Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
The morning dawned clear and cold. Remus, chilled and a little damp from sitting on the lawn, pressed his hands between his knees to warm them and huddled into himself. Orange painted the sky above his head, fading into blue. Lucius had sent another bundle of clothes over during the night, russet reds and muted browns. The closet in his suite was slowly filling; Remus had decided to take the gesture as it was meant and had dressed in the set some anonymous servant had laid out for him. The stockings itched and the stiff black leather of his shoes pinched his toes, but the high collar of the coat and the silky knit of the neck cloth made up for the slight discomfort.
A low bird call drew his eyes up. High overhead, an owl circled down to Malfoy Manor. He shifted to look behind him. The north wing was stirring, lights coming on in parlours and bedrooms. A boy with a water can appeared in the orangery, drawing back the blinds and letting in the new sunlight. By chance, their eyes met, and the boy started. Quickly he disappeared.
Once word spread among the servants that he’d escaped outside, it wouldn’t be long before Lucius knew. Remus climbed stiffly to his feet, rubbing his hands against his thighs and stomach. He began the trek back to the house, taking his time and avoiding the strain of climbing the hill too quickly. It couldn’t have taken more than fifteen minutes, but by the time he’d reached the house, a small contingent of servants were waiting for him. One held a thick woolen coat, another dry shoes, and a third a small folded note and a steaming cup of tea and whiskey.
‘Master’s waiting for you in the Green Room,’ the third informed him. The coat was laid over his shoulders, his shoes removed and the new ones buckled tightly, and the cup and saucer placed into his hands. Six blank eyes looked at him.
‘Thank you,’ Remus said, awkward under their attention. ‘The Green Room– that’s upstairs?’
‘North wing,’ said one. ‘The white staircase to your left.’
‘Thank you.’ The tea was weak and the whiskey too strong. But he held onto it, not knowing if he could give it back. He followed their directions up the stairs, and was greeted by another expressionless servant carrying a large pewter tray. When Remus hurried to hold the door for him, he received a swift look of surprise. Lucius was already seated at the table, the newspaper in his hand and his hair still drying from his bath. He indicated a chair upholstered in ancient emerald-dyed leather, and the server distributed covered plates and pitchers of juices between them. The oaken door closed, and they were alone. Remus put his tea aside and picked up his leaf green napkin.
‘I always wondered how the other half lived,’ he said, trying to sound light and unconcerned. ‘Who decided that fourteen shades of green in one room was handsome?’
‘Some vapid bride forgotten in Malfoy history.’ The blonde man removed the lid from his plate, and picked up his biscuit to butter it. ‘Pass that honey when you’re done with it.’
He did, and took the cream in return to soften his mash. ‘Are you busy today?’
‘Mm. I have to make a trip into Kent. But I’ll be back by morning.’ Lucius crossed his legs and leaned back in his chair. ‘My Lord will be leaving us. He has other friends to see, and he shouldn’t stay in one place too long. There’s always the chance that the Ministry might spawn someone competent.’ Under the table, he brushed Remus’s foot with his own. ‘There’s some people knocking about. Lestrange is here, to use the library. He said he was bringing some others with him. If you avoid the third floor you can probably stay out of their way.’ Blue eyes swept over him. ‘Unless you’d like to help. No-one knows how to use a library better than you.’
‘Oh, how you flatter me.’ He reached for his toast. ‘I might walk. It’s a good day for walking.’
‘Stay on the grounds.’
Lucius huffed a breath, and turned his head to stare out the window. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Of course I am.’ He poked a corner of the bread into the mash.
Lucius pushed back his plate and stood, tossing his napkin into his chair. ‘I’m not hungry. I’m going to get going. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
He nodded, but didn’t look up. He felt a hand on his shoulder, but then it was gone, and Lucius was through the door. Remus sighed, and dropped his elbows onto the table. Remembering his note, he shifted the tea cup aside and unfolded it.
Remus, please meet me today. I’ll be in Malfoy’s library researching a few potions– I’ve apprenticed to Turbute, not that he knows what I do in my spare time. I think we should talk. I know we should.
Remus looked out the window. Day had arrived, and he knew a servant hovered on the other side of the panelled wooden door, listening for him to finish his meal. He tucked the note inside his shirt, and reached for the honey.
1982 : Fall
They followed the path of a stream that was mostly ice and cold mud. The air had the sting of biting cold and crystalline clarity that came in the late autumn, and their breath steamed just slightly as they walked. Severus wore black, as he seemed to prefer now, and had thus far been silent. Remus was content to maintain that, and talked mostly to himself of tree species and the occasional swan. At last they crested another hill, and stopped to take in the view– the spread of Muggle towns and a factory that marred the idyllic majesty of the Malfoy estate. Remus sighed, and turned back to the woods.
‘Why are you here?’
Severus’s voice was quiet, but unexpectedly sharp. Remus felt dark eyes on his back, and the skin between his shoulder blades tingled uncomfortably. He wished his coat had pockets; he didn’t know what to do with his hands. ‘I was asked to come.’
‘By Malfoy.’ He did not respond. ‘Why? What does he want from you?’
‘He doesn’t want anything. He’s a friend, doing what friends do.’
‘Giving you a place to live? A bed to sleep in– his?’
‘Leave it be,’ he said to the air. ‘You have no right to question what happens between me and him.’ He set off to his left, without any direction in mind. Sometimes he could see his breath frosting before him. Damp leaves stuck to his boots as he crossed them. Severus followed, and eventually leaned forward and caught his arm. He stiffened, but the other man only linked their arms, and walked close beside him after.
‘You look ridiculous, you know,’ Severus said. ‘That style suits Malfoy, but you look like a half-bit actor who’s not sure of his part.’
‘I have to wear something,’ he replied philosophically.
‘Why are you here,’ Severus asked again. This time, he asked it directly, his eyes on the trees around them.
‘Because a good man died. And no-one was going to do anything about it.’
‘And now all his killers are dead.’
He glanced at the severe line of his friend’s face. ‘All?’
Their eyes met, and then Severus looked away. ‘Nigel Hamptom was thrown from a window in Buckinghamshire. Tom Cheng hung himself.’ Another glance.
‘Hung himself,’ Remus repeated.
‘And David Balch.’
Had cried for mercy. ‘Did you think I wouldn’t do it?’ he said. ‘That I couldn’t, that I’m too weak to kill a man?’
At his side, Severus slowed his gait; after only a moment’s hesitation, however, his strong stride resumed. When he spoke, it was softly, almost inaudible. ‘No. I thought that you would do it. And that’s why I stopped you.’
He did not respond. He did not know how to.
Severus seemed to come to a conclusion. He stopped and dropped his hold on Remus’s arm, and gestured for them to sit beneath a tall tree with orange and red leaves. He opened his cloak to reach inside his vest. He took a small silver case from within, and an oddly shaped pipe. He handed the pipe to Remus, and opened the case. It held small fragrant cakes.
‘It’s opium,’ he said. ‘It’s– better to be high when you go. Then it’s not as real. More like a nightmare.’ As Remus took one of the cakes and examined it, he added, ‘You keep the smoke in as long–‘
‘I know how to do it.’ He watched as Severus placed the cake in the bowl of the pipe and lit it. ‘Is it always like that?’ he whispered, accepting the pipe and drawing in a deep breath of the tickling smoke.
Severus took the pipe, and his own first draw. ‘Maybe it wasn’t always. But it is now.’ He released smoke in a barely visible stream. Small tatters of it dribbled from his nostrils. ‘It’s different here, Remus. They all indulge in the worst sort of– it’s sordid. Cruel.’ His eyes closed heavily. ‘Go home. This place isn’t for you.’
They sat in silence for a long time, and Remus slitted his eyes on a light-headed drift. ‘How do you stand it?’ he asked.
Dark hair swung in the corner of his vision. ‘You don’t. You just get through it.’
‘And is it worth it?’ His mind was fading. Tense muscles in his back and neck were relaxing. ‘Is it worth power? Is it worth coddling a madman.’
‘Be careful how you talk.’ Severus touched his shoulder. ‘Keep your thoughts to yourself, here. You remember how it got at Hogwarts.’
It was a long time later that a frigid breeze that drew him back to himself. He rubbed his eyes, and stretched his legs out before him. ‘What time is it?’
Severus glanced at the sky, then took a pocket watch into the light. ‘Nearly five o’clock. You should get back.’
‘Will they have noticed your absence?’ Severus offered him a hand, and they leaned against each other as they stood. He swayed a bit, but decided he liked how it felt. Crazy. But good.
‘It doesn’t matter. I’ll walk you back.’
The servants were busy when they finally made it back to the manor, lighting lamps once again and setting the dining rooms for supper. A maid bowed to them and informed them that they’d missed tea. Remus expressed his preference to take food in his room, and Severus climbed the stairs with him.
‘Stay for supper,’ Remus said.
‘What about Malfoy?’
‘He’s in Kent.’
They ate silently, and played a round of chess in silence after. A girl entered the room to turn down the bed, and closed the drapes. Severus released a deep breath, and pushed to his feet. ‘I should leave,’ he said. ‘And I want you to think about leaving. This place isn’t you. Go to Dumbledore– he’ll find something better for you. Go to James Potter.’
‘No,’ Remus said. ‘Maybe someday, but not now.’
Severus inclined his head. ‘Good night, then. I’ll try to see you again. Soon.’
The man turned. Remus stood, unsure why he’d spoken, but glad he had. ‘Stay the night.’
Severus hesitated only a moment, and came back inside and closed the door behind him. ‘Am I going to get in trouble for this?’ he asked, toeing off his shoes and leaving them. He shrugged out of his robe. Remus took it from him and draped it over a chair at their dinner table. ‘Don’t worry about that,’ he replied, and went to the bathroom to change to his nightclothes.
Severus was untucking the sheets at the foot of the bed when he returned, his shirt neatly folded on the bureau and his belt curled beside it. Remus climbed into the bed, and Severus settled on his side with his head beside Remus’s feet. He snapped his fingers at the candles, and they blew out instantly.
In the darkness his head felt cooler, but he pulled the sheets up to his chin. ‘I’m glad I saw you today,’ he said.
Severus cleared his throat. ‘So am I.’
‘Why didn’t you ever fall in love with me?’ Remus whispered. He didn’t know exactly what he was saying, but the words formed themselves nonetheless. Dinner settled heavily in his stomach.
‘You were my friend.’ The mattress shifted as Severus sat up on one elbow; Remus saw his skin as a dimly pale blotch in the darkness of the room. ‘Wasn’t that– better? More– temperate?’
‘Temperate?’ He smiled.
‘You know what I mean.’
He thought that would be it; the silence stretched out and all he could hear was his own breathing. Then, in sudden honesty, he said, ‘I hated that you didn’t.’
Severus let out a sharp sigh through his nose. ‘I knew.’
And then suddenly Remus was laughing. ‘I’m terribly vain, aren’t I?’
‘That’s not funny, Lupin.’
‘But you’re laughing.’
He heard the grin, but could not see it fade. ‘Yes. I am.’
Lestrange and one of the Notts– Remus could never keep them apart– joined them for brandy often in the evenings. They were not particularly welcome, judging from Lucius’s stilted silences, but nonetheless were offered fine crystal and aged liquor. Remus’s presence was required, mostly to provide a buffer for Lucius, he thought. The east wing drawing room was large and warmed by a well-stacked hearth. The rich cherry colour of the wooden walls and the luxurious brocade drapes echoed the masculinity of the stout leather furniture, the stuffed remains of ancient hunts hung high on the walls, the display of polished hunting rifles centuries old, the extensive bar stocked with aged liqueurs in fine crystal decanters. A nearby, well appointed washroom with a convenient window provided an opportunity to indulge in either opium or marijuana, and when the conversation lagged or ventured into violence, Remus took that opportunity frequently. If the other men noticed, no-one mentioned it.
‘I confess I’m powerfully curious about this faerie world you discovered,’ Lestrange announced one Thursday, well after midnight. He stood to refill Remus’s glass– with juice, not brandy– and returned to sit on the edge of his seat, his expression intent.
‘I didn’t discover it,’ Remus corrected, glancing at Lucius with a small smile. Their eyes met in shared memories, and Remus felt warmed when Lucius’s hard expression softened. ‘We were not even the first to happen across that particularly gateway.’
Lestrange brushed that aside. ‘Do you believe it is a parallel plane? Or perhaps even some form of an alternate universe, more fully ruled by magic than ours?’
‘You’ve been reading my paper again,’ Remus accused, a little flushed.
Lestrange leant back, an expansive smile crossing his thin face. ‘My dear young man, you have no idea how fascinating a controversy you’ve captured. But I merely wondered whether you’ve given further thought to the alternatives you posited five years ago. If even Muggle authors have happened across such– you called them gateways?– the possibility of a parallel plane residing so closely to ours must certainly stir your imagination.’
‘Muggles are more aware of magic than we’d like to believe,’ Remus pointed out. ‘Our sense of superiority rests too much in that stereotype. I believe that there are people of all kinds who are sensitive to the presence of other forces, even other worlds. Perhaps our two worlds, the world of the faerie and the world of humans, were once more closely aligned. The Lord of Annwn indicated such.’
‘Perhaps overlaying our own?’
‘Yes, very like. The laws of magic there seemed no different from ours. As I wrote, we even managed to cast a charm there. The twylwth teg themselves seemed to have eliminated, or never even needed, the accoutrements of magic that we’re accustomed to. Their apparation, for instance, didn’t require even a spoken word, much less a gesture or wand. It may be something related to their species, but I suspect that a human could learn to do without an external focus.’
‘You should pursue that,’ Lestrange said seriously. ‘It would revolutionize the way we wizards teach magic to our youngsters.’ He smiled again, showing slightly crooked teeth. ‘Not to mention the advantage it would give us over the Ministry.’
Remus returned the smile uneasily. ‘I suppose it would.’
A silence fell. Nott stood to refresh his snifter. Lucius was staring at the wall, oblivious to the fact that conversation had stopped.
Lestrange broke the quiet. His voice was thoughtful, smiling. ‘The hair, Lucius,’ he said. ‘The hair is unfortunate.’
Lucius came out of his reverie. ‘What?’
Lestrange set his glass on the low table between all their chairs. ‘Our dear Mr Lupin. He’d be quite presentable, you know, with just a little work.’
Lucius sat up straighter. ‘He’s fine as he is,’ he said shortly.
‘Oh, I understand that you’d have a certain fondness for the past,’ Lestrange answered slyly. ‘No-one is denying that Remus is a charming fellow. But he can’t move among the peers in your borrowed coats, looking like a ruffled academic. No. I believe I’ll send my personal valet along,’ he said in a tone of finality that left Remus feeling alarmed. ‘As well as a tailor– unless you retain one yourself, Lucius,’ he added offhandedly.
Lucius’s face was set. ‘As you see fit,’ he murmured.
Lestrange clapped his hands together. ‘Magnificent.’ He held out a hand to Remus, who took it uncertainly. ‘I think a dinner party,’ he announced. ‘Now that Lord Voldemort has accepted you to our company, you are the equal of any peer. It’s time you looked it. We should see, as well, about getting you a title.’ He squeezed Remus’s hand when Remus would have protested. ‘Oh, I’m aware that you’re too modest to consider such things.’ His laugh was indulgent and just a little condescending. ‘After all, your lineage is Ravenclaw, and our scholastic brothers quite rightly believe in a hierarchy of talent, not money. But the less intelligent of our Slytherins pay more attention to wealth and lands.’
Lucius forced a smile. ‘Quite right.’
The week that followed gave Remus more than enough evidence to decide that aristocrats were little more than madmen with enough money to fulfil their delusions. The valet, a stuffy old gentleman who, Remus was informed haughtily, was merely the latest in a long line of faithful and well-born retainers of the Lestrange estate, found fault with nearly everything he saw. Remus’s hair was distasteful, his colour was lacklustre, his posture was impossible, his manners backcountry, and all his protestations irritating. Lucius was no help at all, and after the first trying day, Remus merely surrendered to the valet, reasoning that none of the proposed changes to his person were all that permanent.
The valet began by cutting all the length from Remus’s hair, leaving him with a cap of tight curls that looked ridiculously young, and shaving him down to a jaw-line fringe of reddish stubble. He trimmed and cleaned each of Remus’s fingernails, replaced all the soaps that Remus had used with new ones– Remus couldn’t tell the difference– conferred at great length with Lestrange’s tailor. The two determined men then locked Remus in his room for three days while they took his measurements and began to pattern a new wardrobe for him.
He made periodic escapes, sneaking down the halls in his underclothes and a house robe to Lucius’s study. After a week of being poked, pinned, and prodded, he did not sneak– he marched. ‘This is stupid,’ he announced even as he crisply opened the door. Lucius, reading the paper and sipping a coffee, looked up at him with surprise and amusement, and refrained from commenting when Remus threw himself down onto the leather sofa.
‘What do you people have against normal clothes, anyway?’ Remus demanded from him. ‘And normal hair? Normal everything!’
‘Modern fashion lacks a certain dramatic flair.’ Lucius draped a leg over the arm of his chair, and motioned an unobtrusive maid away. He added, with some sympathy, ‘Well, you always were different.’
‘Will Lestrange be too offended if I return all these things?’ Remus gestured vaguely in the direction of his room, the valet, and the tailor. ‘There’s a mountain of clothes and jewelry– hats– and something I strongly suspect is a walking stick in there.’
Lucius shook his paper stiff with impatience, and folded it closed. ‘Look,’ he said softly. ‘Don’t be naive. All right?’
‘I don’t follow,’ he answered, bemused. ‘So, I wear the clothes when he’s around, but you agree that it’s a little ridiculous.’
‘Don’t pretend not to understand. You’re too smart. As Antony is fond of noticing.’
‘Don’t be jealous,’ he retorted. ‘And don’t be snide. If there’s anyone who visits you as frequently as he does and doesn’t know we’re lovers, they’d be blind and deaf.’
Lucius gazed at him with some disgust. But it faded to puzzlement. ‘You really are a turkey,’ he murmured.
‘Cluck,’ said Remus drily.
Severus threw open the door so hard it slammed against the wall. Remus started up from his lounge chaise, and Severus saw with anger how sluggish his movements were. He strode into the room and thrust out his hand beneath Lupin’s nose. ‘Give it to me,’ he demanded.
Remus stared at him. ‘Give you what,’ he managed, sinking back to his seat.
‘The opium. Give it to me now.’ Remus made no move, and Severus raised his voice. ‘Give it to me now!’
‘All right!’ The shouting clearly pained the other man. He pointed to the bureau, rubbing his temple. His face was grey. Severus pulled open the top drawer, scattering its contents to the floor, and then the one beneath it. Remus stopped him by snapping, ‘It’s the bottom.’ Kneeling and ripping open the drawer, he found it– the bag of poppy cakes and the pipe. He glared down at them, so furious he felt choked. Then he stood and hurled them at Remus.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ Remus demanded.
‘What’s wrong with me?’ he repeated. ‘What’s wrong. I had to find out from none other than Lucius Darling Malfoy that you nearly died last year from an overdose. That’s what’s wrong! I never would have given you drugs if I’d known that. Why the bloody hell didn’t you tell me?’
Remus was no longer looking at him. A guilty flush stained his cheeks like fever spots. ‘I didn’t tell you because then you wouldn’t have given me the drugs,’ he murmured, picking at his elegant opal cufflinks.
There was a split second between thought and action. Without even being aware of moving from the bureau to the chaise, Severus slapped Remus across the face. His palm stung fiercely and his wrist ached so sharply he brought it to his chest. It had been no mere slap. Remus fell from the chaise and knelt at his feet, his hands over his nose and blood dripping between his fingers. Severus drew in a halting breath, and crouched beside him. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘Tilt your head back. Let me see.’
Remus obeyed, and mumbled something about a kerchief in his pocket. Severus reached for it and held it to his nose. ‘I think I sprained my wrist on your face,’ Severus said. ‘If it helps.’
‘It helps.’ Remus laughed shakily. ‘Is it broken?’ He touched the bridge of his nose tenderly.
‘I don’t think so.’ He rocked back on his heels. ‘You’ll have a fantastic swelling, though.’ He let Remus take the kerchief. ‘What happened?’
‘As I recall, you hit me.’
‘I mean last year.’
Grey eyes skittered away from his. ‘It was a mistake.’
‘You don’t make mistakes like that.’ His grim mood resettled. ‘Not you. You’re reckless, not stupid. You don’t swallow poison unless–‘
Remus looked up. ‘Say it.’
He pressed his lips together. ‘Unless you’re trying to die.’
Lupin took the kerchief from his face and folded it to cover the stains. ‘It was a mistake. I wasn’t well and I didn’t know what I was doing.’
‘Fuck you.’ Remus levered himself to his feet, and Severus stood to watch him open a connecting door to the bath. Water ran. ‘And don’t talk to me about mistakes, Snape. You think I never figured out the one you made?’ He appeared in the doorway, his face wet and the blood scrubbed away. ‘You knew about the wolfsbane. I’d never told anyone, not Sirius, not James. Not even Lucius. But you knew. I had three years of living practically alone in the middle of damn no-where to think about why that felt wrong. I don’t know how you found out and I don’t know why you were in the Shack that night. But I am *not* as blind as you seem to think I am.’
His stomach turned over. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
‘Fuck you.’ Remus disappeared back into the bathroom. His voice floated out. ‘If I wanted to kill myself, I’d have done it. God knows I had reason.’
He didn’t come out. And after a while, Severus left.
Remus only attended the meetings when Lucius invited his presence. Voldemort was rarely at the Malfoy estate-- it was too visible and too prone to Ministry visitors who made up Lucius’s public life. Remus’s arm remained bare, as a result. He knew Severus had looked; he knew Lucius looked, at night. And he knew why he had not been taken to Voldemort for induction into the circle of true Death Eaters. The protection made him itch.
But as October closed and the first snow of the season began to fall, the Death Eaters returned to Malfoy Manor. It was Lestrange who came for him, with Lucius trailing behind and looking sullen. ‘There’s our charming Mr Lupin!’ he exclaimed, with a peculiarly feminine titter. He took Remus’s arm firmly, patting his hand and steering him away from his corner and into the centre of the crowd. ‘How handsome you are tonight,’ he added. ‘No, don’t shake your head at me. You have absolutely enchanting eyes, you know, and a very shapely...’ He touched Remus’s lips, ignoring Remus’s slight wince. ‘Shapely mouth.’ He glanced back for Lucius, abruptly including him. ‘Aren’t you pleased, Lucius Darling?’
Lucius turned a dull red. ‘You’ve gone to such trouble styling him up, Antony. One wonders when you’ll begin unwrapping him.’
Certain things that ought to have added up suddenly did, and Remus was struck with a desire to remove himself from Lestrange’s hold with all possible haste. He couldn’t extricate himself without being rude, and though that option wasn’t unpalatable, he didn’t want to cause embarrassment for Lucius. So, helpless, he was pulled along while Lestrange greeted their guests.
His reprieve came when one of the Notts bore Lestrange away for private consultation. Lucius told him in no uncertain terms to stay out of the way, and left rather sulkily to talk to a small gathering of men that Remus recognised vaguely from the night attack on Balch’s house. Remus took in the haughty faces and stiff shoulders, and drifted to the side. It was hot in the greenhouse. He thought with longing of the woods on the surrounding hills. Of the forest around Asper’s cottage. Of the lake at Hogwarts. But he felt suffocated still, and a headache was beginning. He accepted a drink from the house elf, Dobby, and stood gently rubbing the leaves of a climbing vine between his fingers. The voices swirled around him, and whenever he looked up he saw Severus or Lucius or Lestrange watching him. He wished he could leave, and knew he wouldn’t retain a word that had been said anyway.
At last it was over. Lucius left with Rosier, casting a look at Remus that told him plainly to stay where he was. He steeled himself to fend off Lestrange, but once again Nott unwittingly rescued him. He didn’t see where Sev went; but within minutes, he was alone.
He took a seat on one of the cold stone benches, and drew out the cannabis that he’d taken to carrying. He lit one, and felt better for having the smoke in his lungs. He threw back his shoulders, and let his eyes fall closed, leaning back against the chilly stone to finish the cake.
A hand came down over his eyes. ‘Remus Lupin.’
Disorientation swept over him in a rush and made him feel dizzy. ‘Lord Voldemort,’ he replied, and his voice sounded far away. The hand was removed, and the man settled beside him. ‘Why are you here?’
‘Keeping tabs on my eager followers.’ A rusty laugh made him open his eyes; he shut them quickly again. Then Voldemort said, ‘No. Look.’
He obeyed. Silently he took in the man’s appearance.
‘What do you see?’
‘An old man,’ he answered softly. ‘Just an old man.’
Voldemort let out a rasp that must have been a chuckle. He lifted his thin hands to his white and whispy hair. ‘I was like you, once. Young. Handsome.’ Lips stretched tight across the skeletal face made a grimace. ‘I had golden lovers, too. I had power. I had everything.’
‘You still have power,’ Remus said, and was dimly surprised at how dead his voice sounded.
Voldemort sneered. His hand came down on Remus’s knee, and gripped hard. ‘Power is for those who are strong enough to take it. Any one of you could have power. But you’re weak, and you’d rather lick it from the hand of someone better than you. Human nature is disappointing, Lupin. I learned that very, very early in life.’
The pipe fell from a hand that was too numb to hold it. He rubbed his thumb against his finger to warm it. ‘Someone... told me once that most kinds of power were petty, and that only petty people wanted them.’
‘And what do you want?’
‘I thought... that what I wanted was revenge.’ He touched his stiff mouth, touched his scalp before he recalled his hair had been shortened. ‘I don’t know now. It hasn’t made me feel better.’
The man beside him nodded slowly. ‘You want more.’ Green eyes stared into his. ‘You’re like me, Lupin. These others, they’ve never felt it. But you have.’
Through the dim haze of the drug, he began to realise he was on dangerous ground. He couldn’t look away from Voldemort. ‘I don’t know,’ he said belatedly.
‘The magic, Lupin. You’ve felt it. It sings in your very blood.’
‘You know...’ The dark eyes wouldn’t release him.
‘You’re rotting here. Look at you. Soaked in ether until your pores seep with it. Your mind mush, your magic unused and gathering dust. You are a Dark Creature. You could bring any man here to his knees, crush him with the mere threat of your existence. But you can barely concentrate enough to hear me.’
That wasn’t true. Voldemort had his full attention, but the greenhouse was taking on a surreal tinge of green, green radiating out from Voldemort who was becoming Asper, and for a moment he wasn’t sure who was talking to him, except that Asper was dead.
With what felt like a terrible wrench, he managed to free his eyes. He stared hard at the ivy trellis on the far side of the garden. His head was swimming. And he yet felt Voldemort watching him, and he wondered that he was even still alive.
The hand on his knee moved to his thigh. It was so cold it burned. ‘During your apprenticeship, you wrote your own spells.’
How did he know that? Remus forced himself not to look at the man. ‘I... yes.’
‘You even created a Gate.’
Lucius, he realised. Lucius must have told him.
‘I want you to listen carefully, my werewolf.’ The hand on his thigh was so cold. ‘I want a spell written. I want you to unfog your brain and put whatever intellect you’ve left yourself to writing that spell. I am willing to give you whatever you want to keep you happy while you work. But if you fail me, you will beg me to let you die.’
David Balch had writhed in the grips of that spell. Cruciatus. He believed it.
Cool dry lips pressed to his cheekbone. He shuddered. Then they touched his ear, and whispered, ‘I want a spell that will drain life from a victim and give it to me. I will not be undone by old age, Remus. I want youth, and you will give it to me.’ Voldemort straightened. ‘Malfoy has set a room aside from you. Any components or research you need will be brought to you. I suggest you start the moment you can see straight. I am not as patient as I used to be.’ He stood, and gathered the rich folds of his robe in one claw-like hand. Sharp green eyes gazed down at Remus for a long, silent moment; and then he turned and left the garden.
Alone at last, Remus wrapped his arms around his chest and fought to breathe. He left the pipe in the gravel and crouched by the fountain; he drank and washed his face in the frigid water. And then Malfoy found him. Fingers moved through his hair, and the blonde man sat beside him on the fountain’s marble edge.
‘Can you do it?’ he asked.
Remus stared at him. ‘I don’t know,’ he answered finally. ‘I’ve never... ‘ He didn’t know how to finish.
‘Then you’d better learn how,’ Malfoy said. His pale face was a blur in Remus’s sight. ‘Go lie down. I’ll come for you tonight. I had all the books the Malfoys have ever owned on the Dark Arts brought to my study. I’ll help you with the reading, if you like.’
He thought he replied that that would be good, but he wasn’t sure. Lucius held him up by the shoulders and walked him back through the grand dark halls of the manor, and tucked him into the great cool bed, and then Remus closed his eyes and slept.
His notes were becoming incomprehensible, even to himself. His eyes ached fiercely, and teared when he removed his magnifying glasses. He dropped his hands to his lap to massage his fingers, and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. Sometimes the house elves brought him tea, but dinner was served at six and they hadn’t appeared since four, busy making it. He was too warm, and he kicked off his shoes uncomfortably, rubbing his neck.
He was no closer to writing a spell than he had been when he’d started his research ten days earlier. He knew only that if any wizard, Dark or otherwise, had attempted this kind of spell before, they hadn’t written it down.
He hadn’t been aware that he’d spoken that aloud until Lucius replied, standing from the couch and coming to the desk. The blonde man pressed a kiss to his forehead, and said, ‘It’s not the sort of thing you can publish, I guess.’
‘No.’ He gestured vaguely toward his cup, and Lucius filled it with water from the stand in the corner. ‘If Asper were here, I’d ask him,’ he added. His stomach clenched, but only momentarily. It was getting easier to talk about Asper being dead.
‘Did he keep journals? Experiments?’
Remus looked up to where Lucius perched on the desk. ‘You know, he might have. He had me do so, when we were working on the gate.’
‘Where would you get your hands on his old books? The cottage? Storage?’
‘Hogwarts,’ he said. ‘I gave his books to Hogwarts.’
‘It’s lucky I’m a school governor, then,’ Lucius said gravely. ‘Madam Pince will be almost sure to let me through without a permission form.’
He smiled automatically, but it faded. His head hurt again, and the relief of cool water was only serving to accentuate the pain. ‘When can you get away?’
‘We can do it tomorrow. No. Thursday.’ Lucius stood to refill his glass again. ‘Tomorrow the foreman comes about the septics.’
The creak of door hinges startled Remus out of his reply. A toddler stood in the doorway; he giggled when they turned to see him and hurtled into the study. A servant was just behind. She stopped short when she saw the two men, her face red. ‘He got away from me, sir.’ She made a grab for the boy, but he only laughed and hid behind one of the plants. ‘He’s very energetic,’ she blushed.
Remus had his ankle captured in two pink and strong hands. The little boy crawled up his leg, grinning cheekily at him. ‘Up,’ he commanded.
‘I’ll take him, sir,’ the girl said, coming forward. But Remus was already bending and picking the child up. ‘What’s your name, young man?’ Remus murmured, jiggling the boy in his lap. The boy gurgled, fascinated with the cufflinks Remus wore. He slanted a sideways look at Lucius. ‘Who do you belong to, with hair like that?’
Lucius compressed his lips. His face had shuttered closed. ‘Don’t make a scene.’
‘I’m not making anything.’ Remus straightened the collar of the toddler’s shirt and smoothed down his yellow curls. ‘You could have told me,’ he murmured, wiping at a smudge of chocolate at the boy’s mouth.
Lucius glanced away. He closed his book.
‘How old is he?’ Remus asked softly, watching the boy try to remove the cufflink.
‘A year.’ Lucius stood. He took hold of the boy and handed him to the maid. ‘Take him to his mother.’
‘She asked not to be disturbed, Master.’
‘Have her take it up with me, then. I said take Draco to her.’ He closed the door on the girl and leant against it for a moment. Remus watched him mutely, running his fingers over a crystalline paperweight holding down a stack of parchment. At last, he reached down beside his knee, and opened one of the drawers. From the back he withdrew a small silver picture frame.
‘I’d wondered why you hid this,’ he said dully. ‘She was a year behind me, wasn’t she?’
Lucius affected disinterest. ‘I suppose.’
Remus turned the portrait into the light, pursing his lips as he studied it. ‘Narcissa,’ he murmured finally. ‘That’s her name.’ He held the frame out to Lucius. ‘She’s very beautiful.’
Lucius took it and laid it face down on the desk. ‘I suppose.’ He glanced through the papers on the desk, but his eyes flickered nervously and his lacy eyelashes were quivering. ‘She seems cold, to me.’
‘Then she’s well suited to this estate.’ Remus sighed suddenly, and leaned back in the tall chair. ‘When?’
Lucius still would not look at him. ‘Last year.’
‘He looks like you.’ And he could not look away. Please say something, he asked silently. Please make this go away. Lie to me.
Remus nodded, and granted Lucius’s painfully obvious wish. He looked away, his eyelids sinking in sudden exhaustion, and he studied the cuff of his shirt, tugging at a loose thread. ‘I hope she bears you many more.’
‘Damnit,’ Lucius exclaimed. ‘Don’t say that! You knew all along I’d have to marry. I never pretended otherwise!’
‘No. You didn’t.’ He snapped the thread and dropped it. ‘I’m sorry, then.’
Lucius clenched his hands to fists, but didn’t raise them. ‘There’s nothing I can do about it,’ he said lowly.
Remus stood to his full height and shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘I need to get some air,’ he muttered, and brushed past Lucius. He hesitated at the door– call me back– but Lucius didn’t turn. He opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.
He heard the crash of the frame against the wall as he left.
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