(A story in the Harry Potter fandom, written for the Moonshadow Tribe's "Things to Think About" Challenge; Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling, no profit is received from this story)
Remus looked up from his steady regard of the lake, and smiled at Severus.
"You're late tonight."
"If we can ever really be said to be 'late' anywhere these days, I suppose I am. Do you wish an apology or an explanation?" Severus spread his robes fastidiously and sat down next to his old friend.
"Neither is required, but if you want to do either, I'll probably enjoy the novelty of the first and the creativity of the second," Remus smiled and turned his gaze back to the lake.
Severus laughed, his short, choking laugh that always made it seem like he was surprised that life had amused him. There had been little enough to amuse either of them back in the old days, Remus reflected. And yet...there had been laughter in both their lives then. All the more precious for being rare.
"The explanation," he decided suddenly, turning to smile his slow, grave smile at Severus. The potions master nodded his acquiescence, and Remus thought there was a ghost of a smile playing across the other's pale features. He smiled more broadly–sometimes he amused himself, but it was always more fun to win a smile from Severus. They were so rare.
"I was overseeing young Albus Severus–he was 'experimenting' again," Severus began.
Remus shuddered. "Any survivors?" His question was only half tongue in cheek–there had been some close calls over the years with the youngest Potter. Who would ever have thought that there would be a Potter with a greater talent for trouble than Harry and James?
"He really is quite talented," Severus commented, with just a touch of surprise in his voice. "Today's project was to work on an improved version of the wolfsbane potion. Your Teddy was the impetus I believe."
Remus nodded. He would be. Albus Severus worshiped his cousin–and Teddy was determined to find a cure for lycanthropy. A cure–not a treatment. Remus was proud of both boys.
"Teddy is bright, but he is not the potions genius that young Albus Severus is proving to be," Remus noted.
"But he has a speck of common sense–a commodity that is woefully deficient in the Potter gene pool, and especially lacking in young Albus," was Severus' tart comment. Remus laughed.
"I'm surprised you concede he has even a speck–you're getting soft in your old age, my friend."
"I daresay that is true. But I must confess, with Tonks as his mother and you as his father, I did not expect to find even that much." Severus' slow smile took the sting from his words–which Remus knew better than to take seriously after all this time anyway.
"So, did it go well?"
"With a few judicious assists from your's truly–yes, I believe it did." Severus looked at Remus. "I think they got it, Lupin. I really think they did."
Remus couldn't help the tears that sprang to his eyes, but he blinked them away quickly. Nothing Severus disliked more than excessive sentimentality. To his surprise, his friend reached out and grasped one of his hands.
"You should be very proud, Remus. He is a fine young wizard. And he does you great honor."
Too choked up for words, Remus merely nodded and continued to stare out over the lake. Trying to turn the conversation into less emotional paths, Severus asked how young Scorpius was doing.
"Didn't you say you would be overseeing the transformation class before our meeting tonight?"
The tactic worked. Remus' faded brown eyes started to twinkle as he replied, "What I said was that I would be overseeing the detention young Scorpius had earned himself with Minerva. She does not quite know how to cope with him, you know. Although I think she is finding it easier to see him as himself and not as a mere copy of Draco."
"Or Lucius," Severus nodded. There was a reason they kept an eye on the young Malfoy heir. Although, Severus reflected, thus far he'd shown himself to be far different from either his father or grandfather. His smile had a touch of the old wicked amusement in it as he said to Remus:
"I don't know what surprised the staff more–the Sorting Hat putting a Potter into Slytherin or its placing a Malfoy into Gryffindor."
Remus laughed. "Well, it has led to the boys being close friends. Who else can possibly understand what pressures they face in their respective houses? But, as I was about to tell you, Minerva was marking papers, having assigned Scorpius some task or other for his detention. I couldn't tell what it was as he never got around to it. He was busy daydreaming, looking out the window at the lake."
"I would have expected him to be gazing toward the Quidditch field," Severus noted, waiting for the rest. Scorpius stories were always good for a chuckle.
"I think that would have been fine with Minerva, but after a few moments of watching him watch the lake, she asked, in that no-nonsense tone of her's....you know the one," Remus interrupted his own perusal of the lake to glance at Severus.
"We all know that tone," his companion said ruefully. Remus laughed and went on:
"Anyway, she asks, 'Mr. Malfoy, may I inquire as to what fascinating observation has held you entranced for the past twenty-two minutes?"
Severus grinned his appreciation for Remus' spot-on imitation of the Headmistress' brogue.
"And he said?"
"In the most serious tone, he answered, 'of course, Headmistress. Perhaps you can help me. At first I was wondering how deep the lake would be if the Giant Squid did not take up so much space, and then that naturally led me to wonder how deep the ocean would be if there were not any sponges in it. Do you know?"
Severus joined Remus in laughing heartily. As soon as he composed himself, he asked, "did she venture an answer?"
"No. After sitting there with her jaw dropped, she dismissed him."
"It never fails to surprise me that this generation of Potters and Malfoys are so different from their parents–and differ even more from their grandfathers, thank Merlin," Severus said.
Remus nodded. "I like to think we've had a hand in that."
"Perhaps. But I am sure Harry and Draco exerted a certain influence also–neither wanted their children to grow up as they did."
"It was a hard life on both of them. Yet, they can sleep with clear consciences–even Draco, who had in many ways the harder path as he trod it alone– in the end, they are good men, with families to love and love them."
"Clear consciences," Severus scoffed. "A clear conscience is usually a sign of a bad memory. I suspect that is the blessing that gives both Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Potter peaceful nights. They both saw and did things no person their age should have been required to do."
"Then perhaps we should wish for bad memories also," Remus said somberly. The years as a double agent, courting the werewolves, weighed heavily on the gentle wizard. He could only imagine how Severus suffered–twenty years of service to that monster. All for the greater good, he thought bitterly. Still, one should try to be happy for the end even as one regretted the means.
"Do you ever stop to consider," Remus asked Severus pensively, "what it would have been like to have had a peaceful world to live in, free of the shadow of Voldemort."
Even now, Severus could not help wincing at the name. But he gave the question serious reflection before answering.
"It was different for me. My life was never free of shadow, and for a while, I thought...I thought He was the one who would remove the shadows." He looked over at Remus. "As you might recall, you and your friends were part of the shadow of my youth."
"I do recall. As you said, a good memory is a bane to a clear conscience," Remus said sorrowfully.
"No, I didn't say that to make you apologize yet again, Wolf," Severus said gruffly. "My point is that every youth has its own shadows–and it is the task of each generation to battle them. Albus Severus and Scorpius have theirs, and your Teddy has had his share as well. All we can hope is that they stay brave and true to who they want to be...who we would want them to be."
Severus glanced at his too somber friend and sighed. "Come now, Lupin, there is no cause for that long face. They will do fine, and one day they too will wake up old and wonder what the hell happened."
Remus laughed. "Well, that is one fate we won't have to worry about."
"No, indeed. Almost makes up for the clear conscience, does it not?" Severus' tone was dry.
"Almost," Remus agreed companionably. He stood and reached a hand down to his old friend. Old, but never old. "Time to resume our rounds, wouldn't you agree?"
"I do. One never knows what mischief those two boys will get up to if left alone too long." Severus accepted the hand–more out of friendship than any real need for the help.
Ghosts have no trouble getting up from the ground, he reflected. Another compensation for the loss of a clear conscience.
"Do you think...someday...we will pass on?" Remus asked as they glided toward their beloved Hogwarts.
"Yes, I do," was the surprising answer from the Potions Master. "When our duty is finally done."
Remus nodded. "To rest...and perhaps, to dream."
The two friends passed through the closed doors of Hogwarts, and resumed their secret guardianship over this generation of students.