Title: Practically Brothers – Epilogue
Date: August 13, 2007
Summary: Post Deathly Hallows. Lupin and Snape both survived and re-new their friendship from Practically Brothers (which I know is AU now, but I'm not going to re-write it).
Disclaimer: Everything here belongs to J.K. Rowling.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Mandrill, who gave this twist her approval. And thanks to Mandrill, Patti, Michelle and Renee for beta-ing.
A/N: Warning – this is really, really sappy. I'm not kidding.
Harry stepped out of the fireplace, brushing soot off his clothes. His hands were dirty, Lupin noted, and there were muddy spots on the knees of his jeans.
"What are you doing here?" Snape spat out the words, his face contorted in fury.
"I followed you here," said Harry. He shrugged. "Hermione told me how to do a trace through the floo network."
"Did she teach you how to maneuver past blocks as well?" Snape said. He still had his wand out, and it was still pointed at Harry.
"No," Harry said, his face looking puzzled.
"Perhaps you did not want to block him after all," Lupin said softly. "Perhaps it's because he's of Lily's blood." He gently touched Snape's arm, pushing it down. Snape let him, but his eyes remained fixed on Harry.
"You do not have my permission to be here, Potter," he said. "Leave now."
"I have something for you, sir," said Harry, stepping closer. Snape stepped back, but his eyes did not waiver from the boy's face.
"I thought this should be hidden forever," Harry said. "I left it in the Forbidden Forest. But I realized it wouldn't be safe there, and I thought it would be best if I took it to the Ministry instead. They can protect it in the Department of Mysteries. There's a Ministry official waiting back at Hogwarts for this now." He reached a hand into his pocket. "But I thought," he looked a little shy now, "I thought, you should have it, for a little while. Before I hand it over."
"What are you blathering about, Potter?" Snape said, staring. "I want nothing from you."
"This," said Harry. He pulled his hand out of his pocket, and held it out. Lupin saw something small in his outstretched palm, something partly black, partly metallic. A ring, he realized. A ring with a large, dull black stone. And then he remembered.
Snape stared at it.
"It's one of the Deathly Hallows, Severus," Lupin said quietly. "The ring of the dead." He felt drawn to it; it had summoned his spirit, only a few nights before.
Harry held the ring out to Snape. "The curse is gone. I know that's what killed Dumbledore. I wish he'd been able to use it, too. I know that his sister would have told him she forgave him."
Harry took a step closer, and Snape did not back away; he kept his eyes fixed on the ring. He looked down at his own hand, and realized his wand was still in it. He slipped the wand back in his robes, but did not move to take the ring from Harry. His face looked even paler than normal, a dead white against his black robes and the shadows of the room.
He's afraid, Lupin thought.
Lupin stepped forward and took the ring from Harry's outstretched hand. He turned and took hold of Snape's hand. Snape flinched, but did not pull back, and Lupin placed the ring into Snape's palm and folded his long fingers around it.
Snape stared at his hand, but did not move.
"I'll wait back at Hogwarts," Harry said, in a quiet voice.
"I'll bring it to you," Lupin said. Harry backed into the fireplace, and was gone in a flash of green.
"I'll wait upstairs, Severus," Lupin said. "I'll come down later and take the ring back to Harry."
Snape still did not move. Lupin looked at him for a long moment, then pulled open the bookcase-door and walked up the narrow staircase. He listened, but he could hear nothing.
But when he reached the little bedroom, and sat down, he felt a sudden hush, and a tugging inside him. He's put the ring on, Lupin thought, closing his eyes.
But he remained completely aware of the house around him. Through closed eyes, he could see it, every wall, every passage, as if it were made of glass. He could see Severus, standing in the room below, body as rigid as ice, but his heart racing.
Lupin felt a tug, felt himself falling forward, and down. My spirit has been called by the ring once before, he thought, will it call me forever?
And realized as he saw Severus standing below him, No, it calls those who love you, and who you love.
The house was transparent, he fell through the floor easily, down into the tiny, dingy room. But that, too, was fading away, the shadowy walls of books changing, the old wooden floor growing even more uneven, and when Lupin touched the ground, he found he was standing in a grove of trees. Beside him, where Severus had stood, there was a boy, very young, dressed in old and mismatched clothes.
The boy stood against a line of bushes, watching intently. Lupin followed his gaze, and had to turn away. He and the boy stood in shadow, but beyond the bushes and the trees was light so bright it was blinding. Lupin held up his hand to shade his face, and, blinking, he made out a playground. A little girl was swinging, pushing hard, making the swing go higher and higher, and she was laughing. Lupin's heart caught when he heard that laugh, he knew it all too well. He didn't need the little girl's bright red hair and merry green eyes to recognize her.
The boy watched with a frightening intentness, a longing, but he made no move to join the girl, as she swung, higher and still higher, until all of a sudden she launched herself into the air and flew, her arms outstretched, like a bird. Like an angel.
She circled overhead, crowing with laughter still, circled down and down, until she touched lightly on the grass. Only then did she turn, and see them.
"Sev!" she called, and she came running over to the trees. "Sev, I'm so glad you've come!"
The boy stared and said nothing, as she came into the grove, and grabbed hold of his hands.
"I've missed you so much," the little girl said.
"I've missed you, too," the boy said. His voice caught, and Lupin could see that he was crying. "I'm sorry, Lily, I'm sorry. I understand now, everything you were trying to tell me. I wish I could have understood it all sooner."
"But you're here now," she said. "I'm so glad you came back."
"Can you forgive me?" the boy asked.
She smiled. "Of course. I always have. You've been so brave."
"I'm sorry, I was so awful to you," the boy said, gulping. "But I always loved you."
"I always loved you, too," she said. "You are my best friend, and it broke my heart to lose you."
"I want to come with you," the boy asked. He glanced out into the brilliant sunlight. "Can't I come with you?"
"No," she shook her head. "Not yet." She looked into the boy's dirty face. "But I'm always with you. I've been with you all this time. You just haven't seen me."
The boy shook his head.
She laughed. "I'm in Harry." She looked over the boy's shoulder, and smiled and winked at Lupin. "I'm in Remus." And then she placed her hand on the boy's chest. "And I'm in you, if you'll only look." She touched her own chest. "And you're in here. Always."
"Always," the boy breathed.
"We carry the ones we love with us," she said. "They never leave us."
The boy gulped, a stifled sob, his eyes fixed on hers.
She smiled at him again. "There is someone else who wants to see you, too. I just came first."
As she said that, Lupin could make out a figure coming toward them from the playground, the light too bright at first to make out more than a vague shape, but it became more and more distinct as it drew closer. A tall shape, achingly familiar. It reached the shadows of the trees, and there stood Albus, not the ailing, frail old man Lupin remembered from that last year, but a hale and strong man, his white beard shot with silver, and his kind eyes sparkling.
"Albus!" the boy cried, and his form blurred and shot up, and Lupin saw a young man, in long black robes.
"Severus," Albus said. "Well done, Severus. I am so proud of you." And he reached over and took the young man by the hand. "Can you ever forgive me, for forcing you to do that last, terrible act of kindness for me?"
"It wasn't your fault," the young man breathed. "I always knew."
"But it was a dreadful thing to ask," Albus said. "I saw that look in your eyes, that last moment."
"I never hated you!" the young man said.
"But you hated what you had to do. As you have always hated what you had to do," Albus said.
"It was of my own making," the young man said.
Albus nodded. "I do understand. I have had to do terrible things, to undo situations of my own making. Or that I might have prevented." He looked deeply at the young man. "Do not make my one greatest mistake, Severus," he said. "Do not punish yourself for the rest of your life. Do not isolate yourself. Do not believe yourself unworthy of love. You are most worthy." He smiled wistfully. "If I had only known that, so many years ago." He looked beyond the young man, to Lupin, and Lupin heard the whispered words, And you, as well, Remus.
There was a sob, from behind them, deep in the shadows, and they all turned. Something was coming towards them, through the bushes and the undergrowth, something crawling through the shadows, crawling along the ground. Lupin could only hear the sound it made as it came, dragging itself closer. It wasn't until it reached their clearing, and pulled itself out of the shadows, that he could make anything out, and even then he had to stare to make sense of what he was seeing.
It was a child, he realized, with horror. A monstrous, deformed child. He saw its body and thought it only two or younger, but so mal-formed it could not walk, it could only crawl. Its flesh was mangled, bleeding. The face was blind, and as formless as a lump of dough. It crawled toward the young man, and the mouth opened, a red maw, and a pitiful, frightened voice said, "Severus!"
The young man stood stock still. Then he knelt down, and took the creature's hands into his own. "I'm sorry," he said. "I would have spared you this. I didn't know how." He looked up, first at Albus, then at the little girl. "Can we help him? What can we do to help him?"
"We'll take care of him," the little girl said, and she knelt beside the young man, and took one of the child's hands.
"You can leave him with us now, Severus," Albus said. "You can do nothing more for him." And Albus, too, knelt down, and took the child's other hand. "You can come with us now, Tom. It's finished."
"There's nothing to be afraid of," the little girl said. She and Albus both stood up together, each keeping hold of the infant's hand, and the child grew taller as they rose, until Lupin saw a little boy, with a handsome face, staring up, first at the girl and then at Albus.
The girl, too, was taller now, as she prepared to walk back into the sunlight. She turned over her shoulder, to give one last look to Severus, and it was the Lily Lupin remembered most, the Lily of that last year before she was killed. Merlin, how young she looks now, he thought, not much older than Harry.
"Thank you, my dear friend," she said.
And it was Severus, the man as he was now, who stared back at her.
"Thank you for protecting my son," she said. "Let him find me in you."
As she turned, Lupin thought she smiled at him as well. Then she, and Albus, leading the little boy between them, who grew more fair and well shapen with each step, walked into the sunlight, until they were lost in the brilliance.
The light beyond the grove dimmed, the trees closed in around them, until Lupin saw only walls, and realized he was back in the little upstairs bedroom.
It's over, he thought. They've gone. The house felt the more empty for their absence. He sat for a long moment, staring at the walls, then forced himself to stand up, and step quietly down the stairs, and push the door open.
Snape sat in his chair, staring into space. The ring lay on the table beside him.
"You were there," he said.
Lupin looked at him. "Yes," he said.
Snape did not answer.
"I'll take this back to Harry," Lupin said as he picked up the ring. For one moment, he thought, I could put it on. To see Dora, one last time. And realized he didn't need to. He had no last words he needed to say to her, or to hear from her. It was as Lily had said. She was with him, in him, and in Teddy.
Snape did not answer. Lupin didn't expect him to. But as he stepped to the fireplace, he heard Snape say, "Wait. Let me." He stood up and moved beside Lupin at the fireplace. Lupin nodded and handed him the ring, and followed him back to Hogwarts.
Harry sat waiting in the Potions dungeon. He looked up sharply as the green flames appeared in the fireplace, and watched patiently while Snape, and then Lupin stepped into the room.
Snape stared for a long moment at Harry's face. Can you finally see her now? thought Lupin. I always could.
Snape held out the ring to Harry, and said, "Thank you, Mr. Potter."
Harry took the ring and smiled. "You're welcome, sir." He put the ring in his pocket. "I said it this morning, but I want to say it again. Thank you, sir. For everything you've done for me. For protecting me, for protecting my mother. For passing the last message to me." His voice dwindled off, and he looked a bit nervous under Snape's cool stare.
Snape gaze was locked on Harry's green eyes. And then he said, quietly, "You're welcome, Mr. Potter. Good night, Mr. Potter."
He turned back to the fireplace. Harry said quickly, "Professor Snape!" Snape paused and turned.
"Sometime, if you don't mind, could you tell me about my mother," Harry said. "You're the one who knew her better than anyone."
Snape looked at Harry. And then said, "Yes, Mr. Potter." With that, he stepped into the fireplace and vanished.
Harry looked at Lupin. "Is he all right?"
Lupin gave a shrug. "I think so. It's hard to tell, with him. But I'm glad you did this. It was a very kind thing to do."
Harry flushed. "I owed it to him. I owe him much more than that." With that, he left the room, and Lupin returned to Spinners End.
Snape stood in the room, staring at the floor.
"Come on," Lupin said. "We are both recovering. It's time to rest."
"Not just yet," Snape said. "Remus, will you walk a little ways with me?"
"Outside?" Lupin asked.
"You're dressed for it," Snape said. "I'll change, if you'll wait for just a few minutes."
"All right then," Lupin said. He stood, while Snape climbed the stairs, and in just a few minutes, returned, dressed as Lupin had never seen him before, in old jeans and a t-shirt, pulling on a worn jacket. Snape glared at him, as if daring him to make a comment. Lupin only smiled.
Snape opened the door to the street, and Lupin followed him outside into the darkness, lit only by the stars, and the waxing moon. Together, they walked along the broken sidewalk, to another street, and another. Lupin noted that, as they walked, the homes looked nicer and better cared for, and the streets were in better repair.
At last, they came to clump of trees. Snape walked into them, and then, out the other side, to stand at the edge of a playground. Lupin blinked, and recognized it as the one he'd seen just a little while ago, in Snape's – whatever that was, a vision, a dream.
"You lived that close to her?" Lupin said.
Lupin stared at the swings, and remembered the sight of the little girl flying through the air. "She was so young," he said. "Even at the end, I thought her such a grown woman, and yet she was barely older than Harry is now."
"Yes," said Snape.
I'll always love her, thought Lupin. But I don't think I could be in love with her anymore. Maybe it's that I've known first hand the difficulties, being with someone so much younger, the disconnection. Could Severus be thinking the same thing?
Snape stared at the playground for a long time. Then he looked for a time at Remus.
"I'll never lose her," he said, after a time. "But . . ." He stopped.
"I think she was saying, you can let her go," Lupin said.
"Holding onto her," Snape said, "that was all I had, to keep me alive. My revenge. My remorse. My regret."
"She says you have paid enough," said Lupin. "She forgave you long ago."
"It wasn't about debts," Snape said.
"No," said Lupin. "There's nothing wrong with loving her, either. As she said, you can keep her forever, in here." He held his hand in front of Snape's chest. "But understand, there's room for others in there as well. You don't betray her memory by loving other people. Any more than she ever betrayed you by doing the same." He looked into Snape's eyes. "She wasn't the only one who came when you called. When the time comes, and you finally pass over, may there be many people who come to welcome you, Severus."
Snape's eyes were unreadable, but Lupin thought he saw the ghost of a smile, and perhaps a flicker of warmth in that normally cold face.
The two friends stood together, in the moonlight, for a long time, before they turned, and headed back home, to Spinners End.
A/N: That's it for now, folks. I so appreciate the requests that this be a long fic (that is the BEST compliment ever!), but that's all that wants to come out – this is already a lot longer than I originally thought it was going to be. Thanks to everyone who has read this, and thanks so much for all the reviews.