"Ye who turn judgment to wormwood,
and leave off righteousness in the earth…"
"First things first: does anyone know he's here?"
"I don't think so, no."
"Are you sure? You didn't by any chance let Moody see you when—"
"God, no. Are you kidding? He'd be dead by now if Moody had caught a whiff."
"True. Okay, moving on: wards in place?"
"Good." A long, harsh breath. "I think we're ready to begin, then."
Harry shook a cigarette out of the pack and lit it. He watched Snape follow his movements: the automatic path of cigarette from pack to hand to mouth, the practiced wrist flick snapping the lighter shut. He knew what Snape was thinking, what he'd been thinking for the last three days as he took in Harry's and Remus's little mindless routines: he was searching for something he could turn to his advantage. Well, that was just fine. Harry would enjoy crushing whatever futile escape attempt Snape could dream up. It was a kind of game they could play together—just him and Snape.
There was little chance Snape would be able to deduce much from his surroundings. They'd picked an utterly unremarkable hotel, with utterly unremarkable furnishings (each room had two beds, a desk, and a bathroom in exactly the same place, with an identical Audubon knock-off print of a mallard duck posing in front of some reeds and cattails), in an unremarkable district of an unremarkable mid-sized town. They were as far off the map as they could be without leaving England altogether. Surrounded by weary Muggle business travelers and dazed vacationers, their privacy was total.
He stood and moved over to where Snape was bound, arms, torso and legs, to his chair. Both chair and bonds were spelled to be unbreakable, naturally. Snape had stopped struggling against them days ago. Harry blew his first deep drag into Snape's face and watched the black eyes blink rapidly, the pale throat work as he did his best not to cough. It was a cliché, something interrogators in films always did; but really, Harry didn't do it for any other reason than that he liked to cause Snape as much discomfort as he possibly could. He did it every morning, a kind of friendly 'hello' to set the tone for the day.
The door banged open and Remus entered with a brown paper sack in one arm, which was already rustling as he dug around for the spoils. He stopped, sniffing, and grimaced.
"Jesus, Harry…you don't notice it until you go outside and then come back in, but it is ripe in here."
"I'll bet." Harry took another drag. "I can't smell a thing."
"It's like…a pub, a gymnasium, and a primary school classroom all rolled into one."
"That last one's probably the bad milk you spilled." He nodded at Snape. "Think we should consider giving him a bath? For your sake, at least?" The cigarette waved. "I could care less, myself."
"Maybe." Remus set the paper sack down and began taking things out. He produced a bag of cheese and onion crisps, which he tossed to Harry. "Merlin, those things'll add to the stench. Yeah, I think a Cleansing Charm would not go amiss."
"Sure thing." Harry took his wand from his back pocket and pointed it at the silent, stony Snape. "Scourgify."
Remus was now tearing into a Cornish pasty. "Don't suppose he said anything while I was out," he remarked more than asked, between mouthfuls.
"Not a bloody word." Harry was demolishing the crisps bag. "Reckon we'd better begin phase two soon?"
"I think we've given him enough of a chance, yeah."
Snape didn't look like he was on the verge of talking any more than he had the day before, or the day before that.
Remus clasped his hands behind his back and looked Snape in the eye—remembering to look away as soon as he felt the tell-tale tickle of wandless Legilimency on the edges of his awareness. Harry was a tense, coiled presence behind him, positively radiating anger and frustration like a hot iron. Harry changed when he was around Snape, Remus had noticed. The sweet, loving, big-hearted boy was replaced by a hard cynic with a true desire to hurt. Years ago, Snape had made the fatal mistake of picking on one vulnerable, affection-starved child, and now he was a lodestone for all Harry's ugliest impulses. Frankly, it scared Remus a little.
Merlin knew he had his own set of warring feelings about Snape—that was why they were here—but he certainly didn't want to punish him, slowly and painfully, for everything that had ever gone wrong in his life and possibly the whole history of the world. He found himself wishing, for at least the hundredth time and with no small amount of anger toward Snape, that this could all be over.
"Good morning, Severus," Remus began with false brightness. "Feeling well today? A bit hungry, perhaps?"
Snape glowered at him.
"I rather imagine you are. Well, you know what to do to change all that. Should I restate the questions, or do you know them by heart by now?"
Silence. Black eyes bore into his.
"Well, I'll assume you need them restated. So, here we go again: why did you kill Albus Dumbledore?"
A faucet dripped loudly in the bathroom.
"Nothing to say? All right, let's try things from another angle: why did you betray the Order of the Phoenix?"
Remus thought he saw Snape grimace slightly at the name, but otherwise, nothing.
"Moving on, then: what is the identity of the intelligence source codenamed Asphodel?"
There was a spark of recognition in Snape's eyes. This was his first mention of Asphodel and Remus had hoped the surprise of hearing the name would have an effect. But Snape's expression was quickly schooled into blankness.
"Not cooperating today? Then that about covers it, I'd say. Just remember, Severus: Harry and I are unattached men of independent means, and we can keep going like this forever if that's what it takes. No one knows you're here, and anyone who might care is dead or in prison by now. It's your choice when to end this. And if you don't end it, we'll cheerfully watch while your body shuts down and makes the choice for you." He gave Snape a small smile. "Now…" He pointed his wand, and Snape's bonds vanished. "You know the routine. Fifteen minutes. Bathroom, water, a few good stretches. You'll be much more comfortable for it, I assure you. Come on, let's go."
Snape rose slowly and shook his head with a soft chuckle as he headed for the bathroom.
"Something funny, Severus?"
The voice, silent for three days, creaked like a rusty crank. "They call it torture because it's supposed to be unpleasant, Lupin."
Remus frowned. "Well…I know I'm nothing compared to the torture mavens you had on your side. Would you be more at home with that, I wonder? Would you rather I put you under the Cruciatus curse, maybe burned you with a fag or two, broke your fingers, pulled out your toenails? Would that be more your speed, Severus?"
"We may be holding you against your will," he continued softly, "but I will never stoop to the level of murdering, torturing Death Eaters, do you understand? Any pain you suffer, you have no one but yourself to blame for—just tell us what we want to know, and we'll let you eat. It's your choice."
Snape just shook his head again and disappeared into the bathroom.
Out on the balcony by the ice machine, Harry leaned back in a broken plastic chair and drummed his heels against its legs. Remus accepted a cigarette from him and lit up. "Never used to smoke these things until you started up," Remus grumbled.
"What happens when he really begins to starve?" asked Harry.
Remus looked over at him, surprised. "We're not actually going to starve him. I thought you knew that." He tapped his jacket pocket. "I've got a potion that'll put a stop to it before it goes too far. Hopefully the pain will make him open up before it starts getting dangerous, but with Severus you never know. He's got a streak of real perversity, Severus does."
"Tell me about it."
They smoked in companionable silence.
After a moment, Harry asked: "Why do you think it is?"
"Why what is?"
"Why he won't talk? We're offering to protect him if he does; surely he'd want that."
Remus sighed. "Don't rightly know. I expect it's a pride thing."
"Yes, I expect." Harry paused. "Do you still think you'll be right?"
"Honestly? I don't know." He shut his eyes for a moment, fighting away dark thoughts. "I hope I am."
"Because the more time passes without him saying anything, the less I'm inclined to believe you're right." Harry shook his head. "I went along with you at first, I entertained the possibility…but you have to admit, it doesn't look good…"
"We shall see. One of us shall be vindicated in the end, I suppose."
"If there is an end."
"Oh, there'll be an end. Even Severus can't hold out forever."
Harry devoured his roast beef sandwich with more than the usual savor. They usually ate lunch inside, if not in Snape's line of sight then at least where he could smell it. Remus had initially protested the cruelty, and Harry had had to reminded him that they were, for all intents and purposes, torturing the man, and for it to work, they had to do it without getting sentimental. Remus had raised an ironic brow at the word "sentimental" but said nothing. Harry knew it was actually the word "torture" Remus had the problem with. They had both seen the end results of real torture, and knew instinctually what they would be losing if they ever crossed that line in the sand. Snape would not suffer permanent damage, nor even any serious pain beyond intense discomfort. After five years of war, Harry felt this was a moral ambiguity he could live with.
The threat of starvation was, unfortunately, their only remaining tool. Within the first twenty-four hours, they had run through their magical options. Remus had ruled out Veritaserum early on—Snape would undoubtedly maintain high levels of the antidote in his system as a matter of course. But Harry had insisted they try anyway. They'd given him far more than the recommended dose, and succeeded only in dehydrating him. Then they'd tried Harry's nascent Legilimency skills with no real expectation of success—Snape had actually laughed at that. Finally, they had debated casting an Imperius curse, and ultimately decided against it, since it was both illegal and probably doomed to failure as well. That left them with nothing but plain old non-magical psychology. And in this department, they both readily admitted that Snape had them outclassed.
His sandwich finished, Harry took up his position in front of their taciturn prisoner.
"Afternoon, Snape. The roast beef was really outstanding today, I must say. It's too bad you had to miss out on it."
Snape rolled his eyes.
"Listen, today I thought we'd do something different. I have here"—Harry held up a newspaper—"a copy of the Daily Prophet which lists the crimes you'll be charged with if the Ministry ever gets ahold of you. And I have here"—he held up a sheaf of papers—"a list of all the civilian casualties of the war. Death Eater atrocities, mostly. Things you're responsible for, as one of them. People whose deaths you caused. Shall I read them to you?"
Snape was looking at him strangely. He heard Remus shift in his perch on the windowsill behind him.
"Let's start with the charges, shall we? Murder, first degree, Albus Dumbledore. Conspiracy to commit murder, Emmeline Vance. Conspiracy to commit murder, Arthur Weasley. Sabotage, leading to loss of life…"
He read down the list, pausing after each item. Then he read the casualty list. It took half an hour.
When he finally looked up, he was surprised to see Snape slumped a little in his chair, brow crinkled and eyes fixed on the carpet. He hadn't expected this rather obvious manipulation to work, not least because it depended on Snape's having a conscience. But he didn't seem upset, precisely…just thoughtful. Like he was turning Harry's words over in his mind and examining them for hidden meanings.
"I've got more, actually," said Harry. "Tomorrow maybe I'll read you the list of orphaned children who are now wards of the Ministry. I'm told some of them even witnessed the murders…maybe you'll recognize a few of the names."
The eyes Snape lifted to his were cold and blank.
"Well." Harry smiled. "Tomorrow, then."
Later that night, after they'd finished their Chinese takeaway and the mercury vapor lamps in the car park were spilling orange light through the gaps in the curtains, Harry and Remus made love on one of the room's two narrow beds. Turning his head away from Remus's stomach, Harry studied Snape's dark form on the other bed, his profile black and inscrutable against the artificial light. He lay straight and stiff, bound wrists resting on his chest, still as a statue.
"D'you think he's awake?"
"Maybe." Remus slid his hands down Harry's back and pulled him further up his body. "Does it bother you, to be doing this with him in the room?"
"It should. It really should. What the fuck is wrong with us, Remus?"
"The conditions of war have turned us into oversexed exhibitionists, evidently."
They kissed slowly, rubbing groins together, hands sliding on skin. After a moment, Harry paused again.
"What do you think he's thinking right now? Do you think he's getting turned on, listening to us?"
They both waited, listening, as if expecting to hear the sounds of Snape's arousal from across the room. But he didn't stir.
Slowly, Harry turned away from Snape and his futile, obstinate silence and lowered his mouth to Remus's.
The next day brought progress, of a sort.
Remus thought the boy looked a little livelier than usual when Harry returned to the room with newspaper in hand. Hedwig always brought them a copy of the Prophet when she met them at their rendezvous point in the morning to carry their daily "we're fine, don't look for us" dispatch to the Order. Harry was scanning the headlines intently as he came over to stand at Remus's side.
"Look," said Remus, his attention on Snape. "Let's cut the bullshit. We know you were Asphodel. So tell us about Asphodel. Were you acting alone? Were you following Dumbledore's posthumous orders or were you improvising?"
Snape snapped his head around, his eyes narrowed and alive for the first time in days. "Oh," he purred dangerously, "so sure of ourselves, are we?"
Now they were getting somewhere.
"I think I've earned my certainty on this one," Remus said calmly, trying to tamp down his excitement. "Asphodel was obviously in the Inner Circle. There simply weren't any plausible candidates other than you."
Snape grinned horribly, crooked teeth glinting. "And even believing that, you trusted the intelligence like the fools you are."
"It was good intelligence, Severus. It won the war for us. The fifty or so percent of it that was accurate, anyway. The other fifty percent resulted in several deaths."
"Ah…now I am beginning to understand. You believe I am this…'Asphodel', and you want revenge for leading you down the garden path and getting your comrades killed." Snape paused, leaning back. "If I recall…Tonks was among the dead, was she not?"
The surge of murderous rage took him by surprise. Through gritted teeth, he growled, "You will not speak her name, do you understand me, you bastard?"
Surprisingly, the horrible smile faded, and Snape fell silent. They tried for the rest of the day to provoke him into saying more, to no avail.
The day after started out much like the day before.
Remus was already at his wits' end before they'd even begun. Snape looked utterly blank, like he was waiting for a bus and not tied to a chair, like he'd been there less than an hour instead of close to a week. He was nonetheless starting to look a bit worn around the edges. Eyes sunken and dull, lips bloodless and chapped, hair so greasy it looked wet. Did he sleep? He certainly didn't eat, and even letting him up several times a day to move around, drink water and use the loo probably wasn't enough to keep him healthy. All things considered, it was a miracle he didn't look worse.
"Now," Remus began, his voice sounding flat and utterly unconvincing in his ears, "let's return to Asphodel. If it wasn't you, perhaps you can tell us who it was."
To nobody's surprise, Snape said nothing.
"It had to have been a bloody idiot," Harry interjected from across the room, "because half the intelligence was just dead wrong. A thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters could've done better."
Snape's eyebrow quirked slightly. But that was the only evidence that he'd heard.
"That's true, Severus," Remus continued. "It couldn't've been you, because whatever else you are, you've always been an intelligent man, and I can't believe you'd have botched the job as thoroughly as Asphodel did."
"Asphodel didn't botch it."
Harry practically bounded over at the unexpected sound of Snape's voice. Remus frowned inwardly; he needed to have a talk with Harry about acting too eager. Merlin knew neither of them was terribly good at the psychology game, but there were certain fundamentals even he had a grasp on.
"Since being through a war has obviously taught you nothing," Snape went on in a disdainful tone, "here is a little remedial espionage lesson for the two of you. When an asset is placed in a highly vulnerable position, the reliability of the intelligence must decrease so as not to draw suspicion. If your success ratio appears to be random, the enemy will not suspect a leak and the asset may remain in place far longer than would be possible otherwise."
Harry spoke before Remus had the chance. "So you're telling us you were just protecting yourself, is that it?"
Snape continued to look at Remus, refusing to acknowledge Harry. "I'm just telling you what I know about spying. The assumption that I had anything to do with 'Asphodel' was entirely yours."
But the look of uncertainty on Snape's face said clearly that he did not expect to be believed. Finally, Snape had made a mistake. And what had caused it? They had insulted Asphodel's intellect. Of course—why hadn't they thought of that before? Snape could bear a lot of things, including outright torture, but the suggestion that he might be wrong or stupid was—had always been—intolerable.
"I see," said Remus neutrally. "So in your expert opinion, who among the Inner Circle—that is what you meant by 'vulnerable position,' was it not?—could possibly have been the spy? All the other candidates seem a bit farfetched to me. Lucius Malfoy? Bellatrix LeStrange? Come, now."
Snape was silent. Remus had probably only given Snape time to realize his mistake and get ahold of himself. So much for striking while the iron was hot.
But emotion was the key—Snape needed to be provoked, or more specifically, insulted. That was how he'd always been. Whenever Snape and one of the Marauders had ended up in facing hospital wing beds with matching hex marks, some kind of slight—to his looks, his family, his House, but most often his brains—had started it all. If Sirius were here, Snape would have spilled everything by now. Sirius always had had a knack for finding Snape's weak spots.
And that was the whole problem with this situation, wasn't it? Unlike Sirius, Remus didn't hate Snape. Was deeply, murderously angry with him, perhaps, but could never, ever hate him. And for that reason, he simply wasn't capable of really hurting him, and nothing short of that was going to open Snape up.
Remus sighed. They were in over their heads, that much was clear.
He made sure to inform Harry of his insight about provoking Snape with insults, which Harry took to with enthusiasm. They resolved to begin with their new strategy immediately.
"Others might have been impressed by how long and how well you managed to fool poor old Dumbledore," Remus began. "But not me. If you'd been smart, Snape, you'd have tried to fool all of us instead of just him. As it is, you've killed the only man who would ever have spoken up on your behalf if things went south for your Dark Lord. Which, I'm sure I needn't point out, they most definitely did."
Snape just shrugged, and looked maddeningly unmoved.
"Really, when I learned you'd betrayed us," Remus laughed, "I couldn't help but think how…well, how obvious it was, for you. A careful Slytherin like Severus Snape always has a backup plan, but you'd gone and killed yours. Struck me as a bit stupid, really."
Snape looked angry for a split second before his face settled into a satisfied smirk. "Hoping for a repeat performance of yesterday?" he asked acidly. "Think you can squeeze it out of me little by little with a few well-placed insults? Honestly, Lupin, you're far too nice for this line of work."
A blow struck Snape across the mouth, knocking his head hard against the wall. Remus stared stupidly at Harry rubbing his knuckles, mind blank with shock at the sudden violence. "I'm not, though," Harry said coldly.
Snape squinted up at Harry, looking mildly impressed.
"I suppose you've gathered by now that this one"—Harry jerked his head toward Remus—"isn't going to lay a hand on you. But that doesn't mean I won't. Make sure you remember that."
"Tell me something," Snape drawled, "I understand Lupin's investment—he's here because he thinks a quick fuck fifteen years ago means I owe him an explanation for my every move. But you, Potter…you just want to see me hang. So why all this?"
"First of all," said Remus, who momentarily forgot to worry about rising to Snape's bait in his sudden embarrassment and anger, "I'd say it was a spot more than 'a quick fuck'. If I recall, it was six months of rather enthusiastic fucking, in which both parties were equally eagerly engaged."
"Remus…" Harry was staring at him with mouth agape. "When exactly were you planning on telling me this?"
"And second of all, this has nothing to do with feelings I may or may not have had for you many years ago, you unbelievably sanctimonious prat. It's a matter of professed loyalties and your betrayal thereof, and you owe an explanation to the entire Order of the Phoenix as much as you do to me and Harry."
"Remus…?" Harry was now glaring at him dangerously.
"Later, Harry," he bit out. His head was spinning, overrun with clashing feelings the majority of which he didn't have names for.
Snape glanced amusedly back and forth between Remus and Harry, no doubt pleased his seeds of discord were taking root so quickly.
Remus's "strategy" was in ruins. He set his jaw, refusing to accept defeat. "You owe us an explanation, you incredible bastard, you devil," he growled, closing the distance between them and leaning into Snape's space. "You owe us for what you did."
"I owe you nothing," Snape said with a smirk, in a tone that suggested finality. And then he refused to say another word for the rest of the day. There was a certain irritating glint in his eye, a look of triumph, Remus fancied, that made Remus want to do what Harry had done earlier and knock the smirk right off his face.
Later that afternoon, they were back out by the ice machine—where they could talk without having to worry about Snape listening in—eating more Chinese takeaway.
"So. Are you going to tell me, or are you going to make me ask you about it?"
Remus looked up innocently. "About what?"
"About what happened between you and Snape, of course." Harry took another bite of his lo mein. "The 'six months of enthusiastic fucking' or whatever."
"Oh." Remus grimaced. "That." Really, there was no avoiding it. Especially if they didn't want Snape to continue to use it against them. "Well, there really wasn't much more to it than that, as a matter of fact."
"Really." He sighed. "Well, okay—there was rather a lot more to it than that. But it ended badly, as I'm sure you gathered."
"Because Severus is an emotional cripple and I'm a mistrustful coward would be my guess." He paused. "Does it bother you?"
"Look, Remus—" Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I know perfectly well that what we have isn't a—well, it's not a—I mean, it's nice, and it's good, and you're a dear friend and I love you, but—I know the limits, and I'm fine with them. We're not a 'forever' kind of thing and I wouldn’t want us to be."
Remus sighed. "Why is it that you're half my age and yet twice as mature?"
Harry charitably took the question rhetorically. "I take it the thing with Snape was rather different than us, though," he speculated. "Not just a 'friends who fuck' kind of thing."
"No, it couldn't be that, because we were never friends." Remus sighed again. "At the risk of sounding trite, it was—complicated."
"I can imagine. Was he different then?"
"Not really. He had his moments, when we were alone together, that were—well, not quite the Severus one is used to. But mostly, he was same hostile, unpleasant misanthrope you're familiar with."
"And yet you still loved him. I guess there's hope for anybody."
"I never said I—"
"Well, whatever it was. You're here, aren't you? You're willing to hold the man prisoner and do things that disgust you just to find out why he betrayed you. And I'm beginning to see that it's personal for you, that it's a question of him betraying you and not just the Order together." Harry slurped down another noodle. "That's fine—it's the same for me as well."
Remus crinkled his brow. "But you've always hated him, Harry. How can you feel betrayed by a man you never trusted?"
"It's not so much the betrayal—I just want to know why. It's like, so many of the bad things that have happened to me in my life, he's had a hand in. Voldemort I can kind of understand, in a funny way—he's like a hurricane or an earthquake or something. But Snape—what did I ever do to deserve Snape?" He suddenly sounded very old. "I just want to hear Snape explain it all, try to justify it, show me why it had to happen. You know, it's really such a simple thing we want. Why can't he see that?"
The next morning, Harry woke feeling tired and dried out. He was really starting to hate the sight of the little hotel room with its bland furnishings and stupid mallard print. He was ready for this to end, one way or the other.
"Good morning, Snape," he said cheerfully, taking up his usual position. "You know the drill by now, but I'll go through it again anyway: why did you kill Albus Dumbledore?"
Snape was starting to look pretty bad. His skin was taking on a bluish cast, his eye sockets were the color of fresh bruises, and his gaunt face was becoming downright skeletal. Well, all the better.
"Really, I'm just curious. I mean, you've always been desperate for respect and recognition—why do something that'll make you the most hated man in the wizarding world?"
"Perhaps I wanted the notoriety that comes from killing a great man," said Snape smoothly.
"I don't really buy that, Snape. You'd've had your Order of Merlin if you'd stuck with us to the end."
"Who says I thought the Order of the Phoenix would be the last ones standing at the end? You were its chosen champion, after all. Didn't give me much hope for success, I'm afraid."
"Then you must be feeling a bit stupid now, I'll wager. What did Voldemort promise you once he'd won?"
"Power. Money. Sex. The usual package."
Still glib, still calm and collected. None of this was the truth, yet. But at least Snape was talking, and while he was, there was hope.
"I see. So let me get this straight: Dumbledore stuck his neck out for you, kept you out of Azkaban when you clearly deserved to rot there, raised you up from nothing, gave you his complete and unwavering trust when no one else would…and at the first sign that the war might be turning in Voldemort's favor, you switched sides and threw everything Dumbledore'd done for you back in his face?" Harry smiled grimly. "Tell me: is cowardice a typical Slytherin trait, or are you just special that way?"
Harry could actually see the war taking place behind Snape's eyes. His jaw tightened and no smooth rejoinder came forth. He knew he was being baited and yet he was helpless. Yep, the "coward" thing was definitely the chink in the armor.
"I've honestly never seen anything quite so cowardly in my life," Harry went on. "I was there, you know, that night in the Tower. It was six against one, six healthy wizards against one frail old man who could barely stand. Dear God, how can you face yourself in the mirror? I mean, beyond the usual horror a mirror must hold for you?"
"Did it not occur to you," Snape said, his voice suddenly shrill, "that Albus would have died anyway? That my curse merely hastened the inevitable?"
Snape's mouth snapped shut, the realization that he'd just confessed something—or a part of something—dawning on his face. Inwardly, Harry cheered. This was fun, he discovered. He rather liked being able to put that look on Snape's face.
Instinctively, he knew not to press for further information and concentrate instead on getting Snape angrier. It was clear now that Snape felt guilty for Dumbledore's murder, just as he'd hoped. "That's a fine story," Harry said, drawing nearer to Snape and dropping his voice to a low hiss. "If that's what you have to tell yourself so you can sleep at night, I completely understand. It must be difficult to live with yourself knowing you killed the only man who ever had a good word to say about you, the only man who ever believed you were worth the space you took up." Snape was turning a gratifying shade of red, and his eyes were wide and furious. "Maybe he was stupid to trust you, Snape," Harry went on, "but it takes a truly cold-blooded coward to sell out a man who did what Dumbledore did for you, you heartless, pathetic son of a bitch."
Snape was actually shaking now. He looked close to the way he'd looked in the hospital wing back in Harry's third year, when he'd lost his Order of Merlin and his revenge on Sirius all in one fell swoop. And Harry had done this to him, coldly and deliberately.
Harry felt suffused with power; he suddenly felt like he could do anything, even reach into Snape's mind and take whatever he wanted, lay the bastard's head right open and rummage around in its tawdry debris, spread it out for everyone to look at. The chair Snape was bound to began to shake; the bonds fell away and both chair and Snape were flung violently backward. Harry gasped, his whole body singing with pleasure, trying to get a grip on himself but feeling too good to try very hard. He stepped over to where Snape lay spread out on his back, leg still hooked over the chair, tangled in his robes and the broken bonds and staring up at Harry with something close to fear.
Harry had never felt so aroused.
And then Remus was there, spelling Snape back into the chair, refastening the bonds and setting him upright. Snape's livid gaze never left Harry's, though; he barely seemed aware that Remus was there at all. Remus cast a worried look back and forth between them, hesitating strangely as though he were uncertain whether to be pleased or horrified by this turn of events. Harry gave him what he hoped was a reassuring smile, though it felt more vicious and triumphant than anything.
Yes, he could really get used to feeling like this.
Remus didn't discuss what had happened with Harry. He couldn't entirely regret it, after all; Harry had made more progress in breaking down Snape's defenses than they'd been able to do in all previous days combined. So why did he feel like they had slid backward instead of forward? Or, perhaps more aptly, slid further into something they might not be able to climb out of?
There'd been something else troubling about the incident as well. Something in Harry's demeanor afterward, a certain glowing quality about him, seemed almost…post-coital, was the only word for it. He didn't even want to think what that might mean.
In the spirit of post-coitus, they shared a cigarette outside afterward.
"Remus," Harry had said slowly, not looking at him. "I need to say something to you."
Remus swallowed. "Yes?"
"You're going to have to accept sooner or later that Snape might be as guilty as he looks."
"What do you mean?"
"I know you think he was Asphodel. That he killed Dumbledore for some obscure reason that will make it all okay once it's revealed. That's what you're trying to get him to confess. You say you want the truth, but you don't, really."
Remus gaped at him.
"I know you loved him. Or—whatever. Maybe you still do. But he's guilty, Remus, he's fucking guilty, and the sooner you stop listening for him to say otherwise, the sooner we'll get to the bottom of all this."
"And what," Remus choked out, "makes you so certain, might I ask?"
"I don't see him through the same rose-tinted glasses as you. I can see him for who he really is, which is a lying, murdering, traitorous sack of shite."
Remus shook his head sadly. "You see him through your own tinted glasses, Harry. They're no more the truth than mine are."
Harry's temporary victory didn't last. Snape was circling his wagons now, and all mentions of Dumbledore now met with stony non-reaction. Harry knew all he had to do, though, was find another subject on which Snape was equally sensitive, one he might not see coming.
And without even thinking about it, a solution came to mind.
"Remus," Harry said as they stood on the balcony watching the sun begin to emerge in earnest from the low-banked morning clouds. "Promise me that whatever I say to Snape today, you won't hold it against me. You know I'll just be trying to provoke him."
"Of course," said Remus, looking a little apprehensive.
Back inside, Harry met Snape's expressionless eyes carefully.
"Why did you kill Albus Dumbledore?" Harry asked in a bored voice. Nothing. "Thought not. All right, if you won't answer that, maybe you'll answer this: why did my father hate you so much?"
Snape looked surprised, but he said nothing.
"Sirius said it was because you knew so many curses. But I've got a better theory. I'll bet my dad and his friends caught on to the fact that you wanted them."
There was a flicker of heat in Snape's eyes, but he didn't open his mouth.
"You see, that's the only explanation that makes sense to me. Why else would you follow them around all the time? I'll bet it gave my dad the creeps that an ugly little weirdo was putting him and his friends in his wanking fantasies."
"I see what you're doing, Potter," Snape said dryly. "Really, your clumsiness is astounding."
Interesting. Snape wanted him to shut up, apparently.
"You must have been pretty proud of yourself when you scored one of the Marauders years later, then," he went on as though Snape had said nothing. "Too bad you couldn't hang onto him."
"Perhaps I didn't want to 'hang onto him.'"
"Oh. So, your choice then. I'm supposed to believe that it was the ugly, unpleasant, friendless guy who broke it off with the attractive, easygoing, well-liked guy. Somehow I doubt it. Remus?"
"Er…" Remus didn’t sound thrilled that he was being dragged into the conversation. "Actually…it was me who broke it off."
"See?" Harry turned back to Snape. "I was right. You'd have to be pretty stupid to throw somebody over who'd have you, Snape. After all, what are the chances of that happening twice?"
"You're welcome to my cast-offs, Potter," said Snape smugly.
"Oh no, you were the cast-off, I think. It pains me that Remus was going through such a dry period that he needed you, but it seems like he came to his senses and realized that no sex at all is better than waking up next to your ugly arse."
Snape was almost laughing. "Really, Potter, if this is the best you can do…"
"But I bet you still want him, all these years later."
"Oh please." For the first time, Snape looked irritated, not smug. Then he seemed to remember himself, and stopped talking.
"In fact, I know you do. It all makes sense—you driving him out of Hogwarts, you wanting Sirius out of the way, everything. I'll bet you were in love with him even back in school. I'll bet you hated my dad and Sirius for standing in your way."
"I needed no such Byzantine reasons for hating Black and your father, Potter. They were arrogant idiots who both got what was coming to them."
Snape was slamming against the wall with a trickle of blood running from his nose before Harry even realized he'd hit him. He felt strange and a little light-headed as he watched the blood run over Snape's lips and start down his chin. Snape looked at him with open disgust. "Pathetic," he said, shaking his head.
"No, Snape," said Harry, "pathetic is pining for someone who dumped you fifteen years ago."
Snape's eyes flicked angrily to where Remus was, somewhere behind Harry. This was it—Snape couldn't stay silent and let that one stand, not with Remus there to listen.
"Does it hurt you to listen to me fucking him, Snape?" He could feel the color mounting in his cheeks again. "Do you get a hard-on and then cry yourself to sleep listening to me screwing the man you can't have?"
Remus let out a breath behind him. He felt a little breathless himself, startled by the cruelty of the things he was capable of saying.
Snape's face had flushed a very unattractive pink. "Fuck him all you want, Potter," he bit out. "I don't care."
"Because I think it's utter cowardice to see someone you love with someone else and do nothing about it. Don't you?"
"I don't love him," growled Snape, as though he were speaking against his will.
"But that pales," Harry said, feeling his voice rise, "compared to what it must have taken to care about your own pathetic life so much that you could sell out a group of people that included the man you loved." He was yelling—why was he yelling? It was Snape who was supposed to be getting angry here.
And he was. "You think I did what I did to protect my own life?" Snape shrieked.
"I have no idea why you did what you did, Snape. Why don't you tell us? "
"You don't deserve to know, you vainglorious little vermin!"
"No? What about Remus, then? Don't you think the man you love deserves to know why you sold him down the river?"
Snape's bloodshot eyes were practically popping out of his head. Veins stood out on his face; saliva pooled on his slack lower lip.
"Sure you don't," said Harry smugly. "That's why you're screaming about it."
"Harry," said Remus tensely behind him, "I'm going to go meet Hedwig now, if you don't mind. Carry on without me, will you?"
Harry nodded curtly. Had he done something irreparable, despite Remus's earlier assurances that he wouldn't be offended? Remus closed the door behind him with a soft snick and there was silence.
"So…" said Harry at last, stomach fluttering a bit. "Just you and me."
Snape glared at him coldly.
"What?" Harry smiled at him. "No pot shots at my father today? I've given you ample opportunity."
"Your father and Sirius were both arrogant pillocks who got exactly what they deserved," said Snape in a bored voice.
"If that's so, then what do you think you deserve, Snape? Huh? You murdering son of a bitch?" He was getting angry again, in spite of his resolution to remain calm. "All my father ever did was play a couple of schoolboy pranks. You went and murdered the world's greatest wizard and the only man who ever trusted you, so I'd say you've got my father beat!"
"Schoolboy pranks, eh?" Snape's head whipped around. "I imagine if you'd suffered what I did at the hands of your father, you'd have gone crying to Dumbledore demanding justice in a heartbeat!"
"I have never gone 'crying to Dumbledore' and you know it, Snape. That's what you do."
"Children have a right to be safe in their own school!"
"Yeah? So who was protecting me from you, eh?"
"You know very well that I have never harmed you—"
"No, you just humiliated me on a daily basis. That's all my dad did to you, after all."
"What I've done to you in no way compares—"
"That's a load of crap, Snape. You're every bit the bully James Potter was, and considerably more, I'd say, because you pick on children, Snape, who can't defend themselves."
"Really? Then why am I the one tied to a chair while you starve and periodically assault me?"
"Because," cried Harry, "you committed a crime, a crime that hurt both Remus and myself, and we want to know why it happened so we can decide what kind of punishment you deserve."
"But you've already decided what kind of punishment I deserve," Snape hissed. "You want me dead. You're just afraid that won't put you in well with your damned idiotic pacifist werewolf."
"You're wrong," Harry said. "I also want to understand. I want to know why it had to happen—all of it. I want to know what Dumbledore ever did to you—what any of us ever did to you—to make you do all the horrible things you did. Or were you just born twisted and evil? What the fuck is the matter with you?"
A strange look appeared on Snape's face, a kind of mortal affront. "You've no right to ask me about my reasons for anything, Potter," he said in a low, deadly voice. "You understand nothing about me, and that's how it's going to remain."
"Oh really?" Harry laughed harshly. "I think I understand a thing or two about you. I understand you were stuck in a job you thought you were too good for, even though no one else in the wizarding world would have stood your presence for a second. I understand that you have to be cruel to people who are weaker than you are in order to feel good about yourself. I understand you were going to feed an innocent man to the Dementors, just so you could have your sodding Order of Merlin. Think they'll ever give you your medal now, Snape? Do you think anyone in the wizarding world will ever look at you again and not wish you dead?"
Much to Harry's gratification, Snape's expression was darkening with each word. Harry realized he was tremendously aroused again, just as he'd been the day before. Snape's anger, his helpless fury at Harry's taunts, excited him like nothing ever had. "I repeat:" Snape muttered in a strangled voice that warmed Harry to the core, "you understand nothing!"
"But I do!" Harry cried triumphantly. "I understand that you hate everyone because you know no one could ever possibly love you. I understand that you'll do anything to look good and feel powerful because deep down, you know how pathetic and weak you are. I understand that you hate me because you're jealous of me, and of my dad, because we have friends and people who love us, and you don't!"
"YOU—UNDERSTAND—NOTHING!" Snape was breathing hard; sweat was breaking out on his pale forehead. "DO YOU HEAR ME? NOTHING!!"
"Oh, I don't know," Harry said smugly. "Seems I scored a direct hit with a few of those." He began to pace back and forth in front of Snape. "But I'm getting bored with this. You've refused to answer our questions for a week, and I've had enough. It's time to try something new."
For the first time, Snape was eying him with a look of real apprehension. Harry pointed his wand at him and he flinched, only opening his eyes when the bonds fell away. With another flick of the wand, new bonds secured Snape's wrists behind his back. Harry stepped forward and thrust his hand into Snape's long, dirty hair, then yanked him forward onto his knees. He relished the gasp of pain and surprise that produced, then turned and began to drag the man toward the bathroom. Snape's struggles to keep up without the use of his hands, crawling and stumbling with muttered curses, would have been funny to Harry if his anger hadn't been so total. He was going to hurt this man, and hurt him for real, this time. He could feel the giddy expectation of it fluttering around in the pit of his stomach like a trapped snitch.
"Now," said Harry through clenched teeth as he dragged Snape up to the toilet, "here's how this is going to work: I'm going to ask the questions, and you're going to answer them. I'm through being nice to you, Snape. Remus may be afraid to hurt you, but Remus isn't here and we're going to do things my way now." He wound his hand further in Snape's hair, bringing their faces closer together. "So start talking: why did you betray us?"
"I? I betrayed no one. It was not my foolishness that helped the Dark Lord rise again."
"Wrong answer!" Harry gripped the back of Snape's neck with his other hand and forced his head into the toilet, holding it under the water for a ten-count before pulling it up. Snape coughed and spluttered, dripping. "Let's try again: why did you betray us?"
"Everything you blame me for is your own fault," Snape gasped, his eyes wild. "You allowed the Dark Lord to return, Potter, and you got your little classmate killed! It was your arrogance and stupidity that sent your idiot godfather to his death, and it was you who forced that potion down Dumbledore's throat!"
"Shut up!" Harry forced Snape's head under again, holding it there for much longer this time, only dragging it up when he felt Snape's body begin to jerk.
But the bastard was already talking. "Your parents died protecting you," he went on, as though he hadn't been cut off, "all so you could drive everyone to distraction getting yourself into one idiotic mess after another!" His head went back under, and Harry gritted his teeth as he locked his elbow and held him there, daring himself to keep him under longer, longer. The seconds ticked by.
When the head came up again, the ranting started up as though it had never paused. "You're nothing but a self-important little twit who thinks the world revolves around him," Snape snarled, "and whose reckless arrogance is a danger to everyone near him!"
"Shut up!" Harry screamed. "Shut up, shut up! You sent Voldemort to kill my parents! You goaded Sirius into getting himself killed! You —God, you fucking murdered Dumbledore! You destroyed everything I ever loved, and I want to know why!"
He didn't give Snape a chance to respond before forcing his head back under the water. Hand clamped hard around the back of the man's neck, he watched, mesmerized, as bubbles welled up among the floating tendrils of black hair…welling, bursting, slowing…
—and with a sick start he saw that the bubbles had stopped. He stared at his hand and arm, frozen. Suddenly hands on his shoulders were pulling him off of Snape, and Snape's head was coming up like a shot, his sodden hair flinging water across the floor, gasping and choking and gagging. Harry sat back on his heels, numb with shock, staring at the man he had been a hair's breadth from killing.
Arms came around him from behind, and he heard Remus's voice murmuring "Harry, oh God, Harry…"
Snape was bent forward now, wheezing and making horrible wet, retching noises.
Harry turned and burrowed into Remus's chest. "I was going to kill him," he heard himself saying in a quiet, toneless voice. "I was doing it, I was killing him…"
"It's over now," hushed Remus, stroking his hair. "Nobody's killing anybody today."
When he turned around again, Snape was still hunched over, still shaking with deep, painful-sounding coughs, but he'd gotten his breath back, and was staring at the tiles in front of his face with wide, blank eyes. Between coughs, he muttered something that Harry couldn't understand.
"What?" he asked, leaning hesitantly toward Snape.
"I said," said Snape roughly, lifting his head and turning eyes on him that were almost inhuman with hatred, "are you proud to have finally turned into your father? Proud to be a bully now, just like he was?"
Harry stared. This was a man he hated with all the energy in his body. He looked at his hands, then back at the pathetic, bedraggled, half-starved man dripping on the tiles.
Snape was right. He was a bully.
Remus held Harry tightly, feeling the young man trembling in his arms. God…if he'd gotten there only a few moments too late…the rest of the thought sickened him. Severus…Jesus Christ. He was angry at the man, but he wanted answers, not revenge. Snape's eyes were seeking out his, like searchlights he was dodging and running to avoid.
"And you, Lupin," Snape sneered bitterly. "Do you like being a bully too? Because as much as you protest that you don't, you end up in this position rather often. Does it make it easier that it was always Black or Potter doing the deed? So you could watch and enjoy but not have to feel responsible? Is that what you're doing now?"
Remus got to his feet suddenly, dumping Harry onto his knees. "I am sick"—Remus's voice rang off the white tiled walls of the bright, cold bathroom—"of listening to you paint yourself as the victim, Severus. You know you gave as good as you got with James and Sirius. You know that. And we are here, now, because you hurt us, you did something fucking unforgivable and it hurt us both, and all we want are some goddamn answers as to why it had to fucking be that way!"
He stopped, meeting Snape's startled gaze and no longer caring that all of his pain and bitterness was sitting right there on the surface for Snape to drink in. He wanted Snape to see it now, wanted Snape to know what he had done to him. It was the only weapon he had left.
Well, there was one more thing he could do.
"I've had enough of this nonsense," he said quietly. "Severus, tell us what you want in exchange for some answers and whatever it is, we will give it to you."
Harry was staring at him as though he'd completely lost his mind, which he probably had. No turning back now, though.
After a long moment, Snape nodded slowly. "All right. I want you to let me go."
"What?" Harry nearly shrieked. Remus held up a hand wearily.
"You heard me," Snape said. "I want you to untie me and unlock the door and leave me free to go if I so choose. If you do that…" he let out a gusty breath, as though reluctant to go on "…I will talk to you."
Remus raised his wand, and the bonds tying Snape's wrists fell away. He pointed his wand at the front door, where the chain rattled loose and the deadbolt slid out. "There you go."
"Remus!" Harry was getting to his feet, his face frantic. Remus held up his hand again, and to his immense gratitude, Harry was still.
Snape climbed cautiously up off the floor, and crossed the bathroom unsteadily until he was between them and the front door. "That's it, then?" he said uncertainly. "How about my wand? Do I get that back?"
"Not while you're still here, you don't. We're not complete idiots, you know."
"Oh, I beg to differ," Snape said, but without the satisfied relish he would ordinarily have taken. He sounded almost disappointed. "Good bye, then," he said, stumbling toward the door. "You'll have to find your answers elsewhere, I'm afraid."
Harry trembled, but didn't make a move.
"Severus," Remus called, and Snape's hand paused on the doorknob. He turned around slowly.
"They'll kill you out there, if they find you. And they will, eventually."
"I'm willing to take that chance," Snape said wearily.
"You don't understand," Remus said. "I don't want you to die."
"Well, it isn't always about what you want, is it?" Snape replied with half-hearted venom.
"Please, I am begging you, Severus. Stay. I know you're hurting too; maybe telling us the whole story from beginning to end will bring you some peace as well."
"That, I'm afraid, would require a sympathetic ear," Snape replied. "If I thought for one moment that you would believe a word I say, that you would listen without condemning, that you would try to understand, we might never have had to go through all this."
Remus was thunderstruck. He stared at Snape's back, only vaguely registering that Snape was making no further moves to leave. He was, very clearly, waiting for Remus's reply.
"I've never wanted anything more than to understand you, Severus. You knew that then, and you refused to accept it. You know that now. You know all I want is for you to show me that you had your reasons for what you did."
"And that's the whole problem, isn't it? You want me never to have betrayed you. When the fact is that I did."
All of the air left Remus's lungs. He closed his eyes. That was it, then. Was it a kindness, for Snape to tell him the truth about this? Had it all been worth it just to hear this? To have his last illusions, and with them his happy, hopeful memories, destroyed?
"If you are willing to accept that you might not like my reasons, Lupin, I shall explain to you what they were. If you persist in thinking you know why I did what I did, then we have nothing further to talk about."
Remus opened his eyes again. Snape was gazing at him with something approaching compassion. Remus nodded. "We will listen, Severus. We'll listen, and we won't judge, and we'll try to understand. I promise you that. Is that enough?"
Snape leaned against the door, then slid down to sit with his arms around his knees. "Do you suppose I could eat something first?" he asked.
Remus smiled, feeling the sudden prick of tears in his eyes, and nodded.
Remus sat and watched as Snape devoured the leftovers of their kung pao chicken. Halfway to the bottom of the carton, Harry brought him a plastic cup full of water—an obvious offer of a truce (a temporary one, at least) that Remus desperately hoped Snape would accept. Snape drained it and Harry went back for more. At some point, Remus handed over the nutritional revitalizing potion he'd been keeping to ensure that Snape did not actually starve, and once Snape had drunk it, some of his color—such as it was—returned to his face.
Afterwards, he talked. He told them the entire story—an Unbreakable Vow made to Narcissa Malfoy to protect her son Draco, the creation of Asphodel, the night in the Astronomy Tower.
"It had always been the plan for me to betray the Order and take my position at the Dark Lord's side; it was merely the exact means that Dumbledore and I had not yet established. The Vow was a mistake; I let myself be manipulated into position, and once there, I couldn't refuse it, not with Bellatrix reporting my every move to the Dark Lord. But I was ashamed, and I never told Dumbledore about it. I guess I was hoping against hope that another solution would present itself. However, nothing did, and I knew that I had to use the opportunity the Vow provided. You probably weren't aware, but Dumbledore was mortally injured destroying the first Horcrux, and I was attempting to keep him alive. If I had died breaking the Vow, he would have soon followed. So that night in the Astronomy Tower, it was merely a question of whether it would be one man dying or two. I knew Dumbledore placed greater value on the success of Asphodel than he did on his own life. His only concern was that I not become a murderer again—but it was my soul to barter away, not his. I only pray that he did not hate me for it." He sighed a deep, weary sigh. "So there you have it. I hope that satisfies whatever it was you were looking for."
As Snape talked, Remus felt the gaping hole that had opened up in him before begin to fill. Harry listened with his eyes fixed on his knees, his brow furrowed in an expression of deep indecision. By the end, some of the numbness and despair that had stolen over Remus had begun to dissipate.
"So there was no betrayal, not really," he said almost to himself once Snape had gone silent. "Why did you lead me to believe there was?"
"Dumbledore did not have to die—not yet, at least. It was the Vow I made to Narcissa that made his death necessary, and the Vow was my fault and mine alone." Remus heard the unspoken 'and I knew you'd blame me for it.' He shook his head.
"It was a tragic mistake," Remus admitted. "But…you did what you had to do. And I understand." He glanced over at Harry, to see whether there would be agreement or mutiny on his face. But he was still staring at his knees, apparently lost in thought.
Snape nodded stiffly. "I can't forgive myself. I don't want you to forgive me."
Remus didn't press the issue. "Severus. I just want to say that I'm sorry for what we did to you here."
Snape looked a little uncomfortable at that, and he didn't respond. The relatively soft expression on his face, however, suggested to Remus that the apology hadn't fallen on entirely deaf ears. After a while, Snape said, "I think I shall be on my way now, if it's all the same to you gentlemen." He then made to get up.
"Wait." Both Remus and Snape looked toward Harry, who had spoken for the first time in an hour. "Snape. My parents. Tell me the truth about how you were involved."
Snape sat down heavily, and looked to Remus as though searching for support. "I gave Voldemort the prophecy," he began weakly. "That you know. When I learned how it had been interpreted, I went to warn Dumbledore that your parents were in danger and tendered my services as a spy. It was easy, because Voldemort had already asked me to seek a job at Hogwarts and function as his spy there. Dumbledore accepted me, as you also know."
"Why did he trust you?" Harry's voice was weak and uncertain.
Snape's eyes flicked back to Remus's again, sad and afraid. "I…" He paused for a long time. "That is not something I am willing to tell you," he finished softly.
"Why not?" Harry asked, a little shrilly.
"Because," Snape snarled, "a man should be allowed one thing that is his, that is not riffled through and pawed over, that is why. The answer has nothing to do with you, I assure you, and quite frankly I would slit my own throat before telling anyone." He sighed. "Is it not enough to know that I did not betray Dumbledore or your parents but merely failed them? Aren't you satisfied with my contrition and misery, or do you want to take my remaining dignity as well?"
Harry stared long and hard. "Harry," Remus said softly, suddenly understanding something. "Just leave it. He's told us enough." He thought for a moment, back to a Potions class and a dark head and a red head bent together over a cauldron; then later, to a boy sprawled in the grass at the feet of a girl, and ugly words that were exchanged, and the look in the boy's fathomless black eyes that was one of naked hurt unlike anything the other boys' taunts had ever elicited. He had nearly forgotten—Lily Evans had been Snape's friend, perhaps his only friend. How he must have felt, knowing he'd inadvertently caused her death…
It was not something Harry was ready to hear, though, and he had no right to reveal what Snape wished to keep secret.
Snape was getting up again, and Remus reached out to grab his sleeve. "It's not even slightly safe out there, Severus."
"And I suppose I'm safer in here with you two?" Snape said without humor.
"Severus." Remus got to his feet. "Believe me when I say to you: I am sorry for what we did here. It was…cruel, to say the least. But you have to understand: we thought you had betrayed us. What you did…what we thought you'd done to Dumbledore, to James and Lily…it hurt us, and we struck out at you, and we've done our best to see things from your point of view, so perhaps you could try seeing things from ours."
Snape was expressionless for a moment, then nodded, his eyes dropping, and sat down again.
Remus had never seen him look so tired or so vulnerable. They had done that to him. And Snape, in some obscure Snape-like way, seemed willing to forgive them for it. Remus suddenly needed to touch him, without anger or intent to hurt, to make contact. And so he did.
Snape jerked his head away slightly from the hand on his cheek, and looked up, his eyes confused.
"You know," Remus sighed, "we've both done a lot of awful things to each other over the years. Do you think we could call a general amnesty and consider all debts forgiven from here on out?"
"I…suppose that might be possible."
Remus nodded, drinking in Snape's hesitantly open expression. "God, I've fucking missed you," he heard himself murmur.
Snape looked at him sharply, the open look gone. "I seem to recall the words 'I never want to see you again' being spoken at one particularly ugly moment in our shared past, Lupin," he said acidly.
"I was an idiot!" Remus cried, suddenly determined not to let Snape's cynicism prevail as it always did. "So were you, incidentally! But we've just been through a war, and we both survived, and for some insane reason I still want you, and all the rest just seems rather stupid to me now."
"And you assume I feel the same?" Snape was nearly shouting.
"No! Do what you want! Just do me a favor and don't hare off and get yourself killed by Aurors, because I really don't think I could bounce back from that."
He was doing it again—letting all of his longing show on his face as clearly as if it were written there, and he braced himself for Snape's mocking retort. It didn't come, however, and the answering look in Snape's eyes was exposed and hot and real.
Whether Snape stood, or Remus knelt, or they met somewhere awkwardly in the middle, the result was the same—Remus's arms were full of Snape's warm, slender frame, his mouth was kissing lips still slippery with Chinese takeaway, his hands were stroking damp, stringy hair. And at some point, while all of this was happening, Harry slipped quietly out.
Harry sat in the plastic chair by the ice machine, alone for once, smoking the last cigarette in his pack. There was really no point in being disappointed. Remus and he had been casual and amicable, enjoyable and comforting. He'd always known it would end when they were no longer in forced proximity, and that had never bothered him. He also hadn't been fooled for a second by Remus's coolness toward Snape, and now that their questions had been answered to the satisfaction of even Remus's wildest hopes, there was no reason he and Snape shouldn't do what they'd probably both wanted to do for the last fifteen years.
He just didn't like being the third wheel.
His hatred for Snape had been cut off at the knees. He certainly felt no great warmth for the man, but he'd done as asked and tried to understand Snape's explanation for those terrible events. He still wasn't sure if he entirely believed every word, but the pure misery that had infused Snape's speech seemed so uncharacteristically vulnerable that a part of him was moved in spite of himself. And then there was Asphodel. That intelligence had won them the war, and in terms of Snape's cold-blooded arithmetic, the success of Asphodel had been worth Dumbledore's life. Harry would never have done the same; he could certainly never forgive Snape for it; but he could begin to understand a little.
Asphodel…there was something important about that word, he remembered. Something related to—ah yes. Asphodels were lilies.
Snape had taken his codename from Harry's mother.
There was simply no deciding what that might mean. Had Snape cared for Lily, despite that—word he'd said to her?
He would never understand Snape, would never understand why this man had been put on Earth seemingly for the sole purpose of hurting him, wittingly or unwittingly, and he would never get the answers to the questions he really wanted to ask. Why did Voldemort have to be? Why did his parents have to die? All he knew was that, somewhere along the way, he had cobbled together something resembling a life, with people who loved him and whom he loved, and that included one Remus Lupin, who was currently stealing a bit of happiness that Harry was not about to begrudge him.
He finished the cigarette and Vanished it. It would probably be best if he just left now; he could send Hedwig back to tell Remus he'd gone home. They'd gotten what they wanted, and now Remus was getting what he wanted, and it had been a long week and Harry was more than a little bit tired.
Patting his jacket for his wallet, he was alarmed to discover he had another wand besides his own. He drew out a wand of silver-inlaid ebony: Snape's. Of course—he had been holding onto it since Monday.
Harry debated just leaving the wand outside the door, but knew no self-respecting wizard would ever treat another wizard's wand so carelessly. He'd have to go back inside, unfortunately…so he crept up to the window to prepare himself, at least, for what he was about to burst in on.
Peering through the gap in the curtains, he felt his breath catch in his throat.
Perhaps, Remus thought as Snape's mouth opened under his, if he made the kiss hard and sweet and fierce enough, he could suck out the bitterness that had built up between them over the long years, like drawing venom from a snakebite. Sometime before they reached the bed, shoes were kicked off and clothes were discarded, and as they ended in a tangle with the horrible green polyester duvet, his anxiety withdrew a bit. Yes, this was good, this was right. Snape's skin was scalding against his, and he was tasting the velvety flesh of Snape's throat, and someone was making rapid, breathy little sounds in his ear and he couldn't be sure it wasn't himself.
He realized with a guilty lurch that he was on top of Snape pinning him down, something that made him deeply uncomfortable as he thought back over the events of the week, so he rolled them over until Snape was settled on top of his chest. Snape took the opportunity to pull back and frown at him searchingly.
"What?" Remus demanded eventually.
Snape narrowed his eyes. "You're not in love with the Potter brat, are you?"
What? "I—it's not—it isn't like that." He sighed, torn between honesty and not wanting to give Snape the wrong idea. "But that doesn't mean—you know, the two of us—"
"You needn't worry," Snape said condescendingly. "I wasn't asking if you were in love with me. I know you're not."
Remus frowned. He didn't like hearing it put so bluntly.
"I've missed you," he said, reaching up to stroke Snape's thin, tired face. "I want you. I wish things had never gotten so awful between us. Is that enough?"
"Yes…" Snape murmured. "Yes…I think so." And he leaned down to kiss Remus again.
His last coherent thought before Snape slid down his body and closed his mouth around his prick was that he hoped he could find a way to make this up to Harry later.
Harry felt his face grow hot. Remus lay on the bed with his head thrown back and his knees spread wide, Snape's dark head bobbing between his thighs. Harry had never done this before—watched a lover getting off without being right there in the thick of it—and it was like he was seeing Remus for the first time. Light from the bathroom picked out the edges of him—a moist glint on his parted lips, the curve of a bared throat, the hair on chest, belly, and legs glowing like filaments. The warm ache in his groin told him how much he liked this new perspective, and he pressed up as close as he could against the window, mesmerized.
Something in the back of his mind informed him dimly that he ought to be jealous, but he was too busy watching the two naked figures writhing languidly together to care. Snape's chalk-white body fairly gleamed in the half-light, and somewhat to his surprise, Harry found his eyes roaming it appreciatively. So: Snape was not twisted and deformed after all. A bit thinner than he preferred, but with broad shoulders and a lovely arse (which was currently waving temptingly in the air as Snape knelt between Remus's legs). Snape's cock peeked out past his thigh, so dark compared to the rest of him, and Harry felt himself harden even more.
Well…come to think of it, it wasn't really fair. As of that morning, Remus had been his lover, fifteen years of unresolved longing for another man be damned, and it was just like Snape to march in and act like he owned the place. Harry felt his palms begin to sweat as he contemplated what he was about to do. No…Snape deserved to be challenged this time. Harry only hoped Remus wouldn't object.
Besides…he still had a few issues he wanted to work out with Snape as well.
Harry turned the doorknob and quietly opened the door.
Remus didn't register the sound of the door opening and closing until he felt warm hands on his shoulders and realized retroactively that Harry must have come inside. He glanced down between his legs to see if Snape had noticed the third person now in their bed and found Snape's eyes on him, dark and impossible to read. Harry's mouth was on his neck now, large callused hands sliding down his chest and denim rubbing the small of his back. He seemed to be laying in Harry's lap, and as he tipped his head back, Harry's flushed face came into view. Harry mouthed the word 'okay?' and he nodded, and then Harry's mouth was covering his.
All he could think was how he would never be able to go back to having a lover with just one mouth and one pair of hands. Harry's tongue thrust deep into his mouth as Snape's slid up the underside of his cock, drawing his spine into an involuntary arch that would have lifted him clear off the bed had he not been pinned down by two hot, wet mouths. Harry's fingers found his nipples while Snape slipped a finger into his arsehole, then crooked it to touch the spot that sent a liquid pulse through his insides, tuning his mind to static as he moaned happily and smiled against Harry's lips. Snape's mouth was working his cockhead now, stroking and sucking and caressing as that finger wriggled inside him, sending out wave after wave of sweet sensation that made his whole body sing with pleasure. And all through it, Harry devoured his mouth with singleminded devotion, exploring it as surely as that finger was exploring his insides, and it was so good that he didn't know why he hadn't yet lifted off the ground and gone sailing off into space.
This just wouldn't do. As much as he loved kissing Remus, Harry felt like he was warming the bench. Remus was gasping and moaning into his mouth and writhing under his hands, but it was Snape who was doing that to him, Snape's mouth that was drawing all those lovely sounds out of Remus that had heretofore been reserved for Harry's ears alone. Snape was clearly throwing everything he had into pleasuring Remus, alternating fast, hard strokes with long, deep, leisurely ones that took in Remus's entire length and worked him thoroughly from the tip of his cock to the root. Periodically, Snape's inscrutable black eyes would meet Harry's, glittering with mocking satisfaction. Clearly, the gauntlet had been cast.
After one last kiss, Harry slid down Remus's body and worked a hand under his hip, rolling him over onto his side. Snape pulled back, glaring murderously at Harry for a moment, then simply adjusted his position and went back to sucking and licking Remus's prick. Well, that was fine with Harry. He swirled a finger in his mouth and slid it between Remus's cheeks, stroking his arsehole lightly before slipping in. Remus was already loose from the attention Snape had been giving him, so Harry slid another couple of fingers in and twisted, gently. The resulting groan from Remus made Harry shoot Snape a nasty smile. God, he loved that sound, and this time, it was all for him.
Leaving Remus for a moment, Harry shucked his clothes quickly, then rummaged in the bedside drawer for the bottle of hand lotion they had been using for sex all week. It looked innocent enough on the outside, but Remus had Charmed it to never run out. Harry slathered as much as he could on his prick, then returned to Remus's side and entered him in one slow, smooth thrust. Merlin, it was tight up there, silky and snug around his prick. He would never get tired of the feeling of being inside Remus, though he quite enjoyed the reverse, as well. Remus gave a little cry as he thrust again, and for a moment Harry envied him—it had to be an incredible feeling to be penetrated and sucked at the same time. Each of his thrusts knocked Snape back a little, which pleased Harry rather a lot. Remus simply moaned incoherently, eyes screwed shut in ecstasy, rolling back and forth between the strokes of his two lovers, a blissed-out rope in a game of tug-of-war.
Remus knew he wouldn't last long with both of them working him like this. It was such intense pleasure, he didn't know how he could be expected to last. Or why he would want to. With a little cry of loss, he let go and allowed the orgasm to slam through him, to lift and jerk and fling his body about as though it were caught in crashing surf, flooding him with blistering heat and then withdrawing into a dreamy, floating lassitude. Afterwards he drifted, eyes closed, feeling the smile spreading on his face.
Harry thrust a few more times and came with a shout, then pulled out of Remus's still body and collapsed at his back. In front of him, Remus felt Snape sitting up and stretching. He opened his eyes.
"Mmm…that was lovely, Severus," he murmured sleepily, suddenly worried that Snape might feel underappreciated due to Harry's presence. The two of them seemed to be in some kind of pissing contest—he supposed that was inevitable, them being who they were, but he would have peace and harmony in his bed, at least, if nowhere else. He always seemed to be the man in the middle in these situations—though it had never played out quite so literally before.
Snape returned his smile with a faint one of his own and bent to place a few wet kisses down his chest. Then he gave Remus a wicked smirk and climbed over top of him.
There was a startled yelp behind his back, and Remus rolled over to see Snape bent over Harry's crouching form, pale long-fingered hands busy holding Harry in place and working between his arse cheeks. Snape placed his mouth close to Harry's ear and thrust his hips—Remus winced at how hard—producing another surprised cry that trailed off into a blissful moan.
"I allowed your intrusion for one reason, Potter," he muttered silkily into Harry's ear as he thrust, "so I could later do this." He gave a particularly hard thrust and Harry sobbed another moan, thrown forward onto his elbows, cock already hard and dripping.
Remus wasn't sure if he should worry. These two had hated each other for a very long time, and he knew how vindictive Snape could be, though he'd never actually known him to be cruel in bed. Harry didn't seem to mind what was happening, though, and Snape wasn't being all that rough with him. Maybe there was some value to the two of them getting out a bit of aggression and pent-up bitterness in this fashion. Their animosity had always been burning and passionate, like a love affair in a way; perhaps this was its natural conclusion. He decided he would stand back but stay watchful, and intervene if things got too out of hand.
And it really was a gorgeous sight, these two men he desired intensely, fucking for his benefit. Snape met his eyes and gave him a sly smile as he thrust into Harry's arching body, and Remus was left with no doubt that this was for him, all therapeutic and conflict resolution benefits aside. He let his hand wander down to his already stirring prick and drank in the sight.
Harry came hard and quickly. Snape went on, his eyes locked with Remus's as he drove into the other man, until he too was gasping and jerking his hips, mouth open and eyes closed, his face transformed by the one event in life in which he was forced to relinquish control. Remus loved seeing him like this; he had forgotten how beautiful a sight it was. Breathing hard, sweat standing in beads on his pale chest, Snape let Harry drop bonelessly onto his face and fell backward onto the bed.
It was a long time before anybody moved. Harry lay flat, his arse burning and his body humming with the aftershocks of pleasure, repeating the same words over and over in his head: I just let Snape bugger me. I just let Snape bugger me. Why did I just let Snape bugger me? I just let…
There was no doubt about it. This called for some kind of response.
When he raised his head, Snape was lying between Remus's legs and they were kissing again, sensually and lazily, Snape rubbing his thigh slowly against Remus's hardening prick, their hands roaming one another's bodies. Harry's cock twitched, in utter defiance of his exhaustion. Snape really wasn't as ugly as Harry had once thought he was; if Harry had to watch another man make out with Remus, he had to admit that Snape wasn't the worst possible choice. That arse was a minor miracle, for one thing. Harry wondered if…no. There was no way Snape would ever let him do that.
For a while, he simply watched. Remus got up and moved Snape off of him at one point, laying the man on his stomach and crawling down his body to bury his face in that lovely arse. Snape seemed to approve, if his low moans and wriggling were any indication, and Harry had to run a hand over his now quite-stiff cock at a sudden twinge of arousal. Snape moaned even louder as Remus worked his fingers inside. For a while, Remus kept up his unhurried attentions, his tawny head bobbing and dipping between the pale curves of Snape's arse, and Snape continued to encourage him with a steady stream of soft moans and appreciative sighs. It occurred to Harry that he was probably witnessing a ritual from their old affair; Snape must have especially enjoyed having Remus do this to him back then. He felt a faint pang of jealousy, but even stronger than that, he felt wonder and curiosity—at this part of Remus's life he'd never known about, and at this new Snape he'd never even guessed existed.
Remus got up suddenly and reached for the hand lotion, then sat back against the headboard and pulled Snape with him. Before Harry had caught up with what was happening, Snape was lowering himself onto Remus's cock, breathing out a ragged groan as it penetrated him, Remus's brown hands clutching his arse tightly and pulling the cheeks apart so that Harry could see the place where Remus's cock was sliding inside. Harry's pulse leapt, and he crawled forward to get a better look without quite realizing what he was doing.
Remus's thrusts were slow at first, then sped up gradually as Snape ground down on him, leaning back on his hands and forcing his pelvis down hard to meet each thrust. Soon Snape was shuddering and moaning, his iron control in ruins, as lost to passion as he'd been when Harry's insults had made him break his silence in spite of himself. Harry desperately wanted to be in on this. He moved up behind them and straddled Remus's legs, reaching for Snape's back, hoping madly that he wouldn't be pushed away at the first touch of his hands.
It was weird. In his imagination, Snape was a near-mythical figure, made of shadow and smoke, not hair and bone and skin. He wasn't supposed to have a body—just an outline filled with all the conflicting emotions he'd forced Harry to feel as a child. But now, surprise, Snape did indeed have a body, and it wasn't even an especially powerful one. He was perhaps an inch or two taller than Harry was now, but he barely weighed a thing when Harry wrapped his arms around his narrow ribcage and lifted him off Remus's lap. And, another surprise, Snape gasped and went liquid in Harry's arms, his dark head falling back onto Harry's shoulder. So strange…Harry could feel the rough skin of the man's face, and he could smell the sour breath coming in moist puffs against his neck. The skin of Snape's neck was slightly sour as well against Harry's lips, unwashed and sticky—that was their fault, really—but it was also breakably thin and smooth as an infant's as he tested it with his teeth. A low growl vibrated against his mouth as Snape, in a kind of sleepy half-awareness, arched into his touch.
Still kissing his way up Snape's neck, he looked down and watched, entranced, as Remus's cock disappeared and reappeared between Snape's legs. Remus's hands, dark against Snape's gleaming white flesh, pulled down on the narrow hips rhythmically as he thrust inside, and Harry realized Snape was leaning his full weight back in Harry's arms now, letting himself be cradled by his enemy as his lover fucked him. Harry's cock leapt against the small of Snape's sweaty back at that thought.
Snape made another small noise in his throat and jerked his head to the side, nudging his mouth against Harry's. Harry took it in an eager, messy kiss. His fingers scrabbled on Snape's chest, slipping on the damp skin. Suddenly inspired, he let one hand roam down Snape's body and wrap around the dark, rigid cock that bobbed against Remus's furry belly. Snape gasped and went taut, and from Remus's answering gasp, Harry gathered that Snape had clenched rather hard around the cock in his arse. Remus moaned and met Harry's eyes suddenly, a strange expectant look on his face.
When it penetrated through his sex-fogged brain what Remus might be thinking, Harry nearly came right then and there. Gathering himself, he reached down underneath Snape's body to where he and Remus were joined. It was wet, and sticky, and hot, and his fingers slid up Remus's shaft and into Snape's arsehole with remarkable ease. Snape cried out, and Harry withdrew, only to shove a few more fingers inside the next time. He hadn't stopped stroking Snape's prick, and Snape had gone as stiff as a board in his arms, his narrow chest heaving.
Harry had to move away to find the hand lotion bottle that had fallen off the bed. When he returned, slicking his cock with the smelly stuff, Snape's arm snaked around his back reflexively and pulled him in close. Harry met Remus's eyes again with a small, crooked smile as he lined himself up, then pushed inside.
It was like nothing he had ever felt—so goddamn tight, so hot and there were things moving up there, Remus's cock sliding past his own, and Snape's muscles clenching around him with every thrust. So hot, so good…after catching his breath, he remembered to return his lotion-slicked hand to Snape's lap, giving the man's prick a few long strokes out of sheer gratitude. Snape moaned, a desperate, urgent whine that made Harry's prick leap inside the man's arse.
This time he felt no jealousy, no anger that it was another man's arse Remus was buried in and not his own, because this felt utterly like a shared thing—he and Remus were doing this together, sharing this man that had become the uncomfortable third term in their relationship. They were joined through him, inside him, using his body to draw closer to each other…and yet part of it had nothing to do with Remus, and was all about Harry taking and owning this man that had loomed so large in his psyche since he was eleven years old. The hatred was gone, but the desire to dominate and control was as strong as ever, the desire to master something that had once controlled him. And Snape, boneless and gasping and spread open in his and Remus's arms, for unfathomable reasons known only to himself seemed happy to oblige.
Remus leaned forward and kissed Harry over Snape's shoulder, their lips barely touching as their tongues played together languidly. The thin body between them went suddenly rigid, and Snape was coming hard, crying out as his whole body shuddered, clenching around both their pricks and sending Remus over the edge a moment later. Remus's last hard thrusts lifted Snape up and nearly toppled him and Harry over backward. The feel of another man coming alongside Harry's own cock sent him crashing and flailing into his own orgasm, and it was much sharper than his first had been, ripping through him with hard hot ferocity.
When everyone had stilled, Harry and Remus slid carefully out and rearranged themselves, Harry falling drained onto his back with Snape draped over his legs, and Remus alongside the edge of the bed with one hand curled comfortably around Harry's ankle.
"Who has the cigarettes?" Snape said at last, breaking the silence.
"I'm all out," Harry admitted, wishing he had one as well.
"Can someone Transfigure this bloody bed?" came Remus's drowsy voice from the other side of Snape. "I'm about to fall off here."
Harry grabbed his wand from off the floor and cast a spell to expand the bed. It was now so large that it touched the edge of the other one, effectively making them a bed that took up the entire width of the room.
They spread out and lay in silence for a while. Harry dropped off for a bit, moving in and out of dreams, and when he came around and looked at the clock, it was three thirty in the morning.
"So," said Remus, rousing Snape from a doze. "What happens tomorrow?"
"I'll tell you what happens," Snape said softly. "You two go back to your Order, and I make a run for it. If I've won your sympathies at all, you'll make up a cover story to conceal the fact that we ever met. They'll be looking for me, but at least they won't start here."
"Severus…" Remus sat up and leaned over Snape, who was still flat on his back. "Where in Merlin's name do you think you'll go?" There was a note of utter sadness in his voice, as though the question might as well be a rhetorical one.
"Somewhere that's not England," Snape replied. "That's all you need to know."
"Will we see you again? Wait, no," he sighed, "don't answer that. I know we won't. Just promise me you'll keep your head down."
"I assure you, I need no request from you to attend to my own survival. I'm quite invested in it myself."
"I know." Remus reached down to stroke Snape's hair. "I just—fuck. I hate this."
Harry suddenly felt as though he were intruding on a private moment, and turned away, burrowing into his pillow.
They slept until a wedge of early-morning sunlight fell through the gap in the curtains across their faces. Remus shut his eyes against it, knowing what it meant.
An hour later, they stood outside. Remus took Snape's face in his hands and kissed him long and slowly, trying to commit to memory the taste of his lips, the smell of his skin, the feel of his hair. "I won't even know if you're dead or alive," he sighed, "unless I hear that the Ministry's got you."
Snape crinkled his lip sourly. "For the last fifteen years, you wouldn't have cared one way or the other," he retorted. "And now, after one night…?"
"That's not true at all." Remus kissed him again. "I always cared. You just tried to tell yourself I didn't."
"Guys," came Harry's nervous voice behind them, "this place is no longer Unplottable. We should get out of here—Snape especially."
Remus looked back at Snape, frantic, suddenly afraid that Aurors might descend out of the sky at any second. For a single wild moment, he considered going with him. But instead, he said: "Find me some day, if you can." Snape gave him a wan smile in return.
"If I can," Snape replied softly, and Apparated with a soft pop.
"I don't supposed he meant that," Remus said, feeling his throat tighten as he took Harry's arm and they turned their steps toward the road. Harry squeezed his hand.
"I think he wanted to mean it," Harry replied.
"You're a good friend, Harry Potter," said Remus with a sad smile.
A week and a day after the end of the war, Remus Lupin's own war also came to an end. He tried not to think too hard about what would come next.