by FayJay

It isn't easy to obtain the appropriate volume, of course, but if anyone alive has the right connections it is Severus Snape: decorated war hero, former Minister of Magic, current Headmaster of Hogwarts. If anyone could buy, bribe, blackmail and intimidate his way into gathering all the needful ingredients, it is he. And he has done it, because he has simply refused to accept that it cannot, or should not, be done. Now he is standing in a room thick with bitter incense, and there are marks on the floor which no amount of House Elf scrubbing will ever be able to remove, but Severus Snape does not care in the slightest about anything so trivial as the condition of these flagstones, and there is no-one else left alive who is brave enough to comment upon it.

This spell has not always worked, of course. The records are clear on that. The last known instance of an attempt was back in 1916, and that was a failure of such spectacular dimensions that nobody has even considered trying it since.

Until now.

It is midnight. Snape stands perfectly still, every muscle in his body tense with expectation. He is no longer a young man, but he stands as straight-backed as he would have done twenty years earlier, and he does not betray by anything more than a scowl how the cold night is sending painful twinges of rheumatism shooting through his much-abused joints. He stands quietly in the centre of his workroom, peering down through half-moon glasses (which vanity would have him eschew, but practicality demands he wear) at the trap he has prepared so carefully: the wards all flawless, the binding spells sealed and complete. He is not afraid.

He waits, and he waits, and he waits. And nothing happens at all.

He flatly refuses to believe that she will not answer his summons.

After a while, the clock in the hallway chimes quarter past the hour. A little later it chimes half past, and a little later still it chimes quarter to one. He waits, silent as any of the memorial statues in the grounds outside, while the clock chimes three more times. When he finally bows his head, it is as though he has aged by decades. His shoulders sag, and the hope seeps out of his face. Snape closes his fingers almost convulsively around the back of the old wooden chair where Remus has sat so many times, and he leans on it as though it is the only thing stopping him from falling. He can almost hear his friend's voice rattling away with some theory or anecdote, some story about the latest hair-brained activities of the Gryffindor first years, or perhaps reading some ridiculous article from 'Divination Weekly'. Snape stares blankly down at the back of his hands, as if the pattern of old scars and new ink stains might reveal some deep secret. He has no idea what to do. All the fire has left him now; he has survived these past few days on a combination of adrenaline and anger and sheer bloody mindedness, and in a way he has almost enjoyed it. His determination has carried him through, the way it did during the long ago days of the War; and although those days were hideous, still his adrenaline and bloody mindedness had always paid off. They had won.

But this time it has not been enough. This time he has not been enough. Remus is still dead.

His hands shake. There is an uncomfortable pressure in his head, which he decides to ignore until the first splash of wetness lands on the back of his hand. For a moment it genuinely puzzles him - it has been so long since he has wept for anyone or anything. To his surprise and humiliation, though, once he has started he finds that he cannot stop. A whole ocean of tears has been waiting inside him all this time, dammed back so thoroughly that he has never suspected its existence until this moment. Great graceless sobs wrack his whole body. He is making loud, ugly noises and he cannot control his breathing at all. His chest hurts. His eyes hurt. His head hurts. Mucus is pouring out of his nose in a disgusting flood and his attempts to wipe it away with the back of his hand are worse than useless. He feels like some snotty Weasley infant, eventually reduced to mopping at his face with the corner of his own robe. Snivellus, they used to call him. Well, they are all dead, and he is still alive, and that should mean he has the last laugh; but he has never felt less like laughing in his life.

He isn't sure quite when she arrives. The first time he notices her is when her fingers close gently around his shoulder, and a handkerchief falls into his lap.

"Give it a good blow," she says, and instead of springing to his feet and demanding who she is, or blasting her out of existence with an Unforgivable Curse, he picks up the square of embroidered white linen and blows his nose very thoroughly. Her voice is young, but there is some quality to it that reminds him irresistibly of his mother. His whole body aches. It feels quite as bad as being tortured ever did, and although he is no longer sobbing out loud he has a horrible feeling that it might all start again at any moment. He has no idea when he went from standing up to kneeling on the floor and clasping the wooden bars in the back of the chair. The stone feels very cold through the fabric of his robes.

After a while he looks up, and she smiles at him. It is the kind of painfully cheerful grin that he has always associated with people of remarkably little imagination or intelligence; the kind of people who remark upon the weather, or offer to help one another with heavy bags. Most of whom, in his experience, have been Gryffindors. He tries to muster a sneer, but it is a half hearted attempt at best.

"Hello," she says, and somehow it feels like she know him, and has always known him, and yet loves him nevertheless. The kindness in her face very nearly undoes him again. There is one horrible fraction of a moment when he wants, against all logic and possibility, to crawl into her lap and have her somehow make it all better. But he isn't a toddler, and she is most definitely not his mother. He makes a conscious effort to pull himself together.

"Can I help you?" he says frostily, trying to settle some semblance of dignity back about himself as he pulls himself back to his feet. He should undoubtedly be yelling at her to leave, and demanding how she had the nerve to invade the Headmaster's private domain like this, but he is not himself just now. Besides, he is still clutching her sopping handkerchief and it seems inappropriate to start snarling. His joints twinge, but he ignores them. He knows this girl, although for the life of him he really can't place her. He is almost certain that she isn't a student, but he can't come up with anything more plausible at this moment.

She appears to consider his words carefully. "No, I don't think so," she says at last. "But thanks for asking."

She has settled herself on his workbench, and her slim legs are swinging back and forth as she observes him. She appears to be wearing some sort of Muggle fancy dress, which includes stockings made of netting, of all improbable things. Her garments are a sober black, if rather skimpier than he is accustomed to seeing, and there is a silver amulet nestling snugly in her cleavage. He is embarrassed that it takes him several moments to put two and two together.

"You're her," he says, incredulously. "She. Death. You're Death."

She beams. "Bingo!"

He is, for once, rendered speechless. She dimples at him, but there is no mockery in her smile.

"But why - you aren't constrained?" He stalks over to the protective circle and stares at it accusingly, and then back at the improbable sprite perching on his bench. He pulls himself up to his full height and glowers at her. The effect is only slightly spoiled by the strawberry-embroidered handkerchief he still clutches in one hand. "You should be here! Why aren't you here?"

"I'm sorry, Severus," she says, and she does sound remarkably contrite. "I could stand over there, if it makes you feel more comfortable, but it would be play acting." He blinks. "The thing is," she continues, confidentially, "it doesn't actually work. I mean, I do sometimes answer the summons if I feel like it, but it's just a human spell. It's a bit like having a phone ringing in a distant room, you know? You can just ignore it easily, and after a bit it stops ringing. But sometimes it's fun to answer the phone, and see who's there, and maybe have a bit of a chat."

He has absolutely no idea what she is talking about, and perhaps she realises this, because her eyebrows lift a little and she chews her bottom lip for a moment.

"Oh dear - that's not a very helpful analogy, really, is it? Well, think of it as the equivalent of sending me an Owl with an invitation, then. It's a bit like that. I wouldn't have bothered coming, normally, but you really did need a hanky."

Snape decides to ignore this reminder of his recent display of weakness. "But the archives clearly indicate that you can be contained, and that once you materialise upon this plane of existence you can be constrained to obey the spellcaster," he says, stubbornly. He crosses his arms in front of his chest and glares at her harder, as if this will somehow suffice to make the universe rearrange itself to his liking.

She shrugs apologetically. "You really shouldn't believe everything you read, you know."

"Oh." There is a long, and surprisingly companionable, pause. After a while he sits down on Remus's chair, and they both look at the protective circle and the carefully chalked sigils. He sighs. It has been a long day; a long week, for that matter. He is no longer a young man. And he feels, these days, very much like somebody has scooped out his heart.

He misses Remus Lupin more than he would ever have imagined possible. It hurts him, now, to have to look back and wish that he had been kinder to the man; to realise that he had never explicitly called him a friend to his face. They had been friends, there was no other word for it, but it had developed so gradually that neither of them had really noticed it. The tentative beginnings of a friendship which had been so thoroughly crushed into oblivion during their school days had gradually revived during the War, and afterwards, when he became Headmaster, Lupin had been one of the first teachers he appointed. He was irritating, to be sure, not least because his students so adored him, but he possessed a surprisingly quick intellect, for a Gryffindor, and he had a streak of ruthlessness that would almost have become a Slytherin. Besides, they had known each other a very long time. It was not, perhaps, so very surprising that they had come to spend such a lot of time in one another's company. That they had sat and talked long into the evenings. That their arguments had become almost comfortable, their differences of opinion had become familiar, almost comforting. That they had developed a pattern of living in each other's lives, colleagues who had known one another since they were eleven year old, who had fought shoulder to shoulder against Voldemort, who now ate from the same table morning, noon and night, who taught the same children, argued with the same parents, walked the same corridors and watched the same sunsets. Almost accidentally, they had grown old together.

At the funeral, Potter had glowered at him across the grave. Snape had glowered back, and tried to revive the old resentment with little success. He could no longer remember what Lily Evans had looked like, and although he knew that Harry still had his mother's eyes, he found that he no longer cared. James Potter and his casual malice were memories from a lifetime ago; it seemed sometimes that his encounters with Potter and Black had all happened to another person. Only Remus Lupin had lived long enough to become real.

The prospect of a future without him is appalling.

"Gummy bear?" she says. He has almost, incredible though it seems, forgotten that she is here. He turns and peers at the crumpled paper bag she has dug out from a pocket of the short leather coat thing she is wearing over her remarkable dress.

"I beg your pardon?"

She shoves the bag into his hands. "They're sweets. Sort of chewy, rubbery things, full of sugar and E numbers. They're not made of real bears."

After a moment he reaches one tentative hand into the little papery nest and removes a transparent little green body. It lies in his palm and fails to do anything disconcerting, and after another moment he bites off its head and chews, cautiously.

"So they are," he says, and swallows the rest of it. "You know, this is the sort of thing Albus would have enjoyed. He had a real fondness for Muggle sweets."

"Yes he did," she agrees. Of course, she will know that, too. He glances at her sideways. She does not look at all like the incarnation of Death. He has no power over her at all.

"Bring him back," he says out loud, and is startled by his own words. He cannot look at her, and for a moment it is all he can do to keep from bursting into tears again. Very carefully he sets the paper bag back on the bench beside her. "Please. Please bring Remus back." His voice is hoarse. He is, he realises, quite prepared to beg.

"I'm truly sorry, Severus," she says, sounding it. "I'm afraid I can't do that."

He looks up at her then, and if it were possible he is sure that he would hate her. "You could. You could do it if you wanted to." This isn't information he has from any book, but in his heart he feels certain it is true.

Outside, the clock chimes once more. She looks at him very hard, and at last she nods, but there is no yielding in her face. "Well, if I wanted to I suppose I could. But I won't, Severus." Her voice is terribly gentle. "He has passed into the Sunless Lands. It was his time."

He shifts in his seat, feeling the muscles in his back twinge. She is immortal, of course. Endless. Eternal. She doesn't understand about back pain, or friendship. "Take me, then," he says, surprising himself again. "Take me instead." In the silence he considers his offer, and finds himself content with it. He has lived a longer life than he had ever expected to, and he has had more success than anyone else had ever expected him to. There is nothing left for him now. Remus would make a better survivor than he does.

"No." It is such a small sound, and yet with that short syllable he feels reality hardening all around him. With that small sound Remus Lupin is truly dead.

"I'm sorry," he says, and then wonders why he is apologising.

"It's okay, Severus. I get it. You loved him." He wants to protest, but with those eyes on him he can't lie to himself. Love. It is not the word he would have chosen, but it is true enough, nonetheless. "Now you need to let him go. You're going to be around for a while yet." His eyes widen, and she nods. She looks like she's enjoying his surprise. "Oh yes, believe me, you're going to be around for quite some time, giving the next generation of Longbottoms and Malfoys and Finch-Fletchleys nightmares, and telling them how to 'bottle fame, brew glory and stopper death'." The teasing note in her voice is almost enough to make him blush. He had truly thought to contain her with a few wards and circles. "And you needn't be alone, you know," she adds, looking at him earnestly. "Remus isn't the only person on your staff who cares about you. He isn't the only person who would like to be your friend, if you'd only give them half a chance." She dimples again, and wrinkles her nose. "Let them in, Severus. Choose life," she says, almost as if it's a joke - but he knows that she means it sincerely, even as she invites him to return her smile

Her kiss is absolutely the last thing he is expecting. He stares at her, startled, and lifts his fingers to brush the spot on his cheek where her lips were a moment before. She smiles again, and despite himself he smiles back.

"Well, it's been fun," she says, pushing herself down from the wooden workbench and then bouncing up on her tiptoes, arms in the air, to stretch as bonelessly as any cat. "But I've got to dash - places to go, people to see, you know how it is. You can keep the hanky, if you like. And the gummy bears." He starts to rise, but she stops him with one raised hand and an easy grin. "I'll see myself out. You should get to bed, Severus. You'll feel better in the morning."

And then she is gone, as absolutely as if she had never been here. He looks down at the square of embroidered linen in his hand, and then over at the workbench, with its battered little bag of Muggle sweets. Odd. This evening has not unfolded according to plan, and yet, unaccountably, he feels a little better. He turns his back on the mess he has made of his workroom, and pads toward the door. A very small smile curves his mouth. He catches himself looking forward to telling Remus about this remarkable encounter, and then remembers a heartbeat later why he cannot, but he finds that this time the pain is slightly easier to bear.


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