Title: Into the Gloaming
Summary: In response to WoodenCoyote's challenge at 'remusxsirius' as follows: "Remus is struck down in battle and his wounds are too severe to be healed. Harry is at his side, but the professor, blinded by pain and barely alive, mistakes him for James. In his last moments he talks to him about their childhood, his regrets and guilt, and finding Sirius again." That basically sums it up in the nutshell!
Disclaimer: I can't even take credit for the plot bunny! They all belong to JKR, and I thank herfor the loan and promise to give them back when I'm done with them… eventually. Though since she killed him off, maybe I could just keep Sirius...
Author's Notes: Though Harry is the main protagonist, this story includes references to a romantic relationship between Remus Lupin and Sirius Black. As it takes place post-OoTP and follows as close to canonas I could make it as of January, 2005, Sirius has already passed on, so there is nothing graphic depicted in any manner. Still, if this is not your cup of tea, don't feel compelled to read any further.
Thanks again for the plot bunny, wc! And as always, my first born child to my wonderful friend and beta, Kyrie.
Harry stood before the headstone, his solemn face belying the vibrancy of the afternoon sunlight. The morning rain had been more fitting of his mood: His soul needed cleansing. The bright light dazzled his eyes and mocked him, scattering a soft golden glow that suffused everything it touched with its gilded fingers, and setting an elaborately spun web sparkling with a myriad of rainbows as the light refracted through dew-dampened strands. The heat of the sun warmed his back, but could not penetrate deep enough to touch the cold places in his heart.
He knelt down on the grass, unmindful of the damp that seeped through the knees of his robes and trousers, reaching out to gently brush his fingers over the engraving on the marble before him. James and Lily Potter, it read. He didn't bother with the dates of birth, death or the elaborately scrolled epitaph below; all he could see were the names.
It was the first time he'd been here, to the Potter Family cemetery, to see them. Not once since learning of his parents' true fate seven years ago, had he even asked where they had been laid to rest. If his aunt and uncle had known, they'd never told him, and he had learned very early in life not to bother with such questions. The last and only time he'd been to this cemetery had been for a different purpose, and he hadn't felt ready. He wasn't sure he was ready now, but he had felt compelled to come today: His eighteenth birthday.
He had no real memory of his parents, after all, Dementor induced nightmares aside. He'd been privileged to see shadows of them once; flat, grey caricatures that had been liberated from Voldemort's wand. Figures that had comforted him and somehow helped him escape from certain death one dark, frightening, surreal night, also in a graveyard. The corner of his lip quirked in a wry smile at the irony.
He sat there a while longer, head bowed in silent contemplation of what might have been, what could have been versus the harsh reality of his life. At last he rose, sighing deeply, and leaning down to place a solitary pink carnation and a long-stemmed calla lily in the place he had knelt. "I'm sorry," he whispered, voice rough with disuse, sounding foreign to his own ears. "I should have come sooner. It's just…" He trailed off with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "I do miss you. It's just hard to miss what you don't remember having. I love you. Please take care of them for me." He turned away and swallowed, forcing away the lump in his throat.
His feet dragged him almost unwillingly to the double stone on the plot situated next to his parents'. Surrounded by the ghosts of his ancestors, he felt strangely detached, unconnected to these people except for their shared blood: A stranger in a strange land.
It had been a month since the funeral. He barely remembered it, numbed as he was with fresh grief and new scars earned from the final, decisive battle: The battle that had taken the last of his 'family' from him. The funeral had been fairly small. Those in attendance consisted of surviving members of the Order, along with some of the Hogwarts faculty, and a few former students whom he had been surprised to see. Remus had, after all, only taught at the school for one year, four years prior.
The new double headstone, a marriage stone in muggle terminology, had been erected immediately after the burial, the inscription magically engraving itself before the onlookers. He had registered the initial gasps of surprise and looks of shock as the small congregation realized the implications of the double stone, and the words now permanently etched there, but he paid them no heed. Remus and Sirius were his family after all, and this was the only gift he could think to give them now, in death.
A gift he would not have known to give, had it not been for… His thoughts trailed off as he realized his feet had long since carried him to his destination. The last vestiges of funeral bouquets lay scattered in his wake, and he idly wondered about the competence of the caretaker. He stared at the headstone, his shadow eclipsing the names scrolled in the white marble, and struggled to breathe as the overwhelming grief at these two particular losses in his life threatened to overwhelm him. The welcomed numbness that had served as protective armor since the aftermath of the battle, the shield that safeguarded him through the funeral and the long, empty days afterward, had failed him now.
He dropped to his knees like a marionette with its strings cut, tears leaving snail-like tracks on his cheeks as silent sobs wracked his slender frame. He crawled to the stone, embracing it, pressing his cheek hard enough against the engraved names to leave an imprint, seeking comfort from the cold marble. Instead, the stone seemed to leech the heat from his own fragile body and he slumped down, hugging his knees to his chest.
He let his grief wash over him like a wave and thought back to the last time he spoke to Sirius before his death: Fifth year, Easter holidays, kneeling before the fireplace, where he'd all but accused him of being an arrogant bully along with his own father. He'd never had the chance to say goodbye that dreadful night in the Department of Mysteries. Never had the opportunity to really get to know him the way he desperately wished he could now. Never told him how much he appreciated having him in his life, or how much he had grown to love him. He had been afraid, fraught with the fears of a fifteen-year-old boy who had never known love; afraid to hope, lest he lose that which he so desperately sought. As had happened anyway.
But Remus had shown him, through actions and subtle words, even unintentionally that last day, that by encouraging this fear, he was only denying himself. The words 'Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all drifted through his mind. He couldn't remember exactly where he had heard them, but he reasoned it was likely something that Dumbledore had told him once. Or perhaps it was Remus when they'd embarrassingly discussed his failed forays into dating. His thoughts turned once again to Remus, and to that final day…
He was in a dazed fog. Voldemort was truly gone. Truly vanquished. He'd actually felt it the moment he'd died - a swift release of pressure as if something intangible had been pulled from his mind in the shape of a violent, chaotic whirlwind - though 'gone' might be a more appropriate word. Does one who strove for and appeared to achieve immortality actually die? He shook away the thought, and tried to focus on the present.
The last he'd seen of Remus had been the blur of his body as he dove in front of Harry. Remus had used his own body to shield him from a myriad of curses and hexes that had been flung at him by death eaters; an attempt to gain their master's favor by eliminating him, no doubt. Their attempt had failed, of course, and they had either perished or been rendered unconscious and captured, as Order members and Aurors alike had descended upon them like a scourge. He hadn't had the luxury of stopping just then, duty and determination forcing stray thoughts and fears from his mind. Insteadhe had pressed on toward his goal.
Now, in the aftermath, he struggled to retrace his steps as he picked through the rubble, glancing with remorse at the bodies of fallen comrades he passed, and purposely overlooking those of the death eaters. Though exhaustion and inner turmoil in the form of an almost epic battle of elation versus grief threatened to overwhelm him, he fought it back and continued with his search.
"Remus!" Harry cried, rushing to his side. He'd had no notion whether the man had even survived the earlier onslaught, and he fell to his knees, hands reaching to assess the damage, resisting the urge to gather him close and cradle him in his lap.
Tearing his robes off, Harry immediately noticed that Remus was bleeding freely from numerous wounds, and more blood had pooled beneath him. Areas of his exposed skin were red and raw looking, as if he'd been severely burned. Smudges of soot, grime and dried blood marred his face, but his amber-brown eyes were open, surprisingly clear, if glassy, and etched with pain. His breathing was unsteady, almost tentative. He stared back at Harry, and an almost beatific smile spread across his features, masking the pain that had been evident only a moment before.
Wasting no time, Harry sent up red sparks from his wand, screaming aloud for help, but the injured numbered in the hundreds and any mediwitches on the scene were few and far between. Some last minute skirmishes still raged off in the near distance as desperate death eaters attempted to escape capture.They werealone. He wracked his brain to try to remember the few minor healing spells he knew, frantic to stop the bleeding. He used the sodden robes to try to staunch the worst of it, and cast spell after spell, cursing his incompetence. He had quickly exhausted his meager proficiency at healing when he felt a light touch on his arm.
"James," Remus breathed through cracked lips, voice hoarse.
Harry tried to correct him; to tell him that it was he, Harry, not his father, but the words died in his throat as he gazed at the dreamy smile on Remus' face.
"So much I wanted to tell you. Never thought I'd get the chance. Don't have much time, now, but, oh, it's so good to see your face. I'd forgotten how young…" His hand reached up tentatively to brush Harry's cheek, and he grimaced in pain at the movement. "Hurts. Cold. So cold."
"Shhh, Remus, it's okay, just lie still. I'm here. I've got you," Harry murmured. Instinctively, he knew that Remus was likely beyond help, even with the marvels of magical medicine, but his heart refused to give in to the inevitable. He glanced around again, looking for help, but if anyone had seen his S.O.S, they hadn't yet come to investigate.
"James… I've missed you. Glad you're here now. So many memories, not enough time, never enough, my friend."
Harry felt awkward. Felt like a fraud, impersonating a loved one, eavesdropping on a private conversation nor meant for his ears, but he knew Remus needed this. If he'd had time to think about it, he'd have realized that he needed this as well. Acting on his earlier instinct, he carefully gathered the injured man in his arms and held him in his lap, wrapping him in the ruined, bloodstained cloak, and gently stroking the hair back from his face.
"Do you remember the day when you and Sirius and Peter confronted me about my lycanthropy?" Remus asked, his scratchy voice taking on a note of wonder. "I'd had a particularly bad transformation that month, came back to the dormitory to find the three of you…" he broke off. Remus was terribly weak, and Harry could see the effort it cost him to annunciate his words clearly, but Harry wanted, no, needed to hear that voice. That calm, gentle voice that wrapped around him like a blanket and offered him comfort in the dark, full of wisdom, respect and sincerity. That voice, that even now, gasping out half sentences, still managed to impart an eloquence of speech. Harry nodded, afraid to speak and break the spell-like connection.
"You were so stubborn, so sincere," Remus continued. "Don't think I ever told you how profoundly grateful I was. Never once treated me with any less regard after that. Always made me feel I was truly human. I never thanked you."
Sensing a need for acknowledgment, Harry murmured something that sounded like, "There was nothing to thank," and continued stroking the light brown hair.
"That was the greatest gift I've ever received. You were the best friends a bloke could have. I treasured every one of our adventures, our pranks… despite the detentions. Despite my feigned exasperation and annoyance. Though," he amended, "perhaps not that incident with Severus. Both incidents. Those were rather regrettable.
"And then you did the unimaginable. You were utterly foolish. All three of you. Risking your lives on a spell that could have killed you. For a werewolf. For me. I still remember that day. You'd spent the previous night in the shack with me for the first time. You'd all gone down to supper and I was supposed to be sleeping. I cried. For the second time since I'd come to school. First time was the day you told me you knew. Sirius…" He swallowed hard and closed his eyes. "Sirius had come back to the dormitory and caught me. I was so embarrassed," he confided, opening his eyes and looking somewhat bemused. "I thought he'd surely laugh at me. But he never brought it up again. Not once."
Harry continued to stroke Remus' hair, the world around him fading as all of his concentration was focused on the werewolf now.
"That day was the second time," he continued, still lost in a world of memories. "Third was when you'd died. The day my life as I knew it ceased to exist." He paused then, and Harry murmured once again, as if urging him to continue.
"Did you know? Could you see what happened in the aftermath? Why didn't you come to me then and tell me Sirius was innocent?" Remus seemed almost angry, his raspy voice rough and thick. His breathing had quickened and beads of sweat broke out on his forehead. "I spent twelve years living a lie. Twelve years thinking that I'd spent the previous ten living another lie. Believing that I'd been more than a fool. That the man I loved, your brother in all but blood, had betrayed us both."
Loved? Harry started, his hand stilling momentarily in his ministrations.
"Yes, loved. Love, actually," Remus wheezed as if reading Harry's mind, the tone of his voice softening. "I love him, James. Even when he was in…" He paused as if not willing to travel down that particular road just then. "Never stopped loving him even then, though Merlin knows I tried. I'm so sorry we didn't tell you about… about us. We wanted to… didn't know how you would react. What you would think of us. Afraid that it would disgust you. Never wanted… Couldn't risk losing you," he whispered, his voice almost pleading for forgiveness.
"You'd never lose me, Remus," Harry whispered back. "I'm not disgusted." And he was strangely relieved to realize that he wasn't. He felt a slight pang of resentment that neither Remus nor Sirius had shared this revelation with him before, but he brushed it aside. He would deal with that later. Remus needed him now. He wasn't really sure whether or not his father would have been disgusted, but he fervently hoped that that wouldn't have been the case. "How long?" he asked.
"Sixth year," Remus answered. "Though it felt like I'd been in love with him for years by then. I'd never thought… Never expected or dared to hope… I had nothing to offer, especially to someone like Sirius," he smiled fondly, lost once again in recollection. He continued, drawing shallow breaths and forcing the air from his lungs while his tongue and lips shaped his words. "He was… so beautiful. His smile lit up my world. But… wasn't his looks that… He had that presence… You know. Everything was always black and white. So protective. Fierce." He paused again, drawing breath and strength, determined to continue his confession. Harry nodded in encouragement.
"Always had such intensity. Could be terribly ruthless… always impulsive, impatient. But when he loved… such passion and warmth… Oh, James," Remus choked, and the words tumbled from his cracked and bleeding lips. "He loved you so dearly. Don't know how I could have ever believed that he'd betrayed you. I turned my back on him – left him for dead, to rot away in a living hell. I know he forgave me, but you… Can you ever forgive me? Can you ever forgive me for allowing your beloved brother to suffer so?" Anxiety flashed in his eyes, mirroring his desperate, almost poetic words.
This time Harry spoke with confidence. "Of course I forgive you, Remus. Shhh. It wasn't your fault. It wasn't your fault," he soothed, the lump in his throat threatening to obscure his words as he granted absolution to a dying man.
Remus let out a choked sob, and Harry held him close, rocking him gently. Remus' breathing slowly steadied, though it seemed shallower than it had been before. The deep lines in his face seemed to soften as he continued.
"We found each other again. Before I lost him, for good that time. So difficult at first. So much pain, so much regret. For both of us. But we'd never stopped loving each other. He'd never stopped loving me, James! It was as if… as if color had come back into my life. Hadn't realized how flat and dull everything had become. I'd gone on with my life. Wasn't a great life… being what I am, but I'd learned to be content, if not particularly happy.
"My biggest regret was Harry. And for that… For that I don't deserve your forgiveness, though I've tried to be there for him these last few years. Tried to make it up to him for not being there for him before. Gave my life to protect him, as it should be." The long speech had taken too much of his energy, and he slumped in Harry's arms, gasping for breath, the effects of his blood loss becoming even more apparent. His face was deathly pale beneath the smudges of filth and blood. He clutched Harry's robes with shaking fingers and concentrated on regulating his breathing.
"You'd be… so proud of him, James. He's kind, compassionate, intelligent… so very brave. A true Gryffindor. And he flies just like you," he added, the ghost of a smile touching his lips and eyes. "Merlin – he's the spitting image of you. Lily's eyes. Even greener now. I was his… his Dark Arts professor third year. He was a joy to teach."
Harry's eyes welled with tears, but he smiled; his first true smile in longer than he cared to remember.
Remus had apparently noticed and he smiled more broadly through the pain. "Oh, yes. And he's got Lily's temper, too." He sighed, breath coming even shorter, though still determined, and Harry had to lean over to hear him when he began speaking again.
"Such a horrendous childhood. Breaks my heart… all he was denied, how he lived, but mostly… that he grew up without knowing you… you and Lily. Never knowing how special you were. Never knowing how much he was loved. And I do love him, James, and not… not just because he's your son. He's an extraordinary young man. You and Lily would be so proud. So proud.
"I've written a journal for him. Nothing elaborate, just… stories that I want to tell him about you. About us. About Sirius and I. We'd planned to tell him, but… After Sirius died, I didn't know how… any more than I knew how to tell you," he whispered. "Most of all, I didn't want to tarnish his memories of his godfather. He loves Sirius dearly. And I think he loves me as well. At least I hope he does."
"I do, Remus, I do love you," Harry whispered fervently, an errant tear escaping, leaving a trail down his cheek.
"I'm glad," Remus wheezed. Amber gaze was focused intently on green, and Harry thought he saw something flicker in their depths before Remus smiled gravely up at him and closed his eyes.
A strong hand on his shoulder interrupted Harry then. He lifted his tearstained gaze to meet the bone-weary face of an exhausted witch carrying a black medical bag.
"Please," he croaked. "Please help him."
She gave him a grim but sympathetic look as she began casting diagnostic spells, shaking her head and muttering to herself. She appeared to cast a few healing spells, but finally, she sat back on her heels and sighed.
"I'm so sorry, dear. The damage is just too extensive. He's saturated with the magical signatures from multiple dark curses, and he's lost far too much blood. Frankly, I'm amazed he's lasted this long. It's more than likely due to his lycanthropy. Yes, I know," she added, seeing the surprised look on his face. "The tests I performed indicated his condition straight away. Even if we were able to portkey him to St. Mungo's this minute, we couldn't bring him back. All that could be done would be to keep his body alive artificially, and that would be…" she trailed off sadly. "No, no life at all."
"No…" Harry breathed.
"I'm terribly sorry, dear," she repeated. She looked at him thoughtfully before casting some diagnostic spells on him.
"No. I'm fine. Please," he pleaded. She nodded once after checking to see that none of his injuries were life threatening, and slowly moved off to see to others who needed treatment.
Remus passed away shortly afterwards. Neither of them had spoken any further. There wasn't anything more to say. Harry simply held him as he'd been doing since he found him, rocking them both gently and continuing to stroke his hair. He didn't know how long he sat there, clutching Remus' body to his breast. Hours, perhaps, though it felt like days. The river of Time had ceased to flow for them both. His tears had been spent, and the numbness had descended, enveloping him wholly.
He was vaguely aware of one of the Order members bringing him back to Hogwarts. They'd had to forcibly pry Remus' body from his grasp when they discovered them amidst the carnage. He'd refused to let go, and it wasn't until he'd nearly passed out from both mental and physical exhaustion that they were able to separate them.
He awoke two days later in an isolated room in the hospital wing, Madame Pomfrey bustling around, fretting over his condition and muttering to herself about the state of the world when children had to fight in wars. At least that was familiar, if not exactly comforting.
The funeral had been three days later. Despite his numbed stupor, he'd taken care of the details and arrangements personally, brushing off the sympathetic offers of assistance he'd received. He'd even sat for his N.E.W.T exams later that week, though he could care less about his results. It had given him something to do, something to keep him occupied. He avoided the reporters that swarmed outside the castle gates, clambering desperately for pictures and interviews, and his one meeting with the Minister of Magic had been civil but brief.
His friends watched over him, concerned, but they largely left him alone, unsure what to say, merely making sure that he remembered to eat at mealtimes, with assistance from Dobby when necessary. They knew he wasn't sleeping well, but short of holding him down and forcing potions down his throat, there was little they could do about it. Unbeknownst to him, they had also taken it upon themselves to shield him from the rest of the student body, hexing anyone who tried to thank him or Merlin forbid, congratulate him. They were thankful that they hadn't needed to hex any of the teachers.
Slowly but surely, the survivors rose from the ashes. The school year ended. Life in the wizarding world beyond the sheltered gates of Hogwarts resumed as the population both mourned and rejoiced. The Muggles chalked up the deaths of their own to 'random acts of terrorism', and Harry returned to Grimmauld Place alone. The Weasleys had pleaded with him to come stay at the Burrow, but Harry declined the offers politely, and repeatedly, explaining that he needed some time to himself. Molly finally relented after he promised to check in with her every couple of days.
He'd found the journal Remus had spoken of, but he couldn't bring himself to open it. Not yet. Instead, it sat on his bedside table where he would touch its smooth dragonhide cover, stroking it lovingly every morning and evening in some bizarre ritual of sorts. Soon, he'd think to himself, soon, but not yet.
At midnight on the eve of his eighteenth birthday, he opened it and began reading.
With the exception of Molly and Arthur Weasley, whom he thought of fondly as more of a beloved aunt and uncle now, Sirius and Remus had been the only parental figures he'd known; The only true connection he'd had to his past and his lineage. He felt momentary guilt for having shown more sorrow, more raw emotion, at their loss, than he had for his real parents. He reflected once again on everything that Remus had revealed to him in both his final moments and in the journal he'd begun reading, and realized with a growing clarity that his parents would have understood. He'd wondered his whole life if his mum and dad would have been proud of him, and for the first time, he was able to acknowledge with confidence that the answer was yes. All four of them were proud of him.
Rising from the ground, and ignoring his stiff, earth-stained knees, Harry breathed in deeply. He could hear the buzz of insects coming out to feed and dance in the twilight, the soft stirring of the light breeze through the trees as it ruffled his hair; smell the unmistakable green scent of summer, of life, as the last of the shadows from the setting sun played over the white marble stone before him.
Sirius' body had never been recovered from the veil, precluding a proper burial. But he fervently hoped that the stone would serve as a shining beacon to guide him home – home to Remus. The makings of grin flitted around the edges of his mouth and eyes as he envisioned the two of them together again, hands clasped, fingers threaded, gazing down at him and smiling. He wasn't sure, but he thought that maybe… just maybe… Yes. Right there: a glimmer of something lightly warming the edges of his bruised and broken heart.
That night, on the cusp between sleep and awareness, he dreamed of odd ghostly touches and embraces; a cold, wet, black nose nudging his palm, a soft growl replete with affection tickling his ear, the gentle poking of an antler in his side, and a flash of green eyes and red hair out of the corner of his eye. He sighed in content, wrapping himself up in the ethereal comfort, and for the first time in longer than he dared remember, Harry James Potter slept peacefully and soundly through the night.