For all Joy wants Eternity

Chapter Eleven

By katzenhai

       

"If you really want to know..."

Remus had been holding the six-word note for some time now, twisting the small piece of parchment between his fingers, staring at the handwriting that was as distinctive and unmistakable as the writer's voice would have been. In front of him, on the low table beside his sofa, were the remnants of a very old book that was falling apart, which more or less only consisted of single sheets of yellowed parchment, scantly held together by the remains of what once had been a spine. Several bookmarks of deep green, slightly shimmering cloth were stuck here and there, along with more handwritten notes, distributed throughout the entire book. Which was waiting for him to finally open it.

Smoothing Severus's note that his nervous fingers had wrinkled with both of his thumbs, Remus leaned back on the sofa with an audible sigh. There it was, right before him. What he had been waiting for for so long now. His opportunity, maybe the only one he'd ever get. The key to what had happened to Severus. The reason for the Slytherinís suffering. The truth.

Yet he hadn't touched the faded leather binding that held The spyís secret.

Remus didn't know what he was waiting for. The reason for his sudden hesitation, now that what he had longed to know was only a few feet away, was a complete mystery to him. Maybe it was this note that held him back, maybe he was more than a little afraid to actually find out what had happened to Severus. Maybe his reluctance was due to a certain degree of respect that had grown during the past weeks, a respect for the Slytherin's desperate desire not to have to reveal whatever was torturing him. Almost three months had passed since the spy had first informed not only Albus but also the Gryffindor about the meetings he had to attend some nights. Almost three months since Remus had been greeted by a small smile in dark eyes for the first time after Severus Apparated back to the Shrieking Shack where the werewolf had been waiting. What had grown between them since was a very delicate relationship. It was larded with traps and snares, and Remus knew that they both were very aware of that. It was encouraging, but a little frightening at the same time to observe how they did their best to avoid hurting each other, how they tried to negotiate the obstacles that their totally different lives more than adequately provided. Remus had no interest at all in sacrificing whatever it was that was developing between Severus and himself to their differences - and it felt good to know that Severus seemed to regard it in the same way. On the other hand, their mutual and very deliberate taking care of the shy friendship that now cautiously bound them kept them from testing their relationship as well, and this was something Remus found truly disturbing. He didn't like the fact that they were building their friendship by keeping certain aspects of their personalities out of it, by not opening up completely. And even though he knew that this simply took time, that they had to be careful, because of what had already happened between them in the past, to be able to reach a higher level of trust at all, this deliberate restraint on both sides, this fear of learning more about the other, probably something repulsive, something frightening, filled Remus with a deep and profound sadness...

Could it be this fear that held him back? This hesitation not only to touch what he malready knew about Severusís past as a Death Eater, but to learn even more gloomy aspects about the man that he had begun to regard as a friend? Was this the reason why he still had not dared to open the book and finally be confronted with the truth? Was he so caught up in patterns of caution, in the honest will to not endanger this new thing he and Severus shared - or was he actually afraid of the truth, afraid it could be something too dark, something he would not be able to deal with, something he would not be able to accept? Did he in truth fear that after he found out about Severus's doom, he would not be able to stand by the spy anymore?

A cold hand reached for his heart at that thought, clenched slowly into a fist, now that Remus realized he had himself fallen victim to the same train of ideas and reactions that marked too many peopleís reaction to him, a werewolf. People who condemned him on the basis of what they thought they knew, of what they had been told. He was loathed by those who didnít even care about trying to find out what really lay behind the vicious monster he had to turn into once a month.

No. He would not do that to his new friend. How could he? He would do his best to understand, to comprehend, to plumb the truth behind the Slytherin's suffering, no matter how dark, loathsome, repulsive, frightening or dangerous this truth might seem at first glance. He not only owed that to himself; he also owed it to the trust that Severus had displayed by handing this book over to him. By inviting Remus into his own shattered life. By surrendering himself to the mercy of the werewolf's reaction. The Gryffindor knew that it was not only trust in him that had finally made Severus do this, but also the trust into their relationship that he, Remus, had thought of as frail only moments earlier.

Apparently Severus had decided it was time to put a little more confidence in what had grown between them. Obviously he was sure their friendship was strong enough to withstand the stress of the plain truth...

With almost Slytherin determination, Remus reached for the book in front of him.

       

If there was something Severus Snape had learned during his years as a spy, it was to be honest with himself. So far, there had not been a single person he had not been forced to lie to, so confronting himself with the truth had become something vital to him, something that kept him in touch with what and who he really was. Even though this honesty was very painful from time to time.

The Slytherin was very well aware of the irony that lay in the strange fact of Remus Lupin having become one of the most important persons in his own, totally twisted life during the past eleven weeks. He once had dreaded the Gryffindor so very much, and not only because of his one encounter with the wolf decades ago, not only because of his fear of the dark beast that he probably would never be able to overcome. It had also been Lupin's keen, infallible perception that had made it impossible to hide the true dimension of the effects that the ritual had on him, which had frightened Severus in a way he was only now able to realize, now that his fear of being forced to reveal his secret was not extant anymore.

Because tonight, he had decided to let Remus in on the truth. On all of it. It was time to get past the mere admission of his pathetic physical and emotional state. It was time to give reasons as well. It was time. Severus was sure of that, even though he felt disquiet growing inside him with every minute that passed after he had sent that house elf, along with the book that held his darkest secret, up to Lupin's quarters in the East Tower. Up to the man who had kept the promise he had made that other night. That night, when Gryffindor persistence and abysmal exhaustion and weariness had finally Forced the spy to confess and affirm what Lupin had already known when he had come on the pretext of returning a mug to offer the spy his help. And the werewolf had stood by his offer.

The Slytherin had never thought that it would feel so good to have someone who knew. Had been utterly surprised at the relief that the opportunity to share his fear and pain brought, even though this sharing took place silently. It wasn't necessary to talk about it. The simple knowledge that Lupin was perfectly aware of his, Severus's, struggle to go on with his life, of his fighting for his sanity, of his desperate attempts to keep all this a secret from the rest of his limited world was all that it had taken. It had brought a stange kind of warmth running through his veins again, ever since he had found Lupin waiting for him in the Shack in response to the owl about the Death Eater Meeting he had sent the Gryffindor that evening. And the gentle smile the werewolf had welcomed him back with had been another promise, an affirmation that Lupin would be there again the next time as well.

And he had been. Every time ever since.

Not that this weird relationship apparently developing between and carefully preserved by both of them had not been difficult as well. There had been more than one occasion when only their mutual readiness to cut back from time to time for the sake of their fragile friendship had kept discussions from becoming the oh so familiar fights. Most of the time, those dangerous conversations had only circled one issue, of course. Several times Lupin had tried to find out, ever so carefully, about what Severus had hidden from him thus far, and it had not been easy for Severus to keep his acid tongue, his favourite weapon, in check whenever they'd touched this particular subject. He was quite sure that Lupin, who had never been noted for dropping issues before he received satisfying answers, had had his difficulties as well with turning down his incisive questions as swiftly and willingly as he did when it came to the reasons for the Slytherinís condition. There seemed to be a silent treaty between them to do everything in their power not to endanger the new and highly sensitive connection they now shared - and yet the spy could feel that his outright refusal to tell the Gryffindor the truth about what had happened to him both deeply hurt and frustrated his new friend. Still, after their last tense confrontation about this only three weeks ago, the werewolf had never mentioned the issue again, for which Severus had been more than grateful. It had taken a lot of subliminal strain out of their highly sensitive relationship, had allowed the spy to relax when they spent time together, had made it possible to talk about other things, things that were more important, things that allowed him to catch a glimpse of what lay behind the idea of Remus Lupin that he, Severus, had built up during the decades that they had known each other.

He was not sure yet what all he had found there. All he knew was that there was understanding, unobtrusive compassion and sincere warmth and gentleness, and all of this was given with a genuineness that had surprised and deeply abashed the Sytherin every day that he received it. All the facets of help that Lupin had offered were not what Severus would have expected from a werewolf, and even though it had been years ago, what came to his mind when he had thought of the Gryffindor was the image of the deadly creature approaching him in the darkness of the tunnel, was the intense panic and fear for his life that had grabbed for him then. Never had he associated anything other than apprehension and horror with his former schoolmate, nor had he ever cared to look for anyting else.

And so now, where and when he had least expected it, he had finally discovered a person who had been nothing but a blessing for him during the past months, purest comfort and undreamed-of refuge. Someone who really seemed to care, whose concern was not restricted to the necessity of addressing tactical aspects in a desperate war, who was not bound by feelings of guilt.Somebody who, as unimaginable as it was, actually seemed simply to worry about him. Not about the spy that he was and the relevant role that he played in the battle against the Dark. Not about the fellow Death Eater who had been punished and tortured by the Dark Lord in front of everyone. No. Lupin's concern was directed at him. And it had been this new, wonderful, but also slightly confusing awareness that had made Severus change his mind. That had made him reach a decision that he would not have thought possible only a few weeks ago.

And so he had finally chosen to share it all. Had disregarded all of his pride, his doubts and fears - and was now waiting for Lupin's reaction to the truth.

       

Remus felt maddeningly hot under the Invisibility Cloak. Dodging passing students as best as he could on his way down to the dungeons, he felt warm sweat running down his spine, covering his face and palms. His heart battered a drum-roll inside his chest, and had he listened to his brain it would have told him that what he was doing here was sheer madness, that Sirius would give him a good roasting should he ever find out, and that he would have every right to do so.

But Remus didn't pay attention to any such thoughts. He knew that it was much too early to leave his rooms in the East Tower. Even under the protection of Harry's Invisibility Cloak, he knew that he risked a lot by running around among all these students who were just hurrying from dinner in the Great Hall back to their common rooms. Still, Remus didn't care at all. Completely disregarding reason and caution as well, he headed for the dungeons, with only one thought in mind.

It had taken him almost the entire day. The house elf with Severus's book and note had arrived shortly after Sirius had left with the remnants of this morning's breakfast, and after Remus had finally brought himself to search the pages of parchment for hints about the spy's condition, he had spent the rest of the morning and the whole afternoon struggling through pages of the darkest magic that he had ever come across. The Defender against the Dark Arts inside him had howled in disgust at every line he read, and the complexity of the spells, curses and charms he had to study left him in blank and horrified amazement. A vague idea about a dimension of Dark Magic he never imagined to exist grew inside him, and when the initial innuendo the first hours of his working through the book had provided finally gathered, solidified to form a most terrifying idea which had become absolute certainty only a few minutes earlier, the werewolf's horror had momentarily frozen him to his chair.

It was the same overwhelming fright and unbelieving terror that now drove him before the Potions Master's door. Not knowing if the Slytherin had already returned from dinner, nor caring at all if he had, Remus made his presence known with an urgent knock, loud and clear. Unmistakable.

The door opened.

Remus didn't know what he had expected his first reaction to be, now that he was facing the man who carried the most complete and far-reaching curse that the wizarding world would ever know - apart from Avada Kadevra. He now could see the ritual screaming from the depths of those black eyes, feel it emanating from the slender body, this body that belonged to the Dark Lord, that was Voldemort's now, and would be so forever, untouched and unclaimed by anyone else, slave to the most terrible wizard now walking their world... Feeling his throat contracting, the werewolf involuntarily clenched his hands into tight fists in utter frustration. For the second time today, the Gryffindor felt mesmerized, totally helpless, prisoner to the horror of the situation. And still, he waited for his subconscious' answer to the terrible truth that he now knew about the Slytherin, waited for scorn to attack and revulsion to descend upon him.

That never happened, though.

Instead, the tight knot of shock and disgust that had built inside Remus Lupin exploded, seemed to break open, setting free a flood of desperate compassion, a deep hurting for the spy, a sympathetic urge to soothe and protect such as he had never felt before...

The Slytherin's tense voice, a low and forced whisper asked,"Is that you, Remus?"

Immediately, the werewolf jolted out of the trance he had been caught up in. He became aware again of the Invisibility Cloak's soft cloth under which he was still hidden, and of course Severus was not able to see him...whereas, on the other hand, Remus now knew that the spy could clearly sense his presence. His nearness to the Slytherin must cause the same kind of panicky fear that Severus had displayed so very often now as a reaction to physical closeness - and contrary to his expectation, Remus's painful awareness of the reason for the other's terror didn't make it easier to deal with it. Not at all.

Taking two steps back, Remus kept his voice just as low as the other man had to answer his question.

"I'm sorry, Severus, I sometimes simply forget that I'm wearing this cloak...may I come in?"

He couldn't see the Slytherin's eyes, but the wolf inside him felt the hesitant joy growing in his former schoolmate because he, Remus, was still willing to share some degree of intimacy with him. The Gryffindor could sense the shy hope that the other didn't allow to take over yet, the forced discipline that kept the spy from giving in to relief yet, afraid to rely on trust too soon. Remus couldn't hold that kind of caution against his new friend. He knew the fear of revealing certain truths about oneself far too well, knew what it felt like to be afraid of rejection, remembered the bitter taste of trusting but still being denied...

A small, barely visible smile lit the weary features of the tall, dark man in the doorway. Leaving the door open, the Slytherin retreated into his quarters, obviously waiting for the werewolf to follow him, who did so without hesitation. They had practised this so many times during the last weeks: the low conversations outside the Potions Master's rooms, using as few words as possible so as not to risk Remus's exposure, the keeping of a certain distance between them that didn't make the Slytherin feel too uncomfortable, the swiftness with which the werewolf always passed the door so as not to arouse any suspicions in possible passers-by. They had done it so very often, but tonight, it was entirely different.

Slowly taking off the Invisibility Cloak, Remus watched how the Slytherin poured them two cups of tea, the elegant hands totally steady. Again, he had to admire the other's self-mastery, remembering how he himself had always felt after revealing the true nature of his own dual existence. The werewolf was very aware that Severus's calmness was nothing more than an extremely well performed act, knew that inside, the spy was boiling with fear of being rejected on the one hand and the hope of being understood on the other. But still, the seemingly sovereign way that Severus dominated his emotions woke the same strong impression of respect in the werewolf that it always did - and an overwhelming feeling of profound sadness as well, which was new to him.

A little upset by this surprisingly strong emotion, Remus took his cup of tea from the table where Severus had put it and made his way to the arm chair that he always sat in when they met in the Slytherins's rooms Ė which they did most of the time. The risk that Sirius would unexpectedly turn up at the doorstep to Remus's quarters was simply too high. Because of the condition the Slytherin was in right now, the werewolf didn't want to expose his new friend to that, nor did he intend to hurt his old friend with the knowledge of how close he and Severus had gotten. So the feeling Remus had right now as he sat in the spy's living room was a rather comfortable and familiar one - despite the silence that had fallen between them after their short exchange at the door.

The spy seemed to have read his mind. With one swift and determined movement, the Slytherin put his cup down on its saucer, his eyes drilling deeply into those of the werewolf. Holding unspoken questions, genuine fear and flickering hope as well.

"You're very early tonight."

Remus set his cup aside as well. With a silent prayer to Merlin, asking to find the right words, he searched for an apt reply, tried to prepare for the ensuing conversation.

"Had it not taken me the entire day to fully understand the reason for you suffering , I would have come to see you even earlier."

He didn't have any intention of beating about the bush at all. And even though the Gryffindor observed the tightening of the other's jaw at his words, he knew that Severus preferred to come to the point as soon as possible as well. Trying to put as much gentleness into his words as possible, Remus leaned slightly forward, always concerned not to enter the other's personal space, and plunged straight into the middle of things.

"How long has it been now, Severus?"

His voice had not been more than a toneless rasp.

For the first time since their conversation had begun, the spy lowered his eyes. But when Severus answered, his glance still fixed upon a point on the table, the words came out clear and composed, the spy's speech dominated by the same self-restraint that most of the time controlled his seemingly arrogant body-language as well.

"He finished it last summer, right after his return."

A slight frown formed on Remus's forehead.

"He finished it...?"

For a very brief moment, the mask of the untouchable double agent splintered, and the distorted grimace of exasperation and very old pain that showed through would have been enough to make wizards more hardboiled than Remus Lupin flinch with shock. But this was Severus Snape sitting there, so after a split second, the impenetrable facade of pride and control returned, and the werewolf now listened with growing horror and loathing to the low, but very assured and almost matter-of-fact report that the spy gave him.

"I received the first symbol of the ritual shortly after we finished school. It was the reason why I turned to Albus again - and became a spy only a few days later. About six months went by before the second mark was added. You know what happened afterwards. He disappeared. I first went to Azkaban and afterwards back to Hogwarts as a teacher. I learned about the ritual by pure chance when I found the book that's now lying in your rooms in the school library."

With a sigh, the spy leaned back in his chair and met Remus's eyes again before he went on.

"When he came back last summer, I returned to take up my former position as a spy among his Death Eaters. Since he's not very fond of unfinished business, that was also the night that I received the third symbol. And ever since..."

"...he's the only person able to touch you."

A sober glance from black eyes burned itself deep into Remus's mind.

"Without momentarily completely crushing my entire existence. Body, soul and sanity, yes."

A vague idea had surfaced at the back of the werewolf's mind as he listened to Severus's explanations. It was still nebulous. Whispering. Not tangible yet. The voice of the wolf. But it was there, had struck root and didn't brook being denied, though Remus did all he could to ignore its insistent susurration. These present moments were much too important for him to allow himself to be distracted by the beast inside, and he would not allow the wolf to fail Severus again. It was him, Remus, the human aspect of his being that the Slytherin needed right now, and not the creature that had once almost killed him...Supressing his protesting instincts as effectively as he could, Remus concentrated on the vital questions that he had and picked up the conversation.

"But why did you go back to him then, Severus? I mean, you knew about the ritual. You knew he would not let get you away without the third mark. You were running into disaster with your eyes wide open...spy or not, nobody would have forced you to return to him. So why did you do it?"

Only when the final word had left his mouth, did Remus realize the inadequacy of his query.

And still, the swirling whisper of the wolf lingered in his mind, gradually took shape and grew more urgent, a strange background to the thoughts and feelings that dominated his consciousness while he tried to imagine the mental, emotional and physical torture the Slytherin must have gone through during each stage of this most macabre evolution that had culminated at the final implementation of the ritual. Remus fought to grasp some sense of how it must feel to spend more than a decade with the promise to belong to Voldemort burned into one's chest, of what it must be like to deliberately choose to commit oneself to lifelong bondage to someone you despised with all your heart, to the Darkest Wizard of their time.

But all his attempts were in vain, and how could it have been otherwise? Still, the frustration and despair that Remus felt in the face of his inability to fully emphazise with the Slytherin went deep, and the genuine chagrin that he wasn't even able to touch the other man to express his profound sympathy and compassion was almost unbearable.

And all the time his instinct's call grew louder, more enticing, claiming his attention more persistently with every passing moment.

Remus tried hard to refocus on the human part of his consciousness, concentrated on the spy's eyes that still held his own gaze. Bitter amusement was discernable in their dark depths, and the werewolf knew that now he would receive the just and acid reaction to his last question, which he had had no right to ask. He could already sense the sarcastic reply that must be burning the Slytherin's tongue, could feel the rage that flared behind the sardonic laughter in those eyes...but suddenly, all that was gone, replaced by a resigantion that was just as painful as Severus's anger had been. And instead of a caustic retort, all that escaped the spy's lips was a small sigh, which was followed by a moment of empty, shapeless silence, bare of emotion, representing the final acceptance of the irrevocable situation by both men.

Until the Gryffindor couldn't take it anymore.

"How in Merlin's name do you brave that?"

The spy started to play with the saucer before him, slowly turning it, following its rim with a long, steady index finger. Not making eye contact again.

"By the simple fact that I have to."

With a slight shaking of his head, Severus went on speaking.

"I had more than ten years to think this through, to mentally prepare, to ponder possiblities and choices. Of course I didn't have the slightest idea about what it would actually be like after it happened, but I guess it could still be, and most likely will become, much worse than it is now."

A slight twitching of the spy's mouth over that. And silence again.

And this was, exactly, when the wolf's voice triumphantly broke through the mental barriers that Remus had errected one more time, filling his mind with its presence, with the now clear shape of the hazy picture that this all had begun with several minutes ago. The shape of an idea that shook Remus to his very core, an idea that he knew was as problematic as the being from which it had originated. It was something he would never dare to suggest, and certainly not to Severus of all people! But at the same time he was very aware that it could work out, that it could help, that he could be of help here...No, no, not with Severus, impossible, he'd better forget about that now, before the brightly gleaming opportunity that lay in this thought got the best of him...

The Slytherin's tense voice again, speaking more to himself than to the werewolf, who was distracted between paying attention to his friend on the one hand and the wolf's presence in his head on the other.

"There's only one thing about the ritual I still think about, that I still want to find out about, even though I have no idea why it seems so important. Do you want to know what that is, Remus? It's the question about what is worse, what is harder, what will actually finish me off in the end. Will it be the Dark Lord's loving treatment, or will I simply break down because of how extremely painful it is, physically and emotionally, to be close to other people?Ē

An odd sound escaped the Gryffindor's lips and drew the spy's eyes back to him. The urge to soothingly touch the suffering man in front of him had become overwhelming, and only the knowledge that this would cause Severus even more pain made Remus keep his hands to himself. He knew that frustration was clearly showing on his features, and strangely enough he was not surprised at all to see his own emotions mirrored on the other's face.

"Isn't that ironic, Remus?"

The werewolf could see the effort it took the spy to carry on, to form the following words that were an unfamiliar admission of affection.

"Now that I...now that there finally is someone I...who's really important to me, I can't help but fear this person's presence, can't fight the need to retreat as soon as we get close. It's...it's definitely hard to endure the nearness of the others at the staff table, or of students in classrooms. But this first reaction of mine when... the first reaction to want to flee...you, as soon as you come near me... this has become the most unbearable aspect of it all."

And at that very moment, the human in Remus Lupin fortunately Surrendered to the cheering, enthusiastic cry of the wolf within him.

       

It was as if he would never ever be able to say a single word again. After overcoming all of the obstacles that had tried to keep him from telling Lupin what he just had, obstacles he himself had built during the decades of his past, there couldn't possibly be any energy left to form even one more sentence. Severus felt drained, his head was so empty that all he could hear was the echo of his thoughts, and that of his last statement as well... He didnít really care right now if he was going to be mute for the rest of his life. This had been his second revelation to the Gryffindor today, one he had not planned to share with him yet, if ever. His surprise over the fact that he had nonetheless done so was surpassed only by his growing dread of the other's reaction.

His and Remus's eyes still seemed to be glued on each other, and the Slytherin did not intend to let the werewolf out of his sight. He knew that his own perception was nothing compared to what the Gryffindor was able to receive from him, but he was determined not to miss one hint that could tell him about what Remus was thinking or feeling right now. He noticed that the werewolf's mouth had opened very slightly and that his nostrils were shivering faintly. He didn't miss the spark that had waked in the other's eyes, nor the deep intake of his breath.

And then Remus spoke.

"Severus, the effects of the ritual deny you physical contact with any other person, don't they?"

Total confusion took hold of the spy. Confusion and traces of disappointment, of uncomprehending irritability. Was this what he got for opening as completely as he just had? Had the werewolf not understood? Had he listened to him at all? The spy didn't need any lecturing or redundancies about what he had already known for years now...

His attempts to keep the peevishness that he felt out of his voice were ineffective.

"I thought you were a Defender against the Dark Arts. You should be able to understand what a book like the one I gave you this morning is telling you without asking the victim of the curse for clarification."

The Gryffindor's eyes grew dark with dismay. Inwardly still shivering with supressed anger, Severus watched as Remus drew another deep breath and leaned forward, only to stop in the middle of his movement and withdraw again.

"I truly apologize for this thoughtlessness of mine, Severus. That was a totally unnecessary question."

With one quick movement, the werewolf had jumped up from his seat and Paced behind the armchair several times before stopping and resting his Body on both of his hands, which he had placed on the back of the armchair. Still, Severus noticed the slight shivering of the other's fingers and of Remus's lips, now that he spoke again. But besides the apprehension that the Slytherin could read in he the werewolf's eyes, there was a bright gleaming as well.

"There is a reason for my question, though, and maybe I should phrase it more accurately...if the effects of this curse explicitly apply to humans, is there any indication that your inability to touch and to be touched extends to animals as well?"

The Slytherin felt his confusion grow deeper with every word that he heard Remus say.

"I'm afraid I still don't understand, your more accurate phrasing notwithstanding. Would you be so kind as to..."

Remus voice, vibrating with tension and urgency accenting every word, cut in.

"Severus, I asked you if this ritual keeps you from being touched by animals, too."

And when the Slytherin finally recognized that the wolf was watching him through those glowing human eyes, he felt his heart freeze and his mind refuse to accept the implications of his friendís question. It was with stunned incredulity and wild denial flooding his entire body that he finally understood what the Gryffindor was implying.


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