Title: Three Words
Characters: Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, with appearances by Sirius Black and Molly Weasley.
Genre: Introspection, Romance, Friendship, Hurt/Comfort.
Words: 513 (Part I of V)
Notes: Dedicated to ThisLoveHasNoCeiling for being generally awesome and fun to talk to. Thanks for the warm welcome to the fandom! Told in five parts. (The entire story is already finished.)
Three little words.
They are not quite the opposite of I love you; hate is a word stronger than love, and so love's only true opposite is indifference, because it hurts more to be viewed indifferently by the object of your affections than it does to be hated.
Remus would know.
He has been hated by so many in his life that at least hate is something discernable, something understandable. He can cope with hate.
It's indifference he can't stand, because it blurs the line between love and hate, hovering somewhere just between I don't know you so I can't make a fair judgment, and I don't want to know you at all.
Maddening is how it feels to simply not know what another person's intentions are. Perhaps they smile at you now and again, perhaps they wink or blush or stammer because of your words…but that might mean nothing. Are they enamored? Simply being polite? Their mind can be changed by the twitch of a finger, by a gaze that lingers for too long, by the words that are spoken, whether they are understood as they are intended to be or not.
Many years ago, Remus liked the idea of fantasies. Hogwarts was, in its entirety, nothing short of a fantasy. The idea of things being carefree and wonderful was appealing. But when it all came crashing down, he felt as if he'd died, gone to Heaven, and been forced to return to Earth.
Remus decided that he did not like fantasies anymore.
So he stopped dwelling on them, and he planted his feet firmly in the Real World, where people died, and betrayal happened no matter how well you thought you knew someone, and people like Remus would spend the rest of their lives making feeble—or wholehearted, or desperate—attempts to survive.
It is not a happy world, but at least he knows where it stands. Where he stands.
And whenever necessary, he reaches into the back of his mind and pulls out those three little words.
Not I love you.
But old, poor, dangerous, because all three are true and realistic and solid: provable, understandable.
There will never be a menagerie of hidden meanings in his three little words, but a person might mean a million things by saying I love you, such as: I think I love you, or I want you, or even, I'm feeling frisky tonight and will say anything to get you into my bed.
So old, poor, and dangerous are not quite the opposite of I love you, because they are excuses not to admit love, rather than an admission of not loving someone, of feeling indifference. They are Remus's idea of indifference, as close as he'll ever get, because he's never truly been confessed to by a girl he didn't feel something for. He's never had to say, "I don't feel that way about you."
Instead he tells them he is too old, or too poor, or too dangerous.
Instead, he makes excuses.
Truthful excuses, but excuses nonetheless.