For all Joy wants Eternity

Chapter Ten

By katzenhai

       

Severus watched his hand shivering badly as he reached for his wand. His fingers cramped slightly as they curled around the medium of his magic, telling their own story of this day's strains that he had thought finally lay behind him, now that he had been able to retire to his rooms at last. It was half past eight in the evening, and the relief the spy felt, now that what would probably be the longest day of his life was about to come to an end, was almost physical. Classes, the further duties of a teacher and head of house during a school day, and the struggle for composure, as well as the need to hide the impoverishment of his mind and body, especially during his meeting with Dumbledore, had demanded more than his hopelessly exhausted, hurting body and this slowly collapsing mind of his had been able to give. He had gone beyond his limits today by forcing himself to ignore the mental and physical state the night he had spent in the Dark Lord's presence had left him in, but he was willing to pay the price for this decision. It was part of what his choices had made of his life, part of this grotesquerie that was his existence, just another chapter of it all that only led him closer to an undoubtedly very degrading end. Last night had shown him the level of physical and mental humiliation he was able to survive - he didn't even dare to think about what the treatment he one day would not be able to endure was going look like.

His glance returned to his wand, still in the wet, unsteady grip of his shivering fist. Silently waiting. Waiting for him to use it. To *do* something.

But he was not able to tell for the life of him what this something was.

Severus closed his eyes with a barely audible groan that vibrated with despair more than anything else. Salazar Slytherin's serpent! only some moments ago, before he had allowed his weary mind to take him down that scary path of thoughts, he had *known* the reason. It had made sense to pick up this wand. No, it had been necessary. Magic had been needed, here, in this very room...

The spy's dry throat constricted violently in the face of this merciless evidence of the alarmingly disasterous state his mind obviously was in. Only someone who knew how much value Severus Snape attached to his mental abilities, who was familiar with how significant his wits, usually sharp as a dagger, were for the spy, could suspect the unbearable despair the Slytherin was going through right now, now that along with his body, his mind was failing him as well. That slowly collapsing flesh was something he, Severus, could deal with, since it wasn't *his* flesh anymore anyway. But his brain had been something the Dark Lord had not yet invaded; it still belonged to him, and he was dead determined to keep it; it was all he had left, all that remained. It was all that defined him now.

Almost able to taste fear and frustration in his mouth, Severus forced his burning, heavy eyelids open again and frantically searched the room for some hint, racked his brain for anything that would tell him what he had been about to do just a few minutes ago. But his body, pleading desperately for rest, for finally being allowed to forget about this day and leave it behind for at least a few hours of oh so badly needed sleep, pleading for it with every single nerve, doing so more insistently every minute, sabotaged all of his weak consciousness's feeble attempts to go back to work. Drove the Slytherin into a vicious circle of trying too hard, failing, trying even harder, failing again, the whole time fighting the panicky certainty of being just about to lose his mind.

Until a low, somehow familiar sound broke through to him. A soft, but insistent knock at the door. The door to his rooms... Somewhere in Severus woke the infallible certainty that he had already heard that sound earlier this evening.

And suddenly everything fell into place.

With beads of persperation still shining on his forehead, with the shivering of his fingers having spread to his entire body, but wand still in his hand, the Slytherin slowly rose from his seat and finally did what he had already intended to minutes ago, what had made him grab for his wand after he had heard that knock on his door for the first time. And when he had lowered the magical wards at last, when the door slowly opened, letting a soft glow of warm light dance in, Severus turned back to his armchair and mentally prepared for the time he would now have to spend with Remus Lupin.

       

The mug Remus had used as an excuse to come here tonight stood on the table that separated the two of them. It had done so for some moments now, and Remus could feel how the opportunity he had fought hard for was passing by. Passing by without his taking advantage of it. The Slytherin on the other side of the table embodied rejection, retreating more, growing colder with every second that went by, and the werewolf knew that he actually had no justification to be here anymore. If he didn't want Severus to send him out of his quarters any moment now, he had to act. Something had to happen soon. Had to happen now.

So why not come up with the truth?

Partly because he knew this would make the spy feel more comfortable than the table between them already had, partly because this would buy him the few more seconds that he needed to order his own, swirling thoughts, Remus deliberately turned around and took a few steps into the dimly-lit room before he faced the Slytherin again, his features totally sober, his throat completely dry. He had tried to picture this moment for some time now, had struggled with the opening words over and over again in his mind, but still he had not been able to find a sentence that didn't sound stupid or patronizing, pitying or arrogant. He had known that it would be exceptionally difficult to directly confront Severus with his perceptions, premonitions, and awarness concerning the spy's mental and physical condition.

But now that he was actually about to do exactly that, he realized that it was going to be even harder than he had anticipated.

Which was, exactly, when the Slytherin, now a few meters away from him, did Remus the most amazing favour of taking over responsibility for the upcoming conversation himself.

"I have no idea what you're waiting for, Lupin, but as you undoubtedly know, I'm not up to my usual standards at all tonight." Remus saw Severus close his eyes for a moment before the spy went on. "Since *I* know, though, that this mug here is anything but the true reason for your visit, would you please be so kind as to say or do whatever is on your mind, so we can get this most ridiculous situation over and done with as quickly as possible?"

So here they were.

The Gryffindor felt tension creeping up his spine, and determination welling up inside of him at the same time. So this was the way it would finally happen, and even though Remus was quite sure he would *not* have chosen to begin like that, he also had to admit to himself that he had not really been able to think of an acceptable alternative either.

Time to get over and done with it.

Never taking his eyes off the other's face, sharpening all of his senses to be able to detect any alarming changes in Severus's aura and throwing all caution to the winds, Remus watched himself try, refusing to lose time with ineffective and pointless preliminary remarks. He knew he had to make a good job of this. He knew this would be his first and only opportunity. No room for showing signs of uncertainty or scruples. No room for mistakes.

"All right, then I will keep the introduction short, Severus. I will not resort to questions this time because I know I'm not among those you'd give answers to anyway, even though I'm afraid I may be the only one able to come up with the right queries."

Not the slightest reaction from the spy to that. The only thing Remus could sense was an extreme weariness creeping in violent surges over the landscape of Severus's aura, that complex aura that had changed so very much and still felt painfully twisted to the werewolf's perception. The Gryffindor ignored another pang of guilt that pierced his conscience, given that he kept the Slytherin from his badly needed rest, and went on.

"Let me tell you about the things I perceive. The things I can't help but sense. The changes I can detecet in you, Severus, those drastic variations of your non-physical being that cut into my perception every time I see you, and that kept me from recognizing you the first time we met this summer. I don't need looking at that totally frightening fading of your body which shows in your features, your eyes, even in the way you move and carry yourself. I can *feel* that you're dwindling, I can feel that you're mentally and physically suffering like I've never felt anyone suffer before - and I'm very well aware of all this getting worse and worse with every passing week."

Remus didn't know if the tremor he could sense ripping through the other man's body was a result of his monologue or of the overwhelming exhaustion he was aware Severus was feeling - and unwillingly displaying as well. By now the spy had put his hands on the table in front of him for support, leaning on the piece of furniture with his entire weight and his upper body bent forward, shaking slightly. But whether it was due to his Slytherin determination and pride, or to the fact that he, Remus, had managed to trigger something - or to another reason that painfully called for Remus's attention - Severus was still holding the werewolf's gaze with a calmness and decidedness that totally contradicted the profound weariness that was written all over his body and soul. It was those unwavering, watchful eyes along with the fact that he had gone too far already to stop now which made Remus continue despite his biting guilty conscience.

"And I have no idea about the reasons, Severus, but it's not only time that seems to deepen that multifaceted agony of yours."

This time, the Gryffindor was very sure that Severus's wincing had been provoked by his comment.

Remus's voice grew very gentle.

"Right now, all that makes you stay upright, all that keeps you from collapsing right beside that table this very moment, is my sheer presence in this room - or rather your fear of my presence. Your panic because I'm in here with you is palpable, Severus, and it's even stronger than your abysmal exhaustion must be. Every single nerve of yours is stretched to breaking-point, and I can feel all your instincts preparing to take flight or fight as soon as I should give you the slightest reason for it - like coming closer again, for example."

For a very short moment, Remus considered that possibility. The option of putting the spy under even more pressure than he already was in order to emphasize his words and perhaps provoke a reaction from Severus was tempting, but not for long. The acceleration of the Slytherin's breathing, the white knuckles of his hands that had forcefully grabbed the edge of the table and the fierce tightening of the other man's jaw showed Remus that he had got his point across clearly enough - and confronted him with another wave of keenly sensed guilt. He had not come here tonight to expose Severus to even more tension than the spy already must be under, and he certainly had not meant to add to the Slytherin's torture. Not only because this man had turned from Voldemort and had been on their side for many years now, not only because Severus had made an unbelievable sacrifice for him, the werewolf Remus Lupin, just last night. Mainly Remus shrunk back from using his knowledge against Severus because of that undefinable affection the Gryffindor somehow had always felt for the Slytherin, but had burried deep inside years ago. Now it seemed that this emotion was shyly raising its beautiful head again. Revived by last night's impossible present that the werewolf had received.

"Severus, you don't even have to try to deny anything of what I just told you. It would be pointless, because I know it's the truth. I can feel it is the truth."

The Gryffindor stopped, only for an instant, then was urged on by the infallible awareness that it would never happen if not now.

"What I don't know is what I'm supposed to make out of this awareness about your frightening condition. I haven't told anybody yet, but I couldn't ignore it anymore either. I know you don't think this is any of my business, but I'm not able to close my eyes to what is happening to a...to you. I'm burdened with a knowledge I know that you don't want me to possess, but I can't help but perceive evidence of your mental and physical collapse every time we meet. I got caught in this, and I don't know how to get out of it anymore without hurting someone. And I came here for your advice. I came here for you to tell me what to do about this. I can't decide on my own. I need your help, Severus."

       

With tears of exhaustion threatening to run down from his eyes any moment, Severus intensly watched the other man whose features were totally sober, with honesty and openness written all over the expressive face.

The Slytherin found it very hard to concentrate. The werewolf's words were swirling in his head in a chaotic and wild vortex, and he had the feeling that with every second they did so, the sense and meaning they once had carried was violently being ripped from them. Sentences lost their structure, words their denotation, all of it drowned in the bottomless weariness that swamped his consciousness. But Lupin's speech had also left some islands in this dark flood that the spy knew he would not be able to fight very much longer, islands of importance, landmarks he could cling to in order to perform his share of this conversation. And he knew that this was what he wanted to do. He needed to do. The honesty and openness on the other's face deserved this.

Severus brought all his Slytherin determination to bear and focused on the few aspects of what Lupin had said that had stuck in his utterly overtired mind. And to his own amazement he managed to master his voice, to form sentences, even though far from the impressive eloquence and elegant phrasing that usually marked his speech.

"You said you didn't tell anyone?"

He saw the werewolf give a small nod.

"Why?"

For a few moments, there was nothing, no gesture, no word, not even the slightest sound, before the other man sighed, letting himself sink against the back of another armchair that stood right behind him.

"I can't give you a reason, Severus, because I don't know any myself. Believe me, it's hard for me to admit this, but I simply followed my instincts on that. I've been searching for a rational foundation for my decisions concerning you all summer, but this is all I can offer you - as well as myself. It's been nothing but inexplicable intuition."

Taking a long breath, Severus tried to absorb this. None of it made any sense, did it?

"Then why don't you simply continue...using your intuition? Why ask for someting like help from *me*? I'd say your instincts led you well so far, just keep on following them."

The Gryffindor's sober eyes drilled deep into the spy's which were violently burning with the desperate plea to finally be allowed to close.

"Coming here, I did exactly that, Severus."

The Slytherinís entire body was hurting now. A strange, pulling sensation this was, as if his muscles were slowly being peeled from their bones. Merlin, he was done for, he was so tired, so very tired...

"I cannot continue to simply watch this. I refuse to be a passive eyewitness of your suffering and fading away. Can't you understand?"

Even though he was almost completely shattered by now, Severus was still able to realize that tears were shining in the werwolf's eyes when Lupin went on, in nothing more than a whisper.

"After what you did for me last night, can you really not understand?"

He had to make use of the little strength that was still left, of the little time that he had before he would break down. With one last gathering of all his willpower, Severus pulled himself together to give verbal shape to the foggy thoughts that were gliding ghostlike through his head.

"It seems to me that...you've already made your choice then concerning how to deal with it all, if you 'refuse to be a passive eyewitness'... If you ask me, you don't need my help for that decision at all, Lupin." Severus had to stop to moisten his lips with a short, uneasy flick of his tongue. "The thing is, that no matter what choices you make, you won't ever be able to do anything more than make choices. Thereís nothing you can act upon successfully."

His hands had started to shiver again. Severus tried to find the strength to steady his fingers, to clench his hands into fists at least, but his body denied him even this small evidence of cooperation. He wouldn't last much longer, he could feel it, was told so by the fuzziness that had crept into his vision, by the wall of owl down which seemed to absorb every sound. He shivered under the cover of chilling sweat that ran down his skin which was hot and dry, glowing feverishly.

"I don't think it's necessary to discuss your observations concerning my...my condition, and I won't disclaim any of the conclusions you've drawn. As for anyting else...I...I don't know myself how to deal with all this, and I definitely have not the slightest idea what you could ever do about it."

Even through the thick haze of exhaustion the spy was wraped up in now, he could feel the urgency behind the werewolf's whispered words before Lupin even spoke.

"I want to help you, Severus!"

The cruel laugh that wrested itself from the Slytherin's chest sounded more like a helpless wheeze than anything else.

"Don't you listen at all, Lupin - that's just the point...You. Can't. Help. Me! There's not the slightest thing you can do...Just forget about your Gryffindor haughtiness and believe the words of an ambitious Slytherin for once...if there was anything that could help me out of this, don't you think I would have found it by now?"

The silence that followed was like a warm blanket soothingly covering the spy's aching, totally exhausted body. There was not an ounce of strength left anymore, he was absolutely pumped out. He had done his share, more than that, to be honest. This conversation had to end now, or else Severus was seriously afraid that he might collapse within the next few moments.

"If there's nothing more, Lupin...I'd be very grateful if you left now."

He could see that the other man was still struggling to accept his help being denied - or rather the fact that there was no help at all. Not this time. Not here. Not in this particular case. Knowing the Gryffindor attitude, Severus knew that for the werewolf, this was something very difficult to accept.

When Remus finally pushed himself away from the armchair, the spy felt the same hot wave of relief that had already arisen in him when Lucius had left this morning without the slightest opposition. Retreating carefully from the approaching Gryffindor who slowly made his way to the door, Severus took the risk of giving up the support the table had offered him so far. His weak, shaking limbs allowed only unsteady movements, but his legs were still more or less carrying him, so he would probably manage not to break down in Lupin's presence...

The werewolf's voice pulled him out of his dark musings once more. Lupin had already put the Invisibility Cloak over his slender body, and only his head and one hand lying on the handle of the door were visible floating in midair. His eyes, now completely dry, were fixed on Severus again.

"My offer stands, Severus. Maybe you...well, perhaps one day there will be a possibility of easing whatever it might be that you have to endure. And perhaps you'll remember me then."

The Slytherin watched the werewolf's mouth open again after he had stopped speaking, knew there was more Lupin wanted to say but never did. With a low "Good night", the Gryffindor pulled the hood of the cloak over his face, and when the door closed again only an instant later, Severus was alone, finally able to submit to the overwhelming need of his hopelessly overstrained body and mind.

       

During the next week, Severus, never stopped thinking about the werewolf's parting words. He was actually surprised how much of the conversation he was still able to remember, his alarmingly exhausted condition that evening notwithstanding. His memory confronted the spy with what had happened between him and the Gryffindor that night over and over again, and even though he was not sure what exactly it was, the certainty that something *had* happened was shimmering in the back of his consciousness like a weak, but insistent beacon. Impossible to ignore, for all the faintness of its light. The honesty behind Lupin's will to somehow relieve his burden had captured the proud Slytherin...and it didn't let go of him again.

So it came to pass that when the Dark Mark's flames called Severus to his former Master the next time, it wasn't only Albus Dumbledore who received an owl along with a short note about the spy being on his way to fulfill his obligations.

And this time when Severus Apparated from the grip of the Dark Lord a few hours later, back into the Shrieking Shack, he was neither surprised nor at all irritated to find Lupin waiting for him there.


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