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Between the Grey Sky and the Bitter Sea

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Remus Lupin leans on the metal railing and watches the gulls.

The sky is grey, and the damp chill of the rail cuts through his shirtsleeves. The wind comes in rattling spates, driving spray into his face and making him duck his chin into his collar. The birds slide sideways in the gusts, their pale wings arched and shaking.

There's no rain yet, though the waves are choppy, and the windsurfers who were on the bay earlier have disappeared. There's still wrack on the shore from the storm two days ago, which is why he's here; that, and the storm has left him tentless, and while vanishing up into the hills has a certain appeal, he draws the line at being bedraggled.

None of which means he should be lingering here on the bluff top, as the gulls squabble over rotting jellyfish, watching the rain creep in across the open sea, and thinking, despite himself, of sailboats.

He was sick, the first time they took the boat out, and sunburnt afterward. He spent the entire trip hunched over the side of the boat, and made them all swear not to let on to the Potters, who would have told his parents. Peter was solicitous, glad not to be the one sidelined and useless, and free, in his relief, to be generous. James was impressed by the vomit.

The second time was easier.

He's not thinking about the last.

A vicious flurry breaks out below, gulls flapping and shrieking on the wet rocks, chasing one another in circles. The object of contention dangles from a beak, globby and unidentifiable.

He's meeting a young man and an old woman down the quay later, about a creature that washed up on the beach a few miles south, alive enough to be savage, and savage enough, he's told, to be Dark, though it's never been seen before, let alone studied. The beach has been quarantined; the Muggles think it's an oil spill.

He knows too much about dying animals to think this creature is anything other than unpleasant, but the woman already knows that he is a werewolf, and he knows too much about werewolves to think he will be believed. He ought to get dinner out of it, though, and, if he is lucky, they will let him examine the corpse and the poisoned sand. It might be enough for an article.

The gulls screech, raucous, and suggest an unfortunate analogy for scholarship.

A single sail still moves, slowly, a distant speck of red between the waves and the dark banded horizon. He thought it was another windsurfer at first, but it's much farther away than he realised; it has to be a boat. There are islands scattered out in the bay, he knows, rocky and desolate, but he can't see them for the lowering clouds.

He is concerned, he tells himself, about the weather. If the rain comes ashore too soon, it will be that much harder to get the Americans to take him to the beach where the creature washed up.

"Excuse me," a girl says at his elbow, "do you have the time?"

"Yes," he says to the curling waves; then, "Sorry." She's slight and anxious, in a cagoule and running shorts, tucked into herself against the wind.

His watch looks strange and too regular against his wrist, after the old uneven rhythms of the sea. "It's a quarter past three."

"Thanks," she says, and gives him a little look over her shoulder as she goes. There's a kind of girl that does that, here; he thinks it's the accent.

He smiles, vaguely, politely, and turns back to the gulls.

The day the storm rose they went sailing anyway, because they were both idiots then, when they thought they knew already the full measure of risk and adjudged themselves capable. James rolled over when they shook him awake, blinking between them and the rain-spattered glass, sleepy and skeptical, before pulling the pillow over his head, so the two of them set out to sea alone, and Remus was glad of that, his joy fierce as the storm, narrow as the deck. He remembers gripping tight as the boat plunged, rolling from wave to wave, the ropes straining in his hands, the wind howling past him, louder than his laughter.

That grin, then, and the dark hair plastered across high cheekbones.

It's the right month in the wrong year, the wrong accent, the wrong grasses on the bluff top, the wrong rocks jutting sharp and water-dark out of the waves.

Gulls, though, are more or less the same everywhere.

It's more fun in the rain, Moony.

He takes a step back. The battle over the dead jellyfish has been won and lost and abandoned. A gull, adult in size but still adolescent grey, sits alone on the water, and bobs as the waves run beneath it.

His hands are clumsy with the cold. He puts them in his pockets; turns; walks away.

He's never seen Azkaban, except in photographs, and he can no longer pretend he's not looking for it, dark in the distance, looming out of the wrong sea.