For all Joy wants Eternity

Chapter Eighteen

By katzenhai

       

All Severus wanted to do was stay right where he was. Ignoring the past hours and what they represented. Forgetting about what he had been told. About what he now knew was expected of him, and what he would have to do. Soon.

Only the pain didn't let him forget.

Each intake of air drove a double-edged dagger into his lungs, drilling deeper into his body with violent twists each time that he exhaled, until the invisible blades left his body again through his back. Until his entire chest seemed to be run through by an endless number of blazing, throbbing bayonets, and he was sure that there was no way possible to add to the agony burning inside his chest. But each and every breath proved him wrong, was a merciless reminder of what he desperately refused to think about.

Trying to move as little as possible and to inhale as shallowly as he could, Severus concentrated on the bright shimmering that came from beneath the door to the small room where the Dark Lord left him only a few minutes ago. It was the adjoining chamber to the one in which Severus had been raped earlier in the morning, just as cold and dusty as the rest of the house was. There were no windows and no place to lie down other than on the clammy carpet covering the floor, a damp weave full of holes and rife with mildew and decay. A perfectly appropriate resting place for his cramped form that still reeked of the Dark Lordís body fluids, a smell that sent waves of nausea through the Slytherinís mind filled with despair. The soft , consoling gleam of light that sneaked in from under the door was so completely unreachable right now, that it might as well have been coming from Remus's fireplace in the East Tower; still it was the only soothing element around him, the only solid aspect in a musty cave of darkness, and so the Slytherin clung to the thin golden line as if his life depended on it. He *needed* something to hold on to, something that would keep him from following that rotating spiral of hopelessness down to its end from which he would not be able to return in time. Oh, yes. Now that he was finally alone with his memory of the horrors that had just passed and those which he had seen and contributed to only a few hours ago, alone with the pain with which each nerve of his deteriorating body still screamed, now that nothing was left for him to do but frantically attempt to get his wildly swirling thoughts into order, Severus *did* need something to hold on to.

The after-effects of the Cruciatus would begin to ease off soon; the spy knew that from bitter experience. It had not been the first time Voldemort had used that curse on him, even though it *had* been different and more powerful this time, even though for once the Dark Lord had not intended to punish him at all. Had he not known that this would make his chest explode with pain, Severus would have been unable to fight the strong urge to laugh out loud at the irony of the situation. Only an hour or so ago, he had wondered about the reasons why Voldemort had tried to protect him through past nightís events. Now that his former Master had submitted him to severe suffering and agony--only a rape, a few explanations and some orders lateróhe knew why. Now, it all made sense, and what he had thought to be the result of one of Voldemort's twisted whims had turned out to be another piece in the perverted mosaic that the Dark Lord was arranging, which would result in the destruction of the wizarding world as they knew it .

And he, Severus Snape, was meant to become a most important pawn in his former Master's plans. Though he still had no idea exactly what Voldemort's plans in general and for him in particular looked like.

[Red eyes glittering with barely concealed amusement. A bony index finger tracing a fine line down the sweaty skin atop his jugular.

'I don't really see the problem, my dear Severus. You will return to Hogwarts as you always do. Is there any particular reason why that should be more difficult this time than it usually is?']

Slowly shaking his head at the memory of the loathed voice, Severus tried to refocus on the bright line under the door, by now his only connection to reality. Along with the small shimmer of light, the muffled sounds of several voices came through the wood of the door, voices dripping with brusqueness and urgency, telling Severus that others had entered the neighbouring room, preparing for their parts in the upcoming strike, that time was passing by and he was running out of it. He knew his orders. He was aware that he was supposed to leave very soon now. Before noon, the Dark Lord expected him to return to Hogwarts and to carry out the orders that he had received, as cryptic as Voldemort's instructions were to him. Part of him wondered If the Order had received his admittedly terse and not very explicit warning of the previous morning, but he didn't ponder on that for long. There was nothing he could do about that now. In fact, there wasnít much that he could do about anything. To tell the truth, there was nothing at all that he could do.

Because he didn't know.

['You have all the information you need. Do as you are told, my faithful Death Eater, and you will learn soon enough that we all owe our victory mainly to you.']

With a desperate groan, Severus slammed the back of his head against the floor, and the bright pain exploding in his skull numbed the bitter frustration that he was feeling momentarily. What an extremely helpful spy he was! Aware of the fact that he was about to be used as the Dark Lord's instrument, but not able to tell when, how and where. Even if he returned to Hogwarts now, which he had not expected to do ever again, there would be nothing he could bring home with him. No information, no warnings, nothing. Instead, he would *somehow* contribute to the Dark Lord's deadly game, and they would all find out too late how he had made each of them walk straight into Voldemort's trap. With open eyes. He was unable to do anything.

Except choose not to go back.

It was a thought that had taken root in the back of his mind a few moments ago, and he was aware that carrying it out would be an act of purest desperation. Refusing to obey the Dark Lord's orders would reveal his working for Dumbledore and at best buy the Order a little more time before Voldemort could find another way to make a crucial strike, one that didn't involve Severus's contribution - and the Dark Lord would find one soon. No. Staying would not help much, not at all, but it would at least allow Severus to avoid becoming the reason for the downfall of the wizarding world.

It would also most certainly result in his death.

When he left Hogwarts the previous morning, he had somehow known that he would not see the castle again. The Dark Lord's call had been unmistakable in its triumphant urgency. None of them had failed to grasp the message that now, it would all begin. The war was about to reach its pinnacle, there would be many battles coming up, and the spy had known that he would have no choice other than to actively take part in them. Nothing but another Death Eater to Aurors, members of the Order and all the other witches and wizards fighting for the continued existence of their world. He would be nothing more than another target for their hatred and curses, as he had been the night before, when his only chance to survive had been to defend himself with the same means that he had been attacked with. He knew how very easily he could have died last night and probably still would within what was yet to come, but that thought didnít frighten him too much. It had always been part of the life that he lead, and he had accepted the risk long ago, never wavering in his choice once it had been made. The possibility of being killed was a constant companion, but despite his readiness to face that possibility he had always hoped that Voldemortís finding out about his, Severus's, true loyalties would not be the occasion of his death. He preferred to die fast in a fight, from the hands of someone on the side of the light rather than from the Dark Lord's skeletal talons who most assuredly would not do him the favour of letting him off the hook with a simple Avada Kedavra.

Still, it looked as if he would not be able to escape the manner of death that he dreaded. Because Severus had already made his decision. He would not do as he had been told. He would do exactly what he felt like doing. He would stay right were he was.

Suddenly the door opened.

The hot, burning pain that shot through his entire body when he struggled to pull himself up made Severus fall back to the floor immediately. Even though he tried, he couldn't keep his eyes from closing spasmodically because of the agony numbing his muscles, so all that the spy perceived was the small, clicking sound of the door locking again - as well as the presence of another person in the room.

The sudden flare-up of tension made the fingers of both of Severus's hands claw into the remains of the carpet.

'Itís just me, Severus.'

With a sharp sound between a snort and a laugh, the spy let himself sink down onto the floor again. Through the wild wave of relief something in the back of his head told him that he definitely should have known, but the greater part of his mind was still silent with amazement, still refused to believe, although the whispering voice had been unmistakable.

'When did you develop this unerring timing to always show up at the most inappropriate moment, Lucius? I really...'

'Severus.'

The soberness, urgency and strain in the voice coming from the door silenced the spy at once.

'There's not much time and I shouldn't even have thought about coming here, so listen: I know that you've been told to Apparate to St. Mungo's tonight after you're finished with your business at Hogwarts, whatever it might be, to get further orders.'

Severus could sense that the other Slytherin hadn't come any nearer than he had been before, still the growing vividness in Malfoy's voice seemed to carry his words closer to the spy, driving them into him, the verbal equivalent of Lucius grabbing him by the shoulders and digging his fingers into Severus's flesh in a desperate attempt to persuade him.

'I can't tell you more right now, but if I was you, I would *not* Apparate anywhere too near the hospital, Severus. Do you hear me? Whatever you do, keep some distance between yourself and the building!'

Severus had lifted his aching body a bit during Malfoy's speech. As he leaned on both of his elbows, the spy frantically tried in vain to force his eyes to penetrate the darkness that enveloped them in an attempt to read the other's face. A tiny alarm began ringing in the back of Severus's head with the first of Lucius's words, grew louder with each sentence, and by now Severus understood that something of crucial relevance was behind all this.

'I have to go now. Remember what I told you!'

The command to speak shot through the spy's furiously reeling mind.

'Why, Lucius?'

He felt the other Slytherinís glance darting in his direction. Could sense how he stopped reaching for the door handle.

'Because you don't want to get in our way tonight. Believe me.'

Malfoy had not even finished closing the door behind him before Severus cancelled his earlier decision. Only a few minutes later, he was ready to Disapparate.

       

It had been a hard night. It had been an even harder morning. The news of several successful Death Eater attacks on smaller, but still crucial centres of the network of defence against the Dark Lord reached Hogwarts shortly before sunrise and left them in shock, grief and helpless rage. Even though everyone had expected this after Severus's warning, nothing could have prepared them for Voldemort's fierce onslaughts which cost the lives of 31 wizards and witches. Even though most of the castle was empty now, with all the students and most of the staff in the Great Hall for lunch, the unbelieving horror and dark cloud of fear that had gripped the school this morning still lurked in every corner, still hovered about corridors and rooms. The werewolf felt it all the way up to the gargoyle, which he had reached only a few moments earlier.

Stepping from the spiral staircase, Remus took a deep breath before he went on towards the oak door in front of him. With only the slightest hesitation in his movements, he took off the Invisibility Cloak and raised his hand to the soothingly gleaming brass knocker. It had taken him awhile to make up his mind, almost a day, to be exact, but he made his choice in the end, and although he was still struggling with a strong sense of guilt regarding what he would reveal to Albus in a few moments, he knew that remaining silent would have made him feel even worse. This was a question of priorities, and Remus was sure that Severus would approve of his decision.

It had been some hours after the Order's last meeting concerning how to interpret Severus's parting words when the process that had led to his choice had begun, which had finally brought him before the Headmaster's quarters. Remus accepted being sent back to his rooms in the East Tower without the slightest objection after Albus dismissed everyone. Very aware that this meant he was unable to contribute to the unobtrusive preparations that were beginning to take place all over Hogwarts grounds, he also knew that leaving his quarters during the day had now become more dangerous than ever; they simply could not risk his being revealed by some unfortunate accident now, of all times. Grateful to finally find a degree of solitude, he retreated to his quarters with the task of filing and coordinating incoming messages that were sent by owl or the Order's own means of communication. Since Severus's sudden departure and warning had at least resulted in an all-embracing alert among those fighting Voldemort, the werewolf had been rather busy. Still, his thoughts returned to the friend he knew was with the Dark Lord at that very moment. The anxiety, fear and hurt for the Slytherin that had constantly grown with each minute of the Order's meeting had torn Remus's heart apart by then. He cursed his pathetic brain, which categorically refused to remember the last words they had exchanged that morning, that last morning following the first night they had spent together as two human beings in the same rooms. He tried, did all he could, but he was unable to drive grief and fear from his mind. The possibility that he had lost the Slytherin without having had a chance to say good-bye filled Remus with a degree of sadness that was new to him, as did the awareness that there would probably never be another chance to tell the spy even more important things. Merely touching the thought that it might be too late to let Severus know anything at all anymore drove the Gryffindor mad.

During the whole time that he automatically and flawlessly ordered, sorted and forwarded messages, Remus allowed the Slytherin to take shape before his inner eye, becoming ever clearer and more distinct until the werewolf had been able to hear the spy's voice in his head, to see the urgency in the dark eyes. To taste bitter uncertainty in his own mouth, not knowing whether he would ever be back, whether his warning would be received, let alone interpreted correctly. Remus dived into the despair that the spy must have been facing, into the impossibility of having to phrase a sentence harmless enough to not raise suspicion among those of his Slytherin students connected to Death Eaters. A sentence that, at the same time, had to be clear enough to be understood as the warning that it was. And even though Severus had apparently managed, even though the Order had realized the relevance behind his words, the werewolf was suddenly seized by the gnawing fear that, despite their long and extensive discussion during the meeting, they might have overlooked something. But they had been so very careful, hadn't they? Had tried so very hard to see the situation with Severus's eyes, in their frantic search for the key to his message, and they had ended up with the unanimous assumption that Severus's words had been addressed to Albus. It had seemed so very logical, such a Severus-like perspective to start from. He was Albus's spy. None of them was closer to the Slytherin than Albus. The Headmaster was the only person Severus had complete confidence in, and the only one who unconditionally trusted the spy as well. It definitely made sense...

And this was the point at which a cold fist grabbing for his insides stopped Remus in the midst of his musings. When he suddenly realized that this was not true. They had been so terribly, terribly wrong. Not that it had been their fault, not at all.

It had been his.

How was any member of the Order supposed to know about what had grown between spy and werewolf over the past months? How could any of them have had the slightest inkling of the profound mutual trust Severus and he had come to share? Been aware of the unbelievable closeness between them? And how, in the name the sirens' sweet voices, was it possible that he had not thought of this any earlier himself?

That had been the first time that Remus consciously considered the possibility that Severus's warning had been addressed to him. When he consequently began to think about all this might imply.

It took him almost a day to decide to let Albus in on the conclusions he had come to. Doing so meant breaking a promise, a silent but all the more important one, and in the beginning he shrank back from that like a vampire would have shrunk from the sun. It had been a vow he had mentally taken very shortly after he had received the first owl bearing the message of the Slytherin's departure to another Death Eater meeting. He hadn't told anyone about Severus's Apparating place after they had accidentally met there first that one summer night, and he had sworn to himself that he never would. It had been an unspoken agreement between them, one aspect of the reciprocal trust that was the basis of their relationship. Just as important and far-reaching as the Gryffindor's second promise that had gone without saying: to never reveal the truth about the ritual. To anyone.

He had not made this easy for himself. Deciding to betray the Slytherin's trust in him took all of Remus's determination, and the knowledge that the spy himself would have definitely supported his choice, or he would not have voiced his warning in the first place, helped him a great deal. If Severus's last words actually referred to his, Remus's, frequently waiting for the Slytherin's return to Hogwarts, then there had to be more important things at stake now than sticking to an oath, no matter how precious it might be. Of course, Severus's parting words *could* have been simple advice for the werewolf not to waste his time anymore sitting around and hoping for someone to come back who didn't expect to do so. But if what the spy said had indeed been intended as a warning, it meant that Severus had attempted to prevent the Gryffindor from something worse than spending hours and hours in vain in the Shrieking Shack. It meant that being there would be dangerous. That even as extremely skilled a Defender against the Dark Arts as Remus Lupin could not be sure of getting out unharmed when the worst came.

The worst, which could only be Voldemort and his Death Eaters knowing how and where to enter Hogwarts without having to fear the Anti-Apparating barrier. And Remus knew, as well as Severus must have, that the Dark Lord would not be fussy about the methods he'd choose to gain that precious information.

With a determined gesture, Remus seized the knocker and let it fall against the wood once. He hoped feverishly that it had not taken him too long to reach the point at which he had known he had to tell Albus about the Shrieking Shack being the castle's weak spot. That there had not yet been any damage done that was beyond repair. That his hesitation to violate the promise he had once made would not turn out to be grounds for even greater sorrow and pain...

The door to the Headmaster's office slid open soundlessly.

'Remus, I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here just now! I was about to send for you anyway. Come in, please. Come in.'

Last night's events had left their marks on the Headmaster's voice which was grave with fatigue and tension. Still, Remus was sure that he perceived a small trace of the joy that had defined Albus for as long as he had known him. Marvelling at how the old wizard was still able to cast a light even into the despair and pain that Remus felt right now with nothing more but his cheerful tones, the werewolf stepped into the shaded circular room, lit by nothing more than a few candles.

He only became aware of the dark figure leaning against one of the more distant shelves in the back of the Headmasterís office visually after his keen perception had already more or less told him about the third man's presence. As well as about his identity.

For a few moments, terror, sorrow and fear ceased to exist. Crystalline brightness banished all the gloom, all the shadows from his being, and the light that the sheer joy that he felt cast into the room momentarily lit the other's features. Although last night had left its traces of blood and pain there as well, had done so in a horribly obvious way, Remus knew that he had never, never in his life, seen anything as beautiful before.

Hope and bliss. For a few moments.

But long enough to light up the Gryffindor's own face with the most genuine smile he had ever felt. And because he knew he would not be able to dress the soul-shaking joy that he felt into words suitable to express it, Remus gave in to the triumphant urge inside, and his bright laugh of wild relief and purest happiness rang out into the dim shadows around him. Momentarily pushing anything else into the background.

But not keeping him from perceiving the small smile that had begun to dawn on Severusís face as well.


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