Tuesday, August 5th, 2003 12:00 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.

05. A Lack of Open Hostility

Harry wished, not for the first time, that Snape would simply shrivel up and die on the spot. Lupin had spoken as calmly as ever, but Harry could see what an effort it was for him even to stand up.

When Lupin had collapsed, his Patronus fading into a few wisps of silvery smoke, Harry had been, for a second, so afraid that he hadn't been able to move. Not him, not him too, had flashed across the forefront of his mind. Lupin had been more distant than Sirius - first as Harry's teacher, then this year as a member of the Order - but Harry had always been aware of a certain affection that Lupin didn't seem to know how to express.

He often found himself wishing that he'd found out sooner about Lupin's friendship with his father, so that he could have asked more questions; although Sirius was always willing to talk about James, Harry had the impression that for him it was, still, almost too raw to bear. Sirius had been unable to move on, trapped in the past; Lupin had had twelve years to lay his demons to rest, and Harry would have liked to ask him about his father's schooldays.

Just for a second, with Sirius's safety still in doubt, as he'd rushed to Lupin's side, he'd felt as if he was about to lose the last of his family.

"Would you care to enlighten us as to what was so very urgent," Snape was saying, his tone acidic, "as to warrant Potter's removal from the protections so laboriously erected around him?"

Harry opened his mouth to leap to his former teacher's defence, but then Lupin suddenly swayed on his feet, his eyes flickering closed. Harry grabbed his arm to steady him and, ignoring Snape completely, helped him over to the cluttered sofa. He hesitated, trying to find a space among all the books, and then to his surprise Snape was there. The hook-nosed man tipped a pile of books onto the floor, disregarding Lupin's protest, and watched with narrowed eyes as Harry helped him to sit down.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Harry asked worriedly.

Snape was still regarding them both intently; now he said, "Are you ill, Lupin?"

His voice expressed no particular concern, but it had shed its taunting edge. The subtlety was lost on Harry, who snapped, "What does it look like?"

"Harry," said Lupin mildly, and Harry subsided, scowling. Lupin raised a hand wearily to press against his closed eyes, and added, for Snape's benefit, "I was forced to use magic without my wand."

Snape scowled. He reached over, lifted Lupin's wrist - between thumb and forefinger, as if it were something unpleasant - and made a disgusted sound about whatever he discovered.

"You should have taken a restorative, at least," he said critically, and left the room without further comment. Harry heard clattering sounds and some of the cupboards being opened.

He muttered something uncomplimentary about Snape, which unfortunately Lupin caught.

"I know you have little reason to like Severus, Harry," Lupin said very quietly without opening his eyes, "but he deserves your respect, at least."

"It's his fault that Sirius--" Harry began, not troubling to keep his voice down.

"As a matter of fact," sneered Snape from the doorway, "I rather believe it was a combination of your folly and Black's. Lupin, do you even have the ingredients for a simple Invigorating Draught?"

"There are at least two ready-made in the cabinet by the sink, I bought them last week," Lupin said, raising his hand toward Harry in a warning gesture.

Snape snorted his opinion on commercially brewed potions, and Lupin sighed. "I think there's some willow bark in the rack on the counter, and the rest is usually growing in the herb patch outside the back door."

Snape disappeared. Harry waited until he heard the outside door open and close again before he said fiercely, "It is his fault."

"Is it?"

Harry stared at Lupin, feeling like he'd just been kicked. Yes, he blamed himself for rushing to the Ministry and leading Sirius into jeopardy; yes, he'd wondered if Lupin blamed him for it too - but he'd never expected him to come right out and say it. It was like having icy water poured over him.

Lupin opened his eyes, frowning at Harry's sudden silence. He took one look at Harry's face and sat quickly upright, reaching out to touch his shoulder lightly.

"That wasn't what I meant."

Harry looked at him mutely. Lupin sighed.

"You could blame half a dozen of us for what happened," he said quietly. "Severus could have found a way to reassure you, yes, and you could have studied Occlumency with more dedication. But Dumbledore should have told you more than he did. Molly shouldn't have kept insisting that you were better off not knowing. And I should have had the courage to question the decision, when I believed that it was wrong."

Harry had never heard Lupin criticise Dumbledore - and oddly, he found it reassuring. He had begun to feel a certain bitterness that everyone else still found no fault in the Headmaster's actions, and an accompanying sense of guilt because he knew, deep down, that by and large Dumbledore had made the right choices. Lupin acknowledging the shared guilt made it seem less like the end of the world and more like a simple, human error.

Lupin was still watching him silently.

"I have not forgotten," he said in a very low tone, although Snape had not re-entered the house, "that Severus would have handed both Sirius and myself over to the Dementors without hesitation. I have not forgotten his attempts to get me expelled from Hogwarts, nor that he drove me out of the only job I ever really wanted. I am not unaware of how he has treated you. But he is on the right side, Harry, our side - and he has learned the hard way the difference between right and easy."

Harry cast about for a counter-argument, and found he had none. He felt the slightest beginnings of shame - not for hating Snape, but for letting it get in the way of more important things. Lupin, as he had so gently been reminded, had even more reason to hate Snape than Harry did - and yet he could still speak politely to the man and accept his assistance without resentment.

Left without any real desire to continue the conversation, Harry sat back on the sofa and stared at the window across the room. The sky, which had been grey when he'd arrived, had now lightened to allow hints of blue to pierce the cloud cover. He heard the back door slam, and then the sound of water boiling.

"What are we going to tell him?" he asked, feeling for a moment as if Lupin were Ron, and they were trying to avoid detention.

"The truth, I think," said Lupin slowly.

Harry turned back to stare at him incredulously. "He'll think we're both mad. He'll say it's - it's grief or something - you know he will."

Lupin had sunk back into the sofa again. He looked like he was having difficulty staying awake. "I can convince him to listen."

Whatever Harry might have said in response was cut off by Snape's return. The Potions Master crossed the room with as much poise as one can muster when most of the floor is covered in books, and handed Lupin a chipped tea cup full of a steaming, translucent golden liquid.

"Thank you," Lupin said. He sipped from the cup and grimaced. "Although, a little sugar..."

Snape glared at him. "How you molest your tea-leaves is your own concern; my potions are another matter entirely, and I will not risk the delicate balance of--"

"I know, Severus," said Lupin, with what Harry almost thought was a gleam of amusement. It suddenly occurred to him that there were more subtle ways of baiting Snape. "Thank you."

Snape turned away and raised his wand. A few seconds later the majority of the books had been sorted into piles. Harry thought he spotted a relieved-looking tortoise edging away behind an armchair. Lupin, whose colour was already better, pulled a face.

"That was a carefully organised filing system," he commented with an air of resignation.

"Of course." Snape put his wand away and turned back to look intently at them both. "Now. Just why were you attempting wandless magic in the first place, Lupin? Giving Potter some extra lessons? I can only assume that they are totally unauthorised, if so..."

Harry bristled. Unauthorised? It made him sound like someone's property. This time, however, Lupin didn't even have to glance at him; he forced back the angry words that rose in his throat and instead concentrated on Sirius. Sirius! He hadn't even thought about his godfather since Snape had arrived! He stuck his hand in his pocket and touched cool glass.

Lupin set aside the empty cup and rose from his seat. Harry quickly jumped off the sofa too, vaguely thinking that they should present a united front. Lupin, however, didn't speak, but pulled the mirror out of his pocket. He looked into it, smiled faintly and said aloud, "Would you mind standing behind Severus for a moment?" His mouth twitched, as though he were suppressing laughter. "Yes, I thought so, just try to behave, please?

Lupin held out the mirror to Snape, who took it as if he expected it to explode. Harry held back an urge to snatch it away.

"I have my own, thank you," Snape said snidely, after a quick glance at the mirror. "Whom did you wish me to contact?"

"Just raise it and look, Severus," Lupin said mildly. Snape eyed him distrustfully, then did as he'd been bidden. "I see nothing but--" He jerked violently and spun round, his free hand going for his wand. Harry watched as shock, suspicion and what looked almost like fear flashed across his face. He raised the mirror again. Presumably Sirius must have moved around behind him, as Snape's expression darkened and drew into the beginnings of a sneer. Finally, he looked up at Lupin.

"You've enchanted it to show your lost love?" he asked sarcastically.

Just for a second, Lupin's control cracked. The look on his face made Harry so furiously angry that he didn't even register the words, only that Snape was not going to stand there and say things like that to Professor Lupin, ever. He pulled out his wand. Then, as his brain started to catch up - wait, his lost what? - Lupin regained his composure, firmly caught hold of Harry's arm and forced it back to his side, and crossed the room to stand right beside Snape.

"No," he said simply, and tilted his head to look into the mirror. He frowned. "Sirius, stop that." Harry wondered what his godfather was doing. Undoubtedly something that Harry would like to cheer on. "Harry, would you mind bringing your mirror over here, too?"

Harry reluctantly obeyed. Lupin held up the mirror away from Snape. Harry sidled over so that he could peer over Lupin's arm, and saw his godfather step into view. Sirius was shooting murderous looks at Snape, who was glancing from one mirror to the other.

"What is this?" Snape asked finally. His voice verged on contemptuous, and Harry saw Sirius flip what definitely was a rude gesture in Snape's direction. Lupin hastily handed Harry's mirror back, and took his own from Snape.

"It may take a while to explain," he said, indicating that they should sit down.

Harry half-listened as Lupin told Snape what they knew and what had happened just before his arrival. He fiddled with his own mirror, tilting it to try and find Sirius. He eventually pinpointed his godfather leaning over the back of the sofa behind Lupin, glowering bad-temperedly at Snape.

Harry watched in the mirror as Sirius made a sudden movement to touch Lupin (Snape had said something unflattering about the latter's sanity) that ended in him drawing back his hands with a look of frustration. Harry had seen him make countless such attempts over the course of the afternoon - just as he'd noticed the way Lupin's glances at the mirror were tinged with something unfathomable. And then there had been that moment - right before the attack, when Lupin had hit on something about dreams - when Harry had happened to be looking at Sirius, who in turn had been staring at Lupin with a burning admiration in his eyes. And something... else.

You've enchanted it to show your lost love?

Why that particular taunt? Was it the same as when Dudley had asked if Cedric was his boyfriend? Or did it mean something entirely different?

"You're saying that you want me to participate in a... a séance?" Snape demanded loudly, breaking into Harry's thoughts.

"Your skill in Legilimency--"

"I wouldn't touch Black's thoughts with a Nimbus 2000!"

"It might be the only way to bring him back."

"Back? Back! He fell through the veil, Lupin! You know what that means!"

Lupin swiped his hair back out of his eyes impatiently. "Haven't you heard what I've been telling you, Severus? He isn't dead."

"He is not alive," spat Snape. "Tell me where the difference lies."

Lupin opened his mouth to speak and stopped suddenly. He looked at Snape with narrowed eyes. "You know something."

Snape shot to his feet, turning away angrily. "I know nothing, except that a grieving werewolf should not be in custody of an underage wizard. Potter, we will be returning to your relations' house immediately."

"I'm not going anywhere."

Snape turned to give him a particularly poisonous look, but then Lupin was on his feet, holding out the mirror to Snape.

"All you have to do is link with him for a moment, if you can," he said evenly.

"You're forgetting one very important point," hissed Snape, taking a step toward Lupin so that they were face to face. Lupin didn't so much as twitch, and Harry realised for the first time that Lupin was the taller of the two. Somehow he'd never noticed; Lupin was probably as tall as Sirius, but he just didn't seem to take up so much space.

"Which is?" Lupin queried.

"You're assuming that I want to restore your precious Black to you. I don't. Not that I'm convinced it's even possible." Snape's voice had dropped to a low, vindictive snarl. "He deserved everything he got and I am more than glad to know that he will linger in the space between for the rest of eternity. It has a certain irony, don't you think? He did so love being the centre of attention..."

"How dare--" Harry started to yell, but Lupin overrode him.

"I see." He glanced at Harry, who bit his tongue so hard he tasted blood. He knew that look. It had been in Lupin's eyes the time he'd covered for Harry back in his third year. It said, Don't interrupt, I know what I'm doing.

Lupin turned away, weighing his mirror absently in his hand. "It doesn't surprise me," he said quite calmly. "He would have felt the same about you, and it was always... ironic..." Lupin nodded absently in Snape's direction, acknowledging that he was echoing the latter's word choice, "how similar you were."

Harry stared at him. Snape, caught off guard, said, "What?"

Lupin continued quietly, as if to himself. "He'd never have wished death on you- not even when he sent you into the Willow - but he wouldn't want to help bring you back. He never really forgave you for fifth year, you know." Lupin's eyes were on the mirror, apparently oblivious to the two listening. "Even if he could just reach over and do it, he wouldn't, and he certainly wouldn't let me attempt anything with any risk attached... too dangerous, he'd say, for too little gain... no, it doesn't really surprise me. You always did think like him."

"You dare," Snape breathed in tones of low, malevolent outrage, "compare me to him?"

"Of course," Lupin said coolly, finally looking up from the mirror. "I've long held the opinion that you hated each other so much because you saw yourselves reflected whenever you came face to face."

His eyes flickered to Harry for a second. Harry realised then that Lupin wasn't telling the whole truth: not about his godfather's probable reaction were their situations reversed, not about Snape's similarity to Sirius. But there was just enough truth mixed in to make what he was saying plausible. Harry frowned. What was Lupin trying to do?

Harry happened to glance into his own mirror; Sirius, who was now standing behind him, looked almost as outraged as Snape. Suddenly he thought he understood. Snape was proud, and Snape really hated Sirius, and angry people were easier to manipulate.

"And then, we have no idea of what bringing Sirius back may entail, but I can guarantee it'll be no cakewalk," Lupin was saying. "I'm sure even Sirius would have been afraid to try it."

Snape strode forward, and Harry thought for a moment he was going to hit Lupin.

"I am not afraid! And what you do with your own life is nothing to me! Black and I have nothing in common - nothing! Where was that arrogant, self-centred bastard while I was risking my life for the Order? Skulking in the dark!"

Snape turned away, cloak billowing. Harry saw that Lupin's fists were clenched, his mask of calm wavering.

Harry willed away his desire to shout at Snape - if Professor Lupin can do it, so can I - and said off-handedly to Lupin, "Can we give up on this yet? It's worse than arguing with Sirius."

Snape rounded on him; Lupin regained control of himself and flashed Harry a look of gratitude.

"I am NOTHING like Black!"

Lupin quirked an eyebrow in polite disbelief. Harry did his best to look sceptical.

"Give me that mirror!"

Lupin held out the mirror calmly; Snape all but snatched it from his grasp.

"Black, step into the reflection," he snarled. Sirius scowled, but disappeared from Harry's view. He tilted the mirror to follow his godfather across the room. "I take it you heard what your dear Lupin has been saying about you?" Harry thought he saw Sirius shrug.

Snape raised his wand and pointed it - not at the place where Sirius was standing, but at his reflection in the mirror. "Legilimens!"

There was silence. Harry watched, his gaze flicking between Snape's face and Sirius's reflection. He remembered how unpleasant it had been to have Snape rifling through his memories, and pitied his godfather. Lupin stepped up quietly beside him, also glancing between the mirror and Snape.

"Concentrate on what happened after you fell through the veil, idiot," Snape ordered scathingly. Sirius swore (Harry saw Lupin wince, and decided not to admit that he'd recognised the word). Snape's lips turned upwards just slightly. Then his expression darkened and twisted. Finally a grim, satisfied smile spread over his face. He lowered his wand, and then the mirror.

"It has occurred to me that having Black in my debt for the rest of his miserable life would be even more enjoyable than knowing he was trapped between the worlds," he said, but his voice lacked the usual bite. He looked rather like he'd learned something that worried him. "Potter, give me that mirror."

Harry instinctively clutched his mirror to his chest. Lupin laid a hand on his shoulder.

"What are you going to do with it?" Harry asked.

Snape sneered at him. "Show you a trick."

Harry didn't want to do it. He waited for Lupin to tell him to hand over the mirror, but the other remained silent. Only the gentle pressure of his hand on Harry's shoulder indicated that he was even there.

Finally, Harry realised that Lupin wasn't going to force his decision. Strangely, that made it easier. He held out the mirror to Snape, who took it, without so much as a thank you, and turned away.

"Well done," murmured Lupin.

He didn't remove his hand, and Harry was glad of the simple contact as he watched Snape stalk over to a free-standing lamp and glare at it as if it offended him. Snape pulled out his wand and levitated the lamp several feet to one side; he then fixed one of the mirrors to the wall with a charm. Then, stepping back, he muttered a quick, "Wingardium leviosa," and sent the second mirror to hover in midair, directly opposite the first.

"Black, step between the mirrors," Snape said icily.

There was a pause. Then - for a second - Harry saw something in the air between the two small squares of glass. It was like a three-dimensional shadow, only white and translucent and... well, not much like a shadow after all. It was not, as he'd half-expected, his godfather's face: it was more like a flow of water or light from one mirror to the other...

Snape flicked his wand, sending the hovering mirror unexpectedly to Harry's hands. Harry almost fumbled the catch out of sheer surprise, and Lupin made a grab for it before he saw that Harry had it secure.

Snape was looking intently at the mirror still attached to the wall, tapping his wand idly against the palm of his other hand.

"This situation is not unprecedented," he said softly, and again there was that note of almost-worry in his voice. "I believe that there are a number of books in my possession which might assist you."

Snape abruptly raised his wand, and Harry realised he was preparing to Disapparate.

"Where are you going?" he demanded.

Snape looked at him coldly. "My books, Potter, sadly do not convey themselves. I am going to fetch them."

Lupin said, quietly, "Thank you, Severus."

Snape glared at him, Lupin held his gaze, and Snape looked away and Disapparated. And Harry suddenly realised that the Potions Master knew he'd been manipulated. But he was helping anyway. Harry frowned. He didn't understand. He watched Lupin cross the room and take down the other mirror with a flick of his wand.

"Alright, Harry?" he asked unexpectedly. Harry shook himself, and moved to sit down on the sofa. Lupin was looking at him quizzically.

"It's just..." he hesitated, then it all came out in a rush, "what you were saying earlier, about him and Sirius..."

Lupin glanced into the mirror. Whatever he saw there brought a look to his face that Harry felt sure he'd not been meant to see. He looked away hastily, torn between wanting to know what his godfather was doing and not wanting to intrude.

A moment later, Lupin came and sat beside him on the sofa. "What about it?"

Harry fidgeted with his own mirror. Sirius's head suddenly appeared in it, upside-down; his godfather pulled a face and winked. Harry smiled despite himself.

"You made him have to help us," he said finally. "But he knew what you were doing, I know he did. He's not... stupid."

Harry realised he had just inadvertently complimented Snape, and grimaced, but Lupin appeared not to have noticed. He was smiling tiredly.

"Pride, Harry, is a very strange thing." Lupin's smile became a bit more genuine. "You'll notice I wasn't... entirely lying when I said that Sirius and Snape have a lot in common."

In the mirror, Sirius turned a very deliberate, unimpressed look on Lupin.

"By letting me manipulate him into helping," Lupin continued, "he could square it with his pride and the... dislike... that has always lain between him and Sirius."

Harry tried to look like he understood this, although he didn't, really. He remembered something else. "What did happen in your fifth year?"

Lupin's expression darkened. "Too many things, few of them good."

Well, there ends that line of conversation, Harry thought, slightly disappointed. He'd been half-hoping for a tale of his father's exploits at school.

"Another time," Lupin said quietly, and Harry looked up in surprise. Lupin was watching him with silent understanding. "When Sirius can help me remember."

There was a loud crack! and Snape reappeared in the middle of the room. A large number of books were piled in his arms.

"These will do to start with," he said as Lupin jumped to his feet to help. "Some of the others might have been more help, but they were less... pleasant reading."

Lupin was nodding. And Harry, with a sinking feeling, realised that most of the books were marked with the symbols of the Dark Arts.

- end chapter five -


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