Remus Lupin is cold. The cold has done more than chilled his body. It has seeped into his very bones, into his vital organs. On some levels Remus feels detached from himself – he knows he is himself, of course, but tonight there is someone else looking down on his life, sorting through all the information and coming up with the bits that he needs now.
He is sitting in front of the fire, and the glow of it and the warmth of it seep into his core, thawing the ice that has settled deep in his bones and moving gradually becomes easier. His ears are still cold; they are always cold. Sirius used to tease him about wearing ear muffs into April, but Remus swears that for some reason his ears don't get enough blood circulated to them.
Remus stretches his feet out towards the fire, and the soles of his boots are thin enough he swears his feet will catch on fire, but he doesn't pull away. He is not exactly suicidal, but he would not rail against the universe were he to die tomorrow.
Rubbing his hands together, Remus finally leans forward to put them directly in the line of the fire. All day he has been working, and now he has finally stopped. He hopes that tonight he can sleep, that he has so exhausted his body that his mind will shut down, but he knows this is mostly a useless hope. Even after particular harsh moons, Remus has a brain that doesn't know how to turn off. Remus is a prisoner inside of his mind.
There is a woman who works at the hotel where Remus is staying, and she is nice enough. She has wide hips and a large stomach, laughs overly loud and takes her time to flirt with everyone sitting in the lobby. She likes Remus well enough, knows his name and his preferences, and always stops on her way out to bid him good night and tell him to go to his room and stop thinking so hard.
Tonight is no different, though it is New Year's Eve. She has had a bit to drink; her eyes are dark and they dance with merriment when she plops her large body down on the rug next to Remus.
"Here you are love," she says, in her cheerful manner and thick Yorkshire accent. "I thought maybe tonight you'd be a bit more social than you usually are. Why are you still hanging about? It's nigh midnight. Need to go find yourself a nice lass to kiss."
Remus laughs, making a fist with one of his hands and then relaxing it. It's painful to laugh anymore, but it's even more painful to be flat old Remus Lupin, who lets life beat him. He heaves a sigh and lays a hand on his thigh. "I'm not one for partying, necessarily."
"Nonsense. Nice young lad like you. What could you have in your life to make you frown so?"
The swell of tears is no longer embarrassing so much as reluctantly expected. He misses James, who would be doing just what this woman is doing right now, poking and prodding him out amongst living, breathing, talking people, forcing Remus out of his head for a while. He misses Lily, a bright foil for James. No one laughs – laughed, he corrects himself – like Lily. He misses her eyes – the way they seemed to see past James's young blustering to the man he could be, the way they saw the anxious and awkward boy in Remus. He misses the way she could calm Sirius with a word, the way she could make Peter straighten himself and summon his Gryffindor courage.
He misses Peter, his high, nervous laughter, how cautious he was when he came up with an idea, the way his hands trembled when he was nervous, how he looked at James and Sir—James.
He misses life the way it was before everyone thought twice about what they said and how they acted, the life at Hogwarts that now seems far away and golden and warm. Hazy, as though someone else lived it. He supposes that he misses innocence, though he laughs at that cliché … one can hardly be a teenaged werewolf and be naïve about much. Fearlessness. That's what he longs for – the ability to cast aside all the fears and the doubts and act. If he thinks about it hard enough, he knows he never was fearless, but he misses it still.
He misses being warm, sitting in the living room with James and Lily and Harry watching his friend's son crawl and grab at things, feeling a part of something, anchored. Without James and Peter and Sirius, he is as he once expected to be. A drifter, going from job to job, learning as much as he can; but all the learning can't fill his head, can't stop the thoughts.
"Mr. Lupin?" She is looking at him very concernedly now.
"Oh. Sorry." He coughs and covers his mouth with a hand, flushing red. Spending too much time alone, he thinks. "I … lost a few friends earlier this year. I'm afraid I tend to get lost inside my head."
The unexpected honesty startles Remus. The last time he'd checked, he was able to control the words that came out of his mouth.
"Your friends wouldn't want you moping about, would they?" Batting her eyelashes, she leans back a bit so Remus can see down her dress to her chest. "I'm in the mood for a bit of celebrating."
Remus flushes red and shakes his head. "I think I'll just go up to my room. But thanks."
The hotel is old and creaks and groans as the harsh winds of Scotland batter against the walls and assault the windows. The stairs protest Remus's relatively light weight as he climbs them slowly. The full moon is a week away, but he is not feeling well. Hasn't felt well since October, and that always makes it a bit worse. At the top of the stairs, Remus has a bed and a book with well-worn pages that will distract him for a few hours.
Last year, he had spent this evening with the rest of the Marauders at a party, and he thinks about it now with a smile on his face. Lily had left up the Christmas decorations and had dressed in red for the occasion. He remembers that, that she wore red and served horrible appetizers; that James told a terrible joke about a goat and a vibrating wand; that Peter showed up late and trembled his way through a dance with Lily; that he had sat on the couch, leg crossed over leg, and drank a butterbeer, conversing intensely with Frank Longbottom about the newest Sneakoscope technology.
It hurts, he admits as he turns the doorknob to his hotel room, where everything is neatly packed and arranged, to think of Sirius. He knows now that there had been some suspicion among the Order that he had been the traitor, but no one had ever suspected Sirius. Sirius, who lived life so tremendously, both hands on the cup, draining it of everything it would give him. Sirius, who loved James like a brother, apparently hadn't. It still boggles Remus's mind that he never saw a sign of it. There must have been signs that he missed. Sirius is … was not an easy man to understand, for all that Remus tried.
He is feeling a bit rebellious tonight, so he throws off his shirt and kicks away his shoes as he walks in the room. He pulls a bottle out of a cabinet and selects one of the clean glasses the hotel provides for him and pours a shot of Ogden's finest whiskey. Remus doesn't like to drink often, but on nights like these, he does to help him forget.
The whiskey burns on the way down, but it does take the edge off the thoughts swirling around his head and the pain in his heart. Crossing the room to the window, he gazes out at the stars for a moment before he closes the drapes and collapses on the bed. He could read, he supposes, but he can't find the energy for that just yet. He taps his stomach and laughs at the hollow sound it makes. Tonight he's eaten, but that's not so every night.
A voice in the back of his head that sounds an awful lot like Sirius points out that he could ask Dumbledore for help, but Remus feels keenly that Dumbledore has done enough to help him. The rest of the wizarding world is moving on. Remus should too.
Agitated, Remus turns over and puts the lamp out and closes his eyes. He doesn't like the covers in this hotel … they're too soft for skin used to scratchy clothing. Stretching out on the bed, he finds that his limbs are longer than the mattress and they hang over the end. The room is dark, and the lobby is silent beneath him. He is alone, finally.
He closes his eyes and absorbs it, lets it seep into his bones and settle over him like a blanket. As a child, he spent nights awake, just like this, smelling and hearing and living the night while he dealt with his darker magic. Remus knows that there are things that can only be learnt in darkness, in the silence where there's nothing else to distract him from the thoughts inside his head.
Turning on his side, he contemplatively runs a hand over his ribs. There is a scar there, nearly the length of his ribcage. All of his scars tell a story. He doesn't remember this one, but he remembers waking up to find Padfoot gently licking away the blood that leaked from the wound. His heart clenches and he stifles a cry.
Mourning is hard. Mourning alone nearly tears him apart. His heart is pounding and his lungs are pumping. Drawing breath has never been so difficult, not even in mornings after the Change. Of all the losses from Halloween, Sirius is the most painful. James and Lily left a son, and Peter had been his friend, and Remus ached for his innocent presence. But Sirius was not only a loss—he was a betrayal, a Judas.
Now he knows, he understands the months leading up to October. The way the conversations would stop when he entered the room, or how Sirius and James and Peter would huddle in corners together, the way he endured feeling separate for the first time since he was eleven. Sirius had made them all believe that he, Remus, had been the spy while Sirius orchestrated the end of Remus's world.
He curls now, knees to chest, and manfully swallows any outward expression of the grief inside of him. You fool, he thinks. You should have known, should have seen this coming from miles away. You forgot the last prank too easily, gave your trust again too willingly. And you and your friends paid the price.
Sirius is in a prison where they will suck his soul and kill every spark of the man that had been Sirius Black, and despite himself, Remus grieves. Before things had gone so terribly wrong, Sirius had been so vibrant and alive, so refreshing and energetic. Neurotic, bipolar, loud … everything Remus was not, his mirror and perfect opposite in so many ways. There will be nothing left on the other side of the mirror now.
Unfolding himself, he stretches out on the bed and closes his eyes. Tomorrow he leaves England, and he won't return. There is too much pain here, and he never claimed to have the Gryffindor courage that had so marked his friends. He will travel the world and learn as much as he can. Maybe he will teach, or go traipsing in bogs, looking for Hinkypunks. He will not forget his friends, but he will not have to live with the memory, either.
He shoulders the blame willingly, the regret and the guilt. There is no Lily here now to shake her head at him, no James to punch him, no Peter to swallow and say something ineffective and yet, helpful because he tried. There is no Sirius here to shock him out of his funk. He is Remus Lupin, werewolf. And he is alone.