If you haven't forgiven yourself something, how can you forgive others?
p"I thought you'd be here." /p
pThe cold, dark voice rang through the vacant house, breaking the silence that had dominated it for the past hours. /p
pRemus Lupin looked up into the black eyes of the harsh man looming above him. /p
"What do you need, Severus?" Remus asked resignedly from his chair in front of the fire.
Snape folded his arms and gazed down Lupin. After a moment, he replied in a bored tone, "Dumbledore sent me to retrieve Kreacher for interrogation if he has not already fled."
"Don't worry, he has," Lupin said bitterly, not taking his eyes from the warm glowing fire adjacent to him.
Severus was not accustomed to hearing Lupin's voice so astringent, but it was, of course, to be expected.
"Don't go blaming yourself, Lupin. It was his own insufferable restlessness and heroic arrogance that got him killed," Snape spoke up condescendingly after a moment's silence.
Lupin looked up at him through narrowed eyes.
"I thought that even you would have a bit more respect for the dead."
Snape only scowled at him. "Somehow I doubt that Black would have any more for me if the tables were turned."
Remus shook his head and turned back to the fire. "You'd be surprised," he said quietly.
"You heard me, Severus."
"And what would give you that impression? He certainly has shown no respect for my life in the past!"
Remus stood to face him, fury rising inside of him. He closed his eyes briefly in an effort to calm himself. "You must move on," he spoke in a carefully controlled voice. "He was young, and foolish. He didn't think about the consequences of his actions. It was nearly twenty years ago. People make mistakes, Severus, and people change. I think that is a concept you yourself are quite familiar with. Move on."
Snape resisted the urge to strangle him with his bare hands. "You stupid foolhardy Gryffindors still don't get it, do you?!" he hissed. "Dumbledore's precious Golden Boys never suffered the corollaries for any of their actions! Perpetual leniency for them, constant suspicion of Slytherins like myself! Do you honestly think that if I had attempted the murder of another student, I would not have been immediately expelled? If-"
"If you don't think that Albus Dumbledore exercised utmost leniency for you also, I believe you are gravely mistaken," Lupin interrupted quietly.
Severus glared at him. "How could I have expected you to understand?" he rasped. "It isn't just about one particular incident, Lupin. It's about a lifetime of injustices all because of one word uttered by an old brown hat!" he spat.
"I know you feel that Sirius was not properly penalized for his imprudent actions, Severus, and I daresay I must agree with you! You have always just blindly assumed that I have always endorsed and overlooked his foolishness!"
Snape remained silent, interested in Remus' sudden condemnation of his fellow Marauder and in the new and unexpected emotions that his argument seemed to have aroused in him.
"As much as you'd like to believe that you were the lone victim that night, unfortunately, you surely were not!"
Lupin's fists were clenched by his side, his face flushed from an abrupt surge of emotions that he had been harboring subconsciously for the past two decades.
"As much as that night scarred you, Severus," Remus said shakily,"-it has scarred me far worse."
Severus raised a brow. "Really?" he inquired sinisterly as he crossed his arms over his chest once
more, now wholly absorbed.
"Not only did I nearly murder a fellow student due to a condition which was completely beyond my control, but my friend- whom I had trusted infinitely- betrayed and sold me out in order to play a prank that, if carried out correctly, would have cost us both of our lives!"
Snape stared at him silently.
"If for one moment you think that I had anything to do with what was planned to happen that night, you are certainly incorrect. I couldn't sleep for weeks afterward, thinking of what might have happened…"
Remus sank back into his chair wearily. "I will not deny that Sirius was not punished severely enough by Dumbledore for the appalling thing that he attempted. But Severus, you cannot deny that he did pay for all of actions later in his life, in one of the worst ways imaginable."
Snape still said nothing.
"But this time, he's truly gone. He died admirably, at the defense of his godson. There was no one he loved more, and probably no one else for whom he would have died, not even I. He was not an evil man, Severus. I know you may never find it in your heart to forgive him, but he did regret the way he treated you. His stubborn pride would never allow him to show it, of course, but in his heart, he was sorry. Deep down, he held your work in higher regard than anyone could have suspected."
"I find that highly unlikely," Snape growled, his face contorted into revulsion.
"Oh yes, that's right. I've forgotten how well you know Sirius and your vast experience in discerning how he truly feels," Lupin said, looking skeptically at Snape. "You may be a skilled Occlumens, but I doubt that even you had mastered how to truly delve into the mind of Sirius Black."
Snape's dark gaze was fixed bitterly on Lupin. When he spoke, his voice was laced with venom. "How can you say that about a man who was still convinced I was in league with the Dark Lord?" he asked quietly, referring to Remus' earlier statements.
Remus shook his head. "Severus, be reasonable. If Sirius truly believed that you were still working for him he would have never tolerated you being in the Order, much less entrusting his godson to your care to teach him Occlumency." Lupin paused. "Everyone in the Order would have to be blind to not see the incredible sacrifices you make for us. We've all come to respect you quite a bit, Severus. Few people have the skill, and even fewer would be willing to risk everything for us as you do. And yes," Remus continued, taking notice of Severus' stubborn expression, "-even Sirius respected you. In a weird, twisted, loathing kind of way." Remus gave him a wry smile.
Snape's scowl deepened.
Remus sighed in defeat. "Severus, I wish you could be happy."
Clearly taken aback by Remus' startling words, the shock played blatantly across Snape's face.
"Happy?" he sputtered.
Remus looked into Severus' grimacing lined face in amazement. "Yes, Severus. Happy."
Severus looked at him indignantly. "Lupin, I have had enough of this. I came to summon a house elf, and instead got laden down with the confessions and advice of a werewolf. I have other matters I must attend to." Snape turned on his heel, his black cloak billowing quietly behind him as he proceeded towards the door.
The grim man halted momentarily.
"I don't want to leave on bad terms with you," Remus said.
Snape turned around and sneered. "Seems a bit late in life to correct that, no?"
Lupin rubbed his eyes, fatigue threatening to overtake his already stressed body. Remus' mirthless gaze finally met with Severus'.
"Why should we be at odds?" Lupin asked, the sincerity evident in his tone. "There are so few of us left…" The words pained him unimaginably.
"You've lost your friend Black, and now you wish to make a truce with me in order to appease your loneliness. How touching," mocked Severus, his gaze shooting daggers at Remus.
"That's not what I meant, Severus, and you know it."
Lupin looked up at him defiantly. "Yes, you do know. But unfortunately, your greatest joy in life is to take out your resentment on those you feel are most worthy for you to bestow it upon. I understand that your everlasting acrimony is your only catharsis, but please, for everyone's sanity during this time, do you think you could attempt to be slightly less disagreeable?"
Snape's eyes narrowed balefully at him. "Easy for you to say! It's not the most difficult task for everyone's favorite werewolf to obtain support and understanding! Do not criticize my ways until you have experienced the reasoning behind them firsthand!"
Remus could see that he had unintentionally struck a weak spot. However, Snape had also unknowingly provoked Remus, who could not help but laugh resentfully.
"'Everyone's favorite werewolf'? I will not insult your intelligence by presuming that you intended that to be a serious statement. Honestly Severus, how ignorant could you be? I have been shunned and rejected my whole life! Do you think I had a pack of admirers during the thirteen years following James and Lily's death when I was completely alone, with no way of finding a job and without a single friend or family member in which I could confide or receive any consolation from? Or even during my days at Hogwarts? You may not have noticed, but I had precisely three friends in school! And before that? Zero, Severus! You seem to think that you are the only one who has been alone, rejected, and recoiled from for your entire life!"
"If you had had such a deep understanding of loneliness and pain as you claim to have had, then why did you consistently fail to stop your precious little friends from making my life even more of a hell than it already was?!" Severus' eyes were blazing in rage, his pale face blotched with spots of deep red. Remus' words were unearthing emotions in him that he did not wish to reveal.
Remus closed his eyes briefly, and when they reopened they were fixed intently on the filthy floor of number twelve Grimmauld Place.
"Fear," he said softly.
"Fear?!" roared Snape. "Do you mean to tell me that a bold, brave Gryffindor such as yourself let fear get in the way of doing the 'right thing'? Of…saving someone?"
"Damn it, Severus!" Remus exclaimed angrily. "If you make one more gibe about Gryffindor-"
"You'll what?" Snape sneered.
Remus' expression went from angry to saddened, and he shook his head slightly.
"I give up on you, Severus. I'm sorry for not standing up for you in school in fear of losing the only friends I ever had. I'm sorry for Sirius' prank, I'm sorry you felt you were judged because you were a Slytherin, and I'm sorry for anything else that you haven't forgiven me for. You make it so difficult; I don't know what to do anymore. I understand so much more than you think I do."
Remus stared up into Severus' livid swarthy gaze. "I see your pain and your bitterness every time I look at you. All of your loneliness, all of your grief, and all of your hurt, because I've seen all of it in myself so many times! How do you live?" he whispered. "Locked up in your cold dungeons, drowning in your solitude? After all of the unspeakable thing you encounter and endure, to have no one to provide you with the slightest bit of consolation?"
Snape was furious. "How dare you speak about me in such a manner! You know nothing of me or of what I need! Do you think that I enjoy company and wish for pity or consolation? My solitude is my solace! I need no one!" Severus bellowed vehemently, doing a notably better job of convincing himself than Remus.
Lupin rose from his chair determinedly and stood within a few inches of Severus. "Get a hold of yourself!" he cried forcefully. "Listen to what you're saying! What has happened to you?" Remus muttered, placing his hands on the stiff man's shoulders and looking resolutely into his repulsed face.
The sudden human contact stunned Snape, who had not been intentionally touched by another human being in more years than he would care to admit. "Don't touch me!" he snapped, pushing Remus away from him forcefully, causing him to careen into the table behind him. There was a loud crash as Remus knocked into the table and several items on top of it tumbled to the ground and smashed. Before either of them had time to react, a shrill voice shrieked,
"Who is it now?! Is it you, you filthy creature, you half-breed scum?! I insist that you leave the established and dignified house of my fathers at once! I REFUSE TO HARBOR A FOUL MONSTER IN THE ANCIENT HOUSE OF BLACK!"
Remus picked himself up from the floor and sprinted toward the staircase until he reached the furiously screaming portrait. "VILE BEAST! DIRTY-"
With tremendous effort, Remus managed to pull the curtains shut. He walked shakily back into the drawing room where he observed Severus quickly muttering "Reparo" in an attempt to fix all of the shattered items that lay on the ground. When Snape felt Lupin's eyes upon him, he slowly turned to look back at the man who was looking at him reproachfully from a corner of the room.
"Yes?" he snarled.
"You always were quite good at pushing people away," Remus remarked dryly. When Snape's glare grew even more menacing, Lupin shook his head and stared at him in silent disbelief. "Why?" he asked quietly. He was not getting through to the bitter professor. "Why do you shut everyone out? As much as you refuse to admit it, there are people who care about you- people who hate to see you suffer the way that you do. What are you so afraid of? We understand-"
"You do not understand! You judge, you pry! Your own precious Mr. Potter reinforced this principle when he decided to sneak a peak into my Pensieve when I briefly left the classroom during one of his Occlumency lessons!"
Remus continued as if Severus had not said a word. "We understand that you need your privacy. We understand that you need your space, and we will not judge or pry! And yes, Harry did sneak into your Pensieve, Severus. Sirius, Harry, and I discussed it soon after."
Snape laughed derisively. "He just couldn't stand the suspense, could he? He just had to know if his precious idols had taken the pants off of poor old Snivellus!" His body was shaking with rage, and his eyes held a murderous gleam.
"Actually," said Lupin calmly, "the reason he came to speak with us was because he was so disgusted by what he had seen."
"Ruined his perfect image of his father, did it?" Snape scoffed, looking rather satisfied.
"Marred it quite a bit, in fact," replied Remus. "I meant to speak with you about it after Harry told me you had stopped giving him lessons."
"He wasn't even trying!" hissed Severus. "Occlumency is an extremely difficult and painstaking art to learn! It is not something that can simply be taught! If the person who is learning does not put forth the effort, lessons are futile!"
Remus nodded. "I understand that. But I think after the events of tonight he will have certainly realized the importance of learning it."
"I doubt that," Snape said curtly. "His hatred of me will prevent him from ever putting forth any true effort."
Lupin looked at him apprehensively. "You cannot say that you have ever been particularly kind to the boy."
"I at least tried to teach him, Lupin!" Snape spat. "And I would have continued trying if he had not shown me the utmost disrespect by invading my privacy in such a way that I would not have even suspected him capable of!"
"He certainly regrets it."
"Well, I'm quite sure he does after finding out the truth about his dear father. At the same time, I suppose he found it rather amusing."
Remus shook his head sadly. "I've already told you, Severus - he really sympathized with you. I'm sure that he probably had many similar experiences before he came to Hogwarts with those terrible Muggles who raised him. He was…quite unpopular, according to Sirius."
"Your point, Lupin?"
"My point," Remus said in an exasperated tone, "is that he's a fifteen-year-old boy who's dealt with more than most people do in a lifetime! He's certainly not perfect, and the pain and uncertainty he is experiencing is overwhelming. You can't expect him to act maturely and see things for what they truly are because he is not an adult! He has good intentions, but he's confused, as most boys his age are. Give him another chance, and try not to be so hard on him. We're the only ones who can be here for him right now. Ron and Hermione- they're great kids, but they could never truly understand how much he is suffering."
"Somehow I don't think Potter will be joining the extensive waiting list of those who wish to be counseled by me."
"Maybe not, but a lack of direct animosity from you may be somewhat encouraging."
"And how do you suggest I attempt that with Malfoy and his band of followers lurking around every corner? I doubt that Professor Snape being nice to Harry Potter will sit well with them or with their parents."
"Perhaps you're right. But I doubt that a slight decrease of blatant aggression will be noticed by anyone but Harry himself."
Snape remained silent, an irritated expression fixed stubbornly onto his face.
Snape raised an expectant eyebrow.
"I want to thank you for what you did tonight. You deciphered Harry's message quite accurately, and did everything you possibly could to alert us and protect him. If it weren't for you, Harry may not have even been alive after tonight."
"Just repaying my debts, Lupin."
Remus looked at him, his exhaustion evident. "Why can't you forgive yourself?" he murmured.
The pain that crossed Severus's face at these quiet, unexpected words was heartbreaking. It took him a moment to reply.
"Forgive myself?" he whispered. "When you've lived the life that I have, there is no such thing," he said tremulously.
Remus suddenly banged his hand roughly on the table that he had nearly knocked over minutes ago, causing Severus to flinch ever so slightly in surprise. "Yes!" he shouted. "There is! We've all forgiven you! Your debts have been repaid! Why can't you see that?! We don't look down on you, and we don't condemn you for what you were and what you've done! We've all made mistakes, and you pay for yours not only through the Order, but every day of your life through your self-inflicted torment!"
Severus's face noticeably paled and he took several steps backward as Lupin shot up from his chair.
"Why do you do this to yourself?" Remus demanded angrily.
Severus realized that he had never seen the tranquil Remus Lupin so unsettled in all of his life.
"I know what it's like to be alone, Severus! I know what it's like to look in the mirror every day and wish you were never born! To look at that damned reflection and think to yourself that you would be doing the world a favor if you simply vanished from it! You think that you're alone in this, but you're not! I know that I haven't gone through nearly as much pain as you have, but I understand what you're feeling! You've always judged me…" he trailed off, his voice growing quieter. "As much as I loved James and Sirius, I was never like them; I was never truly one of them. Regardless of how much time I spent with them, I always felt alone…they never understood. They couldn't wait until the full moon every month. It was all a big game to them…a mischievous way to have fun," he finished in a wounded voice. "You've never given me a fair chance, Severus. I'm not Sirius, and I'm not James, just as Harry isn't. I wish we could just put all that happened in our adolescence behind us. I think you'll agree that both of us have changed considerably. I care about you, Severus, and it pains me to see you the way you are- the way I've been for so much of my life."
Ebony met amber. Severus looked hesitantly into the eyes of Remus Lupin, the werewolf who had nearly killed him when he was sixteen, and suddenly felt as if he couldn't breathe. The last of the men who he had ruthlessly despised for so many years suddenly did not pose a threat. Looking into his tired eyes was like staring into a mirror that reflected everything hidden in his soul; all of the suppressed hurt, loneliness, grief, and anger that Severus had endured for nearly all of his life shone through him palpably. Never in his life had Severus experienced such a connection with another human being, and to his surprise, it did not scare him. This man knew. Knew what it was like to suffer alone, knew what it was like to be scorned, and knew what it was like to never belong and never be understood. The last tie that had bound them as Snivellus and Moony had been severed that night, and they now faced each other man to man, Severus Snape to Remus Lupin.
When Severus spoke, his voice seemed to have been drained of all acidity. "L-Lupin, I-"
Severus suddenly let out a gasp as the familiar searing pain burned into his skin. He clutched his left forearm and shut his eyes for a moment, letting out a slow, heavy breath. He looked back at Remus, who was looking at him in pained understanding.
"That's my call," said Snape after a moment, some of the bitterness returning to his voice. "I must receive my punishment for neglecting to join my fellow Death Eaters at the Department of Mysteries tonight." He straightened up and sighed resentfully. "I wonder what he'll use tonight…Crucio, or an old-fashioned beating," he muttered to himself.
Remus grimaced, and looked up at Severus regretfully. "I wish you luck, Severus. And strength," he added softly.
"I will surely need it," Snape replied, not bothering to mask the dread that was apparent in his voice. But as he headed toward the door, his burden suddenly felt lighter than it had in decades.
'We've all forgiven you…'
'Your debts have been repaid…'
Severus was finally ready to face the Dark Lord- finally ready to face Voldemort- without his usual sense of shame. He was surprised to realize that he seemed to have shed the feeling that he deserved everything that He would do to him, the feeling that no matter how much he was tormented and tortured, it would never be enough…that he always deserved more. The shackles that had chained him so deep inside himself for so many years seemed to be slowly dissolving. Severus turned around to face Lupin, his hand still on the doorknob.
"And thank you…Remus."