Friday, August 8th, 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.

09. Regardless of Warnings

The waiting had been even worse than Harry had imagined.

The others in the room had finally fallen silent when he'd used his Patronus; since then, no-one had tried to ask him any questions. He'd lost sight of Remus in the mirrors. He'd moved around so that the circle was behind him, the arch before him. All there was left to do was watch the veil and wait.

And wait.

And wait...

The circle flared so brightly that it must have blinded the others - he heard their exclamations - and its harsh light cast the archway into sharp relief. For a split second Harry thought he could see a white, bright world of mirrors stretching out behind - behind Remus, as he stepped out, behind Sirius, as his godfather rushed forward.

The light died so suddenly that the Death Chamber seemed dark. Harry had to blink hard several times to see again, and by the time he did so, Sirius had torn off Remus's blindfold and the two were embracing.

Behind him, Harry heard Tonks make a small noise not unlike a choked-off sob. Moody swore loudly. Snape gave an involuntary hiss between his teeth. Harry heard no sound from Dumbledore.

Then Sirius was swinging around, one arm still around Remus - whose face Harry saw was white and wet with tears - as he cast around like a dog after a scent.


Harry wanted to say something, but he couldn't seem to speak. His throat had closed up and his eyes were prickling dangerously. That was stupid, he thought. Sirius was here - Sirius was alive - there was no need to cry - right?

But speech didn't seem all that necessary a second later, because Sirius had hauled him into a bone-cracking hug and Harry found, to his considerable annoyance, that he was going to cry anyway regardless of how stupid it was. He wondered fleetingly if his father had ever cried, and if Sirius had supported him then.

"I'm sorry," he blurted out, ridiculously glad that his face was being crushed against Sirius's shoulder. "I'm sorry. About everything. I should've worked harder at Occlumency. I should've used the mirror to check you were okay. I should've--"

"No." Sirius's voice was unusually shaky. "Not your fault. I should've told you the truth, and I shouldn't've let Snape get to me, and I should've been more careful..."

There was a moment's silence before Harry, feeling he could lift his head without shaming himself, stepped back a way and grinned shakily at Sirius. "I'm so glad you're okay."

Sirius grinned back, and Harry saw, as he sometimes did, the flash of that boy who'd been his father's best friend and the handsomest student in the school. The thought reminded him to glance sideways; Remus was watching them, still standing a few paces from the veil, smiling. His eyes met Harry's for a second and Harry suddenly felt less embarrassed about his tears.

Then Remus frowned, no longer looking at either Harry or Sirius, but past them. Harry turned to follow his gaze. Dumbledore and the others were hovering a few paces away, watching with looks ranging from shocked (Tonks) to thoughtful (Moody) to furious (Snape, of course), but Remus didn't appear to be looking at them.

"Remus?" asked Sirius from behind Harry, concern in his voice.

"Who are they?"

Harry and Sirius exchanged confused looks.

"Who, Remus?" Dumbledore replied softly.

Remus blinked and looked sharply around the room, shaking his head as if trying to clear his sight. "There were--"

Remus stopped. Sirius quickly walked over to him, Harry hard on his heels. Sirius reached out to touch the other man's arm, slinging an arm protectively around Harry's shoulders at the same time.

"Are you okay, Remus?" Tonks asked worriedly.

"There were people sitting on the tiers of seats," Remus replied, sounding unsettled. "Hundreds and hundreds of them, in robes and hoods..."

"Can you see them now?" asked Dumbledore. His voice was as quiet and calm as always, but Harry saw that his eyes were intent on Remus.

"No." Remus shook his head one last time, casting an almost apologetic glance at Sirius. He straightened himself slightly, looking at the four on the other side of the circle with a hint of defiance. "I take it you know what I did."

"We," Harry corrected loudly. Remus wasn't going to cover up for him this time. He felt Sirius's hand tighten on his shoulder in approval.

"We," echoed Remus, with a hint of a smile.

"Yes," said Dumbledore mildly. "Severus has - ah - informed me of the details."

Harry heard Sirius snort softly. He glanced over at Snape, who looked utterly livid, and suspected the 'information' had been more along the lines of a lengthy tirade.

There was a brief, awkward silence. Harry found himself bracing for a conflict. Once he would have expected praise from Dumbledore, but now - he couldn't help wondering if they would receive condemnation. He couldn't forget some of the things the Headmaster had said about Sirius. He couldn't help the raw, rebellious feeling that they were no longer on the same side.

From the way Sirius had tensed at his side, and the way Remus had lifted his head in challenge, he wasn't the only one.

Dumbledore looked at them. For a moment he looked sad - then, slowly, a smile bloomed on his old, crinkled face.

"Sirius," he said, walking forward and holding out his hands, "welcome back."

Sirius hesitated only for a moment before disentangling himself from Remus and Harry, and gripping Dumbledore's hands firmly in his own. Something seemed to pass between them that Harry was not privy to - some understanding or memory - because suddenly Sirius was grinning, and Remus had relaxed almost imperceptibly, and Harry no longer felt that he should be reaching for his wand.

Then Tonks had rushed forward to hug Sirius, Moody was stumping over to berate Remus for going off without backup, and Snape was pointedly staying as far back as he could without actually leaving the room. Dumbledore caught Harry's eye and held it. Then he turned his head to regard the others - Sirius had pried Tonks off him, only to watch in some amusement as she subjected Remus to similar attention - and cleared his throat softly.

The beginnings of conversation died away.

"I am afraid we will have to delay the inevitable questions for the moment." Dumbledore glanced once at the door. "It is imperative that we leave without you being seen, Sirius."

Sirius's face darkened. "More hiding?"

Dumbledore shook his head, looking now both tired and old. "No, Sirius. No, even I may learn from my mistakes, if you will believe it. But the Ministry knows of your supposed 'death', and should they discover that you had returned from beyond the veil..."

"... the Department of Mysteries wouldn't let you go," Remus murmured.

Dumbledore nodded. "It would be easier if you could assume your Animagus form."

Sirius shrugged. "Alright. Then what?"

"We will travel by Floo to Hogwarts; the fireplaces are no longer being watched by the Ministry."

Sirius stepped back from Harry and Remus. There was a long pause. Sirius's expression changed from casual indifference to surprise, and then to fear.

"I-- I can't do it," he said finally.

They stared at him.

"Maybe you're just out of practice--"

Sirius shook his head. "It's not something you forget, Harry. I can't do it. It's... it's gone."

Remus was by his side in a second; he didn't throw his arms around him, Harry noticed, he was just there, taking Sirius's hand, supporting him in a way that went beyond mere physical contact. "Try again."

Sirius closed his eyes this time. There was a longer pause. His fingers tightened on Remus's. Then he growled in frustration.

"I can't."

When he opened his eyes they held a lost look. Harry stood helplessly wishing he could do something. For as long as he'd known his godfather, the big, black, shaggy dog had been a part of him. The idea of Sirius without Padfoot was unthinkable.

"It's probably temporary--" Remus was murmuring, although he didn't sound sure enough for reassurance.

"Undoubtedly," Dumbledore said. Sirius looked at him with the beginnings of hope in his eyes. "It is likely a side-effect of losing and regaining corporeal form." Harry fleetingly wished Hermione was present to translate. "The ability may return with time, or you may need to relearn it - a feat not beyond the grasp of one who achieved it at fifteen."

Sirius appeared unconvinced, but he nodded anyway.

"We must remove the evidence of what you have done here," Dumbledore continued briskly. "The circle, the mirrors - where on earth did you find a pair of silver mirrors at this time of night, Remus?" The Headmaster's eyes where twinkling.

Remus did not respond, however, and Harry turned to look at his former teacher in confusion. He was staring across the room at the tiered seats surrounding them.

"Remus?" Sirius echoed. Harry noticed that he was still holding Remus's hand, but the latter didn't seem to be aware of it. "Remus, are you okay?"

Remus shivered and dragged his gaze away from whatever he had been looking at. "I--"

His eyes widened and a flash of pure fear crossed his face.

"Remus?" Harry tried not to sound as worried as he felt.

Remus looked at him for half a second, as if he was going to answer. Then, as suddenly as a winter sunset, he collapsed.

Sirius just about caught him, but the unexpected weight threw him off balance and they both fell. Harry jumped forward, too late to do anything but drop to his knees beside Sirius, who struggled to sit up with Remus in his arms.

"What happened?" Harry asked frantically.

"I don't know." Sirius was lifting Remus carefully, checking the other man's breathing. "He just - I don't know what happened." He sounded as panicky as Harry felt.

Harry was aware of Dumbledore beside him, quietly suggesting that he move back, but all he could take in was how very pale Remus's face was, and how exhausted he looked. "I shouldn't have let him go in there..." he mumbled helplessly.

Sirius shook the unconscious man once. "Moony, snap out of it!"

Remus didn't stir. Dumbledore was giving orders in a sharp, clear tone that he rarely used, and Tonks and Moody were hurrying to obey them. Harry fumbled in his pocket and pulled out Remus's wand.

"What about this, will it help?"

Sirius took the wand without looking at it, obviously not really paying attention. "Come on, Remus, you've never been the fainting type..."

"For Merlin's sake, Black," came Snape's voice, suddenly close, as he knelt stiffly beside them, "I doubt your voice alone is enough to rouse him." The Potions Master turned his glare on Harry. "My wand, Potter, if you would be so good."

Harry shoved a hand into his other pocket, took out the wand and handed it over with barely a second glance. Snape snorted irritably, made a show of checking it for damage, and peremptorily ordered Sirius, "Let go of him, I doubt he will vanish into thin air."

Sirius very reluctantly obeyed, shifting so that Remus was lying on the floor with his head in Sirius's lap. It would have been touching, how Sirius kept a hold of his hand and brushed his hair back from his face, if Harry hadn't been too worried to pay attention.

Snape lifted Remus's wrist as he had done earlier that day, scowled, and raised his wand.


Nothing happened. Snape hissed softly. He drew a vial out of his robe pocket, full of the same golden liquid he had prepared in Remus's kitchen. He handed it to Sirius, saying tersely, "A couple of drops in his mouth."

The potion elicited no more response than the spell. Harry could see Tonks out of the corner of his eye, peering worriedly over Snape's head. Dumbledore was talking quietly to Moody behind her.

Snape shook his head. He scrutinised Sirius with dislike. "I did warn him."

Sirius lifted his head slowly to lock eyes with the Potions Master. Harry's hand tightened instinctively around his wand, but all Sirius did was hold the gaze for a few heartbeats.

"Yes, you did," he said, and looked back at Remus's still face.

"We must leave at once," Dumbledore interrupted quietly. "As travel by Floo is now impossible, I shall be providing an alternative. Sirius, can you carry Remus?"

Sirius carefully pulled Remus's still form against him and slowly got to his feet. "Yes."

"Excellent." Harry noticed, as he jumped to his feet, that Dumbledore was holding the trencher Remus had used to burn the incense. He now laid it on the ground, pointed his wand at it and said, "Portus."

The trencher flashed with the familiar blue of a Portkey.

"Alastor and Tonks will remain here to, ah, 'cover our tracks'," Dumbledore continued. "I believe that Remus should be removed to Poppy's care immediately." He hesitated. "It would be prudent for Harry to return to his relatives..."

Anger rose up so quickly that it almost took Harry by surprise. "You can't make me go--"

"I'm not letting him out of my sight--" Sirius began loudly at the same moment.

Dumbledore held up a hand.

"... but recent events have convinced me that the prudent course is not always the best." He smiled sadly. "Therefore I suggest that we all adjourn to Hogwarts immediately."

Mollified, Harry glanced at Sirius, who tried to smile and failed rather miserably. Harry stepped closer and took hold of Sirius's arm, turning to look at Dumbledore. Snape, with every sign of immense distaste, also placed one hand on Sirius's shoulder. Dumbledore levitated the Portkey with his wand, laid his other hand on Harry's arm, and nodded to Snape.

Snape took hold of the trencher, and Harry closed his eyes as the Death Chamber vanished around him. He hoped he never had to see it again.

Sirius was jolted from his uneasy doze by the click of the door shutting. He sat upright hurriedly, blinking sleep from his eyes, and found himself looking at a pyjama-clad Harry.

"I couldn't sleep," his godson explained. He padded barefoot across the hospital wing and hesitated an arm's length from the bed. "Is he...?"

"Still nothing." Sirius rubbed at the crick in his neck, a side-effect of falling asleep in the chair. "Snape was by a couple of hours ago, though. He reckons Remus'll wake up of his own accord."

Harry, who had been pulling a chair over for himself, stopped at that. He frowned. "Did he try-- you know..."

"Yeah." Sirius scowled. He hadn't much liked the idea of Snape using his legilimency skills on Remus, but when it came down to a choice between his dislike of Snape and Remus's health, there was no contest. "Said he thinks it's a reaction to being in the space between for an extended time."

Harry nodded, his gaze turning back to where Remus lay, alarmingly pale and silent, in the hospital bed. "Oh."

Sirius regarded his godson. They'd talked briefly when they'd arrived yesterday, before exhaustion had intervened. Then, when Sirius awakened, he'd been worried about Remus, and somehow he hadn't gotten around to checking on Harry. The boy still looked tired, and the lingering traces of grief darkened his eyes, but a lot of the anger that had weighed him down over the past year had gone.

"What about you?" Sirius asked abruptly, leaning forward in the chair with his elbows on his knees. "Are you alright?"

Harry blinked. "Yeah. I'm fine." A note of bitterness crept into his voice. "I didn't even go beyond the veil."

Sirius grimaced. Harry was far too keen to blame himself. That had never been a trait of James's, or even Lily's - in fact, it was eerily like Remus's attitude to the world - and Sirius could only think that he'd learned it during too many years as the Dursleys' unwanted nephew.

"It's not your fault," he said now, hoping he could convince Harry. "It was his choice. And I'm going to chew him out for it when he wakes up, don't worry." Sirius ventured a smile, which his godson half-heartedly returned. "Well, you know, when I'm done owing him my life, my soul and my eternal devotion."

The smile this time was more genuine. Then Harry looked away.

"I'm so glad you're back."

Sirius hesitated, wondering if he would embarrass his godson, but finally he decided that the boy had simply not had enough hugs in his life, and stood up to rectify the situation. As expected, Harry put up a brief show of embarrassment, before suddenly hugging his godfather back as fiercely as a brother.

"I'm glad you didn't leave me there," Sirius said, feeling uncharacteristically emotional and hoping he wasn't going to start weeping all over Harry. It would probably scar the boy for life, he thought, letting go of him. "Both of you."

Harry scrubbed at his eyes, which were suspiciously wet, and Sirius studied the floor in an attempt to regulate his own emotions.

"Like we would," Harry muttered in a roughened voice.

"Still." Sirius managed a grin. "Thanks."

There was a brief silence.

"He's going to be okay, isn't he?" asked Harry softly, with all the helplessness in his voice that Sirius was struggling to subdue.

"He'd damned well better be, or I'll..." Sirius broke off, staring at Remus's closed eyes and lined face. "I don't know what I'd do," he finished, with more honesty than he'd intended.

"Um." Harry was looking at Remus too, although Sirius got the impression that he wasn't really looking at the man so much as staring into space just past him. "You and him. You're--?"

You love him, don't you?

Sirius drew a breath. Somehow he'd forgotten that he needed to talk to Harry about this.

"Yeah," he said. That didn't seem like enough, somehow. He decided to elaborate. "I love him."

That had come out sounding more sentimental than he'd meant it, but Harry didn't seem uncomfortable. In fact, he looked almost wistful.

"Is it... is this a new thing?"

"No." Sirius looked at his hands, lacing his fingers together. "I fell for him in fifth year, I think. It took a while after that for us to get around to talking about it, but..."

He looked up at Harry, who was listening silently.

"We were together through the last couple of years of school, and he moved into my flat when we left," Sirius continued, encouraged by Harry's wordless acceptance. "Then things started going wrong - everything was so dark, so bleak - it all got tangled up with the war and I was stupid enough to think Remus was the spy."

The pain was dull with age, but it flared up again. He firmly put it back in its box where it belonged.

"But... it's okay now?" Harry asked, sounding for all the world like a child who'd caught his parents arguing.

"Yeah." Sirius glanced again at Remus. "It's okay. It's... more than okay."

There was a brief, companionable silence.

"Did my dad know?"

Sirius smiled then, remembering. "Oh, yes. Before we did, I think. And your mum worked it out. I reckon most of our friends knew, to be honest, but we never said anything, so neither did they. Lily used to tease us, though. I remember at their wedding, she covered us both with red and gold glitter, said we'd have to make do with it instead of confetti."

Harry laughed.

"The only person we actually came out and told was James," Sirius added, recalling the wicked glint in glass-shielded hazel eyes. "And he already knew, the bastard, and just sat there and let me tie myself in knots trying to say it. Then he said - what did he say?" He frowned. "Damn."

"I believe it was something along the lines of, 'about bloody time, now have you done the Charms homework?'" Remus interjected sleepily from the bed.

He opened his eyes and smiled at their shock. "Have I been asleep for long? I seem to have missed some interesting conversation--"

And after that he didn't say much at all, as he was forcibly hugged from both sides at once.

- end chapter nine -


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