Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter.
Request: Dizilla – Snape and Remus (I'm really not sure if you'll like this or this is at all what you had in mind, so if you dislike it greatly, I'll write you something new…however, this idea got its hooks into me and wouldn't let me go). Theme of trust and belief, stemming from HBP.
Beta'd by the lovely Hikagi, despite her busy schedule.
Spoilers: Up through the end of Deathly Hallows is fair game.
Death and King's Cross
"King's Cross Station!" Dumbledore was chuckling immoderately. "Good Gracious, really?"
"Well, where do you think we are?" asked Harry, a little defensively.
"My dear boy, I have no idea. This is, as they say, your party."
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 712
"Professor," he heard the voice, swimming around surreally in his head in blurs and images with sharp, cutting edges, of someone whom he definitely would not have thought to hear at such a time, "Death looks like King's Cross Station."
Potter's voice finished softly, with what, impossibly, might even have been a tremor. Perhaps even…respect – because he was certainly unaccustomed to the formality of his student's greeting. Especially after seven years.
Seven years in which the ghost of all he had seen before and all that had become impossible because of the path he had taken seemed to dance arrogantly before him, writing the failures of his early life in enchanted smoke on the back of a broomstick over the Quidditch pitch.
And Potter, thought Snape with a sneer that was more habit than conscious action, thinks Death looks like King's Cross.
But he could not quite remove the image of the boy – with those eyes that always seemed to blame him for everything he should have been blamed for – kneeling down and placing a bay wreath around a black obelisk simply inscribed with a name and dates…his own name and dates. Frowning, he brushed off the whispered words and dared to open his eyes.
Death, however, did not look like King's Cross Station one bit and Snape felt vindicated in his opinion of Potter once again, shoving aside any notion of regret he may have felt even a momentary twinge of.
The angles and lines were all painfully familiar. The rushing of the cold, drafty air under the ancient door that bore the musty smell of wet stone and centuries of thick and secretive dust was welcome and as commonplace to him as the rhythms of his own breathing.
He was home.
He had awoken under his own threadbare sheets in the grimy light from his, single, narrow window in his own chamber. Around him were sights that he had woken up to every day since Dumbledore gave him the loathsome job of teaching students unable to grasp even the most obvious details of the subtle arts of potions and magic. There, the ascetic high backed chair and writing desk, littered with several large tomes and page upon page of his notes. There, more books – ones he brought with him from Spinner's End – populated a low shelf, the only other article of furniture in the room.
Even in Death, nothing disturbed the simple, utilitarian nature of his chambers in the dungeon. It remained his only home.
Hogwarts, even with the glut of hopeless students that filled all his years there, had always been his only home.
For the barest splinter of a moment Snape almost started to ponder why Potter thought of King's Cross… wanting to ask, was it the thought of coming away from his much vaunted existence in squalor with his Muggles?
But Snape avoided that line of inquiry because, inevitably, he knew that he might one day find that Harry Potter and himself were no different, in actuality. And if Harry Potter was anything to Severus Snape, he was the mark of all of the failures and wasted potential and ifs of the most traumatic and surreal kind.
Harry Potter was Lily Evans.
But he was also James Potter.
And it was the second he could never forgive. He couldn't forgive Harry Potter, nor James Potter, nor, in the end, himself.
Those were his choices – as Dumbledore had so often thought to remind him, until the refrain had almost descended into a grating parody of itself.
And so, throwing off the worn duvet, he slipped out with great care, avoiding all thought of King's Cross and other foolish nonsense. However, finding himself, regrettably, stark naked, he felt the need to pull on his accustomed robes of black, although, curiously, knowing he was dead, he didn't precisely care who happened to view him.
There was no one he cared to impress here.
Feeling prepared and also not knowing precisely what it was one prepared for when dead, he went over to the heavy oak door and stepped beyond.
The corridor outside was empty beyond empty, as if it stood there as merely the purest and most highly distilled essence of the castle. There was a profound, primordial silence that waited in every brick, in every speck of mortar, and was seemingly built into the very core of this Hogwarts.
Not knowing at all why, he found his feet directed toward the Great Hall. The sweeping of the hem of his robe over the steps that led up from the dungeons was a sound that he found his ears were intimately attuned to in the absence of any other form of noise.
Absently – mostly relieved that there was no one, especially students, to disturb his solitude - he wondered if the cavernous Great Hall would feel like an empty husk. But, when the doors opened, he merely felt the same sense of almost fond familiarity that greeted him in his own chambers. The enchanted ceiling showed a cloudless night, which was nonetheless dotted with only a few stars.
The whole of the expanse over the familiar house tables was a sort of pristine, glittering blackness that Snape found to be eerily like looking into a mirror, even though there was no semblance of a human face in it, let alone his own. It was, however, somehow fitting.
And, looking up at the ceiling, he understood suddenly that someone was waiting for him.
For one painful moment, he thought Dumbledore would be there, sitting in his customary position and, not knowing if he wanted such a thing at all, Snape thought he might get to ask "Why, Headmaster?" and finally receive an explanation - finally a real truth, rather than one that danced about disgustingly in the guise of fact.
But even Truth of that sort seemed somewhat worthless in Death. What volition over the world did he have now…?
But, answers were not what he sought in this place of - he thought with a sneer - final repose. He wanted repose. Let Dumbledore and his secrets become the burden of Potter and other pathetic would be heroes.
There was, however, still the small matter of someone intruding upon his otherwise pristine silence.
The figure was examining something – a tapestry of some sort – near the head table with a sort of thoughtful fondness. Frowning as he drew closer, he realized that the shabbiness bore a definite resemblance to someone that was almost as loathsome as unanswered and now thoroughly useless questions.
However, even Snape would have to grudgingly admit that he was decidedly less unpleasant than some individuals might have been.
His feet, again unbidden, carried him towards the other figure in the room and, as he strode forward, the walls seemed to flicker and transparent images displayed themselves across the veneer of the walls. All at once he saw himself, talking to Lily Evans about something he had discovered in a potion, or perhaps a spell he had crafted himself that he was certain she'd be pleased with, and it faded into Potter and his friends sitting – looking younger and more…unspoiled – eating pumpkin pasty, then flashes of stately wizards, wearing house colors – staying there too ephemerally for even the barest amount of awe to stir at seeing the image of the founders – danced over the cool stone of the wall, replaced by thousands of faces, images, ghosts of past that might have gone to King's Cross or wherever it was that other such individuals went…
Striding forward to what must be another of those entirely too many unpleasant and yet inevitable meetings of his…well, as he was not alive anymore, he thought that this could unfortunately be classified as an entirely new variety of torture.
If Death looked like King's Cross in the world of Potter the Pure, he mused morbidly, than perhaps hell was Hogwarts.
…And Remus Lupin was part of the elaborate farce directed against him, playing his role wearing that maddening sort of mild smile.
"Hello, Severus," he said simply and far too familiarly, as if he was doling out an invitation to tea or supper or any other manner of pedestrian activity.
"I see I have the displeasure of your company even now, Lupin. Although I was half expecting you to turn tail and romp away…"
Lupin didn't answer and merely gave a polite kind of frown as if he expected such treatment, and continued to casually look at the expanse of wall.
The flickering images all around him did not cease and rather, impossibly, sped up with a ferocity to show ancient and new and Phineas Nigellus Black and Arthur Weasley and Ulric the Odd all as students who blur into adults like memories encased in a perpetual stage of chrysalis. It occurred to Snape that this must have been what Lupin had been examining.
"In fact," continued Snape with something like impunity in lieu of a response, "I was expecting for you to stay at home with your cub and...mate. Or perhaps go off with your friends who have, fortunately, found ways to dispose of themselves less than gracefully before now."
Frowning in a far less polite way now, Lupin responded quietly, "They are waiting for me, I assure you. But, my business here directly pertains to you."
"Can you have business with a traitor?" Snape asked with a quiet vehemence.
At last, turning fully away from the flickering images on the walls, Lupin turned to face him fully.
"Some of us never quite believed that, and that is what I am here to speak with you about…call it a reward, if you like."
"And to whom do I owe the honor of such a…reward?"
"Only yourself," he replied, giving each word a solemn import that is not lost upon Snape, even if he did not wish for Lupin to know it.
"And," Snape continued, skepticism masterfully woven into his tone, "Why would someone come here to inform me of this award that I have apparently merited, even though I killed Albus Dumbledore, your hero and savior?"
Lupin shifted his weight in an imperceptible movement of discomfort that anyone without Snape's training might have missed. Part of Snape's mind wondered idly if his companion might have picked up on the bitterness that has infiltrated his own speech even with his obviously less finely honed skills.
"In all honestly - " and this particular phrase, from Lupin, he would almost believe "- It was decided that I would be the least…disagreeable person. And, moreover, because I had the two pieces of the puzzle that allowed me to know that Dumbledore wasn't incorrect concerning you."
Snape gave him a very hard look, before asking - almost tentatively – "And exactly when did you decide this?"
"I knew what I needed to know about an hour before Dolohov killed me, however, I didn't figure it quite out until sometime after I died…"
He trailed off. Snape wondered if it had something to do with the novelty of expressing time in such a manner.
"I needed…clarification from certain individuals."
"Of course," drawled Snape contemptuously. "I forgot it was never your way to do things without an entire committee. Just who have you inducted into this particular tribunal?"
Ignoring the accusations, Lupin merely answered, "Sirius Black - " Snape's face immediately contorted into a scowl "- and Lily Potter."
The scowl faded back into his accustomed mask of disdain.
"And, continuing on with my trial, what evidence did they happen to present?"
For a moment, Snape's gusto was utterly interrupted and he felt the color drain from his face. Horribly, Snape thought he imagined a hint of a smile twitch up at the corners of Lupin's mouth, and, in a blink, the look was gone and only his normal placid expression remained.
"You've never seen - "
"I have," stated Lupin, "And so has Sirius."
Snape's eyes narrowed to slits as he looked at his old (though, not his greatest, by far) adversary. There was no quick retort for such a matter.
"The night of the battle at the Department of Mysteries when you realized Harry had had a vision of Voldemort torturing his godfather, you sent Sirius a message at Grimmauld place- in whose presence I happened to be - using the Order's method of communication…your Patronus scared him rather badly."
Despite himself, the ghost of a triumphant feeling flooded through him at that bit of information.
"Sirius thought," Lupin went on, slowly and carefully, "That it was Lily, somehow."
Snape took a deep breath in order to regain his composure thinking, Next they will be accusing me of scaring Black to death…amusing a thought though it is.
"I've asked them both…Lily…seemed rather reticent to share, however. I always suspected…since the time we found you outside the portrait hole fifth year…"
"Very clever, Lupin, but just because you've figured out however much you have doesn't mean you've absolved me or trust me as you arrogantly proclaim."
"I finally have a motive," he said, managing to keep his expression completely impassive, "for Dumbledore's trust that no one would have suspected."
Snape suppressed the urge to sweep from the room, half because he could not stand to leave Lupin with the upper hand and half because he knew that, until this interview was over, he would not be allowed out of this flowing fabric of Hogwarts and its distilled essences.
"And tonight, Minerva happened to mention that this was the fight that Albus had told her to wait for….in fact, previously she had said in meetings that Dumbledore had left instructions that, should you be installed as headmaster, her first priority should be the students, and that meant temporarily – hopefully – resigning her post…and, pardon me, but many of the Order thought that the best way to protect the students was to keep you and any Death Eater as far from them as possible."
There was a silence between them.
"You do realize," responded Snape at a length, "That Dumbledore's trust is not your own."
"Yes, I, in fact, do. I should have realized what your Patronus meant long before. That, is, indeed, what I came here to do…tell you that I apologize for not realizing that you were a far better man than I took you for. Than we all took you for."
There was the barest sense of a tingling notion that made him almost want to pay Lupin a compliment in turn…however, not finding the words to do so, Snape settled for not parrying the compliment with an insult instead.
Lupin turned away and stated politely, "Well, I must be going now."
"And where have they found fit to put you, Lupin?" he spat with as much of a jeer as he could manage.
Lupin smiled and looked up towards the enchanted ceiling, "I'm going to bask in the light of the full moon."
Snape meant to give a retort to this, but Lupin was gone in a swirl of his tattered and patched robes.
Finding himself alone, Snape again looked around him, noting that the parade of images had stopped and mentally quipped, Potter's up to his normal standards of accuracy…Death looks like King's Cross, indeed…
But, as the thought finished, he heard another very familiar and very annoyed voice interrupt his solitude.
"Sev, we're going to have to have a very, very long talk."
Severus Snape had never been so glad for any annoying distraction in his entire…death.
Dobby had never had a room of his own before. Never before.
He had had a cupboard at the Malfoy's house, yes, but that was expected. That was not his own. He was like a pesky little mouse in a borrowed hole where they could yell No, Dobby! Not that way! Come Dobby! COME!
Even at Hogwarts he remained with the other elves unless Harry Potter asked him to come out. He did whatever Harry Potter asked him because Dobby owed Harry Potter everything.
And Harry Potter always remembered Dobby with socks at Christmas.
But now he had his own room.
His own room and mountains and mountains of socks in great colors and patterns – some that even moved when Dobby wasn't looking directly at them – and some that changed color depending on what mood they happened to be in.
But they were all his own. Not even given to him by masters. Not even Harry Potter. They were simply Dobby's. And this was his own room. A room Dobby could clean or not clean or ignore or not ignore whenever he chose.
Because they were all his - Dobby's socks and Dobby's room.
Dobby plopped down on an enormous pile of woolen socks and decided he would only move again when Dobby wanted to.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
At the sound, a thousand voices stopped speaking and, looking up, he realized with manic glee that despite their efforts, the entire sea of pathetic imbeciles in the stands above him had lost. He had escaped again, naked, but his body had been miraculously left intact. They had failed to destroy him once more.
For here he was. Alive.
One of the Horcruxes had remained. And he was still alive.
Striding forward with an air of confidence in this fact, he clutched the familiar weight of his wand and was momentarily blinded as several bright lights burst on and beat down on him. He pointed the wand and found that, rather than either the Elder Wand or his own yew wand, it was nothing more than a mockery…the plaything of Muggles and children and those unfit for existence.
The voices of thousands of figures, illuminated in cloaked forms, too numerous to be distinguished from one another – like the insects they were – flared to life again. The banging noise followed swiftly on the heels of this verbal deluge.
He now stood in the middle of a great raised dais…and, to his horror, he was rooted to the spot by some unknown magic. No one had ever managed to snare him with a non-verbal spell before – their wills could not be more powerful than his own – and so the strangeness of the phenomenon sent a shiver of something akin to fear through him.
Since the second call to order echoed out in the form of that loud series of blows, the audience about him had, en masse, sat in ringing silence in rows upon rows of seats.
All at once, surrounding him completely, one clear, resonant voice intoned: "Tom Marvolo Riddle, your trial, commissioned under the full court of the Souls which have come here either directly - by your hand - or indirectly - by your command - have come to level their charges at you. As precise figures are still being totaled, we shall simply inform you of the nature of the acts you have been charged with rather than concrete counts. These charges include, but are not limited to, murder, torture, maiming, plagues of boiling blood, dark curses, misuse of enchanted artifacts, the unrestrained use of Unforgivable Curses on innocents, noncombatants, combatants, children, the elderly, magical creatures -"
After an interminable amount of time, the formal reading of the charges was not even close to being exhausted. Voldemort, however, found he could do no more than sneer in absolute hatred up at those assembled in front of him. They glared back with such a ferocity that, should anyone have been at all frightened to be in the presence of the infamous Lord Voldemort again, they would find the edge of his arrogance quit taken off.
"-Plagues of frogs, Inferi attacks, memory modification, improper use of memory charms, animal cruelty, animagi cruelty, perjury, disorderly conduct, violation of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Wizardry, violation of the International Confederation of Warlocks' Statute of Secrecy - "
The single voice continued droning on. Voldemort, however, never one to be defeated, bided his time until he might find a window to take advantage of the situation. But the voice went on.
"-Collusion with convicted felons, conspiracy to break convicted felons out of Azkaban, perversion of the mind's of the youth, tyranny, totalitarianism, fascism, alleged accounts of communism, mismanagement of precious magical artifacts, fraud, kidnapping, crimes against Muggles and Muggle-borns in violation of both Wizarding law and the Geneva protocols, including, but not limited to - "
At times Voldemort did not know if his entire audience – the audience that did not know the supremacy of magic and those powerful to wield it – were speaking the charges as a collective.
Perhaps not a single one of those vermin could stand against him individually.
But speak they did. The maggots who did not understand that power was the only law, the only rule, the only thing of consequence…but the trivial, forgettable insects who would be crushed rather than remembered, spoke.
" – Cruelty against magical creatures and sentient beings, drinking of unicorn's blood, harassment, stalking, wanton destruction of both private and public property, libel, terrorism, willfully inciting rebellion, attempted xenocide, mass genocide - "
After an eternity the voice finally stilled. Voldemort shook himself out of a daze.
"How will you plead on these charges?"
Voldemort found that, within the space of the dais, he was now able to move.
He swept around, glaring at every single figure he could see as best as he was able to and declaimed, "I claim power! Who among you could defeat me without your tricks? Who among you dares to face the Dark Lord alone?"
"Where is your power now!" Someone rose, almost majestically, and the hood covering Gideon Prewett fell off.
"Might does not allow for you to rule over anyone you choose!" James Potter stood, glasses gleaming menacingly.
"You're defeated and still you rest on your arrogant laurels, even when we have destroyed your half-immortality and your Horcruxes!"
Voldemort whipped around to see the slight form of Regulus Black – one of his own - who was, impossibly, dangling a locket from his hands and looking murderous.
Betrayal and foolishness on every side.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The enchanted gavel that was nowhere and everywhere called the crowd to order again.
The entirety of the room stood up.
"Witnesses of the eight fold crimes shall be given precedence! A girl described as Moaning Myrtle shall begin!"
There was no movement among the crowd and finally, someone shouted, "She is in the Prefect's Bathroom and happens to be a ghost…"
Voldemort got the barest glance at the speaker, and recognized a disposable commodity killed over the bones of his father.
There was a murmur at the decision that followed this information, followed by the banging of the gavel.
"Ghosts, as you know, can't come here. Next!"
In a slow procession, familiar faces came forward who each enumerated his crimes against them (some, especially the Muggle witnesses, with a baffled air because they were explaining that a green light had killed them), Hepzibah Smith, Bertha Jorkins, Voldemort's own father, and two confused and thoroughly non-magical beings offered up their testimony.
"Harry Potter!" came the witness to next crime.
The room answered as one, triumphantly, "Alive!"
Stray cheering that went up from a corner of the room.
Voldemort had by now discerned from his audience that his initial calculations as to his position, and, indeed, his current state of being, were as far from correct as possible…And, appallingly, his greatest enemy had…survived.
Then the same small group came around again, this time joined by hundreds (perhaps thousands…Voldemort did not care to count the insignificant swine) who enumerated crimes against his own Soul.
"Maimed!" One announced.
"Desecrated!" Shouted another.
"Fractured beyond repair!" Quipped someone with soft and prim disapproval.
"Obliterated!" Cried another with impunity.
Voldemort noticed the tall form of Albus Dumbledore – the worst pest save the infernal Harry Potter - gesture towards the evidence he had admitted of the remains of a flayed infant, which elicited only tense, pulsating silence from the collected tribunal around him.
He had become a plaything. They had diminished him into the center of a Muggle circus.
No one made the Dark Lord Voldemort ridiculous. No one.
Yet the atrocity rolled on.
"Witnesses to his credit!"
As if an enchanted curtain had been raised or a disillusionment spell lifted, a number of his faithful Death Eaters sprang into existence out of the air. There was mad, mad Bellatrix, the perpetually inept Gibbon, the forever-blustering Rosier, Wilkes the mediocrity, pathetic stammering Quirrell…
A single imperative sounded, "Speak!"
Not one faithful. And, once Bella's screams of rage at everyone assembled were discounted, not one word was spoken by the simpering lot. At least Bella's raving and Quirrell's sobs rent the silence in two. Then they were gone with the glib quip, "Testimony has been insufficient" and the circus resumed.
Backing away from the wall of silent judges, feeling real fear rip through him with a sort of lucidity he could never remember feeling in his entire existence, Voldemort managed to step off the dais only to find he was again capable of moving. Knowing of no other advantage he could seize upon, he fled, expecting them to jeer. To laugh.
He fled, instead, into ringing silence.
The way before him was barred with thousands of faces whose corpses he had stood over. Whose names he had assigned his Death Eaters to kill on whims. People he slaughtered for trinkets and trivial offenses. Men and women who had never understood and had to be taught the meaning of power. Men and women who had to be taught why he was called Lord Voldemort.
The vibrant red hair and green eyes of that woman who had spawned his great enemy, the German wandmaker, a boy cut down and dragged lifelessly and uselessly back by Potter, the escaped Karkaroff, the pesky Madam Bones, a boy with a camera slung around his neck that he had never seen, the long-lived thorn in his side, Alastor Moody…
They circled around him, not speaking, just circling around him.
"Your Soul has been weighed and examined."
This announcement was followed by the longest silence yet, filled with staring, accusing eyes from faces that were very much alive.
"Sentence shall be pronounced!"
Voldemort realized with sharp clarity, for the first time, that they were indeed all speaking. They pronounced with one voice and never so much as moved their mouths in a voice that was all voices.
"Give him his afterlife. His Death."
As one – one consciousness, one sense of justice, one voice – they…failed to punish him.
For one moment that seemed to last forever, he was stood, defiant, against all of his enemies.
And then he was swallowed in darkness and there was nothing. Not even their faces – the faces of the hordes that now could not die and could not be killed, they, his last enemies…vanished.
Nothing but that voice.
"Death is a mirror image of one's Soul. What we see is a reflection of our Souls. Our Souls remain. Remain in Death."
But Voldemort had knowingly shattered his Soul into eight different pieces and could barely contemplate this – what use was a Soul to an immortal being?
The darkness pressed in around him and, without so much as the noise of a waterfall of shattering glass, the world broke into splinters around him.
"Your punishment is merely of your own forging. Remain in Death."
He whooped into the sky and ran faster than he could remember running for decades.
The blue expanse of the sky and the verdant ribbon of uninterrupted field went on as far as the eye could see in either direction until they blended into one another far off into the horizon. And, threading through the endless expanse, as close (or as far) as he wanted it to be, was a road he could choose to travel at a moment's capriciousness.
But, most importantly, there was freedom.
Freedom under the star-strewn sky.
The rough and tumble sort of rambling freedom that merely became wider as he careened - sometimes human, sometimes canine - according to his own whims, across the wide open world with no walls in sight to contain him.
Spreading his arms as wide as they could go and raising his head in pure joy to the sky, he let out another great whoop that traveled on and on, encountering no obstacles. On and on and on his cry went until it reached the star he was named for and the constellation Sirius itself left its fixed position and made glimmering opal paw prints all over the velvety black sky.
Harry had told them both about such a place once – having heard of it completely second hand, of course, from his porker of a cousin. And, both he and George had known immediately – and then collectively squeezed every detail that Harry might possibly remember out of him over a round of Butterbeers – that with magical modification there was no way such a venture could make anything but gallons of Galleons.
It was called a "Fun House" and so, really, the entirety of the name was an ingenious Muggle marketing ploy to begin with.
Why, however, Death looked like a Muggle fun house, Fred wasn't entirely sure.
Moreover, Fred found that a fun house didn't quite live up to its name if no one was there to have fun with him.
He went into the room where things inexplicably jumped out on devices Harry had called "Spro – ings" that were used in place of magic. The clowns were only vaguely surprising once and Fred thought that they would have certainly benefited from a modified charm that made them chase the people in there…perhaps even shooting various things. There was a room of trick staircases, but, unlike the one's at Hogwarts, the patterns were, boringly, the same each time.
But there was one room that he disliked going into.
It was labeled – with golden Muggle paint – "The Hall of Mirrors."
He agreed with Harry's assumption that walking through such a room was kind of like walking through a much larger version of Alastor Moody's office – the first time he had walked through he had been stretched out, slimmed down, fattened up (until he looked much like a red headed version of Harry's cousin), multiplied a thousand times, and deformed in countless other ways.
It was so bizarre that he was half expecting to see Mad-Eye Moody pop out of nowhere at the end with a roar of "Constant vigilance!" and cast some bizarre kind of curse on him.
However, when Fred reached the end of the maze he found something…oddly normal. Rather than the mirrors that stretched him out in four different ways, there was simply a reflection of his normal self.
But, of course, when he thought in terms of reflections, he never thought of himself.
So, on spying that particular mirror, he had turned back to the beginning of the hall of mirrors rather than facing the last and most ordinary, his thoughts of including charms that showed people and things – a little like a thousand Mirrors of Erised – that weren't there and might be both frightening and amusing, were lost in the sea of distorted versions of George.
He had stayed in the other rooms – the ones with odd trap doors and creatures that leapt out and mechanically talking portraits – since then.
Today – whatever day or time it was, he had long ago lost track – he knew he should go back.
He stepped in and, by the time he had gotten to the middle of the maze of reflections, Fred noticed there was a second figure in the mirror that appeared for one moment and disappeared the next.
What's more, the face looked…familiar. Not in the way that he could immediately point say who exactly the culprit was, but more because all the glimpses and glances and bits of it that he saw behind him sparked something in his memory.
And, rather than staring at constant reminders of reflections in the mirror, it became a game - a practical joke - to catch the figure in the mirror.
At one point he thought that he might have been seeing more than one person…even, perhaps, hundreds.
However, in something that was indeed Moody-esque, he was led back and forth and to and fro up and down aisles, down into dead ends in which the figure was wholly apparent for one maddening second before vanishing only to be seen again as dark blur, darting down to the other end.
Chasing after it, he found himself at the last mirror, looking again at his own lonely reflection. Fred glanced around and then, crossing his arms behind his head in a practiced gesture of nonchalance, he announced to no one in particular, "I'm getting bored of this joke."
There was a pause for an absent chorus, but he went on.
He glanced back in the mirror and saw no trace – not even the quickest glance – of the figure. Turning to walk away, he saw something out of the corner of his eye – spidery, very familiar scripting…
It read: "Mssr. Rapier, we cordially wish to welcome you home."
Turning full around to get a better look at it, Fred recognized the writing to be something that he and George had looked over for a good portion of their Hogwarts days…the writing on the map that they owed so much of their productivity to.
The writing on the mirror cleared itself and was replaced with something more resembling an untidy scrawl - he recognized it immediately as belonging to Mr. Padfoot - than anything else. "What? No pointed remarks? Peeves got your conk? Dog got your tongue?"
Fred wanted to interject that that sounded rather disgusting, but was interrupted when the taunts erased themselves yet again. Another finer and more rounded scripting - the unmistakable cursive of Mr. Prongs - materialized and spelled out, "Disappointing, and here we thought we had a new recruit."
Just then, a loud clunking noise and some fairly foul cursing from the corridor just beyond the mirror broke the interlude of insults.
For the first time, Fred passed the last mirror.
Beyond, was the kind of room that Harry always described as being at the exit to all fun houses (a description which he said might merely be his cousin having a laugh at his expense, as Dudley so often had done) – a room entirely comprised of a spinning tube.
And currently, doing a good impression of laundry in a Muggle washing machine (his father had, upon discovering such a fascinating machine, told the entire family about it excitedly over dinner…however, their mother had objected when he and George had tried to put Percy and one of their garden gnomes into a magical recreation of one), were two fully grown wizards: A younger Sirius Black who had never seen the ravages of Azkaban and someone who looked uncannily like a far more adult version of Harry.
However, they were both currently slipping down the walls of the revolving tunnel and crashing into each other and, in their less graceful moments, simply rolling over the other as the curses spewed – mostly from Sirius – as both wizards tried to regain their footing.
Fred stood watching them with a wide grin on his face before sweeping into a bow full of mock elegance and stating solemnly, "Mssrs. Padfoot and Prongs, I presume."
"Presume to get us out of here!" Sirius shouted, swearing viciously again as he did a painful looking somersault over the knees of James Potter, which caused Fred to grimace slightly even though it did look rather comical.
"Disappointing," replied Fred airily, "I always thought you would be more resourceful."
"Padfoot! Rapier apparently cuts to the quick!"
"I'm not – " his friend responded, colliding with him and ricocheting up and down the wall again " – in good enough humor for this at the moment!"
Fred, by this time, was watching the entire spectacle and laughing at the expense of the two Marauders. However, as James muttered something under his breath and went shooting off out of the end of the revolving tunnel, landing rather hard on the – thankfully – stable ground, he forced Fred to swallow his mirth and dive frantically out of his way.
"That's the way, Prongs!" Shouted Sirius with evident relief, as he tried the same measure and somehow managed to shoot and land within inches of James Potter's head.
Now bereft of the entertainment of allowing the two legendary mischief-makers roll about like drunken puffskeins, Fred merely gazed at them and wondered what they had to do with this Death business.
"Let's pretend," said Sirius, standing up and brushing nonexistent dust off of the sleeves of his white robes, "That our mirror prank went over fantastically and, following the completion of the entire message, Prongs – that's James Potter, in case Harry didn't happen to share that bit – and I leapt out and gave you a truly grand welcome, rather than James thinking running off into that tunnel of hell was a truly superb idea."
"Moreover," continued James earnestly, "Let's assume that Padfoot, there, gave you a rather eloquent explanation of why we've invaded your spot of Death for a while rather than giving you that rather dull and dreadful explanation of precisely why he was not, in fact, giving you an explanation of why we are here."
"Very well," replied Fred with a tone of martyrdom, "I will assume that I should have assumed that said explanation was forthcoming and assume that both of you purveyors of magical mischief could purvey more results that were actually resultant from your efforts thus far to explain what has, unfortunately, remained unexplained."
Sirius and James both laughed at this.
"Rapier," began one, approvingly.
"Sharp," finished the other with evident satisfaction.
"Although, do tell," asked James, "What your Death is…because I'll admit that that the mirrors and things popping out at every moment were rather ingenious, but the revolving tube-a-mawhatsits made me miss the good old Saturday staircase at Hogwarts."
During their explorations of the castle with the Marauder's Map, both he and George had, in fact, come across the famed Saturday staircase, of which large chunks disappeared from on select Saturdays, as if on the castle's whim. The first time, they had, in fact, seen the figure of a black dog materialize on the map and charge up the stairs. Thinking the map was suggesting following suit, both of them had followed the example they had been given and ended up falling into one the many tunnels of Hogwarts, although it was now long caved in. For a moment, lost in this memory, he did not realize that his two visitors were still looking about with confusion.
Fred figured he would explain as, considering his company, the answer was far from self-evident.
"It's a Muggle fun house. You're supposed to romp around and be confused and such, apparently."
"That explains it," said Sirius, with a short, barking laugh, "Pure-bloods aren't allowed to have fun."
They walked back into the Hall of Mirrors together and, a little to Fred's discomfort, they stopped in front of the last mirror. Throwing a quick glance at his own reflection again, he felt a bit of betrayal that he quickly tried to hide.
To his surprise, both his infamous guests chuckled at him.
"Maybe he's not as sharp as we thought."
"All that rolling around in there probably dulled our old Rapier, a tad."
Fred looked at them for a moment, feeling the color rise to his cheeks and anger manifesting itself as a lump in his throat. He remained glaring at them for a moment until James, Potter, whose face had fallen into something like a paternal smile and explained, "You do know that we don't ever leave them, right?"
Not knowing what to do, he blinked back at the two Marauders and, Sirius, dramatically rolling his eyes, gestured back to the mirror. He found himself looking into it with only a sense of curiosity and not the sadness that had followed him the single time he had come into this portion of the fun house before. For a moment, just over his shoulder, Fred thought he caught James himself looking a bit nostalgically into the mirror and, although the resemblance wasn't identical, he wondered if he was thinking about his own son.
For a moment, he didn't see anything and he half expected the famous pranksters to have a message to the effect of "Mr. Padfoot thinks Death has made Rapier a bit gullible" show up as some sort of joke in poor taste.
However, for a moment, he saw the familiar shelves of the Diagon Alley shop and George's face in front of them, his lips bowed into a small smile as his hands ran over something Fred had been working on before they had closed up shop and gone on the run. The image faded after a moment, leaving Fred's own reflection in its place.
"It gets better," remarked Sirius with uncharacteristic gravity.
As if willing the image to come back again, Fred kept staring at the tall sheet of glass. The two Marauders, exchanging a brief, knowing glance, nodded.
"But until then, we thought," said James carefully, "That you might like some company while you wait, sometimes. Moony – that would be your Professor Lupin, if Sirius isn't a lying git…which may in fact be the case – might even join us some time, provided he gets done with some bit that was on his conscience. Of course, he might just be enjoying the moon, too."
"Everyone needs their little Death," responded Sirius roguishly, winking while he observed the surrounding area, "You know, we probably could make this place something rather…interesting by the time Rapier the Other shows his ugly mug."
He grinned and James did his best not to look too smug at the idea.
Fred grinned, "We do owe you so much."
And, seeing his reflection in the mirror out of the corner of his eye, he knew that sometime, he could welcome George in style and the "we" really would be complete.
No letters today.
No letters tomorrow.
Just sky sky sky.
Plenty of small creatures with bright eyes and long tails to eat. Easy to close in talons. No tired wings.
Just flying to the end of the hard places. Of the wet. Of the windy. No tired wings.
But someday I will find him again. At the end of the hard places and the wet windy. Found as I always have found.
And there will be no letters.
No letters today. Just sky sky sky.
Maybe, then, all he really deserved was the Whomping Willow. In a way, it was like a divisor in his life…he couldn't even recall seeing it after the night that Sirius had finally caught up with him. Right now, in the sunlight, it was like any other tree – strong branches rooted solidly to its thick, knotted trunk, wafting in the light breeze.
Perhaps it wasn't the most attractive tree. Nor the most majestic. But it had its uses. It had guarded a friend, once. A very good friend. He, too, had guarded that friend and knew the willow's secret.
Slowly, both with a sense of reverence and at a loss for what one was supposed to do now, Peter Pettigrew looked up at it, tracing the path of a butterfly towards its crown of branches. In the blink of an eye, the branch swatted at it and, for one horrific moment, Peter had thought the willow had killed it.
The delicate creature was thrown backwards and then began plummeting to the ground in a spin of vibrant hues. However, a short distance above the ground, it recovered and, this time, with an air of caution, it continued in a wide arc around the tree. There was – much to Peter's relief – no death in Death.
Peter, of course, knew the second nature of the tree. It went from a bucolic rustling of leaves to flaying the unsuspecting and betraying others. Although, at first glance, unless you knew what it was, you would never guess it had such a capacity.
The Whomping Willow seemed a strangely appropriate place for him to end up in Death because it was both like an old friend he hadn't seen in ages and a punishment.
His right hand prickled and, lost for a moment, he hadn't so much as noticed that the silver hand that the Dark Lord had given him was now lost – not that he missed it. However, there was nothing in its place.
Peter held the stump up his wrist up to the glaring sunshine and thought that, for some crimes, there could not be redemption.
A voice startled him.
"They took that, as a piece of Soul, for a boy named Cedric Diggory. They wouldn't let you in whole, you know, just for that reason."
Fresh in a white robe and looking as if not a year had touched her since she had left Hogwarts, Lily Potter was examining him.
A flash of worry ripped through him. He had given the Dark Lord the tools necessary to kill this woman…but Lily wouldn't…she never would…
The realization hit him, in the words of Sirius Black – "As we would have done for you."
But no one – not one of his old friends - would have done the same things he had done...
Lily continued to survey him and then said, with an indiscernible expression, "Welcome home, Peter."
She held up a hand.
"You have a lot of time to make amends. But now, the banquet is waiting."
Peter blinked at her and sputtered, "B-b-b-banquet?"
Casting a glance over her shoulder, she looked out towards the sparkling surface of the lake and Peter, looking in the same direction, discerned there were several figures dotting the shore in various stages of motion. Feeling his stomach plummet within him, he realized that one of the silhouettes had just transformed into a large dog, and another was laid out on the grass reading in a manner that Peter had seen so many times that the posture was unmistakable…
He wanted to run, to transform…
"Don't," said Lily very softly, understanding somehow what he meant to do. "And you can't transform anymore, anyways. You'll find at least twelve other pieces of yourself missing, each one the price of a Muggle you killed. But…you are more whole than some to come here."
She pursed her lips and, letting out a deep breath said again, "Peter, we all know what you've done, but now, come to the banquet."
"They'll kill me!" he squeaked, desperately trying to turn into a rat despite her words and dash through the hole and into the sanctuary of the Shrieking Shack.
"Awhile ago they might have tried. Even James…and I won't pretend that Sirius will ever be anything but cold to you – Death hasn't mellowed him that much – but even if they could, they won't kill you."
Peter thought over all he had done, unconsciously rubbing the stump of his missing hand in a slow, circular motion. Because of his information, Lily and James had both died at 22. They had never seen their son – the one who had given him more years than he probably deserved – grow up. Sirius' life had also effectively ended at 22. The Sirius who had almost murdered him that night certainly had only the barest resemblance to the boy who was so often the arguably insane mastermind of their schoolboy pranks. And without them, Remus – who was always so determined to be alone – could Remus have been anything resembling happy?
Even his mother – his mother whom he had only read about in The Daily Prophet and seen her tear-stained face as she cradled the little box that contained his finger and the award for valor that the Ministry had given her in place of a son – had he given her up, as well?
Lily, with those piercing eyes whom Peter had so recently seen in a face that looked more like James', seemed to be able to see everything that passed through Peter's mind.
"I won't pretend that the choices that you made were anything but cowardly and utterly reprehensible, but – although Sirius would almost certainly argue with me and may yet, knowing him – the absolute ruin of everyone you've ever known is too much to lay at your door alone."
To Peter's horror, the figures by the lake had seen him and the majority of them were now coming towards him. And all he could think of as what might be his very doom walked towards him was the Whomping Willow. He thought of being flayed and beaten by it for a moment. He rubbed the stump of his missing hand all the harder.
"Why?" He managed to stammer, looking to Lily as if she could save him from what he was sure was about to happen. However, by this time, James was next to her, and, lagging just behind, Sirius, and at Lily's other elbow appeared Remus.
His old friends. Who perhaps weren't in a friendly mood anymore.
"Why?" Peter choked out again, wanting to run, but finding his legs oddly paralyzed and wondering if that was also part of his penance.
"Because, Wormtail," said James evenly, "Your last impulse was for mercy."
"But I betrayed you!" He said, looking around frantically and trying not to focus on any of them – particularly Sirius who, of the lot of them, looked none too pleased to see him – "I betrayed all of you!"
"Yes, you did," replied Remus, who had not stopped coolly observing him.
"I betrayed you and your son! Your Harry, who saved me when you should have k-k-killed me!"
A stillness came over the group and Peter wondered if, by mentioning Harry Potter, he had placed the final nail in his coffin…just because in Death you couldn't die, didn't mean an entire slew of other horrid, nasty things couldn't happen to you…like dismemberment…and, he didn't want to think about what kind of tortures the boys who had once made the suits of armor at Hogwarts dance jigs on the house tables might come up with…
"In the end," began Lily, her eyes looking directly into Peter's own, "your impulse was for mercy towards him."
"You might even have saved him." James remained looking at him with an almost earnest expression.
"And," remarked Sirius pointedly, with the barest hint of a feral growl in his voice, "you died doing it."
"As we would have done for you."
Peter surprised himself by saying this last familiar refrain, which sometimes had run through his head accusingly when he was in the Dark Lord's service again.
They all nodded.
"You have time for a kind of redemption," said Lily, reaching a hand out to him, invitingly, "Your Soul isn't so damaged that Death is too good for you. For now, come to our banquet."
"Which, to be honest" commented Remus thoughtfully, "Is actually more of a glorified picnic."
Peter allowed himself, at long last, to be led down to the lake's edge.
For a day they had all left their proper Deaths – open fields and moonlit nights, Quidditch pitches and well stocked libraries – and were enjoying a day by the lake.
To his surprise, Peter was not the only guest.
As Remus read a long novel, his head lay in the lap of a woman Peter only knew as an Auror for the Ministry that had been particularly problematic for a while in the early days of the Second War. Her hair was a bright, canary yellow and fell in curly ringlets for the occasion.
Even Snape was there, looking at Sirius' canine form, romping around fetching a stick that Lily and James were alternatively enchanting to zoom about in evermore elaborate patterns with extreme distain and yet, appearing stiffly comfortable sitting at the fringes of the great, white blanket.
Tentatively, Peter sat down on the banquet among his old friends and enjoyed a golden day, hardly knowing how he could ever have let the feeling of such an event fade from him.
But, he felt - for the first time in a very long time - that he belonged.
In Death, he finds something that he was not very accustomed to in life – absolute surprise.
But, he supposes, he really should have expected such a thing. Didn't he himself once tell Harry that death is simply the next great adventure for a well-prepared mind? He ponders that after a life filled to the brim with enough adventure that, if distilled, might fill Rosmerta's flagons for centuries to come, his definitions might have become - what was the word he had so often heard applied to him – ah, "eccentric."
However, although his adventure was not adventure per the standard of normal wizards - which was perfectly fine with him because he was not used to the standard mold at all and didn't know why he should start at the end…which might be properly called the beginning in all honesty – but surprises did seem to mound up.
He had not expected to see Harry at all for (he fervently hoped) several decades at the very least.
Nor could he readily explain to him where he was when queried, because he very much doubted that Harry was sitting upon his same chintz chairs in front of the same fire and in the same company that he was.
But, he now knew that for Harry Potter, Death looked like King's Cross Station…Which was an adventure in Death that even a very well prepared mind might not have known. Who was to know Death had etiquette enough to be personalized?
For Dumbledore, Death was a roaring fire in Godric's Hollow and a few good pairs of woolen socks.
Chuckling to himself, he turned to Ariana and his mother and, taking up a dish from the end table, asked cordially, "Sherbet Lemon?"
It was markedly different from the last time he was here.
This time, he was wearing a white robe, and walking down the main platform, his footsteps vanishing into the noise of a long, scarlet steam engine that was making its slow way up towards him.
Overhead gleamed the familiar sign: "Platform 9 ¾."
Under the archway hung a banner with the words "THE LAST ENEMY THAT SHALL BE DESTROYED IS DEATH" emblazoned across it.
Slowly, as the train inched its way alongside him, the air was filled with shouts and heads of familiar people – some he had not seen in several decades and some he had never really seen, except in photographs and the memories of others – chaotically sticking out of windows, arms waving frantically about, some with flags.
The train stopped and seemingly hundreds of people spilled out onto the platform. At that moment, he noticed a new banner hanging from the side of the train that proclaimed: "WE WHO ARE VICTORIOUS IN THE FINAL BATTLE." Hardly having the time to puzzle this out, the train's passengers bustled toward him and a throng of people formed around him, ruffling his hair in a way that no one had done since he was a teenage boy, some hugging him, some whispering words he didn't quite catch in the general din.
He spotted Hagrid and felt thrill of innocent joy as he saw Hedwig, the only owl he had ever allowed himself to own, perched on his shoulder. The memory of him shouting "Firs' years! Firs' years!" as if he was eleven years old again and just walking into Hogwarts and marveling at the fact that he, Harry Potter, was a wizard stirred to life within him.
To one side, he saw Fred and George – reunited here in this place that blurred arrivals and departures – who were shouting, "Harry! You can pick the weather here whenever you want!" And, evidently, it was true, as Fred was now engulfed in a blizzard and George, now reunited with his lost ear, was being soaked (which didn't wipe the grin off of his face one bit) by rain driven by hurricane force winds.
A barking laugh drew his attention to where Sirius had commandeered a luggage trolley and was using it to force his way to the center of the crowd where he pulled Harry into a great hug that seemed to almost make up for all the intervening years that lacked his boisterous presence. He then disappeared and then re-materialized alongside a slighter figure who shared many of the same features and gave Harry a sheepish, but welcoming, grin. With a shock, he realized this must be his brother Regulus, the infamous R.A.B.
During the course of the reunion, however, Sirius's great hug was only rivaled by the one Mrs. Weasley gave him as she and her husband gave him an enthusiastic greeting and thanked him profusely – Arthur Weasley pumping his hand many times – for taking such good care of their children and grandchildren. Several other flashes of bright red hair were enough to know that several other Weasleys had come to greet him as well.
And there were many glimpses of faces – he was certain he was clapped on the back by Mad-Eye Moody (who looked strangely whole with all his limbs and both his eyes whole and attached) and a young boy who he thought was Cedric Diggory, perhaps Kingsley and Rufus Scrimgeour (although he wasn't certain), even Dedalus Diggle was leaping up through the crowd, purple top hat just visible at certain times. Dobby, dressed immaculately in some suit of clothing he must have designed himself - it sported multiple patterns and colors that changed depending on the angle you were looking at him at - provided quite a contrast to the stately Mr. Olivander, who nodded with a small smile upon his face. He thought he saw Ted Tonks and Andromeda, but the flash he got of them was so ephemeral he could only ascertain that they looked very happy.
All of his teachers from his years at Hogwarts were present – McGonagall was waving her Gryffindor flag with a smile on her face that Harry had only seen when they had won the House Cup his first year. She even smiled benignly as Colin Creevey snapped a picture of her for the occasion. Remus Lupin, standing hand in hand with Tonks – who had rushed into the crowd following Sirius's trolley charge, tugging Remus after her - hugged him and told him multiple times how much they appreciated how he took care of Teddy over the years. Professor Sprout, Flitwick, Trelawny…all familiar faces. Even Snape gave him the barest nod from the fringes of the crowd.
Dumbledore was there, sitting in the same place he had been the last time, and this time, Harry was certain he saw a tear trickle out of his shining blue eyes. Going over to him, Dumbledore commented, "Reality is much better the second time through, I think."
After all these years, the riddles were quite welcome. And, this time, there were no more secrets.
Finally, however, the crowd parted to make way for people Harry had hoped to know and learn about his entire life.
James and Lily Potter walked towards their son and, spilling their tears upon his head, hugged him and kissed him and told him that they had never been a day away from him in their Deaths.
Here there were no scars or sufferings that could not be healed, nor questions without answers, nothing that wasn't whole and beautiful. No incurable sadness or longing. No one lost or missing. Only waving banners, caresses of affection, people he had never stopped missing returning – and, of course, love.
For Harry Potter, Death looked like King's Cross Station, because it was the place where, at the very end, perhaps it didn't matter if one was arriving or departing. Any traveler might either go on a journey or come back Home. But what always remained imprinted in a person's mind that traveled in or out of the station was the thought of the reunion waiting for you when he or she returned.
It was in that moment that one forgot about going or coming and was content to be here that all was truly well.
A/N: This, considering other events in my life at the moment, was sort of hard to read over, but nonetheless, I've finally finished it and it is long.
If you're wondering why some people aren't here, I really wanted to concentrate on characters that didn't get much fic time – Hedwig, Dobby, and even Voldemort, to some extent – in the flood of DH fics. However, this has taken the form of another fic populated entirely by dead people…just remember, sometimes the living haunt the dead. Also, owls have no need for commas.
Hope you all enjoyed! Comments will be very much appreciated and loved!