Author's Note: This is a darker story than I usually write ... well, I suppose after "Andantino," I can't really say that, but .... It has been nagging at me ever since I learned about The Prank, and the things we learned about Sirius' family just made the story work better. The Knight of the Mirrors appears in Cervantes' Don Quixote, and his gift is ... well, you'll see. Thanks to the members of the SQ Workshop for their thoughtful commentary. Also thanks to the Evil Twins: Gryffinjack and Pelirr0ja, and to The Good Doctor Monaco. Thanks to Shannon for her phenomenal attention to detail and for being such a pleasure to work with And, as always, many thanks to Alkari for letting me borrow Dickens and Professor Heldin, and for good questions and careful reading.
SSirius Black surveyed the wooden recorder lying on the floor of the practice room. A jagged crack ran along the side of the musical instrument's central barrel. Although the foot joint had escaped mostly undamaged, it carried several thick scratches. The worst damage, though, was to the head-joint: this had split completely in two, and the plug was gouged, chipped, and weeping with oil.
--I should have taken it back to the dormitory.
Without heat, his thought, and almost without regret. He had oiled the bore after dinner, being very careful not to let any oil touch the plug, and had left the instrument on a shelf in the repair room so that the oil could soak into the wood. Remus hated the smell of bore oil, said it made it difficult for him to sleep, and Sirius had not-
--It's only a thing.
A little more heat, this time, but only barely. Things leave in their own time. They wore out, or broke; they lost their utility or appeal. Either way, they were gone, and did not return.
He drew his hand back, deliberately focused his thoughts on the recorder, rather than on his own sense of failure, or the person (... And which of us was that really, Mr Black, Snape ... or you? ...) who of a certainty had broken it out of revenge or just sheer fury, and left its pieces on the floor in Sirius'-their, he admitted-favourite practice room.
(Dumbledore's tired voice, courteous, steely, yet remote; deeply disappointed but somehow ... the worst, most terrible thing Sirius could imagine ... somehow not surprised ... "You and Mr Snape will leave each other alone, Mr Black. No matter the cause, no matter the provocation ...")
It was only a thing. An old thing, one that had survived generations of humans and their idiocies. A thing that had rapidly become quite important to him as he spent hours coaxing his fingers into learning new patterns, new movements, working blindly through the hours he once would have spent talking or plotting pranks. But a thing, nonetheless.
He could repair it magically himself-a Repairing Charm was a simple enough spell-and the wood would grow together into a seamless whole; the bore would be oiled and the plug would once again be smooth and dry. He could repair it, but the notes would never be as smooth, as crisp, as satisfying as they had been. He could take it to Dumbledore and take savage satisfaction in the punishment that the Headmaster meted out to Snape, but the notes would still be muddier, blurrier, less clean.
And, after all, what was the point?
Things left. When they were well and truly broken, there was no repairing them. And Fiona had been complaining that he had not been playing as well as usual. He should concentrate on his piano practice.
Sirius pulled a cleaning rag from his pocket, intending to wipe up the excess oil. The rag caught on the other contents of his pocket-some crumpled pieces of parchment, a couple of quills, and an old sock-and tumbled them to the floor. Sometimes things outlived people, or friendships; mute reminders that the person who had created them, loved them, given them meaning, was gone. Or, worse yet, no longer interested in them. Things were durable, that way.
Slowly he reached for them. His quill, one of Peter's (in rather better condition); James' sock, and Remus' neat notes for a prank the four of them had been planning ... before ...
(Dumbledore's infinitely tired voice; that terrible note of weary finality...)
Stung into sudden action, he snatched up quills, sock, crumpled parchment, wheeled, and hurled them into the fireplace in one fluid movement. A quick blast from his wand-later he realized that he had barely even thought "Incendio" before the fire blossomed in the grate-and they were gone as if they had never been. The pieces of the recorder would have followed, had his swiftness not burned out as quickly as it had appeared. Stooping again, this time with an old man's care, he picked up the recorder's pieces and wiped the bore oil from the floor so it would not make someone slip. He dropped the pieces one by one into the piano bench's seat well, and, as he left the practice room, tossed the rag into the fire.
As he came down the stairs from the music tower he heard the roar of voices from the Great Hall. It was louder and more excited than usual, and Sirius flinched back from the door. Breakfast before the Christmas train to King's Cross. That was ... good. For two weeks he would be able to stop pretending, stop smiling and joking and horsing around. For two weeks it wouldn't matter what he ate-or didn't eat-and most of all, it wouldn't matter what he dreamed.
He turned from the door, and made his way up to the Gryffindor common room, muttering "Bays and Rosemary" to the Fat Lady before climbing through the portrait hole. Students' trunks were piled on the floor, ready for the house elves to transport them to the train. There was James' trunk, solidly banded with brass, and there on its end was Peter's, more than a little battered and painted in a Muggle camouflage pattern. And there, under a bunch of suitcases, was a plain wooden-framed trunk with chipped sides and ...
Good. They were all going home for Christmas.
("...if that is your wish, Mr Black, you may of course remain ..." So remote ...)
His mother had sent back a cold reply to his note saying that he would be staying at Hogwarts over the holidays. Sirius had laughed humourlessly and had tossed it into the fire without reading more than the first two sentences. The rest would have been repetitive, anyway; his mother had impressive volume but, in the end, little imagination or inventiveness.
He had not realized quite how tired he was of maintaining the façade. It had never been a problem before; save for James and Peter and ... Sirius had never really let anyone see him, not as he really was; he hid himself well behind the pranks and rebelliousnessHe thought about lying down for a while, stretching out behind the heavy red velvet bed curtains. It would be nice not to have to do anything. --Except think. Think. No. Lying down was no good. Better something else. Something tiring. Maybe the house elves needed help shifting all the trunks down to the train. No, no good; they did it with magic. Idiot. Hagrid might need help feeding the Thestrals this evening-Sirius couldn't see them, but he could see ...whatever Thestrals ate ... well enough. But that was tonight. Perhaps ... he flinched a little at the thought, but perhaps ... Filch ... needed something....
Before he could follow that truly appalling thought any further, the portrait hole swung open and James and Peter scrambled into the common room. Sirius looked up, swallowed, and said, "I was just ..."
"Going out," Peter finished, his tone dry. "We figured, when we didn't see you at breakfast, so we came up here to catch you." He surveyed the trunks. "Did you bring yours down?"
"I'm not going home for Christmas this year," Sirius said. "As I have told you now for the fourth day in a row." His lips tightened, but then he added, deliberately light, deliberately silly, "On the fourth day of Christmas, my good friends asked of me ..." He caught James' eye, and dropped the lightness. "It isn't Christmas there, and you know it. Just the wizarding equivalents of Grindelwald's supporters in Dickensian trappings."
"If you went home, you wouldn't have to stay there. You could go visiting, instead of being stuck here by yourself. There's my house," James suggested. Sirius' mouth tightened again at James' carefully neutral tone. "Or Peter's."
"No, thank you," Sirius said, placing a polite finality in his voice.
James and Peter glanced at each other and shrugged. Sirius didn't know whether to be relieved or to cry, certain only that he had to keep his face bland and his eyes blank until he could be alone. Two months ago they would have persisted, would not have relented until Sirius had agreed to join them. Two months ago they had all been planning to stay for four days at James' house, between Christmas and New Year, as the moon would be full right after the New Year. Two months ago he would not have had to be asked. Two months ago ...
But plans were like things. No matter how hard you tried to keep them, no matter how good your intentions, they faded away. Like people.
Peter held out a napkin wrapped around some sausages. "Breakfast. I'd make you promise to eat something every day, but I don't have to. There are so few people staying that the teachers will make you eat with them, like they did the Christmas I stayed. Just in case you had any bright ideas about skiving off meals, that is." He took one of Sirius' hands and wrapped it around the napkin. "Just don't throw it in the fire until after I've gone, if you please, Sirius," he said, and hesitated, before punching Sirius lightly on the arm, wishing him a happy Christmas, and hastily swinging out the portrait hole.
After a moment, James said, "That silent trick may work on Wormtail, but not on me."
"What do you want me to say?" Sirius asked politely. He set the sausages down on a trunk. "We've had this conversation at least three times before. You asked me if I was coming home for Christmas, and I said I wasn't, and..."
"No, you're just going to stay here and suffer ostentatiously, aren't you?"
"And what, exactly, is the point of coming to your house over the holidays?" Sirius kept his tone light. James narrowed his eyes and said nothing. He stood easily, but as firmly as though he had grown out of the worn floorboards of the common room. Sirius sighed; he recognized the stance from years of arguments. When James was one hundred and twenty, he would still stand the same way, rooted and immovable.
Sirius gave up. "Look, I don't exactly feel like getting glared at for four days, all right? You three would be better off without me if he's going to keep on acting like this."
James sighed, ran his fingers through his hair. "You can't just leave it like this, you know. Remus has to come around sometime. It may take some more time, that's all. It ... er ... was rather bad. But ..."
"Sod off, James, I'm not coming. Why should I get glared at over Christmas? My mother's bad enough, thank you."
James scowled. "Look, you know you're welcome to come, any time, even for a day. My mother sent an owl saying that if you changed your mind you could Floo over from Hogsmeade. We can do something after New Year, maybe; it's been a while since you and I did something on our own..."
"Yeah, I might do that. But quit prodding, James. If R- if he wants to be friends again he's going to have to tell me himself. I'm tired of this." Sirius could not keep his face from working, so he whirled abruptly and began to pace. "Damn it, James, I've said I was sorry! For two solid months now, over and over and over, as many ways as I could think to say it! I've kept out of his way, I've been a good little boy, I even wrote a note to apologize to his parents! What more does he want?"
(Dumbledore's look, burned in his memory: it would take strength to ignore that ... the look on his face--disappointment and sorrow and steely determination-- after Sirius had explained just why he had ... No. Close away that thought...)
He had let his voice rise, hoping to drown out the memory of Dumbledore's eyes. "And on top of that, I haven't so much as looked at Snivellus since then, and under provocation, too. And that oily worm has kept his mouth shut, too, hasn't breathed a word of what he saw in the tunnel; it's not like anything happened, so what's the problem? And if Moony doesn't get the message there's bugger all I can do about it. So what's the point of even trying?"
James was standing very still, looking a little beyond Sirius. In the sudden quiet Sirius heard the portrait door click. He turned, and his anger dissolved into a wash of sick misery as he saw Remus' white face.
"Uh ..." Sirius sputtered. "Moony. Listen-"
"Don't," Remus said, his voice as remote as Dumbledore's. "I heard enough." He walked over to the pile of trunks, frowned when he saw that his was at the bottom of a stack, and shrugged. Sirius watched him, saw the slight jerkiness to Remus' normally fluid movements that usually indicated anger ... or disappointment.
"Need help?" James asked, in a would-be normal voice.
"I can do without it," Remus answered, his tone only slightly less chilly.
Sirius felt uncomfortably warm, prickly, as if he were going to vomit. He pushed the feeling aside. "Look, Moony," he began, carefully using the nickname, and looking Remus straight in the face, "I was stupid and wrong, even if it was Snivellus, and I just didn't think, and I don't know any other way to say it, so how long is this nonsense going to go on?"
He actually stepped backward at the look in Remus' eyes.
"Nonsense." Remus took a deep breath. "You really don't understand, do you? I used to think you knew the difference between fun and real harm, but now I think Lily is right."
Fresh misery enveloped Sirius; this was all going wrong; why couldn't Remus just see? What did Lily have to do with it?
Before Sirius could say anything more, Remus continued, in that same pallid, merciless voice, "You say you're different, Sirius, and I know you think you really are. But when all is said and done you are just like your family after all He turned and walked out of the room, and the portrait door swung shut behind him with a soft, final click.
Sirius stood for a moment, his face working, too stunned even to breathe. Then, because anger was better than hearing Remus' words replaying in his head, he snatched up the sausages and threw them savagely at the closed door. "Likes to hit below the belt, does he?"
James shook his head, clearly mulling it over. "I don't understand it either. Well, he's still angry, Sirius, and he has a right to be, but he's wrong about you. Anyone who knows you knows that you're completely opposite your people And I have to say I agree that Snivellus deserved it." He looked perplexed. "Remus'll come around, Sirius, he has to."
"Does he?" Sirius barely heard his own voice, as cold as Remus' had been, through another strong wave of misery.
"I'll try talking to him when he's had a few more days to cool down."
"He's had nearly two months. I think what he's telling me is that it's broken, done, finished. And when that happens, there's nothing that can fix it, James. Nothing."
James laid an awkward hand on Sirius' shoulder, but Sirius shrugged it off, still staring at the door as if he could bring Remus back and replay the last five minutes. So little time to have done so much damage. Five minutes this month, five minutes two months ago, and countless minutes in between: and six years of friendship were gone as if they had never been. "Go have a good Christmas, James. Eat lots of pudding and annoy your cousins for me. I'll see you right after New Year, maybe."
James laughed, but Sirius could hear falsity in it, for the first time. So. Another thing that had been broken, and he hadn't even realized it.
A rustle of parchment, and James was holding out the Map. "If you're really going to stay here, Sirius, you might as well keep this over the holidays. It isn't going to do me any good at my house."
Sirius pocketed the Map and threw a half-hearted air punch at James, who responded with a limp kung fu kick. With the amenities concluded, James swung open the portrait-hole door, leaving Sirius alone.
Christmas was less miserable than he had thought it might be, if only because he barely noticed it.
Flitwick had organized carol singing in the Great Hall in the afternoon and had asked Sirius to accompany the singers and the ghosts on the piano. "It will help me keep them in tune!" Flitwick had squeaked, and Sirius, who had seen no polite way to refuse, had accepted as graciously as he could. Privately he vowed to coat McGonagall's chalkboard with invisible explosive powder next term, as he suspected she was the one who had told Flitwick that he played.
He ate Christmas dinner at the faculty table, together with the other students-two Slytherin fifth-years whose families were abroad, several Ravenclaw seventh-years who were taking extra tutoring sessions for their N.E.W.T.s, some Hufflepuffs from somewhere on the Continent, and a scattering of Gryffindors. Sirius knew most of them only tangentially, but during dinner he kept up a witty façade, and made as much cheerful-sounding noise as he could, while he pushed his food around his plate to make it look as if he were eating. He even went so far as to manoeuvre a Muggle whoopee cushion onto Professor Flitwick's chair when Flitwick stood up on a high stool to give a toast. That stunt earned him a low-lidded, measuring look from McGonagall, pursed lips from Professor Heldin, and a roll of the eyes from the Hufflepuff fourth-years, which he supposed he deserved, as he had outgrown that level of prank by the time he was ten. He wasn't even sure why he had done it.
During dinner Sirius evaded Filch's pointed questions about Dickens' annual holiday attire-this year Sirius and James had spelled the cat's fur to look as if he had multicoloured fairy lights in his fur, and tinsel wrapped around his tail, none of which were apparent to Dickens himself. He accepted a round of applause from the other students for his playing, pulled crackers with Hagrid, and smiled at Dumbledore without really meeting the Headmaster's eyes.
When dinner was over Sirius declined an invitation to even the numbers in the snow fort beside the lake, but once outside the Great Hall he stopped. He had practiced piano exercises and the piano part of the Sibelius duet he and Fiona were preparing, but he didn't feel like playing music any more tonight. There was always the Communication Spell he and Remus had been planning to develop, but figuring it out just as an intellectual exercise wasn't really appealing, either. He thought about the tunnel they had been exploring-in addition to the Map, James had left his Invisibility Cloak, and Sirius reckoned he could get into that one without being seen. No good, either; it had too many memories. Were there areas on the Map that they hadn't explored? It would be fun to show ... no, it would be good to learn them so as to have a place for himself. Or just James.
Sirius faded into a small reading alcove and shook out the map. He'd look for some place near the music rooms, perhaps; there was a whole warren of passageways up there that he had never seen anyone use. Obligingly, the Map focused on the music practice rooms, and he studied them carefully. He didn't see anything that looked like an entrance to a tunnel, but there were a number of intriguingly crooked passageways and oddly-shaped rooms, and ... he looked again, just to be sure ... a staircase that looked as if it went down to intersect with the Slytherin dungeons. -Now that's definitely worth a look, he thought, and headed up toward the practice rooms as a start.
At nearly midnight he had not yet located the stairway down to the dungeons-either it shifted, like many of the Hogwarts staircases, or there was a trick entrance he hadn't figured out yet. But he had found a number of fascinating rooms, including one with a long table and soft squashy chairs that looked like a good alternative to either the common room or the library. Yawning, Sirius was about to head back to his dormitory when he saw a small arched doorway in the back wall of the room.
Sirius glanced at the Map, but it was no help; it showed that that wall was the outer wall of the castle, and that there was nothing beyond it. Sirius walked over and looked at it closely. It had to be a false door, but it looked real. It had a mahogany frame and lintel, and a small trefoil carved into the decorative apex of the arch, which rose just even with the top of his head. It looked like the Victorian renovations in Muggle church architecture. Why would someone put an imitation door on the wall? And why a door sized for dwarves?
--Let's see how far the builder took the illusion, Sirius thought, and tugged at the door handle. It hesitated, and then the door swung open. At first Sirius thought it just opened onto a black-painted panel, to give the illusion of a dark hole, and then it bloomed with light. He peered through the door, and saw a small dusty room, hung with a pair of patched tapestries, bare of furniture save for something draped in a sheet standing on a threadbare rug in the far corner of the room.
--Curiouser and curiouser, he thought. Peter's nose would be twitching by this point, and he would be urging caution. James would be theorizing how the framers built the room beyond so that it looked real, and Remus would say ...
--Why go to the trouble of an illusion for a room like this? Sirius wondered. He pulled out his wand and sent a jet of white sparks into the room. They cast magnesium-hot shadows as they fell to the wide floorboards and winked out, and Sirius raised an eyebrow. -A damn good illusion, at that.
Cautiously, gripping the lintel, he reached out his arm, half-expecting to meet a cleverly-painted wall panel at any moment. His hand passed through, and he waved it about, feeling rather foolish. He backed up for a moment, considering. Although he didn't really much care if he stepped through that doorway and fell however-many-floors to the ground below, he didn't like the thought of James twitting him posthumously about stupidity. -Not, he acknowledged wryly, --that I'd hear it if he did.
Coming to a decision, he reached back and hooked a pillow from one of the sofas, and tossed it through the open door. It fell to the floorboards with a solid, reassuring thump. -Well then, here goes, Sirius thought, and stepped over the threshold.
It was a perfectly normal room.
He thumped the floor, first gently, and then with more vigour. No hollow sound anywhere. He pounded the walls, prodded the mouldings, peered behind the tapestries, and found nothing more dangerous than centuries-old dust bunnies. Whatever the room had been used for, it was solid enough. A sudden thought struck him, and he pulled out the Map again, but even though he was standing in the hidden room, the Map did not show it. Instead, it rather disconcertingly showed a dot labelled "Sirius Black" hanging in midair over the Hogwarts walls, ten stories up.
Curiouser and curiouser, indeed. He'd have to bring James up here after the holidays were over.
He walked to the corner and twitched the sheet away from the object standing there, which proved to be a mirror in a frame carved to look like the door. He could barely make out his reflection in the old glass, which showed discolorations and non-reflective places where the backing had flaked away. Sirius examined the frame for some indication of the mirror's function, but finally concluded that it was no more and no less than a dressing mirror.
He picked up the sheet to drape it over the mirror, but then dropped it in surprise. The mirror no longer reflected the room around him, but a wide, treeless expanse. Peering closer, Sirius rapped on the glass with his knuckles. Suddenly he felt a pull at his navel, rather like that of a Portkey, and saw the room swirl away into nothingness. Did every transportation method have to make you dizzy, or pull unpleasantly at the skin of your navel? barely had time to wonder what was happening when he landed on something gritty and hot, and saw that he was standing on that plain.
He had somehow been transported into the mirror. Or, at least, into the world that the mirror reflected. Sirius' wand was already out, although he had no memory of drawing it. He backed up, hoping to be pulled back through the mirror to the room beyond, and stopped in horror.
There was no mirror behind him.
Sirius felt around a little, in case the mirror was simply invisible. No such luck. None of the Seeing Spells he knew showed the mirror, nor did Summoning Spells. The plains stretched around him, with nothing to break their endlessness. No trees, no shade ... no water. And it was hot, hotter than he had ever imagined being. -How long will it take a human to bake in heat like this? he wondered, feeling the sweat already beginning to bead on his face and gather on his body. At last he sat down on the ground to think. He knew that Hogwarts had certain safeguards against spells that got too far out of control, but, he realized, even if this was an illusion, that the Map had said that he was not currently in the Castle. No rescue there.
The Map. He pulled it out of his pocket, flattened it against the stony ground. It was unchanged; it still showed the music rooms and the little dot labelled "Sirius Black" hanging out over mid air. It was a grey colour, though, not a rich black, and Sirius wondered whether that was a result of his having been sucked into the mirror. -Note to self, he thought. -Stay away from magical mirrors!
He squinted at the horizon again, hoping to have missed something-a tree, a well, anything. Nothing there. Sirius shucked off his robe and pulled his red Gryffindor jumper over his head, and then put the robe on again; there was no use being sunburned as well as baked. He thought for a moment, and then half-buried the jumper in the dirt and loose rocks, so he could see it but so it would not blow away. Sirius did not want to lose this spot; it might be the only place the mirror appeared. He picked a direction at random, and started off, but quickly remembered that, with nothing to take bearings from, he might not be able to walk in a single direction.
An irregular flashing on the horizon drew his attention. Something moving, something tall, coming toward him, faster than he would have thought possible. He realized that it was a man, dressed in ornate armour. Sirius wondered whether, if the knight took off his armour, he would be boiled pink like a shrimp in the heat. The knight wore a helmet with a visor, down so that his face was hidden, and visor, helmet, and armour were all polished to a mirrored brightness. As the knight drew closer Sirius found himself flinching away from the sun flashing on the knight's armour.
The knight stopped before Sirius. Although the knight did not seem to be threatening, aside from the speed with which he had approached, Sirius kept his wand ready just in case. The silence stretched out between them, and finally Sirius said, "Ummmm ... I don't mean to intrude on your ... er ..." What did one say to someone in armour? "Your territory, if this is what this is. I fell through a mirror, and ..."
"This is my place," the knight said. "Not my territory. It does not matter how you came to be here."
--What's the difference? "Look, I think you are making a mistake. I ..."
"Your explanations are irrelevant. The mirror does not make mistakes. You are here because you must be here, and I must now do my duty."
"What do you mean, the mirror does not make mistakes?" Sirius asked, his voice wary. "And what's your duty?"
The knight raised his shield, turning it so that Sirius could see the facing side. To Sirius' surprise, the shield was a mirror. "You must look into my mirror."
Something about the shield's surface disturbed Sirius, and he answered in a colder voice than he had intended, "I've had enough encounters today with enchanted mirrors, thank you very much."
"You must look into my mirror," the Knight repeated, his voice passionless, implacable.
Sirius glanced at the shield, and quickly glanced away. It was plain, polished glass, and yet it also seemed to him to be divided into a number of different scenes, with crowds, worlds, gates, animals all carved into it. It drew his eyes, but at the same time it made his skin crawl, and as the Knight turned Sirius flinched away from the bright sun flashing from the shield. Look deeply into that ... "All right, is it the door back to where I came from?"
"No. But you must look into my mirror."
Sirius sighed. Either he was marooned on a plain, with no immediate way of leaving, or he was trapped in a magic mirror hanging outside one of the Hogwarts' towers, and in both scenarios he had to be stuck with a monomaniacal re-creationist with armour and a huge sword. "Haven't we had this conversation before?" he asked. "No, thank you. I'm going to walk this way and see if I can find a way back to the Castle --"
He stopped short. The knight had drawn his sword, and Sirius scrambled backward as it sliced through the air right in front of him. He threw a quick Jelly-Legs Jinx at the knight, to keep him from being able to fight effectively, but the spell bounced off the knight's armour and sizzled out on the grass. By then Sirius had hurled several curses in quick succession-his speed and raw power had always been an advantage in duelling practice-but each in turn bounced off the knight's armour or was deflected by his sword.
The knight's sword flashed, and parts of Sirius' robe fluttered to the ground. Sirius threw up a hasty Impediment Jinx as the knight raised his sword again, but all it did was to slow the knight's stroke in time for Sirius to dance backwards. He fired off a series of Prickling Powder spells - used with great effect on Filch last September--at the chinks in the knight's armour, but if the spells had any effect, Sirius could not tell. The Knight merely advanced, and Sirius backed up once more, his feet slipping a little on the loose stones. The Knight's sword raised and came down as if it had a life of its own. Sirius ducked past the knight, hurling the most inventive array of curses he had ever put together, but the knight followed. No spell was effective against him; everything bounced off his mirrored armour or, worse yet, seemed to be absorbed into it. And Sirius was tiring; it was increasingly hard to keep his footing on the uneven ground, and, between the heat, and the lack of food over the last month, his spells were losing power, focus, and aim. --I will have to tell Peter that I should have eaten his sausages, Sirius thought grimly, --assuming I live through this and find a way to get back.
--Okay, time for the big guns. "Incendio!" he shouted, aiming at the Knight's feet, following up by raising a whirlwind of dirt, grit, and sand to blast its way into the chinks of the Knight's visor and blind him. But although the Knight's armour was glowing red-hot up to his calves, he showed no sign of any pain. Instead, he swung his sword once more, and the whirlwind bounced back and enveloped Sirius. Temporarily blinded, Sirius stumbled backward, sprawling full length on the sand. In an instant the Knight was on him, pinning Sirius' arms to the ground with his knees. Sirius fought, but he might as well have been trying to move Hogwarts. Exhausted, he lay limp. Finally his eyes cleared, and Sirius lifted his chin. "Get on with it, then, if you're going to," he told the Knight.
Instead of using his sword, the knight took Sirius' chin in his gauntleted hands. Sirius tried to jerk his head away, but found that he could not break the knight's grasp. Sirius saw a flash of bright light out of the corner of his eye, but before he could figure out what it was, the Knight's shield was above him. The mirror's surface seemed even more ... alive ... than before, and Sirius again tried to turn his head away.
"You must look."
Sirius closed his eyes.
The gauntleted fingers tightened, and Sirius grunted in pain. His eyes flew open, and before he could look away his gaze was caught in the Knight's mirror. He had time to think that he really needed to stay away from mirrors, and then he was falling.
Sirius landed on the soft grass by the lake. -What the --- ? He sat up and looked around him. -Grass, not snow. How did I get here? And people are here ... how long was I gone? Even though several people passed him, nobody seemed to notice him. Finally, he reached backwards to pull himself upright, and found the Knight standing there, sword sheathed.
Sirius sat, frozen.
--Look. And listen. The whisper curled through his head. The Knight. Look and Listen. To what? The Knight reached out and turned Sirius' head so that he was looking back at the Castle, where a group of boys was meandering down to the lake.
"Well, I thought that paper was a piece of cake. I'll be surprised if I don't get an Outstanding on it at least."
James, Remus, and Peter.
Correction. James, Remus, and Peter .... and himself. -What the ...?
That complacent, self-satisfied sound couldn't be his voice.
"Me, too," James said, in a voice almost as arrogant. James had taken out a Snitch, and was showing off rather spectacularly; he would let it get almost a full foot away from him before catching it. Peter was watching James with an expression of near-worship on his face, and Sirius swallowed hard at the intensity of Peter's desire to be like James. -Why didn't I ever see ...?
He had it now: last year, the break right after their O. W. L.'s. But they had had a right to be satisfied, hadn't they? Those exams had been difficult, even for them, and even though everyone thought he and James never really worked, they did. Hard. And they had done well.
"Put that away, will you? Before Wormtail wets himself from excitement."
They were always saying things like that. Every boy Sirius knew said things like that, and if he had a Time Turner to go back to the beginning of all days, he'd bet that Adam's boys would have been saying the same things. You could say what you meant without saying it; it was simply understood, that was all. It was a way of letting another boy know you were friends, without having to say something that mushy. It was a way of lessening the impact of the moment by making a joke. It was ...
...it was also a way of putting another boy in his place in the boy-pack. A place that was firmly below yours. Boys said those things to each other, and that was fine; he and James said those things all the time. They said them to Peter, and Peter never said them back.
James had put the Snitch away. -He'll listen to me, but not to Peter. That's ...
"I'm bored. Wish it was full moon." Sirius sat up straighter, wondering at himself. -How could I say that?Remus never feels well at the full moon. What am I wishing? Sirius shook himself. -Remus has fun at the full moon, he says so! Like all of us do now! That's all I meant.
"You might," Remus replied, and Sirius heard what he had not heard before-the longing to be running free, yes, and enjoyment of the fun they had, yes, but beneath it all a weary remembrance of pain. Full moons might be fun, but they were also laced with pain.
He had missed some of the interplay.
"Snivellus." The contempt in own voice brought him up short. With a jolt Sirius remembered his father the night that Andromeda announced her engagement. "Ted Tonks," his father had said, in tones no different from Sirius'. -But he hates Muggles, and Muggle-borns, and I couldn't care less whether someone's line is "pure"! It's just oily Slytherins I ...
--Listen. And watch.
"You aren't much of a conversationalist, are you?" Sirius muttered to the Knight.
Sirius turned his attention back to the group on the lawn. He and James had risen to their feet, but Remus still sat reading. Or not reading, Sirius acknowledged. It was clear that Remus not only was not reading, but was carefully trying to avoid seeing something.
Peter, on the other hand, was almost quivering with excitement. His glance darted from Snape to James to Remus, back and forth, back and forth, not in fear, but eagerly. Sirius realized that Peter wanted to see something happen, see someone get bullied, as much or more than Remus wanted to ignore it. Sirius blinked as Peter's avid face wavered and then solidified into Aunt Elladora's face as she questioned one of the house-elves. Sirius had been nine, but he knew that no matter the house-elf's explanation or justification, Elladora was going to punish him. Her eyes were bright, sparkling with malice; her lips slightly parted, her breath coming a little fast. Most of all the eagerness, the pleasure in drawing out the elf's anticipation and fear ....
Elladora's face wavered and became Peter's, and then wavered again and became that of Pompey Bainton-Somerville, a fourth-year Slytherin boy. Unlike most of the Slytherins, Pompey was fairly incompetent. He was thin and weedy, and when no other targets were around was bullied unmercifully by the members of his own House. But he was usually there watching Slytherin bullies attack others, lurking in the background and staring with the same sort of sick avidity Peter was showing.
"All right, Snivellus?" James called.
Peter was holding his breath. Snape reacted fast-almost as fast as Sirius himself-but James, with his Quidditch-honed reflexes, was faster. "Expelliarmus!"
Sirius watched himself laugh, watched as he carefully timed the blocking spell he aimed at Snape so that the other boy was knocked to the ground. A waver, and suddenly Sirius was eight years old, in the high-walled back garden of his family's house. A shaking house-elf lay prone on a large block of darkened wood. Beside Sirius, his father was demonstrating the finer points of using an axe. "Always remember, Sirius, the responsibility to care well for those who have served you well." His father touched the elf's shoulder and murmured something gently to him, and the elf sighed, his shaking stilled. "Burden has come to an age where he can no longer serve, and that is a terrible, terrible thing for a house-elf. It is tantamount to daily torture. It is our responsibility, our duty, to preserve our servants' dignity as we would our own. Burden will no longer suffer an imperative he can no longer obey. We must now set him free of his pain."
Sirius wanted to reach out and grab that eight-year old child, keep him from what happened next, but he could neither move nor speak, only watch as his father raised the axe ... and remember the sudden rush of excitement that mingled with the shame and horror as Burden's head tumbled to the grass, mouth gaping; the headless trunk that still jerked and quivered.... The scene in the garden wavered, and Sirius was staring at the look on his own face as he stood laughing at Snape sprawled on the ground. -This is Snivellus! he thought, furiously. -Not a house elf! He deserves it. And we were just having fun with him, not executing him!
They had drawn a crowd. Sirius and James closed in on Snape like a pair of hunting dogs. Sirius watched himself gliding forward, wand ready; saw James check out the audience-especially the female audience. He saw himself clearly playing to the crowd as James drawled a question about the exam to Snape, and heard the maliciousness in his own voice as he insulted Snape further. -Impressive tone, but little inventiveness, he thought, and suddenly remembered his own words about his mother's ranting.
Snape struggled to get up, but failed, and began to swear, and James filled Snape's mouth with soap. Pink soap. Pink, bubbly, extremely foul-tasting soap. Sirius glanced up at the Knight, who merely waved at the scene and indicated that Sirius should watch and listen. "Yeah, I know; you do have a one-track mind, don't you? But look, other people are laughing!"
He looked again at Snape, saw the other boy start to struggle to breathe through the soap, unable to rise because of James' jinx. His other self stood, watching, not only making no move to stop the scene, but apparently amused. Sirius had to admit that Snape's gaping mouth was rather funny. Behind him the Knight's armour clinked, and his mailed hand came down on Sirius' shoulder. And Sirius looked again at Snape, and this time saw Snape's discomfort and mounting fear. The scene went blank, and Sirius instead saw the dim interior of Flourish and Blotts. His five-year-old self had been separated from his mother, who was taking his cousins to get their Hogwarts things, and had begun to whimper. "Look, Narcissa," he heard his cousin Bellatrix drawl; "Iddy widdy baby wants his mother." She bent over toward him. "Your mother's gone, Sirius; she's left you here to be sold like a book." Sirius could hear his small self's breath hitching. Bella's voice dropped to a chilly whisper, "And you know the banshee we saw in the Leaky Cauldron? She's looking for a boy just your age." Her eyes widened dramatically. "To eat."
Sirius closed his eyes, remembering the hurt he had felt, remembering his naïve faith in Bella, a faith she had killed that day. The Knight tightened his grip on Sirius' shoulder, and Sirius had to look at the callous amusement on Bella's face, so like ... he swallowed. So like his own when he looked at Snape.
The memory of that day in Flourish and Blotts was not yet over. "That's enough, Bella." Sirius tensed. His mother. But his earlier self threw himself toward her, only to be pushed aside. His mother stared down at him. "Be a man, Sirius, and stop snivelling," she snapped, and walked away.
Flourish and Blotts faded from view, and Sirius could once more see the altercation. Sometime during his memory of the bookstore, Evans had stepped in to defend Snape, and James had asked her out. From where he sat Sirius could see what he had missed before, the faint look of surprise that crossed James' face, so fleeting that Sirius wondered whether James had even been aware of it. -Why surprise? Sirius wondered, but with the Knight's hand still on his shoulder Sirius realized that he knew. He would have been surprised, too, had he been turned down that abruptly. Although Sirius had to admit that it wasn't a good time for asking, and that James had probably done it for show, to prolong the encounter. But the surprise would still have been there.
"Bad luck, Prongs," his other self was saying, and several things happened at once: his past self shouted, Snape levelled a curse at James that Sirius was not fast enough to deflect, and a gash appeared on James' face. Apparently without thought, James spun, and lifted Snape so that he hung upside down.
He, James, and Peter were laughing helplessly, as were a number of people in the crowd, and Sirius thought that even Lily had to work to suppress a smile. "What's wrong with that?" Sirius said fiercely to the Knight. "All right, it was humiliating. But no more than that. Snape could have hurt James with that spell, more than he did-hit his ear or eye ... or hit someone else entirely, someone just watching."
The Knight said nothing.
"And James was angry and off guard-but he didn't return a dangerous spell."
Finally, the Knight spoke. -I show you what is within my mirror. Its meaning is for you to discover.
Sirius shrugged. Lily had convinced James to release Snape from Sirius' Body Bind, and had gotten insulted for her pains. "We aren't like THAT," Sirius said to the Knight -
--and was watching himself and James walking down a hallway, apparently leaving the Castle for extra Quidditch practice. James had his new Shooting Star tucked under his arm, and Sirius his lightweight German-made Windchaser that he used when he played for fun. -Just last month, Sirius realized. He could see his own face, whiter than usual and drawn in at mouth and cheeks. James looked as subdued as ever Sirius could remember him being. Neither of them was saying anything.
Sirius barely had time to remember what had happened next before a small girl whipped around the corner and ploughed into both of them, knocking their brooms to the stone floor.
"I'm so sorry!" she gasped.
Her eyes darted from Sirius to James and back again, and then she reached for Sirius' broom. He grabbed her arm, firmly, stopping her. "I was just trying to help ... I knocked them over; the least I could do would be to..." She gulped as Sirius just looked at her.
Finally, he spoke, his voice cold. "I don't need any help from Slytherin snakes," he said. "Even little ones."
Standing next to the Knight, Sirius winced at the hurt, puzzled look on the girl's face. She was just a first-year, he saw, awed enough that she had run headlong into sixth-years, let alone a sixth-year Gryffindor Quidditch player. Let alone James Potter and Sirius Black. She hadn't attacked them, either; it had just been an accident. But he had been every bit as ungracious as Snape had been in the face of Lily's offer of help.
His past self released her hand, summoned his broom, and swept past the girl. James shrugged. "Don't mind him, he's a little touchy right now." He raised his own broom and went on, the girl already forgotten. Now, the Knight beside him, Sirius could see that she stared after them, her bewilderment fading slowly to an expression of dislike. Finally she turned and went back the way she had come, but not before muttering that she hadn't believed the others, but that Gryffindors really did have a higher opinion of themselves than other people had of God.
Sirius swallowed. He hadn't given the girl two seconds' worth of thought, but in those two seconds she had learned to dislike him. They had passed from Monty Python to Dickens somewhere along the line, Sirius thought. He felt exhausted, heavy with emotion, but still managed to conjure up a jaunty voice as he looked at the Knight and said, "All right, all right, I saw the pattern some time ago. I'm a jerk and a real prat, and I admit it, so can we stop this parade? Unless you have Ignorance and Want hidden somewhere under your armour, I think we're about done with the show."
"Are we?" The Knight turned, and raised his shield to Sirius. The metal flashed in the candlelight, and again the mirror's surface seemed to move. One mailed hand shot out and grasped Sirius' shoulder, holding Sirius in place, and the other continued to raise the shield higher. Unwillingly, Sirius looked into the shield's iridescent surface, and gradually the image cleared: the Hospital Wing. Professors Heldin and McGonagall stood with Dumbledore by the foot of one of the beds, talking in low tones. -Remus? Sirius wondered. This was the first incident the Knight had shown him that he did not remember. -What's Professor Heldin doing here? He's head of Slytherin ... He looked around for the Knight, but could see nothing.
Madam Pomfrey hurried into view, carrying a vial. Sirius noticed that although her steps were as brisk as ever, she seemed somehow smaller, less sure. When she passed him he could see that her face was white. Neither she nor anyone in the room paid him the slightest bit of attention.
Dumbledore raised his head, a question in his eyes, and his face was as grave as Sirius had ever seen it. Madam Pomfrey shook her head, and showed the others the vial in her hand, which Sirius could now see contained a viscous, black liquid.
Professor McGonagall sighed heavily and sat down on one of the empty beds, and Professor Heldin turned away. "I warned you, Albus," he said, his voice shaking. "I warned you that this would happen if you let ... that kind ... into the school. And now this poor boy ..."
Sirius now had a clear view of the bed around which the others had gathered. A small figure, heavily swathed in bandages. -Remus?? Sirius wondered again. He stepped forward, and stopped as the figure raised its head.
"What happened?" Snape demanded, his voice hoarse. "I was in the tunnel, and ..."
Dumbledore stepped forward. "Mr Snape, there is..."
"I heard," said a voice from the corner of the room. Remus stood at the foot of a curtained-off bed, a trifle unsteady on his feet. His face was whiter than Madam Pomfrey's, and set. "I'll tell him. And then ..." He swallowed. "Then I'll pack."
--Tell him? Tell him what?What does he mean, pack? What's happened?
Remus walked slowly toward Snape, who glared at him. "Get away from me, werewolf!" Snape hissed savagely.
Remus winced, but sat down next to Professor McGonagall on the bed. "Severus," he began, a little uncertainly, "I'm so sorry, but ..." He swallowed, and Sirius could see him squaring his shoulders. "I bit you last night, Severus."
Snape looked as if he wanted to make a sarcastic reply, but after a quick glance at Dumbledore remained silent.
Remus went on, his voice shaking. "When someone gets bitten .... by a ... werewolf .... it transmits the lycanthropy ..."
Sirius, watching, felt as if he were falling, long and hard. Remus had been so careful. But then Sirius shook himself. This couldn't be right. Had Remus bitten Snape, he would have heard of it by now. It had been two months ago, after all-had Snape really become a werewolf, he would have already transformed -AndDumbledore wouldn't just have scolded me, he thought, -- I would have been expelled. Then another thought brought him up short. -And Remus ... Remus would have been ... He stared at Remus, at his determined, squared shoulders, at the set of his mouth that could not conceal a faint trembling.
"So you're saying that ... that I'm like you," Snape said, voice flat. "That you've finally succeeded in turning someone into a monster, just like you."
Dumbledore murmured something to Snape, and Snape fell silent. Remus put out a hand, but Snape refused it.
"If you need someone .... to talk to .... about living with it, I mean ..."
Snape said nothing, and after a moment or two, Remus turned away. Instead of going back to his bed, however, he told Madam Pomfrey that he was feeling better, thank you, and that he would go up to Gryffindor Tower to pack.
Professor Heldin began to protest that Remus should not be allowed anywhere near other students, but Dumbledore cut him off. "Remus is no danger to anyone in human form, any more than Severus is." He nodded to Remus. "I believe Madam Pomfrey wants you to stay here for another day, at least."
Madam Pomfrey chimed in, saying that she had a different room, if that would make Remus more comfortable. As she steered Remus toward the door, Remus looked up and met Sirius' eyes. Sirius was startled, as he had thought himself invisible, but he found that he could not look away from Remus. Remus' face showed shame, but also anger, and beneath it all the loneliness that Sirius and James had spent years erasing from Remus' face and voice. -It's just a vision, he thought, rather desperately. It had to be. But he could not look away from Remus' desolate eyes; knew also that, vision or not, he would remember that look forever.
A death, indeed.
He reached out to Remus, but realized that Remus was smaller, that the room was receding, fast, and that now he was rushing through blackness at such a speed that he could hear the wind roaring in his ears.
Gradually he became aware of himself. He was lying in bed, in the hospital wing. He tried to move, his body stiff with inaction, and felt a cool hand on his shoulder. "Be calm, Sirius."
Professor Dumbledore, looking at him with apparent concern.
"Sir, I ... How did I get here? I was in ... in the ..."
"In the Knight's mirror, I know." Dumbledore sighed and sat back. "One of the house-elves found you and came to get me."
"I was falling ... I saw ... I saw Remus' eyes ..." He looked down at the coverlet, but then looked up at the Headmaster. "I saw ... my family ..." Jerkily at first, but with growing fluency, he poured out the story. At length he fell silent, twisting the bedcovers between his fingers. "I'm just like them, after all," he whispered. "Just like my family. Why did you let me stay? Why not just expel me? I really ... I really did deserve it."
Dumbledore said nothing, and Sirius understood dully that there was nothing to be said. But then the Headmaster reached out and gently took Sirius' hands, separating them and holding them still. "Many men have encountered the Knight and did not survive, Sirius, because what they saw within themselves was too terrible for them to contemplate. That you have had the courage to face him, and come back, says that my faith in your ability to become something other than your family has been justified. It takes a strong person to face the Knight's mirrors and acknowledge the truth, when it is so bitterly painful."
"But I'm not any different. I dislike different things, but deep down ... he showed me how I was just the same as they were. And it's true. I used Remus to hurt Snape without ever thinking about what it would mean for Remus ... or Severus." His voice caught. "At the last ... what I saw in the hospital wing ... that wasn't ..." He stopped, unable to complete the sentence.
Dumbledore looked at Sirius, his face sombre. "The Knight's mirror is accurate, Sirius, but what it shows you can be merciless. It strips away all illusions, but also all mitigating factors. It does not reflect age, or maturity ... or compassion. The Knight's mirror can also, as it did with Severus, show you not what truly happened, but what could easily have happened--an emotional truth, if you will. " Dumbledore peered at Sirius through his half-moon spectacles. His eyes were not twinkling, as they so often were, but neither did Sirius see the weary disappointment that had haunted him for the last two months. Instead he found himself feeling somewhat comforted.
"The Knight's mirror has given you a gift, Sirius. Remember what it showed you when you act. There are gifts hidden in your family's behaviours, strengths that you can turn toward the service of good, but there are also definite dangers. You have a choice: to live up to the best of your family's heritage-their stubbornness and pride, intelligence and resolution-and to reject the worst. And to be compassionate with others, but with yourself as well. Your behaviour, your attitudes, have been like your family's, true-how could it not be, ingrained in you as it has been? But were you essentially like your family, would you have learnt from the Knight? In that way you are very different. It is our choices, not our heritage, which make us who we are."
Sirius lay silently, thinking about Dumbledore's words. At length he said, his voice quiet, "It means an awful lot of work, doesn't it, sir? Being aware, every moment?"
Dumbledore nodded. "I will not tell you that it will be easy. Will you try?"
"I have to," Sirius said grimly. There was something else he wanted to say, something about Remus, but he was too exhausted to remember.
Dumbledore released his hands, and stood just as Madam Pomfrey hurried down the ward toward them. "Headmaster, it has been well over five minutes! He's had a major ordeal, and he must rest. Now." She took Sirius' wrist and held it for a moment, and then let go. Sirius' eyes closed, and he found he was just too tired to open them again. He could feel Madam Pomfrey straightening the bedclothes, and he wanted to say that he would sleep well enough if only she would let him alone, but the words would not come, and then he was asleep.
Sirius surveyed his trunk, empty save for a pair of robes, and a change of shirt, socks, and underwear. Normally he stuffed the trunk full with everything he owned, but this time he contented himself with the bare minimum he needed for the rest of the Christmas holidays. James always had extras, and never minded Sirius borrowing them.
He wanted the space. There wasn't much he wanted to take from his own room at home, but he knew that once he left there this holiday, he would not be returning. Ever. So he wanted to leave as much room as possible. He had had time to think, the last three days in the hospital wing, and had decided that he could not make a genuine change in his own behaviour unless he severed relations with his family-and their influence. The past was enough to be wary of; he didn't need to be fighting the present, too. He didn't know if that would repair he relationship with Remus. Nothing might be able to do that. But he had to do it anyway.
Sirius wondered how his parents would take his announcement that he was leaving for good. Part of him wanted to equivocate, to wait until summer, and then figure a way to spend the bulk of the time at the Potters' house. Between James and Peter, he could manage to stay at home for no more than two weeks out of the summer holidays. And then he would be of age, could make his own way ... and his parents couldn't drag him back. But he remembered the Knight. It would be too easy to stay, were he to take that path; too easy to run and not fight. So he would pack his trunk, and Banish it to the Potters', and tell his parents openly. He had told Professor Dumbledore what he planned to do, and, although Dumbledore had said little, Sirius thought he had seen a gleam of approval in the Headmaster's blue eyes.
His eyes fell on the broken pieces of the recorder. He had collected them from the music room that morning, but had left them on his bed, still unsure what he truly wanted to do with them. The crack along the barrel looked just as ugly as it had in the music room; even if he mended it, it would never have quite the resonant sound it had once had.
But it would still have a voice.
He picked up the barrel, felt the edges of the wood with his fingertips, and thought for a moment. Then he laid the barrel down on his pillow, and picked up his wand. He mended the head joint next, but after some thought merely reinforced the wood of the foot joint, leaving traces of the deep scratches that had marred the finish. Then he put the mended pieces together. He held the recorder in his hands for a moment, considering, and then slowly played an F-major scale, listening carefully for any faults in intonation. It wasn't quite the same as it had been. It would never be the same. But he found that there was a new depth to the recorder's tone that he rather liked.
As Sirius paused, he heard the sound of a carriage pulling up, far below. He glanced at the clock above the dormitory door. It must be Hagrid. Sirius pulled the three recorder pieces apart, wrapped them in their soft casing, and laid the recorder carefully atop his robes. Closing the trunk, he smiled. It was time to go catch the Hogsmeade train for London.