Title: Who Shall Gnaw Thee First
Beta: Polly Bywater and Nienna Ciryatan
My website: http://maxinehouse.divineway.net/index.htm
Disclaimer: The characters you recognize aren't mine, J.K. Rowlings and her associates own them. The characters you don't know came from my imagination. I was wondering if they'd play nice together, so I tried it just for fun.
Warnings: Other than me not portraying Albus Dumbledore as completely kind and wonderful, I can't think of anything. Slight OOC for Remus, because well… read the summary.
Summary: After a three-year absence, Remus Lupin returns to Hogwarts a different person.
This was written for the "Master and the Wolf" FQFhttp://chance.slashcity.net/masterandthewolf/index2.html.
Challenge 21) Where are the lycanthropes/werewolves from, how were they created? They were wise and powerful creatures once, not dark, dangerous and hated. It was so long ago everybody forgot this. Remus comes back to Hogwarts as a changed man, what happened? How will Snape react?
Note: Early Native American stories tell of heroes who were possessed by the "spirits" of animals. Gaelic legends talk about men who can assume the form of animals. All of these legends are referring to the same creature; Lycanthropes. This unusual "race" was formed when Servitors of Jordi had offspring with humans. These new souls, not human, celestial or animal, but all of these combined became what we call lycanthropes.http://www.sjgames.com/in-nomine/articles/Settings/lycanth.html
Extra note: The legend spoken of in this section came purely from my imagination. The names of those involved came from the same place. I mean no disrespect to anyone, anywhere. I am of Irish descent myself and choose to use their love of folklore to help form the legend.
"And wolves are gnawing who shall thee first…" King Henry the Sixth, Act III, Scene I, line 195 – William Shakespeare.
The sable-haired, hazel-eyed man stepped off of Hogwarts Express and smiled as the familiar smells assaulted his senses. Remus Lupin was back after being away for so long, yet he wasn't the same person that left. This Remus Lupin was no longer the haggard, weary looking man with the patched clothes and shaggy hair. In his place stood a dashing man dressed in a dark chocolate linen suit, with a caramel colored silk shirt. The cloak he wore was made of fine wool, chocolate and white pinstriped. His hair fell midway down his back, gathered together by a platinum Celtic conch clasp. As for the man himself, his stance was that of a gentleman, dignified with a great sense of purpose, confident. As Remus walked towards the Hogwarts carriages, those around him could see the demand for respect in his stride, the assertive nature that poured from him.
Definitely not the Remus Lupin that had walked away from the school of his youth and everything he'd held dear to him three years earlier. He'd left it all behind soon after he lost the last of his close friends. The day Sirius Black died, Remus felt yet another piece of him go to the 'great beyond', also. As soon as he knew Harry was settled and being looked after by the other members of the Order, Remus approached Albus Dumbledore and told him he wanted out. He needed to get out from under everything crashing in around him. Once he'd left, Remus admitted he was glad for the release; it was time to focus his attentions elsewhere.
To say the headmaster wasn't pleased would be an understatement. Albus, not being one who was above manipulation or even blackmail, tried everything within his power to get Remus to remain a member of the Order. Remus politely but emphatically refused. He didn't feel he owed the headmaster much in the way of an explanation of his plans, but Remus did tell Dumbledore that he wanted to do some research that could, in fact, help the Order in their fight against Voldemort. To do this, though, Remus would have to be free to travel when and where he desired. Something he couldn't do if he was on missions or spending time in meetings that weren't truly producing results.
Reluctantly, Albus finally agreed to grant Remus a sabbatical from his duties within the Order, with the stipulation that he stay in contact with the headmaster. Remus accepted the condition, but decided mentally it would, again, be on his terms, not Albus Dumbledore's. So, over the next three years Remus did communicate with the headmaster, sporadically. Sometimes he'd send a brief 'I'm fine' note, other times thirty page reports on certain aspects of his research. Yet nothing ever truly indicated what exactly Remus was doing.
Now, here he was, ready to face all those who, in the past, had looked at Remus Lupin – werewolf, monster- with scorn and disgust, with a new sense of self and purpose. He hadn't lied when he said his research could help in the fight against Voldemort, now he had the proof to back that claim.
Voldemort preyed on the weakness of others; werewolves and vampires were among the groups that the Dark Lord believed disadvantaged because of the prejudice against them in the world. Remus was positive that once his findings were made known to the wizarding world, that view would change. Just as Remus himself had changed.
He found himself chuckling as he took in the stares he received from the youngsters and the teachers who were there to greet the returning children. He could see the awe on the students' faces, and something that looked like recognition from the teachers.
A loud voice cut through the whispers. "Professor Lupin?"
He turned toward the voice and smiled. "Hagrid, good to see you. How are you?" Remus asked as he approached the half giant.
"Blimey! It *is* you! I'm good, Professor. But you look a sight better 'an good." Hagrid openly appraised the younger man before him.
"Thank you, Hagrid," he laughed. "I do feel quite wonderful. How are things at Hogwarts? I'm afraid I haven't kept up with what's been happening around there for the last three years."
"As well as could be, Professor, considerin'."
"Hagrid, please call me Remus. I haven't been a teacher in a long time."
"A'right. So, what brings ya back to us?"
"Ah, that as they say, is a secret at the moment, Hagrid. But I promise all will be revealed soon."
"I understand 'bout secrets, Prof.… Remus, I'm sure if I need to know, you or the headmaster will tell me. Now, you'll be at the school fer a bit?" Remus nodded. "Good, I need to get the first years on the boats. I'll see ya at the school, then."
"Of course, Hagrid. Mustn't keep the children waiting. I shall see you later."
Remus climbed into one of the carriages, and immediately it left the others behind and headed for the school. Most unusual, Remus thought. Perhaps his arrival wouldn't be exactly a surprise to Albus. Old bugger knew far too much for his own good, or Remus' comfort. The trip was made swiftly and quietly; Remus appreciated the fact that he was alone. He took the time to gather his thoughts, making decisions as to what he would actually share with Dumbledore, and what he'd keep to himself for the time being. He knew the meeting would be tense but Albus would get over his problem or he wouldn't. Remus no longer cared if anyone, including the famed Professor Dumbledore, showed displeasure with him.
Remus arrived at the castle and headed directly to the gargoyle leading to the Headmaster's office. When the statue opened and allowed Remus to step in, he, again, had the distinct feeling that his arrival was not unexpected. The sight of the headmaster standing at the top of the stairs wearing a well-placed smile that didn't reach his eyes was the clincher.
"Headmaster," Remus nodded as he stepped off the top step and into Albus' office.
"You are looking quite well, Remus. The years have been quite good to you, I'd say." Albus turned and walked behind his desk. "Have a seat, please."
Remus sat across from Albus, never taking his eyes off of the older wizard. "You look a bit tired, Albus. Is everything all right?"
"I'm well. Although, things are becoming more tense. Never mind that now," he waved off the concern. "Tell me, are you home for good? Or is this just a brief visit?"
"No, I'm here to stay. That is, if you still require my assistance."
"We need all the help we can get, Remus. So, you've decided your sabbatical is over?"
"I'm done with my research," Remus said cryptically.
"I see. From your correspondence and your appearance it would seem that whatever your research was, things have changed for you. Will you tell me now?"
"I believe I can do that."
"Yes, thank you. I am parched."
Once Albus had handed Remus the cup of sweetened tea, they both sat back for a long discussion.
"When I left three years ago, it began as a personal quest. A pursuit to find answers that no one in Britain could give me. I'd always had something nudging at the back of my brain; something telling me that all was not as it seemed. When I said my research would help in the war against Voldemort, that was partially true, at the very least, it would help *me*. But, as it turned out, what I found might just turn the tide of this war in our favor. That is, if certain people are willing to accept what I found as truth, which it is."
"I'm sure that no one will dispute your findings, Remus."
"Even when they are told that lycanthropes used to be revered as holy, spiritual creatures? When they learn that until the late seventeen hundreds werewolves, vampires and a few other shapeshifters were considered a blessing to have in a community?"
Albus sat for a few minutes, contemplating what Remus had just said, in conjunction with the newfound dignity that oozed from the younger man.
"I believe that there'll be some resistance," Albus admitted honestly. "But as long as your research is backed with well-documented evidence, I'm sure they'll come around."
"My findings *are* well-documented and interestingly enough, I didn't have to look too deeply. Most of what I found was just below the surface. Hidden in plain sight, if you will."
Albus' eyebrow raised; "If that's so, why did you stay away for so long?"
"I didn't find it right away. It did take some doing, a bit of manipulation to get to the right people. I also took the time to claim what was rightfully mine. It would seem that there was a fortune laying in wait for me to claim. The lycanthrope who turned me left his entire estate in my name. I was the only one he'd ever attacked. I also learned that once one is bitten, it is only during the initial transformation that a werewolf, or a vampire, for that matter, actually feels the need to attack. Unless, of course, they feel threatened."
"I didn't know that," Albus commented.
"That was one of the pieces of information I found buried just below the crap spawned by fear."
"But what about the Wolfsbane potion?"
"It does help werewolves maintain their humanity, in that they remember who they are while transformed. Ensuring that if anyone they know approaches them; the werewolf will not feel threatened. It also has more of a medicinal purpose. The potion relieves a good bit of the pain humans suffer after the transformation."
"So, it protects the werewolf, not others?"
"In a sense, yes. The reason I tried to assault Severus all those years ago was because his scent was one the werewolf wasn't familiar with. I wasn't attacking him, but defending myself from a perceived act of violence."
"I'm sure that will be a comfort to him," Albus said, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"Albus, I will *not* rehash the past with *you*. I had no knowledge of Sirius' plan, as you well know. I will, however, attempt to once again explain my actions to Severus."
"That might be a bit difficult at the moment, Remus. Severus hasn't reported back since he was last summoned by Voldemort," Albus informed him.
"What?" Remus jumped out of his chair. "Have you sent anyone to find him?" He growled.
"Our sources inside Voldemort's camp haven't seen him. A check at his private residence yielded nothing," Albus offered, off-handedly in Remus' opinion.
"Unbelievable!" Remus roared. "Nothing has been done! I can tell by your tone!" Remus' growl became more threatening. Albus pushed himself back in his chair as he watched the younger man's face change slightly, revealing the wolf inside.
"Remus, calm yourself!" Albus ordered.
"I will *not* calm myself. One of ours is missing. True, someone whom many feel is expandable. Not worthy of their time. But still ours, none the less, and you do *nothing*." As each word exited the seething Remus' mouth, his features changed more, until the wolf was now in control. Albus felt himself shudder.
"Remus, I've done all I could, without revealing the other spies or compromising Severus' position."
"What makes you think he hasn't already been compromised? How do you know Voldemort hasn't figured it out and is torturing Severus at this very moment?"
Remus then took a deep breath, while his body slowly released the tension and he began to look like Remus again. Albus could still see the wolf around the edges.
"I… we don't," Albus said weakly.
"Fine! I'll go and find out for myself. Severus is far too important to be left within Voldemort's clutches because your sense of what should and shouldn't be done is screwed up."
"Remus, you can't just walk into Voldemort's camp and demand the whereabouts of Severus."
"Watch me!" With that, Remus stalked out of the headmaster's office, leaving Albus to actually fear for anyone who would get in Remus' way.
Before he realized it, Remus was standing in front of Severus' private rooms. While he knew the other man wasn't on the other side of the door, Remus was certain he could get a sense of where Severus might be. That was just one of his many newly discovered talents. Well, not exactly new, just honed to the point that Remus could use them at will.
Just has he raised his hand to the door; Remus heard a noise to his left. Turning quickly, he came face to face with Draco Malfoy.
"Professor Snape isn't in," the young Malfoy informed him.
"I see. And you know this how?" Remus asked sarcastically.
"Doesn't matter, just know he isn't there." Draco cocked his head to the side, as if studying the man in front of him. "The werewolf? My, you've changed. Why are you looking for the Professor anyway?"
"Quite the observant one, aren't we, Mr. Malfoy? As for why I am looking for Professor Snape, I don't see how that is any of your business."
"Perhaps, but then I could say that my knowing where you might find him, isn't any of yours, couldn't I?"
"Mr. Malfoy, I'm not in the mood for games. If you know where I might find Professor Snape or have any information as to how I can locate him, spit it out, *now*," Remus growled.
Draco shuddered visibly. "Look for him in the Forbidden Forest. There's a downed Willow about half a kilometer behind Hagrid's hut," he whispered. "Oh, and he will need medical attention."
"How do you know this?"
Remus turned to leave, then stopped and looked back at Draco. "Inform the headmaster that I'll need assistance."
"I'll go and tell Madam Pomfrey that Professor Snape will need her in his quarters."
"Professor Dumbledore should be told."
"I'll leave that to you. Informing Madam Pomfrey is more important."
"The headmaster is one of the good guys, Draco."
"Is he?" Draco shrugged.
Remus left pondering Draco's question, but not for too long. More importantly right now was finding Severus. He followed Draco's instructions and within ten minutes he found the willow and Severus' body. He'd been dumped unceremoniously on the floor of the forest, most likely left to die from the look of things. Remus scooped up the other man and made his way back to the castle.
Remus chose not to go through the main hall, opting instead for a private passageway he remembered from his teaching days. He headed down to Severus' quarters, where he was met by the medi-witch. If Poppy was surprised by Remus' appearance, she didn't show it. Her concern was wholly for the Potions master at the moment. Poppy waved her hand over the handle of the door she was standing in front of then motioned Remus to go in.
"Through the second door, Mr. Lupin. Place him carefully on the bed," Madam Pomfrey directed Remus quietly. "Has he been unconscious the whole time? Yes, I'm sure he has been," she answered her own question. "Go back through the sitting room, to the left you'll find the bathroom. On one of the shelves there should be a green vial, I'll need that, and also there should be a short cream colored jar. Bring that, too."
Remus followed her orders without question. He found the requested items and returned quickly.
As he stepped back into the bedroom, he heard a groveled voice proclaim; "Stop hovering, woman."
"I'll hover as long as I like, Severus," she snapped.
"Severus, let her do her job. You can bitch later," Remus added.
"Lupin?" Severus looked over at Remus. "Is that you? I must say Black's absence has done you a world of good."
Remus' eyebrow raised; "Voldemort using your body for curse target practice has done nothing for your disposition, I see."
"You two can finish your one-upmanship session when I'm done," Poppy interjected. She began checking Severus over. She frowned, and Remus watched, concerned, as she scanned the prone man a second, then a third time.
"Something wrong, Poppy?" Remus asked.
"I'm not quite sure," she answered.
Severus' eyes snapped open; he had laid back and relaxed when the medi-witch had started her probing.
"What have you found?"
"As I just told Remus, I'm not quite sure. I can't pinpoint if there is actually a problem or not."
"Severus, would you mind if I had a look at you?" Remus asked cautiously.
"What makes you think you can figure out what's wrong with me, when a trained medi-witch can't?"
"One of my newly honed abilities," Remus offered.
"I'm not sure I understand, Lupin."
"One of the abilities lycanthropes have is healing others. I never understood why my body didn't show more of the abuse I wreaked upon it. I now know that it's because of what I am. Lycanthropy offers a binding power among wizards that enhances their ability to heal not only themselves, but also others," he explained. "One of the things I'm now capable of doing is reading magical injures. While I can't say that I'd be able to rid your body of whatever is causing the problem, I could find out what it is and Poppy might be able to treat you for it."
Severus laid there are a few minutes, obviously contemplating this information.
"Very well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt," Severus conceded.
Slowly Remus began the process, running his hands just above Severus' body, starting from his head and working his way downward. Several times, Remus stopped at a particular spot and began murmuring in what Poppy believed was Gaelic. She'd heard the language years earlier when she was in training.
Nearly ten minutes later, Remus sat abruptly in the chair behind him. He was clearly exhausted, but seemingly pleased with himself. He took a few deep breaths, swallowed some water Poppy had gotten for him.
"The dark mark confused me for a bit, it kept radiating magic throughout the process. But, I did find that there is a curse within your aura, Severus." Remus said. "It's located in the intestinal tract. I'm not sure what its purpose it, but it is interfering with your body's absorption of the potions Poppy gave you. It needs to be removed it in order for you to truly recuperate."
"Do you know what the curse is?" Poppy asked.
"No, I can't quite get it. Honestly this is all new to me. My ability for healing was the last one I worked on before leaving Ireland. But I believe Bill Weasley might be able to help."
"Why not ask Albus? He can break curses. He's helped Severus before," Poppy suggested.
"This curse isn't new, Poppy. Meaning it wasn't placed on Severus recently. From what I can read it's been there for at least a year."
"What? How can you tell?"
"All magic has a sort of imprint; the older the spell, charm or curse is, the larger the imprint becomes. Think of it as rings of life you would see in a felled tree. You can tell how old a tree is by the number of and thickness of each ring. For example, the dark mark has six distinctive 'rings'; the middle or first ring has four loops within it. That tells me that Severus took the mark twenty-four years ago. That's the easiest way to describe it.
"The imprint of the curse within his intestines has one loop, giving me the impression that it's been there roughly a year. Have you had any problems with your stomach in the past year, Severus?"
"Nothing that I felt was alarming. I put it down to the stress I've been under."
"Yet blander foods seem to be okay? Eating lighter?" Remus inquired.
"Yes," Poppy answered for Severus, much to his dismay. "And I nagged him about it. He's far too thin as it is. He claimed he was too busy at times to eat, saying that he needed to work on various things for the Order and filling my stores. I should've been more persistent."
"And I would have still ignored you," Severus growled. "I have been busy. Eating isn't on my list of important, necessary things to do. It's not as though I don't eat at all. Albus makes sure I receive food, if I don't show up for meals."
"I still don't understand why we just can't ask Albus for help," Poppy said.
"Because if he'd been the one to help you in the past, it's obvious he couldn't detect the curse. Or he misread it."
"Albus Dumbledore missed something? I find that difficult to believe, Remus."
Severus snorted but said nothing. If one were to look carefully, they'd realize that he was too busy processing the new and improved Remus Lupin.
"I'm not saying that he did miss it. He could've very well believed it wasn't a concern. Unless you were looking specifically for something, this one would go unnoticed. At first, I thought it was a natural abnormality. Like an ulcer or some other stomach ailment. But it didn't feel quite right, so I searched further."
"How is it that you were able to decipher it and Albus couldn't?" Poppy was still a bit confused and upset that the headmaster had missed or been unconcerned about a possible curse placed upon her nephew.
"Part of my nature, my abilities have been honed differently. Although I'm sure if an expert had looked, it would have been detected sooner. By an expert, I mean someone like Bill Weasley, a curse-breaker. Albus isn't a curse-breaker, it's a specialized field of magic. I'm sure Bill would even tell you he's still learning after all these years."
"So, we should owl Bill immediately," Poppy said, then stood up as if to leave.
"I'm supposed to speak to Arthur later. He might be able to get in touch with Bill quicker," Remus offered.
"There's no immediate danger by waiting?" Severus asked.
Remus shook his head. "No, I don't believe so. The curse is fairly benign in that you're still able to absorb nutrition and such, just at a slower rate."
"I really must be going," Poppy stated. "The feast will be starting soon."
"All right. I have some things I need to discuss with Severus, if you don't mind the company that is."
"If you insist," Severus said.
"Thank you again, Remus. I appreciate your assistance." With that Poppy made to leave. When she reached the door of the bedroom, she stopped and turned back to the two younger wizards. "Remus, may I speak to you outside just for a moment?"
"Of course," Remus said, then he stood and left the room with the medi-witch, leaving behind a grumbling Potions master.
"What can I do for you, Poppy?"
"Did Albus tell you that this was the third time in as many years that Severus has gone missing for a week at a time?" Poppy asked. "Always the week before school starts, only to be returned in time for the opening ceremony."
"No," Remus answered quietly. Making a mental note to have a long talk with the headmaster. "Albus didn't bring it up. Actually his manner of telling me of this disappearance was quite casual. Almost as an after thought. He only said something after I mentioned that there were things I wanted to discuss with Severus."
Poppy snorted, "I'm not surprised," she said. "Sometimes Albus loses sight of the human aspect of this war. The only thing on his mind is outsmarting Tom Riddle."
Remus fumed silently. His respect for the headmaster was decreasing by the minute.
"Poppy, you have my word as a wizard and a lycanthrope that Severus will never need to go back among that slime again."
The medi-witch had no real idea what Remus had just promised, but she would learn soon enough.
"Please make sure Severus rests as much as possible. That's the only thing that will help him at this point."
"I will do my best, Poppy. You know better than I that Severus doesn't do what he's supposed to, all the time."
"Thank you, Remus," she smiled. "Oh, and may I say that you are looking quite dashing. Wherever you've been these past few years and whatever you've been doing, it looks good on you."
Remus returned the smile. "Why thank you, madam. I'm glad you approve."
"I do, greatly. One of these days, I would love to know exactly what you've been doing for the past three years."
"I promise we'll have a chat very soon, and I'll tell you all about it," he grinned.
"Good, now if you'll excuse me."
"See you later, Poppy. Enjoy the feast," Remus smiled. He then went back into Severus' bedroom, where he found the other wizard attempting to get dressed. "Severus, what are you doing?" Remus rushed over and put his hand on Severus' arm to help steady him.
"As Poppy pointed out the Welcoming Feast will be starting soon. I must get ready," Severus informed him.
"Sweet Merlin, Severus. What in hell are you trying to prove? You are still recovering from an extended session with Voldemort, you need rest," Remus argued.
"I am a Professor at this school, my presence is required at the feast," he snarled.
"I believe you can, in good conscious, miss this one," the werewolf snapped back.
"I won't allow it to get back to the Dark Lord that I wasn't able to attend the Welcoming Feast."
"One of my students *will* tell their parents of my absence. Do you not think that, among them there are, at least, one or two supporters of Voldemort? It'll delight him far more than I wish, if he hears I didn't attend."
Remus sighed; he knew arguing with the Potions master about this would be fruitless. "I just promised Poppy you'd rest, going to the Starting Feast cannot be restful."
"I shall rest later," Severus growled.
"Fine, will you promise me that you'll come back to your rooms as soon as is acceptable? I really do wish to speak to you. There's so much I'd like to tell you about my time away, and all I've found out. Most of which wasn't in my letters."
"Why do you want to share this with me, Lupin? Exchanging a few of letters over a couple years doesn't make us best friends."
"Severus, you are one of the only ones I can think of that will appreciate and possible use some of the information I gathered." Deciding to be honest and play on Severus' ego a bit, Remus added; "Besides, I feel as if I owe you for making Liam's year by being willing to correspond with him. He truly is a remarkable man, and he thinks the world of you. More so now, because of the instruction you gave him over the past two and a half years."
Severus took a moment, apparently contemplating what Remus had said.
"Very well, I won't stay long at the feast and we can have this discussion you wish to have when I return. I'll also allow you to remain here, in my study for the time being. Just don't go poking where you shouldn't, I won't be held responsible for you being injured because you tripped one of my wards."
"Thank you, Severus," Remus smiled. "Do you need any help getting ready?"
"Don't be ridiculous," he snorted.
"Well then, I will leave you to it. I'm going to speak to Albus and send off a couple of owls."
As he made his way back to Albus' office, Remus went over the day's events in his head. Not exactly how he expected his first day back to go. But then again, when it came to dealing with the people whom at one point were his whole world, nothing ever did go as planned.
When he arrived back at his first stop in Hogwarts, Remus found the gargoyle was already open. He walked up the stairs back to the headmaster's office. What or rather whom he found inside surprised him. Lucius Malfoy, accompanied by his son, occupied two of the chairs across from Dumbledore.
"So, it's true. The prodigal werewolf has returned," Lucius sneered. "I thought Draco imagined it."
"Malfoy, I can't say it's a pleasure to see you either," Remus sniped.
"Remus, have a seat. Lucius and Draco were just telling me an interesting tale. Perhaps you'd like to sit in on the discussion," Albus said. Remus would have sworn it was an order, but he didn't care.
"Actually, no thank you. I just came to let you know that the problem we talked about earlier has been solved, quickly I might add. I did have something I wanted to discuss with you, but it can wait until tomorrow."
"Surely you can spare a minute of your precious time, werewolf," Lucius goaded.
"I'd watch my tone, Malfoy. You might find that my response to certain perceived actions… unpleasant," he growled back.
"Lucius, Remus, there's no need to get each other's hackles up," Albus intervened.
"I apologize, Albus, Malfoy. But if you'll excuse me, I have a few messages to send, that is if it's all right with you to use a couple of school owls."
"Of course, Remus. Whatever you need," Albus assured him.
"Thank you. Good night." Remus turned on his heels and left the office quickly. He needed to get away from the occupants of that room swiftly. He had felt the wolf raising inside, born of anger at both the adults present. Albus, for his seemingly uncaring attitude towards Severus' well being. Remus had no doubt that the headmaster knew the moment Remus returned after finding the Potions master. Yet, he chose to keep company with a known supporter of the Dark Lord's, Lucius Malfoy. Remus' resentment came from the fact that the man was still breathing. Especially when Sirius was no more because of Lucius and his 'friends'.
Shaking off that train of thought, Remus went to the owlery and sent off his letters: one to Harry. He hoped the young man wasn't too angry with him for the desertion three years earlier. Dumbledore had told Remus that he'd spoken to Harry and Harry understood Remus' need to get away, but that didn't stop Remus from feeling apprehensive. Well, if the younger wizard had the desire to rant and rave at Remus for leaving, he could. Remus owed him that much.
Another letter was to Arthur Weasley; Remus wanted to spend time coordinating with the new Minister of the Health and Welfare of Magical Creatures before he presented his findings to the Ministry as a whole. Remus also included the need to speak to Bill as soon as possible but didn't say why. He was positive the curse-breaker could help Severus better than Remus could, at this point. Remus was honest when he said he wasn't comfortable with using his healing abilities on Severus. But, also he was concerned that Severus had only allowed Remus to scan him because Poppy was there. He'd decided to offer all of his research to Severus, in an attempt to show the Potions master that Remus trusted him more than anyone else.
Two letters were sent to Ireland, letting certain ones there know that Remus had arrived safely and his tentative schedule for the time being. There was a longing to return to his new home, that Remus couldn't rid himself of, but he knew he needed to be here to help in the fight against Voldemort. Remus had promised himself and his newfound friends he wouldn't be away for longer than necessary. He truly had come to love Ireland, its people and his place there.
When he was done, Remus decided to take a walk around the grounds, to refamiliarize himself with his old haunts. During his tour, Remus wondered how Severus would react to an invitation to visit Remus' home in Montshannon. There weren't many Remus wanted to share his new sanctuary with; Severus was one and the other was Harry. He laughed internally, when had these two people become the most important, most treasured beings in Remus' world?
Remus wanted to right some wrongs of his own towards the Potions master. Something he had begun almost three years earlier. At first, Remus sent correspondence through his liaison in Ireland. Liam McLocklin, a fine potions maker in his own right, was all too happy to contact one of Britain's top Potions masters, even if Severus Snape was underappreciated by his fellow colleagues. When given the opportunity to converse with the creator of Wolfsbane and refiner of Veritaserum, Mr. McLocklin was ecstatic. Remus cautioned Liam to always be honest and forthright with Professor Snape. If there was one thing anyone could say about the Hogwarts Potions master, it was that he abhorred dishonesty.
So, when Severus Snape, Potions master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry received his first correspondence from Liam McLocklin, potions maker and alchemist from Montshannon, County Clare, Ireland, he knew it was because Remus Lupin had suggested it. Mr. McLocklin explained that he was in contact with a few werewolves who were interested in obtaining the Wolfsbane Potion. As Mr. McLocklin had only ever read about the process, he hoped Professor Snape wouldn't mind if he asked a few questions and told the Potions master of his own results.
Severus answered quite quickly and eloquently that he saw no problem with exchanging ideas, not only about the Wolfsbane Potion but any other potion that Mr. McLocklin was curious about. As Severus only ever had contact with one werewolf, he was intrigued to know whether or not all lycanthropes reacted the same way to the potion or if they required a more specialized potion.
So it was that over the next two and a half years, Liam and Severus became close colleagues and while Severus might not claim them friends, Liam did. Remus was surprised when he received his own short note from Severus, attached to one of Liam's, thanking him for the reference and a brief inquiry as to his own condition. After that, Remus would receive a letter every so often, at first attached to one for Liam. When Remus sent Severus a bit of information that he had found in his research, that could help Severus in his own, the two began sending letters back and forth without the middle man. Remus was pleased when that development occurred, and although Severus never asked why he was in Ireland or exactly what his research was, it was good to be in contact with someone who wasn't demanding Remus to return.
Now walking within the hollowed walls of Hogwarts, Remus felt anger at Albus for his continued abuse of Severus' loyalty. Remus was equally annoyed with himself for not having been around to intervene or help ease Severus' load. Most of all, Remus was frustrated as to why Severus would continue to put himself in the middle of danger, for tidbits of information that were questioned, doubted or ignored completely by the Order, because of their source. And why in hell were Lucius Malfoy and his son sitting in Albus Dumbledore's office like they belonged there? Especially when Albus should have been in the dungeons checking on Severus.
Remus' musing was interrupted by a noise from behind. He turned to find Severus walking up to him.
"The feast over already?"
"No, but as promised I took my leave as soon as was acceptable."
"With Poppy pushing you out the door, right?" Remus laughed.
"Damned woman is going to make me hex her one day for her meddling," Severus sneered.
"Severus, she cares for you. You're her nephew."
"Something she constantly points out to me," he snorted.
They made their way back to Severus' rooms quietly, each seemingly in deep contemplation. Once they arrived, Severus offered Remus a seat and a drink, both of which were accepted.
While Remus waited for Severus to join him, he felt a bit of apprehension. Where should he start? At the beginning? The reasons why Remus left or should he first discuss 'the incident'? Perhaps he should wait and see what comes to mind and go from there. He hoped however he perused this conversation it would all come out intelligently and coherently.
Severus handed Remus a glass, sat across from him and took a long drink from his own snifter, all the while keeping his eyes firmly on the other man.
"So, you said you wanted to speak to me," Severus said coolly.
Remus took a deep breath and began: "While I was away I learned that at one point werewolves, vampires and other shape-shifters were looked upon as the spiritual leaders in the wizarding world. They were highly revered and wholly in demand. If a lycanthrope chose to reside in a certain community, the town was considered holy. Anyone who entered it was to pay obeisance to the resident lycanthrope, if they wished to remain. There were hundreds who would flock to each town every year, seeking guidance or healing from the lycanthrope in residence.
"Up until the early seventeen hundreds that was true in most European and Asian countries. Then suddenly stories about werewolves attacking innocents started popping up. Soon after that, vampires became the target of wildly imaginative stories, as well. From what I could find, a Pureblood family who had insulted a resident werewolf in County Clare, Ireland, started all this. The legend states that a Pureblood named Barnabas Agrippa from England went into the town but didn't follow the laws of obeisance. He felt he was above the common folk. It's said that Mr. Agrippa claimed he would no sooner bow before a lycanthrope then he would a peasant.
"When word got back to the county's resident werewolf, a Mr. Jehoshua McMinagin, he banned the entire family from ever being welcome in all of Ulster. The Agrippa family leaned heavily on Ireland's many residents for their business. Word was passed around that Barnabas had insulted Mr. McMinagin, and soon all of Ireland showed their displeasure with the man. They found other merchants to do business with instead of the Agrippa family.
"When Barnabas saw just how much money he was losing because of the lack of trade coming from Ireland, he began a campaign of his own. He would mention in passing to a business associate, to be careful when they went to a certain town. He claimed to have heard rumors about people being found ripped to shreds by what seemed to be wolf like claws, emphasizing that these bodies were being located where no wolf had ever dare to tread; just outside city limits, or within small communities. He proceeded to state that it was interesting that in many of these places, bands of lycanthropes had recently traveled.
"Little by little, word spread, first throughout England, then Ireland and so forth. Soon the people began to fear all lycanthropes, even those they had known all of their lives. Over the course of about twenty years the clans of werewolves went from being considered holy to being thought of as flesh eating devils who needed to be put to death.
"The Agrippa family never regained the business status they had before, but Barnabas was willing to forego the profit loss for the satisfaction in knowing that all lycanthropes were worse off than his family was. There were, however, some within the communities who never actually folded to the masses' demands of death to all lycanthropes. *They* kept their spiritual leaders in high regard, even though they had to do it in secret for well over two hundred years. They kept the scrolls, the legacy, and the names of all the lycanthropes before and since that time."
Severus sat through the story with a look of pure fascination on his face. Finally, he spoke with quiet reverence: "And you have taken your rightful place among them, haven't you?"
"Yes. The lycanthrope who turned me left everything that was his in my name. Antaine Considine lived in County Clare, in the town of Montshannon. He had been traveling through England, on business, during a full moon. He believed he'd be safe in the forest not far from my home. *I* truly was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He felt extremely guilty, according to his diary. Once he found out what had happened and who I was, he returned home and never left his home again during the week of the full moon." Remus paused for a moment then took a deep breath.
"Which brings me to an explanation I believe is long overdue. I know I have apologized several times over the years for my part in what's come to be known as the Shrieking Shack incident." Remus held up his hand when he saw Severus open his mouth to speak. "Please, let me finish." Severus nodded. "I know that you realized I had no knowledge of Sirius' stupid plan to scare you, but I feel you should know why the wolf tried to attack you. As a rule, lycanthropes only ever feel the *need* to attack during the first change. It's been explained to me that it's a primal reaction to the physical and psychological metamorphosis. After that, unless they feel threatened, usually because there is a human nearby they don't recognize, they do *not* attack at will. All lycanthropes are pack orientated, even vampires. Generally when werewolves change they are within a group of people they are familiar with. Surrounded by scents that they know.
"Antaine was alone when he attacked me, I've been told that if he been with even one other pack mate he would have never even noticed there was a stranger nearby. The very same thing happened that night you found me, I was alone and I didn't recognize your scent. The werewolf felt threatened by your presence." Remus let out a sigh; "at least that's how it was explained to me when I spoke of the incident. So, again you have my heartfelt apology for putting you in any danger. And if it makes you feel any better I never forgave Sirius for his stupidity, not even when he returned from Azkaban."
"It doesn't," Severus whispered. "But thank you just the same. It wasn't stupidity on Black's part alone. I knew but I went anyway. Well, I didn't know that you'd attack me, but I did know you were a werewolf.
That, however, is a tale for another time, I'm very interested in hearing more about your adventures."
Remus stared at him for a moment, stunned by this revelation. Then he shook his head in disbelief and began his story again.
"When I first went to Ireland, I wasn't even sure what I was looking for or what I'd find. I had heard of the Irish's love of folklore, their impeccable record keeping and strict retelling of all legends. I was in a small town, Whitegate, when I heard of the tale of the lycanthropes. One of the locals, a Thomas Gilligan, questioned me as to who I was and what I was doing in their town. When I explained that I was interested in the legends of lycanthropes. He asked why. I told him I'd been turned when I was eight. And since I graduated from Hogwarts, I'd been searching for a reason behind certain feelings and abilities I had, which were not in the supposedly knowledgeable books about the affliction.
"When he learned my name, he sent me to Mountshannon to see an Aghna Reilly. Once I found Mrs. Reilly, she informed me of Mr. Considine's desire for me to have all that was his. She also knew I was a wizard; Mr. Considine was one too. Actually Mountshannon is a wizard town. Would you believe that in Ireland wizards and muggles live together, in harmony? I was quite taken back by that bit of information," Remus chuckled.
"Anyway, Mrs. Reilly had been Mr. Considine's housekeeper for years and when he died she was with him. He made her promise she'd look for me in England. She had tried several times, but because she was muggle she was unable to get the help she needed. Mr. Considine died in nineteen ninety-four, Mrs. Reilly informed me that she had only come back from another fruitless trip to England six months prior to my showing up there.
"I spent some time going through all of Mr. Considine's things; I learned quite a lot while I was doing so. I met several wizards who were very pleased to help me. Liam McLocklin being one of them."
"I didn't realize all that you were doing," Severus said.
"It wasn't because I didn't trust you that I didn't tell you, Severus. It was because for some time I had no idea where it was all going to lead. In my three-year absence from Britain I learned so much about lycanthropes and myself. I'm not the same person that left after Sirius died. I'm better, stronger and more in tune with what I was meant to be. First and foremost I am no longer ashamed of being a werewolf. I don't have that fear that I lived with for over thirty years. My only concern is that I won't be able to convince certain members of *our* community to put aside their own prejudices and see the truth in what I've found.
"If they do, it could mean the difference between us winning this war against Voldemort and not. If they don't, I'll leave England for good. I have a home and people who care for me in Montshannon. I'd prefer not to use that option, but I will. As much as I loved being in Ireland and among people who don't think of me as a monster, my heart is here."
Remus continued his tale of adventure for another hour, telling Severus excitedly about his new home and the people of the village. He described in great detail the land surrounding Considine Manor, the lush green pastures and the bluest skies Remus had ever seen. The friendliness of the locals and visitors from nearby towns, how he was taken in and accepted immediately. The lack of fear when someone discovered he was a werewolf, although some seemed insulted by the use of that word: they preferred the long kept tradition of lycanthrope. The entire time, Remus' face was aglow with a sense of peace, and his smile never dimmed.
Finally, he ran out of steam, seeing that Severus was truly tired. "That's the shorter version of the long one. I've bored you long enough," Remus chuckled.
"Not at all, I'm quite impressed with everything you've told me, Remus. I have a feeling there's more."
"So much more, but it's late and you should be resting. If you like I'll bring you all my papers and you can look them over. I do believe they'll be of help to you in some potions I know you and Liam spoke of."
"You'll allow me full access?" Severus was surprised.
"Of course. I think you of all people would appreciate them the most. I'm wary of actually handing them over to the Ministry at all, but if it can help in the fight against Voldemort…." Remus left the rest unsaid.
"Remus, you do realize that if you give any information to the Ministry, it's as good as giving it to Voldemort. Many of the higher ministers are under his control. Lucius Malfoy being one of them."
"I know. Speaking of which, when I went back to see Albus, Lucius and Draco were in his office. I didn't stick around to find out why, but I'll admit to being very uncomfortable."
"Draco is here under my tutelage, he asked for asylum the day he graduated, with his father's silent blessing. Albus and I came up with the idea of him being my student teacher. Draco was always quite good with potions, so it made sense. He wished not to follow in his father's footsteps, kowtowing to the Dark Lord. Although I believe Voldemort has been told that Draco is being primed to replace me as his potion maker. My services will be terminated," Severus snorted.
"So you have been compromised?"
"To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. Voldemort doesn't tell any one of us everything he knows or even suspects. Paranoia is his true name," Severus answered. "But, from my welcomes the last few times, I'd make an educated guess and say yes, the Dark Lord knows I'm not as loyal as I once was." Severus paused for a second, clearly thinking by the look on his face. "You said that the curse was benign, but it was interfering with my body's absorption of nutrients."
"Yes," Remus answered.
"Interesting. I believe that someone came up with the notion that if they could weaken me physically they just might be able to find out more information than they were originally receiving from me. Which would also explain why each time I was summoned this past year, I left more battered than the last. Where did you find me?"
"In the forest. Draco was the one to tell me where to look," Remus informed him.
"Lucius," Severus whispered. "I'll never truly understand his motivations in anything."
"You and I both know that Lucius Malfoy has always been a pragmatist. There's something in it for him."
"Quite true, only this time…." Severus fought back a yawn. "I'm sorry, Remus."
"No need to apologize, Severus. I'll leave you to rest. I'll drop by with my research tomorrow. Hopefully, Harry will contact me, if he's not upset. I'd like to spend the day with him."
"Mr. Potter is not upset or angry with you, Lupin. I've spoken to him a few times after receiving letters from you. He seemed quite pleased when I told him you appeared to be enjoying your sabbatical."
"You told him? Severus, I'm very surprised to say the least," Remus chuckled.
"We had many chances to speak over his last two years of schooling here. As I'm sure I told you I picked up his Occlumency lessons when he returned in his sixth year. Mr. Potter, more than anyone understood your need to get away. I believe that if he could've he would have joined you."
"Believe me, there were a few times I wanted to come back and whisk him away. Albus and you were not the only ones I had contact with. Tonks kept me quite informed of things going on." Remus shook his head. "I'll never understand why Albus was so adamant about Harry staying with those relatives of his, when it was clear that they didn't want him. I saw that when we dropped him off at King's Cross."
"The headmaster does things at times, that no one ever truly understands. One could only guess what goes on in the mind of Albus Dumbledore," Severus offered.
Remus snorted. "Too right that, I believe." He stood and gathered his cape; "I'll leave you to rest, Severus. Shall I come back tomorrow after classes end? To give you my papers?"
"Yes. My last class ends at four. I'll be in my office until the evening meal is served."
"Very well." Remus went to the door then turned back to Severus. "Perhaps you would join Harry and I for dinner, instead of taking it in the Great Hall? That is if you'd be so inclined to dine with two Gryfinndors," Remus smiled.
"We'll see what tomorrow brings."
"Very well. Tomorrow then, good night, Severus."
"Good night, Lupin."
Severus closed the door behind his departing guest, pressed his back against it, and let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding for the last minute or so. Being around the new improved version of Remus Lupin had worn on Severus' well-hidden emotions enough for one night. Dining with him and Mr. Potter the following day just might be more than Severus was willing to undergo in a month's time, let alone two days.
Severus was still in shock from the first sight of the werewolf after three years. He knew that Lupin had been going through some changes during his self-imposed exile, but not the extent to which those changes were. To spend anymore time alone with the other wizard Severus believed he'd have to brew at least a libido reducing potion. To emphasis his plight, the erection he'd been fighting off for the past hour made its presence known with abandon.
Pushing himself off the door, Severus went about his nightly routine, preparing for sleep. He was bone-weary and mentally exhausted. He wasn't sure he could continue his present life style much longer. If he had been compromised, which he believed was the case; his days of breathing were limited. Sometimes, he wondered if it would be best to end this lousy existence that he called his life. Although, dying at the hands of Death Eaters was *not* his idea of the proper way to go. At least not in the way he'd seen other disloyal members of the Dark Lord's band of 'merry makers'.
While listening to Remus describe his place in Ireland, Severus found himself wishing he had a hide away like that of his own. Someplace he could go to and forget all about his role in the insanity that had once again gripped Britain. A place of solitude and peace, where he could do research as Remus had; of course he'd be delving into potions. His communiqué with Liam McLocklin caused Severus to yearn for a simpler life. He couldn't stop himself from wondering if Remus would allow him to visit Considine manor someday, if Severus survived this war.
Severus crawled into his bed, called for the fire to burn a bit warmer and the torches for dim. Wrapping himself in his blankets, Severus found his way into his shell and fell asleep.
The next morning Remus went to see Albus again. He found the headmaster sitting comfortably in a chair, reading a parchment.
"Good morning, Remus. Did you sleep well?" Albus asked cheerfully.
"Good morning, Albus. Yes, I did. Thank you for the accommodations," he answered while taking a seat across from the older wizard.
"No trouble at all. Now, what can I do for you this morning?"
"I was wondering if it would be possible to use a vacant classroom this afternoon."
"Oh? May I ask why?"
"Arthur Weasley is coming by to go over some of my findings with me. We'll require a bit more table space than my room allows."
"I see. Of course, I'll have a house elf set up one of the empty classrooms on the third floor for you."
"Thank you, Albus, I appreciate it."
"No worries," Albus waved him off. "Now, tell me truly, how was Severus when you located him yesterday?" His voice filled with concern. "At the feast he did not look well, although I'm sure only Poppy and myself realized. Severus is very good at hiding many things."
"He was a mess when I found him. By all rights he shouldn't even be awake now, let alone within minutes of me bringing him into the castle."
"I should have come down last evening, when you brought him in. I couldn't, Lucius Malfoy showed up about the same time. He had a proposition for me that I needed to hear."
"And just what could Malfoy possibly have to offer?" Remus asked skeptically.
"He told me that Severus could no longer spy for the Order. While Voldemort doesn’t exactly know of his disloyalty, he has no further use of Severus. Lucius has offered to continue in Severus' place."
"You've got to be kidding me," Remus snorted. "Please tell me you didn't accept his offer. Malfoy has never done anything voluntarily. There's something in it for him. Plus I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw Hagrid."
"Remus, Lucius was the one who got Severus out before any further damage could be done. I'm quite aware that his offer comes with a price, continued protection for his son. When Draco graduated Lucius owled him and directed him to ask both Severus and myself for asylum. Lucius didn't want Draco to take the Dark Mark anymore then his son did. He has come to realize that allegiance with Voldemort is a mistake. He claims that Voldemort has become more irrational with each passing day."
"Severus told me last evening what transpired with young Mr. Malfoy. However, Lucius Malfoy was always a pragmatic person. When his side is losing, he runs to the winning side."
"Perhaps, but he willingly took Veritaserum to prove his intentions. I have to believe him," Albus stated warily.
"I would still be cautious of him, Albus. He could very well have taken something to counteract the Veritaserum."
"I'll keep that in mind. Now, what are your plans since you've decided to stay?"
"Well, for the time being, I want to finish organizing my research so it can be presented to the Ministry properly. I'd like to see Harry when it's convenient, also. Other than those few things, nothing. Why? Is there something you wish for me to do?"
"Not at the moment. Rest up, you've had a long journey, both distance wise and personally. I'm just glad you've returned. I must admit for a while I thought you wouldn't."
"I told you I'd be back. There were things I *needed* to finish first. Now that everything in Ireland has been taken care of, I am here for as long as I am needed and wanted."
"Would you be willing to tell me a bit about what happened while you were there? I know from what you told me yesterday that you've found tomes and such claiming the spiritual leadership among lycanthropes. I'm more interested in what has occurred with you personally. You look far better than I ever remember."
Remus spent some time explaining his inheritance and personal spiritual growth. But he decided not to inform Albus of a few of his newly honed abilities.
"What other powers have you discovered within yourself?"
"Ah, now I can't give away all my secrets, Albus, can I?" Remus chuckled.
"Are you able to change into your werewolf form at any time?"
"Why would you ask that?" Remus asked, a bit startled.
'Yesterday, when I informed you that Severus was missing, you became very angry. I saw the werewolf, Remus. This could be worrisome."
"No, it's not something anyone needs to worry about. Yes, I can change at will, I choose not to. Unfortunately, I was quite angry yesterday. But, at no time was the wolf in control. I doubt it will happen again while I'm here. I wasn't in the best condition physically. I was tired, hungry and anxious to be back after being gone for so long. There are still some ghosts that need to be laid to rest."
"How can we be sure, Remus? While I trust you to be careful, no one can say with any amount of certainty that a similar situation won't occur."
"You have my word, Albus. It *will* *not* happen again," Remus stressed.
"Very well," Albus said as he stood. "It's almost time for breakfast, will you be joining us today?"
"I think I should keep a low profile for the time being. There's no need to cause you any undue problems with the board or the ministry." Remus stood. "I expect Arthur around noon time and hopefully when we're done, I'll be meeting with Harry."
"All right then. Enjoy your morning, I'll see you later."
When Remus returned to his room, he found Hedwig waiting for him. The owl offered up her leg with a note attached. Remus took the note and conjured up a treat for the bird. He then sat next to her and read the note, while she ate.
The letter confirmed that Harry would come to the school, which pleased Remus greatly. He truly missed Harry these past three years. Putting the note aside, he set about reading through his papers, deciding on what was most important for Arthur and for Severus to read. Before he realized that the time had flown by, a house elf popped into his room informing him that Mr. Weasley had arrived as was at the moment speaking to the headmaster. Remus thanked the elf, gathered up his notes and made his way to the third floor class Albus had provided for him.
Arthur arrived shortly after Remus and they set about scanning and discussing Remus' findings; comparing them to the laws and statues within the Ministry pertaining to werewolves and other shape shifters.
Arthur Weasley couldn't contain his excitement at the prospect of presenting this new information. As he read through the scrolls, the new Minister for the Care of Magical Creatures expressed his pleasure at being able to 'shove this under their noses'.
"You know Arthur, Severus pointed out that by handing this over to the Ministry, You Know Who would be able to access it. Perhaps we're being hasty in sharing everything with the general populace," Remus voiced his concern.
"I have no doubt that one of my colleagues will jump at the chance to pass this information along to You Know Who, but do you really want to keep it all under wraps? I mean your research is amazing and would go a long way to helping ones such as yourself. Just think Remus, to be able to obtain the right to work, marry, be accepted for who you are, an intelligent wizard. Instead of being looked down upon because of an accident, an accident that an eight year old could have never stopped," Arthur countered.
"I know. I understand what you're saying. After being among people who had no fear, some of which actually looking upon me as some kind of holy being, the temptation to see that happen here is overwhelming. Yet, I can't help feeling skeptical, especially in the face of dealing with Purebloods, they have a one-track mind and ideals that are difficult to change. And they have a tendency to ignore certain things in lieu of those notions.
"Followers of You Know Who seem to forget the fact that he is a half blood, because of his hatred for muggle born and half blood wizards and witches. That doesn't make sense, but his goals are theirs, purebloods only in the wizard world. People like Malfoy or LeStrange would rather die then accept that there are higher beings within the wizard community who aren't completely pureblood.
"I'm a pureblood by birth and by accident something more than that. As much as I desire everyone around me to accept me as a wizard and not a monster, I can't see Lucius Malfoy willingly bow before me in obeisance because of my lycanthrope status." Remus ran his hand over his face in frustration.
"Yes, I agree. Malfoy and others like him would go by the way of this Agrippa fellow. Believing they are better than those they share breathable air with. But, there are those who would be just as willing as the people in your village of Mountshannon to hold you in the regard fitting your stature. That is if they were aware of all you have found."
"I can only hope you're right, Arthur. For no other reason then to end this bloody battle with the Dark Lord sooner and without much more loss of life." Remus growled.
"Perhaps we should end this for now. You look tired and I have a meeting at three-thirty that I can't miss,' Arthur said.
Remus looked at the clock on the wall. "Good idea, I'm expecting Harry in a half hour. I should go and straighten up my room before he gets here."
"Well then, I'll leave you to your visit. We can pick this up on Saturday, if you like. I'd already told Molly that I'd probably be busy with you for a few weeks, when I'm not working. She did ask me to tell you welcome home and she expects you to come to the Burrow for dinner very soon. I believe my wife has missed you," Arthur stated as he put his coat on.
"I've missed Molly, too. Actually I missed a good number of people. Please tell your lovely wife that I said hello, and I'll make every effort to come by to visit as soon as I can."
"I certainly will. I think she'll be quite pleased at the remarkable difference in you, Remus. You're looking quite well and well off," Arthur indicated to Remus' clothing for the day.
Today Remus had chosen a pair of black soft suede pants and boots, paired with a cream colored silk shirt. His hair, once again, pulled back at the nap of his neck in a leather tie.
"Thank you, Arthur. I've found that now that I can afford certain luxuries, I refuse to go without them. Clothing being one of them. After so long of having to make due with tattered wear, I've spoiled myself with the richer materials known to us."
"As you should. And there's no need to explain yourself to anyone your wants and desires. Some of us understand better than most what it's like to live on a tight budget. Now that we only have Ginny to concern ourselves with, Molly has found her old desire for some of the finer things she was used to in her younger days. Not overly greedy, mind you, but she has indulged in one or two items that before now we could have never dreamed of having," Arthur said with a smile.
"And of course you indulge Molly in her indulgence," Remus smiled back.
"But, of course," Arthur smiled. "My wife is a wonderful woman and deserves a treat now that we're getting on in years."
"Nonsense you aren't that old. You went to school with Lucius, don't tell him he's old," Remus laughed.
"Lucius Malfoy will go to his grave professing that he's ten years younger than he is," Arthur scowled.
"Yes, well, some of us like to delude ourselves with fairy tales," Remus chuckled. "Now, off with you. Go to your meeting and when you get home give Molly an extra kiss for me. One day I hope you both will be able to visit Considine Manor. I have no doubt you'd both love it."
"We look forward to it, I assure you. Good day, Remus," Arthur started to leave but stopped in the doorway. "Oh, before I forget, I spoke to Bill this morning. He said he'll be available Saturday, unless there's an emergency, if that's all right with you."
"Yes, Saturday will be fine, I don't believe there's a urgent need, just a problem I believe he could handle better than myself," Remus said.
"Very good, I'll let him know. He can come by with me. Have a pleasant afternoon."
"Bye, Arthur. Enjoy your evening," Remus called out after him. He then gathered up the scrolls, placed them in the book he stored them in, muttered a quick spell concealing everything and left the classroom.
Severus always hated the first day of class more than the rest of the year. Trying to accomplish anything that day was futile at best, the students' attention spans were at an all time low. Still on adrenaline highs from their summer vacation, he'd have an easier time teaching four-year-olds the fine art of potion making. Long ago Severus decided that this day would be one of little more than going over what he expected from them throughout the year, then have the returning students use the rest of the time going over their summer assignments one last time. The first years, he allowed the time to scan their potions book, knowing full well most hadn't even opened it since purchasing it.
He was never so grateful for his own idea as he was today. Severus was still reeling from seeing Remus; being close to him and all that Remus had shared with Severus about his absence. His feelings toward the other man had always been something he could ignore and hide, more so since the Shrieking shack incident. Now, Severus was finding it difficult to do both, at least to himself. The desire to be within touching range, the need to know everything about Remus, the yearning to leave everything behind just for the chance to have Remus all to himself, was all quite overwhelming.
Severus admitted, once again, that given the opportunity he'd flee to Ireland with Remus and never return. To hell with everyone and everything else, screw his supposed responsibility to the Light and his debt to Dumbledore. Severus felt he'd more than fulfilled his obligation, he watched over and protected Harry Potter for seven years, more actually. No one but Albus knew that several times of the course of Harry's younger years. Severus went and observed the young wizard, even spending one entire summer with Mrs. Figgs when Harry was eight. He saw how Harry's muggle relatives had treated him; told Albus about the conditions the boy was living under.
Albus acknowledged that he also knew some of what was going on, but to bring Harry to the wizard world, even to Hogwarts, wasn't an option. Albus pointed out that both he and Severus *knew* Voldemort wasn't truly gone. Harry wouldn't be safe in the wizard world then. Hell the boy wasn't safe when he finally found out about his 'other heritage', still wasn't.
Still in all, Severus believed that his wizard's debt to James Potter had been fulfilled, he'd saved the dead wizard's son many times over since young Potter first stepped foot onto Hogwarts soil. As for his obligation to Albus and the Order, perhaps that wasn't completely over, but Severus knew that most of the members of that little group didn't really care if Severus lived or died, at any time.
True, he never endeared himself to any of them; but then again they wouldn't have wanted him to. He snorted at the hypocrisy among the Order. They wanted someone on the inside, many someones for that matter, but they scorned and ridiculed those who volunteered for that unpleasant job. The older members distrusted the younger ones, to whom the task fell, claiming that they took the Dark Mark voluntarily, perhaps they agreed with Voldemort, after all.
Yes, Severus was tired of being used and abused by both sides, although he knew that, if he were to ever return to the Dark Lord's side he'd never leave it again alive. Severus shivered at the memory of this latest visitation. The pain might be gone physically but it would never disappear mentally. Plus knowing that someone amongst his fellow death eaters had placed curse on him, one he hadn't even detected. He knew it wasn't Voldemort himself, his curses were never benign. The Dark Lord took far too much pleasure in the knowledge that his 'victims' knew they were suffering because of him.
Severus forced his way through the day, barely acknowledging those around him. The returning students knew there was something amiss with their Potions professor, but even the Slytherins weren't willing to question the distance. Draco seemed to ignore his mentor's distracted manner, though he truly wasn't. He was concerned but knew better than to voice those concerns until they were truly alone.
Draco went about his work; watching over the younger students, even answering questions that came up, regardless of which house the student was from. That was one thing Professor Snape had been adamant about; no question was a stupid one, no matter whom it came from. Although he did say that appearing to be annoyed with any questions that came from a student *not* in Slytherin was acceptable, the potential for disaster was far greater if the inquiries went unanswered.
When the last class of the day was dismissed, Severus left for his office, Draco hot on his heels.
"Professor? Are you all right?" Draco asked.
"What?" Severus was startled for a moment. He hadn't realized Draco followed him. "Yes, Mr. Malfoy I'm fine."
"You seemed distracted all day. I was just concerned that perhaps you weren't truly recovered from yesterday."
"I'm completely recovered, thank you. Madam Pomfrey was most helpful, as usual. You did quite well today, Mr. Malfoy. You'll make a fine teacher some day. As for the rest of the day, you may do whatever you wish. I know we were supposed to begin your Advanced classes but something has come up and I'll be quite busy all evening."
"Oh, okay. Will you be at dinner, sir?"
"No, as a matter of fact I won't. I'll leave it to you to make sure Slytherin is in attendance and no one does anything to lose house points." Draco opened his mouth to protest but Severus stopped him. "As my assistant you are just as responsible for our house as I am. While I don't expect you to lead them by more than example and you may *not* give or take points away, I believe your influence will be a positive one for them all."
"Sir, no disrespect, but some of the older students…."
Again Severus stopped him; "They believe what their parents have been told, that you are studying under my tutelage to become my replacement among certain groups. They will look upon you, as they should. I don't believe you'll have any problems with them," Severus reassured him.
"All right. I'll do my best, sir."
"I have no doubt you will. Now, off you go. You have plenty of studying to do and I'll see you in the morning."
"Yes, sir. Have a pleasant evening." Draco said and left the office.
Severus sat in his chair and sighed. Draco Malfoy was another on the list of reasons he shouldn't entertain the idea of just packing it all in. The young man had made a difficult choice, turning his back on his 'destiny', even if his father approved. Draco needed protection just as much as Potter did, perhaps more so. Draco was being exposed to other children of Death Eaters on a daily basis; any one of them could cause harm to the young blond. Severus' charges knew far too many ways to inflect pain without the use of hexes for him *not* to fear for Draco's health. He had no doubt that Draco could take care of himself, but when the odds were against you, say four to one, there was only so much one person could do to stop an attack.
Severus resigned himself to the fact that it didn't look like he'd ever get out from under. He wasn't one to give up easily, but as long as there were children like Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter who needed protecting, his personal wants had to be put on hold.
The clock on his wall chimed, reminding him that he had an appointment with Remus in thirty minutes. As much as he wanted to beg off, his curiosity about the 'new and improved' Remus Lupin far outweighed that desire. Severus knew he was just asking for trouble being so close to the werewolf, but again, he couldn't *not* meet with the man.
Severus dragged himself out of his chair and into his bedchambers to change. He wouldn't go to dinner with Lupin and Potter smelling of his classroom. He snorted to himself, as if it would matter to the other two. Well, he knew it would bother Remus at least, his sense of smell was much keener than normal. Severus refused to offend him, although everyone else would be hard pressed to believe that. He shook his head at that thought; it was by his own design that very few people knew the real Severus Snape. Much better all around if those he came in contact with saw him as a rude bastard.
Promptly at four thirty Severus stood in front of Remus' room and with some hesitation knocked. When the door was opened, Severus was greeted with a sight that caught his breath in his chest. Remus stood before him bare footed, wearing black linen trousers and a burgundy shirt. His face was alighted with laughter and his eyes sparkled with joy.
"Severus, come in. You're right on time," Remus said cheerfully. He moved aside to allow the Potions master to enter. "Harry was just telling me about his last night as a student of Hogwarts," he chuckled.
Harry looked up and had to good sense to blush when Severus leered at him. "Hi, Professor Snape."
"Mr. Potter," Severus nodded. "So, you were enlightening Lupin with the tale of how you and Mr. Weasley got back your own over Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Zabini?"
'Umm, yes sir," Harry answered meekly.
"Severus, please have a seat," Remus said gesturing towards a chair. "I hope you don't mind if we eat before looking over my notes. I missed lunch earlier and find myself feeling a bit peckish."
Severus sat in the proffered chair. "Whatever you wish, Lupin. I'm free for the evening."
"Good," Remus smiled. "And please Severus could you go back to calling me Remus, as you did yesternight?"
Severus merely nodded his agreement.
With an almost silent pop, Winky appeared in the room with a tray of food. Remus thanked the house-elf, taking the tray from her stating that he'd finish up. Winky nodded and popped out. Remus placed the tray on a side table, while Harry set laid out the necessary items for their tea. Severus sat back and watched the proceedings quietly, musing to himself how homey the scene looked.
"Well, let's eat," Remus directed.
Harry and Severus sat at the table and everyone began their meal. At first they ate in silence, but Remus wasn't used to the quiet.
"So, Harry tell me what you've been up to since you finished school," Remus inquired.
The younger wizard shrugged and swallowed his mouthful. "Nothing much really. Hanging about Grimmauld Place, being bored to death most of the time. The only time there's any excitement is when Professor Snape drops by. He and I are still working on our Occlumency lessons and a few other defense strategies."
"Unfortunately, I'm not able to go by very often," Severus added. "I thought Moody was also helping you with weaponry and the martial arts."
Again Harry shrugged; "Sometimes he does, but more often then not he usually just sits around the kitchen complaining about Mrs. Black's portrait."
"Does Professor Dumbledore know?" Remus asked.
"I haven't said anything to him," Harry admitted. "He hasn't been around much himself the past month." Harry paused. "Actually the last time I saw him was for my birthday. He stopped in for an hour to give me a gift and a cup of tea."
Remus growled low, but said nothing.
Once they finished their meal, Harry offered to clean up so the other two could start going through the boxes of papers Remus had.
Remus and Severus moved to the couch and Remus took out the things he felt would be of most interest to the Potions master. They spent the next hour and a half reviewing the research and Severus was even more impressed than when he received bits and pieces in letters from Remus. Harry sat quietly in an armchair reading a book of Irish Folklore, fascinated by the many tales within it.
Suddenly Remus sat up straight; "Harry go into the bedroom for a minute, would you?"
With a bewildered look on his face, Harry nodded and did as he was told.
Remus turned to Severus; "Can you find it within you to trust me for a few minutes?"
"What's wrong?" Severus asked.
"Albus is coming. He wants to send Harry back to the Black home and I don't want him to just yet. But I need you to help me convince Albus to agree."
"Very well, although I'd say I doubt I'll be much of an influence."
"All I ask is that you go along with whatever I say."
Severus nodded his agreement as a knock on the door came.
Remus stood, murmured something Severus couldn't decipher and answered the door.
"Albus, come in. What can I do for you?"
The headmaster walked in, noticed Severus, and seemed a bit startled.
"Severus, I didn't realize you were here. We missed you at dinner."
"I asked him to join Harry and me for tea," Remus offered.
"I see. Well, I've come to take Harry back to headquarters," Albus stated.
"Oh. I was hoping he could spend the night here with me. We've so much to catch up on," Remus smiled.
"I don't think that would be wise, Remus. He's safest at the Black home for the moment," Albus tensed.
"The boy is bored, Albus. Surely one night here won't put him in any danger. I promise not to allow him to go roaming the halls. No one will see him," Remus offered politely.
"I have the morning free, Albus. I can make sure Mr. Potter arrives safely back in 12 Grimmauld Place," Severus offered.
The headmaster eyed Remus and Severus with a serious expression. Both men could tell he wasn't pleased with them overriding his decision. After a moment Albus nodded.
"Very well, I suppose one night away won't be a problem. *But* he *must* return tomorrow. Moody and Tonks have been assigned to be there with him all day. I'm sure Mad-Eye will be quite displeased if he finds he changed his plans for nothing."
"Directly after breakfast, Severus and Harry will go to headquarters," Remus stated.
"All right then. I'll bid you a good night," Albus turned to leave, then stopped. "Severus before I forget, Lucius Malfoy asked that I convey a message to you. He'd like to meet you for lunch tomorrow. I suppose that will have to be cancelled if you haven't returned from dropping Harry off."
Severus got the distinct impression this was a last effort on Dumbledore's part to force the two of them to allow him to send young Potter home tonight.
"I'll owl him and arrange to meet him after I leave Mr. Potter at home."
"Very good. I'll say good evening then." And he was gone.
"Thank you, Severus," Remus smiled at the Potions master.
"My pleasure. I honestly don't approve of Mr. Potter being left alone in that place."
"Harry you can come out now," Remus called.
The younger wizard walked back into the living room. "Thank you, Professor Snape. I don't really like being alone there either."
"Severus can you contact Malfoy now?"
"Certainly, I'll have to go to the owlery though."
"Please," Remus went to his desk took out a piece of parchment and quickly wrote a short note. He walked back to Severus and handed it to him. "Send this to him."
Severus read the note and when he finished he looked at Remus with a raised eyebrow.
"Are you serious?"
"Quite. I believe we shall test Malfoy's decision to spy for the Light."
With a slight nod, Severus left to have the letter delivered.
"Remus, what's going on?" Harry asked quietly.
"Just as I said, Harry, I'm giving Mr. Malfoy a small test."
"Why did you have me hide in the bedroom when the headmaster came?"
"Because I didn't want him to take you back to headquarters. I have another plan in mind. Do you trust me?"
"You know I do," Harry said confidently.
"Good. Now here's what I have planned…"
Remus spent the time waiting for Severus to return explaining what he'd hoped both Harry and Severus would agree to. Harry seemed to be quite agreeable, he was tired of doing nothing.
When Severus returned, again Remus explained what he wanted to do. It took a bit more convincing with the Potions master but Remus persuaded him with a deep soul-wrenching kiss.
"Please, Severus do this for us," Remus whispered against the other wizard's lips.
Severus whimpered and nodded his agreement. When he found his sense again, Severus stared at the werewolf. "How long?" He asked quietly.
Remus, understanding exactly what Severus was asking, decided to answer honestly. "Since we were sixteen, but I buried it. Receiving your letters reminded me, but seeing you last night brought it all back."
Severus continued to stare at him, and Remus could see in Severus' eyes that he was struggling.
"Severus, if I've pushed too far too quickly, just say so. I'll understand."
"No. I'm just surprised. I wasn't going to say anything…"
"We can discuss it in length after tomorrow, if you like," Remus said with a smile.
"Yes, after tomorrow," Severus agreed.
"Excuse me," Harry called out meekly.
"Oh, Harry I'm sorry I forgot you were here," Remus blushed.
"Oh, it's okay, really," Harry smiled shyly. "I was just wondered if we could go over this one more time. I'd hate to be the reason you two don't get the chance to finish this."
The two other wizards sat on the couch and Harry took the armchair again. They talked for another hour, going over everything when Harry realized something.
"I've been told the walls in the castle have ears," Harry whispered.
"Ah yes, I've heard the same thing. But never fear, these walls wouldn't be talking," Remus winked at him. "I made sure of it."
"Yes, I'll explain another time. Meanwhile, I have an errand to run. Severus, would you mind staying with Harry until I come back?"
"No. We can discuss what is expected of him once we finish tomorrow."
Harry groaned, but said nothing.
Remus chuckled. "I should only be about a half hour." With that he left.
The next morning Severus arrived at Remus' room as expected. Harry was waiting for him, seemingly a bit nervous.
"Don't worry, Harry, it'll be just fine," Remus reassured him with a hug. "I'll see you in a couple of days, and I know I don't have to tell you to mind your manners on the way."
"No, you don't. I'm sure Professor Snape will make sure I'll be safe."
"All right, off you go," Remus said giving Harry another hug and a kiss on the forehead. He turned to Severus; "As for you, be quick." Remus took Severus in his arms and kissed him soundly.
When they parted, Severus drew in a breath and nodded. "Shall we, Mr. Potter? I believe the headmaster will be waiting in the Main Hall for us."
Remus watched as the two most important people in his life left his room. He prayed to the lycanthropes Gods to watch over them. He went to the window and waited for Severus and Harry to appear outside, then he kept them in sight until they walked passed Hagrid's hut and into the forest. He could see Albus standing at the gates watching them also. Remus turned from the window and began cleaning up his room from his overnight guest and breakfast.
Two hours later someone was banging on his door. When he answered it, he found Draco Malfoy standing before him red faced and panting for air.
"Professor Dumbledore needs to see you, it's an emergency," Draco explained, still gasping for air.
"Mr. Malfoy, firstly you need to calm yourself and catch your breath," Remus instructed kindly. "What's wrong?"
"Professor Snape has vanished! With Harry Potter!"
Remus pushed passed the younger wizard. "Damn it!" He exclaimed and ran to the headmaster's office, with Draco on his heels. Calling out the password as he came upon the gargoyle, Remus took the stairs two at a time and burst into Albus' office. "What happened? Where's Harry?" He demanded.
"We don't know," Lucius Malfoy was the one to answer.
"What do you mean you don't know? Snape was bringing him home!" Remus growled.
"Remus." This time Albus spoke. "We aren't sure. I watched the two of them walked into the Forest. They were going to apparate just inside. According to Moody, they never arrived."
"Severus was supposed to meet me in Hogsmeade an hour ago. I waited a half hour then thought that perhaps he was held up, so I came here," Lucius stated.
"Damn it!" Remus snarled. "We have to go look for them."
"But where?" Draco asked quietly. The others in the room hadn't realized he was there. When they turned to look at him, they noticed how pale he was. "Where would you even begin to look for them?"
"I don't know," Remus whispered. "A Death Eater's home? The Dark Lord's hide out? Those would be the obvious choices, wouldn't they?"
"Perhaps," Albus answered. "But we have no way of knowing until Voldemort shares that information with his followers."
"I can't go and ask either," Lucius stated. "How would I know either of them were missing unless I was in contact with Dumbledore? Which isn't something I want anyone to know at the moment."
"Surely, if they knew you were supposed to meet with Severus, they wouldn't be suspicious that you came looking for him at the school when he didn't show."
"No one knows nor would it, again, be something I'd share with any of my fellow colleagues. Severus is persona non grata among the Dark Lord's minions at the moment."
"Well, damn it. We can't just sit around and wait," Remus continued to pace. "There has to be something we can do!" He snarled.
"Remus, can *you* perhaps use some of your newly honed abilities to scent them out?" Albus asked.
Remus stopped shocked for a moment. "Bugger! Why didn't I think of that? Of course I can try, at least." He went to the door, turned back to the headmaster. "You said they went into the forest?"
"Yes," Albus answered.
"All right. I'll see what I can find there." Remus shook his head. "The second time in two days I'm heading into the forest looking for Snape," he mumbled.
"I'll come with you." Lucius stood and followed Remus out.
Draco was still in the corner looking quite pale.
"Draco, don't worry, they'll be found," Albus offered quietly.
"I hope so, Professor." He turned and left the headmaster's office.
Meanwhile at the edge of the forest, Remus and Lucius stood next to each other. Remus closed his eyes, began a quiet chant, and scented the air. After a few minutes, he opened his eyes again and headed east, with Lucius following him quietly. Remus stopped a few meters in and scented again. He shook his head.
"The trail stops here and there isn't any other scent but theirs." Remus sounded dejected.
"Perhaps we should apparate to where they were supposed to be going. Whatever occurred could have happened at the other end," Lucius offered.
"Good idea. You know where the Black home is, I assume," Remus stated plainly.
"That's where we're going," Remus said then disapparated. Lucius followed sneering.
Once there Remus once again began chanting quietly and scenting around, only to stop quickly. "Nothing," he growled.
"They couldn't have splintered, Severus knows how to apparate, even if Potter doesn't."
"I believe Harry has his license, although I could be mistaken." Remus sighed.
"Let's go back to Hogwarts. If Voldemort has them I'll know soon enough."
Remus nodded and they both disapparated back to the castle.
Three days later there was still no word as to what happened to the Potions master and the Boy Who Lived. By this time even the Dark Lord was very displeased that Severus Snape and Harry Potter were gone without a trace. He tried calling the traitor to no avail, and Voldemort took his anger out on those closest to him.
Meanwhile, back at Hogwarts the tension was running high. Everyone was worried; Albus tried to lessen the concern, stating that for all anyone knew Professor Snape and Mr. Potter were somewhere safe. Remus was beside himself; the staff and students could plainly see he wasn't sleeping or eating properly.
Finally on the evening of the third day, Remus went to Albus' office.
"Come in, Remus. How are you? Tea?" Albus offered.
"No thank you, Albus. I can't do this anymore. I have to leave. The full moon is in two days and I don't trust myself around the students and staff. Running in the forest isn't an opinion nor is locking myself in the Shrieking Shack."
"You don't have access to the Wolfsbane Potion?"
"No, Severus hadn't been making it for me for the past three years. He had said he would begin again, but didn't have to chance. I need to go to my home, I'll be safe there," Remus stated.
"Then you should go, Remus," Albus said. "There's nothing more you can do here. And you need to rest, you look awful."
"Thanks," Remus chuckled. "I feel worse. I'm sorry to be deserting you once again, Albus, but I'm of no use to you or the Order like this."
"Nonsense, my boy. Go home. We'll get word to you as soon as we hear something."
Remus nodded and left the office. As quickly as he could he went to his rooms and finished his packing. He shrunk all his research and his trunk and placed them in his pocket. After one more check to make sure he'd left nothing behind, he walked out of the rooms and to the Main Hall. Albus, Minerva and Poppy were waiting for him.
"Take care of yourself, Remus," Albus smiled. "We'll contact you with whatever news we have, as soon as we get it."
"Thank you, Albus. Minerva thank you for your support these past few days," Remus hugged her then turned to Poppy. "I'm sorry we didn't get the chance to talk," he offered her a sad smile.
"Some other time, Remus," she said.
"Don't worry, Severus is strong, smart and cunning. I have no doubt he'll come back *with* Harry."
"I hope so," Poppy whispered.
"Good bye," Remus said. He walked out the main door and through the gates. Once there he disapparated.
Remus reappeared in front of his house in Mountshannon and smiled. He was home again. As he walked up to the door it swung open, Severus stood in the doorway with his arms folded across his chest. Harry was behind him smiling.
"What took you so long?" Severus snarled.
Remus smiled grabbed Severus and kissed him, stopping only when the need of air became too great to continue. "I had to be convincing," he winked at Harry.
Remus stepped around Severus and hugged Harry. "I've missed you. Tell me what you two have being doing while all of Britain has been searching the country side for you."
The three laughed and went into the house. Closing the door on a world none of them wanted to be apart of any longer.
The End (for now)
*****There is an alternate version of this story, or rather a longer more involved one. It will be available after March 1st on my Web Site.******