Chapter 1: Chapter 1
The first thing that Severus knew was that he was not in the Shrieking Shack any more, because when he opened his eyes, there was bright light shining through leaves above his head. There were trees, he now realised when he carefully pushed himself up on his elbows, and he was lying on a thick, soft carpet of grass, in a small clearing between the trees. Everything was green and gold, lush plants and light, the air was pleasantly warm, and a slight breeze was rustling in the leaves, mingling with the chirping of birds and the sound of water somewhere nearby.
For some time, he simply stared, gaping. It was too bizarre, too surreal, too beautiful. Just minutes ago, Nagini had slammed her fangs into him, then he’d been lying on the filthy floor of the battered old shack, with Potter staring at him, Potter, who was on his own now, whom he could no longer protect... Instinctively, he brought his fingers up to his neck where he had been bitten. There were no wounds, just a fading ache, weaker with every moment.
Someone was calling him. Who knew him here? Where was ‘here’ in the first place?
He turned his head into the direction of the approaching voice, surprised. It was familiar, but he hadn’t heard it for so long, far too long - and only now did he realise the nickname, and it made his stomach clench with fear and hope. Could it be...could it really be? If so, this would all make sense.
And then he saw her. He recognised her immediately, would recognise her anywhere, anytime, no matter the circumstances. She was running towards him quickly, her long, red hair shimmering in the sunlight like molten copper and gold, eyes greener than any of the plants around them, waving at him, smiling.
He got to his feet, stumbling a little as the world began to spin around his dizzy head, and then she was there and had thrown her arms around him.
“Oh, Sev, thank you! Thank you! We saw it all; you were so brave, and they would never have made it without you! Thank you!”
He barely heard her words; he was standing stiff and frozen, too stunned to react, overwhelmed by her sudden closeness, her face pressing against his neck, her hair tickling his nose, her arms holding him, warm and tight.
Finally, with great effort, he was able to think and move again, and he gently pried her off him just enough so he could look her in the eyes.
“I’m...dead, then.” It wasn’t a question, but she nodded, her smile fading slightly.
So this was the afterlife. He had never much thought about it, hadn’t even really believed in it. And to think he would meet her again...he had never even dreamt of it.
“Your son -”
“He’s safe,” she said, and he felt a ridiculous amount of relief. “He killed Voldemort, and he’s fine. Everything’s going to be fine for them.” She smiled more again, her voice now warm and vibrating with gratefulness. “Because you always protected him. Thank you so much.”
The words hit him like a fist, and he snatched back his hands from her arms, where he had held her. He tried to draw back, but he still was weak and disoriented, and she simply wrapped her arms closer around him.
“Let me go!” His voice was as raw as he felt inside, but she wouldn’t listen.
“No, Sev, you needn’t worry. Everything’s all right now.”
But it wasn’t, and he had to tell her. Tell her and see her recoil in shock and disgust, her eyes growing cold as they had once before, so many years ago.
“Sev?” She was staring up at him, looking concerned, and he couldn’t take it, not when he knew that she would hate him in just a few seconds.
The words didn’t want to come, and when they finally did, he had to wrench them from his heart, an ugly, shaky croak: “It was me. The prophecy. I told him. You died because of me. Your son lived without you because of me. It’s my fault. Everything.”
He had closed his eyes as he had been speaking, and now he was waiting, waiting for her to let go of him, to tell him that she loathed him, and he knew he deserved it.
“Not everything,” a soft, male voice said suddenly. A hand was placed on Severus’s shoulder, and when his eyes jerked open, he saw Peter Pettigrew standing by his side – not the grovelling, pathetic fool he had become over the years, but a younger, healthy-looking version of the man.
“Not everything,” Pettigrew said again. “You weren’t the only one to betray them.” There were sympathy and understanding written on his face.
“But that doesn’t matter any more.” Another voice, another face: brown eyes behind glasses, unruly black hair, a smile he had used to hate so much – Potter.
“They’re right, Severus.” Black. Calling him ‘Severus’, with no hint of the usual dislike in his voice. “It’s all over now. You needn’t worry about what you did any more.”
He didn’t understand, and he didn’t like it; how they all looked at him with sympathy, how they suddenly seemed to think they were friends, their smiles directed at him, Pettigrew’s hand still on his shoulder.
His eyes searched Lily’s again, because she was the only one that really mattered, and maybe she would explain.
“I...I don’t understand.”
“We knew. We knew it was you, ever since we arrived here.”
It made even less sense. If they had known, if she had known, how could she have welcomed him like she did, how could she still talk to him, smile at him, touch him? She had left him for wrong choices when they had still been at school, and this wrong choice, this mistake, had been so much graver than any other.
“We’re not angry,” she went on. “You made up for it; you gave everything to help Harry. All those years, I saw what you did, we all saw it. And here, in this place,” she looked around, and his gaze followed hers, over sunlight toying with leaves, over flowers, and a spotless blue sky, “nothing of it matters any more. This isn’t a place for guilt and regret; it’s a place for healing, and happiness.” She smiled at him once more. “You’re forgiven, Sev.”
He stared at her silently, and then, suddenly, he had crumbled to the ground, with her arms still around him and the others watching in silence. He couldn’t care about them, about anything but her closeness and his pain, and it seemed that the only thing he was still able to say was, “I’m sorry.”
It took a while until calmed down again, still clutching her tightly, his face buried against her chest where he could feel the faint beating of her heart. Her hand was on his head, stroking, soothing.
“Lily. I...I’ve always...always...” But he couldn’t say the words, couldn’t tell her that he had loved her – that he still did – not with Black, and Pettigrew, and Potter still here.
“I know,” she whispered, and he finally raised his head and looked up at her, into the eyes that had been the last thing he had seen before he died. Her face was now serious, and he wished he could be alone with her, that Potter would turn and leave instead of stepping forward and touching her shoulder, his expression now serious as well.
“Can’t you leave us alone even now?” he snapped, and the bitterness in his voice made him flinch inwardly. Nothing had changed, it seemed; even in afterlife his heart felt still raw and bleeding, burning with hatred for those who had made his life hell at school, and Potter especially, who had taken her away from him.
“Listen, Sev, please!” Lily suddenly sounded worried, scared even, her grip on him tightening. “You mustn’t...you mustn’t hate him any more. And you mustn’t love me any more, not like that. You’re hurting yourself with it. You need to let go. It’s so much easier here than when you’re alive, can’t you feel it?”
He mutely shook his head. He couldn’t let go any more than he could have ripped out his heart while he had still been living, and he didn’t understand why he should want to. It was the only thing that had driven him, had enabled him to do everything that he had done.
A cool wind suddenly blew over the clearing, and he shivered. The others must have felt it as well, because Lily turned her head away from him, her eyes anxiously searching for something – and then she seemed to have found it, and all colour drained from her face.
“No,” she whispered, shaken. “No, not him. Please, not him.”
He followed her gaze and saw two human figures at the edge of the clearing, of a dark gray colour, their outlines blurred, as if smoke had gathered and taken human forms.
“They’ve come to take him.” Potter sounded sad, and it irritated Severus almost more than the strange events.
“Who are they? What’s happening?” he demanded, but he got no answer. All eyes were locked on the figures, who were now approaching, slowly but determinedly, and Lily was still murmuring, “Not him, not him,” over and over.
“Lily? Lily, look at me! Who are they?”
She slowly turned and stared at him, eyes wide and swimming with tears. Shocked, he raised a hand without thinking and brushed it over her cheek – but as he did so, his fingers started to slip through her skin and flesh, and with a strangled outcry, he snatched them back. A weird, uncomfortable feeling was spreading on his back and waist, and when he looked, he saw Lily pulling back her hands, not from him, but through him, as if he were only a ghost.
“You’re fading, Sev. They...they’re really coming for you.”
“Fading? How...fuck, Lily, what’s going on? Tell me! I don’t understand anything!”
“They're called the Guardians, but we’re not allowed to explain more.” It was Black who had spoken, and when Severus looked at him, he meant to see that he was trembling, fists clenched, still staring at the approaching figures. “They'll tell you everything you need to know, and you have to find out the rest for yourself. It will all become clear if...when you come back.”
If he came back?
“We’ll be waiting for you, Sev. I promise!” Lily was crying now, and Potter had knelt down beside them, wrapping his arms around her. Even now, Severus’s first thought wasn’t on whatever it was that would happen, but that he wanted to be in Potter’s place, that he would give anything if only he could stay with her.
And then they were upon him, dark shadows surrounded by an icy chill, with no eyes to see and no mouths to speak, and yet he could feel their gaze upon him, and their voices inside his head.
Like a puppet, he was forced to obey, getting up from the ground, and whatever warmth had still lingered within his eerily ghost-like body vanished as their hands touched him and made him turn, away from the woman he loved.
They started to walk, and he had to follow between them, and even though everything inside him cried out that he didn’t want to come, that he wanted to stay, here, with her, he could not speak. I’ll come back, he wanted to say, but his mouth moved without making a sound.
In front of them, the edge of the clearing was changing: the outlines of the trees became blurred like the figures leading him away, colour and light draining from them more and more, until they were sickly shadows of trees, and then they vanished entirely, leaving only darkness – a darkness they were inevitably approaching.
Black, it seemed, had been running after them, and now he had passed them, walking backwards so he could look at Severus as he spoke.
“Listen, Severus! You need to remember this, no matter what! There will be help, do you understand me?" His tone was beseeching, frantic. "There will be help, but you must decide to accept it. If you don’t, there’s nothing that can be done. You must not forget this!”
The last thing that Severus saw before the darkness swallowed him and his escort were Black’s terrified eyes - then nothing.
He was surrounded by complete darkness, but he knew he was not alone, for he could still feel the Guardians’ icy touch on his arms and back, leading him on to he knew not where, to a purpose he did not care about, because all he cared about had been ripped away once again.
He had no idea how long they had been walking when slowly, the darkness seemed to lift in front of them. There were shapes, and faint sounds in the distance that sounded like human voices.
“Where are we going?” he asked, and he was surprised that he could speak again.
“This place has many names,” he heard the Guardians answer, “but we shall give you those that might be most familiar to you. For those who are able to eventually leave again, it is Purgatory. For those who will stay, it is Hell.”
With every word, the air around him seemed to become colder, the distant voices louder, and the slowly building terror inside him stronger.
“But why am I here? Haven’t I paid enough? And Lily...she said I’m...that I’m forgiven!”
Or had she been wrong? Because if not, what was he doing here? If you were forgiven, you didn't belong in Hell.
“She did not lie. Everyone has forgiven you. Everyone except for yourself. You hate yourself, and you still hate those who died before you, and you love the woman in a way that should not be. There is no place for those feelings in Elysium. You should have let go of all this when you died, but there are those unfortunate souls who cannot, or do not want to, do so. You are one of them. Do not see your presence here as punishment – it is a second chance.”
Severus wanted to answer, tell them that he did not understand, but they went on, “Heed the advice your friend gave you. It is your decision to accept the help that will be offered.” And before he could protest that this wasn’t fair and they needed to tell him more, their hold on him loosened, and they were fading away together with the darkness.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Just as Severus and the Guardians faded into nothingness, Sirius stumbled over a tree-root and fell. It didn’t hurt, for the ground was soft, but he didn’t get up afterwards. Instead, he just lay back and closed his eyes, listening to the sound of Lily’s crying and James’s murmured attempts at comforting her. He felt for her – it must be hard to know that part of the reason why Severus had to go through even more pain was that he loved her. And yet, he knew that she didn’t realise what Severus would face. She hadn’t been there, nor had James, and so they couldn’t understand. Not like himself, or Peter.
Had anyone ever told him when he had still been alive that he would feel almost worried sick over the fate of Snape, he would have laughed at them and afterwards sent them to get their head checked at St. Mungo’s. Now, however, he found it hard to comprehend how he could have been so stubborn and hateful.
“Do you think he’ll make it?”
He looked up and saw that Peter had come over and sat down next to him. He looked just as worried as Sirius felt.
“I have no idea.” He sat up as well, elbows on his knees, staring into the direction where he had seen Severus last. “I wish I could be optimistic, but...” He trailed off and sighed. If Severus were to make it, it would be incredibly hard on him.
“I know.” Peter’s hand found his and squeezed lightly, and Sirius had to smile, but it didn’t last long. They sat in silence for a while, hands entwined, each lost in their own thoughts.
“I’m not sure he’ll even manage the initial stage,” Sirius said in the end. “So many don’t, and he seems just like the kind of person who’ll want to dwell on it endlessly.”
Peter shook his head. “He’s strong, you know that. Look at all he did when he was alive.”
“This is different,” Sirius insisted. “He’s always let himself be driven by his passions. That way, he’ll be lost forever. And even if he makes it through everything – what about the Last Test?”
That rendered Peter silent for several minutes. Lily’s sobs had abated by now, and all that could be heard were the birds and the water and the rustling of the trees.
“You never told me about yours,” Peter finally said softly.
Slowly, Sirius pulled back his hand from Peter’s hold. “I told you, it wasn’t as...as innocent as yours. It was different. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Don’t be silly. You know you can’t hurt me, not here. At least not for long. And whatever it was – we’re here now, that’s all that matters.”
“I know. It’s just...” He hesitated, then turned and looked Peter in the eyes. “I’ll tell you, I promise. Just not now, okay?”
After some moments, the other man nodded, then got up. “Let’s go home. I don’t want to stay. Not right after they got him from here.”
Sirius looked over to Lily and James, the former’s head hidden against the latter’s chest, with his hands stroking her hair, a sad expression on his face.
“All right, let’s go. I just hope we’ll one day come back here to welcome him home.”
Peter said nothing, but simply held out his hand again, and Sirius took it and got up. Together, they slowly made their way away from the clearing until they had disappeared between the trees.
Severus shivered and pulled his robes closer around himself. It was a vain gesture, though, for he had long realised that the cold permeating his every fibre would not be detained by even the thickest of clothes. It was always cold here, and the icy winds howling around every corner did never cease. It had taken him only minutes after his arrival to be chilled to the bone, and now he did not even remember ever being warm any more. Even the concept of warmth was slowly fading away from his mind.
He did not know how long he had been here, since there was no way to measure the time. There was no day and night, just an endless, dubious twilight over the dreary wasteland that stretched in every direction, strewn with dilapidated buildings, piles of rubble and dead trees, like a long abandoned theatre of war.
When the darkness had first disappeared and the scenery had presented itself to him, he had been shocked and confused. For some time, he had wandered the wasteland, watching its inhabitants: some of them stumbling along like him, others huddled in doorways to find shelter from the wind, again others simply lying on the burnt ground, seemingly uncaring or unaware of the cold. Some were clad in newer clothes, but most were wearing torn and dirty rags, and a considerable number was even completely naked, shaking almost convulsively in the cold as they were deprived of even the symbolic comfort that clothing provided.
None of them seemed to care about the presence of the others, for they never spoke to him or anyone else, nor did they even look up as he passed by. The air was filled with the never-ending howling of the wind, and in between there was a cacophony of voices, screaming, moaning, crying, babbling incoherently, like in a gigantic madhouse full of lost causes.
In the end, he had realised that it would be useless to go on. His devastated surroundings never changed – one ruined house was replaced by another, one heap of ashes by the next, and all the whimpering, muttering wretches around him seemed faceless and interchangeable, destroyed and marked equal by their miserable existence in this place.
He had finally sat down in the doorway of a ruin and wrapped his robes around himself, waiting. He didn’t know for what, but he had still clung to the faint hope that this couldn’t be everything. It was impossible that he had simply been banished to this dreadful place after all he had gone through. Something would happen. Had not Black and the Guardians said that there would be help? He would not have to stay for long, and surely, he would not end up like the others here. He was stronger than that, had always been. How often had he been close to giving up, but had persevered in the end? It would be the same here.
Time had gone by, but he didn’t know how much. To him, it had seemed endless, but if it had been days, or even weeks, he could not tell. At first, he had thought he might be able to tell by counting how often he would sleep, but he had soon realised that it would not work: just like there were no day and night, there was no tiredness here, and no sleep. Hunger and thirst did not exist, either, and so, distracted by nothing but the cold, his thoughts slowly but inevitably had turned toward the reason for his presence here.
It was so incredibly unfair, he thought, that even now, even in death, she had been ripped away from him once again. But then, of course, the notion of fairness was a ridiculous one. Life wasn’t fair, so why would death have to be? No, death was just a cruel mimicry of life, in which some, like Potter or Black, got everything, and others, like him, ended up with empty hands, and nobody seemed to think it was anything but the natural order of things.
He had been astonished to realise some time ago that his robes were he same robes in which he had died...and that they still held the page of Lily’s letter and the torn-in-half photograph. Since then, he had spent a great deal of his time simply staring at her picture, or reading the last words of the letter over and over again.
Lots of love, Lily
Of course, the words were not directed at him, had never been. He could play pretend for however long he wanted, but the truth was that he was only deceiving himself.
The longer he had been sitting there, cold, alone, and deprived of everything but those bitter feelings, the more every other thought had become unimportant compared to these – how once again everything he had ever cared for had been taken from him, and how instead, others had been blessed with it.
Finally, despite his resolution to not give in to it, Severus was overcome with despair and wept.
Sounds penetrated the hazy fog that was usually separating his mind from his surroundings. Severus blinked and tore off his gaze from the photograph he had been staring at. It was a loud, shrill wailing, audible even over the wind, and as he let his eyes wander over the area in front of his doorway, he saw a woman who right now stopped wandering around uselessly, instead slumping to the ground next to some pile of debris, hands entangled in her hair, mouth opened wide as she cried out again and again.
Severus sighed and turned his back to the scene, trying to block out her voice. He succeeded after what felt only like a short while – by now, he had had enough exercise after all. It wasn’t that he was disturbed by the various displays of misery around him, no; he barely even registered them any more. He simply did not want anything to distract him from his own thoughts, which seemed so much more important than anything else could possibly be.
With a small smile, he turned his attention to the picture of Lily once more and went on stroking it gently, like he had been doing before, his fingers stiff and shaking from the cold. Lily was smiling at him, the vibrant colour of her hair and eyes in stark contrast to the dull shades of grey of his surroundings. She looked so alive – the only thing alive in this place of suffering and destruction, and the only thing that was real and worth caring about.
Lily. The only thing he had left.
Looking at her, he liked to imagine that she saw him, that she knew he was here, and that he was the reason why she was smiling. And hadn’t she smiled when he had arrived in the afterlife? Hadn’t she thanked him, held him, shown that she loved him? Sometimes, these thoughts made him almost feel warm inside, but they were harder and harder to conjure, the more time passed by.
In the end, his thoughts always returned to the fact that he had lost her, not once, but three times in a row: when she had rejected him at school, when she had died, and when he had been taken away from Elysium. Each time, the realisation hurt more, a piercing pain that made his innards clench so tightly that he could feel bile rising in his throat, a bitter taste in his mouth, tears pricking behind closed eyelids like needles.
After the pain came the hate, inevitably, like low tide came after high: pictures of Black, and Pettigrew, and Potter flashing before his inner eye, all of them not alone, not hurting, like he was, but smiling, joking, happy. And with them was Lily.
This time was no different from all the others, and even when the woman outside had long screamed her throat raw and fallen silent, Severus was still clutching the picture to his chest, rocking himself in the rhythm of his painfully beating heart, trying to forget, failing.
He didn’t know what it was, but sometimes, he realised that something was happening to him. He was changing, and it frightened him. But whenever he tried to think more deeply about it, whenever he tried to concentrate, to find out what exactly was happening, the thought was swept away in an overwhelming wave of indifference.
What did it matter, after all? Here, wherever he was – he had known it once, but that, too, had slipped from his mind – it was of no significance. Nothing really mattered, nothing but her, the woman on the photograph. Lily. She, and the fact that she wasn’t here. She was elsewhere, he knew, happy, with people whose names he did not remember, but didn’t care about, either. He hated them, hated them because he had always done so, and for the fact that they were allowed to be with her, while he was not.
Most of the time, that was all that occupied his mind, but sometimes, sometimes he noticed. Something was wrong with him, terribly wrong, and it did not stop, but went on, changing him – or maybe it didn’t change him, after all. Maybe it was the opposite. Maybe, at the end of the process, he would see his true self.
During those brief moments of awareness, Severus wished that he was dead, and that any kind of afterlife was no more than a fairytale.
It was the first word in an eternity, his voice sounding rough and weak, shaking with shock and disbelief.
“No no no no, no!”
He had forgotten it. Just one word, but the most important one in the world, and he did no longer remember.
Wide-eyed, he stared at the torn photograph, like he had been doing forever. She smiled at him, like she always did. How could that be? He had not been thinking of anything but her since he had arrived here, so long ago that he did not remember where he had come from, or what he had done before. As long as he could remember, all he had been doing was sitting here, in this doorway, with the wind soughing outside in a world he did not care about, looking at her. Loving her. Missing her.
She meant everything to him, and yet, he had forgotten her name.
He was close to panicking when he remembered something. A letter! Her name was on the letter! He hectically fumbled with his shabby robes to get the letter out, but when he finally had it, it slipped from his frozen fingers, and a sudden gust of wind took it away.
Frantic, Severus stumbled to his feet, his every muscle screaming in protest as he demanded something from his body that it had not done for far too long a time. Clutching the photograph in his hand tightly, he tried to run after the piece of paper that was fluttering away through the air – but it was too late. The wind was too strong, and he was too weak, and within seconds, the letter was no longer in sight.
Severus dropped to his knees and screamed.
Meanwhile, far away, another man was slowly fading, and then led away by two Guardians.
Several people were staring after him in shock, including a woman with brightly pink hair who was clinging tightly to a handsome man for support.
“It’s not fair,” she sobbed, “it’s just not fair!”
Sirius held Tonks closer, burying his face against her hair, and it was costing him all his willpower not to burst out crying as well.
At the edge of the clearing, Remus Lupin disappeared into thin air.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
The man’s once black robes were grey with dust, swept over him by the icy winds that were racing over the dismal plains. He was lying on the ground in a foetal position, his eyes closed, one frozen hand clenched tightly around a crumbled piece of paper. Pain and coldness were the only things he was aware of, and they were enough to fully occupy his mind. He had no names for them, though, just as he had no name for anything any more, including himself. He was, and they were with him, and he did not remember anything else.
He couldn’t tell when the first thoughts began seeping into his mind. At first, he did not know what they were. He hadn’t been thinking anything for so long a time that he could not grasp them, but just felt the additional pain they were causing by their mere existence. Incessant, exhausting, incomprehensible was all that they were.
Slowly, very slowly, they began to morph into words he could understand, until they had become sentences that repeated themselves in his mind over and over again.
“There will be help. You must not forget this! There will be help.”
Help. It took him a long time to grasp the concept of that word, and when he finally succeeded, he found no relief in the knowledge. He was certain that this was a thing that could not be meant for him. The thoughts wouldn’t go away, though, however much he tried to shut them out, promising something he knew he could not have, did not deserve. Maybe it was just to shut them up that he finally dared to form a question in his mind:
The answer came immediately, a cool, calm, and somehow familiar voice inside his head - a voice of which he knew was not his own: “Lupin. You must find Lupin.”
Lupin. It was a person, he suddenly knew, but whether it was a man or a woman, he couldn’t say, just as he did not know why this person would be of any help. It didn’t matter much, though, for he still could not believe that this was real. There had been no hope as long as he could remember, and there was no reason for it to exist all of a sudden.
He curled up tighter and waited for the voices to go away.
“So, is it always like that? Two people get chosen to help each other through the process?”
After Remus had been taken by the Guardians and Tonks had calmed down, the people who’d been left behind – namely Tonks, her father (who’d arrived shortly after Remus had been gone), Sirius, Peter, James, and Lily – had left the place where Remus and Tonks had been welcomed into the afterlife. They were now sitting around a table in front of a small, homely cottage at the edge of the wood, drinking tea, and Sirius and Peter – as the only ones present who’d experienced Purgatory themselves – were explaining to Tonks what was happening to Remus.
“As far as we know, that’s how it works,” Sirius said. “And it usually has to be someone you knew in life. So I’m not sure about people who didn’t know anyone who went to Purgatory as well, but I guess there’s some other solution.”
“And do they have to die within a couple of years to each other, or doesn’t that matter? I mean, could it be a grandfather and his granddaughter, for example? Or would that be too long a time in between?”
Sirius shook his head. “It doesn’t matter, as long as you knew them. Time’s working very differently there.”
“Yes, it’s very different, even from here,” Peter said. “If you stick with the timeline in the world of the living, I died just some weeks ago. And for James and Lily it was just some weeks here in Elysium as well from my arrival until Sirius and I came back. But in Purgatory...it felt like eternity.”
His voice had become much softer on the last words, and almost automatically, Sirius reached over and took his hand.
Tonks watched them thoughtfully for some moments before asking her next question.
“And does it often happen that they end up as couples, like the two of you?”
Sirius choked on his tea. Peter turned a bright shade of red and pulled his hand away from Sirius’s. Lily and James snickered.
“What?” She looked back and forth between them in confusion. “Did I say something wrong?”
“We’re not a couple!” Sirius spluttered, tea still dripping from his chin. “We’re just...good friends.”
“Yeah, good friends who live together in a house with one bedroom, hold hands all the time and look like lovesick puppies whenever they don’t see each other for more than two hours,” James agreed.
Peter flushed even more, and Sirius got up. “Need to get a new shirt, I’m all wet,” he mumbled before vanishing inside the house.
“They’re in denial.” James grinned mischievously. “We’re having a bet running on how long it will take them to admit it. Want to join?”
“I’m betting at least another six months, but that’s just because I find them so adorable to watch like this,” Lily said.
To Tonks, it seemed that if Peter had turned any redder, his head would have exploded. But before it could do so, he took a deep breath, apparently to calm down, and then said softly, “It’s because of Remus that you asked, isn’t it? About the couples. It's bothering you.”
The atmosphere almost immediately changed from playful to serious. Tonks didn’t answer for some time – yes, she had asked because of Remus, but now that she thought about it, she was confused by her own feelings.
“I’m...not sure,” she said in the end. “It should, because it would mean losing him, wouldn’t it? But right now...I don’t feel like I have to worry about that. It’s like I know that if he comes back, everything’s going to be fine, no matter what happens there.”
Peter smiled at her words, and so did the others.
“Then that’s how it will be,” Lily said. “You sometimes get this kind of...certainty here. You just know things – actually, they put that knowledge into your mind, so you won’t worry about something that’s going to end well anyway.”
“They? Who do you mean?”
“She means the Guardians,” James explained. “They don’t only deliver souls to Purgatory. They also give them advice while they’re there, bring them back here when they’re ready, and they generally watch over everything that’s happening. You could call them some kind of guardian angels, actually.”
“They didn’t look much like angels to me,” Tonks said doubtfully.
“Their appearance changes according to the circumstances. If they bring someone back from Purgatory, they’re beautiful. You wouldn’t recognise them. I had a hard time believing that they were the same who’d brought me there.” Everyone looked at Sirius, who’d just come out of the house with a new shirt on. “I think it’s all a bit melodramatic, but who am I to complain about the mechanics of the afterlife?”
“An impossible wacko, that’s what you are,” James said, grinning again. “Which is why we’re leaving you now, before our sanity flees us completely. Besides, we wanted to meet with Dumbledore later in the afternoon.”
“Dumbledore is here as well?” Tonks wondered how many people she had once known she would find here.
“Oh yes. But it’s hard getting a hold of him. He’s always busy with some ‘important’ things – would you be surprised if I told you he got bored here after a while and somehow managed to get himself the position of some kind of divine messenger? Delivering messages from here to the world of the living, making appearances as a wise, otherworldly counsellor, that kind of stuff.” James got up and wrapped an arm around Lily, who had followed. “He ‘isn’t cut out for doing nothing’, that’s what he says, but in truth, he just misses meddling with people’s lives.”
“Oh, shut it, James!” Sirius’s tone was light, but there was also a hint of seriousness in it. “If that’s what he wants to do, let him. He deserves getting to do something he likes after going through that hell. Everyone does.”
“Wait, so he was in Purgatory too?”
“Yes.” Sirius sat down again and turned to Tonks. “With his sister, Ariana. They apparently had quite some issues between them. Now they’re very close, but they don’t talk much about what happened. They probably think it’s nobody else’s business, really.”
Tonks shook her head. She was feeling a bit overwhelmed and dizzy. “It’s all a bit much to digest at once,” she said. “Is there maybe someplace I can go – just to think everything over? And where am I going to live anyway?”
“You can come with me,” her father now said, who had taken a backseat so far. “A Guardian showed me where your place has been set up this morning. It's pretty nice - I'm sure you'll like it.”
“Sounds good.” Tonks emptied her cup and then got up as well. “So, Peter, Sirius...thanks for explaining. I just hope...” She trailed off, then forced herself to go on. “I just hope everything will work out for Remus. I’d miss him terribly.”
There wasn’t much to say to that, and so, some moments later, James and Lily as well as Tonks and her father were on their way to their respective homes. Peter and Sirius looked after them for a while in silence.
“If he had to stay, that would just be so wrong,” Peter finally murmured. “Even I got out, and compared to him...it wouldn’t be fair. He doesn’t deserve that.”
“Don’t be such an idiot!” Sirius’s voice was soft despite his words. “It’s got nothing to do with what you deserve, or he doesn’t, you know that. There’s no comparison. There’s just the things he needs to work through so he can be happy.”
Peter sighed. “You’re right. But you know how it is, sometimes.”
“Yes, I know.” Sirius stood and pulled Peter with him. “Come, let’s go for a walk. You need some distraction.”
Peter smiled lightly, and he didn’t protest when Sirius led him away into the woods, his arm still wrapped around the smaller man’s shoulders.
There had been times when he had thought it would never end, but now, finally, the voices in his mind that talked of help were slowly fading away. He could feel them become fainter and fainter, no more than a distant murmur, and with every passing moment, they seemed to become less important, and his knowledge of what they actually meant smaller. Soon, they would be gone completely, and then...
When the voices were gone, there would be nothing but the cold and the pain from before. Did he really want that?
He couldn’t know for sure, but maybe this was real. Maybe this was a chance – the only one. There might be another in the future, but what if there wasn’t? What if he would have to stay like this forever if he didn’t seize the opportunity now? And if it wasn’t real – nothing that would come could be worse than this.
All of a sudden there was a new feeling, much stronger than the previous indifference and hopelessness, making his innards clench and taking his breath away.
“Wait!” he called out in his mind after the fading thoughts, trying to grasp them, bring them back. Already he wasn’t even sure what they had said any more, and he felt close to panicking. What was he supposed to do?
“There will be help, but you must decide to accept it.” It was just a weak whisper, but he clung to it with all his strength.
“I do! I do, just don’t go! Tell me what to do!”
And then they were back, strong and commanding, and this time, he felt nothing but relieved.
“Go and find Lupin! Find Lupin, and you will receive help.”
“How will I recognise that person?”
“You will know when the time has come. Now go.”
It took him what seemed to be hours to stand up from the ground: the first painful squinting against too bright light; trying to move his frozen limbs even an inch; sitting up, stiff and dizzy; finally standing, and the first stumbling steps that made him fear he would keel over at any moment. But he would not give up. He would find Lupin; he would find help. Slowly, he walked away from where he had been lying, and all that was left was a crumbled photograph, forgotten in the dust.
He didn’t know how long he had been walking. Forcing his leaden legs to take step after step, he didn’t allow himself to think of anything but the fact that when he would finally find Lupin, all of this would come to an end. There were doubts, but he tried to ignore them. If he let them take control, he knew he wouldn’t make it; he would end up like he had been before he had started searching.
Along the way, he had paid careful attention to the people he had walked by – one of them had to be Lupin, and he couldn’t afford to accidentally miss him, or her. But so far, he hadn’t found what he was looking for.
There had been familiar faces, or at least they had seemed familiar, even though he couldn’t remember knowing them. Each time he had spotted one of them had raised his hope, and he had approached them, only to realise with certainty that they were not who he wanted them to be.
There had been a haggard, black-haired woman with a manic glint in her vacant eyes. She hadn’t seen him, since she had been fully absorbed in stroking a ghastly, black tattoo on the inside of her left arm. “Bellatrix,” a small voice had whispered inside his mind. He hadn’t cared much. She was not Lupin, and he had moved on.
Later, he had found a red-headed man, almost still a boy, who had been staring into a broken mirror, apparently fascinated with his own reflection. The boy had been mumbling something under his breath, and when he had leaned closer to listen, he had heard that it was a name, repeated over and over: “George.” The red-head’s own name, however, was Fred, and so he had left.
Right now, he was wondering how much longer he would have to walk, for even though tiredness and sleep didn’t exist here, it was still possible to feel utterly worn out, and he feared that soon, he would simply fall and be unable to get up again.
Then he saw him.
The man was lying in a doorway, curled up on himself much like he had been as well. His clothes were so torn that there were more holes than fabric, and he was shaking violently. Every now and then, one of his arms or legs would jerk and tense, or a fist would clench, but every time, he went limp again after a few moments.
The man who had been searching froze in his tracks. One glance at the shredded robes and grey-brown hair – which was all he could see, since the man’s face was hidden behind his arms – had been enough to let him know that his search was over. He still had no idea who this person actually was, but just as he had been told, he had recognised him immediately.
“Lupin!” he exclaimed hoarsely, stumbling over to the doorway. Just as he arrived, his legs gave in and he slumped into a sitting position next to the other man. “Lupin!” he called him again, but the man didn’t react.
Staring down at the pathetic-looking form, he wondered how there could be any help expected from it, but he brushed the thought aside. He had come this far, and he wouldn’t give up now.
“Lupin, come, look at me!” He reached out and gripped Lupin’s shoulder, shaking him to make him snap out of whatever daze he was in. The man groaned and curled up tighter, but didn’t react in any other way.
What was he to do now?
His hand still on Lupin’s shoulder, he could feel him tremble, and he remembered how it had been to feel nothing but coldness and anguish. During his feverish search, his mind solely concentrated on his task, he hadn’t felt the cold as badly, but now it slowly started creeping back into him.
He hesitated, watching the shivering man for some more moments; then he reached out with both hands and, gathering all the strength he had left, hoisted him up and wrapped his arms and voluminous robes around him. It earned him another groan, and Lupin instinctively arched closer, his face buried against the chest of the other man.
It had been the right decision. Lupin’s skin was icy at first, but it soon grew warmer, and the tremors that were shaking him got weaker. After a while, he was lying almost still, just shivering faintly every now and then, his fingers curled around the fabric of the black robes surrounding him.
And then, finally, he raised his head and looked at the man who had found him. Recognition seemed to flash in his eyes, and his worn face shone with something that could only be called relief.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
“Severus!” It was a weak, raspy whisper, as if he hadn’t spoken in years.
The man who had been searching frowned, looking down at Lupin.
“Severus? Is that…my name?”
“Yes. You don’t know?”
He shook his head. It was strange, to have someone else tell him his own name, a name that he did not recognise even now. It could have been any other, and he would not have been able to tell if it was really his.
Lupin licked his lips, which were pale and covered with dust. “I don’t know mine either. It’s weird – all I know is that I needed to find you, but I couldn’t make myself go.”
Severus frowned even more now. This was not at all what he had expected at first. When he had decided to search for Lupin, he had hoped that whoever it might be, they would know more than he about what was happening here. Now, though, it seemed that Lupin’s situation was no different from his own.
“Your name is Lupin,” he finally said. “I was looking for you. I was told that you could help me.” He doubted the last fact by now, but he wouldn’t give up just yet.
The other man looked confused. “I thought it was you who would help me.”
Dejected, Severus closed his eyes for some moments. “You don’t know what all of this means, do you? Why we’re here, or where ‘here’ even is. Who we are. Or what we need to do now.”
“No,” Lupin said softly. “I thought you knew.”
Frustrated, Severus pulled away from him, making him sway and almost slump to the ground again. He turned away while Lupin was still struggling for balance, instead staring outside into the grey wasteland. For some time, he had allowed himself to hope, wasting his last strength on finding this man, and for what?
Severus clenched his fists, watching the wind blow over the planes stretching in front of them. There was a woman who stumbled by, half-naked, her hair white with dust. She threatened to keel over and fall every few steps, but forced herself to go on, until she was out of sight. Was she, too, searching for someone she had been told to find? And would she be disappointed as well?
Lupin’s hand was on his shoulder, and it took him an effort to not shake it off.
“Let’s think this through,” Lupin said. “We were both promised help if we found each other. Why would that be a lie? It would make no sense. Maybe we misunderstood something.”
“And what?” Severus asked flatly, now turning around to him. “We’re together now, and nothing has changed. All we know is each other’s names. How is that supposed to be of any help?”
“I don’t know,” Lupin admitted. “But there must be a reason. Maybe we’ll be told more later, like we were told to find each other. Maybe we just need to be together for whatever is coming now.”
He looked almost eager now, a stark contrast to the apathetic bundle of human he had been only ten minutes ago, and Severus felt half annoyed and half impressed.
“All right. And what do you think are we supposed to do now?”
Lupin shrugged. “I don’t know. Can you walk?”
If he had felt up to it, Severus might have laughed at the mere idea. He could barely feel his legs after the forced march he had behind him. As it was, he simply shook his head. If it were possible in this place, he probably would have fainted from exhaustion a long time ago.
“Just enough to find you. I couldn’t get up if my life depended on it.”
“Then we’ll have to wait for whatever might come. At least we’re not alone any more.” Lupin smiled tentatively. “I’d prefer anything to how I felt before you came. I’m glad you’re here.”
Severus stared at him blankly for some moments, but he had to admit that the other man was right. This was much better than the state in which he – and apparently Lupin – had been vegetating before.
“You’re right; it’s at least something.”
Closing his eyes, he leant against the wall behind him and pulled his robes tighter around himself. He was glad that Lupin didn’t try to talk to him any more, at least for now, for although it was good that they were no longer alone in this place, he needed some time to himself to overcome the first disappointment. The more time went by, though, the harder it became to concentrate on anything but the cold that once more was trying to chill him to the bone, making him shiver. Looking over to Lupin, he saw that the other man was huddled in a corner of the doorway and shaking violently once more, his eyes closed, teeth chattering.
Severus hesitated, but then shifted until he was sitting next to him. It would be silly to let them both freeze if there was something they could do about it. Like he had done before, he slowly wrapped his arms and robes around the other man, pulling him close. Lupin looked up at him in surprise at first, but then smiled and leaned against him.
Severus nodded, holding him even tighter. After a while, they had both stopped trembling, and the cold did not seem to be as threatening as before. Severus closed his eyes again, focussing on the comfortable warmth radiating from Lupin, and although it should have been impossible, he soon fell deeply asleep.
It was in the middle of the night when Peter awoke slowly. He yawned and turned around, expecting to end up against Sirius. But where the other man should have been was just an empty space, and when Peter blinked sleepily, he realised that he was alone in bed.
Still halfway asleep, he waited for some time – maybe Sirius was on the loo, or in the kitchen to get something to drink. Time went by, though, and he did not return, so in the end, Peter forced himself to wake up fully and get out of bed. He knew where he would most likely find Sirius – it was, after all, not the first time.
The night was warm, and when he stepped outside, he was greeted by a soft breeze rustling the leaves of the forest, the stars and crescent moon colouring the nearby lake and the meadow in front of the house in a silvery light.
Slowly, he made his way down to the shore, and already from afar he could see a dark human silhouette against the water. Sometimes, at night, Sirius would come down here; usually after a dream, or when something was bothering him. It wasn’t very often; you usually didn’t have deep worries here, but every now and then it would happen, like a remnant from their past earthly life.
Peter sat down in the sand next to Sirius when he arrived, but he didn’t touch him or speak to him. For a while, they sat together, looking out at the shimmering water that gently gurgled against the shore.
“I dreamt of Purgatory,” Sirius finally sad softly.
Peter turned to look at him, but Sirius didn’t move, still staring ahead over the water.
“It was about Severus. About how jealous I was of him.” He shook his head, then lowered it onto his knees. “Facing that took even longer than dealing with the hate for my family, remember? It was so ridiculous.”
“It wasn’t,” Peter disagreed. He, too, had been jealous of Severus, albeit for other reasons.
Now Sirius was looking at him, pale in the white moonlight, and for a fleeting moment – much to his own shock – all that Peter could think of was how beautiful he looked.
“If I’d known only half of what I know now about him --” Sirius began, but Peter didn’t let him finish.
“No, stop it! Don’t even start it with the guilt-tripping. You told me that it was nonsense just a few days ago, when they took him away. How about heeding your own advice, wise man?” He had added the last sentence lightly, smiling at the other man in hope of lightening the mood a bit. The attempt failed, however, and Sirius only looked away again, a pained expression on his face.
“Sometimes I think everything could have been so different,” he whispered. “For him and...and for you. If we had noticed...”
Peter sighed, shifting closer to Sirius’s side. “It doesn’t matter any more. I’m fine now, and he will be as well.”
Sirius didn’t answer, but when Peter put an arm around him, he leaned against the shorter man.
They stayed for another hour, silent, both lost in their own thoughts, until in the end, they returned to the cottage and to bed. In the morning, everything would look more hopeful again.
Severus awoke to the feeling of another body next to his. He sat up and opened his eyes, but quickly closed them against the blinding whiteness that invaded his mind. After some time, he tried again, now blinking carefully to get used to the light. When finally, his eyes didn’t hurt any more, he saw that he was sitting on a snow-white plane, with an equally white horizon spreading in all directions. There was nothing to break the monotony, no plant, no rock, and no cloud above him.
The only thing beside himself that contrasted with the surroundings was the man next to him, who now stirred as well, groaning weakly as he tried to open his eyes. As he attempted to sit up, Severus could see his face – and was completely taken aback.
It was not only a name any more – suddenly, he perfectly remembered Lupin as well as himself, and everything that had happened until now. He had died, had ended in Purgatory, only to find himself stuck with Remus Lupin!
The other man started at hearing his voice and turned to face him.
Judging from his tone of voice and the disgusted expression, he was having the same experience as Severus, now remembering everything. Before they could do or say anything else, however, a wave of coldness washed over them, and then there was a familiar voice in Severus’s mind, cool and emotionless.
“Severus. Remus. You have been chosen to be companions on your journey.”
Hastily, Severus got to his feet and turned around to find himself looking at the Guardians who had first dragged him away from Elysium and delivered to Purgatory. From the corner of his eye, he could see that Lupin had done the same.
“I have no idea what journey you’re talking about,” the other man said angrily, “but I surely won’t make it with him! He’s a murderer and traitor, the most despicable sort of human scum you could possibly imagine. I won’t have anything to do with him!”
Unimpressed, the smoky figures went on.
“Together, you will face the reasons for your presence in Purgatory and try to overcome them. You were chosen to help each other, as a positive outcome is most likely in this constellation. If you refuse to move on to this task, you will find yourself once more in the wasteland you came from. Make no mistake – there will not be a second chance.”
Lupin shook his head. “Didn’t you listen? I won’t do it – not with him! Can’t it be someone else?” He frowned. “What about Tonks? She died as well; I remember it.”
“Your wife remained in Elysium,” was the answer. “It is Severus, or no one. However, you will now be given the chance to realise your misconception about his actions, if you are willing.”
“Misconception?” Lupin looked wary, and despite being angered about his behaviour, Severus could not really blame him. He still must believe that Severus had truly been on Voldemort’s side after all.
“Are you willing to see and learn? You need to decide now.”
Severus could see the hesitation in Lupin’s expression, but in the end, he nodded slowly.
Within a second, their surroundings changed; the endless whiteness around them vanished, making place for a room they both were familiar with: the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts.
Severus looked around, then at himself. His body, like Lupin’s, was slightly transparent, shimmering faintly, like a ghost’s. The persons inside the room did not notice either of them.
“…done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?”
“I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread, eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time.”
Severus could not suppress a weak groan. Why this? Why, of all things, did they have to show Lupin this?
“I am fortunate,” Dumbledore was saying right now, “extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus.”
Forcing himself to take his eyes off the old headmaster, Severus turned around, covering his eyes with his hand. He did not want to relive this scene – it had been bad enough the first time. There was nothing he could do, though, to blend out the voices, and so he suffered through it, feeling every bit as miserable as he had when the conversation had taken place.
When it came to the part where Dumbledore told Severus that he must kill him, there was a surprised gasp from Lupin, but other than that, he stayed silent, much to Severus’s relief. He wouldn’t have been able to deal with him on top of this.
“Come to my office tonight, Severus, at Eleven, and you shall not complain that I have no confidence in you…”
With those words from Dumbledore, the scene finally faded away, and when he dared to look around, Severus once again found himself on the white plane together with the Guardians and Lupin.
The latter was almost as white as their surroundings, staring at Severus incredulously.
“This…this was real?” He sounded like a Muggle who had seen magic for the very first time. “It was all a plan? Severus…he always was on our side?”
“All that you were shown did take place like you saw it,” the Guardians confirmed.
Lupin stayed silent for some time, but finally took a deep breath, as if bracing himself.
“Severus, I…” He trailed off, then slowly stepped nearer. Hesitantly, he raised his hand as if to touch Severus, but dropped it again. “I’m sorry.”
Usually, Severus would have liked to snap at him, retort in a sarcastic manner that would make the other man wince and regret his sincere apology – but suddenly, he felt too tired to do care. All he could do was shake his head and look away.
“It was supposed to be convincing,” he said harshly. “You believed what you should, like everyone else.”
There was no answer, and he was grateful for that. Had Lupin said something along the lines of he should have known better, Severus was not sure how he would have reacted. He felt that they should have known better – at least some of the Order members. But he and Albus had known that they would willingly believe their deception; it was what had made it so successful.
“Severus. Remus. It is time to decide now. Will you accept each other as companions and begin your journey?”
“I will,” Lupin said softly. “Severus, please, will you agree?”
Slowly, Severus turned to face the other man, who was looking at him expectantly. Everything inside him recoiled at the thought – facing the reasons for being here together with Lupin? It would mean to let him see his most vulnerable side. But what choice did he have? The only alternative was an eternity in a place that promised nothing but suffering.
The decision should have been easy, but it still took him minutes until he could make himself speak.
“I’m sure that I will regret this. But yes, I will.”