Juxian Tang's Fiction
Main Page
Slash/Yaoi Fiction
Original Fiction
[+] Livejournal
[+] E-mail Juxian
Slash and Yaoi Fiction
TITLE: Out of Darkness
AUTHOR: Juxian Tang
PAIRING: SS/Remus Lupin
FEEDBACK: juxiantang@hotmail.com
DISCLAIMER: These characters and places belong to JK Rowling. I am making no profit.
SUMMARY: Lupin thinks Snape behaves strangely, after being rescued. Sequel to Lukewarm and Mine
NOTES: Part of the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest (Scenario # 20: Snape undergoes a change a character). Big, huge thanks to Isis for everything she's done for me, and it is so much more than simply beta! Thank you for catching all my mistakes, and figuring out what I really wanted to say, and changing my style to better in such a great way, and being so fast, and so patient. Thank you.
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 after the Fest is over

Out of Darkness
by Juxian Tang

"It's not that, Albus. I know something is not right with him."

Dumbledore's tired blue eyes seem defenceless as he takes off his spectacles; for a few moments he polishes the glass with his sleeve.

"You don't forget, Remus, do you, that he simply cannot be all right now? Too little time has passed. And he was abused very badly."

I wave my hand, want him to stop saying it. How can I forget? I was there; I found him. This memory is imprinted in my mind, together with overpowering, helpless anger. Helpless because I know it all has already happened, and I can't do a thing to change it.

I know they raped him and cut out words into his body - 'traitor' and 'whore' - and I can't undo it. I wasn't with him to protect him.

"You have to understand," Albus says, "he is seriously traumatised - even if Severus prefers to be in denial about it."

Oh, I know everything about denial. After all, it's me who listened to Severus's elaborate rants about Eterna Gillian, his substitute, ruining his year's worth of work with students - and how he is fit enough to start teaching classes today - over the sound of breaking glass because he dropped something again when his hands spasmed.

It's me who watches him every morning as he buttons up the high collar of his robes, preparing to go teach those whose parents tortured and raped him for weeks.

"I don't mean that, Albus. I know the signs, when it is about something that happened to him."

I got attuned fairly well to those things during last months. I've learned to understand what he really wants, or is afraid of, what causes him to react in this or that way. I had to; or it would've driven me mad. I know how he looks at the mirror - a plain, silent one - and that you should never show him you've noticed it, or say anything. I know how he can spend hours in the bathroom, lathering up two bars of soap a day - while on other days he seems to derive some vindictive pleasure from the sight of his limp, greasy hair.

I know how he suddenly goes rigid under my touch, and inches away so subtly he's probably sure I don't notice it, and then says some nasty, awfully rude thing that should drive me out of his bed.

I understand that.

"What I'm talking about is different. I can't find an explanation for it. It's like... he's not himself sometimes. Like something changed him profoundly."

"I wish I could help you." Deceptively unguarded eyes in pale short eyelashes blink at me with compassion. "Believe me, Remus, I wish I could help both of you."

And I wish I knew what's going on.

Because I don't want to lose him. I didn't lose him to Voldemort and the Malfoys, and it infuriates me to think I can lose him to something I don't even understand.

He's already in bed when I come in. There is a huge book on his lap, propped against his raised knees, and he's hunched over it so much that I can see only the top of his head.

"Gossiping about me, Lupin?" he asks unpleasantly, without looking up.

"Like we have nothing else to do," I sigh tiredly, discarding my robes.

Severus raises his head and looks at me, from under the curtain of untidy hair. I have a suspicion he lets it fall like this because he thinks it diverts attention from his face.

But I don't think it works this way.

There is a long crimson scar going over the bridge of his nose, under his eyes. He always puts on glamour when teaching classes - not to scare the children (Merlin knows, they're already terrified of him as it is). But now the scar is bright, very visible and sore looking. It makes him look somewhat distressing, very unhealthy - especially taking into account this long-sleeved, high-collared, buttoned up night-shirt that is too loose for him.

Mediwizards said he was lucky to have just this one mark on his face - considering how much work it took to restore the bone of his nose and set his jaw right... those bastards broke his jaw to make him blow them - and then healed it - and broke it again...

"How was your day?" I ask in a cheerful voice, although thinking about it makes me stick my fingernails into the doorjamb. He doesn't need my anger, my impotent rage at what can't be changed. It won't help him.


Hmm, have I heard any other answer from him? After he resumed his position and razed Eterna to the ground (good for her she's so well adjusted - I would've tried to kill him for a third of what he said to her) - and everyone figured out that their idea that potions could be fun was completely misguiding - he got quite contented. Which didn't mean, of course, that he became lenient; oh, far from it.

I guess the students might be looking forward to the upcoming Christmas break like never before.

"Potter got 'zero'," he informs me matter-of-factly. "Again."

Fuck. What a bastard he is - still a bastard. No matter that he nearly died - it didn't make him less of a bastard.

I count to ten to myself and say:

"And why, pray tell? He wasn't so bad when Eterna taught him."

"Did you expect me to use her half-witted assessments of his knowledge as a basis for the grades I give?"

No, of course I didn't. How could I? It's just that it makes me so angry and sad. I care for Harry; he has no one left but me. And here I must witness nearly every day how he's mistreated.

"You don't have to be such an arsehole," I say quietly. "The Earth won't stop turning if you're ever fair to Harry."

"He botched it up," he says defensively.

"I'm sure he did. Because you were nearly sitting in his cauldron, watching his every move."

"Come on, Lupin, he should be tougher than that. He wants to be an Auror, after all."

"Would you mind not taking on the additional responsibility of toughening him up?"

Great. If I fancied a quiet evening together - here is goes, flushed down the drain.

Why does he have to be like this? Harry doesn't hate him any more. Not after those weeks in the end of August/beginning of September when Severus was missing. I had to tell Harry about us - I actually was nearly out of my mind with panic then.

He looked at me like I had sprouted another head.

"But Snape... he's a man!"

"Have you never heard it's possible?"

"Yes, of course. But... he hates you."

"Not any more."

"He's ugly!"

"Well, it happens that I find him attractive."

I wondered then if I would ever find him at all.

"So, that's why he was with you in Sirius's house..."

But once Harry got over the initial shock, he was really wonderful, he and his friends, so supportive. And when we did find him... I think it erased Harry's enmity towards him irrevocably.

Well, unless Severus keeps going like this. Even Harry doesn't have patience of a saint.

"And would you mind staying away from my teaching methods, Lupin?" he says, black eyes glittering with disdain from under the dirty fringe.

I look at him, and my anger evaporates; all I want is to push away this hair from his face and kiss away his irritable, hostile expression.

It's terribly mushy but sometimes I can't help feeling like that.

"You don't have teaching methods, Severus. Terrorising children out of their minds doesn't count as such."

He glares at me, and under his unwavering, irreconcilable stare I come up to the bed, sit down and lean over his pointed knees.

He shuts the book quickly and puts it into the drawer, cover down. There is this wary look in his eyes that is almost always there when I touch him, not during sex, but simply like that. I guess it isn't something he's used to. And after everything that happened, it's even harder for him to get used to it.

I put my head on his knees. Quite inconvenient - he's so skinny.

His body language is so slight that I only can catch it when trying hard: I feel him go rigid at my closeness and then ease up just a little, yielding towards me. I rub his calf through the blanket a little and feel him shiver, but it's a good shiver, of pleasure.

Please trust me, I think. Please. I'm not going to hurt you.

"Do you want me to scratch behind your ear, Lupin?" he asks but it's okay, I know he doesn't really dislike it.

This moment is good. He is with me - sharp-angled and warm, I can feel it even through the layers of cloth covering him - and I know he's real and safe. And it calms down the constant little pulse of worry inside me: that he can be gone again.

I didn't manage to hold Sirius. But with Severus I won't make this mistake again.

And then I feel how his body slackens, and as I look up, there it is, what I talked about to Albus - that blind, black stare of his turned somewhere inside him. He slumps against the pillow, and his face is so blank of any expression it's scary. Even anger, or pain, or fear wouldn't be so bad. This nothingness is terrifying.

"Severus," I say carefully.

As usual, he snaps back almost immediately, and for a moment, there is such undisguised gratitude in his eyes as he looks at me. Then his self-control returns and he shrugs a little.

"Sorry. Did you say something?"

He doesn't even know if I was talking or not, does he?

"Severus," I say. "We need to talk about it. What's wrong with you?"

It's so immediate - hatred and blind rejection flaring up in his eyes - that I shrink back a little, take my hands away from his knees.

"We don't need to talk about anything, Lupin."

His voice is distorted, so full of venom I can barely bear it.

"I just want to help you."

"Have I ever asked for your help?"

"I know something bothers you - something I don't know about. If you tell me, maybe I can do something."

Haven't we been through the worst, he and I? When we brought him back to Hogwarts and he came round, I thought he wouldn't want to see me, for failing him like this, for taking such a long time to rescue him. And then I thought he would never let me touch him again, and I had to do it so slowly, get just a little bit closer every day. And now he ousts me like this.

His face is so white it's scary, and his eyes burn like charcoals, with unreasoning animosity.

"You don't understand anything, Lupin."

"I won't - if you don't explain to me."

"I'm not going to explain anything! If you don't like something - you know where the Floo is. I can guarantee I won't try to latch onto your leg when you go."

He turns away, jerks for his book and doesn't take it, slams the drawer shut. I feel blood drumming in my ears. How much I hate him now... More than anything else I want really to Floo away and never come back. Why do I have to put up with this? Why does he have the right to treat me like that? Does he think I have no pride?

He sits, shoulders hunched, looking at the blanket in front of him, his lip bitten - an apotheosis of stubbornness and aversion. His hair clings to his cheeks, and the scar is glaring on the chalk-white face.

I don't think this heart-wrenching pity that washes over me at this moment is a feeling that he wants, or that does me credit. But I can't help it. I'm so sorry for him; I don't want to lose him.

I sigh and start unbuttoning my shirt.

He looks up at me and the fight is gone from him.

"You don't have to be a saint, Lupin," he says. "I won't fall apart the moment you aren't here."

I try to be here, as much as I can. Albus gave me permission to spend nights at Hogwarts, providing that no one sees me; so I Floo in every evening, and Floo back to my house in the morning.

"Oh yes," I say softly. "Merlin save anyone from thinking you might need me."

I touch his knees again, with a small, squeezing gesture, and this time his cold, long-fingered hand meets mine there, clasping on it briefly.

Maybe, everything will be all right, I think. Maybe, it's all nothing.

"We need another spy," says Moody on the next meeting of the Order.

"Do you have someone specific in mind?" Albus asks. "Did your work among those we suspect to be Death Eaters bear fruit?"

"I rather think about someone who, we know, will be privy to the secrets of You-Know-Who's inner circle in the nearest future," Moody says happily. "I mean the young Malfoy."

"Draco Malfoy?" Molly repeats in disbelief.

For the first time in one of these meetings, Severus raises his eyes from his clenched hands. Since he rejoined them, he spends all his time like that, looking at no one, uttering no word. Well, truly, what can he say - he doesn't have any information to bring any more. But it still makes my heart ache.

Moody actually apologised to him, for suspecting him. It was a formal apology, in front of the whole Order - and you could just see Albus behind it, twisting his arm. Must've had quite a talk with Alastor.

"Yes, who else?"

"I don't think Draco demonstrates any inclination to join our side," Albus says mildly.

Moody snorts as if he hasn't heard anything funnier.

"Who cares about his inclinations? You know what I mean, Albus. You have something against him."

Even to me it sounds shoddy, and I don't consider myself a person of very high morals. I tense, looking at Dumbledore and Moody. Yes, of course, the needs of the Order are above anything; but still, it's so... base.

Two weeks into September, when we already despaired of finding Severus alive, a sickly and pale-looking Draco approached Albus. His condition was that his mother and father wouldn't be arrested or even harmed, and Albus gave him his wizard's vow on that.

He told us where Severus was.

"It's one time deal," Draco said, "it's just because... I don't want it to be happening to him."

It took us four more days to convince Moody that the information was true and Severus hadn't really 'joined his Lord', which Moody kept saying, with stunning obstinacy, even after the real spy was caught. But finally we broke into the hunting house of the Rockwoods - and Severus was there. We arrested nine Death Eaters but neither the Malfoys nor the Lestranges were among them.

It was quite a complicated situation after that, because of Severus being the Head of Slytherin, and quite a lot of the children of suspected Death Eaters knew he betrayed their Lord. But Severus managed to get a grip on them pretty quickly.

I see Albus take off his glasses and start polishing them.

"It's impossible, Alastor. I gave him my vow."

Moody dismisses it with a wave of hand.

"Your vow concerned Malfoys, Albus, not keeping hush-hush about it - I know it very well. He was stupid not to demand something more binding from you, like keeping it fully secret, or never using against him. Tough luck. Tell him you can hint to his father - or even better, to other Death Eaters that he was the one giving them away - and he'll sing every song you want him to. He's practically a Death Eater by now. Soon he will be indispensable."

I look at my hands, feeling a wave of sickness rise in me. In a way, Moody is right - Draco's way is paved by now and anything we'll do can hardly stop him. But still...

"I'm afraid your idea is unacceptable, Alastor," Albus says.

"If you want to stay out of it, I can do it," Moody offers generously.

And at this moment Snape's chair crashes on the floor.

He stands up, terribly pale, his eyes burning, his hands clenched, but his voice sounds so soft it's nearly audible.

"Leave Draco out of it. He's a better person than any one of you."

His gaze is quite blind; I don't think he means it, or would've said it, if he were not so angry.

"Of course you say that," Moody shrugs. "Especially since he obviously has an equally high opinion about you."

"You want him on the side of Light, don't you? Or do you just want to use him and throw him away when you don't need him any more? It is what you usually do, right?"

"If you're talking about yourself, I don't know what you're complaining about, Snape," Moody says. "You surely don't suffer from lack of attention, considering the way Lupin here makes such a fuss about you."

I get up too, my chair squelching against the floor, and I see the heads turning towards me. I look at Severus. He's vibrating, in a painful way, his hands tearing at each other, and there are two stains of dark red on his cheeks.

I think he didn't even hear what Moody said, he seems to be so wired up. His voice sounds stifled, dull.

"If being on the side of Light means to be distrusted, used, rejected and then forgotten once your use has come to an end - I don't think Draco deserves it. At least Death Eaters are honest about it. They never justify their betrayals with 'serving a greater good'."

"Severus," Albus says pointedly.

"Really? Then why did we have to get you out of the clutches of your oh-so-wonderful Death Eater friends?" Moody asks.

"Why, indeed?" Severus says wryly. "I'd rather expect you to forget me, as soon as I'm out of sight."

"Severus," Albus repeats, quite distressed. "You can't think we..."

"Sirius Black," he says suddenly. His voice gets a strange hollow sound, as if he can stop talking or even doesn't quite realise what he says. "Twelve years in Azkaban - had you done anything for him, all of you, who were so sure he was innocent? And now again - no one cares about him, no one tries to do anything for him."

He stops abruptly, still looking with unseeing, unreasoning hatred at us. And everyone else is so silent you can hear them breathing.

They look at him like he's mad, I think with a clenching heart.

He is mad, isn't he?

"Severus," Albus says softly. "Sirius is dead."

Severus doesn't say anything, he turns stiffly, and walks to the Floo. He's gone in a moment, and everyone else keeps staring at each other.

"That's it?" Moody says. "Finally cracked, didn't he?"

"You're a bastard," I say tiredly. I can't really kick him out of this house without driving the whole Order out of it but Merlin knows I wish I could.

"You know, Moody," Tonks says. "Your suggestion, about Draco. I think it stinks."

I Floo back to Hogwarts later that evening. Severus is in bed, on his side, facing the wall.

"I'm sleeping," he informs me before I say anything.

How childish. I sigh and sit down on the bed. I feel so tired I want nothing but to curl behind him. Under the blanket his shoulder is sharp and painfully thin - and I feel him going rigid as I wrap my arm around him, but I don't let go and he relaxes slowly.

"Nox," I say. "Good night, Severus."

"I have responsibilities as a teacher," he says. "As long as there are students at Hogwarts during the break, I have to be here."

Like hell. Those students are two Hufflepuffs and he never pays attention to them anyway. I guess it's just that my invitation to celebrate Christmas with Harry, his friends and me doesn't make him happy.

I do not insist. And I decide not to change my plans because of him. Should I? I do want to spend this time with Harry - and it might be a good idea for Severus and me to get a break for each other. So the night before Christmas and the following one are the first nights in months I spend away from him, except for the full moon ones.

Those are two pretty wonderful days, full of walking around, shopping, decorating and eating tasty things. But when in the morning I unwrap my presents, one of them is from him - although he said Christmas was a Muggle holiday and there was no reason for wizards to celebrate it, and anyway he couldn't get me any present because he couldn't leave Hogwarts. And I just feel I can't stay away from him any longer. I need to go back.

It's not that I'm worried, or feel or there's something to be afraid of. I simply succumb to the urge and, glad that everyone else is asleep and I won't need to explain anything, Floo to Hogwarts.

He isn't in his rooms. His bed looks neatly made or maybe hasn't even been used tonight. The fireplace is quite cold. My present on the table lies unwrapped. I wince with an unpleasant feeling of guilt and worry, then walk out of his quarters.

Everyone is still sleeping, except for a few house elves who effusively wish me a happy Christmas. They also tell me where I can find him. Oh yes, of course. Where else would he be at six o'clock on Christmas morning if not in the library?

There is only one source of light there; I enter quietly and see him, at the table loaded with books. His hair is tucked behind his ears, his back stiff and unusually straight, and there is his wand in his hand, trembling minutely over an open book.

He has an awfully concentrated, studious expression on his face, the one I remember from school years; I grin, approaching him soundlessly.

"So, what're you reading?"

His reaction is stunning. He jerks up, on his feet, bodily trying to block the table from me, hide the book he has open in front of him. I gape, and at the next moment the book bounces, its pages flipping wildly, and instead of the written lines there is a big, cold, gaping hole that starts sucking everything into it - quills, inkwell, parchments covered in Severus's miniature writing.

He gasps, and waves his wand, and after a few minutes and a lot of effort manages to close the book and spell the locks shut. It still feels cold here and as if there is less air now.

I stand frozen and keep staring at the book - so dark he had to keep it under his wand every moment it was opened. Severus doesn't look at me, panting. Then, almost as an afterthought, he tries to push the book behind others. I catch his wrist and pull it away, despite weak resistance. Feeling thin bones in my grip, feeling his struggling makes heat rush through me, and I feel even angrier because he's making me to hold him forcibly, making me do something against his will, and I don't want to do it.

The book smells strange, very unpleasant, and I don't want to wonder if its pages are made of what I think they are made, because I know it is possible. The cover is darkened with time and from craggy, ugly letters I can discern only 'Necro...' and 'Marem'.

"Sea of the Dead?" I ask. Something bothers me in this title, something I try to recall. "Why do you read this?"

My voice is soft but I think we both know this time I will not give up. This time I will get my answers.

"Ash Rites?" I look at another book. "Necromancy Scrolls?"

"It's at Albus's request," he says, with composure. "I'm doing research for the Order."

"You liar!" I feel like slapping him, so angry I feel, so betrayed. "Albus doesn't know anything about your... your... What are you doing, with the books - the darkest of the dark? Do you really want to become a dark wizard?"

"Really?" he repeats. "In comparison to what?"

I barely can stop myself from grabbing and shaking him. How could he do it? What is happening to him?

"What have you done to yourself? Is it this darkness I can feel inside you? Is it what's wrong with you - that you're over your head in the Dark Arts again? I don't recognise you any more."

For some reason, it always somehow upsets him when I say I don't know or recognise him - but now I want to hurt him.

"Tell me what's wrong with you. Are you dark - or are you just mad?"

He looks as if I slapped him, and bites his lip. I remember kissing his mouth, three nights ago, leaning over him, my body rubbing against his - when his eyes, wide open and dark, suddenly went unseeing and empty. Why is he doing it to me? I want to kiss him again... but not when he's like that.

Severus sits down abruptly - slumps on the chair, as if his spine is broken.

"Yes," he says. "I'm mad. Now leave me alone, Lupin."

"I think I deserve a bit more of an explanation."

"No, you don't. Do as you wish - go to Albus, or to Moody - tell them what you've seen. I don't care."

What a bastard; does he really think I can give him away to the Aurors? No matter how I hurt him - he still manages to hurt me worse. I look away from him, my vision blurry with anger and pain. And then suddenly letters on the cover of one of the books jump at me.

"Behind the Veil." And things snap into place for me.

"It has something to do with Sirius, doesn't it?"

I look at him. He doesn't meet my eyes but now I know. It explains everything - his outburst at the meeting, his nightmares as he repeats 'Black, Black, Black' like a mantra - and I thought he was dreaming of Sirius sending him to the Shrieking Shack. And he hasn't cracked a single 'dog joke' since his return.

"What does it have to do with Sirius? Do you want to..."

I can't make myself say it. And why would he want to do it? It's... it's horrible, isn't it? It's forbidden, and dark, and monstrous. Necromancy is plain wrong, isn't it?

His eyes are very cold and he seems quite in control again.

"Why do you ask questions, Lupin, if you're not sure you can handle the answers?"

It makes fury rise in me.

"So you do want to do it, don't you? To bring him back? Why? How much do you hate him that you can't even let him rest in peace?"

"There is no peace, you fool! Not for him," he adds.

It makes me queasy; perhaps I still hoped he would reassure me. I pull myself together with an effort and say steadily:

"Explain to me. I need to know."

"Too bad - because I'm not going to explain."

"No, you will. Sirius is my friend." I catch myself on saying 'is', not 'was', and shiver. It's as though his madness infected me as well. He sneers.

"Sod off, Lupin."

Merlin, I want to hit him; want to hurt him badly, to force him into telling the truth, finally. I make myself sit down, in front of him, clutching the table tightly.

"Severus. Please." Please don't force me over the edge. Please don't make me wish you were dead. "I need to know. Because of Sirius. And because of you. He was my friend. And you... you are important to me."

I don't expect it to have an effect. And it startles me when he looks at me with a miserable, lonely expression that screams for help so clearly that I forget anything else. He needs me. And, whatever it is, I'll do my best to help him.

"I died," he says. "And I saw him there."

"My heart stopped at one moment," he explains, "and Lucius used 'Revivalo' on me. But while I was... somewhere else, I met Black there."

I taste blood from my bitten-through lip - and keep silent, waiting for him to continue. I won't think about the implication of his words now - or I might try to kill Malfoy with my bare hands.

"I think he's not completely dead. It was... not the world of dead but something closer to our world. Some kind of limbo. There's nothing there. Just grey. And him. At least I saw only him. He's... suffering."

It scalds me, the way he says it - because he's the last man I would've expected to feel compassion for Sirius.

"It's nothing physical," he says. "Not Muggle hell. I don't even think it's some kind of punishment. It's just that he's in the wrong place. He shouldn't have stayed there - but because he stayed, it's bad. It's such misery," he adds quietly. "A mind can't comprehend it."

"Did he see you?" I ask with numb lips.

"Yes. I tried... to take him with me. It was probably the wrong thing to do but I couldn't help it. It was overwhelming, his anguish. I was revived and he slipped away.

"And I can't forget it," he says, and his voice fills with loathing. "At first, when I was ill, it wasn't so bad. It just came in dreams. But then I started feeling it when awake. More and more often. It's like a part of me is still there with him. I can't forget about him. I have to do something.

"I don't care for your Black," he says with force, disdain on his face. "But I can't get rid of him. He's driving me mad. He's got into my brain and sucks the life out of me. I know why it happened but I... I need to bring him back," he finishes. "It's the only way for me to get rid of him, to be free again."

"Do you know what happened?" I ask, with calmness I don't feel. "Why he got there?"

I see him relax a little; perhaps it's seeing that I believe him. But I do; I know he wouldn't do it unless it was so. And I feel guilt and relief at the same time, because my accusations were unfounded; he was not intending to hurt Sirius even more. Yes, I'm a bastard for thinking it.

"I think it's because of the way he died." He settles more comfortably and his voice acquires a crispy, lecturing tone. "People who don't accept their death, or don't know they died, become ghosts. And I think Black simply didn't believe he could die, which is easy to imagine, knowing his arrogance. But because he's gone through the Veil still alive, his spirit - or soul - got trapped behind it. Or in it, likely. In the archway."

I don't know why these words create such a feeling of dizziness in me. I think suddenly about the twelve years Sirius spent in Azkaban - and now he's trapped somewhere else, imprisoned, suffering. It's so unfair I can't stand to think about it.

"And did you find the way to bring him back?" I ask casually - but I think my burning cheeks give me away. Severus looks at me intently and then shrugs.

"Yes... and no."

"What do you mean?"

"There is a way but I don't think it's possible for me to do it."

"Then, maybe, it's possible for me to do it?"

"You stay away from it, Lupin. I must've been really stupid when I told you." He sighs.

"Too bad. Because now I'm in."

My own words make something tremble inside me, but I hope he doesn't notice it. He smiles in his nasty, unpleasant smile.

"What do you think, Lupin? Why don't people walk around bringing their loved ones from dead as a matter of course? Only because it is considered Dark Magic and is punished with imprisonment in Azkaban?"

"Because Dark Magic corrupts you," I say.

"And because for everything you gain, you have to pay. And the more you get, the higher the price."

A thin string of alarm vibrates in me.

"What kind of price?"

"I don't know. Surely something you wouldn't just give away."

"And are you willing to pay this price? For Sirius?"

"I wouldn't do anything for Black's sake," he says. "I do it for my own sanity."

So, it's not too high a price for you? Why do you think it'll be too high a price for me?

"Sirius is my friend - and I care for you."

Here; I've said it. A declaration of love. I mean to attempt a chuckle but it doesn't come off.

"I'm in," I say again.

Severus looks at me with narrowed, pained eyes. Then he says:

"The thing is, it needs two people to participate in it. So..."

"What do we have to do?"

"It's quite simple, actually."


"Yes. As you know, it's not the first time someone has gone through the Veil. And as we were taught, no one has returned from there alive. But, strictly speaking, it's not true. The Veil has returned bodies - after some undetermined term - rejected them, so to say. Bodies without minds. Zombies."

It makes me sick. Such a thing happening to Sirius - it would be a final injustice. He doesn't deserve it.

"So there will be no problem with reacquiring his body - a simple summons for the dead will do. The main point is in reacquiring his mind, or soul, or whatever you call it, at the same time. I suppose one of us will have to die for a short time. Then, when he brings Black's spirit into his body, he can be revived."


"Yes. That's why I say there are two people necessary."

"Which part do you think you're going to play?" I ask. But I really think I will fight with him desperately if he says something I won't like. I won't let him die again. He licks his lips.

"I wish it could be the other way round. But you won't be able to summon the body and monitor your progress with Black's spirit at the same time. I'm better trained in simultaneous tasks."

"Sure," I say. He looks at me suspiciously.

"If you think it's going to be a leisurely stroll..."

"Through the Valley of Death? I don't think so."

I actually don't know what I think at all, why I feel so elated. Maybe because he's giving me hope, finally snapping me out of this suffocating feeling of my own helplessness. At least now I know what I can do - for him, for Sirius.

"But how can you be sure we'll find him?"

He looks in front of himself, candlelight reflecting in his black eyes.

"I'll take care of it."

"You said you know why you got connected with him," I recall. "What did you mean?"

It seems he hesitates again whether to tell me - but too much is already said.

"Shortly before my temporary death, I had intercourse... with a lamia. I think there were residuals of its magic on me. I'll add the substance that will simulate the same effect to the potion that I'll make to cause your death."

I swallow bitter saliva. I didn't know about a lamia. But I keep silent.

"If Black's still there," he says, "and I think he is, we'll find him."

"But can we..." It suddenly comes to my mind. "Can we get Albus to help us? He surely will do it - you know you weren't fair when you said no one cared. He just thinks Sirius is gone, like everyone else."

"I know it was not fair," he says with a grimace. "But Lupin. We can't involve Albus."


"How do you imagine it? 'Hello, we're going to perform the darkest magic imaginable, would you help us?' He'll be bound to stop us."

Yes, I think, right.

And I think that no matter how fucking dark it is - I won't give up.

Two weeks later, with a box full of accessories - the vial of the potion that will put me to death, Sirius's hair I picked up from a brush found in his room, a thestral's bone, ashes from the family crypt of Blacks - we Floo to Sirius's house and then Apparate in front of the Ministry.

Severus and I, as the members of the Order, have permanent passes, Kingsley arranged them for us, so we pass unimpeded. It's very quiet there, a dark, freezing night and no one is around.

In the hall with the Veil, Severus starts the preparations quite efficiently, and I feel lost for a moment, looking at the archway. Harry's desperate screams sound in my head:

'Get him, save him, he's only just got through!'

"Lupin," Severus says. "You'd better lie down."

He doesn't look at me, his lips compressed tightly as he deliberately draws patterns on the floor with a trickle of ashes. I sit down and then stretch on my back, shifting uncomfortably and chuckling with nervousness.

"Wow. It's cold. And hard."

A few moments later soft steps approach and with a rustle of the robes Severus squats next to me.

"Here." He hands me the vial. "The potion in your post-mortem state will appear as a pendant you'll have on you. If you feel any danger, at least a hint of it, or if you lose contact with me, even for a moment, just take it off. It will be a signal for me to revive you immediately."

"But if we lose contact, how will you know?"

"I'll know."

"All right," I shrug and bring it to my lips.

"Wait!" The hand is locked on mine, stopping it, and Severus's eyes are wide and close. "You... you don't have to do it."

I can say that yes, I do, or that we talked it over a million times - but instead of that I do what seems to come with such difficulty for him; I put my arms around him and hold.

I won't lose you, I swear; and you won't lose me.

When we break apart, there is no need to say anything. I swallow bitter, cold liquid from the vial and slip back on the floor, supine. Very slowly, as it seems to me, but maybe within seconds in reality, the sensation of the cold floor under me and the sound of Severus's voice reading incantations start fading. It's absolutely painless; everything is just gone.

I know at once I'm there. It looks exactly like Severus told me. I'm dead, I think with surprise. Only it doesn't feel like that; well, it's not a 'real' death, after all. All right, it's pretty real - if he doesn't revive me, I'll be oh-so-dead - but still, I can't quite work up real fear about it.

The world around is grey and misty, and I understand very distinctly I can't move, or talk, don't have any sensations at all. I can as well be hanging upside-down and I wouldn't know.

How will I be able to find Sirius, I think in disbelief, let alone lead him out of here?

"It goes all right." It's Severus's voice and I'm not sure where it comes from. How can I hear it? I know it's just there. He's somewhere with me, even if distantly. Now I know what he meant when saying he'd be in contact.

It's strange, but his presence really calms me down. I suddenly believe I will be able to do it. I look around - and then I see, through the shroud of grey, Sirius slowly appearing through the mist.

The shock of it nearly makes me reach for the pendant.

I don't know, perhaps I didn't quite believe Severus, after all. But it's true, Sirius is there.

And as I see him, I understand that now nothing will stop me from bringing him out of here. The realization that he indeed is trapped here brings up terrible pity in me. I know I'd rather stay here with him than leave without.

"Sirius," I say and reach out my hand. I don't hear my own words but I know what I'm doing, and Sirius's eyes, huge pupils swimming in darkened blue irises, look at me without recognition but with terrible, beyond-earthly misery.

Very slowly he takes my hand.

"Hold onto him," Severus says.

I do. I say:

"That's all right, Padfoot, I have you. It's me, Moony, do you remember?"

He answers nothing but I know somehow my words reach him, and I know I need to keep talking.

"I'm taking you away from here," I say.

"Oh, are you?"

It's a whisper, like a rustle of wind, like the very greyness around us is fluctuating with it. I don't know where it comes from, and it's difficult not to panic - but I don't let Sirius's hand loose.

"Am I supposed to let him go?"

"Who's that?"

I don't know who I ask - Severus probably knows as much as I do.

"The Veil?" I ask, stunned.

"Why should I let go something that is mine?"

I feel a sudden fit of hatred towards this thing. What does it think it is, some flytrap, taking living people and spitting out bodies with their souls sucked out? And if it is sentient - then how dare it do it to Sirius?

"You're not the first one who has hated me." If it were anything else, I would almost think there is amusement in these words. "The question is what you are ready to give me."

"For him?" I ask.

"For him."

I don't know.

"Your life? Or the life of the one who guides you?"

Not Severus's life, definitely not. But my life - for Sirius's? Is it such a high price for him not to suffer? Wouldn't I have taken his place when he fell though the Veil, if I could?

"Unacceptable." I hear Severus's crisp voice.

"No? I thought so."

It would be almost funny, this bargaining, if not so much depended on it.

"What then? Oh yes, I know what. Will you give it to me?"

"Not my life or his," I say. "Not anybody's life."

"You can't give me anything that isn't yours."

"All right," I say.

"Both of you."

After a pause I hear Severus say:

"All right," I remember him saying it was his sanity at stake.

"Fine," the Veil says. "The deal is irreversible."

Nothing changes after that. And only moments later I realize the grey around us is not so stifling. I move, leading Sirius with me.

I think I can see the way now. The mist seems to be lit from inside with dull, yellowish light. Severus's presence with me never wavers.

"We're going to walk out of here, Sirius. Just wait a little bit," I say. "Hold on, I know you can. We'll get through, I promise you."

The words that I mutter are meaningless, silly, but I feel them like an invisible string binding us together, and that's why I keep talking.

"Yes, like that. Trust me, I'll take you away from here, Sirius."

The yellow glimmer becomes brighter and all of a sudden we're inside it. And it's hot - as if the mist hides glowing embers. The burning becomes so harsh it seems at the next moment my skin will blister and peel.

I suppose if I don't get revived now, in a moment later it will be too late.

"Remus, now."

I reach to the pendant - to where I know it should be - and find it, and yank the chain. It rips off, flashing bright red, exploding in the air as I throw it, and at the next moment I feel Sirius's hand wrenched away from mine. An unbearable force yanks me down, and the impact of my body meeting me is stunning.

I sit up abruptly, my hand still scraping my chest, trying to get rid of the pendant that is not there. My lungs burn, not with the heat I breathed in but with oxygen filling them again. I stare wildly around. Right in front of me, in the frame of the archway, Sirius is standing.

His hair is very long, falling in tangled strands over his shoulders, swaying slightly in the breeze that makes the Veil flutter. His clothes are frayed, looking like they're going to fall apart under a touch - like he's been wearing them for years - and he himself is so thin and pale that it looks scary.

His eyes, blue, fierce, keeping both the fire I remember in him when he was sixteen and the shadows of twelve years in Azkaban, look at me, and then his bluish lips crack in a small, confused smile.

"Moony," he says. "Where's everyone?"

And at the same moment with peripheral sight I see a black-clad figure slide on the floor soundlessly.


I scramble up on my knees and towards him but too I'm late to keep him from falling. He's limp and I pull him onto my lap. His eyes are closed and his face is absolutely, completely white, except for a trickle of blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. His body slackly gives in to my handling.

I stare in terror at him, my mind going blank for a moment, except for one overwhelming panicky thought. The Veil said it wouldn't take anyone's life - it couldn't lie, could it? He isn't dead, he can't be! He can't.

I touch his face, his skin is cold, but surely it's not that cold, not deadly cold; and I'm so messed up I can't even figure out if he's breathing or not.

Distantly I hear the steps behind me. It must be Sirius. He asks, in a puzzled voice:

"What's Snape doing here? What's wrong with him?"

I'm such a fool, I realize suddenly; I grab my wand and wave.

"Ennervate." Nothing happens. "Ennervate."

Nothing; nothing at all. No spark, no moving energy; I don't feel the familiar tingling of magic going through my hand to the wand. I wonder if something is wrong with it - oh no, please, not now...

I realise I'm repeating it aloud, in a pained, desperate voice. But he can't die on me; he just can't, he knows it.


Above me, a wand moves in the air, and I feel a small shudder going through Severus's body. His ribs rise and his eyelashes tremble.

"For Merlin's sake, Remus," Sirius says peevishly.

I look at him with heart-felt gratitude, and then, when I look back at Severus, I meet the stare of wide-open black eyes. He stares at me and then reaches to his head carefully.

"You banged it on the floor when you fell," I say with a giddy smile.

"Feels like that," he mutters and moves away from me to sit up. He's quite shaky, and he must still be feeling confused. "You all right?"

"Yeah," I say.

He looks up at Sirius disdainfully.

"And what about this?"

"This has just saved you from being out cold while Moony was fussing over you like an idiot," Sirius says.

"Oh, I see. It's fully in its mind again. Which shouldn't be surprising. Even seven months of being dead couldn't cause brain damage when there's no brain."

"Shut your filthy mouth, Snape, or..."

"Or what?"

And then it seems something from Severus's words, apart from their abusive meaning, penetrates Sirius's consciousness. He stares, first at the Veil, then at me and Severus, and then grasps a flowing strand of his hair and looks at it in horror.

His voice is hoarse when he says:

"Where's Harry?"

"At Hogwarts," I answer, trying to calm him down with my voice. "He's safe."

"How long..." he starts and then his eyes fill with dark, painful hatred as he looks at Severus. "Seven months, you said?"

And despite his icy voice, there is something in it that I can read clearly - a plea: please reassure me. Please tell me it's not true.

"Sirius." I reach my hand and he jerks back, his hands buried in that incongruously long hair. He gives me a wild look and paces in front of the archway, and I feel a pang of fear: what if he steps back there, or is pulled in?

"Seven months. I don't remember. I don't remember anything. This bitch, Bella, got me - and then... queasy... I remember I thought Harry would worry."

I hear a little snort from Severus, and he shakes his head, but it's probably more to do with his own thoughts than to what Sirius says. Severus is still sitting on the floor, resting his elbows on his knees and supporting his forehead with his palm.

Sirius stands, looking around wildly.

"And how did I get out?"

"Necromancy." Severus's voice from under the hand sounds muffled and very tired.

I can see Sirius processing it.

"You... you... but why?"

"You won't understand, Black. Since you don't remember anything."

"I wasn't asking you! Moony, did you participate in it? It's Dark Arts..."

"I told you he wouldn't thank you."

"It's a long story," I say, exhausted. "Let's discuss it somewhere else. We need to get out of here."

I get up on my feet and sway a little. I didn't notice it before but I feel drained, so weak I'm dizzy. I hold myself up against Severus's shoulder - and feel him support me a little, on my thigh. And this touch, as minimal as it is, sends such a definite wave of warmth through me that I feel a bit relieved.

The breath catches is Sirius's throat, audibly. I feel him look at us and meet his gaze, and it seems he wants to say something but no words come.

I feel as if a trickle of ice has run over my spine. I should've thought it would be like that. I should've guessed. Sirius wasn't here; he doesn't know anything about us.

Sirius blinks, and I can see clearly he's recalling the scene I made when Severus blacked out. I take a deep breath.

"Seven months, Sirius."

He stops me with a gesture and then slumps down on the floor in front of the Veil and buries his face in his hands.

It takes Sirius about three minutes to pull himself together; that's what I always admired about him: his ability to deal with what life dishes to him. He gets up and looks at me with a little tight smile.

"Where shall we go? To my house?"

"Yes," I say.

Sirius pops out, and a moment later Severus Apparates, too - and I... I suddenly understand I can't do it.

It's not that I forgot how. I remember the theory very well, I passed it with flying colours after the sixth form. But my body just doesn't know what to do. It's not even like it was when I started to learn - then I was afraid, but I still knew I could do it.

Now it's just... it isn't in me any more.

I recall my helpless attempts of trying to Ennervate Severus - and whip out my wand.


The lights don't even blink.

"Incendio. Wingardium Leviosa. Accio chair."

I wave the wand, feeling something freeze in me with every second and every futile command, and Severus and Sirius pop back, looking worried and then, when they see me, irritated.

"Are you going to spend the whole night here?" Severus says.

I look at him in anguish and say:

"I can't Apparate."

"Of course, you can, Moony," Sirius says encouragingly and then looks at the wand in my hand, and recalls something. He gulps. I answer his unasked question.

"It doesn't work at all. No magic."

I think now I know what price I paid to the Veil. I've become a Squib.

Merlin; or should I get used to saying 'God', like Muggles do? I can't think about it now. I won't think about it.

"We need to get you out of here," Severus says.

"Floo," Sirius says. "There is one we came through, I remember."

He goes to the door, and at this moment I feel strong cold fingers touch on my wrist carefully, tucking the wand away. I glance at Severus and I think I look completely miserable, and I'm so afraid he'll say something comforting that won't be comforting at all because then I will finally understand it's really true.

But Severus is never one for comforting things, so he says nothing and just leads me by my hand, almost like I led Sirius in that world beyond the Veil.

Sirius is right, there is a Floo, now I remember it, too - we passed it when breaking into the Ministry to rescue Harry and his friends. Sirius stands there and grabs a handful of powder.

"Let's go, Remus."

Right; one of them has to Floo with me.

"I'll Floo him, Black." Severus's voice is bored and full of animosity at the same time.

"Are you afraid of going alone? Afraid I'll shut the fireplace in front of you?"

"I wouldn't put it beyond you, Black. But no, I'm not afraid of anything."

"Let Remus go, he's not your property."

"Neither is he yours."

It escalates very quickly.

"Stop it." I snap. "Go, Sirius. I'll be right behind you with Severus."

I think that if Severus looks in triumph at Sirius, I'll hit him. But he's probably too tired for that; he looks down, his face pale and exhausted.

Sirius disappears in green light, and we step into the fireplace. Severus's arm is hard wrapped around my ribcage, and suddenly I want this moment to last a little longer, just him and me, together.

"Number Twelve Grimmauld Place," he says, tossing the powder.

We fall out of the fireplace, Severus's arm still locked securely around me, and then it lets go, and I feel the loss. Sirius reaches out a hand to me; I take it and get up. Severus brushes soot off his robes with a shut, distant expression on his face.

Sirius smiles a little, but it's such an unsure smile that my heart goes out for him. As he stands there, in the hall of his house, hands stuffed in the pockets, he looks so out of place. He looks like a strange wraith, with his long hair, threadbare clothes and the face that is entirely too pale.

"The house's changed," he says.

I understand suddenly; we really changed quite a lot of things here, Harry and I.

"I live here," I say awkwardly. "Albus found your will. I'm sorry."

"Oh Moony, really. You can live here always. It's your house as much as mine."

"BUT IT IS NOT YOUR HOUSE!" The cover from the portrait slides off, and Lady Black's shrill voice fills every corner of the hall. "You traitorous scum, how dare you come to this house and bring those beasts with you?"

"There's only one beast I see here, Mother," Sirius says, "and she's in front of me."

"Degenerate! Disgrace of my loins!"

"Your loins? Please don't give me that mental image."

It's really strange how easily they slip into the pattern; as if there were no seven months while he was away, while she was wailing at night that both her sons dared leave her.

In a way, it's consoling to see Sirius didn't change. But at the same time I feel so tired I'm almost shaking with weakness. It's like I usually feel after a full moon night. Suddenly I feel sick thinking about it. I'm pretty sure my lycanthropy hasn't gone anywhere with my magic. A werewolf and a Squib; what a cocktail.

I feel Severus's gaze on me; I've learned to sense it, from all the time we're together. I look at him and meet the stare of wide, tired, very intense eyes. And something in me strives towards this gaze, makes me want more than just that - a touch, something tangible - what wouldn't I give for that? And then a little fearful voice squeaks in my mind: 'You're a Squib. Do you think he will need you now? Do you think he will want you?'

I know I wouldn't want myself, in his place. What am I without magic? Nothing. Nothing; magic was a part of me for all my life - it was me.

I look at Sirius who stands, hands crossed on his chest, quarrelling with his mother, and a shocking thought suddenly floods me. What if I had known what the price was? Would I have agreed then?

Do I think the price was too high - for Sirius's life, for him being back?

It scares me that I can even think about it. Isn't someone's life more important than anything else? Wouldn't he do this for me?

I don't know.

I'm really a monster; one of a kind.

"Shut up, you hag!" Sirius throws the cover back over the portrait, and this time it stays put. He turns to us. "I need a drink. And you?"

He walks up to the cabinet and pulls out a bottle of firewhiskey. It's the one he started himself, more than half a year ago; Harry and I are not much of drinkers. He pours a glass and then another for me, and then makes a pantomime out of looking at Severus, weighing the glass in his hand, as if hesitating whether he should fill it.

I sigh; I wish he wouldn't do it, at least now, when I feel I'm about to fall apart with exhaustion. Besides, Severus doesn't touch the glass anyway.

I think I have to do something, to make a point. Whatever is going to be between Severus and me, I can't let it go like this. I can't let the situation come to what it was during our Hogwarts years; things changed. I have to make it clear to Sirius.

I step at Severus's side and look at Sirius. It's not easy, my eyes sting like there is sand under the eyelids. I meet Sirius's eyes as he downs firewhiskey, and even though he smiles, I think he understands everything perfectly. He was always the smartest one of us; he was the one who figured out I was a werewolf.

"I don't want any misunderstanding between us, Sirius. We... Severus and I are together. If it bothers you, I will leave your house."

I say that pointedly ignoring the insistent voice nagging me, whispering: 'A Squib, a Squib, he won't need you, he will leave you, he will turn you down.'

But with strange clarity I understand that it doesn't matter. If Severus leaves me... well, it'll be his doing. I need to do what I feel I must. I shied away from doing it all my life. Knowing the right ways, and settling for the convenient ones.

"Come on, Moony," Sirius waves his hand in an uncharacteristically awkward manner. "I told you, it's your house. You can do anything you want here." It sounds quite stifled. "It's your choice."

Everything but the words speaks about the contrary. He's like a child who tries to hide his resentment. But still, he said it - and I'm grateful to him. I hope he'll stick with it.

"As long as you don't have sex on my bed," he finishes, in a lame attempt of a joke that I appreciate nevertheless. Severus snorts.

"I've never had the inclination to doing it on a rag in front of the fireplace, rest assured."

Damn. He couldn't keep silent, could he?

"Watch your mouth, Snivellus." I see Sirius's hand sneak for the wand and Severus clenches his. "You could get into good graces with Moony but you won't deceive me, you fucking Death Eater. I know better."

"You always know better, don't you, Black? Tell me, how is it on the other side? Tougher than in Azkaban?"

Sirius goes pale.

"Oh, I forgot," Severus drawls. "You don't even remember."

I recall his quiet voice when he was saying to me:

'It's such misery... a mind can't comprehend it.'

"Enough!" I sweep my glass from the table. It explodes, hitting the floor. The smell of firewhiskey becomes overwhelming, shocking. I look hatefully at the mess I've made, my nostrils flaring as I try not to breathe it in. Then the splinters and the puddle are gone, and Severus tucks his wand away. I feel quite grateful.

"I need to go," he says. "I have classes in the morning. I'll inform Albus about what happened."

Please don't go.

"And Harry," Sirius says, perking up. "Send Harry here."

"If the Headmaster deems it necessary."

He gives me one more glance, before going to the Floo; his face having a terribly intense expression for a moment, the one I can't quite read. I wish I could. I wish I knew what he's feeling. I wish I could say something to make him stay. I wish he wanted to stay with me...

"Good bye," he says and then throws the powder to the fireplace.

If I ever had any doubts whether we've done the right thing, bringing Sirius back, they would've evaporated when I saw Harry meeting him. The boy falls out of the Floo, dishevelled and puffy-eyed, shakes off soot sleepily - and then he looks up.

"Sirius!" It's almost a shriek - and at the next moment he flings himself at Sirius, hands clutching on Sirius's shirt, face pressed to his chest. I've never seen Harry like this; he always seemed to me more comfortable with showing his anger than joy.

But now he clings to Sirius, nearly plastering himself over him, as if trying to make sure with every cell of his body that Sirius is real. His breath is loud and rattling, too much like sobbing, and between gasps he keeps saying:

"Sirius. Sirius."

Sirius pats Harry's back, quite a goofy smile on his face.

"It'll be okay, Harry. I'm here."

Albus looks at them with weary, compassionate eyes. I think when he looks at me, he won't be so compassionate.

And I also think about the fact that Severus is not here, hasn't come back with Albus and Harry.

"Remus," Dumbledore says. I steel myself to his gaze.


"I really don't know what to say."

That's something new; it makes me feel even more awkward, if anything. But if he doesn't know what to say, then I do.

"I'm perfectly aware of what I've done, sir. If you have to report me to the Ministry, I'll surely understand. I just would like to point then that it was my idea and I did it alone."

Albus looks at me intently and, unbelievably, there is something like amusement in his eyes.

"You're right, Remus. You're at the age when I suppose you should be able to foresee the consequences of your actions. So, to berate you... I don't think there is a point, is there?"

I don't know what to answer to that, so I just swallow and say nothing.

"But how?" Harry finally unglues himself from Sirius and look at Albus and me, his gaze turning into a glare quickly. "You said he was dead!"

"I guess I was," Sirius says and shrugs apologetically. It's strange to hear these words from him; he does look thin and pale but I don't know a person whose eyes are more alive. I think that his will for life that made him survive Azkaban was what kept him from dissolving into the world of the dead.

Albus is silent; he's not going to help me.

"We..." I start. "I... used necromancy to bring Sirius back."

For some reason, Harry doesn't look all that shocked. Perhaps he would've been, if he had been raised in a wizard family. Right now he looks rather like 'so what, why didn't you do it earlier?' His hand is still clasped on Sirius's frayed clothes; he looks like a child afraid to let his mother go, or she'll be gone.

Then something flits over his face.

"That's not what Voldemort did?"

"No," I say. "Not quite."

"I don't have red eyes, do I?" Sirius asks.

"Then it's good." Harry turns at me and says very seriously. "Thank you, professor Lupin... Remus."

I had told him to call me by the given name. Sirius looks at me, tilting his head awry, his pale face affectionate and cheerful.

"Yes," he says. "Thank you, Moony."

I can't bear it. I suddenly just can't stand it any more. They thank me! I'm a Squib... a Squib!

I turn harshly and walk upstairs, to my room, without looking back.

"I don't know whether your magic will return," Albus says. "I wish I could reassure you, Remus. But I really don't know. It might."

I know, I think dully. It won't return. The Veil was quite clear about it. 'The deal is irreversible.' I have to start getting used to it.

"Oh, and Remus," Dumbledore says. "About turning you in to the Ministry. I would have a bit of difficulty with doing that. You and Severus hardly can be accused of bringing Sirius Black back since the Ministry was never aware of him being dead in the first place."

Partly, I'm relieved. But partly I think that it doesn't change anything. I will still be catching myself, waving my wand with 'Lumos' or 'Accio' and finding that nothing happens.

But what did I expect? It was a bargain, and I paid the price. Did I hope the price would be something that would be not so painful to pay?

Severus warned me, didn't he? Severus...

I stand in front of the fireplace, looking at the bowl of Floo powder. So many times I just grabbed it and Floo-ed to his quarters, without even thinking about it. Now I can't even do it.

And I'm not sure I'll be welcome.

"Moony," Sirius says softly, coming up from behind. "Do you want me to Floo you to him?"

He's terribly generous, to offer that, taking into account his hatred to Severus. I shake my head without looking at him. It's not like something prevents Severus from Floo-ing here. And if he doesn't...

"That's right, that's a good boy," Sirius says. I know he can't help cheering up at my refusal. He tries to be encouraging but oh Merlin, he sounds so condescending! "Don't think about the bastard. If he could dump you like this - good riddance."

I try not to flinch. Why is he saying that? Doesn't he understand? I don't want to hear it; maybe he didn't dump me at all, only one day has passed. And what a stupid word, 'dump', like I'm a girl.

Or what if something happened to him? I wouldn't know, would I? But Albus was here twice and said nothing; and Harry spent an evening here, and Hermione and Ron visited.

"We don't need the slimy son of bitch," Sirius says. "I'm with you, Remus."

I turn abruptly, and there must be something in my face that makes Sirius step back. His eyes look hurt and uncomprehending. I don't say anything; if I do, I will regret it later. So, I just go upstairs and close the door behind me.

He's with me! What does he mean, he's with me? Is he with me in becoming a Squib, in losing my magic abilities?

I'm alone. Like I've always been alone, in everything that happened.

At night Sirius forces himself into my room. He's unshaven, his hair, cut above his shoulders, is in disarray and he's reeking with whiskey. He looks at me with drunk, unhappy eyes and slurs:

"Moony. I'm so sorry, Moony."

For what? For being alive again?

His eyes stop on my hand that holds the wand and become even unhappier, if possible. I feel anger rise in me, for him catching me holding it, even though it is my fault, not his.


If he says my name like that again, I'll hex him. Oh wait; I can't.

"I didn't know, Moony."

How could he know? I didn't know anything either.

And if I did?

I think I've never fully forgiven him for his prank with Severus in our sixth year, when he risked my freedom and life just because he wanted to teach someone a lesson. I know he didn't mean it, he apologised, and I said I forgave him - but deep in my heart, I think I singled him out, started loving him less than my other friends. That's why I believed so quickly that he betrayed James and killed Peter.

And then, three years ago, he was back, innocent, having suffered so much - and he was the only one I had. He needed me and I needed him, we were alone in that.

And now he's alive again, without a single memory of being gone for seven months, without even a reason to appreciate what we've done for him - and I... I'm a Squib.

"Please go away, Sirius," I say. "Please."

When, after a long pause, the door closes, I stare wildly at the wand in my hand. I should break it - or burn it - what use does it have for me now, anyway? I'm not into keeping mementoes of something that's gone forever.

Oh Merlin, how am I going to cope with it? When I found out I was turned into a werewolf - I was young then, a child, I didn't know it would be a whole life of getting through, of coping. Now I know better.

Now I don't have enough strength, or foolishness, to keep living no matter what.

But I don't have to keep living if I don't want to, right? I'm not afraid - I've been dead, after all. It won't be like with Sirius because I will go there willingly and prepared. There will be no pain, no humiliation, no struggle through another day.

I can do it. It's so easy.


With a jolt I pull my knees up to my chest, hugging them. No; I won't do it. I'm not so weak. I can't do it to Sirius, can't leave him with the feeling of guilt he will surely have. I can't leave him alone.

Because he really was with me. Like James, like Peter, during my nights of transformation. They became Animagi for me. If he needs me, I'll stay with him.

And I can't leave Severus. 'Yes, but he left you,' the stubborn voice says in my head and I oust it forcibly. If he left me - I need to know it for sure. And even if he did...

Then I won't die either.

Perhaps he doesn't care for me, perhaps his feeling towards me were just this deep. But I'm pretty sure about what I feel towards him - and nothing will change it.

In the morning Sirius has a hangover. He sits at the table, head in his hands, groaning. I nurse a cup of coffee in my palms and say vindictively:

"Remember that next time when you decide to down the whole bottle by yourself."

"It feels like I've drunk hippogriff's piss."

"I wouldn't know. It's you who spent so much time with Buckbeak."

"Beaky." He raises his crumpled face and looks pleadingly at me. "Do you think I can have him back?"

"Dumbledore sent him to Beauxbatons. I think it's better there for him, he's got to fly a lot. Better than being locked in a room."

"Yeah, right," Sirius says weakly.

I feel a sharp pang of pity in my chest and reach to his arm, pat it a little in a mindless comforting gesture.

And at this moment green light bursts out in the fireplace - and a black figure lands awkwardly.

Severus brushes off the sleeve of his robes deliberately, although I don't think soot is noticeable on the black cloth, and then he looks at us.

There's no glamour on his face, the scar looks stark and bright on his waxen-pale face. He looks like he hasn't been sleeping for days, I think distantly. His eyes have a haunted look in them.

"Hello, Severus," I say finally.

It looks like he's forgotten one should greet others when coming in.

"Remus. Black. Black," he repeats, "will you mind leaving us alone for a moment?"

So he's going to tell me it's over between us. At least he has enough dignity to tell me that openly. I remember Tonks's words when I left her: 'It's not like I can stop you.'

I feel Sirius looking at me questioningly, and nod. He gets up muttering something about 'being an outcast in his own house'.

"Black. Pissed. What's new about this sight?" Severus's narrowed eyes focus on him. Sirius growls.

"Listen to me, you git. If you're only going to hurt Moony..."

"Sirius," I interrupt him. "I can handle this myself."

He looks at me, nods and walks out. I gaze at Severus who stands with his arms wrapped around himself as if he's cold.

His closeness triggers in me something, an overpowering wish to come up and put my arms around him, to feel his smell, to touch his not-so-clean hair with my lips. I remind myself that things have changed, that he likely won't appreciate my attempts to touch him.

"Please sit down," I say.

He does, on the opposite side of the table, close but not close enough. I stand up almost immediately.

"Would you like some coffee?"

I don't even wait for his answer, go to the stove, pick up a cup from the dish rack. My fingers are quite steady, I notice with pride. I watch how nearly-black liquid fills the white cup and then carry it back to the table.

Severus's eyes are black on the white face, staring at me.

"Remus," he says with a sigh. "About what happened to you."

No, I don't want to hear it! I don't want pity. If you want to break it off, just do it.

"Something happened to me too," he says.

I stare at him. Right; the fee was collected from both of us. But it can't be magic, can it? He used his wand and the Floo.

"Look at this," he says and pulls his sleeve up.

His arm is quite scarred, after his captivity, but I look at the place where the Dark Mark used to be. The skull is gone; now there is a red and yellow crest there, a lion, and smaller letters that I barely can read. 'RL' and 'SB.'

For a few moments I just stare dumbly.

"Very funny, isn't it?" Severus says harshly and pulls the sleeve down. "I suppose the fucking thing had a good laugh out of it, binding me to two Gryffindors."

"Is it..." I start and stop again. "Is it a binding?"

"What else can it be?"

"To me and Sirius?"

"Yes," he snaps. He must be on the verge of his control.

"But how?"

"You want to know the mechanics, Lupin? I haven't got a clue. I noticed it only when I looked at it. But I assume it was done in some way similar to how the Dark Lord marks his followers."

My mouth goes dry and I need a few moments to say it.

"Does it do the same things as the Dark Mark?"

I don't like this thought; I'm not like Voldemort in anything. I didn't mark him.

"Basically, yes. It shows the power of the one who put it over the bound one." His face distorts, the depth of loathing in his eyes almost scary. But at least he doesn't say 'your power over me'. "The bound one can't inflict physical harm to his superior. Can't disobey direct orders. Can't not answer a direct question. When his superior is summoning, the bound one has to come," he finishes with a sigh.

"You said 'physical harm'. Does it mean you can cause emotional harm?"

"I suppose so." He sneers. "I did, to the Dark Lord. I think he was deeply disappointed, finding out about my double-crossing."

"And direct questions - can you lie?"

"I can."

So, it's not so bad, is it? Another thought comes to me.

"But if this thing replaced the Dark Mark - does it mean you're free from Volde... You-Know-Who now?"

I know he doesn't like to hear Voldemort's name. Maybe, even now he doesn't.

"Yes. Apparently."

"But that's great!"

The summonses, during the last months, were very harsh since there was no way he could answer them. There were nights I spent rocking him in my arms because he couldn't stay still, couldn't sleep with pain.

"Great?" His upper lip curls, baring his teeth, in such a grimace of anger that I flinch. "It took my freedom. Forever."

I understand; with the Dark Mark, he could hope it'd be erased, if Harry managed to defeat Voldemort. But with this new one - it'll stay as long as Sirius and I live.

Quite ironic, since he did bring Sirius back from dead.

"I'm bound to this jerk, submissive to him," Severus whispers. "And to you..."

"Wait, but doesn't me having no magic abilities mean that the binding won't work?"

"No," he says, his voice chilly, "it doesn't." There is a hollow expression on his face as if he expects me to check it right now, to demand something unpleasant and potentially painful from him. "It demanded that I inform you about your power. Burned quite a lot."

It did look swollen and inflamed. But the implication of his words starts angering me. So, he told me not because he trusted me but because he couldn't help it?

"You do know," I say levelly, stifling the edge in my voice, "don't you, that I would never abuse my power towards you?"

His burning eyes stare at me, angrily, hurtfully, and with such a mixed expression of distrust and hope that I feel my heart clench.

He doesn't know. Of course, how can he know I won't hurt him? He's been violated so badly, in so many ways. And I wasn't always there for him.

I doubted him, too.

"Severus," I kneel on the chair in front of him and catch his gaze with mine. " I swear this will be the only time that I consciously use my power over you. Please answer me. Without this binding, of your own accord - knowing what I've become, that I may never get back my abilities - would you still like to stay with me?"

"Yes," he says. It comes very easily and in a somewhat surprised way, like there is nothing else he can say.

I lean over the table towards him and press my lips to his.

It feels so familiar, his mouth yielding to mine, his tongue meeting mine, even tasting like him - bitter coffee and mint toothpaste - and his hands lock on my arms, dragging me closer. He moans into the kiss when I clamp my teeth a little on his lip.

For a moment nothing else exists - and then I crash over the table; should've realised my position was not the most balanced.

He snorts. We walk and meet halfway around the table, and I take his face in my hands, and there is a dizzying feeling of possession in it that has nothing to do with the binding.

For the first time since his rescue I feel he's fully with me.

"Remus," he says in a little, needy voice that I'm so glad to hear that it feels like something has exploded in my head.

"Yes." I rub my nose against his in a very silly gesture that still feels very good. A part of me wants to take him right here, on this table, to get his cock in my mouth and not stop until we both are spent. But a part of me wants it slowly and thoroughly, savouring every moment of it.

We break away from each other. Severus's eyes are quite wild, his face flushed in arousal. He's never looked any better to me. I want to kiss him again.

"Let's go." I take his hand and lead him out of the kitchen.

On the stairs, a glass of whiskey in his hand, there is Sirius, completely absorbed in contemplation of the portrait of his long dead great-great-cousin.

Severus stops and I tense, too.

"You have to tell him, don't you?"

"No need," he says acidly. "He was eavesdropping. It stopped burning."

Sirius turns to us, with a mixed expression in his eyes. I try to read it: is it glee, or malice, or mockery? I could've promised I would never use my powers - but Sirius? Sirius who hates him?

I step in front of Severus.


"I don't need your protection, Lupin," Severus hisses, trying to push me out of the way.

"Moony. You don't need to interfere." Sirius looks uncertain, staring at the floor, and then courageously raises his eyes to Severus. "There is something I want to say to this git. Do you think I'm a complete bastard who knows nothing about honour, Snape?"

Severus snorts in such a manner that I don't doubt his answer.

"Well, as a matter of fact, Black, yes."

Sirius's hands clench, the glass trembles dangerously. Then, with a tremendous effort he gets himself under control.

"I heard everything you said to Remus. I've got it. I have power over you. But do you think gratitude is an empty phrase for me? You and Moony, you got me out of there. I owe you, Snape."

I know he means it, and I feel such pride for Sirius, for being able to say that, admit it finally.

"Your point, Black?"

Damn him, why doesn't he make it any easier?

I'd bet that's what Sirius thinks. He takes a sip of whiskey and says in a strained voice:

"I swear I will never use my power over you to do anything painful to you. Or to make you do anything painful."

"Or humiliating," Snape adds in a cold voice.

"Or humiliating."

"And you won't use it for your amusement."

"I won't use it for my amusement," Sirius says through the clenched teeth. "Anything else I can do for you? Do you want me to bow in front of you?"

"And see you flop on your face, you're so drunk?"

For a few heartbeats Sirius struggles with himself, then manages to cope.

"All right. Show it to me!"

"Black, you bastard," Snape hisses, his face distorting as he rolls up his sleeve. Sirius's wide eyes stare at the mark and then he understands.

"Oh, sorry... Direct order. I forgot."

"How could I expect you to remember something that was said a few minutes ago, indeed?"

Sirius glares at him.

I step closer and put my hand on Severus's arm. How will I be able to deal with them when they're like that? But when I feel Severus lean towards me, just a little bit into my touch, and I feel the warmth of his arm through the cloth of the sleeve, I think maybe everything will be all right.

We'll get through.


[+] Back