For all Joy wants Eternity

Chapter Four

By katzenhai

       

It didn't get any better.

It had been several days now, and it still felt just as mercilessly sickening as it had the morning after, when he had finally awakened only to find himself still lying under the gentle smile of the marble angel towering above him, under its widely spread wings that had feigned shelter and caring. A tingling hysteria had crept up inside him at the sight, which had threatened to make him choke, along with a most inappropriate urge to burst into a cruel mixture of laughing and crying uncontrollably. Guardian angels...not for him. For him, there had been no protection that night, no gentleness, no hope, and the loving-kindness on the face of stone that had greeted him while he was fighting to regain consciousness after his worst nightmare had come true had turned his stomach. Still unable to move sufficiently, all Severus Snape managed to do was to roll over onto his side before he had been extensively and violently sick.

It was still a mystery to him how he had been able to return to Hogwarts, how he had actually Apparated to the Shrieking Shack without distributing his, no, *His* body all over the country. Everything about his night in the graveyard seemed to have crawled behind a thick, semi-opaque wall of swirling greyish fog, and so had his recollection of all the following days. The only clear memory that haunted him for the rest of the school year was that of the damn white, shiny angel-face and how it had been laughing at him with that serene smile that had been dripping with acid sarcasm. It had followed him down to his dungeons, to his private rooms, it had been dancing in front of his eyes when he had reported to Dumbledore about his meeting with the Dark Lord, he had felt its gaze on the back of his head in the staff-room, it had grinned at him from every painting, every tapestry, it had lurked behind pillars and in the shadows of any alcove he passed, it had spread on the faces of students, colleagues, even on that of Peeves. It had slowly been driving him mad...

...until the green eyes in the unsmiling face of that Potter-boy had locked with his own in the Great Hall at the school year's Leaving Feast. It had been a shock. A healing one. It had been as if that shy, slightly insecure, but all the same determined gaze had smashed right into the very core of his being, shaking him awake from a horrible dream that had been about to drag him down to the bottom of a kind of desperation from which there would have been no return. For some seconds, he had clung to those eyes, feeding on them, clutching the anchor that had been cast to him so very unintentionally, before his slowly, finally returning self had forced him to turn away. Angrily he asked himself how deep had he fallen to be ready to exploit the precious energy of an innocent student, only to be able to deal with his very own lack of strength.

He hadn't looked at Potter again that day.

And there had been no smiling angel anymore after that visual contact.

Instead, it had become worse.

Because now he remembered everything. He woke up every morning in a skin that wasn't his. The bones forming his hands and arms, those most valuable and astounding instruments of his very own magic and his beloved potion-making, the flesh of the lips and tongue that gave form to his thoughts, spells, curses and sometimes even to his emotions, the guts that shivered with fear and joy, with hope and disappointment, the eyes and ears, taking in the life that surrounded him, giving the possibility to learn, to scorn and to admire, all that didn't belong to him anymore. He had forfeited the individual right to decide who he wanted to touch, and who he wanted to touch him. He had lost the only possibility given to a human to manifest his or her unique spiritual, emotional and intellectual being in the world.

Had he once really believed all the others who had judged this body by the way it looked? Had there truly been enough stupidity in him to finally accept their concept of physical quality as the truth? Oh, if they had only known how very wrong they all had been...if only he himself had known...this wasn't about beauty or ugliness, not at all. It had never been about perfection or lack thereof. As long as there was one muscle left that could move a tongue to speak, one finger to sign a word, legs to carry someone to where he or she chose to be, as long as one single nerve could still respond to the stimuli of life around and within a human being, as long as there was still a patch of skin able to feel the warmth of another's touch, this body, however it might look, however limited it might be in its possibilities, was the most precious thing given to him.

And he had lost it! Lost it forever. Lost it to the man he had finally learned to despise and to fight...

"Severus?"

With a start, the former Death Eater snapped back into the here and now, finding himself in the company of and at the focus of attention of several other wizards and witches in the Headmaster's office. From behind his half-moon spectacles, the blue eyes of Albus Dumbledore intensely surveyed him, clearly asking the unspoken question: was anything wrong? Severus could feel the honest concern behind that gaze, a concern that had grown ever since he had first reported back to the Headmaster after his...his meeting with Voldemort. Severus had not told Dumbledore anything about what was really troubling him then, and he did not intend to do so now. And it was, after all, his very own fault if he raised Albus's suspicion - he should at least be able to follow the weekly meeting of the Order, even if it didn't look as if anything decisive had happened since the Dark Lord's return thus far. They had met to discuss their actions of the near future, and here he was, day-dreaming about what he couldn't change anymore anyway, and probably missing important details. He pulled himself together, swallowed and held the Headmaster's gaze with a calmness he didn't feel at all.

"I'm sorry, I must have dozed off. The last days have been a little...exhausting." Lifting his hands in a rare apologetic gesture, he glanced around, meeting every pair of eyes - and in every single one Severus could read surprise at his confessing something like weakness. "Rest assured, it won't happen again."

The Headmaster continued looking at him for a few seconds more before he finally leaned back in his chair with a sigh.

"Very well. Severus. I have just been informing the others that there will be a few necessary changes concerning our plans. I've received information that it's getting...well, more and more dangerous for some of our number to stay in hiding where they are right now."

Mundungus Fletcher, who had put the index fingers of his folded hands against his lips slowly shook his head.

"But why has this changed so suddenly, Albus? I mean, it's been safe for Lupin to stay where he was for more than a year now."

Severus turned all of his attention to his cup of tea, trying very hard not to let his strong reaction to the mention of the werewolf's name show. The highly ambivalent feelings that the two words "Remus Lupin" regularly provoked in him had always been extremely confusing. He didn't like it at all, that emotional patchwork of a certain degree of affection (due to a reason that Severus could not fathom), an immense amount of true, strong fear (and there was no question where that came from!), and more recently of a sense of guilt (since he had contributed considerably to Lupin's leaving Hogwarts a little more than a year ago).

He had never been able to deal with those contradictory feelings effectively. And, right now, facing them at all was simply too much for him.

He was just about to open his mouth with the determined intention to apologize and leave the room, no matter what that might look like, but Albus was too fast for him. When he answered Mundungus Fletcher's question, Severus, who quickly had lowered his glance to his tea again, thought he could feel the Headmaster's gaze upon him.

"It's the way the Ministry is dealing with the situation, Mundungus. I don't know if Fudge is still attempting to dispel reactions to the events of the Final Test of the Trimagical Tournament or not, but he obviously feels he has to show *some* reaction to the growing agitation among the wizarding community. So he falls back on the usual suspects, such as werewolves, even though I'm quite sure he only wants to make sure he knows about their residences for now. I think he's sporadically kept up with Remus's whereabouts ever since he left Hogwarts, so it won't take him long to find out exactly where he is."

The Headmaster paused and this time definitely fixed his gaze upon his spy who was sitting opposite him. With nothing but his will he seemed to force Severus to lift his head until their eyes met before he continued speaking.

"The point is that there's someone else staying with Professor Lupin right now; and even though Fudge might only be momentarily determined to keep a watchful eye upon certain lycanthropes, should he find out about Remus's visitor in the course of finding out where Remus is staying, the two of them will be in really deep trouble."

Only Fawkes's occasional chirping interrupted the silence that followed this.

A strange feeling of dejŠ vu grabbed Severus. He knew what would come next.

And Albus lost no time in proving him right.

"I personally think that it would be best to let the two of them go into hiding where we are able to immediately intervene if it should ever be necessary - and see after that it won't come that far in the first place. So I'd suggest the castle become their next hide-out, but of course everyone is invited to openly voice any possible objections."

Severus tried to deal with the weight of all the eyes in the Room, which seemed to have crashed down upon him. For the first time since his return from the cemetery, he felt some of the quick-wittedness and irritability that once had been part of what had defined him - but to his own surprise, this exasperation wasn't directed at Black, or at Lupin, but at the fact that, most obviously, everybody in the room expected him not to be all in favour of accepting the two shape shifters back at Hogwarts rather than exposing them to the danger of Azkaban or execution. Totally oblivious to the fact that he had already done more than enough to give rise to assumptions like that, he felt anger grow with every second he had to stand those half reproachful, half warning glances. Of course he wasn't particularly keen on spending any time with Lupin under the same roof, and it was also more than true that he'd rather never see Black again. But then, he'd promised Dumbledore, just for the sake of the case, to try and not fight the man who'd almost managed to get him killed, and so far, he'd always kept his word as far as his promises to the Headmaster were concerned. But apparently nobody, including Albus, credited him with being able to stick to his word now. Just as he opened his mouth to get rid of at least some of his irritability, he noticed with surprise how much it hurt to realize this lack of trust the Headmaster had displayed.

"I can hardly believe that all of you took the trouble to attend this hastily called meeting just to seek *my* permission, of all people, to supply Hagrid with two more magical creatures to take care of. How very touching of you! Albus, really, I can't begin to tell you how deeply I'm moved by this unique empathy of yours."

Severus didn't care at all about the short flicker of consternation in the Headmaster's eyes, nor the sharp intake of breath that came from where Alastor Moody was sitting. He knew that there had been more sarcasm in those hissed words than he had originally planned, that his voice had perhaps been a bit too piercing, his tone too hurtful. But right now, none of that really bothered him. Nor did it keep him from going on, in a much louder voice than before. "I have not the slightest intention to stand in the way of your plans. Rest assured that under the recent circumstances, there are worse things than dealing with Black and Lupin, even to me!" Putting his cup of tea down on the table and pushing back his chair, the former Death Eater rose to stand in front of a stunned and silent circle, even though he wasn't aware anymore of all the other wizards and witches present in the Headmaster's office. It was as if he and Dumbledore were alone in the room, as if Albus was the only one who could hear his voice, now totally calm, but just as cold and cutting. "In light of the latest events I have indeed managed to establish my priorities when it comes to the question of who I will concentrate my hostility and destructive energy on - and as unbelievable as this might sound to you, it's neither that ragged dog nor his werewolf-friend. So, just proceed as you see fit with the two of them. I will accept any of your decisions without contradiction. I would only ask that you be considerate enough not waste my time by calling me to... *discussions* like this one about Black or Lupin ever again."

On that he turned and left the room, ignoring Minerva who tried to put a hand on his arm, as well as the voice coming through the door that clicked shut behind him. Definitely calling his name. Definitely belonging to Albus Dumbledore.

       

It had only been two hours later when two sensations at one time shook Severus from his not very pleasant musings. Sitting in front of the fireplace in his private quarters where he had returned after having furiously left the meeting of the Order, an unobtrusive, almost soft knock at his door told him that Albus apparently thought it was time to talk about what had happened - and the horribly familiar, searing pain on his left forearm informed him of the demands of the other most powerful wizard he had met in his life. Getting up from his armchair, merely able to call "Come" towards the door through teeth gritted with pain, Severus made his way to the magically hidden closet in the wall opposite the fireplace that contained all he needed to change into the Death Eater that he would have to fake being once more. It didn't take Albus long to get through the wards at the door, nor to put them up again afterwards. His spy had just taken mask and cloak out of the closet when he heard the Headmaster enter his rooms and renew the guarding spells with a whispering voice.

Severus didn't turn around, nor did he say anything to greet his visitor. He knew that his face would have given away all of the strangling fear he felt in the face of having to return to Voldemort, and he didn't trust his voice not to be coloured with the despair and panic that made his hands wet with sweat and his throat tight, as if the Dark Lord's hands themselves were throttling him.

"Bad timing, right, Severus?"

The soft, compassionate tone of those few words was too much for the Slytherin. Dumbledore's sympathy managed what Severus's dread of his former Master had not been able to: the suffocating tension he felt eased into hot, unfamiliar tears streaming down his face. Closing his eyes, the former Death Eater leaned his forehead against the cool stone-wall, felt the salty wetness making its way to his trembling lips. Still unable to face the Headmaster, still not in control of his voice, all he managed was a silent, shaky nod against the comfortingly solid rock.

That voice again, soothingly touching him, like nobody In this world would ever be able to do again.

"Please, Severus, let me know when you're back."

Another nod, this time a little more self-confident than the first had been. During the seconds of silence that followed it, the shaken double agent was almost positive that Dumbledore wanted to say something more. But then he heard the other man retreating towards the door and lowering the wards once again. With a last, low "Good luck", the Headmaster was gone, leaving a slowly recovering Severus Snape, who now hurried to complete his preparations.

Only some moments after Dumbledore had returned to his office, a Death Eater under an Invisibility Charm left the castle, headed for the Whomping Willow and Disapparated from the Shrieking Shack a few minutes later.

       

Red eyes scrutinized the circle of masked faces. Voldemort walked up and down the line of wizards and witches that had gathered before him, inspecting the instruments of his will that had returned to readily and obediently serve him again.

They were all standing in a dark, damp room, lit only by the gleaming tips of their wands. This was the first meeting after the Dark Lord had regained his body a little more than a week ago, and it was already several hours old. It had all started with Severus's report on the events that had lead to Barty Crouch, Junior's receiving the Dementor's kiss after Harry Potter had returned to Hogwarts. There had been a long process of re-organizing afterwards, in which the Death Eaters had been divided up into subgroups of two to three persons, with each of them given special responsibilities and tasks. Severus had ended up with Malfoy and Goyle, and of course they had to deal with keeping up on what was going on in Hogwarts - and Severus's field of competence explicitly contained Dumbledore's activities, especially the precautions he took to protect Harry Potter.

Only a few minutes ago, they had come to the end of Voldemort's instructing them as to how he proposed to locate Karkaroff and what their jobs concerning this wouldlook like, and since then, the Dark Lord had silently paced the circle of his servants. Severus was sure that everyone else under those masks longed for this to be over just as desperately as he did. He couldn't think of anything he longed more for right now than to escape Voldemort's presence and this most exhausting meeting, as well, as soon as possible. His brain reeled with the load of information he had to force himself to remember until he was able to report back to Albus, and it was extremely tiring to keep up the concentration Voldemort always demanded from the very first minute of those conferences. The mental and physical state he had been in for the last several days didn't really help, and Severus could feel the first throbbing signs of a headache creeping up behind his right temple. But as much as he prayed for the end of this meeting, he dreaded that moment equally much. What would happen afterwards? What more than his concentration and detailed reports would Voldemort call for tonight? What exactly would be the first instalment of the lifelong price he had agreed to pay that night in the graveyard? What...

"I hope that there are no questions anymore about what we've just discussed, my Death Eaters."

Forced to refocus to where and with whom he was, Severus joined in the many-voiced, mumbling answers that erupted from all sides on Voldemort's remark. As if anybody would ever have dared to admit even the smallest moment of lack of attention!

"How very satisfactory indeed. But still, our return to power is not about words but deeds, so I expect every single one of you to bring me results when we meet again." Surveying the circle around him one last time, a triumphant smile contorted the lip-less mouth. "So the Dark Mark is truly back, my friends, and this time, we won't drop our guards by making the same foolish mistakes of the past. This time, nobody will hold us back."

Listening to his Death Eaters for some moments, who almost fell over themselves to agree with their Master, the Dark Lord folded his arms over his chest and finally dismissed them all with a short nod. "That's enough. You may leave now."

Severus didn't believe his ears. Could it really be that easy? Would he indeed get away just like that? He slowly bowed deep to ground as all the others did, turned around with them and took the first step away from him to whom he had lost all of his physical existence, not at all trusting the treacherous hope that shyly started to grow within him. Expecting to hear that hated voice calling him back any moment.

The sound of it shot right through his entire body anyway when it finally happened.

"You should know better, my precious Snow White."

That pet name froze Severus into place immediately. His insides clenched to an aching tangle of trembling flesh, and the panic that started to capture him grew and spread with every Death Eater that Disapparated, with every wand that took its light out of the room until he remained alone with the Dark Lord in a completely dark place.

Voldemort didn't seem to be in the mood for playing games that night. Obviously not interested at all in demonstrating his control over the situation, he didn't even bother to make use of the advantage he enjoyed, now that Severus had lost all orientation in the blackness that surrounded him. Maybe the Dark Lord was already satisfied with the chilling fear he must have been able to perceive from the frightened man in front of him. Maybe he was simply in a generous mood just now. Not even trying to move soundlessly, he let Severus easily follow each of his steps, enabling him to always be sure of where his former Master had to be.

"You were late again tonight, Severus."

Dumbledore's spy swallowed hard and finally succeeded in forcing his tongue to work.

"Yes, my Lord."

"Not for all the Banshees' screams in the world would I want to miss your excuses for that."

"Thank you for your graciousness to hear me out, my Lord..." Severus felt a shudder running down his spine as he heard Voldemort come closer from behind. It took all of his self-control to master his voice and speak on.

"My Lord, living with so many people in the same building doesn't always allow me to simply leave as soon as your call reaches me. It is necessary...indispensable...I mean, I have to be sure that nobody is watching, my Lord..."

Voldemort was standing right behind him now, but not touching him - not yet. His voice seemed to wrap itself around the former Death Eater's neck, though, tightening with every syllable.

"Hm...that's all extremely interesting, my dear Severus. But why are you withdrawn like that? Go on, go on."

"Thank you, my Lord...as I said, it's difficult to get out of the building unseen, and as you know there's a...as you know it's not possible to Disapparate from Hogwarts Castle, so the...the necessity to first leave the school grounds before I can make it to your side, my Lord, most unfortunately always delays my arrival..."

The verbal snare was pulled even tighter.

"As much sympathy as I have for this most complicated situation you have to deal with, Severus, I expect you to optimise your efforts to lose as little time as possible on your problematic way to your Lord. Do you hear me?"

"Yes, I...I do hear you, my Lord."

And tighter yet.

"You will arrive within an acceptable period of time when I call for you next, or I'm afraid I'll have to take the appropriate measures."

Voldemort moved on and passed the man standing before him, only to come to a halt face to face with the double agent, capturing the eyes behind the wooden mask. Then he spoke again. Severus couldn't breath anymore.

"I think you can imagine how very much I would hate to have to punish you in front of everybody, Severus."

The former Death Eater did not know if the Dark Lord had seen his weak attempt to nod. He began to feel slightly dizzy due to lack of air.

"So you had better manage to quickly gain control of those... *logistic* problems you have fulfilling your duties in timely manner, because I will not hesitate to do whatever I see fit if you should fail me one more time."

This time, Severus didn't even know himself if he had moved at all to wordlessly agree. His head had begun to spin seriously.

And then the Dark Lord let him go.

Filling his lungs with the moist, slightly rotten air, Severus struggled to keep his composure, as far as was possible. He even managed to meet his former Master's red eyes before he was ready to speak.

"Rest assured, my Lord, that I...that next time, I will do everything in my power not to disappoint you, my Lord."

"I earnestly hope this will be enough, Severus."

"Yes, my Lord. Thank you, my Lord..."

The dense silence that followed was interrupted only by the still slightly ragged breathing of the former Death Eater, who desperately tried to hold Voldemort's gaze, which was the only thing visible to him in the dark. Only when Severus thought he'd not be able to take the weight of those eyes any longer did the Dark Lord pick up the conversation.

Kind of.

"Take off your mask, my Death Eater."

The double agent sent a silent prayer to Salazar Slytherin before he did as he was told and obediently loosened the magical bonds around his head, catching the hated piece of wood as soon as it fell from his face. He lifted his free hand because he expected Voldemort to want him to remove the hood as well, but the Dark Lord's soft laughter kept him from doing so.

"So eager tonight, my dear Severus? Relax, I don't intend to spoil too much of your careful preparations for this evening. All I need is free access to your mouth."

Severus felt his face burn with embarrassment. The last thing he had wanted to do was show something like eager obedience to comply with Voldemort's sexual demands. More than a little angry with himself, he wordlessly cursed the reflexive reaction of his hand - until he felt ten fingertips touching his face and lightly, caressingly stroking their way under the heavy hood, gliding from his cheeks over his temples and jawbone to the back of his head where they closed around his skull in a very firm grip.

Severus knew that the softly whispered spell he now heard had opened the Dark Lord's robes, and suddenly he was rather thankful for the complete darkness that surrounded him. He didn't want to see what it looked like those hands buried in his hair were pulling his face toward-gently, but insistently, making him bend his head forward. He tried to mentally prepare for the contact with Voldemort's body, tried to imagine what it would feel like, tried to recall the sensation of touching this dry, shrivelled skin he had felt on his own for the last time only a few days ago. It wouldn't be worse than that. He had gone through this three times now, it couldn't possibly get more unbearable...

His brow came to rest on the Dark Lord's sternum. Involuntarily, both of Severus's hands clenched into tight fists, one of them clutching the mask so hard in the process that its knuckles smeared blood over its wooden surface, but the former Death Eater wouldn't notice that until several hours later. He could feel his own hot breath on his face when it was reflected from the parchment-skin that stretched over feather-edged bones, and a blurry vision of his head being squashed between that chest and those hands came to his mind...and was banished abruptly by both of his former Master's thumbs that had wandered under his chin, now lifting his face until Severus's lips were forced to touch the body in front of him.

"I want your tongue, sweet Snow White. Do you understand?"

Voldemort's grip didn't allow him any movement of his head that the Dark Lord didn't bring on with his own hands, so Severus had no other choice but to speak, and with every syllable his lips were brushing the taut desert-skin under his mouth.

"I understand, my Lord."

The former Death Eater felt Voldemort's ribcage vibrate with a barely audible chuckle.

"Luckily for you, Severus."

And with that, the Dark Lord began to guide the dark head in his hands - and with it a tongue, almost as dry as his skin - over his chest and down to his groin, gradually bringing the man before him down to his knees.

       

The throbbing behind his right temple had developed into the grandfather of all headaches. Grateful for the lack of light in the Shrieking Shack, Severus took a deep breath just after having Apparated. To evade the stabbing pain that exploded above his right eyeball with every single one of its movements, he carefully tried not to allow his eyes even the slightest twitching. Here, he didn't need his vision anyway. Knowing the place he was in as well as probably only one other person in the world did, it didn't take him long to feel his way to the damaged bed where he sat down on the mattress. He needed to recover a little before reporting back to Albus. It was impossible to face the Headmaster in the pathetic state he was in right now, with shivering hands, one of them bleeding, with the execration and horror of the last hours still written on his face, with the taste of the Dark Lord's skin and cum still on his lips and tongue. No, he needed time, he needed to be alone for a few minutes...

And with that thought, Severus froze.

Because he suddenly felt that he wasn't.

Another body was breathing in this room with him - was lying on the same bed actually! He could sense its presence so very clearly now that it was a mystery to him why he hadn't immediately noticed it after having materialized only moments ago. No matter how strong his exhaustion and fatigue might have been, how could he have allowed them to distract him like *that*, when his life was at stake from everybody who'd see him dressed like that! Silently cursing his stupidity, Severus concentrated with all his being on the unwelcome intruder, only to find out that he or she must have noticed him as well, for the other's breathing had stopped as if someone was intensely listening, sensing into the dense darkness - and then there was a sudden jerk moving the mattress. Obviously indicating that the stranger had tried to get off the bed.

Severus did not intend to take the risk of letting that someone successfully attack him. Of course he was not sure if the other person was a wizard or witch, but in all likelihood he was - and even though the last thing he needed right now, weary and used as he felt, was a magical duel, the quick reflexes of having been a Death Eater *and* of being a spy got the better of him. With a lithe movement, he rolled off the bed to the floor and then several feet to the right to make sure to get away from the spot where his opponent must have sensed him last. Severus waited silently until he heard the slightest sound again, and, wand out, swiftly got to his feet.

"Expelliarmus!"

Sending the curse in the direction where that last, barely audible noise had come from, the former Death Eater moved sideways again and observed to his own small surprise something that sounded like a slender piece of wood falling to the ground. With the first click of this noise, Severus was ready to press home the advantage he apparently had gained. Aiming in the same direction, he raised his wand again.

"Impedimenta!"

The Slytherin knew he was taking a risk with what he did next, but if he had hit the intruder with his last curse, this was his chance to end this now, even if the means were, well, rather unorthodox. But it was important to make use of the surprise effect that was still on his side, so Severus pushed away all demurs and lunged where he assumed his opponent to be.

He made contact much earlier than he had expected.

Severus soon noticed that he had indeed managed to paralyse the other's legs, so it was no problem at all to wrestle the stranger to the ground. But the intruder was still able to use arms and hands with an astonishing strength and determination, so it took the double agent much longer than would have been good for him in his jaded physical condition, but finally he managed to capture both of his opponent's hands in a death grip behind the stranger's head. Kneeling on the other's chest and putting the tip of his wand to the stranger's brow, Severus's panted "Lumos", immediately lighting the place where the two of them were lying on the dusty floor.

And his exhausted mind, tortured with a still aggravating headache and the events of the evening and night, refused to realize whose face it was that was staring up at him in horror.

       

Petrified with Impedimenta and fear for his life, Remus Lupin was sure to feel that his heart was thundering in his chest for the very last time. How in the name of Merlin had a Death Eater managed to find out about the Shrieking Shack? Why, for all of Fawkes's tears, had this bastard managed to surprise him in his sleep - and on the night after the full moon at that, when the transformation always left him weak and weary to no end? He hadn't had the slightest chance, he hadn't even been able to think properly about what to do after the presence of a second person in the room had awakened him from his light sleep - and all of his reactions had been so very predictable, he had been defeated much too easily...

The touch of the wand against his brow not only reminded Remus of his own imminent death, but also of what would happen to all those students up at the school if this Death Eater should make it back to his pack and inform them about the way he had found to enter Hogwarts. All his former colleagues, Sirius (who was with Dumbledore right now to let him know they had arrived at the Shrieking Shack), Albus himself (the heart of the Order), Harry (their most shining hope in this upcoming war)...no, this filthy, pathetic excuse for a human being must not leave this place again, there had to be something he could do, there had to be a possibility, there had to be...

And then the filthy piece of flesh spoke.

"Lupin!"

The werewolf didn't believe his ears. That simply couldn't be! After-transformation weariness or not, he would not have been fooled like that! He would have recognized Severus, he would have sensed his presence. The aura that belonged to the man he once almost had killed was branded into his mind with an intensity with which only a few others were, and this one above him didn't *feel* like Severus at all, despite his voice being the same unmistakable mixture of black silk and burning acid that he remembered from the Potions Master. No, this had to be the result of some Polyjuice, and that would mean that their situation was worse than he had thought, because then, Severus would have been taken. Severus as a member of the Order with all the precious information he possessed, Severus tortured by them, Severus suffering, Severus screaming as he had long ago when he had recognized the wolf approaching him...

"You really didn't waste any time getting here, did you, Lupin?"

Remus listened to the man above him muttering some spells and then watched how he raised his wand hand to take the mask off. He had been prepared for the sight of the emerging familiar features, but the strain and exhaustion he saw engraved in his face really shocked him. What kind of physical and mental state did the Slytherin have to be in if the Polyjuice with his hair or whatever the bastards used made his double look like *that*?

Rage flooded the werewolf's system. He did not intend to let the Death Eater kill him with the certainty that his victim believed it was his former schoolmate and Dumbledore's ally who took his life.

"If you should think for one second that I believe this pathetic performance that you're providing here, you're barking up the wrong tree! I'm more than aware that you're anyone but Severus Snape."

Remus had to give the bastard credit; the surprise that flickered over the face that still hovered above him was more than authentic.

"What was that, Lupin?"

"I really don't see any sense in repeating myself, nor in your denying the obvious. I know what I'm talking about and..."

"Has that short time of living with Black finally driven you out of your mind for good, Lupin? Would you please be so gracious as to tell me, in Salazar Slytherin's name, who else I should be but my very self?"

But the werewolf didn't listen. Instead, for the first time since he had noticed the Death Eater's presence, he did indeed sense some thread of the Severus Snape he knew that was interweaving the confusing swirl of unfamiliar energy he received from the man in front of him. The colour, smell and vibration of the other's anger and rage grew stronger with every single moment - and they were unmistakable as well.

Remus stared at the double agent in sheerest, deepest shock.

This really *was* Severus!

Something pierced the werewolf's insides with an indefinable feeling of horror. What had happened to the Slytherin to make all of himself, except for some traces of his fury and rage, totally unrecognisable? What had he gone through that had twisted so very much of what had once defined him? Remus couldn't even begin to fathom the events that could turn somebody inside out like that. With a discomposure he had never felt before in his life, he slowly shook his head, at a complete loss for words.

With a most irritable snort, Severus got up from Remus's chest, where he had still been kneeling. The werewolf, still totally aghast and fighting for the ability to speak, watched as the former Death Eater in Death Eater's clothing stood motionlessly in the middle of the room for some moments and then lifted his hand to slightly massage his right temple. Pocketing his wand, his hand still rubbing his head, the tall Slytherin slowly turned and headed towards the door.

He already had made it halfway there when Remus, who was hit by the realization of the most awkward situation he was in, had finally found his voice again. Oh yes, this *had* to be Severus Snape! The man really planned to walk off and leave him here, lying still half-paralysed on the floor like this...

"Severus!"

He could clearly hear the other man's exasperated sigh, could sense his former schoolmate in that sound as he hadn't been able to so far tonight. From his helpless position on the ground, he saw Severus stop and turn around, rolling his eyes as soon as their glances met - and quickly closing them immediately after.

"Oh, yes, of course. Well, Lupin, I'm sure you understand: since I've apparently not been *myself*, I think it's only too comprehensible that I'm not really up on what happened in here during the last minutes, so forgive me the lack of presence of mind."

Deliberately ignoring the scathing sarcasm that rained down on him, Remus actually managed to smile forgivingly up at the irascible man who still didn't move a finger to free the werewolf from his uncomfortable position.

"I'm more than willing to explain all of this to you afterwards, Severus, but please, would be so kind as to give me my legs back first? I'd rather talk to you eye to eye than from the floor..."

The former Death Eater seemed to contemplate that request for some moments. Then, with another quick gesture to his right temple, the Slytherin drew his wand one more time and pointed it at the man on the floor.

"Finite incantatem."

Immediately, Remus recognized his legs as a part of his body again. Quickly pulling himself up from the floor, the werewolf only noticed the rapid movement at the door out of the corner of his eye. Turning at once, he barely caught a final glimpse of the hem of a heavy black cloak disappearing into the corridor that led to the castle's grounds.

"No, Severus, please...wait!"

But before Remus managed to get back to his feet completely, Severus Snape had left the Shrieking Shack.


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