Chapter 13 : A Promise
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Hermione wasn’t sure what woke her up, but judging from the amount of light that filtered through the curtains, it must have been quite late already. She didn’t get up immediately, instead lying still in her bed, looking at the ceiling. It was white and spotless, a smooth surface that was infinitely reassuring. She could hardly believe that in twenty four hours she’d be in front of a panel of Ministry officials about to give her a job. There were so many changes happening in her life that it felt like being suddenly in another universe.
The window grabbed her attention. Rays of sun slanted the room and she followed them with her gaze, smiling when she saw that they illuminated the top of her quills on the desk and her clothes on the back of a chair. The golden light went all the way to her bedside table, where the sun-rays ended up on a rose.
Her heart skipped a beat. A red rose.
Gods. It was beautiful. She knew of only one person who might offer her a rose. She wondered for a second where he had picked it up, because she knew of no rosebush around− but then she remembered that being a wizard sometimes had often unknown advantages, such as, for example, conjuring and levitating a rose to someone’s bedside table.
Extending an arm, she carefully seized the delicate flower, making sure she didn’t touch the thorns, then brought it to her face and breathed in its fresh scent.
However, it wasn’t long before she lowered it. It wasn’t so warm in the room after all. She sat up straight, listening to the silence as a new realization dawned on her.
She had thought it would be easy to be with Remus; after all, they were in love and they knew it. But it wasn’t simple at all; it was, perhaps, even more complicated than before. Firstly, she had no idea what she would tell him when they would find themselves together again. Secondly, it made her uneasy to think that no one else in Grimmauld Place would know; what would happen when they found out? She didn’t want to think about it. And, last but not least, she was terrified at the idea that she might do something wrong and lose all hope to see Remus again. How could she have been foolish enough to think it would be an untroubled and blissful life? They were at war, Remus was in the Order, and she would soon have a job.
She closed her eyes. There was one thing else. Her parents would congratulate her if she got the job at the Ministry of Magic, but Remus… what would her parents think about that?
Remus rubbed his bleary eyes, and with them the last tendrils of sleep. He got dressed, frowned at the sight of his surroundings− he hadn’t had the time to put everything back in place in his room the previous day− and went to the bathroom to shave. He would skip breakfast, for once; it would soon be lunchtime anyway. He had really overslept. He crossed the landing and opened the door, not even bothering to knock because it didn’t occur to him that there could be someone inside.
“Oh− sorry,” Remus said, mortified, when he glimpsed Harry. He had forgotten they shared the bathroom.
“It’s all right,” Harry said immediately. He was holding toothpaste in one hand and a toothbrush in the other. “I overslept, too. But you can come in, there’re two washbowls.”
Remus hesitated, but it didn’t seem to bother Harry. They were like family now. “All right,” he ("All right. " He) decided to accept the offer. Maybe it would give him the opportunity to have a serious conversation with Harry; not the kind where there were others around and all they could talk about was the weather.
The bathroom wasn’t huge; it merely consisted of two washbowls, a shower and a cabinet in the corner beside the door. Remus headed for it as soon as they were inside; before he did anything, he had to clean the wound that left him with a constant throb in the forearm. He had left the antiseptic he had used the day before inside the cabinet, so he retrieved the glass bottle from the highest shelf and grabbed some clean bandages on the way.
Harry hadn’t moved and was instead giving him glances now and then. Remus removed the bandage he had wound tightly around his wrist the evening before and grimaced because of the pain. The antiseptic was like a thousand needles piercing his skin, an authentic but unneeded reminder of the pain Death Eaters could inflict.
Harry still hadn’t uncapped his toothpaste. “Does it hurt a lot?”
Remus closed the bottle. “Yes,” he said simply.
There was a short pause. “How did you injure it?”
No more lies, Remus thought. He had decided to tell the truth. “A Death Eater aimed poorly when he cast his spell,” he said calmly. “He was aiming at my heart and instead slashed my wrist.” He waited for Harry’s reaction. Sure enough, he thought he saw him paling under the bathroom lights.
“It’s− er− a good thing he missed then.”
“Yes, it is,” Remus replied, having noticed the edge in Harry’s voice. He seemed… shocked, both because of what Remus had just told him and because he had gotten an answer at last. “You’ll be in the Order soon, Harry,” he said finally. “But there’s something you have to understand. When we go against Death Eaters, it’s our lives and those of everyone else we’re risking. We have no second chance.”
Harry took a long time to respond. “I get the point.”
“Good.” Remus nodded, satisfied. He finished dressing the wound and then attempted to lighten the atmosphere. “You can brush your teeth, you know. Before it’s time for lunch… I doubt toothpaste and Molly’s cooking go well together.”
Harry grinned. When he had finished brushing his teeth he grabbed a comb and struggled with his hair for a while, before giving up. “It won’t lie flat… I don’t think I’ll ever manage,” he pointed at himself through the mirror.
Remus laughed. “You wouldn’t believe the number of times I heard James saying that.” He winced inwardly as soon as the words were out. He knew the comment wouldn’t bother Harry− on the contrary, the boy liked to hear that he was like his father; it made him feel closer to the parents he had never known. No, Harry wasn’t the problem. Remus was hurting himself.
Harry put the comb away while Remus finished shaving. The silence was a bit awkward for a moment; Harry averted his eyes and Remus started washing his hands.
And then Harry spoke, staring ahead fixedly. His voice was barely above a whisper, but Remus, he knew, would never forget the question that wrenched his heart. “Where were you, the night they died?”
Remus opened his mouth but found he couldn’t speak. He gazed at the tap instead, as if, by looking elsewhere, he would be able to evade the question. He was simply too… caught off guard. Harry was only curious; his tone wasn’t at all accusatory. It was just that, a question. Just a question. And yet−
“I’m sorry I asked,” Harry said quickly when he caught sight of Remus’s expression.
But Remus answered anyway. “Sleeping,” he said. His voice was oddly flat. He had never told anyone that, not even Harry or anyone else. It felt strange to be here with the boy in front of a washbowl telling his best friend’s son what he had been doing the night his parents died. “I was asleep,” he said again. Gods, he’d been sleeping while his best friends were being murdered. The truth that he had never spoken made him feel sick, as if, by acknowledging it, he was reliving every moment of the nightmare.
“What about everyone else?” Harry asked again. “I know Sirius went to Godric Hollow that night. And Hagrid, too, and that Peter was hiding. But the rest of the Order?
Remus quit pretending he was interested in rinsing his hands and turned his head to Harry. He knew what the boy was doing, but it wouldn’t work. Harry wasn’t going to find answers here. Why he had decided to ask questions now, when he had had three years to do it, was a mystery to Remus. But it wasn’t the problem. “There’s nothing to it you don’t know yet, Harry. Your parents died because Peter betrayed them, and that’s the end of the story.”
“No.” Remus took a breath. “There is nothing else… no hidden secrets there. I, too, sought answers for a long time. Ever since you were in third year and I found out Sirius was innocent, I tried desperately to find something else that would explain why they had died, thinking that maybe we had overlooked something else. I made theories, all, as unlikely as the others.” Remus paused, rubbing his knuckles in the palm of his other hand, trying to ease his nervousness.
“I wanted to find someone who could have prevented this,” he went on. He wanted to make Harry understand, once and for all, but this was proving harder than he had thought. “I know how you feel. It’s always better if there is somebody to blame that looks more like a monster than a man you can only pity. Peter was the only one who knew, Harry. He and Voldemort.” Remus struggled for the right words, a feeling of guilt he knew only too well rising in the pit of his stomach. “At first I tried to find a way that would have prevented it all, telling myself that I had made a mistake or had been blinded… and I wish I had been able to prevent your parents’ deaths.” Remus swallowed, surprised that he had said so much. “But I didn’t.”
“But the other Order members? Dumbledore?” Harry bit his lip, then said, “Snape?”
“Snape was with Dumbledore.”
“Snape always hated my parents. He hated me, too.”
“It doesn’t make him guilty of betrayal. Snape wasn’t responsible for their deaths,” Remus replied.
Harry scowled a bit. “He always taunted you as much as Sirius. Why didn’t you hate him?”
Why hadn’t he hated Snape? Remus hadn’t found the answer until a few weeks ago. The sight of Snape’s pale face, his hollow eyes and cold body would haunt him forever, but at least, now, he knew why. “Snape had a human side, Harry.” It wasn’t until he had finished speaking that he noticed how choked his voice had sounded. There was a time when he would never have admitted that speaking of Snape in the past tense hurt so much.
Harry seemed to consider Remus’s answer, before he gave a small nod. “I’m really sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” Remus asked. This didn’t sound like Harry much.
“For what happened to them. My father… Sirius… and Peter. I’m sorry you lost all your friends. And er−” he hesitated. “I’m sorry for never having understood that before.”
There was a silence. “I’m glad you said that,” Remus finally whispered. He could hardly believe Harry had changed so much in a week.
“I grew up,” Harry chuckled as if reading his thoughts. “Actually…” he laughed, breaking the tension, “I had to, because Ginny kept saying I reacted like a ten-year-old.”
“Really?” Remus raised an eyebrow. “Ten? Not two?”
Harry feigned offense. Then, becoming serious again, he said thoughtfully, “I guess love makes you change, right?”
Biting his lip, Remus thought his answer over. Then finally he muttered, “Yes. Love does that to a person.”
Harry smiled. “Well… I guess I’ll get going.”
“All right,” Remus answered. He didn’t turn around to see Harry closing the door; instead listening, waiting. When he didn’t hear it shutting, he sighed. He knew why Harry was hesitating. He would never stop hesitating, Remus knew, and it only hurt to think that some questions would never receive a satisfying answer.
Remus glanced at Harry through the mirror. It seemed easier to talk that way, as if the mirror allowed him to be farther away at that moment. Maybe, just maybe, with that shield between them, words would be less painful to hear. Then he muttered, “It was an ordinary night, Harry.”
The boy gazed back at him, his reflection wavering slightly as he moved out of the light. Remus watched as James’s son turned around and closed the door. So much rested on his shoulders. How fair was that? Grown-up wizards and witches were powerless to win this war, and yet he had to carry the burden of an entire world? It was heart-breaking to watch him resist everyday against the outcomes of life, a boy who should have been raised by his parents and who, instead, had had to grow up too quickly.
Remus stared back at his own reflection in the mirror.
He couldn’t help but notice the gray in his hair, or the small wrinkles on the corner of his eyes. There seemed to be more every time he came back to Grimmauld Place. He just wished Sirius was there to tease him about his looks again. There was a time when he had found that annoying, especially when they were at Hogwarts and it was before an exam and well, Sirius just wasn’t letting him study. But gods, he’d give anything to have Sirius laugh with him again.
Remus sighed and caught sight of his eyes. There was something in his gaze, he realized, that hadn’t been there before. It struck him just how tired he looked, and also how… ghostly. He had lost too much in this war; down to his own self. He simply wished he could be the cheerful Remus again; it would be so much better for everyone around. If only he could have offered Hermione more… because he knew she deserved someone much better him.
And he wondered what James and Sirius− and Peter, too− would have thought of him now.
“It’s important that we go over tomorrow’s agenda,” Remus told Ginny, Harry, Ron and Hermione early that afternoon. He had called them all to the kitchen for a briefing.
Arthur was there too; he had come back for lunch but wouldn’t be staying long. He unrolled some parchments that he had just brought. One of them was larger than the others; it was a detailed map of the surroundings of the Ministry. Every building was labeled, along with its entrances. There were also the names of every street, store or Muggle bus stops that went as far as approximately a mile around the Ministry, along with a series of red and blue dots that must look mysterious to anyone who had never been in the Order, but that Remus knew to be spots for guard duties.
Ron and Harry had bent over the map as soon as it was on the table. Hermione and Ginny peered at a second one, this one showing the inside of the Ministry, with its different floors and offices. Since she was just seventeen, Ginny would come along with the rest of them in order to take her Apparition test.
“How are we getting there?” Ron finally looked up from the map. “Floo Powder?”
“No,” Arthur shook his head. “It’s not the safest way. I’ve arranged with the Ministry for a car; Remus will drive you there. You shouldn’t meet any trouble; you’ll all be dressed as Muggles and no one will know you’re heading for the Ministry until you’re there. To come back, you’ll Apparate in the cellar; it’s been cleared for Apparition. That way if someone recognizes you at the Ministry−”
“Is that likely?” Ginny asked tensely. Her father gave her a swift but worried glance.
“Let’s put it this way−” Remus took a breath. “We can only hope some such as Lucius Malfoy don’t find out you’ll be taking your Apparition tests tomorrow. But if they do−” he made a vague gesture that could mean anything and everything, “Well… it’s worth the risk anyway. If you end up working at the Ministry, you’ll probably cross his way everyday.”
“But what if a Death Eater follows us and tries to Apparate with us? Wouldn’t that lead him directly inside Grimmauld Place?” Harry enquired.
“You can’t Apparate anywhere unless you picture the place inside your mind,” it was Arthur who replied. “So unless you tell them what the cellar of this place looks like, it should be safe.”
“All right. What if we don’t pass our Apparition Tests?” Hermione said nervously. “If we fail, how are we going to come back?”
“I doubt you’ll fail, Hermione.” Arthur replied with the barest trace of a smile. “Nonetheless−” he added quickly when she looked more anxious than ever, “It wouldn’t be such a problem, you’d either use Side-Apparition with Remus, or, if more than one of you fail, you’d come back with the car. Now,” he pointed at the map, “I’ll tell you exactly what paths you’ll take tomorrow. The car will be waiting for you outside Grimmauld Place. Once you land near the Ministry, right here−” he showed them a street that ended up in a dead end, “Tonks and Kingsley will meet with you and escort you inside. Don’t talk loudly, don’t stroll around, don’t stop and don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Once inside the Ministry, you’ll all head to the Apparition Center. After that, Hermione will go with Kingsley, Harry and Ron with Tonks to apply for a job. Ginny, if you passed your test, don’t linger around and Apparate back immediately. Any questions?”
Ron was still looking at the map. “Does this map belong to the Order?” he asked.
Arthur replied cautiously. “Not anymore, why?”
“I was just wondering what all the dots where for.”
“Some Order members patrolled around the Ministry a while ago,” Remus answered. His mouth felt dry suddenly, though he didn’t know why it should. It was just a map, wasn’t it? He found himself staring at the dots intently, noticing the patterns, some lines and arrows… and a few scribbled words here and there in a familiar handwriting…
“How old are the maps?” Remus asked quietly.
Hermione glanced up at him when she heard him speak. She didn’t think any of the others had noticed, but Remus’s voice was shaking slightly, as though he was having trouble keeping it steady. When Arthur averted his eyes and started rolling the parchments without a word, she became sure that something was going on between the two men that she had no idea of. Ron’s father was looking from Remus to the maps with a strange, unreadable expression on his face; he seemed both horror-stricken and sad at the same time.
Remus finally spoke with an enormous effort. “Do you have any questions?” he asked.
Harry, Ron and Ginny shook their heads.
When he crossed Hermione’s gaze, Remus noticed the small frown she wore. He knew what she wanted to know; but he wasn’t sure he could tell her what was wrong. “Very well,” he declared. “We leave at seven thirty tomorrow morning; be ready.”
“Arhur?” Remus entered the living room. It was late; everyone else was asleep, resting before what would be an exhausting day. He had just found the man seated, staring absent-mindedly into the fire. It was a shame that it was so cold when it should have been a warm and pleasant summer evening.
Ron’s father looked up; he was holding a bottle of beer. “Do you want one?”
Remus gave the bottle a glance before shaking his head. “What are you doing?” He went to lean against the mantelpiece near the fire. The light it cast projected shadows all around, shadows that were nothing more than the ghosts that had haunted the house for so many years.
Arhur made a vague gesture. “I couldn’t sleep…”
“Nor could I.” Remus kept quiet for an instant, maybe regretting having refused the drink. He ran his fingers over the mantelpiece, trailing them along the irregular carvings. He had no idea how ancient the furniture in his house truly was− but that only reminded him that time was a luxury they didn’t have. “How old were those maps?” he asked finally.
A muscle in Arthur’s cheek twitched. “About three years old.”
Remus’s heart tightened. They were the maps Sirius had worked on. He had known it, unconsciously, but had feared to find out that he was right. He let the silence penetrate his soul; he didn’t feel much like talking about what was going on inside of him every time someone mentioned Sirius. The wound was still too recent and too deep; it might never heal.
“I hope everything goes well tomorrow,” Arthur spoke.
“So do I,” Remus replied.
“I wish I was there to go with you−”
“No you don’t.”
Arthur made a small sound, close to a quiet laughter; but it was strained. “You’re right. I don’t.”
Remus stopped leaning against the mantelpiece and walked slowly to the armchair beside Arthur. He sank into it gratefully and looked into the fire too, trying to stare past oblivion. Would this be the last time he saw Grimmauld Place? One never knew. He felt a pang of sadness at the idea that Sirius’s last days had been spent here in these gloomy rooms and corridors. It wasn’t the most comfortable house Remus had ever lived in, but he was familiar with it now, and it felt like home somehow− but then again, he hadn’t been raised here, nor had he had to put up with its inhabitants.
“A Knut for your thoughts.”
Remus took his gaze off the flames. “I was thinking about tomorrow. Wondering… whether I’d ever see this house again.” He felt a bit foolish for admitting his fears, but he knew no one here would laugh at him.
Arthur shook his head slightly, as if he wanted to speak but couldn’t find the appropriate words. He tapped the bottle he had been holding with a finger agitatedly, then finally he laid it down and said, “Make sure you come back, all right? With all four of them.”
There was something hard in his voice, an unspoken message that Remus had already heard too many times before and that meant don’t let my kids die, protect them and swear to me that you’ll come back safe. “I will.” Or at least, he’d do his best. Arthur already knew that, but it wasn’t enough− it would never be enough.
Remus resumed staring at the fire, at the annihilating splendor of the flames that devoured the wood. He couldn’t help comparing them to Death Eaters, powerful in their destruction, a transfixing power that left nothing behind. He felt the muscles in his arm tense, and the Death Eater was aiming at him again, and again, as if he was having a nightmare while his eyes were open, and he was falling, falling, endlessly into a bottomless abyss…
“Remus?” Someone called frantically. “Can you hear me?”
The pain was so unbearable… His arm gave a spasm and Remus shuddered, suddenly finding himself back in the living room of Grimmauld Place. Arthur’s face was inches from his own, a crease of utmost concern between his eyebrows. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Remus straightened up. “Just−” he took in a deep breath. What if this happened tomorrow? For all he knew, any of them might get hurt, or worse, and he knew he would never be able to bear it if one of them died, whether it was Harry, Ron, Ginny… or Hermione. Remus closed his eyes. What if she died? What would he do then, if he came back and she never did?
“Nightmares?” Arthur asked quietly. Remus merely nodded, and the man went back to sit in the second armchair. They both resumed their staring at the fire for a moment, before Arthur spoke again. “You should talk to someone about these nightmares.”
Remus didn’t reply immediately. “I know,” he said after a few seconds had gone by. He also knew he wouldn’t do it.
“They’re not going to get any better,” Arthur said patiently.
“I know that too,” Remus replied quietly. It was true; it was getting worse year after year. Who could he talk to anyway? It wasn’t like there was anyone he could open his heart to except maybe Hermione… But he himself wasn’t sure where they were going, and he didn’t want to worry her about his nightmares.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” Arthur muttered.
“What do you mean?” It sounded like Arthur had something particular in mind.
Arthur gave him an appraising glance. “Come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Was he that easy to read when he thought of Hermione? Remus sighed. He knew Arthur only wanted to help…but he was quite uncomfortable talking about it. On the other and, if he left Grimmauld Place with too much on his mind, it might hurt his concentration. And concentration was vital.
“Can you do something for me?” he asked abruptly.
Arthur nodded. “You know I will,” he whispered quietly. “Anything.”
“All right.” Remus nodded. Then he said, “When that Death Eater almost caught me… I thought it would end there… and when I saw him aiming, I only had a split second to think, and you want to know the only thing that I could think of?” he didn’t make it a question. “I could only think that I’d never had the opportunity to be with her…”
Arthur became very still, and then he slowly turned to Remus. He talked in a whisper, almost lost among the cracklings of the fire. “What do you need from me?”
Remus drew in a shaky breath. “Only a promise. If she comes back and I never do…” He bit his lip. “I want you to− to promise me that you’ll tell Hermione that I’ll always be with her.”
There was a silence. It stretched on and on, and Remus felt it weighing on his shoulders. Then at long last, Arthur gravely held out his hand and Remus shook it forcefully, at the same time sealing the pact, as if somehow his whole future depended on that handshake.