"Go on, I'll take care of him."
Harry peered at Remus suspiciously. "Are you sure? I mean, he's barely moved in--"
With a peevish little sigh, Harry pushed himself to his feet. His robe was smeared with dirt, caked with oily black ashes. It had taken nearly fifteen minutes after they'd gotten back to the castle to convince Snape to untangle his fingers from the mess, and even then Remus had had to pry them away one by one by one. It hadn't been the action of a bereaved follower. It was almost like a son clinging to his father, or a man clinging to his wife. Or husband, he supposed. Remus shook away the absurd notion that Voldemort could be husband to anyone.
"Is he going to be okay?" Harry asked, his eyes darting towards the semi-catatonic man sitting in front of the hearth. There was something about Snape that suited well his spartan rooms in the dungeon. (Odd that someone who'd lived in the school so long would have so little to show for it.) Since they'd pried him loose he'd simply sat in one of the two chairs in front of the fire, staring at the flames, silently tracing the blackened smears of ash on his hands.
"I hope so."
Harry blinked, scowling, but he touched Snape's hand anyway. "Professor?"
"Professor, look at me."
Nothing, for a moment. Then, almost mechanically, Severus' head tilted up by degrees and he looked at Harry with eyes focused inward.
"You going to be okay with Remus?"
Snape stared silently for a moment. He turned his attention back to the fire, back to the sooty stains. Harry frowned.
"Reckon that's the best I'll get, then," he muttered under his breath.
Remus frowned, leaning against the back of Harry's chair. "Go on, you. You need to get tidied up, maybe get some rest. Been a big night."
"Yeah. Just a little bit." Harry's weary, almost cynical eyes lighted on Snape one last time. "Take care of yourself, Professor."
Snape said nothing. His long, delicate fingers traced the heavy black patches meticulously.
Remus saw Harry out. He was all but exhausted himself, but there were things that needed to be sorted before he could rest. One was a particular old debt that took precedence to even bizarre reactions regarding a certain Dark Lord.
He sat in the chair Harry had occupied. In the firelight, the world was orange, like dawn on a fresh apocalypse. There was no significant decoration in the room, no pictures of friends or family, no cards from loved ones. In fact, the only things he could see were a framed and matted snowflake-shaped doily yellowing over the hearth, and a single ancient scroll on the mantelpiece. Even the books in the painfully full bookcase were either potions texts or leather-bound lesson planners. Or, in about a quarter of the cases, written in a language Remus didn't understand but suspected was Hindi. Severus had been so handsome and powerful and overwhelming when they were boys, and anyone who looked at him could see he was clearly one of the 330 million gods of the Hindu pantheon. Now, he was faded, the bones in his wrists standing out as he moved his hands, his skin the same sad yellow as the snowflake.
"Severus?" Remus asked softly.
The hollow black eyes flickered. They rested on him for a moment before returning to the fire.
"Would you like to talk about it?"
Very, very slowly, Snape shook his head.
"All right. Would you like me to talk to you, then?"
No answer. He supposed that was a yes.
Remus leaned back in his seat, crossing his legs and steepling his fingers in front of him. "Um... my mother died last month. She hadn't been doing well for a while, you know, ovarian cancer. I... to be honest, I think I took it better than I should have. I mean, after Dad was found under the Dark Mark in 'seventy-nine, and Rommy... and Sirius was captured and just handed to the dementors the same day, I think I was just glad somebody I loved went slowly enough I could say goodbye." He blinked. "Do you have any family?"
"You know, we always reckoned you'd settle down with a harem after school. You were such a heartbreaker, Severus, half the girls in school and I don't know how many of the boys would have given their wand arms to shag you." He snorted ironically. "'Course, you'd already done the other half. Are you still breaking hearts left and right?"
No answer. That was probably a no.
"What about the Death Eaters? I know you went off with them after we left. They could probably appreciate a sly thing like you. How many of them did you send barking?" he asked with a hint of a wicked smile.
The empty black eyes slid slowly from the fire to his face. They stayed fixed on him incredulously. Remus shifted in his seat. He cleared his throat.
"Enough about them, then. I think classes will be cancelled for the day, don't you? I'm glad I'm not teaching anymore. I loved it, you know - I'm not saying that to make you feel guilty, by the way, it's only a statement - but," he gave a lopsided shrug, "I don't think I could do it right now. There's been... too much has happened over the years. I've lost too many people, haven't got anyone left except Harry and he's not really mine. I don't think I want that sort of responsibility right now. Does that make any sense?"
Severus stared. His narrow lips twitched once and went still.
"Minerva's offered me the Defence position again. I'm not going to take it; there are plenty of people better qualified than me. You, for one. Then, as much as you love Potions, I don't think you'd be happy teaching anything else."
Severus' eyes flickered. He almost looked sad.
"Never expected you to take up teaching, you know. You always struck me more as a researcher type, maybe an apothecary if you wanted to relax. Or like someone who'd just try to rule the world, but looks like someone else got to that first."
Severus looked away hastily. For a brief, shimmering instant Remus thought he saw a tear drip from his pointed chin. It was over too quickly to tell.
"I," he paused, choosing his words, "have to admit, Severus, I never expected you to follow... well, anyone. Especially not Voldemort. You... what was it they called you? 'The King of Serpents'? Isn't that what basilisks are called?"
Remus jumped at the soft, sibilant word. He found himself clutching the arms of his chair, nails nearly digging into the smooth leather. After several moments he finally made them relax. "Ah. Well, you still don't strike me as someone who'd follow Voldemort, for any reason."
He was about to open his mouth again when Severus' low, deep voice interrupted. "I didn't follow him."
Remus' eyes fluttered. "Sorry?"
"I didn't follow him."
"That's what I thought you said. Oh. Oh, Severus, I'm so sorry. I... oh, god, I knew you'd been spying, but I didn't know you'd started out as a spy instead of coming back from his side. That's... I think that's the bravest thing--"
"I made him what he became."
Remus turned his head slowly. Severus sat stiffly, his spine so straight it hurt to look at, his shoulders rigidly square. His hands lay in his lap, fingertips still tracing the ash ground into his flesh.
"You'll have to excuse me," Remus said. "I think I just heard you say..."
"And then I spent twenty years betraying him. You'll have to pardon me if I've grown a bit cynical, Lupin. It's not many of us who are forced to destroy the only person we've ever loved."
There were several moments of quiet. Only a short, sharp, rasping sound kept it from turning to complete silence. Remus realised the sound was the air rushing through his sandpaper throat. "What on Earth are you talking about?" he wheezed.
Sharp, black eyes fluttered. "Didn't you know? There were two of us. Tom directed the battles, and I disciplined the troops." The corner of his mouth jerked. "They became much more effective once somebody with a talent for the notion wielded the whip."
Remus realised he'd unconsciously backed as far away from Snape as his chair would allow. "You tortured them."
"The word is 'murdered'. And I loved every blood-soaked minute of it. To a point." The empty eyes had begun to glow with an eerie light. It mirrored the flames in the hearth, dancing wickedly, wantonly. He turned his head, and cast on Remus a sickle-like sliver of a grin. "It seems you were not, in fact, the most dangerous beast ever to teach at Hogwarts."
"My god." The whisper seemed to shatter on the stones. Remus swallowed, hard. "My god, you..."
"Monster. I know. Every name I ever called you I've called myself a thousand times more. Apart from the obvious, of course."
A strange, suffocating sensation crept out from the heavy granite blocks that made up the castle. No windows could break it this deep in the dungeons, and he saw only one door through which to flee. Remus forced himself to keep gripping the chair, keep listening. He would play confessor, or he would die trying. He would not run. He would not allow himself to disgrace the name of Gryffindor. "When did you stop?"
He breathed, and tried again. "What was the point you stopped loving it?"
"Ah." Snape rested his chin on his fingertips. "I murdered more children than I can remember, but it was always painless and with a minimum of fear. The lone exception - of which I know - refused to die until he was in my arms." He waved one hand in the air. It looked like a bird fluttering desperately against a storm.
"Oh." Remus bit his lower lip. A shiver ran through his soul, screaming Romulus' name. Stoically, betraying nothing, he said, "Tell me about Tom."
"Don't call him that. You have no right to call him that."
"Tell me about Voldemort, then."
"What's there to say? He was mere sanam, mere humsafar, mere sachaa pyar. You have no Earthly idea what it felt like to realise that he was wrong. You haven't--" he stopped. "There are very few in this world who could understand the magnitude of looking into his eyes and knowing that I would never see him alive again. Mujhe use dil se pyar hai." He choked wetly on the last words, snorted into his sleeve. Tiny sparks glistened in the corners of his eyes.
The words were alien, but the meaning was clear enough. "And you still destroyed him to make sure he wouldn't be back."
Severus swallowed. "Yes."
Before Remus could stop him, he reached into his sleeve and withdrew his wand. Snape pressed it at the base of his throat. "Avada--"
Remus launched himself across the arm of his chair, knocking over the table between their chairs and wrenching Severus' wand from his hand. The spell went wide, thundering into the wall and smashing a black crater in the unyielding stones. Slamming Snape's head against the back of his chair, kneeling on him, Remus snarled, "Don't you dare do that in front of me!"
Severus gazed back impassively. "Why not?"
"Because I'm not going to let you spill your guts like that just so you can take the easy way out, you cowardly son of a bitch!"
"My mother wasn't a bitch. You can say what you want about my father, but leave my mother out of this."
They stared at each other, eyes locked, fire on ice. The fire in Remus' eyes spread to his face, down his throat, all the way to the hands clawed into Snape's thick skull. He felt chilly breath across his lips. Their faces were bare inches apart.
In disgust, Remus yanked himself to his feet. He reached out, beat back the hand that tried to stop him, dug his fingers into Severus' ear and half-dragged him to the bathroom. The stilted yelps nearly made him stop, though. They were cries of pain, true pain, far more ghastly than he'd ever made when his mother did the same thing to him as a child. Shoving Severus into the corner, he ordered, "You are going to have a bath, you are going to scrub every speck of that goddamned filth from your hands and anywhere else it's gotten, and you are going to forget any fucking heroic notions you've got about some sort of seppuku ritual. Got it?"
Much to Remus' surprise, the King of Serpents nodded.
Severus sat quietly in the corner while Remus drew him a bath. The water seemed hotter in the dungeons. Then, given the hot springs under the school that fed the pipes, it wasn't any great surprise. (And to think, James and Sirius had taken the piss when he'd started quoting Hogwarts: A History at them.) He'd pushed up his sleeves and kept adjusting the taps as he tested the water as though it were for a baby. Its warm, comfortable scent, tinged with sulphur, wafted through the moist air. The whole time, he kept his eyes on Snape, who had gone back to tracing the stains on his hands.
Remus shut off the taps. He tugged his worn woollen robe over his head. It left him in a thick cotton sweater darned too many times to remember and a pair of brown slacks he'd had since school. This was neither the time nor the place to be concerned about anything he wore under his robes, though. Remus motioned towards the bath with his head. "Strip, get in."
Snape shuddered. "No."
"You'll do what I say." Picking up his robe, Remus fished his wand from the pocket. "Now."
The shudder went through Snape's body again. He remained aristocratically rigid.
Remus arched an eyebrow. "You're getting in. I will remove your clothing myself if I have to."
Severus blinked. A spark of defiance flickered in his face and he stood, glaring steadily as he undid the row of buttons down the back of his neck. He started to pull the thing over his head. His fingers suddenly twitched. He stopped.
Remus sighed. "Get on with it."
He aimed his wand. "I said, get on with it!"
Severus shivered slightly in the warm, humid room. It was dimly lit, the walls made of the same stone as the rest of the dungeons, the fixtures a skeletal white. "No. Please."
As bizarre as it was to hear Severus Snape say "please", it wasn't enough to diminish the fact that he was still dressed. If the son of a bitch was going to act like a petulant child, Remus would treat him like one. Remus shoved his wand into his pocket and stormed across the room. He grabbed the robe even as Snape knotted his arms around his chest. "Come on, Severus, into the bath."
"I don't want to."
"You're scrubbing that cack off and that's final!" With an almighty yank, Remus pulled the robe over his head. It hung comically from Snape's arms, still tangled in front of him. Snape tried to hunch, couldn't. Remus frowned. Snape gave a weak whimper as Remus walked around him to untangle his arms from behind. Remus froze. "Oh, Mother of God, Severus..."
Through the thin white fabric of his vest rose a range of scars. The skin was shiny, sickly white, even paler than the rest of him. The valleys glowed a disconcerting shade of pink. Half petrified, Remus pushed away the braces trisecting his back, tugged the thin cotton vest free from Severus' trousers. The scars ran from the back of his neck, across his shoulders, and vanished into the black fabric at his waist. Heavy lumps sprouted from the morbid weft and warp of tissue. It almost resembled a tangled rose vine. Gently, he touched one of the lumps. It refused to budge. Severus whimpered.
"I'm sorry," Remus said quickly.
"Don't look at me," Severus hissed. He tried to hunch forward, arms across his chest. The skin at the edges of the immovable mass puckered grotesquely.
"What happened?" Remus couldn't help but draw careful fingers over the mess of warped flesh. Even at the light brush, Snape flinched. He said nothing, only strained more, the puckers of skin pulling thin and tenuous.
Not quite registering any sensation in his hands, Remus reached around and unhooked Severus' trousers. He knelt, tugging them down along with his pants, wincing at the way the scarred vine's roots trickled thinly down his backside, his thighs. There was more scar tissue than flesh on his emaciated body. Suddenly, Remus felt very well fed, indeed.
"Don't - look - at - me," Severus forced through gritted teeth. Reluctantly, Remus averted his eyes - there was a perverse fascination in the sheer extent of damage - and fiddled with the laces on Severus' shoes. It took a minute to get them untied, then a few minutes more to get them off along with his socks and trousers. Snape outright refused to help, forcing Remus to yank his feet back one at a time to strip them. When he stood, he had the most bizarre urge to hug the man.
Quietly, denying himself just one more horrified look, he cocked his head at the tub. One hand lay on Severus' pristine, pale shoulder, just next to the beginnings of the useless flesh. "Go on, get in," Remus said gently.
With as much shredded dignity as he could muster, Severus did. The water slopped over the edges of the bath as he shifted, making himself comfortable. He drew his knees up to his chest, leaning forward at a rigid angle. His mouth was drawn tight and harsh.
Remus tried not to count ribs as he lathered a flannel and drew it carefully down one side. He nudged at Severus' arm. "Stretch out?"
Severus said nothing. That was most adamantly a no.
Unfortunately, the position gave clear access to no part of his body but his ruined back. Remus did his best to scrub what he could find. His breath hitched occasionally at the confession of atrocity he'd been given, the proof of bloodlust and psychosis. A small, insistent voice kept asking why Dumbledore had hired him in the first place. Remus had the feeling it was a question best not asked.
In time, he was left with nothing save the heavy mass of scars. Remus gnawed his upper lip, deciding. In the end, he trickled a bit of warm water over the tissues. Severus' didn't even react, although Remus could have sworn he saw the tiniest flinch.
He looked at the rough flannel in his hands. Very quickly, he pulled a fresh one from a cabinet, waved his wand, and uttered a few low words. The coarse, well-used cloth became soft, more like fur than fabric. He dipped it carefully in the coolest part of the bath, worked soap into the silky fibres until the foam was thick as whipped cream, and, tentatively, brushed the hard tissues along Severus' neck. Severus shuddered, but he didn't cry out.
Remus worked as gently at he could. The flannel fit into the pink crevices where blood flowed far too close to the skin's surface. He washed one small, trembling section, rinsed it from his cupped hands, and washed another as quickly as he could. There was a pattern to the lumps and the vines. The lumps, like roses, were irregular, thick and ridiculous. The vines seemed to shoot from them chaotically, following what he realised with a rush of nausea was the lay of muscles, nerves, but not blood vessels. It was almost as though those had ceased to exist.
As he finished, he realised Severus was shaking. Remus rinsed the last of the soap hurriedly, slopping most of a handful down one sleeve. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you."
"Everything hurts me. I've simply learned not to feel it." His deep voice was distant, a little bit fey.
Remus scowled. It was an odd nagging in the back of his skull that made him pick up his wand and cast the spell. "Denudo Incantatem!"
The air around Severus literally glowed with a burst of curse signatures. Remus couldn't even catch them all; he thought he saw the rare, soft silver shimmer of an Osmosis Curse, and the watery dance of an Amplifico Impressio Curse that would make the slightest touch of wind feel like a gale. They were virtually unknown spells, dangerous, often lethal in such a great number. However, here the man sat before him, quaking, his once-handsome face buried in his hands.
Gently, Remus pried them away. The empty black eyes had filled with tears, with fear. "What are you going to do?" Severus asked. A muscle in his left cheek twitched.
Remus pointed his wand at Snape's face. "Lumos!"
Before Snape whimpered and pulled away, Remus saw the catlike reflection of slit pupils, saw them contract to threads at the burst. Quickly, he extinguished the light. "Oh, Severus. Why did you do it?" Without really meaning to, he stroked a pallid, planar cheek.
Severus shook his head and turned away. "Don't."
"Were you under the Amplifico Impressio when this happened?" Remus touched the scars over his shoulder blade with a gentle finger.
Snape shook his head quickly. He nodded. He shook his head again. "Charm form," he whispered.
"My god." Remus groped for the plug. As the water slowly drained, he urged Severus - still stained with Voldemort's ashes - from the tub. A towel more like a blanket went over his shoulders. Remus tucked it around him as well as he could. It left Snape looking like some fallen Roman general. He started to lead the man to his chair. The thought of that hypersensitive skin peeling away from bare leather made him wince. Instead, he left Severus to stand next to the bed while he tugged back the covers. The sheets, silk, might normally have been a luxury. Here, they were a necessity.
"In you go," he said gently, meeting little resistance. Snape automatically turned on his side, facing the middle of the bed. Remus sat on the edge, stroking surprisingly brittle black hair coated with some sort of oil. "Do you need anything?"
Severus gave a little whimper. A single tear pooled on the bridge of his nose and he whispered, "Tom."
It wasn't the sort of thing Remus liked to hear, pained whimpers for the Dark Lord. His stomach clenched as he asked, "Tell me about him?"
Snape raked his forearm against his nose. He gave a low snort and said, "What's there to tell? He murdered thousands of people, he would have murdered me if he thought it necessary, I would have murdered him if I'd thought the same thing and I proved it. He was a lunatic. And he was the gentlest man ever to walk the Earth." He yanked at the silk sheet, used it to soak up another pristine trickle. "And if you ever repeat that to anyone, Lupin, I shall eviscerate you alive."
"Fair enough," Remus said. All things told, the simple news that there was something to the late, apparently lamented Lord Voldemort beyond sadistic monster paled next to the image of anyone - especially Severus Snape - weeping silently over his loss.
Severus swallowed. His entire body jerked as he did. "Why didn't you let me die?"
"Because you're not the only one to ever lose the person he loved more than anyone in the world, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let you have something I couldn't."
"You didn't want it."
Remus paused. Not quite honestly, he said, "That's true."
"Well, you're not having it." He touched Snape's back through the covers; Snape flinched sharply. "Who did this?"
"My best friend." His words were sharp, and bitter, but oddly flat. They rang with an anger too heavy to carry anymore.
"You healed yourself?"
Silence. Silence that spoke far more than words ever could.
"I never knew he'd studied the healing arts."
"He hadn't. In case you couldn't tell."
They lapsed into quiet, punctuated by an occasional moist sound from Severus' throat. Remus sat, quietly stroking the brittle black hair, the brittle skin of Severus' cheek. Very gently, he leaned forward and pressed a small kiss to the man's temple.
"If it's any consolation, you did the right thing."
"Thank you," Remus murmured.
"All right." Remus continued to stroke the fragile hair. His fingers were slick with oil, but he ignored it. The bitter, vengeful part of him snarled that, somehow, Severus Snape was responsible for every shred of Hell the world had encountered under Voldemort's wrath. Another voice, though, reminded him of the tenderness with which Severus had treated him after Romulus had died; it reminded him that this man had only ousted him from teaching for fear that one of the students might be harmed. He'd had good reason to be upset. After all, forgetting that dose of the Wolfsbane Potion would have been cataclysmic had Sirius not...
"Is there anything I can get for you?" Remus asked.
Severus shook his head. It was the barest motion, hardly a twitch. "Let me sleep."
"I'm not leaving you alone."
"Fine. Let me sleep."
For a long time, far longer than it should normally take anyone to slip into dreams, Remus sat there, gently petting the oiled hair, the pristine skin at the edge of chaos. Severus' eyes gradually fell shut. His breathing finally went from harsh and haggard to even. Heavy shadows hung around his eyes. His mouth fell open, and he wheezed softly as he breathed. It was at once worrying and strangely soothing.
The soothing aspect of the sound quickly took its toll. Remus slumped, shook his head, and decided that it might be for the best to join his charge. He toed out of loafers held together by little more than magic, tossed his sweater and slacks over back of a chair, and slid carefully between the sheets, facing Severus. A jumpy, anxious feeling formed in the pit of his stomach at being so close to the man while wearing only his pants. However, exhaustion refused to give in to nerves. He fell asleep with a hand on Severus' shoulder. He dreamed of Romulus.
The weight was warm. Warm, slight, close, dipping the mattress next to him. Its arms were crossed around its chest. Remus felt hot, hectic breath across his face.
Sleep still clawing at his muscles and raking teeth across the backs of his eyes, he squinted. Severus was huddled inches from him, head bowed, trying to choke quietly on all too obvious grief. Remus blinked. It still made something deep inside him squirm sickeningly to think that anyone might be responding to the Dark Lord's fall this way. He shushed that part of his body, his brain, and reminded himself that the man lying next to him had suffered through Hells all his own.
"Severus?" he asked softly.
No answer. The stiffened shoulders shook ever so faintly.
Remus reached up to push a bit of black hair out of blacker eyes. He let his fingers run through the mess, again, again. Gently, he pressed his lips against a pallid forehead. "I'm here, not going anywhere." He continued stroking, long strands tangling with his fingers. Severus was easily ten inches taller than he, but at the moment he looked like a child. "It's all right, you're not alone."
"It's not all right," came the defiant reply.
"You're still not alone."
Silence. It was broken by a weak, chained sob.
"Oh, Severus." There was no resistance given as he pulled the shaking wretch into his arms. Severus' hands were balled into fists, clutched to his chest. His face came to rest in the side of Remus' neck and he howled. Remus could do no more than stroke his hair, lightly brush the mounds of hard tissue with his fingertips, let the man try to crawl inside his skin to hide. Severus babbled rapidly, wet, thick sounds in a language Remus couldn't follow.
"I know, you--"
"You don't know!" Severus reared back, reddened eyes flashing. His jagged teeth showed in a threatening snarl. "You haven't any idea, werewolf." His shoulders rose and fell menacingly. For a moment, he was once again the boy he'd been, overwhelming and passionate and huge. He grabbed Remus' face, squeezing. "Have you ever spent your life in captivity? And don't even think of whinging about that little bite of yours. I assure you, it's not even remotely the same thing."
Remus swallowed. Lifting his chin as much as the crushing hand would allow, he snapped, "I spent five years in Saint Mungo's after James and Lily died because someone at The Ministry thought I was going to be like Sirius. If that's not captivity, I don't know what is."
"Then you're a fool." He all but shoved Remus away and hunched down on himself once more. "There's more to captivity than walls."
"What's that, then?"
Severus went silent. After a long minute, he finally said, "Your lot weren't the only ones to think I oughtn't be a teacher. It's not a position, it's a punishment. And it's my own bloody fault. Should have stayed with Tom and hoped it..." he shook his head. "Never you mind."
Remus thought for a moment, holding himself in, trying to give Severus a bit of space. "Let me see if I've got this worked out. You realised that Voldemort was wrong, so you came to Hogwarts looking for refuge, and you've been exploited to work against him."
Something painful flickered across Severus' face. "Close enough."
"But you came of your own free will."
The dark eyes closed. The skin around them strained to squeeze together. "Close enough."
"Did he send you to spy for him?"
"Were you caught?"
A shiver went through the long body. "No."
"So you turned yourself over willingly."
"And you've hated yourself ever since."
Severus' mouth trembled. "Wouldn't you?" he spat. A heavy, shifting glaze covered his eyes again, hanging in mercurial balance until tension broke and a lone drop skittered towards the pillow. "And now he's gone, again, and I have nothing left to live for."
"Of course you do."
"What? Azkaban? Dumbledore's Pensieve shan't remain private very long. The Ministry knows enough to mine it for information about me. Without that bastard's protection... what would you do if you found out the other Dark Lord wasn't only alive but training generations of witches and wizards in his image?"
Remus blinked. "You could hide."
Severus snorted. "Where?"
"Anywhere you wanted. Provided you've got a Secret Keeper."
Severus stared at him. Confusion melted to contempt. A sharp sneer wrinkled that aquiline nose. "Your Gryffindor generosity amazes me, Lupin, it really does. How on Earth do any of you manage to survive long enough to learn to tie your shoes?"
"Think what you like, Severus. My offer stands."
They stared at each other. Remus tenderly traced Severus' cheek, the thin skin stretched tight over bone. Severus whispered, "Why would you want to?"
"Because you're a better man than I."
"I find this somewhat difficult to believe."
"You saw your error, and you tried to fix it. And you didn't shirk the price."
"Lupin, I wasn't given a choice. I have regretted that moment of idiocy for twenty years now, and all the high words in the world aren't going to change the fact that I - have - nothing - left. This is a shell. I don't want to go on. I haven't wanted to go on for longer than any of my current students have been alive. The last piece of me died this morning, and all I have left of him is on my hands. If that fucking Potter hadn't hauled me back here, I would be in Azkaban awaiting the dementors right now, and I would be infinitely happier for it."
"No, no, it doesn't have to be like that." Remus took Severus' face between his palms. "You're still alive. Everything you've done for twenty years has been to save--"
"All of us."
"Purely coincidental, I assure you."
"You're still one of the strongest men I could ever know. And I've known some damned strong ones."
Severus shifted. He dropped his eyes, tried to turn his head and bury his face in the pillow. Remus held firm. He didn't even stop to think this time, simply pressed his mouth softly against Severus', trying to express the gratitude of the whole world.
The body next to him froze. Remus kept his lips stubbornly against hard, thin ones. When the muscle finally went numb and loose, he pulled away, only to press his mouth to Severus' again, to his chin, his cheeks, the tip of his nose, soft touches all over his face in the desperate hope that the man might recognise some appreciation for his sacrifices. A shudder went through the sallow skin and, finally, when Remus touched their mouths again, he felt the softest reluctant pressure in return.
"Lupin," Severus begged under his breath between kisses, "don't do this. Please, don't try to make me into--"
"Thank you," Remus said. "For everything."
"Thank you." He crushed their mouths together, insistently opening them, letting his tongue dart out to stop any coming argument. Severus gave a funny sort of sob and let his own tongue creep forward to meet it. Long, spindly hands crept around Remus' back, one clutching tightly at his shoulder, the other rooting itself in his hair. Low, soft sniffles meshed with the pressure of the kiss. Their naked chests pressed together, jerking sharply with stolen breaths.
Severus tore himself away. "Please, Lupin, just let me go."
"Not on your life, mate. You saved all of us, and I'll be damned if I don't make some effort to save you."
"You don't know what sort of monster--"
"Monsters don't sacrifice everything they've got to keep the love of their life from destroying everything in sight."
The lined, shadowy skin next to Severus' eye was softer than the rest of his face. Remus traced it, following the lay of infinitesimal creases all the way to his temple. "You're human. That's all."
"I haven't been human since before we left school."
"Well, from someone who hasn't been human since before he started school, I've seen much, much worse."
"You can't have."
A weak hiss escaped Severus' throat. "He was never human. He was only a rat."
"He was human. I don't know what happened to make him stop. He never made the effort to reclaim it, though, and that's why you're better than him."
The long body in his arms twitched. Very softly, almost too softly to hear, Severus said in a childish singsong, "I know why he did it."
Remus blinked, squinted suspiciously. "Why?"
"Me." He stared at Remus, his face drawn and worn. "I couldn't stand the little rat, so I fucked him, and when I got bored I got rid of him. Told him if he ever came near me again I'd kill him. I lied."
Remus' upper lip curled. The protective part of him that still remembered sweet little Peter as he'd once been tried to make him wrap his fingers around Severus' throat. However, it still didn't prove Severus' point. He took a breath, nearly forcing himself to say, "That was your reprehensible action, not his."
"It gave Lucius the chance to adopt him."
"Lucius Malfoy introduced him to the Dark Lord?"
"I presume so. He introduced me, and I caught them talking once."
"You knew Peter was a Death Eater."
"Not until after Tom came back, no. Scared the living shit out of the little rat when he caught us shagging in the hall."
Remus frowned. Shifting away ever so slightly, he asked, "If you were Voldemort's equal, why didn't you know?"
"They were beneath me. I didn't need to know someone's name to punish him. They never saw me without their masks on. If I saw them without, I wouldn't know most of them." His face cracked in a ruthless sliver of a grin. "But they most certainly knew me."
"Did you kill anyone after you came to teach?"
Severus gave a low, dark chuckle. "Funny, that. Spies have such a horrible reputation for that sort of thing. Once you get into the thick of it, though, it's not very exciting. Tom didn't want to risk my 'respectability'." His eyes clouded for a moment. Almost too softly to hear, as though he were afraid to admit it to himself, he said, "I think I missed power more than murder." His mouth screwed shut before the last word was finished. He focused on something far away, brow furrowed in some unspoken pain.
"Is that why you're so cruel to your students?"
Silence. After what felt like a very long time it was broken by, "No. I'm not a very good teacher, that's all."
"Hmm." Remus gnawed the inside of his lip. "Sounds strange to hear you say you can't do something. Those who can, do, those who can't, teach?"
"Maybe that's why I enjoyed teaching so much," Remus said quietly. "I never had your talent."
Severus shrugged. He said nothing.
"You know, you're still one of the strongest men I've ever known, no matter how much you try to shock me."
"Your sense of judgment is in dire need of resuscitation."
"And your sense of self needs to be reset."
A black stare fixed on him. Severus lay as still as death. Only the faint motion of his chest and the subtle, focusing shift of his eyes betrayed him. Those eyes dropped. "I haven't got enough self left to reset."
"I think you have. I think you're mourning, and once that's done with, you'll wake up and find yourself again."
"No. I've seen myself, and I'm not sure I want to find it again."
"Severus, do you want to know what I remember most about you from school?"
"Having to be threatened with expulsion so I wouldn't tell the Daily Prophet there was a werewolf at Hogwarts?"
Remus shivered. Water under the bridge, only water under the bridge. "No. I remember the way your lips felt. I..." he glanced around the dim room, "I had a vial of silver fulminate hidden in my robes when you found me. I don't know if I would have taken it, but... after that... you showed me something in you that I'm not even sure you showed your friends. I..." he trailed off. "Thank you."
"Which is one reason I appreciated it. You meant it."
Severus wore a funny look. It was somewhere between confusion and disbelief. "You're a very strange man, Lupin."
"Why on Earth did you spend all your time with those three imbeciles?"
"They were my friends."
"Did you ever tell them?"
Remus shook his head. "After Lily, I was afraid they'd kill you."
Severus snorted ironically. "It might have been better if you had, then."
"Don't start. I want you to live. It's not much, but it's something for you to live for. Until you can find your own reasons again."
Silence. Severus' eyes closed. His face was utterly blank.
"If I asked you to do something, would you do it?"
"That depends what it is."
"Would you kiss me again?"
He half expected the black eyes to snap open, the thin mouth to pull into a snarl and order him from the room. Remus braced himself for the onslaught, arms pulled close to his body. However, Severus did nothing. He merely lay there, silently, a flash of pain, of pensiveness, creasing the skin between his eyes.
And then he kissed Remus.
It was different from forcing his own lips against Severus'. That had been a battle. This was the same soft brush he'd felt more than twenty years before. It lingered, never pressing deeper. Their mouths moved gently, opening and closing in a fragile rhythm. Hesitantly, Severus let his arm slide across Remus' shoulders. It was warm, and safe, and protective, and Remus inched closer until once again naked skin pressed naked skin. He slipped the fingers of his right hand beneath Severus' cheek, only to have longer ones entwine them. The warmth that pulsed in his blood reminded him that he, Remus J. Lupin, was alive.
On instinct, he draped his left arm over Severus' waist. Severus gave a short cry as fingers brushed the mass of scars on his upper back.
"Sorry," Remus whispered, jerking his arm away.
"It's all right. Go ahead."
Remus frowned. He let his arm slither back into place, though, hand dangling against the finer tissues Severus bore from the waist down. Severus flinched, but merely kissed him again.
Remus gradually became aware of his breathing growing ragged, of a slick layer of sweat growing between them. Almost in retaliation, he pulled Severus' lower lip into his mouth, letting it rest between his teeth. He worked his jaw, barely letting it nip the flesh, pulsing gently. The weakest of breathy moans on Severus' part forced him to recognise the tension building in his belly. It was an accident. He'd only wanted a kiss, only wanted to let Severus find once again the man that still lived within him. As the tension grew, though, and the arms around him clung tighter, it became increasingly difficult to remain so altruistic.
"Do you want to stop?" he whispered, letting go of the lip between his teeth.
"No." The light rubbing of lips only paused for a moment. "He'll forgive me once."
Remus smiled sadly. "It sounds so strange to hear you talk about Voldemort that way."
Severus pulled back for a moment and looked at him with a miserable tenderness. His mouth moved to speak; instead, he touched it to Remus' again. Thin, moist tissues clung, breaking apart only to catch again a moment later. His lips opened and closed rhythmically, as if he were speaking, but no sound escaped. Remus mimicked it. He had the feeling he was offering apologies he would never understand.
The arm across his shoulders inched downwards, a flat palm tracing the plane of his back. There was an odd sort of worship in the touch, as though his unflawed skin was somehow sacred. With the gentlest movements he could make, Remus traced the organic path of scar tissue, of solid ropes of flesh. Severus whined softly and murmured, "My god."
"Am I hurting you?"
There was a pause. Severus swallowed and, with a hint of awe in his voice, said, "No."
"Good." Remus continued the gentle touches, letting his fingertips graze the barest surface of the warm, oddly slick skin. He wrapped a leg around Severus' hip. His bent knee pressed into a wasted flank. He moaned softly as he rubbed against a concave belly, as the tip of Severus' erection jabbed just beneath the base of his. Severus took a sharp breath through his nose and tried to hold still. Tremors ran through his delicate muscles. The breath burst from his mouth in a hiss.
The hand on Remus' back slid down and lodged in the waist of his worn Y-fronts. He lifted his hip just enough to let the fabric slip below the bone, untangled his leg and arm for the few seconds he needed to work them down his legs to disappear in the smooth sheets. He still wore his socks. Hastily, he toed one off, but as he started on the other he felt a hand on his hip.
"It's not important," Severus said into his mouth.
Remus blinked, but pressed against Severus again. A brutal shiver coursed up his spine when the swollen tip pressed directly against his scrotum. "Sorry," he whispered. "It's been a while."
Severus didn't respond, only stroked his back before letting that delicate hand slide down to cup Remus' behind. His lips pressed once more as he pulled their bodies closer. Remus cried out and buried his face in Severus' neck.
Slowly, slowly, Severus rocked against him. Remus found himself with his head crushed against a prominent collarbone, chest to chest and belly to belly and member deliberately riding rigid member. He gripped Severus' upper arm. Short bursts of white heat skittered through his nerves. Their fingers, still tangled, clenched and released, clenched and released, nails cutting into flesh long since gone numb. Remus rocked his own hips, forcing himself to move slowly, to savour the vivid touch. Their skins, moist and sticky, clung, pulling tiny hairs and fragile membranes.
And, yet, in the middle of the storm, a portion of Remus' mind still held control. It split. One half pondered the slightly sickening concept of doing anything so tender, so intimate with the Dark Lord. The other darted through images of Severus in their last days at school: smiling at him after Malfoy had been removed from the Academic Bowl; crouching predatorily during the final round; and some from years later when, in Severus' office, Remus had denied the unspoken invitation to this very intimacy. He wondered if perhaps he might have made some difference in Severus' life had he accepted. He tried not to think about it.
Severus' arm was firmly around his back again. The tips of his fingers brushed a delicate pattern over Remus' shoulder blade. Remus still clutched at his thin upper arm with starved desperation. They moved slowly, shamelessly, grinding away at each other as though their lives hung on the very action. Thin, dry skin stuck to thin, dry skin in a way that Remus knew would be painful later. At the moment, it didn't seem terribly important. Severus' cock tugged at his foreskin, pulling it down, allowing the sharp, itching sensation of contact with the fragile glans to tickle through him. From his throat came the music of tiny whimpers. Severus mirrored them, his moans and whines running from deep, warm sounds like dark treacle, to high, urgent ones like vinegar. No words, nothing discernible, but Remus thought he caught a hint of some exotic pattern in the sounds.
It didn't take long enough. Somewhere in the heat, in the array of noises and the jolts running through his blood to leave a wash of tingles, the pressure twisted something deep inside. "Severus..."
Whimpering and biting his lip, Remus dug his nails into Severus' arm. He bucked hard, grinding himself against engorged flesh until a heavy shudder made him freeze. Severus rocked against him once, twice, thrice, four times, and a fireball rolled through him, incinerating his nerve endings and causing a choked scream to wedge in his throat. Remus clung tightly, shivering and shuddering and whimpering as his body rebelled against the onslaught of sensation by shutting out the whole of the world. For many seconds, all he could hear was the rasp of his breathing, could feel nothing but the shudders and shakes as his rigid muscles slowly fell limp. The whiteness behind his eyes gradually faded to reality, and he could smell the bitter mix of soap and release and skin. He twitched, and warm drops rolled down his belly and into the sheets.
The weakness hadn't yet faded, nor his panting abated, as he disentangled his fingers from Severus' arm. Shifting his hips out of the way just enough to avoid wrenching something painful, he slipped his hand between them and wrapped it around Severus' still swollen cock. It was larger than he'd expected, but then, Severus had never been small: not in size, not in intellect, not in reputation, and certainly not in dreams.
Remus slid up the sheets to touch their mouths together as he squeezed. Severus blinked at him. There was something sad about his eyes, something that almost seemed to ask, "Why didn't you do this sooner?"
Remus gave him an apologetic smile and flexed his wrist in offering of the present. Past is past, Severus. All we've got is now. An odd chill tried to settle in his stomach at his own thoughts. He did his best to ignore it.
It didn't take long, not long at all, for the hand on his back to tighten and for Severus to give a stilted cry. Severus' eyes squeezed shut, and clear drops welled at the corners even as another liquid spurted hot over Remus' fist. Remus left his hand there a moment, letting his thumb glide gently across the sodden tip. Severus shuddered and cried out again. A single brilliant nova burst around Remus' thumb. Severus whimpered low in his throat. He panted viciously. Remus pressed their foreheads together. Another soft brush of lips and he let go, his wet fingers draping over Severus' hip.
"All right?" he asked softly. He squeezed the hand still clutched in his own.
Severus silently lifted his eyes. Shadows hung heavy around them, surpassed only by thick, dark fringe and the empty black depths beneath. He stared at Remus for a long moment before burying his face in his shoulder.
His eyes flew open. Remus couldn't remember dreaming, couldn't remember anything after resting his cheek in Severus' hair. He certainly couldn't remember turning over so he faced the scorched wall. Where there ought to have been windows there were only deep green curtains over cold stones. He blinked, shuddered at the eerie sudden thought that he was in a cell. Severus had let go of him at some point and he started to turn over to wrap himself defensively around the man.
And then he smelled the blood.
Bolting upright, he looked around. The fire had burned low. Its orange coals reflected gently on the pool around Severus' chair. A pallid arm, its black sleeve plastered to stained flesh, hung over the side.
"Oh, fuck." He nearly took the bedclothes with him as he hit the floor. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, Severus, fuck you, what have you done?" The blood under his feet was frigid. He slipped, went down hard, came up with the stuff clinging to his flesh. He wiped his hands on his flanks before he could think about it, slid through the gore to the front of the chair, liquid seeping up his sock.
Severus was still, utterly still. His skin had gone slack, and there was an odd sort of stern peace about him. Silver buckles glinted from the neck of his tattered robe, across the shoulder, all the way down to the hem. Across his chest lay the snowflake. In his hand sat the scroll from the mantelpiece, smeared with dark blood and somewhat the worse for wear.
Remus swallowed. The muscles in his face and throat constricted painfully, his body going stubbornly stiff, his eyes narrowing around a haze of tears. "What the fuck did you do?" he hissed.
Remus stepped forward. Something bit the bottom of his foot and he yelped. Growling, he pulled a piece of broken glass from the sole, turned to the mantel to slam it against the granite surface. The pane in the snowflake's frame was smashed. Smaller pieces littered the mantelpiece and the bloodstained hearthrug. He shivered, snarled silently at the deposed King of Serpents.
With as little effort as possible, he snatched the scroll from Severus' stiff hand. It clung a moment before slipping free. Grabbing a wand from the righted table - he didn't even pause to see whose it was - Remus aimed it over his shoulder at the fire. The flames roared, searing the backs of his legs.
Mouth hard, glaring at the remains of someone who'd taken his efforts and spat them back in his face, he perched, naked save one sock and too much of Severus' blood, in the other chair. Bitterly, he unrolled the scroll; at least the bastard had bothered to leave a fucking note.
Much to his surprise, it was blank. Remus growled. He started to roll it back up to hurl it into the fire when delicate, angular green script appeared.
Who are you?
He frowned. A lump of cold settled in his chest. Before he could de-spell the thing, the words hastily vanished and were replaced.
Are you Remus Lupin? Say yes or no.
Remus pursed his mouth. "Yes," he said slowly.
Severus asked me to tell you a few things. You'll... have to excuse me if I take my time. I'm... perhaps a bit upset right now.
Remus snorted. "Join the queue."
The parchment stiffened. It almost seemed offended. My name is Tom Marvolo Riddle, it scribbled defiantly. I am currently in my seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. However, as Severus has informed me, I am, at this time, a mound of ashes in the middle of Hogsmeade. I presume this makes some sense to you, because I haven't really got the urge to explain it.
Bile welled in Remus' throat. He stifled a sudden need to shred the thing. "It does," he growled. "What do you want?"
Severus back. That doesn't seem very likely right now, though, does it?
A flicker of chill ran through Remus' body, along with the thought, No, it doesn't. "What did he ask you to tell me?"
He wanted me to tell you that he's sorry, and that he thanks you. I don't think he especially... I think he'd hoped you would wake up sooner. However, there are... situations that he'd rather not have to face again. Ever. All things told this is probably for the best. He... appreciates what you've tried to do but, as he put it, it was too little too late. He asked me to tell you he did things on his own terms.
"Well, good for him. Reckon he ever stopped to think how I'd like it when I found him?"
Yes. Otherwise, he wouldn't have asked me to relay this.
Remus shook his head, shot a glare at Severus' body. "Fucking bastard."
Don't talk about him that way. The parchment swiped a corner at his hand. You have no right to call him that.
"Oh? Why not?"
Because... because I say so, that's why. My Severus Ajit did what he needed to do. His father is an Auror. You didn't know that, did you? He would sooner tear my Ajit to ribbons than look at him. Severus would rather die than have to face that. Again.
"Which still doesn't--"
I don't care. I felt him die. You've no idea the enormity of that, to have the person you love most in the world simply die beside you. There is no stronger definition of Hell than that, except perhaps the knowledge that if there is a Hell and there is a Heaven I am going to one and he to the other and there is no - way - to - change - that. He told me everything. About what he did, not just about... the two of you. I forgave him, but he couldn't forgive himself.
Remus stared, stunned. He gripped the parchment as the words faded and more took their place.
He told me that you did your best to show him there was something good in the world for him. You've no idea how much that meant to him, but he refused to live his life in captivity anymore. He's been a prisoner of this school for half his life, he doesn't want to be a prisoner of his Secret Keeper for the rest of it. But he thanks you, and I do too.
"I don't accept thanks from cowards."
He's suffered enough without your contempt. Let him go, and accept the fact that he did what he felt was right.
"I can't do that," Remus said quietly. "He took the coward's way out."
Then leave him be. His life has been rigid for too long. Don't expect him to bend because you say so.
They were silent. The words faded. Remus stared at nothing.
After a very long time, he noticed a flicker of movement on the page. Glancing down, he saw tiny letters forming. Will you please do me one favour?
"Why should I?"
Because as soon as I've finished here, I think I shall cease to exist. I haven't a great deal of desire to go on without him, even if we didn't speak much anymore.
"What if I won't?"
Then I'll find a way to avenge his death. You don't want that to happen.
Remus scowled. A trickle of ice ran through his spine at the thought of a third reign of terror. "What do you want?"
Give him a kiss for me.
"Is that all?"
Remus thought for a moment. His skin was cold, the blood drying in an icy layer. Severus' blood. He gave the parchment a commiserative little snort. "All right."
Thank you, Remus. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I shall be going. There was a weak rustle, and a rush of magic, and the parchment went limp. The words hung there for a moment, and faded into nothing.
For several moments, Remus simply sat and stared at it. There was something inherently wrong about the great and terrible Lord Voldemort simply ceasing to exist at the death of his lover. Then again, this wasn't the Dark Lord, this was a reflection of the boy who would become the Dark Lord (or so he'd said). There was an irony to it, one long-lost little boy dying over another.
Something trickled down his wrist. When he looked, he saw a thin line of green ink running over his flesh. It mingled with Severus' blood. The two mixed slowly, marbling in a pattern that was simultaneously two and one. Remus wiped it on the chair. With it he felt his fury rupture beneath the sensation of being crushed.
Quietly, he stood and laid the parchment on Severus' lap. He bent down and pressed his lips to the soft, cold ones. "That was from Tom," he whispered. He paused, and did it again. "That was from me."
Pulling himself straight, he marched towards the bathroom. Severus' blood itched, and he didn't feel it would be proper to wear it when he went to face a strangely empty world.
Hindi As Far As I Can TellMere sanam: My beloved
Return to Archive | prequel