Chapter Thirteen- The Moon Is Scarred Late July, 1995
He held the photograph precariously, delicately pinched between his thumb and forefinger. The flames in the fireplace hungrily sent waves of heat over his hand, scorching the underside of his wrist, but he hardly felt the pain. Remus’ eyes were hollow and haunted as he stood in front of the fireplace, its vivid reddish-orange glow the only light source in the dark living room; the dancing flames turned the shadows behind him to feverish, madly jittering spectres. He could hear the crackle of the flames above the pulse in his throat, beating warmly and sickening against his grief.
He looked into the faces of James, Sirius and Peter, who stared out of the photograph, not at him but at a ghostly Remus Lupin who once stood in front of them and snapped the picture. Pain prickled at his eyes as he watched the photograph tremble slightly in the heat waves, its edges already curling.
I loved you all once, he thought with a deep and distant longing, and a pain so deep it was like a vacuum, sucking all the life out of him and leaving him brittle and wasted. But you deserted me. All of you.
He swallowed, closing his eyes briefly and unaware that wetness had seeped from his eyes and trickled in a lazy glistening trail down his face to seep into his moustache. He found that he couldn’t open his eyes again, couldn’t watch the faces of his friends burn no matter how deeply they had hurt him, so he kept them closed, and thought, you’re all ghosts now.
He had loosened his fingers slightly, and the photograph began to slip over the ball of his thumb, when he heard the kitchen door creak open.
There were footsteps. He turned around, and all the spit in his mouth dried up as he stared across the living room at Sirius, who had frozen rigidly in the doorway and was staring at him in horror.
Remus’ heart gave a horrible lurch in his chest and he almost swayed, plunging his hand further into the fire, but instead he managed to croak out a single desperate sentence. “You’re a ghost.” His dazed mind managed to fly into coherent thought at that point, but it was too late to take back the question, and it hung crazily in the air between them. He saw Sirius’ face turn pale, and a look of abject desolation come over him.
“Well,” Sirius said in a hoarse voice that was tight with emotion and restrained grief. “Things must be in a bad way... it looks like you’ve finally lost your common sense, my dear Moony.” His throat jerked.
Remus didn’t know whether to cry or laugh, so he did both, the nerves in his arms and legs turning weak and threatening to crumble his legs beneath him, but somehow he managed to stay upright. His gut wrenched bitterly and he suddenly hated himself, hated himself for doubting Sirius, and hot tears coursed down his face where they quickly dried up in the heat of the fire, burned into his skin.
He thought, if tears could leave scars, I'd have too many to count, and laughed even harder, until it hurt too much.
Padfoot’s dark eyes watched him warily from the doorway. “I thought you’d gone,” Remus said said weakly, his laughter finally subsiding, but whether it was true relief or just madness trying to fill the hole inside him, he didn’t know.
“I took Buckbeak out for a walk in the forest,” Sirius said in the same parched voice. He blinked over the moisture in his eyes, and they were bloodshot from crying. “He hasn’t been out of his shed in weeks.”
The mirth died in Remus’ throat and he straightened slightly, feeling the hole inside him shrink, and he was overcome with a sudden dizzying wave of relief, too suffocating for laughter, too wonderful for tears. His hand started to shake where it still held the photograph over the flames, and Sirius’ eyes slid to it for the first time.
“Moony, no!” He shouted compulsively, and crossed the gap between them in lunging strides. Remus felt bright pain bloom in his hand, burning it, and he gasped as Sirius reached him.
The other man gripped Remus’ hand and wrenched it out of the fire, and as Remus’ fingers loosened he cried out in pain with a soft “ah!”
The photograph slid from between his thumb and forefinger easily, its surface gleaming, and it floated in a lazy downward spiral toward the flames.
“No!” Sirius sobbed again in dry and desperate grief, as the photograph touched the flames and instantly erupted, curling into a ball the size of a walnut. Its blackened surface bubbled and tore, collapsing in upon itself in a puff of ash.
The two of them stared at the fire, at the violently flickering flames, breathing harshly. Remus was clutching his wrist, and Sirius sucked in a gasp and looked at him.
“Your hand,” he said thinly, and gripped Remus’ shoulder. “Oh god. Quickly, put some water on it.”
Sirius led him into the kitchen and Remus went silently, his head lowered and his eyes half shut because of the tears that assaulted them, but he didn’t cry.
Sirius grabbed a tea towel from where it was hanging around the handle of the oven door, and doused it under cold water until the towel was sodden, the taps shrieking as he turned them off.
Remus sunk sideways into a chair at the kitchen table. His legs were sprawled out awkwardly in front of him, his elbow resting on the table. Sirius gently wrapped the dripping, icy tea towel around it like a bandage so that it covered his whole hand; only the tips of his white fingers poked out. Remus’ head hung low over his chest, his eyes squeezed shut. Sirius sunk into a kneeling position in front of him, crumpling beside Moony’s legs, and smiled up at him through a haze of tears.
“I suppose we are all ghosts now, ay? James and Pete and I,” He said brokenly, and his face constricted upon itself, pulled tight with emotion. Finally the floodgates in his mind broke, and thirteen years of bottled up anguish drowned him in a crushing tide. He draped one hand over Remus’ sprawled legs and sobbed raggedly and voicelessly, his shoulders jerking with the force of his sobs.
Remus drew in a tremendous breath and leaned forward in the chair, his bandaged hand sliding along the table and pulling the table cloth with it, so that it bunched up beneath the damp tea towel. He wrapped his free hand around Sirius’ neck. The long fingers curled over Sirius’ pale skin, drawing him forward, until his dark hair was buried underneath Remus’ chin as he wept, helplessly and almost silently. Remus’ eyes were dry- the memory of his tears was just a stinging ache behind his eyes, but they were red-rimmed. His body shook in time with Sirius’ as he held him.
Slowly Remus pulled his head back, and tucked one hand underneath Sirius’ chin to lift it, with an effort, until their faces were almost touching. He slid his bandaged hand off the table. The tea towel fell off it, but his pain was, for the moment, forgotten. With his injured hand he smoothed the dark hair off the other man’s face, combing his fingers through its matted curls, and brought his nose against the side of Sirius’ so that they were breathing into each other’s mouths.
He smiled against Sirius’ cheek. The lips softly brushed there, not pausing, but tracing delicate paths across his face, over the bridge of his nose and tasting his tears, until they came to rest lightly in the corner of his mouth, buried in his beard. Sirius’ skin still tasted the same as it had all those years ago, and Remus closed his eyes in reverence. His fingers pressed tenderly into the back of Sirius’ neck, and he smoothed the skin there, soothingly, with a thumb. The pain in his hand was a distant memory.
“But you’re my ghosts,” he said softly and fervidly, breathing warm air into Sirius’ mouth.
Epilogue Early August, 1995
Two dogs were curled up together at the base of a gnarled, ancient tree. Their bodies were pressed into the hollow between its snaky roots, nestled against one another for warmth. They seemed to fit exactly into each other’s curves like pieces of a puzzle, two halves of the same being; their fur rippling gently in the soft breeze that caressed the carpet of leaves on the forest floor. The trees above sheltered them from most of the moonlight, though it speared through the leaves of the canopy in bright columns among which a low mist rolled, in ghost-like and ethereal waves, across the ground.
The larger dog- whose fur was an ashen grey, coarse and flecked with white- had rested his muzzle over the other’s neck, and his head rose and fell gently with each breath of the soft, warm body below him. He could feel its pulse through the base of his neck. The other dog, a matted and midnight black, had his head resting on his paws. His slow, languid breath formed tiny puffs of steam in the chilly night air.
Wind shivered over the floor of the forest, lifting the leaves there, sending them dancing over the two curled and sleeping dogs. The black dog trembled in his sleep and tucked his nose deeper into the warmth of the other’s back.
The moon watched from its sea of grey clouds above the forest canopy, and its pale surface was scarred; perhaps with the remnants of tears.
Moony and Padfoot slept under its bright and vigilant glow, and the August wind howled softly and plaintively, an echo of a wolf who had once cried for his freedom here.
There were no chains on Moony this time; he slept, finally, in freedom.
A/N: The text in chapter eight is from William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well; lyrics of the song in chapter eleven are from ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000’ by the Brian Setzer Orchestra :) No copyright infringement intended, but if Will wants to sue me, he can ;)
Many thanks to all of you who have followed this story for thirteen chapters! I’m immensely grateful to you all. Thank you. This was a work of love, and I’m so glad you’ve come along for the ride- I hope you enjoyed it!
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