When he wakes, drifting slowly into consciousness, he does not remember the battle at all. The flashing lights, the screaming, Dolohov's twisted face, sweating with exertion and concentration as they battle. He does not remember limping on his wounded leg, shaking blood out of his eyes, pushing himself up against the broken battlements, his wand just as broken, useless in his hand. He does not remember his resolve to go down fighting, to protect Neville and the others in his group. He does not remember the desperate hope for Teddy and Dora that propels him, weaponless, at his opponent. He does not remember the blaze of sickly green light. He does not remember the high-pitched scream from a nearby corridor. He does not remember falling.
His mind is blank as he lies, naked as his newborn son just a week before, the sloping dirt floor pressing into his bare back. His eyes closed, the smell still reaches his inhumanly sharp senses, stirring visceral memories of struggles far older than the battle he has just left. The musty underground scent is less potent without the underlying blood-scent he recalls from before, but still pricks at his mind. It is a call from days long past, beckoning him to be aware, to return from his half-slumber.
His eyes finally open. The earthen ceiling of the room—no, not a room, a long, thin passageway, a tunnel—spreads above him. The ridges and tangles of tree roots that twine themselves under the dirt surface form a pattern as familiar as the air's scent. Lying here, naked and vulnerable, is also something he remembers.
I know this place.
And yet it is different. He has not awoken here like this in a long time. And even before, it was not the same. Once more he sniffs the air and notes the absence of blood. Pushing himself into a standing position, examining his body, he feels no aches, no pain. Where there should be scars, claw marks and bite marks, a lifetime's brutal tally of self-destruction, there is smooth skin. It should not be so. Uneasiness pushes at the margins of his mind. He should be bloody, battered, torn. It was always that way when he was here before. The memory of pain brings new images to his head. For the first time, he thinks of the battle. The war seeps into his head like water dissolving on sand, or blood on a tunnel's dirt floor.
He remembers that he fought. He remembers why. He realizes he is dead. It is an odd thing, to know suddenly and without doubt that he has been killed. He hopes it will not be in vain, even as he knows the others will keep fighting without remembers words heavy with the wisdom of old age. "Harry is the best hope we have."
Harry will fight, and die if he must, as I did. And we will follow him until the end. As I did. Please let it be enough.
He remembers other things too. He recognizes this place, this tunnel, trailing off before him into dark shadows, for what it is. He knows what he will see when he turns around. Sure enough, when he revolves, spinning to look back, he sees the same long-abandoned room he expected. He remembers painful transformations. He remembers the wolf inside him, tamed over the years through faithful friends—or not so faithful, another memory that brings dull pain—through healing potions, and recently, through a beautiful woman whose voice is soft and comforting and whose hair is a color not found in nature.
He does not want to enter the place of his monthly torments. He turns and begins to walk in the other direction, towards the mouth of the tunnel. If there is a mouth.
I can't think of an afterlife worse than being stuck in the Shrieking Shack forever. Are there full moons in the next world?
The last time he was here, he raced along it, at a speed he usually only took when going out. Before, the direction he travels now led to freedom, fellowship, and adventure. The other direction meant pain and a cage. But when he was last here, he ran towards his former shackles in pursuit of answers, of the truth. He walks slowly now, not knowing what lies ahead. He realizes how alone he is, in this dark tunnel.
She is pale in the darkness, lying on the ground further down the passage. She is naked too, still and silent, curled on her side.
It takes him a moment to recognize his wife. He is still unused to waking next to her every morning, to finding her in his arms when he emerges from sleep. The thought that someone as young, perfect, able-bodied, healthy, wonderful, vibrant as she would want to be with someone like him is still new, even after the miracle the last few months have been. A miracle in the midst of Armageddon.
He kneels a pace away from her. He doesn't want to startle her. She looks so peaceful. The radioactive pink of her hair is the only spot of color in the underground passage, a realm of browns and grays. She looks asleep.
No, she looks dead. Like me. But how? She wasn't fighting.
His heart fills with grief for his beautiful Dora. But she is a warrior woman, not a delicate flower of a girl. He should have known she would come to the final battle, even when he told her not to. He should have known she would be there, at the end.
Her eyelashes flutter, thick and dark against her fair, freckle-dotted cheeks. Waking, she crosses her arms over her bare chest with reflex modesty. The arms fall away as she sees him, her face lighting up.
I'm glad to see you too.
"You could have been safe." It comes out flat, matter-of-fact. He is instantly ashamed of telling her something she knows, of rejecting her decision. She is with him now, and he is happier for it.
But she's dead. She could have lived. She was safe.
"I know." Her large brown eyes well with tears as the memories that came back to him so slowly hit her full-on.
"But you were fighting out there, all of you. I'm an Auror. I can fight. I had to fight. For Teddy. For everyone."
He nods. "I know," he says, echoing her words back to her. "But you could have lived."
She lifts her chin, staring him in the face. Tears still glisten on her face, but the determined, stubborn expression, the one that is entirely her own, entirely Dora, and still manages to remind him of Sirius, is back. He's missed it.
"You could have lived too. If you'd abandoned the cause. If you'd left Harry to face him alone. If you'd turned your back on everything you believed in."
"I couldn't. Neither could you."
She shakes her head. "I followed you. To the fight, and now here. I love you, you know that."
"I still can't believe it, but yes. I know. And I love you." They hold each other, their bare bodies close together, and he is not alone.
"I saw you die," she whispers in his ear a moment later. "I was fighting Bellatrix, and she forced me back, into the room where you were. I saw it happen."
"Not your fault, silly." Her voice is affectionate, as if calling him out for some domestic slip-up—pinning Teddy's nappy the wrong way, maybe. Not something as serious as dying in front of her.
"I didn't see you. I heard you, I think."
"Was that when…?" he trails the question off.
I never thought I'd ask someone when they died.
"Not quite yet. I was fighting Bellatrix, remember?" Her smile is bitter, as sharp as a knife. "I wanted to bring her down with me. She deserved it."
Though he is by nature a forgiving man, he thinks of stone steps and a veil between life and the beyond, and his heart hardens as well.
"I didn't manage it. I think I managed to curse her before she got me, though. I might have slowed her reaction time down a little."
"Someone will take her down. You've helped them, I think."
"I hope so."
"I'm glad you're here," he admits.
"Oh, you are, are you?"
"Yes. You look just like I left you."
She smiles. "You don't."
"I know, my scars are gone."
"Not just that. Want to see?"
He nods, and she screws up her face, focusing on a metamorphosis. Her features shift into his. But not quite his. This version of Remus Lupin isn't a day older than his wife, not only scars but worry lines vanished as if erased. No streaks of gray contaminate his hair, the precise shade of light brown something he hasn't seen in years.
His intake of breath is sharp and sudden. His image morphs back into hers.
"You look younger," she says, smiling.
"That's an understatement. I look like a different person."
"No. You're still you, but without all the pain." She smiles wickedly. "You can't say I'm too young for you now, can you?"
"We're both dead, Dora. I doubt age matters much."
They are silent for a minute, feeling each other's heartbeats. In the afterlife, apparently, heartbeats still are possible. The thoughts of wars and teenagers marshalling armies and orphaned babies left behind besiege him in the sudden quiet. He breathes in deeply, her warm, sweet scent blocking the decrepit memories the tunnel smells of.
What's at the end of the tunnel?
Her thoughts are just a step behind his.
"What's next? We have to go somewhere, right? This isn't the end."
They stand, hands clasped.
The end of the tunnel is not far ahead. The ground slopes gently, rays of sunlight visible from the as-yet-unseen opening above. He smells fresh air. For the first time, he hears something other than his and Dora's breathing, something other than their voices. The distinct, heartbreakingly familiar sound of a dog's bark reaches his ears. Is that the sound of cantering hooves, drumming on grassy ground? He can almost hear them, up ahead. Even before, when he waited in the tunnel, even before, when he was alone, they came to greet him, to take him outside. As he waited for them so many times, so long ago, he knows with stabbing certainty they wait for him now.
There are human sounds too. He recognizes the warm, pleasant voice of his son's namesake, the soft conversation of his own parents, and the musical tones of a girl whose green eyes he has seen far more recently on another face.
Dora squeezes his hand. "Ready?"
"If you are."
Holding her hand, they walk together, onward and upward, towards the unknown, towards the loved and once-lost, into the light.