A/N: This first chapter references the third installment of "Random Acts" where James and Sirius take Remus mountain climbing during their second year at Hogwarts. You don't have to have read that chapter to enjoy this one, though.
"Of Blood, Ice, and Fire"
Harry hiked alongside Remus on the mountain's icy slopes, throwing him a worrisome glance as the werewolf faltered a bit and breathed in deeply.
"I'm doing fine, Harry," he assured.
"Couldn't this have waited? I mean, at least until you got better?"
Remus laughed hoarsely and smiled. "Well, I think I've plateaued in my recovery….so now's as good a time as any."
Harry looked down in the snow then away for a minute before he glanced back at Remus as they moved onward and upward. He hurt all over. Remus had to feel even worse.
In the wake of the war's ending, everyone had their wounds, their phantoms. Some more than others. Seamus would probably never leave St. Mungos, his blue eyes wide and sunken, his mind tethered to a nightmarish existence no one could pull from him from.
And Remus? Dark jagged scars cut into his mangled left arm, leaving it marginally useful. His right eye remained covered by a brown leather patch tied around his graying hair; and an angled scar crept from under the leather and ran from his cheek to the edge of his jaw where the wound had gone deepest, cutting to the bone.
Greyback had wreaked his worst havoc in the war's final days, biting both muggle and magical children at random and spreading his curse like the worst of plagues throughout London.
And Remus had tracked him down like one animal tracks another and fought him to the death, anger and hatred raging within him as he tore Fenrir apart, nearly losing his own life in the process.
Harry had stood with Molly in the Grimmauld hallway when Remus, caked in dried blood and clad only in filthy oversized jeans, fell through the door like a dead man. Molly's terrifying shriek brought everyone running, and Harry gathered him into his arms, saw in the werewolf's peaceful face the look of someone who feels his death was not all for naught. And Harry knew that Greyback had met his own.
But Remus survived. And as he healed and regained his strength under The Order's combined care, it became obvious to everyone that in the wake of Greyback's reign of terror, Remus would live a life of prejudice beyond anything he had experienced before.
It was one of many changes they would all have to face in the following months of newfound….peace. But they had all begun searching for a world to call home again. And slowly, they found it.
Remus came and went from their lives, living on the bare edge of the magical world and looking even more shabby and sickly with each passing visit, until Harry had realized there would come a time when Remus would no longer show….
Then, in the dead of a still and silent night, Remus had appeared at Harry's London flat and asked, almost timidly, if he would like to go on a trip with him. To climb a mountain. But they'd have to leave now.
"Now?" Harry had asked incredulously. "It's 2:00 am."
"I feel very strongly that I should take you to see this place today."
Harry immediately thought Remus had lost his mind, had mentally shattered in the wake of war like so many others who would never be whole again.
But he had grown to love Remus and desperately wanted to help this man who rarely asked for anything and accepted so little. He would accommodate Remus. Even if it got him out of bed at 2:00 am to portkey to France and climb a bloody mountain in the dark.
The sun had finally risen an hour ago as they moved upward, tiny dots on the side of a beautiful mountain in Chamonix Valley. A crisp blue sky stood out beautifully from the white sloping shores of the peak where their feet sunk into the packed glacier ice, the wind a bare breath on their faces as the sun touched them gently and made the snow sweat in a light surface melt.
"How much farther?" Harry asked with a grunt as he reached forward with his borrowed axe to boost himself up the steep incline.
"Actually, we're almost there. You can't see the summit here because of the angle of the slope. But when we go about 500 more meters, you'll see it." He turned to Harry and gave him the sad, winsome smile that had become his most common attempt at cheerfulness since the war ended.
"And when you see it, you'll think it's the most beautiful sight ever, especially since it took us half a day to get up there."
"So that's why we started so early?"
Remus nodded then stopped and looked at Harry apologetically.
"I haven't really told you much of anything, have I? Let's take a water break."
Harry removed his backpack and hesitantly helped Remus pull off his when a shoulder strap caught on the elbow of his bad arm.
Harry plopped down and, for the first time, took in the amazing view before him. They had climbed in the dark for so long that when the sky unlidded its eyes and the sun crept around to light the world, he felt magically transported. Up here with no magical aids, of his own accord. He felt empowered by that and by the beauty of the view but didn't know why.
Remus took in the scenery view like an elixir then turned and studied Harry, bit his lip before he began.
"It's the anniversary of my parents' deaths," Harry said bluntly, without emotion.
Harry had planned to lock the doors and hole up for the day, hide from his friends and especially the reporters and onlookers who often lingered outside his flat. And he suddenly realized what a wonderful alternative Remus' outing had given him.
"I felt…" Remus faltered. "I don't know why, but I felt this was the best day to take you to this place. Your father was a mountain climber, did you know that?"
Harry raised his eyebrows for a second then shook his head, surprised.
"And your grandfather, as well. James and Sirius took me to climb this mountain once. It was one of the greatest gifts I've ever received. And I wanted to pass it on to you."
Harry couldn't feel his feet…but he had nothing but pure gratitude for Remus' gift.
"Thanks for bringing me. It's so beautiful out, and...you haven't been around in a while. It's good to see you…and this amazing place, too."
They sat for quietly for several minutes, listening to birds in the distance, the wind below threading through trees like the sound of a mild ocean.
Remus shifted his feet uncomfortably before he began.
"Harry…James and Sirius were there for me so many times. They were both your fathers. And…I've let them down. I've let you down."
"I don't understand."
Remus gave him an accommodating look.
"I think you do, Harry. You're just too kindhearted to admit it…..When Sirius died, it fell to me to look out for you. But I ran….I threw myself into the cause. I put up a veil of my own, tried to forget that I loved people and that…that maybe some of them loved me, as well."
He briefly reached out to touch Harry's arm then looked back toward the remarkable view.
"I forgot you. I could have made an effort to stay in touch, to be there for you if you needed someone, if you needed to see a letter coming through the window. But I didn't. I'm sorry. And…"
Harry thought it odd but also wonderful to see a look akin to pride in Remus' face.
"You're a young man, now. It's not like you need a father…or a big brother or what have you, but I just want you to know that I love you, Harry. As much as I loved your father and Sirius, and that's saying something. I don't know if it's right for me to call you family, but I do feel that way. And if you'd like to think of me as the same, I'd be honored. I….I'd like to start over, I guess. Or maybe pick up where we left off after our patronus lesson," he added hopefully with a smile.
At his age and after so many years of going it alone, Harry thought he had moved beyond needing such connections; but in that moment, he felt seven again, standing in the Privet front yard as the Dursleys drove away for another weekend outing without him. And Remus had just walked up, arms open.
"So you'll be my godfather then?" he said tentatively.
"Godfather?" Remus looked shocked.
And Harry nodded slowly and then smiled widely when the werewolf's face softened in the wake of hearing the word.
He leaned in and pulled Harry into a one-armed hug. "Of course." Harry squeezed him back, and took a moment to worry about the thin body he could feel beneath Remus' shabby coat.
Finally, they separated, noses sniffing a bit from the altitude and the moment as Remus wedged a thermos between his knee and bad arm to unscrew the lid and pour steaming cocoa into the cap then handed the thermos to Harry, who took it gratefully.
He sipped the hot contents, felt the sweet fluid warm his chest as he drank. "I really needed this today, you know. Needed to get away. I can barely walk on the streets since….since I killed him."
Remus considered Harry's choice of words. Not since the war ended…Since I killed him…
"I don't know if that will ever end for you. You were 'the boy who lived' for the first part of your life. And now you'll be 'the man who destroyed Voldemort.'"
"I just want to be Harry," he said quietly.
"What will you do in the Fall?"
Harry took a deep breath. He hadn't really thought of what to do next. The last month or so, he had walked around in a daze, still reeling from the heavy load that had filled his aching mind for so many years.
"Well….Hogwarts reopens next month….. Finish school first, I guess. Captain the quidditch team, hopefully. Focus on chasing a snitch as much as I can, probably even over my studies."
After a moment, he added with a smile that hinted of boyish embarrassment. "Spend time with Ginny."
"Be a teenager," Remus nodded. "Maybe for the first time in your life."
"Yeah..…I guess you could say that….be a kid with a regular life for once….and try to forget."
"Forgetting is not always best."
Harry felt the werewolf's close gaze on him as he turned to ask, with a bit of regret, "But do you…do you think about it? About killing Greyback? I mean, he was the one who took so much away from you. And then he went on to hurt others. And suddenly, it was your job to stop him."
"Like you and Voldemort…."
Remus sighed and raised the thermos cup to take another sip but dropped his hand before it reached his lips.
"Someone had to stop Voldemort, Harry. And Greyback, as well. I don't regret…..taking his life….but the road I took was wrong. And sometimes that's the harder reality to face. My ethics, my concern for our world didn't make me kill Greyback. In the end, my hatred drove me to kill him. And hatred shouldn't be the driving force of anything."
Harry shook his head in immediate disagreement. "I hated Voldemort. I couldn't have killed him otherwise."
"But the hatred you felt stemmed from love. And love is stronger. Dumbledore taught you that….he taught us all that."
Harry simply shrugged, a young man's anger still evident in his eyes as he admitted, "I know love is stronger. But sometimes anger will get the job done when love won't. It's not always about strength. Sometimes, it's about the right tools. I wasn't protecting anyone when I killed him. I just….I just revenged my parents."
"You think it's pure anger now; but over time, I think you'll find it otherwise. And that will make it easier to bear."
Remus drank in the view, his heart heavy for the hard lessons Harry had bourne. And after a long silence, Harry broke the stillness with a small voice.
"Maybe it was the same for you…with Greyback."
Remus winced as the memory of Fenrir's mauled throat gushing blood flashed across his mind. "I'm afraid not."
Harry just nodded and stabbed lightly at the snow with his axe, waiting for him to continue.
"When you keep things bottled up inside -- hate…despair…prejudice… you play with the worst kind of fire, Harry. You can't put everything terrible that ever happens to you in a little pouch and hide it away in your soul to fester. Eventually, that refuge becomes too caustic…or too full to contain all the grief, the fear, the anger…And it explodes. And that's what happened when I went to kill Greyback. He died for everything dark in my soul that could no longer be contained.…..I killed him to sate my own pent up despair more than to ameliorate the lives of others."
"Is that why you turned down the medal The Ministry of Magic wanted to give you? Because you…I don't know…because you feel guilty?"
The werewolf gave a bitter laugh. "Harry, The Ministry is responsible for the registry number burned into my chest. I'm not interested in tokens from them."
"But accepting it would…it might make things easier for lycanthropes now that this is all over."
"No," Remus said quietly. "What's done is done. I don't need recognition for what I did. Don't want it in the least. Greyback is gone." Then he added in a winsome voice, barely a whisper, "Children can play in freedom again."
"What happened to rest of the pack?"
"Some were put to death….others are in Azkaban….a few…a few of the young ones who showed a glimmer, who lived on the fringes, they're in rehabilitation at the Dark Creatures Institute…..They want me to talk to them."
Harry looked pleased. "You should."
But Remus put up his hand in dissent and said, "I'm no psychologist. I'm not the most stable of people myself, even I can admit that."
"I don't know, I think you're pretty stable…..about most things."
Remus seemed to suddenly remember where they were, perched on the edge of a mountain with the daylight bleeding away amidst their talk. This wasn't the kitchen of Grimmauld, for Merlin's sake.
"We need to get moving!"
They hiked upward for a good thirty minutes in companiable silence before Harry found the gumption to ask a question that had plagued him all month. It shouldn't have. After all, it was none of his business. But more and more often, he found the happiness of others integral to his own.
"Do you think you and Tonks will ever get back together?"
Remus was quiet for several steps. "No, Harry. Tonks is a bright, talented young woman. She has a wonderful future ahead of her."
Harry brooded immediately at what he had come to call Remus' SOS response. Same old shit. Same old ridiculous shit he spouted every time his relationship with Tonks came up in company.
Remus risked a look over at Harry and saw the tension in his jaw.
"She's been talking to you, hasn't she."
They walked a bit more in silence.
"At my age, you get quite adept at recognizing delusional behavior in other people. Tonks needs someone. She thinks it's me, but it's not."
His light laugh added bitter weight to his next words. "And it's a big ocean…There are lots of fish out there that aren't floating on the top like I am."
"So….people get older and see more in life. They get better at seeing delusional behavior?"
"I think so."
"But not in yourself?" Harry asked lightly.
"You recognize delusional behavior in others but not in yourself?"
Remus looked amused. "Not necessarily. When you get older, you're just more able to see it…in general."
They breathed hard as their boots crunched into the snow methodically. In the quiet, Harry's mind raced and he found new energy in his steps as he formulated an attack.
"So…this godfather/godson thing, it works both ways, right? I mean, I can do things for you, too, right?"
Remus threw him a troubled glance.
"Harry, I don't expect anything from you."
"No, I mean, to some extent, I'll mess up sometimes and you'll keep me in line. Because that's what fathers do. But being, like you said, practically an adult now, I think I could do the same for you. Because we look out for each other. That's what families do. Right?"
"You'll keep me on track, as well, is that it?" Remus said with an amused grin.
"Absolutely…." Harry said seriously. "So let's talk about what's best for people. You're doing me a favor, taking me out here to show me a mountain that meant something to my dad, sharing a part of his past with me. And that's awesome. I mean….this is hard."
Harry grunted into a step.
"It's hard to be climbing this thing, but it means a lot to be able to tap into something that my dad loved. And I love this, too. In fact, I want to climb more after this."
"Good! I'm glad."
"And I think I know why he and my grandfather did this. It's all about sacrifice. Sacrificing your comfort long enough to see something amazing. It's concrete. And sometimes, that in itself is comforting. This for that. A struggle in exchange for something beautiful and fleeting."
Remus smiled to himself, losing the crinkle in between his eyes for a moment. "You definitely have your father's heart, Harry."
"My dad knew about sacrifice, didn't he. About sacrificing for a cause. And sacrificing to help others. And he was a good judge of what people needed most. People tell me that all the time, that he looked out for others."
"He did," Remus said with a heavy grunt as his crampon got stuck on a chunk of ice.
"And Sirius was the same way, wasn't he? And so are you. You know what's good for others lots of times. You knew this would be good for me."
Remus knocked the ice off his boot with a whap from his axe and smiled curiously at Harry, sensing a turn in the conversation as they continued upward.
"I thought it would be. I'm glad you're enjoying the climb."
Harry ignored the small talk.
"Sometimes you're very good at determining what's best for people, Remus. You really are. But sometimes,…..sometimes you can't see the bloody building for the bricks. In fact…..I've never met anyone more self-deluded in my entire life."
Remus stopped and looked at Harry intently, a hardness in his features.
"Harry, I know where you're going with this. And bottom line is that I'm not interested in dooming Tonks to a life of disenfranchisement."
The werewolf immediately turned toward the summit again and kept hiking upward.
"You know what it means, Harry."
"No, tell me what it means."
"It means…It means she would be deprived of a normal life with all its regular rights and privileges by staying involved with me."
Remus barely got the words out before Harry continued his attack.
"But what if Tonks feels that way when she's not with you? Doesn't she deserve to be happy, to be with the one she loves? Don't you think it's harder when the person keeping her from that happiness is the very person she focuses that love on? If Tonks feels disenfranchised when she's not with you and you feel she's disenfranchised when she is…well." Harry laughed, finally seeing the absurdity in it. "Then someone is seeing this whole relationship the wrong way."
"She is," Remus blurted adamantly as he stomped upward into the snow in such a childish way it made Harry smile.
"I think it's you."
After two more steps, Remus stopped again and looked at Harry guardedly. "Has my personal life become everyone's business?"
"Let's just say the entire Order thinks you're wrong. And your godson….Oh! And all your former students."
"Merlin.." Remus muttered with an incredulous laugh, shaking his head.
"Hey, people needed gossip in times like war."
"I see. If you can't gossip about romance, there's no hope for humanity."
"Exactly. So everyone knows. And everyone thinks you're being stupid. So I just want to say.."
Remus' wary look made him falter for a moment.
"If you're the only one who feels this way, is it possible that you're the delusional one?
"Harry…we need to keep climbing."
"I can talk and climb at the same time."
"And you can, too. So talk."
"Harry, unless all of those people have lived my life, they have no say in my perception of things." He stabbed hard into the ice and cut a step into a slippery portion of the bank with his boot. "No one, not even you, can know what my life has been like."
Suddenly, he turned to Harry with anger in his uncovered eye. The scar across his cheek flushed a livid red.
"I've lived on the streets, I've gone years without work, almost died from illnesses that healers could have easily treated because I couldn't afford the potions. I'm destitute, unemployable, and disabled. I have no access to wolfsbane anymore and being one of the oldest living lycanthropes, I think it's safe to say that from a health standpoint alone, my days are numbered. Loving me is not a good idea."
He took off climbing at an surprisingly fast pace, and Harry addressed his back as he tried to keep up.
"But you said earlier that you came to your senses; you remembered that people loved you."
"I meant you, Harry. I wasn't talking about anyone else but you."
"McGonagall said she's talking to the Ministry officials about having you reinstated at Hogwarts. She really wants to make it happen."
"The new laws forbid it. It's not a possibility."
"It is! The war is over, and the rules will change…… And Poppy said your arm is getting better. It just needs more time. And she said she could heal your eye if you'd let her, but when you found out how much time she'd have to invest, you told her 'no.'"
"And she respected my decision."
"It's always the same with you!" Harry stopped abruptly, his shout echoing throughout the valley.
Remus quit moving, as well, but kept his back to Harry as he threw over his shoulder, "Harry..I didn't bring you up here to argue. Can't we talk about this later?"
Harry felt his ears burn, his gloved fingers clenching around the cold metal of his axe. "We'll talk about it now!"
With utter calm, Remus dropped his pack to the snow and gave Harry a mild gaze as he said quietly. "Alright…I'm listening."
"Everything is business to you. It's all about investment. Like you think you're an old broken-down house, and no one should be interested in putting some time and effort into you."
"No! You listen!" He could practically feel his blood boiling. "Stop pushing everyone away who wants to help you! Did you ever stop and think that seeing you happy would make us happy? That when you pull yourself away, we hurt, as well? Look what you did to Tonks! She was physically ill when you lived with the pack! She hurts when you're gone. You do that!"
Remus visibly flinched at the accusation.
"She loves you! Would it be so hard to love her back?"
Remus' face crumbled in frustration. "You don't understand, Harry, I do love her!"
"And in spite of that, you'll just let yourself waste to nothing in solitude and poverty? And push her away, along with your health? And your career? I think…I think you're putting all your denial into a little place in your soul…and when all that denial gets too pent up, you'll die. And a big piece of us will die along with you. For nothing! Just…just stop running. It's like you said. It's the worst kind of fire. Listen to your own advice!"
"Harry, this isn't the same thing. It's not connected."
"It is. It is the same!" Harry's low voice trembled in anger, and Remus looked deep into his eyes…Lily's eyes….and shifted his weight.
"You can't see it….Her life will be harder….for loving me."
"She doesn't care."
"She'll be monitored by intelligence within the Ministry. They won't even allow us to legally marry."
"She doesn't give a shit about a sheet of paper."
Remus looked into the melting snow, brought his good hand up to rub across his mouth. In the still, perfect air, Harry could hear the scratch of his five o'clock shadow under the palm.
"Just talk to her," Harry pleaded.
When Remus didn't say anything, he pressed gently. "You're my family now. My blood, and I'm yours….Didn't you promise to be there for me now? So be there. I've been absorbed with things, too, you know. I've watched you both suffer for a long time and did nothing about it. I need to fix things before I can go on with my life. Can you understand that?"
Remus nodded lightly, looking away from his godson. "I know what that's like, Harry."
"So I'm asking for a favor, okay? I'm asking you to believe you're worthy of good things for just one bloody week. Spend some time with Tonks. And with me. Talk to McGonagall about the position. Let Poppy help you. Please?"
"Harry," Remus began uncomfortably. "Today was supposed to be about you, about something that was important to James."
"My father's not here," Harry shot back earnestly then added, "But if he were, he'd say the same things. I'm sure of it. You're right, today is about my parents. And today, I guess, they're speaking through me….promise me, Remus. Seven days…"
Remus felt cornered…and defeated. And he couldn't find a place to hide on this one.
After a very long minute, he forced a smile to accommodate Harry and follow through on his newly laid promises.
What the hell….
"We'll see what the week brings."
Harry visibly relaxed, the tightness in his shoulders and chest falling away. "Can you stay with me in London? I have an extra room. Tonks lives nearby and…and I'm not a bad cook….On Sunday, we could go to the burrow for the day. Molly's been desperate to feed you, as well."
Thinking on Molly and her good intentions, Remus gave Harry a genuine smile then a small, silent nod as he cleared his throat. "Alright…it's settled, then….Now let's get to the top of this thing."
When Harry came up beside him, he put his hand lightly on his godson's back as they continued to climb.
"You're a brutal hiking partner, Harry," he said, trying to create a light moment, but Harry could hear the truth in his voice.
"So how much farther?"
Remus looked up and squinted into the afternoon sky. "That's it, right there," he said with a surprised laugh.
They both walked the final steps side by side, shoulders hitting together occasionally in their exhaustion as they reached the small flat pinnacle and the world opened up around them, all things visible in a pure and complete way that made Harry's mind reel. He took in the view all around them, the perfection of this animate painting sprawling into every corner of their visible world.
They sat down heavily on the summit and shared a long and comfortable silence. Harry indulged in a good look at Remus, his overgrown hair brushing at his sharp cheekbones, his face intent, as if he pined away for something he could finally see clearly.
Eventually, Remus broke the stillness.
"Congratulations, Harry. You've just climbed your first mountain," he said quietly with an affectionate smile. "James would be very proud of you." He rummaged through his pack for some food and a heat-spelled container of soup.
"Can't believe we made it up here…everything is so far away," Harry murmured with a silly grin. And Remus let his eyes roam across the valley as he handed Harry half a sandwich and the entire container of broth.
"Not….not far away, really….more complete, because we see everything at once. Being up here is…pure clarity.
Harry studied him carefully. "You've been up here more than once?"
"Quite a few times." Remus stole a quick glance at Harry before he added softly, "You know…Earnest Hemingway once said that we don't take trips. Trips take us….. Today hasn't gone the way I planned for you, really. Or for me, either. But this trip…I think I'll take home something that I've never found up here before."
Harry was curious but almost afraid to ask. "What…what did you find?"
He was surprised to see immediate and heavy tears fall down Remus' face as he looked across the valley earnestly then met Harry's eyes. And with as much emotion as Harry had ever heard from the werewolf, he croaked out one word.
Author's Notes: This started out as a one-shot and over the past few months has blossomed into a full-fledged story. At first, I didn't want to continue it, thought that writing about the inevitable good things that would happen to Remus if he let go of his stubborness and allowed people to love him again would be obvious and boring. But it has taken a lot of turns, through full moon holding dungeons, political upheaval, and a passionate love affair. And as of now (I'm currently writing chapter 13), it's still chugging ahead. It will be about 20 chapters when finished.
Just to let you know, Nymphadora Tonks, Severus Snape, Dolores Umbridge, and Kingsley Shacklebot all figure prominently in this story.
I hope you continue to read and enjoy the trip. :)