TITLE: "Hope is the thing with feathers…"
ARCHIVE: SBRL, Azkaban's Lair, anywhere that wants (just ask), my lj
DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter is property of JK Rowling. I'm just borrowing him for a bit of fun.
SUMMARY: AU Two weeks after Sirius Black fell beyond the Veil, Harry is in the midst of mourning (though he doesn't want to talk about it), the Ministry is still indecisive, Tonks is a bit confused, and Lupin is… well, Lupin has other things on his mind. But Harry and company must learn that not everything is as it seems and the difference between believing and madness is not so straightforward.
WARNINGS: Hmm… not much now… just some innuendo, but this is SLASH so beware.
NOTES: I seem to be stuck at the end of OotP. Not that HBP was that bad, but can you blame me? Thanks to Catclaw for being such an excellent beta! There are several other stories out there concerning Remus, the end of OotP, and insanity, including Catclaw's wonderful 'Join Me' (I'm not biased at all...). While this fic was in the process of being beta'd, I ran across a really good fic by samstoryteller (I think I'm remembering that right) called 'Alive' that has a similar concept. You should go read it. Now. Any resemblance between this fic and any of the others is entirely unintentional.
There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.
Blackness surrounded him, smothered him, embraced him. As he opened his mouth to scream, it poured down his throat and pooled thickly in his stomach. He dimly wondered if he was drowning, if his lungs would stop working any moment now. It was then he realized he was not struggling for breath because he did not need to breathe. Shadows passed in and out of his vision. 'How can absolute shadow have shadows?' he mused. He thought he heard whispers but they dissipated as soon as he concentrated on them. His entire body began relaxing muscle by muscle. All of his instincts screamed at him to fight, never surrender, keep the blackness from encroaching further, stop the numbness. Words finally reached him from decades past and futures not yet decided. Will is the key… As long as your will is strong, you will never fail. He stretched his arms out, searching for something, anything. His fingers felt like they were moving through syrup. Life is not fair, but it is what you make of it. Reach further, don't stop stretching. You tried your best. That's what matters in the end. Ignore the voices and keep moving. Fight the numbness that creeps along bones. You will always hurt the ones you love. Sometimes hurt but always love, always love. You believed too easily, too much. Always believe…He's a monster…only a man, nothing more…an abomination… so sorry…He'll betray you in the end…too many mistakes…He was never any good…keep searching… HE…further…IS…almost there…NOT…a little more…DEAD!
In a corner of London inside a house no one could see, Remus Lupin woke with a gasp. The old sheets on his bed were soaked in sweat and the air still rang with silent screams. His first thought was that he was currently in a dusty, dank room at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. A check on the wards showed no signs of tampering or breaking down. His second thought was that Harry was currently 'safe' at the Dursleys' and presumably asleep. The wards he had placed on that house were also not the cause of his abrupt awakening. There were no shadowy figures creeping about his room and the only noise to reach his sensitive ears was the normal shifting of the ancient house.
It took him several moments to untangle the sweaty sheets, stumble out of the bed, and make his way to the warped dresser across the room. His lungs burned as if he had just run to Hogwarts and back, and every muscle in his body was tense with anticipation. Remus shakily poured a glass of water from the pitcher Molly had thoughtfully left there earlier and drank greedily. He stood for a few minutes braced against the dresser with his eyes closed. Guilt weighed heavily in his stomach, slowly creeping along his skin. Usually he pushed it away, preferring to think about recent events in a detached, logical way. Today, however, he allowed the guilt to spill over and spread throughout his entire body. He had been too weak…
Like every night for the past two weeks, Remus could barely recall the dream that interrupted his slumber. Images of black hair falling into a laughing face, air laden with hastily cast spells, terrified green eyes, and wisps of a tattered veil tickled the edge of his mind. Although he could not tell if the same dream plagued him every night, he knew with heavy certainty that they all centered around the events that occurred at the Ministry of Magic not so long ago. Ever since Sirius Black fell into the Veil in the Department of Mysteries, Remus had felt disconnected from reality. It was as if he was trying to walk through water while the world around him rushed forward. He knew he would not recognize himself if he looked into the cracked mirror hanging above the dresser. A part of him acknowledged that he had not changed physically since that day; his hair was streaked with the same amount of grey, the same scars marred his skin in the same places, and his body refused to gain weight from Molly's cooking as it always did. But the reflection of the mirror could never echo the emptiness that swallowed him from within. It was still too early for any sane person to be starting the day, but Remus knew he would not be able to fall asleep again even if he wanted it more than anything. Once again, he determinedly pushed the guilt to the furthest reaches of his mind. His joints ached with fatigue as he slipped on some robes and prepared to go downstairs. He had half a thought to finish his reports to Dumbledore and continue his search of the vast Black library. As he reached for the doorknob, however, something made him pause. After Sirius's death, Remus had moved into the bedroom furthest from Sirius's. He had barely even bothered gathering his things; most still remained in his old room exactly where he left them. Any room that Sirius had spent much time in was on the other side of the house. So why could Remus suddenly smell him?
Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, potential Savior-of-the-World-Again, needed new shoes, or his current pair would completely fall apart and he would have to walk around in nothing but socks. The state of his shoes was at the front of his mind because he was currently staring intensely at his feet. Harry feared that if he glanced up at the group of witches and wizards standing in his room he might start laughing. If he started laughing, he didn't think he'd be able to stop, and they would think he'd finally lost it. He could feel his lips twitch into the smallest of smirks.
Harry had spent a total of twenty days at the Dursleys' house before receiving a letter that informed him the Order would be picking him up at precisely 2 o'clock the next day and could he be so kind as to inform his aunt and uncle? He had immediately walked up to Uncle Vernon, shoved the letter into his hands, and calmly told him not to expect him back for the rest of the summer. Just as they had done for the last twenty days, the Dursleys watched him leave the room with pale faces and slightly narrowed eyes, but said nothing.
At the exact moment the clock in the living room struck two, the doorbell rang. Harry had been lying in bed reading the Daily Prophet when he heard Uncle Vernon reluctantly open the door and allow five 'freaks' to enter his home. The Order members, including Mad-Eye Moody and Tonks, found him sitting on his packed trunk in his room reading the latest Quidditch scores. He could imagine their expressions of complete surprise at finding a subdued, serene Harry patiently waiting to be picked up. So he carefully folded up the Prophet, stood up, and began the detailed observation of his shoes.
Once he thought he could speak without chuckling, Harry looked up at Moody and asked, "How will we be traveling today? Broomsticks, again?"
"Ehm," Moody coughed, "Portkey, actually. And Floo. It'd be best if I didn't tell you the actual route." His magical eye was trained on Harry as if he expected him to explode in anger at any moment. Apparently they remembered his outbursts from last summer. Harry made a mental note that Dumbledore must have regained some authority with the Ministry to have set up a legal portkey.
"Wotcher, Harry," Tonks greeted. "All ready? We've still got a few minutes 'til the portkey activates."
"I'm all packed, but I don't know where Hedwig flew off to."
"She's already at Gri… ehem… with the Weasleys. She must have known you were leaving soon."
"The Weasleys are already there? What about Hermione?" Harry was anxious to see his friends, if only so that their bickering could distract him from really thinking about certain things.
"Hermione'll come by in another week. Ron and Ginny can't wait to see you; they're starting to drive Molly up the wall."
The three Order members that Harry couldn't remember ever seeing were poking around his room as if it was a museum. Moody's magic eye was whirring about so fast that it made Harry dizzy while his other eye was fixed on an old Muggle watch he was wearing. Tonks began changing her hair different colors while she hummed a tune that sounded suspiciously like "It's a Small World." Finally Moody barked out, "TIME," and everyone gathered around a little girl's rag doll. Tonks grabbed Hedwig's cage and a tall wizard with a sharp goatee took his trunk. Harry felt the familiar pull of a portkey and his bedroom began to warp and shift.
When he hit the ground, Harry's first thought was that it hadn't been raining when he left the Dursleys'. It was currently, however, pouring. He rubbed his side where the trunk had somehow crashed into him and looked around. Moody and Tonks had their wands at the ready and were peering into the surrounding trees. From what Harry could tell, they had landed in the middle of a forest.
"Quiet, Potter!" Moody barked. "Dulaney, make a quick perimeter check."
A rather broad witch with a braided bun in her brown hair slipped into the surrounding vegetation. She was gone only for a few seconds when she returned with what looked like the oldest man in the world at wand point. His wrinkled skin was making a determined effort to slip right off his bones and his mouth was almost entirely toothless. He was holding a rather dilapidated umbrella and seemed not the least bit startled to have five wands pointed at his heart.
"When the blazing sun has set in the West…" Tonks recited. Her face was more set and serious than Harry had ever seen, but he had no clue what she was saying. He was about to ask her when the old man took one step forward.
"… you will see it rise from the ashes in the East," he wheezed. The tension in the group lifted and Dulaney lowered her wand.
"Edgar," Moody greeted. "Everything set up?"
"Everything's ready. But surely there's no need to rush." The old man turned hopeful eyes on Harry. "Would you like a bit of tea before you move on? I love having people for tea."
Before Harry could accept or decline the offer, Moody brushed past him. "We can't linger! They expect us back in exactly three minutes."
Harry, Tonks and the other Order members followed Mad-Eye and Edgar through the trees until they reached what Harry could only describe as a hovel. Amidst the towering trees stood a stone hut that looked no bigger than Harry's room at the Dursleys'. The roof was sagging slightly and the only two windows were loosely covered with what looked like century-old linens. Inside was no better. Edgar's home consisted of a bed, a chair, a table, and a bookshelf crammed into one room. Opposite the bed was a fireplace, where Moody was currently throwing in an abundant amount of floo powder.
"This might take a while," Tonks told Harry. "Remus has recently set up a very complicated security system on the connection to headquarters."
"You can ward floo connections?" Harry asked in amazement. He realized he wouldn't be able to contact Grimmauld Place through the Floo anymore, and then remembered that there was no more reason for him to try. Harry blocked that thought from going any further. Moody was currently waving his wand, reciting one spell after another. The flames had turned purple instead of green when the powder was thrown in, and Harry wondered if that was the sign for a locked floo connection.
"Well, Remus can ward floo connections. He can put a ward on anything—if he has enough time and energy." Harry detected a hint of bitterness in Tonks's voice as she magically dried them all off. "In fact, I think Dumbledore had him put up extra wards on Privet Drive when you started at Hogwarts."
Before Harry could inquire more about the wards around the Dursleys', Edgar tottered up to him. "If you see Albus, can you tell him to stop by sometime? It's been a while since his last visit and I've saved a bottle of Jumping Jupiter Brandy just for him."
"Sure thing, Ed—"
"PASSWORD ACCEPTED. PROCEED." The disconnected voice coming from the fireplace was so loud and sudden that Moody nearly tumbled backwards. Tonks stumbled onto, and broke, the only chair in the room. The wizard with the goatee was quick to repair the damage with a swish of his wand, but Tonks continued to apologize to Edgar, who was rubbing his obviously sore ears.
"I'm terribly sorry, didn't mean to…"
"Alright, Potter, get ready to go. Hortkins, you go first," Moody growled from the fireplace. Harry noticed the flames had finally turned green. Hortkins, a wizard with rather large eyes and ears stepped into the flames, shouted, "Lupin Cottage, party of six!" and disappeared.
"Your turn, Potter," Moody said as he pushed Harry into the flames. "Ask for Lupin Cottage, and try not to move too much. Things may get bumpy."
"But don't we want to go to—"
"Now, Potter! Before the connection closes!"
Just as the flames flashed red in what Harry guessed was a time warning, he shouted, "Lupin Cottage!" and Edgar's little hovel disappeared from sight.
Harry's first trip by floo powder had not been smooth at all and he ended up in the completely wrong destination. So although he was prepared for the spinning and disorientation, and Moody had warned him about it getting 'bumpy', Harry became completely winded. It seemed as if the entire world was flashing in front of his eyes and the breath was actually being drawn out of him. Just when he thought he was going to pass out, his body lurched to a sudden stop. He could see what looked like a rather cozy living room through the flames. Before he could even think about stepping out, however, he started spinning again. When he looked out, the same living room was appearing over and over. His body was knocked back and forth for several moments and all he could think about was how the Boy-Who-Lived just got trapped in a floo connection and was going to die in between grates.
The moment he began mentally writing his will, Harry tumbled out of the fireplace. The stone floor he landed on was obviously not from that cozy living room and the voices around him seemed awfully familiar. He opened his eyes, although he didn't recall closing them, just in time to see Ron offering him a hand up and Tonks stumbling out of the fire.
"Harry, mate!" Ron had hauled him up and slapped his shoulder. "You won't believe how boring it's been here! Nobody around here seems to care about the Quidditch standings…"
"Nobody? What am I? Dust?" Ginny gave Harry a quick hug before playfully hitting her brother's arm. "I'm glad you're here so I can finally have actual conversations."
Molly Weasley, matriarch of the Weasley clan, enveloped Harry in a bone-crushing hug. "Harry! It's so wonderful to see you again. You are far too skinny. What have those Muggles been feeding you?" As Mrs. Weasley ranted about barbaric Muggles and checked Harry up and down for any sign of injury, he managed to say hello to Ron and Ginny. It was obvious now that he had actually ended up at Grimmauld Place and he was currently in the kitchen. Arthur Weasley was seated at the table with a copy of the Prophet, Hortkins had made himself a cup of tea, Tonks was brushing soot off her robes, and Moody was closing the floo connection. Professor Lupin smiled cordially at Harry from the doorway, but did not interrupt the enthusiastic greeting until Mrs. Weasley had begun to repeat her concerns on Harry's eating habits.
"How about we take your belongings up to your room, Harry?" Lupin picked up one side Harry's trunk. The witch Dulaney and the goateed wizard had already left.
"Hello, Professor." Harry smiled and picked up the other end.
"Remus, you have got to do something about that security system!" Tonks walked towards them with Hedwig's cage. "That voice could be heard three miles away. I'm surprised the entire Ministry didn't show up."
"I'll look into it, Nymphadora, but I'm quite busy at the moment." Lupin's eyes twinkled.
"Don't call me Nymphadora!"
Tonks' protests fell silent, however, once they reached the main hallway. Ginny and Ron were following them and glanced every so often at where Mrs. Black's portrait was covered by curtains. Harry was a little disappointed that the painting was still stubbornly stuck on the wall. The group had made it to the stairs without incident when Tonks tripped on a step a dropped Hedwig's cage. The crash echoed up the staircase and down the hallway. Everyone held their breaths.
"Dirt! Scum! How dare you enter this house! How dare you defile the Noble House of Black! Mudbloods! Blood-traitors! Monster! Unworthy acquaintances of a worthless son!"
Something snapped in the air. Harry had expected Lupin to run to the portrait and attempt to shut the curtains. Instead, Lupin gently lowered Harry's trunk, walked calmly up to the portrait, and said pleasantly, "Oh, come now, Cassiopeia! Calm down before you give yourself a heart attack… again."
Mrs. Black's face became ashen and her eyes gleamed madly. "You! You half-breed monster! How dare you!"
"How dare I?" Lupin spoke as if he were merely having tea with an old friend. "Well, I suppose I got a lot of daring from my friends. Yes, Sirius seems to have—rubbed off on me— quite a bit I guess." Whatever Lupin had said or implied had hit a nerve with Mrs. Black. Her face became blotchy with anger and her eyes nearly popped out of her head.
"You freak! Even vile scum like other Dark Creatures would never associate with the likes of you!"
"Oh, yes, I am quite freaky in my own way—I call it personality," Lupin replied, although the portrait ignored him.
"You will never fit in! You will die screaming and alone and in pain! You should be put down, scum!"
"And yet, I seem to be unable to kick the bucket."
"No, dying is for that abomination! The shame of my flesh! Corrupted beyond repair! Dying was the best thing he's ever done!" Harry felt something burning in his throat.
"Do you want to know a secret, Cassiopeia?" Lupin's eyes had acquired a gleam that reminded Harry that he was once a Marauder. Mrs. Black had paused in her tirade, and eyed Lupin distrustfully. Once he was sure she was paying attention, he leaned in closer. Everyone in the house was now watching at the end of the hall. Ron looked as if he had forgotten how to breathe properly, Ginny's jaw was completely slack, and Mrs. Weasley looked like she was getting ready to call St. Mungo's.
"The secret, my dear Mrs. Black," Remus whispered so low that everyone leaned a bit closer to hear, "The secret is that Sirius was not an abomination since birth." Mrs. Black let out a cross between a gasp and a snarl. "No, Sirius was—corrupted, did you say?—by his friends. You are right. Us Muggle-loving mudbloods and blood-traitors led Sirius down the path of wickedness. Do you know what else?" Lupin's voice lowered even further. "I, for one, certainly enjoyed corrupting every inch of him!"
Mrs. Black nearly jumped out of her frame.
"YOU! BEAST! FILTHY… HORRIBLE… UNNATURAL… VILE… LEAVE THIS HOUSE NOW, MONSTER!"
"Or what, Cassie? You'll bite me?" Lupin stepped back from the painting and actually growled. "I must warn you… I bite back."
Harry had never seen Lupin look so terrifying before. He had straightened to his full height, his muscles were all tensed, and he gave off a magical energy that crackled in the air. There was a sneer on Lupin's face that showed far too many teeth. The worst part was his eyes. They were like stone and fire at the same time, nearly golden in their intensity. Harry had only seen eyes like that when Sirius tried to kill Wormtail in the Shrieking Shack.
With a swish of his robes that would have made Snape proud, Lupin strode back to the others, grasped Harry's trunk, and heaved it up the stairs. Harry, Tonks, and the Weasleys were all frozen in place. Lupin had either shocked Mrs. Black speechless or had finally found a way to silence her with magic. Her eyes were still staring at where Lupin had been standing, her mouth was slightly open, and she could only emit strange gargles and huffs.
"Well, um, let's just get you to your room, shall we?" Tonks broke the silence. She didn't even bother to whisper, since Mrs. Black was paying them no attention.
"Yeah, sure." Harry started up the stairs where Lupin had disappeared just a few moments ago.
"I have to go start dinner," Mrs. Weasley mumbled. Slowly the hallway emptied until only Mrs. Black and her madness remained.
Remus flung the door open to Ron and Harry's room. Hedwig and Pigwidgeon twittered about nervously from his abrupt entrance, but he was still too incensed to care. He hauled Harry's trunk across the room as if it weighed a feather and placed it in front of his bed. How dare I he thought. Her son just died and she can't even let his memory rest in peace!
The anger drained away from him as he paced the room, to be replaced with mortification. He had just lost control in front of everyone, including Harry. Remus hadn't meant to talk to the portrait. Normally he would ignore her taunts and close the curtains. However, the last few days had left him wound up and twitchy. Ever since Remus had caught a whiff of Sirius's scent in his bedroom, he began to smell him everywhere.
It wasn't like the minute traces left behind from before his death. Whenever Remus entered a room, or a slight draft reached his face, he could smell Sirius. Often he caught himself thinking that Sirius had only just left the room. If he looked hard enough, he would find Sirius pacing the house like a trapped animal or sitting in Buckbeak's room in an almost catatonic state. He sometimes expected Sirius to walk into a room any minute.
When Mrs. Black mentioned her 'worthless' son, Remus could almost feel Sirius tensing next to him. He could smell Sirius's frustration and anger. And suddenly whatever had wound up inside him had snapped. Remus could hear the others approaching the room and tried to compose himself. Did they hear everything? he wondered. Did they understand everything? He could only hope they hadn't.
By the time Harry and the others entered the room, Remus had put on his most reassuring and welcoming 'Professor Face'. It wouldn't do to have the children think he wasn't his usual strong, reliable self. He could tell that they were a bit uncertain about what they would find. Ron was avoiding looking at him and perched on his bed as far from him as possible. Ginny and Tonks had the same questioning, pity-filled gaze. Harry's eyes nearly begged him to act normally. If Remus ignored what happened, then Harry could ignore it, and it never actually happened. Remus never lost his control, Mrs. Black never mentioned Sirius, and they could all pretend that everything was perfectly okay.
"Professor," Harry greeted in an almost pleading voice.
"Your bed has already been prepared," Remus spoke brusquely but warmly. "As you can see, Hedwig has already arrived. Most of the house has been cleaned up by now, so you can wander where you wish. I would avoid the third floor linen closet, however. I'm still not quite sure what has made its nest in there."
"Okay." Remus could see the relief in Harry's face.
"Remus…" Tonks began. She did not look satisfied with Remus's calm demeanor.
"Tonks. I really should get going. Reports don't write themselves." Remus headed towards the door.
"But what about what hap—"
"I just remembered!" Remus interrupted. "Dumbledore wanted to speak to you again about your latest mission. I'll see you all at dinner."
Before Tonks could question him again, Remus left the room. He thought he could hear a disgruntled huff and a muttered, "Just let him go." Sirius's smell hung heavily in the air.