DISCLAIMER: All Harry Potter related characters and themes belong to JK Rowling, her publishers, and some lawyers.
NOTES: Written for the Master and Wolf Fest Challenge #113) Snape thinks that eventually Lupin will get over his loss and move on -- hopefully into a relationship with Snape. However, even though he tries, Lupin can see no reason to go on. He gives up -- and throws himself through the veil. Snape, who always knew there was theoretically a way to get someone back, goes after him -- but is forced to bring both Lupin and Black out.
Special thanks to Angelfeather for her wonderful suggestions and encouragement.
By The Treacle Tart
The air was stale and dry in that dim rectangular room. He sat staring up at the crumbling stone archway, a tattered black veil hanging down and swaying gently in a breeze from nowhere. On the first night, he stayed for just a few moments, standing as close to the veil as his sensibility would allow. His face etched with lines of anger that cut deep furrows into his skin. A few weeks later, he was drawn there again, inching slightly closer. It wouldn't be long before he had to turn away, his eyes wet with memories. Three days later he stood at the mouth of the portal, whispering words of sorrow into her frayed black folds, pleading while tears flowed freely, leaving silver trails on his dry skin.
After that he visited nightly.
Sometimes a bottle of whiskey clenched in his white-knuckled hand eased the visit. He would sip it slowly, feeling his body melt away as the room swayed around him, swirling into obscurity. He might pour the liquid down his throat and concentrate on the burn that marked the line from his throat to stomach. Once, he simply threw the unopened bottle against the wall and watched the amber fluid drip down into a puddle speckled with shards of glass.
Sometimes he stayed for a minute, sometimes an hour, sometimes three.
He brought a blanket once, hoping it would rid him of the bitter frost clawing at his skin.
He paced around the room, frustration and hatred coursing through him, making his heart race and his hands shake. Sometimes he sat completely motionless, his steady breaths the only sound in the room. Once he slept at the mouth of the archway, the dark fabric gently lapping at his nose a hair's breadth away.
Sometimes he spoke; sometimes he screamed. Most often, however, he was silent.
Harry had once said that he found the veil almost beautiful the first time he saw it, that it spoke to him, a part of him that didn't hear the words as much as felt them. Remus wanted to see beauty there, to believe his friend was in a beautiful place--a place always awash in sunlight, always immersed in warmth.
At one time Remus might have believed it possible. He had had faith once. That faith propelled him through a life of isolation and segregation, of discrimination and scorn. Somewhere between losing the friends of his past and his hopes in the present, he had lost his faith as well.
Still he came, night after night, looking for comfort or understanding. He looked to the veil for answers, for solace, for anything that might make sense, but there was never anything to be found. Nothing but the cold stone bench that chilled his skin and the great stone archway to nowhere, with the tattered black veil that took you there.
It called to him through shreds of some ancient material, inviting him to pass through. How easy would it be to walk to the other side, to see where it took him? To be free of war and sorrow, anguish and pain, to possibly see his friends once more. James…Lily…
It promised peace and safety, to wrap its soft folds around his shivering skin, cradling him like an infant. Promises of warmth and love and tranquilly were made in the gentle ripples of dark cloth. He wanted to believe it, because he needed to believe in something again.
Pulling his mind back into the present, he rose leisurely from the spot where he sat bewitched by the veil and walked toward it, his hand slowly reaching to grasp the blackness in his curious fingers. He could almost feel the prickling of ancient magic brush his fingertips when a voice from above him spoke:
"It lies, Lupin."
Remus froze. He realized long ago that his visits to this room were not private ones, that another sat close by. Like a gargoyle perched on a ledge silently watching the world around him, Severus Snape was his nightly companion. They had never spoken or even acknowledged the other's presence, but Remus knew he was being watched. At first, he thought Snape was merely enjoying the spectacle of a man looking for answers that would never come, but as time passed, he wondered if Snape wasn't looking for answers himself.
"What lies, Severus?" he finally asked.
His words echoed through the great stone chamber while Snape sat stoically.
Neither spoke for the rest of the evening.
They continued the vigil that had quickly become habit. Night after night, Remus Lupin sat in front of the great black veil, and Severus Snape kept surveillance, twenty feet and a million miles between them.
Several weeks had passed without any change in their routine. One night Snape entered the room to find Lupin sitting at the top of the benches, pouring two glasses of Llewellyn's finest whiskey. Lupin placed one glass on the bench besides him and began to sip the other. Snape sat, picked up the abandoned glass, and began to drink the vintage brew. Neither showed any sign of surprise.
"Where did it come from?" Remus asked, his eyes never leaving the giant veiled archway.
Snape emptied his glass before answering. "You don't want to ask these questions, Lupin."
"No…I don't," he sighed, "but I need to." Without being asked, he refilled Snape's glass and waited for an answer.
"It's a cursed thing, Lupin--with a history full of nothing but torment."
"That isn't surprising." Lupin remarked. "You feel it when you sit in front of her. You smell it in the air. You taste it when you swallow." He refilled his own glass and drained it quickly.
They finished the bottle that night.
"Regrets, Lupin? I regret nothing. I made decisions based on what I felt was appropriate at the time, and though not the best course of action I could have taken, I don't regret them. Too much time and energy is wasted on things that can never be changed."
"Just because you can't change them doesn't mean you should accept them, Severus. I regret straying away from my parents into a dark forest as a child. I regret not stopping my friends from taunting you as a student. I regret not trusting Sirius enough and trusting Peter too much. I regret not killing Peter when I had the chance. I regret not stopping Sirius from going to the Ministry to get Harry. I regret...I regret the things I am still not strong enough to say."
"I thought regrets were not meant to be accepted."
"They're not. We should want to change them…but it doesn't mean we can."
He never makes a sound. No matter what I do, he remains perfectly silent. Painfully silent. I strive to elicit a quick intake of breath, a small gasp, a hitch in the steady breathing, anything to bring him to life.
At first I welcomed the silence, some small part of my brain trying to forget whom I was with and what we were doing, trying to forget I was betraying the memory of one that I loved. Sirius was never my lover. I keep telling myself that, but I still feel he would consider this as much of an infidelity anyway. Sirius had been possessive. I find myself wondering if he would have become my lover just to take me away from Severus. It would be like him to do that, to claim me and flaunt to Severus what he could do, and how easily.
I wish I could say it wouldn't be that easy.
It was simply a physical release at first, a way to expend the nervous energy that made concentrating impossible as the long days of waiting and worrying continued. All too quickly I began to depend upon it -- relief more than release. I think…once or twice, I actually enjoyed it. After all these months I find myself needing it, needing the few precious moments of escape it offered.
If only he would talk, moan, yell - anything.
I've come to realize why he doesn't. In his own twisted way he is doing it for me, doing it so I don't realize where I am and what I am doing…and whom I am doing it with. In his own ridiculous Snape-like way, he is being considerate. In his own ridiculous Snape-like way, it is romantic.
"What do you know about it?" Remus asks.
He lies on his side staring out his window at the crescent moon hanging in the air. Severus was lying beside him on Remus's small bed, his eyes fixed to the ceiling.
Severus usually left right afterward; one of the reasons he never invited Lupin to his quarters even though the bed is bigger and more comfortable. As the weeks passed he lingered just a little longer, a minute or two at a time. Tonight he had been there fifteen minutes after they finished, which was a record and a signal to Lupin that he might venture an attempt at conversation.
"What do you know about it?" Remus asks again.
"Too much…and not nearly enough," was the muted reply.
The day after the full moon was always the hardest. Lupin ached to the marrow of his bones. The fatigue was made worse by depression and loneliness that accompanied the transformation back to human form. A memory lurked in the back of his mind, of those who used to keep him company. Memories of those days when he was young, before the world ended, before he understood the meaning of reality.
He nearly wept.
He would often choose to sleep the day away, to close his eyes and forget the world he was a part of, to live in one created in his mind. He was always human in that world. His friends were alive, and he was never alone.
This morning, however, something was different. With considerable effort, he opened his eyes slightly to see Severus Snape asleep in the armchair next to his bed.
The shock of seeing Snape there by his bedside was compounded by the sight of the man himself. By the look of things he had spent the night at Remus's side. Severus's face was oddly at peace, the small lines around his mouth and eyes, lines that Lupin thought were made permanent by a perpetual scowl, were gone. His pale skin seemed soft and smooth in the delicate orange glow of the sunrise that filled the room. Snape looked somewhat frail, and almost beautiful, two things Lupin was certain were never associated with Snape.
He stared at the sleeping figure as long as he could before exhaustion got the better of him. When he awoke several hours later, he was alone.
I watch him all the time now. I look to find some feature to connect the abrasive Potions master to the man who spent a night in a stiff armchair by my side. I am not sure what I expect to see, what I hope to see.
Sometimes there is beauty; when his skin is translucent not sallow, his eyes like onyx not coal, his hair silky not greasy, and I wonder if my own ridiculous romantic tendencies have taken control of my senses. Other times his sharp wit is caustic, his intelligence is condescending, his judgment is agonizingly skewed and I wonder why I can't bring myself to leave.
Severus Snape is a cold man. He is cruel and uncompromising and revels in that. He lives in a dark place, in the world and in his mind and in the heart I once believed he offered up to some potions' experiment. He is cynical and derisive, disdainful and petty. The greatest joys in his life come from the destruction of young egos and the dismantling of anything that resembles joy.
For some inexplicable reason, I think I love him.
Twelve Grimmauld Place was quiet that night. Remus returned from his last reconnaissance mission to an empty house. For once he was grateful for the solitude. His mission yielded nothing and he would rather not have to report on his failure. Again.
He entered the kitchen hoping to find some food when he spots a familiar smoking chalice sitting on the counter. Next to it, a small folded note. His hunger forgotten, he begins to read the words written in a distinguished swooping hand.
Centuries ago, distraught over the death of his young bride, a wizard vowed to find a way to build a bridge between this world and the next. His research led him to Bodrum, Turkey, the site of the remains of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
"While examining the site he came upon an anomalous growth of Camellia, widely believed to be a symbol of the transience of life. Taking this to be a sign he began to dig, and buried beneath a millennia's worth of soil was this great stone arch with the tattered remains of a black veil that had somehow escaped corrosion. It was practically glowing with dark magic and because of that, and the fact that the veil survived, he had come to believe the arch was buried, not by the simple passage of time and the shifting of earth, but to hide it away. He had nothing to substantiate this other than his own misguided beliefs.
"He spent decades studying the arch, trying to find some meaning in the odd symbols carved on its face, but time and erosion ate away at it enough to make them indecipherable. Ironically, he died before he could uncover its secrets. A few centuries later it was discovered again by one of his decedents who wished to continue his ancestor's work. He was able to read some of the markings, enough to know one could touch the veil but never walk through it. It was when he was able to read the rest of the markings that he turned it over to the Ministry of Magic for safe keeping."
The note ends there, and Remus was sure he knew why. He was sure he knew why the arch was hidden away, why it was not destroyed, and why Snape would not tell him the entire story. The markings on the arch warned about going through the veil, but they also explained how to come back.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"It gives false hope."
"It's some kind of hope."
The arch was essentially what it appeared to be - a doorway between the world of the living and another. What was unclear was what that other world was. Some speculated it was the afterlife, what some call heaven. Others felt it was an in-between place, what some called purgatory. Everyone agreed that there was no way back from either place if entered into naturally by death, but most believe that if one enters alive, one may come out alive.
No one knew what condition said person would return in.
Remus pictured Sirius waking from a long sleep. Severus pictured a walking corpse driven insane from the journey. They argued about it for weeks.
Remus had come to accept that over the course of seven months, and against this better judgment, he had fallen in love with the Potions master. He also realized Severus's apprehension to help him bring his friend back stemmed from the havoc Sirius's return would wreak on their fragile relationship. Severus Snape was not a man to admit to having feelings, but only someone who had known him as long as Remus could see the signs of the emotion that would never be acknowledged.
Remus knew there was only one way to force Severus into action. It was cruel, but he had no choice.
That night Severus found a short note saying, "I love you. Goodbye."
Remus Lupin had walked through the veil.
Albus Dumbledore watched him in silence, as he had every night for the past week. Severus Snape sat in the Restricted Section, delving into volume after volume, working out the complicated processes that might bring Remus back--and Sirius as well.
Runes lay in complex arrangements on the floor, pages of Arithmantic equations neatly piled next to them. In the corner, a makeshift laboratory had been created where the contents of a small cauldron bubbled with another attempt at an intricate potion. It was easier to do all the work here than to bother traveling back and forth to the dungeons. Severus Snape only left to teach, sleep, and eat. The latter two only when completely necessary.
'Love seemed to have been more powerful than hate after all,' the Headmaster thought morosely. He knew the level of hate Severus had for Sirius, one that had not tapered after two decades, but there was an undeniable franticness underlying the Potions master's usual composed veneer --and there was fear. Suddenly the impossible was viable and the incomprehensible, truth. The Headmaster was about to leave when he noticed a small group of students joining Severus.
Harry Potter looked his most despised professor in the eye. Behind him, Neville Longbottom looked oddly confident, Ginny Weasley looked determined and authoritative, and Luna Lovegood looked uncharacteristically focused. Ron Weasley placed a plateful of food next to his professor, and Hermione Granger handed him a stack of notes she had taken during some rudimentary research. Snape looked at their resolute faces and gave a small nod. Without a word, the students picked up books and began to read.
His eyes scanned the product of two months worth of work that lie before him like a fractured jigsaw puzzle. A carefully constructed map of the world on the other side of the veil, configured through a thousand runes and Arithmantic equations. One potion meant to dissolve his living cells into vapor making him a living ghost, another meant to keep those cells from being absorbed into the mist. Granger's charmed talismans to contact Lupin and Black and connect them to him; the remnants of a shattered mirror that Black had given Potter, and Lupin's father's wedding ring, which he kept in a box by his bed.
Theoretically, Snape's dissolved form would be able to enter the world beyond the veil without becoming part of it. The route, memorized from the map, would direct him to where Remus and Black were thought to be. The talismans, dipped in the same potion Snape would ingest, would make the journey with him, leading him to those he sought and connecting the three long enough for them to escape. It would work. Theoretically.
The only unknown variable was the veil itself. All indications led to it being a one way entrance. One should be able to enter and still maneuver through it. There were no assurances of his being able to walk back out.
Dumbledore refused to allow Snape to walk through until they were certain he had a way out. Losing two members of the Order at such a critical time of the war was bad enough. Losing Snape would practically ensure their defeat. So far, nothing had been found.
Snape sat disconsolately at the research table that had been his home for months, his makeshift crew standing around him at a loss. They had exhausted every possibility they could come up with.
Ron Weasley let out a sigh as he sat down opposite Snape. "Too bad we can't just go the Room of Requirement and ask for a back door to the place," he said off-handedly.
Snape lifted his head and stared hard at his student, until Ron became extremely uncomfortable under the scrutiny. He rose from his seat and walked towards the confused Gryffindor and placed his hand on Ron's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. Without a word, Snape left the library. Everyone followed.
The group was soon standing in front of the familiar room. Snape grasped the handle tight in his hand, closed his eyes, muttered a prayer, and cautiously opened the door.
A bright light filled the corridor. The room looked like an amphitheatre; sitting at its base was a large stone arch with a luminous white veil hanging down.
Darkness fell around him. The air was alive with magic unlike any he had ever encountered. There was no ground or ceiling, no walls or rooms or pathways. The world on the other side of the veil was black and empty. Snape floated through the nothingness, carefully counting the seconds as they passed. Space on this side of the veil was measured in time, not distance.
This was the world of lost souls, those trapped between the world of the living and the world of the dead. The black veil was the entrance, the white the exit.
He quickly made it to the first plane, the area of those who won't acknowledge death. Around him swirled the essences of those who died but refuse to make the choice between being a ghost in one world and going on to the next. Severus was filled with a sense of confusion and turmoil but also contentment. The souls in this plane lived in their own reality. They existed in their memories, reliving experiences over and over until they convinced themselves that they were still alive. Despite the sense of confusion, it was a pleasant place to be. Severus could see how one would want to remain here, to deny death and deny the world you were once a part of. He had to force himself to keep moving, to continue on his journey.
The passage to the next area took much longer, but he soon found himself in the plane of those who with unfinished business on earth. Here he found himself frightened, angry, frustrated. These souls also relived their memories, but they were the memories that kept them connected to a world they could no longer enter. This region was full of words never said, deeds never done, friends abandoned, lovers lost. The souls in this plane were suffering because they couldn't finish the one task or tasks that would set them free. Snape ached from their sorrow and pushed forward before thoughts of his own disjointed existence suffocated him.
He knew he was nearing the next plane because a severe numbness began to engulf him. He had reached the area of those who refused to believe in any sort of afterlife. They believed in nothing, so they found nothing. He quickly brushed past it.
Eighteen minutes and fourteen seconds away was the plane in which he believed Lupin and Black to be. This was the threshold of the veil--the edge of time, the end of the world. This was the place where souls made the choice between remaining in the world of the veil, eventually entering one of the previous planes, or of crossing over into the afterlife. Becoming a ghost was not an option as they were not truly dead.
The souls here vacillated between planes -- between memories of their lives, thoughts of unfinished business, or nothing. Ultimately, they would find the place they felt most comfortable and remain there for eternity. Snape only hoped Remus had not made that choice yet.
The dissolved cells of the talismans were mixed with his own, and all he could do was wait until they called to their owners, beacons through a dense fog. Like a statue he stood, careful not to lose his place because if he turned in the wrong direction he would never find his way out.
He had no idea how long he was in the veil. The stillness was disorienting. He felt neither tired, nor hungry; in fact, he felt nothing at all, but he knew his time was growing short. If something did not happen soon, the potion that kept him whole would wear off, and then, like the others who passed though the veil while still alive, he would be trapped. He honestly wondered if it really mattered, if he wanted to go back to that life, to go back alone.
Then he saw it, a mass of haze and mist glowing silver, floating towards him.
He knew he was not alone; someone was hovering near him. The thought of opening his eyes to view his companion was tiring enough; the actual act would be impossible.
"Open your eyes, Severus," the phantom called.
"Can't," he replied in a coarse, broken voice.
"It's time to come back to us, Severus. You've been away for far too long."
His eyes began to flutter open. Through the shadows he saw the blurred lights and the familiar ceiling of the infirmary.
He was home. Somehow, he had made it back. He wondered briefly if he had come back alone.
"You had us worried, Severus. Your companions were conscious. Incoherent, but conscious."
There was his answer. 'How-" he began.
"They are fine, Severus. The three of you returned a few minutes after you entered the veil. They were quite disoriented, but safe. You were…you were not well."
The impossibility of how a trip that took him hours in one world amounted to a few minutes in another was confusing enough without Dumbledore's infuriating vagueness to add to it. He attempted to get up only to find he was completely immobile.
"You need to rest, Severus. It will be a while before you can move more readily. For now you must sleep." Dumbledore's thin hand gently floated over the Potions master's face. Before he could utter any sort of reply, Severus Snape was fast asleep and dreaming of endless darkness.
When he opened his eyes again he felt stronger, and to his great relief, was able to move his arms and flex his feet. "Doing better I see, Severus." Albus Dumbledore stood watching him from the other side of the room.
"Slightly, I suppose," a hoarse voice answered.
"Can you sit up?"
"I doubt it."
"More rest then."
"Albus, so help me if you wave your blasted hand over me again I will-"
Albus gave a small laugh. "I can't tell you how happy it makes me to hear that tone in your voice, child." With a wave of his hand a settee appeared next to Severus's bed. Once Dumbledore was comfortable he spoke, "I believe you have some questions."
"What happened?" Snape asked, his patience lost while waiting for Dumbledore to get settled.
He regarded Snape over the rims of his half-moon glasses. "You walked through the black veil and almost immediately Dobby came to inform me of a disturbance in the Room of Requirement. We entered it to find Remus disoriented, Sirius unintelligible and you…well, you seemed to have lost control of your faculties."
"Are you trying to say I was insane?"
"It appeared that way. You weren't lucid. You were twitching violently, and you kept clawing at your skin and face. I had to sedate you."
"How long have I been sedated?"
"About six months."
"Six months? I've been unconscious for six months?"
"You would periodically wake up, but you were still violent and still confused. You seemed to be calmer when Remus was with you."
"Lupin's all right then."
"Oh, quite. He was able to leave the infirmary after a few days. Sirius needed a few months. He wasn't as aware as Remus and needed more time to assimilate."
"So it worked."
"They are both back."
"Yes, my boy. You did it. You saved them."
"They are both back."
"Albus would you leave me alone for a bit."
"Of course, child."
"Make me sleep."
An odd sense of calm surrounded him as fingertips stroked his cheek and a soft voice called his name. A dream shouldn't feel this real, shouldn't sound so pure. A dream shouldn't make him feel safe, happy, cherished. A dream wouldn't. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.
The sides of Remus Lupin's mouth slowly curled up into a soft smile as his hand cupped Severus's cheek. Neither spoke as Remus lowered his mouth to Severus's forehead and placed a series of gentle kisses along his face. Severus closed his eyes and counted each one as his entire face began to tingle where it was touched by those lips. He followed the pattern Remus drew from the top of his brow, down his cheek, behind his ear, along his chin and up the other side, and ending mercifully on his own lips.
A simple kiss; the mere pressing of lips. The mere pressing of trembling lips. The mere pressing of trembling lips and the salty taste of tears.
When they broke apart he cupped Severus's cheek again and leaned in until their foreheads touched.
"Forgive me," Remus pleaded softly.
"I don't think I can."
He had always been careful never to invite the werewolf to his rooms; not for wolfsbane, not for conversation, not for anything. Something warned him of the intimacy of the act. Something told him he needed to separate the real world from the one he used as an escape. Severus thought he should be thankful for his planning. Thankful that he could return to the solitude of the dungeons, and the peace he found there, as he segregated himself from others.
Somehow he wasn't as thankful as he should be.
He sat in his parlor, feeling like a stranger in rooms that had been his sanctuary for many, many years. He felt oddly detached from everything he had ever known to be real. Part of it stemmed from the world he had briefly visited. How different was his life from those of the souls existing in the darkness of that other world?
Did it truly matter what side of the veil you were on if you were trapped?
The room suddenly seemed very small and he thought about visiting the Headmaster. He opened the door and was heading out, wondering what sort of madness had overtaken him as he was actually seeking the old codger's company, when he came face to face with Sirius Black.
Black looked the healthiest he had since before he entered Azkaban. With his hair cut short and his skin almost tan, he resembled the adolescent Snape remembered all too vividly. The anger that Snape was sure he would feel upon seeing Black again was substituted by an overwhelming sadness that was making it difficult to breathe.
Severus wanted to rant and rage against Black's intrusion at the one place that was his own, but could not find the will to do so. He watched as Sirius too seemed to struggle for words. Blue eyes burned into him, wavering between what appeared to be fear, shame, anger, hatred, and even joy. So full of emotion and yet so incredibly empty.
Minutes ticked away as neither moved, until into the air, in a coarse whisper, came the words one needed to say and the other needed to hear --
Severus lingered in his classroom. He complained bitterly about the state of his classes and the incompetence of those who taught his lessons in his absence. Only when he was sure he wasn't going to be interrupted by a meddlesome co-worker, or an inquisitive student, did he open the charmed top drawer of his desk and take out the small blue box. Inside the box, nestled in plush velvet, sat the thin gold band he had taken with him into the veiled world…the one he used to find Lupin…the one he couldn't seem to remember to give back.
'Did it truly matter what side of the veil you were on if you were trapped?'
A finger gently traced the smooth arch of the ring when an owl began pecking at his door. Reluctantly, he closed the box, re-charmed the drawer, and let the persistent bird inside. The owl flew to his desk and stretched out his leg to Snape revealing a note tied with golden twine. Once the note was delivered, the haughty bird flew away without waiting for a response.
Severus could detect the faint scent of sandalwood and earth from the folded note that sat in his hand and tried to tell himself he would discard it before reading it. He tried to tell himself that the words written on it meant nothing, that they would change nothing.
Then he unfolded the page and read it.
"I told you once there was much in this life I regret, but that I was determined to learn from mistakes. I regret the things I can't change Severus, but would regret the things I didn't try to change even more. I refuse to let this be another regret I add to a list already too long. I refuse to give up on you. On us.
I will be sitting by the lake tonight."
Severus reread the note several times and very nearly smiled.
Perhaps he would take a short detour during rounds this evening.