A/N: I have no excuse for this delay, except to plead writer's block…
Chapter 62 – The Nature of a Soul
How many letters had started that way?
Dear Remus, you're very rude…
Dear Remus, I met a centaur today…
Dear Remus, what was the title of our Charms essay…
Dear Remus, we're out of milk…
From childhood letters to notes left stuck to the fridge in their flat, those words had become a fundamental part of his life and now here he was, two decades later, reading them again for the last time. He reached for the glass of firewhiskey that sat on the coffee table and took a sip, closing his eyes as the amber liquid left a trail of fire down his throat.
To be honest, he could think of a good few Dear Katherine's he'd like to write right now, starting with 'what the hell were you thinking', but he knew it wouldn't be any use.
As the clock over the fireplace chimed the half hour he let his eyes drift back to the letter in his hand and raised the glass to his lips once more.
Nymphadora Lupin tumbled out of the fireplace in her flat and cast an anxious glance around the room, eyes quickly coming to rest on the dejected looking figure on the sofa.
"Remus?" she asked, hurrying over to her husband and sinking down to the floor in front of him. "Remus, are you ok? I've been looking all over for you. Kingsley said you'd been called down to Level Ten but by the time I got there you'd gone. What happened? Was it the guys from the Control of Magic Creatures department? They can't arrest you for fighting – I won't let them."
Bleary eyes lifted to look at her and Remus blinked, then shook his head. "No, it wasn't them. I'm not in trouble."
Warm relief flooded through Tonks, but the downcast expression remained on her husband's face. She hesitated, but when it became apparent no further explanation was forthcoming asked gently: "So what was it then? Who wanted to see you?"
"A slippery young man named Gabriel Taylor," said Remus heavily, pushing dishevelled hair out of his eyes. "Katherine's lawyer."
Tonks frowned at the mention of the name and placed a soft hand over his calloused one. "What did he want?"
"Well to cut a long story short, to make me executor of her Will," said Remus, adding quickly at Tonks' look of confusion: "No, she's not dead, but it's not like she'll be needing the money anymore."
"You spoke to her?" asked Tonks, eyebrows raised in surprise. She'd heard of Taylor's talents, but she would have thought that even he'd have trouble getting a civilian in to see prisoners at this point.
"No, she wrote me a letter," Remus explained with a sigh, gesturing to the table behind her. "Her attempt to explain things."
Tonks was silent, words of comfort failing her. What could she say? However much Remus had tried to explain his relationship with Katherine, she had trouble separating the loyal friend in his stories from the Death Eater with a category five warning rating stamped across her file in bold red ink.
"Aren't you going to ask?"
The question caught Tonks off guard and she looked up at Remus in surprise. "Ask what?"
"What she left me," said Remus, an expression that Tonks couldn't quite place showing on his face. "In the Will."
"What did she leave you?" asked Tonks obligingly, pulling herself up to sit next to him and wondering if the flicker in her husband's eyes was amusement. In answer, Remus picked up a thick scroll of parchment from the table and handed it to her. Tonks unrolled it and stared blankly at the page of figures. "What's this?"
"A rough estimate of her total worth," said Remus, summoning another glass from the kitchen and pouring out a liberal amount of firewhiskey. "It's got to be divided up, of course. There's some money for Faye and the daughter of the Averys, some jewellery for an old school friend and an order for a frankly enormous bouquet of forget-me-nots for Mad Eye, which I'm sure he'll love, but by my calculations, she's left me about two thirds of it. Drink?" he asked, holding out the whiskey with a wry smile playing around his lips.
Tonks took the glass slowly and skimmed over the numbers again, frown increasing the further down the page she read.
"I don't understand," she said quietly. "Where did this come from?"
"Investments," said Remus, downing his own drink and topping up the glass once more. "And some not so reputable investors. The majority of the funds in the bank are her own though," he added quickly, seeing her expression. "From what I can make out, she used her wages to buy shares in a few lucrative muggle companies and got a very good team of accountants to keep things going while she was in Azkaban. They made her a small fortune and got an exorbitant fee for their services, I'm sure."
"But the other stuff? The houses?"
Remus gave another shrug. "I don't think she bought all of them herself, if that's what you're asking, but it's her name on the deeds. All the same, I think it'd probably be best to sell them. Some of the money will go to her friends and the rest… I don't know – give it to charity. What do you think?"
Tonks nodded vaguely and in an effort to stop the world spinning around her, took a large swig of the amber whiskey in the glass. It didn't help.
"It's a lot to take in, I know," said Remus gently, but Tonks shook her head.
"It's not that – well, it is partly – but I was just wondering…why? What was she planning on doing with it? You don't amass that kind of money without some serious forethought, but she must have known she'd never be able to spend it. Bringing down You-Know-Who was always going to end in death or prison, so what use was the money to her?" She looked at Remus questioningly but he only smiled.
"Knowing her, she was probably planning on making a run for it. It wouldn't be too hard – collect the money, change her face and disappear."
"Then why didn't she?" pressed Tonks, her eyebrows drawn together in a frown.
"I don't know - she changed her mind. Maybe she was tired of running – everyone has to slow down sometime." He sighed at Tonks' unconvinced expression and asked patiently: "You don't think so?"
"No," said Tonks, gazing into her glass meditatively. "I don't. People like her only have two gears – manic and dead." She paused, then said: "A bit like Sirius, I suppose."
"Yes," agreed Remus softly. "It's why they got together. And why they fought."
"They did that a lot?"
Remus chuckled softly. "I think the best word to describe their relationship would be tempestuous. Both very clever, rather unhappy and extremely reckless."
"And yet she took the time to plan for the future," said Tonks quietly, her dark brown eyes staring at the fire, expression lost in thought.
"I thought you didn't think she was going to have a use for the money?"
"It wasn't for her."
Remus stared at her for a moment and then he realised what his wife was implying and laughed; he couldn't help it. "Me? 'Dora, this is more than most people can spend in a lifetime: I could buy everything I've ever wanted since I was a child and still have a fortune left over. What do you suppose she intended me do with a few million galleons?
Tonks took a sip of her whiskey and shrugged, her lips slowly curling into a smile that was very reminiscent of her late cousin. "Anything you want."
Robert Avery lay on the rough wooden bunk that served as both seat and bed in the cramped room, and stared at the grey stone ceiling above him. He had no way of telling how long he'd been in there - after the battle they'd all been rounded up and shipped off to the nearest holding cells. He'd ended up in the Ministry of Magic, in one of the few cells used for containing prisoners awaiting trial, and apart from a brief consultation with a ministry appointed lawyer, hadn't seen a soul since, with the exception of his cell mate.
He shifted position on the bench in a vain attempt to make himself more comfortable, and decided it was time to broach the subject that had been playing on his mind for the past few hours. With a sigh he twisted his head round to look at the room's other occupant, who was sitting propped up against the opposite wall, dozing, and asked: "Unstable?"
Dark blue eyes opened slowly and Katherine frowned at him sleepily.
"Unstable," he repeated, sitting up and leaning forward to meet his friend's gaze. "When we were in the forest talking about horcruxes, you said your soul was unstable."
Katherine shrugged her shoulders and yawned. "So?"
Robert rested his arms on his knees and scowled at her. "Odd choice of words, don't you think? Corrupted, yes - damaged, fine - but unstable? Why did you say that?"
Katherine put a hand over her mouth to stifle a second yawn and allowed her eyes to drift shut again. "I say a lot of things."
"You haven't told the Aurors that Bellatrix Lestrange isn't dead," said Robert evenly, allowing himself an expression of grim satisfaction as she looked sharply up at him, eyes narrowed. He'd thought that might get her attention. "No need to look so surprised – you didn't exactly make much of an effort to conceal what you were doing. Severus may have been too busy crying over your supposedly dead body to notice, but I know Inopia when I see it."
There was a pause as Katherine considered him, then she frowned and said softly: "So what?"
Robert's light eyebrows rose a fraction. "So what? So she's still alive, Katherine. Don't you think someone's going to notice?"
Katherine appeared to give this some consideration, then said slowly: "With the amount of bodies on that field, I doubt it. Everyone knows she's a Death Eater – they're not going to be trying too hard to find any signs of life, are they? I expect they'll assign someone to deal with the dead Death Eaters. Do you think she'll be buried in the Black vault or the Lestrange? I never was sure how that worked."
She looked up at him with questioning eyes and Robert shook his head in despair. "You're really going to let them bury her alive?" he asked, scrutinising her carefully.
"Why not? Don't tell me you're feeling sorry for her? This is the woman who tortured two Aurors into insanity for fun. Oh, I know her little band of psychopaths wanted to find out what had happened to the Dark Lord," Katherine said quickly, waving away his attempted interjection. "But honestly, how long do think it took for them to realise they didn't have any information? One hour? Two? I've seen weaker people than the Longbottoms recover from that, and they had a newborn son to live for. How long could you hold on for Katie and Cass?"
Robert scowled at her, choosing to ignore the question. Did she seriously expect him to believe she was punishing Bella for the Longbottom's insanity? It was true that Frank had been in their year at school but he was willing to bet a week's wages that Katherine could count the number of times she'd spoken to the man on one hand.
In fact, despite the enmity that had always lurked beneath the surface of Katherine and Bella's relationship, he very much doubted the latter would be in her current predicament if she hadn't foolish enough to murder the last heir of the House of Black.
"This isn't about Sirius," said Katherine quietly, disturbing Robert's musings. "It was written all over your face," she explained with a wry smile on seeing his expression of surprise. "And yes, ok, it is partially about him, and about Remus and all the other people she hurt, but mostly, I'll be damned if I'm going to let her get a quick death while I live out the rest of my days in Azkaban."
"But no one knows how long Inopia lasts for," pointed out Robert, frowning at her. "She might live for another hundred years – and what happens if it wears off? Are you willing to risk…" He trailed off in the face of Katherine's amused expression. "You do know how long it lasts, don't you?"
"Eight and a half years," said his friend, with a somewhat inappropriate grin. "Most people go insane within the year, though, and I suspect it'll be even quicker for her – she always was a few pumpkins short of a pasty. Regarding what happens physically, the spell is holding her body in stasis so when it degrades…well, I've never witnessed a body suddenly realising it's been deprived of air, water and nutrients for eight years but I don't imagine it will be pretty."
Robert stared at her blankly, trying unsuccessfully to banish the image that was now presenting itself in his mind.
"Remind me again how old you were when you invented this curse?" he asked, resting his head in his hands and deciding that Bella was definitely not alone in the insanity department.
"I was in a bad place," she shrugged. "Have you never felt trapped inside your own head?"
"And you wanted to make other people feel like that?"
"Some people deserve it. Bella doesn't have a conscience – put her in Azkaban and she'll live the rest of her life reminiscing about the good old days and tormenting the guards. This way, she has no choice but to reflect on her sins." Katherine eyed him steadily and said calmly: "Besides, if I'd have killed her, how would she have known I'd won?"
"Some victory," said Robert gloomily.
"You think so? The Dark Lord is dead. Your wife and daughter are safe. Nicola is safe. You, me and Severus are alive. We saw the end of the war, Robert. Look me in the eye and tell me you thought that would happen."
"I knew you would. You always survive - you're like a cockroach," said Robert sardonically and Katherine pulled a face.
"Charming. I think I'll stick with Remus' theory of nine lives, if it's all the same to you."
"So which one are you on now?" Robert asked, raising a curious eyebrow.
"Oh, I lost track years ago. The seventh? Possibly the eighth." There was a slight pause as she frowned. "Probably the ninth, actually. If you count Azkaban." Katherine glanced up at him with a wry smile that faded as she caught his expression. "What?"
"Well, about that…" Robert leant back against the wall and surveyed her steadily. "I was just wondering what you would define as death."
"An absence of life?" replied Katherine, treating him to a look of utter bemusement.
"Life being your soul?" persisted Robert, noting with satisfaction the way Katherine's eyes narrowed ever so slightly at his words.
"If you like."
"Only I've been thinking: a Dementor's kiss extricates a person's soul, doesn't it? And the victim doesn't die, they just…exist. Not really alive, but not dead either. But maybe Dementors aren't really all powerful – there must be something left behind that even they can't take." Robert looked to Katherine for confirmation and met a cold blue stare in return. Yes, he definitely had her attention now.
"But if you could completely remove someone's soul," he continued, matching Katherine's gaze with a determined look of his own. "Not kill them, but place their soul outside of their body, like you do with horcruxes, except the soul is in one piece – what would happen to their body? The Dark Lord's soul survived when his body was destroyed at the end of the first war. Can a body survive without a soul?"
"The substantial number of skeletons and decomposing carcasses in the world would seem to point to 'no'," said Katherine dryly, but Robert shook his head.
"That's different – when someone dies, their soul moves on to…whatever comes next. In this case, the soul is still connected to the body – it's just absent. For all intents and purposes, the body is dead – but the person it belongs to is not. All they need to do is restore the soul to the body, and voila: one miraculous return from the dead." Robert paused and smiled at his friend who had kept a carefully impassive expression throughout his theorising. "There's just one problem in this scenario, really: it's impossible to separate your soul from your body while you're alive. The link between the two is just too strong: the amount of effort it takes to create a horcrux is proof enough of that. For someone to pull their entire soul out of their body, that connection would have to be seriously damaged. I mean, the Dark Lord didn't manage to harm his, even with all his horcruxes, so what on earth could a person do that would mess their soul up that badly?"
Katherine sighed and rested her forehead against the heel of her hand with an air of tired resignation. "How many times do I have to tell you I didn't try to make a horcrux before you'll believe me? For heaven's sake, I didn't even know they existed before I saw Regulus' notes."
"Your soul is unstable," said Robert, leaning forward with narrowed eyes. "You didn't say that as some flippant remark, you said it because it was true – and it makes sense. It's the reason you can walk through wards as though they were nothing more than cobwebs – they're supposed to keep any human out but you don't register. The thing that separates humans from animals is their souls, so there's clearly something wrong with yours. And changing your shape at will? If you were a metamorphmagus, you would have been able to do it from birth and you couldn't – it only started in fifth year. The soul gives the body its form – when the Dark Lord removed parts of his he changed physically because the soul's hold on his form lessened. The link between your body and soul is so broken you can change into an animal just by thinking about it, so don't tell me you didn't do anything to it."
Katherine was quiet for a moment, and then said in a voice of barely concealed irritation. "You know how when kids are messed up everyone blames the parents?"
"Yes," said Robert uncertainly, not sure he understood where she was going with this.
"Blame my parents," said Katherine, raising her head to look him in the eye and smiling grimly. "Did you know there's a division in the Department of Mysteries dedicated to unravelling the secrets of life? They've never gotten very far, but there is one thing that they are certain of: new life can only be created from the union of two souls. Now if Potter is to believed, my charming father made his first horcrux when he was sixteen years old and I wasn't born for another five years. By that time I'd guess it wasn't so much the meeting of two souls as one and a sixteenth. In the circumstances, I suppose I should be thankful I exist at all." She sighed and gave him a tired look. "Satisfied?"
"You were fine before fifth year," said Robert quietly, watching her carefully.
"Yes," said Katherine heavily. "But when your soul is clinging to your body by the skin of its teeth, it's probably not a good idea to go around committing acts that tear it to pieces. No amount of remorse can heal the damage that does."
They were both quiet for a moment, then Robert ventured: "Well I suppose that explains the whole…fifth year thing."
Katherine smiled weakly at him. "You mean me nearly losing my mind?"
"I was trying to be diplomatic but yes." Robert smiled at Katherine's laugh, then asked quietly: "Why did you never say anything?"
"Because at the time I didn't know what the hell was going on," said Katherine. "Even after I'd read Regulus' notes it took me a while to piece things together. I knew I could change my appearance but I didn't connect that with Tom's horcruxes until I did my own research and found out about the theory of forms. After that it was just a matter of experimenting – seeing just how much I could do."
"You could have said something after you broke out of Azkaban."
Katherine laughed again and grinned at him with a hint of her old mischief. "And give away the secret behind my biggest tricks? Explanations make the miraculous into the mundane, Robert. The only reason I've survived as long as I have is because I can do seemingly impossible things and it scares the hell out of people."
"You could have told me," said Robert, the words coming out slightly sharper than he'd intended.
Katherine smiled at him sadly. "Yes, but would you have had nearly as much faith in me if I had?"
"It would have shown a little mutual trust," said Robert, frowning at her in exasperation.
"I do trust you. I just don't always tell you everything. Besides, in my defence you never really pressed the issue," she said with a shrug and Robert's frown turned into a scowl.
"You always changed the subject whenever I tried. You're a master at dodging questions."
"Well we're probably going to be sitting here for some time," said Katherine with a sigh. "Ask away."
"Fine. How did you get out of Azkaban?"
An expression somewhere between pity and annoyance flickered across Katherine's face at the question and she said softly: "It won't help us this time."
"Because this time I didn't have a chance to hide a wand about my person," said Katherine, running her fingers through her hair with a slight air of embarrassment.
Robert frowned, not sure he understood. "You smuggled a wand into Azkaban? How? They do…searches, don't they?"
Katherine laughed at his uncomfortable expression and hitched up the hem on the left leg of her jeans. Robert opened his mouth to ask what she was doing when the surface of the smooth skin rippled to reveal a pale seven inch scar running along the inside of her calf.
"Being able to change your appearance comes in handy sometimes," said Katherine. "I'd collected a couple of extra wands over the years, so when I knew I was going to be arrested I thought it would be a good idea to take one with me."
"But how did you… you know."
"Get it out?" Katherine pushed her jeans down again and held up a hand now adorned with a set of vicious looking talons. "Are you ok? You look like you're going to be sick."
Robert shook his head, trying for the second time that night to rid his brain of unwanted images, and swallowed hard. "So you destroyed the wall and walked out of there?" he asked, in a desperate attempt to move the conversation on quickly.
"No, I just apparated out. Like you said, wards don't pose much of a problem for me and I wanted some time to try and find horcruxes without the Dark Lord wondering where I was. I went back last year to break down the wall."
"You went back?"
Katherine laughed, seeming genuinely amused. "How else was I supposed to get your attention? If I'd have shown up on your doorstep without staging a break out you would have thought one of two things: a) that the Ministry was trying trick you into incriminating yourself with a rather poorly thought out scheme or b) you were hallucinating. On the other hand, making an incredible return from the dead, breaking out of Azkaban and then turning up in the middle of a Death Eater meeting with the unconscious body of a former classmate is pretty much typical behaviour from me in your eyes."
"So how long were you actually in there?" asked Robert, resting his head in his hands as he tried to comprehend the convoluted machinations of his friend's mind.
"And your soul?" He looked up and fixed her with a stubborn gaze.
"About two," she admitted with a wry smile.
"You followed the Dark Lord?" he asked and she nodded.
"I didn't believe the rumours going round that he'd been killed but then Bella was brought in and I realised it must be true. After that it was just a matter of listening out for any clues as to where he might have gone and then-"
"You shuffled off your mortal coil?"
"I sought out Archimedes," said Katherine, giving him an amused look. "It was the natural place to go – we already shared a soul link. He was my eyes and ears for fourteen years, on and off. Things got a little trickier when the Dark Lord returned to England, and I had to stop completely when he made himself a body. Fully restored there's no way he wouldn't have noticed someone following him so I left Azkaban, looked for horcruxes for a while and then sought you out."
"Yes," said Robert, a slight frown creasing his forehead. "You never did say why you decided on me. Severus would have helped you in a heartbeat but you actively avoided him."
"I figured you'd appreciate the chance for a little redemption," said Katherine gently, giving him a small smile. "Plus, you were, let's face it, up the proverbial creek without a paddle and bringing down our Lord and Master was your only way out."
"It could have got me killed," added Robert, feeling his friend wasn't treating this with the gravity it deserved.
"You weren't though, were you?" said Katherine lightly. Robert scowled at her but it only made her grin wider. "I wouldn't have let anything happen to you. Apart from anything else, Cass would never have forgiven me. Besides, it's not like you weren't playing a double game before I came along. If anything, having me on side was safer: I've been doing it longer."
"What are you talking about?"
"A little bird told me that you fed misinformation about the Hall of Prophecy to the Dark Lord. Got into quite a lot of trouble over it, too. You set his plans back a good few months. Accident, was it?"
Robert narrowed his eyes, surveying his companion critically. "I thought you stopped watching the Dark Lord after he got his body back."
"I stopped following him," said Katherine. "But it's always good to keep up-to-date with things and, well, let's just say that certain houses aren't as impregnable as their owners think."
"Malfoy Manor?" he guessed, and Katherine smiled.
"So all those times you claimed to have no knowledge of recent events…?"
"You would have asked too many questions. It was bad enough that I let slip about seeing what happened in the graveyard. You would have just been confused if I appeared to know everything."
"So you just lied instead?" asked Robert, rolling his eyes heavenward.
"I lie all the time. If you haven't worked that out by now, there's no hope for you."
"I don't suppose you're lying about not having an elaborate escape planned?" queried Robert, raising his eyebrows and Katherine shook her head, the smile fading from her lips.
"Sorry. Like I said, I expected to be dead by now: it seemed a little pointless to plan beyond that."
Robert sighed and, searching for a change of subject, asked: "What about Severus?"
Katherine frowned, playing absently with a lock of black hair. "Well I don't imagine he'll be in Azkaban with us for very long. He was in the Order right from the start and I told Remus what really happened between him and Dumbledore, so Kingsley should vouch for him. After that, I don't know – I think he's had enough of teaching, but with talents like his he's bound to find something worthwhile to do."
"That wasn't what I meant," said Robert seriously. "From what I saw earlier, you two had finally got your act together, and now he's never going to see you again."
Katherine shrugged, regarding him with dark eyes. "He understands."
"Really? He spent twenty years waiting for you, then you finally tell him how you feel only to disappear from his life within twenty four hours. You honestly think he's ok with that?"
Katherine smiled sadly. "I didn't say he was happy about it, but whatever else Severus may be, he is practical. I can't avoid Azkaban, but he can. What use would he be to anyone in prison? He still has a chance to make something of his life and I wouldn't begrudge him that for the world."
"But…you love him and now you're giving him up without a fight."
"What else can I do? It's entirely my own fault - I wasted too much time," said Katherine heavily. "When we were in school I kept away because I knew I'd only put him in danger. He believed in everything that the Dark Lord was saying and I couldn't risk him finding out that not only did I not believe in it, I was working to sabotage things as much as I could. It would have put him in an impossible situation. After Azkaban, there didn't seem much point in doing anything. I thought I was going to get myself killed and I'd hurt him enough already without putting him through that."
"So what changed?"
Katherine smiled faintly, resting her head against the wall and closing her eyes. "Someone told me to risk being happy."
Robert had just opened his mouth to ask who she meant when there was the sound of a key turning in the lock and the door swung open to reveal two grim faced Aurors.
"Time to go?" asked Katherine, eyeing the heavy handcuffs the taller of the two men was holding.
"You're being transferred to a secure unit," replied the man with the handcuffs.
"Scared I might disappear on you?" she grinned, shooting an amused glance at Robert.
"Are you going to come quietly?" asked the second man and Katherine shrugged.
"Do I have much choice?" she inquired, stretching her arms above her head and yawning. She got to her feet slowly and looked at Robert again, smiling sadly. "Guess this is it."
"I suppose so. It's been…memorable," said Robert wryly, standing up and holding out his hand. "Ave atquevale, mi amice."
Katherine laughed softly and took his hand in hers for the last time, a faint smile still playing on her lips. "Au revoir."
Reviews are lovely, as always. Even the ones yelling at me for not updating in years… Merry Christmas. :)