ONE LAST LOOK
This story is dedicated to my mom, who passed away five weeks ago on February 8. She was 79 years young, and she liked Harry, too.
A heartfelt "Thank-you" to Suburban House Elf, my beta reader, who cares about stories and their authors as well.
It was early September and rain was falling on Number Twelve Grimmauld Place in great, heavy sheets. Harry sat alone in the Great Room in an old chair with goose down cushions, staring into the fire that flickered in the grate across the room. He listened to the sound of the rain as it rushed through the gutters and cascaded in waves down the window glass. The weather suited his mood. He had been mentally preparing himself for days for a trip he had wanted to take. He wanted to go, or so he told himself, but then it became tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the next, until it appeared he hardly wanted to go any more at all.
He had been staying with Lupin at Grimmauld Place for about a week now. Lupin had kept a respectful distance from the subject of Harry's sojourn at first, but now that the days had turned into a week, he was beginning to ask Harry about it.
"Are you sure you want to go, Harry?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"You don't have to, you know."
"Maybe it's too soon "
"Too soon? I wish I had done it a long time ago."
"Best get it over with, son."
"Because - it's raining."
"I'm not going if it's raining."
"Well you'll be waiting until spring then, because after the rain it'll be snowing, and then it'll be too cold, and then it'll rain again, and then it'll be summer, and it'll be too hot "
"I know. Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do. Really. But it's taken me this long, and I will get there. Just not today."
Lupin had forced a smile. "Right. No hurry. Take as long as you need."
A little later Lupin had brought him an old, hardbound photo album with black paper pages. He had placed it next to Harry at the dining table during dinner, and then pulled a chair up alongside him. Flipping almost to the back cover, he stopped and smoothed out the spine between two worn pages, one with a small tear at the top. After looking carefully at the photos on it and giving a knowing smile, he turned the book for Harry to see.
Harry set his spoon down and pushed his bowl of soup out of the way. He slid the album closer and gave Lupin an appreciative glance.
"That's it," said Lupin, tapping one of the photos. "That's Godric's Hollow."
Harry nodded. "I've seen it before," he said, "in the album Hagrid gave me."
"They were happy there, your parents," said Lupin. "And their happiness was doubled when you came along."
Harry smiled. "Yeah?"
"Absolutely. Of course, the house seemed a bit smaller after that, what with your toys and clothes and bottles and nappies and other baby things strewn about. And the noise level went up, as well."
Harry was taken aback. "What I cried a lot?"
"Well, there was that. But the noise was laughter mostly. And singing. You loved it when your mum sang to you. Your dad couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, though. But he could whistle a song like a bird. And he was an enthusiastic hummer." Lupin chuckled. "It was the noise of a happy house."
Harry nodded. He studied the house in the photo; a neat, square-looking faηade with a brick front walk curving up to the front door. There was a flowerbed brimming with plants and blooms that stretched beneath a big bay window off the front room. It definitely appeared to have been a happy house.
"Harry, I should warn you. The house that is still standing doesn't much resemble the house in these photos anymore."
"Yeah, I've thought about that," Harry said. "But it's still there, isn't it?"
"Oh yes, it's still there, the parts that are left standing. It's a shell of a house now, half destroyed, and the garden is thoroughly overgrown. Fortunately, the Muggles have pretty much left it alone. I don't think they know quite what to make of it, so the neighborhood seems to tolerate it as an oddity. The aftermath of powerful dark magic in their midst, I would guess."
Harry made a decision. "I'll go tomorrow," he said. "Ron and Hermione are going with me, so I'll let them know tonight."
"Tomorrow it is," said Lupin.
Early the next morning, there was a determined knock at the door. Harry and Lupin exchanged concerned looks at the breakfast table. They stifled the portrait of Sirius' mother before approaching the front door. Standing outside on the threshold was a short wizard dressed in chocolate brown robes. A large orange shield was embroidered on his chest bearing the letters "WPS". He appeared a bit soggy, having slogged his way up to the front door in the downpour. He held a clipboard in his hand and pulled a quill from behind his ear. He was standing in front of a box that was almost bigger than himself, with "CONTENTS EXTREMELY FRAGILE" written in large block letters on all sides.
"Wizard's Parcel Service," he announced. "Sign here, please." He looked up at them, offering the quill first to Lupin, who was too dumbstruck at first to say anything, and then to Harry.
"How did you " Lupin began in a suspicious voice.
"On the dotted line there, please," repeated the wizard slowly as he pressed the clipboard towards Harry.
"I didn't order anything," said Lupin firmly.
"Nor did I," said Harry.
"Don't sign, Harry," warned Lupin in a hushed voice. "It may not be safe. It might be a trick."
The wizard heaved an exasperated sigh. "'Special Delivery from Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry," he read aloud from the clipboard, "By Special Order of Minerva McGonagall. Overnight Shipment, Extra for Shipping Liability, Maximum Discretion Requested, No Extra Charge.'" He lowered the clipboard and continued, "They'll hit me with a Memory Charm when I get back to the Office. Nothing big, just short-term, to cover the terms of the contract. All in a day's work." He extracted a letter from an inside pocket of his robes and handed it to Harry.
Harry took the letter and opened it. The parchment inside, written with perfect joined lettering, read:
The time has come to settle the remainder of Professor Dumbledore's estate, what little there was of it. My understanding is that he bequeathed to you several of his personal items, which included a tin of lemon drops, seven pair of wool socks, and his Pensieve. You will find them carefully packaged and, hopefully, undamaged, as I did pay extra.
I hope this letter finds you well, and that as soon as you have finished settling your personal matters, you will come see me in my office at Hogwarts. I think you will find we have much to discuss.
Until then, my thoughts are with you.
Hogwarts Interim Headmistress Emeritus"
Harry looked up from the parchment. "It's alright," he said. "I'll sign."
When he had signed for the package and the wizard had disappeared in a strange chocolate brown-colored van, they closed the door and dragged the box up the stairs to the Great Room. Harry and Lupin had unpacked the box and assembled the Pensieve, which included emptying the glistening contents of a large, carefully packed crystal pitcher into the rune-carved bowl. They each had a handful of lemon drops from the tin, and Harry had removed his trainers and traded his own socks for a pair of Dumbledore's freshly laundered wool ones. He smiled at how toasty they made his feet feel, and agreed with Dumbledore that they were worth envisioning in the Mirror of Erised. He sat at last in the room alone on the feather-cushioned chair (wearing Dumbledore's wool socks and no shoes), listening to the rain, with an hour to go until Ron and Hermione arrived.
He stared at the Pensieve as it glowed with incandescent light. His thoughts turned to his parents, and their house, and to Sirius. Here he sat, he thought, in the house where Sirius had grown up, preparing to leave and visit the house where he, Harry, should have grown up. What a contrast that was. Whereas his own house had been alive with laughter and singing and love, Sirius' childhood home had been a dark place full of hatred. Why, Harry realized suddenly, Sirius had run away at sixteen and lived with James, his dad's family. In a way, they had both been a part of the same happy home. His dad had shared a house with them both at one time or other. I'll bet that house was full of laughter too, Harry thought with a smile, with James and Sirius together in it.
It occurred to Harry that the last time he had been with Sirius in any meaningful sort of way - before the Floo connection in Umbridge's office, before the Department of Mysteries had been in this place, in this very house. Harry sat up straight in his chair. He remembered that Sirius had given him a one-armed hug just before he had walked out the door that last time to join the others on the Knight Bus.
"Look after yourself, Harry," he had said.
If I'd only known then, Harry thought sadly, that I would never have another chance to see him face to face. If I'd only known that this was the last place I'd ever be around him, speak to him in person, before he . . . Of course, the Department of Mysteries was the very last place he'd seen him. But then Sirius had been busy dueling with Death Eaters and yelling at Harry, telling him to help Neville up and get out. And then he'd fallen through the veil.
Even though Sirius had finally gotten a chance to get out of Grimmauld Place and be part of a real battle and be useful, that wasn't a comforting memory at the moment. Harry still felt partly responsible for Sirius' being there and being drawn to his death. No, he thought, that wasn't how he wanted to remember him just now.
But seeing him on the stairs, hearing his godfatherly admonition to take care of himself, feeling his arm around his shoulders, that was the memory he wanted.
He looked at his watch. If he hurried, there was time.
He drew his wand from his jeans pocket and stepped towards the Pensieve. He tapped the tip of the wand to his temple and breathlessly removed several strands of gleaming thoughts, which floated down into the pearly liquid in the basin. He stirred the contents with his wand and returned it to his pocket. He scrunched his eyes shut tight and leaned into the bowl of spinning memories. He practically had to restrain himself from diving in. He was shaking with nerves and anticipation.
Clouds of thought parted and he found himself standing in the entryway of the house. Ron and Hermione were dragging their trunks out the door, followed by Ginny and Lupin. Tonks stood at the bottom of the stairs, looking anxiously up at two figures on the landing.
Harry saw the image of himself move to the top of the stairs, accompanied by Sirius, who was talking to him and handing him a package. When they reached the bottom of the stairs Mrs. Weasley gave him a big motherly embrace and Mr. Weasley shook his hand. Sirius wrapped his arm quickly around him and gave him a one-armed hug.
"Look after yourself, Harry," he said gruffly.
And then he was gone. Harry had wanted to say more, but Tonks had herded him out the door. It closed against the cold, and the vision was over.
As Harry felt himself begin to rise to the surface of the Pensieve, he grabbed his wand from his pocket frantically and began to wave it about.
"NO!" he shouted. "Again!"
Much to his surprise, the fog slowly evaporated and he found himself standing in the entryway. Once again the parade of people went by, the Weasleys made their goodbyes with hugs and handshakes, and Sirius embraced him with his arm.
"Look after yourself, Harry."
The door closed. This time Harry was ready. Wand still in his hand, he raised it more forcefully and cried, "Again!"
The scene replayed once more, and once more it was too short. It went by too quickly. He needed another chance.
But each time Harry called it to play out, he felt as if he were on the outside of a glass wall looking in. He was only a spectator, and his frustration and longing only grew.
"Look after yourself, Harry."
This time the sound of Harry's name in the vision was mingled with the call of voices from outside, high above the roof.
"Where are you, mate?"
Just before the door in his vision closed and the scene evaporated for the last time, Harry turned to the image of Sirius standing at the bottom of the stairs.
"I WILL!" he shouted, unheard, into the misting picture of his godfather. "You too, Sirius! You look after yourself, too!"
He allowed himself to travel in a whirl back to the surface of the Pensieve, where he emerged and landed on his feet, gripping the sides of the bowl. Ron jumped back and Hermione let out a little scream.
Lupin looked at Harry suspiciously. "Where did you go?"
Harry took a second to catch his breath. His head was spinning and Sirius' voice was ringing in his ears.
"I needed to see someone again."
"And who would that be?" Lupin asked.
"I needed to remember Sirius the last time I left here two Christmases ago."
"Did you see him?" Hermione asked cautiously.
"Yeah." Harry nodded. "I kept going back. I needed to see him again. I saw him over and over once wasn't enough."
"It's never enough, Harry," Lupin said quietly.
"Yeah. I know. But I needed to say goodbye."
Hermione laced her arm through his. "I'm sorry, Harry," she said.
Harry shrugged. "Thanks," he said. "But if Loony I mean, Luna was right, if they really are there just beyond the veil, I think - maybe he heard me."
"Oh, Harry!" Hermione threw her arms around his neck and embraced him.
"C'mon," he said, patting Hermione awkwardly on the back. "I think I'm ready to face Godric's Hollow now."
"Aw " protested Ron. "I was afraid of that. It's pouring outside, Harry. We'll drown."
"Let's at least wait until it stops," suggested Hermione. "You don't mind waiting a bit, do you?
"Hermione," Harry said, suppressing a smile. "Next you'll want to wait until spring, because after the rain it'll be snowing, and then it'll be too cold, and then it'll rain again, and then it'll be summer, and it'll be too hot . . . "
"That makes absolutely no sense," said Hermione.
"Yeah," Ron agreed. "Nice socks, though."