TITLE: Healing in Four Steps
DISCLAIMER: I don't own anything. J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros. and I don't know who else do.
FEEDBACK: Would love it, since it´s the first time I write for a wave.
NOTES: That ´s my first slash fanfiction, so don ´t be too harsh. Thanks to my friend Daniela and Leslie, my betareader. All mistakes, which are still in the story, belong to me.
Prolog: The invitation
He was feeling so sick. And it was not only the disease, which was spreading in his body. No, also his mind–his soul felt sick. He was sick of his job, sick of these insolent brats he had to teach, sick of Potter's attempts to get rid of him, sick of the rooms that were cold even in summer, sick of struggles about every potion ingredient that cost a bit more, sick of the lonely evenings and even lonelier nights–sick of his whole life.
Remus drank the last sip tea and looked at his watch. He had still ten minutes left before the portkey would be activated. He still wasn´t used to having a portkey at his service. Not used to having money. But after the war, everything had changed. They had won in the end.
Voldemort was gone for good this time, the Death Eaters were dead or in Azkaban, and Fudge had been sacked. Arthur Weasley was the new Minister of Magic, and he had declared a new policy towards the part humans, cooperation instead of pursuit. Remus was the werewolf-representative. It was the first time in his life he had had a really well paying job, and he enjoyed it. He had renovated his house and for the first time in as long as he could remember, it was what it had been before the family had spend their whole fortune trying to cure the illness of their only child.
But now it was time to go to Hogwarts. Remus grabbed the portkey, and five minutes later he was walking to the castle doors.
A lot has changed since Albus retired, Remus mused, going inside. Most teachers had survived the war but, some had retired, as well. Minerva was now the headmistress, and she was slowly building up a new team of teachers around her.
“Remus,” someone shouted, and the werewolf turned around and smiled at Harry.
“Hello, you look well. A formidable deputy headmaster.”
“Yes, I like my job very much. But I always liked being at Hogwarts, and it looks as if it can only get better.”
“Seems that Hogwarts is getting a new Potions Master after all.” Harry grinned broadly.
“Severus is retiring?” Remus asked, surprised. The Slytherin had never been keen on teaching, he knew, but nevertheless...
“Sorry, I would really like to fill you in on the details, but I have a class to teach. Bye.”
“Bye.” Remus went down to the dungeons. Now he was really curious, but he didn´t believe that Snape would tell him anything. “I´ll be lucky if he helps me with the wolfsbane project.”
He knocked softly at the door and was greeted by an ill-tempered, “Come in.”
Snape was packing his things. “Lupin, what do you want? The full moon was just two days ago, if I remember correctly.”
“Yes, it was, but I have a request. I want to make a study about wolfsbane and feral werewolves, and I thought…”
“But Severus, you are the expert.”
“I have no time.”
“Harry told me that you´re retiring so you should have plenty of time.”
“Retiring. He wishes!” Severus snapped, then he began to cough, holding himself upright with difficulty.
“Severus.” Remus grabbed his arm and tried to steady him.
“Let me alone.” Severus slapped his fingers away. “Now go.”
“Severus, what´s the matter?” Remus stood stubbornly at the door.
“Only to shut you up, I have Malagis.”
With that, he pushed Lupin, who was too shocked to react, outside.
Malagis, but that... Malagis was not deadly, normally, but it was a very unpleasant illness with fever, itching, emotional fluctuation, and a lot of relapses. But Harry wouldn´t joke about something like that, would he? Confused, he wandered upstairs. When he stayed in Hogwarts, he normally stopped and had a cup of tea with Filius Flitwick. Maybe his former colleague could explain things. But when he came in, Madame Hooch, Professor Sinistra, Professor Trelawney, Ron Weasley, Neville Longbottom, and Hagrid were sitting around the table and drank tea.
“Remus?” Flitwick got up. “I didn´t know that you were coming to Hogwarts today. Would you like to have tea with us?”
”Of course.” Remus sat down between Hagrid and Madame Hooch.
“Olympe sent me a bit of French cake. We're trying it now,” Hagrid explained. “What are you doing here?”
“There´s a new project about Wolfsbane, and I wanted Severus to help me.”
“He has other problems,” Flitwick replied.
“Yes, I heard that he had Malagis.”
“Yes,” Ron said with a smirk, “serves him right, the old slimy git. At least this way he won´t be bothering us anymore.”
“But can´t he stay here in the infirmary?” Remus asked.
“That was at first his suggestion, too, but Poppy has better things to do than look after him,” Sinistra sneered. “We have to look after the children, after all.”
“I think he will go to some hotel in the countryside,” Trewlaney added. “Too mean to pay for a stay in St. Mungo’s.”
“But this way Harry can get a new potion instructor.” Ron grinned. ”Just as a substitute, but if he or she does well–and how can it be worse than Snape?–I´m sure we can convince Minerva to hire him or her.” Ron looked as if Christmas and Easter had come together this year.
“By the way, Minerva has written about new teaching methods. What do you think of it?” Neville asked, and the discussion took another turn to teaching methods, their advantages and disadvantages, but Remus didn´t listen anymore. He had known that Snape was not popular–he was not too keen on him, himself–but now the Slytherin had fallen gravely ill and no one cared. His colleagues were indifferent or even happy about getting rid of him. Severus had no family and no friends. The Slytherins knew now that he had betrayed them. And no one else seemed to care. Minerva was at a conference for teachers in New York, but even Dumbledore didn´t seem to care. Remus knew only too well what it meant to have to deal alone with everything, let alone a dangerous illness, and he didn´t wish that on anyone, not even Snape. The thought that he would stay in a single room, dealing with his illness alone... But he couldn´t change that, except if… He got up abruptly.
“You want to go already?” Filius asked, disappointed.
”Yes, I have a lot of work, sorry.” He said goodbye to everyone, then he went down to the dungeons again.
Severus wasn´t very pleased to see him again. “What do you want now?”
“It’s about the project.”
“I told you that I have other problems.”
“But this project is very important for me. And I have a suggestion to make. Filius told me that you had planned to stay in a hotel. That will not be too comfortable. Here´s the deal: You can stay in my cottage. It will much more comfortable, and you can help me with the project. Otherwise, I can force you with the help of the Ministry. Your decision.”
“Than I will come with you.”
Remus looked at Snape, surprised; he hadn´t expected him to give in so easily. But he caught himself: “Good, have you packed everything?”
“Yes, there was not much. Most of it belonged to the school anyway.”
“Good. I have a portkey, so we can go at once.”
1. Step: Adonis Bartleby
Severus sat in one big green armchair in Lupin´s dining room and looked out of the window. He hadn´t known that Lupin´s house was so luxurious. But now that he had money again... Severus hated the thought of being indebted to this bloody werewolf. He would have to do good work for this damned project to make up for it. So he looked through the papers Lupin had given him, but he was developing a splitting headache, which made it almost impossible to concentrate on the project. After reading the first page the third time without understanding anything, he gave up. Maybe a little break would help. As he looked around his eyes caught a book, lying on the table: Adonis Bartleby´s Third Case: One Avada Kedavra Too Many. He never had thought Lupin one to be keen on detective novels. When he had been a teen, he´d rather liked that kind of book, but he hadn´t read one in years. Not good for his reputation if one of the students saw him. But it wouldn´t hurt to read a few pages now to relax a bit.
When Remus came in half an hour later, he was so caught up in the story that he didn´t hear him at first.
“I didn´t know that you fancy crime stories, too,” Remus said, interrupting his concentration, and Severus looked up guiltily. But Lupin´s smile was warm and without any trace of mockery. “I like them, too. I'm going down into the garden and thought you would like to sit a bit in the sun.”
“No thanks. I really should work now.”
Angry with himself, he vowed just to go back to work, determined to get a bit down before dinner. But the headache got worse, and concentrating was very complicated. The words seemed to blur before his eyes. Severus shook his head and tried it again, but to no use. Now the letters began to dance. Severus desperately tried to get hold on them. Why was it so hot in the room?
After a while Remus come back and looked alarmed at Severus's flushed face. “Severus?” He touched his forehead. “You are burning up. You have a fever.”
“Have to work,” Snape mumbled.
”Later. Right now you belong in a bed.”
Remus picked him up, and suddenly Severus felt himself being carried. Remus is stronger than I thought, Severus mused as he was set down on a bed. He didn´t fight as Remus helped him out of his clothes and into his nightshirt.
“Stupid, why didn´t you tell me that you feel bad?” The werewolf began to cool his forehead with a wet flannel, and Severus groaned thankfully.“Nice?”
“Good, try to rest now.” He administered him a potion.
Severus couldn´t remember very well the next hours. His fever went up, and he tossed and turned in fever dreams. He just remembered cool hands on his forehead, cleaning up his sweat with a wet flannel, hands that administered him tea and stroked over his head. It was already the next morning when he really woke up.
“Hello, Severus.” Remus, who sat at his side, looked worn-out. “How do you feel?”
“Like Hagrid's blasted dog has been using me as a chew toy."
“I can imagine.” Remus smiled at him. “So do you want to eat something?”
Severus nodded. He was not really hungry, but he knew it was important to eat enough to keep up his strength.
Remus came back with a bowl of porridge. “Here, this will not be too hard on your digestion.”
“Thank you.” Severus wanted to grab the spoon, but his hands were shaking out of weakness.
“Sh, let me. You had a very high fever last night.” Remus helped him to sit up and fed him the porridge. It was too exhausting to actually swallow for Severus to bother complaining. He was relieved when he could lean back again, and he was asleep in seconds. This time it was a normal sleep.
The rest will do him good, Remus thought, and he decided to sleep himself for a while. But first, he wrapped Severus safely in his blanket and looked down for a while on the peaceful face. Last night, the fever had been very high, and Remus had thought of calling Poppy. But the mediwitch had refused to care for the ill man, and Remus had lost his faith in her. He had been very relieved when the fever sank again.
He slept about four hours and did a bit of work while Severus slept. In the afternoon, Severus woke up again and was whining. He had a bit of fever again, not as high as last night, but high enough to make him uncomfortable. He didn´t want to sleep, he didn´t want to lay in the dark and he didn´t want to stay in the light, he didn´t want to listen to music but was getting bored when he was left alone. He was too exhausted to talk to Lupin and told him that he could go off to work, but five minutes later he wanted something to drink or a new compress or a warm water bottle. Remus was becoming slightly annoyed, but he could see how uncomfortable this position was for the proud Potions Master.
If he could find just something to distract him. He thought about what his parents had done to calm him when he was ill as child. Humming to him wasn´t a good idea, and he wagered that Severus would jump from the bed despite his weakness if he cradled him in his lap. But they also had often read to him. Yes, a book … But he couldn´t just read aloud from a potion book. Then he remembered the detective novel Severus had started reading yesterday. He went up to the dining room and got the book. Then he sat down beside Severus and began slowly to read, waiting for Severus to focus on the story. It seemed to work. The Potions Master listened to the story and stayed silent. Then he fell asleep, and Remus could work for a while until he woke again.
It worked quite well for the next days, and Remus developed something like a rhythm. He got up about nine, had breakfast and a shower. When Severus woke up, he performed a cleaning spell on him and fed him. When Severus was awake, he read books to him to distract him. When the fever was too high, he would just sit beside him and cool his forehead. He only worked when Severus slept. He normally fed him three or four times a day, always with porridge, which seemed to be the only thing Severus could actually hold. In the evening he would give him a potion which guaranteed sleep for both of them.
After three days, he was pretty exhausted and had read all of his Adonis Bartleby books. He decided to owl Tonks to borrow some of her books, since she had the grandest collection of crime novels he had ever seen. The next morning, the doorbell rang while he was feeding Severus breakfast.
“Were you expecting someone?” Severus croaked. He hadn´t spoken a lot the last days. To be honest, he hadn´t done anything, but the fever was awfully exhausting. So he barely reacted to Remus, but this way at least he couldn't complain about his situation, either.
The Gryffindor shook his head. “No, no one.”
Who could that be? Before he could even react, someone opened the door. “Remus, are you here?”
“Tonks?” Remus asked, surprised. “What are you doing here?”
“You wanted some of my books. And since Sirius is in Egypt till the end of the month, I thought I could visit you when I brought you the books. I've got all my Bartleby books and also all muggle detective stories I could find.” Meanwhile, Tonks had reached them and stopped dead.
“Oh, sorry. I didn´t know that you had a visitor.”
“Yes, Severus is helping me with my wolfsbane project, and I have offered him a place to stay in return. He has Malagis.”
“Oh, I´m so sorry for you, Severus,” Tonks said, giving the Slytherin a compassionate look. “So this is why you need the books. To read to him.”
“Yes, that's right.”
“I have an idea. I´m on vacation at the moment anyway, so I could stay here and we could read in turns. Your voice must be exhausted.”
“Oh, yes.” Remus smiled, relieved. He had asked himself for nearly a day how long he could stand it without help. And Tonks was a great help this day. They read in turns to Snape and discovered that he also seemed to like Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle.
The next morning, Severus's fever had broken, and he was in a very bad mood. He was still angry about having to accept the help of Remus, of all people.
Then he insisted on feeding himself, and when he was too weak, he sulked the whole morning and was not even willing to listen to them read. Remus and Tonks decided to leave him in peace for a while, and Remus showed her his new projects.
“Wow, you are very committed to your work,” she said, grinning, when he finished.
“Yes, but besides the year at Hogwarts, I never had the opportunity to fulfill a job I´m really interested in. And I enjoy to do it, even more than teaching—not to say that I didn´t like it at Hogwarts.”
“And now you offer refuge to, of all people, the man who cost you your job?”
“Yes, and I admit that Severus is not my favourite colleague. But I couldn´t leave him alone in this situation, and I really need his help.” He told her about the situation at Hogwarts.
“Poor thing,” Tonks murmured, and Lupin was rather glad that Severus could not hear that.
“Yes, I know. Malagis is a very bad illness. Maybe we should go and look in on him.”
But when they reached the room, the bed was empty.
“Severus,” Remus called in panic. Damn. Why he had left him alone in the unstable emotional condition he was?
“Severus?” Tonks looked around a bit helplessly. “Where could he be?”
They found him at the end of the small corridor that led to the bathroom. He had curled himself up in a ball and was shaking.
”Severus,” Remus said, kneeling down beside him, “what in hell did you do here?”
“I wanted to wash myself,” Severus mumbled.
“Why didn´t you call us?” Remus asked. “Come let us help you back to your bed.”
“Leave me alone.” Severus huddled up even more tightly, and suddenly Remus saw tears in his eyes. He had asked himself when the first emotional breakdown would come. It seemed to be now.
”What´s the matter?” he asked calmly, sitting down on the floor and gesturing for Tonks to do the same.
“Nothing,” Severus sulked, “I just wanted to be on my own feet again.”
“You will. Now that the fever is broken, it will get better each day.”
“But I´m too weak to go to the bathroom by myself.”
“Patience, Severus, that will get better.” Tonks smiled at him.
“I´m a Snape, and I show no weakness to anyone,” Severus whispered. “And whatever you want from me, you won´t get it.”
“Want from you? I don´t understand.” Remus searched his face.
”You helped me, and now I want to know what you want in return.”
“In return?” Tonks looked at him disbelievingly.
”Severus, we don´t expect anything in return.” Remus sighed. “Not everyone is like that.”
“Rubbish. They are so. I have to stay on my own feet. Father always told me that no one gives anything without wanting something in return. And it´s true—I have too often experienced it. Especially when they tell you, they only want to help. I have fallen for something like that too often. Nothing is for free. Neither accepting from my fellow Slytherin nor getting away from the Dark Lord. So don´t lie to me.” Severus grabbed the door handle and held it so tightly that his knuckles turned white.
Remus cringed. Yes, he could imagine that Severus had been used too often: as a schoolboy as the target of cruel jokes, and as an adult first from the death eaters, then from Dumbledore. Inwardly cursing the whole lot—himself included—to hell, he reached out and gently pulled Severus´s hand away from the handle before he could hurt himself.
”Severus, did you ever have a real friend?”
The Slytherin looked up, startled, and Remus saw something like fear in his eyes. But then it was gone, and he nodded slowly. “But you aren´t my friend.”
“I know, but I would like to be.”
“After all that happened? How dare you?”
Severus sounded very indignant, and Remus had to fight down a trace of anger before answering calmly: “I know what I did in school was unforgivable. But I´ve come to know and to respect you in the last few years. I really would like to be your friend. Can´t you see it like this? An extension of friendship? You don´t have to accept it, just think about it.”
“And that´s really all you want?”
“Remus is trustworthy,” Tonks interrupted. “In the war you trusted him with your life twice.”
Severus nodded. He looked a bit ashamed. “I know I seem unreasonable. But I never had to rely so much on help. I feel exposed.”
“I understand. And you´re not unreasonable. Only a bit emotional.”
“Damn, I think that´s what I hate most about this stupid illness.”
“I know.” Remus grinned at him. “But you mastered it. What do you think of a nice hot bath as reward?”
Severus was cold and totally exhausted after his outburst. So he just nodded and was levitated into the tub. The hot water warmed him up, and Severus leaned back contentedly. They let him soak for a while, then Remus came in and washed him with a big sponge. Normally, he would have protested against something like that, but he was simply too tired for another argument. So he closed his eyes and just let it happen, admitting reluctantly to himself that it wasn´t too uncomfortable.
But Remus also enjoyed it. Even though they weren´t pursued anymore, few people actually allowed a werewolf to touch them. And Severus was kind of attractive under all those layers of clothes, lean and muscular. But the most striking was his face. When he was relaxed, his features seemed not only younger, but damn near beautiful.
You should laugh more often, Remus thought as he begun to scrub his back. He never had thought Severus attractive, but now…
“Lean back now, and I'll wash your hair,” he said aloud. Severus leaned gracefully back into his hands while Remus distributed shampoo in his hair. Severus was now relaxed and a bit sleepy. And it was so nice how Remus patiently massaged his scalp. Suddenly, Severus began to purr quietly. Remus looked down in surprise on the man who was lying so exposed in his hands. He was slowly becoming aroused, but he was determined to ignore it. I would have been difficult enough to convince Severus of his sincerity anyway. So he hurried a bit to finish the hairwashing and was relieved when the Slytherin was in his nightshirt again, safe in his bed.
Severus was exhausted enough after bathing that he didn´t protest, when Tonks started to read The Hound of the Baskervilles. But he fell asleep after ten minutes. When he woke in the afternoon, he seemed to feel much better. Propped up by some cushions, he could read for himself now.
“You see? It´s getting better.” Remus grinned.
”Yes, you are right.” Severus looked at him a bit ruefully. “I was hysterical. But I´m so fed up with lying in the bed–and the damned porridge.”
“I understand,” Tonks said sympathetically. “I should tell you, though, I have to leave tomorrow. My holidays are over now. And if you stay fever-free until then, you are allowed to get up, and we'll make a brunch with everything you want to eat. Deal?”
“Deal.” It seemed that even Severus couldn't remain unaffected by Tonks's infectious smile.
He nearly finished the book that day, but he fell asleep very early, still exhausted from the illness.
The next morning, he was still free of fever and felt a bit stronger. Remus helped him to wash himself and to dress. And even though Severus was exhausted again, when they sat down at the table in the kitchen he seemed to be content to have made it so far. Remus had fulfilled Severus´s wishes and made shepherd´s pie with vegetables, potato soup, and a treacle tart.
“You are a good cook,” Severus admitted while they were enjoying the brunch.
“Thank you.” Remus was very pleased by the compliment, and to his surprise a nice talk came up as well. Tonks was good at lessening the tension. Even Severus seemed not to dislike her as much as he disliked other people. Maybe because Tonks never treated him like shit like other people had.
“I wish I could stay longer, but I have to go now,” Tonks said after they ate, and she got up and gave both men a hug.
“It was nice to have you here,” Remus replied, and even Severus seemed to agree.
2. step: Calligraphy
After Tonks left, they settled down in the dining room.
“So sit down. Do you want to read another Sherlock Holmes?” Remus asked politely.
“Maybe, but I think we should get to work, Lupin. It's bad enough that I hindered you the last several days. I must be a burden for you,” Severus answered stiffly, as if regretting that he had shown so much of himself.
“It's okay. I told you, I see it like an extension of friendship after all that has happened. And there's no reason to start at once. Don't be hasty in getting to work again, or you could relapse.”
“I'll be careful,” Severus replied coldly, “but I'm strong enough to work a bit.”
“Very well.” Remus brought him a paper and a quill. “Just write down the ingredients of wolfsbane and their quantities.”
“Is that all?” Severus asked after finishing.
”It's the first step. Now I have to find out where I can get these ingredients not only in good quality but also cheap,” Remus explained.
“But than you still need someone who can make wolfsbane.”
”Which is a big problem.” Remus sighed. “You know I'm very grateful that you provide the potion for me. But there are so many who haven't got this advantage. And of course this is one of the causes for werewolves to go feral.” Remus sighed again, when he saw Severus yawn. “But I'm boring you. What say we both rest for a while?”
Severus nodded thankfully. He was more tired that he liked to admit, and it was very nice just to sit back and read a bit. After dinner, he went to bed and promptly fell asleep.
He woke up around five because he was itching everywhere. Great, he thought, this was the phase of the illness he had been particularly looking forward to. What now? In his chambers at Hogwarts, he had all the potions he needed. But here... And he didn't want to wake Lupin. He was indebted enough without waking the other man in the middle of the night. So he stayed where he was, throwing himself from one side of the bed to the other.
But the night's rest was destroyed anyway when someone came hammering on the door around six o'clock.
Severus slipped into the nightgown and met a not very awake Lupin on the way to the door. To their surprise, it was the biggest owl they had ever seen.
“One of the new Ministry owls.” Lupin looked surprised. ”Highest urgency.”
But why should his employer call him this way? Had he done anything wrong?
But the owl was for Snape.
”A howler?” the Slytherin looked somewhat unsurprised. He opened the letter very quickly, and a crying loud enough to be heard a kilometer away erupted: ”You've failed to register in time! The Ministry will send you a deputy! Don't move, or you will be brought to Azkaban! And don't fail to register again!!”
“Register where?” Remus followed Severus into the kitchen.
“Not your business.” The Slytherin made coffee without reacting to the questions, only scratching incessantly. That caught Remus's attention at last.
”Severus, what's this?” Patiently, he pulled up his sleeve and saw the rash. ”When did it start?” he asked sternly.
“A few hours ago.” Severus had registered the anger in Remus's voice, and very uncharacteristically, he didn't snap back. He felt tired, vulnerable, and very alone. “I didn't want to wake you,” he explained, a bit friendlier than normal.
“That's nice, but I would prefer that you tell me what's wrong.” Remus searched his medicine cabinet and found a strong anti-itching potion.
“Now hold still. Where does it itch?”
”Everywhere.” Severus allowed Remus to free him from the nightgown. Systematically, the werewolf distributed the salve all over the itching body. Severus sighed, relieved. The last ten minutes of itching had driven him nearly mad. It felt heavenly to get rid of it.
Remus noticed that Severus had relaxed a bit and decided to push matters: “Severus, what does the Ministry want from you?” He kept his voice carefully neutral and continued to massage in the salve.
”Deatheaters who haven't had a death sentence or life sentence to Azkaban have to come to register once a month in the Ministry, to show that they aren't planning anything evil.”
“But you have fought on our side,” Remus protested.
”I don't think the Ministry cares the slightest about that,” Severus sneered. ”I'll stay an ex-Deatheater until I'm dead. I shouldn't have forgotten to register.”
“You were ill, for Merlin's sake.” Remus sighed. ”Why in hell they are so paranoid?”
“They've been touchy since Lucius escaped.”
Yes, the flight of Malfoy one day before he was to receive the Kiss had created a bit of tension. He was not to be found anywhere. Alone, the flight out of the high security zone should have been impossible. But he seemed also to have managed to leave UK despite all security measures.
“Someone must have helped him,” Remus said and suddenly realized, ”They suspect you, don't they?”
”They suspect everyone.” Severus sighed, exhausted. ”And we were friends a long time ago.” With that last admission, Severus pulled his dignity back around him. ”Thank you for your help. The itching has stopped.”
“Good.” It was clear to Remus that Severus would not tell him more. “What do you want for breakfast?” he asked instead.
”Anything but porridge.”
“Okay, it's bacon and eggs, then.”
They had a quiet breakfast. Remus was just doing the washing up when someone rang the doorbell. Remus opened it, and Severus groaned silently when he recognized the visitor: Mad-Eye Moody.
“So here's where you're hiding.” The Auror ignored Lupin and grabbed Severus by the wrists. ”Just like the snake you are.”
”I was not hiding. I'm no criminal.”
“But you've been a Deatheater, and you know that you have to register once a month. Especially since what happened two months ago.”
“You couldn't prove anything.”
“But you spoke to Lucius Malfoy two days before his escape.”
”When you can prove I've helped him, imprison me. Otherwise, just leave me in peace.”
”I just follow the rules of the Ministry,” Moody growled.
Remus, who had watched the scene speechlessly, snapped out of his trance. He was angry from being pushed aside in his own house. With his extraordinary strength, he grabbed Moody's arms and forced him to let go of Snape.
”Morning, Alastor, how nice that you came to visit us,” he said with a sarcasm of which Severus could only approve.
”Sorry, Remus.” Moody seemed only now to register his old friend. ”But the Ministry is really nervous about this escape thing. And after Snape didn't come to register …”
“He was ill. Didn't they tell you at Hogwarts that he has Malagis? Should he have come with a forty-degree fever?”
Moody now looked uncomfortable. “No, no one informed me. That changes things a bit.” He scratched his head. ”Okay, I have to speak to the Ministry. Can I get a coffee first?”
“Of course,” Remus answered politely.
“Good. I'd better change.” Not too thrilled to present himself to the Auror in his nightgown, Severus went up to his bedroom and slipped into his robes. Typical for Lupin to offer coffee to the intruder. But why was he surprised about it? They were on the same side, weren't they? Lupin only kept his real opinions quiet because he needed Snape for making wolfsbane--and this damned project, of course. And that was surely the reason that he had defended him. There was, in the end, no reason to really care for a filthy ex-Deatheater, was there?
Besides, he didn't need the werewolf to deal with this half-wit. And he would prove that. But when he came downstairs again, the ex-Auror was nowhere to be seen.
“Is he gone?” he asked hopefully.
”Yes, he has found you at last, so I convinced him that his duty was done. I'm afraid he'll come back, but we'll worry about it then.“
“Yes, you're right.“ Severus didn't make any effort to hide his anger at Lupin's patronizing tone, but the werewolf ignored it.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, and he calmed down. Severus helped Remus to find out as much a possible about sellers for the needed ingredients. Somehow it made things easier to just focus on the work to be done.
The next morning, Severus completed the list and sat down in one armchair. He could do nothing but sit for now, and he needed something to distract himself. Just something else to think about, like when the stupid Auror would turn up the next time. He finally got up and searched Lupin's bookshelf. Oh. That was interesting. Severus got a book about calligraphy off the shelf and had a look at it. Calligraphy was the one Muggle art he really was interested in.
“It's beautiful isn't it?”
He nearly jumped and dropped the book when he heard a voice behind him.
“Could you make some noises sometimes? You're a werewolf, not a ghost,” he snapped. ”Sorry,” Remus apologised. He smiled and picked the book up from the floor. ”I worked for a while in a Muggle club and bought this book from my first salary,” he explained. ”I was always fascinated with it, you understand.”
“It is quite beautiful,” Severus admitted.
“Now when I have money, I buy supplies to work on it myself. Care to give it a try?”
Severus nodded, reluctant to give Remus more knowledge about himself. But the offer was too tempting, so he followed the werewolf to the room where special paper, colours, and pencils were waiting. They were both caught up in the experiment when Moody returned.
“You're interested in calligraphy?” was the first thing he asked as he appeared suddenly in the door of the room.
“Yes, but that's not your business,” Severus snapped, cold as always. ”What do you want?”
“The Ministry has told me to stay near you and make sure you aren't involved in illegal activities.” Moody sighed. ”Listen, Snape, I'm no happier about this than you. But if you're interested in calligraphy, we at least have something to talk about.”
“You are interested in it, too?” Remus asked, surprised.
“I've done it for about twenty years.”
“Oh, then you could teach us.” Remus was thrilled.
Snape glared at Lupin for this enthusiastic remark. He didn't need a teacher, least of all this crazy ex-Auror.
“It's not really difficult to learn,” Moody said when both he and Lupin decided to ignore Snape's sulking. Moody explained a bit about it, then exchanged a look with Lupin: ”What do you think about a try?”
Remus nodded and made a line not too exact.
“That's wrong,” Severus snapped impatiently. ”Give it to me, Lupin.” He made a perfect ornament: ”That's how you make it.”
“You're right.” Remus's smile was so slight that even Moody almost missed it, but he knew better than to comment on it. Better not to let Snape know that he had just been manipulated. Moody grinned. He hadn't thought that the gentle werewolf could be so sly. Grabbing Snape by his pride was maybe the only way to manipulate the Slytherin, and it had worked. They spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get the fundamental techniques right. Snape was a real talent, to be honest.
To Snape's surprise, Moody settled without problems in their daily routine. They usually worked the whole morning on the wolfsbane project. And this time Moody stayed in his room. After lunch, they learned more about calligraphy, something Snape enjoyed more than he ever would admit. He enjoyed the beauty and the clearness of it. Learning to draw more complicated lines gave him an immense satisfaction.
Moody tended to go to bed very early, so Snape and Lupin sat down on the sofa and read crime novels, sometimes keeping silent the whole evening and sometimes discussing the books with each other. Also, the itching was tolerable. Remus had given him the salve, and it seemed to be enough to use once or twice a day.
The week passed faster than he thought it would. Before he realised it, it was Friday, and they were going to the room Remus liked to call the drawing room. And there was still the question of whether he could be a threat for the Ministry, and he felt Azkaban might still be a possibility for near future, a possibility which gave him nightmares. This fear changed suddenly to anger at Moody. How dare he stay here and treat him like a friend, when the truth was he was waiting for the slightest error to land Snape in Azkaban?
“So how long will you stay here?” he asked Moody in a none too friendly tone. ”I admit you are a good teacher, but you're not here to teach. Have you found something which would allow you to send me to Azkaban, snooping around the house?”
“I was not snooping.” Moody was clearly surprised by the sudden attack.
“You've not used your time to search my room? You can't expect me to believe that.”
“I've the same right to be there as you,” Moody growled, losing his temper quickly.
“Oh, sorry that I don't like to be handled like a dangerous criminal by an ex-Auror who isn't good enough for anything else anymore,” Severus sneered.
“Listen, Snape, without Dumbledore you would rot like the other Deatheaters in Azkaban where you belong.”
This was too much. Severus exploded: ”Yes, I was a Deatheater. I made a big mistake and have paid for it. I know it's nothing that could be forgiven, but I was a spy, and I risked my life more than once. I lied to my old friends, I betrayed my own house. I lived a lie for over seventeen years. My whole life is a lie, one I can't escape. And I want no gratitude or forgiveness. I'm used to being hated, despised, looked down on. I can handle it. But at least leave me in peace. I can't fight anymore. I don't have the strength.” Severus sank to the floor, shaking uncontrollably.
”Severus.” Remus, who had listened to their fight speechlessly, now gave Moody an angry look and sat down beside the Slytherin.
Severus tried to get away from him. ”Leave me alone.”
“No. Severus, come let me help you to an armchair.”
“Get away from me!” Severus shook his head, stumbled to his feet, and fled from the room.
“Snape!” Moody looked totally flabbergasted, and turned to Remus. ”What's the matter?”
“He has Malagis. He's not emotionally stable at the moment. And you were more than a bit insensitive.“
“I'm not too keen on this job,” Moody said. ”I shouldn't be so gruff, but I'm an Auror, not a bailiff for lost Deatheaters. I'm just nervous, you know.”
“I understand that, but this is about Severus, not about you. This illness is not funny, and he's right about what he has said. Think about that. I'm going to go and try to calm him.”
With those words, he left Moody alone. He found Severus in his room, sitting between the bed and wall.
“Severus,” Remus asked carefully, ”can I come in?”
“What do you want? To control me?”
”No, I'm just a bit worried about you.” Tentatively, he came nearer.
“Why? You've heard Moody. I'm just a filthy Deatheater, and I'll never be anything else.”
”You're wrong.” Remus sat down beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Leave me alone! You might play nice, but in the end you think the same.”
Now Remus was offended. “I do not. You… Not all people have the same view on you.”
“Oh, no? I bet there are only a few people in the Ministry who don't want me in Azkaban. If it hadn't been for Albus …”
Remus felt him shiver and realized that Snape was terrified to death.
The Gryffindor patted his shoulder, careful to comfort him without hurting the picky pride. ”Severus, they haven't the slightest reason to send you to Azkaban, and even when they tried, there were people to hinder it.”
“Who are 'they,' exactly?”
“Dumbledore, Tonks, and me of course.”
“But you work for the Ministry, too. You used it against me.”
Remus needed a moment to understand what Severus meant. Then he remembered how he had persuaded Severus to come with him.
”Oh! I didn't mean it like that.”
“And how did you mean it?”
“I just know how stubborn you are. I never would have set the Ministry after you.”
“But you …“
”No, Severus, I would never hurt you.” He saw disbelief in the black eyes and settled for the only argument that might convince Snape: ”I believe in your innocence.”
“You do?” The sudden hope in Severus's face made his heart ache. How much have you dealt with by yourself in these last years? Remus thought sadly, and he answered firmly: “Yes, I don't think that you would do anything to harm us. You know I'm not lying. I know you've reformed. You've risked your life for it. Not everyone has forgotten that.”
“Thank you, Lupin.“ Severus seemed to get a grip on himself again, and smiled apologetically.
”This illness just makes it so difficult for me to control my emotions.”
“It's okay. Do you want something to drink? Or chocolate?”
“Really, Lupin, I'm no child.”
Remus smiled: “I know, but can I do something?”
“Actually, it's itching again. Everywhere.”
“And it was going so well,” Remus said sympathetically. ”All right, lie down. I'll give you a back rub with the salve.”
Severus looked at him suspiciously, but it was too tempting to get rid of this terrible itching again. So he stretched out on his stomach, and allowed himself to enjoy the clever hands, which were rubbing the salve in gently.
”Better?” Lupin asked after a while. Severus nodded, even though he would have liked it to go on much longer. But he would rather bite his tongue than tell that to the flea-bitten werewolf. Instead, he said, ”Let's go downstairs again and work on the list of people who could maybe be taught to make wolfsbane.”
Remus nodded, and they went down to the dining room, avoiding the drawing room. There were too many bad memories there for now. But at least they managed more or less to concentrate on their work. At about six o’clock, Remus had just started to cook some dinner when Moody came back.
“So, have you thought for a bit?” Severus's voice was still cold, and he tensed once more, seeing the Auror returned.
“Yes, I have, and I have spoken with some old friends who still owe me a favour. Here, this’s for you!” He handed Snape a sheet of paper.
“Just read it.”
Severus had a closer look and then gasped.
“What’s the matter?” Remus asked, moving to Snape's side. “Something wrong?”
“Not really.” Snape sounded totally shocked when he passed Remus the paper to have him have a look at it.
“It says that you are officially innocent and cleared for all time. That means you don’t have to register anymore or fear they land you in Azcaban one day. They’ll leave you alone forever! ”
“Yes, I see! But why?” Severus looked with wide eyes at Moody.
“I told you that I have thought about what you said earlier, and you were right. See it as an apology.”
“Thank you.” was all Severus could manage to say. He was very pale.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Remus asked. “Aren’t you happy about it?”
“Yes, of course, and very relieved. I just didn’t expect it, that's all.”
“You don’t have a very high opinion of me, do you?” Moody smiled. “It’s all right. We never really appreciated you, did we? After all that you've done, it’s the least we can do to see that you are no longer treated as an enemy. Don’t look at me so disbelievingly. It’s not a trick. Peace?”
”Yes, thank you.” Severus smiled reluctantly. “I was maybe a bit harsh this afternoon,” he added very quietly. And that was as near as Severus could bring himself to apologizing. Moody smiled as he patted his shoulder: “It’s okay, we were both wrong. And now I’m very hungry.”
Which reminded Remus of the dinner. With a yelp, he ran to the kitchen–but too late! Everything was black and didn’t smell at all appetising anymore.
“So much for dinner, I’m afraid.” Remus grinned apologetically. “The only thing I could offer you is bread and cheese. Or I could fetch something from the Chinese Take-Away”
“Muggle food?” Severus asked disapprovingly.
“Yes, it’s really quite good. If you're brave enough to try it, that is.”
Severus did, of course, notice that Remus was baiting him very gently. Half amused, half annoyed, he answered: ”Of course I’m not afraid of Muggle food!”
“Good. In that case, I'd better go now. I will be back in about 20 minutes.”
When he had left, Severus and Moody looked at each other a bit awkwardly.
Severus broke the silence at last. “You really think I am innocent?”
“Of Lucius's escape? I don’t know, to be honest, but I don’t mind it one way or the other. You have done too much for us to ask now for your loyalties. You were right, no other member of the Order would have been asked these questions. It was simply not right.”
”Thank you.” Severus didn’t look at him. These few words had meant more to him than he wanted to admit.
When Remus came back with the food, Severus sat still at the table thinking. Lupin and Moody, the last two he had expected to give him any respect at all, had restored some of his crumbling self-esteem. And Moody had freed him from his worst fear.
“Everything all right?” Remus asked, worried about his silence.
“Oh, yes.” Severus looked up, suddenly smiling slightly.
“Good, we can eat now,” Remus announced.
“So this is Muggle food.” Severus looked down suspiciously at the Sweet and Sour Pork.
“Hungry?” Remus took his chopsticks and picked up some of the meat. “Just open your mouth and try it!”
Reluctantly, Severus let himself be fed. He chewed slowly and finally swallowed. “And?” Both men had watched him.
“Doesn’t taste too bad.” He looked so surprised that Remus and Moody laughed loudly.
“Well, then, how about trying some of this?” the werewolf said, pointing his chopsticks at the Peking Duck. Severus did as he was told, and the other two joined in as well.
They all enjoyed it very much, and after dinner they moved to the living room, to have a little chat before parting.
“I assume you will go back to your other projects now,” Remus told Moody.
“Yes, it’s not like you two are my only problem.”
“It’s just a pity that our lessons are over now.” Remus sighed. “I really liked it”
“Me, too,” Severus admitted. “It was the only good thing that came out of it all.”
“Yes, it was.” Moody smiled. “It was nice to find someone who is interested in calligraphy too, but there’s no reason not to come back here, without involving the Ministry.”
3. Step: Rosemerta's wonderful flying theatre
Remus sighed deeply: What was wrong? The past days had been relatively quiet. They had both worked hard, and a great deal of the wolfsbane project had been completed. Now it only needed approval by Arthur Weasley. And that meant waiting. Remus had some other projects to work on, but Severus couldn’t help him with those. He appeared bored and was in a terrible mood, snapping at Remus at each opportunity. It was a pity. The last days had been nearly harmonious, and Remus had been hoping Severus had perhaps accepted his gesture of friendship. But now…would he ever understand this man?
Remus rubbed his temples. Maybe he should try it again. He couldn’t concentrate on his work anyway. He got up and went to the living-room where Snape was reading. There he waited patiently until the other man looked up.
“What do you want, Lupin?”
“I thought you might like to have tea and cake with me.”
“Thinking never was your strength…and neither was baking, by the way.”
Remus got a bit angry. “You didn’t mind me cooking and baking for you before now.”
“Are you looking for gratitude now? And there I was, thinking you didn’t want anything in exchange!”
“I don’t. But you could at least be polite as long as you stay here, don’t you think?”
Severus jumped to his feet. “I can go if I’m such a burden to you!”
Before Remus could find an answer to that, the fireplace came to life, and Minerva McGonagall stepped out of it.
“Severus!” she exclaimed. With two steps she had reached her flabbergasted colleague and pulled him in her arms. “How are you?"
“All right.” Severus struggled a bit without being able to escape her embrace. “Where did you come from, Minerva?”
“Nearly straight from New York. I arrived two hours ago, and as soon as I was told what had happened to you, I came here. You didn’t think I would leave you alone, did you?"
“I didn’t know,” Severus admitted, “but you shouldn’t be worried. You see that I am all right.”
“I doubt that,” Minerva told him fondly, turning around to face Remus, without releasing her grip on the Potions Master. “Thank you for caring for him, Remus.”
“My pleasure.” Remus smiled at her. “Would you like some tea?”
“Yes, thank you,” she answered.
She turned back around to look at him. “What’s the matter?”
“We had a little shouting match about my cooking abilities,” Remus explained, now amused and a bit ashamed of their outbursts.
“And I know them to be most excellent. Why are you so irritatingly short-tempered, Severus? What’s wrong?” Minerva's sharp eyes bored into Severus. “How far has this illness progressed?”
“We had the itching a few days ago,” Remus answered when Severus remained silent. “Hmm, the next step would most likely be vomiting or pain in old wounds. Where does it hurt, Severus?”
Severus just looked away.
Was that the problem? The reason for his bad mood? Remus wondered. But why didn’t he tell me? He knows that I would help him. Now he is really looking ashamed, but why? Pain is nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe it's the kind of wound? But which one would he be ashamed of? Of course…
He stepped over to them and pulled up Severus's left sleeve before he could react. His left arm, where the Dark Mark had vanished after Voldemort's death, was raw and inflamed.
“I see,” Minerva murmured. “Do you have any painkillers?”
“Yes, just hold on a moment.” Remus got a strong pain-ceasing potion from the kitchen. “Drink that." He waited a moment after Severus had downed the whole thing. "A bit better? ”
“A bit,” Severus admitted grudgingly.
“We can’t expect it to go away completely.” Minerva sighed. “It will be the best to just try and distract you for a while.”
Severus nodded rather unenthusiastically, and Minerva smiled. “Good boy. I have several nice ideas.”
“Don’t you have to return to Hogwarts?” Severus asked, surprised.
“They managed it for two weeks without me. Staying away one more week won’t lead to it breaking down completely,” she replied. “You are more important now.”
Severus didn’t answer, but Remus saw a faint smile. Minerva's affection was important to him, he realised. But Severus would of course never admit that.
“What ideas do you have, Minerva?” he said instead of pursuing the issue.
“What would you think of going to Rosemerta's wonderful flying theatre this evening? I have heard that they are doing A Midsummer Night's Dream now.”
“Rosemerta's what?” Remus asked.
“Rosemerta's flying theatre. It’s a theatre for both Wizards and Muggles. Most of the artists are wizards or at least squibs. The Muggles in the audience think their magic is all stage tricks. It’s really supposed to be quite good. Come on now, I'm sure you'll like it.” Minerva smiled at them. “Just change, and we'll go to London.”
They agreed, and half an hour later they arrived in London wearing Muggle clothes. Minerva dragged them into a Portuguese fish restaurant where they enjoyed a wonderful dinner. They spoke about a lot of things, and the overall mood became lighter. Remus noted that Severus had relaxed a bit. How important must this little gesture from Minerva be for him.
Of course all three of them enjoyed the play immensely. It was a very independent interpretation of Shakespeare with a lot of magic and illusions in it. Remus had never thought that Severus could like a Muggle writer and was surprise to find him so caught up in the play.
“Wasn’t this much better than sulking around all evening?” Minerva teased Severus softly as she bade him a good night. Severus smiled and nodded. The truth was that he hadn’t expected Minerva to care. Not after the reactions of his other colleagues. And they had never been that close, competing over the Quidditch Cup and such. But he respected her, and though he'd never admit it, she was the one person besides Dumbledore he most wished to give a bit of care for him. He would, of course, never tell her that her had missed her, but he was grateful that she would stay for a few days. It simply felt good.
That night, he slept fairly well, but in the morning the pain was back again. He was silent during breakfast, and Remus watched him with growing worry. He wished he could do something for him, but there was nothing left to do for the wolfsbane project, and he couldn’t think of anything else to keep Severus entertained. While he was still caught up in these thoughts, Minerva took the initiative: “In New York, I also met Mr Bomba.”
“Who?” Remus asked confused.
“He is one of the biggest producers for all kind of potions in the USA,” Severus explained. “I haven’t seen him in nearly two years. How is he?”
“Oh, he is well, but very stressed. His potion makers are constantly failing in creating a new break-through potion.”
Severus's interest was immediately caught. “A potion for what?“
“It’s the drug for the healing of internal injuries, but this time for pregnant women.”
“Which is, of course, a problem,” Severus added, “because the most important ingredient is the Timora plant, but this would damage the foetus. But if one would…” He was lost in thoughts, and the rest of the breakfast was a silent affair.
Remus had just finished the washing up as Severus, who was staring vacantly, suddenly jumped up.
“Have you found a possibility?" Minerva asked. “To be honest, I think it was what Bomba had in mind as he explained it to me so patiently.”
“Yes, I know the old fox,” Severus smirked, “Remus, could I use the old lab of your ancestor?”
“Of course you can,” Lupin smiled. His great-great-grandfather had built a little extra building as a potions lab, which had stood empty for decades and was decaying. It was the part of the house that fascinated Severus the most when Remus had shown him around.
The Slytherin stayed in the lab nearly the whole day, only appearing for a short lunch. At six o’clock, Minerva and Remus decided to disturb him.
“Severus,” Minerva called, “time to finish for today.”
“We know, but you’re still recovering and have worked quite enough for one day,” Minerva told him with her usual authority. “You will shower now, and then we’ll see you for a nice evening.”
Severus didn’t fight, to Remus's surprise, but maybe he was so happy to be back at work that he didn’t mind it.
“What do you want to do?” he asked when he met them in the kitchen twenty minutes later.
“I don’t know…What’s going on in the village here, Remus?”
“Not much, but the pub is all right.”
“Not Muggle clothes again!” Severus groaned.
“Come, it will be fun, and they are renowned for their Shepherd’s Pie!”
The Shepherd’s Pie was indeed very tasty, and so Severus's grumbling ceased half an hour later. After the second butterbeer, he even joined the chitchat.
For the next days, Severus stayed in the lab until dinnertime. Remus and Minerva had problems convincing him to stop at least for a minute, let alone to take time out to have his lunch. At least he allowed them to take him out in the evenings. Remus learned that Severus liked wizard and Muggle theater, opera and classical music. They even convinced him to go to the cinema once.
But the days were reserved for working. So the werewolf was more than surprised when Severus suddenly turned up around three o’clock in the afternoon.
“Are you all right?” was his first question.
“Yes. Listen, I've done it! I have found the solution!”
“I knew you would.” Remus had never seen him after inventing a new potion. He wasn’t really smiling; it was more as if he was glowing from the inside–and unbelievably beautiful.
“I always knew you would find the solution,” Minerva, said, giving him a hug. “That’s a reason to celebrate, Severus.”
He nodded and allowed her to drag him to the table while Remus went to the kitchen, organising cakes and tea.
“This is delicious, Remus,” Minerva told him.
“Thank you, but I'm not the Genius here.”
“Yes, Severus is really the most brilliant Potions Master I know. No one knows more about potions than he does,” Minerva agreed.
Severus was flattered: “It is the purest kind of magic. Not silly wand waving, but knowledge, dexterity, and power. It’s such a pity that so few of my students understand and appreciate this.”
“It’s difficult to appreciate the beauty of potions when you‘re terrified to death,” Remus pointed out. “If you were a bit less harsh, they might like potions better.”
“I’m not a goody-goody like you, dearest Remus,” Severus answered, giving him a sharp look, “and I expect my students to respect that.”
“There are different methods of teaching,” Remus said placidly. “I just think it's important to arouse their interest and curiosity. You cannot get knowledge from studying books alone.”
“Like Umbridge did,” Minerva sneered. “You were really the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher we've had in a long time, Remus”
“I understand, and I am the bad boy who cost him his job.” Severus got up so violently that his chair fell to the floor.
“Calm down, it was no accusation, although it wasn’t very nice,” Remus remarked. Damn, the man was touchy at the moment.
“I wasn't nice?” Severus exploded. “And what about you? You stunned me, put my life in danger once again, and because of you, Dumbledore humiliated me in public.”
“What? I’m not sensible at the moment? I am fed up with being sensible! Dumbledore did know what Potter did to save Black, most likely it was his own idea, but when I accused Potter of helping him, he shielded the boy – and I wasn’t important, again. 'Oh Severus, it’s a shame that you nearly died, but keeping Remus's secret is more important than your life.' Wasn’t that what he said twenty years ago? I thought I could earn his respect.” Severus shook his head. “What a fool I was. He never cared for me, none of you did.”
He stormed out of the room and left them staring after him, speechless. Remus turned to Minerva, who was astonishingly calm. “Those are the advantages of Malagis,” she told him, getting up herself.
“Advantages?” Remus croaked.
“Of course. This was eating Severus alive for years, but he never told anybody. He just masked away his pain from anybody else. Now that he is admitting it, we may be able to help him heal the wounds in his soul.” She stepped to the fireplace. “You had better try and speak to him. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
Without telling him where she was thinking of disappearing to, Remus rushed to find Severus. The Slytherin had locked himself in the bathroom and refused to open the door or even communicate with Remus.
“Severus,” he pleaded, ”let me in.”
Remus thought of breaking down the door, but before he came to a decision, a door behind him opened.
“Alohomora,” a powerful voice said, and the bath room door sprang open. He turned around. Albus Dumbledore stood in the middle of the corridor.
“Albus!” Severus who sat huddled on the lip of the tub stared at him with wide eyes.
”Severus, my child.”.
”What are you doing here?” the Slytherin whispered, shocked, and Remus had the same question. Dumbledore hadn't left his house for the last two years.
“Minerva told me about your situation–and your little outburst.”
“Are you angry with me?” Severus asked, subdued.
”No, I'm not angry with you, I'm angry with myself.” Albus knelt down before him and looked up at him. “Severus, I love you. You were always especially dear to me. I'm sometimes an old fool, and I often favour my Gryffindors too much. I've searched my soul the two last years, and I know now, where I failed.
It was wrong, what I did twenty years ago. I was afraid for Remus because I knew he would have a hard life anyway. But that does not mean that your life doesn't matter to me. And I was worried about Sirius getting his soul sucked out innocently. But you're right: I never should have inflicted this pain on you. I just didn't see how badly I was hurting you. I was so blind. I only can try to apologize. You were always important to me. I have always felt like a father to my pupils, but never more than to you. But I was losing you, each day a bit more, without realising it. Maybe it's a bit late now, but I want you to know, that I cared. I should have shown it more. Can you forgive me?”
“Of course.” Severus let himself be pulled into Albus's arms, crying quietly. The former headmaster cradelt him close and whispered consoling words in his ears.
Remus watched this scene breathlessly, but he felt like an intruder and tiptoed away.
Back in the kitchen, Minerva smiled at him. ”Maybe we should make a fresh pot of tea. They 'll want something to eat after this draining conversation.”
“Do you think it helped?”
“I hope so. Maybe it was exactly the words, Severus needed to hear.”
It was about half an hour later when Dumbledore and Severus came down to the kitchen. Obviously Albus had found the right words. Severus looked very exhausted but also immensely relieved.
”Oh, tea and cake. How nice.” Albus's eyes twinkled. ”Come, Severus, eat something. It will do you good.” Severus nodded silently and helped himself to some cake.
”Do you feel better now?” Minerva asked softly.
“Yes, I'm sorry for my outburst.”
“It's okay, you needed to get it off your chest.” Albus patted his hand. “The important thing is that you don’t think anymore that I don't love you.”
“I was just not sure whether I'm worth I after all I did...” he trailed of.
“Never think that again,” Albus told him sternly,”to accept your errors and try to make them better is something not many people are strong enough to do. I ever was proud of you and don't you dare ever to forget that.”
Severus nodded and looked a bit ashamedly to Remus. ”I guess it's also time that I apologize for outing you as a werewolf. It was wrong, especially when you weren't the person I was angry with.”
Remus, who hadn't expected an apology and knew exactly what it had cost Severus, smiled and dipped his head in acknowledgement. ”It's okay. We all make mistakes.”
“Thank you. And thank you for your patience. I know you tried many times to approach me. The last at the Yule ball. I shouldn't have been so harsh, but I was angry because Potter was announced the new deputy headmaster.”
“Oh, Severus.” Albus sighed. ”Teaching was no more than a cover–should never be more. You never liked it, and I was always sorry that you were forced to stay there for so long. But now it's over, you have done your penance, you can live your life again. You always liked creating potions; surely you could earn some money like that.”
“Bomba would be too happy if you decided to create potions for him,” Minerva added.
”I can imagine. And because of that, I didn't promote you. You should be free to go when you are ready. Although I'm very angry, how Harry handled the situation. It was never meant for you to be driven away from Hogwarts. But I think he's paying for that.”
“Oh, yes, he is.” Minerva smirked. ”It's not easy to find a new Potions professor.”
“It's the job most difficult to fill,” Albus agreed. ”That is why I never placed you teaching DADA. DADA is not that difficult to teach, but you must know a lot to teach potions.”
“Oh yes, the first candidates could only teach until the third year level, but not more advanced material.” Minerva chuckled. ”The second even melted a few cauldrons. And number four was Newton Joner.”
“But even I don't understand his jargon."
“Neither do the pupils, Severus. And I think I let Harry find the new Potions professor,” Minerva told them. ”Normally, I would have done it, because it's too difficult for someone with Potter's lack of experience, but it serves him right after he treated you so cruelly.”
“It does,” Albus agreed, “but let's talk about something different. When I left my house, I thought we could go out this evening. Rosemerta is showing my favourite play from Moliere.”
They all enjoyed the performance. Remus never had seen Severus laugh so freely. Later, they went to a good wine restaurant, and the two man sat there long after Minerva and Albus had bid them a good night. Remus had drunk a bit more wine than he should, and so had Severus, who was still weak, was a bit drunk. So they were chatting happily and laughing on their way back home.
”You know, I'm very thankful that I can stay here,” Severus told him when they reached his room.
Remus smiled. “You are welcome.”
”You are a real friend.” Severus stumbled, and Remus grabbed his arm. Losing his equilibrium, Severus landed in his arms, and suddenly their faces were only inches away from each other. Remus had never seen Severus smiling like this. He was so beautiful. Before he could think better about it, Remus closed the gap and kissed him passionately.
4. Step: Stray
Remus's thoughts long circled around that kiss. The next morning Severus seemed to remember nothing – at least he didn't mention it – and Remus decided that it was best not to press matters. He knew very well that he was well on his way to falling in love with the Slytherin. But he had no idea how Severus's feelings were. Sure, they were spending a lot time together in a friendly way, reading, drawing, playing chess or just talking. They even went out to have dinner a few times. Severus had opened up a bit to him, finally accepting his friendship. And Remus was too afraid to risk this precious gift to voice his true feelings.
Besides that, they had other problems. The physical signs of Malagis were over, but now the aftereffects cut in. Severus had horrible nightmares that couldn't be cured with potions. So Severus often got up in the middle of the night to read or work in the lab before he fell asleep out of exhaustion. Remus felt very helpless since he had no idea how to help him, beside to indulge him a bit in daytime. But he was worried.
So when Severus didn't return from a walk one day, he was near panic. What in hell could have happened? Rushing out of the house, he called out his name. He had nearly reached the river a mile from the house, when he finally got an answer. His legs shook out of relief when he followed that voice. To his surprise, he found Severus under a big oak, kneeling beside a dirty, haggard, and hurt dog.
”Severus?” Remus sat down beside them, shocked. ”What are you doing here?”
“He tried to steal my cookies.” Severus smiled gently. ”He has to be half starved.”
“So you decided to give them to him?” Remus smiled when he saw Severus stroking the tangled fur. He had never had seen Severus be so gentle before.
”I think his paw is hurt, maybe he has a thorn in it,” Severus told him. ”Maybe we could…"
“Take him with us?” Remus nodded. ”Why not?”
When Severus got up, the dog followed him immediately and limped behind them to Lupin's house. He seemed to trust the Slytherin and let Severus bathe and tend to him without fussing. Now clean, he showed himself as a wild mixture of different dog species with brown fur and a torn ear. After being fed some bacon, he rolled over beside Severus, looking very comfortable.
”I think you have found a new friend.” Remus grinned. ”I don't think he will leave you again on free will.”
“Sorry, it is your house, and if you don't like him staying here...”
“Rubbish. I like dogs, and this one looks, as if he really needs someone to care for him, “ Remus reassured him. “You should give him a name.”
”Stray,” Severus proposed. “I think this is a good name.”
“Yes, it is.” Remus looked at him fondly. The more he learned about Severus, the more he realized how little he knew the Slytherin. He never had seen him being such gentle.
”What are you laughing about?” Severus looked up, meeting his eyes.
“I just thought about what your pupils would say, if they could see you tending that dog. They would be horrified, that you can be so friendly. To be honest, you seem to have more tolerance for this dog than for your fellow human beings.”
“I know how it is when no one wants you.” Severus yawned. “Sorry, I'm tired. I had better get some sleep.”
“Yes, good night.”
Stray sprang to his feet immediately and followed Severus into his room.
The next morning, Remus was very surprised to find Severus not in the kitchen. The Slytherin had never slept past five the last days and normally made breakfast for them. Worried, Remus went to his room only to find Severus peacefully asleep with Stray lying on his feet. “What's the matter?" Severus asked sleepily.
”Oh, it's already nine, and I was worried. Sorry that I woke you.”
“Oh, nine already?” Severus was clearly surprised. ”Seems that I've slept through the night.”
“That's great.” Remus smiled. ”Maybe Stray here chased the nightmares away.”
“Yes, maybe so.” Severus smiled and stroked the fur between Stray's ears.
And maybe it Stray really had guarded Severus's sleep, because the following two nights he also slept more or less peacefully.
The third morning it was Lupin, who was restless.
”You know what night this is,” he told the Slytherin after the breakfast.
”Yes, of course. It's the full moon. I've the wolfsbane ready. Don't worry.”
“I'm not worried about that, but about you.”
“I've seen worse, Lupin.”
“Yes, but that didn't try to eat you once.” Remus sighed. ”Look, I've heavy bars at the door of my room, and you can lock it. I think it 's better to take precautions.”
“Your choice.” Severus seemed relieved, that he wouldn't have to face the werewolf again or to reveal his fears. But he was a bit nervous, which caused him problems with concentrating on the chess game he was playing with Lupin. And the thunderstorm that had started about six and made Stray disappear whining under the couch didn't made it any better.
But after dinner, a distraction set in, which let him forget the transformation completely for a while. They hadn't finished the washing up when suddenly Sirius appeared in the middle of the room, and Remus nearly dropped the plate he was drying.
”Sirius, you're back from Egypt!” He gave his best friend a hug. ”How was it? When did you arrive?”
“Just a few hours ago. Tonks told me you had a guest.” He stepped closer to Snape. ”I didn't want to believe her, but she was right. Snivellus is in fact here.”
“Sirius, please be polite,” Remus warned. ”He is my guest.”
“Oh, Remus, you were always too good for this world.” Sirius gave his friend a fond smile before turning to Snape. ”Don't you think it's time to creep back to Hogwarts and stop burdening Remus?”
“I'm no burden,” Severus protested. ”It was not me, who sat at home while every one else was risking his neck.”
“No, you licked Voldemort's arse.“
“Better than cleaning house for three years. Besides, Lupin invited me to help him with a project about wolfsbane.”
“The project is long over, isn't it? So what are you still doing here?”
“The deal was that he helps me and can stay here as long as he needs to heal,” Remus told him calmly. ”And now be still.”
“I will not. I'm your friend, and I will not stand by and watch him take advantage of you. He looks pretty healthy, doesn't he? Time to return to Hogwarts.”
“He could always relapse, and besides, in Hogwarts they're already searching for a new Potions professor,” Remus explained patiently.
“Oh, they don't want you anymore? Can't blame them for that. Harry will be glad to get rid of you.”
“Yes, Potter has less sense than even his father.“ Severus was losing his temper, too, now.
“Don’t you dare speak about James. You are not worthy to lick his boots.”
“I should think his boots had rotted long ago.“
”How dare you?”
“Oh, calm down Black, he was more a spoilt brat than a saint.”
“And what about you? What are you doing here? Staying with 'a flea-bitten werewolf,' as you put it so often. There is only one reason to forget that. You thought you could ensconce yourself here because there's no other place you could go. Your old friends are all dead or in Azkaban. No one wants you, poor git,” he told him with mock pity.
”Sirius,” Remus warned.
”Yes, Remus, I know you were always the gentlest of us. And I imagine you feel sorry this bastard, but he doesn't deserve it. He is still the same sly git we knew. Don't tell me you want to move in with Snivellus.”
This old, derisive nickname let Severus finally explode: ”Don't be afraid, mutt. I don't need your pity. I'd rather creep under a stone like the snake I am.” With that, he ran out of the house.
“What do you think you are doing here?” Before Sirius could react, Remus had hit him. ”He is ill, god dammit, and it's raining cats and dogs outside.”
”You really are worried, aren't you?”
”Of course I am,” Remus shouted. ”He was my guest, and we developed something like a friendship.”
”A friendship with Snivellus?!”
“Yes, when you get him to know better, he is different. He is gentle and intelligent, even funny sometimes. He is good to talk to, and I like to have him around me. And...and he's not greasy.”
“You sound as if you were pining for him.” Sirius snorted, and Remus couldn't stop himself from blushing furiously.
”That's not true.”.
“It is true. It's the first time I've felt like that for a very long while.” Remus gave him stern look. ”What now? Will you turn away from me in disgust?”
“No,” Sirius answered his glare helplessly. ”I wouldn't risk our friendship for anything in the world, Moony.”
In that moment Remus felt the first sharp stabs of the change. “Then go after him and bring him back. Please, for me.”
“And how shall I find him?”
“I think Stray here would be pleased to help,” Remus choked out as he convulsed in pain.
“Stray?” Sirius looked around questioningly until his eyes caught the dog hidden under the couch.
“Okay, I'll do it. But only for your sake.” He sighed deeply and changed into dog form.
As Padfoot, he could understand the barking of other dogs without problems.
“Afraid of the thunderstorm?” he asked sympathetically.
“Yes.” The other dog crawled out. ”Is my master in danger?”
"This greasy git is your master?” Sirius wondered as they left the house.
“He is not greasy, he is gentle. He found me and cared for me,” Stray told him indignantly, to his surprise. This was not the Snape he knew.
In the end, they found him in an old, decaying shack, huddled up and shivering. Stray began to lick his hands immediately, and Sirius changed back.
”What do you want?” Severus snapped.
”Remus sent me to bring you back. This weather won't improve your illness. And yes, I apologize for being a bit rude.”
When Severus stayed silent, Sirius sighed. ”Come on, Snape, don't be such a drama queen. I was impolite, okay, but that's no cause to behave such silly. You are cold, and we better return to the house now, so stop sulking.”
“I'm sulking?” Severus snorted. ”You destroyed my life.”
“I played a prank on you, Merlin! It's time to move on and stop wailing over the past. You poisoned your life because of some schoolboy pranks. Most of it was your own fault anyway. Why did you follow us around and try to get us caught? Shall I tell you, why? You were jealous of our popularity, especially of James's Quidditch skills.”
Snape laughed bitterly. ”Jealous? Yes, I was jealous. But not… Do you remember my family? I remember yours. Your parents were not nice, I admit, but in comparison with my father they were angels. He was used to punish us not only with his fists but, when he was truly angry, even the Cruciatus. Why do you think I knew so much about curses? But yes, I was jealous of Potter. Not because he was popular or a good Quidditch player – it would have been nice for me, sure, but I never could hope to reach that anyway. No, the main point was, that he was loved. He had everything I didn't, and yet he dedicated himself to making that bit of life that was free from my father a hell worse than at home. You see, the Cruciatus ends, but you made the school laugh about me. My pride was all I had. I had hoped so much to find friends in Hogwarts, people who could help me deal with the horrors of my home, but no one was brave enough to risk the attention of the Marauders. The only companions I found were followers of Voldemort, and in the end I was weak enough to join them.”
Severus sighed deeply. “Perhaps most important was that my father told he how little I was worth, and I was fighting that when I fought you. And I lost – not only in the Shrieking Shack. That you risked my life was bad enough, but it was so worthless to you that you risked it for a joke.”
After this long speech, Severus buried his head in Stray's fur and hoped the Gryffindor would go away. Why had he told him all this? Stupid illness.
Sirius, of course, had no intention of doing so. He watched Severus more or less in shock. Replaying in his head all the pranks, he asked himself for the first time in his life what they had done to Snape – the answer was devastating. And Sirius was thoughtless but not cruel.
“We didn't mean it like that,” he started rather shyly. “Yes, you were an easy target, easy to hate and easy to forget your feelings. But we never thought that you had no worth, and even if you don't believe me, it never occurred to me that you could be really in danger. I was a thoughtless dunderhead. It doesn't sound like very much, but I'm sorry. We just...we didn't think for one moment. But what can I do now to make it better?”
“Nothing more than that: saying that you were wrong. You can't change what happened, but I need to hear that I didn't deserve that, at least.”
“Of course you didn't. We were wrong. I think that was never the question, not even back then. We just didn't want to admit it – even to ourselves. But if we'd had the slightest idea what you had to face because of us, we would never had …but it's too late now. I can only promise that I'll try to make it up to you…"
He was interrupted when the roof suddenly broke and rain poured over them with all its might.
”Ew, I think we'd better go back to the house.” Sirius helped Severus to his feet. ”Remus would never forgive me if you caught a cold.”
“He is very caring,” Severus whispered, allowing Sirius to drag him through the wet meadows. ”No one has ever been so kind to me.”
“And you? How do you feel about him?” Sirius took a shot in the dark, and Severus's silence told him enough. “You're in love with him, aren't you?”
”Yes,” Severus admitted. ”I know what you think. I'm not good enough for him, and he'll never love me.”
“I'm not so sure about that,” Sirius murmured, reluctant to promote this relationship, but too aware that he owed both men a lot.
“Do you really think?” Severus sounded terribly vulnerable. ”He kissed me once, but he was very drunk and never mentioned it again. I thought he…”
“I think you're both afraid of your feelings.” Sirius patted his shoulder. ”Talk to him.”
“You're right. It's just … he has done a lot for me. I want pay a bit back, before..."
”If you really want to do something for him, you should go to him now. I'm sure nothing would mean more to him than you accepting him in this form.”
Severus nodded. Oh, yes, that was clear. But he was still afraid of the wolf.
“Don't worry.” Encouragingly, Sirius squeezed his arm. ”You won't be alone.”
Remus padded up and down nervously, worried about both men who were so dear to him. When he heard steps, he was more than relieved. But then the steps came nearer, and to his surprise the door was opened, and both men stepped into the room. What in hell…?
He could smell Severus's fear. But the Slytherin didn't back up.
“Come here, Moony,” Sirius called, and he threw an arm around Severus. ”Shh, that’s still Remus. Don't be afraid.“
Not sure what they wanted, Remus carefully came nearer. Severus was near panic when Remus reached them, but he didn't run, only pressed closer to Sirius.
”Shh,” the Gryffindor repeated, ”nothing can hurt you. Come, just touch him. He won't hurt you.” Soothingly whispering calming words in his ear, he gently guided Severus to lay his hand on Remus's head.
When nothing bad happened, Severus finally knelt down beside him and let his fingers slide through his fur. Remus closed his eyes and whined happily. Severus petting him felt good.
Sirius grinned at this scene. ”Okay, gents. It's time for me to go to bed. And you should get him somewhere warm, too, Moony, before he really gets a cold. Good night.“
Bed was a good idea. Severus was indeed shivering, and Remus gently urged him to his bed. Severus was too exhausted to ask if sleeping in Lupin's bed really was a good idea and slipped under the cover. Remus jumped up beside him, and the furry body warmed him. Severus sighed, content, and snuggled close, burying his face in the fluffy fur.
The change woke both of them with a start, and Severus watched the painful convulsions in horror.
“Are you all right?” he asked after Remus was human once again, and he pulled him a bit nearer so he could share his warmth this time.
”Thank you,” whispered the werewolf, ”And thank you for coming last night. It meant a lot to me.”
Remus looked down on him, softly stroking some hairs out of his face, and when Severus looked up, he couldn't help but bend down and kiss him. To his surprise, Severus not only responded to the kiss but Remus saw his own longing mirrored in the black eyes. And suddenly both understood.
“We're some fools here, I believe,” Remus murmured, laughing quietly.
“Yes, but better late than never.”
They kissed again, exploring each other slowly, arousing the other with care. Then Remus took the lead, lovingly preparing the Slytherin and rocking them both to contemplation. Sated and content, they snuggled close afterwards and fell asleep again.
The next time they were woke, it was because two heavy bodies landed on them.
”Padfoot! Stray!” Remus laughed. ”Time for breakfast, hm?”
“Yes, it's nearly ten.” Severus stroked Stray between the ears. Remus grinned and took Severus's hand like Sirius had done yesterday. But this time, he laid it on Padfoot's head. Time for the two to give up their hostility. Reluctantly, Severus petted the big black dog's head, and also reluctantly, Sirius held still. Remus smiled. It was a beginning.
After a quick shower, Remus and Severus went into the kitchen and found the table full of delicious food: pancakes with chocolate cream and honey, sandwiches, bacon and eggs, fruit, and tea.
”Brunch?” Sirius grinned.
“A good idea.” Remus grinned back. ”But what brought this on? You normally aren't this caring.”
“It's kind of an apology for my behaviour yesterday evening,“ Sirius explained a bit awkwardly while they were eating. “I know it was wrong.”
“What was the matter anyway?” Remus asked. “I mean, you two don't like each other, but coming here straight after your arrive back from Egypt only to throw insults at Severus…”
“This is a longer story. I was angry with him before Tonks mentioned that Severus was staying here.“ Sirius sighed. ”Look, in Egypt I accidentally found out that the Malfoys have flown to their estate in Puerto Rico. You know they are pretty safe there from being handed over. But the point is that Lucius could only escape with an enchanted portkey; nothing else would have brought him through the wards of this house.”
“And such a powerful item would bring him out of the high security zone, too, of course,“ Remus added.
“Only someone who has stayed in that house before can touch such a portkey. That's the problem with this kind of dark magic,” Sirius continued, ”and Lucius rarely invited people there. I doubt if there are many who are still alive anyway.”
“Besides me.” Severus was surprisingly calm. “Yes, you are right. I was, in fact, the one, who helped Lucius to escape. I'm not sure if it was right, but I don't think he can do any damage anymore. I just couldn't let him die. Our friendship had suffered much in the last several years, but I couldn't forget how close we were once. I just couldn't let him die this way. I'm sorry to disappoint you.” He looked to the floor, avoiding Remus's eyes.
“You don't.“ Remus squeezed his hand and asked worriedly, ”Have you told anybody yet, Sirius?”
“You're not disgusted?” Severus whispered with desperate hope. “You were the only one who believed in my innocence.”
“Yes, I don't believe that you would do anything to harm us. And you haven't. I understand your feelings, and I don't think that Lucius is still a danger, either.” Remus forced Severus to look up and gave him a reassuring kiss.
“And I have no intentions to tell anybody,” Sirius added.
“But that was the cause for your anger, wasn't it?” asked Severus. ”That I betrayed you.”
“No, that was not the real problem. It's complicated. You remember what happened after I fell through that damned veil?”
“Voldemort realized that you were in Limbo since you weren't dead when you fell, and he imprisoned you, but you escaped,” Remus said, ”and…?”
“The thing is, I wouldn't have managed to escape without help. Someone had to open that door and lead me outside of the damned labyrinth that was Voldemort's lair.” Sirius closed his eyes. ”It was Peter.”
“What?!” Remus stared at him with wide eyes, but Severus murmured, ”So that was the cause for his demise. I always wondered…"
“Yes, they killed him for that.” Sirius looked pained. “And he knew. Guess it was his way to pay me back a bit. I just wished… Look, he told me that he was sorry when he lead me outside, but I was very rude, even though he had saved my life. I didn't know what would happen to him. Merlin, it wouldn't have cost me anything to say something more gentle, even to forgive at least what he'd done to me. It might have made it easier for him, but for that I was too self- righteous…"
“Oh, Siri.“ Remus hugged his friend comfortingly, and to his surprise, Severus was not jealous.
A bit awkwardly, he patted his hand. ”Maybe at least his last sacrifice will be enough for the Potters to forgive him. I'm sure you can solve these problems in your afterlife.”
“How very Slytherin.” Sirius laughed, to his surprise really a bit comforted. ”But anyway, finding out that you stood next to Lucius despite all that happened, what I hadn't been able to do, made me angry. More with myself than with you but…”
“I was an easy target.”
“Yes, I'm sorry.”
They finished in thoughtful silence.
“Let's forget the washing-up,” Sirius suggested after they had finished, trying to lighten the mood. ”It's a pretty day for a long walk, and that would do us all some good.”
When they were walking down the alley with the two dogs running like mad around them, Remus smiled. ”It was a good idea, but I think you are healing all right, anyway.”
Severus nodded and thought suddenly of not only the old hobbies he had revived and the new he had found during the last weeks, but also the wounds in his soul. His problems with trusting others, his fear that no one would ever trust him again, his doubts if Dumbledore really loved him, the hatred of the Marauders that had poisoned his life, and the isolation that had nearly killed him.
“I think I'm healing from much more than only Malagis. And without you I'd never have made it,” he said, pulling the startled werewolf in his arms, and they stayed locked in their embrace for a long time.