Third Time's the Charm
In retrospect, he would see that the relatively calm start of term had been an ominous portent, an ugly harbinger of the disastrous events to come. At the time, however, it seemed merely par for the course: half of the Slytherin first years caught an airborne hex and he spent three nights cleaning vomit off mewling eleven-year-olds, taught the standard 32 hour Potions courseload, agreed (as though he had a choice in the matter) to continue making Lupinís Wolfsbane and thus signed away six hours a month to a very complicated, expensive, and malodorous potion, met with Dumbledore every two weeks to discuss current events and fabricate more or less believable intelligence, attended a superlatively unpleasant Death Eater meeting, coached the interhouse chess league, acted as faculty advisor for the Future Potionmakers of England, kept the dungeons clear of more than a cosmetic supply of rats, spiders, and cockroaches, served as a consultant for the Ministry Department of Poison Control, and, of course, devoted several hours a week to thinking of ways to subtly convince Draco Malfoy not to bugger off and join Voldemortís forces.
It wasnít just Malfoy, of course, who might, but Draco had the capabilityprimarily financial, although he had never been the squibbish dud Severus had fully expectedto be quite a destructive force for evil. Draco had been belligerent in sixth year, and Severus anticipated that a summer of important pureblood banquets and Muggle-baiting would have rendered him, by now, a right pain in the arse, and that meant tea, now and again, and as much gentle persuasion as he could muster. A man must allow himself some small pleasures, however, and Severus had long consoled himself for the wasted hours with the thought of what Lucius Malfoyís face might look like on the day of his only sonís betrayal. At the very least, he was hoping for tears of rage.
It was, altogether, a demanding schedule for a miserable amount of pay. He could have made a good deal more money as an independent consultant, or even brewing love potions and selling them by owl-order [or, obviously, by being a henchman for the evil empire, as Voldemort paid his full-time henchpersons very well, albeit with an occasional surfeit of gory tribute.] Still, it was his inescapable duty to guide young minds; perhaps once a year, he found he almost enjoyed it.
There were bright spots, goodish students in several of his classes, and the occasional Quidditch triumph; whole weeks where he didnít have to speak to Dumbledore. Lupin had recruited him to teach the Defense Against the Dark Arts class when he was, himself, indisposed, and despite the added course-hours, the variety was pleasant. Also, incredibly, Potter had opted out of the NEWT level potions class, which meant only Weasley and Granger to be the inevitable thorns in his side. Surprise, surprise, he thought wryly, Weasley demonstrated a definitive knack for potions when not being distracted by Potter. Whatís more, it seemed that the concentration the class required rendered him unable to disrupt class in his customary manner. After six years, it was strange to teach a four hour potions practical during which Ronald Weasley uttered not one ugly slur about Slytherins, but Severus, being concerned with other matters, did not bother to investigate.
Thus, it took him at least a month to notice that things were, perhaps, quieter than they ought to have been, and yet another month before Lupin appeared in the door of his classroom just as he had finished clearing away the disastrous potions with which the second-year Hufflepuffs had once again disgraced themselves, and said,
"Just so you know, Ron Weasley is very probably screwing Malfoy."
"You must be mistaken," Severus said, dumping the rest of the scrolls into his desk drawer and brushing out the door past Lupin.
"Little twitchy blond? In need of a haircut?" Lupin said flatly, following him into the corridor, and then, unbelievably, into Severusí own rooms.
"Go away," Severus said, and tried to close the door. Lupin ignored him. Severus sighed. "How do you know?"
"How do you think?" Lupin said. "I"
"Spare me the stomach-turning details," Severus said, leaning against his mantel and kneading his forehead a little. The weekend before, he had watched Draco clasp Weasleyís hand in the middle of the Quidditch pitch, noted the hectic flush on the back of his neck, the dark flicker of emotion in Weasleyís face, and thought nothing of it. In retrospect, he decided, it was both disgusting and irritating. Draco had been distant, however, now that he thought of it: quiet and dutiful in classes, perhaps a flicker less enthused about grinding Muggleborn first-yearsí faces into the dirt.
"In general, I do not interfere with studentsí private lives," Severus said, after a moment. "In fact, I try to make a practice of avoiding any knowledge of them altogether."
"True," Lupin said. "I thought you might feel this is a special case."
"I suppose," Severus said reluctantly. Lupin regarded him with unruffled calm.
"Donít you have tea with Malfoy twice a week?"
"Every other week," Severus admitted.
"You didnít notice anything"
"You didnít notice anything about Weasley"
"I donít have tea with him every week."
"Every other week," Severus said. "And he begged off last week due to"
"Having to whisper sweet nothings into Weasleyís ear, no doubt," Lupin said. "Young love, and all that."
"I wouldnít know," Severus said. Lupin met his eyes evenly, and Severus looked away first.
"What ought we to do?" Lupin said.
"You know," Severus said grimly.
"Oh, ugh," Lupin said, and threw himself into a chair.
"You probably ought to have a chat with Potter, too, about girls and things," Severus said, giving up on ever getting Lupin to leave him alone.
"Very well," Lupin said bitterly. "Although frankly, I donít see why Iíve got to have a chat at all, since Weasley is obviously having more sex this year than Iíve had in the last five"
"He is quite off-putting," Severus agreed, "but I thought you liked him."
"What I think is fairly immaterial, compared to what Malfoy thinks" Lupin grinned suddenly. "His feelings, by the way, seem to be favorable."
"Youíre certain itís not a curse or a cruel practical joke?" Severus said.
"Without offending your delicate sensibilities," Lupin said, closing his eyes and tipping his head back against the chair. "Yes. Iíd gotten used to them being rather small, you know. Wasnít that nice?"
"and now theyíretheyíve got"
"I beg you to stop," Severus said. "It was bound to happen, what with all that seething hatred of each other for no good reason."
"Point," Lupin said. "Those Weasley boys also tend to turn abruptly rather handsome, too. Bound to be disconcerting."
"Right," Severus said noncommittally. "Iím certain it will burn itself out and end in pain and wretched despair, in any case."
"Ah, yes, right. Excellent," Lupin said, considerably cheered.
He wasnít as thin as he had been, especially in the miserable aftermath of Blackís death, when Severus had been the only one who had seem him regularly, apparating to his front door several days before the full moon to deliver his potion. Dumbledore and McGonagall had usually insisted on giving him squashy packets full of food and goodness knows what else, but he had been reasonably certain that Lupin had ignored them.
"You look bad," he had said, often.
"You, too," Lupin had replied, hands efficient on the teakettle, sifting the leaves neatly. He had been spying, obviously, worn around the edges with guilt and worry. They hadnít talked above what was necessary, although Lupin had nearly always offered him tea, and Severus had nearly always accepted. Lupinís presence notwithstanding, it had been a relief to spend even a few hours away from Hogwarts, from the gathering shadows of the coming war, from Potter, who had grown his hair long and possibly stopped bathing and quit the special Occlumency lessons in a snit at least once a month.
He hadnít been overly surprised when Dumbledore had opened the August staff meeting with the suggestion that Lupin be taken on again as the Dark Arts professor. After a year of unexpected and ugly deaths, Muggle and otherwise, the reinstatement of the Hogsmeade curfew, and a good deal of unsettling intelligence, it had been obvious that no one would much notice Dumbledore rehiring a slightly battered werewolf.
"Especially," Severus had said, "as he can be more or less trusted not to make a total cockup of it all."
"Positivity," Dumbledore had said, shoving the plate of biscuits down the table towards him. "Very good."
"I had no idea you held him in such high esteem," McGonagall had said, taking a crisp bite of her biscuit.
"Itís more that heís not actively in league with evil," Severus had said pointedly, noting that Dumbledore did not have the good grace even to wince.
Lupin had arrived on foot two weeks later, slightly before the full moon, and installed himself in the suite of rooms connected through a series of higgledy-piggledy stone corridors to Severusí spacious, albeit rather dank, quarters. The dungeon had never been his idea of an ideal living space, but the fact remained that ingredients tended to retain their potency for the longest in the cool and damp, and Severus had always found it convenient to have items at hand. Lupin had been well settled by the time Severus had arrived in his sitting room with the potion, knocking cautiously on the smallish red door at the end of the passageway and finding Lupin on the other side, clutching his wand, decidedly alarmed.
"I thought it was a closet, you see," he had said, grimacing in apology and sliding the wand back up his sleeve. "That is, under normal circumstances, it is a closet." He had swung it open to reveal a mostly empty closet, a few threadbare robes hung neatly off the central bar.
"Curious," Severus had said, reaching in to tap against the now-solid back wall of the closet.
"No matter," Lupin had said. "If you donít mind"
"I wonít come that way anymore," Severus had said. "Of course."
"No," Lupin had said. "I meant." There had been a small, shamefaced silence and Lupin had said "I wondered if you could look at mymy room."
"Ah," Severus had said, and followed Lupin through the comfortably furnished sitting room into the bedroom and then into a smaller adjoining room which had been hidden behind a heavy stone bookcase. Lupin had slid his hands one-third of the way along the fourth shelf, and the bookcase had turned into a door with a high, narrow window.
"Manual trigger?" Severus had said, peering into the room. "Anyone could"
"Itís keyed to me," Lupin had said. "Andyou, if you donít mind."
The room beyond had been small and bare with one window, less than a foot square, high up against the ceiling. Lupinís face had been expressionless as he looked inside.
"I signed up to make the potion," Severus had said, "not to be the dog minder"
"In case of emergency."
"And because I trust you to do whatís necessary," Lupin had said. "Everyone else rather likes me too much, I think. Probably."
"Oh," Severus had said.
"And you" Lupin had said almost apologetically. "Iím not sure but what youíd jump at the chance to" he had shrugged, and his mouth had twisted into something approximating a smile.
"To do whatís necessary," Severus had said.
It would not have surprised Severus at all if Lupin had turned into one enormous problem after another; the responsibilities he assumed had a way of multiplying fiercely. At least two full moons had come and gone, however, and nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He had gone through the passageway once, with the potion, and Lupin had come to him, once, and both times they had discussed lesson plans for the Defense classes Severus would undertake, had tea, and generally avoided unpleasant topics.
"I take it Weasley is now well-informed on the subject of the birds and" Severus said, when he found Lupin sitting in his favorite chair in the faculty lounge, feet propped on a windowsill.
"Oh, shut it," Lupin said.
"Fucking horrible," Lupin said, with a not-inconsiderable amount of feeling. Severus found himself feeling faintly sympathetic. He, himself, had had an intensely uncomfortable discussion with Draco that had bordered on the absurd, and he felt that they had both taken away something very important, namely, that they would avoid the topic like the plague for the rest of their natural lives.
Severus had been kind to Gregory Goyle, in the gruff way the boy could understand, when he was spotty and miserable in third year. In fifth year, Pansy Parkinson had cried in the narrow hard chair in his office, purple and white in the face, her hands fisted helplessly in her robes, and Severus had waited her out in silence, not bothering to insult her with platitudes. After she was finished, he helped her brew the necessary potion.
"Donít be so stupid again," he said, when she was cleaning the cauldron, her back bent.
"I wonít," she said. There was a discolored smudge of potion down the front of her robes, but her forehead was creased in resolve.
Draco, however, had been different, somehow, and not only because he had had a huge love bite on his collarbone when Severus had ushered him onto the couch.
"Classes going well?" he had said.
"As well as can be expected."
"I know what Iím doing," Draco had burst out. "And I know heís a great freckly bastard and all, but I think"
"Good," Severus had said. "Excellent. Exert caution and thoughtfulness."
There had followed several excruciating silences. Severus was usually quite comfortable with uncomfortable silences, but as Draco bit his lip and stared down at his teacup, he had begun to worry that Draco was on the verge of giving him information that far exceeded the level of candor that one might wish when talking about a Weasley of any stamp. Additionally, looking at the fall of hair over Dracoís brow, the stubborn curve of his jaw, it had occurred to Severus that Draco, for whatever reason, possibly rather loved Ronald Weasley. Having sensed that it might soon become necessary to discuss the strangeness and suddenness of love, the beauties of the heart, the sudden clarity conferred upon one by experiencing such things, etcetera, Severus had pretended that something required his urgent attention, and sent Draco on his way. He had comforted himself with the fact that Lupin could not have done a better job, and this was confirmed when Lupin pressed his palms to his forehead and said,
"Awful. Excruciating. I fucking shudder to think of how many more times I shall undoubtedly be called into the breach."
"Thereís Potter," Severus said.
"Oh, Christ," Lupin said glumly. "Do you suppose that will be better or worse than having to explain to Ron Weasley the things heís too embarrassed to ask his brothers about?"
"Worse, Iím certain," Severus said, not bothering to suppress his cheer. "It was no doubt helpful, however, that youíre"
"Black," Severus said, after a moment. "I thought. You."
Lupin looked at his hands, resting quietly on his knees. Severus became aware that he felt intensely awkward, for the second time this week; it was not a comfortable, or familiar, feeling. Lupin lifted his head, smiling slightly.
"He wouldnít have me," he said. "You knew him, after all. Difficult. Nasty at times."
"You were friends," Severus said. He did not make jokes about such things.
"Yes," Lupin said, simply.
Severus was, all things being equal, having a rather good fall term. To begin with, Draco no longer seemed at all keen on Voldemort, beyond some undisguisedly perfunctory lip service. Instead, he spent most of his time sliding his eyes sideways towards Weasley, and his silent regard was obviously returned. After a month, Severus began to be less worried that everything would end with a bang and a splatter, and Draco would run off to Voldemort to assuage his broken heart. When, perhaps three weeks later, he saw Draco shaking Harryís hand after breakfast in the Great Hall, both of them a little white around the mouth, he felt something in his chest disentangle, and, against his will, found himself being almost pleasant to Neville Longbottom when he encountered him in the wildest and most dangerous greenhouse.
"Professor," Neville said.
"Extra credit, Longbottom?" Severus said.
"You ought to have continued with potions," Severus said. "Your marks were quite high enough to get into the NEWTS class."
Longbottom looked up at him in ill-disguised confusion. "I, um." He pressed his lips together. "I was always under the impression that you rather hated me."
"Hatred is an extreme way of describing it, donít you think?" Severus said.
"Oh," Longbottom said.
"You should know better than to let your personal feelings interfere with your abilities," Severus said.
"Um," Longbottom said. He opened his mouth, and then shut it, firmly.
"Something to work on," Severus said, turning back to the plants, lifting his long silver clippers and watching them shrink back in subdued alarm.
The moon had come and gone without incident, Slytherin had given Ravenclaw a dangerous pummeling in Quidditch, and the Death Eaters were lying low. After a summer in which he had spent every other week hustling to one Death Eater gathering or another, from the scourging of a Muggle village, in which he had been thankfully spared anything more than a supporting role, to a truly harrowing cocktail party at Malfoy Manor, Severus was finding it an enjoyable, if slightly foreboding reprieve.
He took three naps, managed to entirely avoid Dumbledore for blissful days at a time, and caught up on his reading, ensconced in the same carrel he had used as a student, through the Astronomy section and up a narrow spiral staircase. There was a silencing spell over the entire line of carrels, which were generously-sized, the desks and shelves above made of thick black walnut, each with a narrow bronze nameplate. The fourth carrel along said Severus Snape in a severe, looping script. The names changed from year to year: Hermione Granger had had a carrel since fifth year, eight down from Severus, and prefects were automatically awarded a carrel, so there was Dracoís disorderly carrel, parchment splattered with ink and listing stacks of books next to suspiciously next to, Severus realized in retrospectWeasleyís orderly shelves, and then Potterís vacant desk, with one lone dusty book on his desk. It had been eerie, at first, to study in absolute silence, to be without even the slow flip of a turned page, the scratch of a nib, but Severus had grown used to it, and did not even mind conducting his reading in the midst of students, although he much preferred it after curfew, when he was alone, and did not run the risk of seeing Weasley and Draco bending around their partition, passing scribbled notes back and forth, fingers touching.
He was walking back from the library lost in thought one night when Lupin appeared next to him suddenly, as silently as though heíd apparated.
"Fight," he said, and moved swiftly along the hall without waiting for Severus to answer. Fights had always been a serious affair at Hogwarts, but this year they had turned brutal and cruel, and Severus had, for the first time in recent memory, issued more detentions for fights than for risible incompetence. He shook his wand into his hand and caught up with Lupin. Soon he could hear muffled cheers and shouts that grew louder as they half ran down the last staircase and around a corner to a small, dark door. Lupin tried the doorknob, and then muttered a quick alohomora, wand tapping against the doorjamb.
"Incompengo," Severus suggested, but Lupin shook his head.
"Little bastards," he said, slapping his open hand against the door. "I taught the seventh years inviolable sanctuary last week"
"Youoh, wonderful," Severus said, sliding his wand across the door and seeing the wards flare, momentarily, bright red and black. "Good show."
"I didnít think they were going to use it to beat the shit out of each other," Lupin said, shoving his hair off his face, frustrated. He traced his fingers along the door again. "This is solid work, too. Itíd take days to take this down."
Severus said nothing. Inviolable sanctuary spells, good ones, anyhow, were difficult to break, specifically because they severely inhibited magic use. Theyíd have better luck with a battering ram than with a spell, and the door was very thick.
"Supposing we just shout," Lupin said.
"Thatís going to do wonders for our authority, isnít it?"
"Donít tell me youíre putting your authority over the safety ofwhoeverís in there."
"Thereís no need to become agitated."
"There is everywhat are you doing?"
"Iím transfiguring this wall into glass," Severus said. "Iíd appreciate some help, if youíre not too busy."
"That wonít ever work," Lupin said.
"It will if they havenít bothered to properly set the boundaries of the sanctuary," Severus said, "which, as it happens, they havenít. You might want to add that to your lesson plan, for next time."
Under normal circumstances, he would have been able to produce a wall of glass within seconds, easily. Under the dampening influence of the spell, it took the two of them several minutes of extreme effort, transforming the wall a little bit at a time into small interlocking panes. Severus was not especially skilled at transfiguration; it was helpful to have a wild and unfettered imagination, a department in which he was sadly lacking. His panes of glass were plain and clear, somewhat clumsy around the edges, where Lupinís were a bewildering assortment of colors and shapes, emerald locking to orange to starburst yellow.
The inhabitants of the room took no notice of the change. There were at least ten of them, clustered at one end of the room, wands thrown aside.
"Malfoy," Severus said, in spite of himself, as the crowd shifted briefly and he saw Dracoís pale face spitting invective, one arm twisted roughly behind him.
Lupinís eyes flickered to him, and then he pulled his cloak securely over his elbow and plunged it into the glass and, in the same motion, was halfway across the room, pulling the nearest assailant roughly away from Draco, the boy stumbling backwards over the stone floor.
Severus took the sudden silence as a chance to step calmly into the room, arms folded, and say, "What, may I ask, is going on here?"
They were not all Slytherins, he noted, as the students fell back a little under his gaze.
"Nice of you to show up, Professor," Draco said, his voice thin and strained. He pulled himself to his feet with some difficulty and added, "Iím really doing quite well." His face was newly bruised, nose bloody; he dabbed cautiously at his lip with the back of his hand and then winced.
"Detention," Lupin said loudly. He had a long cut on his cheek from the glass and his voice was dark and low. "Details to be announced later. For now, get out of my sight."
The crowd left quickly and silently, avoiding each othersí eyes.
"Um," Draco said.
"Hospital wing," Severus said. "You donít need to be carried, do you?"
"Certainly not," Draco said.
They climbed the stairs slowly, Draco first, Lupin and Severus at the rear. Lupin looked sideways at him once, and then again.
"Iíll go fetch Weasley, then," Severus said grudgingly.
He had never been in the Gryffindor common room before. He found himself looking around with some curiosity, well aware that his interest impugned his dignity. There had only been some first years lolling in front of the fireplace when he swept in, and they had gaped up at him nervously when he ordered them to find Weasley. Several minutes passed. Severus contemplated sitting down on one of the long comfortable couches that lined the room and then rejected the idea. He could hear Weasley some minutes before he entered the room, whispering furiously with the first year andPotter, Severus thought. Heíd know that voice anywhere, especially lowered into a malicious whisper. Weasley came off the bottom stair reluctantly.
"Professor Snape," he said. He looked sideways at the remaining first years by the fire, and they gathered their books quickly, scampering up the steps.
"Mr. Malfoy," Severus said, "was hurt earlier this evening."
Weasley went pale. "How?" he said. "Is it"
"Heíll pull through," Severus said.
"Heís in the hospital wing?" Weasley said, already starting towards the door.
"Wait," Severus said.
"You wonít let me go?"
"Youíd " Severus sighed. It was past midnight; he could have been peacefully asleep by now, and yet he was in the Gryffindor common room, attempting to reason with a Weasley. "Potter," he said, raising his voice slightly. "Youíd better hear this, as well." Potter entered the room slowly, arms crossed over his chest. He didnít come further than the mouth of the stairwell. "What happened?" Weasley said. He was still pale, hands trembling slightly.
"What did you presume would happen?" Severus said. "That everyone would throw him a lovely party?"
"You neednít explain yourself, Mr. Weasley," Severus said. "But I expectOh, very well, I donít expect in the least that youíll be able to restrain yourself from seeking revenge. But you will not, do you understand?"
"You wonít punish them at all, will you?" Weasley said mutinously. "Youíre glad "
"Iím never glad to see anyone under my tutelage acting like a pack animal," Severus said. "In any case, Professor Lupin has taken on the punishment for this particular escapade. Itís nothing to do with me. I simply thought you might like to be informed."
"Why?" Potter said quietly. It was the first time he had spoken.
Severus drew in a breath. "You have permission to go to the hospital wing," he said, spelling some dust motes quickly together, setting them hovering, emitting a faint blue glow, over Weasleyís shoulder.
"Whatís " Potter said.
"That," Severus said, "is the sign that a student is authorized to be out of his dormitory after curfew. I must say, it doesnít surprise me that you have no idea what it is."
"No," Lupin said, in the staff common room the next morning. He was clutching a murky cup of coffee; werewolves were notoriously not morning people. Severus bit into his eggs and ham with relish; he was, as things went, rather fond of the morning, although he much preferred to eat alone, in his tidy kitchen. Dumbledore, however, required all faculty members to breakfast in the common room at least twice a week, and Severus had to admit that the eggs made forced socialization almost worth it.
"You think I canít take care of punishment?" Lupin said.
"I think "
"You think Iíll be unfair to the Slytherins?" Lupin narrowed his eyes belligerently. It was, Severus thought, rather startlingly reminiscent of Weasley, albeit slightly less pop-eyed.
"As I recall," he said, "You were always the reasonable one, when we were at school."
"You know, itís really unnecessary to dredge that up every " Lupin began furiously, and then stopped. "Oh," he said. "I donít need help, anyhow," he added, after a moment. He gulped at his coffee and winced as Severus took the last of the bacon, still crackly and hot. "Good of you to get Ron, by the way," he said.
Severus said nothing, concentrating on his bacon, but he could feel Lupin beginning to smile next to him.
"In fact," Lupin said, "It was downright "
"I was trying to be fair," Severus said.
"Hm," Lupin said. The small bell hovering in front of his empty plate rang twice.
"Thatíll be your class," Severus said.
"Right," Lupin said, rising. Severus sighed in relief, and quirked a finger at the newspaper Hooch had left at the end of the table. He had just summoned a quill to begin the crossword when Lupin stuck his head back through the door.
"Not going soft on us, are you?" he asked.
"No," Severus said, as coldly as he was able.
He did not expect that Lupinís punishment would prove very effective. The man was, werewolf aside, popular amongst the lower forms for being the sort of professor who knew homesickness charms, and amongst the upper forms for being witty and kind and the sort of professor who inspired a brisk underground photograph trade when it was discovered that he often went for long midnight swims in the lake. Severus had been called upon to soothe nightmares more than once during his tenure at Hogwarts, but he didnít flatter himself that he was really any good at it. Mostly, he noticed that eleven looked younger every year, and tried not to remember how relieved he had been, as a child, to come to Hogwarts every autumn. Soothe, now that he thought of it, was the wrong word; he did what he could. He didnít know any homesickness charms as a matter of principle; they were a waste of time.
As the next fortnight passed, however, he saw the perpetrators straggling up to the castle long after dark, their robes streaked with mud, faces exhausted. He saw Lupin, twice, flying up the same path, robes flapping behind him. He flew serviceably, but with no real technique, on a standard school issue broom; Severus doubted he had owned one before he came to the school. He raised a hand when he saw Severus watching him, not quite a wave.
Severus had knocked before entering, but there had been no answer, and the small, sullen hedgehog in the portrait outside Malfoyís room had shrugged morosely and opened the door for him. And so he found them, Weasley propped against the headboard, Malfoyís cheek nuzzled against his collarbone; ties loosened, sweaters discarded. Weasleyís hand stilled where it had been making careful strokes over Malfoyís ribscareful, Severus thought, where he was habitually slapdash and reckless. Malfoy straightened; Weasley flushed uncomfortably, but didnít move his hand.
"The books you asked to borrow," Severus said, putting them on a hat rack just inside the door that obligingly turned into a table. "You ought to lock your door, Malfoy."
"The hedgehog doesnít approve," Malfoy said gloomily.
"How peculiar," Severus said.
"They might have been naked," Lupin said unsympathetically, sprawled in a chair opposite his fireplace. It was November, the long nights scuddering away from Samhain, the second night of the full moon and Severus had come through the passageway with the Wolfsbane draught to find Lupin drinking scotch straight from the bottle, staring silently at the fire. He was considerably cheered by Severusí admission of interrupting doomed young love, however.
"Naked," Severus grimaced. "That really would have been beyond the pale."
"Drink?" Lupin said.
"Unlike some of us," Severus said, "Iíve got to teach a double load tomorrow."
"Drink?" Lupin repeated.
"Oh, very well."
They drank in silence for some minutes, Severus sipping at the generous tumbler Lupin had conjured with a lackadaisical wand motion and then filled nearly to the top, and Lupin, himself, drinking methodically from the bottle.
"Do you do this every time before you change?" Severus said. "Because if so I ought to modify the potion"
"Not every time, no," Lupin said. He rolled his neck expressively, slid a little lower in his chair. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. Wolves donít get hungover."
"You arenít going to get drunk and demand we do something ridiculous, are you?" Severus said, starting to feel a tad anxious. He did not often drink alcohol.
"Of course not," Lupin said. "Malfoyís all right, then?"
"If by all right, you mean unnaturally obsessed with a Weasley, then yes."
"Prats," Lupin mumbled.
"Disgusting," Severus muttered.
"I havenít gotten laid since 1993," Lupin said loudly.
"Revoloh," Severus said. He took a renewed and fervent interest in his drink.
"This is awkward," Lupin said, after a moment. "Go on, then."
"Say something horrible and funny and withering," Lupin said. "Put me in my place."
"I should be going," Severus said, setting down his glass with an unsteady clunk. He had drunk more than he had meant to. "The full moon is upon us."
"Thank you," Lupin said. "For the potion, I mean."
Imbibing alcohol was not generally considered to be an excellent idea for wizards; it was not illegal to perform any kind of magic while inebriated, but it was certainly inadvisable. The thickness of the glass Lupin had conjured him had varied more than one might strictly want and Severus paused, once inside his chambers, eyed the books scattered haphazardly across the room and the teacups he had developed an unpleasant habit of forgetting on the small table next to his favorite armchair, which had placidly grown a larger surface area as it grew more cluttered. He had intended to do a housekeeping spell this evening, but, all things considered, if he wanted his dishes in one piece and, in addition, in his actual kitchen cupboard and not in the garden, under the bed, or transformed into voles, it would be better postponed until morning.
He loosened his outer cloak and toed off his socks and shoes, dropped his wand carelessly on his bedside table, and was in the process of washing his hands and face in the ewer in his bedroom when he heard a distant clamor that turned into a distinct and desperate thumping, which culminated in a half-naked, rather hairier than normal Lupin bursting through the red door into his rooms.
"Thereís something wrong," Lupin said, throwing back his head with involuntary violence, his arms shaking, elongating.
"I donít know " Lupin roared and then transformed wholly into the wolf, great and shaggy, red-eyed. It roared in disorientation and then launched itself at him.
"StupefOh, fuck." Severus shouted, and being half-drunk and without his wand, grasped the nearest item at hand and brought it down as hard as he could on the beastís slavering, misshapen snout. As luck would have it, it was not his ancient Gryphonís feather or the leftover Yorkshire pudding he had had for dinner, but a very large and malevolently glinting crystalline orb of unknown, but no doubt Dark, origin.
The wolfís eyes wavered for a moment, locked on his in fury and hunger, and then its expression changed to something rather more like confusion. Then it fell to the ground, and Severus staggered back, thanking his lucky stars for Slytherin parents, who continued to top off his collection of evil artifacts no matter how many he buried under the crescent moon, covered with goat's blood, ceremonially burnt, or gave to his favorite Great Aunt Constance for her birthday.
Severus took several deep steadying breaths and bent, cautiously, to make certain the wolf was still breathing. Satisfied, he fetched his wand and spelled a careful set of twenty-three point wards which made quiet fizzing noises when he passed close by them. He went into his kitchen and drank a glass of water, leaning against the cold granite counter. As he passed back by the wards, he paused, looking at the torn trousers that were still tangled in the wolfís hind feet. After a moment, he sighed, took a small afghan from the back of his couch and threw it through the wards, which sparked slightly.
Then he went to bed.
He awakened early, too early for breakfast, so he summoned a cup of tea and some fourth year scrolls and propped himself up in bed to mark them. He finished as many as he could stand on an empty stomach and then got out of bed to return the teacup to the kitchen. While summoning tea worked well, sending such an item back to the kitchen tended to result in a fifty percent breakage rate. He noticed, as he passed through the main room, that Lupin was still sacked out, unmoving, albeit human, on the floor. He put the teacup in the sink and left a note for the house elves who happened by once or twice a day requesting some poppy seed stickybuns. It wasnít until he was back in his bedroom lacing his boots that he realized that Lupin had been really awfully still.
Lupin was, on closer investigation, not breathing.
Severus dropped the wards and slid to his knees next to Lupin, noting his waxen pallor, his open, defenseless hands. He was suddenly very conscious of the fact that he had killed Remus Lupin, and that it would be the first death he had ever caused by accidentby incompetence, even, which was far far worse. He tried a reviving spell, which did not work, and considered jamming his wand up Lupinís nose, which was what his granny had always advocated for cases such as these; he managed to remember the spell for filling someoneís lungs with oxygen, and spoke it, but Lupin seemed unwilling to breathe on his own, even when Severus pried open an eyelid and poked at the twitching eyeball vigorously.
This was intolerable, Severus thought. He had been a Death Eater, and then a traitor; he had spent his twenty-first birthday sifting through the rubble of Godricís Hollow, and his thirty-first birthday screaming, his mouth salt and stale with his own blood, as the faded tattoo on his forearm rustled slowly, balefully, to life, and then he had been forced to tell Goyle that what was happening to him was all perfectly normal, yes, and nothing to be worried or ashamed about, and now Remus Lupin was absolutely pegging out on his floor as a result of a badly made potion, and it was, oddly, proving to be the last straw.
He lunged across the room and yanked open the lowest drawer of his desk, scrabbled through a couple of yellowed issues of Potions and Elixirs, a dusty packet of cough lozenges, a vial of smelling-salts, buttons and bottle stoppers and a broken pen-knife, and found his school-issue emergency port-key, a watch fob adorned with a small sleeping dragon. Severus curled his robe around his fist and picked it up, and then gathered Lupin awkwardly into his arms, trying to keep the afghan around him as best he could, before letting the portkey slide into his hand, appearing several feet off the floor, his knees slamming roughly into the cold stone when he fell.
"Pomfrey," he said, and when she did not come, he thumped Lupinís ribcage twice, harder than he meant to, shaking him a little. Hopeless, Severus thought, shoving his fist into Lupin's chest in frustration, and Lupin shuddered, whimpered oddly, and then drew breath. Severus swallowed. Lupin breathed again. Pomfrey appeared at his shoulder, and he allowed himself to be led away.
Defense Against the Dark Arts did not go well. Lupin had prepared a lesson for the sixth years on the physics of glamours, but Severus found that as he lectured, the diagrams glowing blue and green, hanging in the air over the front workbench, his mind wandered.
He thought, first, of the unknowing eyes of the wolf, fixed on his, and how easily he had gone to bed with the creature asleep on his floor. He thought of the back of Lupinís neck, his narrow shoulder blades, the scars on his back and chest, the lazy way Lupin had raised the bottle of scotch to his mouth. He thought, lastly, of how still Lupin had been, and the strange panic he had felt trickling through him, kneeling on his sitting room floor. His mind looped and meandered and led him steadily, repeatedly, back to the small photograph in his mindís eye, where he lunged futilely at Lupin, thumped his chest, bowed his head and cursed. The fourth time he watched himself gather Lupin into his arms, watched Lupinís head tip back across his arm, limp, lifeless, he sighed and put down his notes.
"Does everyone know how to play Sevens?"
The class fell silent, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor seventh years, worn around the edges with study and worry for the coming war.
"The game, Sevens?" Weasley ventured, after a moment.
"No, the bloody awful torture technique, Sevens," Severus snapped, and when they sat still, faces expressionless, he said, heavily, "Yes, the game Sevens."
Potter stared nervously at him. "Iím certain," Severus said, "that it cannot have escaped your notice that being able to cast an impenetrable glamour could save your life as much as being able to detect one. Weasleyfor the aid of the Muggleborn, would you please explain the game?"
"Er." Weasley cleared his throat and sketched out the basics of the game, which involved seven people being it, and, as Severus recalled, a minimum of scuffling.
Ten minutes later, the game was in full swing, and Severus appeared to have a class made up of prosperous middle aged wizards, fairy princesses, some Muggle movie stars, a frog, a pixie, Draco Malfoy, a strange creature which seemed to be possibly a badger with a tea tray on its head, and a tall glowering person with an elegant nose and a great deal of very red hair.
"Not amusing, Miss Granger," he said and Severus Snape-by-way-of-Weasley flickered slightly, and turned into an altogether tall and distinguished person with a black glint of humor deep in his eyes and a proudly tilted chin.
"Insincere flattery," Severus said, "is not only unnecessary but distinctly unwelcome." Severus Snape grinned at him sheepishly and dwindled quickly into a pitch-perfect copy of Harry Potter, rather better than Terry Bootís, who had made him entirely too broad around the shoulders and ignored the rather unfortunate spot on his chin.
There was also rather more scuffling than he remembered.
Lupin was asleep in one of the private rooms when Severus arrived. He had skipped lunch, and was somewhat the worse for the wear, having dug his time-turner out of the bottom drawer to teach both potions and DADA to four separate classes.
"Iíll come back," he said, immediately.
"Nonsense," Pomfrey said briskly, sweeping him through the door. "He was asking for you earlier."
"Lupin," Severus said. He looked long and narrow in the enormous bed, the covers barely disturbed by his presence.
"Hello," Lupin said. Severus hesitated, and then sat down in the visitorís chair next to the bed, curling his hands over the armrest. There were no flowers on his bedside table, no chocolates. Severus wondered for a moment if he ought to have brought something before dismissing the idea.
"How were classes?" Lupin said, pulling himself upright, and groping for the glass of water on the bedside table.
"I. All right," Severus said. He had spent the nearly entire third year Hufflepuff class discussing phantasms before realizing that he had been calling them pixies for the past hour, and then let the fifth year Ravenclaws out of class entirely. "How are you feeling?"
"Imy head aches," Lupin said. "Poppy seems to believe I have some kind of weakening virus of dark origin, but I donít see"
"That was, I hit you over the head with a Bestrilís Orb," Severus admitted.
"Why did you do that?"
"It was part of my master plan to prevent myself from being eaten, if you really want to know."
"Oh," Lupin said. "I didnítI donít remember. You are," he hesitated, swallowing, sliding his hands along the bedspread. "You are uninjured?"
"Why werenít you in your room?" Severus said.
"I was," Lupin said. "I went in after you left."
"I could smell you," Lupin said slowly. "I began to change, and I couldnít. It seemedfuck," he said softly, looking away.
"You wanted to eat me," Severus said, "and you had not changed enough that you could not open the door."
"I am, at this point, Britainís foremost authority on almost being eaten by a werewolf," Severus said, "please do not be worried on my account."
"You shouldnít joke about it," Lupin said.
"You shouldnít apologize," Severus said. "As it is I, no doubt, who fucked up the potion."
"I donít think"
"It didnít work," Severus said brusquely. He was not accustomed to making errors in potions he had been making for years, and found it unpleasant in the extreme. Lupin drank half the glass of water, and placed it back carefully on the bedside table. "Would you like me to bring you something?" Severus said.
"No, Ithatís not necessary," Lupin said, flushing a little.
"I meant books," Severus said, "Or perhaps youíre falling behind on your marking."
"Always," Lupin said, ruefully. "But I think Iím going to sleep, instead."
The bell over the hospital wing door rang, faintly, and Severus rose.
"I will see you at dusk," he said. "You cannot take the potion this evening, of course."
"I understand," Lupin said. He was already curled in on himself, tugging the blankets up over his shoulders, by the time Severus closed the door behind him. He cornered Pomfrey by the supply cabinet.
"How ill is he?"
"Whatever you did would have killed a human," she said sharply. "Heís very lucky."
"Will there be permanent damage?"
"I donít believe so," she said. "No magic, no magical interactions, however, for at least 48 hours, and heíll be weak as a kitten" she broke off, and nearly cracked a smile. "Heíll recover, Severus," she said. "Would you care for a piece of chocolate?"
Severus taught two more classes and was waylaid briefly by some disrespectful Gryffindors shouting in the hallway, so by the time he got to the hospital wing, Lupin was awake, crawling out of bed. He stood in the doorway and watched as Lupin pulled on his dressing gown, his back bowed, his wrists shaking in fatigue.
"Can you walk?"
"Iím not certain," Lupin admitted. "Butno magic, so I suppose Iíll have to."
"Iíll carry you," Severus said. Lupinís eyebrows lifted, a fraction of a second twitch, but then he nodded.
"Of course, thank you," he said.
Lupin was wearing a threadbare pair of pale green striped pajamas and his dressing gown was slightly moth-eaten, its worn brocade gone soft with age. He was perhaps a scant inch taller than Severus, but narrow; he felt awkward in Severus' arms, heavier than he looked, his head tucked against Severusí shoulder, one arm clasped tightly around his neck.
"The students are at dinner," Severus said, when they reached the end of the second long staircase, lifting Lupin higher against his body, shooting a scathing glare at the portrait of three great society witches from the eighteenth century who were leaning forward on their velvet chaise, watching with great interest.
"Ah," Lupin said, and Severus could feel the smile curving against his chest.
"I know you cannot possibly think this is amusing, Lupin." Sir Cadogan had slid into a pastoral scene on a recalcitrant donkey and was winking salaciously and waving his hands in approval. Severus ignored him.
"Not especially," Lupin said. "Also, if you could ease up on the ribs a little"
"I apologize," Severus said stiffly. He shifted Lupin again in his arms and Lupinís fingers scrabbled across the back of his neck, above his collar, before his hand settled again, gripping Severusí shoulder tightly. They reached the stairwell to the dungeons, where the corridors got progressively narrower, supported every fifty feet by thick stone arches. Severus banged Lupinís ankles on the first arch, and his own elbow, jarringly, on the second.
"Why are we in the dungeons?" Lupin said politely, as Severus slowed, and angled through the third arch.
"Itís faster," Severus said, "to go through the passageway." The dungeons were, in addition, downhill, and his shoulders and stomach were beginning to ache.
"Iím quite well," Severus said.
The door to Lupinís safe room was open, and there was a long scratch mark against the trigger on the inside. Severus set Lupin down, propping him against the wall. He was unnaturally pale, but he shook Severusí hands away.
"Could youyouíll need my wand to lift the key spell," he said. "Itís in the bathroom."
Lupinís bathroom was tiny and spartan, a narrow shower stall enclosed with icy blue glass, the sink cluttered with two books, a bar of soap, a razor. His wand was jammed into the ceramic toothbrush holder next to his frayed toothbrush. Severus barely hesitated before flipping open the medicine cabinet. Muscle relaxants and painkillers, still in the thick green glass bottles Severus used for his medicinal potions, antiseptic and bandages, two Muggle bottles he didnít recognize and couldnít get the tops off, fingernail clippers, nothing of interest. Severus tapped the door shut.
"Iíll need manacles," Lupin said ten minutes later, when Severus had removed the key spell entirely. "Could you"
"I donít, I" Severus said. Lupin had removed his pajama bottoms, although he still wore the dressing gown. As Severus watched, he settled himself carefully on the floor and stretched his arms along the stone wall.
"About here should work," he said, tapping his wrists back against the wall for emphasis.
"No," Severus said. "Itís unnecessary; you wonít escape."
"Itís more so I donít move too much," Lupin said. "I just donít"
"Oh, very well," Severus said. He conjured a heavy set of manacles, nearly five feet apart, and Lupin nodded, and clasped one around his wrist.
"I could make them looser," Severus offered.
"No," Lupin said. "Perhaps you could fasten the other, though."
Severus drew a small breath and knelt to close the manacle around Lupinís narrow wrist; there was barely any slack in the chain, and his arms were spread wide. He smelled of soap and water, and up close, Severus could see the veins tracing across his throat, the narrow, resolute lines of his mouth, and the light from the sun sinking down outside the narrow window lit up the grey streaks at his temples, the bruises dappling his left temple and cheek.
"My wand," Lupin said softly. He had tipped his head back against the wall, and his eyes were almost entirely closed.
"Iíll leave it on your bureau."
"Thank you," Lupin said, before closing his eyes entirely, curling up against the wall.
The sun set, Lupin changed; even beyond the warded door, Severus could hear the shuddering, outraged growls. He did not linger in Lupinís rooms beyond that; it felt like an intrusion seeing Lupinís robes cast on an empty chair in his bedroom, the half empty, lopsided tumblers still on the table between two armchairs before the fire. He dropped the wand on Lupinís bureau, next to several small photographs; two people Severus did not recognize, who waved merrily at him, and Sirius Black, who grinned at him. Severus drew a sharp breath in through his nose, grasping his own wand tightly.
"Donít," he said, and Black nodded, shooting him a conspiratorial glance before gesturing rudely.
"I never liked any of you," Severus said. The passage seemed long and cramped and darker than usual.
There was nothing wrong with the potion, nothing that Severus could find, even though he worked well into the night and fell asleep on the narrow couch heíd moved into his laboratory, which was discolored from clouds of vapor and had once hosted a family of mice for some spring weeks before Severus had noticed and set them free in the fields beyond the Quidditch pitch.
He was in Lupinís rooms at dawn, even though even he usually considered two and a half hours to be a meager ration of sleep. He opened the door just as the sun edged above the horizon.
"Very punctual," Lupin said.
"Fine," Lupin said, but there was a messy bite on his shoulder, the dressing gown rusty with blood, and his wrists were raw inside the manacles. As Severus knelt to release him, he saw the dressing gown was split from collar to waist.
"You shouldnít have worn that," he said.
"You think not?" Lupin said acidly.
As it was rather early in the morning for anything but coffee and hushed voices, Severus said nothing, merely passed his wand across the frayed skin on Lupinís wrists.
"ThatísI can do that," Lupin muttered, struggling into a standing position. "Iím fine."
"You stink of wolf," Severus said, "and you look fucking awful."
"Itís kind of you to say so," Lupin said, but he didnít argue when Severus slid an arm around his back and helped him through the passageway. He had a bathtub in his quarters, an ancient claw-footed monstrosity, which, when filled to the brim, was deep enough to cover a man nearly to his shoulders.
"Huh," Lupin said. "I just have a shower."
"Leave the door open," Severus said, "and perhaps Iíll rescue you if you drown."
"Oh good," Lupin said, without enthusiasm, but even as Severus made a pot of oatmeal and dug out an extra bowl, he could hear the gentle slip-slop of water, followed closely by Lupinís groan of relief and delight.
Lupin started nodding a little before he finished his oatmeal. Severus had watched hundreds of students fight against sleep in the past fifteen years, so the third time Lupin twitched and jerked himself upright, he took the spoon out of Lupinís hand and helped him back through the passageway.
"Iím not an invalid," Lupin said, shaking Severusí hand away.
"Yes you are," Severus said.
"I have changed into a wolf before," Lupin said. "Once or twice."
"As Britainís foremost authority on nearly being eaten by a werewolf," Severus said, catching Lupinís arm as he stumbled and yanking him upright, "Iíve noticed."
"That wasnít funny the first time," Lupin said crossly. He was wearing Severusí second best dressing gown and a pair of Severusí socks.
"Third timeís the charm," Severus said.
Potter was waiting for him outside his rooms when he returned from Lupinís chambers, leaning against the stone wall, arms crossed. Severus sighed.
"I want to resume Occlumency lessons," Potter said.
"Is that what you want?" Severus said.
Potterís mouth tightened, but when he spoke, his voice was polite. "Sir, I know I havenít"
"Oh, all right," Severus said impatiently; he swung open the door and walked in and Potter shuffled nervously after him.
"I can assume that if I refuse," Severus said, "Youíll whine and plead, and then Dumbledore will show up and be a bloody awful cheerful nuisance until I give in, am I correct?"
"Donít mumble," Severus said. "Itís a terrible habit." He stalked through his sitting room into his workroom, flung open the doors of a high cupboard and found his pensieve on a cluttered shelf. He banged it on a workbench and tapped his wand, once, quickly, against his temple.
"Now?" Potter said, hanging in the doorway.
"Now," Severus said, preparing himself for yet another nauseating montage of Potterís pathetic history.
Potter had been practicing.
"Iíve seen worse," Severus said grudgingly, an hour later, when they were both wavering around the edge, and Potter was slumped against the far wall, his tie loosened.
"The dreams?" Severus said, straightening his crumpled collar.
"Better," Potter admitted. "Hermione helped me practice."
"Thank you, though," Potter said, slowly. "Youíre better than she is."
"Do you think Iím going to die?" Potter said suddenly.
"Truly," his voice was low and rough. There was an inflamed, white-tipped pustule at the corner of his mouth and Severus recalled, unbidden, Jamesí light, grating tenor, and, even worse, his perennially unblemished skin.
"Youíll live," Severus said. "Youíll live, and vanquish Voldemort, and live happily ever"
Potter looked away, his jaw tightening.
"I apologize," Severus said quietly. Potter nodded, staring at the floor, and then stood, slipping his wand back up his sleeve.
"Next week?" he said. Severus nodded, and sat down at his desk.
"Professor Lupin could no doubt use your assistance," he added, just as Potter stepped through the doorway.
"He" Potter said, reappearing, his forehead creased with consternation.
"First year essays do not mark themselves," Severus said, "and I slipped him a rather powerful sleeping draught in his oatmeal this morning."
"I assure you he is in no danger," Severus said, pulling his own stack of first year essays towards him. "Get out," he said, after a moment, when Potter was still hanging in the doorway. Potter left, and Severus worked through four of the essays before digging his grimy to-do parchment out of the drawer and adding an item, the twelfth: invent a way for essays to mark themselves. Summer was coming, after all, and last summer, in between rounds of useless spying, killingly futile Order of the Phoenix meetings, the clean-up from the flood which had filled the entire Slytherin dormitory with a foot of murky water for a week, and a broken hand from a horrible croquet afternoon with an entirely humorless Lucius Malfoy, Severus had very nearly invented a slug repellant that worked.
He finished six more essays, average mark: Disgraceful, and then pulled the pensieve towards him. As he went to replace his memories, however, he saw that that long ago afternoon with Potter and Black was no long among them. Curious. With a bare hesitation, he brought his wand to his temple and extracted the memory, throwing it into the pensieve. There it was, in all its spleeny glory, but there was something else about it, too; it took him a moment to come to it: they all looked so young. Younger than Potter, certainly, whose face was prematurely hollowed with worry, but also younger around the eyes than even his second-yearsthe children in the pensieve had never seen war, had not lived their entire lives under the shadow of darkness. He watched stolidly as Potter cursed him, as Black laughed. They were gits, he thoughteven Weasley had learned more compassion by fifteen, but the memory no longer pierced him with shame and anger. He had long ago stopped specifying memories for the pensieve, and used, instead, a catch-all charm with a modifier: Unforgiveable. It appeared, he thought, replacing the swirling memories in disgust, that some part of him had decided that that long ago humiliation was, in some way, forgivable.
Lupin was at dinner.
"You should be in bed," Severus said.
"May I have the potatoes?" Lupin said.
Severus passed him the potatoes.
"How are you feeling, Remus, my dear?" Pomfrey said, accepting the potatoes on the other side of Lupin.
"Very well, thank you," Lupin said placidly. "I had an extensive nap this afternoon."
As always, the summons came at the wrong time. It came, to begin with, before he had put together lesson plans for any of his classes, in part because heíd had spent the whole of the Christmas Holiday in his laboratory trying to discover, without any success whatsoever, what might have gone wrong with Lupinís Wolfsbane.
The full moon had come the day after Christmas.
"I didnít get you anything," Severus had said, handing Lupin the goblet of potion. He had managed to avoid the faculty Christmas party by lying about having to conduct further investigations into the Wolfsbane, and was, despite an incipient cold, feeling self-congratulatory.
"Why would you do that?" Lupin had said, sipping curiously at the potion and then wincing.
"No reason," Severus had said, "Never mind," and swung the door shut on Lupin.
The summons came on pork chop night, on the one evening that Severus had managed to avoid having any students serving detentions, and, in addition, just as the weather plunged deep into negative numbers. Unfortunately, Voldemortís current hideout was a cave that was utterly exposed to the elements.
It was, on the other hand, marginally easier to toady when one was already shivering with cold, and pondering the possibility that one might never be warm again. Lucius Malfoy was attired in ridiculous ermine robes and shook Severusí hand with bone-crushing thoroughness. Severus thought of the last time heíd seen Draco, saying a lingering, careful goodnight to Weasley outside the dungeons, their hands twined together, Weasley murmuring something nauseating, dipping his head into the crook of Dracoís neck, and mustered a genuinely pleasant smile for Lucius.
It was two oíclock in the morning before he could get away, and nearly three before he waded back up through the heavy snow, and slipped down the icy stone stairway and into the dark tunnel that led directly to the dungeons. The tunnel was low enough that Severus had to bend his neck at an uncomfortable angle, and he moved quickly, already anticipating a small sandwich, an enormous mug of scorching tea, and bed. As he turned the last corner, however, he saw the red door had unassumingly put itself directly in his path. He paused and stared at the light seeping from beneath the door, before giving up and reaching for the doorknob.
Lupin was sitting before the fire, a stack of scrolls next to him, a pair of glasses falling down his nose, and a pot of tea steaming gently next to him. Severus opened his mouth to say something and then closed it, and accepted the cup of tea Lupin handed him, sitting down in the chair opposite Lupinís and sliding his soaking feet as near to the fire as he dared. The tea scorched the roof of his mouth and made the back of his neck break out in a sweat.
"Youíve managed to completely confuse your third years," Lupin said, scrawling a lengthy comment on a scroll and tossing it aside. "Although I will admit that thirty-seven poorly researched essays on the most uncomfortable potions-related demise makes for somewhat more diverting reading than I had expected."
Severus took another sip of tea and picked up one of the scrolls. The wobbly and much blotted writing was scored with green corrections, in his own hand, and Lupin had assigned an A, for appallingly bad.
"I didnít ask you to do that," he said.
"Insomnia," Lupin said lightly.
Severus set down the tea on the table and closed his eyes for a moment. The room very warm, and he felt himself slide towards drowsy in a bare instant, and thus almost swallowed his tongue in surprise when he opened his eyes to see Lupin bent over him, one arm braced on the chair behind him. He opened his mouth to take a panicked breath, and Lupin kissed him, his mouth hot against Severusí, bottom lip catching softly on the corner of his mouth. Severus reached up blindly and caught in Lupinís robes at the waist.
"Iwhat?" he said, when Lupin lifted his mouth.
"I was under the impression that you wanted me to."
"ah," Severus said, weakly.
Lupin smiled a lot, fiddling open the buttons on Severusí robe, shoving his braces off his shoulders and he wanted to kiss a lot, which Severus found slightly embarrassing, but also messy and hot and good, Lupin's too-short fingernails biting into his hip, Lupin's hair twining around his shoulders, falling between them, between their lips, their robes and trousers and shirts tangled up between them until Severus lost patience entirely and tugged too hard and ripped Lupinís robe at the shoulder.
"Low-quality," Severus mumbled, and pressed his mouth against the hollow of Lupinís clavicle, his tripping pulse.
They fucked. It was wonderful. Wonderful, the warmth of Lupin's body, the curl of his eyes, his long shins scraping against Severusí, wonderful the noises he made when Severus rolled him back across the bed and shoved his hand between his legs.
"Oh," he said, and then again, later, hands curled around Severusí hips, moving slowly inside him, and Severus could feel everything, everything, the sweat on Lupinís stomach, the scrape of his stubble against his shoulder, Lupinís hand, slightly too rough, on his cock.
Severus woke up three hours later, sore and sticky and alone. Lupin was leaning in the doorway, wearing only an open robe and a pair of socks.
"So," Severus said. Lupin crossed his arms, and then uncrossed them. "I'll go," Severus said, after a minute.
"No, don't trouble yourself," Severus said, bitter, feeling the beginning of a miserable flush creep up his chest. His knees still felt chilled and stiff from earlier that evening. He pulled on his robes and gathered up the rest of his clothes, his wand, his boots and socks and crumpled shirt.
"This is not a conversation I wish to have. I have a class"
"In six hours"
"Can I come for breakfast?" Lupin said, following him across the living room.
"You could be a little more"
"No, I couldn't," Severus said. He had dropped a boot, but he pressed on, anyhow.
Lupin was waiting for him outside his last class. There was a very distinct bite mark high on his neck.
"You could have waited in my rooms," Severus said, standing as far away from him as he could without having to shout. "I don't care to have mymy personal life advertised"
"I wasn't certain I was welcome," Lupin said. Several of the wall-sconces that lit the narrow corridors of the dungeons had been blown out; in the uncertain light, Lupin could nearly have been seventeen again. Seventeen, and they could hardly know each other, brought together by a few cruel pranks. Severus blinked, and Lupin was Lupin, the fine network of wrinkles around his eyes, the pale streaks of grey at his temples.
"You're too thin," Severus said. "You should eat more."
"I" two students skittered by, giving them both cautious looks. "Come back to my rooms," Lupin said.
Severus opened his mouth to say no. "Yes," he said.
Severus had grown so used to using the back passageway to Lupinís rooms that he barely knew the way. He watched Lupinís hand on the balustrade and dreaded the conversation they would be forced to have; he had not slept with a colleague in thirteen years, and it had been a huge and humiliating disaster then, as well. He wondered if Black would come up and hoped rather fervently that he wouldn't. It had been a great deal easier to righteously loathe the man before he was manipulated into idiotically throwing his life away, a position for which Severus was forced to have a certain level of sympathy, but that sympathy did not extend to a discussion of the lost loves of Remus Lupin.
Lupin shut the door behind them.
"Iíd like my shoe" Severus began, and Lupin said,
"Oh, I" and kissed him.
The couch in Lupin's rooms was a spindly 17th-century affair, not set up for two tallish men in full academic robes, but Lupin wiggled underneath him, somehow got their robes open, their fingers twisting together on belts, on trouser buttons, and Lupin threw his head back against the velvet armrest, gasping, open-mouthed. Severus pressed his mouth against Lupin's throat for a long moment, feeling Lupin swallow, and then he slid down off the couch, his knees slamming roughly into the flagstones between Lupin's legs.
Lupin sighed when Severus put his mouth on his cock. From below, his face looked severe, penitent, and Severus bent closer, curling one hand around Lupin's calf for purchase.
He felt clumsy, confined in his robes, but Lupin was hot and hard in his mouth, his hands trembling, fingers tracing down Severusí face, the other wrapped, white-knuckled, around the ornate knob at the end of the armrest.
"Letís fuck," Lupin said, after a bit, sliding down and pressing a dazed kiss against his mouth. Severus put one hand under his hip and flipped him over so he was face down on the couch, their legs bumping awkwardly together, wrenched his robes up over his ass, Lupinís knees sliding apart, his face pressed into the couch cushions. Lupin had lost a shoe, somehow, and his socks were threadbare, and sagging around his ankles, and he made a low, inspiring sound in the back of his throat when Severus fucked him.
"What do we know?" Dumbledore said. They were in an unplottable room in the base of Hufflepuff tower, and Severus had been ten minutes late to the meeting after looping back to his rooms to change his trousers. He had not had anything to eat for dinner but the apple Lupin had tossed him after they finished putting their clothes to rights.
"Not much," Potter mumbled. He was sprawled awkwardly in his chair, elbows on the circular table.
"My dear boy" Dumbledore began.
"We don't know shit, and you know it," Potter said. "This is a waste of time."
"Severus has risked his life to bring us this intelligence"
"At least when I thought he wasn't on our side, there was a reason" Potter shook his head angrily, like a dog with something stuck in its ear.
"The war is coming, and we're all going to get killed," Severus snapped, "unless"
"Unless I kill him. Helpful," Potter said. "Very helpful."
Severus stared at the table and then looked up at Lupin, who was drinking tea, face quiet. There was a mouth mark, Severus noticed, on the back of his hand.
"He'll never win" Potter began.
"Of course he won't win," Severus said. "He has no real interest in winning, at this point. But he'd be happy to kill you, and everyone you know. He'll be happy to make enough stupid Muggles cognizant of our existence that"
"Muggles aren't stupid"
"Enough of them are," Lupin said. "What Voldemort wanted twenty years ago is not what he wants now."
"Yeah," Potter said. He had been balancing on the back two legs of his chair, and now he let the chair fall back down with a thump. "Everyone just knows all about him, except anything actually useful, like maybe when or how he's going to attack."
"Let's all hope his weapon of choice is adolescent petulance," Severus snapped, "since he certainly could not hope to prevail against our champion."
Potter glared at him for a moment, and then stood and gathered his books. "I have Quidditch practice," he said, and left, his shoulders stooped.
"Lupin," Severus said, just as they had reached the first landing below Dumbledoreís office. Lupin was slightly ahead, taking the stairs two at a time. He stopped and turned; they were alone in the corridor.
"Severus." Unbidden, Severus thought of Lupinís outflung arm, his fingers biting into the couch cushions, the shudder and curl of his spine when Severus ran his thumb along the bony curve of his hip.
"I would like to take some blood samples for my research, if you have time."
"On Wednesdays I customarily play poker with Minerva."
"Ah," Severus said. He had forgotten about McGonagallís semi-weekly poker evenings, usually attended by most of the faculty; it was an especially fruitful night to dig through the periodical collections in the faculty common room without being bothered with nosy questions.
"You would be welcome"
"I value my solitude," Severus said.
"Of course." Lupin nodded, and set off down the branching hallway, his robes twisting neatly in his wake.
"Tomorrow afternoon?" Severus said. Lupin stopped.
"I have a class."
"The next day?"
"Three oíclock," Lupin said. He was far away enough that Severus could not quite see his eyes, could not see the mouth mark on his hand, hanging loosely at his side, but he knew it was there, remembered the smell of his skin.
"That isyes," Severus said. "I will expect you."
The Wolfsbane he brewed the following month didnít work, either.
"Are you just fucking with me?" Lupin said, half-shouted, cradling his wrist, which, as it turned out, was broken from repeatedly throwing himself against the stone door.
"No," Severus said. Lupin's face was badly bruised. "It's possible that youthat you've developed a tolerance."
"Really?" Lupin said. "Now thereís a brilliant fucking analysis"
"Donít shout at me," Severus said.
"Fine," Lupin said. "You can work around that, right?"
"Iyes," Severus said.
There was not a single documented case of anyone developing a tolerance to Wolfsbane, but most werewolves tended to be burnt alive by the age of fifteen, or run off to join Siberian cults. Wolfsbane, Severus realized, reading further, had never been meant to be used as a long term solution.
"Oh," Lupin said, when Severus told him, put the book down in front of him as proof, bookmarked with straggling bits of parchment.
"I'mIíll find something," Severus said, when a terribly long pause had elapsed, Lupinís thumb sifting along the rough bound edge of the book.
"I've done without before."
"I said I would find something," Severus snapped. Lupin nodded. They did not fuck that night, or the next, but the night after that, Lupin appeared in his classroom doorway, the tide of fifth years parting around him, and they spent the next hour brewing poison antidotes before jerking each other off, leaning against the potion bench because Manticore-horn based potions couldnít be left unsupervised. Lupinís cock was sticky and hot against his palm, and Severus had to lick his hand to get it wet enough, while Lupin wrenched the buttons of his trousers open, high spots of color in his cheeks, and the Saturday after that, Severus knocked on Lupinís door after his post-curfew sweep, and they fucked in Lupinís bed, thighs rubbing together in a heavy, rough rhythm, Lupinís uneven breath against his neck.
He did not stay afterward, because he was still tinkering with the Wolfsbane potion, with results far more disappointing than the fucking, which was brilliant. It was perhaps odd, Severus thought, that Remus Lupin should take up so much of his time, but as he was not actually evil, and a brilliant, beautiful, gift from Medea sort of fuck, he tried not to dwell on it too much and failed, miserably, every time.
It was thus not exactly a relief when Potter knocked politely on his office door, and asked if he had time for another occlumency lesson. He spent several careful minutes with the pensieve in the other room and was irked to notice that, even in the shadowy, distorted light of the pensieve, Lupinís smile was luminous, grave.
They were taking a short breather, Severus leaning against his desk, Potter collapsed in the wooden chair before it, when Potter said,
"Is Professor Lupinis something wrong?"
"I'm certain he'll tell you if there is something the matter," Severus said stiffly. "I wouldn't know."
"You're thinking about him," Potter said, carefully.
"Weasley" Severus began, deciding hastily that the best defense was a good offense.
"I don't care what he does," Potter said harshly.
"That is utterly convincing."
"Is this going to work?" Lupin said, the night of the next full moon, squinting at the goblet.
"No," Severus said.
"Terrific," Lupin said, taking a morose gulp.
"I'm doing the best I can," Severus said, "it's not as though I don't have classes andandWeasleys in my common room, and"
"I know," Lupin said.
"Oh, what do you want me to do," Severus said sharply, "turn myself into an animal to keep you company?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lupin said, sharply. He downed the rest of the potion and slammed the goblet down on the sidetable.
"Nothing," Severus said. "nothing" he lifted one hand vaguely and then put it back down. "Iíll have something for you as soon as I can." He gathered the sheaf of papers he had been working on, noting that his hands were clumsier than usual, under Lupinís gaze.
"I" Lupin slumped forward, knees on his elbows. "Iím grateful, really, I"
"Grateful," Severus said. "Is that what you are?"
"Amongst other things," Lupin said, turning his head. His cheeks were slightly flushed, but his voice had regained its customary calm.
"I donít" Severus forced himself to keep looking at Lupin, feeling himself losing his grip on the scrolls. "I"
"I do like you," Lupin said
"Lupin," Severus started heavily.
"You're almost nice"
"You're all right," Lupin said, the edge of his mouth curling into a smile.
"Look, I" Lupin hesitated, and then said, "My best friends were a traitor, a bit of an enormous teenage wanker, and, well, Sirius, so I"
"Itís not Sirius that was the wanker?" Severus said, disappointed.
"No. James," Lupin said, a trifle wistfully.
"If you hated them that much," Severus said roughly, "You oughtnít to have been such friends with them."
"I loved them," Lupin said, quietly.
Severus stood outside Lupinís rooms for a long time, one hand resting uncertainly on the doorknob, before he shoved the door open hard enough to bang it back against the wall.
"They didn't deserve you," he said.
Lupin was on his knees before the fire, but when he looked up, unsurprised at Severus' presence.
"I should have perhaps knocked," Severus said, a moment too late.
"I knew you were there," Lupin said.
"I was almost sorted into Gryffindor, you know," Severus said, when he wanted to make Lupin laugh, full-throated, throwing his head back against the pillow. "I assure you itís true; the sorting hat said I had the makings of a first class prat and total wanker, and"
"And you said thanks, but youíd take the seven years of unremitting torture at the hands of your classmates, in the wake of which you would then make terrible, terrible life decisions?" Lupin said, rolling sideways, resting one elbow against the mattress.
"Exactly so," Severus said.
Another month passed, three weeks of late night experimentation and time-turner abuse to brew the latest version of the potion, and another week to convince Lupin that he really ought not to take it.
"I trust you," Lupin said, more times than Severus cared to count. He was tired, often; an uncontrolled change wreaked havoc on the body. Most werewolves lived like wild men, not because of temperament, but because it was difficult to hold down a full-time job. Lupin taught his classes, but near the full moon, it left him exhausted, and he was inevitably unable to attend dinner. The fourth time Severus often found him asleep by the fire before the sun had set, he sighed, and began requesting meals for two in his kitchen, the passageway having helpfully become four well-lit paces.
"You oughtnít to trust me; I nearly killed you the first time around," he told Lupin. The potion heíd made was dark yellow and seemed slightly sentient; it had a disconcerting way of climbing up the edges of the flask when left to its own devices.
"I thought that was mostly the aftereffects of being smashed over the head with a dark artifact."
"Ithat is immaterial. Do you usually go around offering to take untried and untested potions?"
Lupin shrugged. Severus aped him, waggling his shoulders exaggeratedly.
"I really think hanging about Potter and Black in your formative years created a lifelong recklessness and idiocy."
"Do you think it will work?"
"I think if it worked, someone would have discovered it some time ago."
"Why did you make it if you didnít want me to use it?"
"I would just prefer it if you didnít die," Severus muttered.
"The truth comes out!" Lupin said triumphantly.
"It would be damaging to my professional reputation," Severus said.
"Naturally," Lupin said, and winked lasciviously.
"The same does not apply," Severus said, "should I strangle you in righteous irritation, however."
"Isnít that how Colbert the Utterly Blameless avoided Azkaban?"
"Yes," Severus said grimly, and gave Lupin the last cherry tartlet.
"Joking aside," Lupin said, as he stood to leave that evening, "Iím taking it."
"Why?" Severus tapped his wand twice against the table and their dishes disappeared.
"This is the dark horse answer," Lupin said, "but Iím actually bloody fed up with turning into a crazed man-eating wolf once a month."
"Itís fucking horrible if you really want to know."
Lupin smiled crookedly, squeezing the back of his neck with one hand. "Also, if you kill me, youíll never forgive yourself, and I know Sirius and James would have wanted that."
"Suddenly, the idea almost appeals," Severus said. Lupin was leaning against the butcher-block table in his kitchen, hands spread; after a moment, Severus put one hand on top of Lupin's; his fingers were cool to the touch.
"It would be folly, I suppose," Severus said, "to think that you could have given any of your students a well-deserved detention"
"I'll get rid of them," Lupin said quickly. They had fucked in Lupinís rooms, in his shower, in Severusí vast tub and on the couch in the laboratory, engaged in some hasty fellatio during Severusí persistently deserted office hours, but Lupin had not offered to stay in his bedroom, and Severus had not asked.
"Hm," Lupin said, in the doorway.
"It's not mine," Severus said. The bed was low and enormous, made of stone, and it had proven utterly impervious to every shrinking and moving charm Severus had ever attempted. It seemed to grow out from the dungeon walls, almost as though it were a natural formation, the jagged veined rock of the headboard, the slice of black volcanic rock that ran through the footboard, but Severus had grown used to it and never noticed anymore, except when he snagged his robes on it.
The sun set slowly, sliding down over them through the narrow transom windows that ran along the west side of Severusí room, pale pinks and oranges reflected in Lupin's solemn face, one arm braced against the bed, the other clutching at Severus' bent leg. He moved deliberately, his hair falling across his face, and now and again he caught Severus' eye and grinned, helplessly, his hips surging forward
"Do you remember how to use a sword?" Lupin asked on a Sunday afternoon, looking up from his lesson plan, ink dropping carelessly from his quill onto Severusí sheets
"Will you do a demonstration duel for my seventh years?"
"With whom?" Severus took a bite of his half of the roast beef sandwich, and nudged the plate towards Lupin, who took an absent bite of his half.
"I thought," Lupin said, "that it might help them to see people with some kind of actual combat experience"
"Get Minerva to do it."
"I donít want Minerva," Lupin said. "They donítthey understand so little of what might be demanded of them, and except for Harry"
"Potter? Youíre trying to get your students to model themselves on the greasy, fidgety, half-insane one?"
"Heís going through an awkward phase," Lupin said, "Iíll grant you."
Severus snorted and took another bite of his sandwich.
"So youíll do it."
"Are you feeble?" Severus said. "No."
"You know as well as I do"
"How is sword fighting a Defense Against the Dark Arts?"
"It is if you cut an evil wizardís head off," Lupin said.
"Itís sensationalistic and stupid, and I wonít do it," Severus said, which didnít fully explain how he came to be standing in front of forty students, holding a sword, the following Tuesday afternoon.
The classroom had amphitheater seating to fit a thousand people, hinged seats darkened with age, curving up steeply towards the far away ceiling. The students looked unexpectedly young and small huddled in the first few rows. Potter was near the front, slumped unattractively, as always, and Draco, Severus noted, seemed to have a bag of popcorn, which he had leaned over to offer to Weasley, and then Miss Bulstrode.
"Perhaps youíre all wondering," Lupin said, leaning back on his sword a little, "what weíre doing with these ridiculous, archaic things. Perhaps youíre thinking, if you can stop someoneís heart with six words, why bother with a sword? And Iíd imagine one or two of you wonders why we donít all procure guns or a few of the more imaginative Muggle weapons and call it a day."
He unbuttoned his outer robe and dropped it over the back of his chair, and after a moment, Severus did the same, not before realizing he was wearing Lupinís second best white shirt, which he had borrowed a month ago, late to class, dressing hastily in Lupinís bedroom.
"Unfortunately," Lupin continued, "guns are difficult to procure, and, yet more unfortunately for our purposes, will jam and misfire with the application of a spell that a first year could manage. It has been tried, I promise you."
He smiled, and Severus noticed Pansy Parkinson staring raptly at Lupinís open collar, a faint pink blush climbing up her cheeks.
"So here we are," Lupin said, banging the flat of his sword against the desk, where it rang dully. "Swords and sorcery. When I was a student here, four years of swordfighting and at least three semesters of quarterstaff were mandatory. The requirement was abolished fifteen years ago, when it was thought that there was no longer an urgent need for wizards who could fight in a magic dampening field, in the absence of a wand, or against opponents on whom traditional magics might not be terribly effective."
He dropped his wand on his desk, and brought the sword up, nodding at Severus, who took a breath and hefting his sword in his hand.
They were, the both of them, terrible, by any reasonable standard. The children of the best families had traditionally been tutored in swordplay from the age of five, but neither Lupin nor Severus had ever even had pretensions of being from the best families. Severus flinched as Lupin flung the sword down towards his shoulder, threw up his own sword, metal ringing on metal, and thanked his lucky stars that Lupin hadnít suggested quarterstaff, at which he had been a complete disaster. It had felt, at the time, as though he had spent the entire year and a half with swollen knuckles on one hand or another, and Master Hrickness yelling at him to buck up and find his center.
Lupin clutched the sword two-handed, and pressed him, just a little, pushing him back slowly across the room. There was an audible murmur when Lupin swiped his sword across the front of Severusí body and Severus fell back on the empty chairs at the edge of the floor space, catching himself on a chair back and rolling sideways, lurching upright before Lupin could press the advantage. His wrist hurt from catching his full weight and his hair was in his eyes, and it had probably been a poor choice to wear wool trousers today, but he found he wanted to win, and caught an answering spark in Lupinís eyes when he lunged after him.
They fought seriously, now. He nicked Lupin on the thigh and Lupin caught his shoulder with the tip of his blade, and when their swords clashed together, Severus felt the impact vibrate through his shoulders. He jammed a heel into Lupinís foot, and Lupin staggered and then recovered himself, bringing the sword around in a backhand sweep that might have been more impressive if Lupin hadnít looked so startled.
Severus was certain that they must look ridiculous; he had seen swordfight demonstrations before, as an adolescent, and this was a thin parody, their wrists trembling already under the weight of the swords, the faint wince on Lupinís face every time the blades came together, their clumsy technique, hardly recognizable as the neat figures he remembered Master Hrickness demonstrating with Lucius Malfoy, who had always had his own sword, where the rest of them made do with the rusty, warped school-issue blades.
Lupin had loosened slightly, and if his movements were not fluid, they resembled the choreographed forms they had been required to learn. Severus found himself responding, at first a second or two too late, and then faster, holding his own against Lupinís offense, now and again managing to force him one step back, a hundred afternoons of practice when he would have given anything to be in the library, in the potions lab, coming back to bear, but it was a complete surprise when he caught Lupinís sword against his own and twisted, reflexively. Lupin faltered, lost his grip, and his sword dropped to the floor with the leaden thunk. There was a hesitant layer of applause as Lupin stumbled and fell, his ankle twisting awkwardly, and then didnít move for a few seconds too long. The applause stopped as Severus dropped his sword and took a few hasty steps toward him. He should not have allowed this, he thought, for all it was the middle of the month, and Lupin had insisted that he was quite well. He bent down, reaching to brush the hair back off Lupinís face, and then found himself face down on the ground, his arm twisted up painfully behind him.
Lupin was slightly out of breath when he spoke. "Under normal circumstances," he said, "after disarming your opponent, you should then kill him. If, for some reason, you are disarmed and not killed, be certain to press the advantage." Master Hrickness would have held the arm until Severus begged for release, twisted back unnaturally in his arm socket, but Lupin let go immediately and pulled him to his feet, taking a quick breath that Severus realized was meant to mask how winded he was.
Pansy Parkinson raised her hand. "Are you going to give lessons?"
"As Iím sure must be obvious," Lupin said, "Iím hardly qualified to teach anyone, but if enough students show an interest"
"I meant, perhaps Professor Snape could" Pansy said softly, and then shifted her gaze away from Lupin to give Severus a truly disquieting look from beneath her eyelashes.
"Weíll see," Lupin said. There were several other questions, including a very detailed question about the parameters of magic-dampening fields, and whether one could create a personal field, and whether the field could be modified to permit some sorts of magic but not others, from Miss Granger, which required diagrams and the recommendation of several secondary texts, and by the time Lupin had answered it to her satisfaction, the class was over.
"If I had known Miss Parkinson would transfer her affections to you so spontaneously, I would have arranged this months ago," Lupin said, when they were alone.
"I donít know what youíre rattling on about," Severus said severely. His shoulder was bleeding; he had not noticed before.
"Let me," Lupin said. "Itís not deep."
Two weeks later, the potion, naturally, did not work.
"Oh, bed," Lupin said, when Severus found him facedown on the floor at twenty minutes after sunrise, on the last day of the full moon.
"Itís a good thing," he added, when Severus had manhandled him into bed and found him an extra pillow, "that you didnít acquire a taste for torture in your years with the Death Eaters."
"Itís a good thing," Severus said grimly, putting down the glass of water heíd fetched on the side table with rather more force than was necessary, "that I find my personal history as highly comedic as you seem to."
"It was a joke."
"Oh, do letís compare our histories of tragic and unjust loss," Lupin snapped, sliding out of the bed and pulling on a robe, stiffly.
"Your problem has always been that you canít take a joke," Lupin said. "I canít imagine why I thought that might have changed."
"Oh, fuck right off about James," Lupin said furiously, leaning against the wall and pulling on his boots. "Youíre fucking me, after all, and I"
"You know youíre only fucking me to get me to work on your idiot potion," Severus said.
Lupin went red, and then pale, and pulled on his other boot and started for the door without bothering to lace it.
"Never mind," Lupin said.
"I didnítyou should at least stay, and sleep"
"I donít want to stay"
"Lupin" he half shouted, dodging out the door after him, but Lupin was gone, and the only person in the hallway was Weasley, regarding him with an odious mixture of curiosity and sympathy.
"Ten points from Gryffindor," he muttered, slumping back against the wall.
Lupin wasnít at dinner, which was roast boar and Yorkshire pudding. Severus ate slowly, and then sighed and put together a plate; six fat slices of boar and an apple.
"You should eat," he said, when Lupin opened the door, looking wary.
"Iím unwell," Lupin said, but the way his eyes lit up when he saw the boar was unmistakable. Severus handed him the plate and turned to leave, but Lupin caught him, one gentle hand on his arm.
"You shouldtea?" he said.
"I" Severus said, at the same time that a pack of Gryffindors came rattling down the hallway. Lupin was wearing pajama bottoms and a dressing gown, and he was shirtless underneath, the hair on his chest not concealing the network of scars that scraped down over his ribs. The Gryffindors came closer, shouting and laughing, vandalizing as they went, Severus thought, and he stepped inside and closed the door behind him.
"I take it," he said, "that youíre not fucking me just to get me to work on your potion."
"I usually try to whore myself out only for bags of galleons and exotic sweetmeats," Lupin said.
"I think," Severus said, "that the real problem is that your jokes are not all that humorous."
"Donít you mean, as Britainís foremost authority on almost"
"Thatís what I meant by not funny," Severus said.
"What are youwhy are you?" Lupin asked, fumbling with Severusí robes, when they had been kissing on the couch before the fire for a quarter of an hour.
"I thought you felt ill," Severus said.
"I feel better," Lupin said.
"like the flower," Severus said, after, already muzzy with sleep, pressing his face between Lupinís shoulder blades, but Lupin had always been the decent sort, and never mentioned it after the fact. Lupines meant mistakes, idiocy, confusion, stood for grave errors in judgment, Severus found, staring at a reference text in the library one afternoon when he ought to have been doing any of a half dozen other things. Lupines did well in harsh weather and bad soil, and Severus had always hated the way they smelled, for all they were useful for poisons and the odd potion.
The term continued apace. Severus found his attention wandering too often, which turned out to be dangerous, especially when Draco Malfoy decided to single-handedly mend the rift between houses, starting with an interhouse picnic.
"Oh, Muggle," Severus said bitterly, when he discovered that he had somehow agreed to row in a competition and, even more damningly, to picnic. It was certainly the most polite epithet of the many that sprung to mind, a favorite of his Aunt Scheherazade.
"Come now, do not mock the power of the remorseful and freshly-laid adolescent," Lupin said.
"I do not mock," Severus said. "I just donít understand why Iíve got to picnic, just because Ronald Weasley decided to be slightly less of a jackass for five minutes."
The day of the interhouse picnic dawned clear and beautiful, the first of the run of truly lovely spring days that Hogwarts always seemed to get right as NEWT revising kicked into high gear, and Severus awoke with slivers of sunlight beaming determinedly through the transom windows and thought venomous thoughts about the general uncooperative nature of weather, which did not, he thought, hesitate to kick you in the face when all you wanted was a little bit of rain, or, alternatively, something less than a torrential downpour when you had to skulk around the Forbidden Forest making sure that the brownies hadnít tampered with the non-apparating spell delimiters.
He was drinking his tea morosely, contemplating sicking out, when Lupin bounded in the door, wearing Muggle trainers and a very threadbare jumper beneath his robes.
"Ready?" he said.
"You could knock."
"I did," Lupin said.
"Iím ill," Severus said, hopefully.
"You have to go," Lupin said flatly. "Your shiningly august presence will convince the Slytherins that this is all an excellent idea, and you know it is"
"Also, youíre my partner for the rowing, and weíre going to win."
"You canít row," Severus said. "Youíre still much too weak."
"Iím your coxswain," Lupin said, much too brightly for someone who had needed to be carried to bed the night before. "Weíre an interhouse team, you see."
"Yes, I do understand what interhouse means," Severus said. "I just donít understand why I need a coxswain when Iím the only one rowing the boat."
"Unity, I think," Lupin said vaguely, ushering him out the door.
It was every bit the spectacle he thought it would be. Tables beneath the spreading oak trees of the north lawn loaded with food and drink, spirited games of pickup Quidditch, which was really more a dangerous free-for-all of people on brooms hurling a ball around. Weasley was very smugly wearing a faded Slytherin green t-shirt, and a large contingent of students, including Draco, had worn rather flamboyantly Muggle clothing, since, apparently, as Lupin informed him, lounging beneath a tree and eating an apple, it was a sign of cultural sensitivity.
"You look stupid," Severus said. "There are clear holes in your shoes."
Severus had spent the summer after sixth year cod fishing in a village on the southernmost tip of Cornwall, living with some very distant relations. After the first month he had been sent out alone, rowing over the glassy green rolling waves in the longboat, with his own spell-mended nets, warned against the magical fish they caught now and again, sure to bring ruin, the mermaids who were said to be able to convince a man to drown himself. It had been dirty work, long days, and by the end of the summer, his hands were rough with calluses, pitch beneath his nails, because his great uncle Bartholomew didnít hold with new-fangled magics for mending the cracks in a boat.
"Youíve the knack," Bartholomew had said, at the end of the summer, and told him heíd be welcome again, but Severus had said he had other plans. Bartholomew had wrapped one hand around his arm and said, "all the same, lad," but Severus had not gone back.
He had not been in a boat since, but won the rowing competition handily, several lengths ahead of the team of Longbottom and Parkinson, and even Bulstrode, who was, with the exception of Hagrid, now the tallest person in all of Hogwarts. Severus accepted his prize (six pounds of Honeydukeís chocolate and a hat that said "Hogwarts Rules OK" on it in script), ate, spoke with the other professors, and tried not to notice that Potter had ducked out shortly after the rowing competition.
"A war is coming," he said, leaning back against an oak tree, "and weíre having a picnic."
"Does this mean I can have your prize?" Lupin said. His tone was flip, but his eyes were quiet, serious, and even he seemed relieved when the day was over, and he could return to Severusí rooms and dig through the enormous box for the chocolates without nuts.
In the end, the worst part was the incriminating photographs, no doubt taken with tainted film. In the one affixed unforgivably to the bulletin board outside the great hall, Lupin was waving vapidly, eyes crinkled shut in happiness, and he had thrown his arm across the Severus-in-the-photoís shoulders. Mostly, photo-Severus looked at him in ill-concealed disdain, but Severus had, on several occasions, caught his photo-self looking amused at whatever idiot joke photo-Lupin was telling, and even cautiously happy.
Another Death Eater meeting, another Order of the Phoenix mission, another nineteen Muggles dead just below London, twenty-four exams, Severusí 37th birthday, blowjobs, the number of which he pretended he did not count, two new moons, six new absolutely useless Wolfsbane variations, four occlumency lessons, during one of which he found out quite by accident that Potter thought he was deliberately making errors in the Wolfsbane potion.
"Seventeen points," he said.
"You canít deduct points for what I privately think," Potter shouted.
"I am not poisoning him," Severus said.
"I didnít think poisoned," Potter said loudly. He had a voice like a foghorn when he wanted to make an impression, and Severus found himself leaning back, the better to preserve his hearing. "Why canít you just go for the Voldemort bits and leave me alone"
"I was trying," Severus bit out, "to avoid the lewd masturbatory material about Miss Bulstrode, which, you might imagine, given its quantity, is rather difficult."
"I have to go," Potter said, and left quickly enough that Severus could utterly justify the fact that Potter was gone before he got around to telling him that it was all perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of.
Thirty-eight detentions, one mandatory Muggleborn awareness seminar at which Severus learned how to use a toaster, two perfunctory teas with Draco Malfoy, one midnight swim with Lupin after a week of unseasonably hot weather, and Severus Snape woke up with his arm on fire, trapped underneath Lupin, who was fast asleep.
"My arm," he said, his voice sounding thick and strange, and grabbed for Lupin, who slept on unconcernedly. Then it stopped being on fire and felt like it was melting, felt like nothing he had ever felt before, and he screamed a little bit before Lupin lurched into wakefulness. Quickly, he fumbled for his wand on the bedside table, muttered "lumos," leaned forward. Even the heat of his palm on Severusí cheek was too much, and Severus flinched away, making a faint, ugly sound in his throat.
"Iím not going to faint," he said, and promptly fainted.
He awakened in the hospital wing.
Lupin was asleep in the chair next to the bed, feet propped on the bed frame, finger bookmarking the book in his lap. Severus rolled his tongue around in his dry mouth and stared at the bouquet or two on the table next to him, the small pile of chocolates, the half eaten grapes, and then noticed that his entire arm was covered in shiny, pale pink, new skin. The mark was gone.
"Lupin," he said; his voice sounded odd in his head, rusty, and Lupin opened his eyes as though he hadnít been asleep at all.
"Potter, then," he said, while Lupin fetched him a glass of water. His arm felt swollen and tender.
"No one died," Lupin said, and then reconsidered. "Well, there was Voldemort."
"I was going to say lucky," Severus said. "How long have I been asleep?"
"You missed NEWTS," Lupin said.
"Thereís no war," Lupin said. He ate a grape.
"I donít believe that," Severus said.
"You will," Lupin said, and handed him a grape.
He was released from the hospital wing in time for the leaving feast, in time to shake a hundred hands and be apprised of the complete lack of any sort of resistance or even annoyance that Potter had killed off an insane despot and one or two of his closest minions.
"Lucius Malfoy?" he asked, finally, when he had tried to escape the throngs of students who seemed determined to have his well-wishes, and found the top of Ravenclaw tower already occupied.
"Iím told Azkaban is lovely this time of year," Dumbledore said, strolling along the parapet next to him. "In the absence of dementors, theyíve embarked on an exciting rehabilitation program."
"With another six months of good behavior," Dumbledore said calmly, "he will be allowed visitors. I know you two were great friends as boys"
"I donít like to criticize, my dear boy"
"Yes, you do"
"but I think you could benefit from some thought on the capacity for change, especially since" Severus stopped listening immediately, and stared out over the rolling fields, the birds bursting from trees gone brilliant green. Summer had come while he had been in the hospital wing; he had not remembered that it smelled so good.
He escaped soon enough, pleading fatigue, and avoided a fourth good-bye hug from Miss Parkinson through sheer luck and a handy alcove, and had nearly made it back to the sanctuary of his rooms when he met Weasley coming out of the Slytherin common room for what he devoutly hoped was the last time.
"Professor Snape," he said, hefting one of Dracoís cases under his left arm and stretching out his hand. His handshake was careful, as though he understood that every inch of Severusí skin still felt raw and new.
"I want you to know" he said, and then stopped as Severus recoiled.
"On second thought, nevermind," Weasley said, but grinned.
"A kindness, Weasley," Severus said.
Night fell slowly, as he and Lupin walked back up the dusty road from the train station, the shouts of students still seeming to hover on the night air, but the castle was silent, windows dark, empty of students for another year, except for Potter, who had been granted a two month extension on his NEWTS, and was living in a small bedroom next to Lupin, and building a very unfortunate tree house in the cluster of trees just beyond the greenhouses.
"Youíre staying, then," Severus said, watching Lupin kick a small stone up the path.
"Yes," Lupin said. "Didnít I"
"Is Potter going to become psychotic and kill us all?" Severus said, changing the subject.
"Possibly," Lupin admitted. "Heís a bit upset."
"Understandable, I suppose," Severus admitted. He had seen Potter only twice since he had been out of the hospital wing; once at breakfast, where he sat at the Gryffindor table and gobbled down his food in five minutes, and once lurking about the edge of the forest, looking sullen and unkempt.
"You took a NEWT in Arithmancy," Lupin said, "isnít that right?"
"Are you interested in sneaking out tonight and fixing the tree house? Heís planning to sleep out there when he finishes, you know."
"I suppose I donít want to be responsible for the Boy-Who-Livedís inevitable broken neck," Severus said
"I thought we could fuck, after," Lupin said. "If you want."
"Agreed," Severus said, with unseemly alacrity. Lupin was watching the horizon, and did not seem to have noticed.
Severus kissed him before they were decently out of the castle, pushing him up against the rough stone wall, one hand wrapped up in his t-shirt. Lupin dressed informally with the students gone; thin cotton shirts, frayed Muggle shorts. Severus had, himself, made the switch to sandals early. Lupin laughed, and opened his mouth. Hogwarts on a night nearing midsummer was silent, the towers rearing darkly towards the great, unimaginable swoop of stars careening across the sky.
They spent an hour casting stabilizing spells made complicated only by the fact that Lupin insisted that they be undetectable, and then they screwed, slowly, in a lawn chair on the balcony that Lupin had just discovered opened off his rooms, and Lupin whispered in his ear the entire time, breathless nonsense, and dug his fingernails into Severusí still-tender forearm when he came, sobbing a little.
The moon crept larger, every night. Severus found Potter crying, huddled into a corner of the greenhouse, his face streaked with dirt.
"Shouldnít you talk to Lupin?" he said, setting down the basket and sickle he had been using to gather samples.
"What do you care," Potter spat, wiping at his face with the back of his hand. "Youíre just worried Iím going to become the next Dark Lord."
"Weíre worried youíre going to become the next forest wild man," Severus said caustically, "running around and digging up truffles, convinced youíre a pig. Why Dumbledore let you stay here is utterly beyond me."
"I have to take my NEWTS," Potter said, and then burst quietly into tears again.
"Iíll get Lupin," Severus said, looking away politely.
"I donít want to bother him," Potter said.
"But you donít mind bothering me, is that it?" Severus said.
"No," Potter said.
Severus sighed. "What youíre feeling is perfectly natural, and nothing to be ashamed of. Why havenít any of your good-for-nothing Gryffindor friends come to visit you?"
"I think Iím going crazy," Potter whispered.
"Youíre not going crazy."
"You said I was turning into a pigman."
"Thatís a figure of speech," Severus said.
"What should I do?"
"You should talk to Lupin," Severus said loudly. "And then I think you should go sleep on Weasleyís couch and learn how to talk to girls. Possibly drink too much, do some legendary vomiting, it really doesnít matter to me."
"Because your feelings"
"are normal, right," Potter said, looking queasy, and Severus took that moment to make his escape.
Potter began to go up to London for weekends the following week.
"I gather that was your idea," Lupin said, watching the small cloaked figure walk down the path towards the train station.
Severus said nothing.
"You were kind to him," Lupin said.
"No," Severus said. "It would have been kind to mention that Millicent Bulstrode is attending a postgraduate charms program in Marylebone."
When Potter reappeared, he looked a little pale around the gills, but was also something approaching cheerful, and within a month, had abandoned the tree house altogether, taken his NEWTS with respectable, if not outstanding, results and cleared out entirely.
Now, Severus thought, in the early morning quiet of his laboratory, the air soft and cool, the muffled clinks of Lupin finishing breakfast in his kitchen, the low hum and chatter of the wireless, now would certainly be the time at which he would invent a Wolfsbane potion that actually worked. He did not have a great deal to work with; he had spent the prior months on obvious variations, on solutions suggested by well-respected scholars in their fields, but now he spent afternoons and evenings picking through apocrypha, musty books acquired by owl-order, found in jumbled boxes in the back of Saturlionís, left over from estate sales, worthless, moldy, fantastical, poorly researched, outright fables. Severus took careful notes in the handwriting he reserved for research: three quarter sized, rigorously neat. Blood, he wrote, ocean water, Angelís Trumpet and Nottingham Catchfly. He had fumbled through mediwizard scrolls and the odd Muggle textbook and as the moon waxed again, he felt something approaching confidence, three different potions slip-slopping against the edges of cauldrons.
Nothing worked. Not in late May, when it rained torrentially all three nights, and Lupin howled resentfully until dawn, and could barely talk for the next week, digging through the plots in the greenhouse next to Severus with an old scarf wrapped around his throat. Not in June, when Lupin scratched his thigh so deeply that it was still scarred by the next moon, and not on the cusp of August, when Lupin spent the first night of the full moon vomiting, first dinner and then yellow-pale bile, until he fell into an exhausted sleep a few hours before dawn, fur matted, damp, and foul-smelling, even from Severusí safe vantage point, peering through the small window he had conjured in the door.
"Well. Next month," Lupin said philosophically, when he was on his fifth glass of water, sprawled across Severusí couch, wearing a towel and a pair of sandals.
"Reminds me," Lupin said. "Did you want to chip in for Harryís present?"
"Itís his birthday," Lupin said.
"Why would I possibly want to get Harry Potter a gift?"
"I didnít think you did want to," Lupin said. "So I put your name on the card; you owe me seven galleons."
"Fine," Severus said, after a small, tight pause.
"I got him"
"I donít care."
Lupin finished the glass of water.
"You should sleep," Severus said.
"Hm. Sleep with me," Lupin said.
"This place," Lupin said thoughtfully, "is pretty terrific without the students."
"I thought you enjoyed the students," Severus said.
"Oh, I do," Lupin said, yawning. He stood, slowly, wavering for a second, and Severus caught his elbow. "The quiet is nice, though," Lupin added. He leaned against Severusís shoulder on the way into the bedroom, and was still when Severus stripped off the towel.
"You could stay," he said.
Severus woke up in the early afternoon with Lupin still on top of him, mouth pressed against his shoulder. He dislodged Lupin carefully and pulled his robes on, and then walked into his laboratory. He examined the base mixtures simmering in two cauldrons, looked over the ingredients he had laid out for the next potion variation, and then leaned forward on his work table, hands splayed, quiet.
"Fuck," he said, and swept the entire contents of the potions bench onto the floor, the meticulously sliced koftal, his granite mortar and pestle, glass bottles and beakers and three bottle of blinking fireflies shattering against the floor, and then he picked up the rest of the useless Wolfsbane, version 23, in its heavy stoppered bottle, and hurled it against the opposite wall. It did not make him feel any better.
He had cleaned, by the time Lupin woke up and prepared dinner. They ate, as they had every night since mid-June, on the balcony outside Lupinís living room.
"Okay, potion. Hit me," Lupin said, crunching on a breadstick with incongruous enthusiasm. "Iím ready."
"There is none," Severus said, slicing off a perfectly square piece of steak.
"I know you had a new version," Lupin said.
"Not tonight," Severus said.
"It won't work."
"You don't know that"
"It turns out," Severus said slowly, "that Iím not especially gifted at potions"
"New potion synthesis can take years," Severus said, "and never mind the ham-handed damage I've already done"
"You aren't ham-handed," Lupin said, beginning to gesticulate with his breadstick, and then putting it down. "You've had some successes"
"Oh, my mistake," Severus said. "I hadn't realized I was trying to synthesize a potion which causes a werewolf to vomit for half the night." He shoved back his chair, now entirely without appetite.
Lupin shrugged, and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.
"Iím notIím not certain I can do this," Severus said quietly.
"I wantedI very much wanted to," he admitted. A cloud slid across the sun, leaving Lupin in shadow for a moment, his eyes hooded.
"You should get more used to blows to your professional pride," he said.
"That wasnít the reason."
"You deserve this one thing; this one thing it is in my grasp to give you," Severus said. He stared at his hands, narrow and quiet on his knees. Lupin drank too much tea, and his hands tended to tremble at rest. "I haveĖI am failing you, and for that I am very sorry."
"You arenít failing me."
"Donít be an idiot," Severus said. "Straightening this business out could take years. I might never" Lupin took another bite of breadstick, and Severus pulled in a sharp breath and said, "I canít imagine you have very much interest in being trapped here as my guinea pig for the indefinite future."
"As it happens, I donít have any real plan these days."
"I meant, you would have to stay here withstay nearby."
"What?" Severus said, his voice heavy. There was a photograph of Lupin in his second desk drawer which he had confiscated from Pansy Parkinson in October. Usually, Lupin was in mid-dive, soaring off the dock under the gibbous moon before he cut into the water and swam away. Lately, however, he seemed to pause before the dive, to look over his shoulder during those last few steps down the dock, before lifting himself into the jump. Once, he had smiled, and Severus had slammed the drawer shut and nearly caught his finger. "What," he said again.
"Nothing. Ihave you ever been in love?"
"Are you implying that you're in love with me?" Severus said harshly, too loudly. He felt a distinct and unpleasant heat around the edge of his jaw, and willed it not to creep higher.
"I don't think so," Lupin said thoughtfully.
"But you're not certain."
"No," Lupin admitted, after a moment.
"You should owl Weasley," Severus said, snappishly. "I bet he'd be overjoyed to explain exactly"
"You should owl Malfoy," Lupin said, slapping his hand down against the table. When he pulled his lips back from his teeth, he almost didn't look handsome at all. Severus thought about kissing him, but said,
"I don't love you," instead.
"I see," Lupin said. His mouth twisted a little, but he met Severusí eyes readily enough. They stared at each other across the dinner table, the guttering hurricane lamp, the dish of cold creamed spinach.
"That could change," Severus said unwillingly.
"I see," Lupin said.