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Impressions in the Dust (Nothing Left But History Remix)

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The origins of modern magical practises are often glossed over in textbooks and research. Those who prefer to take the mysterious path claim that the true origins are lost in the mists of the past, indicating a highly Muggle point of view, where magic is impossible and inexplicable. There are also a large number of people who believe that the history of magic, so clogged up with goblin wars and insignificant trivia, bears little purpose or import on life and magic today.

However, both of these arguments seem to be fundamentally flawed as it is the consequences of the present that influence the future and it is the consequences of the past that shape our lives today. You cannot understand the rise and fall of dark wizards, such as Grindelwald, without understanding the situations that led to their creation. This knowledge frequently aids us in understanding and predicting future situations.

In this way we can also look at the fundamentals of magic – the very spells and techniques we use. Spells lost in time can often, if found again, reopen doors that we believed closed forever. At the same time, understanding where our magic has come from, how it has evolved, can provide deeper understanding of magic on a theoretical level, giving us the opportunity to create new spells and counteract new hexes and curses by being able to properly deconstruct them. […]

*

Blacks never just 'walk' anywhere, they proceed, they parade. Their heads are held up high and other people, lesser people scurry out of their way like vermin. Even when they are on holiday they are on display. It is almost as if they belong in a museum or they are in some elaborate play.

Sirius knows he has to keep his face stern and unbending, he knows that he must look the part. He is ten years old, though, and while he enjoys pretending – pretending to be an auror, pretending to fight the werewolves and vampires from his father's big, leather-bound books, pretending to be a hero – he has never quite understood why he must pretend to be this parody of himself.

His parents are in front of him and he walks in their deep black shadows, Regulus at his side, perfectly groomed and perfectly composed. They parade down the street in their best dress robes, thick and dark. In the bright Italian summer sun the fabric sticks to Sirius' back, clinging in a way that makes him feel twice as hot. He tried plucking at it before, pulling it away from his skin for a moment of blessed relief, but one sharp look from his mother had stopped his hand mid air.

If he risks darting his gaze to the side, he can see the small hairs on the back of Regulus' neck plastered down with sweat.

Behind him cousins, interchangeable and seemingly uncountable, chatter politely, making good conversation, making matches, making snide comments. There is an aura of petty, harsh evils about them, in a language Sirius understands perfectly. With the right words said in the right way you can destroy someone. His mother is the undefeated mistress of the skill and he has learnt a lot. Casual phrases can be as cutting as the best thought out insult.

Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius catches sight of a Muggle child, in the shade of an alleyway. He is wearing shorts and t-shirt, his feet are bare and he is smiling. No one else notices him, he is below their contempt, so alien to their world that they deny his existence. Sirius allows the corners of his mouth to pull up slightly, but in doing so, he slows his steps without even noticing.

"Sirius," his mother calls, and he realises that he has been falling behind. "Don't dawdle."

The word dawdle is pronounced as viciously as any curse and Sirius quickens his step. It is wrong to want to be like that, he knows, wrong to envy the Muggles who are so far below them. But in a small part of his brain, the part that Sirius smothers during the day and only allows out at night, to dance through his dreams, wonders what it would be like to run through these streets laughing, without the heavy robes and the heavier expectations dragging him down.

*

[…] The best way to start this deconstruction is to examine the very language which we, as wizards use, to control and alter the world around us. This in itself takes us back to another civilisation. It was in Ancient Rome where magic as we know it today first truly developed.

Prior to the Roman empire, the knowledge we have of early magic gives an impression of isolated magic-users in positions of power in their own society, fighting one another for the power. There were no councils or schools, no magical civilisation. In as much as these magic users were integrated into the world, they were also cut off from each other.

I call them magic-users because they could not be considered 'wizards' by any modern definition. Their use of magical power was purely instinctive and elemental and control was won by force of will alone. Most children born with magical ability died because of it.

It was in the Roman empire that magic users first began to work together and first attempted to gain control of their abilities through learning rather than rigorous and violent subjugation. […]

*

Remus's quill scratches along the paper, barely audible over the rustle of the wind through bushes and the twitter of birds.

Grass tickles at Sirius's legs, the sun beats down on his back and the whole world smells like that warm mix of earth and grass and sweat that is pure summer. It is too hot to think, too hot to concentrate on one thing for any length of time, and Sirius has rolled up his trousers and shucked off his t-shirt long ago. A ladybird, bolder than it has any right to be, starts to trek over the back of his hand and he watches it for a moment, his constant movement stilled by watching the small creature. He turns his hand over when it reaches the edge, making it crawl over his palm as well.

When the insect reaches the centre of his palm he grows tired of it and deposits it on a blade of grass before turning his attention to Remus again. He is the picture of studiousness – head bent, frown of concentration.

His eyes trace the line of Remus' neck, disappearing into his shirt collar, all neat and tidy and proper. It reminds him of things – dress robes and a time when he would have cared that his hair was dishevelled and his cheeks were flushed.

It is wrong here, that level of respectability. This is not a place for show and ceremony. There is no one here to impress, and even if there were they are Marauders, they stand on ceremony for no one.

There are times when Sirius feels itchy underneath his skin, or like he's about to burst right out of it. It's almost as if his body confines him, hems him in. Times like that – times like this – he has to move. He will flit from one position to another, he will run and jump and laugh, body buzzing in a way that runs deeper than the fidgeting you see.

He needs to get out, to show the world that this is not them, to show the world that this is not him. Remus' shirt collar is an affront against his mind. He needs to undo that top button, push him down into the grass and get vivid green stains on that clean white.

The sun is high above, the grass is dry and prickly, and Sirius has a brilliant idea.

*

[…] It is unknown who first used words to focus the power of their magic but, whoever it was, there is no doubt that he or she was a genius. It seems like such a simple idea to the modern world, but that is only because we have grown up with the knowledge. At the time magic and words were of two different worlds. Words were the domain of Muggles and politicians, magic lived on the outskirts of the areas of learning and most magic-users were illiterate.

The use of words, as any student of Magical Theory will tell you, is to channel the power into only one action, rather than having an unfocused blast. Young children's acts of wandless and wordless magic may seem amusing or endearing today, but if that power is allowed to go unchecked it can cause devastation.

What can be assumed, however, is that the person who first spoke magic, the first true 'wizard' if you will, lived in the Roman empire, if only because all western magic revolves around the Latin language. (Eastern magic relies to a far greater extent on written or drawn spells and the language differs subtly from country to country, but this essay is focussed on the Western magical canon). […]

*

International apparition has a form of magical jet lag involved, one that Remus has never really understood. He likes to blame it on the moon, like he does everything else. It's a game he plays 'if I weren't a werewolf then…' Whether it's the lunar cycle or something else, though, he's always out of synch when he lands somewhere, like part of his mind is trying to catch up.

The border wizard takes his papers and frowns at them in an official manner. It is only a few seconds before his mouth twists in disgust and they are handed back. The guard is very careful to make sure their fingers do not touch. Remus doesn't let it bother him, keeps his chin up and his face calm. He is used to actions like that, small motions that mean volumes. People seem to think that lycanthropy is like a cold, you can catch it by being in the same room. He had once pitied them, but these days he can't blame them. There are certain types of evil you wish you never had to see.

On the other hand, it has always surprised him that a country whose oldest legend involves its founders being suckled by a wolf should have such an intense hatred of werewolves.

The guard has to get his superior, naturally; it doesn't matter that Remus has the right papers, doesn't matter that he has a job. He allows himself to be magically stamped, so they can keep track of him, and he hands over the required bribe when the time comes. Money makes the world go around after all. Another thing that he had learnt with time. Money can buy anything.

He can just about see the city through the dirt on the window. It is grey and squalid as he remembers and he can feel the heat already. The cooling spells must malfunctioning, he thinks, and he can't be mad at the men who work being irritable.

"Your first visit to Naples," the Italian wizard says and Remus almost shakes his head before remembering that, officially, it is. He cannot have been here before. It would put him in jail. Even years later other people's decisions still influence him. He has tried his best to look respectable today, wearing his least shabby shirt and tie, the trousers that aren't worn paper thin.

It is like standing in a greenhouse. His hand twitches up to loosen his tie, but the official's eyes follow the twitch and he stops himself. The discomfort is temporary, opinions last a lifetime.

The man is waiting for a reply, and he doesn't seem amused by Remus' silence. So Remus squashes down thoughts of giddy enjoyment and fond exasperation, sun baked ground and surprises. Those days never happened.

Is this his first visit to Naples?

"Yes."

*

"Where's that?" Sirius asked, pointing across the blue, blue ocean towards the far, sprawling city.

"That's Naples," his cousin Narcissa tells him, like he's the biggest idiot in the world.

"It's brilliant," he says, imagining life over there, away from this calm, boring piazza with its clean stones and elegant architecture.

"It's filthy and full of muggles," Narcissa informs him, "mother calls it a lawless Muggle pit."

The Naples in Sirius' head is suddenly populated with Muggle thieves and cut throats, Pirates, perhaps, bustling about together.

"Sirius!" his mother calls again, her voice is louder than every other noise he can hear, cutting right through his mind to the back.

He swears that he will go to Naples, one day, someday. And his mother's voice will not stop him.

*

Illegalities are mere inconveniences, really, Sirius thinks as he takes Remus hand and apparates. The only real limit he can think of is his imagination. The world here is an open book to him. Why should the fussing rules and regulations stop him?

Naples has narrow streets, the kind where people bustle together, bumping shoulders, nipping through gaps. There is a hubbub of noise, murmurs of Italian that Sirius can only partially understand. It is like Hogwarts in between classes: people greeting each other, talking to each other, fighting each other. His eyes drink it in. Living, laughing, loving, Naples. It is glorious. He wants to talk to people, and weave between them as they hurry along. It doesn't matter that he can't understand what is being said, this place feels comfortable, like a well-worn shoe.

The streets are not clean, they are not well ordered and there is a sense of reality to the place that Sirius cannot help but love. The Muggles go about their daily work and they seem at home. They fit in this place in a way Sirius wishes he did too.

Next to him, Remus looks less than enthused and Sirius wonders what he sees when he looks at this. Tries to imagine why the sheer life of this place doesn't make Remus' heart beat that little bit faster.

Sirius loves the fact that here they fade into the background, no one minds them as long as they mind no one, but Remus still looks alert, alone, like he's afraid of being singled out of the crowd. Sirius wants to tell him to relax, go with the flow; that the wondrous thing about Naples is that they know no one and no one knows them.

No one gives a damn what they do or they don't do, so he slips his hand into Remus' and drags him off to find a way to Pompeii to indulge his boyfriend's need for work.

*

[…] There are few early examples of magic left, leaving us to guess at much of the development of the modern spell, but one event that was a tragedy of the time has proved very fortunate for the modern scholar of magical history: Pompeii.

The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD has preserved the city of Pompeii so well that it the magic used there is still visible today. This means we have an amazing opportunity to see the precursors of modern magic and, in working back from our own magic to that used in Pompeii, we can establish a timeline of magical evolution.

We see the early ancestor of a protego charm cast on a door, held with a combination of charms that would eventually merge to create the modern sticking charm. […]

*

Pompeii does not change; the colours, the streets are much as Remus remembers them before, just as hallowed with age and memory, even if now some of those memories are his own.

Remus hates job interviews, although this doesn't really count. He had sat on the train, case clutched in his hands trying to remember everything he could about Pompeii and its significance. He checks his tie a thousand times, shoves his hands in his pockets and takes them out. By the time he meets the head of the dig, he has half convinced himself to turn around and go back home.

"Remus Lupin?" The head archaeologist is an older man with a beard which might have been described as 'grizzled'. He had the type of sunburn that comes from working constantly in bright sunlight for so long that you forgot about it. His nose was red and shiny, just peeling on the tip.

"Yes, sir." Remus says, taking the proffered hand gratefully. The man's broad smile and the rolled up arms of his shirt remind him of things and summers he would rather not think about, so he concentrates on the red, red tip of the man's nose.

"Don't call me sir, I'm not that old." Remus wonders if he means in relation to Dumbledore, or something. "I'm Philips, Reginald Philips, Professor if you must, but never sir."

"Sorry, Professor," the words come easily as they have a million times before. They are almost second nature to him: 'sorry , Professor, it won't happen again,' 'sorry, Professor, I didn't know it would get that out of hand,' 'Sorry, Professor, I should have said no.'

"You Hogwarts types are all the same. Can't get a damn one of you to call me by name, always Professor this and Professor that. But you're all damn good, I'll give you that."

"Thank you," Remus isn't sure what he's supposed to be doing. Dumbledore had just told him to present himself at the dig. Pompeii, the headmaster had said, just the place for Remus' talents and his hard work. If he hadn't needed the job, he might have refused.

"Albus speaks highly of you. Bright mind, he says."

"I'm honoured," Remus feels a little like he's missing his script, but then he's felt like that for years, ever since the war… ended and there was no one left to feed him his lines. No one ever asks what happens to the characters left standing at the end of a tragedy. Remus is a loose end, left floating.

"He did mention you'd be having some personal time every month." There is a waggle of a grizzled eyebrow that must translate into 'werewolf'.

"If that's all right, si-professor," Remus says. It is the polite way of asking if he should just turn around right now.

"'S fine, he sent me a copy of your History of Magic NEWT work. That was an excellent essay on the lasting influence of Roman magical advancements and technology, by the way. It showed real understanding of what we're trying to do here." Philips turns to walk away, leaving Remus to wonder for a moment whether he's supposed to follow or wait. After a second he hurries to catch up. It has been years since anyone had done that.

"…wondered if you might have been here, but I know the difficulties of getting a travel pass for someone in your... situation." It is not a question, which Remus is grateful for, he doesn't want the lies to leech into this part of his life as well. It is amazing how much can be contaminated.

"Yes, professor, which is why I'm so grateful for this opportunity."

"Tell me that again tomorrow when your back is aching and the back of your neck is burnt raw. Damn sun here burns through our block charms, I swear."

*

[…] The most controversial area of magic within Pompeii is the graffiti. Rude at best, at times nothing short of obscene, several critics have denounced its growing presence in textbooks and cited it as one reason why studies of Pompeii's magical heritage are worthless. However, nothing could be further from the truth. These drawings, lewd though they may be, show the best examples of the history of the pictorial magic we ourselves take for granted.

These animations might merely repeat the same patterns endlessly, but they are nevertheless the forerunners of our paintings and photography. Archaeologist witches and wizards have been working for years to determine the combinations of spells that were used to animate them, some of which are written into the pictures themselves, rather than cast onto static art.

Entwhistle has explored the associations between these spells and The Hag, the oldest known magical portrait, and his conclusions highlight the importance of Roman magic on our world. […]

*

Pompeii is dusty and old. Dead people lived here, and it reminds Sirius of his family's house, back in England, where the dead are considered more important than the living. The act of digging the place up seems pointless to him, let the dead rot. The living are what matters.

But Remus is fascinated, asking questions, looking around all wide eyed, and he forgets himself in his excitement and pushes the sleeves of his shirt up his forearms and undoes the top button of his shirt without even noticing. Sirius can't help but smile at the way the sweat trickles down his throat.

It is one of life's little idiosyncrasies that the dead, just like inanimate musty tomes, make Remus more alive than anything else. Sirius doesn't understand it, and thinks maybe Remus lives in an upside down world, because Sirius himself doesn't feel alive unless there's someone just as alive there with him.

It's why he gets along so well with James Potter, with his larger than life personality and thrives in the corridors and the classrooms – and on the streets – he feels like a leech sometimes, taking his life from other people whereas Remus seems to take the dead and the inanimate and give them life… takes Sirius and lets him feed, off the flow of his hands as he tries to explain a point, the squint of his eyes as he examines the dig in as close detail as he dares.

Pompeii is dust and death, but somehow, Remus brings it to life in his head. Sirius wonders what it must be like in there, to bring life to a desiccated shell of a place like this.

Then Sirius sees the graffiti and he's not so sure that the dead are worthless anymore. Some of them, at least, had some sense of humour, which is more than he can say for his own ancestors.

He thinks that the wizards who scrawled the images and cast the spells would heartily approve as he takes advantage of Remus' distraction to show him that the living can be just as interesting, and to try and drag some of that life away into himself. The sun is cooler now, but Sirius feels almost feverish as he grasps Remus' wrist and yanks him closer.

*

On the west end of the dig, that's where the worst of the ancient graffiti is. Remus finds it ironic that the rude vandalism of the past actually provides them with useful information about the past, as well as a few laughs. It reminds him of names scratched into Hogwarts' desks, graffiti scrawled on walls. Those words will last, he thinks, like these do, long after the people whose names they are have died and gone… as some of them already have.

There is a desk in the library that will forever proclaim JP+LE, a toilet stall on the fourth floor that will never forget that Snivellus likes to suck dick. Will people examine those words with as much thought and care as they look at these? Will they murmur about the rainbow charms placed on that picture of Slughorn as a flying pig?

There are other words, words he carved into being himself, and he swears that one day he will make himself walk back in there and erase them all. No one will ever gaze at those with a clinical eye.

These images are worse than anything school boys could have dreamt up, worth more than ten points from Gryffindor. They still bring a smile to the face of most of the dig, though, as they once brought to his own.

It makes him cold now, when he stands in front of it, watching the crude animations repeat over and over again.

Ghost hands drew out these images, ghost hands cast these spells, and the ghosts of hands touch him in his memories as he watches them. The wind whistles through the corridors and walkways, almost becoming words in his ears and the past seems overlaid on the present and the future seems so lonely.

He shivers, even in the heat of the sun, and he turns his mind to the job and not to school boys and stupid unplanned trips. He is not thinking of heated kisses or happier times.

The past is gone and the future is not yet here, all he needs to know is right now.

Right now has never felt so cold.

*

"Where are you going?" Regulus asks, torn between curious and petulant.

"None of your business," Sirius replies.

"Mother said to wait here."

"Mother says a lot of things," Sirius smiles as broadly as he can. "You know I don't listen."

"She'll be mad."

"Then she's mad," he hopes that the shrug he gives shows cool nonchalance, not the heart-thudding fear he is feeling.

"Just tell me where you're going," Regulus insists.

"So you can tell her? I don't think so."

"I won't tell!" Regulus squeals. He is so immature, Sirius thinks, with all the maturity of an elder brother. "Please… can I come?"

"You don't know where I'm going."

"Please."

"No, stay here," Sirius says, before slipping off on his own. There is a thrill in being somewhere he is not allowed to be, slipping away from the well trodden paths and into the unknown.

His heart is in his throat as he makes his way down the rocky cliffs towards the blue, blue sea.

*

[…]Perhaps the most shocking revelation when looking at the magic of past civilisations is not how long it has lasted, nor even the lost spells and techniques we have uncovered, but how little has changed.

Hundreds of years might have passed but the purposes of magic have changed little: domestic applications - stirring pots and mending charms; defense - shields and basic hexes; entertainment - art and singing charms. Even the examples of early transfiguration are similar to what a modern wizard might expect to see or perform. Examining these helps us gain knowledge not only of our magic but of ourselves.[…]

*

"I'm sorry, sir, we appear to have lost your reservation," the man behind the desk doesn't even blink as he lies straight to Remus' face. He had checked on the reservation that morning and it had been fine.

Another him, a version of him from years ago, might have demanded to see the manager, might have called the man out. But that him would have had people at his back, that him would not have been alone. He turns around and walks out of the shabby hotel, his bag in hand.

There is a bus stop two blocks down, it is run down and the graffiti on the back says something in Italian that Remus can't understand.

The road has a view out over the bay and he falls asleep staring at the island, lit up with bright pinpricks of light, like he remembers Hogwarts at night, a beacon in the dark.

When the policeman wakes him up in the morning, before it's even really light enough to call morning, he doesn't make a fuss, but the island is dark in the steel grey light. It doesn't seem so beautiful anymore, and the streets of Naples are as bleak as ever.

*

Sirius is grateful when Pompeii is out of the way. The dead city is too much like work and too much of the past for him. They have better things to be doing, Remus and him, better places to be.

Sirius Black is not a coward and from here he can see out to the bay, the sea is still blue in the darkness, like he remembers it and the island is out there. Naples is better, he knows, with its people and gypsies, but Remus is frowning, and his hands are reaching up to tug his sleeves back down.

Sirius knows that look: it's the look Remus gets before he backs out on a really good prank, the look he gets when Sirius eggs James on. 'That's enough' it says, clearer than day, but Sirius isn't finished yet, not yet.

He takes Remus' hand, looks out towards the bay and he remembers.

*

The water is cooler than Sirius had imagined as he lowers his feet over the side of the rock, dangling them in the water, his robes hitched up, his shoes and thick, itchy socks left neatly on a rock nearby.

It is still blue, though, the water in front of him, a shade of blue that he has never seen before. It is deep and beautiful and watching it makes him feel calm in a way he doesn't quite understand. It laps up against his legs and against the rocks, making gently splashing noises.

Experimentally, he pulls one foot from the water and feels the drips tricking between his toes. It is strange, this quiet, this peace, special in a way he doesn't wholly understand.

"Sirius Black!" His mother's voice finds him. It will always find him, he thinks sullenly, allowing himself one more second of the water against his skin before reluctantly turning round. His name is all that is needed, enough of a reprimand in and of itself.

Regulus stands next to their mother at the top of the cliff.

"Get your shoes and socks on and stop being such a disobedient excuse for a son," his mother tells him. "Honestly, what must your cousins think of you, running away to play in the water like a worthless Muggle child. You have a reputation to uphold, my son. You must act with dignity befitting the heir to the Black name."

"Yes mother."

The socks are especially uncomfortable over wet skin, and the shoes don't seem to fit as well as they did before he took them off.

"I've never been more mortified than when your brother came to tell me where you had gone."

Sirius glares at his brother. He had been thinking, a few minutes ago, of bringing Regulus down here, to play in the sea and hear the waves and the gulls overhead, but he swears that now he won't. He will never bring anyone here, this is his place, just his.

He gives it one, last longing look, remembering the blue and the dappled, sparkling light for later, before following along in his mother's wake.

*

Remus feels a little stupid, with his old, worn trousers rolled up around his knees, wading in water that is probably filthy. His shirt is flapping in the wind, half open, and he knows that he must look like a mad English tourist but he can't stop the slight smile that crosses his face as the breeze picks up and blows his hair across his forehead.

The sun feels pleasantly warm now, not overbearingly hot, and the water on his feet and ankles is soothing.

For the first time in weeks, years maybe, he finds that he is still. He is not happy, but he doesn't know whether he will ever manage that again, but he is not unhappy, not really, and that is a start.

He sits down in the sand, just above the line of the tide, letting the waves wash sand in between his toes,

"He will come back," a voice says behind him. Remus starts, turning. A girl stands there, thick dark hair, a t-shirt and jeans. She looks normal, but there is something in her eyes.

"Who?" he asks, although he does not need to.

"The empty space beside you, the person who is not here, the man you are waiting for."

"I'm not waiting for anyone." Remus tells her.

"He will be returned to you." She smiles, like she has imparted good news, but Remus is suddenly freezing, like his blood has been replaced by ice water. He stands up, grabbing his shoes, and he walks away as fast as he can. Not stopping to put his sandals back on until he is far away and out of sight.

As he does up his shirt with shaking fingers he doesn't know if he is more worried that she might be telling the truth, or that she isn't.

*

[…]We are not new. We are not the brilliant pioneers of a new age of magic. We are the product of our history and if studying Roman magic has taught me anything it is that everything we can think of doing is a result of what came before. Perhaps the method may change, or the result, but underneath it all, we remain the same.