War--or at least its aftermath--had been very good for Remus Lupin.
His life had improved dramatically after Voldemort's defeat. He was given full credit for killing Greyback and peeling the werewolves off from the Dark Lord's cause, as well as for saving the lives of both Harry Potter and Severus Snape in the final battle. Not only did the Ministry repeal the laws prohibiting werewolves from testifying in court, but they also awarded him the Order of Merlin, Second Class, and invited him to head a reorganized Department of Werewolf Services.
Remus felt like flicking two fingers at them and telling them where they could get off, but considering the way he'd suddenly become a public figure, he supposed that would reflect poorly on not just him but all werewolves. Instead he thanked them politely, accepted the Order of Merlin with a short, proper speech, testified on behalf of Severus and Draco at the trials, and refused the job. He felt younger and more energetic than he had in years. His time with the wolves had taught him that eating very rare meat did wonders for his health, after the full moon in particular, and he was ready to make some changes.
He studied the Muggle education system and forged documents to prove he'd attended the University of Aberdeen and read a course in Ethnology and Folklore. A few more credentials set him up as an expert on old documents as well. It was the closest thing he could think of to actually studying magic in the Muggle world, and it gave him an excuse to travel around, collecting folk tales while attempting to learn if there was any Wizarding phenomena behind them. In addition, he could authenticate and translate documents and he was still doing quite a bit of freelance Defence Against the Dark Arts work--banishing Boggarts, exorcising ghosts, and the like. The work wasnít well paid, but it was steady, and it allowed him to work around the full moons more easily than traditional lines of work. Not to mention the fact that he enjoyed it.
He'd come into quite a bit of money when Dumbledore's estate was finally settled, and it was enough to allow him to buy a small cottage in Hunters Combe. He was surrounded by Muggles, but that didn't bother him; growing up in a blended home and being friends with Lily had taught him a lot about the Muggle world. He kept in touch with Harry and his friends, as well as several of the remaining Order members. He and Kingsley had become good friends during the last year of the war, and they often met for drinks at a pub.
In short, Remus was happy.
If he had one regret, it was that after the pardon, Severus Snape appeared to have vanished entirely from the Wizarding world. Remus didn't care anything about the Wizard's Debt he might have created by saving Severus' life--Remus considered it more a way of making up, in some small fashion, for all the times he hadn't interfered on Snape's behalf when they were children. He was sorry that Severus felt he had to leave the Wizarding world at all, and sorry in particular that he had lost his last chance at ever making peace with Severus.
But Severus was gone, vanished to who-knew-where, and Remus, being a private sort of man himself, was going to respect the Slytherin's wish for privacy. If there was a certain amount of cowardice involved in his decision not to seek the man outÖwell, that was nothing new, was it? Remus had always had more courage to face the enemy than to stand up to his friends.
On 18 April, 2004, Remus received in the post a standard-sized envelope containing two typed sheets. The first was a cover letter, stating a desire to commission his work on a particular situation involving an heirloom necklace and the legend of a curse. A postscript had been added in the same block printing as the address on the envelope: payment would be half at engagement and half upon completion, and a sizeable sum in pounds was named. The second page was a photograph of the heirloom in question, a heavy piece with a large, opaque, green stone and a good deal of what appeared to be silver. Remus disliked working with silver, despite the fact that he could, with heirloom jewellery, at least wear gloves to 'protect the item' and disguise his sensitivity. Nevertheless, the contract fee was large enough that he should be able to treat himself to a holiday in Majorca, and that was an idea difficult to resist. He wrote a quick response to the Muggle woman that he would accept the contract and would call upon her in two days' time.
He might not have accepted this particular commission had he known the curse legend was true.
There was no reason for Severus to go down to the pub for lunch that day. He had two wedding orders (one of them the Granger-Weasley wedding, which he would have suspected of being charity had he not known Longbottom and Lovegood had their hands full with the Potter-Malfoy ceremony) and several standing orders to fill, not to mention the few potions he still sold. He ought to be applying the appropriate spells and potions to encourage better growth, but he was bloody sick of fertiliser just now and was craving meat pasties and Guinness--two things The Golden Harp did well (not that he would ever admit that to Assumpta).
What am I doing in a village full of Muggles? he asked himself in half-hearted annoyance as he donned a sturdy pair of walking boots and pulled on a dark green jumper. But he liked it here. It was quiet, no one bothered him, and except for the very few people who knew he lived here, no one from his past bothered him. Longbottom only came to him for herbological advice, Draco came once a week for tea (without telling his lover, though Severus suspected not even Potter was that stupid), and Minerva only ever wrote letters to him.
He set out for the village, breathing deeply of the fresh spring air. It had not been his childhood dream--Severus Snape, Herbologist--but it allowed him freedom, a living, and obscurity. He snorted; if someone had told a nineteen-year-old Severus that he would ever crave obscurity, he'd have laughed in their face and put nargles in their bed. But the warÖ
The war--or at least its aftermath--had been too good for Severus Snape.
He had been found innocent of all charges, spared Azkaban, handed an Order of Merlin--First Class--as if he deserved it for murdering his best and oldest friend! The werewolf, a hero himself with his silvering brown hair and warm golden eyes, had testified on his behalf after saving his life. He had been denied the death that was supposed to have granted Severus the final absolution for all his sins. To go on like this was unbearable. And as he learned to bear it, he continued to encounter in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade the gratitude and free drinks and friendly smiles from people who had despised him all their lives. It was impossible.
Two weeks after the official ceremony honouring the heroes living and dead--after having to face Remus Lupin up close and in person and see the new confidence created by becoming Alpha of the Greyback pack--Severus had sold his home at Spinner's End and bought a home that had room for his books, a potions laboratory, and a very large greenhouse. He had some very nice robes for when he was forced to visit (however briefly) the Wizarding world, and had purchased a very large selection of tasteful Muggle clothes in various dark colours. He could even, for the first time in his life, afford a house-elf.
So he didn't have to go down to the pub, but he did. He was already anticipating the quiet greeting he would get from the regulars who knew him, Assumpta's sigh of mock resignation, and his favourite corner table. He got the first two, but was considerably put out when he saw that his corner table was taken. Severus opened his mouth, intending to complain, but something about the man sitting there transfixed him.
He was engrossed in a book, apparently; his eyes were shaded by his brown fedora. A neatly-trimmed silver and brown beard highlighted, rather than hid, full lips that were quirked slightly upward. The man wore brown wool trousers and a white button shirt under a jacket made of some creature's hide. He lifted one hand to lick a finger with a flash of pink tongue, then turned the page. Severus licked his lips.
Just then the man lifted his head. Golden eyes met his, brown eyebrows rose, and the scar down one cheek crinkled as the man smiled in surprise. "Severus?"
Bloody hell. Of all the people to find him here, it would be Lupin. Severus immediately began Occluding--something he hadn't needed to do for months--and turned to go.
He heard Lupin's book drop to the table, his chair scrape on the floor. The blasted werewolf was going to follow him. Quickly, Severus reviewed his choices. He could Apparate away and leave Lupin to deal with the resulting mess. He could bluff the locals into stonewalling Lupin and just walk out. Or he could walk to the bar, ask Assumpta for a pint and his lunch, and go back to sit calmly down at his table, where Lupin was trespassing.
Somehow he wasn't as surprised as he should have been when his body chose for him. He took some consolation in the expression on Lupin's face when he realized Severus wasn't running away. He settled himself comfortably in the chair opposite Lupin's, ignoring the twinge between his shoulderblades urging him to sit facing the room. If there was one thing Severus knew for certain about the other man, it was that Remus Lupin was the best possible person there was to guard his back.
Lupin's eyes were very bright. "Hello, Severus."
They'd made it through the war alive only because of each other. Severus had made sure Greyback didn't see Lupin at the Battle of Hogwarts. That protection had bought Severus a chance to convince Lupin he'd done exactly as Dumbledore had wished. He had shared with Lupin his memories of Dumbledore's orders. It had been one of the only two times they had touched in the whole four years of the war.
The second time had been when Lupin was badly hurt and came to Severus for aid. Severus was the one who had anointed the gash that had become the scar on Remus' cheek, humming the counter to Sectumsempra and stroking the skin with pain potion. From that time forward, his fingers had craved Lupin's skin, had itched to touch, every time they managed to snatch a few minutes to exchange news and information. Severus had hidden these urges behind the usual cold mask. He knew that even if it were safe to touch Lupin, he would hide his desires; Lupin and his friends had mocked Severus enough for one lifetime. He wouldn't give Lupin any more ammunition.
"So. You have found me. What do you want?"
Lupin took off his fedora and rubbed a hand over his hair. It was shorter than he'd worn it during the war, but not too short. Severus clamped his lips together to keep from remarking on it.
"Want?" Lupin's voice was bewildered. "Severus, as pleased as I am to see you, it's purely by accident. I only came here for lunch."
Severus sneered. "A likely story. This is my table. How did you know that? Did Minerva tell you?"
"Minerva--" Lupin's eyes narrowed. "No one told me. I had a meeting with someone in the village and decided to lunch here instead of at home. I'd no idea you were here." He paused. "Do you live in the village?"
Damn and blast. He shouldn't have been so hasty in assigning blame. "I come here often on business," he said. "There is a potions supplier nearby."
"Oh, do you know him?" Lupin asked, an eager expression appearing on his face. "My Wolfsbane comes from near here--Darkling Thrush Potions. The Ministry contracts with various potioners for a number of batches per month. Though of course you probably know that."
Severus stared at Remus. Was the werewolf truly that dense? Severus was Darkling Thrush Potions, and nearly the only potion he sold was the Wolfsbane, to certain werewolves the Ministry had determined had the means to purchase the potion for themselves. There were assistance programmes now for those who couldn't afford it, but Severus, as one of the most highly skilled potioners in the United Kingdom, used the finest ingredients and supplied the most expensive brand on the market. He sold only to the wealthiest--and Remus Lupin. Remus Lupin, who had been told the Ministry would cover the cost of his potion for the rest of his life. Remus Lupin, to whom Severus owed his life. Remus Lupin--who was the object of Severus' desire...and resentment.
"--never could discover where you'd gone." Severus jerked his attention back to the present. Lupin had been chattering for several minutes. "No one really knew, or at least Minerva told me she didn't know, and I finally decided you didn't want to be found."
Assumpta arrived then, plunking two plates down on the table. She'd switched their orders, simply for the joy of provoking Severus, who for once felt unequal to the challenge.
"Bloody-minded woman! If you can't keep straight what two people want to eat, how do you manage to keep this establishment running?"
"By serving the rudest people I can find," she shot back in her Irish lilt. "Poor people can't afford to be as rude as you are."
Severus snorted. "Anyone that rich travels to the city for their meals," he countered. When it became obvious Assumpta wasn't going to fix her mistake, he reached out and took Remus' plate.
Remus stared in amazement as Severus and the barwoman traded what he could only call banter. She was witty and matched several of Severus' barbs with biting remarks of her own before another patron hailed her. She twinkled at Remus, flipped her long, dark hair at Severus, and left them.
Oddly, the sight of a pretty Muggle woman flirting with Severus was depressing. "You seem to be well-known here," he remarked, and took the proper plate from where Severus had shoved it.
Severus snorted. "Notorious is the word you were looking for," he said, but when Remus looked up, he thought he saw amusement in the dark eyes.
Severus had changed. It was more than the Muggle clothes, which showed how long-legged and lean he was. More than the haircut that was long enough to make Severus look like some sort of rock star but shorter than Remus had seen it since first year. No, there was something new in his eyes, something that said Severus Snape was free.
Remus was surprised at how oddly out of breath he felt, but there was no denying its cause. His cheeks heated as he admitted to himself that Severus looked good.
His nose was as big as ever, but without the sneer under it, it looked better proportioned. The lips were still thin, but not pursed in judgement; they looked soft enough to be kissed...perhaps even nibbled...Oh Merlin. Remus licked some mashed potato off his fork and tried to calm his body down.
"I'm sorry I didn't write to you after the war," he said finally, to shatter the silence building between them.
"Why would you have written?" Severus asked.
Remus laughed in self-deprecation. "I don't know. I suppose I'd got used to working with you."
Stupid. They'd only worked together out of necessity. Of course Severus wouldn't want a werewolf--especially this werewolf--complicating his life.
"I can't imagine what we'd have to say to each other if we weren't plotting to bring down a dark lord," Severus said. There was an odd glint in his eyes.
Remus looked away. Well, that was clear enough. "Well, yes, my life is rather boring. I've been--well, curse-breaking, in a manner of speaking. Though I work mostly for Muggles who don't realize what they're really paying me for."
Severus was frowning slightly. "It sounds a rather cunning way for a Gryffindor to be making a living. At least you seem to have learned something from the war."
Remus blinked at him, unsure how to respond. "Ah...what about you? What have you been doing?"
"I supply potioners and researchers with herbs and do research myself," Severus answered.
Remus nodded. "And are you happy, Severus?"
Severus took a sip of his beer to buy some time. Happy? What did that have to do with anything? He made a decent living, he could frequent the pub and go on holiday when he wanted. Wasn't that what life was?
He didn't know how to talk to Lupin. His awkward attempt at humour had fallen flat; or rather, Lupin had seemed to take it seriously. Though Severus felt it was, in one way, true; what could they possibly have to talk about?
"I am content," he said after brief deliberation. It wasn't exactly precise, but it would do. If there were times his house felt...cold...empty...well, that couldn't be helped. He could go to Diagon Alley for companionship, if he wanted it. After all, he'd had plenty of offers. But even though he had occasionally indulged his curiosity about such encounters, he'd felt no real satisfaction from them. He would ease his body's needs, then roll away, clean himself, and Apparate home. The women gave little real pleasure, and he was unwilling to shoulder the risk of accepting offers from the young men.
What enjoyment was there, when half of them merely wanted to brag that they'd been with him, and the other half wanted to show him their misplaced gratitude? Lupin was a war hero, too, Severus thought suddenly. He looked in speculation at the man. Did he receive the same offers? Were there those who sought the perceived danger and excitement of sleeping with a Dark Creature?
Lupin dropped his fork. Severus checked his thoughts at once, wondering if Lupin had somehow read the subject of his speculation in his eyes.
"Graceful as ever," he remarked. To his own ears it merely sounded snotty. He had seen Lupin fight, both as a wolf and as a man, with magic and without. Lupin was undoubtedly one of the most instinctively graceful people Severus knew.
"Unfriendly as ever," Remus shot back, and took a long drink from his glass.
Severus let a silent sigh escape his nose. It would seem he had been correct; without a common enemy, they had nothing in common.
"I apologise," Remus said after a moment. "You--I--that is, I would like to consider you a friend, Severus."
Severus licked his lips, then regretted allowing so much to show. "I...suppose perhaps we are," he allowed finally. "Friends."
The word felt odd in his mouth. Good, certainly. It warmed him to think Lupin might be saddened if he died, that there had been more than Gryffindor nobility motivating him to block the curse that would have taken Severus' life.
Yet at the same time it sparked an indefinable yearning in Severus, something that made him shift in his chair and look away from the bright smile Remus turned on him. Something that whispered this word might break Severus' heart.
Remus was disappointed when he'd finished his meal and his second pint and had no further excuse to linger. There had been silences during the conversation, but on the whole, he had enjoyed the time spent with Severus. And there had been just enough--what would he call it? uncertainty? It was as good a word as he could come up with--in Severus' behaviour to allow Remus to hope that perhaps Severus had enjoyed the time, too.
They walked out to the front of the pub together and paused automatically. After a hesitation, Remus stuck a hand out awkwardly. "Severus. It's been good to see you."
Severus stared at the hand for a moment, then grasped it with strong, bony fingers. "Ah. Likewise, Lupin."
"You could use my given name." Remus sounded amused.
Severus cleared his throat. "Remus, then."
"Thank you." Emboldened by this victory, Remus smiled warmly at him. "Perhaps I'll see you again sometime." Remembering Severus' skill for Legilimency, Remus cleared his thoughts of anything but an innocent desire for company. Was that what Severus had been thinking of, when his gaze had gone hungry for a moment? It had startled Remus enough to make him drop his fork, though he thought Severus had dismissed it.
Severus sighed and shrugged. "Perhaps," he said finally. It was impossible for Remus to read his expression but he held Severus' gaze for a long moment, then nodded slightly and turned to go. He heard an indrawn breath as he put his hat on and dared to hope, for just a moment, that Severus would call him back. But no words came, so Remus kept walking.
Halfway down the street he turned and looked back. Severus was gone.
Remus spent the next week trying to forget about the odd encounter, trying to persuade himself that there was no point in going back to the pub where he'd seen Severus. He worked on the cursed necklace that had taken him to the village in the first place. He finished an article he was writing for a literary journal. He sent his RSVP to Hermione and Ron's wedding, stating that Remus Lupin would be attending without guest.
And every time he saw a tall, dark-haired man, he caught his breath. Every time he put on his hat he remembered the moment his heart had jumped slightly in his chest. Every time he saw his invitation to Harry and Draco's ceremony he crushed the tiny upswelling of unidentified emotion.
He considered writing to Minerva, or even to the potioner at Darkling Thrush, to see if they would pass along a note to Severus. He stubbornly told himself that Severus could find him easily enough, if he cared to. It was still difficult to resist using every channel available to him to try to find Severus again.
Eleven days after he ran into Severus, Remus couldn't stand it any longer. He went back to the village pub.
"Last call, lads!" Assumpta flipped her bar rag over her shoulder and tilted her head. "You've been in nearly every day for the past week, Sev."
Severus snorted. "Don't flatter yourself, it isn't your cooking."
"Ta, Severus, I'll keep that in mind the next time you come in wanting a special fry-up."
"I thought you wanted to know if I was going to drink another pint," Severus said.
"You've already had enough that you'll be staggering home, as wiry as you are," she said, her hazel eyes sparking in amusement. She reminded him far too much of Madam Rosmerta at the Three Broomsticks. He didn't know why he had such a weakness for woman pub-owners; he'd never allowed Tom at the Leaky Cauldron this much familiarity.
"Are you implying I can't handle my drink, woman?" he mock-snarled.
"I'm implying perhaps you're pining after something." She drew a pint of Guinness for him without taking her eyes off his face. "Or someone."
"Bugger off," he muttered, taking a long pull of his drink. She didn't move, her delicate hands settling on her hips, dark red nails catching his eye. "Don't you have other people to get pissed before you chuck us all out on our ears?" he sniped.
"No. In case you hadn't noticed, you're the last one in here. Again." Her gimlet stare could give Minerva a run for her money.
Severus swore under his breath and turned his back on her, drinking deeply.
"I'm going to stop serving you in here if you don't give some answers," she said. When he didn't turn, he felt a light touch on his shoulder. He tensed, automatically suppressing the instinct to reach for his wand and whirl into a defensive pose.
They were silent for several minutes. The mantel clock chimed the quarter hour.
"Does this have anything to do with that bloke who sat at your table the other day?"
Two weeks ago, Severus could have said. It had been nearly two weeks since Remus Lupin had plopped himself down casually at Severus' regular table, figuratively forcing him to budge up and make room, and then vanished again after an hour. Not to be seen again.
Oh, Severus could find him. He knew exactly where the Wolfsbane Potion went. Darkling Thrush Potions had received tidily written, politely worded, thank you notes by owl two days after the full moon every month for the past year. But there was something in him that couldn't quite crush the thought that perhaps Lupin would show up here again, perhaps he would come looking for Severus.
He huffed a short, impatient sigh. "If you want to know so badly, why don't you ask him?" he snapped.
"I tried that. He wouldn't tell me much about you. Just said you'd been at school together."
Severus stilled, then turned slowly to face her. "He told you he was here looking for me?" He knew it! Lupin had been lying! What was his actual reason for seeking Severus out, then? And who was it that had given his secret away?
"Not then," she said. "He came in for lunch, I told him to pick a table, and he scanned the room and then went and sat plumb in your seat. He was a pleasant enough man, but he had that same air you have about you, like the pair of you work for MI5 or somethingódon't like to have your back to the door, and whatnot." The corners of her eyes laughed, her pink cheeks dimpling, but Severus didn't get the joke, if there was one. She shrugged. "Well, a day or two ago he came back, ordered the lamb stew this time, and a pint of local. He had a book in front of him, but he kept looking at the door. I thought perhaps you were meeting him for lunch, butÖ" She shrugged.
"I asked him when he settled his bill, if the two of you knew each other. He wouldn't tell me anything about you, though. Wouldn't even tell me if you're really single or if you have a wife stashed away somewhere."
Severus set his now-empty glass on the bar and gave her a sour look, which sent laughter ringing across the room.
"Oh, come now! You're a fairly new face in a small village. You're bound to excite some speculation. Marilyn and Josette are both nice, single girls in want of a husband."
"Not to mention you," Severus said wryly.
"You know how I feel about marriage. I've done it twice, I don't care to try it thrice." She shrugged. "I run a pub, Severus. I have to look out for my mates."
He gave a long-suffering sigh and shook his head. "And did he tell you anything about himself?"
"He gave his name as John Lupin, said he was here doing some consulting work for the Hardcastles. Something about an old family story or something like that."
Ah. That would be the breaking-curses-for-Muggles Lupin had spoken of. Severus found himself wondering if Assumpta had managed to discover if Lupin had someone hidden away somewhere--wife or otherwise.
Severus stood. "Don't flatter yourself that the beer was good," he said severely. "There's just no other decent place in this town."
Assumpta laughed and let him get to the door before she fired her parting shot.
"Severus? If he comes back, what do I tell him? Do I tell him where you live?"
He nearly left without deigning to answer, but he paused and turned, one hand resting on the doorframe. He looked at her for a moment, his dark eyes showing more confusion than he would have liked. "I--don't know."
"You seem distracted."
Remus shrugged and blinked hard, banishing visions of Severus. "Sorry, Hermione. I'm trying to work out the curses on an old family heirloom for a client. There are several of them wrapped around it, not laid one atop the next, but intertwined. It's more than a little frustrating."
Hermione sipped at her tea. "If they're intertwined they must have been cast at the same time," she said, her brown eyes lighting at the thought of a puzzle.
"I thought so, too, at first," Remus agreed. "But I haven't been able to determine that. I can't destroy the thing, unfortunately, which is what probably should be done with it. It belongs to a Muggle, and the family heirlooms are always too well-documented to make it worth stealing them and Obliviating the owners. I've asked the owner to dig up any mention of the necklace in family journals and letters and whatnot, but it would still be risky to destroy it."
"Of course," Hermione agreed. "Heirlooms are mentioned in wills, and there will be family stories told about them. Particularly if it's an item with a strong set of curses. Have you tried working it through Selene's Theorems?"
Remus chuckled ruefully. "And Pythagoras' Six Laws of Spellcasting, as well as a set of proofs derived by Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel, yes. I'm afraid I'm at a dead end."
"It's too bad Professor Snape is unavailable," she said softly. "He was the best Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor we ever had. Well, apart from you, of course, sir."
Remus laughed. "Thank you for your loyalty, Hermione, but you were correct the first time, I'm quite certain. Severus has always had a command of the Dark Arts unequalled by anyone else of my acquaintance." He sighed. "I miss him."
"Do you?" She cocked her head to one side inquisitively. "I hadn't thought the two of you got on at all."
"No, I suppose we never did," he said sadly. "But I always hoped, once the war was over, that we could put aside our differences and our rather tumultuous history, and start afresh." He sighed again as he realized his teacup had grown quite cold. "Ah, well. There are several tomes on Dark Artefacts that I haven't yet consulted. There's an even chance that the necklace will have made its way into at least one of them."
"Good luck. I'm glad we'll be seeing you at the wedding." She set her teacup aside. "If you're still working on the necklace in a fortnight, you might be able to ask Professor Snape about it. He's never returned his RSVP, but I still hold out hope that he'll attend the ceremony, if not the reception." She smiled and stood. "See you later, Remus."
Remus bid her an affectionate farewell and thought about the possibility of seeing Severus again, this time at the wedding. It was a possibility he hadn't considered; why would Hermione and Ron invite Severus to their wedding? But still, there had been quite a bit of chagrin expressed by various Order members, when Severus' true loyalty had made itself known. Perhaps it was merely a way for them to show their gratitude.
He realized suddenly that he was standing in the middle of his small kitchen and staring at nothing. He shook himself. At any rate, he had work he was meant to be doing. That necklace wasn't going to uncurse itself.
Severus had sneered when he originally received the invitation to the Granger-Weasley wedding, but when weeks passed with no contact from Lupin, he began to consider actually attending. It was a legitimate excuse, after all, for spending an hour or two where he was most likely to find the werewolf. Of course he was sending the doses of Wolfsbane potion, but when he'd decided to take Lupin on as a customer he'd decided he didn't want Lupin feeling indebted to him in any way. He preferred to have his identity as the sole potioner of Darkling Thrush Potions to remain secret. The prices he charged his other customers more than made up for the expense of brewing the potion for Lupin free-of-charge. The Ministry official in charge of the assistance programme had been more than willing to be bribed into silence regarding Severus' donation of the potion to Remus Lupin. Severus thought it might have something to do with the shouting fit he had pitched upon learning the Ministry intended to do nothing to make up for the poverty it had inflicted upon Lupin.
And why did he care at all? He asked himself that on a regular basis, but was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer. Every time the question occurred to him, he ended up attributing it to gratitude. He was grateful that the werewolf had saved his life, therefore he was willing to go to some trouble to see that the potion was supplied in a reliable form, using quality ingredients, and without cost to Lupin, either in money or in pride.
Even to his own ears, the excuse had sounded thin, and Severus was glad he'd never had to actually use it to anyone but himself.
All the same, he found himself glancing more and more often at the invitation as the Granger-Weasley wedding approached. There were a hundred reasons why he shouldn't go, ranging from not having proper robes to still feeling like a pariah among the surviving Order members. He wasn't really surprised, though, to find himself sending his measurements to Madam Malkin's to order a set of deep green robes in crushed velvet, with silk lining. He made a list of subjects that were appropriate for small talk. He stood in front of the mirror examining his hair and wondering if he should try to coax it into a stubby queue or tuck it behind his ears. He cursed himself for a fool and swore he wouldn't go. Then he got out his dress boots and used the blacking charm to make them look as good as new.
The day of the wedding dawned and Severus pulled the covers over his head, trying to talk himself out of going. His heart was behaving in a peculiar and most unpleasant fashion, first thumping heavily in his chest, then slowing alarmingly, then putting on another burst of speed. He felt sick to his stomach; that was a good excuse not to attend.
At ten o'clock he dragged himself out of bed and had a shower, then ate a sparing breakfast of toast and jam, with tea. He still felt unsettled, but he was determined. He was going. And once Severus Snape made up his mind, he did not change it.
Remus had decided, on Draco's advice, to go with a set of gold robes that matched his eyes. Remus knew nothing about fabrics or colours or fashion, but Draco assured him the robes were silk, a very fine cut, and well worth the Galleons Remus had paid for them. Of course, he'd bought them particularly for Harry and Draco's ceremony, but he'd decided at the time to wear them to all the season's weddings. He was no longer impoverished, but there was no reason to become a spendthrift just because he could afford new clothes.
Harry's voice pulled him out of his thoughts as an arm draped casually around his shoulders. "Remus! You're looking fabulous! Are you on the pull?"
"Not exactly, Harry, but thanks," Remus said, amused. He pressed his elbow against Harry's ribs, which had the desired effect of getting Harry to undrape himself. It had been forgivable when it was Sirius and they were twenty; when it was Harry and Remus was over forty, it wasn't quite as charming. "What have you done with your fiancÈ?"
Harry snickered. "He'd do his nut if he heard you call him that. I think the only reason he even agreed to the commitment ceremony is because his father's dead."
Remus sighed. "And I imagine he'd do his nut if he heard you say that," he remarked. Sensitivity still wasn't Harry's strong suit. Then again, he'd managed to make Draco love him, so Remus supposed he must have learned something about subtlety.
"Anyway, he's off helping Ginny with something last-minute, I think. She was moaning aboutÖoh, something."
Remus snickered and shook his head. "You should be getting ready to take your place up by Ron. And--my goodness, is that Severus?" He tried to ignore the flash of anticipation that went through him at the sight of the tall, lanky man. "I suppose he'll sit on the bride's side."
"He's looking a lot better these days, isn't he? I suppose not living a double life helps. Draco visits him every week, you know; it sounds like he's a lot happier these days." Harry grinned. "Go talk to him. I can tell you want to."
Remus gave Harry a stern look, but the brat was undaunted. He simply nudged Remus in the direction of where Severus was standing and looking around. The former spy's expression was haughty, his shoulders drawn up, but Remus fancied he could see an edge of uncertainty, as if he doubted his welcome here. Without sparing a further thought for Harry, Remus made his way to meet him.
"Severus," he greeted warmly.
The other man didn't look surprised to see him. "Lupin. I should have realized you would be here. I thought once I ceased teaching at Hogwarts I would be able to escape the interminable wedding invitations." He gave a loud sigh of resignation.
Remus grinned at him. "Did you come for Hermione's sake, or your own? I can't believe you'd be here for Ron."
Severus simply raised an eyebrow but before he could reply, they were interrupted by the opening strains of music.
"I suppose we should sit. I'll see you at the reception?" Remus asked, hoping his tone didn't betray too much anxiety.
"If your dance card isn't too full," Severus replied archly. Then he turned and made his way along the side aisle to take a seat.
Partly because of Severus' parting shot and partly because he had a half-conceived plan in mind, Remus was careful to dance with Ginny, Molly, Minerva, Harry, and the bride herself, before he sought out Severus. It didn't take much work to track him down, slouched in a corner, drink in hand, scowling faintly as he watched the dancers. Remus snagged a glass of champagne from a passing house-elf and dropped gracefully into the chair next to Severus'.
"Don't feel like dancing?" He was only breathless because of the fast pace of that last song. Really.
"I haven't felt like dancing since I was nineteen," Severus retorted. He didn't look at Remus.
"Pity," Remus murmured, and took a sip of his drink, keeping his eyes on Severus. There went his (admittedly risky) plan of getting Severus to dance with him.
"Something died on your face," Severus remarked, and drank from his own glassówhich looked like it might be Firewhiskey; it certainly wasn't champagne.
Remus blinked in surprise. "I got tired of shaving. You're scowling a great deal more than you did the last time I saw you." He stroked absently at his beard and wondered if he should get rid of it again.
"Perhaps it's the company," Severus returned. He straightened in his chair slightly and smoothed out his expression.
"I was out at your village the other day," Remus said idly. "I quite liked that little pub, so I made it a point to have lunch there after a meeting with Mrs Hardcastle."
"Assumpta said you'd been in," Severus muttered. "Not that you have the manners, apparently, to call on a neighbour when you're in town."
Remus raised his eyebrows. "Goodness, you are surly today. I haven't the foggiest idea where to find you, Severus. You didn't say you lived there."
"Nightingale Thicket, Little Riding." Severus didn't meet his eyes.
"Surrounded by Muggles. It seems odd, for you," Remus murmured. "Though you had a Muggle parent, didn't you?"
There was a silence that stretched so long Remus thought Severus wasn't going to answer. Then finally: "My dad. I suppose that brat Potter told you."
"Mm, yes, Half-Blood Prince," he said. "I suppose that was something like me calling myself Moony--embrace what you see as your failing, and it takes just a bit of the sting out of it."
Severus glared at him. "I was never ashamed of my father," he said, his voice low. "It was all my bloody housemates who thought I should be. The Malfoys and Lestranges and Blacks and their bloody pureblood pride. Dumbledore and Tom Riddle were both half-bloods, and I never saw any reason to be ashamed of it."
Remus stared at him for a moment. "I didn't mean to insult you, Severus. I apologize." He lifted his glass. "To mixed heritage." He thought for a moment, and added, "And new beginnings."
He was pleased when Severus drank.
Severus found himself to be more confused after the wedding than he had been before, which was maddening. He had expected to attend the wedding, speak with Lupin, and set him out clearly in his mind. He had expected to determine what motivated Lupin and be able to dismiss him.
Instead he found himself completely mystified as to Lupin's motivation, which only served to make Severus think more about him than ever.
After the next full moon, Lupin's thank-you note was written in a shakier hand than was usual, which made Severus wonder if something was wrongóeither with Lupin or with the potion. He composed a carefully-worded "survey", complete with several open-ended questions, and was displeased to discover, when it was returned, that Lupin was experiencing blinding headaches on the day after the full moon, along with severe nausea and cramps. He resisted the urge to write back, "Have you eaten anyone recently?" and instead set to work researching possible alterations to the potion to improve its effectiveness.
He was surprised, the week after the full moon, to receive a letter from Lupin addressed to him. He looked at the address again and remembered he'd told Lupin where to reach him. Hopefully Lupin wasn't a fan of Keats, or he'd realize that the nightingale and the darkling thrush were the same bird. Severus didn't have much use for poetry, but his mother had left him a volume of Keats among her books about potions and hexes, and he'd grown to like those poems. He unfolded the letter.
It was good to see you at Hermione and Ron's wedding. You're looking well. I hope I'm not being too forward, but as you told me the name of your house, I live in hope that my letter will not be an intrusion.
I find myself in a quandary with the artefact I'm currently researching. I've never met anyone who knows more about the Dark Arts than you do, and I would be grateful if you would be willing to take a look at the necklace and see what you think. Mrs Hardcastle has agreed to let me take the necklace out of her home for a day or two, and I thought perhaps I could treat you to lunch at the pub afterwards, to thank you.
Please let me know. You can reach me at Seeker's Rest, Hunter's Combe.
Remus stared at his reflection in the mirror over his sink, stroking a hand thoughtfully down his chin. Severus had agreed to meet him at the Golden Harp at noon. He hadn't forgotten Severus' remarks concerning his beard. Remus was trying to convince himself that shaving was a good idea for more reasons than that Severus appeared to have no appreciation for bearded men.
Finally he sighed. "Sod it. Who cares if Severus is the reason I get rid of it?" He filled the sink and mixed up some shaving cream. "I was tired of it anyway."
"If that's what you need to tell yourself, dear," said the mirror.
"Shut it, you," Remus said, spreading the lather over his face. "No one asked your opinion."
The mirror huffed but didn't reply, much to Remus' relief. He'd learned to shave from his father, who had disliked the slimy feel left by depilatory charms. No matter how old Remus got, shaving with a razor had never grown any easieróbut every time he tried a depilatory charm, he agreed with his father. It was probably rubbish, but it didn't make him like it any better.
Finally the beard and moustache were washed down the drain and he stroked his fingers over soft, smooth skin. He'd had a bit of trouble with the area where the Sectumsempra scar had split open his cheek, but he'd managed not to cut himself. He smiled at the mirror.
"That's much better, dear. You look like a handsome young thing again, not some stodgy professor."
Remus rolled his eyes. "Why didn't I ever pawn you?" he muttered, and went to the bedroom to dress.
His heart was thumping in his chest as he approached the Golden Harp, the cursed necklace securely nestled in a padded and locked box. He couldn't be arsed whether the curses were lifted or not, as long as this lunch with Severus went well. He told himself he hadn't actually misled Severus; he did need Severus' help with the necklace. But he was much more interested in simply spending time with the other man, and he'd guessed that having an excuse would make Severus more likely to accept his invitation.
The woman wiping glasses at the bar was the one he'd spoken to the last time. She smiled at him. "Mr Lupin, isn't it?" she said. "Severus rang about ten minutes ago to say he's running a bit behind."
"Ah. Thank you, emÖAssumpta, wasn't it?"
"Good memory! Is that why you're looking up Severus after all these years out of school?"
"All these years?" he joked, putting a hand over his chest. "You wound me."
"Ah, you're as bad a flirt as he is. I suppose it would be too much for a girl to ask that you're not married with three children?"
Remus raised an eyebrow. A flirt? She was fishing for information--but had Severus asked her to? Then again, Remus had been treated to the same sort of unofficial interrogation by his local pub owner. "No wife and children," he said, smiling. "I've never really been inclined."
"Ah. Been married twice myself. You're probably the wiser of us." Assumpta smiled and lifted an empty glass questioningly. "What are you drinking today, then, Mr Lupin?"
"Whatever's local," he replied, smiling in return. "I gather it was Severus' table I unwittingly sat at on my first visit?"
"It was indeed." She handed him a foaming, amber-coloured glass. "Just call me over when you're ready to order your lunch."
Remus grinned at her. "Ta." He made his way to the table and fought his instincts to make himself take the seat that put his back to the door. He'd noted how uncomfortable Severus had seemed the first time. Undoubtedly it was a remainder of the war; Remus, too, disliked having open space at his back.
He looked over his notes as he waited, though by now he had most of the necklace details memorised anyway. It was perhaps five minutes later when someone tapped his shoulder.
"In the war you'd have been dead by now," Severus remarked dryly.
Remus looked up, grinning. "Isn't it wonderful to be able to finally relax?"
Severus settled into the chair facing the door, then went still, staring at Remus' face. After a moment he cleared his throat. "It is. Though I find old habits die hard." He gestured at the table.
"Yes, I tend to prefer having something solid at my back, myself," Remus agreed. "Then again, we have twenty years of ingrained practice to break through."
Severus nodded faintly. "YouÖlook well."
It surprised Remus. He smiled again. "Thank you. The same is true of you." He spread a hand palm up. "I don't think I'd ever seen you in Muggle clothes, before last month. They suit you."
A faint line of pink burned across Severus' cheeks and then was gone. Remus wondered how to interpret that; he didn't think he'd ever seen Severus blush before, either. "I have to fit in," Severus said, his voice somewhat stiff but not unfriendly. "Thanks to my father I only had to catch up on recent fashion in the Muggle world."
Remus nodded. Of course Severus was still dressed in layers--a grey shirt under a dark green jumper, and black jeans and boots--but he did look good. Remus had known the man was tall and lean, but he'd never realised just how long his legs were--or how delectable his arse was.
Oh, Merlin, this was not the sort of thing he should be thinking just now. Remus licked his lips and glanced away. "I've always been more comfortable dressing in Muggle clothes, myself," he said, indicating his white shirt and khaki trousers with a self-conscious gesture. "Grew up dressing this way."
Severus nodded and took a sip of his drink. "Perhaps you could show me the item before we order lunch."
It was as close as Severus could get to voicing a request. He hoped Remus would overlook it and go along. He still wasn't certain why he'd agreed to this. He wasn't a social man by any means, nor had he and Remus ever truly been friends, whatever odd notions the werewolf seemed to have now. All the same, he couldn't quite suppress a sense of excitement as the werewolf unlocked and opened a small case.
The necklace in question was made of silver that had recently been cleaned. The large pendant was made of some opaque green stone, malachite, perhaps. The filigree work was quite delicate, yet the necklace itself appeared heavy. Severus stretched out a forefinger to touch it lightly.
"How do you handle it?"
"I wear gloves, normally," Remus said. "I claim it's to protect the object, naturally."
Severus' mouth quirked in amusement before he could help himself. "Naturally." He lifted the necklace out, holding it so Lupin's body sheltered it from any prying eyes. "Made at least two centuries ago, I think." He frowned, wishing he could use his wand here to focus his spells as he whispered some diagnostic charms. "There are several interlaced curses. Have you seen the provenance?"
"There are no known wizards on the list of owners. It's been in the same family for the past one hundred and fifty years." Remus tapped a fingernail against his teeth--straight, very white teeth, Severus noticed. "I couldn't find anything at all unusual in the provenance. No one prominent in the Muggle world, no one with many enemies. Nothing to explain the presence of a single curse, let alone several."
Remus hummed thoughtfully, his fingers pulling slowly at his chin. Severus could tell it was an unconscious gesture. He wondered when Remus had shaved the beard. It suited him better to be clean-shaven. He looked younger that way. Not that Severus cared. He gave himself a mental shake and tried to concentrate on the weight of the necklace in his palm.
Would he let it grow back after today? Severus fought his brain for control and lost, as the idea of Remus with two days of whiskers provided a deliciously distracting image. He liked being able to see the werewolf's strong jaw, the rugged cheekbonesÖ
"Severus?" Remus tilted his head, an inquisitive expression on his face.
He shook himself. Dear God! He needed to get control of himself. He shoved the distracting thoughts aside and looked back down at the necklace.
"There appear to be two layers to the curses," he murmured, tracing one finger over the intricate work. "I won't insult you by asking you if you've used the basic theorems." It was a question, of course, but at least Severus was trying not to give offence; surely that would count for something?
Remus cleared his throat. "Ah, I have, but--two layers, Severus? It seems to me that they're woven together."
"Yes, on one of the layers." Severus reached out and grabbed Remus' hand before he realized how that would look. Of course by then the damage was already done. He was about to press the unresisting fingertip to the pendant when he caught Remus' flinch from the corner of his eye. "Oh, sod it all, you can't touch this, can you?" he said in disgust at himself. "Fuck. I don't know any other way--unless you can feel the spells, I can't prove there are two layers."
He realized suddenly that he was still gripping Lupin's hand and released it quickly. "Sorry," he muttered, and drew his hand back, suppressing the odd desire to press his fingers against his lips. He looked up at the other man with narrowed eyes. "You were just going to let me, weren't you?"
Lupin's lips were slightly parted, his eyes holding an odd light. "You wouldn't want me to touch it unless it were important," he murmured. He held Severus' gaze for a moment, then extended his hand. It was shaking slightly. "Show me."
Severus' eyes widened again. "Are you mad?"
Remus shrugged slightly. "I heal quickly," he said, his lips quirking.
Something about the man's expression, the simple strength of his trust, made Severus' chest feel tight. He took Remus' hand again and licked his lips nervously, then pressed the fingertips ever-so-gently against the pendant, trying to ignore the other man's hiss of pain. He thinned his lips as he murmured the diagnostic charm and traced the edge of the two layers of curses, letting Remus feel the sharpness between the layers--assuming he could feel anything besides the pain of the silver burning his skin.
"What are you lads up to, some sort of makeshift sÈance, is it?"
Fuck! Severus released Remus, who jerked his hand back and curled the fingers in protectively towards the palm. In the same movement, Severus palmed the necklace, hiding it from Assumpta's gaze.
"Something like that," Remus said, his voice ironic.
"Lupin burned his hand on the candle," Severus asserted smoothly. "We'll have to have lunch here another time. I have a first aid kit at home."
She huffed, but he thought he could see a twinkle in her eye as she walked away. It's almost as annoying from her as it was from Dumbledore, he thought irritably, and repacked the necklace in its protective case. He drank deeply from his pint and then finally looked up.
Remus was studying him, confusion plain in his golden eyes. He wasn't Occluding at all, the idiot; had he forgotten everything he'd learned in the war? With just a push, Severus could know what the man was thinking. He could learn whether he was wasting his time with him, whether Remus was only interested in getting his help with the necklace, or if he truly wanted to be Severus'Öfriend. The word soured as he thought it, and he looked away.
"We'll be able to work on it better at my house," he muttered, and stood up. "Are you coming, Lupin?"
Remus stood, frowning at the table. "I thought you were calling me Remus," he said, his voice low.
Severus swallowed. That was asking too much. Calling him Remus, as if they were friends, as if they meant something to each other, was too difficult. It made things personal, it allowed him to get too close. He couldn't stop Remus from using his given name, but as long as he held Remus at arm's length, he was safe. If he truly gave inÖ But it was far too late, wasn't it? He'd thought he could return to formality, but he was thinking of the man as Remus, and sooner or later he would have to admit defeat. Bloody hell. I'm such a fool.
"Are you coming, Remus?" he said, trying (and failing) to make the word sound snide.
Remus' expression cleared and he looked up at Severus. "Yes."
Severus was surprised at how quickly the half-mile walk to his home seemed to go. Remus chattered about Minerva's plans to reopen the school in time for the autumn term, about the possibility of returning, to teach either Defence or Ancient Runes, about Tonks and Charlie's upcoming wedding. Rather than commenting on that last, Severus made a disgusted noise, which made Remus hurry on to a new topic of conversation. Remus had never asked what Severus held against Tonks, nor had Severus ever elaborated, but his distaste for the woman was almost as strong as what he'd felt for her late cousin.
Once they got past that small hiccough, though, Severus was pleased to discover Remus had been reading up on a variety of interesting subjects, and was an avid follower of Muggle football as well as Quidditch--"Well, only the Magpies," Remus had clarified quickly--and was planning to buy a new broom in the near future. Severus, having purchased a broom after Dumbledore's estate was settled, had plenty of advice to offer, which Remus took graciously.
All too soon, it seemed, they had arrived in front of the converted stone barn that Severus called home. He'd made a few changes, equipping what the Muggle woman had called a "great room" with a full potions laboratory, complete with gargoyle fountain, and converting one bedroom into a combination library/office, but in general the property was much as it had been when he'd found it. Severus murmured the password under his breath and opened the door, gesturing for Remus to go in first.
Remus wasn't paying attention. He had craned his neck to stare at the structure, taking in everything: the slate roof, the untameable rose bush that grew up one side of the door and reached over it to tap at the first floor windows, the immense chimney emitting a faint wisp of smoke. "Severus, this--this is incredible. It really suits you."
Severus fought the tide of pleasure that sent through him. There was no denying that Remus knew him better than anyone still alive, with the possible exception of Draco. Severus had grown very attached to this home in a very short amount of time. It was nearly perfect. He allowed a small smile to touch his lips. "You can't see the greenhouse from here."
Remus laughed. "Of course. That's what was missing. But you have one?"
"A large one," Severus assured him. "In which I grow most of the herbs I need, as well as a ridiculous number of flowers."
"Yes, of course," Remus said, his expression turning curious. "Hermione said you'd provided the night-blooming heartsease and Binding Orchids for the wedding. It isn't too quiet for you, growing plants?"
"I relish the relative safety of it," Severus said wryly. "Of course, I do have two Venomous Tentaculas and a Devil's Snare, so I don't know that I'd call it quiet, exactly."
Remus smiled. "May I trouble you for a tour of the house?"
Severus nodded and led the way inside. It was perplexing, but it was also pleasing. Remus seemed to be truly interested in him, not just his expertise in the Dark Arts.
"Before we begin, let me treat that silver burn. You can't be comfortable."
"Oh." Remus shrugged awkwardly. "It isn't so bad."
Severus' hand darted out, catching at Remus'. "And it isn't so good, either," Severus corrected calmly, turning the other man's hand palm-up so he could see the blistered fingertips. "You're mad, to have let me do that."
Remus cleared his throat. "I have great faith in you, Severus." His voice sounded hoarser than usual. "Not to mention it was the only way I could detect the two layers."
Severus tugged gently, his heart suddenly racing at the feel of Remus' skin beneath his fingers. He shouldn't give in to his body like this, but he'd spent months--years--longing to touch Remus, allowing himself no quarter. And now, finally, he had another good reason to touch him, and all his sense seemed to have Disapparated. But he didn't care. The tingles running down his back made him more than willing to ignore good sense.
"Sit," he ordered, directing Remus to a chair. He pulled open a cupboard door and located an ointment to soothe the inflammation and numb the pain. Turning, he saw first that Remus' head was bowed slightly, the werewolf apparently studying his silver-burned fingers. Severus breathed in slowly through his nose, wanting to reach up and touch the grey-and-brown hair that looked so soft. But there were some lines he couldn't cross, even giddy with the joy of touching Remus. He coughed lightly and knelt. Carefully, he cradled Remus' hand in his own, scooping a bit of ointment into his free hand and then smoothing it over the blisters.
Remus caught his breath, then Severus' hair stirred across his cheek as Remus exhaled. Severus looked up. "Am I hurting you?"
"No," Remus said softly. He smiled at Severus, a smile that ached, there were so many emotions in it that Severus was unwilling to read. He looked back down, fighting against the tightness in his throat.
"This won't actually rid you of the blisters, but it will make you feel better," Severus explained. He stood and screwed the lid back onto the ointment jar. "Just a moment." Taking out a clean handkerchief, he wrapped it loosely around Remus' hand, then tied it.
Remus' lips twitched and broadened in a smile as he turned the full force of his golden gaze on Severus. It was frightening. Severus swallowed hard and stepped back. There was a long silence, during which Severus held his breath. Then finally Remus blinked, releasing him. He coughed again. "I'll show you the house and the greenhouse, then we can run some non-intrusive experiment spells on the necklace."
Remus sighed. "Yes, of course."
By the end of the afternoon, Severus was certain he would go mad if Remus' arm brushed his once more, or if he caught another whiff of the man's aftershave, or if the werewolf laughed, or smiled, or bloody looked at him. He wanted nothing more than to shove Remus out the door and then lock himself in his bedroom, preferably curled up under his duvet with a pillow over his head.
Unfortunately that wasn't an option.
They'd successfully lifted the first curse layer on the necklace, and had identified all but one of the curses involved in the interlaced layer, but there was something still eluding them, and Severus had, in a fit of madness, invited Remus to stay for tea while they pondered it.
I should have just sent him home. I've already helped him more than he bloody deserves. He's the one getting paid to lift this curse. The resentful tone of Severus' thoughts didn't stop him from studying his wine cabinet very carefully before selecting a bottle and chilling it with a charm while he waited for the chicken to finish roasting.
He poured two glasses and carried them to the table, where Remus was frowning at the pages of a book on old, obscure curses. "It's an Interim vintage," Severus said, placing the glass carefully in front of Remus' uninjured hand. "I've found they're much better than the war years."
Remus nodded and took a sip with a distracted air. His attention very obviously refocused as he held the wine in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. "That's very good," he observed, his eyes finding Severus' face. "This must have--" He cut himself off and shook his head. "Very good, thank you, Severus."
Severus frowned slightly, but nodded. "I've been thinking," he said. "The other curses on the necklace--they're all curses that were in vogue while my mother was at Hogwarts. I've been trying to remember others she might have mentioned when I was young."
Remus cocked his head. "Good observation," he said, his voice warm. "I knew I was right to come to you. Dear Merlin, I know the man to consult the next time I'm having trouble." His smile was warm, too.
Severus swallowed hard. This was too much. He couldn't stand being friends with Remus Bloody Lupin. "Now perhaps you understand my frustration with Dumbledore when he consistently refused to give me the Defence position," he said dryly.
"Of course I understand." Remus looked down. "I was so torn, the year I taught. I needed the job very badly, and I was so grateful to Dumbledore for taking a chance on me. And yet, your resentment was hurtful. I'd hoped, when I took the position, that we could set the past behind us, form a new relationship."
His tone sounded wistful to Severus. He noted in surprise that Remus didn't specify what sort of relationship he'd hoped for. Then again, there was little doubt he was referring to the friendship he seemed so desperately to want. Severus snorted. "Even if I hadn't been angry about the position, I doubt I could have forgiven you so easily," he said in a moment of rare frankness. "I needed to see you stand up to your friends before I could ever trust you."
Remus' gaze lifted again, though his head was still lowered. It was an unconsciously seductive look, and Severus could feel the heat pooling in his groin. Bloody hell. "Do you trust me, Severus?" Remus asked, his voice husky.
Severus caught his breath slightly, then looked away. "You know I do, damn you," he muttered. "Against my will and against all good sense."
"I know I made a lot of mistakes," Remus confessed. "Even the year I taught there, I made some dreadful mistakes. I'm sorry I allowed the children to hex you. I'm sorry I didn't revive you at once. I...well, all I can do is plead that I was overwhelmed by the possibility of Sirius' innocence."
Severus sighed. "Don't, Remus. There's no point in it, not anymore."
"But there is!" The werewolf's tone was earnest. "I want your trust, and I want you to know how very important it is to me. How important your...your friendship is to me."
"It doesn't matter. The past is past." Severus spoke almost curtly, hoping to hide the odd pain in his chest.
There was a silence, then Remus sighed. "Of course. I'm sorry."
Severus stood and hurried to the oven, hoping to prevent the erection he felt building. God, this was ridiculous. He shouldn't be aroused by a bloody apology! He shouldn't be aroused by the idea that Remus wanted his trust. It was friendship Remus wanted, nothing more! He pulled the chicken out and checked on the veg, then carried the food to the table.
"Read me the table of contents on that book," Severus ordered as Remus filled his plate. "Perhaps it will jog my memory."
Remus left Severus' house well after dark, suppressing a keen sense of disappointment. He'd hoped...he'd been so sure...and then Severus had gone cold on him, turned back to all business. If he recognised Remus' desire for what it was, it obviously made him uncomfortable. If Remus wanted to keep Severus in his life, even just as a friend, it was clear he would have to disguise the longing he felt for more.
It hurt more deeply than Remus could have imagined--partly, he suspected, because Severus had seemed so open during most of the day, more open than he ever had been in the past. When his fingers had closed around Remus', Remus had barely been able to breathe. And there had been times their shoulders or arms had brushed, that Severus hadn't drawn back for just a moment, almost as if he were relishing the closeness.
And then Remus had tried to apologise for the past, and Severus had gone all stiff and formal on him again, and that was that. Remus knew it was ridiculous, but he felt as if his heart were breaking.
He ought to feel triumphant. They'd managed to identify all the curses in the interwoven layer, as well as the counter-curses for all but three of them. Remus had some resources at home that Severus didn't, so he was confident he'd be able to identify the final three counter-curses and clean the necklace of all taint. He should feel victorious--and yet all he could do was mourn the easy way they'd worked together, the warm feeling of camaraderie, that was now suddenly whisked away again.
He'd had three glasses of wine, including the one he'd drunk with dinner, and was just tipsy enough to feel emotionally vulnerable as he stared down at the handkerchief still wrapped around his hand. Severus' fingers on his skin, Severus smoothing the ointment across the burns, just as he'd so carefully taken care of Remus when he'd been injured in the war. Remus ran the fingertips of his uninjured hand along the slight ridge of scar tissue that ran down his cheek. In a way that was Severus' mark on him, more than the anonymous Death Eater that had thrown the curse. Remus associated the scar with Severus, didn't mind the scar because of how Severus had treated it.
With a sigh, Remus locked the necklace into its protective case and put it in the safe for the night. He would deal with it in the morning. For now, he was unfit for anything but bed.
The next day, he woke up in a strop, having slept poorly the night before. He stared down in annoyance at the morning erection tenting his blanket and told his cock to behave itself, though it clearly had a mind of its own. After a cold shower failed to help, he gave in and wanked heartily, though once he came he felt somewhat guilty for fantasizing about Severus. Afterwards he felt lonelier than he had the night before.
Breakfast was porridge and tea and toast with Nutella, consumed while he was poring over several Dark Arts tomes. Soon he was down to one last curse, which was proving tricky to counter. There was nothing quite like it in any of his books, but after some cross-referencing he came up with something he was reasonably certain would work. Wishing he felt more successful, he scrounged a piece of parchment and a quill from his desk.
I wanted to let you know I was able to find counters to all but one of the curses. The final one, I feel sure, will respond well to Rescindio Dolorum, and I am planning to clean and purify the necklace today. I couldn't have done this without your help, and I am very grateful. I hadn't realised there were two layers, which of course explains the difficulty I was having in identifying all the curses. I know I still owe you lunch--or perhaps we should say dinner at a nice restaurant in Diagon Alley--for your trouble.
With all gratitude,
He held the letter out for his owl to take. "It goes to Severus Snape," he told her, stroking her feathers gently. "He lives at Nightingale Thicket in Little Riding." Althea gave a hoot as if to say she wasn't stupid, of course she'd known that, and Remus laughed. "Thank you," he said, holding out a treat. She took it gravely and then launched herself out the window.
He turned back to his work table feeling slightly cheered by the fact that he'd been brave enough to ask Severus out for dinner, even if the other man wouldn't view it as a date. He donned the thin cotton gloves he used for handling silver and lifted the necklace out of its case, hefting it in his hand. When he whispered the diagnostic charms and held the necklace right, he could see the charms glinting off the various curses. They'd discussed briefly last night which curses should be countered first from this layer, and after studying the necklace for a bit longer, Remus agreed with his position of the night before; the most serious curses had been cast first, which meant he would have to lift them last.
That was fine with Remus; he preferred to start with the lighter curses, anyway. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, then opened them again. He worked quickly to set up the protective spells he generally used when breaking curses, as well as a general shield around the table.
"Here goes," he murmured to himself, and set the necklace carefully on the work table. With a complicated flick of his wand and a muttered incantation, he'd dispelled one curse in a flash of violet light. He nodded, drew a breath, and circled his wand around the necklace, drawing the counter to the next one in the air over it.
Another burst of light, this one yellow, announced the curse's demise--but as Remus made a pleased noise, a bolt of energy left the necklace and sizzled past his face, so close he could feel the heat of it on his cheek. Smiling grimly, he cast a Shielding Spell on himself and did the countercurse again. This time it worked properly.
Twenty minutes later he was down to the final three curses--the three that had given him and Severus trouble. He wiped sweat from his forehead with one unbuttoned shirt cuff. This was the most difficulty he'd ever had with a cursed object, and he heartily wished he'd named a higher price once he'd seen the thing. The unmatched curse was the next he needed to do. He hoped fervently that Rescindio Dolorum was going to work on it. He pointed his wand at the necklace, uttered the words--and the world exploded.
"Bloody buggering fuck!" Severus burst out, staring at the letter Remus' owl had brought him. "What the bloody hell does that fool think he's doing, using Rescindio on something like that? Doesn't he know what could happen if that countercurse backfires?" He glared at the owl, turned back to glare at the potion that had just reached critical stage, and gave an enraged bellow. "Go make him stop!" he shouted, chucking a marble paperweight at the bird. Althea gave an offended hoot and flapped away.
Severus paced around the cauldron twice, muttering the whole time about idiotic, impetuous Gryffindors who didn't have anything better to do with their time than try to get themselves pulverised by old curses--or better yet, old counter curses--and drive their friends mad while they did it. After the second circuit, Severus knew the potion would have to be a loss. He couldn't let Remus face that on his own. Growling a threat, he Vanished the potion and Apparated.
It was a good thing Remus, at least, wasn't trying to hide from the world. Severus knew where he lived and knew how to get there, and when he appeared he was in Remus' sitting room. He heard an incantation being spoken through a door in the back of the room and dashed automatically in that direction.
He was gnawing at his upper lip as his thoughts flashed through his options; it could be dangerous to interrupt a curse breaker--or anyone who dealt with Dark Magic--in the middle of a spell, but it could prove even more dangerous if he didn't stop Remus from using Rescindio on the necklace.
He was thirty seconds too late. He heard Remus speak the words, shouted, "Stop!" and then bowled Remus over so that the reaction missed them both.
The room shook in a soundless tremor, then a huge flash of light and a deafening bang impacted them almost simultaneously. The cupboard that took the full brunt of the reaction burst into flames. Trinkets, books, and artefacts, along with at least one tea tin, rained down from the high shelves to hammer the floor around them. Something clipped Severus on the side of the head and he swore. Remus huddled where he'd fallen for a moment, then twisted underneath Severus to look up at him in astonishment.
"Severus!" he gasped.
"You owled me and yet you were expecting Shacklebolt, maybe?" Severus arched an eyebrow, trying to be sardonic; but he realized suddenly that he was nearly shaking with anger. No, not anger--rage. But why? He had no right to be angry.
"I--I didn't thi--"
"That's right, you didn't bloody think!" Severus spat, not giving Remus time to finish. "You just charged ahead as usual, the typical bloody-minded Gryffindor who doesn't realise the danger he's throwing himself at, or how many people might get hurt trying to save his life!" Severus pushed away from Remus, trying to ignore the warmth pooling low in his belly from--Merlin, he'd been lying on top of Remus!
He scowled, trying to make himself focus. "You saw fit to consult with me on all the other curses, but you couldn't be arsed to wait until I'd given my opinion of whether or not you should use Rescindio? I have more experience than you do at inventing spells, Remus! I could have told you using that counter would trigger an explosion. You're lucky the bloody house is still standing!"
He realized suddenly that he was ranting at the top of his lungs...and Remus was grinning at him. This big, ridiculously goofy grin...with those even white teeth...his golden eyes alight. And it made Severus' heart jump oddly.
"What are you grinning at?" he snapped, albeit in a rather quieter tone of voice than he had been using.
Remus sat up, his knees sticking up and making him look younger. He was still grinning very widely. "You--you're angry at me because I could have been hurt."
Severus stared at him blankly, then threw his hands into the air. "Idiot! Buffoon! Of course I'm angry at you because you could have been hurt! What did you think, that you're just some sort of bloody nuisance I want to get rid of?"
Oh. Fuck. Severus was doomed.
Remus' face lit up even more, though that hadn't seemed possible. In the next moment he had got to his feet and suddenly Severus found himself with an armful of werewolf.
"What are--" he managed, and then Remus' lips were on his, one strong arm winding around his neck to pull him closer. Severus stiffened for just a moment, and then he gave in and responded by parting his lips. Remus' tongue swept into his mouth, exploring, tasting, dancing. Severus' arms tightened around Remus; part of him was overwhelmed, but a tiny voice in the back of his head noted that Remus was just the right amount shorter than he that it felt right kissing him. Remus murmured something indistinct, and then pulled gently, and in short order Severus found himself on the floor again, but this time instead of angry he was exhilarated and frightened and jubilant all at once.
"Remus," he murmured in a moment when their lips parted, and the werewolf gave a soft chuckle.
"It sounds so nice when you say it," he replied, and kissed Severus again.
To Severus' relief, Remus was the one who rocked against him first. The feel of Remus' hard length against his, even through their trousers, made Severus gasp with a mixture of pleasure and need. He slid one hand down to cup Remus' arse, pulling their groins together.
Remus let out a yelp and thrust against him, which made Severus groan. Soon they were rocking and twisting together in rhythm, and then to Severus' embarrassment he couldn't hold back his climax any longer. Heat flooded his trousers and he turned his head away.
Remus stiffened, then groaned, but Severus only felt a little better that both of them had come in their trousers. He hadn't done that since he was a teenager. He propped himself up on his elbows and fixed his gaze on the carpet, which had a new hole burnt through it by the necklace's reaction.
"Severus?" Remus panted. A hand reached up and touched Severus' cheek, tucking hair behind his ear. "You--you wanted this, didn't you? I didn't mean to force you into anything."
"Force me!" Severus barked in derision. No, he hadn't been forced, he'd been aching for it. But he felt too vulnerable suddenly. Too much like himself. He swallowed.
"Then I don't understand." Remus' voice was soft. "You look like you didn't enjoy it."
"I--did," he managed to assert. But after that words failed him. Unsure of himself, he took refuge in the familiar, the comfortable. He drew himself up and lifted his chin. "I did. But you've taken leave of your sense if you think enjoyment of a physical liaison is any indication of a commitment. I am not used to sharing myself with someone else. I wouldn't know where to begin, and I don't want to." The latter part was a lie, but he had to say something to keep Lupin from arguing, to make the bloody werewolf give up this ridiculous notion. He swallowed, drawing his dignity more closely around him. "I do find you attractive enough, but if you think I have no control over my hormones, you don't know me." He attempted to soften his expression for a moment. "Thank you for the release." He knew his words sounded more accusatory than grateful.
He stood and hunted for a minute before finding his wand. The whole time he was searching, he was achingly aware of the very loud silence coming from the man behind him. Finally he found his wand and stood, straightening his clothes and wishing he'd worn robes so his humiliation wouldn't show. He turned and swept Remus with one last glare. "Don't use Rescindio on that curse. Try altering the tone of the Sectumsempra countercurse. That should work."
"Best of luck, Lupin," Severus said, and Disapparated.
In forty-four years of life, Remus had never heard of the ground opening up and swallowing someone simply because he was mortified. He thought life was patently unfair that he still had to face the world, knowing he'd given his heart to Severus Snape, only to have it cast bitterly aside.
And why? He still wasn't certain why. Severus hadn't given a very satisfactory answer; all right, so they were both long-established bachelors, and neither of them were quite sure how to go about having a 'normal' relationship, but Remus didn't think that was any reason to call them quits before they'd even properly begun.
He returned the necklace, completely uncursed, to Mrs Hardcastle, and collected his sizable fee. He looked down at the cheque in his hands sadly; he'd promised himself a holiday with this money, but suddenly he didn't feel any real desire for one. What fun would it be to go a tropical resort and watch all the happy couples walking around having what he didn't? He deposited the money in his Gringotts account and went back to scanning the newspapers for stories that sounded like magical activity.
Severus hadn't been this miserable since the days shortly after he'd killed Dumbledore. Every time he saw the last letter Remus had sent, saying he owed Severus a nice dinner, his throat tightened. When he thought of how good it had felt to actually have Remus in his arms, to be kissed and kiss back, he hated himself. But there was no way to change what had happened, so he had to make the best of it. He brewed the Wolfsbane potion as usual and sent it along with something to help with the headaches and nausea, compliments of the Darkling Thrush.
Remus' letter after the full moon was polite as always, thanking Darkling Thrush for their continued partnership with the Ministry. He also expressed his appreciation for the second potion, but didn't indicate whether it had been helpful.
Using a Dicta-Quill, Severus dictated a short letter of inquiry about the effectiveness of the potion and sent it off. He watched the owl post for the rest of the day, but no response came. In fact it was three days until a short, printed note arrived that said,
My dear sir,
I thank you for your consideration. The warmth and excellent customer service of Darkling Thrush is what has kept me a customer for these many months now. I am always certain that when I speak of Darkling Thrush, I speak of someone I know, someone I can trust--someone who has my well-being at heart.
You may rest assured that the potion I imbibed the morning after full moon was fully effective in its relief of all treatable symptoms. Your skill with potions is great enough that I am almost tempted to ask if there is any potion to alleviate the sufferings of a broken heart.
I remain, as ever,
Your faithful servant,
Remus John Lupin
There was something slightly off in the style, almost as if Remus had been angry when he wrote it. Severus read it over several times, trying to determine what hidden intent might be behind the words. Finally he sighed and shook himself. This was ridiculous. He was behaving like a ridiculous girl fancying her first older boy. He didn't know anything about the circumstances surrounding that letter, and whatever he might suspect, all he could do was read the words.
It pained Severus that Remus seemed to think himself the possessor of a broken heart. Of all the people Severus had ever met, he had only known one other person besides Remus with such a gift for accepting people exactly as they were, and that was Albus Dumbledore. That didn't sound like a broken heart--it sounded like one of the few in the world that were actually working properly.
The days passed, and eventually a week and then two, and then Draco and Harry's ceremony was upon them. Severus wore the same robes he'd bought for the Granger-Weasley wedding. He wouldn't have bothered going at all if he didn't care so much about Draco. It was almost certain that Remus would be there, and Severus knew him well enough to expect there would be some sort of quiet reproof in his eyes. But he dressed and examined himself carefully in the mirror before Apparating to the edge of the Hogwarts grounds.
He saw the golden robes the moment he reached the main entrance of the castle. For the instant in time that his heart lurched and jumped a beat, Severus contemplated running through the gates as he had done only one other time in his life. Running and Apparating and doing whatever he had to in order to get away from Remus Lupin.
Then Ginny saw him and swooped at him, going on about something that had happened to one of the floral pieces, and couldn't Severus help since Luna and Neville were finishing up the decorating of the reception area? Dear God, Ginny sounded more like her mother every day. Severus swallowed a groan and followed obediently. When he glanced a final time towards the golden-robed figure, he would have swore Remus Lupin had an amused smile on his face as he watched Severus follow her.
Contrary to all of Severus' fears, the ceremony went without a hitch. He'd half expected Ron to haul off and pop Draco one, just in reaction to the sheer stress of standing up for Harry while Harry pledged undying love and devotion to the young man who had made most of Ron's life hell. Failing that, he'd worried that Draco would give in to the severe case of nerves he'd been suffering for the past month, and run before he made it to the altar.
Surprisingly, neither thing happened. Harry met Draco's eyes with an encouraging smile and a heat in his eyes that was practically indecent, and Draco didn't stumble once over words such as "love" and "honour" and "my word as a man and a wizard". Severus was impressed. It had seemed so bloody unlikely that anyone sired by Lucius Malfoy would understand the selfless commitment required for marriage, in whatever guise.
After the ceremony there was dancing, of course. He was forced, against his will, to dance with both members of the lucky (haha) couple before he threatened to hex the next person who asked him to dance and stormed off to his own corner with a bottle of elf-made wine nicked from a passing house-elf. To his surprise, Remus danced with the wedding party, an interminable number of Weasleys, and one of the Patil twins, but never even approached Severus' corner.
"Youíve been watching the same set of golden robes for the past hour, did you know?" Draco sprawled next to Severus in a chair, his drawling voice amused.
"I swear he's the only man alive stupid enough to risk a hexing to get me to dance," Severus snarled, though there was no edge to it.
"No doubt he'd think it was worth it, if you would," Draco replied. His hair was artistically dishevelled; Severus could tell he and his bloody Potter had been snogging somewhere semi-public. They could be ridiculously impractical about appearances at times. It was unlike Draco, or at least unlike the Draco Severus had known at Hogwarts. Then again, the young man had changed a great deal during the war--most of it for the better.
"I don't know where you get such ridiculous notions, Draco," Severus said, relaxing back in his chair. Better not to give the brat ammunition.
"Oh, I can't imagine," Draco said, smirking. "The smouldering looks he gives you when you're not watching, or the way he's been so careful to avoid you after the way he behaved at Granger's wedding."
Severus shook his head. "I think this season has enough happy couples," he said, injecting amusement into his voice. "No need to go inventing any more, particularly when you're merely being ridiculous."
Draco shook his head and stood up. "Well, I'm not one to pass up love when it comes along," he said lightly. "Harry looks like he wants to dance. See you later, Severus."
Severus watched him go, strictly quelling the small part of him that wanted Draco to be right.
As the evening wore on, Severus convinced himself that whatever Draco imagined he saw, there was absolutely nothing unusual in the way Remus was watching him. He even resorted to transfiguring a napkin into a mirror so he could appear to be looking in another direction. But Remus was dancing attentively with Poppy Pomfrey, and didn't so much as cast a glance in Severus' direction. Feeling an odd mixture of triumph and depression, Severus finally decided he'd had quite enough of being ignored by the werewolf, who must be taking perverse pleasure in punishing him somehow. He'd already spent a great deal more time at this reception than he had the Granger/Weasley one, and it was high time he headed home to a nice fire, a comforting glass of brandy, and a sensational murder mystery.
He had just stepped out into the rose garden when someone spoke his name in a low, hoarse voice. Severus tensed his shoulders and turned.
Remus was poised on the steps, his eyes and hair catching the light of the waning moon. His expression was inaccessible, his hands clasped behind his back. "I have a dilemma, Severus, and I think perhaps you are the person who can help me with it."
"If this is about--" Severus began.
"I have a letter," Remus said, speaking over him. "I also have been told by the Ministry that my portion of the Wolfsbane potion should be costing me eighteen Galleons a month."
Severus went still. Oh Merlin. This wasn't about them--or the lack of them--this was about the potion. Fuck.
"Perhaps you could explain to me why I have suddenly become a charity case to you," Remus continued, his voice low but clearly furious. "Perhaps that's why you allowed me to act as I did? What is it the students call it--oh, yes, a pity fuck."
Severus flinched. "That--that isn't--"
"No?" Remus' voice cracked across the garden. "Then it's simply the poor werewolf can't afford his potion, is it? Look, there's Lupin, obviously still doesn't have two Knuts to rub together, poor bloke deserves better than the Ministry swill, after all, he was a fucking war hero. I'll do this service for the Ministry and they'll let me charge outlandish fees to all the other werewolves I brew for."
"Who told you?" Severus demanded. "If it was that misbegotten son of a half-blood Hufflepuff at the Ministry, I'll have his--"
"Listen to yourself!" Remus interrupted. His eyes flashed angrily. "Constantly trying to pin the blame for your own actions and feelings on others. It's my fault that you're attracted to me! It's some poor Ministry bloke's fault that your ridiculous faÁade fell apart! In point of fact, Severus, you told me, yourself. Naming it Darkling Thrush Potions, naming your home Nightingale Thicket? I saw the volume of Keats when I was at your house, Severus! It was only too easy to make the connection, particularly once I realised that my owl already knew where you lived--and your imperious letter demanding to know if the potions had helped only cemented the knowledge in my mind!"
Severus closed his eyes, wondering how to explain this. "Remus, I--" He paused. It sounded so stupid.
"What, Severus? What?"
His eyes snapped open again and he moved before he'd really thought it through, seizing Remus' shoulders in a painful grip. "I wanted to do something for you!" he hissed. "I wanted to do something because you've done so much for me, and that was what I could do. I--I wanted--"
Remus' gaze was unrelenting. "You wanted--you want--what I want, Severus. Us. What we already have, and so much more. But you've got so used to sneaking around behind the scenes, in hiding your courage behind sly insults and secrets, that you've forgotten what it is to take an open risk. To step off the cliff with your head held high, and just--just trust that something's going to catch you and break your fall."
"Oh, so I'm a coward, is that what you're saying?" Severus demanded, furious. "I've never allowed anyone to call me coward, and you're not about to be the first, Lupin! Would you have had the courage to do what I have done? Would you have had the courage to face Voldemort and lie to his face? Would you have had the courage to kill the dearest person in your life? You have never had the courage! You had no courage when faced with your friends. You had no courage when faced with Molly Weasley and her heart-sick blackmail about poor, lonely Nymphadora Tonks! And yet you call me coward?"
Remus stared at him. "I have apologised again and again for our childhood, Severus. I can't go back and change it! And I never had anything but a working relationship with Tonks." He frowned. "Besides, I wasn't calling you a coward. Being brave doesn't mean that you feel no fear. It means that you act in spite of the fear. You can't tell me you've never been afraid."
The werewolf's calm demeanour was doing nothing to assuage Severus' fury. He clenched his fists, glaring at him. "What makes you think you have the right to tell me how I feel?" he snapped. "Whoever it is you think I am, you're wrong! You don't know me, Lupin! Stop pretending that you do!"
Lupin sighed and he shook his head. "Why do you keep fighting this, Severus? We're good together. It's plain to see that. We work well together, and we're well-suited as companions."
"I don't know where you got this ridiculous idea that I would wish to partner myself with a werewolf who spends his life bilking Muggles out of money for attempting to break curses on whatever magical items they happen to have stumbled across!" Severus heard the words fly from his mouth, knowing they were well-chosen to wound Remus; he almost wished he could draw them back, but he just wanted to escape, to get away from being forced to tie himself to someone yet again. "Leave me alone, Lupin! If I wanted something from you I would say so!"
Remus' shoulders slumped as Severus' words sank in. "I'm sorry you feel that way," he said quietly. "Very well, Severus. I shan't continue to force my unwanted desires upon you. I shall, as you say, leave you alone." He began to turn, then paused. "You needn't worry about any other weddings you are obligated to attend. I shall make my excuses so you don't have to avoid me." He gave Severus a sad smile and walked back into the castle.
Severus was left, seething and alone, in the rose garden. He had many times in his life wished that he were able to Apparate from the Hogwarts grounds, particularly when summoned to Voldemort's side. But never had he wished it more emphatically than now, when he wanted nothing more than to be as far away from Remus Lupin as it was possible to be. He stalked out of the garden without bothering to make any farewells.
Remus sulked the day after Draco and Harry's ceremony. He didn't even bother denying to himself that's what he was doing. He brewed himself a pot of expensive tea and ate a large amount of chocolate and indulged in thinking dark thoughts about Severus Snape and cursing the man's stubbornness and spending long periods of time looking out the windows and sighing. The next day he brewed himself a pot of expensive tea and ate a large amount of chocolate and indulged in rereading his favourite book, because Lord Peter Whimsey never failed to make him feel better. The third day after the wedding, to his dismay, he received an urgent telephone call from Mrs Peggy Hardcastle.
"Mr Lupin, the necklace is doing the most dreadful--stop it! Jason, grab it! You've got to dive for it! Oh blast. I'm sorry, Mr Lupin, it's--well, I know it sounds dreadfully overwrought, but the necklace is...well, it's flying." Her voice dropped to a whisper on the last word.
Remus nearly dropped the telephone. "It's what?"
"I know, you must think me mad, but it's--duck! It's going for your--oh no!" There was a crash and the tinkle of broken glass. She groaned. "Lupin, get here as quickly as you can, I think it's trying to throttle poor Jeremy!"
She clicked off.
Swearing, Remus grabbed for his wand and headed for his desk. Halfway there he realised he was wearing his dressing gown and wolf-headed slippers (a gift from Draco, who had seemed to find them funny) and ran back to the bedroom to dress. He muttered a depilatory charm with a grimace, grabbed his briefcase from the desk, and Disapparated.
The necklace was flying. Remus watched as one of Mrs Hardcastle's three sons (Jeremy, he thought) ran out of the house into the front garden.
"Lupin! Thank God! Whatever you've done to the necklace, you'd better bloody undo it!" He was panting, his hair dishevelled, his shirttail untucked.
"Jeremy!" Mrs Hardcastle shouted from inside the house.
"Iím not coming back inside until Lupin stops that thing!" he shouted back, and gave Remus a shove towards the front door.
Remus dashed inside, wand in his hand. There was no sense in hiding it from the Hardcastles; he was going to have to Obliviate them all in any case, at this rate. He slid on a fancy carpet that was rucked up, then righted himself and hurried into the sitting room.
Peggy Hardcastle was standing on a settee, batting at the necklace with a badminton racquet while another of her sons dodged both the necklace and the racquet, arms over his head. The youngest boy was, surprisingly, sitting calmly in a wing chair, his eyes on the necklace.
"Lupin, what did you do to the bloody thing?" the middle son demanded.
He ran past Remus, who flicked his wand out and shouted, "Impedimenta! Finite! Bugger!"
Finally a Stunning Spell dropped the necklace to the ground, where Remus quickly trapped it and locked it back in the box he'd used to transport it. Shaking his hair back out of his face, he stood, breathing heavily, and surveyed the room. Dear Merlin, he thought, this is not going to be easy.
Several Reparos, four Obliviates, and half a dozen apologies later, Remus was taking his leave of the Hardcastles with promises to return the necklace within the fortnight. Furious with himself for not having been thorough enough in the diagnostic spells he used after lifting all the curses, Remus was running through a litany of insults and trying to find one--or several--that applied to himself. Concerned most with getting far away from the Hardcastle home, he was at the Golden Harp nearly before he realised it. He paused on the pavement outside the pub, then shrugged and decided to go in. If Severus were there, he would simply have to deal with it. Remus could use a fortifying drink after quelling the angry necklace.
Fortunately for Remus' peace of mind, Severus was nowhere to be seen. A handful of locals played darts, and three or four tables were occupied, but Assumpta was wiping a rag across the bar and greeted him cheerfully when he came in.
"Ah, Mr Lupin! It's good to see you again. How are you this fine day?"
He dredged up a smile. "In need of a good stiff drink," he said. "Whiskey, neat, please." He produced the correct amount in Muggle notes and took a large drink of the glass she set in front of him.
She raised dark eyebrows. "Life that bad, is it?"
His smile turned rueful. "You don't know the half of it. Work, mostly." It was a lie, but Remus wasn't about to pour the details of his personal life out to a stranger, even if she was a sympathetic ear.
She nodded. "Are you here to meet Severus, then? I haven't seen him since Saturday night. Drank himself silly, the idiotic man; I expect he's been afraid to show his face since then."
"Ah--no," Remus said, feeling awkward. "I'm afraid we...had a disagreement the last time we saw each other."
"Ahh." She nodded, and he could tell she was misinterpreting him--or rather, she was interpreting his words to mean exactly what they did, rather than what he'd hoped she would. He sighed and drained his glass.
"Thanks," he said briefly. "I should be on my way home. Work won't wait, I'm afraid."
"Have a lovely day, Mr Lupin. I hope I see you again soon."
He smiled at her again and left. He knew he wouldn't be likely to return, particularly once the Hardcastle job was finished.
Severus spent the week after Draco and Harry's wedding avoiding the village in general and the Golden Harp in particular. He'd made the mistake of going there instead of home after leaving Hogwarts, and he'd had a bit more than was his wont, especially in public. He had no clear recollection of most of what he might have said, though he was fairly certain he wouldn't have done anything spectacularly stupid like lamenting to Assumpta that he was desperately in love with a man who seemed not to understand that nothing could ever work between them. All the same, he considered it a wise plan to keep himself to himself for a while.
On Friday an owl delivered a postcard with the picture of a beach in Greece and the message, "Love and kisses from Harry and Draco". Severus snarled and binned it. Damn Remus Lupin anyway. He'd not been unhappy with his living situation until Lupin came blundering back into his life. He'd not felt pangs of jealousy when confronted with happy couples. He'd not been dissatisfied with his greenhouses. He tipped his half-eaten lunch into the bin and stormed out to check on his Venomous Tentacula.
Two hours later, he was forced to admit to himself that he still wasn't dissatisfied with his greenhouses. He actually enjoyed working with the plants. There was something about them--even the dangerous ones--that was more soothing than potions. He still appreciated the challenge of potions--the Wolfsbane, in particular--but the plants truly did provide contentment.
All the same, he left the postcard from the happy couple in the bin.
It took Remus several more days with the family diaries, plus a trip to the Hogwarts library, to discover the Hardcastle necklace had originally been a gift from a wizard high in the court of Queen Elizabeth I to one of Peggy Hardcastle's ancestors. Moreover, the Hardcastles had consistently intermarried with wizards for the past two hundred years, producing three half-blood wizards, unbeknownst to the rest of their family. This knowledge in itself didn't tell him what the necklace had been doing flying about attempting to throttle the sons, nor did it explain why Peggy had been exempted from its murderous intent, but it did, at least, give three names of wizards who might shed some light on the subject.
Only one of the wizards was still living, as it turned out, though the widow of another said she would be more than happy to meet with Remus, though she didn't know how much help she would be. After half an hour discussing genealogy with her, he was convinced she couldn't tell him anything useful at all. The last living wizard (one hundred and eighteen years old in July) wasn't on the Floo, but responded with a perfectly pleasant owl from his home in Aberdeen.
The end result was that Remus got a new recipe for mutton stew and learned that the necklace was intended to choose the true heir for each generation of Hardcastles. Exactly how it was meant to do so, the old bloke couldn't say, but as there were dark rumours about a murder one hundred and twenty years previously, he suspected the curses had originally been aimed at said rightful heir.
It was obvious Remus needed to make another trip to the Hogwarts library.
"--And then, apparently, the bloody thing broke two windows before he managed to make it stop attacking the poor terrorised Muggles!" Draco cackled and finished his drink. Potter leaned on his shoulder, grinning.
Severus wasn't quite as amused as the younger men. He glowered at Draco. "Kindly remember that this is a Muggle establishment," he hissed. "Potter, go get us another round."
Potter's eyes widened, but then he flashed Severus a cheeky grin and got up, showing just how much he'd managed to change during the war.
Draco reigned in his laughter and sighed, rubbing lightly at the end of his peeling, sunburned nose. "It was good for him to get out of the country, even if it was only for a fortnight. I don't know why he insisted he had to be back for my ridiculous pink-headed cousin's wedding."
Severus felt oddly disinclined to growl at the mention of Tonks, and he couldn't deny--to himself, at least--that it was because Remus had stated uncategorically that he had never had a romantic relationship with the silly chit of a girl. "You know bloody well it's because he knows how ridiculously fond of her you are," he accused, with no particular venom.
Draco raised pale eyebrows, and Severus hastily rolled his eyes. "You know I shall never understand what you see of value in her acquaintance, but there's no denying Potter is entirely aware of it."
Potter returned then and set a pint in front of each of them. Draco, ironically enchanted by the taste of Muggle life he'd had on their honeymoon, had demanded he be shown the village where Severus lived. Against his better judgment, Severus had finally given in, once Potter promised to help make Draco behave. So far, the worst transgression Draco had committed was his over-loud talk, and hopefully people would just think he was talking nonsense.
"That woman at the bar," Potter said. "She asked if I was your bloody son."
Draco snorted, then virtually howled with laughter. Severus shot him a dirty look, then glared at Potter. "I hope by all that's holy you told her that was utterly impossible."
"Don't worry," Potter said, though his response didn't sound as vehement as it would have once. Then he cocked his head to one side. "She asked me something else interesting," he said, and something in the tone of his voice made Draco sit up and stop giggling unattractively.
Severus narrowed his eyes.
"She asked what happened to that nice Mr Lupin who'd been visiting you." Potter folded his arms across his chest. "I confess, I'm a bit curious as to why she'd have that gleam in her eye when she mentioned Remus."
"Nosy bint," Severus muttered. He took a long pull of his drink. "Lupin came to ask for my assistance in the Case of the Cursed Choker. Proving once again that my Defence Against the Dark Arts skills are more refined than his, I might add." He sniffed and raised his nose into the air.
"Come on, Snape. Don't you think this has gone on long enough?" Potter demanded. "Remus was the best damned Defence professor we ever had. You were half mad with love for the Dark Arts. You might have taught us some useful things, but Remus actually believed in us, believed we were capable. I'd take him at my back over you any day."
Severus glared poison at him. "That just shows how flawed your breeding is," he retorted. "You obviously inherited your father's reckless death-wish."
Potter clenched his fists and leaned across the table, but to Severus' surprise, it was Draco who spoke first.
"Why can't you let things go, Severus?" he demanded. "My God, no wonder Lupin gave up on you! Come on, Harry, we're leaving."
Severus watched in astonishment as the young man he considered his closest friend stormed out of the pub, hand-in-hand with an equally astonished Potter.
He couldn't get the row out of his mind. He and Potter had always loathed each other. Why would Draco ever expect anything different? True, he usually managed to be polite to Potter when it was required, but then again, Draco had never before insisted on bringing his lover to visit Severus. It had always been brief chance encounters during which Severus and Potter had been able to behave themselves.
Then Severus thought back over the time at the pub and was forced to admit that Potter hadn't been guilty of any great infractions. Yes, he had made sly remarks about Lupin, but that was obviously the result of Draco's speculation at their wedding as much as anything else. Besides, Assumpta would likely have asked Severus herself if he'd given her the chance. He'd simply stalked out with such aplomb that no one had dared question him before he reached the door.
He kept thinking about the story Draco had related, punctuated by interruptions and laughter from Potter. The necklace he and Remus had both thought decursed was, in fact, still acting up? And knowing the werewolf, he would be blaming himself for something that both of them had overlooked. Of course, if Lupin hadn't distracted him, he would have seen it. Grudgingly Severus forced himself to admit they would probably both have seen it. Lupin wasn't so dreadful at countering the Dark Arts, after all. He'd become essential to Severus' safety during the war.
Why could Severus not admit that Remus was essential to more than his safety?
It was no great sacrifice for Severus to ignore the invitation to the Tonks/Weasley wedding; after all, he'd never liked Tonks, and the only Weasleys Severus had ever bothered with were Bill, Ginny, and Percy. But when he received an astonishing invitation, written in fancy script on Amaranth Arboretum stationery and summoning him to celebrate the elopement of Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, there was simply no way he could refuse. For one thing he had actually come to think of Longbottom as a friend. For another, he was positively dying of curiosity about how two such different people could ever believe marriage was a good idea.
He tried not to think about the possibility of seeing Remus at the reception. He had sent the Wolfsbane Potion at the full moon as usual, but had, unsurprisingly, received no response. As he dressed in his now-familiar green velvet robes, he couldn't help imagining the way Remus' hand might have felt on that velvet, if Severus had given in to his request for company--no, for a relationship. It made him shiver slightly, and he couldn't tell whether fear or desire was stronger.
The reception was at Longbottom's property, in the high-ceilinged glass arboretum. Lush greenery towered above them, most of it magical, some of it mundane, all of it harmless. Severus had been here on several occasions, and he had seen the greenhouse where Neville kept the dangerous plants. It was probably best that the one where Luna worked didn't have hostile plants in it. She was likely to lose a finger before she noticed.
The serene bride was wearing finely-cut dress robes of pale blue; Neville's were a very dark navy to compliment her. Augusta Longbottom presided over the affair in imperious contentment, graciously accepting congratulations for something over which she had had no influence whatsoever. From Severus' perspective it was obvious that Augusta was astonished by the turn of events, and Neville seemed rather surprised himself.
To Severus' surprise, Luna approached him after the toasts were finished. "Will you dance with me, Professor?" she asked, her smile brilliant and guileless.
He found himself accepting without any intention to do so.
"Isn't it a lovely day for the reception?" she asked, beaming at him.
In point of fact they had narrowly avoided a drenching; thankfully the rain shower had waited until they were all inside before it broke loose, but the rain still pelted against the glass of the arboretum.
"I'm so glad you could make it. We haven't seen much of you since last month. I thought you would be out of Puffapod seeds by now."
Severus cleared his throat. "I haven't much use for them just at the moment."
"Of course, and you grow your own aconite, don't you?" She smiled beatifically at him. "Well, I'm very glad you're here. It means a great deal to Neville. And to me, of course."
"Miss--ah, Mrs Longbottom--"
"Oh, goodness, why won't you just call me Luna. Or Loony, if you must. I'm sure you must have done, behind my back."
Thanks to long experience at Occlumency, Severus managed not to blush. "Luna," he said stiffly. "What on Earth possessed you to elope with Longbottom?"
Her silvery-grey eyes were dreamy. "Well, it was just obvious. We work so well together, we enjoy the same sorts of things (except for Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, Neville isn't too fond of them, but that's because they always eat his carnivorous plants) ...and one day he kissed me like it was only natural!" She sighed happily. "It was nothing like I'd always imagined. It was so much better."
Severus blinked and tried not to scowl at her. He was more than relieved when the music ended and Neville appeared beside them, eager to claim his bride back from Severus. He stalked over to the table with cake and drinks and then staked out a corner near the Abyssinian shrivelfigs to survey the crowd. There were, as always, a great deal too many Weasleys. He saw Tonks holding hands with Charlie, a dapper eyepatch over his missing left eye, and felt no hostility towards her. Get a grip on yourself, Snape, he told himself, and took a long drink of champagne.
"He isn't here."
Severus choked on his champagne and coughed, finally straightening up to glare at Potter.
"And frankly I can't say I really blame him. You were horrid to him."
"What?" Severus managed, staring. How did Potter know? Had Remus told him everything? He felt his cheeks burning.
"I've tried again and again to make peace with you, for his sake," Potter said, scowling. "I don't hate you the way I used to, you know. I don't know why you can't just admit I'm not my father."
Oh. Draco. "He...Draco didn't come?" Severus asked, frowning. "Because of me?"
"You hurt his feelings," Harry said ruthlessly. He was fiddling with a stray thread from one dark red sleeve. "He's always looked up to you, you know. And it bothers him that we're always at each other's throats. I just...I just want Draco to be happy, Snape. I wish you could want the same thing." He turned to go.
Severus drew a quick breath. "Potter." His voice came out sounding like a croak, which was embarrassing, but he swallowed. "Potter...I will attempt to get along, if you will."
Potter turned with astonishing swiftness and grabbed Severus' hand. "Agreed," he said, and before Severus was quite caught up, they shook on it. To his surprise, he found himself feeling mostly an overwhelming sense of relief.
He finally had to admit to himself that Remus wasn't here. Remus had been true to his word and made excuses not to attend the reception. Or was it worse than that? Had he taken on the necklace and somehow been bested? What if he had used inadequate wards this time, as he had when attempting to break the curses? What if he had finished making the necklace safe, but exhausted himself in the effort? Or what if...Severus calculated swiftly...what if the moon cycle had somehow caused problems?
It was unthinkable. Lupin was more than able to take of himself. And yet...Severus couldn't quite get over the idea that he might somehow have been injured, that he might, even now, be waiting for someone--Severus, even--to miss him at the reception and come to see him.
As the reception drew on and Lupin still didn't appear, Severus grew snappish again. When he caught himself snapping at Luna, he realised it was past time for him to depart. He managed to not quite apologise, then Disapparated.
When he opened his eyes, he wasn't terribly surprised to find himself in an alley down the street from Lupin's cottage. Well, what would it hurt, after all? He could just walk casually past the house, peer inside to be certain Lupin was all right, and then Apparate home. He transfigured his robes into a Muggle jacket and strolled--or attempted to stroll, anyway--along the pavement. As he approached the cottage, however, he could see no lights, nothing to indicate anyone was within. Very well, Lupin wasn't even home. He had opted for some other pastime than the celebration of two good friends falling in love.
But if Lupin had been injured, he would be unable to turn on the lights, wouldn't he?
Swearing at his own weakness, Severus turned up the path to the cottage and raised a hand before he could stop himself. He rapped sharply three times on the door. He waited precisely ten seconds and then started swiftly down the path again. Lupin must not be home.
Then he paused. What if Lupin were home? What if he were within, injured, hoping his visitor would discover him?
Nonsense. He's down to the pub for a drink, more likely. Severus took another few steps away.
And then his chance to flee was stolen from him.
Behind him, the door opened. "Yes?"
God, Lupin's voice was so pleasant--the strains of cigarettes and whiskey and a life hard-lived sent a shiver down Severus' spine. He stiffened and held his breath.
"Severus?" Lupin sounded surprised. Severus swore at himself again and turned slowly.
"I was simply passing through and--" His eyes fell on Lupin and his words died away.
The werewolf was standing in the doorway, wearing a dressing gown and holding a glass of Firewhiskey. His head was cocked curiously, the dim light from within creating a halo of silver on his hair. He was barefoot.
"Severus?" Lupin said again.
"I--" Severus paused. All excuses had fled his mind. He wanted nothing more than to jump on Remus and kiss him, plunder that mouth, nibble those full lips, make Remus moan. He swallowed. "What if--if you get tired of me?" he blurted.
Lupin's eyes widened. "I beg your pardon?"
"What if I can't handle your transformations?" Severus blundered on. "What if you decide you don't like me? What if you sing in the mornings and I hex you?"
Remus laughed. It was a rich sound, and it sent shivers down Severus' spine again. "I think I've proven myself adequate as far as self-defence goes," he said. "And if I sing in the mornings I deserve to be hexed, as I couldn't carry a tune in a cauldron."
Severus swallowed again. "Why is that so easy for you to say?"
"Because I think I'm in love with you, Severus, and that's worth any sacrifice."
Appalled, Severus stared at him. As if that were any easier! But he moved forward slowly, unable to resist the lure of possibility. "What if I don't love you?" he whispered.
Remus shrugged slowly. "I think you do, if you'll only admit it." His gaze was warm. "Why don't you come inside, Severus. We can discuss this over a glass of Firewhiskey if you'd like, and--"
In the next instant Remus' voice was muffled and his Firewhiskey dropped to the floor. Severus had lunged forward and covered Remus' mouth with his own, his hands clutching Remus' shoulders as he bore Remus back against the wall just inside the door. Remus let out a soft moan and pushed the door shut, then lifted his hands to cradle Severus' head as they kissed. Their tongues tangled, dancing and exploring, as their bodies pressed together.
"Severus!" Remus gasped some minutes later. "What--"
"Don't speak," Severus whispered. His hands crept up to slide beneath Remus' dressing gown and push it off his shoulders. Whimpering, Remus reciprocated, divesting Severus of his jacket and shirt before allowing Severus to pull him close again.
Severus nipped and sucked at Remus' lower lip, one hand stroking his strong, clean-shaven jaw. He bent his head to trail kisses down Remus' throat, laving the hollow with careful attention. He gasped as Remus slid a hand between them to stroke his nipples, and then he groaned because Remus' wicked hands had travelled lower and were undoing the zip of his trousers.
"Yes," Remus whispered, and Severus walked him backwards until they found the sofa in the near-dark, by stumbling into it. Remus clutched at Severus and laughed softly, and then guided Severus down on top of him. A whispered word had the fire flaring back into life, giving them all the light they needed.
Severus gasped as he looked down at Remus, watching the way the firelight painted him golden and red, lighting his eyes with desire and more. "You are beautiful and clever, and I do need you," Severus breathed, and smiled at him, a true, wondering smile. "I want you, Remus. The real Remus, the one I became friends with during the war."
Remus shivered slightly. "Are you sure you know what you're asking?" he murmured.
Severus touched his chin again to get him to meet his gaze. "I know what I'm asking. The Remus I love is a complex man. I'm not afraid of him."
Remus lifted his head to kiss Severus deeply, shivering when Severus' fingers trailed down his backside and found his opening, circling tenderly. "I love you, Severus," Remus whispered when their lips parted. "It isn't going to go away in the morning, and I can't stand to be hurt again, not like this. If you leave me after this--"
Severus kissed him silent. "I won't," he said. "Not unless you tell me to go." With a nonverbal spell he provided lubrication and slid his finger inside Remus. "The past few weeks have driven me crazy. I even managed to nearly drive Draco away because I couldn't acknowledge my own jealousy. Not of Potter, but that Draco had someone who cared for him so much." Severus added a second finger, massaging Remus gently as he spoke. "I realised I was a fool to pass up what was so freely offered."
Remus was smiling up at him, but there was a shiny track from the corner of his eyes down his temples. "Good," he murmured. "It's about time you learned that."
And then Severus replaced his fingers with his cock, and the only noises either of them could make were noises of pleasure and need.
It felt so good, so right, as if he were full of electricity but grounded in Remus, as if Remus were all the magic in the world and he belonged to Severus. Their bodies moved together in a rhythm they found almost without trying, little whispered words and stolen kisses punctuating the noise of flesh against flesh. And it had been so long, so long for either of them, that the first time was short, too short, but it was like being teenagers again, when any little thing could set you off.
And they laughed together, both during and after, when they lay, not sated, but resting, in each other's arms, and they knew there would be another time tonight, and there would be tomorrow, and they would have each other's tomorrows as long as they lived.