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Chapter 16: Far Past Happiness
A/N: Thanks so much to everyone who is still reading this story, even though my updates are often hugely infrequent. I hope you like this chapter, and don’t forget to review!
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling, excluding the plot.
However, as far as Harry knew, the dungeons of Hogwarts did not have a large wooden throne in each room occupied by the likes of a sickly-white, half-dead Sirius Black.
The dim light faded and swelled, almost like that of a flickering candle, or a wavering Lumos held by an unsure hand. There was a strong, heavy emotion that instantly lifted, almost visibly so, off of Harry. But in its wake, a smaller, more powerful feeling formed. Hermione and Ron looked from Sirius to Harry with uncertainty, finding pain and sadness and overwhelming, pure joy in Harry’s expression.
The mind did play tricks, as Harry had previously experienced, when the dead seemed to live. It was befuddling and free of all sanity, and one simply did not know how to react.
Sirius Black was leaning dramatically on the hard back of the chair, and his head hung forward, his neck finding no support in its physical structure. They were beyond the Veil, and there was no time, no existence, and Sirius had not aged. He was so pale that he had adopted a faint green colour, and he looked as if he had fallen into a fitful slumber.
It was all too simple, Hermione concluded. There was Sirius, sitting there, awaiting their arrival. Where were the armies of the dead, the tortuous consequences for their trespassing into the Veil? She scanned the room, looking for something, anything that would confirm her fears. Harry was still silent, she noticed, when her gaze returned to him.
His mouth was open in a cry that did not sound, though both Hermione and Ron could sense that it was better that way. He was fighting an internal battle – he appeared to be struggling against an invisible force. The seconds that would have passed had they been on the other side of the Veil turned into non-existent minutes, and the silence became so pressing it seemed that it would hurt to speak. All too abruptly, Harry shouted out in a strangled sob, one of both happiness and loss.
“SIRIUS!” he cried, and before Ron or Hermione could stop him, he had surged forward and was sprinting through the dim light towards his godfather. Harry’s rapid footsteps echoed through the room, like cold, dull heartbeats on the stone floor. Hermione and Ron watched him disappear within the gray fog, and they squinted through the near-darkness to locate his whereabouts. The distance between themselves and Sirius had seemed so small before. Now, he could have been miles away; the fog thickened and became much coarser. Were it not for the Expugnolers, they would have died hours ago.
They could still hear Harry shouting – there was a mixture of anguish and joy in his hoarse cries, and as he ran farther and farther away from them, Hermione feared that they were running out of time.
Ron eyed the area before him nervously; he edged backwards a bit, put off by the ominous, never-ending atmosphere that the fog provided. Hermione immediately took out her wand, and cast a quick Lumos. She took a few steps forward and threw a glance at Ron, who was looking at her sceptically.
“You can’t be serious?!” he exclaimed.
“Ron! We can’t just let him go and save Sirius alone. For all we know that chair may be some sort of trap. I find it hard to believe that he’s sitting there so openly. It’s not normal – it’s too easy.”
“But we’re going to get hurt!” he protested. Hermione was obviously growing impatient. Harry’s shouts of “Sirius!” had begun to fade off into the thick air, and she was worried.
“We promised him!” she defended fiercely. “If you’re too afraid, you may as well stay here.” She turned on her heel and began walking briskly through the fog, towards Harry and Sirius and away from Ron. It was obvious she was still proceeding with caution, however, and she stumbled every few steps, the uneven stone throwing off her footing. She turned her head a fraction to see if Ron had decided to follow. She noticed him eyeing the corridor that they had come from, and then looking at her with slight desperation.
“We can still go back, Hermione. We can get Argilla-” He began. Hermione turned and faced Ron, about twenty feet between them.
“If I knew that following Harry to Sirius would lead to certain death, I would still go.” She said quietly. “I was hoping you would feel the same way.”
Ron’s panicked expression faltered into one of shock. Hermione continued walking away from Ron, her steps quick and purposeful. Her lit wand illuminated a thin path of light ahead of her, and Ron watched her eclipsed silhouette fade into the mist. His head was whirring with multiple thoughts – “She chose him, again”, being the most prominent. As Ron Weasley watched Hermione Granger walk away, all possible retorts dissolved, along with his fear and jealousy. She was so determined, and he...he was so cowardly. She was going with purpose and bravery, while he merely stood there, rendered speechless.
It was at this point in non-existent time that Ron decided to do something utterly selfless. Without one glance behind him, he took off in a quick jog, anticipating the offended yet grateful reaction of Hermione when he caught up to her, and prepared to take on whatever awaited them when they reached Harry.
“Hermione – Hermione, wait!” he called after her. He could see her ahead of him, and he was directed merely by the broken trail of light that her wand left behind. He was approaching her fast, his long legs propelling him and gaining more ground than Hermione was capable of. She had begun running as well, and he could hear her laboured breathing as she continued on. He saw her flinch slightly when he called her name. “Please!” His request caused her to slow noticeably and she allowed him to catch up beside her.
She opened her eyes within the Expugnolers, and though they stung, Ron could see the gratefulness within her grimace. She closed them again immediately, but Ron understood. Last year, while hunting Horcruxes, his absence had broken the Trio. He had betrayed them, and it wasn’t until now that Hermione had fully forgiven him. This time, he had decided to stay. This time, it could safely be said, that they were in this together.
They jogged through the unyielding gray fog, which danced around them, stirring at their feet with each thunderous step they took. Its sudden opaqueness was startling – one moment there was Sirius, and Harry running towards him, the next there were thick, endless sheets of hovering darkness.
“How are your Expugnolers?” Hermione asked between huge breaths.
“Fine.” Ron nodded. Hermione figured they had about half an hour left before they needed to refill. It was vital that they find Harry within that time.
Hermione squinted through the minimal lighting and the fog until the throne with Sirius came into view. Where was Harry? They slowed and stood still, keeping a fair distance between themselves and Sirius. As they stopped, the frantic swirling of the fog changed visibly to an easy drifting.
“Where’s Harry?” Hermione asked, panicked. She coughed, trying to catch her breath. Ron scanned the area around Sirius and the chair. He grabbed her arm and pointed with his own.
She followed his gesture and noticed that Sirius was awake. His eyes were cold and unblinking, and his stare pierced through them as he looked in their direction. Hermione’s breath caught in her throat and Ron backed away slightly, uncertain.
In a raspy, strangled voice, they heard Sirius speak.
“He thinks we’re Argilla!” Ron exclaimed into her ear.
“Of course he does!” she whispered. “It’s not like he’d be expecting us!”
Hermione steadied herself and stepped forward. As she got closer, some fog shifted, revealing Harry Potter, kneeling down, about 10 feet away from where Sirius sat. His Expugnolers swam weakly with glow, and his hands were pressing firmly upon the floor, as if he was bracing himself.
Hermione cast a quick glance at Sirius before approaching Harry.
“Harry,” she whispered sharply. “What’s happening?” He looked up at her slowly, his face mirroring her own exhaustion, both physical and emotional.
“He won’t talk to me.” His voice was pained and quiet. “He doesn’t know who I am. He can’t see me.”
Hermione looked over at Sirius and studied him carefully. She turned back to Harry.
“It’s not your fault, Harry. It’s the fog – it’s poison, remember? He’s gone blind.”
“But why won’t he speak to me? He’s not gone deaf!”
They spoke in low voices, and the stunned silence that had formed after Sirius had spoken was overwhelming. It was as if their conversation made no noise at all, blocked out by the solid quiet.
“But he doesn’t recognize you! He must’ve heard footsteps and thought Argilla had shown up to save him. When he heard Ron and I approach, it probably confused him. Argilla’s only one person – Sirius has noticed three.” Hermione explained.
“So he’s scared then? Unsure?”
“Exactly. He’s disoriented, most likely. He’s lived in utter silence for two years, without sight. We need to make sure that he understands who we are.”
Sirius Black listened with a weak smile as he heard Harry Potter speak. Harry was talking in a low voice with a female, yet they were close enough for he himself to hear. His hearing was sharp and attentive now, after years spent in the dark. He had found other ways to seek the light.
Harry and the woman had been planning and discussing with practised caution yet brilliant knowledge. Sirius was so pleased, so honoured, so proud. They had wanted to come and find him. They had succeeded. Harry Potter had worked his way through the Veil to save Sirius Black. In mere minutes, Harry would stand and walk over to where Sirius sat, and try to coax him home.
Such joy, Sirius felt, at being rescued.
There was a place deep within Sirius, far past happiness, that was full of regret, full of remorse. Full of self-hatred.
Prescott had known. Why he did not tell the truth to Harry Potter, Sirius did not know. He heard their voices return.
“We need to make sure that he understands who we are.” She paused and studied Harry for a moment, observing the lazy swirl of the slowly fading glow. She quickly reached into her pocket and pulled out her five vials. “Before we do anything else, we’d be smart to refill.”
Harry retrieved his own vials and followed Hermione’s actions. They poured the glow into their respective domes and it instantly removed the faint stinging that had begun beneath their eyelids.
“Alright?” Hermione asked.
Harry nodded and turned to see Ron approaching them.
“I’m going to tell Ron what’s happened. I’ll make sure he refills as well. You go on.” Hermione gave Harry a small reassuring smile and she stood and pulled Ron farther away from Sirius, out of earshot.
Harry carefully brought himself to his feet and adjusted the Expugnolers upon his face, pulling the strap tighter. Focusing his attention on Sirius, he saw that his eyes were now open in a sightless stare, and that his face held an expression showing that he acknowledged Harry’s presence. Harry was nervous – how would Sirius react? What if he didn’t want to be saved? What if –
“Harry.” Sirius stated simply in a weak, level voice.
“Sirius!” Harry could not stop the grin that formed on his face. The Veil could have destroyed Sirius’ memory; it could have been so much worse. It was with immense relief that Harry realized Sirius still remembered him, recognized his voice. Harry instinctively approached Sirius and placed a hand on his godfather’s shoulder. “How...how are you feeling? Alright?”
“I’m fine, Harry.” He replied. “How did you survive the entrance through Veil? I don’t understand, it’s impossible for you to be alive!”
“I don’t know, and it’s not very important right now. I’m here to rescue you! Come on, Sirius. Let’s go home.” Harry was overcome with joy; his godfather was here, he remembered him, he was alive!
“I’m so proud of you Harry, I only wish I could see you. It’s so strange, not knowing what you look like.”
Harry almost laughed. It was absurd – Sirius had a perfect opportunity to get up and leave the Veil, and all he wanted to do was maintain a pleasant conversation. “It’s only been two years! Besides, none of that matters! We can help you escape!” Sirius did not reply for a moment, and Harry instantly felt out of place. Here he was, in a separate world, speaking with his godfather, whom was believed to be dead. A silence settled between them, and the lights dimmed as the air thickened. The fog was getting coarser, Harry could feel it. Through his closed eyes, and through the Expugnolers, he could barely see the outline of Sirius. Harry found no comfort in the forming darkness.
“I’m afraid I cannot come with you, Harry.” Sirius sounded so solemn, so sure. It surprised Harry at how mellow he had become. This man hardly seemed like the Sirius he knew at all.
“Why not?!” Harry demanded incredulously. “Why...why won’t you come with me?” He couldn’t help himself. His emotions were bettering him, and he felt a sudden cold, a sudden loss.
“Harry?” Hermione asked quietly. She seemed so distant, so far away, though it was mere metres that separated them. “Is everything all right?” Harry did not want to answer, for reality was too close and too dangerous. He silently shook his head, and looked over at her and Ron. They could both tell from his current stance that they should just stay where they were. They saw that although Harry needed them more than ever, this was not the time to help him. This was between Harry and Sirius alone, and it was different.
“I am very happy here, Harry.”
“How...how can you be happy in this...this cold, empty room?!” Harry couldn’t believe what he was hearing, he couldn’t fathom how someone that used to be so full of life could find happiness in such a desolate place.
“This place is very welcoming...when you are dead.” Sirius was whispering now. He felt that he was disclosing secrets, trespassing lines that weren’t to be crossed.
“But you’re not dead!” Harry exclaimed. He wouldn’t, he couldn’t accept that. Sirius was not dead.
“I am not alive either. This is where I belong now!”
“No.” Harry stated. “You don’t belong here.” His voice was quiet now, wavering slightly. He knelt down next to the chair, leaning on one the arms. “I can’t lose you. Not again.” Harry felt his resolve begin to crack, and he took a sharp breath, trying desperately to regain his composure.
From where Hermione and Ron stood in utter silence, they watched as Harry fell down by the chair, pleading with Sirius. Harry was so vulnerable, and as they watched him speak with the man that was neither dead nor alive, they wanted nothing more than to reach out and comfort him. Friendship was such an odd prospect when Harry Potter’s endeavours were the basis. Despite this, as the two pondered their current situation, they knew that they would be nothing without Harry. This was who they were, and the more they thought about it, the more they knew that they loved it.
Sirius’ heart went out to Harry. He had lost so much within his short life, and now here he was, pleading with him, trying to bring him home. What hurt so much, Sirius deduced, was that his leaving Harry, his refusal to return home, was hollowing emptiness within them both. This was no family, and Sirius felt cowardly for not being able to make it one. There was no happiness to be sought beyond the Veil, and had Prescott told Harry the truth in the beginning, that would have been evident to everyone.
“I can’t lose you. Not again.”
“But you never had me, Harry.” The truth often hurt so much more than any lie, than any false sense of hope.
“Well, I know, but...but there was the mind-binding charm, remember? From Dumbledore!” Harry’s certainty was now held merely by the strong need to be right, the desperate desire to have Sirius come home. Yet, his voice was empty, and his reassurances lacked confidence. Harry was playing games with his own mind, and Sirius wanted no more than to blame Prescott for everything. If there was no Veil, there would be no Sirius trapped within. Harry would not be here with him, experiencing such loss.
“Yes, yes there was! It was there so you could act through Professor Argilla!” Harry cried. He clawed at the arm of the chair, trying to pull himself up. Sirius shook his head.
“Please, Sirius! All those times...that was you!” The desperation in Harry’s cries was blatant, and the pain he felt was a dull, numb ache, spraining his soul, bruising his heart.
“Don’t do this to him!” Hermione shouted. Harry turned slightly and saw that she had stepped forward. Ron quickly followed suit, and waved away the thick patch of fog that was forming around him. She was urging Sirius, begging him to put Harry at ease, to tell the truth.
Sirius ignored Hermione’s plea.
“You don’t know me, Harry.”
“What about that mind bond that Dumbledore set up, then?” Ron demanded. Sirius turned to face the direction that Ron’s voice had come from.
“It was weak. It didn’t last longer than a year. Prescott had to teach himself my mannerisms and he acted as he predicted I would act. I had no control over him after it broke, and I was helpless.” A cloud of fog passed by Sirius and Harry, obscuring them from Ron and Hermione’s sight for a moment.
“The Sirius that I know...is actually Argilla. I can’t believe this.” Harry said slowly.
“I’m sorry, Harry.”
“Why didn’t Argilla say anything to me?” Harry asked forcefully. He was shocked; he didn’t know the real Sirius. He had never met the man that sat before him, though he was his legal godfather.
“That is beyond me.” Sirius said sadly.
“He...he lied to me!”
“As the best of family members do. I assume you know of your relation to him?”
“Of course I do!” Harry paused and lowered his voice. “I don’t understand. I just...I can’t. You’re so calm. Why? Didn’t you want to know your own godson?! Why didn’t you and Prescott try and reinforce the bond?!”
“I...did not know you were my godson, Harry. I only knew Lily and James for a short while. I am hardly the man they believed me to be.”
“Didn’t Argilla tell you?” Hermione questioned.
“It was so hard to keep in contact with him. We spoke so rarely and for such short periods of time that what was really going on never mattered.” Sirius turned to face Harry’s direction again.
“Who have you brought with you, Harry?”
“My friends Ron and Hermione.” He stated simply. The truth was out, and Harry had a very strong urge to stand and leave. Why should he take someone he didn’t know away from a place that they claim to be happy in?
“Well, they are both very brave. I am thankful to all of you for coming here.” Sirius sighed. “I really am sorry, Harry. However, Prescott is a great man. Keep him close, he is your family.”
“I’m aware.” Harry said bluntly. He was so lost, so disappointed. He slowly stood and approached Ron and Hermione, both of whom were looking from Harry to Sirius anxiously. Harry was almost waiting for Sirius to jump up and exclaim that it was all a joke, and that he’d be honoured to go back to Hogwarts with them. That didn’t happen.
As Harry walked away from Sirius, and joined Ron and Hermione, he felt an odd sense of closure. It was done, he could go home knowing that he didn’t really know Sirius, knowing that Prescott was the real family he had. But where was home?
Harry continued to walk past Hermione and Ron and back to the passage, but Hermione caught his arm.
“Where do you think you’re going?!” she demanded.
“It’s no use, ‘Mione. He doesn’t want to come back, and I don’t even know him!”
“You’re being foolish and utterly stubborn. What about your prophecy? Isn’t that the main reason why we’re here?”
“I know.” Harry stated softly. “You’re right, I’m sorry. It just doesn’t seem that important anymore.” He turned around slowly to face Ron and Hermione again.
“But it is, Harry.” Hermione stressed.
Harry sighed. “Should we ask Sirius where it is?”
“It’s worth a try.” Ron added.
The trio walked back to the throne, upon which Sirius was perched, eyes closed as though he was sleeping. Harry, Ron and Hermione could all tell, however, that he was not.
“Sirius, we need your help.” Hermione said. A coarse cloud of fog wafted past her as she spoke, briefly distracting her. “Please.”
His eyes opened, his blank gaze slicing through them. “You’re here for Harry’s prophecy, are you not?”
“Exactly.” Ron answered.
“I’m afraid I cannot be of assistance.”
“What?!” Harry exclaimed.
“Well, it is to my understanding that your prophecy is now in the hands of another, Harry.”
“What do you mean, ‘another’? Someone couldn’t have just come in here and taken it!” Harry said loudly.
“Seeing as I can’t see what’s going on around me, I think it perfectly plausible.”
“Are you sure it’s not here somewhere?” Hermione asked. “It’s very important that we find it, as it was rewritten-”
“Oh, trust me, I know.” Sirius said quietly. “And if it was here, I would have it.”
“Who do you think has it, then?” Ron demanded.
“You.” Sirius stated quietly.
Ron shook his head in bewilderment. “You’ve gone barmy.” He almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. Almost.
A/N: Thanks so much for reading, and please remember to leave a review!