For twenty minutes, the only sound in the office is the clinking of silverware against plates and the crackling of the modest fire in the dusty hearth. Darcy doesn't look up from her food, but can feel Lupin watching her eat frantically. She saws feverishly at her thick slice of roast beef, sticking a large chunk into her mouth and chewing it for a long time.
After another ten minutes of silence, Professor Lupin clears his throat, sitting back in his seat and wiping his face with his napkin. Darcy puts her silverware down and looks up at him, faltering under his stare. She looks him in the eyes and pushes her plate slightly away from her, taking a long drink of water. Lupin looks away and runs a hand through his hair.
Darcy puts her glass down, fingering the rim of it nervously. She gives him a once over, studying him, the bridge of her nose crinkling and her lips pursing. Lupin looks back at her, clearly uncomfortable under such scrutiny. Finally, she sits up straighter and sniffles.
"Are you going to kill me?" she asks.
Lupin opens his mouth to respond, but no words come out at first. He tilts his head from side to side and gives her a blank stare. "What?" he laughs. "Is this what's been troubling your sleep at night? That's what you were dying to ask me? You think I -- Darcy, you really think I want to kill you?" He continues to laugh until he realizes that Darcy isn't even smiling.
She nods, relaxing a little. "I just had to ask," she sighs. "My friend -- she thought you might be out to hurt me. I didn't believe her -- she's always so paranoid, and she has this way of getting into your head."
"Well . . . if I did mean any harm to you, I probably wouldn't have confessed to it when you asked." Lupin shrugs, the corners of his lips turning upwards again. "And I probably would have killed you already if I really was meaning to. But I promise you, the thought has never once crossed my mind, nor will it ever."
Darcy exhales loudly. "That's very reassuring, sir."
"Please --" Lupin says, getting to his feet and walking to a worn trunk in the corner of his office. He fumbles with the latches for a moment and digs inside, pulling out a kettle and two small teacups. "No need for such formalities, Darcy." In his desk drawer are two teabags, and he places on in each of the cups. "Maybe some tea will put your fears at ease and help you realize that I'm no killer?"
"Thank you very much, but I -- well, I really don't care for tea."
"Oh?" A flash of disappointed crosses his face. "Well, I'm afraid that's all I have." Lupin uses his wand to put the extra teacup onto an empty shelf. He waves his wand again, pointing it at the kettle, then taps it hard and it begins to screams. Darcy watches him pour the boiling water into his teacup. "What do you prefer? So I can be prepared next time."
"Hot cocoa," she replies with a small smile.
"With or without a shot or two of firewhisky?"
Darcy opens her mouth to answer, only to find that she's very unsure how to answer. When she sees his wide smile, she laughs. "In confidence, Professor, a shot of firewhisky might do me some good."
"Hot cocoa I can promise you, but -- well, you'll have to understand if I hold back on the firewhisky. Next time, I'll make sure to have some hot cocoa on hand." Lupin waves his wand again and the kettle floats back to the shelf, coming to rest beside the teacup, still steaming slightly. "Now, I'm very anxious to hear what's on your mind. It sounded so urgent -- I'm sorry we couldn't talk sooner."
Darcy licks her lips and looks away from him, to the cup of steaming tea in front of him. She had practiced exactly what she was going to say to him on the way to his office, had even stood outside his door perfecting it until she was sure she was prepared -- but as soon as she entered, everything changed. Her stomach churns at the thought of describing her violent nightmare, the memory that changed her entire life.
"Could you tell me more about my mother?" she asks wistfully. "I remember so little of her."
He takes a long drink of his tea. "All right. What do you want to know?"
"Everything," she replies without hesitation. "She was beautiful, wasn't she? I have pictures of her when she was around my age."
Lupin chuckles. "She was very pretty, and much more than that. The Headmaster has told me that you share a natural talent for Potions, just like Lily. And there have been rumors of your uncanny ability to find yourself in detention with Professor McGonagall far more often than considered normal, much like your father."
This makes Darcy smile, even though his words knock the wind out of her. "Yes, I like Potions very much." Her smile turns sad then, and she wonders how much she dares tell him. "Two years ago, Harry and I found this -- this mirror in an empty classroom. The Mirror of Erised, Dumbledore called it. Do you know what it does?"
She pauses. By the look on his face, Darcy feels as if he already knows about the Mirror of Erised, but she continues anyway. "Whoever looks into the mirror sees their hearts greatest desire reflected in it," she says softly, remembering the nights that she and Harry had spent curled up beside each other on the cold, hard ground, staring into the mirror. "And when I looked into it, I saw my parents, and Harry -- and me, of course. But that was the first time I'd seen my mother and father since --" Darcy hesitates, but Lupin gives her a small nod to continue. "I remember thinking that my mother was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. And my father smiled at me -- so like Harry."
"The similarities between them are . . . incredible," he says, urging her on gently.
Darcy watches the steam rising and curling from Lupin's teacup. "Professor Dumbledore knew that we'd been sneaking out to revisit the mirror. He sympathized, I think, but he still moved the mirror to keep us from wasting away in front of it." Darcy looks away from him, blushing. "I would have happily done, without a doubt. I was so angry with him. I begged Professor Dumbledore to let me look just one more time, but he wouldn't."
Lupin listens intently, and when he's certain that she's finished talking, he asks, "Is this what's been on your mind?"
Darcy shakes her head slowly. After another long silence, she exhales loudly and forces herself to speak, bile rising in the back of her throat. "I have nightmares," she says bluntly, glancing at Lupin to see if she can catch his reaction. She half-expects him to laugh, no matter how ridiculous, or maybe even scoff. But he doesn't do either of those things. He frowns slightly, but continues to listen. "I've had them for as long as I can remember. They come and go often, and I rarely remember what happens, but I usually wake up with this . . . this feeling of dread and sorrow and sadness and -- Professor, they're awful."
"I'm sorry," he murmurs, definitely looking sorry.
"They've been getting worse," she admits. "Over the summer, my dreams have been different. I dream that I'm trapped and screaming and -- and I need help, you know? And someone always comes to help me, but I can never see his face. All I know is that he's . . . not bad, and I think I love him."
"You have this same dream every night?"
"Since the dementor on the train, sir."
"Well, not really," she says, the words tumbling out of her. "I've been having them ever since -- well, it was ever since I saw Sirius Black on the news, but the other dreams . . . those started after the dementor on the train."
"The other dreams?"
Darcy's hands begin to tremble as she recalls her nightmare. "I see her now. In my dreams, my mother is there, right in front of me, and she's talking to me and kissing me . . ." She touches her lips, her nose, her forehead. Darcy lowers her hand from her face and looks into Lupin's eyes. "I watch her die, right in front of me, and there's nothing I can do to stop it. It's so -- it's so real."
For once, Lupin seems speechless. The color has drained from his face and Darcy immediately regrets telling him anything at all. She stands quickly and the chair beneath her scrapes against the stone floor, a sound that makes her cringe. Tears well in her eyes -- angry tears, embarrassed tears.
"I'm so sorry, Professor, I shouldn't have said anything -- I'll see you Monday during class -- thank you for listening to me, but --"
"Darcy, sit down," Lupin snaps, standing up. Then, realizing he may have sounded too harsh, he softens and adds, "Please."
Too afraid to directly disobey him, Darcy does as she's told, looking down at the hands in her lap. "I shouldn't have said anything," she says. "It was stupid of me, but Emily said I should talk to someone about it, but I wasn't sure who to talk to, and I never meant to upset you or -- or -- I know that she was your friend and I've brought it all up again -- I can't imagine what you must think of me --"
Lupin holds up his hand to silence her, lowering himself into his seat again. "What do you imagine I must think of you?"
The words spring too easily to her lips. "Stupid, foolish. A coward," she laughs nervously. "Everyone thinks so."
He scoffs, causing Darcy to look at him again. He flashes her a reassuring smile. "I definitely don't think you're stupid, or foolish, or a coward. I think you're a person who has undergone a tremendous amount of tragedy and suffering and misfortune in a short period of time." Lupin raps his knuckles softly against the desk. "I am truly sorry, Darcy. For everything. For your parents, and for the events that have transpired in the past few years here at Hogwarts. I know that an apology won't bring your parents back, nor will it right any wrongs or injustices that you've suffered, but --"
"You don't have to explain yourself, sir," she interrupts. "I understand, and I thank you. It means very much to me."
Lupin nods and drains the rest of his teacup.
Emboldened by Lupin's kind reaction to her awful tale, Darcy decides to continue. "There is one more thing," she says slowly. "If you don't mind, sir."
Lupin shrugs and gestures with his hands for her to continue.
"It's about Sirius Black." The mention of Sirius Black gets Lupin's attention, drawing out a much different reaction that she'd expected. He frowns, growing very still, his jaw clenched so tight that his teeth might shatter. "Professor, I -- I know that he's after Harry."
His words are curt and clipped. "Who told you that?"
"Mr. Weasley did," she answers sheepishly. "He's Harry's best friend's dad, and he works for the Ministry. I know he wouldn't lie to me, not about this."
It takes him longer to answer than Darcy hoped for. "You are safe here, Darcy," he tells her flatly. "You have nothing to fear while within the castle. Sirius Black will not be able to get into this castle to hurt you or your brother."
His answer unsettles her. It sounds practiced, mechanical, as if that's what he's been taught and told to say. It doesn't make her feel any better or safer -- it doesn't reassure her in the slightest. "Tell me the truth," she breathes.
Lupin sighs, thinking carefully about what he wants to say. "Sirius Black escaped Azkaban when no one thought it possible, and he slipped past the dementors once before already. Hogwarts is under a great deal of protection, but there may be ways that Professor Dumbledore isn't aware of, or the dementors --" Lupin stops short, mouth opening and closing awkwardly as he struggles to finish his thought. "No harm will come to either you or Harry. That I can promise you."
"No offense, Professor Lupin, but you're making a lot of promises."
He hesitates, leaning forward. "I promise that no harm will come to you."
"You can't promise that," she replies in a hushed tone. "Professor Dumbledore promised Harry and me that we'd be safe here, and it was nothing but an empty promise."
They look at each other for a long time, unabashed and unwilling to back down. "You are far too bitter for someone your age."
Darcy doesn't miss a beat, nor does she deny it. "I've had a long, hard life."
Lupin walks her to the classroom door a little while later, bidding her a quick good-night before retreating into his own privacy. The halls are mostly empty now, but the silence is welcome. She walks with her head down, staring at her feet, as they automatically take her to the first staircase that will lead her a floor closer to Gryffindor Tower. However, before she can get to the staircase, someone rounds a corner -- heavy, quick footsteps ringing in her ears -- and slams into her.
The smoking goblet in Snape's hands falls to the floor, shattering into a thousand tiny pieces and the floor quickly absorbs the potion it was carrying. Darcy looks up into his face, flinching at the scowl he gives her.
"Darcy," Snape says coldly. "What could you possibly be doing roaming the corridors at this time of night?"
"I was with Professor Lupin, sir," she answers, wanting nothing more than to run up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower. "I'm so sorry, Professor Snape. I was just going back to my dormitory now."
Snape purses her lips, something about her answer amusing to him. "See to it that you hurry."
"Yes, sir, I will."
Upon entering Gryffindor Tower, the common room is still packed with older students. Emily has claimed a seat by the fire, still working on kitting herself a new sweater. She looks up at the portrait hole as it opens and closes, and puts her needles down when Darcy approaches.
"You look tired," Emily smiles, making room for Darcy to spread out on the sofa.
Darcy falls into the cushions, closing her eyes, the roaring fire warming her legs and feet. "I am."
"Did you tell him?"
With her eyes still closed, Darcy shifts to make herself more comfortable. "I expected him to -- I don't know . . . recoil or something after I told him, but . . . he didn't." She smiles to herself. "He listened to me. He sympathized. He understood, I think."
"I just want to remind you that it was my idea that you tell him," Emily laughs.
"I know," Darcy answers, opening one eye to glance at her friend. "I won't forget. You always have the best ideas. I should remember that after being your friend for all these years now."
There's a sudden silence and Darcy opens both of her eyes, unnerved. Emily is looking into the fire, her smile completely gone. "What's going to happen to us? After we graduate?" she asks quietly, looking at Darcy, wide-eyed.
Darcy doesn't know what to say. She can't imagine her life without Hogwarts, and doesn't want to. Darcy rests her head against Emily's shoulder and they both watch the flames flicker and listen to them hiss and crackle. "I don't know."
Her nightmares wake her that night -- again.
She's grateful that she hadn't been moaning or talking in her sleep; when she wakes, everyone else is still sound asleep, snoring and murmuring against their pillow, tossing and turning in their beds. Darcy sits in bed for a long time, listening to the wind howl outside of her window, holding her knees to her chest. After a few long minutes of silence, she climbs out of bed, the ground cold on her bare feet. She leaves the dormitory and walks down the spiral staircase to the empty common room, spreading out on the sofa by the hearth, where the remains of the large fire still smolder.
She had been excited when she went to bed earlier that night. She thought after telling Professor Lupin, with that weight off her shoulders, her sleep would be peaceful, uninterrupted, and full of good dreams or no dreams at all. She'd been ready for a good night's sleep for once, nightmares forgotten. But how wrong she'd been.
The nightmares had come back again and in full force, as well. The same dream as before, but she was ready for it this time -- the sight of her mother dying before her. She was ready to watch her crumple lifeless to the ground, ready to look Voldemort in his red eyes, ready to hold her little brother and pepper his head with kisses. And the strangest part of it all -- the stranger who comes to save her, the stranger that pulls her from the debris of her house. When she wakes, she can feel the pain in her legs, feel the weight of the rubble crushing her . . .
She isn't sure how many times she can watch her mother die. Her heart aches at the thought of having to relive that moment for . . . days? Weeks? Months? Or will it be years until she can scrub the image out of her mind again?
Darcy skips breakfast that morning and hides up in the owlery, feeding Max and letting him nuzzle into her. Even Hedwig flutters down to sit atop her shoulder, occasionally getting a few treats herself. When the two owls fly up to hidden, shadowy corners to sleep, Darcy heads back down to the castle.
Halfway to Gryffindor Tower, she looked out a frosted window to see smoke furling from the chimney of Hagrid's hut and her heart soars at the thought of sitting with him and talking, and having Fang rest his head in her lap. At the thought of a warm and cozy hut, Darcy holds her cloak around her as tight as possible and heads back out the front doors of Hogwarts, into the blustery autumn afternoon.
When Darcy reaches Hagrid's hut, she raises her hand to knock at the door, but lowers it at the sound of ugly sobbing coming from within. She can hear Fang whining quietly, but Hagrid's cries deter her. She knows that being a good friend would mean knocking anyway, joining Hagrid in his misery and comforting him over his hippogriff, but she can't. The last thing she wants is more sorrow at the moment, so she backs away slowly, frowning, and finally turning back towards the castle.
By the time she reaches the front doors of Hogwarts, her calves are burning from the several trips she's made today. She looks forward to lying on the sofa in Gryffindor Tower, opening a book, or maybe resting -- no, she tells herself, resting means nightmares. But her thought process is interrupted when someone calls her name and she looks up.
Professor Lupin is hurrying towards her from the Great Hall, where lunch has just ended, though he's walking slower than usual. He looks just as exhausted as she is, his face drawn and pale and his eyes glazed over. Darcy thinks about going back to Gryffindor Tower anyway, and just pretending she hadn't heard him, but he reaches her before she has time to decide what she wants to do. She forces herself to smile at him, but his smile seems more natural. Despite the tired look on his face, his smile gives him the appearance of a man ten years younger.
"Where have you been, Darcy?" he asks with a chuckle. "Your friends were worried sick about you when you failed to show up to breakfast or lunch."
Darcy shrugs and sighs. "That's very like them," she says, laughing softly with him. "If you see them around, please don't tell them you've seen me, sir."
Lupin raises his eyebrows. "Understood. Your whereabouts are safe with me. They plan on going down to Hagrid's soon to look for you, so you may want to run the other way before they find you here."
"Thank you, Professor, I will."
Before she can leave, Lupin grasps her arm for a split second, just to keep her in place. "I was planning on going for a walk myself," he continues. "Far from Hagrid's hut. If it interests you . . . I could use a companion."
Darcy smiles awkwardly, not wanting to be rude, but not wanting to accept, either. "Er -- thank you, sir, but I --"
Lupin laughs heartily, nodding his head understandingly. "I can take a hint, Darcy," he says. "Now, go on -- best get away from this door before someone finds you."
She watches him go, watches him limp away towards the first floor corridor, presumably back to his office. Darcy hesitates, clenching and unclenching her fists, then decides to run after him. Darcy's long legs carry her quickly to Lupin's side and he seems almost unsurprised to see her at his side again, matching his stride. "Professor, I've changed my mind," she tells him. "Fresh air sounds wonderful."
"Wonderful. Let me get my cloak and we'll go. Come --" He gestures for her to keep following. "I'll just be a moment."
The two of them enter his classroom and make their way slower than she'd like to his office. Darcy looks around the classroom for a moment, reflecting on all the ways its been decorated in her years at Hogwarts. Lupin hasn't done anything terribly fancy or decorative with the classroom, but instead has filled it with the skeletons of creatures, filled bookshelves with dusty, leather-bound books, and -- perhaps Darcy's favorite piece of his -- an old gramophone, which sits in the corner of the classroom, begging to be put to use. She runs her fingers over it lightly as she passes it.
"Last year," Darcy reminisces, as she follows Lupin up the stairs to his office. "Lockhart covered all the walls in the classroom with pictures of himself. And not just regular pictures, but like, huge portraits. I don't think there was an inch of wall visible between them all."
Lupin laughs. "Oh?"
"Do you know how uncomfortable it was having a hundred Gilderoy Lockhart's staring at you for an entire double lesson?" she insists, beginning to laugh. "No matter how handsome he was, it was hard to stomach."
"Why is it that the only thing I ever hear about Gilderoy Lockhart is how handsome he was?"
"Because that's the only redeeming quality he had." Darcy takes one last long look around the classroom before entering the office. "He was also arrogant, obnoxious -- not to mention he was a fraud and tried to wipe my memory. I'd say you have him beat, and you haven't even been here for three months."
Lupin's back is turned to her, but he looks over his shoulder and smiles impishly. "Flattery will get you nowhere, Darcy." He pushes against the wall and it opens, to Darcy's surprise, revealing a back room. Lupin walks through the opening and Darcy creeps closer, curious. He doesn't stop her crossing the threshold, so she continues, wide-eyed.
On the other side of the office is what seems to be Lupin's apartments. It's a small series of rooms, but cozy, with an old and worn sofa in front of a small fireplace, several books stacked on the table in between. Under Darcy's feet is a large, circular, rough-spun rug of brown and gray and green. On the opposite wall there's a good amount of counter space, complete with a sink, a silver kettle, and a small basket filled with tea bags. There's just enough light in the room to read, with several sconces holding burning candles and other candelabras placed randomly about the room to give it light. In the back of the room, Darcy spies a half-open door, presumably to his sleeping area, but Lupin doesn't go inside. He only grabs a heavy, black traveling cloak off a coat rack and they both leave his private chambers, re-entering his office.
When he catches sight of Darcy's incredulous face, he smiles. "You thought I slept in my office?" he teases.
"I hadn't really thought about it. I think there's probably some rule in place that discourages students from seeing their teachers living quarters," she admits. "But the secret door is pretty cool."
"If there is such a rule, I won't tell if you don't."
"Your secret is safe with me, Professor."
Lupin leads Darcy around the lake, towards the edge of the ground and towards the trees that will give them some shelter from the bright sun. She pulls him behind the thick trunk of a tree upon seeing Emily, Gemma, and Carla ambling down towards Hagrid's, and they both laugh as they hurry away from Darcy's friends. They comment on the beautiful, crisp, mountain weather, admire the lake together and watch the giant squid, and Lupin tells her a funny story about a second year in one of his classes. Halfway around the lake, Lupin's pace slows considerably, and when Darcy looks at him, it's clear that something is wrong.
"Professor Lupin? Are you feeling well?" She hesitates, wanting to help, but not wanting to overstep any boundaries. "Perhaps we should go back to the castle, maybe take you to Madam Pomfrey."
"Ah, she'll only chastise me. She's been telling me to get some rest since I've arrived," he sighs.
"She means well. Here, Professor, let me help you." Darcy looks up into his face, watching him as she hooks her arm around his, steadying him. He doesn't shake her off, nor does he show any wariness or discomfort. "And if she tells you to rest, it's probably in your best interest."
"Thank you, Darcy. Just a little further, and there should be a clearing where we can sit."
They walk together, side by side, arm in arm, in silence. She's very aware -- uncomfortably aware -- of the warmth spreading up the arm that's touching his, and every so often their shoulders bump. But he's right -- a few paces into the thicket of trees is a clearing, with a flat rock wide enough to seat four people side by side. Darcy helps Lupin up onto the rock and she's too tempted by the thick branch above the rock not to climb it.
Darcy impulsively scurries up the trunk of the tree, making her way to the end of the branch and hanging upside down by her legs. When she turns her head to the right, Lupin is eye-level with her.
"Please be careful," he begs, smiling weakly. "No one would ever forgive me if I let you fall onto your head."
The blood rushes to her head, making her temples pound angrily. Darcy brings herself to a sitting position and swings her dangling legs. The birds sing all around them, the wind whispering with their song. When they begin to quiet, Darcy frowns.
"Tell me, Darcy," Lupin begins again. "Seventh year goes by quicker than you realize. Do you have any plans?"
Darcy blushes, climbing down from the tree and sitting beside him. "My plans are stupid," she mumbles. "Emily says so. But she's different -- she hasn't even graduated yet and she's already so focused on her career, it's all she can think about. How she'll be an independent woman who only needs to --"
"Darcy," he interrupts with a small smile. "I didn't ask about Emily's future. I asked about yours."
She blushes harder. "I don't know. I guess I'd like to go into the Ministry. Magical Law Enforcement in particular, but Emily and I have always fantasized about being Aurors."
Lupin stares blankly at her, seemingly lost. "I don't see what's so stupid about that," he shrugs. "That sounds like a very admirable and achievable goal."
Darcy grins at him. The words tumble from her mouth before she can give them a second thought. Slowly, her smile fades and she becomes much more solemn. "I want a family. I want to get married and have children. Children who will never have to know what it's like to be without their parents." She picks at her fingernails, trying to look anywhere but at Lupin's face.
"I don't see anything wrong with that. In fact, I can see how that would appeal to you in a way it wouldn't to Emily."
"Emily says it makes me soft -- she says to go into the Ministry, you have to be strong and bold and brave, but I'm . . . I'm not those things, I don't think . . ."
"You're a Gryffindor," Lupin reminds her. "If you weren't those things -- strong, bold, and brace -- then you wouldn't be in Gryffindor." She flashes him another shy smile and he continues. "Your mother . . . she was kind and gentle, just like you, Darcy. But she was also fierce when she needed to be -- to stand up for her friends, to protect what she loved. Just because she was one of those things did not mean she couldn't be the other."
Darcy purses her lips. "Is that what you think when you see me?" she asks quietly, sliding down from the tree branch to the rock. "Do you only see me as James and Lily's daughter?"
Lupin inhales deeply and offers her an apologetic smile. "I imagine it must get tiring having people feigning interest over you."
"It's not just that," Darcy says. "Sometimes I feel like . . . I feel like everyone wants something from me. They always tell me how I smile and laugh like my father, or how I'm beautiful like my mother -- that's all I am to them. They just want to know what happened that night, and I don't have an answer for them. Even here, at Hogwarts, I've always been Darcy Potter, sister to the Boy-Who-Lived, the other Potter sibling. To my professors, I've been Lily and James's daughter, their legacy. But no one knows . . . no one cares that I've suffered. No one remembers that I hurt -- that I feel."
They look at each other and Darcy feels a sudden shame rising in her. Her face turns pink, burns with the shame of her confession, and the corners of Lupin's lips turn slightly upwards. "You should never have to feel that way around me," he tells her, sounding slightly pained.
"I'm so sorry, Professor," she says hastily, jumping off the rock and turning her back on him. "I . . . I forgot myself. Forgive me, please -- I'm so sorry. You probably don't want to listen to me feeling sorry for myself."
Lupin is quiet for a long time. Finally, when the silence has been long enough, Darcy turns back to face him, and he says, "Why don't we go back into the castle? I've just recently come into a supply of hot cocoa and I could use some help grading essays."
Darcy wipes a single tear off her cheek with a thumb, unable to keep a smile at bay. "I think I'd like that very much."
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