Title: Vanilla-Scented Smoke
Length: 40,000 words (approx.)
Genre: Some of everything. Some angst. Some adventure. Some humor. Some fluff. Some parody. Some smut. Definite plot, though.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling, Scholastic Books, Warner Brothers Pictures, and a lot more people who aren't me. There is no harm or plagiarism intended by publicizing this, and I'm not making any money. In other words, I don't own it. That's all. Any other persons or literary materials used in writing are referenced in the footnotes.
Summary: Lupin and Snape have their differences. But when Lupin's life is put in danger, it turns out that Snape cares enough to take action. How much trouble will they get into in order to protect each other? And what, exactly, is driving them to want to make their lives fit together? When plan after farfetched plan fails, Lupin and Snape will have to take a big step and acknowledge that spending their lives together is far more important than being practical. Written for the Master and the Wolf Fuh-Q-Fest challenge #35: Remus was about to be put down by the new regulation from the Ministry. What did Severus do?
Warnings: Some spoilers for the Order of the Phoenix. Also slash, and if there's anything else listed in genre you don't like, you may want to stay away.
Feedback: Always welcome! (email@example.com)
A/N: Wow, I can't believe I actually managed to write this. Thanks a zillion to my wonderful betas, Isa, Phonics, and Tegan. I owe you so much; this never would have happened without you.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter One: Suckers and Biters In which a stupid person makes an uninformed decision, the news spreads, and any fellatio-based references you may make in regards to the chapter title turn out to be gratuitous.
Eddie the Evil cackled insanely as he walked through the dungeons and stopped outside the cell of Gordon the Golden. "Are you ready to meet your doom?" he asked in a menacing voice.
"You will never defeat goodness," Gordon insisted as he struggled against his bonds.
"I can try," said the evil werewolf. He snapped his fingers and a large battle axe appeared in his hands. Its sharp blade glinted wickedly in the torch light. Gordon gasped. Eddie rubbed his hands together and twirled his moustache. He wanted to draw out the torturous agony of imprisonment, but he also wanted to go outside and eat schoolchildren. His two favorite sounds in the world were the screaming of prisoners and the wailing of babies. The full moon was nearly up, and he had lots of evil work to do before the dawn ended his reign of terror over the countryside.
Cornelius put down his book and shivered. A fire was burning warmly in the fireplace, and a lit-up wand cast a warm glow across his desk, but the juvenile novel he was reading was making him not a little apprehensive of the night outside.
He was staying late at the Ministry building to finish some work – well, that’s what he was supposed to be doing, anyway. Dolores had sent him a proposition that the Ministry rid society of all werewolves and vampires, or suckers and biters, as he secretly called them. He didn't doubt for an instant that they were a threat – the book he was reading proved it, obviously – but euthanasia? It seemed too inhuman.
Then again, they're not human, he reminded himself. They're savage animals and it's my job as Minister of Magic to keep the magical community safe.
The pile on the left side of his desk – unread mail from Dolores – was close to five times the height of the papers he had finished with, and those were no few in number, either.
She may look like an amphibian, but she is thorough, he mused. Dolores had left no stone unturned; she had sent in years' worth of newspaper clippings, Defense Against the Dark Arts journal articles by experts in the field, and a six page letter full of reasoning and pleading. She had even included pieces her students had written, keeping with the traditions of the What Do You Think of Werewolves? essay assigned every year.
Warewolves are evil and if they bite you your in truble. their scary they should go to azkaban. Eddie the evil is a warewolf. warewolves are evil and scary.
Had he really been that illiterate at age eleven? Fudge doubted it. At the very least, he knew the difference between factual information and fictional characters. Eddie the Evil, indeed. He glanced at the book on his desk guiltily.
Fudge was a superstitious man – well, most wizards were. He didn't like vampires, or werewolves, or walking under ladders or announcing that it was Friday the 13th (which it, coincidentally, happened to be.) He was especially unhappy with the fact that he had chosen to pull a late-nighter on a full moon, of all evenings.
His hand wavered between the leftmost pile and the suspenseful book he was in the middle of. Why, he had put it down right in the middle of a chapter. He could read till the end, surely. Yet before he could decide between work and play, he was shocked into stillness by a dog's quavering howl outside – It must be a werewolf, he told himself unreasonably. This was somewhat too creepy for him: reading about werewolves on a full moon on the night of Friday the thirteenth, and then hearing one outside.
Shaken, he set his lime-green bowler hat firmly on his head, crammed the left-hand pile into his briefcase, noxed his wand, and quickly made his way to the lobby to Apparate home.
His mind was made up. They had to go.
"'S good to see you, Severus!" Ludo said to Snape a few weeks later when they bumped into each other at the Floo chamber of the Ministry. "Did you hear about that new werewolf ruling?"
"No, I did not. Every single law passed here does not immediately grab my attention. Neither does every passing idiot I have the misfortune to meet, Bagman," Snape replied icily.
Ludo laughed, not offended in the least. "Fudge got 'em good. He's going to get rid of those suckers and biters once and for all."
Ludo nodded vigorously. "Can't have werewolves on the loose and eating people every month, now can we?"
"I suppose not."
The man leaned closer to Severus. "You know, they're keeping it top secret, so those bloody freaks don't suspect a thing. Say, you don't know any werewolves, do you?"
"No," Severus lied immediately.
"That's good. If you ask me, they can't do it soon enough." His voice suddenly grew harsh. "A werewolf tore up Gloria's flower bed last year. She cried for weeks." Ludo looked as if he was ready and willing to take vengeance personally on the perpetrator armed with a sharp stick and a few rocks.
"Are you sure it wasn't a dog?" Snape asked impatiently as the queue past the security desk inched slowly forward.
The look on Ludo's face suggested that the notion had never occurred to him before. "I doubt it. Besides, that's just the kind of thing a werewolf would do, don't you think?"
"Maybe," said Snape. "How do they know who the werewolves are?"
"They have it all on file at St. Mungo's, you see. You don't sound very glad of it. I heard you had a run-in with a werewolf a few years back."
Snape's already pale face blanched into a sickly looking grimace. "You are quite mistaken, Bagman. Where ever did you hear it?"
Ludo frowned and rolled his eyes up in his head. "I dunno. Must've been from Sirius Black, back when he was an Auror. Not," he added quickly, "that we were friends or anything."
Outwardly, Snape scowled, but his head was working, too. Lupin... killed by the Ministry... no... If anyone deserved that fate, it was Black. As unhelpful a little prick as Lupin had been at school, they were older than that now, weren't they? He wasn't so bad. No, he was just normal, really. Smart, like him. That was always good. There was that incident where they had ended up at the same party on New Years' Eve… but that didn't bear thinking about. If Bagman was telling the truth, Snape would lose his—what was Lupin to him, anyway? His former coworker? His acquaintance? His old school chum? Certainly not his boyfriend, probably, really, not at all. The laugh that rose in his face at the penultimate thought died completely at the last one. He was not gay, thank you very much, and neither was Lupin. But that party…
They put up with each other, of course, and could, in fact, have been classified as friends, but how could they not be, working in the Order together and having so much in common? They were both intelligent... both bachelors, and neither young anymore, not that they had acted young when they were. That was all, really. Well, they had kissed once, but Severus was almost sure they had been drinking too much, and besides, it was New Years Eve and they had been counting down the last ten seconds, of all asinine things to do, so everyone had been kissing each other at the stroke of midnight. If Snape remembered correctly, which was unlikely, he had pecked Tonks and Molly Weasley on the cheeks at some point during the evening as well.
And the only reason the one with Lupin involved tongue was because they just happened to be facing that way.
It was an accident, really. It would never happen again.
Besides, there is a big step between accidentally kissing another man and stepping up and saying you and he are gay lovers, of all things. That was not going to happen, not before Merlin's pet pig perfected auto-brewing cauldrons.
But now wasn't the time to think about that. Severus pulled himself out of his musings and changed the subject. "Are they any closer to catching that scum?" he asked.
Ludo's visage brightened visibly. "Oh, yes, he's somewhere in Tibet, Shacklebolt's sure of it. Did you hear? There's talk Shacklebolt might get promoted..."
A few minutes later they had split up, with the last words of "But you didn't hear it from me," and an overexaggerated wink before Ludo disappeared.
Severus rushed through his meeting with the head of the Department of Apothecaries and Magical Ingredients Distribution, which he had previously been looking forward to, and, as soon as he could get away, set off in search of someone to complain to. He knew he had to do something, but had no idea what, which was strange for his normally infuriatingly calm self.
He had only been wandering the labyrinthine halls for a few minutes before he ran into the person he least wanted to see: Lucius Malfoy. To put it politely, the circle of friends they occupied wasn't ideal – and Lucius wasn't exactly a paragon among humanitarians.
"Snape," he was greeted.
"Malfoy," he returned gratingly, belying his polite words. "What a pleasure. You're quite friendly with the Minister; I assume you had some part in the new legislation in regards to werewolves?"
"How do you know about that?"
Snape forced the shadow of a sly smile onto his face. Malfoy let the answer slide. "I did, in fact. The preliminary vote was unanimous."
"Unanimous? Fifty council members who all voted yes? You had something to do with those numbers as well, I suppose."
This time it was Malfoy who allowed a grin. "Unanimous between Fudge, Umbridge, Nott, and myself. The council never even found out about it. They generally don't, when the matter is an important one." He paused for a moment, then continued, "It pays well to go along with the small things so that Fudge will go along with the big ones. Besides, that werewolf that attacked you at Hogwarts is working for Dumbledore. Lupin, was that his name?"
"I believe so," Snape managed before Malfoy finished: "Well, his precious little army will be down one member come July thirteenth, have no doubt."
"What would you do if you knew you were condemned?" Snape asked conversationally that evening when the Order meeting was over, opening his Muggle copy of Dante's Inferno.
Sirius glared. "Why? Don't tell me tomorrow you're finally going to drop off the face of the earth."
"Oh, shove it, Black. I don't have to be here."
"No one invited you."
"And cut the wisecracks. If you can't think of your own insults, don't say anything at all."
"So I can sit quietly and do what? Listen to you talk about what it would be like if we died tomorrow?"
"If I did. You never do anything more dangerous than throw insults at your bloody house elf's back."
Remus, face buried in A History of Dragon Evolution, Volume 2: Hungarian Horntails, bristled more and more with every snap that flew. He was tired of his two best friends fighting all the time. He stood up to excuse himself to bed and—
—jolted by the thought, announced, "Don't you have anything better to do? It's bad enough that you fight, and worse that you do it every single day, but do you always have to say the exact same things? There's no need to go on like children. It's like nothing's changed in the last 20 years!"
"Oh, you mean since Padfoot dearest here tried to-" Snape began.
"You've both killed people and faced Dementors and watched children grow up, but you haven't even grown up yourselves. I'm bloody sick of you acting like nothing's more important than proving you're both testosterone fueled morons
1who managed to miss the part of their life where they figure out how to let go of childish grudges and just grow up!" Remus stopped talking suddenly, his face red but his breathing surprisingly calm.
Sirius stared at him in shock – almost as much shock as Remus was feeling himself. He had never said a word when his friends had tortured Snivellus, ever, but then, he hadn't really cared. Now he did, for some reason. And, Merlin, it had made them stop fighting. If I had known before how well this works, I would have done it more often, he lied to himself.
Sirius opened and closed his mouth a few times, and then left the room abruptly.
Lupin looked at Snape. Snape quietly said, "So? What would you do?"
It took the man a moment to realize he was referring to his original question. Then he said quietly, "Why do you ask?"
Snape looked at the ceiling. "What if we did all die tomorrow? It's possible. After devoting our lives to the proverbial heroism of saving the world, it's quite likely it will kill us. Better yet, we've spent them in misery and without having gathered the proverbial rosebuds to go along with it. So, tell me, how would you spend your last few days on earth?"
Lupin's face took on a sad and sober expression, but he humored Snape anyway. Or maybe that wasn't it; he started to talk as if he was eager to spill out the thoughts in his head. In all fairness, he had been considering the question for a long time – not out of morbid feelings, but because it was something to think about. "I would tell people I loved them. Maybe I'd tell them I knew I was dying, and maybe not. I'd go around to everybody I've ever met and tell them I care about them and I'm sorry if I hurt them." He came out of his trance for a minute and turned to Severus. "But that's to be expected. Everyone knows that's what you're supposed to do before you die. Even Slytherins."
"Actually, Lupin, I had thought you knew enough to realize that the general practice before imminent death is to do something purportedly fun. Wild and crazy, perhaps."
"I don't have fun," Lupin responded, lips quirking.
"Wouldn't you want to change that? Do something wild?" Snape asked, and it was difficult to tell whether it was sarcasm or genuine interest fueling his questions.
"Exactly." Snape seemed satisfied with that.
"No, I wouldn't," Lupin said candidly. "Why would I want to do something that won't become a good memory? Something I'll regret for being irresponsible and juvenile? No, I'd never want to do something stupid like that." He paused for a minute, then continued as if he'd just gotten an idea. "But maybe I'd like to travel. I've never even left the country, except to study the dietary habits of Kappas in a little nobody town near Prague and to do some research in the States last year. I've never been on a real holiday or done any sightseeing..." He took on a dreamy expression and spoke in an excited tone, as if he was saying thoughts as soon as they popped into his head. "I'd like to go to Italy before I die. I don't know why. I guess I've just heard it's such a beautiful place... and Venice is supposed to be spectacular... with the canal and all those people... and you know, Italian wine and garlic bread, I think just having a picnic in the Italian countryside would be the most wonderful thing in the world." The dreamy look left his face and he said with resolve, "That's what I'll do after I retire. I'll move to Italy."
Snape let the corners of his mouth turn up in a sad smile and said to his innocent, condemned friend with just as much conviction – optimistic conviction, uncharacteristic of him, – "Then pack your bags, my friend. We're going to go live in Italy." Then, giving everything one last satisfied look, he turned and left, leaving a stunned Remus standing all alone.
Snape's thoughts were reeling again as he walked briskly to the front door. Run away... to Italy. Was it too perfect? Too sudden, at the very least. It had been quite a while since he had let his heart, and not his head, control his tongue. He realized now it was with good reason that he usually forced himself to be circumspect; his superego had made quite a mess of things in its newfound power-madness.
But then again, maybe it wouldn't be that bad, even if it did get a little bit messy. Fudge would never be able to find them if they left Britain. And he had to admit, Italy did sound like a nice place. They could run from the law and live out their lives in luxury. But wait—
—He sat down awkwardly on the umbrella stand shaped like a troll's foot – We? If he shipped Lupin off to the Italian countryside, would he really want Severus as a companion? He doubted it. And would Lupin really even want to go? He doubted that more. He had talked as if it was only a dream – not something he planned to do in the near future, or probably ever.
But Severus would see him onto that train, or through the fireplace, or whichever mode of transportation he chose, alone or with a companion. He couldn't very well let Lupin wait around to be killed, could he?
Will they really stop hunting him once we've left England? he mused to himself. Probably; it's not an international law, is it? Will they figure out where I've gone if I just disappear? Will they care? He realized with a start that he would have to resign from teaching at Hogwarts. If, he reminded himself. If I go to Italy with Lupin. But, well, of course I would. I can't resign myself to never seeing Lupin again, can I?
What a ridiculous sentiment. What a ridiculous feeling. What a ridiculous plan. Snape sincerely hoped they would never begin to make sense. If they did, it would be a sure sign he was going crazy.
With a sigh, Severus stood up and stepped through the door of Number 12, Grimmauld Place, into the clear night outside.
(1) This concept is taken from a dialogue in a story by Murr. Used without permission.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Two: Intentions Revealed In which things fall to pieces and are hastily put back together
If Severus was confused, Remus was doing even worse. What the hell had made Snape want to run off to Italy with him? It was like a really bad movie, and too corny to sit well with Lupin, as secretly happy as he was about it.
They had only kissed once, and for the benefit of his masculine dignity, Lupin decided to cringe when he thought of it. He had been drinking more than was healthy; so, he assumed, had Severus. But drunk or not, Lupin had, well, loved it. He had continued to walk on air the next morning, too, long after the liquor and wine had worn off. Of course, he had never mentioned it again. He was too nervous, in one word, and besides, it was an issue of faux pas. He had never had a girlfriend when he was at school – while his friends had chased after witches all the time, while they dated tirelessly and counted it a victory, a prize, a tally mark, to go to the Astronomy Tower and not do much stargazing, he had sat out and instead kept his face buried in a book. A book stayed where you left it and did what you asked of it; old paper smelt much better than scented lotion and nylon stockings and lipstick. While Remus was by no means a coward, he had never had the courage to talk to girls, so they had eventually lost their appeal. They stayed inside their metaphorical display cases, where it's only worth it to look at them if you have the money or looks or charisma in your pocket to lure them. They were prizes that other men had won but Remus had never wanted. He couldn't see the point.
But now that he was spending so much time around Severus – even more than when he had been teaching – he was noticing things. His mannerisms, the way he was billowy almost to the point of being graceful, his straight posture, his intelligence, his love and appreciation of his art. Snape wasn't attractive, not by any stretch, but he wasn't the slimy git he had been when they were in school. They had both change since then. Remus was less shy, although not by much; he would never dream of approaching him, of course – he was afraid. Besides, there was no chance Snape liked him in return. It was like a petty schoolyard crush that everyone else had obsessed over and giggled about back in his first and second years. Not that either Snape or Lupin knew it – they had never been involved with that business; they had both skipped completely over that part of their lives, opting for maturity instead of love.
While Lupin's feelings had flared after that one spectacular kiss on New Years, he reasoned, Snape's had likely died down – if they'd even existed at all. Lupin hadn't bothered to get his hopes up – life had disappointed him too many times. The only girlfriend he'd ever had, in college, had been kind and understanding at first, but she was only human. After time, she had grown unwilling to slow down for him, and he had been reluctant to move any faster than he had previously, which was nearly at a standstill. They'd never gotten anywhere, not past shy (in his part) kisses at her doorstep and a guilty grope once at the biggest party of the year, where they had been sitting in the corner for no other reason than because he was too scared to dance – probably the only thing that scared him. Fear of females was characteristic to him; weakness in other fields was not. So all he'd had was an occasional, tentative snog and one guilty stroking session. He'd never passed that – with anyone.
He seemed to have skipped over that part of his life, too: the part where he was at his peak. His college years, when people party until dawn, when they drink their age in shots, when they are ruled by their libidos and go through girls like they go through hair gel. Lupin had never done that. He had opted out of that part of the Human Experience.
Sweet, shy, sensitive, quiet Moony was completely and pathetically inexperienced. And now he was more than thirty years old and had surrounded himself in books, having resigned himself quietly to dying without ever finding out what it was like.
That didn't bother him unduly; he had relinquished all of those desires when he discovered that they were simply impossible – just something to think about, and then, only occasionally, like in the shower or when he was waiting to fall asleep, but never expect to happen in real life. What did bother him, though, was the fact that he had never understood real romance. While the idealist part of his brain, the one that was stronger in him than in other people, screamed that sex was the ultimate expression of love, they did seem split in his mind: the one seemed petty while as for the other, he was sorry he had never experienced it. And now there was the possibility someone liked him, and it had to turn out wrong and be a man. Albeit one he had return feelings for, maybe. He couldn't help thinking that it was sweet, in an unusual kind of way.
Now that Severus was practically wrapping Remus up in his arms (as he imagined it), dragging him along on a holiday in romantic Italy... it was like Remus's timid little dreams being culminated. Never mind that little issue of their both being male, for now. Suddenly, it seemed completely irrelevant, especially next to such important events as his life taking a complete turn. It wasn't as if the concept was entirely unheard of. A flicker of hope began to work its way into his thoughts. And the more he nursed that hope, the more real his future with Severus seemed. "It's finally happening," he whispered to himself, almost too quietly for even him to hear. His voice, he imagined, was full of happy complacency that belied a thick anticipation. He didn't dare to say it any louder than a sub-whisper, afraid to blow the hope-flame out. Lupin smiled slowly, serenely, with the knowledge that after more than thirty years, things were finally going his way -- and his ambiguously childish dreams were starting to come true.
Lupin was ready for Snape the next day. He said his piece quickly but not fearfully: "I'll go to Italy with you, Severus."
Snape nodded. "Good" was all he could manage. In a few weeks his... friend would be safe.
Lupin gathered his courage and continued speaking the words he had been rehearsing despite himself. "Thank you for giving us this chance."
Snape started. Did Lupin know about the edict? "Of course I'd do this for you," he said. In a moment of friendliness he patted Lupin's arm reassuringly. "I should think you'll be safe there." He was slightly disgusted that his good mood – the one induced by rather an amusing detention the previous evening – was spilling over into his tone and actions, but some things couldn't be helped.
"Well, I don't know how to thank you," Remus said again, smiling. He meant it, even if it was hard for him to sound sincere. He touched Severus's arm as well, and blinked, now trying to keep his face neutral. "I never would be brave enough to do anything like it."
Severus had to admit, he was talking a risk. But (and it must have been the detention talking, he told himself) it was worth it, for someone like Lupin. But what was it about Lupin that made him worth risking his reputation for? "Anything for you, Remus," he said before he could stop himself. He wasn't sure which annoyed him more – the stupid sentiment, or the use of his given name.
He didn't have much time to ponder, because before either knew what he was doing, Remus had leaned forward and was kissing Severus's lips.
Just as quickly, Severus was kissing Remus back.
And they both enjoyed it – they were enjoying it, and they weren't even drunk! – and for each of them, it was a break from the tension and worry they had been feeling about each other. What's more, each was thinking, "I'm so glad he started this," because neither really knew the other's motives.
The kiss would have ended on its own after a couple of seconds – but a door behind Snape opened and slammed shut, and suddenly Sirius Black was standing on the stairs. He looked down for a moment at his old enemy making a complete fool of himself in the middle of the hallway, kissing--
Who was that? Could've been Tonks, if she was having a brown hair day. But who would kiss Snape? thought Sirius.
"Which witch are you snogging with now, Snivelly?" he interrupted loudly.
They sprang apart guiltily at the sound of his voice. Snape whirled around and put his hands in his pockets; they had been hanging unobtrusively at his sides. Their intruder saw who the victim had been: Moony. Sirius froze. "What the hell are you doing?" he asked, his eyes shocked and wide with righteous anger.
Lupin turned red. He, at that point, would have been very happy to melt into soup and seep through the floor, never to be seen again. His best friend in the world had caught him snogging his worst enemy – and a man, at that. But he steadied himself. Things are out in the open now, he remembered. Or at least, they will be soon. I can say it.
Sirius was still vocalizing stridently, and Snape started to sneer, "How like you to stare-" when Lupin interrupted loudly, "We're going to Italy together."
The other two men stilled their raised voices instantly. There was a surprised pause, after which Sirius breathed, "You keep surprising me, Moony." He couldn't say anything else. He looked at the pair, his mouth hanging open slightly. Finally he found his voice, and used it to say menacingly, "How unlike you, Snivellus, to arrange a romantic holiday abroad."
"Don't for a second think that's what it is," Snape said bitingly.
Lupin frowned at him and asked meekly, "What's it for, then?"
An uneasy silence of two or three seconds followed, in which the expressions stayed frozen momentarily on the men's faces. Sirius looked almost as if he wanted to laugh at his friend's predicament.
Snape scowled, ending the still frame by pouring out his mounting headache onto the unfortunate man who had pushed him over the edge. "Why, Lupin, is each and every one of your kind so monumentally stupid? We are going to Italy simply because you are a werewolf. For some reason I can't fathom, some people don't like you." His condescending words, enunciated with grating clarity, and his supercilious glare were forever in synch with the calm sarcasm he still managed to hold when angry. He was exhaling ice that grew colder with every accusation. "We are leaving because you are not wanted here. Because your kind is a menace to society. Because they are going to take every one of you freaks and gas you like the Nazis did." He leaned closer to Lupin and disdainfully spat the next sentence in his face. "Because everyone just hates you."
Lupin looked at Snape, his face nearly neutral for a few moments. Then said, fiercely, "You liar."
"It's not a lie, Lupin," Snape said, shaking his head in a manner that would have seemed sympathetic, if he hadn't been a hateful creep. Instead, it just looked cold and impatient. "Everybody in the whole country wants your kind out of their hair for good. Fudge and his Death Eater friends were very enthusiastic about the idea, and I can say with confidence that the rest of the country will be as well. I am beginning to regret making any effort to save you, Lupin. Why should I when you're going to get so immature and hopeful over a simple gesture? I think the next time you insist on acting like such an insufferable imbecile, I will abandon any arrangements I may have made. Surely they are not worth it for a specimen such as yourself."
He turned and saw Sirius, still on the stairs, watching with what might have been horror. "Get out of here, Black," he said harshly.
The man didn't move.
"Please, Sirius," Lupin pleaded quietly. "Please just leave."
And reluctantly, Sirius did.
Severus turned back to Remus, ready to launch another slew of hard-hitting insults that would catch the man under his guard and rip down the dreams he had built up since last night, but before he could--
"You bloody liar," Remus said again. "Why the hell would you trick me like that?"
Snape said nothing and tried to manage a sneer.
"Why would you lie to me and drag me off to that hellhole and then dump me in the gutter? What's in it for you, you bastard?"
Again, Snape didn't answer.
Lupin asked louder, breathing still ragged, "Why the hell did you kiss me back?"
Severus responded, almost contemptuously, "Why not?" And he kissed him again, very sweetly and softly and with a delicious smile.
They were only together for a few minutes, but they were the warmest moments of Remus's life. The sorry thing had never felt anything so sweet before, and he couldn't quite stop himself from melting into Severus's mouth, into his closed eyes, into his soft and tentative hands. The instant their lips met a warmth made its way through his body and enshrouded him in a fuzzy blanket of deep satisfaction and an interesting emotion that made him feel like jello; it seemed as if the chill March air in the house was cast down by the aura of body heat around him. Severus's tongue was a catechism – he was sparking something inside Remus – and his hands were so, so warm. It made his body writhe restlessly while their hot mouths were content to be locked together. But he had never felt so moved before – his hands didn't know where to go, so they simply ran their way desperately up and down Severus's arms while the man grasped his elbows firmly. When they pulled apart and Remus opened his eyes, they were full of unshed tears of astonishment. "I'm sorry," Severus whispered, his voice warm and soft and hoarse and his lips hot and wet, before they kissed again. After they let go, achingly, they stood there, inches apart, looking at each other, for an immeasurable length of time before Remus closed his eyes again and they finally had to part – yet they did so tenderly, and with an unhurried air, so that none of the heat escaped.
Snape Disapparated and it left Remus dreadfully cold and aching to warm up again.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Three: Despair and Hope
In which actions are taken, something good happens, the reader has an important revelation, and the plot thickens.
"Bagman!" Lupin called loudly. He was cutting through Hyde Park on his way to the library in Diagon Alley. Why Apparate when you could walk? The instant he stepped outside he was glad he had chosen to take a scenic route. Even the abandoned wreckage of Grimmauld Place didn't look too depressing in the bright March morning that hinted of the Earth being born again, fresh and clean, which was exactly how Remus felt. All of his happiness had puzzled itself together in one day: he and his beloved were going to run away together to Italy, where they would be safe from harm, and in essence, Remus joked to himself, live happily ever after.
Treading through the park, Remus's happiness grew and grew. He was rejuvenated, in spite of the approaching full moon, and felt as free as the world around him. The sparse grass on the ground was still short, but it wouldn't be for long. The sky was the smoothest blue-white he had ever seen it; the budding trees were dewy and yet the ground wasn't marshy. The row of red tulips he was walking alongside was blushing and vibrant already, and they, too, sparkled with wetness. The pavilion over to his side was perfectly picturesque in its symmetry and in the circles of bright flowers that surrounded it. The path directly ahead of Remus boasted only one pedestrian: the jovial Ludo Bagman, bumbling along with his nose buried in a book, weaving from side to side and occasionally bumping into light poles in his concentration. His lips moved as he read and sometimes he would stop to repeat a concept to himself.
"Whatcha got there, Bagman?" Remus hailed his friend again.
Finally the stout ex-Quidditch player looked up. "Hey there, Lupin."
"What are you reading?" Lupin asked, as always fascinated by any and every book.
"See for yourself," Ludo handed him his copy of Eddie the Evil's Exhilarating Escapades with an excited flourish. Remus took a quick look at the badly-drawn yet ferocious-looking wolf on the cover, which growled at him halfheartedly and scratched some fleas, and examined the page he opened up to randomly.
Eddie snatched at the sleeping kitten on his doorstep, but he was drooling so hard he missed. He was ravenous and in the mood for some tender kitten meat. Eating animals raw was so much more enjoyable when he was in his wolf form, but he would have to make do. At least this way, he could sharpen the bones and style them into jewelry. As Eddie the Evil chased the awakened kitten around the yard, it reminded him of that afternoon, when he had used his enormous, sharp, blood-encrusted knife to gut the baby he had kidnapped from its playpen last full moon and had been keeping imprisoned in his dungeons...
Moony closed the book, his face blank. He didn't know whether to be sad or disgusted or ashamed. Ludo caught the look he had tried to hide and nodded understandingly. "Those werewolves. Nasty creatures. but still, at least it's an enemy we know. Experts like-" he checked the cover for the name of the author "-Reginald Skeeter know how to keep us informed, eh?" He stuffed the book into one of the pockets of his old, stretched robes and exhaled loudly.
Lupin said nothing.
Bagman took no note of his friend's silence. "Did you hear about the edict?" He continued without waiting for an answer, "No? Good. It's supposed to be a secret. But I can tell you, of course." He paused for a moment in an effort to build up suspense, and then confided, "They're killing 'em. Werewolves. Every single one. All over Europe." He was about to launch into his thought-out lecture on how untrustworthy werewolves were, how it would be a relief to have their respective children safe, when Lupin interrupted:
"All over Europe?"
Bagman nodded affirmatively, grinning a grin only a very stupid and oblivious fat person is able to pull off. "The only safe place for a bloody werewolf now is America – and not even there if Cornelius can help it."
"How do you know?" Remus knew he should be asking more pertinent questions, but this cheerful man and his willingness to spout endless information intrigued him.
If Ludo had been excited before, he was piqued now. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a tangled mess of pink string. "Weasleys' extendable ears. I was the first to pick up a pair. Amazing little gadgets, aren't they?" Lupin could see that they were indeed the latest of the Weasley twins' pranks, the ones he rightly suspected they used to spy on Order meetings they had been shunned from.
"I used them to spy on Fudge's meetings with Malfoy," Ludo confided, with extreme juxtaposition. Lupin almost smiled, thinking of how ironic it was that something Fred and George had used to stir up trouble was finally being put to good use. He was jerked out of his musings when Bagman finished with a hearty and good-natured "Bloody werewolves."
"Wait!" Lupin exclaimed to Ludo's already retreating form. "How... um... how do they know who's a werewolf?"
"Oh, they've got it all on file at St. Mungo's," Bagman replied before opening his book once again and bumbling away.
Dear Minister Cranwipplebury…
…Recent developments have led my closest advisors and me the conclusion that werewolves are dangerous and must be stopped - it is in our best interests to do away with every werewolf we can get our hands on - and subsequently, it is my duty to inform you of our arrangement…
…I am sure that as an educated and respected political figure, you understand the importance of protecting American civilians, magical and Muggle alike, from the dangers of werewolves, both as ferocious beasts or in their innocent-looking but dark minded and tricky human forms. Werewolves are dangerous, Minister, not necessarily during the full moon, but because even during the day, they are subhuman. For too long, werewolves have been cheating hard-working people, lying for their own profit, and dealing in shady company…
…I trust you will make the right decision in scouring your country of this plague and purifying the magical population and our humble world…
…The matter is to be kept top secret, of course, and we and all the other countries in Europe will arrest and perform euthanasia on all werewolves on the thirteenth of July, 1996…
Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic
Jude Cranwipplebury put down his copy of Understanding Philosophies and Guarding against Mind Control Techniques of the Third Reich on top of Dracula, which he had been attempting to read at the same time and was open on his desk. Next to them were a fair percentage of books that composed the gigantic library in the home branch of his office, most of which he was halfway in the middle of, caught up in his insatiable love of reading. Jude liked nothing more than his books; he was a well-read and intelligent man, as well as an informed Minister of Magic. The wizards and witches in America admired his wit, his intellect, and his skills as an intuitive and just leader – in short, they had not made a mistake in placing their loyalties with such a paragon of a Minister.
He pushed back his chair and yawned, and as he was about to open his mouth to call for his wife Ella, the brand-spanking-new ScriboKopy on his desk started to shake, knocking its neighbors The Hobbit and Eddie the Evil's Exhilarating Escapades (two of his all-time favorite books) to the floor. The vibrating black quill snapped up and began penning a note onto its endless supply of parchment. Jude looked on with interest; the ScriboKopy was a new gadget and one that interested him vaguely.
Jude saw as it wrote that the message was another letter from Minister Fudge in London. Then again, he reminded himself, there were very few other people it could be from. The ScriboKopy Quill had been created specifically for government officials to spread news without the tedious use of owls. Jude had been most unhappy with the switch; not only did it put many a kind owl out of work but it brought him annoying updates from that idiot Fudge much more frequently than he liked to receive them. There was something about Fudge that rubbed Jude the wrong way. They were like oil and water, he mused, or cats and dogs, or, (he smiled at this) werewolves and vampires. If that was to be believed, Jude had his part down pat, although the British Minister acted more like a veela-obsessed goblin than a blood-sucking dark creature. In any case, they didn't like each other, and it was as simple as that. Fudge thought Jude was too confident, while Jude considered Fudge too... what? Easily swayed? Forgetful? Unintuitive?
The ScriboKopy made a loud popping noise, signaling the letter's completion. Jude picked up the parchment and read it to himself.
Then he read it again, and once more after that. Finally, his eyes glazed and he stared at the page, a mix of disgust and disbelief making themselves apparent on his face. Jude was miffed, to say the least. He wondered with apprehension what the hell Fudge had been thinking. The sheer idiocy of it was nearly beyond his comprehension.
But he'd dealt with stupid people in hordes before, and Fudge especially had been the cause of more than a few notches on his desk.
Jude shook his head. He needed coffee. Just as he was about to open his mouth again, the door opened and in came Ella. She was carrying a goblet, which was smoking faintly; it was certainly not coffee, as Jude remembered immediately. She stopped and looked at her husband.
"Ah, Ella," said Jude, smiling. "Thanks very much. Could you leave it here on the desk for me?"
Ella set down the smoking goblet, her eyes wandering between Jude, the parchment in his hand, and the copy of Eddie the Evil on the floor. "You'd best drink that right away, Jude."
"Thank you," he said again, sniffing the liquid inside. "Pity sugar makes it useless," he remarked almost to himself, taking a sip. "Well, Ella, I'd better get back to work," he told her as he looked up.
"Right." She smiled at him and left, closing the door quietly behind her.
Jude drained the goblet and pulled a face. "Disgusting!" he exclaimed, putting it down and looking once again at the letter still in his hand.
He shook his head and had to suppress an amused chuckle. The irony was stupendous, really.
In any case, something told him he wouldn't be passing any anti-werewolf laws anytime soon.
Severus sat at his desk the next morning, paging through the first in a pile of travel brochures. That was what he was meant to be doing, at least, but he wasn't paying any attention to the task at hand. He was thinking, mostly. A lot had happened in the past few days, and most of it surprised him.
He looked around the dungeon at his office, his eyes falling on the damp stone and windowless darkness before he turned his thoughts back to his own head. Had he been here for too long? Fourteen years was a long time to go without a friend. But he had known that before, hadn't he? The sensible part of his brain knew that it may have been a bit unhealthy. On the other hand, he hadn't done much about it. What had made him act? He scratched his wrist absently, his fingers sliding over the tattoo on his forearm. Was that it? He'd had no one to talk to since the fall. Was there some timer in his head that alerted him to do something? Maybe something about him was different. The Order. That must be it. Now that he was working for Dumbledore, living the proverbial double-life of a spy… his loyalties were nowhere. Sure, he'd had somewhere to belong when there was no war, fitting in where he could and trying not to be bothered when no one accepted him, but now it seemed he was lying to everyone. There was no one in the Dark Lord's circle he could trust, and no one in Dumbledore's who would trust him. Nobody. And that only reminded more him that he needed somebody. Not a lot of somebodies, but if there was only one person who could trust him, that would be sufficient.
And who was the most likely candidate? Remus Lupin. They'd never been close at school, in fact, they couldn't have been further, but now things were a little different. They worked together in the Order. Alongside each other, even, not just for the same organization. And they were in close proximity all the time, too. With he and Black fighting and Lupin trying not to notice – but then again, who really could look the other way? Lupin was the one people talked to. When he had been a student, when he had been a teacher, and now that he was in the Order, he was always the one people could come to. He trusted people; he forgave them. In fact, he was probably the only person who would extend that magnanimity to Snape.
But it wasn't just a question of need, was it? Not only was Lupin the only one who could forgive Snape, but something else drew Severus in, too. He was the only person by whom Snape really wanted to be forgiven. Because it wasn't only that Lupin could forget things, but he could make them better. Lupin could make him forget what he had done, the people he had killed, the bitterness inside him. Everybody needs someone who can help them with that. Everyone. Snape more than others, maybe, because he had more to release. But it was still only common human vices that drew them together: the need for forgiveness, the need for trust, the need for release.
Snape wondered what made Lupin like him. It wasn't as if Lupin had any secrets to be kept, any sins to be absolved of. What did Lupin see in him? Was it kindness? Tenderness? Surely not. Snape was none of those things. Lupin, now – or Remus – he was another story. Tender to the core, he was. Specially designed for understanding problems and fixing them. Put on this earth to make people feel better. That was what he did for Severus, really, when you got down to the heart of the matter. He was kind, and forgiving, and he listened, and he kept on listening until you were done talking. And then, he would hug you. Not really hug, of course, but look at you with an expression that says, "I understand completely, and if it were prudent, I'd wrap you up in my arms."
As far as Snape could remember, he'd never been hugged in his life. The whores didn't play around with petty affection, his parents and sister had never bothered when they were alive, and his friends… well, he didn't really have any friends. It was interesting to be embraced by Remus. There wasn't much to compare it to, but he figured the look in that man's eyes was more fulfilling, and probably more significant, than any pair of arms.
That's what it was. The need to be hugged. It wasn't as ridiculous as one would think; no matter what the students thought, Snape was only human, and still hadn't managed to immune himself completely from human requirements. Warm arms, warm lips, warm looks… he needed those just as much as everyone else, even if he tried much harder to suppress it. He often went without, and that didn't bother him unduly. But it would be nice. It would be nice to have someone who lo- who liked him.
And as friends went, Lupin wouldn't be a bad one to have. He was more than Severus could ever be, that was for sure, and wasn't the secret of success to constantly be surrounded by people who are better than you? He didn't exactly know Lupin very well, but what he did know, he liked. He'd give him release from all the bitterness inside, he'd be there when he was needed, and he'd conveniently disappear when he wasn't. He'd stay by him through thick and thin, he'd comfort him, and he'd always know the right thing to say.
Yes, Severus told himself, Remus would make a good friend. Lupin was a better man than he was – he'd been through more, and learned from it. It was intimidating, almost, to be in the presence of a walking repository of wisdom, a man with the kind of understanding that normally only comes to old war veterans who sit on their porches all day, smoking, and pass along any kind of conceivable advice to grandchildren with their own problems. Lupin didn't smoke, and he didn't have grandkids. But he had been in wars, actively, even, and he wasn't exactly young anymore. Yes, it was intimidating, but in a good way. As if one day, Severus could begin to learn from him. To learn what it was that made him that way, why he was so… perfect. But for now, he was content to be stepped on if it meant being around Remus.
He was tender. He was nice. He was forgiving. He was understanding. He would trust Severus, and he would listen. He was everything a friend should be. And he wasn't a bad kisser, either, truth be told. That's… Severus struggled with it. It's… good. No, not good, because Snape didn't swing that way. But it would be… It would be an interesting side benefit, he finally admitted to himself.
And that was that, for now.
Snape had just reached his hasty decision when Lupin walked into his office. Getting into Hogwarts past the toad-faced cow and her Inquisitorial Squad had been no mean feat; sneaking into the basement of Honeydukes and resurfacing near the place where he had spent the best seven years of his life, aside from being tricky, had brought back a flood of memories he hadn't wanted to drag up from where they had been buried under a saltwater sea. But he had to see Severus. He had to talk to Severus and tell him...
Among other things, he had to tell him that their escape had been anticipated and cut off. It was time to start from scratch, abandoning their old plan and finding a new one with fresh hope, before it was too late and every gate had clanged shut in front of them.
The door closed behind Remus and Severus looked up. Lupin almost thought he saw a hint of a smile on Snape's face before they both averted their gazes shamefacedly.
After an empty few seconds, Remus said quietly, "They're doing it in Italy, too."
"Doing what?" Severus responded with an equal absence of volume.
Neither knew the extent of the sacred silence they hid inside with their hushed voices. They only knew that raising their tones above a calm, toneless quiet would have indicated that they had something important to say, more important than werewolves or Italy or escape plans, certainly more important than any words they might speak: anything else may as well have dissolved away so long as they held onto their awkwardness and childish hope and possibly, guilt. Neither spoke louder than the other, for neither wanted to be the first to admit there was something else on his mind.
"Killing us off," Lupin answered, still quiet. "So much for our brilliant escape plan," he said jokingly, momentarily breaking the wordless and toneless pact they had made. So much for our running away together, he thought wryly.
Snape tried to keep his first emotion, despair, hidden from the nervous man, almost as nervous as he was, standing near the doorway. Just as he frowned sheepishly and scooted his chair closer to the desk so as to keep that man from seeing something else he would find even more surprising. It wasn't much of a surprise to Snape, though; he had been dealing with that a lot lately when he was around Remus. Anyway, he tried to break the ever more awkward silence by speaking. "How do you know?" he asked.
"I talked to Ludo Bagman."
This made an ephemeral flare of jealousy rise up inside Snape. Why the hell had Lupin talked to... but he crushed the feeling as soon as he realized how stupid it was.
"But I have an idea," Remus continued, voice soft again yet growing more excited as he articulated his plan and approached Snape's desk. "We can botch up their records." Standing directly in front of Snape was the hardest thing Lupin had ever done. He quivered as the force of his emotions rebounding off his insides threatened to knock him over. He couldn't bear to be inspected by this man when everything about himself was inadequate. The thought of going anywhere and doing anything with Severus literally stopped him in his tracks for a moment– it brought on an intense rush, a mix of shock from one side and willingness from the other. When they met in the middle, in the deep pit of Remus's heart, they fizzed and bubbled, effervescing for only a millionth of a second before eating each other away completely, leaving Remus feeling numb and slightly wide-eyed and thinking Is this really happening? as the last dregs of the reactants drained from his mind. It was such a warm, fizzy feeling that he called it back again, savoring the delight of indecision that made him shiver with its intensity, and the calm after-feeling that followed. Each reaction bubbled as if in a cauldron for a fraction of a second before boiling away, so he called it back again and again, enjoying being able to change the sensations of everyday life. Now that he was close to Snape, the shock and fear solution was greatly disproportionate to the pleasure ingredient, and he found that the reaction took longer to fall away and that it made his heart beat faster, in addition to leaving him shell-shocked and so full he felt empty. Now that he had a real chance to act on his feelings and store a hundred new memories with which to relive the quiet explosion a hundred times more, Remus was afraid to get any closer.
Snape's tug back to reality stopped the reaction and terminated the shivery, adrenaline induced chill Remus had been feeling. "You want to sneak into St. Mungo's and change your medical records?" Severus asked, almost incredulous. He was having trouble meeting this man's eyes, the man who was standing in front of him, looking slightly downward at his desk. This man could see all of Severus's faults and all his babyish feelings; this man was so much more than Severus could ever amount to, this aged man with a tired face that had lines before they were due, with drained eyes that had witnessed death after death, this man with lightly graying hair that told everyone he was much, much older than he should have been, that he was too old to be young and too young to be old. This man had slept in the mud puddles of a tear-drenched earth, out on the streets tramped on by beggars and pallbearers and people with no homes or families, amid the endless smoky fog of war, and he had fervently scrubbed himself clean with years of peace and the rough, comfortable bindings of books until the dirt and tearstreaks were gone from his face, the blood from his hair, and the stale vanilla scent of smoke from his newly-mended clothes, so that only the deepest, most lasting, most painful stains remained.
This man had hands that were rough with work and yet nightly and with great care scrubbed down to the innocent pink of a baby's, hands that had tickled up and down Severus's arms and sent impulses through his body that pulled him forward with a grasping iron tug and held him back with a fleshy wall of tenderness, each so overwhelming that it crushed him in the middle and held him in place, compressing him so that he felt over and over and without relief the soft, stunned bubbliness that Remus had felt, the one that froze him where he was with shock. Only, it was always bubbling painfully and disconcertingly and never died away to produce a pleasant calmness, so that he was caught between iron passion and soft love in the excruciating, thought-wrenching pain of bitter and sweet and agonizing indecision.
This man, three feet in front of him, was close enough to see the blood pumping through his heart, close enough to hear his thoughts, close enough to know that he was thinking about him – about this man who always smelled of warm butterbeer and the dangerous forest on a moonlit night, who had a stronger build than Severus did and a more handsome body, this man with flat abdominals, with arms perfectly proportioned to wrap around him, this man with beautiful shoulders and a solid masculine neck that held up a sweet, understanding face, this man with the soft, pink, warm, delicious lips that Severus would do anything to taste one more time, that would move around his in a quiet laugh, that would spread warmth through his mouth and from there to his heart, that would press against his in happy disbelief, that would calmly and quietly shape in his mouth--
Severus breathed deeply and closed his eyes as if it hurt him.
Remus was looking at his weak hands, unimportant like the rest of him, he imaged, still as shy as he had recently become, so he didn't notice the reaction.
Severus bit his cheeks and licked his lips when he realized that the man had only been answering his question. The next time he blinked, his eyes opened to reveal a painful blankness despite himself and his eternally steel heart.
"Then we will," he said. Neither had raised his voice above a whisper.
Remus looked at Severus searchingly for one second. Two. He may have been about to say something – he couldn't tell, as he had no control over his mouth – but neither he nor Snape would ever find out. It was then that they heard distant but approaching footsteps in the hallway. Without finishing his thought, Remus left, compelling them both to take deep breaths and try to blink away the dust or pollen that must have been the reason their eyes were acting funny. Yes, it must have been that allergies were kicking in and had made them blink, and then had somehow fought their way towards, and were tugging at, their shielded hearts.
"This meeting of the Order of the Phoenix will come to order." Dumbledore raised his voice over all the other ones in the kitchen at Number 12, Grimmauld Place.
Alastor snickered at the pun. Kingsley glared at him. Everyone else turned their attention to Dumbledore.
"First order of business-"
This time Sirius joined Alastor in laughing.
"-is Occlumency." Everyone shut up at that. Dumbledore turned to Snape and said, "Why did you stop tutoring Harry?" Snape scowled but said nothing.
"Severus." he prompted. Severus bit back, "Potter is an aardvark-faced tosser with four eyes and a beetle's brain" and said instead, "Potter and I had a misunderstanding."
Sirius, who knew perfectly well what the clash had been about, smiled again at hearing it, while Dumbledore sighed and gave Severus a Meaningful Look, and then didn't meet his eye again for the rest of the evening.
"Remus." Albus approached the tired-eyed wizard as everyone was leaving.
Instead of a verbal answer, the headmaster handed Remus a thin pamphlet of paper. He inclined his head toward Severus, who was rearranging a number of vials and bottles in his pockets over and over again, stalling nervously, and Dumbledore winked as he Apparated away with a sharp Pop.
Remus looked at Snape for a moment longer than was necessary, and then at the paper in his hand.
It was a floor plan of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
Albus Dumbledore had read his mind.
He walked slowly over to the corner where the potions master was standing. The Weasleys and Sirius had left; they were the only people still in the room. "Look what I've got," Remus said. Severus blinked – he hid his anticipation well.
And was almost disappointed when Lupin showed him the blue papers. "Records room is on the ground floor," he said.
"I know," Remus answered. He opened the paper and read the small print: "Ground Floor. Artifact Accidents Wing."
"That would be the exploding cauldrons and feisty talking mirrors."
"I know," Remus said again, blankly. Severus looked up expectantly, although expecting what, he didn't know.
"Talking mirrors." Severus glanced at Remus. "I think I have a plan."
(1) The dialogue from the scene with Jude is taken almost verbatim from the Prisoner of Azkaban, and is, of course, used without permission.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Four: Drooble's Best Blowing Gum and a Bribe Below St. Mungo's
In which Remus acts uncharacteristically stupid, someone gets hit on by an ugly person, stuff explodes, and everything doesn't go according to plan.
Lupin bit his finger. Hard. It hurt, but he kept his teeth clenched for long enough to leave white marks. His mouth stayed clamped around his fingers while he Apparated into the waiting room at St. Mungo's, leaving Severus alone in the living room.
"Hey there, Lupin," a portrait mouthed to him from the wall. At least, that's what he thought the portrait said. It was rather loud in the room.
Remus remembered to take his fingers out of his mouth in the nick of time. He waved to the portrait with a hand that he hoped looked rather mangled, and got in line.
"Got a moment, Snivellus?" said a scratchy voice behind Snape.
"Not to speak with a murderous, shape-shifting, raw meat addict ex-con, Black," he responded without even turning around.
Footsteps indicated that Sirius was making his way towards him, and for a moment he had the urge to reach for his wand.
Sirius stopped in front of him and Snape felt his muscles relax just a bit.
They stared at each other for a moment before Sirius said, as calmly and yet with as much conviction as Severus had ever observed, said, "He's too bloody good for you."
Sirius's eyes flashed and he shuddered almost imperceptibly, as if he felt strongly what he was saying and was glad to get it out, but there was something much bigger behind it that he couldn't translate into words. He whispered fiercely, "He likes girls, Snape, he likes women, not traitorous slime from the slums of human decency."
Severus regarded Sirius with a neutral face, and then Disapparated and was gone.
"My mirror bit me," Remus complained to the witch at the desk. "It hurts."
"Of course, dear," the witch said kindly, examining Remus's red and faintly saliva-ey fingers. "How did it happen?"
"We got in a fight," Remus said dolefully. "She didn't like my new haircut."
"And so she bit you?"
"Only when I smudged her surface with glue."
"How cruel!" the medi-witch exclaimed.
"Oh, I know," agreed Remus. "She could really have hurt me."
"Mirrors are venomous, you know."
"In fact, I didn't. But I'll have someone escort you to have your hand bandaged." Remus could tell her smile was increasingly becoming more forced.
"Oh, thank you. And you'll do something about the venom?"
"We'll do all we can." She spoke a message through a loudspeaker and turned to the next patient.
Remus repeated his piece for the medi-wizard who led him out of the waiting room.
"I think it was poisonous. My cousin bought it for me." Remus lowered his voice conspiratorially. "He shops in Knockturn Alley sometimes."
"That does sound serious. Do you know what breed of mirror it was?"
"The shiny kind," Remus said proudly.
"I see. Let's have a look at your hand."
Remus gratefully held out the extremity in question. He was already tired of playing dumb for the healers.
"Those don't look like mirror bite marks," the medi-wizard said, frowning.
"Oh, she has very sharp teeth," Remus explained quickly, in a manner that made the healer feel momentarily dense. Which was senseless, he knew, because of the two of them, the man he was talking with was obviously the one who was a little bit off in the head.
"I demand to speak with the manager!" Severus boomed as soon as he arrived in the waiting room at St. Mungo's.
A few people turned to look at him. He pushed his way through the door and started down the hallway to he Artifact Accidents wing, continuing to yell at thin air. "I brought my nephew here two weeks ago for a grindylow bite and he was supposed to be released yesterday!"
Remus, close enough to hear the code word they had arranged, snapped his fingers and conjured a ball of fire (a trick he had studied for months in his school days). He touched it subtly to the bouquet of fireworks he had just pulled out of an inner pocket.
The fireworks barreled past the people in the hall and didn't explode in shocks of color and light until they reached the waiting area. What ensued was a minor panic and a major thrill of excited voices. Mediwizards and –witches were running every which way to calm people down and perform some quick healing on anyone who looked like they needed it. The wizard with Remus had been facing the other way and, luckily, didn't know Lupin was the culprit. He was already racing back the waiting area, hoping to be named a hero for rescuing a few victims who were in reality no more than amused and animated from the display.
As soon as he entered the room he almost tripped over two short, giggling twin witches, no more than four or five years old, in matching purple dresses.
"Are you a real healer, Mister?" one of them asked.
He granted them a charming smile that belied his irritation at being stripped of his hero status. "Yes I am, little lady."
She giggled while her sister piped up, "Can I have your autograph, Mister?"
"I don't know about that," he said modestly. "I'm not famous."
Just then, the twins' mother appeared. She, like them, had jet black hair and a purple dress. In fact, she was thin and young and really rather attractive. She looked kindly at her smiling daughters while the mediwizard asked politely, "How are you doing, Ma'am?"
She looked at him and giggled like a 15-year-old might, opening her rose-petal lips on a cherubic face to reveal a multitude of crooked yellow teeth – more than plenty for the wizard but not nearly as many as healthy people are supposed to have. "I wouldn't say no if you asked me to go out sometime," she told him in a wash of garlic-breath that was totally incongruent with her pretty face.
The twins, identical expressions on their faces, looked up at him again and giggled.
Time froze for a moment and the healer assumed the terrified look of a cornered rabbit.
"Goodbye, Mister," the twins waved as he backed away slowly.
Lupin was running to catch up with Snape, who, as soon as the distraction had been created, had started sneaking down the corridor to the high security vault where they had reasoned the records were kept. He slowed down when he heard the shout of "Stop!" from behind him. He turned around to see the recently escaped mediwizard at the corner, looking irritated. This wasn't supposed to happen.
Lupin turned around again and found that Severus had disappeared. "Come back!" the mediwizard yelled again. Lupin was torn. Should he help Snape or try to not to attract attention?
He had the feeling that being alone with Severus in the records room would be too taxing on his self confidence and painful for his libido.
Lupin had done his job. Snape could figure out how to fix the records.
He turned and slowly walked back to the top of the hall.
The portrait that guarded the entrance to the records room featured a beautiful, curly-haired girl in 15th century robes of green and blue velvet. Her deep blue eyes were so intense they seemed to burn though the canvas; her curly black hair draped gracefully across her shoulders, which were stunning next to the modest silver chain around her white and shapely neck. She had a face designed for observing passersby, imbued with stately and ladylike grace. At the time the portrait was painted, she had looked calm, beautiful, rich, and proper – but not lacking in sympathy or kindness. Originally, she had been posing on a grand, curving staircase with an oak banister and a red carpet, staring placidly at the painter, with one creamy white hand clutching her bunched skirts and the other holding a wineglass.
Now, the glass was on the carpet next to where she sat with her wide, elegant skirts settled awkwardly around her and hitched over her knees. Her black stockings and shoes were off and she was painting the toenails on a calloused white foot. Her blue and green sleeves were not rolled but scrunched around her elbows; a peeling ladybug tattoo and a huge, crooked heart drawn in permanent marker were plainly visible on her left arm. Her tongue poked out of her lips and she frowned in concentration as she painted. She blew a big, pink bubble of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum as Severus approached; he could see the multiple wrappers, along with the slightly crushed and open carton of cigarettes, on the floor next to her.
She popped the bubble and spoke around the huge lump of gum in her mouth to say, "Password?"
Snape, not knowing how long his mission would take, skipped threats and moved directly to diplomacy. "Perhaps we can work out an arrangement in which you let me in without my telling you the password," he said.
The girl pushed the gum to the side of her mouth and smiled at the idea, but said, "One problem. You're corporeal and I'm paint."
Severus moved closer. "You misunderstand. I'm interested in going inside, not with the terms of the agreement."
She looked at him with an expression that said she still didn't get it.
"Look," he began. "Miss-"
"Eden is fine."
"Eden." He sighed. "All I need is for you to let me inside for five minutes."
"I can't if you don't have the password."
Snape switched tactics. "Eden, has anyone ever told you that you have beautiful hair?"
"I told you it won't work between us, skin-boy," Eden chided, cracking her gum.
"What shampoo are you using?"
"What?" The girl was caught off guard.
"You heard me."
"What do you care?" Eden said. "You're positively dripping with bacon grease." She stopped talking and wrinkled her forehead, remembering something. "Reminds me of an old boyfriend," she told Snape, reaching down the front of her robes and pulling out a glossy, moving magazine cutout. Snape looked; the man in the picture was wearing a calm expression, heavy-looking chain mail, a purple vest, and a glittery Christmas-tree ornament around his neck. He had shoulder-length, stringy black hair, a widish nose, and rough looking stubble that covered his whole chin, including a huge, ferocious-looking dimple just under his lip. His face sprung to life as he smiled at Eden and bared a wide row of teeth, which made his nose look big. Despite it all, he was rather attractive on a whole. "Name was Digger or Tosser or Strider or something," Eden interrupted Snape's evaluation. "Found him in a Muggle magazine sword fighting a bunch of clanky midgets with pointy teeth."
"Mm," Snape remarked.
Eden's face fell. "But I had to break up with him. He was cheating on me with his sister."
"That's nothing," the man scoffed. "I know a family with six sons and one daughter who practically all share a room."
"I see," said Eden, still looking at her ex's photo.
"But I'm getting off subject," Snape reasoned, trying to bring back a sneer. "Turpentine can be horrible for your hair, you know."
"Not to mention my existence, obviously."
"Well, yes," Snape admitted. "But I'm sure no one would be so cruel as to scrub out your portrait entirely. But if turpentine was accidentally to come into contact with those beautiful locks of yours..." he trailed off.
Eden looked at him in shock. "You wouldn't dare," she said quietly.
"It's hard to know what might happen," Snape threatened. "I can be dangerous when I'm tired of waiting."
"You wouldn't dare," Eden said again, haughtily this time.
"Sure you want to take the chance?" Snape asked, feeling around in his pockets for a vial of water.
"All I have to do is scream. They can hear me down the hall, you know."
"You're asking for it!"
Eden said nothing.
Snape was getting another idea. "Let me see that picture again?"
Eden once again extracted Digger/Tosser/Strider's picture from where it was stuffed down her front and showed it to Snape.
"He's a knight?" Snape inquired.
"You when they can sword fight?"
"Bareback," Eden said proudly.
"And let me guess. Act chivalrous?" Snape finished.
"It'd be nice."
"Well, then," Snape almost smiled. "I have a friend whom you might want to meet."
Five minutes later found Severus playing with a paper clip. It had been child's play to convince Eden of the merits of Sir Cadogan, and almost as simple to make her believe that Severus was capable of setting them up together.
Now he was faced with the task of opening the endless filing cabinets along the wall. At least they're all labeled, he thought to himself. It would be quite an ordeal to have to open them all to find the right one. Each drawer had its own anti-Alohomora charm, and never having studied the art of robbery, Severus had no idea how to start disarming them. He did remember, however, action-movie-watching Muggleborns from his school years fashioning paper clips and hairpins into keys and breaking open his trunk and discovering his leather-bound diary and ripping out pages and putting enlargement charms on them and displaying them all over the Great Hall.
He still winced visibly to think about what had happened next. Everybody in the whole school had read about what he thought of Lily Evans, the love poems he had written but didn't show her, about his dreams of becoming a Quidditch all-star, about what they'd done to him at his old school – how they'd made fun of him for his greasy hair and dirty clothes and because he had tripped on the stairs on the first day, and how somehow had put a spider in his pocket and made him yelp and everyone had laughed, as they were all doing then. And they read about how his favorite book was Peter Rabbit and how he used to sleep with a stuffed dragon and how he had tried to do a charm to shrink his nose, and they read about the token incident where he had wet his pants at Diagon Alley when he was four, and last of all, they, every single one of them, with avidly interested faces, had all read about the dream he'd had at age 11, described in great detail, the dream about Lily that had made him wake up with wet sheets for the first time, leaving him very confused because no one had ever explained to him about that.
Before McGonagall was able to take the pages all down, the student body at Hogwarts had illustrated cruelty designed to reduce him to a cowering lump, the kind that people like to believe doesn't exist. The pain of it had been too much for Severus: they had torn at the skin of his memories and dismembered their meat with their bare hands. They had smeared blood on the walls and examined his reactions and his short, pitiful life, and ripped his dreams to shame They had peeled back the skin of his chest to look at his beating heart, getting blood under their fingernails trying to pull it out, tossing it back and forth in a game of catch with everyone in the school joining in. And when smelly little Snivellus had (figuratively) stood on a chair and jumped, hands raised, trying to catch it like the monkey in the middle, they had only laughed harder and taunted him like a baby, and Severus had shrunk smaller and smaller until they could step on him. But they didn't step on him. Instead, they stepped around him and drove him into the corner, and picked him up by the tail and batted at him with their paws. And they were all the while digging up his life where it had been buried, exposing it to the sun, reading his personal thoughts and his secrets and judging him and eternally laughing at his inadequacies and mistakes. And when they had finished playing catch, and finished pointing their fingers and roaring with laughter and making him squirm and shrivel in their harsh light, they had each taken a bite out of his heart and let the blood drip down their chins and screamed with drunken laughter.
There was no doubt that they were cruel in the innocent way that only children can be. But their delighted jeers and the fact that they snickered behind their hands for years later didn't matter to him, not as much as what was happening at the Gryffindor table. That was what stuck in his mind and froze him with still-tender scars for the rest of his life. Lily had shrieked with laughter despite herself when she had read the dream and the poem, but that in itself had been nothing next to Sirius Black.
Black had looked right at the butt of his little jokes, Snivellus, and started quaking with laughter. He had laughed so hard his throat must have ached, so hard Severus expected to see his sides splitting, so hard that it seemed his cheeks held that mold for the rest of his life. Tears had formed in his eyes and Black hadn't been able to hold them back. Hilarity had made his cheeks wet and his breaths gasping, and the happy gusts of noise had escaped in suffocating gulps and issued from him like a cacophony: Black was a million measures of humiliation all on his own, and all coming from his uproarious laughter and hysterical tears.
Snape had shrunk down at his table, and Rosier and Wilkes and Nott and Malfoy had not even bothered to suppress their giggles or try to catch their breaths. He was just an ant in a room crawling with big, black spiders. The pain of having his chest wrenched open and his privacy set on fire and his feelings played like a guitar had been too much. And before he could stop himself, he had drawn in a great, wheezing gasp and let it out in the form of hot, wet, miserable tears. They weren't only tears of humiliation; they were tears cried by a person whose structured world has collapsed and landed directly on top of him. They had run into his mouth and streamed down his front, and he had sniffed his drippy nose loudly, which made him cough, and the lips which had fallen open stayed open, and yet somehow it made him feel better, so he made no effort to stop, and it warmed his face and made himself his own; his saliva and his warm tears formed a wall and saturated him with his own sorrow and kept away the bright light outside (his eyelids were kept nearly closed, heavy with salt,) and made him warm and protected him from the foreign invaders, and unlike his memories, they stayed his own and inside him and warm and his own and his very own, never to be wrenched away.
He didn't only cry tears that had built up that morning. They were tears from his whole life. They were tears from the pages that somehow they hadn't displayed, the entries that he just wouldn't (leave me alone, you bloody bastard,) have been able to deal with if people were ever to even suspect that he cradled them and suppressed them and let them burn him slowly from the inside out. They were from the memories that were his and only his and his very own that nobody would ever see or feel or know existed, the ones that would make him scream in pain upon being exposed to air from the smothering bandages he had worn for all his thirteen years.
They were the tears he had held inside him when Nana had died in the fire that had devastated the whole house, twisted and melted his home and left him with nothing but pure blue blood and a memory of a warm bed with broomsticks printed on the sheets. They were tears from the next death he remembered, that of his sister, the way she had disappeared one night in a fit of his father's rage: how she had cried and screamed and then was gone for a reason he couldn't fathom. They were the tears from the hundreds of nights on end that he had kissed his fingers and touched his hand to his forehead and tucked himself in because no parent had thought to be there to do it for him. They were tears sprung from a lack of warm laps and warm arms and warm hearts, from emptiness that ached coldly because he didn't know what was supposed to fill him up in the first place. They were tears from meals missed due to Your whore of a mother doesn't fucking feel like cooking; they were tears he hadn't bothered to shed because no one ever saw or heard them or cared, when he stared at the ceiling, wearing pajamas he hadn't bothered to wash because no one ever cared, with teeth he never brushed anymore because no one ever bloody fucking cared.
They were the tears built up sitting numbly in his room and listening to the crying screaming yelling rage and the fizz of hexes outside his door, the crash of glass, the thump of a body as it hit the wall, the cries as it was shaken and bloodied and bruised again and again, the opening of his door and the looming shadow of his father who had steel fists and was thirsty for more tears, tears he had gotten from his wife and daughter but would not get from his son. They were tears sprung from the firewhiskey bottles broken on the floor, and from the punches and the slaps that re-formed his face, and from the smell that was now an eternal part of their kitchen and seeped from the pores of the worn chairs and the dim light surrounded by flies: a mix of sweat and rotting meat and alcohol and blood and smoke. It wasn't the bright aroma of baking bread and lemon dish soap it should have been. He had even held back tears for the scents that were on the other end of the spectrum than love, and he had collected all of these tears inside of him, in the place in his chest where in most people there was something else.
So that morning in the Great Hall he let all of them gush out hotly; for much longer than a normal 13-year-old should cry, but these were tears that had been waiting inside him his whole life, with salt that had been burning his insides for too many years, so he was entitled. He had every hot, angry right to a release of all the sorrow he'd had, just like adults did, like when things got too much for them and they needed a break, whether someone gave a damn or not, whether someone they loved (no one will ever love me) did it for them or when they did it themselves, when they needed a release of stress, of whatever they had been bottling up, and a cock and a hand could grant the break they needed, when they could gush out a warmth that would envelope them, when they could hide away with their own pain – his shudders could have been spasms, his collapse entirely a different kind – but it was much the same kind of comfort. It was how they hid from the world, and it was how they curled into a ball in the corner when things were too hurtful and too much. Tears were the only comfort Severus could find.
Everything that had ever hurt him had poured out that morning. He had sobbed loudly and sobbed some more, breathing with quick, vocal breaths, making enough noise to attract the attention of every Hogwarts student, who found one more reason to laugh at him. He, the smallest, meekest, and only outcast in the room, had been in the middle of a thousand bigger, better enemies, and had sat crying loudly and painfully and sweetly, uncaring of how many people saw it, while he steeped in old, bitter sorrow and more recent absolute and abject humiliation.
And with one charm the papers had all disappeared in one instant, and Dumbledore had stood up, finally holding the attention of all the students, yet no one had so much as patted Severus's shoulder.
Snape dug the point of the paper clip into his hand as he sat, drooped, on the sterile white floor. It drew blood that flowed into the creases on his palm. He hated to think it, but as it congealed, deep and thick, it was just as warm as the brine in his eyes had been. He thought of Black's face, streaming cruelly with hysterical tears. When the two looked at each other for a hundredth of a second, an unidentifiable feeling deep enmity had passed between them. It was a blazing hate that danced on his nerves, just as the tiny pricks in his palm thrilled him. He dug the metal in deeper.
Snape had decided three things from the experience. The first was that he would make the lives of Black and his friends a living hell. He was still working on that one. The second was that females simply were not worth the trouble. The third was that nowhere was safe for him. He could not keep his feelings anywhere, no matter how well he guarded them. He had known already never to wear his heart on his sleeve. Now he learned that it was best not to keep it anywhere. Charmed pages in a protected trunk in a locked room could not keep intruders out. No, his heart wasn't safe in the open, where it had been drowned in his father's firewhiskey, or in a sealed diary, where it had been suffocated in taunts. He began to think that it was best not even to have private thoughts in his head. Love and lust and compassion and trust and humanity – there was no place for any of them. He, out of fear, had cut them away from his life altogether.
That day was the only time Sirius and Severus had seen each other cry. Snape had not shed a single tear since.
(1) I was alerted to the fact that Drooble's Best Blowing Gum is an anagram for Gold Bribe Below St. Mungo's by a thread on www.darkmark.com
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Five: Old Ghosts In which Neville wibbles, Remus feel better, two young, heterosexual people are in love, a character has writers block, someone has a normal conversation, we learn about the dangers of smoking, and Gilderoy Lockhart is perpetually oblivious.
Severus opened the drawer of the file cabinet; the first folder in it was labeled Lockhart, Gilderoy.
He smirked as he decided he had time to get a little bit sidetracked and carefully extracted the file.
"Come right along this way." The medi-wizard had located Remus and was now escorting him up a wide staircase. "Were you injured in the explosion?"
"Oh, no," Remus replied, smiling brightly. "I've never been better!"
"I'm glad to hear it," said the medi-wizard, smiling. "Now, I'd like you to wait in here while we get ready to fix your hand."
"Certainly," Lupin beamed. "Sounds wonderful." Now that he'd created the distraction Snape needed, he planned to be as obedient as possible until Severus had finished and they could sneak out somehow. He hadn't, however, counted on being asked to stay in a room marked Psych Therapy Ward.
Perhaps he'd put his act on a little too well.
Jude looked at his paper sideways chewed on the end of his quill.
Dear Minister Fudge, he began to write, and then tapped his feet a few times on the floor.
A bird whistled at the sinking sun outside. A car roared past – probably a Muggle going home from work. Jude fought the urge to look out the window, until it beat him and he turned in his chair.
There were some really interesting dots on the pane of glass. They looked like… clouds. Or feathers. Jude started sucking on his pen again.
He stopped, put his quill down, and drained his mug of coffee with a sigh.
Snape read studiously.
October 17, 1971. Hospitalized for serious non- and magical injuries.
-Multiple eye stalks growing from forehead
-Swelled head charm
-Sprained left pinkie
Caused by wizarding duel. No lasting damage. Released October 18, 1971.
The only other entry was on June 26, 1992. Snape didn't bother to read it, opting instead to grimace at the memory of the year the Basilisk had roamed Hogwarts.
He replaced the file and shuffled through the rest, looking for Lupin, Remus.
The one person that Lupin definitely hadn't expected to see was Gilderoy Lockhart. It stands to reason, then, that Lockhart was the person he came face to face with as soon as he stepped inside the ward.
While Remus was putting to sleep the fake allure, Lockhart was turning on his own.
"Who are you?" he asked with as much ostentatious belligerence as he could muster.
"The name's Lupin. I believe we've met." Remus remembered it quite well. They had been kids, Remus eleven and Lockhart sixteen, both of them Gryffindors. There had been some kind of snide remark in the hallways ("That bookworm is going to get stepped on the next time it rains") and then an impressive fight. Lockhart being a total idiot and Lupin a gifted Defense student, they had made it a very close duel. Not strictly a wizarding duel, really; they had used any nearby furniture and their bare fists as well as magic.
They had both ended up at St. Mungo's overnight. That's not to say it was more than Madam Pomfrey could handle, as she was out of town for the weekend, but it had been treated seriously all the same. It was not an encounter, nor an acquaintance, that Lupin would be forgetting anytime soon.
Lockhart, on the other hand, had no recollection of it.
"We have?" Lockhart responded. "Ah, I remember now. You were the photographer at my last book signing!"
"That's right." Lupin let him believe it. His enmity with this man hadn't exactly died down after that fight; he still didn't like him and didn't want them to spend any extended amount of time together.
"Have I showed you where I'm staying?" Lockhart continued.
"Yes, and it's lovely."
"Let's go see it again, shall we?"
Before Lupin could object, Lockhart had grabbed hold of his sleeve and was dragging him rather tenaciously out the door. Despite himself, Remus went along with it, letting Lockhart lead him up another flight of stairs and along the corridor to the Closed Ward.
Lupin, Remus. Snape opened the file folder and looked at the contents with interest.
The first entry was dated July 5, 1968. That was the day Remus had been admitted to St. Mungo's for a mysterious-looking bite he had been loathe to point out. That was the day his fate had been sealed. That day had caused him to be treated like a sub-human everywhere he went, at every job he applied for, and maybe even by his best friends. Now that day could very well spell his death.
That wasn't fair. But, Snape supposed, life wasn't fair. Snape was caught up for a moment in the fact that a few simple words on a page could change someone's life so much.
The next entry amused him as much as the first one had stilled him.
October 17, 1971. Hospitalized for serious non- and magical injuries.
-Bat Bogey hex
-Jittery fingers curse
Caused by wizarding duel. No lasting damage. Released October 18, 1971.
So Lupin had gotten into a fight with Lockhart, then. Snape didn't have to think very long before the cause of it came to him.
And from there, it wasn't difficult to realize the reason Lockhart had gone into Defense Against the Dark Arts. Well, maybe. Had lycanthropy really made him make such a dramatic career decision? Did anybody really hate werewolves that much?
Yes, he knew. People did.
Jude's quill had long ago been bitten to pieces. He had a way with words (how else had he worked his way to the top?) but the letter he was trying to write couldn't have been resisting him any more. Fudge's request was out of line, and he wanted to make sure the man knew that. But a nasty letter wouldn't be good for relations, of course. Any ruler would know better than to be too harsh. He put his mess of a quill down and sat back in his desk chair, looking out the window on the left side of his office and sipping coffee contentedly. It had been a long day: a meeting with the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in the morning; a charity luncheon at the Wizarding Soup kitchen in New York along with the unveiling of a new playground outside; an encounter with a hysterical Muggle woman whom he had reunited with a missing child; a fight with his chief advisor, who thought it would be acceptable to spend too much on the Ministry limousines; daily reports to read from Security HQ; and now this ridiculous proposal Fudge had sent him the day before. It was giving him a lot of trouble; having had 24 hours to think, he still didn't know what to write. All he wanted to do was to go home and sit down to dinner with Ella and their children. He would ask them about their schoolwork, he would volunteer to take them to the Magical Creatures Zoo. He would kiss them goodnight and finish Eddie the Evil, sipping tea, or maybe brandy, with Ella in front of the fire.
Being the Minister of Magic was hard. He loved his jobs and how many people he could help at once, he really did, but the stress was getting to him. If he recalled correctly, he hadn't even wanted to be elected. The people just loved him; that was all. They had practically insisted that he run for office. There was a heartening thought.
A black-haired head with a round face appeared in the fireplace. "Minister?" it asked.
He put on a smile for Rose, the intelligent young Auror whom he bumped into sometimes when refilling his coffee. "Hello, Rose," he said warmly. "What can I do for you?"
"I found a letter in my inbox addressed to you, Sir. I don't know what it was doing there."
"Thank you," he said, going to the fireplace to take the letter she held out with a floating arm.
"Any time," Rose laughed. "Did you hear about the Cougars-Flamebursts game this afternoon?"
"I did," he replied, mimicking the voice of the commentator. "Apparently Pinkerton made three breathtaking saves in four minutes."
Rose nodded as best she could. "The Flamebursts usually rely on him, but this game was all about Codswinton's skills as a beater. And," she amended, "Millby's spectacular catching of the snitch."
"It was a fluke," Jude insisted.
"So it was a fluke that they won 470-80?"
"Absolutely. That, and the best chaser the Cougars have ever seen was out with a sprained wrist."
Rose smiled again. "You think that, Jude. We'll show you when the Flamebursts knock the Humdingers right out of the sky next week."
"I don't know about that, Rose. Do you think we should put some money on it?"
"Not money," Rose insisted happily. "A dare. But can we decide later? I have a date with Parker I should be getting ready for."
This made the smile that had been building up inside Jude form on his lips. "Good. You have fun," he told her. He knew for a fact that Parker had purchased a diamond ring from Jason Finbleby's Fine Jewelry the past week, and laughed with excitement at the prospect. It made Rose laugh, too; Jude had that effect on people. "I wouldn't want to hold you up," he told Rose as she disappeared. "And congratulations," he whispered to the now normal fire after she had gone. He fingered the letter in his hand.
Severus scanned quickly through the rest of the papers in Lupin's folder; there were a few other incidences, things like flying accidents and a bad case of the hoochie coochies.
1Despite himself, Snape made sure to check for any Muggle health problems. There were none. Remus had, virtually, never been sick a day in his life, other than once every month, although that, of course, wasn't mentioned in the records. It was really quite a lot, Snape supposed, his lips quirking, and it was almost annoyingly feminine of Lupin. He remembered how his sister had used to complain about that, every month, – Spartan she was not – before she had died at sixteen. Of course, he had had no idea what she was talking about, only having been four, at most, when that happened. He couldn't quite remember; his parents had stopped talking about her after she was gone.
Snape, against his better judgment, began to pull out memories he had been hiding and examined them for the first time in years. His mother had commented that she stopped complaining, to put it politely, and Severus had had no idea what she meant. Their father had quaked with anger. He had hit her, punched her in the face, and locked her up like he often did, only that time she was on the opposite side of the door than he was. Severus had heard her crying, heard her throwing up. He really hadn't known what was happening, no more than that Daddy was hurting Lissie again.
Then she had died. He could still picture it clearly in his mind, the punches and the shouts that night. They were brought back to him too often; every painful memory in his life could be traced back to how Lissie had disappeared without his mind supplying an explanation. He missed his big sister.
The realizations, one after the other, hit Snape directly in the face. She had killed herself. Yes, that must have been it. She had been all bloody; she had slit her wrists. No, that wasn't it, it was her shirt that had been soaked with blood. The night her parents had found out she was… She had stabbed herself. She had stabbed herself in the stomach. When they finally found out she was pregnant.
Snape shuddered to think about it.
He thought of the blood on her clothes, the tears on her face. In the midst of his sickening recollection, his first rational thought was What a bastard her boyfriend must have been. Snape tried to recall what he was like. Tall? Was he mean? Did he hit her, too?
Snape realized with a shock that he had never met the man. That was why their parents were so upset, he reasoned. A daughter of theirs, getting knocked up by some creep they had never met. But no, that wasn't it. There was something naggling at the back of his brain and telling him that what he wanted to believe wasn't true. He didn't know how he knew, but he was very sure… he hit them so hard …
No. Not. Yes, that was it. And no, it couldn't… he had… no, Severus quaked at the thought. No one would… could… it was wrong.
Yes, she had killed herself because she was pregnant. Because she was pregnant by—
Snape buried his face in his hands.
Eden frowned at the whimpers she heard inside. Was everything okay?
She lit a cigarette, inhaled, and coughed.
Dear Minister Cranwipplebury, (the letter said,)
If you judge that there is a more fitting recipient for this letter, I entreat you to pass it on to him. I am writing on behalf of two esteemed teachers here at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As I understand it, Merrmardikans Academy of Magic is experiencing an influx of students and has some teaching positions open.
Professors Severus Snape and Remus Lupin are exceptionally talented in (respectively) Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts. They were each at one time employed by me. However, it has come to my attention that they are making plans to relocate to the United States. As they are both quite devoted to their art and will be looking for jobs once they arrive, I am taking the liberty of alerting you of their skills without their knowledge. Enclosed are the resumes of both; I urge you and the Headmaster of Merrmardikans to consider them for teaching positions. While I realize…
Jude read the letter from Dumbledore with interest. It wasn't his job to decide things like this, true, but in his opinion, new teachers were everyone's business, what with the teacher shortages and swelling class sizes. Merrmardikans had almost 2000 students; he couldn't see the harm in hiring a couple of new teachers, especially two respectable ones such as these. Snape, he remembered reading somewhere, was an eminent potions master – he would be a real asset.
Besides, Dumbledore was not far from his heart as a sensible, intuitive man. Indeed, when they had met a few years ago at an international conference, Jude had warmed up to him immediately. He could trust Dumbledore's opinions on the matter.
If Dumbledore said they were worth an interview, Jude knew, then they were worth an interview.
But why were they leaving England?
Jude noticed the postscript on the back.
P.S. You may be wondering why they are leaving their jobs here. Recent legislation in Britain, which I trust you have some knowledge of, unfairly presents a threat to Mr. Lupin's life. As a so-called half-breed, his social standing and his survival are in jeopardy at the hands of the government. America is and always has been more liberal with its policies, so I trust that he will be able to live safely there. Mr. Snape, while not suffering from the same condition as Mr. Lupin, is a close friend of his and is eager to accompany him. They are inseparable and Snape is willing to move to the United States in order for the arrangement to work.
The letter shook in his hands. Unbelievable.
Un. Fucking. Believable.
A werewolf. Dumbledore was recommending a werewolf for a teaching post at Merrmardikans. A werewolf!
What a brilliant idea, Jude thought. Perhaps a bit risky, but there were precautions that could be taken. Jude knew all about those.
He was happily surprised that Dumbledore knew him so well. He knew about Jude's liberal stance and had predicted his positive reaction.
Hell, Jude thought, Dumbledore probably knows I'm a werewolf. Smart man, he was. The smartest Jude had ever met.
Brilliant. This was a friend he was glad to have.
He wanted to keep a copy of this letter for himself. He took out a fresh sheet of parchment and began to compose a letter to headmaster Silmaril.
What an interesting day it had been.
With a brisk and supercilious glare at an empty stretch of wall, Severus shook himself out of his state and took a firm hold on his mind.
That was all, he reminded himself, getting back to the task at hand. No flu. No contagious diseases.
Lupin would never invade his privacy like this, true, but Snape had to know. Lupin hadn't expected him to be fair, had he? Why it was so important to Snape, he couldn't have said, even though it might have been obvious to anyone who thought about it.
He checked one last time for anything else he was worried about. No HIV. No AIDS. Nothing of the sort. Good. So that was out of the way. Out of the way of… of nothing in particular, really. Snape turned back to the job at hand.
The only page of the file that mentioned Lupin's being a werewolf, he noticed upon examination, was the first, and the only other sign was a red tag stapled to the front of the sheaf. Snape ripped that off first. His job seemed pretty straightforward; all he had to do was find some paper and start copying. He already had an inkwell and quill. But where could he find… right. A desk over there, by the wall. Stacked with blank parchment. This was probably what it was for, he divined. Okay, then. He walked purposefully toward the desk, folder in hand, and picked up a carefully trimmed piece of parchment.
He had just managed to stuff it in his pocket before the alarm went off.
Remus realized the instant before the door opened just whom he would see inside. Frank and Alice. Frank and Alice Longbottom. Oh, God. He hadn't seen them in 15 years; he had visited them at St. Mungo's only once.
He did not want to think about what had happened to them now.
It was when Lockhart cheerfully opened the door that Remus met his periodic ration of deus ex machina. He had not stepped over the threshold before he bumped into none other than Neville Longbottom.
Neville. He froze. It was Neville, having just visited his crippled parents.
And if Lupin was slightly surprised, Neville could not have been more shocked to see two succeeding ex-professors outside. He greeted them as best he could. "Hello, Professor Lockhart. Professor Lupin."
"Professor? Me?" Lockhart looked bewildered.
"Hello, Neville," was Remus's more coherent reply. "How are you doing?"
"I'm okay," was all Neville opted to say as Lockhart disappeared obliviously inside.
Remus favored Neville with a look that Neville supposed could have been sorrow, or worse, pity.
Whatever Neville was thinking, Remus knew, it wasn't exactly optimistic. He could sense that much from the expression on his face, from the dip of his shoulders, and from the tone of his voice. Neville needed someone to talk to, and the person who listens to people talk had always been him.
Neville was thankful to see Professor Lupin there. He always left his parents room feeling crushed and despairing, yet filled with a sense of pride, grown from his grandmother's insistence, that His Parents Were Brave And Important. That pride, though, was ruled by indignance at the fact that their sacrifices had got them no further in life. He knew from the bottom of his heart that those things weren't fair. He did not have a normal life with a loving mum and dad. His parents were confined to a windowless hospital room for the remainder of their life, despite the fact that they deserved that fate less than anyone. That was not poetic justice.
Lupin, though, may have understood that. Not through experience or through listening to Neville speak, but because that's just who he was: he saw everything, every nuance, every imagined or real problem or complaint that people had. He understood. Lupin had always been one of Neville's favorite teachers. Although he had been fond of Harry, Lupin had been equally kind and understanding – intuitive, almost – towards everyone. He had always been caring, a good listener, maybe a bit sensitive. But he knew what was wrong, and he cared, and Neville, more than anything, wanted now to sit down and talk with him.
No sooner had Neville forced out his nonchalant "I'm okay," than he realized he couldn't have been further from it. The alleged improvement he had been told about over Christmas was false; his parents weren't doing any better. It was a dirty, below-the-belt blow, perfectly aimed at his dying hope, working with his failing Defense Against the Dark Arts marks and Hermione's refusal to accompany him to Hogsmeade to sink his attitude lower than he could handle.
Sometimes his problems seemed small compared to the woes of the rest of the world. But not today. Today, they were disproportionately depressing, and no one had more unfair a life than he. Today, he felt like he wanted simply to sit down and sulk with the despair only an abandoned teen can possess.
"Are you sure, Neville?" Professor Lupin asked quietly.
"It's not fair," he mumbled, trying not to fall apart.
Lupin regarded him piercingly for a moment before he conceded sorrowfully, "I know."
Neville said nothing, simply enjoying the other man's patience. Gently, Lupin led him to a bench along the wall and sat them both down. He could feel a silent, tranquil gaze that eased him into a comfort that would let him speak. "The nurse said they were getting better. But they found out it was nothing." He could hear his subdued voice going up a key at the end; he could almost feel his lip quivering. Neville knew he was upset too much over little things like this. He always seemed on the verge of tears.
"Neville, I'm very sorry," Lupin said. There. That what he had been aching to hear, not a recitation of his parents' medical history like he had been getting from everyone else. He relaxed a little bit. Things were starting to get better, if only slightly. But that wasn't where Lupin stopped. "I used to know them," he told the boy. "We were good friends. I was only just out of Hogwarts, but they were fully trained Aurors, the best I've ever seen. They were – are – heroes. They contributed so much to the fight against Voldemort-"
Neville didn't flinch.
"-And they loved you more than anything. If they're never able to be like that again, Neville," Lupin wound up, "You still really have something to be proud of."
Neville had heard it all before: the praise and the testaments that his parents were good Aurors, heroes even. But never from someone whom he knew actually meant it. His filial pride swelled up to full proportions, and he smiled. Defense with Umbridge somehow didn't seem too important, what with the D.A.
And suddenly Hermione wasn't actually good enough for him, anyway.
Neville changed the subject, feeling better and knowing he had been drawn in by Lupin's caring approach. "What would you do if there was a girl that didn't like you?"
"What girl?" Neville could have sworn his ex-professor almost laughed.
"Hermione Granger," he said sullenly.
"Do you know she doesn't like you, or haven't you asked?" Lupin seemed genuinely interested. Or at least, genuinely willing to help.
"No. But it's just that she's so bossy and smart. And I'm not," Neville said woefully, looking down at his hands.
"That's not the worst problem there is," Lupin assured him. "For all your opposites, you must have something in common. Don't stop trying."
"Okay," said Neville, with no conviction. Hermione's sharpness, her cold certainty and her hot fervor, her caring for house-elf rights, and worst of all, her nonexistent sense of humor were more than Neville believed he could overcome.
"I mean it," Lupin encouraged. "Opposites attract. You can make it work with her."
Neville nodded, still looking at his hands. The man cared, at least, even if he was wrong. Which maybe he wasn't, after all. Hadn't Hermione kind of almost smiled when he perfected that Impedimenta hex? "Maybe you're right." Neville met Lupin's eyes. "Thank you for listening, Professor." Lupin only gave him a kind smile. "I guess I should go now." Neville stood. "Oh…" his eyes trailed to the bench he had been sitting on, and then along the floor to the door of the Ward. He looked sheepish. "I've forgotten my scarf. I-"
"I'll get it for you, Neville," said Lupin, and stood up and quickly entered the Ward. Neville was thankful he had been spared seeing his parents again, and he had the feeling Lupin knew it. He loved them immensely, but it was difficult to deal with, especially alone, and Gran had already disappeared downstairs. A small smile lingering on his face, he waited by the door for Professor Lupin to return.
Remus wasn't stupid. He realized as soon as he left Neville that what he had told the boy could apply just as well to his own dilemma. He and Snape were opposites, he knew, but maybe it was best just to go for it. Besides, they had the added advantage of already having kissed.
He felt he had just learned a Lesson. The conversation could have been a turning point in one of those clichéd but fun and educational juvenile novels, he mused. It could have been the part where the protagonist realizes he has been lying to himself. As a result, he decides to change his approach and attitude so that everyone can live happily ever after. The character comes to terms with his lack of confidence and his unyielding denial and looks at things from a more open-minded and hopeful perspective. Well, it could have come from a trashy novel, if there were any sort of appreciation whatsoever for hyped-up stories about gay Hogwarts professors.
And also, he wasn't gay. Just… interested. Somewhat. Somewhat interested. In a man. Who was smart. And looked good. Yeah. Kind of. A little.
Definitely not gay, though.
The theme, however, hit him hard. Maybe it was time to stop pretending that it wasn't like that. Like that. Maybe he shouldn't be so sure it's just ordinary interest. Opposites attract. He was lying to himself. Things could work. His thoughts whirled.
He began to think that maybe he was going about this the wrong way. Maybe he should stop ignoring the fact that Severus had kissed him first. Maybe there was cause for him not to give up on whatever was currently happening between them. Maybe… Anything, maybe.
Remus stopped reflecting on his situation and saw the scarf almost immediately. It had fallen right in the middle of the floor. He didn't know how Neville could have lost it, but then again, Neville surprised Lupin in many ways. Remus smiled upon seeing it; the colors were the familiar Gryffindor red and gold. Of course. Neville was a Gryffindor, just like Frank and Alice had been. Frank and Alice. It was a pity, he knew, it really was. They had been heroes. And now they were nobodies.
He realized with a wrench of his heart that they were also sitting on identical beds not ten feet from him.
He greeted them solemnly, inclining his head. "Hello, Alice. Frank."
Frank stared blankly at him. Unnerved, he looked at Alice. She was the kind one, the forgetful one, but as brave and skilled as Lily and James had been. Both of them were, really. That showed up in Neville. Well, he amended, the bravery did, and the skill would make an appearance soon. Alice waved at him and smiled. Remus wondered if she recognized him. No, of course she didn't. Her world was hazy, he had been told. They didn't remember people. They didn't talk. If only we had showed up to rescue them ten minutes earlier. If only the hospital had the knowledge to heal them. If only they recognized their son, Remus thought with regret. If only this didn't happen. If only…
Remus smiled sadly and picked up the Gryffindor scarf.
Frank and Alice Longbottom were stuck in a life without memories. He was doomed to always be on the defensive, taking heat from anybody who found out about his lycanthropy. Sirius was locked in a house he would never be able to leave. Neville had no way to show everyone the intelligence and courage he had inherited. Harry had been pinned with a double-edged responsibility since before he could walk. Snape had never been forgiven by society for the Mark on his arm. The list went on and on.
He stepped outside.
"Thank you, Professor." Neville was immensely grateful he hadn't had to go back inside, which, he felt, was probably why Lupin had done him the favor in the first place.
His teacher smiled warmly. "Don't mention it, Neville. I'm glad we talked."
"I am, too," said Neville, and he meant it. "Bye." He walked lightly down the hall and through the arched doorway leading to the winding stairwell.
Lupin, convinced things were going to take a turn for the better, walked away, humming and feeling noticeably more cheerful as well.
As things were getting better for him, though, he knew they weren't improving much for anyone else. Neville, Sirius, Harry, Severus – they all still had their own problems. Lupin sighed pensively.
Life wasn't fair.
(1) The hoochie coochies are a disease from neopets.com.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Six: Back To Square One In which Eden stuffs her bra, several kneazles are cute, Remus goes insane, Snape makes an idiot of himself, we gain insight into the life of our second-favorite werewolf, and some Muggles are thoroughly bewildered.
A sliding door opened in the wall and a flock of furry kneazles rushed out. Kneazles, Snape thought. How absolutely terrifying. But a few seconds later he heard the hurried footsteps down the hall. There were real people coming to investigate. But why the kneazles? Snape tried to make his way towards a door in the opposite wall that, with any luck, would lead to a closet he could hide in, but the seven or eight or so kneazles surrounded his feet and nipped at the cuffs of his trousers, making it almost impossible for him to move.
Right, that might be one reason they were there; sticking charms on the bottom of his shoes could hardly have been more effective.
With determination, Snape drew back his right foot and sent on one unfortunate animal flying into the wall with a thud. It didn't get up. The rest of the creatures made some pathetic mewling noises, but hastily got out of the way of Snape's feet. Now he could shut himself up.
It wasn't a moment too soon; there were multiple voices outside.
"Password?" Eden asked in a bored tone.
"Eden, is there anyone inside there?"
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure," she snapped. "What do I look like, a total delinquent?" she pointed her cancer stick menacingly.
"Fine. Let us in."
Eden did nothing.
The wizard sighed. "Mellon.
Eden frowned as she swung open. She was sure that was an allusion of some sort, but she didn't know what.
She settled back into place and realized that one wizard was still outside. She looked at him questioningly.
"I wish you wouldn't do that, Eden," he said solemnly.
Eden failed miserably in her attempt to blow a smoke ring at him, and coughed as it backfired in her face.
The door closed behind Snape, and the slivers of light that should have marked the edges disappeared. He felt for any crevices with his fingers in the pitch darkness; they were gone. The door must have been enchanted.
"Hey, guys," One wizard greeted the kneazles happily.
"Hank, look at that one." Someone pointed to the still animal by the wall. Hank scooped it up immediately.
"There's no one here," a third wizard said unnecessarily. They all looked around; there was no evidence of an intruder: no drawers open, nothing missing, no muddy footprints or any such clue, and certainly no people.
"Then what set off the alarm?" the second wizard asked, confused.
"Maybe the kneazles got out and touched something that was charmed," the third wizard said sagaciously.
Hank nodded. "Must be. I bet Spot here just got excited and ran into the wall."
They looked around at each other. Hank petted Spot tenderly and tried to feel for broken bones.
"Let's go," someone said, putting on a pair of sunglasses. Hank nodded at him once. They left in formation.
Snape heard the men leave. The door still didn't open.
He surveyed the lit up area around him; ahead of him stretched a narrow tunnel that twisted and turned away into darkness. How clichéd, he observed. He wondered somewhat idly if it led to some type of Wonderland and an inordinate number of white rabbits in tailcoats.
Snape supposed it couldn't hurt to find out.
Jude sent an owl off to Merrmardikans and smiled to himself. He was done working, and it looked nice outside. He had that feeling that normally comes with the unique, retiring colors of sunset: contented tiredness, tinged with appreciation for the little things around him.
The windows in his office – real windows, not enchanted ones – showed a fairly magical azure twilight outside. Pinprick stars, only the brightest ones yet, were just becoming visible. The still-pink flushes in the west bathed a stone memorial in a Muggle park outside with its dying light. It was beautiful, he thought to himself, simply beautiful and rather poetic. Jude loved working smack in the middle of the Muggle business district; he loved the grassy, populated park outside. He loved the warm alpenglow of sunset, although in all fairness, he loved all the other times of day as well. He loved his desk, his picture windows, his owl Apollo, Ella and Joe and Chris and Sam. He loved his job, as stressful as it was, and he loved that it was 5:37 in the evening (he loved the evening) and that he had finished his work and had twenty-three minutes to himself before he left his office and the earth resumed its revolutions.
He looked around calmly, feeling for all the world completely content with anyone and everyone and everything. His life was perfect, it seemed, and he could not have been happier, not only with the fact that everything was beautiful but with the knowledge that he had a sincere appreciation for simple pleasures. He knew that that kind of simplicity was hard to come by, and prided himself privately on having it.
He looked out the window, hands behind his back, for a bit longer before he lumosed his wand and settled tired into an armchair with a tattered copy of Eddie the Evil.
Life was good.
At the end of the tunnel was another door, which Snape opened carefully. On the other side, he found, was a multitude of Muggles. Hundreds and hundreds of them, it seemed, walking around in disorganized crowds and every one of them in a hurry. Where was he? A workplace of some sort, it must be. Obviously a very important workplace, judging by the masses of people on their way to the office. Just imagine who was already at work.
They were all moving, and all around: through turnstiles, up ramps, down huge staircases—
Who had enchanted those stairways to move? They were all over the place, and moving up and down of their own accord. Some wizarding joke it had been; why hadn't he read about it in the Prophet? And why weren't these people alarmed?
They were Muggles, he knew; they were dressed funny. And no wizards or witches ever moved around so much. Perhaps it wasn't an office building after all. It could have been a gymnasium. No, that was unlikely.
Snape realized he must have looked out of place among them all, and tried to step back though the door. He found to his chagrin that it, too, had vanished behind him. He was standing next to a sealed wall instead of a means of escape.
Well, then, there was only one thing to do. Tentatively, Snape walked to the nearest staircase and waited for it to move him downward with the other hundreds of people, all of them pushing and shoving or waiting patiently.
He looked at the wall. Love is… not dropping litter.
Some art. Nothing compared to the portraits and tapestries at Hogwarts; he had expected even Muggles to show some kind of skill in their pictures.
Love is… letting people off first.
The subjects were rather cute, though. It made him feel almost sorry about incapacitating that kneazle.
The pictures on the wall didn't move. Obviously, the prank hadn't extended that far.
The stairs deposited him on a platform. A train station, then. Muggle trains. Not King's Cross; nowhere he had been before.
And sure enough, there were the sleek white trains. But where did they go? Snape decided it would be best not to board.
Mind the Gap.
Snape had been waiting forever. He didn't know what he was waiting for. He didn't get on the trains. Muggles kept coming and going and going and coming. He wanted to Apparate away – but that would hardly be tactful. He couldn't figure out where he might find any area free of them, and he was reluctant to wander around, as it might lead to his becoming even more lost.
So he just waited.
It was hardly helping his temper.
It was after about an hour that Security took notice of the thin, pale man, dressed in layer upon layer of black, who had been hunched against the wall, scowling, since he had arrived.
Officer Abbot gulped as he walked up to the man. He looked like a bat, Abbot thought. Scratch that, he looked like the Grim Reaper. Officer Brown next to him did not seem any less afraid.
"The train just left, Mister," he said, approaching Snape. "Why aren't you on it?"
The man looked annoyed. "I seem to have gotten lost."
"On your way to where?" the pudgier of the two officers asked gruffly, putting his thumb through a navy blue belt loop.
Snape wondered if he would have to fight his way out. "Away."
"Ah." The officer looked doubtful. "Maybe you'd better come with us."
Snape was in way over his head, and knew it. Meekly, he followed them away. There were very few Muggles left on the platform, but one was enough to discourage him from doing any magic.
He trailed the two men into a dingy office behind the ticket machines. He slid his wand from his pocket into his sleeve, so that he could aim its tip with his hands but it wasn't protruding far enough to be visible.
"You say you got lost on your way outside?" Abbot asked. Dammit, he thought. He was probably a serial killer. Or a drug dealer. Or a terrorist. They weren't paying Abbot nearly enough to deal with people like this. Look at his face, he thought, the guy's probably a vampire.
Snape scowled. He had very little choice but to tell them the truth, or part of it, at least. "I found myself in a concourse and followed it down to the tracks. I did not know where to go after that." He grimaced at how stupid his own explanation sounded.
"Right," proclaimed Brown after a short pause. "You're completely off your rocker."
Snape started. Then he said with concern, "Sir, your hair seems to be turning purple."
Abbot stared at his partner.
Brown stared back. "Abbot," he asked cautiously, "Whaddya think's wrong with your ears?"
His partner tenderly moved his hands up to his head, his eyes growing wide at what he found there.
Neither noticed when Snape Disapparated away; the loud crack only frightened the white rabbits that seemed to be proliferating from deep inside Brown's hat.
"Oh, there you are," a nurse said, exasperated. She grabbed Lupin's hand and pulled him over to a soft chair in the waiting room. "Now, that was naughty. We've been looking all over for you."
Lupin tried to smile sheepishly. He had been so close to escaping; they had finally caught up to him in the waiting area, which was the only place from which it was possible to Apparate or Disapparate.
"Look what Hank got you," she said benevolently.
Lupin looked; Hank, a wizard in lime green medical robes was cradling a wounded and bandaged kneazle in his arms.
"Now, his name is Spot," the nurse continued in a fake singsongy voice, "and you have to be very careful with him."
"Oh, I will," Lupin assured her. He scratched behind Spot's ears, making him purr contentedly.
The nurse smiled.
It was at that point that Snape interrupted them by Apparating a few feet away. Remus looked at him with surprise.
Snape shook his head slightly and sat down. He took a piece of parchment from his pocket, along with a quill, and then a sheaf of paper that Lupin imagined must have been his medical record.
What is going on? Lupin tried to ask Snape with his eyes. Why did you leave the records room? It didn't work. The nurse, who had been inconspicuously carressing Hank's back, turned around and faced Lupin again. "Now, you stay here, okay?"
Lupin nodded, still intent on Snape.
"Good," she said. She didn't trust him, it seemed, for she took out her wand and conjured ropes that tied Lupin's left wrist to the arm of the chair he was sitting on. Satisfied with her security measures, she turned to another patient, a young, black-haired witch in a purple dress, and escorted her out.
After his illuminating chat with Neville, Remus found he was feeling more confident about Snape. Perhaps they should talk, he reasoned. Remus wasn't really a shy person, no, and normally he was level-headed and sensible. So what if Snape was attractive, he told himself. It was no reason to hide in the corner (and a good reason not to hide in the closet, in this case) or to get all teary-eyed at the thought of kissing.
Snape was really no better than him, the grounded part of his brain knew.
Somehow, Lupin felt rather cured of whatever had been bothering him. Not his infatuation, if you could call it that, but rather his breaking down when he thought about it.
Now that that was taken care of: "What's going on?" he hissed, businesslike once again.
Snape explained to him about the portrait hole, the records, the—
"Just shut up, Lupin. And security—"
and the Underground station and being picked up by Muggle cops. Parts of the story made Remus laugh, despite Snape's bitter, succinct speech.
"As soon as I am finished, Lupin, I will need you to create another distraction so I can return the file."
"What are you smiling about? I find—oh. Here, you copy it."
"You hold Spot, then."
Snape took the wounded kneazle, whom he was a bit relieved to find out was not dead, though he wouldn't have admitted that he cared, as Remus took the quill and ink from him and began copying.
"Only the first page."
The two sat in a fairly companionable silence.
"You should put it back." Lupin straightened, closed the folder, and handed it back to Snape. "The portrait girl knows you."
"Right. It's all in order, then?"
"Good. Create another diversion, then."
"I will. Just wait," said Lupin.
They sat, quiet, for a while, Snape expectant without knowing exactly what it was he was expecting. He was wondering slightly what Remus was planning to do.
"I think we should talk," Remus began tactfully. Snape had the feeling he knew what, exactly, Remus wanted to talk about.
"Let me guess. Our so-called relationship?"
"Yes." Lupin was not as disheartened at the 'so-called' as he might have been before. He had been acting stupid, he knew. Quite unlike him, really. He was surprised at how sensitive he had been. A good listener, sure; he prided himself on that, on knowing when and how to be quiet. Understanding, yes, he was that, too, but overly shy? No. What was it that made his mind curl up into a ball at that thought of Snape?
Or perhaps, it would be better to examine what could make his mind curl up into a ball in general.
He already knew the answer to that one: girls. The prospect of romance or dating always made him feel left out, in a way. He skirted it as well as he could. It was really the only thing that intimidated him, he reflected proudly. Remus Lupin was no coward. But for some reason, he had always clammed up around his old girlfriend – what was her name? Laura – because he was simply Not Good With Girls. Never had been, never would be. That was really the only thing that made him feel pushed aside; otherwise, he was perfectly functional as an adult. A former teacher, an experienced artifactologist, an expert in Defense Against the Dark Arts. The rest of his life was full; he just so happened, embarrassingly, to be a virgin. But that was okay, wasn't it? It was an all-encompassing problem in itself, but not at all a limiting one. His fear of females extended so far that the witches who worked above the Hog's Head made him almost as nervous as Laura had, and he had been so uncomfortable around people like them that he'd always left before he got what he'd paid for – usually before he had even began to unbutton his shirt. They just repelled him like matching magnets; there was nowhere on Earth he felt less comfortable than surrounded by women who were even remotely interested in having sex with him.
Now Snape was making him feel just as shy. This was new; he had generally felt friendly towards guys he could talk to. Perhaps his nervousness around Snape wasn't exactly normal, he admitted. But he was starting to understand: it brought back old memories he'd had, his hopes of meeting that Right Person, someone who didn't care if he was a virgin or a lycanthrope or overly quiet. It was a sweet recollection. He thought of it sometimes; it made a good issue to daydream about. But Severus – being with Severus, kissing Severus, touching Severus – brought those feelings back stronger than they had been before. They broke down his defenses, no, not defenses, his common sense, and reduced him to a weak puddle of goo. They even made him cry, they were so strong. They excited him so much, he could have been a six-year-old girl with her first crush on any one of an assorted collection of handsome fairy tale princes. It was fairly disgusting, except that Remus found himself liking it.
All Lupin knew was that he wanted more. He wanted his sweet, innocent fantasies disturbed further, he wanted warmth to flood through him again the way it had that first time on New Years or the second in the hallway. He wouldn't mind shedding tears if they meant another kiss with Severus.
He wanted to be bold about it. He wanted to be able to melt into Severus's arms, but not always to wait for an initiation, not to be repeatedly at a loss for words, and not to feel so weak.
He just wanted to get together with Snape, and although he didn't know which connotation of the phrase to aim for, that was really the gist of it.
Now Remus felt he had it all sorted out. His conscious mind was on the same wavelength as his subconscious; he knew what he wanted and he had some idea of how to go about getting it.
Severus had turned back to the Wizarding Weekly in his hands, convinced that Remus had given up on their conversation.
"Wait! I'm still talking to you!"
Snape looked up.
"What did you mean, 'Our so-called relationship?'?"
"We kissed once."
"Right. Twice. Hardly something to speak of, is it?"
"Well, we can build on it," Lupin reasoned. "I mean, I like you, obviously."
Snape ignored the question Remus was implying and instead said, "You cried the second time."
"I did not."
"Maybe a little, Snape, but I'd never felt like that before."
"Like what?" Snape smirked. "You've never felt true love?"
"Shove it. I never felt like I… just wanted to melt."
"Melt?" Snape arched an eyebrow.
"You're not making this any easier, Severus," Lupin said, sighing. "It's just, I used to dream about all that sappy fairytale stuff. About the romances and the way everything just worked and… Obviously, it never happened. Except when I'm with you, it all starts coming back. Like maybe it's possible and not just a daydream"
Snape said nothing. He did lean forward a bit, though, and gave Remus his attention as if he knew he were serious. "You're so shy," was all he said after a time. It wasn't an accusation or a revelation, just a toneless statement.
"Only about matters like this." Lupin smiled earnestly.
They sat in silence for a few more minutes.
"So… d'you fancy me, too?" Remus asked quietly.
Snape didn't move. "Yes."
There was a pause. "Okay, then." Pause. "So that's the signal we can get involved?"
Pause. "I suppose." Snape looked very much as if he were holding back a relieved smile.
They looked at each other for a moment before a loudspeaker crackled to life. "Healers Mitchell, Fabruley, Skidstipps –"
"There's your distraction," Lupin said. It couldn't have come at a better time: after they had worked it out, but before things had gotten awkward again.
Remus slid from his seat to the floor and landed with a thud. Kneeling in the fetal position, he grunted and wrapped his head in his hands and hid his face.
"Get out of my head," he began to moan, loud enough for the other patients to be disturbed. His voice was low and pleading, and he really did look his part, tied to a chair and with his face buried in his hands. "Stop… talking… to… me…" he rasped. A few people turned to stare, and Lupin picked it up a notch. "Go away!" he commanded the voices in his head. "Go away! And never come back!" He writhed convincingly on the floor, but the loudspeaker went on, oblivious.
"Please!" Lupin continued to cry out. "Just leave me alone!" More and more people were looking on now. A few pointed and laughed, but most, despite the hustle and bustle of St. Mungo's, seemed to have time to appear genuinely concerned.
Lupin uttered a long, drawn-out cry, as if he was in immense pain. He ducked his head lower so that his elbows engulfed it completely when they rested on his knees. It was hard to talk from that position, but his voice only sounded more disjointed and muffled. "Just… get out… of my head!"
A gaggle of healers rushed into the room just as Lupin looked up and met the eyes of a terrified boy nearby. He whispered hoarsely, "The voices won't leave me alone," before he was dragged off, still kicking and screaming desperately.
When he caught a glance over his shoulder, Snape had gone.
The next time Severus saw Eden, she had her top unbuttoned and was peering down the front of her dress, trying to rearrange the ties on her corset so the water balloons would fit.
Eden looked up. "Oh, sorry." She made no move to cover herself up, instead taking out a blue water balloon and setting it down next to her.
"You do look rather lopsided now, you know," Snape informed her.
"Right." she took out the green balloon as well, ate a jelly bean, jangled the new silver bracelet on her wrist, looked at Snape, and said, "You want to go back inside?"
"Fine," she said, swinging open. "Try not to set off any alarms this time, okay?"
"Right," said Snape, swiftly, as he walked through.
The opening closed and Eden muttered, "Idiot," under her breath before she started fiddling with her chest again.
(1) Mellon is the password to the gates of the Mines of Moria. More Lord of the Rings. Sorry.
(2) For all you
MugglesAmericans who haven't realized it, this is the Tube. The Underground. The Subway, if you will.
(3) Abbot and Brown are the names of the two doctors from the television show Everwood.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Seven: A Different Kind of Reality In which Eden is giggly and ladylike, Spot licks someone's face, a mattress gets angry, Snape is discouraged, Orlando Bloom is hot, and Remus has a dream. One where he gets wet.
Rose checked her lipstick in the mirror.
"You're gorgeous, honey," it told her. "Knock 'em dead."
Rose patted her Diricawl, Puck, on the head before she Apparated to Times Square and arrived in the expensive restaurant they had picked out. It was very popular as a romantic spot, despite being named Le Candlelit Chat.
The young woman felt so fabulous stepping inside that she levitated a few inches off the floor without even trying.
She smiled brightly when she saw Parker.
A helmeted head poked in through the edge of Eden's frame.
"Are you Sir Cadogan?" she asked expectantly.
"At your service," he affirmed, kneeling down to kiss her hand.
Lupin was left in a room by himself. He felt like a prisoner in what was meant to be a cheerful building, and hoped Severus wouldn't need a third distraction.
He glanced around for any wards or charms whose effects may have been visible; there were none that he could see. By some oversight, he still had his wand, although he knew it might not be a good idea to use it. The door was locked from the outside, but the window wasn't. It opened easily after a bit of belligerent creaking, and Lupin found, much to his disappointment, that he was on the second floor. It would be quite a drop to the ground.
He wasn't tied to anything, at least, and he couldn't see any surveillance devices, although, he reasoned, they wouldn't be very effective if he knew they were there.
Right, then, Lupin thought, mentally rolling up his sleeves. It's time to escape.
He looked outside; the wall was made of brick and the alley below was empty but for a few trash cans and a snapped Cleansweep.
After a long day of getting shuttled around from psych ward to drudged memory to coddling medi-witch, Lupin's patience was almost out, and he didn't particularly feel like being subtle. He opened the window as far as it would go and with great effort, tugged the mattress off his bed. It began complaining immediately; Lupin was worried its cries of "I belong on the bed! Put me back, Mister!" and "Oww, I'm made of high-quality cotton and am not to be used on a rough floor or without proper sheets…" would alert someone that he was doing something he shouldn't have been, but he managed to get it to the window, fold it in half as best he could, and stuff it through. Every few seconds, it would churlishly attempt to flatten itself out, so it took Lupin a number of tries before he figured out that if the eyes and mouth went through first, the mattress would be less able to react.
The mass of feathers and springs bounced when it hit the ground and immediately began to complain again. "You can't treat bedding like that," it growled up at him. "I think you dislocated my left side, I know I heard a spring break…"
Lupin tuned him out and stuck one leg out the window. Spot, forever friendly, nipped at his foot and made a cute noise Lupin couldn't quite classify. "Sorry, but you can't come, little guy," he whispered sadly as he pushed off.
Remus didn't land as he had hoped to. He bounced on the mattress (which he could have sworn had shimmied away at the last moment) and sprawled on the ground. "Hah," it said gruffly. "Serves you right." It blew a raspberry into the air for good measure, but Lupin didn't notice it, however, because he'd been knocked unconscious.
Remus dreamt that he was falling through the air, past flickering fires and bright lights, past black flashes and gaping pits. Sirius reached out a hand to grab him, but missed. He peered down the tunnel, reaching further and further but always just missing. Remus reached up as he fell, wishing halfheartedly to be caught. The other half of him kicked his legs, trying to drive himself down faster. He wanted to know what was at the bottom of the pit, or whether it had a bottom at all. Just when he thought he would never stop falling, he hit a wide lake with a splash. The water engulfed him, but he didn't care. He was paddling for all he was worth, pulling himself down deeper into its inky pits. He couldn't breathe, but he didn't want to; the stars exploding in his vision looked pretty and the iron claw on his lungs tingled pleasantly.
He hit the bottom. It was soft stone; it was hard when he beat it but it gave voluntarily when he dove into it.
Suddenly there were hands around his waist, pulling him back up. That was who he was looking for, he must have swum past. He couldn't breathe, he needed—
--Severus crushed their lips together, breathing into him, pounding on his chest so the air could get through. That was what he needed, yes; he sucked in again and again, marveling at the miracle that had found him underwater.
Before he knew it Severus was kicking up, propelling them to the sky. "You're too good to be a werewolf," he snarled into Remus's ear just before they broke the surface. Remus turned to answer but before he could, a wave lapped over his face. He blinked his eyes furiously, coughing and sputtering, and awoke to Spot licking his face and standing on an uncomfortable spot on his neck. He lay staring up at the midnight blue sky for a moment before he sat up, brushed himself off, and rubbed at the place on his back where he had fallen. Spot bit at his sleeve.
"What was that, kid?"
Remus squirmed uncomfortably and glared at the mattress.
"Don't tell me a fever dream is making you nervous."
"It's not," he said quickly. Had he said anything incriminating?
"Right. I don't believe that for a second."
Lupin turned away.
"'Sides, I bet it was nothing compared to Lockhart's dreams."
"Oh, really?" Remus asked dryly.
"Sure, he tells them to anyone and everyone who'll listen."
"That's nice, but we really have to go."
"Sure you don't want to hear about the nipple clamps and the rubber duckies?"
Lupin started. "Quite." He stood and turned to Spot. "Come on, we're leaving," he said.
"Not so fast," the mattress interrupted. "This is a regulation Ministry mattress. I could have you arrested—"
"That'd be a blessing, compared to what I'm facing now," Lupin said, picking up the kneazle.
"You won't be so brave when you're on trial for direct disobeyment of—"
Lupin kicked it once and shot Spot a knowing look as they Apparated away.
"And good riddance," the mattress muttered after him.
Eden was painting her nails when Snape left.
"Good job," she smirked. "You managed to go three minutes without alerting security that you were breaking and entering."
Snape scowled. "It must get boring, being a picture and having no social life to speak of. You meet people, what, three times a week?"
"Not since you set me up with Sir Cadogan, thanks very much."
"And what does he do, parade around on his pony for hours on end with his sword in the air and recite Shakespearian sonnets because he thinks you can't tell?"
"And besides," she went on loudly, ignoring him, "I'll have you know a whole horde of people came in here just yesterday."
"How exciting," Snape said sarcastically.
"It was," Eden insisted. She blew on her nails. "A bunch of big guys from the Ministry. It could have been important."
Eden pursed her lips.
"What were they doing?" Snape asked apprehensively.
"Checking records, what else would they be doing? I think they were looking for werewolves." She started in on her right hand and promptly spilled the nail polish all over the carpeted stairs. "Shit!" she exclaimed, jumping up and managing to knock over her wine glass of Pepsi at the same time. "Oh, Jeeves is going to skin me!"
"What?" She looked at Snape, having forgotten he was there. "Oh. Yeah, yesterday."
Snape slumped, backing up to the wall and collapsing as he sat down. Their new and improved escape plan was cut off. It was as if they were in a prison chamber and had been sneaking along, looking for an escape, only to have door after door slam shut just before they could get through, startling them and sending them scurrying. This new plan had been terminated with the scrape of an ever-tightening noose that chilled him to the bone and blocked out the sunlight he and Remus had almost reached. First Italy had wound up in the gutter, and now this. It was back to square one for the third time, and it wasn't just a game. Remus's life was on the line, goddamit. What were they going to do? Snape felt as if he and Lupin were trying to walk in circles and farther into a trap.
"What are you so upset about?" Eden asked.
Snape didn't answer.
He sighed. "Shut up."
They were silent for a moment. Then Eden had jumped up and was reaching for another piece of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum. She loomed up to the front of the picture, as far as she could go, and asked, "Lemme guess. Girl trouble?"
Snape shook his head sadly.
"Come on, you can tell me about it," she coaxed. "I owe you a favor now, I promise I won't tell."
"My best friend is only condemned, that's all," said Snape bitterly.
Eden looked at him sympathetically and blew a bubble. "Maybe he should, you know, make himself scarce."
"Tried that," said Snape dejectedly. "Didn't work."
"He can't just stay locked up inside?"
"Absolutely not. Nobody wants to be a prisoner. That's the last thing I'd choose for him."
"Oh," Eden said, and a hint of the ladylike grace and compassion she had been bred into and painted with floated to the surface. With a newly composed and calm face, her robes seemed to fall back into the right places and her curly black hair rippled along her back in a courtly manner that seemed to transform her completely. "I'm very sorry." It was the most sincere thing, and the most serious, she had said all day. "Is there anything I can do?"
Snape stood to leave. "I suppose there isn't."
Eden nodded sadly. Then she blew a bubble and the illusion shattered. "Sure you don't want some gum?" she asked earnestly.
"Quite sure," said Snape, walking away and cold again.
"Positive? I've got the Muggle kind, too."
Snape didn't answer; he retreated down the corridor towards the waiting room.
"It's got Orlando Bloom on the wrapper!" she called loudly as he retreated further and further away.
Snape continued to ignore her.
"Orlando Bloom is hot," she said to herself conversationally as the door slammed at the end of the hall.
Le Candlelit Chat packed, as usual, but enveloped in an unobtrusive silence. A house elf in the corner muttering quietly as he cleared a table, the clang of silver spoons in the kitchen, and the blaring car horns and loud voices outside were all shut out from the light glow of tea lights and floating candles, hot food and warm hearts. Inside their sanctuary, everything was comfortably quiet and dim. Parker put down his fork; Rose followed suit. She smiled at him sweetly. He felt she had never looked more beautiful, but then again, he thought that every day. The candlelight flickered on her raven-black hair, her bare arm with deep red shoulder ruffles, and the pale curves of her face. Parker glanced at her nervously and took a deep breath, and she looked back intently, drawn in by the shadows on his face – the deep sand-colored ones that took the shape of his lightly spiked hair – and anchored down by his flecked grey eyes.
The latest Weird Sisters recording, a slow, drawn-out refrain, played quietly in the background. Other than that, the atmosphere was calm, dark, and quiet. Enchanted candles twinkled and flickered above their heads, casing dim pools of light onto the table. It was a magical place.
Parker reached into his pocket and fingered the small, felt-covered box inside. His other hand stayed on the table; Rose reached for it and held it lightly. It was now or never, Parker told himself. Rose was tickling his palm and he let her, curling his fingers around hers. With his other hand, Parker was toying with the ring box. Rose looked up from her ministrations and met his eye, and in that moment, he gathered his nerves and grasped it.
Rose continued to look at him expectantly, black hair, brown eyes, soft smile and all. She gasped when he drew his hand out of his pocket.
Eddie the Evil twirled a steak knife menacingly in his hands. The young maiden, chained tightly to the wall, cried desperately. "Please! Somebody help me! Help!" She gasped as Eddie took a step closer.
"There's no one here who can save you," he growled.
The girl screamed again.
Eddie was a werewolf and terribly, terribly evil. He had no mercy for defenseless, innocent young people. "I will devour your entrails at dawn,
2" he snarled at her with an evil grin.
"Not so fast, you werewolf!" said a deep voice behind him.
Eddie turned and saw Gordon the Golden poised on top of a wall, holding a rope. "I will save you from this evil half-breed, dear Scarlet," he said valiantly.
"But… how… I thought you were dead!" Eddie managed.
"I told you once, you evil, untrustworthy thing, and I'll tell you again. You can never defeat goodness!" And with that, Gordon swooped down on the rope, kicked Eddie away, and freed his one true love from the clutches of a sure, painful death.
"Nooooooo!" Eddie moaned. "Foiled again!"
"Hah!" said Gordon.
"My hero," Scarlet swooned, wrapping a beautiful milky-white hand around Gordon's neck.
Eddie the Evil watched with despair as they swung away into the sunset.
Jude stretched and clicked his tongue. It was sad, he knew. It was a pity there was so much bias against people like him, especially since all of it was unfounded. It must be worse in England, he thought, to have such horrific propaganda spread about werewolves.
The grandfather clock next to the door struck six. Perfect; Jude had just finished the chapter. He shuffled some papers on his desk, tucked them into his briefcase, and went downstairs, eager to finally get home.
(1) Simple translation: Le Candlelit Chat equals The Candlelit Cat.
(2) I will devour your entrails at dawn. My friend says this all the time; I'm not sure what movie she got it from.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Eight: Three Variations and a Theme In which there is smut.
"Good?" Lupin asked when Snape got back to Grimmauld Place.
"Well, I didn't get caught, if that's what you meant."
Lupin stood. "And what part of that is not good?"
Snape sighed. "I really don't want to tell you right now."
Remus knew when not to push a matter, and settled for a blank, "Oh. Okay."
"Maybe it's not that important."
Snape walked over to Lupin and said, "I want to do something."
"And what's that?"
Snape smiled an actual, real smile. Those were a rare treat. He picked up Lupin's hand and examined it idly, then dropped the hand, shifted his weight, and as an afterthought, picked it up again. Remus felt himself smiling, too. He used his other hand to inspect Snape's thumb. He licked his dry lips and said again, "What do you want to do?"
Severus looked at Lupin, who was maintaining a distance that would otherwise have been called uncomfortably close, and said, "Don't you know?"
Maybe Lupin did. Maybe he had known it all along. It seemed like the only thing he could do right then was to pull his hand away and wrap it lightly around the back of Snape's neck. In return, Snape quivered and took a step closer.
With almost perfect symmetry, they pressed their foreheads together and looked calmly into each other's eyes. They didn't kiss right away; they were both determined to make this last. "Maybe I do," said Lupin softly.
They stood like that for another moment, leaning forward, foreheads touching, air thick with comfort. "Good," whispered Snape before their eyes closed and their lips met.
Rose looked at Parker for a moment with delight. He no longer seemed nervous; now he was expectant.
She nodded enthusiastically, face turning up as tears started in her eyes. She covered her mouth with her hands, took them away, and pressed her lips together, all the while looking with happy disbelief at Parker and unable to speak. At length, she managed a hoarse, "Yes," her voice nearly rising into an excited squeal at the end of the word.
They were both standing, very close together and facing each other intently, with Rose looking up only slightly into Parker's deep stone eyes with their olive-colored flecks. She held out her hand, and Parker slid the thin gold ring onto her finger. They embraced each other at the same time, Rose's arms tight around his shoulders and his gently around her waist. They rocked slowly left and right, shifting feet, relying on each other for balance, Rose crying happily and Parker tucking her head down to the crook of his neck.
Then their lips met. Both closed their eyes as they pushed their mouths together, softly, deliciously, blissfully. They didn't move their tongues; there was no need to after all they had been through together. They stood like that for minutes, barely moving except in time with each other, bathed in happiness and affection and the unique form of love that flares up only when people embrace. Rose breathed deeply, shuddering, and squeezed Parker more tightly. They removed their lips in unison, and with perfectly timed grace, brought them back together again. He patted her back and bit her lip slightly, causing her to utter a quiet, contented sigh. His cheeks were wet with her joyful tears. Candlelight glinted fiery orange off her new gold ring, off the buttons on his cuffs behind her back, off her shiny hair and off the wetness on her cheeks. He tickled her back as she ran her fingers mindlessly through his hair.
Other, older patrons had all stopped eating to watch them embrace. They were all smiling to themselves, remembering what it was like.
"I love you, Parker," Rose said softly.
And nuzzling her gently, he replied sincerely and in kind: "Rose, I love you, too."
In the dusty, peaceful study, Snape grabbed Lupin's waist and pulled them together and kissed him deeply. Remus's eyes flew open again; he pushed himself away and when Severus looked at him questioningly, he only removed the man's hands and pressed their lips together again. He relaxed into the softness of his touch and the familiarity of something they had never really tried in the past, slowly giving himself over and now both of them now squeezing tightly – Snape's hands were somehow on Lupin's back again, and this time he didn't mind – and moving their tongues around – Snape's mouth tasted like chocolate orange liqueur – and biting sucking touching, – and Lupin's tasted like powdered sugar – teasing each other's lips – they were parched and chapped – and licking each other's teeth – and slippery and wet – and pausing only to take gasping breaths – warm air all over his face – and losing themselves – his breath smelled like vanilla-scented smoke – completely – and his hair smelled like chamomile – in something shadowy – and warm – and soporific.
"You're home!" his wife squealed, rushing in from the adjoining living room, as he hung up his cloak.
Without warning, Ella grabbed Jude by the waist and kissed him deeply. He relaxed into the softness of her touch, the familiarity of something he had been doing every evening with perpetual freshness for years and years.
He drew his lips away from hers to ask, "Where's Sam?"
"At a friend's house," she responded, leaning in to kiss him again.
"Chris?" he asked, parting his lips from hers again.
"Quidditch." She pecked his lips. "Joe, upstairs-"
"Yuck!" interrupted a voice above them. "Mom, Dad, that's totally gross!" The child stayed where he was for a few seconds, shaking his head, before his soft footsteps moved back upstairs, accompanied by a quiet voice repeating "Wimgar—wingardimum—wingardium—stupid feather!—"
Jude ignored it as his wife laughed, and he toyed with her long hair, kissing her once more. Someone murmured, "I love you." With their faces buried so close together, it was hard to tell who was doing the talking and who was enjoying the movement of his or her lips.
Remus bit his lip as Snape ran his lips over his day-old stubble.
"You don't have to—"
He pressed their lips together fiercely again.
Remus moved his hands over Snape's back, through his hair, along his waist, as Snape leaned forward and pushed them down to a sofa placed conveniently behind them.
Remus propped himself up on his elbows. Snape opened his eyes and stopped his ministrations. "Severus," he said solemnly, "I'm just as nervous as you are. You don't have to put on a show."
Snape licked his lips subtly and shook his head. "You don't look very nervous to me."
"I don't know how people look when they're nervous," Remus said softly, lips inches from those of the man leaning over him. Severus breathed in what Remus breathed out; his soft breaths puffed against the angel's fingerprint on his upper lip.
"Why do you pretend we don't both want this?"
"We're both men, Snape," Remus said desperately.
"But I know that doesn't bother you, does it? Not if it doesn't bother me?" Severus whispered, leaning in as he did and touching the tip of his tongue to the indent over Remus's lips. It tasted like salt and apples.
Remus obviously agreed, because after another moment of deliberation, he pushed his face up in acquiescence, murmuring "Don't talk," and licking his partner's concave chin, grating his teeth against the tender part inside Snape's outturned lips, swirling their tongues together. Severus closed his eyes and licked gingerly at the tongue he felt in his mouth, then nibbled at the nose that met his lips as Remus kissed his way down to Severus's neck.
Sir Cadogan, putting his ostensible chivalry aside, reached around and squeezed Eden's bum. She squealed in an outraged tone but kept kissing him. After a limiting few moments of tongue movement, she squirmed restlessly, bringing her hand around to the back of his head and tugging on his hair. When he finally turned, she bit his earlobe and then changed her mind and said irritably, "Come on now, why aren't you kissing me?"
Eden pressed her lips to his again and laughed as his tentative tongue slid into her mouth. Sir Cadogan put both hands on her bum and pulled her closer; she practically draped herself over him and tried unsuccessfully to bite his neck.
Their noses brushed.
She pulled them together. "How about—" He freed a hand from where it was tangled in the start of her skirts and slid it under her robes, tickling her bare waste, her ribs, her breasts—
—Something popped and suddenly they were soaked.
Eden blushed and changed the subject quickly. "I love you, baby."
"Je t'aime aussi
1," Sir Cadogan answered casually as he wiped his wet hand with great purpose on the hem of her drawers, but of course, Eden had no idea what that meant.
Remus kissed, swallowed, bit, harder than he ever had before, trying to use his tongue to inscribe a message of impulse to Severus, who kissed him back deeply. They fell rather slowly and landed on the couch; Lupin was already hard and from what he could feel, Snape was, too. Pined on the bottom, he wrapped his arms around Snape's and pulled him down closer, black hair tickling his face, sensing a sweet pleasant smell and comfortably warm body heat, comfortably close to his new – boyfriend? – in a comfortably soft sofa in a comfortably private room.
He drew away for a moment and gasped for air and licked his lips, and then Severus buried his head in the crook of Remus's neck and they lay there together, feeling each others' hardness and each others' panting breaths, but only looking hazily into each others' eyes before they dropped – together – into a peaceful sleep.
Still sluggish with comfort, they were interrupted too soon early the next morning by a loud, quavering shriek from outside. "Abominations! Scum! Carriers of pestilence and filth!" The portrait of Sirius's mum had woken up, apparently. Lupin and Snape did, too, at the same time, although with marginally more grace. They found themselves entwined together, arms wrapped messily, legs sprawled, feeling warm and fuzzy.
They hadn't moved from where they had drifted off the previous night.
"Moony?" The door opened and Sirius poked his head in. "Did you actually fall asleep in here last…" he trailed off quietly because at that moment, Severus Snape lifted his head.
Sirius blanched. "Oh. God. Right."
Remus sat up as well. From the doorway – looking at the back of the couch – the position they was in couldn't have implied anything good. Sirius thought he had rather a good idea of what was, or what had been, going on out of his immediate line of sight.
"No, Sirius, it's not what you think."
Sirius looked unconvinced. "Right. Well, get up because I need some help with these curtains."
"Sorry," said Lupin. He flopped back down and the rest of what he said was slightly muffled by the thick stuffing of the couch. "I'm busy."
"You—" Sirius was at a loss for words. It was all fine and good that Remus was standing up for himself, but when he started putting Snivellus before friends, well, Padfoot would show Moony just how much Sirius needed him. "Fine," Sirius said, with overexaggerated nonchalance. "Thanks for nothing." He stomped away.
"He gets like that sometimes," Lupin told Snape.
"Yes, I know," Snape responded dryly.
There was a pause.
"Do… um?" Lupin articulated finally.
"I work," Snape said, getting up.
Snape left the room and Lupin stretched like a cat and looped his hands behind his head. He lay back on the couch once again, staring searchingly at the ceiling.
(1) More French. I swear, I don't know much more than you do. Je t'aime aussi means I love you, too.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Nine, Part I: The Beginning of the End
In which Sirius has a panic attack, Lucius is snooty, Remus is clueless, Snape rants, and Dumbledore knows everything.
Seven days later:
"What's this?" Lupin was at Sandust Books
1in London when he received a letter from a frazzled owl. Minutes later, he had Apparated back to Grimmauld Place and was reading it aloud for Sirius, who was taking great pleasure in carving stick figures engaged in immoral acts on the oak kitchen table.
"Dear Mr. Lupin," he grazed through it. "We are pleased to inform you that…" he trailed off as he read faster and faster, undeterred by Sirius's complete lack of interest. "Merlin's Beard!" he said in wonder, looking up. "They're offering me a job!"
"Who is?" Sirius put down his knife
"A school in America." There was a stunned silence, and then--
"Why? Why're you going to America? You didn't tell me you were applying for a job abroad!"
"I didn't know," Lupin said honestly.
"So they found you?"
"Apparently Dumbledore put in a good word for me," he answered, checking the letter.
"But why would he think you'd leave?" Sirius was stumped. Remus, however, had some ideas as to what Dumbledore could have been thinking, and they tumbled about in his head as he stared pensively at the floor.
Completely unexpectedly, the man in question appeared a few moments later in the center of the room with a fantastic burst of smoke. Neither wizard bothered to ask how in Merlin's name he had gotten there. Dumbledore beamed at them.
"Remus, I see you got an answer to the owl I sent to Minister Cranwipplebury. Good news, I expect?"
Remus looked at him, and said earnestly, "I appreciate it, Albus, but we've got it worked out. Severus and I changed the records at St. Mungo's."
Sirius tried to act like he wasn't listening and picked up his knife again.
A sad look came over Dumbledore, and he regarded Lupin in silence. "When?" he asked finally.
Lupin was slightly surprised. If he had been expecting anything, that wasn't it. "Last week," he said, frowning. "Why do you ask?"
Dumbledore paused, but before he could answer, the doorbell rang. Slowly, Sirius put down his knife once more and left to answer it. Moments later, Snape strode in and said, "I assume you got one, too?"
Lupin looked at Dumbledore, still slightly confused. The headmaster sat down at the long, oak table and began to explain. "I do not envy your predicament, boys. I am trying to help you get out of it, as best I can. I was probably hasty in writing to the American Minister of Magic, but I do not regret it. You see, Sirius told me about your plans to escape to Italy, and while I was initially surprised at your determination, it became obvious to me that there was no way either of you could stay here, and thus no way that you, Severus, could continue working at Hogwarts." He took a breath.
"But we don't have to leave!" Lupin cried. "We fixed—"
"It soon occurred to me however," Dumbledore interrupted, "that Italy would not work either. In fact, I learned that the only place you will be safe is the United States. Since I know the both of you are preoccupied, I took the liberty of trying to secure jobs for you. I see you've both received letters from Merrmardikans, now tell me, are they interested in employing you?"
"Yes," Lupin said blankly, and Snape repeated him. "But Sir, we figured it out! We—"
"No, we didn't." This time it was Snape who interrupted quietly. Lupin turned on him. "What are you talking about? I saw you with the file, you told me you got inside the records room, that you didn't get caught—"
"We were too late, Remus," Snape said quietly, and Lupin was still. "They checked the records the day before we got there. They already know you're a werewolf, Lupin."
His words hit Lupin as harshly as Eden's had hit Snape. They clanged coldly in his heart; it was as if his hope had turned out to be a steel trap. There was a dead silence for a moment. "Oh," was all Lupin managed to say. His voice was quiet and hollow. "So, we," he licked his suddenly dry lips and swallowed. "We hide out here. They won't find us."
"No. I won't let myself be imprisoned like Black. I'm not staying inside for the rest of my life. I—"
"You don't have to," Lupin said, exasperated. "I'm the werewolf here."
"And I won't let you stay locked up, Lupin," said Snape, his sneer disappearing against his soft words. "You can't be a prisoner, either."
There was a long silence, after which Lupin finally said, "So what now? We leave the country and never come back? We live in the wilderness?"
"We go to America, you twat." An odd look came over Remus and for a moment, Snape was scared that he might start crying. But no, he reminded himself, the man wasn't like that, not for their seven years at Hogwarts and not since. Only when it concerned Snape did he break down. Severus felt fleetingly important.
Remus regained himself from shock quickly and the stutter left his words. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I had other things on my mind."
Lupin was about to get angry, but then he remembered what had gone on the night they got back from St. Mungo's.
Dumbledore cut in at that point. "I recommend that you reply to the letters quickly. The edict is to be executed on the thirteenth of July, so you should leave shortly after the end of the term. I ask that you do not leave before then, as…"
Sirius stopped listening through the keyhole of the kitchen door as Dumbledore continued to advise them on what to do and when, and bade Remus goodbye, as it was probably the last time they would see each other for quite a while. He sank instead to the floor and waited to the shock to wash over him. It didn't. In fact, it all felt rather familiar; he should have realized this, or maybe even predicted it beforehand. Remus and Snape were involved with each other. Remus and Snape were running from the law – only unlike him, they were together. Remus and Snape cared more about each other than they did about him. Remus and Snape were retreating to America – together. That one did hit him hard; it went against what his self-security had been built around. Wasn't Snivellus always supposed to be the one left out? Snape was meant to be an anti-social creep, his purpose in life nothing more than keeping to his greasy self and feeling miserable and being the butt of their jokes. Sirius had made sure of that his whole life: he had good friends, Snape had none at all. But now Moony was deserting, running off with the mangy git as if Cupid had lost a bet. And here was Sirius, without real friends around him, with no one to talk to, with no one to help him make fun of Snape, stuck in this goddamn prison while his best friend was off seeing the world and fucking his worst enemy senseless on his couch and forgetting Sirius Padfoot Black had ever been born.
No, he chided himself, taking a deep breath. Sirius knew that wasn't fair. He knew it was – Snape was treating Remus like a fool, tricking him into tagging along – just some forgotten resentment inside him – kissing shamelessly in the middle of the hallway of my house – and – even that cur gets more action than me – that he had no right to accuse Remus, – up to no good at St. Mungo's and not involving me – or even Snape, – the greasy slime ball who looked at Lily the wrong way – for that matter, of deserting, even if they were, even if they were abandoning him alone in a would-be prison with only a bloody hippogriff for company. He told himself they were only doing what they had to do, with their lives in danger; he knew somewhere inside him that it was the only choice.
He also knew that when Moony disappeared in a few weeks, they may never see each other again.
Sirius barely managed to scramble out of the way as Snape opened the door and strode forcefully up to the vestibule. He tried very hard to stop himself burying his face in his hands.
"Minister." The slow, cool voice shocked Fudge out of a momentary trance; he glanced up to see the blonde-haired Lucius Malfoy gazing at him superciliously. This was always a good sign; it meant gold would soon be passed to him, somehow. "Ah, Mr. Malfoy." Fudge stood up and pumped the man's hand. "What can I do for you?"
"I have some rather distressing news, Cornelius," he said as they seated themselves. "One of my sources has discovered that a certain dangerous werewolf has found out about the edict and is making plans to escape."
"Nonsense," said Fudge immediately. "Escape to where?"
"The States." Malfoy did not look away from Fudge's face as he spoke.
"Well, we can't have that." It did not occur to Fudge that if this werewolf was out of Britain, it was out of his hair. He was rather more interested in the thoroughness of his genocide than the reasoning behind it. "We’ll just have to stop him at the border."
"Exactly my thoughts, Minister."
"Good. Good. What's the man's name?"
"Remus Lupin," said Malfoy distastefully. Fudge scowled when he heard it; he looked even less happy when Malfoy told him that Lupin was probably working for Dumbledore. Fudge didn't doubt it; Lupin had worked at Hogwarts and besides, Malfoys always told the truth.
"I'll look into it," he said as Lucius prepared to leave. It was his favorite line for getting people to leave him alone.
"Wait," Cornelius changed his mind. "How do you know?"
A shadow of a smile crossed Malfoy's face. "That, Minister, I am afraid I cannot tell you." And with a graceful yet foreboding swish of his black robes, he left Fudge's office and slammed the door ostentatiously behind him.
"Here's the deal," Lupin said, settling into an armchair across from Snape the next weekend. "We have to use Floo powder – anything else is completely impractical – and so we have to go through the Floo Hub. They're likely to have a lookout for us, or at least search the travel records, so we use fake names. Disguises. What have you. Anything so they don't catch us."
"Right," Snape picked up. "Once we're in America, we will be safe. There are no werewolf laws there, so Fudge can't pursue us."
"Right. And we rent an apartment and keep ourselves occupied until the start of term."
"Right." His lips quirked. "And live happily ever after."
Lupin smiled. Snape had been listening when he had spilled the story of his hopelessly romantic background. "Right."
"Any time after end of term, but before July the thirteenth."
"Right. And our luggage?"
"We'll have to send it ahead."
"Right." A pensive look came over Snape. "I'm really leaving Hogwarts," he mused.
"I know, Severus." Remus said patiently. "We're leaving England."
Snape didn't appear to have heard. "I've lived there since I was eleven."
Lupin saw immediately what Snape meant: even in the summer, Hogwarts had been his home.
And it hadn't been a very hospitable one, either, Lupin knew; he had been teased relentlessly by Sirius and James and Peter and yes, by him; by big kids, little kids, other Slytherins, his own best friends. How bad was his life at home, then, to be disfavorable to Hogwarts? Lupin's train of thought took him further: if they had each been so horrible, then Snape had never really been happy. Ever. His entire existence, Remus thought morbidly, had been a maelstrom of pain and rejection that grew worse and worse.
"At least you can come back," Remus said quietly.
"No, Lupin," he replied solemnly. "No, I can't."
Lupin frowned, but he understood this, too. Snape wouldn't leave him alone in a new life.
The man kept talking, reflectively, as if he was only now examining the way he had felt nineteen years ago. "It felt so strange, to leave when I was seventeen. I didn't like it there, not in the least, but it was my home. My only home." He glanced at Lupin, and the man nodded encouragingly. "And when I started teaching, it became a part of me even more. No one welcomed me back, and no one was glad to see me. But I was glad to be there, regardless. The only places in the world that didn't repel me completely were the Hogwarts dungeons. That's where I belong: at Hogwarts, surrounded by vials and canisters of bats' blood and shredded Devil's snare. I need to be somewhere where the air is cool and smoky and isn't filled with other voices most of the time. It was where I had to go to hide." He looked up and saw Remus watching him intently, understanding it in that insightful way of his, absorbing his every word with utmost sincerity. He continued, "I didn't even mind those horrible children. Really, I was no less insufferable than they, at one point. I just wanted them all to love potions as much as I did. Do. Or not love them, perhaps, but venerate them, Lupin. To be completely fascinated by the magical properties, to understand the beauty at their core. Nothing infuriates me, Lupin, nothing disappoints me, nothing strikes me as much as a person who is completely uninspired by that kind of intrinsic beauty, that contained power." Snape dropped his voice and persisted quietly, still as if he were discovering something within himself as he spoke. "And I suppose I just wanted them to be like me. I wanted them to need to run away, too. It isn't fair that they had nothing to hide from, is it? It isn't fair for me to be the only one. It isn't fair that nobody suffers like I did anymore. They should have to, Remus, I swear, their lives are too perfect." His voice began to break up as he continued. "I was tired of being alone there, hidden away. I shouldn't have been the only one who had to do that, or who had to care about potions. Someone should have wanted to share. They should have wanted to help. Anybody. Anybody who was like me, who had a miserable life like I did. Just so that I wouldn't have had to be alone. If any of them could only have been unhappy, they could have learned to love what I love. Learned to love…" He stopped himself just before he said it. "They could have hidden away with me, we could have been miserable together, but no, no, they're too good for that, they're too perfect, they had to go and be happy so that I would be alone," he ended with bitterness in his voice. His throat hurt from pushing back tears as he finally spoke his mind for the first person in his life that was able to draw it out of him: Lupin could make him come to terms with the words he had been holding back and the rationalization that Snape himself hadn't understood.
Lupin spoke quietly, sensing there was more – he did not want to scare the man from talking about it, but he needed to show he was listening. "You tried to make them suffer like you."
"No. No, I didn't." Snape objected. "I only wanted them to; I didn't make them. I never tried to hurt them myself. I never meant to do that. I said things but I never hurt anyone, not like…" he trailed off. "I taught them, Remus, certainly, I tried to show them the world of potions they could have been a part of if only they had studied, or if they had had the decency to ask me if… yes, I tried to make them understand, and yes, I insulted them. I tried to make them see, see what they were missing, so maybe they'd want to spend more time there, or ask me to help them make a potion, or want to talk to me and I could have told them what was wrong, and they would have cared and they would have understood. Did you know that there was a secret room down the hall from the supply closet?" Lupin did, and he had drawn it, but he didn't say anything. "I kept a candle in there and a blanket. No one knew about it; you had to turn a corner and find your way through a labyrinth and by the time you were there, the rest of the world could have been so far away… I would go there all the time, I would stare at the wall or just fume or even read or fall asleep, whenever my empty classroom or office wasn't isolated enough. No one knew about it because no one ever wanted to know what I did. It was a secret. It was mine. I wanted to give it away, though. It was where I hid, but if someone else had known about it, that would have been even better. If I could have shared it with someone, if I didn't need it to be alone because I never was alone. I wanted someone to hurt enough that they would share that with me, that we could just hide out there. Away. So long as it was together. Maybe if they had been miserable enough I could have had a friend. Is that so horrible? Is it so awful to want that? I did what I had to do to be a teacher, I acted like a bastard, I wished someone else had done the dirty work for me so they could run and hide with me. But I never hit them, Remus, I never insulted them beyond repair, I never hurt them like that. Never." His voice was tight and his breathing going more and more ragged with every proclamation. "I'd never do that. I'd never hurt them. I wouldn't, Remus, I wouldn't. I didn't. I don't try to make people's lives miserable, I really don't. I'd never hurt them myself. I'd never dream of – I'd never do to any students, ever, what my father did to my sister and me. He—" Snape stopped speaking suddenly, tears forming quickly in his eyes. He looked down at his knees and remained quiet, having stopped, to Lupin's chagrin, seconds before he would have liberated himself from whatever was inside him.
The other man, who had, Snape realized, moved to sit next to him as he talked, asked slowly, "What about your father, Severus?"
"It's not fair," Snape started again, trying to ignore the question. "I didn't deserve this life. I didn't do anything to bring this about. It was never happy. When I was a kid --I didn't even like Hogwarts. I may have been mean, sure, but I was honest. Not everyone can say that. I was the best person I could be, I was, it wasn't my fault that wasn't up to scratch, not when I was just a child, not when I was eleven and started Hogwarts on the wrong foot, not when you and your lackeys embarrassed me in front of the whole school that morning our third year, not when you hung me upside down," - Lupin felt a pang - "not when Black tried to kill me. It wasn't my fault, dammit. It wasn't easy, living with what I had, but at least I tried. I was just born into that life! I was just a baby! I was just a child when he did it, Remus, and she was only sixteen. We didn't deserve that. Nobody does. What did I do, Lupin? What did I ever do to anybody? Why did I have to grow up in hell when you didn't, when Potter didn't, neither of them, when every single bloody student in the school had come from somewhere much better than me, when they didn't understand what that son of a bitch was like! I just wanted the same thing you did, didn't I? You know what it was like, you wanted to be loved by a girlfriend. I only wanted to be loved by my family. It's the same thing, isn't it? We both were robbed of the same thing. Turns out neither was possible, was it? Neither of us got the care we deserved, any kind of care at all. I didn't do anything to deserve what they did for me. I didn't ask for it." He was close to sobbing as he finished, "It's not fair, Remus. It's not bloody fair."
Remus gently held onto Snape's arm and squeezed his shoulder as he talked. Again, he said kindly, "What did your father do to you?" and wrapped his arms around Snape awkwardly.
Throat aching and heart draining, Snape leaned into Lupin's soft touch and gentle, caring voice and began, for the first time in twenty-three years, to cry quietly as he explained.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Nine, part II. The Floo Hub In which Lucius is characteristically supercilious, the writer clears something up, and the protagonists dress funny.
"They know about the date, so they will try to make their exit soon," were Malfoy's words of salutation as he breezed into Fudge's office the next day.
Lucius hid a sneer. "Our werewolf friend Lupin and one Severus Snape." He pronounced his former ally's name very clearly.
"What? He's a werewolf, too?"
"No. But they are planning to escape together."
"How do you know?"
"Stop asking questions, Cornelius." He changed the subject briskly. "Snape teaches at Hogwarts. They cannot leave until term is over on the tenth of July.
"That's a three-day window."
"I suggest you have someone watching the Floo Hub very closely on those three days."
"The Portkey office."
"The Knight Bus."
"If you say so, Lucius."
"Cornelius, understand that once they get into America there will be nothing you can do to recapture them."
"I'm aware of that."
"See that they do not escape."
"I know, Lucius. This is as important to me as it is to you."
"My apologies, Cornelius. I will see you next week."
"Oh, yes, of course. Goodbye, Lucius."
They shook hands, and Lucius left Fudge to puzzle out a letter to the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Dear whoever, he began to plan as he found a quill. It has come to my attention that some unnamed evil person you should be looking for is in England and is able to disguise himself as two people simultaneously…
The route Fudge and Malfoy were the most worried about, and with good reason, was the Floo Hub. What is a Floo Hub, you ask? If one wishes to travel, he has a few options. Apparation is useful only for quick and temporary trips, broomsticks are mostly for entertainment purposes, and flying motor vehicles are strictly prohibited. The only other way to relocate – the safest and the most practical – is via Floo. Every fireplace in England is connected to every other fireplace in England, if the owner and the Ministry are in agreement, but international travels are a bit more difficult than roaring flames sparkling powder. Traveling long distances unmonitored is unsafe, both to a customer's health and to the government's sense of security. The solution is a common area whence anybody can travel to anywhere, provided they fill out the proper paperwork. The Floo Hub – 14 Green Street, London – is equipped with long-distance travel tunnels, dozens of employees ready to file forms, and enough fireplaces for of the whole city to Floo in or out at once. It's loud, sooty, and right in the middle of everything – and the only option for those who, say, wish to escape the country. The concept is simple: You walk in the front door. You queue up at the desk. You answer the questions and wait for the employee to fill out the forms. You are handed a packet of Floo Powder – enough for one trip, exactly – and directed to the proper fireplace. "Right side is departures. First and second floor is continental. Third floor, that wall, China. Back wall Japan. Fourth and fifth both, Africa, sixth and seventh, trans-Atlantic," and so forth. You make your way up the stairs, find the proper departure point, activate the fireplace with a dose of the powder, step inside, and the rest is history. Nice and simple.
Well, so Remus and Severus hoped, at least.
The Floo Hub on the morning of July eleventh was disorganized, as always, and filled with a multitude of people: the usual vacationers or holiday-makers, overbearing family members being reunited with relatives, technicians and janitors, and the normal smattering of security officers. The lobby and the records office were in a small area by the front door that contained a few identical armchairs, a large reception desk, and a number of businesslike oak doors in the wall behind, each of which led to a number of smaller offices, a private fireplace, a staff lounge, a lift, and anything else that is necessary to run such an establishment. Branching off from the antechamber was a huge, arched yet crude entrance to a cavernous and wide-floored room. There were no decorations aside from the marble fountain in the middle that doubled as a fire extinguisher and as a lame attempt at decoration, but the moving masses of witches and wizards more than made up for its plainness. There wasn't an inch of floor or balcony space that wasn't rich with moving people. The dimensions of the main Floo port were disproportionate to their outside appearance, much like many magical buildings; the floor stretched two hundred meters from front wall to back, and almost another hundred and fifty from left to right. This was nothing, however, compared to the room's height: there were no fewer than eleven levels on all of the four walls, each bustling with activity, and manifested with rickety, cast-iron walkways – the kind with decorative holes in the floor and thin railings. Each level was equipped with multiple fire-escape style staircases connecting one floor to the next. The walkways of every wall were lined with fireplace after giant fireplace, brightly lit with orange and green flames. Any given block of fireplaces connected to a different region of the world. In addition to the rows of fireplaces, the eleventh floor also contained a small office with glass panels overlooking the room below: this was the Operations booth, the room that could turn off the lighting, the wards, and when circumstance called for it, every public fire in the building.
A costume-charmed Lupin, Spot surreptitiously asleep in his pocket, regarded the scene carefully, although not as carefully as Snape, completely unrecognizable, did. "Thank the gods we haven't picked up the Muggle custom of picture I.D.s," Snape said wryly. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
They queued up for the exiting Floo, gave the names Balthamos and Baruch
2with faces as straight as they could manage, and stood patiently while the records wizard filled out two identical forms. Finally, were each handed a small paper packet of sparkling green powder and were directed to the trans-Atlantic section – a rickety walkway on the seventh level.
Shortly afterward, they removed the disguise charms --
"This nose itches, Severus, and it's not like anybody cares who we look like."
"If you've underestimated the security here, we're in trouble."
"Yeah, yeah. Come on and take the charm off, I know those ears can't be comfortable."
-- and made their way past two inattentive armed guards, then through the wide archway. Snape in the lead, they started across the wide, warehouse-like ground floor and were halfway up the first cramped staircase, footsteps clanging on the thin metal, when the door to one of the small offices swung open and the man who stepped out of it strode up to a secretary, peering over his shoulder. This man was Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic.
(1) Sandust Bookstore is taken from Copperbadge's fic, Stealing Harry, although it is being used out of context (and without permission).
(2) Balthamos and Baruch are the two gay angels from the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Ten: The Exhilarating Escapade In which Fudge gets wet, Fudge gets angry, Fudge gets insulted, Fudge gets turned on, Fudge gets jostled, Fudge gets foiled, and Spot is finally important.
"Good morning, Minister," replied the secretary, startled. "And yes, everything here is fine."
"No suspicious-looking criminals?"
"Not that I could see, Sir."
Fudge scanned the room, determined to catch the receptionist at a fault. "What's she doing?"
"I believe she is going to Brazil, Sir."
"Right. And what about…" his gaze fell over two tall men dressed in black. "Who are those men over there?"
"On the stairs."
"The ones in black?"
"I'm sure they're just tourists, Sir."
But Cornelius, graced for the first time in his life with a vague inkling of leader's intuition, was already frantically propelling his bulk towards the entrance of the main Floo ports, hailing a guard as he went.
"See those two men over there?" he huffed, running up.
The guard's head snapped up and he yawned blearily. "Ah. Good morning, Minister," he said, stretching.
"Listen to me, you idiot!" cried Fudge, becoming more and more anxious. "Remember the memo about Sirius Black's escape?"
The guard yawned again. Now that Fudge mentioned it, wasn't there a watch starting today for a couple of blokes who… wasn't there a memo? It didn't matter to him; he had been asleep and hadn't seen anyone. "What about Black?" he asked. "Didja catch him?"
"What about him?! He's trying to escape, that's what!"
Before the guard could reply, Fudge was already hurrying off towards the other side of the arched entranceway. After being jostled by crowds of tourists and a large group of school children heading on their way to Scotland, he arrived at the guard’s station in a considerably worse mood.
It took some amount of yelling to jerk the wizard's attention away from the magazine he was reading, the one with the Travelling Werldwide cover that was obviously the product of a hasty illusionment charm. The guard glanced rather sheepishly at Fudge over the top of his magazine as the Minister began yelling at him, and yelped as a well aimed slap from Fudge sent the magazine falling to the ground; a very smug-looking and even more naked-looking blonde witch occupying the double page. She smiled seductively at Fudge, but his attention had already been drawn to the back wall, from which a loud and attention-grabbing thud had just originated.
"You idiot, Lupin, if I hadn't kicked you, you would have said your real name," Snape accused, only half-joking.
"The man wouldn't have cared, I doubt if he was even listening--"
"And why did you insist on taking off the disguises before we got inside?"
"Come on, Snape, one guard was sleeping and the other was looking at porn. And it's not like there's a watch for us, anyhow." Lupin turned to look at his friend as he talked, and promptly tripped on the steep skeleton stairs between the 3
rdand 4 thlevel. The resulting reverberations echoed across the room, drawing the attention of a young witch with a pink handbag on the flight above them, a family departing from a fireplace a few feet away, and, forebodingly, Fudge.
Fudge swore. "That's them!"
"That's them, you moron!"
"Shall I go catch them, Sir?" the guard asked bravely.
"Just turn on the alarm!" Fudge gesticulated, setting off at a run across the wide floor to the staircase on the opposite wall. Seconds later loud sirens began wailing from each corner of the establishment, and the lights on the wall flickered dangerously. What followed fits every criterion of widespread panic; it featured screaming civilians, crying babies, shouting guards, and all-around excessive noise. People were running everywhere and in every direction, and it seemed as if very few of them actually knew where the hell they were going. In general, people seemed to think the safest place to go was out - but when there is Widespread Panic, people forget how, exactly, to leave. The lights continued flickering, and the scene was made more eerie by the fact that the hundreds of fireplaces in the walls were the main source of light, and that most of the coloring in the room was dim in magnitude and orange and green in color. It was almost possible to feel the Flood of human activity creeping along each walkway. The acrid smells of smoke and exploding Floo Powder were magnified in the increased awareness, and the common smells of people - makeup, sweat, cologne, paper, dust, laundry soap - were moving quickly around.
"Merlin! They've caught us!" Lupin said anxiously, reaching into his pocket and checking that Spot was still there.
"Obviously they haven't yet, or we wouldn't still be moving along of our own accord," Snape replied, huffing and puffing his way up the fifth flight of stairs.
"The alarms turn off the Floo!"
"No, they don't. The Floos are a separate switch."
Lupin stopped walking, puzzled. "Why?" he asked, knowing full well it was the most inane question he could ask at a time like this.
"Because what if it was a fire alarm or another such emergency?" Snape explained patronizingly. "They'd leave the Floo open so people could escape."
"But… they could escape through that fire," Lupin countered.
"It wouldn't be on any network."
"But… how do you know this?" Remus said desperately, patience gone.
"Common sense, Lupin," Snape sneered, still at the height of calm. "Now hurry, they are coming. We could go through this fireplace."
"We'd end up in Australia." Lupin stroked the kneazle's head distractedly.
"From which hellhole we could escape."
"We only have enough Floo powder for one trip, and we'd end up being trapped in Australia as well," Lupin explained slowly.
Snape looked at Lupin for a moment, calculating. "Fine. Up we go, then."
"Turn off the Floo!" Fudge howled at the top of his lungs amidst the pandemonium that now reigned in the London Floo Hub.
The message was instantly relayed from him to the nearest guard, who sent it to a technician, who transmitted it wirelessly to the operations booth on the eleventh floor, which was dark, locked -- and empty.
Fudge was visibly surprised when nothing happened. He looked around him; the fires hadn't burned out, there had been no loud crash or hiss, and the building had not shaken on its foundations. In effect, the Floo lines were still in full operation.
"You!" he called up to the Ops Booth, failing to notice its lack of occupants, and for that matter, the fact that there was no way anybody up there would have been able to hear him, even under the best of conditions. When absolutely nothing continued to happen, he turned around to face the office from which he had emerged minutes before and repeated, "You in there! Turn on the Floo alarm!"
Luckily, by some happy game of fate, the man inside quite distinctly heard Fudge tell him to set off the fire alarm. He did so with great urgency, and aside from the sound of a second siren being added to the mayhem, the primary effect was that the streams of water in the fountain increased in strength and height and spilled now onto the floor.
What happens next is entirely predictable; it is wholly inevitable that Fudge, who was backing up towards the far wall and red in the face from trying to pass his instructions along to the multiple imbeciles who worked at the Floo Hub, sporting an outraged expression made all the more comical by his situation, would encounter that unfortunate yet imperative incident in which he takes another step backwards and trips spectacularly into the deep marble pool in the middle of the floor. He did so with exaggerated, cartoonish gusto that cannot be done justice by paper and words; Fudge seemed to move through the air in slow motion, beautifying the episode with wildly flailing arms and a tremendous splash and everything else that is supposed to happen when the fat and stupid villain improves a narrative by taking a clichéd tumble backwards into an perfectly positioned, waiting fountain.
The entire incident was topped off rather nicely by a thick, gurgling spout of water depositing itself continually and nonchalantly on Fudge's already dripping head.
"Did you SEE that?"
"Shut up, Lupin, and let's move."
"But Fudge just fell into the fountain!"
"Just hurry along, please. I don't fancy spending a sentence in Azkaban."
"I'm coming. Let's go," Lupin drew himself away, then frowned. "Wait a minute. Where's Spot?"
Snape stopped. "Who?"
"The kneazle. Spot. I thought he was in my pocket."
"It's a big pocket."
Snape looked around for the somewhat familiar spotted head and lion-like tail, but came up blank.
"Kneazles don't just disappear," said Lupin, sounding upset. "They're supposed to be incredibly loyal."
"Look, I'm sorry, Lupin, but we'll have to go without him," Snape said irritably. "In case you haven't noticed, there are guards swarming out of every doorway in this hall and they're all after us."
"But where'd he go?"
Snape tugged at his sleeve. "Come on."
Each man was right. Extra security guards were flooding all the walkways and making their inefficient ways towards the fair with formidable expressions, being led by even more formidable-looking boarhounds. Spot had effectively disappeared. In fact, he was able to scurry up the stairs faster than either wizard and was two or three flights above them.
During the protagonists' dialogue, a dripping Fudge had, by some miracle, made a conveniently-placed technician understand that the transport lines needed to be shut off because, "Those bloody stupid criminals are bloody escaping!" Within a few seconds he had learned that this would not be possible. "I'm sorry, Sir," explained the technician, "But the Ops guy is in New York."
As a leader, Fudge may have been a lot of things, but he certainly wasn't intimidating when angry. The technician only shrugged. "His niece is getting married, he has to be there."
"Rose. Lovely girl. I met her at a luncheon a few years ago; I can see how Marlow would want to be there. And he says Parker is such a nice bloke and…"
The man looked up into Fudge's glaring face and finished lamely, "And Marlow couldn't miss it."
"Can't you have someone else turn it off?"
"It's not an easy security system to breath, Sir. Marlow is the only one who knows how to get through that door."
"Not an easy system to breach?!" Fudge nearly shrieked, sporting in his outrage an unnaturally sweaty brow and his extra-disheveled trademark lime-green bowler hat, and inwardly cursing whoever's idea it had been for Rose and Parker to meet. "Listen, you imbecile, there are two escaped criminals trying to leave the country! They walked in here right under your nose and none of your pathetic security guards batted an eyelash! This could be the biggest arrest of the year if you'd get your act together and those idiots could manage to subdue two people!" He gestured angrily at the walkway where Snape and Lupin had met with roughly fifteen tough-looking wizards, upon whom our attention will refocus momentarily. If Fudge had had something solid on which to pound, he would have been sending hairline fractures through it with every word of his final sentence: "Catch-them-or-you-dangle-upside-down-from-that-walkway-for-a-WEEK!"
The technician favored the ceiling with a glance that said, "Why do these things always happen to me?" to which the ceiling didn't respond.
"Diggory?" he turned, calling into the office tentatively.
"Could you go and break into the Ops booth and turn off all the Floo channels, please?"
Diggory's head emerged, a faint expression of annoyance evident on a bland face. He took one long look at the technician, and another one at Fudge, before muttering "Sure thing" and was drawing his wand while he headed off to the single employee lift behind the public reception desk.
Severus and Remus, upon reaching the seventh level, had immediately run into a company of security wizards. Now they were trying desperately to fight their way through the mob to the very end of the walkway, where the appropriate fire was located.
"Hurry, Lupin, before they shut the Floo!"
"I know. Watch behind you!"
Snape whirled and narrowly missed a beefy, solid-looking fist. Wand already in hand, he backed up to the railing and barely leapt out of the way as one enemy approached him from either side. He jumped up over the railing and stood on one rung, precariously gripping the other as the two wizards ran into each other head on. He jumped back over and safely landed on the other side.
Lupin was having less luck; the complicated Protego charm he put up grew weaker with every hex that bounced off it. He was kicking his way through the strong line of the Aurors' defense, casting difficult-looking spells and hexes as he went. In his rush, few of them hit their target.
It was decidedly quieter near the Ops booth. Diggory could clearly see the activity on the seventh level, but none of the noise reached his ears. It was a fantastic array of flying objects and swirling beams of light, sharp punches and well-timed feints, but the poings of the hexes, the thuds of skin hitting skin, and the clangs of heavy footsteps, all escaped his hearing.
The silent performance was interesting, of course, but he was quite busy trying to disarm the security on the door: six locks with keys he didn't have, and six anti-Alohomora charms he didn't have the counters for.
The switch was right in front of him through the door, but before he could activate it, he would have to employ some fancy Arithmancy tricks and complicated double-dimensional space/time-transport charms to get through.
"Impleus Dixicant Alohomora Swiltfinn Morticant
1…" he began.
A large boarhound grabbed the cuff of Snape's trousers in his teeth and growled menacingly. The hound tugged the cloth violently, and Snape lurched, tripping over the dog, and landing loudly on the ground and the handler grinned and started in on him.
"Stupefy!" hit the back of his head, and now it was the officer who fell over, knocking his head on the rail as he went.
"Got it!" Diggory stood, a proud expression on his face. He pushed the door open and, unbeknownst to him, a small kneazle followed him in. Diggory spared a moment to look at the scene going on below him: it was a very nice fight, he thought to himself, but he was glad he wasn't a part of it.
After only a few seconds' pause – he knew there was no time to lose – he concentrated again on the control panel and was shocked to find a spotted kneazle sitting soundly on top of it. "What are you doing in here, little guy?" he asked it kindly.
"Almost… there…" Snape ground out as he dug himself out from under the man and boarhound that had fallen on top of him. "Just--"
"Expelliarmus!" A wand went flying over Severus's head, and he turned around in alarm to see the man who had been holding it seconds ago. With a sly grin, Lupin dropped it over the railing, and like a shot, the wizard was trailing down the stairs after it. Before the grin had faded from his face, however, he was grabbed from behind by one of the two remaining Aurors; Lupin was seized in a tight headlock and nearly toppled to the ground.
Snape, who had managed to right himself, kicked deftly at the guard who was holding his friend, but his foot was grabbed by the last man there, and he fell hard on the metal floor, his entire body flying into the air before he flopped to the ground with a painful thud. He was dragged up immediately and found that the man's wand was pressed firmly to his temple. He had no choice except to allow himself to be dragged along toward the stairs, with Lupin and his captor following close behind. Remus winked at him when he managed a glance over his shoulder; Snape could only assume he had some sort of a plan, although he had no idea what it might be.
To the surprise of them both, they were led not to the staircase they had come up, but all the way along the wall, around the corner, and onto another walkway. Each soon saw why: a stray hex had hit the staircase, and a patch of five or so rungs was ripped off of the railing. It would not have been safe for neither Auror nor criminal even to try to get past them. Instead, they were being led to an adjoining wall, whose staircase was still functioning, although, in the tight, busy atmosphere, not enchanted to move.
They marched solemnly along, and now that Fudge had been handed a towel and had stopped screaming quite so loudly, most of the patrons left in the establishment were watching them. Remus and Severus had walked at least two hundred yards and were approaching the staircase before the complacent Lupin put their plan into action. Without making any noise, without any warning other than the quick flash in his eyes, he put one foot on the rail and balanced on it while he whirled around and kicked his captor soundly in the knee. The Auror yelped in pain and loosened his grip for a fraction of a second, which was plenty of time for Remus's canine reflexes. He wrenched out of the man's grip and rushed a few feet ahead, planting another punch on the back of the man holding Severus. He reached out with his hands and wrapped them threateningly around his neck, only long enough for Snape, too, to squirm out of his grasp, evade his reaching arm, and retreat back the way they had come. The entire incident happened in the blink of an eye.
"Listen, little fella, do you think you could move? I need to push that button there," Diggory asked the kneazle conversationally. It only growled in return. He frowned at it, and then put out a hand. "Come on, move, and I'll give you some… um…" Diggory searched his memory. What did kneazles eat? "Um, some food."
It only growled louder.
"Right. That's it." Diggory smacked the animal - hard - and it took the opportunity to jump onto his sleeve, run up his arm, and perch on his shoulder.
"Oh, isn't that sweet," he said sarcastically. The kneazle peered down Diggory's front and put out its forepaws to steady itself. Deliberately, one might say, it began to slip down his body, poking small but painful holes first through his shirt and then his skin.
"That TICKLES!" said Diggory angrily, too distracted to think of a better word. "Get off me, you dumb animal!"
The kneazle, of course, didn't like that at all, and only grabbed on harder to the front of his shirt and miraculously, managed to stay there.
Diggory batted at it.
It didn't budge.
"Right." Diggory resigned himself, temporarily, to having an animal stuck to his person, and made to move to the front of the room, where the switchboard was. This, it turned out, was a bad idea. As soon as he took a step, Spot sank his teeth into Diggory's sensitive stomach. "Hey!" he cried, and with good reason: two rows of tiny red dots had appeared just above his belly button. He reached out a hand to the panel, if he could just reach it without moving, then - " Owww!" another row of red appeared, and he gulped, realizing with a surge of panic that if he didn't change his tactics, his stomach would begin to look like a lattice of thin streaks of blood.
The Aurors recovered quickly from their respective hindrances, and in a few moments were again after the other two men. In a dead silence, their audience could hear four nearly identical thuds of feet as each ran along the walkway, four rasping breaths as they sprinted around the walls of the room. Every single person in the building looked on in amazement and with growing tension.
Every person, that is, except for Diggory, who, panic rising in his chest, was trying to remove a stubborn kneazle from his front without doing himself any bodily harm.
It hissed as it touched him.
"I know, kitty, I'm being gentle--"
He put a bloody finger in his mouth, and as he did so, he happened to glance up. The scene that met his eyes was the dream of every movie producer: a high-speed chase along a dangerously narrow walkway a hundred feet above the ground, determined-looking law enforcement officers and dark-looking criminals, a captivated audience, and a definite shrinking time slot for whoever was supposed to cut off the escape from the other side.
With a start, he realized that this person was him. He tugged harder on Spot, opening yet another row of wounds in his stomach, but too nervous to care. "Come on," he muttered, more to himself than to the kneazle.
The only sounds Snape could hear were the thud of his feet hitting the floor, his loud breaths in his ears, and the identical noises coming from Lupin. It was impossible to tell how far behind them the Aurors were, but he knew with certainty that it wasn't much of a distance.
With a yelp of pain, Diggory wrenched the claws of the kneazle out of the soft skin of his belly and threw it bodily across the room. He leapt for the control panel and threw the switch. He tapped his foot desperately while he waited for the light to go off. A recording counted the seconds as the network slowly shut down.
The Aurors behind Lupin and Snape were highly trained in complicated offensive and defensive magic, but not in physical endurance. Neither dared draw their wands; there was no time. Each ran as fast as he could in the hopes of catching the would-be convicts and looking heroic in the process. They had long rounded the corner – they were coming up on the disabled staircase – the men were within 50 meters of the fireplace at the end,
and now they were reaching into their pockets and pulling out identical packets of Floo powder,
and now the guards were ten meters behind them,
they were twenty meters from the fireplace,
they were ten,
they were out of breath,
Snape panted heavily as he finally heard two more sets of footsteps gaining on him and Lupin.
The Auror who had been holding Remus reached out a hand and snatched wildly.
The huge crowd of spectators gazed up, breath bated, none of them blinking.
As one, Remus and Severus tossed the packets into the fire and called "New York Floo Hub!"
Fudge looked up, his face an unreadable mix of anxiety and suspense.
The flames flared green.
Severus Snape and Remus Lupin stepped into the fireplace and were whisked away into oblivion.
The recorded voice announced obliviously to Mr. Diggory that every Floo channel had been successfully closed.
(1) No, I don't speak Latin, either. It's just gibberish; sorry if you were hoping for something clever.
Vanilla-Scented Smoke Chapter Eleven: Epilogue In which things draw to a close.
The first thing Remus and Severus saw when they stepped out of the fireplace into New York was a scene very much like the one they had just left. It was full of loud noises and endless hordes of people. The layout of the building seemed, at first glance, to be slightly different, and the walls were a bright white instead of stony grey, but the general atmosphere was the same. It was filled with people, and behind them, more people, and interspersed between them, yet more. That was comforting, as was the light background music under the dull hum of hundreds of voices. It was a welcome sight, and a welcome sound, after the hostile environment they had just left.
A thin wizard in midnight blue robes and with a clipboard that levitated behind him scurried up to them. "Good morning, Sirs," he said routinely. "I see you are arriving from London, that's London, that's over between Lithuania and Los Angeles, that's very good," He muttered, biting his lip and making a note on the map on his clipboard. "Names?" Snape immediately replied, "Baruch and Balthamos Smith" at the same time his friend answered earnestly, "Remus Lupin and Severus Snape."
"Lupin and Snape?" the man with the clipboard looked up in surprise.
"Urp," said Lupin.
The man with the clipboard smiled enthusiastically. "We've been expecting you, gentlemen, if you'll come along this way, the Junior Undersecretary himself is here to greet you, gentlemen, just follow me."
They obeyed him, not having much of a choice, anyhow. "We're safe here," Lupin said under his breath.
"You don't know that."
"Yes, I do. Dumbledore wouldn't have recommended us for jobs if he thought they were going to pass the law here."
"But you can't be sure. And you told him our names on a gamble."
"And it's a lucky thing, because otherwise we'd be wandering around unable to find our new place of employment."
They came to a stop, and the man with the clipboard knocked on a strong wooden door, which batted its oaken eyelashes at him and swung open.
"Mr. Secretary, Sir, the new teachers have arrived, Sir, they're right here to see you, Sir, they're right outside."
The undersecretary nodded at the three of them, and sent the man with the clipboard off to find their luggage. After he had left, the undersecretary, a tall man with light brown hair and dark brown eyes, stood up and shook each's hand. They exchanged niceties, Lupin with his natural calm, and Snape forcing himself to give answers long enough to be considered socially acceptable and noting with amusement that there was a smudge of ash on Lupin's forehead.
The man talked for a while about their new jobs at Merrmardikans, about how to get in contact with the school, about how Minister Cranwipplebury regretted missing their arrival, but some friends of his were getting married, about what an asset they would be to children's' educations simply by their presence, about how honored the Minister and Headmaster were to employ them, and about what it would be advisable to do as soon as they stepped outside. By the time he ended with an official welcome to the Wizarding community in the United States of America, the man with the clipboard had returned with the men's trunks and bags, floating lightly a few inches off the ground. Lupin and Snape thanked them, shook hands with the undersecretary again, relieved the gopher of their luggage, and made their way through the well-disguised front door into the dazzling sunshine and cool breeze that bode good luck in any literary situation.
The next few hours contained a few integral but boring occurrences; namely a ride on the subway to West Point station, that transported them by train to a city in Vermont. From the city, they walked the few miles to the small magical settlement where they planned to stay – all in all, the equivalent of about an hour and a half’s non-magical transportation from the heart of New York City. Apparation would have been easier, admittedly, but Lupin had the ridiculous idea that they may want to become familiar with their new home. Snape also pointed out to him that they didn't yet have American Apparation licenses, and breaking the law within their first hour on U.S. turf wouldn't be smart. Besides, they came to a consensus; it's hard to Apparate with luggage.
Once they arrived in the small town, they rented a small 2-bedroom apartment near the center of the town; it was a very businesslike district and modeled after Muggle developments in more ways than they were used to. But it was nice enough, and they were allowed to do whatever magic they wanted, which was the important thing.
The apartment had a balcony, and after they had put their things down and started unpacking, (They had separate bedrooms, of course. Of course.) they each pulled up a chair and sat outside. It was growing dark, and the sunsets here were much shorter than they had been across the pond, and the meals displayed in the non- and magical shops they had passed looked positively disgusting, and in all honesty, the people talked funny, if you asked Snape.
The blue of the sky was becoming richer with velvet black every minute on the night they arrived, and snow-colored stars were beginning to appear. They hadn't bothered to buy any groceries yet, and subsequently hadn't had lunch or dinner, but that didn't seem to matter, somehow. Someone a few houses away was doing something with candles in the backyard; they could see the strong flames and when Remus concentrated, he imagined he could just smell the vanilla-scented smoke that wafted away from them. He hoped it would seep into his clothes. It was a smell he wanted to hold onto – the smell of Severus's breath and the sky outside and the first evening in their new lives. Vanilla was the scent of intimidating newness – white, but yellow enough to cushion him – but it was soft, too. He inhaled deeply, digging through the air to find the telltale wisps of smoke.
The both of them stayed outside on two low deck chairs and looked at the sky for hours – it had been a tough day, after all, and there wasn't much more they could have been doing – and Remus had felt himself dozing off peacefully when Snape said gruffly, "We will apply for jobs tomorrow, Lupin."
"We have jobs, you moron."
"Those don't begin until September."
"But we have—"
"Money? No, we don't. We need something to live on until we start teaching."
"So why don't we get jobs?"
"An excellent idea, Remus," Snape said sarcastically. "I suppose we should."
"'Kay," Remus answered, and yawned.
"I didn't see any help wanted signs in the city."
"We haven't looked all over."
Snape said nothing.
"Or we could work in New York."
"Ridiculous. The commute there and back is three hours."
"Muggles do it all the time."
"That, my friend, is why their civilization is in decline."
"Or we could work in the city."
"I believe I just suggested that."
"The Muggle city. We could work with them."
Snape didn't answer.
"We could be waiters for a few months, Severus. Or clerks in a store. There are always hundreds of openings like that in every Muggle city. Just for a few months. Just so we have enough to live on. Think about it."
"We don't have any money," Snape said blankly. Remus suspected the meals he had skipped were making him lightheaded.
"Exactly. And it wouldn't kill us."
"But they are Muggles."
"You're so Slytherin," he joked.
"We're better than them, Remus. We should not have to work among them."
Lupin turned to look at him. "It's interesting you should say that, Severus. Seeing as how you disagreed so violently when it was said that everyone else is better than werewolves. Perhaps you can work here, and I can get a job working in a Muggle town. So as not to rub off my ill fortune on any witches or wizards."
"Those are two very different things, Lupin," Snape said, his voice tight.
"I don't see how, Snape," Lupin said quietly, almost too quietly to be heard. "I don't see how."
They sat in silence for a few minutes more, Remus nearly dropping off again, before Snape said. "I'll do it."
"We can go into that city tomorrow. Get jobs. Muggle jobs. Like you said."
"We passed a restaurant called Wendy's. I believe they were hiring."
"Great. I'll apply there, and you can work at Friendly's," Lupin said, biting back a laugh.
"Don't even joke about fates like that." Snape smiled as he replied.
"Okay, then. You can flip burgers, while I dish out mayonnaise."
"Acting like a Muggle sounds terribly degrading."
"Well, you've already agreed, so it looks like you're stuck."
"Wendy's it is," Snape submitted dryly.
The moon moved out from behind the apartment building next door. It was bright and white and fairly glowing on such a clear night, and half full on the right side. Waxing. Snape looked at it for a moment and stifled a sigh, knowing that Remus was looking at it, too, and with reverence where Snape had an aloof appreciation.
"Thank you," Lupin whispered quietly, eyes closed and already half asleep.
"For coming with me," he said. "For not," he breathed deeply "making me do this… alone." With the last syllable, his body relaxed even more. He was asleep before Snape could respond.
So Snape didn't. He only looked at his friend intently and with understanding for a few moments before he whispered, equally quietly, "Good night, Remus."
Within a few minutes, Snape fell asleep, too, the night breeze stirring his hair and the moon rising ever higher.
They met up the next evening as they walked up the street to the apartment building. Snape was carrying a six-pack of butterbeer, and Lupin had a paper bag full of groceries in his arms.
"How did it go?"
"Congratulate me," Snape smiled faintly. "I now work at Kinko's."
"And what do they do?"
"I have no idea. You?"
"I suppose it's better than McDonalds."
"Not by much. I think I'm the only employee over the age of twenty."
"Now, now, Lupin, you're not old."
"I wonder why you would say that," Remus said jokingly.
"What do you have there?"
"An employee's discount."
Snape stuck his head into the bag and rummaged around. "Eggs."
"Careful with those."
"Why would you buy ice cream?"
"Because it's ten percent off, Severus."
"I can eat it all myself, if you want."
"See that you do."
They continued to talk as they approached the apartment and trudged up the stairs, Snape now carrying a carton of eggs in addition to the alcohol, and Lupin's load considerably lighter.
A few minutes later it was all friendly conversation; the last few weeks had to have brought them closer. Maybe Sirius was right about running off, or maybe it was True Love, or maybe it was just having friends. In any case, the age-old enmity between them had all but disappeared, and for the first time in years, if not their whole lives, they could walk and talk and joke and reminisce and just be together like any normal people. It was a liberating feeling, to turn an enemy into a friend, and somewhat… fulfilling, too. Like maybe they had grown up, or picked up the pieces of their lives they had missed. It worked, now; there was some bond that was strengthening between Severus Snape and Remus Lupin. "If it hadn't been for that boggart, you never would have escaped from the North Tower--"
"But if Moody had gotten rid of it, then we wouldn't have found the toad!"
"It was only a toad."
"It was cute. And useful. We got Clarissa to hide it in Lily's sheets and then--"
"And then she wouldn't look at you without rolling her eyes for the next five years."
"Well, yeah." Lupin unlocked the door of their flat and reached for the lights, and at the same time Snape tried to push his way inside.
"Don't you tell me to stop, you stepped right in front of me--"
"Watch the eggs."
They put their food down on the table and resumed where they had left off. Snape delivered Lupin a fake shove, and for a moment, each realized that they'd never been in a faux fight before. In a second, he shoved back, and then they were wrestling on the floor like children, and Lupin had wrapped his arms around Snape's feet and he was trying to scurry away, and then they rolled over and Remus was pinned under him, and then he had jumped up and was running into the living room, standing behind the couch. Severus chased after him and they squared off with the sofa between them, each holding back laughs and each with his hair messed up and hanging into his face.
Then, in an instant, Snape pounced, and he was standing on the couch, losing his balance, grabbing Remus's head and pulling him down on top of him as he fell, and Lupin put his arm around his stomach and then he was leaning in for a kiss.
And Severus gave it to him, pressed his face forward as their lips met, grabbed his waist as Lupin sank lower, bit his tongue and his lip and his nose and then his neck, closed his eyes against the onslaught of it, felt the tickles around his waist, felt Lupin remove his mouth and sit up and begin to take off his robes, helped him get them off faster, took off his own, pulled them back down, lost himself in the haze of kissing and massaging and kissing and laughing and kissing and sighing and kissing and feeling and kissing and smiling and kissing.
Remus sat up some minutes later. "Much better than Italy," he breathed.
"It doesn't matter where you are."
"I know." "I'm glad… you came with me… Severus."
"You know what?" Snape said slowly, his eyes still closed.
It was a while before he answered quietly, "So am I, Remus. So am I."