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"Remus, please!" Harry slumped farther down in his seat at the Three Broomsticks, turning his pint of pumpkin juice in his hands.

"Sirius has been dead a long time, Harry. It's all right just to let it go."

"I was responsible." He overrode Remus' sputter of objections. "There's got to be some way I can . . . I don't know. Make it up to his memory. If you were living in Grimmauld Place, at least it'd be something. I can't do it. I need to be with Hermione, and she needs me. With Ron gone," he faltered and rubbed his forehead, shielding his eyes from Remus' gaze, "both of us need to get away for a while."

"The place is unlivable, Harry. You can't even stand to be inside it," he replied gently. "I don't think I could, either."

"You could fix it up!" Sudden excitement had Harry sitting straight up, with an animation Remus hadn't seen in a long time. "You're a Dark Arts expert! You can fix it. You can make something special out of that - that morgue." He shuddered. "Replace the bad memories with something better."

Remus had never seen Harry's eyes so wide and beseeching. "Somebody should paint you on velvet," he muttered.

"Huh?" Harry blinked, and rattled on. "You've got the time, I've got the money. I'll pay you. Make it liveable. Hell, if you can do it, you can have it. You're the only one who can set that horrible pile to rights." Thin pink lips twisted. "It's either that or when I get back, I'm going to burn it to the ground."

The eyes got to him. "I'll give it a try."

Ten months later, Remus was preparing for the bonfire.

He'd realized early on that magic used to repair anything in the house backfired. He'd walk into a room the next day only to find more dirt and stains than he remembered banishing. With some misgiving, he set to with what his dad used to call elbow grease. Sometimes he could still feel his dad's hands, those strong, deft carpenter's hands, on top of his own as they guided him in the familiar motions. It turned out to be the best thing he'd done in a long, long time.

Carpentry had been one of the few jobs an itinerant werewolf could make money at, and still disappear for a few days without causing a fuss. Now it calmed his soul. With the heft and smash of a sledge hammer, he tore apart the Noble And Most Ancient House Of Black. The wall holding Walburga Black's portrait was the first to go, in an avalanche of plaster and broken studs and screaming invective, but that vicious harridan could only shriek impotently from the debris. He watched with no small satisfaction as the rubble, her portrait encased in a sphere of silence, was carted away in a tip.

In the beginning, every blow landed for Sirius. This house and the people in it had twisted his life; Remus was equally sure it had driven Sirius to his death. The work drained him, dragging up old memories he didn't know still hurt. Every blow struck at the scab over Sirius' loss, but Remus couldn't stop. His mourning had been stifled and ignored - what was one man's sorrow in the face of war? -- until it submerged, an infection under his skin.

As he shattered plaster, the house railed back, releasing poisonous spiders after gouts of blood. It took all of Remus' concentration and magical knowledge to cope. Some days he wanted to scream like Walburga, until the day he finally did. He wailed on his knees in a mire of foul yellow slime, crying out for what Sirius had suffered, for his own loneliness, and for Regulus, who'd turned against Voldemort at the last. Regulus, too, had seen the truth of Tom Riddle, denounced the monster he followed, and made for himself a hero's end.

Two fine men had come from this hellhole, and it couldn't be an accident. Somewhere in the Black lineage were good people. All Remus had to do was grind away the layers of corruption down to the goodness and decency that had to be there. Every scrape of sandpaper would displace some of the venom that hung on the house like a shroud. Every ragful of polish would coax to the surface the goodness the house had known once.

He got up from his knees and went back to work.

So it was that nearly a year of hard labor - sanding floors, tearing out and replacing the aged plumbing, stripping woodwork, taking the walls down to their bones and replastering - had led him to this: a standstill.

On the surface, the house was lovely. Expanses of parquet floor glowed with his attentions. Luxurious draperies hung fresh and clean from shiny leaded-glass windows. It was easy to see a spark of genius in the design of the large, high-ceilinged rooms, now filled with stylish and comfortable furniture. Sometimes he thought the house had regained its original beauty and grace. It was, after all, a mansion fit for the cream of Wizarding society.

Yet . . . at its heart was the same bone-deep chill that he remembered from Order meetings.

The library tempted him with a promise of what the house could be. He felt a breath of peace and comfort there, like morning sun on his skin. But even in the library he could be bombarded by flying books or chilled by the guttural inhuman moaning that plagued the rest of the house. While one aspect of the house reached out tentatively, another fought back. It was sheer good fortune that the weather turned fine after every pane of glass in the house transformed into spun sugar and a day-long drizzle melted them all. He'd covered everything with plastic sheets until he could find a proper glassmaker.

Lightning crackled in his room; thunder rumbled him from sleep. Most nights he lay in bed wide awake, exhausted and aching. Painful bursts of faerie fire ignited around him in the kitchen. Taking a shower had become an exercise in saving his own life.

More than once he'd expected the roof to come crashing down at the full moon, but the darkness in the house must have known the wolf for its own. When Sirius was there, his presence had calmed the House of Black. To everyone's misfortune, Sirius couldn't make changes; he'd been too depressed to see anything but his own misery. Remus, with his determination to change everything, was calling up all the mansion's defences.

He was discouraged. More than discouraged . . . he was desperate. Remus wanted the house, and he needed the money.

In his whole life, he'd never held a real job except at Hogwarts, and even that one had been cursed. He'd been furious with Severus for outing him until years later, when he discovered what Voldemort had done - and then, considering what happened to his predecessors and Umbridge, he understood he was lucky. Remus was the only one still alive and with his mind intact. The nightmare that sent Severus Snape fleeing the job didn't bear thinking about.

Remus could hardly keep Harry's pay packets if he didn't, in the end, make the house into a home the way he'd promised. This was his chance to have more than the barest necessities. It had been wonderful to actually go out and buy some new clothes, the first he'd owned in many years. If he were careful, Sirius' money could keep him into his dotage.

More important than all the rest, it was his chance to have the home he'd never had.

He hated to give up everything he'd ever wanted because of a few first degree burns and some sleepless nights, but he couldn't keep this up forever. When he couldn't fight it any longer, he'd have to give in and move out. He was tired, worn out from long months at war with Grimmauld Place and no real end in sight.

The matching greyness out of doors only dispirited him further. November was blundering down Diagon Alley with gusty winds and slashing rain, and he hunched inside his charmed cloak as he walked, his thoughts adrift.

This morning he'd run across a book on the library shelves with 'Severus Snape' inscribed on the flyleaf. It was likely left after an Order meeting and stuck on a random shelf by Sirius, who wouldn't have opened it. Perhaps, Remus thought, he should try to find Snape again. He'd searched on and off for the man the first few months after his release from Azkaban, thinking they could form a partnership to clear out the house. At the time, he was hard pressed to imagine doing it all himself.

Harry had all but handed Remus the bulk of Sirius' fortune for the renovation. That was plenty, even given that Grimmauld Place had been a ruin. If Remus got the house, he'd be a very wealthy man. He could well afford help. The best, most knowlegeable help to be had was in the form of one former Professor. And what else would a defrocked Death Eater double agent have on offer?

Apparently there was something. His owls returned with no response, the notes unopened; Remus knew that much, because he'd started charming them to send a response if someone touched them. Wherever he'd gone to earth, Severus Snape did not want to be found. Perhaps with the book as an excuse, he could get an answer . . . if Severus Snape was still able to answer.

Just as Remus was thinking he was the only person foolish enough to venture out into such filthy weather, he spotted a familiar figure, head down against the rain, coming out of Knockturn Alley.

"Severus? Severus!"

A cowled head raised and turned, just long enough for the wind to catch the hood and show Remus that unforgettable profile. The one eye he could see burned black in a face that looked more drawn and pale than ever. Then the figure lurched forward, a movement vastly different from its usual grace, and ducked out of sight between two buildings.

"Damn!" Remus ran after the snapping cloak, rain streaming in his hair as he churned up mud puddles. By the time he reached the alley, the smell of ozone had already dissipated in the downpour.

Severus was still around, then. What he was doing was a mystery, but when hadn't that been the case? Only Albus had always known the truth, the whys and hows of Severus' spying and the reasons Severus had been forced to take the headmaster's life. It was Albus' pensieve, brought in as evidence by Harry, that got Snape's arse out of Azkaban and free on the streets.

Remus suspected that was all Severus had got out onto the streets with.

Completely distracted from his trip to Flourish & Blotts, he wandered into Knockturn Alley to see if he could discover where Severus had been. There was no trail to be seen until a glint of silver caught his eye in the window of Borgin and Burke's. Surely he'd seen that ceremonial dagger on display in Severus' office! The rubies in its hilt were inset in mated spirals. Remus had never seen its like.

It made sense that Severus would have taken this one small, precious item with him when he ran, knowing he'd never be back.

"That's quite new. I don't know the gentleman who brought it in. Pretty, isn't it?" mused the clerk, offering no information even after he'd got an eyeful of Remus' galleons.

For his part, Remus wasn't surprised. Severus had intended to be discreet. There were ways to stay anonymous. After bargaining the eager clerk down to a price that didn't make him gasp - he suspected Borgin would never see this money -- Remus strode from the shop, ignoring the water dripping into his ears and the mud squelching in his shoes. There had to be a tracing spell somewhere in the Black library.

By ten the next morning, he hadn't found one. Dragging his arse up the stairs, cursing his luck and wondering why the hell he was working so hard to find Severus anyway, he realized that exhaustion was muddling his mind. Still, he wanted a look round the attic. He thought he recalled a fine foe glass that might be re-engineered for scrying. And he'd rid the place of Dark items, owled them on to the Ministry to be studied, so the attic wasn't any more dangerous than the rest of the house.

Considerably dirtier, but no more dangerous.

Between this pile and the Malfoy mansion, the Ministry must be up to their ears in cursed objects. Despite the long climb, Remus grinned to himself, thinking of those stiff-rumped old fellows bobbing in a sea of St. Vitus' Dance clothespins and ferret-face flannels. Merlin, he needed some rest. With a sigh, he sank down upon a hideous old wing chair. A puff of dust rose from it. He really should clean the attic soon. But not now. First, he'd find his mystery man.

Severus Snape. The name rolled on his tongue with the same richness it had when he was a boy. Severus, with his lank hair, his brilliance, his awkwardness. Remus, himself burdened with fears that kept him silent, had envied the other boy's wicked tongue . . . and how he'd wished, then, that he could be the one to coax delight instead of nastiness from Severus' mouth. How he'd have loved to receive gentleness from those long-fingered hands, given rapture to that pale skin!

In his younger days, Remus had stared after Severus in wordless longing. As a Hogwarts Professor, he still stared -- but more stealthily, if that were possible. At least as an adult he got something out of his foolish attraction, even if it was a laugh at his own expense: Severus would never know the friction he'd inspired. Just thinking about that mellifluous voice . . . he'd listened at the door once while the man was lecturing a group of Seventh Years. He never forgot those words, and he had a feeling none of the students ever would either.

"Today you will all learn how to milk a Singing Trumpet. Its elixir forms a base for several exemplary healing potions, but few know the proper way to extract it. First, choose a supple pod at least ten inches in length. Anything smaller is not yet mature." A pause, as students shuffled up to find the proper materials. "Yes, knead them in your hands to make sure they're flexible. Mr. Thropmorgan, can you not understand me? Ten inches!" Shuffle, shuffle back to their seats.

"Beakers between your knees. Now as you grasp the pod carefully at its root, slide your cupped hand along the fluted sides of the pod. Miss Peltier, long, slow motions."

Alone in the hallway, Remus shuddered. His cock was following every word, his hand taking part in the lesson. The wool of his trousers was warm, and getting warmer against his palm. He shouldn't be doing this, not here!

"Now, hold the pod gently in both hands and tease the topmost inch with your fingertips. Gently, I said! Don't squeeze so hard! Caress."

Remus couldn't help it. His whole body needed those caresses. In his imagination, Severus was demonstrating the instructions on his own cock. If the man was this good in all his NEWT-level classes, no wonder so many of his students passed.

"Notice how the pods have become firmer. Feel the skin of the pod loosen slightly in your hand. As it does, work the skin carefully up and down. Slowly and easily will avoid tearing."

It was killing him. He looked around once more, assuring himself that there was not so much as a portrait in sight, and slipped a hand inside his baggy trousers. His own skin rode easily up and down in the tight circle of his fingers. He could hear Severus walking among his students. Suddenly, the low voice was so close it seemed to speak only to him, in his very ear.

"Keep time. Feel the outer skin sliding down under your fingers. Watch for the tips of the petals as they rise up and out from beneath it. Your pods are almost ready to give up their treasure. Be ready to capture it. Stroke them harder! Harder!"

It was the acoustics of the stone room, of course, and not Severus right next to him, but it shocked Remus out of his delirium, and instinct filled in the gap. He turned tail and ran. It was a stumbling, uncomfortable run during which he managed to wrestle his hand out of his pants, but to his relief, Severus had never known he'd been there. If he had, Remus would have heard about it long ago.

Just thinking about it brought a nostalgic smile to his face and a rise to his cock. It was an age since he'd used his right hand for anything but manual labor. Maybe it was time he drained his own pipes. Remus was so tired he was stupid with it, and that made it better, easier. After all, this whole thing was stupid. There was no reason to sit here thinking about a tiny flame never answered, long extinguished. If he couldn't find Severus, he could kiss a home of his own goodbye. Remus seemed incapable of reclaiming the mansion from its darkness.

It was Remus' biggest failing to forever want things that were difficult.

Why change now?

He slouched more comfortably. There was a dirty cheval glass near the chair; he pulled it closer with his foot. It was narrow enough to fit between his knees. What with the scum on the mirror and the blur through his lashes, it was easy to see Severus Snape's hands touching him. Severus, behind him, holding him close, closer than they'd ever been before. The ungiving lump in the cushion became a hard cock as he bore down, settling it in the crease of his arse.

How would Severus touch him? Maybe he'd curl his fingers and drag his nails up the inseam of the crisp khaki trousers and beyond, rucking the soft old t-shirt up under Remus' arms, tugging through the rough curls on his chest along the way. Or he'd roll and pinch eager nipples to arousal with the tips of his fingers, thumb sliding along the sensitive damp hollows of his armpits.

Severus would never be direct, and most certainly not when getting someone else off.

Warm, knowing fingers played along his ribs. They tested the newly-firm ridges of his abdomen and insinuated themselves under his waistband. Remus could feel shadow kisses against his neck, warm breath in his ear as his phantom lover rocked him. He watched those hands free his hard cock from their fabric prison. It was proud and firm in the mirror, deserving the satisfaction that only Severus could give it. Remus moaned and lay back, moving on the cock beneath him, letting Severus have his way.

Oh, Severus was skilled. He explored Remus' balls, pulling gently on the hair there as he had on Remus' chest. They tightened at his attentions, and Severus cradled them with one hand while slipping two fingers down to toy with the delicate skin behind them. "Wider," he whispered. Remus spread his legs and muttered a spell that had his trousers around his ankles, and then there was a slippery fingertip pressing at his needy entrance. Oh, how he wanted that, but . . .

"Your cock, please, let it be soon, but touch me now!" Remus begged the air.

He fought for breath as a tight grip circled his length, as tight as he could stand, so sure, so necessary, so exquisitely right. It was too late for teasing. A few hard strokes and his orgasm dragged him upright in the chair. He ground down on the cock beneath him and groaned deeply, spraying the mirror with his release. Panting, he let his head fall to his knees, nearly bashing the glass. He wasn't sure he'd ever move again.

Remus knew his senses were scrambled when he caught movement in the upper periphery of his vision. It was the only thing that could've made him lift his head. Mice? Rats? Or was there something else in this attic?

Looking up, he saw something move in the dimness of the mirror. There were no dark objects in the attic, but that didn't mean no magical paraphernalia at all. He squinted at the dirty glass. Two blurry men argued heatedly -- a small stocky man in a hall doorway flushed crimson, yelling silently at a much taller man dressed in black who faced him. The short dark hair spiked with silver didn't ring any bells, but something about the rigid back did.

The taller man shoved a hand in his pocket and Remus was sure it would emerge with a wand. Instead, it held a stack of bills. He handed them to the short man, who grabbed the money, examined it, and threw it in Tall's face. More silent screaming ensued from both men; he could tell by the arm-waving by Stocky and the tilt of the head by Tall. The door slammed so hard in Tall's face that Remus felt it in his bones.

Tall collected the notes on bended knee - had he not enough energy to bend at the waist? When he straightened, he rubbed one hand over his forehead as if fighting vertigo.

Then Tall gathered himself visibly and pounded a fist against the door -- not a demand for entry, but a fit of sheer rage. Remus knew the man in that instant. It must have been the banging fist that spent the last of his energy, for when Severus turned, he was already faltering. With no one to see him, he slumped against the wall for support. Above a neatly trimmed beard of black and silver, his skin was grayer than it'd been during his trial. Would he make it to the end of the hall? Remus' nails dug into his palms as he watched, his own long muscles flexing with Severus' exertions as if he could hold the man steady from his chair.

Now, at the top of a long, dark flight of stairs, the wand came out. "No, fuck, you'll -" Remus' shout went unheard. It didn't matter. Before Severus could splinch himself, he fell headlong.

"Severus! Severus!" Remus reached out as the figure tumbled doll-like down the stairs and landed in a heap. He wanted to scrub at the dirt and splatters of drying come that obscured his view, but when he touched it, something swirled around his knuckles. By the time he would have jerked his hand back, it was too late, and he found himself bare-arsed and stunned on a cold linoleum floor with an unmoving man beside him.

Disoriented, he reached out for Severus' neck. There was a pulse. So far, so good. Remus dug through his limited knowledge of healing spells until he found one that scanned the inert body for broken bones. Good again. As sore as Severus might be later, he would recuperate. Remus hiked his trousers up over his bum and, without further analysis or consideration, apparated them directly to Grimmauld Place.

 

~~~~~

 

Warmth and comfort - it was a state Severus had become unfamiliar with. It salved his exhaustion and hurt. He allowed the feeling of safety to envelop him.

Hours later, when he woke again, his head pulsated with pain and the terrible realisation that he didn't belong here. Awareness pulled his muscles taut, with agonising results. These were not his Oxfam-bought sheets; this was not his musty mattress in the corner of his workroom, nor was it his own moth-eaten wool blanket. By the lightness and warmth, he guessed it to be a down quilt. Listening very carefully, he detected low, slow breathing in the room. Probably a man's; it was deeper than most women's, with a faint rasp that suggested the breather had a bit of lung congestion.

Severus slitted open the eye on the far side of the breather. Light drilled into it.

This was no place he knew. Under the edge of slightly rucked-up blinds, late afternoon sun spilled across a pleasant room done in cream with teal appointments. His quilt was a matching teal. His wand lay on the bedside table. Under his gaze, it silently and very, very slowly rolled off onto the bed and made its way into his hand. There were his clothes, in a pile on a cream and teal chair - had he been kidnapped by an interior designer? What was he wearing now? A glance discovered pajamas - neither teal nor cream but a nondescript shade of brown.

Who on earth would bring him to this house, and for what reason? The last thing he remembered was losing his footing at the top of his miserly landlord's stairs. Certainly that man wouldn't set him up in a nice room. Severus was lucky not to be cooling his heels at the bottom of the Thames.

How could he know that his landlord would keep last month's rent locked in his wall safe . . . until it turned back into a stack of brochures for the summertime delights of Swanage? The man didn't know exactly what had happened with the money, but he knew he'd been tricked. He was not happy. When Sid Mortimer was unhappy, he wanted everyone to know it. Especially "the cove what gives me aggro."

He no longer had enemies that he knew of -- aside from Mortimer. Voldemort and all the Death Eaters he'd known were dead or imprisoned. Not that there couldn't be someone with a grudge against him; those were probably too many to count. Destroying the shining light of the Wizarding World, no matter what the reason -- he might as well have killed The Boy Who Was Still Alive.

But none of those bitter people would bring him to an attractive home and put him tidily to bed.

It was high time to discover who had.

When Severus opened his other eye, he discovered the sleeper drooping to one side in another teal and cream chair. The sensation of relief was so strong it left him lightheaded, and more than a bit irritable on top of all else. When Lupin awoke, he'd have a nasty crick in his neck; he certainly deserved it for pulling this stunt . . . along with everything else Severus could recount from over the years.

It wasn't as if he ever hated Lupin. Even Severus hadn't enough hatred to waste it on nonentities. James Potter and Sirius Black had been worthy of his hatred; they had set up their little werewolf hanger-on to kill him, but Lupin had never been a part of it. He knew that without any deep thought. Neither Black nor Potter would have allowed Lupin an idea of his own, one that they would adopt and carry out. They were far too full of themselves.

It was more that Lupin's very existence was annoying.

Anyhow, what did it matter? Without fangs or claws, there was nothing to fear. Remus Lupin didn't have the bollocks to find an advantage in the situation. He examined the werewolf more closely. With the last daylight picking out silver and gold in his hair and his face genuinely calm rather than carefully controlled, Remus Lupin looked strangely innocent of care. Knowing what Severus did about the man's life, that irritated him, too.

"Lupin!" he snapped. "What is the meaning of this?" His voice was so weak as to make his demand little more than a whisper. This turned out to be a good thing; even moving his mouth caused rapier-bearing gremlins to jab at his cerebral cortex. It was just as well Lupin was a light sleeper. Shouting would have been extremely painful.

Lupin snapped his head so sharply toward him that Severus heard the crack. "Severus! You're awake."

"You never fail to grasp the obvious. Now tell me, if you please, what I am doing here! For that matter, where is 'here'?" To make up for the paucity of his voice, Severus used a glare he had, until this moment, reserved solely for misbehaving third years.

That hurt, too.

"Oh, of course." Lupin passed a hand over his face, trying to wipe weariness away. He appeared not even to have noticed the skewer of Severus' stare. "You're at Number Twelve."

"Grimmauld Place? You can't be serious."

Severus could not fit the memory of that dilapidated three-stories-deep pit that was the Black family manse together with this warm, charming room. He'd certainly never seen anything like this during his visits. Indeed, the atmosphere at 12 Grimmauld Place was so ominous and foreboding when the Order of the Phoenix held meetings there that Severus couldn't stand it. He knew the Order members murmured to each other about his brief visits, but bugger them. They didn't spend their free time with Voldemort.

Lupin made a gesture as if to tip an imaginary hat. "I renovated."

An expressive snort reverberated painfully through his whole body. He wouldn't do that again soon. "You and whose army?"

A shrug. "You must be feeling all right, then. You sound very much yourself."

He heard the faint note of amusement. Lupin would be laughing on the other side of his face if Severus had any say in the matter. The man had undressed him. Or at least he hoped it had been Lupin, and not some third party. Either notion was very nearly as horrifying as the one where his valuable equipment fell into the hands of his ex-landlord's bullyboys. Fortunately, he had no time to think about it.

"I don't know how you found me or why you brought me here, but I'll be leaving now." Against his body's wishes, he wrenched himself upright. It was not the pain but the dizziness that stopped him going any further.

"I'm afraid you'll be staying here for a bit." Lupin sounded sympathetic, but Severus knew it for a ruse. "I healed you as best I could, and I know you've a hard head, but you took quite a knock. You probably have a concussion. I wasn't about to start messing with your brains."

As if he could. "I must go," Severus insisted, to his captor and his body. "I must remove my equipment from my former lodgings."

"Need it be now?"

"Yes. My erstwhile landlord has . . ." he searched for a believable excuse through the knives stabbing his brain, "taken the absurd notion that I've set up a Muggle drug laboratory." There. Severus could hardly tell his Muggle landlord that he made magical potions for a living - no matter how little living it had made for him of late. "He has threatened to send the constabulary to evict me if I am not out by midnight." That was certainly true, although the word 'thugs' could be substituted for 'constabulary.'

"Tell me the address, then. I'll get it." Severus stepped up the glare, to no avail. Lupin's face stayed bland. "You're in no shape to leave. Besides, you can't get in or out without my help. You certainly haven't time for me to change my protections on the house."

Trying not to show relief, Severus sank back into the snug welcome of his bed and recited the address. His next words must have been due to the head injury. "Be careful."

"Don't worry." Lupin had a very white smile. "I won't dent your cauldrons."

"You had bloody well better not!" He closed his eyes against the daylight.

He needed to think. He needed to plan.

Instead, he succumbed once again to the soothing atmosphere of the house and slept.

He was rather less soothed some time later when he thudded to the floor arse over teakettle, ears ringing from a boom that redefined the word thunder. In his sleep-slurred mind he was sure the Dark Lord loomed over him, ready to spew green light for Severus' betrayal. It must have been the fragment of a dream. Dread evaporated gradually after he realized he was swaddled in goosedown and Egyptian cotton. He was left merely with the deep soreness in his bones and that blasted headache that threatened to split his skull in two.

Within moments he heard the rain -- or was it a thousand crazed night creatures banging on the house? He held his throbbing head in both hands. Surely that must be hail. Unusual in London, to be sure, but not unprecedented. From the incredible volume of the thunder, lightning must have struck right outside his window. The sound of rain brought about a deep need to urinate, so he slowly and painfully unwrapped his swaddling and limped down the hall.

If he hadn't been so busy trying to stop his head falling off, he might have noticed the bathroom was already in use. Instead, he pushed the door open to find Lupin, a towel around his hips and one in his hands, scrubbing at his own head. Still-wet hair stuck out wildly around his head. Water dripped onto well-defined shoulders that were broader than Severus had ever guessed. Droplets scurried down over delicate gooseflesh to follow a fine trail of hair under the towel's edge. His eyes traced their path.

He remembered Lupin as thin, with the slightly stooped shoulders of one who spent much time reading in poorly lighted places. He wasn't seeing that now. He shouldn't be seeing what he was seeing. With some effort, he looked up.

"I heard about this new thing. Knocking." Lupin, astoundingly enough, had a glare even Severus would have been proud of. "Do you know of it?"

Nearly naked, soaking wet, with his hair all about, the werewolf looked like a lunatic. Well, he was one, wasn't he? "How was I to know that you might be having a shower at any absurd time of night?" Severus asked haughtily.

"Belt up."

The man stalked out into the hallway. For some reason, Severus' attention was caught by the play of long muscles in Lupin's back as they moved in the light of his Lumos. He shrugged mentally. It made some sense . . .his experience of near-naked men was limited, and he'd always been interested in anatomy and physiology.

What had gotten into his host? Lupin usually played least in sight, pretending to be calm and reasonable instead of the animal he really was. Something was going on, and Severus would find out what. In the morning. He kicked aside a lump of wet shorts and vest on his way out of the bathroom. Breath whistled in his teeth at the pain in his ankle.

When he woke again, it was to the rich, savory smell of oxtail soup. It was an odd breakfast, but Severus was far too hungry to care. He hadn't had a decent meal in too long. He inhaled the soup and sandwiches left on the bedside table in minutes and lolled back against the pillows. The pounding in his head had subsided somewhat.

Lupin wasn't there, and he was very glad indeed. He couldn't think when Lupin was hanging about. He certainly didn't want the man watching him while he slept.

Sleep.

On a deep, firm mattress made of the finest materials, with excellent appointments. Despite his injuries, last night was the best night's sleep he'd had since Voldemort returned. 12 Grimmauld Place had the best everything he'd had since his escape from Hogwarts. Warmth. A weathertight room whose ceiling didn't leak icy dribbles onto his exposed flesh during the night. Food that was fresh instead of ready to go off. Delicious meals eaten in bed, rather than bargained for on a frigid street corner while he counted his few remaining knuts.

While it was better than his days as the Dark Lord's right hand, Severus' life of late had been nothing like his sheltered Hogwarts years.

A rap on the door interrupted his thoughts. "Enter." There was something of the Restoration monarch about allowing Lupin an audience while Severus lay back against his pillows.

"I hope you are feeling better?"

"Yes." He needed some answers, not foolish small talk. "Now tell me how you came to find me."

Lupin was . . . blushing?

"I was looking for you."

Such an amazing answer sidetracked Severus from his real question. "For what possible reason?"

"I . . . I need your help."

To Severus' surprise, the man was all but batting his lashes. There followed a bumbling, lengthy, rather tedious explanation of exactly how Lupin came to be in Grimmauld Place, what he had done since his arrival, and his current predicament.

"Last night, thunder woke you because lightning struck in the next room - my room. I shudder to think what will happen if I get a blizzard. If I didn't know better, I'd say the house has a poltergeist." Lupin grimaced. "The ghost of Kreacher, perhaps. But I haven't seen hide nor hair of one."

How had he managed such a feat? Severus wondered if the werewolf understood what he'd done, and decided not. It truly was remarkable. Lupin had cleansed vast amounts of enmity and malice from the house, leaving only a tiny portion of the Dark behind. That tiny portion was fighting for its short and brutal life. With nothing but the smallest bit of patience and determination, Lupin could simply wait it out.

And he didn't even know it! That was the best part. Severus let a malicious chortle escape him. "And you called yourself a Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts," he sneered. "You have as much understanding of the Dark as a babe in arms."

Lupin scowled. "Yes, and I accomplished this much with my nappy on. Are you going to help me, or not?"

He took a sharp sniff through flared nostrils. This was his chance! He could put together a stake for his business if he played his cards right. "This house isn't haunted." He looked down his nose at Lupin's hopeful expression. "It's cursed."

"But Albus would have -"

"Albus cared nothing for that aspect of the house. Number Twelve was useful at the time, and that was that. This is a more complex way of thinking than you're used to." Severus allowed the insult to sink in, then continued. "It's more of an acquisition by osmosis than the result of the house itself being victim of direct curses."

He waved his hand impatiently at Lupin's frown. "How many times has the House Of Black been cursed since the line began?" He nodded as the man began to show some comprehension. "Magic works from intent. However, there is also power in the very words we say. And how many times did the denizens of this house curse others from inside it? The number is undoubtedly higher than Sirius Black could count."

Lupin narrowed his eyes. "Fuck you."

Severus nodded, magnanimous in victory. "Precisely."

"What?"

"The solution, you idiot! Don't you know one thing most effective at breaking indirectly absorbed curses?" With a dramatic pause, he held Lupin's full attention. "Sex magic."

It was the perfect answer.

Lore and legend said sex magic could only be performed in the presence of flawless love.

Lore and legend were quite wrong.

Because of the legends, sex magic was undoubtedly attempted by the romantic and sentimental, but few understood the results. Fewer still had the power of mind or the strength of purpose to accomplish anything with it. So they must assume that their mutual love was not quite as flawless as they'd hoped, and that nothing at all had happened. If the participants had a modicum of sense, they didn't rock the boat with discussion that could only lead to ill will and accusations.

There was no elaborate spellwork involved with sex magic. All one needed to do was gain bodily entrance and direct the flow of magic found therein to some purpose. It was so simple that he wondered why it wasn't used more frequently. It could be done with as little effort as sticking one's sexual organ into another's mouth. Of course, there were few who could work with magic not their own. And there were no instruction books in the Restricted Section.

He hadn't time to imagine what Lupin's reaction would be. The whole slant of the conversation had been an unexpected stroke of luck. Still, given the opportunity for reflection, he would never have hit on the result. Lupin burst into a spasm of delighted laughter.

Severus' lip curled. "May I ask what you find so very amusing?"

Lupin cleared his throat. "Now I understand why Bill loves his job." Laughter had chased the strain from Lupin's face, giving him a free and easy mien that Severus had never seen before. "Oh, Severus, you're wonderful. I expected you to come up with something arduous, or bizarre, or shrouded in mystery. I didn't expect you to suggest the impossible." Another laugh bubbled up.

Impatience sharpened his voice. "I assure you, there is nothing impossible about it."

"Oh, but I assure you, there is. Where, pray tell, do you expect me to find a partner for this exercise?"

Damn the man's idiot grin. "I don't expect you, of all people, to have a sexual partner at the ready," he retorted. "That is why I am offering myself."

"But . . ." There, at last, was the dumbfounded look he would have imagined, had he the time.

"For a price," he added smoothly.

"Sex magic . . . for a price. That sounds a bit . . . too much like . . ." Lupin visibly shrank back in his chair.

"Don't be stupid. You will pay for my magic, not my sexual prowess. It's hardly a matter of prostitution."

"But . . ."

"No buts, werewolf," he snapped. "You asked for a solution; I am willing to provide one. Take it or leave it."

The confusion on Lupin's face was worth the entire encounter.

A sigh. "Very well. What is your price?"

"Two thousand galleons." Two thousand galleons would have him well on his way to independence. He paused to let Lupin digest the sum. "Is there something wrong with your throat?"

"No. No," Lupin croaked. Then he looked away. "I can't possibly afford that. What if it takes more than once? I don't have that kind of money."

There wasn't enough Dark magic left in this house to survive more than one bout . . . but Lupin obviously thought there was. What if Lupin thought he needed to keep Severus around for his services? The longer he could stay here, the better it would be. It was possible that he could start up his business right here, and live in the lap of luxury while he did. Above all, having Lupin hand him Black's money for sex was simply too good.

"I think we can come to some agreement."

 

~~~~~

 

That ugly old chair was looking good after a long afternoon sorting the attic. No one except Remus had done it, apparently, since the house was built. Even he had jumped back a step when he pulled the cover off a ten foot acromantula, fangs dripping with venom. That bit of excitement had been enough to signal the end of this morning's work, and he grabbed the glass of lemonade from a side table, sighing as the tangy stuff soothed his parched throat.

It was mildly interesting to see the fashions of 1273 - the more things changed, the more they stayed the same -- but must the very wealthy hoard everything? There were self-cleaning spittoons, place settings for forty, shrunken heads. He'd foraged through cubic acres of books, broken furniture piled to the roof, and box after box of collections varying from sparkly buttons to small animals petrified on skewers. On his left, behind the chair, there was a wall of dust-encrusted portraits, some snoring, some involved in lusty rendezvous with the portraits of other family members. The rich really were different.

What on earth was he to do with all this rubbish? He could repair the furniture; there were antiques in here valuable enough to nearly pay Harry back. The clothes, too, could be sold for a good price. The rest of it . . . well, Harry's bonfire could still become a reality. Remus wondered where he'd put the number for the haul-away firm.

He knew how he'd prefer to spend his portraiture, and vowed to have himself painted soon. Perhaps Severus would do it, too . . . ah, Severus.

It was true, what he said about sex magic. The Black family library bore out his words, even though the books were incredibly cagey about how the deed was done. The working of sex magic was as elusive as the making of horcruxes, almost as much a mystery as the state of the house itself. No one would ever know why the Blacks themselves ignored the effects of curse upon curse, becoming ever more beautiful on the surface while their home bore the brunt. He wondered if Oscar Wilde had known them.

Had Severus finished brewing? Remus stared at the ice turning circles in his lemonade. If anyone could solve this problem, it was he. It seemed degrading, almost contemptible, to pay the man for sex, but his cock had no reservations. It was hardening to the mere thought of Severus, tall and composed, at his brewing table. Those fine, graceful hands would chop and measure by rote as that brilliant mind leapt above and beyond the process, the room . . .

Remus slipped open the buttons on his trousers and freed his stiff cock.

In the narrow angle of the mirror, he saw only himself - a man who, this time, had a chance. Downstairs, in what had been the music room, his chance was working at the magic of potions, but Remus hoped for so much more. Yesterday, he'd listened as Severus spoke of multiplying their magic and the elixir he would create, but what he heard was that sable voice as it settled around him, brushed against him, aroused him, made him believe they would be together.

Once. Maybe more than once. The way to a man's heart was through his cock, and Remus was ready to make his claim.

Severus would make love the same way he made potions. He would be precise. Imaginative. Passionate. Remus squeezed himself, fist sliding faster, unable to think of anything but how good it would feel. Severus would bend him in half and fuck him, black eyes blazing. Remus would suck him down to the root until Severus screamed with pleasure. He would do anything, anything Severus wanted, and it would be so good between them.

The orgasm that had been waiting, simmering deep in his body since yesterday, rocked him. He lay bonelessly in the chair as come pooled, warm and sticky, on his belly.

Yeah, sure. Even as the glow faded, he knew the truth. It was a ridiculous fantasy, a graying, lonely man's daydream. He had to get hold of himself, and not this way. He couldn't stack his hopes on Severus Snape like so many abandoned boxes in the attic.

But it had been fun while it lasted. Smirking sardonically at his debauched reflection, he drew a finger across his belly and flicked a blob of congealing white goop at the mirror.

It wasn't like Remus had forgotten how Severus got here in the first place. Still, the incident with the mirror had faded into the dreamy exhaustion of yesterday, and was packed up behind all the hopes and dreams reawakened by the man's sudden presence. He watched, wide-eyed, as an image slowly formed. The white glob oozed down the back of Severus' head and, bizarrely, vanished under his collar. He hadn't understood the mechanism of Snape's appearance, but it seemed that the magic word was "semen."

Severus stood in the rearranged music room, the grand piano off in one corner as he worked over a small cauldron. Two others were steaming gently at the end of the table. In his hand was a small jar of white crystals, and he tipped a carefully measured spoonful into the cauldron. What was that? It surely wasn't anything Severus had claimed he would buy this morning in Diagon Alley. With a practised motion, he dropped in a burning twist of parchment. Pink and purple flames spitted up.

That was no magic-enhancer! Saltpeter, long thought by Muggles to suppress libido, was commonly used by wizards in . . . love potions. Love potions!

The wave of anger brought Remus to his feet, fists clenched. How dare that nasty bastard try to poison him? Yes, Remus should have just offered the money outright. Severus was obviously desperate - so desperate he'd not only fuck Remus but try to . . . try to . . . what? Why on earth would Severus want Remus to love him?

Remus sank back into the chair. It made no sense. To his knowledge, Severus had never tried to find someone. The man was employed at Hogwarts for fifteen years, and there wasn't anything that could escape the staff grapevine for that long.

The love potion had to be about the money - as much money as Severus could get from him. Remus rejected outright the notion that Severus might extort money under the guise of love and then kill him off, like bad Muggle cinema. But Severus wouldn't shrink from subterfuge . . . like extending his stay with the use of a potion's persuasion. As if it would really be necessary. Remus sighed.

All right, then.

These were the facts: the man had to be destitute. His pitiful lodgings proved that. He'd once had a house of his own, Remus knew, but a last stand between Peter and a handful of Aurors left Peter dead and the house a small mound of blackening embers. Severus must have spent all the money he had on his equipment and nearly a year of living at London prices. That Severus would try to recoup his losses by gaining Remus' love, and through love, his money . . . yes, it was a stretch of the imagination, but it was the only answer he could grasp.

He'd been staring blankly at the mirror while Severus gazed, unmoving, at a vial of the pale green potion. Now he watched as Severus lifted it to his mouth and drank.

In a world where Severus Snape quaffed love potions, it made sense that the stairs should try to toss him bodily down six flights. Somehow, getting to the first floor was easier with that in mind, and through great diligence Remus finally made it to the library.

It was only an hour later that Severus visited him there.

"We can make the first attempt whenever you wish."

Severus was looking much better. The dark beard and short hair suited him. The last week of rest and recuperation, along with Remus' cooking, seemed to have done him a world of good. He even looked a bit less sallow. Obviously he hadn't been bothered by the constant slamming of doors, the kitchen's rain of phlegm, or the nauseating sensation that with every step, one was falling into the bottomless pit of one's nightmares. He certainly hadn't experienced the full moon looming over his shoulder day and night.

Remus demurred. "I'm concerned about whether our magic will blend properly. I don't want to take the magic enhancer and then discover that we've blown ourselves up instead of clearing away the curses. I'd really be buggered then."

His sally actually lifted the corner of Severus' mouth. "There won't be any problems."

"That's easy for you to say, but I did my research." He couldn't likely out-stubborn Severus, but he could try.

"There's a first time for everything. What, then, do you suggest?"

Such quick capitulation was nearly shocking. "I'd at least like to try having sex without spellcasting. I mean, what if this is something we can't . . . do . . . together?" He steeled himself for the big question. "Are you even gay?"

"Really, Lupin," Severus mocked. "How naïve are you? To answer your appallingly intrusive question, I am not, as you say, 'gay.' I consider myself asexual, having no more interest in men than I do in women. In any case, all that's needed for this exercise is a live partner."

He couldn't help but cringe inside. As pathetic as he knew his fantasies were, he'd still hoped for more than that. "Right. What was I thinking?" Remus smacked his forehead, a gesture that was probably lost on Severus. "I'd still rather have an experimental go at it."

"Very well. For the same price, of course. We may as well do it now. Wash yourself, and then join me in the blue bedroom. I have no interest in relations with a dust boggart." He whirled out the door, his exit hampered only by the lack of flapping robes.

By the time Remus got cleaned up, Severus was waiting in the bedroom. Without a word, he stood and began to take off his clothes. Remus was taken aback at first, then said nothing as lust slithered through him, trailing up from the bottoms of his feet and down from the back of his neck, gathering itself in the warmth of his groin. Severus was lushly, gloriously hirsute. His nipples were barely visible; his heavy, soft cock hung from a dark thicket. Black hair inked his forearms and long, muscular legs.

He made Remus feel like the animal Severus had always thought him.

Did Severus' toes have a dusting of black hair as well? He was about to drop to the floor, the better to find out, the better to nuzzle the weight of that cock, when the object of his musings clambered onto the bed.

On his hands and knees.

Waiting.

The afternoon sun gilded white skin. Severus' hard, bony hips begged for caressing hands. The back of his neck and his thick cock would be even more beautiful when flushed with color. His head . . . hung down. Strange and submissive, it was a pose Remus had never imagined. It had nothing to do with what he knew, or thought he knew, of Severus Snape. It withered the tendrils of his lust like a hard frost.

"So. You've, ah, done this before, then?" The words almost stuttered out.

"How, and for whose benefit, do you suppose that I lost my virginity?"

Oh. God. Voldemort. His stomach flipped over, and he turned away. How could he do this to a man who had suffered Voldemort's attentions? No, not attentions. Rape. Or, at the very least, manipulation. Whatever Voldemort promised in return for his virginity, Severus had been cheated.

"I can't," he muttered at his chest.

"Speak up," snapped Severus. "I'm waiting. If you cannot perform with . . . with a man, I'll give you a potion."

 

~~~~~~

 

He was naked in front of Remus Lupin.

That fact should be of no more moment than any other detail of a business transaction. Then why must he hide his face? Why did he wait, squirming inside, to discover whether his arse was deemed worth the money? What a fool he had been to agree to this act without the Conjugus! The risk was too great. Now he must count on Lupin's animal nature to overcome any reservations. Failure would be a grave setback.

It was the werewolf's own damned fault for insisting on this idiotic trial.

"I said, I can't do this."

Severus froze. If Lupin wouldn't fuck him, all was lost. No place to live, no food, no money. Panic twisted his thoughts and his muscles. In the effort to quash it, he inadvertently loosed the rage that snarled at panic's heels.

"So you will not honor our bargain! I know how it is. I know what goes on in that tiny mind of yours!" Severus jerked awkwardly off the bed and headed for the door, no longer caring that he was naked or that there was nowhere to go. "I admitted to you that I serviced the Dark Lord, and now I'm not good enough for werewolf cock! You supercilious cretin! Don't worry, I won't foul your precious -"

"Wait! Listen to me!"

He fought the hands on his shoulders, but Lupin had the advantage. In the time it took to turn him round, Lupin was pressed full against him, cock nudging his belly, and the panels of the door digging at his back. There wasn't any talking as Lupin's lips covered his, and he went limp with relief as the rage and fear abated. Thirteen stone of werewolf propped him up. Lupin wanted him; would have him. It didn't matter why. It only mattered that he was being kissed.

The kisses bestowed upon him in the past had been ritual; before that, motherly. This was the kiss of a man who wanted sex for its own sake, and it asked, even demanded, his participation. It was a novelty.

Severus might have responded, but he wasn't sure how. Instead, he allowed Lupin to take what he wanted. When he didn't struggle, the kiss softened. It was almost as if Lupin were tasting him. Animal, he thought again, but it didn't have the same weight of disdain behind it. He ought to be dreadfully uncomfortable up against the door, with Lupin all over him. The last time anyone had the temerity even to hug him, it was a half-arsed affair, and he certainly wouldn't have wanted Minerva to do this. Now, it felt good to have Lupin's body against his, warm and solid.

Lupin pulled back far enough to look him in the face. "This way." His voice was hoarse. Need prowled the set of his shoulders; it huffed out with his breath. Tonks had left him years ago; it was obvious there'd been no one to service his baser instincts. Severus didn't answer, but took his hand and followed him to the bed. When he would have got on hands and knees again, Lupin smiled and shook his head.

"Lie back."

He'd never been taken that way, but of course he knew of it. It appeared that Lupin was in no hurry. Instead of crawling over and hoisting Severus' legs, he lay down and propped his head up on one hand, the other reaching to touch Severus' cheek. As Severus turned his face to meet the curious fingers, he understood at last that the potion was doing its work on him. He had seen the effects of love potions before, but he had not seen the effects of actual love on people until they became drastic - teenagers snogging in corridors, grown men and women doing incomprehensible things.

Love was insidious.

He'd experienced love only an hour or two, but it was little trouble to extrapolate. No wonder people chose not to fight this . . . this disorder. It crept upon them like a thief, stealing away their minds and inflaming their senses. He could feel it happening in the way that his body responded to the nearness of Lupin's. It was a testament to his skill that the Conjugus had been so subtle in its action.

For the first time in as long as he could remember, he relaxed.

He was in love now.

For all the times he had sharpened his wit on fools in love, every single time he had cursed the uncaring world around him. All of his sneers had gained him exactly the same thing his Dark intrigues and, later, his repentant work for the Light had gained him: nothing. He could spend his whole life and never look upon another person, or be looked upon, in love. Or . . . he could seize this day.

Why not see, just for once, how the rest of the world lived? It would harm no one. Not Lupin, who would wake from his course of Conjugus a bit perplexed but none the wiser, and certainly not himself, who could turn love to his own ends and then abort it at will. Lupin would get what he needed, and Severus would get what he wanted.

Questions glittered in Lupin's eyes. They fell from his fingertips. They were more naked than Severus himself. Who are you? What do you want? He could see them so clearly, it was marvellous that he had never been able to before. Had he been so caught up in searching for disdain and betrayal that he could not fathom anything else? As to the questions, he had no answers. He could have answered two hours ago, but not now.

Tomorrow would be easier. There would be no questions. Lupin would be in love tomorrow. The man looking for answers today must go without.

Instead, Severus would find his own answers.

"Come to me." The timbre of his voice had changed slightly, deepened to his own ears. His hand, square in the middle of Lupin's chest, stopped the requested advance. He smiled, a real smile that felt good inside him, at Lupin's startle. "Not with your clothes on."

Since Lupin's fingers seemed unequal to the task of buttons, he reached over to help. The very act of undressing him was erotic in a way he hadn't expected - why so, when he knew such things as strippers existed? Perhaps because he had never wanted to see what was underneath before.

Lupin was naked under his clothes.

Severus celebrated that by touching the skin the slipped buttons revealed. It was so . . . warm, and soft over the toned muscle. It was real and human and he wanted it to touch him back, to cover him and comfort him and drive him mad. He knew it would.

He scrabbled at the placket of the trousers.

Of course, that led him to the cock. Once the trousers had been stripped, with some tangling of feet in shorts, accompanied by grunts and sighs not all Severus' own - my, it had been a long time for Lupin, although now Severus knew why Lupin wanted sex so badly - there was his prize. The armor and complacence of clothing was gone, and here was the man made flesh. He didn't hesitate to put his face against Lupin's groin to hear the throb of blood in his arteries. Alive. Willing. Wanting.

He wanted to touch that cock with all of him. And why not? It was certain Lupin wouldn't stop him. The man was lying back on Severus' pillows like a pasha. Leaning close over the recumbent form, he touched the hot flesh. To the quavering notes of Lupin's groan, he started with the flat of his fingers at the base and pushed them up past the tip, following it with the hairless inside of his forearm. Using two fingers he rubbed the foreskin against the cockhead it barely concealed, just because.

He was so engrossed with the feel of the silky, moving skin that the first notice of his partner's response came as a shout, closely followed by the crack of a knee at the back of his head. He looked up, dazed much more from his work than the blow, to Lupin's reaching hands and his, "Sorry, sorry, I'm --"

He laughed. Actually laughed. There was power in this, power that hollowed his veins to allow twice the rush of blood. He pushed down Lupin's knees with his hands, flattening the legs, and insinuated himself between them at the feet. He wriggled upward, plying himself shamelessly over knobby knees, the hard muscle of hairy thighs, the lovely rose-coloured cock itself. His own skin felt new, untried, so open to sensation it was as if nothing else had ever touched him. Every angle of shadow, rustle of sheet, whiff of sweat stirred him.

The hair on his chest caught at Lupin's pubes, teasing him with the most infinitesimal of pulls. He made sure to caress the cock with his wiry curls, and was amazed at the effect it had.

"God! Oh, God, please!"

Without his weight on Lupin's legs, Severus might have got another bash to the head.

Egged on thus, he pulled himself along the writhing body, digging his elbows into the bed, until his cock settled alongside Lupin's. The sensation of his whole body rubbing, touching, holding Lupin's almost overwhelmed the screaming thrill of his cock as it ground against the hard hairy belly. Lupin was clutching his arse, pumping them together. His features worked with a violence Severus never imagined, but he could feel the mirror in his own. Great gusts of air filled his chest, as soon to be shoved out with ragged lunges of his hips.

His whole body moved with the surges of pressure from his trapped cock. It felt huge between their bodies. Severus felt huge. He was bigger, harder, a full-body clench of muscle that stretched his skin tight and thin around him until he thought he would scream with pleasure. Now now now filled his chest, but he could not form the words, and it came out a whine.

There was something more that he wanted, needed. It was a persistent, knife-edged craving. What more was there but this mindless, delirious rut of his body? What more could there be?

He didn't know until Lupin looked up at him, the violence of lust gone in just this moment before satisfaction. His lips were parted, eyes soft and pleading, begging for some kind of mercy.

Severus kissed him.

That kiss opened Lupin whole-heartedly.

This was what Lupin had wanted at the door, know it or not. Severus was sure not. Lupin had sought admission, entry to Severus' very being, for the price of kisses. The blending of emotion that made over two beings into one mind was the most coveted experience of all humankind. For Muggles, it was considered the culmination of love, celebrated in story, song, and marriage ceremonies.

It was not so benign for wizards. It made a man vulnerable and his partner dangerous. And now Lupin offered up his own emotions so sweetly that Severus was inside without a thought, lost in a vat of impulses and impressions that couldn't be all his own. It was horrifying, in a distant way. How could Lupin do such a thing with someone like him, someone who couldn't, shouldn't be trusted?

The act had to spring from a deeper source than conscious thought, but to have so little self preservation! The depth of Lupin's need excited him beyond measure. Here, with his tongue in Lupin's mouth, he would take and take and take. A wizard's magic could feed on the power of such things. It was what Voldemort had done, to him and so many others. Emotion and intent were the essence of magic.

He plunged into the maelstrom of Lupin's most private feelings.

He didn't know diving in would release his own emotions. It must be a natural progression of his drugged state. He didn't want it; he tried to hold back, but couldn't. He'd denied the tumble of fear, regret, and desire ever since youth, locked it all safely away, not knowing what it could loose in himself and where it would lead him. Emotions were dangerous. Severus didn't have to open Pandora's Box to know bad things would happen if he did.

Now, he had accessed Lupin's deepest being and opened up his own. Their primal needs and instincts flitted about each other like flying things seeking to mate.

He had no idea whether Lupin was experiencing it too. If he was, did he understand what was happening? Penetrating someone else's inner reserve was not like having his own plundered. Voldemort had only cared about physicality and the baser emotions. The Dark Lord and his faithful Bellatrix had harvested Severus' anger, shame and pain to feed themselves. They had caused even more to supply their own greed.

Something inside Severus pulled him back to sanity. He would never, could never do that to anyone, even Lupin. When he was young, he'd thought cruelty was power. He had been close enough, then, to becoming like that madman. It wouldn't happen again.

Random feelings banged against his own, looking for their likeness. It was powerful, frightening: a meeting much like Legilimency but with none of the direction. None of the visions. All of the chaos. The brightly-colored streaks were faster. They climbed and spiraled in his mind. The duller and darker versions lagged behind, below. His head was filled with swirling colors, like a field of a million stars that blended off into whiteness. There were too many emotions, kept down for too long.

He wondered whose were the more eager to get free.

There was too much energy. Power was building between them. Some of the swarming wisps began to coagulate, rising, forming columns, glowing with primary colors. Severus wasn't using, absorbing, or directing the energy. It was doing something by itself. He had no idea what was happening, and he couldn't seem to control it.

A surge of fear rose up as Severus clung to the body beneath him. He tried desperately to clear his mind, and latched onto the one thing available - Lupin's neck. He bit down harder than he should've into the taut flesh; there would be a mark.

Yes.

A low moan pulled him away from the welter of emotion. Lupin's arms wrapped round his shoulders and centered him. It was nothing, it was nothing, just the effects of the Conjugus; he'd be more careful. Next time. There was nothing to stop him from finishing this. Momentarily losing his grip hadn't softened him, even if it had taken the edge off his desire. That edge was sharp enough again with Lupin's helpless noises to hone it.

It took his whole weight, what of it he could leverage, to roll over and pull Lupin on top. It was worth the effort. Severus had never looked to be smothered, but heavy as he was, Lupin atop him felt incredible. Now it was Severus' turn to knead a finely toned arse and dig his thumbs into the delineation between bicep and tricep. Being held down for his cock's pleasure made Severus' toes curl.

"Come on, I want it now," he rasped up into Lupin's ear. "I need it now. Put your back into it!"

He couldn't think anymore. There was blessed silence in his brain. With fierce upward thrust of his hips, his cock dragged a path through Lupin's short hairs to skin slicked with sweat and desire. Lupin got a hand between them and wrapped it around both their cocks. The rough gasps above him gave way to sharp cries in time with the splashes that crossed his belly. The hand stilled.

His words could have been yanked out of him by the same hand. "Don't stop! Please!"

The weight lifted off and settled next to Severus. "Shh."

Lupin swiped at the mess on his belly and used it to grease the slide of his long, strong hand up Severus' cock. So wet now, so slippery. That must be what fucking felt like, so tight around him he could feel the bone of knuckles riding the ridge. The fingers worked his foreskin over the stiff shaft like a wrap of silk. There was no hurry. Lupin's hand gave him a slow glide of twisting heat. He didn't know why it should be this different, but it was far, far better than his own too-familiar hand.

It was the best thing he'd ever felt. Until Lupin twisted himself down and sucked the tip of Severus' cock into his mouth.

"Fuck! Fuck!" His fingers cramping in Lupin's hair had to hurt, but the man made no protest as he clamped lips and tongue on the delicate skin of the exposed head. Suction had never meant anything in particular to Severus before. It existed as a fact of the difference between external and internal pressure, and could be of great value in the potions workroom. This . . . oh, this.

Bliss suffused his entire body. It started in the pit of his stomach and spread everywhere faster than he could track. From the inside it moved toward the outside, as if it were trying to escape his skin. Instead it was trapped there, a moving, growing, molten agitation that would break free or rip him apart in the trying. When the head of his cock hit the back of Lupin's throat, the agitation found its release. Long spurts of it juddered through his body and gained egress from his cock.

He was bathed in bliss. He vibrated with it. Only Lupin's weight on his chest held him pinned to the bed. Without it, he might have shaken apart. His fingers were numb. He tried to hold on to the feeling, but he couldn't make it stay. It evaporated from him in slow corkscrews, leaving him both sated and wanting more at the same time.

As an experiment, it had achieved incredible success. He now knew why lives were given and taken over love and sex. Those things made one feel . . . like a god.

It was a good five minutes that his mind lounged in stupor, drifting on the wings of godhood, before Lupin spoke. "That was . . . you're . . . unbelievable." The few words were slurred.

"Don't sprain anything." Severus would've snickered, but he didn't have the breath.

"I already did. I think you killed me."

"I will, if you don't get off."

"I already got off." Lupin was smiling foolishly, rolling aside, and pulling Severus close. Apparently he was too lazy to reach for his wand, as he chose to mop both of them up with the far edge of the sheet.

"I'm not washing these sheets," Severus mumbled, but there was no real answer, just a humming noise and a tightening of the arm around him.

He shouldn't have written off sex as a bad job so many years ago. Men and women, perhaps, were no loss, but this was. Sex wasn't anything like he remembered. Between Voldemort and Bellatrix, he supposed it could hardly have been worse. He was lucky all they'd wanted was his magic. That was nothing compared to what could've happened had they found him attractive. Others, Muggle and wizard, hadn't been so lucky. Even surrounded by Lupin's heat, he shuddered.

"'Kay?"

Lupin's voice was soft but clear, as if one part of his mind was still awake enough to keep watch. Lupin was . . . protective. Severus couldn't remember the last time anyone had tried to protect him from anything. Potter kept him from being executed, but it didn't seem the same. This was no quest for honor, truth or justice. This was a small thing. Personal. Intimate. Lupin's breath brushed the fine hairs at the back of Severus' neck.

"I'm fine," he whispered, and Lupin relaxed. Once more there were slow, steady breaths as momentary wakefulness settled back into sleep.

He couldn't afford distraction. Fucking Lupin was supposed to be a job, not a hobby, but the sex was so good . . . all he wanted was more. What could be wrong with mixing business and pleasure?

One thing was sure; he didn't want his stay here cut short. The Conjugus had left him able to think, and that was good. Subtlety was safer. But the werewolf had some semblance of a brain, too, and what if the house stopped acting up? Even Lupin might start to question why he was not only fucking his ugly childhood enemy, but paying for the privilege. Severus really couldn't afford that.

He'd make sure it didn't happen.

 

~~~~~~

 

Unseen by either drowsy man, a tiny lacework of radiant threads rose toward the ceiling, disappearing into the plaster as if it had never been.

 

~~~~~~

 

The heavy, heady scent of the body next to him filtered slowly in through his sodden contentment. They reeked of sex. His head was full of pudding after the best night's sleep he'd had in weeks. Funny how coming his brains out helped with all that. Lack of rain showers didn't hurt either, and although there'd been plenty of thunder and lightning, it wasn't the house's fault.

He couldn't get over it. Severus Snape. Who had made love with him, and was even now turning this room from indifferent guest accomodation into Remus' favorite room in the house. Possibly into his favorite room ever. He'd eat here, sleep here, do the dishes and play the marimbas here. After he found out what a marimba was. Of course, he'd have to tie Severus to the bed, because what would the room be without Severus Snape, Sex Slave? A silent, jaw-cracking yawn hijacked what he knew damned well was a goofy grin.

Turning his head, Remus saw the tall crystal vase with its spray of white orchids. Well, I'll be blowed. His lips curved again. Undoubtedly he would be. Maybe even today.

Severus had his face squashed into the pillow. How could he breathe that way? It had to be one of the advantages of a large nose. Remus feathered the short black hair with his fingertips, admiring the way the silver distinguished it. Severus twitched up from his pillow with a snort.

"Sorry," said Remus. "I didn't mean to disturb you."

"Mmm. 'S a better wake-up than I've had in ages."

He examined the bold features for sarcasm. There wasn't any. Whatever Severus had made . . . really worked. He might as well get a good-morning kiss. Get it while the getting is good. Remus leaned down and pressed their lips together. A faint taste of morning breath only underlined the cozy domesticity. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to pretend it happened every day.

"Thanks," he said.

"Hmm?"

"For the orchids." Remus gestured at the bedside table. Severus squinted at them as if he needed glasses. "They're my favorite. Supposed to be classy, but if you look close, they're kind of strange and wild-looking." He stopped, embarrassed. What did he say to someone who was in love with him?

"As befits a man with a wild side."

A sly look, but it invited him to laugh. Remus' heart gave a painful jerk. It had been many moons and many losses since anyone had laughed about his curse. It was the last thing he expected from Severus.

He smiled weakly. "I'll make us some coffee."

Severus had a taste for good coffee - the Hogwarts house elves had kept a special stash just for him. The Ethiopian Harry'd sent was excellent. Remus hummed as he ground the beans and measured them into the coffeemaker. The kitchen had turned out well, if he did say so himself. The magic window above the sink showed a bright, cheery autumn day, never mind the reality, and Remus felt the same way.

In reality, he had a houseful of nasty uptight git who wanted nothing but as much money as he could get. Who had taken a love potion for reasons Remus couldn't quite pin down, but he knew damn well it wasn't meant to be for Remus' advantage. On the other hand, the sex was already the best Remus ever had. And a love-potioned Snape was nothing to sneeze at. A loving Severus, even for such a very brief time, was a treasure beyond his imagination. Something to remember.

A werewolf could live a lot in the blink of an eye - had to. Everything went to shite once a month.

He tapped his wand on empty air, then opened the lid of the leatherbound case that appeared from it. Cygnus Black winked at him from its gold inscription. He'd unearthed this trove of potions in the attic yesterday, and for the space of a few minutes had intended to give it to Severus, until . . . what he saw. Until his hasty search through Byttyr and Sweete's Keyes To Ye Potions & Mediccaments revealed it held the antidote to Snape's green elixir. A quick spell-check confirmed the ingredients listed on the vial's label.

He paused a moment to ponder Cygnus Black needing an antidote for love potion. Remus had seen his portrait in the attic. The man was homely, to say the least. Still, as Remus now knew, money was more important than looks. Or personality. Or . . . fuck. He quit that line of thought and studied the vial. It was a clear liquid, not particularly viscous. There were several preservation spells on it, and only one of them seemed decayed to Remus' inexpert inspection.

As much as he'd prefer not, the very name of the potion had associations that made it perfect for his use.

He felt a deep pang of regret as he tipped one drop of Shield Of Artemis into each mug, but it was not enough to stay his hand. As much as he'd enjoyed last night, a Severus befuddled by Conjugus was no Severus at all. Blue light flared out of the cups when he poured the coffee in, but after it died down, there was no sign of the potion. He sniffed, then took a cautious sip. Yes, it was much too hot to tell whether the flavor was altered, but there wasn't a suspicious smell, only the delicious aroma of coffee.

He was about to try another taste when the drone of a million swarming bees snaked into the kitchen, faintly at first, then louder and louder. It was coming from upstairs. Shite! He managed to set down the precious coffee without spilling any, grabbed his wand from the counter, and raced for the stairs.

"Severus! Severus!" As he topped the staircase and rounded the corner searching for the source, it made itself known. The bathroom door shattered and flew inward, exposing a toilet grown five times its normal size. Its bowl reached upward like the bell of a tuba, big enough to hold a man, supple and writhing in the storm it had created. Severus was inside it, clinging for his life to the rim, his mouth working. He might've been shouting spells or yelling for help, but the roar of the furious wind-and-water funnel that tried to wrench him down covered his words. His knuckles were white on the rim.

"Cesso! Expello!" Nothing happened. The intense suction was pulling him in too, and he fought against it. "Discutio!"

With a bellow, the toilet belched Severus out. His body knocked Remus backward. The two men flailed for a moment and toppled out the door. Remus' head hit the floor so hard he saw stars. A torrent of water spewed over them as the toilet exploded, rocking the house and them with it.

"Bugger," said Remus.

"You have a heretofore unexpected capacity for understatement." With a poke and prod of sharp elbows and a knee, Severus managed to get shakily off, sluicing water from his hair. "I begin to see the problem with the house."

"Yeah, and now I have to get in new fixtures and replaster the walls. Probably a new tub and shower, too." There were long wedges of porcelain knifed into the tiled walls; they hung like stalactites from the ceiling. Good thing they hadn't been in there when it blew. "Looks a mess. I hadn't wanted to redo the bath."

"Your solicitous concern for my health and well-being warms my heart."

"I'm glad you're all right." Remus grinned and patted Severus' knee. His eyes widened. "You're naked."

"How unusual to be in the water closet in dishabille." Severus rolled his eyes. "I didn't start out this way. I fear your voracious plumbing system has eaten my only pair of trousers."

Visions of Severus going about the house naked the day long filled Remus' head. He was glad for his own loose trousers. "Let me get you some of my things. I'm afraid you'll have to use the downstairs bath for the time being; I can't restore this with magic."

"I think I'll pass for right now."

It didn't take long for Severus to wend his way down to the kitchen. His trousers were a trifle short and the shirt slightly oversized, but he'd covered it all up with one of Remus' new robes for warmth. Remus smiled over his shoulder from where he was frying sausages and potatoes. He liked the look of his clothes on Severus, but the circumstances were far from perfect. "I'd like to get started on that sex magic as soon as may be. We know that the house has identified you as a threat. You won't be safe until it's taken care of."

An unseen hand lifted the hair from his nape. Lips pressed where the hair had been. "My pleasure. But I'll be spending this morning working on your Wolfsbane."

Remus' shoulders tightened with an unexpected disappointment. Even with a love potion in him, Severus still hated - feared -- the werewolf so much he'd do his own work to make sure it couldn't run free. "It's fine." He chivvied sausages about the pan as if they'd been trying to escape. "I've got a supply."

"From Egypt."

Warm breath pressed the words against the back of his neck. Oh, God, that voice. It was as rich and clinging as pot smoke, touching his skin, enough to give him a contact high. It had been a long, long time, but Remus remembered the feeling. "How'd you know?"

"Doesn't your neck itch?"

It did now, along with other, nicer, things. "Not usually."

"You're lucky. You never noticed the blue spots?"

The tip of what had to be a tongue touched his cervical vertebrae. Once. Twice. Three times. He shivered. "Mmmm."

"They're a reaction to the Nymphaea Caerulea extract that Egyptian potion makers use as an anti-spasmodic."

Before Remus could make his melted kneecaps work, Severus had an arm round him, and nicked the cup of coffee he'd been nursing. "Hey! You had your own coffee!"

He made a show of tasting the spot where Remus' lips had been. "I want yours, too."

"Fine, take it." Take it. Take anything. Everything.

If Severus didn't come down off that love potion soon, Remus would be a wreck. It was one thing to enjoy the idea of a loving, flirtatious Severus, and another entirely to respond emotionally to him. Remus couldn't help but respond to a man he'd lusted after for so many years. In a few days, or even a few hours, that would be over. It had to be. Severus had drunk almost a double dose of the love-killer. When would Severus turn his back? By the time they got around to trying the sex magic, it was likely that he'd kneel up on the bed to wait passively. They'd be right back where they started.

Remus sighed. "While you're working upstairs, I'll be shopping at Limmindoon's Lovely Lavatories."

By seven in the evening, Remus had been wrestling with the bathroom most of the day. He could only be glad it hadn't been wrestling back. He'd managed to assemble all his materials, break apart the old tub, remove it, and set in the new toilet. It was a huge bathroom; he didn't have to install the new tub first and wait on the toilet. This way, they wouldn't need to traipse - or be thrown - down the stairs to to have a piss in the dead of night.

Severus had left tea for him outside the door, which he'd accepted with grateful thanks and not a little surprise. Surely the Shield of Artemis would have taken effect by afternoon? The tea was welcome, though. He was tired and sweat-encrusted. He couldn't do any more today. The tub and shower surround were going to have to wait.

A low voice caught his attention. "I see you're finished."

He looked up to see Severus in the doorway. The man looked like a speck of dust wouldn't dare settle on his immaculate robes. His hair must be a lot easier to care for when it was short. "I'll say I'm finished. What was your first clue?" Remus wryly examined his filthy jeans, torn t-shirt, and the dust-speckled hair on his arms. No doubt there was plenty of crud in the hair straggling in his face, as well.

"I scarcely expect a man who's been doing hard labor to look perfectly fresh at the end of the day." Severus was very nearly purring. "Now, go clean yourself up. When you're done, you may join me in the blue bedroom."

It was the fastest shower Remus had taken in months.

At the door, he stopped. His brows crawled almost to his hairline as he considered the changes Severus had wrought in what had been a perfectly ordinary bedroom. It was bigger than before. Most certainly it needed to be, to house the masses of exotic flora, the gnarled trees that stretched across the starry night sky, and the waterfall that gurgled and splashed in one corner. Enormous spikes of heliconia, birds of paradise and things he didn't know the names of were lit with orbs of white flame that hung among them. A thicket of bamboo in a half-circle around the bed clacked in the warm breeze.

Somewhere above him, a parrot squawked.

Remus was still transfixed by the scene before him when a pale figure emerged from the bamboo. "Severus?"

He was naked except for a boldly patterned cloth knotted at his hips. It was little more than a loincloth, barely covering his privates. It should have looked silly on his narrow frame, but instead it made him look more masculine than muggle trousers or wizardwear. He had a spare grace that needed no billowing robes to accentuate it. He carried two goblets. Remus had to look twice before he realized they were pewter, not silver.

When Severus handed Remus a goblet, they both drank. It tasted vaguely of lime. Then Severus began to speak. The warm, sensual lines flowed over and around them both.

"You grew up with me, were a boy with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become
not yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we
pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands in return,
I am to see that I do not lose you."

Remus shook his head to clear it. Those words in that voice had made him feel a bit fuzzy around the edges, or maybe the potion had some effect despite the Shield of Artemis. "I like it," he admitted, looking into Severus' smile, "but . . . poetry?"

"I give you fair warning before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different."

Severus laughed outright at the look on his face. Severus, happy to have confounded him. "I'll have you know I bastardised one of the most brilliant Wizard poets of all time for this occasion." When Remus continued to stare blankly, he relented. "Walt Whitman was my mother's favorite. She used to read him to me. When I was old enough to understand there was sex in it, I . . . borrowed her books." Then the most amazing thing of all happened: Severus winked.

"You said you had no interest!"

One black brow lifted. "Do you honestly believe I was never young and foolish?" Severus shook his head. "More foolish than most, perhaps. It was the intervening lifetime that made me who I am. You must have heard that a cynic is naught but a disappointed romantic. I am the most cynical man you'll ever know."

Remus nodded, struck by the implication. An unpleasant thought occurred to him. Sweet talk and special effects would have won over a young Severus, he was positive. "This . . . surely this wasn't what V--" He could've clapped a hand over his mouth in an attempt to shove the words back in, but Severus only smirked.

"Hardly. The Dark Lord was looking for a much different outcome. Sex magic is what we make of it." It wasn't quite what Remus had been thinking, but it was close enough. Severus led him to the bed. Remus sat. His eyes were level with the strange designs on the loincloth, but he ignored temptation while Severus continued speaking. "You and I have both lived lives that fell short of our hopes and dreams. Why not experience them now?"

For a man dosing himself with love potion, Severus still had a practical streak.

"Why not?" Remus echoed.

The smoke-and-liquor voice seemed to reach straight into him. "Tell me. Tell me your dreams."

"I want . . ." Remus swallowed, his adam's apple bobbing. "I need . . ." His throat was closing over the depth of his desires. He'd always thought of himself as less uptight than Severus, ready and willing to expose his inner self to the right person. Except that this time, what he truly wanted wasn't an option. So he asked for the next best thing. "I want you to call me Remus."

Severus looked at him, eyes wider than usual. It lent him an odd cast of innocence and uncertainty. For just that long, the man who had done a thousand desperate things looked like he didn't know how to act. "Remus?" The name sounded almost foreign on his tongue.

"Yes," he said softly, "Remus. Now, come here."

He took Severus' hand, stroking the fine hairs on the back of it, continuing on up the heavy-boned forearm to the elbow. Then he turned the hand over, kissed the palm, and licked and gently nipped his way up the blue vein until he reached the sensitive skin on the inside of the elbow. He sucked a tiny bruise into the flesh there. Severus shivered.

"This is what I want, Severus. I want to drive you to distraction. I want to touch every part of you, and I want to be inside you. I want to fuck you until you scream."

The black eyes closed, and only then did Remus remember. There might have been more screaming with less pleasure for Severus, before. But when Severus opened his eyes again, all he said was, "Yes." He sat on the bed, then lay down flat on his back, stiff and obviously uncomfortable.

Remus nudged him up the bed until the bamboo was within reach. "Hold on to this, okay?"

Severus gave him a long, narrow look, but he did it. Slowly, as if his joints were reluctant to bend.

It was just as well the Jungle Room was quite warm, or there'd be gooseflesh that had nothing to do with his activities. And there was plenty to go around as it was. He mouthed the tendons of Severus' long neck, tickled the rim of an ear with the tip of his tongue, gently tugged the hair around his nipples. Remus loved his luxuriant chest hair. It felt so good against his face that he spent a bit of time playing there, running his fingers through it and nuzzling, teasing the now-erect nipples.

Severus' wriggles had the loincloth around his waist, just above where the splendid cock was ready and waiting. Remus had other fish to fry. "Lift your hips." He readjusted the loincloth to where it had been, this time with the knot securely tied atop his cock, the dark crown pushing up lovely and vulnerable against a bed of black curls. He kissed it and moved lower to the happy sound of Severus cursing him to Hades.

When he reached the ankles, there were feet at the ends. He'd never paid the least attention to anyone's feet before, except his own, and only if they hurt.

"Severus, you have feet."

"You bastard. Get on with it," Severus snarled weakly. Then he roused enough to register Remus' words. "That's the most idiotic thing you've ever said, in a very long line of . . ." he trailed off into a whimper as Remus began to touch them.

They were shapely and slender, as Remus would've expected. Why shouldn't they be like the rest of him? They responded with a stretch and curl to a brush of knuckles on the high instep, like they enjoyed the attention. Not ticklish. Severus didn't try to yank them away. In fact, his sighs went nicely with the clacking of the bamboo and the gurgle of water. There were light calluses on the edges as if Severus walked too much on the outsides of his feet. Remus dug in with his thumbs. Severus' groan seemed to come all the way up from where Remus knelt.

"Does that hurt?"

"No, Christ -- no, don't stop!"

He massaged deeply into the foot to more sighs and whimpers. Had he known years ago that Severus had such sensitive feet, he'd have had a secret weapon. He could've seduced Severus in an empty classroom by slipping off his shoes, peeling away his socks, and making love to his long beautiful feet. Young Severus, so prickly and unreachable, would have been his for the taking. He'd have gladly licked and sucked on them until Severus pleaded to come. Remus pressed his cheek to one sole, whimpering a little himself.

The soles were surprisingly smooth. He licked a stripe up the center of one. The foot jerked away with what sounded suspiciously like a squeak.

"Stop?"

"No!" The word came out almost on a sob.

He didn't stop. He latched onto a foot like a remora, licking and biting, holding it tightly so Severus couldn't kick or pull away. It made him feel masterful, powerful, to have this effect on a man ordinarily reserved and distant. Toes curled against his cheek. He licked around them, stuck his tongue between them, then caught one in his mouth. He gave each one the attention it so richly deserved, sucking hard. The bed rocked just a little as Severus ground his loincloth-clad arse into it, trying to get friction from the knot that rode his cock.

"Lupin! Touch me, touch me, I can't --"

Remus moved fast enough to wrap himself around Severus and hold him through the shudders of his orgasm, kissing the swollen lips, crooning into his hair. Severus' arms slid around him in return, no real strength left in them, Severus' fingers still curled from clutching the bamboo. Overbright eyes opened when he kissed their lids.

"I need more." The words caught on a breath. "Give me more."

It was more entreaty than demand. Something tightened inside Remus that made his heart squeeze, then expand; blood rushed to his head. Dizzied, he took a deep breath. He felt like he could fly. "I will."

The time for teasing was past. Remus had to fight just to control himself. His long-neglected cock ached, and he shivered in the knowledge of what he was about to do. Severus rolled easily, nearly limp, and Remus shoved a pillow under him, flipping the loincloth up. With that delicious arse propped in front of him, he thought of taking a taste. The smooth skin against his cheeks, the irresistible smell of aroused man, the tender pucker at his lips -- but it couldn't be now. With every cell of his body, he wanted in.

Wand, wand, where was it?

"Not," mumbled Severus.

"Not what?"

"The knot." He was trying to lift himself, hands pushing uselessly at the pillow.

"Oh. Sorry." Remus dragged Severus up by the hipbones, undoing the loincloth. Severus mewled when the wand tapped his buttock, but not as loud as he did when Remus pushed in two fingers. This spell should relax as well as lubricate. Oh, the stretch and cling of muscle around his knuckles was almost as exquisite as it would be around his cock. There! That was what he was looking for. Severus jolted under his hand as if hexed, his knees giving way, and he slid down to the pillow. Oh, yes, that was it.

"Come back up to your knees. It'll be easier this way." Severus must have regained some energy, for he got on all fours without Remus' help. "Ready?" There was a sound of assent. He guided his cock with a shaking hand, pressing the tip into the ring of heat. When the head popped inside, he felt it in an ecstatic quiver all over his body. At Severus' moan, Remus massaged the damp skin of his tense lower back. He drew in a ragged breath, willing himself not to do what he so badly wanted to. It had been a long time for both of them.

"Do it."

All right, then.

As he eased in, Severus said, "Think about the house."

He couldn't make heads or tails of the words. "Sorry?"

"Magic. The house."

"Right."

He couldn't. There was no room for anything inside him but sensation. It filled him up and streamed from every pore. All he could think of was Severus' arse, the beauty of his pale back, and the incredible pressure around his cock. He wound his arms around Severus' chest and hauled him up so that Severus' back pressed against his chest. It was pure bliss. He was flying. Animal moans matched his every thrust. He wasn't sure whose they were. Once he had Severus secure in one arm, he slid the other hand down the treasure trail for the man's half-hard cock.

Severus was inside his mind.

He didn't know how he knew that. It just was. He'd felt Legilimency before, but this wasn't the same. Severus wasn't prying . . . he was just there. Remus could see him standing there in his mind. It was completely separate from the joining of their bodies. Severus was dressed as Remus hadn't seen him in ages, with every inch of himself covered in black right up to the high collar. His clothing would have cost the world half its buttons. His face was set in the same stern lines it had always worn, yet somehow Remus thought he looked ill at ease. Remus held out his hand.

That was when his body overwhelmed him. It felt so good, the giving in, as good as the fucking, as good as the cock in his hand, and he howled. With the combined instinct of wolf and man, without embarrassment, he howled to the night sky above him. It blended in with the pounding of his blood and the rush of his climax. Somehow he managed to keep pumping Severus' cock when the snap of his hips became random. There was one last groan as Severus came too, and they both slumped sideways onto the bed.

"I saw you," he murmured into the black hair.

Severus, who apparently had no energy for discussion, blew a raspberry.

"Seriously. I saw you in my head."

"Then you need your head examined."

Remus smiled, pulled Severus closer. As the fragrant breeze dried his skin, he let the waterfall burble him to sleep.

 

~~~~~~

 

That same gentle breeze lifted a hand-sized web of light into the treetops, where it vanished.

 

~~~~~~

 

Severus was up early every day. More brewing time in a day meant more stock available to sell when he left . . . even if leaving was becoming less and less palatable. He'd adjusted surprisingly well to having another person around. Remus was fairly low-key company, anyway. Their lives slipped easily into routine that soothed him after the chaos he'd been living in since Hogwarts.

Since Remus preferred a lie-in and a hearty breakfast, Severus usually came downstairs about ten or eleven to eat with him and have another cup of coffee. If he was busy and didn't leave the workroom, Remus brought breakfast for him on a tray and left it at the door. Severus made supper, although sometimes it was as simple as sandwiches and tinned soup. He could only wonder what it was that Remus had against House Elves. If he didn't want Elves, the man could afford a housekeeper.

For some unexamined reason, instead of ignoring this morning's knock he answered the door. "Come in. Since this is all about you, you may as well help." He savored a sip of the precious coffee. "Surely you'll have enough motivation not to cock it up. I don't hold out much hope, but it's possible you can learn how to do this yourself. " He gestured at the worktable with its mound of mushrooms.

Remus glanced from the mushrooms to him, then cocked an inquiring brow.

"Those mushrooms are Amanita phalloides, and I will need them for this afternoon's brewing. Slice them thinly for me. By the way," he handed Remus the seven inch vegetable knife, "Please do not get blood on the knife. It's very expensive, and your blood will render it useless."

"Amanitas? You brew Wolfsbane with Destroying Angels?" The look on his face was priceless. If he'd known it would have that effect, he'd have told Remus long ago.

"No. There are several Amanitas that fall in that category, but this particular one is colloquially known as Death Cap. It provides your Wolfsbane with its so-memorable smell and taste." Severus couldn't help a smirk. Both were quite nauseating.

Remus took a step back. "They're deadly poison!"

"Indeed." The ceiling, he noted, was a different shade of green than the walls. However, there was no respite up there from the stupidity of werewolves. "There are many deadly poisons used in medicine. Aconite, for instance." He glared at Remus from under his brows. "Yet it also provides a painkiller and narcotic, as well as relief from some symptoms of lycanthropy. Correct preparation is everything. I'm only sorry I had to purchase prepared aconite this time. You may want to learn to prepare your own, as it generally is more potent when fresher. Now, get to work. I have things that need doing."

He turned away to adjust the heat under a beaker of infusion of licorice. When he looked back, Remus was creating Amanita mush. "I said slice, you nincompoop!" he snapped. "Have you forgotten everything you ever learned?"

"You overbearing arse! I'm only working with something that could destroy me!"

"Don't be dramatic. You are working with me." Remus gave him a lengthy stare that he couldn't interpret. It made him feel just a bit . . . uncomfortable. "You are attempting to slice a mushroom. I know what I am doing. The mushroom itself is helpless." Severus snorted in disgust. "Very well, I will show you."

Severus moved close behind him and laid his own hands on Remus'. His attention was captured by the hands themselves; they were large and square, so very suited to the kind of work he'd accomplished in the house. It was incredible that hands so powerful should touch his body with such delicacy. "You have perfect hands. Your hands are meant for a fine blade and the stroke of each cut." He spoke in a hoarse whisper, directly in Remus' ear. "Do you see this Amanita?"

Remus nodded without speaking.

"This is the material with which you shall conquer the wolf. By itself, it is just a mushroom, interesting yet inert. Its power sleeps. Only when you have acted upon it will it reveal its true nature. Appreciate it for what it is, and what it will become. Use your hands to shape its destiny. Like this." Severus guided his hands as Remus sliced quarter-moons of mushroom cap as thin as a coat of paint. They were elegant. Beautiful. "See how the Amanita gives itself up to you."

The knife clattered to the table. For the first time, Severus realized he was hard. Remus turned in his arms. He was being kissed, kisses so full of need and desire that they wiped away all concern for knives and ingredients. All he cared about was the hands. He knew then that he had been asleep, and that Remus' hands would awaken him. They touched him as if he were material of inestimable potential. He gave himself up to them. He had no idea what he might become. When Remus' mouth slid down his cock, he didn't care.

This time when he found himself in the midst of Remus' swirling emotions, their swiftness and bright colors intrigued him. He reached out for one of the fluttering things. It was like touching a musical note. It chimed inside him, so clean and pure that it rang him like crystal. This was Remus' essence. His body responded as it must to the man at his feet, but in his head there was song.

 

~~~~~~

 

In the bright, cold winter sunshine that streamed in through the windows of the former music room, the delicate patch of magic was almost invisible. Then it was gone.

 

~~~~~~

 

"As much as I like it, you won't want to be wearing my clothes until the end of time. And you've certainly got the money to dress yourself," Remus teased.

"I won't go to Hogsmeade. There's less likelihood of my being accosted in Diagon Alley. I also need to go to Gringotts'. I have a deposit to make."

His smile and quick kiss still surprised Remus. After two weeks alternating love potion and antidote, it was reasonable for Severus to be a bit off-kilter, but nothing like this. He was still acting as if he were in love. He was very kind, for Severus, and his patience far outlasted anything Remus would have expected. He had a sense of humor not quite so bitter or cruel as before, and generally treated Remus as an intelligent, worthwhile human being.

It was as much strange as wonderful.

A very long time ago, Remus had read some psychological treatise on the power of suggestion - in essence, mind over matter. The notion intrigued him. One, Severus had survived all these years by sheer strength of will. There was no questioning his power of mind. Two, he knew absolutely that both of them were taking a love potion daily. Could it be that this was what guided his actions? It was certainly something to think about.

They got to Diagon when the shops opened, avoiding most everyone. Severus submitted to being poked and prodded in the name of measurement and ordered some very nice things, not all in black. He really was breaking out of old habits, and had what Remus, in his own admitted ignorance, thought was very good taste. The robes, trousers and shirts he chose would cetainly flatter his lean lines. The jodpurs and riding boots had a definite appeal.

"Do you ride?" He wouldn't put anything past Severus at this point.

He was rewarded by a leer. "I most certainly do."

It was a still day as they exited the shop, but the bustle of shoppers at this later hour made the streets boisterous. Grey clouds spitted out snow, making the atmosphere more in keeping with the upcoming holidays. A few snowflakes caught in Severus' hair, then just as quickly disappeared. A tall, skinny man trying to shoulder his way down the sidewalk bumped into Remus. He looked up, his wind-reddened face darkening further as he saw Severus. "You!" he said, in accents of loathing.

"Walk on, little man," replied Snape coldly, suiting his own actions to his words.

"No, I won't! You're the murderer! You're the one who never had to pay for his crimes!" The man danced after them and called out, "It's him! Severus Snape, the man who murdered Dumbledore!" They were drawing a crowd. "It's Snape!" The man yelled again. "Murderer!"

Severus reached for his wand, but Remus stayed his hand. "Yes! It's Severus Snape!" he called to the gawkers. Severus looked at him like he'd lost his mind, but there was method to his madness. The man tried to interrupt, but Remus was having none of it. He poked a finger into the man's chest, and when he sputtered, Remus simply growled, a low warning that the florid man seemed to recognize. He shrank back.

"Look, all of you! This is Severus Snape!"

A murmur went through the crowd. Remus had plenty of experience speaking to children, and these people were no different.

"Look closely! This is Severus Snape, a man who has done more for the Wizarding World than anyone else you'll ever meet. A man who suffered in ways you cannot imagine in order to free you from the Dark Mark of Voldemort!" An uneasy hush settled at the dreaded name. "A man who lived in the shadows so that you," he looked into the faces of the men and women peering greedily on, "and you, and you didn't have to lift a finger to help yourselves."

He rounded on the green-robed witch nearest him. "Do you have children?"

"Four," she said proudly. "And not a one of them a killer like --"

"Those four children are alive and well and in your snug home today instead of fighting knee deep in mud and blood, aren't they? Aren't they?" The woman looked away. "Without this man, your lives would be a living hell under Voldemort's thumb. That's only if you were still alive to care. Go home to your hot cuppa and your children and your dogs, and thank the powers that be. Better yet, thank Severus Snape. Now," he finished, narrowing his eyes at the crowd, "get out of my way."

The crowd parted silently for them to pass.

"You really should take up motivational speaking."

Remus had many regrets, and that was one of them. "I should have spoken up for you long ago."

"I wouldn't have thanked you for it then."

A hand on Remus' shoulder spun him round hard enough that he stumbled into the dimness of the space between two buildings. He only had time to register the flick of a wand before Severus shoved him up against the brick wall, dropped to his knees, and began to fumble for Remus' flies. "What . . ." he said stupidly, as if his cock wasn't already hardening under questing fingers. Severus' open cloak flared out on the ground like that of a knight kneeling to his liege.

"I'm more than willing to thank you now."

Cold air, warm hands, hot mouth. The contrast made him shiver, a moan creeping from his throat. Severus Snape - one-time greasy git, war hero, killer, reciter of poetry - was down in the dirt, in public, sucking Remus' cock like it was everything he'd wanted, all his life. One hand cupped his balls and squeezed gently in time with the mouth on his cock. When the hot mouth got close to the base of his cock, he could feel the scratch of the newly-trimmed beard against his tenderest skin.

People were walking by, oblivious to the two men.

Remus almost wished they could see in, wished they could watch the beauty of Severus' hollowed cheeks as he slid down on Remus' shaft. Wished they could admire the red lips, the elegant hands, the intent black eyes as Severus drove him wild. He gurgled and thrust forward, too excited to hold back. The noise made a woman on the sidewalk turn, looking into the darkened space, or so she thought. Severus, noticing her, pulled away.

A spider-silk of precome trailed between his bottom lip and the head of Remus' cock for the briefest of moments, then snapped.

"Puss, puss," she said. "Here, kitty, kitty."

With a wicked smile for Remus, he held the cock away from the trouser placket, dragging the foreskin down firmly as if to display his thick prize, and Remus gasped. The woman looked confused, her attention caught again.

She couldn't see Severus milking his cock with the circled fingers of one hand, nor the collision of hips and wall as he rocked back and forth in the firm grip. His nails dug at the unyielding brick; the wall was winning. He tried to stifle his moans. This was really happening. He and Severus were having sex in front of some strange woman. His trousers were down to his knees and Severus was showing him off, jerking him off, making him come in thick, rippling spurts that landed on Severus' face, dripped down his neck, and showed pearly white until they soaked into the shoulders of his black cloak.

The woman clicked her tongue hopefully once more, then shrugged and walked on.

He grabbed the shoulders of the cloak and hauled Severus up, his own spunk wet on his palms, turning him so that his clothed arse was against Remus' still-hard cock. He palmed the heavy line of the shaft, pressing hard from base to tip. The fabric near the crown was already stained with need; it took only that one long touch to finish him. Severus grunted softly and convulsed as his orgasm spilled into his pants. Remus held on tight, the wall bearing their weight, until they could both stand properly.

"Your thanks are most graciously accepted," he said, still a bit breathless. "Gringotts'?"

"Since I've no doubt you were thinking only of Grimmauld Place the whole time, I expect you'll need to make a withdrawal before I make my deposit." There was an insufferably smug look on Severus' lean face.

 

~~~~~~~

 

It went without saying; he'd known it all along.

Remus had fretted, but Severus' confidence in his own work had never wavered for a single instant. Under the influence of the correct preparation of Wolfsbane, the hideous "werewolf" of his nightmares was nothing more than an overgrown and slobbering lapdog.

In the morning, Severus carried the heavy burden of silver chain and manacles back down to the small, bloodstained room near the wine cellars and dumped them without ceremony. He locked that door on his way out.

 

~~~~~~~

 

Only the wolf saw the bit of light, and by morning Remus had forgotten.

 

~~~~~~~

 

The cheery blaze in the fireplace flared green, startling Remus out of his book. "Harry!" He all but ran over to crouch in front of it.

"Hi, Remus!"

"Harry, where are you?"

"I'm at the Weasley's. Hermione wanted to come home for the holidays, and Bill had plenty of vacation, so here we are."

"Can you stop by?"

"Right now, if you like. Room for a few extra? I know Hermione and Bill would like to say hello."

"Come on in."

The three of them trouped into the parlor, a quick grab by Hermione saving Harry from falling on his arse. Remus hid a smile. He could dispatch a Dark Lord, but Harry never had quite caught on to floo travel.

After he got his walking feet back, Harry stuck out his hand. Remus used it to pull him into a tight hug. For some reason, he'd been a lot more tactile lately. Seemed like Harry was, too. He didn't try to shrug away like the Harry of old would have. "You look great." He did. The Egyptian sun agreed with him, turning his pale skin golden with a sprinkling of freckles. The freckles were Lily's legacy, he knew, along with the red highlights that now streaked his unruly black hair.

Harry looked around the parlor. "I can't believe this! This is amazing! Is the whole house like this?" He turned to Remus, eyes lit up. "It's . . . good. It feels nice."

"It's getting there." Remus turned to shake Bill's hand, then Hermione's.

"Hey! Don't I get a hug?"

It seemed that Hermione had loosened up a little herself. She was such a little thing, and it did him good to see her vibrant and pink-cheeked when a year ago she'd been pale and drawn. She looked her age now instead of old before her time. Living without a war hanging over their heads had done them all some good, he mused. "Why don't I go get us some tea and biscuits? From the market, I'm afraid."

Bill grinned widely. "That's brilliant! You can't get Jaffa Cakes in Egypt. Well, only when Hermione's mum sends a care package."

"No! I want the grand tour," insisted Harry.

"You're willing to look now, eat later?" Hermione patted his tummy. "Then it's got to be important."

"Let's take a walk, then."

Severus appeared in the doorway, a mug of his beloved coffee in hand. "I thought I heard voices."

"I'm glad you're down! These three just wandered in off the street," said Remus with a wave of his arm. "Severus spends mornings in his workroom."

"Hello, Severus." Bill offered his hand.

Severus accepted it briefly. "You're looking well."

Harry and Hermione looked at each other as if startled by this outpouring of courtesy, and then Hermione stepped forward. "Good to see you, sir."

"And you, Miss Granger."

Harry stoically held out his hand as well with a "Hello, sir," and looked utterly astounded to receive what was nearly a smile.

"I approve of your continued survival." Severus nodded at the room at large and said, "I fear I must keep company with my Skele-Gro. I'm sure we will meet again."

As soon as he was gone, Harry snatched Remus' arm. He looked absolutely beside himself. "What's he doing here?"

"He's living here, for the time being." A mild approach would be best. "It's due to him that I've been able to complete renovations on this house."

"You can't be serious! What does he do that you couldn't get from somebody else? Hell, anybody else."

Well, perhaps mild wouldn't work. "In truth, we've been working sex magic."

"What?"

If he were older, Harry would have looked apoplectic. Thank goodness there was no reason to worry about him dropping over dead of a heart attack at twenty-two.

"It's the only thing we could find to break the indirectly absorbed curses that twisted the House Of Black." He put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "There was no other way. Look, come with me and I'll tell you all about it."

Harry allowed himself to be herded out with the others, even listening to Remus' explanation. Soon he moved on to asking about the things Remus had found in the attic and how he'd physically returned the rooms to their true beauty - avoiding, of course, all talk of sex magic. Obviously his year with Bill and Hermione had calmed him considerably. All three of them ooohed and aaaahed over the changes.

"This place was a horror story," Harry said, shuddering dramatically. "You've worked miracles!"

After he extolled the house's many virtues, they chatted about life in Egypt. Harry was studying to be a cursebreaker. Remus wasn't surprised to learn he had some native talent for it. Hermione waxed poetic about the still-intact magical buildings of the Royal Library of Alexandria. Bill talked about his latest assignments. It was all very pleasant. Remus had genuinely missed them.

Hermione couldn't stay for tea. Remus left Bill and Harry in the library while he went to the kitchen, happy in the knowledge that nothing in it would try to kill them them before he got back. Those days were over.

The door was only open a crack when he got back with the tea tray. He was just turning round to push it open with his bum when he heard Harry's voice rise.

" - honestly! Sex magic? Or is he just having me on? I know I'm not very bright sometimes, but I trusted Remus not to bullshit me."

He almost smiled at this reassurance that the sulky youth was still there under his patina of adulthood.

Bill's pleasant, ready laugh filled the library. "I don't think he's having you on. I think it's more that he wants to protect your tender sensibilities."

"Protect me? From what?" The last word was very nearly so high-pitched that only Remus could hear it. Of course, Harry would have a bad reaction to being 'protected.' "What could be worse than to know he's doing the nasty with Professor Snape?"

"He's got a secret and he thinks you won't like it." Bill sighed. "Whatever they did to this house wasn't done with sex magic. It was done with love magic. You felt it yourself, right away, remember? You said it felt nice." A pause. "Sex magic isn't dark, but it's not really this comfortable, either. When you've been around both more often, you'll know the difference." Pause. "You know what it's like at mum's house, right?"

"That's love."

"Yeah. That's love. Some folks just can't help it." Remus could hear a silly smile on Bill's face as he said that, and for some reason he imagined him tweaking Harry's nose.

"You're saying that Snape and Remus love each other."

Remus grimaced and waited for the explosion.

Harry's voice took on an unexpected philosophical note. "I know this is weird, but that makes it . . . okay. I can understand that. I'll never like Snape, but one thing I've learned is that love is where you find it. Some people find beautiful know-it-alls and off-their-nut cursebreakers. Some people find greasy gits." Pause. "Just so you know, I like mine better."

As Remus entered, they broke from what was obviously a kiss on the lips. Both were smiling, but neither man blushed. Remus pretended he hadn't seen it. Instead, he dived into the subject uppermost in his mind. Bill was obviously privy to Harry's personal information, so out with it. "About the house, Harry, I know you meant it when you said I could keep it if I succeeded in renovating."

"Yeah?" Harry's nose wrinkled. It was ridiculously cute. Remus had no trouble understanding either Bill or Hermione's interest.

"It's a beautiful home, and you paid me a fortune to fix it. I would certainly understand if you changed your mind. It's a suitable legacy now. Sirius would be proud to give it to you. He wanted you to have it."

Harry shook his head. "Can't get rid of the pile that fast, Remus. You're stuck with the upkeep for life. I've got places to go and people to be in Egypt with." Who needed the afternoon sun? Harry's white grin could've lit the library by itself.

Before he knew it, Harry had extracted a promise that he'd be at the The Burrow for Boxing Day, since "that's the big Weasley get-together this year, we're spending Christmas Day at Hermione's mum and dad's," and "bring Professor Snape along, will you?" and they were gone.

Love magic. Those words kindled hope in Remus' heart.

 

~~~~~~~

 

His conscience nagged him. It was an ungainly thing, a conscience. This time of being in love had been so wonderful, but it couldn't go on. The money didn't bother him; Remus had plenty. A place to live? There was nothing but room in 12 Grimmauld Place. A dozen extra people could make their homes here without discommoding Remus in the least. It was lovely; Severus had come to be very fond of it. He sighed. All right. It was Remus he was fond of.

He couldn't keep taking Remus' love and Remus' body. The man was drugged. Severus took what Remus, were he in his right mind, would not want to give. It was wrong.

It was the Conjugus that made him feel guilty. He knew that as surely as he had known that Albus would force him to wield the killing spell. There was nothing inside him that should object to using someone for sex or housing. And it was no hardship for Remus to have Severus around to suck his cock. So, tired of feeling guilt over frivolous actions that harmed no one, he'd stopped taking it. Abstinence hadn't helped.

He'd been melancholy for a week now, cranky and snappish, refusing to let Remus into his workroom while he brewed feverishly, stockpiling whatever potions he could sell quickly after he left. Just this afternoon Severus had finished charming everything he owned into a small trunk; he was even now carrying it down the stairs in the dead of night. He'd given Remus a mild sleeping potion in his nightcap of Glenmorangie while they watched the fire burn down. He needn't worry about being surprised in his escape and asked nosy questions.

He'd become so much more open in the last few weeks under the Conjugus. He'd got used to talking about things with Remus. This problem he couldn't discuss.

There was no way Severus could look into the smiling face of the man who'd loved him so well, never mind why, and explain that he, Severus, had betrayed him. The glee he might have felt at administering such a stinging setdown at any other time in his life . . . no, it was unthinkable. Equally unthinkable was to stop feeding Remus the Conjugus and watch the loving light fade from his eyes.

It had seemed so easy in the planning. Dose them both with love potion, stop when he tired of it. It hadn't occurred to him that he might . . . not. After all his years as a spy, Severus should have known not to build a house of cards from a deck made for Exploding Snap.

Thus he crept down the solid staircase like a thief. There was no telltale squeak to warn of his passing; it had been repaired like new by Remus' square workman's hands. He would miss those hands.

Using his wand to light the way, he stepped into the foyer and reached for the door. His wand went out, leaving him cursing and fumbling. Odd how a night's darkness inside the house felt less friendly as he was leaving. The door opened soundlessly, its ebony smooth under Severus' fingers. Another testament to Remus' skill. It was darker outside than he'd expected, no moon or stars to beckon him. He couldn't see a damned thing, in fact. A step to clear the threshhold had him bashing full force into a door that was still there.

Sod it!

He opened this door, too, only to have it simply vanish like the last. The next door was cruder, rougher to the touch, and sported an oaken bar across it. His now-sputtering wandlight showed it plainly. A bar on the inside of the door was nothing that could stop him leaving, and yet, he thought, it made a certain statement. Could this be Remus' doing? A quick spellscan found no wizard's magical signature. There was no question he'd know Remus' by now. Severus lifted the bar and tried again. The fourth door was made of riveted iron plates. He didn't bother to find out what was behind door number five. He simply picked up the trunk and brought it upstairs.

After restoring his materials to their proper place, he burrowed back in next to Remus' deep-breathing warmth and pretended it wasn't what he'd really wanted in the first place. Tomorrow. He'd find a way to escape tomorrow.

 

~~~~~~~

 

An enormous log burned in the library's cavernous fireplace. Remus had bought it, of course, not collected it himself. He couldn't leave London to get a tree when the most important thing he knew of was here, no matter how fond his childhood memories of Solstice. His Scandinavian father had loved the old ways, and Remus enjoyed keeping them for the first time in years. He had money now. He could do as he pleased. It was a strange and wonderful concept that he still had to think twice about sometimes.

Some day, he promised himself, he would put his name in the lottery to win a spot in Newgrange. The Solstice sunrise filled the underground chamber with glorious light. So what if thirty thousand muggles wanted to be there, too? Magic had to be worth something. Newgrange was the home of Oenghus, the god of love, and Remus needed all the help he could get.

Sprigs of holly prickled at the windows to capture evil spirits. If only he'd thought of that months ago! And mistletoe, of course. Given the experiences he'd had in this house, protection from thunder and lightning seemed a good idea. Well . . . kissing, too. Earlier, he'd taken a bowl of rice and milk to the attic, figuring the preserving charm would hold off spoilage in case Jule-Nissen couldn't make it until late. There was a reason one stayed up all night on the Solstice, after all. Bent old elves couldn't get round to everyone before midnight.

He sat close enough to the fire that by the time Severus came in, he was lightly toasted. He took the profferred glass of mulled wine, dipping the tips of his fingers in and flicking a few drops into the fire.

"This is a truly vile thing to do to any bottle from the Black family cellars."

"I know," replied Remus comfortably. "I should've gone out to get some plonk, but it was so cold out there, and so lovely in here." He smiled up as Severus joined him on the rug. He picked up the narrow box from the floor next to him and held it out. "This isn't really traditional, but tonight seemed like a good time to give it to you."

 

~~~~~~~

 

"And this is . . ." prompted Severus, taking the box. He eyed it suspiciously.

"This, my dear Severus, is a gift."

He said slowly, "I can't imagine what someone like you could be giving someone like me." He could think of a few things he'd like Remus to give him. A home. A life. Those things were receding on his horizon, not getting closer, and had been ever since Remus downed the first dose of Conjugus.

Blue eyes sparked with mischief. "You'll just have to open it, won't you?"

Pretending to be more cautious than he felt, Severus turned the box this way and that, gave it a shake - there was no sound -- and at last, with great care, removed the lid. He parted the tissue paper to reveal the slender silver dagger within. It was so startling he fell back into his decades-old manner of greeting surprises, few of which had been pleasant. With some of them, his first expression of alarm might have been his last. Experience was a hard teacher.

"Remus." His tone was soft, more genuinely wary than at his inspection of the box. "Where did you get this?"

"I saw you in the street near Borgin & Burkes'." Remus tilted his head. "Do you remember that day? I recognized it when I looked in the shop window."

"When I went back days later, it was gone. I was . . . dismayed. You already had it. You tracked me down with this."

Remus looked to be considering his tone. "Is that bad?"

"No. No, I was glad enough to be found. And I, ah, thank you for the return of the knife." Severus coughed around the sudden constriction of his throat. "It belonged to my mother, and her mother, and her mother before her. It was the only thing I had left of her after the fire." He turned away, fearing that the sting in his eyes might lead to something unpardonable.

"I should have given it back before. I just kept thinking," there was a nervous laugh, "that the longer I had it with me, the longer you'd stay. As if it were some sort of talisman. But now it's yours again, and I'll have to ask outright." Turning back to face him, Severus saw Remus take a deep breath. "Severus, will you stay?"

A slap of longing scattered his thoughts. "Stay. Here . . . with you." He was lowered to babbling to regain his balance. Remus might as well have sliced him with the silver dagger, it cut that deeply. It was an invitation he would have jumped at under other circumstances. Circumstances, for instance, in which Remus' love wouldn't evaporate with the last vial of potion.

"No." Severus scrambled up, spilling his wine, a splash of gore on the glossy hardwood. He stalked over to the window and looked out upon the longest night of the year. The antics of the house aside, it was difficult to face leaving. It had been hard enough to work up to it two nights ago. Look at him now; he couldn't even walk out of this room. "I cannot."

"Why not? Surely you've been expecting me to ask."

"You don't know me." The presumption irritated. Especially since the man was right. "My interests are my own."

"I enjoy your company. I thought there was something here for you, as well." He was wheedling now. "Please, at least tell me why you won't stay."

One hand on the frigid glass, the cold of the outside surged through Severus as the bright colors of the room reflected in the windowpane. All the uncertainty of the last week and the warmth of the last month was piled up behind him in flickering reds, greens and yellows. Severus Snape was a man who always knew where he was, where to place his next step on the tightrope of life. He didn't know how to be among the hot, dancing colors. He knew how to be in the darkness. The cold gathered and settled inside him.

Enough! He had enough regrets to last two lifetimes. He wouldn't compound them by lying to Remus, or stealing away whenever he could. There was one way to stop all questions. He would tell the truth. He would be freed despite his irresolution. Remus was bound to toss his arse out once he knew, more likely sooner than later, and eliminate all this foolish waffling.

"Do you really want to know? I shall tell you." He wanted to scream, to rage against fate, take out his loss on the only other person there, but he couldn't. For the moment, Remus loved him without demands. He was the only one in Severus' adult life who had. That would always be precious, no matter that it was a drug-induced parody of true feeling. Severus had spent most of his life taking out his unhappiness on anyone who couldn't fight back. Doing the same thing to someone who really loved him struck far too close to home . . . the home he'd left for Hogwarts a thousand years ago.

"Your interest in me is a product of the, ah, magic enhancer. Some of its constituents have caused you look upon me favorably."

"Oh, you mean the saltpeter and apple blossoms?"

Severus' heart stopped. Certainly there was no blood making its way to his brain. His feet were slabs of stone. His body felt like a stick drawing done by a small child, awkward and stiff, his head an empty circle at the top. Moving carefully, he turned to face Remus, who was very casually rising to his feet.

Examining Severus intently, Remus continued, "I'm not so sure. I'd find your theory more compelling if I hadn't been putting the antidote in our coffee on a daily basis."

No! Severus licked his dry lips. "How could - how did you --" None of that mattered. However Remus knew about the Conjugus, an antidote was impossible. "Liar!" He stared at the man, silently daring him to come closer. "There is no one I know who could brew Shield of Artemis, least of all you."

"I didn't." Remus shrugged. "Cygnus Black did. I found his Potions collection in the attic."

Cygnus Black was a venerated Potions Master in his day. All such men stocked their own remedies. Severus nearly whimpered, and a sick horror crept over him. "You tricked me. Watched me. Saw me . . ." At table, in the workroom, on his knees. "You egged me on, and all the while, you laughed." How could he have forgotten that Remus Lupin was one of them?

"Stop it! Just - stop! Do I look like I'm laughing?"

Severus had forgotten about the strength in those hands, but recalled it as they latched onto his shoulders, levering him away from the window. He twisted away with a scowl.

He had never been drugged.

The realisation sank like an anchor in his gut. He'd behaved like all the people whose mindless hormonal acts he'd excoriated over the years. Well, that had been the point, hadn't it? He'd just not expected to expose himself like a raw nerve. After a lifetime spent trying to prove he was nothing like those around him, he'd done the exact opposite. It stung. He had discovered a liking for, even a reliance upon, things he should shun like the plague-carriers they were. Breakfast conversation. Casual touch. The occasional game of chess.

Sex.

"Listen to me, you bullheaded git. I have wanted you since I was old enough to understand what that meant. You think I'm weak, but surely you don't believe I'm so spineless as to let this chance slip away."

Most damning of all, he had discovered a liking for Remus Lupin.

He was torn between the cold and the heat. Either one could burn him. His attention narrowed to Remus' face. The man could keep his mouth shut; he hadn't lived this long without learning to conceal the most basic facts. Severus would bet that even without Legilimency, at this point he could read Remus better than Remus could keep secrets. Right now, Remus looked dead serious.

"My feelings for you are real. They always have been. But I didn't want some kind of drugged love-zombie. I wanted you, Severus. I still want you."

He had to be telling the truth, Severus thought. No one would make such an admission otherwise. He considered his prospects.

He could go on as before, cover the rawness of knowing the truth of who he was, pretend nothing had happened. The cold was known. It had certain advantages, familiarity being one of them. Still, those advantages seemed negligible in comparison to what Remus offered. Love. A place to belong. It was a temptation beyond galleons, beyond possessions. Severus might want the cold, but the cold would never want him in return.

Despite - or perhaps because of -- acknowledging his weaknesses, humiliation was a hard draught to swallow. Remus had known the whole time. The man had bested him at his own game of subterfuge and manipulation. If only he could think of a way to give in without giving up every last crumb of his shattered dignity. He stared unseeing into the fire, desperate for inspiration. Movement caught his eye as a slip of parchment fluttered from the mantelpiece. Lifted by currents of heat from the enormous fire, it drifted lazily, and he snatched it from midair. It was the accounting of his vault.

Ah.

"There's a little matter of certain earnings outstanding. You still owe me four thousand galleons."

If he wasn't mistaken, his companion's shoulders relaxed infinitesimally. "You'll get it. I have no intention of welshing on my bargain. The thing is," Remus hung his head, although to Severus' jaundiced eye, he might have been concealing a smile, ". . . I don't have it all right now. Harry arranged to have the money portioned out yearly, so that I wouldn't get eaten alive by taxes. It's year-end. For the time being, I'm out of funds."

"You agreed to pay me money you don't have?" The asperity hid a certain appreciation. Whether he did or didn't have the money, Remus was both more clever and more determined than he would have guessed.

"I had no idea we'd have to work together on the house quite so . . . long, and so hard." Was that a smirk?

Severus loomed as best he could over a man almost his own height and glared down the length of his nose. "I am not leaving this house until you pay me every knut."

"Fine," said Remus earnestly, "if that's the way you want it. I'll go get another bottle of wine, and we can work out a payment plan. I've put a lot of household materials on credit - the windows alone were shocking -- and I'm afraid you'll just have to get in line."

Severus settled himself down in front of the fire. "I find that acceptable." He'd seen the bill for the glass. With the right kind of negotiations, he'd be here forever.

 

~~~~~~~

 

If the entire house lit briefly with a faint glimmer as the fire burned down to a heap of coals, the two men stretched out on the rug were too busy negotiating to notice.

 

 

FIN

 

Poems excerpted are 'To a Stranger' and 'Whoever You Are Holding Me Now In Hand' from Walt Whitman's Leaves Of Grass.