Title: Ad Liberum|
Author: Juxian Tang (email@example.com)
Disclaimer: These characters and places belong to JK Rowling. I am making no profit.
Summary: The challenge from Canis Major Fuh-Q Fest: After the war, Harry couldn't handle the public interest, so he disappeared. Sirius, feeling guilty over his own inappropriate feelings for Harry, let him go. Now Harry works as a whore, specialising in polyjuice fantasies. He's used to requests for 'Harry Potter' so he's not surprised when the polyjuice turns him into a younger version of himself, but he *is* surprised at who walks through the door. (Nimori)
"I got a letter yesterday," he says. "I thought it was from you."
He sits on a padded stool, leaning forward over his knees, his face hidden both in shadow and with long strands of hair falling over it. The only thing I see clearly, in the circle of light, is his hands - big, thin, clenched on each other so hard that the knuckles go white.
"I don't get much mail, you know," he says. "Mostly adverts and invitations to survivor gatherings. Or Howlers. From those who still believe I'm a criminal and just cheated my way out. Or from those who think I should be dead. An aberration, they call me. Couldn't agree more with them."
I'm so silent in my corner of the room that when I swallow, the sound seems deafening. He doesn't appear to hear it, though. A tangled strand of hair sways in front of his face as he shakes his head.
"When I saw that owl carrying a simple letter, I thought... well, anyway. Do you know what it was? The administration of Azkaban invited me to pick up my stuff they'd confiscated during the arrest. Yes, eighteen years ago. Having an Order of Merlin does it, you see. They want to return my wand and everything. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, from ten to fourteen, they wrote. Amusing, isn't it? They think I will drop in just like that. No, I'm not paranoid. I'm not afraid they'll lock me up as soon as I set my foot on the island. Yet... not in my lifetime. Not if I can help it."
His laughter is sharp, the sound familiar, and I can almost pretend I don't hear the little echo of bitterness in it, that wasn't there before.
His cheekbones are sharp, too - like blades over the hollow cheeks; I used to think about his face as about chiselled from white stone, marble perhaps - but the lines are cut too deeply in it, the pits under his eyes too dark.
Through the web of hair, his eyes glitter, feverishly bright.
I didn't expect to see him. When I was given the goblet of Polyjuice and the bundle of things - a robe in Gryffindor colours, round ugly glasses - I knew what was expected from me. It was a surprisingly popular impersonation, despite two years that passed. Perhaps this way Muggles would fall for a chance to spend an hour or two in bed with Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe. 'I fucked the Boy-Who-Lived!' Sounds good, isn't it? It is my job to make sure they'll leave satisfied.
And I'm particularly good at playing this role; who would believe it? That's why I'm asked to do it more often than others.
I think I got used to almost everything. Most people just want a simple fuck; some are more inventive - but still, it's nothing that magic can't heal. I don't mind whatever they do. It is the point of it - to let them do whatever they want. There is something mind-numbing in giving away your body to complete strangers, in yielding to all their orders and wishes. Sometimes it almost feels as if it is enough to make me stop thinking, stop regretting... enough of a punishment.
Curiously, even being in the body of Harry Potter, the damned Saviour-of-the-Wizard-World, seems to be freeing me from my own body.
"I remember I went there last time, to Azkaban," he says, "when they captured Wormtail. Albus thought it was a good idea for me to surrender voluntarily. I thought it would be my death, those three weeks there. And then the trial... and I was a free man, acquitted completely. And you were in the courtroom - jumped on me, and hugged me - nearly smothered me then, you know. You held my face in your hands and looked at me, very closely, as if making sure I was real. Your hands were so hot then, callused and hot. I know when you hands started getting cold. When your friend died, wasn't it? Or when his little sister, Ginny, died?"
Albus is dead, too, I want to say. And Wormtail - even though he richly deserved it. And Moody. And Hagrid - from those who were then with you, in that courtroom.
He leans against the wall, his long thin body clearly maladjusted to the low banquette. I see him take a strand of his hair into his mouth, bite it.
The master of the house never explained to anyone how he got hold on a lock of Harry Potter's hair. But rumours spread fast, that the Polyjuice goods he offers are of the highest quality, the Boy-Who-Killed-The-Dark-Lord looks exactly as he is supposed to.
Strange, isn't it? So many kinds of glamour and spells not to see what you don't want to see in the mirror - and then a goblet of potion makes you look at the naive, childish face again, green eyes behind the ungainly glasses, the scar like a scarlet lightning.
I stand in the middle of the room, a gangly teenager, red-gold Quidditch robe donned over the worn out Muggle clothes. The door opens and he comes in.
I don't gasp. I was taught well, in my previous life, when a wrong sound at a wrong time could mean someone's death. But my hand goes up, clenches on the collar of the robe as it trying to prevent it from getting opened. No, not that, please. I can't handle it. I can take anything people come here to give me - really, I don't mind whether it is: pain or just plain, boring sex they pay for.
But not him. Please not him.
His wide-knuckled hands clasp on each other as he looks at me, his eyes so dark there is almost no blue there. And under this stare I feel as if not only words escape me but even my breath.
He looks older - he looks tired; but no wonder, life was never kind to him. There are streaks of grey in his hair that I don't remember, and his eyes look even more haunted than before. I wish suddenly I could touch this weary face, cradle it in my palms - and there is strange bitter relief in knowing that I will never be allowed to do it.
I carefully unclench my fingers and start unbuttoning the collar.
He moves, passes a hand against his face, as if pushing a thin web away from it. His voice is hoarse and low and makes a wave of heat and pain go through me.
"Leave it. Go sit there." He points at the chair in the opposite corner of the room, on the other side of the four-poster bed. Sometimes I transform it into resembling the one from Gryffindor dorm - but usually when asked for it. He slumps on the stool next to the door, as if talking took more strength that he had. "Don't say anything. None of you can get his voice right anyway."
He leans forward, elbows resting on his knees, hands clenched in a deadly lock - and his voice, when he starts speaking, is monotone and quiet.
"And when you left, you didn't touch me at all. Not even a handshake. I don't blame you. I understand - I would feel the same way, if I were you. Sometimes I can't stand touching myself, when I shave or clean my teeth. Sometimes I can't even stand looking at my own face. How could it happen that they all died - and I, who should be dead for sure, still live?"
It's so strange that he says that. I never told him. I never tried to explain to him. But it is almost the same words that I used when thinking about it. That I can't stand touching myself - can't stand touching others because they surely should be disgusted with me, just hide it out of pity or misplaced deference. That I can't stand looking at myself and seeing the face repeated in so many copies in 'Daily Prophet' and on the cover of 'Witch Weekly'.
That another letter of gratitude to Our-Young-Hero from the people I don't know may be the straw that will break my back.
And how could I look in the eyes of Molly and Arthur Weasley, reading there the questions they never asked: why did I let their son die? Why did I let their daughter die? How can I live after that? And Hermione... she and Ron planned to get married, as soon as everything was over. They will never have a chance to do it - how can I look in Hermione's eyes?
So many of them dead. Because of me.
If only I was more careful, more decisive, learned better, listened to what I was told. I had felt like that, before, the summer after my fifth year - after he'd died in front of my eyes.
But I brought him back. I stole the Time-Turner and returned into that day - and destroyed the Veil before he fell through it, left only an image of it.
It gave Voldemort the hold of the powers of the dead, multiplying his strength many times.
And there was no Time-Turner to use when Ron died, and Ginny died, and Neville died...
"I knew I couldn't stop you," he says, looking at his hands, immobile but clasped so hard the joints are about to snap. "I didn't have the right to. You should have started a new life, without me, without anything burdening you. I just hoped I would be hearing about you, from others, from newspapers. I didn't know you'd be gone like that... completely. But I... I understand. You know, I make some changes in the house," he says in a voice that sounds almost cheerful. "Took away all the portraits, even Mother's. Yes, I managed to remove it - you won't believe how long it took me, and it nearly zapped me into the wall in the process. But now they are all gone. It's good, I think - I don't have a house elf to dust them anyway and, besides, now I don't need to worry about 'Incendio' them by mistake. And they were not fun to talk to anyway..."
I try to imagine the walls of his house empty - and it feels like a gut punch, just thinking about it. I remember everything there so well. On the stairs he stood, dishevelled from sleep, rubbing his cheek, as I told him I was leaving, my things packed and piled at the door.
At the tall lancet window between the floors I saw him one August night, a glass in his hand, swaying slightly, looking at the starry sky and whispering the name of his brother.
Into my bedroom he broke in the morning, accompanied with the smell of coffee, saying that breakfast was ready.
His house turned into headquarters, then into a hospital and into a shelter...
"Besides, I let Beaky wander around sometimes - and you know how awkward he can be. His wing is almost healed, though. Looks awful, of course, and he'll hardly ever fly more than a hundred feet in a stretch but at least pains don't bother him so much any more."
Hagrid would be happy, I think.
"He's quite obnoxious sometimes," he chuckles, and this sound wrenches my heart with its quiet melancholy. "Doesn't like it when I drink. Two glasses, no more - or he starts screeching like mad and tries to claw me, ungrateful brat. I think Remus set him on doing it, since he can't watch me all the time himself. He's at Hogwarts, as before, there is so much to do there."
I know. Hermione is there, too, teaching Transfiguration, after McGonagall became the Headmistress.
"Remus visits me, of course, he and Tonks," he says. "At times I wish they didn't."
I think I understand what he means. They are so bloody kind - and that's why it is even more difficult to see pity in their eyes; to see how disappointed they are.
I ran away from seeing this disappointment - and in his eyes, too. I know I was not what he wanted me to be. I wasn't like my father. My father was a hero - and he would have done better, he would have succeeded where I failed. He wouldn't have allowed so many to die. Sometimes I wake up because I see all of them, dead, looking with reproach at me, their eyes pale, even Ron and Ginny's hair dull, lifeless colour.
I wonder... I destroyed the Veil - where do they wait for me?
"I just wish I knew what's with you," he says, his voice thoughtful, almost dreamy. He doesn't look at me, hasn't even once since the moment he came in and made sure everything was in place - the scar, the glasses. "That you're safe. That you settled down with a beautiful girl who loves you and bears you children. I wouldn't interfere, you wouldn't even have to remember me - it's okay. I know not everything is about me, I suppose I've grown up finally, as Snape used to tell me to do. I learned to accept things. I just wish I could sometimes talk to you."
His eyes burn through the tangled hair as he looks somewhere at the wall above me. Something clanks in his pale fingers. I look there. It is a trinket - a key ring made in the shape of a leash and a collar; I gave it to him as a joke, bought it at Wizarding Wheezes in my seventh year. The little chain glistens dully.
"If I could, I would say that I don't ask you to forgive me," he says. "I know you can't. There are things that can't be forgiven - and surviving when others didn't is one of them. I got through it twice, you know. First after James's death - and now... Twice too many for a man, if you ask me. I would not ask you to come back to me. It would be enough just to know you're somewhere there. If I could only send you an owl, at least once a year. Just to tell you how I miss you..."
"There are things I never told you," he says in a strange voice that sounds amused and at the same time so pained that I have to bite my lip, to make myself keep listening. "It's strange to say it, because now it can't change anything, since you're gone. But the truth is, if you stayed, I would never tell you that anyway."
He looks up, his tired, haggard face still holding a sliver of beauty that goes right through my heart. His mouth that, I remember, can be so soft, is curved, its corner tugged down in a smirk of self-derision.
"When I was young, I had a crush on your father. I suppose you know that." His words and his chuckle make me feel as if broken glass is wedged into my chest. Yes. I knew. "He could win hearts - not only of girls. I was so jealous when he started going out with your mother."
"I thought it was the strongest feeling in my life, what I felt to him," he says. "I kept thinking it - till I met you. Oh no," he shakes his head, "please don't think I'm a kind of pervert, falling for a kid. It came when you got older. When you caught me, behind the Veil... and later, when we hid together... and when Malfoy kidnapped you."
He killed Lucius for that - Padfoot did - tore out his throat.
"At first I looked at you and saw James - and I was angry when something in you didn't coincide with the image I had in my mind. Only later I understood it was because you were not James. You were yourself - and I... I came to love you."
"It is something I would never tell you," he says, his voice dropping to nearly inaudible, and I have to strain to catch it. "I would never tell you how you felt - hot and skinny and close - when I carried you from the Malfoy Manor, and you held onto me so tightly. Or when, after Dumbledore's funeral, you pressed your face to my shoulder and I felt you crying - the first time you cried in my presence, and even then you didn't let me see it. I wanted to hold you tighter, wrap my arms around you - but I never dared. How I miss the smell of your hair, honey-and-milk shampoo and broom polish... you left that robe of yours, the one too frayed to wear it. I used to sleep with it when it got too lonely - but now it's really in rags and it doesn't even smell with you any more. I want to take off those glasses from your face and see your eyes unshielded and wide..."
"No, don't say anything." And since I haven't made a sound, I think he doesn't say it to me. But I do want to say something. Or to move - to be on my knees on the floor in front of him, his hands pressed to my lips, want to feel his face in my palms again, like then, after the trial, want to feel his lips, tasting whisky and coffee, on mine. "Everything you can say I told myself so many times. What an old fool! Twenty years older. Old enough to be your father. You deserve so much better. I hope you found someone much better.
I hope so."
He stops - and suddenly the overstuffed, gaudily decorated room seems very cold and dark - and airless, making me struggle for a breath. I wonder if I'm in the shadows enough so that he can't see my face.
But he doesn't look. He pushes a handful of hair away from his face, and I see a brief glitter of his teeth as he smiles wryly.
"I'll never stop waiting for you," he says. "But what else can I do?"
The clock chimes softly. He shifts, looks at it, squinting his eyes in the manner that is new for me - is his sight failing?
"Oh yes," he says with a sigh. "I should go. You'll start changing back now."
He gets up. The robe hangs loosely on his tall, thin body. He tucks his hands in his pockets and squares his shoulders.
"Thank you," he says without looking at me. "It was a useful conversation. I like how you've done your job. I'll be sure to mention it to your boss."
He turns and walks to the door, in a deliberately casual gait of someone who refuses to acknowledge his burden. He shakes his head, tossing his hair away from his face but it falls back almost at once. I get up from my chair and it screeches on the floor but he doesn't look back. I feel my school robe get a little too small in shoulders for me, the unruly mop of hair turn into cropped close to the skull.
He reaches for the door handle, his thin hand clasped on it resolutely, and I know I have to do it now, or it will be too late.
"Sirius," I say. "Wait."