For all Joy wants Eternity
The sun rose from behind the small hills in the East.
Watching how the first rays of the new day bathed the low clouds in a warm amber light and how they woke this patch of the world with a gentle stroke of soft brightness, witnessing the morning greeting the honey-coloured, slowly ascending disc with its own early sounds, smells and movements of life was like a glowing promise to Severus. A bright reassurance. Something warm and soft to rely on, to lose himself in, something he could allow to embrace him without being smashed into pathetic fragments by the contact.
With a deep sigh, the Slytherin leaned back against the wall behind him and closed his eyes, let the warmth of the young day tingle upon his face, welcomed its caressing touch. This sunrise was more than evidence that the darkness of the past hours was finally over. It meant that he had managed to leave the castle where Voldemort had left him after personally, violently having reminded the spy of both the duties that lay in bearing the Skull and Serpent on his left arm and the consequences that the three symbols on his chest represented. The Dark Lord had used very convincing arguments to make his point.
But this sunrise proved that Severus had made it through another encounter with his fate. It meant that he was still alive.
That he would go back to his cursed and desperate existence. That he would return to Hogwarts Castle as soon as he was able to. That he would have to come back here.
This sunrise meant that Remus Lupin had returned to his human form by now...
Slow footsteps from the left drew Severus's attention away from the disturbing direction in which his thoughts had begun to wander. Banishing the last traces of the werewolf's vision from his mind and not even bothering to open his eyes, the spy let go of his breath in an audible hiss before he spoke.
"Still here, Lucius?"
Instead of an answer, he could hear the other Slytherin coming closer. Eyes flying open, Severus could feel all of his muscles tense in the already alarmingly familiar fear he had experienced last night upon Malfoy's approach as well; and just when the spy was sure that all it would take was one more step of Lucius in his direction to make him jump up, ready to defend himself from the threat the other's closeness represented, the blond Death Eater stopped to sit down beside his former housemate. The distance of a little more than a meter he left between them indicated that he obviously intended to respect the fact that Severus claimed a much larger private space than others usually did.
Even though he kept his defences up to a certain extent, the spy managed to relax a little. It looked as if Malfoy had learned his lesson last night. Only Lucius's grey eyes that Severus felt burning into his left temple demanded contact, and tired and worn as he was, he gave in to the forceful request after only a few moments of silence. Turning his aching head, Severus calmly met the gaze of the other Death Eater.
The honesty that awaited him there, and that was mirrored in the other's voice now, surprised him.
"I had a feeling that maybe you might need me...afterwards."
A bitter smile flitted across the spy's exhausted features.
"As touched as I am by this generous offer, I really don't see any possibility for you to prove your helpfulness."
The other Slytherin continued to watch Severus. Carefully. Thoughtfully.
"I thought of something like Apparating you back to Hogwarts..."
Severusís sharp snort kept Lucius from finishing his sentence.
"And I'm sure you can also tell me the reason why you think I would need your help with that."
The blond Death Eater looked away, turned his head to focus on the colourful sky before them.
"Because you're still here, Severus. If you trusted your body and mind enough to Disapparate, you would have done so by now. He left two hours ago, two hours you didn't make use of to get away from here. I don't believe that you suddenly discovered a special liking for this place, or that you long to dwell a little more in the pleasant memories it represents."
Not quite sure if it was due to the truth that lay in those words, or simply because of the fact that Lucius, who had been a distinctive part of those 'pleasant memories' dared to state the horrors Severus had just gone through so ironically, the spy felt a violent wave of fury well up inside him over Malfoy's absolutely accurate analysis of his, Severus's, situation. More than content to hear the cutting edge in his own voice, he willingly gave in to the urgent need to hurt the man beside him.
If this was even possible.
"You surprise me, Lucius. Do you really think spending some minutes in the same room listening to your stammered explanations and excuses could ever make me trust you enough again to risk something like Co-Apparating with *you*? To put my life in *your* hands, just like that? After all that happened last night?"
Watching the obvious difficulties Malfoy had fighting the mixture of guilt and remorse that threatened to creep over his features was priceless and indescribably satisfying. Letting his voice grow even colder, Severus couldn't resist adding more fuel to the fire.
"Who knows what his orders for you concerning me look like this time."
The growing brightness that glimmered through the morning air seemed to deepen the perfect silence that had fallen between the two men who sat in front of the old castle.
Severus wasn't sure if his exhaustion was to blame for it or if he was simply too tired to hold on to his rage, but for whatever reason, he could feel how the furious tumult inside of him shattered, how his cold anger melted with the growing light and warmth of the new day. One glance to his left that showed him Malfoy's bent head and how his former housemate had fixated on some point upon the ground with an unmoving face, how he tightly clasped his elegant fingers, now freed from their black leather gloves, washed away all of the remnants of those intense emotions that had still been boiling inside of the spy only moments before.
With a sigh, Severus leaned forward. All his weary mind and body wanted was to relax for awhile longer, to not have to speak or to think or to feel at all, whether it be rage or vague regret. Lucius's company was tiring, demanding, mentally and physically. The constant alert the other Death Eater's presence put him on drained Severus of the strength he was just about to rebuild. And the emotional strain, a result of the subliminal fight the two of them were caught in for decades now which made it even more difficult to deal with last night's events, as well as with the obvious and honest consternation Malfoy was displaying ever since, totally overtaxed Severus's emotional, physical and mental capabilities. There was no energy left to argue or to fight, no resources for any emotions that went beyond the vital urge to recover enough to be able to Disapparate, no strength he could spare for anything else but to concentrate on his own needs.
And he *needed* to be alone.
"Listen, Lucius, I...do appreciate your concern and readiness to help. But there's nothing more you can do but give me a chance to rest - on my own." The spy paused. "Please."
Out of the corner of his eye, Severus perceived a slow movement, and a moment later he could feel how Lucius's gaze had returned to him. He wasn't sure if the other Slytherin was willing to accept this admittedly rather oblique offer of peace, and he wouldn't have cared either, had it not been for his urgent need of solitude. Severus knew that this modest request to be left alone was all he would be able to come up with right now. it was the only evidence he could give of his good will to avoid another one of the verbal exchanges he and Malfoy usually got caught in for once. All he could do now was hope that Lucius would be satisfied with that as well.
The small nod beside him made Severus look at the other Death Eater again, who now elegantly rose to stand beside the spy, not letting him out of his sight. Lucius's soft voice gave the lie to his scrutiny.
"If that is what you wish."
Severus managed to hold the other's stare for a few more moments before he finally closed his eyes.
He would never know if Malfoy had been able to hear those two words before he had finally complied with his request and Disapparated. When Severus opened his eyes again, he was alone with the early morning.
The door slammed shut on nothing but empty space between him and the entrance to his quarters in the East Tower, waking Remus Lupin from the light doze he had fallen into after Sirius had left about half an hour ago under Harry's Invisibility Cloak to get their breakfast from the kitchens. Sirius did so every morning, but today was the morning after the Full Moon, and knowing about his friend's exhaustion due to the transformation, he had returned from the house elves' realm much sooner than he usually did.
But when the Animagus emerged from under the shimmering fabric, Remus knew immediately that there was more to the hurry Sirius apparently was in than the will to take as good care of a friend as possible. The face under the black hair was unusually pale, and the reserved look in those eyes told the werewolf that something was wrong. Terribly wrong.
Remus got up from the sofa on which he had been waiting for his Friend to return and slowly made his way to the table in the middle of the room. Stopping behind one of the three chairs surrounding it, he threw the Animagus a calmly questioning glance.
With a tense smile, but avoiding the werewolf's eyes, Sirius put the tray on the table.
"I'm really sorry, Remus, but I won't be able to share breakfast with you today, I...there are things for me to do, but don't hope to have lunch's dessert all to yourself! There's no chance Iíll miss a gooseberry mousse!"
Somewhere in his stomach, Remus could feel how the first threads of his slowly building fear began to entangle, forming a small but already painful knot.
Something had happened. Something Sirius obviously knew. And it was just as clear that Sirius didn't want to tell him.
Silently, the werewolf watched how his friend quickly set the table and emptied the tray, spreading a luxurious breakfast before him, up to Hogwarts usual standards. Remus desperately waited for Sirius to speak again, prayed to the Lion of Gryffindor for the Animagus to prove that he was being a hypersensitive and paranoid fool. But Sirius finished preparing Remus's breakfast, flashed his friend another apologetic smile, mumbled something about seeing him later and turned towards the door.
Only after Sirius had already transformed into a huge black dog did the werewolf seem to awake from the unbelieving trance his fear had sent him into, and with the jolt that ripped through him, reason set in again as well. If Sirius, or Albus, for that matter, had so obviously decided not to tell him about whatever it was that had happened, if they thought it necessary to protect him from the news because of the weak state his mind, soul and body were in...
The urgent call stopped the Animagus right in front of the door.
"Is it something you think I don't have a right to know that youíre trying to conceal from me?"
The dog turned his head and watched Remus with dark, sad eyes for a moment before his shape changed to become a man once more. When Sirius took a step in his friend's direction, the werewolf could almost taste the uneasiness that radiated from the Animagus. He didn't even try to pretend that Remus wasnít right.
"Why don't we talk about this as soon as there are reliable facts, Remus? Right now, all we have are assumptions and unconfirmed suspicions. I would really hate to confront you with that when it's very likely that everything will be cleared up soon."
If anything, those sentences only deepened the dark premonitions that had started to tumble through the werewolf's head in every imaginable form. Beating about the bush like that was not like Sirius at all.
"Will you believe me that the most unbearable thing you can confront me with is my continuing ignorance, Sirius?"
The conflict he was in was perfectly mirrored in the Animagus's eyes. The werewolf could see the struggle his friend was caught in, the fight between wanting to protect and care for Remusís physical and emotional well being on the one hand and his understanding of the horrible feeling of being left out the werewolf was facing right now out on the other. Remus felt a strong sense of guilt building inside. He knew he was pushing the other man who meant so much to him, he was totally aware of the fact that he had initiated Sirius's being torn like that. He hoped that he would be able to explain to his friend afterwards. To make him see that he had had no other choice.
But now, he simply needed to know.
"Please, Sirius. Don't leave me in the dark like that."
In the Animagus's eyes that were watching him intently, the werewolf could read how a decision was being made.
"Remus..."The other's voice broke off momentarily, seemed to refuse to articulate the words a hesitating mind had sent to his organs of speech. Helplessness dawned in Sirius's desperate gaze, and for a split second his eyes were begging for a way out before he exhaled audibly and went on. Determination to get over and done with this as fast as possible was now written across his face.
"A member of the Order is missing."
Remus felt his fingers closing around the back of the chair in front of him, cramping into claws ready to tear the cushion down to the stuffing. Something was screaming this missing person's name to him before Sirius continued speaking.
"All Albus knows is that Voldemort called his Death Eaters to a meeting last night; Snape seemed to only have had time to brief Albus about that by owl yesterday. So when the Headmaster didn't hear from him again ever since, he didn't worry too much at first. Apparently, Snape has taken reporting back from his missions less than seriously lately. But when he didn't show up for breakfast this morning..."
Feeling his heart freeze from the inside out, the werewolf fought the slight dizziness that had suddenly attacked him. For an instant, there was nothing more to his being but a vast and desolate void. As desperately as he was searching for a single thought, for only one emotional reaction to respond to this information, all that answered him was silent, plain shock.
With a sigh, Sirius closed the distance between him and his friend who was still standing behind the chair, clutching the back of it, obviously unable to speak. Deep concern and worry written over his expressive face, the Animagus reached out and gently covered both of Remus's cramped hands with his own.
"We still don't know that he's not simply out there somewhere, busily executing Voldemort's orders. As far as we know, the Dark Lord is not very likely to have regard for Snape's duties at school if he needs him elsewhere. Maybe things just took a little longer this time, whatever those 'things' might have been." A bitter note had crept into Sirius's voice.
"There are so many possibilities, Remus, and that means that there also is a real chance that nothing serious has happened to him. Weíll do anything in our power to find out; please believe me! Right now, Albus is in contact with some informer outside, and I was just on my way to join a search party to scour the school grounds and the surrounding area when you held me back. If he's here, we will find him."
The werewolf's fingers curled around those of his friend, whose thumbs were now soothingly stroking over his icy skin. With a small smile, Remus gently pressed both of the Animagus's hands and managed a nod before he spoke, his voice shaking slightly.
"So what are you still doing here then?"
He could clearly see how relief washed over Sirius's tense features upon this attempt at a playful reproach. The Animagus even returned the werewolf's smile when he answered.
"I have my priorities, you know."
And with a last searching, intense look at his friend's face, Sirius's body melted into the form of the big dog again. Having reached the door in two long leaps, Snuffles opened it with a fast movement of his paw and swiftly left the room, this time for good.
Slowly, Remus pulled the chair back and sat down at the table, lest his legs should betray him.
He could see Severus before his inner eye as if he was standing in front of his door again, as if it was yesterday evening. He clearly remembered the tension in the Slytherin's every move, and glance, in each of his few words. He had been able to read the pain in the spy's eyes and body language, a pain that had been interlaced with something a little more intense than fear. A pain that had been suddenly renewed during their short encounter, that had deepened, along with the Slytherin's fear which had grown to be panic then. Remus had already been guessing last evening that the Dark Mark's call had been behind all this, but now that his suspicion had been confirmed, the werewolf couldn't help but realize the consequences.
If he had been able to already sense Severus's pain when the Slytherin had shown up at his door, the spy must already have received at least one order to Apparate to the Dark Lord before he had reached the East Tower...the abrupt intensification of Severus's torture must have been the sign of at least a second time the Dark Mark had summoned him to Voldemort's side...
Remus closed his eyes in silent horror. How many times had the Slytherin been called by the Skull and Serpent bursting into flames before he had complied with the Dark Lord's wishes? How much time had he spent in physical and mental agony without performing his duty of Apparating immediately to Voldemort's side, knowing that this simply had to provoke the darkest wizard's fury? How often had he refused to leave Hogwarts, refused to keep himself safe from harm yesterday evening?
A single tear escaped Remus still-closed eyes.
How much had Severus risked to make sure he, Remus, would not have to make it through the Full Moon without the Wolfsbane Potion?
And when, since James, Sirius and Peter had decided to willingly accept the dangers of finding out on their own about becoming Animagi, had anyone chosen to take a risk like that for the werewolf that he was?
But unlike his Gryffindor friends back then, it looked as if this time, someone had had to pay the price for what he had done for him...
Remus exhaled very deliberately on a barely audible, shaky moan. He was used to feeling exposed to situations he couldn't influence in the slightest. He knew what it felt like to be totally helpless; he very intensely experienced that once a month. It had been hard in the beginning, but he had learned. Had learned about patience and calmness, about a kind of serenity of his own. He didn't complain about certain inevitable facts of life anymore, even if they were painful and hard to accept.
But those were facts of *his* life.
And right now, it was not about him, not at all. It was about a man who had willingly, deliberately decided to put his physical and mental well-being at stake because he had chosen to help. Had chosen to help him. Someone who had acted as a true friend would. Someone he had never expected to receive such evidence of affection from.
Even though he had somehow always wished to do so some day...
Slowly opening his eyes, the werewolf straightened up. Gone was the exhaustion that had mesmerized his feeling and thinking only half an hour ago. No trace of the leaden weariness that usually fogged his mind and sabotaged his body after the transformation was left. At least he didn't feel any of that right now, but was instead filled with the determination not to let down the one who had equally certainly chosen not to fail him.
And when his eyes fell upon Harry's Invisibility Cloak that hung across the sofa's arm where Sirius had hastily put it, he suddenly knew what he had to do.
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