Title: The Tilting Earth
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and related characters and concepts are the creations of J. K. Rowling. The following story is for nonprofit, entertainment purposes only.
Notes: Follows Walk the Black Path. A response to challenge 8. Many thanks to N.A. and tarnationawaits for beta reading and providing helpful comments. Feedback is appreciated.
The Tilting Earth
Severus leaned against the door frame, half concealed by the shadows in the corner, watching the Order disintegrate into its usual post-meeting chaos. He was, of course, not watching Remus Lupin. He was scornfully observing the Weasley twins, who were flirting outrageously with that clumsy Auror, Tonks. It was purely chance that Lupin was between him and the animated trio.
Lupin had been unusually quiet this meeting, the first time Snape had seen him since that night. He looked tired and drawn, worse than he should have when the full moon wasn't for another two weeks. Tense...but he smiled when Bill Weasley sat down next to him and offered him a cup.
Severus suddenly became aware that Molly was offering him tea. “No,” he snapped, swirling out the door to return to Hogwarts.
Lupin had never even glanced in his direction.
A week later, Severus was walking down a street on the outskirts of Hogsmeade, carrying a covered goblet. He turned sharply onto a narrow graveled path leading to a small, nondescript cottage, and saw Bill Weasley walking toward him.
“Hello, Severus. On your way to see Remus?” Bill asked cheerfully.
“Obviously,” Snape snarled, brushing past him. He stood on the front step for a minute, watching Weasley and his long red hair retreat into the distance, before he knocked firmly.
“What did you forget this time, Bill?” a hoarse, cheerful voice asked as the door opened to reveal Lupin, barefoot but – thankfully – fully dressed. The pleasant smile fell away, leaving his face closed and still when he saw Severus. “Snape,” he said flatly.
So it was “Snape” now. Except for those few hideous hours at the country house, Lupin had almost always called him by his given name, conveying the sense that he recognized Severus as a person. Not as the greasy git. Not an overgrown bat. Not Snivellus. Severus. To be merely Snape stung, and he had not expected it.
“Your powers of observation astound me, Lupin,” Severus said coldly, pushing past him into the small sitting room. “Do you always open your door without knowing who is on the other side?”
“What do you want, Snape?” Remus asked guardedly.
“Nothing. I brought your potion.”
Severus held up the goblet, and after a brief hesitation, Lupin accepted it. He removed the cover and took a swallow, grimacing at the taste. “Thank you. I wasn't certain that you would continue making it for me, after...after.” Tendrils of smoke curled around his face as he took another gulp.
Severus glared past him. There were two cups on the small table. Weasley had been here for tea. Had he been here for anything else?
Remus made a tiny choking sound, but finished drinking the potion without incident. He watched Severus for a moment, then said, “I'm curious. Why did you bring this yourself?”
Severus jerked his attention away from the pair of cups sitting cozily next to each other and sneered, “I brought it so you wouldn't forget to take it, Lupin. We wouldn't want any more unfortunate incidents this close to the school, would we? After all, the last time you–”
“Damn it, Snape!” Remus interrupted him. “I've only ever forgotten it once, when I saw the name of a man I thought was dead and the man I thought– He took a quick, heaving breath. “If you think I don't know I'm responsible for everything after that, since Peter escaped–”
The two men stared at each other. Lupin's face was set in hard lines, and there was a deadly stillness in the set of his shoulders. “Snape. I appreciate you making the Wolfsbane for me. And bringing it. Now please get out.” He handed the goblet back with one hand and opened the door with the other.
As he walked back to Hogwarts, Severus ran his fingers along the curve where the pressure of Lupin's fingers had dented the goblet. From then on, he sent a house-elf to Lupin with the potion. He never asked it where Lupin was or what he was doing when the elf found him. He especially never asked whom Lupin was with.
He didn't speak to Lupin again for more than two months, although he saw him once or twice at a distance, with Potter – who was looking better, less desolate – and a few times at Order meetings. The meetings had been tense recently, and tonight's gathering had been no exception. There had been little of substance: discussion about how seriously relations with the goblins, who had so far refused to commit to either side, were strained, and endless speculation about Voldemort's plans. Speculation only, because Severus had not been summoned for several weeks. Fear, because the Death Eaters had been unusually quiet recently. A waste of time, Severus thought wearily. It would be a risk, but maybe if he were to meet Lucius, he could find out what...
Lupin's low-voiced conversation with Bill Weasley, “...not Ragnok. Do you think–” was interrupted as they reached Severus. He realized suddenly that he was blocking their path. He waited, eyebrow raised as he watched Remus's face.
Remus said “Snape” so uncharacteristically coldly that Bill's eyes flicked first to Remus's face, then to Severus's, in surprise. Ignoring Weasley's gathering frown, Severus turned and stalked away. When he reached the door, he glanced back at them in time to see Bill rest his hand on Lupin's shoulder. Even he knew it wasn't necessarily the gesture of a lover, but for one blinding instant, he wanted to kill Bill Weasley.
Three days later, someone did.
There was no Dark Mark over the body, no reason to suspect Death Eater involvement. Severus did anyway. The most vehement opponent of cooperation with the Ministry and the Order among the goblins had disappeared the same night Bill died; a vocal minority of the goblins blamed the Order, saying that Bill had attacked him and been killed in the process. Members of the Order blamed the goblins in return – Bill had been popular. The Ministry investigation focused on the goblins, with the other option being a random, inexplicable crime. The goblins were furious, and a rumor that Gringott's might close as a result of their reaction to the investigation threw the wizarding world into a panic.
In the midst of the chaos, Ron and Ginny Weasley left Hogwarts for the Burrow. Severus saw Potter storming out of the headmaster's office, near tears, and knew Albus had refused to allow him to accompany them. Hermione Granger, however, received permission to attend the funeral; Severus reminded himself to keep a particularly close eye on Potter that day.
The night before the funeral, the Dark Lord summoned his servants at last, and Snape went. Kneeling at the Dark Lord's feet, he endured both Voldemort's relentless questioning – Who did Dumbledore think killed Weasley? How was the Order reacting? Did they have another contact with the goblins? – and his glee at the tension the murder had created. He dared push, just a fraction, for information, but received none. He became increasingly less certain that the Death Eaters had anything to do with Weasley's death; the Dark Lord would hardly have refrained from congratulating himself on the success of his plan to disrupt relations with the goblins, if it had indeed been his plan. However unlikely it seemed, maybe it had merely been a random crime...
The question was pushed from his mind by the Dark Lord's next commands.
He returned to Hogwarts, exhausted, in the small hours of the morning, and went straight to Albus with every detail he been able to glean of the Dark Lord's plan. A concerted attack, of the type of the Order had long been expecting, on multiple visible targets. Ministry officials opposed to Voldemort. A celebrity on the Wizarding Wireless Network who had angered Voldemort by her outspoken scorn of the Death Eaters and her support of Muggle-borns. Families of Muggle-born students at Hogwarts. A few Order members, including one Remus Lupin. A terrifying series of murders and disappearances in a single night, all over the island, according to a precise timetable and plan of attack – which Voldemort had not revealed. All the Death Eaters were to assemble when summoned the following evening, to be assigned their targets and timetable then. The question of how to protect an extensive list of people, in a variety of locations, and in a way that would not immediately alert Voldemort to the fact that someone had leaked his plan occupied most of the Order for the rest of the night.
There were fewer attendees than expected at Bill Weasley's funeral, since much of the Order was frantically planning for nightfall. Severus didn't attend; he watched Potter, and he taught his classes as usual. The students in the morning class didn't realize that the dark circles under his eyes spelled trouble until his vituperative comments on their work had reduced several seventh year Ravenclaws to tears. In the afternoon, he ignored the way the Gryffindors glared at him from their positions around Ginny Weasley's conspicuously empty seat, and he took twenty points from Gryffindor when Colin Creevey's faulty strengthening solution boiled over and dissolved his bench while the boy wasn't watching. Then he spent several hours quickly assembling an antidote to Doxy venom, since the latest short-sighted imbecilic excuse for a Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor had let several students be bitten by Doxies, and the idiot hadn't even thought to make certain ahead of time that Pomfrey had the antidote on hand.
He found dinner waiting in his rooms, but he didn't feel like eating. He turned to his private stock of potions instead, for something to make up for his lack of sleep last night. He would need a clear head.
When the mark on his arm flared to painful life, he was ready. He made his way out of the castle, and was unsurprised to find Albus waiting by the doors. He acknowledged the headmaster's presence with a stiff nod. After a moment, he said, “Lupin...”
A tiny shift of Albus's brows betrayed his surprise, but he answered, “Is not home tonight. He's–”
Severus cut him off with a quick shake of his head.
Albus nodded. With a faint sigh, he said quietly, “Take care, Severus.”
His mouth twisted in a bitter smile, Severus slipped out into the night. At the edge of the grounds, he Apparated, letting the Mark draw him to the Dark Lord's side. He appeared in the elegant comfort of Lucius's study. They had met there often, recently; Severus privately suspected Voldemort enjoyed Lucius's discomfort when he was required to lower the manor's ant-Apparition wards.
Lucius and the Dark Lord were engaged in a quiet conversation, and Severus edged unobtrusively closer. He saw a glint of gold and glass in Voldemort's right hand and heard Lucius say “...finally succeeded in obtaining one.” Severus's stomach clenched as he recognized the object – a Time-Turner. They were extremely rare and tightly controlled, although the Ministry occasionally authorized their use. This was almost certainly one of the rare unregistered ones. He hated to think what Voldemort could do with it.
He strained his ears but could only hear part of the Dark Lord's question. “How long...”
Lucius's answer was clear enough. “Only a few minutes, my Lord.”
Severus heard a cold laugh, followed by Voldemort's hissing voice. “Sometimes, a few minutes is all one needs, Lucius.” Voldemort handed the Time-Turner back to Lucius before turning to face the assembled Death Eaters. He spoke into the sudden quiet. “Forget the targets we discussed last night. We will visit them some other day. Tonight we have an unparalleled opportunity to strike...”
Fuck. Fuck! Severus kept his face impassive with an effort.
“There was a funeral today. There will be more tomorrow... Thanks to the death I arranged for Bill Weasley, the goblins and the Ministry are at odds – and all the Weasleys are at home tonight. Muggle-lovers. Blood traitors... Kill them all.”
Severus thought of the Order, scattered over Britain, waiting for attacks that wouldn't come. Of the Weasleys, unwarned at the Burrow. They had not been on last night's list of targets. The Weasleys, and...
“Dumbledore's precious Order will miss them. Potter will lose his best friend...both of his friends. His little Muggle bitch is there tonight, too...” With deceptive mildness, he said, “You should have informed me of that, Severus.”
“My Lord, I–”
Severus's legs buckled, and he fell to his hands and knees, choking back a scream. Voldemort held the curse on him only briefly, before saying, “But you didn't know, of course, that my plans had changed so that it was of moment, did you?”
“No, my Lord. Please forgive me. I didn't realize.” Severus forced himself shakily back onto his feet as Voldemort continued speaking, outlining roles and assigning strike groups. So he had ordered Weasley killed, to strengthen his position with the goblins, to gather all the Weasleys for slaughter. To destabilize the Order...and Potter. Especially Potter. And there was no way to warn them...
His eyes fell on Lucius's desk, where the tiny gold hourglass lay. “Sometimes, a few minutes is all one needs...”
Not worth the risk, he told himself, trying to ignore the image of Arthur's foolishly smiling face that flashed through his mind. Arthur, a solid, reliable presence in the Ministry despite his incomprehensible fascination with ridiculous Muggle items... Molly and her fussing; Fred and George, the Order's newest and youngest members... How many of the Weasley children had he taught now?
He thought of Granger and Weasley, dead. The Dark Lord was right. That could cripple Potter. The Time-Turner – he wouldn't be able to Apparate back here with it, since the wards would go back up the moment Lucius left, and Severus couldn't very well let anyone see him here twice at the same time – but he could certainly invent an excuse to accompany Lucius home...
In the milling confusion as everyone donned their masks and Apparated to the meeting point the Dark Lord had designated, Severus drifted past Lucius's desk. The Time-Turner disappeared up his sleeve, and he Apparated away, to a small copse of woods near the manor. He flipped the tiny hourglass once, then he Apparated again.
He appeared in the middle of the Weasleys' kitchen with a crack, startling the uncharacteristically quiet family. Despite their grief, he was pleased to see them reacting quickly, rising to their feet and scrambling for wands.
“Get out now,” he snapped. “The Dark Lord is on his way.” He slung Ginny Weasley bodily toward the fireplace; wide-eyed, Molly shoved Floo powder into her hand.
“I'll get the shed door and then Apparate,” he heard Charlie say, inexplicably, as Molly shouted at the twins to hurry.
He noticed Arthur at his elbow saying, “Severus?”
He spoke rapidly. “He had Bill killed to get you all in one place. And disrupt the goblins. Go!” He shoved Arthur away. The Granger chit was scribbling madly on a piece of parchment, Ron Weasley hovering protectively at her elbow. “Miss Granger!” he shouted. “Now is not the time...” She shoved the parchment into his hand and ran to the fireplace, Ron right behind her. He glanced at it and saw a scrawled note: “Dad at St. Mungo's again. Meet us there.”
Hah. She might be worth something yet...
He nodded and threw it at the table, and she gave a strained smile before she and Ron vanished into the green flames after Ginny. Severus heard four soft pops as Arthur, Molly, and the twins left, then he Apparated himself, choosing a spot where he could see the meeting point without being observed himself. When robed figures began arriving seconds later, he Apparated once more, careful not to let himself stagger with the strain of Apparating so often in such a short time as he appeared in their midst.
The Death Eaters spread out to surround the house in a silent stream of black robes. At Voldemort's signal, Severus raised the ant-Apparition wards that would prevent their victims from escaping, careful not to show any sign of his exhaustion. Although the spell was taxing, it should not visibly affect a fresh wizard; the Dark Lord would be suspicious if Snape crumpled to the ground after casting...
They moved into the house in a swift, unstoppable rush of shattering doors and blasted walls. Expletives echoed as room after room proved to be vacant of Weasleys. Voldemort stood in the kitchen, regarding the teacups scattered across Molly's scrubbed wooden table. Severus knew he would be the first suspect if the Dark Lord sensed treachery. He resisted the urge to sidle away – although he would have preferred to be nearer an exit, Voldemort had ordered him to stay close, and retreat would be an admission of guilt. Severus was grateful for the mask hiding his face when skeletal white fingers tapped a cup and found it still warm. He waited for someone else to discover Granger's note – it would be less convincing if he found it himself.
“There's no one here, my Lord,” a nervous voice reported from the stairs.
“Yesss... The Weasleys appear to have left in some haste. I wonder why?” Voldemort hissed.
Wordlessly, Lucius handed him the scrap of parchment he had found.
Voldemort's red eyes narrowed to slits as he examined the note. “An emergency. How...opportune, for the Weasleys. An extremely well timed emergency, wasn't it...Severus? Or perhaps someone warned them!”
He can't know. He's not certain, Severus thought, a split second before he heard Lucius speak.
The betraying object flew out of Severus's pocket toward Lucius's outstretched hand. It took only an instant for Severus to realize there was nothing, nothing, he could say that would convince Voldemort that he had nothing to do with the Weasleys' disappearance or that he had been acting in the Dark Lord's best interest. His wand was still out – Maybe I can't kill him, but I can damned well try...
Before the first syllable had left his mouth, the Dark Lord hissed a curse as his wand slashed sideways, and Severus cried out in startled pain as his hand, still clutching his wand, hit the floor. Gritting his teeth, he forced his other hand to continue its motion into his robes. He threw a glass vial on the floor at Voldemort's feet, releasing a choking cloud of smoke. The billowing vapors incapacitated snakes; Voldemort's appearance was reptilian enough that Severus hoped it would disable him as well, but obviously he had never had a chance to test it.
He dodged a jet of red light as he lunged for the door, but other hexes struck him from all sides, stinging and burning. He faltered when an Impediment jinx struck him. Lucius's hand under his elbow kept him from falling, and he heard Lucius, his voice edged with reproach and maybe even regret, say “For Weasleys, Severus? How could you...”
Then a crushing force that could only be the Dark Lord's spell seized him from behind and jerked him spinning across the room, slamming him into the edge of the table. Severus heard ribs crack as the breath was driven from his lungs. He folded over the table's edge, gasping as he caught his weight on the stump of his wrist. He hadn't gotten his feet back under him before Voldemort's spell jerked him into the air again, turning him and slamming him down on his back with stunning force. Pieces of broken cups sliced into his back. Before he could think to even move, his arms and legs were stretched out and pinned to the scrubbed surface of the table by an invisible force, leaving him spread eagled and helpless.
The potion didn't work on him – I should have gone for the poison myself instead, Severus thought with despair, as cold fingers tugged the mask from his face.
“Crucio!” Voldemort hissed.
Severus lost what little breath he had regained to a scream of agony as the curse ripped through his body. He convulsed against the restraints, every nerve shrieking with the intolerable fiery pain of the curse. There was a brief respite, in which Severus almost caught his breath, before Voldemort spat “Crucio!” again. Then again.
There was nothing but pain – blinding, screaming, endless pain – followed by sudden silence, broken only by harsh shallow breaths. It took several seconds for Severus to recognize them as his own. His body still trembled and throbbed with pain; the usual aches following the Cruciatus were intensified by the pain of joints dislocated and muscles torn when the prolonged, involuntary contraction of his muscles had pulled against the bonds holding him on the table.
He heard, at first, only scraps of what Voldemort was saying. “...very disappointed in you, Severus... You have been so very careful, but not... ...spy... ...suspected for some time... You took the bait so eagerly... ...entire evening planned for your benefit, you know, although I would have been pleased to kill... ...goblins only an additional benefit... ...still carry out our attacks some other night, when there is no traitorous spy to warn Dumbledore. ...my faithless servant.”
If only he could tell Albus – Albus needed to know Voldemort had apparently recovered his mental faculties and was forming tactics like he used to. Plots within plots, any turn of events designed to produce an outcome he wanted – the goblins, the Weasleys dead or the spy unmasked, the attacks still to come...
He made himself speak. “My Lord...” The hated word, “Master, I can explain...”
“Oh, I'm certain you can, Severus. You have always been able to explain. Only, this time, I shan't believe you.”
“Of your making? I think not.” Voldemort looked down at Severus, tapping his thin lips thoughtfully with a long white finger. “Of course, were you to open your mind to me fully, my servant...”
Red eyes bored into Severus's, and met fear, pain, and the appropriate abject servitude. Images of loyal service. And behind them, an impenetrable wall. Severus was too exhausted, in too much pain, to risk letting the Dark Lord further into his mind; he might not be able to control what he saw.
“No, I did not think that would be your choice,” Voldemort said.
He gestured, and Severus felt his clenched fingers forced open and splayed against the table. With his wand, Voldemort traced the veins running down the inside of Severus's forearm, where his sleeve had fallen away. Down, tickling lightly across his palm, down to rest on the smallest finger.
“Do you know how many bones there are in the hand, Severus?”
“I expect you do. That seems like the sort of thing you would know. Frango ossis!”
Severus jerked at the sudden popping sound that heralded a spike of pain through his finger and up his arm.
“Since you won't tell me, I suppose I shall be forced to count them myself... That was one.” The wand pressed cruelly against the broken bone for an instant, then shifted past the joint to the next bone. “Two – Frango ossis! Frango ossis... three.” A cold hand grasped the shattered finger, pulled and twisted. A cry of pain escaped Severus, and his back arched off the table as he jerked against the magical bonds. He clenched his teeth to hold back another cry, and let himself fall back on the table.
Voldemort's wand touched the tip of his ring finger. “Four.” A pause, then “Frango ossis!”
By the time Voldemort reached fourteen and gave the now-familiar twist to his shattered thumb, sweat was streaming down Severus's face and he could barely contain his whimpers. He gave in and shrieked when Voldemort moved on to the long bones in his palm, and then his wrist.
“Twenty-one. Did I miss any, Severus?”
The force holding his hand on the tabletop vanished, and Severus made a choked noise of anguish as he accidentally tried to close his fingers.
“I think you've had enough of a rest,” Voldemort said coldly. “Crucio!”
Severus screamed again, feeling the stabbing pain of shattered bones grinding together when his hand clenched involuntarily even through the terrible agony of the curse. By the time the Dark Lord lowered his wand, Severus was sobbing for breath. Tears filmed his eyes so that he could scarcely see the robed figures clustered around him. It took some time for him to remember where he was – in Molly Weasley's bright, comfortable kitchen.
“Back with us, Severus? You see, I have no intention of letting you slip away into insanity. I considered treating you like the Longbottoms, letting Dumbledore have his quick-witted spy back as a drooling imbecile...”
Severus shuddered with revulsion.
“Yes, I thought you would fear that, Severus. Of all things, you would particularly hate to be mindless, dependent on the goodwill of others, wouldn't you? But I think the old man would be too glad to have you back even in that unfortunate state, my servant.”
Somehow, Severus didn't feel relieved.
“I also gave some thought to a suitably...lingering end for you, but I decided not to waste the effort.” Voldemort's voice dropped to a deep, chilling tone. “You are not worth it,” he hissed in Severus's ear.
Straightening, Voldemort banished Severus's clothes abruptly, and continued speaking in a low, hypnotic voice, “So we shall simply see how long you last, here, tonight, and leave the rubbish for the Muggle-loving rabble who live here to remove in the morning. Or will someone come to rescue you? I hope so...I would enjoy killing you, leaving your body still warm to reproach that old fool for being just a moment too late... Yes, I will kill you when they come for you.”
Severus's panting breaths were loud in the rustling silence of the kitchen. He closed his eyes and rolled his head to the other side, away from his tormentor.
“How long do you think it will take Dumbledore to realize his pet is missing and in danger? Will he hurry to your rescue? Or not, since you are useless to him now, nothing but a broken tool? Which do you hope for?”
Severus gasped at a sudden stinging pain across his chest. He opened his eyes, and wished he hadn't – Voldemort was using his wand like a scalpel to lift up a small flap of skin under Severus's nipples. Seizing it between his fingers, he yanked, pulling a strip of flesh off all the way to Severus's stomach, then flinging it aside. After a few more strips, Severus turned his head and vomited, sickened by the pain even more than the sight of his skin sticking to Molly's pristine walls and worn cupboards, his blood splattered across the waxed boards of the floor and dripping from Voldemort's skeletal fingers.
A swift susurration of laughter rippled around the circle of watching figures as he coughed and shrieked and thrashed; Voldemort smiled and continued placing cut after precise cut.
Severus's throat was raw from screaming, his voice already a thready rasp, by the time Voldemort had flayed most of the skin from his torso and stepped back, gesturing for another figure to take his place. Panting, eyes clouded with tears he could not suppress and stinging with sweat and spattered blood, Severus still recognized him. It was Lucius who picked up the Weasleys' salt cellar, and with careless grace, scattered salt over the exposed flesh of Severus's chest and watched impassively while he screamed.
Severus longed for the blackness he could feel teasing the edges of his vision to engulf him, but it never did. Albus – please send someone soon. Please, Albus, let it end quickly...
Lucius stepped back, and the Dark Lord leaned over him once more. “So. Shall we begin?” He raised his wand.
Remus trotted through the trees, paws silent on the ground. The night was beautiful, clear and crisp, full of interesting scents. The Weasleys lived far enough outside Ottery St. Catchpole that he had been able to have a good run without worrying about any Muggles spotting him. It had been too long since he'd been able to roam at will, running through the night instead of being cooped up in a small room during his transformation.
Remus stopped suddenly and dropped back on his haunches, berating himself for forgetting that his lovely run had come at great cost to the Weasleys. The Death Eaters, when they discovered their prey had fled, had probably wrecked the Burrow. Poor Molly. He whined softly, wondering why the Weasleys had had so little warning. Had they been a last minute addition to the list of targets Snape had provided the Order? Or had Snape's information been wrong? If so, why?
He got up, shaking himself to settle his fur. Maybe he would find out in the morning. For now, all he knew was that Charlie had thrown open the door of Arthur's shed where he had insisted on transforming and asked if he could run far enough to be safe, Death Eaters were coming, everyone else was already out. He had nodded and started for the shelter of the nearby trees, waiting until Charlie Apparated away to run in earnest. In this form, he would be no match for a group of Death Eaters. One or two, on the other hand...
His lips pulled back in a silent snarl at the thought of the Weasleys being threatened, then he emitted a sharp bark of laughter at the thought that Albus had urged him to stay with the Weasleys after the funeral so he would be safe from the night's attacks. Which brought him back to the question of why Snape hadn't known the Weasleys were in danger...
He began walking more cautiously, staying in the shadows and scenting the air for any sign of watchers in the wood. He was close enough to the Burrow now that he might encounter a sentry if the Death Eaters were still inside; although, since it had been several hours, they were probably long gone in search of other victims. He might as well make himself useful and check outside around the house; someone from the Order would come, eventually, to see if it was safe for the Weasleys to return. He could at least ensure that were are no unpleasant surprises waiting in the–
Remus growled softly, hackles rising at the faint, unmistakable smell of blood on the wind. He slunk closer to the garden, and heard a faint thread of sound. An agonized shriek, weak but audible, soon followed by another. Sudden terror struck Remus. Who? Charlie said everyone was out! A sudden nightmarish thought – had Percy decided to come after all, and stumbled into a house full of Death Eaters?
He froze, hidden in the shadows, as two robed figures met in Molly's overgrown herb bed. He pricked his ears, listening carefully.
“Fucking bastard ought to die already. I'm freezing my arse off out here,” one form said. Remus didn't immediately recognize the voice.
Who is in there? Who?
“Trade with someone in the house, then. They're probably bored with watching Snape anyway... ...spy... ...deserves... sneering bastard...”
Remus realized he was tensed to spring and fought his instincts. Until one of the figures moved off around the house, and the other stood with his back turned to the trees. Then Remus flung himself forward. A stone shifted under his paws as he sprang, and the figure turned, wand coming up too late to stop Remus's teeth from tearing through his throat. Blood spurted, and the man crumpled with a gurgling cry.
Remus heard footsteps approaching and a quiet voice calling, “Avery?” As the second man rounded the corner of the house, Remus leapt. He heard an odd cracking sound, and the body under his went limp. Stepping back, growling under his breath, he saw the head lying at an impossible angle under its concealing hood, and he melted back in the shadows, listening and sniffing for any other guards as he circled the house warily.
The broken moans coming from inside made him want to throw himself against the door to get to Severus. It didn't sound as though he could last until moonset, when Remus would be able to Apparate for help – if he weren't too exhausted from his transformation. There had to be a way. Who lived nearby? Hadn't Arthur mentioned the Diggorys? If they didn't hex him on sight, maybe he could convince them to help somehow...
A sudden shrill whistle cut across Remus's desperate thoughts. His head snapped around, locating the source of the sound – there, in the trees. He crouched in the shadows, expecting Death Eaters to come boiling out of the house at any second to look for whatever had killed their comrades, but no one came. The whistle was repeated, in an odd pattern. Shave and haircut?
Curiosity drew Remus toward the source of the sound, and he found two people crouching behind a bush, watching the house. And arguing. Quietly, but not quietly enough. Remus recognized Kingsley's deep voice. “Tonks, that's not helping. We should...”
Remus was momentarily tempted to sneak up behind them and stick his nose against Tonks's neck, showing pale under her close-cropped hair, but realized she would most likely either scream or curse him. Or both. So instead, he merely growled softly and watched them jump and whirl to face him.
“Remus?” Tonks whispered.
He nodded, wondering how in so many years he had never before realized just how hideously inconvenient it was that a wolf could not speak.
She grinned, and whispered triumphantly to Kingsley, “See, I told you it would work!” She held out her hand, displaying a wooden cylinder. “Dog whistle.” Her smile fell away, and she said, “Remus, we think...we think that's Snape.”
Remus nodded again, with a low growl this time.
Kingsley said, “The house is full of Death Eaters. There's no way the two of us can get him out. You and I will stay here, and Tonks will go to Albus and try to round up enough members of the Order to–”
Remus interrupted with a snarl, and began creeping toward the house.
“Remus–” Kingsley warned, drawing his wand. Tonks was more direct – she simply threw her arms around him and held on.
Fury rumbling through his throat as he shook her off, Remus thought it was extremely fortunate for Tonks that the house elf had found him at the Weasleys to deliver his Wolfsbane.
“It's no good that way, Remus,” Kingsley said urgently. “You'll only get yourself killed too, and you won't help Severus. You can't kill them all, and it's not like you can Apparate out of there with him even if you get in...”
Remus heard Tonks's swift intake of breath, and she stopped trying to wrap her arms around his neck and began rummaging through her pockets instead. “No, he can't Apparate, but...” she held up a small metal disc wrapped in a swatch of fabric triumphantly, “he could Portkey!” Her face fell. “Only, it works at the touch of bare skin, so I don't know if it will work for Remus. Through fur.”
Remus rumbled and nudged her encouragingly.
Kingsley said, “A Portkey, Tonks?”
“To St. Mungo's. Unregistered, but hopefully no one will quibble about that under the circumstances,” she replied. “My Auror training class voted me most likely to need medical attention, and this was the prize,” she said, looking embarrassed. “If we could get it to Snape somehow...”
Remus nodded and pressed against her leg.
“Remus. I'm not sure it's worth the risk,” Kingsley said slowly.
Remus snarled, quietly but unmistakably.
“Right then. If we do this, you take the Portkey in, touch him, and get out again. Tonks and I will take down the ant-Apparition wards and do what we can from out here, but we're not going in.”
“But–” Tonks began to argue.
“No. That's an order, Tonks. Only Remus, in and out, or we don't do this at all,” Kingsley said firmly. “I don't want three corpses to explain in the morning. Remus?”
Remus whined and took a half step toward the house, then pointed his nose at the Portkey.
Frowning, Tonks said, “Right. Erm – around your neck?” At Remus's nod, she began muttering a sticking charm. Once she had adhered the little medallion to the scarf in which it had been wrapped, she tied it around his neck, commenting, “Pink silk, what all stylish werewolves are wearing this winter.”
“Remus. Is there anything useful in that shed?” Kingsley asked.
Severus's head thudded back onto the table and he moaned quietly when Voldemort lifted the Cruciatus this time. A welcome grayness was beginning to insulate him from the pain, the stench of blood and vomit and spilled tea, the bored shuffling of the watching figures. Blood loss – shock – not long now, he thought vaguely. The metallic taste of blood filled his mouth as he struggled to breathe.
He flinched when the Dark Lord raised his wand again, and Voldemort smiled. The expected curse didn't come; instead, Voldemort shortened the legs at one end of the table, lowering Severus's head several inches. The flow of blood to his head brought a renewed sense of awareness to Severus; the returning lucidity was not welcome. Severus heard a faint gurgling sound with each gasped breath. That, plus the slow trickling of blood into his mouth, told him that that last Crucio had driven one of his broken ribs through his lung at last. He spat weakly, trying to clear his mouth. No matter how much he strained, he couldn't fill his lungs...
Red eyes were fixed on his face, and Severus felt the insistent pressure of Voldemort's mind. He concentrated on maintaining his mental walls, giving the Dark Lord nothing but his pain, as Voldemort spoke. His words echoed Severus's own thoughts.
“Not long now, Severus. I could finish it quickly...”
Blood bubbled and caught in Severus's throat, choking him for a second before he dragged air past it into his laboring chest. Yes, one more Crucio would finish him.
“...but I prefer to watch your last vain struggles.”
Severus's eyes drifted closed. Why was it so hard to let go and die, when it meant an end to this pain?
“No one is coming for you, Severus...”
Maybe because he didn't really want to die. He wanted to be back in his laboratory at Hogwarts. Or better yet, in bed.
“Dumbledore doesn't care what happens to you...”
His bed. Comfortable, warm, with Lupin. Bare skin touching his...
“No one cares, Severus. You are nothing to them. They do not deserve your loyalty.”
Or sitting by the fire, with Lupin facing him across the low table, a book in his hands and warmth in his eyes.
“I have done nothing that cannot be reversed, Severus. Let me in your mind. Show me, and I will spare you...”
Severus forced thoughts of Lupin away. If his will failed, at the end, he would not give Remus to Voldemort. And he could not give him the Order, or Albus's trust.
Voldemort whispered, “Legilimens.”
Severus felt overwhelming strength battering the crumbling barriers in his mind. He searched his memory. It was ridiculously easy to find a picture of Potter, wand leveled, an expression of self-righteous determination on his face. Baring his teeth in a last desperate grimace, he put Voldemort on his knees before Potter, then flung the image out, out, into the Dark Lord's mind.
He heard a hiss of pure rage, then a snapped “Cru–”
The window imploded. Shattered glass rained down on the floor all over the kitchen as a massive gray shape hurtled through the window, slamming Voldemort against the table.
Severus's eyes flew open. He tried to gasp a warning, a plea for Remus to flee, not to sacrifice himself, but he managed only a strangled whimper of pain when the garish pink bow around the wolf's neck brushed his mangled leg. A sudden tug behind his navel jerked him spinning into darkness.
Remus crouched on the table. Severus was gone. Time to get out – the window was a leap away, but the smell of blood, the shouts of alarm, were maddening. And Voldemort was so close to his teeth...
He meant to turn on his haunches and spring at Voldemort's throat, but his paws slipped in Snape's blood and his quarry dived out of his reach. Growling furiously, Remus tensed to spring once more. He dodged several curses as he leapt, but he was hindered by the number of Death Eaters crowding the small room, and a streak of purple flame grazed his ribs and sent him skidding across the slick floor to land unmoving against the cabinets.
A shrill screech had joined the cries of surprise and alarm, drowning even Voldemort's shrieks of rage. Dimly, Remus heard someone shout, “Master! The wards are down!” A series of loud cracks echoed from the lawn outside the house.
“Go then!” Voldemort raged. A series of soft pops sounded as he and the Death Eaters fled.
Remus's chest hurt terribly, but he knew he should make certain there were no more Death Eaters in the house, so he pushed himself up and staggered toward the door. He heard a stealthy footstep, then a whisper, “Remus?”
He whined in response.
Tonks poked her had carefully around the door frame. Her eyes widened as she took in the carnage, but her wand was steady in her hand. She managed to smile and said, “Worked like a charm, then. They ran like rats when I brought down the wards and Kingsley lit the twins' firecrackers.”
Remus panted, tongue lolling. His chest really hurt. Lucky a wolf's organs weren't in the same place as a human's, or that curse might have killed him.
“Kingsley Apparated to St. Mungo's in case they refuse to treat Snape when they see his Mark. Let's make certain the house is empty, and then maybe we can clean up a bit before Molly sees this...” she trailed off as Remus stiffened. “What?” She had her wand ready. Remus pointed with his nose and whined.
“Merlin!” Tonks said, paling at the sight of Snape's hand on the floor.
Remus sank to his knees, then dropped the rest of the way to the floor as Tonks grabbed the hand and stuck her head in the kitchen fireplace, yelling, “St. Mungo's!” He drifted, not really aware of anything until suddenly Tonks was kneeling next to him. She had a large bowl of water in her hands, but they were shaking so much that water slopped over the edge and ran into the gore on the floor. “Remus?” she said. “You might want this, and I think you should let me clean the blood off your fur before anyone else comes.”
Remus nodded slowly, dropping his muzzle gratefully to the water. He watched it turn pink, then bright carmine while he felt Tonks's cleaning spells wash over him.
“There, that's better, now – Remus!”
He scarcely registered the alarm in her tone as the floor crept up toward his head. So tired... The last thing he saw before his eyes dropped closed was Tonks with her head in the fireplace, shouting again.
Remus smelled lavender. He shifted slightly, and felt a soft pillow under his head and crisp sheets under his fingers. Disoriented, he opened his eyes – light streaming through a window revealed a row of beds. The hospital wing? Why... And why was there an Auror guarding the door?
Abruptly, he remembered. Rolling to the side, he grabbed a basin off the nightstand and began retching. He heard a cry of “Madame Pomfrey!” and suddenly Tonks was at his side, helping hold the basin. Poppy appeared and fussed over him; for a few minutes, he felt like a student again. He had probably laid in this very bed after one of his transformations. Transformation – his stomach churned at the thought of blood. Poppy patted him soothingly and bustled off to fetch some potions she said he would need.
Tonks pulled up a chair and flopped down. “I'm sorry I didn't realize you were hurt sooner, Remus. You weren't bleeding and you looked okay – I just didn't realize,” she said.
Remus stared at her.
“Here. Poppy said you should drink plenty of water.” She handed him a glass and steadied his shaking hand until he had a firm hold of it. “Was it Dolohov? Poppy said it looked like his favorite curse. I'm sorry. I would have felt terrible if... I still feel terrible.” Her smile was strained. “But Poppy says a week or so here and you'll be good as new, just–”
“Tonks,” Remus interrupted. His voice was hoarser than usual. “I appreciate...but I'd rather just get over with. Just take me to the Ministry now, and get it done. I don't – I don't want to wait a week, and I certainly don't want it done here.” Not where Harry... Oh, God.
Tonks looked puzzled. “Take you to the Ministry? Why would I... Oh.” She looked down at her hands. “You're not going to the Ministry, Remus. Kingsley and I found...” She looked at Remus again. “Well, you know what we found in the garden.”
“We transfigured them. We told Mad-Eye, but no one else. He's working on getting you retroactively deputized, so everything you did that night will have been with our authorization. And really, you know, you actually were aiding two Aurors in the pursuit of their duties.”
Remus stared at her. “You...” You did that for me?
Tonks patted his hand as she stood up. “I have to go to work soon. I just wanted to be sure you were okay. I'll see you around.” She waved casually as she disappeared out the door. Almost immediately, a loud clatter from the corridor was followed by Tonks's voice, raised in apology. “Oops, didn't see you there...”
Remus lay in the silence of the hospital wing for a long time after she left, slipping in and out of consciousness. Once, Albus came to see him. Afterward, Remus only remembered parts of the conversation. Crying on Albus's shoulder. Albus patting him soothingly, speaking calmly, “...not a monster, Remus. If you had been in your usual form, you doubtless would have chosen some other course... ...saved Severus's life...”
After Albus left, Poppy dosed him with a bewildering array of noxious potions and left him in the quiet again.
Saved Severus's life... Not a monster... Not a monster...
He slipped into an uneasy sleep.
Severus heard a tiny rustle of movement at the foot of his bed. He kept his eyes closed, hoping whoever it was would go away. He had been poked, prodded, and fussed over incessantly for days – he could not tolerate any more. If it was one of the mediwizard's assistants, they might leave him alone if he pretended to be asleep. The mediwizard or the Healer, of course, would just check him over anyway. The rustling stayed put; it finally occurred to Severus that it might be a visitor. Even though only Albus had been in to see him, he was well aware that at least one Order member was on guard in the corridor. Maybe they thought they were discreet, but really they made a lot of noise...
Giving in to curiosity, he opened his eyes a fraction. Green eyes were staring at him, undoubtedly finding that he looked much less intimidating than usual in a blue-flowered hospital gown tied in a bow under his chin.
“Potter? What are you doing here?” he rasped.
The boy jumped, dropping the small box he had been holding. Flushing, he bent to pick it up.
“Er... I brought you these,” he said, setting the box on the table near Severus's bed. Severus eyed it warily. Chocolate Frogs?
“You brought me Chocolate Frogs?” he said incredulously. That mediwizard's potions were swill – this must be a reaction-induced hallucination.
Potter flushed again, and said, “Well, I know I should have brought something better, but I can't go to Hogsmeade, and...this is what I had.”
On second thought, it must be real. He couldn't hallucinate anything this strange. “Potter. What do you want?”
The boy stared at his feet, then looked Snape in the eye. “I wanted to say thank you. For saving the Weasleys.”
Ah. That explained it. Severus snapped, “I didn't do it for you, Potter. You've done your good deed for the day, now get out.”
Potter's young face hardened, and he said, “Right. Thank you anyway. Sir.”
As the boy turned to leave, Severus suddenly realized he was losing a potential source of information. He said, “Potter. Wait.”
The boy swung around to face him, looking surprised and apprehensive.
“Have you seen Lupin?” Severus asked.
“Yes...” the boy said, frowning.
“Well?” Severus said impatiently. “How badly was he injured? Has he recovered? All Albus would tell me was that he is 'fine'.”
Potter blinked. “Er, he's in the hospital wing. Tonks brought him to Madame Pomfrey because she didn't think St. Mungo's would treat him quickly enough, not as a wolf.”
Severus scowled. “They probably wouldn't have treated him at all.”
“He – he's still sleeping a lot, and he isn't very coherent when he's awake. He's not recovering as quickly as Hermione did, but Madame Pomfrey says–”
Severus interrupted, “What does Granger have to do with this?”
Potter looked defensive. “Well, it looked like the same curse Dolohov used on her at the Department of Mysteries, and–”
Severus's eyes narrowed. “Looked like?” Realization struck. “Fuck. You saw.”
Potter shifted uneasily, and his hand crept up to touch his scar. “Some of it. At the end. Voldemort was so happy – and then so angry – and you were...” He swallowed hard, looking ill.
Damn. “Consider yourself fortunate that you weren't watching Granger and Weasley screaming instead,” Snape said dryly.
The boy flushed again, and didn't meet his eyes.
Snape snorted and his lip curled. “You do! Hence the Chocolate Frogs.”
Somehow Potter managed to glare and look guilty simultaneously. “Look, I...”
“Never mind, Potter. Just tell me about Lupin. How is Pomfrey treating him?”
Potter looked bewildered. “I don't know. I mean, he's taking a bunch of potions, but...”
“Which ones?” he snapped. “Who's making them? Did they account for his metabolism? Possible interactions with the Wolfsbane?” He sat up. “Get me a quill, Potter...”
Remus walked slowly along the corridor, looking for the concealed doorway Albus had told him he would find. There it was, obvious when he was supposed to be visiting someone on the secured ward, although he had never noticed it before. How many other wings were there at St. Mungo's, hidden in plain sight?
He entertained himself briefly, imagining an entirely different hospital hidden within the narrow dark corridors of St. Mungo's, before he gave himself a mental shake. Hesitating at the door like this would probably set off some type of alarm, and he didn't really want that kind of attention. Taking a deep breath and trying to remember why he was here, he stepped through the doorway. He felt the subtle tingle of several warding spells as he made his way down a short corridor toward Snape's room. Kingsley had already seen him and unobtrusively checked him over before he reached the Auror's side.
“Remus,” Kingsley greeted him quietly.
Remus smiled, feeling a bit awkward. What did you say to someone who'd seen a man whose throat you had... He stopped that thought quickly.
Kingsley saved him from thinking of something to say by speaking himself. “You can't go in right now, the Healer's with him.” A brief hesitation. “You are here to see him, aren't you?”
“Yes,” Remus answered. He leaned against the wall beside Kingsley and let his eyes close as he wondered about that. He hadn't planned to visit Severus, but everyone seemed to assume he would. Albus, Poppy, even Harry. And Tonks...
He remembered Tonks saying brightly, “Poppy says you are much better! Soon you'll be well enough to go see Snape.”
“Why would I do that?” Remus had asked.
Tonks had looked surprised. “Well, I thought... You, and he – er, I mean...” Tonks was not usually at a loss for words. Remus wondered what expression had been on his face, because she had ended by saying only, “I guess we were wrong. Sorry,” and leaving, uncharacteristically silent and a bit pink. Remus still didn't know what she had meant but lacked the energy to pursue the issue.
He realized Snape's door wasn't quite closed; he could hear voices. Snape's was raspier than usual, but still biting. “Yes, I remember you. Miss Greene. Ravenclaw. Barely competent with the simplest potions...”
A crisp female voice replied, “How fortunate, then, that all I needed to repair your hands were a few charms, and Professor Flitwick was a competent instructor.”
Remus opened his eyes and shared an amused glance with Kingsley. Several minutes of quiet were broken only by the occasional murmur of the Healer as she check Snape over with a battery of diagnostic spells. Then Remus heard Snape demand, “...damned things off!” followed by the Healer's calm reply, “In the attending mediwizard's judgment, you can't be trusted not to try to use them again prematurely. My team and I didn't spend twenty hours piecing you back together just so you could cripple yourself scrawling notes about someone's potion.”
Remus frowned, straining after an elusive memory... Poppy, standing near his bed in the hospital wing with a letter in her hand, saying indignantly, “The nerve of that man! As if I don't know how to manage my own patients. And St. Mungo's has a perfectly competent brewer.” Then, more quietly, “Well, that is a good point.” Remus thought it had been the next day that Poppy had told him they were changing his potions a bit, and he began feeling less feverish – more present – later that same day. Had Severus had something to do with that?
He turned his head, and saw Kingsley looking at him oddly.
“What–” Remus began to ask, but he was interrupted by the emergence of a tiny dark-haired woman in Healer's robes from Snape's room.
She closed the door firmly, and demanded, “Who are you? What are you doing here? Surely one of you cluttering the corridor at a time is enough.”
Remus extended his hand automatically and said politely, “I'm Remus Lupin. I'm a...” Friend? Colleague? Acquaintance?
She didn't take his hand. Instead, she glared up at him and said, “So you're Remus. It's about time you showed up.”
“Excuse me?” Remus said, startled. “What you mean by that?”
She looked him over. “If you don't know, it isn't my place to tell you.” Turning on her heel, she stalked off down the corridor, leaving Remus standing, confused and angry, with Kingsley, who was examining his shoes intently.
“Kingsley?” Remus inquired. “Do you know what that was about?”
Kingsley sighed, and drew Remus a few steps further away from Snape's closed door. “Sort of. She may think... Well, Tonks and I thought... Look, Remus, when Severus was first here, he came to while they were working on him. He kept fighting the Healers, saying he had to go help you. He wouldn't let them sedate him until Albus got here and said you were at Hogwarts, safe and alive. And he's been... Well, they were giving him some pretty strong pain potions at first, and he – he said a few things.”
“What things?” Remus asked numbly.
“Erm–” Kingsley's gaze shifted away from Remus's face, and he fidgeted. “Things that made it sound like he l– And you... Anyway, Tonks said we must have misunderstood. He was delirious, and not speaking very clearly...”
Remus stared blankly at the cracks spiderwebbing the plaster wall of the corridor. He felt hollow. Unsettled. Severus had said “things” about him. What did that mean? What did he want it to mean? Remus's lips twisted in a bitter smile. No, I know what I want it to mean. I just can't believe...
“You should go on in, Remus. Visiting hours will be over soon,” Kingsley said quietly.
“Right,” Remus said, but he didn't move. I'm not ready to see him. I'm too angry – I can't. “On second thought, Kingsley, maybe I'll just come back some other time.”
Remus was walking into Hogwarts before it occurred to him that he really should have gone back to his cottage instead. He wasn't staying in the hospital wing any longer, and Harry would be in class. Instead of leaving, however, he headed for the Room of Requirement. Maybe a swim would help. Poppy had told him to swim a few times a week to help get his strength back, and Albus had encouraged him to use the Room rather than the freezing lake. Remus had been worried someone would object to his presence at the school, but so far no one had complained, and Albus wasn't concerned. As long as it wasn't near the full moon.
Maybe a swim would help relax him, let him come to terms with his confused thoughts about Severus. The way Severus had turned on him that afternoon – the months of coldness – it just didn't make sense that Severus would have said something that made Kingsley and Tonks think that he had strong feelings for Remus. Strong feelings other than hatred, that is.
Remus found the door, but there was no pool in the Room of Requirement. There was only a simple table and a straight-backed chair, and a shallow stone basin. He stepped in, bemused.
A Pensieve. Apparently the Room of Requirement had a clearer idea of what he needed than he did himself. Remus looked down at the empty Pensieve for a long minute before he sat down in the uncomfortable chair and reached decisively for his wand. He had, after all, just been desiring clarity.
He placed all his memories of Severus from the last few months in the basin, one at a time. Order meetings. Snape delivering the Wolfsbane to the cottage. The confrontation in the empty classroom and the encounter with Lucius in the corridor, the night of the Sorting. He hesitated, then added the night of his capture by the Death Eaters. Perspective. I will not give them power over me by fearing a memory... Severus in Albus's office. Then, most painful of all, the night he had spent in Severus's chambers. As an afterthought, he added the few seconds he had seen of Severus bleeding in the Weasleys' kitchen.
Taking a deep breath, he entered his memories. He watched Severus's face – a controlled and expressionless mask, or an equally concealing sneering mask – while he tortured and forced Remus. He noticed details he had missed at the time: Severus's preoccupation with something on his desk. His curiously intense expression when he talked about Remus's duty to the Order – survive and escape. The absolutely chilling look in his eyes when Lucius forced his cock into Remus's mouth.
Shaken, Remus moved onto the next memory. He watched Severus in Albus's office – he didn't look like a man plotting revenge. He merely looked exhausted, battered, and...guilty, when he looked at Remus. Later, when he found Remus waiting in his chambers, he looked wary. Then confused. Nervous and uncertain as they moved to the bed. Remus saw nothing but hesitant warmth, arousal, concealed concern, and maybe desperate hope the rest of the night, until they fell asleep for the second time.
He wished he could watch Snape while he was sleeping – instead he had to skip to the next memory, the terrible scene in the empty classroom when Severus had said it had all meant nothing. His face was tightly controlled, sneering mask firmly in place, revealing, Remus realized, absolutely nothing. The mask remained during the next memory, while Lucius baited Remus in the corridor.
Shuddering, Remus slipped through memories of Order meetings and watched Snape watching him. Discreetly, but always watching. Whatever the expression on his face was, it was not triumph at having humiliated a despised enemy. And when Remus smiled at Bill Weasley, pure pain twisted Severus's features for a fraction of a second before he looked away. Surprised, Remus picked out the afternoon that Severus had delivered the Wolfsbane, and this time he saw the way Snape's mouth tightened when Remus answered the door expecting Bill, the way his eyes lingered on the pair of teacups.
Last of all, Remus looked at Severus's shattered body spread on Molly's bloodied table, his lips moving soundlessly as his eyes fixed on Remus. “No – Remus, run...”
Pulling himself out of his memories, Remus stared into the silvery mass for very long time, until the room darkened around him as the sun set.
Severus lay quietly in the rather lumpy hospital bed, eyes closed. His nose itched, and that damned mediwizard had tied his hands down, just because he got out of bed and tried to write once. Worse, it was almost time for...yes, there were steps approaching the foot of his bed.
“No,” he said harshly, not bothering to open his eyes. “I am not interested in knotting pot holders from bits of string and some beads. Neither do I have the least desire to make a model of Hogwarts from sticks. Furthermore, if you had any intelligence whatsoever, you would realize that–”
His eyes snapped open. He stared at Remus, who was smiling faintly.
“Fortunately I am quite uninterested in pot holders and models of Hogwarts as well,” Remus said.
Severus found his voice. “Lupin? What–”
He was interrupted by the arrival of a plump witch wearing pink and white striped robes, a floppy blue hat, and little yellow earrings that were shaped like canaries and twittering madly.
“Mr. Snape, how are you today? Won't you join us in the Patient Activities Center? We'll be making plaster casts of our hands and painting them,” she said brightly.
Severus ground his teeth. Lupin's eyes widened.
The woman blithered on. “Then we'll sing a few songs and play a fascinating new Muggle game – shuffleplank.”
Severus glared and sat up as much as he could. Recognizing the impending explosion, Remus smiled at the woman and, taking her elbow, escorted her kindly but inexorably out the door.
Snape collapsed back onto the uncomfortable bed, listening to Remus's “Very sorry, but he'll have to miss today” as he closed the door firmly in her face.
“That woman...” Severus snarled. “If I had my wand...”
“Maybe it's fortunate you don't,” Remus said, settling into the room's lone chair. “I want to talk to you, Severus.”
Severus eyed him warily.
“I want to know why you slept with me that night and then drove me away the next day. Why you hurt me like that. Because I no longer believe it was just because I was a convenient fuck and that all you wanted was to thoroughly humiliate an old enemy,” Remus said, regarding him steadily.
Severus swallowed hard. Lupin's words seemed to have driven all the air from his lungs, and he couldn't think of anything to say. Damn that mediwizard, and the Healer too; if he'd had his hands free, he could have at least run away. Now he was trapped, at Lupin's mercy. He shook his head, hoping and fearing Remus would leave if he refused to talk to him.
Instead, the other man settled himself more comfortably in the chair, and asked, “What happened between the time you held me while I fell asleep and the time I woke up alone, Severus?”
Severus was mute.
“Tell me, or I will tell that disgustingly cheerful woman with the revolting earrings that you fancy her and are just too shy to talk to her, Severus,” Remus insisted.
“Lupin! You – you,” Severus sputtered. “You're resorting to childish blackmail?” That's exactly the sort of prank you'd think was funny, he thought resentfully.
“Hmm, more like childish threats, I'd say.” Lupin was still watching him. “I deserve to know, Severus.”
Severus turned his head away, and, realizing that Lupin wasn't going to let it drop, finally mumbled, “I had a dream. It...”
“You had a dream?” Remus asked incredulously.
“Yes!” Severus snapped, glaring at him. “It was – it simply reminded me why it was too dangerous for you to associate with me.”
“Too dangerous?” Remus echoed.
“Yes. It made – would have made – you a target for the Dark Lord, when he realized...” Severus trailed off under the weight of Lupin's furious gaze.
“Would have made me a target? Being with you would have made me a target? Have you forgotten that Voldemort was planning to pull me to pieces to get to Harry? How much longer would I have lived if you hadn't rescued me?”
“I have more dead friends than live ones, and whatever the Ministry may say, we're at war. Besides that, do you know what the life expectancy of a werewolf is, Severus?”
Snape winced. “That's without Wolfsbane, Lupin. There's every reason to think that long term use of the potion will increase life expectancy by several decades. Plus, you–”
Remus read everything he needed to know in Snape's wince, but perversely it made him even angrier.
Snape stopped speaking and waited.
“Are you saying that you were trying to protect me by driving me away?” Remus asked quietly.
Severus looked away. “Yes,” he muttered at last.
“Severus, you are an extremely intelligent man. But sometimes, you are the most idiotic, stubborn bastard–” Remus counted three breaths, trying to calm himself before he continued speaking. “I make my own choices, Severus. Maybe we were dangerous to each other, and any sort of – association – would have been risky. But you had no right to hurt me like you did and say it was for my protection. No right to choose for me.” He forced his hands to unclench from the arms of the chair and stood up.
Before turning to leave, he asked quietly, “Are you certain you were protecting me, Severus? Or were you just protecting yourself?”
Severus listened to Remus's footsteps receding out the door, pressing his lips tightly together to hold back his useless pleas. Useless, because Lupin rightfully despised him. He didn't deserve Lupin's forgiveness, even if he had been willing to give it.
Several hours later, the mediwizard was startled and a bit alarmed when, for the first time, Snape drank his potions without protesting or complaining that there was too much poppy in the painkiller or that the muscle relaxant had steeped twenty seconds too long.
He was seriously alarmed when Snape, who had previously refused all offers of sleeping potions, asked for a double dose and then turned his face to the wall.
Severus was dreaming, a much better dream than any other he'd had since he'd been in St. Mungo's. Usually he dreamed he was being tortured by the Dark Lord again. Occasionally, for variety, he dreamed he was being tortured by Lucius Malfoy instead. Or by Lucius and the Dark Lord.
But in this dream, a warm, slightly calloused hand was cupping his cheek, sliding down the line of his jaw to trace his lips lightly with a thumb as Severus sighed in contentment and tipped his head back. Next the dream hand slid gently down his exposed throat to untie the embarrassingly short hospital gown and push it out of the way. A second warm hand joined the first, and both hands occupied themselves with gently exploring his chest. The feel of the firm hands smoothing down his sides made Severus shiver with pleasure, and he murmured, “Remus...”
It was, after all, his dream. He could imagine anyone he wished as his dream lover, and he wanted Remus. Only Remus had ever touched him so gently and so sensually – that one night, before Severus drove him away so viciously, in his effort to protect him, that Remus hated him for it. The bitter sting of regret that pierced Severus's chest at this thought drowned under a wave of sleepy pleasure and was forgotten as warm lips brushed his neck. Mmmm...yes, there... Even though the real Remus despised him now and would never willingly touch him again, at least he could still dream.
So he dreamed it was Remus's warm tongue circling his nipple, making him shift restlessly and moan. Remus's hair tickling his belly, as Remus's mouth closed over his hardening shaft, sucking and licking. Yes, oh...more... In his dream, it was Remus's hand caressing his balls as that talented mouth wrung pleasure from his sleeping body. Remus's fingers slipping gently into his–
Severus's eyes snapped open. “Fuck! Lupin, what in bloody hell are you doing!?” Severus hissed, staring wide-eyed down the length of his torso. His hips jerked up involuntarily as he took in the sight of the tawny haired man kneeling between his legs on the narrow hospital bed, mouth stretched around Severus's shaft, fingers buried in Severus's arse.
Withdrawing his fingers, Remus gave a last few teasing flicks of his tongue across the sensitive tip of Severus's cock before he released it, and Severus let his head fall back on the pillow with a groan.
“Isn't it obvious what I'm doing, Severus? I'm seducing you,” Remus replied, grinning unrepentantly.
Severus felt more than a bit confused, and he didn't think it was just from the mediwizard's obnoxious sleeping potions, substandard work that they were. The way Remus was stroking his inner thigh wasn't helping, either. Severus was desperately glad Remus was here, doing that, but...
“The windows are open, Lupin! The door– The mediwizard– This is a hospital! Anyone could come in!” he blurted in near panic, as he tugged against the straps the exasperated mediwizard had used to bind his bandaged forearms and hands to the bed rails to keep them immobilized. And, Severus suspected, to keep him from trying to get out of bed again.
Remus's grin fell away, and he rested his hands on Severus's bare shoulders to still his struggles before he could hurt himself despite all the muscle relaxants and painkillers he'd been dosed with. Remus held Severus's gaze and said, “I've waited months for this, Severus. I'm not waiting any longer.” Releasing Severus's shoulders, he continued in an intense, low voice, “Now, do you have any actual objections to this? Because if you don't, I'm going to fuck you right now, and I don't care how many people hear you screaming my name.”
“Merlin!” Severus gasped, slumping back down on the bed.
Remus smiled slowly. “That didn't sound much like an objection, Severus.” He unzipped his trousers, and Severus's eyes followed the motion of his hand as he freed his erection and slicked it with glistening fluid from a small vial. “Was it an objection?” Remus asked as he lifted Severus's legs gently, supporting their weight on his shoulders so as not to put any strain on the other man's healing body.
“No,” Severus replied. “Not...not an objection.”
“Good,” Remus said. Without taking his eyes off Severus's face, he slid into the other man's opiate-soaked, relaxed body millimeter by careful millimeter, gripping Severus's hips to hold them still when Severus tried to arch against him and hurry the pace.
Who knew quiet, gentle Lupin was such a sadist? Severus only realized he had spoken the thought aloud when he saw Lupin's feral smile.
Severus was panting by the time Remus was finally fully sheathed inside him. “Lupin,” he snarled, “move! Now!”
Remus chuckled. “Since you asked so nicely, Severus...” Instead of moving, however, he wrapped one hand around Severus's cock, not stroking it, just slowly circling the tip with his thumb.
Severus writhed. “Lupin! Please...” He bit his lip.
Remus finally pulled out a few centimeters. Severus moaned as he slid gently back in, so Remus did it again. And again. Agonizingly slowly, until Severus was tossing his head back and forth on the pillow and struggling against his restraints.
“Shhh. Don't hurt yourself. What's wrong, Severus?” Remus soothed.
“Want...touch,” Severus gasped, before he managed a complete sentence. “I want to touch you, damn it.”
“Next time. Next time, Severus, you have to come to me. And then you can touch me as much as you want,” Remus promised.
Severus moaned again, and Remus's thrusts sped up and became deeper despite his intention to prolong this as much as possible. Letting Severus arch up into him, he angled his thrusts until he felt Severus tense and gasp at each stroke. Finally, not wanting to completely exhaust the other man while he was still healing, he began stroking Severus's cock in time with his thrusts.
“Severus. Say my name!” he ordered, eyes still fixed on Severus's face.
“Re– Remus!” Severus gasped. A few seconds later, his body shuddered under Remus's as he climaxed.
“Yes,” Remus growled. “Mine. You are mine,” and he let the clenching of Severus's muscles around his cock and a few hard thrusts carry him to orgasm as well.
Severus lay quietly, eyes closed. Remus carefully shifted his legs and leaned over to brush a gentle kiss across his lips.
Severus's eyes opened. “Remus,” he said quietly, almost smiling. Then he shook his head and said sharply, “Lupin. Get off me and clean us both up before that damned mediwizard comes in to see what set off his blasted monitoring charms.”
Remus eased gently out of Severus's body and slid off the bed. Reaching for his wand, he said, “Oh, did I forget to tell you? You're being released today. The monitoring charms have been removed already.”
Severus stared at him. “What? Do you mean to tell me we could have done this,” his attempt to gesture was frustrated by the straps still binding his arms to the bed, “in the comfort – and privacy – of my own chambers? Lupin, you... you...”
Before Severus could decide what to call him, Remus said calmly, “You're being released to Madame Pomfrey, not to your own devices. You are on your way to the hospital wing at Hogwarts. You'll be there for at least another week until your hands heal, and I don't think Poppy will be so obliging as to give you a private room just so we can make love.”
Severus protested, “A week! The hospital wing– I don't need Poppy Pomfrey hovering over me for a week, Lupin,” while Remus cleaned come off Severus's chest and rearranged his hospital gown.
“Of course not, Severus,” Remus said soothingly, repeating the cleaning spell on himself and fastening his trousers. He decided not to mention that the mediwizard had said it might be even more than a week before Severus's hands had healed enough for the bandages and splints to be removed, even with magic speeding the process. He smiled to himself as he thought of some delightful ways to keep Severus too tired and preoccupied to complain. Much. Unfortunately, he probably couldn't get away with any of them while Severus was under Poppy's watchful care, and besides, he had said Severus would have to make the next move.
Severus's eyes narrowed with suspicion as he watched Remus's next gestures with his wand. “You had a silencing charm up? And wards? Lupin, you let me think that–”
Remus silenced the incipient tirade in the most pleasant way possible, bracketing Severus's face with his hands and pressing their lips together. Severus made several muffled irate noises against his mouth, but gave up trying to talk when Remus sucked on his lower lip. When Severus was finally quiet, Remus ended the kiss and straightened.
“You're mine, Severus. Although I really wouldn't mind having everyone at St. Mungo's hear you scream my name, I'm not sharing you with anyone. Not even an inadvertent eavesdropper.”
Severus shivered at the intensity in Remus's voice. He hadn't dared think Remus would ever forgive him, let alone do something like this. And maybe even plan to do it again. Next time. He said next time...
Remus reached down and brushed a strand of hair off Severus's face, then strode toward the door.
“Lupin?” Severus said, hating the plaintive uncertainty he heard in his own voice.
Remus stopped and turned to face him, leaning casually against the wall as he spoke. “It's all right, Severus. I can forgive you once, I think. But don't ever try to protect me by making my decisions for me again.”
Severus swallowed at the new lines he saw on Remus's face. He nodded, slowly.
Lupin's eyes lit with a smile, and he pushed away from the wall. As he left the room, he said, “Rest now. I'm going to find that mediwizard and tell him you're ready to leave. Kingsley and Tonks are already waiting for us.”
Relaxing into his pillows, Severus decided maybe convalescence wasn't so bad after all, if this was what visiting hours were like. Beyond all expectation, he was still alive. And he was Severus again. Not Snape.
Maybe it was pure selfishness to accept what he so desperately wanted from Lupin, but he had insisted it was his choice, and Severus felt oddly relieved that Lupin had chosen this for both of them. Maybe – maybe it would be worth the risk.
Again, the title is from “Walk the Black Path” by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell.