Author's Note: Part of the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest (response to: Scenario #32: Hogwarts holds some sort of quiz/comp/gameshow. How competitive is Snape, and who is his rival? What will he do to make sure he wins?; and Easy Pairing #23: Snape/Avery.) I have taken Certain Liberties with the canon timeline. Specifically, Rita Skeeter is now a year younger than Our Boys. I don't hear her complaining.
DISCLAIMER: I don't owns 'em. That's J.K. Rowling, don'chaknow. I just slips 'em out in the dead of night and makes 'em have little tea parties. Don't sue me. It'll all done in fun, I don't make a penny from my efforts (as the world at large seems so intent to remind me), and the most valuable thing I have is a kitten. If you sue me, she'll be sad. Do you hate kittens?
Part 15 - Dark Side Of The Moon
"Let me go, you son of a bitch!" Severus struggled. Black wrenched his arms behind him before Severus could bring an elbow down on his solar plexus.
Lights exploded behind his eyes. It took a moment to realise that Potter had decked him. His knees buckled. Snape had barely started to recover when the second swing sent a trickle of blood down his cheek. He saw a third coming and ducked. It caught Black in the throat; he dropped Snape and fell on his arse with a grunt.
"What the fuck is going on here, Potter?" Severus yelled. He ducked another swing, and came back with a hard left to the gut. Potter snorted in pain. He bent over, clutching his stomach, which gave Severus time to stuff the vicious bastard's wand in his pocket and aim his own.
Black lunged forward and tackled him to the ground. Severus barely kept hold of his wand, but it didn't matter. Potter wrenched it free, rolled Severus over, sat on his chest hard enough to knock the wind out of him, and proceeded to swing fist after fist.
Snape kicked, hiding his face. "Get off of me!"
"NO! You fucking Slytherin son of a bitch! What did you do to her? Threaten her? Hit her? Goddammit, tell me!" Hands closed around Snape's throat and squeezed. He choked. Somehow, he managed to wrap his own around Potter's.
"Let go of me or I'll kill you," Severus wheezed.
"Is that what you threatened to do to her?"
"What the bloody fuck are you talking about, Potter?"
"You raped Lily, you..." Black trailed off, apparently lost for insults. He threw his weight across Snape's thighs and bent a knee the wrong way. Severus yelped.
"I did no such thing!"
"That's not what we heard." Potter's glasses were fogged up. He and Snape still had each other by the throat. Potter's fingers tightened. "I'll kill you, you fucking son of a whore. I swear to god, I'll kill you!"
"Where the Hell did you hear that I raped her?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?"
Severus started to open his mouth; Potter slammed his skull against the hard ground. Severus reeled for a second, and spat on those idiotic glasses. "It never occurred to you that maybe she wanted me, Potter? She didn't seem too unhappy when she took me to the Gryffindor locker room."
"LIAR!" Another slam to his skull. A sharp pain swelled from the base of Snape's neck. The hands around his throat tightened more, and he returned the favour.
"She seemed awfully agreeable when she pinned me up against your locker, James," Severus rasped. It was getting hard to breathe.
Black put more pressure on his knee. "None of you bastards can tell the truth, can you?"
"You wouldn't know the truth if it sucked your dick, Black." The pain in his knee made Severus cry out. He pulled a hand from Potter's throat and jammed a clawed finger up each foaming nostril. Potter screamed. Blood began to drip down Snape's hand.
"What in Hell is going on here? Snape! Potter! Black! I am appalled!" Professor Dram waddled up to them, murder in her eye and potions sediment in her hair. "A prefect, a top student, and Head Boy. You lot, down to my office, right now!"
"This son of a bitch raped my fiance!"
"Shut your trap, Potter!" She grabbed his ear and yanked. To Severus' relief, Potter let him go.
"Stop that and get up, Black, unless you want to carry him." Dram kicked Black in the ribs. Severus developed a sudden modicum of respect for the pathetic cow.
Looking like he wanted to say something, but simultaneously like he knew he'd have enough detentions to hold him for life as it was, Black snarled and got to his feet.
"Help him up."
Black folded his arms. "I'm not touching that piece of shit."
"That's an extra week of detention, Black. Want more?"
Black growled under his breath. He held out a hand, seething. Severus eyeballed it. Delicately, he pulled himself up, glowered down his nose at Black, and dusted himself off. Blood poured from his cheek, and his eye was swelling shut. His head rang. Potter's nose didn't seem to be in much better shape, and he had bruises around his neck. Black's throat was red.
"Start moving, all of you. I want to keep an eye on you."
The three of them stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Severus started walking. He'd leave it to Dram to punish them should the need arise.
Students and teachers alike stared at the motley lot of them in the corridors. Severus led the way, head held high, eyebrows raised indignantly. He could only imagine what Black and Potter were up to, shuffling behind him like Neanderthals. Dram, as always, waddled behind. She must have had her wand out from the horrified looks they received. Or, perhaps, that was simply due to the proliferation of blood.
Dumbledore looked up from talking to a fourth year. "What's going on, Aristotilia?" He gave them all very perturbed looks.
"You three, stop," Dram barked. Severus came to a halt, crossing his arms. He turned to glare wearily at his attackers. They didn't take their eyes off him. Dram turned to Dumbledore. "Bit of a rough-up outside, Albus. I'll handle it."
Dumbledore eyed the three of them. He looked stern. "Would you mind too much if I came with you? This looks like a situation I ought to know about."
Dram looked annoyed, but she nodded. "I don't have any problem with that, sir." Her teeth gritted.
Severus groaned. He'd been to the headmaster's office five times in his Hogwarts career: twice for fighting with Black and Potter, once for hexing the Gryffindor table so it repelled any food set on it, once after nearly being slaughtered by a werewolf in student's clothing, and once for suspected use of the Dark Arts. He didn't look forward to seeing it again, not after Black got off scot-free for attempted murder. That cracked bastard was going to end up in Azkaban, and probably go laughing all the way.
The headmaster looked far too calm as he took the lead. Outside the familiar statue of the stone gargoyle, he muttered something. It slid to the side, and the lot of them herded onto the moving stairway. Dumbledore started humming something; the rest were silent.
The door had a bloody griffon on it. No bias there, eh? Severus fumed at the gaping beak while Dumbledore tapped it with his wand. He waved them inside. Black and Potter immediately took the chairs in front of Dumbledore's desk. Severus snorted. Not only did they start the fight, they were going to get off relatively unscathed. And they got to sit down. Severus was still a bit dizzy from having his skull bashed against hard earth.
Dumbledore took his seat. Dram stood beside him, looking like she wanted to be there about as much as Severus. She kept glancing at her watch and frowning. Dumbledore folded his hands. He looked at each of the three students and said, in a low voice, "Care to tell me who started it?"
"Snape raped my girlfriend!"
The headmaster's eyebrows lifted. "That is a very serious charge, Mister Potter."
"Mister Snape? Have you anything to say on the matter?" Blue eyes fixed on Snape. They refrained from outward judgment, but Snape knew better - Gryffindors always defended each other.
"I've never raped Lily Evans, and I never plan to. I seem to recall that she attempted to seduce me several months ago, but there was nothing non-consensual involved." He raised his eyebrows innocuously. "I'll take a truth potion if you'd like. You'll hear the same thing."
"Hopefully we won't have to resort to those measures."
Potter stared at Snape incredulously. "What would she want with an arsehole like you?"
Severus glanced at Potter's lap, and turned his smug attention to a painting of Oona Oort, headmistress during the 1730s. Oona looked at him curiously. He was quite pleased to hear Potter start from his chair and snarl, "That's it, I'm going to rip his head off-"
"Please sit down, Mister Potter. There will be no more ripping of heads today." Dumbledore looked at his folded hands. "Well. I'd like to speak with Miss Evans about this, but for the matter of fighting... Aristotilia, I'll let you do with Misters Black and Potter what you please. They seem to have gotten out in rather better condition than Mister Snape. Was it two against one again?"
"Yes, sir." Snape earned a pair of glowers.
"Hmm. Unfortunately, the situation seems to be slightly less balanced than it was the last time this happened." Dumbledore's gaze flitted over Severus' loose robe. Severus hunched against it. "Aristotilia, if you would?"
"Gladly, Headmaster. Come on, you two. We need to speak with Mister Filch."
Black scoffed. He got up and followed Potter out anyway. They shot Severus a very nasty pair of looks, and slunk out. Dram followed closely. She looked more than a little annoyed that she'd not get to assign all three detentions.
Dumbledore waited until they were gone. "Sit down, Mister Snape."
"I'd rather stand, sir." Severus folded his hands behind his back and held his chin high. He didn't deserve this. Soon, none of this would go unpunished.
Dumbledore shrugged. "Suit yourself. Sherbet lemon?" He held out a dish of yellow candies. Severus wrinkled his nose.
"No, thank you, sir."
The headmaster nodded. "I'll make this quick, then, so you can see Madam Pomfrey. What happened with Evans?"
"Just like I said. Several months ago, she attempted to seduce me."
"Was she successful?"
"Regretfully, yes." Severus hung his head in a show of shame. "I know it was wrong, but she and I agreed nothing like that would ever happen again."
Dumbledore nodded slowly. "I see. Well." He leaned back in his chair. "As much as I'd sometimes like to, I can't control every activity of every student, and the two of you are above the age of consent. As long as you're telling the truth, I'm afraid the matter is out of my hands."
"May I go now, sir?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "There's still the matter of your detention." He actually looked regretful.
Snape stared. "You're joking. They brutally attacked me - threatened my life, no less - and I'm the one getting punished? Again?"
Dumbledore held up a hand and shook his head. "No, Severus. Believe me, I'm doing this for your own good. Were Professor Dram to assign detention, I fear you'd never see the light of day again. Additionally, if I let you off, those two would have another reason to pick on you for the rest of the year. As it is..." he thought for a second. Snape arched a grim eyebrow. "For the rest of term, you'll spend your study periods helping Professor Dram with her classes. God knows she could use the assistance, and it might inspire her to be a bit more, ah, lax when it comes to doling out detentions?"
Severus folded his arms and glowered wearily. "I hope you're joking, sir."
"I'm afraid not, Mister Snape. However, you may help keep the student casualty rate to a minimum. Very few are going to want to melt their cauldrons around you."
"If she's so incompetent, sir, why is she still Potions mistress?" Severus knew he was on thin ice, but he didn't care. To his surprise, Dumbledore only sighed.
"Tenure. It was one of the last acts of my predecessor."
Severus frowned. Dumbledore's eyes had that twinkle again, the one that said the matter was settled. "Thank you, sir," Severus said gloomily.
"Go see Madam Pomfrey, get your face looked at."
"Yes, sir." He turned to the door, swooping, his loose robes billowing behind him. Someday. Someday, they were all going to regret doing this to him.
Dram was late. Again. The first year Gryffindors were rowdy, and the first year Slytherins were being too quiet. "Sit down and shut up!" Snape shouted. A glare ensured that they did. For a minute, at least.
For two weeks he'd basically taught Dram's second class of the afternoon. She usually sat at her desk, looking grumpy and glaring at him as he caught mistakes she usually made herself. They didn't speak any more than necessary.
The first thing Severus had done upon leaving the hospital wing with his patched face was hunt down a certain rat. Peter was in the greenhouses, picking at mandrake leaves. Severus considered leaving him to kill himself; however, his general lack of faith in humanity got the better of him and he decided that was another thing Peter would fail to do properly. Severus grabbed him by the collar and slammed him facedown on a cutting table.
"You told them, didn't you?"
"Told who what?" Peter squealed. He wriggled and grunted like a trapped pig.
"Don't mock me, Peter. You're a useless ball of lard, but you've got more brains than that."
"Of course, about Lily. What else would I be talking about?"
Peter trembled. His fat fingers clawed helplessly at the table. "I-I haven't told anyone but you! Please! You've got to believe me, Severus! I love you!"
"You haven't got the faintest idea what love is, rat. Why don't you turn into a rat, eh? That way, when you squeal, nobody will care." Severus tightened his grip on the loose robe and slammed Peter against the table again. The fat dolt started to cry. "Oh, shut up. You're not getting any mercy, especially after you told them I raped her."
"But... I didn't! I know you didn't rape her, Severus! Please! Let me go!" He squirmed. Snape tightened his grip.
"If you ever, ever, for any reason come near me again, Pettigrew, I'll kill you. Do you understand?"
No response. Peter shook softly, waves rippling beneath his robe.
"I asked you a question, little boy. Answer me!"
"Yes..." came the soft, shaking reply.
"Do you promise?"
"I don't care if it's a hundred years from now and I'm on my deathbed. I. Will. Fucking. Kill. You. Do I make myself clear?"
"I love you..."
"Bully for you." Severus threw him on the ground and spat. "You're pathetic." In a storm of robes and twitching skin, he swooped out. The light sound of sobs floated from amongst the mandrakes.
In the days that followed he was summoned again to the headmaster's office. There, Dumbledore informed him that Professor McGonagall had spent a while talking to Evans and had come to the conclusion that no force had been involved. She'd been a bit unwilling to give up information, but she was adamant that Severus hadn't raped her. Severus frowned to himself when he heard it; the Imperius Salve couldn't be countered except with the antidote. Even he'd not made a batch of it yet. However, he'd only told her not to say what happened. He didn't mention a thing about what hadn't happened.
For the most part, he kept to himself. Potter and Black were busy with detentions, and Slytherin was, once again, in the lead for the House Cup, now by a spectacular margin. Snape shot little smirks across the Great Hall every meal. Potter responded by taking Evans' hand, or kissing her, all the time glaring at Snape to say, "Touch her again and I'll make sure you can't touch anything. Don't you wish you could find this sort of happiness, you pathetic snake?" Snape merely smiled back, and Potter would eventually look away.
The Slytherins were hissing again. Snape raised an eyebrow at them and went back to flipping through essays. The stupid cow even had him marking for her! Scowling, he glanced at a second year Ravenclaw's appalling penmanship and scribbled a dispassionate "F". He glanced up. Anthony Flint was showing off his damned birthday present again.
"See? It's got emeralds in the hilt! My great-grandfather made it a hundred years ago and now my dad's given it to me." He held up the dagger proudly. Twin serpents twined around the grip and cross. Their fangs were ivory, and small green stones glinted in their eyes.
"Put it up, Anthony."
"Aw, Severus. Come on, I'm only showing it."
"Sheath it, then."
"I don't want to. The sheath's ugly."
Snape looked at him and arched an eyebrow. "If anyone gets hurt it's on your head."
"Nobody's going to get hurt." Anthony sulked. He slid the dagger into his lap.
Severus shook his head and went back to marking. Really, the incompetence of these students - if he were the Potions master he'd damned well scare some sense into them! Really, a second year who didn't know all three common names of wolfsbane? It was... his stomach turned at the thought.
The hissing started again. Some of it seemed to come from the Gryffindor side of the room.
"I only want to see it."'
"Back off, Lupin. We don't want your germs."
"I don't have any germs."
"'Course you do. All Gryffindors have germs. Don't they, Severus?"
"See? He agrees."
"Come on, Anthony. I won't touch it. I only want a look."
"Bugger off, Lupin!"
"It's a stupid knife! I only want a look at it!"
"Let go of me, Lupin! I said hands off!"
There was the sound of a scuffle. Severus sighed. He marked one last essay and started to stand up to shout at them. A choked cry and collective glottal stop made him snap his head up.
The dagger's hilt protruded from just beneath Romulus' ribcage. Romulus stared at it, lips parted in shock, as blood ran over his hands. It darkened when it touched the metal. Almost in slow motion, he looked jerkily up at Severus. "I..."
Time sped up when he hit the floor. One of the girls screamed, several others started to cry. Severus rushed over to Romulus. His pale skin was turning grey; his amber eyes were wide, darting, pained, and scared.
"Fuck," Snape muttered under his breath. Looking up, he spotted Leo Lender staring. "Lender, go get a professor. Hurry."
Leo nodded unsteadily but took off at a run.
Severus looked down at Romulus. His small hands were still wrapped around the blade. He was shaking. Red turning to rusty brown came from his stomach too quickly. The blade... oh, god, it must be a silver alloy. Without another thought, he scooped the boy up and broke into a run as fast as his aching legs would take him. "You'll be fine, Romulus," he said hoarsely. "Madam Pomfrey will get you fixed up." Oh, god, she'd better.
The corridors were empty. Severus glanced down. Romulus' lips had taken a nasty blue colour. One small hand had loosened itself from the hilt. Dripping fingers touched Severus' face. The blue mouth tried to work.
"Don't speak, just stay calm." Snape tried to go even faster, but his legs felt like they would shatter. Only then did it occur to him to pull out the blade. That would only exchange one danger for another, though. Death by exsanguination was just as dead. "Romulus... Rommy... just stay awake. Keep your eyes open. Rommy, do something."
The fingers against his cheek twitched. Unfocused amber eyes large enough to get lost in widened. They begged Severus, pleaded with him to help.
"I'm trying. We'll get you to the... Rommy?"
Nothing. A glaze settled over the amber.
"Rommy, do something."
The hand fell away.
"Rommy, wake up." Severus plowed through the door of the hospital wing. "Madam Pomfrey!" he bellowed.
"Goodness, what's all the fuss? You'd think someone was-oh, god. In there, hurry." She waved Severus to the treatment ward.
Even as he laid the boy's body on a bed, he knew he could go back and pinpoint the moment of death. Severus stepped back into a corner, huddling against an odd cold that had gathered around him.
Right now, it wasn't a werewolf.
Right now, it wasn't a monster.
He was only a child.
Snape's arms seemed to wrap around him of their own accord. He realised that a child had just died in them. Pale, clawed fingers raked at his shoulders. He stared at the stone floor. All around were shouts, the bustle of Madam Pomfrey and her assistant, the buzz of an alarm and the sudden, deafening hush as they realised that there was nothing left to do. Snape watched, forgotten, as Madam Pomfrey blinked and closed the terrified amber eyes. She drew a sheet over the tiny, constricted body. Dark blood soaked through stark white cotton.
Footsteps pounded up the corridor. There was a muffled crash, and a louder one as the heavy pine door flew open. "Rommy!" Remus panted. He skidded to a halt, looking around desperately for his brother. He spotted the sheet and froze. "Rommy, stop playing, this isn't funny."
Madam Pomfrey put an arm around him. "I'm sorry."
Lupin's eyes went wide. They filled with fear and disbelief, and for an instant he looked exactly like his brother had at the moment of death. "No. No, you're lying. I don't believe you. Rommy!" He broke away from her. In an instant he had the sheet flung back. "Rommy, wake up!" Lupin fell to his knees and began pounding on the little boy's chest. "GODDAMMIT, ROMULUS! STOP FAKING! WAKE UP!"
"Remus, he's not... he's..." Madam Pomfrey tried to touch his shoulder.
Lupin snarled. He reared back at her. The first heavy tears dribbled down his face. "HE'S FINE! DON'T TOUCH ME!"
She grabbed hold of his arm. Her burly assistant grabbed the other, and they managed to hoist him into the air. He thrashed viciously, kicking; a ceaseless string of barely-discernible shrieks bounced off the white walls. They hauled him towards the door. It closed, and all Severus could hear was the hideous echo carrying through the wards, "LET GO OF ME! ROMMY! ROMMY! FOR GOD'S SAKE, ROMULUS, WAKE UP...!"
Lessons were cancelled for the rest of the day.
Nobody even looked twice at Severus. He'd sneaked out of the hospital wing while Lupin sobbed himself into catatonia in Madam Pomfrey's office. Even when he was called to Professor Dram's office so the headmaster could ask him what happened he received no immediate signs of sympathy. Hence, he simply stated that Dram was late, and there was an accident. He didn't realise what was going on until it was too late, and, as a student, he shouldn't be held accountable for a teacher's incompetence. Dram received a permanent warning, and Severus walked back to his room alone.
At supper, the headmaster gave some short speech, a few words about tragedy and loss and other things that Severus ignored in favour of staring at his empty plate. Half the Gryffindor table was empty, and the other half didn't stay long. Even Nagendra left early. "Have to see how Devi's doing," he mumbled when he got up. Anthony got some sympathy - everything the Slytherins had to offer, at least.
Nobody gave a damn that Severus spent an hour cleaning blood from beneath his nails.
It was probably just as well.
He left not long after Naggy did and went to his bed. Drawing the curtains, he curled into the smallest ball he could and wished for sunset so he could go see Tom to find some sort of comfort and never, ever feel like he was nothing again. A part of him wondered if anyone would notice if he didn't come back at all.
Severus wrapped his arms around his chest again and simply stared. No tears. No shaking. He felt... desolate was probably the word. Yes. Desolate. Like nothing existed in him and nothing ever would again.
When Lucius and his three little pets wandered in, they were talking about the "fortunate" loss of another Gryffindor. Severus would have killed them if they hadn't sounded just the slightest bit unsure. Lucius' voice cracked when he said, "One down, one to go."
Severus closed his eyes. He let himself slip into his trancelike state to wait for dark.
It was well past nine when he awoke. Growling to himself, he grabbed his hat and cloak and broom. "Where're you going so late? Got a Gryffindor to shag?" Lucius called after him. Severus didn't answer.
He didn't bother to hide the fact that it was nine forty, he was grounded from Quidditch until his legs eased up, and he was stalking the halls dragging a broom. The few people he passed withered at his bitter glare. Even Filch backed against the wall and only muttered something about being in before curfew.
Frigid night air cut through his cloak. It stole what little heat clung to his flesh, and whistled tauntingly in his ears. He needed a cigarette, and he needed one now. There was no way he could handle a half hour flight without one. He ducked into the hedge maze and headed towards the bench he'd gone to when his family abandoned him. Severus snorted; at least they were alive.
Someone was already there.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Shouldn't you be inside? Your friends probably want to fawn over you some more."
Lupin raised his head from his slumped position and narrowed his red eyes. "Fuck off, Snape," he spat.
"What? Did they get sick of you?"
Lupin trembled. "They've done enough for me already. Unlike some Houses, we feel something when one of our own..." he trailed off. Fresh tears started to well in his eyes.
Severus merely stared at him for a moment. He dropped his broom. "Budge up, you're hogging the bench."
"Sorry, didn't know you owned it."
Snape snorted softly. He sat down as far from Lupin as possible and pulled out his shag and papers. "Want one?"
"Why? Trying to off me, too?"
"It's only polite to offer." He busied himself with rolling a fag. Quickly, he touched it with his wand and inhaled. Tendrils of smoke trickled from his nose and were obliterated by an angry rush.
Lupin snorted and wiped his face on his sleeve. "God," he muttered. "To think I'm reduced to sitting out here with you."
"You're perfectly welcome to leave." He didn't especially fancy the idea of sitting with one of the Golden Boys, especially the terribly tragic hero of the hour. Remus' shrieks echoed in Severus' head. He tried to ignore them.
"Where'm I supposed to go?"
"Back to your House?"
Lupin shot him a withering look. "What makes you think I want to do that? I'm trying to give them a little time that they don't have to worry about me. S'not like they're not a little... upset."
"Doesn't mean you have to bother me." Severus felt the cold stare before he saw it.
"Y'know what? I'm going to. Bother you, I mean. Only to take the piss, Snape." Lupin got to his feet, wrapping his arms tight around himself. "It's not as if I can go up to just anyone and say, 'Oh, yeah, my baby brother died because he was stabbed with a silver knife'!"
"Maybe that ought to teach you to keep your mouth shut. It'll certainly stop you from biting anyone else." Severus glared up at Lupin. He barely had time to drop his cigarette before Lupin grabbed him by the collar and hoisted him halfway in the air.
"Listen, you walking piece of shit, you don't know anything. Understand?" He dropped Snape before Snape could respond and paced viciously, hands waving in the air. "Do you know how old I was when I was bitten? Seven. I got seven fucking years to learn how to be a human being and suddenly it was worth crap. I took my little baby brother for a walk one night while the baby sitter was doing her homework, and when she found us, the werewolf had already found us. Are you listening to me, Snape?"
Severus raised an eyebrow. He tried to find a sarcastic retort. Instead, he nodded.
Lupin sneered. He paced like a wolf. It was, to Severus' surprise, the only thing not completely human he'd ever seen Lupin do when not in the Shrieking Shack. "She died. That thing ripped her apart and left us to die covered in bits of her carcass. After it had bitten us, of course. Care to see the scar?"
"'Course you would. You're a sick fuck. You love things like that." To Severus' unease and slight horror, Lupin hoisted his foot on the bench and yanked up his trouser leg. A pale, shiny pattern traced from below his knee to mid-calf. "Deceptive, isn't it?" He stared at Snape, who inched a little further away. Lupin dropped his trouser leg and went back to pacing.
"Rommy was eight months old. Think about it, Severus. He never even had a chance to try to be human." He stopped pacing and rubbed his arms against the cold. "You have no earthly idea what it's like to have to sit back, month after month, locked away with the person you love most in the world and whose life you know you destroyed, watching him suffer pain the likes of which most people will never, ever comprehend. Until you've heard a baby screaming as his body is ripped apart and reshapes itself into god knows what..." Lupin shuddered. He wiped his eye. "And now he's dead and it's all my fault," he spat. "I took him out, I let him get bitten, I let the fucking baby sitter get ripped to shreds..."
"You were a child," Severus said softly. "You didn't know any better."
"WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?" Lupin's scream rang shrill and metallic. He collapsed on the bench, face buried in his folded arms. His back shook with pregnant breaths. He lifted his streaked face to the sliver of moon. "Oh, god." He dropped his head. "There is no god."
Severus was silent. He pulled the packet of tobacco out of his pocket, rolled another, and passed it to Lupin. Lupin took it with a look torn between gratitude and suspicion. "Thanks."
Wiping his face viciously with his palm, Lupin lit the cigarette. He inhaled expertly, letting the smoke run out his nostrils. "I tried it for a summer, quit two years ago. Starting to wish I hadn't." He took another drag. "So tell me about your day," he said bitterly. "Might be nice to hear how happy the Slytherins are tonight."
Severus blinked. "A child died in my arms this afternoon," he said softly.
Lupin froze. He stared at Severus. The cigarette dangled from his fingers, forgotten. "You'll have to excuse me, Severus. I'm not sure I heard you right."
"A child died in my arms this afternoon."
Lupin dropped his head. His mouth went taut. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea."
"Nobody does, apparently. I'd like to keep it that way." The last thing he needed was every Gryffindor in the school after his blood.
Lupin nodded. He took a slow drag. "I won't tell anyone." He sat in silence for a moment. Licking his lips, he asked, "How much did you yell at him?"
"What did you do? Just drag him to the ho-ospital wing?" Lupin shoved his sleeve across his face.
"I told him he was going to be fine. I lied."
Lupin didn't say anything. Severus was vaguely aware of him inching closer on the bench; he didn't quite acknowledge it until a tawny head rest on his shoulder. "I want my baby brother back."
Severus was silent. Gingerly, he put an arm around Lupin's shoulders. He wasn't quite sure how long they stayed that way. Hard, wracking sobs built slowly. Lupin's body shook Severus' from the sheer force of his grief. Severus tightened his arm, and Lupin's head came to rest on his chest.
"All my fault," he choked between sobs. "S'all my fault."
Automatically, Severus rest his cheek in the short, wavy hair. It was almost as fine as Tom's, but silky rather than dry. His other hand lay, useless, in his lap. He said nothing, did nothing, merely let Lupin shed tears for both of them. It felt strange to have a body so close without malice or lust or obligation. He pressed his lips to the top of Lupin's head, breathed in the warm, earthy scent of him. "I didn't rape Lily," he said flatly.
Lupin sat up. He looked a bit puzzled beneath the wet trails on his puffy face. "I know."
"Good. I wanted to make sure someone believes me."
Lupin nodded. He put his head back on Severus' chest. Severus stroked his upper arm gently. "Why were you out here crying that night?" Lupin asked softly.
"My family kicked me out."
"My father doesn't approve of certain... deviant tendencies."
Lupin paused for a moment. "The Dark Arts rumours, or because of the stories about you and blokes?"
"They're not stories."
"Oh." Lupin rubbed his nose. "What are you going to do after school?"
"I've got somep-someone."
Lupin lifted his head. He managed the faintest hint of a smile. "I'm glad."
Severus looked down on the swollen eyes gazing up at him. Solemnly, he traced the edge of Lupin's face with his fingertips. Lupin leaned gently into the touch. Severus blinked.
In a split second he pondered it, decided that Tom wouldn't mind just this once, half-closed his eyes, and tilted his head forward. Remus' lips were soft and salty, and they returned the chaste touch. Thin, callused fingers touched Severus' face. The two of them lingered, long and slow and careful, never pressing further, grief and loss and surreal understanding burning their skin. When Remus took Severus' lower lip lightly between his teeth it was clearly out of need to hold onto someone. The vague, laughable thought that he was being bitten by a werewolf flitted through Severus' brain and was gone.
They pulled back at the same time. Severus didn't look away, though. For as many moments as he could, he stroked Lupin's shoulder, put a hand over the one that had settled on his thigh. The wind blew softly, still driving daggers of ice through their clothes.
Too soon, Remus pulled away. "I ought to get inside before someone gets worried," he said. For a moment his eyes locked on Severus'. His mouth opened slightly.
Severus shook his head.
Lupin's brows knitted sadly. "Do you need anything? I know you don't really have many people to talk to."
"I'll be fine."
Remus stood up. He offered his hand. Severus shook his head. "I'd like to stay here for a while."
"Okay." Remus rubbed his nose. "Thank you."
Severus shook his head again. He seemed to do that a lot. "Get inside." Severus stayed there long enough to finish two more cigarettes and went in to bed.
They didn't mention it again for nearly twenty years. Those circumstances were somewhat different. Severus was calm, quiet, leaning back in his chair. He'd had his illusions stripped away by the years; he held none about the nobility of his actions, only their selfishness.
Lupin leaned over his desk. His eyes were puffy and red, and he seethed. "Why in god's name did you do it, Severus?"
"All of it!" Lupin threw his hands in the air and paced, hugging himself. "Running into the Shack like that, telling your precious Slytherins about... my god. I never thought you'd betray me like this. After Rommy..." he narrowed his eyes at Snape. His mouth was hard, and on the verge of twitching.
"Sirius Black is a convicted murderer."
"Sirius is innocent!"
"I've seen no evidence towards this."
"I'm telling you, Severus, the rat was Peter. He's an Animagus!"
Severus snorted softly to himself. "Peter Pettigrew was a rat, but he didn't have the intelligence to become an Animagus, much less a Death Eater."
Lupin shook his head and raked a hand through his tarnished silver hair. "Just tell me why you did it so I can start hating you like I should have a long time ago."
"I didn't want another child to die in my arms."
Lupin blinked. Severus caught his gaze. He held it, solemn and silent and as close to serene as he could ever achieve. He'd only ever told one person besides Lupin about Romulus. The consequences of that...
Severus was almost surprised when warm, salty lips pressed against his. Out of sheer habit, he returned the soft pressure. (Or so he told himself. On later analysis, he realised how much he needed to kiss someone. It had been so, so long.) Remus lingered, nipping lightly at Severus' lower lip again, comfort and acceptance and old grief and the shedding of some modicum of past injury burning their skin.
Remus pulled back first. Severus' eyes fluttered open and he looked up into the amber warmth. He held the gaze. His mouth opened slightly to ask Remus to stay, just for a little while longer.
Lupin shook his head. "Thank you," he whispered. The door latched behind him.
A little bit sad, with a vague hollow ache in his chest, Severus reached into his top desk drawer. He hesitated, but skipped over an old, brown roll of parchment. At the back lay a crumpled wad of silk. Carefully, so as not to break the fragile strands, he spread it out on his desk. It was no longer white and pure. Rather, it had turned a dingy, halfhearted grey. Some of the stitches had split. Tiny filaments stuck out in every direction; it looked like it had gone out of focus. He spent a long time staring at the snowflake, remembering.
They never spoke of it again.
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