Chapter 1: You Are the Bread and the Knife
"I don't know what to do," Sirius finally says, dragging a hand down his face, attempting to cover his frustration. Remus places a hand on Sirius' nape, letting it rest there, the weight of it helping relax Sirius' laboured breathing. "I just don't know."
Remus doesn't know, either.
Remus watches Harry from the kitchen table as the boy pours himself a cup of tea. Tea, tea, tea. Harry declines sandwiches, chocolate, oatmeal - no matter how casually he or Sirius tried to offer them. But he would drink tea, countless pots every day.
"Harry?" Remus speaks, in a moment of bravery. It wasn't often that he overstepped his imagined boundaries. Harry leans against the counter and inhales the steam rising from his tightly-clutched mug.
"Hmm?" The boy doesn't look up. Harry's thin, translucent fingers are slowly gaining colour from the heat.
"Can I offer you some toast? We have leftover sausages from breakfast, Sirius saved you some. I could toss them in a pan and -"
"No, but thank you, Remus. That's very kind." Harry pads back upstairs.
Remus exhales, feeling like his stomach has dropped through the floor. If Harry didn't float off into the air, then he would float away on his sea of Darjeeling.
Sirius and Remus had anticipated Harry's return from school with glee and trepidation, respectively. Sirius had spent weeks getting Grimmauld Place in order, finally cleaning out the last of the cobwebs and putting together Harry's room with as much care as a robin building her nest.
As excited as Sirius was, Remus found himself becoming a ball of very tightly-wound nerves. Harry did not know the extent of Remus and Sirius' relationship. While Remus suspected that he had some idea, this did nothing to calm his anxiety.
Harry had insisted that he take a cab home from the station, so Sirius and Remus sat together in the kitchen and waited. Remus had made tea and bought chocolate and strawberry cakes, the expensive ones, from the market. They had scrapped Sirius' "WELCOME HOME, HARRY!" banner after it had, carelessly, been left on the counter, and had, carelessly, been lit on fire with the stove. No fingers were pointed.
Remus fidgeted with his teacup.
"Remus, honestly. Don't worry. Harry is very fond of you," Sirius had insisted, running a thumb roughly over the back of Remus' hand. "Anyway, the world is not the way it was when we were his age - these things aren't…"
"I know they aren't. I know."
There was a knock at the door. Sirius' eyes locked onto Remus'. "It'll be alright." They stood up and made their way to the foyer, Sirius with an extra hop in his step. In spite of himself, Remus smiled at Sirius' visible excitement. They opened the door.
Sirius' breath hitched.
Harry's in his bedroom getting unpacked, and Sirius paces the kitchen in a state of barely-contained shock. Remus leans against the counter ineffectually.
"We'll figure this out, okay? Sirius?" Remus says weakly. Unconvincingly. He isn't sure Sirius even hears him. "We'll talk to him. We'll fix it. Harry will be fine."
Sirius collapses against the counter next to Remus, sliding down to the floor. Remus slides down with him and, fighting his self-consciousness, grabs Sirius' hand.
"He's so thin," Sirius finally whispers, his head bent forward, hair shielding his eyes from Remus' view. "How could they have let this happen? Dumbledore, Minerva? His friends? Why wasn't anyone watching him?" He slams his fist against the floor, slams his head back against the cupboard. Remus winces, listening for footsteps on the stairs. There were none.
"I don't know how it could have happened, Sirius. But you can keep an eye on him, now," Remus assures him, pressing a kiss against Sirius' jaw. Beyond that, Remus doesn't know what to do, what to say. The two of them had barely kept it together after the door opened and Harry stood there in front of them, looking gaunt and exhausted. But Harry had smiled, and thrown his arms around Sirius. Remus had watched over Harry's shoulder as Sirius' face went from concerned to horrified as he tightened his arms around the boy.
"I'll go ask Harry what he wants for dinner. We can pick up some take-away, anything he'd like," Sirius says, hopefully. Remus sighs and runs a hand down Sirius' back.
"That sounds lovely."
They stand up, and Sirius starts up the staircase. Remus watches him go.
Sirius had been unable to get Harry to commit to anything more than, "Sirius, that's so thoughtful, but you really don't have to do anything special. I'm just happy to be home," so Remus volunteers to go pick up the take-aways and give them some time alone.
When Remus returns, weighted down with heavy styrofoam containers packed haphazardly into a paper bag, he can hear laughter in the parlour. Oh, thank goodness. He drops his keys onto the kitchen table and begins to unpack his fragrant haul. Mutton tikka, saag aloo, chana masala, plain naan, and jasmine rice: Remus had chosen the dishes conscientiously. Nothing heavy in cream, vegetarian options, not so much food that the portions would seem intimidating. He grabs bowls out of the cupboard and forks out of the drawer and began to set the table. He sets the second bowl down harder than he meant to, a loud clunk reverberating through the kitchen, and the parlour falls silent.
"Remus is back with supper," he hears Sirius say. Apologetically, he senses. Remus stands stock-still in the kitchen and listens, the aromas of coriander and garlic swirling around him, listening for Harry's response. Ears straining, he barely hears it: "Okay."
"So, I'm sure you've had to run through the story once already, but how was the trip home?" Remus tries to distract Harry from Sirius' stare. From the moment the three had sat down and Remus had spooned out their food, Sirius had not taken his eyes off Harry's face, Harry's fork, Harry's bowl.
"That's alright," Harry smiles brightly, putting down the fork he had just piled with rice and mutton. Despite the thinness of his face, the dark circles, Harry's eyes are still as bright as ever. "It was good - I slept most of the way. It's always a little sad to say goodbye to Hogwarts for the summer, though. Hagrid nearly crushed me with a hug before I left."
Remus sees Sirius start to open his mouth and catches his eye, silencing him before he's able to comment. Of course he nearly crushed you, you're thin as a twig. He forces a smile. "That's good to hear, Harry."
Remus watches as Harry drags his fork through his rice, fills it, lifts it almost to his mouth, then puts it down again. He feels Sirius grab his hand under the table. "So how are you and Sirius faring in London? Are you the city type?"
Remus' eyes flick to Sirius', which are begging for him to do something, to not let Harry play this game.
"It's been different," Remus says weakly. Harry laughs.
"I didn't take you for the city type, Professor." Remus' chest tightens. Professor. Underneath the table, he lets go of Sirius' fingers.
"He didn't eat!" Sirius growls, as he and Remus do the washing-up.
"He did, Sirius. He ate some of everything. You did well," Remus insists. He doesn't let on that it was worrisome that, after dinner, Harry had immediately disappeared back up to his bedroom. There's no need to get Sirius worked up even more, especially as their suspicions are nothing more than that: suspicion. Does Sirius even know about these things? Remus wonders. Remus spent enough time in the library when he was younger reading the DSM-III to try and understand his own neuroses to at least have a passing knowledge of mental illnesses.
Is Sirius aware that, if this is what they were even dealing with, what Harry has is an illness?
"What do you think?" Sirius pleads. Remus snaps back to the present, passing a bowl across the sink for Sirius to rinse.
"What we should do. To fix him." Remus bites his lip. What we should do. He cares for the boy, but the thought of implicating himself in this is terrifying. It's… parental. But, of course, Remus can't let Sirius handle it alone. God, no. That would be a disaster.
"Give it a few days. Maybe even a couple of weeks. These things can be… transient," Remus says, not believing the words even as he speaks them. He changes the subject. "What did you talk about while I was out?"
Sirius frowns at the the washcloth in his hand, but answers. "Just the regular catching-up. We laughed about Dumbledore's eccentricities, he told a very charming anecdote about Molly's son and a mishap in potions…" Sirius looks at Remus helplessly. "Moony, he seems happy."
Remus places a damp hand on the small of Sirius' back, but says nothing.
Chapter 2: The Crystal Goblet and the Wine
Sirius and Remus observe.
Remus and Sirius keep silent for over a week, observing Harry (Remus doing so much more subtly than Sirius). Harry knows he's being watched, and adjusts his behaviour accordingly. Breakfast and lunch are a free-for-all, but sit-down suppers are enforced and met with resignation. Every evening, Harry makes a show of eating a portion of each serving, talking animatedly throughout the meal to distract from the bites that never made it to his mouth and spending inordinate amounts of time cutting his meat. They make a habit of eating out of bowls to make it more difficult for Harry to scramble his food around, to distract them.
Remus suspects that Sirius views the situation through rose-tinted glasses. He doesn't seem to know what it means for Harry to sneak away to his room after supper, and Remus is terrified to tell him. One night, Remus tries to go after Harry, to put his ear to the bedroom door in an attempt to confirm his suspicions. The imperturbable charm Harry had cast on his bedroom is evidence enough. Clever boy, despite risking a slap on the wrist from the Ministry. But Remus has no idea what he's supposed to do with this information. Sirius, I don't want to alarm you, but when Harry sneaks up to his room, he's purging himself of all the food we managed to get inside him.
Despite Sirius' insistence that his presence was important, Remus feels like an interloper. He cares for Harry, but he feels like he's overstepping by even being in the house while Sirius, Harry's guardian, is dealing with the situation. Who exactly is he supposed to be in this situation, anyway? Harry's professor? His dad's old schoolmate? The man sleeping with Harry's godfather?
Late in the afternoon, Harry pads into the kitchen and pours himself a cup of tea. Remus sets down his book, rests his chin on his hand and watches him, looks him over. It confounds Remus that, despite Harry's dramatic weight loss, the boy doesn't seem to try to hide it. Sure, he wears those hooded sweatshirts, but every kid his age wears those these days. (The phrase these days leaves an aftertaste, makes Remus feel out of touch and old.) But Harry also wears jeans that tightly hug his diminished hips, that show off his protruding hipbones. It's clear to Remus that Harry isn't in the danger zone yet - his face is still handsome, it still holds a little precious fat. His stomach is slightly, noticeably concave, but not concave nor protruding the way they are on those poor starving children on telly that always make Remus rush to change the channel.
Harry's sickness is more visible in the little things. The alarming boniness of his wrists, his elbows, his collarbone. The way Remus can sometimes, terrifyingly, hear Harry stop and gasp for breath halfway up the staircase.
"You said it was transient…"
Sirius lay in bed with Remus, head on his chest. They had become as furtive with each other as Harry was with food - once the boy was in bed every night, Sirius would sneak in to join Remus in the master bedroom. This clandestine system was partially to assuage Remus' lingering anxiety, and partially because, around Harry, even Sirius believed in a quantum of modesty.
"I'm sorry, Sirius. I'm so, so sorry." Remus runs both his hands through his hair, frustrated. "I know I said that, and sometimes it is. But sometimes these things don't just fix themselves." As soon as the words leave his mouth, Remus regrets them. Sirius jolts up as though he has been burned. His eyes meet Remus'.
"What do you mean, they don't just fix themselves? What's that supposed to mean?" Sirius is struggling to keep his voice down, and Remus sits up, tentatively placing a hand on his shoulder. He's almost surprised when it isn't immediately pushed away. So this is going to happen now.
"Sirius, what do you think is wrong with Harry? Why do you think he isn't eating?" Sirius' eyes narrow, glaring.
"There's nothing wrong with Harry. He just needs… He needs cheering up. We need to get him out of this house," Sirius spits. "He'll be okay." Despite Sirius' efforts, it comes out as a question, rather than a statement. He'll be okay? Remus presses his forehead against Sirius'.
"He might not be, Pads. I know you don't want to think about it, but it might be even more serious than that. Harry's alright for now, we're keeping an eye. But if something doesn't change soon, he could get very sick."
"He's already sick, Moony." There's a flicker of recognition behind Sirius' eyes, of sadness and despair, that Remus hasn't seen before. He knows how serious things are, rose-tinted glasses be damned.
"I mean worse than he is now. In-hospital sick. His heart could give out, Pads."
Sirius recoils from Remus' touch, a hand over his mouth. "Don't ever say that."
Halfway through supper, Harry sets down his cutlery and announces, "You know I know what you're doing, right?"
Remus' heart nearly stops. Sirius clenches his hands into fists, unclenches them, stressed.
"What's that, Harry?" Sirius asks, his voice even (Remus can tell what enormous effort it is).
"I know that you're, you know, together. An item. You don't have to tiptoe." Harry takes a bite of his shepherd's pie. "I think it's brilliant, really."
And Sirius chokes back a laugh, shoots a smile at Remus. Remus looks at his hands.
Remus finds himself wandering Grimmauld Place, cleaning up abandoned cups of tea from every room. Sirius and Harry are gone to the market to pick up supplies for supper. As he tidies, Remus finds himself running through all the potential talks they could have with Harry.
Perhaps they could open gently, and Sirius could say, "Harry, I'm worried about you and love you very much. Why aren't you eating? You're making yourself very sick." And maybe there would be some kind of breakthrough, and Harry would open up, maybe shed a tear or two, and say, "You're right, help me."
Maybe the soft approach wouldn't work, and they'd need an outright accusation. Remus could find the stones to say, "You're not eating, it has to change." Strongly, loudly. No room for argument. Harry would nod, and say "You're right. Please help me."
No, no. That's not right. There would be a fight.
Sirius would say, "Harry, we need to talk about your problem." And Harry would deny, and argue, and say, "I don't know what you're talking about!" And then Sirius would grab Harry's bony wrists and look into his eyes and whatever connection those two had would arc across them, and Harry would say, "Yes, you're right, help me," and he would start eating again. Because maybe it could be that easy.
Fucking hell, thinks Remus.
Chapter 3: You Are the Dew on the Morning Grass
Sirius and Remus come to a crossroads.
It was nigh impossible for Remus to have a conversation with Harry without his brain screaming, Too thin! Gonna break! Fix him! As such, he's shocked to find that Sirius does quite well in hiding any discomfort caused by Harry's appearance, in biting back any worry. Sirius is able to turn off the litany and focus on the essence of his godson, not just the bones and the thin skin. Remus watches them as they sit together, Harry carefully tucked under a blanket, as they discuss mundane things; Quidditch, the weather, girls. It hits Remus like a bowling ball in the stomach that maybe he was wrong. Perhaps Sirius could deal with this better alone.
Harry sits down at the kitchen table unannounced while Remus is cooking breakfast, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin when Harry remarks, "That smells lovely."
Remus doesn't immediately turn. He needs a moment to plan his response. Living with Harry, this version of Harry that was quite like the real thing but not exactly, was like playing chess. Just as analytical, but with higher stakes. He settles on, "Oh?" - offering Harry some breakfast doesn't feel like the right move at this point in the game.
"Are you making beans on toast?" Harry asks.
"Yes - with Marmite layered in the middle for me. Just butter, for Sirius. He thinks I'm mad for eating the stuff." Remus laughs softly, and Harry joins him. We're having a normal moment, a normal food moment, Remus thinks with a perplexing dose of panic. He shifts his weight from foot to foot, uncomfortable. Harry notices.
"I don't mean to make things difficult," he says suddenly, shocking both himself and Remus. As far as Remus knows, this is the first time the thing has been spoken of with Harry, in front of Harry. Where the fuck is Sirius, thinks Remus, then, I better not screw this up, oh god. He pauses for a long moment before responding.
"Harry - you aren't. Making things difficult. You're making - I mean. It's terrifying, Harry," He focuses on stirring the beans, his face hot. "We don't know how to help. I mean, Sirius doesn't. I know it's not my place."
"It's not, you know, not your place," Harry says, awkwardly. He picks at his cuticles.
"Oh," Remus says, softly. Oh.
"I'm working on it, okay?" Harry says, quiet and insistent. Remus senses he's maybe beginning to even be scaring himself. Where are you, Sirius.
Finally turning and meeting Harry's eyes, Remus nods gravely. "Okay, Harry. That's good."
"Yeah," Harry dips his head, embarrassed. Then he slides away from the table and heads back up to his bedroom, the staircase nearly silent under his featherlike weight.
That evening, the three of them sit at the kitchen table and sip at bowls of carrot and coriander soup. There's an animated discussion over the previous evening's Chudley Cannons - Holyhead Harpies match between Harry and Sirius that, for once, doesn't seem like a distraction tactic. Remus lets himself relax, smile. He even lets himself pipe up on the finer points of Quidditch rulings, feeling, for the first time since Harry had arrived home, that maybe they could figure this family thing out.
Harry catches his eye and grins, then sips his soup. Remus smiles back, tentatively.
"My boys!" Sirius announces, pleased.
Harry finishes his soup. Sirius beams, trying to be subtle, as though he's beaming about Quidditch finals and not the empty bowl sitting in front of Harry. The three of them do the washing-up together, Harry washing, Sirius rinsing, Remus drying, and when Harry isn't looking Sirius sneaks a peck behind Remus' ear and whispers, "Love you." Remus reddens, warmth spreading from his chest, down to his fingertips and toes. He's slowly warming to the idea of showing affection in front of Harry. Remus has never been afraid of public affection, per se, but when it comes to the idea of showing it in front of Harry, Remus takes a long time to go from oh my god stop it Sirius to love you, too.
"I'm going to head up and do some reading, thanks for supper, it was lovely," says Harry, quietly.
Sirius just smiles and nods, "I'll call you when the Falmouth-Braga match starts."
Remus hides his frown, wiping his damp hands on his trousers. He's working on it, he reminds himself. He's allowed time to work on it.
"REMUS! Remus, come quickly please! Fuck, fuck…" His heart in his throat, Remus shoots out of his chair in the drawing room and into the hall.
"Where are you, Sirius?" He spins 'round, ears straining, trying to pinpoint the source of the shout.
"Up the stairs! It's Harry." Remus can hear muttering that sounds like Harry and Sirius exchanging angry, hushed words. He rushes up the stairs to the first-floor landing, where he finds Harry propped up against the wall, Sirius kneeling over him. "He collapsed."
"I didn't… Sirius, I'm fine. I tripped, the carpet -"
"Stop it, Harry." Sirius cuts him off fiercely, and Remus can tell the boy is taken aback for a moment, his mouth hanging open before he gasps again in pain. Sirius has never before so much as chided Harry. Remus stands awkwardly on the stairs, trying to figure out his role, which for the moment seemed to be staring at his feet, kicking at a loose piece of string hanging from the intricate runner. "Can you breathe alright? Keep your head back. Gently, gently."
Remus sits down, two steps below Harry. "Is he alright?"
"His ribs," Sirius explains simply as he places the back of his hand on Harry's forehead. Remus notices that the boy is favouring his left side, his right hand gently pressed under his armpit, and pulls out his wand.
"Can you stand?" Harry nods, and lets Remus and Sirius lead him to his bed. He eases down, wincing but trying to hide the worst of it. Sirius sits at the foot of the bed, rubbing Harry's shin distractedly. Probably trying to comfort himself as much as he's trying to comfort Harry, thinks Remus.
"Can I… can I see?" Remus asks gently, nervously. Harry goes white. "I'll fix it for you, I just need to see, alright?"
"No." Harry shifts away from them on the bed, the movement causing him to cry out. Remus just nods.
"Okay. That's alright. Sirius, may I speak to you outside? We'll be right back." He has to catch Sirius by his shirtsleeve and wrest him up and out of the room, closing the door behind them. Sirius stares at the door until finally Remus turns him by his jaw to catch his eye. "You know how we spoke about that moment, when Harry might get worse? Hospital-sick?"
Sirius shakes his head in disbelief and begins pleading. "Moony, no, it's only been three weeks, I know he seems really bad now, but we can fix it, we've been getting food in him, you said -"
Remus draws Sirius into a tight hug and strokes the back of his neck, breathing in his scent. "I know what I said, Pads, I know. But what we're doing isn't enough. It isn't working. "
That night, Remus wakes to Sirius attempting to muffle his sobs. He places a questioning hand on Sirius' back. He hasn't seen him sob since, since... a very long time ago.
"Pads, love. It'll be okay."
"I don't believe you." Sirius rolls over to face him and Remus takes the opportunity to plant a kiss on the side of his mouth. Sirius turns his face away, and Remus has to force himself to put on a brave face and not feel hurt by it. "Don't. What would I say to James? To Lily? How would I tell them I let their only son, the only part of them that's left, nearly starve himself to death under my watch? It's unforgivable."
"It's nobody's fault. Not yours, not Harry's," insists Remus, his voice straining. He doesn't get another response.
Sirius insists that Remus join him in sitting Harry down for the talk. Despite his brief, somewhat successful conversation with Harry days before, Remus feels out of place. Interloper, his brain hisses at him. They sit together in the silent kitchen, the least intimidating of all the rooms in Grimmauld place, with Harry sitting opposite. Sirius' hand is clutched in Remus' own. He runs his thumb roughly, quickly, back and forth over it, trying to calm Sirius' tremors.
Harry is still favouring his left side, but attempting to hide it. The boy had tried to cast episkey on himself, to mediocre results. Bruised, possibly fractured ribs are not the same as a broken toe or a bloody nose. Yet, Harry continued to refuse Remus' offers and ignored Sirius' pleas to let Remus help.
The only sound for what seemed like an eternity is the rattle of the spoon in Remus' mug as he attempted to take a sip of his oversteeped tea with shaky hands, on the verge of a full-on panic attack. What am I doing here? What could I possibly be doing here? He avoids Harry's eyes, before catching himself staring at Harry's tiny, bony wrists poking out from pushed-up sleeves.
"Harry," Sirius finally says, breaking the silence. "This can't go on any longer."
The conversation goes more smoothly than any of those Remus had imagined in his head. Afterward, Remus is sure that he witnessed the exact moment of the arc, that jolt of electricity between Sirius and Harry. It was like a silent, mutual understanding, when grey eyes met green.
It's decided that Harry would have a time-limited trial at home following a meal schedule, and if he is unable to follow it, he will have to be put in hospital. The meals will start small, and gradually be increased in size. When summer ended, and Harry had to go back to Hogwarts, they would reassess.
Remus adds that Harry won't be allowed to be unsupervised for an hour after every meal. Sirius is initially confused by this stipulation, but then the weight of its meaning dawns on him and he slumps in his chair, his hand slides out of Remus' and over his mouth.
Harry just nods tacitly at every request, complicit, fidgeting and scraping at the skin around his thumbnail, until he finally speaks, eyes fixed on the middle of the table: "I hope you don't think less of me." Sirius' mouth falls open. Without a word, he pushes back his chair, circles the table, and pressed his lips to the top of Harry's head.
Chapter 4: And the Burning Wheel of the Sun
Sirius and Remus fall apart.
"I wish you'd told me," Sirius says, breaking the silence. Remus shifts on his pillow, propping himself up on his elbow.
"I wasn't sure."
"Yes you were, you knew. You knew that he was sneaking off to… do that." Sirius is still having trouble wrapping his head around the situation. This isn't something they treated at St. Mungo's, it's not something Sirius can treat with a healing spell or a liniment. This is something else. Something scarier. Sirius places a hand on Remus' cheek. "I'm not blaming you, Moony… God, no. I just. You know about these things, you know about everything, and I need you to help me to understand."
"It's not an easy thing to understand, Pads. It's just, you know, a coping mechanism, that sort of thing."
"I know, I know… It's just, why this. Adolescent angst and that, why isn't he out - I don't know. Shagging girls and coming home smelling like grass. That's what we did when we were messed up kids," Sirius frowns. "I know he's got the weight of the world… But we were messed up kids too, Moony, and we didn't do this. I mean, food is supposed to make you feel better, like you and your chocolate…"
Remus says nothing, and he's not sure Sirius wants him, needs him, to say anything at all.
"I spoke to Dumbledore today, while you were out. He had no idea any of this was happening. I got a little heated with him, probably said some things that I -- but honestly, Remus! He had no idea! He's supposed to be watching over the boy, supposed to be his protector while he's at Hogwarts and he had no idea!"
"Did he have any… advice? Anything?"
"You know how Dumbledore is," Sirius drags his hands down his face, exasperated. Remus does know. He leans forward and tentatively places a kiss on the corner of Sirius' mouth. There's a moment of uncertainty when Sirius doesn't immediately respond and Remus' stomach starts to wriggle its way out of his body. But then Sirius kisses him back, hard.
"I love you, you know. Thank you for sticking by, even…" Sirius has trouble choosing his words.
Remus feels, with a pang of bitterness, like he knows exactly what Sirius was trying to say. Thanks for sticking by and helping out with Harry even though you're not as close with him as I am because when he was a toddler we all thought you were a snitch and cast you out. Remus bites back his resentment and lets the realization wash over him that Sirius has just said I love you in that serious, honest way that somehow makes the past okay again. He presses another kiss to Sirius' jaw.
"I love you too."
For Harry's first meal after the talk, Remus prepares chicken soup, mostly broth. Not exactly breakfast fare but it's light and unintimidating. Sirius places a bowl in front of Harry then sits down beside him with his own. Remus leans against the counter, behind them, afraid to penetrate their bubble.
"Sirius," Harry begins, his face in his hands.
"I know, Harry. Grab your spoon," Sirius responds casually, beginning to eat his soup. Without looking up, he pauses with his spoon halfway to his mouth and adds, "Are you going to join us, Remus?"
Remus holds his breath for a moment then fills himself a bowl. "Right."
He sits down on the other side of Sirius, trying to melt into his chair so that he won't accidentally catch Harry's eye. Not that it's currently a possibility: Harry's head is still in his hands. Sirius puts down his spoon.
"Harry," Sirius says quietly. Harry sits up in his chair, pressing the heels of his palms against the edge of the table.
"Remus, thank you so much for cooking, this smells really lovely," Harry says quickly, forcing a smile. Remus sinks further in his seat.
"Eat your soup, Harry. It's getting cold," Sirius speaks flatly, his eyes boring into Harry's. Harry nods, forces his smile wider.
"Yes, of course, Sirius. I just think today isn't the best day to be starting this, maybe tomorrow morning? I'll even get up early and cook for us, it'll be lovely-" Sirius slams his fist down on the table and both Harry and Remus jump so suddenly that Remus can taste copper where he's bitten his lip.
"Stop. Not another word. We are going to sit here, as long as it takes, until you finish your soup. There will never, ever be any discussion or leniency on the subject." Sirius leans forward and slides Harry's bowl towards him. "You will finish your breakfast."
Remus doesn't realize he's been holding his breath until he suddenly feels the blood pounding in his head. He takes a gulp of air.
Harry drops his head onto his hands, blocking his eyes from view, and begins to quickly swallow spoonful after spoonful. Getting it over with, Remus observes. He looks down at his own untouched bowl. His stomach in knots, Remus considers the breach in decorum that he would be committing if he decided that he, too, wasn't much in the mood for breakfast.
After several minutes of silence, Harry pushes his empty bowl away. Sirius stands up and clears away the table, save for Remus' soup. He gives Remus a pointed look, but his voice remains casual: "Finish up, Remus, I think there's a match starting. Harry and I will be in the drawing room." He passes behind Harry's chair and places a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Come along, Harry."
He leads the boy out of the kitchen, leaving Remus to stare into his bowl, alone.
A week since the confrontation with Harry, meals have not become any less difficult. Remus stands in the kitchen in his robe, preparing two scrambled eggs (cooked furtively in butter) and a half slice of plain brown toast each for Harry, himself, and Sirius.
He and Sirius had chosen to eat the same meals as Harry in an attempt normalize the situation. Not that there's really any chance of normalizing the situation, thinks Remus. He plunks down three bowls, portioning out their eggs.
They had developed a system in which one of them kept Harry occupied while the other cooked. It kept Harry from analyzing and fretting over every ingredient - the first few times they had let him stay in the kitchen while dinner was being cooked, he had protested at every splash of oil, every hint of fat. Butter was grounds for a meltdown.
"Breakfast," Remus calls. He places the three slices of toast on a plate and sets it in the middle of the table. Sirius and Harry appear in the kitchen a few moments later, each mechanically taking their bowls and sitting down. Remus sits down opposite Sirius. He lets his right knee brush Sirius' left, reassuring. They allow Harry to eat in silence, Sirius offering the occasional conversation starter to Remus.
The only time Harry speaks up is when Sirius alludes to Molly's desire to bring the Weasley family over for a Sunday supper in the next few weeks. "Not yet."
Sirius hides his crestfallen expression as best he can. Remus brushes his knee again under the table in sympathy.
It's Sirius' turn to do the washing up, so Remus escorts Harry out of the kitchen for his after-dinner observation. Remus would happily do the washing up every night in exchange for never having to do guard duty, but Sirius had insisted they trade off. He had become increasingly frustrated with Remus' attempts to fade into the scenery, and it led to almost daily arguments in which Remus was forced to face how fucking useless he was in this whole... whatever this is. You're a part of this family, Remus, you need to take a little responsibility, he had said. I can't do this alone, and it's not fair that you're forcing me to!
Before they reach the drawing room, Harry catches Remus by the shirtsleeve and pulls him toward the staircase. Remus' heart begins to race.
"Remus," Harry whispers, tears in his eyes. "Remus, please."
"Harry, come now. Let's get you back to the kitchen and we can sit down with Sirius and talk, all right?" Remus shifts uncomfortably, trying to herd Harry back toward the kitchen but the boy stands firm.
"Just today, I'll be so quick and quiet, I won't get you in trouble and I promise you I'll never ask again," Harry is pale, his eyes roving desperately, like a cow being led to slaughter.
"Harry, you're doing so well -"
"Remus, please, I can't, just today, I won't tell Sirius, I just can't," Harry pleads. "My stomach hurts so much, please. It's about to happen anyway, I feel so ill, I just need to get to the washroom in time-"
"Is everything all right?" Sirius steps into the hall, pot and dishcloth still in hand.
That night, Remus and Sirius argue quietly in their bedroom. They try to be quiet, at least, but Remus can see a shadow under the door where he suspects Harry is sat on the other side, listening.
"I almost let him, Sirius! I was this close to telling him, 'Okay, Harry, just this once! Be quick! Brush your teeth afterwards!'" Remus spits. Sirius just looks at him, aghast. "I don't know how to do this! You're so calm and so confident and I feel like a fucking trespasser! You have this connection with him, you're practically his father, and I don't know who I'm supposed to be."
"You are supposed to be his, my, support system! Fine, if you don't want to get your hands dirty, that is fine. But at least let the boy know you care about him once in a while instead of haunting this place like a fucking ghost when he's around!" Sirius' voice is venomous and Remus feels his legs go weak and he half-collapses on the corner of the bed.
"You're right," he says, roughly wiping away his tears with the back of his hand. "You're absolutely right."
Remus is reading in the drawing room when Harry joins him. He settles gently into the sofa - the boy's ribs are still giving him trouble - and tucks his feet underneath himself, yanking the blanket that's folded over the back of the sofa onto his legs.
"You need to sort things with Sirius," Harry announces.
"Pardon?" Remus frowns, marking his place in Magical Mysteries: A History of Confounding Architecture with his thumb wedged in between the pages.
"I've fucked things, between you two," Harry glances up to meet Remus' eyes briefly, searching for any outrage at his use of vulgarity. Seeing that Remus' face is blank, he continues, "I don't want things to fall apart. I know you and Sirius, as it is, try to keep things… low key. But I can still see the difference."
Remus continues to stare at him, not knowing what to say. Harry isn't wrong, things are strained between himself and Sirius. As of late, there were longer and more frequent fights and, worse, silences between them.
"And I'm sorry for putting you in that position," Harry continues, "By asking you to let me… I just… I can't do this. I'm trying so hard, and I can't talk to Sirius about it because it would crush him, and I just. I'm having a really hard time." Remus doesn't know where to focus his eyes - they flick from his own chapped hands, to Harry's bony knees underneath the woollen blanket, to a hole in the sofa's gaudy upholstery. Anywhere but Harry's eyes. You're such a coward.
"Anyway," Harry says, uncomfortable, aware of Remus' stare. He shifts in his seat, wincing almost imperceptibly. Remus chews at his lip, looks down and clears his throat.
"I, uh. I can fix that for you," He attempts. "Your ribs. I know you said no before, but I can still - the offer still-"
"Okay," He nods immediately, surprising Remus. Harry rubs his hands back and forth over his knees and takes a deep breath. "Okay."
Harry's thin fingers begin to curl under the hem of his sweatshirt, before his eyes dart to the doorway and he lets go. "Can we close that?"
Remus opens his mouth, but finds he didn't know what to say. Sirius is somewhere, probably splayed out on his bed with headphones on - Remus vaguely remembers him mentioning a Sollima record that he needed to catch up on. Still, Remus thinks, close the door? Before he can say anything, Harry hops up, shuts the door gently, and settles back down onto the sofa.
"I'm sorry," Remus says suddenly, surprising himself. His voice is shaky. "I'm sorry I haven't been any help, with any of this. I've been shite, and I want you to know that I care about you, and I want to help. Even if it's just, you know, talking. You can always… we can talk, all right?"
"Okay," Harry says again. Okay, okay, okay, Remus' brain responds, panicky. The boy's thin fingers once again hook under his jumper, lifting it up until his ribs are visible.
Fuck, Remus thinks, then realizes he has mouthed the word to himself.
"Sorry," Remus says, feeling unsteady. Harry just nods.
The boy's ribcage is like waves in the ocean, crests and troughs of pale skin and brittle bone. Remus has to hold back the urge to trace his fingers through the trenches to see if they're as deep as they look. Tearing his eyes away, he grabs his wand off of the coffee table and gently presses it to Harry's side. "Costaeum sanatum."
Harry hisses, then exhales deeply. He leans into the sofa with his head tilted back and eyes closed and seems to test the range of his breathing for a few moments, shallowdeepshallow. Remus notices that there's still a yellowish, faded bruise from the fall near the front of Harry's ribs, reaching his sternum, and he tilts his head to the side, eyes following the discolouration, until -
"God, Harry," Remus' fingers shoot out, involuntarily, and lift the right side of Harry's shirt. Harry's eyes fly open and he squirms away. Remus tries to catch his wrist, but he jumps off of the sofa and speeds out of the room, slamming the door behind him. Remus doesn't shout after the boy, but draws his feet under himself, head in his hands.
Chapter 5: You Are the White Apron of the Baker, and the Marsh Birds Suddenly in Flight.
Remus wakes in the very early hours of the morning and pushes aside the blankets, overheated and sweaty and sore. He turns and squints at the form next to him, only somewhat visible in the moonlight (and London's light pollution) that filters through the drapes. Feeling around gingerly for the glass of water on his bedside table, being careful not to tip it over onto the hardwood floor, he jumps at a muffled creak outside the door. He knows what, who, it is, but all the same he freezes to listen to the footsteps padding down the hall. Once he hears the bathroom door shut quietly, Remus eases out of bed, glancing behind him at Sirius before sneaking out of the bedroom.
Remus leans against the wall next to the bathroom door, waiting. Waiting to hear… his breath hitches as he hears Harry retch. The retch is disturbingly quiet, practiced. He opens the door gently, not wanting to startle the boy.
Harry jumps, immediately closing the toilet lid. He turns to face Remus, and he's difficult to read - he doesn't look ashamed, or embarrassed. His eyes are red and he has tears running down his cheeks from straining and he looks indignant. Stubborn. There's no use fighting with him tonight.
"Clean up, I'll meet you downstairs." Remus shuts the door.
Remus and Harry step outside into the cold night air, and Remus pulls his coat tighter around himself, feeling the breeze through the legs of his pajamas. Harry doesn't seem bothered by the chill despite standing barefoot on the cement. They sit down on the stoop, and Remus notices that Harry has to clutch the railing as he eases himself down slowly.
"So," says Remus.
"Yeah," says Harry.
Remus pulls a crumpled pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and his hands shake a little, rattling the cardboard. He doesn't try to convince himself it was the cold.
"We're going to talk about this. Don't tell Sirius I gave you that," he adds. Harry nods, sliding a cigarette out of the packet gratefully. Remus strikes a match.
They sit for a moment, and Remus feels grateful that, sitting side by side, he doesn't have to look Harry in the eye. He can tell that the boy is uncomfortable sitting on the step, that he doesn't have enough padding to be able to sit there without his bones grinding into the cement, and Remus wonders if he should offer the Harry his folded coat to sit on or if he should let the discomfort be an undertone to their conversation.
Harry speaks first. "I'm sorry you saw - heard - that."
"So am I, Harry." He pauses. "Is it a… Have you been…" Remus sighs and flicks his ash. He feels cowardly for not being able to say it out loud. How can you possibly be in control of something you can't even name?
"Just tonight," Harry exhales. Remus meets his eyes, pressing. "I swear, just tonight. Sirius and I ate some crisps while we were watching the match, and - it's only been a few hours, and I thought maybe… maybe I would still have time to fix it."
Remus takes another drag, frustrated. "Fix what?" Harry shoots him a withering look. They both know Remus knows what. "Right." He knows exactly what but for some reason he feels compelled to challenge Harry, because that's what neither of them have done yet in this entire fucking mess.
"Nothing came out, anyhow. Just burned." Harry rubs his shins, clearly cold despite his attempts at appearing unbothered. Remus doesn't know how to respond to that, so he lights another cigarette and they sit for a while.
"I haven't told Sirius," Remus begins. "About the cuts." He keeps his voice even, trying to block out the assumed, silent "yet." Harry shifts away from him on the step, pulling the sleeves of his coat further over his hands and flipping up the collar.
Remus isn't even sure why he hasn't told Sirius (yet?) - he has no good reason not to. He feels cowardly, but he also feels as if he's in a small position of responsibility. He could help with this, he could try to help Harry without deferring to Sirius.
And perhaps he's being selfish - extremely, disgustingly selfish, Remus reminds himself - but a small part of him, however little he wants to acknowledge it, is jealous. Jealous of Sirius' relationship with Harry, their little world, bitter with his own outsiderness.
Sirius isn't the only one who looks at Harry and sees glints of James, shimmers of Lily.
"I mean," Harry quavers, "I knew you hadn't told him. Obviously, I mean, if you had…" Harry shakes his head.
"Of course," Remus murmurs. Of course. He pulls his knees up to his chest for a moment, then self-consciously stretches his legs back out. Men don't curl up into little balls when they're uncomfortable, he reminds himself, irritated. "So, we're going to talk about this now."
Remus feels like he's convincing himself more than he's convincing Harry. Harry catches Remus' eye for permission before he slides another cigarette out of the packet that lies on the cement between them.
"The cuts. We need to talk about the cuts," Remus stammers. He makes a lame attempt to cover the stammering by coughing. Harry doesn't seem to notice and takes a long drag of his cigarette.
"What about them?" Harry sighs, rubbing his brow. "It's stupid and I'm embarrassed. Does it make you feel better to know I'm embarrassed?" Remus looks at him with shock, a mix of disgust and horror and disappointment swirling around in his stomach before climbing up his throat.
"Feel better?" Remus chokes out, more acrimoniously than he intends. He softens his voice. "Feel better? Harry, Sirius has - we have - done nothing but worry and dwell and wish we could make everything okay. You being safe - that would be the only thing that would make us - me - feel better." Harry takes a shaky drag of his cigarette, and Remus can see in the lamplight that the boy's eyes are red. He feels spurred on, brave, at this long-awaited show of something other than just fucking indifference and he continues:
"This, what you're doing to yourself, this is not safe. And as it is right now, Harry, I'm ready to beg Sirius to put you in hospital." Harry turns his face away from Remus, and Remus watches as he rubs the back of his hand over his eyes and forces his trembling lips into a straight line. Always hiding, Remus thinks. Nothing but ice and bone. "Why is this happening, Harry?"
Remus phrases the question carefully. Not, why are you doing this? or what are you doing to yourself? Blame-free, in spite of the tremendous pool of blame that's bubbling in Remus' chest. Remus struggles to push the feeling back down. Be calm, be neutral, make him feel safe.
"I just got sick of it." Harry's voice cracks, betraying his attempts to appear detached. And with that, the levee breaks. A sob escapes his lips, desperate and visceral, and Harry angrily rubs at his escaping tears. "I'm sick of being so protected and revered and having people fall at my feet for something that I can't even remember, something that happened when I was a baby. And then I feel guilty for resenting it, because who am I to reject it? It's this cycle of…" He pauses, considering his words, catching his breath. "It's like, 'Well, fine, look what I can do to myself under your watch.' I can starve."
Harry runs his fingers self-consciously over an exposed, angular wrist bone. His breathing slows nearly to normal, his breath only hitching occasionally. "I guess not anymore, anyway. Now that you and Sirius… it's less satisfying, really." Mildly, he admits, "I know how sick that sounds. Honestly, it felt so fucking empowering at first, and now I just feel so, you know… weak."
"And the cuts?" Remus asks quietly.
"Same thing, it's all the same stupid thing." Harry pauses to consider it. "I know it's mad, but it's almost like… it keeps me company. Having these secrets, I mean." Remus' heart pounds. Harry was finally opening up, trying to explain what was happening, and he doesn't understand at all. It's terrifying.
"What about Ron and Hermione?" Remus asks desperately. Harry just shakes his head.
"They've written, but I haven't had it in me to respond. As far as I know, they don't know about any of this. They saw me every day at Hogwarts, so they didn't notice it. Not the way you and Sirius did, of course, you hadn't seen me in months." Harry rubs the back of his neck, his cheeks flushed. "I do think Hermione has her suspicions, but then, that's Hermione for you. Maybe she knows everything and she's just being delicate." He half-smiles and, in the gentle moonlight, Remus realizes he looks briefly like his old self. Remus' heart aches.
"Write them back, alright? Sirius said Molly told him the Burrow isn't the same without your visits, and that Ron misses you dearly. He keeps having to make up excuses for why you haven't owled Ron back." Harry looks genuinely sorry. He sniffs and wipes at his nose with the back of his sleeve. The moment catches Remus off guard and he realizes that it's the first time Harry's seemed genuine about anything in weeks.
"I will." As far as Remus can tell, he seems to mean it. Remus rubs at his shins to restart the blood flow in his legs, then stands up.
"Right. We should get back to bed." He offers his hand to the boy. In spite of his pride, Harry accepts it, and Remus lifts him to his feet.
Chapter 6: However, You Are Not the Wind in the Orchard, the Plums on the Counter, or the House of Cards
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Harry rolls down his left sleeve, once again covering his slim wrist.
"Other one," Remus nods his head toward Harry's right. The boy scoffs and reddens, frustrated.
"I told you, I've never touched my arms."
"All the same."
Harry does as he's told.
The checks are always done quietly. Ribs, hips, arms, legs. Sweatpants and baggy jumpers, things that can be easily rucked up to examine underneath. Checks checks checks. Harry's allowed to flush the toilet himself as long as he keeps talking while he's in the washroom. Tuneless singing while taking a slash. I'm forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air. Flush. Check.
"I miss you," Sirius says suddenly, snapping Remus out of his doze. "I really, really miss you." He leans forward and places a kiss on the side of Remus' mouth and another, gently, on the side of Remus' nose, over the jagged scar that stretches over the bridge. They're curled together on the sofa, with Remus leaned back against Sirius' chest. In all the confusion, the arguments and the bitter silences, they still manage to find reprieve in small moments of contact. Dead air softened by intertwined fingers, restlessness pushed aside by nervous lips against skin.
"I miss you too," Remus whispers. He burrows into the hollow underneath Sirius' jaw, inhaling his scent. Smoke, sweat, musk, fur, cream. Lately, their emotional separation had pervaded their relationship to the point where Sirius had taken to spending large chunks of some days as Padfoot.
Occasionally, after a particularly vicious argument, he would sleep curled at the foot of the bed, flicking his tail and biting and snarling at dreamed prey.
On those same nights, Remus would pretend to be asleep when Padfoot would awaken in the moonlight, sniff the air, then crawl over on his belly to lick the salt off Remus' cheeks.
Remus wonders if it's fair to think that it all, all of it, starts feeling futile, repetitive, inefficient after a while. Doesn't it always.
"It's strange, you know? When I lived with the Dursleys, when I was younger - I used to cherish food. Every bite was precious."
Statements come from Harry, statements that maybe once would have sounded profound, statements that maybe once would have made him sad, that once would have made him want to take the boy up in his arms and form a cocoon around him, that now just make him want to walk out of the room and smoke a cigarette and try to remind himself what the world outside Grimmauld Place looks like.
You can only fix what wants to be fixed, what can be fixed. Perhaps, Remus thinks, taking a drag, this was never going to be one of those things.
He doesn't end up having to tell Sirius about the checks. All three of them (or maybe two-and-a-half of them but Remus would never say that out loud) are sitting on the sofa watching a match in silence, save for the occasional noise of agreement or dissent at a call, when Padfoot sniffs the air and begins to whine, pawing at Harry's thigh. In a heartbeat they're nearly pushed out of their seats as Sirius has replaced Padfoot in the middle of he sofa, scrambling to get his legs out from under himself and grabbing Harry by the wrist. They fly out of the room and Remus doesn't need to ask.
Later, when Sirius tells him about the cuts (and Remus has to nearly force himself to feel negligent about missing them, has to push away the thought that well, at this point, if he wants to, then so be it -), it's all Remus can muster to say, "That's terrible."
The full moon arrives, as welcome and unwelcome as ever.
Remus shuffles down to the cellar. His ratty housecoat tied on loosely, he's self-consciously naked underneath - when he passed Harry in the corridor, he nearly tried to melt into the walls out of embarrassment. Harry just gave him a concerned, knowing nod.
Pausing at the bottom of the rough-hewn staircase, he tilts his head back to catch the syrupy dregs of his tea then abandons the mug on the bottom step. Then, he steps down onto the dirt floor.
The Cage was built within weeks of their return to Grimmauld Place, and the installation was urgent: There weren't many places to Change in London, not if you didn't want to accidentally wake up covered in some poor tramp's blood with a Ministry price on your head. And neither Remus nor Sirius owned a car. Not that that would have helped. It wasn't bloody likely he'd change in fucking Epping, Remus had thought to himself while watching Sirius magick the gaol into place, bar by bar.
The Cage took up half of the cellar, a row of two-inch-thick metal bars dividing the room. One wall of steel and three walls of cement and dirt and exposed wooden beams. It had a sliding door, locked with a combination padlock, which was installed to help prevent the wolf from pushing or pulling its way free. The combination was easier, safer than a key. Keys could be thrown, swallowed, snapped, lost, but a combination was always at hand when they finally returned to themselves. (He would hardly admit it but all his life, ever since he was a child, Remus had suspected that one day, maybe, eventually, he might change and never return to himself at all.)
"Snuck down without me?" Remus suspects that Sirius meant to be casual, but he could hear the slight in his voice. He watches him descend the stairs, picking his way around Remus' abandoned mug.
"I'm sorry, I wanted to make sure I had enough time," Remus apologizes lightly. Then he looks Sirius up and down and, before he can stop himself, observes with a faint note of surprise, "You're you."
Sirius runs a hand through his hair. His fingers catch on a knot, formed by the last three days spent uninterrupted as Padfoot, and he shoots his hand back down, embarrassed. Remus isn't sure how this reversal had happened. The last three days, he had become the one taking care of Harry alone, cooking meals, performing checks, making small talk and tuning the TV, while Sirius slinked around the house, claws clicking on the hardwood, pretending that a wet nose pushed under a palm was the same as a fucking conversation. Still, Remus isn't sure if he's allowed to resent it. No, no, fuck it. He's allowed to be angry.
"Right," Remus turns away and begins to untie his belt, almost lets his his housecoat slip from his shoulder, then adds, "If you would please also turn around." It's acid, and at the sound of Sirius' hissing intake of air he nearly regrets saying it. He looks over his shoulder, and Sirius meets his eyes, heavy brows twisted in a frown or a glare or Remus isn't sure what. He isn't entirely sure he cares.
It's such a strange representation of their intimacy, changing together. When they were younger, fresh out of Hogwarts and ready to change the world, they had shared a tiny flat in Camden. They were young and stupid, short on funds yet overflowing with moxie or spunk or whatever the nice way of saying young and stupid was, and every full moon Remus would turn in a squat, spelled within an inch of its life.
Thinking back, Remus knows that, rather than convenience, they chose the squat because it reminded them of the Shack.
They would soundproof and reinforce whatever they could manage before huddling, naked, in the centre of the vandalized, litter-filled living room, Sirius kissing Remus' nose over and over and whispering encouragements as the first pangs of his change started to shoot through his limbs. Thinking back on those moments of being held, exposed and comforted and doted on and whispered to, tethered to reality by affection and concern and devotion while his bones were breaking themselves into shards, while his muscles tore like rice paper. Thinking back, it was the most loved he had ever felt in his life.
When he wakes in the Cage, Sirius is gone. It's not the first time he's woken up alone after a change, but it feels like it. Padfoot comes down to help lick his wounds clean and Remus pushes him away.
When late July comes, the stifling heat merely adds to Remus' inability to breathe. The humidity feels like a hundred tiny hands, prodding and poking and grabbing at his skin, trying to climb down his throat. One Thursday evening, just as the sun is beginning to settle behind the rooftops and the birds are starting their frenzied mosquito dances, Remus stands up, decides he can't take it anymore, and tears out of the house. He starts down the pavement, tapping his toes on the ground to wedge his feet into his hastily-pulled-on shoes.
I'm in the process of changing the tense of this entire fic from past to present tense, please let me know if I missed a spot.
This chapter took forever, but I'm proud of it. It turns out the secret to making me want to write is changing the font in my word processor to something prettier. I'm fickle like that.