- Story Summary:
- Overcome by loneliness, Remus decides to visit Sirius in Azkaban.
The absence of James, Peter, and Sirius is a slow poison, and it burns the most in moments where he gives into boredom. When Remus's mind isn't occupied with work, reading, or other forms of entertainment, his friends come back. James plays Quidditch. Peter arranges one of those maddening puzzles that nobody but he can solve. Sirius does what he does best: attracting girls and devising ways to get in trouble.
Having to relive the happy memories, Remus thinks, is sometimes worse than having to relive the bad ones. The happy memories bring a façade of hope, a thought that maybe someday things could be normal again. When Remus's mind takes him back to James's funeral, he has closure. When he fingers the soft parchment with the headline Black Heir Kills Fourteen, More Wounded in Explosion, he knows he'll never see Peter again. And those events aren't enjoyable to think about, but they are definite in a way that Sirius's imprisonment isn't. Sirius imprisoned but not dead is an open wound that refuses to scab and heal and scar.
On the surface, Remus isn't lonely. He still meets with the Order, even though the war is over. They drink and talk and discuss books and current events, or sometimes they go to plays or concerts. He enjoys hearing tales of Arthur and Molly's children and sampling Hestia's wonderful cooking. ("You know you're welcome to dinner anytime," she says, and he never lets on how grateful he is for the leftovers that she wraps for him at the end of the evening.) Although it does not pay much, his job as a researcher in the Dark Arts division of Department of Magical Creatures at least keeps a roof over his head, and the work interests him. On paper, he's all right.
In practice, he's a mess.
"What's on your mind?" Hestia asks him one night as she sets a steaming bowl of beef stew in front of him.
"Nothing you need to concern yourself about." Only his good manners keep him from taking his spoon and inhaling the stew before she sits down.
"I'm concerned about you."
"I'm fine, really. It's all right."
She shrugs and picks up her spoon, apparently happy to eat in silence. It's one of the things he's always liked about Hestia: She doesn't press an issue. It almost makes him confess the sentence that won't leave him alone:
I think I might go visit Sirius.
Perhaps it is his reluctance to talk about Sirius that makes the thought stay with him, making him feel like he's carrying a heavy weight at all times. If he talks with Hestia or Arthur or Molly or Kingsley about this crackpot idea, they'd make him see reason. Which is maybe why he keeps quiet about it. Never one to keep a journal, he suddenly finds himself lying awake at night, composing entries in his mind that weigh the pros and cons of a trip to Azkaban.
Maybe I just need the closure he thinks. Seeing Sirius rotting away in that cell like he ought to might help me to stop thinking about him. But what if I see him and then I can't stop thinking about him, or Peter, or James? It's bad enough as is. What if he's gone mad in Azkaban and doesn't even recognize me? Do I care one way or the other? What if... What if... What if...
The what ifs... lull Remus to sleep most nights, and most nights he has disturbing dreams. In one, he is in a green, brightly lit jail cell and made to wear a towel while reading a heavy book. In another, he stands in a field trying to sing, but his throat keeps closing. He spends the few extra Knuts he can afford on sleeping potions, but these leave him feeling groggy in the morning. Apprehension and fatigue during the day leave him depressed and restless at night. He tolerates this for a while, subsisting on coffee and medications, but by the end of December he knows he has to try to go to Azkaban.
January brings an especially rough full moon. Remus shakes his head at the irony: The moon commonly referred to as the Wolf Moon drains his strength rather than bolster it. A week passes before he's well enough to do anything but go to work, come home, have some tea and maybe a sandwich, and sleep for the next ten hours. The whole month, he decides, is a wash, so he'll go in February. He circles the date on his calendar: Saturday, February 4, 1984, and submits an application for an Azkaban visitor's pass.
So many times, he almost spills his secret. It would be an easy thing to do. "Oh, I'll be at Azkaban on Saturday." "Yes, we can meet for dinner on Saturday when I get back from Azkaban." "I'm sorry, we'll have to meet on Sunday because I'm going to Azkaban on Saturday." The red circle on his calendar seems to grow brighter every day, reminding Remus that he's probably risking his well-being, or is at the very least a damn fool, for even considering this trip.
Remus recites possible conversations with Sirius as he cleans his house using minimal magic, but instead of making him more confident in his thoughts and words the one-sided arguments only serve to dishearten him.
"Thanks for leaving me, you selfish pig's arse. Thanks for being one of the best friends I ever had and then turning on all of us. You know, I wasn't sure whether to believe Peter when he came to me that summer and told me he thought you weren't yourself, that you were on edge and he didn't trust you to really be loyal to the Order. I thought he was being a little overprotective of James, maybe even paranoid. No, you sodding piece of shit!" he shouts as he throws a sponge into a bucket of water. "He was right, and I didn't believe him, and you're the reason James and Peter are dead and I'm here by myself!"
Or maybe, a twisted voice whispers in his mind, I'm the reason James and Peter are dead, because I'm the one that didn't believe Peter in the first place.
As January closes, Remus's anxiety takes the better of him. He sleeps poorly, doesn't get much work done, and spends evenings staring into a candle flame, wondering and fantasizing and cultivating his monsters. The morning of February fourth, he dresses in his best robes, his shaking hands dry as paper. Pocketing his Azkaban's visitor's ticket, which arrived yesterday evening, and which will disintegrate by this time tomorrow, he climbs into his fireplace and Floos to the Ministry of Magic atrium. From there he will be escorted to Azkaban.
The others waiting in the atrium with him look as uneasy as he feels. There is an old witch, her white hair in a bun, whose black robes are faded nearly green. A tall man with a defined jaw clutches something small in his hand, maybe a talisman. Remus wonders if they've ever been to Azkaban before. He'd like to ask. He needs the reassurance that a person can visit there and still come out mostly intact, but he knows asking would be inappropriate. Even without asking he knows what the dementors can do, and he tries to think of happy things, tries to build a shield. Unfortunately, most of his happy memories seem to at least peripherally involve Sirius.
Whether it's physical or psychological, Remus grows colder and more nervous as his ferryboat approaches the prison island. The day's sunlight disappears with the shore and the water and sky around Remus turn a flat, dark gray. He would gladly spend a month in werewolf form for the opportunity to raise his wand and cast the Patronus charm right now, or even a spell for sunlight, but he can't. Raising a wand to an Azkaban guard, even without intention to harm, is grounds for imprisonment.
By the time they reach the island, Remus's fingers are stiff and numb. The dementors' presence affects the island. It's cold and dank and nothing grows, not even a set of bushes or a tree to mark the entrance. Everything is the color of iron and sand. Remus feels his heartbeat slow and a pressure build in his ears, like he's drowning. He and the other visitors are herded off the boats and through heavy, creaking gates to the entrance, where they all stand in line to have their wands weighed. Remus never takes his eyes off his wand as it's weighed. Ash, nine inches even, unicorn tail hair core, been in use eleven years. Beyond the chorus in his mind of Sirius, Sirius, Sirius, Sirius, he hears the solo drone of wand weighings. Maple, hawthorn, oak, birch, unicorn tail hair, unicorn tail hair, dragon heartstring, phoenix feather, eight inches, nine-and-three-quarters inches, nine-and-a-half inches, eight-and-a-quarter inches. Watching the people behind him, Remus wonders if Sirius's wand is still working. He supposes it is; he seems to remember a story somewhere about a wizard sent to Azkaban for life who was later found innocent and exonerated, only they'd snapped his wand after the sentencing. Since then, wands are kept in tightly locked storage, alphabetized and cataloged.
The guard leads the line of visitors to a gray-green room with cinderblock walls. There is no effort here to make the place cheerful. No windows. Nothing on the walls. Weak candlelight glows from wall sconces. Shadows cross the plain metal tables and chairs, which are bolted to the floor. Cold seeps from the concrete floor into Remus's shoes. His knees are shaking, and he grips the back of the nearest chair to steady himself. He's glad he skipped breakfast, because he's nauseous as well. James. He should think of James. And Peter. When he tries to bring their images to mind, though, their faces are indistinct. Seeing Sirius may bring those memories back, or it may destroy them.
Is that a risk I'm willing to take?
I have to. I have to know. If I can stand being here for more than five minutes. How does anyone survive here for more than an hour?
Ten minutes pass. Then twenty. Remus wonders if waiting like this is standard, but he says nothing as he sits at his table. The empty chair across the table stares back at him. The guards on either side of the door are wizards rather than dementors, but that is a small comfort at best. These wizards, Remus can tell, are as bereft of caring as the dementors themselves. They stand with their arms crossed, their faces expressionless, wands ready to Stun anyone who tries to move or even breathe out of line. Remus turns away from them and sits motionless in his chair, taking in only as much air as is required for survival. His hips and spine feel numb from the unforgiving chair.
He doesn't even know if Sirius has been told who has come to visit. Sirius has to have figured it out, though; everyone else he was close to is dead.
Because of him.
Remus digs his fingernails into his palm to stop the vexing thoughts. He can't blame Sirius entirely for what happened, because he knows that in a way he was partly responsible. Why hadn't he listened to Peter? If he listened, maybe Peter, if not Lily and James, would still be alive. Or maybe Sirius would have killed all of them, Voldemort or no Voldemort. Maybe Sirius will try to kill him now. Remus doesn't know if Sirius would even have the strength.
Sirius, he begins in his mind, I know I'm probably the last person you expected to see, or want to see, but...
But what? Should he say, "I've been thinking of you?" Ridiculously sentimental, even though at its barest it's the truth. Maybe he should say, "But I had to see you." The sentences he thinks of next are disastrous. "I had to see if you've changed." "I have to know why you did this." "Do you still think of James?" "Do you still think of me?"
What am I going to say to Sirius? What could I say to the person I loved so much, who I thought was a true friend, who wasn't anything I thought he was?
Tentatively, Remus looks around. No one else seems agitated. They seem to accept this bleakness, and he wonders how they do it. He wonders how they can tolerate going through so much depression and darkness, even for someone they care about.
I can't do this.
Even if Sirius brought him to where he is now, in a place devoid of light and hope, he cannot think of Sirius without thinking of joy and mischief and the feeling that for once, someone accepted him as a friend knowing full well that he was a werewolf. Remus also knows what Azkaban can do to a wizard, and he knows he could not bear to see Sirius drained of his magic, empty and lifeless. No, it's better that Sirius remain as he is in memory, with his flaws as great and deadly as his assets. Remus must leave.
Not wanting to stand, he raises his hand slowly, like a student in a class who is hoping and praying that he has the right answer.
A guard comes stomping over to him, his rubber-soled boots squeaking against the floor. "Whaddyeh want?"
"I...I need to leave," Remus whispers.
"So Apparate home," the guard taunts. "Ain't nuthin' stopping yeh."
"Sir, I don't believe I can do that." It's all Remus can do to not faint. His vision is fuzzy and he feels like someone is applying the Vise Charm to his temples. "I would like permission to leave the room. I will wait outside for the next ferry."
"What if I said no?"
"Then I would wait here until I could leave. But I respectfully request permission to leave sooner rather than later."
After a few terrible seconds of silence, the guard steps back and points to the door. "Get out. NOW!"
Remus doesn't hesitate. He trips on the chair as he stands, and runs for the door. He knows everyone in the room must be staring at him. Once outside the visitors' room, another guard escorts him back to the ferry.
Outside in the boat, he trembles from cold and adrenaline. He sits alone except for a guard who says nothing but looks at Remus as though he'd like to practice hexes on him. While he waits, Remus has wild imaginings of Sirius breaking free of the guard and running out of the prison, hijacking the boat and sailing them both to the mainland. When he sees people approaching the boat, his heart accelerates and he sits up straighter, wondering if he's wished Sirius into freedom. The line of people is only the other visitors and guards, however, and he sits back in his seat, staring straight ahead until he returns to the Ministry of Magic.
About a week later, Remus meets with the Order at Molly and Arthur's. Their oldest sons help to serve dinner, and Remus compliments Molly and Arthur on how well-mannered and comfortable Bill and Charlie are in the presence of so many adults.
"We're not worried about them," Molly says with affection. "They're both very outgoing. We're quite proud. But it's Percy we're not sure about," she adds with a whisper. "You know what they say about the quiet ones."
"I'm sure he'll be fine," replies Remus. A sharp bang comes from upstairs and Arthur jumps up from the table.
"Fred and George, probably," he says. "I'll be back in a minute."
"So, Remus, what have you been up to lately?" Molly asks.
"Well, I, er..."
There are so many ways to phrase it, he thinks. I've been to Azkaban. I've been to visit Sirius, only I left before they brought him to the room. I've been alternating sleeping and wakefulness potions because I'm never in the right mood at the right time because I can't shake the thought of where I was last week, and what I did. Or didn't do. I've been remembering. I've been obsessing. I've been to Hell.
"Not much," he replies. "Really, nothing at all."