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last man standing
PG-13, slash, Sirius/Remus. Sirius is dead, Hermione is growing
up, Harry is being treated like glass and Remus Lupin is fading away.
Sequel to Making Moony Laugh.
It is another summer’s day at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. In truth, it doesn’t feel like summer, overcast and grey, with sharp winds carrying drizzle that splatters against skin. The Order of the Phoenix lurk just out of sight, murky shadows half-obscured by rain-spattered glass.
Today’s mission involves dealing with Muggles. Arthur Weasley, much as he likes them, is not the best choice, as he might get over-excited and start asking awkward questions about fuse wire, and Tonks, whose father is Muggle-born, is hindered by the fact she bores quickly of her guises and may not be recognised for what she is. This leaves Lupin, whose grandmother on his mother’s side was a Muggle, and so he gets to his feet, throws a cloak over his shoulders and walks slowly, heavily, out of the house and onto the slick, deserted street.
There is only one person it could be, still some distance away, making his way towards them step by graceful step. Professor… one of Hermione’s teachers, then. Mentally, she runs over their names in her head, together with the mischievous descriptions Hermione’s letters always provide. The first name to come to mind is Snape; inwardly, she laughs at how Hermione always talks about him in less than flattering terms, “greasy” and “slimy” being the words she uses the most often. The description clearly doesn’t fit. Who else is there? Flitwick… but isn’t he very small? Hermione always mentions that. There’s Vector, and McGonagall… but she knows they are women. She can think of no-one else.
The man standing in front of her is slender, of average height, wearing ordinary clothes – Hermione would call them Muggle clothes, she notes absently – but is clearly an inhabitant of her daughter’s world, because that is a wizard’s cloak hanging loosely on his shoulders. He might be considered something of an eccentric, she decides, with very pale skin and long, sandy hair that falls into his eyes. He is clearly younger than she is herself, which makes it all the more strange that the sandy hair is shot through with grey.
“Mum.” Hermione is tugging at her sleeve. “Mum, this is Professor Lupin.”
Lupin… and now it all becomes clear. She remembers the name from two years before; he was one of Hermione’s many Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers. She is amazed she can remember the name of the teacher and the subject, so alien to anything she did at school, with such accuracy and ease. She wonders why this one has stood out in mind, thinks back to Hermione’s letters at the time, and seems to remember that she suspected her daughter had something of a crush on this man. And strangely, despite the pale face and greying hair and age difference (different for her than for Hermione!) she can see why that was. She smiles, at that thought and at his greeting, and is not surprised to hear his voice is quiet and smooth, with southern English cadence.
“I’m Hermione’s mother,” she says, conscious of how despite everything, this is a very parent-and-teacher moment. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Professor Lupin.”
“The feeling is quite mutual,” he replies, smiling at her, and for a moment, she has to fight an uncontrollable urge to giggle. They make brief small talk, designed to obscure the fact she has to hand over her daughter to the care of people she barely knows, but who are nevertheless more understanding of Hermione and her talents than her mother could ever be.
The atmosphere is too cold and saturated for them to linger, and Lupin stands to one side as Hermione gives her mother a hug and kiss, and obligingly, he draws his wand, checks to see no-one is about, and shrinks her trunk to a size small enough for her to put in her pocket. Emily Granger laughs delightedly before she can help herself; she’s seen so little magic close-up and first hand. She is afraid he will think her hopelessly childish and naďve, but he merely glances at her, flicking his hair out of his eyes, and smiles sadly in a way that seems to put to rest her fears.
But time is running short, and she knows this is the point where she must leave, before anything else happens, before Lupin takes her daughter to a place she can’t ever follow. With a last kiss for Hermione, a nod for Lupin, she turns and walks away, heading towards the rain-soaked red and blue glow of the nearby Underground station.
Hermione, who has spent a month in a world she no longer belongs in, has to stem her first impulse, which is just to talk, eagerly, excitedly, about anything at all, because in a strange way, she’s going home. But it only takes one glance at Lupin for her to remember the price she pays in being a witch. She is going to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix; as a witch, she is not safe, but she cannot stand by and do nothing, staying with her solid ordinary Muggle family, because if the magical world falls to Voldemort, everything else will fall with it.
In some ways, they are already falling. Lupin is somehow wearier than he was mere weeks ago, when she glimpsed him at King’s Cross, threatening Harry’s aunt and uncle, and she remembers with shocking clarity that he has loved and lost just as Harry has. She notices that he blends in disconcertingly well with the bleak, overcast sky and the dim grey buildings and cobblestones of the old Victorian street, and she shivers at the raw chill that he somehow personifies. They hardly speak as they walk down the street, to the old house which only Lupin and Hermione can see. Muggles wander on past it as if it isn’t even there, and from their perspective, it might as well not be.
Lupin draws his wand to unlock the door; now Sirius is gone, he is the only one who can do this. The door opens slowly, revealing the darkened hallway, and there’s a sudden flurry of movement and a flash of something wild and red.
She catches sight of Ron, grinning at the sight of her, and Fred and George, both giving her enthusiastic thumbs-up signs, but they’re all eclipsed as she’s swept into a hug. “Hermione, dear…”
Hermione finds herself grinning at the motherly embrace. “Hello, Mrs Weasley. It’s nice of you to invite me here.”
“It was no trouble at all, dear,” replies Molly Weasley, beaming. “It was my pleasure. Although…” She pauses and looks out the still-open door. “I would have liked to have a word with your mother, you know, tell her you’ll be well looked-after.”
“My mum’s a Muggle,” Hermione explains, but Mrs Weasley waves her away. “Of course she is. I’m just being silly. Arthur wanted to meet your parents too, but then he does get really silly at times, so we thought it would be best… anyway, dear, you’re here now. Ron’ll show you to your room and then you’ll be just in time for dinner.”
Hermione follows Ron and the twins up the stairs, responding eagerly to their questions, but before anything else, she glances backwards for a moment.
Lupin has disappeared. She thought he might.
– – – – – –
Remus Lupin is not tired. He knows he looks it; he knows he bears the appearance of a man who has lain awake every night for a month sobbing his heart out, but this is simply not the case. He hasn’t slept, exactly; but he hasn’t been awake either. He has simply been. Almost like Voldemort, observes his inner voice. He is forcing himself, minute by minute, to exist.
Tonight, he has an almost feverish energy. It is new moon, which has nothing to do with anything, but he has to force himself to sit still, to be his usual dignified self, when all day, there has been something stirring inside him, a grey-furred creature who is close kin to the wolf but not quite the same, that makes him need to do something, anything, to make it all go away.
He has tried rearranging things, hitting things, throwing things, wilfully refusing to eat although he has no idea what that will achieve, he has tried antagonising Molly just for the release in tension, but she merely looks at him with large, worried eyes. He may refuse to eat, she says, but she would like it if he sat down with the family. The way she says it somehow emphasises the decade separating them in age, and he lets her lead him.
Dinner is a calm, subdued affair. He sits at an angle to the table, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes as he listens to the gentle murmur of conversation. Hermione is not the only addition tonight; as well as Arthur and Molly and their family, there are also a few members of the Order. There’s Moody, as fanatically paranoid as ever, inspecting the food for poison before he eats it, and there’s Nymphadora Tonks, with pink hair and eyelashes, talking animatedly to Hermione and Ginny. Hermione seems pleased to be back in the magical world, he notes, and remembers she is older than she was, and with a birthday early in September, she will soon be of age. If he knows anything of her, it won’t be long before she’s sitting at this table, not for meals but for meetings of the Order of the Phoenix. With wry humour, he remembers that like her, he walked out of Divination, but he feels he has predicted truly.
After dinner, he helps clear up, pushing in the chairs and using his wand to dry dishes, but even as he tries to be calm, be helpful, he knows the restlessness is back, it never left. He leaves the kitchen and climbs the stairs, feeling his breath coming too quickly, tasting the dust of the old house in his mouth, watching his hands shake, and he begins to feel he can’t think, can’t feel, can’t be any more, can’t be trapped inside his own head for one second longer, because it’s like a storm, a storm inside his heart and soul, and something somewhere’s got to break, and it’s got to be soon, now…
He pauses on the landing, listening to the noises the many teenagers are making in their various parts of the house, and turns his hands palms-upwards. Staring at them, he wills them to stop shaking. Seconds, then minutes pass as he stands there, clenching his hands into fists, biting down hard on the strands of his hair that have made their way into his mouth, digging his heels into the ground as if something is attempting to drag him away.
Slowly, he finds himself becoming quiet. His hands are limp and still, fingers curled into loose claws.
With calculated, deliberate movements, he pushes his shaggy hair out of his eyes and mouth and tucks it behind his ears. He makes his way silently up the next flight of stairs, up towards Sirius’s old room, the room the pair of them never officially shared. It is dark, and the dust almost chokes him, but he finds what is he looking for soon enough. It is in one of the desk drawers, gleaming dully, waiting for him. The old knife was once another Black family heirloom, made of the finest wrought silver, but Sirius grabbed it one day and Transfigured it into stainless steel right in front of Remus’s eyes, probably reducing its value by a factor too high to compute. When Remus pointed this out, Sirius just laughed and kissed him.
Carrying the knife, Remus pads downstairs again, to the room he was initially assigned when the Order first moved into the house. It was empty more often than not, and it still is, as Remus barely sleeps. He shuts the door carefully behind him and pulls out his wand, muttering, “Lumos.” The sconces all light themselves at once. He dims some of them; darkness may be kinder, after all.
He looks down at the bed, and contemplatively picks up a pillow. He considers throwing it at the wall, but he knows the time for throwing things is long gone. He established that earlier in the day. Today is a time for change. His last Order mission, appropriately enough, was to bring in the girl who will most likely replace him.
He throws the pillow anyway. Then he sits carefully down on the edge of the bed, pours himself a glass of water from the pitcher on the bedside table and swallows two handfuls of Muggle painkillers, despite the fact he knows perfectly well from fifth-year Muggle Studies that they only kill physical pain.
It’s not enough and he knows it. The wolf in him refuses to curl up and wait for death, so he pulls out the knife and cuts, slowly, carefully, lengthways down each wrist, and everything slows down. He feels like he can breathe.
Sirius would tell him he was crazy, he reflects. Even his thoughts have slowed down, reflecting the slow and steady pace at which blood is flowing out of his veins. But then, Sirius was crazy himself. Crazy enough to believe he could become an Animagus at the age of sixteen, crazy enough to enchant his motorbike so it could fly, crazy enough… crazy enough…
Crazy enough to love a werewolf, provides his inner voice.
He falls asleep not long after that, hugging the pillow, vaguely conscious of spreading dampness beneath his head. He doesn’t dream.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Molly Weasley has just finished tidying up. She is just wringing out the dishcloth when her hand brushes against her apron pocket. She feels something there, and slightly surprised, she reaches inside to find a bar of Honeydukes’ chocolate. She remembers where it came from; she bought a few bars for the children to have after dinner. She was forgetting Harry wasn’t yet with them, and so this must be the one that was left over. She considers eating it herself, but sadly reflects that it won’t do her figure any good, and she’s about to put it away when she remembers. Remus, who refused to eat dinner, will not say no to chocolate. Smiling to herself, she uses her wand to dim all the kitchen lights and makes her way up the stairs. She pauses to say goodnight to Hermione and Ginny, who are sharing a room as usual, and she then looks in on Ron, who is fast asleep. There are the usual strange sounds emanating from the twins’ room, so she goes there next, telling them in no uncertain terms to be quiet and go to sleep, and she pauses on the landing for a moment, shaking her head at their silliness.
She yawns, and is about to go to bed herself before she remembers the chocolate bar still in her hand. Stifling the yawn with one hand, she goes on towards Remus’s room. The door is closed. She knocks, gets no answer and wonders if he’s asleep, but after a moment she decides to risk it and opens the door.
He is asleep. But he looks very uncomfortable, lying on top of the bed with his face buried in a pillow, and she moves across to him. She means to shake him gently awake, as she can’t let him sleep fully dressed down to his boots, but he is dead weight in her arms and rolls over completely. The pillow is soaked in blood.
She screams just once.
– – – – – –
Remus is dimly conscious of faint yellow light, wind ruffling through damp fur, being carried by someone who has wrapped their arms around his neck. Someone… more than one person… is pushing back his hair with wet fingertips, and more water is trickling down towards his eyes. Instinctively, he paws at them, screwing them shut against the flow, and there is a sudden outbreak of whispering about him. Almost as if a lot of people have stopped holding their breaths at the same time.
He wants desperately to sleep, but they, whoever they are, are insistent, persistent, they want him to stay awake, and he gasps as two fingers are inserted roughly into his mouth. He is made to swallow, first water, then something harsh and metallic, many times over many hours, throughout that long night.
When he wakes properly, he is surprised to find he is alone. He is not in his own bed; but he wouldn’t expect to find himself there. He is not in Sirius’s bed either, because that was something that only happened in another life.
He is not in a bed at all. He is stretched out full length on the floor, with a pillow under his head and a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, but on the floor nonetheless. He sits up and shivers, not because the room is cold but because he has slept so deeply for so long.
There is now someone – no, more than one person – standing in the doorway. One of them pushes past the rest and hurries into the room. It is Molly, and her eyes are red from crying. She is rapidly followed by her husband, Tonks and Moody. They all rush towards Remus, as if making to touch him, but at the last minute, they stop, making a tentative circle as if there is some invisible barrier keeping them from approaching any closer.
After a moment, Molly speaks. “Remus? How do you feel?”
He considers. “I’m all right.” And it’s true; he feels tired and ill, but he’s used to that. “More interestingly, I’m still alive,” he continues. They all blink in surprise, and after an uncomfortable few moments, Molly breaks the silence again. “Is there anything you need?”
“A glass of water would be nice, thank you.” And as she hurries back out of the room to get it, he turns towards the rest of them. “I wish you wouldn’t try and behave as if I didn’t just try and kill myself.” he says fretfully, pauses, and demands, “I did, didn’t I?”
They stare at him fearfully, all of them except for Moody, who has never been afraid of anything and isn’t about to start now. “Yes, you did,” he says forcefully. “And you damn near succeeded as well.”
“But I didn’t.”
“No, you didn’t, but you came close. Any closer to the full moon, you’d have died.”
“That was the intention.” Remus knows Moody is trying to scare him, force him to realise the enormity of what he’s done, but he feels nothing but a curious blankness whenever he tries to think of the last night he can remember. He knows he failed. So what? Right at this moment, he doesn’t really want to die. He doesn’t want to live, either, but that’s a different thing.
“Alastor…” Arthur is saying, laying a hand on Moody’s arm, but it’s to no avail. The grizzled old Auror is staring at Remus with real anger. “You’re a damn fool, Lupin,” he says trenchantly. “You always have been.”
He walks out. Helplessly, Arthur watches him go, then turns back to Remus. Remus tries to return his stare, but finds he can’t. He is tired, mentally, physically, emotionally, and trying to feel anything takes energy he doesn’t have.
By the time Molly returns with the glass of water, he is drowsy, and has soon fallen back on the pillow, arms flung out, utterly abandoned to sleep as only children and drugged werewolves can be.
He has not even asked why he has been laid out on the floor.
– – – – – –
Moody stalks out of the room and away, up the creaking stairs to the room that has not been cleaned. The sheets and pillow are lying where they were thrown, and there are claw marks visible as tracks in the dried blood from where Remus clung to them.
He stands and stares for a moment, and vows never to let himself love anyone so much.
– – – – – –
“You’re awake?” says a voice. Unlike the last time, there is no euphoria and rush of emotion in the words, just mild enquiry.
Remus turns his head. The girl walks in, shuts the door behind her and drops to his side, sitting casually on the floor. “We thought you might not sleep so long this time,” she says lightly. She isn’t afraid to stay close by.
“Who’s we?” he asks her instinctively.
Hermione counts off on her fingers. “Oh, Mr and Mrs Weasley, Dumbledore, Moody, Tonks… and me,” she adds as an afterthought. Before he can reply, she goes on, “They’ve all gone out. Order business.”
“They left you on your own?”
“I’m sixteen!” she says indignantly. “And besides, someone had to stay with you.”
“Oh.” He smiles wryly. “In case I tried harder this time?”
“Not at all.” She gives him a stern look. “It’s so you wouldn’t wake up on your own.”
She thinks she sees a brief look of apology cross his features; it is soon gone, leaving behind empty blankness. He is even paler than usual, as pale as death, which is to be expected, but no less disconcerting for all that. Only his eyes show any sign of life, and precious little.
“I’m sorry,” he says suddenly. It’s hard to be sure exactly what he is apologising for; it could be everything or it could be nothing. She understands, or thinks she does, and there is silence for a while. It is not a comfortable silence, but neither is afraid.
“Remus?” she says, after a while. She can’t call him Professor Lupin any more – he is no longer her teacher, and besides in Hermione’s world, teachers are wise, all-knowing beings, and Remus Lupin has done the stupidest thing it is possible for anyone to do.
And yet even as she thinks this, she glances at her wrists, at the translucent skin covering blurred blue veins, and can’t help but feel some sort of strange, twisted admiration. She pictures the sharp edge of the knife, and wonders at his courage.
When she receives no answer, she tries again. “Remus?”
His name, formal and Latin, makes him a stranger. But there is only one person left on this earth who can call him Moony, and Hermione is not the Boy Who Lived.
“Hermione?” he answers softly, and she realises he is not ignoring her but is merely as lost in thought as she is herself.
“What are you going to tell Harry?” she asks, and immediately knows by his face that this is not something he has thought of at all. Before he can answer, she goes on, “Mr and Mrs Weasley and Moody and everyone think no-one should tell him anything.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Oh, they do?”
“I think they’re wrong,” she says calmly, and he smiles at her confidence, her self-assuredness. For a moment, the smile touches his eyes.
“What do you think?” he asks her.
“I think you ought to tell him,” she says promptly. “You don’t have to give him all the details, but…” Her voice trails off.
“Should I?” he asks. The calm is deceptive. Inside his head, something is screaming for him not to take out his own grief and frustration on a girl who has done nothing wrong, but the same arrogance and despair that drove him to attempt suicide is what is driving him now, and he can’t stop himself.
“What do I tell him? That I’m the last of his extended family left, and I tried to kill myself? That I couldn’t even wait to see him again before I slashed my wrists with a knife his godfather gave me?”
Another silence. She merely listens. Then, she says: “Maybe you should tell him why you did it.”
“Tell him why I did it?” He is not angry, but something of his old passion is in his voice. “Tell him I did it because I loved Sirius Black? Loved him beyond reason and sanity and life itself, as it turns out?”
After a moment, his voice drops. “I shouldn’t have told you that.”
Slowly, she shakes her head, then changes her mind and nods. She doesn’t seem to be quite sure which is the correct gesture. “It makes sense now,” she says.
– – – – – –
When at last he arrives, Harry is not surprised to find he is treated as though he is made of glass. Before he has even entered the house properly, he is crushed into an embrace by Molly Weasley, and against his will, he is grateful for it, but even at that moment, he can feel himself being handled delicately, carefully, as though they are all waiting for him to shatter into sharp-edged pieces on the floor. Tonks and Arthur are awkward with him, asking with difficulty how his summer has been, and even Moody, never one for tact, refrains from shouting “Constant vigilance!” and washing his magical eye when Harry is around. They are all bound by some unspoken agreement Harry is not privy to but everyone else is, and it hurts when even Ron, Harry’s best friend in the world, treats him differently, keeping him at arm’s length and constantly exchanging nervous glances with Hermione.
Hermione. She is the only one Harry smiles at, because he feels she is the only one who meets his eyes, who doesn’t look as if there is yet another deep dark secret lurking beneath the surface. She is the only one who says Sirius’s name.
On that first night, they sit around the kitchen table, holding out their plates so Molly can ladle out her latest culinary creation, something to do with pasta. He takes in the scene, drinking it in, because unhappy as he may be, he is still away from the Dursleys. The light from candles, sconces and wand-tips is predominantly yellow; it gives the room a cosy, comfortable feel. All around the table, eyes shine as they reflect that light, and Harry looks at each person in turn, carefully avoiding the gap where Sirius should sit.
There’s Ron, carefully untangling spaghetti from his fork, there’s Moody, sniffing his plate with an expression of great suspicion, and there’s Arthur Weasley, pouring wine into goblets for himself and Tonks. After a moment of consideration, he turns and offers some to Hermione, who is surprised but accepts. There’s Hermione herself, returning Harry’s gaze with a raise of her eyebrows and a playful grin, and there, next to her, is…
Harry hadn’t noticed before. He suddenly feels angry with himself for forgetting. Lupin is leaning back in his chair, sitting at an angle to the table. He is apparently not eating anything, for his hands are under his head, threading through his shaggy hair, and his eyes are half-closed. Harry looks at him for a few moments, but he doesn’t move, and in the end Harry turns back to his plate.
Moody always finishes eating first. It comes from a lifetime as an Auror, he says. He can never linger over a meal for fear of being called out by the Ministry in the middle of it. So when Molly asks for help in clearing up, he volunteers, as do Tonks and most of the children. Harry gets up, determined to show he can make himself useful, and he goes along the table, picking up the unused cutlery and giving it to Hermione to put away. Lupin turns at the sound of his untouched knife and fork being picked up, and looks up at Harry with dazed, heavy-lidded eyes. Harry smiles briefly, conscious that he has startled Lupin, but neither says a word to the other.
The twins mutter spells that get the dishes washing themselves in the sink, and with a general nod at everyone, they depart. Moody and Tonks have already gone. Ron follows, glancing back for Hermione and-
“Harry.” Lupin’s voice, soft and dignified, has not changed.
With a subtle push, Hermione has manoeuvred Ron out of the door and gone through it herself.
Harry turns and walks over to Lupin. Molly wrings out the dishcloth, mutters dark threats about early bed for Ginny, and leaves them to it.
“Professor Lupin?” Harry asks, standing awkwardly to one side.
“Call me Moony, Harry,” says Remus gently. He has risen to a point where he is no longer afraid.
Presently, he begins to speak.
– – – – – –
Hermione does not stand at the door and listen. She waits until later that night, when Ginny is asleep on the other side of the room, and it’s the easiest thing for her to get out of bed and pad silently out into the corridor. The room next door is a mirror-image – on the far side, Ron will be curled up in bed, sleeping soundly. Hermione waits for the one who occupies the bed closest to the door, and listens.
She stays there for fifteen minutes, just listening in the darkness. As she stands there, it occurs to her that she’s never heard Harry cry before.
But the same goes for Lupin, and now she doesn’t know why that thought came into her mind. Lupin is an adult…
(in three weeks’ time, she will be, too)
… and Harry, with or without his hero-complex, is still a child with no parents left. She knows his pride; he doesn’t know she’s standing here, and if she has her way he never will.
For a moment, she lets her thoughts settle somewhere else. An ordinary Muggle family with one daughter away at boarding-school a lot of the time, her own family at home in Cambridge, safe and solid and everlasting.
They’re not safe.
The thought crashes into her head with the weight of a tonne of bricks. On her own in the dark corridor, she stumbles slightly and puts her hand on the wall to steady herself.
Voldemort’s back. She knows it. She knows she, a Muggle-born witch, is not safe, and neither are her family, and neither is anyone she knows or has ever known.
Blinking, she goes back into the room she shares with Ginny and shuts the door. The sodium-yellow light from the streetlights outside guides to her bed, and although it is still August, she shivers as she snuggles down under the blankets.
A year from now, she will be here, in this bed, in this room, a member of the Order of the Phoenix.
But now, she dreams…
Dreams of being a witch, an adult witch, a grown-up (silly, childish word!) with her old friends. She dreams of them, standing straight and tall and proud, she and Ron flanking Harry as they have always done, only now they are not children chasing after stones and snakes, they are members of the Order, needed and trusted.
Her dreams do not show her the future – a little voice in her head would say she was hopelessly Mundane – but they twist and blend until she can see into the past. She’s only seen them when they were different, older; and yet, she knows just what they look like. They’re just her age, maybe a little older, and they are children – one with messy black hair and glasses, one with smooth good looks and classic features, one with long shaggy locks and clear amber eyes – and they’re in the Order, too, needed and trusted and… and…
And loved, she realises. Loved and lost so much that all three have died and tried to die of it.
But the past is gone, over and done with, and at the end of it, even Hermione’s subconscious is immensely practical. The dream moves on, back to herself, Ron and Harry, in the new Order of the Phoenix. In her sleep, she smiles.
At the last moment, green eyes become amber.
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