The Sugar Quill
Author: Robin (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Promises Remembered  Chapter: Chapter 2: Alone in the Dark
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Promises Remembered

Author’s Note: This is the sequel to Promises Unbroken.  If you have not all ready read PU, I highly suggest doing so, else this story will probably make no sense whatsoever.  Be advised that this is an Alternate Universe tale as well.  That said, enjoy the story—and let the darkness come.

 

Disclaimer: The characters and settings of Harry Potter belong to the wonderful and talented J.K. Rowling, whom I thank very much for the loan of her playground.  The plot, however, and anything you do not recognize, belongs to me.  I am not making any profit from the writing and display of this story, except for gratification of my ego and quenching my thirst to write. 

 

 

 

Promises Remembered

The Sequel to Promises Unbroken

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two: Alone in the Dark

 

One of the last things that the students loitering in the courtyard expected to see was Sirius Black striding through the castle’s gates, dressed in dusty black robes and with the side of his face caked in dried blood.

Sunset was falling, now; the leaving feast had been cut short by the headmaster’s unexplained collapse, and everyone was still trying to figure out what had happened.  Although Harry had been the only student permitted to stay during that mysterious ordeal, due to his unusual relationship with the headmaster, even he didn’t understand what had happened.  All he knew was that Remus had said that the Ministry had been destroyed and that Dumbledore’s phoenix had come to Hogwarts—but how could Remus know about the Ministry?  He’d fallen and laid there in silence for so long, and it was impossible to destroy the Ministry of Magic.  Everyone knew that. 

Harry shivered suddenly.  His parents were both at the Ministry, and so was Peter and so many others… But the Ministry was unbreakable.  Its security was the best.  He swallowed.  If it was impossible, why did he feel so cold?

Looking at Sirius didn’t help matters at all.  The godfather he’d so recently come to know looked different from how Harry had ever seen him; he was cold now, expressionless and implacable.  Sirius suddenly seemed dangerous, and he strode forward with long and purposeful strides, sweeping across the courtyard as if his eyes saw nothing and everything at the same time.  His gaze was both distant and furious, and Harry had never, ever, seen someone move with such unconscious power and presence.  For a moment, it was almost frightening to see, but then he reminded himself that this was Sirius, his godfather and his father’s best friend.  There was nothing to fear.

Others didn’t seem to agree as Harry jogged up to intercept Sirius’ path; whispers were coming from nearly every student in the half-full courtyard.  No one knew what to think or what to do.  Harry heard Hermione’s shocked exclamation from behind him, but he ignored her and hurried to catch up with his godfather.

“Sirius!”

The Auror broke stride and only seemed to notice Harry when he heard him speak.  His voice was terse.  “Not now, Harry.”

Harry stopped, unable to believe his ears.  “What?”

“There’s not time.”  Briefly, Sirius reached out and squeezed Harry’s shoulder, but even that motion seemed distracted and distant.  His blue eyes grew dark.  “Later.”

“What are you doing here, Black?” A cold voice suddenly demanded, and Harry turned to see Snape approaching.  Sirius, however, did not remain still; instead, he moved forward again, striding straight up to the hook-nosed terror of Hogwarts.

“I need to speak to the headmaster, Snape.”

Something flickered across the other’s features; his face was tight.  “He is resting.”

“This is important.”  Harry had never seen Sirius so cold.  “I would not be here if it was not.”

“At the moment, I don’t particularly care,” Snape snarled.  “I do not believe you understand the situation—”

“No, I don’t think you understand,” Sirius cut him off, and then suddenly peered at the deputy headmaster with newfound worry.  “Unless you didn’t know—?”

Realization dawned on both faces at the same time, and Snape went pale.  His voice was hardly above a frightened whisper, and Harry doubted anyone further away could hear him.  “The Ministry.”

Sirius nodded curtly.  “We may have bigger problems that I thought.”

---------------

Within the next few hours, the students were sent home—a day early and without explanation—on the Hogwarts Express.  All of the students, that was, except for a specific few, and Harry found himself along with all of the Weasleys, amongst them.  Neville Longbottom, too, stayed, and so did several others—all of which, Harry suspected had parents in the Order of the Phoenix.  Although they discussed the circumstances quietly amongst themselves, none could figure out the reason for their continued presence, unless there was some danger to them, as children of members of the Order.  But none of them could understand what the Dark Lord would want with a bunch of underage witches and wizards.

Things started to get more interesting when most of the professors left that evening, and their parents started arriving a few hours later.

Harry almost missed his mother as she arrived by Molly Weasley’s side; he’d never seen his mum and Ron’s together, and almost didn’t recognize his mother’s tired and strained features.  Not far behind the pair, Bill Weasley helped his father along; Ron’s dad was walking with a pronounced limp.  Before he could reach his mother’s side, though, he saw Sirius stride out to meet her.

“How is he?” Harry’s godfather asked immediately.

Lily shrugged, looking very old and tired.  “They don’t know yet…” she swallowed.  “The Aurors you left with him are still there.”

“Good.”  Sirius turned to the short man at Lily’s side.  “I hear you did well today, Peter.”

The blonde wizard frowned and shook his head.  “Not well enough.”

Finally, Lily seemed to notice her son as Harry waited with growing impatience.   She spoke without preamble.  “I have bad news, Harry.”

“Is it dad?” He wasn’t stupid enough to miss his father’s absence, and wished that he didn’t have a sinking feeling that the he his mum and Sirius were talking about was none other than James Potter.  Harry swallowed nervously.  Just because his father had wound up in the hospital before didn’t make it any easier…

“He’s in St. Mungo’s,” his mum confirmed quietly.  “There was an attack on the Ministry…”

Even as a shadow passed over her eyes, Sirius reached out to grip her elbow and cut her off.  “We need to get inside, Lily,” he said quietly.  “Remus and the others are waiting.”

“But what about dad?” Harry demanded even as his mother nodded shakily.  Oddly enough, it was Peter who answered.

“I was just at St. Mungo’s with him, Harry,” the short man said quietly.  “They’re certain he’ll live, but right now…right now he can’t walk.  And they’re not sure how to fix what’s wrong.”

Harry felt his stomach drop down to the ground.  “He can’t walk?”

“We don’t know if it’s permanent,” Sirius interjected, and for the first time, Harry noticed the deep lines around his eyes.  “The healers are still working.”

“Oh.”

There was so much more that he wanted to ask, but something in Sirius’ face stopped Harry from doing so.  The exhausted expression his mother wore only added to Harry’s worry, though, and while he knew that now wasn’t the time to ask questions, he vowed to do so later.  He wasn’t ignorant, after all, and it was his father in the hospital.  If anyone deserved to know, Harry figured that it was him.

He had no idea, however, how complicated things were about to become.

---------------

It was the first time that the entire Order of the Phoenix had assembled since the early days of the war against Voldemort.  As the years passed, the Order had become first too large, and then too secret, to gather in one place; time had allowed the Dark Lord to worm spies into their midst even as the Order worked their own into his presence.  They had not been able to risk coming together before, but at this moment, there seemed much more to lose by not doing so.  Spies or no spies, they had to act.

Scarcely eight hours had passed since the attack on the Ministry, and the Order of the Phoenix gathered in Hogwarts’ Great Hall.  The school was the one unbreachable place left to them; with the fall of the Ministry, nowhere else was safe.  Thus, fearful faces stared at one another, clueless and hopeless.  All were acutely aware of the absence of the Order’s one constant: Albus Dumbledore.  None, however, could imagine an Order of the Phoenix existing without the legendary wizard’s guidance or strength.  They needed him, now, but he was not there.  Few, therefore, expected such a slender and brown haired wizard to step forward and take his place.  At merely thirty-two years old, Remus Lupin was entirely too young.

“Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” he said quietly, swallowing almost imperceptivity.  “By now, I’m certain you have all heard the rumors.”

“Late this afternoon, the Ministry of Magic was attacked by Lord Voldemort and his followers.  We do not know now how many people died in this assault, but we know that many witches, wizards, and Muggles did, slain by both Death Eaters and Dementors.  Right now, the Muggle news is calling it a terrorist attack.  They have no explanation for the soulless wandering the streets of London.

“We do know, however, that Albus Dumbledore and Arabella Figg are amongst the dead.  So are many of the Ministry’s Department heads.  The only two we have been able to contact are Cornelius Fudge, the head of the Department of Magical Catastrophes, who was on vacation with his family; and James Potter, the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, who is currently being treated in St. Mungo’s.  As of right now, our government is all but nonexistent.”

Remus paused and took a deep breath; Sirius could see the exhaustion on his face and noticed both Snape and Fletcher watching him closely.  Remus hadn’t been able to explain much about what had happened earlier—there simply hadn’t been time, but Sirius knew that he’d had a vision and collapsed.  What had frightened them both the most, though, was that Remus had seen the Ministry crumble, and had known that Dumbledore was dead the moment that Fawkes had arrived.  Almost as worrisome was the fact that the phoenix had come to Hogwarts—to Remus—and both understood what that signified.

“And so it falls to the Order of the Phoenix to carry the war,” the headmaster continued quietly.  “Until the Ministry can be reformed, we are all that is left.  After conferring with the Inner Circle, I will assume leadership of the Order.”  His eyes swept across the gathered crowd.  “Unless there are any who think I should not.”

Silence greeted his words.  Few in the Order knew about the Font, but they could recognize that Remus had changed.  The difference was obvious, even to uneducated eyes; and when Fawkes floated gracefully down to land on Remus’ shoulder, the decision was clinched.  The phoenix had chosen Remus J. Lupin.  The mysterious and unknown Inner Circle had concurred.  The Order would follow.

“Thank you.”  Remus’ quiet voice echoed in the stillness, and then he turned slightly and nodded to Sirius.  After a deep breath, he stepped forward, struggling to keep a frown off of his face.  I hate this, he thought acidly.  I hate the way their eyes are following me, hoping that I’ve got the answers just because I was stupid enough to face Voldemort and survive.  These people are supposed to know better.  He resisted the need to swallow.  There were too many faces missing in the crowd, from the presumed dead to those who hospitalized like James and Alice Longbottom.  And like so many of his Aurors.

“In James’ absence, I have taken command of the Aurors.  Although we lost several, we are probably the one Ministry division that has not been effectively decapitated by the attack.  Right now, I have Aurors guarding both surviving Department heads and as of nightfall, searching the rubble for survivors.  So far, there have been very few.”

Sadness and fear reflected off nearly every face as Sirius paused to study the crowd.  Each had known what the risks were when they had joined the Order, but no one had ever expected this—even Dumbledore.  Dumbledore.  Sirius blinked.  Peter had told him of the old man’s sudden warning, and Lily had related his last words to Voldemort—“It is time, Tom.”  Had he known?  Could he have?  Sirius shivered suddenly, thinking of the darkness that must have lived in that old man’s mind, and hoping that he had finally found peace.  If he knew, why did he do it?  Why did he choose to die?

That was the sad and sorry truth: Dumbledore could have lived.  He could have escaped.  Instead, he chose to die.  It was time?  He sacrificed himself for others, yet Sirius knew that the old wizard had been too smart to do so if he was still needed…which meant Dumbledore had believed that they would not need him.  Sirius swallowed back the bitter laughter that threatened to rise without warning.  What did he accomplish, aside from leaving us leaderless and rudderless in a storm?  There had to be more.  Dumbledore never did anything without a reason.  Sirius just couldn’t see it yet.

“I have asked you to come here today not to make you lose hope,” Remus finally continued, “but to help you understand what the Order will be called upon to do this summer.  Voldemort has won a victory, but he has not yet won the war, and if we stand together, we will survive.”

---------------

Dawn found a skeletal form of the Inner Circle meeting in Remus’ office.  All five of them had been awake all night long, and Lily looked the worst off.  Dumbledore’s death was hitting her hard, Remus knew; in truth, the old man’s absence was felt by them all, especially Severus.  Remus understood that his deputy headmaster had always felt a special kinship with the old headmaster; Dumbledore had been the one who had accepted him, trusted him—he’d given Snape a second chance.  Remus swallowed.  He’d given so many people chances…and had so often denied them to himself.  There wasn’t one of them in that room who didn’t owe Dumbledore something.

Fawkes, in the corner, was still mourning silently, setting a heavy and sorrowful tone for their meeting.  Finally, when Remus could stand the silence no longer, he cleared his throat.  He began hesitantly, “I’m sorry to keep all of you up so late.”

“I doubt any of us would have slept anyway,” Severus commented dryly.  Dung’s answering snort revealed his agreement, and Lily just stared at her hands, overwrought and exhaustedly nodding.

“Tonight’s not a night for sleep, anyway,” Sirius agreed from where he stood staring out the window.  “There are too many unanswered questions.”

Fletcher nodded tiredly.  “I agree.”

“What worries me,” Lily finally put in quietly, “is that you, Severus, did not know about the attack ahead of time.  That seems to imply a certain lack of trust on Voldemort’s part.”

Snape snorted.  “You mean that he suspects me,” he replied bluntly.  “There is no use tiptoeing around the truth.”

“Well, yes.”  Lily shrugged apologetically.

“But why?  Or how?” Fletcher wondered.

“It could be any of a hundred reasons,” the Death Eater responded.  “Or it was simply—possibly, but unlikely—an oversight on the Dark Lord’s part.”

“And if he knows you’re a spy?” Remus asked quietly.

“I suppose I’ll find out if I live through the next time he summons me.”  Severus’ voice was dry, but the headmaster could see the worry behind his dark eyes.  They were playing a very high-stakes game, Remus knew, and any wrong move could very well mean death.

“That’s not very comforting,” Lily replied.

“It wasn’t meant to be.”

“We’ve got other problems, too,” Sirius suddenly interjected, making Remus frown.

“What?” he asked.

“When I talked to Fudge earlier, he very specifically asked me who was in the running to be the next Minister of Magic,” the Auror replied grimly.  “I told him that now wasn’t the time to worry about that and got my head out of the fire as quickly as humanly possible.  But he’s very interested.”

“Oh, lovely,” Lily muttered.

 Fletcher snarled with distaste.  “Fudge is the most ambitious windbag I’ve ever met.  If he gets the job, we might as well surrender now!”

“Which is precisely why Malfoy and every other influential Death Eater will be supporting him every step of the way,” Snape reminded them, earning angry glares in return for his comment.  Before anyone could lose their temper, though, Remus intervened.

“And that is why we simply can’t allow that to happen,” he replied far more calmly than he felt.  “Therefore, we need to advance a candidate of our own—preferably one who is in the Order.”

“It makes the list short, Remus,” Dung remarked.  “Especially if you want someone in the Inner Circle.”

“Unless we can get Lily to do it,” Sirius suddenly said with a wan smile, making her head jerk up and her voice squeak.

“Me?”

Remus felt a smile tug at the corners of his own mouth; Sirius had read his mind.  “Who else?” he asked.  “You probably know more about that job than the rest of us combined.  How long were you Dumbledore’s assistant?  Eight years?”

“That’s not the point,” Lily objected.  “I’m not a politician.  I’ve never even held office—”

“Neither had Dumbledore.”

“That, Remus, is just a little different.”  Lily’s green eyes were finally awake now, though, as she turned to stare at each of them in turn.  “Look, I’m touched by your confidence, but I work behind the scenes, remember?  I’m officially a secretary, nothing more—and I can’t give people the confidence that you’re going to need them to have.”  She swallowed.  “You need someone a lot better known than me for that.”

Remus started to open his mouth to reply, but was cut of, much to his surprise, by Severus.  “What about James?”

“What?”

The response had been instinctive, but after a moment, the idea began to grow on Remus.  James.  He would have never thought of his friend, but James was well known, and he was strong enough to do what had to be done.  So much of the Wizarding world considered James a hero; he’d led the Aurors for many years, and had somehow managed to survive it all, even Voldemort’s spirited crusade to end his life.  Furthermore, he was smart, powerful, and a member of the Inner Circle.  James met every criteria that Remus could think of for an ideal Minister of Magic, and he already was a department head, so he could meet Fudge head on.

“You know,” Lily said quietly, her face a study in concentration, “that just might work.”

“It would be the perfect solution, too,” Dung mused.  “I mean, we can’t exactly get Remus in there, so… No offense.”  Remus just shrugged in response to Fletcher’s apologetic look, understanding that his condition barred the Order from having its head as the Minister of Magic again.  Besides, he would never have wanted to leave Hogwarts, even if such a thing had been possible.  It was almost a relief not to have to worry about two new kinds of responsibility.

“Wait a minute,” Sirius interrupted, turning away from the window and leaning on the wall tiredly.  His hands were stuffed deep in his pockets and his face was still bruised slightly—he hadn’t bothered to get it fixed yet—but his voice was grim and pointed.  “We ought to ask James before we start planning anything.”

Severus gave him a tired glare that wasn’t nearly up to his normal standards.  “Of course we will,” he retorted, rolling his eyes.  “However, I believe the question at hand is if the idea will work or not.  If Fudge can get in early enough and start gaining support, this entire conversation will have been for no purpose whatsoever.”

“Won’t happen.”  Sirius smiled tiredly, and they all looked at him.  Remus felt his own eyebrows rise doubtfully—his friend didn’t really know Fudge all that well, and had no idea how ambitious the politician could be—but was that a mischievous glint in Sirius’ eyes?  He knew something, and Remus opened his mouth to ask what, but his deputy headmaster beat him to it.

“Forgive me for saying that the rest of us don’t necessarily share your confidence,” Severus remarked dryly.

“Fudge won’t be a problem.  At least not for awhile, anyway.”

“Wipe that stupid smile off your face, then, and tell us why,” Lily demanded testily.  Remus snorted, but Sirius finally grinned.

“I assigned Hestia Jones to protect him.”

Remus couldn’t help it; he burst out laughing.  After a moment, so did Lily, who tried to hide her sudden amusement behind a strangled cough, but both Dung and Severus only stared at the three of them crossly as Sirius chuckled tiredly and explained.

“Hestia isn’t exactly the forgiving sort,” he smirked.  “Under her watchful eyes, Fudge is not going to be making any public appearances, speeches for the ‘good’ of the Wizarding world, or acting on ‘behalf’ of the government in any way.  He’ll stay on vacation, nice and safe, where he belongs.”

Dung snorted.  “Excellent.  Serves the bugger right.”

“Indeed.”  For once, even Snape had to agree with Sirius, and the thought of that happening ever again made Remus smile.  But the amusement instantly vanished with his next thought.  The world has indeed turned upside down, the new leader of the Order of the Phoenix thought grimly.

Now we’ve just got to figure out how to turn it all right side up again.

---------------

“We talked to Lee today,” Fred said suddenly, startling the others out of their silence.

Harry looked up.  To his right, Ron and Ginny (who had arrived with her parents the evening before) were attempting to concentrate on a game of Wizard’s chess—and failing miserably.  Even the normally obnoxious Weasley family chess pieces were more subdued than usual; it seemed that they sensed the mood prevalent in the Gryffindor common room.  Not far away, Neville was reading a book on Herbology, but Harry could swear that the other boy hadn’t turned a page in over an hour.  Fred and George both sat to Harry’s left, exchanging glances from time to time, but otherwise silent.  The two of them had originally been playing a game of Exploding Snap with Harry, but the game had somehow petered off, leaving them with the soulless and stony silence.

Percy, of course, was in the library, having called the younger Gryffindors immature and stormed out thirty minutes before.  But they didn’t mind.  Even with the school year officially over, he still had a habit of acting like a prefect, and he kept harping on them to do something useful, though what he meant they were not yet sure.  It was, after all, only the beginning of summer, and the younger children were having a hard enough time trying to figure out how to waste the rest of the afternoon.

Gryffindor tower seemed so empty without their classmates, so empty and so dead.  Their excitement over the Order of the Phoenix’s arrival had faded; all six children had quickly been informed that they were “far too young” to attend those meetings and would have to find a way to occupy themselves.  Even Harry’s mum, who was usually much more open and informative than Mrs. Weasley, maintained an unexpected silence and refused to answer more than the most basic of questions.  Harry had tried valiantly to worm information out of his mother, but they had eventually been sent packing, and in times like this, mischief wasn’t much fun.  The castle was too quiet, and there were too many adults around—but it wasn’t an occasion for jokes, anyway.  So they found themselves alone in the dorm, wishing futilely Neville and Ginny weren’t present; otherwise, the Misfits would have indulged themselves by at least studying a very singular map that the twins still had in their possession.  Unfortunately, even if had considered letting Ginny in on the secret, and none of them wanted to leave Neville alone to do so.  So alone they sat, waiting and wondering.

“Mum let us Fire Call him,” George explained.  “He’s doing all right.  He got home last night.”

“Sorry we didn’t tell you earlier,” Fred apologized.  “Mum was kind of batty about letting us use the fire at all.  Kept going on about secrecy and such.”

“Is he going to be able to come back?” Harry asked quietly.

Lee’s mother was a Muggle, as they all knew, and ever since his father’s death, Reina Jordan had been hinting that she might not allow Lee to return to Hogwarts for his fourth year.  Lee had screamed protest, but his mother was understandably afraid.  She’d all ready lost her husband to Death Eaters, and knew that Lee, as the Half-blood son of an Auror, was now in extraordinary danger.  To her mind, the best was to protect him was to withdraw entirely from the Wizarding world, no matter how much magic meant to Lee.

Just thinking about that left a great gaping feeling inside all of the Misfits.

“He doesn’t know yet,” George answered after a moment, frowning worriedly.  “Professor Fletcher talked to Mrs. Jordan and Lee said his mum is thinking about it.”

“What if he can’t?” Ron asked suddenly, his voice very small.

“Mrs. Jordan can’t just not let him come back, can she?” Ginny demanded unhappily when no one had an answer for Ron’s question.  “I mean, doesn’t she understand that his magic won’t go away no matter what she does?”

“She’s a Muggle, Gin.  She doesn’t get it,” Fred replied bitterly.

“That’s crap,” Ron snarled.

George shot to his feet suddenly, growling impatiently under his breath and storming out of the room.  His voice came out angry and clipped from over his shoulder.  “Welcome to the world, little brother.  Nothing’s fair anymore.”

---------------

Long after midnight, Bill Weasley spotted a tall figure wandering across the Hogwarts grounds.  Sitting underneath the castle’s shadow, Bill was all but invisible, and he watched curiously as the other wizard paused at the lake’s edge, staring down at the still waters, seemingly deep in thought.  When the other moved again, though, the slight limp he walked with gave his identity away immediately.  Although he did not know him well, Bill knew that Sirius Black never allowed the limp to show; one could only notice it when the famous Auror wasn’t paying attention.  When he thought he was alone.

His slow walk was aimless and drifting; clearly, Black’s mind was elsewhere.  Watching him almost made Bill feel guilty because he felt like he was intruding upon something that wasn’t meant for his eyes.  But before he could find something different to concentrate on, Black unexpectedly turned his way and walked towards him, the limp now completely gone.  Even in the darkness, Bill could see the uncannily light blue eyes focus on him, and he shivered, remembering seeing this man step, very calmly, around a corner and face Lord Voldemort himself.

He’d never really spoken to him, had never really gotten the chance, even though he’d always wanted to.  Bill started to rise, which seemed to be the least that he could do, but Black waved him back down

“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked quietly.

“No.”  Coming from anyone else, Bill would have given the question an evasive answer, but if there was a man who knew what he’d gone through, it was Sirius Black.  How he survived a decade in the Dark Lord’s hands, I will never understand, the Auror thought to himself.  Nor will I ever ask.

“Mind if I join you?” Black gestured casually at the spot of grass to Bill’s right.

“Not at all.”

Bill watched out of the corner of his eye as the other Auror lowered himself to the ground.  There was an odd amount of caution in Black’s movements; one moment, he seemed to favor the game right leg, and the next he possessed an unconscious grace that couldn’t be faked or calculated.  However, Bill’s unintentional study revealed much more than he’d initially expected to find.  In the moonlight, Black’s small and subtle scars were harder to miss; obviously, he’d been expertly healed, yet like Bill’s inner demons, the outer marks of Black’s time in hell seemed like they would never fade.  There was a very faint scar that ran from the top of his left ear around and under the bottom of his chin; Bill looked away before he could start to stare in an effort to solve that puzzle.  Doing so, however, brought his attention to the faded marks still evident on both of Black’s arms.

“How do you do it?” Bill asked suddenly and without meaning to, tearing his eyes away from something that he felt was none of his business.  “How do you deal with everything?”

Black’s head turned slowly to face him.  “Silencing Charms, mostly.”

“You mean—” Bill blinked.

“The nightmares don’t go away, kid,” the other said quietly, sighing and staring off into the distance once more.  “You just learn to deal with them… Or maybe yours will.  I hope they do, for your sake.  But if they don’t…” He shrugged.  “I can’t say it gets better, but it does get simpler, if you know what I mean.”

“I can’t imagine becoming used to the nightmares,” Bill said.

“Nor I.”

They sat in silence for a long time, but it was somehow a comforting quiet.  Ever since his rescue from Azkaban, Bill had felt as if he was alone.  There were few that could understand the horrors that haunted his dreams, and ever fewer still knew how to help.  His parents had tried, of course, but Bill had found himself oddly reluctant to speak of his experiences with them.  For the first time in his life, even the comfort of his loving family was not enough, because a darkness lived inside of him that they could not touch.   Before the attack, the Ministry had also offered help, but Bill, like all his fellow prisoners, had declined.  He didn’t need healers poking around in his head, trying to find solutions that might not exist.  In many ways, he feared that they would call him insane.

“You were there for so long,” he whispered, staring into the darkness.  “How did you hang on without doubting yourself at every turn?  You faced him…I can’t even dream of doing that.  And the world thinks you’re fine.  Everyone always talks about how strong you are, and yet…how can you do that if you feel how I feel?”

Black snorted.  “I still wake up in the middle of the night, when I sleep at all,” he admitted.  “It’s all a matter of perception—and of choice.  I choose to be what I am.  No one else can do that for me.”

“I wish it was so simple for me,” Bill replied wistfully.

“Isn’t it?”

“I just don’t think I’m that strong.”

Black finally turned to look at him again, arching one eyebrow quizzically.  “Your vacation’s almost over,” he said unexpectedly.  “What do you plan on doing when it is?”

Bill blinked.  “I’ll come back to the Aurors, if they’ll take me.”

“And why is that?”

“What else would I do?” It was hard not to stare at the older man strangely; Bill could hardly see the point to this line of questioning.

“You could run,” the other said quietly.  His pale gaze burned into Bill’s.  “You could try to hide.  No one would blame you if you chose another route.”  

“But—”

“Yet you choose not to,” Black overrode him easily.  “Tell me why.”

“Because I want to do my part,” Bill answered with a frown.  “The war is more important than how I feel.”

Black chucked softly.   “And you said you didn’t understand why I do what I do.”

“I—yeah,” he breathed.  “I guess.  But I just wish I knew how to get past it.”  Anyone who hadn’t been in Azkaban could not have possibly comprehended all the layers contained in that simple word, but Black’s understanding nod said that he did.  The nightmares weren’t just about torture.  They weren’t just caused by the constant presence of Dementors and having to relive his worst memories over and over again.  The feelings of loneliness and hopelessness were far longer lasting than any obvious effects of Voldemort’s hell; there was the feeling of cold that crept up on you in the middle of the night without warning and there was always the sudden realization that you could not fight back… Bill shivered, even though it was a warm night.

“You’ve got family who cares for you,” the older wizard said quietly.  “Take advantage of their love.  They’ll listen, if you let them.”

Bill opened his mouth to protest, but Black shook his head. 

“They can’t ever understand, not completely, but you need them.  When it’s dark, and you’re alone, it’s not determination that pulls you through...You need something stronger and deeper, a feeling that doesn’t just come from yourself.”  Suddenly, Black looked away, and his next words were distant.  “Letting down your shields is hard, but sometimes you have to…even when it kills you to do so.”

“I thought…”

“Silencing Charms don’t work with my friends.”  Black smiled wanly. 

“Oh,” was all Bill could say as the other’s words rattled around in his head.  For a moment, he was tempted to argue, especially considering Black’s earlier comment, but then he remembered, almost irrelevantly, back to his own Hogwarts years.  As a first year Gryffindor, he remembered seeing four boys, impossibly different and yet incredibly close, and recalled how they always seemed to understand one another.  Those four boys were now adults, of course, and famous ones who Bill rarely saw together, but there was something in Black’s voice that told him they was still much more than met the eye.

“Trust your family, Bill,” Black said quietly.  “In times like this, they’re all you have.”

 

 

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