Someone once told me the worst fate anyone can suffer is to die without a person crying for him. He told me that that person must have been truly miserable if not even his mother would mourn for him at his death. He told me that that person must be very lonely, if not even one person shed a tear when he slipped quietly away.
We live to be remembered, after all.
We grope for the desperate hope that we had been wanted and loved in life. That we would be missed if we were gone. That we, fearing death, would force others to fear with us as we suffered. It's in our nature to want to be needed.
But that's selfish, isn't it?
Why would you want the people who love you to suffer?
When I die, I hope no one would cry for me. I hope no one will remember me. I hope my name will just fade with the rest of the faceless, nameless strangers buried in those potter's fields, rotting away in their unmarked graves.
I want to be forgotten after I die.
- James [July 1st] [St. MaryAnn's Hospital]
Things always had a way of reorienting themselves around gaps. As long as there was more who wanted to move forward, those who were left were always dragged along. It was like taking a pebble out of the stream; everything else just moves in to fill up that hole. It felt like they were the only ones still stomping around trying to kick up the water.
Only a year, and now everyone was moving along as though nothing had ever gone wrong. ‘Oh yes, there used to be a fifth bed in the boy's dormitory, but it's gone now, and did you know how hard the potions assignment was?' They were tiptoeing around it like he'd never existed when just a year ago, Rita Skeeter had planted his face on every newspaper across the nation.
It made Hermione want to cry sometimes.
The books were all slipping in the new additions to history. When Ron first read the new edition of The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, he tore some pages to bits and flung the entire book into the fire. Harry was only that valuable, wasn't he? He played his part and gallantly disappeared when he should have. He was brave. He was clever. He was a hero. In another thirty years, his name will be something everyone swore on.
But would they remember that he wasn't the Boy-Who-Lived, but Harry? That he had a favorite chair in the common room? That he loved to fly and he was an utter fanatic about Quidditch? That he would stay up in the middle of the night trying to finish homework because he was lazy sometimes?
… It wasn't fair…
She jumped, and the vial of ink she had been staring at numbly tumbled out of her hands and splashed across the parchment.
"Sorry!" she said quickly, and fumbled for the glass vial. It shattered on the floor before she could catch it, while her books were knocked to the ground in the attempt. The students in the small class turned in her direction quizzically and Hermione blushed. "Sorry Professor, I—"
Professor Lupin said nothing; instead, he knelt beside her to gather her books. Hermione winced. Somehow, it felt hundreds of times worse when the teachers pitied her rather than ignored her.
"It's all right," he replied, setting the books on her desk and giving her a searching look. Only he could stare without being obtrusive, but Hermione still felt frustrated by it. "I only wanted to ask if you knew where Ron was."
"Oh." She glanced around and suddenly noticed that there were no redheads in the Defense classroom. "I didn't even know he wasn't here. I thought…"
Professor Lupin's class was one of the few classes Ron actually goes to. Hermione bit her lip nervously.
"You may go look for him, if you'd like," Professor Lupin offered, quietly.
Hermione couldn't help but wince again at the deep concern in his voice. It was very much like him to be so lenient on them, especially Ron, who had come close to failing many times. Hermione wondered if perhaps he felt a certain duty to them after last year and the tragedy that befell the Third Task. Professor Lupin had no reason to return to Hogwarts after he resigned, yet he did. Had it been for them?
Hermione really wished he hadn't. Looking at him always made her think of Harry.
"Thank you," she said finally, and pushed her chair back.
The class broke into whispers as she gathered her things and left.
It wasn't hard to find Ron. He was in the corridor where Harry had heard the basilisk second year—Hermione had come to associate this place as a beating block for whenever Ron was angry—making enough racket to shatter rocks. Hermione hesitated by the archway and watched a battered Divination textbook slide across the floor. Panting, Ron heaved it up and flung it against the wall.
"Ron—" Hermione broke off when the book thudded against the wall again.
"I really wish she'd die, Hermione," Ron hissed, his voice thick with venom. "I wish she'd just fly somewhere and die!"
"No, you don't."
Sighing, Ron threw the remains of his textbook on the ground and sank down besides it, breathing hard.
"I never thought I could hate a professor more than Snape," he mumbled, wiping the sweat out of his eyes.
She placed the book bag beside the archway and moved to sit beside her friend. Being with Ron felt comforting. After everything that they'd been through together, just being close to him, her last remaining friend, felt reassuring. Even if Ron had become even more volatile than before…
"What happened in Divination?" Hermione asked, softly.
Ron shrugged, kicking at his books with the heel of his shoe.
That brief declaration basically translated to ‘Professor Trelawneywas preaching about how she always knew Harry would die a gruesome and bloody death.' The first time she had said it Ron had been taken out of class for throwing the scented candles at her face.
Hermione wished she had been there to do the same. And maybe even say something scalding to the headmaster. She had been wanting to for months.
Dumbledore had failed all her expectations. He had proved just how much of the respect that he had was undeserved. She had been so certain he would be able to protect the students… Harry above all.
But when everything fell apart… when Harry vanished, the headmaster just ran around in circles with the rest of the professors like headless animals. A paper tiger… that's all he was.
Hermione twisted her sleeve between her fingers listlessly, angry and frustrated, but unsure of how to express it.
Ron probably despised them more than she did. He was like a runaway wildfire that had no sense of direction, lashing out sporadically with nothing to latch onto. All Hermione could feel was a lingering sense of emptiness that had replaced the desperate hope, helpless fear, and intense regret that consumed her this past year.
"She's on about it in every lesson!" Ron suddenly hissed. He clenched his fists, squeezing so tightly that his knuckles cracked. "Every single lesson! ‘Oh, my inner eye had foreseen it! Oh, it was so tragic! Oh, I saw his body crumble into ashes! He was such the martyr!' I really want to kill her sometimes, Hermione. I swear, I want to push her out the window or something, just to make her shut up!"
Hermione shuddered. "No, you don't. Ron, it's… it's pointless. Just drop the class, okay?"
Ron suddenly deflated and buried his head in his hands. "I can't," he said, his voice muffled. "Harry and I took that class."
Hermione exhaled as if the breath had been squeezed from her. Harry… She had been avoiding that name for hours. She had awoken that morning determined not to think of him on the very day of his disappearance. It was suppose to be symbolic. She was supposed to put the past behind her today, and move on before it drowned her like it was drowning Ron.
"Do you think… he's really dead?" Ron suddenly whispered. The anger was gone, and there was only dread in those eyes now.
Hermione twisted her sleeve until it felt as though the fabric might rip. Ron would hate her if she ever admitted to losing hope, but it seemed so impossible. Especially after the fire. The blood. And the state of Harry's wand… it…
"I don't know," Hermione admitted with a small grimace. "They never found Harry's… Harry's…" She couldn't quite bring herself to say body.
"He better be alive," Ron said with a grim determination that was frightening.
The silence that settled over them felt suffocating.
Hermione sighed, and let her eyes wander distractedly at the ceiling. Everything was changed so completely with Harry gone. He had always been the quiet one, but his presence was always just… there. It wasn't overwhelming or particularly striking, but the moment it was taken away, it felt like their entire world was turned inside out and their insides were getting constantly, painfully burned.
Hermione willed the scratchiness in her throat away. "Do you miss him?"
"It's impossible not to." Ron turned away. "I… I wish… he wasn't the Boy-Who-Lived. Just Harry. Then… then…" he broke off and blinked very fast. "I wish Cedric was the one gone and not Harry."
Hermione bit her lip hard. "No, you don't."
Ron scowled. "Harry's gone because he tried to help him."
"It's not his fault!" Hermione said firmly. "There's no one to blame."
"How can you say that?" Ron hissed. "It was so obvious something was wrong with the tournament. We figured it out after the First Task and all the teachers were parading around like everything was perfectly normal! Someone should have done something!"
"The Goblet placed Harry into a binding contract!" Hermione protested. "Even if they wanted to take Harry out of the tournament, they couldn't!"
"Someone should have done something…" Ron protested weakly, his voice dying.
They were both silent again. Hermione was afraid to speak; with Ron so volatile and so desperate for someone to hate, she didn't know if there was anything that could be said that would change anything. There was no one to blame, and even if there were, it was too late… Hermione looked at her hands and tried to think about the books on the ground and the homework she had yet to do. Two sets of footsteps echoed through the corridor. Hermione glanced up, and instantly, she wished she hadn't.
"Classes ended only minutes ago, but the two of you are two corridors from the dungeons?" Oddly enough, Professor Snape's voice lacked its characteristic sarcasm. "I assume you did not go to class?"
Ron's head snapped around at Professor Snape's voice. Hermione reached out and gripped his wrist hard.
"I dismissed them early." Professor Lupin stepped into the corridor behind him and smiled at Hermione warmly.
Ron's expression darkened at his lie. If Professor Lupin had noticed, he didn't show it, but continued to follow the Potions master. Is it time for the Wolfsbane? Hermione wondered, idly. She kept silent, eager to be overlooked, desperately hoping Ron would keep quiet as well.
Professor Snape walked past them without a second glance.
Another reminder of how everything has changed… Snape barely even acknowledged they existed in his class anymore. Hermione wondered if it was because he actually felt pain at Harry's disappearance, or if he just didn't feel as though they were worthy to be noted without Harry alongside them.
"And I was so sure you actually liked Lupin's class," Snape suddenly remarked as he stepped around Ron's scattered books. "Perhaps, Weasley, you should attend his class, seeing as that is likely to be the only one you may be able to pass this year."
Hermione glanced at Ron fearfully and cringed when she saw the familiar spark in his eyes.
"Shut up! Just shut up!" Abruptly, Ron wrenched free of Hermione's restraining grip and scrambled to his feet.
Snape paused and turned around slowly. His face was completely unreadable. Professor Lupin fell still beside them.
"This is a wonderful year for you, isn't it? Harry's finally gone!" Ron was racing to the brink of explosion. "You've been trying to get rid of him every single year, and now you've finally succeeded, right? Aren't you happy? Aren't you? I mean, you tried so hardto make Harry's life miserable. You should be so delighted now…"
He bent down for a book, and, realizing in a moment what he was intending, Hermione caught his shoulder and pulled frantically.
"Ron, stop it!" she whispered, tugging him back. "Let's just go!"
"No! I'm not going. He should go!"
"Ron—" Hermione began, desperately.
"Ron, Hermione, perhaps you should go up to your dormitories" Professor Lupin said quietly. He sounded more strained than comforting, but Hermione didn't even try to wonder what could be passing through his mind now. Professor Lupin picked up Hermione's discarded book bag and held it out to her, and Ron's glare quickly deepened.
"Would you stop that?" he hissed.
Professor Lupin stilled.
"You're being all nice to us, like you're some advisor or a shrink or something. It's annoying!" Abruptly, Ron slapped the bag out of Professor Lupin's hand. His shoulders were shaking as though he was close to shattering. "Stop it! Why did you come back? Why couldn't you come back last year? I mean, if you could come back now even if you are a werewolf, then obviously, you could have come back for the tournament!"
Hermione winced. Don't… she felt like screaming aloud. All of those possibilities made no difference anymore. Couldn't Ron see that no matter how many people he blamed and hated, Harry wouldn't come back?
Biting her lip, Hermione risked a glance at Professor Lupin and inwardly cringed when she noticed how pale he had become.
"No," Hermione whispered. "Ron… just stop!"
"If you didn't resign, then we wouldn't have had Crouch, then Harry wouldn't even have been added to the entire mess last year! He wouldn't have been Portkeyed to You-Know-Who, and he wouldn't have disappeared." Ron pushed Hermione's hand away when she tried to restrain him again. Professor Lupin simply stood there, silent. "You shouldn't have left. Harry would have been okay if you hadn't left—"
"Thirty points from Gryffindor, Weasley, and detention," Professor Snape said very softly.
With a bitter glare, Ron snapped around and almost snarled at Professor Snape. "That's pretty much all you professors are capable of doing," he bit out vehemently. "Other than that, you can't do anything useful. Take more points, or give more detentions. I don't care."
Hermione felt herself strung to the point of breaking then. A pinching feeling rose in her throat, and she swallowed it, but her vision still grew watery. A second later she was crying without meaning to. Loud, breathless sobs wrenched out of her and hot tears washed down her face.
"Please, please, let's just go," she pleaded breathlessly. It was so utterly humiliating to break down then— in front of Professor Lupin and Professor Snape… gosh, what will they think?— but she couldn't stop the tears that were welling up. Sniffling quietly, she wiped at her face with her sleeves and felt her face flush in embarrassment.
Ron immediately became quiet. Her vision was completely blurred and she couldn't quite make out the expression on his face, but there was a resigned sag to his shoulders that was too obvious to miss. Without a word, Ron took her by the hand and quickly led her away. Biting her lip, Hermione looked back over her shoulder at the corridor and saw Professor Lupin bent over, slowly gathering the scattered books from the ground.
Sirius passed through the quiet side of the park, weaving around the small group of children that were gathered at the edge of the lake. They were skimming rocks, though not with the greatest success. Sirius stole a moment to watch them until one of them noticed and pointed at him and they all skirted away.
He sat down at the edge where the children had been and folded his hands over his knees. Sirius looked across the park and tried to admire the view. It looked in comparison to the ones he was used to around his own home. He had come to this same park in Surrey three years ago in his Animagus form. It had been in black and white then, but still Sirius found it breathtaking. He wondered why it didn't look the same in color.
The sun was beginning to set. The reflections from the lake were quite blinding, so he settled on watching the swans that were preening themselves along the banks. They looked overfed, but Sirius shuffled through his coat pockets for some food nonetheless. The bread he had tucked in that morning was gone, but he couldn't recall when he ate it.
He picked up a stone and skimmed it. It bounced twice and sank. It would have bounced all the way across the lake with a rubber charm, but he couldn't remember the incantation and he didn't have a wand anyway.
Whispers sounded behind him. Sirius glanced over his shoulder and noticed the children huddled behind the trees, watching him. They wanted their spot back, it seemed, but no one was brave enough to approach him. They were daring one another and laughing, but their eyes glanced at his worn and patched coat and unkempt hair fearfully. Sirius stood up and left.
Do I look that frightening? he wondered. Sirius examined himself in the reflection of the lake and fingered his graying locks. It was hard to tell through the ripples.
Well, he had to look better than those first few weeks after Azkaban. Or at least better than the madman who first appeared in front of Harry and his friends at the Shrieking Shack.
Harry… What would Harry think of him now? He had glanced at himself in a mirror a few days back and knew he didn't look any better than he had three years ago. There were gray streaks in his hair now. The beard was gone, but once in a while he would forget to shave, and the patches of uneven stubbles probably looked worse. Sirius absently ran his fingers over his unshaven chin. It seemed like time for a shower. Funny, how his sanitary habits were even worse after his name was cleared. He washed himself more when he was a fugitive.
Harry would be upset… Harry would tell him to take better care of himself, though not in those words. Harry would be more vague, and he would look at Sirius with the same look he had given him back at that cave in Hogsmeade when Harry brought him that chicken. Well, Sirius would tell him. At least I'm not living off rats.
But thinking of rats disrupted his mood and the disapproving look Harry was giving him hollowed out into a ghastly look of hatred.
You shouldn't have spent so much time chasing after that rat, Harry was saying to him. You should have spent more time with me.
Sirius began walking faster, trying to block out everything except the feel of the rocks under the soles of his shoes.
I spent more time with Snape than with you, and you were supposed to be my godfather, Harry kept whispering. His voice sounded heartbreakingly sad. You should have been there to help me…
Sirius didn't know what Harry looked like when he was upset, so his mind kept substituting the expression Harry wore when they first met at the Shrieking Shack. But that expression didn't quite match the voice and Sirius was having a hard time remembering the details. When Harry was angry, his green eyes would narrow into slits; when he was upset, they'd grow large and hollow, like fractured marbles; but when he was upset and angry, the emotions would fly across his face… and Sirius couldn't recall what Harry was like at those times. He'd have to look at the Pensieve again.
But Harry would look different from those images now. He'd be fifteen. How would he look at fifteen? Sirius tried to remember how James had looked at that age, but that was even more difficult. And Harry was a lot smaller and thinner than his father had been. Maybe at fifteen, Harry would finally get his growth spurt. He'd have to go through the gangly stage when he'd trip over his own feet, falling all over the place.
At fifteen, Harry would be slightly taller; still shorter than Ron, but at least taller than Hermione. His hair would still be unruly as ever and his eyes still brilliantly green. He would have gained a little weight, like a normal Seeker-thin, and not like the Remus-thin he was back during the Triwizard Tournament and…
The tournament. Suddenly, all his musings broke into tiny pieces and scattered. The tournament, the tournament, the tournament…
He had known something was wrong with the tournament. All the evidence had been gathering that year, and everything was just balanced on that final Third Task. He had been a fool for just sitting there and hoping. Those things shouldn't have happened, but they did, and it all went wrong…
Harry… kidnapped… along with that Diggory boy…
It had taken Dumbledore five hours to track where the Portkey had taken them. He had never felt more aggravated with the headmaster in his life. By then, Dumbledore's efforts weren't even necessary. A small, isolated Muggle town somehow caught fire only an hour after Harry's disappearance. The Muggle authorities had discovered it hours before the ministry, and found almost half the town burned to death in their homes.
High up on the hill, in a graveyard behind a rundown church, they had found the other boy. Cedric had been lying face down, unconscious, behind a fallen log, the side of his head battered. When they had revived him and questioned him, he could only say he heard a voice and a flash of green before Harry had pushed him aside. There was all he could remember. They had discovered over fifteen men dressed in the garb of Death Eaters, unconscious in the graveyard.
Pettigrew had been among them.
He was free, but that had been the last thing on his mind then. Harry was gone, as if he had vanished into thin air. And when he had heard Wormtail's confession, his blood froze cold in his veins.
Voldemort was back.
But Harry… where was Harry…?
The week that followed had undoubtedly been the worst of his life, probably even worse than the week after James and Lily had died and he had been rotting in Azkaban. There was no one left for him to hold on to and nothing left for him to hate, and hope was so brittle and so easily shattered.
Then a Muggle woman walking a dog discovered a long, lanky body, so thin that it was just a sack of bones with skin. The man had a flat nose and blood red eyes. And he was dead.
Voldemort was dead.
Harry's wand had been found beside the body of his arch enemy, scratched and burned at the edges. As for the boy's whereabouts, no one knew. No one even knew if he was dead or alive. He was just… gone.
They had searched for him, of course. But the numbers had kept dwindling until it was just Dumbledore, Remus, him, and the Weasleys. Somewhere along that time, when too many people asked him if he was the one who had killed Harry Potter, and after he had been forced to identify too many mutilated bodies of little boys, Sirius gave everything up and just walked away. He had dug up the key to the summer house bequeathed to him by his uncle and locked himself into seclusion. He had not enough memories of his godson to keep him company, so he took what was left of Harry's possessions with him when he left. He was greedy.
Was this giving up? Sirius wondered. Would Harry hate me for it? Sirius tried to imagine what his face would look like but couldn't remember the details. He would have to look at his Pensieve again.
"Wake up," came a rather irritated voice, followed by a few less than gentle prods in the back.
Groaning, the victim mumbled an incoherent reply before nesting himself deeper into the blankets, but he misjudged slightly when he pulled the blankets over his head and left his feet completely exposed to the morning air. Wincing at the sudden cold shock, he tried to kick the covers back down.
"Wake up, James. You're going to make me late," the voice snapped again.
The boy named James curled up like a hamster under the sheets.
"Get up!" This time, the voice followed up on its aggravation with a sharp twack directed on the sleeping boy's shoulder. "This is getting really annoying."
"Ow! Okay, okay. I'm up," James grumbled, his head still hidden by the pillow. Very reluctantly, he relinquished it and groggily rubbed his green eyes before blindly shuffling around for his glasses.
James didn't particularly like mornings. In fact, he had a horrible habit of staying up in the middle of the night, staring out the window or reading under his covers. It was a rather annoying habit for the other children in the dormitory and irritated his advisor no end, but James always tried to sneak around corners anyway. It was only his first year in the orphanage after all, so the administrator Elaine was still rather lenient.
James stood up to stretch, and winced when he lifted his arm. "That really hurt, Will. You didn't have to hit so hard."
Will gave an indignant snort, "You wouldn't get up unless I stepped on you. When I tried to wake you up with water yesterday, Elaine made me rinse out your mattress."
"That's because you used orange juice and not water," James mumbled, pausing to give a jaw-popping yawn. "Prat."
Will frowned. "That was orange juice?"
"Was that orange juice? It smelled sweet and fruity."
"I don't know. It was just sitting on the windowsill and it wasn't orange."
"You're worrying me. What color was it?"
"Light green… I think…"
James jumped, suddenly wide awake. He glanced at the windowsill and grimaced. "That was my science experiment, Will! I was raising sea monkeys in an electrolytic solution!"
"Electrolytic?" Will echoed incredulously. "They would have died anyway."
"No, not until I stuck electrodes in the water. Killing them at a later stage was the whole point of the experiment," James sighed tragically as he fished a set of clean clothes from under his bed. "Will, you idiot. You're making my bed for me."
"What?" Will snapped.
"Retribution." James glared at his friend with light humor as he pulled on a two unmatched socks. "That, or you're treating me to breakfast. Take your pick."
James grinned, then quickly ducked the sock Will flung at him before limping into the bathroom.
The floor of St. MaryAnn's orphanage was quite cold, and James tiptoed over it with some relatively clean clothes tucked under his arm. The bathroom was conveniently beside their dormitory, and it was early enough in the morning that he didn't have to fight for a toilet or a sink. James dug through the shelves for his plastic cup and turned on the tap until the water ran warm.
James reached for his toothbrush, ignoring the comb completely. It never made a difference anyway, he mused as he stared into the mirror. His hair always had a windblown appearance, sticking up at every angle imaginable no matter what he did to it. It never grew any longer, and if he trimmed -- or rather, Will trimmed it for him and made him nearly bald -- it always grew out the exact same length the next day. It was rather strange, and James could never find an explanation for it.
A year ago, James had woken up in a hospital, heavily bandaged and with no memory whatsoever of who he was, where he came from, or how he came to be there. He looked ordinary enough, other than the lightning shaped scar on his forehead. When they asked him for his name, James was the first one that came to mind. Since then, he was simply ‘James,' and no one ever called him anything else. It was only assumed that he was around fifteen years old, but beyond that, no one could find any records on him. He had no family, no friends, no relations. He was just a boy who seemingly materialized out of thin air and looked like he had been through hell along with it.
When James tried to remember anything about his past, there would be a piercing pain in his scar, as if his head was being split open with a hammer. There was a blinding green light, a high pitched laughter -- then nothing. Other times, he would remember someone speaking, his own voice, and a golden glow would seep into the corners of his vision. He would have headaches for hours after, though, so he just settled on not trying. Besides, it wasn't like he was unhappy. The orphanage had wonderful people, he had wonderful friends.
"Will, remind me again why we're up this early," James muttered, splashing water on his face.
"Because we want to be contributing individuals to society," Will called through the door.
James groaned and scrubbed at his face angrily. "It's cruel and unusual torture, Will."
"James, you eat more donuts than we sell."
James inwardly winced. Well, that was true…
"I thought we were delivering newspapers today?"
"Well, donuts are tomorrow." Will sounded quite put out.
"Oh." James could feel his stomach grumbling already.
"Don't worry, James. Christmas is only five months and five days away."
James shook his head, grinning slightly in amusement. It was just like Will to rub his face in mud like that.
It wasn't that he was particularly bitter about being forced to crawl out of bed at four in the morning to wander through some narrow streets. He was satisfied with what he had at the orphanage, but then again, he was not the type to hoard. Although he owned not a scrap to his name, he was content.
Once in a while, James would feel that sometime was missing, like an incomplete puzzle, but only for a moment.