...Expert beyond experience,
He knew the anguish of the marrow,
The ague of the skeleton.
No contact possible to flesh
Allayed the fever of the bone.
--T.S. Eliot, "Whispers of Immortality"
Snape's cover was too important to risk on combat raids. But the Longmarch House ambush was entirely spontaneous-- Macnair breezed into Narcissa's parlor with the news that six of the Wizengamot's most notorious Muggle-lovers were to dine that night with Griselda Marchbanks, and in no more time than it took to don their masks, twelve of the rank-and-file, under Nott, had gone to lie in wait beside the long lane through the Marchbanks' Inapparable woods.
It took a long half-hour for the rest of the gathering to break up, for enough Death Eaters to leave to spread the suspicion for the treachery Snape was about to commit. When he finally returned to Headquarters, the warren of rooms behind the dismal Hogsmeade pub was almost empty, save for Mundungus Fletcher sleeping on the broken-down sofa and Nymphadora Tonks playing Exploding Patience.
They called for backup, of course, but time and numbers were crucial-- Madame Marchbanks's aide could not reach her, not her guests; they had already left the Ministry some time before, and though Tonks left a warning with the man, it was unlikely to reach her in time. And so Snape cast a glamour over his clothes and face and pulled his hood down low and Apparated to Longmarch.
Surprise, at least, was on their side; they stunned three before their opponents could cast a curse. But then someone fired off an Incendius charm; the sudden gout of flame winged Tonks and showed all of their positions, bright as daylight. After that, it was all defense, standing back to back with Fletcher in the light of burning bracken, casting shield after shield and trying to let fly a few stunners in between. They had only managed to fell one more when Moody and Vance arrived.
Vance stunned a Death Eater, and Moody bound an unMarked initiate without bothering to stun him first; seeing how the numbers had shifted, the rest fled. Moody fired stunners into the woods after them, but they saw no one fall, and after a few moments the rustling the of underbrush ended in a crackle of Disapparation.
Six captives; one casualty, almost certain to live: not such a bad night's work. Moody and Vance took charge of the captives; Fletcher, who was once again persona non grata at the MLE, took Tonks to St. Mungo's. Snape stayed to deal with the fire. Three Apparations and the fight had already wearied him; by the time Madame Marchbanks and her guests appeared, trundling down the lane in a carriage and an ancient motor-car, he had quenched the fires, but he had lost his glamour completely.
He flagged down the motor-car and told Madame Marchbanks in a few terse words of the ambush and the continued threat, but she would not hear of turning back. "The house is the safest place in this neighborhood, and I'm not Apparating and leaving the car for them to vandalize; I've had it since nineteen-twenty-two, and it's dearer to me than certain of my grandchildren."
Snape insisted on seeing her and her guests to the house, at least, and she humored him, and let him ride the last quarter-mile in the car.
Snape declined Madame Marchbanks's offer of her Floo; he knew he would lie awake with doubts if he did not check once more that all the fires had been quenched. So after the doors, and the wards, and some nastier booby-traps than he had expected of the old witch had shut behind Marchbanks and her guests, he pulled his cloak down over his face and trudged back down the lane, toward the nearest Apparation point. The clouds had parted, and the moon, only a day past the full, cast hard-edged shadows onto the narrow road.
He didn't feel the pain until he was already falling, didn't see the man until he crawled out into the moonlight. One of Moody's stunners had hit, then, but only just; and now a Death Eater had seen his face, and lain in wait, and hit him with what felt like a Flagellus hex; he could feel blood spreading, warm over his skin, and cool air through gashes in his robes.
With as little motion as he could manage, he got a good grip on his wand; he'd have only one chance. In the corner of his eye, he could see the man panting-- still half-stunned, worn out by the spell, but readying his wand for another nonetheless. Snape waited until the man spread his hand, scrabbling for purchase in the gravel to lever himself up. The man lifted himself, shaky, unbalanced, and in one motion Snape sat up and cast Petrificus. The spell made him dizzy-- he was losing blood-- but the Death Eater fell to the dirt, frozen.
Snape tried to stand, and fell. It had been Flagellus, he saw-- his whole left side was slashed with a series of deep cuts like the marks of a scourge. He tried again, putting all of his weight on his right leg, and managed to walk the three paces to the Death Eater's side.
He turned him over. It was Jeremy Quirke; they knew each other by sight. "Tell me what you saw," Snape hissed.
Quirke struggled to speak against the Body-Bind; his eyes rolled. Snape touched his wand to Quirke's lips and muttered "Finite."
"Snape," Quirke whispered. "Should have known--"
The confirmation was almost irrelevant; but while Quirke spoke, Snape's identity was first in his thoughts. "Obliviate."
That spell weakened him even more; he made sure to turn as he fell, made sure his hood covered his face. He lay panting on the road.
Any further spells against Quirke, and he would not have the strength to Apparate. He had to stanch the blood, would need help to do it.
Could not go straight to Hogwarts-- Quirke had a daughter in Ravenclaw. If his wounds were seen, if word got around... the Memory Charm would have erased Quirke's knowledge of his face, of his identity, but where he lay he could not help but see the gashes in Snape's leg, must be staring at him even now while Snape struggled to grip his wand properly. He couldn't show his face at Hogwarts without at least a glamour... Snape tried to imagine the big map at Headquarters. They'd consulted it only an hour ago for the Apparation coordinates. There were flags near, a green flag very near, somewhere safe...
Lupin. That was it. The cottage Lupin had returned to when they'd abandoned the Grimmauld Place house. Snape shut his eyes tight, hoping he was remembering the coordinates right, and Apparated blindly.
When Remus got out of the hospital wing, he didn't speak to Sirius, but he still couldn't help lying awake and silent that night, waiting for James to sneak into Sirius's bed.
But he didn't, not that night, nor the next. The next night, he was awakened by James and Sirius stumbling late into the dorm. Their footsteps passed his bed, passed Sirius's, and then they stopped, not quite all the way to James's, and James's stifled laughter stopped dead.
"Prongs, come on," Sirius whispered-- Remus had heard him hoarse and pleading before, but there was an edge in his voice now, as though he'd been trying hard not to cry, a lot, and for a long time. "You want to; don't tell me you don't."
"Yeah, well, maybe." Two footfalls, and the rattle of James's bedcurtain-rings. "But maybe if your brain got more blood flow, you'd actually use it sometimes. I think it's worth a try."
"James," and, fuck, now it sounded like Sirius might actually cry. "I'm sorry. I told Remus I was sorry. I even told Snape I was sorry. I--- are you--"
"--I'm going to bed. Good night, Pads."
There was a rustle of cloth, then silence. Sirius stood there, just breathing, for a long moment before he threw back the curtains on his own bed, and closed them around him again.
Finally James spoke again, very quietly: "Sirius."
"It's not that-- it's just-- you can't just kiss it better this time, Pads." It was the only time Remus had ever heard either of them speak, even in the dead of night, about what they did. "I'm still angry with you. But I'm still your friend. You know that, don't you?"
Silence again, and then the sound of Sirius letting out a long held breath. "Yeah, I know."
Ever since third year, Sirius and James had got each other off at least twice a week, while Remus lay awake and listened, for the sound of Sirius's breathing and the few words he would whisper. Remus knew Peter listened, too, for all that he'd been dating Genevieve Williams since even before James and Sirius had started.
They had never cast a Silencing Charm. It would have made it into something more serious, more illicit and shameful, than just two mates helping each other out.
The next day, Sirius tried to apologize to Remus again, twice; Remus looked away and didn't answer. He lay awake and listened again that night, for a whole week of nights, but James and Sirius kept to their own beds.
And then Lily Evans let James walk her home from Hogsmeade, and James sighed her name into his pillow that night, and after that the few feet between his bed and Sirius's might as well have been a thousand miles.
And after that, Sirius stopped apologizing so often, and started just talking instead. About anything, and to anyone or no one-- to his books, to the fire, to whoever or whatever was where Remus was.
Remus could ignore him when he spoke to him directly, but after three and a half years of listening hard for his voice almost every night, he couldn't shut Sirius out from half a room away-- every word he said, however quiet, however inane, seemed to carry straight to his ears.
He started to find himself turning around to hear better, sneaking glances out of the corner of his eye, and he forced himself to stare at his homework or his hands.
The moon was in the third quarter when he finally let himself be drawn into the conversation around the common room fire. He still didn't speak directly to Sirius, but it almost didn't matter-- Peter and Lily and Alice and Hamish were all responding to Sirius, picking up Sirius's jokes and Sirius's barbs and Sirius's outrageous boasts and running with them, and anything he said to any of them was an answer to Sirius, as well. And then one by one the others drifted away, and by half midnight it was only him and Sirius.
"Remus." Sirius looked into the fire, not at Remus's face. His long fingers plucked at the knees of his robe. "Is there any way I can ever make it up to you?"
"I don't know," Remus said. For the first time all month, he looked straight at Sirius's face. Sirius flinched, just a little, and did not turn. Firelight reflected in his eye, and against the lock of hair that fell over his forehead. His lips were parted, a thin line of yellow light gleaming between them. "What are you offering?"
Sirius's eyes shut, and he hung his head and let out a short bark of a laugh. "Moony. Anything. Your homework for the rest of the year, the shirt off my back, my firstborn child..." He turned up his hands, and looked at Remus with wide-open, guileless eyes. "Anything."
Remus crossed the short space between them and sat on the arm of Sirius's chair. Sirius looked up. He was breathing hard, ready to shout or cry or leap to his feet and fight.
"Anything?" Remus said, and marveled at how level his voice was. He picked up Sirius's left hand and traced the lines of his palm, slowly, touched the pulse at his wrist and stroked his long fingers. Sirius's eyes turned puzzled, first, for a long and horrible moment, before they finally, finally, began to darken.
"Shhh." Remus laid a hand along Sirius's cheek, turned his face up and leaned in, and at the last moment before their mouths brushed, Sirius shut his eyes. Remus pulled back, looked for a moment-- Sirius's eyelashes trembled, casting shadows down his cheek in the firelight-- and then kissed him, harder this time, and Sirius opened his mouth and let him. Did more than let him, at last-- kissed back, hungrily and skillfully, and ran his hands up Remus's back, through Remus's hair.
Remus didn't pull away this time until Sirius was breathing harder than he was; until he was sure Sirius was hard under his robe.
"Moony, you--" Sirius laid his hand over Remus's, lifted it from his cheek, but he didn't let go. "I didn't know."
Remus forced himself not to look away. "Well. Now you do." He laid his other hand, lightly, on Sirius's thigh, and slowly slid it upwards. He stopped when Sirius shuddered. "What about you?" And Remus did look down, because it was easier to look at Sirius's lap, the certainty of the erection under his robes, than at the confusion in his eyes.
"God, Moony." Sirius pulled him close and pressed his face against Remus's shoulder. "Remus. I don't deserve you."
There were two ways to take that, and they were probably both true. But the big truth, the important one, was in Sirius's body, tight against his, hard for him. Remus smiled into Sirius's hair. "I can live with that if you can."
Snape Apparated three feet above the ground and fifty yards from Lupin's door, but for a miracle, he didn't splinch himself. He dragged himself up the low hill and pounded on the door.
Only the crackle of strong wards against his skin told him that he had the right hovel. He'd continued to brew Wolfsbane for Lupin since the werewolf's move, at Dumbledore's insistence, but he'd sent the potion by owl; Lupin had scarcely been seen at the new HQ.
"Lupin!" He knocked again; even raising his arm was becoming difficult, and he had to lean heavily on the door. "Lupin, open up!"
He was almost ready to give up when the door opened, suddenly, and he fell over the threshold. Lupin caught him and held him at arm's length. "Severus?" Lupin's nostrils twitched; in the small room, the reek of blood was overwhelming. "Good god. I, ah, I have bandages." Lupin tipped him into a chair and retreated through a narrow door.
Snape's head swam and his vision went black for too many slow heartbeats. When it came back, he could see Lupin framed in the bathroom door. He stood with his forehead against the mirror, looking down at a roll of gauze in his hands. Water was running.
After a moment, Lupin turned off the tap. He stared down at the water with his head bowed for a long moment before he set down the gauze and turned around and met Snape's eyes. He drew his wand.
Four months ago, Lupin would have begged his pardon before casting Mobilicorpus. Would have apologized for cutting away his torn and bloody robes. Would have chattered away, courteous, genial, and infuriating while he bathed and bandaged Snape's wounds and poured healing potions down his throat.
Instead, he worked in perfect silence. Tolerable. Almost restful. Completely unlike him.
Snape woke, hardly aware of having fallen asleep. He lay in Lupin's bed, could just remember, when he tried, being levitated there. Watery light seeped through the windows; it was barely dawn.
He lifted his head, with more effort than it should have taken, and looked around him: by the bed, a bottle of Heal-All rested on a small table. The label was still shiny and new-looking, but the bottle was nearly empty. A straight-backed chair held what was left of Snape's robes.
Snape stood up and staggered to the bathroom; he winced with each step, but it seemed his legs would bear his weight. When he came out, he saw Lupin, curled up asleep in a disreputable armchair. There were scuff marks in the carpet, showing where he'd dragged it to face the bedroom door.
There were heavy dark circles under Lupin's eyes. A flash of white showed under his shirt-cuff. Snape squinted; Lupin's arm was bandaged under his shirt, and his hands were covered in scrapes and tears. Another line of red showed just inside his collar.
There were four small doors in the front room of the cottage, and the bedroom, the bathroom, and the front door were all accounted for. That left a small door beside the far wall, with an old-fashioned iron key sticking out of its lock. In the growing light, Snape could see it was warped and out of true with its frame.
He crossed the room, walking more easily this time, and opened the door as silently as he could. There, as he had suspected, were the cellar stairs. Besides the lock, the door was barred on the inside with three heavy bolts, too complex for a wolf's paws to open. Its inner surface was deeply scarred, the wood splintered and furrowed with gouges that reached almost all the way through.
And there was blood: some old, but some-- too much-- nearly fresh.
Snape shut the door. When he turned, Lupin was looking at him.
"Lupin, I don't brew your potion for my health."
Lupin didn't blink. "I never asked you to brew it for me." For once, Lupin didn't call him Severus.
"If the Headmaster can require me to make it, Lupin, he can require you to drink it."
Lupin stared. There was no challenge in it, just a blank refusal. Snape crossed the small room again and grabbed the Heal-All bottle from the nightstand. "But you have no compunctions about guzzling this commercial swill, I see. How long did it take you to go through this? A month?"
Lupin's hands closed tighter on the arms of the chair; a line of gauze showed white around each wrist. "Two," he answered, warningly, but Snape was already crossing the space between them. He yanked at the open collar of Lupin's shirt, wrenching loose the top button.
Old scars lay thin and white under the new red gashes. Lupin had sealed the deeper wounds with spells, but feeble ones; the skin stretched and puckered, and blood had dried in thin runnels where the spell had failed.
For a moment Lupin didn't move, even to breathe, and then he took hold of Snape's wrist and pulled his hand away, with more strength than Snape would have credited him with. "Don't touch me."
Snape let go Lupin's shirt, and sat down on the edge of the sofa. He couldn't help glancing down at the neat bandages down his own leg, the clean white edges disappearing under the worn nightshirt Lupin had dressed him in. Lupin had done a much more competent job on Snape's wounds than on his own.
Lupin had still made no move to cover himself. "Lupin, if you really want to kill yourself, I can give you a potion for that, too."
It was true, of course, but he had meant it as a goad. Lupin, though, seemed to take it as an offer. He stared at his hands for an uncomfortably long time, frowning.
He was still frowning when he finally looked up. "I don't want to die." He didn't sound happy about it.
"Yes, I suppose it was too much to hope for." Snape reached automatically for his wand and found only worn cotton. "Where have you put it?"
"Kitchen table," Lupin said.
Snape got it; it was undamaged, thankfully. "Take off your shirt."
Lupin blinked. "What?"
"Your shirt, Lupin. Or do you want to heal looking like a patched-up pie-crust?"
For a moment, Lupin stared at him, but then he laughed-- a single, barking laugh, far too much like Black's-- and began undoing his shirt-buttons.
Lupin bared his chest and his arms and unwrapped the bandages. He had spelled shut only the deepest wounds, the ones that had bled most freely. The shallower gouges had already begun to close on their own. The nastiest wound was a set of four deep slashes across Lupin's left pectoral. The healing charm had left the skin rippled and pinched; where it stretched tight, beads of blood had welled up and dried in the gaps.
"Hold still," Snape said, though Lupin hadn't moved. He touched his wand to the outermost cut and reopened the wound-- dark blood, thick and sluggish, spilled over the dead lips of skin. Lupin breathed shallowly, in his throat. "Consutus," Snape muttered, drawing his wand up and down the edges of the gash, and it sealed neatly, with a solidity that meant the magic had sunk in deep.
Snape treated the other three claw-marks before the magic made his head spin. He cast a quick, critical glance over Lupin's pale body-- scratches on his chest, but nothing that wouldn't heal; deep tooth punctures in his forearms, but Lupin was immune to the sepsis of his own bite. Snape rebound the wounds with clean bandages and handed Lupin back his shirt.
Lupin's eyes were narrowed, sharp; he seemed to see Snape clearly for the first time since Snape fell through his door. Snape looked away. "Have you anything else that's likely to fester?" Lupin's worn, baggy trousers revealed nothing but the outlines of his bony knees. "Finally succeed in gnawing your own leg off?"
"Almost. But I could use both hands to dress that one." Lupin spoke almost lightly, but he shook his head too slowly for levity.
"Pity. If you hobbled yourself thoroughly enough, you'd have no need for potions. Or doors," said Snape. He thrust his feet into his boots without lacing them and stalked into the bedroom for the scraps of his robes. "You should have yours repaired before the next full moon. Are you on the Floo here?" He stopped in the bedroom doorway and frowned at the cold hearth.
"Powder's in the samovar." Lupin inclined his head toward the mantelpiece.
"Idiot," Snape said, and lit a fire; even that small magic made him feel the full extent of his weariness. He would need a Sanguination Draught. "Never store Floo powder in brass." Sure enough, the inside of the samovar was heavily corroded, but the powder seemed fresh enough to the touch.
"Severus." Lupin stood up at last, turning his shirt over in his hands but making no move to put it on. "Last night. Were you the only-- were there casualties?" His voice roughened on the last word, not quite breaking.
"No one was killed." Lupin let out a held breath. "Tonks was taken to hospital with spell-burns."
Lupin nodded, absently; he was already leaning heavily against the chair-back, visibly withdrawing again. Snape threw a handful of Floo powder onto the fire. "Hogwarts; Professor Snape's sitting-room."
He had time, though only just, to dress and raid Pomfrey's stores and report in to Albus before his first class. It was evening before Snape found Lupin's nightshirt, discarded across his bed, and remembered he had not thanked Lupin for saving his life.
Sirius helped him move his things into the cottage-- his trunk, the battered furniture he'd bought at a Muggle second-hand shop, the old Axeminster carpet that James swore only needed a good Stability Charm and the moth holes repaired to fly again, and the cheerful red curtains Lily and Peter had charmed to match it, with borders of interlaced blue and gold knots. But he wasn't happy about it, or quiet.
"This is the middle of bloody nowhere!" he shouted, for the fifth or sixth time.
"It's on the Floo," Remus said mildly. "Speaking of which, what do you suggest for the chimney? Evanesco on the soot, or maybe a Cyclone Charm straight up the--"
"The middle of nowhere," he said again. "And it's tiny--"
"There's only one of me--"
"There'll be two when I'm here! And what about everyone else-- don't you want to be able to have to James and everyone out without having to borrow chairs from your neighbors? Oh, wait, that's right-- you don't have any neighbors."
"By choice." Lupin opened the cellar door and peered down into the square little room with its coal-blackened beams and damp stone floor. "If I ever got loose--"
Sirius looked over his shoulder. "Good god, Moony, it's like the Black Hole of Calcutta down there. You're not even thinking of locking yourself up in that?"
"If I have to. I can't ask you to--"
Sirius shut the door. "To what? To look out for you? Like I have for the last--"
"At school was one thing, Sirius, but every month, for the next..." He shook his head. "I just want us to both know we have some other choice."
"All right. I can see that," said Sirius, in the flat voice that meant he didn't see it at all but didn't want to argue the point. "But that doesn't mean you have to live here all month long. Buy the cottage and move in with me in London."
And there they were again. "Sirius. It's not like we're not going to see each other. I'm on the Floo. We can still be together every night, if you want--"
"Is it--" Sirius interrupted, but then bit his lip and stared silently at the dusty floor. "We could rent a flat with two bedrooms. If it's that."
Remus shook his head, and wrapped his arm around Sirius's waist. "No. It's not that. I don't care who knows about us, Sirius. I'm not ashamed of us. I thought you knew that."
Sirius snorted and hung his head so Remus couldn't even see his eyes, though he didn't pull away. His shoulders began to shake. He was laughing.
"You know, that first night," Sirius said at last, and after so long a bout of silent laughter his voice was strangely flat, "you put up a silencing charm. But it stopped at the curtains. It didn't do anything to stop the bed from rocking." He looked at Remus's face again, finally, and shook his head, though he was smiling. "Peter told me, later, the bedframe was creaking and rocking and banging into the wall. Almost all night, he said. He said he and James laughed themselves silly over it."
"Oh." Remus laid his forehead against Sirius's shoulder and smothered his smile in Sirius's hair. "Is that why you always insisted on casting the--"
"Yeah." He pulled away, enough to look Remus in the eye. "So why not live with me?"
"Sirius, I can't buy this place and pay rent. I couldn't even manage London rents for very long if I didn't buy it-- Uncle Gerard didn't leave me that much."
"Is that what this is about?" Sirius blinked in genuine surprise, and Remus had to stop himself rolling his eyes-- of course, it would never occur to Sirius that anything could be about something so trivial as money. "Remus, that's not even-- you don't need to pay anything, I can afford it, I can--"
"I know." Remus cut him off. "But I'm not going to be your kept werewolf."
Sirius sputtered, for once lost for words, and Remus kept talking before he could find some. "Sirius, I know you'll be out here every full moon, whether I ask you to or not. And I can't-- I depend on that, on you, so much. I can't depend on you for everything."
He had thought it was a simple enough thing to say; and soon enough, Sirius nodded, and said "all right, then," and helped him clear the flue and hang the curtains and mend the cracked front step; and then to put together the bed frame and inaugurate the bed, and then the sofa, and finally the moth-eaten carpet. Sirius Flooed back to James and Lily's early in the morning, and only after he had gone did Remus realize, sitting at the table Sirius had charmed not to wobble, in the dressing gown Sirius had bought him for Christmas, waiting for his tea to steep in the absurd, ugly teapot with the black china puppy on the lid that Sirius had ducked back into the second-hand shop to buy, that this was one problem Sirius couldn't solve in a burst of expansive, effusive magnanimity. He wondered if Sirius even knew how to solve problems any other way.
In the next three weeks, Snape saw Lupin only once, at an Order meeting convened to discuss the consequences of the Longmarch ambush. He was too busy living with those consequences to spare Lupin much thought: the Dark Lord had not sanctioned the ambush, and to the rank-and-file he held it up as an example of the folly of moving without his consent. But he suspected treason.
Snape knew Lucius suspected him, but Lucius too was suspect-- in the weeks before he was sprung from Azkaban, Nott had begun to replace him in the Dark Lord's counsels, and it would have been like Lucius to engineer the Longmarch House debacle to get Nott out of the way. And then there was the conveniently-amnesiac Jeremy Quirke, who was likely to become someone's scapegoat before the end.
Which of them the Dark Lord suspected most, Snape did not know. He could only brief the Order, and the Order could do little but listen and wish him luck-- not that that stopped them from offering advice, or arguing over it.
Lupin, at least, did neither-- in fact, he said nothing all evening, except to greet Tonks gravely when she arrived. When Snape returned from HQ to his workroom, well past midnight, only the memory of Lupin's silence, and the pained way he had closed his eyes when Moody and Molly Weasley had begun arguing across him, kept him from knocking over the silver cauldron and vanishing the half-simmered decoction of aconite.
He didn't, of course: Albus had charged him to provide it, and Albus had made a point of asking-- in front of witnesses-- how it was progressing. But this month, he took the potion to Lupin's himself.
He Flooed in; it was October, and too cold in Lupin's hovel to do without fire. Lupin looked up from the depths of the battered armchair, his face showing annoyance but no surprise.
"I've repaired the cellar door," he said by way of greeting. "I won't need the Wolfsbane this month."
Snape held the bowl of the covered goblet between his palms. "I brewed this at Dumbledore's insistence. And until--"
Lupin cut him off. "And you daren't disobey him again, after what happened with Harry's Occlumency training."
Snape tasted bile. Lupin didn't give him a chance to form it into words, but stood up and said, "You told me in May that Harry had learned all you could teach him." He spoke low and fast, but as calmly as ever. "Was there any truth at all to that, Severus?"
"Potter had learned all I could teach," Snape said, drawing himself up to his full height, "to a pupil who was determined to waste my time and unwilling to apply himself to--"
"Bollocks." Lupin had gone very still; his voice was beyond calm, almost without affect. "You terrify even the least motivated of your students into passing their OWLs every year. If you had swallowed your pride and kept up Harry's lessons--"
"If I had, what? Black would still be alive? If you want to pin the blame on me, Lupin, then say what--"
"Of course I blame you." Lupin's lips hardly moved, though his words fell through them more and more rapidly. "And I blame Dumbledore for insisting on keeping Harry in the dark, and I blame myself for going along with him. And Merlin help me, but I blame Harry, too, and not a day goes by but I blame Sirius for dying." Lupin took in a few breaths, swallowed. "And then I remember to blame Voldemort."
Snape had to fight an odd urge to look away while Lupin collected himself. His hands were hot, sweating against the heavy pewter cup.
"There's only one night of the month I can stop blaming anyone." And now Lupin did look away. "The wolf can't second-guess itself. It can only miss him."
Snape, remembering the scars over Lupin's heart, was not so certain. "Lupin, I miss my youthful good looks and charm, but I don't go looking for them inside my own major arteries."
"And what will you do, Severus?" Lupin eyed the still-steaming goblet. "Hold my nose and force it down my throat?"
"No. I'll tell Dumbledore of your refusal, and let him deal with you."
"Still tattling to the Headmaster? I should have thought--"
Snape's hands seized, clutched, and he dashed the goblet to the hearthstones. Droplets flew into the fire and hissed into steam. "Do you think I enjoy slaving over your bloody potion for six evenings a month? Do you think I've nothing better to do? Stay here and tear yourself to ribbons, for all I care; if Dumbledore asks, I'll tell him you're busy chewing your own legs off."
The samovar was empty. Of course, Lupin would take his advice when it robbed him of a suitable exit. He turned, scanning the mantelpiece for a more corrosion-resistant vessel, and found Lupin in his way. "I think we can come to a better arrangement than that, Severus."
"Lupin, give me the damned Floo and get out of my way."
"I'll tell Dumbledore that it's too much to ask of you, brewing such a complex potion for me when you have so many other duties. It's true, after all. I can tell him the Wolfsbane has effects I would prefer not to experience. That's true, too. I'll owl him tonight; I'll make it clear that I pressed for this, against your advice. Will that satisfy you, Severus?"
Snape could still hear the blood roaring in his ears, wanted nothing more but to continue to be angry. But Lupin was offering him respite from a week's work every month; and after a moment, he nodded curtly. "If the Headmaster doesn't have your owl tonight--"
"He will." Lupin fetched a ceramic bowl full of Floo powder, but he held onto it, just out of Snape's reach.
"Well?" Snape snapped, after a moment.
"If Dumbledore presses you..." Lupin looked down into the bowl. "If you feel you need to make him some other concession--"
"Lupin, if you want me to resume Potter's training, talk to Potter. I will have an apology from him, and I will have his respect, before I--"
"Not that." Lupin swirled the bowl in his hands like a Pensieve. "I was going to point out that Dumbledore would probably be very pleased if you took it upon yourself to check on... the security of this arrangement... after moonset."
Even if it meant one morning a month of healing Lupin's lacerations, that morning was still a good trade for a week's difficult brewing. And so long as the werewolf was checked, and Snape was showing due penitence for his disobedience over Potter's lessons, Albus would be satisfied.
"Very well," said Snape. "Let me see the cellar door now, and I won't darken your Floo again until the full moon has come and gone."
Albus gave his reluctant consent, if only because Lupin's disobedience would make him lose face. "But if you believe Lupin to be a danger to himself, Severus, I will expect you to tell me."
But the morning after the full, Lupin's wounds were not so bad as they had been in September, though his cellar door had taken even more damage, scored and battered almost clean through.
Snape opened the door carefully, so as not to rip it from its bent hinges. Lupin lay naked on the damp cellar floor, breathing just too heavily to be asleep, but he offered no resistance when Snape levitated him up the stairs and onto the bed. There were a few shallow cuts along his side, and the marks of teeth in his shoulder, but no other damage save to his hands, which were scraped and bruised, his knuckles swollen. Two of his nails had cracked, and his skin was as studded with wooden splinters as a pomander with cloves.
Snape bandaged the other hurts first, and cleaned the blood from his skin. The hands took time. He drew out the splinters, the largest with tweezers, so he could take care not to leave barbs, and the rest with a charm-- bits of wood ripped out through Lupin's skin, leaving more tiny wounds behind them, leaving his hands red-spattered as though he were sweating blood from every pore. Snape wiped away the blood and ignored the bleeding until he had repaired the cracked nails and mended the deepest cuts. By the time he had rubbed Lupin's hands with salve and transfigured him a pair of cotton gloves from a roll of bandages, Lupin had fallen into a true sleep, and Snape had to shake him awake to give him a healing potion.
"It's woundwort-and-willow extract." He held the glass for Lupin to drink. "One jigger, in water, thrice daily for three days. I'll leave the bottle."
Lupin nodded weakly, and tried to grasp the glass himself, only then noticing the gloves. "My hands?"
"I'll leave the salve, too. Rub it in well before you sleep, and wear the gloves to bed. They'll heal."
Lupin let him take the glass away and fell back against the pillows, asleep again. He was asleep still when Severus came back after classes to fix the cellar door, and plate the inside with thick-spelled steel cladding. But Snape felt Lupin's eyes on him while he worked. He did not turn around until he had finished; when he did, Lupin was sitting in his armchair, watching him.
"Severus. Thank you." Lupin's gaze was still direct and unreadable; he stared as though he knew his eyes had already seen their worst. Snape was the first to look away.
"I'd rather save myself the trouble of picking half the door out of your fingers next month, if it's all the same to you," Snape said, though he knew Lupin had been speaking of more than just the door. "Just be thankful I didn't use silver."
It took them two days to clean all the dust and vermin and trip-wire curses from the kitchen, the second-floor bathroom, and Sirius's old bedroom. But by the evening of the second day, the house at 12 Grimmauld Place was almost livable, and Remus Flooed back to the cottage to pack a trunk with his clothes and essential books.
When he returned, the kitchen was empty, but Sirius's loud swearing and a grinding, scraping noise echoed out of the scullery door. Remus followed the sound through the damp scullery and down a set of sagging stairs into an ancient and dusty wine-cellar, its walls and ceiling lined in crumbling red brick.
A broom and metal dustpan scraped across the floor, kicking up more dust than they collected; Sirius jabbed at the air with Regulus's old wand, letting out a mixed stream of charms and curses. In the ancient concert t-shirt he'd found in his closet, left behind when he'd run away, with his dusty hair hiding his face and his wand arm windmilling more and more frantically, Sirius looked young; Remus stood silently, halfway down the staircase, and watched him drive the broom and dustpan clanking and screeching across the floor, letting himself imagine for a moment that when Sirius turned around, he would see the face he still thought of as Sirius's.
But at last, he couldn't help laughing, and that made it easier, when Sirius stopped and turned and looked up at him-- Sirius laughed too, helplessly, and his smile took over the lines of his face; if Remus had been a stranger, just meeting him in that moment, he could almost believe they were laugh lines.
"Remus. How long have you been up there?"
"Long enough," Remus said. "Have you tried just vanishing the dust, Sirius?"
"First thing I tried. It didn't seem to work-- I think I might have been vanishing one dust mote at a time." He shook the wand, and a few red sparks shot out the end. "I still haven't got the hang of this." He scowled heavily. "Or else there's some sort of dust-retention charm down here. Wouldn't be the strangest thing Dad hoarded."
Remus smiled. "Here, let me. Evanesco pulverem." He flicked his wand in an inward spiral, and the thick layer of brick dust eddied up off the floor and swirled into nothing. Remus walked down the stairs and ran his hands over the thick, windowless walls; they prickled with old and unfriendly containment charms. "You know I can spend full moons at the cottage, if--"
"Don't be an idiot, Moony." Sirius pocketed his wand and stepped close; he reached out abortively, holding his hand back. "You don't-- the last thing you need is more scars." And he spread his hand tentatively over Remus's side, where the worst bundle of new scars lay. Sirius had spent whole nights learning Remus's new scars; twice, Remus had woken, cold, to find the sheets pulled down, and Sirius sitting up, tracing the lines in his skin with eyes and fingertips. Sirius did not sleep much.
"It's not so bad anymore," Remus said. "Severus makes the Wolfsbane potion for me--"
"Least he can do," muttered Sirius.
"It keeps me safe." Remus pulled away, but only long enough to settle Sirius's arm around him and lean his head on Sirius's shoulder. "Please don't start blaming yourself again, Sirius." Sirius had been guiltily fascinated and horrified over Remus's new scars, but Remus had spent nights relearning Sirius's body, and watching Sirius relearn it, had held him while he had struggled to regain pleasures the dementors had almost completely stolen from him. He had not been able to touch Sirius at first without feeling a sick sense of loss in the pit of his stomach, a feeling pleasure and the intimacy of skin could chase away only briefly. He dared not call it guilt; he thought it might destroy him if he did.
He had tried to cut Sirius out of his thoughts, out of his heart, as much as he could, after that terrible Halloween. Thinking of his long suspicion of him only made him feel he should have done something more, confronted him in time to save James and Lily and Peter; thinking of the doubts that had held him back only made him second-guess himself, until he was sick with guilt and almost ready to fly to Azkaban and demand answers he did not want to hear.
In the year since their meeting in the Shrieking Shack, everything had come back, the suspicions and the doubts both, demanding to made sense of, to be fit into his new understanding. Remus had woken up at night, many nights, from dreams about Sirius alone in Azkaban; he had remembered Sirius's embrace, his body thin and glass-brittle in his arms. He had almost dreaded seeing Sirius again.
But when Sirius had shown up at his doorstep a fortnight before, he'd found it so easy to think only of the fragile man here with him, or the laughing youth of his memories. Banishing every thought of his fourteen-year absence made other things more bearable: how Sirius had suspected him, too. How even twelve years later, it had been Peter who had drawn him out of Azkaban, Harry who had brought him back to England.
Remus buried his face in Sirius's hair, and stood like that, holding him, until he sneezed and startled them apart. "Sorry," he panted. "Dust."
"Told you there was a dust-hoarding spell on the place. Come on." Sirius led them back up the stairs, and locked the cellar door. It was oak, Remus noted, and solid, with two iron locks. It would do.
Remus levitated his trunk up from the kitchen floor and sent it upstairs with a Locomotor charm. "Help me unpack?"
Sirius followed him upstairs to the bedroom, and they hung Remus's clothes next to Sirius's in the closet, stacked his books on the shelf next to Sirius's childhood picture books. It was hardly worth separating them-- Sirius had been wearing Remus's clothes for two weeks, and half of Remus's books had been gifts from Sirius, long ago. Sirius watched the room fill with Remus's things, turning his wand over and over in his hands.
Remus set his empty trunk under the window and put a cushion on top to make a seat. "There." He looked up; Sirius's eyes were panicked, lost. "Sirius? We could clear out an extra bedroom before the Weasleys get here, for propriety's sake, if you like. If you're worried about what Molly, or Harry--"
"No!" Sirius took a breath. "No," he said, more quietly. "No, Moony. I don't-- Let them think what they will; I'm not going to pretend we're not... what we are. I just--" He trailed his fingers over the spines of a row of books, Defense monographs giving way to fairy tales. "Seeing your books, your clothes here... It's the one thing we never did, before," he said. "Lived together."
"There were a lot of things we never did," Remus said. He held out his hands, and after a moment Sirius came and sat down beside him on the trunk. Never entirely trusted each other, Remus thought, and Never told each other what we most needed to. And maybe he should have spoken aloud-- but if Sirius were not thinking the same thing, Remus didn't want to be the one who said it.
But the books, the closet of shared clothes, they were a start, and so was Sirius's hand in his hair, and Remus's lips against Sirius's neck. "We never made love in this house," Remus said; and that was a start, too.
Lupin's wounds were worse in November, and the cottage was grave-cold; the fire had died in the night, and Snape had to Apparate in.
Snape peered down at Lupin from the top of the cellar stairs, watching the slow white clouds of his breath. Then he lit the fire, cast the strongest warming charms he could over the front room and the bedroom-- even after the spells, the air was still frigid-- and levitated Lupin up the stairs and wrapped him in a blanket.
His skin was cooler and paler than it should have been, and he shivered, more and more violently as he warmed, but he was only deeply asleep, not unconscious, and his pulse was almost normal. Snape charmed the blood from his skin so he could see to seal Lupin's wounds.
The cladding on the door had saved his hands; they were bruised, but not lacerated. But all the savagery he had loosed on the door before, he had turned on his own body this time-- there were claw marks gouged in his left calf, tooth marks on his left hipbone, deep and ragged as though he'd tried to worry himself like a rat. His arms and even his back were marked with tooth punctures, he'd kicked deep furrows across his chest and abdomen, and the trails of claws ran down the side of his face and around his neck. It was a wonder his ear was not in ribbons-- though of course, Snape realized, the wolf's ears would sit on top of its head.
Come to that, it was a wonder he wasn't dead; unless his carotid artery shifted position in the transformation, too, the wolf's claws must have missed it by a hair's breadth.
Snape levitated Lupin into the bedroom. "Accio blankets!" he said; two drawers and a trunk flew open, and every blanket Lupin owned flocked to the bed. Snape got Lupin settled on the bed, wrapped in layers of bedding. He was still too cold. Snape tried to shake him awake; his charms had stopped the bleeding, but for the deep tissue injuries, Lupin would need to swallow a potion.
Lupin grumbled, sluggishly turning his head and trying to burrow into the nest of blankets. "Lupin, wake up. Wake up." He kept shaking him, and Lupin finally let Snape prop him up against his shoulder and managed to swallow the spoonful of Resarcium that Severus held in front of his lips, but as soon as Snape let him lie back down, he drifted off again.
All Snape could remember about hypothermia was that quick warming was dangerous, and warming spells, consequently, should never be applied to the victim until a precise diagnosis had been made and the severity of the damage was known. He didn't know how severe the situation had to be before warming spells were counterindicated, or how one was supposed to make that diagnosis.
Lupin was still shivering. Snape sighed and folded his robe on a chair, and took off his shoes; in his shirt and trousers, he slid under the strata of blankets and spooned his body against Lupin's, and held him for an hour while Lupin's shivering slowly halted, and his skin slowly warmed. When he Flooed back to Hogwarts, five minutes before his first class, Lupin was sleeping peacefully; his breath was warm, and his fingers were warm, and his pulse was steady and strong.
But for Snape, stepping out of the fire and into the chill of the dungeons was like a plunge into icy water, like stepping back into his first winter at Hogwarts, when he had lain awake with cold half the night, every night, until Evan Rosier had taught him a warming charm. It had been years, decades even, since he had felt the winter cold so acutely. But now every breath of air burned in his lungs, and his fingers were half-numbed, clumsy with the cold. He dropped a stirring rod; he fumbled a quill and spattered red ink all over a stack of fourth-year essays. He shivered when he stepped into the Great Hall at dinnertime, as shocked by the cessation of cold as by the cold itself; and after, in front of the fire in his sitting room, he was as aware of the fire's warmth on his face as of the chill air on his back. His body gave another shiver, sudden and wrenching, and he gave up on ever getting properly warm that night. He got up and fetched the Resarcium and a flask of woundwort-and-willow and tossed a handful of Floo powder on the fire. "Remus Lupin's house."
Lupin sat ensconced in his armchair by the fire, a wool blanket around his shoulders and two scrolls of parchment half-open in his lap. He looked up in mild surprise. "Severus? Is something wrong?"
Snape set the potion bottles on the table at Lupin's elbow. "This has gone on long enough, Lupin." He summoned a glass and spoon from the kitchen end of the long, narrow room.
Lupin's eyes darted to the small, neat labels on the bottles; in that one glance, the lines in his face fell into sharper relief. "I remember what you did this morning. Not well-- I was really quite out of it, I know--"
"You were half-dead, Lupin." Snape slammed the glass onto the table. The bottles rattled.
"I know. And I'm very grateful."
"I don't want your gratitude." He poured a jigger of woundwort-and-willow into the glass and conjured water. "And I don't want to have to explain to Albus how you died on my watch. What I want--" he stirred it vigorously-- "is for you to take the bloody Wolfsbane again."
"I'll still come by in the mornings if that's what it takes to--"
"Severus." Lupin took hold of the glass, his fingers sliding around and under Snape's and gently pulling it from his grasp. "I said all right."
Snape was still holding the spoon. It dripped onto his robes. "Very well."
Lupin drank down half the mixture and grimaced. "Though if you wanted to come back in the mornings-- I know that you don't want my gratitude, but--" he swallowed the rest-- "I would be-- pleased." He looked up over the rim of the glass. His face was empty of any expression but weariness.
"Very well," Snape said again.
Lucius had not quite regained the Dark Lord's trust-- Snape knew he was still under suspicion, as he himself was, for the Longmarch debacle-- but since Nott's capture, he had entirely regained the influence in the Death Eater ranks that Nott had usurped.
Quirke's memories had not yet returned; and Lucius, needing someone to take the fall if he was to hold his place at the Dark Lord's side, had been hinting broadly about him. Perhaps too broadly; at a meeting in mid-December, Wormtail had been dropping hints of his own, reminding the Dark Lord in front of all assembled of his success in breaking through the charms on Bertha Jorkins's memories. Snape had hoped Quirke might run for it, but the man was certain of his innocence, and willing to do anything to prove it.
The next night, Snape assured the Order it was premature to talk of hustling him into Fidelius. "The Dark Lord will not recover Quirke's memories," he said. "I'll make certain of that."
An uncomfortable rustle went down the table. Molly Weasley opened her mouth, but after one look at Albus's face-- grim, set, forbidding-- she closed it without speaking. Albus fixed Snape with his eyes and slowly nodded. "I have no doubt, Severus," he said, "that you will do whatever is necessary." And that ended discussion of the matter, though Moody stared at Snape, and Molly avoided his eyes, for the rest of the evening. Albus affected not to notice.
But Lupin approached him afterward. It was the first time all year that he had not left HQ as soon as Albus ended a meeting. "We are still going to need to get you into Fidelius soon, aren't we?" He spoke low, though less, it seemed to Snape, for secrecy's sake than because he could not be bothered to raise his voice, or speak to more than one person at a time. "There's nothing you can do that won't just heighten Voldemort's suspicions?" It began as a statement, but uncertainty crept into his voice in the last few syllables.
Snape shook his head. "Nothing short of pinning Quirke's murder on Lucius." Snape did speak just loud enough for others to hear; Albus frowned, and Molly winced, but Lupin took the word in stride. "And even that would only be a momentary reprieve," Snape continued, "unless I could manipulate Lucius into actually killing him. Publicly. And thinking it was his idea."
"You're quite sure that you can't?" asked Lupin wistfully.
Snape snorted. "If I had that kind of influence over Lucius--" he had to bite down on the word still-- "I'd have made use of it long before now."
This time, Lupin pitched his voice almost too low for Snape to hear. "Then you ought to start considering who you want for a secret-keeper." And he slipped back through the dwindling crowd to the fireplace before Snape could ask whether he'd meant it as an offer.
If it had been, it wasn't repeated, not at the next week's meeting nor at the Christmas party that followed. With a glass or two of strong eggnog in him, Lupin seemed almost his old self: he slouched his shoulders and smiled benignly and laughed at Albus's jokes. Albus seemed not to notice that Lupin never sat down, never strayed too near the punch bowl nor too far from the door, never let himself be drawn into any conversation he couldn't flee.
Lupin stayed barely an hour. Before he had even vanished from sight in the Floo, all conversation had turned to Lupin's appearance, Lupin's health, how tired and sad Lupin was still looking, but how good it was that he had at least made an effort, the poor man.
Snape made his excuses and left.
The moon would reach the full on Boxing Day. The afternoon of Christmas Eve, Snape brought Lupin two doses of Wolfsbane. "I understand the Weasley press-gang is hauling you away for Christmas dinner."
Lupin smiled, faintly. "Molly insisted. And Harry's going to be there."
Snape set a sealed flask of the potion down next to the empty, still-steaming cup. "My condolences. And overwhelming though the impulse to escape into a bottle will doubtless be, you'll need to avoid alcohol for an hour before and after drinking this."
"Good." Snape picked up the goblet. "I'll bring the last dose as usual, day after tomorrow."
"Right," said Lupin. "I-- well, I'll see you then, of course, but I was about to make tea. Take away the taste of--" he gestured vaguely at the empty cup in Snape's hands. "Would you care to join me?"
It had been six months since Lupin had bothered to be so polite to him. Albus would no doubt take the return of Lupin's pleasantries as a good sign.
He realized he had not yet answered when Lupin laughed. "Is it so unbelievable that I might want company?" he asked.
"If it's my company, yes," said Snape, and took a seat. Lupin raised his eyebrows. "I've nothing to do until Narcissa Malfoy's Christmas Eve dinner. If you'd rather I passed the time stalking the castle corridors and terrorizing students--"
Lupin shook his head and crossed the room to the kitchen alcove. "I'm flattered that you'd choose my company over such pleasant diversions," he said, deadpan. He rinsed and dried a chipped teapot with a ridiculous puppy on the lid and reached without looking for a box of bagged tea on the counter. He stared for a moment at the box, then set it back down and rummaged in a cupboard, finally finding a tin at the very back. He blew the dust from the lid and turned around. "Lapsang?" he said. "It's that or builders', I'm afraid, and the bags are probably fresher." His eyes flickered nervously, as though he found such small courtesies overwhelmingly complicated.
"Lapsang is fine," Snape said, and they spoke no more after Lupin had poured the tea. Severus could not remember the last time he had drunk lapsang. It was sweeter than he remembered it being, smokier, sharper. But, he realized, he could not have described the taste of the tea he drank at Hogwarts, or the coffee the house-elves brought him in the mornings, except that it was hot and bitter and that he drank it so quickly he wondered if he had ever really acclimated to the dungeon cold.
On Christmas Eve, Lucius got Jeremy Quirke very drunk and Snape dosed him with two drops of Draught of Oblivion and recast his memory charm. With luck, it would hold, even through the Dark Lord's tampering; with luck, Quirke would appear no more absent-minded than the first charm had left him, would give no signs that his memory had been modified again, and recently.
On Christmas Day, Snape dined at the school as he always did, though he fled Albus's treacly cheer even sooner than usual. He had unlocked
his workroom and found a goblet for Wolfsbane before he remembered that he had sent the day's dose to the Burrow with Lupin.
Snape was in Hagrid's garden when the summons came, late on Boxing Day morning, taking cuttings of rosemary root to replenish what he had used in the Draught of Oblivion. For a moment, he considered going back to the castle for the Wolfsbane, sending it ahead to Lupin before he answered the summons. But the burning of the Mark was already turning to pain, nearly bowing him over with it; he doubted he could reach the edge of the wards still in any state to Apparate if he made the detour. He cursed himself as he ran for the ward-boundary; and only the habit of long years kept him from dwelling on his stupidity as he stood, hidden behind a hastily-transfigured mask, and watched Jeremy Quirke step into the center of the circle and kneel bare-faced before the Dark Lord.
Quirke cooperated, at first. Then he pleaded. By the end, hours later, he had not mind enough to do more than scream. Wormtail kept him Body-Bound, and spelled the blood from his eyes. Only when the blood had stopped flowing, and Quirke's eyes were glassy and still, did the Dark Lord look out at his Death Eaters.
"So," said the Dark Lord, and his red eyes swept Snape's, moved on. "There is a traitor in our midst." He paced the circle, silently, meeting the eyes of each Death Eater and initiate. Some, he stared down: Macnair, whose shoulders gave him away even masked; Lucius, whose manicured hands were unmistakable; one who was unrecognizable. To Snape, the very ether seemed to crackle with Legilimency.
To Occlude too much, to suppress what the Dark Lord would expect to see, would not do; Snape's gut was knotted with fear and a sick excitement, his muscles still tensed in sympathy from watching Quirke's writhing; Quirke's staring eyes, whites gone bloodshot and red, still burned in his mind. He let them burn; and when the Dark Lord returned to him and met his eyes, Snape breathed through his parched mouth and let the memories come as they would: Pulling a Christmas cracker with Dumbledore, and forcing a smile as the old man flourished a straw poke bonnet and tied it over his white hair. Orla Quirke of Ravenclaw, in detention for carving a rude poem onto the bench of the Hufflepuff across the aisle, sulking and chewing her lip while she scraped out the words. Roast ortolan at Lucius's table, hot fat dripping from the bird's skin and searing his mouth everywhere at once, so that he tasted it only for an instant-- a brief and overwhelming succulence, turning to heat and the rasp of bone on his tongue. Remus Lupin, naked in his arms and pressing closer with every shiver of his thin, scarred body, a memory that at first Snape thought couldn't possibly be his.
The Dark Lord slowly blinked. "What interesting lives my loyal Death Eaters lead." He stared at Snape a moment longer before turning and looking all around the circle again. "And how very confident the traitor must be, to not fall to his knees now and beg me for mercy." He drew his wand. "Or perhaps he remembers that though I am patient-- though I will wait as long as it takes me to find and punish those who betray me-- I am not merciful."
Snape was not the first he Cruciated, but that was no comfort, watching Lucius fall to the ground and knowing the Dark Lord would not stop with one example. And he was not the last, but that was no comfort either, lying curled on his side around his wand, clasping it in both hands, hating the sound of his whimpering but knowing, in some part of himself that had stepped away, that he would do best to let the noise out now, while Wormtail's screams covered it.
By the time the Dark Lord dismissed them, he had recovered enough to Apparate, though he lay where he fell for a long time, until the snow began to soak through his robes. He was outside the Boar Gate by the Hogsmeade Road. He dragged himself to his feet and began the hike up the road to the castle. He was only halfway there when the moon cleared the tops of the trees.
It was too late, then, to bring Lupin the Wolfsbane; he would be locked in his cellar again-- and this time, through no fault or self-flagelletory impulse of his own.
Stupid, Snape thought, and when he opened the door to his rooms he was muttering it under his breath: stupid, stupid, stupid. As though he'd not known the summons might come at any time. As though he'd needed a justification to look in on Lupin when the man had made it clear he was grateful even for Snape's company.
Snape started a fire and knelt in front of it, too close, but after lighting the fire he was too exhausted to dry his clothes magically. When the litany in his head would not quiet, he swore aloud and rose-- each knee was a whole new world of pain-- and gathered the few healing potions that still hadn't found their way to Lupin's, and tossed a handful of Floo powder into the grate.
The cottage was warm this time, and the cellar door securely locked. Snape laid his robes and boots out in front of Lupin's fire to dry, and swallowed a potion he knew would not help the pain in his joints and another he knew would do nothing for the tension of his muscles, wishing he were ignorant enough to be healed by placebos.
He looked for a moment at the sofa, but it was bare, and all the bedding in the house was on Lupin's bed, and moving it seemed an impossible chore; as once before, he crawled half-dressed into Lupin's bed. It seemed much larger this time.
He slept through moonset, waking only when Lupin stumbled naked into the bedroom and tried to strip off half the covers. "For god's sake, Lupin, just get in," he muttered, and budged over a few inches. Lupin hesitated for only a moment before he slid into bed. "Warm," he said, and fell asleep almost immediately.
Snape woke again, an hour or so later, to morning sunlight in his eyes and Albus's voice calling from the Floo. "Severus. Severus, are you there?"
Snape crawled out of bed, futilely smoothed his rumpled clothes, and stalked into the front room. "I'm here, Albus. I was summoned before I could deliver Lupin his potion yesterday." His voice was hoarse and rasping; he had not thought he had screamed so much.
Albus frowned up at him from the fire. "And Cruciated as well? I am sorry, Severus."
"Get to the point, Albus; I'm in no condition for small talk."
"So I see." He smiled apologetically. "Half of Jeremy Quirke's body was left before the castle doors last night."
Snape swallowed; it only made the pain in his throat worse. "Which half?"
Albus raised an eyebrow at that, but said only, "The left. His right side, I am told, was left on the terrace of Malfoy Manor."
Snape rubbed his arm; it hurt no more nor less than the rest of him.
"The bisection of the skull and face was really quite extraordinary," Albus added. "Do you think Walden Macnair has the skill to-- well. That's rather beside the point. In any case, the Order is already gathering and we would appreciate your report. Ah, good morning, Remus." Snape turned; Remus leaned against the bedroom doorframe, wrapped in a quilt. "I hope you were not too terribly inconvenienced last night?"
Lupin's hands were both black and blue, and the knuckles were swollen. "Not too terribly, no."
"Excellent," said Albus. "Severus, please join us at Headquarters as soon as you can. Remus, if you are able--"
"I'll come when I can," he said curtly. Albus drew his brows together, but he let the interruption pass.
"Ten minutes," said Snape. "I need to see to Lupin's injuries."
Two doses of Wolfsbane were better than none; Lupin's injuries were comparatively minor: bruising, surface lacerations, nothing that required spells-- and just as well, for in his exhaustion Snape doubted he could have cast a competent healing charm. "Was Quirke dead when you left him?" Lupin asked.
"I thought so. I hope so." Snape poured half of the woundwort-and-willow into a jam jar for Lupin. He took a swallow of what was left and pocketed the flask.
"And now you and Malfoy are his chief suspects," said Lupin. He had let go of the quilt to rub salve into his hands, and it lay across his lap. Snape looked up, over the mass of red-white scratches across his chest, and found Lupin looking at him.
"Lupin. I--" The willow tincture had done nothing for his throat. "I will make certain you get every dose of the Wolfsbane next month. I'll send you the whole cauldron as soon as it's brewed."
Lupin stood up, pulling the quilt up loosely around his waist. "You can still come by and watch me drink it, Severus."
It still hurt to speak. Snape nodded, and Remus smiled-- almost shyly, as though more nervous about the smile than his near-nudity-- and retreated back to the bedroom, the quilt trailing on the floor behind him.
The first-footer was neither tall, nor dark, nor handsome, but he came bearing gifts: Hogmanay afternoon, a courier from Gringotts brought Remus the key to Sirius's vault. There were papers; he signed them, and the goblin bowed deeply and handed over the iron key. It was heavy in his hand, and cold.
Remus had witnessed Sirius's will, had had letters about it from lawyers and goblins and goblin lawyers, but the key was real in a way the legal language warning him of its arrival had not been.
He put off the trip to London for almost a fortnight. He picked up the key and put it down, many times a day, until he realized he was contriving to mislay it; after that, he left it on the mantelpiece and did not touch it for days. But he started every time it caught his eye, and stared, until halfway through the month, he finally seized the bowl of Floo and cast a fistful into the fire before he could reconsider, before he even summoned his cloak and boots.
Sirius had told him once of the enchantments on the Black family vaults-- sealed now, still, while Harry's lawyers and Narcissa's fought over the terms of the entail: the doors that would reach out to hold and trap would-be thieves; the hexes on the gold itself, some answering to countercharms, others only to Black blood. Remus expected something of the kind on Sirius's own vault-- more whimsical, perhaps, but just as baroque and wild.
But Vault 711 had only a single, unbreakable lock. The goblin who had driven the rail car stood back to let Remus turn the key, and Remus was so shocked by the simplicity of it that it took him several heartbeats to be shocked by the gold.
The vault had been almost untouched, of course, and the gold quietly earning interest, for fifteen years. Sirius had not known how much gold there was, and had not cared. Remus had not speculated. He doubted now that his imagination would not have been equal to the task.
He patted down his pockets for a scrap of parchment and cast a Counting Charm, but he didn't even look at the figure before tucking the parchment away again. One thing at a time. He did count a few handfuls of coins--forty galleons-- into his purse, more because the goblin seemed to expect it than for any other reason. He tried to close the door lightly, but the latch caught with a resounding boom that echoed all up and down the stone tunnel, and rang in his ears even after he emerged into the white marble lobby.
If the key had seemed heavy in his hand, the purse dragged at his arm, pulled at the seams of his pocket and knocked against his thigh as he walked. Every step seemed to fall heavier on the floor. Remus had started automatically for the Floo hearths, but the swinging weight of the gold arrested him in the middle of the floor, left him swaying on his feet with its momentum.
It had been a long time since he had been aware of the ground under his feet as anything but a measure of the distance to his bed, or his warm and threadbare chair before the fire.
From a few paces away, from behind two brass-barred glass doors, the crowds of Diagon Alley did not seem so large or so hurried as he had remembered them, and the dirty slush in the street did not look as cold and forbidding as the pristine snow outside his cottage door.
And now that he'd put it aside once today, the research for Albus, waiting for him at home, did not seem nearly as pressing.
He could walk down Diagon as far as the Leaky Cauldron. He could have mulled mead, he thought, and pushed open the street doors. It would only be a short walk. He would be home well before nightfall.
The slush was still cold, and the passers-by still jostled, and crowded so close he reflexively put a hand on his purse and started again to feel it so heavy. He walked with little thought except finding his footing on the slick cobbles. Only when he passed Slug and Jigger's window did he realize he'd walked halfway down Diagon with a pocket bulging with gold, and not looked at anything. The thought made him notice the thinness of his cloak, the water seeping into his boots, but he did not turn back to Madame Malkin's or Last and Bristle's. Instead he stared at the neat gilt letters in Slug and Jigger's window: POTIONS BREWED TO ORDER.
I could hire an apothecary, Remus thought. I could buy Wolfsbane, every month.
He said as much to Severus before the next meeting. Severus stared at him, tight-lipped. "I said I would brew it," he said, "and I will."
"I don't need your charity--" he began.
"Then consider it payment," said Severus, "for what I'm about to ask you to do." He pulled out a chair and sat. He moved stiffly and slowly, as he had after Boxing Day.
"Fidelius?" Remus asked, and Severus nodded. "The Dark Lord is playing Lucius and me off of each other, waiting for one of us to give. And Lucius has called in his favor. He wants Potter, alive, by Candlemas, or he tells the Dark Lord I Obliviated Quirke."
Remus sat down beside him. "Why alive?"
There were half-moon-shaped marks-- fingernail wounds-- all down Severus's palm; Severus closed his fist when he saw Remus looking. "I can only speculate," he said. "His precise instructions were 'Don't sample the goods.'"
"Quite." Snape rubbed his thumb across his palm, seemingly unaware. "Do you know how many Death Eaters' children I teach?"
Remus made a rapid count in his head, but of course the class lists had changed in three years. "No."
"No more do I. He has new initiates I still know almost nothing about; no one sees them but the very inmost circle. The ones I do know--" he snorted. "I have no idea what Orla Quirke has been told about me; she doesn't mind me in class and I don't dare call her on it for fear of what she might blurt out. My sixth-year Slytherins-- bloody hell. I don't know what I'm going to do about them. If I go into hiding no one else has a chance of turning them around."
"And if you don't," Remus said, "they know exactly where to find you. You're too visible, Severus." Around them, chairs scraped on the floor as the last stragglers found their seats.
"I live in an Unplottable castle fifty miles from bloody anywhere," Severus muttered, which wasn't quite a denial.
"It's the glamour of the job," Remus whispered, as Albus cleared his throat. "The fast-paced, high-profile lifestyle of the modern schoolteacher."
Severus coughed, but Remus was sure it had started as laughter.
True to his word, Severus brought a whole cauldron of Wolfsbane three days before the full moon. He drank the tea Remus offered-- in near-silence, but he stayed until the pot was empty. His hands were healed, or at least there were no marks visible on them, but he curled them around his teacup as if to warm them, and held them out before the fire when the cup was drained.
He stiffened, and Remus realized he was staring, but he left his hands where they were, stretched out to the firelight. When Remus looked back at his face, he was staring straight into the fire. He swallowed. "I'll come again tomorrow, if you like."
"Please," said Remus.
Severus could not stay long the next night; he and Albus had spent the whole evening Apparating up and down the whole of Britain, searching for a suitable place for Severus to go to ground, and Severus was half-asleep on his feet. "Tell me about it tomorrow," Remus said, and drank down the Wolfsbane as quickly as he could. He made tea after Severus had gone; it did not quite take the taste from his mouth.
The next day, Remus went shopping, just to the nearest grocer's on the Floo, just for staples: milk, gauze bandages, a bit of steak for that night's dinner-- he always craved red meat just before the full moon-- and bland starches for the next day, when he knew from experience that meat would turn his stomach.
He came home with three kinds of biscuits as well, and a tin of good Assam and a bag of lemons. Severus raised his eyebrows when Remus brought out the tea things, but he said nothing, except "Yes" to lemon and Ginger Newts.
"Candlemas is next week," he said at last. "Albus is reluctant to remove me from the school before then, while there's still some chance of-- I don't know. Of Lucius going mad and confessing, I suppose. Stranger things have happened." He stared into his tea. "He's considering moving that Defense twit into Potions and asking you to fill out the year in Defense."
Remus set his cup down; a little tea sloshed over his hand. "Is that what you want?"
"I want someone competent in my classroom." He unwrapped his fingers one by one from his cup. "But since that seems unlikely, I'd just as soon have someone else from the Order in the castle, under whatever pretext. And besides," he said, "It's not as though you could fill their heads with worse rubbish than they're getting this year, anyway."
With moonrise only an hour away, the thought of returning to Hogwarts-- of going home-- was irresistibly compelling. Remus knew that come morning, all the reasons to say no would seem stronger: the children carrying their parents' war into the castle corridors, the parents who knew his secret-- and Severus's secret, which he knew he would be tempted to betray every time he walked into the Great Hall for breakfast. Still, Remus had to swallow his whole cup of tea in one draught to stop himself from preemptively agreeing.
"Where will you go?" he said instead, when he had drained the cup.
"A house. Far from the madding crowd. Much like this place, only there's an outbuilding I can set up as a laboratory."
"I told you, I don't need--"
"Not everything is about you, Lupin." He took a breath, let it out heavily. "If I can't report on the Death Eaters and I can't give any guidance to their children, the least I can do is brew whatever is needed. I'll go mad if I don't have some occupation." He looked up. His eyes were underscored with dark half-circles, and there were lines around them that had not been there the year before. "But then I suppose you of all people would understand that."
For one brief moment, Remus wanted to dash the cup from Severus's hands, to strike his crooked mouth. But by the time he lifted his hand, the impulse had passed, and he only reached across the space between them and took the cup from his fingers, and poured it full again. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I suppose I do."
Severus stayed another half-hour, while Remus put away the tea things and undressed and wrapped in a frayed blanket to await the change. He locked the cellar door; the last thing Remus heard through human ears was Severus folding his clothes with a charm.
Wolfsbane made the change no less painful; and to be fully aware of how his bones ground and snapped, how his muscles strained and tore, and to know it would happen again at the end of the night, was far worse than enduring it as a brute beast. But between moonrise and moonset, the night was almost tolerable. He paced up and down the stairs and nosed along the bottom of the door; a thin, thin strip of moonlight, too faint for human eyes to see, slipped in between the door and the jamb. Severus's scent lingered there all night, strong in the air. It was foreign, distracting, but the distraction was welcome; though there was still no part of him that did not miss Sirius, it was so much easier to miss him when knew himself to be completely alone.
Severus unlocked the door for him in the morning and helped him into bed. His arm was warm and steady against Remus's back, and the bed was warm too, already. Remus slept almost at once.
When Remus woke in the morning, Severus was still there, curled up barefoot in a chair he'd dragged to the foot of the bed. He was settled deep into the sagging upholstery, like he'd been there for a long time. The sun was well over the horizon.
"Why are you still here?" Remus murmured, stretching. Every muscle ached, but nothing pulled and nothing tore; he could almost pretend it was only the ache of exertion.
"It's Saturday," Severus said. His voice was so low Remus felt as much as heard it, and he stretched again, enough to feel his bones settle back into place.
Remus opened his eyes again. "That's not really an answer, Severus."
Severus's face closed down, so slightly Remus wasn't sure he'd seen it. Remus sat up a little against the pillows. "Why are you here, Severus?"
Severus met his eyes. He looked away only when the intensity of his stare had made Remus blush-- and then, it was to slide his gaze down Lupin's body, down his bare chest and the outline of his legs in the bedclothes.
Remus tried to sit up fully-- he pushed at the edge of the heavy quilt-- and Severus uncurled from the chair and stopped him, pressed Remus's shoulder down gently but firmly. He settled on the edge of the bed. "Lupin." He wet his lips, a short nervous flicker of his tongue, but he said nothing else, and Remus, waiting for Severus to speak, kept silent as well.
Severus stood up, lifted his hand from Remus's shoulder. Before he could move away from the bed, Remus caught his wrist. "Severus." Snape whipped his head around. Remus swallowed. "I wasn't asking you to leave."
For a moment, Snape just stood, pulse beating fast under Lupin's fingers. Then, instead of sitting back down, he pulled back the bedclothes, all at once, baring Remus's body to the cool air.
Severus had seen him naked before, but he had never looked at him, not with such intensity, as if cataloguing Remus's layers and layers of scars. He glanced only briefly at Remus's face, as though fearful of revealing too much with his own. "And now?"
If he were to ask Severus to leave now, he knew Severus would never come back, for anything. "No."
Severus skated one hand down Lupin's thigh, and lifted Lupin's quiescent cock and bent to take it in his mouth.
At first, Remus felt the simple physicality of it, and the warmth, far more than pleasure or arousal. He was slow to rise, after the full moon. But Severus was-- gentle, almost: slow, light, and thorough. Remus responded, and the blood speeding to his cock seemed to wake the rest of his body as it flowed.
He was nearly hard in Severus's mouth before he pulled his wits together enough to push at Severus's shoulder-- he didn't even try to put any strength into it, but Severus looked up at him, letting his hand take over from his mouth.
"Severus. I don't need a pity fuck."
Severus raised his eyebrows, his expression beyond skeptical, as though Remus had said he didn't need air. "Don't be absurd, Lupin." His lips were still curled, scoffing, as he wrapped them around Remus's cock again.
Remus let his hand fall to the mattress, but Severus picked it up and laid it against his shoulder again, and Remus held on. For a long time, it was slow and simple-- warmth, and the smooth slide of Severus's lips and tongue and his long fingers; skill without finesse. Severus seemed in no hurry, and though Remus was slow to respond, by the time his cock was completely full and hard, his arousal had outpaced it considerably. His skin cried out for touch; he writhed against the sheets just to feel the full length of his body.
A long time ago, Sirius had done this for him, on full moon mornings, had taken the time to slowly, slowly, bring him to this peak of arousal. But Sirius would have been laughing and teasing him-- would have been rutting against the sheets, driving himself as mad and wild as Remus-- no, more so.
Severus was-- god, where had he learned this? Was sucking him gently and methodically as though he could keep doing this all day. And, oh, as wonderful as that thought was--
Remus lifted his head from the pillow again. "Severus. Severus, stop." Severus looked up and frowned. "Severus, what do you want?"
"I should be asking you that, the way you keep interrupting." He was still stroking Remus with his hand, rubbing his thumb just-- Remus swallowed hard. "I had the impression you were enjoying this."
"I-- oh, god. I am. And I'm also going to fall asleep about a second after I come, so if you want me to reciprocate, now is your chance."
And that actually did make Snape falter. His eyes shut to heavy slits, but not before Remus saw the uncertainty in them. He sat up on his elbows. "Severus." He reached down and took Severus's hand by the wrist, and dragged it up his chest. "Come here." He tugged at Severus's arm until he stretched out beside him, resting his weight on one arm, barely touching Remus.
Remus pulled Severus down to him, settled them together. "I liked it when you held me," he said into Severus's ear, "before. You remember." He rocked his hips until he felt Severus's erection, straining against the fronts of his trousers. He tugged at Severus's shirt. "Will you take this off?"
Severus rolled away and shed shirt and trousers, quickly, but his body was still stiff and somehow distant when Remus gathered him in his arms, as though even the press of skin-- warm and smooth and everywhere-- could not quite bridge the space between them.
It was almost a comfort, that distance. Sirius's body, after Azkaban, had followed his volatile and shifting moods. Arousal, when it had come, had been fast and demanding; Sirius would press him up against the wall and kiss him--clinging, demanding-- and come in three or four hard thrusts against his thigh, or he would fold his fingers around Remus's and spill hot and secret over their joined hands almost as soon his cock was touched. Other times, his eyes might be wide and blown, but his body responded slowly or not at all. Eventually, he had stopped letting Remus try to suck him or stroke him to hardness, when these moods had taken him. But he had begged to be fucked, and the more stubbornly his cock resisted, the harder and more violently he had begged Remus to thrust, to hold him down and pinch and bite him. Sometimes, sometimes, he'd been half-hard by the time Remus's orgasm had overtaken him, and after shuddering to completion bent double over Sirius's wasted body, breathing the scent of his sweat, Remus had been able to suck Sirius to full and glorious hardness, to swallow him down or, once or twice, to slick his cock and ride it until Sirius thrashed under him like they were still nineteen.
Severus's careful control, the wary distance of his body coupled with the hot press of his cock-- this was nothing Remus had felt for a long time; and Remus could not have made himself believe, even had he wanted to, that anyone but Severus Snape was in bed with him.
"Severus," Remus said, "I do know who you are." For a moment, Severus froze completely, but then he let Remus press close, let him bear Severus down against the bed and twine their legs together, let him breathe into his hair and taste the skin of his neck. After a time, he ran his hands down Remus's back, first with his palms, then with his nails. And then they were touching everywhere they could reach.
There was no rhythm to it-- just groping, touching to remind themselves how it was done, to remember what flesh felt like to the hand, to the skin and the tongue. Remus gasped when Severus took hold of his cock again; and when Severus pressed his palm low against Remus's stomach, tracing his fingers over and around his navel, Remus rolled over in his arms and murmured, "You can fuck me. If you want to."
Severus seized Remus's chin and looked down into his face, just looked, but held Remus's head so he couldn't look away. "Severus?"
Severus nodded, but didn't release him for another few heartbeats. When he did, he looked away. "If you say his name, Lupin--"
"No." Remus found his hand on the pillow, covered it with his, and Severus looked back. "This is--" The whole purpose of this, he thought, was to not even think about Sirius. But he didn't say it. "I won't."
Severus nodded again, gravely. "Lubricant?"
Severus rummaged for it and found it. He stretched out behind Remus and ran his hand up and down Remus's side, over his abdomen and down the length of his cock, before he slicked his long fingers and began to prepare him.
The lube was cold, and Remus shivered. Severus was meticulous, something Sirius had never been. He was slow, thorough, enough to make Remus impatient; he pushed back against Severus's fingers and spread his legs as far as he could. He tried to scramble to his hands and knees while Snape was rolling him onto his side-- there was an awkward moment, knees everywhere but where they belonged-- but then they were spooned together, Remus's knee drawn up, and Severus slicked himself quickly and pressed into him.
It hurt. It hurt more than it should have-- Severus had been more than thorough, and he was going slowly now, gently even, but Remus's body simply did not want to let him in; he couldn't hide his wince. Severus went immediately still, dead-still and tense. Remus shook his head and tried to push back. "No, don't stop."
"I'm hurting you."
"It'll pass. Get on with it."
After a moment, Severus did, a little less slowly, while Remus breathed through his teeth. When he was all the way in, he held Remus close against him, held him very still while Remus spasmed open around him. He stroked his thighs and stomach and side, slowly and firmly, as though gentling an animal. The pain began to fade, and Remus shifted himself, settled back against Severus-- Severus was very still, only one hand still moving, deliberately, in a slow circle over his belly-- and after a moment Remus nodded. "Move."
Severus did, with a little sigh of relief; and the burn of friction began to drive out the hurt of the stretch. It was still slower than Remus was used to, deliberate. The lingering edge of pain made Remus want it harder, want to feel only the burn, and a hard pounding that would drive everything else out of his mind. But even now, Severus was in no hurry; when Remus writhed, he petted him-- his arms, his ribs, his thigh-- but he wouldn't give him more. There was only warmth, spreading out, diffusing through his body, warmth and the too-easy rhythm of Severus's slow fucking. Remus shivered, as the warmth finally reached his skin, shivered everywhere and shuddered around Severus's cock, and finally gave in to the rhythm of it, the slowness, and relaxed into Severus's arms.
And that was what Severus had been waiting for, some indication that Remus was past the pain, because now he did begin to move faster, to fuck him harder, now that Remus no longer needed that intensity. But it was still good-- better than good-- Severus dug his nails into Remus's thigh and panted into his hair, and Remus wondered what was wrong with him, that the best sex of his life had always come about by accident, by fumbling past each other and missing the point, and things were never better with Sirius than in those dismal months when they suspected each other.
It had to have hurt for a reason, before, and Remus knew he would be sore later, but in the moment, there was no pain at all-- just the strain and shudder of his whole body, stretched tight as a drumhead and ringing with Severus's every stroke. Severus pressed his mouth to Remus's shoulder and neck and breathed into his ear: "Touch yourself, do it, let me see." Remus took his cock in hand, and he was gone, coming hard over his fingers and chest, and Severus groaned into his hair and pressed him down against the sheets by his shoulder, and finished in three deep strokes, before the aftershocks had even let Remus go.
Long minutes later, Severus pulled away, though only long enough to Summon a towel. He settled back against the pillows, not quite putting his arm around Remus, but still touching him, leg and thigh and back. "I thought you said you were going back to sleep."
"Keep rubbing my back like that, and I will." Severus's hand slowed. "You don't have to stop," said Remus, and Severus didn't.
Fidelius was a heavy stillness over his skin, as though even the drafts in the cold brick kitchen could not see him.
Lupin restored the last trunk to its full size and spelled away the cloud of dust it raised. Despite his careful charms, Lupin was covered in dust; it had lain thick in the old farmhouse when they had Apparated in, and risen in billows when Snape's trunks and boxes had landed like so many dice. Lupin brushed his robes absently-- new robes, though so like the old that Snape had to look at where the patches weren't to see the difference.
Lupin opened the nearest box and peered inside. "Laboratory equipment. Do you want to set things up in the dairy first, or work on making the house livable?"
Snape summoned the box away from Lupin's clumsy rummaging; it skidded along the damp stone floor. "I'll set up the laboratory on my own. I'm the only one who needs to know where things are."
Lupin straightened up and looked at him placidly. "The house, then," he said, and opened another box, for all the world as though he didn't have classes in the morning, a castle to return to.
"Lupin, leave the damned boxes alone for a moment."
Something besides annoyance must have shown in his face, from the way Lupin looked at him. He crossed the few steps between them. "What is it?"
Snape looked away, though Lupin stood so close it was awkward not to meet his eyes. "I have not kept your secrets."
Lupin was very still. "I know."
"And I'm not sorry for it. I did what I had to to force Albus's hand, to make him remove a danger to the school."
He looked up; Lupin was staring straight at him, though his eyes were unreadable. "I know."
"I'm aware I have no right even to ask you to be my Secret-Keeper, let alone to make other demands on you. But now that Albus has seen fit to invite you back to the school--"
"I will take the potion, Severus. Religiously. I swear it."
Severus waved his hand dismissively. "Of course you will; I'll see to that myself. No," he went on. Lupin was listening, and attentively, but some of the accustomed slouch had returned to his shoulders. "There's no one in our world who's not indebted somehow to Albus Dumbledore. I expect he'll remind you of that."
Lupin nodded. "I expect so."
"Don't hesitate to force his hand, Lupin."
Lupin pocketed his wand. "I won't." He tentatively laid a hand on Snape's arm; even through winter robes, the touch was realer than the air, the cold, the dust. "I should get back to Hogwarts soon."
Snape could hear the fire in the grate, the wind outside, but they, too, were muffled, deadened. It would be days before he truly heard any sound but his own voice; even weeks, maybe.
"Don't let me stop you."
Lupin turned away, trying to hide a smile, of all things, but before Snape could be properly angry, Lupin had turned back and kissed him.
So new and awkward a thing should not have been like fresh air to Snape's greedy mouth, but Lupin was the realest thing he could touch, now, and the kiss left him gasping, swaying clumsily against Lupin's body. But it left Lupin almost the same, breathing hard and clutching at his shoulders for balance. And though Snape knew the longer he held on, the harder the silence and the windless calm around him would be to bear, he could not bring himself to let go of Lupin for a long time, not when every kiss was so much easier and better than the one before.