Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Polaris Black belongs to me (and partly to Victor Hugo, since she's based on Inspector Javert), and Caius the Raven belongs to Draqonelle, who graciously lets me borrow him. Professors Wormwood, Casey, and Bell are mine too.
Posted by: Elspeth (AKA Elspethdixon)
Ships: Sirius/Sinistra, Snape/McGonagall
* Author's Notes: Thank you to W.B. Yeats, whose poetry gave me the idea, and to Owen Parry, whose lyrical descriptions of the Civil War influenced this more than I realized on first writing it. I had fun writing this. Far too much fun, probably. I desperately wanted to make this R/S slash, but figured that the higher-than-the-last-act-of-Hamlet body count would earn me enough flames as it was, so I was forced to utilize Claire "Blatant Self Insertion" Sinistra again. And yes, I know that if I had any guts at all a certain character would've stayed dead, but I just couldn't do it. *
A Terrible Beauty
"Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
[They] are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born."
--W.B. Yeats, "Easter 1916"
I stood in the doorway to the Hogwarts entrance hall, trying to look cheerful and welcoming as I shepherded in the cluster of first years.
"Welcome to Hogwarts. I'm Professor Sinistra, and hopefully I'll be teaching all of you Astronomy someday. If you'll just follow me into the Great Hall, I'll take you to be sorted into your Houses. There are four Houses at Hogwarts: Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin…" I was proud of my composure. I did not stumble as I named the four houses, and when I announced myself to be Head of Ravenclaw, my voice did not break. I needn't have bothered to school my features, however. My small audience of eleven year-olds was paying me little attention, eyes wandering instead over the grounds and battlements of Hogwarts, drinking in the surroundings. The front gates and Gryffindor tower were mostly rebuilt, but the shattered wreckage of the greenhouses and the dark scorch marks on the castle walls were still there, silent testimony to the previous Spring's destruction. Amaryllis had wept over those greenhouses, over the loss of her plants and the years of work they had represented. She had been careful, though, only to do so in private. There were others who had lost so much more.
"This is where it happened," one of the firsties whispered excitedly to his neighbor. "This is where Harry Potter fought You-Know-Who!"
"Brilliant! Do you think it was Death Eaters made those burns on the walls?"
I tried to tune out the enthusiastic murmurs, the eager questioners bloodthirsty as only adolescents can be. They had not been there, I reminded myself. They could not know, did not understand.
Setting my shoulders, I straightened ties and brushed down hair, making my charges ready for the Sorting Ceremony, before I led the entire group into the waiting hall.
The first name was called, and a petite, curly-haired girl climbed obediently up onto the stool, biting nervously on her lower lip.
As the Hat shouted out the word, the memories I had managed to hold back earlier came flooding over me again.
We lay flat against the earth, hidden in the night's shadows and the hollows of the ground, and listened to the screams. They were like nothing I'd ever heard before, horrible, inhuman, echoing endlessly off the trees, surrounding us. And we could do nothing. Nothing but wait, listening impotently. To attack Voldemort's minions at night was suicide; the push had to come at dawn, when our power would begin to rise, and theirs to wane, or all would be lost. But Dear God, those screams…
Intermittent flashes of lighting streaked across the sky, and in the moments of illumination, I could see Minerva's grim face, eyes reflecting back the light like a cat's. And as we lay there through the night, hearing the sounds of torment from the Death Eaters' encampment, I saw something inside of her die.
Sirius had begun making a faint whining sound, deep inside his throat, and beside him, Remus was snarling silently, lips drawn back from his teeth. Hermione was crying. Polaris's face was empty, without emotion of any kind. Perhaps she felt that this was a kind of justice. Perhaps, in a way, it was, but if so it was unimaginably harsh.
There came a flash of green light, reflecting from the tree trunks like a slightly dimmer version of the lighting flashes, and the awful, sobbing screams stopped, cut off by Lucius Malfoy's avada kedavra curse. Sirius crossed himself, a gesture from his muggle childhood that I'd almost never seen him make, and I heard Minerva give one soft, wrenching sob.
I paid little attention to the rest of the sorting, barely noticing even when the Hat sorted a student into Ravenclaw. In previous years I had hung on its every word, waiting to see who would win the staff's annual betting pool on which House the first student would be sorted into, which House would gain the most students and which the least, and where the last student would end up. This year, no bets had been placed. It simply had not seemed right.
As the last student pulled off the Hat and skipped over to the Hufflepuff table, Minerva rose in her chair and tapped her wand on the table for silence.
"Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts. As you can no doubt see, there have been some… changes, since last year. Several of our faculty have, have left us." Minerva paused for a moment, taking an iron grip on her composure, and continued. "I would like to introduce Professor Weasley, Professor Bell, Professor Casey, Professor Monkshood…"
As Minerva began listing the new staff members, I let my eyes sweep over the table, lingering on the new faces, and the empty chairs. Little Theresa Bell, the new Charms professor, nearly as tiny as her predecessor. Charlie Weasley, broad-shouldered and freckled but still seeming not nearly large enough to fill Hagrid's enormous shoes. Edwina Casey, dark-haired and scarf draped, but not in the least misty-eyed. Firing Sybil and hiring her had been one of Minerva's first acts as Headmistress, and she done it with such relish that I suspected she had been fantasizing about it for years.
"The Forbidden Forest is still off limits to all students," Minerva continued. "And I am pleased to announce that, contrary to rumour, there will be a Quidditch Cup this year. Trials will be held three weeks from now. And now, let us eat."
Minerva sat down again, as the traditional golden dishes and platters began appearing on the tables. A hum of voices began to rise above the clatter of knives and forks as the students fell to.
"I'm going to try out for quidditch this year. Gryffindor needs a new seeker."
"Dennis is going to get the position; Ginny Weasley's already told me. She's captain, you know."
"Sweet Merlin, the new Transfiguration professor is hot!"
"Yeah, hot and married. See? He's got a ring."
"Eeew! He's not hot; he's old. He's got to be thirty at least."
"I think I'm going to drop Arithmancy this year. It just won't be the same without Professor Vector."
"I'm so glad my parents agreed to let me come here. They almost didn't after all that stuff that happened last year."
I sat back and let the sound of the chatter wash over me. It was so normal, so cheerful. Just what I needed to wash the sorrow and tension of the past few months away. I tried not to focus on the handful of empty spaces among the seventh years, the black armbands worn by so many students in remembrance of lost relatives. Even there, the war had left its marks. As it had marked all of us, I as well.
I had never been in battle before; Ravenclaws tend more towards the Ivory Tower academic than the bloody-wanded warrior. It was noisy, and hot, though the day had been cold, and the air was filled with the scent of ozone and blood, the reek of burned flesh from the Weasley twins' explosions, and the choking feel of too much magic.
There is a face of humanity that we strive to keep hidden, a stark, naked savagery that most of us, if we are lucky, never have to encounter, and that day I came face to face with it. Not only in the enemy, but in us.
I fell in love with Sirius's smile, with his rueful humour and fierce loyalty, his encyclopedic knowledge of the heavens that were my own specialty and passion. With the soft silkiness of his fur, and with the pain he kept hidden inside, the scars on his wrist from Azkaban that he let no one see. I had seen him laugh, seen him cry, watched him fetch sticks for Harry on the Hogwarts lawn and seen his face when I kissed him, but I had never before seen him kill. I had not expected him to be so good at it. He and Remus fought together with a savagery that seemed more animal than human, using fists, knives, and in Sirius's case, fangs, as often as wands.
I gripped my own wand in a hand that shook from fear, cried spells and hexes in a voice that had to wrenched from a throat gone tight and dry with terror. I do not know how many of them struck their targets.
Everything was confused; shouts, flashes of light, figures looming up out of the smoke of battle--for some hexes do cause smoke--only to vanish again into the melee. Voldemort's army held more than just Death Eaters. There were hags on the field that day, and Dementors, and trolls, and other creatures I could not name. I saw Flitwick go down, felled not by a curse, but by a heart attack brought on by the stress of battle. A hoard of Redcaps swarmed over his body, shrieking maliciously.
I caught sight of Minerva, like a fury with her hair loose and streaming. Athena is a goddess of battle as well as knowledge, and she looked every inch her namesake, wand pointed like a sword. Caius the raven swooped above her like one of the Morrigan's crows, seeming three times his usual size as the pair of them sought revenge for the wizard they had both loved.
I heard snatches of laughter, a hysterical, berserker laughter that mixed eerily with Remus's harsh growls, and realized with a shock that it was Sirius. His face was filled with a wild light, and his eyes burned with hatred. Minerva was not the only one out for vengeance this day.
It was an effort not to recall the horrors of the battlefield. Even here, in the crowded Great Hall, bright with candles, I have only to close my eyes to see again the carnage and confusion and smell the blood and smoke. My husband is not the only one who has nightmares now.
When finally the students had finished eating, Minerva rose again.
"Now that we have all eaten, I would like to say a few words. I doubt not that all of you have heard what happened here last year. All the world, I suppose, has heard of it by now, and I imagine that all of you have heard quite enough speeches on the subject to last you a lifetime. However, I would like to deliver just one more."
There were a few stifled groans from some of the younger students, who were no doubt expecting another long and boring oratory of the sort Ministry officials had been giving by the dozens in recent days. I shared their low opinions of such official speeches, endless maunderings on bravery and goodness, delivered by men who had not even been there. All of us, especially Harry, had been presented with medal after medal, and I know it had been all he could do not to throw some of them back in the givers' smug faces. I had felt the occasional urge to fling silk and brass about myself.
I never knew exactly how the battle ended. When Harry and Voldemort finally crossed wands, they were surrounded by a great dome of golden light, a dome which shut out all but the two of them. I know not what happened inside it, only that, when it finally vanished, Harry was alive, and Voldemort dead. But outside the dome, separate from their private duel, the chaos raged on. By the end, I had been separated from all the rest of the Hogwarts band, fighting among a group of golden-robed aurors whom I did not know, and most of whom I never saw again.
"Everyone in this hall, everyone, has suffered and worked these last three years to defeat Voldemort." As Minerva said the name, a hush fell across the hall, and a few people shuddered. "All four Houses have suffered, and suffered equally." At the word "equally," a few students began to mutter angrily, and dark glances were darted at the Slytherins, who wore more black armbands than any other table, and had more empty seats.
"I do not need to list names and enumerate deeds, for all has been said countless times before. Now, it is time to put the past behind us. To move forward together. We cannot allow the differences of the past to continue to divide us, or we shall never heal. This victory, this new opportunity for peace, belongs to all of us, and we cannot let old resentments poison it." Some of the older students began nodding, guessing where Minerva was heading. The staff, I included, listened silently. It was odd to hear Minerva use the word 'victory.' In private, she, like most of us, never said the word.
I was so exhausted when finally the fighting died that I felt no sense of victory. No elation that Light triumphed over Darkness, merely a dull weariness that seemed to penetrate my very bones. Robes singed and torn and ankle twisted from a desperate dive under a curse, I limped across the battlefield to search the dead.
They were so young, most of them. Even the aurors seemed little more than children, far too young to be lying dead in the mud. Many of Voldemort's dead were no older. As I neared the midpoint of the field, the rows of corpses that had once marked the center of his lines, I stumbled and nearly fell over a group of bodies that nearly stopped my heart with sorrow. Neville Longbottom was sitting in a circle of scorched earth, surrounded by the lifeless forms of three of his former classmates. Tears were streaming down his face.
"He said no," he sobbed, when he looked up and registered me. "Voldemort ordered him to kill me, and he said no. So… so he killed him, right there. And, and then the others took their masks off, and started attacking the other D-death Eaters, and they killed them too. "
He gestured at the bodies, their Death Eater garb falling open to reveal Hogwarts robes, with green and silver Slytherin ties. One boy wore a silver prefect's pin. Next to him lay Lucius Malfoy, body fallen across his son's so that their silver hair mingled together--a pair of fallen angels, beautiful even in death.
"It matters not whether our dead died in black robes or gold; they are all lost to us, and blame and antagonism will not bring them back. It is for this reason that I am canceling the traditional House Cup. In the wake of last May, and in light of the increasingly violent rivalries of recent years, I fear that continued competition would only encourage students to take side against each other. And there has been far too much of that already."
Groans rippled across the hall as the students took in the absence of the four great hourglasses that had stood at the end of the hall for so long. The inter-house competition might be divisive, but to teenagers, it was also exciting and fun. The up side--that it was now impossible to lose points for one's House--had not yet occurred to them. Without certain teachers to foster competition and take said points away, it no longer mattered so much anyway.
Minerva continued for a few moments more, urging the students to learn to work together, telling them that, after a while, they would no longer miss the House Cup (and reminding them, before the disappointment could get too out of hand, that they still had quidditch). Then, she changed tack.
"I have said that I do not need to list names, but before I dismiss you to your dormitories, I would like to do so just once more. I am sure you have noticed the new stones set in the wall at the back of the hall. There are there for a reason. Each stone, yellow, blue, red, and green, is there to commemorate those from Hogwarts who gave their lives in the fight against Voldemort. Both students, and," her voice broke, but she continued on, "and faculty."
Minerva, Caius on her shoulder, was bent over a nearly unrecognizable tangle of mangled white limbs, identifiable only by a spill of black hair. She was sobbing his name over and over. I turned away, still seeking my own dark-haired wizard, fearful somehow that her loss should spill over and contaminate me. That if I spoke to her, I too would find the man I loved lying dead.
As Minerva began to recite the names, not needing a list, for she knew them all by heart, they began to appear, one by one, engraved in the formerly smooth marble. The first name, graven stark and plain at the top of the Hufflepuff stone, was Cedric Diggory's.
Tears came to my eyes as I listened to the names of my students and co-workers. Susan Bones. Hannah Abbot. Albus Dumbledore. Filius Flitwick. It surprised me that I could still cry for them. I had thought that I had no tears left. I reached under the table to take Sirius's hand, feeling his fingers dig into mine until it was nearly painful. He has his own dead, so many, many more than I have.
Sirius did not even see me when I approached him. He knelt on the ground beside the mangled body of Peter Pettigrew, cradling a limp, auburn-headed form against his chest and keening with grief. His eyes were empty. I think my heart stopped beating then, as I watched Sirius hold the burned and battered body of Remus Lupin in his arms and grieve as I have never seen anyone do, before or since. I think that at that moment, if I had been a Dementor, he would have tipped his face upward and pressed his lips willingly to mine.
"Sirius?" I knelt beside him, put my hand on his shoulder, hoping for a response. My own sorrow sent tears pouring down my cheeks. "Sirius?"
"Claire?" Haunted eyes met my own briefly, and recognition flickered in their depths. "They're both dead. I killed Petey, Claire, and he, and he killed… We're all dead now, all of us, James and Lily and Peter and…"
I put my arms around him, around him and Remus, whose body was still warm, and he began to sob. Broken, wrenching sobs, like a man who has lost everything. Perhaps he had. Friends, packmate, sister… I had seen Polaris Black lying on the ground a hundred feet away, her eyes open and staring at the sky and a ring of dead Death Eaters around her.
I tangled my fingers in that long black hair and pulled his head up to face me, staring into those horror-filled blue eyes.
"Harry's alive, Sirius." I repeated it over and over until it finally seemed to penetrate. "Harry is still alive."
I watched sense seep back into his eyes as he latched on to my words, a remnant of that fierce protectiveness that always came over him when Harry's name was mentioned flickering across his face, before the pain came crashing back. "We won then." His voice was flat, emotionless, as empty of victory as my own. "We won." A harsh, sobbing laugh welled up in his throat, low and bitter. "I prayed for Voldemort's defeat for twenty years. I spent every night dreaming of vengeance, of breaking Wormtail's back between my jaws. And now I have both and it wasn't worth it. It wasn't fucking worth it. Not for this."
Minerva had come to the last four names, the Slytherin names, and I could see her face pale and her eyes grow unnaturally bright as she paused. I knew those four names, and the last of them was one which she had not spoken, which no one had spoken, in months.
"She's going to do it," Amaryllis whispered on my left. "She's really going to do it. The Ministry isn't going to be happy."
"She has to," a hoarse remnant of a voice breathed from beyond Sirius. "They can't be left out, not after what they did."
I wanted to cry anew at the sound of that voice, shattered and breathy from ravaged vocal chords. But this time, it was not from sorrow. Poppy Pomfrey had said that his throat would probably never recover from the burns inflicted by Wormtail's silver hand, dooming him to an eternity of writing lectures on the blackboard with enchanted chalk, but scarred and near-mute or not, Remus Lupin was still alive. A life pulled from the jaws of jaws of death at the last moment, feet already set on the paths of the dead. And though he could no longer shout, he could still howl.
I was so inured to the sight of blood, so numbed by the sanguine nightmare that the day had become, that I was at first oblivious to the blood that was swiftly saturating the front of my robes. Only part of it was Sirius's.
Remus's body was bonelessly limp, utterly still, without apparent breath or heartbeat, but his wounds still bled. Bright red blood, not merely oozing, but pumping from his veins.
"Sirius," I breathed, hands fumbling for a pulse in the raw, burned flash of his throat and failing to find one. "I think, I think maybe…"
He was still alive, though he probably would not be for much longer. With the last of my strength, I reached inside myself to tap reserves I hadn't even known existed and apparated the three of us to the hospital wing. I didn't even know until I had done it that the anti-apparition wards were down. If I had been thinking clearly, I would never have tried it, but at the moment, all I could focus on was the need, the desperate need for medical help. I had seen so much of death that day, and I knew I could not stand to lose anyone else.
I twined my fingers more tightly in Sirius's, leaning my head against his shoulder even though the students were watching. His marital status was already a topic of student gossip anyway. When I married him, I had married Remus too, gained someone closer than a brother-in-law. A packmate, perhaps. I admit, it's been difficult adjusting to a husband who's as likely to sleep curled up at my feet as in my arms, but we're working things out. I'm learning to sleep with a light on. At times, I think I leave it burning as much for my benefit as for his. I never use to be frightened of the dark, but all people change. I have so much more than others do, a husband, a brother, a family. Amaryllis has only her plants, Minerva nothing but a moth-eaten raven and a silver ring engraved with an 'S' to keep her warm at night. Sometimes it makes me feel guilty.
"These last four names," Minerva was saying, voice strained and tight with the effort to hold back tears, "do not appear on any on the Ministry's lists. They were not buried in the auror's cemetery at Acheron, and they are not mentioned in any of the accounts of battle, but they gave their lives for their classmates and comrades as surely as did the rest. Many people will argue that those who died in masks and hoods have no place on any monument, but I say that how one dies is as important as how one lives, and that the time for accusations is over. It is never too late for bad decisions to be reversed, though the cost be high."
Half the Slytherin table was crying now, but they were not the same tears that had been cried at the funerals and memorial services, angry and bitter with resentment. I think that they had not expected their Housemates' sacrifices to be recognized. Bell, an American from Virginia, had suggested this ("Y'all keep demonizing the Slytherins, and they'll resent you forever. Trust me on this. Just ask my grandfather how he feels about Yankees.") but I think Minerva had planned to do it anyway.
"And so, when we remember those who died in the final battle, I ask that you also remember Gregory Goyle, Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson, and Severus Snape."