This is almost cinematic, Remus Lupin thinks to the empty audience of himself and Harry, the rain, these angles.
It’s a word he learned when he was young and his mother had that old Muggle television, the one that used to show Hitchcock and fuzzy Billy Wilder films late at night when the moon clawed like a scythe at his joints and his belly, anchored to the living room couch as the jagged white light poured into him like concrete even through the curtains and hardly able to breathe until the pain finally waned with the bite of snarling moon-teeth. It had a dial you had to get up to turn when you wanted to change the channel; they got four, but Remus only ever watched the one. He wonders, absently, what his parents did with it.
Here, his feet kicking up tiny clouds of dust on the stairs up to the attic room where he used to sleep, Remus feels like an unwelcome, hungry thief surveying the rubble of another man’s life. He was never so small, surely, that he was able to fit his body into that twin bed and lie beneath the frayed quilt, never would have left that book carelessly splayed out by the spine on his desk. The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, stuck on Michael Field, who was actually an amalgamation of two women with better prose than most of the men in the book, he thinks; he remembers reading it in bed on summer nights, remembers how the words crinkled honey-slow and melted on his tongue, and it is all so dim and bloodless that he thinks it might never have happened at all. It’s how he remembers most of his boyhood now, most of everything stacked up in trunks behind these past five years: distant watercolor memories, pale and sweet and blurred at the edges, like a favorite sweater you’ve outgrown or a dream you’ve already half-forgotten as you squint into the morning haze, gone but never quite lost.
He supposes that’s what you get when you maintain a cartographer’s precise, arms-length distance from yourself. With the camera lens of the world condensed down to this room, these walls with their peeling yellow paint, it’s harder to treat it with the clinical indifference he wants, and it makes him tired, makes him ache somewhere behind his eyes.
Harry, at his hip and always, fusses in his arms and closes his fist on the sleeve of his coat as if to remind him that this is all very real and you had better knock the cobwebs out of your mind, Remus Lupin, already you are twenty-two going on fifty and if you don’t watch it you’ll congeal into a piece of soggy human-shaped bread before Easter. He shifts the baby to his other hip and smooshes their noses together, thrills at Harry’s delighted sunburst of smile, the way the grey afternoon light splashes across his cheeks, and feels just a little less threadbare.
No one ever tells you how wiggly babies actually are. The first time he held Harry he had to sit down because he was so afraid he would drop him, break him, shatter him into a million, million little pieces; he still worries, sometimes, but Remus has learned to trust the strength of his arms with the stretch of the years. He has learned, because sometimes there is nothing else and because Remus Lupin was not meant to fall apart, not even when he does. It’s one of those laws written into the very cords of creation, irrevocable and cruel: Remus Lupin was meant to outlive. Weather. Suffer. Heap the infinitude of duty upon himself until it suffocates him. Remus Lupin is sheer granite. He is his parents’ old, rough-knit house, still standing in spite of all the small, everyday earthquakes. Remus Lupin endures.
Resilience is a monstrous thing. It is a lesson no one ever wants to learn, unwanted, undeserved. He would know.
“Well, baby,” he says, bouncing Harry at his hip by the window as the January rain smears the treetops into gibberish, “I don’t think we’re making much progress on the cleaning front.”
There’s a noise from outside, a low, thunderous rumble coming closer and closer, the exclamation point to the commas of Remus’ life and the grisly, sloe-eyed death of all things even moderately productive. Harry squirms and starts babbling again, staring up at Remus with his wet baby smile and his eyes, his eyes that are Lily’s exactly, bright mossy river-green—
No, no. He’s not supposed to be thinking about that. Not when he’s just got himself to the point where it stops hurting every single moment of every single day.
“You know, the ancient Greeks associated the Dog Star with disaster and miserable weather and dogs behaving badly,” he tells Harry, cradling him closer, up against his chest. “I don’t suppose they could have foreseen the dubiously legal motorbikes, too.”
His mother, when she was still alive a few months ago, would have laughed at him. Twenty-two years old, unemployed, a baby to feed, and shacked up with Sirius “Seventy-Three Kilos of Actual Dynamite” Black. It’s just not the sort of caper respectable young werewolves get themselves into.
Harry giggles in his arms as Sirius revs his motorbike once, twice, three times, just to watch the birds scatter and make sure the neighbors will complain the next time they catch Remus outside; he sighs, and Sirius, as if knowing on some cosmic level that he has just exasperated one of the only people who can and even wishes to deal with him for longer than twelve minutes, revs it one more time. Remus sighs again; he works so hard for it, after all.
Always he smells Sirius before he hears him or sees him, a bright sunshower of green leaves and cedar and warm skin-on-metal and, often, the faint tang of wet dog; Remus would know him in death, could sniff him out a thousand miles away, same as he’s done since he was eleven years old and young enough to fill this whole room with his awkward limbs and his little boy dreams. He inhales, smells warm, wet skin and forest and Sirius, and it’s only inevitability, just a chain of reactions that drags Sirius up the stairs and fastens Remus to the bedroom floor, just the same primal, fixed orbits in the language of intimacy that has Sirius’ feet thumping on the landing like heartbeats, like ritual.
“Ask me how I knew you’d be up here,” says Sirius, letting the door rattle against the wall. The room shudders, the window shudders, and Sirius’ smile never falters even once.
“Why, Mr. Black. How did you know I’d be up here?”
“Because you’re nothing if not predictable and you always head straight for the bedroom when you want a good mope. You, Moony, are oatmeal and raisins. This is your natural habitat.”
“I’m just having a look,” he says over Harry’s excited chirp. “I’m being wistful. I’m not moping.”
Sirius snorts and Remus watches him take in the room, all its pale yellow sadness, the sagging bed, the creaky gaps in the floorboards, until his eyes find Remus at the window with Harry squirming in his arms, and then the shadows stitched to the hollows of his face don’t look so iron-wrought, don’t look so much like bruises. Like maybe he can grow into it, this adult sorrow, this adult agony that does not fit either one of them. “Wistful, he says. And soon you’ll be nostalgic, and then you’ll be depressed, and then you’ll have yourself a colossal mope all over the duvet,” he says, and it is a testament to the patchwork patterns of creeping adulthood that Remus, at twenty-two, can admit to sentimentality without something cold and slimy being stuck down his shirt. Four years ago, he’d have been digging blackberry jam out of his trousers.
He smells the silvery, wet-bark softness of Sirius’ skin and wishes, suddenly, that he was.
“Anyway, I don’t want you moping at New Year’s and I thought you were meant to be cleaning so you can finally sell this place and turn into the seventy-year-old sea sponge you’ve wanted to be since fifth year,” Sirius says, leaning against the iron bed frame and shrugging out of his coat. “Hallo, tadpole,” he says to Harry, who opens his tiny hands and giggles when Remus puts him in Sirius’ arms, blooming out like a flower in the sun. “Are you having fun here among the dust and melancholy? Soon Remus will have you reading Baudelaire and eating marmalade and then you’ll both leave me for the books. He’s always been a tart like that, you know. A right verbose tart.”
“What, you are,” he murmurs, grinning wicked and wolf-sharp, and Remus tries not to think of the looks on all the upright, proper people’s faces when Harry’s first real sentence is inevitably Moony is a humongous tart. Albus Dumbledore will probably stick him with his pinch-faced Muggle relatives. The Daily Prophet will publish a scathing condemnation of the Lupin-Black household. Mad-Eye Moody will show up and beat them both with large tree branches and hex them in delicate places.
Remus decided a long time ago that he was not meant for parenting, and that opinion of himself hasn’t changed much even after countless midnights spent rocking Harry back to sleep and combing neon orange carrot mush out of his hair. He loves Harry like he has loved few things in his life, with a fierce voraciousness he once thought reserved for maternal animals, but he isn’t easy with it the way Sirius is, his vast, reckless heartcrush of love, hands like blankets, words like rolling hills, the promise of endless summer skies. Remus is all rhythmic caution, all electric instinct in the blood but too much analytical stammering and too many what-ifs and maybe-nots to just crack himself open, flayed rust-red and raw, and enfold Harry the way he wants. In school, a small lifetime ago now, Remus wrote all his essays days in advance at least; Sirius and James, when they weren’t copying his, wrote them at eight o’clock in the morning two hours before they were due and did just as well as him.
So many things have changed. So many things haven’t changed at all.
“You know,” Sirius says quietly, watching Harry crawl across the quilt up to the hem Remus used to chew in the light of violent-bright midsummer moons, “we could always stay here, instead. The spiders will have to go but I figure we can make a nice nest of it up here.”
He’s been half-expecting this since after the funeral, but Remus still startles a little at the way it sounds, coming out of Sirius’ mouth. Like manhood. Like permanence. “I thought you said Kent was full of stale toast and dark creatures of the night. You said it wasn’t vigorous enough for you.”
“Well, mostly I was talking about you,” says Sirius, tugging Remus down by his belt loops and onto the bed next to him, easy as it’s ever been. “And I’ve got vigor enough for half a county, besides. And just look at it out there. All green and, and, all those trees, and what have you. Harry can run around like a wild animal. So can we. Merlin’s balls, Remus, we can let the grass grow all summer and have at it in the weeds.”
“I was talking about planting a garden,” Sirius says with all the false, wide-eyed innocence of the rightly wronged. “Why, what were you talking about?”
Remus Lupin has this theory, this theory that encompasses most of his explosively eventful life for the past eleven years and explains everything from Sirius’ fingers on his thigh to Remus’ blind anticipation of the twist of his lips and the electric-kinetic grace of this gravity of theirs. Chaos is to order as Sirius is to Remus. Neither without the other, indistinguishable, immaculate, shape and form and purpose. Bodies in motion, bodies at rest. Factor in the sheer insanity, factor in the shared breath, the music of laughter and the smell of blood and nights spent stretched tight as piano wire and you have something strong enough to pound an impact radius like a meteor. It’s the same thing that has him smiling at Sirius’ feigned virtue right now, on a sagging bed that once fit him. It’s the same thing that pulls Harry into his lap, the same thing that makes Remus want to swallow them both and keep them here and never let go.
He’s done the math. It’s sound as pie.
“It needs some paint,” Remus tells him, running his hand through Harry’s hair just for the feel of it on his fingers. “Actually, every single room needs paint. A lot of paint. The kitchen door needs fixed and the backyard’s full of gnomes. The upstairs faucet is leaking.”
“So we’ll fix it.”
“The neighbors will probably push your motorbike into the ravine.”
“Then I’ll give them rabies.”
“Sometimes the basement floods.”
“We’ll never have to pay for swimming lessons,” Sirius says, leaning back on the heels of his hands and painting on his most incredulous face, the one with the eyebrows arched and the mouth wrapped up in a mockery of steel-toed severity that would have done McGonagall proud. Remus loves him like this. It makes him look so young, and—yes, they are both of them still so young. “Bloody Christ, Moony, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were trying to talk yourself out of it. And we all know you’d never do that, oh no, not Remus ‘Professional Dishrag and Stale Bran Prophet’ Lupin. Remember the middle of seventh year, when I—”
“No, shut it, remember the middle of seventh year, when I said, Hey, Remus, Moony, you know I do not have a single thought in my head lately that isn’t about you, I eat garlic potatoes at dinner and there you are telling me to close my mouth because it’s unattractive, I wake up and I think of your teeth for Merlin’s sake or I’m under James’ cloak and I’m slapping Filch on the arse and I can hear you reciting Lord Rochester, and it’s really starting to make me go all wobbly and I can’t think for your stodgy Remus voice in my ears. And you said—”
“I said, Sounds like a problem with your cerebrum, there’s the House of Black for you, and then you went all puffy and splotchy and soft around the edges and I said—”
“You said, I see what you mean about the wobbling,” Sirius says, admirably fluent in the pastel-posh dialect of Remus, “and then I hauled back and stuck my tongue in your mouth.”
“And you threw my breathing off-kilter,” Remus remembers. “Hasn’t been right ever since. And I put my fingers on my lips, which were excessively wet even given the situation I might remind you, and I said, Do it again.”
“And so I swept you up in my arms like Heathcliff, sounding every bit the young Laurence Olivier even, and I did it again. I Did It Again. And I only wobbled a little.” Sirius’ arm curves across his back, his hand clasping on his shoulder, in the scratchy wool of the coat Remus never took off, warm, concrete and unmistakable as love, as belonging. Remus wraps an arm around Harry and leans into Sirius, sets himself against all his sharpness, the tide swelling up beneath the moon. “You remember what you said to me, then?”
“I said, Why me, though?”
“Because it’s never been anything else, I said,” and Sirius, his knee pressed against Remus’, turns his head to mumble into his hair. “And you still asked me, in all your Moony-dithering, How do you know?”
“You told me, I couldn’t wash your name out of my mouth last night, and then you got that look you get—which is, it’s just terrifying by the way, it makes you look like you’ve swallowed a pint of slugs and cinnamon vodka—and you said, What, don’t you?”
“And you said, in your best breathy Bergman voice—the one that makes the backs of my knees all tingly by the by, do it more often—you said, Half my life, I think, only I’ve just realized, and that makes too much sense, and I think something just exploded in my small intestine, excuse me.”
“I didn’t sound breathy. I sounded shaky and scared a little bit nauseous. And probably slightly hysterical.”
“And your nose, your nose turned very red. You looked like the inside of a watermelon,” Sirius says warmly into his hair. Remus can feel the slow smile slipping onto his lips and knows he’s really already made up his mind without ever knowing so, just like he did when they were seventeen and Sirius knelt beside his bed on that January evening, all hands and mouths. He knows his stars, knows the topography of his own desire, Remus the Resilient and Remus the Man and Remus the Perpetual Earl Grey-Drinking Tweed Sock-Wearing Prune, and he knows too well the Sisyphean futility of self-denial, how it will fester like a wound on his bones.
So, really, all that’s left is to plant his feet in the floorboards and let it all bloom.
He turns his head to talk into Sirius’ neck, tastes the rain on his skin, peach-warm, winter-wild. “We can fill this place up again, then,” Remus says, and—that’s it, then, the shock, the galvanization, blood coursing velvet-hot through his limbs down to his toes. It feels like he’s just started breathing again for the first time in nearly a year. A liquid-quick thread of air flooding his lungs. A bright gush of flavor, a burst of reds and blues, salt and heat, naked and bold as faith.
Remus inhales, says, “And I thought we weren’t getting wistful. Shove over, Padfoot, I’m supposed to have a mope all over you now.”
Sirius exhales, says, “We’re not wistful, you absolute plonk, we’re talking about the time I looked at you and said, Yes, I think I’m going to have some of that, and then you got the vapors.”
“You practically rewired all my veins.”
“Baby, that’s not all I did,” Sirius grins, and Remus feels like a boy again, twenty-two years old and ready to coax the creaky stairs and the dusty kitchen table to fruit, prepare the ground, tend the tiny sprouts they’ve sown here. “The point is, we’re both daft and we’ll always be just outside the realm of decent and legal, what with the fleas and the howling and you know, but at least we know where we’re going.”
“We’re going to have a kennel.”
“Stop sounding so pleased, I’ll get the wrong idea.” Sirius’ breath is warm in his hair, his mouth soft, dark and private in its fullness. “I know what you want. You want me to carry you across the threshold and feed you biscuits. You’re brassed I haven’t done it already.”
“They’re going to make me a saint,” Remus says into his shoulder, “they’re going to make me three saints by the time we’re done.”
“Yes, Jesus will show up any day now to saintify you and then Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu will make you King Prefect and my motorbike is going to rock you to sleep and the cows are going to come roast our steaks for dinner. You know I’m as good as you’re going to get, cupcake, so bask in it while you can.”
“My big honking consolation prize. The Blacks make them so… tawdry.”
“You love me,” Sirius crows, and Remus, who knows life is little things and love is rain and skin and dust beneath your feet, closes his eyes and breathes.
Add Remus to Sirius squared, divide it by a few unending sorrows plus the tangle of shared suffering, shared blood, and then multiply it by a power of ten. Solve for x and you get purpose. You get meaning. You get balance, memory, cohesion, the frantic closeness of bodies, potential like livewires sparked to life in fireworks and fury, limitless and bountiful and ravenous as gods. There is nothing they cannot do. There is no beast they cannot conquer.
Remus looks up at Sirius, holding Harry close, lulled to drowsiness by the distant murmur of his heartbeat. There is a heaviness beneath his cheeks, in the slope of his chin. Remus is going to breathe into him until it’s gone.
His eyes, sloe-slate, alive as air and always on him, always for him. How does a person even get eyes like that. “There is something chemically off about you,” Remus tells him.
“Its name is Remus Lupin and it makes my molecules squirm,” Sirius says, nodding. “Incurable, they tell me. You get used to the wriggling and the Yeats after a while.”
Sirius is a flood, a hard thunder-rush of hurricanes and midsummer cyclones. He is a tight jangle of energy, beautiful, infuriating, mercurial as wind, and, often, he is the only thing in the world that makes any sense to Remus at all. And here they are, twenty-two years old and older still at heart, sitting on Remus’ boy-bed with a one-year-old baby and aches in their bones and a crooked house on a hill verdant with promise.
It makes sense. It all makes sense.
So, Remus Lupin does what logic, Aristotle, and seventeen years of knifeblade-keen werewolf instinct dictate he must with sense: He grabs it. He holds on.
“Hold out your hands and close your eyes,” he says, a hand around Sirius’ elbow, tender, insistent.
“That didn’t work for me when I was nineteen,” says Sirius, his eyes narrowing, “I don’t see why it should work for you now.”
“Because my name isn’t Sirius Black.”
“Oh,” he blinks, “right.”
Remus pushes his fingers through Sirius’ with the hand that’s not holding Harry to his chest. He runs his thumb along his palm, along the thin blue skip of veins in his wrist, and kisses him soft and slow as sunrise, as prayer. And this is it, he thinks as he pulls back, all the tumblers clinking into place, all the words he had lost rushing back in, the cartographer and the dreamer, instinct and logic turning in tandem and all the world glittering boundless and brilliant before him like sand in a desert, and this, here, now, this is all that matters. This flash of courage. The footprints on the dusty floor.
“Remus,” Sirius whispers, a bare thread of breath like a slim golden chant, and Remus can’t be everything, can’t give them back the years or fix all the should-have-beens, but he can do this. He can breathe for them. He can swell to fit some of the empty spaces in between. He can nurture this, cultivate it, break the earth beneath their will and feed the seeds with all the blood there is inside him. Harry, tiny sapling stretching for the sun, yawns and murmurs in his lap.
“I’m right here,” he says. Sirius never lets go of his hand.
“I know,” Sirius says, “I know you are.”
The first January rain pours down the windows, and Remus, his arms full of the entire world and surrounded by familiar trappings, familiar ghosts, breathes in, and the walls hold around them, always, always.