Disclaimer: all characters belong to J K Rowling and Warner brothers.

a/n updated an

Cheating Death
By neutral

Epilogue - cheating a snake

The days that followed Harry since the moment he closed his eyes were myriads of dreams. He treaded through an endless see of darkness, each step painfully slow as the earth itself seemed to swallow him. Whispers accompanied him, tickling his ear one moment, then screaming at him the next. And through the darkness, there was suddenly light, blessed light. The air was warm, unusually so, and the woods around him looked like the Forbidden Forest on a good day. The dream was fractured, or was it his memory? He never seemed to dream coherently; he would see darkness one moment, and then light the next. Quiet suddenly, the voices would silence, and he would be lost again. Other times, he would open his eyes and see darkness, and wonder if his eyes were truly open. He would see his father's face, then sometimes Sirius', blending together in his vision until he couldn't discern one from the other.

Once he woke and saw a blurry face with pale brown hair, watching him with an expression that he couldn't see. He could hear fragments of words, convoluted and twisted into an indiscernible form when they met his ears. Harry squinted, struggling to focus his flawed eyes.

The flaxen haired man paused, his cloak rustling audibly through the room. Slowly, he drew closer and soundlessly knelt beside the bed.

"Harry?" came a gentle whisper.

The voice was familiar, but Harry was too tired to think much about it.

He had a vague idea of the room becoming brighter, and a blurry shape move into his vision. His eye lids were fighting themselves again; he wanted nothing more to close them and sleep.

"Harry?" the man said again, more urgently. "Are you awake?"

The voice abruptly clicked in his mind. "Professor Lupin?" he tried to say, but the name came out in a dry croak.

Remus slumped forward, and even through his blurred vision, Harry could tell he was smiling warmly.

"Thank god you're okay," Remus said through a long sigh. He placed his hand tentatively on Harry's shoulder as he moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "We were so worried. I was so worried. Harry… don't ever do something like that again. Don't ever…"

Harry wasn't sure how to reply. Remus' hand shook slightly over the thin blankets, but his eyes were too poor to discern the expression on his former professor's face. He seemed so much paler, so much wearier, Harry couldn't imagine how Remus must have looked with his glasses.

Remus ran his hand harshly through his light brown hair, and sighed again. "I'm sorry. I know you never asked for any of this. You never deserved any of this. But please, Harry, don't place yourself in this kind of situation. We…" Remus broke off sharply. He turned away halting, shaking his head. "Please be careful, Harry. We… Sirius, Dumbledore, Ron, and Hermione… they care too much about you for you to be hurt."

Harry swallowed, not trusting himself to speak with his parched throat, and managed a slight nod of apology. "Sirius…?" Harry worriedly asked, struggling to turn his head to scan the room.

"Resting, don't worry," Remus patted his shoulder, some of his previous anxiety fading. "He tried very hard to stay awake, but in the end, Madam Pomfrey's potions got to him first. He needed to recuperate, after all that's happened. But Sirius is unhurt, don't worry."

Harry sank back against the bed with a small sigh of relief.

Remus seemed to smile at his reaction. "Sirius was… ecstatic when you returned. I had fallen asleep in the kitchen that night, and Sirius nearly hauled me, chairs and all, to see you. Do you remember?"

Harry frowned slightly. That had happened? He had no idea. All he could remember was whispering vague and blurred words to his godfather before everything fragmented. But dragging Remus out of his chair… Harry smiled at the image. It seemed like something Sirius would do.

But another thought slammed into the back of his head, and he jolted in response. "Ron… Hermione?" Harry choked out. If Remus had been cracking under the load of the recent events, how had his closest friends reacted? His stomach clenched at just the thought.

Remus pressed him back restrainingly, dragging the warm sheets to his chin. "It's okay, don't worry," Remus was obviously trying hard to be reassuring, but Harry only became more apprehensive at his effort. As if seeing the expression on his face, Remus hastily continued, "They were… very upset. But they were very excited when they heard of what happened. They're very eager to visit you."

That was all he remembered of that conversation with Remus, although thinking back, he must have spent over a hour in his former professor's company. He must have drifted into consciousness countless times, but he could never recall any of those. But one memory stood poignantly in his mind; the day when he opened his eyes and saw two people he never thought he'd see again.

It was hard to miss that flaming red hair and frizzy light brown curls even with that blurred vision. With the bright room, he could just barely make out the red head, slouched over the edge of the bed and watching him intently and the long brown-haired girl sitting beside him. The taller boy shifted, sending a bright burst of light into his eyes, and Harry shut them quickly.

"He looks so pale," the girl whispered.

Harry could feel a hand brush against his wrist, searching for his pulse. There was a relieved sigh.

"He's alive."

"Well, of course Harry's alive! Did you really think Dumbledore would lie?"

There was no reply.

"Are the side-effects of the killing curse really this bad? Harry looks like he's been ill for months," the girl said softly.

"Lupin said something about having your spirit torn up and fit back together. This doesn't usually happen to people who survive the curse, but not that anyone's survived it before…"

There was a shuddering sob. "I can't believe Harry was dead! It was like… like… oh, I don't know!"

The crying sent stabs of guilt down his spine. Troubled, Harry opened his eyes, squinting to focus, and slowly dragged his head across the pillow. His body was heavy, his movements sluggish. Even the thoughts in his mind seemed to pass through mud. But there was only one concern in his mind, and that was his friends. The movement caught their attention immediately, and for a long moment, no one spoke. It was impossible for Harry to discern their expression; without his glasses, everything came as a wild smear of colors in his vision.

There was a sharp gasp, and instantly, Harry was engulfed in a choking embrace with light brown hair blinding his eyes.

"You're awake! You're okay! You're alive!" she choked on the last words, dissolving into another fit of tears.

"Hermione?" But his voice was a strangled croak that sounded strange to even his ears. Nevertheless, Harry smiled weakly, turning to his blurry red-headed friend.

Ron's expression was impossible to read, or perhaps it was only because of his faulty vision. But then, Ron trembled so violently that Harry could even make it out.

"Don't you ever, ever do that again!" Ron hissed angrily. But a tremor in his words betrayed him completely. "Don't you ever run off and get yourself killed or I'll…"

"Ron, don't say that!" Hermione interrupted quickly, her grip around Harry's neck never relenting.

"I don't care! Harry, do you have any idea how miserable you made Hermione, and Ginny, and Fred, and George, and Mum, and…," he trailed off, shaking his head. "Where you even thinking? Did you even care? If you didn't look so ill I… I'd throttle you right now!"

Ron turned away, unable to speak. But Harry could see the shudder in his shoulders despite his angry words. Hermione had gone silent. How much had his death tortured them? Harry wondered. How much did they suffer when he didn't even spare them one thought. Harry couldn't escape the ripple of remorse stirring in the back of his mind.

Slowly, Harry urged his hand to move. But there were numb fingers entwined in his muscles and rusted hinges in his joints; just bending it seemed to take all his strength. He grasped the edge of his best friend's sleeve, twisting it in a death grip.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

Ron jerked his sleeve out of Harry's grip, turning his face away. For a moment, Harry thought he would yell angrily again, but instead, he drew his robes over his face. His breathing became strained and uneven, and it was only then that Harry realized he was crying. It must be embarrassing, for someone so proud and stubborn like Ron to break down in front of his friends.

"You better be sorry," Ron finally choked out.

"Ron, stop it! Harry didn't ask for any of this," Hermione said defensively.

Ron quieted, but his shoulders still shook. Slowly, Harry reached out for Ron's cloak again, tugging sluggishly at thin fabric. Ron turned at the movement, and without warning, enclosed Harry's wrist in his hand with a desperate jerk. His grip was so firm that Harry could feel his fingers numb. But even so, he smiled, the room blurry and unfocused, and his two best friends at his side.

"I won't do it again," Harry whispered.

"You better not!" Ron snapped, but his tone had softened considerably, and he gripped his best friend's hand so tightly it was painful.

Harry managed a small smile. The heaviness in his body was slowly turning into numbness, and voices were beginning to take on a muffled tone. His eyelids felt like solid weights, begging to fall down, and his body felt devoid of bone.

"Harry, next time, at least tell us about your dreams, alright?" Hermione pleaded. Her face darkened with concern when Harry was silent. "Harry?"

Ron pushed forward, clutching his friend's shoulder and shaking him with a sense of desperation. "Harry!" he said, louder than he intended. "Harry, stay awake!"

Harry just moaned in response, too tired to respond. His body was screaming for rest; more than anything, he just wanted to lie back on the bed and sleep. Too weary to fight, he simply submitted to the darkness at the corners of his vision.

The room finally swam back into focus for Harry another two days later. He stirred under the covers, reluctant to leave the warm cocoon. Harry blinked at the blurry ceiling in confusion, before the memories trickled back to him. Sighing, he shifted carefully, testing his strength. His body was still heavy, but he could lift his arms without a problem. But his muscles in that arm felt oddly watery; Harry missed the gift of regeneration that proved so useful (although for not very good reasons) in the Land of the Dead.

Harry turned his head, trying to look around. A smile tugged at his lips when he caught sight of Sirius, sprawled against the side of the bed, half of his body in a chair, looking extremely uncomfortable. Remus was asleep in a chair behind him, worn and tired. Both looked terrible, in his opinion. Although Sirius had put on some weight, he was still frighteningly skinny. His hair hadn't flared much better, rather crudely washed and brushed. Remus had dark circles under his eyes, looking like he just suffered an untimely full moon.

Harry shifted again, suddenly realizing he was extremely thirsty. At first, he tried to ignore it, not wanting to disturb the two obviously tired men. But his entire throat felt like someone had scraped it with sandpaper. Groaning, he pulled himself into a sitting position, his back protesting all the way. The oversized shirt and pants he wore weren't his, that was for sure. It wasn't wide enough for Dudley, but it was so long it reached his knees; the legs of the pants were cropped just short enough not to trip him. It probably belonged to Sirius or Remus, he decided.

The air was cold, or were his blankets warm? Harry rubbed it between his fingers, noting how they seemed to radiate heat with traces of the warming charm. He pulled the edge of the blanket and covered Sirius as well as he could before he moved off the bed. The room swayed wildly, and Harry leaned against the bed until his vision steadied. His legs shook under his weight, but they held. Harry passed Remus on his way out and pulled a tattered cloak that was draped across the chair over him.

Walking seemed to take a lot more energy than he remembered. He stumbled past the door, leaning heavily against the wall, and looked around for the kitchen. Everything came as a blur, and Harry decided, before anything, he needed to find his glasses.

He looked around, a flash of light catching his eye. There, on the coffee table. Harry walked towards it haltingly, without a wall to support him. He almost stumbled several times, and by the time he picked up the lens and the room came back into focus, he was soaked in cold sweat and gasping for air. The entire endeavor felt like hours. Strained, Harry half fell half sat down on the floor, feeling as if he could never stand up again. He eyed the short distance to the kitchen ruefully, before finally settling on a mug full of some brown stuff on the table. Harry drank in hungrily, coughing when cooling water ran down his parched throat, and made a face. Cold black coffee tasted awful on an empty stomach.

But as Harry sat in the silent room, the cold mug in his hands, he found his thoughts unconsciously returning to the woods of the dead. There was a lingering emptiness that James and Lily left, more acute and painful than ever. Harry could almost hear his father's inquiring voice, his mother's light laugh. He wished he could have stayed, but Sirius loss was too great then. Harry couldn't bring himself to leave his godfather behind.

There was a shuffle from the room he left, and muffled voices that sounded more and more frantic. Harry looked back at the door, wondering if Sirius or Remus was awake.

Heavy footsteps. And then a loud, "Harry!"

Harry blinked in surprise at the desperate tone of Sirius' voice. The tall form of his godfather rushed into the living room, followed by Remus with ruffled hair and bleary eyes. Sirius caught sight of Harry, sitting on the floor beside the coffee table, and gave a long sigh of relief.

"Harry, don't do that!" Sirius said wearily.

"I just wanted to get some water," Harry meekly said, a bit surprised.

"You should have woken one of us up," Remus whispered, falling against the door frame with a soft sigh. "Sirius was frightened half to death. He thought you vanished again."

Embarrassed, Harry nervously glanced at Sirius, but his godfather was pinning his friend with a death glare.

"Sorry," Harry whispered, unable to think of anything else to say.

Sirius' glare slipped from his face instantly, his expression softening into concern as he almost cautiously approached. He suddenly seemed pensive.

"How are you feeling?" Sirius softly asked, sitting on the floor beside Harry as he searched his godson's face worriedly.

Harry paused. "Tired," he said with a small shrug. It was only after the word slipped from his mouth that he felt the flicker of surprise. On any normal occasion, he would have denied it, but he couldn't seem to lie to his godfather.

"Should I get Madam Pomfrey?" Not waiting for a response, Sirius glanced over his shoulder to his friend. "Remus, do you think we should get Harry to Madam Pomfrey?"

But Remus wasn't paying attention; he made a strange sound in the back of his throat, and approached Harry with long strides.

"Sirius, did you see this?" he asked, pulling away the collar Harry's oversized shirt. Harry looked up, confused. Sirius seemed equally baffled, but he paled when he examined the base of Harry's neck.

"It wasn't there three days ago," he said softly.

Harry twisted uncomfortably, growing more anxious at their reactions. "What is it?" He flinched when a finger touched his neck, and the it stung with a burn.

There was silence, before Sirius guided Harry's hand to a spot below the base of his neck. Harry gasped when he traced an unfamiliar zigzag of the flesh, still fresh and moist with blood. Remus transfigured an empty glass into some bandages and pressed it against the skin firmly.

"A scar… in the shape of a coiled snake," Sirius whispered.



CD is done, finished, zippo! Yes! *takes a huge breath and dances around in relief*

It leaves off in preparation for the sequel, but… there will be no sequel, no sequel, no sequel! I feel like a broken record for saying that over and over, but everyone keeps asking *cries* I am adamant about it! NO SEQUEL! If you want to read one, write one! *nod nod* SAT's making me cruel... but still, no sequel. And nothing will change my mind! *evil cackle* There are two people interested in writing the sequel to CD, so you can't complain against me anymore. So there! Ha! Dy aka WeasleyTwinsLover1112 has offered, and Unicorn Whisper tentatively might be (did you get my email? i sent you what i had of the beginning, i hope it was helpful). They're both great authors, and they're going to make Playing Life a wonderful fic, much more wonderful than Cheating Death.

Doesn't close off well, does it? It begins with a Harry and Sirius focus, and leaves off without resolving anything. Maybe I'll write another chapter... later, much, much later. Please don't ask me to write another chapter of the epilogue, or a sequel! I'm dying here! But if a reviewer hit 500, 1000, or 1500 want to request one (or would you like to request another chapter of Good Intentions, PoM, or CoS), then I'll gladly write one. But since then, it will not be possible. I lost my muse for CD, so writing it feels like I'm being tortured by a cattle brand. That's pretty much why I don't really want to touch CD again. Please, be considerate! Be understanding! *cries*

now that you mention it, Snape and Dumbledore never made a comeback. It was planned for the sequel, but the sequel never appeared. And I can't post the rough drafts for my sequel either, because there are none. *sigh*

humm... Cheating Death was one of my first stories, so it was sort of a hit and miss series for me. It started off like a craze, I wrote about a chapter a day and finished the entire thing in less than a month, then went back to carve and polish it. but then, coming back to read it three months later... the thing felt so horrible cliche ridden and whiny mushy that... I donnuo. It just felt off. CD lacks the realism in PoM and the compact plot of WS. Parts of the story just isn't believable, the situation, the actions, the characters. They lack depth and a solid personality. Harry was close to being static the entire way through, which shouldn't have happened considering the situation. He should have grown into someone more confident, determined, strong, and more emotionally secure, but all that happened was that he was guilty and got over it. That was it. Remus was close to being ignored. Ron and Hermione were too, and Snape who came in vaguely important just pulled a disappearing act. All in all, CD was a fic that closed off with a handful of loose ends. It feels... lacking, not exactly incomplete since the plot did pull to a close, but sort of, emotionally lacking... kind of like when you see a long movie and leave off wondering what the hell the point of it was. ack! i'm so sorry. i really shouldn't bash like this, but... its just that that's how I feel about CD... its a nightmare! WS didn't leave off like this. CD falls several feet short of WS, mostly because WS came to a close with all strings tied and left the reader with a sense of completeness. CD just drops like a brick in water... humm... this brings the question of how PoM will leave the reader. *cackle cackle cackle evil cackle wheeze wheeze* this'll be fun

humm... this author's note will be short, because I really don't remember much about the fic or my mind set when I first wrote it. That was the time when I didn't really think much about Sirius, or wasn't a complete Sirius fan (that seems like a loooong time ago), but just liked the idea of Harry finally being able to have a parental figure. But then, as the story wrote itself, suddenly, out of nowhere, Harry died!!! I really did not plan that. Initially, it was Sirius being freed by the random incident, but my fingers had another thought in mind. When I read over what I wrote, my first thought was 'oops!' and then 'oh well... okay.' and then '*cackle* this'll be fun' or something to that affect. I never planned the outcome of CD, but I didn't do that for WS, CoS, or PoM either. Its sort of a bad habit, but its the only way I can write. But then when there's moodswings or random bursts of frustration, you get incidents like... chapter 28 in WS. acccccccccck! that was a big oopsie! But pretend you didn't know that.