Title: Missing, Believed Dead
3) After killing/apparently killing Dumbledore, Snape flees Britain. Dumbledore’s picture reveals the truth. Remus searches for Severus, but how can he find a spy?
It was Minerva who told him. She woke him up in the middle of the night, clad in her nightgown and dressinggown, banging on his door with muffled desperation. Dumbledore's portrait had finally awoken, and he had asked for Severus.
"And when I told him that it was Severus who killed him, he told me that he had arranged it that way! Bloody Albus! If he weren't dead, I could have killed him myself!"
The Headmistress was clearly still in shock. Remus poured her a cup of tea, heavy on the sugar, and tried to take stock of his own emotions. All he felt was numb. It seemed as if this was the pattern of his life, to learn that he had misjudged those who should have had his trust. Fated. Inevitable.
He added more sugar to his own tea. He thought he might be in shock himself.
Minerva started at the whispered question, lost in her own thoughts.
"He was dying. You remember his hand was withered, that last year? It was a Ptashk curse."
Remus nodded absently, fitting the pieces together in his head. "No known counter-curse. Death results within 10 lunar cycles if myrrh balm is correctly applied within 58 minutes, within 1 lunar cycle otherwise."
Minerva's gaze dropped to her own hands, her right hand cradling her left as if it were the injured one. She rubbed it unconsciously.
"He only had a matter of weeks left, and he ordered Severus... he told him to kill him, so that He Who Must Not Be Named would trust him. He said that Severus begged him not to have to do it..."
Minerva's voice broke. "Why didn't Albus TELL anyone?"
"Did you ask him that?"
"He just said that it wasn't safe. But surely he knew... He must have known that the Order never trusted Severus in the first place! He should have known."
"He made Severus take an Unbreakable Vow, you know."
There was nothing to be said to that. Remus sipped his tea and tried to reassemble his jumbled thoughts and emotions into something coherent. Minerva stared into space, then sighed. "I'm sorry to have woken you Remus, but I just had to tell someone who would understand; had to hear myself say it. I don't suppose that anyone who wasn't in the Order would ever - will ever - understand. How can I make this right? I suppose it's just as well that Severus was never captured. I would hate to have to tell Albus that he had been executed, or Kissed. At least we are spared that."
She looked around. Dawn was streaking the sky and they both had to teach today. Awkwardly she took her leave, and he smiled and told her how glad he was to be of service. And he was. But when she had gone, he sat cold and unmoving until his alarm went off, thinking of Severus Snape, and of how it must have been for him, after he killed his only ally and submerged himself in the court of an insane Dark Lord.
* * *
It didn't surprise Remus that few in the Order were interested in restoring Severus Snape's good name. Minerva aside, few knew Snape well, and fewer still were interested in helping him. Some people disbelieved her, while others simply didn't care. Remus found himself grateful that Hermione Granger had survived the War with her faculties and her crusader spirit intact. She bullied Kingsley into lodging the requisite paperwork to rescind the outstanding orders against Snape, and Harry into lodging a testimonial in his favour. Those members of the Order whose stars had risen in the wake of the War were mercilessly lobbied until they lent what aid they could to the sole end of restoring Severus Snape's legal standing. When a Pardon was issued after two solid years of lobbying, Remus sent Hermione a dozen roses.
A month after the Pardon was issued, Remus attended the christening of Neville and Parvati's daughter, Salma Alice. The old crowd were out in force, and Remus was happy to see so many of his former students moving joyously into their futures. Many of the young women were pregnant, and a number of toddlers and young children were scattered through the crowd. Hearts were light, and the faces he saw were untroubled by the weary desperation that he remembered from only a few years before.
Harry slapped him on the back, then slipped an affectionate arm over his shoulders. "Did you ever see such a beautiful sight?"
Remus followed his gaze to Hermione and Ron, leaning trustingly into each other on a small sofa at the edge of the crowd. Hermione's shoes were off and Ron was smiling at her with the unmistakeable intimacy of those who loved and were loved in return.
"No I never did," he agreed.
"We're all going to be all right, Remus. Who would have guessed it?"
Remus knew what he was remembering: Hermione's coma; Ron's appalling injuries after the final battle; the sheer bloodymindedness that had kept them all going through their darkest hours. He let the thankfulness rise in him again, wondering if he would ever learn to take for granted the sheer pleasure of seeing his friends' happiness.
"Yes," he agreed, "We're going to be all right."
Harry must have seen some hidden reservation lurking in Remus’ eyes.
"Hermione's looking for Snape, you know. She put those ads in all the papers and magazines and she interrogated Kingsley about any leads the Aurors had."
"You've forgiven him then?"
"Bloody Dumbledore. We all did everything he told us to. I can't blame Snape - God knows I tried to, but in the end sheer logic won out... and Hermione's nagging!"
Harry's look of wry mischief wrung a laugh from Remus. "So what did she find out?"
"Well they're pretty sure he's not in Britain. They found some American money and a passport hidden in his old chambers, so their best guess is that he fled to America."
Remus raised a quizzical eyebrow. Anything found in Snape's chambers was meant to be found, in his opinion. Still, Snape had fled in a hurry. It was possible he had left some things behind accidentally. He reserved judgement.
* * *
The last time Remus saw Severus Snape was an Order meeting. He had hoped... but Severus hadn’t come knocking on his door that night, as he had so often before.
Had he known then that he would never come to Remus again?
* * *
Hermione had gained trusteeship of Snape's remaining assets. Remus helped her sort through them, few as they were. Some books, papers, personal items. It seemed he had once owned a house at Spinners End, and had lived there for some time during the War. It had been confiscated and resold during the time Snape had been a convicted felon at large, and the Ministry absolutely refused to remedy the matter, since it had been thoroughly cleansed of residual magic and sold to new owners. Giving way to a perverse masochistic nostalgia, Remus walked past it a couple of days before Christmas, but the cheerful cream-coloured house with floral curtains and a small cottage garden out the front held nothing that seemed even vaguely reminiscent of Snape. He didn't see that there was any point in knocking on the door.
The afternoon was wearing on and he stopped at a teashop at the end of the road, then browsed in a nearby secondhand bookstore. He wondered if Snape had ever been in there. When he found a paperback by an author he liked he purchased it, and on impulse he asked the proprietor about Snape.
"My friend used to live around the corner. Dour man, with dark hair and a beaky nose. We lost contact when I moved," he confided.
The proprietor laughed. "I remember him! At least - he must have left three or four years ago if he's the one I'm thinking of? About your age. Not chatty. Never bought anything but non-fiction and classics. Except the last time."
Remus looked enquiringly at him. Non-fiction and classics - that sounded like Snape. "What did he buy the last time?"
"Children's books! Surprised me - he'd never shown the slightest interest before and then he suddenly bought a couple of cartons of children's books!"
Remus shook his head, completely at sea. "What sort of children's books?"
"All hardbacks, in good condition. He was very particular always about the condition of his books. And he bought a book on the history of some African country that same day, I remember, even though it was in quite poor condition. Such a strange purchase - for him I mean. I don't think I ever saw him again. He wasn't looking too well. I rather wondered if he had died, actually?"
Remus shook his head again. "No. Not when I last heard from him. He went abroad."
The shopkeeper looked satisfied. "Yeah the sun in Africa would probably be good for him."
Africa. It was the last place Remus would have looked for him. He supposed that was the point.
"Do you remember which African country the book was about?"
But the proprietor didn't. Just that it wasn't South Africa, or Kenya (he went on for some time about Kenya's Olympic runners). Some place he'd never heard of - but that was most of Africa, Remus gathered.
That night Remus pulled out his old atlas and ran his fingers over Africa. It was a large continent, and even excluding South Africa and Kenya it had far too many obscure countries. How would he ever find out?
In the morning, Remus made a list of all the countries in Africa except for South Africa and Kenya, starting with Angola and going down to Zimbabwe. He crossed off Egypt, sure that the book-shop proprietor wouldn't have spoken of it in such terms, then wrote it in again, just in case.
In the end he went back to the bookshop and showed the list to the proprietor.
"Could have been this one," the proprietor said, his brow furrowed over the list, pointing to 'Swaziland'. "Maybe. I think it is. Actually, if you're really that desperate to know, I could pull out my old records and see if I can find my record of the sale?"
Remus admitted to desperation and arranged to come back in a week.
The name of the book proved to be 'A complete history of the British in Swaziland, from 1877 to 1968' The invoice also contained the titles of 48 children's books and a date of purchase in late May, which would make it shortly after Voldemort's defeat. He really had survived the last battle... Remus closed his eyes as a shudder of relief ran through his body. There never had been any real proof that Snape was alive, and not buried in some shallow anonymous pit somewhere. For all they had known they could have been going to all this effort for a dead man. Remus gave the proprietor a carton of beer and his grateful thanks.
* * *
Remus used to keep a diary. At Hogwarts it was half personal journal, half medical record. When Severus started using him as a test subject for Wolfsbane, it became almost all medical record, but Remus also used it to record his sexual encounters. One day he counted up the number of times he had reached orgasm with a partner, then divided those encounters according to partner. He was shocked to realise that he had had sex with Severus over a hundred times, and that his next most frequent partner (a short-lived romance in the early 90s) had a pitiful 10 marks against his name. What did that say about him? What did it say about Severus?
* * *
Back at Hogwarts after the holiday break, Remus had tea with Minerva and told her what he had discovered. "Swaziland and children's books," she mused. "It doesn't sound like Severus, does it?"
He shook his head, his frustration showing through. "Short of going to Swaziland to look, I have no idea how to proceed. Were the books for an orphanage? A school? There doesn't seem to be any common theme to them; they're just ordinary books suitable for young children. The proprietor said that the only remotely unusual thing about them was that they were all hardbacks and in good condition."
"I think we can assume that the books were for some kind of children's charity," said Minerva slowly, "so I expect we should start by finding a list of Muggle children's charities operating in Swaziland. Or we could find out what English-language publications are published there and put an advertisement in the local papers, the way we did in the Prophet and the Times."
"We might just scare him off, though."
"Well it's not as if either of us can spare the time to go to Swaziland before the end of the school year."
"He might not even be in Swaziland. It might be one of his elaborate red herrings. Or he might have been and gone three years ago."
They finished their tea and separated gloomily.
* * *
The first time. The time he lost his virginity. Sometimes he thought he had imagined the first time. It wasn't like the other times; nothing like the times after the Prank. It had been tender and sweet, and strong as altar wine.
But that had been before, and nothing was ever the same after.
* * *
Hermione did put advertisements in the Swaziland english-language publications, and also compiled a list of all the children's charities she could find in Swaziland which would welcome volunteers and book donations. It was not a short list. She then obtained, though what means Remus was not privileged to know, a list of British subjects who entered Swaziland between the date on the invoice and the end of June. Next she started crossing names off her list as she investigated them and assured herself that they were not aliases for Severus Snape.
"You do realise, " she said briskly to Remus, "that he may have entered Swaziland without registering or he may have created a non-British cover persona?" The possibilities were discouragingly endless, but they plugged on nonetheless.
It was a rainy day in April when she showed him a name. Steven Toscanini.
"There IS a Steven Toscanini, but he emigrated to America 20 years ago and is currently a college professor of chemistry, resident in Pennsylvania. He is certainly not working as a volunteer teacher in a tiny village in Swaziland. I think this could be him, Remus, I really do!"
* * *
One day - it must have been in the mid-eighties - Snape showed up on his doorstep. Remus hadn't seen him in 6 months; hadn't been keeping up with anyone, actually. It was pouring with rain and Severus was drenched to the skin. He pushed his way past Remus without waiting for an invitation, and cast a drying spell on himself before the door was closed. Remus never got to ask why he was there, because the only thing Snape said was ‘Take off those trousers’ and within minutes Remus was being shoved urgently against the nearest wall, with Snape's fingers up his arse and his cock being ruthlessly pumped. When he came, Snape was deep inside him. Remus heard a gasp in his ear as Snape flooded him with liquid warmth, and for a long moment that lean body rested against his back, heartbeat fluttering madly against his shoulders. And then the warm weight of him was gone, the door slammed and only the echo of a sarcastic voice saying "Do keep in touch, Lupin." remained. That and the sticky residue splashed on the wall, and trickling down his bare legs.
Later his neighbour asked him if he thought she should report the strange, dark-haired man who had been watching their apartment block all that day, He told her not to worry.
* * *
Remus left for Swaziland the day after Hogwarts finished. In his pockets he had a certified copy of Snape's Pardon, a big fancy thing with a grandiose seal and opulent curlicues to emphasise the graciousness of the Ministry in granting such a thing to the unworthy recipient. He would have hated it if he were Snape, but it had been the best they could do.
There was a bus to the village where 'Toscanini' worked. It ran twice a week and was crammed full of dusty locals, their produce and their livestock. Remus had done a translation spell, so he was privy to a great deal of local gossip by the end of the 8-hour journey. The schoolmaster seemed to be held in respect, but he had heard no details to confirm or deny whether it was Snape. Remus only wished he had as little information on the repulsive ailments afflicting the elderly women sitting behind him and their spouses.
His journey ended at a small general store, apparently in the middle of nowhere. A dusty acacia tree stood in front of it. In the distance was another, larger shed-like structure which the shopkeeper informed him was the school.
Soon after Remus arrived, an old-fashioned bell rang, and children poured out of the building. It was further away than it looked and, as Remus watched, stretching his aching back and legs, the sea of children separated into three streams, walking, skipping and running along three well-worn paths to their homes. One path evidently led past the store, and soon Remus was under scrutiny from dozens of interested eyes. Ignoring them, he wearily donned his backpack and set out upon the barren path back towards the schoolhouse, to be rewarded by the sight of the schoolmaster locking up for the day.
Surely it was...
"Lupin." The unmistakable voice of Severus Snape.
He looked older. Well of course he did. But somehow he seemed... less brittle. Remus drank in the welcome sight with every fibre of his being.
Snape sighed and unlocked the schoolhouse once again. "I suppose you had better come in," he suggested flatly.
As the door closed behind them, Remus couldn't help himself. He had to touch. He slid his arms around that whipcord body and leaned into the smell and feel that had always been so right. Just for a minute he thought he felt a hand gently touch his hair, before the body in his arms turned rigidly defensive.
"Get off me, Lupin! What are you doing here? Whose errand-boy are you this time?"
Remus released him without argument and wriggled his backpack off in order to unzip the flat compartment which held Snape's Pardon. He held it out. "This is from the Order. Hermione did most of the work, though."
Snape eyed it with suspicion. Remus could practically read his thoughts. He rolled his eyes. "No it isn't poisoned or charmed or hexed or a port-key! It's a ministerial pardon." He opened up the parchment for Snape to read.
Snape's face grew blanker and blanker. Then suddenly a wave of rage swept across it. Remus recoiled.
"Is this a JOKE, Lupin? Have you tracked me halfway across the world for a JEST?"
"It isn't a joke. It's real. You are free to return to Britain and resume your own name at any time."
Snape's eyes spat with fire. "You expect me to believe that..."
Remus couldn't listen to it. Just couldn't. So many years of waiting, wanting; years of guilt and aching to know... for sure... whether Severus was alive or dead. He put his finger across Severus' lips, almost laughing aloud at the outraged sputter they produced.
"I am glad you're alive, Severus. I missed you," and just for once, in memory of their first time - the one and only loving time - he kissed the sputtering lips with all the passion he felt.
"I love you Severus. Hermione has the original parchment of your Pardon if you ever want it. We weren't sure it was you, you see, and we didn't want to lose it."
He pressed the copy into unresisting hands, unable to look away from Severus' shocked white face. "Um... the Ministry confiscated your house and we couldn't get it back, but Hermione and Minerva have all your possessions that we could find. Let us know where you want them sent. I'm teaching at Hogwarts and I’m still at Grimmauld Place from time to time. Harry will always forward any mail that arrives for me there."
He was gabbling, but he had to make sure to tell Snape everything before Snape threw him out. He took another deep breath. What else? Nothing came to mind. He had said everything:
Means of contact: check.
Declaration of love: check.
It must be time to go. He turned to leave, fumbling with the door-latch.
An exasperated voice stopped him. “Does Minerva have my copy of Gerontinius on Mineral Salts?”
Remus looked up hopefully, “I have no idea.”
There was nothing on Severus’ face but that oh-so-familiar peevish expression. “Of course you haven’t. I suppose you can make yourself useful by taking a list back to her of such items as I would like to have forwarded to me immediately. It will take me some time to compile.” Snape leaned in past Remus, unlatching the door with practised hands. Remus could feel the warmth of his nearness, smell the soap Severus used on his hair.
“Well? Are you going to stand there all day or are you coming with me?”
Remus fell in behind Severus - who was wearing rather fetching jeans, he noticed - and allowed himself to be carried along unresisting.
He just hoped that a nice post-coital cup of tea lay in his future. He was pretty sure that it did, although he might have to make it himself. And after that... well, who knew?