Memories are poison when everything that was once good has crumbled and Remus Lupin has always been introspective. He has never considered that to be a curse before.
Every morning he wakes, dresses and makes himself a cup of tea in a flat that he will only be able to afford for another two and a half weeks. He eats breakfast alone, in silence, and reads the newspaper. Today there is no newspaper, so he reads yesterday's newspaper for the second time, because if he breaks his routine then his thoughts might explode into forbidden territory.
At half past ten he reads three chapters of a novel. He used to enjoy fiction – adventures, lovers and passion – but now he immerses himself in history books. He reads each world slowly, absorbing the syntax and the flow of each individual sentence, and relishes the beauty of the words he once used to admire without effort. Now it takes work to enjoy reading, but he has nothing else to do.
At quarter to twelve he has his second cup of tea; this time without milk and sugar, because both are expensive and because James used to drink his tea without milk and sugar. He drinks the strange hot liquid as a mark of respect and he will continue to do so, because James Potter is dead.
Remus had always liked routine. In the beginning, Sirius had said that it was because his whole life revolved around a large routine (although Remus had issues with the full moon being classified as a routine, he'd never really argued with any of Sirius's bright ideas) that he needed the smaller routines to fill in the ambiguous parts. Sirius often liked to provide pseudo-analysis of their lives: "James, you continue chasing Lily because you need something unattainable in your life...Peter, you didn't stand up for yourself because you want everyone to like you... Remus, you like routine because it makes you feel like you have control," and then James was scoff and tell him to stop acting like a girl, and then Remus would smile at him because Sirius needed to have control too – and he found that by telling them all who they were.
And so they had routines; they always humoured each other – they helped James in his chasing, helped Peter to be liked and they helped Remus feel like he had control. Every Christmas they would stay at Hogwarts, take over the common room and open their presents in front of the fire, eat themselves incapacitated and laugh until it hurt.
"And we'll do this forever?" Peter asked, in that second year, laid in front the fire as he and James played exploding snap. They'd been just a group of children, then, a couple of twelve year olds thrown together and happy there.
"Probably," Sirius said, in the arrogant way of his; still holding onto the last resemblance of his haughty upbringing and still smarting from his families' rejection.
"But stop being so bloody woolly, Peter," James added, throwing his card onto the pile with his own form of grace.
They hadn't known then about how Remus was a monster, Sirius was damaged, Peter was insecure and James was spoilt. That came later. In second year they were just a couple of friends.
Most days at twelve O'clock Remus makes himself lunch, but today he finds it difficult to pull himself from the sofa. Today was always going to be a little different, but he had intended to continue with the routine without thinking too much. Thinking too much was one of the dangerous things that Remus tended to do.
Instead he skips lunch all together, sitting back on the old sofa and glancing at the ceiling for a long time. The people in the surrounding flats are being especially rowdy today – he can hear the odd excited child, music being played a little too loudly and adults chatting to each other. At One O'clock he drinks third cup of tea – white with three sugars, for Peter. Because that is how Peter used to take his tea and now Peter is dead.
"We're the same species, Moony," Sirius laughed, "We're the same – you and I. We're in this together," Rash, bold, damaged Sirius and introspective, thoughtful, monstrous Remus. All his life people had been doing wonderful things for him and never had he been able to pinpoint down why; why Dumbledore had let him return to Hogwarts or why his friends had done what they had done. Some people in the world seemed to think that Remus was worth something.
"But Sirius," Remus had managed to say, smiling – Sirius always made him smile – "I'm fiercer than you,"
Sirius had barked with laughter, "rightly so," he'd added – his grey eyes flashing, "rightly so,"
Sirius had betrayed them all.
In the years to come Sirius would often remind him of that conversation, the same words dancing from his lips with a smile. But he only mentioned it when it was just the two of them: as though letting the others know that it was Sirius and Remus it would dilute their friendship in some way. Remus had always hated that. Remus hates this more.
Remus is allowed half an hour each day to mourn. It is difficult to know who he should be mourning. Some days he misses the way James would run his fingers through his hair, and others the way Lily used to touch her ears when she worried. He remembers the way Peter used to seek assurance from them, their approval, and the way he always needed something from them. He tries not to think of Sirius: his long regal hands with stubbed bitten nails; his ice grey eyes full of laugher; a whole sea of contradictions and irregularities that Remus had thought he understood.
Some days he simply mourns his own life: a life of friendship, brothers, love... all fallen to ruin by an event he feels he should have foreseen.
At quarter to two Remus has a white coffee without sugar. He drinks it with Lily in mind; she used to wrap her whole hands around her hot cup as she drank her tea and so he does the same.
"Stop analysing me," Remus complained, "there's nothing complex about it, Sirius – I don't want us to join this war and end up dead,"
"But you provide me with so much material," Sirius had countered, leaning against the kitchen counter in Remus's flat. Fresh out of Hogwarts with the reality of a life time of unemployment settling over him, it was becoming easy to let himself forget how lucky he was.
"Surely you provide yourself with enough material," Remus had snapped, the cutting edge of his word biting into Sirius's facade, "can't you leave me out of it for once?"
Sirius stayed silent and just watched him: Remus was rarely angry – even on days when the full moon bore down on him he rarely lost his temper. He'd snap, occasionally, and he'd become more and more sarcastic. Control, Sirius used to insist, you hate it when you lose control. Instead his anger burnt out slowly, the current just below the surface, until it eventually burnt away to nothing (although Remus supposes that this anger will never really leave him). Sirius watched and waited for his anger to fall flat. He knew him so well.
He flushed and shrugged his sheepish apology.
"We're not going to die," Sirius said, "and I'd rather think about you than myself,"
"And James would have it that you think about nothing but yourself,"
"I avoid it,"
"I know," Remus muttered, closing his eyes for a second, "I don't want to be in the middle of the war. Life is hard enough,"
"But you are," Sirius had said, then he had crossed the room and looked him square in the eye, "and so are Lily, James and Peter,"
"And so are you," Remus finished, opening his eyes again and swallowing back the desire to do something rash and stupid. Sirius grinned, a smirk that took over his face, and barked with laughter. He quirked his eyebrows up for a second and said, "yes, Moony, we're in this together,"
And we meant a two, not a four or a five. When they were alone we just meant two people.
Sometimes in the middle of the afternoon Alice or Frank would visit him and at other occasions it would be somebody else – Emmeline Vance, Dumbledore himself and, on the worst occasions, Mad Eye Moody would stomp over his doorway and stay for the length of time it took him to drink the content of his hipflask. Today he rather suspect that he would be left alone, of which he was glad; because it was hard to come to the doorway, sit in his sitting room discussing the aftermath of the war whilst pretending that he was okay. It was difficult to talk in hushed voices when he wanted to scream at the walls and it was difficult to sit under Dumbledore's piercing gaze knowing that he could see through the most elaborate facade.
Remus cleans his flat. Remus has always been clean because Remus has always needed control – so he mutters spells into every corner of the room until there is not a single speck of dust lying stagnant.
It is winter and so he lights a fire; and he thinks of days at Hogwarts and then tries to stem the flow. Because memories are like tears, and one always sparks another.
"A secret keeper?" Peter has asked his watery blue eyes alive with concern, "is that... is that necessary?"
"They're in danger Peter," Sirius said forcefully, exchanging a meaningful look with the Potters; they had talked about this before – on one of the nights where he had been otherwise disposed, perhaps, "anything that keeps you all safe." He sent a nod of acknowledgement towards Lily's stomach, life was growing there, and this was the first time Sirius had referenced that this new life existed. How is he supposed to be a parent, Remus? How are any of us supposed to be old enough for something like that? Alone in Remus's flat, Sirius would say that he was scared. Here he was surly, rash, steadfast and unyielding. He had been brought up not to be vulnerable in front of others.
"Anything," Remus agreed, looking up towards his best friend and smiling, "anything at all," It was hard to smile in those days too; unemployment, prejudice and the weight of a war on their shoulders.
"Who?" Lily asked, a hand hovering towards her stomach and the other fingering her ear lobe.
Remus started, "Sirius," he said – hadn't it been such an obvious choice? Who else would they have picked? – "Sirius will be secret keeper,"
"Peter?" James asked.
"Yes," Peter agreed, and now Remus considers that maybe Peter had seemed unsure – maybe Peter had been blessed with more divine insight than he had been. Or maybe love is blind.
"Then we're all agreed," James said decisively, and now Remus considers that no one had ever asked Sirius. He had them so expertly manipulated that he had not needed to speak at all.
Later, Sirius had stood in Remus's flat with a glass of fire whiskey in his hand and watched Remus squirm with embarrassment. I've never seen anyone so quick to offer a name, Moony, and I've certainly never seen you so bloody eager.
"Shut up Sirius," Remus said and he says it again now – out loud to his apartment – "who else could it have been?"
At around six Remus has a long shower, taking care to wash every inch of himself clean, and then he returns to the kitchen and makes himself two slices of toast. Normally he would have made himself something that took quite a long time to make, to fill in the time before reading the second half of his book, but today the only reason he eats is because he is impossibly hungry. Sometimes he might walk down to the shop and stock up on milk, eggs and chopped tomatoes but the shops will not be open today.
He eats his toast-dinner in front of his muggle television. No magical landlords would allow him to stay in their flat and as long as he is gone when the full moon comes nothing bad will come of it. At least that is what Sirius assured him, the day he moved in, before switching on the television and spending hours trying to work out exactly what the point was. There are some benefits then, Sirius had said, we wouldn't have has this telly-box-thing if you'd gotten that flat in Diagon Alley.
There had been that we again.
The television is full of special shows, episodes from popular shows and classic films. They clutter up a little of the evening, but all the brash tinsel and reindeer jumpers are a harrowing reminder of the day in question. After half an hour and some channel switching Remus turns it off and returns to his book. He reads half a chapter before he can no longer bring himself to care, then he curls up on his sofa and stares at the wall for a very long period of time.
"I can ask McGonagall if I can move out of the dormitory, if you'd like," Remus said, his jaw clenched furiously as he tried not to cry. He so very very much wanted to cry. He only ever cried when the transformations started, when every bone in his body broke, shattered and regrew, when he lost the control he so needed and became a slave to instincts that were not his own. He wanted to cry now.
Sirius and James glanced at each other. When they said yes, Remus would not ask McGonagall any such thing. He would not stay at Hogwarts. He would slip away in the night because by the morning the whole school would know and everyone would be just the same as his three best friends. He would be excluded, isolated and alone. He would not go home either. He would pack his bags and run away in the night.
He had always known that this would happen and thus, he had always had a plan.
"Move out?" James asked, running his hand through his hair uncomfortably. James never was used to things being so serious, "leave here?"
"Bloody nonsense," Sirius said, tossing his then long black hair out of his eyes, "we've all got a bit of baggage, Remus,"
"Baggage," James had laughed, kicking Sirius in the shin, "I'd hardly call it baggage,"
"Okay," Sirius said steadily, "maybe a little more than baggage,"
"Trunk-age, maybe," Peter said with a grin.
"Yes, precisely, we've all got an extra suitcase," James put in.
"Oh, shut up mate – you're extra suitcase is an extra suitcase," Sirius said, "I'd hardly equate being spoilt to turning into a ruddy great wolf every month,"
"You're the one who said we," James said, "and anyway, it's been very hard for me,"
Sirius punched him.
"You're just as rich!" Peter piped up.
"But I'm also a ruddy Black. Look, you're ruining a perfectly good sentiment here and I'm right. We all have an extra suitcase, even if that extra suitcase is a bloody extra suitcase,"
"What are you talking about, mate?" James grinned.
"How we don't want Remus to move out, you great tool!" Sirius barking as he pushed James to the ground and turned back to face him. Remus had never really understood Sirius before: his eyes had always been too cold, too black, for him to reach out through... but now they seemed to be exploding with warmth, sentiment and pure loyalty.
"Well he knows that, don't you?" Peter asked, "why would we want you to leave?"
"I'm a monster!" Remus protested, blinking at them stupidly,
"Now really," James said, throwing himself down on his bed, "the most monstrous thing you've ever done is take a book from the library without checking it out,"
"But... I could eat you!" Remus said wildly.
Sirius quirked up his eyebrows grinned and looked directly at him, "bite me,"
Remus concedes that he thought that, perhaps, somebody might write to him today of all days – but there are no letters, and so he sits and waits for the evening to draw on so that he can go to bed again. It will be the full moon in several weeks, which will at least break up the monotony of this unappealing existence, even if the break from this life is unthinkable pain. He remembers how his friends used to look forward to full moon, how sometimes – although it was very rare – he used to look forward to them too, and then he remembers how Sirius killed Peter, James and Lily. And left Remus alive and alone.
Sometimes it is difficult to believe and other times it is so impossible true that he hates himself because of it. Of course, Sirius had only ever been manipulating him as he had everyone else in their life – James, Lily, Peter, and Dumbledore. They had all fallen for it and maybe he had fallen the hardest.
Maybe if Alice had come to visit him today he might have explained properly. He might have told Alice about Sirius; a relationship comprised of moments when he would stand a little too close, so close that when he moved away Remus would be sure that he'd just been about to kiss him (and never could he work out whether that disappointed him or not), when it would be just the two of them in Remus' flat and Sirius would say we differently, when it felt like Sirius had just looked right through him. Still, Remus had always preferred their status of tantalising hints and something more in subtleties rather than actions. He'd never been sure of how to gain control of the situation.
(And once, when they had been watching television Sirius had looked at him and said 'as if I haven't given my family enough reasons to disown me,' and then he really had kissed him.)
But today Alice was busy at home with Frank and Neville – turkey, cranberry, sprouts and Christmas crackers.
He wonders what Sirius must have really thought of him, he wonders what the stranger who stood in his flat sipping firewhiskey must have reported back to Voldemort and he wonders whether Sirius enjoyed the game.
He would like to think that Sirius might have been brought by something (and sometimes he likes to think that he was the price, because here he stands) but he knows that Sirius is the only person who could never be brought: not by love, not by money, not by any person alive or dead.
"Got any pumpkins, Moony?" Sirius said, eyebrows quirked upwards in the doorway. Sirius hadn't been around much lately – in fact, it seemed like recently nobody had really been talking to him. James, Lily and Harry were locked away in their house, he understood that, but it seemed both Peter and Sirius were hardly ever around now. He missed them. He missed them a lot.
"Of course," he'd said, nodding towards the windowsill, "your favourite holiday,"
"The only holiday my parents didn't celebrate," Sirius said, stepping into his flat and helping himself to two glasses. He filled them both with Firewhiskey before pressing one into Remus's hands and sitting down on the sofa.
"Been busy?" Remus asked, shutting the door and bolting it behind him.
"Something like that," Sirius said, flicking his gaze to meet Remus' for a second. Remus took a sip of his firewhiskey. Sirius had nearly finished his.
"I wasn't expecting you to come," Remus added, still standing.
"Because?" Sirius asked lazily, but there was an unfamiliar steely note in his voice.
"I knew things would be different after Hogwarts," Remus said, "now there isn't such a level playing field – when I can't get a job and I have to live in a muggle flat. When I can't do anything at all really,"
"Sit down Moony, don't be an idiot," Remus sat down on his old sofa and tried not to think, "you still think we'd ever care about the bloody werewolf thing?"
"You missed last full moon," Remus said quietly, staring at the amber liquid in his glass.
Sirius swore, pressing his fingers against his forehead for a long few moments – deep in thought.
"Why didn't you remind me?"
"You haven't been around here, Sirius," Remus said angrily, "none of you have. I've been stuck all day in this stupid flat... I've only seen you at Order meetings and, and... Well that's not the first full moon you've all forgotten about,"
"You should have told me,"
"I shouldn't have to,"
"It's this bloody spy thing," Sirius said, turning round and facing him seriously, "I can't get it out of my head. You told us to forget about it,"
"You learnt how to turn into animals for me, Sirius, why shouldn't I trust you with my life? We're the Marauders. You, James and Peter – you're the only people I can trust. You accepted me, you've helped me and you've risked your life for me a hundred times over... and unless you're insinuating that Lily is the spy then..." Remus took a deep breath, "I just... I don't think that it's worth losing sleep over,"
Sirius stared at him for a very long moment as if seeing him for the very first time.
"I need to go tell Peter something," Sirius said, draining his glass and putting on the floor near the foot of the sofa, "but... when's the next full moon?"
"About a week,"
"I'm going to tattoo it on my elbow so I don't forget, okay. I'll get the lunar chart engraved in my brain for the next fifty years,"
"Whatever," Remus muttered, closing his eyes for a second, "I'll remind you on the fifth, and Sirius... happy Halloween,"
"I'm coming back," Sirius said, "I'll bring Peter. Or not, what do you want?"
"It's up to you," Remus said, listening carefully for the sound of the door clicking shut behind him. Maybe Sirius would return with Peter, or maybe it would be just him and he would use the 'we' for two and they'd watch television, or they'd drink too much firewhiskey and reminisce about simpler, happier days.
Or maybe Sirius was on his way to betray James and Lily Potter. To destroy them all.
At half past nine Remus does receive a letter from Alice. The letter is more excitable than usual and she has signed it, rather ostentatiously, as 'The Longbottoms' – he supposes it is part of Christmas that those who are happy feel a subconscious desire to show off that happiness. She writes about how Neville reacted to all his Christmas presents, how Augusta Longbottom visited and how Frank and Alice cooked Christmas dinner together. She enquires after Remus's Christmas and Remus does not answer.
He does not see the merit in telling Alice that his Christmas dinner was two slices of toast and that in his apartment the festivities stretched only as far as the picture of the snowman on the lid of the milk.
She attaches a present too. He leaves it in its wrapping paper on the kitchen counter. He flicks on the kettle and leans against the counter feeling sick. It doesn't take much to make him feel sick anymore; every memory with Sirius's arrogant easy air makes him want to rip his hair from his scalp and every time he remembers that he had been so lucky, at least for a little while, he would very much like to stab himself.
He hates Sirius Black almost as much as he hates himself, and his anger festers just below the surface and quietly destroys him from the inside out. He has no control. He has no nothing, really, because everything spiralled out of his grasp. They put their faith in the wrong man. Hadn't Remus told Sirius Black, hours before hand, that he didn't believe there even was a spy? Hadn't Remus suggested that Sirius was to be the secret keeper? Wasn't Remus to blame, just as much as the Potters? Surely, shouldn't Sirius have killed him too?
Finally, he drinks a very strong black coffee with no milk or sugar. It is so very Black, just as it is so very Sirius. He drinks it in memory of a person that never existed and he drinks it because it will keep him up all night. Sirius has always kept him up all night.
"You thought I was the spy," Remus demanded, as they sat in the dining room in number 12 Grimmuld place. Sirius had showed him round with such a grim expression; this is where they beat me after first year, this is where I was burned off my family portrait and this, this is my bedroom.
Last time they had been alone they had been young men.
"You thought it was me," Sirius returned quietly, his voice thick with the madness of Azkaban.
"After it was printed in the Prophet," Remus returned. He was still angry, how, he's not entirely sure – but he was still angry, "with a dead James and a dead Lily as proof,"
"Forget it," Sirius muttered darkly, he'd lost something. They'd both lost a lot.
It was two days later when the topic was broached again, two days where they have skirted round the edges of each other's presence – immersing themselves in the company of others rather than facing the hard facts that are laid bare in front of them. And now their paths have coincided.
"Did you think I was going to seduce it out of you or something?" Remus asked, holding his cup of coffee in his hands and not turning around.
Sirius's face broke out into a grin.
"Something like that," Sirius returned, leant against the opposite wall of the kitchen with a trace of a smile.
"Why didn't you trust me?" Remus demanded, folding his arms over his chest and finally turning to look at him. Remus was acutely aware that a better man than he would be able to brush this under the carpet and move on – but still, it haunts him, "because I'm a werewolf?"
"It will surprise you to note, Moony, that not everything that went wrong in your life is down to your lycanthropy," Sirius said with a deliberate eye roll, "we all have an extra suitcase,"
"Several," Remus returned, the familiarity of the memory washing over him. Slowly he was beginning to register that the man stood before him was Sirius Black, "why?"
"Because I couldn't trust myself not to tell you," Sirius said, his voice gruff with the years of Azkaban and years on the run, "because, Remus, I was scared and I have an innate aversion to responsibility. Because I needed to blame someone,"
"Okay," Remus said, it was a lie – but it would do. It was enough.