"Severus!" It was a weak, raspy whisper, as if he hadn't spoken in years.
The man who had been searching frowned, looking down at Lupin.
"Severus? Is that…my name?"
"Yes. You don't know?"
He shook his head. It was strange, to have someone else tell him his own name, a name that he did not recognise even now. It could have been any other, and he would not have been able to tell if it was really his.
Lupin licked his lips, which were pale and covered with dust. "I don't know mine either. It's weird – all I know is that I needed to find you, but I couldn't make myself go."
Severus frowned even more now. This was not at all what he had expected at first. When he had decided to search for Lupin, he had hoped that whoever it might be, they would know more than he about what was happening here. Now, though, it seemed that Lupin's situation was no different from his own.
"Your name is Lupin," he finally said. "I was looking for you. I was told that you could help me." He doubted the last fact by now, but he wouldn't give up just yet.
The other man looked confused. "I thought it was you who would help me."
Dejected, Severus closed his eyes for some moments. "You don't know what all of this means, do you? Why we're here, or where 'here' even is. Who we are. Or what we need to do now."
"No," Lupin said softly. "I thought you knew."
Frustrated, Severus pulled away from him, making him sway and almost slump to the ground again. He turned away while Lupin was still struggling for balance, instead staring outside into the grey wasteland. For some time, he had allowed himself to hope, wasting his last strength on finding this man, and for what?
Severus clenched his fists, watching the wind blow over the planes stretching in front of them. There was a woman who stumbled by, half-naked, her hair white with dust. She threatened to keel over and fall every few steps, but forced herself to go on, until she was out of sight. Was she, too, searching for someone she had been told to find? And would she be disappointed as well?
Lupin's hand was on his shoulder, and it took him an effort to not shake it off.
"Let's think this through," Lupin said. "We were both promised help if we found each other. Why would that be a lie? It would make no sense. Maybe we misunderstood something."
"And what?" Severus asked flatly, now turning around to him. "We're together now, and nothing has changed. All we know is each other's names. How is that supposed to be of any help?"
"I don't know," Lupin admitted. "But there must be a reason. Maybe we'll be told more later, like we were told to find each other. Maybe we just need to be together for whatever is coming now."
He looked almost eager now, a stark contrast to the apathetic bundle of human he had been only ten minutes ago, and Severus felt half annoyed and half impressed.
"All right. And what do you think are we supposed to do now?"
Lupin shrugged. "I don't know. Can you walk?"
If he had felt up to it, Severus might have laughed at the mere idea. He could barely feel his legs after the forced march he had behind him. As it was, he simply shook his head. If it were possible in this place, he probably would have fainted from exhaustion a long time ago.
"Just enough to find you. I couldn't get up if my life depended on it."
"Then we'll have to wait for whatever might come. At least we're not alone any more." Lupin smiled tentatively. "I'd prefer anything to how I felt before you came. I'm glad you're here."
Severus stared at him blankly for some moments, but he had to admit that the other man was right. This was much better than the state in which he – and apparently Lupin – had been vegetating before.
"You're right; it's at least something."
Closing his eyes, he leant against the wall behind him and pulled his robes tighter around himself. He was glad that Lupin didn't try to talk to him any more, at least for now, for although it was good that they were no longer alone in this place, he needed some time to himself to overcome the first disappointment. The more time went by, though, the harder it became to concentrate on anything but the cold that once more was trying to chill him to the bone, making him shiver. Looking over to Lupin, he saw that the other man was huddled in a corner of the doorway and shaking uncontrollably, his eyes closed, teeth chattering.
Severus hesitated, but then shifted until he was sitting next to him. It would be silly to let them both freeze if there was something they could do about it. Like he had done before, he slowly wrapped his arms and robes around the other man, pulling him close. Lupin looked up at him in surprise at first, but then smiled and leaned against him.
Severus nodded, holding him even tighter. After a while, they had both stopped trembling, and the cold did not seem to be as threatening as before. Severus closed his eyes again, focussing on the comfortable warmth radiating from Lupin, and although it should have been impossible, he soon fell deeply asleep.
It was in the middle of the night when Peter awoke slowly. He yawned and turned around, expecting to end up against Sirius. But where the other man should have been was just an empty space, and when Peter blinked sleepily, he realised that he was alone in bed.
Still halfway asleep, he waited for some time – maybe Sirius was on the loo, or in the kitchen to get something to drink. Time went by, though, and he did not return, so in the end, Peter forced himself to wake up fully and get out of bed. He knew where he would most likely find Sirius – it was, after all, not the first time.
The night was warm, and when he stepped outside, he was greeted by a soft breeze rustling the leaves of the forest, the stars and crescent moon colouring the nearby lake and the meadow in front of the house in a silvery light.
Slowly, he made his way down to the shore, and already from afar he could see a dark human silhouette against the water. Sometimes, at night, Sirius would come down here; usually after a dream, or when something was bothering him. It wasn't very often; you usually didn't have deep worries here, but every now and then it would happen, like a remnant from their past earthly life.
Peter sat down in the sand next to Sirius when he arrived, but he didn't touch him or speak to him. For a while, they sat together, looking out at the shimmering water that gently gurgled against the shore.
"I dreamt of Purgatory," Sirius finally sad softly.
Peter turned to look at him, but Sirius didn't move, still staring ahead over the water.
"It was about Severus. About how jealous I was of him." He shook his head, then lowered it onto his knees. "Facing that took even longer than dealing with the hate for my family, remember? It was so ridiculous."
"It wasn't," Peter disagreed. He, too, had been jealous of Severus, albeit for other reasons.
Now Sirius was looking at him, pale in the white moonlight, and for a fleeting moment – much to his own shock – all that Peter could think of was how beautiful he looked.
"If I'd known only half of what I know now about him --" Sirius began, but Peter didn't let him finish.
"No, stop it! Don't even start it with the guilt-tripping. You told me that it was nonsense just a few days ago, when they took him away. How about heeding your own advice, wise man?" He had added the last sentence lightly, smiling at the other man in hoped of lightening the mood a bit. The attempt failed, however, and Sirius only looked away again, a pained expression on his face.
"Sometimes I think everything could have been so different," he whispered. "For him and...and for you. If we had noticed..."
Peter sighed, shifting closer to Sirius's side. "It doesn't matter any more. I'm fine now, and he will be as well."
Sirius didn't answer, but when Peter put an arm around him, he leaned against the shorter man.
They stayed for another hour, silent, both lost in their own thoughts, until in the end, they returned to the cottage and to bed. In the morning, everything would look more hopeful again.
Severus awoke to the feeling of another body next to his. He sat up and opened his eyes, but quickly closed them against the blinding whiteness that invaded his mind. After some time, he tried again, now blinking carefully to get used to the light. When finally, his eyes didn't hurt any more, he saw that he was sitting on a snow-white plane, with an equally white horizon spreading in all directions. There was nothing to break the monotony, no plant, no rock, and no cloud above him.
The only thing beside himself that contrasted with the surroundings was the man next to him, who now stirred as well, groaning weakly as he tried to open his eyes. As he attempted to sit up, Severus could see his face – and was completely taken aback.
It was not only a name any more – suddenly, he perfectly remembered Lupin as well as himself, and everything that had happened until now. He had died, had ended in Purgatory, only to find himself stuck with Remus Lupin!
The other man started at hearing his voice and turned to face him.
Judging from his tone of voice and the disgusted expression, he was having the same experience as Severus, now remembering everything. Before they could do or say anything else, however, a wave of coldness washed over them, and then there was a voice in Severus's mind, cool and emotionless.
"Severus. Remus. You have been chosen to be companions on your journey."
Hastily, Severus got to his feet and turned around to find himself looking at the Guardians who had first dragged him away from Elysium and delivered to Purgatory. From the corner of his eye, he could see that Lupin had done the same.
"I have no idea what journey you're talking about," the other man said angrily, "but I surely won't make it with him! He's a murderer and liar, the most despicable sort of human scum you could possibly imagine. I won't have anything to do with him!"
Unimpressed, the smoky figures went on.
"Together, you will face the reasons for your presence in Purgatory and try to overcome them. You were chosen to help each other, as a positive outcome is most likely in this constellation. If you refuse to move on to this task, you will find yourself once more in the wasteland you came from. Make no mistake – there will not be a second chance."
Lupin shook his head. "Didn't you listen? I won't do it – not with him! Can't it be someone else?" He frowned. "What about Tonks? She died as well; I remember it."
"Your wife remained in Elysium," was the answer. "It is Severus, or no one. However, you will now be given the chance to realise your misconception about his actions, if you are willing."
"Misconception?" Lupin looked wary, and despite being angered about his behaviour, Severus could not really blame him. He still must believe that Severus had truly been on Voldemort's side after all.
"Are you willing to see and learn? You need to decide now."
Severus could see the hesitation in Lupin's expression, but in the end, he nodded slowly.
Within a second, their surroundings changed; the endless whiteness around them vanished, making place for a room they both were familiar with: the headmaster's office at Hogwarts.
Severus looked around, then at himself. His body, like Lupin's was slightly transparent, shimmering faintly, like a ghost's. The persons inside the room did not notice either of them.
"…done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?"
"I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread, eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time."
Severus could not suppress a weak groan. Why this? Why, of all things, did they have to show Lupin this?
"I am fortunate," Dumbledore was saying right now, "extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus."
Forcing himself to take his eyes off the old headmaster, Severus turned around, covering his eyes with his hand. He did not want to relive this scene – it had been bad enough the first time. There was nothing he could do, though, to blend out the voices, and so he suffered through it, feeling every bit as miserable as he had when the conversation had taken place.
When it came to the part where Dumbledore told Severus that he must kill him, there was a surprised gasp from Lupin, but other than that, he stayed silent, much to Severus's relief. He wouldn't have been able to deal with him on top of this.
"Come to my office tonight, Severus, at Eleven, and you shall not complain that I have no confidence in you…"
With those words from Dumbledore, the scene finally faded away, and when he dared to look around, Severus once again found himself on the white plane together with the Guardians and Lupin.
The latter was almost as white as their surroundings, staring at Severus incredulously.
"This…this was real?" He sounded like a Muggle who had seen magic for the very first time. "It was all a plan? Severus…he always was on our side?"
"All that you were shown did take place like you saw it," the Guardians confirmed.
Lupin stayed silent for some time, but finally took a deep breath, as if bracing himself.
"Severus, I…" He trailed off, then slowly stepped nearer. Hesitantly, he raised his hand as if to touch Severus, but dropped it again. "I'm sorry."
Usually, Severus would have liked to snap at him, retort in a sarcastic manner that would make the other man wince and regret his sincere apology – but suddenly, he felt too tired to do care. All he could do was shake his head and look away.
"It was supposed to be convincing," he said harshly. "You believed what you should, like everyone else."
There was no answer, and he was grateful for that. Had Lupin said something along the lines of he should have known better, Severus was not sure how he would have reacted. He felt that they should have known better – at least some of the Order members. But he and Albus had known that they would willingly believe their deception; it was what had made it so successful.
"Severus. Remus. It is time to decide now. Will you accept each other as companions and begin your journey?"
"I will," Lupin said softly. "Severus, please, will you agree?"
Slowly, Severus turned to face the other man, who was looking at him expectantly. Everything inside him recoiled at the thought – facing the reasons for being here together with Lupin? It would mean to let him see his most vulnerable side. But what choice did he have? The only alternative was an eternity in a place that promised nothing but suffering.
The decision should have been easy, but it still took him minutes until he could make himself speak.
"I'm sure that I will regret this. But yes, I will."
All quotes taken from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Chapter 33: The Prince's Tale