Penance and Absolution
- Story Summary:
- Lupin would have recognized Snape anywhere, but it was still a shock to see him in the Muggle hospital tent.
- Author's Note:
- For _lore's birthday. This is sort of the post-HBP flip side of my story "Escapism." Thanks to xochiquetzl for the title and to ldybastet for pointing out a plot issue that had to be fixed.
Lupin would have recognized Snape anywhere, but it was still a shock to see him in the makeshift hospital tent with his long hair shorn and his cheekbones jutting from his face as if he'd been starved. Wherever the wizard who had turned the tide of the war had been for all this time, he had not learned to smile. Snape's dark eyes widened as they recognized Lupin, but then his face returned to the appearance of an impenetrable mask, revealing no emotion whatsoever as he filled a syringe and passed it to the doctor standing beside him.
"This will only hurt for a moment, and it will help keep you alive," said the smiling physician as she took the needle from Snape to inject a frightened-looking woman. The Muggle doctor spoke with an American accent, though Lupin could not distinguish between the relief workers who came from the United States and those from Canada. Snape did not even glance at the line of patients waiting to get their shots, where children were squirming and crying while their parents tried to silence them; he kept his focus on the injections he was preparing, stealing only a single look at Lupin. It was strange to see him wearing a color other than black, though the drab brown of his tunic was hardly designed to draw attention to him.
"Où sont los lobos?" Lupin asked clumsily before he realized that he was mixing French and Spanish. Seeing Snape had distracted him, but he could not afford to think about that now; he had a task to perform. With a slight frown, the doctor pointed toward the back of the tent, where a sheet hung from clothesline had been pulled taut to create a small cubicle.
Lupin knew what he would find inside, but his gorge rose at the sight anyway. The head of the thing on the cot was only partially attached to its body. One of its forelegs had been hacked off; its ribs were broken and jutting from its furless skin. Most of the teeth had been broken, the eyes gouged out, the torso pierced in dozens, perhaps hundreds of places. Quickly Lupin found a soiled, bloody sheet that had probably covered a plague victim and put it over the body.
And on the floor beside it, in a cage -- the sort of carrier Muggles used to bring large dogs onto airplanes -- sat a small girl. She was filthy, dressed in rags. Dirt and blood had become matted in her hair; she was sitting in a puddle of her own urine. A half-moon bite mark covered the juncture of her neck and left shoulder.
"I'm going to get you out of here," Lupin said to the child, trying to smile, although he had to fight urges to vomit, scream in fury and weep. "It's going to be all right now." The girl, they had told him, was mute and possibly deaf, though Lupin noted that she reacted when he fumbled with the lock on her prison, cowering at the back and watching him. Her family had not come for her. None of the adults in any of the nearby villages would even acknowledge that they had a child missing.
She was dead to that world, surrounded now by terrified doctors who did not speak her language and did not want to acknowledge her true condition. Osteosarcoma, one had guessed on the chart hanging from the metal bars, while another reported acute leukemia, significant mutations in the white blood cells. It was no surprise that they had not studied lycanthropy in their medical schools. Lupin knew that he would have to take the girl out to the truck in the cage, but after they had driven a little way beyond the village, he would free her and let her sit beside him while he took her to the designated place to Apparate. He had clean blankets in the truck, and even if she did not speak his language, he wanted to try to explain to her that he was taking her to a place where she would never again be as frightened as she must be now.
But what of Snape? Lupin had believed that he must be dead. Dozens of wizards had witnessed the injuries he sustained, first at the hands of Harry and the Aurors, and then -- once they understood what Snape had done, once they realized which side he was really on -- from the wands of the desperate Death Eaters and Voldemort. Few had believed he could have survived, and both Lucius Malfoy (who had survived the war unscathed in Azkaban) and Draco (who had shocked his aunt and dozens of others when he turned to join Snape) believed that Severus would have taken his own life rather than depending on the charity and pity of others.
Snape had looked gaunt and scarred, but his hands were as deft as ever and Lupin had not had the impression that he was crippled. Stepping out from behind the sheet that separated the werewolves from the rest of the field hospital, he called, "I need help carrying this cage. Might I borrow your assistant for a moment?" He pointed at Snape, who glanced first at the doctor and then at Lupin as if he might claim to be too busy, but the doctor, who was shaking her wrist as if it had become sore from repeating the same motions over and over, put down a syringe, held up a hand with her fingers outstretched to signal a break and nodded at Severus, who then rose from the low stool upon which he was perched.
"I presume that you're the one who contacted the W.R.O.," Lupin said in a low voice when Snape had made his way across the room. "Thank you."
"It was that or wait until the next full moon and watch a village do to her what they did to her attacker," Snape replied shortly, casting a glance in the direction of the hideous covered corpse. "They believe that she is possessed by a demon. There is another doctor who would like to fly her to a research hospital in America -- I believe he has some thought of performing tests on her and studying her in hope of 'curing' her condition. I made certain that he would be visiting villagers in their homes when you arrived."
"Thank you," repeated Lupin, holding Snape's eyes, trying to convey gratitude for more than this simple act of kindness to a werewolf. "Is there anything I can do to help you with your work here, Severus? You must know how surprised I am..."
"It will be ample recompense if you do not tell anyone that you saw me. Anyone," Snape emphasized. "These people believe that I am suffering from something they call post-traumatic stress disorder after an attack in my youth by Irish dissidents at a Muggle department store. I do not want any other reminders of my previous life to interfere with my work here."
"Then you're happy here?" asked Lupin, trying not to let incredulity into his voice. He tried to smile reassuringly at the girl, who shrank against the back of her cage as Lupin began to tie ropes to the sides to allow it to be lifted. "I'm glad, Severus. It looks like the work you're doing is very necessary. I won't pretend that I don't wish you'd consider returning..." Snape made a small scoffing noise. "You know how much work there is to do in our own world."
"I'm sure that's why you got yourself assigned to the remote division of the Werewolf Recovery Office." Snape gave Lupin a look that saw right through him and Lupin thought for a moment that he felt the room swim. "The Ministry of Magic is behaving extremely foolishly by presuming that the International Statute of Secrecy will protect them. In much of the world there is no cloak of magic keeping the Muggle and wizarding worlds separated. Look around you. None of these people consider it particularly remarkable to have a werewolf in their midst. They might treat you far worse than most wizards but they would not question your nature. There are witches and wizards born every generation who become shamans or killers within their own villages, who will never receive a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts or Durmstrang or Pacaritambo."
"You don't have to convince me of the failures of the Ministry of Magic," Lupin reminded him. Stepping in front of the cage, he smiled at the child. "We are going to take you outside," he told her. "Once we have gone, I will give you clean clothes and you will sit beside me in my truck until we can travel away from this place." The villagers, who had not closed themselves off to the possibility of magic, might not be shocked to see the use of a Portkey, but there were also soldiers in the woods, and Lupin did not dare allow himself to be seen by one of them -- there would be cries of trickery and terrorism that might trigger an attack on the hospital.
Looking back at Snape, Lupin felt more than thirty years of regrets and frustrations well up in him. He had long ago resigned himself to having no hope of resolving those feelings, yet with Snape right here in front of him, so different at least in appearance than Lupin had ever seen before -- and apparently in spirit as well, if he had contacted the W.R.O. for this girl -- he was compelled to try one more time. "I really do wish you would come back with me. There are so few who know about everything that happened, who saw it firsthand. We might be able to help each other heal."
Though the shift in expression was subtle, Snape gave Lupin an entirely familiar look of revulsion. "In case you had forgotten, I can no more go wandering about Britain than you can go strolling in the moonlight. I am still wanted for the murder of Albus Dumbledore."
"Actually, you're not. The Wizengamot absolved you two months ago. All three of the Malfoys testified on your behalf. So did I. So did Harry -- he told them everything that happened that night at Hogwarts. I think that's what convinced them."
For a brief moment there was a flicker of something in Snape's eyes. Relief? Gratitude? Absolution? But then it was gone, and a strangely subdued bleakness returned -- not even the contempt with which Snape would once have responded to a mention of Harry Potter's name. "So the word of the Boy Who Lived is now sufficient to alter the laws of our world. How gratifying to know that I helped to preserve him."
"You realize this means you can come home. Minerva would welcome you back to Hogwarts."
"Minerva has always been absurdly loyal," retorted Snape as if this were a character flaw, which, perhaps, in his eyes, it was; she was a Gryffindor through and through. "But can you imagine the outcry from parents, and from the Board of Governors, if she allowed me to teach? It would be worse than the scandal from employing a werewolf."
The child let out a loud wail, crashing forcefully into the side of her cage. So she had already heard that word, in English -- one of the doctors must have guessed at what they were dealing with, even if they did not believe it. "Shh," Lupin soothed, stepping back around to the front where the little girl could see him. "We're almost ready to lift your carrier. And then you'll be free." He knew that she did not understand him, but he was quite certain that she could hear. To Snape he said, "You could visit, at least. What are you passing as, here -- a nurse?"
"A priest," replied Snape, making Lupin chuckle before he realized that Snape was serious. "My father's family was Catholic. I remember enough of the liturgy from my childhood to be convincing to everyone I meet who is not, and when I encounter a churchgoer, I explain that I have lost my path and have come to perform good works in an attempt to find it. You see the working conditions here. Several of these people should be candidates for sainthood. So long as I do what they ask of me, they will never suspect that I am anything other than what they think they see."
"A priest," Lupin repeated, nodding a little. "You haven't taken a vow of celibacy, have you?" Though he asked the question with a wink and a smile, he felt his cheeks grow warm when Snape gave him a wide-eyed stare, as if he suspected an ulterior motive in the question. Snape's next words, spoken savagely, were even more suggestive:
"What if I had? I broke faith with the Death Eaters and the Order. It would only be one more vow for me to break."
Then, without another word, Snape turned to hoist one side of the cage holding the silent, wide-eyed girl. He and Lupin carried her outside to the waiting truck, where Snape uttered a curt farewell before turning and trudging back to the tent and the waiting Muggles inside.
"What do you mean, he asked for me?"
"The wizard who made contact asked whether Remus Lupin was still a member of the W.R.O. When I told him that you were, he requested that you come for the girl." Bill Weasley was looking curiously at Lupin, cocking his head to the side. "I wondered how someone from so far away had heard of you, but I guess the war made legends of many of us. Someone who knew that you had been a teacher might have summoned you for such a young child. Did you see anyone there who looked familiar?"
"No," Lupin lied, pretending to study the photos on the desk to avoid Bill's eyes. "Why didn't you tell me before I left?"
"I assumed Fleur had told you. I guess it must have slipped her mind."
Lupin didn't bother to note that Fleur frequently forgot to mention things that other people might consider of great importance in her haste to discuss things that Lupin considered trivial, like fashion and which famous Quidditch player was dating which musical celebrity. They were both so happy to have Fleur working for a pittance in the W.R.O. that her weaknesses were easy to overlook; having an impassioned beauty to speak for them had brought them more positive publicity than any ten rescues Lupin might have accomplished.
"I'm sorry you didn't know, though I can't see how it would have changed anything," said Bill. "The little girl is doing wonderfully -- my mother tells me she's already speaking some English. Of course she still has nightmares, but then, so do I."
They had both known when Greyback escaped during the final battle that while the war with Voldemort might have been over, the problems for werewolves were only beginning. The Ministry of Magic passed restriction after restriction which only served to make life far more difficult for the majority of werewolves, without having any effect on the behavior of Fenrir and his handful of followers. The W.R.O. was funded privately and not sanctioned by the Ministry, yet because the organization had suffered no embarrassing breakouts or deadly miscalculations like Greyback's getaway, they were permitted to operate without much interference.
Bill had a higher tolerance for dealing with the bureaucracy when necessary, and because he was not a full werewolf, he did not encounter the same prejudices, treated entirely as a victim rather than a predator. "That wizard who summoned us -- what is he doing living among Muggles?" he asked.
"Making potions for Muggle doctors. Trying to help them halt their plague," said Lupin, and then without really thinking it through, he lied again: "I promised him that I would bring him some ingredients. I need a day off to go back."
"Of course," Bill told him, looking surprised but not asking any additional questions, for which Lupin was grateful -- he supposed it was Bill's way of making up to him about Fleur's lapse. "Ask him if there's anything we can send him. My father's Ministry connections might be able to help. Give him our regards."
Lupin suspected that greetings from the Weasleys were not on any list of things Snape missed from the wizarding world, yet he brought them anyway, along with bezoars, hellebore and a few other items he thought Snape might be able to use among Muggles without arousing suspicion. He supposed that bringing such things to a Muggle village put him in violation of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, but these days he didn't much care about Ministry restrictions.
"I'm glad to be able to help," Lupin told a satisfyingly appreciative Snape when he greeted him on his way out of the large medical tent, having sat at a distance and watched villagers come and go for the better part of an hour while lurking beneath a superficial cloaking charm. "We appreciated the fact that you contacted us -- I appreciated it. Molly sent me with sandwiches. Would you like one?"
"I had thought I had escaped Molly Weasley's cooking," Snape grumbled, yet he gestured for Lupin to walk with him to a smaller tent far from the circle of medical facilities and habitations. Inside, Lupin was amused to find that Snape had used a charm to make the space appear three times as large as the outer appearance of the tent suggested.
"I see that you haven't given up magic entirely," he observed.
"It's an unfortunate habit," said Snape dryly. "Preparing medicines is not terribly different than potion-making, and I still find myself teaching disinterested pupils how to keep themselves alive."
"Just tell me one thing. Are you truly content here? Or are you hiding?"
"What makes you think there is any difference to me, Lupin? Nobody here knows me. They don't know my past. There are no unexpected reminders -- or when there are, like a second-generation victim of Fenrir Greyback, they are more easily dealt with."
The words were recited as if Snape had rehearsed them, perhaps for his own benefit as well as Lupin's. Sitting, he produced from a pocket the food Molly had sent with him, and despite Snape's ostensible disinterest he devoured it. They ate in companionable silence, listening to the growing noises of insects at the onset of evening, before Lupin asked the question that was his real reason for returning:
"Why did you ask for me?"
Snape reddened slightly. "When I sat my NEWTS and left Hogwarts, I had four enemies and two friends -- perhaps a third, but she had disgusted me in her choice of a mate. Now all of them are dead except for you. I suppose you are my nearest point of comparison -- you bear a mark that can never be erased, and many believed you to be a traitor as well."
"One would think we should have been friends, having so much in common." Lupin tried to keep his voice light, but as he so often did, he felt that Severus' fierce eyes could look directly at the things he wasn't saying. They had not been friends; perhaps it was far too late now to pretend that it could have been otherwise. "Surely there must be some people with whom you have other things in common. I don't suppose you've kept in touch with Lucius Malfoy? His motives may be entirely selfish, but he has been extremely generous with his time and money during the restoration."
"Malfoy," said Snape with the faintest hint of pity alongside his irritation. "Is he the Minister of Magic yet? He could have escaped Azkaban if he wished. He chose to sit out the worst of the war behind those walls while his wife and son tried to fight his battles for him. I knew that in the end, he would choose luxury and status over real power -- he was never happy about you-know-who's return -- but I did not expect him to take the coward's path."
Lupin had never heard Snape refer to Voldemort as you-know-who rather than the Dark Lord. Nor had he ever heard Snape criticize Malfoy. With some surprise, he said, "He disappointed you."
"On the contrary. His absence made my work much simpler. In his position I might have made the same choices. He is a far better Slytherin than I."
Snape's expression was resigned, yet in the candlelight Lupin could see his fingers closed tightly on the armrest of his chair. "He disappointed you," he said again to Snape. "It can't have been easy having to be the strongest of everyone on both sides. I doubt whether I could have done what Dumbledore asked you to do."
Dark, impenetrable eyes turned on Lupin, drawing him in until he thought he would drown in that gaze. "Why did you come back here?" asked Snape softly. "You must have realized during your last visit that I had no intention of returning."
It would not have been honest to say that he hoped to change Snape's mind -- he doubted whether that was possible -- and Snape would have read the lie, so Lupin struggled to give voice to a truth he had not fully explained to himself. "I think part of it must be the same reason you wanted to see me," he began. "That you survived. There aren't very many people our age who were directly involved in the fighting who can say that. And because you never answered my question about whether you were happy. I was so focused on trying to convince you to come back, I never gave you a chance to tell me."
Severus did not answer him. Lupin wondered whether it was because he had not actually posed the question again or because Snape did not want to discuss his griefs, his frustrations...whatever ultimately had led him here, hiding from the world he had known. A faint drumming began against the tent as it started to rain, muting the voices of insects outside and charging the air within. There was no scenario Lupin could imagine back in the wizarding world in which he and Snape would have found themselves like this, sharing a tent, listening to the rain.
"We all thought you were dead," he said to Snape. "Harry thought that when you turned, it might have been like breaking an Unbreakable Vow -- in betraying Voldemort, you knew you would lose your life, yet betraying him was your purpose for living."
"Potter continues to reason like a child," Snape retorted wearily. "One would have thought he might have grown up by now. Have he and the Weasley girl produced offspring yet?"
In Snape's mouth, produced offspring sounded lewd, and Lupin smiled. "Not yet. The wedding isn't until the fall. Molly would not be happy if they conceived a child before they married, and Harry knows exactly how many surviving older brothers Ginny has who could beat him up."
"And you work for one of them. Doesn't it bother you taking orders from someone so much younger than yourself?"
"They offered to let me head the office. I turned them down," replied Lupin, thinking that the doctor he had seen in the medical tent could not have been older than Snape. "Bill's better suited for it. I wanted to work in the field -- to travel. To deal directly with the children."
At the mention of children, Snape twisted his mouth again, making Lupin wonder how he had withstood so many years of teaching at Hogwarts. "You would be very useful here," he said. "There are thousands of displaced Muggle children. Have you considered taking in one of the war refugees? I'm surprised that you never had a child of your own."
"Nymphadora might have given me one, had I not finally convinced her that I'm gay." With a fond smile Lupin remembered that evening when Tonks, at last fully recovered from the curse that had unwittingly bound her to him, confessed that she had fallen in love with Charlie Weasley. Lupin had told her very honestly that he could not have been happier for both of them, and had felt greatly relieved, though not without some faint regret; there had been something comforting about the thought of having a conventional family, even if it would always have felt like living a lie.
Was that what Snape was doing here -- living a life that felt unreal to him in the hope that over time, it would become more real to him than the life he had left behind? Or had he found a real sense of purpose -- something Lupin wondered whether he had ever truly possessed at Hogwarts? When he glanced over speculatively, he found his gaze echoed by a similar expression and abruptly realized what he had just confessed. With a slight shrug, he said, "I assumed you knew."
"I had heard rumors, but I did not assume that you would wish me to know."
Chancing another glance at his onetime adversary, Lupin wondered whether Snape had thought he was flirting with him when he joked about whether Snape had taken an oath of celibacy. Then he wondered whether he had been flirting. Had Snape noticed? His reply had seemed so vehement...was he disgusted, or troubled by his own response? "I didn't really expect you to be interested in the sex life of a werewolf," said Lupin with a small smile.
"Perhaps you should write a book, since Lockhart never got around to covering that subject." Lupin burst out laughing, feeling an uncharacteristic urge to hug Severus and blushing at the notion. How much was the Legilimens reading from him? It was hard to tell in the dim tent but Lupin thought Snape had reddened as well. "I always prided myself on my thorough knowledge of the Dark Arts, yet that is an area about which there is scant documentation."
Coming from Snape, that was unquestionably flirting, and Lupin knew in an instant both why the onetime Death Eater had asked for Lupin to come to this Muggle village and why he had wanted to return. "I thought you'd given up on the magical world. Weren't you just telling me that I'd be more useful here? I assume you mean if properly restrained at the full moon."
"I could make you Wolfsbane." Smile fading, Lupin simply stared. "I could have done so before, had you bothered to ask."
"You mean, if I stayed here?"
"I did not seriously expect you to consider staying. I would need certain ingredients that are not available in this part of the world. During the first month it would be helpful if someone monitored you, since as you know the dosage is not identical for every lycanthrope. And someone," Snape did not say you, "would have to retrieve the potion each month."
Nodding automatically, since he had only been half-listening, Lupin continued to study Snape's half-hidden face, wishing he had the same ability to probe thoughts as the other wizard. "Severus, do you want me to stay?" he asked quietly. When Snape said nothing, he continued, "I'm not a painful reminder of everything you've put behind you?"
Black eyes met Lupin's own. "Am I?" Snape asked him.
"I suppose you are." Snape started to turn away, but Lupin stopped him with a hand on his arm. "It doesn't stay buried, though, does it? No matter how far away you go, or what you do." Ducking his head, Snape looked down at the fingers resting on his arm. Cautiously Lupin rubbed it, realizing as he did so that it was the one which had borne the Dark Mark. "That's why I came back. I'd like to see you again."
"I've already told you that you would be welcome here," Snape replied stiffly, almost angrily. The annoyance in his tone, at least, had not changed, and Lupin grinned more broadly than he meant to. Faced with such a wide smile in response to his declaration, Snape's expression went from defensive to surprised, making Lupin realize that he must have expected some sort of rejection -- to be told the reasons it was not practical even if they were both willing to entertain the notion.
"Then I will," Lupin said with a kind of defiance, squeezing Severus' arm. "I'll tell Bill I need a few days. You can put me to work here."
A faint smirk crossed Snape's face. "The others believe you to be a priest who exorcises demons," he told Lupin. "They think that is why you took that child. I'm not quite certain how I will explain your return."
"Tell them that you have a demon that needs exorcising. It isn't my specialty, but I can pretend; I did teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. As did you." The dark-haired wizard still wore the smirk, but when he nodded, his eyes were warmer than Lupin ever remembered seeing them. "Maybe we can finally do something about one another's demons."