The Hole in the Roof
Disclaimer: The following is not purely original fiction, but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment.
A/N: This fic is a companion to Lavander Ice's lovely, touching yet witty "The Crack in the Floor", a very worthwhile Sirius-in-Azkaban fic at http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=563769
I had read this quite a while before we started corresponding, and somehow it only mellowed with time. If you're to read this, it would be most helpful to read the above first and get a taste of a well-done James and Sirius.
After reading I decided that perhaps Remus could use a similar boost, and after reading Lavander's "The Reluctant Death Eater" (http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=720958), it was obvious Lily was the one for this job. Lavander has a wonderfully sarcastic, strong-minded Lily (who also could never put a lie past Remus; on the other hand, she kept him and the rest of the Marauders firmly in line).
So in addition, this is also dedicated to T.J., for far more than allowing me to play in her universe... for being an absolutely grand e-friend, for talking, for discussing oldies and writing and books and siblings and basically everything. I really treasure our correspondence and hope we remain friends for a long time, T.J.
"…I think that ice is slowly melting
… It seems like years since it's been clear
Here comes the sun…"
-- "Here Comes The Sun", Beatles
It was an awful noise, the continuous drip-drip-drip splashes the rain made into the small puddle on the other corner of the abandoned barn.
Normally I would have never heard it, but today I did, seeing as I was sprawled on the opposite side of the barn with a torn, oversized robe and throbbing head.
Each little sound grated on my ears like a badly-tuned musical saw, making my headache indefinitely worse. That dripping kept swelling the pain; I felt as if my head was about to explode.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Everything hurt. I should've been used to that, but the pain never seemed any more bearable. Every limb ached, particularly my spine, and the feeling of being aflame had only receded somewhat. The cuts stung sharply, particularly whenever nipped by the cold air -
Just how was the cold air getting in? I had secured the barn… In horror, the possibility occurred to me that I had clawed a hole through the wall the night before… No. No, I hadn't. Thank goodness. Besides, how could I have left Hogwarts without knowing strong Barrier Charms?
I had to smile at that. I should have never been allowed to attend school and never allowed to leave it… Even though most every time I was nearly expelled, it was fun. And Mrs Norris had recovered from most of those incidents…
I chuckled at the memory of some of those pranks. Immediately my head screamed in protest, quieting my laughter, and I was forced to remain silent and still. Less movement is less pain.
The only sound is the rain through the ceiling.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
'Oh, please stop…'
Drip. Drip. Drip, the water responded disobligingly.
Where were the drops coming from?
I forced open heavy lids. Even the extremely dim light hurt my eyes, and I closed them instantly. Oh, honestly, buckle up… look for the source, open one eye and then the other…
I simply couldn't. Much more easy to lay in a shivering, bloody heap, to hope for the blessed comfort of sleep to arrive.
Every day was a sort of pointless struggling to survive; if I wasn't working I'm desperately hunting for a job. When I found one, it's the one no one else would ever want. In one world, all most can see is a werewolf. In the other, an uneducated, sickly person. So while transformations are far from fun, there're a few hours where I'm usually too weak to do anything but lay and recover, and when pain doesn't allow sleep, I get to think and reminisce.
Thoughts and memories are wonderful things. Just the very luxury to indulge in them is resting; a break, a chance to slow down the rapid-fire pace life demands. I believe if society weren't so bent on quickness insane asylums wouldn't be as full.
Despite the fact the thinking is not all pleasure; it so easily turns to guilty worrying. In the solitude after every full moon, I think of little Harry - who, at the time of this, would have been six now, fast becoming not so little anymore after all - orphaned, with Lily's sister's family. Lily's opinion of Petunia was not high, and I've met Vernon Dursley for myself.
And I worried about him, wondered if he's happy and well provided for, and prayed he was. It was maddening not to be able to know, not to be able to help… it takes very little to make children happy. I love to try it whenever I can. But I feel guilty that I'm not allowed to do it for Harry.
Sometimes I wondered why I should've been the one of us to live. I can so rarely help anyone. James and Lily and Peter could. They could've done so much good in the world, not to mention raise Harry.
I hated Sirius and sometimes I was almost afraid of how much I did - but it didn't change the fact. At times I was disappointed I never saw him before they took him to Azkaban, other times I was relieved - I would've tried to kill him on the spot, I'm sure of it. If I thought on it too long it began to course through my veins like poison and make my words short and snappish. Not to mention it made my head hurt more, so I preferred not to think about him, seeing as he was for all intents and purposes locked away, impenetrably, forever. But it couldn't be helped…
'How could you, Sirius?' My voice was quiet, weak, and hoarse, but also shaking with anger. 'I still can't believe you'd do that, least of all to Lily and Harry and James…' My voice gave out.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Why, thank you, rain. Between us we'll make sure there's no silence here.
I groaned at my incredibly punchy thought, wondering if this is a sign of insanity, talking to rain. Shut up, I pleaded with it.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
In desperation, I pried my eyes open again and squinted, trying to make out the source. Good boy, Remus, that's a little something known as 'seeing'. It's a very useful skill, practise it early and often…
Once I adjusted to the darkness, I faintly saw a hole in the barn roof, letting in the rain and damp and draft. It was a small, jagged one, right firmly in a corner. Below it was a nice-sized little pond of rainwater.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
My eyes closed. The thought of retrieving my wand from where I buried it as so to not destroy it crossed my mind, but the idea of moving is ludicrous. I'm almost rather glad my 'condition' was discovered a few days before and I had to move on. Imagine going about pretending everything was okay today…
Drip. Drip. Drip.
I could've sworn someone put a wand to this rain cloud and used a Magnifying Charm. It's so loud… I struggled to sit upright, struggled to recall where I buried my wand…
But just this much is exhausting. Before I locate the wand, I fall against the bales of hay on the northern wall.
You wouldn't make that great a guardian even if you were allowed, Lupin, is my last scathing, conscious thought before I nod off. Being able to crawl is sort of the first requirement…
The dripping stopped. How strange. Not to look a gift broomstick by the twig ends, but that is strange. It was supposed to rain all week.
There was a noise in the corner. Footsteps. This was far from a good thing - I was in a prime position at the moment to be lynched - but I was too tired to care.
Is hearing voices another sign of insanity? It runs in my family, you know.
I opened my eyes. Again. Just as labouredly.
If I hadn't known better, this would be Lily Evans Potter. Elfin face, witch robes, crooked mouth, straight posture, sunburned face, vivid red hair, distinctive green eyes… Merlin's wand. It is Lily.
Now I figured I'm not insane. This happened when I was younger; I'd have hallucinations after my transformations, granted few were as pleasant as this one. My older sister Adora developed a potion to get rid of them, although it also got rid of my ability to talk whenever I took it. Since I was usually rather cranky those recovery days, my parents and Adora considered this a very minor and not-so-bothersome side effect.
'I'm no hallucination; at least, if I am, it's news to me,' Lily laughed softly, kneeling by me, reaching out a hand to brush my bangs from my face -
'Lily, don't touch me; I'm filthy.' It was all I can say, and a sort of knee-jerk reaction. It was certainly hard to forget how finicky Lily became about tidiness once she was woman of the house. Once she had, Filch-like, forced Peter to scrub her living room floor without magic because we had been joking and Peter had been scuttling around as Wormtail in the, er, spirit of the moment.
Okay, okay. We had been remembering with unholy glee how Severus Snape had a livid fear of rats.
In any case, all I could think of was not to incur Lily's wrath on the neatness score. And I was covered from head to foot in blood and mud.
'You sound terrible. Shush.'
I obeyed. It was hard not to when Lily got that tone. The whole thing was so incomprehensible all I could do was stare at her wide-eyed anyway.
Lily took the end of her cloak where it was damp with rain and gently, so gently it didn't even jar my head, wiped my face and shoulders, which were nearly bare from where I had ripped the robes.
'Lily, how - '
'Didn't I say for you to be quiet, Rem?'
Rem. It had been so long since anyone called me that.
Lily was dead. They had found her body - I had been asked to identify it, since Petunia Dursley beat the owls they sent her with a broom (the irony of the weapon). Yet Lily seemed anything but not solid, and I could feel her, and she looked not a day older than twenty-one. I waited, rather impatiently, for her to talk, feeling numb with disbelief.
Finally, she did. 'You're an awful mess.' Her voice didn't cause any pain, either.
'I missed you.'
She smiled. 'That's better. I really didn't want your first words to be a protest of how this was impossible - 'Lily, you're dead.' It would be rather awkward, not to mention slightly depressing.' Her expression softened, as I looked a little embarrassed. 'I miss you too, Remus.'
I couldn't reply.
'You're not disappointed I'm here, are you?'
No point in puzzling out the meaning of her conflicting words. 'I'm always glad to see you, Lily.'
'Oh, Rem. I'm always glad to see you, too.'
I still wanted to ask how on earth she could possibly be here, and was a little frustrated with myself for not being able to think straight about anything else.
'I'm a dream,' Lily continued.
'You can't read my thoughts, can you?'
Lily half-smirked. 'Maybe I can and maybe I can't.' Well, this sounded like the Lily I knew. 'But it shows pretty plainly on your face.'
'You just said you weren't a hallucination,' I protested.
'Well, newsflash, Rem, hallucinations and dreams are two different things. Right now, you are asleep. But don't worry, I'm very real.'
'That made no sense whatsoever.'
'Ooh, goody, I haven't lost the touch.'
I had to laugh, and then immediately dissolved into a coughing fit. Lily knelt by me and gave me a hard whack by my shoulders, which worked better than you might think.
'I'm dead, so I can do whatever I want, as James put it - '
'You're not going to make a habit of interrupting me, are you? I don't have that much time. Even you can't sleep through the thunderstorm that looks to be coming soon.'
'Is he here?'
'No, he's busy for the moment, over with…' Lily trailed off and then quickly amended: 'He couldn't come.'
I was still too tired to try and figure out the latest of her cryptic remarks. Actually, the scary part was, I don't think most of them were meant to be cryptic.
Finally I began to register that Lily was here. This would be difficult to accept under the best of conditions, but if you want to suddenly meet one of your deceased friends directly after a lycanthrope transformation, be my guest. It might have taken you a few moments to get your bearings as well.
So now that I had started to understand that this was Lily, I couldn't face her. Not at all. I had just sort of let her die without being watchful enough and let her son to be sent to a family she wouldn't trust with anything, let alone her only son.
'Oh no, Remus, what's wrong? I smell wood burning, so I have a feeling you're thinking,' Lily needled, with an affection in her tone I couldn't stand in my guilt.
I could not meet her eyes. Those great green emerald eyes. Harry has the same ones, I reflected absently. Then, to my chagrin, tears sprang to my eyes and I couldn't stop them.
'I'm sorry, Lily.'
'What f - good grief, Remus, come on now, please don't cry. I didn't mean to come and make you sad all over again - I thought you had recovered enough - please, Rem, it'll be all right.'
Naturally, this did nothing at all to prevent my crying, as you'd probably guess if you've ever been in one of these situations. It felt as if an old wound had suddenly been ripped open and now salt was being rubbed in it, to repeat a very old and overused saying.
So between open sobs, I told her, even though on later reflection she must have already known - about how I hadn't been able to do anything to prevent their deaths, and how now Harry was with the Dursleys, with no knowledge of the parents who had sacrificed their lives for him.
Lily let me have my talk out before turning my face to look at her gently and speaking sternly: 'Remus Lupin, you have got to get things in perspective. First off, no one was able to see who was going to betray us. That includes James and me, and if we couldn't, well, it's doubtful you could. Even Dumbledore couldn't. And I know very well you did everything you could to help protect us; you've always been a wonderful friend to us. Sometimes, you've got to face the fact that there is nothing you can do
'And it sure isn't your fault that Harry is with Pet and Vernon. It would've been grand if you could've, but as not, it is not your fault.'
'If I wasn't a werewolf - ' I blurted out before I caught myself.
'Well, you are,' she said, a little harshly, 'and there's no way to change that. Did you ask to be? No. Question settled. Believe or not, you could not have affected the outcome to have made things any better than they already are.'
Silence. Not even drops from the hole in the roof broke the noise-that-isn't-a-noise. I stared at Lily a moment through teary eyes; she met it squarely, with her no-nonsense expression.
Then I broke down again. Now that Lily had stripped me of any illusion of guilt, it was like facing their deaths again, but this time without even the comfort that it could have been prevented. Guilt is not a nice thing, but helplessness can be far worse, and that's what I felt now. There was, as Lily said, nothing you could do, no way to control things.
It brought a sort of realisation. When all is said and done, it seems we're all like a child's toy on a sheet, and outside forces that we have no power over bounce the sheet around as we go for a ride. And no matter how much we struggle, protest, or fight, in the end, separately, we have no power over what happens.
Control is a very powerful thing, very important, and also rather dangerous. I've discovered recently - a conclusion I began to draw this very night Lily visited me - that I'm addicted to it. That's right. Not drug or drink or nicotine, but control. Through a combination of the out-of-controlness of Hallowe'en 1981 and the out-of-controlness of every full moon, I've become a slave to this. I only feel safe when I'm perfectly calm, or appear to be. Every emotion must be perfectly in check, and emotions need a lot of pruning and trimming. Every word must be measured now before it leaves my mouth. Every gesture and move is weighed in the balance. And so I appear perfectly impartial, composed, and in control.
But in all actuality, even addiction to control is an addiction. And so in the end, I'm still being controlled more than I'm controlling.
'I'm sorry,' Lily said softly, 'I didn't mean to yell and upset you. But it was sort of something you needed to know…'
'No, it's not that, Lils,' I replied, thankful for Lily's loan of her hair for me to bury my face in. 'It's just so hard to accept sometimes.'
'You've been doing a fantastic job, Rem. We've been watching you, you know, James and me, watching all of you. We think of you constantly. And you're the only one we don't have to worry ourselves sick about. Harry's just not getting the growing-up sort of support he needs, and Ara's been in disguise, you know, it's not just for what she needs to do, she's simply trying to hide from the world altogether, and - ' Lily cut off again.
I looked at her searchingly. 'And?' I prompted.
'And what?' Lily replied smoothly. 'I just realised I had no one left to discuss, that's all.'
Lily hasn't gotten much better at lying in the afterlife.
'What are you not telling me?'
Sighing, Lily leaned against one of the hay bales. 'Honestly. I can never get anything past you, you nosy bastard.'
'Well, you can tell me, or we can have a nice long circular conversation, get right back to where we started after a few hours, and then - '
'We don't have that much time, Rem, I told you, I'm pretty sure a thunderstorm is going to come this way and wake you, and by then I have to be out of here.'
I started to shake, refusing to allow myself to cry again, but the thought of saying goodbye to Lily and losing her again hurt badly. I wondered if she would come again.
'And this is the only time I'm coming,' Lily said, again, as if reading my mind. 'Despite what James would like to brag, we had to pull a lot of strings to come here. It was harder than it used to be to charm Filch out of a detention on one of his moods. Besides, it wouldn't be good for us to make this regular. You may not like it, but I am dead, and no amount of dream-visits will change it. And all this talking won't let you get a lot of rest.'
Between Lily and rest, I'd take the former, but I didn't say that aloud. Being on the receiving end of one of Lily's lectures is not a fun experience. 'But once is okay? This one visit is going to drive me insane.'
'You don't have much farther to go,' she assured me, 'so before you quite get to insanity, we have a few things to talk about.'
I cringed out of reflex. Lily didn't know it, but those were the same words my parents would use when I was younger: 'we have a few things to talk about'. Don't get me wrong, I loved them dearly, but those Talks were, as a general rule - all right, as an ironclad certainty - highly unpleasant.
She looked at me curiously. 'Fire away,' I told her.
'Well, you certainly looked as though you had something eating at your conscience,' Lily grinned. 'If you're thinking of those girls in Aubraginshire, don't worry, I'm not mentioning it.'
I started to protest, beginning with that I had never even been to Aubraginshire, but Lily rolled her eyes, waved a hand, and shook her head.
'It's a joke, Moony, I know very well where you've been, remember?' She regarded me thoughtfully. 'And it's quite a job keeping track of them all. Oh, Rem - ' Apparently not caring how much grime she received in return, she hugged me tightly. 'I wish you didn't always have to move on and all over the place.'
'I don't mind it, Lils,' I assured her. It was pretty much a lie, but I really hated to see her upset. 'It's cured me of the packrat syndrome.'
Lily laughed half-heartedly. 'You deserve so much better. I'm so proud of you for not breaking.'
'Breaking? The same sort of breaking that happened when I dropped your collection of china dolls?'
'You keep that mouth shut and let me talk, Lupin.'
'Yes'm,' I murmured, earning a light swat. For a dream, she was awfully solid.
'I kept hoping you would hold up - you were so sad for a long time, and you were always treated awfully - I was afraid you'd sink into depression, or get bitter and cynical, and you didn't. And so now I can look at you and still recognise our Remus. Thank you.'
'Come on, Lily,' I contradicted, feeling uncomfortable. 'I'm definitely not that good a person.'
She rolled her eyes skyward. 'Well, a little self-centered and low amounts of self-esteem, but you can't have everything and I guess we can cure that with a little work.'
I reddened deeply and felt immediately ashamed, because she did have a point.
'You keep at it, Rem. There isn't enough compassion and caring in the world to go around, so don't revoke what you've got.'
I looked at her for a moment. For one, it was rather gratifying to know that someone was pushing me to keep on, but there was also a nagging doubt that had been following me awhile.
'You think it doesn't do much good?' Lily asked. 'It may not seem like it, but it does. You often can't see it, although sometimes you just have to know how to look, but you influence people a lot. I've seen it, and so has James. Wives nag at their husbands to be more polite after meeting you, and other people are unconsciously impressed by the way you carry yourself. Do you remember Gerry Pickett - Helga's Valley?'
I nodded, not with any fond recollections.
'So do I. I wanted to crack his head against the ground when he discovered you were a werewolf and told you to never show up in Helga's Valley again, and on and on and on. But after you left, well, apparently he was so shocked by how, well, calmly and quietly you acted that afterward he canceled his membership with the Safekeepers - you remember, back when they were petitioning to have all werewolves executed.'
'Yeah. And' - now Lily smiled - 'those kids in that Oxford playground were always absolutely thrilled with what you left in that little clubhouse of theirs!'
'Really?' I asked with interest. I had always wondered if the little packages and gifts I had left there had even gotten to them. There was a lot of risk for someone to come along before they did and leave with them. But I hadn't been able to resist. They were so proud of that playhouse, and when I overheard them devising fantasies to make it better, well, you bet I was off to Wagner's Shop for supplies.
'They loved it,' Lily confirmed, before looking at me seriously. "So you just remember all this when you start feeling down. You do make a difference.'
So I guess while you can't stop the sheet from throwing you into the air, you can still help the other hapless toys fall less painfully.
'The other thing…' Lily cleared her throat, a little uncertainly. 'Er, ah, let's just say - Rem Lupin, please, don't you dare start demanding details, because I will refuse to answer - if you, er, ever get, erm, quite a shock, be prepared to be a tad, er… open-minded.'
My response was to stare. 'I'd like that translated into English, if you please. Or French. Gibberish? No, thank you.'
'Take out all of my 'er's and you'll be left with it, basically.' Lily wiped her hands on the material over her knees unnecessarily.
'Lil-lee,' I said in exasperation, further annoyed because I was starting to sound whinny. Taking a deep breath, I said more calmly: 'Why all the riddles?'
'Because I know you, Rem. You have perfected pessimism to a fine art. If I told you what you'll hopefully learn later right now, that combined with your disbelief at the fact you're even talking to me at all will lead you to believe that you just dreamed it up, and it was all composed of what you want to hear… so I'll leave it. You'll learn later, hopefully at a time when you're ready to accept it.'
I pressed three fingers to my temple and started rubbing very hard.
'See?' Lily said, triumphant at having proved a point.
'I'm not that unoptimistic.'
Lily snorted. 'Peter's really alive, you know.'
How I wished. But I had seen that explosion. I suppose anything's possible, but Lily was speaking in a rather sarcastic tone. 'Lils, that's not really something to joke about.'
'I rest my case.' Lily stood.
I looked up. 'Is it time, Lily?'
''Fraid so,' Lily said gently, leaning down to stroke my cheekbone one last time. 'You keep on, you hear? Harry's going to need you later - '
'How? Dumbledore said - '
"Merlin's wand, Rem, Harry's five now. His exile from the wizarding world won't last forever - six years, in fact. And at some point Dumbledore will deem him old enough to know. That's when you're going to have to be there, all right? And I want you to help take care of him.'
'Do you - '
'Excuse me?' Lily's eyes flashed. 'Do I hear a protest? Are you going to refuse to care for my son? Must I get Jeffery Everett to do so instead?'
I relaxed slightly. After hearing Everett's name, I knew she wasn't seriously angry. Although it was rather uncouth of her to bring him into this. That whole thing had been ages ago. Well, only ten years… but it certainly seemed much longer.
'How is he?' I asked with a smile.
She grinned. 'Poor Jeff recovered from every nasty trick you played on him for the horrendous crime of taking Arabella to the dance and is now happily settled with a wife and two awfully cute children. So remember what I said about Harry.'
'I will, Lily. Promise.'
'Remember something else, Rem.'
I glanced at her.
'James and I love you very, very much.'
Lily was never one for long soggy goodbyes. As if going before she lost her nerve, her outline began to instantly shimmer and fade as she stood. Then she melted into nothingness.
Slowly, my eyelids began to fall again and I too faded away into darkness. It seemed like only a moment later I awoke again to the sound of a crash of thunder.
It was as hard to open my eyes and focus as it had been before Lily had come; every ounce of exhaustion hit me again full-force. Stifling a groan, I looked around. There was no sign that Lily had come; the hole was leaking again, the rain falling, wind was whooshing past, and the noise hurt as much as it had before.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
I could literally feel my heart sink. Lily's visit, what she had said and done, had been the greatest comfort I had felt in years. The thought of it being only a dream… Lily had said it was a dream, yes… but the thought of it not being real, and that not having been Lily who actually spoke…
Drip. Drip. Drip.
For one moment, when I was at my weakest and most vulnerable, the old sadness that I thought I had recovered from threatened to overwhelm me. I blinked furiously, refusing to allow myself to find solace in tears, which would help nothing. That's when my fingers came across something…
Drip. Drip. Drip.
It was thick, warm, and woolen, and I realised that whatever it was, it was what was keeping me from shivering from the cold. My pulse started to quicken, as if I knew what it was before I processed the thought, and looked down.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Lily's cloak was draped over my lap.
'Goodbye, Lils,' I whispered. 'And thank you. I'll try.'
Drip. Drip. Drip.