Chapter 1: The Other Side
Strangely enough, the only thing that struck him as odd to start with was that he felt no pain when he hit the ground.
That was after his head had cleared, the world had stopped spinning, and he could hear the sounds around him again. Sirius lay on his back, staring at the blackened ceiling of the Death Chamber, and wondered absently why it hadn't hurt. He'd come down hard.
He couldn't move, of course - a stunner to the chest will do that for you - but since Bellatrix didn't come charging around the archway to finish him off, he had to assume that she had been taken care of. The sounds of battle seemed to have died away, in fact: someone would be over any second to check he was alright. Probably Moony. He was sure to be scolded something awful for letting himself get taken down like that, but damn, it had felt good to taunt Bella. He hadn't felt so alive in months.
He could hear someone yelling. Harry? Then the sound of running footsteps, fading.
It was odd that no-one had come over yet. How much longer did he have to lie here? Maybe Moony was angry with him for risking himself like that, and was going to let the curse wear off on its own. He dismissed the thought immediately. Remus wasn't like that. But still, it was strange.
Sirius tried to move, and found to his surprise that he could. Not only that, but his chest didn't hurt at all. Movement was difficult, though, and not in the way it usually was following a stunning spell or an impediment jinx; it felt like he was trying to move through honey or glue, like the air was a sticky, resistant mass that pushed against him on all sides. He half expected, drawing a deep breath, to feel it sliding down his throat like treacle, and repressed a shudder when he felt - nothing.
Not even the coolness of air in his mouth.
Finding it impossible to sit up, Sirius managed to turn slowly onto his side. He was lying on the stone dais in the centre of the room - but he might as well have been suspended in mid-air, he realised suddenly, because he couldn't feel the stones under his cheek.
The archway was barely two paces away. The curtain hanging in it appeared to flutter slightly in an unfelt breeze, but he couldn't seem to see through it.
He could see beyond it, however; he could see people moving in the dark chamber, slowly, like victims of a sudden shock. Sirius frowned. He could see Remus. The other man was halfway up the rows of tiered seats, as if he'd been following someone but stopped halfway. He had just turned back, moving as if in a dream. He began to walk down the steps, but Sirius saw his gaze turn, as if magnetically drawn, to the stone arch by which he was lying.
Remus sat down very suddenly on one of the stone benches. Sirius couldn't be sure from this distance, but Remus looked even paler than usual - white in the dimness - and his hands, when he raised them mechanically to brush his hair out of his eyes, were shaking.
A coldness began somewhere in the pit of Sirius's stomach. He tried to move again. With a supreme effort, he worked his way into a sitting position. He was beginning to understand why it was so hard to move: he couldn't seem to exert any pressure on the floor beneath him. It was like floating underwater without a solid surface to push against, and the only way he could get anywhere was to try and find purchase on the air itself.
Sitting, now, he could see some of the others. Many Death Eaters, stunned or immobilised; Mad-Eye Moody, stumping around with blood dripping from his head. A boy with a broken nose, who alternated between horrified glances at the door through which they'd entered, and frightened ones at the stone archway.
The archway, Sirius realised belatedly, through which he had fallen.
The Gateway in the Chamber of Death, through which the living could not pass.
"Moony." The word was on his lips without conscious thought. "Moony!" he called louder, looking frantically towards his friend. For a moment, his heart lifted in hope as Remus stood up; a second later it dropped again when he saw the other man was simply making his way to the broken-nosed boy. "Remus!" he shouted desperately. "Remus!"
Remus didn't so much as glance in his direction.
"Moony. Moony! Please, for the love of Merlin, look over here! Just for a second! Remus!"
Remus was silently helping the injured boy to stem the bleeding from his nose. Moody paused momentarily to say something in his gruff way; Remus just nodded once without answering. Moody walked away. Remus glanced up, following him with his eyes, and for a second his gaze flickered over Sirius.
He looked back to the injured boy, and Sirius realised that he couldn't be seen, either.
For the first time, he looked down at himself. He half-expected to see a ghost's body - white and translucent - but he looked utterly solid to his own eyes. Tentatively, he laid a hand flat against his chest and pushed. It definitely felt solid, but there was no warmth under his fingertips and he couldn't feel the fabric of his robes either. He tried grabbing a handful of cloth and tugging: again, he could feel the resistance against his fingers and the tug on his body, but his hand might as well have been dipped in numbing solution. He touched his face: neither his cheek nor the palm of his hand registered warmth or the texture of skin.
Fighting mounting panic, Sirius tried to stand up. It was even more difficult than sitting had been - he was constantly on the point of losing his balance, and he had a feeling that, if he did, he would float downwards like a feather. The people around him took not the slightest notice of his struggles.
Was he dead?
There didn't seem any other explanation. But how had he died? Sirius ran through the last few moments of his memory before he'd hit the veil. Bella had hit him with something painful - more than a simple stunning spell, he suspected, but certainly not the killing curse. The light had been red and tightly focused, not the flaring green brilliance of Avada Kedavra. His chest had burned and his balance had been irretrievably lost; he hadn't even been able to stagger backwards, but had simply fallen in an arc like a tree in a storm. He had felt the veil fly out behind him, letting him through. Then there had been a blank nothing.
He'd fallen through the Gateway - which, according to what little he knew about it, was utterly impossible. Things came out of the Gateway. Spirits returned to it. The living did not pass through. It was impossible for the living to pass through.
Walking was almost beyond him, but somehow he managed it, feeling more like he was swimming against the tide. One step. Two. He fixed his gaze on the archway. He had to walk back through the veil. Everything would make sense again if he could just reach it. Another step. Another. He was within an inch of the veil.
Sirius stepped forward. Or rather, tried to. In fact he found himself stopped as effectively as if he'd just walked into a brick wall.
Sirius slammed the palms of his hands against the veil. It didn't move like fabric should; it was as if he'd hit an invisible wall that stood rock-steady behind the curtain. He tried to grab hold of the edge of the veil, pull it aside; his fingers scrabbled across a frictionless surface and slid away as if he'd touched a block of ice.
Moving as quickly as he could, Sirius circled the archway and tried the same thing on the other side, with similar results. The ragged curtain hung serenely before him, mocking his anger.
He began to hammer on the invisible barrier with his fists and kick it as hard as he could, barely aware that he was shouting spell after spell, counter-curse after hex after jinx, spells for breaking, dispelling, opening, tearing...
Sirius sank to his knees, frightened and defeated. His hands didn't even hurt, he realised numbly. The veil would not let him pass. His heart was hammering - except that it couldn't be, he thought hysterically, because he didn't have a heart, but nevertheless he could feel it, and the sick, panicky feeling that he had lost control.
A creeping horror nudged its way through his whirling thoughts. Maybe when they said the living could not pass through the veil, they simply meant that they would cease to be living if they crossed the threshold. Remus, he had always suspected, knew more about the Gateway than he did. Remus had refused to tell him any more than what he already knew.
Remus was only a short distance away, and Sirius realised that he was leading the broken-nosed boy towards the exit.
"Don't go!" Sirius shouted frantically, struggling to his feet again. He tried to run after his friend, but he couldn't move fast enough. "Please! Remus, you have to help me! Remus!"
His voice had trailed off into a painful whisper that was barely audible even to himself.
"Don't go, don't leave me... don't leave me here and forget about me... not again... don't leave me here..."
Remus hesitated by the door and looked back. His wandlight, which he was holding aloft to guide their way, illuminated his white face and caught the grey in his hair. He looked so tired, so shocked, so lost. His eyes were empty. They closed against the sight of the Gateway, and he turned away, and Sirius fell silent, because he knew then that Remus thought he was dead.
And to Sirius's mounting horror, there wasn't a lot of evidence to contradict him.
Chapter 2: The Other Side
Sirius quickly discovered that it was impossible for him to get out of breath. Instead, prolonged running through the heavy, syrupy air induced a sort of all-body ache. Not that he had a body, technically, but it saved a lot of questions if he just thought of himself in those terms. His limbs felt heavy and tired, his chest hurt as if he'd been sat on by a hippogriff, and his head ached with a dull insistence. And he couldn't seem to move faster than a walking pace.
He kept running.
By the time he'd reached 12 Grimmauld Place he'd almost become used to silence instead of the thud of his feet hitting the ground. The sun was up, but its light brought little cheer to the dismal square of houses. Sirius slowed as he approached the front door, raising his hand instinctively to knock.
Then he remembered himself and, grimacing, simply walked through the solid wood into the gloomy hall. Noise immediately flooded around him; it sounded like half the Order was here, and his mother's portrait was screaming again. He ignored her and hurried towards the kitchen.
Taking the steps two at a time - except, of course, he wasn't, he was just pushing harder against the world's objections to his presence - Sirius burst through the kitchen door and almost collided with Mundungus Fletcher. He drew back hastily: he really didn't want to find out first-hand whether or not he could walk through people the same way he could walk through walls.
"--showed up at the Ministry," someone was saying anxiously, waving her arms around like an over-caffeinated windmill. "Fudge has to believe us now, he's seen him with his own eyes--"
"--guarding it all this year, and the damn thing's been smashed anyway--"
"--still can't believe it, you say it was his own cousin that killed him?"
Sirius scanned the crowd quickly. He could see Mad-Eye Moody conferring with Kingsley and a few others. There was no sign of Tonks, the Weasleys or Remus.
"Can any of you hear me?" Sirius yelled at the top of his voice. He hoped against hope that someone would turn in his direction, but no-one so much as glanced up.
Catching another glimpse of Moody gave Sirius an idea. His magical eye could see through wood, stone and invisibility cloaks - maybe it could see spirits, or whatever it was that Sirius had become.
He began to step cautiously around the edge of the room, swearing ineffectually whenever someone moved into his path. After five minutes of manoeuvering, and finding himself no closer to Moody, he finally gave up, took a deep breath, and struck out through the people thronging the kitchen.
He felt nothing, which was unnerving, but not as unnerving as realising that they felt nothing, either. No-one shivered or glanced around; no-one fainted or gasped or turned pale. He might as well have been walking through an empty room for all the reaction his presence caused.
"Mad-Eye," he called hopefully as soon as he was in earshot. "Mad-Eye, can you hear me? Can you see me?"
Moody was listening intently to the tall witch next to him, grunting occasionally and nodding his head vigorously. His magical eye swivelled in Sirius's direction... and paused. Sirius held his breath (or felt like he was holding his breath, at least) and pushed past/through Kingsley to stand right in front of the Auror.
Whose roving eye had already turned away and was now examining the fireplace.
Sirius felt like howling in frustration. After a moment's consideration he gave into the impulse, throwing his head back and letting out his pent-up fear and desperation. No-one could hear him, after all. He had turned away, half-running back towards the door, when another conversation caught his ear:
"--haven't seen Remus, is he hurt?"
"No, but they were old friends, knew each other in school - think he went upstairs - wanted to be alone--"
More than friends, Sirius wanted to say, are you blind, couldn't you see? But then, it wasn't as if they'd been obvious about it. There'd been so much else, all year, and there had just hovered between them the unspoken understanding that there would be time later on to say all the things that needed to be said...
Sirius hurried past the speakers, up the stairs and through the hall. His mother was still shouting, hurling abuse at thin air, cursing his name as if she knew he could hear her. He wondered if anyone had mentioned his 'death' to her. Probably not: he had a feeling she'd have been laughing if she knew.
He passed the rooms he'd given the Weasleys, and the ones that various Order members had used to catch a few hours sleep between shifts. The top floor was the least-used, and some of the doors were still locked, their handles dusty. An ancient, cracked mirror hung at the top of the stairs; Sirius looked instinctively for his reflection, and shuddered when he saw nothing. At the far end was the door to the attic, but he turned aside before he reached it.
His room had always pleased him when he was a child. It was higher up than his parents, who were glad enough to see less of him; higher than his brother, who hated to climb more stairs than he had to; high enough that from his window he could see a great swathe of sky above the dingy square that was Grimmauld Place. His room was the one place in the house that didn't fill him with angry, bitter memories, and so he'd cleared it out as soon as possible. It had even been pleasant, sometimes: candles scattered about like a dozen fallen stars; the curtains open and a new moon - weeks from full - gracing the sky; Remus stretched out by his side, the lines on his face smoothed away by sleep.
There were no candles lit now. The curtains were half-closed. The sun was making a feeble attempt to light the room, and succeeding only with a portion of it. Sirius thought that he could see more clearly than usual in the dimness, but dismissed it from his mind a moment later. Remus was lying on his side on the bed, half-curled up, very still.
Sirius's heart gave a terrified lurch and he quickly crossed the room. No. He wouldn't. Not Moony. Not my Moony. He got through twelve years... he wouldn't, he wouldn't, please don't let him be...
"Remus?" he whispered, falling to his knees so that he could look into his friend's face. He realised that Remus's eyes were open at about the same time that he saw his chest rising and falling shallowly. Sirius closed his own eyes for a second, shaky with relief.
After a time he sank to the floor, sitting as close to Remus as he could get. He knew his friend wasn't asleep - his eyes remained open, staring at nothing, blinking occasionally - but he didn't move, or speak, or even cry. It was starting to scare Sirius. He wanted to go and get someone - tell them that Remus needed company, needed someone to bring him out of this silent, grieving state - but there was no-one who could hear him.
All Sirius could do was sit with him in unacknowledged vigil, so he did. In all his life, he'd never heard of something like this happening. He wasn't a ghost, at least in the usual sense - someone should have been able to see him if he was - and he couldn't be a poltergeist or another sort of spirit, because he was utterly unable to affect the world.
Which led him to one other conclusion. What if this was what came after death? What if everyone who died was forced to remain in the world like this, unseen, unfelt, unheard? What if all around him thronged thousands of others, out of even his sight, who wailed and watched and wandered forever...
Sirius shuddered. A small sound from beside him made him look around. Remus's eyes had finally fallen shut; as Sirius watched, tears began to inch their way down his pale face. He gave another small, hitching gasp, almost-but-not-quite a sob, and suddenly rolled over onto his other side, groping blindly for a pillow to muffle the sound.
Sirius heard his own name. Then there was silence, except that Remus's shoulders would shake every so often, and his breath would catch.
If this was what lay after death, Sirius thought bleakly, then he could almost sympathise with Voldemort's crusade to escape it. This was worse than Azkaban, worse than being trapped in his parents' house for a year, worse even than the Dementor's Kiss, surely - at least then he wouldn't have known what had happened to him. Was this all there would be, forever? Watching the people he loved grieve and then forget about him?
He remembered something that Dumbledore was fond of saying: The dead we have loved never leave us. Perhaps, then, he would only be tied to the world as long as there was someone to remember him...
Hope flared suddenly from the ashes, stirring him like a long draught of a warm drink. He'd lost a lot of his respect for Dumbledore over the past year - resentment, loneliness and bitter reproach had eroded his trust in the man - but he was still a wizard more powerful than Voldemort himself. More to the point, Dumbledore had the honour of keeping company with a phoenix.
Sirius had seen Fawkes weep for Harry's sake last year, healing a ragged gash in his leg; he had heard stories of the properties of phoenix song; he knew that the creature could rise anew from death.
If he even was dead, which he still didn't really believe. He was just stuck, somewhere, somehow, and to Sirius's mind there was no such thing as a one-way door...
Sirius got carefully to his feet. Dumbledore and Fawkes were at Hogwarts, so that was where he had to go. He'd done it on foot before - admittedly as Padfoot - and he had a feeling that he wouldn't need sleep now. It would take him days, if the speed of his journey here was anything to go by, but it wasn't as if he had any pressing commitments.
At least, not that he could fulfil.
He stood for a long moment looking down at Remus, who was simply lying there in silence. He didn't want to leave him, but what could he do for him?
Hesitantly, Sirius leaned over. He felt a little silly - but at the same time, a rush of protective love flooded him, so he went ahead with his half-formed thought, and laid a ghostly kiss on the tear-damp cheek.
"I don't think I'm quite dead yet, Moony," he said with a confidence that he wasn't sure was real. "So I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Take care of yourself."
There was no answer, and after a long, painful pause, Sirius turned away.
He'd just have to find a way back as quickly as possible.
The knock on the door was hesitant. It said a lot about the person knocking. It said, Perhaps he'd rather be left alone and Maybe I'm worrying for nothing. Remus thought that probably, if he ignored it, the knocker would talk themselves out of coming into the room to check on him.
The handle turned. Well, couldn't be right every time. Sirius always teased him about it, but Sirius wasn't right all the time either. In fact, Sirius was always doing stupid things. Like charging into a pack of Death Eaters alone. Like taunting when he should have been ducking. Like getting himself killed.
Molly Weasley's voice was as tentative as her knock had been. Remus didn't answer, and a moment later heard the door swing fully open. He wished she'd go away. He didn't want to talk to her. Talking meant thinking, and he didn't want to think. He'd wept a bit some time ago, but even that had ebbed away into silence.
It was like staring into the sun: afterward your eyes were clouded with the bright afterimage and you couldn't see anything else. It had all happened so fast - Snape's urgent summons, the Order's departure, the battle in the Death Chamber - it was a scant few hours since Remus had walked into this very room to find Sirius pacing uneasily, waiting for someone to tell him if Harry had returned from the Forest yet. He couldn't seem to blink the memories away. He couldn't accept that in an instant the world had changed.
He couldn't... do this... again...
"Remus," Molly said again, her tone softer but more certain. He could hear the pity in it - no, be fair, not pity: compassion - and the concern of a mother's instinctive desire to comfort. "You... shouldn't be alone."
Why not? I was alone for twelve years. We were living on borrowed time anyway, so why do I still feel cheated?
He didn't move. Footsteps crossed the room, and he felt the bed move slightly under her weight as she sat down.
Sirius never could understand that, no matter how sneakily he lowered himself, the mattress would always shift and alert his target to his presence, and then he'd jump half out of his skin when Remus would ask, quite calmly, what he was doing, and Sirius would say, 'I thought you were asleep,' and Remus would roll over and smile and Sirius would--
Molly's hand came to rest on his shoulder, and Remus suddenly remembered comforting her after the Boggart had shown her each of her family dead in turn. He wondered why it hadn't become, for him, Sirius lying still and cold - what did it say about him that his fear had been, as always, the moon whose pull forced him into slavery? But then, he'd never thought that Sirius could die - not brave, brash, laughing Sirius who'd already returned once from darkness that might as well have been death.
Sirius wasn't allowed to die, he thought angrily, not when he hadn't really been alive for the last fifteen years.
It wasn't fair.
He was aware of Molly speaking to him, comforting nonsense tinged with an edge of helplessness. She couldn't do anything if he wouldn't respond to her. He felt a kind of bitter satisfaction at the thought. Her hand was still on his shoulder, strangely warm against the cold spilling out of his heart and through his veins.
He opened his mouth to ask her to leave, but what came out, eerily calm, was, "He's gone."
"I'm so sorry, Remus."
Was she really? he wondered, knowing that she had never really approved of Sirius, and a moment later he was shocked at himself. It did something to clear his head. It wasn't right to resent Molly for trying to help. There were other people to be angry with. Bellatrix Lestrange. Albus Dumbledore. Voldemort. Harry.
No. It's not his fault.
The numbness was retreating, torn apart by a whirling of pain that wanted to become a scream, but couldn't seem to fight its way through years and years of self control. Unsteadily, he sat up, shrugging away from Molly's touch with a half-formed dismissal on his lips.
It died when he saw tears on her cheeks.
Instead he just looked at her mutely, needing something he couldn't ask for, and she, understanding, enfolded him in her arms like a mother or a sister or just, perhaps, a good friend, and then he found that he could cry again after all.
The wrenching sensation caught Sirius three or four days later, somewhere just past Edinburgh. He stumbled - inasmuch as he could stumble - and shook his head, raising a hand to his eyes. The world... had suddenly... distorted - the lights of the city where spinning - for a second everything went white...
And with the echo of his name still ringing in his ears, Sirius found himself standing in front of his godson.
Harry looked - tired. Worn. In fact, there was an air about him that reminded Sirius painfully of Remus - the air of one too old for their youth. His cheeks were tinged with a faintly unhealthy flush, as he stared intently a small, square object held up before his face.
The two-way mirror, Sirius realised.
It had called him here.
Hope flooded him in glorious waves. Perhaps if he went back to London and found his own mirror, he'd be able to talk to Harry? Perhaps, if his godson looked up, he'd be able to see him?
"Harry--" Sirius began excitedly.
Harry, who had been sitting like a statue, made a sudden, vicious movement that sent the mirror flying into his trunk. There was the sound of breaking glass. He glanced up, directly at - or rather, through - Sirius, and then jumped up and crossed the room as if he hoped to break the floor beneath his feet.
Sirius closed his eyes for a moment, fighting bitter disappointment. He moved over to the trunk, hoping against hope that the mirror hadn't shattered after all. A dozen glittering shards mocked him, reflecting back his hopeless face among Harry's shoes and clothes.
Sirius groaned. Then his eyes widened in shock.
He could see his reflection in the mirror.
He leaned forward. At that second, Harry flung a bundle of his possessions down into the trunk, obscuring the broken mirror. Sirius swore loudly.
"Dammit, Harry, would it kill you to look before you go chucking your stuff around?" he yelled angrily, glaring at his godson, who naturally paid no attention.
Sirius gritted his teeth, sat down on a nearby bed - at least, it helped if he told himself he was sitting on the bed, and not just positioning himself in midair - and watched Harry storm back and forth between his bed and his trunk. He could see himself in the mirror. So, could anyone else see him in the mirror? Would Harry have seen his reflection if he'd happened to look down? Sirius thought he would. Which made it all the more frustrating to watch as clothing was haphazardly strewn on top of it.
No, wait. All was not lost – there were the other mirrors, of course! But his own was in a drawer by his bed - would Remus clear out his room, Sirius wondered, or would they just leave it? It wasn't like he had all that many possessions. Sirius was struck, for a moment, by the image of himself turning up alive in the middle of an auction outside his house, like the hobbit in that Muggle book Moony used to like...
Harry had stopped in mid-motion. The look on his face was painful - so full of hope, but so jaded. Like he really, truly believed something, but at the same time there was a part of him that just knew it wasn't going to come true.
Then the boy dropped the robes he'd been holding and threw himself across the room, wrenching the door open and vanishing.
"Hey! Wait!" shouted Sirius uselessly. He hesitated, but his curiosity overcame him. He followed Harry out of the room.
Unfortunately his godson had already disappeared, and Sirius couldn't move at much more than a fast walking pace even when he was running. He spent a long time searching various corridors and classrooms, muttering swearwords to himself. He paused for a moment by a large, gilt-framed mirror to see if it showed his reflection, and was disappointed when it didn't. He passed the Great Hall, where the leaving feast was taking place, and spent a few minutes checking that Harry wasn't there. He paused in front of Dumbledore, who took not the slightest bit of notice.
Depressed, Sirius meandered out of the Hall (it was very uncomfortable watching the students eat and knowing that he hadn't even felt hungry for days) and headed in the direction of the Gryffindor tower. Perhaps Harry had gone back there. On the way he detoured into McGonagall's office (to see if she really had a cat basket under her desk), Filch's locked supply cupboard (he and James never had managed to get into it - the contents were, however, rather disappointing) and a girls' toilet (just because he could). He was starting to think that this having no body thing would be fun if he could use it at will.
It was in the toilets that he happened to glance into a mirror... and saw himself looking back.
Sirius all but fell over in shock. He stared, disbelieving, at his reflection. He looked sort of pale and faint, but he was definitely there. He took a step towards the mirror.
His reflection vanished.
Sirius growled softly and stepped carefully backwards. There he was again - it was like he was stepping into and out of a special zone where he was visible. He experimented by moving a couple of paces to right and left. Sure enough, as soon as he moved out of one particular spot, his reflection disappeared.
Sirius regarded himself in some confusion. What was special about this portion of the mirror? He moved aside again, experimentally, and caught sight of something else in the reflection.
He turned round to get a better look. Hanging on the wall behind him - opposite the big mirror - was another, smaller one, the glass spotted and chipped. The two mirrors had been positioned to reflect each other. Probably so the girls could do their hair, or something, Sirius thought.
He waved a hand in the space between the mirrors. Sure enough, he could see it reflected in them both.
"Okay," he said aloud, thinking quickly. "So one mirror doesn't show me, but two mirrors do."
Sirius moved back into the gap between the mirrors, taking a sort of comfort from seeing himself reflected there. One mirror didn't work. But Harry's mirror had been enchanted, linked to another - so that one showed him, too. Sirius began to pace back and forth, glancing at himself every time he passed the second mirror. How could he use this?
Remus had a two-way mirror. Sirius stopped moving, staring at his reflection happily as he thought about this. If he could just get Remus to look in the mirror...
That was when the world went cold.
Sirius shuddered. He'd become so used to feeling nothing that the sudden chill was almost unbearable. He expected to see his breath steaming in the air in front of him. The light was fading from the room, he realised with a rush of alarm. Suddenly he couldn't see anything except himself, reflected in a bright square of glass, wide-eyed and startled.
There were voices. He could hear people whispering, laughing, taunting, cajoling. He thought, for a second, that he was back in Azkaban, that the Dementors were coming.
"No... no..." he whispered, backing away. "I'm... I'm innocent, I didn't do it..."
Sirius took another step backwards, fleeing the mirror. He ran through the wall, hoping to leave the chill behind, but it followed him like the incoming tide. Sirius glanced behind him as he ran, and saw the walls of the corridor blackening as if a tarnish were creeping over them.
What the hell is going on?
Had he done something by stepping between the mirrors? Was this some sort of trap? He sped around a corner, through the walls of two classrooms, and flung himself down a flight of stairs. Perhaps, if he got to where there were people, they'd be able to stop it even if they couldn't see him...
The doors of the Great Hall had been flung open; students spilled out, chattering and laughing. The feast was over. Sirius ran through them, turning to see their reactions to what was happening.
Nobody batted an eyelid.
Sirius stared in horror as shadows raced up the walls, touching the enchanted ceiling and spreading tendrils all around the hall. It was like a giant, multi-fingered hand groping its way around the room in eager search of something.
Or someone. Himself, Sirius rather thought, being as no-one else could even see it.
He turned and fled up the length of the hall, hoping against hope that Dumbledore could do something. The Headmaster was talking to Snape, totally unaware of the darkness all around them. Sirius turned to run again and realised that he was surrounded. The shadows were creeping across the floor. He backed up towards Dumbledore. The shadows touched Snape's robes...
Snape broke off his conversation with Dumbledore and looked startled; then a strange mixture of anger and fear crossed his face. Dumbledore looked at him inquiringly, but Snape made a sharp, decisive motion with one hand.
Sirius suddenly felt the chill lift. The darkness hesitated, then fled back as if it were rolling in on itself. The oppressive sense of menace was gone.
"-- was that?" Dumbledore was saying quietly.
Snape was looking around with narrowed eyes. For one wild moment, Sirius was torn between hoping that his old nemesis could see him, and praying that he couldn't. Snape's eyes flickered right through him, however, and the hook-nosed man turned back to the Headmaster.
"I'm not sure," he said in a low voice. "It felt like an attack, but it was not directed at either of us."
"Legilimency?" Dumbledore asked, his blue gaze sharp.
Snape hesitated. "No..." he said slowly. "No, not that. It was like..." He broke off. Sirius waited hopefully, but the Potions Master didn't elaborate further.
"Well," Dumbledore said, and Sirius noticed for the first time how tired he looked and sounded, "I must away... so much to do... good luck, Severus."
Snape nodded curtly and turned to go, long cape billowing. Dumbledore followed, leaving Sirius alone and shaken.
What the hell was that? He sat down at the teachers' table and wished he could rest his elbows on it. Was it really after me, or was I just in the wrong place at the wrong time? And how did Snape of all people stop it when no-one else could even see it?
Sirius got up again and paced about restlessly. He found himself shooting nervous glances at the walls. He had a reckless urge to get as far away from Hogwarts as possible. Something knew he was here. Something had tried to harm him - he wasn't even going to entertain the idea that the creeping darkness had been of good intent. It had felt like... like Dementors.
Sirius shuddered. He had walked himself to the end of the hall now; he peered cautiously out of the doors. No students in sight, and no malevolent shadows either. He took a deep, steadying breath. Whatever it was, it had gone.
Belatedly, he remembered his plan to find Fawkes. Now was, presumably, as good a time as any, so he turned his steps in the direction of the Headmaster's office.
Voices floated down the corridor ahead of him; Sirius paused and listened. He realised that one of them was Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost. The other was unfamiliar to him.
"... but really, shouldn't we tell someone?" Nick was saying.
"It is no concern of theirs," replied a woman's voice, soft but very clear. "They could not even see it, and besides, the darkness cannot touch them..."
"Still," said Nick uncertainly, "mightn't the Headmaster be able to shed some light on it? I've never seen anything like that in all my centuries..."
Sirius rounded a corner and could see, up ahead, Nearly-Headless Nick and a ghostly woman whom he vaguely remembered from his schooldays. She had tended to haunt the library, and on one particular occasion had given him a nasty shock in the Restricted Section. The two were coming towards him, floating at a leisurely pace, and Sirius wondered whether to stand aside or simply let them walk through him.
The question was resolved when Nearly-Headless Nick glanced up, jumped so hard that his head fell off his shoulders, and exclaimed, "Good heavens! Sirius Black!"
Sirius stared, dumbfounded.
The woman looked him up and down with an expression of interest, before turning to help Nick restore his head to its proper place.
"You can see me?"
"Of course," said the woman softly, just as Nick said, "Clear as day!"
"Then I am a ghost?" Sirius asked, his heart sinking.
Nick glided forward, looking at him closely.
"You don't seem to be," he said thoughtfully. The ghost reached out and tried to lift Sirius's arm; his hand passed straight through it. "No. Ghosts can touch one another, you see."
"But you can see me - and hear me." Sirius found himself grinning in sheer relief.
"Indeed." Nick circled around him once, making no attempt to hide his curiosity. "Strangely enough, I have just been discussing your recent, er - demise - with young Harry. I had assured him that you would not be back. You did not - forgive me for saying so - seem the type."
"I'm not exactly back," Sirius explained quickly. "I don't think I went anywhere. I'm sure I didn't die."
The two ghosts looked confused.
"And yet, many witnesses would claim otherwise," murmured the woman.
"Arianwen is right: a large number of people seem fairly certain that you're dead," Nick said. "Ah - have you met Arianwen, Sirius? Good friend of mine - you may have seen her on occasion..."
"Most glad to have made your acquaintance," said the ghostly Arianwen.
Sirius nodded impatiently in her direction. He didn't have time for this. "Look, can we talk for a minute?"
The ghosts nodded (Nick's head wobbling dangerously), and Nick led the way through a nearby wall into an empty classroom. Sirius quickly outlined what had happened in the Death Chamber and his efforts to communicate with the rest of the world.
When he was done, the two ghosts were oddly silent.
"Well?" Sirius asked nervously.
"Most strange," said Arianwen softly. She glided towards him and raised her hands to either side of his face, her ghostly fingers hovering a hairsbreadth away. "It is written that none living can pass the veil, and yet you clearly did not come there as one of the dead."
Sirius blinked. He realised that he could feel... something radiating from her hands. Neither warmth nor chill, but merely a... sensation of something.
"The Gateway's not something we talk about, you see," Nick was saying. He fiddled uncomfortably with his ruff. "Those of us who remain here... refused to pass through it. So we don't... know what's on the other side."
Sirius snorted. "Not a lot, as far as I can tell." He took a step backwards to get away from Arianwen's hands. She dropped her arms to her sides, still regarding him opaquely.
"You are not on the other side," she said tranquilly. "However you came to pass the threshold, you were unable either to advance or retreat. You stand between the worlds, in a kind of limbo, if you will. The space between reflections. The echoworld of a mirrored mirror."
Sirius stared at her....right...
"And... is that good? Bad? Is there a way back?"
Arianwen frowned. "I know not. This has happened before, I believe - there is mention of it in the oldest books - but I know not if the lost souls were ever retrieved."
"Great." Sirius sighed, throwing his head back and stretching to relieve a non-existent ache. "So I'm not dead, but I might as well be, and to top it all off the shadows around here don't seem to like me."
Nick let out a small exclamation. Sirius looked at him curiously.
"You saw what happened earlier?" the ghost asked anxiously.
"Yeah." Sirius shivered convulsively. "More to the point, I think it... whatever it was... was after me."
Arianwen's eyes had gone rather wide. She glanced around nervously. Nick looked equally worried.
"Are you sure?"
"Pretty sure." Sirius tried to catch his eye. "Nick? What is it? Do you know what that was?"
"I don't know... what it was, precisely," Nick said slowly. "But there's something else you should know. This... place that you're in... I don't pretend to know much about it... but I know that you are not alone there."
A chill ran down Sirius's spine.
Nearly-Headless Nick looked away. "Certain magics can influence that space - legilimency, occlumency, dream magic... as can certain creatures... thestrals, I suspect, may sense your presence, as may the phoenix. And..." He hesitated.
Arianwen finished his sentence, her quiet voice hard.
"As may the Dementors, who prey upon such souls as yours."
Chapter 3: A Glimmer of Hope
The Hogwarts Express let loose a long, shrill whistle to warn its passengers that it was about to depart. One or two tardy students made a hasty dash for the doors, and the platform guards nodded to the driver.
Sirius braced himself as the train began to move. He wasn't sure this would work; if it didn't, he'd find himself sitting in midair above the railway. He glanced at Harry, who was staring out of the window while his friends talked quietly, then at Harry's trunk, in which lay the key to the success or failure of his plan.
Then he realised that the scenery was moving past at a goodly rate, and that he showed no signs of slipping backwards through the wall. He breathed a sigh of relief and settled himself to watch Harry.
It had been an obvious connection to make. The mirror had called him to it; the mirror showed his reflection. Therefore, the mirror was probably, for him, an anchor to the world, and Arianwen had suggested that if he remained close to it then he would be carried along in its wake. Sirius hadn't quite understood her explanation - and her sense of the dramatic got on his nerves - but he'd been more than willing to take a chance on it. Anything to get away from Hogwarts.
Ron asked Harry a question, to which his godson replied vaguely, his eyes still fixed on the passing landscape. Sirius wished Harry would talk more. He'd kept his responses to as few words as possible so far and, from the looks Ron and Hermione kept shooting each other, they were carefully avoiding certain topics.
"It's okay," Sirius said aloud. "If you want to grieve, I mean. Go right ahead. Cry your eyes out. I'd be flattered, honestly."
"Hey, Harry," said Ron, "fancy a game of chess?"
"Or you could just not, I suppose," Sirius muttered to himself, but his heart wasn't in it. He didn't find it all that funny. Not when he saw how quiet these teenagers were, who in the summer had laughed and rowed and teased. Not when he remembered Remus's tears. No, he couldn't joke about wanting them to mourn. He just wanted to find a way back as quickly as possible, to take away some of the grief that they should never have had to bear.
Perhaps he should have waited for Dumbledore after all. Sirius got to his feet, pacing around the small compartment as he was wont to do when restless, not even noticing that he was walking through its occupants. He and the ghosts had searched Hogwarts all night and found no sign of the Headmaster. Either his rooms were more securely hidden than they'd ever realised - or Dumbledore had left the castle.
They'd made certain other discoveries. Fawkes, who had been asleep in Dumbledore's office, had trilled in greeting and flown over to Sirius's shoulder. The phoenix was small and featherless - which was strange, as Sirius had been sure it was years until his next burning - but his warm weight had seemed a miracle after so long without sensation. Fawkes had sung quietly all the time they were in the office, but hadn't been forthcoming with any other assistance.
They'd also found that the portraits could sense Sirius's presence, although they couldn't see him unless he stood still. This had fascinated Arianwen, and gone a further way to reassure Sirius, who was feeling distinctly jumpy and kept expecting Dementors to appear through the walls.
Finally, when the castle began to stir, Nearly-Headless Nick had suggested that they go to McGonagall, since Dumbledore was not in evidence. Sirius would have agreed - had he not at that moment felt the return of the malevolent chill that had touched him earlier. It only lasted for a heartbeat, but he'd refused to stay another second in the castle.
Which had led him to Hogsmeade, where he watched the students arrive in the thestral-drawn carriages (he still remembered the first time he'd seen the creatures, when he'd followed Harry back to Hogwarts in his third year) and remembered what Arianwen had said about the mirror. He'd decided to take the chance.
And here he was. He watched Harry and Ron play chess - he tried to warn his godson about the pawn creeping up on his left, but was forced to watch as Ron neatly gained himself a queen and started slaughtering Harry's forces. He read Ginny's magazine over her shoulder. He eyed the strange plant belonging to the boy who'd had his nose broken in the Ministry - Neville, Ron called him - with distrust. Sapient vegetation disagreed with him. He recalled far too many altercations with the Whomping Willow in his youth.
Which brought his thoughts back to Remus again, and plunged him into another bout of unhappiness.
There was some momentary excitement halfway through the journey, when a commotion broke out a few compartments along; Sirius had been about to rush out and investigate when he'd remembered that he couldn't leave the vicinity of the mirror. He'd had to wait as Ron dashed off and returned a few minutes later with an unscathed but ruffled Harry, who told the others that Malfoy had tried to ambush him.
Sirius couldn't help relishing Ron's description of what had been done to the Slytherins. It was almost worthy of James and himself, as he told them at some length.
Apart from that the journey was uneventful; the Hogwarts Express eventually pulled into King's Cross Station and Sirius followed Harry off the train.
"I suppose this is where we say goodbye," he said regretfully. He'd already decided to seek Remus out at Grimmauld Place. He was hoping the pictures there would be able to help him, although he didn't hold out much hope: the only halfway decent (and sane) one was Phineas Nigellus, and the old headmaster still didn't like him much.
He was almost as surprised as Harry, therefore, to come through the barrier and find Remus Lupin waiting on the other side.
"This wasn't quite how it was meant to go," Sirius told Remus, who was making a cup of tea. "You were supposed to go back to Headquarters. Okay, so I hated the place, but I thought you didn't mind it." He sighed. "Were you just pretending for my sake? You're always doing things like that, Moony..."
Remus poured boiling water onto a couple of shrivelled tea leaves and set the lid on the teapot. He stared out of the window as he waited for it to brew.
Sirius craned his neck to find out what was so interesting, but all he could see was greyness. Rain spattered heavily on the window pane. The sky was low, dim and threatening. He couldn't see the sea from this angle, but he was sure he could hear its restless waves breaking on the grey cliffs. Even the grass, wiry and windswept, looked grey rather than green.
He'd spent a couple of weeks here last year, before they'd moved to Grimmauld Place, and of course he'd visited when they'd been at school - this was Remus's parents' home. Ironic, that they should both wind up living in the houses they grew up in, although their home lives could not have been more different.
Sirius still remembered Remus's mother gently explaining how to use Muggle kitchen appliances. He'd never asked why their house was so unwizardlike: he'd already known by then how the wizarding world treated werewolves.
Remus stirred himself, lifted the teapot and poured the steaming liquid into a mug. Sirius watched disconsolately. He'd never been as big a fan of tea as Moony, but right now he'd have given anything to be able to take the teapot from those too-thin hands and pour himself a cup.
"If you'd gone back to Headquarters," he continued, fumbling after his train of thought, "I could've talked old Phineas into helping. Maybe. Oh, dammit, Remus! I wish you'd smile. When I saw you at the station I thought it must've been a full moon, you were so pale."
Remus added milk - not much, but he always had to have a little of it - and carried his mug across the kitchen, into the sitting room, which was lit only by the rain-darkened light filtering in from outside. Sirius followed. He didn't have anything better to do.
"You should put the light on," he admonished Remus, who had seated himself on the floor by a large cardboard box. "You'll strain your eyes."
Remus took a sip of his tea and then placed the mug on the low table nearby. Then he sighed and looked at the box for a long time. Finally, he leaned forward and pulled it towards him.
Sirius sat down on the sofa. He'd given up reminding himself that he wasn't really sitting on furniture. He watched as Remus, his expression neutral, began to sort things out of the box into separate piles. He wished he could say something. Anything. He'd never imagined how helpless one could feel without a voice.
"I remember you telling me about this," he said after a while. "You said you'd put away everything that reminded you of me. I asked why you hadn't got it out again, and you said it was because you'd have to sort through it, and you didn't want to come face to face with him yet. Wormtail. Bastard."
Sirius leaned forward, trying to get a closer look at what Remus held in his hands. He thought it was a photograph, but Remus laid it aside before he could see properly. He thought that his friend was looking for something specific: his hands were purposeful as they lifted items out and set them aside.
"Then I suppose everything just got busy," Sirius continued, half to himself, half to the oblivious Remus. It was somehow comforting to talk like this. He realised, with a twinge of irony, that this was the first time he'd talked completely openly to his lover for over fifteen years. "I wish you could see me, Moony. I want to be with you to go through this stuff. I want to remember with you. I want to get back to you and I don't know how."
Remus was now flicking through an old school textbook. The tight lines around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth had relaxed a bit. He didn't smile, but Sirius could tell that he had been momentarily distracted from his grief.
"There are so many things I didn't tell you," Sirius said quietly, not caring how maudlin he was getting. "I loved you, of course. I love you still, if it counts from - wherever I am. I thought to start with that I was dead. Then I thought I'd find a way back in no time. Now I don't know, except that I don't think I'm meant to be here. Moony? I wish you could hear me."
"I wish I'd told you..." he trailed off, watching Remus lay aside the book and pick up a small crystal. "I wish I'd told you how much it meant to me that night in the Shrieking Shack, when you believed me. I wish I'd told you why I thought you were the spy years ago."
Sirius shifted uncomfortably, wishing he could feel the cushions behind his back. Remus was still holding the crystal in his hand, but his eyes weren't focused on it; he was staring into space, weariness in every line of his body.
"You should get some sleep," Sirius murmured, knowing that Remus couldn't hear him. The other man sighed, laid down the crystal, and tilted his head back against the arm of the sofa. He closed his eyes.
Surprised, Sirius asked quickly, "Can you hear me?"
There was no response, and he slumped back in his seat. Just a coincidence, then. He watched Remus for a moment, taking in the line of his long neck and the taut unhappiness in his lined face. He desperately wanted to move over there and put his arms around him. He closed his own eyes to shut out the sight.
"Did I ever mention how much it meant to me when you moved into Headquarters with me?" Sirius wondered aloud. "I didn't even ask you to do it. You just suddenly said that what with Order work and spending the evenings here, you only went home to sleep, and would it be alright with me if you cleared out one of the rooms here and moved some of your books across?"
Sirius smiled absently, remembering. Remus's eyes were still closed. It was oddly heartening: he could pretend that his friend really was listening.
"I just stared at you stupidly, and you started apologising, and I almost had to shout to get you to shut up for long to tell you that I loved the idea. And you just smiled at me, with that look in your eyes that said you still found me amusing, shadow of myself that I am. Was." Sirius frowned. "No. Am. I am. I live. I think." He sighed. "Oh, whatever. Where was I?"
Remus didn't comment. Sirius moved off the sofa and knelt down in front of him. He raised a hand as if to brush the grey-streaked hair back from Remus's face, but drew it back before he could be reminded that his fingers would pass right through.
"I wish I could kiss you."
Sirius could almost imagine that Remus tilted his head slightly towards his touch. Sirius sat back on his heels and regarded his lover sadly. If he really was trapped like this forever, by far the worst part was going to be seeing Remus and not being able to touch him.
"You remember when we kissed that first time?" he asked softly. "Not the first time - that was sixth year, just before I screwed everything up - I mean the first time since before. After you'd moved into Headquarters. You were poring over one of your books and I was sitting next to you, and I just couldn't help myself, Moony." Sirius grinned to himself. "You shouldn't read books around me. It's too damned sexy. When it's you doing it, anyway." He shook his head and his eyes strayed back to Remus.
Sirius paused, and looked closer, concerned. Remus had gradually relaxed against the sofa, his eyes closed and his breathing even, but Sirius didn't think he was asleep. There was a certain awareness in his face. He almost looked like he was in a trance. And Sirius almost thought he'd reacted slightly to the comment about reading.
"Do you remember when Molly walked in on us that time," he continued, watching Remus carefully, "and the way she stared for a moment and we were so sure she was going to be horrified? And then she laughed, and I was offended, and you were embarrassed, and she said that she finally understood why no-one had snapped you up and married you yet. And I said, What about me? and she just looked at me and said, well, there was no accounting for taste--"
Sirius broke off, startled, because Remus had laughed. Very quietly, but it was definitely a response. His heart hammering in his chest, Sirius fought for control of his voice. He had a suspicion that, if Remus really was hearing him, it was imperative that he keep to the even, gentle tone he'd fallen into while reminiscing.
"Moony," he said carefully, "would you mind doing something for me? Could you go and find your two-way mirror, please, and bring it back here? Could you do it now?"
There was a pause, in which Sirius would have held his breath if he had any. Then Remus stirred and opened his eyes. His brow creased in confusion as he glanced around, almost like he was looking for someone. Sirius prayed, silently, to any gods that might be listening.
Remus sat up straighter, but made no move to get up. Sirius's heart sank, only to rise again with a little jerk when Remus pulled the mirror out of his pocket. He was obviously more in the habit of carrying it around than Sirius had been.
Sirius threw himself forward, scrambling to get behind Remus to where his reflection would be visible in the mirror. He caught a glimpse of his friend's reflected face - dream-dazed and disappointed - before Remus's eyes flickered in his direction and widened in shock.
"Sirius?" he gasped, spinning round.
"YES!" yelled Sirius ecstatically, grinning at Remus, who was now staring straight through him, his face white as chalk. "Look back in the mirror, look back in the mirror..."
Remus lifted the mirror cautiously. Then he turned so that it was again reflecting Sirius, who moved to kneel behind him.
Remus turned his head very carefully. His eyes scanned every square inch of space around and beyond Sirius, then he looked back into the mirror.
"Am I hallucinating now," he asked matter-of-factly, almost overcoming the tremor in his voice, "or are you really there?"
"I'm really here, you daft git," Sirius said affectionately. He waved. In the mirror, he saw Remus blink.
Sirius shrugged. Then, to his dismay, Remus lowered the mirror and drew a deep breath.
"It's just like the photographs," he said quietly. "It's not real."
"What? Yes I bloody well am!" Sirius protested indignantly. He could feel his golden opportunity slipping away with frightening speed. "Don't you dare put that mirror away, Moony..."
Remus appeared to be about to do just that. His hand hesitated by his pocket. Then he slowly raised the mirror again, his expression painfully distrustful.
This time, Sirius reached past him and laid a hand against the mirror's surface. Remus slowly lifted his own hand and tried to touch Sirius's. Their fingers slid through each other, and Remus swallowed hard.
"Sirius?" he said again, softly, and this time he sounded like he really believed he could be heard.
"That's me," Sirius said helpfully, still bubbling with euphoria. Remus could see him! "But you'd better work out how to get me out of here fast, Moony, or I might start to go a bit crazy." He laughed. "Crazier, anyway."
Remus was watching him intently, eyes narrowed, and Sirius guessed that he was trying to read his lips.
"I saw you die," he said quietly.
Sirius opened his mouth to respond, and closed it again. There were too many questions. He just shrugged helplessly.
"Are you a ghost?"
He shook his head.
"Can... can you follow me?"
Sirius nodded eagerly.
Remus stared into space for a moment or two, clearly thinking. Then his gaze snapped back to the mirror.
"If this is a trick of some kind," he said conversationally, "then the perpetrator will... regret it."
Sirius sighed. "It's not a trick, Moony. Really. Where are we going?"
Remus seemed to have caught the last bit, at least, because he answered, "I think I need to talk to Harry."
Harry didn't pay much attention to the knock on the door. He seldom did. It rarely had anything to do with him, anyway, and giving it the slightest heed would have interrupted his current favourite activity of Wallowing In Guilt.
He was surprised, therefore, to hear his Aunt Petunia screeching his name. He was even more surprised - when he'd extricated himself from where he'd been staring morosely out of the window, and padded out onto the landing - to see Professor Lupin being subjected to Petunia's full-strength disapproving stare.
Lupin was in Muggle clothes, as he had been when Harry had seen him at the station, and looked even more tired and worn, if that were possible. There was an air of tightly controlled agitation about him.
"Professor Lupin?" Harry said, for something to say. Petunia shot him a furious glare (for daring to know such a person, presumably) and Lupin looked up quickly.
"Harry," he said by way of greeting. "Er-- could I have a word?"
The last was said with a sideways glance at Petunia which made it quite clear that she was not to be included in this "word".
"I'll just get my shoes," said Harry quickly, and darted back into his room.
Two minutes later they were walking along Privet Drive, pursued by Petunia's most murderous look. She had made it quite clear that she did not want Harry to be seen in Lupin's company, but as both he and Lupin had ignored her as far as possible she'd been reduced to impotent fuming.
"Sorry about that," Harry mumbled when they'd walked a little way. He wasn't quite sure what to say to Lupin. A part of him wanted to talk about Sirius, while another part wanted anything but that. He knew they'd been close, and he couldn't help wondering how Lupin was dealing with it, if he felt anything like Harry did. He also wondered if Lupin blamed him for Sirius's death.
"Don't worry about it," Lupin said absently. "She was a lot worse at your parents' wedding."
Harry looked up in surprise, momentarily distracted. "She went to their wedding?"
"Oh, yes," Lupin even smiled faintly. "She wouldn't have wanted to miss the opportunity to make sure everyone knew how thoroughly she disapproved of James." His expression altered. "I need to ask you something, Harry."
Harry nodded cautiously. As they were passing the small play park off Magnolia Crescent, he turned aside and wandered over to the swing set. He looked curiously back at Lupin, waiting for the question.
Lupin reached into a pocket and pulled out a small, square mirror. Harry stared at it, an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. He recognised it. He'd had one just like it, now lying in pieces at the bottom of his school trunk.
Lupin handed him the mirror and said simply, "What do you see?"
Harry stared at him for a second, then turned his gaze to the glass. He saw the sky reflected. He lifted the mirror up so he could see his own face, the trees behind him, the slide--
-- and, clear as day, Sirius peering over his shoulder.
Only Lupin's quick reflexes saved the mirror from the same fate as its twin.
"How can--?" Harry snatched the glass back from Lupin and stared again. Sure enough, there was Sirius, now looking faintly amused. His godfather gestured vaguely with his hands, as if to say, I just have that effect on people.
"Sirius gave you one of these mirrors, didn't he?" Lupin asked softly. Harry nodded, his eyes still fixed on Sirius's reflection. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lupin sitting down on the one unbroken swing. "I need to see it, to find out if it also shows his image--"
"It doesn't," Harry said quickly. Lupin quirked an eyebrow questioningly. "I-- tried to use it. To talk to him. I called his name a couple of times, but it didn't work. Then I..." Harry looked away in embarrassment. "I sort of broke it."
Lupin nodded. Their eyes met for a second, and Harry thought he saw understanding there. Then Lupin stretched out his long legs, pushing the swing backwards.
"It can be repaired. The most important question is whether this mirror has somehow been charmed to show Sirius's image - or it's reflecting something that's really there."
"You mean... Sirius might still be alive?"
Lupin sighed. He looked suddenly older than ever, and out of place on a children's swing in a Muggle playground.
"He can't be alive, Harry," he said unhappily, staring at the ground. "No-one can survive the killing curse - except you, of course, and that was because Lily--"
"Wait." Harry tore his eyes away from Sirius, who had been gesturing urgently, and lowered the mirror. "What do you mean? It wasn't Avada Kedavra that hit him."
Lupin's head snapped up. He momentarily lost his footing, and the swing jerked forward an inch.
"It wasn't the killing curse," Harry said with more certainty. "The light was red. It just knocked him backwards through that archway."
"Are you sure, Harry? In the confusion, you might have thought--"
"No, I was looking right at him." Harry frowned. "You were there, didn't you see--?"
"I heard him taunting Bellatrix Lestrange," Lupin said tensely. "As I turned, I saw green light from that direction and then Sirius was falling. When I saw him pass through the veil, I thought..."
He broke off.
Harry was shaking his head. He leaned against one of the poles supporting the swings, still grasping the mirror tightly in one hand.
"The light was from someone behind them, I'm sure of it. Sirius was hit with a red spell - Stunned, at worst. But then he went through the arch and you wouldn't let me follow..." Harry turned eagerly towards Lupin. "What is that thing? Why were you so sure that he was dead when he went through it?"
Lupin was staring intently at a point somewhere in the middle distance.
"No-one living can pass the veil," he said, sounding like he was quoting something. "None of conscious will may enter the spirit realm. Only through dream and the surrender of self - only through..."
He suddenly let himself swing forward, jumped to his feet and snatched the mirror from Harry, turning it over in his hands as his voice rose with certainty and excitement. "-- only through the mirror can the otherworld be seen!"
He turned back to Harry, who was watching him in bewilderment.
"I think that Sirius is alive," he said, and Harry thought he'd never heard anything that made him so happy. "But I have no idea how we're going to get him back."
Books littered every available surface, including some that were not, strictly speaking, available - or even surfaces. Remus knew he was going to have trouble finding his wand anytime soon, and he had a feeling that he'd accidentally buried the tortoise under six volumes of the Encyclopaedia Magica, but that tended to be a side-effect of any research he undertook. Sirius had always said that if they ever lost Moony, all they'd have to do was follow the trail of books.
Despite himself, he glanced for what felt like the hundredth time at the small mirror that they'd propped up against a candlestick. Sirius, it seemed, was still sitting next to him, peering at the book Remus had open on his lap. As he glanced away, reassured, Remus happened to catch Harry doing the same thing. Their eyes met briefly and they smiled at each other in the shared knowledge that, yes, it was real, Sirius was really there. Remus saw Harry's hand go to his pocket, checking that his own mirror (now intact) was still safe.
A flicker of movement caught his eye; Remus looked back at the mirror in time to see Sirius sitting back, an expression of boredom on his face. Seeing Remus looking at him, he raised his eyebrows questioningly. Remus shook his head; then, remembering that Sirius could hear him, said aloud, "Nothing yet."
Harry glanced up again, pushing his hair out of his eyes in a gesture so reminiscent of James that it gave Remus a peculiar sense of déjà vu. He hadn't intended to bring the boy back, but Harry had quickly made it clear that his mirror was going nowhere without him. And Remus had looked at him - at jaded jade eyes and stubborn set jaw - and decided that he had as much right to be involved in this as anyone.
Arabella Figg hadn't questioned him, of course: he was an Order member, after all. Probably no-one else had even cottoned on yet. When they did... well, he'd deal with that when he had to.
"Anything?" he asked now. Harry shook his head, eyes clouding. He gestured vaguely at the book.
"This one's half in Latin," he said.
Remus craned his head to see the title, then held out his hands.
"Here, I'll take it. You have mine."
They swapped. Harry looked around him at the piles of books and wondered aloud what the chances were of finding anything useful among them.
"It'll be easier as soon as we find something more definite to go on," Remus said, casting a practised eye over the page before him. It was, as Harry had said, in Latin: unfortunately it appeared to be extracts from an essay on the successful application of scouring charms to housework. "You're looking out for references to mirrors, and the veil?"
"Yeah..." Harry turned his eyes back to the page. Remus watched him, seeing the doubt creeping back onto his face, and sighed. He knew how he felt.
Movement. Sirius was trying to get his attention. He turned to the mirror. "Yes, Sirius?"
Sirius was making expansive gestures with his hands, talking quickly. Remus tried to follow what he was saying, but he couldn't make it out.
"Slow down," he suggested. Sirius rolled his eyes and appeared to start over, talking more slowly.
Remus watched closely, but was forced to admit defeat. "I don't know. I just can't follow you."
Harry had scooted over to be nearer to the mirror, watching his godfather's movements with less of an eye to understanding them and more of a desire to simply see Sirius again.
"It's a pity he can't write it down, or spell it out with his wand," Harry said thoughtfully, looking around as if seeking out writing materials.
"I don't think he can touch anything."
Harry sat back on his heels. "Muggles have something they use to talk to people who're deaf--"
Remus smiled faintly. "Sign language. I know, Harry. I've lived among Muggles for a large part of my life."
Harry glanced at him, startled. "I'm sorry, I didn't meant to sound--"
Remus shook his head, negating the need for an apology. "I know, and don't worry. I usually start sentences like that myself. It's amazing how ignorant most wizards are of the Muggle world."
Harry smiled briefly at him, which was something Remus hadn't seen for too long. He glanced over at Sirius; their eyes met for a second, and he saw a similar relief there.
"As it happens, wizards have something similar, although most of them use speaking spells these days." Remus closed the unhelpful book, set it aside, and selected another at random. "When we were in school we had the opportunity to learn it; Sirius, I seem to remember, felt his time would be better spent elsewhere."
Sirius glared at him. Remus raised one eyebrow unfazedly. Harry glanced between the two of them, grinned unexpectedly, and said, "Studying to become an Animagus, or just sneaking around under my dad's Invisibility Cloak?"
"A combination of the two, I think."
Sirius's glare became a wounded look. He raised his hands in what was obviously a bid for their attention.
Remus cocked his head slightly to one side. "Yes, Sirius?"
Sirius held up two fingers in an exaggerated fashion.
Remus and Harry stared at him, then looked at each other blankly.
"Is that rude in the wizarding world?" asked Harry curiously.
"Not as far as I'm aware, although I suppose it might have changed since I was, er, of a mind to pay attention to that sort of thing..." Remus blinked at Sirius, who was still impatiently holding up his two fingers. "Um. Two? Two what? Two people? Two worlds?"
"Two words," Harry said suddenly, and groaned when Sirius nodded excitedly. "I don't believe it..."
Remus shook his head. Only Sirius...
"Okay," he said resignedly. "Two words. First word...?"
Sirius shook his head and held up both fingers.
Sirius nodded and quickly laid two fingers against his arm.
They watched for a while.
"I have no idea," said Remus finally. Sirius waved his arms around some more. "Um... swimming?"
"Flying?" put in Harry.
"A... a flying fish?"
Sirius stopped whatever he was doing and stared incredulously at Harry.
Harry shrugged defensively. "I don't know what he's trying to say."
Remus sighed. "I don't think this is going to work, Sirius," he said gently. Sirius, in the mirror, folded his arms crossly over his chest. "I was never very good at this game anyway."
Harry had picked up his book again and was absently leafing through it.
"It'd help if I knew what that veil does," he mumbled almost inaudibly.
Remus hesitated. He glanced at Sirius, who suddenly looked very alert. It was true that he knew more about the veil than either of them - but he'd always been reluctant to pass on the knowledge. It was... disquieting, to say the least. If he was totally honest with himself, it frightened him.
"You're right," he said at last. Harry's head jerked up, an expression of surprise on his face. Remus found it painful to see how little Harry trusted people to tell him things anymore. Not that he could blame him. He looked over at Sirius, who was leaning forward eagerly. "Alright, I'll tell you what I know about the Gateway. Which isn't much," he added warningly.
"Gateway?" Harry repeated. "You mean that arch?"
"Yes." Remus picked up another large tome absently, more for something to hold than anything else. He thought he saw an amused, affectionate smile flicker across Sirius's face. "It's known simply as the Gateway. If you asked Sirius here, he'd probably tell you that it's a passage to the land of the Dead, or that spirits occasionally come out of it."
Harry was intrigued. "And do they?"
"Not exactly." Remus pushed his hair back out of his eyes - longer now than when he'd been teaching, inconvenient while he was trying to explain something. "The Gateway is what is known as a manifestation."
"What does that mean?"
"That it is not... strictly speaking... real." Remus held up a hand to stop Harry from interrupting again. "Just listen, Harry." He thought he saw Sirius say something - and he was almost sure it involved the word 'professor' - but decided to ignore the mirror image. "The Gateway is not a made thing. Nobody set the stones of its arch; nobody hung the curtain across it. What you saw in the Death Chamber was more like a representation of something that your eyes cannot handle. It's not dissimilar to a Boggart taking on the shape you most fear."
Harry opened his mouth, hesitated, and looked questioningly at him. Remus nodded, and the boy said, "So other people might see it differently?"
Remus shook his head. "No... no, the Gateway is fixed. Its form was forced upon it by wizards long ago, who wished to study death."
"It's hard to put words around," he said after a moment's pause in which he gathered his thoughts, "but the Gateway is less like a physical boundary than a temporal one. It is... a moment in time, you could say. Specifically, the moment of death."
"Thus, it should be impossible for anyone living to pass through the Gateway," Remus explained. "Or rather, it was always assumed to be impossible. You can imagine that no-one was particularly eager to find out."
"What... what is it used for?" Harry asked.
"Research," said Remus grimly. "I, for one, believe that some things are better left alone, but there are others who feel... differently. Many people want to know what lies beyond death. They think that by probing the boundary, of which the Gateway is just one manifestation, they might find a way to look beyond it. As far as I know, all they've discovered is that certain things come out of the gate."
"Such as?" prompted Harry, when Remus fell silent.
"... spirits," he said reluctantly. "Ghosts, sometimes: some people die and simply rise up as a ghost from where their body lies, but others seem to undertake a journey of sorts, and at the end of it they emerge from the Gateway. Sometimes voices can be heard on the other side; some wizards have spent hours, days, months in the Chamber, listening to what was being said, trying to make sense of it. Some of them have gone mad."
Harry looked uneasily at Sirius, who appeared equally uncomfortable. He kept glancing at the corners of the room, as if expecting something to crawl out of them.
"And Dementors," said Remus heavily.
"Dementors come from the Gateway, as far as we know," Remus said softly. "Or they did at one time. You see, Harry, before the first war with Voldemort, Dementors were all but unknown. They were legendary demons - bodiless creatures from old stories and half-forgotten nightmares. Then, sometime during Voldemort's rise to power, they began to emerge from the Gateway. They started a mass panic - the Ministry was almost abandoned. Fortunately, it was discovered that the Patronus Charm - which is a very ancient piece of guardian magic - could drive them back and even control them to a certain extent."
"Unfortunately, Voldemort was on hand to offer the Dementors certain... liberties that no sane wizard would allow them." Remus grimaced, trying to avoid the memory of Sirius at the mercy of those creatures. "Throughout the first war they continued to appear - sometimes with lesser or greater frequency - and I don't know if it was ever discovered whether Voldemort had created them deliberately, or if their appearance was merely coincidence. Whichever it was, after his defeat they stopped coming. Those that remained were rounded up by the Ministry and set to guard Azkaban. As yet, no-one has discovered a way to permanently destroy them."
A heavy silence had settled on the room. Sirius, in the mirror, was sitting very still, almost huddled in on himself. Remus ached to be able to put his arms around him and comfort him with simple warmth. He raised his hand hesitantly to touch the glass of the mirror; Sirius echoed the gesture a second later, and their reflections merged.
"So... now that Voldemort's back...?" Harry said finally, his green eyes rather wider than usual.
"We don't know." Remus let his hand drop away and turned back to his former pupil. "That's one of the many things the Order has been doing this year: trying to monitor whether or not the Gate has started producing Dementors. So far there's been nothing."
Harry's fists had clenched unconsciously in his lap. "You mean - if they destroyed the Gateway, no more could be created - and they haven't done it?"
Remus gestured vaguely with one hand. "They don't know. As I said, the Gateway is simply a representation of something much less comprehensible, and it's been around a lot longer than the Dementors. Destroying it might be futile, and then they'd have lost their opportunity to study it."
Harry looked intently at him for a moment. "You don't approve, do you."
Remus shook his head. He looked at Sirius again, and a wave of bitterness flooded him. It was years ago. Forget it.
"Preoccupation with death is one sure way to render one's life futile," he said very quietly. "You would think that Voldemort had more than taught us that lesson."
Harry was staring at the floor, his fingers absently pulling on the faded carpet. Sirius was examining his hands, holding them out in front of him as if he thought they might disappear. Remus shivered involuntarily. Urgency swept over him. They had no idea how long Sirius might remain here. If there was a way back for him, it might be critical that they found it soon.
"Magic," said Harry suddenly. Remus looked at him questioningly. "That was the word he was trying to show us. He was waving a wand. Magic."
They looked at the mirror. Sirius was staring at Harry again, this time with an expression of pride. He nodded once.
"What made you realise?" asked Remus curiously.
"I was remembering the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort," Harry replied. Sirius looked startled, and started gesticulating violently. He stopped mid-wave when Harry turned to look at him. "Then what was the first word?"
Sirius made a rapid series of gestures that indicated the word was one syllable long. Then he imitated sleep.
"Sleep?" suggested Harry, just as Remus exclaimed sharply, "Dream!"
Harry turned to look at him as he dived across the room and hauled out a couple of books from a pile near the door.
"Dream magic! Oneiromancy - of course..." Remus passed the books over to Harry, before leaning over to grab some more from another pile behind him. "I should have realised. How stupid!" He glared at the book in his hands, full of self-reproach. "I even made the connection to conscious will, but I thought it meant that he'd had to be pushed through... but if we take 'conscious' literally then that stunning spell must have had something to do with it... And when I heard him earlier..."
"You heard him?" Harry asked, his books unopened on his lap. Although the question was clearly addressed to Remus, his eyes were fixed on the mirror. Remus glanced over just in time to catch Sirius looking away.
"I was half asleep," he said, answering the question automatically. "I think he... must have been talking to me for a long time. I couldn't hear him, but I was aware of his voice - it was like whispers in the next room."
"Like the voices behind the veil," Harry said softly.
"I didn't hear them," Remus said, silently filing away for later reference that Harry had. "But Sirius asked me to do something and I knew what he wanted, even though I hadn't heard the words. There is a connection between this state that Sirius is in, and the magic of dreams..."
Sirius was pointing. For a moment they couldn't work out what he was pointing at.
"Me?" asked Harry. "Professor Lupin?" He cast around. "Books? Floor? Wand? Er... robes? Shoes?"
Sirius leaned forward and tapped the mirror.
"Dreams and mirrors," Remus murmured to himself. "Dreams and mirrors. What do I know about dreams and mirrors? There's something... something... dreams and mirrors and forbidden magic..."
"Professor Lupin!" Harry exclaimed, his tone sharp with alarm. "Look!"
In the mirror, Sirius had turned away. He was staring beyond them - behind them - staring at the walls like a hunted man. He leapt to his feet and took a step backwards, between Harry and Remus. His face, when he glanced around, was contorted with fear.
"Sirius, what is it?" Remus demanded. "Sirius!"
Sirius backed up some more. They could barely see past him in the mirror, but they could catch glimpses...
"Darkness - why's it so dark?" Harry's voice was strained. "The shadows are moving--"
Sirius threw his hands up above his face as if warding off something that neither of them could see. Remus suddenly knew that he was shouting, yelling at the top of a voice that no-one could hear.
"He needs help!" cried Harry desperately. Remus jumped to his feet and cast around frantically for his wand.
"Get your wand out!" he commanded Harry. "Try a shield! Try anything!"
Where was his wand, where was his wand?
Beside him Harry conjured a glimmering shield, but one glance in the mirror showed darkness and Sirius still cowering. The posture reminded Remus of something - something he hadn't seen himself, had only heard described later...
He needed his wand now. He whipped round, throwing a pile of books to the floor, seeking for the tiniest glimpse of polished wood. There was no time...
"Accio wand!" he shouted in desperation.
Remus felt as though he'd been kicked in the stomach - there was a reason that wandless magic was commonly thought impossible - but against all odds his wand was in his hand, and suddenly the memory clicked. By the lake, the Dementors advancing, Harry said he'd seen him from across the water, arms above his head...
The bright silver of his Patronus shot out from the end of his wand. A second later he heard Harry echo the charm, sending the ghostly image of Prongs charging out into Remus's peaceful-looking sitting room. For a heartbeat, Remus thought that their Patronuses would simply circle in puzzlement, but it seemed that the sparkling protectors could see something their casters couldn't. The stag took up station beside the mirror (and, presumably, Sirius), tossing his antlers at some invisible foe; his own Patronus flew on silver wings around the perimeter of the room, hovering and diving upon unseen prey.
Remus's flickered out before Harry's, as his reckless use of magic finally took its toll. He collapsed to hands and knees, almost unable to breathe for a few seconds. He heard Harry's cry of alarm, and then the silver shimmer that was the ghost of Prongs faded from his view, and Harry was kneeling by his side.
"Professor? Professor Lupin! Are you alright?"
"Don't..." Remus managed to gasp. His head was spinning. "Sirius?"
He heard Harry swivel on the spot to look at the mirror.
"He's fine, he's right beside you..." Harry was there again, hovering uncertainly. "What happened? How did you use the summoning charm without your wand?"
"It takes... practice..." Remus said. "I'll explain the theory... some other time. It drains you..."
He took a deep breath and managed to push himself into a sitting position. Harry, who looked very pale, shakily shoved his hair out of his eyes and adjusted his glasses.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
Remus nodded. He propped his elbows on his knees and cradled his aching head in his hands. Harry appeared to be leaning toward the mirror, watching it intently.
"I think... Sirius says you need food?"
"Yes - chocolate would be best, but anything..."
Harry was gone, grabbing the mirror as he went. Remus heard him ask Sirius a question, then the banging of one or two cupboards. Then Harry was back, handing him a large bar of chocolate. Remus took it gratefully, snapping a good sized piece off and passing it back to Harry before he took a bite himself. After a few moments the dreadful, hollow feeling of overspent energy receded a little, although his head was still excruciatingly painful.
Harry was fiddling with his own chocolate, watching Remus anxiously. Remus smiled faintly, reminded of the first time he'd seen James's son fully grown.
"You should eat that," he said gently. "If your Patronus used anything like as much power as mine, you'll need it. And it isn't poisoned, you know."
Harry blinked, and then surprised him by actually laughing. Obviously he remembered their first meeting, too. He obeyed, taking a bite out of the sweet confectionary and chewing thoughtfully.
"What was yours?" he asked after he'd swallowed. "Your Patronus, I mean."
Remus looked around for the mirror, which was no longer there; Harry quickly picked it up from the floor and handed it over. Sirius was kneeling as close to Remus as he could get without actually overlapping, looking deeply concerned and shaken.
"I'm okay," Remus said to Sirius, who nodded once, but didn't move away. To Harry, he said, "It was a kestrel - a sort of small hawk. They generally live on moors and heaths. I used to see them a lot when I was a child. I always liked watching them."
Harry nodded. In the mirror, Sirius raised a hand and mimed touching Remus's cheek. Remus closed his eyes for a second, wishing that he could feel it, and wishing even harder that Sirius was there to hold him upright and find him something to reduce the pain in his head. As he had done after Remus's transformations dozens of times. As he would do in a heartbeat, if it were within his power.
"What... what happened?" asked Harry, sounding very lost.
Remus sighed and opened his eyes. "I don't know. Something... attacked Sirius, I think." He looked at his friend for confirmation; Sirius nodded urgently. "The Patronuses drove it off, though."
"Dementors?" asked Harry darkly.
"Not quite." Remus shivered. "Something else." His eyes strayed to the book he'd been about to open before the shadows had come. "Something to do with dream magic, and mirrors, and the Gateway."
There was a loud crack - the sound of someone Apparating. Remus quickly sat upright, despite the pain, and raised his wand. Beside him, Harry scrambled to his feet.
"Well, well," came a cool voice from the doorway. "It would seem that your hearing last summer has taught you nothing, Potter. Still throwing your Patronus around at every opportunity?"
Remus sighed and tried to get to his feet. Harry quickly turned, breaking off the furious glare he'd been directing at the door, and offered him a hand up.
"Severus," Remus said dryly. "You're working for the Improper Use of Magic Office now, I take it?"
Severus Snape glided through the doorway like a malevolent crow. His disdainful gaze took in the books scattered around the room - and, no doubt, the threadbare carpet and worn furniture - before snapping back to Remus.
"I doubt they've even noticed," Snape said. "They are somewhat... preoccupied... with less trivial concerns." He glanced once at Harry. "I, however, had very specific instructions to monitor Potter's use of magic after we discovered that you had... removed him earlier today."
The last statement had the note of a smug accusation. Remus was aware of how he must look - barely able to stand, shaken and pale, while Harry was glaring at the Potions Master as if he hoped to set Snape's robes on fire with his gaze alone. Remus knew that Snape had expressed 'concerns' over his ability to function in the Order after recent... events. He knew that Snape would relish the opportunity to prove himself right.
And yet, he had suddenly realised that the solution to their problem might have just walked through the door.
BONUS: "Out-takes" from this chapter, provided by Sudaki, who had far too much fun with the charades thing...
"Two syllables... first syllable... book? Reading?"
"Sirius, if you're making fun of me I'll put your mirror in the underwear drawer again."
"He shook his head. Reading... reading a book... no... recipies? magazine?"
"Sounds like magazine. ... Fragazine? You aren't making sense."
"... That was rude, I'm pretty sure."
"Er... two words... first word... one syllable. Me?"
"Lupin. Remus Lupin. Uh, werewolf."
"Now Harry? What the... oh... you?"
"You! Second word... one syllable... inhale?"
"Straw? Drinking with a straw?"
"Slurp... suck! 'You suck'! .... HEY!"
"I think... Sirius says you need food?"
"Yes - chocolate would be best, but anything..."
"Hang on. He says... I think he says that's very fattening, and maybe you should have some salad and a protein shake."
"Sirius, stop making that face. What is it? Snape... Snape's mom is a... Sirius, shut up!"
Harry wished, not for the first time, that Snape would simply shrivel up and die on the spot. Lupin had spoken as calmly as ever, but Harry could see what an effort it was for him even to stand up.
When Lupin had collapsed, his Patronus fading into a few wisps of silvery smoke, Harry had been, for a second, so afraid that he hadn't been able to move. Not him, not him too, had flashed across the forefront of his mind. Lupin had been more distant than Sirius - first as Harry's teacher, then this year as a member of the Order - but Harry had always been aware of a certain affection that Lupin didn't seem to know how to express.
He often found himself wishing that he'd found out sooner about Lupin's friendship with his father, so that he could have asked more questions; although Sirius was always willing to talk about James, Harry had the impression that for him it was, still, almost too raw to bear. Sirius had been unable to move on, trapped in the past; Lupin had had twelve years to lay his demons to rest, and Harry would have liked to ask him about his father's schooldays.
Just for a second, with Sirius's safety still in doubt, as he'd rushed to Lupin's side, he'd felt as if he was about to lose the last of his family.
"Would you care to enlighten us as to what was so very urgent," Snape was saying, his tone acidic, "as to warrant Potter's removal from the protections so laboriously erected around him?"
Harry opened his mouth to leap to his former teacher's defence, but then Lupin suddenly swayed on his feet, his eyes flickering closed. Harry grabbed his arm to steady him and, ignoring Snape completely, helped him over to the cluttered sofa. He hesitated, trying to find a space among all the books, and then to his surprise Snape was there. The hook-nosed man tipped a pile of books onto the floor, disregarding Lupin's protest, and watched with narrowed eyes as Harry helped him to sit down.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Harry asked worriedly.
Snape was still regarding them both intently; now he said, "Are you ill, Lupin?"
His voice expressed no particular concern, but it had shed its taunting edge. The subtlety was lost on Harry, who snapped, "What does it look like?"
"Harry," said Lupin mildly, and Harry subsided, scowling. Lupin raised a hand wearily to press against his closed eyes, and added, for Snape's benefit, "I was forced to use magic without my wand."
Snape scowled. He reached over, lifted Lupin's wrist - between thumb and forefinger, as if it were something unpleasant - and made a disgusted sound about whatever he discovered.
"You should have taken a restorative, at least," he said critically, and left the room without further comment. Harry heard clattering sounds and some of the cupboards being opened.
He muttered something uncomplimentary about Snape, which unfortunately Lupin caught.
"I know you have little reason to like Severus, Harry," Lupin said very quietly without opening his eyes, "but he deserves your respect, at least."
"It's his fault that Sirius--" Harry began, not troubling to keep his voice down.
"As a matter of fact," sneered Snape from the doorway, "I rather believe it was a combination of your folly and Black's. Lupin, do you even have the ingredients for a simple Invigorating Draught?"
"There are at least two ready-made in the cabinet by the sink, I bought them last week," Lupin said, raising his hand toward Harry in a warning gesture.
Snape snorted his opinion on commercially brewed potions, and Lupin sighed. "I think there's some willow bark in the rack on the counter, and the rest is usually growing in the herb patch outside the back door."
Snape disappeared. Harry waited until he heard the outside door open and close again before he said fiercely, "It is his fault."
Harry stared at Lupin, feeling like he'd just been kicked. Yes, he blamed himself for rushing to the Ministry and leading Sirius into jeopardy; yes, he'd wondered if Lupin blamed him for it too - but he'd never expected him to come right out and say it. It was like having icy water poured over him.
Lupin opened his eyes, frowning at Harry's sudden silence. He took one look at Harry's face and sat quickly upright, reaching out to touch his shoulder lightly.
"That wasn't what I meant."
Harry looked at him mutely. Lupin sighed.
"You could blame half a dozen of us for what happened," he said quietly. "Severus could have found a way to reassure you, yes, and you could have studied Occlumency with more dedication. But Dumbledore should have told you more than he did. Molly shouldn't have kept insisting that you were better off not knowing. And I should have had the courage to question the decision, when I believed that it was wrong."
Harry had never heard Lupin criticise Dumbledore - and oddly, he found it reassuring. He had begun to feel a certain bitterness that everyone else still found no fault in the Headmaster's actions, and an accompanying sense of guilt because he knew, deep down, that by and large Dumbledore had made the right choices. Lupin acknowledging the shared guilt made it seem less like the end of the world and more like a simple, human error.
Lupin was still watching him silently.
"I have not forgotten," he said in a very low tone, although Snape had not re-entered the house, "that Severus would have handed both Sirius and myself over to the Dementors without hesitation. I have not forgotten his attempts to get me expelled from Hogwarts, nor that he drove me out of the only job I ever really wanted. I am not unaware of how he has treated you. But he is on the right side, Harry, our side - and he has learned the hard way the difference between right and easy."
Harry cast about for a counter-argument, and found he had none. He felt the slightest beginnings of shame - not for hating Snape, but for letting it get in the way of more important things. Lupin, as he had so gently been reminded, had even more reason to hate Snape than Harry did - and yet he could still speak politely to the man and accept his assistance without resentment.
Left without any real desire to continue the conversation, Harry sat back on the sofa and stared at the window across the room. The sky, which had been grey when he'd arrived, had now lightened to allow hints of blue to pierce the cloud cover. He heard the back door slam, and then the sound of water boiling.
"What are we going to tell him?" he asked, feeling for a moment as if Lupin were Ron, and they were trying to avoid detention.
"The truth, I think," said Lupin slowly.
Harry turned back to stare at him incredulously. "He'll think we're both mad. He'll say it's - it's grief or something - you know he will."
Lupin had sunk back into the sofa again. He looked like he was having difficulty staying awake. "I can convince him to listen."
Whatever Harry might have said in response was cut off by Snape's return. The Potions Master crossed the room with as much poise as one can muster when most of the floor is covered in books, and handed Lupin a chipped tea cup full of a steaming, translucent golden liquid.
"Thank you," Lupin said. He sipped from the cup and grimaced. "Although, a little sugar..."
Snape glared at him. "How you molest your tea-leaves is your own concern; my potions are another matter entirely, and I will not risk the delicate balance of--"
"I know, Severus," said Lupin, with what Harry almost thought was a gleam of amusement. It suddenly occurred to him that there were more subtle ways of baiting Snape. "Thank you."
Snape turned away and raised his wand. A few seconds later the majority of the books had been sorted into piles. Harry thought he spotted a relieved-looking tortoise edging away behind an armchair. Lupin, whose colour was already better, pulled a face.
"That was a carefully organised filing system," he commented with an air of resignation.
"Of course." Snape put his wand away and turned back to look intently at them both. "Now. Just why were you attempting wandless magic in the first place, Lupin? Giving Potter some extra lessons? I can only assume that they are totally unauthorised, if so..."
Harry bristled. Unauthorised? It made him sound like someone's property. This time, however, Lupin didn't even have to glance at him; he forced back the angry words that rose in his throat and instead concentrated on Sirius. Sirius! He hadn't even thought about his godfather since Snape had arrived! He stuck his hand in his pocket and touched cool glass.
Lupin set aside the empty cup and rose from his seat. Harry quickly jumped off the sofa too, vaguely thinking that they should present a united front. Lupin, however, didn't speak, but pulled the mirror out of his pocket. He looked into it, smiled faintly and said aloud, "Would you mind standing behind Severus for a moment?" His mouth twitched, as though he were suppressing laughter. "Yes, I thought so, just try to behave, please?
Lupin held out the mirror to Snape, who took it as if he expected it to explode. Harry held back an urge to snatch it away.
"I have my own, thank you," Snape said snidely, after a quick glance at the mirror. "Whom did you wish me to contact?"
"Just raise it and look, Severus," Lupin said mildly. Snape eyed him distrustfully, then did as he'd been bidden. "I see nothing but--" He jerked violently and spun round, his free hand going for his wand. Harry watched as shock, suspicion and what looked almost like fear flashed across his face. He raised the mirror again. Presumably Sirius must have moved around behind him, as Snape's expression darkened and drew into the beginnings of a sneer. Finally, he looked up at Lupin.
"You've enchanted it to show your lost love?" he asked sarcastically.
Just for a second, Lupin's control cracked. The look on his face made Harry so furiously angry that he didn't even register the words, only that Snape was not going to stand there and say things like that to Professor Lupin, ever. He pulled out his wand. Then, as his brain started to catch up - wait, his lost what? - Lupin regained his composure, firmly caught hold of Harry's arm and forced it back to his side, and crossed the room to stand right beside Snape.
"No," he said simply, and tilted his head to look into the mirror. He frowned. "Sirius, stop that." Harry wondered what his godfather was doing. Undoubtedly something that Harry would like to cheer on. "Harry, would you mind bringing your mirror over here, too?"
Harry reluctantly obeyed. Lupin held up the mirror away from Snape. Harry sidled over so that he could peer over Lupin's arm, and saw his godfather step into view. Sirius was shooting murderous looks at Snape, who was glancing from one mirror to the other.
"What is this?" Snape asked finally. His voice verged on contemptuous, and Harry saw Sirius flip what definitely was a rude gesture in Snape's direction. Lupin hastily handed Harry's mirror back, and took his own from Snape.
"It may take a while to explain," he said, indicating that they should sit down.
Harry half-listened as Lupin told Snape what they knew and what had happened just before his arrival. He fiddled with his own mirror, tilting it to try and find Sirius. He eventually pinpointed his godfather leaning over the back of the sofa behind Lupin, glowering bad-temperedly at Snape.
Harry watched in the mirror as Sirius made a sudden movement to touch Lupin (Snape had said something unflattering about the latter's sanity) that ended in him drawing back his hands with a look of frustration. Harry had seen him make countless such attempts over the course of the afternoon - just as he'd noticed the way Lupin's glances at the mirror were tinged with something unfathomable. And then there had been that moment - right before the attack, when Lupin had hit on something about dreams - when Harry had happened to be looking at Sirius, who in turn had been staring at Lupin with a burning admiration in his eyes. And something... else.
You've enchanted it to show your lost love?
Why that particular taunt? Was it the same as when Dudley had asked if Cedric was his boyfriend? Or did it mean something entirely different?
"You're saying that you want me to participate in a... a séance?" Snape demanded loudly, breaking into Harry's thoughts.
"Your skill in Legilimency--"
"I wouldn't touch Black's thoughts with a Nimbus 2000!"
"It might be the only way to bring him back."
"Back? Back! He fell through the veil, Lupin! You know what that means!"
Lupin swiped his hair back out of his eyes impatiently. "Haven't you heard what I've been telling you, Severus? He isn't dead."
"He is not alive," spat Snape. "Tell me where the difference lies."
Lupin opened his mouth to speak and stopped suddenly. He looked at Snape with narrowed eyes. "You know something."
Snape shot to his feet, turning away angrily. "I know nothing, except that a grieving werewolf should not be in custody of an underage wizard. Potter, we will be returning to your relations' house immediately."
"I'm not going anywhere."
Snape turned to give him a particularly poisonous look, but then Lupin was on his feet, holding out the mirror to Snape.
"All you have to do is link with him for a moment, if you can," he said evenly.
"You're forgetting one very important point," hissed Snape, taking a step toward Lupin so that they were face to face. Lupin didn't so much as twitch, and Harry realised for the first time that Lupin was the taller of the two. Somehow he'd never noticed; Lupin was probably as tall as Sirius, but he just didn't seem to take up so much space.
"Which is?" Lupin queried.
"You're assuming that I want to restore your precious Black to you. I don't. Not that I'm convinced it's even possible." Snape's voice had dropped to a low, vindictive snarl. "He deserved everything he got and I am more than glad to know that he will linger in the space between for the rest of eternity. It has a certain irony, don't you think? He did so love being the centre of attention..."
"How dare--" Harry started to yell, but Lupin overrode him.
"I see." He glanced at Harry, who bit his tongue so hard he tasted blood. He knew that look. It had been in Lupin's eyes the time he'd covered for Harry back in his third year. It said, Don't interrupt, I know what I'm doing.
Lupin turned away, weighing his mirror absently in his hand. "It doesn't surprise me," he said quite calmly. "He would have felt the same about you, and it was always... ironic..." Lupin nodded absently in Snape's direction, acknowledging that he was echoing the latter's word choice, "how similar you were."
Harry stared at him. Snape, caught off guard, said, "What?"
Lupin continued quietly, as if to himself. "He'd never have wished death on you- not even when he sent you into the Willow - but he wouldn't want to help bring you back. He never really forgave you for fifth year, you know." Lupin's eyes were on the mirror, apparently oblivious to the two listening. "Even if he could just reach over and do it, he wouldn't, and he certainly wouldn't let me attempt anything with any risk attached... too dangerous, he'd say, for too little gain... no, it doesn't really surprise me. You always did think like him."
"You dare," Snape breathed in tones of low, malevolent outrage, "compare me to him?"
"Of course," Lupin said coolly, finally looking up from the mirror. "I've long held the opinion that you hated each other so much because you saw yourselves reflected whenever you came face to face."
His eyes flickered to Harry for a second. Harry realised then that Lupin wasn't telling the whole truth: not about his godfather's probable reaction were their situations reversed, not about Snape's similarity to Sirius. But there was just enough truth mixed in to make what he was saying plausible. Harry frowned. What was Lupin trying to do?
Harry happened to glance into his own mirror; Sirius, who was now standing behind him, looked almost as outraged as Snape. Suddenly he thought he understood. Snape was proud, and Snape really hated Sirius, and angry people were easier to manipulate.
"And then, we have no idea of what bringing Sirius back may entail, but I can guarantee it'll be no cakewalk," Lupin was saying. "I'm sure even Sirius would have been afraid to try it."
Snape strode forward, and Harry thought for a moment he was going to hit Lupin.
"I am not afraid! And what you do with your own life is nothing to me! Black and I have nothing in common - nothing! Where was that arrogant, self-centred bastard while I was risking my life for the Order? Skulking in the dark!"
Snape turned away, cloak billowing. Harry saw that Lupin's fists were clenched, his mask of calm wavering.
Harry willed away his desire to shout at Snape - if Professor Lupin can do it, so can I - and said off-handedly to Lupin, "Can we give up on this yet? It's worse than arguing with Sirius."
Snape rounded on him; Lupin regained control of himself and flashed Harry a look of gratitude.
"I am NOTHING like Black!"
Lupin quirked an eyebrow in polite disbelief. Harry did his best to look sceptical.
"Give me that mirror!"
Lupin held out the mirror calmly; Snape all but snatched it from his grasp.
"Black, step into the reflection," he snarled. Sirius scowled, but disappeared from Harry's view. He tilted the mirror to follow his godfather across the room. "I take it you heard what your dear Lupin has been saying about you?" Harry thought he saw Sirius shrug.
Snape raised his wand and pointed it - not at the place where Sirius was standing, but at his reflection in the mirror. "Legilimens!"
There was silence. Harry watched, his gaze flicking between Snape's face and Sirius's reflection. He remembered how unpleasant it had been to have Snape rifling through his memories, and pitied his godfather. Lupin stepped up quietly beside him, also glancing between the mirror and Snape.
"Concentrate on what happened after you fell through the veil, idiot," Snape ordered scathingly. Sirius swore (Harry saw Lupin wince, and decided not to admit that he'd recognised the word). Snape's lips turned upwards just slightly. Then his expression darkened and twisted. Finally a grim, satisfied smile spread over his face. He lowered his wand, and then the mirror.
"It has occurred to me that having Black in my debt for the rest of his miserable life would be even more enjoyable than knowing he was trapped between the worlds," he said, but his voice lacked the usual bite. He looked rather like he'd learned something that worried him. "Potter, give me that mirror."
Harry instinctively clutched his mirror to his chest. Lupin laid a hand on his shoulder.
"What are you going to do with it?" Harry asked.
Snape sneered at him. "Show you a trick."
Harry didn't want to do it. He waited for Lupin to tell him to hand over the mirror, but the other remained silent. Only the gentle pressure of his hand on Harry's shoulder indicated that he was even there.
Finally, Harry realised that Lupin wasn't going to force his decision. Strangely, that made it easier. He held out the mirror to Snape, who took it, without so much as a thank you, and turned away.
"Well done," murmured Lupin.
He didn't remove his hand, and Harry was glad of the simple contact as he watched Snape stalk over to a free-standing lamp and glare at it as if it offended him. Snape pulled out his wand and levitated the lamp several feet to one side; he then fixed one of the mirrors to the wall with a charm. Then, stepping back, he muttered a quick, "Wingardium leviosa," and sent the second mirror to hover in midair, directly opposite the first.
"Black, step between the mirrors," Snape said icily.
There was a pause. Then - for a second - Harry saw something in the air between the two small squares of glass. It was like a three-dimensional shadow, only white and translucent and... well, not much like a shadow after all. It was not, as he'd half-expected, his godfather's face: it was more like a flow of water or light from one mirror to the other...
Snape flicked his wand, sending the hovering mirror unexpectedly to Harry's hands. Harry almost fumbled the catch out of sheer surprise, and Lupin made a grab for it before he saw that Harry had it secure.
Snape was looking intently at the mirror still attached to the wall, tapping his wand idly against the palm of his other hand.
"This situation is not unprecedented," he said softly, and again there was that note of almost-worry in his voice. "I believe that there are a number of books in my possession which might assist you."
Snape abruptly raised his wand, and Harry realised he was preparing to Disapparate.
"Where are you going?" he demanded.
Snape looked at him coldly. "My books, Potter, sadly do not convey themselves. I am going to fetch them."
Lupin said, quietly, "Thank you, Severus."
Snape glared at him, Lupin held his gaze, and Snape looked away and Disapparated. And Harry suddenly realised that the Potions Master knew he'd been manipulated. But he was helping anyway. Harry frowned. He didn't understand. He watched Lupin cross the room and take down the other mirror with a flick of his wand.
"Alright, Harry?" he asked unexpectedly. Harry shook himself, and moved to sit down on the sofa. Lupin was looking at him quizzically.
"It's just..." he hesitated, then it all came out in a rush, "what you were saying earlier, about him and Sirius..."
Lupin glanced into the mirror. Whatever he saw there brought a look to his face that Harry felt sure he'd not been meant to see. He looked away hastily, torn between wanting to know what his godfather was doing and not wanting to intrude.
A moment later, Lupin came and sat beside him on the sofa. "What about it?"
Harry fidgeted with his own mirror. Sirius's head suddenly appeared in it, upside-down; his godfather pulled a face and winked. Harry smiled despite himself.
"You made him have to help us," he said finally. "But he knew what you were doing, I know he did. He's not... stupid."
Harry realised he had just inadvertently complimented Snape, and grimaced, but Lupin appeared not to have noticed. He was smiling tiredly.
"Pride, Harry, is a very strange thing." Lupin's smile became a bit more genuine. "You'll notice I wasn't... entirely lying when I said that Sirius and Snape have a lot in common."
In the mirror, Sirius turned a very deliberate, unimpressed look on Lupin.
"By letting me manipulate him into helping," Lupin continued, "he could square it with his pride and the... dislike... that has always lain between him and Sirius."
Harry tried to look like he understood this, although he didn't, really. He remembered something else. "What did happen in your fifth year?"
Lupin's expression darkened. "Too many things, few of them good."
Well, there ends that line of conversation, Harry thought, slightly disappointed. He'd been half-hoping for a tale of his father's exploits at school.
"Another time," Lupin said quietly, and Harry looked up in surprise. Lupin was watching him with silent understanding. "When Sirius can help me remember."
There was a loud crack! and Snape reappeared in the middle of the room. A large number of books were piled in his arms.
"These will do to start with," he said as Lupin jumped to his feet to help. "Some of the others might have been more help, but they were less... pleasant reading."
Lupin was nodding. And Harry, with a sinking feeling, realised that most of the books were marked with the symbols of the Dark Arts.
He was not cut out to be a watcher; he was forever a player in the game of life, always in the centre, always in the light. It was, as Snape had noted, ironic that he should be the one totally unable to help.
Sirius watched distrustfully as Remus took some of the books Snape had brought and handed them to Harry. He didn't like the idea of his godson handling Dark Magic texts - he didn't like the thought of Remus touching them, either, if it came down to it - and besides, Snape wasn't telling them everything. Sirius glared at the hook-nosed man, who had seated himself stiffly on the edge of an armchair (as if, Sirius thought savagely, he might catch something from Remus's furniture).
Remus had seated himself on the floor (Sirius had no idea why he always preferred to do research sitting on the floor) and was looking intently at the titles he'd ended up with; Harry was eyeing the cover of one slim, cloth-bound volume warily. When Sirius looked closer, he saw that the silvery threads of the weave seemed to be moving, winding themselves around each other hypnotically. He glanced at Harry, whose eyes had become slightly unfocused. Alarmed, Sirius strode over to his godson and waved in his mirror, trying to get his attention -
Remus's hand came down squarely on the cover of the book, breaking Harry's gaze. The boy jumped and looked up in alarm; a second later, Remus had snatched his hand back with a hiss. The skin was red and raw.
"You might want to avoid touching that volume, Lupin," Snape volunteered lazily. "It's bound in cloth-of-silver."
"If I had a wand," Sirius ground out in a low tone, "you'd be unconscious for a week."
"Ah," said Remus calmly, and Sirius wouldn't even have noticed that he was gritting his teeth around the pain if he hadn't heard that tone after every full moon for eight years. "In that case, Harry, would you mind moving it out of harm's way, under these ones here? You might want to avoid looking at it for too long."
"Silver burns you?" Harry asked in a low voice as he obeyed.
"Sometimes. Purity is important. Any silver substance that has been touched with enchantment is particularly... potent." Remus glanced at the book, one corner of which was just visible beneath a stack of others. "Harry, in the kitchen cabinet there should be a bottle of yellow liquid--"
"Murtlap essence, right?" Harry jumped to his feet. Sirius felt a surge of pride in his godson. "I'll get it. Where do you keep your bowls?"
"The cupboard under the window."
Harry disappeared into the kitchen. Remus flexed his hand and winced. He looked over at Snape, who had yet to open his book and was merely watching.
"Your point?" Remus's voice was deceptively soft.
Snape narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I know that was a test as well as you do. What was your point?"
Sirius blinked. A test? He'd thought Snape was just being his usual unpleasant self. Yeah, but Moony was always the subtle one. He'd usually solved the puzzle before me and James had even realised there was one.
"Potter is easily distracted," Snape said coldly.
"He's vulnerable to certain things."
"Is that relevant?"
Sirius looked from one to the other in confusion. "Are you talking in some sort of code? Moony?"
Before either could speak again, Harry re-entered the room with a bowl of yellowish liquid. Remus accepted it with a smile of thanks, placing it on the floor and immersing his burned hand up to the wrist.
Sirius watched Snape again. He knew the Potions Master was holding back. Their brief... communication - his stomach twisted at the memory of Snape seeing into his mind - had not been entirely one-way. Sirius had felt Snape's reactions to certain things, and caught a glimpse of an image that sent cold shivers through his soul. A tall, dark-cloaked figure and a pair of glowing mirrors. When was the greasy git going to deign to mention this to Moony?
Harry sat down - next to Remus, Sirius noticed - and picked up another book with understandable caution. He looked from Remus to Snape and frowned.
"What are we looking for now?" he asked.
"Yeah," echoed Sirius, flopping down on the sofa behind his godson so that he'd be clearly visible if either of his loved ones raised the mirrors. "Come on, tell them what Voldemort's been doing in his spare time."
Snape tapped his fingers against the cover of the book he was holding and appeared to reach a decision.
"There is a certain branch of magic," he said finally, "which has been obsolete for several hundred years."
"That's more like it," Sirius muttered. He sat back, folding his arms.
Snape, meanwhile, was glaring at Harry again.
"Perhaps it would be best if Potter were to leave--" he began, but Remus interrupted before Harry could even draw breath to protest.
"Harry's a part of this."
"Well said," Sirius muttered. Harry shot a look of surprised gratitude at Remus.
Snape hissed slightly between his teeth - now that was an interesting new mannerism, had he picked it up from Voldemort? Sirius wondered nastily - and looked away.
"As you see fit," Snape said in tones dripping with sarcasm. "As I was saying, certain... practises were abandoned centuries ago. Even Dark Wizards refused to use them, and after a time they dropped out of common knowledge, so that even those who might have dared to break the taboo were unaware of their existence."
Remus was nodding thoughtfully. Harry was trying not to look interested; Sirius well understood his dilemma - this was Snape, after all.
"Mirror magic is one of these." Snape cast a disdainful look at the mirrors Remus and Harry had in their laps. "Not the enchantment of mirrors, obviously, but the use of them in their own right. Specifically, the use of two mirrors. It was known as dicaptromancy."
Remus looked distant. "Yes. I remember..."
He snapped back to the present, and Sirius suddenly wondered where exactly he'd learned so much about the Dark Arts. Sirius knew how he'd picked up some of it - and he firmly closed the door on that set of memories - but he realised for the first time that Remus hadn't been all that forthcoming about the years in which Sirius had been in Azkaban.
"The use of mirror magic," Snape said, settling into an analytical voice that Sirius hadn't ever heard him use - he supposed, grudgingly, that Snape must actually be a passable teacher, "was one of the many avenues the Dark Lord explored during his rise to power. He single-handedly rediscovered an... art..." Snape hesitated over the word as if it tasted bad, "that it had taken covens of dark wizards years to perfect."
"Why?" asked Harry, forgetting himself. Sirius noticed that a faint flash of amusement crossed Remus's face.
"What do you see when you stand between two mirrors, Potter?"
Harry frowned. "My reflection," he said pointedly.
Snape looked as though he wanted to take points from Gryffindor.
"Just one reflection?" Remus asked Harry gently.
"No... a whole set of them..." Harry said slowly. "As if I were standing in a tunnel."
"I bet you were a bloody good teacher, Moony," murmured Sirius, mostly to himself.
"Precisely." Snape drummed his fingers against the book again. "Two mirrors can be used to enhance certain magics - legilimency being, of course, the Dark Lord's primary concern. He also discovered..." Snape hesitated, "... that they can be used to extend life."
"Ah," murmured Remus. He had that distant look again, like he was fitting pieces together.
"You can imagine how interesting he found this. I suspect that his use of mirrors was what prevented his death when he attempted to kill Potter."
"You mean," interrupted Harry, just a second before Sirius also made the connection and sat bolt upright, "that when Voldemort was gone, he was in the same state that Sirius is now?"
"No," Remus answered before Snape could. "He could influence the world, possess people and use certain of his powers..." He glanced quizzically at Snape. "Probably because he'd used other things as well as mirrors."
"Indeed." Snape's mouth twisted in a half-smile. "And I believe he used the... side-effects... to his advantage."
There was a brief silence. This time Remus looked as curious as Harry.
"Dicaptromancy was not abandoned for no reason," Snape continued sharply, as if one of them had questioned him. "There were consequences. The person using it can become... hollow. Too many reflections and not enough soul to go around... Practitioners would simply vanish, or become insane, or they would be found staring mutely into the eyes of a reflection which seemed oddly... alive."
Sirius shuddered. He saw Harry draw his knees up and wrap his arms around them. Remus was utterly still.
"I believe that the Dark Lord has resumed the practice since his resurrection," said Snape. "And I suspect that the 'attacks' on Black were triggered by his use of the mirrors."
Harry sat bolt upright. "Voldemort knows about Sirius? He tried to get to him?"
"Do not say his name," Snape hissed angrily. "That was not what I said, if you had been listening. There are things that live in the space between. Black already knows something about them - don't you, Black?" Remus and Harry both glanced into their mirrors instinctively; Sirius nodded, keeping his eyes on Snape. "Using the mirrors... attracts them. The Dark Lord must have found a way of appeasing them; he has never suffered any loss of self. I suspect that the attacks on Black were merely triggered when their attention was drawn to his position in some way..."
When I stepped between the mirrors, Sirius thought.
"... and that the Dark Lord is unaware of Black's... predicament."
The last word was a sneer, but Sirius barely heard it. He was watching Harry and Remus.
"Then we have a little time," Remus said quietly.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Snape appeared totally unconcerned.
"A shame that the mastery of Occlumency was beyond Black's grasp. It appears to be an excellent defence against these... incursions."
"Oh, so that's how you did it," Sirius muttered, remembering the attack in the Great Hall. "Forgive me if I don't fall down on bended knee to thank you."
"The Patronus Charm works too," Harry spoke up, glaring at Snape.
"No doubt," said Snape cuttingly, "but the Patronus Charm requires an active consumption of energy, whereas Occlumency simply renders the subject invisible to--"
"This isn't helping Sirius," Remus interrupted, and Sirius blinked. Oh. No, it wasn't, was it? He'd gotten so caught up in the discussion that he'd forgotten they were trying to help him.
Now there was ironic for you.
Snape nodded curtly and finally opened the book on his lap. "Then I suggest we try to find whatever references to mirror magic may lie in these volumes. Some of them... came into my possession... shortly after the Dark Lord's fall."
Sirius would have liked to ask a lot of questions about that, but he could only watch as Remus and Harry each choose a book - Remus manipulating his choice expertly with his unburned hand - and began to read.
Sirius was becoming heartily sick of only being able to watch.
Remus's head ached. He closed his eyes momentarily and sighed. They'd been searching for hours. It was dark outside now, which meant that it had to be somewhere after nine. He'd lit the lamps and prepared some food not long ago - Snape had looked askance at the poor fare, but Harry had thanked him as enthusiastically as if he'd just been offered the Hogwarts feast - and there was still nothing to help them.
He opened his eyes, and his gaze fell on a silvery corner sticking out from under another book. He absently flexed his hand; the sting of the burn had finally subsided. There was always that one, of course. The one Snape had deliberately failed to warn them of. Remus frowned at it thoughtfully. Why? He'd mentioned Harry's distraction. Remus himself had found that looking at the cloth made him feel faintly sick, but Harry had seemed to find it mesmerising.
It was probably worth a shot. Even at the cost of a certain amount of inconvenience to himself. He unfolded himself from his position on the floor - wincing as a previously unnoticed cramp suddenly seized his leg - and left the room without speaking.
When he came back down the stairs a few minutes later, Harry and Snape were shouting at each other. Remus sighed and passed a hand over his eyes, slumping against the wall. He was honestly proud of how Harry had handled himself today - but the boy still needed to learn not to let Snape goad him. He grimaced. Not that it was a lesson Sirius had ever mastered.
Knowing that he was close to simply giving up in despair, Remus quickly straightened up and strode into the room.
"What is it this time?" he demanded with uncharacteristic asperity. The other two broke off, Harry looking ashamed, Snape sneering at them both.
"He was saying Sirius--"
"I merely said," Snape overrode quickly, "that we might as well stop looking for a solution that is as likely to present itself tomorrow as today--"
"You did not, you said that we might as well give up altogether!"
"While that may be what you heard, Potter, I can assure you that that is not what I--"
"Enough!" Remus shouted. The sound of his raised voice was enough to shock them into sullen silence. It struck him as momentarily amusing that they were both willing to let him take on the role of authority figure, but he brushed it aside.
"We're not giving up," he said simply, crossing the room and pulling on a pair of gloves as he went. "But if necessary we will stop to sleep."
"But what if Sirius--" began Harry.
"We'll take it in turns," Remus said gently. "Someone can watch the mirror at all times."
Snape made a disgusted sound.
"I have a report to make to Dumbledore," he said scornfully. "You can baby-sit Black by yourselves."
Remus regarded him thoughtfully. "It was my understanding that Dumbledore has been out of the country since the day before yesterday, and that he isn't to be contacted except in an emergency."
Snape, caught in the lie - one day he would admit that Remus was as highly placed in the Order as he was - resorted to glowering blackly at the book he had been reading.
Harry looked surprised, however. "Dumbledore's gone?"
Remus nodded. "I believe he left shortly after your leaving feast. Now," he continued, resuming his seat. "I think this book with the... interesting cover bears further examination."
Snape snorted dismissively. "You would be wasting your time. It is of no use to us."
Harry turned to stare at him. "Then why did you bring it?"
Remus also looked at Snape for a long moment. "Because it has a similar effect on the mind to that of the dicaptromancy?" he guessed. Snape nodded curtly. "And you wanted to see how we would react."
Harry blinked. "How can it be anything like diclap-- di-- er, mirror magic?" he asked, stifling a yawn as he did so.
"Mirrors were once made of polished silver, Harry," Remus said absently. He picked up the book cautiously, infinitely glad of the gloves now protecting his skin. "Or of bronze, for those of lesser means. Even now, particularly advanced magic requires a silver mirror, not a glass one."
Snape glanced up in irritation when he opened the book. "I told you: that won't be of any help."
"What is it, then?"
Snape shrugged. "Dream magic. Vapid stuff." He returned to his reading.
Remus and Harry looked at each other. They both remembered the discussion they'd had earlier. Quickly, trying not to read too fast, Remus began to flip through the pages. Harry abandoned his own book and scrambled across to read over his shoulder.
Most of it was, indeed, the sort of vague, inconclusive ramblings that typified oneiromancy. Prophecies gleaned from the sort of dreams that Remus, cynically, tended to attribute to eating rich food before bed; flashes of insight into the workings of the subconscious; occasional useful information on the prevention of nightmares. Remus made an absentminded note to remember that for Sirius - then caught himself up. They had to get Sirius back before he could start worrying about his sleeping patterns.
Remus spared a glance at the mirror lying on the carpet by his side. He could just see Sirius, who was reading over his other shoulder, face intent.
He looked... different, in the mirror. Remus hadn't really had a chance to notice before. His face lacked the strain of a year spent in hiding, or the ravages of Azkaban. He by no means resembled his twenty-one-year-old self, but he looked like... like he should look, if he'd had one damned second just to be free in the last fifteen years.
Remus vowed, silently and vehemently, that if - no, when - they found a way to bring him back, he would not allow Sirius to be caged again. No matter what Dumbledore might say, no matter what the Order might require; if they had to flee the country and go to Africa or somewhere, Remus was going to find Sirius somewhere to spread his wings.
Harry quietly asked if he could turn the page, bringing Remus back to himself. He nodded. He realised that Sirius was watching him in the mirror. His eyes - his eyes reflected everything - Azkaban, Grimmauld Place, death, betrayal and sorrow. And anger - Sirius had always channelled his pain into anger. Remus held his gaze silently. There had been times, before, when they'd had no need of speech to communicate. He saw Sirius's eyes widen slightly, and he knew then that words were still a mere formality between them.
Nonetheless, when he saw Sirius lean forward and murmur a phrase into his ear, he shivered and closed his eyes. He wanted to say-- but Harry was still reading, and Snape was across the room, and he had to concentrate. Later - I'll tell him later...
Remus stopped mid-thought. He'd lost Sirius twice. When was he going to learn that he would run out of laters?
I love you too, he mouthed, letting Sirius see the words in the mirror.
Sirius stared at him - and raised a hand to brush his cheek - and it suddenly occurred to Remus that he'd never said that aloud - that he'd always put it off until later--
Tearing his eyes away from the mirror - blinking rapidly against tears that he daren't shed - Remus shook his head once and said, "Yes, Harry?"
"Are you alright?"
Harry had edged around so that he was reading from the side; he was looking up at Remus with concerned green eyes. It was strange; sometimes he was so like James, but that expression would never have crossed James's face at fifteen. Not that James hadn't cared - but Harry, when he wasn't clouded by anger, had a certain selflessness that had been alien to his father at the same age.
"I'm fine," Remus said, trying to convince himself as much as Harry. He dared not look at the mirror again. Something occurred to him. "You know, I'm not your teacher any more. You don't have to call me Professor."
Harry looked startled. He began say something, but he was interrupted by a derisive snort. They'd almost forgotten Snape was there. From across the room, he drawled sarcastically, "Oh, are we on first name terms now, Remus?"
"You are, of course, always welcome to call me by my given name, Severus," Remus said pleasantly.
Snape looked at him sharply, as if unsure whether or not that had been a subtle taunt.
"As are you, Harry," Remus continued. He hadn't quite intended to say that - he didn't imagine that Harry would find the idea particularly comfortable - but now that he had, he rather hoped Harry would take him up on it.
"Um... yeah, okay," Harry said after a moment. He glanced at Snape. Then he smiled. "If you don't mind."
Remus nodded, unaccountably touched. He shook himself slightly and turned the page on the book. "This doesn't seem to be much use, does it?" he said after a slight pause.
"I did tell you."
They ignored Snape.
Remus flicked through the pages rapidly, his gloved fingers awkward, without stopping to read more than a few words at a time. The book was handwritten, in several different scripts. It seemed to have been a sort of collective diary for an ancient coven - members of the coven had written their experiences and experiments on parchment, which must have been magically recopied into book form at a later date. The scraps of dreams seemed to have become repetitive even for a group of dedicated oneiromancers after a while, however, and Remus caught references to other magics - usually along the lines of scrying and divination.
He was just about to close the book when he came across a drawing that all but stopped his heart.
It was the Gateway.
"Impossible," he breathed. Harry stared at the picture, than at him. Remus flicked back to the front of the book. There were several dates listed on the frontispiece - the date that someone had created this copy, the date of the copy before that... finally, at the very bottom, the estimated date of the original scrolls.
The Gateway can't be that old.
"What is it?" Harry was asking anxiously.
Remus showed him the date.
"But that's..." Harry trailed off. "That's before the Ministry of Magic was even founded."
"Not just the Ministry," Remus said. "It even predates the Wizards' Council."
Harry frowned. "Muggles call that the Dark Ages."
"So do wizards," Remus said grimly. "And if it hadn't been for Merlin, it might have spiralled into darkness unending... but that's not the point. I always thought the early Ministry had brought the Gateway into being. This indicates otherwise. Not only that, but either the Gateway can be moved - or the Ministry of Magic was intentionally constructed around it."
Remus turned back to the illustration. There were notes all around it, scribbled in a tiny hand - he longed to read it all, to learn the story behind the Gateway's existence, but a sense of urgency was driving him now. He skimmed quickly ahead.
What he found turned his blood to ice.
"What? What is it?" Harry asked again. Professor Lupin had fallen silent as he scanned the pages of the small, silver-bound book. Harry had heard him suck in his breath sharply at least twice. And now he had lost all colour. He looked like someone torn between rage and horror.
"Lupin?" snapped Snape. Harry jumped. He'd completely forgotten the other man's presence. "Lupin, what can you possibly have found to horrify you in an ancient dream diary?"
Lupin suddenly closed the book with a crack that resounded through the room. He had shut his eyes and appeared to be thinking very deeply. Or possibly struggling not to be sick. Or possibly, Harry thought, both.
"Prof--" He stopped, hesitated. "Um... R- Re-- er. What is it? Are you okay?"
Lupin opened his eyes and nodded mutely. Harry was startled. He'd expected to see that half-lost, half-hurt look that had flashed through Lupin's eyes several times today. Instead... Harry almost recoiled. He had never seen anyone look so angry. He had never imagined that Remus Lupin could look so angry.
"You've never read it," Lupin said softly to Snape. It was a statement, not a question, but Snape nodded anyway. "Of course not. Dream magic. Too... vapid..."
He broke off with a hiss and Harry saw his hands clench hard on the book. He hoped that the thin-looking gloves Lupin currently wore were enough to protect him from the silver. Snape actually looked somewhat taken-aback.
"You are saying that there is more in that book than the whims of oneiromancy?"
Lupin stood abruptly. "I'll be back in a moment."
He left the room, still holding the book.
Harry stared after him, alarmed. Had he just discovered something bad? Something that meant they couldn't help Sirius? He quickly picked up his mirror, but his godfather had vanished. Harry panicked for a second, before it occurred to him that Sirius had probably followed Lupin.
He hoped Lupin was alright. Or... Remus, rather. Harry frowned to himself. Remus. He couldn't quite make it fit right in his head. On the one hand, he called Sirius by his first name, and Lu- Remus was right, he was no longer his teacher. On the other hand, he was so used to thinking about "Professor Lupin"; the title fitted him effortlessly, so that Harry included it instinctively even as he forgot he was supposed to call Snape "sir". Sirius had said something once - at Christmas, he thought - "Moony was born to be a teacher, Harry. You should've seen him at school. I only wish..."
He'd stopped, but Harry had known what he meant. It had been Sirius's fault - indirectly, of course - that Lupin had been forced to leave. It had comforted him - Sirius could at least partly understand how he felt about Cedric. Harry stopped. Had he ever actually mentioned that to Sirius? Had he ever told him that he felt they had a lot in common?
Snape was still watching the door, apparently so distracted that he hadn't even thought of sneering at Harry. Harry considered deliberately starting another argument - anything to alleviate the tension of waiting for Lupin to return - but was surprised at how easily he subdued the urge. He'd worried a lot this year about disappointing Sirius - by not living up to his father's standards, by not taking enough risks - but he found the thought of disappointing Lupin even more uncomfortable. He knew, deep down, that he hadn't really let Sirius down - Sirius just had to learn to accept who he was - but that failing Remus would mean that he'd failed to live up to what Remus believed Harry himself was capable of.
At that point Remus reappeared. He was slipping his mirror back into his pocket, and Harry guessed he'd been talking to Sirius. He wondered what his godfather had had to say in reply.
"This book," Remus said without preamble, holding up the volume in one gloved hand, "covers a period of almost fifty years. During that time, the coven evolved from a fairly harmless gathering of oneiromancers into a group of hardened Dark Wizards."
He sat down on one end of the sofa with a tired sigh. Harry debated for a moment, then unfolded himself from the floor and took the other end. Remus was flicking through the pages of the book, his face twisting slightly in disgust.
"It started out innocently enough," he continued in a hard sort of voice. "One or two members became... impatient with the vague nature of the magic. They started trying to take a more active turn - to use magic to influence dreams, rather than interpreting them. Not unlike certain practises today; medical magic, meditative trances..." Remus stopped with the book open on a particular page.
"As the stronger wizards took command they attracted more who thought like they did... the more passive ones drifted away... they began to explore avenues of communication with the so-called "higher planes", channelling their dreams until they could control their sleeping selves and converse with what they considered to be beings of great power."
Remus looked slightly less grim; for the first time that Harry could remember, there was scorn on his face.
"Most of it was undoubtedly a product of hallucinogenic substances and the over-liberal application of certain potions, but they were on to something. There was power there, to be used or abused. Their practises widened to include certain of the Dark Arts. And eventually, they stumbled upon the Gateway.
"It isn't clear whether they found it, fully-formed, or if they somehow brought it into being; regardless, it was a breakthrough. They studied it, much as modern wizardry studies it now, but with even less regard for the possible consequences. They used Dark magic as often as not. Some of them dreamed on its threshold, and awoke mad."
Harry shuddered convulsively, remembering the voices. He sometimes heard them still, on the edge of sleep. Was he going to go mad? He'd only listened for a moment...
"They were obsessed with it," Remus continued quietly. "They didn't know if beyond it lay death, or something else. Sometimes, in trances, they thought they could see beings - people - entering or leaving it. They were constantly seeking a way for a living person to pass the veil."
Remus looked at the book again, turned a page and shivered. He reached for his mirror, lifted it and looked for a long moment. Then he continued.
"They had enemies. And servile followers who could be coerced into obedience. They... experimented. They drugged them, they Stunned them, they poisoned them nigh-unto death and they sent them into fits - anything to cross that threshold. Many died in the process. Others... did not."
Remus's hands had tightened on the book. Harry happened to catch a glimpse of Snape; the Potions Master was listening intently, his face for once unguarded. There was a measure of fascination there that revolted Harry.
"Those who passed through the archway simply vanished. Anybody who lifted the veil to look through saw only the other side of the Gate. So they kept trying. Victim after victim, hysterical follower after ecstatic seer - they discovered that there was a fine line to walk, that to pass the threshold a person must be fading from consciousness or from life - dying or falling asleep."
Harry nodded. He'd seen Sirius hit with a Stunning spell. He'd seen his godfather fall, unable to save himself but still - just - reacting to what had happened to him, falling into unconsciousness with the fear of death in his eyes.
"Then..." Remus drew breath slowly. "Then they began to find ways to make contact with those who had... crossed. Their images could be seen in the reflection of a reflection. They could be seen in dreams and certain trances. Some people could even--" he glanced at the book "--perform a magic they called dreamwalking, in which they seem to have wandered the same space in which Sirius is trapped.
"It became obvious that those who'd gone through the Gateway had not passed on, either to death or to a higher state of existence. They were caught out of the world, and they couldn't even see each other. The coven lost its drive. They made no particular effort to reach those who had already crossed over; they moved on to other pursuits, to necromancy and demonology and other Dark Arts."
Remus finally glanced up, first at Harry, then at Snape.
"This is the first time mirrors are mentioned other than in passing," he said, indicating the page. "Someone continued their experiments with two mirrors. They found that they could enhance their energy to unimaginable levels. And they discovered what they refer to as the demons of the space between.
"Images are powerful things, Harry - many people thought wizarding photographs were demonic for a long time - and in the space between two mirrors there are a thousand images and only one soul to go around. The space between is full of... things... that hunger for a soul."
Remus turned a couple more pages, although Harry didn't think he really needed to refresh his memory. He looked as though the knowledge had been burned into his mind with one reading.
"It doesn't... say as much here... but I think," he said slowly. "I think that the space between is like a world in constant darkness for its demons. When someone pours power into two mirrors, it's as if they shone a light over everything. The demons can see. They can see the Gateway - the way out."
Remus lifted the book slightly, and when he spoke again it was obvious that he was reading aloud.
"'All your doubts,'" he read quietly, "'all your fears... all your darknesses... all your pain.'" He lowered the book. "That was what they found in the space between."
"The wizards became afraid. They started to abandon the practice of dicaptromancy. Too many dicaptromancers suffered horrible fates - or vanished without trace. They left the Gateway alone - spreading warnings to the effect that it was lethal to pass through it - and passed on the message that mirrors were dangerous."
Remus looked up again.
"The account finishes there, for the most part. The coven was all but dissolved. Somebody took the writings, though. Somebody wrote a lot more after that. She..." he hesitated, "I think it was a witch - some of her language, and some of the things she says..." He sighed. "I don't suppose we'll ever know. She had been dragged along with the coven when it turned to darker pursuits. She was repulsed by what they were doing, but too afraid to leave. Then someone she cared about - loved, I think - was forced through the veil. When the coven disbanded, she took all the notes she could find, and used them, and what she knew of dicaptromancy, to do something that none of the others had - that none had wanted to do.
"She found a way to bring her back."
Harry stared at Remus, hope rising anew from the ashes. He'd thought... the way Remus was talking... that there was no chance for Sirius...
"How?" For a moment Harry thought he'd said it, but then he realised that it had been Snape who had spoken.
Remus held up the book. "She wrote it all in here. There is a ritual - some of it veers close to Dark Magic. There is a certain amount of oneiromancy - not difficult to anyone with a degree of mental control - and some charm work, and then, finally..." He hesitated. "The final component is dicaptromancy. Two mirrors have to be used."
"I see," said Snape quietly. "Does it happen to mention whether she succeeded?"
Remus glanced away. "No."
Snape nodded. "Then we are back where we started."
Harry looked at Remus, who had just looked over at him. Their eyes met. Neither of them needed to speak.
"At least we understand the connection now," Snape continued, half to himself. Harry frowned in confusion; Remus looked quizzically at Snape.
"Is it not obvious to you?" the hook-nosed man asked, with a hint of his usual patronising tone. "The Dark Lord began using dicaptromancy with a level of power that no-one had touched before - his predecessors had always disdained mirrors and other tricks of Divination - and he lit up this 'space between' like a beacon." Snape smiled unpleasantly, although Harry didn't get the impression he was enjoying himself this time. "The... beings therein were able to see, for the first time, clearly. They could see the way out, and no doubt they could also see the souls who had been trapped there for centuries."
Harry jumped, horrified at the thought. He'd just assumed, when Remus had been talking about people passing the veil, that they'd died or passed on or, or... anything but that they'd been stuck between worlds for hundreds of years.
Snape's eyes were hard. "They consumed the trapped souls in vast quantities, and so the Dark Lord was unaware of them, for they had no need to touch him. And in the wake of this feast and with the gift of sight, certain of them began to pass the Gateway..."
"Dementors are blind," Harry whispered in a slightly shaking voice.
Snape nodded coolly. "Perhaps that was how the Dark Lord controlled them - whether he knew it or not. He could give them the light they needed, by using his mirrors, to make their prey easy and plentiful."
"But none have come through since he returned," Remus continued. "Either because he hasn't used his mirrors enough, or because the supply of trapped souls has been exhausted."
Snape smiled again, and it turned Harry's stomach to see. "Oh, not exhausted, Lupin," he said softly. "There is at least one left, after all."
Chapter 7: The Space Between
If there had been any doubt in his mind - which, honestly, there hadn't - Snape's observation would have erased it. Remus fought down a whole-body shudder even as he heard Harry gasp. He wasn't going to let it happen - he was not going to let it happen. Sirius would not be prey to the Dementors or their kin - not ever again.
"We have to get him out of there!" Harry was saying - all but shouting, in truth - as he jumped to his feet. "We have to do it right away, before Voldemort uses the mirrors again - we have to do it now!"
Snape stared at Harry, his lip curling in a sneer. "Did you miss some part of the conversation, Potter? There is no way to retrieve Black. You can spend your whole life casting Patronuses if you like, but when you're gone he'll still be as helpless as he is now."
"There is a way," Harry said in a low tone that contrasted strikingly with his previous words. "The ritual - the witch found a way."
Snape actually laughed, sharply and bitterly. "But did she ever come back, Potter? She certainly never seems to have bothered to write it down, if so - strange, don't you think? No-one would be fool enough to try--"
And then Snape caught Remus's eye, and Remus saw the realisation strike him. The Potions Master leapt to his feet - but Remus was faster; he was on his feet with his wand pointed right at Snape's heart when the other's was only halfway out of his pocket.
"Expelliarmus," Remus said coolly. Snape's wand flew across the room; Harry had pulled out his own and held it ready for anything, taking a step sideways so that he was next to Remus.
"The theory is sound," Remus said calmly. "I took a few moments to look it over, earlier. I also consulted Sirius, who knows more about certain areas than I do. The theory is sound."
"Theory?" hissed Snape, his whole body poised as if to strike. "Theory! Throw away your lives on a theory! Oh, of course, how very Gryffindor of you - rushing to the rescue - do neither of you remember how it ended last time?"
Remus saw Harry flinch out of the corner of his eye, but the boy's wand didn't waver.
"It's your fault Black's in this mess, Potter!" Snape shrieked, apparently incensed beyond the point of endurance. "And now you're going to do the same thing over again! On the off-chance that a theory from over a thousand years ago might happen to be right!"
"It's more than a theory," Remus continued in the same even tone. "She was very thorough. All the component parts add up. She tested everything. The only thing left was to undergo the ritual herself, and that is the only thing she failed to record."
"Because, no doubt, she died or suffered an even worse fate!"
"She may have died, but it might have been before she had a chance to try what she had created. Or perhaps..." here he faltered. "Perhaps her... loved one... was lost to the Dementors before she could succeed."
Snape's fists had balled themselves by his side; Remus almost thought he was about to launch himself physically forward.
"Is that why you're so sure of her?" Snape demanded sarcastically. "Seeing yourself in her, are you, Lupin? Pursuing your lover into the afterlife? Just desperate to play Orpheus, aren't you, Lupin? Are you sure Black will appreciate--"
"Enough!" Remus felt his control crack dangerously. "That's enough," he repeated in a calmer tone. "I apologise in advance, Severus, but we're going to have to leave you here, disabled..."
"You will do no such thing," Snape hissed venomously. "I am going straight to Dumbledore and you will surrender yourselves to me immediately--"
Halfway through the sentence, Snape flung himself sideways, making a desperate lunge for his wand.
It was Harry who uttered it, a split second before Remus could get his wand around. He cursed himself silently for three kinds of idiot; he should've expected such a ridiculous demand to be a cover for some sort of action. Fortunately, Harry's Seeker reflexes had served them both well: Snape was flat on the floor, swearing loudly.
There was an odd look on Harry's face.
"I saw my dad do this," he said quietly. "He took Snape's wand away and Sirius knocked him down."
Remus was momentarily at a loss for what to say. He wanted to tell Harry that the circumstances were different - that James had been different, even as little as a few months later - that Harry was different, could never be the same man his father had been... but the words wouldn't come.
Harry walked over to Snape. Remus suffered a horrible moment where he thought that Harry would perform the counter-curse and turn on him... and once again reprimanded himself as an idiot when the boy picked up Snape's wand instead.
"I don't like you," Harry said unexpectedly to the prone man. "But I'm not doing this because of that."
Snape spat something unrepeatable at him. Harry shrugged and turned away.
Remus quickly levitated their furious captive into a fairly comfortable position on the sofa, and bound him with thin cords. Snape struggled uselessly as the jinx wore off.
"Hold onto that," Remus instructed, although Harry didn't look like he was going to let go of Snape's wand any time soon. He walked over to Snape, the silver-bound book in one hand, his own wand in the other. He wished he could take off his gloves; his palms were becoming sweaty and over-warm within the unnecessary insulation. "Forgive me, Severus."
Snape glared at him from behind the greasy black hair that had fallen into his eyes during his manhandling. He was silent; Remus thought he was preparing more insults.
Instead, he bit out quietly, "You're a fool, Lupin."
For a moment, Remus actually wavered. There was something in the tone... If Snape thought that the risk was so great that he was worried...
Remus pushed the doubt away. He looked around; Harry was standing next to him, waiting. There was a lot to do.
"We'll need to get some things first," he said briskly, turning away. "And we'll have to Floo there. You'll need your broomstick to cross London when we've bought what we need."
As they left the room, Harry asked, "Where's going to be open at this time of night?"
Remus smiled grimly to himself. "Oh, there are places."
It was the second time in under two weeks that Harry had been in the Ministry of Magic late at night. This time couldn't have been more different from the last, however; the Atrium was still in ruins, the fountain had yet to be restored, and there were half a dozen people occupied with various tasks around the room. Several of them turned to look when the visitors' lift descended; one or two even raised their wands warily.
"Security's increased at last, then," Remus murmured next to him. Harry nodded, wondering how on earth they were to get past all this, and shifting his burden to the other arm.
One of the people who'd turned to look, however, came hurrying forward, her hair the same bubble-gum pink it had been at the station. Tonks grinned half-heartedly at them; Harry wished they could tell her about Sirius. She was his cousin, after all. She deserved to know.
"Hey, Remus," she said as she approached. "'sup, Harry? Getting into the habit of this, aren't you?"
Harry managed to smile at her, although it felt weak and forced. His heart was racing. Snape's wand was in his pocket, but Remus didn't seem to feel this would detain the Potions Master for long; he'd hurried as if they were pursued by the Furies themselves. Harry entertained, for a moment, the image of Snape as a shrieking, hell-bent vengeful spirit, and discovered there was not much difference.
"Look, Remus," Tonks was saying earnestly now, "I've done what I can. I can get you in the gate, I think, as long as you try not to look, er... suspicious..." She eyed the bags Remus was carrying, and Harry's cloth-wrapped bundle, with some anxiety. "But I dunno, past that - they've really been bolting the stable door around here."
"Anything you can do will be fine," Remus said quietly. "Shall we go?"
Tonks nodded and led the way across the Atrium. Harry wondered what Remus had told her; he only knew that they'd talked briefly with the two-way mirrors (he was starting to realise that everyone in the Order had one, although he suspected that his own had only been linked to Sirius's) and then they'd Flooed to Knockturn Alley.
Harry had thought, when he'd first found himself lost in Diagon Alley's darker twin, that it was a place in which he never wanted to set foot again. When he and Remus had emerged into a dingy bar room, however, he'd taken a certain grim satisfaction in knowing they could get what they needed here - no matter how unusual or how late the hour. They'd searched as quickly as possible for the harder-to-get items - drawing some considering looks that made Harry glad the dim light obscured his scar - and had left as soon as they could. Remus had kept his gloves on throughout; Harry had wondered, in an brief pause while they waited for service, if he wore them every time he went out. After all, sickles were solid silver, weren't they?
"It was so quiet when I was here before," he murmured now. Remus glanced sideways at him.
"Because the Death Eaters had ensured that it would be," he said gently. "Didn't you realise? They wanted to be certain you got in without interruption."
Harry felt the familiar flush of shame. Of course. The trap had been so obvious it might as well have been labelled in neon lights. And he'd still walked in open-eyed. And Sirius...
Remus's hand touched his arm briefly. He didn't speak, but Harry remembered what he'd said earlier. Okay, so it was his fault - it would always be his fault - but it would be downright arrogant to say it was all his fault. And he was not arrogant - no matter what Snape said - no matter how like his father Sirius said he was.
They had reached the wreckage of the golden gate; Tonks was speaking to a guard there. He was wearing a security wizard's robes. The man raked them over with a suspicious glance.
"I don't know," he said doubtfully. "What's in the packages?"
Harry braced himself.
"Misused Muggle artefacts," Remus said easily. "For Arthur Weasley; I think he said something about wanting to get these singing mirrors away before anyone else went deaf."
The guard took a step backwards, eyeing Harry's bundle warily. He glanced around, then finally - to Harry's deep relief - nodded.
"Misuse of Muggle Artefacts is on level one, just go up as far as the lift'll take you. Don't try to go anywhere else; there're guards all over the place, and they're kind of jumpy right now."
Nodding and thanking him pleasantly, Remus took the lead past the broken gate and towards the lifts.
"This is where it gets tricky," Tonks said in a low voice. "They've got Aurors on some of the floors - you'd be okay if you really wanted to get to Arthur's office, they don't think that's worth watching - but there's no way they're gonna let you go down." She caught hold of Remus's sleeve and tugged, rather like a child trying to get its parent's attention. "Remus, what are you doing? You know I trust you, but how do you think you're gonna get into the Department of Mysteries alone when the Order's been trying for months?"
Remus just smiled. They had reached the lifts; Harry saw Remus check behind them to see if anyone was watching.
"I need you to go up," he said to Tonks, "so that they think we all have. Harry and I will take another lift at the same time. Hopefully they'll just look at the one in the centre and miss ours completely."
Tonks opened her mouth - to protest or question, Harry didn't know which - but Remus stopped her with a gentle shake of his head.
"Please trust me," he said simply.
Tonks sighed the sigh of one much put-upon. "Okay, okay. Just... careful, okay?" Her usually cheerful face was worried. "I don't want you in Azkaban, Remus. Or..." She stopped, searching his face intently, and Harry had an idea of what she was thinking. But then she glanced at him, and seemed to decide that no-one contemplating suicide would bring a fifteen-year-old boy along to help. "Well... just be careful."
She punched the button to call the lift; a few moments later, Tonks was heading up and Harry and Remus were plunging down.
"We don't seem to have alerted anyone yet," Remus said lightly.
"Department of Mysteries," the lift chimed serenely, and the doors opened.
Harry shuddered to see the corridor that had haunted his dreams for a year. It was no longer empty, however; at the end, by the forbidding black door, were two Aurors. Their wands were out and pointing at the lift.
"State your business," said one sharply.
Harry swallowed hard. Remus looked at the two wizards for a long moment and then, to his utter shock, said calmly, "I work here."
The Aurors exchanged glances.
"You're an Unspeakable?" asked the one who'd challenged them.
"Your name?" asked the other.
Remus raised an eyebrow. "You know that's not how we operate."
The two exchanged another glance. This one was uneasy.
"We need ID of some sort..." began the first; he stopped when Remus raised his wand, carefully pointed away from the two Aurors.
Again, Harry braced himself for conflict. Remus merely murmured something he couldn't catch, however, and from the end of his wand flew a set of three golden question marks. They swirled around each other and then linked together. A small cloud of silver stars accompanied them.
Harry stared. And the Aurors, looking relieved and nervous at the same time, stepped aside.
"Many thanks," Remus said politely as he and Harry walked down the corridor. Harry tried the door; this time it was locked. Remus tapped it with his wand, and it sprang open.
It was only when the door had shut behind them and the room had finished rotating that Harry turned to Remus in bewilderment.
"How did you do that?" he demanded.
Remus was studying the many doors intently. He raised his wand and commanded, "Direct me to the Death Chamber." His wand glowed golden, spun around and indicated a door on the left.
"The same way I got the Order through the department in time to help you last week," Remus said as he walked towards the door. Harry followed, feeling like the world had fallen out from under his feet.
"I don't understand."
Remus opened the door, and Harry saw the Death Chamber waiting silently for them. The veil blew softly in an unseen breeze; knowing what it was only seemed to enhance both his fear and the fascination it held for him.
Remus let the door fall shut behind them. They stood in silence for a moment, then Remus said firmly, "Look away now, Harry."
Harry found it hard to obey, but he managed by concentrating on his unanswered questions.
"How did you know how to get us in here?" he asked. "You can't really be an Unspeakable - I know you can't."
He didn't add, because he'd seen how shabby Remus's clothes were these days, but Remus seemed to pick up on it anyway. He smiled wryly.
"No, I'm not an Unspeakable," he said. "But I was once." Harry stared at him. "It was a very long time ago - when your parents were still alive."
Remus began to walk down the tiered stone seats. Harry trailed behind, carefully averting his eyes from the archway below.
"They were getting desperate, during the first war; too many people had died, and others were scared. The Order helped me cover up what I was, and the Ministry simply didn't check it as thoroughly as they do now. The Order needed someone in the Department of Mysteries - we had our suspicions that Voldemort was trying to penetrate it."
Remus set down his bags on the dais that supported the archway. He began to take out certain things. Harry leaned the wrapped mirrors against one of the tiers and stretched out his aching arms.
"I worked here for... oh, six or seven months, I think. Not long enough to learn any of the greater Mysteries. Long enough, though, to gain certain useful knowledge for the Order; long enough to understand what they did here and to know that I wanted no part of it. Only my loyalty to Dumbledore kept me here." Remus's eyes had gone very dark. "I would've left, otherwise, long before..." He broke off.
"At any rate..." Remus took a piece of chalk and a length of string and started marking out a circle on the dais. "They found out what I was eventually. It was... not long before James and Lily..." He stopped, and started again. "Desperate or not, they weren't having a Dark Creature amongst their innermost secrets. I was lucky to escape with my life, I think; even Dumbledore couldn't have intervened without jeopardising the entire Order of the Phoenix." He looked up. "Could you help me set these runes at the cardinal points?"
Harry took the small, velvet bag and began to set out the dully gleaming metallic runes according to the diagram in the book, which Remus had propped open on the floor.
"How did you get away, then?" he asked.
"James," said Remus simply. "He threatened, argued and bullied his way in to me. He offered to vouch for my character then and in all the years he'd known me, and to take Veritaserum or anything else they had handy to prove it. Then he threatened to reveal some of what the Order had learned - the Ministry was pursuing certain questionable lines of defence at the time - if I wasn't released immediately. Then he mentioned, off-handedly, that they hadn't allowed me to eat all day and that it was a full moon that night. They didn't even stop to Memory Charm me. They revoked my authority and threw us both out, but they never removed the knowledge of the identity charm that I used to get past the guards."
Remus was now marking a series of interlocking lines inside the circle, stopping every so often to check it against the book.
"But if you could do this," Harry said slowly, "why didn't you use it to guard the prophecy...?"
Remus sighed and sat back on his heels.
"I could only do it once," he said quietly. "I couldn't even have attempted it fifteen years ago, when everyone knew I'd been fired. Now - it was luck that those Aurors were quite young. Luck that we didn't run into any real Unspeakables. I was... supposed to keep this in reserve for if we ever really needed it."
He looked up, a defiance in his eyes that made Harry really realise, for the first time, that Remus was as much a Gryffindor as his father and Sirius.
"We need it now," Harry said. "Sirius needs it."
Remus smiled tiredly. He didn't speak, but returned his attention to the chalk marks in front of him. Apparently satisfied, he began to set out small, flat candles along the rim of the circle. Harry watched silently.
"Re-- um, Prof-- um, how is it going to work?" he asked finally.
Remus nudged a candle slightly to one side and leaned back. He examined the circle critically for several seconds before answering.
"There is a short ritual," he said, looking up and pushing his hair absently out of his eyes. "It's supposed to encourage a trance state. Then there are certain charms for protection and guidance. The circle..." Remus glanced down again at the neat chalk marks in front of him, "... the circle must not be broken. It's the container for the spell; it holds open the space between for the caster."
Harry slowly walked around the circle. Remus stood up as he approached, a slightly tense look on his face.
"What do you mean," Harry asked quietly, "it 'holds it open'?"
Remus regarded him warily.
"The caster has to pass into the mirrorworld," he said.
Harry stared at him.
"The veil can only be pushed aside if someone living lifts it," Remus continued in a steady voice. "But they have to lift it from the other side. And yet, anyone who has passed the veil from this side can't manipulate it in any way. That's the paradox that prevented the ancient coven from bringing back those who had been lost."
"Then how...?" Harry began, alarm and the beginnings of anger colouring his voice. He had a sudden, horrible feeling about this.
"The witch who created the ritual found that she could dreamwalk physically into the mirror world," Remus said softly. "She was then within the space between and able to traverse it to the veil, which she could lift to allow both herself and her lover to escape. She noted that the physical distance was important: the circle has to be constructed as close to the Gate as possible, to minimise the distance once inside the mirrors."
"We're... we're going to walk into the mirror?" Harry whispered.
Remus took a deep breath.
"No. I am going to walk into the mirror. You're staying here."
Remus hadn't been expecting Harry to take that particularly well, and he was right. The boy looked as though he was about to hex him on the spot.
"You have got to be joking," Harry said in a very dangerous tone of voice.
Remus waited. Harry stared at him furiously, then took a step towards him.
"You're not leaving me here!" he shouted. "You're not going to tell me to sit out like a good boy and wait for you to come back! You're risking your life and I'm supposed to sit back and let you do it alone? No way in hell!"
"If you go in there and don't come out..." Harry trailed off, staring at the circle, then at the as yet unwrapped bundle a few paces away. "I can't..." His gaze snapped back to Remus, green fire burning in his eyes. "You're not doing it! Either we both go in there, or neither of us does!"
He raised his wand, his hand trembling. Remus didn't move. He waited, watching Harry try to get up the nerve to curse him.
"What does Sirius think about this?" Harry demanded.
"I haven't asked him."
"Well, I think we should!" Harry fumbled one-handed in his pocket and pulled out the mirror. Remus thought, momentarily, that he heard an excited rush of whispering from behind the veil. "Sirius! Sirius, tell him not to do it!"
Remus waited, as Harry's expression faltered from anger to confusion. "I don't... understand..."
Remus pulled out his own mirror and turned it so that he could see. Sirius was standing by Harry, looking even angrier than his godson. He appeared to be yelling at them both.
"I suspect," Remus said quietly, "that Sirius is forbidding either of us to enter the mirrorworld." Sirius looked at him, his eyes both furious and pleading. "My mind is made up, Padfoot," he added very softly.
"Then we're both going," Harry insisted forcefully.
"Are you ready to listen to me yet?" Remus inquired mildly.
Harry glared at him. Remus waited. Finally, the boy lowered his wand.
"The ritual can only be performed by one person," Remus said simply. "In any case, if both of us were to cross into the mirrorworld, the circle's enchantments would be stretched to their limits. There would be far greater risk of one or both of us becoming lost--"
"That can happen?" Harry interrupted urgently.
"Yes, if the guidance charms fail." Remus looked straight at him. "That's why you have to stay here, Harry. You must not let the circle be broken. If you do, I'll have no way of finding the veil."
Harry stared at him unhappily. "I... I can't..." he said finally, his voice wavering. "Please, don't make me sit out and wait - I have to do something to help find Sirius - can't I be the one who goes in?"
Remus quickly crossed the distance between them and caught hold of Harry's shoulders. He noticed absently that Harry was gaining height rapidly these days.
"You haven't got the experience," he said quietly. "It's going to take a lot of concentration even to enter the mirror. Then I have to lead Sirius to the veil - and there will be others watching - the beings of the space between. I need you to guard the circle, Harry, and to use your Patronus if the shadows find me..."
Harry looked less angry now than frightened. "Can't you--?"
"I don't think it's possible to use magic in that state," Remus finished for him. "I'll be defenceless apart from the circle's protection and anything you can do for me. Neither of us can do this alone."
Harry looked stubbornly up at him. "You're still doing the most dangerous part."
"It's mine to do."
Harry shook his head. He made no move to shake Remus's hands from his shoulders. "I should do it. It's my fault that Sirius is there."
Remus sighed and closed his eyes for a long moment.
"But I have nothing left to lose," he said finally, so quietly he almost couldn't hear it himself.
When he opened his eyes, Harry was watching him silently.
"You love him, don't you."
"Like my dad loved my mum?"
"Good," said Harry, trying hard to hide the tremor in his voice. "Then you'll bring him back."
Then, to Remus's surprise, Harry hugged him tightly. He blinked, too startled to move. Casual physical contact was something he rarely experienced - except with Sirius... except with James... - either through people's fear or his own reserved nature. He almost didn't know how to respond.
I would have been godfather to James's second child, he thought irrelevantly.
A lump in his throat, he hugged Harry back.
A moment later they stepped apart, both a little embarrassed and not sure what to say. Finally, Remus turned to the last package waiting off to one side.
"The mirrors, then," he said.
They quickly unwrapped the two mirrors. They were about as tall as Harry, oval-shaped and framed with simple wood. They were made of polished silver, and Remus had to handle them at arm's length. It was the work of a minute to set them in the places ordained by the ritual, and fix them there with support charms.
"Now what?" asked Harry quietly. His face bore a look of resolve that suited him better than anger or resentment.
"That's everything," Remus said, studying the circle. The mirrors were slightly angled; not quite opposite one another, so that their reflections formed a curving tunnel that stretched into infinity.
Remus silently held out his two-way mirror to Harry. He dared not look into it, lest Sirius do or say something to weaken his resolve. He walked over to the circle, Harry following with a lost look in his eyes.
"You'll need to stand here, facing the Gate," Remus said quietly as he stepped into the centre of the complicated design. "That way you'll be able to see into the mirrorworld - you'll be able to see me, for a while."
"For a while?"
"I'll vanish from sight as the distance increases." Remus carefully pulled off his gloves and threw them out of the circle. "It's considerably further within the mirrors."
Harry nodded. He looked at Remus's bare hands.
"Won't the mirror burn you?"
Remus took a deep breath. He raised his wand.
The candles sprang to life with clean, cold flames that marked the edge of the circle like stars fallen to earth. The small trencher of incense began to smoulder.
Harry took a step back, his eyes fixed on Remus, watching his every move closely. Remus concentrated on setting the charms that would protect him the mirrorworld and guide his steps towards the veil. The witch hadn't been sure how much protection they would really provide, but she'd done her best. He modified one or two of them with tricks he'd picked up over the years, reworking them according to his own style. He remembered Flitwick's voice, Rivane's, McGonagall's, Dumbledore's, explaining that the truly great wizards adapted magic to fit themselves, rather than following prescribed methods to the letter; he remembered Sirius laughing that he'd always wanted an excuse to improvise, James boasting that he'd always done that anyway; he himself had simply turned to books and notes and come to his own conclusions through work and thought, as he always did. The smell of incense pervaded everything, rendering the memories unusually vivid and sharp.
Remus drew the last glittering line of power in the air and threw his wand to Harry, who only just caught it.
"Don't put it in the same pocket as Snape's," he said, surprising himself with a touch of humour. "They might, er... react badly to each other."
Harry didn't smile, but Remus saw an answering glint in his eyes.
He drew in a long breath of the sweet-scented air. He closed his eyes for a moment.
When he opened them, Sirius was in the mirror. His own image stretched a thousand times around the curve of reflected reflections, himself standing back to back with himself - but Sirius appeared only once, as if he were standing in the gap between mirrors. Sirius no longer appeared angry. He looked deeply, deeply unhappy - worried - and frightened.
They stared at each other silently, trying to say everything that needed to be said without actually speaking.
Slowly, Remus drew from his pocket a long piece of soft material. He raised it to his face and bound it securely across his eyes.
"Why are you doing that?" Harry asked from his right.
"To me," Remus said quietly, "the space between will appear as a place in its own right. The guidance charms will lead me to the veil, but it would be easy to... become distracted by the reflections..." He checked that the blindfold was tightly bound and lowered his hands. "And I've no wish to test my sanity against the mirrorworld."
There was a tense, thick silence. Remus prepared himself, mind and body, for what he was about to do.
"I..." said Harry, his voice cracking. "Remus?"
"Promise you'll come back."
"I have every intention of doing so." Remus raised his head, blindly facing the mirror. "Are you ready, Sirius?"
"He nodded," Harry supplied quietly.
Remus lifted his hands towards where he thought the mirror was. One finger brushed its surface and burned; he forced himself not to jerk back from it.
"Sinite me," he said clearly, "in locum imaginum intrare."
Grant me entry to the place of echoes.
Remus was aware, around the edge of the blindfold, of light flaring all around him.
Remus stepped forward. His outstretched hands slipped through what felt like boiling acid, but beyond lay coolness, and before he had time to think about it, he plunged forward through the surface of the mirror.
Harry flinched, throwing up a hand to shield his eyes, as suddenly the two mirrors became incandescent. Through his fingers, he saw Remus step forward.
He disappeared into the mirror. The radiance died, although the candles still burned. The lines of the circle now shone with a clear, white light.
In the mirror, he could see Remus walking away. Sirius was beside him.
Then the door to the Death Chamber flew open. In an eerie echo of the events of a week ago, Harry turned in time to see Dumbledore, Mad-Eye Moody, Snape and a white-faced Tonks come racing in.
Harry raised his wand defensively.
"Harry--" began Tonks, horrified, her voice somewhere between anger and shock.
Dumbledore's ice-blue gaze took in the circle, the mirrors, the candles, and Harry standing alone. He said nothing, but held up a hand to stop the others rushing forward.
"Well, Harry?" said Dumbledore quietly.
"You're too late," Harry said, surprised by his own cool tone. "He's already gone. And if you break the circle, neither of them will ever come back."
Chapter 8: Orpheus
I will follow her on her path
Scarlet's Walk through the violets
just tell your gods from me
all debts are off this year
they're free to leave...
- 'Scarlet's Walk', Tori Amos
He'd expected darkness, but he was aware of light.
He couldn't really see it as such - he'd taken care to choose a blindfold that would block out everything around him - but the edges of his vision told him that he was surrounded by brilliance.
Remus wondered, with a curiosity that he quickly subdued, what he would see if he removed the cloth. A glittering white world? A thousand thousand mirrors? A plain of diamonds under a star-studded sky?
He drew breath, and the air was cold in his lungs. It felt good on his skin, which still smarted and stung from contact with the silver mirror. He probably looked like he'd suffered particularly bad sunburn.
There was no answer.
Remus fought back fear. He held out both his hands in front of him, a blind man feeling his way. "Sirius, are you there? Touch me - take my hand."
Silence. He felt nothing, save for the kiss of a cold breeze on his fingers.
Remus resisted the urge to tear off the blindfold and look around wildly. Had something gone wrong? Was he already lost? Was Sirius lost? Had he been unable to follow? Had he been attacked?
He took a deep breath, fighting for calm. He had only been able to see Sirius's reflection in the mirror, not hear or touch him. Perhaps the same was true here. Perhaps, if he were to remove the blindfold, he'd see Sirius standing in front of him.
And perhaps it would be the last thing I ever saw, he thought grimly, squashing the part of him that wondered if the ancient witch been over-cautious in her instructions. The blindfold remains. I have to trust Sirius to stay with me. I have to trust Harry to protect us both. I have to trust in the woman who showed me the way.
"I... assume you can hear me, then," he said after a moment. "Sirius... stay close to me. Follow me, don't stray away, not even if something happens - especially if anything happens. The protective charms will only work for you if you stay by my side. Do you understand?"
There was no answer.
It was one of the hardest things he'd ever done, to step forward into unknown space. His feet were aware of a surface - flat, even, neither rough nor slippery - but he had the unreasoning fear that his next step would find only emptiness, that he would fall. He took another step anyway. He kept his hands out in front of him. He hoped against hope that he would feel the veil at his fingertips, but he knew that he would have to walk further than this to reach it.
Remus began to walk with a little more confidence, but the creeping uneasiness didn't leave him. The ground remained solid beneath his feet, and he couldn't sense any walls or other obstacles around him, but with every step he felt as though there was someone just in front of him - someone with whom he would surely collide - like there was a crowd of people all around him - people who moved back just before he stepped forward...
Remus's breathing had become ragged. He struggled to regulate it, trying not to wonder whether he'd even know if one of the inhabitants of this place found him. Would he feel cold air on the back of his neck? Hear a whispering of its approach? Or would there be nothing until its ghostly fingers closed around his soul...
He shuddered. His steps faltered; he had to pause for a second. The blindness was paralysing. He couldn't hear anything - not even his own footsteps - only his breathing and the beat of his heart. His hands rose to touch the blindfold.
If I take it off, he thought, I will never find the veil, I will never leave this place, and I will never see Sirius again.
His hands fell back to his sides. They clenched into fists as he began to walk steadily forward again. He had never learned Occlumency, but he'd always been good at disciplining himself and his mind. Sirius had found it incomprehensible at school. Moony, he'd say, I know you're a chocoholic; you've always got some on you somewhere. So how can you sit there and eat only a quarter of that bar? And Remus would take the not-too-veiled hint and offer the rest to his three friends, who'd gleefully consume it, and he'd reflect that a quarter of a bar always tasted better than the whole one would have done.
What if Sirius can't see me?
Remus tried to remember exactly what the book had said, but there had been so many pages of painstaking research, so many speculations or dead-end avenues of inquiry, that he'd skimmed most of it and concentrated only on the final results. He was sure it had said that Sirius would be able to follow him out. Wasn't that what it had said? Had it mentioned a beacon of some kind? Was he doing this for nothing?
'...all your doubts...'
Remus half-wanted to turn back, but he knew that there was no way out for him unless he found his way to the Gateway. He drew a shaky breath. Maybe he'd done the wrong thing. Everything had just... spiralled out of hand. He should have been more cautious with Snape. He should have let Harry go home and planned this out more carefully, experimented on his own, made sure that he knew everything about what he was going into...
And in my hesitation, Sirius would have been lost, I know he would. Just like if I'd waited to call Dumbledore that night, God knows what Sirius and Harry might have done to each other; he'd already broken Ron's leg and Harry was so angry...
The memory was still vivid, of the moment when he'd burst into the bedroom of the Shrieking Shack, the agonising hour that had followed as he tried to keep control of a situation that seemed ever on the brink of disaster.
The analogy was flawed, of course. If he had waited a little longer - or if he'd hesitated and taken the Map with him - things might have been quite different. Sirius might have been cleared that night.
He'd been walking for a while now. He had no sense of approaching anything, no sense of being guided. Had the charms on the circle failed? Was he going completely the wrong way?
A sudden breeze rippled over his skin. He tensed, fearful. Was that something--? Was something coming--?
'...all your fears...'
Except now he thought he could hear something. Whispers. Voices. Right beside him, but too soft to comprehend. Remus desperately wanted to tear off the cloth over his eyes, to see who was whispering - his skin crawled with the certainty that they were right there, right beside him - and he placed one foot in front of the other and took another step.
What if it was all a trick?
Remus kept walking, but an icy sensation had begun to trickle through his veins. For the first time, it occurred to him to wonder whence Snape had obtained the book that had brought him here.
How very convenient, he realised with the beginnings of real fear, that a book that just so happens to contain the instructions for entering the mirrorworld should fall into the hands of someone desperate enough to try it.
Had Snape done it deliberately? No - he thought the shock when Snape had realised that Remus intended to go after Sirius had been unfeigned. Yet how could it be coincidence - how could the book have been in just exactly the right place at the right time?
Unless, thought Remus, it was he and Harry who had been in the right place in the right time, for someone - or something - else.
Which meant that maybe there was no way out. Which meant that maybe he couldn't trust what he'd read. Which meant that maybe blinding himself had been the stupidest thing he could do.
Remus fumbled with the blindfold.
Then he pulled his hands away roughly and half-ran a few steps forward, until he felt himself losing his balance and was forced to slow down.
"I'm not going to look," he said aloud, hearing his own voice fall flat and unechoing among the whispers. "No matter what."
"And I will get out of here," he added. "Sirius? We're going to find a way back. Harry's waiting."
'...all your darknesses...'
What if Harry wasn't the only one waiting? What if Voldemort was aware of them, and sat patiently as Remus stumbled into his web, bringing Sirius with him...
Was Sirius even following?
Remus resisted the urge to call his name again. There would be no answer - and the whispers seemed to surge a little more eagerly around him as he continued to move forward. He'd been walking for days - months - years, it seemed.
Was there no way out after all?
Was Sirius there? Beloved Sirius, with strong hands and strong heart and long black hair so good to touch, warmth in the night and laughter, flashes of the boy he'd been - so many things they'd never confronted in their year of stolen time - so many things lying unforgotten, unforgiven, unspoken between them.
He was doing this for Sirius. And for Harry, lost and determined and stubborn in the Department of Mysteries. And for himself; for the aching, desperate part of him that couldn't let Sirius go, not again, not again...
'...all your pain...'
"I know where I'm not welcome."
"Moony, wait, I didn't mean--"
"Don't. Just... don't. I've had enough."
"You're just going to walk out? That's your solution? Damn it, Moony, get back here! Come back!"
He flinched from the memory. It unfurled itself so clearly he could all but hear Sirius's voice, loud and angry and guilty - but never guilty enough, that was the problem, never quite sorry enough...
"Have you even spoken to him?"
"No, James, I haven't. We can't seem to talk without it turning into an argument."
"Hey - you don't have to snap at me."
"Sorry... I'm sorry. I just... don't know what's happening..."
"I know... I know. Look, Remus... even I don't pretend to understand the inner workings of Sirius's mind - but if it's your job that's causing this--"
"No - I know that's what he says, but... I don't know. He won't... talk to me... But I can't leave the Department - we need what I'm learning - Dumbledore said only the other day that--"
"Look, Moony, I know what you think of that place. You've learned some useful stuff, but-- look, Dumbledore's a great man. I admire him, I always have. But sometimes he... forgets that not everyone's a hundred and twelve..."
"Closer to a hundred and forty."
"... whatever - a hundred and forty with no living relatives..."
"He has Aberforth."
"Does he count? Moony, the point is that we're twenty years old. We have families, we have people we care about - you and Sirius have--"
He stopped suddenly. He could hear James's voice saying his name - hear it so clearly that for a second he thought...
There was no answer. He shuddered, wrapping his arms around himself as if to ward off a chill. He tried to stop thinking - to remember long days in the summer, climbing cliffs to find hidden caves - but in his head swam the memory of the Department of Mysteries, Harry asking, How did you get away, then? and his own answer, James...
"Are you okay? Moony? Say something... They didn't-- mistreat you, did they?"
"No... I'm okay. Just... shocked, I suppose."
"You'd better come back to our place..."
"I can't. Full moon. I wouldn't want to risk Lily or Harry..."
"Then I'll come back with you to yours."
"No, you should be with your family--"
"You are my family. You and Sirius and Peter are my family too. We promised you weren't going to be alone anymore. If I'm the only one who keeps that promise, then so be it."
"Peter can't get away easily--"
"I know. I wasn't thinking of him."
"Don't be angry with Sirius, James. He was right, wasn't he? There is a spy somewhere. There was no way the Ministry could've found out about me otherwise. Someone had to have tipped them off. I'd better talk to him... he'll want to know-- James? What is it?"
"What... what is it?"
"Sirius told them."
He tried to focus on the present. He'd heard snatches of these conversations before - on a train, outside a school, in a forest, in his garden on a summer night - but he couldn't seem to recall why. For a second a clear, autumn-tinted memory swam into view... a classroom, pale sunlight, a thirteen-year-old boy pleading wordlessly for assurance that he was no coward... his own voice, explaining, "It has nothing to do with weakness... they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them... you'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life..."
Then the boy's green eyes became hazel, full of a hard fury directed not at him but at another whom they both loved - and his own anger mixed with betrayal - bitter the second time, even more bitter than it had been the first, all your promises of never again were for nothing, Sirius, and now you've used me twice...
He stood rooted to the spot. He remembered what he'd said to Sirius afterward - what Sirius had said in reply - remembered that no matter how he shouted and hated and said things he didn't mean, he couldn't get Sirius to tell him why he'd done it. He remembered James, distracted by fear for his wife and son, not realising that Sirius had stopped telling Remus when and where they'd be meeting; James not knowing that Sirius was lying when he said Remus had other things to do.
"I think he thought he was acting for the best, Remus... some of the things you found out were being leaked - maybe he thought it'd stop the spy if you weren't in the Department of Mysteries anymore..."
"It wasn't his decision, Lily, and you know it."
"I know. But... you know what he's like..."
"Yes. I do."
"I didn't mean it that way, Remus."
"But it's true nonetheless. And I know Dumbledore agrees with me - I know he doesn't want you to use Sirius as your Secret Keeper."
"James and I trust him with our lives!"
"I wouldn't if I were you, Lily. He's careless with other people's secrets."
He tried to draw breath, but the air was cold and hurt his lungs. There were whispers all around him - the feeling of something drawing near. He was dizzy - he couldn't keep his balance - he couldn't see to defend himself - frantically, he reached for the blindfold to tear it from his face.
As if from far away, he heard the cantering of hooves. Suddenly the chill receded. The whispers faded into silence. Remus put out a hand uncertainly and felt - for a second - what could have been the smoothness of a stag's antler brush the skin of his palm.
Harry, he thought, and awareness of where he was returned in a rush.
Badly shaken, Remus started to walk as quickly as he could without tripping himself. He'd become so lost in his own dark memories that he'd all but forgotten what he was supposed to be doing. Even Dementors had never affected him this strongly - he'd always found something to cling to against the dark.
He wished he could see how much further there was to go. He wished he could see Sirius. Just one glimpse of Sirius's face - encouraging or worried or loving or afraid - would be enough.
He stepped firmly on the temptation. If he was this susceptible with his eyes covered, he dared not imagine what he would suffer with them open.
It couldn't be much further, he decided. He must be almost out of sight to Harry in the mirrors - his Patronus had barely reached Remus in time, and he shuddered again at the thought - which meant that he'd rounded the infinity-curve of their reflections. If the book was right then he was almost there.
If the book was right.
No, he thought firmly, and this time he could remember clearly the day he'd promised to teach Harry the Patronus Charm, could remember the lessons, later, and the things he'd taught. He repeated them to himself now, lessons that he recalled learning himself from his own Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. He'd been older than Harry, of course, because he'd had no such pressing need for protection, but he'd found it much more difficult to master the charm. Not because of a lack of skill - he'd simply found it so very, very hard, at that precise time in his life, to bring to mind a memory with the necessary force to repel a Dementor.
It couldn't be much further now.
Was Sirius still following him?
His outstretched fingertips touched ragged, rough cloth.
Remus held his breath. Slowly, he gathered the material into his hand. He could feel the hang of it - the way it fell heavily from an unseen support - and he fancied he could sense warmth on the other side.
He drew back the veil, and hesitated.
"Can you... can you walk past me, and out?" he asked the air. There was no response. He didn't feel Sirius pass him by. He didn't hear anything from the other side of the Gateway - Harry wasn't calling a welcome, Sirius wasn't shouting that he was through - he couldn't hear anything except the breeze and the whispers and the cool air rushing past him into the warmth beyond.
"Sirius?" he whispered.
His fingers clenched on the coarse fabric. One step would bring him back to the world; it could also trap Sirius here forever. There was no way back, once he'd left the mirrorworld. Not without repeating the ritual, and he knew in his heart that he'd never have another chance at it. If he left the mirrorworld now, and Sirius wasn't with him... Remus's heart bled at the thought.
But what could he do? Sirius could already have gone through, or he could be waiting for Remus himself to go forward - or he might not be there at all.
Remus let the veil drop back into place. There was no other way. He had to take off the blindfold, to see if Sirius was still with him - he could resist the confusion of the mirrorworld for a few seconds, couldn't he? He had to, or walk out of this place to which there was no returning. And if he left without Sirius...
Remus fumbled with the knot at the back of his head. He couldn't take the chance that Sirius wasn't following him.
"There all his toil was spilt and the treaty broken with that merciless monarch; and thrice a thunder pealed over the pools of Avernus."
His fingers stilled. The words echoed in his head in Sirius's voice. Remus had been translating the story of Orpheus and Eurydice from Latin. Sirius had picked up one sheet of parchment in curiosity and begun to read, his voice shifting from amused parody, to surprise, to genuine appreciation of the words. What treaty? he'd asked, and Remus had started to tell him how Orpheus had bargained with Hades for his lover's life, and halfway through Sirius had stopped him and read it for himself, aloud, his voice sending shivers down Remus's spine. And then he'd glanced up and blinked and asked why Remus was looking at him like that...
Slowly, Remus stretched out his hand until it found the veil again. He took hold of the fabric, drew it aside.
"Surely he was to be forgiven," he said aloud, stung anew by the cold irony of the words, "if only Death knew forgiveness."
Death had not forgiven Orpheus his weakness.
Remus closed his eyes and felt hot tears spill from beneath the lids.
He stepped forward.
For a second he still held the veil; then he let it drop--
--and there were hands tearing off his blindfold, and voices, and warmth and candlelight and--
Sirius flung away the cloth that had covered his eyes, and Remus had a dizzying, chaotic glimpse of the darkened Death Chamber through a lens of tears. Then Sirius had flung his arms around him, tight enough to bruise bone. For a moment, Remus was too dazed to react. Then everything came back into focus - the unreality of the echoworld dropped away - and he realised that he had succeeded.
"Idiot," Sirius was gasping through tears, shaking him. "Idiot, idiot, idiot, what were you thinking?"
Remus didn't even try to answer; he simply caught Sirius's face in both hands and kissed him. Sirius made a small sound that was half-sob, half-moan, and his hands tightened convulsively on the material of Remus's robes. For a few moments Remus was blind again - blinded by scent and warmth and an overwhelming, unbearable joy - and all he could see or breathe was Sirius.
There were others in the Chamber, of course - others who'd need words and explanations and apologies - but just for one moment, they didn't matter.
Chapter 9: Regardless of Warnings
The waiting had been even worse than Harry had imagined.
The others in the room had finally fallen silent when he'd used his Patronus; since then, no-one had tried to ask him any questions. He'd lost sight of Remus in the mirrors. He'd moved around so that the circle was behind him, the arch before him. All there was left to do was watch the veil and wait.
The circle flared so brightly that it must have blinded the others - he heard their exclamations - and its harsh light cast the archway into sharp relief. For a split second Harry thought he could see a white, bright world of mirrors stretching out behind - behind Remus, as he stepped out, behind Sirius, as his godfather rushed forward.
The light died so suddenly that the Death Chamber seemed dark. Harry had to blink hard several times to see again, and by the time he did so, Sirius had torn off Remus's blindfold and the two were embracing.
Behind him, Harry heard Tonks make a small noise not unlike a choked-off sob. Moody swore loudly. Snape gave an involuntary hiss between his teeth. Harry heard no sound from Dumbledore.
Then Sirius was swinging around, one arm still around Remus - whose face Harry saw was white and wet with tears - as he cast around like a dog after a scent.
Harry wanted to say something, but he couldn't seem to speak. His throat had closed up and his eyes were prickling dangerously. That was stupid, he thought. Sirius was here - Sirius was alive - there was no need to cry - right?
But speech didn't seem all that necessary a second later, because Sirius had hauled him into a bone-cracking hug and Harry found, to his considerable annoyance, that he was going to cry anyway regardless of how stupid it was. He wondered fleetingly if his father had ever cried, and if Sirius had supported him then.
"I'm sorry," he blurted out, ridiculously glad that his face was being crushed against Sirius's shoulder. "I'm sorry. About everything. I should've worked harder at Occlumency. I should've used the mirror to check you were okay. I should've--"
"No." Sirius's voice was unusually shaky. "Not your fault. I should've told you the truth, and I shouldn't've let Snape get to me, and I should've been more careful..."
There was a moment's silence before Harry, feeling he could lift his head without shaming himself, stepped back a way and grinned shakily at Sirius. "I'm so glad you're okay."
Sirius grinned back, and Harry saw, as he sometimes did, the flash of that boy who'd been his father's best friend and the handsomest student in the school. The thought reminded him to glance sideways; Remus was watching them, still standing a few paces from the veil, smiling. His eyes met Harry's for a second and Harry suddenly felt less embarrassed about his tears.
Then Remus frowned, no longer looking at either Harry or Sirius, but past them. Harry turned to follow his gaze. Dumbledore and the others were hovering a few paces away, watching with looks ranging from shocked (Tonks) to thoughtful (Moody) to furious (Snape, of course), but Remus didn't appear to be looking at them.
"Remus?" asked Sirius from behind Harry, concern in his voice.
"Who are they?"
Harry and Sirius exchanged confused looks.
"Who, Remus?" Dumbledore replied softly.
Remus blinked and looked sharply around the room, shaking his head as if trying to clear his sight. "There were--"
Remus stopped. Sirius quickly walked over to him, Harry hard on his heels. Sirius reached out to touch the other man's arm, slinging an arm protectively around Harry's shoulders at the same time.
"Are you okay, Remus?" Tonks asked worriedly.
"There were people sitting on the tiers of seats," Remus replied, sounding unsettled. "Hundreds and hundreds of them, in robes and hoods..."
"Can you see them now?" asked Dumbledore. His voice was as quiet and calm as always, but Harry saw that his eyes were intent on Remus.
"No." Remus shook his head one last time, casting an almost apologetic glance at Sirius. He straightened himself slightly, looking at the four on the other side of the circle with a hint of defiance. "I take it you know what I did."
"We," Harry corrected loudly. Remus wasn't going to cover up for him this time. He felt Sirius's hand tighten on his shoulder in approval.
"We," echoed Remus, with a hint of a smile.
"Yes," said Dumbledore mildly. "Severus has - ah - informed me of the details."
Harry heard Sirius snort softly. He glanced over at Snape, who looked utterly livid, and suspected the 'information' had been more along the lines of a lengthy tirade.
There was a brief, awkward silence. Harry found himself bracing for a conflict. Once he would have expected praise from Dumbledore, but now - he couldn't help wondering if they would receive condemnation. He couldn't forget some of the things the Headmaster had said about Sirius. He couldn't help the raw, rebellious feeling that they were no longer on the same side.
From the way Sirius had tensed at his side, and the way Remus had lifted his head in challenge, he wasn't the only one.
Dumbledore looked at them. For a moment he looked sad - then, slowly, a smile bloomed on his old, crinkled face.
"Sirius," he said, walking forward and holding out his hands, "welcome back."
Sirius hesitated only for a moment before disentangling himself from Remus and Harry, and gripping Dumbledore's hands firmly in his own. Something seemed to pass between them that Harry was not privy to - some understanding or memory - because suddenly Sirius was grinning, and Remus had relaxed almost imperceptibly, and Harry no longer felt that he should be reaching for his wand.
Then Tonks had rushed forward to hug Sirius, Moody was stumping over to berate Remus for going off without backup, and Snape was pointedly staying as far back as he could without actually leaving the room. Dumbledore caught Harry's eye and held it. Then he turned his head to regard the others - Sirius had pried Tonks off him, only to watch in some amusement as she subjected Remus to similar attention - and cleared his throat softly.
The beginnings of conversation died away.
"I am afraid we will have to delay the inevitable questions for the moment." Dumbledore glanced once at the door. "It is imperative that we leave without you being seen, Sirius."
Sirius's face darkened. "More hiding?"
Dumbledore shook his head, looking now both tired and old. "No, Sirius. No, even I may learn from my mistakes, if you will believe it. But the Ministry knows of your supposed 'death', and should they discover that you had returned from beyond the veil..."
"... the Department of Mysteries wouldn't let you go," Remus murmured.
Dumbledore nodded. "It would be easier if you could assume your Animagus form."
Sirius shrugged. "Alright. Then what?"
"We will travel by Floo to Hogwarts; the fireplaces are no longer being watched by the Ministry."
Sirius stepped back from Harry and Remus. There was a long pause. Sirius's expression changed from casual indifference to surprise, and then to fear.
"I-- I can't do it," he said finally.
They stared at him.
"Maybe you're just out of practice--"
Sirius shook his head. "It's not something you forget, Harry. I can't do it. It's... it's gone."
Remus was by his side in a second; he didn't throw his arms around him, Harry noticed, he was just there, taking Sirius's hand, supporting him in a way that went beyond mere physical contact. "Try again."
Sirius closed his eyes this time. There was a longer pause. His fingers tightened on Remus's. Then he growled in frustration.
When he opened his eyes they held a lost look. Harry stood helplessly wishing he could do something. For as long as he'd known his godfather, the big, black, shaggy dog had been a part of him. The idea of Sirius without Padfoot was unthinkable.
"It's probably temporary--" Remus was murmuring, although he didn't sound sure enough for reassurance.
"Undoubtedly," Dumbledore said. Sirius looked at him with the beginnings of hope in his eyes. "It is likely a side-effect of losing and regaining corporeal form." Harry fleetingly wished Hermione was present to translate. "The ability may return with time, or you may need to relearn it - a feat not beyond the grasp of one who achieved it at fifteen."
Sirius appeared unconvinced, but he nodded anyway.
"We must remove the evidence of what you have done here," Dumbledore continued briskly. "The circle, the mirrors - where on earth did you find a pair of silver mirrors at this time of night, Remus?" The Headmaster's eyes where twinkling.
Remus did not respond, however, and Harry turned to look at his former teacher in confusion. He was staring across the room at the tiered seats surrounding them.
"Remus?" Sirius echoed. Harry noticed that he was still holding Remus's hand, but the latter didn't seem to be aware of it. "Remus, are you okay?"
Remus shivered and dragged his gaze away from whatever he had been looking at. "I--"
His eyes widened and a flash of pure fear crossed his face.
"Remus?" Harry tried not to sound as worried as he felt.
Remus looked at him for half a second, as if he was going to answer. Then, as suddenly as a winter sunset, he collapsed.
Sirius just about caught him, but the unexpected weight threw him off balance and they both fell. Harry jumped forward, too late to do anything but drop to his knees beside Sirius, who struggled to sit up with Remus in his arms.
"What happened?" Harry asked frantically.
"I don't know." Sirius was lifting Remus carefully, checking the other man's breathing. "He just - I don't know what happened." He sounded as panicky as Harry felt.
Harry was aware of Dumbledore beside him, quietly suggesting that he move back, but all he could take in was how very pale Remus's face was, and how exhausted he looked. "I shouldn't have let him go in there..." he mumbled helplessly.
Sirius shook the unconscious man once. "Moony, snap out of it!"
Remus didn't stir. Dumbledore was giving orders in a sharp, clear tone that he rarely used, and Tonks and Moody were hurrying to obey them. Harry fumbled in his pocket and pulled out Remus's wand.
"What about this, will it help?"
Sirius took the wand without looking at it, obviously not really paying attention. "Come on, Remus, you've never been the fainting type..."
"For Merlin's sake, Black," came Snape's voice, suddenly close, as he knelt stiffly beside them, "I doubt your voice alone is enough to rouse him." The Potions Master turned his glare on Harry. "My wand, Potter, if you would be so good."
Harry shoved a hand into his other pocket, took out the wand and handed it over with barely a second glance. Snape snorted irritably, made a show of checking it for damage, and peremptorily ordered Sirius, "Let go of him, I doubt he will vanish into thin air."
Sirius very reluctantly obeyed, shifting so that Remus was lying on the floor with his head in Sirius's lap. It would have been touching, how Sirius kept a hold of his hand and brushed his hair back from his face, if Harry hadn't been too worried to pay attention.
Snape lifted Remus's wrist as he had done earlier that day, scowled, and raised his wand.
Nothing happened. Snape hissed softly. He drew a vial out of his robe pocket, full of the same golden liquid he had prepared in Remus's kitchen. He handed it to Sirius, saying tersely, "A couple of drops in his mouth."
The potion elicited no more response than the spell. Harry could see Tonks out of the corner of his eye, peering worriedly over Snape's head. Dumbledore was talking quietly to Moody behind her.
Snape shook his head. He scrutinised Sirius with dislike. "I did warn him."
Sirius lifted his head slowly to lock eyes with the Potions Master. Harry's hand tightened instinctively around his wand, but all Sirius did was hold the gaze for a few heartbeats.
"Yes, you did," he said, and looked back at Remus's still face.
"We must leave at once," Dumbledore interrupted quietly. "As travel by Floo is now impossible, I shall be providing an alternative. Sirius, can you carry Remus?"
Sirius carefully pulled Remus's still form against him and slowly got to his feet. "Yes."
"Excellent." Harry noticed, as he jumped to his feet, that Dumbledore was holding the trencher Remus had used to burn the incense. He now laid it on the ground, pointed his wand at it and said, "Portus."
The trencher flashed with the familiar blue of a Portkey.
"Alastor and Tonks will remain here to, ah, 'cover our tracks'," Dumbledore continued. "I believe that Remus should be removed to Poppy's care immediately." He hesitated. "It would be prudent for Harry to return to his relatives..."
Anger rose up so quickly that it almost took Harry by surprise. "You can't make me go--"
"I'm not letting him out of my sight--" Sirius began loudly at the same moment.
Dumbledore held up a hand.
"... but recent events have convinced me that the prudent course is not always the best." He smiled sadly. "Therefore I suggest that we all adjourn to Hogwarts immediately."
Mollified, Harry glanced at Sirius, who tried to smile and failed rather miserably. Harry stepped closer and took hold of Sirius's arm, turning to look at Dumbledore. Snape, with every sign of immense distaste, also placed one hand on Sirius's shoulder. Dumbledore levitated the Portkey with his wand, laid his other hand on Harry's arm, and nodded to Snape.
Snape took hold of the trencher, and Harry closed his eyes as the Death Chamber vanished around him. He hoped he never had to see it again.
Sirius was jolted from his uneasy doze by the click of the door shutting. He sat upright hurriedly, blinking sleep from his eyes, and found himself looking at a pyjama-clad Harry.
"I couldn't sleep," his godson explained. He padded barefoot across the hospital wing and hesitated an arm's length from the bed. "Is he...?"
"Still nothing." Sirius rubbed at the crick in his neck, a side-effect of falling asleep in the chair. "Snape was by a couple of hours ago, though. He reckons Remus'll wake up of his own accord."
Harry, who had been pulling a chair over for himself, stopped at that. He frowned. "Did he try-- you know..."
"Yeah." Sirius scowled. He hadn't much liked the idea of Snape using his legilimency skills on Remus, but when it came down to a choice between his dislike of Snape and Remus's health, there was no contest. "Said he thinks it's a reaction to being in the space between for an extended time."
Harry nodded, his gaze turning back to where Remus lay, alarmingly pale and silent, in the hospital bed. "Oh."
Sirius regarded his godson. They'd talked briefly when they'd arrived yesterday, before exhaustion had intervened. Then, when Sirius awakened, he'd been worried about Remus, and somehow he hadn't gotten around to checking on Harry. The boy still looked tired, and the lingering traces of grief darkened his eyes, but a lot of the anger that had weighed him down over the past year had gone.
"What about you?" Sirius asked abruptly, leaning forward in the chair with his elbows on his knees. "Are you alright?"
Harry blinked. "Yeah. I'm fine." A note of bitterness crept into his voice. "I didn't even go beyond the veil."
Sirius grimaced. Harry was far too keen to blame himself. That had never been a trait of James's, or even Lily's - in fact, it was eerily like Remus's attitude to the world - and Sirius could only think that he'd learned it during too many years as the Dursleys' unwanted nephew.
"It's not your fault," he said now, hoping he could convince Harry. "It was his choice. And I'm going to chew him out for it when he wakes up, don't worry." Sirius ventured a smile, which his godson half-heartedly returned. "Well, you know, when I'm done owing him my life, my soul and my eternal devotion."
The smile this time was more genuine. Then Harry looked away.
"I'm so glad you're back."
Sirius hesitated, wondering if he would embarrass his godson, but finally he decided that the boy had simply not had enough hugs in his life, and stood up to rectify the situation. As expected, Harry put up a brief show of embarrassment, before suddenly hugging his godfather back as fiercely as a brother.
"I'm glad you didn't leave me there," Sirius said, feeling uncharacteristically emotional and hoping he wasn't going to start weeping all over Harry. It would probably scar the boy for life, he thought, letting go of him. "Both of you."
Harry scrubbed at his eyes, which were suspiciously wet, and Sirius studied the floor in an attempt to regulate his own emotions.
"Like we would," Harry muttered in a roughened voice.
"Still." Sirius managed a grin. "Thanks."
There was a brief silence.
"He's going to be okay, isn't he?" asked Harry softly, with all the helplessness in his voice that Sirius was struggling to subdue.
"He'd damned well better be, or I'll..." Sirius broke off, staring at Remus's closed eyes and lined face. "I don't know what I'd do," he finished, with more honesty than he'd intended.
"Um." Harry was looking at Remus too, although Sirius got the impression that he wasn't really looking at the man so much as staring into space just past him. "You and him. You're--?"
You love him, don't you?
Sirius drew a breath. Somehow he'd forgotten that he needed to talk to Harry about this.
"Yeah," he said. That didn't seem like enough, somehow. He decided to elaborate. "I love him."
That had come out sounding more sentimental than he'd meant it, but Harry didn't seem uncomfortable. In fact, he looked almost wistful.
"Is it... is this a new thing?"
"No." Sirius looked at his hands, lacing his fingers together. "I fell for him in fifth year, I think. It took a while after that for us to get around to talking about it, but..."
He looked up at Harry, who was listening silently.
"We were together through the last couple of years of school, and he moved into my flat when we left," Sirius continued, encouraged by Harry's wordless acceptance. "Then things started going wrong - everything was so dark, so bleak - it all got tangled up with the war and I was stupid enough to think Remus was the spy."
The pain was dull with age, but it flared up again. He firmly put it back in its box where it belonged.
"But... it's okay now?" Harry asked, sounding for all the world like a child who'd caught his parents arguing.
"Yeah." Sirius glanced again at Remus. "It's okay. It's... more than okay."
There was a brief, companionable silence.
"Did my dad know?"
Sirius smiled then, remembering. "Oh, yes. Before we did, I think. And your mum worked it out. I reckon most of our friends knew, to be honest, but we never said anything, so neither did they. Lily used to tease us, though. I remember at their wedding, she covered us both with red and gold glitter, said we'd have to make do with it instead of confetti."
"The only person we actually came out and told was James," Sirius added, recalling the wicked glint in glass-shielded hazel eyes. "And he already knew, the bastard, and just sat there and let me tie myself in knots trying to say it. Then he said - what did he say?" He frowned. "Damn."
"I believe it was something along the lines of, 'about bloody time, now have you done the Charms homework?'" Remus interjected sleepily from the bed.
He opened his eyes and smiled at their shock. "Have I been asleep for long? I seem to have missed some interesting conversation--"
And after that he didn't say much at all, as he was forcibly hugged from both sides at once.
"I feel fine, Severus, really," Remus was protesting as Sirius shut the door behind him.
"Nonetheless," Snape responded smoothly, "sleep would be of the most benefit to you now."
"You're starting to sound like Poppy," Remus muttered. Madame Pomfrey, who was checking Remus over from the other side, glared at him sternly for the comment. Sirius caught a glimpse of Harry's grin and Remus's conspiratorial wink, and moved further into the room to attract their attention.
Remus looked over at him hopefully. "Did you find any?"
Sirius placed the small tin of tea-leaves on the bedside table. "It would've been easier just to ask the house-elves to brew some."
"It doesn't taste the same," Remus complained wistfully.
Snape snorted gracelessly and turned away from the bed, while Remus busied himself with the small kettle and teapot they'd found for him. Sirius glared briefly at Snape - who didn't deign to notice - and pulled up a chair next to Harry.
"Sure you don't want to go to bed?" he asked, knowing full well what Harry's answer would be. Still, he felt that it was the godfatherly thing to do.
"No way," Harry answered promptly.
Sirius shrugged, caught Remus's eye, and grinned at the two people who mattered most to him in the world.
The door opened again, admitting a beaming Albus Dumbledore.
"Remus," he said cheerfully, "how good to see you awake. No problems, Poppy?"
Madame Pomfrey huffed irritably - reluctant as ever to see her patients 'over-excited' - and gave Remus one last cursory sweep with her sharp eyes. "He'll be alright, at least physically."
She shot a look at Snape, whose mouth twitched.
"I can find no mental instability."
"And I feel fine, incidentally," Remus put in mildly as he lifted the lid of the teapot to check it had steeped. "Tea, anyone?"
"That would be delightful," Dumbledore replied. He took out his wand and conjured himself a squashy, luridly purple chair to sit on; another flick brought milk, sugar and a set of china teacups to Remus's bedside table.
"Ah. Thank you." Remus began to pour tea into the cups with the ease of long practice.
Sirius watched the exchange in some bemusement - Remus and Dumbledore might as well have been enjoying a summer tea party for all the indication they gave that anything was out of the ordinary - and nodded when Remus glanced at him questioningly. He'd never been a big fan of tea, it was true, but sometime during their schooldays he'd gotten into the habit of drinking whatever Remus was offering, out of some half-acknowledged scheme to attract his attention.
Sirius glanced around - at Harry, who was regarding his cup of tea as if it held the answers to life, the universe and everything - at Dumbledore, who was watching Remus rather more carefully than his words had suggested - and at Remus himself, who was stirring sugar into his tea with an endearing concentration. He reflected that not more than two weeks ago this calm scene, lit by the clean, clear light of a summer morning, had seemed utterly out of reach. The Ministry had been denying Voldemort's existence, Dumbledore had been ousted from Hogwarts, and Sirius himself had been trapped in the hellhole that liked to pretend it was their headquarters.
Perhaps it had been worth falling through the veil to gain this, Sirius thought. Then he remembered the look on Remus's face and the darkness in Harry's eyes when he'd watched them from the space between. Or perhaps not, he amended, and wondered what he'd ever done to deserve the love of these two people.
Sirius sipped his tea. It was too hot, but he relished the sensation of the scalding liquid that burned the back of his throat. He'd been too long without touch.
"Severus?" Remus queried, holding up the teapot.
Snape, who was lurking a little way back from the bed, gave him a scathing look. Remus hesitated - Sirius had a feeling he wanted to apologise (yet again) for tying him up - then turned to Madame Pomfrey instead.
"Not at the moment, dear." She had been consulting some sort of chart, which she now tucked under her arm. "I'll be back in half an hour," she added warningly, looking at both Dumbledore and Sirius. "He's not to over-exert himself."
She bustled off, leaving Remus with a slightly chagrined expression.
"I might as well be fourteen again," he muttered, and Sirius had to swallow his tea hastily so that he could laugh at the affronted tone of voice.
"This is most excellent tea, Remus." Dumbledore returned his cup to its saucer and placed it carefully on thin air, where it remained. "Now. Do you have any idea what caused your collapse?"
Remus shook his head slowly. "I don't know. I just remember seeing - something..." He trailed off.
"What did you see?" asked Dumbledore quietly.
"People - figures in robes. Just for a second, before I fell."
The Headmaster nodded as if he had expected this, but Sirius felt a sudden dread fall on him. Dumbledore leaned forward, examining Remus intently.
"Did you dream?"
Remus's hands clenched on the covers. Sirius made to stand up and go to his side, only remembering his cup of tea at the last minute.
"Yes," Remus answered, so softly Sirius almost couldn't catch it.
Dumbledore nodded again. Sirius glanced uneasily at Harry - who looked equally confused - and happened to catch Snape's expression as he did so. The hook-nosed man had a grim but self-satisfied look on his face. Judging by the glance he exchanged with the Headmaster, this was something he'd predicted.
"What sort of dreams?" Sirius asked, loud in the silence, worried now. What was it they weren't being told?
"I'd rather not talk about it," Remus said, avoiding his eyes. "Some of them were... less than pleasant."
"I would suggest," Dumbledore said over the top of Sirius's half-formed protest, "that you keep a record of your dreams from now on, Remus." The Headmaster looked grave, but not unduly so, and Sirius forced himself to keep quiet. "If perchance they should enter by the Gate of Horn..."
He left the sentence hanging.
Sirius stood up quickly, shoved his teacup onto a table, and moved to the side of the bed so that Remus was forced to look at him.
"What does that mean?"
"I believe," Dumbledore answered, while Remus caught Sirius's eye and gave him the look that meant, 'we'll talk about this later', "that Remus's passage through the mirrorworld has given him a certain... connection to it. Just after he passed back through the veil, he was vulnerable to projections from the space between - memories, perhaps, or dreams, or something... else. Now that he has recovered his strength, the only way they can reach him will be in dreams - and that, too, may pass with time."
Sirius kept his eyes on Remus, who looked remarkably calm about the idea that something or someone from the mirrorworld might be permeating his thoughts.
"What about the horned gate thing?"
"The Gate of Horn," Remus corrected gently, smiling a bit in an attempt at reassurance. "According to legend, dreams pass through one of two gates, of horn or ivory. Dreams that pass the Gate of Horn are true dreams."
It took a moment to sink in - in fact, Harry got it first. Sirius heard his intake of breath.
"You mean prophecies?"
"Possibly." Remus had that 'teacher' look in his eyes again. "Or glimpses of the past, or the present. It... could be useful."
"Or drive you mad," Sirius said in a low tone, meant only for Remus's ears. He knew well enough the stories about true Seers, not to mention everything Remus had told them about the veil.
Remus caught his hand and fixed him with a stern look. "Sirius. It's done. Don't start blaming yourself."
He knows me too well, Sirius thought vaguely, too troubled to do more than nod in response.
Although he couldn't have heard their words, Dumbledore seemed to get the gist of the conversation.
"It would probably be best, Remus, if you were to remain here at Hogwarts. Thus Severus will be able to provide you with both the Wolfsbane Potion and the benefit of his skills in monitoring your mental state."
Remus raised an eyebrow, Harry muttered something that Sirius didn't catch, and Snape himself appeared positively livid, while Sirius made a mental note that the Potions Master didn't have anywhere else to go but Hogwarts. Interesting.
"He's not staying here alone," Sirius said before anyone else could speak.
He thought Dumbledore hid a smile before answering. "But of course not. I had hoped that you would remain here also, Sirius."
That had been the last thing Sirius had expected. Ever since Remus had awakened, he'd been bracing himself to fight Dumbledore over returning to Grimmauld Place.
"What about the Ministry?" he asked, confused.
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair with the air of someone thoroughly enjoying the news he was about to impart. "The Ministry is no longer so interested in Hogwarts as they have been over the past year. And even if they were, they have no reason to apprehend you."
The words hung in the air. Sirius found himself staring at the Headmaster. Did he mean...?
"One of the many considerations occupying my attention over the last week," Dumbledore continued, "has been convincing the Ministry of Magic that you never supported Voldemort and went to your death opposing him. As I seem to have a certain amount of influence there currently," and there was a small flash of amusement in his eyes and voice, "they have, as of three days ago, cleared you posthumously of all charges, Sirius."
Sirius's legs suddenly seemed unwilling to support him. He sat down rather abruptly on the edge of the bed, barely noticing that Remus moved over to make room for him.
"But, Wormtail--" Harry began, sounding as stunned as Sirius felt.
Dumbledore smiled faintly. "They were prepared to accept my testimony on the true course of events. I volunteered to swallow Veritaserum but, strangely, they seemed to feel no need to accept my offer. I also procured certain evidence that no-one had thought to examine before."
"What evidence?" asked Remus sharply. His hand, still on Sirius's, tightened in unspoken support.
Dumbledore reached into a pocket of his robes and pulled out a long, slim case that was heart-wrenchingly familiar to Sirius. He stared at it, disbelieving. Remus, after a glance in his direction for permission, leaned forward, took the case from Dumbledore and opened it. A wand lay within.
"Priori incantatem," Dumbledore said calmly, "is still effective even after years of disuse. Especially when performed by a wand's brother, as Harry discovered during his duel with Lord Voldemort last year. No-one ever troubled to perform it upon Sirius's wand after he was captured."
"But..." Harry interrupted, confused, "Sirius lost his wand when he fell through the veil - I saw it vanish with him."
Sirius let go of Remus's hand, reached out hesitantly and picked up the wand. A half-forgotten warmth spread through his fingertips.
"That was a new one," he said roughly. "Never worked as well as it should have - I couldn't go out and buy it myself, of course - that was what threw me off when I was duelling Bella... But this... is the one I had in school... the one I was using when Peter..." He broke off, unable to speak past a sudden constriction of his throat.
"Kept in the Ministry vaults for years," Dumbledore supplied gently. "There is a regulation stating that trial evidence - despite the lack of a trial in your case - must be kept for ten years after conviction, and they are somewhat... lax when it comes to clearing out their storage space."
Remus was looking from the wand to Dumbledore.
"'A wand's brother'?" he repeated. "I had thought that situation was unique to Harry and Voldemort."
Dumbledore smiled again, and again Sirius caught a flash of amusement. He had a sudden, sinking feeling.
"Most wands, it is true, do not share such a link," Dumbledore mused absently. "Even when two cores are taken from the same creature, it is usually many years apart. Thus, Mr. Ollivander keeps a close track of those wands which have a partner bearing a core taken from the same place at the same time. Harry's and Lord Voldemort's are merely two exceptionally interconnected wands. There are many others, most of whom never meet."
"Who?" asked Sirius blankly.
Dumbledore's eyes flickered sideways. Sirius's sinking feeling got worse. He glanced at Snape, who looked positively murderous.
"That can't be right," Remus said, sounding like he was caught between laughter and disbelief. "I've seen them duel - when we were at school - their wands always worked perfectly against each other."
Snape's lip curled.
"I was forced," he ground out through clenched teeth, "to replace my wand shortly prior to my employment at Hogwarts. Believe me, I had no idea until the Headmaster called upon me a few days ago."
Sirius glared. Snape returned the favour. There was a moment of silence.
Harry, who had suddenly caught on, abruptly looked over at Remus. Sirius saw their eyes meet. Unexpectedly, they both laughed.
"I see nothing amusing in the situation," Snape bit out acidly.
Sirius opened his mouth to ask Remus what was so funny, when a recent memory stirred itself.
It was always... ironic... how similar you were.
He shut his mouth, defying either Remus or Harry to say anything. He busied himself with inspecting his old wand for the slightest imperfection. The wand was as dark and smooth as ever, rigid against his fingertips and promising to cast a hundred spells if he would only speak the words to give them form. He remembered duelling with this wand, passing his NEWTs with it; fighting for his life and healing Remus's wounds after a full moon.
"Thank you," he said, knowing Dumbledore would understand what he meant. Certainly the wand did not define the wizard - but having it in his hand again after all this time meant more than he could express.
Sirius looked up then. He caught Harry's eye; his godson looked tired, but happier than Sirius had seen him for a long time. Sirius flicked his wand at Harry, who flinched back automatically, then started laughing when he found himself showered by red and gold glitter.
Sirius turned to Remus, grinning, but Remus just smiled and caught his wand-hand before he could do anything.
"Spoilsport." Sirius reluctantly slipped his wand into his pocket, along with its case. "So the Ministry isn't a problem?"
"No; of far more concern is what Voldemort may or may not know." Dumbledore glanced at Snape as he spoke. "In this, we have the not-inconsiderable advantage that his agents believe you to be dead. The longer we can maintain that illusion, the better."
Sirius nodded, although he felt something tighten in his stomach at the notion of leaving people in the dark about his return. Still, he thought with a touch of bitterness, it wasn't as though there were many who would even have mourned him.
"Our most important concern," continued Dumbledore, leaning forward intently, "is to find out how much Voldemort knows about the space between. If he should discover a way to use it, even to traverse it..."
He didn't need to finish the sentence; Sirius imagined what the self-styled Dark Lord would be able to do if he could go anywhere he wished without being seen, or if he were to condemn his victims to limbo, and a shudder ran through him. It would be worse than Azkaban.
"Did somebody pick up the book - the oneiromancers' diary?" Remus asked suddenly. "There is a lot in there that would help--"
"I have it," Snape put in curtly.
Dumbledore looked first at Remus, then Sirius. "I must ask for your assistance in this matter. Sirius, you are the only person, as far as we know, ever to return from beyond the veil; Remus, you are the only person to traverse the mirrorworld and emerge from it unscathed - we hope."
Sirius didn't much like that little addition, but he had to acknowledge its truth. They had no idea what the consequences of this could be for Remus.
"What about me?" Harry asked quietly.
Sirius felt a rush of guilt - he hadn't stopped to consider what would happen to Harry for the rest of the summer.
"You're staying with us," Remus said, before either Sirius or Dumbledore could answer. Harry blinked, a hesitant smile lighting his face, which Remus returned. "If you want to, that is."
Remus nodded and addressed himself to the Headmaster. "He'll be as safe here as with his relatives, with the wards on the school and Sirius, Severus and I to guard him," he said. His tone was mild, but there was unmistakeable steel beneath the words.
Moony should've been godfather, Sirius thought with a mixture of pride and self-disgust. He remembers to think about things like this.
"The contract of blood requires that Harry return there at least once a year," Dumbledore pointed out.
"I was there almost a week," Harry countered. He was sitting up very straight now, clutching at the arms of his chair.
"He's as safe here as he is anywhere," Remus added softly.
Dumbledore was silent. Then he looked at Sirius.
"You are Harry's godfather, Sirius," the Headmaster said gravely. "What is your opinion?"
Sirius bit back the sarcastic voice in his mind that said, 'Oh, so now I'm allowed to exert some influence over his life?'. He also suppressed his instant response that Harry would never go back to those damned Muggles if he had any say in it. For once, for once in his life, he was going to think about this carefully and make the decision that was best for his godson.
Sirius looked at Remus, who was watching his deliberation approvingly. Encouraged, Sirius glanced at Harry and made up his mind.
"Look, I can think of half a dozen ways Voldemort could get Harry out of there if he really wanted to, blood magic or not. He can't just walk in there and kill him, but we all know that trickery is his usual line of attack. If he's with me and Remus--" he deliberately didn't mention Snape, "--and he's here, it'd take Voldemort himself to get to us, and by the time he got past the Hogwarts wards we'd have the entire Order here."
Harry was watching him with bated breath. Sirius flashed him a smile.
Dumbledore didn't look entirely happy, but somewhat to Sirius's surprise, he nodded.
"Very well," the Headmaster said. The sound of Madame Pomfrey's office door opening caused him to glance around. "And it seems that we have exceeded our half an hour by a considerable number of minutes."
He stood up. Sirius noticed that the twinkle had returned to his blue eyes.
"Now, if you will excuse me, gentlemen, I believe I have an appointment with Cornelius Fudge concerning the revocation of certain Educational Decrees..."
"Moony, you're reading again."
Remus lowered the book and regarded Sirius with some amusement. "Well, yes. Does this offend you?"
Sirius muttered something unintelligible and wandered across the room, drying his hair as he went. Remus took a moment to appreciate the sight of a damp, towel-clad Sirius, before returning his attention to the book in front of him.
"What else do you expect me to do, if I'm not allowed out of bed?"
"I had an idea or two."
Remus refused to look up, although the text he was staring at no longer seemed coherent to his eyes. He felt the mattress sag beneath Sirius's weight.
"I thought I was supposed to be resting?"
Sirius laughed; a second later, Remus felt a gentle kiss on the side of his jaw.
"I can be restful," Sirius murmured into his ear.
Remus turned his head with deliberate slowness. He made a show of raising one hand and flicking away a strand of long, dripping black hair that had ended up plastered to his own cheek.
"You," he said, "are wet. Come back dry and we'll talk."
Sirius chuckled, leaned in swiftly to brush their lips together, then was off the bed with a single bound. Remus watched him for a moment, smiling to himself, before trying to find his place on the page.
"What're you so absorbed in, anyway?"
"I'm reading about Dementors," Remus replied absently.
There was a deafening silence.
"Moony. Love. You're sitting there, in our bed, flirting with me and reading about Dementors?"
Remus raised an eyebrow without looking up. "Flirting with you? Who said I was flirting with you?"
There was a pause.
"No, seriously - why are you reading that now?"
Remus sighed and laid aside the book, guessing that he wasn't going to get any further with it tonight. "I'm trying to understand the link between the beings of the space between and the Dementors we know," he explained.
Sirius was halfway through buttoning a pyjama shirt, frowning at him. "You've only been out of the hospital wing for a few hours. Surely it can wait until tomorrow?"
"It probably can. But I need to know, Sirius. And I want to help."
He didn't add that he felt responsible for adding to the risk that Voldemort would discover the space between, but Sirius seemed to know anyway. The dark-haired man crossed the room, his shirt still only half-buttoned, and sat down on the edge of the bed again.
"Now who's blaming himself?"
Remus smiled tiredly. "You have to admit that I have reason."
Sirius looked stubbornly like he didn't want to admit any such thing, but he forbore to answer. Instead he wriggled his way under the covers and edged over next to Remus. An arm slid around his waist and Sirius's chin came to rest on his shoulder.
"Your hair's still wet," Remus protested, quickly pushing the book out of the way of any errant drops.
Sirius fixed him with an unimpressed stare. He pulled away long enough to grab his wand from the bedside table and cast a drying charm on his hair. Then he was back in place, this time snaking both arms around Remus and burrowing his face into his neck.
Remus gave the book one last regretful look and let it slide to the floor. He'd noticed that Sirius craved contact almost constantly since his return. He could only imagine what it had been like to be unable to touch anything for so long. Absently, his hand drifted to the other man's longer hair, stroking through it. Sirius had always had shorter hair when they'd been in school, but Remus found that he liked it how it was now, long enough to run his fingers down to the ends and then carry on, down Sirius's back.
"I was thinking," he said after a while.
"Heaven forbid," Sirius mumbled into his shoulder. He tugged gently and soon succeeded in pulling Remus down into a warm nest of blankets, pillows and each other. "What were you thinking about?"
Remus settled his head against Sirius's arm and regarded him from a short distance away. He could spend eternities watching that star-spark flare and fade in Sirius's eyes. It took a moment for him to register the question.
"I think we should teach Harry some things over the summer," he murmured.
Sirius's hand stopped trailing over his jaw and neck. "What sort of things?"
Remus closed his eyes, moving closer so that he could run his own hands lazily over Sirius's back.
"Defence spells," he elaborated. "Maybe some wandless magic. When I mentioned it yesterday, he told me he used 'Lumos' without his wand, last summer, when the Dementors attacked him and his cousin. I think he'd be able to learn it."
"Hmm." Sirius leaned over to lay a kiss at the corner of his mouth. "There's a world of difference between 'Lumos' and, say, 'Accio'."
Remus smiled, opening his eyes. Sirius was regarding him with that mixture of affection and pride that had always filled his heart with a strange ache.
"I wasn't sure that would work, you know. It's been a long time since I had to do something like that."
"You were amazing. As always."
Sirius punctuated the comment with another kiss, this one full on the mouth and lingering.
"I don't deserve you," Sirius murmured against his jaw. "But I'm going to try harder."
Remus drew him close and silenced him with a longer, deeper kiss. "I'd say we pretty much deserve each other," he said when they finally broke for air.
Sirius laughed quietly. He propped himself up on one elbow, his eyes darkened to unexpected seriousness.
"Moony..." A thumb brushed across his cheek. "Did you dream again last night?"
Remus shivered. He felt Sirius's arms tighten around him. "I don't know. I don't think so, but I slept very deeply, so I can't be sure. I might have forgotten."
"Even if they were true dreams?"
"Yes, unfortunately. Even so."
Sirius made a discontented noise. Remus debated or not to say what was on his mind. He didn't want to alarm Sirius... but the thought wouldn't stop niggling at him.
"I'm more worried about the book I used to bring you back," Remus said at last.
Sirius blinked at him. "What do you mean?"
Remus rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, dim in the light of the candles Sirius had lit earlier.
"I asked Severus where he acquired it," he continued after a heartbeat. "He was reluctant to tell me, but eventually he confessed that it had been one of a number of books retrieved from a Death Eater's library after they had been sent to Azkaban."
He could feel Sirius watching him.
"It previously belonged to Bellatrix Lestrange," Remus finished, very quietly. "I don't believe she can ever have opened it, or known about its contents - but it's highly likely she came by it through her own family."
"From my family, you mean."
Sirius's voice was hard, as it always was when talking about the noble house of Black, but Remus could hear the unease behind the words.
"Yes." Remus turned his head to meet Sirius's eyes. "Sirius, Snape only brought it along as a particularly mean-spirited test of my and Harry's tolerance for dicaptromancy. What are the chances of it just so happening to be the key to bringing you back?"
Sirius looked openly troubled now.
"Slim," he responded in a low voice. "More like impossible."
Remus nodded. "That's what I thought."
Sirius shifted position, drew Remus against him so that their heads rested together.
"You think it was a set-up?"
"Not exactly." Remus closed his eyes. "Not from Voldemort, at least, or his followers."
"Who does that leave?"
"I don't know. Someone who wanted me to pass into the space between, or somebody who wanted you back from it."
Sirius found his hand under the blankets and laced their fingers together. It was oddly reassuring.
"I don't like the sound of that," he said after a while.
"Neither do I." Remus opened his eyes again and smiled, tiredly but with all the love that he felt for Sirius lifting his heart. "But the die is cast, Padfoot, and all we can do now is sit back and accept the consequences."
Sirius huffed softly into his hair.
"Maybe. But we'll do it together." Remus felt more than saw the smile. "Harry too. Just like old times, eh?"
"He isn't James," Remus said gently.
"I know. It's better that way."
"Oh?" Remus tried to see Sirius's face, knowing he'd find that mischievous smile twitching the corner of his mouth when he did so. "How so?"
"Just think of all the fun we can have teaching him our old tricks."
"I love you."
And then Sirius reached for his wand to extinguish the lights, and there was only darkness, and warmth, and no more talking.
- end -
I originally wrote this in June/July 2003; this is a revised version of the story, with some different chapter breaks, because they started off so short and got stupidly long! Thank you, everyone who's reviewed. I never thought this story would prove this popular, and I really don't think I'd have finished it without your encouragement. So thank you, so much. :)
I should probably note at this point that my two sisters were invaluable while I was writing, putting up with me wandering into the room occasionally and picking up a thought-train halfway through. Especially Adrienne, who is single-handedly responsible for Sirius' game of charades and for yelling at me until I stopped whining about chapter 8. ^_~