For all Joy wants Eternity
The strange tingling up his left leg was about to convert to the first hints of a cramp, which was the very last thing that the spy needed right now.
Struggling to focus on the report about the latest developments at the Ministry of Magic that Walden Macnair had already been holding forth upon for several minutes now, Severus was extremely awake to the presence of a soft, long, lithe body at his feet. Keeping him from being able to at least shift his weight from time to time. Forcing him to stand even more motionless than he and all the other Death Eaters usually did anyway. The need to move, to relieve his left leg of the weight of his body, which it had been forced to carry alone for more than an hour, had become more urgent than anything else - but still, he didn't dare to give even the slightest twitch of one itching toe inside his boots.
Nagini had appeared from nowhere right after the meeting had begun, and from the moment he caught sight of Voldemort's snake, Severus had not been able to take his eyes from her again. He had watched with dim foreboding how her serpentine path through the dim room had led the giant snake around the perfectly silent ring of Death Eaters twice - before she obviously made her choice and stopped right behind him on her third circuit, only to gently, gracefully wrap herself around his ankles and curl up right at his feet.
Severus was sure that if she had been able to purr, she would have done so.
It wasn't a tight hold Nagini that had on him, not at all. Her body exerted just enough pressure not to let him forget about her disturbing presence even for a second. Anyway, it wasn't the serpent's grip that had caused the increasing pain in Severus's leg or the unbearable twitching of his muscles in their compelling urge to move. But the fact that the spy knew all too well, as every Death Eater did, that disrespecting Voldemort's pet's wishes wasn't something the Dark Lord would approve of at all, and disturbing Nagini's rest now would prove equal to offending Voldemort himself...which meant that the subsequent punishment would be an extremly dicey and thus exceptionally painful one. Quite aware of what the night was still holding for him, Severus therefore preferred to keep as still and unmoving as he possibly could, doing his best not to wake the serpent from her apparently peaceful slumber at his feet, even though a million tiny needles were now painfully stabbing every square-inch of every single muscle in his left leg.
Being taken by the Dark Lord after having been weakened by a Cruciatus perhaps, or maybe even something worse, something like another of Lucius's touches, for example...Compared to that, the physical consequences of Nagini's dubious evidence of affection proved to be the much lesser of two evils. By far.
And since the silence that had just descended on the circle of hooded and masked women and men told Severus that Macnair's pompous sermon had finally ended, he knew that he would be freed of the detested creature on the floor before him very soon anyway. He was also quite aware that only shortly after that, he would once more be physically reminded of the fact that there was someone he hated even more, with all of his heart. Someone who would not curl up at his feet like a content cat, but who would make the Slytherin himself go down to the floor instead.
Severus flinched as this someone suddenly spoke, the strange voice piercing through the tense quietness that stretched in the scarcely lit room seemed to echo from the cold, bare stone walls, which only intensified its menacing sound.
"Everything goes as planned, my Death Eaters. Time is working for us, as I have told you. Only a bit more patience, and there will be nothing to prevent our triumph anymore. Nothing, I repeat *nothing*, will stop us this time."
A very contented smile, the one that Severus had learned to fear so very much during the past months, spread over the Dark Lord's face as he slowly turned in the middle of the circle, fixing every single one of his servants before a single graceful gesture of his left hand ended the meeting and dismissed them all.
All, except for one of them.
As much and hard as he tried each time to mentally prepare for that particular moment, Severus still didn't quite manage not to inwardly wince at the suggestive undertone that always resonated in the way the Dark Lord used his name to hold him back from leaving.
"Yes, my Lord."
With his long, black robes rustling over the stone floor, Voldemort turned with an elegant, graceful spin and drew nearer towards the spy until Severus was facing the snake-like, but still clearly defined, features of his former master. Who was smiling at him indulgently.
"There are some things about that report of yours concerning the situation at Hogwarts that I would *love* to discuss in a little more... detail. Now. My faithful Severus."
It was nothing more than another part of the mental torment the spy had to endure - apart from the physical one. Every single Death Eater knew perfectly well that the reasons why Severus always had to stay after their meetings were totally different from those their Master publicly offered them. But Voldemort seemed to find extreme pleasure in pretending not to be aware of that at all, and coming up with new excuses for holding Severus back after every single one of their gatherings had become something like a highly entertaining game to the Dark Lord.
Severus had not yet learned to completely ignore those subtle side-swipes, was still not able to avoid wasting any of the precious energy that was still left in his weakening body in pointless rage and frustration. Instead, he was actually struggling with both emotions right now, and the amused spark in the glittering red eyes of his former Master, who still stood in front of him waiting for a confirmation of his last order, didn't make things any better. Neither did the sounds of hurried stirring, or the soft sound of Disapparating witches and wizards that the previously totally silent circle had just burst into. Feeling furious warmth spreading inside him, the spy fought the vicious tightness in his throat to finally utter his obedience.
The automatic, obsequious "Yes, my Lord" had not quite left his lips when Severus more sensed than saw an interruption in the swift swirl of retreating and Disapparating Death Eaters around him, a sudden and unexpected element of disturbance in the smooth rush of movement that had erupted in the room.
The almost delighted twitching of the Dark Lord's lips told him that Voldemort had noticed this as well.
If anything, the amusement in those gleaming eyes deepened. Regarding Severus for one more moment, giving him the cruel parody of a conspirational smile, the Dark Lord slowly turned to the calm, tall figure that had caught Severus's attention when it had not left with the others but was now silently waiting to Voldemort's left.
"Yes, Lucius, my friend, is there anything I can do for you?"
The blond Death Eater made a graceful bow before he spoke to announce his submissiveness in the face of the fact that he had just ignored the clear and direct, albeit non-verbal, order to leave immediately.
"My Lord, thank you for your gracious willingness to hear me out."
Another fond smile played around the Dark Lord's mouth.
"But of course, Lucius. Donít I know after all that you'd never display disobedience like that without very good reasons in mind and the best intentions at heart? I cannot wait to learn what was important enough for you to decide to keep your master from his business at hand."
A small moment of silence followed. Severus could well imagine how his former housemate was struggling with a tight, dry throat himself right now, how he was moistening his lips behind his mask, struggling for the courage to go on. The spy had no idea what it was that had kept Lucius from escaping this place and the Dark Lord's presence as quickly as possible, but he knew that the softness that had lain in Voldemort's voice when he had addressed Malfoy, as well as the patient leniency that the Dark Lord was presently displaying was enough of a warning that Lucius was on the verge of getting himself into very deep trouble indeed.
And Severus could tell from the tension that had started to emanate from the other Death Eater, that Lucius was also quite aware of that.
Still, Malfoy went on speaking.
"My Lord, I was...I was thinking that since we...I mean since Severus and I are both working on the Hogwarts issue, that maybe...it might be possible that you need me as well when you want to...rediscuss the information that we gave you today."
Voldemort had turned back to Severus on the last words, every sign of a smile wiped off his face. The spy felt a hot, corrosive glance drill deeply into his own eyes, and fighting with the unbearable weight of that glance his brain refused to comprehend the meaning of what Lucius had just said. Caught and frozen in the Dark Lord's stare, unable to think, unable to move, unable to breath, he merely managed to observe how his fromer Master's lips parted, only half-listened to Voldemort's voice, now low, cold and interwoven with a more than palpable threat. Clearly answering Lucius, though the red, sparkling slits remained mercilessly, unblinkingly fixed upon Severus.
"Eagerness has always been one of your most outstanding features, my dear Lucius, and I promise you, it will continue to serve you well in the future - as long as you remember to devote it to matters in the area of your responsibility. Now, pay close attention, my Death Eater, because I assure you I won't tell you twice. In particular: racking your precious brains over how I should best deal with the task of getting the information that I need on that mudblood-nest Dumbledore is running is *not* your concern. In general: the very last thing I need for you to do is to take over thinking for me, my loyal servant. So here is what applies without exception from now on: there won't be anything like this surely well-meant advice you just offered me ever again; you will do as you are told when you receive a direct order *immediately*, and you will never so much as *think* about questioning my decisions ever again. I hope that I have made myself clear."
In a distant corner of his head, Severus became aware of a strangled, rasping whisper from his left.
An even more dangerous tone had crept into the Dark Lord's voice now.
"I'm afraid I didn't quite hear what you just said, my dear Lucius."
The blond Death Eater seemed to have regained control of his speech.
"Yes, my Lord, I'm sorry, my Lord. You've made yourself perfectly clear, my Lord."
"I'm very glad to hear that, Lucius. It would have been a shame had it been necessary to employ other means to make you see...reason." With those words, Voldemort's eyes suddenly let go of Severus, and as the Dark Lord turned to Malfoy again, he went on in the same lenient, cheerful way in which he had begun the conversation. "Severus's presence will be absolutely sufficient, rest assured Lucius. There's no need to hold you back from your family any longer than this meeting already has. You have Narcissa waiting for you to come home, and since there's nobody waiting for Severus, I'm sure he's more than willing to spend a little more time with me for the sake of the cause."
Not waiting for a reply from either of the two men in front of him, the Dark Lord whispered a few syllables in Parseltongue, which made Nagini finally uncurl and abandon her position at Severus's feet. Only when his serpent had passed him on her way into the darkness that seemed to flood from the walls of the room did Voldemort address his Death Eaters again, who were both still silently waiting for more instructions, both trembling inside with fear of what was to happen next.
"Severus, would you please join me next door. Lucius, my regards to your beautiful wife."
With those words, Voldemort turned on his heels and, following Nagini, disappeared swiftly into the darkness as well.
Very slowly, Severus looked to his left where Lucius had to be standing. A strange heat was burning right behind his solar plexus, and he was absolutely positive that, for once, this sensation had nothing to do with his fear of the events that were still waiting for him tonight. Instead, the spy felt his lips tremble with the unfamiliar urge to express his emotions Ė and what he felt right now, the glowing, profound gratefulness for Lucius's desperate and futile attempt to do *something* to spare Severus another horrible night with Voldemort, wasn't exactly what he was used to either. Even though the rage he had been able to read in the Dark Lord's eyes when they had just faced each other had been a clear sign that Voldemort had *not* been delighted with what had just happened at all, all of Severus's soul was screaming with the need to somehow show the gratitude he felt. He was bursting with the longing to say *anything* to his still slightly shaken former housemate, he simply had to let Lucius know how very much he appreciated the risk he had just taken, even though doing so had been unbelievably stupid. Still, the spy was keenly aware that the last thing that either of them must do right now was hesitate in the least to obey the Dark Lord's orders. The other Death Eater had tried the Dark Lord's patience more than could have been good for him, and if he didn't want to fuel Voldemort's anger even more, Lucius had to Disapparate as soon as possible. Not to mention that he, Severus, should get himself moving, should follow his former Master to the next room, should ignore whatever it was that still tried to force him to address Lucius...
Just as Severus had managed to persuade his feet to haltingly take him towards where Voldemort had disappeared, Lucius lifted his face and their masked eyes met.
Severus knew that communication was impossible. He knew they didn't have the time for it, neither of them, not to speak of their not daring risk the Dark Lord's disapproval should he find them talking to each other now of all times. Still, while the spy was gingerly moving towards the shadows and Lucius hesitantly prepared to Disapparate, their glances seemed to be glued to each other, one not leaving the other for even the smallest moment, and Severus couldn't help but whisper a bearly audible "Thank you" when he passed the other Death Eater. The equally low "I'm sorry" he was answered with vibrated with a degree of honesty usually lacking in the man who spoke the words. After that Severus was alone with his violently raging heart, and the emotional turmoil inside of him, carefully making his way towards where Voldemort had disappeared only a moment ago. Ignoring the protesting muscles of his left leg, limping forward with a hot prickling running from his toes up to his hip with every second step, the spy soon reached the completely dark regions of the surprisingly large room. Only when his groping hands held up in front him collided with a moist wooden frame did Severus know that he had finally reached the door his former Master had to be waiting behind. And even though he was perfectly aware that delaying the inevitable would only make things worse in the end, it took him much longer to feel for the handle and finally open the door than he knew he was allowed.
Severus was greeted by the soft light of two giant candles that were burning in a corner, standing on a stone pillar as high as a man, that was already covered with thick layers of filigreed wax-formations. A comfortable looking armchair was standing diagonally to the right of that pillar, and...
"About time, my dear Severus."
Not the slightest rush of air, nor any sound of human movement had warned him when Voldemort suddenly seemed to emerge out of nowhere right behind him.
Not paying any more attention to the terror-stricken spy, the Dark Lord slowly moved past him, leaving it up to Severus whether to recover from his shock in time or not.
"This tendency of yours to unpardonably neglect the aspect of *instant* obedience is actually becoming worse again."
One red glance over the Dark Lord's shoulder caught Severus totally off-guard again.
"And I had thought that we had managed to weed that out..."
Forcing his hands to finally stop shaking, Severus hurried to show the servility he knew Voldemort was expecting.
"I hope you can forgive me that I disappointed you once again, my..."
"We will see, Severus."
Overwhelming fear turned Severus's heart to ice, sending cold, violent shivers over his entire body. If the Dark Lord didn't even care to listen to his demonstrations of submissiveness...
"Yes, my Lord."
Not daring to take his eyes from his fromer Master, lest he should miss any sign of a change in the Dark Lord's capricious moods, Severus abandoned attention to the still forcefully burning pain in his left leg and forced himself to concentrate. Watching Voldemort make himself comfortable in the armchair beside the candles with one fluid movement, he saw how the Dark Lord was languidly leaning back, apparently having found an acceptable position, while the dancing light of the flickering flames was modelling his sharp, clear-cut features in a horribly eerie way. With his eyes half-closed, so only the slightest trace of red was visible, and the slothful play of light and shadow on his face, it was impossible for Severus to judge the mood his former master was in, to tell whether Lucius's well-meant manoeuvre, though having been doomed to failure from the beginning, had actually caused more damage instead of helping him at all...
The hated voice was cutting through his musings.
"I don't remember ever having experienced you shy like this, my lovely Snow White. Come closer. Yes, right here. Donít be afraid..."
Severus's heart was jerking wildly up into his throat, and his insides, which had begun to clench slightly while the Dark Lord had spoken, cramped more with each limping step he took towards the only source of light in the room. The darkest premonitions of what was to come his way tonight were racing through his head. Having learned the hard way that ironic verbal games like this were not a good sign at all, his fear of what his former master had in mind for him grew more unbearable with every moment of perfect silence that passed.
Until the Dark Lord spoke again.
"Sit down, my sweet Severus, here beside me." A bony finger was pointing to a spot on the stone floor, just to the left of Voldemort's feet. Severus silently obeyed, knowing that his fiercely trembling knees and still more or less useless left leg would make sitting down absolutely impossible. It was a most ungraceful fall that finally brought him down to the floor beside the Dark Lord, and the forbearing chuckle of amused disapproval that this earned him made the spy's face glow with shame and fury as hurt pride momentarily eclipsed the wild fear that had strangeld him just moments ago...but only an instant later, at the very moment that Severus felt the Dark Lord's fingers gently brushing back the hood he was still wearing, blinding dread immediately gripped all of his being again. A very steady hand had begun to casually comb through his hair now. "I was wondering, Severus...you're not saying anything, not moving at all...is there a reason for your unusual passiveness tonight?"
Determined not to get caught in Voldemort's psychological trap of provocation too easily this time, the spy composed himself, reached deep into his mind to summon control of his voice.
"No, my Lord, no particular reason...I was only waiting for your Lord's instructions."
Another low and gentle laugh rang down from above him, and the hand that had been stroking Severus's hair stopped at his temple to follow the outline of his mask, until the spy could feel five fingers slowly gliding underneath the magically attached piece of wood and closing in a frim grip around his jaw where it connected to his neck. Knowing there was no point in trying to resist, the younger Slytherin gave in to the pull that gradually forced his head around, wrenching his neck in a very painful way, until he felt the Dark Lord's eyes burning into his own once more.
"Waiting for my instructions...how very touching *and* sensible of you, my sweet Snow White."
Another small tug on his chin and Severus's neck was twisted even more towards his former master, with every sinew and muscle seeming to be on the verge of being torn any second now. Bending forward slightly, Voldemort made sure Severus had to realize that there was not a trace of the playful ease from the last minutes left anymore, that things were getting dead-serious now. The Dark Lord's features were cold and hard, the dangerously flickering fire in those red eyes told a clear story about the fierce rage waiting for Severus at that very moment, and the furious hiss of Voldmort's voice was vibrating with menace and cruelty.
"Then listen closely and better not miss a single word of my *instructions*, Severus! You will take your cloths off, one by one, and *very* slowly, starting with that mask and your gloves, because I want to see your shaking hands and the cold sweat running down your face and neck while you undress for me. As soon as you've finished, you'll get on your knees and ellbows right in front of this chair - and Severus, make sure to not waste any time assuming your position. As for what is to come after that, don't worry, there won't be anything that will demand any further contribution from your side. You can confidently leave arranging the rest of this night up to me."
The Dark Lord's face came even closer.
"I assume you understood, Severus?"
Speaking and thus moving his jaw which was still in Voldemort's bone-crashing grip only added to the pain that was already blazing in his head and neck, but the old reflex to answer each of the Dark Lord's direct questions obediently overrode the shrill protest of the spy's aching muscles.
"I understand, my Lord."
It was only a few moments later when his former master's violent thrusts seemed to split his body in two. He tried hard, though, brought all of his Slytherin determination to bear, but after Voldemort had driven himself up Severus's arse for the sixth time, the merciless force of the Dark Lord's movements broke through the spy's pride at last. Making him helplessly scream with pain and horror, while long fingernails left their bleeding marks on his back and waist as Voldemort grabbed the trembling body in front of him, pulling it closer with every fierce push of his hips, making sure he went deeper each time he buried his cock in the other man.
Severus was not sure for how long it had already been over. The gradually subsiding pain told him that at least some hours must have gone by since Voldemort had finally left him, but one look at his still heavily trembling hands was enough to make him instantly dismiss any thought of Disapparating back to Hogwarts yet. He wasn't in a hurry to get back to his other life anyway. Thinking of arriving at the Shrieking Shack did not hold the soothing comfort anymore that it had during the last few months.
With a sigh, the spy let his head fall against the wall he was leaning against, still sitting on the floor, but already half dressed, with his naked torso wrapped in the warmth of his Death Eaterís cloak. The painful memory of the last time he and Remus had seen each other was much too fresh to be dismissed to one of the dark parts of his brain, in the same way that Severus usually surpressed disturbing reminiscences. And even though it hurt every single time, the evening in his quarters following the very day he had revealed the details and reasons concerning his condition kept creeping back before his inner eye as if it had been yesterday. But then, it had only been five days ago after all.
Five days in which they had not met, had not communicated via floo powder, nor exchanged a single owl. Severus knew that after what had happened that evening, it most probably would be his turn to take the first step in trying to resume their friendship. It had been him, after all, who had openly broken their mutual, silent agreement to keep themselves in check for the sake of their strange relationship...and even though he still didn't know whether he was supposed to regret it or not, he had not been able to hold back that evening. Had let himself be carried away by the force of the furious disappointment and immense hurt Lupin's suggestion had aroused in him. The total lack of sensitivity the werewolf had displayed in Severus's eyes that night had more or less completely crushed the trust the spy had been building in Remus so very hesistantly. Led by rage, disappointment and pain, Severus had given vent to all the emotions he had kept under tight control as far as his friendship with Remus had been concerned, He was still surprised at the ease with which the acid coldness had suddenly been flowing from his mouth, when he had most successfully avoided exactly that for so many weeks. It had been so frighteningly easy to fall back into the habitual demeanor that he saved for certain people...even though he had not descended to screaming that particular evening, Severus was perfectly aware that the corrosive sarcasm with which he had thrown out Remus's plan had been just as bad, if not even worse, and he clearly remembered the traces of raw pain that had flashed across the werewolf's features at some of his, Severus's, words. Words that had been meant to hurt.
It had all culminated in his demand that Remus leave his quarters immediately, which the werewolf had silently and quickly complied with, almost leaving without putting on the Invisibility Cloak...
No. It had *not* been a pleasant evening.
Nor had the following days been pleasant. A little surprised at himself, Severus had witnessed how his boiling rage of that evening had started to ebb away with the very next morning, until by the evening of the following day, there had been nothing more left than a bitter, painful feeling of letdown. And the profound sense of having suffered one of the greatest losses of his life.
The spy had not been sure whether the werewolf's absence in his days or the deep disappointment and abuse of trust that he still felt had been the worst part of it, and to be honest, he still was not clear about that. His incapacity to get past the most hurtful fact that apparently all Remus had been able to come up with in the face of the truth about the ritual was to suggest another encounter with the wolf he was, an even closer encounter than the first had been, the first that had almost killed him, had most effectively kept Severus from pondering on whether he wanted to save whatever was left of the connection he and Remus had shared. Mentally going back to the Shrieking Shack of his youth was something that Severus had carefully avoided for most of his adult life. The events that had taken place then belonged to those memories that he had buried so very deeply inside that it almost hurt to even search for them. So far, Severus had not been able to forgive Remus for forcing him to go there when he had not been ready to do so yet - and probably would never be. The very old pain and horror from his school days had come to raise its ugly head again. This time keeping him from making the first move towards reconciliation with one of the very few persons he had ever regarded as a friend...
Until the Skull and Serpent on his left forearm had erupted with fire very late last evening.
It had been one of the extremely few spontaneous actions of his life, one That he couldn't explain, one that he didn't even understand. Even now, Hours later, after he had spent quite some time thinking about it while waiting to recover enough to be able to Apparate back to the Shrieking Shack, Severus still had not been able to find rational grounds for having sent Remus the usual owl to inform him of Voldemort's call. He had done it despite all that had happened, despite five days of complete silence and the most painful emotions that were still, undampedly, swirling inside of him.
The lack of reason behind his sending this owl was almost frightening.
With a slight shake of his head, Severus pushed himself away from the wall and with more than a little effort, very slowly, deliberately, got to his feet. He had learned to accept his acts, thoughts and feelings being rather strange and inexplicable these days, but this latest evidence of how uncontrolled emotionality had overrun his brains was really disturbing him. The facts were speaking for themselves, though, and they told a clear and alarming story of how extraordinarily significant the werewof's presence had become for him by now, as well as of the impact this had on the spy's inner life. Severus had never been someone who had listened to the treacherous whispers of hope, and even now that he had finished dressing, put on the mask again and slipped on his leather gloves he tried to fight the absurd wishful thinking that perhaps he would not arrive at the Shack only to find it empty.
With every fibre of his heart and soul, he still hoped to be greeted with another of those warm smiles that had become lifelines for him during the past months.
Taking a deep, shuddering breath and closing his eyes against the sinister scenery that had witnessed another stopover on his long way to doom, the spy pulled himself together and finally Disapparated from the Dark Lord's headqarters.
When he broke out of the swirling tightness of Apparation some moments later, when his eyes adjusted to the sparsely lit Shrieking Shack, when his heart seemed to suddenly explode with glorious, overwhelming joy and relief at the sight of Remus Lupin, who was fast asleep in his chair with the upper part of his body resting on his folded arms on the table top in front of him, another surge of wild and unrestrained hope passed through Severus with a triumphant shout.
He didn't even try to fight it.
Because the Dark Lord had been proven wrong earlier.
As improbable, as unbelievable, as incomprehensible as it might have seemed, there was still someone who was actually waiting for him.
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