For all Joy wants Eternity
'This is going to be extremely difficult, Remus. I might need your help.'
Albus's words, voiced about fifteen minutes earlier, were still echoing in his mind, now that they were waiting in the circular office to which the members of the Order had been summoned once more. Only half an hour had passed since the Gryffindor had arrived in the Headmaster's office and found out about Severus's return, and still Remus feared that they might already be running out of time.
Along with the pressure to act as quickly as possible, his awareness of Albus's anxiety concerning the enormous tension they were about to face during the briefing gnawed at the temporary confidence that the spy's unexpected presence had awakened in Remus. With a deep mental sigh, the werewolf leaned back in his seat. The upcoming meeting would be extremely difficult indeed.
With each passing minute, the room filled with more and more people. Silent, sombre witches and wizards who followed Albus's call with the usual unquestioning promptness that was one reason why the Order worked so smoothly and successfully. Shock from the previous night was still written over each of the faces that Remus knew so well, and he did not need the pain that was burning in some of those eyes to tell him that the losses suffered some hours ago had taken close friends and sometimes even family members from their midst. A strong sense of guilt built inside him given that this meeting kept many people from grieving for their loved ones, but he knew that they needed each and every person in the room, especially now that they were approaching the end of the war. As cruel and painful as it might be, there was no time for mourning right now, and they would have to be swift in their upcoming decisions and effective in their consequent actions if they wanted to make sure that there would be time to grieve afterwards.
Being keenly aware of all this, Remus struggled hard to fight off the dense veil of numerous and complex levels of sorrow that reached for his own sensitive perception, numbing his mind more with each passing minute. It was hard not to be affected by the strong emotions swirling through the Headmaster's office, and the fact that he was close to each of the persons who were reeking sorrow and pain made things even more difficult.
But the agony radiating from one man was the hardest to endure.
The werewolf had stopped counting the times that his glance had been drawn to the only Slytherin in the room. Severus had slumped in his chair by the bookshelves, a few feet away from the table the rest of the Order was gathering around, as if to provide the arriving wizards and witches with a target as small as possible for the gazes they sent his way as soon as they noticed him. And even though the shadows in the dimly lit room hid most of the spy’s face, Remus couldn't help but wince every time that he caught a glance of the Slytherin’s features. The Gryffindor had been grateful when the spasmodic twitching running in waves over Severus's body, the last visible after-effects of the Cruciatus, stopped about half an hour ago, but still the Slytherin was a frightful sight. The slight shivering of his hands did not seem to stop any more at all and his dark eyes, dull and shaded, had stared at the same spot on the floor in front of him ever since the first members of the Order arrived about fifteen minutes previously. There had not yet been time to take care of any of the injuries that Severus had suffered during the past 24 hours, so several thin, open slashes still ran across his face, and Remus noticed earlier that the Slytherin was limping slightly as well. Neither he nor Albus had asked any questions about that; they both knew that Severus would not be too keen to reveal what had happened to him the previous day. Besides, there *had* been so very little time... Be that as it may, Remus had a strong feeling that he didn't want to think about how the rest of the spy's body, hidden under his black robes, looked anyway.
And now that the number of persons in the room was constantly growing, Remus felt how the Slytherin's mental torture, consequent upon the Dark Lord’s ritual, increased to an almost unbearable level as well.
Not even the Headmaster's calm but decisive voice opening the meeting managed to shake Remus completely back to the reality of Albus's office. A part of his attention kept circling the spy's condition, searching for any changes for the worse he might be able to perceive, trying to send all of his own energy in form of soothing, reassuring thoughts the Syltherin's way with the desperate wish to do *someting* to support Severus during the upcoming meeting.
Only when the spy suddenly lifted his head and Remus felt the Slytherin summon all of the self-control he could master and saw how pain and anguish were resolutely pushed away in favour of the last of the determination and will-power that Severus could come up with, did the werewolf finally return to the here and now. Albus was still speaking, but Remus realized immediately the reason for Severus's sudden attention. The head of the Order had begun to explain further details of the spy's return and the information that he had brought home with him. Since Remus had only heard a very short version of the events because they had not had time for more after the Slytherin's return, he forced all of his own concentration to focus on the Headmaster as well.
'...has actually been sent back here by Voldemort himself.'
With a strong surge of sympathy washing over him, Remus registered how Albus ignored the low, hissing whispering and uneasy fidgeting that his last sentence provoked in some of the witches and wizards who were present. His blue eyes very sober, his voice not holding any trace of cheerfulness for once, the Headmaster went on, at once silencing even the slightest sound from his audience.
'He was supposed to make us believe that he had been lured out of the castle by a cryptic message and abducted by Death Eaters in the course of Voldemort's most recent strikes against us and then taken to some secret place where they tried to force him by torture to reveal details concerning the steps we had taken to protect Harry and perpare him for his role in the events that are to come. And finally that as a result of the feverish activity among the Death Eaters last night, Severus had taken a chance to escape. ‘
Alastor Moody’s growl cut in.
‚Lovely story, that.‘
The Headmaster stopped for a moment, and the werewolf could see how he let his eyes wander over to his spy who sat completely still and silent in his chair, only the small movements of breathing that very slowly lifted and lowered his chest revealing that there was still life in him.
'Voldemort apparently decided that only a performance as authentic as possible would make us believe this version of what had happened, and so Severus was subjected to exactly the same treatment that would have awaited any other witch or wizard unfortunate enough to fall into Death Eaters’ hands.'
It was the Gryffindor's turn to try and capture the Syltherin's glance. He had been aware of what the Dark Lord had done to his friend only a few hours ago and thus had been prepared for the news, but he was also able to feel how the spy struggled for his fragile composure at the mention of what he had gone through. Not caring at all about the reaction of anyone in the room who might notice the intense eye contact developing between him and Severus, Remus did all he could to comunicate the deep compassion and strong urge to support his friend that were flooding him, while another part of him continued to listen to Albus's explanations.
'In that way, he killed two birds with one stone. First, Severus's physical condition would contribute to the credibility of what he was supposed to tell us. Second, Voldemort obviously assumed that the heavy Crutiatus and the...nature of the rest of his injuries would back up Severus's request to be sent to St.Mungo's for treatment - this is how he was supposed to leave Hogwarts again. He has been told to Apparate before five o'clock this evening to receive further orders. He would have returned to the Dark Lord without us suspecting anything, quite the opposite. We would actually have sent him back'
One of Fawkes's feathers falling to the floor would have been audible in the perfect silence that followed the Headmasters final sentence. Until Arthur Weasley calmly voiced what everyone in the room probably thought.
'But there's no sense in that. Why take the long way? Why use Hogwarts as an intermediate stop instead of sending Severus directly to St.Mungo's? I don't see any advantage that the Dark Lord would gain from that.'
An affirmative murmer erupted all around Remus, and he couldn't hold their reaction of disbelief against his fellow members of the Order. Arthur had made a very good point, and being ignorant of the reasons behind Voldemort’s orders to Severus would not only make it very hard for some of them to believe what the spy had told Albus about the real events of that morning, but also leave them completely in the dark about many of the Dark Lord's intentions. But since Remus did not doubt one word of Severus’s version of the story, he was absolutely positive that the problem was not that the Dark Lord might have acted without reasons. The point was that the Order was not able to recognize those reasons. Not yet.
'It is an attempt to learn about the castle's defences.'
Because he was the first to face Severus who had just spoken for the first time since the meeting began, Remus felt rather than saw how each head in the room turned to the source of those words. The Slytherin's eyes were fixed on Remus, they glittered strangely in the candlelight and his voice dripped with strain, but he went on anyway.
'As well as a test. A test to find out whether he can trust me or not.'
Only his knowledge of the ritual kept the werewolf from leaning closer towards his friend. A tight knot began to tangle up his insides, and the unerring feeling that Severus was right made his hands wet with sweat. He knew that his words had a tone of more than mild anticipation as soon as he opened his mouth to speak, but Remus could also tell that his excitement was mirrored in the Slytherin's exhausted features.
'How, Severus? How do you know? How is he doing it?'
The room seemed to be closing in on them. The graveness of the others' silent but still doubtful expectation drew nearer with every moment, but it seemed to Remus as if anything of relevance had condensend to Severus and him holding each other's eyes. Hearing each other's words.
'It must have been his plan from the moment that I returned to him last summer, but he had to wait until he was ready to strike, which he is now. He knows that he has to take over Hogwarts to stand a chance as far as his goals are concerned, so what he needed was a connection to the school, which was me. By... seeing to it that I arrived as punctually as possible at his summons, he made sure that I would find the shortest and most effective way to leave the castle despite the anti-Apparating barrier.'
If anything, Severus's eyes drilled even deeper into the werewolf's gaze, giving Remus the sensation of being drawn into their dark depths, and he could see clearly what profound horror was building there, how it deepened with each of the spy's now breathless words.
'He waited until he knew the time had come...I'm sure he magically marked me somehow, so I would leave a detectable trace where I Re-apparated after I left him this morning. My simply returning here would immediately tell him all the information he needs...with him already knowing about Hogwart's weak spot when I arrived at St.Mungo's for further orders, all it would take is asking me for the leak in the castle's protection that I was using for Apparation, and my answer or lack of it would tell him about my loyalties at once...'
The helplessness that he was condemned to in the face of his friend's mental torture was almost too much for the werewolf. He felt his own face contort in a weird mixture of sympathy and compassion on the one hand, but fierce rage and sorrow on the other, and all Remus wanted to do that very moment was take the Slytherin's now violently shaking hands in his own, gently entwine the tightly clasped fingers and caress them until their dreadful shivering stopped. He wanted to tell the spy that there was nothing he could have done, that none of this was his fault, that nothing was lost yet, that there was still time to find a way to avert the worst, that...
'But it would not have been possible to impose such a powerful detection spell on you without your noticing, Severus!' Minerva's tones were slightly shrill and trembling, and her usually composed features showed true apprehension now from the consternation and incipetent fear that she was struggling with. 'To magically mark you, Voldemort would have had to establish a physical connection far more powerful than the Dark Mark...'
Only someone who knew would have been able to notice the quick flickering of the spy's eyes at her last sentence. But Remus, who knew about the ritual, was momentarily shaken himself by the realization that the necessary physical bond between Severus and Voldemort actually existed. But Minerva continued speaking, not leaving the werewolf time to ponder how Severus's theory about why Voldemort sent him back to Hogwarts made more and more sense with each passing second.
'...as well as a mental one equally strong! As competent a Legimens as you are could not have missed his trying to invade your mind in the attempt to do so!'
Watching the spy in the tense silence that fell after Minerva ended was shocking. Severus was literally radiating defeat. A horrible grimace of painful understanding engraved itself onto the spy's injured face, and the fierce despair that coloured the small moan escaping his slightly parted, totally bloodless lips tore at Remus's soul. When the Syltherin finally spoke, his voice was not more than a whisper.
'Regarding the physical and mental state I've been in this morning, he could have done anything at all without my noticing.' Severus's eyes slowly closed. 'I should never have come back.'
For the first time in several minutes, Albus's quiet and composed tones rang out in the still room again.
'This is not true, my dear Severus. Apart from the simple fact that no risk or danger would make me chose leaving you in Voldemort’s hands over your returning to Hogwarts safely, the information that we just gained *because* of your being here is priceless.'
Along with everyone else, Remus watched the Headmaster rise from his seat and capture the Slytherin in an intense, vivid glance before he went on.
'Even though we don't have reliable evidence yet, I think that we should assume that Voldemort now knows how to enter the castle without having to deal with the anti-Apparation barrier. I agree that making you unwittingly reveal that possibility to him was one of the very few likely reasons that he sent you back, Severus - but despite how that might appear at first glance, I dont think the fact that he knows *has* to turn out to be a disadvantage. After all, we are aware of what he knows now as well. And then...' Albus sat down again, letting his eyes wander over every single face in front of him, until his glance finally returned to Severus. 'Then there's still the information about the attack on St.Mungo's that we also know about now - thanks to you.'
Only a second after Albus's final word the room burst into a buzz of enraged voices. Left speechless by this most unexpected news himself, Remus was one of the few who did not give vent to their horrified disbelief by nervously voicing questions or exclaiming disbelief - until they were all silenced by the head of the Order lifting one hand.
'I think it should be Severus who tells you the details about that particular aspect.'
The spy's eyes closed at that request, which had been a rather gentle demand anyway, and Remus could tell by the small sigh accompanied by several slow shakes of Severus's head that the Slytherin did not feel like talking about anything at all at the moment.
'Severus.' The Headmaster's voice again. 'Please.'
Exhaling very long and deeply, the Syltherin lifted both of his hands to his head and started to viciously rub his temples, as if to wipe all knowledge about the war from his mind. Still, after a few moments of tense silence, the spy finally complied with Albus's wish, his words little more than a breath and barely audible.
'One of the Death Eaters somehow knew that I was ordered to Apparate to St. Mungo's in the afternoon. He... he explicitly warned me not arrive too close to the building, so I would not 'get in their way today', as he put it, apparently trying to keep me from Apparating right between the lines...'
The scornful snort from somewhere to his right made Remus turn automatically, facing the contempt on Alastor Moody's strange, incomplete face.
'Sympathy for and taking care of each other among Death Eaters. How very touching indeed.'
With a slight wrenching of his stomach the werewolf realized that the trouble Albus had already forseen before the meeting even began was finally on its way, momentarily banishing the horror a Death Eater attack on a hospital represented to the Gryffindor's mind. Without even looking at his friend, Remus could sense how everything about Severus's aura changed within the blink of an eye. Almost afraid of what he would find there, the Gryffindor turned towards the spy again, only to be completely taken aback by the degree of pure rage screaming from the Slytherin's eyes. Gone were despair, exhaustion and pain, and the brightly flaring, but fortunately still wordless fury Severus's glance sent Moody's way made Remus act immediately. He had been on the receiving end of the spy's anger too often not to know that he had to prevent Severus from losing his temper if this meeting was not to end in total disaster.
Especially now that the target of Severus's rage was Alastor Moody of all people.
Frantically hoping to distract the Slytherin's attention from the Auror, Remus decided to resort to the issue which had originally brought up the sudden open tension between the spy and Mad Eye in the first place. And which still needed some clarification, in his opinion.
'Could all this not have been a trap as well, Severus? An attempt to make you *think* Voldemort is planning an attack on the hospital? If the Dark Lord really is not entirely sure of your unconditional support for him, that information was probably only bait to make us withdraw defences from one place and transfer them to protect St. Mungo's, exposing other possible targets in the process. Hogwarts for example.'
To the werewolf's great relief, the spy managed to tear his stare from Moody and forced himself to face the Gryffindor again. And as Severus shook his head in denial as he began to speak, now in a much stronger voice than before, Remus gratefully noticed how part of the Slytherin's fury had begun to dissolve.
'I'm very sure that it was an honest warning, even though I can, of course, not prove this to you at all. I'm afraid you will have to rely on my intutition here, but I'm positive that St. Mungo's will be one of the targets of Voldemort's attacks today, and I also think that the Dark Lord is not aware of his plans having been accidentally revealed to the Order.'
For a few moments, not a word was spoken. The air seemed to quiver with the images of a hospital being assaulted by Death Eaters, with the profound fear for witches and wizards who had barely survived last night's attacks and were now in St. Mungo's for treatment...only to be helplessly exposed to the same enemies again just one day later, along with all of the hospital's other patients.
Nymphadora Tonks was the first whose voice broke through the silence.
'So what are we to make of all this?'
As if on command, all faces turned to Albus, except for those of Remus and the Slytherin, who both already knew what the Headmaster was about to announce.
'I am afraid that our options are rather limited as far as our scope of action is concerned. We have already sent a warning to St. Mungo's, and I'm sure they'll be in need of some more defenders, so that needs to be organized. Furthermore, we have to be prepared for Voldemort to attack the school, so there are steps to be taken on that account as well.'
Albus leaned back into his seat with a sigh, and again his glance fell upon the Slytherin.
'Severus and I have already agreed to his carrying out his orders as he was told to - anything else would raise Voldemort's suspicion. Severus will leave for St. Mungo's in a few hours, and he will reveal the leak in the anti-Apparation barrier should the Dark Lord ask him to do so. He will receive his further orders and act upon them as he sees fit.' The Headmaster's blue eyes surveyed the wizards and witches before him. 'Any questions?'
A cold fist closed around Remus's insides with a freezing grip as Alastor's unmistakable voice rang out at his right side again.
'Only one question, Albus.' Remus felt the scrutinizing glance the Auror shot burning into his right temple, before Moody turned towards the spy once more, who had fallen back to fixing his gaze on the same spot on the floor in front of him that he had stared at at the beginning of the meeting. As he watched Severus, Alastor's intact eye glittered with loathing, and when he spoke, coldness seemed to make his voice crunch. 'Where were you last night, Snape?'
It didn't take a werewolf's keen senses to notice that the Slytherin's entire body went rigid within a split-second
'Alastor, I really don't think that...'
'No, Albus, not this time! I for my part think that we have a right to know if the man that we all have to trust with our lives has already done his share as far as killing for Voldemort is concerned - or whether we have to be prepared to be among his victims later today ourselves.'
'Tread lightly now, Alastor.' Remus was a little surprised at how much of the wolf's growl crept into his tones, how distinctively the beast's first warning snarl already coloured his voice, a snarl that announced that the animal was prepared to defend a member of his pack that was not able to fight for himself right now.
And one short glance at Severus had been enough to tell him that the Slytherin would by no means be able to summon the strength and composure again necessary to stand up against the cold fury of the Auror, who apparently did not intend to leave the spy alone. With both of his eyes still fixed upon Severus's silent form, Moody's cold voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.
'Come on, Snape, tell us! Were you part of the attack on the Auror training camp near Essex? Or on the dragon keepers up in the Highlands? Or did you break into the secret stockrooms of rare potions ingredients in Diagon Alley...'
Remus felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise, and the hot prickling that ran over his entire body sent each of his muscles and nerves into a state of alarm. His mind seemed to be absolutely clear, though, no second thoughts, no hesitation, only complete focus. Bright, clear awareness of what to do, and that certainty made him break into the Auror's speech again.
'Moody, that’s more than enough!'
The warning in his voice rang out loud and clear. He could tell from the shock he felt emanating from most of the persons in the room, the fright concerning the degree of open hostility that had suddenly erupted between Alastor and himself, of all people, but he didn't care about anyone’s reaction to their imminent quarrel at the moment. Remus had no idea if Moody was right, if Severus truly had actively contributed to the death of some of the wizards and witches who had lost their lives last night, but he did not care about that at all. There was only one thing relevant right now, and that was keeping Severus from being violated further than he already had been during the previous day. During the past weeks and months, during the years that he had lived under his very own Sword of Damocles that was the ritual. Nothing would make Remus tolerate any further harm coming the Syltherin's way, not if he was able to prevent it.
And his entire body, his dense aura, his burning eyes and the unconcealed threat in his words radiated his determination.
Still Moody made the mistake of ignoring the werewolf completely and went on instead.
'Tell me if all along we’ve been working with a killer...'
Remus did not know what came first, his loudly slamming both of his hands on the table in front of him or his abruptly jumping to his feet, knocking over his chair in the process. What he *had* realized was Moody wincing visibly at the sudden confrontation, yet the Auror did not shrink back in the least. There were clear signs of surprise showing on his face, though, now that he finally, silently faced the livid werewolf to his left. Remus couldn't quite explain why, but the unbelieving astonishment written all across the Auror's features fueled his anger even more. It didn't matter, of course, that Moody had not the slightest idea of what he, Remus, knew about Severus's life, about his horrible condition, about his continuing suffering and the abhorrent price that the spy would be paying for a decision of his youth for the rest of his life. It didn't matter that from his point of view, each and every accusation Alastor had just confronted the Syltherin with was absolutely justifiable.
There was only one thing relevant right now.
The werewolf spat the two words in Alastor's direction as if they were freshly ripped off pieces of bleeding flesh. And he would have said more, was about to do so when some movement he perceived out of the corner of his eye made him turn.
Not a single drop of blood seemed to be left in Severus's face. The fine slashes running over his cheeks and forehead were gleaming brightly red against the perfect whiteness of the spy's skin that was taughtly stretched over the tense muscles of his lower jaw and the sharp curve of his cheekbones. His lips an even thinner line than usual, his hands shaking against the black cloth of his robes, he stood before the chair he had just gotten up from. The first of his steps swayed a bit, but with each inch closer to the door he got, carefully avoiding physical as well as eye-contact with anyone, the spy's walk grew steadier and more secure.
He only looked up once on his way out of the Headmaster's office. It was not an accidental glance that Remus received when he made only the smallest move to follow the Slytherin. It was one of the coldest glares the werewolf had ever been hit by, out of eyes as dark and hard as if they were made of black glass, and it froze Remus in place immediately. The message that look had borne could not have been any clearer, and unlike other people in the room, the Gryffindor was capable of recognizing and respecting warnings for what they were.
But had it not been Severus himself telling him he wanted to be left alone right now, nothing would have held Remus in Albus's office when the door clicked shut behind the Slytherin.
The meeting didn’t last much longer afterwards, but Remus had difficulty concentrating on how the necessary tasks were distributed among them. His role had been clear from the beginning; he would stay at the school with a special emphasis on being there for Harry - as one of the very few people left that Harry still had unconditional confidence in, the upcoming events would make him a precious refuge for the boy who had not only lived, but was expected to fulfill the prophecy soon as well.
As he listened to the others settling the few matters which still needed clarification, the Gryffindor's anger ebbed away almost as swiftly as it had erupted, and he knew that before Alastor left to stand guard at the Shrieking Shack, the two of them must have an iluminating talk that hopefully would clear up things between them. Remus did not regret anything he had said or done, though, and if necessary, he knew he would react exactly the same way again. Still he understood that Alastor had his reasons for his own fury as well, and it was not only Remus's respect for the feelings of the Auror who had lost some very close friends during last night's fights that led him to seek reconciliation, but also his certainty that parting without making peace would not help them at all in what was to come.
Still, Alastor would have to wait a little while. For all the werewolf’s honest intention to put things between Moody and himself right again, there was something far more important to him, and after Albus wished them all good luck before closing the meeting, Remus didn’t waste any time at all. Even if he had not caught the old wizard's glance during the silent dispersal following the meeting, even if he had not immediately recognized the Headmaster's polite, but all the more urgent, request he would have been on his way down to the dungeons by now anyway.
There was another person that he still needed to talk to more desperately than anything else, before the madness finally, irrevocably began.
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