Because I needed one last tiny bit of my favorite couple before new canon.
Disclaimer: Sadly they are not mine. Even worse, I'm not making any money from this.
Notes: Many thanks to madmaudlin for her beta help and encouragement. I'm sorry I made you read Snupin.
He sat on the hillside watching the sun slowly rise over the horizon. Morning began with a hazy dark red breaking the blackness of the night. Soon bursts of yellow and orange shot through the sky, illuminating a charred battlefield from which trails of smoke still steadily rose into the air. His bony, bloodied knees peered out from beneath the tatters of his robes; his wand, shattered and splintered, littered the grass around him. Below him a few dozen others sat on the ground watching the new day begin.
A man was walking up the hillside toward him. His robes also shredded and singed at the bottom. His wand, intact, was clutched in his hand. A small smile adorned a scarred, bruised face. "You made it," he said plainly.
"I'm afraid so. Sorry to disappoint; I can only imagine how many galleons were lost on that bet."
Remus Lupin smiled as he sat on the grass next to Severus Snape. They sat in silence and watched the dawn as a crowd began to gather below. Hundreds of people drifted in, some too injured to do so unaided. In what seemed like mere minutes the once empty field was cluttered with faces all watching the daybreak.
"Where did it happen?" Lupin asked.
"There." Severus jutted his chin to point to a spot that remained clear. A blackened patch of soil that marked the end.
Lupin stared at the bit of scalded earth. "That spot should remain untouched but they'll probably erect a stature there," he said sadly. "There'll be ceremonies on that plot of burnt land for years to come."
Severus nodded slowly. "Quiet remembrances and solemn tribute will give way to ruckus carousing and fanfare. Every year, on this day, a politician will hold some sort of formal procedure there, to commemorate the end of the most foul Dark Lord the world would ever know. Names like Weasley and Potter and Granger will be said with reverence and awe."
Lupin smirked. "You hate that, don't you?"
"It is nearly unbearable."
"The little bastards deserve it," he said begrudgingly.
Lupin turned his head to stifle his laugh. It was then he noticed the bits of wood that once made up Severus's wand. He picked up a few pieces and rolled them between his fingers. "This yours?" he asked, turning back to Severus.
"It was." Severus let his fingers fall to the grass beside him and ran them over the fractured fragments that once made up his wand. "It disintegrated when the Dark Lord fell. It was his way of making sure those who wore his mark would be forever loyal, that we would fight vehemently for his survival. Should he go, he would take our magic with him."
Lupin blinked back his shock. "Can't you get another?"
"I could," Severus replied after a long pause.
Neither said a word but the conclusion to that sentence --"but I won't" – hung heavily in the air between them. Severus wondered if Lupin would say it or if he found the words could not pass his lips either. They turned their attention back to the battlefield and the growing crowd. Despite the number of people that flittered into the field, the scene was unnaturally quiet.
"No one knows quite what to do, do they?" Lupin observed.
"Few thought they would see this day."
Lupin turned to him. "Was victory so unthinkable?" His lips still held onto a bit of a smile, but his eyes seemed to plead with Severus to give him an answer, as if he had a personal stake in the reply.
Unthinkable wasn't the right word, Severus thought. One could think of it, hope for it even. Or, perhaps, they couldn't. Perhaps the years of fighting and the brutality they were all forced to witness made winning unimaginable. Made peace unthinkable. "For many it was, I suppose."
"And for you, Severus?" he asked. The smile gone completely from his face, his eyes pleading harder than ever.
Severus's own lips quirked slightly. "I had learned long ago to believe in the implausible."
"You?" Lupin asked almost laughing out the words, clearly surprised by the remark. "You…hoped?"
"Is that so unthinkable?"
The sun was now completely over the horizon, its rays reached out and touched his battered, sallow skin. Severus tilted his head up and closed his eyes; he couldn't remember the last time he was so warmed by simple daylight. As he sat there, his face upturned and soaking in the glorious heat he wondered when he had become so maudlin as to allow himself to hope. What cracked the armor he so carefully crafted over a lifetime? What made him believe in anything other than the truth that only pain and suffering can give life to?
"Nearly two decades ago, I saw an infant defeat one of the most powerful wizards of our time," he began, finally opening his eyes but not turning them away from the light that brightened the sky. "A few hours ago I watched the Dark Mark fade from my skin forever. Everything in between has been implausible…but it has been."
Lupin leaned back on the cool, damp grass of the hillside. Severus found he wanted to lay back as well, to feel the dew-dotted grass against his neck. Instead he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his lap.
The crowd continued to grow on the paddock below. Severus felt Lupin stir beside him. A bird had flown overhead, carrying a twig in its beak and adding to a pile that looked like the beginnings of a nest. They watched as it flew back and forth several times, adding bits of undergrowth and leaves to its future home. It gave a small chirp each time it flew away. That chirp was the only sound other than their own voices that seemed to pierce the silence of the morning.
Severus never turned to Lupin, but he knew the man had something on his mind. In the silence he could hear a faint intake of breath as Lupin opened his mouth several times to speak, only to close it again with the slightest of sighs. After some time, and after the bird's nest was half built, Lupin seemed to have finally worked up the courage to ask the question that dimmed his bright eyes. "And now, Severus. What now?"
It was a fair question, one that he had been asking himself for sometime. It was a thought he played with in the small hours of the morning, when sleep eluded him. It was a dream he allowed himself to dream when it was all he had to sustain him. What if? What then? What now?
"Now …now I sit on a hillside with you and I wonder what life will feel like as a free man. I wonder how it will feel to sleep tonight knowing that all my debts are paid, my past erased, and my future, open. I sit and contemplate a life without magic and contemplate as well how it will feel to be able to walk away from everything I've ever known simply because I can."
"Would you really walk away?" Lupin said carefully in a voice slightly strained and soft.
"It doesn't matter whether I will or not. What matters is now I have the choice."
A decided lack of choice was something that he and Lupin had in common. A lifetime of living by others' whims, of a destiny taken from their hands, was something they shared. Of all the people who have drifted in and out of his life, Lupin was the only one who would understand how it felt to serve a fickle and cruel master. Severus gave away his fate and put in it the hands of a madman and the only way to be free was to sell his soul to another. Lupin never had a choice, his fate was taken from him when he was a mere child, but whether lost, stolen, or given away, it mattered little. All that mattered was that neither had a voice. Neither could walk away.
Suddenly, Severus was free from the shackles of his foolishness and it occurred to him that he felt guilty because Lupin was not. He was not the cause of Lupin's sorrow; he hadn't the key to release him from the chains that weighed him down, but he felt remorse nonetheless. Perhaps it was one of the side effects of getting one's deepest desire fulfilled, pity for those who were not granted the same kindness. He quickly admonished himself: he was getting soft.
He thought of the man sitting next to him, one who was more a part of his life then he would ever admit too. One whose soft eyes and gentle nature cut him as thought they were daggers. Whose smile burned him. Whose voice seeped into the cracks that covered his heart. Severus knew the very moment he realized that he would not die, that while he could leave the wizarding world behind, while he could walk away from Hogwarts and magic and everything he knew, he could not walk away from Remus Lupin. He could not leave behind the one thing that was worth living for in the first place.
When he saw Lupin, when he saw Remus walking toward him framed by a sky set afire with the colors of daybreak, Severus knew why he survived. "And now Remus? What now?"
The silence filled the space between them. Neither noticed that the crowd below had nearly doubled in the last few minutes. Neither noticed that the bird in the tree now had a friend.
"Now Severus?" Remus replied almost sadly. "I've never thought of this moment; I have stopped believing in things like hope long ago. Last night I expected to die on the battlefield. But then the fighting stopped, the screaming stopped. Everything just stopped and I looked up and saw the first light morning. I looked up and I saw you."
Remus sat up then and moved closer to Severus. He placed a tentative hand on the Severus's lap, his palm resting on the remains of his clothing, his fingertips grazing the skin that showed between the shreds. Severus could bring himself to look at the hand on his leg, at the fingers that touched his wounded skin, but not to face of the man to whom it belonged.
"Now I sit on a hillside and wonder if we can forget the past, Severus," Remus began. "If this, the start of a new day can be the start of something else, as well. I wonder if I can finally be allowed a simple act of hope. I wonder if you'll let me kiss you. If I can press my lips to yours and hold you without care as to who witnesses it, and not simply because I can, but because you'll let me."
The sun shone brightly over the battlefield and a thousand strong watched it rise. The silence was broken by a sob and a few words of comfort. A soft murmur began to rise from the crowd and soon the air was full of laughter and tears and voices cheering the end and the beginning.
Past the edge of the field, on a lush green hillside sat two men, happily unnoticed and forgotten. They had known one another for decades but held each other with the nervous hands and awkward limbs of teenaged boys. Their kisses were and timid and sweet and thirty years in the making.
Neither thought they would see the sun rise that morning. Neither thought they'd see each other again. But, perhaps, more inconceivable was that they could leave everything behind, knowing that they'd done all they could for the sake of others. That they could walk away from the world, and find the future at the end of the path.