Chapter 27 : Only in Memory
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Chapter 26 - Only In Memory
Hazy and dazed was the state of his mind as he swam in and out of dreamland. Soft whispers in the wind soothed and calmed him with sweet melodic voices. Incoherent though they were, he was lulled into serenity by their enchanting words. He dreamt of blending colours and morphing shapes, but once fully awakened, he could remember naught of it.
Sirius Black woke to the bright springtime sun, feeling more refreshed than he had in years. Going through the daily morning routine, he would now and then stop and wonder at the feeling of déjà vu that occurred more often than was normal. His mind was as clear as the day outside, yet his body didn't seem to agree. He found himself making too much for breakfast and waiting for nothing he could think of. He grimaced and looked up apologetically at the empty seat across him when he took first bite at his horrid cooking. He knocked on the door before entering the bathroom and paused to look at the empty couch and balcony every time he passed the living room or bedroom.
Thinking about why his body was acting strangely gave him dull headaches, so he ignored the oddity and left the house to pay a visit to the newly wedded. Before he even reached the bell, James opened the door to greet him with a brotherly hug. "Padfoot! We were wondering when you'd come to bug us."
Chuckling, Sirius argued, "I'm not so horrid as to not leave you two lovebirds alone for at least a day!"
"Yes, but it seems one day is all we get," Lily's soft voice floated to him as she moved to welcome him with a hug of her own. "But what can we do? You're practically bound to James."
"What? You expect me to stay home all alone while you two get all lovey dovey over here?" He joked, though feeling awefully lonesome despite his mind telling him he was used to having no company at the cottage. Again, he felt dull pangs as if someone was continuously applying pressure to his skull. When he disregarded the odd feeling, the headache also went away.
"Aw mate! You can have little Gingersnaps for company then!" James teased as he let his best friend into the living room.
As if on cue, a deep meow sounded through the house as a massive ball of orange fur came trotting to the lounge. Sirius looked at the squashed faced half-Kneazle Lily had adopted more than a year ago. Picking the cat up until their faces were level, he looked at the intelligent yellow eyes with intrigue.
"Mreow!" it responded with rolling "R" at the beginning, its head cocked to the side. It somehow reminded him of someone he couldn't quite remember, and the longer he lingered on trying to recall, the more painful the headache became.
Brushing off the feeling and the headache along with it, Sirius looked at his best friend with a raised eyebrow. "Thanks, Prongs... but I don't think Ginger and I are compatible," he joked back as he put Gingersnaps down.
As he sat down on the couch, the half-breed cat leapt onto his lap and meowed again, while looking at him intently. Ginger didn't relax like she usually would. She sat upright and sent her steady gaze in his direction as she balanced on his knee, her bushy tail swishing from side to side with casual grace.
"Is something wrong with her?" he asked her masters.
"No Idea. I know she normally likes you, but she's never been this attached," was Lily's reply.
Deciding to ignore the odd behaviour, he continued conversation with the couple on another topic. He took up the photo album nearby and flipped through the moving pictures as he talked. Ginger placed a paw upon the book to stop him from turning the pages further when he reached one of James and Lily's wedding photographs. She pat on that particular picture insistently, and upon glancing at it, he halted both page-turn and conversation.
"What's wrong, Padfoot?" Lily asked.
Sirius didn't answer. He kept staring at the moving picture, but neither at the grinning groom nor the blushing bride. There was someone there he didn't recognize in this picture of the group of close friends and family. Standing just behind Lily, as if attempting to shy away from view, was a mysterious person that his own self in the photograph kept glancing at. Like seeing a loop clip, he watched as the stranger gave the bride a cheerful, congratulatory smile, but turned to look away into the distance when Lily's attention moved elsewhere, the smile suddenly drenched with heartbreaking sadness.
"Who is this?" he finally asked the couple once he found his voice again.
Lily looked at the person he was pointing to over his shoulder. "I don't know... can't remember... I think she's Julie's distant cousin or something," she explained with seeming difficulty of finding words to say. "I was short of one bridesmaid, so Julie sent for her cousin. I think she lives quite far away. She was nice enough to come all the way help out with the wedding."
"Oh..." Sirius trailed off, not quite satisfied with the answer he received. He looked again at the beautiful woman with the sad smile. There was no doubt she had the kind of beauty that was enthralling and otherworldly, almost like a Veela's--- enough to send the most powerful of men falling at her feet. Yet here, he wondered about the tale behind the strange sadness in that smile. He continued to stare at the replay of the scene and found his chest feeling a dull pain that grew sharper with each second he spent gazing at those mysterious pair of golden eyes she held.
"Padfoot?" Lily's voice jolted him back to the room.
He looked up to find his two friend's worried face staring back at him.
"Are you alright, mate?" was James's question. When he gave them an inquisitive look, James went on to explain, "You're crying..."
Sirius reached to press his fingers against his cheeks to find them warm and wet. As he brought them back, droplets of warm tears dripped off the tip of his fingers. He looked back at the picture and to Gingersnaps, who was still staring intensely at him. Strong bouts of headaches hit him again as his mind tried to find reason for the constricting pain in his chest and it grew worse the more he tried to connect his mind and body once again. Though painful, he persisted and soon, something became suddenly clear.
"I have to find her..." was all he whispered before he disappeared into thin air with a pop. Neither the friend could stop him for even an explanation.
Sirius sped home to that lone cottage with the fastest way he knew. As soon as he had completed the Apparition, his feet took him directly to the smaller bedroom of the house. His turned the knob and pushed his way in without much effort.
The room was barren. Neither furniture nor décor occupied the empty room. The hollow space reflected his heart. Try as he might, he could retrieve no recollection of who he was looking for--- not even a name. What came was just more pounding upon his head. Yet utterly sure was his heart that it was someone he cared for dearly. He took to the balcony and looked out to the yard below. The old tree stood as firm as ever but there was nothing there where he thought there should be something. Sirius rushed from room to room, rummaging every space in sight, yet no trace of her could be found. Desolate with despair, he walked out with languidly to the old oak tree that stood for years behind the small cottage. There he stood and gazed on in silent anguish at the tree. She was gone.
"I don't know why or how. No one remembers her. Not Lily, not Prongs. Neither Moony, nor Wormtail. Dumbledore, McGonagall, Frank, Alice... They have all forgotten her. It's as if she'd never existed to begin with. Even I can remember neither name nor face. I cannot recall any memories of her, seeming like her existence had been entirely erased from my mind. All I have left is this gaping hole in my heart where she used to be. Even as I write this my memory fails me.
"Every time I try to recall her name, my head throbs so much it feels about to split. If it weren't for this photograph, I would have forgotten her just like the rest. And although I have looked upon it a million times, I cannot remember her face beyond mere seconds. That is why I must keep this picture of her with me at all times, lest I forget completely. Why she had left behind one single image of herself I will never know. Perhaps she had wanted to leave at least one thing behind. Perhaps she had simply overlooked it.
"I have searched every place for any trace of her--- anything to help me remember her. None is what I found. Even in school pictures hung upon Hogwarts's walls holds no image of her. My only clue is the pangs of headaches I receive when at certain places or looking at certain objects. These are the places and object I believe to have been connected to her in some way or other in my stolen memories. The headaches don't matter anymore, my head may explode, but I will still try until something comes to mind.
"Lily and Prongs are worried. So is everyone else. They think I have gone mad--- obsessed with an imaginary person, based upon a photograph of a complete stranger. I do not think I am mad. And the woman in the picture is no stranger. I know deep down she does exist... just that she no longer exist in my world.
"I don't know what she did to us--- to me. All I know is that whatever it is, I refuse to succumb to it. I refuse let go of her. Even if only in memory, I will continue to hold on her for as long as I live. And this diary, too, will forever hold all I can recall of her.
"Though I don't know who she was, I know that I love her."
That was the last entry of the worn and tattered diary. Closing the small, thick book with care, he now turned to gaze at the fading picture of a happy wedding. As had been described in the entries of the old journal, there was a fair woman standing just behind the bride. Her picture seemed to become murky over the two decades, though from what it was unclear as the other parts of the photograph were still in good condition. Although obscure from the shadows of the other subjects of the photograph, one could still make out the mysterious eyes she held. And true to the words of the memoir, they were filled with such sadness as to wrench the onlooker's heart apart.
"Harry, I don't think we'll find much else here," a female voice brought his eyes away from the golden pair and back to his three friends who had followed him to a small, two-storey cottage in the middle of nowhere.
Three years after the true fall of Voldemort, a letter arrived at his house addressed to a Mr. Potter. It was sent by ordinary post which notified him of Muggle origins before he even opened the envelope. It was from Ireland.
The contents of the letter revealed to him of an inheritance set well before his birth. It was to ownership of a large piece of land that housed a deserted farm and a small cottage, somewhere in the quiet countryside of Connacth. The property had been deserted since its last owner had left it. Even after his death, it had remained unoccupied and forgotten until Harry had properly turned twenty-one. Such was the will supposedly left by his godfather, Sirius Black.
Arriving at a small office in Connacth, he was greeted by a small, grouchy, and shabbily dressed man in his mid fifties by the name of Mr. O'Dónaill, after which he went through the process of signing various papers he managed to read and understand only half of, although a summary of their details was given to him a curt manner by the old lawyer. The man seemed relieved after all the paper work was done and muttered vaguely about a long awaited retirement. Before he was ushered out of the office after a direction to the property's location was given, Harry managed to ask the old man if he knew why there was a period of wait before the transfer. The old man's looks turned soft as he slumped into his seat behind his desk, yet he divulged in nothing. The lawyer pleaded ignorance and subtly hinted the younger man to leave. There was no point in asking any further.
Intrigued by the circumstances under which the inheritance was set, Harry felt compelled to investigate the two matters immediately, so after retelling tale to his girlfriend and two dearest friends, all four set out to follow the map drawn by the old lawyer. As soon as they arrived at the deserted farm, miles away from the any civilization, they went in to explore the old cottage. Dust and spider webs covered every inch and corner. The previous inhabitant had left long ago and with obvious urgency. It was in the master bedroom upon the moth ridden blankets that they found an old, tattered diary, allegedly belonging to Sirius Black.
In the short time he had spent with his godfather, never once did Harry hear any tales of the mysterious women as described in the journal. But if all that was written in the journal was true, Sirius's inexplicably failing memory of her would've attributed to the unmentioned story. The recollections of the small book caught much of his curiosity, and though he read it over and over, no hint or clue could be found that could lead to the mystery's unravelling.
"Do you think we'll find something at Hogwarts?" He asked his companions. "Or anywhere else mentioned in this diary?"
"Probably not," his best friend Ron replied. "Sirius tried that already, didn't he? And he's the one with the buried memory."
Seeing the demoralized look on Harry's face, Ginny chirped in, "But I guess there's no harm in trying, right?", while glaring at her older brother for dampening her boyfriend's already waning hope. "We can ask around. The paintings might know something about it." With that small encouragement, they all Disapparated out of the house with Harry's mind resolute on solving the added mystery.
Greetings were in order as they arrived at their old school. There was much catching up to do with all the teachers and junior students from their school days, it was to wait until they had finished what they were there for. After a short conversation with the new headmaster, Harry was struck with an idea to ask the magical portrait of the renowned Professor Albus Dumbledore, the late headmaster of Hogwarts. The current headmaster courteously left the four students in his office to allow them privacy.
"Professor," Harry began once he caught the portrait's attention. "May we ask you about a few things?"
"Why, good day, Harry." The portrait smiled at him, "Of course, you may. Though, I cannot guarantee I can answer everything."
Deftly, Harry pulled out the old photograph of his parents' wedding celebration and showed it to the portrait. "I found this in a diary of Sirius's. Behind my mother, there's a woman. The diary says that the woman is someone important to him, but no one, himself included, seemed to remember who she was."
Before he could even present his question, the Professor shook his head solemnly. "Truthfully, I cannot help you much there Harry. Sirius talked to me much about it, but I can't remember anything of our talks. Perhaps I had purposely removed the memory from myself. If it was meant to be solved, the mystery would unravel itself over time."
"You Obliviated yourself?" Ron asked with incredulity.
"Perhaps," the portrait replied with a soft smile.
"But professor," Hermione intervened, "why would you do that?"
"Did you know about the small farmhouse that Sirius owned?" Harry tried asking about the other mystery when the portrait would not answer the last.
The portrait fingered its white beard just like the old professor used to do when thinking casually. "I do remember that he used to live in that out-of-reach cottage. Ask anyone from the old Order and you'll find that they all knew he lived there. It was the house he and another Order member bought and moved into together right after Hogwarts."
"Another Order member?" Ginny asked. "Who was it?"
"She's long gone. Not very long after they moved in, in fact. Sirius was rather devastated after her death. They were attached after all. Everyone thought that it was because of her death that he had created this imaginary person to keep himself preoccupied."
Harry vaguely remembered the picture of a doe-eyed brunette his godfather had pointed to as he showed him a photograph of the old Order members together. "Professor? Did Sirius ever claim this imaginary person to be in the Order too?"
Dumbledore shook his head. When all four remained quiet in thought, the old portrait smiled solemnly at them, "Something that shouldn't exist in this world should remain in inexistence, even if it exists in another. That is the rule."
"I don't understand, Professor," Harry confessed. "What rule?"
"That is for you to find out."
"You are still as nosy as your father was," a snide, though not unkind, voice sounded from another side of the room. They all turned to see their former headmaster and potions professor, Severus Snape.
Snape had been playing as a double spy during the last war with Voldemort and had assisted Dumbledore and Harry throughout the two decades until his death at the hands of the villain himself. Though never seeing eye to eye, Harry respected the bitter man for his undying love and faith for his mother, Lily, that had led him to much good for the war. Because he outwardly fought for the other side, not many realized his deeds that had lead up to the defeat of Voldemort, and thus, his portrait was removed from the headmaster's office. It was upon Harry's ardent insistence that his portrait was once more restored to the ranks of former headmasters of Hogwarts.
"Sirius left that farmhouse to me, but I only heard of it a few days ago," Harry informed the former head of Slytherin House. The portrait muttered something that sounded vaguely offensive. Harry could tell that the old professor had never forgotten how his father and godfather had tormented him during their years at Hogwarts. He ignored the mutter and continued his explanation in hopes of gathering some clues from the former headmaster, showing the photograph to the bitter man. "The woman behind my mother. Do you know anything about her?"
"She seems oddly familiar, but no."
Harry sighed. It seemed it was true; no one knew anything. "Perhaps we'll just look around the school then. Goodbye Professor Dumbledore, Professor Snape."
Just as the four friends were about to make their way out, they were stopped by a call from one of the headmasters' portrait. Dilys Derwent, a former headmaster that had a portrait connected to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries in London. He informed them of a distraught Neville Longbottom, a good friend of the foursome, at the disappearance of his parents, Alice and Frank Longbottom. Harry was worried, knowing well about the couple that lived in a closed ward of St. Mungo's. They had been prominent Aurors, who were members of the old Order of the Phoenix and were driven to insanity with the Cruciatus Curse by the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange and her group of Death Eaters. Derwent explained that Alice and Frank had disappeared off the hospital's premises. The healers had gone to check on them earlier that day and found their room empty. They couldn't find them anywhere.
"We should go over to him," Hermione suggested, but Ron disagreed.
"Uh... folks," he called everyone's attention, "Are those Neville's parents by any chance?" he asked, pointing out the window to three figures roaming about the ground. There was a short blond woman and a brunette man who looked rather lost and a red-head male who seemed to be touring them through the place.
It was unclear from that distance whether the lost couple were the missing persons in question or not, but they had to make sure. Quickly, they made for the door but it turned open as they reached Ginny reached for it. The wooden door swung open lightly and all were shocked to see who was at its handle.
The man standing at the entrance stood looked like a complete foreigner with all the various layers of clothing. He wore dark canvas pants underneath long wraps of silken, bronze coloured cloths. His beige shirt, neatly tucked into the wrap, had on its extremely wide sleeves strange, designs in lines of turquoise. An earth-green robe hung from his shoulders down to the floor near his black leather boots, golden prints of carnations upon it. His head and neck was wrapped loosely with a golden cloth, adorned with amulets of black opals and gold tied to the cloth with green strings. His waist was wrapped with a wine-red-patterned black cloth, and a black leather belt held it in place. To left side of the belt hung a large pouch of the same make, to the other side, a curved dagger with scabbard and hilt of dark wood and gold, and between them, two rows of small vials of bright colourful liquids within the many pockets of the belt. His skin was olive brown and the top of his left cheek held dark markings of foreign words. Never before had they seen anyone like him, yet his face was peculiarly familiar to all in the room.
"Sirius?" Harry called warily as he closely watched the stranger.
The stranger looked back at the young man before him with scrutiny. His eyes then gauged the reactions of the room's occupants with amusement as a crooked smile formed on his lips, revealing a row of straight, white teeth that shone against the dark shade of his skin. His bright but stormy eyes roved over to where the portraits of the two most recently late headmasters and when he spoke, it was with perfect, eloquent English, "It has been a long time, Professor Dumbledore, Severus."
Snaped looked at the man incredulously, uttering what came to mind in a bare whisper.
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