The next few days felt strange to Harry. Though he no longer felt as if the misery inside him was so great it would drive him mad, he felt oddly disconnected. Something nagged at the back of his mind, but he couldn't work out what it was.
One immense relief was that there were no longer awkward silences between him, Ron and Hermione. The Prophecy bothered all three of them constantly, and it surprised Harry how easy he found it to talk about it with them.
"You survived for a reason, Harry," said Hermione, one afternoon several days after the night Pettigrew had escaped Lupin. "There's something going on that we can't ever understand...but I think you'll get through it. I think you can defeat him."
Harry looked fretfully out of the window, to where the weak sun was bathing Grimmauld Place in a wash of gold. "Yeah," he said, quietly. "I hope so."
Ron twiddled his thumbs for a moment, then said, awkardly, "D'you reckon there's...you know...something afterwards? Or does it all just kind of...go black?"
They both knew what he meant. And strangely enough, Harry realised that he had an answer.
"They're not gone, you know," he said, remembering Luna's words at the end of the previous year. "They're out of sight, that's all. Just beyond the veil."
He felt his heart lift as he looked out on the sunlit square. Just beyond the veil. That's all.
The one thing he did not confide in Ron and Hermione was his conversation with Lupin. That, he felt, was private. There was a new, quiet understanding between him and Lupin now. They both missed Sirius more than anyone else could understand, and memories of him haunted both their waking and sleeping hours. Harry's nightmare persisted- still Bellatrix's jet of light sent Sirius falling through the veil...still Harry rushed forward desperately, only to be held back by Lupin...
Harry still wondered, even though he had told Lupin not to be sorry for holding him back, what might have happened if he hadn't. It was one of the endless 'What If's' that would not let him be. Maybe he would have been able to grab Sirius, pull him back. Maybe he would have been able to tear away the veil to find Sirius, standing with his wand in his hand, grinning as mischeviously as ever...
But even as he wondered, Harry knew it was not true. Sirius had been lost the moment the veil closed around him- and Harry found himself admiring Lupin for understanding that so quickly. It must have taken great strength to do what he did that night.
The last week of the holidays passed in a blur, and before he knew it, Harry found himself packing his trunk for Hogwarts. He had not forgotten the imminent OWL results, and was beginning to experience flutters of panic whenever he remembered they were on their way.
On the very last night before his return to Hogwarts, Harry retreated to his and Ron's room to do some last-minute packing. Lupin had given him some of the pictures out of the old Marauder's trunk, and Harry placed them carefully on top of his invisibility cloak.
He smiled suddenly. He felt as if he was accumulating every scrap of his mother, father and Sirius that he could get his hands on. There was his firebolt, Sirius' gift. There was the album Hagrid had given him in his first year, his mother and father waving at him from each picture. There was the Marauder's map, a last testimony to a mischevious gang of four who had once wreaked havoc, never knowing what was going to happen to them.
No, Harry corrected himself. The map was not the last testimony to the Marauders. The last testimony was a shabby, greying, gentle man who still had stories to tell. And Harry was determined that in the years to come, he would hear many more of them.
Suddenly, there was the sound of the door downstairs, and with a jolt, Harry recognised Dumbledore's voice drifting up from the landing. He closed his trunk with a snap, his heart hammering. He had not spoken directly to Dumbledore since that awful night in his office, when Harry had raged at Dumbledore for his indifference- and Dumbledore had revealed that, in fact, his greatest fault was his lack of indifference.
"Harry!" Mrs Weasley's voice called up the stairs. "Harry, could you come down here?"
With some trepidation, Harry made his way down the stairs. Dumbledore stood in the hallway, regarding Harry through his half-moon glasses. He was wearing robes of deep, midnight blue, and carrying an envelope and a rolled up newspaper.
"Ah. Harry," he said queitly. His eyes were twinkling, but his smile was slightly sad. "May I talk to you for a few minutes?"
"Er...yeah..." said Harry.
Lupin appeared from out of the kitchen.
"Professor?" he asked Dumbledore. To Harry's surprise, his voice shook slightly. Harry turned to look at him. Lupin was looking expectantly at Dumbledore, something like desperation in his face. He seemed to be struggling to hold his usual composure.
Dumbledore fixed Lupin with his shrewd, light blue gaze. "I spoke to him, Remus," he said serenely. "And it worked. He is persuaded. I will show you after I have spoken to Harry."
Harry dragged his gaze away from Lupin, who had turned away into the kitchen, and followed Dumbledore into the small drawing room off the hall.
Dumbledore closed the door behind them, and turned to look at Harry.
"Sit down," he said lightly. Harry looked around, and sat himself awkardly in one of the straight-backed mahongany chairs. Dumbledore flicked his wand, and suddenly Harry was sitting on a squashy purple cushion.
"Much better," said Dumbledore. Then he put the newspaper down on the table, and handed the envelope to Harry.
"Your OWL results. I believe you have been waiting for them...I thought it would be best, as I was dropping by anyway, to deliver them in person."
Harry took the envelope with shaking hands. Elaborate emerald writing on the front read 'Harry Potter'.
He looked up at Dumbledore, who smiled warmly.
"You know, it would be a lot easier to see the results if you opened the envelope."
Harry slit it open, tearing it in his nervousness, and pulled out the sheet inside. He scanned it over frantically, not taking anything in, before forcing himself to take a deep breath and read through it slowly.
"Defence Against the Dark Arts- Outstanding!" he said out loud, feeling a sudden happiness bubble up inside him.
"I know someone in this house who will be extremely proud of that particular result," said Dumbledore softly.
"Divination- Poor..oh well...Transfiguration- Exceeds Expectations..brilliant! Potions- Exceeds Expectations..."
He looked up at Dumbledore, his heart sinking. "Professor Snape told us he wouldn't take people in his NEWT potions class unless they got an 'Outstanding'. And I neeed potions to be an Auror!"
"I have spoken to Professor Snape," said Dumbledore. "And in the light of your ambition, have persuaded him to make a special case for you."
Harry gulped. He could imagine how happy Snape was going to be about that. He scanned through the rest of his results, feeling light-headed with relief. He had achieved all the results he needed to take the appropriate NEWTS. His dream of becoming an Auror suddenly seemed a lot less wild.
"We are all proud of you, Harry," said Dumbledore. "And if Sirius was here, I know he would be, too."
Harry looked Dumbledore directly in the eye, something he had not done for a long time. He realised, suddenly, that the mention of Sirius no longer made him feel sick with uncontrollable grief. The sadness was still there, as he knew it would be for the rest of his life, but it was no longer all he felt. Harry realised, his spirits lifting as he did so, that he was healing.
Dumbledore reached forward, and picked up the newspaper from the table.
"That leads me on to the other reason I have come here, Harry. There is an article in here that I think might...interest you."
He folded the paper out, and handed it to Harry. The headline read:
'FUDGE'S BLACKEST ERROR'
Frowning, Harry read on- and as he did so, his mouth fell open.
'Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic, has today admitted to making a huge blunder. A blunder which has, in fact, cost an innocent man everything.
The infamous Sirius Black, fugitive of Azkaban fortress, has been proven innocent of all charges. This astonishing development came to light after recent events at the ministry, when several newly captured Death Eaters, including Mr Lucius Malfoy, testified to the innocence of Black as part of their appeal. This evidence alone was not considered conclusive, but yesterday Albus Dumbeldore (Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, member of the International Confederation of Wizards, chief warlock of the Wizengamot) testified to the Ministry that Sirius Black is indeed innocent. This evidence, coupled with that of captured Death Eaters and a number of reported sightings of Peter Pettigrew, now believed to have committed the murders for which Black was imprisoned, has led to this official statement from Cornelius Fudge:
'The Wizengamot and the Ministry must conclude from the accumulating evidence that Sirius Black is, er, well, innocent. We apoligise for any, er, inconvenience that might have been caused, and hereby issue Sirius Black an official pardon, freeing him from all charges.'
Unfortunately, it has been confirmed that Black was recently killed during a magical duel with a Death Eater. Whether this posthumous pardon will be enough for Black's friends and family remains to be seen.'
Very slowly, Harry put the paper down on the table. There was such a mixture of emotions coursing through him that he could barely think. Finally, when he could bear it no longer, he blurted out, "You did this?"
"Do not thank me," said Dumbledore quietly. Harry looked up, and saw that Dumbledore was looking extremely grave. "I should have contacted Fudge weeks ago. Months ago. Maybe even years ago. If I had thought there was any chance he would have believed me, I would have done. It is only now, when the true Death Eaters are becoming active, that Fudge is forced to accept Sirius' innocence. Perhaps if I had found a way to do this two months ago, then Sirius would not have..." Dumbledore stopped short, and shook his head. "But such thoughts are useless," he finished wearily.
Harry gripped the edge of the table very hard. There was a part of him that didn't care, a part that could feel nothing but anger against Fudge, who had refused to believe them, and Dumbledore, who had left it too late. But then the rest of him felt a kind of painful joy, a liberation- Sirius' name was cleared! It was just what he would have wanted...the wizarding world no longer thought he was a traitor, a murderer...
Dumbledore sighed. "Remus Lupin has been writing to Fudge ever since the night of Sirius' death, trying to obtain a pardon. But Fudge ignored him pointedly. He does not consider half-breeds worth his notice. It was Lupin who first came to me to beg that I give evidence."
Suddenly, things that had happened since Harry had arrived at Grimmauld Place seemed to make sense- Lupin's conversation with Snape, the owl that had arrived on the night that Lupin went after Pettigrew, Lupin's behaviour in the hall when Dumbledore had arrived...
"The pardon must..must mean a lot to him," said Harry, his voice hoarse.
"Everything," said Dumbledore. "He has been working tirelessly to obtain it. I think perhaps he sees it as a last gift to Sirius- and an apology for believing Sirius to be the traitor for so long..."
Harry felt his throat tighten. "Professor," he blurted out suddenly, "It doesn't seem...fair. Everything that's happened to Lupin...why does everything have to go wrong for the same person?"
"Just like it doesn't seem fair that it is you who has been singled out by the prophecy?" said Dumbledore quietly.
Harry said nothing. Dumbledore lowered his half-moon glasses, and looked at Harry closely.
"If you have been staying in this house all summer, I believe you must have come to some sort of understanding about what kind of person Remus Lupin is?"
"Yes," said Harry.
"I have known him ever since he was a boy," said Dumbledore in the same, quiet voice. "And he has never failed to surprise me. Sirius Black was one of the bravest people I have ever known- but in his own way, Remus Lupin is equally brave. His is a different kind of strength. Perhaps it is not the kind that leads him fiercely into battle, but it is the kind that has allowed him to hang on through the years, never embittered and never hating, while his world collapsed around him."
Harry nodded mutely.
"He knows now," said Dumbledore, suddenly businesslike, after a moment of silence. "About the pardon. He realised when I arrived. He is probably celebrating...would you be kind enough to take this to him?" Dumbledore indicated the newspaper. "I must go."
"Yeah, I'll take it," said Harry, hoarsely. "Thanks, Professor."
Dumbledore smiled, and disapparated with a pop.
Harry made his way slowly down the hall, his head still spinning. It was quite late now, and the rest of the household had gone to bed. Clutching the newspaper with still-shaking hands, Harry put his head around the kitchen door.
The fire was not lit, and the room was still and dark. The window was open, and through it Harry could see a spectacularly clear night. The stars seemed to burn closer than ever in a deep, velvet sky. The air was quite still, and everything was silent.
For a moment, Harry thought that Lupin was not there. But then Harry saw him, standing by the window, his shabby profile outlined by the silver light of the sickle moon.
His head was in his hands, and his shoulders were shaking.
* * *
Remus hesitated outside the door of Dumbledore's office. His hands were shaking so badly that he could not even bring himself to knock. Instead he stood against the wall, trying to empty his mind. He did not want to think or feel. He did not want to face the man behind that door. He did not want to examine the scraps of himself that remained.
They were gone. All of them.
The door opened suddenly, and Remus jumped up, looking wildly at Dumbledore, who was standing in the doorway.
There was something different about Dumbledore. There was none of his usual serenity about him- instead, he looked old and sad and tired. He was looking at Remus with great concern.
"Come in, Remus, you're as white as a sheet," he said, gently. Remus followed him mutely into his study, and sat down without even noticing that he had done so. Around the walls of the office, Dumbledore's many portraits whispered and pointed.
"Remus?" asked Dumbledore gently.
Remus said nothing. Instead, he stared at the wall behind Dumbledore, his face deathly white.
Dead. James and Lily were dead.
Dumbledore suddenly reached forward, and shook his shoulder roughly. "Remus, please! Talk to me...you have no idea how worried we have all been. We've been searching for you for days..."
"It was the full moon," said Remus, very, very quietly. His voice was so intense that Dumbledore actually winced.
Dumbledore sat down in the chair opposite him, and put his head in his hands. There was a long silence. Then Dumbledore said, "Who found you?"
Remus looked at his hands. There was a wild, haunted look in his eyes, as if he were a small child who had just been shown something immensely frightening.
"Arthur Weasley. He found me an hour ago."
"How-how much did he tell you?" asked Dumbledore, almost hesitantly, as though afraid of the effect the words might have.
"Everything," said Remus, turning his haunted eyes on Dumbledore. "He told me everything."
They were gone. Peter was gone. And Sirius. Sirius....
There was another silence. Then Dumbledore said,
"I have been dreading this meeting."
Remus did not respond.
"I have been dreading it all week, Remus, because I do not know what to say to you. I do not think there is anything in the world that anyone can say to you which can make this any easier."
"No," said Remus. His head was bowed, and his pale brown hair flopped over his face. He was shaking visibly.
"Say something," said Dumbledore desperately, lifting his glasses to look at Remus. "Please say something."
"Please, Professor," whispered Remus brokenly. "Sir...I'm trying...I can't...I don't understand."
He looked up at Dumbledore, his eyes bright and desperately questioning- just like the small boy who had once entered this office hopeful of being allowed into the school despite his terrible difference.
"None of us do," said Dumbledore, looking away. "None of us can even begin to understand."
"But Sirius..." choked Remus. He fell silent, his fists clenched against his mouth. He felt as though he might be sick if he allowed himself to think of that.
Dumbledore stood up and paced the length of the office. "None of us ever dreamed that Sirius was the traitor," he said, very quietly.
"There was nothing though, Professor!" Remus blurted out. "Nothing, in all the years, to say that he was on the dark side...there must have been some clue...something...I must be stupid, stupid never to have spotted it..."
Dumbledore held up a hand, his eyes sad. "It is not your fault, and you must never, ever begin to think that it was. None of us saw it. It's too late now."
Remus looked away. He could not begin to explain to Dumbledore how it felt, the aching hollow that was where his heart used to be...
All these years of friendship had been a lie.
Pictures flashed through his brain- Sirius scribbling a contract, a mischevious grin on his face...Sirius and James on either side of him, sticking their tongues out at Peter as he pointed the camera, laughing together...Sirius lounging on James' sofa, assuring him that he would be alright...
He looked up. He felt so tired, so immensely weary of everything, as though he never wanted to think or feel ever again.
"You have to carry on, Remus," said Dumbledore quietly. "You know that, don't you?"
"Carry on?" said Remus blankly.
James. James was gone. James and Lily...
"Yes. You have to go on living, Remus. You have to keep going."
"There's nothing, Professor," said Remus, his voice breaking. "There's nothing left of me any more, don't you see?"
Dumbledore buried his face in his hands again, and did not respond. He had run out of things to say.
Then Remus remembered something. Something so incredibly important that it burst into his mind like a firework. He leapt out of his seat and grabbed Dumbledore's arm.
"Harry! Professor, Harry's still alive!"
"I know," said Dumbledore, heavily. "And do not ask how, because that is the question we cannot begin to answer yet."
"I know, I know...but he's alive! I promised to look after him, I promised Lily and James. I have to see him, please..."
Dumbledore shook his head. Remus sunk back into his chair.
"I am sorry. Harry has been left with his Aunt and Uncle, and that is where he must stay. I cannot allow anyone else to take care of him."
"But if I could just see him..." said Remus brokenly.
"No." said Dumbledore. "I cannot allow it."
Remus looked around him like a trapped animal. "When can I see him, then? I have to, Professor, please, I swore always to take care of him...he's all I have left..."
"One day," said Dumbledore quietly. "I promise you that one day, I will allow you to meet Harry."
Remus fell silent. He felt as though something was re-adjusting itself inside him, his world altering itself into a new mould. Dumbledore watched him anxiously, like a man who is taking a great risk and is dreading what the outcome could be.
Finally, Remus looked up- and he seemed to have aged ten years in the last few minutes. The lines around his tired eyes were pulled tighter now- and his eyes themselves were too old, too sad, for a man so young. The same old serenity that had always seemed to surround him was back, but now it was sadder, wiser.
"All right," said Remus quietly. "I'm all right now, Professor."
Dumbledore's face twisted slightly with something like anger, and he stirred restlessly.
"You worry me sometimes, Remus. You always did. There were times, when you were younger, when I wished you would rage and scream, rebel against your fate like any other teenager in your position would have done. But you never did."
"What good would it have done?" said Remus, very softly. His eyes were overbright.
"You are right, of course," said Dumbledore. He sighed heavily, and looked at Remus with a mixture of intense pity and surprised respect. "But I was hoping you would rage tonight, perhaps scream hatred against Sirius or Voldemort, or whatever force it is that controls our lives, since you seem to be getting such an unfair deal...."
"I'm alive," said Remus. "And I'll see Harry one day." He lifted his head and smiled slightly at Dumbledore, even as a single tear, unstoppable now, rolled down his face.
"If you are able to live on now, without bitterness or hatred, you are the strongest person I have known," said Dumbledore softly. "Prove it to me, Remus."
Remus nodded. There was nothing else left to say.
When he left the office, the pain inside him twisted like a snake, and he leaned against the cold wall, his face pressed against the stone, his breathing ragged.
Through the open entrance door, the night was astonishingly clear. The stars seemed strangely bright against their velvet blackness, burning far, far away.
Far away, in a cell in Azkaban...
"Why, Sirius?" breathed Remus. "Why?"
A slight cold breeze blew in through the door. It ruffled his hair, and cooled the tears on his face.
Better dead. It would be better if Sirius were dead. Better than this...
Remus loathed himself for thinking it. He could not hate Sirius. Even as he knew that Sirius had betrayed Lily and James, killed Peter, he could not wish him dead, could not hate him. He could never hate anyone except himself.
Maybe one day he would understand why Sirius had done it. Maybe one day he would stop missing James, Lily and Peter, stop missing them so badly it felt as though his heart was being torn out. Maybe one day, he would see Harry.
At the thought, Remus smiled.
Then he turned, and walked out alone into the clear, starlit night.
* * *
Whew! Finished at last! OK, so I said it would only be one more chapter, but things took a little longer to round off than I thought! Sorry too that the ending's not very cheerful, but poor Remus, he's not had an easy life. I wanted the ending to show that, but to have hope as well. It kind of echoes the mood of the whole story, that this awful sad thing has happened, but that good can come out of it.
I feel lost now that I've finished this fic- it's my first and I've really, really enjoyed writing it. Thankyou so much to anyone who has written me a review, because this story wouldn't have happened without you- I'd have got depressed and stopped writing it. Special thanks to 'mioneweasley', who apart from writing great Lupin fics herself left me lovely reviews.
Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze review it if you haven't already done so, and if you have please write again and tell me what you thought of the ending! If you write me a review, if you can be bothered could you tell me things like which bits you liked/disliked, which characters I portrayed well/badly, that kind of thing? It would be really helpful to know so that I can improve things for my next fic.
I will probably write another fic very soon- definately something Lupin-ish, possibly a sequal to this one, or maybe a Marauder fic..any ideas, guys? Tell me!
Well, thanks again. All I have to say now is, watch this space and LONG LIVE LUPIN!!!
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