Tuesday, August 5th, 2003 09:00 am
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.

04. Communication

Books littered every available surface, including some that were not, strictly speaking, available - or even surfaces. Remus knew he was going to have trouble finding his wand anytime soon, and he had a feeling that he'd accidentally buried the tortoise under six volumes of the Encyclopaedia Magica, but that tended to be a side-effect of any research he undertook. Sirius had always said that if they ever lost Moony, all they'd have to do was follow the trail of books.

Despite himself, he glanced for what felt like the hundredth time at the small mirror that they'd propped up against a candlestick. Sirius, it seemed, was still sitting next to him, peering at the book Remus had open on his lap. As he glanced away, reassured, Remus happened to catch Harry doing the same thing. Their eyes met briefly and they smiled at each other in the shared knowledge that, yes, it was real, Sirius was really there. Remus saw Harry's hand go to his pocket, checking that his own mirror (now intact) was still safe.

A flicker of movement caught his eye; Remus looked back at the mirror in time to see Sirius sitting back, an expression of boredom on his face. Seeing Remus looking at him, he raised his eyebrows questioningly. Remus shook his head; then, remembering that Sirius could hear him, said aloud, "Nothing yet."

Harry glanced up again, pushing his hair out of his eyes in a gesture so reminiscent of James that it gave Remus a peculiar sense of déjà vu. He hadn't intended to bring the boy back, but Harry had quickly made it clear that his mirror was going nowhere without him. And Remus had looked at him - at jaded jade eyes and stubborn set jaw - and decided that he had as much right to be involved in this as anyone.

Arabella Figg hadn't questioned him, of course: he was an Order member, after all. Probably no-one else had even cottoned on yet. When they did... well, he'd deal with that when he had to.

"Anything?" he asked now. Harry shook his head, eyes clouding. He gestured vaguely at the book.

"This one's half in Latin," he said.

Remus craned his head to see the title, then held out his hands.

"Here, I'll take it. You have mine."

They swapped. Harry looked around him at the piles of books and wondered aloud what the chances were of finding anything useful among them.

"It'll be easier as soon as we find something more definite to go on," Remus said, casting a practised eye over the page before him. It was, as Harry had said, in Latin: unfortunately it appeared to be extracts from an essay on the successful application of scouring charms to housework. "You're looking out for references to mirrors, and the veil?"

"Yeah..." Harry turned his eyes back to the page. Remus watched him, seeing the doubt creeping back onto his face, and sighed. He knew how he felt.

Movement. Sirius was trying to get his attention. He turned to the mirror. "Yes, Sirius?"

Sirius was making expansive gestures with his hands, talking quickly. Remus tried to follow what he was saying, but he couldn't make it out.

"Slow down," he suggested. Sirius rolled his eyes and appeared to start over, talking more slowly.

Remus watched closely, but was forced to admit defeat. "I don't know. I just can't follow you."

Harry had scooted over to be nearer to the mirror, watching his godfather's movements with less of an eye to understanding them and more of a desire to simply see Sirius again.

"It's a pity he can't write it down, or spell it out with his wand," Harry said thoughtfully, looking around as if seeking out writing materials.

"I don't think he can touch anything."

Harry sat back on his heels. "Muggles have something they use to talk to people who're deaf--"

Remus smiled faintly. "Sign language. I know, Harry. I've lived among Muggles for a large part of my life."

Harry glanced at him, startled. "I'm sorry, I didn't meant to sound--"

Remus shook his head, negating the need for an apology. "I know, and don't worry. I usually start sentences like that myself. It's amazing how ignorant most wizards are of the Muggle world."

Harry smiled briefly at him, which was something Remus hadn't seen for too long. He glanced over at Sirius; their eyes met for a second, and he saw a similar relief there.

"As it happens, wizards have something similar, although most of them use speaking spells these days." Remus closed the unhelpful book, set it aside, and selected another at random. "When we were in school we had the opportunity to learn it; Sirius, I seem to remember, felt his time would be better spent elsewhere."

Sirius glared at him. Remus raised one eyebrow unfazedly. Harry glanced between the two of them, grinned unexpectedly, and said, "Studying to become an Animagus, or just sneaking around under my dad's Invisibility Cloak?"

"A combination of the two, I think."

Sirius's glare became a wounded look. He raised his hands in what was obviously a bid for their attention.

Remus cocked his head slightly to one side. "Yes, Sirius?"

Sirius held up two fingers in an exaggerated fashion.

Remus and Harry stared at him, then looked at each other blankly.

"Is that rude in the wizarding world?" asked Harry curiously.

"Not as far as I'm aware, although I suppose it might have changed since I was, er, of a mind to pay attention to that sort of thing..." Remus blinked at Sirius, who was still impatiently holding up his two fingers. "Um. Two? Two what? Two people? Two worlds?"

"Two words," Harry said suddenly, and groaned when Sirius nodded excitedly. "I don't believe it..."

Remus shook his head. Only Sirius...

"Okay," he said resignedly. "Two words. First word...?"

Sirius shook his head and held up both fingers.

"Second word."

Sirius nodded and quickly laid two fingers against his arm.

"Two syllables."

They watched for a while.

"I have no idea," said Remus finally. Sirius waved his arms around some more. "Um... swimming?"

"Flying?" put in Harry.

"A bird?"

"A... a flying fish?"

Sirius stopped whatever he was doing and stared incredulously at Harry.

Harry shrugged defensively. "I don't know what he's trying to say."

Remus sighed. "I don't think this is going to work, Sirius," he said gently. Sirius, in the mirror, folded his arms crossly over his chest. "I was never very good at this game anyway."

Harry had picked up his book again and was absently leafing through it.

"It'd help if I knew what that veil does," he mumbled almost inaudibly.

Remus hesitated. He glanced at Sirius, who suddenly looked very alert. It was true that he knew more about the veil than either of them - but he'd always been reluctant to pass on the knowledge. It was... disquieting, to say the least. If he was totally honest with himself, it frightened him.

"You're right," he said at last. Harry's head jerked up, an expression of surprise on his face. Remus found it painful to see how little Harry trusted people to tell him things anymore. Not that he could blame him. He looked over at Sirius, who was leaning forward eagerly. "Alright, I'll tell you what I know about the Gateway. Which isn't much," he added warningly.

"Gateway?" Harry repeated. "You mean that arch?"

"Yes." Remus picked up another large tome absently, more for something to hold than anything else. He thought he saw an amused, affectionate smile flicker across Sirius's face. "It's known simply as the Gateway. If you asked Sirius here, he'd probably tell you that it's a passage to the land of the Dead, or that spirits occasionally come out of it."

Harry was intrigued. "And do they?"

"Not exactly." Remus pushed his hair back out of his eyes - longer now than when he'd been teaching, inconvenient while he was trying to explain something. "The Gateway is what is known as a manifestation."

"What does that mean?"

"That it is not... strictly speaking... real." Remus held up a hand to stop Harry from interrupting again. "Just listen, Harry." He thought he saw Sirius say something - and he was almost sure it involved the word 'professor' - but decided to ignore the mirror image. "The Gateway is not a made thing. Nobody set the stones of its arch; nobody hung the curtain across it. What you saw in the Death Chamber was more like a representation of something that your eyes cannot handle. It's not dissimilar to a Boggart taking on the shape you most fear."

Harry opened his mouth, hesitated, and looked questioningly at him. Remus nodded, and the boy said, "So other people might see it differently?"

Remus shook his head. "No... no, the Gateway is fixed. Its form was forced upon it by wizards long ago, who wished to study death."

"It's hard to put words around," he said after a moment's pause in which he gathered his thoughts, "but the Gateway is less like a physical boundary than a temporal one. It is... a moment in time, you could say. Specifically, the moment of death."

Harry shuddered.

"Thus, it should be impossible for anyone living to pass through the Gateway," Remus explained. "Or rather, it was always assumed to be impossible. You can imagine that no-one was particularly eager to find out."

"What... what is it used for?" Harry asked.

"Research," said Remus grimly. "I, for one, believe that some things are better left alone, but there are others who feel... differently. Many people want to know what lies beyond death. They think that by probing the boundary, of which the Gateway is just one manifestation, they might find a way to look beyond it. As far as I know, all they've discovered is that certain things come out of the gate."

"Such as?" prompted Harry, when Remus fell silent.

"... spirits," he said reluctantly. "Ghosts, sometimes: some people die and simply rise up as a ghost from where their body lies, but others seem to undertake a journey of sorts, and at the end of it they emerge from the Gateway. Sometimes voices can be heard on the other side; some wizards have spent hours, days, months in the Chamber, listening to what was being said, trying to make sense of it. Some of them have gone mad."

Harry looked uneasily at Sirius, who appeared equally uncomfortable. He kept glancing at the corners of the room, as if expecting something to crawl out of them.

"And Dementors," said Remus heavily.

"What?!"

"Dementors come from the Gateway, as far as we know," Remus said softly. "Or they did at one time. You see, Harry, before the first war with Voldemort, Dementors were all but unknown. They were legendary demons - bodiless creatures from old stories and half-forgotten nightmares. Then, sometime during Voldemort's rise to power, they began to emerge from the Gateway. They started a mass panic - the Ministry was almost abandoned. Fortunately, it was discovered that the Patronus Charm - which is a very ancient piece of guardian magic - could drive them back and even control them to a certain extent."

"Unfortunately, Voldemort was on hand to offer the Dementors certain... liberties that no sane wizard would allow them." Remus grimaced, trying to avoid the memory of Sirius at the mercy of those creatures. "Throughout the first war they continued to appear - sometimes with lesser or greater frequency - and I don't know if it was ever discovered whether Voldemort had created them deliberately, or if their appearance was merely coincidence. Whichever it was, after his defeat they stopped coming. Those that remained were rounded up by the Ministry and set to guard Azkaban. As yet, no-one has discovered a way to permanently destroy them."

A heavy silence had settled on the room. Sirius, in the mirror, was sitting very still, almost huddled in on himself. Remus ached to be able to put his arms around him and comfort him with simple warmth. He raised his hand hesitantly to touch the glass of the mirror; Sirius echoed the gesture a second later, and their reflections merged.

"So... now that Voldemort's back...?" Harry said finally, his green eyes rather wider than usual.

"We don't know." Remus let his hand drop away and turned back to his former pupil. "That's one of the many things the Order has been doing this year: trying to monitor whether or not the Gate has started producing Dementors. So far there's been nothing."

Harry's fists had clenched unconsciously in his lap. "You mean - if they destroyed the Gateway, no more could be created - and they haven't done it?"

Remus gestured vaguely with one hand. "They don't know. As I said, the Gateway is simply a representation of something much less comprehensible, and it's been around a lot longer than the Dementors. Destroying it might be futile, and then they'd have lost their opportunity to study it."

Harry looked intently at him for a moment. "You don't approve, do you."

Remus shook his head. He looked at Sirius again, and a wave of bitterness flooded him. It was years ago. Forget it.

"Preoccupation with death is one sure way to render one's life futile," he said very quietly. "You would think that Voldemort had more than taught us that lesson."

Silence.

Harry was staring at the floor, his fingers absently pulling on the faded carpet. Sirius was examining his hands, holding them out in front of him as if he thought they might disappear. Remus shivered involuntarily. Urgency swept over him. They had no idea how long Sirius might remain here. If there was a way back for him, it might be critical that they found it soon.

"Magic," said Harry suddenly. Remus looked at him questioningly. "That was the word he was trying to show us. He was waving a wand. Magic."

They looked at the mirror. Sirius was staring at Harry again, this time with an expression of pride. He nodded once.

"What made you realise?" asked Remus curiously.

"I was remembering the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort," Harry replied. Sirius looked startled, and started gesticulating violently. He stopped mid-wave when Harry turned to look at him. "Then what was the first word?"

Sirius made a rapid series of gestures that indicated the word was one syllable long. Then he imitated sleep.

"Sleep?" suggested Harry, just as Remus exclaimed sharply, "Dream!"

Harry turned to look at him as he dived across the room and hauled out a couple of books from a pile near the door.

"Dream magic! Oneiromancy - of course..." Remus passed the books over to Harry, before leaning over to grab some more from another pile behind him. "I should have realised. How stupid!" He glared at the book in his hands, full of self-reproach. "I even made the connection to conscious will, but I thought it meant that he'd had to be pushed through... but if we take 'conscious' literally then that stunning spell must have had something to do with it... And when I heard him earlier..."

"You heard him?" Harry asked, his books unopened on his lap. Although the question was clearly addressed to Remus, his eyes were fixed on the mirror. Remus glanced over just in time to catch Sirius looking away.

"I was half asleep," he said, answering the question automatically. "I think he... must have been talking to me for a long time. I couldn't hear him, but I was aware of his voice - it was like whispers in the next room."

"Like the voices behind the veil," Harry said softly.

"I didn't hear them," Remus said, silently filing away for later reference that Harry had. "But Sirius asked me to do something and I knew what he wanted, even though I hadn't heard the words. There is a connection between this state that Sirius is in, and the magic of dreams..."

Sirius was pointing. For a moment they couldn't work out what he was pointing at.

"Me?" asked Harry. "Professor Lupin?" He cast around. "Books? Floor? Wand? Er... robes? Shoes?"

Sirius leaned forward and tapped the mirror.

"The mirror?"

Sirius nodded.

"Dreams and mirrors," Remus murmured to himself. "Dreams and mirrors. What do I know about dreams and mirrors? There's something... something... dreams and mirrors and forbidden magic..."

"Professor Lupin!" Harry exclaimed, his tone sharp with alarm. "Look!"

In the mirror, Sirius had turned away. He was staring beyond them - behind them - staring at the walls like a hunted man. He leapt to his feet and took a step backwards, between Harry and Remus. His face, when he glanced around, was contorted with fear.

"Sirius, what is it?" Remus demanded. "Sirius!"

Sirius backed up some more. They could barely see past him in the mirror, but they could catch glimpses...

"Darkness - why's it so dark?" Harry's voice was strained. "The shadows are moving--"

Sirius threw his hands up above his face as if warding off something that neither of them could see. Remus suddenly knew that he was shouting, yelling at the top of a voice that no-one could hear.

"He needs help!" cried Harry desperately. Remus jumped to his feet and cast around frantically for his wand.

"Get your wand out!" he commanded Harry. "Try a shield! Try anything!"

Where was his wand, where was his wand?

Beside him Harry conjured a glimmering shield, but one glance in the mirror showed darkness and Sirius still cowering. The posture reminded Remus of something - something he hadn't seen himself, had only heard described later...

He needed his wand now. He whipped round, throwing a pile of books to the floor, seeking for the tiniest glimpse of polished wood. There was no time...

"Accio wand!" he shouted in desperation.

Remus felt as though he'd been kicked in the stomach - there was a reason that wandless magic was commonly thought impossible - but against all odds his wand was in his hand, and suddenly the memory clicked. By the lake, the Dementors advancing, Harry said he'd seen him from across the water, arms above his head...


"Expecto Patronum!"


The bright silver of his Patronus shot out from the end of his wand. A second later he heard Harry echo the charm, sending the ghostly image of Prongs charging out into Remus's peaceful-looking sitting room. For a heartbeat, Remus thought that their Patronuses would simply circle in puzzlement, but it seemed that the sparkling protectors could see something their casters couldn't. The stag took up station beside the mirror (and, presumably, Sirius), tossing his antlers at some invisible foe; his own Patronus flew on silver wings around the perimeter of the room, hovering and diving upon unseen prey.

Remus's flickered out before Harry's, as his reckless use of magic finally took its toll. He collapsed to hands and knees, almost unable to breathe for a few seconds. He heard Harry's cry of alarm, and then the silver shimmer that was the ghost of Prongs faded from his view, and Harry was kneeling by his side.

"Professor? Professor Lupin! Are you alright?"

"Don't..." Remus managed to gasp. His head was spinning. "Sirius?"

He heard Harry swivel on the spot to look at the mirror.

"He's fine, he's right beside you..." Harry was there again, hovering uncertainly. "What happened? How did you use the summoning charm without your wand?"

"It takes... practice..." Remus said. "I'll explain the theory... some other time. It drains you..."

He took a deep breath and managed to push himself into a sitting position. Harry, who looked very pale, shakily shoved his hair out of his eyes and adjusted his glasses.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

Remus nodded. He propped his elbows on his knees and cradled his aching head in his hands. Harry appeared to be leaning toward the mirror, watching it intently.

"I think... Sirius says you need food?"

"Yes - chocolate would be best, but anything..."

Harry was gone, grabbing the mirror as he went. Remus heard him ask Sirius a question, then the banging of one or two cupboards. Then Harry was back, handing him a large bar of chocolate. Remus took it gratefully, snapping a good sized piece off and passing it back to Harry before he took a bite himself. After a few moments the dreadful, hollow feeling of overspent energy receded a little, although his head was still excruciatingly painful.

Harry was fiddling with his own chocolate, watching Remus anxiously. Remus smiled faintly, reminded of the first time he'd seen James's son fully grown.

"You should eat that," he said gently. "If your Patronus used anything like as much power as mine, you'll need it. And it isn't poisoned, you know."

Harry blinked, and then surprised him by actually laughing. Obviously he remembered their first meeting, too. He obeyed, taking a bite out of the sweet confectionary and chewing thoughtfully.

"What was yours?" he asked after he'd swallowed. "Your Patronus, I mean."

Remus looked around for the mirror, which was no longer there; Harry quickly picked it up from the floor and handed it over. Sirius was kneeling as close to Remus as he could get without actually overlapping, looking deeply concerned and shaken.

"I'm okay," Remus said to Sirius, who nodded once, but didn't move away. To Harry, he said, "It was a kestrel - a sort of small hawk. They generally live on moors and heaths. I used to see them a lot when I was a child. I always liked watching them."

Harry nodded. In the mirror, Sirius raised a hand and mimed touching Remus's cheek. Remus closed his eyes for a second, wishing that he could feel it, and wishing even harder that Sirius was there to hold him upright and find him something to reduce the pain in his head. As he had done after Remus's transformations dozens of times. As he would do in a heartbeat, if it were within his power.

"What... what happened?" asked Harry, sounding very lost.

Remus sighed and opened his eyes. "I don't know. Something... attacked Sirius, I think." He looked at his friend for confirmation; Sirius nodded urgently. "The Patronuses drove it off, though."

"Dementors?" asked Harry darkly.

"Not quite." Remus shivered. "Something else." His eyes strayed to the book he'd been about to open before the shadows had come. "Something to do with dream magic, and mirrors, and the Gateway."

There was a loud crack - the sound of someone Apparating. Remus quickly sat upright, despite the pain, and raised his wand. Beside him, Harry scrambled to his feet.

"Well, well," came a cool voice from the doorway. "It would seem that your hearing last summer has taught you nothing, Potter. Still throwing your Patronus around at every opportunity?"

Remus sighed and tried to get to his feet. Harry quickly turned, breaking off the furious glare he'd been directing at the door, and offered him a hand up.

"Severus," Remus said dryly. "You're working for the Improper Use of Magic Office now, I take it?"

Severus Snape glided through the doorway like a malevolent crow. His disdainful gaze took in the books scattered around the room - and, no doubt, the threadbare carpet and worn furniture - before snapping back to Remus.

"I doubt they've even noticed," Snape said. "They are somewhat... preoccupied... with less trivial concerns." He glanced once at Harry. "I, however, had very specific instructions to monitor Potter's use of magic after we discovered that you had... removed him earlier today."

The last statement had the note of a smug accusation. Remus was aware of how he must look - barely able to stand, shaken and pale, while Harry was glaring at the Potions Master as if he hoped to set Snape's robes on fire with his gaze alone. Remus knew that Snape had expressed 'concerns' over his ability to function in the Order after recent... events. He knew that Snape would relish the opportunity to prove himself right.

And yet, he had suddenly realised that the solution to their problem might have just walked through the door.

- end chapter four -




BONUS: "Out-takes" from this chapter, provided by [livejournal.com profile] sudaki, who had far too much fun with the charades thing... ^_~


"Two syllables... first syllable... book? Reading?"
"Sirius, if you're making fun of me I'll put your mirror in the underwear drawer again."
"He shook his head. Reading... reading a book... no... recipies? magazine?"
"Sounds like magazine. ... Fragazine? You aren't making sense."
"... That was rude, I'm pretty sure."


"Er... two words... first word... one syllable. Me?"
"Lupin. Remus Lupin. Uh, werewolf."
"Now Harry? What the... oh... you?"
"You! Second word... one syllable... inhale?"
"Drink?"
"Straw? Drinking with a straw?"
"Slurp... suck! 'You suck'! .... HEY!"


"I think... Sirius says you need food?"
"Yes - chocolate would be best, but anything..."
"Hang on. He says... I think he says that's very fattening, and maybe you should have some salad and a protein shake."
"Stuff it."


"Sirius, stop making that face. What is it? Snape... Snape's mom is a... Sirius, shut up!"