Title: The Selling of Souls
Note: In response to challenge #222) There are many post-war fics, but details are usually sketchy and often involve a list of people who died. Then everyone seems to simply move on with their lives. This challenge is to write a fic that depicts a world torn apart by the recently-ended war. Torn apart so completely that the dead are left in the streets because there is no one to bury them, the wounded are left to die because stopping to help others means lowering your own chance of survival, everyone is starving, orphans are left to fend for themselves, money means nothing, gangs prowl the streets, dark creatures feast on anyone who can't defend themselves, and you can't trust even your best friend anymore because all morals and ethics have been thrown aside in favor of simply SURVIVING. In the middle of all of this are Snape (a hardened, pragmatic survivor) and Remus (heart too big for his own good).
Big thanks to my betas, Haley and Jason, who managed to rush through this in one night because I was so far past the deadline. *cough* Also thanks to my fiancé, John, who forced me to read the Death Gate Cycle, from which I stole the ideas I needed to finally finish this story.
June 30, 1977, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
The last day of Remus Lupin's school years dawned (or so everyone assumed, though that occurrence couldn't be verified) dark and cloudy. This wasn't a very promising sign for what would come after---in fact, in his later years, he would call it the Fates' idea of foreshadowing, which is more difficult to recognize in everyday life than it is in literature. Young, foolish, and somewhat carefree, Remus didn't think anything at all of the clouds. It was the first day of his real life, and nothing could make it anything less than glorious.
As the final two years, after what had already been christened 'The Shrieking Shack Incident,' had seemed nothing more than falling action, Remus couldn't help but decide it was time for a conclusion and a fresh start. Almost all the loose ends were tied up, with one notable exception---Severus Snape. Though the other boy had kept his secret well, Remus wasn't quite comfortable with leaving it at that. He'd much prefer a final confrontation, and a resolution. Since he felt as if nothing could go wrong on this day, he'd decided to go and take care of it.
Severus was never difficult to find.. All one had to do was locate the deepest, darkest shadow, find something resembling a corner within it, and that was where Severus would be. As an expert Snape-watcher, Remus had confirmed this over and over again. Sirius and James had never understood his fascination with the Slytherin, and obsession that had begun sometime during his fifth year. For that matter, neither did Remus. He chose to believe it was because Severus practically held his life in his hands, but he had a sneaking suspicion that the fascination might have been what caused Sirius to send Severus to the Shrieking Shack in the first place.
Whatever the reason, Remus located the Slytherin quickly. A little too confident, he approached. "Good morning, Severus."
Severus was startled---not something most would be able to tell, but the way his greasy hair fell suddenly across his face gave it away to Remus. Recovering quickly, Severus sneered. "Unobservant as ever, Lupin. It will be sheeting, in a few minutes."
Typical snarky Severus... Remus hid a smile. "I wasn't referring to the weather, only to other conditions."
"Oh, yes. The thrill of the loss of homework." Severus shrugged. "Some of us plan on furthering our education. This is merely another summer holiday."
"Spoilsport." Things were going well, thus far. Remus steeled himself. "I'd like to talk to you."
Severus raised an eyebrow, making a point of looking down at Remus. "I don't believe we've been passing notes, Lupin. Unless we're communicating telepathically, which I truly doubt, we've been talking for the past minute or so."
Wincing, Remus smiled. "I suppose I earned that. But I meant we should talk about... that night."
"Don't worry." Severus glanced away, as if Remus had just slipped completely beneath the level where he deserved acknowledgment. "I shan't reveal your little secret."
Remus reached out to touch his arm, and Severus pulled away. "That's not what I'm worried about. I'd like to apologize, for myself and my friends. Well, not really them as much, since I can't control their actions---mind you, I'm fairly sure Sirius wasn't thinking when he did that, and he'd probably regret it if he stopped to think. Er, not that he will, at least not 'til he hits one hundred or so. Anyhow, I wish that night had never happened, and I'm very, very sorry."
After pausing to make sure Remus was quite finished, Severus nodded. "As you should be. Now run along, little wolf."
"Is that all?" Well, that was rather anticlimatic. Remus stared at him, confused.
Severus snorted. "What, were you expecting me to throw my arms about you and babble my forgiveness? Perhaps blubber a bit? It's out of character enough for me to stand and listen to you, as it is. Forgiving you when the animosity will serve me so well in the future... well, that's just not the kind of person I am."
"Of course it is. You have a soul, Severus. Those with soul are always capable of forgiveness." Remus bit his lower lip, fighting a laugh. "Though I don't expect you to blubber. That would be more than a little frightening."
That only seemed to anger Severus. "A soul, you say... a lot of good a soul does me. I'd just as soon be rid of it!"
Remus shook his head. "Don't say things like that, Severus. Souls are what separate us from the animals." Since his own separation from the animals was so indistinct, Remus was quite concerned with maintaining that thin line.
Needless to say, it did not have the desired effect. Severus drew himself up to his considerable full height. "The animals seem to have a better idea on how to survive. Those soft feelings place us at a disadvantage, today. If you think my soul is so precious... well, then, take it yourself!"
With that, he seized Remus's shoulders and jerked the other young man to him. He bent down and crushed their lips together, hard enough to bruise. It was unpleasant, at first, then a tingling began. It was almost like magic, Remus thought. Severus's index fingers traced patterns on his arms, patterns Remus thought he should recognize from elsewhere. He shivered and pressed closer, not quite able to believe that this was happening, but willing to go with it---he was seventeen, though he tried his hardest to act older. Really, Severus was surprisingly good at this snogging thing. That could have been Remus's hormones speaking, though, or the romantic nature he was ashamed to admit to possessing. It was almost as if Severus was giving over a part of himself, one that Remus was glad to be entrusted with.
Remus had no idea how long they stood there, lips locked, Severus drawing patterns on his arms that seemed to tingle and spark. When the taller boy pulled away, the rain had started, unnoticed. As Remus stared up at him, shivers now caused by the cold, Severus rubbed his forearm. "I hope you're satisfied, Lupin. My soul is safe."
As Severus walked away, disappearing into the pounding rain, Remus couldn't make himself move. For some reason, he had a sinking suspicion that there would be no conclusion for him, that perhaps they were only a back story, a prologue for something yet to come.
He'd had all the loose ends tied up but one, and now he was coming unraveled.
June 10, 1998, London
It should have been twilight.
A scene like the one played out on the streets of Muggle London would have been more at home in the eerie half-light of the setting sun and rising moon. Streetlights should have been beginning to come on, shedding their dim electric glow on the carnage beneath. Shadows should have been cast across the slack forms of the dead laying in the streets where they had fallen. Twilight was the time for such things. It should have been twilight.
Instead, it was noon. The unforgiving sun shone down on the corpses of "good" and "evil" alike, making it impossible to differentiate between the two. Not even the gruesomeness of the kills gave any hints. The good had become remarkably proficient with the dark arts over the past few years.
Most people ignored the battleground as they hurried by. There was no point in stopping, no point in looking for those who had once been friends, allies, lovers. If they were dead, they were better off than those who survived. If they were injured, they were as good as dead, and so was anyone who stopped to help them.
Only one figure moved among the still bodies---a nude man, scrawny enough that one could easily count his ribs. He flipped bodies over to study their identities with a somewhat frantic mien. With each body he turned, he paled another shade, 'til he resembled a freshly bleached bed sheet.
The final body he reached was a dark-haired boy with glazed over green eyes and broken glasses. His face was twisted into the unnatural grimace of one who had died in extreme pain. He seemed to be what the man was looking for. Upon finding him, he sank to his knees and buried his face against his palms. Shoulders shaking, though he shed no tears, the man settled down... content, perhaps, to die.
If that had been his plan, it was changed by a low moan from a nearby form. Hope shining in his eyes, the searcher spun around to locate the source of the sound.
The other survivor was a gaunt man whose hair was matted with blood. Its source was apparent, a large gash across his scalp. As he stirred, his eyes opened, but refused to focus properly. He shook his head a few times, wincing at the pain the motion caused. The first thing he saw when he was capable of that feat was the nude man kneeling beside him.
He blinked, surprised. "Lupin? You damn fool... what are you doing here?"
Remus Lupin grabbed the other man's shoulders. "Did we win, Severus?"
Taking a look around him, Severus sighed. "No."
"No." A pained smirk touched his lips. "He's dead... but only a fool could look at this and say we won. Potter--"
Remus interrupted, not needing to be reminded. "I know. I saw. What do we do know?" Expecting Severus to have answers, he tightened his grip.
Attempting to extricate himself from it, Severus sighed. "We survive, Lupin. What else can we do?" With that, he struggled to rise, but found himself unable to even support his weight with his arms.
Despite the harsh words, Remus moved quickly to assist. "I think you might have a concussion... hopefully not anything more serious, I've never been much of a healer. Let's get to safety, then I'll take a closer look. If we work together--"
"Lupin." Severus's voice, though hoarse, still held the power to stop Remus mid-motion. "Every second you waste helping me takes another hour off your life expectancy. Stop with the bloody altruism and go." Once more, he struggled to move off of the ground, and failed. With a pained laugh, he admitted, "I'm dead, whether you die with me or not."
Remus shook his head. "I can't do that."
"You have to." Nevertheless, Severus didn't pull away when Remus wrapped an arm around his waist and began lifting both of them to their feet. "I hope you realize that you're committing suicide." His eyes narrowed. "Or is that your intention? Must you remain the hero until the end? You're not content to simply die... oh, no, you must save your enemy in the process, leaving me with a debt to you that I shan't ever be able to repay because you're dead and rotting?"
Staggering under the additional weight on his weary frame, Remus snorted. "Must it always be so personal, Severus? I'm helping you because it's the right thing to do. I'd do the same for any other ally. It isn't an attack on you, nor an attempt to make you feel as though you owe me something. Consider it doing me a favor, if that helps."
A bit of that arch, superior tone had returned. "I'm curious, Lupin... how is allowing you to waste your time assisting someone who will probably die regardless doing you a favor?"
"I don't know about you, but I need to keep in touch with my humanity." Remus smiled, looking even more tired than he had before. "I feel that I have such a tenuous hold on it, as it is. When one isn't human one day of the month, one must grasp firmly at it the rest of the time."
Tightening his grip on Lupin's shoulder, Severus nudged him forward. "Stop being so self-deprecating, Lupin. It doesn't suit you." Sounding quite put-upon, he suggested, "If you feel you must save me, I'd like to inform you that shelter would be a good first step, right before clothing for yourself. A hero mustn't run about starkers, not even one who refuses to admit he's trying to be one."
"And why is that, Severus?" Remus glanced around several times before spotting a darkened alley that looked to be an appropriate hiding spot. "One would think a hero could do whatever they pleased."
"It lacks dignity." Allowing Remus to support most of his weight, Severus hobbled along beside him. "I should think that would be perfectly obvious."
Remus smiled. "You've always told me I was a bit dense. Ever since we were first years... remember?"
"Reminiscing won't keep us alive, Lupin. I suggest you focus on getting us to our destination."
Attempt at good humor aborted, Remus guided them toward the alley. "May I borrow your wand, Severus?" He didn't wait for a reply---the spoilsport would probably ask too many questions. Instead, he snatched it. There were some advantages to having watched the other man for years upon years. One was that he knew where Severus habitually kept his wand, and didn't have to waste time on a search. A quick Lumos showed Remus's chosen haven to be empty, and he wasted no time in filling it.
Severus looked around. "It's not very defensible." Glaring, he snatched his wand back and stowed it away. "It will do for now, though. Go and get your own wand."
"I don't know where it is." Remus released the other man when he began to push away, ashamed to take a bit of pleasure in the way Severus stumbled and fell. It was nice to be the strong one, just for once. "I've forgotten most of what happened... last night. Before and after the moon rose."
Habitual sneer in place, Severus adjusted himself on the ground, trying to get somewhat comfortable. "Tenderhearted fellow that you are, it's probably a good thing. You wouldn't want to remember what you did while you were a monster, now, would you? Too bad not all of us have had that luxury."
Severus had to have known what kind of pain that would cause. He wouldn't have said it, otherwise. "Stop it, Severus. Just tell me how to help you. Here... give me that wand back, I'll try to heal you up a bit."
"As I said, get your own." Severus waved his hand back at the direction from which they'd come. "There's a whole battleground riddled with them."
Remus shook his head. "I'm not taking a dead man's wand."
"Why not?" Severus raised an eyebrow. "It's not as if their former owners will have any use for them, now."
Paling, Remus backed away. "I can't, Severus... how could you even suggest that?"
Severus was very matter-of-fact about it. Remus could have happily strangled him for that. "They're dead. You're not. You need it. They don't. Get it through that thick skull, werewolf... if you're going to survive, you'll have to lose a bit of that innocence you've somehow retained."
"I don't want to lose that." Angry now, Remus loomed over the man on the ground. "If I lose that, then I've lost what we've fought for all along! I'll have lost my humanity. We have to keep our humanity, Severus.... our souls, the things that make us more than just animals. If we lose that, then we really have lost the war."
Tilting his head back to meet Remus's eyes, Severus asked, "Are you quite finished with your hysterics, Lupin?"
That cold question froze Remus, took away all his righteous rage. "Yes."
"Go find yourself a wand." Severus scooted over to a wall. "I'll just wait here, I suppose."
Remus could do nothing but go. Before he walked back out into the chaos, he turned and told Severus, "I really hate you, right now."
If Severus had reciprocated the feeling, or grown angry, or even shown any feeling at all, Remus would have walked away feeling pleased with himself. As it was, the answer took away even that emotion, leaving him confused.
"I expected nothing else."
Severus did his best to appear cool, and as collected as he could be while still seeing fairies from that bash on the head. He seriously doubted that it was a concussion, no matter what Lupin chose to believe. The werewolf had always been a worrywart. With Potter, he'd been like a hen with one chick. It had been quite frustrating to watch... but Severus had a feeling it would be even more frustrating to be that chick. It would only be worse, though, if he allowed Lupin any more glimpses of how dizzy he truly was.
Lupin... he was always blathering on about souls, and not being just animals. One would think he was trying to save the world. In truth, he had enough soul and humanity for both him and Severus---which was good, since Severus couldn't bring himself to care. Oh, he felt fear, and anger, and he sometimes even felt protective. They were all basic instincts, bodily reactions that could not be controlled. Softer emotions, though... well, he'd kept them concealed in school, but after that they seemed to have gone away and left him only his brain to point out the correct decisions. It was a relief, to not be battling those conflicting urges anymore. Cold logic served him well, and he had no desire or need for anything else.
But Lupin was a different matter altogether, ruled by his heart and seemingly incapable of using his head for even a few minutes. Severus thought he'd been less emotional in school, but he couldn't be certain. It seemed that as Severus had become colder and harder, Lupin had become warmer and softer. There was a certain symmetry to the two of them, one that Severus couldn't deny the beauty of. Though he'd never considered 'love' as a part of the equation, they seemed to make up for one another's flaws, and that was a better basis for a relationship than many he'd seen. He'd considered suggesting an affair at one time, when the Order had first begun again... but first Black, then Black's death, and then a multitude of other things had kept him at a distance. Now, in this new world, the werewolf's softness would be nothing but a disadvantage for the both of them, if they stayed together. Once he was recovered, Severus would most certainly have to think of a way to leave him behind. A month should be enough, and Lupin couldn't very well expect Severus to stick around a fully grown werewolf. He would sneak off to avoid the wolf, and then never come back.
Content with his solution, Severus leaned his head back against the wall. Lupin was returning. His footsteps were clearly audible, another trait that might endanger them. Bloody hell... would he have to give the alleged master of Defense Against the Dark Arts a lesson in how to survive in a world full of dangerous creatures? If Hinkypunks and Boggarts were Lupin's idea of suitable material for a third year class, he probably would.
"Severus... I found one. I hope you're happy now." Lupin looked adorably disgruntled, and Severus had to bite his tongue to keep from smiling. "Now, I suppose the next order of business is food, isn't it?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "Lupin. Are you a wizard or not? You can conjure it up, and a blanket as well. We'll find a more permanent residence tomorrow." Though, it wouldn't be the best residence possible. Oh, no, Severus would save that for when he struck out on his own. He was a survivor, and Lupin wasn't, and that was really all there was to it.
"Permanent residence? But..." Lupin looked at him with huge golden eyes... puppy eyes, though the thought seemed ludicrous. "I thought we'd be getting out of here, finding a safer place to live."
Severus shrugged. "One place is as safe as any other. I believe it would be better to settle, and build up fortifications, so that I-we may be prepared to defend ourselves."
Lupin frowned, forehead wrinkling. "But... surely not all the world is like this. Surely there's a safe place left, Severus!"
"Really, Lupin, you're far too optimistic. I doubt there's any safe place left in all the world, what with the magic that was released when the Dark Lord and young Mr. Potter did away with each other."
Covering his ears, Lupin shook his head quickly. "Don't talk about it like that, Severus! Don't you understand... Harry died! It's not just another stunt of his to get attention... not that anything he did ever was in the first place. It was a sacrifice, a noble sacrifice, and it's why you're still alive. It's not respectful to talk about him like that."
Sighing, Severus played idly with his wand. "He's dead. It's not as if he cares what I say about him now, when he never did before. I'm sure it's all very sad, but excuse me if I'm more concerned with staying alive than with mourning."
Lupin straightened his shoulders, looking more like a Golden Gryffindor than ever before. "Harry didn't die so that we would live in fear. He would have wanted us to try to escape it, and that's what I plan on doing. I know there must be a safe place somewhere beyond this battleground, and I will find it whether you come with me or not."
"No need for theatrics." Severus yawned. "If you feel that strongly about it, then go. I'm sure I can survive on my own. Perhaps all the monsters will have as much heart as you and take pity on an injured man." Yes, Severus wanted Lupin out of the picture, but not until he was finished with the werewolf's services. The overly-dramatic refusal of need would pull at Lupin's heartstrings, and he would fall right into Severus's palm.
Predictably, Lupin softened immediately. "Oh, Severus... of course I'm not going to leave you here to die. I'd truly like you to come with me, and I won't take no for an answer."
That hadn't quite gone according to Severus's plans, but he could work with it. After all, the full moon would come eventually, and one place was as good as another to settle down in. "Very well, Lupin. I'll do anything you ask, so long as you hurry and conjure us something to eat." He felt a little more stress on his injury (though it wasn't much of one) was called for, and smiled ruefully. "I'm afraid I can't think straight enough to remember the words clearly, and we certainly don't want to end up with me summoning a live dragon, now would we?"
Lupin returned the smile, seeming to decide that they were friends again. "No, that certainly wouldn't be a good idea. We're both exhausted, and I doubt either of us could handle even a baby dragon at the moment."
Severus knew Lupin was snared. It almost made him happy, but he dismissed that as a reaction to having the pushover near enough to manipulate. He'd become very good at denial over the decades, and he didn't admit even to himself that he might have other reasons for wanting Lupin to stay around.
"This way, Severus... it's all clear." Remus turned and waited patiently for Severus to catch up to him. His companion seemed to be suffering from that head wound much longer than he should have been. It seemed he really did have a concussion, and there truly wasn't a thing Remus could do about it. They'd been traveling together for nearly a week, and Severus hadn't improved much at all during that time.
Grumbling in a way Remus almost wanted to call cute (he was saved from doing so by a tiny sense of self-preservation), Severus made his way around the corner. "The last time you announced an alley all clear after ten seconds of observations, we found a troll waiting for us. Forgive me if I don't trust your judgment when it comes to 'all clear.'" That said, he pushed past Remus and began making an inspection of his own.
Remus didn't mind, since this gave him a chance to stare at Severus without being caught. Somehow, he'd developed feelings for Severus that could only be described as warm and fuzzy. He didn't know when it had happened, which truly bothered him, since it seemed like such a momentous occasion. It might have been because Severus was the only person he'd been in contact with since the Final Battle (it had earned the capital letters, in his mind if not yet in history). However, he didn't think that was the reason. He thought they might be a bit more deep-seated, perhaps even dating back to school days. He recalled his fascination with Severus, and that one wonderful kiss, and was almost positive those feelings had developed sometime before that. Love? Maybe not, since Severus just wasn't a lovable sort of fellow. But, then again.... maybe. Remus had never claimed to take the easy path. If so, he would have been happily settled with Sirius.
Instead, he had to glance away quickly so Severus wouldn't figure out that he had been watching. The taller man nodded. "You were right... this time." He didn't waste any more time in entering the alley, and it was Remus who had to scramble to keep up.
"London never seemed this big before," Remus observed casually. He didn't truly mean anything by it. It was just polite conversation, something to make the long walk pass more quickly.
Severus didn't take it as such, of course. "Really, Lupin... I thought it always took a bloody year to get from the center to the edge. Has it ever occurred to you that maybe Potter and the Dark Lord did a bit of rearranging the world, when they had their little tea party?"
By this time, Remus had learned not to comment when Severus was being disrespectful. It was just the other man's way of coping with the situation, and he could learn to live with it. "Is it possible? To just.... make a city stretch on for so far?"
"No." At first, it seemed Severus would leave it at that. He continued, though, after a moment's pause. "If you haven't noticed as of yet, we're not traveling in a straight line. This.... this is more like a maze. A labyrinth, if you will, except that we've no thread to lead us out, and a wrong turn could lead to death. Oh, and there are more monsters than just the minotaur who have made this their home."
Remus bit his bottom lip, considering that for a moment. "How?"
"I'm not exactly sure. Both of them were powerful wizards, and when powerful wizards collide, magic tends to get out of control." Severus glanced around. "I wouldn't be surprised if this was a nightmare one of them had, and the magic took it and made it into reality."
Shuddering, Remus made a point of touching Severus's arm as if to assure himself that the other man was real. "I really have no desire to be in Voldemort's nightmare. Considering what he was... well, he was the stuff of nightmares himself, so his would have to be truly unpleasant."
"Yes." And Severus left it at that.
"Have you ever thought that maybe we're the only two left alive in here? I mean, we haven't seen another human since we started out. Could it be that we're the only two trapped here?"
Severus shrugged. "I suppose." The topic clearly made him uncomfortable. Remus didn't blame him, since it had the same effect on him. He smiled, as friendly as he ever had been.
"I'm glad that you're the one I'm here with, Severus." Blushing, Remus glanced at his feet. "You're much better at this whole thing than I am. I'd have bollixed it all up by now, if it wasn't for you."
He was afraid that Severus would realize what he really meant, and even more afraid the other man would say it aloud. As Severus turned to look him over from head to toe, Remus could have sworn that the man was looking right through him.
After a long silence, Severus simply nodded. "There's no denying that."
Heart pounding quickly, Severus tried to pretend as if he were as dense as Lupin. Dear Merlin... the werewolf had feelings for him. What was he supposed to do about that? Though it did make it even less likely that Lupin would leave him before Severus was ready, he was ashamed to have to admit that he would regret hurting the man when he did leave. That was nonsense, of course, since Severus had never done anything to make Lupin think he had a right to feel such things. Exposure to the werewolf had softened Severus, and he hadn't quite realized it until that moment.
Of course, Lupin's feelings would probably change when he discovered that they weren't alone in the labyrinth. He would be quite angry when he learned that Severus had steered them around once-friends as they struggled to escape. The werewolf would have wanted to save all of them... and though Severus could survive being saddled with one weakling, there was no way he could stand having any more of them about. Nymphadora Tonks, Filius Flitwick, and even Draco Malfoy... all fellow citizens of the labyrinth that he had chosen to abandon to their fates. Leave the altruistic tendencies to Lupin. As soon as they worked to Severus's disadvantage, they had to be disposed of, or at least negated.
Only three more weeks 'til he could abandon Lupin fully, he reminded himself. Then, he wouldn't have to worry about the kindhearted man slowing him down any longer.
It was easy to lose track of time as they walked. Days blurred together as they caught sleep whenever they could, and made themselves do without when they couldn't. They worked out ways to avoid the Dark creatures roaming the streets, and became good at fighting back to back when there was no way to run. They adapted to one another's presence, and Remus was forced to admit that yes, he was falling in love with Severus Snape.
Though it was a foolish notion, he had to smile every time he thought about it. Realization hadn't come in a flash, but had grown slowly as he finally began to appreciate every facet of Severus's personality. Though the other man swore his soul had died long before, Remus felt its presence with every smile the other man directed at him, sarcastic or not. He hadn't said anything, of course. He was no fool, and he knew his feelings couldn't possibly be returned. Maybe, though, just maybe, he would be able to stay with Severus once they escaped the Labyrinth. He wasn't quite as useless as he had been when they first began their journey, and he was well aware of it. He was still softer than Severus, but he always had been and always would be. He liked to think that perhaps he had become a bit useful.
There was still one thing that bothered him, and that was the lack of other humans in the Labyrinth. Surely he and Severus weren't the only two humans left in the world... were they? He knew they couldn't be, he'd never been that lucky before. So... somewhere within this place, other people had to be living. Why hadn't they run into one of them? The question plagued him. He'd mentioned it to Severus a time or two, but the other man had blown it off as if it was of no importance. To him, it probably wasn't... Severus was a survivor, and he didn't care about anybody besides himself, and perhaps Remus.
Remus, on the other hand, couldn't help but wonder if there was any way to save them, any way to help someone else out at all. If there was anybody else... without a Severus, one's chance of survival would go down drastically. It was a thought he returned to often, though, a question that he was afraid would never be answered.
Remus whirled at the familiar voice, and his eyes widened at what he saw. "Ginny!" Of all the people Remus would have expected to have stayed alive, Ginny Weasley was the last. She'd always seemed weak, the delicate daughter among a slew of boys. Yet, here she was in the Labyrinth, far away from the battleground, safe and sound. Surely Severus would let one little girl join them on their trip... he would ask as soon as his traveling companion returned from his mission of tracking down the imp that had run off with his wand. "Here, sit... are you hungry? Thirsty? Let me take care of you."
Seemingly grateful, the red-haired girl sank to the ground. "I thought I was all alone... once Percy died, I thought that I'd die all by myself!" She was on the verge of tears, and Remus knelt beside her quickly. She flung herself on him, sobbing wildly.
Remus rubbed her back, more certain than he had been before that he and Severus had to take her. The girl was clearly too fragile to survive much longer in this type of environment without a protector. He and Severus would have to fill the spot left behind by her brother's death. Truly, Remus was so glad to know that someone else had survived that he would have taken in a thousand orphan girls.
"There you are, luv... cry yourself out. You're safe here, I promise." Rocking the girl gently, Remus smiled. "You're safe now."
Once the child had cried herself out, Remus placed his hands on her shoulders and pushed her away a bit. "I bet you're ravenous, aren't you?"
Ginny smiled sheepishly. "You've no clue. I'm so glad I found you, Professor, and not someone else."
"Remus, please." He winked, inviting her to share the joke. "In such a situation as this, formalities seem pointless." The girl's face was haunted, and he thought she was doing a remarkable job of pretending everything was all right. Maybe she was stronger than he'd thought her---she must be, to have survived this long even with someone else there, and to have been the one to survive instead of the one to die. Still, she was only sixteen, and he vaguely remembered his own appetite at that age. "Here, I've got plenty of leftovers...." He produced transfigured bread, along with some meat off of a creature he and Severus had deemed edible. Water came out of a transfigured water skin and magically purified sewer water. It was a disgusting concept, but when one was thirsty the origin of the drink didn't matter quite as much. He placed the offering in front of her and watched anxiously.
Delighted, Ginny snatched a chunk of meat and tore into it. "Perce and I couldn't do this. We'd both lost our wands, and we couldn't find any that we could take. This is so incredible... I've been living off of whatever I could catch for... well, forever it seems!" She took another bite, then made a face. "Mostly rats. They don't taste very good unless you're really hungry."
Remus couldn't help but laugh. "So I've been told." Sirius had described the taste to him quite thoroughly, and even the description had been almost enough to make him sick. "Well, I promise you that no rats were killed in the making of this meal."
"I can tell." Bread followed the meat, and Ginny moaned appreciatively. "It's too good to be rat."
Unable to think of a response to that, Remus simply watched her eat. She did so for a long time, and Remus's amusement grew with every bite. Such savagery in eating would have been a bit disgusting in someone of his age and gender, but Ginny somehow managed to make it cute and innocent, simple hunger rather than starvation.
When she was finished, the youngest Weasley sat back with a sigh. "That was good. Thank you, Pro-Remus."
"You're very welcome, Ginny." Remus tousled her hair. "In fact, you're welcome to anything I have."
Ginny smiled, but it wasn't the sweet smile he'd seen earlier. It was cruel and utterly bestial. "Unfortunately, you've outlived your use. You only have one thing that I don't, and if I have it I'll be perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
Confused, Remus lifted both eyebrows at her---he'd never been able to manage only one, as Severus could. "Whatever are you talking about, Ginny? There's no need to survive on your own, now that you've found me."
"Men... you're all alike." Ginny rose, hand reaching within the opposite sleeve of her robe. "You all think that girls can't take care of themselves. Well, I have. I'm not just some silly little girl who has to have a big strong man around. Percy thought that, too... and look where it got him! All I need for everything to be perfect is a wand... well, guess what you have."
Remus backed away a step. Obviously the girl was mad. This Labyrinth could drive anyone to that, and Ginny was less prepared to face it than most. "Just calm down, Ginevra. I don't mean to imply that you can't take care of yourself..." Children were always so adamant about not being treated like children. "I just meant that it would be easier if you're not alone."
Shaking her head, Ginny advanced. "Oh, no... alone is so much better. It's hard to survive when you're being nice, Remus. I'm surprised you lived this long. Maybe you didn't run into anyone you knew until now, I don't know. No matter, your luck's run out. Maybe it ran to me. I'm certainly lucky to have found you." She drew a knife from her sleeve. It was simple, a plain kitchen knife, but it was certainly long enough to do the job.
"I wish I didn't have to do this." Remus drew his wand, intending to stun the girl until Severus got back to help take care of her. Surely the poor thing could be helped.
The words hadn't yet passed his lips when he heard a familiar, beloved voice. "Avada Kedavra!" A bolt of green flew close enough to stir his clothing, hitting Ginny squarely in the chest. Time stopped for a moment as she crumpled, seeming to defy gravity. It was slow, a dancer's grace... or a predator's. Remus watched her fall in horror, seemingly unable to move fast enough to catch her.
Then, time began again, and she was once more a fragile young girl, lying broken on the ground.
Severus watched as Remus rushed to the Weasley girl, checking for a pulse in vain. Silly man... he should know that no one, or at least almost no one, survived the killing curse. Numb, he waited for Remus to discover what he must already know, waited for those accusing golden eyes to meet his.
When they did, he sighed. "She was going to kill you, Re-Lupin." Now, when had the werewolf become Remus in his thoughts? He hadn't even realized it was happening. That was dangerous.... no one was worthy of having their first name included in his thoughts, or so he'd thought. He didn't know, either, why he'd stopped the girl. After all, he didn't plan on staying with Remus for much longer.
It was dangerous to woolgather when he'd just killed someone, however, so Severus pulled himself out of the reflection. He did his best to not look away. "I had to." He winced, hearing unspoken words lurking in his silence. Perhaps Lupin, being so distraught, would neglect to realize they existed.
He couldn't be so lucky, however. Remus's face softened, and he actually found it within him to smile. "I know... I just hoped that maybe we could help her."
"We couldn't have." Severus moved a bit closer, sensing that any danger to himself was gone. "I saw Percy... she stabbed him, Lupin. Probably with the same knife she was about to use on you. The girl is a natural born survivor, or perhaps it was something she picked up while possessed by the Dark Lord when she was a child. She'll do anything, sacrifice anyone, so long as she stays alive." He looked down at her, surprised to find himself a bit sad. "I can't help but admire her... it's unfortunate that I had to kill her."
Remus sighed. "She always seemed so sweet, though... just a mischievous little girl. Not the type to hurt anyone at all...."
"Appearances are deceiving, Lupin. The most dangerous monster is the one that hides behind and innocent's face." Severus laid a hand on the other man's shoulder. "We'd best move on. Her body will attract monsters looking for a snack."
Shaking his head, Remus pointed his wand at the body and murmured, "Incendio." He sat until the body was fully burned, then forced himself to stand. "She shouldn't be food for them, Severus. She's human, not some dumb animal."
Severus didn't agree, but he didn't argue either. No one could argue with Remus when he got on these kicks concerning the soul, and the difference between humans and animals. He'd managed to escape them since the first day they'd traveled together, but he thought he remembered hearing it at least one more time, angry, directed at him.
The funny part was, he was almost beginning to believe it. And, no matter how he told himself he only had to deal with it for a little while longer, he found himself wishing that the full moon wasn't quite so close.
When the full moon finally came, neither man was at all prepared. In fact, they'd completely forgotten about the need to keep watch over the phases of the moon, and so the jolt that ran through Remus's body when the moonlight first touched him came as a complete surprise.
"Severus..." Remus stopped dead in his tracks, reaching for one of the alley's walls.
Irritated, Severus glanced behind him. "What is it, Lupin? I told you that we weren't stopping if you decided later that you were hungry, and I meant--"
"Sev... run!" But it was too late. Remus's body was beginning to change. He didn't know if his last words were said out loud or kept in his head, or if they emerged as words or a long, mournful cry.
Remus never remembered his transformations. The pain was so great that his mind blocked it out. It was simply more than he could handle. However, when he awoke as a wolf, it was not like most people assumed. He was not asleep, or simply a mindless beast. He could fully comprehend what was going on around him, but he couldn't control it. He was in the back seat, and the wolf's instincts were in the front.
The first thing he saw as a wolf was Severus, who was quaking in fear. Human-Remus was afraid, too... his wolf-self had almost killed the man once, when he was but a boy. Now, there was no James to make this nightmare stop at the last moment, no secret passageway for Severus to be pulled out of to keep him safe from the beast. It was simply him... and Moony.
Moony's first reaction was to bristle defensively. This was his territory... what did some meat-creature think he was doing interfering? The second was confusion, because something about this meat creature was different, familiar. It was a... recognition, of sorts, though the animal mind didn't know the words for it.
If a wolf's thoughts could be put into words, it might have sounded something like this: Hello, I am me. You are me, too. I don't know why, but you are. I can't hurt me.
It was translated into actions. The wolf rolled on his back, exposing belly and throat to this meat-creature who stank of fear. See? No need to worry. I'll submit. I'll let you be the one in charge, if that makes you feel better at all.
"Lupin? Is that... you?"
Meat-creatures and their strange sounds confused the wolf, but he did understand the outstretched hand. He whined, urging the hand to come closer for a nice scratching.
The meat-creature did come closer, but hesitated a bit more before placing a hand between Moony's ears. "This is unusual. I never thought that taking the Wolfsbane potion long enough would allow you to remain in control even without taking it. I wonder how long the effect will last... if it will carry on through other months, or if it's for this time only."
Moony whined again, squirming a bit to get the meat-creature's attention to where he wanted it. Those paws looked perfect for scratching, and he could vaguely recall another meat-creature using them for that purpose. Who cared about the strange mumblings? They mattered a lot less than a good scratch from this meat-creature that was Moony-but-not-Moony.
"Oh, fine... really, Lupin, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Begging isn't at all becoming." The words didn't seem kind, but the paw was going where Moony wanted it, and digging in for a scratching that felt so, so good. Words didn't matter, not at all.
After Remus's transformation the following morning, Severus resumed the conversation he'd been trying to have with his companion's furrier self. "I truly wish that I had the equipment to experiment with this strange turn."
"What the devil are you talking about, Sev?" Remus yawned, stretching. Loud cracks sounded as multiple joints popped, causing Severus to wince. "What turned strange?"
Severus shook his head, thoroughly disgusted. "You staying in your right mind last night, instead of becoming a raving beast, of course."
Remus looked at him as if he'd said something very queer. "Severus... I was a raving beast last night. No Wolfsbane, remember?" He winced. "I can't believe I forgot it was the full moon. Usually I'm more irritable right before... I suppose I've just gotten comfortable with you, so there's no reason to be irritable in the first place. I do hope I didn't scare you too badly."
"Of course not... but you did remain in your right mind." Puzzled, Severus followed the other man off into a side alley. "You begged me to pet you.... didn't growl at all, once you'd gotten past being startled about the change. You were really quite peaceful."
"Peculiar." Remus shrugged. "I don't know, maybe I smelled myself on you. Or perhaps I've just mellowed with age. But I assure you, I was quite wolfish last night, in more than just the physical. I can't remember a single thing."
Severus shook his head. "That's quite absurd, Lupin. Of course you were in your right mind. Otherwise you would have attacked me."
"Hm. Who knows... but believe me, I was thinking like a wolf." Lupin cleared his throat. "Now, unless you were planning on watching me piss... why don't you go back and wait for your own turn?"
Trying not to blush, Severus turned. "Right. Just.... do what needs to be done, then." He returned to the spot where they'd spent the night quickly. Any desire to leave was negated by the even stronger desire to see if things worked in the same way on the next full moon---or at least that was what he told himself. Not human.... what nonsense! Oh, well, if Lupin wanted to play these games, at least they weren't hurting a thing.
It didn't take very long for Severus to lose the urge to poke and prod at Remus whenever he had the chance, something which Remus had mixed feelings about. On one hand, it meant that he didn't get to be touched by Severus any longer. On another... well, being poked and prodded was rather uncomfortable when one had just settled down for his turn at a nap. Things weren't exactly as they were before, however. Remus would almost dare to say that they were much better. It was as if Severus had been granted a reprieve, and it made him almost cheerful. If it hadn't been so enjoyable, it would have been frightening.
Severus was much stronger, the problems from the concussion seeming finally to have completely disappeared. Monsters were less of a problem---Severus said because they'd had so much practice at killing them, but Remus preferred to believe that the closer they got to the edge of the Labyrinth, the weaker the monsters were. No matter what the reason, things were looking up, and Remus suspected his optimism had begun to wear off on Severus.
It was too bad they'd forgotten the old but true Muggle saying... what goes up, must come down.
Remus shivered, drawing closer to the fire he and Severus had built. Severus himself was off in the alley they'd chosen as their latrine, skinning something unidentifiable that he'd caught that afternoon. His only comment when Remus had asked what he was doing was 'looks edible.' Remus almost reminded him that plenty of the things they'd thought looked edible had been truly horrendous, but the other man was in such good spirits that he hated to ruin it. Instead, he sat beside the fire and thought about (what else?) his relationship with the other man.
Oh, he didn't think Severus loved him or anything of the sort. Maybe he was dotingly fond of Remus, or perhaps even lusted after him, but love seemed a bit far-fetched. There was something missing... some depth to the feelings that should have been there. He'd wondered about it plenty of times, but never come up with a suitable reason. It would, he was afraid, merely remain a source of entertainment while Severus proved once more that he truly didn't need Remus to survive... so why did he keep him around?
His train of thought was lost as he wrapped his arms even more tightly around himself to ward off the cold. There was something unnatural about it, something that reminded him somehow of the year he'd taught at Hogwarts.... on the train...
It took a moment for him to realize what that meant, and he sprang to his feet quickly. He hoped he was wrong, he hoped it with all his heart, but in the end he knew he wasn't, he couldn't be.
Indeed, his fears were confirmed when he dashed into the alley where Severus was skinning his kill, wand at the ready. Tall, hooded figures formed a tight circle, so tight that Remus couldn't even see Severus in the center. Without bothering to ready a happy memory, he bellowed "EXPECTO PATRONUM!"
Unsurprisingly, nothing happened. The Dementors closed even more tightly around the place where he knew Severus must be. He thought, trying desperately to come up with something happy enough. His first day at Hogwarts, with James and Sirius... "Expecto Patronum!"
One Dementor bent down, long fingers wrapping around Severus's waist. It raised him high in the air, and Remus smiled to see that he was still fighting. Thin lips whispering the same charm Remus spoke, he flicked silver mist at the creature.
Holding the baby Harry for the first time ever, tiny fingers curling about his larger one. The joy in James's smile as he proudly introduced the child to 'Uncle Moony.' "Expecto Patronum!"
Severus was tired. His grip on the wand began to loosen, but he wouldn't let go entirely. He lifted it once more, mouthing the words desperately. Nothing happened.
Being back at Hogwarts, seeing Harry as a teenager, knowing that James would be proud. Harry's Patronus, like James come back from the dead to protect his son. "Expecto Patronum..."
He could tell the exact moment when Severus gave up. All the tension, all the strength seemed to go out of his frame. The long, clever fingers uncurled, and the wand dropped to the ground. Severus, always so strong, was defeated.
Sirius, alive and well and innocent, his friend once more. Together with Sirius and Harry, and Severus... Severus... "Expecto Patronum..."
The Dementor drew Severus's face close to it in a parody of tenderness. A kiss.... one final kiss... like he'd never be able to share with Severus.
The moment he realized he loved Severus. That welling deep inside, realization that he did have something to live for. A smile, genuine smile, on Severus's face as he chided Remus for being stupid. One final try. "Expecto Patronum!"
Too late, and not nearly enough. The Dementor gave Severus that one final kiss, and Remus could do little more than stare in horror as he waited for the process to begin, for Severus's soul to drift away from his body. He wanted to cry, but knew that it would serve no purpose. Good-bye, Severus... I love you.
Nothing happened. The Dementor, seeming as confused as one of those infernal creatures could be, dropped Severus to the ground. Remus could hear the thump as he hit, then cursing. It seemed he'd gotten another knock on the head. An outraged bellow of "EXPECTO PATRONUM" from Severus brought a smile to his face. Whatever you've done to hide your soul, love, I'm glad.
Then, another memory, vivid as if it were happening right then. Severus's hands on his arms, tracing abstract---or not so abstract---patterns on his arms as he kissed Remus like he was stealing his soul... or giving his own away. "I hope you're satisfied, Lupin. My soul is safe." One kiss succeeded where another had failed. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!"
"Why did you kiss me?"
Those... were most definitely not the words Severus had expected to hear upon awakening. In fact, he'd expected to not awaken at all. His distraction should have cost him his life, and his pathetic inability to summon a Patronus... well, it was quite sad to realize one had no happy memories in their life, but truly annoying to realize this when one most needed those memories. For some reason, however, he was still alive, and he seemed not to have lost anything in his ordeal, though he did remember an experience that most would die to forget---the Dementor's Kiss. Well, it wasn't that frightening.
His woolgathering was interrupted by a sharp nudge to his side. "I know you're awake, Sev. Why did you kiss me?"
"I've never kissed you, Lupin... not in my life." Severus opened one eye. "Now, would you let me die in peace this time?"
"The theatrics aren't necessary. You're not going to die." Remus began trying to pull him upright. Unfortunately, Severus had to cooperate if he didn't want the werewolf laying on top of him.
Sighing, Severus rubbed his forehead. "And when did this alleged kiss take place?"
"The last day at Hogwarts... surely you remember." Remus looked up at him, gazing intently into his eyes.
"No..." He was hiding, more scared than he'd ever been before. The sky was about to start falling, and that irritating werewolf was standing in front of him, trying to be polite. Severus shook his head. "I really don't."
Remus frowned. "Think about it for a moment, Severus. I was talking to you, talking about souls, and you got angry. You grabbed me by the arms..."
A bit dazed, Severus shook his head. "It sounds like a fantasy. Did your little friends know you fantasized about snogging Snivellus?" How dare this little monster talk to him about souls? Didn't he realize that Severus was about to lose his? The Dark Lord wasn't very fond of traitors, and he was so afraid that he wouldn't be able to hide his doubts. If only he could put his soul somewhere for safekeeping... and the idea struck him. He grabbed Lupin by the shoulders.
"It wasn't a fantasy. I came away with something I didn't have before." Remus's lips were parted, inviting.
Severus simply shook his head. He traced the runes on Lupin's arms, the runes to make the werewolf a vessel for his needs. Who better to trust with such a burden then one to whom it means so much?
Remus was watching him closely. "Why did you give me your soul?"
A kiss sealed the bond, closed the circle. The soul of a Death Eater, Lupin... guard it well, since its owner cannot. "For safekeeping." Severus's voice was hoarse. "It was a sudden impulse. It seemed a good idea, at the time."
"It was a good idea, Severus. I've taken very good care of it for you, but I don't think I need to anymore." Remus smiled. "Would you like it back now?"
Words were not needed for the answer. Tracing the runes on Remus's arms, Severus kissed the other man with a tenderness he didn't know he possessed. Power, stronger than magic, flowed through the place where they were joined. Even after the transfer had been completed, Severus didn't break the kiss. He had realized one important thing.
Sometime, while his soul had been housed in Remus's body and his mind had begun to appreciate the way their personalities complemented one another, he had fallen in love with the werewolf, his beloved monster. Those feelings Remus had tried so hard to hide were reciprocated, after all. It was time for a true first kiss.
Sometime later that night, after their hundredth kiss or so, he realized something else. It was no longer simply Remus's idea to look for something better. He was sure now that it existed, and he wanted to find it. And once he did, he would not simply stay there. He would go back into the Labyrinth to search for others, once and future friends who might need help.
After all, he had a soul. He was capable of sympathy, kindness, and love... all those things that separated man from the animals.