Chapter 1: Chapter 1
It was Albus who told me that they had found him, one week after the Dark Lord had been gone for good. He had been missing for half a year; one night, on a mission for the Order, he had simply disappeared. No one ever learned about his whereabouts. We had no possibility of finding out whether he was free or captured, whether he was alive or dead – my betrayal had been discovered some months before, and I had been forced to give up spying on the madman who called himself Lord Voldemort.
Only a few days later, it was in every paper. Remus Lupin, member of the Order of the Phoenix, held prisoner for six months by Death Eaters. Found in a dungeon beneath one of the Dark Lord’s latest hideouts, together with twelve lacerated corpses in different states of decay.
The papers gave an account of every detail, and the public gorged them with morbid fascination: that he had been naked when they had found him, curled up in a puddle of excrements on the blood-stained stone floor. That, judging from his appearance, he must have been starved almost to death. That he had been tortured so badly that his spinal cord had been injured, leaving him paralysed from the waist downward. That, at present, he was still unconscious and at St. Mungo’s for further treatment.
A week later, an outcry went through the press. Lupin had finally awoken. If you chose to call his state of mind “awake”. If you chose to say that he still had a mind.
Under the influence of Veritaserum, a Death Eater who had taken part in his capture and torture finally satisfied everyone’s thirst for knowledge. In an earlier state of the war, the Dark Lord had intended to convince the werewolves to join his forces. Luckily for our side, Albus had foreseen this and had sent Lupin to forestall our enemy. Lupin had been successful, and when he had been captured some weeks afterwards, the Dark Lord had wanted revenge. They had kept him imprisoned in the very same dungeon for the entire time, and every full moon they had sent him two other prisoners, who, without access to the Wolfsbane Potion, he consequently had killed. They had not bothered to dispose of the corpses, gloating over his misery at the sight of those he had slain. During the time between the full moons, the Dark Lord had taken pleasure in torturing Lupin with mental images of him killing his victims over and over again. It had driven him insane.
To the press, he was a hero who had sacrificed his mental health for the safety of the wizarding world. They praised him to the skies; he was awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class, and the Ministry bestowed a regular pension on him. It was downright disgusting. They treated him like public property. Overnight, he transformed from an untrustworthy half-breed into “our hero” – too bad that they only acknowledged his merits now that it was too late.
During the next weeks, one by one, his friends, former colleagues, and the Order members visited. I did not care. I had had no dealings with him except Order business. I did not like him, on the contrary, I had loathed the man with a passion - and I certainly knew of better ways to spend my time than visiting someone who would not even recognise me. At least, that was what I kept telling myself.
I do not know why finally, two months after his return, I found myself in front of an unimpressive white door in the locked ward of St. Mungo’s, half-heartedly listening to the explanations of a nurse.
The first thing I noticed was that he looked far smaller than I remembered. He had always been slender, but now he was fragile beyond anything that could be healthy. There was much more grey in his hair than when I had seen him last, and the lines edged in his delicately chiseled features made him look tired and sad. Traces of tears were on his cheeks. What was the worst, though, was the empty look in the large, amber eyes, which were staring unfocused into space.
I did not know what I had expected from seeing him. Had it been simply curiosity that had driven me to visit him? Had I expected to derive satisfaction from the fact that my last enemy from former days had finally received what he deserved? I must admit that at some moments the thought had crossed my mind. Was it not ironic that finally something had cost him his sanity, and that he almost had done the same to me twenty-two years ago?
Now, however, this thought left only a taste of shallowness. I could not help but almost feel sorry for Lupin, however much I might have hated him before. Watching the unresponsive shell of a former witty and intelligent man, I suddenly felt like an intruder, no better than the reporters who still vainly tried to sneak into his room to take a picture. Would he want me, of all people, to see him in such a condition? I left hastily, with no intention to ever come back.
On a Monday evening five weeks later, I found myself in a chair beside his bed. Why I had returned I cannot tell. I had tried to distract myself with work, had made the attempt to derive satisfaction from giving out even more detentions to my obnoxious students, and yet - since my first visit, his picture before my inner eye would not leave me alone, no matter how hard I tried to convince myself that he was not a business of mine.
Now listening to the silence that was enfolding us, I could not help wondering. Wondering at the strange twist of fate that had allowed me, a former Death Eater, to come out of the war unharmed, whereas he, who had not made my mistakes, had been punished in a way that would have been appropriate for my crimes. I had murdered innocent people, had tortured even more, probably condemning some of them to the same fate that Lupin most likely would have to suffer for the rest of his days - outwardly free, but a prisoner of his own shattered mind.
I stayed for a few more minutes, angrily fighting a guilty conscience, and when a nurse entered and announced it to be time for dinner, I left, thankfully leaving behind the sight of him being fed like a child.
About a month later, I received an owl from a solicitor’s office, the letter informing me that the next afternoon, Lupin’s solicitor would visit. I was highly irritated. What on earth could he probably want from me, who had so little relation to his client? It turned out that Lupin had consigned him to deliver me a letter in case of his death, a sudden disappearance lasting longer than a year or acromania, in the latter case to be delivered four months after the diagnosis had been confirmed. Having explained his task, the man handed me the letter and took his leave, leaving me even more confused than I had been before.
A week passed by. The letter stayed unopened. For some strange reason, I could not bring myself to break the seal. Ridiculous as it sounds, it appeared foreboding to me in a way that made me wish I had never received it. Finally, after another week, I found myself beside his bed once again.
“What does it say that you couldn’t tell me yourself?”
Of course I did not expect an answer. I did not even really know why I had come here again. Eventually, I opened the envelope and read.
I do not even know whether or not you will read this. Maybe you will throw this letter into the fire the very moment you receive it. I could not blame you. Nevertheless, I hope that you have not done so.
You probably wonder why I leave you a letter. What could I have to say that I could not tell you personally? Why should I have to tell you anything, in the first place? We were not friends, we were not even really on speaking terms – at least as far as you were concerned. There is something I have always wanted you to know, though, and since you would never listen to me, a letter seems to be the only possibility.
I want you to know that I am sorry. I am sorry for what happened back in our sixth year at school, when I almost killed you. I know you probably will not believe me when I tell you that Sirius had not let me in on what he had planned, but it is the truth. I did not know. He did not tell anyone, neither Peter, nor James, nor me. I would never have allowed it.
When I awoke in the infirmary the next morning and Albus told me what had happened, all I could think of was you. I had hurt you - albeit unintentionally - and I wanted nothing more than to tell you that I had not known what Sirius had been doing. To tell you how sorry I was. But you would not talk to me. When I tried to make you listen, you told me to leave. You said that you hated me. You were so cold… I never forgot the expression in your eyes. It tore me apart, because I loved you, and I had hoped so much for you to feel the same.
Later, Sirius told me that he had feigned my handwriting to pass you a message, telling you to meet me at the Shrieking Shack and how to get there. He had not even thought about the danger. I will never understand how he could have been that stupid, and our friendship never fully recovered. But I cannot blame him entirely – I am mostly responsible for what happened. I was afraid you would reject me if I told you what I am. It was weak of me, and I cannot tell you how much I regret it. Nothing of this would have happened if I had not been such a coward, and I cannot blame you for hating me. You must have thought that everything that had been between you and me during the previous months had been nothing but a lie. That my friends and I had laughed at you for your naivety to believe I would love you. But I did.
Severus, I loved you, and I love you still. I do not want to leave without you knowing the truth. As much as I have always longed for hearing you say that you forgive me, I know that I do not deserve it, because I destroyed everything that could have been.
I hope with all my heart that one day you will find someone who will be able to make you as happy as you deserve to be.
Having finished reading, I watched him silently. He did not seem to have gained any weight since my first visit over three months ago. His pale skin, hardly standing out against the white sheets, gave him an almost ethereal appearance. In a way that I cannot describe, he looked innocent and young, despite his faded scars, tired features and greying hair. Younger even than so many years ago, when there had been kisses, touches and sweet promises of love, when I had thought him to be the most wonderful person I had ever met, and I the luckiest one for being allowed to be so near to him. Before I had met his other self. Before I had realised that I had meant nothing to him.
“Let bygones be bygones, Lupin,” I said, wiping off with my handkerchief a small trace of drool that was trickling down his chin from his slightly parted lips. “I believe you, but it doesn’t change anything. It was over twenty-two years ago.”
After this I buried myself in my work. I wanted to believe what I had said. Let bygones be bygones. Even if he had been able to tell me in person, it would not have changed anything. Too much had happened. Too much had been destroyed. It would never have been the same. And as it was, it did not matter anymore.
For three months, it worked. Until the last sleepless August night, when the full moon was shining brightly down on me through the window of my bedroom in my old house I use to retreat to during the holidays. That night, I could not help thinking of him, of how he was right now. As damaged as a wolf as he was as a man, unable to move, with no understanding of what was happening to him, why he had to undergo the excruciating pain of the transformation. Alone.
I did not sleep that night.
Two days later found me in front of his door. When I entered, a nurse was feeding him. She was chattering cheerfully to him about how ‘we’ were feeling today, and I felt an irritation welling up in me that I normally only derive from Potter’s presence. Using my most penetrating scowl, I run her out of the room.
The procedure of feeding Remus was agonisingly slow. He was wearing a bib, because his swallowing reflex was partially damaged and he would often choke on the mashed food. Every spoonful he kept down, though, was a small victory, since he was still appallingly underweight.
When it was obvious that he could not eat more – the dish was not even half-cleared – I cleaned his face and sat down at his bedside again, carefully taking hold of a thin, trembling hand. The tremors were an after-effect of excessive exposure to the Cruciatus Curse and would never fully cease. Running my thumb in small circles over the back of his hand, I did nothing but watch him, and gradually I realised that I had been wrong. Even though the past could not be changed, even though old feelings could not be revived and lost time could not be regained - it did matter that I finally had learned the truth. I had learned something about myself, and it did not make me proud.
When the nurse came back to collect the dishes, she was more than surprised at the sight she was presented with. According to her, Remus was afraid of any physical contact and would begin crying and shaking violently the very moment someone touched him. I still do not really know what I felt at hearing this. Was it happiness because he reacted differently to me? Or was it sadness, because this was a remembrance of what could have been, had destiny chosen another path for the two of us? I think it might have been a little of both.
The next evening I returned punctually for dinner, just as the next one, and the one after that. The staff got used to me feeding him every evening, and I got used to sitting at his bedside, watching his small, motionless form, quietly talking to him while stroking a slender, white hand.
After some time, I began reading to him from the books which his friends told me to be after his fancy. They had done so themselves during their visits, but they had lives to go on with, families to care for, other friends to meet- friends who would laugh at their jokes, answer when asked a question and smile instead of cry when being touched. Their visits grew much less frequent. I had no such friends, no family and no life beside my teaching, and I did not mind coming here every day.
In fact, I even found that I missed it if I had to stay away for one or several days. I missed reading aloud to him - illogical as it was, for if you keep it in perspective, it was not different from reading to an empty room. I missed telling him about all the small, nonrelevant things and events of the day – about Albus’s newest robe, uglier than any that I had seen before, about Filch’s never ending requests to be allowed to reintroduce chains in detentions, about Hagrid’s newest absurd pet, the students' latest escapades. I missed the feeling of his hand in mine, missed the soothing effect that just watching him had on me. I missed him.
One evening four months ago, I fell asleep in my chair. When I awoke, the watch told me that it was beyond midnight already. Through the window the nearly full moon threw strays of silvery light on the bed. Remus must have been in the grips of a nightmare, because he was shaking uncontrollably, tiny whimpers escaping his lips, pearl-like tears shimmering on his pale cheeks. He looked so beautiful, so much like a lost child.
Only moments later, he woke with a start, his unfocussed eyes darting around frantically. He was panting for air and still whimpering fearfully between the shuddering breaths. Instinctively, I got up from my chair and lay down next to him on the bed, pulling his frail form into an awkward embrace. Never in my life had I comforted anyone, and I am sure I did poorly, but to him my touch and the soft, meaningless words I whispered seemed to be enough. Slowly, his violent trembling subsided, and after some time his breathing evened out and he was asleep again.
My attention now no longer directed at comforting him, I noticed a sharp, unpleasant smell. Carefully, I disentangled myself from his sleeping form and got up to turn on the light. It was not until then, until I saw Remus lying there in all his fragile, innocent, defeating beauty, the sheets and his hospital-pyjama soaked with his urine, that I finally realised that I still loved him.
Quietly, I performed a cleaning charm on him, the bedding and my own robes before bending down and placing a light kiss on his white forehead. It is the only one I have allowed myself until today.
The next evening, I began stroking his hair while reading to him, and I have done so ever since. I slowly run my fingers through golden brown and far too much grey, the soft strands gently caressing my skin, just like they did so many years ago. He seems to like it- or at least that is what I want to believe - because sometimes, only sometimes, he will smile.
It was one of those small, broken ghosts of a smile that finally made me cry.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Twenty-one months had passed since Remus had been found, ten months since I had realised that I still loved him. Every evening I would come to feed him, read to him, talk to him. Every evening I would stroke his hair and hold his hand. Every evening I would look into those empty eyes, wondering if he could hear me, if he simply was unable to react or so withdrawn into himself that it did not matter at all whether or not I was here.
Every evening I would feel myself die a little more.
Now I had not seen him for three weeks. I had received the message that a grand-uncle of mine, who had been living in Romania, had died, and I, being the last living relative, had had to arrange his matters on location. Bureaucracy had worked incredibly slowly, forcing me to stay far longer than I had expected.
This would not have been a problem, had not Minister Fudge, in all his glorious paranoia, laid down a body of rules for former Death Eaters, which, among other things, banned me from Apparating into or out of the country as well as using the Floo network for this purpose if I did not wish to spend a considerable amount of time at Azkaban. Maybe he was fearing I would try to build up new forces outside the country; I honestly did not care about his imbecilic presumptions. I had been forced to travel by Muggle means of transportation - something which had made it impossible for me to leave my great-uncle’s hometown to visit Remus, since I was supposed to be available every day.
It had been impossible not to think of him. There had of course been no reason to worry about him, but I had not been able to change it. Every day I had grown more restless, more irritable, more concerned. I fear I was not very helpful to the officials, which unfortunately had only delayed closing the matter.
The night of the full moon had been worst. Remus had transformed to his canine shape once more, had suffered horrible pain - and had spent the night alone, for the first time in fourteen months. I had not been there to give him the Wolfsbane Potion myself, had not been there to undress him before the transformation. I had not been there to stay with him, stroking the apathetic wolf, had not been there to comfort the pained, shaking man I loved in the morning before feeding him his usual mixture of painkillers and Dreamless Sleep Potion.
Now, finally, I was back, and I had hardly taken the time to bring my luggage to my house before Apparating directly to St. Mungo’s. It was late, about 10 pm, but no one held me up on my way to Remus’s room. Entering the small, familiar room, I noticed my usual chair to be occupied, my gaze meeting a muscular back and a messy, black shock of hair.
Potter. Other than myself, he was the only one to visit Remus on a regular basis, I knew. But he had always paid his fortnightly visits in the afternoon, thus making sure that we would not meet. Since his graduation seventeen months ago I had seen nothing of him – a fact I did not regret at all.
Upon hearing the sound of me closing the door, he turned his head.
“Professor Snape,” he greeted.
“Potter,” I replied coolly. What was he doing here, at this time of day? And why was he looking so tired and weighed down with sorrow? Not that I cared about his well-being. Probably his training taking its toll – Auror training was not a walk in the park, after all.
He silently got up from the chair to make room for me. Lying in the bed behind him was Remus, seemingly asleep, his skin even paler than usual, deep, dark circles under his eyes. His cheeks were hollow, his body skeletal, from what I could see. His chest was hardly rising and falling with wheezing breaths, and a cannula was sticking in his right hand. He seemed to be at the verge of death.
I immediately rushed to his side, completely oblivious to the fact that I was being watched. Taking his left hand into my own, I noticed that his wrists were so thin that I could have snapped them effortlessly.
“Potter! What happened?”
He did not seem to be bothered in the slightest by my sharp tone but slowly began to explain. About a week after my departure, Remus had stopped eating. They had tried to feed him for a few more days, but as he had continued to reject the food, they soon had had to put him on total parenteral nutrition. This, however, had done nothing to improve his condition. His metabolism had begun to shut down, and he was becoming weaker with every day. Since the full moon three days ago, he had not woken up once.
“The healers say it seems that he just… doesn’t want to live anymore. That he’s given up,” Potter finished in a flat voice. “They say if no miracle happens, he won’t survive the next two days.”
I felt my chest narrowing at these words. So this was the end, then? I did not believe in miracles, there were only fools who did so. Remus would die. He would leave me, and I would never have the chance to … to what? What was I thinking? He had been out of anyone’s reach for almost two years now – had I honestly harboured some ridiculous hope he might recover one day? Had I honestly hoped for being given a second chance, for being able to regain some of the time we had lost? Yes, I realised with a bitter smile - although I had never wanted to admit it, somewhere in the last corner of my heart I had hoped for nothing less. I had hoped for a miracle. I had been a fool.
“I always wondered why you were coming here,” Potter suddenly said inquisitively, effectively derailing my train of thought.
“That’s none of your business,” I snapped irritably.
“You never did anything than harrying him before,” he stated, eyeing me suspiciously as I carefully brushed a strand of hair out of Remus’s forehead.
“As I said, I will not discuss this with you,” I repeated, sitting down in the chair.
“Fine,” he spat, before turning and leaving the room. After some minutes he returned with a second chair and sat down at the other side of the bed, glaring at me defiantly. At any other time I would have accepted the challenge, but right now I did not feel up to it. Closing my eyes, I completely concentrated on the trembling hand in my own. Even now the touch provided me with a kind of comfort that I had never felt with anyone else.
Time went by in silence, only interrupted by the sound of Remus’s laboured breathing. When I finally looked up, Potter seemed to be lost in thought, his gaze glued to the sight of Remus’s hand in mine. His posture was tense, and I noticed his own hands to be clenched to fists in his lap. Suddenly, a considerable amount of the hostility I had always held against him dwindled away, be it only for now.
“You should go home,” I suggested. He definitely looked like he could use a good night’s sleep.
His head snapped up and he opened his mouth to say something, but closed it again, obviously startled by the absence of the usual sneering quality to my features – which was hard enough to maintain.
“Why?” he then asked. “Why can you… touch him? Why is it different with you - and no one else? Not even…” he trailed off, a sad expression on his face.
“I don’t know,” I replied levelly. I would certainly not bare my soul to him, of all people, telling him some heartbreaking story about missed chances and lost love. Not to anyone, to be precise.
“Go home,” I repeated. “Sleep.”
He did not answer but merely pointed at something behind me, and, turning my head, I noticed a folding bed standing at the opposite wall of the room.
“You are sleeping here?” I must have sounded rather incredulous, because suddenly Potter’s eyes were flashing with anger.
“Of course I’m sleeping here!” he all but yelled. “He’s my godfather, and he’s dying! Where bloody else should I want to be?”
He was right, I realised. Albus had told me that after Black’s death the two of them had become very close. They had found comfort in each other’s presence, and by the end of Potter’s sixth year, Remus had become his official godfather. Of course Potter would want to be by his side now – and it would be most inappropriate to put up a fight at Remus’s deathbed.
“Well, lie down, then,” I said as conciliatory as I could manage. “I will wake you if necessary.”
He shot me a doubtful glance, but finally, accepting the offered truce, he obeyed. I did not feel like talking this night, and so I stayed quiet, motionless except for the small circular movements of my thumb on Remus’s hand.
In the morning, Potter urged me to get some rest, and although I had not expected to be able to do so, I slept fitfully until about noon. The rest of the day crept by slowly, minute after minute, hour after hour. The healers made their regular check-ups, but all they had to tell us was that his condition had not changed. The tense silence between Potter and me did nothing to lighten the grave atmosphere. About midnight, I could convince him to lie down, again promising to wake him, if need be. For some time I heard him tossing and turning, but finally he seemed to be asleep.
Watching the dying man I loved, I felt that we were running out of time. Remus’s face looked both, pained and beautiful, like an ivory sculpture, too delicate to be touched. He was fading away, and there was nothing I could do. There was so much I had wanted him to know, so much I had never told anyone, not even him during the last ten months. I had to be frank with him, this once, even though he could not hear me. I needed to tell someone, and I knew I would not be able to open up to anyone but him. And so I did. Slowly running my fingers through his soft hair, I spoke.
I told him everything that had stayed unspoken during those short, far too short four months of secret meetings, shy kisses and careful words twenty-three years ago.
How I had not been able to believe him when he had approached me some days after the incident at the day of the O.W.L. exam, apologising for his friends behaviour - and his own cowardice. How I reluctantly had allowed myself to hope when he would not give up to try to befriend me at the beginning of our sixth year. How, after some time, I had realised that I wanted to be more than friends with this intelligent, kind, breathtaking Gryffindor, and how much it had hurt to know that what I was craving could never become reality. How it had hurt even more when he had kissed me for the first time, just because I was not used to this - to being treated as worthwhile, to being touched so painfully gently. To feeling loved.
How almost every night, awaking from another nightmare about my father, I had imagined him to be with me, holding me, until I was asleep again. Back then, I had not been ready to tell him about my father, about the things he had done to me. It had been too early. Now I told him, stumbling over my own words, and in a way I was glad he could not hear me, although the pain of the silence afterwards – where so many years ago I had almost dared to dream of receiving gentleness, comfort – was overweighing this gladness by far.
I told him about the time after the incident at the Shrieking Shack, when I had realised - or, rather, had thought I realised - that nothing between us had been real, that it had been nothing but a bad prank, set up by someone whom I had foolishly allowed to see me, the real me behind an attitude of arrogance, indifference and snide comments.
I told him how I had finally been accepted into a group of my own housemates, and how we all had pledged allegiance to the Dark Lord short after graduation. How I, an embittered and power-hungry 18-year-old, had embraced the darkness and the cold to soothe the fire of pain and despair inside me. How two years later I had realised my self-delusion, looking into my father's eyes, whom I was supposed to kill at the Dark Lord’s command for his refusal to join us. How I had obeyed under the threat of paying disobedience with my own life, only then realising that even my thirst for revenge for what he had done was nothing compared to the monstrosity of a son murdering his father, of one human taking another one’s life – even though I had done so too many times before.
How after this I had crawled to Dumbledore’s doorstep, begging him to send me to Azkaban – and how instead, I had received an undeserved second chance.
How I had for the past ten months, despite all logic, still hoped for a second chance for the two of us.
How I felt now, knowing there would be none.
Dawn had approached unnoticed. My throat was dry from long speaking, and I felt a strange mixture of sadness and relief. Above all, though, I felt achingly tired.
“I’m so sorry, Remus,“ I whispered as my stroking hand finally fell still. “You wrote you longed for hearing me say that I forgive you. I would, if there was anything to forgive. But there isn’t. You were afraid of rejection - a fear that I understand better than I would like to. And now I will never hear you say that you forgive me. For never hearing you out. For taking away from you the happiness you thought you could have found with me - although I doubt that. I will never understand just what you were seeing in me…”
It was just when the first silent tears were trickling down my cheeks that I felt a pair of gentle hands being placed on my shoulders from behind.
“I think I do,” Potter said quietly, and I knew he had not slept that night. For a long time, neither of us moved.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
It was Potter who finally broke the silence.
“If it hadn’t been for Remus, I don’t think I’d have been able to bear having lost Sirius,” he said. “I thought it was me who was to blame for his death. But Remus… he made me understand it wasn’t true.”
As he went on, talking about the time after Black’s death and how Remus had taught him the Patronus Charm in his third year, I slowly realised what he was doing. He was offering me something in return for what he had heard from me this night. It was not as personal as what I had told Remus, of course, but that did not matter right now. For at least half an hour he talked, and I listened, my eyes closed.
And during all that time he would not take away his hands.
I was thankful for that, and it was then that I finally understood that there is a point when even mutual hate has to end. During the war we had never managed to be civil toward one another, despite fighting on the same side, despite the threat the Dark Lord was posing to our world and lives. But now, having to witness the death of a person we both loved, we had reached this point, and I knew it would be hard to go back to how it had been before. And I thought, feeling the strangely comforting weight of his hands on my shoulders, maybe I did not want to go back.
I knew that had Remus seen us like this, he would have liked it. He had always wanted us to make peace, and this peace was now made on the basis of his death. It was too high a price to pay, to my mind, but somehow I knew he would not have thought so. He had crossed the line almost two years ago, and this was but another tiny step. He would have thought this price to be appropriate.
Was it not ironic that only now, dying, Remus managed to show me all that I had refused to see when he had been sane and healthy? Ironic, yes, and beautiful. Beautiful in a way you wish you will never understand, because this beauty will break you, and afterwards you will compare every happy minute to it and tell yourself that no, nothing could ever be as beautiful as those moments when you heart was ripped apart. People who have not experienced such a situation will say it is the pain that makes you unsusceptible to the happiness that might come thereafter, but they are wrong. It is the beauty.
Thoughts like these were just the kind of mushy idiocy I had always despised, but perspectives change, as do people. Just as a small half-smile crept onto my lips - again ironic and beautiful that the man I loved made me truly smile for the first time in years when he was dying - Potter sucked in a sharp breath and jerked away his hands.
“Remus! His…his eyes! Professor, he’s woken up!”
The healers could not explain it. A whole bunch of them had come to examine him, but all they could say was that overnight his condition had stabilised considerably. They said it was a miracle. The miracle we had not dared to hope for.
One of them, a young woman, told me after the others had left that she believed it was because of me. According to her, Remus had only begun to shut down in the first place because I had not been here for so long, and now that I had returned, he had decided to live. I thought it was nonsense. But whatever the reason might have been, I did not truly care, and neither did Potter. All that mattered was that Remus would live.
I decided that I would stay until he had recovered – as much as he would be able to, that was. For one thing had not changed: he still was trapped in his own mind, unresponsive to the outer world. There were only two days left of the Christmas holidays, and Potter would have to return to his training, but when I informed Albus of the situation, he immediately agreed to free me from all duties for as long as Remus’s recovery would take. And, as soon became clear, it would take a long time.
During the first days, Remus was too weak to stay awake for longer than a few minutes, and I spent hours just watching him sleep, holding his hand, being with him. As nonsensical as I thought the young healer’s opinion to be, I did not want to risk anything.
Dealing with Remus during the time of his recovery made me learn an entirely new kind of patience. Since I, different from the medical personnel, was able to touch him without scaring him, I began giving him sponge baths instead of cleaning him with cleaning spells, as it had been done before. I learned the spells that emptied his bladder and bowels – thankful not to have to resort to Muggle technology for that. When finally he was strong enough to eat, it took an hour to feed him only a few spoonfuls of soft mash, and more than once I asked myself if he would ever again be able to maintain his weight without parenteral nutrition – not to speak of gaining some badly needed pounds.
But slowly, almost imperceptibly, he got better. January passed into February, February passed into March. Potter stopped by once or twice a week, convincing himself of his godfather’s progress, sometimes making a little small talk with me, telling about his training, about the magical community, politics. My world, however, had shrunk, had reduced to one room, one bed, one man.
I had never known true happiness. Twenty-three years ago, I had thought I was happy, but there had been too much secrecy, too much apprehension and wariness. And it had been over so soon.
Now I learned what happiness really was.
Happiness was looking into expressionless eyes that would probably never again look back at me with recognition in them. Happiness was talking to someone who most likely did not understand me and would never answer. Happiness was wiping away drool and remainders of mashed food from the chin of a 40-year-old man. Happiness was holding a hand that I had once wished to provide me with comfort in a very different way, but whose touch now gave me all I could ask for. And, most of all, happiness was seeing the shadow of a smile on the lips of a man who probably did not even know that he was smiling, or why. Sometimes, I allowed myself to imagine that he smiled because of me.
Happiness was Remus being alive. It was a selfish and sometimes guilty happiness, for how could I know if it was truly better for him to live? I did not want to think about it.
In April I resumed my teaching, returning to our former routine of daily visits. Remus was as well as we could ever hope for, and there was no true need for me to stay by his side all the time. Except for the creeping feeling of emptiness whenever I was not with him.
Potter now visited once a week, but not at the same time of day as I. We felt uneasy in each other’s presence, unsure of what to say, to think, to feel. There was no hate anymore, but other than that, nothing was certain. I wished more than once that the night that had changed everything had never happened, and I think I am not mistaken in saying he surely wished for the same sometimes. It would have been easier by far.
It was in the beginning of June when finally I realised why I had been denied the luck other people had experienced during their lives. It was not because any luck for me did not exist, no, it was because all of it had concentrated on two days: the day when Remus had come back from the verge of death and the day when, reading to him, I suddenly felt thin, trembling fingers curling around the hand that was holding them.
Looking up at him, I saw Remus smile at me, a true smile that lit up his entire face. But what fascinated me more were his eyes, their expression not dull and empty, but perfectly aware.
Startled, I let go of his hand, bringing my own hand up to his face, almost touching him… and then dropping it again, as if afraid of destroying something- maybe this dream I was dreaming right now - if I dared to make the contact.
“Remus!” I whispered. “You’re awake! Do you… do you recognise me?”
Until today, I do not know what I would have felt had his answer been no, but he did not speak at all. When my fingers had left his own, the smile had subsided, and upon hearing me speak, he cocked his head to the side, frowning slightly. Then, slowly and carefully, he took my hand again and guided it to his cheek, leaning into the touch and closing his eyes. And there it was again, the smile that, different from those I had seen during previous months, did not evoke feelings of happiness and sadness alike. This smile was pure bliss, and what did I care that he had not spoken and did not do so all evening?
I spent the following hour stroking his hair, his cheek, his hands, sometimes talking, sometimes in silence. He seemed to bathe in my touch. He listened and smiled. I, myself, had never smiled as much as during that evening.
But all good things come to an end, and finally, unnoticed by me, he slipped away again. I had been telling him about Potter’s Auror training, stroking his cheek and slightly wondering if he knew what I was talking about. When after some time he opened his previously closed eyes, the void had crept back into them, and once again he did not react to any stimulation.
Being told about it, the healers once more had no idea what had happened, or why. Had it been a singular incident? Would it happen again? And if not - would I be able to resign myself to the idea of losing something I had thought I had lost, but then had found again, if only for so short a time?
And should I tell Potter? Eventually, I decided not to do so, at least for now, and I managed to convince the healers of my opinion as well. I did not want to raise false hope in him. I would inform him if it happened again.
During the next day, I was on tenterhooks, but in the evening my hope was not fulfilled, and neither was it the next evening, nor the evening after that.
But finally, after one endless week, I felt Remus once again squeezing my hand, and once again I looked into lucid eyes, telling me that they knew me. And as this recurred two days later, and then more and more frequently during the next two weeks, I decided that it was time.
To say that Potter was simply overjoyed would have done him injustice. It was more complicated than that, and I felt again impressed by him. Of course, he was happy, but he was also wary, almost frightened. How would Remus react to him? Would he recognise him as well, or would he be scared, just as he was scared of anyone else’s touch?
The healers had not yet tried to establish contact with Remus, since until now he had “awoken” only in my presence, but never during the day when I was absent. They now were convinced all this had to do with me, that it was me who coaxed him out of his unresponsive state. If this was true, how would he react to anyone else?
We got the answer on a Friday evening in July. When Potter arrived at Remus’s room, the latter was still in his state of apathy, but after half an hour, his eyes filled with life and, as always, he focussed completely on me, ignoring his second visitor. During the first minutes, I just talked to him as usual, and Potter kept silent, waiting.
“Remus,” I finally said, “you have another visitor. Do you remember Harry?”
“Hello Remus,” Potter greeted him quietly.
Upon hearing the second voice, the smile that had been lingering on Remus’s lips vanished, but other than that he did not acknowledge Potter’s presence, his eyes still fixed on me.
“Remus, it’s me, Harry.” I could hear his voice tremble with hardly suppressed excitement, hope and fear, which also showed clearly on his face.
Slowly, very slowly, Remus turned his head, his gaze flickering over the figure next to me. An uneasy expression crept onto his face, and I felt him tightening his grip on my hand. There was no smile for Potter.
The silence was suffocating.
“Remus…” Almost pleading this time. I felt a sudden pang of sympathy for Potter, but I also felt Remus wincing as the young man spoke. After that, everything went too quickly for me to prevent it.
I saw something cracking in Potter’s eyes, and suddenly he was holding Remus’s free hand, this time truly pleading with him, asking if he didn’t know him anymore, telling him he was his godson and how much he had hoped to be recognised.
The results were devastating. Within seconds, Remus breathing became panicked and ragged, he began shaking all over, and after some more seconds, tears were escaping his eyes, which were tightly squeezed shut against the world.
Shocked, Potter let go of Remus’s hand. “I’m…I’m sorry, I didn’t –“
“Get out! Now!” It did not take more than this sharply uttered command to make him flee from the room.
After that, I sat down on the bed next to Remus, who was still clinging to my hand, crying, unaware that the reason of his fear had left. I pulled him into my arms and began stoking his hair and back, all too well feeling the tremors which were shaking him. How I hated to see him like this!
“Remus, you’re safe, don’t be afraid. I’m here with you, you’re safe.” Murmuring soothing phrases like these, I slowly managed to calm him down bit by bit, until finally he looked up at me, a watery smile again playing on his lips. Only some minutes later, he was asleep.
When I left the room, I noticed Potter sitting on a chair not far away from the door. As I approached him, he looked up at me with red and puffy eyes, and I realised that, differently from what I had thought before, I could not truly be angry with him. How could I know if I would not react similarly if I had been in his place? And now, robbed of the hope he had held before, he would return to the Auror training camp, with no one who understood just how much it would have meant to him if his godfather had reacted differently to seeing him.
Looking down at the distraught young man, I made a sudden decision.
“Come with me, Potter!” I ordered, and surprisingly, he obeyed and followed me to the fireplace in the entrance hall of the hospital.
“Hold on!” I commanded as I shoved him into the flames, after having tossed some Floo-powder into them.
“Spinner's End!” I said and spoke my password afterwards. Potter held onto me obediently during the process. Having arrived at my living room, I led him to the sitting area.
Pointing at the sofa, I ordered him to sit, and he wordlessly did as he was told. I went into the kitchen to make some tea, and when I returned, he was sitting in exactly the same position in which I had left him: his shoulders slumped, hands lying limply in his lap, eyes lowered to the floor.
“I… I didn’t mean to… to scare him,” he suddenly whispered. “I didn’t mean to… you wouldn’t think that if I had known…” There was a frantic quality to his voice. “But maybe you’d think I’d do just that… because you’ve always thought of me as my father, haven’t you… and I’m sure he meant to do what he did, and… and I’m sorry for that… and -”
“Don’t be an idiot, Potter!” I snapped.
He winced violently at this and shut up immediately.
I sighed. This was not working out too well. Whispering soft, meaningless words to the man I loved was one thing, but how should I provide Potter with any kind of comfort – a man whom I had hated not too long a time ago? He had managed to do the same for me, however, and I felt that I had to at least try.
“Potter,” I tried again; then, receiving no reaction, “Harry.” It was hard to speak that name, the name that distinguished him from the Potter I had had a reason to hate.
He still would not answer. Sighing again, I sat down next to him. I could see his shoulders shaking.
“I know that you did not mean to scare him.”
His gaze flickered up to me. “I… I was just… I thought…” He drew a trembling breath and briefly closed his eyes, attempting to calm down. “I was so happy he was lucid, and…” Again, his gaze dropped to the floor. “I miss him so much.”
As of its own volition, my hand had somehow found its way to his shoulder. Eventually, I felt the tension in his muscles subsiding.
“Do you think he’ll ever recognise me?”
What could I say but the truth? I did not have any comfort for him. “I don’t know.”
When the silence became too oppressive, I reached for the tray I had placed on the desk in front of us.
He nodded, and we drank, again succumbing to silence.
“He looked happy with you.” The words were spoken softly. “That’s what matters, isn’t it? Not me.”
“Harry…” This time, the name had come much more naturally to me.
He looked at me questioningly.
“You are not your father.”
A slight smile at hearing this. “Remus would like this, don’t you think?”
“Yes, very much.”
This time, the silence that settled down between us was not an uncomfortable one. Finally, after another cup of tea, he stood.
“I should leave. Got to get up early.” He went to the fireplace, stopping before it.
“Thank you, Professor. For taking me here.” He was about to take some Floo powder from the box on the mantelpiece, then hesitated and turned. Green eyes bore into mine. “May I come back?”
After a few moments, I nodded. The idea did not seem that bad. Not at all.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Life went on during the following weeks. Almost every evening now, Remus would return from the hiding place where his mind had taken shelter from the horrors he had lived through. He never spoke, just listened to my voice, melted into my touch, graced me with his beautiful smile. It seemed to be as Harry had said: he was happy with me.
I, too, was as happy as I could ask for. Not only did the man I loved live, no, he even responded to me and seemed to recognise me . It was more than I had ever hoped for when I had realised over eighteen months ago that my feelings for him still existed.
Moreover, there was something -- or rather, someone -- else that, unbelievable as it may sound, had a positive effect on my well-being: Harry Potter. After that certain evening, it had taken three weeks until I finally had brought myself to invite him for tea again. At first, it had been a rather uneasy situation, the two of us sitting in my living room, silently sipping our tea, not knowing what to talk about. We had, however, finally managed to overcome this awkwardness by speaking of what was on both our minds at these days: Remus. From there it had not been overly difficult to find other topics. I soon realised that indeed he was very different from his father, and -- considering that I am not a sociable person at all -- rather pleasant company. After two months, we had developed a routine of fortnightly visits on Friday evenings.
Unfortunately, good times never last long, and thus, no more than three months went by until once again Remus’s condition was giving cause for concern. I had already noticed that during my last visits, he seemed to be in a constant state of fatigue, and now the healers told me that recently he had been suffering from nightmares more and more frequently. Sometimes, he would awake shaking and crying every hour, and there was nothing the nursing staff could do, since he would not let anyone comfort him and get only more upset if someone tried.
During the next weeks, it seemed that he tried to sleep as little as possible, and I was told that often he would sit in his bed wide awake far into the night, until finally he was overtaken by weariness and succumbed to a fitful slumber that did nothing to restore his fading strength. Harry and I were deeply worried abut him. The healers were of the opinion that the increasing nightmares might have to do with the fact that Remus now regularly managed to escape the walls he had built up around his mind. They assumed that due to this, he was no longer able to completely shut out the memories he was trying to forget, and that therefore they now were assailing him in his dreams.
Weeks full of worry went by, and nothing changed. If anything, it only became worse. He was losing weight again at an alarming rate, due to lack of sleep, and this could quickly become dangerous. Far too well remembering the desperate fight against his underweight some months ago, I still did not like the idea that maybe it would be necessary to put him on parenteral nutrition again. But it seemed that it would be inevitable sooner or later if his condition did not ameliorate.
Sometimes, he would “awake” from his unresponsive state shortly after my arrival, only to drift off to sleep some minutes later, clutching my hand. This began to happen more and more often, and we supposed it was because he felt safe in my presence and did not fear the nightmares as long as I was with him.
Finally, in late November, something happened that would once again turn my life into a wholly new direction. Sitting down at his bedside in the evening, I was once more aghast at how pale and sickly Remus was looking, but what hurt even more than that were the silent tears which were running down his hollow cheeks.
However, I did not let my feelings show, but instead acted as normally as possible, holding his hand and talking to him, until after about a quarter of an hour, he turned his head to look at me. I felt a stabbing pain at the anguish that was shining from his eyes, and for a brief second, I almost wished that tonight he had not “awoken” at all. Instead of smiling at me as he usually would, he began to cry even harder, causing me to get up from the chair and sit down with him on the bed. It was far too easy to pull his thin form onto my lap, and he immediately curled up against my chest, clinging to my robes as he did so. For a long time, I did nothing but hold the desperately weeping man I loved, willing myself not to follow his example.
Finally, Remus had calmed down, and we sat in silence, his face hidden in my shoulder, my fingers slowly combing through his hair. From time to time a belated sob would shake him, and then his hands would tighten their trembling grip on me for some seconds. When finally he pulled back slightly and looked up at me, I gently wiped the tears off his clammy cheeks.
“I wish you could tell me what hurts you so much. Maybe I could help you, if only I knew how.”
Sighing, I closed my eyes for some moments. If only I had a way to learn what exactly was troubling him! But as it was, I could do nothing more than try to comfort him when I was with him. Legilimency was not an option, since it is far too dangerous to enter a mind so disturbed as his. Directing my attention back at him, I noticed a strange mixture of conflicting emotions flicker across his face. Pain, fear, and… hope? It almost seemed as though he was absorbed in an inner fight -- agonising about a decision and unsure of what to do.
“Remus? Is there anything you want me to know?”
Of course, I knew that he would not answer, but I felt that I had to at least try. He kept staring at me, frowning, but finally he slowly nodded. I was completely surprised, since I had not truly expected any reaction to my question.
“Then tell me. You know I will not hurt you, don’t you?”
We knew that he was physically capable of speaking, but there must be some psychological barrier that barred him from doing so. Still, I could not ignore the irrational hope that was stirring inside me. He had never seemed as lucid as now.
“Come, you can trust me,” I continued to coax him gently. “If I can help you in any way, I will.”
He was shaking again by now, looking at me with wide eyes, and I already cursed myself for upsetting him so much by demanding something of him that he could not do, when suddenly he opened his mouth as if to speak. My heart skipped a beat at this sight, but only a few seconds later he closed it again, frantically shaking his head while looking down to avoid my gaze. Never before had he been so distressed in my presence.
“Remus…” I cupped his cheek and made him face me again. “It’s all right, you don’t have to tell me. I’m sorry if I pushed too much.” Lightly stroking his cheek with my thumb, I tried to calm him down, struggling not to let my troubled emotions show in my voice, for fear of scaring him even more. “Don’t worry. You don’t have to talk to me. I understand that you can’t.” Slowly, I leaned forward to brush a kiss on his other cheek. “I just wanted to help you. I want you to feel safe.”
“S-severus. T-take me… home.” It was a shaky whisper, the words a little slurred, but understandable.
Shocked, I let go of him. I was so stunned to actually hear him speak, to hear my name from his lips, that I was unable to answer. A thick lump in my throat seemed to suffocate me and prevent me from breathing as I stared at him incredulously.
Long moments passed by.
“Please…” Barely audible, desperate. His gaze glued to my eyes, Remus was still trembling violently, his breathing now shallow and erratic. Not once during all the previous months had I seen such fear on his face. Fear that I would reject him, I realised.
“Yes,” I rasped breathlessly, wrapping my arms around him, “yes, I promise.”
Remus made a small, whimpering sound as he closed his eyes and buried his face in my shoulder again, a soft, contented smile playing on his lips. We sat like this for a while, and gradually, his breathing evened out and the tremors abated. When finally he opened his eyes again, they were once more devoid of any awareness.
It was only then that I allowed myself to cry, my cheek resting on his soft hair as I begun rocking us gently back and forth. My tears, however, were not desperate ones.
I had always assumed that wardship of Remus had fallen to the Ministry, as it usually is the case when a wizard or witch cannot care for themselves anymore and there is no family. But when at the following day I spoke to the responsible official, I learned that Remus had left a will that made Harry, of all people, his guardian.
This put me in a difficult situation. On the one hand, I was almost glad to hear it, for surely it would have been an impossible struggle to convince the Ministry to let Remus, a hero of the war, live with me, a former Death Eater. Never mind my involvement in the Dark Lord’s downfall – to them I would never be more than scum that once had been crawling at their enemy’s feet.
On the other hand, I could hardly assume that Harry would agree to this, either. Granted, the hatred we had once held for one another had finally died away during the previous months, and we had developed some kind of understanding, even the beginning of a tentative friendship – but was that enough? Could he trust me so much as to entrust me with Remus’s well-being, his life? I doubted it, and I could not blame him for it. I would not have done so, had I been in his place.
On top of that, another question would not stop tormenting me.
“Why did you allow me to visit him in the first place?”
Harry, who was sitting opposite me on the sofa in my living room, put down his cup of tea, gazing at me contemplatively. I truly did not understand him – he had hated me with a passion, and yet had not prevented me from daily visiting the probably most important person in his life. A person whom, as far as he had known back then, I had never shown anything but loathing.
“At first, I didn’t want to,” he finally said slowly. “I didn’t like the thought of you gloating over his… condition. But then the staff told me what you did. That you could touch him. That you were gentle to him.” He smiled feebly. “I didn’t understand why, and I still didn’t like it, but… I didn’t want to take that from him.”
This stunned me into silence. Harry had been only seventeen when this burden had been placed on him, and yet he had handled it in such a mature way, had not let his actions be ruled by his rightful grudge against me but only by what he thought was best for the man he was responsible for. That, more than anything else, proved how right Remus had been in his decision.
Finally, I retrieved my voice. “Thank you.”
He shook his head. “Don’t. You know it was for him, not you.”
“Yes, but still, I…” What should I say? How should I phrase what I had realised right now? The last years had changed me; Remus had changed me. Changed for the better, as I thought. At least I felt better. I was more content with my life than I had ever been before, despite of the pain that Remus’s mental condition caused me. I had found love again, never mind the circumstances. I had even found a friendship I had never thought possible. All of this would not have happened, had not a seventeen-year-old boy deemed his godfather’s well-being more important than his own hurt feelings.
“Just accept it. Things… people change. If they get the chance to do so.”
Harry’s lips curled into a smile. “Then I should thank you as well. But,” he added, picking up his cup again, “that wasn’t why you asked me to come, was it? I had to ask to take the afternoon off, and that isn’t liked very well. My instructors will give me a hell of a training tomorrow. And surely your students sorely miss their Potions classes.”
I smirked at hearing this, but soon became serious again. “No, you are right, there is another reason why I wanted to talk to you.”
“I figured as much. It’s about Remus, right?” He suddenly sounded worried. “Has he gotten worse during the last days? Has anything happened?”
I nodded, deciding to simply state the facts and hope for the best, although I still could not see how he would ever agree to this.
“Yesterday, he spoke to me.”
Harry choked on his tea at this. When the coughing fit had abated, he managed to gasp a weak, “What did he say?”, his cheeks red, eyes still watering.
“He said my name. And…” Here it came. It was ridiculous to hope for Harry to allow it! “He asked me to take him home with me, and I want to do so.”
There was an embarrassing silence as Harry stared at me blankly, an expression of absolute disbelief on his face. I felt incredibly stupid. Of course, he would never agree. Trusting me, his formerly most hated professor, a former Death Eater, to care for his godfather properly -- it was just an absurd idea.
“You’d do that?” he finally whispered. “You’d do that for him? You’d give up everything to care for him? Just like that?”
What was he saying? “Of course I would! I love him, in case you haven’t noticed!”
He flushed. “Sorry, it’s just a little much to digest at once. So, that’s why you’re suddenly so interested in the whole wardship thing. You want me to give my allowance to let him live with you, right?”
I merely nodded; all of this felt utterly surreal.
“When do you want me to sign the papers? We could do it right today.”
“WHAT?” This could not be reality, I was dead sure of that now. I must be dreaming – probably it was still night, and the real talk with Harry was yet to come. “No ‘over my dead body’? No objections, no doubts? How can you just agree? Have you forgotten with whom you are talking? How can you just trust me with this? How can you trust me with his life?”
“I’ve trusted you with my own life ever since the middle of sixth year.”
Spoken simply and quietly, these words once more left me speechless. True, I had Apparated him, who had been wandless and bound, out of a circle of Death Eaters ready to kill him, thereby blowing my cover as a loyal follower of the Dark Lord. After that, however, nothing had changed between us, or so it had seemed. Our mutual hate had not decreased in the slightest.
“You risked your life for me. And I now know it wasn’t just because I was the only tool to get rid of Voldemort, admit it or not. You’d have done that for any of your students. So, if you did that for someone you hated, how could I doubt you when it’s about someone you love?”
I could not answer, could not even thank him. This pure, unadulterated trust was something only two people had ever honoured me with – one of them being certifiably insane. I, myself, had never been able to trust anyone like this. And it coming from Harry Potter, of all people!
My face must have told him enough, for he smiled a little lopsidedly. “So, today?”
I nodded. “Today.”
This very afternoon, Harry and I stopped by at the Ministry for Magic, where he signed all the necessary papers to release Remus from St. Mungo’s into my care. Whereas he returned to the Auror training camp afterwards, I Flooed over to Hogwarts to talk to Albus. I knew that it was unfair to ask him to let me quit by the end of the week, but to tell the truth, I could not have cared less about the education of those brats. I was needed elsewhere. Thankfully, Albus made no objections at all. I doubt that I will ever understand this man; he has been a mystery to me ever since he took me under his wing so many years ago.
When I visited Remus in the evening, he did not smile at my sight, but he was better than he had been the previous evening.
“Do you remember what we talked about yesterday?” I asked him, sitting down on the edge of the bed. I wanted to be as near to him as possible when telling him the good news.
Slowly, he nodded, fear and hope clearly showing on his face.
“The person who had to allow it did agree.” I knew that it was useless to mention Harry. “I’ll quit my position as a teacher by the end of this week. In three days, you’ll come home with me.”
For a few moments, he just stared at me -- then, suddenly, thin arms were flung around me, and a head with soft greyish brown hair was nestled to my neck.
As Remus whispered his only words of the evening, I, too, wrapped my arms around him, silently thanking Harry for his godfather’s happiness. I wished he could have seen it as well.
Three days later, on Saturday morning, I Apparated directly into my living room, carrying in my arms the man I loved. His beautiful eyes were wide and unseeing as I gently placed him on the sofa and pressed a kiss on a shaking hand.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
The first days of having Remus home with me went by uneventfully. Now being constantly in my presence, he had more and more lucid phases over the day. Sometimes they would last only for some minutes, sometimes for one or two hours. I had obtained a wheelchair for him, and I would spend as much time with him as possible, since apparently, this was what furthered his recovery more than anything else.
Since no one truly knew how much he remembered of his life, the Healers had ordered me not to tell him anything, but instead wait and see if his memory might come back by itself. They feared that being forcefully reminded might delay his slow recovery and even cause severe relapses, because he was not yet ready for the things he might hear.
During these days, he did not talk to me again, and even though I was a little disappointed, I did not truly expect him to do so. I would not push him if he did not feel ready. The main thing was that he felt safe with me, and it seemed that this was indeed the case, because even though his nightmares did not become less, he did not fight sleep any more, knowing that I would be there to comfort him.
It was two weeks after I had taken him home when he spoke to me. It was night, and I had been torn out of sleep by Remus jerking awake from a nightmare, screaming. After I had managed to calm him down, I had lit some candles, because he was lucid and had shaken his head when I had asked him if he wanted to go back to sleep. I was sitting in bed, holding him in my arms, when suddenly, his whisper broke the silence.
“A w-wolf… there’s a-always… a wolf in my dreams. Dying people. A-and… so m-much… blood.” He looked up at me, his cheeks still wet from the tears he had previously shed. “They’re… m-memories… aren’t they?”
It was hard to understand him, for his weariness and barely suppressed fear worsened his slur, and it took me some moments to realise what he had said. And how should I react? I could not possibly tell him about what had happened, but I could not lie to him, either.
“Yes, they are,” I finally replied truthfully. “But I cannot tell you anything about it. The Healers say that you need to remember on your own.”
For some seconds, Remus kept staring at me sadly, then looked down again. “I…don’t w-want to… remember. Nothing.” He spoke no more, but let himself be rocked to sleep by me, like in so many other nights that still were to come.
His words, although I did understand his feelings, had hurt me. Of course, this was irrational, for I knew that he only did not want to remember his past because of the pain his memories would cause him – yet I could not fully suppress a feeling of pain, of rejection even. This was scratching at a subject I had preferred to think about as little as possible since he had come home with me: his feelings for me. He seemed to feel very attached to me, but I could not possibly expect that he remembered he had once loved me. It would be asking too much of him. The question why, if he did not harbour special feelings for me, he responded positively only to me was one I tried not to think about. It would only have nourished false hope, and I did not want to do Remus injustice by being disappointed if my expectations proved to be unwarranted one day.
With hindsight, the next few months were a strange time, full of conflicting emotions: on the one hand, there was the happiness about having Remus home with me, about seeing him lucid more and more often, about every word he would say, every hour he would sleep peacefully next to me. He was improving very slowly, but steadily, and he even gained the weight back that he had lost before. Although he had difficulties with swallowing and would only ever be able to eat mashed food, and although he would probably never be able to hold a spoon again, it was easier to feed him in his now frequent lucid periods than having to slowly coax the unresponsive man into opening his mouth for every spoonful.
On the other hand, however, there were the constant nightmares, even though he seemed to cope with them better than before. There was the question of what on earth I should talk to him about, since our former lives, or anything that had to do with it, were a taboo issue. There was the always looming threat of what would happen should he recover so much that he would regain his memories. I had no idea how it would affect him, but the thought troubled me greatly, considering that he was only in his present state because these memories had been too much for him to bear.
And then there was Harry. We kept our routine of weekly visits – Remus had assured me that he did not mind him being at the house, as long as only no one would try to see him. He was still scared of other people’s presence, and although Harry completely accepted the situation and never complained, I could see how hard it was for him to know that his godfather was physically so near, and yet so far away from him – now even more so than before, because now, we could never know if he would not awake from his apathy at any second, and so it was too risky for Harry to visit him at all.
I do not know how I would have been able to cope with this had I been in his place, and his patience and silent hope made him, strange as it may sound, one of the people I respected most.
As it was, I had to struggle enough with my own unfulfilled hope, and after every of Harry’s visits, I felt exceedingly ungrateful: I had so much more than he had, and still, it was not enough.
It was in the beginning of March, only some days before Remus’s birthday, that once again I was granted an undeserved blessing. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was sitting on the sofa, reading. A warm fire was flickering in the fireplace, for it was still cold outside, and I had settled Remus down beside me, a woollen blanket wrapped around his thin form. He was leaning against me, looking into the flames with unseeing eyes.
I said I had been reading, but to tell the truth, all I did was stare into space very much in the same way as Remus did, not truly seeing the letters on the page that had been open for certainly half an hour. Having Remus so near, feeling him rest in my arm, I once again could not help brooding over the situation, angry with myself for my inability to resign myself to the circumstances. When he had still been completely unresponsive to everyone, and also when he had recognised me but not yet spoken to me, the thought that I would probably never be loved by him again had not troubled me as much as it did now. I should have been happier now – now that so much had changed for the better. Instead, I felt worse. Does it lie in our human nature to wish for more, the more we are given?
“S-severus… You l-look… sad.” Remus’s quiet voice interrupted my thoughts, and I turned to him, surprised. How long had he been conscious and watching me?
“Don’t worry about me. I was just… thinking.”
What should I say? I could not tell him everything. There was this one question, however, that had never stopped ghosting through my mind.
“I was wondering… why you recognised me, of all people. Why you feel comfortable with me, and no one else. I was asking myself in what way I am different from others to you.”
He looked up at me thoughtfully for some moments, then lowered his gaze. He did not answer for some minutes.
“I’m sorry, Remus. I did not want to pry. I should have known you don’t want to talk about it.”
“N-no… I want to… t-tell you. I only… it t-takes some time t-to… to sort out m-my thoughts. It’s… exhausting.”
I felt ashamed at hearing this. Only a few months had gone by since Remus had spoken for the first time, and although he had improved during the last weeks, often answering when I asked him questions like what he wanted to eat or if he wanted me to read to him, I could not expect that he would be able to talk with me normally. He still was mentally absent for more than half of his waking time. Therefore, I now stayed silent, waiting for him to be ready.
“I… d-don’t really know how… to b-begin. It’s… difficult,” he finally said.
“What if you began with trying to explain how it is when you’re… not with me. When you’re absent. How was it before you recognised me?”
He hesitated for a moment. “Safe. It w-was… safe. And silent. N-no… no p-pain. There… s-sometimes there were… voices. They were distant… I d-didn’t understand what th-they said. A-and t-touch, sometimes.” A shiver ran through the body in my arms. “It… scared me.”
He had closed his eyes and pain was showing on his face. He might not remember what had happened, but the impressions of torture and anguish had stayed with him. I tightened my hold on him, asking myself if it had been a good idea to begin this conversation.
“You don’t have to tell me if it hurts you. Maybe it would be better if you didn’t.”
He shook his head, which was resting on my shoulder, then took a deep breath. “I couldn’t get… away f-far enough from it. I t-tried, but… it didn’t work. A-and then there was… another voice.” He had spoken slowly and in a pained tone, but now his voice became softer, peaceful. “It was d-different. I d-didn’t know why, but… it seemed t-to… call me, although I didn’t… understand the w-words. And there was… t-touch, together w-with that voice. It d-didn’t hurt, didn’t… scare me.”
A small smile curled his lips, his eyes still closed. “I… hadn’t known any more that… s-something like… that existed. It felt… b-beautiful.”
I had to smile myself. So, my efforts had not been in vain. He had heard me talk to him, had felt me touch him, even though he had not been able to show it.
“I began… to w-wait for it.. t-to want it to come. Because… although it was s-safe, it also w-was… lonely. Cold and… and dark. Th-that voice and touch… helped, m-made it warm. I… I n-needed them.”
He shifted slightly, and I felt him arch closer into my embrace, his shoulders now tense as though he were thinking of something unpleasant.
“But then they… didn’t come a-any more.”
He was talking about the three weeks I had spent in Romania, I knew it, but I did not know what to think about this. Should the young Healer have been right, after all? Had it been my fault that Remus had almost died?
”It… hurt. “
Sometimes, the smallest things have the greatest impact. I do not know what I would have given at this moment to be able to change what had happened. To spare Remus saying these two words – spare him all they conveyed.
“I waited, but… I – I couldn’t… it w-was cold, and… I was a-alone. I couldn’t b-be alone… any more. N-not after… knowing them. I n-needed them…” I could feel his hands shaking stronger than usual, and there were tears in his slow, slurred voice. “I… needed them.”
“I’m sorry, Remus,” I ground out, beginning to run my hand over his greyish hair. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have left.”
He let me soothe him for some time, then sighed. “But you… came b-back. And you couldn’t… know.”
It was true, but still, I could not help feeling guilty. If only I had not forced Remus to go through this! Had he not been hurt enough already? At this moment, I had to admit to myself that partly, I had not wanted to believe the young Healer because it would have meant that I, albeit unintentionally, had caused Remus pain, had hurt the man I loved yet again.
“After that th-they called for m-me even… stronger. To… t-trust them, come to them. I d-didn’t know… what to do. I w-was scared. But in the end I… n-needed to f-follow them, even though it w-was… very difficult. A-and when I saw you…” he looked up at me and smiled, “I knew I d-didn’t have to b-be afraid. I knew that… I knew you. That you… w-wouldn’t hurt me.”
There was so much trust in his eyes as he said this, and I felt like a hypocrite. It was I who had almost caused his death, and it was I who had always rejected him, had rejected his love. It was I who had hurt him more than anyone else – aside from those who had tortured him.
“N-no, wait!” he interrupted me. “I h-haven’t answered your… question yet.”
“W-why you’re different f-from others… to me.” Again, he smiled, but this time, it was insecure and faded quickly. “It’s b-because… I l-love you, Severus.”
He had whispered the last sentence so quietly that for a moment, I thought I must have misheard. Surely, he had said something else, and I only had interpreted his slurred words in the way I longed for so much. But one glance at him told me that I had been right. He had lowered his gaze and was biting his lip nervously, waiting for me to answer. I could see the blanket move where his hands were trembling under it in his lap.
“Remus…” I cupped his cheek and made him look at me again. He did not speak, but it was not necessary. His eyes were begging me to tell him what he needed to hear so much, and never before had I complied so readily to a demand, although I almost lacked the breath I needed to utter the words I had wanted to say for so long.
“I love you, too.”
His eyes lit up, and slowly, very slowly, he pulled one hand from under the blanket and raised it to my cheek, then leaned forward and kissed me.
I cannot explain how it was to feel his soft lips against my own, to know that this was real, after so long a time of me denying my emotions, only realising them when it had seemed it would be too late forever. But now we were here, together. Should I describe it in one sentence, I would say: It felt like healing.
When the kiss was over, Remus rested his head on my shoulder again, smiling softly. We did not speak for quite a while, and there was no need for doing so. Now we had all the time we needed. Through the windows we could see that darkness was slowly falling, the warm fire was crackling in the fireplace, and for once, everything was as it should be.