Remus watched the rain fall on the sleeping streets of Dublin from the safety of some twenty-four hour café, the name of which he did not catch. He was soaked to the bone and equally chilled, but tried not to focus on it; there were more important things to worry about tonight and still more work to do before he could sleep. His blue, collared shirt clung damply to his skin in places, revealing some of the scars on his back to whoever might be looking. A large bruise was forming across the right side of his ribcage. He tasted blood.
The tiny café was nestled between a closed dry cleaner and a closed souvenir shop with fading shamrocks plastering the window. It was the neon “OPEN” sign that had caught his eye and made him aware of how violently he had been shivering. While staring in the window to see if it someone hadn’t just left the sign on by accident, he’d sneezed. That settled it; a dry spot and a cup of tea were in order and the sooner he could get those things the better, never mind the fact that the storm would be waiting just outside for him afterward.
When he shuffled into the café, Remus deliberately slung his bag over the back of a chair at a table facing the street so that he wouldn’t have to interact with any of the other patrons. Not that there were any other patrons at this hour of the morning. None that weren’t too drunk or otherwise intoxicated to notice one soggy man in a café, that is. Watching the rain, he wished ruefully that he had brought his wand along anyway, even if Fenrir had warned against it. My wand, he thought, or at least a decent cloak. He considered taking the notebook out of his bag and starting to pen the letter that needed to be written. Problem was: he couldn’t find the right words to describe the events he had witnessed that evening. Or, had he taken part?
A particularly perky waitress snuck up behind Remus with a steaming mug of water and a small basket of tea bags. “Is there anything else you need, sir?” she asked hesitantly. When he didn’t respond –didn’t even acknowledge her presence- she backed slowly away into the kitchen to continue gossiping with the only other girl working the graveyard shift about the moist and mysterious stranger.
Brushing a piece of damp hair from his eyes, Remus picked up his spoon and started stirring the contents of the mug without looking at it, instead watching as fat drops of rain fell past the streetlight and splashed down into a puddle, creating tiny patterns of ripples. A chill started at the base of his spine; someone was watching him. Remus stopped stirring and glanced over his shoulder at the two girls in the kitchen doorway. They giggled nervously and ducked back into the kitchen, leaving him staring confusedly at the door. What were they doing looking at him like that? He didn’t trust that no one was tailing him and the thing about magic was that it made surveillance easy if your mark didn’t know what to keep an eye out for. Luckily, he knew exactly what to keep an eye out for.
“Excuse me?” he said loudly enough to be heard through the thin door. His waitress popped her head into the room immediately, as if she had been waiting for his call. It was obvious that she was trying to keep a straight face as she approached, but was doing such a poor job of it that she practically bounced with blatant glee. Remus was almost convinced that she was just an ignorant Muggle. Still, it was better to be safe.
“What can I get for you, sir?” she asked, stifling a giggle. She smelled good: a combination of soap, fresh rain, and some kind of flower. He looked her up and down, taking in her pristinely pressed, white uniform shirt and black pants. Even the apron tied around her waist was almost too clean. She had pulled her hair, which was dark auburn in color, away from her face in some complicated clip that Remus didn’t dare try to figure out. He let his eyes rest on the nametag pinned to her chest.
“Jennifer,” he said warmly, looking her in the eye. He smiled -not letting his teeth show- in a way that he hoped looked friendly and not suspicious. “I forgot to ask for cream and sugar before.”
Her smiling lips quivered a bit. “It’s no problem,” she replied, placing a hand on his shoulder. “You might want to put a teabag in the water, though. Before it gets cold?” This time, Jennifer let a small, laughing breath escape her. Remus looked into his mug and realized that he had, in fact, had been stirring plain water. When he looked back, she had removed her hand and was already walking away, motioning wildly to her friend.
Remus looked back at the cup, wondering how he had missed such an important step in the tea making process and why that one spot on his shoulder was suddenly so warm, and when he looked up again, she was back with a small pitcher of cream, a bowl of sugar packets, and large stack of napkins. “There you are,” she said, setting everything down and smoothing out the first napkin on the stack. “If you need anything else, you know where to find me.” Remus nodded, noticing how fast she was breathing. She was clearly nervous. Someone under the Imperious Curse wouldn’t be that nervous. They also wouldn’t wink at him like that.
“Thanks,” he said, reassured that she wasn’t going to kill him, but still unsure of her attentions. She nodded briskly and stared him directly in the eye for a long moment. He cleared his throat and began turning back to his tea, hoping she would take the hint to leave him to his thoughts. A small squeaking sound escaped her throat and she hustled back again. Remus let his breath out through his nose slowly. What an odd girl. She obviously wasn’t under any kind of curse that he knew of, yet she acted so strangely.
The napkins were, he thought, a nice touch. He picked up the first from the pile and had it an inch away from his nose before he noticed the writing on the corner. Jennifer had scrawled her name and phone number onto the napkin, even using a cute little heart to dot her ‘i’. Remus squinted at the writing, finally putting the pieces together in his mind. She’d been nervous and giggling because…she liked him? She had laughed at him and then given him her phone number. Remus shook his head. Girls were confusing and, truly, more of Sirius’ area of expertise.
Either way, he’d received too much attention in the café, so, dropping a handful of coins on the counter, he braced himself, hands balled into fists in his pockets, and headed back into the deluge toward the hotel room he had been calling ‘home’. The sound of his own splashing footsteps was all he could hear apart from the rain and the gentle hum of electricity that ran through the wires overhead. Halfway there, Remus decided that he was not being followed and let himself relax. It was then that he realized that he was still clutching the crumpled napkin in his fist. A faint smile graced Remus’ lips. She had been a pretty girl, that Jennifer. I should call her, he thought, since I’m so sure she’s not tracking me. Just a shop girl, not a spy. We could go dancing or out for drinks or something. We could go back to her place afterward and then, who knows? She would probably taste like booze at that point and-
His eyes went wide and he stopped his forward motion and train of thought dead in their tracks. “No,” he said as if scolding a dog that had done its business on the rug. It had happened again. He hadn’t entertained thoughts like those for three years now and here he was making his night even worse without even trying. This was a setback he’d anticipated, however, as it was the same thing that had set him back since his days at Hogwarts. An internal dialogue he had practiced for years rolled through his head. You are stronger than the disease. You are more than a monster. You are a human being and you will act like one. The repetition relaxed him slightly and he pulled the napkin from his pocket. One last time, he gazed longingly at the numbers, remembered Jennifer’s sharp appearance and scent, and threw the napkin in a gutter. He’d almost had a chance, but the disease that poisoned his blood had ruined yet another good thing for Remus.
With a shiver, he continued down the street and tried to shake off the encounter. There were very few others out and about at –Remus checked his watch- three in the morning and he wondered silently how many were scarred and diseased like he was. A middle-aged woman ahead and on the opposite side of the street pulled her shawl tighter around her hunched shoulders, clearly trying and failing to keep out the rain. She walked with a slight limp. Even from here and through the rain, Remus could smell her fear. He stared, trying to catch her eye. It worked, however briefly, but she quickly looked away and doubled her pace, racing toward shelter. Perhaps, he thought, she had recognized something in him that they shared; a secret to be guarded with the utmost caution.
Or maybe she was just being eyed by some young punk in the middle of the night on an empty street, Remus corrected. There was no point trying to see his own suffering in the eyes of others and, while paranoia could sometimes help a man avoid the stickier of situations, it was mostly a distraction and an annoyance. Remus tried to think of some past words of advice from Dumbledore, but he came up empty and the process only furthered his frustration. Typically, a well-placed proverb from his old Headmaster and friend would serve to soothe him, but since leaving home, the only words Remus could recall the man saying were his parting words. Recalling the curt send-off, he set his jaw stiffly.
“You are not being exiled, Remus; you are simply needed elsewhere.” The man’s eyes had not met Remus’, which only fed the belief that Dumbledore was lying to him. An honest man would look you in the eye, he reasoned. And a wise man would know that sending you away from your friends -from Sirius, James, Lily, and even Peter- would destroy all that you’ve been working on for so long. Couldn’t he see that Remus would be just as much help in rooting out He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named as anyone else in The Order? Was it not apparent to him that he was as driven to destroy that force of darkness in the world as any of his peers were? Clearly, it was not as Remus was the only one in bloody Ireland.
Sometime amidst his angry musing, Remus had found is way back to his hotel. He shook the water off, spraying some nearby chairs. Chances were no one would be sitting on them in the very near future, so there was hardly any point in wiping them off. He wrinkled his nose. “Wet dog,” he said under his breath. The lobby was distinctly empty, not even a night manager at the reception desk unless he had just stepped away to use the relieve himself or accomplish some similar task and Remus could not help but imagine it as it was when he’d first checked in.
Ghosts of smiling, clearly vacationing people milled about. They chatted about the weather -which had then been sunny and clear at the time- or sipped on fresh coffee from the continental breakfast in the dining room. Children pressed their noses against a window of the tiny gift shop, hoping their mummy or daddy would notice how they longingly they looked after this item or that and surprise them with it before they left. A tour of Americans all wearing name badges and following an animated guide passed through him and went out the door to board their bus.
Remus blinked the ghosts away and was left alone in the lobby once again, the dim lights leaving the corners swathed in shadow. Fishing for his room key, he headed quickly toward the elevator before any more apparitions revealed themselves, and rode it up to the fourth floor. Remus winced in the bright light of the upstairs hallway. After the dim streetlights and the muted lamps in the lobby, his eyes were not adjusted to such intensity. As soon as he reached room 406, he closed his eyes tight and ducked into his room, blind. Barely thinking about it, he moved toward the bathroom, removing wet clothes as he went and leaving them lying on the floor.
Fortunately, the night light in the bathroom was enough to illuminate the room to Remus’ liking. Without turning on the big light above the mirror, Remus fiddled with the taps and started running a shower. After being so chilled by the rain and thoughts of home, a hot shower might take his mind off of things and perhaps even brighten his mood. A wry smile crossed his lips. How unlikely was that?
The water refused to compromise on a decent temperature, instead fluctuating between ‘fit to cool your beverage’ and ‘fit to boil a whole chicken’. Remus gave up and decided to attempt to boil away his troubles. The pipes screeched, provoking a flinch, but also obscuring the white-noise sound of the rain that had accompanied him on his walk back from the café and, before that, the meeting. Taking a deep breath of what felt more like steam than air, he stepped into the shower and let the water rush over his frozen body, thawing him out. Remus began rubbing soap carefully into his damaged skin, taking care to avoid the most recent wounds he had obtained that evening. Even if he was already healing (and healing is, in this instance, a loose description as he’d sport a cross-hatch of scars down his back, chest, and arms for the rest of his life), the soapy water might sting any wound still open.
Some of the tension he’d been carrying in his shoulders and even his jaw began to loosen as the water beat down on him and, for the first time that night, he was able to reflect upon the events of the evening with the sort of clarity he hadn’t known for several days. If he was meant to send word to The Order that night, he would need to be able to retell the story as accurately as possible; a feat almost unheard of by his kind. He closed his eyes, leaned against the tiled wall, and conjured the words he’d need to relay his tale.