Title: Lord Rakehell.
Author: Lutra
Rating: R-ish
Warnings: reluctant cross-dressing.
Feedback: Not required but always nice.

Summary: Challenge No 245: Remus and Snape are pulled into a book. The only way to get out is to act out the story.
A/N: Because I've wanted to write a Bodice Ripper for ever such a long time.
Oh, and for Regency Romance buffs: let's just assume any historical inaccuracies are deliberate.
(And here's a bonus prequel! Only short and not essential to understanding but it's got dub-con smut.)
Disclaimer: All that you recognise belongs to JKR and the Corporate Ticks that feed on the bloated body of her creation. Anything you don't recognise is probably mine.
Beta'd by the redoubtable Joules!

Set before HBP; the scene opens at no: 12 plot deviceGrimmauld Place.

Lord Rakehell.

      Remus Lupin glanced surreptitiously at his companion, unsurprised to find the potions master still studiously pretending to be alone. Severus was very pointedly not talking to him; indeed over the past few weeks he'd elevated not talking to Lupin to an art form. Remus stifled a sigh: Snape didn't even bother with insults anymore, he just disregarded him entirely. The few times they'd found themselves in the same room that black gaze hadn't so much darted away as swept over him, granting him as much significance as… something else Severus had no use for. It was disconcerting, Remus mused unhappily, though not completely unwarranted…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Albus must have sensed the increased tension between them - he missed little else! - but even so the Headmaster had asked, most politely, no pressure at all, if they would mind terribly giving up some of their free time to poke through a box of books unearthed at a suspected Death Eaters' hideaway.
      "I can manage on my own." Snape had muttered loftily. "I'll take them back to Hogwarts…"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Ah, now that I can't allow, Severus," Dumbledore had begun in that pleasant tone of voice that meant he was absolutely set on his decision, "Too much risk to the students should any of the items prove dangerous."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Here, then. I can still work alone..."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The Headmaster continued to be genial but remained unswayed.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Again, I'm afraid not. For safety's sake there should be two of you."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Well, there went Remus' idea of offering to take the task on himself. He held his peace while Snape continued to try and reason with Dumbledore.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Aurors?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus was almost certain he was imagining the note of desperation creeping into Snape's voice.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "None available." The Headmaster said cheerfully. "I'm afraid you and Remus are the only two Dark Arts experts to hand." Smiling blue eyes turned to the werewolf. "Tomorrow morning? 10 a.m.? If that's agreeable, Remus?"
      Lupin nodded acquiescence and tried not to notice Snape's ill-concealed disgust…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ It was a wet and dreary Saturday on the edges of Winter. The kitchen at Grimmauld Place was comparatively warm, though, and the large table made an adequate workspace.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Dumbledore's 'small favour' was painstaking and ultimately tedious labour. Remove a book from the dusty, be-cobwebbed box and note the name and author, if any. Perform a variety of detection charms on the item and if nothing shows up, then - and only then - carefully open the book and peruse the contents. Make further notes on the subject matter, publication date, evidence of addenda, inclusions or obvious tampering. Place the parchment inside the front cover then set aside on the 'finished' pile.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ So far nothing intrinsically nasty had been unearthed though some of the topics were less than wholesome. Remus grimaced at his copy of "Being Fiftie Uses for the Heart of a Childe", which included gruesome illustrations on the most efficacious way to harvest the organ.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ An hour had dragged by and he'd only managed to deal with four books; Severus, he noted, had dealt with five. The silence felt heavy but Lupin knew better than to attempt conversation. He sighed, stood up and stretched: time for a drink.
      Remus made a pot of tea - quashing the churlish internal voice that grumbled that if he wanted something then he should ask - and set two cups down on the table. Snape didn't look up from his work but his sudden stillness provoked a spark of irritation in the werewolf. Oh for Merlin's Sake… Lupin poured himself a cup of fragrant liquid and sipped ostentatiously. Snape remained still and silent but Remus was well aware of his sidelong scrutiny. See? I'm not trying to poison you. Paranoid bastard…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Though in all fairness Snape had reason to be paranoid: the last time Remus had made him a cup of tea he'd laced it with a lust potion.

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin suspected he'd be cringing for years at the sheer stupidity of that single, idiotic‚Ķ Yes, there was only so much unrequited longing one could endure, and yes, at the time he'd feared he wouldn't be returning from his next little chore for the Order but even so‚Ķ And not just any old lust potion either, oh no, but one that would only work when the recipient was attracted to the administrator. Remus hadn't found that out until well after the fact, though, and had assumed Snape's aggression was simply because he was being forced into sex by someone he despised. But it was worse than that; Snape had known what the potion was and he'd punished Lupin for forcing him to admit that attraction ‚Äď to himself at any rate. Remus had briefly got the partner he'd craved for so long - and despite the circumstances the sex had been better than good - but he'd ached physically and emotionally for days afterwards and Snape hadn't spoken to him since.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ To complicate matters Lupin was almost certain Snape wasn't aware that he knew of the Libero potion's special properties. He firmly believed, however, that letting Snape know that he knew would obliterate any chance he had of salvaging anything from this disaster, because in spite of everything Remus was drawing deeply on his sunny, Gryffindor optimism and refusing to admit defeat. He still harboured a fascination with the arrogant prick, he still desired him more than was reasonable, and he still believed they had a chance at something tangible.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Well, he'd been called a fool before, just add this to the list of reasons why.

      He hadn't always had a thing for Snape, far from it. At school he'd shared his friends' opinion about greasy old Snivellus - tempered with a goodly amount of guilt, it had to be said - and it wasn't until a few year later he found his attitude had changed. Remus remembered the moment clearly. It was the middle of Summer, a horribly humid evening and he was lounging at a Muggle pub on the outskirts of London. He'd just bought his first pint and was preparing to settle in for a night of unashamed cruising - it was one of those pubs, as he'd recently understood that about himself - when he realised that the firm little arse in tight black trousers he'd been ogling belonged to Severus Snape. To say he was surprised was an understatement - he'd almost spilt his drink! He'd wondered at first if he'd been mistaken but no, there was no mistaking that crooked profile. What was Snape doing here? Dressed like that…? Remus suspected the shirt was pure silk, black, of course - terribly unfashionable in that pastel time - buttoned up to the neck and down to the wrists, but it suited the man's spare frame. Added to that he looked suspiciously cool amongst the perspiring Muggles, as if the heat wasn't affecting him. Well, it wouldn't if he was using a cooling charm, would it? Remus instinctively shrank back into the shadows but continued to watch, unsettled to realise that while Snape could in no way be called handsome he had suddenly become eminently fuckable. That couldn't be right - he'd argued with himself - he could never fancy Snape…
      But there it was, the longer Remus spent observing the man the more his interest… firmed. There was an economic grace to his old adversary's movements and Merlin's beard, had his fingers always been that long? And oh gods, his thighs… Lupin had to look away, regain some composure. He took a long swallow of his beer and fixed his attention on Snape's companion. The short man was wrinkled and dark, and vaguely familiar though Remus couldn't place him. He wasn't a Muggle, though neither did he give off that indescribable something that defined him as part of the wizarding world. A squib, perhaps? Someone who'd been living amongst Muggles?
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Further careful observation seemed to reveal that though Snape and Shorty were drinking companionably they didn't seem to be friendly. Remus chose not to examine why that was such a relief. He turned away to order another pint and when he glanced back it was to just catch a satisfied-looking Snape pocketing something while Shorty tipped him an unsubtle wink. The growl was half-way up his throat before Remus found the presence of mind to curb it: the surge of possessiveness was as irrational as it was disturbing. While Lupin struggled with himself Snape turned sharply on his heel and stalked off towards the loo. Remus waited a moment - not to see if Shorty was going with him, no indeed; if Snape wanted to shag someone in the toilet that was none of his concern - then followed in his wake. Literally. Even in Muggle clothing Snape moved with authority and malevolence, and the Muggle crowd parted for him like water against the prow of a ship.
      Remus hadn't been far behind his quarry but when he pushed his way into the dim and dank room he was completely alone. He could only assume that Snape had already apparated. He'd returned to the bar but not stayed long, having suddenly lost interest in the meat-market atmosphere…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Over the next few weeks Remus managed to convince himself that his interest in Snape had been an aberration brought on by a long hot day and the shock of seeing the wizard in Muggle clothes. However that comfortable theory was blown completely when he glimpsed Snape in Diagon Alley and experienced the same sort of restless yearning even though Snape was in his usual robes. The problem now, Remus surmised as he spied on the swooping, stalking figure, was that he had some idea of what was underneath the robes and it was all too easy to imagine delving into the layers of cloth to reach the slender body they concealed. Never one to act in haste if it could at all be avoided, Lupin retreated to the safe distance of his dingy bedsit to think things through. God, fancying old Snivellus? Sirius would never let him live this down but there appeared to be no denying it now. What to do though? Approaching Snape directly wasn't a good idea, the angst of their school years wasn't that far behind them and Remus knew how tightly the man could hold on to a grudge. Should he take it slow, then, approach obliquely, casually? They wouldn't normally come into contact all that often but with a bit of diligence Remus was sure he could increase their 'chance' meetings without it appearing contrived.
      But then of course everything had gone to hell and he'd lost his way amidst the grief of his friends' death and Sirius' supposed betrayal…

      The year he returned to Hogwarts to teach had frankly been torture. Time and distance hadn't dimmed his attraction to Snape - as much as he'd liked to fool himself into believing it had - but if anything the object of his desire was snarkier, greasier and more unapproachable than before. Still, once Remus had come to understand that this… whatever he felt, wasn't going to go away he remained hopeful that all would work out for the best. They saw each other every day now, surely that would help bridge the gap of years old hostility? He was tired, though; the intolerance and prejudice he'd endured over time because of his… condition had battered his self-esteem, left him heartsore and weary. He knew he didn't have much to offer but still he hoped, and in the spirit of this hope he was always courteous to Severus no matter how often his friendly overtures were rebuffed.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ It hadn't been all bleak. Remus loved teaching and the children's enthusiasm for learning was uplifting. James and Lily's son had quickly become dear to him and he was as proud of the boy as he'd imagined his parents would have been. All in all it hadn't been a bad year; he was employed, had friends, and was respected by most of his colleagues and students. Snape still sniped and growled and wouldn't exchange a civil word but at least now he could be close to him. Then Sirius had returned and buggered it all up.

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Make no mistake Remus was desperately glad to know the truth about the Potters' deaths and just as glad to have his friend returned to him - what was left of him after Azkaban - but Snape and Sirius' antagonism had flared into angry new life, overshadowing the small, hopeful flame Remus carried around in his heart. Snape hated Sirius as deeply as he ever did, and Sirius still loathed Snape. There could be no conflict of loyalties though. It had hurt to leave his life at Hogwarts, especially the manner of his departure, but he had somewhere to go this time, with someone who needed him.

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ And now Sirius was gone again, irretrievably this time, as good as dead. Snape was still there, however, and Remus had finally got tired of waiting. Hence the potion and the ensuing complications. Knowing he'd brought all his troubles on himself didn't help him feel any better. Why was life never simple?

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus feigned absorption in the awful text he was perusing, making no comment when Snape poured himself a cup of tea from the demonstrably untainted brew and took an unhurried sip. The potions master placed the cup back on the table and dipped again into the box.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ He snorted indelicately.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Muggle nonsense."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What did you find?" Whether or not Severus welcomed his participation, how could Remus not respond to the only words spoken in over an hour? He reached across to pick up the book Snape had tossed aside in disgust
      Oh dear…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin suppressed a smile at the paperback, with its luridly coloured cover adorned by a smirking, overly-muscled hero in a white, loosely laced shirt, tight leather breeches and knee-high boots. The title was inscribed in heavy, gothic letters across the top - Lord Rakehell.
      "What on earth is this doing amongst a Death Eater's stash?" he mused aloud. There was no reply from his companion of course and Remus, still bemused but unable to resist, cracked the nearly-new book open. He only had time to shoot Snape a look of absolute horror before the violet glow exploded up to fill his vision…


¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus was momentarily confounded by the expanse of pale material hanging in a filmy sheet in front of him. Where had that come from? He blinked, orientating himself, realising he was lying on his back and the material was in fact hanging above him. He cautiously raised his head and wasn't comforted to find he was reclining in a four-poster bed. The bed curtains were the same light colour as the canopy and tied back neatly to the carved bed posts. Still cautious, Severus sat up and looked around. The room seemed large though it was hard to tell in the dim light from heavily curtained windows. Where the hell was he? Had that blasted book been some sort of portkey? He'd dismissed it out of hand, not bothering to check for spells or charms because it was just Muggle nonsense. He swore viciously at his complaisance - though he castigated himself quietly. He still had no idea of his situation; no idea of where he was or why he was there, or if anyone was listening.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ A noise from outside the room had him groping for his wand. Where was it?!
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Still abed, my lamb?" the plump woman who'd bustled in clucked in a reproving tone. "Come. Up now. Your father is expecting a guest." She twitched the curtains open allowing bright, morning sunshine to flood the room. Severus stared at the intruder, a nasty suspicion taking shape in his mind. She was dressed in something high-waisted and flowing he vaguely recognised from a Muggle historical treatise. Her hair was concealed beneath a simple linen cap and she wore an apron of sorts over her plain grey dress. She frowned at him, hands on hips.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Fie now, my duck. Get up! You're expected downstairs."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Why?" Severus croaked.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Because there's a guest coming." The woman's tone was fond but exasperated. She hurried across the room, flinging open a concealed door to reveal an array of brightly coloured garments. Severus glanced down at himself, his suspicion growing stronger by the moment. He was wearing a voluminous, lace-trimmed night-gown.
      Oh no…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ As the woman rummaged around in the cupboard Snape plucked the neck of the ridiculous garment forward, peering down at his skinny male chest in relief. Just to be sure he wriggled his hand beneath the brocade counterpane to cup the familiar heaviness of penis and balls. Thank Merlin for that!
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Here you are." The woman crowed as she flourished what was unmistakably a dress. A buttercup-yellow dress, with delicate floral embroidery around the neck.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm not wearing that!" Severus choked out. The woman's eyebrows rose.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Why ever not? 'tis a fetching colour." She nodded sagely. "'twill bring out your eyes most pleasingly, mistress."
      Empirical evidence revealed he hadn't changed sex but the woman was treating him as female. Either she was mad, or… Severus groaned. He was almost certain now he knew what had happened. The book hadn't been a portkey it was a Living Tale.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Living Tales had been all the rage several years ago, exchanging hands for ludicrous sums of money. Snape had sneered at the hysteria but now he wished he'd paid just a little bit more attention; he knew sod all about the artefacts, least of all how to get out of one.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin!
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The damn werewolf had opened the book: was he here as well?

      The counterpane was whisked away, revealing pale calves and bony ankles. Severus' hand was still curved around the reassurance of his genitals but the woman didn't appear to notice. Bessie; the name floated into his mind and he sneered. What an original name for a servant…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "If it please you to arise now, mistress." The words were polite but the tone certainly wasn't. Bessie, Snape surmised, was one of those stock character 'beloved family retainers', allowed liberties with her charge that no one else would dare. Bessie went so far as to frown. "Fie, my lovely, you've missed breakfast. Your good mother will think you're ailing and send for the doctor!"
      "Oh very well." Snape grumbled, swinging his legs over the side of the deep mattress…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The next thing he knew he was in another room, sitting straight-backed in a simple chair. Severus glanced down at the dainty yellow muslin of his garb and scowled. At least he'd been spared the indignity of actually being dressed. He slumped, or tried to, finding his body held rigid within some sort of constraint. Corsets. Oh lovely. This was to be an 'authentic' recreation then? His worsening mood was not improved by the stern looks being bestowed on him by a middle-aged couple standing in front of the empty hearth. His 'parents or guardians', he presumed?
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "It would do you well to remember that Lord Wilton is an important man, my girl." The man's fair eyebrows met in a frown. "And it would please me beyond measure if you could behave with the modesty expected of a young gentlewoman."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Yes, father."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus blinked. The book was putting words in his mouth?
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I know you won't disappoint us, my dear." The woman, his mother, broke into a smile that fairly hummed with genuine warmth and affection.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ There was a tap on the door and male servant, in livery with a powdered wig bowed into the room.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Lord Wilton, sir."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Mrs. Binkler gestured for her 'daughter' to rise as the servant held the door further open. With a sinking heart Snape could well guess who this 'important man' might be.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "An honour to meet you, my Lord!" Mr. Binkler said heartily, stepping forward to shake Remus Lupin's hand.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "And you, Mr. Binkler." Lupin inclined his head. "Thank you for the invitation. It's a pleasure to meet you," his gaze came to rest on Severus' face and he all but grinned. "And your family."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Come, my Lord, I'll introduce you."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Mrs. Binkler curtsied prettily when formally introduced to 'Lord Wilton' but her 'daughter' had no intention of doing any such thing. The book had other ideas, and though Severus stubbornly fought the compulsion to abase himself before the werewolf he couldn't resist forever, not without looking foolish. His curtsy was perfunctory and graceless.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "A pleasure, my Lord." He ground out murderously, locking his eyes with Lupin and daring him to say anything.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Luncheon will be served shortly," Mrs. Binkler said brightly.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Perhaps Miss Binkler would show me the way?" A frown ghosted over Lupin's features affording Snape a moment of satisfaction. He wasn't the only one being 'directed' by the book. He nodded without smiling - half waiting for himself to say something inane - then followed his parents out of the room, Lupin falling into step beside him.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "We appear to have become enmeshed in a Living Tale." The werewolf murmured. "Are you familiar with them?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I tend not to give any regard to fads." Severus stared stonily ahead. He thought he heard Lupin sigh, but the werewolf continued on conversationally.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Minerva has one; she was telling me about it." Remus chuckled at Snape's involuntary glance. "Oh, it's not like this. Hers is a French medieval murder mystery."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "How fascinating, Lupin." Severus sneered. "Do you know anything useful?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The sigh was more audible this time.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I know we can't use magic here ‚Äď you'll notice your wand is missing. I know that subjectively we'll be in this world for as long as it takes for the story to conclude but only an hour or less will pass in the 'real' world. I know we'll have some autonomy but the book will give us a nudge if we stray from the basic plot. Please, Severus," he sounded tired, "unless we stumble over the command to interrupt the story we're here for the duration. Can we be civil, at least?"
      Snape's jaw tightened as he ground his teeth together. He didn't want to look at the blasted werewolf let alone be civil. Their last encounter, and Lupin's little joke, still rankled, still gnawed away at him like acid in his gut. The situation was intolerable, but he was astute enough to realise that being in a constant state of conflict for however long this took would be… wearing. He wouldn't let his guard down though, he was not going to give Lupin another chance to humiliate him. Snape growled: fine, brave words they were from a man in a dress.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I will not make idle chit-chat."
      "No, of course not." Lupin didn't look like he was smiling but the flavour of it was there in his tone. Severus harrumphed to himself; he could be civil, for the duration. Hopefully this cursed story wouldn't be one that spanned generations of a family…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ As his experience on waking had shown earlier, Snape wasn't forced to live the interminable details of day to day life. The book skipped ahead to particular scenes while leaving him with the impression of time passed. Lupin's - Lord Wilton's - first visit to the Binkler household passed quickly in this manner. From taking their seats at the dining table the characters were flashed forward to the Lord's gracious departure.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Mr. and Mrs. Binkler escorted their guest to the door, chatting happily while 'Miss' Binkler followed in sullen silence. On the wide steps at the front entrance Lupin bowed politely to his hosts before bestowing a slightly deeper reverence to their 'daughter'.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "The style's flattering, Severus, but I really don't think that's your colour." He murmured, light-brown eyes twinkling with amusement. Snape scowled fiercely enough to threaten himself with a headache.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Why am I the woman?" he huffed in irritation. The damn corset was beginning to chafe and his feet were aching from the lack of arch support in the delicate, pointless, little scraps of material encasing his feet.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "As to that - I have no idea." Lupin replied smoothly.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Snape accused with a hiss.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The werewolf laughed and performed another deep and courtly bow, grinning briefly up at him through a thick fringe before straightening up once again.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "It's not often I get to play the dandy."
      Lord Wilton's long-legged grey was saddled and ready. Snape refused to be impressed with the apparent ease with which Lupin vaulted onto the creature's back. Likewise he refused to notice just how tight the Lord's breeches appeared to be, or how they hugged the curve of his arse; and he absolutely, unequivocally refused to acknowledge just how damn fine the werewolf looked as he cantered away…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ There were more visitors the following day; old friends of the family. Squire Robard, his wife and Melissa, the youngest - and still unmarried - of their brood greeted Mr and Mrs. Binkler jovially. Snape eyed their bright-eyed, pinched-nose daughter with cynicism. She looked like a gossip; another literary device done to death.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "My dearest friend!" a flurry of powder blue cotton flung itself at Severus. "How are you? I heard you had a visitor?" fine eyebrows waggled evocatively as Melissa took her 'friend's' hand. "A very important visitor?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You're referring to Lord Wilton, I assume?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "The very same!" Melissa giggled. "Is he as handsome as reported?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape felt his lips turn up into a small smile as he heard himself say:
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Handsome enough." The damn book was interfering again; he'd meant to voice an outright denial.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "He has a deliciously roguish reputation." Melissa leant close and lowered her bell-like voice enough that it now only carried to the other side of the room instead of clear across the building.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Does he indeed?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ 'Lord Wilton', it seemed, was something of a cad. He gambled and lost a good deal more than he won; he'd ruined any number of foolish, lower class girls and was even now poised on the brink of being disinherited for his behaviour. Severus couldn't help smirking to hear such wickedness laid at the werewolf's door. Lupin wasn't a scoundrel, he didn't have the backbone, but then, it wasn't Lupin being accused of these indiscretions really, was it? The conversation suddenly became a good deal less interesting.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Mama tells me that Lord Wilton is invited to the ball!" Melissa sighed in an ostentatiously dreamy sort of way. "I'm so looking forward to meeting him, I fear I shan't be able to speak!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape quirked an eyebrow - he sincerely doubted dear 'lissa would ever fall prey to the affliction of speechlessness - then he frowned.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Wait ‚Äď a ball?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "My family's Summer ball, you silly thing!" Melissa tittered. "How could you forget?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ He remembered now, or rather, the book obligingly fed him the information. The Robard's Summer Ball - the highlight of the county's season - would be held in just under a fortnight.
      Severus blanched; oh gods above he would be expected to dance…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape found himself again in the sitting room with an embroidery hoop in his hands. He grimaced, setting the sampler aside and reaching instead for a convenient book. He flicked it open and scowled at the syrupy prose: that Muggle Shakespeare was a hack.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus tossed the well-thumbed collection of sonnets back on to the Chinoiserie side-table and scowled. Merlin's Balls he was bored. His subjective memories of the past several 'days' seemed to consist of strolling in the gardens, flower-arranging, embroidery and other types of useless feminine pursuits carried out in the languid warmth of a gathering Summer. However this morning he'd engaged in an actual activity instead of merely having the memory spooned into his brain. He and Mrs. Binkler - Severus refused to think of her as his mama - had travelled down into the village for some shopping, and to hand out food to the grateful poor. Snape rolled his eyes; it was a very picturesque squalor the unfortunates nobly endured. For a start, ragged as their clothes may have been none of them stank and the view of the valley from the cluster of ramshackle cottages was marvellous.
      Snape wrenched his mind away from the oddly soothing memory of the vista. He didn't want to be soothed! He was bored and pissed-off and… concerned that this was indeed a Romance he was trapped within. That he and Lupin were trapped within. He shuddered: he and Lupin were the protagonists in a Romance. Severus muttered an expletive that no gently-reared 19th century female should have known. He could not, would not, let the story continue on to its supposed conclusion. He would not allow a romantic entanglement - even a simulated one - to develop between himself and the werewolf. The idea was disturbing, allur-, unthinkable. Lupin was cowardly and contemptible, an untrustworthy Dark Creature that should have been put out of its misery years ago. Snape unconsciously twisted his hands together in his lap. It seemed he'd spent most of his life reciting a litany of the werewolf's faults and right up until the unprincipled bastard had used that potion on him, the pseudo-chant had served as a talisman to keep the temptation at bay. But now…? There was a chink in his defences that grew a little wider every time his subconscious played out that scene in Lupin's room. He'd wanted to punish the werewolf, not make it good for him, but once he'd breached that scarred body the need to touch, caress, had become overwhelming. It wasn't the memory of fucking Lupin that woke him from sleep with a raging erection, it was the memory of Lupin shivering in his arms as he'd kissed his neck…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ No!
      Once again Snape forced his attention back on track. The werewolf had said there were commands that could interrupt a Living Tale. If he, Severus, could discover what they were he could end this charade quickly and spare himself any further indignity. Now - was it a general, universal command, or was it geared to an individual? He didn't know how long it would be before he was shuffled along to the next 'scene'; Severus began to work his way through every 'finishing' charm and spell he could remember…


¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ It had been a long, long time since Remus had had a holiday and this would have to be one of the best in memory. The fairy-tale countryside was glorious as was the grand old house in which he had a suite of rooms, and a valet of all things. Surprisingly though the most enjoyable aspect of this jaunt was the horses. He didn't doubt his ease in the saddle was due to the magic of the book but damn it was fun. He'd have to try this when he got back.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus had worked out very quickly that he'd been pulled into a Living Tale. He knew he wouldn't be gone for long - and he'd daresay Severus wouldn't mourn his absence - so he resolved to simply relax and see where the story took him. He didn't think for a moment that Snape could be here as well.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ His experiences as 'Lord Wilton' had begun with a lecture from his grandmother about growing up and taking responsibility because she damn well wasn't going to support him for the rest of his life. He was advised in no uncertain terms to find a suitable girl and settle down or his loving grandmama would refuse to settle his debts - and he had a lot of those, apparently. After being excused from the formidable old woman's presence Remus found himself in a club, gambling recklessly in the company of a handful of friends, including his cousin and confidante, Jonathon. Jonathon had sympathised, naturally, but advised he'd better get a move on fulfilling their grandmother's wishes or things could go badly. And as fond as he was of his cousin - the handsome young man had said with a smirk - he had no intention of letting Lupin live off his bounty. He hadn't annoyed his relatives, after all. It was then that Remus 'remembered' he had an invitation from the Binklers, one of the up and coming families in the county. Jonathon's grin had become positively demonic.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Ah, the perfect solution, my dear cuz! The Binkler's are very wealthy and they have an eligible daughter. Chances are you've been invited so her parents can size you up as a potential son-in-law."
      "That's a trifle… calculated, isn't it?" Remus spluttered.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Jonathon shrugged.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You need a wife with money and the nouveau riche crave the respectability of an old-blood title. As long as she's at least as pretty as your horse it shouldn't be too much of a chore for you."

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ While 'Miss Binkler' wasn't as pretty as his horse 'she' was still awfully appealing to Remus. He hadn't laughed at the sight of the normally austere man in a bright yellow dress - not when it was so painfully obvious how unamused Severus was with the situation - but he'd been ridiculously pleased to see that sour face. Of course, having Snape there could prove awkward, especially as this Tale appeared to be turning into a Romance, but Remus was determined to enjoy himself regardless. He was happy for the moment to cede all responsibility to the book, to let it carry him - them - where it would. He'd deal with the fallout when they got home; it wasn't as if having one more reason for Snape to hate him would make that much difference.

      He'd been anticipating the Summer Ball with some pleasure, not least because he surmised it was an 'event' he and Severus would be sharing, if not one of the pivotal moments of the plot. Remus was unashamed to say he'd read a fair few Romances in his time and he thought he could predict which direction the story would take. At the Ball, Lord Wilton and Miss Binkler would reach an accord only to have a crisis of some sort throw caltrops across their path to happily ever after. Not to worry, though, the problem would be solved with a bit of bravery or ingenuity - or a heart to heart talk - and before long the village would be celebrating a marriage. Lupin sniggered like a fifteen year old: he couldn't wait to see Severus' face if he proposed. He'd better make sure he was standing out of range; it was probably just as well they couldn't perform magic here…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Yes, yes, cuz, I'm almost ready."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "We're going to be late."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Fashionably late!" the young man grinned.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "No, just late. Hurry up!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Jonathon laughed without malice.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Cousin, it's considered poor form to be seen to be so eager."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus flushed.
      "I'm simply looking forward to… the punch."
      "Mmm-hmm, the punch, of course… Not the delights of Miss Binkler's company?" he laughed again at Remus' discomfort. "You've only met her once!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Once was enough," Lupin heard himself say fervently.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I see." Jonathon quirked an eyebrow. "Grandmama's wishes might be fulfilled sooner than she anticipates?" He shook off his valet's hands and leapt from the chair in front of the mirror to strike a heroic pose. "Onwards then, to love!" He strode from the room like an actor leaving the stage, only to burst into laughter once he was out of the door.
      "Is duelling still illegal?" Remus half-growled in exasperation. "I sincerely hope not…"

      It was dusk by the time they reached the Robard's manor and the event was already well under way. With a smile and a pleasant flutter in his gut he and Jonathon stepped into the entrance hall and waited to be announced. Onwards to the punch… and Severus.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape wasn't hard to spot; he was the tallest 'woman' there, wearing a gown of festive green silk that almost suited his pallor. Remus caught his eye across the crowd, smiling in a friendly fashion only to watch the man literally bolt, disappearing into an adjoining room. Well, he'd never anticipated Snape would make this easy.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ An unknowable amount of time later, Remus sipped his third glass of champagne and contemplated his options. Severus had determinedly stayed out of reach all evening and while Hunt-the-Snape might be amusing in other circumstances, right now it was trying his patience. Didn't the man realise the story wouldn't progress if they didn't at least speak? Though - contemplating the look of near-panic on Severus' face every time he approached - Remus guessed Snape knew precisely what was at stake. Did he really hate even the thought of a pseudo-relationship with him so much he'd delay leaving the story? Glass in hand and feeling glum, Remus leant back against the wall and watched the dancing.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Miss Binkler's on the terrace," Jonathan murmured with a smile. "Through there." He pointed at a set of large glass doors currently open to the night air. Remus chuckled; Severus couldn't win. The book wouldn't let things stagnate.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Thank you, Jonathon."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ His cousin snagged his glass and took a sip.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Better hurry before she disappears again." He drawled.

      Remus couldn't quite bring himself to leave the house. He stood frozen, barely breathing, just inside the doorway, his hands clenched into fists by his side. The moon was shining full and bright over the trees…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "It's not real, you idiot. If it was you would've changed long before now and laid waste to the guests."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Good evening, Severus." Remus steeled himself and stepped into the moonlight. He shivered, goosepimples prickling over his skin, but the anticipated tearing pain of a transformation didn't manifest. He forced himself to relax. "Nice night, isn't it?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You said Minerva mentioned command words." Severus snapped out the enquiry. Stepping closer, Remus could see the tension hunching the man's shoulders. His long fingers - gloved in smooth, green silk ‚Äď were tightly gripping the stone balustrade. "Did she happen to say what they were?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm sorry, no."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus swore softly.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I have tried every charm, every incantation I could think of to try and stop this nonsense." Dark eyes swung around to pin the werewolf to the spot. "You've deduced the direction of the story?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Happily ever after." Remus' lips quirked upwards though it was a reflexive action. Witnessing Severus' tightly controlled distress didn't make him feel much like smiling.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The potions master was silent for a long moment, turning away to stare out again at the moonlit gardens of the manor.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Why did you give me the potion? Were you trying to recapture your youth by engaging in a prank?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Is that what you think?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What else was I to think?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "For an intelligent man you can be remarkably dense."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What?" Snape whipped 'round to face him, indignation warring with incredulity in his expression. He held his ground as Remus closed the gap between them.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Can you think of no other reason, Severus? Nothing more than me looking for your humiliation?" Lupin took another step closer, some deeply feral part of him relishing Snape's faltering step backward. He ignored it; now was not the time to lose control to the wolf. He lifted his hand, slowly, brushing his fingertips along Snape's jaw.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Don't touch me."
      Remus dropped his hand but didn't move away. Here, in essentially neutral territory that wasn't swarming with memories, being this close to the object of his affection, in the moonlight… he was feeling… almost reckless.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I've wanted you for a long time."
      "…What?" Snape swallowed; Remus watched the movement of the man's throat.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "For years, Severus, I've wanted you for years."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The potions master scowled.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "But why the potion?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin's smile was rueful.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I was close to desperate. I didn't think I was going to return from my next mission and I wanted you at least once before I died."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape swallowed again.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Imbecile."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Yes."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You could've just asked."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Still smiling, Remus shook his head.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "And you would've said yes?" The ensuing silence spoke volumes. Lupin sighed and stepped back, widening the gap between them. "I'm sorry, Severus, it was a stupid - "
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "It was an assault." Snape snarled, dark eyes flashing.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Which I paid for, didn't I?" Remus replied flatly. "Was it enough? Are we quits now, Severus?"
      "Not even close." Snape's voice slid from snarling to husky, but before Remus could truly appreciate the ball-tightening change of tone he was - somehow - hard up against the potions master. And hard was an entirely appropriate word in the circumstances: Remus had thought the days of instant erections were far back in his youth. He was gloriously aware of the heat of Snape's body radiating through the green silk, aware too, of how close the man's face was to his, and of the answering hardness pressed into his hip. He groaned deeply, jerking against the hardness, loving the way Snape's arm was winding around his waist and pulling him in tight. Questions like 'who moved first?', and 'what the hell…?', faded into static as long fingers cupped the back of his skull to remorselessly bring their mouths together. Remus liked kissing, he'd been told he was good at it, but in this instance he was too dumbfounded, too fuzzy with sudden arousal to think about taking a more active role in the event. That was until he recognised the unmistakable sensation of a firm thigh sliding over his groin. He growled then gasped as the thigh pressed purposefully upwards against his scrotum. Remus tore his mouth away from Snape's lips, lowering his head to frantically nuzzle and suck at the potion masters neck. He voiced a noise of appreciation: somehow he'd always known Snape would smell - taste - this good.
      The fingers tightened on his skull as Severus let his head drop back; the smallest '…ah' of satisfaction the only sound he made. Remus was supporting them both now, helping Snape keep his balance as the slender man continued the steady rub and press with his thigh.
      So fucking good…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The sound of someone clearing their throat impinged on his pleasure.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Er, cuz?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus growled.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Go away, Jonathon."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Grandmama would like to leave now. She'd like you to accompany her."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin groaned in frustrated disbelief. He glanced at Snape - who had slowed his movements but not stopped - and saw his feelings reflected.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Make him go away," Severus rasped, "or I'll strangle him with his own entrails."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Ten minutes, Jonathon." Remus spoke over his shoulder, already knowing it was a futile request.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Ah, no, terribly sorry. She wants to leave immediately."
      "Bloody book…" Severus snarled, finding his own feet again though he made no effort to step away just yet. He glowered at Remus. "This isn't over, wolf."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin half-smirked, unable to decide if that was a threat or a promise. He reluctantly disentangled himself then stepped back, already mourning the loss of contact.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm sorry, Severus."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape stood rigid, his chin high, once again haughty and self-contained, as far removed from ardour as the moon was from the sun. It wasn't right - Remus lamented silently - all that passion should not be stifled.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You apologise too much, Lupin, it makes you look weak."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ There really wasn't any way Remus could respond to the jibe with any dignity so opting for poise over defence he merely afforded Snape a small, rueful smile.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Good night, Severus."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ He turned on his heel and left.

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lady Wilton's coach was opulent but Remus still felt his spine jolt with every dip in the road.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The old woman - Grandmama - hadn't said a word to him since she'd imperiously ordered him to help her into the carriage. The silence was decidedly prickly. Remus cleared his throat.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Did you enjoy the evening, Grandmama?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lady Wilton narrowed her eyes.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "The Binkler girl -" she pronounced it gell, " - is not a suitable match."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus frowned.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Why?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "She's got no breeding, idiot child!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "That's hardly his - her fault." Lupin protested.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "She also displays a lamentable lack of decorum," Lady Wilton persisted, "And a regrettable tendency to speak her mind. She has nothing to recommend her as the wife of a Lord."
      What little of Remus' good mood that'd remained after he'd been forced to leave Severus had long boiled away in thwarted arousal. He'd been so close to something with Snape… and now this. He was in no mood to coddle a self-opinionated - imaginary - old woman.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You have no idea what you're talking about!" he snapped.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lady Wilton's eyes widened with outraged shock.
      "You dare…!"
      "Yes I dare, you interfering harridan! The Binkler girl… " Remus growled. "…is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I am not going to give him up because you don't think he's suitable!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The Grande dame reared back to regard him with what could be construed as distaste.
      "You've developed… feelings for her."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Yes I have." Remus remained defiant even though he could feel the blush creeping up his neck.
      "… Well that was careless." Lady Wilton sniffed but her 'grandson' thought he detected a slight softening of her stance. Remus, ever the moderator, sighed and prepared to negotiate - but the magic of the book got there first.
      "I love her, Grandmama, she is the sun in my sky. She is all I've ever wanted." The sugared declaration spilled from Lupin's mouth without his volition and his blush deepened: he didn't want to think how absurdly… happy he was saying those words even if the pronoun was incorrect. "Please, Grandmama, give our love a chance!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lady Wilton regarded him loftily; then tched in such way that Remus knew he'd won the argument.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Oh very well. I'll invite the girl and her parents for a short visit." She held him with a glare. "And I'll see precisely what sort of creature you would take to wife!"


¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus was in a foul temper and had been ever since that encounter with Lupin at the Ball. Didn't the stupid werewolf realise he hadn't touched him for pleasure? It was a question of humiliation, of forcing the benighted creature to his will! Idiot! Didn't he realise he was being punished? Severus scowled ferociously at nothing in particular, clamping his thighs together and willing away the persistent erection. The jolt and sway of the carriage wasn't helping.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Things were becoming needlessly complicated - though he shouldn't have been surprised given the sodding book's genre. Weren't Romances filled with tricky situations and misunderstandings? Severus snorted: as if he'd know! He'd picked one up once by mistake and had just as quickly put it down again - after he'd stopped boggling at the sheer mind-numbing stupidity of the improbable plot...
      So, Lady Wilton had invited his family for the weekend, no doubt to assess his suitability for her 'grandson'. Mrs. Binkler was pleased and excited - she'd twittered over an invitation from such a lofty personage - but Mr. Binkler had fallen sour and silent. Given the unsubtle 'coincidences' peppering the story Snape assumed the sudden change of mood had something to do with the letter Mr. Binkler had received the day before their departure for the Wilton estates. Mrs. Binkler knew something was up but she kept on with the ruthless cheerfulness as if she'd not a care in the world. Severus was fed up with all the inane intrigue and the stifling, proscribed life of a young gentlewoman. He wanted to go home, he had a stack of first years' essays awaiting his red ink and Merlin help him if he wasn't actually anticipating that ineffable dross. And yet despite his best - increasingly frantic - efforts there still appeared to be only one way to exit the book and that was to get to the bloody happy ever after. He was going to flay Albus for putting him in this situation…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The atmosphere at luncheon was not so much strained as rigidly formal. Mr. and Mrs. Binkler, despite their friendship with Squire Robard, were not accustomed to dealing with the gentry and so the conversation was so general, and so polite it was to the point of pointlessness. Severus stifled a sigh, resigning himself to another boring afternoon. He nibbled his cucumber sandwiches, sipped his tea, and did his best to ignore Lupin sitting across the table from him. Easier said than done: even with his eyes determinedly averted Severus was uncomfortably aware of everything the werewolf did and said. It didn't help his equilibrium at all that his overriding impulse was to sweep the table clear of the delicate china, then reach over and drag the infuriating creature to him. He wasn't responsible for those thoughts, obviously, it was the book trying to move things on. It must be.
      After lunch Lady Wilton requested his and Mrs. Binkler's company for a turn around the exquisitely kept gardens. In spite of himself Severus was impressed. He knew, intellectually, that none of this was real, but the witch or wizard who'd conjured this world had put a lot of effort into the detail. The Herb Garden alone was filled with rare and exotic medicinal herbs, many of which were important and expensive potions ingredients. Severus mused that given the leisure, this was precisely the sort of garden he'd like to have…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ They returned to the house after an hour or so of unhurried perambulation to find Mr. Binkler in high dudgeon. The object of his displeasure, Lord Wilton, was standing to one side looking pained.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I am most thankful for your hospitality, Lady Wilton," Mr. Binkler intoned with massive dignity, "But I cannot allow my daughter to continue her association with your grandson."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape gave Lupin a sharp glance - now what? - and received a grimace and a brief shake of the head in reply.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The amiable, almost friendly demeanour Lady Wilton had recently revealed evaporated in an instant.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I beg your pardon, Mr. Binkler?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Your grandson," the gentleman kept his hands clasped behind his back but the finger pointing in outrage was clearly implied, "has been accused of gross familiarity with a village girl."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Meaning?" But Lady Wilton's posture had sagged ever so slightly, as if she could imagine all too well what the foolish, irresponsible boy had done.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Meaning - and my apologies for the bluntness of my speech," Mr. Binkler flushed, "meaning, Lord Wilton has got a girl with child."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What!" Severus snapped, barely sparing a glance for Mrs. Binkler, who looked to be close to swooning.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "It wasn't me." Lupin growled.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Are you accusing your unfortunate victim of lying?" Mr. Binkler demanded.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "She is not my victim, if victim she is!" 'Lord Wilton' ground his teeth together. "I'm merely saying she's mistaken."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You quibble, sir!" Mr. Binkler was looking very red around the jowls. "I have proof of your pernicious nature!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What proof?" Lupin demanded.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "A letter, sir, dictated by the girl herself."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Let me see!" Lady Wilton interrupted. She snatched the document from Mr. Binkler, bringing it close to her face to read. Her lips pursed as she scanned the lines.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "She names you." The old lady accused.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Where?" Lupin moved to her side, frowning as he made his own perusal of the damning evidence. He shook his head. "She doesn't name me, she merely says 'Lord Wilton'! That's hardly irrefutable proof, any well-dressed man with the right accent can name himself a lord to the uninformed."
      "But even so…" Lady Wilton was still disapproving.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus rolled his eyes: enough of the melodrama.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Do you have any memory of the event?" he addressed Lupin with a significant lift of his eyebrows. If it was important to the plot the book would have obliged with a fabricated recollection.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Pardon?" the werewolf appeared puzzled for a moment then his expression cleared as understanding dawned. "No. Nothing relevant at all."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Then it likely didn't happen."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Mr. Binkler took exception to his 'daughter's' dismissive stance and began to bluster about how 'her' lack of worldly experience invalidated her opinion. Severus cut the man off mid diatribe.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Bring the girl here and we'll see the truth of the matter for ourselves." He inclined his head to Lady Wilton. "With your permission of course."
      Lady Wilton wasn't hesitant about snatching back the reins of control. She immediately summoned a footman and sent him off to fetch the young woman in question then practically ordered her guests to spend the few hours before supper 'resting', i.e.: maintaining a polite distance from one another until tempers cooled. After all, there would be no quick resolution to the situation. It was at least three hours by cart to the girl's village, by which time it would be too late in the day to make the return journey safely. Even if they set off at first light the following day - and assuming the girl readily answered the summons and didn't need to be persuaded - she wouldn't be presenting herself until mid-morning at the earliest…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Time skipped ahead to the late afternoon, where Lady Wilton entertained her guests with supper served al fresco. The setting sun lent the silver-edged white china a touch of gilt and caused the glassware to sparkle. It was a tranquil evening, or would have been except for the tensions still apparent around the table. Mr. Binkler was ignoring Lupin with as much disdain as he dared while responding to Mrs. Binkler's forcefully cheerful conversation with monosyllabic grunts. Lady Wilton picked at her food, occasionally giving her 'grandson' sorrowful and disappointed glances. Severus ignored them all and tucked into the excellent vegetable terrine.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "It's good, isn't it?" Lupin murmured from across the table, catching his eye and smiling. Severus ruthlessly suppressed his answering smile and shrugged.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Not bad. For imaginary food."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "No pleasing some people." The werewolf chuckled, lifting his glass of wine in a private toast. Severus gave him a reproving look.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I don't think your grandmother will appreciate you flirting with me."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin chuckled again and darting a sideways glance at Lady Wilton he leant forwards and confided in a whisper:
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I don't care."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape found his attention riveted on the werewolf's lips. Swallowing hard he dragged his gaze up Lupin's face to find himself being regarded with a look that could only be described as 'darkly passionate'. Severus dropped his eyes.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Stop it."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin sat back with a sigh but he didn't apologise and when Snape glanced at him a few moments later he found the passion had been replaced by something mournful.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The meal continued in silence. The footmen brought out lanterns as the night encroached and were in the process of setting them up in a close circle around the company when Jonathon breezed up to the table.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm sorry I'm late, grandmama!" he dropped a quick kiss on the old woman's cheek before smiling an apology to everyone else. "Got caught up."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "There's no excuse for tardiness, Jonathon." Lady Wilton was stern but her eyes were twinkling. Severus glanced over at Lupin, noting his rueful expression. No guessing who was the favoured grandchild, but nevertheless the werewolf greeted his 'cousin' with genuine pleasure. The camaraderie between the two men and Lupin's easy attitude reminded Snape painfully of other moments in the past where he'd observed Lupin larking about with Potter and Black. He realised the werewolf hadn't looked so untroubled for a long time: it was a pity this was all illusion.
      Jonathon's presence lightened the mood considerably and the evening ended with everyone in much better spirits. Even Mr. Binkler unbent so far as to wish Lord Wilton a stiff good night…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus jerked awake, blinking into the dark while he tried to work out what had woken him. One glance at the windows told him it was still night but something was happening. He was out of bed and opening the curtains before the yelling fully impacted on his consciousness.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Fire! The stables were burning!
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus was out of the small guest room and down the two flights of stairs before he realised he was barefoot - and still in his nightie. There was no time for modesty though; he plunged into the organised chaos, absently noting with approval that Lady Wilton had already organised a bucket chain. Both the Binklers - also in their nightclothes - were amongst the servants, helping heft the heavy leather buckets of water down the line. Jonathon was there as well but where was Lupin? Surely he wasn't sleeping through this? Lady Wilton was staring at the burning building and twisting her hands together in anguish. Severus suddenly knew, with a sickening jolt of fear, exactly what the stupid werewolf was doing. A split-second later he was running towards the half-alight building. There might still be time, the flames hadn't taken hold of the roof yet.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The interior was thick with smoke reflecting the garish light of the fire.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Lupin! Lupin, you cretin!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ He spun in the direction of the frenzied whinny, groping through the murk to the stall where Lord Wilton's handsome grey was housed. Severus approached cautiously; even in the dark through smoke-induced tears he could see the whites of the creature's eyes as it jerked against the confines of the box.
      A pace away from the stall he stumbled over Lupin's body. Reacting instinctively, squeezing the panic down where it couldn't hamper his actions, Severus dropped to his knees beside the crumpled form. Lupin was breathing at least and his pulse was steady; most likely he'd been overcome by smoke. It was then that Snape noticed the sheen of dark fluid on the werewolf's forehead. Almost simultaneously he heard the groan from protesting wood and looked up to see the first tendrils of flame licking across the roof directly over their heads. Severus swore and scooped the werewolf up in his arms then awkwardly brought himself to his feet. Under normal circumstances he would've known better than to jostle someone with potential spinal injuries but in this case he had to trust that the damn book had no intentions to permanently injure them. Another frantic whinny from the trapped horse reminded him why Lupin had been in the blasted stables. Still swearing, and without giving himself time to debate the issue, Severus managed to one-handedly unbolt the stall. He kicked the door open, then without waiting to see if the horse had the sense to free itself, he simply ran…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ By the time dawn was breaking what was left of the stables was a tumbled ruin of charred beams and bricks. The fire hadn't spread, thanks to Lady Wilton's quick wits, and all the precious horses had been rescued. No one had been injured, save for Lord Wilton, and all were enjoying a hearty breakfast provided by the kitchen staff. Gentry and commoners ate together at the tables set up in the courtyard in front of the ruined stables. Barriers of social class and wealth were temporarily lowered in the mutual post-catastrophe weariness and triumph. Severus would have found the egalitarian flavour of the meal amusing - had he been there. Instead, he'd spent the past couple of hours at Lupin's bedside alternately scowling at or fretting over the unconscious man.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Idiot." He growled under his breath. "They weren't real horses, you didn't have to save them."
      "It's the principle… of the thing."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The werewolf's amber-tinged eyes appeared a little unfocused but other than that, and the large bandage wound around his head, he looked well enough.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Gryffindors." Severus sniffed disdainfully, hiding his relief. "How are you feeling?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin poked at the dressing and shrugged.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Much better I'd imagine than if a real beam had fallen on my head."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "So you've said." He grinned and tried to sit up. Not very successfully as the bed was deep and soft.
      "Oh for Merlin's sake…" Severus grabbed his arm and hauled him into a sitting position before perfunctorily stuffing a couple of pillows behind his back. Lupin settled back with a happy sigh.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Thank you. Any chance of some tea?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm not your nursemaid!" Severus snapped.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You are here, though." Lupin reached for his hand and before the potions master could react he was brushing a kiss over the backs of his fingers. Snape froze.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I think this is the part of the story where, in the aftermath of disaster, we confess our true feelings for each other."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You know precisely how I feel about you!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Do I?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin's lips were still playing lightly over his knuckles as he glanced up at Snape with a distinctly I know something you don't know look. Scowling, Severus pulled his hand away. The werewolf sat back, an odd sort of half-smile curving his mouth.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm guessing we're almost at the end of the story," Lupin went on in a lighter tone. Severus could feel himself blush and loathed himself for it.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What about the girl? The one you're supposed to have impregnated?"
      "That wasn't me, and she'll say as much." Lupin grinned, a happy, mischievous expression that caused Snape's heart to thump in his chest. "And then there'll be no more bars to our… union."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I should hope not," Severus griped, hoping his breathlessness wasn't apparent. "I want to get out of this bloody book and go home. I swear, if there are any more 'setbacks' I'm going to elope with stable boy and be done with it!"
      The werewolf burst out laughing and Snape's lips involuntarily twitched up in response. Lupin subsided but continued to grin at him with a smile that was open, warm… inviting. Snape stood abruptly and averted his eyes.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "The wretched girl will be here before long. I'd rather not meet her in my nightclothes."
      He swept from the room, imagining - surely - he could still feel the werewolf's regard as a warmth at his back…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Oh no, that's nor'im." Meg turned large and earnest, but not overly intelligent eyes on Lady Wilton. "Beggin' y'r pardon, m'Lady, but 'e's not Lord Wilton."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin flashed Snape a downright smug look of I told you so; Severus rolled his eyes.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lady Wilton, in the meantime, was regarding the prettily plump little villager with narrow suspicion.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I do assure you this is Lord Wilton."
"'e's not my Lord Wilton." the girl insisted, turning to face the red-faced clergyman hovering at her elbow. "I swear I'm not lying, reverend. That's nor'im!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The pastor had insisted on making the journey with her because - Severus had overheard the servants gossiping - the good man had been most unwilling to let 'the child' venture unaccompanied into the 'heart of damnation' that was the upper classes.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Are you sure, Meg?" The pastor urged his orphaned charge.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "'e's not as 'andsome as my Lord Wilton." the girl declared then, realising she might just have insulted one of the gentry, clapped her hand over her lush mouth. She darted a frightened look at the gentleman in question. "Beggin' y'r pardon, sir."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus could see that Lupin was struggling not to laugh.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I am not offended," 'Lord Wilton' waved his hand nonchalantly. "Can you give us a description, Meg, of your Lord Wilton?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I can." Her cheeks glowed rosily with health but were no match for the sudden sparkle in her eyes. Here was a woman in love, Severus mused rather acidly. Whoever 'her' Lord Wilton was he'd thoroughly charmed the obviously undiscerning girl.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Well, 'e's taller an' you, a bit thinner." the girl enthused. "'is 'air is thick and dark, and 'e's got the most lovely blue eyes."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Hm." Lady Wilton was positively squinting now, her eyes were so narrowed. She crooked a finger in the general direction of a footman. "Habberstall, fetch my other grandson."

      "This really is the most clichéd tripe…" Snape huffed. He and Lupin were standing shoulder to shoulder, both with their arms folded across their chests, unconsciously imitating the other's stance.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "It is, yes. I'm surprised we haven't encountered a highwayman."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ They were watching the histrionics as Lady Wilton 'had a few words' with Jonathon about appropriate behaviour and consequences of actions while Meg implored her to be kind to him, and the pastor fluttered ineffectually trying to have his voice of reason heard over the racket.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "If this was the real world," Lupin observed. "The girl would be given some money and sent away."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "If this was the real world," Severus countered, "Jonathon would be enduring his grandmother's rant in private. None of this would be happening in front of the lower orders. The research for this story was obviously minimal."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin's face was suddenly lit by an evil grin.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You watch," he murmured, "Meg'll turn out to be the long-lost by-blow of somebody or other. Bet she's got a modest fortune held in trust for her, as well."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus groaned audibly.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Oh, please, no. That deserves a story all of its own."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I wouldn't be surprised if it's already out there."
      "Please, Lupin, don't destroy what little faith I have left…"


¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The day of Lord Wilton and Miss Binkler's Autumn marriage dawned typically crisp and clear - the last of the fine weather before bleak Winter set in. Waiting inside the tiny chapel on the family's estate, Lupin wondered if he should be feeling less calm than he was. Weren't bridegrooms supposed to be nervous on the big day? Jonathon had cheerfully confessed to a case of the shakes as he'd faced the altar with Meg but, apparently, one glance from the limpid eyes of his beloved - oh yes, it had turned out to be a love-match - and all his doubts had melted away like mist in the sunshine. And what a surprise! It'd been revealed that the simple country girl was indeed the daughter of a peer. Not an illegitimate daughter either. Severus had merely snorted when Lupin gleefully related the story of a wife stolen by a jealous brother-in-law, only to die virtually incognito giving birth to the child she and her husband had been so anticipating.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ With that information to hand Lady Wilton had no hesitation in allowing her youngest grandson to marry. In that happy spirit she'd also given her blessing to the marriage of her eldest grandson, though Jonathon's nuptials of necessity had to come first. Meg's gowns could only be unlaced so far before her state of impending motherhood could no longer be concealed.

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Ah, they're here!" Jonathon grinned and clapped his 'cousin' on the shoulder. "Ready, cuz?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus' took a deep breath against the fluttering sensation under his sternum.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Ready as I'll ever be."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Good man!" Jonathon jovially thumped him again before turning his attention to the bride and her family as they entered the chapel. The younger Wilton's grin was wide. "You've got yourself a handful there, cuz, but, ah, she looks lovely."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus didn't quite smile. Severus didn't look 'lovely' so much as 'thoroughly pissed off'. But still, he approached the altar with his head held high and Lupin could only admire the man's natural elegance, enhanced by the slim lines of his cream silk bridal gown.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus took his place beside Lupin but didn't look at him.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Let's get this over with." he muttered.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ This close to him now Remus could see the potions master was feeling the humiliation of the situation keenly. The clenched jaw, the spots of colour high on his cheeks, the flaring nostrils - all were familiar precursors of a full-fledged snit. It wasn't until the simple ceremony had concluded and, exhorted by the pastor to 'kiss the bride', that Remus had turned to face Snape and become aware of a fragility revealed in the dark eyes. If Lupin hadn't been one-hundred percent certain of his changed feelings for his old adversary beforehand, this glimpse of vulnerability clinched it for him. He wanted Severus, heart, body and soul. He wanted to care for him, to nurture and protect. Love was a word with awfully big connotations and not one Remus used lightly, but it was there now in the forefront of his mind. How best to convince Severus of his sincerity?
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin twined Snape's long fingers in his own and smiled into the guarded face.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "This isn't real, Severus, and as happy as I would be if it were, it's not binding in any way." He moved slowly closer, approaching cautiously as you would a potentially dangerous animal, until their faces were inches apart. "And, I promise I won't tell anyone about this, until you give me permission."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape's eyes narrowed and he searched Lupin's face for several moments before he finally nodded - just once, but it implied some level of trust never reached before and Remus' heart lifted clear into his throat. Before his conscious mind could comprehend what was happening, he'd closed the gap and was kissing Snape. Or Snape was kissing him - he couldn't be entirely sure who was winning this particular round.
      Lupin groaned, pressing close as he cupped Severus' face in his hands. He tumbled into passion, feeling for the first time the truth about losing oneself in a kiss…

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ It was the slow realisation that the sounds of celebration and joy from those witnessing the wedding had faded to nothing that gave Remus the first clue that the Living Tale had ended. He gentled the kiss but didn't open his eyes. He didn't want to see the squalor of the Grimmauld place; he didn't want to return to a reality where he and Severus were not about to embark on a life together.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ It was Snape who ended the moment, pulling back from the kiss, though - to Lupin's profound gratitude - he didn't immediately step away but consented to rest his forehead against the werewolf's.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "No consummation?" he sounded hoarse. "The author's a damn tease."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Be thankful we didn't go into an epilogue where I'm playing with my little son when you blushingly announce that once again you're in a 'delicate condition'."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus shuddered then finally - reluctantly, Remus liked to think - stepped away. Just as reluctantly, Lupin opened his eyes. They were standing at the opposite end of the kitchen from where they'd started, directly in front of the stove. Snape was back in his black, enveloping robes, and likewise Remus was once again in his customary near-rags. It had been nice, for a time, to wear silk and good linen. Mustering a smile he looked over at his companion.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What do you want from me, Lupin?" Severus had drawn himself back into his most haughty and forbidding demeanour; it almost obscured the vulnerability that Remus now had no trouble discerning.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin half-smiled.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Happy ever after?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus became, if possible, even more disdainful.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You want a fairytale?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I want a chance," he pulled back his shoulders and lifted his chin, "with you."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The potions master dropped his head, lank hair falling around his face.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm not lying, Severus, and this isn't some prank. I want you, I know you want me."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape lifted his head again and shot the werewolf a furious glare. He opened his mouth to reply but - throwing caution to the wind - Remus got in first.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I know what the Libero potion does."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ He expected to be hexed and was vaguely surprised when Severus didn't move.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "So you lied," the potions master sneered. "You did know what you were giving me!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "No!" Remus exploded: the man's deliberate obtuseness was infuriating! "I did not! Not specifically! It was only after you supplied the name that I did some research." He could see Snape's jaw working as he ground his teeth together.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Would you have still used it if you'd known beforehand what it was?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus took a calming breath and his expression became rueful.
      "I would've used it in preference if I'd known it was available." He almost laughed at Snape's ill-concealed astonishment. "Think about it, Severus. If you drank the potion and didn't react, then, well, fine I would have had irrefutable confirmation that there was no chance, but if you had reacted…" Remus did laugh then - with bitterness - at himself. "Then it still would have been an abuse of your trust and you would've still been within rights to be angry. I'm genuinely sorry, Severus."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape was still unmoving, watching him with glittering eyes.
      "Did I… hurt you?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Remus shrugged.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Not overly."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "You didn't fight."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "It was a stupid, low trick. I figured I deserved what I got."
      "Stupid, low… completely unsubtle. Entirely in keeping for a Gryffindor." Some of the tension left his body. "I don't want to fight, Lupin."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What do you want?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus almost smiled.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "To pursue my craft in peace, untroubled by war or children." He grimaced. "A futile hope at best while I'm caught between opposing factions."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "And personally?" Remus hoped he didn't sound as wistfully optimistic as he felt.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Snape smirked.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Regular sex would be nice."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin licked his lips.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I, er, I'd be happy to help with that. If you liked."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Severus was looking down his nose at him but - for a wonder - without hostility. His expression now was more speculative than guarded.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm discreet." Remus offered. "And while I like affection I can live without it."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Affection has its place." Snape sniffed. "Just don't go expecting hearts and flowers. Chocolate I might be able to manage, though."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Chocolate is good." Lupin grinned crookedly as the potions master took a decisive step closer. "Whisky's good too."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Well we might have accord in some respects after all - "
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ The crash from upstairs startled them both and their wands were out before they had time to think.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Oops. Hello? Remus? It's just me." Tonks' loud whisper preceded her down the stairs and into the kitchen. "There you are!" she beamed at Lupin. "Wotcher, Remus!" She gave his companion a curt nod. "Snape."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Nymphadora."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ If Tonks' salutation was a little cool, Snape's was downright icy. Remus stifled his grin; well, she had interrupted a delicate stage of the negotiations.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Hello, Tonks, nice of you to drop by."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I was on a break, I thought you could do with some company." She very carefully didn't look at Severus, who was glowering.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Thank you, but there was no need - "
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "What's this?" she said reaching for the colourful paperback lying innocuously on the kitchen table.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Tonks, don't!"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ But it was too late. The auror vanished in a flare of violet and the Living Tale landed back on the table with a slight thud. The men looked at each other; the silence was profound.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Well I'm not going after her." Severus snorted. He tsked loudly as Remus, unenthusiastically, walked back down the length of the table and reached for the artefact. "She's an auror, Lupin, and not unintelligent. She'll work out where she is before long."
      "You're right." Remus sighed. "She's in no danger. I suppose it's fortunate we weren't within range, I'd hate to see what the book would do with three of us…"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "I'm glad even you can see sense when pressed."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ That was snippiness beyond call for the situation. Lupin quirked an eyebrow, amused to see spots of colour on his companion's cheeks. Severus drew his robes in around himself and proclaimed superciliously:
      "I would have been… annoyed, if you'd gone after her."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ As declarations went it could do with some work but as they'd already established that Snape wasn't the world's greatest romantic Remus wasn't going to quibble about content.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ He glanced at his Muggle time-piece and made some quick calculations.
      "We've got about an hour before she re-emerges…"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "An hour?"
      Remus noted the rapid spread of colour over his companion's face and quickly deduced the cause. Snape had been thinking about sex, with him. Well, well, well…
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Lupin was tempted - a lot could be accomplished in an hour - but not yet, it was too soon after the armistice.
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Hm, yes, an hour. I was thinking, perhaps, lunch?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "Lunch?"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Was Snape relieved or disappointed? Hard to tell.
      "An experiment, if you will. If you can spend an hour in my company, socially, without wanting to kill me… Maybe then we could see where we could go from there."
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ "A sagacious suggestion." Severus sounded doubtful, as if such a level of perception and forethought was unexpected.
      "Hogsmeade?" Remus enquired mildly, smiling when Snape nodded. "Excellent. Oh, one thing first…"
¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ He took a piece of scrap parchment and wrote:

¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ Living Tale book. No command words known. DO NOT OPEN.

      "There," he spellotaped the parchment to the cover. "We don't need any more accidents." He readied his wand to apparate and grinned at Severus. "Shall we…?"

© Lutra - May 2006