AUTHOR: Juxian Tang
PAIRING: SS/Remus Lupin
DISCLAIMER: These characters and places belong to JK Rowling. I am making no profit.
SUMMARY: When you've lived your life alone, it's sometimes difficult to imagine it can be in a different way. Sequel to Lukewarm
NOTES: Part of the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest (three word challenge: cap-a-pie, marabou, sophomoric). A million thanks to Isis, who is a perfect beta and a wonderfully kind person. You made this story so much better (no one would believe how much!) Thank you for being so patient with me. And huge thanks to Predatrix for being so fast and helpful! And my love to Lilith, Murbella and Hellga, my best friends.
SPOILERS: Contains spoilers for book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
ARCHIVING: The Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest Archive, my site - http://juxian.slashcity.net - and everyone who wants
by Juxian Tang
The morning after is awkward. I wake up to find the lights on the walls flaring up brightly, signifying that the new day has started. Shadows seem thicker and darker in the corners, and this unpleasant contrast tells me it's already quite late, seven o'clock or even later. No wonder I overslept, with the night like that. But curiously, I don't feel exhausted and longing to die, if just for a day, as I would expect. I always thought that sleeping in one bed with someone else was a horrible experience and considered myself lucky for escaping this fate.
Well, maybe sleeping with Lupin was not so bad. But waking is. I simply don't know what to do. It could be funny if it were not so annoying. Here he is, on my right, on his belly, drooling on the pillow, arm tucked under his head and light-brown strands nearly obscuring his face - and for a moment I feel a pang in my chest. He might be in my bed but it doesn't mean anything. I look away dully and wait for this thought to settle down, and finally it does.
What am I supposed to do now? It's really time to get up. Should I go to the bathroom and stay there until he wakes up and leaves? Or should I shake him up and... and what? Send him back to his room? It's all so complicated, damn.
I roll on my back and moan inaudibly, biting my tongue. All right, all right, the real problem is that I'm scared; panicked is a better word. Granted, yesterday it was he who invaded my bed - and was pretty insistent at it. But I... I also didn't resist much, right? Jumped in together with him gladly, fished in his ramble of words for some clues, some promises - and what if there were none? What if he was - sleepwalking or - I don't know what? And now, in the morning, he will be terrified of the position he'll find himself in?
I'm not to blame for that; I'm not, I told him that last night.
He stirs, and I suddenly make an instinctive decision and close my eyes, breathing carefully and levelly. Let him think I'm still sleeping; I can be sleeping, can't I - why not?
Lupin shifts some more - I'm so aware of his actions that it seems my nerves are completely bare; the air displaces as he turns and curls up, and I can feel sleepy heat coming from his body. His sigh sounds drowsy and, I'd say, contented.
Hey, don't you go asleep again! I grit my teeth mentally. I'm so wired up I won't be able to spend another hour in bed - and I need to use the loo, for Merlin's sake - and I need to know what's going through his brain, damn it.
But his breath doesn't become sleepily steady again. I think he settles resting on his elbow, facing me. Is he looking at me? I nearly can't bear it, the thought of all that light on my face, unflattering, makes me want to pull the hair over it. Lupin sighs again. You see, you see, the little voice starts whining in my head, he regrets it.
Very well, then he'll just leave, and that will be the end of it. Grow up, Severus, you have lived through worse things. But to think that it is my own fault I've got myself into that...
And then, all of a sudden, Lupin leans over me and gropes for something on my nightstand.
"Oops." I hear his soft voice. A hand is put on my shoulder and shakes me slightly. "Severus. Wake up. It's nearly eight. We should go to breakfast."
It's so unexpected that I forget to pretend I'm asleep and just look at him. Lupin's hair is messed up and he adds even more mess when running his hand through it. His eyes are puffy and he blinks several times, dispelling the remnants of sleep. He's lucky, it comes off so easily for him. Is it some special Gryffindor thing?
He's on his belly again, resting his chin on both fists and staring at me as if I'm something fascinating to look at. I quickly pull my hair over my face and feel marginally better; it might be oily but at least it takes some attention from my nose.
"Good morning," Lupin says.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, and you?"
Hey, it's easy! I can do it! Talk, that is.
"Not bad. I like your bed better than mine."
"Oh, I see. So, it was just a clever plan to get a better bunk."
"Exactly." He giggles. I clench my fist on the sheet under the blanket. When he laughs like this - he looks, I don't know, twenty years younger, and this sound makes me feel like something hard turns into liquid inside me. A moment later his face is serious again. "Shall we get up? Or we're going to miss breakfast, and I'm starving."
His stomach confirms it, rumbling, and he smiles again, apologetically now.
There are times when I feel like killing him, for being so damn charming that everything about him turns attractive, that even things one wouldn't forgive in anyone else seem pardonable about him. And sometimes I feel like it's killing me.
"Sure," I say blankly and get out of the bed. "Be careful when you walk to your room - there isn't anyone around, but nevertheless..."
"Yeah. Subjecting an unaware house-elf to my nudity hardly would be considerate."
I roll my eyes and bite the inside of my cheek not to smile.
He scrambles out of the bed, gropes on the floor for something for a few moments, then recalls he'd come without slippers and walks to the door, running into everything on his way. I proceed to my bathroom.
"Hey, Severus." The voice catches me on the threshold. "How long will it take you to get ready? If I drop in some half an hour later?"
I frown and turn to him.
He shrugs impatiently.
"Breakfast. You know? Great Hall, coffee, toasts, tasty things?"
"And you need directions how to find them or what?"
"No. But I would like us to go together."
It's quite a strange feeling; as if the solid floor simply disappears from under my feet. The moment of weightlessness is frightening and I even grasp the doorjamb. Then I say, composing myself:
Lupin's face acquires that stubborn, furtive look it sometimes has - the look that makes lines and shadows appear on his face, and all the traces of tiredness, and even his hair suddenly seem more grey than brown. His gaze wanders above me.
"Why not?" His voice is breezy. I gnaw my lip. "Of course if it's going to ruin your reputation to make it known you've spent a night with a werewolf..."
This tone, and 'of course if', sounds familiar. Like he's imitating me.
"Thank you," I say with what I hope sounds like dignity. "I don't have much of reputation to worry about. It's you who is always concerned what everyone thinks."
He looks tired - and pained - and suddenly I wish none of this was happening. It had been a good morning, we talked and he was happy and cheerful...
Damn, my own sentimentality sickens me and I quickly replace it with a surge of anger. Why should I be bothered with how Lupin feels? Just because we've spent a night in one bed? It's not like he needed me while his friends were alive - and now, when he's alone, he probably just looks for someone to latch onto. Needs a pack, or something.
His eyelashes are bronze and catch the light, trembling, as he looks down.
"I've made my choice," he says dully.
"So what? You want a medal for that?"
More like a place at St. Mungo's, for choosing Severus Snape over the sexy, thoroughly positive, bright female of the species. If he's really chosen me, I remind myself. It's better to be prepared for the worst; then when it happens, you will at least have the satisfaction of knowing you've foreseen it.
"I just want..." he starts angrily, then stops; then continues patiently, and I'm at a loss as to why these efforts to be patient with me. "I just thought it was kind of immature to make a secret out of us... being together."
Bravo, Remus Lupin! Brilliant! So, it's me who is immature - who insists on hiding it - who can't take a few looks from the colleagues...
"Being together," I repeat, thoughtfully. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this what happened between us: several nights of mutual jerking-off - and then you broke up the arrangement - and then you decided that your bed was too lonely at night and came to sleep in mine." I sneer at him. "And you call this 'being together'?"
There is such a lost expression on his face, that reads clearly: 'what am I doing here?' Or 'how could it even come to my mind it could work?' Right, Lupin. Run while you can.
"If you want to continue the sex thing, well, I don't mind," I go on. "I find it convenient and satisfactory - and so do you, apparently. But don't bother with..."
"Did I get it right? You're afraid to go with me."
I gulp the rest of my well-constructed sentence - and can't help it, the answer breaks from my lips before I can stop it.
"Yes, you are."
"You are. You are. You are."
He doesn't dare do it to me - doesn't dare let me know what it is - to be teased by him, not with hatred but with easy half-affection, like I used to overhear him doing with Black and Potter and Pettigrew. I can't bear it; I make a step back, feel the doorjamb pressed against my spine, and shake my head, not looking at him.
He's a shallow little thing without backbone and ability to form his own opinions. And why do I feel cornered by him? He shouldn't have this much power over me - how can he? How could I have let him?
I'm not going to look at him. There is something like concern in his voice.
"You're all right?"
"Then I'll pick you up in half an hour."
"Yes, fine. What ever you say."
Just go; please just go. I feel my strength draining out incredibly quickly - it's like the worst session with the Dark Lord trying to break into my mind to check my loyalty - but finally I hear the steps, and the door opens and shuts slowly.
Then I force myself not to slide down against the doorframe, but walk into the bathroom, run the water and start my morning routine.
Half an hour later I hear a knock on my door - and surely Lupin is there, neatly dressed in his frayed clothes, all clean and fresh. I haven't washed my hair. Because I don't do it in the morning - and I'll be damned if I do it just because... well, anyway. I haven't done it; but even the intent makes me unhappy.
"Let's go," Lupin says, with a faint smile that doesn't look completely sincere. He looks queasy and I wonder if he's not hungry any more.
And I wonder if he feels uncomfortable next to me because I haven't washed my hair... and why is he doing it, anyway? Why be so intent on burning bridges? Lupin used to be the most indecisive person in the world. A pinnacle of conformism.
It looks like he's trying to change himself; and it makes me feel sorry for him. Because I know how it hurts.
So, we walk to the Great Hall in silence, both brooding, and when we enter - hold your breath! - nothing happens. No one notices anything. I don't know what Lupin imagined to himself (all right, what I imagined). Perhaps if we floated in, holding hands and sniffing a bunch of daisies, it would have some effect. As it is, everyone has probably assumed we've run into each other on the way.
And I don't know if I feel relieved or disappointed.
I glance at Lupin quickly and see a small frown between his eyebrows. He feels me looking and stares back, before I have time to look away; how embarrassing.
"Let's sit here," he says pointing at two vacant seats. I have a very reasonable and logic reply ready: why I should change my usual place? But something pushes me, subtly and insistently, to agree. Let it happen. Let yourself see what he's up to - how far he will go. What will you lose? It hasn't ever happened to you before - being admitted as someone's bedfellow in public - and can it be so devastating? Experiencing it won't kill you.
I know it can be devastating; and I know I have something to lose. Because the border of control blurs so easily. And you won't notice when you don't control the situation any more, but have handed it and yourself to someone else. Someone else who can use it to hurt you. Can - and will.
I stare at my empty plate so hard that its contours cloud - and suddenly a big scoop of oatmeal lands on the plate. I jump and look at it in horror.
"Want some honey on it, Severus?" Lupin asks pleasantly.
I glare at him when the unappetising mush in my plate becomes even more unappetising drowned in a golden lake of honey. Lupin is concentrating as he takes my spoon and puts it into my fingers.
His fingers are thin and cool, despite the warm morning, and this touch, stupid as it is, suddenly sends shivers through my body. I hate myself for reacting like that, for being so easy - and I can't take my gaze away from his hand, wide knuckles and pinkish bitten fingernails - hadn't noticed he gnaws them - and he struggles with my spoon and slack fingers for longer than necessary - and I want it to never stop...
"Here. Eat now." He lets me go and sits straight.
So, that was it. A declaration. An announcement. Whatever he thinks it is. I decide adamantly not to check whether anyone's got the point. But my iron will doesn't last long, and I look, barely managing to turn my gaze into a glare.
Flitwick and Sprout are occupied with conversation, and Hagrid shovels food into his mouth diligently, and Albus has such a blithe, absent-minded expression on his face that I don't doubt he's noticed. And Minerva is sitting very straight, staring at us with a stricken look, a forgotten napkin pressed to the lower part of her face.
Great... great, great, great, isn't it? I suddenly feel very sick. She thinks... she thinks I'm molesting her Gryffindor, using him now, when Lupin is at his most vulnerable, with his last friend gone, and destroying his future with that annoying Metamorph.
I can't stand it. Throwing the spoon, I wrench myself out of the chair, mutter, "Thank you, it was delightful," and quickly walk to the exit. Good I haven't eaten anything, or I'd probably throw up.
"Severus?" I hear Lupin's voice, and a few seconds later another chair is shoved away, and steps are following me. But I'm faster and I'm not intending to stop.
A frightened house-elf bursts from under my feet and I shoo her away. She yelps, and her ears flutter in panic. I turn the corner, and Lupin's steps slow down.
It's McGonagall's voice; I curse to myself. The old meddling hag, it's strange how your one-time teacher can still make you feel like an eleven-year-old, even if you're thirty-seven and her colleague. She probably still feels responsible for her former students. Well, I'd never been her student anyway.
I know I should go - just as I've been doing - should walk away and spare myself from the indignity of eavesdropping. Not to mention hearing what a wrong person I am for her beloved Remus.
"Yes, Professor McGonagall?" he says.
I'm glued to my place; curiosity killed the cat, but who cares?
"Remus," she repeats, slightly out of breath, and suddenly I realize that her voice is furious. "I don't know what kind of games you're playing but I'm having none of that!"
Hmm. I have no idea what she's talking about - and judging by Lupin's wistful mumble, he doesn't either.
"I haven't expected this from you, Remus. I know your group sometimes went too far but you always seemed a soulful and compassionate child to me. It's such a disappointment to know that you're capable of cruelly exploiting another's feeling!"
Perfect; now Lupin will get lectured for slighting Tonks. At least he'll get lectured and not me.
"Professor..." he starts.
"What do you think you were you doing at the table? Does it mean what I thought it meant?"
There is a barely audible 'yes' - and here it goes:
"I don't know what idea you got into your head, Remus, but I've known Severus for ages and I won't let you play fast and loose with him! He deserves much better than being a reserve outlet for someone, or having half of your attentions. Yes, he seems to be impenetrable and cold, but can you imagine how much your games can hurt him?"
Oh Merlin, I gasp soundlessly. It can't be any worse. I won't live it down. Minerva McGonagall protecting my tender feelings against Lupin.
"It's unfair both towards Tonks and towards Severus, and I want you to think it over very carefully." Her voice doesn't allow any objections. "Honesty is always the best policy, and I want to be proud of you again, Remus. I want you to be proud of yourself."
Do all teachers always sound like they're in the classroom? I hope I don't.
Even if I realise I'm better off not knowing, I want to hear what Lupin will say.
"It's not what you think, Professor," he says. Merlin, give me strength to live through it, through this humiliation. How could I be such a stupid, stupid, hopeful idiot. "I know I need to talk to Tonks. It's just that everything happened so unexpectedly. I didn't want to hurt her. I'll try to explain her..."
I feel dizzy. So, he really means it? But what if I've interpreted his words wrong?
"Remus," Minerva says gently. "You mean you and Severus..."
No! Please! Nothing like 'a couple' or 'being together'!
I hear Lupin sigh heavily; he always sighs very eloquently. And then he mumbles, nearly unintelligibly but still possible to decipher:
Gasp. Severus swoons. The curtain drops.
I look at my calendar; big, red, bleeding letters there announce: "Time to brew Wolfsbane potion! Tame the wolf!" but it doesn't seem so very funny for me any more. Yet I feel rather relieved at having a task at hand. I go to my laboratory, and light up the fire, and start gathering ingredients; and this very comfortable routine is the best for keeping my mind blank.
I'm well into the second stage of brewing when hear a knock. Three more drops of lotus oil, and I go open the door.
Predictably, it's Lupin - looking rather worse for wear and unhappy. His eyes have this ill, clouded look in them that always makes me want to hit him; and at the same time, hold him, and never let anyone else touch him.
He sniffs the air and smiles wanly.
"Familiar smell... how much I like it."
"You don't have to like it, you just have to remember about it," I say sensibly.
He looks at me with narrowed eyes and shakes his head ruefully.
"I can't believe what a bore you are, Severus."
"Sorry for not being as much fun as your friends used to be."
Fantastic! You can win prizes, Severus, for how-to-end-any-conversation-in-a-quarrel-in-the-shortest-time. Lupin stares at me like I'm sprouting a second head - and then I fortunately remember about the Wolfsbane and make a quick pantomime of how I have to rush before it's boiled over - leaving him at the door so that he can go, and I won't have to look at it.
I concentrate on the potion and hear the door close - but I also hear approaching steps.
"Do you mind if I stay here for a while?" Lupin asks.
"No," I answer curtly and watch, askance, how he makes himself comfortable in the padded chair at the wall. For a few minutes there is just the potion bubbling in the cauldron and steady chopping sound of my knife.
"So..." Lupin says.
"I've talked to Tonks."
Why do I have to know about it, I want to ask but don't - and the truth is I figured it out when seeing him so downcast - and I need to know about it - because if he did that...
It's strange, that something of his business can be my business, too. I'm so used to being alone that it doesn't even want to settle in my mind, how it can be, not to be alone.
Oh Severus... don't deceive yourself. You are alone. The day when you trust Remus Lupin will be the end of you. He's a liar and mostly doesn't even notice it. Like when he was saying all those things to Potter and Company, in the Shrieking Shack. Being a werewolf, hiding it all his life, had made a liar from him.
And do you think he would be here if Sirius Black were alive?
The thought it so bitter that for a moment I'm incapable of anything; I just stand and stare at the knife in my hand.
He's a pack animal, definitely. Now that his pack is gone, he's looking for someone to replace it with. It just happened to be you.
But he... 'talked to Tonks', as he put it.
"And what result did this 'talking' have?" I ask without looking.
Damn, I sound like a jealous woman. I hate myself.
"Result?" He sounds puzzled. "I don't know. She said, 'It's not like I can stop you'."
I need to memorise it; never knew how to react when getting 'dear Severus' messages, not that I got any of them, Lupin will have the privilege of being the first.
"I feel like a bastard," he confesses.
"That's a new feeling for you?"
"Why, yes." He bristles up immediately and sneers - and somehow it eases up the tension. "But she really can do so much better than me, so, maybe, it's to the better that..."
And I can't do any better than you, I think looking at him. And it's fine with me.
It's fine with me, I keep thinking, as the potion keeps simmering and Lupin snuggles in the chair, pulling his legs up to his chest. His cheek rests on the back of his palm as he watches how I work. I wouldn't imagine that an adult man can wedge himself into such a small space, but Lupin seems to be full of surprises. Soon his eyelids become heavy, he blinks - and next time I look at him, he's dozed off.
I look at him - and I feel suffocated, my heart seems to be clenched so hard, as with iron hoops. His eyelashes are coloured unevenly, darker bronze at the eyelids and pale, almost golden on the ends - and there is a strand of grey hair falling across his eyes. He frowns and moves his hand unconsciously, as if trying to shake it away.
What am I doing? I'm scared, almost to dizziness, and again I repeat to myself what I shouldn't forget. It means nothing; I should believe in nothing; nothing is stable. Lupin just doesn't like to be alone - and I'm the only link to his past. It doesn't make him mine. Not at all.
I put the ladle on the table soundlessly and walk up to the chair. Lupin doesn't stir; his eyes under the pale eyelids move unceasingly as he dreams. I reach and pull the strand of hair away from his face.
Here; I've done it. Touched him - and he didn't know anything. It's funny, taking into account how much we touch each other, at night. But still there is something that makes me feel bold and daring in this gesture, makes me feel as if I tread the thinnest ice over deep waters.
And at the next moment the Mark sends a sharp twinge through my arm.
I clasp it trying to shush the pain - and my harsh movement makes Lupin stir and blink. I can see how his eyes become serious very quickly. He gets up.
"You have to go."
Stop hurting, damn thing, I've got it - I'm summoned.
It surprises me to see some strange, anguished expression in his eyes; like something bothers him - something he considers whether to say or not to say.
"The potion doesn't need my attention at the moment," I explain. "You can stay here - or go - whatever you want."
It sounds feeble.
"What's wrong, Lupin? You know what I am - it's not earth-shattering news that I was a Death Eater, and still play this part, so, stop pulling this face on me."
His gaze snaps. I compress my lips in disgust.
"For Merlin's sake, if it just dawned on you who you're dating, then by all means..."
"Just come back," he says quickly. "Just come back."
"Of course I will..." I start - and then it crashes down on me. He's... he's worried?
Tonight's agenda is Lucius Malfoy and how to get him out of Azkaban, taking into account that the son of a bitch refuses to escape, which would be easy, with half of the Dementors under 'our' control. But no, he doesn't want to be a fugitive - he wants to be acquitted. So the way to do it is through bribes and blackmail.
I think I would've respected Lucius for it, because choosing to stay in Azkaban, even if it's not as bad as before, is something. Had it not meant that the Dark Lord gets restless and irritated, and it is never good.
At least this time I escape unscathed, probably because Narcissa Malfoy, dressed cap-a-pie in black, which is probably intended to mean how much her husband's imprisonment grieves her, puts her arm through my elbow and walks me out of the hall. The Dark Lord is indulgent with her, no doubt in compassion with her loss.
"Severus, it's great to see you. Draco sends his regards - we just got his O.W.L.s last week - surely with the grades like that he takes the first place in his year?"
Merlin save me! I can't say I don't remember, but telling her the truth would not be pleasant either.
"Among Slytherins - yes."
"What do you mean, among Slytherins?"
She's like a leech, won't let me go.
"He's second on the whole, I think."
"And who's first?" Her pretty eyes narrow dangerously. "Some Ravenclaw?"
"A Gryffindor, actually. Hermione Granger."
"That Mudblood? How is it even possible?"
How? Oh my; she isn't stupid, is she? Why do I have to explain that? How is it possible... probably because Granger is so bright and hardworking - and Draco should pay less attention to his ambitions and more to actual work?
"You could fail her at potions," Narcissa says with charming ingenuousness. "And she wouldn't be the first."
"I don't grade O.W.L.s. The commission from the Ministry does it."
"Oh, whatever! You could give her expired ingredients, or something."
Please; can I have a round of Cruciatus with our Lord instead? She gives me a headache from hell.
"Well," she says finally. "I hope by the time of Draco's N.E.W.T.s there will be no Mudbloods at Hogwarts at all."
Fine, whatever. But as I hope the conversation is finally over, she latches onto my arm a little bit tighter and says in the sweetest voice:
"By the way, I can congratulate you, Severus, right? May the start of your new relationship be sunny."
I barely manage not to jerk away - go very quiet, even my heartbeat seems to slow down. A few moments more, and I find my voice.
"Thank you for your concern, Narcissa."
"But it makes me wonder that you've chosen a werewolf. What will our Lord say about it?"
How... how the fuck can she know? I'm sure not even everyone at Hogwarts knows it. It was only today that it became something definite.
Is there a spy at Hogwarts? Is there a spy apart from me, that is?
I file the information away for later consideration and give Narcissa a cool look.
"Will our Lord be concerned with my bed partners? I'm not going to marry Lupin and have children with him."
"You're immoral, Severus," she laughs.
Coming from her, it sounds almost sick. I recall her at school, her long golden braids always impeccably plaited, her hand in a small white glove on Lucius's forearm, like it now rests on mine. They both were almost scary in their perfection, when they started going out, in the seventh year - dazzling like a prince and a princess, or so it seemed to me, when I was twelve.
I would have done anything for Lucius then, anything he wanted - just to get an approving squeeze of his warm, strong hand on my shoulder.
Later the gilt came off, but I still feel sorry, sometimes, that I can't see Lucius with the same admiration any more. Perhaps I wish he will stay in Azkaban, and we'd never have to face each other again.
"Is he a good lay?" she asks.
"Oh yes," I grin. "I wouldn't put up with anything less."
Finally I'm free to go. My first stop at Hogwarts is with Albus, and I tell him about Narcissa's possession of information. I know my cheeks burn dully red as I pass her exact words but Albus fortunately doesn't make any fuss out of it. The hour is late, and I have no wish to answer questions about Lupin and me.
"A spy," he repeats and nods, and I'm left to wonder what it means. That he knows about it - or that he's completely puzzled with this information - or something else. "It's all right, Severus, you may go."
I walk up to my quarters and mutter:
"So, that's the new password."
The door to Lupin's rooms is ajar - and there I see him, leaning against the doorframe, looking strangely relaxed.
"I smelled you when you arrived," he says. "Hoped you wouldn't take long with Albus."
Why... I don't want to sound like a parrot, repeating this word, and there's nothing else I can say anyway, so I don't say anything, just stay standing in the doorway of my own rooms.
"You changed the password and I couldn't come in, so I had to wait so as not to miss you."
It sounds like he's going in circles, explaining this, but I feel petrified - don't move, don't answer. He comes into the corridor and approaches me.
"Can I come in now?"
I swallow and nod.
I freeze as he brushes against me, squeezing past me into the room. He's hot under his thin summer clothes but I still feel like a bucket of ice has been thrown at me. It seems impossible to unthaw and walk in.
"Severus?" he says.
No, don't say my name in such a voice, like you care, because it isn't so. I don't want to hurt, later, when I find out you don't care at all, because I know you don't. Witty, cool, loveable Remus Lupin cared for three people in the world - two of them dead and one turned a traitor - and I'm none of them, never have been.
It already hurts.
I shake my head and walk after him. As the door slides closed, cutting the light from the corridor, I realize we both are in nearly complete darkness.
"Lumos..." I start - and suddenly there is a palm covering my mouth, breaking the spell, leaving the darkness uninterrupted. Thin cool fingers let go of my mouth - and there is the other hand, touching my face carefully, tips of fingers running over my cheekbone.
I shudder involuntarily, as this very slight touch resounds through all my body - and an arm wraps around my waist, supporting me. It's warm and thin and strong - and the bony body leaning against me is hot and slight and intoxicating. How can his hands be so cold and his body so hot? I can't understand it but frankly, I'm not at my best now.
"Severus," a soft voice says against my ear. He touches me again, my face, my nose, my hair. "Are you tired?"
It's a pretty silly question, if I think about it - but somehow it doesn't sound silly. I wonder if he feels that I'm pushing towards his fingers a little, trying to catch their touch. I hope he doesn't.
"No," I say. "And you?"
We had never discussed things, our readiness, it was always non-verbal communication - but now we have to, and we find this way.
"I'm not," he says.
And then something warm and moist is against my mouth - and oh Merlin, it's his lips - and he's kissing me, licking my lips with his tongue, spreading them, letting his tongue slip in. I can't breathe - I can't believe it's happening, that it can be so... so... he tastes of milky coffee and peanuts, and I'm kissing him like mad, and I hope he doesn't want to break it because I won't let him go.
His wavy hair tangle a little as I run my fingers through it - it's soft and fine - and his skull bone is hard under my hand, his skin hot. He pulls me closer violently - and I can't describe how glad it makes me, because now I know he does want it, it's not me who's holding him in place by force. His skinny body wriggles against me, setting his erection against mine, rubbing. I hear him moan - and it means that I don't need to be ashamed to moan, too.
"Lupin..." I gasp as our lips break apart. "Please."
It's not like I know what I'm asking for; but he seems to understand. He yanks me with him, probably seeing quite well in the darkness - and we manage to reach the bed without destroying much furniture on our way. Lupin's hands jerk my collar fastener open, at the expense of several buttons - but who cares? His hands are hot now, burning so, as he fumbles with my shirt, opening it finally - and leans down, and his mouth fastens on my nipple.
Damn... damn, damn, damn... I whimper without any dignity - but fuck dignity; I seem to black out for a moment - because next thing I remember is being on my back, in bed - and Lupin crouches over me, and his mouth is doing this painful, killingly delightful thing with my nipples, one and the other - and I think I'll start screaming if he doesn't stop... please, please don't stop...
He doesn't - and I yelp - and stick my teeth into the back of my palm to keep quiet even as my body buckles and arches towards him. He looks up suddenly - and my hand is pulled away from my mouth.
"No one will hear, all the same..." he breathes out, his voice hoarse.
And that means I can shriek like a cat in heat? Well, that's surely what I want to do. My eyes have got used to the darkness a little - and now I can see how his eyes glimmer under the long eyelashes. He kisses me again, on the mouth - just one sloppy kiss - and then clamps his teeth on my nipple again.
Merlin, I want him to never stop. How could I live without it... how will I be able to live without it? His erection humps against my leg - and then he reaches under the layers of my clothes to my groin - and I feel fireworks going off in my head. My whole world seems to be reduced to his palm on my cock and his mouth sucking on my nipples.
And then he lets me go - and shifts - and I don't have time to wonder why - when his hot mouth engulfs my cock.
Sweet Merlin! Is it humanly possible to feel so good? Or am I dying? I think I come almost immediately as soon as he takes me in his mouth - but the climax itself lasts and lasts until I feel everything in me is turning inside out. I mewl and whimper and shiver and keep coming - and only when I slump bonelessly on the bed, spent, I feel that Lupin keeps licking the head of my cock.
Dear me; I've come in his mouth. I've... well, that's the first time for me. Not that he should know. Not that I would ever be able to forget.
He lets my cock out of his mouth - and I feel slightly cool air as his saliva dries on the length of the shaft - but he still laps lazily on the head of it - and I'm getting tense. Does he like it? He behaves like he does but... I don't know, we hadn't done anything like this before, and I'm not sure, what if it was so terrible for him that I won't be able to make it up for him?
"Lupin?" I reach my hand carefully and find his head. He butts in my palm a little. "What do you want me to do?"
"Not to call me by my surname," he says. "At least not in bed."
"That's fine." I don't let myself get distracted. "I meant... as reciprocation."
"Hmm... will fist-fucking be all right with you?" And before I react, he adds. "You're such a baby, Severus, sometimes."
He rises up and stretches along me, on his belly, partly lying against my chest. He's still dressed, I realize with chagrin. So am I - except in strategic places. Lupin raises himself on his palms set on the sides of my head - and then presses his mouth to mine.
The taste is shockingly bitter and salty, and I suddenly know very well what I want to do with him. I want his cock in my mouth, I want him clench his fists on the sheet, bucking and shuddering, I want his sperm flooding my mouth.
"Remus," I say, touching his face carefully.
He's very still under my hand but I can feel how his body, pressing to mine, trembles very faintly. His cock is hard and very hot squeezed against my hip. For a moment more I look at him, and I think that I will remember his pale face in the grey twilight, the round hard line of his eye-socket under my fingers, the soft strand of hair that falls over my hand better than anything from many years of my life until now.
I haven't known it could be like this; I wasn't prepared. How could I be... it had been so much easier when he was just Remus Lupin I detested, a stranger. I know it won't ever be like that again. Everything changed - and it's not good - but I don't have any power over it. It's like taking the Dark Mark - once it's there, it can't be undone. I can't undo what's happening now either.
I wonder if Lupin knows what he's done to me.
"What?" he asks and turns his face slightly and his lips brush against my palm. I move, roll over him, and kiss him, and he starts making these little funny whining noises that go through my whole body, making me clench in delight.
He spreads his legs readily, eagerly as I start pulling the fly of his pants - and finally his hot and smooth shaft is in my hand, and he thrashes a little. I had held it so many times, squeezed it, run my palm along it - but I don't remember being so... enraptured with it. I dip my head towards it and feel the hot blunt tip slide past my lips. It's wet and tastes slightly bitter and I go down, as far as I can. He shoves his hips up, frantically, and gasps - and yes, his fists are crumpling the sheet desperately.
"Yes," he says, his voice low and harsh. "Oh yes, please..."
And a few thrusts later I feel a gush of fluid spurt into my mouth, thick and bitter and hot, and I swallow it finding the taste strangely enjoyable... but the real fascination is in what it does to Lupin. He half-rises on the bed, his eyelids fluttering, and he freezes, almost as in a convulsion. Then he falls back and gasps most pitifully.
His pubic hair is very curly and brownish - the colour of the darkest strands of his hair. I finger it slightly as his cock softens.
"Severus." He pulls me up; his arms are slack and lazy as he holds me in a loose embrace. "I really don't think I can undress. Do you know some spell?"
"Only if you don't want to see your clothes again."
"All right," he mumbles and snuggles his face against my neck.
He's asleep in seconds. I decide to stay with him for a while and then get up, take off his clothes, but not sleep any more myself, since the day has already almost started.
Too bad - because when I close my eyes, reality starts blurring immediately and I vaguely realize that I will hardly be able to do all those useful, sensible things. And I don't care.
He's witnessed almost the whole brewing process of Wolfsbane potion - and when he finally gets the goblet and gulps it, he has the good grace not to wince and gag.
"I think I'm getting used to the taste."
"Good for me - you'll probably stop whining about it now."
"I don't whine!" He straightens, looking insulted - and then chuckles. I bite the inside of my lip to keep myself from thinking how addictive this sound is - how I might wish to hear it again and again.
We spend every night in my bed; it seems I underestimated my sexual drive. For years I considered it a pleasant but dispensable activity. Bad judgement, Severus, as usual.
Our hands fumble against each other in the darkness, and his mouth, hot and greedy, covers mine, his teeth clamping on my lower lip not quite gently. It's a strangely pleasurable feeling to have it always slightly swollen, to touch it with my tongue by day and recall Lupin's harsh, devouring kisses. Could I ever think I would find something enticing in having his marks on me?
After our bodies part, we lie next to each other, and I listen to how his breath slows down, and sometimes we talk. It's strange how many things one can say in the darkness.
He spends quite a lot of time in my laboratory or quarters by day, too. I always thought something like that should be annoying. I don't like to be bothered - and Lupin, though quiet, isn't someone you can ignore. I don't know why he doesn't annoy me. Well, not too much, anyway. Not so much that I would want him to go; not yet.
I really don't want him to go, I realize suddenly. I don't want to part with him for those three nights of the full moon. It seems unfair, makes me illogically, passionately angry. Why does he have to go? Why can't he stay in my bed, like always... even if this 'always' is just ten days or so long.
I can see the approach of full moon in Lupin, too. He's getting restless and has a really unhealthy look, with purplish shadows under his eyes and a thin vein pulsing on his temple. But it's even clearer in his eyes - ill, tired, suffering eyes of someone doomed.
Seeing this expression in his eyes makes want to kiss it out but it's not possible - and then I start wanting to hit something, a wall with my hand, but it won't help. It makes me furious to know that there is nothing I can do. At least with Wolfsbane he won't be hurting himself, there won't be new scars added to the ropy traces covering his limbs and body.
He takes his last goblet of the potion before the change and nods to me.
"See you in the morning, Severus."
I feel my heart speed up, hammering in my chest. I think I know what I must do. Black and Potter and Pettigrew used to be with him at those times; Black was with him last year. And I...
I can't. I just can't.
I suppose Lupin doesn't expect it from me, it even doesn't occur to him, while I struggle with blinding terror that seizes me.
I can't. I had seen him, like this, twenty years ago... but it was not him... and if I see him now, I won't be able to think it was not him. Analytically, for me to deny this part of him would be like him trying to deny that I have the Dark Mark on my arm.
But I can't stay with him.
All right; I'm not a Gryffindor. I'll desert Lupin on these nights.
"See you," I echo faintly and the door closes after him.
As on a clue, the Mark starts burning and throbbing, and I think that here it is, the choice is taken away from me - but it's a weak justification since I know I've made my choice earlier. I walk out of Hogwarts grounds and Apparate.
I Apparate back in the small hours and walk mechanically to Albus's study. I always report to him immediately when I arrive, no matter what time it is - and it is so drilled into me that I can do it even when my body feels almost detached from my mind.
The Headmaster, in a blinding red robe embroidered with smiling moons, makes me sit down and forces a cup of tea into my hand. I gulp on it and wince, scalding my palate. But it also serves me right because I finally find my voice.
"Karkaroff is dead."
Albus's face doesn't change, is attentive and patient - and I start talking, tell him that the reason for tonight's gathering was to show us the dead body of the fugitive.
He's already dead as we crowd around him - fortunately, the Dark Lord didn't require us to participate in the execution. The bearded face of Karkaroff is very pale, and an ugly grimace of agony is etched into it. And when I glance down, I do a double-take at his body.
"Do you know what killed him, Severus?" the Dark Lord asks almost conversationally. I swallow and nod and find my voice only seconds later.
Organ-growing solution. Its effects can be directed at any organ, making it bloat and strengthening the upper layers of cells.
Karkaroff's lungs and liver stick out of his body, in a mess of broken ribs and ruptured skin and muscles - as if the insides of a giant were attached to his body. A female Death Eater is throwing up in the distance.
"Thank you for brewing it, Severus," the Dark Lord says. "Yes, it's one of those you made fifteen years ago. Isn't it satisfying to see that some things never get stale?"
I look at Karkaroff again. He used to be a big man - but now he, at least his face, looks diminished, cheeks haggard - as though he were starving. His fingernails are long and dirty. It appears that he was kept imprisoned for a while before death.
I didn't know about it. The Dark Lord couldn't do it on his own; someone had to help. Who are his trusted servants now?
And what other information escapes me?
"Igor thought he could run away from me," the Dark Lord continues sententiously. "He thought he could hide and I would forget about his transgression. But I forget nothing. Neither those who betray me, nor those who serve me loyally. Narcissa..."
He offers his arm to her and she accepts it, and he starts telling her something, probably about Lucius.
"So," Albus says, "there is a circle of Death Eaters even closer to Voldemort - and you're not a part of it, right, Severus?"
Telling the truth, in a way I'm glad I'm not a part of it - otherwise I would probably have to participate all the way in capturing and torturing Karkaroff. I immediately castigate myself for these thoughts, though. Not being in the 'inner circle' means that I bring less information than I could.
"All right, Severus," Albus says tiredly and brushes a hand over his face. "We shall discuss it at the meeting. Now let's have some sleep while we can."
I don't think I can sleep. The results of Incumbolus are really ugly. And Karkaroff... He was a patented arsehole, and not even a likeable one - but I remember how we spent a couple of weeks on his estate in Russia, in winter of 1979 - me, Lucius, Rosier and someone else, Avery, maybe. It was bitterly cold and no one ever shot anything, hunting, except for Karkaroff himself. And he was so proud of it, showing his trophies on and on... looking like a trained bear begging for a treat... And he had this habit of telling dirty jokes, when drunk - and the drunker he was, the dirties the jokes became... but some of
them were funny, too...
I remember his terrified, disbelieving look as he showed me his burning mark - as if asking me to reassure him.
Strange, I didn't even like him. But now I feel a loss. I feel... as if we had something in common, maybe, more in common that with those who sit next to me at the meetings of the Order. He was a part of my past, like Lucius, like Evan Rosier - and I can't help feeling as if pieces of it are getting torn out, with every death.
I didn't even like him... I wonder suddenly, for the first time, how it must've been for Lupin, when his friends were gone.
Lupin; he's someone else who doesn't get any sleep tonight.
I walk down to the dungeons, go past my door and stop in front of Lupin's quarters. It's quiet and dark behind it, a Silencing Charm, no doubt. I've never once heard anything from his quarters during his transformations.
I raise my hand but I know how stupid it is, so I don't knock. Instead, I slip down on the floor and press my back to the door. Somewhere behind it, even though I can't hear it, I know there is Lupin, trapped in his changed body, waiting for the night to end. The stone floor under me is icy cold, even in summer, but I find it unimportant. Maybe, enjoyable. I put my forehead on my crossed wrists and wait, too.
I don't know how long I stay like this; the lights in the corridor don't change indicating the time of day. But all of a sudden I hear a soft click of the opening lock behind my back. I get up awkwardly and stare at the door. My brain is sluggish and confused; there is fear, instinctive, seeped in my bones, but I also know I will come in, despite anything. I want to come in; isn't that why I've spent the night here?
I push the door and it opens quietly; Lupin's room is greyish with dim lights and I squint trying to discern things. He's lying across the bed, over the covers, like a grasshopper with his long bare legs and arms pulled to his chest. He struggles to raise his head but it flops back; he blinks, and a faint smile appears on his lips.
"I felt you sitting there," he says, and lets the wand slip out of his hand.
I walk up to his bed and pull the blanket from under him, put it over him - and then, after a moment of hesitation, slip in with him, under the same blanket. Lupin stirs minutely, pressing against me, and whispers half-coherently: "Yes, cold," - and falls into oblivion almost immediately.
His limbs are sticky with drying sweat and his hair is moist, too, and I press my lips to his skull. He's in my arms, thin and hard and exhausted, and he unconsciously tries to press even closer to me - and in that, there is something so sweeping, something that breaks through all my defences and goes straight to my heart.
He isn't mine and will never be - but at these moments I want to do everything to protect him... and in a way, it makes him mine.
I wake up as his lips brush against mine; not pressing, just touching slightly, briefly - then again and again, small fluttering kisses, more like hints of them. I think he knows I'm not sleeping any more - my breathing got off key - but I keep pretending, and he keeps pretending he doesn't notice. Then he blows slightly on my lips and I can't help smiling, and Lupin loses all the subtlety, throws himself on me, plaits his fingers through my hair and uses his thumbs to raise my eyelids.
I snort and he kisses me again.
"Good to see you feel better."
"Yes, I do," he agrees, and nibbles my lower lip. I hook my arms around his waist and we roll over on the bed until I'm on top.
He looks ruffled and wan as I look down at him, his hair limp and tangled and his mouth has these painful lines around it. But his hips already push against me insistently.
And then, with a huge noise, his fireplace comes to life.
We shrink back from each other, looking like students caught making out, and stare at Albus's serious face. He doesn't look shocked or even surprised.
"Sorry for bothering you. Remus, would you come to my office now? There is some urgent business."
"Of course, Headmaster."
He gets up, puts a quick Cleaning Charm on himself and dresses. His eyes are concerned - well, Albus wouldn't put it like that if it was not something really serious.
Lupin leans towards me for a rather awkward kiss.
"I hope I'll be back soon."
"All right." I sigh. I wish he didn't have to go.
He's back about an hour later. I'm already in my quarters, perusing the list of potions Poppy required for the infirmary; he enters and I look up at him.
Lupin's eyes are red and puffy - and he looks like... yes, like he was crying. I get up quickly, shocked mute for a moment with it. If anything, I always thought he had self-control I could envy - didn't let anything touch him too deeply.
He looks at me like he doesn't quite know what to do, then raises his hand awkwardly and pulls some wispy strands over his face as if trying to hide it. I wish... I wish I could be different, could come up to him and hug him and ask what was wrong - in such a way that he would answer. But instead of it, I just stand and gape at him. Some more hair is pulled over his eyes.
"They found Sirius's will," he says. "It turned out he made one. This winter."
His voice breaks on something that is not quite laughter, and the sound makes me feel cold. He doesn't look at me, doesn't look anywhere as he continues:
"Gave it to his attorney at Gringotts, and he contacted Albus because he didn't know where to find me and... He left everything to me and Harry... everything... the house, money."
I don't know what to say. 'Oh, that's good news' would be awfully inconsiderate, even if it is good news, taking into account Lupin's financial position. It's not as though he even had anywhere to go, once the vacations at Hogwarts are over. I have a terrible wish to say: 'Once in his life Black did something sensible' - and bite my tongue to keep it.
"He used to say I don't need to worry where to live, not any more. I thought he meant I was welcomed in his house. But why did he make his will? Did he think he might die or something? No, he couldn't - I mean he didn't want to die, it just happened..."
He's rambling - and it makes me do what I didn't know how to do before. I walk up to him and put my arms around him.
I think it's a terribly showy gesture and I'm afraid he'll hate it - but Lupin's hands clench on my robes and pull me closer; his hot forehead burns against my shoulder even through the layers of cloth.
"Why did he do it?" he mutters. "I miss him so much... so much... we didn't have enough time with each other."
I go rigid and can't help it - my hatred of Black goes much deeper than my consciousness - but fortunately Lupin doesn't notice it. He holds on me and mumbles something else, so softly I can't figure it out - but probably it's some more stuff about Black.
Oh Merlin; just an hour and a half ago everything was so good. And now Lupin is a wreck, and I feel like a bastard, suppressing my anger instead of being glad that Lupin will finally be better off. It's an egoistic wish but I would prefer Albus had never appeared in that fireplace.
Great; it'll make you happy, Severus, if Lupin spends another year hand-to-mouth... just so that everything was like before.
But he isn't happy either, is he?
A little while later he pulls himself together, straightens and says in a more normal, just slightly stiff voice:
"Of course, we won't be able to use the property openly, while Sirius is still considered a fugitive and isn't even admitted dead. But Albus's has already started the process, to clear his name posthumously... and he says since there is the will, we can live in the house, Harry and I."
I nod; that's right. With the will, the house will let them in, since they are lawful heirs. I still remember the fuss that was there after Black's death, when the house blocked the doors and didn't allow anyone to enter to take the hippogriff, Buckbeak. Only Albus managed that - and only once.
"Albus says I should go there," Lupin continues and his voice gradually comes back to normal, calm. "To see how everything is. Maybe you could go with me?"
"No!" I answer immediately and forcibly, terrified with the prospect. Lupin shakes his head slightly.
"I thought so. Sorry for asking."
If only he said something else, in a little bit different tone, less calm... Right; he didn't expect me to be with him in that. He will cope by himself, alone. Like he used to be alone in everything.
I clench in shame and can't make myself look at him - and then I finally force the words out of my mouth, with a distinct sensation of falling.
"All right. I'll go with you."
Black's house is murky and cold inside - a nearly shocking contrast when we step in from the bright hot day. It smells of emptiness and grime, and the thick swirls of dust in the rays of the sun falling in through the slits in the boarded up windows look like shadowy fingers stretching towards anyone who moves.
"Lumos," Lupin says.
It looks just a little better this way. And immediately the portrait of Black's mother starts screaming.
Her voice is so piercing it hurts to hear it, and her ranting - mixed curses and wails that 'her posterity is extinguished' - is quite eerie. When she recognises us and start in on our attributes, from werewolves to 'destitute scum who shouldn't be allowed to set foot into respectable houses' - and when Lupin just stands and listens to her, I come up and throw the cover over it, putting a sticking charm to make it stay in place. From experience, I know it won't help for long - but I hope it will last till the moment we leave.
"You'll have to do something with her," I say. "She can drive anyone mad."
"Yes," he says and, curiously, smiles a little.
This dreamy smile wanders on his lips almost all the time as he walks around the house - and as strange as it looks, I think I understand what is happening in his head. He tries to remember good things, maybe how Black and he talked in the evenings, shared a bottle of firewhiskey. It is his coping mechanism, the one that helps him survive.
We are half-way up the stairs, when with a crash the fireplace spits out, one after one, three skinny figures and one that's big and plump. Lupin freezes for a moment and then rushes down the stairs.
"Harry! Hermione! Ron! Molly!"
Yes, that's them all right - they shake the soot off their clothes, and Molly pats Lupin on the back in a motherly way, and Lupin stares at Harry and makes a small movement as if he wants to touch him but doesn't dare - and then Harry throws his arms around him.
And I want to be anywhere but here.
They are so loud, talking all at once. It seems there is an awful lot of them, not just five people. I carefully try to lull my starting headache and hope that, maybe, I'll be able to blend into the shadows and they won't notice me.
Molly Weasley is the first who raises her eyes to the stairs and gasps. There are such mixed emotions in her gaze - censure and wonder and upset disbelief; I have faced it quite a few times by now, at the meetings of the Order. Oh, and she also usually holds Tonks's hand at the same time then - like the Metamorph is ill.
Eventually social skills prevail and she says:
"Good afternoon, Professor."
It makes the annoying children look up at me as well - and I can see clearly how Potter goes white, even under the layer of soot. They mutter incoherently something that has to pass for a greeting - and I answer them along the same lines. The young Weasley's remark, "What the fuck's he doing here?" sounds much clearer.
What, indeed! Good deeds are punishable, I muse, while Lupin takes Potter and others on the tour downstairs - or whatever they are doing, walking together and talking. I try to steer clear from them and pretend I'm engrossed in the ornaments on the walls.
I shouldn't have come here. I should go now. But a stupid part of my brain tells me that it'll be cowardice, that I can't let a bunch of kids drive me away from here.
Granger and Weasley lose interest in me soon but Potter sometimes turns and looks at me, and his animosity is palpable then. I glare back; oh really, does he think I can't stand a few hateful looks?
Well - and Lupin throwing those grateful glances at me is also good for my self-esteem.
They move to the basement and I don't, but when I hear screams and something being thrown, or falling, I rush down, against my better judgement.
They are crowded in front of a small room that seems so cluttered with what looks like rubbish to me that it's overflowing - and Potter is shaking a shabby, bedraggled house-elf and yelling at him incoherently.
"He... there... he should be dead... the fuckin', fuckin' shit should be dead... should rot in Azkaban... why did they let him go..."
"Harry, Harry, please," Granger pulls by his arm, looking tremendously upset. Of course, Potter doesn't pay any attention. Kreacher dangles in his grip like a rag doll.
"He killed Sirius! It's all his fault! I'll kill him!"
"No, you won't," finally says Lupin. "You're not a murderer."
For a moment Potter stops shaking the house-elf and glares at Lupin.
"Yeah? You think so? I guess I should start training and everything."
But his violent fit seems to be over. He throws Kreacher on the floor, and the house-elf, instead of disappearing, straightens and eyes him with hatred. Potter runs a hand through his hair, making his scar flash for a moment - and his words sound weak with exhaustion.
"Make him go away. I can't look at him."
"He belongs to this house," Granger says quietly, and Potter perks up.
"Really?" He suddenly moves feverishly, kicking off his shoe, and bounces on one foot, rolling down his sock. "Not any more, then! Take it, take it, you shit!" he throws the sock at Kreacher's face. "Go away, it's my house now!"
The house-elf looks kind of stunned, his bony fingers clenched on the sock, and he seems to be hyperventilating. Then, without a word, he pops out.
Granger squeezes Potter's forearm slightly, and everyone is silent. I think I feel some kind of reluctant respect for the boy. And then Potter makes a small sound in his throat, like a sob - and his gaze falls on me.
And he yells again:
"And you too! Go away, how dare you come here?! You hated Sirius, what are you doing in his house?!"
"Harry," Lupin says, very upset, but his voice is so mild I don't suppose Potter hears it, "I..."
Weasley shoves Potter in the side, and Granger pulls him by the arm, loudly whispering something in his ear that includes 'N.E.W.T.s' and 'potions' and 'Aurors'.
"AND I DON'T CARE!" Potter screams. "I don't want to be an Auror! I won't set foot into his class! If he had helped us, Sirius would be alive! It's his fault Sirius is dead!"
I can't help it; the words break from my lips before I have time to think.
"Yes, Potter. It's all someone else's fault. Keep repeating it - and maybe it will help you to forget whose fault it really is."
The boy makes a small choking sound; all the blood drains from his face and he suddenly looks very young, younger even than his age. His eyes behind the ugly round glasses blink defencelessly.
I can't believe it... did no one tell him this before?
But probably not; they all tried to spare him, told him, on the contrary, he shouldn't have blamed himself... why does everyone coddle him, protecting him from the consequences of his actions?
I feel four other pairs of eyes staring at me, apart from Potter's. There is such complete silence that I can hear water dripping somewhere in the kitchen.
"What?" I snap.
But I know what - and anger surges through me, making me see red. I don't want to hear what they'll say - what a git and a monster I am, how can I be so insensitive. I turn and walk upstairs and to the Floo, grab some powder blindly and say:
It is one hour till the sunset when I hear a knock on the door of my laboratory. I come up and open it silently; Lupin looks wistfully at me and steps in.
"Your potion." I shove the goblet into his hand.
"Yes, thank you." He drinks it and I can't stop looking at how his pale throat works in the opened collar of his shirt. He puts the goblet on the edge of the table and wipes his mouth against the back of his palm.
He looks like he wants to tell me something - and I have the most distinct feeling I don't want to hear it.
"I'm not sorry for saying it, Lupin."
He sighs - and looks at me as if he hoped I would say something else. But how could he - doesn't he know me? Doesn't he know what I am? I know I shouldn't say anything else, I'm doing everything wrong - but something pulls in me, making me spill the words.
"The boy needs to hear the truth from time to time - to lose his illusions of righteousness."
"Severus," Lupin says softly, as if I'm a child who needs the simplest things to be spelled out for him. "Sometimes a truth can hurt too much... unjustifiably so."
Was what I said unjustified? Red stains start floating in front of my eyes as anger fills me again. So, he could yell at me and throw at my face that I killed Black - and I couldn't even...
"He's still a child, Severus. He's just sixteen."
And that gets to me.
"Just a child? Just sixteen? Isn't that what Dumbledore said when your precious friends tried to kill me, Lupin? No one took amends with me when I was a child! And now everyone is fawning over Potter like everyone was fawning over his father and Black! Very convenient, isn't it - to have a double standard. One way for you and your friends, and another for those who don't belong to your circle of the chosen!"
Very good, Severus, you're squealing like a woman - and spitting, too. No wonder Lupin looks at me like I'm doing something disgraceful.
It's terrible; I can't stop.
"This is what you really are, Lupin! You don't care whatever happens to the others - as long as you and your beloved friends have the high moral ground! And scum like me can be insulted and mistreated and bullied - and why not murder me? It will make things easier for everyone - and your friends and supporters will stop scowling at you!"
Now even I can't make sense out of my speech. But what is worse, much, much worse - is how something starts shutting in Lupin's eyes.
"You never let anything go, Severus," he says flatly. "I thought we were past it, what Sirius did over twenty years ago. He's dead now, for Merlin's sake."
"Potter will successfully replace him, judging on how he's going," I say coldly. Lupin's hazel eyes flash - and suddenly become yellow in anger as he answers, enunciating the words.
"No one can replace Sirius. He was the best friend I've ever had."
Oh yes, right. Especially not Severus Snape.
As if I ever wanted to do it.
"Then you probably should go and enjoy the fruits of his last generosity," I say nastily. I know it's nasty and I shouldn't have said that... I really don't know where to stop.
He looks as if I've struck him. Then he looks as if he wants to strike me. But he does neither; after a few seconds of silence, the red stains of anger on his cheeks fade. His voice sounds hollow and cold.
"I was wrong when I thought it could work out." And a moment later he adds. "I was wrong when I thought I knew you, Severus."
"Why not call me 'Snivellus'?" I shoot at him. "Come on, do it, make Black's spirit glad."
He doesn't answer, just turns and walks out, closing the door after himself carefully. And the light click of the lock, I know, signifies the very end of our relationship.
Thank you, Severus; no one can drive a person away like you. Fantastic ability! Record time - and one hundred percent success. You could write a manual: 'How to drive away the only person who could put up with you, and spend all your life alone'. I hope you feel happy now. No, you don't? Why is that? You definitely tried very hard.
I bite my lip to stifle a sound of very harsh and out-of-place laughter - and do it so hard that it suddenly starts bleeding. I wipe my chin with the back of my palm and look dumbly at the empty goblet on the table.
So... we're back where we had been, Lupin and I, before everything. Only now I know how his lips taste after he drinks Wolfsbane.
I know I won't sleep by myself, so I down a vial of Dreamless Draught - don't like it, it makes me feel in the morning as if I haven't slept at all. But the alternative is to toss and turn in bed the whole night re-playing the conversation - and I refuse to do it. I refuse to take the blame when I did nothing wrong.
The next day I lock myself in the laboratory and decide I will not answer any knocks. Only no one knocks. Lupin meant it seriously, didn't he? He's broken it off.
I hate Harry Potter.
Forty minutes till the sunset, and my patience has run out. Tonight is the third night of the full moon - and he needs his potion. What game is he playing?
If he's so proud to come for it - I'll do it myself. I grab the goblet and drum on Lupin's door.
"Come in." His voice is an apotheosis of calmness - and it makes me feel like a bucket of cold water is poured over me. I shudder and feel hot at the next moment, then cold again... and I hate myself so bitterly for it. Look at Lupin; that's how you should feel, Severus. Meaning 'shouldn't feel at all'.
Get over it; everything's ended. It'll certainly make your life easier.
I enter and see him in the armchair, with a big volume on his lap. His hand goes still, turning a page, and he looks up at me.
Him I hate, too.
And it is such a draining feeling that I swallow my tirade about his disregard of safety of those around him. His eyes are so serene; he doesn't care what I will say. When did he care? When did he care whatever happened to me, whether I live or die? I always was just a stranger for him, someone completely dispensable.
I think it would be better if he openly hated me, like Black and Potter. But he simply... doesn't care.
"Wolfsbane, Lupin." I put it on the table.
"Thank you," he acknowledges with a curt nod and lowers his eyes to the book again. The page rustles faintly, turning.
Don't stand here, don't wait - just go, Severus, please go... But before I force myself to walk out, I have time to notice a ragged suitcase thrown on the floor, open - and Lupin's meagre possessions half-packed into it.
Oh yes, that's right. Now that he has the house, he doesn't need to overstay Albus's hospitality. What else did I expect?
I knew he would leave; sooner or later - and the summer is in its last third; but I didn't know it would happen so soon! I am not ready to it.
So. Get ready now, Severus.
I walk out without looking back.
Lupin moves to Black's house next day - and from the rumours I hear during meals, Potter and his friends are spending the last two weeks of the summer there, too. I hope Potter will fall down the stairs and break his neck. Or something.
Then Albus informs us that, since Lupin offered the use of Number Twelve at Grimmauld Place as headquarters again, the next meeting of the Order will be held there.
I can stand it; what's not to stand there? We just sit at the table, like we did a year ago, discussing things. I don't look at Lupin; that is, I do - my scowl is trained to perfection and comes off automatically. But I don't see him. I don't want to wonder if he already made up with the Tonks girl, or if he looks happy. It's bad enough to hear his voice as he says nonchalantly that Lady Black has a habit of visiting the portraits in his bedroom at night and, of course, uses this opportunity to notify him of her opinions about his
genealogy, appearance and manners.
I don't want to know if he ever looks at me; if he ever thinks about me. I don't care. It's over.
I need to move on with my life.
My life, that makes an unexpected flip when one twilight evening in the end of August, Alastor Moody appears in the hall where we sit and talk, closely followed by two surly-looking aurors. Their hands lie on the handles of the wands as if they're ready to be attacked.
"Gentlemen," Albus says, getting up on his feet.
"It's what I told you about, Albus," Moody says darkly. "Three of my people are dead - and I won't tolerate it any more."
Oops; surprise, surprise - the wands are flipped out - and who do you think they're pointed at? Right, at yours truly. I have an almost unbearable wish to yank out my own and see who's better at curses - but Albus shoots a look and me and snaps, as if he knows what I think:
"Sit down, Severus. It is a misunderstanding. Sit down, everyone."
His voice is steel-hard - and the noise that rose a moment ago suddenly goes down. But of course I can feel their eyes on me.
"Misunderstanding, my arse," Moody says bitterly. "He's a traitor and you know it."
Strange... I had imagined this scene so often - only it always happened on the other side, in front of the Dark Lord, and it was Dolohov or McNair throwing the accusation at me. It almost feels like I'm in the middle of a dream - so unrealistic does it all seem.
"You don't have any proof," Albus says.
Now, now, who needs a proof when it comes to Severus Snape.
"I am going to prove it. That's why I'm taking him with me."
A shiver goes through me, like very cold fingers touching my back, and I can't deny that it's fear. Mind-numbing terror, more like. I don't want to go with Moody; I don't want to go to Azkaban. I'm not sure I'll ever get out if I do. Albus got me out once; what if this time, he doesn't?
"I don't think you're taking Severus anywhere," Albus says, in a quite unperturbed voice. "I think I'd rather ask your companions to leave us. If you are so concerned with the safety of information, Alastor, you shouldn't have brought them here."
"I trust them as much as I trust myself," Moody grumbles. "They've been at my side for ages."
That's true; I know at least one of them, tall, with very short-cropped hair and a scarred face. Fifteen years ago his face was slightly less scarred; I think he recognises me, too.
And that's when I have a full-scale panic attack. Fuck them, I'm not going to go through it again! Veritaserum, and the damned chair with damned chains that leave your wrists broken after a round of Cruciatus because you thrash and it doesn't let you go... and 'What do you mean you want to sleep? We haven't been sleeping, too, for the whole night'. Yes, only they change shifts by day.
I don't want it! I've had enough shit in my life - I won't let them take me away, I decide. They can 'Avada Kedavra' me right in place - or I'll do it to them.
"Will anyone explain me what happened?" Tonks asks in her high voice - and curiously, Moody reacts.
"What's to explain here? It's pretty simple. Our spy here was not really our spy - but You-Know-Who's spy."
Sort of complicated, isn't it? I should take notes, not to forget for whom I am spying now.
"We noticed in June," Moody continues, "that information was leaking. I told you, Albus, about it, I told you it was him! And now three of my men are dead - remember the mission we discussed two weeks ago? They were ambushed - who could know they would be there?"
"Calm down, Alastor, please," Albus says, with a sigh, and I can clearly see how his face gets older and more tired. "You don't know Severus is involved. I trust him."
"Bully for you! I don't."
"He did warn us that Voldemort apparently has another spy in Hogwarts."
"How clever! Scream louder than anyone that there is another spy - deflect suspicions when the shit hits the fan!"
"Language, Alastor, there are ladies here."
The ladies - Molly and Tonks - stare at me; I can feel their gazes even without looking. Well, I don't think Moody needs to prove to them that I'm a traitor. I surely look like one to them.
It makes me sick, sick and scared; that's right, I'll always be a Death Eater for them, no matter what I've done, what I'll do. How did Black put it? 'I don't care if Dumbledore thinks you've reformed, I know better -' They all will jump at the chance to prove they all knew better about me.
And I'm not certain Albus is so sure of me, after all.
"If Snape is not a traitor," Moody snaps an ace out of his pocket, "then who is, Albus? Maybe, you? Or you, Molly?" he looks at her. "Or you, Lupin? Or you, Tonks? Or me?"
Indeed; I feel another shiver going through my body and struggle to suppress it, clench my teeth, tasting blood from the bitten-through lip.
"Someone is passing our secrets to You-Know-Who - and if you can explain to me, Albus, who can do it better than someone who has weekly rendezvous with his 'Dark Lord', I'll surely hear you out."
That doesn't sound well - I can feel it in the air. When Moody puts it like that, it means that Albus should call someone else a traitor, if it's not me. And who would like that?
So, I guess you should eat what's dished for you, Severus.
"And if you don't have anything to say, Albus, then let my people do their work."
I jerk instinctively for my wand.
"Expelliarm..." the aurors start.
"Impedimenta!" Albus yells but, unbelievably, it isn't directed at me. My wand stays in my fist. "I told you to sit down, Severus."
The aurors pick themselves up from the floor, looking groggy and unhappy. Moody, with his round eye rolling in its socket, reminds me a big angry bird, a marabou maybe, ready to peck Albus on the head.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"I think we all need to discuss things calmly, Alastor," Albus says amiably. "I admit that you are right, there can be no double interpretation - someone is passing the secrets of the Order to Voldemort. But I also insist that Severus couldn't betray us."
"Perhaps," says Fletcher, "he acts under Imperius."
I feel impotent rage rising in me. They don't even doubt it's me; not 'someone acting under Imperious' - but me. I should be happy they at least accept Albus's trust in me - but no, I'm not happy.
I'm terribly tired and want it to be over; everything to be over - the war, my duties, the necessity to side with the people who hate me, and lie to the people who consider me one of their own.
So tired; I just want to be left alone.
"Or, maybe," provides Lupin, "I have heard of devices - bugs. Such a device can be placed on someone's clothes and it might transmit everything that happens."
I glare at him; he's so helpful. Thanks to him I feel like insects are crawling over me, and I do change my clothes from time to time, you know.
"Severus," Albus says kindly, coming up to me. "Would you mind if I check what incantations you were subjected to lately?"
"Yes, I mind!"
I snap before I can control myself, before I can tell myself I should behave sensibly. No, I can't, I can't let him do it - he can't humiliate me like this. Why doesn't he ask Lupin or Fletcher if he can check what incantations were used on them?
He also believes it's me. And this thought is so all-encompassing that for a moment I feel like I'm hanging weightless in the air and there will never be solid earth under my feet.
"You see!" Moody rejoices.
"Severus," Albus repeats patiently.
"All right," I shake my head. "Do whatever you want."
"Priori Incantatem," he says and pulls greyish wisps of smoke away from my body. He mutters as they come out, one after another. "Cleaning Charm, Cleaning Charm, Cleaning Charm..." I really let hygiene go a little bit lately... not like I had anyone to make efforts for. Wonderful, now everyone is going to be informed about it. "Crucio, Legilimens,
Legilimens... Cleaning Charm, Energising Charm, Cleaning Charm, Crucio..."
There's no variety; the audience is bored to tears.
"That's back to the beginning of May," Albus says. "I suppose this is enough, Alastor?"
"Are you going to search me for the channelling device?" I offer pleasantly, giving another hateful glare to Lupin.
"Hmm..." Albus quickly passes his wand over me. "Nothing's here."
At least that was quick.
"It doesn't mean anything," Moody says. "Or rather, it means that he is passing the information consciously and with ill intention."
I can't say I see any flaws in his logic. I'm rather surprised Albus hasn't agreed with him yet.
"He won't go with you, Alastor," he says. "I don't give away my friends. You'll have to set your men on me before you'll take him away."
There is a pause after he says that - and for a few moments I need to repeat those words to myself to make myself believe Albus has really said it. 'I don't give away my friends'.
He'd never called me his friend before; I know he wouldn't say it if he didn't mean it.
I don't know if others heard it and if it meant anything to them... doesn't matter. I heard, and it means something to me. It's like... well, if Albus trusts me; everything else I can handle.
But why? How can he trust me? What if something happens and he is proven wrong?
Finally Moody agrees that Albus can have me. Until he finds some more evidence against me.
"But I want him in his quarters at Hogwarts all the time, until we make a special notice," he says, "and he is your responsibility, Albus."
"I hope this special notice won't take too long," Albus says darkly.
They bargain some more, with Moody wanting to obliviate me, to prevent me from 'leaking out more secrets', and Albus says 'no way', and I have an overwhelming feeling of deja vu - everything is as it was fifteen years ago, as Albus talked me out of a trial.
Fifteen years - and I'm in the same position again. Was it really worth trying?
"And I want his wand," Moody says.
"No," says Albus.
"How's he going to attend Death Eater meetings if you insist on his house arrest?" Lupin asks thoughtfully.
Thank you, werewolf, indeed; it won't do for anyone to forget what I am, will it?
"Oh yes, he will miss his little Death Eater friends, right?" Moody snarls.
"He might be summoned," Albus says flatly.
"Then he won't go."
"He has to. If he doesn't - and if your suspicions against Severus are ungrounded - then we'll lose our spy."
"He isn't worth shit as a spy!"
"Then why does he keep risking his life going to Voldemort?" Albus says coldly, and they start arguing again. "Will you be able to ignore the summons for a while, Severus?" he asks finally.
I nod. I hope so, at least - if it's really going to be just for a while. In the short run the summons, thought unpleasant, will not drive me mad.
"I don't care what he's able or unable to do!" Moody bursts out. "He's staying in his quarters or in an Azkaban cell. Is it clear, Snape?"
"And if something else happens, you won't get away so easily."
Yes, considering everything, I've got away easily. It's not like I've had any reputation to begin with.
I remind myself that I never like leaving my quarters anyway. Though I had hoped that my laboratory would be considered a part of my quarters; but apparently Moody thought it would be too lenient. So, I have only my rooms, and books, and house-elves bringing me food every hour or so. Thanks to Albus, no doubt. He always thinks there's nothing that can't be cured with a piece of chocolate cake.
He hasn't come himself. It's already three days and I even haven't even heard from him. My other 'master' doesn't forget me, though: the Mark throbs and twinges regularly but so far I can handle it.
I start writing a note to Albus, under a pretext of finding out whether I will be able to stock up my potions supplies myself before the school year. But it sounds with such sophomoric affectation that I 'Incendio' it.
If I want to get out of these rooms - and not take a direct route to Azkaban - whining and bitching are not going to help me. Neither is re-reading old books on Defence Against the Dark Arts for the whole day and staring dully at the cracked stones in the walls. I can't expect Albus to prove that I'm innocent - he has enough on his hands without it; and I better not have any hopes that Moody wants to find the real traitor. I have to figure it out by myself.
Let's see what we have. I write down the list of the Order members - since Moody claims only we knew the information - and start crossing out those who couldn't do it. I know I didn't, for sure, even accidentally. We always discuss very carefully what bits of information I should give to the Dark Lord - so as not to endanger the Order, and yet support my usefulness as a spy.
Albus didn't do it either; cross him out, too. Lupin... I don't know if he didn't do it - but somehow I can't imagine him doing it. He's lost two of his friends to the Dark Lord - three, if you count Pettigrew. And living in Black's house and tipping the Dark Lord... one would have to some special level of baseness for it.
I might hate the son of bitch but I really can't see him doing it.
And who can I see? Oh well, let's start from the other end. I got the idea that there was another spy when Narcissa asked me about my new 'affair' - and it was on the same day when everyone found out about it. I write down everyone who was in the Great Hall that day. Hagrid? Minerva?
Then later that day Lupin met Tonks and told her they were over. So, could it be her? And judging by how close she is with Molly, she probably told her everything at once... and that means any Weasley could know...
I feel a funny taste in my mouth, and it's wet. Great; I've bitten through the tip of the quill and now I'm sucking on the ink. Last time I did it, I was still at Hogwarts, as a student. I throw the quill away. Really, if it's not Moody himself, then I don't know who it is.
Yes, why not him? Mad-Eye was stupid enough to let Barty Crouch store him in a casket for the whole year. Who knows what he could get himself into now? Maybe he has a split personality.
I laugh harshly, not at the idea but at my own stupidity; is it the best I can come up with? Really unimpressive, Severus; utterly so.
A knock interrupts my merriment, and I freeze for a moment, starting at the door. Heck, Moody would definitely enter without knocking. So, I go and open it - and my heart makes a stupid lurch and flutters helplessly somewhere in the bottom of my stomach. I know it's silly and humiliating and I should pull myself together and ask in my best drawl: 'What do you want, Lupin?' - but I can't.
I just stand and stare, not even glare, and he looks back at me silently, and then he glances quickly at my hands, and only then I realize I'm wringing them. Hastily, I clasp them behind my back and take a deep breath to bark my prepared phrase - when he says quietly:
"You have ink on your face, Severus."
I don't have time to make anything out of it when he takes a step towards me and brings his hand to my lips. His thumb wipes the corner of my mouth firmly and stays there.
His eyes reflect the insipid lights of my room, turning them into bronze and yellow in the depth of his pupils. I feel I can't breathe; something in me is swelling so huge that I think I will burst if I don't do it, right now.
My arms jerk up, around him - and at the same moment he pulls me to him, his hand yanking my head back roughly, and his lips crush against mine, his tongue shoving into my mouth, and I struggle frantically to meet its strokes with mine. My lips bruise against his teeth and it feels maddeningly good, it proves again and again that he's real, that he's with me. I try so desperately to get closer to him, to fuse my body into his - and he only holds me even tighter, his palm clasped on my face in a hard lock, his groin slamming against mine.
I can't let him go, not even the cloth of his shirt - so I somehow manage to push the door shut with my elbow, and Lupin jerks me into the room so violently that my hip slams against the table. The inkpot and papers scatter on the floor; we step over them.
Lupin pulls on the buttons of my collar, his fingers fumbling, and he makes small impatient sounds in his throat. I try to pull his shirt off him but forget about cuffs and he gets tangled. We stop and breathe hard and try again.
Finally the clothes come off; there is my bed - we fall on the crumpled sheets, him on me. He looks in my eyes as he licks two fingers, sloppily and deliberately - and then in one hard movement shoves them in. I spasm and groan and push back at him, trying to get them deeper inside.
"Please," I say.
He breaks away from me and starts groping in the drawers of my nightstand. His voice is distorted and quite wild:
"Where is it?"
I put the flask of oil into his palm, and he's very swift, coating his shaft in one movement, and with the next he's already pushing into me. I feel opened, stretched, and he enters, first slowly, then suddenly fully in, and his teeth clench on my shoulder, and I shove towards him, even deeper - and he starts thrusting. I think I cry out, with every push of his, and I don't care if it sounds pathetic, I don't think I can stop anyway.
His long bangs fall on my face, his eyes half-closed, and he's moaning softly with such a pitiful needy sound that I grip on him even tighter and pull him closer. And suddenly I'm aware of hearing his heartbeat, fast and hard, thudding against his ribcage. And it's such a new, strange, incredible feeling that I come almost at the same moment - and feel how Lupin thrusts several more times and freezes, his arms locked around me.
He lies with his arm around me, strands of brown and grey fallen over his face, and his eyes are glittering through the tangled hair.
"Why did you come?" I ask.
I think that even if he answers: 'I wanted to fuck you one last time before you go to Azkaban,' - I still won't care. Because now he's with me, my body aches pleasantly with his recent presence in me... and it means he's mine, for now.
"I don't think you're a traitor."
"Why?" I turn and rise on an elbow, looking at him. His eyes are thoughtful and somewhat sad, and he says without meeting my gaze:
"I can't tell for sure you're not, of course. But I decided to believe you're not. What Moody says, it's believable. But you... he didn't even let you say anything. It's like he doesn't care if you're really guilty or not."
What's new there? Certainly Moody doesn't care.
"And in what way did the lack of evidence prompt you to trust me?" There's no real bite in my question. I find his words rather amusing, even if I still don't know what he's trying to tell me. I think I just can't be too waspish now, I can't be unhappy. I know too well what real unhappiness is, how this bed feels when he isn't there.
He moves abruptly, rising over me, pinning me to the bed - and his light, serious eyes stare at my face insistently.
"Remember, Severus... remember fourteen years ago, when Sirius was arrested? I didn't believe him then. Everything was against him, all the evidence, and I believed him guilty, like everyone else, I believed he could do it. Even though I knew how he loved James, how he cared for Lily, he would give his life for them... But everyone said Sirius was guilty - and I didn't start doubting it, didn't ask questions, didn't try to meet him. I just took it on trust... and I turned away from him. I know if wouldn't change anything,
likely, even if I did try to do something - but I didn't... and I won't ever forgive myself for it - even if he forgave me. I don't want it to happen again. I think I will trust you until you 'Avada Kedavra' me - whether you want my trust or not," he finishes lamely.
I don't know what to say; I should be irked that Lupin decided to trust me just because fourteen years ago he didn't trust Black - and at any other time I would be. But now I can't. Let it be like that if it is; let Black for once change something for the better in my life.
I raise my hand to Lupin's face slowly, this kind of gesture still feeling unfamiliar to me, and pass the back of my palm against his face. The look of desperate insistence in his eyes softens somewhat and he moves his head, rubbing against my hand a little.
"But I actually meant why you came... well..." I despair at trying to put it into the words but it turns out I don't need to.
"Shouldn't I have?"
"No! I mean you should..."
He sighs and rolls away from me. I think he will say now 'I don't know', in the way that will mean 'I don't know why I even try'.
"I thought..." he says. "When you didn't come to me, that morning, I was so angry. I waited for you."
It takes me a short while to understand what morning he means: after the second night of the full moon. He waited for me. It makes me feel so bad suddenly - like I don't feel often, I get rid of shame in my life carefully - but now something in me spasms painfully, heat rushing in my cheeks. I remember how he was, after such a night, sweaty and exhausted and sleepy. He waited for me.
"But we... we quarrelled... you said you didn't want to have anything with me!"
"So I said."
"And I came to you - later - and you were reading!"
"It wasn't like you came. You just shoved that potion in my face."
"I didn't - I put it on the table."
"You didn't even say anything."
"Neither did you."
"And why did it have to be me? I always have to do something, to make first steps, to come to you - and you never ever do anything! I thought you could do something at least once, contact me or something."
I draw in a breath to tell him everything I think about his 'first steps' and his expectations - and then let it out slowly. Our eyes meet - and Lupin says in a suddenly much quieter voice.
"And then it happened that you couldn't come. And I thought I would have to do it myself, then - no other way. So, I did."
My fingers feel moist and awkward as I reach to his hand, and find it, and he clasps mine - and for a moment it's so comforting that I can't imagine feeling any better.
At about six Lupin gets up. He's buttoning his shirt when he sees the scattered, ink-stained papers on the floor and picks them up. I go red. He glances at me.
"So, you're trying to figure it out, too. Albus and I are also working on it. Have you come to any useful conclusion?"
I shake my head with distaste. I wish I could point at someone but I don't think it will do any good.
"An interesting thing," Lupin continues, "is that I took the list of the leaked info from Moody - and all of it was discussed at the meetings held at Hogwarts. Neither before we moved here, nor later."
"So, it must be someone who lives here? A teacher?" Someone who could know about us.
"I think we need to check carefully just how well warded the room for meeting was," he says. "I don't know... even portraits can talk. I need to see the Headmaster about it."
"All right," I say in a tight voice. He seems to understand.
"I'll be back as soon as possible. You can get some sleep meanwhile."
"I don't want to sleep."
"Have breakfast, then." He gives me a deliberately dazzling smile. "I don't like it when your bones stick into me."
"Look who's talking," I mutter.
He leaves and I stay in bed for a little while, just sitting and staring at the wall and twisting a strand of hair around my finger - and I can bet there's something like an idiotic smile wandering on my lips.
Another knock on the door, a very tentative one - and I guess it can't be Lupin, he just left a few minutes ago. I pick up my bathrobe and open the door.
A house-elf shoves an overloaded tray of food into my hands.
"Mister Remus Lupin sir is sending this! He say the sir needing to eat!" she squeals deafeningly and stares at me with her round eyes.
"Fine," I grumble, take the tray and slam the door. House-elves; I can't see them any more, with their food - what do Albus and Lupin think, that I'm a baby, to feed me seven times a day?
I put the tray on the table and scowl at it wondering whether I should use 'Evanesco' or 'Incendio' on it. Then I sigh, and decide that some coffee might be nice.
I take the tall shiny coffee-pot and there is this familiar and still unbelievable feeling of a hand pulling the insides out of me, pulling me somewhere... out.
I land on my hands and knees in a puddle of hot coffee. The portkey coffee-pot spins on the floor clanking softly. For a moment I can do nothing but look at the thing as it rolls around - and then I see sharp-nosed, very expensive boots approach me, pacing softly. There is a flash of something metallic in the air - and I feel as if the whole world has slammed into my face.
The blow throws me back until I hit the wall, and I sprawl against it, not making an attempt to get up. My nose is definitely broken - it feels huge and very hot and I feel quick trickles of blood filling my mouth. I raise my hand carefully, wipe the ones that leak down on my chin, and say:
Azkaban didn't have a devastating effect on him; lucky him. He's as straight-backed and posh as always, his blond hair where even grey streaks look silver is arranged impeccably - and the only traces I can see are slightly deepened lines at his mouth.
I spent a record amount of time in front of the mirror during my Hogwarts years, mourning that I didn't look like him.
He swings the cane in his hands, and smiles with boyish charm. Merlin, even Draco will never be on a par with this man.
"It's very kind of you to grace us with your presence finally, little Snape."
I roll my eyes; this nickname made me so proud and warm when he used it... oh, twenty-five years ago.
Hot drips of blood fall on my chest and I pull the bathrobe tighter around myself; now blood soaks into the velvet, ruining the cloth, no doubt.
"I'm rather... underdressed, for a visit," I say.
"We understand, Severus." Narcissa walks up to Lucius's side and puts her hand on his elbow. She isn't in black any more. She knows everything about dressing up for the occasion; her robes are deep burgundy, a very beautiful colour. "You were so carried away with your werewolf - no wonder you neglected propriety a bit."
I feel a sudden wave of dizziness cover me. The house-elf, the tray... what if there were more portkeys there - really, they couldn't know what exactly I would touch. And if Lupin comes and touches something...
No, please no, I whisper to myself; portkeys are not so easy to make - to make a whole lot of them. And they don't need Lupin, do they?
I force panic deep down and look at them.
"But we've got a problem, thanks to you," Lucius says. "You were not answering the summons."
"I would have, if I could," I say, and try to settle more comfortably against the wall; every movement makes pain shoot through my nose and more blood drip from it. "I don't know whose clever plan it was to stick another spy into Hogwarts - but Dumbledore started having suspicions about me."
"Tsk, tsk. Oh Severus," Narcissa smiles with her disarming smile. "But we wouldn't have needed another spy if you had told the truth to our Lord."
"Didn't I?" I say coldly. "Don't you think if I did, our Lord would easily find it out with Legilimency?"
If it's just their suspicions, I will be able to talk my way out of it. And maybe even find out what the hell happened.
"What I always hated about you, little Snape, is that you think everyone is so much stupider than you."
Not everyone, just you, I have a suicidal wish to say, but bite my tongue.
"Our Lord found it out," Narcissa says plaintively. "He did. You could deceive us but you never could lie to him."
'I never forget anything,' I recall the lisping voice suddenly. 'Neither those who betrayed me, nor those who serve me loyally.'
"I don't know how, for Merlin's sake, you managed to land yourself in Dumbledore's service," Lucius says frowning, "but I hope you enjoyed it. Because I don't think you'll ever enjoy anything again."
"And now Dumbledore and others think you a traitor," Narcissa sighs. "How sad."
Very clever; punishment with a twist. Only Albus doesn't really believe I'm a traitor - and Lupin doesn't either... Oh damn. And then they'll enter my room and see me gone... and they'll think I went to the Dark Lord, despite orders, and...
I need to get out of here right now.
"Crucio," Narcissa says.
"Severus, Severus, you should've never come back to me." A hand on my face forces me to look up, at scarlet eyes that are very close. "How could you think you could betray me, not once, but twice?"
"Would it change anything?"
There is so much blood in my mouth it makes my speech slur. My lips and tongue feel sore with the number of times I bit them, trying to stay silent - and I've still screamed my voice raw.
"You could try to run from me. Try to hide, and hope I would forget about you."
"It did Karkaroff a world of good, didn't it?"
"Don't try to impress me with being clever. I will not talk to you any more. Next time when I come to look at you, it will be at your corpse. But I hope my servants will be careful, and it won't happen soon. Until now... good-bye, Severus."
His deformed face closes to mine - and suddenly the white mouth touches my lips.
"Do you think we should let the Headmaster find out you really were not a traitor, little Snape? Later, of course, when we send your body to him. Just imagine what remorse the old goody-two-shoes will have that he suspected you."
"And will your werewolf cry?" Narcissa asks. "Or isn't he the kind to cry?"
Another slice of the blade is not so bad as when a thin stripe of skin is peeled off - and even that is better than the scalding liquid that drips on it - is it Acidic solution I made, too? Damn, damn you, I can't stand it, let me go...
"Don't curse like that, Severus, it's impolite."
Oh, she can hear it? I can't hear my own voice any more, I think I'm managing nothing other than moving my lips. Another steel-heat-fire trail on my belly. I thrash and hit my head against the wall. It feels good; everything goes dark and the pain is dulled.
"Christian, friend, could you please hold him properly? I don't want him to knock himself out so quickly."
So, it's Crabbe here. Familiar faces everywhere. Isn't it nice to feel surrounded with friends?
Narcissa's deep-blue robes... is it another day? A third day? I don't remember.
"I think you said he liked having sex with non-humans. With half-humans, anyway. Perhaps we should get him a werewolf, instead of... that. Avery, you wimp, what were you doing, throwing up?"
"Sometimes your ideas are really tasteless, Lucius. And you say we should bring Draco here! I don't want him to look at such things."
"You're always overreacting, honey. We can show him something less... offensive."
"Merrick, stop it immediately, you idiot! Don't you see you're killing him? What have you done?"
Whatever he's done, I think it's really great. Merrick Goyle is an angel. I'm falling, falling - and the helpless wreck of my body that has recently only known how to hurt stays somewhere behind me.
They scream something else, distantly - and then I can't hear them any more.
I am in somewhere grey. Nothing to see, nothing to hear - but it's a kind of relief to be here. I'm not interested in anything much anyway. And I know it won't be for long. There is something behind it - something where there are sounds and colours and I will feel quiet and contented there. It is where everyone goes... I just need to wait a little.
And then suddenly the grey fades away a little - and I see another figure there, another man - and I know who he is, how can I not recognise wild strands framing his face, pale-blue eyes under ink-dark eyelashes...
"Black," I say.
He looks at me silently - and suddenly there is such tremendous overwhelming misery flooding me, through the opened channel of our meeting eyes - and I know there will be no quiet, no content - just this greyness, for ever and ever, the greyness he can't break through.
It feels like my whole soul shatters with this misery. It is impossible; no one can suffer like this... no one should. It doesn't matter that I hate him - it doesn't matter what he'd done against me - it's just that I have to do something because I can't bear it.
"Black." I reach my hand to him; I don't know what I am supposed to do, it's an instinctive reaction. Very slowly his hand raises and the fingers lightly brush against mine.
And then I'm falling again, his fingers jerked out of mine - and I don't see him any more, there is no grey, there is... there is a slamming force of my heart beating again - and it hurts.
I convulse at the sound of Lucius's voice and the wand runs over my body again and again - and then there are Narcissa's hands, soft and implacable, forcing a vial between my teeth.
"Here, it's better," she says.
"Black," I whisper. "Black."
He stayed there.
"Black?" she asks, puzzled. "Is it lighter this way?"
Blinding white explodes in front of my eyes - and it starts again.
I don't think I would've even felt it any more - had they not burnt everything there so badly. The cock sliding against my raw skin feels like sandpaper - and it does make me 'responsive' - that's how they call it. I don't see the man's face - and, frankly, I don't care.
Can I fucking die already or what?
A hand goes under my belly and squeezes my private parts. The said parts, swollen blue and black and blistered, don't appreciate this kind of attention. I make a hoarse, wheezing sound; it would be a howl if I had a voice.
Will I ever die?
He's saying something to me, a non-stop string of words that might be as well in Chinese, so little sense it makes to me. I would be eternally grateful to him if he were my last; if it was just over.
But I can't be let go, I can only crawl away, inch by inch, into unconsciousness. At least it's something, if not death.
And then there is a huge crash - and where there was a firmly locked door, through dust and slivers bursting in the air I see a square opening of light. I blink, and there is a figure in the doorway, two, three - and the man is yanked off and out of me, and someone yells:
I shift a little together, pulling up my legs, curling as much as my right wrist chained to the wall allow - and watch more people entering the room - and then one of them falls on his knees in front of me and his fingers, hasty and fumbling, push the strands of hair away from my face.
That's you, I want to say; you're always coming to me.
"Severus," Lupin's voice goes high-pitched, in something that sounds like panic. "Severus, do you hear me?"
Of course I do. I can't move my hand, the cuff doesn't let go, and I can't feel the other at all - so, I can't touch him.
He looks ghastly - white like paper, and his lips are compressed in a crooked grimace and still trembling as he mutters:
"We'll get you out now, you'll be okay... in just a moment, please be okay..."
I'll try; don't get so worked up over it. I smile at him, and his face distorts.
"You have to be okay..."
Another voice and someone else's wand - and finally I can feel that the cuff that chafed nearly to the bones of my wrist is gone. Lupin's hand hovers over me as if he doesn't know where to touch me.
"Better not," someone says - a mediwizard, judging by the robes - and pulls his hand away gently. The wand goes up but I don't hear the spell, sliding deep into dark and comfortable nothingness.
He's reading a book; it lies on his lap as he reclines in a deep padded chair. Slanting beams of light fall on his cheek and on the opened pages through the high lancet windows of the infirmary. His thin hand twists and pulls the tassels of the coverlet absent-mindedly.
"Hey," I say experimentally. It's little more than a shunting of air, but he moves feverishly, nearly losing the book.
I think I'd almost forgot this stray puppy look in his eyes.
He looks like he usually does after full moon nights, tired and older than normal. It must be that time of the month; I wonder who made the Wolfsbane potion for him. He gives me a little, careful smile that just slightly spreads his lips.
"House-elf," I say. After a moment he seems to understand.
"Oh, yes. We found her. She's not a house-elf, she's really a Metamorph. Tonks identified her."
Good. I lick my lips tiredly; even those two words turned out to be exhausting.
Lupin gets up and comes nearer.
"Would you like some water?"
I nod. The glass brought to my lips is deliciously cool and the water is pure bliss. He holds it patiently while I sip awkwardly; my throat feels like something strange, not belonging to me. He looks at me and then asks tentatively:
"How do you feel?"
I attempt to shrug.
"Don't know. Okay. Don't... feel anything."
"No wonder," he chuckles. "You've had about a bucket of painkillers poured into your throat."
I don't remember it.
It's all disconcerting, really. I think I need to check if I have all my parts attached. I think I need a mirror.
I try to keep my mind on more urgent matters.
"What month is it?"
"October. October first."
"Who's substituting for me?"
"Dumbledore invited some woman. Eterna Gillian, if I'm not mistaken."
He sits on my bed and there is something in his eyes that makes my insides twist. Is it pity? I don't need pity from anyone.
"You don't need to worry. Things are taken care of."
I suddenly panic.
"You don't mean... Albus sacked me?"
I know I've missed the whole month but now I'm almost well, I can start whenever necessary, even tomorrow. My potions, my dungeons, my Slytherins...
"No," Lupin says in a nonchalant voice. "Even Albus is not brave enough to try to force you out of your position."
"Hmm... I'll take Defence instead any day."
"I'm sure you will, Severus. But if you think you're going back to work tomorrow, you're very wrong. You're staying in bed until... until everyone decides you're perfectly well."
"That sounds terribly... oppressive."
"Sorry, but that's how it will be."
I glare at him and he meets it with a level gaze. I don't want him to leave. I want him to keep sitting on my bed, so that I can feel him. I want him to keep talking to me, as if nothing happened.
I know nothing can be the same, of course. Between us, I mean. I don't think he will want me, after everyone else, and I think I probably look awful. Never was anything to write home about but now I'm not even sure I want to know how my face looks.
But at least for now he's here, with me.
"Everything will be all right," he says quietly; his voice is lulling, and I yield to it. "Everything will return to normal. Don't rush it, you need to rest. You'll cope with everything... you survived and it's the most important thing... if you only knew how good it is that you survived."
I snort at that and close my eyes. Maybe it's really good; I don't know yet. After wishing to die for so long, it's a bit difficult to make a U-turn at once.
"If you died..." he says. "I don't know if I would be able to live then. I... would not want to."
Is it a lie? Why does he lie? To make me feel better? I can do without it, thank you very much. But I don't look up and don't say anything, pretending I'm asleep.
He sighs, and he's silent now. I feel him shifting, and I think he wants to stand up and walk away. But he doesn't. Instead I feel the tips of his fingers touch my lips carefully. They are soft and warm and light and stay for a few heartbeats. Then he takes them away.
"I wouldn't want to live without you," he repeats.
Go to the sequel Out of Darkness