For as long as he can remember, Remus Lupin has been coming to Mr. Fell's bookshop.
As a boy, his parents would visit a great-aunt in Soho weekly. Remus and Great-Aunt Maude, however, had never quite gotten along since an unfortunate incident involving her cat, an expensive porcelain teacup, tea and a beige rug, and his parents usually dropped him off at the bookshop ("I've known Mr. Fell since I was your age, son. Hasn't aged a day, that man. He'll seem a bit cold at first, but just let him know you aren't going to buy anything and you'll be alright with him.") for the afternoon. Remus would sit quietly in a corner in the shop's lone dusty armchair, and bury himself in one of the old books or rare first-editions while Mr. Fell sat behind his counter, reading or repairing a book in companionable silence.
Sometimes, when it was exceptionally cold outside, the book-keeper (Remus had only seen him sell two books in twenty years, and with such bad grace it was a wonder the customers hadn't caught fire) would let him sit in the back room and give him a mug of hot cocoa, and they would discuss books. Remus often wondered what Mr. Fell put in the cocoa; even his mother, child of a chocolatier, could not produce such rich, silky chocolate notes. He also wondered if Mr. Fell had been born middle-aged, and would go on looking that way, so that one day he'd bring his own son there to drop off while visiting an embarrassing relative, or perhaps to bail his friends out of Muggle prison, and Mr. Fell would be the one constant thing in a world of whirlwind changes.
He goes there by himself, during the long dog days of summer (and wouldn't Sirius be amused at what he considers his many namesakes), and finds that talking about life at a school of magic without talking about life at a school of magic can be remarkably easy.
During the long, long summer after sixth year (he'd told Sirius that he wasn't angry, which was true; he wasn't angry, just shocked and betrayed and hurt) he buries himself in the misprinted Bibles and first-editions and rare books, and has long conversations with Mr. Fell, who turns out to be surprisingly knowledgeable about history and religion. For a while the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Book of Kells and the writings of Dr John Dee calm him, and when he returns to Platform 9 ¾ he greets Sirius' nervous puppy-eyed look with his usual calm smile, as though nothing has changed.
But years later he cannot pretend, not with three of his best friends dead, Lily and James' son hidden after a Killing Curse meant for him had backfired, and his other best friend convicted of being behind all this. This time he can't clamp down his anger and betrayal, and when he finally walks back into the bookshop, strangely, Mr. Fell takes one look at him and doesn't say a word, and their usual silence continues. But Remus eventually leaves the shop feeling calmer, and the pain isn't so raw. The gut-wrenching guilt is lessened, as though he has found some sort of absolution in dust and crackly old paper and a soft smile.
On one of his later visits he is vacillating between the Iliad and the Divine Comedy when the shop bell tinkles; he turns, and his breath catches. The man walking towards the counter, looking out of place among the dust and books in his smart black suit, is not Sirius, but for a moment Remus thought he was. The same self-confident air, the same slight, justifiable swagger, the same slow smirk when he catches him staring, though it's hard to tell with those sunglasses.
He'd thought he had moved on but the sight of this man, so like Sirius and yet so different, perhaps what Sirius could be with a haircut and a tan if he wasn't in prison, opens old wounds, and he almost gasps at the bleeding. If James were here, he'd be poking fun at Remus' expression, but he isn't.
Mr. Fell comes out of the back room, looking surprised for a moment. "Oh. Hello, Crowley. Remus, this is my, uh, associate, Anthony Crowley. Crowley, this is Remus Lupin, I've known him since he was a boy."
"Good afternoon, Mr. Crowley," Remus murmurs automatically, and Anthony Crowley laughs and says, "Just Crowley will do."
Remus can almost see Sirius' knowing smirk, hear his, "Uh huh. I need an 'uh, associate' myself," as he shakes Crowley's strangely warm hand, and his not-entirely-human senses are on red alert, screaming, "Danger!" even though his eyes and mind say everything is normal. For a moment the man and wolf wage war within him, and he has the strangest feeling that Crowley and Mr. Fell both know he's not entirely human. It's been a few years, but he's never gotten used to being the centre of attention, without James and Sirius around to distract people. Sirius was good at distracting people from what was really going on.
It's been more than a year since his last visit thanks to his ill-fated job at Hogwarts, although these days he visits mostly for the company as most of Mr. Fell's stock has been replaced by rare first-editions of children's books; he remembers asking Mr. Fell about it, but strangely he can't remember the answer. Some of Mr. Fell's most precious original books are still there in the backroom, but Remus knows he'll never be allowed to touch them.
He makes oblique references to an old friend he hadn't seen in a while now staying with him, and then Crowley drops by to take Mr. Fell to dinner, and he remembers Sirius's emaciated body, his sunken eyes and hollow cheeks and pale, waxy skin; remembers how Sirius was muscled, once, from Quidditch, with sparkling eyes and tanned skin and a devil-may-care smirk, and when he looks at Crowley he tries to imagine Sirius without the nightmarish influence of Azkaban and falters. Sometimes he wonders about Crowley and Mr. Fell themselves, and how they always seem to see right through him.
He knows that really, he shouldn't leave Grimmauld Place for something so trivial, but how can he explain to Dumbledore and Moody and Sirius that Fell's Rare Books is so much more than a bookstore? How to justify the sense of calm that he himself cannot fully explain? So he goes there almost weekly. And after the events at the Ministry, after the St. Mungo's medics have treated the worst of his wounds and his werewolf metabolism has taken care of the rest, he Apparates to Soho, still feeling numb, and says only that his best friend's heart stopped (which, after all, it did, in a manner of speaking).
He goes through the motions of drinking tea like an automaton, and as he silently puts the cup down, Mr. Fell suddenly sighs and draws him into a hug. He inhales the smell of old paper and book-binding glue and, strangely, sandalwood, and the wool jumper is scratchy against his cheek, and through suddenly blurred eyes Mr. Fell seems almost to be glowing, damn those tears, and then there's a lump in his throat and the pain finally claws its way in and rips, and the tears spill over.
He makes sure to shave and look presentable before going. Mr. Fell's calm voice and the first-editions he has reacquired are such a contrast to the feral ways of the other werewolves he has been living amongst, and he actually feels more at home here than he does at the Burrow and his own shabby flat.
He stops there between missions and whenever he can get away from the werewolf pack, and he feels like a ship being tossed every which way by mile-high waves in a never-ending storm, but always having a little island with calm seas and clear skies to anchor at. He remembers how, as a child, he'd thought of Mr. Fell as the one constant in a world of whirlwind changes, and it is true; Mr. Fell hasn't changed a bit since he first met the bookkeeper as a little boy, while Remus himself has aged more than is his fair share.
Although the wizarding world is at war, somehow Remus feels that the little old bookstore in Soho is still safe and he continues to go there, removing his Disillusionment Charms outside the door even though he has a feeling Mr. Fell would see him for who he really is anyway.
He proudly shows Mr. Fell a Muggle photo of his son, taken when Teddy's hair was a passable shade of brown, and is shocked when as he is leaving, Mr. Fell presses one of the rare children's books into his hands "for when Theodore is older, dear boy", for he knows how the bookkeeper would normally hate to part with any book, but Mr. Fell merely smiles and tells him kindly but firmly to keep it and put that wallet away.
It's silly, he knows, and perhaps it's because he's a werewolf and magic permeates his very being, but as he looks down at his sleeping son he can't shake the feeling that he won't be returning from this battle. He's survived so many already. And he can't shake the feeling of impending doom; he refuses to let Nymphadora come along, and although he should go straight to Hogwarts, he has to say one final goodbye.
Mr. Fell looks up from his usual place behind the counter, but his usual calm smile is absent; he looks tired, and sad, and suddenly Remus is struck by the strong notion that he knows everything, what Remus is, and what he is going towards. His usual logic has gone out the window this night, it seems.
"I'm afraid I probably won't be able to visit anymore," he says quietly.
"I know," Mr. Fell replies softly. His next words should be unbelievable, but somehow Remus finds himself accepting everything calmly. "I keep telling myself not to grow close to mortals; you die so soon, almost in a blink, and yet it hurts. But there's just something about some of you that makes me care anyway." He presses Remus' hand. "It's been a real pleasure knowing you, dear boy. You've grown up delightfully."
And Remus nods, and knows that his earliest impressions were true; Mr. Fell will always look the way he does now, sitting there and hoarding his books and making divine hot cocoa; a guardian angel for shy, bookish boys, and their sons, and all of England. He wishes he could survive, and bring Teddy here, but somehow he knows he will not. Perhaps Teddy will find this place on his own, in time.
"Tell Crowley goodbye for me, Mr. Fell."
"I will. And by the way, it's Aziraphale." And Remus nods again.
"I have to go… Aziraphale. Thank you for… for everything."
And Mr. Fell – Aziraphale – nods and embraces him, and kisses his forehead lightly, and whatever residual fears or cowardly thoughts Remus might have been entertaining melt away. The Hat put him in Gryffindor for a reason, and he is going to return to the castle bravely and fight for absent friends, and a boy with a scar and another with colourful hair, and for the peace and calm he found in a little bookshop in Soho.
It's that memory of dusty books, of hot cocoa, of a plump, gentle bookkeeper with a wardrobe more atrocious than his own and even his serpentine companion, that Remus holds on to when he realises that Nymphadora has come anyway, and that the only way to save her from that Killing Curse is to take it himself, and as he leaps he feels no fear at all.
Dedicated to Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, James Potter and Lily Evans. And to books.