Disclaimer: With one minor exception, all the characters in this story are the creations of J.K. Rowling. The one exception, and the scenario in which it occurs, is mine. No profit is being made, no copyright infringement is intended, etc., etc. See Author's Note at end for more details. Comments and criticisms are welcomed at rja @ pobox . com -- or will be if you remember to remove the spaces from the address first. g

And now, without further ado...

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COLD WATER
by R.J. Anderson 2003

The house at 12 Grimmauld Place had never felt like home to Remus Lupin, nor indeed to anyone else who had lived there in the past few years except perhaps the spiders, the Doxys, and one crazed house-elf. The drawing room in which Lupin sat bore all the hallmarks of age and decay, and even Molly Weasley's best efforts had not succeeded in restoring the battered furniture (the tea-table in particular appeared to have been persistently chewed), or clearing the air of its musty scent. Sunlight filtered wanly through gaping rents in the curtains, and the ochre-tinted light was heavy with dust motes.

No, thought Lupin, this house was not a good place to be. Everything it had ever held that mattered to him was gone now; if he did not pack his things and leave soon, the silence and the emptiness would drive him mad. But he had one thing to do before he moved on, one task he wanted -- no, wanted was the wrong word, it was the last thing he really wanted, but -- needed to accomplish. His heart thumped painfully against his ribcage whenever he thought about it, but he calmed himself with the reminder that this was the right thing, the only thing, for him to do. Indeed, he should have done it years ago.

The faded planets on the clock's face shifted slightly in their orbit, and the cabinet gave a muffled cough that was all that remained of its chime. One o'clock, and still his visitor had not arrived. Yet he had agreed (albeit ungraciously) to come, so Remus poured himself another cup of tea, leaned his aching back against the sofa, and waited.

He had almost given up hope when the door creaked open and the other man strode in. Lupin rose, his mind whirling with mingled apprehension and relief, and held out a welcoming hand.

"Thank you for coming, Severus."

Snape looked down at the hand as though Lupin had offered him a pickled Murtlap, and his upper lip twitched. Folding his black-robed arms in a deliberately dismissive gesture, he leaned back against the doorjamb, regarding his host with cold, inimical eyes. "Well?"

Looking back at his old schoolmate, Remus felt his throat constrict. Who could have thought, in those careless days when they were all fifteen, that it would come down to this? Just himself, and Snape. James and Lily murdered, Peter gone over to the enemy, and Sirius --

Oh, Sirius. Two weeks later, the pain of that loss was still raw. Remus blinked, his vision filmed, and for a moment his visitor's pallid skin and long black hair took on a heart-wrenching familiarity; he held his breath, wishing against reason and against hope that the illusion might be real. But the dream lasted barely a second before the chill hammer of Snape's voice shattered it:

"I had assumed, Lupin, that you called me here for a reason. Apparently I did you too much credit." He cast a contemptuous glance at Remus's stricken face. "If all you want is an audience for your mournful looks and self-pitying grimaces, I suggest you summon Molly Weasley. Good day."

"No -- wait."

His throat was dry; the words came hoarsely. But they were enough. Snape paused in the doorway, one hand upon the frame, and said without turning back, "Go on."

"I have... something important to say to you. Something I should have said a long time ago." Remus took a deep breath. "Severus, when we were at Hogwarts together, I wronged you. Very greatly. I stood by and watched while James and Sirius did reprehensible things to you, and I said nothing."

"So?" said Snape, his voice almost indifferent. Almost, but not quite, and Remus felt an irrational surge of hope. He plunged on:

"For years I told myself it didn't really matter, that it was just the kind of foolish thing boys do, and that we all grew out of it." He did not say what else he had been thinking -- that in the end Snape had made himself so much their enemy, it had been easy to forget who had started it. Nor did he say what he had thought for the last two years, that Snape needed to let go of past grudges and move on. That would only cloud the issue, and it was not what either one of them was here for.

"But I know better now," Remus finished, quietly but with emphasis. "There were -- are -- no excuses. I was weak, and I was afraid, and in the end I betrayed not only you, but the very friends I feared to lose. I should have stood up to them, should have done whatever it took to make them see that the way they treated you, and others, was wrong. Severus... I am sorry."

For years Snape must have dreamed of receiving such an apology. Most likely he had anticipated it being delivered at wand-point by a humiliated victim; the idea that such an admission of guilt might be made freely was probably beyond his capacity to imagine. Still, Remus's words had to mean something to Severus, whether or not he chose to acknowledge it.

Not surprisingly, he didn't. "Is there a point to this, Lupin?" Snape spoke evenly, but his fingers had clenched around the doorframe, and the prominent knuckles were white. "Attempting to ease your conscience, perhaps, by this touching confession of guilt? If you are expecting me to weep and embrace you as a brother, you are about to be sadly disappointed."

"No," murmured Remus, but the other man, unhearing, kept on:

"As a matter of fact, werewolf, I loathe and despise you, and hearing you name yourself for the pitiful coward you are does nothing to change that opinion." He paused, as though relishing the taste of his own venom, and added, "Not to mention that your friends have a decided tendency to end up dead, or as good as dead. You will have to pardon me for not wishing to count myself among them."

Remus was silent.

"If," continued Snape, "you have nothing more to say--"

"No," said Lupin heavily. "I do not. I would ask your forgiveness if I thought there was any hope of receiving it, but I know better than that."

Snape gave a curt nod, dropped his hand from the frame and made to leave, but before he had taken a step Remus found himself speaking again:

"Just -- is there anything you would like to say?"

Where had that come from? His too-long-buried sense of justice, perhaps. He and the others had often forced Snape to listen to them; but none of them had ever really listened to him. It had been that way since the first time James and Sirius had cornered Snape on the train, wanting to know how such an ugly, slimy, filthy little beggar ever got accepted into Hogwarts, and demanding to know who his family were. He'd put up a brave front at first, refusing to tell them, but eventually he'd broken down. He'd sobbed his name through his fingers, cowering in the corner with streaks of grime and snot all over his face, and Sirius had laughed at him and called him Snivellus.

He was not snivelling now, to be sure. The awkward, round-shouldered limp of the boy Severus had been replaced by a menacing glide, the rough-accented voice with smooth and cultured tones; if the hair still hung lank and greasy it was by Snape's deliberate choice, and his whole manner exuded confidence and power. Once, in spite of Snape's formidable knowledge of hexes and Dark curses, James or Sirius alone could easily have defeated him in a duel. Now he was more than a match for most wizards, Lupin himself included. Snape's hatred of James and Sirius might have poisoned his life and embittered his soul, but it had also, ironically, driven him to excellence.

It would be too much, however, to expect him to be grateful for it. "Say?" Snape repeated incredulously. "To whom? James Potter is dead. Sirius Black is dead. Peter Pettigrew is a proven traitor whose usefulness to the Dark Lord is quickly running out. And I say, good riddance -- to all of them."

It was no more than Lupin had expected, but still, the baldness of the statement took his breath away. Sirius Black is dead... good riddance. Stung, he spoke before thinking: "I know he never gave you cause to love him--"

"Oh, spare me the tender reminiscences." Snape whirled on him, black eyes glittering malice. "Black was good to you, was he? A true and loyal friend? Ah, yes, your days with him were, no doubt, just brim-full of laughter and fun." His lips curled around the words like obscenities. "And making himself an illegal Animagus to keep you company at the full moon -- how very thoughtful of him. But you forget, Lupin -- or you deliberately blind yourself. I was not the only one he treated reprehensibly."

He had forgotten, to his peril, how perceptive Snape could be. "Sirius didn't mean it." The protest came automatically, as it always did. "He was angry, and he acted on impulse. He--"

"His words, Lupin, or yours?" Snape's voice dropped to a whisper, but there was no gentleness in it. "Did he ever confess that he'd been wrong? Did he ever ask your forgiveness? Beg for it, as anyone but a gutless, conscienceless Flobberworm would have done?"

"I told you, he--"

"He used you, Lupin. He betrayed your trust in him, your naïve conviction that he would watch over you when you became the wolf and keep you from hurting anyone. Instead he used you as a weapon, and nearly made your worst fear a reality."

"But--"

"--perhaps he didn't really mean to murder me? Perhaps he had second thoughts? Then why was it James Potter, and not Black, who put himself between me and the wolf?"

"I--"

"Black, as I recall, did not even bother to show up until well after the show was over. And far from regretting his murderous intent or the way he'd used you, far from maturing with age, he expressed the opinion a mere two years ago that it served me right for sneaking around" -- the imitation of Sirius's voice was cruelly accurate -- "and trying to get your little gang expelled. So tell me again, Lupin, what cause did you have to love him?"

The churning in Lupin's stomach increased, and he turned his face away. You fool, he had said to Snape in the Shrieking Shack, is a schoolboy grudge worth putting an innocent man back inside Azkaban? It had been easy to speak those words, fuelled by righteous anger against ignorance and injustice. But when had he ever asked Sirius, Is a schoolboy grudge worth making your friend a murderer? When had he allowed himself to be angry over that?

It was, indeed, tempting to give into that long-buried rage, to rip and smash and snarl like the wolf within. No doubt there would be something cathartic about finally admitting how deeply Sirius's callousness had hurt him, to howl at the world about the monstrous unfairness of it all. How much had it cost Remus to swallow his pain, to pretend he had sensed no betrayal? How long had he waited, fruitlessly, for Sirius to recognise and admit on his own just how wrong he had been?

And yet... all that was in the past. What good would it do to be angry now? While Sirius lived, perhaps a dose of raw honesty from a friend, however painful in the short term, might have made a difference. But now Sirius was dead, as much a victim of his own reckless impulses as Remus or Severus had ever been. And no amount of fury, no appeals or recriminations, would change that.

Swallowing against the lump in his throat, Remus said thickly, "Yes, he wronged me, as he did you. But I chose to forgive him anyway. I didn't love Sirius because he deserved it. I loved him because he was my friend."

It was a simple, almost childlike answer, and he expected it to meet with an appropriately withering retort, but his visitor did not reply. A long silence stretched between them, and when at last Snape spoke, his voice was uncharacteristically rough:

"Touché, Lupin. I cannot compliment you on your taste in friends, nor on your moral priorities, but it seems you have a sort of courage after all."

Now where had that come from? Remus had the curious sense of having intruded on his own conversation. Whatever had moved Snape, it had not been himself, or the memory of Sirius. He glanced up, and saw Snape standing with head lowered and fingers pressed against the bridge of his nose, as though his thoughts pained him. Never since Hogwarts had Remus seen that gaunt aquiline face so unguarded, and it struck him that the other man looked every bit as tired as he himself felt.

You have a sort of courage after all... That admission must have cost Snape: coming from him, it was almost as good as an apology. Remus stepped forward, gripped the other man's shoulder, and said with honest gratitude:

"Thank you, Severus."

Snape neither moved nor spoke, but Lupin's eyes went wide. He drew back his hand, looked down at the palm, and his nostrils flared as he took a second, disbelieving whiff of an unexpected scent. Not Snape's own: that smell of dry herbs and dungeon damp was all too familiar. This was a cleaner fragrance, unperfumed save for a lingering redolence of bergamot and a faint base note of vanilla soap, every pheromone charged with youth and fertility. A woman's scent. And Snape's robes, the skin of his hands and face, were saturated with it.

The words leaped off his tongue before he could restrain them: "Who is she?"

An ugly mottled flush tinged Snape's cheekbones. "None of your concern, werewolf."

Sacrificing virgins to the Dark Lord, Snivellus? mocked a familiar voice in Remus's mind. That's about the only way you'd ever get close to one. And James's memory added the caustic afterthought, Does Dumbledore know you're testing love potions on your students?

Lupin, however, knew better. Snape would never betray Dumbledore's trust. Strict and unforgiving in the classroom, harsh with students like Harry and Neville who evoked still-painful memories of their parents, yes: and even among his peers, no one would ever call him sociable. But his days of unbridled lawlessness and self-will, like his allegiance to Voldemort, were long past. If there were a woman in Severus's life, she had come to him willingly -- unlikely as that might seem.

"Well," said Remus, suppressing an unworthy twinge of jealousy, "I wish you the best, whoever she is."

Snape gave a short laugh. "Do you know, I find perverse pleasure in the thought that you actually mean that. I could tell you not to envy me as long as the Dark Lord still lives, but... no." His yellowing teeth bared in a feral smile. "Envy me, Lupin. Wish that you were in my place. Dream of knowing even an iota of my happiness for a thousand lonely nights, while the wolf gnaws at your soul from the inside, and perhaps then the score between us will be even."

Superficially the words were cruel, but Remus sensed the pain behind them, and knew better than to take the speech to heart. In fact, he had the distinct impression of having been accepted, if only slightly, into Snape's confidence. The suspicion was confirmed a moment later when Snape muttered something, flicked a loose hair from his shoulder -- Remus's eyes followed it as it drifted, glimmering white-gold, to the ground -- and straightened up, his black eyes cool and mocking once more. "It's been... an illuminating visit, Lupin. But I have work to do, so..." and without waiting for a response he strode out of the room and shut the door behind him.

Remus waited, silent and listening, until the sound of the other man's footsteps had faded into the audible pop of Apparition. Then he stooped, and carefully picked the discarded hair from the floor. Holding it between thumb and forefinger, he made a pass with his wand and spoke: "Simulacrum originis!"

He let the hair drop, and it unfurled into the form of a young woman, tall and blonde, with a look of quiet composure. She was not beautiful, at least not by Lupin's standards, but the pale green eyes were intelligent, and the tender smile on her lips seemed genuine.

Far too good for Snivelly, jeered Sirius in his mind.

"You're probably right," said Lupin aloud. "But that's not the point, is it?" And then, as if on cue, the simulacrum began, very softly, to speak:

"You are not in the least loveable. You are sarcastic and high-handed and maddeningly indirect; you put grease in your hair and stain your teeth yellow for reasons I cannot fathom; you appear to have no life outside of Hogwarts and no one seems to trust you but Dumbledore; you blinded me when I was four and might have inadvertently bewitched me as well, a possibility which has caused me some serious consternation... and yes, I love you. Not because you made me love you -- I know that now, even if my uncle doesn't -- or because I wanted to love you, but because I choose to love you, and because I know that you need me to love you, whether you are prepared to admit it or not."

Remus watched, astonished, until the speech had played itself out: then he sank slowly onto the sofa, still staring at the girl's translucent image.

An illuminating visit, indeed.

THE END

What brings enlightenment is experience, in the sad sense of this word-
the pressure of hard facts and unintelligible troubles,
making a man rub his eyes in his waking dream, and put two and two together.
Enlightenment is cold water. - George Santayana

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Author's Note:

Some readers may notice that this story links OotP to the universe of my "Darkness and Light" trilogy, in spite of the fact that some events in the latter appear to contradict the former. I felt free to do this because JKR was kind enough not to rule out the possibility of Maud Moody's existence, or negate any of the most significant aspects of the trilogy.

It wouldn't be difficult for me to re-edit D&L in light of OotP and fix the discrepancies (like the date of George Weasley's departure from Hogwarts, for instance) -- I just don't see any point in doing it, since most people aren't likely to re-read the whole trilogy just to see those changes. So I've decided that I'm going to just carry on with new stories in the D&Lverse, merrily pencilling Maud and my other OC's into the background of canon, until JKR utterly squashes all possibility of their existence. I guess I'm just silly that way.

My heartfelt thanks to my indispensable team of betas, in this case consisting of Liz, Lisa, Melissa, Erica and Alec.