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Yes, Master

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How can one begin a story like this?

If I told it to you straight through, from beginning to end, you would find it implausible. If I began in the middle, informing you that a cycle of continuity occluded both a starting and ending date to this affair, you would simply scoff, exhaling a long, pitying breath and rising to leave. If I jumped around in the timeline, a bald attempt to hold your attention by highlighting only those moments of drama or action, you would accuse me of narrative injustice.

How, then, can one tell this tale?

The tale itself involves two men – that much I can reveal. The reason I hesitate in my narration, however, is because to treat a story such as theirs as though it could be told conventionally, as though it fit the regular rules of plot and characterisation, would make a liar out of me. This is the tale of a master and his servant, although even that is too simple. Which is which, you might ask yourself? Is the servant going to be the man who is chained to the wall, his muscles tense and his breath coming in short, heated gasps, or the man folding his fingers slowly, lovingly around the handle of the whip? Moreover, is it the man who – look, there! You are already forming your judgements! You have already decided that this is not your sort of story, and you are wondering at this very moment how you might be able to quietly extricate yourself from my presence.

How on earth, in this situation, can one propose to narrate these events?

Perhaps it is the attempt at narration itself that is my folly. Perhaps you will need to see, with your own eyes, the magnitude of feeling involved in the relationship I propose to introduce to you. Perhaps, if you suffer my words awhile longer, the words themselves will drop away, and you will meet the master and his servant in the flesh. Does this appeal to you?

I thought it might.

Sit, then, and I shall introduce you to a man who served two masters, and another man who, over the course of this tale, obeyed him, bound him and eventually set him free.

Shall we begin?

***

Severus Snape was a perpetual continuity, neither starting nor ending. He lived to serve, and his own needs came second. He ate and drank, slept and woke, spied and reported. He existed, he instructed, he obeyed. There is no opening scene that can appropriately set the stage for the acceptance of an invitation, the establishment of a relationship, the coming of a storm. He bore the mark of a glowing green skull on one arm and summoned a silver doe with the other.

One man. Two masters.

Remus Lupin's quest was not to ignore those facts so much as imagine he could change them.

He could, in fact, change them – and he did. But that will happen later in this story. Not yet, not yet. We, like Lupin, must be patient. For now, the First War was gathering strength, and Lupin was only an unemployed werewolf, his fabled Gryffindor courage having bled away with the barely-concealed suspicions of his closest friends that he was Dark, evil, fraternising with the enemy.

Little did they know that that last, whispered fiercely into each other's ears when they thought he was safely stirring soup in the kitchen, was the very accusation that drove him to that enemy at last – the one he'd been resisting since school; the one who had always made his desire plain.

"What do you want?" Snape snarled at him when he arrived on the doorstep, his mouth moist and his eyes sharp.

In response, Lupin only pushed his way over the threshold, shoved his robe and then his button-down shirt off his shoulders, and dropped to his knees in Snape's living room, chest bare and head bowed. "Anything," he said to the worn carpet, clasping his hands behind his back.

He could tell the very moment every cell rearranged itself in Snape's body as he stared. He could tell that Snape wanted nothing more than to drop down in front of Lupin and shove his fingers through matted golden hair, dragging him to the floor and pushing their bodies together as he buried his face in Lupin's neck and ground out his need in choked gasps. But he could also tell that Severus Snape, servant to two masters already, would never allow himself to fall for the authority of a third.

Two was already too many. One was all he needed, the right one, the one who would care for him the way Dumbledore and Voldemort never had, the one who would not simply use him for their own gain and then throw him aside.

Lupin could already tell that Snape needed a master to whom he would matter, body and soul. But not yet. He wasn't ready. Not yet.

For now, Snape simply stared, his rapid breathing the only sign of his quick thinking, and then he acted, swiftly, in much the manner Lupin had expected. "Anything?" he murmured, his index finger sliding down Lupin's cheek, and Lupin nodded, once. "Very well," he said. "Stay there until I return."

Lupin breathed in deeply and settled his legs a bit further apart, for comfort. He didn't expect to see Snape again until the following morning, and that expectation was proven correct.

Snape entered the living room at seven a.m. with rare sunlight at his back and stopped short. Lupin resisted the urge to smile at his victory, to take pleasure in the success of his submission and the imminent praise of his new master. Let James and Sirius and Peter make all the accusations they pleased; let Lily glance sideways at him with frown lines etched in her forehead; let Dumbledore gently release him from his service as envoy to the werewolves. Let them all fight each other and fall by the side of the road without him, lost and bleeding.

There was one man left who thought him loyal. He would serve that man and no other. He would ensure that man was cared for, always.

"You're really serious," said Snape flatly, and it was the vague apprehension in his voice that Lupin latched onto, the tiny hint that the loyalty might go both ways, that convinced Lupin once and for all to sink his aching knees further into the carpet, spread his arms out wide, and murmur his reply.

"Yes, Master."

***

The war grew quiet, then louder, then quiet again.

Every time Lupin escaped Dumbledore's headquarters and found himself on his knees or on his back was neither the first nor the last, but simply part of the cycle of command, a continuity that began with Voldemort and Dumbledore directing orders to Snape, who then directed them – in quite a different form – to Lupin. Every time he found himself bowed low, unlacing Snape's boots with his teeth, was just one more part of the natural order of things. Every time he left Snape's quarters with come dripping casually down his thighs and long, red welts stinging under his shirt was only one of a series of middles.

Every time he spoke his telltale, whispered words, his body bruised and his most base desires fully satisfied, it was because he understood that he was the only man to whom Snape did not have to answer, the only one to whom the inveterate spy, the ultimate servant to both the Dark side and the Light could issue his own orders.

And so Lupin waited, bowed and compliant, for the end to come and a new beginning to unveil itself, for the day to arrive when the tides would turn and he and Snape alone would survive the storm, bonded and loyal only to each other, not to any other masters. In the meantime, he let his knees scrape over the bald carpet of Snape's house or the cold, stone floor of his laboratory as Snape murmured filth to him in hot, whispered breaths – Do you like to get dirty, werewolf? Take it deeper, you animal, and tell me you want it. Do you like that, Lupin? Is this what you want from me? – and he swallowed the thick load of come Snape fucked into his mouth, sat back, wiped his lips and murmured two simple words:

"Yes, Master."

***

There was pleasure in pain, power in submission and all of that, but that wasn't why Lupin did it.

He did it because to come in the presence of Severus Snape, because of Severus Snape, was a miracle in itself, a rare, gorgeous act of alignment between all the pieces of the universe. The hyperbole was more than warranted, in Lupin's mind, because nothing about Snape inspired words like pleasure or desire or even sex. Snape was a harsh, unsympathetic man who desired only power, not release.

For that reason, to watch Snape himself come was a miracle of an entirely different sort, because Lupin could see that orgasm was wrenched from Snape's body against his will, a symbol of weakness rather than control, a rare moment in which the servant of two masters bared his throat in vulnerability. It was at that moment, in fact, that Snape weathered three masters, not two, because at the moment of release, the moment when every tightly-wound cord in Snape's body broke free and the deep moan rising up from his chest shattered every bit of the façade he had so carefully built up, Lupin was in full command.

One night in August, Lupin knelt on the floor of Snape's room, naked except for the band of leather looped around his cock and balls, exerting gentle, stimulating pressure with no relief in sight, while above him, Snape held his wand at a precise angle and murmured a string of words. As Lupin glanced down, an elaborate band of intertwined serpents bled into the skin around his left bicep, the light from Snape's wand carving painlessly into Lupin's flesh.

"A Gryffindor marked with a serpent," Snape said with a smirk afterwards, before tracing the mark with his tongue. He'd fucked Lupin after that, pushing him face-down on the floor with the fingers of one hand curled around Lupin's bicep and the other on his hip, hauling him back onto Snape's cock over and over again. The pressure in Lupin's prick built up to such an extent that he threw off his customary silence and moaned, pleading into the floor for Snape to let him come, God, please, let him come.

Snape released the rings of leather at the exact moment of his orgasm, pouring himself into the body beneath him as Lupin's cock shuddered and pulsed against the floor, a searing pleasure-pain that ripped up his spine and exploded through the new magic around his arm. He recovered first, pushing himself up to his hands and knees and glancing back at Snape, who had collapsed over Lupin's back, panting, his softening cock still inside Lupin's body.

The two words Lupin always spoke after their trysts did not properly reflect the symbiosis of their relationship, the way Snape needed and answered to Lupin just as clearly as Lupin needed and answered to Snape, but if Snape understood that, he showed no sign. After his brief exhibit of such deep, moaning satiation, he hurried to refasten his trousers, collect himself and stride out the door, barely pausing to bark coordinates to Lupin for the time and place of their next meeting.

"Yes, Master," murmured Lupin, his head bowed and a delicate smile, born of a need fulfilled, playing about his lips.

***

The night the sickly green tattoo rose from Snape's arm up to the sky above Godric's Hollow was the night the game stopped.

Lupin didn't care whether Snape had anything to do with it.

Lupin didn't care whether it had all been part of an elaborate plan, intended to bring Voldemort down.

Lupin didn't care whether the personal was political, but just in case it was, he fled the country and took his submission with him. Snape chose to stay with Dumbledore and retreat to the safety of Hogwarts castle. He served no one anymore, and Lupin's error was in assuming that this broke their bond, rendering his own service useless as well.

A servant without a master, after all, was simply a fool on his knees.

***

Are you still listening, then? Do you see my dilemma now? The story twists and turns: just when you think it is developing a semblance of plot, it gets snatched away! No one in their right mind would listen to a tale like this if it were told mechanically, in linear fashion with a prescribed starting point.

How, for instance, should I cover the twelve years we are about to encounter, when one of our protagonists vanishes from the story entirely? Shall we surmise that he found himself gainful employment at a bookshop or perhaps abroad, where the details of his unfortunate condition could be masked by the excuses of an alien culture?

Or shall I disclose intensely personal details about him, elements of his life that he himself would likely never tell you? Ah, I see I have caught your interest again. You think this is a story about debauchery, about a sexuality so reliant on the exchange of power, bound in so much leather and chains that it should scandalise you, the casual passer-by. You want to be titillated by the details of the twelve years this man spent masterless, do you not? You wish to hear about how he denied his sexuality, finding satisfying rhythms with modest women and seeking a life of boring domesticity to counter the pull of the moon. You wish to hear about how he turned away from the company of men, blaming the deaths of James and Lily Potter on his own supposed deviance, since he was chained to a bed with Snape's cock up his arse when he should have been defending them from harm.

Alas, these things you wish to hear never happened.

He spent those twelve years waiting, listening and practicing. He spent them with men on their knees before him, lush and compliant when those two telltale words left their mouths, those words Lupin used to say to Snape as the sun rose and his clothing again piled over his skin. He spent them learning Dark magic Snape could never dream of, and all the proper defences against it. He spent them with a whip in his hand and warm, clenching bodies lowered around his prick, with chests smeared with sweat and mouths gasping his name, with his fingers pulled tight in long hair he wished was blacker, oilier.

He spent those twelve years in the company of servants who called him Master, and he licked a trail down every one of them, biding his time until his real master called him home.

***

When the call finally came, it was from Dumbledore, not Snape, and it was a job offer, not an invitation to fuck. Lupin immediately saw the connection between the two, however, and accepted on the condition (which he kept to himself) that one should lead to the other.

He Owled Dumbledore back at 11:29 p.m. on a summer evening in Cardiff.

At midnight, a return owl tapped on his window.

Upon arrival, you will report to me before anyone else. There are certain conditions for your employment here. Should you not meet them, your position will be terminated.

A signature was not only unnecessary but would have been insulting. Lupin tried to control the jolt that sped up his spine upon reading the note, reminding himself that things were different now.

Unless they weren't. Unless the twelve years of time since Godric's Hollow had not in fact been a steady march forward but a cycle back around to the same starting point: a new war was coming, and with it would come Snape's renewed allegiance to his masters. Lupin knew about Quirrell and the Chamber; he knew of convicts on the run and Dementors that wished to steal his breath. He knew exactly what awaited him at the other end of the train ride: a cluttered classroom, three warm meals a day, and a cold dungeon floor.

It was the latter he anticipated most.

When he arrived, he did as Snape had asked and reported to the dungeons, knocking at Snape's door and waiting patiently. When it opened, Snape stood before him with lines around his eyes and a mouth that turned down even further than Lupin remembered. Perfect. Snape said nothing but swept him inside, the heavy door clanging shut behind them.

Lupin found himself naked and bound across Snape's desk before he had even said hello. His hands gripped the far corners and his back stretched out, the cool dungeon air sweeping over the backs of his thighs. He sank into the pose and let his cheek rest against the rough wood, his legs tense and his arse on display.

Snape said nothing, but he hovered over Lupin's back, dry fingertips tracing lightly down his skin as slow, steady breaths fogged the air over Lupin's head. "Who else has had you, I wonder?" he murmured, one finger dipping into Lupin's cleft and circling his arse. "In twelve years, how many men have sunk their pricks into you, fucked you raw and left you filthy?" His voice was maddeningly calm, and Lupin exhaled a slow breath to keep from shuddering. "Too few, perhaps... Is that why you're here?" He paused, his fingertip pushing just inside. "Don't be afraid to admit it, Lupin: you missed me, didn't you?" The low voice faded away along with the finger, and Lupin closed his eyes at the sound of Snape's zip sliding down – click click click – and fabric shifting around before Snape was pressed up against the backs of Lupin's thighs, the zip scratching at bare skin as Snape's cock pushed into him, a layer of oil only an afterthought.

He recited the rules for Lupin as he fucked him, bruising his hips with each thrust forward into the desk. You will never spend the night here. You will report to me at six a.m. every day, wearing a collar around your neck. The desk thumped and Lupin's hands curled around the edges, his cheek rubbed raw. You will kneel on my command, no matter where you are or what students may be nearby. Fingernails scratched down his back, a sensation that shot straight to Lupin's prick. You will drink the Wolfsbane, and you will not come anywhere near me for three days on either side of the full moon. That includes entering the Great Hall when I am present. The thumps of the desk grew erratic as Snape finished, a low, grunting moan escaping his mouth and falling over Lupin's back. Wet heat filled him and slid out again when Snape withdrew, and he tried to relax his thighs.

The zip sounded again, faster this time – clickclickclick – and air rushed in to replace the warmth of Snape's body against Lupin's back. He knew what was coming, and he tried to keep the smile off his lips.

"Stay there," commanded Snape, right on cue. "I shall want you again in the morning." The sound of his boots faded away as Snape retreated to the bedroom, and Lupin let out a slow breath, willing his prick to either come, or deflate.

"Yes, Master," he murmured, pleased to be home again at last.

***

At half eleven on a cool Tuesday night in October, with Sirius on the run (again) and Lupin's nondescript cottage creaking ever closer to falling straight into the sea, Snape Apparated to his doorstep and knocked once, his fist connecting with the wood harder than any piece of brass could. Lupin waited his customary seven seconds before answering, long enough to irritate Snape and make him rub his hands together to ward off the chill, but not long enough to earn severe punishment.

Lupin enjoyed maintaining that balance in all their activities.

Once, when he had waited only four seconds, Snape had swept through the door with a look of profound disappointment on his face, as though to tell Lupin that if he was not even going to attempt resistance, he simply was not worth Snape's time. As punishment, Snape had downed a cup of tea, tapped his fingers against the torn arm of the sofa and then abruptly left without another word, leaving Lupin irritated, confused, and more aroused than he'd wanted to admit.

Once, when he had waited an entire ten seconds, Snape had barged through the door with his eyes flashing and immediately thrown a magically conjured loop of rope around Lupin's neck, shoving him down to his knees against the wall. He'd torn his trousers open and pushed his dick in Lupin's face, pulling up on the rope when Lupin failed to suck hard enough, or wetly enough, or with too much scraping (Snape said) of sharp, werewolf teeth. Lupin's own prick spasmed to completion in his trousers that night, as his breath faded and the swirls of colour behind his eyes sharpened the sensation of Snape's come splashing over his cheek and down his neck.

Now he knew to wait precisely seven seconds.

"What news?" he said to Snape tonight, closing the door behind him and standing erect but submissive beside him, arms at his sides.

"I do not report to you," said Snape with a curl of his lip, not wasting any time in throwing his cloak to the floor.

"You have reported to Dumbledore, then?"

"I have fulfilled my orders and given all required reports," he said, his eyes on Lupin. "They can ask no more of me than that." He began unbuttoning his shirt, arousal already etched on his face as his eyes dropped down Lupin's body.

No, Lupin supposed, anticipating the bruising grip closing around his bicep and hauling him to the bedroom. They could not.

"Tonight I want you on your back," added Snape, pushing his shirt off his shoulders, and Lupin nodded, electricity jolting through him.

"Yes, Master."

***

Grimmauld Place proved both a help and a hindrance to their little game – which had long since ceased to be a game, really, and had become a powerful bond neither of them could shatter. The various nooks and crannies of the old house provided ample opportunities for abbreviated, secret meetings filled with grunts and palms and wet lips and the sheer taboo of fucking, slick and messy and as quickly as possible while the headmaster brewed tea in the other room, or those godforsaken children exploded bits of candy over the banister. The presence of just those elements, on the other hand, also inhibited the privacy Snape and Lupin had come to enjoy at Lupin's creaking cottage, and so, a careful balance had to be maintained.

They were rather used to that, though, and neither was prepared to give the other up. Anything but that.

"You will wear this as I give my report," whispered Snape one night, fastening a thick, leather collar around Lupin's throat and tightening it just enough to delay his air with mild discomfort. "You will accept that I have full command over you."

Even when you barely have it over yourself, Lupin didn't say, nodding once and closing his eyes as Snape pulled the edge of Lupin's shirt and then his robe up to hide the collar.

Lupin endured the meeting in a state of blissful light-headedness, watching with detachment as Snape's lips formed over words like Dark Lord and trusted servant and valuable operation. He watched as Dumbledore steepled his fingers together over the kitchen table and nodded, absorbing Snape's words before cutting him off at last, rising from his seat and taking command. His eyes swept around the table, now ignoring Snape entirely, before he issued further instructions to each member of the Order, co-opting Snape's intelligence and pursuing his own course of action.

"Headmaster, is it really wise to–" Snape attempted to interject after a few moments, his brow creasing as he heard of Shacklebolt's new mission.

"Yes, Severus," snapped Dumbledore, turning to him and flashing ice and malice in his eyes. "It is. You are dismissed."

When the meeting ended, Snape stood quietly beside the door, withstanding even Sirius's best attempts to rile him up, and when the others had all dispersed, he hauled Lupin upstairs, threw him on the bed, Vanished his clothing while fastening his wrists to each corner of the headboard, and tore open his own trousers.

"If you want lubrication, you'd better do it yourself," he grumbled, and Lupin held his gaze, lips parted and shoulders already aching from the awkward angle of the bonds.

With a slow, deliberate movement, he shook his head, still not taking his eyes off Snape, and Snape's low moan was worth the imminent discomfort.

"Stupid bloody beast," grunted Snape, barely shoving his trousers down his hips before fisting his prick to hardness and falling on top of Lupin. He licked his fingers and pushed them against Lupin's arse for minimal preparation, and then wasted no more time in shoving roughly inside, working his way in with shallow thrusts and constant shifts of his hips. He paused halfway, panting hard and glaring murderously down at Lupin. "Stupid beast," he repeated, before muttering his own lubrication charm.

Lupin spread his legs wider as the charm took effect and Snape's cock plunged deeply inside him, fucking him without finesse or care. Snape grunted and shoved, taking his rage out on the only person who would acquiesce to it, and Lupin let himself take pleasure in the unfettered abuse of his body, the roughness only Snape could give him, the way his bound hands prevented him from touching his own thick cock where it rested on his stomach, pressure building throughout his body.

Snape's fingernails scratched into Lupin's lower back when he came, hauling Lupin's body up and forward and clutching his hips as he emptied himself.

"You'd better not leave before taking care of that," murmured Lupin, glancing down at his prick as Snape pulled out of him, and Snape barked a laugh.

"Take care of it yourself," he sneered. "I'm done with you." He sat back on his heels but otherwise did not move, and Lupin pressed his advantage.

"No, you aren't. Suck my dick, Severus," said Lupin calmly, his body alight with the power of command.

A flicker of confusion flashed across Snape's face as he wet his lips, and Lupin could see him trying to process the order, and what was required of him to obey. "Fine," he declared at last, his tone annoyed and defiant, but he bent and took Lupin's cock in his mouth nonetheless, sucking him in a similar manner to the fucking – quick, rough and dirty.

As his body responded and his orgasm neared, Lupin murmured his own spell to tighten the collar around his throat a fraction more, curling his hands into fists beyond the wrist bonds and closing his eyes to everything but the feel of wet lips around his prick and flashes of colour in every nerve ending. With another bout of wandless concentration and a raspy word, he released the collar entirely and let it fall around his shoulders, sucking in a deep breath as pleasure exploded throughout his body, and he pulsed hotly in Snape's mouth.

Snape lifted his mouth away and spat on the floor, angry eyes on Lupin, but as he wiped his lips, the anger was replaced by wonder. "How did you get that off?" he snapped, gesturing at the collar hanging limply around Lupin's shoulders. "That's my own spell; how did you know it?"

In response, Lupin only whispered another word at each wrist, watching the bonds slither away as he sat up in the bed, his body still thrumming with post-orgasmic bliss. "Do you really think you're the only one with the power to bind?" he asked quietly, pushing himself off the bed. "We are in this together, Severus. The two of us." He strode across the room and picked up his far-flung clothing, dressing himself with slow, methodical movements.

"How dare you?" said Snape, his voice low and fierce, but he had not yet left the bed. "You are mine, wolf, do you understand me? Mine, to do with as I please. I do not take orders from you, and you do not challenge my authority!"

Lupin finished buttoning his shirt and, the rest of his clothing neatly in place, he turned to the door. "Yes, Master," he said softly, bowing his head, but when he left the room, Snape still had not moved.

***

Lupin expected many things in the war – tragedies and losses and battles unpredicted – but he never anticipated Dumbledore's death, nor the manner in which it occurred.

Unless he did. Unless he'd waited fifteen years for the bonds tying Snape to the old man to snap, for one of the two puppet strings holding Snape's arms in the air to finally collapse, leaving Snape half-sagged to the floor.

Lupin did not wait for the customary summons. He sought Snape out at Spinners' End, recreating the scene of their first meeting by sweeping through the door and standing in the living room, but the difference was that this time, he did not drop to his knees. Snape did not slam the door behind him but let it fall gently shut, buoyed by wind and the air currents wrought by Lupin's robe as he strode inside, and he lingered in the entranceway, watching Lupin appraise his living room.

"Come here," began Lupin after a long silence, turning at last and beckoning to Snape.

Snape hesitated, his chin lifted and his eyes darting around the room, waiting, no doubt, for the blow to fall. "Yes, I killed him," he sneered at last, not moving towards Lupin, "so you can spare me the theatrics."

"I know that," said Lupin, "and I don't care. I told you to come here."

Snape's nostrils flared. "I do not take orders from you," he bit out, but the words lacked conviction. He watched Lupin.

"No?" said Lupin quietly. "Then who do you take orders from?" He wouldn't say the Dark Lord, Lupin knew he wouldn't. He would be lost now, stumbling through the war with only one puppet string supporting half of his body. Lupin wouldn't allow it. He would step in himself to support him rather than let Snape fall. With careful patience, he waited.

"I follow my own orders," said Snape, lifting his chin even higher, and Lupin laughed, shaking his head.

"Come here, Severus," he repeated, the laughter fading and his eyes slicing through Snape. "I won't say it again."

Wetting his lips and breathing deeply, Snape took one step, then two, and then three. In a few more seconds, he had crossed the entranceway and entered the living room, stopping before Lupin.

Lupin smiled, raising his index finger and tracing it lightly down Snape's cheek. Snape had lost his first master. That was when the cracks began to appear.

***

Snape's first mistake as a master had been in allowing Lupin his freedom. His second had been in not sufficiently cultivating Lupin's jealousy. By marrying Nymphadora Tonks, Lupin endeavoured, in his increasing mastery over Snape, not to repeat those mistakes.

Ah, perhaps I must pause here again, because I see that you are sceptical. How could the cultivation of jealousy possibly strengthen a bond already nearly iron-clad? You will recall, of course, that at the end of their first round of war, Lupin and Snape parted ways, stretching their bond over time and distance nearly to the point of snapping. Without the proper fear of each taking another lover, gaps seeped into their union. As the end of this second round of war neared, however, Lupin vowed not to repeat that mistake. Voldemort would soon either win or die; if he won, Lupin, and possibly Snape was well, likely would not be alive to bother with any of this, and if he died...

Lupin wished to ensure that he and Snape would not be parted again. Only the most secure allegiances could survive the tests of time, of war, and of infidelity. They had weathered the first two; now to deal with the last.

Was it fair to Tonks? Certainly not. Was a child meant to be part of the bargain? Merlin, no. But the game had already been adjusted several times before. It was malleable, and it would adapt to this, too.

"You... what?" Snape rose over his desk in the Headmaster's office, palms flat and shoulders rigid.

"You heard me, Severus. Don't make me repeat it."

"I did not give you permission to marry." His nostrils flared as he rose to his full height, glaring down his nose at Lupin.

"Mm. Permission," mused Lupin, strolling over to Snape's desk with his hands in his pockets. "Indeed. What shall you do with me, then?"

"You vowed, all those years ago," snarled Snape, "to do anything for me. Have you already forgotten your promises?"

"I have done everything you've asked," insisted Lupin, meeting Snape's gaze.

"Except this."

"This is not an exception. Can't you see?" He paused, trying another tack. "She is useful," he said. "If you permit me, Master, I can extract information from her that may be helpful to you. And to him."

Snape paused at this, searching Lupin's eyes. In a few short steps, he came face to face with Lupin, only inches of breath separating them. He lowered his voice to an angry purr. "You are mocking me. You are mocking my allegiance to the Dark Lord."

The flashes of rage in Snape's eyes seared through Lupin and once again, he found himself dropping to his knees, his head bowed. "No, Master," he murmured. "I was only trying to help."

"Does she satisfy you?" asked Snape, gripping Lupin's chin between his thumb and forefinger and twisting his head up.

Lupin hesitated, practically listening for the moment the hairs on the back of Snape's neck would rise in black envy, sealing his devotion.

"Answer me!" he bellowed. "Does your sorry prick take pleasure in her?"

"Occasionally," Lupin ground out, lowering his eyes to the floor as Snape released his chin with a harsh shove. "I didn't think there would be any opportunities to see you, now that..." He trailed off, gesturing around the headmaster's office.

"Did I give you permission to go elsewhere?" Snape demanded, and Lupin sighed. He chanced a glance up at Snape and when he saw concern rather than anger etched across the man's face, he rose to his feet again.

"With your permission, Master," he murmured, running a hand through Snape's hair and then down his shoulder, his arm, and ending with fingers gliding over Snape's, "I must go elsewhere, at least until the war is over. The master you serve is yours alone. Not mine. If we survive this, then you may look for me again." He squeezed Snape's hand and leaned in to brush a soft kiss over his lips before turning to leave, his chest heaving both with the magnitude of his insubordination, and his bone-chilling fear that even if they did survive, Snape would not look for him.

"Lupin!" roared Snape as he reached the door, and Lupin paused for a moment with his hand on the knob, waiting for the command, but it never came.

"No, Master," he whispered to himself as he left, disguising himself and sneaking through the hallways undetected. "Not anymore."

***

The war grew quiet, then louder, then louder twice over again. The noise grew to such a magnitude, in fact, that it became impossible to sleep, nearly impossible to breathe. War raged on every doorstep, in every ale-drenched alley, in every corner of Wizarding Britain. It finally arrived at Hogwarts with a bang rather than a whisper, bodies piled high around Harry Potter's last stand.

The battlefield stretched from a blood-soaked forest to chipped stone on the steps before the Great Hall. Lupin watched his former students die. Then, he watched his wife die.

Here, again, the words we need to tell this story escape us. He loved her as much as he was able, but never as much as he loved Snape. There were no other words for it than that.

Do you doubt that this is a love story? I told you at the start that it would be unconventional, and so it has been. You sense desire between these two men, surely, and possibly even a blood-deep loyalty that neither has been able to break, even after fifteen years and two wars, but do you sense love? Can you see it, dripping with each rivulet of sweat down Lupin's back as Snape surges inside him, or blotted like ink in the serpent tattoo coiled around Lupin's arm?

I cannot make you see it, if you refuse. I can only narrate as best I am able, trying to use mere words to convey an emotion poorly sketched in letters and text-based symbols. The rest you shall have to imagine, as the battle rages on around us.

At the final moment of confrontation, when Harry at last spoke the words he'd been meant to speak his entire life, when he finally defeated Voldemort and the war against evil fell silent, Lupin watched from the other end of the Hall, his breath stolen and his eyes wide. As the body hit the floor, he saw a shadow appear at the door, and he turned his head.

Severus Snape, his neck swathed in a torn patch from his robe, had staggered into the Hall just as Voldemort fell. He watched the body collapse with wide, blank eyes, before turning to look at Lupin. Without pausing to think, relying only on instinct and trust, he gazed at Lupin and then dropped to his knees.

Lupin reached out for him, grasping his shoulder and keeping him upright as Snape sank against him, folded in half and gasping for breath as he watched the last of his masters fade away like so much dust.

***

A meeting occurred later that summer. It was headed by Minerva McGonagall and attended by several former members of the Order of the Phoenix, the surviving school staff, and all Board of Governors representatives who were not in prison.

Lupin sat in a high-backed chair, wishing it had arms on which to rest his elbows, and only occasionally following the conversation.

"The curriculum really will need to focus on recovery!" someone was saying, index finger raised to add clout to an already shrill, insistent voice. "These poor children – with all they've been through!"

His gaze settled on a pair of boots across the room from him, rooted stiffly to the floor where they anchored a man robed in black, as he had always been, fully recovered from his battle injuries and wearing his customary frown. No, the frown was not exceptional, nor the dark robes, nor the firm boots. What had drawn Lupin's gaze was the hollowness in Snape's eyes. They fixated neither on Minerva, nor on anyone else in the room, nor on any specific tapestry or portrait. They wandered occasionally, sweeping over the room's occupants, but they observed nothing. It took a good part of the hour for Lupin to realise what was wrong with them:

They didn't know what they were looking for.

They didn't know what they were looking for, because no one had told them what to look for.

Lupin breathed deeply through his nose and contemplated what he should do with this information – or, rather, this mere confirmation of information he had been expecting, with some trepidation, since Dumbledore's death.

"And then, of course, there is the crucial question of who should assume the role of headmaster!"

Lupin glanced up at Minerva then, watching her gesture with her hands and pose the question with great concern to the assembled group.

"I myself could certainly take over, of course, but that would be up to the Board. Severus, what do you propose? As Hogwarts' last headmaster, you should have a say."

Lupin watched Snape's vacant eyes snap up to meet hers, his face impassive. "My tenure hardly counted," he said, his voice devoid of emotion. "Do as you please."

"Well, but, surely you have an opinion? I think everyone here understands the pressure you were under last year, and we all agree that you did the best you could to protect the school and its students..." Minerva chattered on a while longer, and others in the group contributed their opinions on both the headmaster situation and Snape's avoidance of it.

"It is no longer my concern," Snape tried again when asked directly. Lupin had never seen him look so uncomfortable, and Minerva grew visibly irritated.

"Severus, honestly. Your pity play will not work with me. As a former and potentially current headmaster of this school, I require your input as to the–"

"I don't care!" Snape bellowed, rising from his chair and looming over the cowering room. "It is not my school, not my bloody problem, and I do not care what you do with it." At that, he stormed out of the meeting, slamming the door closed behind him.

Later, after Minerva had continued on as best she could and set a course for Hogwarts to reopen as planned on September first, the others filed out and Lupin approached her. She glanced at him. "How can he not care?" she asked, shaking her head, and Lupin placed a hand on her arm.

"He's upset," said Lupin. "I'll speak to him." She nodded, removing her tiny glasses to wipe them clean, and when she replaced them, Lupin sought her eyes again. "It's not that he doesn't care," he said quietly. "It's that he doesn't know."

Her mouth fell open a little bit.

"He's done nothing but take orders from others for twenty years," Lupin continued. "I expect it will be some time before he can form his own opinions on matters such as this."

In the meantime, and possibly for longer than that, he would need to be given new orders, Lupin decided.

***

War moves in circles; do you see that now? Where one ends, another begins. But you did not choose to read this tale for its discourse on the transitory nature of power.

Your interest, if it has held this long, is in much more base pursuits, is it not? You wish to see Snape's adaptation to his new role. You wish to see Lupin subdue him, taking over control of his tasks and his happiness. You wish for this story to delve into climax and then fade into denouement, just as a proper story should, its protagonists skipping merrily off together once all conflicts have been resolved.

How many times must I insist that this is not a conventional story?

Snape resumed his position as Potions Master at Hogwarts. It was comfortable, after all, a job he knew intimately and performed well.

Lupin tried and failed to raise his son alone, finally giving primary custody to Tonks's mother and visiting at weekends. On Andromeda's orders, he was not to go near the boy for three days on either side of the full moon, and if that happened to coincide with the weekend, so be it; she would not bend on that rule. The gap it left in his life was larger than he would ever have anticipated, the accompanying lack of purpose haunting him.

When he met with Snape, the affair as secret as ever but with new rules and fewer inhibitions, he began to see that the same lack of purpose haunted Snape. They were not twenty years old anymore. Changed by life, war, and sex so invested in scarred psyches it required chains and safe words as foreplay alone, our protagonists embarked on a new course.

"Kneel before me," Lupin would say, the words unfamiliar on his lips, not used in years and never before in Snape's presence, never before because of Snape, but he had to try it and see if it would work. He had know whether it would give them both a new purpose.

But Snape knew the game, feared its shift and wouldn't play it. "No," he would murmur, his mouth turned down but his prick visibly hard in his trousers, not masking any of the desire the command so obviously invoked.

"So be it." Lupin was not interested in games anymore. He aimed his wand at Snape's wrists and bound him to the bed, crawling over him and sinking down on his prick before Snape could get in any more ugly words or protests. Snape would not yet kneel, but he would still fuck, hard as ever and with the same grip of sweaty palms and slip of wet-red lips.

Every time, Lupin would slow his pace to a crawl, gently rotating his hips and lifting himself up and down so as to cause barely a ripple in Snape's arousal, pulling control away from him bit by bit.

"God, Lupin, move," Snape would moan, clutching at his hips and trying to drive upward, but Lupin would only push him back down with a firm hand over his chest.

"Not until you beg," he would murmur, his voice cold and raw in the chill of Snape's dungeons.

It never took long. After this many years together, Lupin knew exactly what to do to make Snape unravel, and he did it, over and over again, with hard stone against his back or stained sheets gripped in his fingers, his thighs tense and his eyes rolling out of focus. Snape needed him, that much was clear, needed to take the orders just as much as Lupin needed to give them. Snape lived to serve a master, and he lived to clutch at Lupin's skin in the dead of night. The idea of merging the two was more than overdue.

"Lupin," he would groan, thrusting in hard, but some part of his subconscious would always hold off until Lupin gave the command.

"Not yet, Severus. Not yet."

His prick throbbed in Lupin's body, sending delicious waves of pleasure up Lupin's spine, but still he held off until the pleas became more insistent. "Let me," he would whisper, his lips dry. "God, let me just–"

"Will you call me Master?" Lupin began to ask after a suitable amount of time had passed since the final battle. He would raise himself off Snape's body and slam back down, pinning Snape's arms to the bed. "Will you bend over for me at last, kneel before me and take my cock?" He would clench over Snape's shaft and twist his fingers painfully over his nipples, causing a sharp gasp.

"I have no master," Snape would insist, eyes squeezed shut against the demands of his body, both fearing and aching for the consequences of submission.

"Do not lie to me!" At that Lupin would pull himself off Snape, letting Snape's thick cock fall back to his stomach and sit, ignored and glistening, as Lupin rose from the bed and dressed quickly. "Call when you are ready to submit," he would bark over his shoulder, striding out the door, and the sound of Snape punching his fist into the wall always brought a smile to his lips.

The night Snape finally submitted was many months, many years in coming, but it was worth every second of waiting.

***

The dungeon was quiet as a shadow, each footfall echoing against the damp stone.

"This is where it all began," Lupin called over his shoulder, his voice as even as he could make it, and his slow pace dropping his boots against the floor with the steady rhythm of a leaking faucet, or gently splashing drops of blood. "Do you remember – here in this dungeon with your Slytherin cronies, wondering about what a laugh it would be to join Voldemort, stamp your arm?" He paused. "Kill and maim, as it were."

A fogged, barely audible huff of breath sounded against the wall, and Lupin turned his head.

"Surely you don't disagree?"

The huff of breath was tampered off by sealed lips, already kissed brick-red.

"You called him Lord, that much I know, but I wonder: did you ever call him Master?"

"You know I did not," the voice spoke up at last.

"I know nothing of what you offered him, or what he took."

"You know everything," murmured Snape. "You always have."

"I did not say you could speak!" barked Lupin, pausing in his pacing, and Snape's mouth snapped shut, a flush rising on his cheeks. Oh, but that was intoxicating, Lupin thought, breathing in the scent of sex and sweat and submission that dripped from the body before him. "I have already used you once tonight," he continued. "Do you wish for a repeat performance? Answer me."

Snape did not answer, but merely glared, his hair hanging loose around his shoulders and his arms stretched up where the bonds chained him to the stone wall.

Still so very insubordinate, Lupin mused as he moved closer to Snape and breathed in his scent. Transferring the whip to his right hand, he bent down and moved his left between Snape's spread legs, sliding his fingers over Snape's balls and back, higher, through the come still trickling from his arse. Snape closed his eyes and moaned, his lips falling open and his hips pushing forward against Lupin's hand. His eyes opened only slightly, hooded and desperate, and his tongue swept out to wet his lips.

"Lupin," he breathed, his body writhing, but he immediately clenched his throat around the name. Lupin pressed in close, biting at Snape's earlobe as his fingers pushed inside.

Snape was tottering on the very brink of submission, wanting to embrace it completely but unable to let go again, to let himself trust once more in the service of another. Lupin knew this, but he also knew that without a master, Snape would be lost forever, wandering idly with neither purpose nor acclaim. What a waste that would be.

"Answer me," whispered Lupin, twisting his fingers inside Snape and watching the sheen on his face as he struggled to keep his features impassive. "You spread for me so nicely earlier, taking my cock like the desperate slut you are–"

Snape swallowed hard, closing his eyes again.

"–begging me to use you, just like they did, your previous masters."

Snape's eyes flew open at that, but he bit down on his bottom lip to avoid making a sound as Lupin's fingers fucked him with steady, shallow motions.

"Ah." Lupin smiled, his lips moving over Snape's neck. "Not quite the same, then? Not like this?" He let his thumb slide backwards to brush over Snape's balls, and Snape's lips parted with a silent gasp. "No, I should hope not. But you see my point, surely." He withdrew his hand, dragging it up over Snape's thickened cock before resting it over Snape's stomach, his thumb tracing lazy circles over the slit. "Tell me you don't want this," he whispered. His belt buckle, still unfastened from earlier and hanging from his trousers, brushed over Snape's hip. "Tell me you don't want to submit to me."

At Snape's stony face, Lupin took a step backward and tightened the bonds at Snape's wrists and ankles, spreading him flat against the wall. He lifted the whip again and let it slide through the fingers of his other hand, daring Snape to look.

"Say it, Severus," he warned. "Tell me you'll submit to me."

Still Snape refused to speak. Waiting through ten seconds of silence, Lupin finally grabbed his wand and pointed it at Snape's prick, a look of alarm lighting in Snape's dark eyes. The most intoxicating part of it all was knowing exactly how strong Snape still was, exactly how capable he was of pushing free of the bonds, grabbing his wand back and hexing Lupin within an inch of his life. That he did not do so, regardless of any other display of protest he performed, was all the permission Lupin needed.

You need this, he begged Snape silently. Release your inhibitions and you will become strong again.

With a series of murmured words and a criss-cross of his wand, Lupin stepped back and tilted his head, admiring his work. A series of golden threads, faintly glowing, coiled around Snape's cock and balls, just smaller than his erection warranted. The pain would be minimal but the pressure nearly unbearable, and Lupin wet his lips.

The dungeon grew warm as Lupin continued his pacing, his boots hitting the floor again with rhythmic precision and his vest growing damp as the sweat trickled down his back. As soon as he'd bound Snape to that wall, his serpent tattoo had begun to tingle, the power of Snape's imminent submission bleeding into Lupin's veins in a way Snape had surely never intended when he had branded Lupin so, all those years ago. The master-servant relationship was powerful, the serpent knew that, but it neither knew nor cared which man played which role. Watching Snape's submission unfold before it, the magic in the room thrumming through both their bodies, was enough to set the serpent alight, licking at the flesh over Lupin's bicep with barely contained desire.

"Say it," he repeated, relishing the way Snape refused to look down at the rings binding his prick.

"No." Snape's dry lips formed around the word carefully, his gaze locked on Lupin.

Without warning, Lupin raised the whip and cracked it across Snape's thighs, hard enough to cut but not to damage. Snape sucked in a breath and said nothing, but Lupin noticed the way his bound prick had jumped. "Do you see this, Severus?" said Lupin, dragging the whip through the rings up Snape's cock. "Do you see how your body responds to the bindings, the way it responds to me, to my commands?"

Snape licked his lips, and his eyes grew soft. His bollocks stretched tight inside the lowest ring, while a tiny trail of blood dripped from his thigh. He was bruised and gorgeous but stronger than ever because of it, exactly how Lupin wanted him. "I don't need you," he whispered, his voice low and raw, and Lupin raised the whip again.

He struck a blow over Snape's right shoulder before landing another diagonally across his chest, opening a beautiful thin line of raised red.

"God," breathed Snape, the lines of his face dissolving into pleasure as he struggled to regain his control, the needs of his body spiralling further and further away from him.

"No, you don't," agreed Lupin, "but I want you to. I want you; is that clear yet, Severus? I want you as you, a man who submits on his own terms, for the master who cares more for him than any of the others. Unlike them, I do not order you to do anything that I know you don't already wish to do. Do you feel that?" said Lupin, his voice rising as he slung the whip over his shoulder and sauntered away again, his boots thick on the echoing floor. "Give it another second, Severus, and the burn will kick in. You've felt it before, surely – the way a dose of well-timed pain at a moment of arousal can enhance pleasure to such a degree that you shall be begging me for more, begging to serve me?"

"I need no master," Snape spat, his cheeks flushed and his prick straining to escape the rings, "as you well know. You serve me, Lupin. Cease this insubordination at once!"

Lupin whirled around and strode back across the room, slashing the whip over Snape's chest again before falling over him and licking the blood away, his palms planted against the wall under Snape's spread arms. "Things change," he bit out, dragging his teeth over Snape's collarbone. "You only let me serve you when you yourself were serving another. All of that is gone now." He paused, kissing Snape fiercely before drawing back, his teeth clenched lightly over Snape's bottom lip. He released it at last and stepped back, raising the whip again. "Serve me, Severus. Say it. Tell me you want nothing but this, and give your life a new purpose. Serve with me."

Snape's head dropped between his shoulders as his prick visibly pulsed, a low, reluctant moan escaping his lips.

"You are really trying my patience," muttered Lupin. He aimed his wand again at the threads around Snape's cock, this time murmuring an incantation to set them to motion. They slowly began to move, shimmying up Snape's shaft with aching timidity and low pressure, beginning again at the bottom when each reached the top. The sensation would drive him mad but wouldn't be enough to bring him to orgasm. Satisfied, Lupin shoved his wand back in his pocket and then approached Snape again. "Say it."

"Lupin..." warned Snape, his chest rising and falling rapidly and his thighs tense.

"Tell me this is what you want," shouted Lupin, flinging the whip at him again and watching his bollocks tighten as a new welt rose up on his shoulder. "Tell me I am the only one who can do this to you, who can control your pleasure and give you what you want."

"God, yes," Snape choked out at last, his face etched with desire and his hips straining forward.

"Yes, what?" snarled Lupin. "If you don't need me, then you can set that spell yourself." He nodded at Snape's prick where the golden threads continued to squeeze up and down. "If you don't need a master, then you can go ahead and wank yourself raw with that charm."

His face damp with sweat and his hands balled into fists beyond the wrist bonds, Snape raised his eyes to the ceiling. "You know I will not. You know I will wait for you," he breathed. "God, let me come," he added, his voice dripping with need, and Lupin fought down a surge of triumph mixed with relief.

"Tell me this is what you want."

"It's what I want. Lupin, let me–"

"Tell me you need me."

"I– God. Yes. I need you."

"Tell me you'll serve me."

Snape's entire body was pulled taut with agony. "Yes," he choked out.

"Yes, what?" shouted Lupin, raising the whip one last time and crashing it down over Snape's left hip.

"Yes, Master!" groaned Snape, and in a split second, Lupin lifted the charm and the golden threads squeezed Snape's prick, hard and fast, and it convulsed with all the energy of long-suppressed pleasure. Come splashed across Lupin's whip as he stepped back, watching the lines of Snape's face melt away as he threw his head back and let his orgasm rip through his tired limbs. His mouth fell open in a deep groan as come smeared over his stomach and dripped down his thighs, and when the last aftershocks subsided and he hung limply against the wall, his legs shaking and his breath coming in short, staccato gasps, he wet his lips, gazed straight into Lupin's eyes and repeated the words in a low, exhausted, reverent whisper.

"Yes, Master."

***

You expect the story to end now, I imagine. But where does one end a story like this? You can see the cycle now, the way the master and servant must co-exist, taking and giving in equal measure, but perhaps the words constrained you.

Here is where the words bleed away, then, and the master and servant blossom into flesh in your imagination. Go back. Look at them together, the way their need for each other glows on every surface of their skin, on every line of their faces. You need to see, with your own eyes, the magnitude of feeling involved in the relationship I have endeavoured to introduce to you.

Do you see it?

Can you feel it?

Do you understand it?

If the answer is No, sorry, not quite – take heart. To empathise with the desires of a man who served two masters and the man who set him free is to allow yourself to submit as well, to let this tale bind you. Not all of you will be ready for that. For those who are, step forward. Stories like this never end, after all, they simply continue, the cycle of command reaching out for a new master, a new servant.

If you are ready, we shall begin.

 

-fin-