Title: Walk the Black Path
Author: MusIgneus
Email: musigneus@hushmail.com
LiveJournal: http://www.livejournal.com/users/musigneus/
Rating: R
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: Accompanies/follows A Cure for Dreams. Also a response to challenge #116: After an unplanned/unexpected night of intimacy, Snape acts more coldly than ever toward Lupin, apparently regretting opening up to anyone. Thanks to N.A. for beta reading and comments. Feedback is appreciated.

Walk the Black Path

Severus was pinned against the wall, shaking with rage and fear as a pair of masked and robed Death Eaters dragged Remus Lupin's limp, battered body toward him. Remus made only a feeble effort to break his fall when they released his arms, and he fell hard, crumpling onto the stone floor.

"Remus..." Severus hissed desperately, jerking against his chains. "Remus!"

"How touching, Severus," drawled a cold voice.

Severus's head snapped up, and he saw Lucius Malfoy leaning against the opposite wall. Flickering torchlight shone on his pale hair and crisp white shirt, spotless except for a dark smear of blood on one sleeve. Severus watched helplessly as Lucius pushed away from the wall and paced slowly toward Remus's prone body.

"He's not quite as pretty now, is he?” Lucius said scornfully, nudging Remus's bruised and bloody side with the polished toe of his boot. Severus winced when the expected sharp kick landed in Remus's ribs, and winced again when he saw that Remus barely reacted to the blow.

Lucius made a speculative noise, then reached down. Severus saw his hand twist viciously, although he couldn't see exactly what he had done. Whatever it was, Remus's body jerked in response, and he made an anguished sound that would have been a scream if he hadn't already screamed himself hoarse hours ago. Severus knew that sound all too well, and his stomach twisted.

Somehow, he knew that he had begged for Remus - begged as he could not imagine ever begging for himself - and received only mocking laughter in reply. Lucius pulled Remus's head up so Severus could see his bruised face. Meeting Remus's vacant, pain-dulled eyes, Severus moaned in despair.

A long, white finger slid down Severus's cheek, tracing the path of his tears. "So, Severus, my unfaithful servant..." Voldemort's voice hissed out of the darkness. "Your lover is paying the price for your betrayal."

"My lord..."

Voldemort's fingers clenched, and Severus could no longer speak around the force constricting his throat.

"Your lord no longer, Severus. You chose to give your loyalty to that senile old fool instead! See where it has brought you. Are you satisfied?"

Tears ran unchecked down Severus's face as Remus writhed again under Lucius's hands, then lay still. Too still - he was barely breathing.

Voldemort's voice softened. "But do not think I have forgotten your years of faithful service. Before you left me. I think they deserve some reward, don't you?" He raised his wand.

"No. No, don't,” Severus mouthed silently, shaking his head as Voldemort turned to face Remus.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Severus screamed. "No!"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Severus sat bolt upright, hand automatically clenched around his wand, his scream of denial still echoing in his mind. His heart was pounding, and cold sweat prickled on his back. Low light from the dying fire revealed nothing out of order in his bedchamber, however, nothing unusual except the man lying in his bed.

Severus's dream hadn't disturbed Lupin - he was still sleeping soundly, curled compactly on his side of the bed with a small smile on his lips. Severus lowered his wand with a trembling hand. His heart was still racing. How could he have forgotten, even for a moment? He had seen enough people broken - hell, had helped break enough people - by the simple expedient of hurting someone they...cared about. He hadn't kept Lupin away from Lucius and the Dark Lord only to be the cause of his ending up in their hands again. Even this casual liaison - and of course, Lupin couldn't have regarded it as anything else - put Lupin in danger.

Severus suddenly realized his hand was stroking Lupin's hair, smoothing the graying strands away from his face. He snatched his hand back, then slid hastily out of bed. Grabbing a clean robe, he left Lupin asleep in his rooms.

By early afternoon, Severus had reorganized and checked his supply of every ingredient in both his classroom and his private stores, dispatched three owls with orders for various replacements, and written a fiendishly difficult little quiz for the next day's sixth year Slytherin-Gryffindor class that should give even Miss Granger pause. Best remind them that there would be no slacking in his NEWT level course. He was determinedly not thinking about Lupin sleeping in his bed - or by now, of course, dressed and on his way back to London. Or somewhere. It would be easy enough to avoid him at the next few Order meetings, and that would be the end of it.

Severus cursed as a fragile vial shattered under the pressure of his fingers. He had just rinsed the glass from his hand and disposed of the refuse when he heard a knock followed by Albus's voice. "Severus?"

Severus cursed again, quietly, and considered pretending he wasn't in, but the headmaster would only track him down somewhere else later. He gestured irritably, and the door flew open to reveal Albus's disgustingly cheerful visage. A plate of sandwiches and a steaming mug suddenly appeared on Severus's desk.

"Albus..."

Dumbledore smiled. "You missed breakfast, my dear boy. And lunch."

Severus sat, abruptly, in one of the student chairs, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. He let his eyes close briefly. He felt a headache starting already. "I'm fine, Albus. There's no need for you to...fuss over me."

Albus sat near him, and levitated the sandwiches to a desk suggestively near Severus's hand. Severus glared, then snatched up a sandwich and ripped off a corner with his teeth. One raised eyebrow challenged the headmaster, who merely smiled.

"Did you just come down to save the house elves a trip, Headmaster?" Severus asked eventually, surprised to find the sandwich was already gone. Oh well. There were more.

"Not just, Severus. I thought you would like to know that I have found a possible solution to a couple of the problems we discussed."

Severus sighed. Albus was in one of those moods. Fine. "And which problems would those be?"

Albus's mouthed twitched at the sigh, but he finally became more serious. "What to do about Harry, and how to protect Remus a bit better now that Voldemort is aware of his...importance to Harry."

Severus waited, keeping his face expressionless from long habit.

"Remus has agreed to live in Hogsmeade for a few months and help keep an eye on Harry," Dumbledore said.

Severus found it unexpectedly difficult to swallow. He put the suddenly tasteless sandwich down sharply on the plate. "I can only hope he will be a steadying influence on Potter. Although given his behavior during his own student days, I sincerely doubt it." Dumbledore frowned, but Severus continued, "You do realize that increasing his proximity to Potter will only increase his importance as a target in the Dark Lord's eyes?"

"I have warded his cottage, but I think Remus can take care of himself fairly well, Severus."

"Of course. That would be why I had to rescue him a few days ago," Severus said bitingly.

Dumbledore tilted his hand in acknowledgment of the hit.

"You did at least warn him?" Severus asked.

"I believe he is aware of the risk."

"Warn him, Albus. I still think you should warn Granger and Weasley as well."

"I believe they also are aware of the risk, Severus," Albus replied gravely. "After last spring...well, they cannot be unaware."

Severus snorted, but didn't comment. He knew Albus was already fully aware of how dense he believed certain Gryffindors could be.

Dumbledore said, "They will be staying close to the castle this term. And as for Remus, I hope proximity to Hogwarts will help offset..."

Proximity to Hogwarts. Severus didn't hear the rest of whatever Dumbledore was saying. Proximity to Hogwarts... He stood abruptly, interrupting the headmaster's speech.

"Is that all, Headmaster?"

"Yes, Severus. Unless there is something you wish to discuss?" Albus said. He met Severus's flat stare for a moment, then said, "Very well then. I will see you at dinner tonight."

Recognizing the pleasantry for the order it was, Severus responded merely, "Of course, Headmaster."

Lupin in Hogsmeade. Around Potter. Around Hogwarts. It would simply be more difficult to avoid him, that was all. It meant nothing.

Severus abandoned the remaining sandwiches and began pulling ingredients for the Draught of Peace from the shelves. Pomfrey always needed extra calming potions at this time of year, for homesick first years or fifth years terrified of their OWLs or seventh years of their NEWTs. And, he thought grimly, this term was likely to be worse than usual, with many of the students worrying about their families as well.

Brewing three batches of the Draught simultaneously, offset by a few minutes, was tricky enough to keep him fully occupied until he decanted the finished potion into a large flask to give to Pomfrey. He started to call a house elf, then decided to deliver it himself. It would, after all, be his last chance for months to walk about the castle without having students underfoot everywhere. He strode quickly through the corridors, thinking about the experimental potion he had been forced to abandon when the Dark Lord had called him weeks ago. Perhaps if he substituted coal tar for the -

Severus dodged, automatically protecting the flask he was carrying, as a figure stepped around the corner and almost collided with him. He tensed as he recognized Remus, then snapped, "Watch where you're going, Lupin."

Lupin looked startled. "Excuse me?" he said, looking a bit puzzled.

Severus walked past Remus, determined to ignore him and get to the hospital wing. "Gladly," he snarled. So I didn't manage to avoid him, but it should be fairly easy to put him off. After all, his curiosity has been satisfied - he can't have much interest in me beyond that.

Then Lupin said, "Severus - a moment, please."

Always so polite, even to me - fuck. Severus belatedly realized that Lupin had actually seemed pleased to see him. The sudden, unexpected light in his face when he had first recognized Severus was fading now, though, as puzzled wariness replaced the subtle happiness. The realization that last night might have been more than just a casual encounter, perhaps with more to follow, that it might actually have meant something to the other man, shocked Severus to the core. No. Impossible.

Lupin was frowning as he began, "About what happened..."

Severus interrupted ruthlessly. "Are you certain this is a conversation you wish to have in the corridor, Lupin?" He watched Lupin carefully as they moved into a vacant classroom, responding automatically to whatever was said while he wrestled with the terrifying idea that perhaps Lupin really was attracted to him and would not be easy to put off.

No, Lupin was not easy to put off at all - he ignored Severus's subtle deflections and provocations, and stubbornly asked, "Did something happen this morning, Severus? Because as I recall we were on fairly intimate terms last night, and now you're acting like...like nothing happened."

"As far as I'm concerned, Lupin, nothing of moment did happen last night," Severus said evenly, wearing the expressionless mask he'd had years to perfect. He expected anger. He wasn't prepared for the shocked pain that flashed across Lupin's face.

He and Lupin had once, when they were young, been not quite friends. Remus had exhibited a tolerance, and a sort of tentative near-friendliness, that had been the best anyone at Hogwarts had offered him. Until Sirius Black sent him to the Shrieking Shack. Contrary to what Remus seemed to think, it hadn't been his lycanthropy that had bothered Severus. It had been his willingness to forgive that menace Black - the fact that he had chosen to side with the posturing idiots who called themselves his friends - for which Severus had hated him after the incident. All the reluctant liking he had felt for Remus had been buried under the bitterness of that rejection.

After that show of Gryffindor loyalty - to other Gryffindors only, of course - Severus had never quite believed Remus couldn't have known Black had turned traitor. He had been furious when, hard on the heels of Black's escape, Albus had opened Hogwarts to Black's oldest friend. Oldest living friend. But Remus had been persistently polite (except for the humiliating incident with the boggart), and had done nothing threatening, and had even sought Severus's company without any apparent motive, until Severus had thought, maybe... But then Black had reappeared, and once again Lupin had chosen his side. Severus had been too furious to listen to Remus try to explain, too certain that Remus was lying, that he had only befriended Severus to make him lower his guard so he and Black could get to the Potter brat. Then Black escaped, and Albus didn't bother to tell him he thought Black was innocent until it was hours too late; in his rage, he had ensured Lupin would be driven out of Hogwarts. He might, he admitted, have done it anyway - he hadn't really believed Black wasn't the traitor, that Lupin had tried to tell him the truth, until he had seen Pettigrew at the Dark Lord's side.

Regardless, Severus had assumed that the careful acquaintanceship that had grown between them was over, but Lupin had seemed to forgive him, or at least, he was still unfailingly polite. And almost friendly. Friendly enough that Severus had hoped, ridiculously, that maybe there was something warmer underlying the friendliness. Apparently, there had been.

The certain knowledge that something he had desired so hopelessly for so long had just been offered to him, but that he didn't dare accept it, enraged Severus. He turned the fury toward Lupin, for being kind, for being more than curious, for being too dangerous - and struck, as always, at his target's weakest point.

He said, "I see. Did you think it meant something, Lupin? It was nothing but sex. I certainly had - and still have - no intention of entering a relationship with a half-blood subhuman."

All expression drained from Lupin's face, but his voice was curiously steady as he repeated, "A half-blood subhuman? If that's how you think of me, Severus -" His fists clenched. "If that's what you think of me, why did you let me in your bed last night?"

"Really, Lupin. I, at least, am only human. You offered, and I accepted. After all, I already knew you were a fabulous lay," Snape sneered, desperate to make Lupin leave him alone.

Lupin swayed backward, and seeing his white, shocked face, for a moment Severus thought he had pushed too far and Remus was about to curse him. He couldn't bring himself to care. But no, Lupin was still staring at him with a terrible deep hurt in his eyes, so Severus kept hurling insults until Lupin, face set, suddenly pivoted and took three swift steps to the door. The windows rattled as it slammed behind him.

Severus stood frozen, waiting motionlessly until not even a werewolf's sensitive ears could catch the sound of shattering glass when he hurled the flask against the wall.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Author's Notes:
The title is from a poem by Alistair Te Ariki Campbell:
Walk the black path
Walk the black path at noon
Walk the tilting earth
Between dream and nightmare...
And no, I do not plan to end the series on this note.