It was never enough.
Remus dropped the cigarette to the pavement. Another failed attempt at satisfaction… It had been a year now. A year of living like a slob in a filthy bed-sit in the East end with the London fog pressing up against his window at night. A year of nightmares and self-hatred and anger. A year of locking himself in an old bomb shelter every full moon, hoping that no hapless Muggle would manage to find his way down there. It had been a year since Lily, James and Peter had died and Sirius had gone to Azkaban for their deaths.
Remus had been utterly shocked when he had heard. It couldn’t be. They couldn’t be dead, and it couldn’t be Sirius. It was impossible; Sirius would never betray them! It didn’t make any sense…
And now Remus was all alone. He had no job; no one would hire a werewolf. He had tried a couple of Muggle jobs, but none of them had worked out. If it hadn’t been for the kindness of his parents he would probably have starved, but they gave him money, which he spent on the rent for his shitty little bed-sit, instant meals, fish & chips, booze and cigarettes.
He had started smoking because he thought it might calm him down. It hadn’t worked. Nor had random sexual encounters in the men’s rooms of pubs and queer clubs.
He walked into the pub and ordered a whiskey, which he downed rather quicker than was probably healthy. It didn’t matter. He was numb anyway. He had been over-stimulating his body for so long with alcohol and sex that nothing satisfied him anymore.
A man grinned at him from the other end of the bar. He had dark hair and blue eyes, and his face was reasonably handsome, though perhaps a bit scruffy looking, and he had a slight stubble. He was tall and powerfully built and, for a moment, reminded Remus of Sirius, though older; this man was probably in his late thirties. Remus emptied his glass to forget the thought.
Now the man was talking to the bartender, his eyes never leaving Remus. The bartender then mixed a dry martini and set it down in front of Remus.
“From that gentleman,” he said, pointing to the dark-haired man who looked like anything but a gentleman, considering his expression. Remus lifted his glass and gave the man a brief nod, before taking a sip. Not his favourite drink, but it would do. The best alcohol was free alcohol, after all.
The dark-haired man took his drink and his jacket and came over to sit in the seat next to Remus.
“I’m John,” he said, giving Remus his hand to shake. Remus shook it somewhat indifferently.
“Really? That’s my middle-name,” he told the man dryly.
“Ah! Quite the pair we are then. Johnny and Johnny! Another dry martini, please,” said the man, John, to the bartender. “Stirred, of course.”
A short silence followed, in which Remus emptied the rest of his drink.
“You’re not having that?” asked the man, pointing to his olive.
“Not that fond of olives.”
“Even when soaked in vermouth and gin? Here, try.” The older man took the toothpick with the olive out of the glass and brought it to Remus’ lips. He opened his mouth and pulled it off the stick with his teeth. The man smiled. “See? Not so bad, was it?”
Remus shook his head and swallowed.
“How old are you, boy?” asked the man.
“Twenty-two,” Remus replied.
“Really? I would have guessed you at thirty at least! What would you like to drink now? Another martini? Or a whiskey, perhaps?”
“Whiskey would be good,” said Remus, forcing another smile. The man’s so-called compliment was less than flattering, his flirting clichéd at best. His pleasant manner wasn’t entirely convincing and his smiles didn’t truly reach his eyes, but Remus wasn’t looking for romance.
“Whiskey for my friend, then! The Grouse ought to do. Make it a double. No ice.”
The man glanced at Remus. “Where did you get those scars?”
Remus shrugged. “Here and there,” he said evasively.
The man nodded. “I’ll bet you have lots of scars I can’t see…”
Two more whiskeys followed, and Remus’ head began to feel very light. The man was still sipping the same dry martini, making polite small talk and buying Remus drinks. Remus didn’t mind. The alcohol was making him dizzy and dull, removing all clarity of thought. He knew where this encounter would lead in the end, and it was what he wanted. Another addiction to be fed.
“Last orders,” the bartender announced.
“Ah, we should probably call it a night, then,” said the man. “Would you like to come to my place for a coffee, Johnny?”
“I would indeed, Johnny,” Remus replied, slurring ever so slightly.
The flat was well-furnished if a little dingy. There was no coffee. Instead there were quick, fierce kisses, the unbuttoning of shirts, Remus unbuckling the older man’s belt…
“In that much of a rush, are you?” the man murmured, grabbing Remus’ wrists to stall him. “I do have a bedroom.”
“No. Here. I need it now.”
The man, whose name had already escaped Remus’ drunken mind, didn’t argue, but instead pushed Remus against the wall, belly first, both of his wrists in the grasp of his left hand.
Remus felt all the muscles in his body clench. He heard the other man’s moans, but he felt nothing. It was like he was dead, incapable of sensation but wanting it so… Why couldn’t he feel anything?
“Relax,” the man groaned. “It’s too tight.”
But Remus’ clenched muscles wouldn’t let him relax. There was no release.
Too soon it was over, and the man released his wrists and meant to pull away, but Remus grabbed his arm. “No! Don’t stop yet!”
“Sorry, all out of juice.”
“Please!” Remus pleaded desperately, his eyes darting back and forth. The faded floral wallpaper turned into a blur of brown and grey and he began to feel nauseous. “I need to feel… If you go just a little deeper, just a little longer, I’m sure I’ll feel something… Please!” He felt hot tears on his cheeks and choked back a sob.
“What’s the matter with you?” The man sounded vaguely annoyed. “Are you crying? Shit, I hate seeing a man weep. Stop that!” He tore his arm from Remus’ grip and stepped back.
Remus slumped to the floor. The tears wouldn’t stop coming. He felt utterly numb; he couldn’t even feel the pain.
“Sirius…” he whispered. “Please don’t leave me.”
“What are you on about? Ah, fuck it… Get your clothes back on and leave. I didn’t sign up to take care of a head case.”
Remus walked home. It was cold, but he didn’t care. He vomited twice on the way. Back in his bed-sit he sat down on the bed. It was five o’clock in the morning. He looked out of the window onto his depressing view of the polluted River Thames, lit by a few dim street lamps.
He rested his head in his hands. He felt like he was reaching the end of his rope. The uncertainty, the guilt, the anger, they were all accumulating into this massive ball of self-hatred, numbing his senses and his mind. The pain was gone, but so was everything else.
He stood up and went over to the mini-fridge in the corner. Damn, he didn’t have any beer. In fact, the fridge was nearly empty. He had a feeling he should eat something, as it must now have been at least twelve hours since his last meal of junk food, but he just felt sick. He went back to his bed and lied down.
Sirius’ face swam before his eyes, bright and smiling, just as it had been. It had been a year… Was Azkaban torturing Sirius’ guilty conscience? Or was his conscience not guilty? If he was capable of betraying his best friend like that, maybe he had lied about everything else as well. Maybe he had used them all. Maybe he had used Remus…
Remus felt like he should be crying again, but nothing came. There was only more black emptiness pressing at his cold heart. If Sirius had only used him, to hell with it all. Sirius could rot in Azkaban then, for all he cared…
So why couldn’t he feel anything? He couldn’t move on. He couldn’t even be angry. There had never been an affirmation of love between them. It had been nothing like that. It had been passionate nights and sleepy kisses, happy exhaustion, fierce devotion, but never once had they mentioned love. Perhaps that was why he couldn’t hate him either…
“How are you, Remus?” The words were spoken quietly. The old man had a glint in his eye, as usual, and a sad smile on his lips. Remus didn’t answer. “I know how this must be difficult for you,” he went on. “It has been over a year, yet time has been unable to dull your pain. Losing your friends, the ones you cared for the most, so suddenly at such a young age… It would break anybody’s heart. Tea?”
Remus had been looking out the window at the lightly falling snow. It wasn’t cold enough to stay on the ground in London yet, and frankly what fell there was more like half-solid rain, but up in the Highlands the hilltops were covered with the stuff, and the Hogwarts courtyard was white with frost. Upon Dumbledore’s offering of tea Remus turned his face to look at his old headmaster.
“No thank you,” he spoke.
Dumbledore flicked his wand. The teapot rose from the table and poured some more into his own cup. He lifted it, taking a sip, and sighed contentedly before glancing up at Remus’ face.
“You have a new scar,” he noted.
“Yes,” Remus said simply. It was right above his left eyebrow. He must have got it while transformed. It didn’t matter. He got new scars all the time. None of them mattered.
Dumbledore peered at him analytically over the edges of his spectacles for a few moments before speaking again. “I am sorry there is nothing much I can do to help you heal. I understand you are having troubles finding a job?” He waited. Remus said nothing. “If I could I would get you a job here, but I’m afraid it would be rather inconvenient and might cause problems with concerned parents. They’re having enough difficulties regarding Hagrid.”
“I know,” Remus said an stood up. “Thank you for inviting me. I should leave now.” He headed towards the door.
“Is there anything you need?”
Remus halted. “No. I’m fine.”
Another night, in another pub. More whiskey. The taste wasn’t bad, and it worked fast, but he got no enjoyment out of it.
It was Tuesday and a quiet night at the bar. Few customers milled around; only those held fast in a drunken stupor kept Remus company tonight. Therefore Remus noticed at once when the door to the pub opened and cold November air rushed inside. He didn’t look to see what it was, though, and instead emptied his glass and ordered another one.
Someone sat down next to him. “Irish coffee, please,” said a familiar voice and Remus looked up.
“Snape!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
Snape turned his head and looked at him. “Well, if it isn’t Lupin!” he retorted in mock surprise.
Remus looked away. The bartender brought them their drinks and both men sat drinking in silence for a while. Finally, Remus spoke again.
“So, why are you here?”
“To end up in a drunken stupor and eventually kill myself. But wait! That’s the sort of thing you’re doing these days.” Snape took another sip of his coffee and grimaced. “I suppose it would be too much to ask for you to believe I was just passing through.”
Remus snorted. “You could say that.”
“I thought as much. It was Dumbledore.”
“No surprises there. You really are in his pocket, aren’t you? And I thought you were a Death Eater.”
“I was,” said Snape, rather more truthfully than Remus would have expected.
Remus glanced at him a little curiously. This honesty was highly unusual, as was Snape’s not cursing him. Somehow, for the first time in a very long time, something stirred in him. He looked away and sipped his whiskey. “So Dumbledore asked you to find me and see how I was, since I wouldn’t divulge anything to him?”
“Something like that. He thinks you’ve fallen into despair over the deaths of your friends. He thinks your losses have made you lose your way.”
“That’s bollocks,” said Remus and shook his head.
“I know,” Snape concurred. “Dumbledore, for all his cleverness, is quite wrong. You see, it’s not the death of Pettigrew and the Potters that bother you. It’s Black.”
The something that had stirred stung and, more quickly than Remus could control, rushed to the surface. Perhaps fuelled by the alcohol he had consumed, he stood up and banged his fist on the counter. “How dare you?” he uttered in a deadly whisper. Then, louder, “How DARE you assume you know anything at all about me?” His breath came fast and hard and he glared angrily at Snape.
The pub grew quiet. The bartender’s eyes narrowed as he eyed Remus in his drunken fighting pose. An old drunk who had been dozing in a corner lifted his head and slurred, “You tell ‘im!”
“Sit down, Lupin,” said Snape calmly. “Your reaction merely confirms what Dumbledore never realised, but which I saw every day.”
Remus’ entire body shook as he sat down. The bartender continued his duties and the customers who had been hoping for a fight looked away in disappointment and resumed their conversations.
“You don’t know me,” Remus whispered. “Nobody does.”
Snape emptied his cup and stood up. “Come on,” he said. “This place is truly shoddy, even by your standards; they can’t even make a decent cup of Irish coffee. Come with me.”
“Why should I?” Remus growled.
“Because you want to.”
The walk to Charing Cross Road was short. It had been a long time since Remus had last seen any significant amount of wizards at the same time. The Leaky Cauldron was filled with people wearing traditional robes, smoking pipes and drinking steaming wine, warm beer, or Firewhiskey. Remus felt out of place in his Muggle clothes.
Snape walked over to the bar. “A room, please.”
The barman, Tom, smiled. “You staying the night, Snape?”
“No, just for the evening. I have to be back at Hogwarts to teach in the morning.”
“Right, right…” said Tom and fished a key off a hook. “Anything you’d like?”
“I believe a pot of coffee would do this one some good.” Snape looked pointedly at Remus, who looked away. “Two cups.”
The two men walked up the stairs and entered the room. They sat down at the spindly table in the middle of it, a pot of coffee appearing immediately between them. It was chilly, but there was a merry fire crackling in the fireplace and the chairs were comfortable. Remus drank his coffee. He was beginning to feel the onset of a headache and knew the whiskey was wearing off, but thankfully the caffeine started to work almost at once. He lit a cigarette.
“There are far better, and less disgusting, ways to poison oneself,” Snape sneered. Remus glared at him.
“Why do you care?”
“I don’t care to contaminate myself just because you insist on committing slow suicide.”
Remus rolled his eyes and put out the cigarette. He was painfully aware of the pack in the pocket of his leather jacket and his hand twitched slightly. He tightened it into a fist.
“Do you really think you can save me?” Remus asked.
“No,” came the reply.
“Then why the fuck are you here? Just because Dumbledore asked you to?”
“That’s right,” said Snape. “Perhaps he thought you would be more likely to open up to someone your own age. Maybe he thought I would understand you.” The sarcasm in his tone was evident, and did nothing to lighten Remus’ spirits.
“Well, he was wrong, wasn’t he? How could you possibly understand me? How could you ever understand what I’m going through? No one could!”
This time it was Snape who raised his voice. “Do you really think you’re the only one who’s lost someone? Do you honestly believe that no one else has experienced similar losses to yours?” His black eyes filled up with rage as he spoke. “Don’t you dare presume you’re the only one who suffers!”
Remus stood out of his chair and shouted, “What losses can you speak of? You fought for the murderers!” He grasped the wand in his pocket.
“And I changed sides!” Snape retorted, standing up as well. He slammed down his cup onto the table and the handle shattered. “What do you know of my losses? You’re selfish, Lupin! You think everything is about you, and you can’t bear to move on because you enjoy the taste of your own tears!”
“How could anyone enjoy not feeling anything? You have no idea what my life has been like!”
“Do you want to feel something? Then face the facts! Pettigrew and the Potters are dead. Black betrayed them, and he betrayed you, and he will rot in Azkaban for the rest of his life for it!”
They stood opposite each other for several moments, both glaring and breathing heavily. After what felt like an eternity Snape turned away angrily, heading towards the door, and Remus blinked. He stepped away from the table and sat down on the bed.
“What’s the point in even trying?” he whispered. “I’m barely alive anymore.”
Snape stopped and turned back around. Their eyes met, and for a moment Remus felt like he was being pierced. The dark eyes were filled with a mix of anger, sorrow, regret and defeat. Snape sighed and came back to him, sitting down beside him on the bed.
Neither of them said anything. Remus took a deep breath, becoming strangely aware of the scent of coffee mixed with herbs; Snape was a Potions master now, after Slughorn’s retirement. He glanced sideways at him, at the hooked nose and pale skin, and the black eyes met his again. Remus distantly remembered a Severus many years younger, one who had so frequently had his nose buried in a book, much like Remus himself; one whose eyes had been filled with defiance and pride, rather than sorrow and defeat. An overwhelming need for closeness came over Remus and without thinking he leaned over and pushed Snape down into the bed. He straddled his hips and began to kiss his neck. Snape grabbed hold of his wrists, hard, and pushed him away.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he snarled.
Remus stared at him, wide-eyed. He wasn’t sure of what, exactly, he had expected, but it wasn’t this.
“I…” He bit his lip and looked away, unable to say anything more. He felt suddenly ashamed. Was this what he had become? Some sort of nymphomaniac, unable to think of anything but sex?
“You stupid bugger,” Snape muttered through gritted teeth. “Get the hell off me.” He gently pushed him off and sighed. Then he stood up and headed for the door again, this time with less conviction.
“Please don’t leave me!” Remus whimpered pathetically. “Don’t leave me alone…”
Snape turned around, and once again their eyes met. There was something in that look, something unidentifiable, like the whisper of something lost, and it seemed to burn Remus’ very soul. Snape took a few tentative steps back towards him. Remus closed his eyes as a hand reached out to touch his face. He felt Snape’s fingers brush his forehead, lightly caressing the new scar, the one above his eyebrow, and drew in a sharp breath; he felt as though someone had struck him and kissed him, all at once. His muscles clenched again and his body felt like it was about to break into a million pieces.
And then, sweet release! Everything just loosened up, a thousand unwept tears pushing forth down his cheeks; a feeling in the pit of his stomach expanding and growing until he felt his chest shatter, his heart pounding with two hundred beats per minute…
He shook and then began to sob uncontrollably. He turned his face away, covering his mouth as though trying to stop the sobs.
“Go home, Lupin,” said Snape softly, sitting down at the table again. His tone was firm, but not unkind. Remus tried to acknowledge the words in some way, but couldn’t stop the sobs for long enough to make another sound.
Snape stayed there until Remus’ sobs had ceased, and then stood up. “I have to leave,” he said. “Work in the morning.”
There were no more words exchanged between them. The next time they were to meet was nearly eleven years later, and none of them ever mentioned the incident. However, Remus could not be rid of the feeling of Snape’s touch on that scar.
It had been a single act of kindness that had brought him back from the borderline, and Remus would never forget it.