Monday, August 4th, 2003 05:00 pm
Summary: Trapped in a world where he can be neither seen nor heard, Sirius Black struggles to communicate to his friends that he may not be as dead as they think he is... and that something dreadful lurks beyond the veil.

Dedicated to the SBRL list and the noble cause of denial.

03. A Glimmer of Hope

The Hogwarts Express let loose a long, shrill whistle to warn its passengers that it was about to depart. One or two tardy students made a hasty dash for the doors, and the platform guards nodded to the driver.

Sirius braced himself as the train began to move. He wasn't sure this would work; if it didn't, he'd find himself sitting in midair above the railway. He glanced at Harry, who was staring out of the window while his friends talked quietly, then at Harry's trunk, in which lay the key to the success or failure of his plan.

Then he realised that the scenery was moving past at a goodly rate, and that he showed no signs of slipping backwards through the wall. He breathed a sigh of relief and settled himself to watch Harry.

It had been an obvious connection to make. The mirror had called him to it; the mirror showed his reflection. Therefore, the mirror was probably, for him, an anchor to the world, and Arianwen had suggested that if he remained close to it then he would be carried along in its wake. Sirius hadn't quite understood her explanation - and her sense of the dramatic got on his nerves - but he'd been more than willing to take a chance on it. Anything to get away from Hogwarts.

Ron asked Harry a question, to which his godson replied vaguely, his eyes still fixed on the passing landscape. Sirius wished Harry would talk more. He'd kept his responses to as few words as possible so far and, from the looks Ron and Hermione kept shooting each other, they were carefully avoiding certain topics.

"It's okay," Sirius said aloud. "If you want to grieve, I mean. Go right ahead. Cry your eyes out. I'd be flattered, honestly."

"Hey, Harry," said Ron, "fancy a game of chess?"

"Or you could just not, I suppose," Sirius muttered to himself, but his heart wasn't in it. He didn't find it all that funny. Not when he saw how quiet these teenagers were, who in the summer had laughed and rowed and teased. Not when he remembered Remus's tears. No, he couldn't joke about wanting them to mourn. He just wanted to find a way back as quickly as possible, to take away some of the grief that they should never have had to bear.

Perhaps he should have waited for Dumbledore after all. Sirius got to his feet, pacing around the small compartment as he was wont to do when restless, not even noticing that he was walking through its occupants. He and the ghosts had searched Hogwarts all night and found no sign of the Headmaster. Either his rooms were more securely hidden than they'd ever realised - or Dumbledore had left the castle.

They'd made certain other discoveries. Fawkes, who had been asleep in Dumbledore's office, had trilled in greeting and flown over to Sirius's shoulder. The phoenix was small and featherless - which was strange, as Sirius had been sure it was years until his next burning - but his warm weight had seemed a miracle after so long without sensation. Fawkes had sung quietly all the time they were in the office, but hadn't been forthcoming with any other assistance.

They'd also found that the portraits could sense Sirius's presence, although they couldn't see him unless he stood still. This had fascinated Arianwen, and gone a further way to reassure Sirius, who was feeling distinctly jumpy and kept expecting Dementors to appear through the walls.

Finally, when the castle began to stir, Nearly-Headless Nick had suggested that they go to McGonagall, since Dumbledore was not in evidence. Sirius would have agreed - had he not at that moment felt the return of the malevolent chill that had touched him earlier. It only lasted for a heartbeat, but he'd refused to stay another second in the castle.

Which had led him to Hogsmeade, where he watched the students arrive in the thestral-drawn carriages (he still remembered the first time he'd seen the creatures, when he'd followed Harry back to Hogwarts in his third year) and remembered what Arianwen had said about the mirror. He'd decided to take the chance.

And here he was. He watched Harry and Ron play chess - he tried to warn his godson about the pawn creeping up on his left, but was forced to watch as Ron neatly gained himself a queen and started slaughtering Harry's forces. He read Ginny's magazine over her shoulder. He eyed the strange plant belonging to the boy who'd had his nose broken in the Ministry - Neville, Ron called him - with distrust. Sapient vegetation disagreed with him. He recalled far too many altercations with the Whomping Willow in his youth.

Which brought his thoughts back to Remus again, and plunged him into another bout of unhappiness.

There was some momentary excitement halfway through the journey, when a commotion broke out a few compartments along; Sirius had been about to rush out and investigate when he'd remembered that he couldn't leave the vicinity of the mirror. He'd had to wait as Ron dashed off and returned a few minutes later with an unscathed but ruffled Harry, who told the others that Malfoy had tried to ambush him.

Sirius couldn't help relishing Ron's description of what had been done to the Slytherins. It was almost worthy of James and himself, as he told them at some length.

Apart from that the journey was uneventful; the Hogwarts Express eventually pulled into King's Cross Station and Sirius followed Harry off the train.

"I suppose this is where we say goodbye," he said regretfully. He'd already decided to seek Remus out at Grimmauld Place. He was hoping the pictures there would be able to help him, although he didn't hold out much hope: the only halfway decent (and sane) one was Phineas Nigellus, and the old headmaster still didn't like him much.

He was almost as surprised as Harry, therefore, to come through the barrier and find Remus Lupin waiting on the other side.




"This wasn't quite how it was meant to go," Sirius told Remus, who was making a cup of tea. "You were supposed to go back to Headquarters. Okay, so I hated the place, but I thought you didn't mind it." He sighed. "Were you just pretending for my sake? You're always doing things like that, Moony..."

Remus poured boiling water onto a couple of shrivelled tea leaves and set the lid on the teapot. He stared out of the window as he waited for it to brew.

Sirius craned his neck to find out what was so interesting, but all he could see was greyness. Rain spattered heavily on the window pane. The sky was low, dim and threatening. He couldn't see the sea from this angle, but he was sure he could hear its restless waves breaking on the grey cliffs. Even the grass, wiry and windswept, looked grey rather than green.

He'd spent a couple of weeks here last year, before they'd moved to Grimmauld Place, and of course he'd visited when they'd been at school - this was Remus's parents' home. Ironic, that they should both wind up living in the houses they grew up in, although their home lives could not have been more different.

Sirius still remembered Remus's mother gently explaining how to use Muggle kitchen appliances. He'd never asked why their house was so unwizardlike: he'd already known by then how the wizarding world treated werewolves.

Remus stirred himself, lifted the teapot and poured the steaming liquid into a mug. Sirius watched disconsolately. He'd never been as big a fan of tea as Moony, but right now he'd have given anything to be able to take the teapot from those too-thin hands and pour himself a cup.

"If you'd gone back to Headquarters," he continued, fumbling after his train of thought, "I could've talked old Phineas into helping. Maybe. Oh, dammit, Remus! I wish you'd smile. When I saw you at the station I thought it must've been a full moon, you were so pale."

Remus added milk - not much, but he always had to have a little of it - and carried his mug across the kitchen, into the sitting room, which was lit only by the rain-darkened light filtering in from outside. Sirius followed. He didn't have anything better to do.

"You should put the light on," he admonished Remus, who had seated himself on the floor by a large cardboard box. "You'll strain your eyes."

Remus took a sip of his tea and then placed the mug on the low table nearby. Then he sighed and looked at the box for a long time. Finally, he leaned forward and pulled it towards him.

Sirius sat down on the sofa. He'd given up reminding himself that he wasn't really sitting on furniture. He watched as Remus, his expression neutral, began to sort things out of the box into separate piles. He wished he could say something. Anything. He'd never imagined how helpless one could feel without a voice.

"I remember you telling me about this," he said after a while. "You said you'd put away everything that reminded you of me. I asked why you hadn't got it out again, and you said it was because you'd have to sort through it, and you didn't want to come face to face with him yet. Wormtail. Bastard."

Sirius leaned forward, trying to get a closer look at what Remus held in his hands. He thought it was a photograph, but Remus laid it aside before he could see properly. He thought that his friend was looking for something specific: his hands were purposeful as they lifted items out and set them aside.

"Then I suppose everything just got busy," Sirius continued, half to himself, half to the oblivious Remus. It was somehow comforting to talk like this. He realised, with a twinge of irony, that this was the first time he'd talked completely openly to his lover for over fifteen years. "I wish you could see me, Moony. I want to be with you to go through this stuff. I want to remember with you. I want to get back to you and I don't know how."

Remus was now flicking through an old school textbook. The tight lines around his eyes and at the corners of his mouth had relaxed a bit. He didn't smile, but Sirius could tell that he had been momentarily distracted from his grief.

"There are so many things I didn't tell you," Sirius said quietly, not caring how maudlin he was getting. "I loved you, of course. I love you still, if it counts from - wherever I am. I thought to start with that I was dead. Then I thought I'd find a way back in no time. Now I don't know, except that I don't think I'm meant to be here. Moony? I wish you could hear me."

"I wish I'd told you..." he trailed off, watching Remus lay aside the book and pick up a small crystal. "I wish I'd told you how much it meant to me that night in the Shrieking Shack, when you believed me. I wish I'd told you why I thought you were the spy years ago."

Sirius shifted uncomfortably, wishing he could feel the cushions behind his back. Remus was still holding the crystal in his hand, but his eyes weren't focused on it; he was staring into space, weariness in every line of his body.

"You should get some sleep," Sirius murmured, knowing that Remus couldn't hear him. The other man sighed, laid down the crystal, and tilted his head back against the arm of the sofa. He closed his eyes.

Surprised, Sirius asked quickly, "Can you hear me?"

There was no response, and he slumped back in his seat. Just a coincidence, then. He watched Remus for a moment, taking in the line of his long neck and the taut unhappiness in his lined face. He desperately wanted to move over there and put his arms around him. He closed his own eyes to shut out the sight.

"Did I ever mention how much it meant to me when you moved into Headquarters with me?" Sirius wondered aloud. "I didn't even ask you to do it. You just suddenly said that what with Order work and spending the evenings here, you only went home to sleep, and would it be alright with me if you cleared out one of the rooms here and moved some of your books across?"

Sirius smiled absently, remembering. Remus's eyes were still closed. It was oddly heartening: he could pretend that his friend really was listening.

"I just stared at you stupidly, and you started apologising, and I almost had to shout to get you to shut up for long to tell you that I loved the idea. And you just smiled at me, with that look in your eyes that said you still found me amusing, shadow of myself that I am. Was." Sirius frowned. "No. Am. I am. I live. I think." He sighed. "Oh, whatever. Where was I?"

Remus didn't comment. Sirius moved off the sofa and knelt down in front of him. He raised a hand as if to brush the grey-streaked hair back from Remus's face, but drew it back before he could be reminded that his fingers would pass right through.

"I wish I could kiss you."

Sirius could almost imagine that Remus tilted his head slightly towards his touch. Sirius sat back on his heels and regarded his lover sadly. If he really was trapped like this forever, by far the worst part was going to be seeing Remus and not being able to touch him.

"You remember when we kissed that first time?" he asked softly. "Not the first time - that was sixth year, just before I screwed everything up - I mean the first time since before. After you'd moved into Headquarters. You were poring over one of your books and I was sitting next to you, and I just couldn't help myself, Moony." Sirius grinned to himself. "You shouldn't read books around me. It's too damned sexy. When it's you doing it, anyway." He shook his head and his eyes strayed back to Remus.

Sirius paused, and looked closer, concerned. Remus had gradually relaxed against the sofa, his eyes closed and his breathing even, but Sirius didn't think he was asleep. There was a certain awareness in his face. He almost looked like he was in a trance. And Sirius almost thought he'd reacted slightly to the comment about reading.

"Do you remember when Molly walked in on us that time," he continued, watching Remus carefully, "and the way she stared for a moment and we were so sure she was going to be horrified? And then she laughed, and I was offended, and you were embarrassed, and she said that she finally understood why no-one had snapped you up and married you yet. And I said, What about me? and she just looked at me and said, well, there was no accounting for taste--"

Sirius broke off, startled, because Remus had laughed. Very quietly, but it was definitely a response. His heart hammering in his chest, Sirius fought for control of his voice. He had a suspicion that, if Remus really was hearing him, it was imperative that he keep to the even, gentle tone he'd fallen into while reminiscing.

"Moony," he said carefully, "would you mind doing something for me? Could you go and find your two-way mirror, please, and bring it back here? Could you do it now?"

There was a pause, in which Sirius would have held his breath if he had any. Then Remus stirred and opened his eyes. His brow creased in confusion as he glanced around, almost like he was looking for someone. Sirius prayed, silently, to any gods that might be listening.

Remus sat up straighter, but made no move to get up. Sirius's heart sank, only to rise again with a little jerk when Remus pulled the mirror out of his pocket. He was obviously more in the habit of carrying it around than Sirius had been.

Sirius threw himself forward, scrambling to get behind Remus to where his reflection would be visible in the mirror. He caught a glimpse of his friend's reflected face - dream-dazed and disappointed - before Remus's eyes flickered in his direction and widened in shock.

"Sirius?" he gasped, spinning round.

"YES!" yelled Sirius ecstatically, grinning at Remus, who was now staring straight through him, his face white as chalk. "Look back in the mirror, look back in the mirror..."

Remus lifted the mirror cautiously. Then he turned so that it was again reflecting Sirius, who moved to kneel behind him.

Remus turned his head very carefully. His eyes scanned every square inch of space around and beyond Sirius, then he looked back into the mirror.

"Am I hallucinating now," he asked matter-of-factly, almost overcoming the tremor in his voice, "or are you really there?"

"I'm really here, you daft git," Sirius said affectionately. He waved. In the mirror, he saw Remus blink.

"How?"

Sirius shrugged. Then, to his dismay, Remus lowered the mirror and drew a deep breath.

"It's just like the photographs," he said quietly. "It's not real."

"What? Yes I bloody well am!" Sirius protested indignantly. He could feel his golden opportunity slipping away with frightening speed. "Don't you dare put that mirror away, Moony..."

Remus appeared to be about to do just that. His hand hesitated by his pocket. Then he slowly raised the mirror again, his expression painfully distrustful.

This time, Sirius reached past him and laid a hand against the mirror's surface. Remus slowly lifted his own hand and tried to touch Sirius's. Their fingers slid through each other, and Remus swallowed hard.

"Sirius?" he said again, softly, and this time he sounded like he really believed he could be heard.

"That's me," Sirius said helpfully, still bubbling with euphoria. Remus could see him! "But you'd better work out how to get me out of here fast, Moony, or I might start to go a bit crazy." He laughed. "Crazier, anyway."

Remus was watching him intently, eyes narrowed, and Sirius guessed that he was trying to read his lips.

"I saw you die," he said quietly.

Sirius opened his mouth to respond, and closed it again. There were too many questions. He just shrugged helplessly.

"Are you a ghost?"

He shook his head.

"Can... can you follow me?"

Sirius nodded eagerly.

Remus stared into space for a moment or two, clearly thinking. Then his gaze snapped back to the mirror.

"If this is a trick of some kind," he said conversationally, "then the perpetrator will... regret it."

Sirius sighed. "It's not a trick, Moony. Really. Where are we going?"

Remus seemed to have caught the last bit, at least, because he answered, "I think I need to talk to Harry."




Harry didn't pay much attention to the knock on the door. He seldom did. It rarely had anything to do with him, anyway, and giving it the slightest heed would have interrupted his current favourite activity of Wallowing In Guilt.

He was surprised, therefore, to hear his Aunt Petunia screeching his name. He was even more surprised - when he'd extricated himself from where he'd been staring morosely out of the window, and padded out onto the landing - to see Professor Lupin being subjected to Petunia's full-strength disapproving stare.

Lupin was in Muggle clothes, as he had been when Harry had seen him at the station, and looked even more tired and worn, if that were possible. There was an air of tightly controlled agitation about him.

"Professor Lupin?" Harry said, for something to say. Petunia shot him a furious glare (for daring to know such a person, presumably) and Lupin looked up quickly.

"Harry," he said by way of greeting. "Er-- could I have a word?"

The last was said with a sideways glance at Petunia which made it quite clear that she was not to be included in this "word".

"I'll just get my shoes," said Harry quickly, and darted back into his room.

Two minutes later they were walking along Privet Drive, pursued by Petunia's most murderous look. She had made it quite clear that she did not want Harry to be seen in Lupin's company, but as both he and Lupin had ignored her as far as possible she'd been reduced to impotent fuming.

"Sorry about that," Harry mumbled when they'd walked a little way. He wasn't quite sure what to say to Lupin. A part of him wanted to talk about Sirius, while another part wanted anything but that. He knew they'd been close, and he couldn't help wondering how Lupin was dealing with it, if he felt anything like Harry did. He also wondered if Lupin blamed him for Sirius's death.

"Don't worry about it," Lupin said absently. "She was a lot worse at your parents' wedding."

Harry looked up in surprise, momentarily distracted. "She went to their wedding?"

"Oh, yes," Lupin even smiled faintly. "She wouldn't have wanted to miss the opportunity to make sure everyone knew how thoroughly she disapproved of James." His expression altered. "I need to ask you something, Harry."

Harry nodded cautiously. As they were passing the small play park off Magnolia Crescent, he turned aside and wandered over to the swing set. He looked curiously back at Lupin, waiting for the question.

Lupin reached into a pocket and pulled out a small, square mirror. Harry stared at it, an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. He recognised it. He'd had one just like it, now lying in pieces at the bottom of his school trunk.

Lupin handed him the mirror and said simply, "What do you see?"

Harry stared at him for a second, then turned his gaze to the glass. He saw the sky reflected. He lifted the mirror up so he could see his own face, the trees behind him, the slide--

-- and, clear as day, Sirius peering over his shoulder.

Only Lupin's quick reflexes saved the mirror from the same fate as its twin.

"How can--?" Harry snatched the glass back from Lupin and stared again. Sure enough, there was Sirius, now looking faintly amused. His godfather gestured vaguely with his hands, as if to say, I just have that effect on people.

"Sirius gave you one of these mirrors, didn't he?" Lupin asked softly. Harry nodded, his eyes still fixed on Sirius's reflection. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Lupin sitting down on the one unbroken swing. "I need to see it, to find out if it also shows his image--"

"It doesn't," Harry said quickly. Lupin quirked an eyebrow questioningly. "I-- tried to use it. To talk to him. I called his name a couple of times, but it didn't work. Then I..." Harry looked away in embarrassment. "I sort of broke it."

Lupin nodded. Their eyes met for a second, and Harry thought he saw understanding there. Then Lupin stretched out his long legs, pushing the swing backwards.

"It can be repaired. The most important question is whether this mirror has somehow been charmed to show Sirius's image - or it's reflecting something that's really there."

Really---?


"You mean... Sirius might still be alive?"

Lupin sighed. He looked suddenly older than ever, and out of place on a children's swing in a Muggle playground.

"He can't be alive, Harry," he said unhappily, staring at the ground. "No-one can survive the killing curse - except you, of course, and that was because Lily--"

"Wait." Harry tore his eyes away from Sirius, who had been gesturing urgently, and lowered the mirror. "What do you mean? It wasn't Avada Kedavra that hit him."

Lupin's head snapped up. He momentarily lost his footing, and the swing jerked forward an inch.

"What?"

"It wasn't the killing curse," Harry said with more certainty. "The light was red. It just knocked him backwards through that archway."

"Are you sure, Harry? In the confusion, you might have thought--"

"No, I was looking right at him." Harry frowned. "You were there, didn't you see--?"

"I heard him taunting Bellatrix Lestrange," Lupin said tensely. "As I turned, I saw green light from that direction and then Sirius was falling. When I saw him pass through the veil, I thought..."

He broke off.

Harry was shaking his head. He leaned against one of the poles supporting the swings, still grasping the mirror tightly in one hand.

"The light was from someone behind them, I'm sure of it. Sirius was hit with a red spell - Stunned, at worst. But then he went through the arch and you wouldn't let me follow..." Harry turned eagerly towards Lupin. "What is that thing? Why were you so sure that he was dead when he went through it?"

Lupin was staring intently at a point somewhere in the middle distance.

"No-one living can pass the veil," he said, sounding like he was quoting something. "None of conscious will may enter the spirit realm. Only through dream and the surrender of self - only through..."

He suddenly let himself swing forward, jumped to his feet and snatched the mirror from Harry, turning it over in his hands as his voice rose with certainty and excitement. "-- only through the mirror can the otherworld be seen!"

He turned back to Harry, who was watching him in bewilderment.

"I think that Sirius is alive," he said, and Harry thought he'd never heard anything that made him so happy. "But I have no idea how we're going to get him back."

- end chapter three -

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