Midnight in the Owlery

The halls of Hogwarts were quiet these days. Remus Lupin wasn't prepared for that.

He'd expected there to be some transition time after the war. It was only right for there to be a period of mourning after the destruction of homes and the loss of life. But it had been nearly a year now and the state of normality he had hoped would return to the world after the fall of Voldemort had yet to show itself.

People were slow to rebuild, many choosing to move away from their ancestral homes in hopes of a fresh start. The streets of Hogsmeade seemed empty most days, and many of the shops of Diagon Alley had simply never reopened.

When he was asked by Minerva McGonagall to come back to Hogwarts to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, or Deterrence and Fortification as it had been renamed, he jumped at the chance. One thing he had felt he could count on was the boundless energy that only the youth possess. But even they, it seemed, were not untouched by four years of struggle. There was no idle chatter in the corridors between classes. There were no late night parties in the common rooms that needed to be disbanded. The Quidditch stands were reduced to polite applause as the house teams scored. It was all a little heart-breaking.

It helped matters little that he felt so alone of late. His closest friends were dead, all well before their time, a fact he found he was still coming to terms with. Other, more recent, relationships failed to achieve the closeness he truly craved. While Harry and the Weasleys were all wonderful people they were really not his contemporaries, which meant, more often than not, he felt out of place when he was with them. Their relationships to one another had a level of intimacy that made him feel like an intruder most of the time.

Remus also had to face the fact that his relationship with Nymphadora had failed, that in the end they couldn't get over the age difference, or their conflicting worldviews. She was so young and vibrant, so dazzling; she was lovely, but was also a constant reminder that he was old, and only getting older. He'd been a fool to try to make a relationship work in the middle of a blasted war in the first place.

He had hoped his new position would change things. That he could enjoy a certain level of camaraderie with his co-workers. But like the rest of the world, his colleagues were all struggling to make the most of things and try to move on. They all seemed worse for wear and had little interest in socializing. Everyone was cordial enough, but there was no one in the fold Remus felt he could truly call a friend.

It was a warm September night when Remus decided to go for a walk. The last remnants of summer held steadfast to the night and, to one whose body temperature was already too high, it was unbearable. Still in his nightclothes, he slipped on some shoes and made his way through the grounds of the school.

He walked to the Astronomy Tower hoping, perhaps, that one place, always a favorite among the hormone-driven populace, would be occupied that night. He had no intention of stopping any activity that might have been found there, but he needed some assurances that all wasn't lost. That some things didn't have to change. Sadly, it was empty and covered in a thick blanket of silt and dust.

It was nearly midnight when he found himself in the Owlery, sitting among the listless birds which have had had very little exercise as of late. He sat on the window's ledge, staring out into the moonless night until a small tawny owl, little more that a puff of feathers with large bright eyes, landed on his lap. Most of the denizens of the Owlery were out hunting but this one seemed to have other plans.

"Are you bored, little one?" he asked as he stroked the young owl's soft feathers. He sighed sadly, "I'm having a hard time of it myself."

It was then that Remus spotted the pile of spare parchment and a few quills that was left on the Owlery shelves for those who got the urge to write a quick note or to post an urgent reply to a friend or family member. He was sad to find that they too were covered in dust and seemingly hadn't been touched in ages. With no idea why he felt compelled to do so, Remus grabbed some materials and scribbled a quick note: Is anyone there?

He tied the missive to the owl's thin leg. "Deliver this to someone." The owl cocked its head to the side as if to say, "I need a bit more to go on, mate."

Remus smiled. "Just deliver it to someone else who can't sleep tonight. Please."

The owl seemed to shrug before he flew away.

Remus watched him fly off and disappear into the night. He felt a bit guilty, giving that little bird such a big task. Suddenly he considered sending another bird out to retrieve the first, already resigned to the fact that the mission was one that could not be fulfilled. For a brief moment, however, he allowed himself to imagine that the small owl had found another lost soul, sitting on a windowsill and staring at the same blackness of night. Perhaps he too was finding it difficult to adjust to a post-war world that seemed willing to suffocate under a cloud of trepidation that should have lifted when light triumphed over dark. A world where the residents seemed afraid to reestablish their lives, perhaps too afraid that it might be taken away again.

Was it too much to ask that people try to be who they had been? Too much to ask to see a smile? To hear laughter once again? To want to feel joy? Didn't they all deserve that much? Remus had been pondering these and other questions for nearly an hour when he was startled by a familiar puff of feathers falling onto his lap.

The owl hooted loudly and hopped up and down in sheer exhilaration. Remus stared in disbelief at the note attached to the bird's leg. It was a response.

It took a moment to calm the excited animal long enough to extract the note. When he was finally able to, he untied the string and unrolled the message. It simply read: I am here.

Remus stared at the note for several minutes before he could move. It said so very little, but to Remus it was a lifeline scrawled on a bit of paper, a chance at salvation in seven letters. He could not think of what to respond. This, whatever it was, deserved some thought; he didn't want to rush it. Instead he petted the owl and congratulated him on a job well done and headed back to his room. He still wouldn't be able to sleep but it would be better thoughts that would keep him awake.

Remus had a hard time concentrating on anything else the next day. No matter where he looked all he saw was a few words scribbled on a piece of paper as if he wore glasses with that image superimposed on the lenses.

His first thought was to simply ask to whom he was speaking, but he vetoed it; it might have been the fact that the query posted was an anonymous one that impelled the recipient to answer at all. Were he to push the matter he might find his letter writer unwilling to continue.

Should he offer some personal information about himself? He was more than willing to but it was far too early for that. There was a bit of mystery surrounding the whole affair and he wanted to keep it that way, at least for a bit.

In the end he settled on a simple question. As it was just that that began the correspondence, perhaps it was the best way to continue it.

Later that night, just before midnight once again, Remus retrieved his owl friend, whom, he had learned, was named Sigmund. He penned another note simply asking: Is it quiet where you are? to Sigmund's leg and sent him off as he had the night before.

The second the bird was out of sight, he wanted to pull it back. What a stupid question, he thought bitterly. The recipient would take one look at it and decide that Remus was obviously an idiot and not worth his time. He sat in the dark, agonizing over what he should have written. He should have been funnier. More expressive. Less vague. Perhaps he should have quoted poetry or tried to a bit more articulate.

After two hours he was convinced that there would be no reply. He was about to skulk dejectedly to his quarters, where he would fling himself onto his bed and bury his face into his pillow, when his feathered friend came back. Sigmund was just as excited as the night before, yet this time Remus was the one who needed to be calmed down. When both he and the owl had regained a bit of composure, Remus grabbed the note and nearly ripped it as he read: It is quiet here, but I don't mind. I gather that you do.

"I do," he said aloud. "I mind very much." He wanted to reply right away but pulled back again. His pen pal seemed more willing to speak than he had originally thought, so perhaps more than just a few words were in order.

The next day he gave his class a research assignment while he sat at his desk, trying to figure out what to say in his next letter. Should he respond to the previous statement and begin a dialogue, or should he just ask another question? Then, of course, there were the funnier, more expressive, less vague, poetry quoting options he'd tormented himself with the night before.

Remus had never been one for those sort of games. They required an amount of energy and concentration he just didn't have readily available. He decided that he was thinking too much and, rather than create some persona that he surely would not be able to maintain, he would just be himself. If that wasn't enough, then so be it. While his students continued their search for counter curses to counter curses, Remus sat at his desk and wrote out a response.

I do mind the quiet, he began. I mind it at a time when there should be singing in the streets. When there should be raucous celebration, full of joy. A war was fought for the sake of a freedom that no one seems to want to enjoy. It's sad to think that despite victory we've lost the very thing we were trying to defend.

I miss the laughter of small children. I miss seeing streets full of people going about their day. I miss the pleasure of a simple conversation between friends. I missed these things enough to send a bird in hopes of finding some company.

By the way, I'm very pleased to meet you.

It was by no means perfect. He wasn't even sure it was what he wanted to say at all but it was what had come out. It's what he might have said were they having a cup of tea. That night, back at the Owlery, without so much as cleaning an ink smudge, he tied it to Sigmund's leg and, precisely at midnight, he sent the small bird off.

Remus remained in the Owlery for some time. His stomach was a bit knotted, and waiting in his room seemed pointless. He preferred sitting on the ledge and looking out to the night, eagerly searching for answers of many sorts. At some point, as he was searching for constellations amongst the sea of stars overhead, Remus fell asleep. The nipping of a small beak on his fingertips woke him up. With a quiet thank you to the small owl, Remus reached out and unfastened the note tied to his leg.

This past war meant many things to many people. To some it meant an end, while to others it meant a beginning. I think, perhaps, given time, the world will return to its previous state. Whether that is good or bad, I will not say. I would wager to guess our opinion differs on that.

To my knowledge there is no set rule on how one should commemorate victory. I was never one to take part in raucous celebration of any sort, but there is comfort in simple conversation, and while I never really cared much for another's company before, I too, find myself seeking it now. I suppose it's safe to say war does strange things to people.

I'm pleased to make your acquaintance as well.

Remus smiled and tucked the letter into his pocket. He gave Sigmund a quick pat on the head, left the Owlery and slowly walked back to his quarters. Remus took the scenic route back, past the green houses and the Quidditch pitch, to the Black Lake and towards the edge of the Forbidden Forrest. When he finally arrived at his rooms he crawled into bed and read the letter over and over again. With a smile gracing his face, he fell asleep.

Fortunately for him, the next day was Saturday--it would it would have taken an army of highly agitated hippogryffs to wake him up. He hadn't slept that soundly in months, maybe years, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd had a pleasant dream, but that morning he woke up refreshed and still wearing the smile he had fallen asleep with.

This new friend seemed intelligent enough to keep a steady correspondence with and, it was obvious, he was someone who had been acutely affected by the war, as Remus was himself. He had felt an instant kinship and, before even having breakfast, he wrote his response.

If I could venture a guess at anything, I would say that this past war has left you deeply scarred. Your words speak of much loss and pain, two things I am well acquainted with. The war took from me almost everyone I ever cared about. After losing so much I feel somewhat guilty to have survived. But I have, survived that is, and I'm not sure quite what to do with myself. I don't really know where I fit in any more. I have been one thing for so long I'm not sure how to be anything else. Does that make sense?

This reply came more quickly than the previous ones.

I don't think anyone came away from the war untouched. Some of us do have more than our fair share of scars, but that can't be helped.

As for not knowing your place in this new world order, I can sympathize. I wasn't supposed to have survived this war, not by anyone's estimation, including my own. As such I had no contingency plan and find myself woefully unprepared, a condition I assure you is foreign to me. While I know I should be grateful to be given this chance, I often wonder whether I am truly worthy of it. Whether it wasn't wasted on me and should have gone to a more deserving soul.

Let me further assure you that this sort of introspection is also foreign to me.

Remus read this note a few dozen times while sitting in the Owlery that night. There was something oddly familiar about the tone of the letter. There were clues there to this person's identity hidden in his words, Remus would bet the world on it, but he couldn't quite figure them out.

It was two in the morning, but his response could not wait another day.

While I don't know your personal circumstances, let me say that I doubt you are not deserving of having survived. I say that with certainty, as I feel no one is unworthy of a second chance at life. A chance at living.

I was given a chance by someone when I thought no one cared whether I lived or died many years ago, when I was a small boy. That chance saved my life in many ways. Someone like me isn't supposed to get chances, first, second or otherwise, but that doesn't mean I'm unworthy of them.

As for contingency plans, in truth we can do little to control our lives, as much as we'd like to think we can. Dwelling on what is deserved and what is not is pointless. I've survived, you've survived, and now we move on. It is in deference to those no longer with us, that we do not waste the gift we have been given.

Remus didn't wait for a reply since, as he had deviated from the regular routine, he wasn't sure one was coming. It was late, he was tired and there were no assurances of any kind of response, so he went to his quarters, crawled into bed, and curled up under a worn blanket. Sleep was not far of, and as the last bits of consciousness were swept away, he wondered what his friend had done that made him feel as if he shouldn't have survived the last war. Just before he closed his eyes for the night Remus wondered if he really wanted to know the answer to that at all.

As always seemed to be the case, his transformation couldn't have come at a worse time. He'd be unable to visit the Owlery the next night and would have to wait to read his friend's reply -- assuming, of course, there would be one. He had quickly become addicted to the little missives, both reading and writing them, and found he was more depressed about his condition than he had been for years.

That day dragged on at an excruciating pace. The following night, despite being exhausted from fighting the full moon, Remus visited the Owlery. It was only the thought of what awaited him there that gave him the strength to make the climb up the narrow staircase. When he finally made it he walked over to Sigmund's perch, only to find it empty.

Had the bird gone hunting? It seemed unlikely, as the owl seemed as devoted to their nightly routine as Remus, himself, was. He tried desperately to recall exactly what he had written in his last letter, and wondered if, perhaps, he had said something to offend his new friend. Had he been too presumptuous in this statements, too personal in his wording? Had he made some sort of correspondence faux pas by not sticking to their normal writing pattern? They hadn't been writing that long, was there even a pattern to break?

He was berating himself, yet again, for screwing up the only decent association he'd had in months when Sigmund's familiar hoot reached his ears. He looked up in time to see the small bird barreling towards him, and only just missed being hit in the nose by a pair of flapping wings.

"There you are, my little friend. You had me worried for a moment." Remus stroked the bird's head before reaching for the letter tied to his leg. Remus took a long, deep breath before he read the note.

Your optimism is both frightfully maudlin and unusually compelling, something I find annoying. I can't say I agree with what you've said but I will give you credit for attempting to comfort someone who's seldom had that offered before.

You should know I'm almost fatally pessimistic. Not a terribly healthy attitude, but one that has served me well for many years. Seeing already that our two ideologies would instantly clash I felt it important to bring it up right away. I've become well acquainted with the darker side of people in my journeys and because of that I've come the conclusion that it is the normal state of affairs for most people. I welcome the chance to have someone prove otherwise.

That being said, I think I like the idea of a second chance. A chance, perhaps, to right an old wrong.

I feel I am up to the challenge. The question is, are you?

"Severus..." The name escaped his lips before he finished reading the note. Could it be? It would explain the odd feeling of familiarity the letters held, as well as the words they contained.

Remus knew little about Severus's life after the war. He had been exonerated of war crimes after his part in the fall of Voldemort was revealed. For all intents and purposes he'd vanished from the face of the Earth. Until now. But why?

Then Remus suddenly realized that the owl hadn't been sent until now, just after the full moon. It would stand to reason that if it were actually Severus on the other side of these notes, then he also knew that he was corresponding with Remus and hadn't bothered to reply until he knew Remus would actually get the letter.

A chance, perhaps, to right an old wrong.

Remus was pretty sure he was being ridiculous about the whole thing - the very idea was preposterous - but he couldn't say he wasn't intrigued. Either way, he was far too curious to let the communication lapse.

I like a challenge, he wrote back. If Severus wanted to play this game then it was up to him to make the next move. The ball was in his court.

The very next night, right at midnight, came the next note.

I'm glad to see my last note didn't scare you off. I had thought that you'd find it discourteous and insolent and would terminate our association. You have more mettle than I gave you credit for.

Remus smiled. Just like Severus to pick up the ball and lob it right back at Remus.

Your note was both discourteous and insolent, but lucky for the both of us, I've had quite a bit of experience dealing with that type. I am also more resilient than most would assume. It doesn't bother me that your glass is half empty. That seems to be the way of the world as of late. I am glad to see that you are not unwilling to expose yourself to one who still has hope for the place he calls home. I can't promise that I won't try to make you see the good the world has to offer. You may find that you are the one who'll wish to terminate our association.

Remus couldn't help but giggle at his words; he could just picture Severus reading the note and sneering at it, willing it to cower in his hands. Remus sat and thought of Severus and of the strange course their relationship had taken...well, nearly thirty years now.

Odd how he'd forgotten that he and Severus had known in each other as boys. He remembered Severus sitting alone on the Hogwarts express that first day; a pale and sickly looking child, rather small for his age, sitting alone in a compartment meant for a half dozen or more. Remus had sat with him - it was the only free seat on the train - and begun to talk nonsensically about how fast the train was going, and if there were really sea monsters in the lake as some of the other children were saying. He remembered Severus telling him to stop acting like a child and turning away.

Even then, as small as he was, he'd had a big chip on his shoulder. One, it seemed, he had never been truly able to get rid of. Though he'd claimed to answer to several masters, Remus was pretty sure Severus answered to no one but himself. Remus had always wondered about the potion master's motives. What actually went on in that mind of his? Why did he do the things he did in the way that he did them?

Severus had always fascinated Remus for the simple fact that he was utterly indecipherable. Even this, this correspondence, was an enigma. Severus had never seemed the type to need human contact of any sort, yet here he was, seeking it out. It was the single strongest argument that this couldn't possibly be Severus at all. It was so dreadfully out of character for a man who spent most of this life in dank dungeons.

Yet everything else told Remus that it couldn't possibly be anyone else.

Remus decided to wait around the Owlery a while; he couldn't sleep, and there was a small chance -

Sure enough, back came little Sigmund.

I see that you are also capable of being discourteous and insolent. I am rather impressed. Again I underestimated you.

You can try to convince me that there is still some good in this world but greater men have tried and failed. I take a certain amount of pride in my cynicism; it has been carefully crafted for over four decades and I don't plan on letting go of it anytime soon.

Remus kept that note with him all that next day. Something about it was bothering him.

That night, just at midnight, he replied to Severus.

You said "still some good in this world". That 'still' is a very telling word. It speaks of some long lost joy, of a time when you believed such a thing was possible. That, perhaps, you were less cynical once (I would never presume to say happy, as I have a feeling you would balk at even the implication of the word).

A reply came right away.

A lifetime ago I was, perhaps, less cynical. Some might even say foolish.
For what ever reason, this saddened Remus. He'd never really felt any sort of sorrow for Severus; the man always gave as good, or better, than he got. In his mind, nothing ever affected Severus, so sympathy was a misplaced emotion. It had never dawned on him that the cranky Potions master was cranky for a reason.

It takes time to build a wall of that size. There must be many bricks and many bricklayers involved. Sounds to me to be the result of a broken heart. Were you in love?

Remus felt a bit nervous about sending that note out, but Severus would never answer a personal question in real life, and this might be his only chance to ask it.

Inexplicably, a reply came right away again.

Are we speaking in metaphors now? Yes, once.

Remus smiled. Severus had always had a way about him. Even when one was trying to be serious and helpful, Severus's sarcasm would not be contained. Remus replied right away.

Ah, some fair damsel with crimson hair and a wicked smile. Some bonnie lass with an ample bosom and full lips stole your heart. It is a familiar story.

Remus had always felt that Severus had a thing for Lily. It was the only thing that could explain why he was always following them around when they were all at Hogwarts together. It also helped explain his deep-seated animosity towards James. That had always seemed a bit misplaced.

Oddly, again a reply came within the hour.

Metaphors and adjectives. I'm glad to see that you are literate.

And just to clarify things - it was a boy, actually. Somewhat fair but with no bosom to speak of. And before you ask, I am a man. Let me know if this poses a problem.

Remus was stunned. Severus was gay. Well that explain a lot, he supposed. It also opened up a hell of a lot more questions.

Forgive for my presumptuousness. I confess this possibility hadn't occurred to me; I suppose, given my own flexibility on the topic, it should have. I have no preferences either way, so it most certainly doesn't pose a problem, and I hope nothing I have said offended you. Sadly, it wouldn't be the first time I've opened my mouth and choked on my foot.

I see the sun is about to rise, so allow me to take this moment to wish you a good night or, more appropriately, a good morning. I've rather enjoyed our discussion and hope to speak to you again. Same time tomorrow night.

"This is the last trip for tonight," he said to Sigmund, who looked as if he was about to pass out. Remus watched the bird fly off, and then began the long trip back to his quarters. Usually, so soon after his transformation, he would be too exhausted to lift a quill, but he felt oddly energetic today. He began to whistle as he headed back to prepare for the day's classes.

While he knew he should have been concentrating on his students, Remus couldn't help thinking about Severus. Who was the boy he had once loved? Using the term boy implied it had been someone young, most probably someone they'd gone to school with. Severus's friends had been an unseemly bunch; he had hoped Severus had better taste than that. It might have been someone else. Someone from the Death Eaters, perhaps. It might explain his reference to himself as foolish. Yet somehow, Remus doubted that there could be any sort of love shared within that group.

The more he thought about it, the more he felt badly for Severus. It must have been a lonely life. And now, given his reputation and status in the world, it would be even worse. It suddenly made sense that Severus would even bother to reply to the silly note he had sent out all those nights ago.

He wondered where Severus was staying. The owl had returned very quickly that last time. Severus had to be close. Very close. Hogsmeade was the nearest village and it was close enough for an owl to travel back and forth, but even that would take a longer time. Was it possible...

"Minerva," Remus called, "how are you today?"

"Fine, Remus, and you?" The headmistress had her nose buried in a book so thick that it would have intimidated even the great Hermione Granger. She looked up and smiled. "You seem to be doing well, considering the full moon was just a few nights ago. Have you been sleeping soundly?"

"I've hardly been sleeping at all," he said cheerfully. It was quite likely, if her facial expression was an indicator, that Minerva thought him insane at that point. "I have an odd question for you.. Could someone from the outside take residence in the Forbidden Forest?

She stiffened and Remus knew instantly that someone could and someone had. "Why do you ask?" she said after she had a moment to compose herself.

"I thought I heard some dissention among the Centaurs," he lied.

Her spine relaxed and curved once again over her tome. "Oh, they are always complaining about something. Chances are a bugbear got too close to their territory. I wouldn't worry about it."

"I figured as much," he smiled. "Thank you."

He quickly walked away, hoping his question hadn't raised too much suspicion. He rather liked the way the game was progressing, and he didn't want to end it just yet.

That night he went to the Owlery early, armed with omnioculars and a determination to see exactly where the owl was coming from. He surveyed the night eagerly, searching for signs of life in the vast darkness. The owls were active tonight, hunting across the great fields that surrounded the castle. It was difficult to determine which of the flying masses was Sigmund. Soon he spied a fluff of feathers coming from the east - possibly from the forest - but he really couldn't be sure.

Sigmund landed with a soft coo on the window ledge besides Remus. Remus took the note and began reading.

What does it mean, exactly, to 'have no preference either way'? Unless you are asexual, you have a preference. Are you a spore perchance?

Remus couldn't be sure, but he thought that Severus had just attempted a joke. At the very least, he had attempted to jokingly find out Remus's preferences, which was interesting, indeed.

I can guarantee that I am not a fungus of any sort. Like you, I am a male. From your notes, I think it's safe to say we are roughly close in age.

As for the rest of it, I was merely implying that I consider love to be a precious thing and, whether one finds it in a person of the same sex or a different one matters little to me. Happiness is increasingly rare these days and one must grasp onto the little bits as they become available.

I would assume your next question to be have I ever been in love, which is only fair as I already asked you. I would say yes, a hundred times or more. With people - men and woman both - but I have loved books, and I've loved places, and I've loved the feel of the sun on my skin on a summer's day. I find the world is a better place when you fall in love at least once a day.

I can see almost hear you huffing as you read this.

I've learned that one doesn't need to have much else in the world if one is capable of loving. That isn't to say I've never had my heart broken. One can't leave oneself so vulnerable and not expect to be hurt once in a while. And sometimes that pain is a great pain. But never, not ever, have I regretting allowing myself to feel the love in the first place, to seek it out and embrace it, even those times I knew that things would not, could not, end well.

Here I go again, with my maudlin tendencies added, most unwisely, to my ability to babble ad nauseam. I wonder if I have finally succeeded in scaring you off.

Remus waited in the Owlery for hours but no reply came. He cursed his inanity. How could he write something like that to Severus of all people? How was he supposed to react to that sappy display? The note had probably burned Severus's hand as soon as he touched it.

The sun was beginning to rise and Remus has been up all night again. His afternoon naps were not nearly enough to keep his strength up and, at this pace, he'd be lucky if he didn't fall asleep at lunch and wake with a face full of custard. He looked one last time just over the horizon, in time to clearly see a small bird fly up and out of the Dark Forest and head right toward him.

Sigmund soared over the grounds and flapped his small wings feverishly until he landed in the Owlery, mere inches from Remus. Without hesitation, Remus seized the note.

I wasn't sure how to frame a response to your last missive. I've never met anyone with that attitude, not anyone that is of a significant age or mental ability in any case.

You use the term love a bit more freely than I do. For you it seems to signify intense joy, perhaps a special connection of some sort. For me love is a much more visceral, and somewhat ominous thing.

When I say I've only ever loved one person, I meant just that. I don't speak of the affection I felt for my mother or a close friend. I speak of being able to read another's mood by the intonation of his voice. I speak of knowing the exact hue of his eyes when touched by sunlight. I speak of mentally cataloging everything that has ever made him smile in hopes that one day I might be able to add my own name to that list. I speak of the euphoria caused by the way he says my name and the utter devastation when he looks the other way. I speak of knowing that I'll never be good enough, but always hoping that I might deserve him one day.

That is love.

Anything less is worthless.

It was a very slow walk back to his quarters that night.

The following day Remus sat beneath a large oak tree, surrounded by piles of fallen leaves. He had been unable to concentrate on anything other than his own exhaustion and the last note he had received. Never would he have thought that Severus was capable of such a profound passion. The dark man with the razor sharp wit had seemed unable to fee anything other than hate and loathing. But it made sense, didn't it, for a man who lived as he lived to love as he loved.

More than ever, Remus had to find out where these notes were coming from, if this was really Severus. He found that now, more than ever, he really hoped it was.

He gave his afternoon classes a rather detailed research assignment and left them to their own devices as he caught up on sleep. He skipped dinner that night and headed out to the Dark Forest, into the vicinity of the spot from which he'd seen Sigmund fly the night before. Unlike others, Remus was always welcomed in the forest; it seemed to accept the darkness in him as readily as the rest of the world rejected it. He had walked through these woods for many years and knew them well. If someone was living here, Remus was sure he'd find out.

After nearly two hours Remus came upon a clearing he didn't remember from his previous travels, and a cottage he was sure had never been there before. It was a good size, and comfortable looking. The roof had been specially built to accommodate a second chimney, something that would be very useful for a master potion maker. Most telling of all was a vast garden in the back with vegetables and herbs just waiting to be harvested. They showed the signs of a summer spent being nurtured and carefully tended to. Their perfect rows and meticulous pruning spoke of painstaking work and unimaginable patience.

After a few minutes, Remus sensed movement coming from inside the dwelling. Almost immediately afterward the door opened and out walked Severus Snape. The Severus Snape that walked out, however, wasn't the same Severus Snape that Remus remembered. He had put on some weight; he was still trim but had lost the look of a withered plant that had plagued him since his youth. His hair was longer and neatly tied at the nape of his long neck, showing his face clearly. The pieces all seemed right - the beakish nose, the dark eyes, the thin lips - but they didn't seem nearly as offensive now as they had once been. Perhaps it was the color in his cheeks; on skin that was usually so pale it glowed, the slight tint of rose in his cheeks stood out. Perhaps it was the fact that he was in workman's clothes and not leaden robes showing that he actually did have legs, and nice ones at that. Perhaps it was Remus's own romanticized notions, his trying to convince himself that he was seeing Severus differently now. In a way he was, but how much of that was Remus's own hopes needling their way into this assessment of an old acquaintance? Remus decided it was time to find out.

That night and many nights following, precisely at midnight, an owl flew from the Owlery and headed toward a cottage that sat in the middle of the Dark Forest:

I truly envy whoever had the fortune to be the object of such passion. I can honestly say that I've never known anyone to feel this way about me. It makes me feel that I have really missed out on something truly special. Your time together must have been extraordinary.

"It's in the past so dwelling on it is futile."

So love is futile?

"Dwelling on the past is futile. Some consider love sustenance, but most need very little to survive."

Such a romantic.

"Romantic? Not exactly. I am a fool but in truth there is little difference."

"I've finally finished that book you recommended last week. I will admit it was rather enjoyable."

That Holmes seems like an interesting chap, doesn't he?

"For a Muggle, I suppose. He seemed a bit rigid and pompous if you ask me. Thought himself a little too clever."

He was a bit aloof but I'm finding that that isn't necessarily a bad characteristic in a person.

The children are preparing for Halloween. There is to be a costume ball. There hasn't been a ball of any kind at Hogwarts for years. I haven't decided what to go as yet. Any suggestions?

"I can assure you that I have never nor will ever wear a costume of any sort. I've never dressed in anything other than black at a formal function."

Now that's a great idea. I could go as an overgrown bat, or the Black Plague. Perhaps just Rancid Death - keep it simple.

"I am not amused. However, the Black Plague idea has potential."

"It's far too early for the snow to begin already. Everything is covered in a thick pile of blinding white."

I've always rather liked the snow. Winter has always been my favorite time of year. Nothing quite like coming in from the cold and warming up by the fire after an afternoon of making snow wizards and frolicking in the snowdrifts.

" wouldn't know. I'm not the frolicking type."

I think you could be. There's definite potential there.

"You didn't have to buy me a Christmas gift."

I know, but this is the first time in my life I have funds enough to buy whatever I want for whomever I want and, sadly, there are so few people I truly want to buy for. Besides, I saw the quills and instantly thought of you.

"They are a bit fanciful for my usual taste but they will suffice. I gather you've had a good holiday."

It was made infinitely better by an anonymous package containing a book I've been wanting to read for ages. By the way, Sigmund loves the socks.

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

Winter quickly became spring and soon the school year was at an end. After months and months of correspondence, Remus was at a loss. His impromptu note had sparked a friendship that in turn had sparked something else. He had come to realize that, in Severus, he'd found what he had been seeking for a long time. Someone with whom he shared a past, a history. Because of that, he'd found someone who understood him, almost instinctively. Someone with whom he could carry on a conversation about current events or art or a good book. Someone who made him laugh, sometimes at himself.

While they had so much more in common than he had ever realized, it was in the ways they differed that seemed to fuel Remus. Severus challenged him. Infuriated him. Provoked him.

But after several months of lost sleep, Remus found that he no longer wanted to write letters. He no longer wanted to spend his nights crammed in the Owlery, sitting on a windowsill, eagerly searching the sky for the flutter of tiny wings.

The simple truth was that the letters were no longer enough. As enjoyable as this whole experiment had been, it also left him empty inside. The words etched on parchment could not replace the sound of a voice, the comfort of a personal conversation. Remus wondered if Severus laughed at his hackneyed jokes, or raised his voice when they debated the issues of the day. He wondered how Severus reacted to his words. Did he shake his head in frustration or roll his eyes in exasperation? Did he purse his lips as he gathered his thoughts? Did he sneer as much as when they were children?

If he wanted to learn about Severus, if whatever this was had a chance of becoming something more, then it was time to move past the exchange of notes. It was the end the school year, and soon he would have to leave Hogwarts for the summer. Did he really want to continue this after he had added a few hundred miles between himself and his correspondent? Poor Sigmund would never survive. It was with much reluctance that he decided that night would be his last in the Owlery.

He sprinted to the Owlery right after a detention he has promised to supervise. Remus wanted to be there as soon as possible, as he had fully intended to send the letter out early. He arrived at half past ten, panting from his quick pace and shot nerves. Despite his intentions, however, he couldn't seem to send the note. Instead he stood in the middle of the Owlery, still as a statue, staring out his window into a starless night.

Midnight came and went, and he still hadn't moved. It was almost two in the morning when he heard the voice.

"Nothing to say tonight?"

He whipped his head around and came face to face with his mystery writer. Severus looked as he had all those nights ago when Remus spied him in the forest, still essentially Severus - beaky nose, dark eyes, thin lip - but the hard-edged Potions master was gone. The withered child all alone on the train was gone. This Severus was not the Severus he had once known, but someone else entirely. Someone he desperately wanted to get to know better. He and Severus locked eyes for a long moment before he was able to speak. "I have a lot to say, actually."

Severus straightened. "Then say it."

Still essentially Severus - challenging him, provoking him. Remus's hand shook a bit as he unrolled the parchment that he crushed in a white knuckled fist as he stood in the Owlery that night. He took a deep breath cleared his throat and began to read:

"Dear Friend,

It saddens me to say that this will be the last letter you receive from me. Please understand, first and foremost, that these letters have sustained me, nourished me at time when I was sure I would starve to death. You've been a great friend and I treasure each bit of parchment we've exchanged. Despite your assurances to the contrary, it was our correspondence that made me believe the world truly could be as it once was. That laughter needn't be lost in the wake of war, that joy could blossom once again even in darkness.

But, in making me believe these things, they have also made me yearn for more. I once remarked that all I wanted was for the world to celebrate the freedom that we've fought so valiantly to preserve, yet I stand guilty of the very thing I accused the rest of the world of: I was afraid to live. I was little more than a hypocrite, hiding away in an Owlery, never revealing my name for the sake maintaining a correspondence with you. It is a facade I can no longer retain.

My name is Remus Lupin, but I think you knew that. I am a professor at Hogwarts. I am a werewolf. I have lost everyone that I ever loved.

But I don't want the details of my life to end there. The little bits I've learned about you are but morsels, and glutton that I am, I wish to feast. I don't want to waste another minute writing my thoughts on parchment and watching them fly away when we could be talking to one another. When we could be sitting across from each other, close enough to touch. I want to learn to read your mood by the intonation of your voice. I want to see the exact hue of your eyes when touched by sunlight. I want to hear you say my name.

I want to mentally catalog everything that has ever made you smile in hopes that one day I can add my own name to that list.

I want these things enough to know that anything less is worthless.

Come to the Owlery tonight, at midnight.

I will be waiting.



He didn't look up after he read the note. Despite all his talk of wanting to see Severus's face, he couldn't bring himself to look toward him.

"It's well past midnight," Severus said, breaking the silence after several minutes.

Remus tilted his eyes upward. "I know."

"Did you change your mind?"

He shook his head. "I lost my nerve."

Severus nodded, his lips pursed as he gathered his thoughts. "Are you still afraid to live?"

"Terrified, actually," he said with a smile. The fact that Severus was still standing there - that he was there at all - gave him the courage to take one step forward. "Are you?"

"Am I what?"

He took another step. "Afraid."

Severus gave him a small smile. "It's not life that frightens me."

"What does frighten you then?" he asked, taking another step and another until he was standing right in front of Severus.

Severus looked into his eyes. "You do," he whispered.

Remus had nothing else to say. After months of writing, he found he had run out of words. It was time for action.

Remus reached out and hesitantly placed a hand on Severus's chest. He could feel a heart beating madly beneath his palm and realized with a start that perhaps Severus was truly afraid of him. Without breaking eye contact, he grasped Severus's hand and brought it to his own chest, placing the palm over his own pounding heart. Remus brought his other hand up and covered the palm resting on his chest, giving it a gentle squeeze. Very slowly, Severus moved towards him, sliding the hand that lay on Remus's chest up towards his face, cupping his chin.

There was something so shy about that first kiss. It was more like one shared between adolescents, rather than two grown men. Soft, awkward, chaste, it spoke of a lifetime of fear and uncertainty. But the feel of those lips pressed against his made Remus's knees weaken and start to buckle beneath him. He brought his arms up over Severus's shoulders for support and deepened the kiss.

Suddenly emboldened, Severus's arms snaked around Remus's waist, bringing their bodies together. The timidity gave way to the unbridled enthusiasm of two people had forgotten that anything existed outside of their own bodies.

Remus buried his hands in the long black hair and rubbed his body against Severus's, relishing the sleek lines and hard planes that made up his slim body. He felt Severus's hands travel up his spine and down again over his backside where he clawed and grabbed and practically lifted Remus off the ground.

It was then that Sigmund let out a loud, shrill hoot, and Remus and Severus turned to see the shocked expression of two sixth years.

"Can we help you?" Severus asked, his voce beautifully enraged.

"I...we... we're sorry," the young man stammered. "The astronomy tower we taken and this was the only other place we could think of..."

Remus raised a hand to stop the boy from babbling further. "No fear, Edmund. We were just leaving." They quickly made their way past the dazed couple, pausing only a second to give Severus time to sneer and snort. Just as they reached the door, Remus turned. "A word of advice, though, the owls get frazzled easily, so I wouldn't stay here too long. There's an empty office behind the statue of Frederick the Fatigued on the second floor of the castle. It's never used and has a very comfortable settee."

Edmund tried to smile as he mumbled, "Th-thanks."

It was just past noon the next day when Remus woke up in an unexpectedly plush bed in a cottage in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. He was surprised to find his bedmate already awake and softly brushing his fingers against Remus's cheek.

"Good morning," he said.

"It hasn't been morning for some time," Severus replied.

Remus smiled in response and curled into Severus's warm chest. He decided then and there that there was really nowhere else he could possibly spend the summer than right in that bed. They lay in silence, nothing but the sound of life from the forest filling the air. After several minutes Remus spoke: "When did you know?"

"Know?" Severus asked.

"When did you know if was me sending those letters?"

"From the first," he said softly. "From the moment the bird crashed into my window and I read the note strapped to his leg I knew it was you. It could be no other."

"Took me a bit longer to figure it all out," Remus remarked.

"You can be a bit daft."

Remus laughed aloud. "It's not all due to my alleged daftness. It was unlike you to be as forthcoming as you were."

Severus nodding knowingly. "I've carried those thoughts for a long time. It felt...appropriate that I finally release them at that time. When there was no need to hold onto them any longer."

"In that case, I'm honored to have shared them." He rubbed his cheek upon Severus's bare chest and pressed his ear to the place where his heart beat. As he listened to the melodic rhythm he thought of the letters they'd written and the secrets they'd shared.

"After all that you've been through do you think you could learn to love another?" Remus said hopefully.

Severus shifted as he pulled Remus closer. "I will only ever love one man," he said softly. "Only now I will get to tell him so."