syrupy spines. The monstrous stuff has been oozing down the shelves in evil little rivers and creeping into their occupants for maybe an hour now; they are beyond repair. Surely not, somebody in his head snaps. No need to go to drastic measures. No, none at all. Something crunches under his foot; a book with stained pages had been knocked to the floor. He picks it up: Descartes.

It is too much.

He reaches into his pocket and finds the thin smoothness of his wand. He is uncomfortable with how familiar it still feels in his hand. The word is throwing punches on his tongue, fighting to escape. Scourgify. No, there must be some other option. But the books...He collects himself and-

"Remus?"

He yelps and his muscles do a strange little spasm, as if the word had bitten him. He yanks his empty hand from his pocket. Terry giggles.

"Sorry to startle you, mate. You shouldn't work so hard- I think you're losing it," she chides. Terry is a nice girl. Late twenties, pretty dark skin, likes early Greco-Roman history. A nice colleague.

He smiles politely. "Just getting old, I suppose."

She swats at him playfully. "You're not old! Forty is the new thirty, after all."

"I'm thirty-three."

She forms a nervous series of semi-words. Remus does not take offense, it's an easy mistake to make. He quickly double checks. That's correct, isn't it? Yes, that's right, his birthday isn't for another...two days? Approximately.

When he next pays attention she has changed subjects. "Good God, what happened here?"

"Some kid, I'm assuming. I was just-"

She shakes her head. "No, don't bother, it looks pretty far gone. The janitors will handle it, I expect. Anyway, you've been here long enough. Some of us are going to have a drink at that place across the street. Why don't you come with us?"

Drink with people? It strikes him as odd. Then he remembers that it is now Friday night and people do such things with their friends on Friday nights. Is Terry his friend?

"When's closing?"

"Half an hour ago." She is giggling again.

He consults his watch. Ah.

She is smiling vaguely, expectantly, with her head tilted to the side; she is awaiting a reply to her invitation. Of course he will decline, Remus does not go out on Friday nights and have drinks. Moreover, Remus does not drink. He hasn't in...four years? Yes, that must be it. He imagines that he would very much like to go. He could have ginger ale; he'd been doing well, he'd be fine. He would quite like Terry to like him, and the 'some of us' she referred to, surely including Susan and Nathan- well, he would like them to like him. Of course. His colleagues are pleasant company. He could go. Nevertheless...he feels tired tonight. Too much so to like or be liked by anyone.

He smiles politely. Remus does not smile any sort of smiles but polite ones. "That is very kind of you, Terry, but I don't think so."

"Oh...Alright then, that's fine, I just thought I'd ask, you know."

Her tone is almost hurt; it immediately makes Remus feel awful. "I'd like to, it's just that I...I'm...I don't drink."

"Oh, okay, I understand." Her dark eyes sweep his face, and there's a new expression there tugging at the corners of her small smile. He sincerely hopes it isn't pity.

"Well, see you later Remus." Terry gives him a pat on the arm and walks off.

As soon as he finds himself alone, Remus becomes strikingly aware of how exhausted he is. He wanders out into the darkness, picking at a hole in the sleeve of his jumper with his thumb, and his mind pulls up the image of Terry and Susan and Nathan at that place across the street having a very nice time and plasters it across his eyes. It was the right thing to decline, he concludes. He's done very well for four years, he should avoid temptation. Yes, of course he could have gone and ordered ginger ale and managed well enough, but. Well, this is a better plan, really. He really is very tired tonight.

Remus does not pay attention. He notices with mild interest that he is on the bus. He notices the pull in his muscles and in his tendons toward the swelling moon, reminding him of that which he cannot simply ignore. Then he is on the street again, and then he finds himself in his flat. He gravitates to the only chair, his body folds into the spongy perhaps-leather the way it knows how, and he glances vaguely around the place. The colour of the walls has always evaded him. Olive? Possibly. He thumbs his frayed sleeve. A new jumper would be a good idea. Remus does not buy new clothes. This one, however, is getting quite old and worn through at the elbows. How long has he had it? Remus does not throw things out, so it has been a long time. Years. Since before he got a job at the bookstore. Since before his mother had convinced him to move to Newcastle, before she'd fallen ill and the doctors had said it wasn't serious. Since before he'd sold the old place in the village. Since...since.

Today's paper contains the type of news that one peruses and does not read. Unusually cool this summer. A string of robberies around Quayside. Then he turns the page and knows that this is a joke, a lie, a mistake, because that man is long dead.

A sick prank, a hallucination, that's not right, Remus should go to bed and get some sleep and in the morning that photo won't be there, because that man is dead, he never existed, he was sucked up with the rest of that life that Remus had never actually lived. So cruel, such a terribly cruel joke, because isn't he functioning? 'Functioning', which is only a few steps from 'normal', and then just a few more to 'happy'? Finally, finally, after all those years of sleepwalking? The dream, the nightmare, it is over, he is awake, it is gone, and this possibly-olive room and this maybe-leather chair and this probably-too-old jumper are the real world and that face is nothing but the last vestige of a bad dream that clings to his consciousness after he opens his eyes. Dead dead dead, he is dead, dead people exist in nightmares only. Close the paper, throw it away, go to bed and then wake up. If the maybe-leather hadn't sprouted invisible talons that are now holding him firmly in place he might have done just that, and never remembered that that man is actually, in the legal sense, very much not dead.

Escaped from high security. Armed and very. Call this number if.

He needn't have worried. Of course it is someone else; this is a Muggle paper, after all. And no one escapes from- there. It is unheard of. How positively ridiculous, that he immediately assumed that it was- him. Assumed, just because the man in that motionless photograph has the same name as- him, and just because he has the same eyes. The very same eyes. Remus does not breathe.

The dingy little window decides to make a familiar clicking noise. Remus does not receive owl post. But there it is, at that precise moment: the letter from the wise old man from a world that does not exist, with knowing sympathy and with an offer.

Remus does not sleep.