Author's Notes: Many thanks to abagail89 and leftsockarchive for all their help with this fic. I love you both dearly for all you put up with.
Echoes In The Darkness
"We don't know where he is. We haven't been able to find so much as a trace."
The Auror's words stung more than they should have. Severus Snape sat staring at her gaunt face, mentally tracing the lines that cut her young features into ones who saw more than her tender years should know. The exhaustion was evident, as was the regret. No one could doubt her sincerity, or her sorrow, as she delivered the words she had been reluctant to say.
'Not so much as a trace.'
Not wanting to think about what he felt when he heard those words, he looked over at the man seated across the table and remained transfixed by the raw pain he saw there. He sat hypnotized by empty grey eyes, quietly watching the litany of emotions that, until that moment, remained repressed. Mesmerized by eyes that died minute by minute as days passed without word, as hope slowly dimmed, until now, when the flame was completely extinguished. No, Sirius Black was never good at hiding his feelings about anything and this was no exception. To be told that your best friend was nowhere to be found was more than anyone should have to bear. Especially after all that had come to pass. Especially now.
'Best Friend,' thought Snape bitterly 'and probably so much more.' He shook himself back into reality. This was not the time to dredge up petty jealously and anger. No… not now.
Now was supposed to be a time of celebration, a time of rejoicing, a time of peace. Deaths on the side of the Light were mercifully low. Black was declared innocent, though Snape thought that perhaps those words should be more clearly defined. Voldemort was destroyed -- vaporized really -- by the hands of Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore in a final battle that could only be classified as spectacularly anti-climactic. The only real bright spot was that Snape had the honor of being personally responsible for the death of Lucius Malfoy. Sitting back now, he could still hear the sound of the bones in Lucius's neck cracking under his tightening fingers. It would give him a whole new respect for the Muggle way of life; nothing done with a wand would have felt as rewarding.
Black should have been enjoying the fact that he finally got to commit the act that stole twelve years of his life-- twelve years spent imprisoned and alone at Azkaban. Snape watched him do it with an odd fascination. It was the first time that Severus Snape could relate to Sirius Black, the first time he understood him. Severus understood hatred. He understood vengeance. He understood the blissful if not deviant joy that comes from seeing the life force of pure evil vanish under a wand. Snape could see the roll call of injustices past that passed through Black's eyes as he cast the spell that would finally destroy one who destroyed so much.
Snape also understood the look after the task was completed-- the sorrow and regret, the grief and anguish, the emptiness and the pointlessness of it all. He watched as Black fell to the ground beside the remains of the man that caused so much pain. Snape watched as Black wept and mourned the loss of the childhood friendship that he cherished. It was more than that though, wasn't it? It was the loss of innocence and youth, the tainting of love and memories, and the complete annihilation of a lifetime amidst it all.
Now, Severus Snape found himself watching Sirius Black again as he was facing yet more loss and adversity-- the loss of his best friend, if not his lover as well, the loss of his last link to the life he once had and the promise of what the rest of his days would hold.
Three months prior, Remus Lupin had been dispatched to gather support for the fight against Voldemort amongst populations of Werewolves and other magical creatures all over Europe. Though the fruits of his labor were apparent in the last few weeks of the battle, no one had actually heard from the man himself. Secrecy was essential if he was to be successful. Everyone knew that, so no one questioned his disappearance. Only when the legions of werewolves, vampires, centaurs, griffins, and so on approached Hogwarts, did anyone know that he was still alive. Stories of the kind stranger with the soft voice and the strong spirit found their way to the ears of the friends and colleagues who thought of him almost daily. When the battle was over, everyone expected him to return in triumphant glory. When he didn't, teams of Aurors were dispatched to all the areas he had been spotted for any evidence of what happened to him. Two hundred people and two months later, they had found nothing. 'Not so much as a trace.'
For the second time in his life, he watched Sirius Black weep and suddenly he found himself envious. Envious because as much as he wanted to, he could never show his emotions as openly. Not that he would have anyway. He'd have to explain why he was weeping and frankly, he couldn't be honest with himself about that, let alone with anyone else. So Severus Snape sat and quietly watched as a man who had survived well over a decade in the hands of Dementors was reduced to tears in a matter of minutes after hearing two sentences.
And in his mind, he wept with him.
Flames flickered orange and blue.
The sight was a foreign one in the dungeons. Severus Snape enjoyed the cold and the dampness of his residence. Warmth was for the weak. He always found comfort in the dankness and the silence. No one would ever accuse him of setting a cozy fire. But the sought-after isolation his underground dwelling had always offered him in the past was suffocating him now. A chill found its way into his bones and it would not leave him. So he set a small fire in the fireplace -- that's what it was there for, after all -- and he watched as the flames flickered orange and blue.
Guarded hands held a small snifter of brandy. The amber fluid lightly coated the glass as he whirled it around in small circles. The bottle was one that stood unopened for twenty years in his study. He swore he would drink that bottle to its last drop when his arm no longer bore the symbol of the devil incarnate. And yet, though not even the slightest sign of any markings remained on his forearm, he would find his very soul etched with such despair and torment that even this sacred brandy -- the last gift he ever received from his father -- could not touch it.
"So this is freedom… this is happiness," he scoffed aloud. "This is what people died for. This is what a war was fought for." A mirthless laugh escaped his lips. Resisting the urge to throw his glass into the fire, he slowly placed it on the table next to his chair and sat back. Why was he shivering? Why didn't the fire roaring in front of him and the half bottle of vintage brandy running through his system do anything to remove the iciness that touched every pore of his body?
And then there was a knock.
Another phenomenon foreign to these rooms. So foreign in fact Snape wondered if he really heard it at all. Perhaps delusions were the effects of fire and brandy on one who lived too many years in solitude and misery.
There it was again.
Sheer curiosity carried him to the door and utter confusion greeted him as he opened it. Snape was not sure which surprised him more-- the fact that Sirius Black stood in front of him, or the fact that he looked like hell. Eyes once the color of storm cloud were now sunken and lifeless. A once beautiful face was now haggard and drawn. Hair as dark as midnight was now missing the shine and softness that was its trademark. The man in front of him was a specter of the man Severus knew. No. That wasn't the right word. Not a specter but a mockery.
In a small voice, the phantom spoke: "I'm sorry for disturbing you. I was wondering if I could have a moment." Who was this figure speaking? Where were the taunting tones and the haughty inflection? Where was the air of superiority touched with arrogance?
"What do you want?" Severus was left wondering where those words came from. Why wasn't he slamming the door? Why wasn't he jumping at the chance to abuse and torment? Perhaps because he recognized the signs of a broken man. Perhaps because he knew he might as well have been looking in a mirror.
"I need your help." A pause. A nod in reply. A step back opening the way for his nemesis to pass.
Black entered the room and headed straight for the fireplace instinctively seeking warmth and seemingly surprised to find it. He stepped up to the fire and held his hands toward the flames. Snape couldn't help but notice how those hands trembled. Unconsciously he conjured another glass and another chair and offered both to his… guest? Both were accepted without a word.
After several minutes he managed a soft, "Thank you."
Feeling compelled to answer the uncharacteristic timbre, Snape spoke stoically: "Yes… It's an old bottle, and frankly I don't think I could swallow another drop."
"No." Barely a whisper. "… not for the drink… for not throwing me out. For letting me in and hearing what I have to say."
Snape was unsure how to respond to that, so he didn't. "What do you want, Black?"
A sigh. "I need your help."
A sigh. "We established that. Help with what?"
It was time for Sirius Black to look him in the eye, a task Sirius Black had never attempted before. "With finding Remus."
Snape watched Black for several moments before responding. Outwardly he seemed completely genuine, but Snape had to wonder if he honestly believed what he was suggesting was plausible. This may have been the last attempt of a lost man to find his way home. "What makes you think we could succeed where 200 hundred Aurors failed?"
"It's different for us." His voice was gathering strength.
"Care to enlighten me how?"
"We aren't just doing a job-- performing some duty because it is expected of us."
With this remark, Severus had to contend. "That Auror looked like she hadn't slept in days if not weeks. She did not look like someone just performing a duty, she looked like someone who failed at saving a life-- a life she valued and respected." He spoke the words with the solemnity they deserved and chose to ignore the emotion behind them.
Sirius Black, it seemed, would not be swayed. "It's not the same. They didn't know him. They didn't understand him. They were looking for a man they heard stories about. We would be looking for the man we knew him to be, not a profile on paper… we are looking for someone we love. That's the difference."
"I hardly love -- "
Sirius stopped him. "Now is not the time for games so please don't bother, Snape. I know how you feel. I knew it 20 years ago and I know it now."
Snape wondered if Black had lost any sense of reality. "What are you -- "
"Snape… Severus, please. We are too old for this. Remus meant a lot to both of us. If you do not want to admit as much, that is your choice, but I think enough time has been wasted all around. Wasted by our fighting. Wasted by a bunch of Aurors looking for a man they knew nothing about. Wasted by words that were never said because of -- I don't even know --fear, jealousy, hatred. None of it matters now, does it? The only thing that matters is we need to bring him home. I don't know much, and frankly as the days pass I find I know less and less, but I do know that he is out there. I can feel it. I am as sure of it as I have been sure of my innocence and I know that if I don't at least try then I have given up on the one person who I owe the most to. I don't have the ability to do this alone, though I will if I have to. I am not asking you to do this for me or for anyone other than Remus. We need to try. He deserves at least that much."
The grief and honesty in his words were palpable. It was thick in the air and Snape breathed it in and felt it stick to his lungs and for the first time in months he could breathe again. A few words spoken with emotion and fervor ignited something in him, something he thought long dead. Unexpectedly he found he needed to escape the dungeon that was once his refuge and had somehow become his prison. He needed to see daylight and to feel the sun on his sallow skin. He needed to be warm.
Suddenly he had a mission; he had a purpose, and for Severus Snape that meant hope. He smiled a small, careful smile as he thought of it. Hope was not a luxury he often allowed himself. Hope had never visited his dungeon shelter before and it was as out of place there as Sirius Black. It was difficult enough to let Black in, but hope was more dangerous. Black, in spite of everything, could only hurt him physically, possibly emotionally. Hope, on the other hand, could destroy him completely if he allowed it.
But what was life without risks? Hadn't he spent a lifetime walking a fine line between two worlds equally trying to eradicate him?
Sirius sat in silence while Severus contemplated his proposal. Severus looked at the grey form and wondered if they were so different after all. 'Yes… and no.'
It was beside the point, really. It was not about Sirius Black and it was not about Severus Snape. It was about what was right and just. For Severus, where there was once nothingness, there were now choices to be made and actions to be taken. He didn't have to sit in the dark hoping for Death because life had become unbearable. He could take a risk for himself for a change. He could look for Remus and perhaps… perhaps what? Well, he could leave that thought for another day.
One act of courage at a time.