The Other Side Of The Dark: Epilogue
Harry sat alone in his room, brooding into the silence. In less that thirty minutes' time, he would be sixteen.
He went to lean on the window sill, and gazed out of the grimy window. In the two weeks or so since Snape had left, he had begun making reasonable progress with Occlumency. Lupin and Moody were both helping him, and Dumbledore's book wasn't bad.
He wondered what Moody had done with the book Snape had given him. He had taken away both book and translator, and given Harry a very long lecture about dark magic in return. Harry assured him he had only learned the thing about invisibility; he hadn't owned the book long enough to read much else. It was the truth, but Moody hadn't seemed entirely convinced.
Being invisible had been fun. And the meeting he had infiltrated had been very illuminating, although he had got there too late to hear any names. Apparently, Kingsley Shacklebolt had discovered a spy in the Ministry. This person had been there for almost twenty years, and Shacklebolt had assembled a compelling set of evidence to show that this person had been instrumental in setting up the attack on the Longbottoms' fourteen years ago. The primary culprit had been Rookwood, a Ministry employee convicted on Karkaroff's evidence of actively passing information to Voldemort and his followers. Shacklebolt admitted it was unclear if this other person's involvement was due to loyalty to Voldemort, or simple jealousy of Alice Longbottom, but either way, it didn't really make much difference. He had more than enough evidence to make an arrest.
After that, rescinding the arrest warrant for Snape would be easy. The only evidence against him was Moody's report, and since Moody was widely regarded as being mad, his report could be safely buried. As for Fudge seeing Snape's Dark Mark the year before… Fudge had suffered an almost catastrophic loss of credibility in the last couple of months. Shacklebolt grinned, and said he doubted anyone would be taking Fudge very seriously for much longer.
And then Moody had arrived, and after a few pointed remarks about leaving Ministry reports lying about where anyone could find them, ordered Harry out of his corner and into the visible world.
Harry sighed. It had almost been frustrating that no one was angry with him; he could have enjoyed a nice shouting match with someone. Dumbledore had only chuckled, and even Moody had looked slightly impressed.
And then the meeting had broken up. Tonks and Shacklebolt had left, and he had been herded back to his room by Lupin, who hadn't stayed. Moody and Dumbledore had spent ages downstairs, then later Moody had returned alone to Snape's room. There had been a long conversation, but try as he might, Harry had been unable to hear anything through the wall. A couple of days later he had learned that Snape had gone.
So that was that. End of story. Harry felt oddly deflated and depressed. Not passionately miserable anymore, that was gone forever. He was just tired and fed up.
He sighed again, and turned away from the window – and let out a yelp of shock. There in the shadows stood a tall figure, robed and cowled in black.
Harry realised who it was, even as the man lowered his cowl. 'What are you doing here?' he said sulkily.
'I came to see how you were progressing with your Occlumency studies,' Snape murmured, and glided over to stand next to Harry at the window.
Harry gazed stonily at his profile. Snape looked exactly as he had the last time Harry had seen him at Hogwarts – as if the whole episode of his stay at Grimmauld Place had never happened. He stared over his enormous nose up at the stars, the long greasy hair hanging limply to his shoulders, and Harry remembered for a moment how he had looked in the dream world. Then suddenly the cold black eyes had fixed him with an icy stare. 'Well?' said Snape haughtily.
Harry sighed and leaned his elbows on the window sill so he didn't have to look at Snape. 'It's okay,' he mumbled.
Harry glanced sideways with a puzzled frown, and saw Snape gazing at him with an expression Harry had never seen on his face in the real world. There was something jarringly inconsistent about Professor Snape giving him such a look of sympathy.
Harry turned away, nonplussed – and suddenly found himself talking. The words slipped out without his permission, about how he was trying hard with Occlumency and seemed to be getting somewhere, but that Lupin seemed to treat him like a young child, and Moody kept giving him funny looks and asking if he felt all right. That he had a nagging sense of failure he couldn't shift, and he didn't quite know why, and that every now and then his temper would flare up uncontrollably and he worried it might be giving Voldemort a channel into his brain. That he missed his friends and wished he could get in touch with them, but he'd been warned against owling anyone in case it drew attention to the house.
He subsided at last, and rested his chin on his arms, suddenly profoundly depressed. He felt a slight pressure of someone's hand on his shoulder, found himself shuffling sideways until he was leaning against the man standing at his side…
… felt a warm blanket of comfort envelope his mind, just as it had in the dream world.
He took a tremulous breath, and looked up. Severus gazed down at him, compassion in the deep dark eyes, and Harry noticed his face had changed: a slight rearrangement of the features that suddenly put his nose into proportion with the rest of his features, giving him an aquiline profile, strong and noble if not actually handsome.
'Moody told me you had managed to achieve invisibility,' Severus murmured. 'Is that true?'
'Yes,' Harry replied. He moved a little closer, and felt Severus' arm around his shoulders tighten, drawing him in. It was bliss. He couldn't remember any time in his life when he had felt so safe, so at peace. Even the view out of the window seemed nicer.
'Then you've learned all you need to in order to become a successful Occlumens,' Severus replied. 'It is precisely the same discipline, but carried a step further. Instead of hiding just your mind, you are hiding your mind and body. The measure of true success is when you can do it without effort.'
'Then why do I feel like such a failure?' Harry asked, and felt the sense of comfort slide. The long fingers squeezed his shoulder.
'You blame yourself for your godfather's death,' Severus whispered. 'Yet it was not your fault.'
'It was,' Harry whispered back. 'If I had worked harder at Occlumency, if I'd come to you, if–'
'No. He died because he was murdered by Bellatrix Lestrange. Your actions were irrelevant to that outcome, because any situation where the two of them were together would have resulted in the death of one of them.'
Harry felt the pressure on his shoulder increase, pushing him around until he and Severus were facing each other. He gazed up into the face of this stranger and a rush of thoughts tumbled through his mind. He realised that what he really wanted was someone who understood what he was going through, not because he was reading his mind, but out of mutual sympathy; someone who could give him some sense of direction. But that person was gone forever. And the dark eyes filling his gaze drank in every wisp and strand of his turmoil, and understood.
'If you could see him one more time, what would you say to him?'
It was a ridiculous question. Harry would never see him again, and his anger rose in a sudden tidal wave. 'What difference does it make?' he shouted. 'What the hell did you come back for anyway?'
Severus drew back, his hand raised palm outwards; a long white scar trailed its length from wrist to forefinger. 'I came to show you the other side of the dark,' he whispered, and turned away.
Harry froze. There was still a dim light, but it was no longer cast by the street lamp. His feet were cold; he realised he was no longer standing on the thinly carpeted floor of his room in Grimmauld Place, but on a plane of rock; dark, striated, shot through with narrow veins of crystal. He looked around and saw that he was standing in a vast stone cavern, the walls as sheer as the floor. Only the shadows gave shape to the distant perimeters, and these were created by numerous small oil lamps, placed apparently at random around the carven floor.
Of Snape there was no sign, and Harry cast about him wildly, searching for a way out. But there was nothing but the endless shadows stretching in all directions. Terror hit him like a sack of wet sand, and he fell to his knees with a choking sob of fear.
'Harry! Harry, is that you? Wait there, I'm coming!'
Harry's heart was suddenly in his mouth. He got up, turning slowly in the direction of the voice, hardly daring to believe. It couldn't be true – but no… there he was. Long black hair streaming around a face that would never be ugly, the man was running as fast as he could, his footfalls solid and heavy, his breathing ragged with exertion… real… breathing… alive.
And then in the next moment, Sirius Black had barrelled into him with a delighted shout, sweeping him up into a bear hug as if he was a small child.
'Harry!' he cried as Harry tried to catch his breath, 'I've been so worried! After Bellatrix hit me, I lost sight of you completely… I feared the worst…'
'I'm fine,' Harry gasped. Sirius held him tightly for a moment in silence, then thrust him at arms' length with a look of delight and relief. For a moment they just stared at each other; Harry's mind was blank. So much he wanted to say… but where to begin?
But the look on Sirius' face forestalled him. The look of joy was starting to wane, and there was strange look of desperation in his godfather's eyes.
'Harry… Harry, I've failed you. I am so sorry! I've let you down completely. You could have been killed, and I was enjoying the fight with Bellatrix. Now I can't do anything at all to help you, and it's all thanks to my own stupidity. I'm so very, very sorry.'
Harry gaped at him. 'No you haven't,' he said faintly. 'You're not stupid, you haven't let me down. It wasn't your fault, it was mine! If I hadn't come to the Department of Mysteries, you wouldn't have–'
His voice choked on the word "died".
Sirius was shaking his head. 'No, no, no,' he whispered, clasping Harry's face in one large hand; and all Harry could think was: he's real. He reached out and put his hands on his godfather's shoulders, and Sirius pulled him into another suffocating hug.
'Is this real?' he mumbled into Sirius' chest. Held this close, he thought he could hear Sirius' heart beating inside a body that was warm and solid; but he remembered how real Snape's last illusion had been. He drew back, a bitter sense of disappointment starting to rise.
Sirius knelt in front him, gazing up into his face. 'Yes, Harry,' he said quietly. 'This is completely real.
'I fell through the Veil while fighting Bellatrix. And now I'm dead, according to Snape.'
Harry stared at him. 'Snape?'
Sirius nodded with a wry smile. 'Snape always did know more about the Dark Arts than anyone else. And he has a few extra talents than most of us have.' He broke off, shaking his head, and continued in a wondering voice, 'I don't feel any different, and yet everything seems so much is clearer than before.'
He looked back up at Harry. 'Snape thinks I tried to kill him.'
Harry nodded dumbly.
'I didn't mean to. I'd got so used to Remus, all those times we all spent together, I guess I forgot that … well.' Sirius's voice trailed off, and he looked almost abashed for a moment.
'But what difference would that make now?' Harry asked.
'I never apologised. Well, I was never sorry. James was a hero who saved the day, and I was expelled for it, so I'd have thought that would have been the end of it.'
'You were expelled?' Harry exclaimed.
Sirius nodded. 'Yeah, well, I was tired of school anyway. And I deserved it.' A dark look crossed his face. 'So yeah, I have a debt …, and Snape used it to call me back now.' He gazed up into Harry's eyes. 'And I am sorry, Harry. I'm sorry I let you down. And I'm more sorry than I know how to say for what I did to Remus.'
Harry stared at him. 'What do you mean?' he whispered.
Sirius bit his lip. Harry could sense that there was something he desperately wanted to say, but it was very, very hard.
'I set Snape up,' he whispered eventually. 'I let him find out where Remus was going every full moon. If James hadn't stopped him getting there, he would have been attacked by Remus in his werewolf form.'
He took a deep breath. 'I never believed he would have died. I was always so sure of it; of course, now I know he wouldn't; Remus would have. But I didn't really know it, back then. I created a situation that could have killed someone.'
'But he didn't get hurt, my dad saved him!' Harry interrupted. 'And he owed him his life, and that's why he's always tried to protect me–'
Sirius looked up sharply. 'No,' he said, in such a definite tone that Harry was immediately silenced. 'It wasn't Snape James saved, it was Remus. What do you think the Ministry would have done to a werewolf who attacked a school boy? James didn't go down there to save Snape, he went to stop Remus doing the one thing that would have got him destroyed like a wild animal by the Ministry. They wouldn't have given a damn that he was just a boy. To them – to everyone – Remus is a monster.'
Harry stared at him, aghast and speechless.
Sirius suddenly lurched forwards, seizing Harry's hands in both of his. 'Please, Harry, do this for me? Tell Remus I'm sorry that I almost caused his death. Tell him I loved him as much as James, that he was like a brother to me. That his friendship meant every bit as much to me as mine did to him.'
Harry stared at the wretched look in his godfather's eyes and felt the tears rise again; but this time, for the first time, they were not for himself. Slowly he sank to his knees, pulling his hands out of Sirius' grip as he did so.
'Sirius,' he whispered. 'I promise I'll do this for you. I'll do whatever you want me to.'
Sirius closed his eyes, reigning in his own emotions, unable to speak. And in the stillness, Harry wrapped his arms around him and held him silently.
'Forgive me,' whispered Sirius. 'All you've ever wanted to do was save me; now I'm leaving you when you need me most. I'm so sorry.'
Harry gave a sob. 'I forgive you,' he wept. 'I love you.'
A look of profound peace filled Sirius' eyes. 'I love you too, Harry,' he said. He reached out a hand that was as real as it had ever been, and stroked Harry's face, brushing away the tears.
Harry swallowed, his eyes tightly shut. 'Goodbye, Sirius,' he whispered.
Author's Note (of monumental self-indulgence. And why not?)
And there we have it, my magnum opus complete at last.
Very huge thank you to everyone who reviewed. I wrote this story, partly because I couldn't wait for Book 6 and needed some distraction, and partly because I wanted to write and hadn't done so for years. Criticising my own work is something I've always done well; your words of praise have balanced my negativity. I can say in all honesty I'd have never finished this without your support. Thank you.
And what a fascinating bunch of reviews the last two chapters gained! Very relieved nobody seems to have been offended by my use of Christian concepts, and that some people sound really happy with them. I was a bit worried about my use of them, as they originally led into some ideas which I think some Christians might find offensive. There was more about the Khvalibogs I was planning to write, but decided it might be better left to the imagination.
Chapters Twenty Eight and Twenty Nine were almost the whole of the story that's been buzzing around my head for the two years it's taken to write this, so I'm very pleased so many people liked it.
However, I am sorry, Silverthreads and Lady Ravenna, that you didn't like it. I thought it was a good twist, the idea of Christian redemption – although no, Duj, it didn't have much to do with what JKR said about Snape and redemption in one of her interviews. The idea I'm using here is pretty much a classic one of a sinner finding God; I had the impression JKR was talking about redemption of a more mundane sort, where someone gets an experience which makes them see themselves in a completely different light, without God being necessarily involved.
As for Christianity in JKR's world – I think it is there, actually. Like Tolkien, she's not exactly using obvious or overt Christian references, but her own values as a Christian seem to come through in places, notably the idea that Harry was saved by his mother's sacrifice, his mother's blood. Cf. Dumbledore talking to Harry about what saved him from Voldemort, both in Philosopher's Stone and Order of the Phoenix. That sounds strongly like a direct reference to Jesus giving his life for ours out of love. Although, as Moody says in my story, these ideas feature in a number of religions, not just Christianity. (Silverthreads – can't you take comfort from the fact that Moody agrees with you 100? ; )
Final notes on my story: I really, really regret that I didn't continue with it last year, when I was gunning away with it, churning out a chapter every Sunday. I know what you mean, Shiver, when you said some bits were hard to get through. There were definitely bits where I was struggling to make the points I wanted and get to the next piece of action. The problem was, although I'd planned out large sections of it, the big scenes, as it were, I didn't put too much thought into the little connective parts – and I think that probably shows. And then I got distracted just over a year ago, and really struggled to move on. The part about Snape being surgically killed by Moody then brought back to life, in order to break his spell and save him and Harry, was monumentally difficult to write, and those chapters appeared, after a long break, about a year ago – only to be followed by another long silence.
And ultimately I've missed a lot out.
Minerva, Tonks and Shacklebolt were originally going to do much more than they did; I planned a whole thread set in the Ministry, full of James Bond style excitement, where Shacklebolt and Tonks tracked down the spy. This is probably the most obvious omission, from the contrived plot-device section in the Epilogue. Other things which got left out, and which I hope haven't left too much hanging include Neville's memory of the attack on his parents.
The original plan was to have Moody discovering Neville's memory in Snape's Pensive – Snape realised Neville would be permanently traumatised by his experience, and removed all memory of it to save him. Consequently, St Mungo's performed their Memory Charms on a memory which wasn't there, leading to the terrible memory Neville is now famous for. Furthermore, Snape was deliberately as horrible as he could be to Neville in Potions, because he wanted him to fail. Without Potions, Neville could never become an Auror like his parents and risk meeting their terrible fate.
I wanted to develop and explore the relationship between Harry and Snape in the dream world very much; but it just didn't seem to work. Similarly the relationship between Snape and Alice; although possibly that works better because you only get glimpses.
Finally, Snape's missing arm. He goes home, successfully vanquishes his demon, and grows the arm back, complete with Dark Mark, in order to return to his life at Hogwarts. He tells Harry that he didn't gain the marks he needed to study NEWT level Potions; but that doesn't matter because there will be a new Potions teacher. He will be teaching Defence Against The Dark Arts. At last!
What else? Can't think of anything now, and I want to post this and get it out the way! I'm bored with it now, and it's only four days until we get the real book 6!
Best wishes to everyone, thank you again, hugely, for your wonderful reviews. You made me so happy : ) Thank you :)
12 July 2005