XXI. Trust
-—For Remus, trusting others—and thus loving them—can be nearly impossible.

Remus has known love all his life, but he has known hatred too, and the difference here is that, too often, he cannot quite tell the difference.

He is slow to trust and paranoid, sometimes, of even his closest friends; five years of a solitary childhood have ruined any instincts toward friendship he might have had, and while his parents loved him dearly and did their best to show it, there is only so much a mother and father can do for a boy with such a broken life.

Learning to trust—and, yes, eventually love—James and Peter and Sirius was a slow and painful process. In the beginning—that first, trying year when they did not know the burdens he carried—they did not understand. They took offense at his reticence, questioned his paranoia and rebuked his never-ending questions.

Is this all right, that I'm doing this instead of slacking off with you?

Would it bother you if I studied Potions in the library with Lily?

If you wouldn't mind, I'd rather go to bed early tonight than go sneaking out…

He needed (needs) constant validation, constant assurance that he is not upsetting anyone around him and that he is putting others ahead of himself. He has faced fear and hatred and disgust, and though his friends have never shown an ounce of any such emotions toward him, he can't help but wonder, sometimes, in the darkest corners of the darkest nights when he lies awake, staring at his canopy and asking himself circling questions of am I good enough and why do they keep me around?

Peter seems to understand, at least some, for Remus sees the same panic in his eyes when Sirius and James get into a mock argument. Aggression is bad, their over-anxious minds tell them. Any signs of anger are your fault—always always your fault.

James and Sirius—rambunctious, sheltered children as they are—take longer to notice his stiffening shoulders, rising gradually toward his ears, his halted breathing and his clenched fists. They don't understand—can't understand, because their personalities are so contrary to such fear, but they try, and for that Remus can only be unendingly grateful.

(But then James pokes fun at him for not mastering the Transfiguration assignment as fast as he does, and Sirius mock-blames him for getting them caught after a successful prank, and he can't help the nausea swirling in his stomach, the empty pit of not good enough swelling his heart painfully.)

(After all, if he can't do everything right, they have no reason to keep him around. He's just the werewolf, after all—the expendable roommate that they only keep around for his level head and the entertainment he provides every full moon.)

He doesn't believe such things…but sometimes, in his lowest moments, when the world is spinning and his mind is running too fast too fast TOO FAST and his hands are shaking and tears are spilling down his cheeks in the silence of the dead of night, he can't help but wonder.

And so, despite the friendship he has with his roommates (he does have it, right? They're his friends? Because he trusts them with his life and the four of them are closer than brothers, insecurity is a poison seeping constantly through his veins, and he hates that he can't always convince himself of their sincerity), when others his age are falling in and out of love and snogging in broom cupboards and whispering in the corners of the common room, he can't even bring himself to consider asking a girl out to Hogsmeade. He's an inferior creature to the other boys at Hogwarts, after all; no one would ever consider dating a werewolf when there are people like James Potter walking around. Hell, he's fairly certain that most of the student population would choose Severus Snape over him, should his secret be revealed to the school at large.

He doesn't mind it, usually. But when James pines after Lily (trying to fill the hole in his heart with other girls he snogs and brings to Hogsmeade and to his bed, and Remus can tell—he just can—that they're not what he really wants), and when even Peter, eventually, starts dating that lovely girl from Ravenclaw near the end of their sixth year (though it doesn't last long, and Peter refuses to speak of it), he can't help but feel that nagging loneliness that won't quite leave him alone.

He wants someone like that, he realizes. He wants someone to hold, and be held in turn; he wants a comforting presence at his side to help him through the bad days; he wants someone to kiss and keep and call his own. He wants, and can never have, and he tells himself that he has resigned himself to this fate even though he knows with every fiber of his being that it is a lie.

He's always loved children. When Harry is born, he volunteers to babysit more than any other, squishes his cheeks and makes the little boy laugh more than Sirius or Peter or Mary or Marlene ever can. You'd be a great dad, they tell him, laughing along with Harry as Remus pulls yet another silly face at the boy. When you finally settle down with some nice girl, I can't wait to see how your kids turn out.

But he never does—at least, when any of them are alive to see it. His entire life falls apart that night, the night Sirius (Peter, and he hates himself for the twelve years he wastes mourning the loss of the wrong friend) betrayed James and betrayed him and betrayed everything that made them brothers. Everything that kept him going, everything that held him together was shattered that night, and he was left alone to try and pick up the pieces.

(He's a faded patchwork version of himself—barely recognizable anymore as the teenager who thought, sometimes, in his happiest moments, that his life was nearly normal—)

He grows old and bitter and weary as the years go on, and the ragged stitches holding him together are slowly tearing at the seams. Sirius is back, but he is not the same, and the both of them are falling apart as their too-youthful bodies clash with their aged, half-mad minds. Remus pulls himself together through hard-won stoicism; Sirius does not.

(He mourns his friend's death; he rages and screams and sobs and begs whatever gods exist to bring his friends back—but he knows that the Sirius Black that escaped Azkaban was not the Sirius Black he once knew, and he realizes that it is almost a mercy that he passed through the Veil, to the hard-earned happiness surely waiting for him on the other side.)

(He is jealous of his friends, in that moment, that they are reunited and happy while he trudges on through this hopeless life.)

But it's only now, when his friends are dead and gone—it's only when he is all but alone in the world with only the shattered remnants of the Order for company—that he finally gets the wish he has nearly forgotten through the years of loneliness and regret. He has a wife—a beautiful, vibrant woman whom he does not in any way deserve. Dora is wonderful and young and should love so much more than him—should love someone she deserves, someone who could shower her with riches and love that Remus' shattered soul simply cannot provide.

But, inexplicably, she loves him, stands by him through the grief and the full moons and the nightmares, and even as he knows he should not have this, he feels so incredibly grateful. He grips Dora tight in the darkest hours of the night, wraps his arms around her waist and buries his nose in her beautiful hair and pretends—if only for a moment—that everything is all right.

(And sometimes, he allows himself to believe it.)

And then—after he is sure he has exhausted every bit of luck and good fortune he will ever be allowed—he is gifted a son, a beautiful baby boy with bright blue hair and eyes every color of the rainbow. (Suddenly, he understands the adoration in James' eyes when he looked at Harry, understands every bit of that desperation to protect and keep and love, to tear down the whole world if it would keep him safe—)

He loves Teddy with every fiber of his being; he loves him with all the intensity he can muster from his shattered heart. He fears it is not enough—he fears he will not be a good father as James was, as Sirius could have been. But he loves Teddy and he loves Dora and Harry and all the rest, and he does as best he can by them, and he supposes that has to be enough.

And months later, it's for that child—and for Harry, and for the children his friends never got the chance to have—that he lays down his life on the bloody battlefield that was once his childhood haven. He duels Dolohov and watches hopelessly as Dora is murdered by her own kin—knows despite his tears that Harry has to survive at all costs, and for that to happen, he has to keep fighting until the bitter end.

And when the green light fills his vision all too quickly—they are in close quarters, too close for him to dodge, to summon a barrier—all he can think of is the irony that this spell, the curse that brings death and destruction and anguish to everything it touches, is the exact shade of Harry's eyes.

(Funny, that this cursed boy in whom they have put so much trust—the boy to whom he has poured so much of his ragged, exhausted love all these years—is the one who will save the survivors from this loveless hell Voldemort is trying so hard to create.)