Bonds of Guilt ~ 1

Vengeance: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth; a fair, satisfying, and rapid way to a sightless, toothless world.
Mercy: The infrequent art of turning thumbs up on an old antagonist at the end of one’s rapier.
— Calvin Miller, “The Singer”

Hollow

The bitter November wind seemed to cut into Severus’ very soul — what little was left of it. He felt hollow, like a porcelain doll ready to shatter at the slightest touch, fragile with age. He walked without thinking, all too familiar with the way, for his steps had haunted this path almost every night for the past week.

After Voldemort’s defeat in Godric’s Hollow, the Death Eaters had fallen apart, either arrested, hiding, or pleading that they had been under the Imperius Curse. Only Severus had been spared by the Wizengamot due to his late decision to betray his fellows. It had nearly been too late to save him from sharing their fates; it had been too late to save Lily.

Lily. The reason that his feet continued to lead him back, night after night, to the place where his universe had been ripped apart. The place where she had irrevocably broken his heart, when she had started her new life as James Potter’s wife. The place where even those broken pieces were wrenched out of his grasp, when the Dark Lord had killed her in his quest for immortality.

He could not comprehend his own need to keep returning to this place which held nothing but grief for him. As though rubbing salt into his wounds would expunge his guilt! But no, he knew that forgiveness was not possible for him, for the one whose forgiveness he needed was now dead. The price of her loss was heaviest on him. He believed so, with all his oft-shattered heart, for even though her son had survived and would now live without knowing his mother, Severus had known her and loved her in a way the child never could, and his grief was compounded by his guilt.

As he neared the remains of her house (he could never bring himself to think of it as James’ house), his benumbed senses were sharply aroused by a cry — barely human, almost bestial in its timbre, a howl that rent the darkened sky.

He stopped, startled. The sadness that echoed in that sound seemed to mirror the silent cry in his own breast and, by resonating, made him feel again: feel the hurt, the anguish, the loneliness, and the despair. He hesitated to go forward and meet the creature that had made that cry, fearing that exposure to the thing itself would make him face his nightmares in tangible form as well. Yet he wondered what unholy creature might have made that sound — for followers of the Dark Lord were still about, and the place of his undoing might invoke such a lament. If there were any of his erstwhile comrades in this place, Severus knew he must capture or incapacitate them. When he had replaced his loyalties, he had done so completely, for the Dark Arts had cost him all that he held dear.

He crept from shadow to shadow, using a spell to silence his footsteps. He saw a form, he thought, crouched before the gate of the very house where Lily had given her life and Voldemort had lost his powers. It seemed to be trembling, weeping, kneeling upon the cold ground, grasping the gate with pale hands. Severus was relieved somewhat to find it in the form of a man, rather than some other, more hideous being of the night, but ever cautious, he pointed his wand at the grieving form before revealing himself.

“Who are you and what business do you have here?” he demanded, willing his wand to illuminate the man before him. Blinded, the man gasped, raising his hands to shield his eyes from the sudden light.

“Snape?” came a voice he recognized despite the years that had passed in silence between them.

“Lupin!” he snarled, his hatred genuine. He cursed himself, too, for not having the foresight to think of the other man’s possible presence here and to realize that the voice he had heard earlier had belonged to this werewolf.

His eyes adjusting to the light, Remus pulled himself up by the gate to stand before his childhood enemy.

“I’m sorry, I should have thought…” he began, trailing off as his voice cracked. He turned away and composed himself before starting again, “I know you were close to Lily. I’ll leave if you’d rather… be alone.”

Severus had never known how to respond to this boy — now a man — as they had encountered one another in school. On the one hand Remus had never laid a finger on him or, for that matter, spoken an unkind word to him; on the other, he had never prevented his friends from tormenting Severus, even when he had been made Prefect. However, on those rare occasions when they had chanced upon each other without the boisterous presence of James or Sirius, he had been civil, even congenial, as though he wished to make up (as if he could) for the bad behaviour of his friends. Severus had always treated him with mistrust, as his instinct dictated, but could not help but wonder how different their relationship might have been if only Remus had been sorted into another House — that is, he had wondered about such things, until that dreadful night when he had learned Remus’ true nature in exchange for the most harrowing and humiliating experience in his life to that time.

Remus pulled out what served as a handkerchief for him and blew his nose; then, with a courteous nod to Severus, began walking past him, carrying a small, well-worn case. Knowing that he was about to be left in peace, Severus expected to feel relieved; however, to his own surprise, he was gripped in the clutches of an aching loneliness. Shocked, yet not one to admit to such weakness, he spoke the first sensible words that surfaced in his mind.

“Did you ever suspect Black… capable, of such a crime?”

They escaped from his lips like a plea for conversation, for company, and he blanched even as he said them. However, they had the desired effect, for Remus stopped and slowly turned to face him with his red-rimmed eyes.

“No,” he said, as hollow as the shell Severus believed himself to be. “I still can’t believe it. He might have betrayed Peter or me, if tortured… but James? Never!”

After a moment’s consideration, Severus replied, “Then he deceived all of you.”

“Yes.” Remus sighed, his breath white in the cold. “The only reason I can think of… is that he went mad. Like his cousin Bellatrix, you know. Perhaps it runs in the family.”

This theory had not even occurred to Severus, and it made him look up at the other man sharply.

Lupin may have been spineless, but he was never a fool, he reminded himself.

“I blame myself for this,” Remus said sadly, waving a hand at the carnage that was all that remained of a once happy home. He did not realize how his confession, identical to the other’s own guilt, had just shaken Severus to the core. “I should have seen his madness coming on. Even as children, at Hogwarts, there were many times he did things that… well, that were downright cruel. Of course, you would know of that better than any other,” he added, facing Severus with unflinching candor. “What Sirius did to you over the years was not simply cruel — it was sadistic. And I… I let him be. I never stopped him, never tried to talk him out of his schemes. For that… I am truly sorry.”

As usual, Severus did not know how to respond, but it seemed Remus did not expect any response.

“When he tried to… to use me, to hurt you, I should have realized… exactly how dangerous — how murderously unstable — he had become. I should have gone to Dumbledore, told him about all his pranks, and begged him to evaluate his mind…. Perhaps if his madness had been discovered then, this… this would not…”

Remus’ voice failed him again and he stood there, mutely gazing at the shattered house. As taciturn as Severus was, the silence between them became unbearable, and he opened his mouth several times in an attempt to break it. What finally came out surprised even him, but it was the only thing he could find in himself to say.

“I… I’m sorry, for your loss.”

Remus turned to him with a humourless smile.

“And I, yours.” The werewolf regarded the other man’s haggard appearance thoughtfully, then added, “Lily was… a wonderful friend. Perhaps the only true friend you had?”

Severus’ lips became a hard line, and Remus continued to talk as though to himself.

“She was the only one who stood up for you, wasn’t she… a beautiful person, through and through. I admired her, but… I was weak. I couldn’t stand up to my friends, even when they wronged you so horribly… I was too scared to lose their friendship! And now… Well. It seems Fate is not without a sense of irony.” He averted his gaze, glancing back at the broken, lifeless house. “Now, I have lost all of them.”

The emptiness in Remus’ eyes as he stated that mirrored the void within Severus.

We are both alone, he realised. He suspected that Remus had already arrived at the same conclusion.

Remus stirred, as though trying to awaken from sleep — from a bad dream — and turned back to Severus somberly.

“Forgive me for intruding. I… I guess… I’ve been longing for some company. After all that’s happened…” He faltered, then smiled his mirthless smile again. “All the wizarding world is celebrating the supposed demise of Voldemort, but I have to agree with Dumbledore — it doesn’t seem possible that he could have simply died. But even if he does not return to trouble us in our lifetime, I feel… the price we have paid… was far too dear.”

Severus nodded, unable to speak with the vision of Lily looming foremost in his mind.

“Goodbye, Severus,” the werewolf said softly, switching the case to his other hand as he walked down the lane.

Watching his retreating form, Severus was struck by a realisation, and before he knew what he was doing he had called out, “Lupin!”

“Yes?” the other answered, patiently turning around for the second time.

Severus swallowed, wondering why he was doing this, yet unable to stop himself. He took a few steps toward the werewolf, whom he had despised for many years, as he considered how to put his question to him.

“Do you have a place to stay?” he finally managed.

There was an awkward pause as Remus regarded him.

“No. I can’t afford the flat James had let for me, so I had to leave today.” He lifted his case slightly, in acknowledgement of Severus’ acute observation. “I have enough money, though, to stay at some Muggle lodgings for a while.”

The last was spoken with a half-hearted attempt at cheer, as though to assuage any concern, but did not deceive either of them.

“Potter had let your apartment?” Severus asked, incredulously and untactfully. He knew himself that he was hedging, avoiding what he had intended to say.

“Yes. He wasn’t all bad, you know…. Although I daresay Lily must have had a hand in it, somehow.” Remus’ tone was light, even though his voice quivered with emotion.

Lily. It all comes back to her, Severus thought.

“That sounds so like her,” was all he said aloud.

Remus smiled, this time with some true warmth in his eyes. “Yes. She was a good influence on James. I hope little Harry takes after her more than his father.”

Severus wondered, for the first time, if he’d been drawn here by some remnant of her spirit. If, perhaps, she had called to his soul from beyond the grave… and if that were possible, if she had also brought Remus to this place, to be here when he arrived. To bring them together, as it were.

He took a few more steps until he stood facing the werewolf, close enough to see his expression even in the darkness. He chose his words carefully.

“If you’ve no plans for the immediate future,” he began, “I have an empty room at my house where you could stay. There is also a small cellar where… you could be kept, safely warded, during your… transformations.”

The shock on Remus’ face as the words registered almost unnerved Severus into retracting his offer. But the werewolf’s expression quickly turned to that of gratitude and relief.

“You… You would do that, for me? After all…” His voice cracked again, but he spoke anyway. “After all we did to you? Severus… I can’t express… how thankful I am! And how kind, how generous of you!”

Uncomfortably, Severus flicked his hands in a self-deprecating way.

“It’s nothing. I have no use for the room, and besides — I cannot in good conscience have you out among the Muggles, with your… condition. It simply isn’t safe.”

Remus nodded. “I’ve tried different spells to try to confine myself to a limited area, but… it really only works with a magically reinforced structure.” He looked Severus directly in the eye and told him, “I will be forever in your debt, if you will keep me from harming anyone.”

“Of course. As I know quite well what a horrifying encounter that can be, I am bound by my conscience to do so,” Severus replied. Then quietly, he admitted, “But I also believe it is what Lily would have me do…. My sole purpose for living, now, is to right some of the wrong I had done while I served the Dark Lord. Perhaps… this is the first step.”

Remus nodded again.

“Yes. And my reason to live, to continue clinging to this wretched existence, is the hope of another chance to fight Voldemort — to avenge the lives he has destroyed.”

Severus looked at his former enemy, or at least, the closest friend of his childhood nemeses, with a new understanding.

“So. Our purposes coincide.”

“So it would seem,” Remus agreed.

“Well, then,” he said, walking briskly up the lane towards the secluded Apparition Point, “I see no reason why we should stand here freezing any longer.”

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