Title: Not to Reason Why
Author: Gaeta (glowagle24@yahoo.com) ; LJ user ID: gaeta
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Not-for-profit
Summary: Snape acts rashly.
Notes: I'd have posted two days sooner if I could think of a suitable title; tremendous thanks to Beth H for her double-duty beta setting me straight on characterization and then picking the nits.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

They'd questioned Remus, as usual that day, and as usual, he'd given them nothing, not a syllable of information no matter how many times they hit him, banged his head against the floor, cursed him with crutiatus. Then after supper some scraps of meat and a cup of weak tea, they'd brought in a young Muggle girl, and locked her in the cell with him. She couldn't have been more than sixteen, and although she was wide-eyed and pale, she was feisty, not giving the impression of having been subdued physically.

His mind cloudy from six days of imprisonment, undernourishment, and torture, it took Remus some time to realize what the Death-Eaters intended, and when he did he was filled with such revulsion that he stumbled over to a bucket in the corner and retched into it for several minutes. When the girl came over and put a hand of concern on his back, he turned and flung her away with force, shouting "get away from me! By the gods, get away," then bent his head again over the bucket with a sickness that would not be expelled nor release him from its grip. When Remus finally sank to the floor, exhausted, the girl had retreated to a far corner. He had frightened her, and she did not come near him again for as much good as that would do her.

Shortly after sundown, Malfoy and Goyle returned, and with them, Snape. Remus ran to the door, grasping the bars and pressing his face against them. "Let her go, Malfoy. Curse me. Kill me. Do what you will. I'll never tell you what you want in any case. Why can't you just kill me? Do it slowly...I don't care..."

"I have no intention of killing you, Remus," Malfoy purred like velvet, "I have an idea that you can be very useful." With a perfectly beatific smile on his face, Malfoy pointed his wand at a stool outside the cage transforming it into a wing-back chair. With another wave of the wand, the chair slid toward Malfoy, who sat down, smoothing his robes and crossing his legs before leaning back to make himself comfortable.

Remus looked from Malfoy to the palely illuminated sky out the window, and back again. There were a scant few minutes remaining before it would be too late.

He looked up at Snape for the first time. "Have mercy," he whispered. Snape's mouth was tightly drawn and his eyes were opaque. A light flickered there for a moment, but then he looked away, saying nothing.

Remus clutched at the bars as if willing himself to be fastened there. Goyle had a stupid grin on his face and Malfoy was gazing with bland interest into the cell. As he felt the warmth of the moonlight on his back, Remus turned to the bewildered girl and said, "I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry." He flung his head back and shrieked with frustrated rage, a shriek that turned into a howl as the dreadful transformation took his body and mind from him.

He woke up in the dark, his face pressed into the ground. It was cold, but it was soft earth, not the cold stone floor of his cage in Malfoy Manor. He had no idea how he had come to be here, nor, indeed, had any idea where here was. Was this a dream?

He tried to lift himself up to look around, but as soon as he moved, he felt a searing pain in his side, and he collapsed back to the ground, panting from that minor exertion. He tried again, wincing against the pain. He was very weak, and he could feel blood caked on his skin in more than one place. His arms did not want to support him. Grunting in frustration, he pushed up with all his might, succeeding in toppling over onto his back.

There was a noise outside. Someone was approaching the shed. Remus felt a chill go through him. Great. Here he lay, like a turtle turned upside-down on its shell, belly exposed to any attack. Were the Death-Eaters coming to get him?

"Lupin?" a low voice hissed through a crack in the wood planks of the shed.

He froze, didn't even breathe for a few seconds.

"Lupin," came the voice again. "Are you revived?"

It was Snape.

"Yes," Remus called out weakly, his voice cracked and dry.

He heard a murmured spell. The door opened just a crack, and Snape peered around it cautiously, not fully entering the room until he saw Remus lying there. Then he was at his side in an instant.

"We must go. Quickly. Can you walk?" Snape spoke softly, his voice anxious.

Remus could barely lift his head to look at Snape. "No, I don't think so," he said.

By the light coming through the open door, Remus could see several bright scratches on Snape's face. His arms, when he held them out to lift Remus from the ground, also showed several harsh cuts.

Snape saw Remus looking from his face to his hands and back again.

"Never mind. I'm not badly injured." A familiar sneer crossed his face. "It's not easy, evidently, to keep a werewolf under a spell.

"I'm sorry." Remus whispered. He was beginning to piece the puzzle together. "How did we, how did you...are we away from Malfoy Manor?"

"Yes, well away, but still not safe. I must get you back to Hogwarts, to Madam Pomfrey. However bad I may look, I assure you, you look far worse."

"The Death-Eaters?" Remus aksed.

A dark and somewhat uneasy look crossed Snape's face. "I incapacitated them," he said. "It was much easier than subduing you," he added.

"Severus!" Remus was incredulous. "How could you reveal your true loyalties to Malfoy?"

"We really haven't time for exposition," Snape snapped. He stood up and looked around. "I don't think either of us has the strength to apparate, but I believe I saw a broom when I flung you in here last night."

He went to a rack on one wall upon which hung a rather dilapidated and old looking broom. "Yes," he said. "Rudimentary, but it should do."

Then, looking from Remus to the broom to the narrow doorway and back at Remus once again, Snape gave a sigh of distaste. "I'm going to have to drag you out of here, Lupin. It'll probably be uncomfortable."

Uncomfortable was hardly the word. Snape bent down behind Remus and locked his arms around his chest, hauling him up by the armpits. Remus very nearly cried as pain shot through his side once again. His back burned where it rubbed against Snape's robes. His head was throbbing. His whole body screamed as it was bumped along the ground.

Heaving, Snape lugged Remus through the door and lowered him to the ground again outside. Then he went back for the broom. He squatted down next to Remus and set one foot on either side of the broomstick. Holding Remus tight against his body with one hand, Snape pulled himself up and Remus with him, until Remus sat across the broom in front of him. With some difficulty, he managed to get them aloft and headed back to Hogwarts Castle.

Remus, exhausted from the strain of being dragged and jostled, leaned against Snape's chest and fell asleep. But a thought entered his slumbering mind and he woke with a start, causing the broom to tip precariously. Snape startled and, with Remus in his arms, off balance, barely managed to jerk the handle back under control without them both spilling off and crashing to the ground.

"For the love of Merlin!" he cried. "Don't do that!"

Remus twisted his head around and looked at Snape with terrified eyes. "The girl?" he asked, his voice choking.

Something flickered in Snape's eyes. Remus thought he remembered that look from the night before. Just before...

The look was gone as quickly as it had come. "She lives," Snape said brusquely. "Now be still."

Remus leaned against Snape once more, and slept, not stirring, until they arrived at the Castle.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

With the new wards protecting Hogwarts, it was not possible to land a broom from outside the walls. Snape alit before the main gate and spoke the passwords that would open it. He was about to lug the still-sleeping Remus over his back, when he saw a figure walking the grounds a little way off.

"Never thought I'd be so glad to see him Snape thought as he strode a step or two within the gates and called out "Hagrid, Hagrid!"

The giant looked up in some surprise at that familiar voice calling to him. He smiled and waved a greeting. "Hallo, there Perfessor Snape," he boomed and began ambling over.

"Come quickly," called Snape impatiently. "I need your help."

Hagrid sped up then, and noticing Remus lying on the ground and Snape's badly scratched face, he bounded over in a few short strides.

"Oh my, Perfessor. Wha's happened then?" he asked, his eyes wide.

Snape didn't bother to answer the giant's question. "We must get to the infirmary, and I can't make it on my own. I'd be much obliged if you'd..."

"Oh, aye," Hagrid lunged forward before Snape finished. He reached down, taking Remus up in one arm; then he lifted an astonished Snape in the other and began heading toward the castle.

Snape squirmed angrily in Hagrid's arm. "Not me, you great fool," he cried. "I can walk quite well myself. Put me down."

Hagrid lowered Snape to the ground. "Sorry there, Perfessor," he said, reaching out to help smooth out Snape's rumpled robes.

"I can do that myself also, thank you," Snape snapped, and Hagrid drew his hand back hastily.

"Lupin has been injured, and I can not carry him all the way to the infirmary. Please bear him there with all haste. I shall follow."

Hagrid nodded, shifted Remus so he lay in both his arms, like a baby, and trudged up the hill to the school. Snape, exhausted, moved at a much slower pace.

By the time he reached the infirmary, Remus was lying covered up on a cot under the window at the far end of the room Madam Pomfrey fussing at his side while Hagrid stood by. Snape walked over to them. "How is he?"

"Well, I'll have to examine him for more than two minutes to determine that," she began a bit officiously. Then she looked at Snape, alarm growing on her face.

"Why you're injured as well, Professor Snape. Let me get you a bed ready and ..."

"That won't be necessary. It's just a few scratches. I'll tend to them myself." Snape said, burshing aside Madam Pomfrey's outstretched hand. She dropped her hand but regarded him seriously.

"Well, alright," she said a bit huffily. "But you'd best do it soon. Scratches like that can easily become infected."

"Thank you for your concern," Snape said raspingly. "I shall leave Lupin to your care and attend to it at once." He turned to Hagrid. "Please inform Headmaster Dumbledore that I have returned and have brought Remus Lupin with me. I shall be in my office if anyone requires me."

"Aye, I'll do it righ' now sir," Hagrid said and hurried away.

Glancing once at Remus's pale form, Snape turned and headed toward the dungeons.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alone in his office, Snape leant against the desk and then sank heavily into his chair. With the extreme chaos and stress of the past 16 hours, he'd had no opportunity to think about the events that had transpired. Now he sat at his desk, contemplating events and considering the implications.

Although he had not been asked to participate , Snape had been present on several occasions while the Death-Eaters tortured Lupin, and he'd been horrified but couldn't help also being somewhat awed by Lupin's stoicism. Crabbe and Goyle, like the brutes they were, had used fists and boots on him. When he'd lost consciousness, Lucius had revived him with the tip of a silver cane applied to his inner thighs, and then cast the Crutiatus on him. Snape had watched Lupin writhe in what he knew was almost unendurable pain. Yet when he lay gasping on the floor and Lucius lifted his wand a second time, Lupin hadn't so much as flinched.

So Snape had been genuinely surprised when Lupin had started pleading with Lucius last night in the minutes before moonrise. For six days, he'd managed to wait without attempting any rescue, his own endurance sorely tried even though Lupin seemed to be holding up somehow. Seeing Lupin beg had been a wrench, but he'd tried to steel himself against his impulse to act, even when Lupin had appealed directly to him.

At the last moment, he'd bolted from his seat, drawing his wand and hexing the three Death-Eaters into immobility. He'd managed to perform a binding spell on the werewolf and get him out of the cage before he'd attacked the girl, but the wolf had fought him, and getting away was no easy task. Several times Remus broke free of the spell, and Snape sustained numerous minor injuries as he struggled to keep them moving away from danger while continually having to cast and recast the spells to avoid a full-out attack.

Traveling as far as Hogwarts in this manner was clearly impossible, so when, after about an hour of slow, but apparently safe progress, they came to an abandoned farmhouse with a small, sturdy shed in the yard, Snape had decided to take refuge until morning. He sat outside the shed through the night, sleepless and anxious, his vigil marked by twin fears that the Death-Eaters might come upon them at any time and that the werewolf might escape from its prison. The howling and banging sounds from within the shed all night, insured that Snape remained alert, not so much as dozing for a second.

Today had been nearly as harrowing. Snape had not expected to find Lupin in such a weakened and wounded state. Nor had he realized how weakened he himself was. Apparating had not been an option, and with the daylight, the chance of detection was much increased. The journey was even more harrowing as Snape couldn't really tell how serious Lupin's injuries were. The fact that the man was ghostly white and couldn't even stand up was not promising.

Leaving Lupin, finally, in the competent hands of Madam Pomfrey truly in anyone's hands but his own Snape might have finally breathed a sigh of relief. But now, in the quiet of his study, with time to think at last, Snape couldn't for the life of him say what had incited him to so brazenly reveal himself to Malfoy and the others, and he was sure to face some serious questions on that count from Albus Dumbledore.

A knock at the door pulled Snape from his thoughts. "Come in," he called out, wearily readying himself for what he believed would be a visit from the Headmaster.

Instead, it was Bill Weasley whose head popped in, followed, without invitation, by the rest of him.

"Hello, there, Snape," the young man said brightly. How was it, Snape wondered, that every single Weasley always managed to look so insufferably cheerful?

"Yes, what is it," Snape said, with perhaps a bit more irritation than necessary. Bill, after all, was not a student.

"Well done, mate." Bill said, giving Snape a wide smile.

Snape lifted his eyebrows.

"We've been at our wits end over how to rescue Remus without taking too great a risk, and there you went and did it all by yourself. Splendid, really."

Snape grimaced, but he wasn't about to spill his guts to Bill Weasley.

"Thank you," he said coldly. "Was there anything else?"

"Professor Dumbledore asked me to let you know he's just gone up to look in on Remus, and we'll be meeting in his office in about an hour."

Snape nodded absently. He wondered who else was included in that "we," but he guessed he'd find out soon enough.

"Thank you Weasley. Please shut the door as you leave."

As he looked away dismissively and shuffled some papers on his desk for no reason other than to appear to be doing something, Snape hoped Bill did not notice that he was perspiring and his hands shaking.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The meeting in Dumbledore's office had been no worse than Snape expected. It had been, as he had known it would, an exercise in humiliation.

Besides Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Bill Weasley, and Kingsley Shacklebolt had been present. After a quick look at the Headmaster, who gave hin an almost imperceptible nod, Snape had informed them without preamble that his position as a spy had been exposed during a rescue of Remus, which had been witnessed by three Death-Eaters, including Lucius Malfoy and that since he had left all three of them alive, it was certain Voldemort would learn of his betrayal.

Dumbledore's face registered no discernible reaction as he listened to Snape and when he spoke, his voice was impassive, allowing the severity of the words alone to convey his attitude.

"Duty to the Order asks something different of each one of us, and I am quite aware that the role you have been required to play is a particularly difficult and unpleasant one. It is, however, one you have known you would play for a very long time." He paused and looked thoughtfully away from Snape and then back again. "You know as well how vital a role it is. It is completely understandable, but most undeniably unfortunate, that despite your long preparation, you suffered so costly a moment of weakness."

Snape flinched visibly at the last word, but he managed to keep his eyes on the headmaster.

"We are gratified, of course, to have both you and Remus back safely among us, but this turn of events shall require immediate and serious reconsideration of our position and strategy. The role you played cannot be filled by any other person. That road is closed to us."

Dumbledore extended his gaze to include the others assembled in the room. "I shall need all of you to strengthen your resolve and redouble your efforts. Some of us may now be required to take a more active role in our defense than I had previously hoped."

Dumbledore looked at each of them in turn, and each had nodded in acknowledgment and assent. He continued. "Because Minerva and I are required to be present for the students, we may need to hold more meetings on these premises. I should like to have a meeting tomorrow night of everyone who can be reached. Those on assignments shall have to be updated when and if they return. There is likely to be increased activity from the other side as well. We must all be prepared for the unexpected. Bill, please get in contact with the others as quickly as possible. Kingsley, you should continue to pursuing your monitoring of the Ministry for the moment, but I should also like you to assume some of Remus's duties until he is recovered. I'll apprise you of which missions he was monitoring. Minerva and I shall put our heads together at once to see if we can come up any new ideas."

Everybody stood waiting for Dumbledore to say more. Both Kingsley and Bill glanced uncomfortably at Snape while Minerva kept her eyes studiously away from his direction.

"Headmaster," Snape said, and Dumbledore turned to him once more almost as if he had forgotten he was there.

"Severus, you will resume teaching your classes, if you are well enough recovered from your ordeal. Give your attention to the students of Hogwarts while I consider of what service you can now be to the Order"

Snape's face was ashen.

"It is certain, Severus, that you will now be a particular target of the enemy and thus may well expose the Order to far greater threat. I do not wish to put lives at risk unnecessarily. Again."

Snape bowed his head slightly, accepting the headmaster's pronouncement. "I am quite well enough to resume teaching at once," he said, his voice tight. "May I be excused to go begin preparing tomorrow's lessons?"

"Yes, you're dismissed, Severus," Dumbledore said. "And this meeting is at a close as well," he added. He indicated to Minerva to stay as Bill and Shacklebolt followed silently after the retreating form of Snape.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Back in his office, Snape pounded his fist against his desk in frustration. It had been a hellish day; he'd made more than one serious mistake. Dumbledore had clearly been angry about the injuries both Remus and Snape had sustained because Remus had been transported in his transformed state, not to mention how much that factor had slowed down their escape, making them far more susceptible to recapture. But Dumbledore didn't even know the full story. Snape had omitted to tell him that he'd made no effort to get Reums to safety by stealth, but had consciously blown his cover in the most brazen and reckless way. An omission was as good as a lie, and this particular omission, was nothing but an act of cowardice. Dumbledore would learn the truth eventually, but Snape had foolishly chosen to delay the inevitable That dishonesty along with the great danger he'd placed both Remus and himself in seemed likely to seal his place in the headmaster's bad books for a considerable time, a position Snape always felt he avoided precariously at best.

Indulging as he was in this bout of self-recrimination and self-pity, Snape didn't at first hear the knock that soon came at his door.

The second knock came louder and more insistent. "Go away," Snape called out sharply." He was fairly certain it wasn't Dumbledore out there banging on his door, and there was no one else he would consider opening his door to at the moment.

"Snape, it's me," came the weak voice. Remus! How the hell....

Snape stalked over and threw open the door. Kingsley stood there, Remus leaning heavily against him and looking as if he might collapse at any moment. The angry words died on Snape's lips.

"Could you possibly invite us in, Snape?" Remus asked with a small smile. "I'm sure Kingsley would very much like to get my dead weight off him."

"Of course," Snape said, ushering them in. He looked around at the small, uncomfortable chairs in his office and sighed. "Go on into the sitting room. Take the sofa," he added.

Snape followed them into the other room and took a seat opposite Lupin. He did not invite Kingsley to sit.

Even from his seated position, Snape managed to look down his nose at Remus, but he couldn't keep a wrinkle of concern from crossing his brow.

"You should be in the infirmary lying down, Lupin," he said. "You don't look well."

"Thank you, Severus," Remus said simply "I shan't stay long." He looked up at Shacklebolt, who gave a nod to Remus and another to Snape. "I'll leave you then," he said. "But Snape's right; Remus; you do need to rest. Madam Pomfrey will be beside herself when she realizes you've escaped." He grinned.

"Yes, I'll only stay a little while," Remus assured him. Snape wished it would be true. He wanted to be alone just now, he decidedly did not want to discuss Dumbledore's meeting, and he wanted even less to deal with Remus Lupin and his gratitude.

"Are you all right, Severus?" Lupin asked. He was looking at the bandages on Snape's right hand and arm.

Wonderful. Solicitude. Even worse than gratitude. "I'm fine, Lupin," Snape said briskly. "It's nothing but a few scratches."

"A few scratches wouldn't make you too weak to apparate," Lupin said. "I'm sorry really very sorry."

"Well, there's no need to be. I knew what I was doing," Snape said. "You could hardly help yourself."

"...and grateful,"

Of course! Sorry and grateful. Brilliant.

"Really, Lupin, there's no need to thank me. I was merely afraid you might be close to breaking. I was acting to protect the Order."

Lupin laughed. "Well, we certainly both know that's a lie," he said, and Snape's face went hot.

"I was trying to protect a member of the Order, then," Snape said hotly. "And for that I require no thanks either." His mouth twitched. "Dumbledore has made quite clear to me that it was not my place to do so," he added, looking away uncomfortably.

Remus looked at Snape through lowered lashes. "That's not what you were doing Snape, and I'm sure if Dumbledore understood..."

"He understands perfectly. I was reckless and foolish. I jeopardized both our lives and compromised my own position irredeemably. As for what I've accomplished for the Order, I don't need your gentle remonstrances. I can assure you, I've been thoroughly rebuked on that account."

"Yes, I know. Kingsley told me Dumbledore was hard on you," Remus said softly. "Snape, I'm so sorry about that."

"Don't be!" Snape snapped. "It's no concern of yours."

"Of course it's my concern!" Remus managed to put a surprising amount of force into his words. "You were protecting me. I owe you a life debt."

"It's not your life I saved, Lupin," Snape said grimly. "You were in little danger of being killed, at least not any time soon."

Remus's face, pale from weakness, went paler still. "Yes," he whispered. "You are right. I owe you much more than my life."

"Nonsense," Snape said. "I was doing you no special favor. You are a vital member of the Order. I saw a chance to aid you in an escape. That is all. It didn't mean anything."

Remus shook his head emphatically. "No, you did me a great kindness. It had nothing to do with my being in the Order. As you have yourself pointed out, as a member of the Order, it was your job to leave me to my fate, as it was my job to suffer it. You acted out of personal compassion, Severus. I shall not allow you to deny it."

Snape shifted uncomfortably in his seat and looked away from Remus's gaze.

"You don't want to admit it, Snape, because you prefer to think you despise me, for what I am ... for what I become. And you've had good reason to do so." He gave Snape a pointed look before going on. " But you rescued me last night, not in spite of what I am. You did it out of compassion for what I am."

Snape opened his mouth as if to retort, but Remus raised a hand to stop him.

"Let me finish, Severus. This is important." His voice dropped. "I know what it meant for you to do that. For you in particular, given our ... history. And I want you to know how much that means to me as well."

Snape leaned back in his chair, looking ponderous, his usual veneer of bitter disdain wiped away entirely. When he spoke again, there was an uncustomary huskiness in his voice.

"Until last night, I always saw you as linked inextricably with the ... thing you become. You were that thing in my mind whether the moon was full or not. But last night I saw it differently. And it wasn't because of the transformation, although that was quite..." Snape stopped seeing the pained look in Remus's eyes. "It wasn't that. It was the look in your face just before. ..so helpless, so haunted. I'll never forget that look as long as I live."

Snape's eyes clouded over. "And what you became after the change...that wasn't you, Lupin. It wasn't any part of you."

"I wish I could see it that way, " said Remus sighing deeply. "That what I become is something distinct from what I am and not a hidden, dark part of me. I never remember, you know, what happens when I'm transformed. I just feel the effects afterward. But that just makes it worse, like there's a side of myself I don't even know, I never get to see...but I know it's there.

"If I had woken up and found that girl dead beside me, it wouldn't have mattered in the least that I couldn't remember. You spared me that. You spared me the one thing I couldn't have lived with." Remus paused, a darker pain crossing his eyes.

"Just as I couldn't have lived with it had it happened 20 years ago," he said softly.

Snape flinched a bit, but then he nodded. "All right," he said. Then his eyes took on a strange glare. "But please tell me one thing because if what you say is true, how could you have remained friends with Black after what he did?"

Remus blanched at the mention of the name. "How could I...?" his voice failed.

"You may have been innocent, but Black was not. He was an arrogant bastard who thought he could get away with anything, never mind the consequences. If he had not been stopped, he'd have made you...caused you to do the thing you say you could not have lived with. He did not deserve anyone's friendship after that, yours no more than mine. He didn't deserve to be at Hogwart's after what he did. When he finally got what he deserved, I ..."

"Shut up!" Remus shouted.

Snape jerked back, startled.

Remus composed himself. "I'm sorry, Severus, but I cannot hear you speak ill of Sirius now. While he was ... alive, I could tolerate the two of you hanging on to foolish boyhood animosities. But now that he's gone isn't it time we all grew up?" He wiped angrily at the tears that streaked his cheeks. "Do you not know how I loved him?"

Snape shifted uncomfortably. "I apologize. It was not my intention to hurt you," he said.

"I do know how you felt about Black, but I must confess, I have never understood why. He betrayed you just as surely as he bent his murderous intent upon me. I fail to see why you stood by him. It certainly made you appear guilty by association then and it baffles me even more now, when I see that you were no part of his little "trick," that you are nothing like him.

Remus leaned his head back against the wall and ran a hand across his brow wearily. "He was my best friend, Severus. The truest friend I've even had and the one who knew me and loved me as no one else ever did. I'd have forgiven him almost anything, eventually, I think. Even if James had not saved you. Even if I had ... hated myself, I wouldn't have been able to hate him forever."

His voice grew still quieter. "When he was at Azkaban, and I thought, no... I knew he was guilty of murder and betrayal, I told myself that I hated him, but I never truly forsook him in my heart. I'd have forgiven him that, too, ...if he'd asked me"

"But to ask for forgiveness, he'd have had to admit he was wrong," Snape said. "Black did not strike me as a person who ever thought he was wrong." He raised a challenging eyebrow. "He was not the sort of person to suffer pangs of conscience."

Remus shook his head. "You didn't know him, but believe me, Sirius suffered for whatever he did wrong, and for some things he did not."

"Oh, yes," Snape nodded. "Schooled by the dementors at Azkaban, I'm sure even the most recalcitrant miscreant might learn to ... regret his misdeeds."

"I wasn't talking about Azkaban, " Remus said. "It didn't take Azkaban to teach Sirius about his mistakes. He knew them quite well already.

"What Sirius did to you...and to me was wrong, Severus, gravely so, but it did not take being sent to Azkaban to make Sirius see that. That had happened long before. As soon as he'd told James what he'd done and seen how frantic James was, as soon as he realized that if not for James, you might have died, he understood how awful a thing he had done."

"He was barely even punished for it," Snape said, a 20-year-old bitterness still in his voice.

Remus sighed again. "That's not true, Severus. He may not have been punished sufficiently in the obvious ways you're thinking of, but he was punished with my anger and mistrust, with Dumbledore's disappointment, with the knowledge of what could have happened. He lived with those things for the rest of his life, and I'm not just saying that. I know he did because even after Azkaban, it was one of the things that troubled Sirius most in our relationship. I'd forgiven him years ago, and he knew it, but he still looked ashamed if I made the slightest passing reference. It wasn't something we ever completely resolved."

Snape was subdued in spite of himself. He looked thoughtfully at Remus and spoke more carefully than before. "He never once showed remorse for what he'd done to me. Never even acknowledged that he owed me any kind of respect, much less an apology."

"Of course he didn't, Severus. He hated you."

Remus smiled wryly, and Snape answered it with a brief twitch of his own lips.

"I'm not excusing him, Snape, but he's ... he was a Black; it wasn't in his nature to admit being wrong or ask for forgiveness. It was an incredible sacrifice of pride for him to abase himself even to me in that way. He did so in my case because he so needed me to forgive him and because he thought for a long time that I never would. He had no such need of your approval or forgiveness. His guilt didn't make him suddenly realize what a great guy you were. That doesn't mean it didn't haunt him. He simply would never have allowed you to see that side of himself."

"Perhaps," Snape said. "You are correct in that he didn't want my forgiveness, but I believe it was because he thought that what happened was at least partly my fault, or even that I deserved it. So I will accept that he understood somewhat, but I, myself shall never forgive him."

Remus looked down. "Let's drop this, okay? I understand how you feel, why you can't forgive him ... just as I understand why you can't help hating James, even though he saved your life."

"Oh. And why is that?" Snape asked."

"Because when someone saves your life, your vulnerability is exposed. We're all vulnerable, of course, but that doesn't make it easy to acknowledge our dependency on others." He looked straight into Snape's eyes. "You in particular, don't wish to show that kind of vulnerability, do you?" And without waiting for an answer, Remus added, "Not any more than you wish to show the depth of your compassion."

"Aren't you getting tired?" Snape said, irritated.

Remus laughed softly. "Sure, I just wanted you to understand that I ... know about things like vulnerability. I know about you in much the same way I know about Sirius."

"Do you, indeed?" Snape scoffed. Then he added. "I suppose as a werewolf you would have great knowledge of 'vulnerablitiy'"

Remus ignored Snape's snide tone. "Exactly! It comes with my condition," he said. "I have a choice. I can be vulnerable and accept protection or I can be uncontrolled and ... a vicious beast. I know how lucky I've been to have received as much protection as I have."

"Your family?"

"Yes, and later Dumbledore ... my friends."

"But you were on your own for a very long time..."

"I was. But by then, I'd learned at least some ways to protect myself. I knew how to stay away from populated areas on full moon nights. Still, I did not do well during those years, and I am very grateful to have had your protection these last few years."

Snape looked perplexed.

"The wolfsbane," Remus explained.

Snape balked, then looked at the floor. "You shame me. I never gave that help willingly, only because I was compelled by Dumbledore."

He looked up at Remus. "And once I withheld it...for spite." Head down again. "I'm sure that you remember."

"Yes," nodded Remus. "When Sirius was here. But I provoked you to it, Severus. You're not the only one who hung on to childish animosities, and I haven't always been as accepting of my vulnerability as I might be." Remus paused, the two men reflecting silently for a time.

Then very gently Remus reached out and lifted Snape's chin with his fingers. "And you protected me last night, Severus, not only willingly but at great risk to yourself. And at great cost, too, I think."

Snape's eyes shone darkly, but he did not flinch nor pull away from Remus's touch.

"That hardly compensates," he said.

"You are wrong." Remus let his hand drop and smiled softly to himself.

"What amuses you," Snape asked, more sharply than he intended.

Remus shook his head. "It's just...you are more like him than I would ever have guessed."

Snape arched an eyebrow. "Like him?"

"Sirius," Remus said, barely a whisper. "You are both hard on yourselves in just the same way."

"Hmph. Well, if it pleases you to compare me to him, I shall not deny you your indulgence, but don't expect me to endure such comparison blithely."

Remus smiled broadly then, as he had not in many months. "Yes," he said. "It pleases me."

Remus continued smiling at Snape until, flushing slightly, he looked away. "There's one more thing, Severus," said Remus. "I know you haven't told Dumbledore the truth. That much I gathered from Bill Weasley." Snape turned back, looking wary.

"He ought to know what really happened. I intend to talk to him."

"Don't," Snape said loudly. "I don't wish it. In any case, it does not matter what my reasons were, I forsook my duty to the Order, and both Dumbledore's disappointment and his anger are deserved."

"Don't think you should be forgiven?" Remus shook his head again, mildly. "So very like him."

Snape's mouth twisted in discomfort. Then he flashed a sneer Remus's way. "You're infuriating," he said, in mock disgust.

"Yes," Remus answered. "I am." He sighed. "I am also getting very tired. Would you help me get back to the infirmary, please, Severus?"

The sneer on Snape's face vanished at once. "Of course," he said, offering his arms to assist Remus in rising from the couch. "Tell me if I am hurting you," he added.

Remus put an arm around Snape's neck. "You're not hurting me, Severus," he said.

Snape held Remus close to him. As he felt him weaken, he reached across with his other arm to give added support, and walked him in a near-embrace slowly back to the infirmary.

Snape let his eyes fall upon the man at his side, regarding him thoughtfully. Whatever was in store, Snape was very glad to see this man out of the grip of Lucius Malfoy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That night Remus developed a fever. Madam Pomfrey was uncertain whether from infection associated with the many wounds that had been inflicted upon him or from being poisoned at some point during his week in Malfoy Manor. She worked on healing his injuries and Snape researched possible poisoning agents that might cause a delayed delirium, brewing and helping Poppy administer several test remedies. Remus was in and out of consciousness for 36 hours. Then he suddenly revived, and they never knew quite what had done the trick.

Both Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore insisted that he remain in the infirmary at least another full day and then remain in residence at Hogwarts until he made a complete recovery, possibly longer. Contact had been made with most members of the Order apart from those few who were incommunicado.

Since Sirius' death, it had been less convenient to use his family home as primary headquarters. Kreacher was extremely uncooperative with any outsiders, making staying there almost more trouble than it was worth. Remus had stayed there more often than the others, when he wasn't out organizing missions or working on recruitment. But now that he, in addition to Minerva and Dumbledore, was staying at Hogwarts, the school became more and more the meeting ground and central administrative locus of the Order.

In the days following Remus's return, Dumbledore held frequent impromptu meetings in his office with whomever happened to be available on short notice. Remus and Minerva were at nearly all these meetings, but Snape rarely was.

When Remus asked him about it, Snape usually said something about a potion that needed watching or a detention to supervise and then changed the subject. Remus was pretty certain that Snape was staying away from Dumbledore on purpose.

Remus had spoken to the headmaster while in the infirmary, but instead of being impressed by Remus's glowing account of Snape's heroism, Dumbledore had been strangely quiet, his face solemn, a look of something akin to displeasure in his eyes. Remus wondered at that, but Dumbledore had hurriedly said something about Remus needing his rest and had taken his leave before Remus could ask any questions. Now he wondered if somehow the headmaster could be angry with Snape, angry enough to actually bar him from Order meetings.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On the following Saturday, during the monthly trip to Hogsmeade, three 3rd year Huflepuffs went missing. That night the message arrived by owl:

"Give us the traitor."

Remus, McGonagall, and Snape had all come hastily in answer to Dumbledore's midnight summons.

Dumbledore held the parchment out for Snape's inspection. His eyes were blazing, and he was visibly shaking. "What say you to this, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, his tone dark. "Your recklessness has landed us in quite a dilemma, has it not?"

Snape, usually an imposing figure himself, quavered slightly beneath Dumbledore's towering anger. "Will you send an answering owl?" he asked weakly.

"Blast! Are you a complete fool? This is not a negotiation. It's a threat."

Snape bowed his head deeply. "Yes, of course." he said. "What do you wish to do then?"

"We cannot afford such threats to our students." Dumbledore said stonily. "It would seem there is only one logical answer." He looked pointedly at Snape.

McGonagall chose this moment to speak up. "Excuse me, Albus, but surely you aren't suggesting that Severus willingly give himself up?"

"I am suggesting that if we don't give them what they want now, we will suffer much greater losses as a result," Dumbledore's voice was hard. "Hogwarts is at risk now, and it is likely that with the enemy angered there will be further direct attacks against the Order. We are not prepared yet to fight such attacks, and we cannot afford to lose those members who still have a vital role to play."

Remus stared at Dumbledore in shock. What the headmaster was suggesting was practically a death sentence; in fact, it didn't sound much like a suggestion at all Dumbledore hadn't so much as asked Snape if he was prepared to be sacrificed.

Yet Snape had said nothing, and McGonagall had fallen silent at Dumbledore's harsh reply. It was as if they were all mesmerized by the elder wizard's stony glare. Finally Snape spoke.

"If it is your wish that I be returned to Malfoy's hands, then so be it," he said. "But I assume you'll not be sending me on my own. You shall have to send me with an escort, if you can find one."

"That is my intention," Dumbledore said. "I have already sent for Kingsley Shacklebolt. He should be here any moment." He looked again at Snape. "I suggest you prepare yourself, Severus," he said more quietly.

"I have little enough to prepare," Snape said. "May I await Shacklebolt in my chambers?"

Dumbledore nodded, and Snape turned without a word and was swiftly out the door before Remus had a chance to so much as catch his eye.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At the gate of Malfoy Manor, Kingsley Shacklebolt, with Snape in tow, stood beside two hooded Death-Eaters. The three Hufflepuffs were also there, their hands bound and eyes blindfolded.

Remus watched from a safe distance. Still reeling from the meeting in Dumbledore's office, he had suddenly thought of James's old invisibility cloak, and, not quite sure what he intended, he'd rushed up to Gryffindor Tower to borrow it from Harry's room. Then he'd apparated here to await Shacklebolt and Snape's arrival.

The wait had stretched from minutes into an hour, then another and another, and Remus was beginning to harbour hope that Dumbledore had come to his senses, or that Shacklebolt had refused the order, but then the two wizards had disapparated, not far from where he was standing and when the Death-Eaters showed themselves and the children, Shacklebolt had prodded Snape forward to meet them.

After Shacklebolt and the children had used what must have been Portkeys provided by Dumbledore to get quickly and safely away, Remus watched, breathless for a moment, as Malfoy swept down through the courtyard and dismissing the other two, turned upon Snape and raised his wand.

Remus was considering whether to hex Malfoy immediately, but Crabbe and Goyle were not out of earshot, and he didn't believe Malfoy would perform the killing curse outside the gates of his home.

Sure enough, it was a binding spell that Malfoy cast; a rope coiled around Snape's arms, knotted tightly at elbows and wrists. Another circled his ankles, just slack enough so that Snape could walk, or rather hobble, on his own.

Taking Snape by the arm, Malfoy moved back toward the house as quickly as he'd come out. Remus waited and then followed a safe, silent distance behind them.

Inside the great hall, Malfoy stopped and cast a locking spell on the front door. Then he turned toward Snape, a Cheshire smile on his face, quite familiar to Remus. It made him tremble.

"So. It would seem you are no longer welcome at Hogwarts, old friend," Malfoy offered a little pout. "How disappointing that must be for you. And of course, it is a great disappointment to Our Dark Lord as well," he added, arching a brow. "Although I am most gratified to have you back in my home once again, I fear Our Dark Lord will not be nearly so pleased to see you as I am."

"Yes, Lucius. I am aware my assistance to the werewolf must look very bad for me, but it has succeeded in giving me the opportunity to procure... a token of appeasement."

"Has it, indeed?," Malfoy asked, looking interested. "Do explain."

"As you know, Dumbledore has recently been more cagey with me than is usual even for him. His protestations of trust notwithstanding, I have been kept at arms length when it comes to any important exchange of information."

Lucius nodded. "Yes, yes. You've said. Do you have a point Severus, or shall we be standing here in the foyer all day? What is it you've obtained?"

"Albus Dumbledore has proved to be every bit the arrogant fool we always knew him to be." Snape said with a vicious sneer. "Even as he was waiting for an excuse to toss me out, he allowed me entree into his private offices, not once, but twice. Can you imagine? Because, of course, he must do everything with the veneer of propriety."

Lucius was nodding more eagerly now. "Yes, I know the old phony's habits well. Go on."

"He called a meeting first to tell me off for so spectacularly betraying myself in Lupin's 'rescue,' and then another to announce that he was sacrificing me for the sake of those puling children. These meeting were, of course, designed to humiliate me, but I took the opportunity to locate and then remove certain documents that I had been long endeavoring to wrestle from the Headmaster's tight fist."

Lucius's eyes glinted with pleasure. "Excellent, Severus! I knew I could count on you. I am sure this will improve our Dark Lord's disposition toward you immensely. However, I think he'll be loathe to let go his disappointment at losing the Werewolf."

Snape bowed his head slightly. "Yes, that was unfortunate. It was, I am aware, a great risk, and had it not paid off, it would have been a very grave miscalculation. But by some ironic logic, I sensed that if I could not get to Dumbledore by being in his good graces, I might achieve it by being in his bad books." Snape smirked. "I only hope my Lord will appreciate that irony enough to forgive my misdeed."

Lucius had on his impassive face. "We shall see," he said softly. "You were quite successful, were you not?"

"Yes, Lucius. I have the documents with me. Would you care to peruse them?" Snape made a move as if to retrieve them from his robes, but stopped, drawing Lucius's attention to the cords around his wrists.

"Ah," Lucius said quickly. "Let's get rid of that formality, shall we?... but first, you will forgive me if I ask you for your wand."

Snape nodded quiescently and lifted his bound hands just enough for his robes to open revealing his wand pocket.

"Accio, Snape's wand," Malfoy intoned, and it flew into his hand. He smiled, satisfied and waved his own wand, releasing Snape's hands and feet.

"Come. All this treachery must have made you tired. Let me show you to your quarters," he said, and headed brusquely for the main staircase, Snape hurried along behind him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As Remus had listened to this conversation his thoughts had gone from concern, to confusion, to dismay, and finally, fury. By the time Malfoy and Snape started off to the upstairs chambers, Remus had gone so deep into his own thoughts that he nearly didn't notice.

At the last moment, he realized he must either flee or follow. Unsure just what he intended now, he opted to follow and hastened up the stairs, keeping a safe distance from the other two.

Malfoy led Snape into a room along the middle of one of the upstairs corridors. Waiting until both Malfoy and Snape were inside, Remus slipped in quietly and pressed himself along an interior wall.

It was a smallish room, but furnished comfortably. As it had no windows Remus thought it might have been a dressing room or perhaps, at one time, a servant's workroom. Now it was a bedroom with a small siting area in one corner and a writing desk in another.

"I am sorry I cannot offer you more luxurious accomodations," Malfoy said with a small shrug. "but I trust you will be comfortable here."

"Yes, quite," Snape answered.

"I'll have the house elves send up some supper for you. Do you prefer beef or lamb?"

"No thank you," Snape replied. "I'm not hungry."

"As you wish. If you change your mind, there is a bell," he said pointing to a silk rope hanging by the bed.

"Thank you, Lucius,"

"Most welcome, Severus. I really am quite pleased that you're back." He turned to go, but then turned back.

"Oh, have you those documents? I'll be sending a message to our Master tonight. I'm sure he'd like to know what news you've brought of Dumbledore."

Snape pulled a sheath of parchments from a pocket in his robe. Lucius's flickered at the sight. Snape held out the parchments for Malfoy to inspect, but did not relinquish them.

"If you don't mind," Snape said smoothly, "I'd like to give them to the Dark Lord myself. I wish to have the opportunity to personally convey my sincerity ... and my contrition."

Malfoy's mouth wrinkled just a fraction, but smoothed out at once.

"By all means." he said. Then with a smile of approval added, "Those papers look most interesting. I'll wish you good night then."

"Good night, Lucius," Snape said, folding the sheets away into his robe once more.

Malfoy spared Snape one more condescending smile and then left, waving the door shut with his wand behind him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once Malfoy's footsteps could no longer be heard, Remus stepped out from the invisibility cloak and pulled his wand upon the startled Snape.

"I can not believe it is possible for one man to turn traitor three times in one lifetime!" he said, advancing threateningly upon Snape. "But I suppose after today I shall never again be surprised by anything."

Snape had quickly regained his composure, and was now eyeing him cooly, with an almost patronizing air.

"Indeed," he drawled. "What exactly has caused you to become so suddenly jaded?" he asked.

"I never believed I would see Dumbledore forsake you," Remus said shaking his head. "And I can believe even less that you would betray the Order." He continued to hold his wand aloft though his hand trembled.

Snape gave him a familiar sneer. "If you can believe neither of those things," he said, "then pray tell what you are doing here?"

"I had thought I was coming here to help you, to come to your rescue ... as you came to mine. Clearly that was foolish of me."

"To put it mildly," Snape said dryly.

Remus watched the other man carefully. He had half expected Snape to call out and alert Malfoy to his presence, but Snape had instead received him impassively. His eyes were cool and unreadable. He narrowed them now, and Remus saw exasperation?

"So is it true? You do not wish to be rescued."

Snape laughed sourly. "You are a fool Lupin, if that is not clear to you by now."

Remus pointed his wand firmly at Snape's head. "I ought to just hex you and be done with it, but I don't think you're worth it, Snape. I had not thought even you would stoop to this." He gave Snape a look of pure disgust.

"Good bye. I wish you well with your new friends."

Snape said nothing as Remus moved away from him toward the door, not taking his eyes off Snape or lowering his wand until he reached the handle. He turned it. Nothing happened.

"Alohomora," he tried. Nothing.

He turned back to Snape who was regarding him gravely. "I think you'll find that you cannot break the wards Lucius will have placed on the room." he said.

"You're a prisoner."

"How very astute of you to notice."

"But Malfoy..."

"Is a charming man. Yes. So is Voldemort."

"Snape, what the hell's going on? Is this...was it planned?"

Snape gave a long-suffering sigh. "I am a spy, Lupin. Didn't you know it?"

"Stop bloody patronizing me, Snape. I've risked my life to come here. Can't you just give me a straight answer?"

"It's not my fault you were fool enough to risk your life in this way," Snape retorted sharply.

Remus, who was still holding his wand aloft, looked about to hex Snape out of pure frustration.

"Oh, alright," Snape muttered. "Yes, I'm here on Dumbledore's orders. The hostility between him and me was deliberately staged. I have not gone over to the Dark side. I am, if you will, a quadruple traitor. Are you satisfied?"

Remus lowered his wand, but his face took on a foreboding look. It was suddenly clear to him that Snape had been evading more than just the question of his loyalty. "How much of it was staged?" he asked quietly.

Snape's eyes narrowed. "You are asking if your rescue was planned. In so many words, yes."

"That's not what I'm asking, and you know it. Was my capture part of the plan?"

Snape looked away for the first time. "It's complicated, Remus."

"Of course. I know you and Dumbledore. Why twist once when you can do it three times? So, let me see if I can untwist it. Someone had to be captured, and then rescued?"

Snape nodded. "That's right. And the rescue had to cast suspicion upon me and give Dumbledore reason to cast me off."

Remus took this in. "Because Malfoy beginning to trust you too much?"

"That's right," Snape nodded. "And he was eager for me to take advantage of Dumbledore's apparent trust as well. Lucius could see that I was close with Albus. He surmised that I must also be well acquainted with other members of the Order. He began demanding more of me than just to remain quietly at Hogwarts. He wanted me to become more active."

"To take direct action against the Order?"

"Yes."

"And you chose to give him me?"

Snape closed his eyes wearily. "Someone had to be chosen. You are strong. It was Dumbledore's decision as much as mine." He lifted his chin a bit. "And we did not 'give' you to Malfoy. Your rescue was as assured as your capture."

"Yes, and that went off without a hitch, didn't it?" Remus said acidly. Snape drew in an uncomfortable breath.

"No, I botched it quite badly to keep you from becoming a murderer," he said, but his voice was not as laced with irony as he intended.

Remus was quiet for a while. "Why did you not tell me," he asked at last.

"That was Dumbledore's decision," Snape said unapologetically. "He thought, given the delicacy of the situation, that it was best if you did not know of the deception. No one else knew, either," he added.

"No one else was tortured for six days," Remus said angrily. "Tortured, I might add, while you stood by and watched."

A brief look of pain crossed Snape's face at these words, but he let Remus continue.

"Even when you had rescued me, you didn't bother to tell me it had all been planned. You let me think that was some sort of valiant act of conscience, of humanity. You let me think..." Remus stopped, unwilling to complete the thought. His eyes clouded with something like resignation.

"What I said to you about the purity of your motives, about you about Sirius. That was all rubbish, wasn't it? Were you laughing inside at my foolish earnestness?"

"I wasn't laughing, Lupin," Snape said softly. "Believe what you will about my methods, but I assure you, I have not misled you about the reasons I acted as I did."

"It was never intended that I be so blatantly transparent in my betrayal; that's why I had waited as long as I did. I wanted an opportunity that would allow for as much safety as possible while still casting suspicion upon me." He paused and rubbed the bridge of his nose, conveniently covering his face as he did so. After a moment, he looked at Remus directly once more. "Such an opportunity was not easy to come by," he said softly.

"Watching what they did to you for six days was not easy for me. But I knew my mission and my objective, and I kept them foremost while I waited for the right moment. Then in a moment I reacted to what I saw in your eyes, and all my patience and resolve flew from my mind. That ridiculous, ostentatious display was never part of the plan and very nearly ruined any chance of my ever regaining even a small measure of Malfoy's trust."

"Dumbledore's anger over that part of it, at least, was not entirely staged," he added.

Remus looked concerned at that. "You're supposed to regain Malfoy's trust so that you can continue to gather information, but without giving him information in return, is that it?"

Snape nodded.

"May I ask, then, why you believe Malfoy will still find you useful?"

Snape gave Remus a withering look. "Thank you for that vote of confidence," he sneered. "Let's see...have I any other talents than that of spying?"

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Remus sputtered. "What a time to take offence. I merely wondered how you knew Malfoy wouldn't simply kill you."

"Lucius Malfoy has never been one to simply kill anyone," Snape said dryly. "There was, of course, a risk that I might be killed, but there has always been that risk." His voice was measured, carefully without affect.

"But you believe you have convinced him to trust you enough to be accepted back and not harmed?

Snape shook his head. "No, not unharmed," he said quietly. Remus's eyebrows rose in concern again.

"Don't be alarmed. I'm quite confident I won't be killed," Snape said placidly. "But I bear the mark of a Death-Eater," he added. "My betrayal cannot go unpunished."

Remus shuddered. "Will they hurt you as much as they did me?" he asked in a hushed voice.

"Very likely," Snape said, his voice still even. "But I should think not for such a prolonged period. It'll be done formally, and then it will be over. I should be able to return to work after a day or two."

There was a silence. Snape watched Remus's face intently. "So, at least you will be granted some measure of vengeance," he said casually.

Remus's eyes went wide. "I do not wish vengeance against you, Snape," he said, aghast.

Snape lowered his eyes. "No, of course not. I apologize. That was crude."

Remus's face was still pale. "I do admit though that it's still difficult for me to accept that you allowed all this to happen without ever giving me the slightest clue."

Snape's voice was low. "I did say you owed me no special thanks. I think perhaps now you believe me. I am no Death-Eater, Remus, and I will not waver in my loyalty to Albus Dumbledore and to the Order, but I lied to you for the same reason I am here now. Because that's what Dumbledore asked of me."

Remus glanced around, suddenly remembering where they were.

"I shouldn't be here," he said anxiously. "I'm putting you at terrible risk."

"Yes," Snape agreed. "And yourself as well. I shouldn't think Malfoy is likely to be convinced that you have defected also."

Remus nearly smiled at that. But the gravity of the situation overwhelmed him.

"You will remain here then?" he asked.

"Yes, indefinitely. There is no plan for me to return to Hogwarts, not until we reach the point of open hostilities. As long as I remain here, I should still be able to get some useful information out and even feed Malfoy a bit more misinformation. And I have a Portkey to get out myself when the time comes as well as ... other resources should fleeing not be possible."

Remus shook his head. "I still cannot believe Dumbledore would have you subjected to this. Was there no other way?"

Snape sighed. "This is what I do for the Order, and it's something that no one else can do. It's not new; it's been my life since...since I chose to work for Dumbledore, over 15 years ago."

Remus was still shaking his head. "I know that, but it still seems that...because you were a Death-Eater, you are being punished by the Order as much as serving it."

"Yes, that's exactly right," Snape said mildly. "But it is punishment I will gladly accept if there is hope that it will do some good, not only for the cause, but for my own ...."

"Surely you have been redeemed by now," Remus said, somewhat bitterly.

"Perhaps," Snape replied. "Yet the war is not over, and if there is still more I might do, I am prepared, at whatever cost to myself. Is it not the same for you?" he asked, archly.

"Yes, I suppose," Remus nodded. "But I am not called upon to suffer with regular frequency."

"And yet you've suffered considerably in the last 20 years, haven't you?" Snape said softly. "You've suffered a very great loss just this year, one that brings the kind of pain that doesn't recede so quickly as a beating or even Cruciatus."

When Remus spoke again, his voice was a scant whisper. Snape had to lean close to hear him. "I don't believe I could ever have chosen suffering as you have chosen and accepted yours. I'm much more selfish than you are, Severus. I'd give anything, anything to have Sirius back."

"I think not," said Snape. "You say that, but if it came to it, you would not give anything. You would not willingly see Voldemort come to power, nor would you see Harry or Dumbledore destroyed in Sirius' s place. You would not have Sirius live but truly be the betrayer you thought him all those years. You miss him. That is clear. Perhaps you will never be happy now that he is gone, but there is a great deal you would not give to have him back. Don't fool yourself, Remus. You are anything but a selfish man."

Snape was so close his breath moistened Remus's face. His eyes, customarily either cold or glittering with anger, were deep, searching pools of black. The same compassion revealed in his actions the night he had rescued Remus from Malfoy, showed in Snape's eyes now.

Remus lifted a hand and gently brushed it over one of Snape's cheeks, an almost unconscious caress.

"Thank you, Severus," Remus whispered. "You are a great comfort to me."

Snape's black eyes locked upon Remus and he smoothly took his own hand and cupped it over Remus's. He moved their two hands together and pressed his lips against Remus's palm. "You are one who deserves some comfort," he said.

Remus gasped at this surprising sign of affection. Then he found himself chuckling.

"What, pray tell, amuses you?" Snape asked, withdrawing his lips but not letting go of Remus's hand.

"I'm not laughing at you, Snape," Remus said, still smiling. "More at my own imitable timing."

Snape cocked his head inquiringly.

"It's just so like me to discover only now, when you are about to go out of my life for ... a very long time, what a gentle man you are and ... how many years I've wasted thinking you horrid."

"Yes," Snape said. "That is amusing." Then he let go Remus's hand and brought both of his own to hold his face gently but firmly as he leaned in to kiss him softly on the mouth.

Remus moaned, and his arms fluttered at his sides for a moment before he brought them up to grip Snape's shoulders. Remus pressed against Snape. Snape pressed against him, and it was soon apparent that they were about to deepen their new- found amity considerably.

"I probably can't apparate out of here anyway," Remus whispered between kisses. "Not if Malfoy left any serious charms on the room, which I'm sure he did."

"Mmm," came Snape's reply with a kiss later. "You're probably right. You'll have to stay here tonight and then slip out when someone comes in the morning."

Remus began nudging the collar of Snape's robes off his shoulders. "Or..." he said teasingly, "I could just use the invisibility cloak and stay here with you," he said.

Snape swiftly grasped both of Remus's arms and shook him once, firmly. "You will do no such thing," he said fiercely. "You were ridiculously foolish to come here at all. You're not staying here in danger one minute longer than necessary."

Remus's smile faded. "Of course not," he said. "I shouldn't have made light of such a thing."

Snape held him in his critical glare a moment longer. Then his expression softened and Remus breathed a sigh of relief. But a moment later a new apprehension rose in him.

"You don't suppose Malfoy will come tonight, do you?" he asked.

Snape smiled. "I shouldn't think so. It will take some time to send word to Voldemort and get his response. We most likely shan't be disturbed until morning."

"That's good," said Remus, barely even noticing the mention of Voldemort, and he cast a quick silencing spell as he returned his fingers to the collar of Snape's robes and his lips to the collarbone beneath them.

The silencing charm turned out to be unnecessary. Their lovemaking was slow and tender. Gentle touches of lips and fingertips and tongues. Remus kept his wand close to hand so that he would be able to dress and conceal himself in an instant if need be, and with that protection in place, they managed to enjoy one another almost as freely as if they were in the comfort and safety of Hogwarts Castle if only for this night.

Even as their ardor increased and their movements sped up, they made almost no sound. It was as if neither of them wished to disturb the experience of pure sensation. Remus wept as he came, and Severus kissed the tears, but he didn't ask why. His own orgasm was a long, slow shudder beneath Remus's soft hands.

They moved into stillness imperceptibly, and lay together, awake for a long time and then together began moving once more in a second interlude of joined flesh, caressed skin, wet heat. They did not waste a single minute of the night in sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

END