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Absence is Constant

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Sirius’s eyes flicker open and he glances at the clock on the wall in front of the bed – 2:30AM. He sighs lightly, trying to figure out what woke him. It’s not Remus: Remus is sleeping soundly beside him, fingers curled into the crook of his neck. He looks out the window at the waning moon and worries his bottom lip between his teeth. He feels slightly apprehensive and uncertain but tries to brush it off, burying himself deeper under the covers and closer to Remus.

Half an hour later, Sirius is lying on his back, his eyes wide open and staring unblinkingly at the ceiling. He can’t shake the static in his head, like a message interrupted by white noise, a secret spilling forth through gritted teeth, and Sirius bolts upright. He looks at Remus worriedly, but Remus is fast asleep (the effects of a sleeping draught after a long and painful transformation; the war doesn’t give the Marauders much opportunity to be there for him as much as they’d have liked), and he slips carefully out of bed.

He realises this could be a false alarm, that this bond he has with James (composed of weaving enchantments and strands of magic; a friendship that runs deeper than blood) could be going awry and there’s no need to be worried. But there’s a twisting of his gut that makes it painfully clear that something is not right.

He fumbles through the clothes strewn haphazardly throughout the room and finds a pair of jeans, cursing quietly as his foot gets stuck in the leg of tight denim. He retrieves a t-shirt and pulls it on, grabbing his wand from the bedside table.

He’s afraid, nervous tremors are shaking his body to the bone, but he knows what he must do if he finds that the Fidelius Charm has been broken. He knows that someone else must die tonight and his heart feels heavy as he stumbles to the other side of the bed.

“Remus,” he whispers, half-wishing Remus would stir, blinking sleepy eyes up at him in confusion, so he could share this burden that has been troubling him for ages now (this apprehension he’s feeling confirms he’s wrongly been mistrusting Remus, been pushing his lover away for no reason). He brushes stray strands of hair from Remus’s peaceful face and presses a quick kiss to Remus’s mouth, brushing his lips across his scarred cheek.

“I’m sorry, Remus,” he murmurs, staring at the young man affectionately. “I hope you can figure out the truth eventually and that you can forgive me for being so afraid to trust you.”

He kisses Remus one last time, eyelids fluttering closed, letting his lips linger for a moment. He turns away quickly, afraid that any longer and he will be too hesitant to leave Remus’s side now that he knows the truth. He slips out of the flat with stealth and ease; both skills he’s gained from months of Auror training, months of fighting in a war that’s only now leading him down the path to defeat.

He takes one last fleeting glance at the grey-slab building he’s called his home for the past year and a half, says a silent prayer for Remus as he slings a leg over the seat of his motorbike, kick-starts the engine and flies the bike into the starless night sky.

***

The sun rises cautiously over the horizon and bathes his room in faint golds and reds; he can feel the warmth creeping over his tangled sheets and shafts of light run like roads across his bare chest.

Wake up. It’s time to wake up.

Remus groans and shoves his head beneath his pillow, blocking out the light because he’s definitely not a morning person (and maybe his lycanthropy has something to do with the way his body craves the pull of the moon and the dark sky that hides his secrets like Pandora’s Box). Next to him, the bed is cold – even the warmth of the sun cannot compensate for the warmth of a body – and Remus’s eyes squint at the faint outline that remains as an impression in the mattress.

Remus blinks once, twice, and sits up, running a hand through his morning-mussed hair.

“Sirius?” he calls.

There is silence. There’s no clanking of pots and pans in the kitchen or the heavy sound of bare feet stumbling wearily through their flat, tripping over stray shoes or stubbing sensitive toes on their couch.

Remus untangles from his sheets and rolls out of bed, staggering a bit as his ankle gets caught. He pads softly out of the bedroom, pyjama bottoms slung low around his hips, shivering slightly as he leaves the warmth of the sunlight and enters the kitchen.

There’s no note from Sirius, and Remus feels his stomach coiling like a rope, like a noose around his neck, because Sirius would never leave the flat without telling Remus. Even when they had to go on separate missions, Sirius would rouse him to press a kiss to the back of his neck, murmuring his goodbyes against pale expanses of skin.

Things have been strained lately between the two of them; mistrust and accusations spreading like a crack in their foundation, in between whispered promises of forever and I love you. But they hadn’t argued in days and Remus is pretty certain Sirius would have made a big spectacle about leaving, about saying goodbye, because that’s just who Sirius was. This quiet departure feels too sudden and it almost cuts deeper than any angry words ever could.

He is perplexed and nervous, worry fluttering like butterflies in his stomach, crawling like bile up his throat. He puts the kettle on and pulls a mug from the sink, inspecting it to ensure that it’s clean (it wouldn’t be the first time Sirius has forgotten to do the dishes) and prepares to make himself a cup of tea to calm his nerves.

He walks back to the bedroom as the water boils and rummages through the pile of clothes by the door to pull out a semi-clean t-shirt that he slips on, black cotton hiding scars and bruises (not all of them are from the werewolf, he thinks with a sly grin). The kettle whistles sharply and Remus wanders back into the kitchen to fill his mug with hot water.

When his tea cools a bit, he cradles the cup in his hands and curls up on the couch, his eyes trained on the door, his ears straining desperately to hear Sirius’s footsteps on the stairs or the jangle of keys as Sirius tries to pull them from his too-tight jean pocket. There’s nothing but an eerie silence that suffocates and lingers heavily, like humidity on a mid-summer’s day.

Remus sighs and takes a sip of tea, wincing as he feels the hot liquid burn his tongue, his throat, as it settles like a pool of warmth in his stomach. His head snaps back towards the door as he picks up on footsteps, but they’re too light, too precise to be the slow drag of Sirius’s feet across hardwood floors. Still, he puts his mug down on the table and stands up, stretching slightly before plodding over to the door, unlocking it to reveal a stately looking woman who’s holding a fist up, preparing to knock.

She startles slightly before regaining her composure. “Oh dear, Remus.” She shakes her head. “May I come in?”

Remus nurses his bottom lip between his teeth, torn with worry. He moves out of the doorway and ushers the witch inside.

Remus clears his throat as he shuts the door. “Have you seen Sirius today?”

Minerva’s eyes widen and her hands shake. Remus sees the sky in her eyes, sees the sadness, like rain clouds, darken the bright blue and he’s already falling away from her, from her outstretched hands that want to grab him and hold him (because he’s as much her son as they all are, they all were).

Remus doesn’t want to hear it, shakes his head adamantly because he knows what she will say, knows what the silence implies.

“No,” he whispers hoarsely. “Sirius did not betray them. He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t ever betray James.”

“I’m sorry, Remus. Lily and James…they’re dead. Harry, he survived. He’s gone to stay with his aunt and uncle in Surrey,” she pauses, thinks of how to word this so that Remus understands that their death was the cause of something wonderful, that something good has come from this tragedy. She settles for straight and to the point as she says, “Voldemort is defeated.”

Remus knows that he should feel a sense of victory, of hope for better days, but all he can feel is the devastating effects of absence as it rips through skin and sucks his youth from the marrow of his bones.

“I don’t care,” he finally says, the words tumbling quietly from his mouth. “It won’t…it won’t bring them back.”

Minerva kneels beside him and places a comforting hand on his shoulder. Remus flinches but doesn’t say anything as he tries to even out his breathing.

“Remus, Sirius...”

Remus scrambles up quickly at the mention of Sirius’s name and his fingers curl into tight fists, muscle pulling taut across his knuckles as they whiten. “Where is he?” he growls as sorrow gives way to anger. “I’ll kill him. I swear to God I’ll kill him.”

He’s halfway out the door before Minerva can wrap a restraining hand around his forearm. “He’s been taken to Azkaban, Remus,” she replies quickly. “Peter is dead. They found Sirius at the scene.”

Remus feels fingers wrapping tightly around his heart and squeezing, his lungs full with a black cloud of anger and distress and he’s finding it difficult to breathe, even more so than before. “What?” he sputters out.

She shakes her head and pulls a folded copy of The Daily Prophet from her pocket. Remus grabs it without hesitation, opens it and the front page picture makes the blood drain from his face.

Sirius is standing to the side of a deep crevice among pieces of rubble and cracked pavement as smoke rises, the suffocation of destruction hiding death beneath its billowing hands. There are Aurors everywhere, pulling at him and securing him as he stands there, laughing. Remus reads the familiar slump of his shoulders and the balling of his fists, though, and understands that there is mourning beneath the exterior madness and Remus feels his world crumble.

This was your undoing, he thinks bitterly. How could you? How could you grieve the death of those you killed, you spy, you traitor –

“Remus…” Minerva is hesitant as he falls apart before her.

“Just…don’t,” Remus interrupts, grief fracturing the anger that boils searing hot within his veins. He slumps against the wall in defeat. “I don’t need your sympathy.” He drapes an arm across his legs and rests his head on the wall behind him, not allowing himself to look at the witch who is clearly gazing at him with varying degrees of pity shadowing her face. “Just leave me alone.”

Minerva sighs but bows her head. “Floo one of us if you need anything,” she murmurs before exiting the flat, the door locking behind her with a click.

Remus rereads the Daily Prophet three times, lets the words tell him a story that he should have known the ending to long before it happened. Remus knew there had been a spy within the Order, someone who was sharing hideout locations and warning Death Eaters of planned raids, and everyone had their suspicions.

He knows Sirius isn’t a Death Eater: the only ink that marks his skin is the thin line of words that run across his wrist. The tattoo was something Sirius had done just after they left Hogwarts, a reminder to himself of the boy he once was, who had stepped out of the shadows of his surname to create a bond with three friends, a bond he promised to never break.

Before, Remus never really wanted to believe that Sirius could betray the Order by risking the lives of his friends and loved ones. But now after delivering the fatal blow by betraying James and Peter despite the promise he had made three years ago, Remus realises that perhaps a person’s loyalty to their family can never truly be broken.

He thinks it’s a bit ironic that Sirius’s tattoo reads: semper fidelis.

There is a war raging inside of him, a battle between anger and grief as his broken faith cripples him. He doesn’t cry; his sorrow will not tread through salinity down his scarred cheeks. But his hands shake and when he tries to hold his favourite mug to still the trembling of his fingers, he drops it on the linoleum floor and cuts his foot on the broken ceramic.

“Damn it,” he hisses, clutching his foot with his left hand and gripping the countertop with his right, keeping balance, remaining steady (the only sort of stability he can show right now; his world is tilting off its axis, teetering precariously on the edge).

With two swishes and a flick of his wand, the shards are being pieced back together and the wound on his foot is slowly healing. But loss, it isn’t so simple. There is no spell, no potion that can even attempt to mend the gaping wounds that tear and ache inside his chest.

***

The bedroom is bright, full of light and warmth as Remus collapses on the thin mattress, sheets twisted and tangled by his feet. He closes his eyes against the beating rays of the sun and it burns red imprints behind his eyelids. He sighs and gets up, drawing the curtains over the window to darken the room. He returns to the bed, tugging and pulling at the sheets until it’s somewhat straightened out and he curls up beneath cool linen.

The sheets and the pillows still smell faintly of Sirius, and Remus feels like he should be pulling them off the mattress in anger, in desperation. How could he have shared a bed with a traitor, a murderer? But the hint of spices and cigarette smoke that lingers lends him some momentary comfort and Remus wraps himself tightly in the blankets, cocooned away from the blinding sun. He squeezes his eyes shut to block out the onslaught of memories that threaten to overwhelm him. Clutching to the sheets enveloping him, he sighs and dispels his anger in a single breath, letting it dissipate like early morning dew.

This bed, it’s given him many happy memories (with five fingers splayed across sharp angles and planes, a compass that always points north, it was here that words of love were first exchanged between stolen breaths and shadowed glances) and comfort during times when his bones ached and were desperate for sleep. He’s too content to lie here and feel the mattress conform to his body, soothing the fury that runs like gasoline through his veins (give him a match to light the fire; he’ll burn too fast, too far).

Despite only waking a few short hours ago, Remus slips into a fitful sleep.

***

It’s dark when Remus’s eyes flutter open and he yawns widely, white teeth showing in the moonlight. There’s an arm wrapped protectively around his waist and he rolls over, smiling faintly at the other occupant of the bed. He runs his fingers lightly over the other’s face, tracing deep worry-lines and pressing feather-light kisses to his lover’s forehead, wishing he could ease the pain of whatever dream he was having. Eyelids snap open and cold, steel grey locks onto soft, warm brown.

“Remus,” Sirius exhales, his fingers wrapping tightly around Remus’s wrist. “Remus.”

“It’s all right, Sirius,” Remus is murmuring reassuringly. “I’m right here.”

Sirius pulls him closer so that they’re flush against one another and holds him there tightly, burying his face into the junction between Remus’s neck and his shoulder.

“I thought I lost you,” Sirius admits, his voice meek and muffled by cotton and skin.

Remus’s lips pull upwards into a comforting smile as he kisses Sirius’s temple. “I’ll never leave you,” he promises, conviction reflected in the curve of his fingers as he twines them with Sirius’s.

“You know I love you, right?” Sirius asks, looking at Remus earnestly.

“I know.”

And he does, because those three words, they don’t leave Sirius’s mouth lightly, not without meaning and sincerity. Remus knows that too often Sirius’s heart had been tossed around by vicious girls and teasing boys. Now, in the hands of the one person who’s wanted it for years, love finally means something to Sirius, and he’s not willing to let it go without a fight.

“Good,” Sirius begins with a grin, “because I do, a lot.” And he wraps a hand around the back of Remus’s neck and pulls him in for a slow, tender kiss. When they pull apart, Sirius rests his forehead against Remus’s and murmurs, “Don’t ever forget it.”

Remus’s smile is wide and bright and he thinks he could light the room. He kisses Sirius again, quick and a bit sloppily. “I couldn’t possibly forget.”

They both sit upright when they hear a slight shuffle from the other end of the room. Remus’s eyes, extraordinarily keen at seeing in the dark, can distinguish the outline of a figure hovering in the shadows by the doorway.

“Who’s there?” he calls out, fumbling for his wand on the bedside table.

Sirius’s reflexes are quicker than his and he already has his wand clutched between his fingers as he mumbles ‘Lumos!’, illuminating every inch of the room. They both jump out of the bed.

“Peter? What are you doing here?” Remus says, moving around the bed to stand close to Sirius. “Is everything all right?” His brow is furrowed in confusion as he can’t remember hearing a knocking at the door and his cheeks are slightly reddened, knowing that Peter had just watched him and Sirius kiss.Peter is standing by the doorway with muddied trousers and long, knotted hair. He’s trembling, the wand in his hand shaking with every inhale and exhale, and his eyes are wide with fear.

“I’m sorry,” he’s sobbing, tears spilling like prayers from the mouths of saints. “I’m sorry. It has to be done.”

Sirius looks back at Remus, uncertainty and wariness etched clearly in the quirk of his eyebrow and the slight pull of his lips. He moves towards Peter, a hand outstretched to clasp him gently on the shoulder, but Peter shies away and points his wand at Sirius.

“Don’t,” he hisses, wiping his eyes with the back of his arm. “Don’t touch me. I can’t…you can’t.” He’s muttering to himself and Remus can only catch half-phrases and stuttering apologies.

“What has to be done, Peter?” Remus asks, standing behind Sirius now, his free hand wound tight around the cotton of Sirius’s sleeve, grasping at comfort.

Peter shakes his head and he’s still trembling, still weak. But he’s smiling now, grinning, and Remus’s heart stops beating as he thinks, ‘When did malice creep in?’ Because there it is, glinting in Peter’s watering eyes as his fingers tighten its grip on his wand, which is pointed directly at Sirius.

“It has to be done,” Peter repeats and before Remus can even move, he screams ‘Avada Kedavra!’

There’s a bright flash of green and the sound of a body crumpling and Remus can’t even process the thoughts that are dashing wildly through his mind as he looks at Sirius’s lifeless body in horror. Peter whimpers next to the doorway and Remus’s head snaps up and he grits his teeth. He’s raising his wand before his mouth can even form around a word but he’s too late. Even his adrenaline isn’t quick enough to out-duel Peter’s determination. He sees a flash of green and all falls silent.

***

Remus bolts awake and he exhales noisily as the blankets pool around his waist. His shirt is sticking to him uncomfortably, the fibres soaked with sweat. His heart is racing in his chest and he can hear it dully in his ears, can feel his pulse thump, thump, thumping against his skin. Sunlight is spilling through the cracks in the curtains like honey and Remus rubs his eyes wearily.

Random clips from the dream he has just had keep flashing before his eyes. The actual dream itself is slipping slowly out of his memory’s grasp, fading away like the outgoing tide, but he remembers Peter standing there with a haunted look on his face as Sirius falls to his knees. At this, Remus’s heart clenches and he has to close his eyes to prevent himself from crying, to remind himself that it wasn’t real.

Peter is dead now and Sirius is in Azkaban. That’s what is real, what takes up the entire front page of the Daily Prophet for days on end (Peter will receive the Order of Merlin and Sirius, he won’t even get a trial; there’s no pity for the man who killed not only his friends, but a dozen innocent Muggles as well). The truth is harsh and hollow, but it’s not some silly nightmare that still claws at Remus’s heart – to remind him what it would have felt like if Sirius had died instead.

He thinks it’s a good thing then that Sirius is in Azkaban. He doesn’t know if his heart could’ve taken it. As it is, it palpitates unevenly within his chest, stricken and trembling with grief.

Remus isn’t sure how long it’s been since he’s left his bed, if only to use the bathroom. He hasn’t showered and his hair is greased and matted. He grimaces when he looks at himself in the mirror and wonders why he’s let himself get this far. He undresses and steps into the shower, scrubbing at his skin harshly as though trying to peel the grief off of him. The shower is invigorating and he feels slightly better. As he’s pulling on some sweatpants, he tenses when he hears the faint click and creak as his front door swings open. He grips his wand tightly in his hand and stumbles barefoot out of his bedroom.

He blinks and lowers his wand. “What are you doing here, Molly?” he asks, wincing at how hoarse and dry his unused voice sounds.

All he can see of her is her bright red hair, pulled back into a messy bun, as she’s carrying a rather large grocery bag in her arms. She shuffles into his kitchen and begins pulling food out of the brown paper bag. The constant crinkling of the bag is grating but the sight of food causes Remus’s stomach to growl loudly. Molly smiles knowingly.

“I’ll have something whipped up for you soon. I can’t stay very long because Arthur’s got his hands full with young Ron and baby Ginny and you know the other boys are nothing but trouble. But I can’t very well let you starve to death, now can I?” she says brightly, bustling around the kitchen, putting groceries away.

She’s got a pot already sitting on the stove before Remus can even mutter a word and she’s fixing him a nice bowl of soup. He sits down at their small kitchen table, the wood feeling unfamiliar beneath hands that have been used to soft sheets for the past few days. When Molly places the steaming bowl of soup before him, he looks at her gratefully. With a flick of her wand, the pot is cleaning itself and she sits beside him, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“We’ve been worried about you, Remus,” she says softly. “No one’s heard from you in days. We know that you’ve been grieving but…this is unhealthy.” She runs a motherly hand through his still wet hair. “When’s the last time you ate?”

Remus shrugs as he spoons a mouthful of thick broth into his mouth. “Since Minerva came by,” he replies nonchalantly.

“Remus,” Molly sighs, shaking her head. “Well, I’ve brought you plenty of groceries so that won’t happen again. Start taking care of yourself, Remus. I know that your friends wouldn’t have wanted to see you waste away. You’re still young and full of life, don’t let this tragedy take that away from you.”

He stares at Molly carefully and guarded, can’t bear to tell her that it’s already started to make him feel old and weary and that she shouldn’t tell him how to deal with his grief. But he can see loss in the lines around her eyes and sometimes, sometimes he forgets that she’s already had to bury both her brothers.

“How’d you do it?” he asks her.

Remus watches the stretch of her cheeks and the flash of white as her lips curve up above her teeth in a brilliant smile and all he can do is offer up a small one of his own. She squeezes his arm and kisses his forehead. Remus can count the freckles that dot the bridge of her nose.

“Love, and the constant reminder that I’m never alone.”

Remus can see the mother in her shining bright, like a beacon for his lost soul and he’s scrambling towards her as quick as he can so that he doesn’t get left behind, dashed to bits on the rocky shore. Molly pulls him into a warm hug, rubbing soothing circles on his back.

“I have you,” he says, gripping her tightly and anchoring himself in the calm waters of her embrace.

“You have all of us,” she replies, her words offering him the world.

***

Remus’s feet drag along the pavement as he makes his way to the Rusty Anchor. He pushes the door open to reveal a hazy, dim interior, the quiet rumble of idle chat sounding like thunder in his ears. He hasn’t left his flat in weeks, never mind coming out to a pub, full of people. But Kingsley had stopped by the other day and offered to buy him a drink, to get him out of the flat and away from the spaces in his apartment where Sirius’s things had once been (Remus has slowly been putting them away in boxes to hide in the back of his closet).

It’s hard to miss the tall, bulky Kingsley and Remus spots him immediately upon setting foot inside the establishment. He makes his way over to the bar and slips onto a stool beside the other young man.

“Glad to see you could make it.” Kingsley’s voice is deep and rich, like thick chocolate melting on your tongue.

Remus shrugs. “Wouldn’t want to pass up an opportunity where someone else offers to buy the drinks.”

Kingsley gives him a sidelong glance. “Don’t expect to drink away your sorrows. I’m not that generous with my money. Maybe enough to get you a little tipsy, but that’s it.” He puts a hand up to beckon the bartender and orders two shots of firewhiskey.

The bartender places a glass in front of the two of them. Remus stares at the amber liquid in front of him, thinks of late afternoons spent curled up in bed with Sirius, bathed in the amber light of the fading sun, and takes the shot with a grunt as the liquor slides like liquid fire down his throat.

“I knew them too,” Kingsley says after downing his first shot. “Don’t think that you’re alone in missing them.”

Remus sighs and slams the shot glass down a bit too hard. “Is that why you offered to buy me a drink? To get me to talk about their deaths? I’m fine, Kingsley. I’m coping.”

“It’s not always about you, Lupin,” Kingsley says bitterly. “Maybe I need to talk about it too.” Another wave of the hand and two more shot glasses appear.

Remus is quiet, contemplative. “Oh,” he says after a few moments’ pause. “I’m sorry.”

Neither of them say anything for a while, just mull over their drinks, until Kingsley finally says, “Sirius, James and I used to come to this bar after training all the time. James never wanted to drink too much because he was afraid that Lily would make him sleep on the couch.”

Remus smiles faintly. “She always hated it when he got drunk. But she has a point – James could be a completely belligerent drunk.”

Kingsley snorts in agreement. Then he continues in a softer voice, “I liked Sirius. He was a good man, good Auror, he had a big heart. He talked about you all the time, you know.” Kingsley stares at him, gauges his reaction.

Remus swallows thickly. “Yeah? What’d he say?”

“A lot about love. I bet it’s hard to live with what he’s done. I can’t even understand…”

“Yeah,” Remus chokes out. “I don’t know. Sometimes, I don’t know.”

The alcohol, it doesn’t help him forget. Instead it reminds him of how lonely he really is, how those empty spaces seem to expand and fill places where objects, people once stood.

“I think…I think I might have to leave,” he stutters out suddenly, hands gripping the bar tightly, desperately.

Kingsley raises an eyebrow. “I’m still willing to pay for a few more shots.”

Remus shakes his head. “I mean, from England. I think I need to get away for a while and clear my head, try to forget about what’s happened, about some people. Start a new life.”

“At least stay and have one more drink with me, Lupin. Let’s have a toast to your new life.”

***

It’s nearly been twenty years since he last stood before this decrepit building with its low hanging sign and faded bricks. He finds comfort in the fact that the structure still remains, still stands despite the war that’s taken its toll on the surrounding areas. Remus pushes the heavy oak door open and steps inside the familiar pub. He limps over to an unoccupied stool and pulls himself up, wincing slightly as a sharp pain shoots up his leg.

“Firewhiskey,” he orders, his voice weary and helpless.

The bartender places the shot in front of him and then walks away, back to cleaning glasses and helping people forget about their miseries.

But Remus doesn’t come here to forget. He takes a shot of firewhiskey, downs it like water, and he remembers. There are ghosts of familiar faces sitting next to him, talking to him, sharing memories. Those empty spaces, they’re bigger than ever. It’s been years since he last saw Sirius, since he last touched those tender hands, grasping at them fruitlessly, trying to pull him back from beyond the veil. But the war, that’s just ended and there is blood still fresh on his hands, wounds still raw in his heart.

He feels old, worn down; he’s seen lifecycles. He’s seen the end of his generation, watched them fight and fall, but he’s also been present for the birth of a new era and the promise of a new beginning.

Things might be changing, Remus thinks, but he knows that the feeling of absence, of experiencing losses and gains, that will always remain constant.