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3. SIRIUS'S STORY
Thanks to Artemisa for the idea for Death's character. I have her permission to borrow it. You can read her excellent take on this personage (originated by Terry Pratchett in the 'Discworld' series ) in her one-shot, 'Black Garden,' on sugarquill.net.
"Here it is, Sirius." She thrust the parchment at the face in the mirror.
"So what's this all about?"
Have you had a chance to look at it?
"No. Shall I?"
I guess it won't make much sense without an explanation. It's apparently a list of things Dumbledore meant to take care of before he died.
"Oh." Hermione couldn't keep a hint of irritation out of her voice. She'd always thought of Sirius as rather a shallow, flighty type. If he was going to waste her precious time making her run around looking for a laundry list…
Wait, Hermione. I'm not talking about trivial, everyday chores like airing out the guest bedroom or have having your pet Kneazle declawed. These are promises he made to people. Big promises, Hermione, life-and-death promises.
She glanced at the headings on the list. A lot of the words were abbreviated, but she recognized some right away, prominent among them: "Mggle-brns", "Drslys", "Kncktrn A.", "N.Mlfy","St. Mngo's","Lupn", "Scrmgr", "Prcy", "Krmm", and "Pttigrw."
"He certainly cast a wide net," she murmured.
Albus cared about everyone he ever met—even Tom Riddle.
"You said something about this list being important to help Professor Dumbledore--that he was trapped or something."
I'd better go back to the beginning. Did Harry tell you why he and Dumbledore were not in the castle the night the Death Eaters broke in?
"Yes, they were looking for Horcruxes—objects Voldemort has stored parts of his life essence in. Professor Dumbledore thought there was one in a cave by the ocean. He and Harry Apparated into it. Harry told me all about it. Ron too."
What exactly did he tell you?
"Inside the cave, they found this lake. And then a little boat appeared, and they used it to cross over to an island. Harry said they could see this green glow coming from the island. That's what they aimed for. Then they stepped ashore--"
While they were in the boat, did Harry mention seeing anything—in the water for instance?
"Oh, yes. The Inferi. He didn't know what they were at first. He just saw these corpses floating along. Dumbledore told him not to touch the water at any price."
Do you know what Inferi are, Hermione?
"They're sort of like zombies, aren't they? Animated bodies of dead people—but mindless. I think Voldemort has been able to conjure a great number to do his bidding—they're something like Dementors, aren't they?"
Not really. They are souls—tortured souls of people long dead--who have been given the loan of a body so that they can walk the earth for a time. And they're not entirely without thoughts. They've some of their own, and emotions too—
"What emotions?" she asked sharply.
Longing…regret…envy…among others. But go on with your story. I know some of it, but Lord Death was a tad coy--
"Let's see—they got onto the island—I gathered it wasn't very big, more like a rock sticking out of the water-- and there was this pedestal with a bowl on top filled some greenish, phosphorescent liquid. That's where the glow came from. And they could see a locket at the bottom of the bowl. The professor tried every way he could to reach it, but there was some kind of invisible barrier that prevented him--"
So he pulled a goblet out of the air.
"That's right—and it was able to get through to the liquid inside. How did you know about that?"
Lord Death told me. Dumbledore accio-ed it from beyond the Veil, from Death's own house. It's the only kind of vessel that would work, under the circumstances. That's some kind of magic, Hermione."
"Wait. This Lord Death you keep talking about—who is he?"
I'll explain later. Go on.
Hermione was with child to know more about this person all the ghosts kept referring to. He sounded like another powerful Dark Wizard—as if one wasn't enough. She hoped he wasn't a friend of You-Know-Who's. She had a hundred questions about Sirius's situation as well, but she could see he wasn't about to answer them—not yet at least-- so she continued the story resolutely. "Harry said it wasn't enough for them to just penetrate the barrier, or even to bail the fluid out of the bowl. For some reason, Dumbledore had to drink it."
Yes, the water from the river Styx must never be allowed to mingle with the waters of earth.
"The river Styx! What--? Why not?"
But Sirius's face had taken on a grim, closed look, so after a moment of silence, she went on.
"Harry said the professor made him promise to force him to keep on drinking no matter how much he begged not to—until the bowl was empty. And Harry did. I don't know how he found the strength, but he did. Each time he offered him a glassful, the professor begged, pleaded with him not to make him drink any more. Harry had to lie each time and say it was only water or it was the last glassful—like that. He said it was the hardest thing he'd ever done."
She remembered the look on Ron's face while Harry described the scene. Once he would have cringed at such a description or made some lame remark, but that day he just put a steadying hand on Harry's shoulder and held his eyes with a grave stare. It wasn't your fault mate, Ron had said, you did what you had to do. It was brave of you—really. For that, she should have kissed him right on the frown line puckering his freckled brow, but of course, she didn't.
Sirius cut into her thoughts. My godson has certainly been through some rough times. Did Dumbledore say anything, during the—ordeal?
"Harry said it was awful. After a couple of glassfuls, the professor seemed to fall into a trance or a restless sleep or something. He was twitching—all over--and he cried out, like he was having a nightmare—"
What did he say?
"Harry said it was like he was guilty of some terrible crime—or witnessing one. He kept saying, 'I'm sorry. It's all my fault,' and 'I did wrong' and 'please, don't hurt them'—things like that."
Do you know how many gobletfuls he drank?
"It's funny your asking that. I remember when Harry was telling us the story, he actually numbered them—like he counted each one as he filled the goblet. There were eleven in all."
Then there was liquid left in the bottom of the bowl—enough for just one more drink. Twelve glassfuls in all.
"How did you--? Was that important?"
Supremely so, according Lord Death. Because it was then that Harry did something that he never should have done, though it seemed the only thing he could do at the time.
"What? Oh, I know. He disturbed the bodies--the Inferi in the lake."
Yes, but that's not--
"No, no, he told me. The professor said he was terribly thirsty, and Harry couldn't get his Aguamenti charm to work properly, so he filled the goblet with lake water.
Right. And that's the important—
"Exactly. Because it woke the Inferi, and Harry had to try and fight them off."
"Yes, I'm telling you: Harry didn't have enough power, and they both might have been killed, but the professor came to his senses and drove the Inferi off—with a Fireball, I think."
Yes, yes, but the really important thing, the Nogtail in the pigsty, one might say, is that apparently that action of Harry's—putting the goblet into the lake--carried the last of the Styx water from the bowl into the lake.
"I—I don't understand. What's so wrong about that?"
The River Styx marks the border between this life and the next. If its waters are permitted to mingle with earthly matter, unspeakable things may happen.
"But, Sirius, that couldn't be. Harry and the professor--they got away all right--"
That is true, but the consequences of that rash act could not be carried out on the earthly plane. By the immutable laws of the Afterlife, punishment could only be inflicted after death.
Because the water of the Styx belongs to the Beyond. And, worse still, the first creatures it touched were already dead.
"You mean the Inferi."
Yes, it called to them, reminded them of their sorry fate. And shortly thereafter, Dumbledore died, making him susceptible to the water's magic. The punishment I spoke of is even now being wreaked on his soul by the spirits of those dead who were present in the lake.
"Oh no," she moaned. "You said Dumbledore was trapped. You meant by the Inferi?"
The image in the mirror nodded gravely. Inferi are a branch of the Dead who are incarcerated in a lower world—beyond a watery border early Greek Muggles called the River Styx. It's a kind of dull Hell reserved for those who have never kept their promises in this life—perennial liars, charlatans, and their ilk. There are other Hells as well, but this is the only one from which evil wizards like Voldemort can draw his minions. Having all these regrets about faithless pledges and broken vows, the Inferi stay in closer touch with this life than other spirits. They long to come back, even if only as zombies. Have you ever read Dante?
"Only The Inferno. My parents were taking me to Florence one summer and thought I should have some background first."
In it, Dante describes the circles of hell. He was quite prescient, for a Muggle. Circle eight holds the souls from whom Voldemort's Inferi are drawn: inveterate liars, hypocrites, thieves, gossips, warmongers, counterfeiters, flatterers, fortune-tellers. Probably more sinners there than in any other level.
"So his army could number in the millions."
Well, not quite. As I say, in order for them to be able to fight or hinder living beings, he has to have bodies to join them to--that they can walk around in. But although they can only affect the living through inhabiting a physical body, when Dumbledore died, their souls were drawn to his through the bond of the Styx. And there was another link as well. Their sins of omission haunt them eternally, so they are able to hold him and torment him because of something they understand best—his unfulfilled commitments.
"And this list contains some of those commitments."
All of them, if I'm right. I remember some of the Order meetings he chaired. Dumbledore never let even a hint of magical danger to any wizard or witch—or Muggle even-- go unanswered. Whenever someone would come to the Order with a problem or an injustice—especially if it had to do with the Death Eaters--he would write it down. At meetings, he parceled them out—to everyone but me, of course. And he took a lot of those tasks on himself too—the most challenging ones I think, the ones with the greatest risk. And he always wrote down his obligations and crossed them off as he completed them. Our beloved Headmaster may have seemed disorganized in some ways, but where people's welfare was concerned, he was totally reliable. You can be sure that what you hold in your hand is the key to Albus Dumbledore's salvation.
"So if someone goes around and carries out the promises he made, the professor will be released."
It's more like the Inferi will no longer recognize him as one of their own, and they will lose interest, so to speak. He will become transparent, and thus invisible, to them. That's what Lord Death says.
"We should get this list to the Aurors immediately. Even though they're busy hunting down Professor Snape and Draco, they'll still want to make this a first priority."
But the question is: would they believe you? Even worse, can we trust any of them? They report to Scrimgeour, you know.
"Tonks would never…"
But if she asked for extended leave, and couldn't tell them why…This is a long list, Hermione.
"Okay, okay, the Aurors are out. The Order then."
Most of them are Aurors.
Professor McGonagall--erm--no, tha's right. She'll be busy--at school." She didn't mention to Sirius that the new Headmistress looked much older since Dumbledore died. And that look she has whenever she says his name--it would kill her to know he's suffering still. "What about Professor Lupin?"
Have you seen him lately?
I'm going to tell you something in strictest confidence, Hermione. While I was still alive, Dumbledore gave Remus Lupin a very important commission: to infiltrate the rogue werewolf population and try to neutralize them. We can't let him be distracted from that.
"But Professor Dumbledore..."
…would agree with me. The werewolves are the biggest threat to both the Muggle and magical populations now, even worse than the Inferi or the Dementors…or even the Giants. Remember, every werewolf attack means new members for the pack, countless potential Dark allies. And to be a werewolf is worse than death, Hermione, much worse. Dumbledore wouldn't want Remus to leave that post, even to save his soul.
"Harry…or Ron…no, we can't bother them with this. Harry's been through too much already, and if he thought that he was responsible for the Professor's suffering, it would just about kill him. Oh, and Ron's going to be celebrating his brother's marriage. I can't deprive his family of him now, especially since it might be the last time he ever… And Ginny—no, I couldn't put her through this. Oh dear…what can we…?"
Don't you see, Hermione? The only person available is… you.