Remus knew he would never shake the memory of pelting over to the Ministry on hearing that Minister Bones herself had taken the decision to free Severus, dashing out of the lift light-headed with relief, only to find Minerva and a team of healers escorting him to St Mungo's on a stretcher. He had looked so pale and fragile, his whole body twitching with the spasms indicative of too long spent under a binding spell, Lupin had been unable to believe that he could possibly survive the trauma. Of course, he should have realised by then that Severus was stronger than he looked. After a few strengthening potions and healing salves, he had been pronounced healthy but exhausted, and Healer Indictor had grudgingly accepted Remus' argument that it would be better for him to regain consciousness in his own bed rather than in the hospital where he had spent so many painful weeks after his capture by Voldemort.
For two weeks after what became known as 'That Day', Remus and Severus were unusually clingy. They spent hours in bed, just holding each other tightly, as though terrified that everything could be destroyed at a moment's notice – jumping each time a floorboard creaked or a seagull cried suddenly outside the window. Severus was particularly nervous, becoming edgy if Remus left the room, and waking in a cold sweat from rambling anxiety dreams which left him confused and disoriented.
Gradually, the unpleasantness began to fade, and they saw that the fright they had received had been strangely good for their relationship. It had forced them to admit how much they needed each other, and it had forced Severus into declaring his love long before he would have under normal circumstances. Severus had also realised just how many friends he had, as Remus listed all the people who had acted on his behalf, bending or actually breaking laws for the sake of a nasty, greasy thing like him.
"See," Lupin smiled at his lover, carding his hands through black chest hair and dropping kisses on delicate white hands, "I'm not such a freak. Everyone else thinks you're great too!"
"I don't understand," whispered Snape, accepting the addictive caresses but still unable to relax completely. "I have a justifiably shady reputation. Why should all those people blindly believe my innocence?" Remus' hands stilled. The weak autumn light filtering through the closed curtains made his expression difficult to read, especially as Severus was not wearing his glasses. The werewolf swallowed carefully and laced their fingers together.
"Er," he managed at last. The potions master looked up at him with faint alarm.
"Remus? What is it?"
"Nothing really. It's just that…" Lupin swallowed again and fixed him with a searching stare. "Actually, I'm not sure they did believe you were innocent."
Severus knew he was gaping like an idiot, but somehow his jaw would not respond to his attempts at closing his mouth. He blinked at the grey-haired man as he tried to form a coherent sentence. In the end, he gave up, throwing back his head and laughing until the tears rolled down his cheeks.
"Severus?" Remus asked gently, confused and a bit worried about his lover's mental state. Snape gleefully kissed him on the end of his nose, face still alight with hilarity.
"Griffindor may have won the war, but the war turned them all into Slytherins."
Six months later, Remus and Harry were strolling around the Albus Dumbledore Memorial Garden in Godric's Hollow, right next door to Harry's new house. The official opening would happen the following weekend with a huge garden party, designed to be a commemoration of the lives of the fallen, as well as a celebration of the ongoing peace and stability of the wizarding world. Harry was very excited, having been too deep in shock to join any parties at the time of the defeat.
"So the second marquee will go here," he explained, gesturing towards the meadow with his hands. "I hope Neville will manage to get those sweet-gryphons to flower in time, they would really set off the view of the valley. And the fairy's breath should have interwoven nicely with the clematis at the top of the trellis by then too. What?" Harry glared suspiciously at Remus' gentle smile.
"Nothing. I've never seen you so interested in gardening, that's all."
"I just want everything to be perfect," shrugged the young man. "This is so important, Remus. Not just for the old Order, either. I met some kids at Christmas who were too young to remember any of it, and they asked if Voldemort had really been so bad! We have to educate future generations. It should not be allowed to happen again."
"But it probably will," sighed Remus. "Time and time again wars break out and no one learns from it. After Grindelwald they all said 'never again', and the First Muggle World War was supposed to be 'the war to end all wars' yet they managed another humdinger just twenty years later." Harry was silent for a moment, before replying carefully.
"Perhaps it will. But people need to know." Remus nodded, before pulling him into a hug.
"You're right, Harry. I don't mean to make light of all that you've achieved. I'm so amazingly proud of you."
The evening sun bathed the whole garden in a charming pinkish light, making the garden seem even more peaceful than during the day. The enchanted fountain in honour of Sirius, which had taken on certain marauderly whims and would randomly shoot powerful jets of water at passers by, was trickling gently in the middle of the lawn, while a blackbird trilled from somewhere in the hedge. A winged silhouette with something large clasped in its beak swooped gracefully out of the nearby wood, wheeled once around Harry's head and disappeared under the eaves of Phoenix House, immediately greeted by a chorus of squeaks and screeches. Remus smiled. Hedwig had taken to motherhood with the same quiet dignity as all her other tasks, even proudly allowing Harry a quick peek into the nest at the two ungainly heaps of fluff, capable of making the biggest din he had ever heard despite being so small and helpless-looking. Her mate Quicksilver was not so indulgent, and positively savaged any human or animal daring to trespass in his exclusion zone on the south side of the house. Crookshanks had taken a serious pounding the previous week.
"Do you really think there will be another war?" asked Harry eventually. Remus considered the hopeful answer for a second before disregarding it. He would never lie to Harry, even in an attempt to make him feel better.
"Yes," he answered, honestly, his hand straying to the patch of uneven skin on his throat where Severus had recently cured his painful silver burn. "But hopefully, not in our lifetime."
"What if it is in our lifetime?" asked Harry desperately, horrified by the thought of having to experience all the death and devastation again. "I was completely shipwrecked by the end of it. So were you."
"That much is true, but we've both managed to salvage a life for ourselves," his eyes darted over to the patio, where Hazel and Severus were still deep in conversation, the sleek black and white head and the messy brown one leaning together over a scribbled diagram resting on the picnic table – apparently magic potions and muggle chemistry had a large amount of common ground. Being generally unable to understand more than one word in three, their less scientific partners had learned to leave them to it once Hazel had mastered lip-reading, settling down to talk about godfatherly/godfilial things instead.
"If we survive," added Harry.
"If we survive," Remus agreed.
Severus chose that moment to glance over at the blasted werewolf, his blasted werewolf, whose face was glowing serenely in the twilight like some incarnation of Contentment. Noticing the look of total adoration spreading across Severus' face, Hazel ended discussion and beckoned Harry into the house, leaving the older couple alone.
They sat in silence for a long time, enjoying the stillness of the balmy spring evening. It was hard to imagine evil lurking outside the walls of the tranquil little haven, or to contemplate despair shattering the serenity of the life they two of them had managed to reconstruct. The future might throw anything their way - conflict, pain, suffering or death - but just at that moment, in that place, Remus Lupin and Severus Snape were completely at peace.
A/N: I say it so often that it must sound false, but THANK YOU to everyone who reviewed, you have all been really supportive and I appreciate it A LOT! It's lovely to hear that my ramblings are hitting the right note.
Thank you Hopgoblen, Nephthys Snape, Mon, Carla Shaqui, Nijijin, Skinnyrita, Busaikko, Mercutio-rane, Lucidity, and Jonathan Livingstone Coyote for a gorgeous crop of compliments about the last chapter – and thanks to everyone who reviewed at any stage. Neous – I'm honoured, you're a genius.
I'm so glad you liked my introduction to the IMP, it's a fun place to write about!