A/N: It's certainly been done and re-done and done again (by much better authors than myself), but once more couldn't hurt, eh?
I don't own Harry Potter et al, by the way. That is my disclaimer.
Where the Monster Lives
Remus Lupin had had bad full moons, and last night had not been a particularly bad one. It did seem that way, though, like a cut above the eye seems bad, bleeding all over the place, but really only a tiny wound to a delicate area – that, incidentally, is exactly what had happened.
Usually, he only scratched up arms and chest, sometimes legs. Somehow, this time he had managed to cut himself above his right eye, in the fleshy area between lid and brow. It must have happened quite shortly before sunrise – and Remus, due to experience, was a fair judge of these things – because he had still been bleeding when he found himself back in his skinny twelve-year-old human body.
How Madame Pomfrey had fussed over him! But overall, Remus was not feeling anymore worn out than he usually did after full moon, nor did he have any serious injuries, and so far he had not thrown up any of the potions Madame Pomfrey had given him, which he sometimes did, for no reason that he could understand.
All the elements were aligned for an ordinary day in the not-so-ordinary life of Remus Lupin. Now he was stuck in the hospital wing, with a bandage over his eye and a few others under his pyjamas. Later he might be out in time for dinner, if he slept enough, which looked unlikely to be a problem. His limbs and eyelids felt deliciously heavy.
He was in his usual bed, way in the back corner. Madame Pomfrey was gone, leaving him alone to rest. A patch of sunlight with the crossbar shadow of the window frame sat on his chest. Remus closed his eyes, imagining his bed at home, years ago, the way the sunlight had streamed in through the window, the old cat Abbey sleeping by him, a ball of warm and breathing and living. Abbey had died before he left for Hogwarts. Poor cat. Buried in a shoebox in the backyard, all alone, he had cried because little Abbey would be by herself forever, cold black soil, dead, dead.
She won't hurt anymore, said mama, but Remus didn't believe in the perfect sleep beneath the wet earth.
The crisp white sheets, freshly laundered, smelling of powdered soap. The mattress, swallowing him up into its lumpy softness, taking him away into darkness and poor Abbey would not be lonely anymore. The air traveled through the passageways in his nose and into his wind pipe, and into his lungs and diffused into the blood and came back out again. He was a machine, taking in air and letting it out. The air smelled like sausage and maple syrup… why?
He heard a noise, and the tiny bones in his ears vibrated. The air was talking to him.
It said, "Careful! I told you, Pete, don't –"
Remus opened his eyes.
"Ow!" hissed the air on the right hand side of his bed.
Aware of the presence of others, he struggled instinctively to sit up.
"Alright, alright, jig's up – he's awake, you dolts."
Halfway through this speech, the invisibility cloak came off, revealing the speaker, which was Sirius, and James and Peter on either side of him. Peter, blinking in the sudden light, was carrying a heavily loaded breakfast tray.
"Morning, Remus," said James, cheerfully, stepping to the forefront. He always liked to be the one in charge. That was okay with Remus. "You look knackered."
"I feel it," said Remus, truthfully, while Peter moved to the other side of the bed, in order to set down the tray on the nightstand.
"Still sick?" asked Sirius, with a curious look on his face, like a man waiting for his trap to spring.
Remus was no fool. He knew why they were here. They were no more fool than he. Merlin, what a mess. It was all such a mess. Bloodstains that wouldn't come out, a basement at home with a clawed-up door, a haunted house on the outskirts of Hogsmeade, the house where the monster lives.
He could say nothing.
"Yes," Remus croaked. "A little bit."
They all three exchanged glances, Sirius nodding as if he had known all along what Remus's answer would be. I know what you're doing, I know what you're thinking, I know, Remus wanted to yell at them and hate them and he didn't. Sirius had always said he was the oldest first/second year he had ever met.
Something he had read, or heard, or had been read to him fluttered up from stillness,
I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
"What's happened to your eye?" asked Peter baldly, the least tactful of all, but seemingly sincere.
Remus put a hand to the bandage. He had practically forgotten about it. The cut had stopped bleeding some time ago, and he pulled off the gauze hastily.
"Oh, nothing, I – fell out of bed." He fingered the bandage, applied somewhat after the fact, with its little line of brown blood in the center of all that white. "Don't laugh at me, please, I think I've suffered enough."
James and Peter snickered, so that Remus almost smiled with them.
"I think it's time we cut to the chase, gents," said Sirius, impatient as always, cutting off James and Peter. He pressed his hands down on the edge of the mattress. "Look, Remus – we know."
Remus licked his lips. His mouth was dry.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
"What is it," he said very carefully, for carefully was the only way to proceed "what is it that you mean?"
Suddenly furious, Sirius began, "We know about…!" and could not continue.
Nobody ever wanted to say it. Remus understood. It was an ugly thing to have to talk about. He has the Condition, the nurses, yes even the nurses, had said on that day, long years ago. It was okay; Remus also was one of those who would have preferred not to have to talk about it.
"What Sirius means to say," James stepped in, "is that we all know about your… erm… furry little problem."
Remus choked. "My what?"
The three of them shared another of those infuriating glances.
Peter was the one to say it, being muggle born and less exposed to the stigma of the whole thing.
"Er… well, you are a werewolf… aren't you?" was what he said, as if he had begun to doubt it in the middle of the confrontation. Pureblooded James seemed to wince a little at the awkwardness of the question, and Sirius narrowed his dark eyes.
"Oh… yes," Remus answered faintly in the rush of quiet. He didn't feel relief at all, just a crushing wave of shame, and he tucked away the bandage from his eye inside his hot little fist, and his face burned from the inside. "Yes, I am."
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
"Why didn't you say anything!" Sirius burst out, cheeks flushed, eyes glittering angrily. "For fuck's sake, Remus, why…?"
"I… I don't know," said Remus, feeling naked and defenseless, like a pale squirming thing scooped out from its shell. He pulled the bedclothes up higher over his pyjamas. "I suppose I anticipated a bad reaction."
This only seemed to spur Sirius on. "Don't you think I did too? That first day on the train – 'Hello, I'm Sirius Black' – I know what you must have thought! A dark name, for a dark family – what anybody would think. 'Cept Peter, of course," he added gruffly, after a moment, seeming to wind down just a little.
"Being a Black is entirely different than being a werewolf, Sirius." All the blood rushed to Remus's face. He felt high and on fire. "You can't just – just go and tell someone, like telling them your name. It's not – it's different. You don't know."
"Well, neither do you," he retorted.
"Sirius…" said James, and then trailed off.
"It's not a valid comparison," Remus argued. "It's true that you can expect a certain reputation from your name, but it's nowhere near as – it's different. I won't debate this with you. Don't be stupid."
Suddenly Sirius let out a bark of laughter.
"That's just like you, Remus. Shoving it all off."
"I'm not –" began Remus, but found he couldn't say anymore, even though he wanted to. Words bubbled up and melted, filling him to burst, and the words melted and melted before he could know them, all things he could not say. He squeezed his eyes shut tight.
"Remus… are you okay?" That was Peter. His voice was thin with alarm.
For I have known them all already, known them all –
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
Remus heard himself answer, "I'm okay."
"Maybe we ought to come back another time," said James.
"No," Remus said, deeply tired of it all, bone-tired. I want to die, he thought, suddenly and without much conviction. "Let's have it out now."
James looked at the others with seeming uncertainty, which was unlike him. "Oh… I don't think there is much else, actually. But we wanted you to know that we know."
Remus looked at James expectantly, for he was sure there must be more. There always was. "And…?"
"And…" James shrugged, sheepishly, apologetically, sorry for the big show and all that, "… and we'll see you back in the common room."
There was a long moment where Remus purely did not understand, as if James had begun to speak in another language, one of which Remus had no concept. It was a moment of stiff silence. Remus felt a bead of cold sweat trickle from his underarm over the ladder of his ribs. He said nothing.
James ended the moment. "I hope you didn't think we planned to abandon you."
"I… I don't know what I thought," said Remus, staring at his lap, at the starched sheets, the fist clenched over the white bandage, sweating into the white bandage.
And I have known the eyes already, known them all –
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase.
"Oh, of course you did!" Sirius, loud and boisterous, was laughing. "You thought we'd up and leave you."
"I…" his breath hitched.
Sirius shook his head. "I'm not angry, Remus. But I thought you knew us better than that."
"I…" he tried again, and in a small voice, managed, "…You don't know what it's like."
Just a sense of something dirty in the eyes of strangers, something in the blood that stirred to claw and to devour, a doomed feeling of playing a game you were destined to lose. Things nobody could know who didn't know them first hand. Things Remus could not explain to his closest friends, even if he tried.
"It doesn't matter," said Sirius with startling intensity, sitting down on the edge of the bed, keeping his eyes on Remus. "Things like that, things we can't change, I mean, they don't matter. What we are, and who we are, I – bugger it! Remus, I don't care that you're a werewolf, and neither does James and neither does Pete. We've all agreed."
There was a 'so there' type of finality to his voice.
"So you can stop looking like somebody's died," James added, taking a seat near the foot of the bed and pulling his legs up under him Indian-style. His black shoes were on the white sheets, Remus noticed with detached horror.
"This… is what I normally look like after…" Remus mumbled, and felt a hot surge of shame. He knew what he must look like, pale, drawn, purple smudges below the eyes, old speckles of blood dried in his hair, which would be mussed and damp with sweat, the cut above his eye still quite visible. But thank god they could not see beneath his clothes, things nobody should have to see.
He wished that he looked better. That it wasn't so… so obvious.
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
"Anyway, we brought you a bit of breakfast," said Peter suddenly, defusing the moment, for Remus, at least. Peter settled the tray he had been carrying onto Remus's lap. "And it looks happy to see you."
Sure enough, it did. A round, happy pancake face beamed up at him with its syrupy smile. Periodically, its sausage-link eyes seemed to wink at him. It smelled fabulous.
"What's this, a show of solidarity?" Remus ventured.
"You great prat!" said James, happily. "What's it going to take to convince you that you're ours, no matter what? Official property of the Marauders inc., and all."
"You're vital intelligence," added Sirius.
"More like the only intelligence." Remus could not resist.
"Oh, he's mauled me!" cried Sirius dramatically. "Can't I get a little defending, here?"
James shook his head, laughing helplessly.
"Sorry, I'm with Remus," said Peter, when Sirius looked imploringly at him.
"Pete! The treachery!" Sirius exclaimed.
It was very funny. Sirius, what he'd said, James, Peter, the smiling breakfast, the somewhat botched confrontation, the outcome of it all, the bad moon gone, the white sheets and white walls and the sun streaming in and thinking of his old dead cat. Remus laughed until he had forgotten what he was laughing about. Until Peter had to steady the dangerously teetering breakfast tray, and even Remus himself was not sure whether he was laughing or crying. There were tears. One of the scratches by his ribcage had reopened and bled into his pyjama shirt, but he was happy and it didn't hurt.
"Remus, are you alright?" said James.
Remus scrubbed a hand across his eyes, feeling stupid, but glad.
"I'm fine," he answered.
"But you've got – " James pointed to the spot on his shirt where the scratch had begun to bleed.
Remus looked at it blankly, not caring. "It's okay. It's just a small one."
"You're sure you're…?"
"Yes, damnit, I'm sure!" he laughed. "I – I've never been better. I mean it."
"Well, we know it's serious when Remus swears," said Sirius.
"Erm…" Remus looked down at the breakfast tray, inexplicably a mite embarrassed. The tray was piled quite high with pancakes. "You're all welcome to share this with me."
"Well," said James, "If you insist."
"Thanks, we're famished," added Peter, stealing one of the sausage eyes.
They spent the rest of the morning joking and finishing off Remus's breakfast. Madame Pomfrey was so conveniently absent from the hospital wing the entire time, that Remus rather suspected it was no lucky coincidence.
After a while, Remus could only sit back and watch the proceedings sleepily. James and Sirius play-fighting, egging each other on, Peter laughing and taking sides, an air of contentment, sun-bathed faces, the crossbar shadow of the window frame moving across the white bedclothes, time passing inevitably, bringing them all to places they could not see, like travelers in the fog.
Remus wanted just to stay this way forever, with the moon far-off, his friends all happy and whole. But the shadows trekked across the walls, the sun moved through the sky, and Remus closed his eyes to the sounds of laughter and beloved voices, and Madame Pomfrey made a timely return to chase the others from the room, and Remus was asleep, warm and smiling, asleep.
All good things must end.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Til human voices wake us, and we drown.
A/N: The poem is not mine, it is 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', by T.S. Eliot, taken and snipped up and jumbled and otherwise horribly butchered by myself. It's a lovely poem. If you can make sense of it. I couldn't. But I thought it sounded nice, anyway.
Review, if you would be so kind!