Part I. Delphinium
His blue jeans
Around his ankles
Bliss in my ghostly eye
Kiss me on the lips
On the lips
On the eyes
Our names will be forgotten
For our time is the passing of a shadow
And our lives will run like
Sparks through the stubble.
-Blue (1993). Derek Jarman.
Try as he might, whenever Remus has to piece together his childhood he can only do so with certain anchors—names and photographs. Without them places tangle into each other, people merge, as if someone had folded his map and redrew the fused streets, or otherwise woven all the threads of his life democratically together, so that childhood and adulthood admixed and memory and fantasy married.
He sits alone in the small silent room. His father he just buried. His mother is long gone. Aujourd'hui, maman est morte, so it might have begun. Go ahead, try to unfold it. You take the north corner and I'll take the west, and we'll try to find the names of the people, circle them, connect them like ley lines. The house in Penarth, the place in Lancashire, the Potters' near Barnstaple, the small room in Berlin with a view of the wall. The flat in London he shared with— The Hogwarts castle gleams under the phantom lamp. Sidle along, friends, make some room. Dim the lights. These are the anchors. See how if you pulled along them, even in the untainted beginning, you'd find a thick vein of the curse like an abject stream of burnt umber.
In the beginning, not the real beginning but the beginning before the real beginning, there was a Lucy who lived down the street. In their messy front yard her short lank hair played beside the garden flowers, with her mutt and her invisible friend to whom she spoke in sporadic phrases of Welsh. They built castles out of rocks and mud, and played tag with other kids when they walked down the hill. Running was his favorite. The ragged field with its copses of trees, its forbidden edges, gave him a spasm of panic as he ran headlong. NOT IT, they all shrieked while Lucy, pinafored Lucy counted backwards.
They played alongside and conversed at each other. She often did not understand him, looking hard back at him the way working class children, speaking in sullen and rough language, sometimes learned to do. He and her dog exercised mutual caution. She called him Rem with a lyrical lift in the syllable. What a funny name you have.
He watched her swing in the backyard, high and sinusoidal, breaking in lithe catenaries the cobalt summer sky.
On his fourth birthday, they wore little paper hats. Streamers scattered throughout the small low table. He was looking into the camera, giddy and grinning. Lucy was looking away. After they ate the cake (fashioned by his mother into a rudimentary dragon) they went outside, running in the yard in the near-dusk, making up games. When it was almost dark and they sat alone near the back door they got into a row. She called him a liar and he pinched her arm in revenge. Her face, once pudgy and forgiving, twisted into a puckered mask of pain that shrieked out of his sleep. He was only telling her that his dad can make fireworks with his wand, better than the ones they gave up in Cardiff.
She stopped seeing him after this. It didn't matter because eventually they all moved away.
Chickens were waddling outside. The cock was standing on a hen, pecking its back. He loved chasing them, but sometimes he stepped in their droppings and his mother was not pleased. He brought a book to his father, when he was home, hunched over a desk and piles of papers. He said, nestled in the warm cove under his arm, dada, this one. Read me this one.
Are you my mummy?
Hoot, hoot! said the barn owl. No, little kitten. I am not your mother. I am a barn owl.
Are you my mummy?
Ribbet, ribbet! said the pond frog. No, little kitten. I am not your mother. I am a pond frog.
Are you my mummy?
Arroooo! said the timber wolf No, little kitten. I am not your mother. I am a timber wolf.
The film flickers. A photograph of the interior—a modest farmhouse in Penarth, twenty miles from Cardiff port—walled in a creamy yellow color which shows up only as pale grey. He was having trouble with his bs and ds, but only when he tried to write them down. On the copybook they were clear enough but if he had to evoke them from his mind they became muddled mirrors of each other and could not be separated. He read very well, and perfunctorily he thumbed through the book with the lost kitten of which he was inexplicably fond, though was too childish for him. Now he favored books about boys and castles and dragons—not wolves, he notes, not wolves.
He was also very fond of his father. His father showed him bits of magic and said that when he was old enough Remus would also learn how to turn his mother's yellow pencils into garden snails. He was very, very impressed by them and tried to care for them by carrying them out into the rain.
He took baths by himself. The tub was made of white enamel with a chip under the left side. He made bubbles turn different colors and dance towards the slanting window. The sunlight, warm as toast, knifed through the dusty room. The soap was opalescent in his wet hands. His round, pale knees came up just above the shallow water like two little turtles. He was filled with warmth and wetness. He opened his eyes under the water.
He followed his mother to the store in town. There was the brown plastic head of a horse below the greengrocer's lintel. He had seen horses from far away, slumped against their small hills. The one on the lintel glistened in the sun, and gazed at him with unblinking, matte eyes.
-Look at the dwti one. What's your name lad? The greengrocer bent down. His mustache as full as his tummy.
-That's a funny little name, isnit?
-No! 'Is my name!
-All right all right. Want some sweets, my lad?
Of course he wanted some sweets.
When he went out he clung to his mother's shirttail. He knew by now that he had to keep his magic a secret but he didn't quite know what he was allowed to say to the outside people. They spoke strangely. They liked him, patted him profusely, especially the ladies from whose reaching hands he often had to duck.
Colors briefly enter his memory, displacing the silver and sepia, coinciding with the purchase of some expensive boxes of Kodachrome by his mother. His mother's family, despite their reservations about magic, invited them for Christmas dinner. The whole afternoon Remus argued with his half-senile mamgu about magic being a queer thing. At points his uncle, tipsy from the hot toddies, would try his hand at a rescue. He asked Remus if he, too, knew how to do magic. Sometimes I can make things move by thinking about it, he said, but failed to produce the effect on the spot. His mamgu snorted nastily. His dad just smiled. The Christmas goose sat perfectly symmetrically on the oak table, its stubby legs glistening.
Snow in the cobblestone streets in Penarth as they walked to their C of E holy communion. Remus, though baptized at birth like a good Anglican at his mother's behest, was rather befuddled by the singing and the recitation and the standing up and kneeling down, and coming out of the church into the bright morning sun he was strangely chilled.
Other scenes flash by: Children of his father's colleagues who made fun of him because he didn't know as much as they about magic or brooms or quiddich. Chasing a stray cat that he secretly wished was really a wizard. Asking his mama for cake or biscuits and receiving only distracted admonitions.
A year later he would realize that the world was not ordered as he thought it was. Two decades later he would peer outside the small cottage window onto the green Bristol Channel, bereft and alone. Time flickers, like a film, scene by scene into the unknowing future.
He was tired from running up and down beside the empty field, trying to catch those butterflies. It was Saturday, which meant his father was home all day, sitting at his desk after lunch with his tea and his monosyllabic answers. But Remus was well-versed in this game. He knew how to charm his dad into hoisting him onto his lap and transfiguring the parchment discards into perfect butterflies. He was tired. He crawled under the blanket. The moonlight cut a bright silver square on his bed, leaving the rest of the room docile and familiar and dark. Slipping into sleep, he eyed the rectilinear moonlight, and thought of something, something.
He remembered that he woke up in pain. He thought he heard someone crying.
The glen must have already been summer. He was sick again. He was walking in the muddy tracks, trying not to fall. The scar on his chest ached vaguely, but his mum did not like it when he touched it. He pointed and said: Birds! But they flew away. Something was cold inside him.
He read books to himself, slowly aloud.
Something had not felt right for a while, perhaps a long time. A few photographs show they've moved to the north of England—on his sixth birthday his father showed him a magical camera. He had trouble operating it, the aperture control and the shutter button being too far apart for his small hand.
He didn’t understand why they've moved. Remus took baths now in the dingy whitewashed bathroom with the plastic tub. The new house scared him. He was afraid of the all its shadows. He often turned around mid-step to check whether someone was behind him. Sometimes the fear was so intense, so unspeakable he had to slowly crouch onto the floor until it dissipated.
He was helping bring firewood inside when he remembered lying in a room. Tall ceiling. White walls. People popped in and out of his sight. Green sleeves. They spoke in cold, urgent voices. A hand touching his arm. Something on his chest which he could not see. His face felt wrong. Iodine.
It smelled like iodine.
Mama, what happened?
She was not listening, kneeling beside a houseplant, fingering the little nubs of green. Hi baby.
Mama. Mama. Two falling syllables, a trochee.
What happened to me?
But he could not yet ask.
He played in his room with things he found in the woods outside. In the autumn he collected leaves in all the colors he could find, and arrayed them like a bridge across the floor. He splayed the colors out from yellow to red to brown but he could only find so many leaves. Colors went missing, he knew, and slipping between colors were other colors, reaching onwards amongst themselves, each one a subtler infinity than the last.
His mother was tying the straps of his hat under his chin. Her eye were bright like topaz, her hair very neat. He wanted to touch it but she pushed away his hand. Now Remus, it's very important that you don't say anything and listen to what mama and dada tell you, okay? He nodded. It was raining still. He walked between his father and his mother into the car, which smelled musky and made him dizzy. He walked between them, holding onto their hands, apprehensive and annoyed at their reticence. He waited on a stool too tall for his small legs.
A man walked in who did not look at him in the eyes, only the corner of his mouth and the bridge of his collar. Remus watched his wand as it produced different colors that flew into his body. It felt strange, almost painful. He looked sideways at his parents. His father was turned away and his mother was trying to smile at him.
He did not understand yet.
In the arms of his mother, whose lilt voice spoke to him in song, nos da cariad, he had recurrent dreams of a full moon.
But he could not remember having seen it. At first he couldn't remember what happened when he transformed. In those days it was only a pup and not so aggressive. His father would charm him into sleep before, and he woke up groggy and sick. But he could not yet tell the difference between being sick and being cursed.
He didn't go to primary school or see many other children. His mother taught him his letters. He read voraciously. A few times a month a young man came by to teach him maths, which he loved. He brought him books and explained with kind but nervous energy how counting was really about the most fundamental difference between one object and the next, about order and symmetry. Remus, look: truth hides in the most innocuous questions. See, addition and subtractions are like two dark twins, dancing hand in hand. Negative numbers awed him. Dark twins.
His father sometimes brought in from work the wizard's newspaper. Remus, already quite proficiently literate for his age, could read some parts of it. Investigations made by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures into recent dark creature attacks. Public outcry stimulates debate on new legislation. Forum on control of werewolves and vampires—are they among us? These are the headlines he passed over turning to the back for the funny section which had lively drawings of wizards and toads and bemused cats. But at the words magical creatures his heart leapt, curiously, conjuring impossible creatures out of the darkness.
His parents took him to more places where he had to wait quietly on more stools while more men with more wands or alembics or flashing mirrors avoided looking at him.
Winter passed. Autumn apples kept in a cellar bin he couldn't reach. He played chess, often against himself, assuming the dual roles of the warring and the conquered, the queen's gambit and the Slav defense.
When he first realized it, the scene readily transforms without his consent. The backdrop morphs from a rainy Northern country to a small boathouse near the sea. His patient little actor has grown taller, perhaps more solemn, and dons a new hat. He was playing in the back yard. It was quite late in the day. He collected broken shells, and occasionally the limbs of starfish drying in the air. Brackish magical creatures sidled into his sight. His mother was talking to his father in a low voice, but he could hear them through the window.
-But Lyall, this is just not working. We must tell him somehow.
-Of course we can't keep it from him forever. That was not my intention, we just need to—find the right way to tell him—make him understand.
-I just don't know—if he—
First there was a silence. Then slackened reel flaps against the casing. The gentle shadow of the projectionist's hand temporarily obscures the light. The swing falls into its zenith, and Lucy pinafored Lucy jumps from the seat into empty air.
The shells slipped out of his hands.
—oh Lyall, it's going to be that time soon.
And he knew, he knew. He knew what they were saying, what he was, the visits, the healers, the potion brewers, the sounds, barks, howls, and he knew that these were not normal things, that something was wrong. That he had been keeping a secret from himself all this time, as if another self, bright and chemic, had been peering from the mirror in loving incognito, waving hello.
Why had they not told him? Was this their tenderness, their love which buoyed him, filled him, saved his life?
Remus stands. Memories shake out of him as he puts down the bottle of whisky.
Where—where was that?—Was it here by the sea? Gower bay? A boathouse they must have rented for the month, where the nights were the middling color and sheep slept standing atop the cliff. He remembers sneaking down the scramblerock to the long beach, where heron bent into the silt like commas, shivering.
And surely there is also the moon, even in that early Welsh spring. Stretching its visage over the night, indelible and doubled, over the waves moving from the nether deep colors into light, and back again. The shipwreck strews along the sand like the ribs of a giant, holding it all. The memory swells, so bright it bursts over everything, moon, wave, wreck—the friendless summer where he was already what he was, where no one is in love and no one has turned traitor and no one is broken and no one is dead.
Part II. Black milk
Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken sie abends
wir trinken sie mittags und morgens wir trinken sie nachts
wir trinken und trinken
-Todesfuge. Paul Celan.
In his mid-twenties Remus realized that he had very little of childhood. Physical things. Objects. For other people memories seemed to have dwelt in them, breathed in them, bred in words by constant refabrication and desire, kind of like a spell. Most things he had he abandoned or given away. Photographs—especially the magicked ones his father took, childhood books, toy train sets whose enchantments must have worn off by now. The charmed dictating typewriter James had left him one summer between school, whose rusty mechanisms he meticulously took apart and repacked by hand. Where had they gone— He can't see into them, past them. The present is too intense. They soaked up the memories around them, so that he has trouble recalling those gaps in his life, the days and years that must have passed going from one confluence of events to another, like blurry flashes of light on a train between two distant stations.
Earlier today he cleaned out his mother's old Ford Cortina—which his father had left untouched since all those years ago—full of outdated maps and half-magicked things. The trunk, charmed larger by his father, so convincingly held the illusion that she was still alive that he dropped the keys. Pieces of old carrier bags. A basket full of odds and ends, ropes and webbings. Inside a neat little book were clippings of coupons for produce long ago dust.
He considered driving up the coast from Cardiff to Gwynedd, but he doesn't quite trust himself. He instead apparates to the bend in the road that he knows will be safe from prying eyes. Snow is general all over Gwynedd, icy grey snow. He walks slowly up to the derelict little farmhouse, snow sticking to the sides of his soles, the exposed fronts of his socks. As he walks further along the footpath he can feel ripples of waned protective charms. The door is boarded up.
He was nine. The door was ajar. When they had moved up north he can't remember. His mother's wireless was on, some old crooner doing a number through the static. His mother couldn't work a magical wireless and this was the only Muggle station they could get up in the mountains—until his birthday when his dad bought him an enchanted (and somewhat illegal) radio that picked up longer distances of the Muggle wireless—the Bangor stations, Radio 4. He pushed the door open and called in. He wiped his muddy gumboots on the threshold.
He was nine, already four foot ten. The sea was gone. Mountains loomed in the western sky like downward slashes of the palette knife. They didn't even run electricity in the villages up here. His parents inherited the property through an aunt of his father's, whose death was ignominiously known in London wizarding society to be connected to her experimentation with a particular love potion and a Muggle boy a third her years. The house was just as overrun in those days as it is now, though less dusty and better hidden from the road.
He was nine. He grew into the pain who lived with him like a brother.
During the day when his father was at work in London and his mother was busy going about the house he wandered unguided in the desolate woods, conjuring animals from the quiet autumn, conjuring hunters for them. The creek ran as clear as the peal of a church bell. Sometimes he thought he could see circles of fairy lights, or hear the speech of knockers near stone outcroppings. At night he cuddled in his small bed with the radio by his ear, his hand on the knob to tune it just right, and listened to the shipping forecast as he fell sleep, numbers and directions floating in his dreams.
-Can you help me bring in the shopping.
He ran toward the door and grabbed first the brown butcher paper package, in which were books his mother ordered from a Muggle library via post. She picked them up whenever she went down into town. He read abridged versions of Dumas and Dickens, urchins and counts, Bill Bergson boy detective who fought imaginary wars of roses in distant Lillköping. His father brought him book on magic from Diagon Alley. These were his favorites.
On occasion he went with his father into London. The sight of it, the vastness of it, made him yearn for freedom, largess, everything.
Remus pushes away the cobweb which gathered around his knees. The dust makes him cough into his hand. His wand casts feebly into the room, prying apart the darkness. The corduroy armchair sits in the middle of the room, catching the light.
He was ten. The pain was his brother. His mum tried to bandage his wounds but his dad said the only useful thing was the balm he got from the apothecary. He knew the names of his commonly broken bones. He knew the smell of dittany, which works on some wounds but not others; poppy, which works on the pain; belladona, which makes you wide-eyed and blind in the mind. The transformation was more vivid now, the moon fuller, but he could not understand it.
How can it live inside him, the beast, the wildness, like an actor inside a mask, like a man inside a boy.
-Remus. Come inside.
-I'd like you to say hello to Mr Dumbledore.
He was in the back helping sort the firewood. His ragged left thumb cradled the dry birch bark, pliant with dark eyelet wounds, caressing upwards along the fissures. So someone was calling on them. Something was up.
In the warm haze of the room an old man was sitting in the corduroy armchair. But he was not like the old men Remus had seen in down in the village. He did not look bitter or worn or mean. Merely the years rested companionably in him as he smiled with his bright eyes.
-Hull. Nice to meet you, sir.
-My boy, how tall you are. How do you do?
Remus did not know how to reply. Somehow he felt threatened, caught, though Mr Dumbledore seemed neither threat nor hunter.
-Fine sir. Thank you.
-Look here Remus. Mr Dumbledore is the headmaster at Hogwarts. He's offering you a place in the school next year. My boy, you know what this means? His father gripped his shoulder gently.
The feeling was not like sinking or freezing, but an unbecoming thrum in his body, between his ears. He knew what Hogwarts is, the same way he knew Lillköping or the dragon that lives up on Snowdon or the grim. But they did not belong to him as surely as Hogwarts would not belong to him. Dumbledore saw his pale face, upturned as if to ask, what about the secrets, the brother, the wolf?
Remus closes the door behind him. He peers around into the backyard. He sits down by the edge of the woods, on a rock.
Hours later, he takes the long walk down to the nearest town, the town where his mother used to buy food and do her best to avoid their prying questions. He walks into the slow winter sunlight, musters his broken Welsh tongue, and buys a pack of Regal.
-What's it like?
-What's what like?
-Being—being something else. Having it inside you.
A hand on his naked knee. A hand, the warmth of which he dreamed so often. A head leaning on his shoulder, brotherly caresses. A breeze winks through the lake, visible from their dorm windows.
He wakes up sweating and kind of hard. Berlin, uncaring and isolated and vast, glints outside. There is no lake. There is no forest. There is no Sirius Black.
He dresses quickly into his cold clothes and sprints down the stairs. Walking around snowy Kreuzberg at night he slips a little on small patches of ice. People milled outside SO36, smoking. The sky is overcast. The dream shakes in him. What’s it like, Moony?
It is. It is like this. I am like the mirror. It is like the back of my head that I cannot see. It is only there at certain times, and then it is gone. It is something that lives in the blind spot inside of you, the secret space where you aren’t even allowed in yourself, and it watches you from there, and it will destroy you.
These are the facts. There was a war with magic and there was a war without magic. Two bombs for the Japanese and a wall for the Germans. Forty million dead in war. Black milk of morning we drink you at dusktime, we drink you and we drink you. These are the facts that built the world in which his parents lived, growing up in the biltz and raid shelters and rations, daughter of RAF pilot shot down in the channel, son of émigre wizarding French Jews. He walks along the wall, graffitied and muraled on one side and slate-clean on the other. He can easily apparate to the other side, as long as he is not seen.
Berlin. Divided inside him because of the invisible forbidden past. He sits down. The map folds on itself. History is—history is the nightmare—
His mother’s voice, still singing, sifts through the night like a signal in the static.
-Remus. Please, Remus, please stay still.
-I’m not moving.
-Oh yes you are. She sounded almost cross but she looked very pained. She was binding his arm with a cloth. His arms were the worst off, where the mouth can reach most easily. He couldn’t fully open his right eye and his lip felt puffy.
He asked his mother for a mirror. She looked at him desperately like she couldn’t answer. Anger flared in him. He shoved her out of his way, and slowly walked towards the bathroom. She didn’t stop him. His father was closing up the cellar door after he transfigured the cage back into a shelf. The fire in the iron heater had gone out, though it was supposed to be charmed to burn until late morning. He was so cold.
The tain of mirror was peeling. He had to half-climb onto the sink to see himself. His face, right at his zygomatic arch, was swollen red. His collarbones were bruised up and black.
-Why am I doing this to myself?
-Remus, it’s not you. His father’s voice was raised and taut. It’s a curse. His hand was gripping his wand.
Behind his father he saw his mother’s face, twisted and knowing.
But it is me.
And if he were to have said this it would have destroyed his mother, who silently looked at him with her beautiful eyes and wrung the bandage cloth. He couldn’t say it.
He can’t say it.
When he bought his wand he was alone in the shop. Mr Ollivander, with his very straight, very narrow nose looked down at him.
-Looking for a wand, Mr—?
-Lupin. Remus Lupin.
Mr Ollivander made an affirmative sound and continued to look at him. Thoughts drifted over his dried up face like clouds. –Try this. Flourish. –Hmm. How’s this one. Things went flying. Remus was petrified. –Sorry sir! More hmming and grumbling and rustling boxes and tryings. So it went on. When he came back after his dad, he put down his shopping and went inside his room just to look thoroughly at his wand, testing its movements, amicable and familiar and feeling like himself, like it had always been himself.
I’m going to be a wizard.
He walked out of his room, almost in tears. He looked at his mother and suddenly hugged her waist in his arms, very tight. He tried to say that he was so sorry for being what he was, for his coldness which she did not deserve, for her being shut from this world, because he saw clearly that he lived in her love, and that she lived in a soft sadness that as a boy he could not yet decipher.
On moonless clear nights he listens to the shipping forecast, which you can get in Berlin sometimes on the LW or if you have a magical radio. He thinks of ships passing into and out of Cardiff, easily spotted on the piers in Penarth.
His mother was dressed up in a white frock. Her face was beautiful and calm but he remembered seeing it twisted in pain. Her hands were folded on her stomach, very neatly. Both his mother’s and father’s families were there. In the silent churchyard they waited for the priest.
On nights he can’t sleep he either wanders in the immigrants section of town or he apparates to the eastern side of the city. He found abandoned U-Bahn stations which has alcoves and cells that he uses for transforming.
The first time he transformed away from his family it was the fifth of September. There were extra preparations that he had to make before dinner. He was introduced to Madam Pomfrey with the dowdy bonnet who looked at him very solemnly as if to declare with her decorum that she was to be a decent woman who will treat him as she would any other sick child. Very calmly, very matter of fact, she led him down the stone steps and out a small side door onto the grounds. He walked behind her and they both stopped in front of a lone tree on a small hill. It seemed to have noticed them and groggily lifted its limbs. She cast a spell that made it go back to sleep again. This, she said, this is the Whomping Willow.
Below the Whomping Willow there is a tunnel. The tunnel was his secret. When moon was full it opened and he walked to the other side.
He looked back and in the falling dusk the facade of Hogwarts castle gleamed beautifully under the phantom lamp.
The blood in his skin is his father’s and his mother’s, right up to the surface. And his blood was his secret too. When the moon is full, it everts and he walks on the other side.
These are the facts. There was a war with magic and a war without magic. The Potters were dead and their son was legend and enigma. This happened because, Remus knew, Sirius Black who kept their secret had sold them out. Sirius Black was an Animagus whose animal form was a dog. Sirius Black was a dangerously brilliant duelist and even better flier. Sirius Black took all of them into his confidence and played them right into his hand. Sirius Black, of whom he had known since age eleven, of whom he thought he knew all there was to know, had kept his secrets better than anyone, even him. Sirius was not Sirius, but the dark twin of himself. Sirius who wanted love more than anything, who often confused sex with love and searched for it everywhere—Sirius, Sirius, Sirius, who loved, who loved so much, turning up in the night drunk and wanting and Sirius who loved them more than more than was traitor traitor traitor.
These are the facts, cold and contradictory on the table, and he’s looking for the missing piece that will make everything fit.
Part III. Pegasus
A young man slips his thumb
into the mouth of an old one,
& I am not that far away.
-At Pegasus. Terrance Hayes.
Four nights after his father was dead the moon rounds itself out. It eats up the missing piece of the dark night sky, bloating until it is lusty and boisterously pale. He paces in his underground prison. Moony Moony it is like this.
To pay the grave diggers, the carpenter, and the undertaker (in increasing order) he pawned the gold watch his dad gave him when he turned of age. To pay a year's rent he sold his mother's car to a used car dealer in Cardiff who talked like a clacking animal. His father's coffin was made of fine English ash, blond and handstained—very strong hardwood that holds enchantments forever, the undertaker reassured him in bullet points.
After he transforms back he has to find his wand. He gropes in the perfect geisterbahnhöfe dark, on the grimy stonework, the metal cell door. You can't see anything. The rumbling ground above shakes out the mildew air. The first thing he casts for is light and then a warming charm. He then summons his clothes, which has the jar of feverfew balm and a small phial of dreamless sleeping potion.
Night and day merge.
When he's ready he apparates into his apartment. It doesn't smell worse than the underground but it still smells sour like cigarettes. He's famished but there's only shitty bread and shitty tea.
The night after he has work tending a bar frequented by American expats on the edge of Mitte. When the Spree is half frozen and the nights drop below zero, no one comes in except some regulars, who, to be honest, don't tip well because he wasn't very good company and never went home with them. To tide over everything he teaches English to Muggle German children which earns him a few Marks a session. Mostly they talk through workbooks depicting cartooned adolescents making strangely stunted conversations about their personal identities, addresses, and the comings and goings of their similarly amnesiac acquaintances.
Among the Muggles he gets by fine in his stuttering German and back up English, but he has to avoid the magical world, crowded around Nikolaiviertel, a quite small though ancient wizarding contingent. The first month he arrived in Berlin he begged off a job cleaning and stocking shelves for a lady who dealt in ancient manuscripts and books about old, ritualistic magic, and who, for a time, was known to hold the Voynich manuscript, a transcription of an important potions treatise of Arabic origins. The morning she found out about him she screamed as he tried to walk in, Aus! Abartig biest! and slammed the door in his face without giving his last pay.
One thing Berlin taught him is how and where to pick up men. Older or younger he didn't mind. Usually it was quick and easy—a blow job in a back room and a blow job in return. Some were gentle while others were rough. All were temporary. He would smile at them, his eyes lingering on their mouths and hands like perforating a jigsaw puzzle, taking in what he needed, editing what didn't fit.
Some would invite him home, and sometimes he would agree, and still sometimes it would be quite nice. What's your name? John, he would say. I'm Jan, the other would reply with a sly little smile. We have the same name, then.
Wedged between them is a monster, a mirror, the invisible forbidden past.
And afterwards he would only stay for maybe a few hours. Often he stays awake, buoyed by the pleasure. It is his favorite time. When it is like this, when there is the languid space between his hand and someone else's back, when it is lightly snowing, when he is not so on guard, he remembers how it was he who grabbed Sirius's wrist, at the taper of the forearm, and tugged smoothly until they were very close together. He was quite proud of how suavely he pulled it off.
Fuck, Lupin, Sirius said.
Remus held him in a tight grip with his elbow bent around the shoulder. He was very drunk.
They were in the backyard of James's parents' house, having just finished helping James move. It was a wet late August. He tilted his face into Sirius's hair, and said very softly, you smell nice, Sirius.
There are two kinds of time. One is the kind that comes back on itself in a reassuring circle, like each round season, like a moon. The other time is a line, a straight shot from point A to point B, a spooked horse, bolting, changing everything in its wake.
Sirius's hands were on his neck, his chest.
Remus paused and held out his timid eleven-year old hand.
-Lupin, Remus Lupin.
-Black, Sirius Black. The face sneered. Remus shifted uncomfortably on the bench, and slowly withdrew his hand.
The Gryffindor table roared up again as MacDonald, Mary joined them.
On the way back from his dad's funeral he had to pass through London to check in with the International Floo Network office at the Dept. of Magical Transportation for clearance to depart to the German networks. A spurt of nostalgia took him after two shots of firewhiskey, and he wandered around in Diagon Alley, peering into all the shops.
And there he learned not for the first time that it is always a mistake to walk into Flourish and Blotts unless you wanted specific items from a checklist, because you are always at risk of the kind of drivel that passed for circulation in the British wizarding world, bearing titles like: A RETROSPECTIVE OF THE POTTERS—Who were the parents of the boy who lived? And in the dusty room of that little shop he might not have the aplomb to contain himself, and he might even open the book, to the center pages in fact, where purloined or confiscated photographs of the Potters and their childhood friends grinned out of the glossy pages.
Sullen, bright eyes. The symmetric face of a patrician boy. Through the half-faded Polaroid Remus looked at the cold and polite mouth in the process of bursting into a smile, turning to his left to gaze upon James Potter, sixteen, his almost twin, both dressed like teenage Muggle boys in the summer faience streets. The beautiful Sirius face graded into the photograph and peered out of his memories.
He held the camera. It was one of many afternoons when James and Sirius (who lived with him by then) Flooed into Diagon Alley and wandered the streets of Muggle London because there was nothing to do and we might as well have been Muggle ourselves, the way they treat us, Sirius said. Perhaps even in those verbatim words, Remus can't remember. He and Peter had been called upon with one excuse or another, and he joined them gladly.
Sirius was steadfast in his collection of Muggle objects and the Polaroid was a relatively new inductee. Here, take one of me and Jamesie, he said, looking at Remus laughingly. He put his arm around James's shoulder. Remus affected an oft-put-upon sigh and tried not to feel like the third wheel in their impenetrable closeness. James waggled his eyebrows. Peter looked on.
CLACK and then the poly-dentate sound of gears turning.
Remus, though he's never worked one before, held the glossy piece of paper by the corner and shook it like he knew what he was doing.
Sirius grabbed it. Not bad, he commented and needless to say he was referring to himself. Does my hair always look like that? James chimed in.
By the time they left school it had ended up in Sirius's box of things he kept under the bed, a seemingly unorganized but exhaustive repository of collective memory, though Remus knows it is in fact well-ordered by a complicated charm of Sirius's own devise. Did the photograph already know, then, that of his friends one he would betray, one he would murder, and one he would completely destroy? Did it know, already, what he would do to the boy next to him, the man he loved better than anyone? Remus didn't know whether it was seized by the MLE office or had passed through the acquisitive hands of gossip columnists or failed historians. He just felt his insides hollow out, like some invisible part of himself was trying to leap into being, to reveal itself.
One way Remus spots other incognito wizards is by ink stains on their hands. Quill and well are messy objects, requiring the scrupulous management of hand and wrist in their planetary motion around words. Plus, some magical ink can be quite difficult to remove without concentrating on your scouring charm.
Reluctantly, Remus will admit that his hand has a lot to say about himself. On the first knuckle of his right index finger Remus has a thick inked callus, twinned in the pad of his thumb, born of years of bending over some parchment or another with his chicken feather nibs. The contusion on the dorsal side of his palm is from a time during fourth year when he bit away a part of his hand while transformed, and it never grew back quite right. On the fleshy inside of his index finger there is a thin pale scar, unnoticeable unless he pointed to it, a thin dotted semicircle, two silver inches swimming in his skin.
Remus has the habit of leaving his hands in his pockets.
When Remus moved to the flat in London (bequeathed by Sirius's uncle in secret) it was contingent on the necessity for vigilance and support incurred when two people were members of a resistance cell hiding from a ruthless and militant faction who opposed them ideologically and despised them personally.
It was a suite of rooms in Chelsea in a set of flats built in the Victorian era in "the late eighties," as they might have said way back then, with an ornately worked polychromic facade and three stories of corbelled balconies.
-A fine domicile, wouldn't you say old chap? Sirius said smartly, Bertie Wooster like, and then turned to him half-smirking, you can stay in the servant's quarters.
Remus blanched, not sure if he was serious or not.
-Oh, just having a laugh. They're no use—filled up with my uncle's junk. You can have the spare room. There's already a bed but we might need to dust it up a bit. Unless, Moony—unless you think you'd—
And Remus clutched his handle bag tightly, tight enough so he won't lose the thread, the memory, standing in Sirius Black's quite posh drawing room at nineteen. He couldn't remember what he said in response. Remus wielded his wand in front of his heart, because in his memory what happened next was not the gamboling sex or drunken banter or mission briefings or sleepy afternoon naps but how he had woken up one cold morning when he no longer saw much of Sirius who failed to return night after night and a barn owl had brought to the drawing room the enormous spread of the morning Prophet and his coffee mug clattered to the floor and the kettle whined and whined in the back room but he could not move his hands.
On November 2nd, 1981, the MLE came to the flat to collect evidence. Remus spotted them from their third-story window. He remembered one having a thin Irish face. The other one Remus thinks had the Nordic features of a man he met in a bar in Winterfeldplatz. When the detective and his auror detail worked cautiously up the stairs, he had already disapparated. The typewriter was still self-dictating, its silent mechanisms striking the rolling paper while words poured from it like water out of a faulty faucet:
-Looks good. I don't think anyone is in there.
-They mentioned he lived with a flatmate. Not sure if he's also part of the cell. Be vigilant. Just because Voldemort is gone it doesn't mean they've lost their fangs.
-You take the door and I'll back you up.
-Huh, no protection spells.
-All right. Don't let your guard down. Check all the rooms.
-All clear, sir.
-We need to check for any dark or suspicious objects. Grab all the letters or notebooks. If you see any photos, especially of the Potters, take them too.
-What do they need photos for? They've already sent him packing to Azkaban, right?
-Dunno. I don't reckon we're here to collect anything for a trial.
When they were gone the only thing Remus took from Sirius Black's room was the typewriter he'd placed into his disillusioned and extension-charmed coin purse.
But the ransacked closet, the upturned drawers, the emptied desk, the records laying cracked on the floor, the refill-less Polaroid, all the broken evidence of Sirius Black's undisputed guilt he left untouched, collecting dust.
Three days after his father was dead Remus turned the key in the door at Flood St., something he had not done in two years. He walked across the musky-smelling drawing room towards Sirius Black's old bedroom, and everything felt like a repeat performance, an re-enactment. Back, back. I need to go back, go home, this is too much. I need my bed, my stove, my books.
For a while during the tail end of 1981 and beginning of 1982 he still lived in London but in a tiny basement room in Croydon that had been one of the safe houses for the Order. He worked as a messenger for Muggle companies who needed packages of documents and goods and so forth delivered throughout the city during rush hour. It was very easy money, especially given his apparition abilities, and though it paid only in commission it was still very easy. In those days he would Floo into the Leaky Cauldron and proceed to walk around the Square Mile (as the Muggles call it), apparating when he reached back alleys or unnoticed places.
Possibly this put him at considerable risk of breaching the Statute of Secrecy, but a mean, nihilistic strain ran quick in him, and I can really care fuck all, he would have said.
Remus moved to Berlin in the April of 1982, on a whim when he was let go from one of his part-time gigs in London. On and off he had dreamed of it through novels—in chief the Isherwood and the Döblin—why not, he thought. It was easier, with no friends left, with his father growing old alone in Penarth, to think that he had nothing to lose in the world.
When Remus moved to the flat in London (bequeathed by Sirius’s uncle in secret), he stood still in Sirius Black’s smartly tidied drawing room while Sirius had kissed him, his hands low across the waist, and with his breath in Remus’s neck he said, welcome home Remus.
But the promise between them lay unfulfilled like an incomplete spell.
As he stood shivering in the unheated flat, peering into Sirius Black's ransacked room, Remus thought of James Potter when they were just eleven. James looked at him appraisingly as he stumbled lost and flustered into the train compartment, and tentatively his knit eyebrows came apart in a smile. James said, with his hand outstretched, Potter, James Potter.
Remus thought of Sirius Black standing at his bedside all those years ago, trying not to cry, saying quite keenly that he's very sorry, he's so very sorry but he was so drunk. Snape is really a spying little git. He thought of earlier that morning, when he came to and immediately vomited, and how in the barely breaking dawn when Madam Pomfrey went back to sleep, he, too, tried not to cry, biting his hand, burying his face into his bed while blood from his right index finger made little round shapes in the pillow.
That was perhaps the first time he realized that Sirius had a power over him, a hold.
I looked up to the oblivious heavens
and tied words to images—Cassiopeia, Perseus, Cygnus, Pegasus—
and let them sing clearly through my mind.
-Reading. David Dominguez.
Part IV. Black milk
For the first two years of his time at Hogwarts, Remus told his friends that his mother was sick and he had to visit her every month. She's bed bound, he muttered when they gathered around him. No the healers have no clue. She's quite weak most of the time. Is it magical? No. It isn't. Sorry, I have to go.
His friends, a clever and resourceful bunch, tried to deduce the exact circumstance of his familial tragedy only to come smack upon the truth—the secret nature of him, that perhaps he lived doubly, lived secretly, was cursed and each month disappeared to meet his other self.
But when his mother did get sick, it came much too quickly.
For the last few months of his time at Hogwarts, there were vague signs: My Remus, I am feeling a bit ill and your father is quite busy at work so we can't meet you at the station for Easter when you arrive. But if you would go to the Ministry by tube and meet your father, you can both Floo home. Love, Mum. Dear Remus, I'd hate to bother you during NEWT revisions but your mother is rather unwell. It seems she has a pain in her head. I was assured that it is just exhaustion by the clinic doctor. I've half a mind to take her up to St. Mungo's but you shouldn't worry, my boy. I just thought you ought to know. Good luck on your exams. Love, Dad.
The cancer began inside her brain and like a Gemino curse replicated itself until all there was was the cancer, all through her body. She had sporadic headaches at first, and then dizzy spells. Remus visited sometimes and she seemed to him tired but fine. It went like this for a year until suddenly one night in late November, 1978, his father’s owl pecked the windowpane near his transfigured bed (Remus was on-and-off crashing in James’s new flat) at an awful small hour. He opened the window and untied the parchment. It was a mangled piece of scribbling from his father, not in his usual precise hand: Remus, Come at once your mother collapsed during the night we’re at the Llandough Hospital. Don’t bother replying. When he ran all the way up three flights of the hospital stairs into the ICU she was already in a coma. In the morning her heart had failed, her brain was numb, her body was blind, blind, blind.
His father held her still-warm hand for a very, very long time. Remus had no words.
Sitting on James's couch, several days later, after he failed to answer every single owl that came, from James, Lily, Sirius, Peter, Sirius, Sirius, Sirius (in that order), he explained in his most even voice that he needed a break from his Order duties, please will someone tell Albus this.
It happened too fast.
-It happened so fast. I didn't even tell her—
-I'm sorry, Remus. James's eyes were bright. Merlin. I—I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry. She was one of the nicest people I knew.
James grabbed him very tightly across the shoulders, and Lily knelt and wrapped her arms around them both. The three of them huddled, gripping each other as Lily audibly sobbed, in James’s dimly lit living room. It was indescribable, being held by their steady presence while grief sank into him like a small round stone.
That night the moon was cleft perfectly down the middle. One side was round as a glass marble and the other a graded, straight line.
Two days after his father was dead the moon was almost full. It was only missing a small sliver, almost symmetric. Remus dressed in his best blacks and sat in the front row of the funeral house. Not many came to the service—a few wizard-tolerant Muggle relatives on the Howells side and some distant Lupins who gave him short smiles and whispered amongst themselves. Afterwards he sat in a bench on the pier in Penarth in the rare winter sun, drinking from a fifth of whisky.
He watched the ships go by in Cardiff Bay. He thought of listening to the shipping forecast as a child, how his mother would explain what all the words meant, and how it was one of the only things that lulled him into sleep, even in school with his magic radio, the announcer's calm voice washing in waves into his fevered mind.
A man in a blue denim workshirt nodded to Remus as he walked by, carrying a rod and a bucket full of splashing fish.
-All right there, lad?
The whisky, cheap but effective, elided his grief. Out on the bay pelicans dove into the ocean, head first, like a priest's hands at mass, bathing in the holy water.
The ablutionary gesture, for Remus intimately connected with Christmas, seemed to have unlatched his mind.
-What the fuck, Black. Put me down you little cocksucker. Ignatius Avery bellowed. He was doing his best to keep his head from dipping into the toilet bowl while Sirius and James levitated his feet.
-One day I'm going to massacre you and all your—bloodtraitor—
-Oh come on, Avery. You love it. Sirius cackled.
-You just watch your mouth Avery. James said, genuinely furious.
-Do tell us how much you love it.
Remus held back Mulciber with an impediment jinx. They were fourteen or so. Avery had called Lily Evans and Mary MacDonald a pair of mudblood bints. Anger burst inside his chest. James had grabbed his wand and ran down the corridor, and instantly Avery floated feet-first into the air.
Lily ran in a few second later, shouting at James and Sirius: You put him down this instant Potter! Avery sputtered in the water. McGonagall came in and echoed Lily Evans almost exactly. They all got detention until Christmas break.
The first time Remus was left alone with Sirius they were supposed to write their transfiguration essay in the common room. It was their last assignment due before Christmas but James had landed a last-minute detention. This was beginning to approach the pattern they would come to expect in the later years, but it was only their first term, and Sirius seemed quite cross.
Remus didn’t quite know what to say to Sirius. James had been their mediator, a conduit of good will between them. Without him Remus felt he didn't belong. Sirius, usually gregarious, fell into a resentful silence.
-So... How's your family? What're they doing for Christmas?
Which is the wrong thing to say, Remus immediately realized. There was some boarding school boys' code that forbid talk about families. Sirius glared at him.
But then he looked away and laughed. It was a small bark of a laugh.
-But my family—they're gits.
Remus was taken aback.
-How'd you mean?
-Oh you know, Blacks. We're this long line of blood purist wizards.
-You mean, they really care about whether you're descended from Muggles?
Sirius peered at him oddly.
-Yeah. They believe in loads of other rubbish too.
-Oh. And you?
Sirius narrowed his eyes at him.
-How d'you think?
Remus froze. I think that we wouldn't talk like this if you really knew...
-What, of you? I think nothing yet.
Sirius regarded him closely for another moment, but then his expression opened, and he grinned at him, almost sweetly.
-You know, you're all right, Lupin.
Sirius Black, days after his mother’s funeral, brought him two four packs of lager. They watched each other as they stood at the door to James’s flat, Sirius’s eyes shining bright. Wordlessly they reached for each other, and embraced like two halves, like a single lithe creature.
A week later Remus agreed to move into the Flood St. flat, feeling like a stray being taken in from the rain. Rain it did, though for a while it was all right, it was bliss.
Sitting on the bench on the pier at Penarth, with the Bristol Channel churning its green surface, with his limbs growing numb with cold, his mind wandered back to what seemed like the central question of his life, the question to which in the months after Halloween he'd return again and again.
Where where where where where could I have seen it all through—through the whole hopeless mess? How had the man that he became live in the boy that he was? Had there been some terrible reason somewhere at the end, or had a traitor’s beautiful eyes always been watching them, wearing himself like an actor inside a mask?
The Order kept its records and dossiers in the Longbottoms' attic, the location of which by 1981 was secret-kept by Dorcas Meadowes. There was a magic posting board that Dumbledore had made which self-sorted any relevant files according to the names and connections you shouted at it.
After Voldemort vanished Remus had offered to clean up the house and clear away the remaining records for safekeeping in Dumbledore’s office. The Longbottoms were still under intensive care at St. Mungo’s. When he got there he stood in front of the board and said in a voice smaller than he’d meant to: Sirius Black, and papers and photographs flew out of folders and cabinets and tacked themselves on the board like the pieces of a map.
In the black Edinburgh night in the summer of 1979 where Alastor Moody lost his eye, Remus Lupin saw Sirius Black hesitatingly look back towards the unconscious body of his unmasked cousin as he disapparated.
They weren't as prepared as they should have been. It was supposed to be a fact-finding kind of mission. An Englishman named Tucker was supposed to take them to a loch in the highlands where suspicious gatherings have been rumored, where sometimes appeared marks in the sky that resembled the Death Eater's insignia. Moody had planned to investigate the place and possibly put up surveillance wards. Remus was not originally slated to come but tagged along because he was good at encryption charms.
But the black Edinburgh night into which they'd apparated was a trap.
Two Death Eaters swirled into their sight. Moody was in the vanguard and was hit with something fiery. Remus immediately stepped into the blast, flinging a salvo of curses while Sirius cast defensive charms around Moody. One of them cackled and shouted AVADA KEDAVRA as Remus ducked from the light. Thank Merlin there were three of them. One eventually disapparated but the other one, whose sleek black hair flew into view as the hood fell back, caught a stunner that Moody threw. Sirius crept over to the body and tipped back the mask with his boot.
-LEAVE HER, Moody shouted. We can't take prisoners. NOW, BLACK! And Lupin, what in Circe's name has gotten into you? Do you want to be killed?
They took Moody to the Prewetts' and came back home still bloodied. Sirius's hands were grimy and rank when he vomited into the sink in the servant's side of the suite. Remus was applying dittany to the gash on his shoulder. To be honest he had gotten off easy. He summoned some bandages from his transformation supplies and was about to take care of Sirius's leg but Sirius was not listening, his mind was somewhere else—
Remus called after him, but Sirius was staring at the water draining down the sink, his own sick flowing in bits down the hole.
-Sirius, listen to me. You are not them.
-Of course I bloody well am not them. Fuck, Remus, is that what you think?
But had Sirius Black really said that? Or is this the Sirius of my own making, inserting clauses of self-defense slyly into every conversation? Or had Sirius not spoken at all, or even looked up in that cramped little anteroom?
-Yes of course. I'm sorry. But you know what I mean.
He means that Regulus had not been seen for a while now. This, in and of itself, was not surprising since they ran in diametrically opposed circles. But what ate at Sirius, Remus also knew, was that no one had any word, not Mundungus who can weasel into every alleyway conversation (and to whom Sirius kept pushing drinks and trinkets every Order meeting to keep him interested enough), not Tom at the Leaky Cauldron, that garbage collector of information, not their informants in Hogsmeade, not even Orion Black with whom Sirius dined one night out of sheer desperation. No one. No word.
Several days' worth of the Prophet lay untouched on the drawing room table.
Dirty bacon-greased plates were stacked on top of them, next to their warding spellbook and scrolls and scrolls of protection runes.
The thing is, the war (and war it was) only came to be a war post factum. No one declared anything. When Voldemort made his first move it seemed to have happened so quietly that he rose into history out of smoke. First there were a few suspicious deaths during Remus's fourth year, mentioned in an obscure Muggle-interest section of the Sunday Prophet that hardly anybody read. When a witches' and wizards' meeting was attacked in Dorset, it was reported as an isolated tragedy carried out by a severely confunded young man. Nowhere was it mentioned that the meeting was connected to an Muggle-outreach activist organization seeking to normalize wizard-Muggle relations. But they didn't understand murder yet, the rest of them, not until one morning in sixth year when Remus vomited bile into a corner of the Shrieking Shack until he was shaking. Even when Mulciber cursed Mary MacDonald in the greenhouse, it had caused relatively minor damage and was let go of by the media immediately. Lily Evans was the only one who saw it for a sinister sign. Rumors were dismissed as rumors. Calls for investigation were put down as muckraking. If one were to look through the archives of the Prophet or official Ministry records, until 1979 there would be just a string of unrelated deaths, chaotic attacks on innocent citizens, though in more sinister circulations "innocent citizens" was replaced with "Muggles," "mudbloods," "non magics," "Muggle lovers," etc.
The resistance had to find each other and knit itself together, after those first deadly skirmishes and political shutouts, so blind were they when it came to their enemy and so inertial was the public. Even Dumbledore, it seemed, was outmatched.
By the time Remus graduated James connected him with a job working part-time as the assistant at an extremely small (there were three of them) London printing press, to the chagrin of his father who no doubt would have preferred a more low-profile profession for his lycanthropic son. They put out the Magical Resistance, a small magazine that during the 40's had "bridged wartime wizarding and non-wizarding public discourse," and which eventually folded under pressure from the Ministry for publishing "radical and incendiary demagoguery" in late '78, when it denounced in a series of exposés the rise of the Death Eaters and their sympathizers and the whitewashing propagated by the Prophet. By that time Remus had already left to work full-time for the Order, subsisting on a small stipend Albus Dumbledore kindly offered. In the spring of 1979, both editors were murdered, Aldous Hutchinson in a Muggle pub in Newcastle and Amelie Russell a while later in the French Riviera.
In hindsight he realizes that for him the war was a hopeless war from the very beginning. That's how he fought it, each day expecting to pay his goddamned sacrifice. But for the Longbottoms, for James and Lily, who held onto each other, who consciously decided to have children, for them it must have been a different war, a better war, something you had to push through, and see to the other side.
But there they were, and here he is, alive, whole, sitting by the table in his small room, thumbing through his box of papers, in which were all his letters, his notes, and his copies of the Resistance. What is left in the world, if you dissolve justice, if you dissolve hope, if you dissolve love, and let all those decomposed words float up into the air?
Sirius Black was looking at him, his face still pale, his unbandaged leg sticking to his pant, the blood shining as black and glossy as his hair. Remus tries to remember what he could read in those eyes—whether he could see the cruelty burning through them, no matter how good an actor he was, whether he could see a madman—but all he remembers is the magical sadness shifting beneath them, churning like the green surface of Bristol Channel, and he got the impression that Sirius was trying to say something to him, ask him something, something important, something very important.
The wallpaper peeling its leaves. Fog. Fog,
In the attic; this pod of black milk. Anymore,
Only a road like August approaches.
Sometimes the drawers of the earth close;
Sometimes our stories keep on and on.
-Elegy ("Who keeps the owl's breath"). David St. John.
Part V. Delphinium
Remus knew a painter who once showed him in watercolor how the admixture of indigo blue and burnt umber creates an entire palette of limpid, luminous greys. Give it a try—right on the paper. A very versatile combination: the dark veins of flowers, downy light, brass buttons on the pinafore.
Is that so, he said. He dipped his finger into the cold, metallic-smelling paint, and gathered it onto his hand.
On his father’s bedside he held his hand, palm to palm, as gently as he could. After all, there is no such thing as a peaceful way to die, Remus thought. His father sputtered hoarse sputum into a white enamel pan.
The fever never broke, not even with the chilling charms the healer cast, and his father's organs had started to fail one by one. He did not utter a single complaint of pain. Instead, he had visions of his late wife, groaning under their weight, turning in his bed while Remus gripped his hand. Whether he went happily Remus could not say.
After the Potters' and Peter's funerals he went through the things at Flood St. and took all his things in a handle bag—the same one he'd arrived with. The flat was so bare of his personal presence he really did not need to gather much—a scarf hanging on the chairback in the kitchen nook, his magic umbrella in the entryway, matches for his singleton socks underneath the couch.
Then he stood in the middle of Sirius Black’s drawing room. On the fireplace mantlepiece the wedding and baby pictures glided, unknowing, from one moment to the next. In his head he pictured the Potters’ cottage in Godric’s Hollow, torn from its secret alcove, little Harry who had crawled up his legs and nibbled on his fingers, crying in his crib. And for the first time in his adult life he felt like he could not control his magic, like objects were quivering uneasily in their high places, waiting for his command to unlatch them. His wand thrummed. His stomach shook as he crouched down and waited until his fury dissipated.
Among the words of The Fall hid Camus, in Paris after the war, in the separate arms of young lovers while his pregnant wife, Francine, the drowned woman, waited in Lourmarin. In The Just Judges, all the jeweled men and their dappled horses are looking away to the right. Their gaze is carried away by love—the lamb was born in another city. Metaphors float gently up, filling his sentences.
He walks on the folded streets, no longer sure—in the West, in the East, in Barnstaple where they first embraced, in Penarth where his parents lie. Chelsea. Hogwarts. Berlin Berlin Berlin the collector of cities.
The first time he slept with Sirius Black he pretended that he'd done it before. That he knew what to do with his hands. He put his palm flat on Sirius's chest, and slowly slid along his flank until he could tuck it under the T-shirt. He pulled it up to the chest. He didn't know what to do with the bunched up fabric and he felt suddenly shy. He tugged. Sirius obliged. Sirius looked at him with a face like a question. Remus pretended to be brave. -Is it that obvious? Remus said raspily. Sirius smiled, and smoothed his hair. -Oh Moony, what are you so worried about? It's only me. Sirius treated him with not exactly experience but an infinite tenderness he didn't think him capable of.
They touched each other with their hands, slicked by a tricky little spell. Remus found the angle awkward for his wrist and he was so nervous his body stayed taut and he couldn't come. Sirius pushed him down on the couch and sucked him off. It was beyond good or bad. When Remus finally came, all in a flood, it was almost painful.
-We'll have to practice that, was what Sirius said.
He had said nothing.
Kiss me again, on the mouth, on the lips, again, and again, never enough.
Sirius Black waking him with a gentle knuckle on his cheekbone, on the fuzzy hair at his temple. Sirius Black standing with his back to the blind alleyway, laughing, laughing. Black anger a lump of coal.
Black anger a cold sea.
-Remus, take good care of yourself—for her.
His father had said while they stood side by side, not facing each other, spying into their separate darkness. The priest had left. All the family had gone back for the reception. His mother's name, Hope Howell Lupin, glistened on the stone from the light rain. Remus wanted his father to look at him, to acknowledge this. Sodding Englishmen, he thought. Savages, all of them.
-You have to promise me, son.
Sirius Black's hand was caressing his knee. They were lounging by the window, smoking, naked under the blanket. Sodium light from the streetlamps diffused in the London fog like untended globes over the Thames—unreal city, under the brown fog of a winter dawn—Sirius's hair, cropped closer to his ear than Remus could remember in a long time, was puppy-soft.
The dream breaks.
Suddenly he is awake. The day is still very early. A crow caws on a power line and another one, its voice echoing down the block, answers in reply. The paint, luminous grey on the soft pressed paper, has dried in black streams on his hand.
Sirius Black would often not return to his flat by the winter of 1980. The Prewett brothers died in an ambush. Marlene McKinnon’s location had been betrayed to the Death Eaters. Albus, desperate, had restructured the operations of the Order so that they no longer held large meetings, gathering instead in small subgroups that exchanged information separately from each other, reporting only to Dumbledore himself. Remus started to operate alone, going into the storm drains and tube tracks to track down where the werewolves lived. He didn’t know where Sirius went those nights he didn’t come back, and neither did Sirius him. When he noticed, Sirius was on the other side.
He likes Berlin best at night, in the disconsolate, trembling night, when he can walk unmolested in the rough darkness, eliding years into mere seconds. In the pale morning he has to contend with uncompressed time, with streets that are dark doubles leading into nowhere places.
Sirius Black is everywhere in Berlin.
Sirius Black, wading through Potsdamplatz like a heron in a waste land, his black boots splashing the sickly water, parting the weeds. Sirius Black, asleep on the U-Bahn with his arms over his chest, his head drooping into shadow. Sirius Black, hunched like a hound over his motorcycle, weaving between cars across the bridge, disappearing onto Kottbusser Damm. Standing a few places ahead of him in queue at the cinema, reading a book. Slouched at the bar, his leather bomber jacket waxed and gleaming, flirting with the barmaid in fluent German. Sulking in the back corner at SO36 when The Fall played, in his hand a beer bottle, his sullen, bright eyes peering out of the parted hair as he stomped a cigarette out on the metal plate floor.
Remus clutches his wand, unsure which spell he should have used.
He can see the wall, the slouching guards like black crenula in a maze of wire. The spell is listless like the past, invisible and incomplete.
But the morning breaks over the Spree like a slack ribbon of light. All the city wakes around him. Colors seep into the grey, in everything, everything.
Where is Pete, the berk? He's missed our rendezvous—
The motorcycle touched down and skidded to a stop, the rubber burning black into the tar road. Sirius, braced to be thrown, instead jumped from the seat at the last minute. He didn't quite land on his feet and tumbled into the street while the motorcycle landed itself.
A light was flashing on and off a few houses down. The street was silent.
Sirius scrambled up and ran.
Something was wrong. Someone was crying. Harry. Harry was crying, but there was no mark in the sky oh god oh god oh please god—what happened—I need to— The door was torn off its hinges. A pumpkin grinned toothlessly in the foyer. Something fleshy peered from the other side of the jamb.
Sirius stopped dead.
—no no no no no no no—
It was James. He looked like he was sleeping, or just about to wake. His eyes were lazily ajar, his face frozen in an inexplicable expression, between surprise and— Sirius knelt by him. He could not speak. Time shrunk into an infinitesimally small point. Tentatively his hand reached out. His fingers were shaking. Just hours before they had hugged and said good-bye. The house was decorated in Halloween pageantry. James's glasses were askew on his face—he reached out to fix them—to smooth the hair—
—what have I done? How had it gone so wrong—
The kitchen light whined and flickered on and off.
Harry's sharp voice shrieked inconsolably. Mama—MAMA—MAMA—
He wanted to go up the stairs. He wanted to take Harry, to soothe him, to gather up the body, to tidy the mess—but he could not waste time—where is Pete that bloody treasonous bastard—how would he, a fucking coward after all—why did I think he could be—oh Remus what have I done.
He stumbled into the living room. He wiped his face with his hands. He grabbed a handful of powder from the jar on the mantlepiece and threw it into the cold hearth.
It was quiet for All Hallow's Eve, though it was not surprising. Only a few scattered groups gathered in the tables near the window, whispering amongst themselves. Tom was sitting at the bar with his chin in his hands, tuning a knob on the wireless.
-Blimey, didn't see you there, Black. Havin' the usual or something nice for All Hallow's?
-Have you seen Pettigrew?
-Not since yest'rday. Tom wiped his hands on his apron. Though now that you mention it I might have seen him at the Alley a while ago—we didn't talk—
Sirius turned on the spot and ran. That house on Knockturn Alley—that must be where he’s gone—gone to gloat to his fucking Death Eater mates, now that his goddamnned master’s godammned killed—I'll make him pay—
He caught a glimpse of movement in the shadows. Someone was just stepping out of a door, someone rather short—his hair tied back in a tail by his neck—
Peter turned around. His face froze. He apparated on the spot but it was too late. Sirius had already ran headlong into him. They both tumbled into a Muggle alleyway.
Peter, though he had just been tackled to the ground, was surprisingly quick to get to his feet. But when he looked around he realized he was cornered.
Sirius grabbed him by the collars and slammed him against the metal dumpster.
-No, Sirius, it wasn’t me! IT WASN’T ME! He made me do it I swear Sirius—
-Oh Peter Peter Peter, that’s not how the charm bloody works IS IT?
-You don’t understand, Sirius.
-I think I fucking understand perfectly, you scum.
-No you don’t, you really don’t, Sirius, you’re not—
-I WOULD HAVE DIED THAN BETRAY MY FRIENDS!
Sweat gathered on Peter’s forehead in beads. A wind gusted up and ruffled through the garbage bags next to them.
-You don’t understand—he’s so powerful—
-I understand perfectly. I’m going to make you pay. And when you think you’ve tasted hell, I’m going to make you wish you could crawl back to Voldemort.
—don’t say his name.
-Why, you don’t like the sound of the bastard’s name? What, you’re so fucking afraid of your own master—
Sirius’s face split into a grin. He would deal with Peter, the way he’s always dealt with Peter.
But Peter’s features were scrunched up together, not in remorse but in concentration. Too late Sirius looked down at the stub of a wand peering out from Peter’s too-long sleeves. Strontium red light was expanding from its tip—Peter’s arms shrinking—his blue eyes turning into beady black spheres—
Too late. Too late. As he was blown back by the blast he saw the storm drain grates, a rat tail wriggling through. Too late too late too late too late—
He remembered none of the pain. He thought he heard someone laughing.
The year slips on the calendar
Your kiss flares
A match struck in the night
Flares and dies
My slumber broken
Kiss me again
Kiss me again
-Blue (1993). Derek Jarman.