A/N: I have this productive spree-thing going on, it seems. I hope it lasts :D Maybe I could get some work done on HA and maybe even Used to know. And more damn chapters on this behemoth is always fun... Thanks to all you kind people who have been patient and who have made my day with your kind words 3
The boy who smiled
Harry stood all alone on platform 9 ¾.
Andromeda had followed him here before she went to work, and she had made an attempt to convince her to stay with him, but the boy had refused to give in. No, he was really fine. She ought to get to work. Dad always said that doing your duty was important. Go on. And throwing a final, worried look at him from over her shoulder, she had hurried away. Now he was all alone on the bustling terminal, feeling a lot less brave than he had made show of. Even though he could hardly take a step in any direction without bumping into somebody, he had never felt so alone in his life.
And it was absolutely terrifying.
Harry had never even slept at a friend's house. He had wanted, many times, to ask Severus if he could, but he had been convinced that it would be out of the question anyway, so why make Severus angry? Because he would have been angry. It was the kind of anger that people frequently explain to children with the phrase 'He's only angry because he cares,' the most frustrating explanation in history, since the anger rarely makes anyone involved feel better.
It all made sense now, of course. It sort of had before, but not quite. Other children's parents got worried too, but not about the sort of things Severus could get worried for. But if Severus was supposed to be his special protector, on top of being his father, Harry supposed that he would worry more than ordinary parents did.
For a short, uncomfortable moment Harry wondered if that was the only reason Severus got worried, but he pushed that thought away with disgust. Severus only thought that Harry was more likely to get hurt than other children, and that was why he was more worried than other parents.
But now he wouldn't be able to always be there, like he used to. They would see each other every day, Harry supposed, but if Severus would do as he usually did, and never let Harry out of his sight, then this whole disguise thing would be destroyed. And that ought to feel liberating, but it didn't. It just made him more frightened.
Suddenly almost panicking, Harry wondered how on earth he was going to survive at Hogwarts without anything or anyone around that was safe and familiar; without anywhere to go for comfort. Mad ideas about escaping from the platform and going home were flashing through his mind, when suddenly something happened that almost made him cry out in fright. Someone called his name.
Casting about wildly, he sought for the source of the cry; his mind – almost paralysed with unreasonable fear – was trying to tell him something about the voice he had just heard, but Harry found it impossible to listen.
And then something hit him at high speed from the side and Harry was positive he was going to die; only the something was laughing and hugging him and his vision was almost completely obscured by brown hair...
"Ican'tbelieveyouarehere!" she breathed happily, her eyes wide and her cheeks rather rosy from the excitement. "And I went around being so secretive all the time and I didn't dare to tell you because that would be breaking the law and anyway, you'd think I was trying to trick you or just daft or something and my parents said it was best if I kept silent, and then you were a wizard all along! Weren't you surprised when the owl turned up just like that? But no, you must've known all along! You've got wizard's photos in that pendant, oh, how stupid of me, why didn't I think of that?"
"I didn't," Harry finally managed to say.
"Didn't what?" she asked, slightly out of breath.
"I didn't know I was a wizard. Severus kept it secret from me 'cause he wanted me to be safe."
"Safe?" Hermione repeated, confused. "What in the world would he need you to keep you safe from? You..." But then she fell silent, her mouth forming a an 'o' as her eyes jumped to his forehead, and then widened considerably with shock. "Oh, Harry, you aren't! You can't be? Or... are you?"
"What? What can't... What?!"
"What's your real name, Harry?" she asked shakily. "The one you got from your parents."
And then Harry finally understood, and he felt his cheeks warming as it suddenly became impossible to meet Hermione's gaze. "Potter," he mumbled.
He could feel Hermione continuing to stare at him for a few seconds, then she dived for her trunk, tearing it open and rifling through it in the middle of the station floor until she found what she sought. She pulled out a heavy textbook and opened it on a place where she had shoved a vividly coloured marker. "Here!" she said excitedly, shoving it under his nose. "Read!" she breathed.
"Harry Potter," he read the words written in large, bold script on the top of the page, and then, in slightly smaller script: "The Boy Who Lived."
From blushing furiously, Harry's face drained of colour until he seemed to have turned faintly green. "This is in a book?!"
"Well, of course it is!" Hermione exclaimed. "You're famous! Everyone knows who you are, don't they? You're the baby who conquered the Dark Lord!"
Harry wished that he had somewhere to sit down, but when he tried to move, he discovered that it was as if he was rooted to the spot. People recognising him just because of his scar was bad enough, but being in a book... an actual history book...
"But..." he protested. "But... that's... that's stupid. I didn't do anything. I mean, that hex just bounced. What's that to be famous for? He killed both my parents and then he messed up, and they put that... me... in a book for it?
"Well, he died, didn't he? The war ended. I mean, it doesn't matter why you managed to kill him, as long as you did, right?"
Harry was silent, not knowing how to explain how unfair it was that everyone had known all of this about him while he'd been kept in the dark. How scary it was to think that there were probably people out there who hated him for something he couldn't even remember; and even worse, people who loved him for it and thought he was some kind of hero. And how being famous for failing to die with his parents felt like some kind of betrayal.
At last he opened his mouth again, but at that exact moment the train whistle sounded, and in the next moment they were both in a hurry to stuff everything back inside Hermione's trunk before the train left without them.
"Hey, throw your bag up there, Herm."
"I… can't… get it up…"
"Wait, we'll do it together. One… two…three... PUSH!"
Hermione's trunk finally slid into place. Harry gave it an incredulous look. "What did you pack? Bricks?"
"Maybe it's a bit heavier than it has to be," Hermione admitted, sinking into a seat. "Mother packed tons of underwear. I accidentally told her that wizards probably clean their clothes by magic, and she didn't seem to think that sounded very reliable. So obviously she's tried to give me a full stock that will last till Christmas."
Harry laughed, trying unsuccessfully to shove his own trunk up on the rack. Eventually he had to let Hermione lend him a hand, even though his trunk was considerably lighter. But then again, it wouldn't really make sense of Severus to mistrust wizarding methods of washing. If anything, now that Harry came to think about it, he mistrusted the muggle way. He was forever grumbling and complaining about how the washing machine kept washing out the colour – as much colour as black-on-black had – from his clothes.
It was a funny old world.
They then both sat down, and for a moment they didn't know what to say to each other, and so they just stared at the people running to and fro outside the window. Then, as the train slowly began to move, they examined the compartment they were in. Then they stared at each other. Slowly, they both began to grin. To Harry, what had seemed unfamiliar and frightening just a few minutes ago, was now a splendid adventure for the two of them to share. Hermione was looking just as nervous as he felt, and that, oddly enough, made him feel a lot better. Being alone and frightened was unendurable; being together and frightened was rather exiting.
For a long while they sat quiet, watching the city give way to rolling green fields outside the window. It wasn't an awkward silence, but the silence of two people too overwhelmed to find words for to fill it with. It was also the silence of two people between whom words weren't really necessary right now.
"So…" she hesitated, fumbling with the sleeve of her shirt. "Harry, I have to ask… do you remember anything about… well, about all those things you are famous for?"
Harry looked down on his hands, wondering why on earth she 'had to' ask. "No. Or…" He kicked at his seat with his heels, a nervous staccato drumming. "Sometimes, when I dream, I see a green light, and I sometimes think that I can hear someone laughing. When I told Severus, he seemed like he didn't want to talk about it."
Hermione had hid her mouth behind her hands, wide-eyed with horror. "I… bought some other books except the ones for school for fun, and... Oh, Harry, I read about this curse that you use for killing people and it said that it was recognisable as a green light!"
Harry swallowed. It was that green light that had killed his parents. And it would've killed him too, if not… if not something had happened to stop it.
Silence fell over the compartment, as they both struggled not to meet the eye of the other. Finally, Hermione took a deep, bracing breath. "Well, since your dad… or, that is…" she hesitated, but rallied quickly. "…your step-dad is a wizard, you must've met some other wizards, right? And witches."
Harry, relieved that they were now leaving the subject of dark wizards killing his parents far behind, grinned. "Yup. Uncle Remus is one. And Andromeda, you know? And Nymphadora. And… well, Hagrid was supposed to have been a wizard, but he did something stupid, and he wasn't allowed. Nobody wants to talk about it, really" he added as an afterthought, frowning slightly.
"Would you?" Hermione asked tartly, assuming with annoying accuracy that he had nagged on people about it, and thereby in her eyes had been horribly rude.
"S'pose not. Anyway, they told me lots of things about the wizarding world. And the wonderful thing is, the more they tell me, the more it seems that I don't know." Hermione gave him a bit of an odd look, but Harry just shrugged and grinned even wider. It was the kind of grin that Severus usually referred to as "a splintering headache in the making", and it always made Hermione slightly nervous. But at the moment, Harry seemed quite happy with just sitting there.
There was a quite loud noise going on outside, and a smiling woman poked her head through their door. "Anything from the trolley, little ones?"
Harry was already on his feet, having spotted the trolley loaded with candy outside. In his hand he held a quite heavy stash that Nymphadora had slipped him, 'for various expenses'. Not that Harry knew exactly what she had meant by that, but candy seemed to him right now to be a very likely 'various expense'. Hermione followed him a bit more cautiously, and Harry quirked his eyebrows at her. Her parents were dentists, and seemed sometimes to be of the opinion that candy was the source of all evil, an attitude that had made Hermione somewhat wary of any product polluted with sugar.
"'S not going to eat you" he told her, fingering a liquorice wand. "As a matter of fact, if you're doing it right, you're the one who's supposed to eat it."
She sent him a cross look, handing over some coins. "Two packages of…" she carefully read on the wrappings "…chocolate frogs, please."
Harry, on the other had, was less considerate when it came to money, and bought by the principle, "rather a lot too much than too little". Hermione rolled her eyes at him, as he dropped his purchases on the seat beside him. "Really!" she muttered exasperatedly, but he ignored her, being far too caught up with trying to pry his bag of 'Bertie Bott's Every-flavour Beans' open. Huffing a bit, she opened the wrapping on a chocolate frog, fishing out a card of it with a vaguely surprised face. "What's this?" she asked.
"You're supposed to collect them. There's a famous witch or wizard on every. You can read who it is underneath the picture." The bag finally opened, spraying beans all over Harry and his seat. He swore, diving to catch those that had fallen to the floor. Meanwhile, Hermione carefully studied the picture.
"So this is Dumbledore…" she mumbled, turning it over to read on the backside. Harry, now slightly curious, since he had heard quite a lot about the Headmaster, looked up. The old man on the picture winked at him. Harry thought with a slightly unpleasant jolt in his stomach of the pictures inside the locket, in this very now hanging around his neck. He thought of that even if this Dumbledore died, that picture would keep smiling and winking forever, as if nothing had happened. The thought sent a chill down his spine, and he suddenly wanted very much for Hermione to put the picture down.
"Here," he said, throwing her some beans. "They're fun."
"What do you mean, fun?" said the girl, who had earlier experienced some of the quirks in Harry's sense of humour.
The black-haired boy rolled his eyes. "I mean, they are fun, because they are in absolutely every flavour. First time I ate them, I got one tasting of cardboard, and one tasting of soap. That was terrible." He grimaced wildly as he remembered the taste of perfume in his mouth.
Hermione pursed her lips. "Doesn't sound terribly fun to me," she said acidly, purposely using the corresponding adverbial. But she still took a cautious bite of one of the beans, which was a colour somewhere between cream and golden brown. Her eyes widened. "It tastes like pancakes!" she exclaimed, somewhat mollified for the moment. Harry grimaced wildly over his own bean.
"Then you're lucky. I got mustard."
Remus watched the train leave the station. He had argued with himself whiter he should approach or not, but as Hermione had turned up he had settles on watching from a distance. From what he had seen, Harry had been pretty determined that Andromeda should leave him alone, so maybe he wanted to do this on his own. Remus didn't want to be in the way for him. And he had his friend with him, he reminded himself sternly, when his resolve for a moment wavered. The boy was no infant, he could take care of himself.
Now the platform was slowly emptying, but decided Remus stayed for a while. So he stretched his legs out and leaned back on the cool wooden bench, inhaling the smell of the station slowly, savouring it and the memories it brought. He remembered how scared he had been the first time he had set foot here, how he had cowered at every noise, wanting to cling to his mother but not daring to, in case his new classmates would see him and thing he was a mama's boy. And as she kissed him on the cheek and told him she was so happy for his sake, that she loved him but she had to go, they would be wanting her at the office in ten minutes... he hadn't been able to be angry with her; she had looked so pale in the morning light, so miserable with guilt and yet so proud of him, and he knew that if she'd been able to, she would've stayed. And so he had told her he'd be fine, and he had forced himself to turn his back on her and walk away. And then...
"Ow!" Remus promptly toppled over, sitting down hard on his behind and glancing up fearfully at whomever it was he had managed to walk into in his rush to get away from his mother and her sadness. A thin, pale face with aristocratic features looked back at him, the slate-grey eyes as smooth and unfathomable as the autumn sky.
"Oh, I am dreadfully sorry," the other boy said, although he didn't even sound quite sorry, let alone not dreadfully so. It was just an automatic response. Remus just mouthed silently, trying to say that everything was fine, but his voice was gone. He blushed, humiliated, wondering if this was how it was going to be with everyone he met here. If that was the case, maybe it would've been better if he hadn't gone, just like the previous Headmaster had said. But mother and father had been so happy...
His train thought was interrupted by the black-haired boy, who, after giving him a curious glance, extended a hand towards him. Remus instinctively took it, and with surprising strength for someone so slight of built, the other boy pulled him to his feet. Remus stood, confused, as the other boy held onto his hand and shook it. "Sirius Black, pleased to meet you. You're a first year too, aren't you?"
Finally, the paralysation that had held his throat seemed to let go! "I...Remus Lupin. Nice to meet you too. And yes. I am. Starting first year, I mean." He hoped it was going to be nice, at least; this boy seemed rather cold and odd, but at least he was polite and had done nothing nasty so far, and that had to count for something, right?
The other boy seemed to relax just very, very slightly, as if he had been preparing for something unpleasant to happen and had been proven wrong. Now he smiled; a true, warm smile. "Lupin? I think I heard of your family. Well, see you at school."
The boy nodded at him and then sidestepped him, and as Remus turned around to watch him go, not even managing a proper goodbye, he saw the boy meet up with two parents and a little brother, obviously there to wave him off. His mother grabbed Sirius by the chin and tilted his face upwards, giving his forehead an almost ceremonial kiss, and instead of squirming away like most boys in his age would've done, Sirius seemed to accept this treatment with just a slight look of unease. Then his father shook hands with him, something Remus thought was a rather odd thing to do, but Sirius acted as if it was perfectly normal. Sirius' little brother said nothing, but watched his older sibling with mixed admiration and resentment.
Remus wrenched his gaze away, and started to manhandle his trunk aboard the train, feeling ashamed, as if by watching he'd intruded on something deeply private. He knew he wouldn't have wanted anyone to watch his and his mother's farewell like he'd watched Sirius and his family. Yet again, they had all been so weird; so stately, imposing and cold. Not at all emotional. Remus felt more like he had watched some secret ritual than something intimate and personal.
He'd found himself an empty compartment, fully expecting to spend the whole train ride alone, and had been caught completely off-guard when, a few minutes into the ride someone had opened the door and, after a moment's hesitation had said, "Um... Is there... Could I sit here? Only all the other compartments are full, and..."
Remus nodded and tried to smile, and the other boy looked hugely relieved as he dragged his trunk inside and flopped down opposite Remus. He introduced himself as Peter Pettigrew, and after a few moments of awkward mumbling, Remus found that he was a lot easier to talk to than Sirius had been. For one thing, Peter seemed just as terrified as he was, and unlike Sirius he didn't radiate that subtle aura of superiority that had made Remus feel like an insect under a magnifying glass. When the train had started to slow down a few hours later, Remus was already hoping desperately that he would end up in the same house as Peter, because if he just had one friend around, perhaps things wouldn't be so bad, after all.
Remus closed his eyes tightly, tiredly rubbing a hand over them, and then he straightened out and got to his feet. But even as he walked away, he couldn't help his soul reaching out through all those lost years, making that single day and all its importance shine starkly against the emptiness of his mind.
His wish had come true, and he thought with a wry smile that both he and Peter had been equally surprised to find themselves sitting by the Gryffindor table. Sirius had been there, too, and now he didn't have quite the same composure that had made him so imposing when Remus first met him. No, Remus thought, he had seemed even more nervous than Remus and Peter, and he had kept glancing over at the Slytherin table, where he should have been, if his parents had gotten their will. However, Sirius also been a lot friendlier by then, and he introduced them to a boy he'd met on the train, James Potter, who to the eleven-year-old Remus had seemed incredibly confident and chatty, but strangely enough not all that intimidating.
And that had been that, Remus thought with a wistful smile. It had really been that simple; all his fears had proved to be completely unfounded. Within a week the four of them had started acting as if they'd known each other forever, within a month James had managed to talk them all into swearing each other eternal friendship. It had been a very silly ceremony, including mixing blood and spit in a bowl and reading an oath over it while clasping hands and grinning nervously at each other. It had been completely nonsensical, of course, not magic at all, but it had sounded good. It was about ever-lasting brotherhood, about sticking together through thick and thin, about never ever ever letting each other down, or the traitor would be blood-cursed and turn into some awful creature.
Well, he supposed they had been right about that last part.
Remus took a detour through a bar on his way home, and spent a long time sitting in a corner and staring into his empty glasses of whiskey, trying to find in it the confidence to cry when he knew he shouldn't, to speak even though he had no idea to whom. It had just been a silly oath made up by a young boy who had read too many adventure novels. No blood magic, just childish mysticism. Yet Sirius was in Azkaban, no doubt going madder by the minute, probably losing whatever humanity he'd had left after the murders... And Remus? He was alive while James and Peter were dead, wasn't that a betrayal as well? So maybe he was slowly transforming too? Maybe he was only imagining that he was regaining more and more of his sanity, that his eyes were slowly turning brown again, that his faith in humanity was once more growing? Maybe it was all a lie he told himself so that he wouldn't have to notice that he was slowly turning into... into what? A wolf through and through, both in human and cursed form, like the man who bit him, like Fenrir Greyback? Was that what he was going to become for breaking James' oath?
A brief, painful thought shot through his brain like lightning: Then let it be fast, god help me. Just end this waiting!
And when the tears came, they came without words, for there were no words for what he was feeling now that Remus wanted to speak.
In the blissful darkness of the inside of its eyelids, The Creature cowered, afraid to even for a minute surface and see where he was. Every time he had to return to Hogwarts it was torture, and the ride on the train was the worst of it. Everywhere there were triggers, everywhere there was evidence of what he tried to forget. There was the dent in the wall that the badly aimed hex had caused, there was the rip in the curtains from when he had tripped over James' bag, there was the burn-mark on the floor where Sirius had spilt that goop he had made out of acid-pops and dragon gall…
The Creature had learnt soon enough that it was better to just close his eyes, better to shut it all out.
Yes, The Creature, that was what he called himself. It was easier to diminish what he was, to believe that he was less – much less – than the human he had once been, because believing he was more was to believe he had lost nothing. And that wasn't true. No, the last of his humanity was spent, he knew that much, and it was better to admit this to himself and become The Creature, than to remember that he had been much more, and feel the loss. Feel it, and know that it was no one's fault but his own.
In his mind, he was sure he was a monster. In his heart, he knew that this wasn't true, and that he was nothing more than a coward. In his soul, he was sure that he was just weak, that's all, just a weak person that they had asked too much of. But then his mind replied that no, I am evil, I am a monster...
On and on the treadmill spun, and he was never going to get away. For there was no explanation that was easy, no way of knowing why. All there was, was the knowledge that he had done it, and that he was never allowed to forget it.
The train thundered on, and that was a part of it too. It was all there to make sure he didn't forget, and it was true that it was easier to linger in darkness and hide from the light, but the darkness held such frightening visions in it...
In the darkness The Creature that had once been Peter twisted and tried to escape, tried to make himself small, tried to disappear, because he knew that the moment he stopped they were coming for him...
Lily, fire rattling in her breath, her last breath, but she wasn't dead, or if she was it didn't matter because she was coming for him and fire came with her.
Remus, moonlight shining from his eyes, his own terror trapped inside him; he would grab him and pull him down, down, and he would never let go.
Sirius, with shadows shifting around his forehead, the black night coming with him, the Black knight, coming for vengeance through the darkness.
And then James, with the halo and the sword and the forgiving touch, but not for Peter because for some sins, there was no repentance, no way of washing the blood away, just the endless treadmill and to never, ever be allowed to forget.
What had he done? Ah, but he knew that, didn't he.
The locked-up man screamed in agony, but the monster had locked him in the closet and how did he like it now, eh? The darkness was smothering, unbearable, yet he still feared the light too much, did not dare open his eyes when the phantoms came for him, wanting to take him home.
And there was no saviour, he thought, clarity cutting through the darkness for an instant, thoughts forming out of the dumb turmoil. Who was supposed to save him? The Dark Lord? If he came back, The Creature thought he would probably follow, for it was the only place in the world where he now belonged. It was a cold, bleak place to belong, but at least it was better than being bereft, and remembering before, belonging, believing in being loved. Just as it was better to be The Creature than being nothing, nothing but the knowledge of what he could have been. Just as it was better to run than to turn back and see himself, every person he had ever been, standing where he had left them; accusing him, praising him, hating him, but being nothing like what he was now, nothing like nothing.
He turned away – or maybe they did – and he gritted his teeth and swore never to return, just to cry out the moment thereafter, begging them to come back to him. But when he looked, there was no one there.
A/N: Okay, so I fail a bit on the cheerful, but I'll try to make up for it.