I Hear Him Laughing
Remus Lupin was settling in after dinner to grade papers when he heard a tap at the door, so faint that he was almost inclined to think it was a draft in the corridor.
"Yes?" he called.
A draft, then.
He frowned. It sounded like someone knocking with his fingernails. Or claws.
Sirius, he thought. It's Sirius.
Dumbledore had been quite certain that Sirius would attempt to contact Remus at some point--that was what he'd used to convince Remus to take the post. Remus wasn't as certain; surely, Sirius would know he wouldn't forgive... what he had done. He tried to be generous with people--he hoped they would be generous in return--but some things were simply unforgivable.
The tap came again.
"Is someone there?" he called.
There was no answer. He got up and went to the door, opening it and going out into the hall, which at first appeared to be empty. He looked lower to the ground, for the telltale crouched form of a large dog, and sniffed the air for its scent.
There was a small motion in a shadow near the corner--furtive, quick, frightened.
"Come out," he said. "Who is it?"
Very slowly, tentatively, a figure dislodged itself from the shadows--not a dog, but a small girl, with long hair, clutching a book protectively against her chest. As she came into the torchlight, Remus could see that her hair was bright, vibrant red.
He didn't know Ginny Weasley terribly well. Since the episode on the Hogwarts Express, she had been distant, not even speaking much in his class, although her assigned work was first rate. She was one of the best students in his second year classes, but that was all he knew about her.
He smiled. "Hello, Miss Weasley. Did you need something?"
"I--" She bit her lip, looked to either side, and gulped in a deep breath. "Could I talk to you, Professor Lupin? It's not about class."
"I can't promise I'll be very helpful about any other subjects, but you're welcome to come in and talk." He gestured into the office, and she scurried inside.
Remus closed the door and turned to find Ginny Weasley browsing his bookshelves, running her fingers over his small collection of photographs, glancing briefly at a cage full of doxies he'd brought in for the first years. She didn't turn around.
"What is it, Miss Weasley?" he prodded.
She pointed at a picture. "Is this your daughter?" she asked. "This one you're carrying around on your shoulders?"
He looked over her shoulder. It was a picture that Peter Pettigrew had taken of Remus with little Nymphadora Tonks, when she'd been six and staying with Sirius while Ted and Andromeda visited his mother in New York (he couldn't remember why on Earth she'd been there, but Dora hadn't been able to control her morphing yet, so she'd been unable to spend any time in the Muggle world). Sirius had convinced the lot of them to spend the day with her in Diagon Alley, and it had been one of the last exceptionally good days, filled with laughter and sunlight. Lily and James were newlyweds, and had spent a good deal of time looking over Dora's head at one another and blushing. They'd disappeared shortly before Peter had snapped the picture, and Sirius had been unmerciful in teasing them when they'd come back. Sirius himself, if Remus remembered correctly, was just out of the frame.
"No," he said. "She's the daughter of friends of mine. That's a very old picture. She's twenty-one now. Which is a profoundly frightening thought. Would you like some tea?"
"And those? Are they your parents?"
"Yes, they are."
"And that was you, when you were a little boy?"
She nodded, then turned so suddenly that she almost ran into Remus. "I'm sorry, Professor Lupin. I shouldn't have bothered you."
"You haven't bothered me so far. Were you planning on doing so?"
"No. No, I-- Never mind." She headed for the door, but stopped before she reached it. "It's just... my brothers. The twins. They're Beaters on the Gryffindor Quidditch team."
"Yes, I know them. They're in my O.W.L. class. A bit difficult to miss, those two."
She nodded. "Right. Well, they said... Well, Harry... Well the Dementors... " She was breathing rapidly, and clutching her book fiercely. Finally, she closed her eyes and said in a single breath, "The-twins-said-that-Oliver-said-that-Harry-told-him-that-you-were-helping-him-with-the-Dementors-and-I'd-like-to-learn-too-because-they-make-me-feel..." She trailed off, and finally opened her eyes. "Bad," she finished. "Really, really bad."
Remus sighed. "I see. Please sit down, Ginny."
She sat down miserably in the chair across from his desk. He chose one beside her instead of putting the desk between them.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I know, you've got other things to do. I probably can't--It doesn't matter. I should just stay away from them."
"Staying away from Dementors is generally good advice," Remus said.
"I know. It's that... they're there, you know? I walk around the grounds, and suddenly it gets cold. I work in the greenhouses and sometimes I see them. My friend Colin and I like to fly right near the gates sometimes, just for practice, when the Quidditch pitch is booked." She smiled faintly. "Colin really needs practice. We should just go somewhere else. This is silly. I shouldn't bother you with this."
"Again, Ginny, you haven't bothered me yet."
"Really." Remus opened a tin of biscuits and offered her one. She shook her head slightly and curled up in the chair. He took one himself, then put the tin away. "I noticed on the train that they had a rather strong impact on you," he said. "I wondered if you would come to me."
"Can you help?" she begged. "Oh, please, can you teach me whatever you're teaching Harry?"
"The spell I'm teaching Harry is very advanced, Ginny. I'm going to be honest--I don't think you're ready for it. You have power, but you haven't refined it enough." She looked away miserably, and Remus thought he heard her stifle a sob. He thought he should pat her head, or squeeze her shoulder or something along that line, but the boundaries between teacher and student were far too present to do so. Instead, he tried a comforting tone. "I'm not sure it's helpful with day to day Dementor presence, though. What I'm teaching Harry is a counter to a direct Dementor attack, not to the feelings they cause."
"Is there a cure for that?"
"Not a cure. You just have to be strong-minded. To know that the feeling is a lie. It's not real."
"But it is!" Ginny cried. "It is real. And I'm not strong-minded. I was..." She looked over her shoulder at the door, listened for a moment, then spoke again in a quieter voice. "Did Professor Dumbledore tell you what happened last year? With the Chamber of Secrets? And the basilisk and Tom Riddle?"
"He told me that a first year student had--" Remus stopped. "Oh, my Lord. You were the student."
She nodded. "It was me. He got inside my mind."
"And you got him out."
"Harry got him out."
Remus did reach out now, and touched her wrist lightly. When Dumbledore had told him what had happened last year, he hadn't been able to put a human face on the child he'd described--what Remus remembered most clearly was Dumbledore saying that it was their luck that "certain parties" had foolishly mistaken youth for weakness, and that the student had fought Riddle's possession with every resource she'd had available to her. At one point, she had even attempted to destroy the diary that had been used as an instrument of possession, a feat many adult witches would have been incapable of. In the end, it had finally broken her, but that had been after months.
"According to Professor Dumbledore," he said, "you put up a very good fight all year."
"Not good enough." She pushed her hair behind her ear and blinked against tears. "Every time I go near the Dementors I hear..."
She looked at him, her eyes haunted. "I hear Tom Riddle laughing at me."
Remus didn't know what to say to her, what could make it less frightening. "I'm sorry."
She shook her head and flicked a hand at him, dismissing his apology. "No, it's not... I wasn't going to tell you. I just want to make it stop."
"Ginny, I don't know if I can help you or not, and you don't have to tell me anything. But perhaps between us, we can think of something."
Remus wasn't sure if she would stay, but Ginny seemed determined to talk now. She got up out of the chair and started pacing. "He laughed at me," she said. "He laughed and he told me I was a stupid girl, and I wouldn't be loved, and I was ugly and silly and... And it was real, Professor Lupin! It's not a lie. It happened."
"But what happened to you was a lie, Ginny. Riddle lied to you. He used you, and he tormented you for his own amusement. The things he said were lies, and this feeling your mind comes up with... it's not real. You're not silly, you're not stupid, you're well loved, and you're not at all ugly."
"Not very pretty though. Ha-- Boys don't think so, anyway."
Remus smiled. "Give him--er, them--time. Boys are a stupid lot, you know. I can say that with some authority, having been one."
That earned him a half-hearted laugh. "Why is that?"
"It's one of life's great mysteries."
She sighed and sat back down. "Tom said that, when I was first writing in the diary. About boys being stupid. Fools, was what he called them. And he said that anyone who deserved my devotion would understand me completely, all the time. And then he pretended to do it."
"It must have seemed nice."
"Yes." She looked down miserably. "It really was very nice to have someone to talk to about everything."
"I understand. Sharing a secret or two can be a real relief."
"Did you ever share a secret?"
"What was it?"
"Well, it wouldn't be a secret if I just told it, now would it?"
"Oh. I shouldn't have pried."
"Quite all right."
"I just hate remembering it. I wish I'd never liked him."
"Isn't there anything I can do?" she asked. "I can't stand being trapped in Gryffindor Tower all the time, but I can't stand going out where they are."
Remus stood and went to his desk. In the bottom drawer were three large boxes of Honeydukes chocolates. He gave one to Ginny, who looked at him quizzically.
"Keep some chocolate on you when you go out," he said. "I do, every time I need to go to Hogsmeade to pick up a delivery. It helps."
"Really. But it doesn't do it alone. You have to block the Dementors out, think other thoughts. Accept that the things they make you remember... it's just what they do. But don't let them force you to feel what they want you to feel. It's what they feed on."
"How do I do that?"
"Every time you hear that laughter, I want you to remember that you're not just a girl who was possessed by Tom Riddle; you're also a girl who fought him tooth and nail, who didn't end up letting him hurt anyone, and who tried her best to banish him. Who figured all of it out on her own, according to Dumbledore, and at great cost."
"You lost a friend."
"Maybe. But he wasn't a real friend."
"That's what hurts most. I know something about that." He patted her shoulder tentatively. "You remember, every time you go near them, that you're stronger. That you know what's real. It's the best defense there is."
"But how do I know what's real?"
He smiled. "Well, for one thing, I'm telling you, and if you can't trust a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor with whom you've had a single conversation in the course of your life, who can you trust?" He winked.
She stared at him for a moment, then laughed.
"You'll know, Ginny," he said, serious again. "When you see what's real, you'll know inside."
"And you really won't teach me the spell you're teaching Harry?"
"I really won't. I don't want you thinking that you're ready to face a Dementor when you're not. So you promise me--stay away when you can, defend yourself when you have to, and get away as quickly as possible."
"I promise," she said. She craned her neck and looked at the tin of biscuits. "Is it too late to take you up on the biscuit?" He handed her the tin and she took one, standing up. "Thank you, Professor Lupin," she said. "I'll go back now. I... thank you."
Nibbling on the biscuit, she left.
Remus went to his window. The last of the daylight was going now, and the waning moon was visible as a ghost in the evening sky. A real ghost floated lackadaisically toward the North Tower, and a thestral darted up from the paddock in the Forbidden Forest to catch a bird.
Somewhere in the gloom, another ghost walked, on two feet or four, and as a Dementor's shadow glided near the castle's gate, Remus Lupin thought he heard a whisper of laughter.