A story in pictures, a history in scars rubbed with ink. A tactile, moving tapestry.
Fifth year. Pride and cleverness and loyalty. The spell called for the tattoo. They took their potions and had a Muggle mark them and then three days later Sirius was the first to successfully transform.
Fifth year still. Sorrow. Shame. Loathing both from the inside and from elsewhere. Last time he'd got a rush from the pain. This time he just wanted the pain. See, Moony, see what I did to say I'm sorry? See, I'm your dog. See the collar around my neck? You can't take it off so you have to take me in, because I belong to you, I always did.
Eighteen. Wild, insane times. Four boys, the same symbol: a lion on the right bicep. Small but significant. Their first wizarding tattoo. This one moved a little when you looked at it. When they took the bandages off they were a little drunk and Remus kissed it, and Sirius fell. Remus kissed the golden lion on his arm, and Sirius moaned and turned and pinned him down and suddenly lions and collars meant more than they had.
Twenty. Devotion. Duty. Soldiers of a dying breed. The Order would not last if they could not hang together and there were fewer every day. Four visits to the Muggle tattoo artist, over a month while Moony was away on an Order mission. When he came back, he explored every feather of the phoenix that stretched across Sirius' back, using his hands, palms flat on Sirius' shoulderblades as his arms moved and the wings stretched.
Twenty one. Twenty two. Twenty five. Twenty nine. Thirty two. He had nothing better to do in Azkaban, and the pain kept the Dementors away, because there was no joy in his solitary cell. Snakes were easy. Eight of them starting at the left wrist, slithering around the forearm, up the elbow, until he had to do some blind because their heads ended under his arm where he couldn't see. He only had black ink, and even that was hard to come by. Up his right arm, black flames. Flames were harder to draw, better distraction.
Thirty-three, freedom. Thirty-four, lay low at Lupins. Lupin had not seen his markings and Sirius was loathe to show him the snakes, especially the snakes, for fear of what he would think. He stole long-sleeved robes, almost trying to hide the collar on his throat before he remembered who it was for, before he remembered that Lupin knew it was there. And then caught changing one day; caught with his arms naked and covered in his Azkaban past. Remus followed every coiling body, every lick of flame with his lips and tongue, until Sirius thought he would go mad. Remus relearned his body inch by inch, scar by scar, colour by colour.
Thirty-five, back in the Black house, misery, hatred, dark days. Voldemort risen again. Bill Weasley was about, was impressed by the edges of tattoo he could see below Sirius' sleeves. He asked how it was done, and when told, said he'd rather have an artist like Sirius do it -- and besides, Sirius was expert by now. A sterile needle and magic ink, a numbing charm offered and denied -- Bill was patient and stoic. Molly didn't need to know. Remus watched, insisted on watching, just in case. Later, half-naked in the room they shared, Remus was still body-pure except for the lion of Gryffindor devotion. Sirius gripped his arm so hard he bruised. Remus never cried out.
Thirty-five and a half. Harry. A whole month of Harry. A whole month to talk to Harry and listen to Harry and watch Harry, devour his godson with his eyes. He showed the boy his tattoos, all of them, explaining what each one meant, how each one had been acquired. Harry listening raptly, eyes following the lines first of childhood daring, then of adult devotion, and of prisoner suffering. Harry asking what he would have next, and Sirius realising Harry understood, understood the body was a work of art that went on, that flesh was not static, that the needle was not finished, merely dormant. Wondering what Harry's first markings would be, knowing that if the boy chose to follow in his godfather's footsteps (and who was to say that was wise, though wisdom has little to do with family) then the boy would not stain his skin for fun. The boy would have reason.
Thirty six did not exist.
Sixteen. The pain inside so deep, the loss inside so great. July thirty-first. The artist did not ask for identification. When the needle pierced flesh he imagined it was not ink slipping in, but grief welling up and out, leaving his soul and staining his skin instead. A black dog, curled watchfully, great pale eyes glowing out from a dark face. On his shoulderblade, present but invisible, like his godfather.
He showed it to Lupin, who would understand. The other man touched it, lightly, and nodded, and pulled Harry into an embrace. When he released him, Harry's eyes were still dry. The first ink marks on his young body had been made.