Warnings: angst, character death, euthanasia, suicide
Challenge: 253) Remus suffers from chronic, unrelenting pain, which cannot be controlled by any known potion or therapy. Finally unable to bear his pain in silence any longer, he goes to Snape seeking the ultimate end to his suffering.
Disclaimer: Characters aren't mine. If they were, I might not be so horrible to them.
A/N: Many varieties of thanks to awesome beta, islandsmoke for a heck of a lot more patience than I would have had with these stupid date stamps. She deserves massive rounds of applause for correcting all of them—not once, not twice, but three times.
seven years after the last final battle
"Look at the moon," Remus murmured.
"It's beautiful," Severus whispered, tightening his arms around Remus, holding him against his chest. A magnificent disc of pumpkin-orange hovered halfway above the eastern horizon while the last bands of red and gold faded quietly in the west, surrendering the final warm rays of sunlight into the frosty depths of autumn night shadows.
Remus nestled his head against Severus' shoulder, and Severus smoothed silver-laced hair from Remus' forehead. His hair was more silver than brown, and had been for several years, and time had etched deep lines around his eyes and mouth. For once, though, Remus' face was relaxed, not tense with the effort of withholding his pain. It was still there, as it always was, but it seemed less violent for the moment. Perhaps the cold was making him numb, or perhaps it was because he was at peace with himself.
Severus leaned his face against Remus' head, and Remus looked up at him. "You've seen plenty of golden moons, haven't you? It doesn't impress you the way it does me."
Wrenching his eyes from Remus, Severus spared a glance for the moon. It was beautiful, and he doubted that he'd ever admired the fire of a Hunters Moon. His reasons were quite different from Remus' reasons, of course, but the moon had never held appeal for him.
"It's stunning," Severus replied. "It really is."
Remus closed his eyes for a moment, and it wasn't until he opened them again that Severus realized he was holding his breath. "I wish there had been more full moons like this," Remus said, his eyes on the sky again. "I would give anything to have back all those nights and to spend them just like this."
Severus lifted Remus' hand to his face and kissed his fingers. "Then we'll have to make tonight make up for thirty years of full moons," he said with a smile that looked out of place on his face.
Remus' smile was much more natural. "I love you," he whispered. "I don't regret a minute of my life right now."
With a towel draped over one arm, a basket filled with clinking bottles and jars and topped with a tray of tea in his hands, he nudged the bedroom door open with his foot and sidled in. It was dark and quiet, even though the mid-afternoon sun blazed outside the window. He set the basket in an armchair and took the tea to the bed, placing it on the table. With a flick of his wrist and an unspoken incantation, he set the lamps to light, and they cast their warm, golden glow over the dark room.
The shadowy form in the bed moved, and Severus eased himself onto the edge of the mattress. "Don't you think you've slept long enough?" he asked, brushing his fingers gingerly over Remus' face.
Remus blinked at him and yawned. "What time is it?"
"Almost five. You've been asleep more than three hours." Without waiting for Remus to make the decision, Severus leaned forward, gathering him into his arms and lifting him to prop pillows behind his back. "I've brought tea."
Eyes closed and jaw set against the pain of moving, Remus nodded almost imperceptibly.
Severus reached for a teacup and shifted again, sitting beside Remus at the head of the bed, one arm around his shoulders. "Can you hold the cup?" Severus asked, and when Remus didn't answer right away, he reached for his hand. "I've tried something new this time," Severus said as he placed the teacup in Remus' hand and wrapped his own hands around Remus'. "And I've also mixed a new salve that I want to try on your feet and legs. A different tactic this time—maybe if we can increase circulation, it will help."
Remus opened his eyes and smiled a bit. "Maybe," he agreed.
Guiding the teacup to Remus' lips, Severus urged him to drink. This had become the defining characteristic of their relationship in the last two years—Remus was in excruciating pain, and Severus was doggedly determined to find the way to ease it, and he spent hours every day poring over texts and talking to Healers and Potioneers, hoping that someone, somewhere, would have the cure that he was looking for. So far, he hadn't found it.
"Did you sleep well?" Severus asked, his fingers still closed around Remus' hands.
Remus nodded. "I think so."
"Good," Severus said. "Do you think that the Sleeping Draught helped?"
"We'll try that again tonight, then," Severus said. He urged the teacup to Remus' lips again. Drinking the tea was a slow process, and one of their few daily activities that Severus did not think worsened the pain. It was always one of his favorite times of the day—sitting with his arm around Remus, sometimes, like today, steadying Remus' hands with his own, sometimes drinking tea with him as they talked. It was also a fleeting moment, and all too soon, Severus was putting the teacups back onto the tray and moving the tray across the room, bringing the basket back with him.
"Shall we try the salve then?" Severus asked. Without waiting for Remus to reply, he turned back the blankets and moved to the foot of the bed, spreading the towel over his lap. He opened the jar of bright blue cream and set it aside, lifting one of Remus' feet. "Tell me if I'm hurting you," he said, and Remus nodded his agreement.
The first glob of salve drew a hiss from Remus, and Severus stopped, his hand hovering over the top of Remus' foot. "Does that hurt?"
"It's cold," Remus replied.
"I'm sorry. I'll use a Warming Charm." Severus reached for his wand and murmured the words. He could feel the cream radiating a gentle warmth as he smoothed it over Remus' foot. "Better?"
With no more words, Severus began his massage, using gentle strokes of his fingers and thumbs, pressing his palms against Remus' foot. Bit by bit, he increased the pressure, rubbing more and more of the blue ointment into Remus' pale skin. He worked each toe individually, massaging them between his thumbs and forefingers, rotating and bending them.
"Am I hurting you?" he asked, pausing as Remus inhaled sharply.
"A little," Remus whispered.
Severus lifted his hands from Remus' foot. "I'll be more gentle." He resumed the slow, careful massage, his thumbs rubbing circles on the arch of Remus' foot.
He worked in silence again, keeping careful check on the pressure he applied to Remus' muscles. The last two years had seen the destruction of Remus' skin and a thinning of his blood, and something that would be a mere scratch to a healthier man was a gaping cut on Remus. A touch that was soothing to anyone else left ugly bruises on Remus. The first time Severus had left bruises by hugging him, it had nearly ripped his heart out. The last thing in the world that he wanted to do was hurt Remus more than he already suffered.
Worse than the thin blood and fragile skin, was the deterioration of his cartilage. It had begun with his knees, and spread to his ankles and feet, then to his hips and, more recently, his hands. Every time Remus moved the affected joints, his face contorted into a grimace, and Severus ached on his behalf. He wanted nothing more than he wanted to find the way to ease Remus' pain.
"Is this helping at all?" Severus asked as he smoothed the salve over Remus' ankles, rotating his foot slowly and trying to ignore the way the joint jerked beneath his hands, like a rusty nut grinding on a bolt. The Healers said that it was important that all Remus' joints move every day, no matter how badly it hurt. Most days, it fell to Severus to see those orders carried out. He rotated Remus' foot three times to the left, then three times to the right, then did the same to the other.
There was a hesitation, then Remus nodded. "Yes," he said. "I think so."
"Do you want me to work some of it into your knees as well?"
"You don't have to do that," Remus murmured. His eyes were closed again, one arm draped over his face.
"I don't mind at all."
Remus bit his lower lip, squeezing his eyes shut and funneling all his energy into the effort of not crying out as Severus lifted his leg, bending his knee. It was as though shards of glass filled all his joints, and every time that knee bent, it felt like someone was gouging into his bones with a carving knife. If that wasn't bad enough, in order to bend his knees, he had to move his hip as well. Severus had never seemed to notice that.
Finally, Severus straightened his leg, and the unbearable pain faded into pain that was merely excruciating as Severus massaged more of that cream into his calves and knees. Remus let his hand fall back to his side, but kept his eyes closed, still struggling for self control. Severus had been more patient with him, more gentle than Remus would have ever thought possible, and Remus never intended to let him know the extent to which his touch hurt.
Severus stopped his massage, and the ache receded slowly, retreating from excruciating to horrible; horrible was as good as it ever got. Wiping his hands on the towel, Severus moved to sit closer to the head of the bed again. He reached for Remus' hand.
"Do you want me to rub your back?" Severus asked, holding Remus' hand between his.
Remus drew Severus' hand to his lips. "Do you know what I'd really like?" he asked.
Severus shook his head, and Remus tugged on his hand.
"Lie down with me. It's been ages since I've held you."
A look of doubt flickered across Severus' face as he laid his head on the pillow beside Remus'. "I don't want to hurt you," he protested as Remus turned onto his side and pulled Severus against him.
Remus nuzzled Severus' ear. "The air hurts," he said softly as he wrapped his arms around Severus, urging him closer. "I'm not ready to give up breathing yet, though. Now come here."
Severus shifted, leaning his head gingerly onto Remus' chest as though afraid he might break. With a sigh, Remus pressed Severus' head against him, ignoring the cramps in his hands and the bruising punishment of sharp cheekbones against his chest.
"I'm not hurting you, am I?" Severus asked.
"No," Remus lied, absently stroking Severus' hair. "Not at all."
This was what he missed. Time and pain had been steadily robbing him of everything he had ever enjoyed—there was a list of foods that he couldn't eat because they only made it worse, a list of beverages he couldn't drink. He couldn't hold a quill long enough to write a birthday card anymore, couldn't hold a book open long enough to read more than a few pages before his hands began to ache. It had been a year since the last time he'd gone for a walk in the forest, eighteen months since he'd ridden a broom, ten since he'd had sex, five since he'd left the house. Three since Severus had slept with him. It was as though his life was dwindling away, one long, lonely, miserable day at a time.
Remus tightened his arms around Severus, pulling him closer still, blinking rapidly at the searing, white-hot shaft of blinding pain that ripped up his leg at the pressure of lying on his side. "Put your arms around me," he whispered.
Severus looked up at him. "I don't want—"
"To hurt me, I know," Remus said, forcing a smile. "I told you, it hurts regardless of what I do or don't do. But some things are worth a little pain." Severus had no idea just how much 'a little pain' was, or just how much of that pain he would have endured if he could have back just a few of the moments that had been robbed from him.
Memories were all he had left of those moments.
"Happy Birthday." Remus flicked his tongue against the head of Severus' cock, then blew a soft, steady stream of air over him, as though trying to blow out a candle. If Severus' groan was any indication, the result was as far as possible from dousing the flames of desire.
Severus wound his fingers into Remus' hair, but Remus ducked away, releasing himself from Severus' grasp.
"No, no," he scolded with a wicked grin on his face. "Mustn't touch." He snaked out his tongue again, and Severus' hands balled into fists.
"The bedroom," Severus gritted out from between clenched teeth as Remus traced his tongue along the underside of Severus' cock. Severus hissed. "Killing me," he whispered.
"Then you'll die a happy man." Remus slid his mouth over Severus' cock, drawing the head into his mouth. Severus' hands hovered over Remus' head, then withdrew. Remus glanced up to see Severus sucking on the knuckles of his right hand, the left flexing in mid-air. Remus sucked hard, and Severus cried out sharply, his left hand touching Remus' head again.
Remus had been waiting for that. He drew his mouth away from Severus' cock and settled back onto his heels, looking up at him. "You know, you're not playing by the rules very well," he said in a reproachful tone.
Severus stared at him in frank disbelief, his mouth working wordlessly. "You can't really expect me to stand here, in the middle of the room, while you suck my cock, and not touch you."
Remus stood and moved close enough that his breath caressed Severus' ear. "That's exactly what I expect," he whispered, smiling as Severus shuddered. "Shall we try one more time?"
"Fuck me," Severus whispered, pressing his cock against Remus' hip. "Or let me fuck you. Or suck me off. Or for pity's sake, give me five minutes alone, but—"
"Five minutes?" Remus interrupted. "Tsk, tsk. Surely you've outgrown five-minute fucks, haven't you?" He flicked his tongue into Severus' ear. "Or perhaps an old man like you can't keep it up more than five minutes." The only reason Remus got away with making comments about Severus' age was that he was only two months younger.
Severus groaned as Remus wrapped his hand around his cock. "I'll get you back for that as soon as I can think again."
Remus chuckled against Severus' cheek. "Then I better be sure to keep you busy for a while," he said, nuzzling Severus' face as he pumped his hand vigorously over the head of Severus' cock until Severus was breathing raggedly. He let go and stepped away from him, leaving Severus to stumble forward a step, gasping.
"Tease," he muttered, his fingers wrapping around himself.
Remus moved Severus' hands aside, drawing them behind his back. "I told you not to touch," he whispered menacingly against Severus' throat. "And, since you're obviously unable to follow simple instructions, I'll have to make sure you can't touch." He flicked his wand and, with an unspoken incantation, glowing cords wound themselves around Severus' wrists, securing them at the small of his back.
Wide-eyed, Severus watched as Remus walked into the kitchen and returned a moment later with an egg timer. "What are you doing?" he asked.
With a lascivious grin, Remus turned the dial. "Forty-two years old today," he said, his fingers drawing out every click as he set it. "Forty-two minutes. Think you can last forty-one minutes, old man?"
Severus stared at the timer, then at Remus, his mouth working soundlessly again.
"I'll even sweeten the pot," Remus said, setting the timer on the mantle. "You don't come for forty-two minutes, and I will do anything you ask me to do for the next forty-two days."
Severus swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. "And if I don't?" he asked hoarsely.
"If you don't, then we try it again tomorrow," Remus replied, trailing a finger over Severus' chest. "And the day after." He dropped his hand to Severus' cock, fingers hovering over but not touching the bobbing head. "And the day after that until you get it right." He wrapped his hand around Severus' shaft and pumped twice. Severus bit his lip and leaned his head back. "After all, you might be an old man, but I'm not."
Remus pressed his lips against Severus' throat, and Severus cried out sharply, his hips bucking into Remus' palm, but Remus moved his hand, sliding it up over Severus' chest and shoulders. He knew that he could make it impossible for Severus to fulfill his task, but that wasn't the idea. Not yet, at least.
"Thirty-nine minutes," Remus whispered as he licked his way along the tendons in Severus' neck.
"You're not making this easy," Severus muttered.
"If I made it easy, where would the challenge be?" He pressed his lips against Severus' mouth, and Severus leaned against him. Wrapping his arms around Severus' shoulders, Remus held him close as they kissed, their bodies pressed against each other, cocks straining.
"Isn't fair..." Severus whispered, throwing his head back as Remus shifted so that Severus' erection was rubbing against his hip.
"No one ever said life was fair," Remus replied, his hands coursing up and down Severus' back. Severus trembled under his touch, and closed his eyes as Remus' hands cupped his arse, massaging roughly.
"Oh, God," Severus groaned.
"Thirty-three minutes," Remus whispered into Severus' ear. "You're almost a fourth of the way there."
Six months spent learning every plane and every curve of Severus' body, of studying his groans and hisses, his trembles and twitches, had taught Remus what to do to drive his lover to the brink of oblivion, and what to do to bring him back from the edge before he tumbled over. He put every bit of that knowledge to use. He teased with his hands, with his tongue, with his fingers, with his lips, and Severus trembled and groaned and gasped and hissed. The only coherent words that passed between them were Remus' reminders as minutes ticked away.
"Twenty-eight minutes," he said as he dropped to his knees, taking Severus' cock into his mouth and sucking on the head. "Twenty-four minutes," he said as he bent Severus over and teased his pale arse with the tip of his tongue. "Twenty minutes," he said as he summoned a jar of lube from the bedroom and moved his arm around Severus' waist and pressed a finger into his opening. Severus shuddered, the head of his cock glistening with precum, but every time Remus sensed that he was dancing too close to the edge, he changed tactics.
"Twelve minutes," Remus murmured, standing straight and pulling Severus back against him. His own cock ached to drive into Severus' arse, but that would hardly be a fair maneuver at this point in the game. Besides, the ache was exquisite, and the fog of lust that clouded Severus' eyes was enough to tempt Remus to push him farther. "You've done very well," Remus whispered, his chin resting on Severus' shoulder, his hands locked casually around Severus' waist. "Ought I reward you?"
"Are you going to take minutes off that damn timer?" Severus asked, leaning his face against Remus'.
"No," Remus replied with a grin. "But I'm going to untie you and let you sit down."
"Oh, well, thanks for that," Severus muttered with a sardonic sneer, but Remus noticed that when he released the spell that had been binding his hands behind his back and pushed an arm chair towards him, Severus sighed and closed his eyes.
"Sit back," Remus said, kneeling in front of him. "And relax." He winked at Severus as he lowered his head to his cock. "This won't hurt a bit."
As soon as Remus' lips closed over the head of Severus' cock, Severus groaned, gripping the arms of the chair as Remus drew his lips up and down, his hand wrapped around the base. The sounds of pleasure escaping Severus' mouth threatened to make Remus forget the object of their game, and when Severus drew a strangled, shuddering breath, Remus was afraid that he was drawing back too late. He glanced at the timer and picked up Severus' hands. "Two minutes," he whispered, dropping his head again. He licked the glistening head of Severus' cock, his tongue lapping at the salty beads of liquid. Severus groaned again, his fingers winding into Remus' hair, breathing harder and faster as Remus drew him into his mouth again.
The time buzzed, piercing the intent silence, and Remus stopped, raising his head and settling back on his heels. He folded his arms atop Severus' knees, a wry smile on his face as he watched Severus' cock twitch. "Well," Remus said in a husky voice, "I suppose I'll have to recant everything I said about old men. Until next year." He flicked a finger against the head of Severus' cock. "Now what? Your call. Shall I finish sucking—"
In one swift, graceful movement, Severus swept the jar of lube up with one hand and turned Remus around, pushing his head to the floor. "Now," Severus whispered, his hand slathering lube liberally onto Remus' arse, fingers stretching into his opening, "I'm going to fuck you into the goddamn floor." Remus grunted as Severus rammed into him, and he raised up, supporting himself on his hands and knees.
Wrapping one arm around Remus' waist and reaching for his cock with the other, Severus set a pace that would have been punishing if Remus hadn't spent the last forty-two minutes growing as aroused as he was making Severus. The force of Severus' cock slamming against Remus' prostate tested the boundaries between pain and pleasure, but there was something savage in the way Severus was grunting that made it seem right.
Severus pumped his hand over Remus' cock, keeping pace with his thrusts, and Remus hung his head between his shoulders, pressing back against Severus to meet the battering ram that was his cock. One of them cried out sharply, and Remus didn't know whether the sound had come from his lips or Severus', but his balls tightened and he clawed at the carpet as Severus pulled him back and thrust once more into him. Remus came hard over Severus' hand, and they collapsed into a panting, sweating heap on the floor.
For a moment, they lay like that, Remus nestled in Severus' arms, Severus' lips nipping against his neck and throat. "You know," Remus murmured, turning to lay his head on Severus' chest, "I don't think I could do that very often."
Severus shook with silent laughter, the only kind of laughter Remus had ever known from him. "I'd make a disparaging comment, but I don't think I could do it either." Severus tightened his arms around Remus and kissed his forehead. "Why don't we continue this in the bedroom?" he suggested, his lips brushing Remus' face as he spoke.
"And just what are we going to continue?" Remus asked. "We're both done for, at least for a little while."
"Mm-hmm," Severus replied. "But lingering in bed will be much more comfortable than lingering on the floor."
He had a point. Remus rolled away from him, grimacing as he rose onto his knees. He was stiff and sore, his knees aching. "Next time, I want a cushion," he said.
Severus, meanwhile, was already on his feet again, his arms folded across his chest. His sneer might have been more effective if he hadn't been naked. "Now what are you grousing about?" he asked as Remus used the edge of the chair for leverage as he pushed himself to his feet.
"Just a little stiff," he muttered, bending one knee, then the other, grimacing against the grinding discomfort.
Severus snorted. "And you were calling me an old man?"
"Shut up." Remus bent his other knee, and straightened, shifting his weight from one leg to the other.
After a moment, Severus' expression changed a bit. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Remus replied. "Just a little stiff and a little sore. Someone seemed rather intent on—what was it again? Fucking me into the floor?"
Severus reached for him and pulled him closer. "Serves you right," he said, draping his arms around Remus' waist. "Just you wait until your birthday."
Remus blinked rapidly, aching for another afternoon like that one had been. It was an ache relegated to his heart, though; his cock had stopped aching months ago. That was the result of a potion Severus gave him to help ease the pain that wouldn't be eased. How often had they had that argument in the beginning? Remus would protest taking the potion, Severus would snap that he didn't give a damn if Remus' cock shriveled up and fell off. Remus knew that was supposed to be reassurance that what they had together was more than sexual, and he did appreciate the gesture, but it had stung at his pride to know that they had to plan their evenings of intimacy. Without a potion for virility, Remus' penis was no more than a vessel for the purpose of urination.
Now, even a virility potion wasn't enough to overcome the impotence of pain. He missed the intimacy as much as the thrill of sex—it had been months since Severus had been anything except a caregiver, since Remus had been anything except an invalid. Severus helped him bathe, massaged salves and ointments into his legs and back, held his hands steady when he couldn't hold a fork or a teacup. Severus saw him to St. Mungo's twice a month and held his hand while Healers assessed the damage to Remus' joints. They were building a case of criminal negligence against the wizard who had sold the 'Miracle Potion' without putting it through the rigors of proper testing and analysis and who had bypassed the Ministry mandates for the approval of new medicinal potions.
He leaned his head against Severus', and Severus looked up at him.
"I'm hurting you," Severus said, sitting up despite Remus' efforts to hold him.
Remus' arms ached at the emptiness, and he closed his eyes with a sigh. How could he ever make Severus understand that the physical pain was never going to go away, but the emotional pain was soothed for a few minutes with every gentle touch that was voluntary instead of necessary?
As though reading his mind, Severus leaned down and kissed Remus' lips. "I love you," he said softly. "Nothing is ever going to change that."
The blazing fire of an orange moon had faded to pale yellow, no longer a disc of gold, but one of ivory. It was cold, and the same wind that rattled the trees and set the autumn leaves to flight left a lingering chill that seeped into Remus' bones and froze his joints. He nestled closer to Severus, and Severus tightened his arms around him, pulling the blanket closer.
"Do you want to go back home?" Severus asked, a note of hope in his voice.
Remus smiled up at him, then looked at the moon again. "No," he whispered. "I want to stay right here. I think I understand why people fall in love under a full moon."
Severus stroked Remus' chest and shoulders. "Do you?" he asked.
"It's just like love, the moon. It's bright and brilliant when everything else is dark, it's there even when you can't see it. You think that it's so bright that it makes everything clearer, but it's a kinder light than the sun. You only see the things you're looking for anyway."
Remus could feel Severus' breath ruffling his hair, his breathing strained and labored.
"Do you know when I fell in love with you, Severus?"
Severus moved his head slightly, and Remus imagined he was shaking it. "I haven't the slightest idea," he replied.
"Do you want to know?"
"Yes," Severus whispered.
"It was that day at Molly's, actually. You needed someone so badly, and you were so afraid that no one wanted you."
"I was not afraid," Severus replied, his words more forceful than they'd been in a month.
"Yes you were," Remus said, smiling into the darkness. "You were afraid no one wanted you, and you were afraid you didn't belong there, and you were afraid someone would notice."
Severus was silent, which meant that Remus was right.
"You were watching me," Remus said.
"I was wondering what it was like to be you," Severus murmured after a moment. "To be able to forgive and forget and move on with your life. I didn't think I'd ever move on with mine."
"Happy birthday, Remus." Molly stood on her toes and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him into a maternal hug that Remus returned with an equal fervor.
"Thank you," he said with a grin, draping an arm around her shoulders as he walked with her to the back of the house, where tables sagged under the weight of the veritable feast Molly had cooked. The Burrow seemed empty compared to the last time he'd been there, which had been for Bill and Fleur's wedding three years ago. Since then, all of the kids had moved out and started lives of their own.
Harry and Ginny lived close to Middlesbrough now, Hermione and Ron down near Norwich. Charlie was still in Romania, though rumor had it he was saving his money for a ring. Percy was in Gloucester and still making strides through the Ministry. Fred and George... well. Neither seemed in particular danger of growing up any time soon. Fleur had moved back to somewhere in northern France after Bill had died in the Battle of St. Mungo's. Everyone and everything had changed.
"Have you heard from Tonks lately?"
"Not since before Christmas." That one nipped at his pride a bit. He'd been right-- he was too old and too poor for Tonks' taste, and he couldn't blame her for moving on. They'd been together more than a year, and goodbye had been a tearful affair on her part. He'd always expected it, but he'd hoped that he might have something to offer her. He wasn't surprised to find out he did not. They'd parted on good terms, though, and had talked to each other several times, but they'd drifted apart in the last six months. She was seeing someone else now, and she didn't seem anxious for reminders of the past. A small part of him thought that perhaps that was the real reason it hadn't worked out between them. She'd seen far too much during the war, and she wanted as far away from it as possible. All he wanted was to hold onto what little he had left from his past.
Dumbledore's death had not been the cap to the sorrows in Remus' life. Moody had died at Bellatrix Lestrange's hand, and several of the old Order members had died to keep the Death Eaters away from the room where Harry and Voldemort fought to the bitter end. Shacklebolt, Diggle and Doge; Hestia Jones and Neville Longbottom-- by the time Harry had emerged, wounded but victorious, more than a hundred Aurors and Healers and former classmates had given their lives so that Harry could fight his battle. It seemed that the war had taken a particular toll among Remus' own generation. Remus had killed Peter Pettigrew himself. A final mercy bestowed upon an old friend, for Azkaban would have been far less merciful than death.
"I'm not sure whether Fleur will be here or not," Molly said with a rueful smile. "She has a hard time being around everyone. I think everyone else will be here, though, so maybe it will be a bit like old times."
Remus reached for her again and pulled her against his chest, remembering the last time he'd held her like that. She'd been facing a boggart that kept turning into her children dead on the floor, and he'd promised her that if anything happened to her and Arthur, that her children would be well cared-for. Someone should have promised her that she would be well cared-for if anything happened to Arthur-- he'd been one of the casualties of the war. Molly wasn't alone, though. She had six children still who loved her and saw that she was taken care of.
"Did you invite Severus?" He'd asked her to. When that last battle had ended and the Aurors who were left standing had begun rounding up the Death Eaters, Severus Snape had not resisted. Remus had met his eyes, and he knew that he would never forget the hollow pain that filled them. Gone was the sneer of cruelty, and gone was the harsh expression of dislike. Severus had been a shell of a man, and after a dramatic trial that was chronicled in detail all over the front page of The Daily Prophet, he'd been sentenced to a lifetime in Azkaban-- ten years before the Dementor's Kiss would steal his consciousness and leave him an empty frame to die.
A month later, Minerva had called Remus to her office, and when he'd arrived, she'd collapsed into his arms, sobbing. On the desk sat Dumbledore's Pensieve, swirling with the white fog of memories. Unable to speak, she'd gestured towards the bowl, and Remus had entered the scene. It had taken him a moment to realize what he was seeing, and it was like a kick to his heart when it dawned on him. Severus, his face lacking its characteristic sneer, was standing beside a hedge, his arms folded across his chest.
"Remember your promise to me," Dumbledore was saying. "You gave me your word, Severus, and that has always been the only thing I needed from you."
"Yes. Do what you said to do, not question you. But this-- this is different! You're taking too much for granted."
"No, it is no different. You've walked where I said to walk and you've fought where I said to fight. Now I am telling you to do nothing."
Severus stared past Dumbledore, directly into Remus' eyes it seemed. It was disquieting to be pinned under that soulless gaze.
"It is your duty, Severus."
"THEN MAYBE I DON'T WANT TO DO IT ANYMORE!" Severus shouted, swiping his hand irritably against the hedge and turning away from Dumbledore. It must have been uncomfortable to lean against the prickly, pointed leaves, but he gave no indication of it.
Dumbledore walked towards him and placed his hand on Severus' shoulder, and after a moment, Severus turned again. His face was lined with a web of red scratches, but his composure seemed to have returned. "I know you don't want to do it anymore," Dumbledore said, urging him to sit on the bench. "We're all tired of this war, and more of it falls on your shoulders than is fair. I know you don't think you have the support that the others have--"
"I don't need the others."
Dumbledore smiled gently, stroking Severus' back. "Everyone needs someone, Severus."
Severus looked into Dumbledore's eyes for a moment, and Remus was struck by the thought that Severus had no one except Dumbledore.
"Sometimes, I have wondered what my children would have been like, had I ever had any," Dumbledore said, his twinkling eyes now focused on the point where Remus was standing. "I hope that they would have been a bit like you."
Severus said nothing, but leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped in front of him.
"Do you know why I trust you, Severus?"
"Because I've done everything you've ever asked of me," Severus replied hollowly.
"No," Dumbledore said. Severus raised his head and looked up at him. "If you had only ever done everything I asked of you, I would have very real reason not to trust you. It's the things you have done that I have not asked that have been the deciding factors." Dumbledore placed a hand on Severus' back, stroking him as though he were a cat. Severus' shoulders twitched and shifted under Dumbledore's touch.
"I trust you because you came looking for me last summer when I didn't come back after setting out to destroy the ring. I trust you because you came to me after Sirius died and asked if it was your fault. Because you stayed when Voldemort summoned you upon his return-- you could have gone and talked your way out of it when you came back. I trust you because you came to me when Nicholas Flamel died, and asked if I was all right. Severus, you've never given me a reason to doubt you. Not one. I have never heard so much as a whisper from anyone else that I didn't hear from your lips first. I have trusted you all these years, and I trust you still."
Severus was still staring at the ground.
"I'm asking you to do one more thing for me. I am an old man, and I have lived my life. I have served my purpose, and I have known great joy and pleasure and love. If the time comes when my death will serve more than my life, I want you to see to it. If my death means that someone younger, with more still to give the world, will live, then I want you to see to it that he lives. Whether it's Harry Potter, or Draco Malfoy, or Severus Snape."
Severus stiffened, ducking his head, his curtain of hair hanging around his face.
"So many lives have been lost and destroyed already," Dumbledore continued, still stroking Severus' back. "So many people forced to do things they should not have had to do. Harry and his friends are far too young for this. Draco is far too young. You were far too young when it started, and you still are. Don't let those sacrifices be in vain." Dumbledore's hand paused at the back of Severus' neck, his withered old fingers combing through strands of greasy black hair. "Promise me, Severus," he whispered, gathering the hair back from Severus' face.
After a moment, Severus took a deep breath and sat up straighter. "I promise," he said, standing.
Dumbledore clasped his hand, and Severus held it for a moment, then walked away, leaving Dumbledore sitting on the bench to watch him.
It was one of many bottled memories; Dumbledore had been meticulous. His reasons remained his own, by and large, but as Remus watched the scenes unfolding in the Pensieve, he thought he understood why the headmaster had trusted Severus all those years. There were dozens of small acts, the sorts of things that if Severus had not done, no one would have ever questioned, but that he had done them had to say something. There were a handful of truly telling memories that swirled like silver fog in the shallow basin—Dumbledore carrying on a frank conversation with Fawkes in which he said plainly that he expected he would not survive the year and he feared that the suspicion would turn towards Severus.
"I hope the world remembers that, whatever they may think they see, Severus has acted under my own orders for years."
There was a memory of Severus telling Dumbledore in an irritated tone that he'd made an Unbreakable Vow to Narcissa, and Dumbledore replying serenely that Severus 'did what he must to maintain a position which favors the fight against Voldemort.' Without Severus' information, their efforts would be impotent. Without Voldemort's trust, Severus' position was in jeopardy.
There was a memory of Dumbledore talking with a much younger Severus, one who couldn't have been more than twenty years old. "The time may come when you have the choice to do as I say or to question my judgment. I may be old, Severus, but I am not yet senile. I'll have your word that you will do as I say, whether you agree with it or not."
There were dozens of memories—more than forty in all—and when viewed one after another, they suggested that, as recently as the afternoon Dumbledore had left the school for the last time, he had trusted Severus implicitly and expected that the time would come when the world would need a reason not to hate him.
Remus had accompanied Minerva to the Ministry of Magic, where they presented those memories to the Wizengamot. A search of Severus' personal effects had turned up similar bottles, which were labeled in Dumbledore's hand. One was missing, though. No matter how hard they searched, they could not find a crystal bottle that explained why Dumbledore had come to trust Severus in the first place. Perhaps if they'd had that memory to offer, it would not have taken a week of deliberation for the Wizengamot to decide that while Severus Snape's actions were highly suspicious, they had more evidence that he was a spy acting under Albus Dumbledore's orders than that he was a cold-blooded killer. They rescinded their sentence, reducing the charges to Homicide Under Voluntary Compulsion and sentencing him to six weeks in Azkaban-- time already served.
"You are, perhaps, the most vile wizard to ever stand before this body," one of the elders had proclaimed, looking down her nose at him from her perch on high. "This is twice that you have slithered out of our grasp. I suggest, Mr. Snape, that you not try to make it a third time."
His release had not been met with the same pomp and ceremony that that his imprisonment had been, and he had quietly accepted the money that the Ministry of Magic gave him from the liquidation of his assets and the house that they provided for him in the countryside of northwest England and the stipend that would ensure he never looked for a job and raised embarrassing questions about how the wizard who had confessed to the murder of Albus Dumbledore was free instead of rotting away in Azkaban. Remus had gone with Minerva to pick him up from Azkaban, and had helped her settle him into his new home. He'd not heard from or about Severus Snape since then.
He still didn't know what had possessed him to ask Molly to invite Severus to this birthday party she was insisting on throwing for him. Perhaps it was because Severus was the only one left of their classmates, and Remus was tired of fighting.
"I invited him, but I never had a response one way or the other. I don't think I really look for him to come."
"Neither do I," Remus said, "but if he does, I want you to help me make him feel welcome."
After half an hour of talking with Molly, the guests began to arrive. Harry and Ginny, clinging to one another like the newlyweds they were; Ron and Hermione, bickering as always. When the twins arrived, the size of the party seemed to double instantly. Charlie caused quite a stir by arriving with a be-ringed young witch on his arm, and Tonks raised eyebrows when she came in, her fiancé in tow, but Remus was glad to see her and he kissed her cheek and offered honest congratulations on her upcoming marriage. Her hug was as fierce as it had ever been. Even Fleur showed up, though her smile seemed watery and her gentle hug weak. She was a pale shadow of the beauty who had charmed them effortlessly just a few years earlier.
"Everybody" was a considerably smaller number now than it had been five years before, and even as they talked and laughed, those who were not there seemed to hover as intensely as those who were. Just before they sat down to lunch, Remus saw one more figure lingering at the edge of the driveway, blending with the shadows. Remus didn't know how long Severus had been standing there, but when he saw him, he dropped the platter of rolls he'd been carrying onto the table and walked straight towards Severus.
Severus tensed as Remus drew nearer, looking like he wondered exactly what he was doing there, but Remus ignored his uncertain expression and reached for his hand. "Severus," he said with a smile, "I'm glad you came." He pulled Severus out of the shadow of leafless trees and guided him to the party with a hand on his shoulder.
"Severus! I was afraid you weren't coming!" Molly said, bustling towards him. She pulled him into a hug, the same as she had Remus, but Severus was much stiffer in his awkward acceptance of the embrace.
"Mrs. Weasley," he said formally.
"Molly," she whispered, sliding her arm around his back and ushering him to a chair.
His presence was met with less enthusiasm from everyone else-- Harry and Ron both regarded him with open hostility, and Hermione's look was one of curious appraisal. Tonks was as distant as she'd ever been to him, though no more so. The only people who had ever welcomed Severus Snape's presence had been Dumbledore, McGonagall, the elder Weasleys and Remus, the latter three of whom had been more benevolently indifferent than truly welcoming. It was a shame Minerva couldn't be there, but her duties at Hogwarts seemed to take all her time. Therefore, it was up to Molly and Remus to try to include Severus in the festivities.
Remus sat beside him, despite dark scowls shot in his direction, determined that if Severus felt left out, it wouldn't be his fault.
Severus felt at once invisible and in the spotlight. Everyone was watching him, and most were making no efforts to conceal it, but they were only watching him. After lunch, which he was too preoccupied to notice, Severus retreated to the edge of the garden while Molly cleared off the table. When Ron and Harry began levitating boxes wrapped with bright paper to the table, Remus started protesting loudly.
"What is this?" he asked.
"Birthday gifts!" Ron replied.
"No," Remus said, shaking his head as the stack grew. "That wasn't the idea!"
"Oh, shut up and start opening them," Tonks said, pulling him towards the table. After a few more minutes of protest, Remus started opening the boxes. Tonks had given him three new robes, which Severus thought Remus desperately needed, and Remus hugged her and kissed the top of her head in thanks. Molly gave him a box full of cakes, biscuits, bread, jams and enough pastries to last him a week. Harry gave him a Snitch, autographed by the Keeper of the Wimbledon Wasps. Hermione gave him three books, and from his vantage point, Severus couldn't see what they were, but Remus either loved them or was better at pretending to be gracious than Severus could have ever been—he hugged Hermione and thanked her heartily. He thanked the twins for an assortment of gadgets that did various vaguely interesting things, he thanked Fleur for a handsome desk set and he thanked Charlie for a collection of rocks that must have had something interesting about them, given the way everyone was passing them around.
As Severus watched, he slipped a hand into his pocket, to the card he'd brought, feeling as inadequate as he'd ever felt when he was a kid who didn't know what to do at birthday parties. He didn't have any idea why he'd come to this one.
Actually, he did know why he'd come. He just wasn't ready to admit it to himself. The Wizengamot might have repealed the worst of the charges against him, but there was nothing anyone could ever do to clear his name. He would always be the wizard who'd murdered Albus Dumbledore, and that was a lonely reputation to maintain. The witches and wizards gathered at the Burrow for Remus Lupin's fortieth birthday represented the closest he had to friends now, and the most he could say for them was that they lacked open hostility towards him. They watched him warily, but they weren't going to turn into an angry mob.
At least, he didn't think they would. As long as he didn't inflict his presence on them any more often than was strictly necessary.
Remus was opening the last of his gifts now, and, as though that was the cue, Fred and George shook hands with him and made their excuses. The twin pops of Apparation echoed through the clearing. Some of the others lingered, some left soon after. Within an hour, though, the only people left were Molly, Remus, Harry, Ginny and Severus. Ginny and Harry had told Molly to sit, and were cleaning up when Remus came to the edge of the garden and leaned against the fence.
"How've you been, Severus?"
Severus shrugged. "Fine." He hoped that the one-word answer would deter any additional conversation. He was anxious to leave. Liar, his mind accused. If you were so anxious to leave, why haven't you already gone?
"We should have drinks sometime," Remus suggested, to which Severus replied with a noncommittal noise. The lack of any response at all seemed a much more effective deterrent than a single word had been, though Severus felt no joy at having derailed the stilted conversation. If anything, the silence was more awkward.
They stood, not speaking and not looking at each other, for several minutes before Severus produced the birthday card. He'd intended to keep his faux pas to himself—it was far better to be thought too inept to bring anything at all than to have it known that he had thought, and failed miserably. "I didn't know what to get you," he said, almost apologetically.
Remus stared at the card for a moment, then took it with a warm smile. "Thank you," he said, an expression on his face that Severus couldn't read. "You didn't have to do anything at all. The idea was to see everyone again." As he spoke, he opened the plain white envelope and read the card.
It wasn't witty or clever, certainly not inspirational or emotional. Severus had found it in the Muggle market where he bought his groceries now that his face wasn't welcome in the wizarding world. It had a photograph of a balloon surrounded by clouds, and a ridiculously loopy script that said 'Happy Birthday'. Inside, one printed line read, 'High hopes for many more.' Severus had signed it neutrally and formally—Best Wishes, Severus Snape.
"Thank you," Remus said again, still smiling. Severus stiffened in preparation for one of those hugs Remus had given everyone else, but the hug didn't come. He wasn't sure he understood the emotion that accompanied the missing embrace.
"Not at all."
Three months after Remus Lupin had not given him a casual hug of thanks for a birthday card that had carried little thought, Severus found himself in the unlikely position of entertaining the werewolf in his home. Against his better judgement, Severus had joined the Weasleys for Easter lunch, as had Remus, and they'd met for drinks twice since then. Their conversations had become less stilted every time they saw each other.
Perhaps, now that there was no war and no right and wrong and no warring factions of friends and no Albus Dumbledore trying to create peace where none existed, they finally had the time and inclination to explore what they had in common. Perhaps it was simply because they were the last two bastions of their generation—they weren't really, of course, but it often seemed that way. Perhaps they'd outgrown their animosity, or perhaps it had never existed in the first place.
Or, more likely, perhaps Remus Lupin was the only person in the world who seemed to give a damn one way or another what happened to Severus Snape, and perhaps Severus Snape was lonely enough that he was willing to look past his primary objections to spending time with a hated enemy.
Whatever the reasons, three years to the day after Severus had spoken the words that had turned him into the single most hated wizard alive in all Britain, he and Remus had sat in Severus' comfortable, but sparsely furnished, sitting room, talking hesitantly about the things they'd been avoiding. As the afternoon faded into evening, the hesitation had faded with the sunlight, and Severus had admitted to Remus what he'd never even admitted to himself in the two years since the war had ended.
"I never intended to survive the war. I had every intention of dying in battle so that I'd never have to live with what I'd done."
Remus had moved to sit beside him on the sofa, placing one arm around Severus' shoulders and drawing him close. They'd sat there for another hour, not speaking, but relaxing in each other's presence bit by bit. It was a small concession, but in the coming months, they would mark that evening as the beginning of the most fulfilling, least demanding, most comfortable and comforting relationship either of them had ever been in.
It was the third year in a row that everyone had gathered at the Burrow for Remus' birthday, though they were doing it a day early since his birthday fell on a Monday this year. The Weasleys and their assorted spouses had slowly become accustomed to the idea that if they invited Remus, Severus came as well. Presumably, they didn't invite Remus unless they were also willing to endure Severus' presence.
It had been a year and a half since Remus had moved into Severus' quiet, lonely home, and though they didn't publicize their relationship, they also took no great pains to hide it. It was one more thing the others could either accept or not, and they evidently cared enough for Remus that they did. Severus harbored no delusions that any of them gave a damn whether he did anything but rot in hell.
Remus had been acting odd for the last few weeks, and though Severus didn't press him, he also wasn't entirely convinced of Remus' excuses. 'Just tired' and 'a little sore' only worked so many times. Remus was walking gingerly, and Severus tried to ignore the dirty looks that earned him from the more astute of the gathered witches and wizards. Luckily, that wasn't many of them. Harry and Ginny had glares for him, as did Tonks; Charlie had an exasperated look for his mother when it became clear that she'd noticed the way Remus was moving but did not reach the same conclusion as her more worldly offspring and persisted to ask him if he was sure he was all right.
Severus was quite interested in the answer to that question, actually. He knew that Remus' knees had been bothering him, as had his hips, but arthritis was common among werewolves after a time, and Severus had been brewing him a potion to relieve the pain. Not all the side effects were pleasant, but it was better than him walking around like his joints had been frozen into place. He needed a libido potion now to have sex, but those were easy enough to brew and stable enough to keep on hand, though they'd only used them once. Planned sex wasn't as much fun as spontaneous sex, and since it required forethought now, their conversations and dinner-making never seemed to evolve into foreplay anymore. It surprised Severus to discover that even without nights of desperately seeking release in each other's arms, he had no thoughts of moving on, nor any of particular regret.
After lunch, Remus excused himself while Molly was cleaning off the table. There would be no gifts this year—Remus had been adamant about that. He insisted it was enough to see everyone again.
Severus was trying to engage in dispassionate small talk with Hermione Weasley when someone shrieked from the direction of the stairs.
"MUM! COME QUICK!" shouted a panicked, feminine voice.
Molly dropped the pan she was carrying, and it clattered to the floor as she picked up her wand and ran out of the kitchen with surprising speed for a woman of her age and size. All conversation stopped in the room as everyone stared at the door. Harry was already halfway across the kitchen when Molly's voice said sharply, "Remus! What's wrong?"
Severus shoved his chair back and stalked out into the hall. He stopped abruptly, as though his feet were rooted to the floor. Remus was curled up at the foot of the stairs, clutching his knees to his chest, his face contorted into a grimace and tears streaming down his cheeks.
"What's happening?" Someone tried to push past Severus, and that was the impetus he needed to bolt forward and kneel beside Remus.
"Remus? Look at me, Remus, and tell me what's wrong." As he spoke, Severus pulled Remus into his arms, cradling him against his chest.
Drawing one quick, ragged breath on top of another, Remus leaned against him. "I can't," he whispered, clutching Severus' robe. "I can't..."
"Shh," Severus murmured, rocking him gently. "It's all right. Everything's all right."
"What hurts?" Severus tightened his arms around him, looking at Molly over the top of Remus' head. Ginny had stood and backed away, and was leaning against Harry, who had wrapped his arms around her. At a glance, they looked so much like James and Lily that it was shocking, but Severus could spare no more than a glance for the young couple he'd never taken notice of before.
Remus breathed harder, his breath coming in shuddering gulps.
"Stop that," Severus commanded, not knowing what else to do. "Breathe in. In, you half-wit! Now out."
"Do we need to get him to St. Mungo's?" Charlie asked, coming to crouch beside them.
Severus looked at Remus, but Remus was no help. Severus nodded. "I think so."
Two hours later, Severus sat holding Remus' hand while a St. Mungo's Healer bent Remus' legs at the knee, rotated his feet in slow circles and turned his hips one way and another.
"Are you a werewolf, Mr. Lupin?" he asked.
Remus was biting his lip, his eyes clenched shut, and no answer seemed forthcoming, so Severus answered for him. "Yes, he is."
"Has he been taking that 'Miracle Potion'?"
Severus nodded. "Yes," he said, increasingly uneasy.
"For how long?"
"I'm not sure. A year and a half?" Severus smoothed Remus' hair from his forehead.
The Healer sighed and pulled the blanket over Remus. "I was afraid of that."
"That 'potion' was a miracle, all right. Miraculously fast at breaking down cartilage and soft tissue." He flicked his wand at the wall and a diagram of a human knee appeared. "Normal joints have cushioning material to keep the bones from rubbing together. As we grow older, that cushion layer tends to break down until the bones rub against each other. It causes severe pain. Usually, it's a gradual process. Something in that potion seems to speed it up considerably, and in the last three months, we've had more than twenty cases like this one. Otherwise healthy and fairly young werewolves suddenly suffering a debilitating condition."
Severus looked at Remus again. His face had relaxed from the grimace it had been contorted into a few minutes before, and he was watching the Healer as well.
"What do we do about it?" Severus asked.
"Try to manage the pain," the Healer replied. "There's nothing we can do about the cartilage, but we can attempt to control the pain."
"And stop taking that damn potion," Severus snarled.
"No, actually, I wouldn't recommend it," the Healer said. Severus looked at him in disbelief, a protest forming on his lips, which the Healer staved off with a wave of his hand. "Our first few cases tried that, and the transformation was more difficult on them. Four of them were actually paralyzed from it."
"So he keeps taking the potion that is causing this to begin with?"
"That would be my suggestion. You've been doing the extra dosage, haven't you, Mr. Lupin?"
Remus nodded, his expression blank.
"I'd suggest cutting back to the one dose twelve hours before the full moon, and staying out of the moonlight. You don't need to transform, but there's no point to taking more of that stuff than you have to."
"What do you recommend for the pain?" Severus asked.
The Healer flicked his wand at the diagram of the knee and it disappeared again. "To be honest with you, we haven't found anything that's particularly effective. Try heat and cold, the usual array of potions to reduce inflammation, massage might help. If you can, find a qualified brewer and pick his brain. None of our standard potions do much good."
"I am a qualified brewer," Severus said.
"Good. Then you'll know what isn't likely to kill him. If it won't do him any harm, there's nothing to prevent you from trying it, and if you find something that works, be sure to let us know. Leave us a way to get in touch with you, and if we find something, we'll let you know."
"Am I going to die from this?" Remus asked, his voice steady again.
"No," the Healer replied, shaking his head. "Not directly, at any rate. We've had two werewolves suffer fatal falls that we attributed to the pain in their joints, and if you can avoid stairs, I'd suggest it. But as far as your cartilage goes, you can lose all of it and still live. It's your mobility and your independence that will suffer. If you've been living alone, I suggest you find a friend or relative who can take you in. You'll probably find that over the next few months, you'll lose the ability to do a lot of things you took for granted six weeks ago."
"Is there anything he shouldn't do?" Severus asked.
"Don't break any bones and don't transform," the Healer said. "Beyond that, if you can do it, by all means, do."
"You're not painting a very hopeful portrait of this," Severus pointed out, his patience beginning to wear thin.
For the first time, the Healer smiled and patted Remus on the shoulder. "I'm terribly sorry about that. Really, it could be much worse. I'm getting tired of seeing these cases, and I hope to Merlin that the Ministry does something about this. Everyone in the wizarding world knew that potion existed, and it is inexcusable that no one did anything to restrict it. Potioneers and Healers have been howling about it for three years, and it's a blasted shame that we had to wait until people started suffering from it before anyone in the Ministry started listening." He picked up Remus' hand and squeezed it. "You're in for a lot of pain, Mr. Lupin, but fortunately, that's the only adverse side effect we've seen so far. Many of these 'miracle cures' in the past have caused death, heart problems, difficulty breathing, liver failure... So far, there is no indication that anything like that will result from this. You officially have arthritis, and that is the single most common problem that plagues humans—magical or non—as they grow older. Take comfort in knowing that you're in good company."
Later that night, Remus lay in Severus' arms on the sofa, his head resting in the crook of Severus' elbow. "Say it," he whispered.
"Say what?" Severus asked, stroking Remus' chest.
"You were right. You told me so."
Severus lowered his lips to the top of Remus' head. "I'm not going to say I told you so," he whispered. Even though he had.
"What?! What the fuck do you mean, you're taking that damn potion?" Severus picked up a pan and hurled it through the window, glass shattering and covering the floor as he spun around to face Remus. His eyes glittered, his nostrils flared, his teeth were bared, his face a nasty shade redolent of curdled milk. Hands clenched into fists at his sides, knuckles turning white, he was a portrait of rage.
"It's perfectly safe. It's been available for two years now and—"
"And the Ministry hasn't approved it yet, have they?" Severus spat.
"They're dragging their feet, yes, but—"
"Do you know what the standard timeframe is for a potion to be considered safe?"
"Five years," Remus said. "You know what? I don't want to wait five years! Werewolves are taking it for a month and seeing results!"
"No, not five years, you fucking shit-wit! Five years is how long it takes the Ministry to approve a potion for public availability. Ten years is the standard for considering it safe, and even then, almost a fourth of the long-term effects of a potion aren't discovered for ten more! That charlatan hasn't even submitted his proposal to the Potioneer and Medical communities for analysis yet!" Severus slammed a cupboard door shut with enough force to rattle the glasses.
"Calm down, Severus. It's not a poison, or people would already be dead. You brew potions that you've invented."
"Not for the purpose of ingestion," Severus replied stubbornly, leaning against the counter, his fingers gripping the countertop.
"Antidotes are different!" Severus snarled. "Antidotes have an accepted and standardized methodology, and what's more, they're usually brewed for the purpose of counteracting a poison! The recipient is likely to die without them!" He cut on the water and thrust a cloth under it, then began scrubbing furiously at an imaginary spot on the counter. "And, seeing as the purpose of the antidote is to offset the lethal properties of a poison, the ingredients are harmless! AND THAT'S NOT THE POINT!" He threw the rag into the sink and turned around.
"Calm down, Severus," Remus repeated. "I'm touched that you're concerned about me, but I'm fine. I've never felt better, in fact. Just look at me." Severus didn't look at him, so Remus took Severus' face between his hands and turned it towards him. "Look at me, Severus. I haven't undergone a transformation in three months. Look at me and tell me I don't look healthier than you've ever seen me."
Remus knew he did. Gone were the dark shadows under his eyes. For the first time in his memory, there was flesh and muscle on his bones, a subtle definition to his arms and shoulders. His hair was still heavily streaked with silver, and nothing short of a bottle of hair dye was going to change that; his face was still lined and that was only going to get worse as he got older. Beyond those two concessions to his forty years, he looked younger than he had since he was a teenager.
"Do you even know what's in this potion?" Severus asked, leaning his head against Remus' shoulder.
"No," Remus replied. "And I don't want to know. I don't care. If I die from it tomorrow, it will be knowing that I've lived for the last few months for the first time in my life." He stroked Severus' hair, holding him close.
"I care," Severus murmured. "For the last six months of my life, I've been alive in a way I never thought I would be. I don't want to lose you to a damned potion."
"You're not losing me to a damned potion," Remus whispered, nibbling at Severus' earlobe. "You're gaining more of me."
"Sit down," Remus said, reaching for Severus' hand. "You know something."
"I don't know what you're talking about." It was an automatic response, and one he knew Remus did not believe.
"You've had another update from St. Mungo's."
Severus was on a list at the hospital, and when they found new information, they shared it. When the first owls had come, Severus and Remus had read the missives together, but it seemed to be a monthly update of what various people were trying next, accompanied by a list of things that they'd determined didn't work. The list of what didn't help tended to be the same as the previous list of what they were going to try next. After a while, Remus had not had the desire to read every one of them, and after a while longer, Severus had stopped telling him when they came.
"Am I going to have to get up and hunt for it, or are you going to tell me what it said?"
Those words were the incantation, and for a moment, a scowl of irritation broke through the concern that masked Severus' features. Remus knew him too well by far. The scowl was short-lived, though, and Severus eased onto the mattress beside Remus, resting his hand lightly atop his blanket-covered chest. His throat was dry and tight suddenly, and it took him several false starts.
"The Healers have begun to see some new symptoms," he said, his voice less steady than he would have preferred.
Remus placed one of his dry, bent hands over Severus' and lifted Severus' hand to his face. Severus brushed his thumb against Remus' cheek, and Remus smiled. "What kind of symptoms?"
"Atrophy of the muscle tissue." Bruising and tenderness were the visible symptoms; it took a charm by a Healer to see the cause. "Some of the first werewolves to take the potion..." He broke off, closing his eyes.
"I want to know, Severus. I've had enough of not knowing."
Severus took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. "Some of the earliest victims have begun to lose muscle control. Paralysis is becoming more common and..." He shook his head and forced a smile. "The Healers are still looking for a cure, and for ways to treat the atrophy and—" He broke off again, turning away from Remus. Increasingly, the burden on caregivers was growing. The disease seemed to be progressing at a predictable pace, and if Severus wanted to know what was going to happen to Remus next month, he only had to look at the werewolves who had started taking the potion a month before Remus had. The ones who had begun six months before Remus had were bedridden, and those who had been among the first to take the potion were already in a specially designated ward in St. Mungo's, unable to care for themselves anymore, even with the aid of friends and family.
"Severus," Remus said, lifting his hand to Severus' face. Severus turned towards him, his lips moving but no words coming out of his mouth. Remus snaked his hand behind Severus' head and pulled weakly at his neck. "Lie down with me. Please."
Severus eased down beside him, propping his head on his hand. "We're going to find a way to get through this," he said, gathering his determination around him again. Determination supported him where his courage failed, where his strength ran out. When he looked at Remus and saw only years of suffering, it was his stubbornness that kept him from giving in.
"I need to ask something of you," Remus said, his face contorting as he turned onto his side. Severus ran his fingers through Remus' hair.
"Anything," Severus replied. "Anything I can do."
Remus was quiet for a moment, emotions warring across his face.
"I've never done anything so selfish as what I'm about to ask of you," Remus said, his eyes glistening. "I've tried, Severus. I've tried so hard."
"What are you talking about?" Severus asked.
"It hurts. It hurts like nothing I've ever felt before. And it's not going to get any better, is it?"
Severus trailed a finger lightly over Remus' jaw. "I know it hurts," he whispered. "You just have to keep being strong and we'll find a way—"
"That's what I'm saying," Remus said, rolling into Severus' arms. Severus hesitated, then circled his arms around him. He thought perhaps Remus' emotional pain outstripped his physical pain at the moment. "I don't want to be strong anymore," Remus whispered, his shoulders shaking.
"Shh," Severus whispered, tightening his arms around Remus. "You don't have to be. I'll be strong enough for both of us."
"I don't want you to be strong enough for both of us," Remus said, his voice muffled against Severus' chest. "I don't want you to see me like this—"
"I don't care what happens to you. I'm not walking away."
"I don't want to be tied to this bed anymore. I don't want you giving me sponge baths and holding my cup while I drink."
"I don't mind," Severus whispered, stroking the back of Remus' head. "I don't mind doing any of it."
"I don't want you to remember me like this," Remus said. He pulled back enough to look into Severus' eyes, and Severus' heart threatened to wrench in half as he saw the tears shining on his cheeks. "I don't want to live like this anymore."
Blinking back his own tears, Severus brushed his hand against Remus' face. "I'd do anything if I could stop the pain for you," he whispered. "I just don't know what to do. I'm not giving up, though."
Remus caught Severus' hand in his. "I am," he said softly. "Help me, Severus, please. I don't think I can do it myself anymore."
Severus was shaking his head, his mind screaming in protest. "I don't know what you're talking about," he whispered, knowing that his words were unconvincing.
"Please," Remus said. "You have to know something. Something quick. I just want to go to sleep, and—"
"I can bring you a Sleeping Draught—"
"—and not wake up."
"Please," Remus repeated. "It's not a hasty decision. I've been thinking about it and—"
Remus blinked, and more tears spilled down his face. "I can't even hold a knife anymore," he whispered. "I'd do it myself, but I can't. I can't keep doing this. Please don't make me keep doing this."
Severus swallowed hard and pulled Remus into his arms again, holding him tighter than he'd held him in two years.
"I know I have no right to ask you," Remus said, "but I need your help, Severus. I can't do it anymore."
"Damn it, you fucking werewolf, you're going to live!" Severus snapped, letting go of him. "You're going to live to be a hundred! We're going to grow old together. You're—"
"I'm not living now," Remus whispered. "I haven't been living since March. I don't know how long I could survive like this, but it isn't living."
Severus closed his eyes, and the first tear he'd cried since he was a child rolled down his cheek.
"Please," Remus whispered.
The moon glowed white against the ebony sky, all trace of her golden glow lost as she climbed towards her throne at the summit of heaven. With every passing minute, the air grew colder. Without the gentle caress of the sun, however weak and however wan, the earth surrendered what she knew of warmth.
"I love you," Remus said again, and Severus tightened his arms around him.
"I love you, too." Severus knew that was supposed to be his cue, but he wasn't ready. Not yet. He wanted just a little longer—another day, another week. Another lifetime wouldn't have been enough.
"Did you bring something to drink?" Remus prompted him.
Severus closed his eyes, squeezing Remus tighter. "Yes," he whispered. "I brought hot chocolate." He took a steadying breath. "Do you want a cup?"
"Please." Remus filled that one syllable with even more pleading and longing than Dumbledore had. Hands shaking, Severus reached for the thermos and twisted off the lid, pouring steaming hot chocolate into a cup. He pulled a pair of small, crystal vials from his pocket and uncorked one, emptying the contents into the cup.
"It's not too late," Severus said, his hands still trembling as Remus reached for the cup.
Remus smiled up at him, and lifted the cup to his lips, taking the first sip, then closing his eyes. Severus watched helplessly as Remus sipped again and again, finally tilting his head back and tipping the remainder of the contents down his throat. He handed the cup back to Severus, and Severus set it on the grass beside them.
"Change your mind," Severus whispered, tightening his arms around Remus again. "I have an antidote."
Remus settled against his chest, staring at the moon. "I don't regret it," he said. "In fact, I don't regret much about my life. The only thing I regret is that I didn't have more of it to spend with you."
Severus leaned his head against Remus'. "The only thing in my life I don't regret is the time I've spent with you."
Remus' eyes drifted shut, then opened again. He blinked at the moon as though trying to stay awake. "Don't spend your life in mourning," he whispered, his voice faint. "Promise me that, Severus. Don't waste your life regretting the things you can't change."
He hesitated only a moment before nodding. It wasn't the first lie he'd ever told, and it wasn't going to be the last. "I promise," he said, kissing Remus' head.
With a faint nod, Remus let his eyes close, and didn't open them again. "I love you," he whispered one more time. "Always remember..."
Severus drew a ragged breath, the night wind swallowing his whimper at the hollow pain that throbbed where his heart had been. His tears left trails of ice down his cheeks as he moved, laying Remus on the ground, arranging the blanket over him. He tucked a note into Remus' hand, then bent and kissed his lips, already growing cold.
"Forgive me," he whispered. "This time, I don't intend to live with what I've done."
20 October 2004
To whomever may find this,
It is customary that when one takes one's own life, one explain why, so that the question does not plague those who are left behind.
There is little in my life that I am proud of, and much that I would prefer to forget, but it is what I have not yet done but plan to do that I cannot live with. Remus' body is deteriorating, and I cannot take care of him anymore. He takes no joy in life, but to care for him is a great burden. It is humane that I should put an end to his suffering and ease the obligation that anyone else might feel towards him. It is mercy that drives me to slip something into his drink, so that he will sleep and never wake.
It is cowardice that drives me to put something in my own. I've twice lived with the knowledge that I have been responsible for the death of someone I cared for. Remus is the third person I have ever cared for, and I will not live with that knowledge again.
For his sake, I hope that what follows death is joy and freedom.
For my sake, I hope it is nothing.
Remember me with what hatred you will, but remember him with the love and kindness that he bestowed on everyone else.
If there is life after death, rest assured that you will never again have reason to cross my path.