The blood is dark and thick against the pale rasp of his skin. He can’t stop staring at it; each drop is his lifeline and it is slipping away. He could save himself by covering it, by stopping, by holding his arm above his head to lessen the flow of blood. But what’s the point?
Someone would come to save him, anyway. Someone always did, no matter how minor the cuts were or how little blood was lost. It was as if the Dementors could smell the sharp scent of it, drawing them to him like a beacon in the dead of night.
For now, though, he cut. The scar tissue is old by now, the numbers forever etched onto his body. He knows what it would taste like - coppery and watery and happy. Each time that he cut, he forgets a little more about why he is doing it. He watches the meaning of what is scarred into his forearm bleed away. He should stop; he knows he should stop.
Nine years of cutting, waiting for it to heal over, and then cutting again. Nine years ago, seven years ago, even four years ago he knew what he was cutting, and why. Now, though, the reason is as lost as the blood from the very first cut.
He cuts for no purpose now. One day, the reason might come back. Either that, or someone from the Outside, someone from his past, would look at what hovered inside his left forearm and remember for him.
Silence was beautiful, sometimes. Remus enjoyed the silence. He liked it even as a boy, the stinging sensation of too much quiet in the ears and the feel of the silence in the air as thick as molasses.
He used to love sitting under a large tree, “his” tree, deep in the forest behind his old house. He'd stay there for hours with a book, the stillness of the world broken only by the occasional bird chirp or the sound of wind rustling through the tops of the trees. Dusk was his favourite time of day, for that was when it was the most quiet. The black outline of his house in the distance as he walked back home in the evening was the most ethereal sight in the universe, as if the scene, so filled with silence and near-darkness, belonged in a dimension far away.
As an adult, Remus retained his love for silence. It was different, this time; no one broke the silence because no one was around. He would never be interrupted during his reading time because there was no one there to interrupt. If he had been a different person, like Sirius, he would have hated it. The loneliness that attached itself to silence would have driven him insane.
But Remus Lupin was not Sirius Black or anyone else. Silence was beautiful, sometimes.
Except today. On this day, the silence is intolerable. Remus reads his book in the old library of Twelve Grimmauld Place, and he itches for something, anything, to break the stillness of the air.
Remus stands and goes to look for Sirius, who has taken to spending hours holed up with Buckbeak during Harry's school year. With only Remus and Buckbeak for company, Sirius has apparently chosen to keep company with the hippogriff. And Remus hates this for some reason.
He steps into the room, dust making his eyes water. A blurry lump on the large bed tells him that Buckbeak is sleeping or keeping guard, or both. Through the tears, Remus sees Sirius slumped against the far wall, his mouth slack with sleep and dark, uncombed strands of his hair hanging limply around his face.
Remus clears his eyes and stands in front of the sleeping man before him, looking down at the figure as worn out as the bedcovers on Buckbeak’s bed. Sirius lost a lot of his good looks in Azkaban, but he will always be handsome in the face. His nose is a bit large and pointy, his face freckled across the cheeks from spending years under the sun as a youth. Lines cover the wasted, handsome face in sleep, as if Sirius ages while assuming a position much like the one he undoubtedly acquired during his stay in Azkaban. Remus feels something in his stomach, something that makes him shiver and ache at the same time. He squats in front of Sirius, intending on waking the sleeping man and moving him into a nice bed.
Reaching for Sirius’ shoulder, something catches his eye. He does not know later what draws him to it, but there it is, half hidden in the fold of Sirius’ arm. Something abnormal. He takes Sirius’ hand gently in his own and pulls the arm straighter.
He runs his fingers over the cuts, unable to speak. The scar tissue is ropy and pink and stands out like red wine against a crisp, white shirt.
23 10 77
Remus stares at the numbers, wondering what they could possibly mean. They were too uneven to have been made by someone who knew what they were doing. There were several paths for one of the legs of the sevens, suggesting that this was done over and over, allowing time for healing between each cut. Remus shivers, running his fingers over the scars again, unable to help himself.
Sirius makes an incoherent noise in the back of his throat and half opens his eyes, whatever colour had been in them before lost in the darkness of the room. He stares at Remus for a few seconds, blinking sleepily before yawning, the staleness of his breath enveloping Remus’ face like a stuffy blanket. A slow, lazy grin creeps along his rugged, washed-out face.
“Have you been there long?” he asks, his voice low and laced with fatigue.
Remus shakes his head, unable to decide whether asking Sirius what the numbers mean would be too much like prying into a time when he was not there, when he had no *right* to be. He opens his mouth anyway.
“What do these mean?” Remus grips the arm harder as it tries to pull away from his grasp, running his other hand over the numbers over and over, as if he’s trying to erase them away. “Who did this to you, Sirius?”
Sirius stops trying to get away, slumping down further along the wall. He stares morosely at the place where Remus' hand is covering the numbers. “I did.”
“You...” Remus shakes his head, appalled. “You did this to yourself? Were you mad?”
Sirius sadly raises his eyebrow and looks straight at Remus, question answered. He shows Remus his other hand. “I bit one of my nails into a point and did it myself, to help myself remember.”
“Remember what?” Remus asks steadily, pressing only gently, trying not to scare his friend away. He squirms a bit under Sirius’ direct stare.
Sirius looks away. “I don’t know. I forgot somehow along the way. I know the figures – I’ll never forget those – but I don’t remember what they’re supposed to mean.” A sheepish expression crosses his face, and he grins suddenly. “Clever way to help myself remember something, eh?”
Remus shakes his head and smiles back. “No, you did what you thought might help you keep the memory. Whatever it was, it must have been important.” He studies the scars again, holding the arm close to his face to see more clearly. He is very aware of the hairs on Sirius’ arm standing up, bumps raising, probably at the feel of his breath on the skin. He can imagine that Sirius has forgotten what it felt like, having someone this close. “Do you suppose it’s a date?”
“A date?” Sirius repeats incredulously. “So it’d be October the twenty-third of seventy-seven.” He cocks his head to the side. “I thought that the sevens were ones. Don’t you reckon they could be ones?”
Remus furrows his brow. “Sirius, you never wrote your ones like that. Those are your sevens.”
A frown settles, lines appearing at the corners of Sirius’ mouth. “Oh. I must have forgotten that, too.” His eyes seem to fill with something, some sort of emotion, but Remus is unfamiliar at what it looks like and what it means, especially coming from someone like Sirius Black. He barely hears Sirius’ next words. “I seem to have forgotten a lot of things. A lot of important things.”
Remus watches Sirius only for a moment, the silence coming over them like a shadow, fast and dark and uncomfortable. Biting his lip, Remus nods and stands up, suddenly aching to get out of the room. “I’ll leave you alone, then, to try and remember something. Do you want a cup of tea? I’m about to put a pot on.” He’s making himself look at Sirius during this, wondering why Sirius is staring back at him as if he’s only just seen Remus for the first time.
Sirius shakes his head, lowering his eyes. “I don’t…no, thank you. I'd like to be alone for a while, if you don't mind.” He looks up again. “Come back later and keep me company, though? It’s too quiet in here, even with Buckbeak preening over there.”
Swallowing something that rises up from his chest at the sight of Sirius practically begging with his eyes, Remus nods. He thinks it’s unbearably sad how much Sirius has lost, and he’ll do anything to make his friend happy again.
When he leaves the room to make his pot of tea, Remus can feel Sirius’ eyes on his back.
Remus likes to think that he is not a pessimist, but a realist. No one understands this.
James tells him after a full moon night during seventh year that Remus is a pessimist. Sitting up in his hospital bed, wincing at the ache in his arms, Remus frowns and looks at James inquiringly.
“Well, you are,” James says excitedly. “I’ve figured it out, mate. I’ve read about pessimists, you know. Always looking on the down side, expecting the worse, never having any goals because they think that they’ll never reach them…pessimists are suicidal maniacs.” His arms are flailing about wildly; when enthusiastic about something, James tends to gesture frantically, as if doing so will help keep his thoughts from escaping completely before he can say them.
Sitting on the edge of Remus’ bed, Sirius ducks James’s bony weapons and clucks his tongue. “Honestly, Mr. Potter. Don’t you do anything productive, like play pranks? Reading is so unhealthy and useless.” He nods his head towards Remus. “Look at this sickly fellow here, I say. Practically on the edge of death he is, and all he does is read.”
Peter, standing on the other side of Remus’ bed, rolls his eyes at Remus and smirks a little. Him and Remus share a smile; they had always been a little more sensible than their friends.
“I’m not a pessimist,” Remus says loudly over James’ attempts to insult Sirius. “I just meant that being…what I am, it will be extremely hard for me to find a respectable occupation when we get out of here. I didn’t mean it as a pessimist, but as a realist.”
“I never thought you were a pessimist,” Peter says to him.
“I always thought you were a nutter, though,” Sirius offers unhelpfully.
James scoffs. “You could get plenty of different types of jobs in the Wizarding world, Moony. And even if that didn’t turn out well, you could always get a Muggle job.” He smiles sympathetically, which Remus hates. “You’ll need money if you want to have a family, after all.”
Remus sputters, coughs, and clears his throat in the space of a few seconds. “A family? Who’d want to start a family with a…you know?”
“With Remus Lupin, you mean?” Peter interjects. “There are plenty of girls who fancy you. You’d make a good husband AND a good father.”
James adds, “And I could definitely see you fixing the roof of a little cottage out in the country with a white picket fence in ten years.”
Sirius is silent. Remus expects him to say something awful, or ridiculous, or completely change the subject altogether, which would make Remus extremely grateful.
But all he says, very quietly, is, “You’re capable of being loved, even as a werewolf.”
Remus is doubtful. He’s not a pessimist; he knows that he has good qualities. He knows that he could be an excellent husband and lover and companion.
He’s a realist, though. No one could possibly love him after knowing what he is. Not like that. There are no girls at Hogwarts who know, so all of the ones there are completely out of the question as far as his future is concerned.
He sees himself alone in ten years. He sees himself at Christmas dinner with his three friends and their wives in ten years, maybe with a date, but not with someone who *knows*. He would never enter into a marriage unless he was sure of the person’s acceptance of *everything* he was.
Remus is grateful for his friends, but that’s what they are – just friends. They would never understand what it would be like to be him, though he suspects that Sirius has got a little taste after the incident with Snape the previous year and the slow process of them getting to know each other again. He feigns exhaustion, watching his three friends slip away quietly, leaving him to rest.
Afterwards, he contemplates himself. He’s not a pessimist, but he thinks that being a realist will turn him into one.
He makes the first cut, his teeth hurting as he clenches them together tightly to avoid the pain. It doesn’t hurt as much as Crucio does, but it’s more focused on one area, as if all the nerves in his body have gathered at that one place to leak agony in small spurts.
October 23, 1977. The day that would be forever ingrained into his soul. A memory of a crooked smile and bright sunlight and a gentle breeze. A memory of soft brown eyes and thin hands. A memory of a warm body pressed against his in a hug. Forgiveness. Acceptance. Understanding. All of it concentrated into a single, solitary moment in time on that day, so long ago.
Dementors suck every happy memory away. He knows this. He knows that he must be brave and finish this task. He must not forget.
Must. Not. Forget.
Blood is dripping onto the cold, hard floor. He stares down at his work, slightly nauseated and appalled at what he’s resorted to. Azkaban steals away the strength to do anything but sit, though, and he’ll be damned if he loses every happy memory he’s got by the time he’s been in the prison for a year.
The cuts are almost finished. 23 10 77. Thin cuts, shallow ones, but they will start to scar if he keeps reopening them. He brings his bloody finger to his mouth and bites the nail into a sharper point, his nose wrinkling at the warm, red mess on his tongue. Licking his lips, he finishes the last of the second seven.
He will never forget, now.
Satisfied, he slumps down against the wall and rests his chin on his chest, closing his eyes.
Numb. Alone. Silent. He hates the wretched silence of the house. Kreacher is gone. Mrs. Black is gone. Buckbeak is gone. Harry is gone.
Sirius is gone, and Remus’ only companion now is the silence.
He fights the tides of emotion that threaten to spill over at times. He presses his knuckles against his mouth whenever he thinks of the look on the wasted, handsome face as Sirius fell through the archway in the Department of Mysteries. He angrily squeezes his eyes shut whenever he walks around the house and thinks that he’ll see Sirius just up the stairs or down the corridor or in the next room and catches his mistake.
Buckbeak’s room has not been cleaned. Four months since Sirius’ death, one month since the hippogriff was sent to be with more of his kind, and Remus walks by the closed door of the room every day and still smells the staleness of old feathers and damp dog hair. He could stop walking by it – the room is not on the way to anywhere that Remus has to be.
But his curiosity at whether or not there are any signs of Sirius in the room overcome his grief, and he turns the knob one day.
The smell is overpowering. Remus has to take a step back, breathe in some air from the corridor, fish out his wand, and charm the room into some semblance of order. He sighs and enters.
Poking around, he finds that there are no visible signs of Sirius in the room. He does not know whether to be relieved or disappointed. Feeling as if the latter is more overwhelming than the former, he turns to leave, biting his lip to keep from making a sound. If he hears his own voice, even if he hears himself moan, he may just save himself the agony of living. It hurts too much to be reminded.
Something catches his eye at the last possible second. He squats down and realizes that this is the place that Sirius slumped down against the wall. There is something carved into the wall, almost hidden by the dim light of the room and the darkness of the wall itself.
But Remus can read it. Made by what looks like a knife…probably the one by the bed, there, just under the edge. Remus reaches over for the knife; it’s only an ordinary steak knife, and he’s filled with dread at what Sirius might have been doing with it. There is no blood on the knife, though. He turns to the carving in the wall.
23 10 77 – I remember. The day Remus forgave me. The day I realized that I was in love with him. I never stopped, I just forgot.
There are no other markings. No “just joking” or “ha ha” or even “Remus, you fool, you don’t really believe that, do you?”
Remus stares. He is surprised when something wet hits his hand; he is even more startled when he finds that it is his tears. The message carved into the wall is crystal clear, even though everything around it is blurry and wet. He hears a foreign sound, realizing a second later that it is his own voice. He realizes that he is wailing.
He weeps openly for Sirius for the first time.
Afterwards, he feels drained. Sirius loved him. Remus is not gay; he is sure that nothing would have happened between them if Sirius had said something. He never would have pushed Sirius away, though. Sirius was his friend, a wonderful friend, the kind of friend that everyone should have.
And Sirius loved him. Not like a brother, not like a friend, but truly loved him in a way that Remus thought was impossible.
Remus has to live. He has to face the world again, not by communicating through owls but by getting out, seeing faces, meeting new people. He has to learn to love, now that he knows that it is possible for someone to love him, despite what he is.
He has to remember that Sirius loved him. Even after years of being apart, Sirius loved him until death.
He, Remus Lupin, is capable of being loved.
He has to remember this.
He must not forget.
Must. Not. Forget.
He picks up the knife, and he starts to cut.
He will never forget.