Truth of the Heart
High in the wall of Hogwarts' Great Hall, just below the enchanted ceiling, was a carved frieze of intricate design. Magical creatures chased each other across its polished wooden expanse in an ever moving parade. Some of the dancing figures sparkled with reflected light while others lurked deep in the carven shadows, safely hidden from easy sight. Unknown to most of those who walked the floors below, not all the eyes that looked down from this vantage point were made of wood.
Severus Snape dragged himself deeper into the cramped recess in the wall and peered down into the Great Hall through one of the frieze's many hidden peepholes. There were still quite a few people milling around even now, hours after Potter's victory over the Dark Lord. As he watched the slow movements of the survivors, still dazed from battle and loss, the truth hit him with an almost physical force. He'd survived! For the first time in his adult life, he was finally, truly a free man.
Both of his former masters were dead, but he, by a miracle of fate and careful planning, was not. Not that they both hadn't done their best to kill him, a solid E for effort in each case. While Voldemort had attempted direct assassination, Dumbledore had preferred the more subtle approach of neglect and callous indifference to attain the same result, but he'd foiled them both in the end. Severus knew he should feel more satisfaction in that, but at the moment, it was hard to summon up the energy.
A convulsion rippled through his body, and he pressed his fingers against the bandage on his throat and closed his eyes against a sudden wave of nausea. Completely purging Nagini's venom from his system would take hours more. He knew he should find somewhere safe to rest until the antidote had done its work, but he had another task to perform first, one that couldn't wait if it was to have any chance of success. And succeed it must, if there was any earthly way he could manage it.
He opened his eyes again and looked down, scanning the huge room for casualties of the battle. Several of those below were wounded, but there were no dead bodies to be seen. Only Death Eaters and their allies still lay outside on the castle grounds. If the honored dead weren't here, then where would they be? Surely they wouldn't have taken them to the infirmary. Poppy would need those beds to treat the living. The dead had to be somewhere close by though. Perhaps one of the classrooms off the entrance hall was being used temporarily.
Severus narrowed his eyes and considered his next move. Once he performed his task, he wanted to be able to leave Hogwarts without anyone knowing he was still alive. Even though he'd given his memories to Potter, there was no guarantee the dratted boy believed them or would pass the information on to anyone else.
If he was seen, more than likely he'd be attacked without warning, and he certainly didn't want to have gone to all the trouble of thwarting the Dark Lord only to be struck down by some scared kid who still thought he was the enemy. He didn't possess the energy to conjure up a Disillusionment Charm at the moment, and Potter hadn't been thoughtful enough to leave his invisibility cloak lying around again, so he'd simply have to be extra careful. He really didn't have any other choice.
No doubt the sanest move he could make would be to sneak out the back door while everyone was licking their wounds and never look back. Yet he knew he couldn't do it. No one else knew the truth. If he didn't act, then no one would, and he'd spend the rest of his life wishing that things had been different. Enough was enough. He'd already spent far too much time regretting past actions and atoning for mistakes he never should have made; he finally had a second chance, a chance to start again, to do things right, and this was the way to begin. He had to try. He'd never rest again if he didn't. Turning away from his vantage point, he headed out of the narrow niche and began to make his way down to the ground level of the castle in search of the dead and one who, hopefully, only appeared to be dead.
Pomona Sprout encircled Molly Weasley in sympathetic arms and drew her to her feet. "You need to get some rest, Molly. Come on now." Slowly she tried to lead the distraught woman toward the door.
"No, I can't leave him here alone." Molly pushed Pomona away and turned back to the body of her son, but before she could reclaim her place at his bedside, she was engulfed in the arms of her husband.
"Pomona's right, Molly. We can't help Fred now, and you're about to collapse from exhaustion. Your own injuries need tending. He'll be all right here for awhile. He's not alone." Arthur paused with a lump in his throat to look at all the other still figures lying on tables around the room. "We'll come back soon, but now you need to rest."
Molly looked up into her husband's eyes and sniffled loudly. Unable to say anything more, she just nodded and let him lead her to the door, trailed by the rest of her family and the sad-eyed Herbology professor.
As soon as the small group closed the door, Severus slipped out from behind the drapes in a far corner of the room with a sigh of relief. He'd been standing there for almost an hour waiting for the room to empty of mourners. He should have known that the Weasleys would be the last to go, though he couldn't find it within his heart to sneer at them for it, not under current circumstances. He also shouldn't delay his own mission any longer. Someone else could come in at any moment, and the longer he waited, the more likely he was to fail. And he couldn't afford to fail, not this time.
Methodically he began to move through the room, lifting shrouds from bodies, searching for one in particular. Suddenly, he found himself staring down at a shock of bright purple hair. Even in death Nymphadora Tonks was needlessly flamboyant, he thought, and felt a slight twinge of shame as the comment flew through his mind. Dropping the sheet back onto the young woman's still face, he turned and reached for the one covering the larger form lying on the table by her side. It had to be the one he sought.
Severus stared down at Remus Lupin's pale, motionless face and a shiver passed through him. What if he was wrong? Lifting his hand, he touched the still cheek. It was warm. Warmer than it should be if the man had truly died several hours ago. Pressing his fingers to Remus' throat, he sought a pulse but found none. An ear to the werewolf's chest revealed no heartbeat, either, but the warmth remained.
Was he right? Was Remus still alive? He thought back to the conversation he'd heard just after he'd been summoned to the Shrieking Shack by the Dark Lord. The Death Eater who'd spoken had been gloatingly sure of himself. He swore he'd killed the "Auror with the purple hair, Lestrange's niece." Then he said he used a curse on her husband that would ensure he suffered a slow agonizing death because she couldn't bring him back again. The man had laughed nastily and said there wouldn't be any "happily ever after" for either of them.
Putting all that together really only yielded one answer, Remus must have been hit by the Sleeping Beauty curse which caused a form of simulated death so real that no one was likely to be able to tell the difference, especially since there was no particular reason for anyone to be looking. Despite its whimsical name, it was a cruel and nasty little curse, rarely used and little known, and there was only one way to lift it. As any reader of Muggle fairytales would know, the only cure was a kiss from the victim's true love. The Death Eater thought he'd foiled that possibility by killing Tonks before Remus' eyes, but that required her to really be his true love.
Severus sighed as he looked down at Remus' still form. Maybe she was. Remus did marry her after all, had a child with her. Surely he wouldn't have done those things if he didn't love her. Would he?
His own relationship with Remus had ended so badly. He cringed whenever he thought back to their final conversation and the horrid things he'd said to the man. The nastiness of their parting was totally his fault, he didn't deny that for a moment, but there really wasn't anything else he could have done. He knew what was coming, what Albus was going to require him to do, and he knew he had no choice but to do it. But he refused to drag anyone else down with him, especially not Remus.
Going on alone had been his only alternative. Alone with his vows and his guilt and his obligations to the grand relationship of his past that he'd finally understood too late had become an obsession, something he clung to because he was afraid to move on and let himself love someone who might just love him back.
As much as he hadn't wanted to admit it, even to himself, his true love, the one that was really right, lay here before him. The only way to know if Remus felt the same way, however, was to kiss him and see what happened. If he was right, then Remus would live, and the two of them might have a chance to correct the mistakes of the past. Hopefully this time, with nothing hanging over either of them, and no one else to interfere, things would be different.
So without any more hesitation, Severus bent down, pressed his lips to Remus', and prayed he was right. Willing Remus to open his eyes, to live and continue to live for many more years, he pulled back and held his breath, watching anxiously. How long would it take to lift the curse if he was right, if he, and not Nymphadora Tonks, was really Remus' true love? It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn't the vaguest idea.
Uncounted seconds crept by, enough of them for Severus to truly begin to understand just how agonizingly long a second could really be. Then the air shifted slightly as if someone had taken a shallow breath and, unbidden, hope slipped into Severus' heart and began to grow. Abruptly, Remus' eyes flickered open, and he glanced around, appearing rather bewildered to find himself alive.
"Severus?" he whispered as his eyes struggled to focus on the man hovering over him. "What happened?"
It worked! As elation flowed through him like the warm rays of a summer sun, Severus instinctively smiled in happy, heartfelt relief for an instant before forcing the expression from his face. There was no need to make a scene. There'd be time enough for that later, once they were alone.
"Congratulations, Lupin. You aren't dead after all," he said calmly.
As Remus turned his head, wary eyes gazing in horror at all the shrouded forms surrounding them, Severus placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and added, "It's all right. The war is over. We won. The Dark Lord's been destroyed. Just try to relax…"
"Relax? Are you insane?!" Remus exclaimed angrily. "What the hell do you mean we won? Why are you even here? Last I knew, you and I weren't fighting on the same side, you traitor." As Remus pushed himself up onto his elbows and shoved Severus away from him, he was overcome with a wave of dizziness. He moaned and shook his head.
"I don't understand. The last thing I remember, I was fighting Death Eaters and…" He gasped and sudden panic filled his voice. "Dora! Where's Dora? He hit her with a spell. It was…" He pressed a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. "No! The flash was green, but if I'm alive then she…"
When he opened his eyes again, tears welled up and began to slip down his cheeks. Abruptly, he sat up and grabbed Severus by the front of his robes. "Where's Dora?" he demanded. "Is she alive? What have you done with her?"
Dismay coursed through Severus as cold reality smothered his faint glimmerings of hope. Why hadn't he anticipated this surge of animosity on Remus' part? They'd parted in anger. They hadn't even spoken in over a year. No matter what his deeper feelings might be, he thought of Severus as the enemy and nothing had proved that assumption wrong in his eyes. Remus might have been suffering from the Sleeping Beauty curse, but obviously they weren't going to be experiencing a scene of happily ever after here. Not if all the man could think about was his dead wife. He was a fool to have ever imagined any other result.
Pulling Remus' hands from the front of his robe, Severus gestured toward the still form on the table next to them.
"I didn't do anything to her, but you're right. The flash you saw was green. She's dead."
Shoving Severus aside, Remus slid off the table to reach across and pull the sheet off Tonks' body. "No…" he whispered hoarsely. "Dora, please, don't be dead."
Crying in earnest now, Remus pulled his wife's body closer and laid his head against hers. "Damn it! Why did you have to follow me here? Why didn't you stay home with Teddy as we'd agreed? Why couldn't you have done just this one thing as you promised?"
Severus stood awkwardly and watched Remus rage at fate and abruptly felt totally exhausted. He'd done what he'd come to do and if the result hadn't been everything that he'd hoped for, well, who did he have to blame but himself?
A sound from the hallway outside the makeshift mortuary dragged Severus out of Remus' pain and back to reality. He couldn't stay any longer. If he was to have any hope of getting away, he had to leave now before anyone wandered in and saw him.
Of course, once Remus pulled himself out of his grief enough to think again, he'd tell people that Severus had been there, but there was always the possibility they wouldn't believe him. The man was highly distraught and confused. Severus knew he'd just have to take the chance. He wasn't going to tamper with Remus' mind. He'd already tampered with his feelings. Best to leave things as they were.
Taking one last look at his former lover as the man cried over his dead wife, Severus turned and began to move quietly away. Before he took more than a couple of steps, Remus, more aware of his surroundings than Severus thought, grabbed him by the arm and yanked him back.
"Oh, no, Severus. You aren't going anywhere. You have far too much explaining to do, and I intend to see that you do it," Remus snarled, tears still flowing down his cheeks.
Severus tried to pull free, but desperation strengthened the werewolf's grip. "Damn it, Lupin! I'm not your enemy. Let me go," Severus exclaimed in frustration. Surely saving Remus wasn't going to be the deed that did him in. How ironic would that be?
"Potter defeated the Dark Lord. Voldemort is truly dead and gone forever this time. Potter knows the truth of where my loyalties lie. I gave him my memories. They'll explain everything. The boy's no good at keeping secrets; I'm sure he'll tell you anything you want to know. I can't stay here. If I ever meant anything to you, let me leave now."
Staring deeply into Remus' eyes, his voice became lower and more intense. "Remus, please… Don't you understand? I'm finally free! Free from them all. Don't tell them I'm alive. Just let me go…and I'll never trouble you again." Unless you want me to, he added silently.
Remus seemed to hesitate and, as his grip slackened, Severus thought for a moment that his words had made a difference, but then Remus' eyes glazed over as he staggered and grabbed for the nearest table before collapsing into unconsciousness. Severus seized Remus before he could fall. Realizing that the man's weakened condition had simply caught up to him, he gently lowered Remus' body to the floor and, with one last, long look at the man he loved, Severus turned away and quickly left the room.
When Remus opened his eyes once more, he found himself sitting on the floor, his aching head rested awkwardly against his makeshift bier, while several people stood over him, looking amazed and concerned.
Suddenly, the crowd parted as Poppy Pomfrey pushed her way through and knelt at his side. She scanned him with her wand and felt his wrist for a pulse. Shaking her head in wonder, she said with a smile, "I don't understand, Remus. I was sure you were dead, but apparently I was wrong and glad of it. How do you feel?"
Remus shook his head slowly. "I'm not sure. I…I thought I was dead, too. I saw Sirius and James and…"
Poppy helped the dazed man to his feet. He glanced around at the people staring at him as they gave way and moved back. "Where's Severus?" he said suddenly, looking around as if expecting to see the former Potions master somewhere in the crowd, but surely that wasn't possible? Was it?
Poppy took a firm grip on his arm and began to lead him out of the classroom. If she was surprised at Remus' question, she didn't show it. "He's not here, Remus. I'm afraid that he didn't survive the battle," she said.
Remus frowned in confusion as he allowed her to steer him toward the door. That didn't sound right. His thoughts were fuzzy and jumbled, but he was almost certain that Severus had spoken to him right here in this room after the battle was long over. He had a clear vision of the man standing there and looking down at him, and he'd told him something, though at the moment, he couldn't recall just what.
"He's dead? Are you sure?" Remus asked uncertainly. "I could've sworn…"
"Harry said he was sure Snape was dead. That he watched him die. Do you know something he doesn't?" she asked curiously.
The room began to spin lazily, and he clutched Poppy's arm more securely as a sudden sharp vision of Severus' face, pleading for his silence, swam before his eyes. Had Severus really been there or had it all been just one more all too vivid dream? Uncertainty kept him silent.
"I…no, I don't know anything," he murmured as he closed his eyes against another attack of vertigo. Poppy instantly conjured up a stretcher to support him. Then, once she got him on it, she whisked him off to the infirmary; happy to have one more patient to treat and one fewer casualty to mourn.