The handkerchief, large and crinkled, is striped around the edges with dark grey and another grey that used to be blue. Torn and fraying in one corner, with the initials R.J.L. sewn into another, it has recently been washed in a sink, in a relatively clean puddle, in a jet of water from a wand, and in a summer downpour, when it was used as part of a makeshift umbrella. Remus crumples it in his hand and tucks it into his sleeve. Two minutes later he sniffles and takes it out again.
He's been waiting on the Hogwarts Express since it arrived at eight, having spent a mostly sleepless night on a bench across the street. Outside the train, Platform Nine and Three Quarters is still relatively quiet, with just a few eager first years talking animatedly with their parents. Remus knows Harry won't arrive for a while yet, but he can't help scanning the face of every student who walks onto the platform. Dumbledore, in his letter, didn't describe Harry or even mention him, but Remus still has sharp memories of a chubby baby with the beginnings of his father's hair and mother's eyes.
He checks the time, decides there's room for a nap, and wipes his nose again before settling back in his seat. His cold, coupled with the fact that he's barely eaten or slept in a long while, has led to him being constantly, bone-achingly tired. He's used to it by now, and has no trouble staying alert when he's somewhere uncomfortable, but the warm, padded train is lulling him into a stupor.
Half an hour of rest, he thinks as he closes his eyes. Just half an hour.
The first time Remus took this journey to Hogwarts, he almost missed the train. His parents were about to tug him through to Platform Nine and Three Quarters when his battered suitcase, held together by thin green gardening twine at the time, snapped open and spilled his belongings in every direction.
Even now, when he looks back on it, he considers it the most embarrassing moment of his life. His second-hand clothing, faded grey underwear, novels, books of poetry, journals and sketches were scattered in every direction, on display not only to crowds of Muggles but also to every arriving wizarding family. Most humiliating of all were Remus' sole new possessions: five striped, grandfatherly handkerchiefs bestowed upon him by his mum, who had sewn his initials into each one.
By the time everything but the handkerchiefs had been folded back into Remus' small suitcase, the train was due to depart in five minutes. If not for his mum's frantic, searching eyes, Remus would have been content to leave them behind. For her sake he looked between dustbins, under wooden benches and behind poles, sometimes getting down on hands and knees.
Finally he caught sight of them through a group of Muggles; a dusty bundle tied together with an elastic band, lying on the edge of Platform Ten. There was a boy standing beside them, leaning down to pick them up. He was the only person who'd stopped to help the Lupins retrieve Remus' spilt belongings. Despite his humiliation, Remus felt a spark of gratitude.
Wondering if there was any way to prevent further embarrassment, he hurried over. The boy wasn't a Muggle, definitely not, with his dark velvet cloak and shoulder-length black hair. He was tall, much taller than Remus. When he held out the roll of handkerchiefs, his grey eyes crinkled with amusement.
Remus reached forward, about to say 'thank you', when a woman appeared beside the boy. She was dressed in green silk, embroidered with silver flowers, but her pale features were contorted, furious, and her eyes were so dark they seemed pupil-less.
At this point Remus decided that running away was probably a sensible idea, but before he could turn he felt a comforting hand on his shoulder and a warm presence behind him. He realised, from her lavender scent, that it was his mum.
The boy in velvet no longer seemed so tall, or so amused. He met Remus' eyes, then stared up at the woman in green, who didn't glance at Remus or his mum and didn't say a word. She grabbed the boy by the hand and pulled him away before he could return the handkerchiefs.
Despondent, Remus watched them walk off, the woman managing to look regal and sedate even as she dragged the boy across the platform. Just before they passed through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three Quarters, the boy turned, winked at Remus, and tucked the handkerchiefs into his velvet sleeve.
Remus spent his first hour on the Hogwarts Express searching for the boy in velvet. Finally, exhausted, he started looking for a compartment to rest in, but that was almost as hard a task. It seemed that every compartment was brimming with kids who already knew each other, or who had instantly, naturally bonded in a way that Remus was somehow always left out of.
Finally he discovered a compartment with just two boys in it, chatting about Quidditch and broomsticks. Speaking excitedly, their faces close to the window, they barely noticed Remus when, after stowing his suitcase and book bag on the overhead rack, he sank down into a corner.
He sat observing the boys side-on, discreetly, while pretending to read Hogwarts: A History. They were both dark-haired, both about the same height and weight, and called each other 'mate' most of the time, although eventually Remus caught the names 'Potter' and 'Longbottom'.
So this was James Potter then, the boy with messy black hair and glasses. Remus, who kept up with both Muggle and wizarding news, knew all about the Potter family and their generous donations to struggling Quidditch teams and various charities. They prided themselves on being the most tolerant pureblood family. Or at least, so Remus had read.
He was wondering about their werewolf philosophy when the compartment door burst open. There stood the boy in velvet, clutching Remus' handkerchiefs in his fist.
"Hello," he said, addressing Potter and Longbottom while glancing around, "have you seen -?" His eyes came to rest on Remus. "Oh, there you are. I've been looking for ages." He handed Remus the handkerchiefs and sat down in the opposite corner. Remus wasn't sure what to say, so he presented a toothy, polite grin he reserved for emergencies.
"Oi," said Potter, who'd turned around to look at the boy in velvet, "we've met before." He walked over and held out his hand, "James Potter," he said, "and you're Sirius Black. We met at that Halloween Party a couple of years ago, d'you remember?"
Sirius nodded and they shook hands, but both seemed more wary than friendly.
Black, thought Remus, and his grin faded. Another pureblood family, but not like the Potters. His parents had told him to watch out for the Blacks and the Malfoys. He wondered how soon he could extricate himself and his luggage from the compartment without causing a scene.
"And who're you?" asked Potter bluntly, holding his hand out to Remus.
"Remus Lupin," he said, as he shook hands briefly with first James, then Sirius.
Sirius' hand was white and smooth, with long, thin fingers that could already have spanned more than a piano octave, if Sirius had been musically inclined. Remus' hand, with its short, skin-and-bone fingers, was engulfed for a moment, before Sirius, smiling, let it go.
Years later Sirius liked to talk about that day, but only while extremely sauced. Sometimes at parties, with his arm around Remus' shoulder or waist, but more often when it was just him and Remus, alone in Sirius' apartment with some Muggle music playing, sprawled out on Sirius' green and white striped futon. They shared cigarettes and long, wet kisses, and talked about everything from Wormtail's hilarious cockroach cluster incident to the stupidity of the Muggle Vietnam War. 'The day we met' came into conversation at least once a month, always when topics and alertness were wearing thin, and always brought up by Sirius.
Once night they'd polished off a whole bottle of firewhiskey before Sirius started.
"The day we met," he said, "I thought you looked like a little brown mouse Kreacher caught in his hands once. I said to him, I said, 'I'll clothe you if you kill it', so he had t'let it go."
"Well, Pads, I thought you looked a right poncy git," Remus replied.
Sirius laughed and gave Remus a half-hearted shove. "Anyway, it was an odd thing, but pretty soon I started feeling like that mouse. When I was around you, I mean. Actually, it wasn't soon. It was after a couple of years. But you know what I mean."
"I don't remember you ever resembling a mouse," Remus remarked, his voice slurred and strained through the haze of alcohol. "Although I believe you had the look of a stunned meerkat about you."
"I don't think you're getting the thing here, Moony. I mean, the drift. The point. Y'see, you're the only one who ever made me feel like that. Made me feel like a mouse."
They stopped talking after that, choosing to communicate in other ways, and Remus woke the next morning with a smile, thinking, 'In vino, veritas'.
Now, though, more than a decade has passed, and while Remus has gained life experience and maturity, he's lost everything else. He's lived everywhere from Brazil to Australia, in motels, inns, filthy tenements, rented houses, hostels and tiny Muggle apartments. He hasn't been able to trust anyone for more than a few months or hold down a job longer than a year. He eats when he can, sleeps when he can, fucks when he can, and finds it easier to believe that Sirius told him nothing but pretty lies.
Remus only has the one handkerchief left, out of the five. The first met its fate on their second day at Hogwarts, when Remus walked into the Gryffindor common room to find James and a boy he didn't know propping Sirius up on the couch.
"Go get a tissue, Pete," said James unhelpfully.
Sirius was paler than usual, an incredible feat, and there was blood gushing for his nose, running over his lips and pooling above his chin. It was the most gruesome nosebleed Remus had ever seen, and he'd had his share over the years. His parents had tried to teach him a spell to heal injuries, Episkey, but he hadn't mastered it and was afraid of turning Sirius' nose into a balloon or something equally uncomfortable.
"Here," said Remus, kneeling down and pulling out his roll of handkerchiefs. He handed one, with brown and yellow stripes, to James, who pressed it clumsily against Sirius' face. It was immediately soaked through with crimson and Remus reached for another.
Sirius, meanwhile, was watching Remus with grateful eyes. He tried to speak but gurgled horribly instead.
"Shut up, Black," said James. "You can thank him later."
Just then Madam Pomfrey strode through the portrait hole, led by a girl with red hair.
"He's here," said the girl, pointing to Sirius on the couch. "It was Bellatrix Black, Madam. I saw the whole thing. It happened outside the banquet hall, after dinner. A whole group of Slytherins -"
"Don't tell me, Miss Evans, tell Professor McGonagall," said Pomfrey, rushing over as James and Peter pulled Sirius to his feet.
Remus followed them to the infirmary, and after that he was never alone at Hogwarts. A few weeks later the four of them were calling themselves 'the Marauders' by mutual agreement, James and Sirius were plotting their first grand scheme, and Remus was wondering what he'd gotten himself into.
Much more than half an hour has passed, and the Express is on its way to Hogwarts. Remus sniffles and stirs. Half asleep, he's sure he just heard James saying something about McGonagall. He doesn't hold onto the fantasy for long, though, before reminding himself that James, Peter and Lily are dead.
He deliberately doesn't think about why. His why. The why he used to sleep with, anyway. The why who used to hog the bedcovers and whose morning breath tasted like sardines. The why who did the crossword puzzles every morning with a Muggle pen, getting half the answers wrong, scribbling them out and then trying to write over them again.
At least, Remus tries not to think about why. He turns his head, and in a few seconds he's fallen back asleep.
The second handkerchief was mutated by Remus in a Transfiguration accident. Weakened after the full moon, he'd contracted a bad cold and was sneezing all through McGonagall's class. When asked to transfigure a pincushion into a thimble, he sneezed mid-spell. His wand slipped and the spell hit his damp handkerchief instead, turning it into a small, greasy metal ball with orange and red stripes.
Remus took to carrying this ball around in his pocket, a kind of good luck charm. He ended up flicking it at the back of James' head during a particularly boring History of Magic lesson, and still remembers the moment when James rubbed his head, turned around slowly and glared at Sirius, who kicked Remus' shin under their desk and scowled.
"You're such a git sometimes," muttered Sirius, after class. "Such a bloody git."
Remus grinned and tried not to dwell on the rough edge to Sirius' voice. He succeeded until that night, lying on top of his covers, smoking a cigarette, when he gave in for the first time and slid his hand down into his pyjamas.
Remus isn't sure what happened to handkerchief number three, cream and marron, although he suspects Sirius used it as a chew toy. In any case, it went missing a week or so after Remus discovered what his friends had accomplished right under his nose.
For months he'd known they were avoiding him as much as possible, and this had made him hate them sometimes, especially Sirius, in a burning, aching way he hadn't known before. During the day he'd acted as though nothing was wrong, but he'd started lying awake night after night, peering between his bed curtains as his friends huddled and whispered to each other, or crammed themselves under James' invisibility cloak to sneak out of the room.
Then, one night, Sirius had walked up to his bed, pulled open the curtains and said, "Get up off your arse, Moony, we've got a surprise for you."
Discovering their secret had made Remus love them beyond all reason, at least temporarily. Even after he'd had some time to get used to it, he was still having trouble believing they'd become Animagi for him.
So it was on the night of the third handkerchief's mysterious disappearance. The four of them stood huddled in one of their newly discovered secret passages. All were human except Sirius, who couldn't get enough of being a dog.
"You'll need nicknames like mine," said Remus excitedly. "Y'know, so we can talk about this in public."
James and Peter glanced at each other, then nodded. Sirius whined his agreement.
"All right," said James, "how about we keep it simple? I could call myself...Antlers, or something."
"Yeah, and I could call myself Whiskers," Peter chimed in.
Remus didn't think much of these suggestions, but in his overwhelming gratitude he felt like buying his friends a round of drinks.
"Whatever you like," he said with a grin.
"Well...we'll think about it some more," said James, and Peter agreed.
The three of them glanced down at Sirius.
"What about him?" asked Peter.
"How about Mongrel?" James suggested with a smirk.
"That would certainly be fitting," Remus replied, smiling. "But what about Fluffy or Snuffles instead?"
They chuckled when Sirius growled.
Later that night, while Remus lay awake thinking up suitable nicknames, someone slipped through his curtains and leapt onto his bed. Remus yelped and struggled as a large hand pressed down over his mouth. He was about to try biting it when he recognised the person's smell. Sirius, of course. Remus stopped struggling, poked out his tongue, and was delighted when Sirius laughed and swore softly before removing his hand.
"Merlin's beard, Sirius," said Remus, forgetting to whisper. "How can someone so bloody loud move so quietly?"
Sirius answered by putting his index finger to Remus' half-open mouth, then leaning down and slowly, softly, kissing him. A brief, dry kiss that quickly became wet and tongue-tangled. Lips were bitten, teeth clacked and noses were crushed against cheeks. Their hips jerked together almost painfully. Remus paused only to lick around Sirius' mouth, feeling the rough tickle of stubble against his tongue, tasting sweat.
They'd done this before several times, but that had been months ago and they'd never talked about it. Remus, however, wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. At least not until Sirius pulled away, panting, and started tugging at Remus' pyjama bottoms.
"Been a while since we did this," Remus whispered, stopping Sirius' hands. "Thought you didn't want to."
Sirius leaned in for a quick kiss. "Fuck no, Moony," he said roughly. "I've just been busy. Couldn't get away. You know that."
Remus nodded, then shook his head and steeled himself. "Thought you were going out with that Ravenclaw girl, Ivana what's-her-name," he said, trying to keep his voice light while dreading Sirius' answer.
But Sirius just laughed and said, "You think I'm interested in that bird? You're off your tree, mate. Mad."
Without waiting for a response he started unbuttoning Remus' pyjama top, stroking his fingers across warm skin as he bared it. His teeth glinted in a brief smile before he bent down and pressed a trail of hot, tender kisses over Remus' collarbone.
"Stark raving mad," Remus agreed, happily, and let himself be lost.
Hours later, while watching Sirius sleep, Remus finally thought of a suitable nickname.
"Padfoot," he said, and poked Sirius in the ribs.
"Wh-wha?" asked Sirius blearily. Remus poked him again and he moaned, pushing his face into the pillow.
"Your nickname," said Remus. "Padfoot. It's so obvious."
"Padfoot?" groaned Sirius, turning his head to glare at Remus. "How is that so bleeding obvious?"
"Your paws, when you're a dog," Remus explained impatiently. "And even without paws, you pad so quietly. Well, when you're trying. So, Padfoot."
"Padfoot," Sirius mused, looking a little more awake.
"Yeah," said Remus. "What d'you reckon? Better than Snuffles?"
Sirius' mouth spread into a wide, lazy smile. "Not bad, Moony. Not bad at all."
Asleep on the Hogwarts Express, Remus is dreaming, in black and white, that he's teaching his first lesson to an empty classroom. He levitates a piece of chalk and writes Professor R. J. Lupin on the board, then turns to the rows of desks in front of him and starts a well-prepared lecture on the habits and appearance of Grindylows. He has a feeling that something isn't right, something's unusual about the situation, but decides not to worry too much as he continues with his speech.
Remus' dreams are always like this, colourless and without people, and he rarely remembers them when he wakes up. There was a time when he dreamt in colour, when he dreamt of warmth, but even his subconscious mind has forgotten those dreams.
That's why it's so unusual, so frightening, when Remus catches sight of a large black dog sitting on a desk in the back row. The dog doesn't do anything, it just stares at him. It has large, dark eyes that could be either angry or sad. He's not certain.
He realises he's not certain of anything anymore. What's he doing, teaching to this empty classroom? Who does he think he is, trying to teach at all? He's a filthy half-breed. He's a monster. He's the man who loved a traitor. He's nothing, he's no one, he's nowhere at all. It feels like all the hope in the world is being extinguished and the classroom grows darker, until he can't distinguish the dog from the darkness any longer.
Gasping, he wakes to the sound of children's voices. The train compartment is darker than his dream, and for a few seconds Remus thinks he's still asleep. When he hears James say, "Not here! I'm here!", and someone else say, "Ouch!", he's unbearably confused.
Then he realises it can't be James, it must be Harry, all grown up, and -
"Quiet!" he says. He cups his hands, concentrates, and does a wordless spell for light.
He gets to his feet just before the door glides open, revealing a Dementor.
It's all he can do not to sink to his knees and cry. His head fills up. He can't breathe.
…the day he became a werewolf first the bite agony fear
then later the full moon torn skin pain wrenching him taking control too powerful wanting to kill to die wanting to lose everything
he lost everything Sirius' betrayal thought about Obliviating his mind sat uselessly and didn't cry all the days he hasn't cried since
those thousands of days he hasn't cried…
He looks down, sure he's about to collapse, and sees that Harry's already collapsed, laid out and pale, glasses askew, like James in the ruins of his house.
Remus remembers that all it takes is one happy memory. One pretty lie. Then it'll be over, he can wake Harry, he can walk through another day without crying and sleep through another night.
Fortified, he takes out his wand and steps forward.
After leaving Grimmauld Place, after Hogwarts, after adolescence, Sirius bought an unfurnished Muggle flat on the outskirts of London.
Remus Apparated over a few days after Sirius moved in, bearing two bottles of butterbeer, and found himself in a dusty, tiny living room, still minus furniture, with peeling paisley wallpaper. It smelt of cigarette burns, old spilt alcohol and mothballs, and through the window Remus glimpsed identical redbrick row houses and an overcast sky. Padfoot was curled in the corner, fast asleep on the bare linoleum.
With a grimace, Remus conducted a quick inspection. The place was without even light bulbs, a shower curtain and basic kitchen implements, although there was a bar of dubious-looking pink soap lying next to the bathroom sink and a rusty fork in one of the kitchen drawers. None of this would have been so problematic if Sirius hadn't already asked Remus to move in and he hadn't already accepted.
He was standing in the kitchen, on the verge of despair, when Sirius walked in and smiled. Dressed in a pair of banana-yellow pyjama bottoms, grey socks and a blue pullover, Sirius had never looked less like the Black heir.
"Interesting look, Pads," said Remus, giving him the hairy eyeball and a grin.
Sirius backed Remus up against the grubby bench and kissed him. A hard, brief, goosebump-raising kiss that made the apartment seem slightly more acceptable.
"So," said Sirius, pulling away, "when d'you want to move in?"
He gestured around as though they were standing in the Taj Mahal.
Remus sighed. "Do you have running water, at least?"
"Oh come off it, Moony. Of course I've got running water."
"Well, that's something, then. Anything else?"
"James has been held up, but he's bringing my things over tomorrow morning. Anyway," Sirius said, with a wink and a swagger, "you and me, mate, all we need is a mattress."
"You have a mattress, then?"
Sirius raised his eyebrows and tried to look mysterious.
"Oh no," said Remus, "you're not thinking of -"
"I got a top N.E.W.T. in Transfiguration, so this should be a piece of cake."
Remus made a sound of disagreement. "Have you thought about, y'know, buying one?"
"But where's the fun in that? I've been practicing on my pullover, see -" Sirius gave it a tug "- and it turns into a mattress all right. Just not a very comfortable mattress, is all, and I'm having trouble with the zipper. So I was thinking a futon, maybe."
"Yeah, Wormtail was telling me about futons the other day. He found out about them through this Muggle bird he was seeing. She had a genuine Japanese futon, right, and he said he'd never slept better in his life -" Sirius waggled his eyebrows "- amongst other things. You know, Moony, Yoko Ono must have been doing something right."
Remus pondered this, then reached into his sleeve and pulled out handkerchief number four, green and white.
"Will this do better than your shirt?"
Three hours and two of Remus' Transfiguration texts later (Transfiguration Across the Seven Seas, by John Silver, and Spoons to Chopsticks: Transfiguring Asian Basics, by Gretel Leung)the handkerchief somewhat resembled a futon. Considering that at one point it had morphed into an ottoman, Remus didn't think it was half-bad, although Sirius grimaced when he flopped down to test it.
"I'm going to murder Wormtail," he said, staring up at the cracked ceiling. "What in the name of Merlin was he thinking?"
"He was probably three sheets to the wind at the time," Remus replied, lying down beside Sirius and stretching out. "In any case, we can refine the futon later. Right now I'm famished."
"So'm I," said Sirius. "How about curry? There's a decent place up the street."
"All right. In a minute."
They lay in silence for a while, not touching, and listened to each other breathe. Then, propping his head on his hand, Remus gazed down at Sirius and started cataloguing little details. Hair in need of a wash, a tiny pus-tipped pimple on the side of his nose, hands with bitten nails folded loosely over his stomach, wrinkled clothes, pallid skin, stubble, grey eyes slightly bloodshot from fatigue…
Sirius met Remus' eyes and frowned. "What?" he said. "What're you gawking at, Moony?"
"Nothing." But Remus couldn't help smiling.
"No, seriously, what?" Sirius reached up self-consciously and touched his pimple. "Oh, that. It's unsightly, innit? Have to get a better charm for –"
Remus interrupted him with a kiss, brief and soft.
Then, trying to sound casual but speaking too quickly, he said, "I love you, Sirius."
He expected a silence to fall, maybe an awkward pause, followed by 'Thank you', maybe, or 'Yeah, me too'. Sirius' eyes might have hardened slightly, or sharpened with amusement, or dulled with sorrow or pity. 'I thought we were having fun,' Sirius might have said, or, 'You're one of my best mates, Moony'.
But Sirius said, immediately, simply, "I love you too, Remus. Always will."
"You laugh," he said, "You think you're immune? Go look in your eyes, they're full of moon. You like roses and kisses, and pretty men to tell you all those pretty lies. Pretty lies. When you gonna realise, they're only pretty lies?"
– Joni Mitchell, The Last Time I Saw Richard