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CHAPTER 3
The heart of St Mungos


He hated hospitals. He hated everything about them; their white immaculate walls that were too white, their odor that smelled of sickness and death, their Healers that kept running along the never-ending corridors, inside which doors were always shut as though to keep hidden what no one could abide seeing. Even the flowers he spotted here and there in the waiting room among the visitors seemed illusory.

“May I help you?” A tall witch in the entrance hall came forward. She was wearing a white cloak with the badge of Saint Mungo’s, and had the soft, light features of someone who didn’t spend much time outside. She, too, sounded falsely cheery.

“Erm─” Remus hesitated, realizing he had absolutely no idea where to go. He had taken Floo Powder to the hospital, but now in the maze of bedrooms, healing rooms, waiting rooms, training rooms, etc, he was lost. Of course, he could always try every floor and every corridor to try and find Snape without having to talk to anyone, but it seemed very improbable that he would find him─ as an Order member he surely wouldn’t be sharing a bedroom with another wizard who had had too much to drink.

Therefore if he wanted to reach his destination before the night had fallen he had better answer to the witch named Corzelia, as labeled on her insignia. “I believe someone must have left a message for me,” he guessed.

The witch raised an eyebrow, her intense blue eyes widening slightly. “Who is the message for?”

Remus didn’t reply immediately. As an Order member on a mission he couldn’t divulge his true identity, and had he been able to he wasn’t sure he would’ve done it─ he had rather not too many people knew him. “It must be from Albus Dumbledore,” he avoided a direct answer, hoping he was right. He conjectured that if Dumbledore had sent the message to Grimmauld Place he had already taken care of a number of other things.

In other circumstances Remus would have laughed─ if he were wrong, if for once this hadn’t been planned, then the witch might as well bring him to the ward for the mentally ill.

“Albus─” the witch’s smile disappeared, and then she lowered her voice considerably. “Yes… yes, I’ll take you, of course.”

Remus followed, wondering where she was going to lead him. At least he had been right about the message, but Corzelia’s sudden anxiety didn’t seem like good news.

At first he tried to follow the path she was taking, but he soon lost it in the numerous twists and turns. Progressively they left the corridors where a lot of visitors were and entered a seemingly more restricted area. Then she took a lift─ at first sight he would have thought it was abandoned─ and, once they had gone down for a while, the door opened on a very tiny corridor with a single door on the side.

The witch didn’t move so he looked at her questioningly.

“In there,” she showed him the door. “I’m not allowed to go forward.”

Quietly he nodded. As soon as he stepped outside, the lift the door behind him closed and the witch was gone, leaving him in the semi-darkness.

He advanced apprehensively. What would he find behind the door? As he pushed down the knob he had the horrible impression that his insides were melting. And then the door opened─ and a horrible smell reached Remus’s nostrils. It was far worse than in the upper levels─ far worse than he could have imagined.

Fighting not to throw up, he walked forward and closed the door.

***********
Hermione wished they would find something else to talk about now. It was almost midnight, and yet Harry, Ron, Ginny and she were in the boys’ bedroom, quietly talking together. Ron and Harry desperately wanted to know what had happened that had made Remus leave so precipitately in the evening; but she, Hermione, would rather not have talked about Lupin. Her insides squirmed oddly every time they mentioned his name; as for her, she completely avoided pronouncing it.

“What about you, Hermione? What d’you reckon?”

“What?” She’d been quiet for a while.

“What do you think’s happened?” Harry repeated. “With Molly and Remus─”

“I have no idea.”

Ginny yawned but Ron frowned at Hermione.

“Come on, Hermione, you always have an idea on what’s going on, don’t you?”

“I don’t know, listen, it’s late, we should go to sleep.”

Ron and Harry stared at her strangely. “You all right?” Harry finally asked.

“Sure, why?” She knew she sounded out of herself, but she couldn’t help it.

“Let’s go to sleep,” Ginny cut in abruptly, for which Hermione was thankful.

Hermione was about to shut off the light when there was a tap on the window. She got up smoothly and opened it, and an owl came in.

“That’s a Ministry owl,” Ginny pointed out.

“Yeah…” Hermione detached the parchment from it in a distracted manner. She shook her head with annoyance; she knew Ministry Officials worked all night, but surely they could avoid sending owls this late, couldn’t they?

Miss Hermione Granger,
The Ministry cordially invites you to present yourself on the morning of the 2nd of July at the Apparition Centre of the Ministry of Magic to pass your class E Apparition test. Please arrive at 8 o’clock.
We have also registered your appliance for a job at the Department for the Control and Regulation of Dangerous Creatures, and therefore you will be interviewed right after your test.

Regards, the Ministry of Magic


Hermione beamed. “Finally I’ll get to go out!”

Ginny took the parchment from her hands and read it too. “Do you think Ron and Har─”

The door burst opened. Harry and Ron walked in wearing their pajamas, each holding a piece of parchment similar to the one Hermione was holding.

“We got pre-selected for Auror training,” Ron said, looking really thrilled. “I bet you got what you wanted too, right? Second of July, eight in the morning for the Apparition tests, then interview?”

**********

There wasn’t much to be seen: a bed with a body on it, and a man standing next to him. When the unfamiliar Healer looked up at Remus, his eyes bulged out on his face from tiredness. Then the man retreated without a word and exited by a door at the far end of the room, leaving Remus alone with Snape.

He fought against his desire to turn away and, step after step, reached the bed.

Snape was there, his eyes closed, lying with his head on a pillow. The rest of his body was covered with a white sheet, but his face was as white as chalk.

Remus stared at the one he had known since school, the one who had never been his friend─ but the one he was here to protect. He knew the chances were remote that Death Eaters would reach them, here, in this place it seemed almost nobody knew existed. And yet─ one never knew.

Remus looked around for a chair but found none. The minutes passed, until abruptly Snape opened his eyes. He gave a slow look around, ignoring Remus─ was he not seeing him?─ then closed his lids again.

When he opened them back his eyes focused on Remus and, this time, he didn’t look away. Severus opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“Don’t try to─” Remus started, but suddenly Snape spoke.

“He sent you─” Snape’s voice was only a throaty muter, but Remus nonetheless knew it was full of sarcasm. “You, of all people.”

Remus didn’t answer. Snape grimaced from the pain and Remus felt horrible, standing there with him so badly hurt. “What’s happened?” he asked, coming closer.

“They─ got me,” Snape let out in a breath. He looked tired. So tired. “They got me, Remus.”

Lupin froze. Why was Snape calling him by his first name? He never had.

Snape paused to gather strength. “Listen to me,” he whispered in a drained voice. “Protect them... protect them all…”

Remus swallowed. “You don’t mean that.” He had no idea who exactly Snape was talking about, but that wasn’t important. He refused to believe these words might be Snape’s last. Where was Severus’s scorn, his hatred, and his disdain?

“Harry, Ron…” Snape went on, “everyone else… they’re just kids. I meant that…” he gasped, “that and everything else.” Snape attempted to snigger cynically. “We thought we were superior to all these Muggles, just because we wizards could do─ could do great things with a twist of the wrist and a stick of wood…” he said weakly, “well we’re far worse than them… we’re─ we’re destroying our own selves just the same… except it’s worse… because we should be wiser…”

Remus didn’t answer because his throat was too dry.

“You’re a good man, Remus. Much more human than me…” Snape said with a rasp intake of breath. “We should’ve been friends, you know. It’s no use to hate… I─ I hated everyone around myself, and look where it led me…” it looked like it was taking him a great effort to continue; “don’t waste you life, Remus… find yourself something worth living for… something far better than all of this...” his voice faded. “We─ we should’ve been friends…” he repeated. The words died, and then he closed his eyes.

“Severus!” Remus yelled. The door opened, and this time two men came in. One took Remus’s arm and brusquely pulled him from the bed, while the other, the first one Remus had seen, bent over Snape.

“What’s happening?” Remus almost shouted. He tried to move but the Healer was blocking him, quietly but surely pushing him farther from the bed.

“Calm down,” the Healer answered, letting go of his arm at last.

“Will he be all right?”

The Healer shook his head. “We’re not sure yet.”

“What does that mean you’re not sure yet?” Remus said aggressively. He didn’t like at all the way this was happening; nor did he like the tone of the Healer’s voice. He didn’t want to be treated like a kid who must be protected from a painful truth.

The Healer sighed, scratching his forehead resignedly. “He’s badly hurt… fractures we can heal… but he’s got internal bleeding… torn limbs… dark magic in his blood─” he paused. “Want me to go on?”

Remus shook his head wearily. “No.”

“I’ll get you a chair,” the man muttered. He went out of the room and came back almost immediately, then motioned for Remus to sit down. “Don’t attempt to speak to him.”

Then they left again.

So a long wait began. Remus was so bored he wished he could sleep─ but now wasn’t the time. It lasted hours. Long hours. One man, the first one, came back at regular intervals but didn’t say a word to him. Snape was in a profound sleep─ so profound Remus feared he would stop breathing.

When the door opened he was sure it was already three or four in the morning. Remus jumped up and took out his wand.

“Relax, Remus, it’s me,” Mad-Eye Moody came in with a growl. “What news?” he then asked more quietly.

“Not much,” Remus replied tiredly.

“I’m here to take over.”

“It’s all right, you needn’t bother, I can stay here.”

Moody’s eye rolled around in his socket a few times, and Remus felt he was being x-rayed. “You need a break.”

“I’m fine.” Remus had no wish to admit he was worn out past exhaustion.

“Get back to Grimmauld Place, you’re supposed to be on a two weeks long rest.”

“There aren’t enough people to do what needs to be done.”

“Whatever,” Moody shrugged, “but go back there.”

Remus exhaled then nodded. Without a word he went out, breathing in deeply some fresh air once he was far from the suffocating room, took the lift and went back to the entrance hall of the hospital. He took a handful of Floo Powder and fled, breaking free of the insufferable tension that had been building up ever since he had taken that lift down. A few seconds later Remus was back in the living room of Grimmauld Place, alone in the dark, quiet, undisturbed room.

It took a while for his eyes to get accustomed to the lack of light, and quickly he realized the entire house was dark. The clock on the wall in front of him indicated that it was six in the morning. Now he felt even more powerless than ever. He looked at the vase on the table; the vase that Molly had dropped but that was no longer broken. He came closer to it─ it would feel so good to fling it to the floor, because he felt so powerless─

Remus swore under his breath. Then he went to the library─ that’s how they called it because the room was filled with shelves of old books─ extended a hand and sat on the couch. What else could he do? Sleep would never come anyway. Here, in this sanctuary, at least he had things to occupy his mind, and to forget.

He ran his hand over the dusty title of the book he had picked. The light on his left flickered. Philosophy. Of all the books around, he had found one on philosophy. He almost got up to find another one, but decided that his legs could use some rest.

So he opened the book somewhere near the middle, not really caring what he would be reading. The pages were filled with very small characters. He stated at the title of the chapter, freedom, and let his eyes wander over the text.

Freedom… Choice… Good and evil… He turned the page over.

Democracy. The basis of a democratic state is liberty. Aristotle. Again, he flipped the page over. It seemed this whole book was about famous quotes, from Muggles and Wizards alike. He usually enjoyed them─ each one reflected its writer’s point of view on a particular event in history. However, tonight─ or rather that morning─ he was too tired for it.

War. He didn’t even read a word. It was all the same thing, wasn’t it? Violence and harmony. Peace and war. He turned the pages again.

Hatred and love.

He stared at a line from Friedrich Nietzsche. There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness..

He didn’t try to understand the enigmatic quote. He wished neither love nor hatred had ever existed; the former was too hard to think about. The latter…

The latter was linked with too many memories, too much trouble, and too much pain.

They were all pawns in a game played by powerful wizards none of them could ever match. So they hated one another alike; Death Eaters, purebloods, Dark Wizards, Mudbloods, with no understanding, because they didn’t know how to do anything else but battle and hate.

Remus stared at the lamp in front of him until he was blinded by the light. He looked away.

Why did Death Eaters have to exist? They were humans, weren’t they, so why did they never bother themselves with human dignity, with what made life worth living, with the basics of human principles of decency and morality?

We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction. Aesop.

Maybe that was true. And maybe it was even worse than that; maybe they’d end up destroying themselves. What were they doing but fighting a war against humanity? Remus skipped to the bottom of the page, where the name Ovid caught his attention.

We can learn even from our enemies.

He doubted it. What would Death Eaters teach to him but the art of abhorrence? He was so tired of it. Tired of uneven fights, tired of pointless fights. Tired of being responsible for the lives of others… of those he wanted to stay alive.

Sometimes he wondered if fighting really made things better. Maybe it just delayed the inevitable. They were trying to win a war to make the good side win because they wanted to avoid seeing Voldemort as an all-powerful Dark Wizard controlling the world. Except he already was, wasn’t he? Why couldn’t Dumbledore admit it? Where they really fighting for something, or were they just trying to hang to the last thread of hope in a fight for a lost cause?

Remus clenched his fist. Good over evil, that was what he was fighting for. Friendship over hatred, human dignity over immorality.

And love, above all.

He stared at the shelves with the image of someone smiling back at him, holding a book in her hands. He closed his eyes and when he opened them again, the vision of Hermione had disappeared.

Snape was right. Remus had found himself something far better than any fight, war, or anything else in the world. Except it wasn’t that simple.

He, Remus, hated himself because he had discovered something that was far better than any of these hostilities. It was incredible, that gigantic capacity humans had for tremendously passionate love or merciless hate alike. It would never cease to amaze him. And it would never cease to haunt him.


***
A/N: yes, I know, I'm evil for leaving it there..... however I'll do try and post chapter four as soon as I can, and meanwhile reviews are very much appreciated. Thanks for reading!

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