Disclaimer: I've invented nothing here except for the plot, and only part of that is really mine. Direct quotes from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are included, which I am well aware belong to the genius JK Rowling and her various publishers. I do not claim them as my own work, nor do I claim any of these characters as mine...well, except for the Ministry's Magical Law Enforcement Squad, Professor Sutherland, and Caroline, though I didn't really invent her either. She belongs to herself. ;-)
Dedication: This fic is for Andie, karei, Liss, Love, Plu, and Tab...without the six of you, I wouldn't have had a much-needed project to pull myself out of my writing slump these past weeks. For that I am grateful, as well as for your friendship and support. And karei...thanks for being my guinea pig.
Summary: A slightly angsty fic, I suppose, from Remus' point of view. Set September 1, 1993, during Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In response to a challenge on SevenOfQuills.
The challenge elements: 1. Someone must say the line "Yes, but only if you read him his rights first". 2. Someone must do the hula. 3. Someone must say the line "Well, I would have milked the cow, but I was too busy yodelling". 4. You must mention two delicate solid gold combs encrusted with red rubies. 5. Someone must mention the book "Thirteen ways to destroy your enemies and amuse your friends". 6. Someone must mention the following object, using the exact words: An Ancient Artifact of Great Import. 7. Someone must play the tambourine
The sun was barely up when the platform came into view. He hadn't had to walk far, which was a good thing, given the state he was in. It was odd and somewhat unsettling to approach from the direction he did. Not through the barrier, but along the tracks, emerging from a spot in the woods that Dumbledore had arranged. The headmaster had told him how to Apparate in. Few people were allowed to do so. Few people knew how.
Knowing he had to catch the train by eleven, he'd wanted to stay nearby for the night. It was sometimes well into mid-morning on the day following the full moon before he was able to gather the strength to move, let alone get from his place to King's Cross. His place. If it could be called a place. Little more than a pile of sticks built up over the dirt of a forest floor, it had been his sanctuary for the past eleven years. He'd long since given up trying to keep a job. It was just too difficult to think up excuses after awhile, and his monthly absences had not been overlooked or forgiven. After his entire world had fallen apart, he'd retreated into seclusion, refusing the offers of work he'd gotten from the few people who really knew and trusted him. He wouldn't have been able to bear it, being around them, being haunted by the memories he could see in their eyes. So he'd gone...just gone without a word, and tried to make a new life for himself. But he hadn't been strong enough then. He wondered if he was strong enough now...
A heavy breeze suddenly caught his hair and whipped his tattered robes around him, and he stopped dead in his tracks, not even realizing it, inhaling the scent that was suddenly floating around him. It was fleeting and quickly gone, but it took him back to another lifetime. As he walked on, he wondered at how the place could still smell the same, at how it even had a scent at all, though he knew he would never be able to put his finger on it. It was more the scent of youth and laughter and possibility than any actual traceable source.
And then there was the train. The scarlet steam engine sat silent for once...eerily still and abandoned, an image stark in its contrast to his memories, yet somehow even more poignant. And he stopped again, just gazing at the train, wanting to get closer, wanting to close his eyes and touch the sleek metal of the cars, but unable to convince his legs to take him any nearer. He was suddenly glad he'd woken early and had felt the urge to get moving, that he was seeing the train for the first time in fifteen years without an audience. Had people been there, surely they would have stared. He would have stared himself if he was one of them...stared at the bedraggled man standing on the wrong side of the platform, gazing at the Hogwarts Express like it was An Ancient Artifact of Great Import.
A thick cloud shifted in the east sky, revealing the glaring sun and startling him out of his reverie. He absently raised a hand, shielding his eyes, and barely noticed that he was still trembling. The trembling always lasted the longest; sometimes days passed before he regained strength enough for it to stop. Actually, it had been the first clue, the first symptom that had set off the suspicions. She had been perceptive, that Lily. Of course, it had been years before she'd discovered what it meant, but the one time she'd mentioned it to James with concern had been enough to set the detective work into motion.
His feet seemed to find their resolve, and he walked to the end of the platform, frowning as he realized that there were no steps. Of course there weren't, he thought. No one ever came down here. It wasn't like the train needed routine maintenance. It was magical, after all. The platform hit him at chest height, and he took a deep breath, gathering his strength and determination. He placed his battered case on the platform, his foot firmly in the X of the crossbeams, and then launched himself up and onto the platform. He managed to remain somewhat upright for a moment, then gave in to his fatigue and collapsed forward onto the dusty surface. His cheek pressed into the wood...the very same wood that had been under his feet all those years ago...and he closed his eyes, shutting out the memories.
He lay still for a few minutes, catching his breath and thinking how if James had been there, he would have eased him to his feet, and half-carried him onto the train. That had been his way. Well, his and Sirius', really. Always taking care of him in their quiet way, never a complaint, never a concern for their own safety or well-being. He chuckled dryly to himself, knowing that for one of them, it had only been a show. Not for even close to the first time, he wondered when it had happened...when Sirius had turned against them. He couldn't reconcile the friend he knew with the man who had killed those muggles...killed Peter...killed James and Lily, really. It was as though his friend Sirius had died that day too, and now it was some stranger who was rotting away in Azkaban or, rather, who had been rotting away in Azkaban. He wondered where he was, where he was hiding, if he was close already, waiting in the north of Scotland for his final target, his ultimate act of allegiance to his master. For Harry.
Once he felt reasonably recovered, he got to his feet and began to make his way down the platform. He didn't have far to go, they had always sat in the last car, the one at the very end of the train. He half-wished he had the energy to stroll further down the platform and choose a different car, but the exhaustion - and the draw of the familiar - was too overwhelming. He paused as he reached the door to the car - their car - and for a moment he felt a surge of jealousy, knowing that other children had occupied it in their place over the last fifteen years. Some of them may have even staked it out, claimed it as theirs. And that was the way of the world, wasn't it? Always moving on, moving on with or without you. He took a deep breath and stepped inside, and all at once the scent and the sight and the memories hit him in a dizzying wave, and he inhaled sharply against the lump he felt rising in his throat. He gazed down the narrow corridor to the compartment on the left, and suddenly, he was a child again...
Remus fought back tears as he made his way through car after car. He'd been the last one to get on the train, not wanting to leave the comfort of his mother's embrace. He bit his bottom lip, telling himself that he was being a wimp. Eleven-year-olds were not supposed to cry. He hadn't seen anyone else crying before they'd gotten onto the train...well, none of the boys anyway. He knew he was being a baby, but he found he just couldn't help it. He just wanted to find an empty compartment so he could be alone; he was too shy, he knew, and he wanted to make friends, but the idea was just too scary. So as he made his way down the corridors, his panic grew with every step, for he heard laughter and voices coming from every compartment. He got to the last car, and his dread reached its pinnacle. He was at the final compartment. He was out of choices, and this one seemed to have more noise inside it than any of the others. He took a deep breath and slid the door open.
"Well, I would have milked the cow, but I was too busy yodeling!" The small crowd inside the compartment erupted into laughter, and the dark-haired boy who'd told the joke beamed proudly. The boy next to him was doubled over, slapping his knee with one hand, and wiping away tears of laughter from behind his glasses with the other.
"Oh, that's great," the messy-haired boy with the glasses choked out, "Just great."
The young comedian stood up and bowed deeply for his admirers, whom Remus realized consisted mostly of a throng of giggling girls about their age. No one had noticed him standing there in the doorway, they were all too distracted. Until the entertainer rose from his bow and looked directly at him.
"Hi, um, I'm sorry," Remus stammered. "I was just looking for a seat, sorry," He started to back out through the door, intending to go back the way he'd come and find a less crowded compartment, but something stopped him.
It was the wide smile that spread across the other boy's face.
"Nah, it's okay. We have plenty of room. Come on in."
He shook his head, breaking through the cloud of memories, and the stillness of the sudden silence crashed around him. He stumbled his way over to the door leading into the compartment and, reaching out a shaking hand, slid it open and stepped inside.
"Come on Peter, just do it."
Peter shifted nervously, his face turning a deep shade of crimson like it always did when he felt the others were making fun of him. "No, I'm not doing it, James. I'm not doing the hula."
"Aw, Peter," Sirius said, then in a sing-song voice continued, "I'll buy you a whole box of chocolate frogs."
The chubby boy blushed further at this, and Remus spoke up softly from his seat next to the window. "Sirius, don't." He glanced at Peter, who was staring at his lap. Remus knew how sensitive Peter was about his weight. It wasn't as though he was obese, but at thirteen, kids are self-conscious enough without their own friends making fun of them.
"Oh, Remus, Peter knows we're just kidding, don't you, Peter?" James asked, sounding sincere.
"Yeah," Peter responded, chuckling nervously. "Yeah, of course I do."
"Well, come on then," Sirius insisted. "Just let me test the curse on you. Pleeeeeeeease?" He twirled his wand between his fingers. "Pretty please?"
"We could get into trouble," Peter replied desperately. "We're not supposed to use magic on the train."
Just then, the door to their compartment slid open and Peter let out an audible sigh of relief. He obviously thought the distraction would get him off the hook.
Sirius' reaction was the complete opposite of Peter's. He rose to his feet and tensed visibly. "What do you want, Snape?"
Severus Snape scowled at his foe. "I'm looking for that cart woman, if you must know. She cheated me on my change..." His scowl morphed into a smug sneer, and he stepped into the compartment, exuding his usual oily arrogance. "But it's a free train, Black," he said snidely. "I can enter any compartment I choose."
"Well, choose a different one," Remus muttered under his breath.
"Look, Snape, if you're just going to -" James started.
"What was that, Lupin?" Severus demanded loudly, cutting James off rudely. He took another step forward. "Were you speaking to me?"
Sirius shot to the side, cutting off the Slytherin's path and forcing him to take a step back. Sirius' hand twitched around his wand and Remus held his breath. He hated that Sirius and James always felt the need to stand up for him like this, but his shame didn't diminish his appreciation. Today, he was in no shape to hold his own against Severus Snape.
"Go away, Snape," Sirius snapped.
"No. No, I don't think so, Black," Severus replied, spitting out Sirius' name like a bad Bertie Bott's bean. "The weakling there has something to say to me. I'd like to hear what it is." He shot a pompous look at Remus over Sirius' shoulder. "If he can gather the strength to speak, that is."
In a blinding flash of motion, Sirius whipped his wand upwards.
"Hularo!" he exclaimed, and suddenly the Slytherin's hips began swiveling violently. A horrified look contorted his face as he looked down at himself. The four Gryffindors burst into laughter, Remus a little more weakly than the other three, but not for lack of amusement.
"Black, so help me," Severus exclaimed, trying to move forward and get his hands around Sirius' neck, but unable to force his lower body to cooperate, "I will kill you."
Sirius simply moved back out of Severus' reach and proceeded to laugh until tears rolled down his cheeks. Remus watched James' face turn beet red for lack of air - he was laughing so hard, his insides appeared to have seized up, and no sound was escaping his mouth. He slid off his seat and onto the floor, clutching his midsection and wheezing for air.
As he hoisted his case onto the luggage rack, the briefest of smiles curled his lips at the memory of a hula-dancing Severus Snape...but then his eyes fell to the upholstered seat, and he froze. There was a rip in it. A rip, one he didn't remember. It was just a small hole, nothing too damaging, but there it was...he leaned forward and traced his finger over it, wishing that it would mend under his touch...there were a lot of things that he wished he could mend, but when he drew his hand away, the flaw was still there, like scars always are. He sighed heavily, and sank into the seat, the same seat that he'd ridden in so many times, and he was shocked at the sudden familiarity of it. He ran his hand over the thick upholstery of the seat next to him, knowing that his friends had each occupied that seat at some point in the past...and now they were gone, all of them...he was the only one that was really left. He chuckled at the irony of that; he had always been the sick one, the most physically unstable, the most often injured...and here he was, living and breathing and sane and alone.
Between his physical fatigue and his emotional exhaustion, he soon found that he just couldn't keep his eyes open. He leaned back and to the side, resting his head against the cushion and propping himself up against the window, and he let sleep come.
He slept soundly at first, a deep sleep, undisturbed by dreams of memories, but some time later, voices began weaving in and out of his consciousness. He blinked his eyes open, squinting against the harsh glare of sunlight, and he knew from the brightness that several hours had passed. He expected the voices he was hearing to belong to children, but as his mind sharpened into focus, he realized that they were adult voices. Intense and anxious male voices coming from outside the window. He leaned forward to look out and felt a wave of dread wash over him. Then he frowned at his own reaction and reminded himself that Sirius was an enemy now. He deserved the fate that awaited him, even if he had been a friend once.
On the platform stood a line of figures, lurking about in their billowing cloaks, completely concealed but for their scabbed and slimy hands protruding from the ends of their sleeves. Dementors. They seemed to be under the command of a tall and imposing man who was standing off to the side, not 10 feet from the window, addressing a small group of similarly dressed men. He knew from their navy blue robes and gold chevrons that they were members of the Ministry's Magical Law Enforcement Squad. They stood in a loose circle, seven men sipping from steaming cups as they listened to their instructions. Ordinarily, he would have assumed they were drinking tea or coffee, but given the circumstances it could only be one thing. Hot chocolate.
"So is everyone clear on what we're doing here?" The chief wizard asked.
"Am I to understand," one of the officers spoke up, "That should we discover Sirius Black here today, we are authorized to use..." he jerked his head slightly in the direction of the Dementors "er, whatever means necessary...to restrain him and bring him into custody?"
"Yes," the chief said firmly. "Yes, but only if you read him his rights first. We cannot let that monster slip away on any technicality, got it?"
Remus suddenly felt nauseated, and he turned away from the window, tuning the voices out and glancing at his watch. Half past nine. He knew the children would start arriving soon - his students. Harry. He still couldn't wrap his mind around the fact that he was going to be teaching at Hogwarts, let alone teaching Harry. James and Lily's son. When Dumbledore had first offered him the job, Remus had refused. He'd been too shocked at first to think clearly, everything had happened so fast. Dumbledore had knocked quite unceremoniously on his door at 8 a.m. one Sunday morning, as if he'd been coming for tea and crumpets every morning for years. Then in a matter of sixty minutes, he'd been caught up on eleven years of news in the wizarding world, and offered a rather high-profile job, without so much as a "Where have you been for the last decade?" But Dumbledore had been relentless, insisting that given the circumstances, Remus was the best man for the job. He knew how Sirius' mind operated, Dumbledore said, and he was one of the few people on earth that he trusted to be teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts to this select generation of young witches and wizards in times like these...particularly a young Harry Potter. And so, finally, Remus had accepted.
He settled back and closed his eyes again, vaguely wondering if he'd done the right thing by agreeing to take this job. He wasn't in the best condition, and he knew how tough and exhausting the job of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor could be. He remembered his own days as a student in the class, under Professor Sutherland's tutelage. Things had been tense then; Voldemort was already well on his way to becoming the most feared wizard of all time, and Sutherland had worked tirelessly to quickly teach his students everything he knew...which unfortunately, in the end, hadn't really been enough for many of them. As he felt himself drifting off to sleep, he recalled the day in their sixth year when they'd been learning how to fight the Imperius curse...
"Not bad, Mr. Lupin, Mr. Potter, not bad at all," Professor Sutherland said with a tired smile.
"Thank you, Professor," Remus managed as he straightened up. Fighting the Imperius curse was quite physically demanding, and Remus felt exhausted, and more than a little dizzy. It had been his third turn that day, and James' second.
"You see?" Professor Sutherland addressed the class as James sank into his seat and Remus accepted a hand from Lily in getting back to his own, "You have to have a reason to fight it. It's much easier to resist when you feel you have something to lose. These two have a friendship. They didn't want to hurt each other. I told them to fight, and yet they refrained...for the most part."
Remus chanced a guilty glance at James, who was rubbing his shoulder where Remus had struck him before he'd been able to get a firm handle on his concentration. Remus opened his mouth to whisper, "I'm sorry," across the aisle, but James was quicker.
"It's okay, Moony," James said quietly.
Remus let out a troubled breath and sat back in his chair, closing his eyes against the still-spinning room. He could hear Sutherland pacing up and down between the rows of desks, undoubtedly choosing his next guinea pig. When the dull thud of his boots stopped, Remus opened his eyes to see that Sutherland had come to a stop in front of Caroline Ratajski, a pretty Gryffindor who was roommate and dear friend to Lily. Sutherland's eyes were fixed on the top of her head.
"Miss Ratajski, if you please," Professor Sutherland waved his arm in the direction of the front of the classroom, and with wide but determined eyes, Caroline rose from her seat and proceeded to walk to the front of the room. Their professor followed her and asked, "Miss Ratajski, would you tell me about these combs please?" Sutherland caught up with her at his desk and reached out his hand, gently and deftly lifting something from her nutbrown hair. It was a delicate solid gold comb encrusted with red rubies. She wore two, and as he removed the one, her hair fell forward, and she reached up to tuck it behind her ear.
"They belonged to my grandmother," Caroline said a bit shakily. Sutherland placed the comb on the desk, near the edge, nodding for her to continue. "She gave them to me on her deathbed in Poland."
The professor looked up at his student and smiled warmly. "They're very, very lovely."
Professor Sutherland raised his wand. "Imperio."
Caroline's tension immediately melted away, and her eyes became glazed over as she stared at the comb on the desk.
"Take out your wand, Miss Ratajski."
Caroline started to reach inside her robes, then jerked a bit, and lowered her hand. Professor Sutherland kept his own wand pointed firmly at her.
"Take out your wand."
This time she barely hesitated before reaching into her robes and pulling out her wand in a single, fluid motion. Remus heard Lily suck in a breath behind him.
"Miss Ratajski," Sutherland said gently but very firmly, "destroy the comb."
A collective gasp rose from the class, and Lily started to speak, "Professor -"
He silenced her with a small wave of his hand. "Caroline...destroy the comb."
Remus' breathing became rapid and the tension in the room was palpable. Caroline stared blankly at the comb for a moment, then raised her wand. She hesitated, and Remus thought that perhaps she was going to resist. But then she lifted her wand and pointed it directly at the desk, and in a clear voice exclaimed, "Reducto!"
The comb burst into tiny pieces, littering the desk and the surrounding floor. Lily let out a sort of shocked wimper, and Professor Sutherland seemed regretful and a little surprised.
"Finite Incantatem," he said.
Caroline shuddered slightly as she came to her senses, and when she saw what had become of her treasured possession, promptly burst into tears. Remus felt his heart ache at the shocked sorrow he saw in her face.
Professor Sutherland stepped forward and took her by the arms, saying quietly, "It's all right. It's all right, Caroline, look." He pointed his wand at the mess of gold and ruby dust before them and said, "Reparo". The bits of the destroyed object were sucked back to the middle of the desk as though attracted by a vacuum, and before they knew it, the mess was gone, and the comb lay on the desk as though it had never been harmed at all.
"There you are. You can take your seat."
Caroline sniffled and took the comb from the desk, holding it tightly in her hand as she returned to her chair, staring at the floor. The classroom itself seemed to let out a heavy breath as she dropped back into her seat, still sniffling.
Their professor sighed raggedly, and began to pace the room again. "Perhaps we need to lighten the mood, no?" he asked kindly. Some of the students murmured their agreement, while others just sat silently. Remus watched his teacher move about the classroom, and come to a stop next to Caroline again, placing a hand on her shoulder. His eyes, however, were fixed on Sirius.
"Mr. Black," he called, taking a deep breath and adopting an obviously forced but buoyant tone.
Sirius looked up from his place on James' left, and met the professor's eyes. "Yes?"
"Your turn." Professor Sutherland grinned with a mischievous sort of amusement, and Sirius returned the expression with a cocky but wary smile of his own.
"What do I have to do?" he asked, moving to the spot at the front of the room designated as the hot seat by the stream of students that had preceded him.
"Nothing. You don't have to do anything...that's sort of the idea here."
Several students chuckled, but the mood of the classroom was yet to be much improved.
"Okay," Sirius corrected, "What are you going to try to make me do?"
Professor Sutherland pointed his wand at some shelves at the corner of the room behind Sirius and said, "Accio!"
An object soared off the shelf and over Sirius' head, landing comfortably in the Professor's outstretched hand. He tossed it back in the direction it had come, and Sirius caught it deftly.
More cautious laughter. Even Remus smiled tentatively.
"Do you know the song 'Dancing Queen', Mr. Black?" Now Remus' grin broke out uncontrollably, and he sat forward in his chair, eager for a good show.
Sirius cracked an amused grin of his own. "No, Professor, not really. I don't listen to Muggle music that often." Sirius gave the tambourine a little shake, testing it out, and the happy jingle of notes seemed to brighten the atmosphere of the room a bit more.
"But you've heard it? At least once? All the way through?"
"That will suffice. Imperio."
Sirius's posture relaxed noticeably, and he looked up at the professor with clouded eyes.
"Sing 'Dancing Queen', Mr. Black, while playing that tambourine for all it's worth."
Several students laughed, but once it became clear that Sirius was fully under the curse, the lightening mood seemed to sober slightly again. Even though this had high entertainment potential, the significance of the Imperius curse was not lost on any of them.
Sirius shook the tambourine a little, getting a good rhythm, then began striking it against his hip, and tapping his foot in time to the beat.
Come on, Sirius, Remus thought, Fight it.
"Friday night and the lights are looooooooooow, looking out for a place to gooooo."
Remus battled against his own amusement, sending powerful thoughts in Sirius' direction to resist the curse.
"Fight the curse, Mr. Black," Professor Sutherland commanded, keeping his wand firmly trained on his pupil. "You can resist it."
"Where they play the right music, getting in the swing..." Sirius' voice had started off strong, but trailed off a bit with each note. "You come in to look for a king..."
That's it, shake it off, Padfoot, Remus thought.
The tambourine stopped shaking, and hung loosely in Sirius' hand, and then suddenly, Sirius shook himself, and drew himself up staunchly, wavering a bit with dizziness.
Professor Sutherland lowered his wand and grinned broadly. "Excellent, Mr. Black. Excellent work."
Sirius just nodded a little numbly, and placed the tambourine back on the shelf before making his way back to his desk. Remus watched him with a measure of pride. That had only been his friend's first try that day, and he had resisted pretty easily. Remus felt proud that he and his friends were strong-willed enough to fight the curse, and safe knowing that they were all noble enough for that to be enough...or so he'd thought. As he watched Sirius settle back into his chair, lost in his own thoughts, the friend before him suddenly morphed into a man...a man with Sirius' same boyish features, but a hardened eye, and shaggy hair falling in tangles around his face. His hands were chained together, and he looked up and met Remus' eyes with cold and lifeless ones of his own.
Remus shuddered suddenly, and looked beyond Sirius to the empty desk behind him. The desk that had only moments ago held Caroline Ratajski, the quietly brave Gryffindor who had become committed to fighting evil after she'd seen how easy it was for good-hearted people to fall prey to a curse like the Imperius. She'd been one of the best Aurors the Ministry had ever seen, and had lived by the motto that evil would never prevail as long as the righteous and pure of heart had the courage and strength not to give in... She had lived her words until the very end, not giving in even when the Death Eaters had offered her a deal...life in exchange for life-long service to the Dark Lord. When they'd threatened the Imperius, she sacrificed herself, not willing to give in to the even ghost of a chance that she had never become strong enough to resist it...
And yet Sirius...Remus forced his eyes back to the shadow of the man that had been his friend...Sirius had resisted the curse even at the unseasoned age of sixteen. He had not the luxury of claiming involuntary persuasion, and he'd never tried; even evil, he was smart enough to know when to push his luck and when to concede, Remus realized. He felt a rush of bitterness towards the man sitting before him...not rage or disgust or hatred...just a bitter sense of betrayal that Sirius had done it all on his own...he had turned evil, turned against those who trusted him, betrayed the people who loved him...all with a clear mind and a conscious resolve...and a willingness to serve the Dark Lord. And for Remus, embedded deeply within the sense of betrayal, was the throbbing pain of knowing he'd loved and trusted a man who had proudly turned his back on him, on everything that was noble and right and good.
And then with a rush of sudden clarity, they were all kids again, chatting tiredly in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, awaiting the bell before trudging off to Herbology. Sirius was chatting to James and Lily, saying something about people coming on board, and then he heard James' voice. It was clear in his head, as clear as it ever had been, but suddenly the words he heard no longer matched his friend's moving lips. He felt a rush of cold, and his vision seemed to go dark.
"What are you doing?"
"I was looking for Ron -"
"Come in and sit down -"
"Not here!" that was James' voice, he knew it, but he couldn't see him through the sudden darkness, and then he was startled by the realization that he was on a train, and the classroom was gone, and he was awake. "I'm here!"
Another wave of cold washed over him, this time chilling him to the bone and seemingly sucking the breath right out of him. And suddenly, he knew what was happening. He grabbed his wand from the only pocket in his robe without a hole, and said sharply, "Quiet!"
The nervous bickering went immediately and tensely silent, and he pointed his wand at his own hand, murmuring a few words. A ball of flickering flamelight sprung up in his palm, and he held it out ahead of him.
"Stay where you are," he told the small group of students, getting to his feet cautiously. He started to head toward the door, intending to find the Dementor responsible for this mayhem and banish it away, but the door to the compartment slid open before he reached it.
The Dementor stepped through the door, and he felt another wave of dread and intense cold. He paused for a moment, gathering his wits about him, fighting off the effects of the Dementor's presence. To his right, he noticed one of the students go completely rigid, and before he knew it, the boy had slid out of his seat and onto the floor. The compassionate part of him wanted to go immediately to the boy's side, but instead, he quickly stepped over him and pointed his wand firmly at the Dementor.
"None of us is hiding Sirius Black under our cloaks," he said flatly. "Go."
He waited only a moment before deciding the Dementor had had his chance, and he desperately cast his mind back, searching through the depths of his rapidly diminishing collection of happy memories, settling firmly on the one that first popped into his mind.
"Remus, sit down," James said with a grin. "We have something to show you, and it's something big."
Remus sat, perching on the edge of his favourite armchair in the Gryffindor Common Room, and pulling his robe tightly around him. It was three in the morning, and the fire had died down considerably since everyone had been in bed. He couldn't imagine what his friends had dragged him out of bed for at this hour, but they seemed to think it important that they tell him whatever they were about to tell him when no one else was around.
James, Sirius, and Peter all exchanged glances, and then James said to them quietly, "So who's going to show him?"
"Let's do it at the same time," Peter said nervously, but with excitement.
"No, we don't want to scare the bejesus out of him, Peter," said Sirius with exasperation. "One at a time will be more than enough, I'm thinking."
"You do it, Sirius," James said resolutely.
Sirius nodded, "Yeah, okay." He turned to a puzzled Remus, and stood firmly in place. Then a huge grin spread across his face. "Surprise," he said, and the next thing Remus knew, Sirius was gone, and a big, shaggy, black dog stood wagging its tail in his place.
"Expecto Patronum." A rush of silver left his wand, and the Dementor glided back out the door, and out of sight. He took a deep, sobering breath, and then another as the lights flickered back on.
And then, he looked at the boy on the floor.
His heart nearly stopped beating. For a fleeting moment, he thought, "James...", and he stood, staring at the boy, frozen in place as two other students knelt by the boy's side, calling to him frantically. A bittersweet haze clouded his thoughts, and he whispered, "Harry."
"Harry! Harry!" the girl cried. "Are you all right?"
"W-what?" Harry muttered, sitting up cautiously.
He didn't even hear the words that the three exchanged, so full were his thoughts of swimming images. An identical pair of eyes, framed by long lashes and a crown of flowing red hair. A laughing face, with the same firm chin and black wire glasses, topped with a shock of messy black hair. He saw their faces, heard their laughter, remembered the sound of their tears, and the feel of their embrace. And all at once, the memories nearly overwhelmed him, and he shook himself, trying to focus on the problem at hand. On Harry.
Thankfully, Dumbledore had warned him that the Dementors would be on board, so he'd come prepared. He reached above him for his case, opening it and pulling out a large slab of chocolate. He unwrapped it quickly, and snapped a piece off, startling the students to attention.
He wasn't sure he could trust his voice, so he swallowed hard several times before speaking. "Here," he said hoarsely, holding the chocolate out to Harry. "Eat it, it'll help."
Harry took the chocolate, but made no move to eat it. He proceeded to pass chocolate around to the rest of the students, and Harry asked, "What was that thing?"
God, he sounds just like him, he thought. "A Dementor," he said numbly. "One of the Dementors of Azkaban."
As he absently crumpled up the chocolate wrapper and stuffed it into his pocket, he could sense all the students staring at him, awaiting an explanation. But his eyes were firmly on Harry, his thoughts elsewhere. It was uncanny, the resemblance. Positively uncanny.
"Eat it," he repeated, suddenly feeling an irresistible need for air. "It'll help." He moved toward the door, mumbling something about speaking to the driver, but when he stepped into the corridor, he didn't move in the direction of the engine. He moved instead to the back of the train, and out the door onto the platform at the back of the caboose. He stepped out into the cool night air, breathing in the chill like it was his lifeblood. He gripped the railing tightly and hung his head, fighting the tears welling up in his eyes.
It was too hard, he realized. It was too hard to try to go back, to face all of the memories...to face them alone. He took a deep breath, willing the brimming tears not to overflow. It would do him no good, he knew. He had a job to do. But how could he? How could he go back there, back to that castle? But at the same time, he knew that he had to. He owed it to them, to Lily and James, to look after their son. He owed it to Dumbledore, to the world. He knew what sort of times they were living in, he could sense a movement brewing, and he knew what that could mean. Standing outdoors at the back of the train, he could hear the laughter of many students, floating out through the long stretch of open windows behind him. This generation...this generation would find themselves where he and his friends had been fifteen years ago. Dumbledore seemed convinced of this, and he had seen enough in his past to know that when Dumbledore believed something, it came to pass. He thought of the children in the train, and the decisions they would have to make. He wondered who would be strong enough, and who would falter...he wondered how many of them were already on the path to darkness...how many were already concealing copies of Thirteen Ways to Destroy Your Enemies and Amuse Your Friends in their beloved Hogwarts trunks or bags...
It would be a battle, but then everything always was, wasn't it? The past always repeating itself...he wondered how much would repeat itself for Harry...if he could prevail in the end over the Dark Lord who had nearly destroyed him too many times already in his short thirteen years.
He took a deep breath, and gazed out at the retreating landscape of the Highlands. Nothing in particular caught his eye, but he knew from too many rides spent hanging out windows, or sitting in the very spot at his feet, that they would be arriving in roughly ten minutes. There was no turning back now. The second battle was just beginning, and he had come full circle. Ending up back at the starting point - a sprawling castle concealed in the mountains of Scotland, away from Muggle eyes...away from everything unwelcome, a reliable sanctuary in an otherwise unreliable world...or so he hoped. He swept his eyes across the landscape one final time, then took a deep breath of resolution, turning and sliding the door open and stepping back onto the Hogwarts Express.
Thank Yous: To Liss, for the invaluable and speedy beta, but mostly for her undying support, limitless patience, and for never complaining through my incessant griping about this fic, or anything else for that matter. Liss, you're my star. :-)
Thanks also to Andie, for coming to the rescue. :-)
|DC Slash||Harry Potter||Ros. Hetero||Ros. Slash||Ros. Other|