Disclaimer: I own none of the characters who appear in or are mentioned in this story. All belong to J. K. Rowling. I torture them purely for the fun of it, no monetary gain is sought.
This story is a simple game of what if? What might have happened if James Potter had been a little late going down that hole at the foot of the Whomping Willow? This is one possibility…I'm sure there are others. So read…imagine…hopefully enjoy…and review! Thanks.
Five Minutes Difference
Late afternoon sunlight fell golden on the little cemetery on the top of the lonely hill. The trees swayed gently in the slight breeze. Rough grasses whispered quietly against the headstones that perched in regimental rows against the sky. Peace reigned supreme above the ground at least, but undercurrents of discord ran hot beneath the surface. So many people lay uneasily in the ground. There before their time…angry, bitter, melancholy…sad beyond belief. Visitors came rarely and seldom stayed for long in this lonely and haunted place.
A solitary figure in ratty brown clothes appeared on the crest of the hill, paused to get his bearings and began the trek down from the top to a shaded hollow partway down the rise. There under the branches of a thick old elm tree stood a solitary stone a little ways away from the others. It was slightly chipped and weathered by time, as if none of the living ever took much notice of it.
Today, however, it was the focus of this silent figure who paused, rested a hand on its battered surface, and stated in a quiet voice. "Hello, Severus. It's been a long time. I'll bet you didn't expect to see me again. Probably I'm the last person you ever wanted to see…since I was the last one you did see in life. But I needed to see you again…talk to you again. Not a day goes by that I don't think about you, Severus, and wish I could exchange my life for yours, but life's not fair, as you know better than anyone."
Remus Lupin paused in his musings to sit down on the cool grass and stare with tired eyes at the words on the stone. SEVERUS SNAPE it said in large ornate letters carved in granite. Lupin could read the name, but try as he might he could never stop it from transposing itself into the words…Your Murder Victim. And the blood, the fault, the guilt hung heavily from his shoulders.
Lupin sighed and reached out a thin hand to trace the letters with a shaking finger.
"What's it been? Ten years at least since I've been here, probably more like twelve or thirteen. You probably think I haven't come because I've been too busy and couldn't find the time…too happy and didn't want to be reminded…or simply too shallow and cold to care. But none of those things are true. I've just been too ashamed to face you…even though it's not really you I'm facing…just cold stone and carved words."
Lupin looked up at the sky and blinked away tears. In all these years you'd think he'd run out, but the supply seemed endless. One thing he never ran short of were tears…and regrets.
"You know, you and I were never friends. I barely even knew you, except as an annoyance…a brilliant student…an arrogant personality…a rival from a hated house. Sometimes it's hard to think back and understand how you became the single most important factor in my life. Everything changed because of you. You and those few agonizing minutes, that I can't even remember with any clarity or rationality, shaped the rest of my life, Severus. You'll no doubt be pleased to hear that it hasn't been much of a life since our last encounter. I'm sure you'd prefer me to be resting right there beside you…but I assure you, in some ways that would have been easier."
"Did you know I was expelled? Your parents insisted on that. Dumbledore barely managed to keep me out of prison." He snorted mirthlessly. "Heck, he barely managed to stay out of prison himself once it became known to what lengths he'd gone to shelter me and let me study at Hogwarts. He lost his position as Headmaster. McGonagall runs the school now. Dumbledore works at the Ministry…some low level position. Regaining people's trust has been hard for him, I think. Well, at least he's employed, which is more than I can say for myself."
Lupin lay down on the prickly grass and closed his eyes, drinking in the warmth of the late afternoon sun as it marched towards its destined battle with night.
"You'll like this next bit, I think. I've spent a good portion of the last years living as a Muggle. Nice, huh? It sure hasn't been an easy life. Mostly I've existed hand to mouth. It's hard to hold down a job when you need to be out of work one to three days every month. Not to mention that I have no diploma and precious few qualifications for any kind of interesting or well paying job. I've spent quite a bit of time living in a cardboard box, actually. Most of my family is dead now. Those that are left are too ashamed to have much to do with me."
"There is one thing they do for me, though. You'll be happy to hear that since your death, I've never spent a full moon anywhere other than under strong lock and key. Once a month I appear faithfully at my great uncle's farm and am locked into a deep dry cistern until the danger's over. Never again will I hurt anyone. Never! You have my solemn oath on that for what little it's worth."
"As a child I was far too casual about being a werewolf. When I used to run free with the Marauders, we treated it almost like a game. Together we were so sure we were invincible. What we really were was careless and selfish…a time bomb waiting to explode. It was the luck of the draw that nothing happened long before our fateful encounter, Severus. It certainly could have. For your sake, I almost wish it had, but I really can't bring myself to wish death on some other innocent. I'm sorry."
As the sky began to darken into the cold blue of twilight, Lupin sat up again and put his thin arms around his ragged knees. The warm breeze was turning chill and the sky was just beginning to blossom with the earliest diamonds of night.
"You're probably wondering what prompted me to come here today. What made this day different than any other in the last few years? Actually I ran into Dumbledore today, and he told me that Sirius Black has escaped from prison."
Lupin's tired face darkened with an expression of loathing. "There's a name I'm sure you never wanted to hear again. I certainly hoped not to." His voice dripped with sarcasm and pain. "My friend. You know he managed to weasel out of paying much of any price for what happened to you…to us. At the time, I never could really figure it out. I guess his family was too well placed, and he was too good a liar. After all, I was the real murderer. I was the monster who needed to be punished! Somehow he managed to turn himself into just another innocent victim. He was always too charming and smooth by half, but he showed his true colors just a few years later when he helped to murder James and Lily." The werewolf's tone was bitter and cold as the now biting wind.
"You probably don't know about that do you? A lot of things really got bad after you died, for a lot of people. Well, to make a long sad story short, Black betrayed James and Lily Potter and got them killed. Then he ran off and killed poor little Peter Pettigrew just for the hell of it. In one burst of evil, he managed to destroy the only friends I had left in the world." He shook his head and stared thoughtfully at the stone.
"I'll bet none of that surprises you, does it? We knew what he was really like. James never wanted to believe it, but in the end I guess he had no choice. One of the best days of my life was when he ended up in Azkaban. Justice had a field day that day, let me tell you. I wanted to send flowers, but I wasn't sure just where, and I didn't have the money anyway. That was 12 years ago. I hope they were horrible ones for him…they certainly have been for me."
"Anyway, that's what prompted my visit. Thinking about Sirius made me realize I was long overdue in coming to see you. Dumbledore seems to think Black might try to contact me, but I think that's highly unlikely. He knows how I feel about him. He may be an evil selfish jerk, but he's not stupid enough to show his face around me."
"If you'd lived, Severus, I suppose there's a small chance we might've become friends…but even becoming enemies would have been better than this. At least we'd both be alive. Who knows what we might've been doing. I could see you teaching at the school. Dumbledore said that McGonagall's always looking for someone to teach Potions. No one ever seems to stay for long. I don't know why, I'd think it'd be a good steady job, myself. You'd have been good at that. It was always your best subject. But instead, you're dead, and I might as well be. Sirius Black took it all away from both of us that night, Severus, and I'll hate him until the day I die."
Lupin stretched and pulled his weary body up off the grass in the gathering gloom. "Anyway, that's what brought me here today. I'd neglected you for far too long, and it was time I made amends. It's sad what a difference five minutes can make isn't it? If James had come for you five minutes sooner…perhaps even two minutes sooner, we wouldn't be having this one-sided conversation today. Imagine how things might be different…better."
He shook his shaggy head. "No, Black won't be foolish enough to contact me, Severus, but I promise you…if he does…I just might kill again. This time on purpose!"