Author's Notes: Written for the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest as a response to the three-word challenge: gentleman, holistic, poodle. The German quotation in the fic is taken from Goethe's "Faust" and means: "So this is the poodle's core." Uttered by Faust the moment Mephistopheles changes from dog to man.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the character that appear in this story. They belong to JK Rowling, Bloomsbury, Warner Bros. and Scholastic. I don't make or intend to make money of them.
The Last Resort
By Donna Immaculata
Severus Snape was standing by the kitchen table and his straight posture and disgusted expression were clearly indicating that he was afraid of contaminating himself at the mere contact with any part of the Blacks' kitchen interior. Even his breathing was shallow as though he thought the surrounding air was toxic. Shacklebolt had positioned himself by the mantelpiece, his tall, dark-clad figure successfully fading into the shadow. Both men were ignoring each other pointedly.
Lupin and Black entered the room a few minutes later. Black let his long unkempt hair deliberately fall into his face and only his eyes were burning from behind the dark veil, while Lupin held his head up high, his face carefully blank. Snape's expression turned even more acidic.
"Sit down", Snape said in a strained voice and with a grimace which indicated that talking to them caused him physical pain; he barely moved his teeth apart. Black's jaw line went rigid and he squared his shoulders, but remained silent. He did not sit down, though.
Lupin and Shacklebolt likewise decided that sitting would create an atmosphere of too much camaraderie. For a few minutes, all four men remained silent, throwing hostile, calculating looks at one another.
"Very well", Snape said at last. "As you all know well enough, I was asked by Dumbledore to re-inaugurate some older connections, which will allow me to gather information about the status quo of the preparations in the Dark Lord's camp."
"Spy, you mean. We all know the word, you sneaky bastard! How often have you changed side, I wonder? How often will you?"
Snape chose to haughtily ignore Black's remark, but his right hand twitched suspiciously towards the pocket holding his wand. "Not much information has been gained yet. I learned, however, that the Dark Lord's supporters know exactly about the oh-so-clever disguise he", with a nod towards Black, "has used so successfully. It would therefore not be advisable for him to leave this place unless he wants to end up in the hands of people who would gladly deliver him to either Fudge or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, both of which alternatives would surely be less than pleasant."
"Are you saying that I'm to continue hiding here, in this godforsaken place, while everyone else is out there, doing useful work for the Order?" Black snorted incredulously.
"I am saying no such thing", Snape's voice was smooth and sweet as honey. "It's Dumbledore's wish you shall remain unhurt. Merlin knows why", he added under his breath. "Apparently, he thinks you could be useful after all, in some way or another. He also seems to think that the Potter boy could do with an, ah, responsible father figure."
"This is all very well", Lupin said, interrupting Snape's silky gloating. "But surely, this is not the reason why you wanted us to meet you here. An owl would have done for this piece of news!"
"Your friend Pettigrew has apparently launched a little - well, I suppose you could say 'hunt' - to get rid of all people who knew about his Animagus form - and don't give me that look", he said sharply as Lupin opened his mouth to speak. "It seems Pettigrew wasn't very good at keeping secrets after all. He had bragged in front of his brother that he could turn into a rat, and Merlin knows where this guy let it slip in turn! I wasn't able to determine who else knows of Black's canine talents, but there's a considerable risk that Pettigrew didn't remain silent on this matter, either."
"His brother, then", Shacklebolt's deep soothing voice reverberated through the room. "I don't think he had the opportunity to tell it many people. We have been observing him since Sirius's escape. He seemed a likely victim", he explained in a steady voice meeting Black's eyes levelly, "you were supposedly deranged and murderous."
Black's mouth curled up in a brief mirthless smile.
"He was a Squib, wasn't he", Lupin said pensively. "It seems very unlikely that anyone would believe his story, in any case - as far as I know he went to live with Muggles. Became a taxi driver. His father never quite recovered from the shock."
"How do you know all these things?" Black asked astounded. Lupin smiled.
"I did listen to Peter, you know, Sirius", he said calmly.
"Not well enough, apparently", Black bristled at the unspoken approach. "You should have paid more attention to what he was saying and to whom he was saying it -"
"As fascinating as it is to witness your reminiscent get-together", cut in Snape, "it'll do for now. I'm sure you'll have plenty of time for a friendly chat later.
"As I was saying, Pettigrew's brother was aware of the secret. Consequently, he had to die. It would be highly unwise of your friend to let him stay alive - he could have been used as a witness to release Black from his charges."
"If you don't stop calling him our friend this instant, I swear I will feed your foul tongue to Buckbeak", Black said in a very low and even voice.
"One day", Lupin's voice sounded uncharacteristically venomous, "I will gladly watch you two having a go at each other. At the moment, however, we cannot afford losing either of you, so would you please keep your hostility at bay as much possible."
Shacklebolt raised one eyebrow, surprised at Lupin's unusual edginess, and turned to Snape. "You spoke of a 'hunt'. This implies there are more people Pettigrew will want to silent. Do you know of any?"
"As I said, I haven't gathered any more information regarding individual victims yet. But I thought it wisest to inform you before the next meeting of the Order that the Animagus secrets are no longer quite as secret. Some people", a nasty glance at Black, "are known to act on impulse and might find it tempting to take unnecessary risks. And we have to create a plan that will help us save the lives of people who might just have been unfortunate enough to be among Pettigrew's listeners. Can you two think of anyone he was in touch with?"
Snape and Lupin exchanged a long look. Black shifted uncomfortably, sighed and sat down heavily, flattening his palms against the worn surface of the table. "I don't know. He didn't have many friends, at school. And later - we weren't that much in touch, only through the Order, really. But it isn't very likely he told anyone in the Order, especially if he was already working for Voldemort. You're better informed, Remus, can you think of anyone he could have spoken to?"
Lupin shook his head and followed Black's example to take a seat. "Members of the Order are obviously quite out of the question. We don't know anything about his contacts among Voldemort's supporters, obviously, and they know about Padfoot and Wormtail anyway. He was seeing this girl, just before I went to the Continent - you know, on this mission for Dumbledore - but I don't remember her name. Clarissa, I think... No. Larissa."
"Wormtail was seeing a girl? Now, that's news", Black made no effort to mask the sarcasm in his voice. "But he surely didn't show her the rat if he tried to impress her. It would be rather counterproductive."
"Does Voldemort believe the story Kingsley was feeding the Daily Prophet about Sirius's having been spotted in, what, Honolulu?" Lupin cut in quickly before Snape could open his mouth to speak.
"I don't think so. Believe it or not, Black isn't the Dark Lord's main concern. He frankly doesn't care much about what Black is doing."
"I'll try to find out about Pettigrew's contacts. After his assumed death, the Ministry had compiled a record about him and I'm sure I can gain access to it," said Shacklebolt.
"That's exactly why I wanted an Auror to be informed - you can act where none of us can. I'm done. I found it important to tell you about the danger resulting in Pettigrew's secret-keeping abilities straightaway, and I was asked by Albus to make Black realise the danger he's in when he leaves the house, but the rest can wait until the next meeting. There's nothing more that concerns you directly."
Shacklebolt nodded a curt 'Goodbye' and was gone, closely followed by Snape, who did not waste the opportunity to offer Black a last disdainful look. Lupin and Black remained alone.
"Spare me, Remus. Just - spare me!" Black raised up so suddenly that his chair crashed to the floor. "I'm going to feed Buckbeak."
The kitchen door slammed shut behind him. Lupin remained seated for a long time, staring into the falling darkness with unseeing eyes.
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