The Search for Life and Death

The Blame

THE SEARCH FOR LIFE AND DEATH

VI

The Blame

Severus Snape woke to the sound of a chime echoing from his fireplace, signaling that someone was flooing into his quarters who was allowed through the wards he had placed. As there were only five people keyed into his floo when it was locked, Severus was not overly concerned about who he was having as a visitor. Unless, of course, it was Minerva, finally deciding that things had settled down enough that she could take the time to hex him. That would be very much like her.

But, as it turned out, it was not the Transfiguration professor come to hex him. Nor was it the Headmaster, come for a long talk, or the Mediwitch come to ask him to – to – Severus swiped at his mouth unconsciously. He would lose no sleep should that woman choose to never come near him again.

But the floo had chimed to alert him of its use through the wards, which had such a chime because most people would only lock their floos in certain situations. Severus locked his every night. Apparently, some people who were not keyed into his wards – and every one of them with good reason – found this annoying. Severus sneered at the thought.

The fire in the hearth flared a brilliant green, flashing and billowing like the storm of magic that it was. A tall, thin woman stepped from the flames, a gentle smile on her lips. The smile, however, faded as she caught sight of the half-empty bottle of firewhiskey next to him, and when the fire flared green a second time, the short giggling little boy was halted by a hand on his chest. His laughter stopped immediately.

"Mum?" The little boy looked up at his mother, then over at Severus, who had risen from his chair, and then back to his mother, eyes full of confusion and unspoken questions. The woman kept her palm flat on the little boy's chest, her eyes fixated on the man before her. She looked concerned, anxious, and a little angry. The boy seemed to sense this and took a step backward, looking between the two.

"Conan, go back to the house and get your cloak. I think we'll be going for a walk soon and I don't want you catching cold."

Black hair hanging just to his jawline, the little boy – Conan – ignored the fact that it was the summer and he was about as likely to get cold as he was to see Madam Pomfrey smirk when someone came into her ward injured. He stuffed his hand into the pot on the mantle and threw some of the gathered floo powder into the fire before jumping in and saying, clearly, "Morely House." There was a flash of green as the flames ignited with magic and then he disappeared.

With her son gone – and looking to make sure this was so – the woman turned back to face the man before her. Her eyes, a deep, dark chocolate brown, regarded him with a wariness he was not unfamiliar with – one that he hated to see in the eyes of this woman, or anyone he cared about.

"Elena-"

"You've been drinking, Severus."

Closing his eyes, he sighed softly. "Yes." He opened them again to find her watching him. She had come no closer and was well out of reach of him should he lunge for her. Defensive tactics. She'd always been very good and, of course, she had met his father.

"I'm not drunk, Elena." She frowned at him in clear disbelief and he plucked the bottle of firewhiskey from the table beside him, holding it by the neck and swinging it back and forth gently. "I've had two glasses this evening. I think the last time I drank from this bottle was after my… a call I received, at the end of last year."

The call, of course, was the summons he had received on the night when Voldemort returned, during the final task of that ridiculous TriWizard Tournament. He hadn't gone, being unable to get away without too many questioning eyes, but he'd felt the burn and he'd known… and then Dumbledore had revealed what had happened. He'd needed a drink after that feeling and the knowledge that the darkest wizard to grace current times had returned. He'd spelled his floo shut from even Elena that night, not wanting anyone near him. And then he'd gotten himself completely drunk.

It had been one of the stupidest things he'd done in his life. Not the stupidest – there were about three things before it on that list – but idiotic nonetheless. He'd drained an entire bottle of firewhiskey and then started working on a second before he had passed out on the floor of his quarters. Two glasses of firewhiskey warmed and relaxed him, but did little else, but half a bottle was enough to knock a man on his ass. Nearly a bottle and a half that night… well, it was a damn good thing both Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore could override the wards he placed on his floo. Dumbledore would have been down both a spy and a Potions Master if Madam Pomfrey hadn't come in to check on him.

He remembered, much to his annoyance, that week-long stay at St. Mungo's and the various lectures he had received afterward, from Dumbledore, Madam Pomfrey, and his wife. He still wasn't sure which had been the worst of the three, but he had been able to assure them with pure honesty that he would never go on such a drinking binge again. The sensation of having had one's stomach pumped, even by magic, was, ironically, nauseating.

Severus forced himself to focus and returned his attention to the woman standing before him. Her hair, a dark chestnut brown that glimmered in the torchlight, fell halfway down her back in waves. Her skin was a soft olive tone, the brown eyes that steadily held his face so deep that he might drown in them.

Her posture had relaxed slightly, but her eyes were still wary. Severus couldn't blame her. Elena had met Tobias Snape before the bastard died and had known the kind of man who had raised her husband. Severus himself was not particularly fond of alcohol or of the penchant for allowing it to absorb one's problems. Elena was even less-so, because there was always that danger that he could react to drunkenness in the same manner of his father, and she never – nor did Severus, for that matter – wanted to subject Conan to that… cruelty.

"I wish you wouldn't drink, Severus," she said, and she sounded calmer now, if slightly exasperated.

Severus offered her a mildly scathing look, but knew she would recognize the apology that came with it. "I wish I didn't have a reason to." He flicked his fingers, his wand darting into his hand, and quickly banished the bottle and glass. Looking down at himself, he sneered. He hadn't even bothered to change his clothes. How undignified.

Elena, however, ignored his attire. She had stepped forward, carrying herself as she always did – like a cat on the prowl – and curled her arms around his neck as she leaned against him. Her lips touched his neck lightly as she smiled at the sound he made in his throat, a low, pleased growl. "Conan will be back soon," she said, warning him not to get too pleased with her lips. In response, he pulled her tighter against him, eliciting a laugh.

They stood silently, holding onto each other, quite content to remain embracing the other. "What was it that had you so worked up?" Elena asked after a few minutes of silence, and she was disappointed to feel his arms loosen and unwind from around her back. She pulled away from him so he would not have to retreat so far, and found him staring past her with a face of conflicting emotions.

"Severus, what is it?"

"I just… I've learned something about a student I – was not particularly fond of. Something that… changes things." He frowned and his eyes narrowed at the floor. "And I do not want them to," he admitted in a grumbling voice.

Elena was frowning at him in concern. She opened her mouth to ask him something, but at that moment, the fire in the hearth flared green and Conan bounded out with a shrieked, "Daddy!"

Severus let out a gruff "oof!" as the little eleven-year-old slammed into his body full-force, but his hands on the boy's shoulders only did so much – so very, very little – to calm the child. Conan was grinning from ear to ear, a cloak clutched in his hands, bouncing from foot to foot as though he had to go to the loo.

Severus rolled his eyes at the child. "What are you so pleased about?" he demanded.

"Can we go see Professor Dumbledore now, please, Daddy? I really, really, really want to get my letter!" Conan had been pestering the entire staff of Hogwarts for his acceptance letter, hoping that he would be able to get it early and be allowed to read it and, he claimed, frame it in his room. He also wanted to pick out his bed in the Slytherin dorms, but that wouldn't be allowed, of course, since they couldn't be certain that he would be sorted into Slytherin.

But my son will not be a bloody do-good Gryffindor, I'm certain of that, Severus thought waspishly.

"The headmaster is busy at the moment," he said to his son, removing his hands from the boy's shoulders now that he had calmed down some. "We might be able to go see him later." He took in Conan's pout, the lower lip poking out slightly and the lowered eyes. The boy could always get to him, even though he was hardly aware of such a thing. "But I'm fairly certain Minerva is free at the moment. Shall we go bother her?"

"Yes!" Conan yelled happily, throwing his fist into the air. Without hardly a moment's hesitation, he bolted from the room and into the corridors, knowing well his way through the castle.

Severus groaned as he followed, Elena at his side. It felt like an ungodly hour of the morning – no doubt was, considering he had married and somehow spawned an early-riser – he had yet to get a cup of tea, the inside of his mouth tasted absolutely dreadful, and he was wearing the same clothes as he had been yesterday, when…

Severus swiped at his mouth. He could see Elena glanced at him worriedly from beside him, but resolved that they would talk about it later. Now was not the time, when others, especially his son, could overhear.

Still, he could remember the sound of the boy choking on his own blood, the feel of his ribs through his thin skin as he pumped the boy's chest, and the taste of blood on his lips when he had been forced to breathe for the child. He thought about those deep coughs that had sprayed blood over the white hospital sheets.

Flicking his wand, Severus cast another cleaning charm on his robes – was this the fifth or the sixth time since he had returned to his quarters? – and caught Elena's sharply curious look with his own grim glance. "I'll tell you later," he said quietly, as he caught sight of Conan standing in front of a portrait, waiting for them while he conversed with an aged knight. They were discussing jousting tournaments and Severus was quite happy to pull him away before the boy got any ideas.

The three continued down the corridor toward Minerva's office, quite unprepared for what awaited them there.

To be quite honest, Remus Lupin was having a very bad day.

He'd had numerous bad days in the past; they came in abundance when one was a werewolf. Still, even he would admit that he was hard-pressed to find a day that, in the last fifteen years, managed to be quite as bad as this one.

He sat in the Hospital Wing, leaning back in a chair between two occupied beds. He sat closer to Harry's bed, because the boy was a child and the one in serious danger here, but he continued to cast glances across to the other bed. A child lay unconscious in that one, too, even if he was only a child in his immature mind.

Ah, Sirius, you're far too impulsive.

Poor Albus. The headmaster had not only been punched by a werewolf, but also hexed, quite extravagantly, by an ex-Auror – and Sirius, everyone knew, had always been one of the best. Remus felt bad for hitting the Headmaster – it had been done in a moment of emotional upheaval, his heart so weighed down by fear and pain that the only way he was able to escape such drowning emotions was to submit to his rage, which burned and rose free of such a despairing pit.

He hated that he was so easily able to turn to rage. He had tried so hard when he was younger, particularly at school and surrounded by other kids, to control his emotions. Children could be so cruel, and it was an intentional cruelty that would break the hearts of those who truly valued innocence and peace, though few of them remained, as well. Albus Dumbledore was one of them, he knew, and he wondered if Remus having lost his temper – losing his temper, not punching the man – had wounded the headmaster's heart. He suspected so, but still, he hoped not.

Remus sighed and reached out to brush back Harry's hair, displaying the lightning bolt scar for a moment before the feral fringe fell back over his forehead. He had often envied the other students when he was young, so open with their emotions – to easily displaying anger and love and aggravation and happiness. For them, there were no repercussions with the release. They could be angry and yell and hex someone's hair blue, and then everything would be fine later.

When Remus got angry, people got hurt. He remembered once, in grade school at the age of nine, a girl had teased him because of his shabby clothes and tendency to turn to books instead of people. He had done his best to ignore her, as he always did, but he had failed to contain the anger when the girl called his mother an awful word he had never dared to repeat, even to defend himself to a teacher. He remembered only the rage at the girl's cruel-intentioned words, and then the feeling of her skin peeling beneath his hand as fingernails dug into her flesh and tore gouges from her cheek.

He'd seen her a few times over the years, though she failed to recognize him, so much time had passed between them. He imagined he might not have recognized her, either, but for her face. There were still four scars that slashed down her cheek, almost silver – deep and hideous. They would never heal, of course, though she was safe from the Lycanthropic curse. He was grateful that he could not pass that through his claws like he could his teeth, even when human. If all she ended up with was a liking for bloody steak, there was little harm in that.

Still, she might have grown up to be quite beautiful, if not for that incident, and though she was cruel then and would no doubt have remained so, Remus still blamed himself for the death of that child's future. He had taken it from her in his rage, and so he knew, quite well from experience, that he dared not let the rage free.

But he still failed. Sometimes the rage got loose, the anger took over, and someone got hurt.

Dumbledore this time. Dumbledore, who had argued the Wizengamot to allow Remus, a child lycanthrope, to attend Hogwarts. Dumbledore, who had adjusted the landscape of the magical property to plant a tree that was a spirit of war in a place that had known peace for centuries. Dumbledore, who most certainly knew of the goings-on of the Gryffindor boys and who had done nothing to stop, to punish these foolish, irresponsible, stupid children.

Remus could never repay him for his kindness. He could only hurt him for it, because he was a werewolf.

"Mister Lupin, if you do not stop brooding, I will sedate you, as well."

"Do you have anything chocolate flavored?" The words were out of his mouth before he could actually think of all the reasons not to say it. The moment he registered the question – sarcastic as it was – he brought his hand to his head and seemed to curl into himself on the chair, uttering a shaky curse.

"Remus." He felt a hand, thin and delicate, on his arm and he shuddered at the touch. Of course, Madam Pomfrey understood. She had heard that question asked of her every time she'd threatened him with some medicinal concoction throughout school, for whatever health hazard he was suffering that week. It wasn't always he that said it; sometimes, Sirius copped it off with that devil-may-care-and-you-know-you-love-me grin, winking at her, or James Potter had said it, flashing her an innocent expression that could always melt even McGonagall's heart. It was James that had come up with the phrase to begin with, once they had all grown quite used to Remus' obsession with chocolate. It was said all in fun (and perhaps a little hope that the potions might gain some flavor other than vomitus), but neither of them had heard it since the death of James and Lily Potter, years ago.

"I'm sorry," Remus said. His voice was soft, spoken in little more than a whisper, but that did not hide the strangled note within it, and Madam Pomfrey could feel him shivering beneath her hand.

"Remus, hush now." Her other hand clasped around his forearm as she crouched next to him. "There is nothing at all for you to apologize for, least of all the words of a memory that brings me both pain and joy. Other than the fact that you depleted my stores of potions and were injured, I enjoyed both your company and the constant banter, I assure you. It gives me no small amount of happiness to know that you recall those words as easily as I do."

Remus still had a hand over his eyes, tears having leaked through his fingers, but he was listening to her. He knew without having to ask that the company she enjoyed had not been his alone, but his friends, as well. That was… good – nice to know.

"Thank you," he whispered.

It was sometimes hard for Remus, to be around Harry. It did not have anything to do with the boy himself but was, rather, a failure on Remus' part. He would readily admit to missing Lily and James, to crying over their loss, to remembering fondly the good times they spent together. But though he had grieved over their deaths, he had never quite put it behind him.

This was, in all likelihood, Peter's fault.

Remus had spent more than a decade of his life thinking that one friend had betrayed him, one had died defending their honor, and two others had been murdered. For so long, he had thought that Sirius was a murderer and Peter a martyr in the disguise of a coward all these years. He had been wrong, though – they had all been wrong, tricked. Peter had always been a coward and Sirius… Sirius had always been loyal. He had doubted him again.

Harry's presence, his appearance, his age, was a reminder of the time that had been wasted believing lives. A reminder that he had spent fourteen years mourning the loss of a traitor and hating a brave and innocent man trapped in a mortal hell. He had lived fourteen years of his life in darkness and he remembered this all too clearly when things got bad, but was reminded of everything that he missed out on when Harry was near.

If only he hadn't been so foolish, he could have given Harry the chance at a better life.

"Remus."

"I'm all right, Madam Pomfrey." Remus pulled his hand away from his eyes and cleared his throat lightly, sitting up straight in the seat. He sighed lightly and touched Harry's hand gently, before turning to face the mediwitch.

She looked tired, her face pale and drawn, with dark bags under her eyes and a weary glaze to her eyes. Remus had felt the magic of the spell she'd used to heal Harry, to save the boy's life. It was a summoning spell – one that channeled the power of the gods themselves. It would make any caster weary, though it was a wonder she was still on her feet. Someone else should be here to substitute her position and let her sleep. Perhaps he should stop being so foolish and allow her to rest.

She was still crouched next to him, looking concerned, her hand wrapped around his arm. He offered her an apologetic smile to try and reassure her. "Regrets," her murmured, by way of explanation.

Her face softened lightly. "Things will be all right, Mister Lupin. Have faith in that." She patted his hand gently as she rose to her feet, before striding back to her office and leave him in peaceful solitude.

Remus leaned back in the chair with a sigh and looked back and forth between the two boys he loved, lying in beds. Harry was… okay.

He had been healed of all truly dangerous physical injuries. He still had bruises and some of his bones were still tender, but his ribs were healed and he seemed to be breathing fine.

Remus reached out and gently placed his hand flat against the boy's chest, feeling the child's chest rise and all with each breath, and the steady beating of his heart. It was a comforting feeling, after what he had witnessed. He did not know if he would ever get that out of his head; the vision of stepping into the hospital wing to find Severus performing CPR on Harry – the sound of the boy's ribs breaking beneath Snape's ministrations. Remus had no doubts that it would haunt him until the end of his days, but he was still grateful to Snape. He still owed him… so much.

And still they were asking more of him.

Sirius didn't like the idea at all, of them signing a secondary guardianship with Snape's wife, and he had made his opinion quite well-known when he'd hexed the headmaster for even suggesting it, but Remus knew it was a good idea. It was a good idea and he was definitely considering it, but there were things that needed to be done first – other things that were more important.

Harry. Harry was more important.

And Harry couldn't speak, or hear.

That had been the second most devastating part of Harry waking up. The first had been the tremors.

Biting back a sob, Remus put his face in his hands. It was one thing for the poor boy to be unable to hear and speak because of the trauma he had suffered at the hands of his uncle, but he shook – his hands quaked no matter what, his vision was clearly blurred – his glasses did not do as well as they should. Clear signs. Clear signs.

Dementia Pugilistica.

Of all things, they had hoped – oh had they hoped. But it looked hopeless now. He had the tremors, the diminished eyesight, and he couldn't speak or hear. How long before he was unable to walk on his own? How long before he gave up, like another boy Remus had once known? How long before Remus' life began to crumble anew, now that he had just found it again?

Life, it seemed, was always so cruel to those who least deserved her ire.

Dear Ron,

I wish I had more to tell you, but I'm afraid I know probably even less than you where Harry is concerned. I had – well, I'm not sure you can call it a nightmare, as I don't remember the dream, but it felt like something was terribly wrong and I was worried about Harry, so I couldn't stay at home and just do nothing. I flooed to Professor Dumbledore's office and I did see your dad there, and Professor Lupin, as well.

We talked and I have to admit, I was surprised when your dad agreed with me. I didn't know that he felt the way he said he did, but the headmaster was convinced enough to allow Remus to take Snuffles and go check on Harry.

I had a cold, so I was at the hospital wing for a little while so Madam Pomfrey could check me over, but once my fever had gone down, they sent me home. I wish I had stayed – honestly, I hadn't even thought of it until after I got home. I had other things on my mind, but I'd rather like to think them over first before sharing them.

I don't suppose your dad would know anything more about what happened? I imagine Professor Dumbledore would be more likely to tell an adult what was going on than us, even if we probably do know Harry better.

Professor Lupin did seem adamant in checking on Harry. He was very worried after what I told him I knew and I think he would have gone even if the headmaster had said he wasn't allowed to. I'm sure he's already been to the Dursleys and spoken to Harry. Maybe they even managed to convince Professor Dumbledore to let Harry leave early this year. I know he'd love it if he could spend some time with your family this summer, Ron, before school starts up again. He'll need it, after last year.

I really wish I knew more and could be more helpful. I should have asked to stay at Hogwarts until Professor Lupin returned. I thought about sending him a letter, but I'm not sure that's right and I think if anything was wrong, Professor Lupin, at least, would let us know. He knows Harry's our best friend.

If you learn anything, Ron, let me know. Maybe I can convince my parents to let me come over sometime this summer, before school starts.

Hermione

Ron put down the letter that Hermione had written him and ran his fingers through his hair, groaning in irritation. She didn't know anything, either!

Ron had asked his dad, but Mr. Weasley hadn't lingered at Hogwarts once he knew someone was going to check on Harry. Ron knew his father had been worried about him and, in some ways, he was grateful for this. Well, in all ways, he was grateful, but he was worried about Harry and he hated being worried for his friend, who seemed to attract trouble no matter what he did to avoid it.

Pulling a blank piece of parchment out from under a stack of schoolbooks, the edges slightly torn, Ron dipped his quill in his ink bottle and began to write a letter back to Hermione. Pigwidgeon, who looked quite pleased about being trusted to mail letters, was flitting about the room, only perching for a moment on various places before zooming about again. Ron did his best to ignore him as he wrote.

Hermione,

Dad didn't stick around long after knowing Professor Lupin was going to check on Harry, and he came back home. I asked him, but he says he hasn't heard anything about Harry. No news is good news, though, right?

Ron grimaced. Maybe some people believed that, but when it came to Harry, the best way to keep him from getting hurt was to keep him in your sight, and that hardly did anything to help. No news was just aggravating and terrifying when it came to Harry and Ron hoped he learned something soon. And he hoped that Harry was all right.

I'll ask Dad if maybe he can talk to Professor Lupin and ask how Harry is doing. I don't know what phase of the moon it is. Maybe Professor Lupin's busy being… furry, you know.

That sounded like a horrible way to try and be discreet about Professor Lupin being a werewolf, but he didn't really want to spend a lot of time coming up with some silly codeword Hermione wouldn't get anyway, so he ignored the temptation to do such a thing.

And I'll ask Mum and Dad if you can come over. I think Ginny misses having another girl around the house, though she's been hanging out with Loony Lovegood, this weird girl who lives down the road. I think she's strange, but don't tell Ginny I told you that. She punched me in the arm last time I said it and I'm really hoping she forgets about saying she's gonna bat-bogey hex me once we're back in school.

Anyway, I'll send Pig if I her anything.

Ron

Folding up his letter, he tied it to an anxious Pigwidgeon's legs before sending the stupid bird off to Hermione. Huffing, he sat with his head propped on his hand for a while before shoving a book off of the stack onto the desk in front of him. He wished someone would just come and let him know what was going on. He was worried about Harry and, although they tried to hide it, he knew his parents were, too.

Sighed, Ron opened his book to a random page and groaned. "Potions," he muttered, glaring at the fourth year text as though it was the cause of all of his problems. Grimacing, he settled his elbows on either side of the books and propped his head up as he began to read.

He hated Potions – hated them and intended to stop taking them as soon as he was able to. From what his older brothers had said, he would need NEWT level Potions to become an Auror, so it looked like that career was out. He would just have to find something else to aspire to.

Out of the corner of his eye, Ron caught a glimpse of his Divination book and snorted loudly. He was having dreams about his best friend being in danger, and now people were going to check on the boy to make sure everything was all right. Ron should have thought of this before. Divination was total hippogriff turds! So, of course, Harry would be just fine, or Ron would just have to take up a career as a Seer.

The youngest Weasley son smirked at his Potions text, for a moment completely forgetting about his worry. Oh, Hermione would totally hex him for that, and Ron couldn't wait to tell her. Maybe she'd let him off easy if he predicted Trelawny's death – crushed by a crystal ball. Ron chuckled to himself, thinking about Hermione's reaction. Definitely worth a possible hex.

A few minutes later, all of his mirth faded when the floo brought a grim-faced messenger, and bad news.

Nightline - That whole review was way too long to quote. Your review was no more scattered than mine and your grasp of English is very good. I'm rather infamous for my cliffhangers, if I do say so myself, and for making things appear to be something they are not, but that's for a later time. Draco and Lucius will become clearer later. The next chapter will reveal the identity of Draco's savior. Snape has many mysteries. He's a bit of an enigma. Like Batman, only greasier. Greaseman! Sirius is having a temper tantrum. More things will become clearer as the chapters progress.

While Harry/Genny is me least favorite paring I'm going to try and stick with this one until the end. - Fox Loves Shinigami

To tell you the truth, FLS, Harry/Ginny isn't my favorite pairing, either. I would rather ship Harry/Hermione, but I decided to give this one a go. I'm glad you're going to try to stick with it and I hope you will enjoy it nonetheless.

Thank you, everyone, for your reviews. I hope you enjoyed the chapter and will let me know in a review. There's a big button down there just waiting for you to click it. It doesn't have to be long. Just a smiley face will do if that's all you're willing to offer.

Have a wonderful night, everyone, and as always,

Live long. Live well. Write. Read. Dream.

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