The Sugar Quill
Author: Canis M. (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Passage  Chapter: Default
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Down and down the long, dark corridor, glancing over his shoulder to be sure that no one was following, Remus Lupin ran. He rushed past the suits of armor, past the Arithmancy classroom, and pounded to a halt only when he came to the stone statue of a humpbacked witch. For a moment he stared at it, panting. He was certain that no other teacher knew about this secret entrance. No other searcher would think to look here for the madman who had tried to break into Gryffindor tonight, the escaped prisoner who continued to elude them all.

Downstairs in the Great Hall were four hundred shivering students, lying awake in conjured sleeping bags when they should have been sleeping in their beds. Among them was an orphan, a boy who sat in class and gazed at Remus with the green eyes of one murdered friend, the round-rimmed glasses of another. That child--all of the children attending Hogwarts--had a right to feel safe within the school's walls. To ensure that safety was his duty.

Remus gripped his wand. Responsibility was a damning thing. It gnawed in his belly, writhing like a worm.

He glanced up the corridor. There was no sign of Peeves the Poltergeist, who would certainly revel in tattling on him, nor of any of the other Hogwarts ghosts. As for his own private phantoms, no doubt they waited for him in the tunnel below. He listened, hearing no footfalls or shouts from the other staff members, all of whom were scouring the castle. He found himself expecting to see one particular fellow teacher come looming out the shadows, eyes glinting shards of black glass. He'd caught Severus staring at him as they stood outside the portrait door to Gryffindor Tower, receiving their directions from the Headmaster. The Potions teacher had been hovering like an eager carrion bird, hungry to expose the werewolf for the traitor he was.

The traitor he had never meant to be. Not when the lives of those under his protection might be at stake.

Drawing breath, Remus raised his wand and touched the head of the statue. It had been a long time, but the spellword rose to his lips as though spoken yesterday, as though never forgotten at all.

/"Dissendium."/

The portal opened, just as he'd known it would. Gathering his robes about himself, he climbed inside. It nearly made him smile with rue that even as a grown man, he was still thin enough to fit.

The drop was shorter than he remembered--or perhaps it was only his dread of reaching the bottom that made it so. When his feet hit the earthen floor, he stood, crouching low, and called a light to the tip of his wand.

The passage was the same, exactly the same: rough stone ceiling, smooth, lumpy floor. For a moment he remained still, listening--for the sound of footsteps, perhaps, or the padding of huge paws. When no shadows moved to uncover the shape of man or dog, he started forward, holding his wand before him as steadily as he could.

All around him memories lay, like traps into which he must not fall.

/Two skinny boys crept ahead of him, both dark-haired, both short enough to walk down the low tunnel without hunching. They were whispering to one another like spies. "It's aiming toward the village!" "Maybe it leads to the Shrieking Shack." "Oh, I hope so." "Liar. You'd run with your tail between your legs if you ever saw what was in that place--it's haunted by something horrible. Wouldn't he run, Remus?"

The one with the glasses turned around to include Remus in the teasing, offering him admittance to the circle of their conspiracy. Remus looked from him to the other boy, who was glowering with those hot, defiant blue eyes.

"I think Sirius is braver than that."/

His heartbeat seemed unnaturally loud in the close, silent space. He continued onward; he must not fall.

/A hand on his sleeve, a reckless grin lighting the dark. It was only the two of them this time; James was busy tutoring Peter. "Come on, Remus. I know you wanted to go. You're fresh out of Chocolate Frogs."

"Only because you've eaten them." But he was pleased at that, in a sweet and visceral way he dared not admit--pleased that his friend had taken from him without asking. "This isn't a kitchen raid, Padfoot. Honeydukes can't possibly be open at this hour."

"But you're hungry, aren't you?"/

Remus drew up short. He laid his right palm flat against the passage wall, steadying himself. It was no use covering his ears when the voices were within him, when one of them was his own, and the other so familiar. How old had they been then? Fifteen? Sixteen? It seemed impossible to Remus that he'd ever been so young, so self-righteous and secure. But he remembered how easily he'd consented to the Honeydukes operation, after Sirius insisted that they'd leave money for whatever they took.

It seemed he'd always been glad to let himself be beguiled.

/Weight on his back, pinning him to the passage floor. He didn't care that it was dirty, didn't care that they'd be late for class again. Breath on his nape, muttered growls, and the pressure he'd been craving, craving--more of that, yes--/

No. He must not fall. He must not.

Letting go of the wall, he cupped his hand around the glowing point of his wand and started forward again. The light would surely give him away to anyone hiding further ahead in the tunnel, but Sirius would have to be genuinely insane to linger so near the castle now, with all of Hogwarts hunting him.

The break-in was a puzzle Remus could not quite understand: if Harry were really the target, why would Sirius wait until the whole school was gathered at the feast, then try to force entry into an empty dormitory? It made no sense--but there were so many things about Sirius' crimes that had never made sense to him, not least of which was the reason behind them. Twelve years gone, and the tangles remained impenetrable to Remus, although not for want of thinking about them. He'd had a long time to work at their unraveling, painstakingly, with all his heart.

He could hear the fanged hissing of Severus Snape, as though the Potions master were beside him now, breathing down his neck: "Trying to fathom the mind of a murderer, Lupin? Well, you've a natural aptitude for it, I suppose. And considering how /thick/ you always were with Black...or are those days really over, I wonder?"

He almost laughed. It was too much, really, for his conscience to start sniping at him in Snapeish tones. But then another voice came to mind, one both gentler and immeasurably worse, hallowed with age but still firm and clear. "You have my full confidence, Remus." A pair of wise, bright eyes shone from behind half-moon glasses, conveying faith more powerful than the deepest of magics. "The students will be in good hands."

The thought of Albus Dumbledore nearly made Remus flinch, and he hesitated, his foot twisting on the stone floor. He could end this sin of omission now; it would be simple enough. He could bolt back down the passage, climb up through the statue, find the Headmaster, and confess what he should have revealed long ago, when he first heard that Sirius had escaped from Azkaban and was foiling the Dementors at every turn.

/He's an Animagus, Professor. He can turn into a dog. No one's looking for a dog, that's why no one has found him. No one's looking down this secret tunnel we used to lurk in. No one but me./

Remus tightened his lips. If he told now, when he should have told much sooner, he would lose the precious trust Dumbledore had always given him. Rightly so--that trust was already forfeit. The worm in his stomach knew it; the gnawing never ceased.

Still, he might be mistaken. It might not be as Padfoot that Sirius was avoiding capture and sneaking into the castle. A servant of Voldemort must know more than a few dark tricks; perhaps there was some way of circumventing the Hogwarts defenses against Apparating. Sirius might well be using sorcery of which Remus had never even conceived. If that were so, telling would serve no purpose, and he would lose Dumbledore's favor for nothing.

And if someone else found Sirius, if someone threw him to the Dementors without a second thought, Remus knew he'd have no chance to ask why Sirius had done it--what Voldemort had offered that was worth the happiness, the lives of their dearest friends. No chance after the Kiss to seek answers. A man whose soul had been swallowed could tell no tales.

The ceiling had reached its lowest point, forcing him to hunch sharply as he walked. He must be halfway to Honeydukes by now. Even if Sirius had come this way, he must be long gone. Remus wondered whether he ought to go on to the shop's cellar. Perhaps he would do better to return to the castle, and help with the search there.

He lowered his eyes, his footsteps slowing, and started to turn.

In the glow of his wandlight, something moved. It was a tiny motion, almost undetectable. No one else would have noticed it, but no one else would have thought to look.

Stirred perhaps by his passing, a lone black hair floated just above the floor.

Remus sank to his knees. Holding his breath, he held out a cupped hand. The hair wavered, then drifted down to settle in his palm.

He brought it nearer to the wandlight, staring at it. It was coarse, from a dog's ruff, perhaps, where the fur grew thickest. He did not doubt for a moment that it had belonged to Padfoot.

The wandlight flickered as he crouched there, bent over his tiny shred of evidence. Sirius had been here, after all. Now was the moment to go to Dumbledore, to prove Snape wrong, to redeem himself for years of silence.

He did not move.

Around him the memories leapt, laughed and fumbled. Haltingly, as would a man succumbing to the inevitable, he lowered his hands and faced them. They were only shades; they could not touch him, even if he'd wished them to. Better to give them their run of freedom, to brace himself and let them hurtle past. Ghosts, memories--both often persisted because of something they wanted to impart. He must let these say their peace and pass through.

/"Come on, Moony! This might be our last chance to sneak out this way. I'll buy you all the Frogs you want."/

Briefly Remus closed his eyes. That grinning boy, that bounding dog he'd once known, or thought he'd known--they were long since vanished. This thing in his hand was no remnant of them. He should not treat it as one.

He should not, but--

He looked at the black hair he held, thought of betrayal. Thought of loyalty, of many kinds of guilt. As he rubbed the hair between his thumb and forefinger, the worm in his belly bit and squirmed.

It knew. It knew he would not go to Dumbledore, and not all the frightened students in the Great Hall could persuade him.

Heavily, as if his limbs had turned to lead, Remus rose. He wondered if he would sleep tonight, wondered whether he should bother to try. The moon was waxing; it made him restless. Worse than that, to sleep was to court the danger of unguarded dreams. He still had them from time to time, even now. From their midst he would wake, credulous and contented, to toss for a few seconds, wondering why he was alone in his bed. Only then would he remember, and wish he'd never risked the forgetfulness of dreams at all.

It was untenable, the space between longing and truth. He should know better than to linger there. He really should know better by now.

/I wish I could stop dreaming of your innocence, Sirius./

Parting his fingers, he let the hair go.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

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