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Severus sat in the darkened room, brooding. The window to his right showed rolling fields, with a hint, far in the distance, of the sea, all under the light of a fitful moon. He sat unmoving, eyes fixed on the figure in the bed before him.

The figure lay still for now, but the disarray of the sheets and the blankets crumpled at the foot of the bed spoke of earlier tossing and turning. Just as Severus leaned forward to place his hand gently on his forehead, the invalid jerked sharply in the bed. His eyes came half open, showing pure gold in the dim light.

“Fenrir, you can’t—I won’t let you… No!” He tangled in the sheets, recoiling as Severus tried to pull them away from his twisted limbs. “Please, please…” he trailed off, his voice hoarse and desperate.

Severus grasped him by the shoulders. “Lupin, you must listen to me. You are not with the pack any more. You are safe. Greyback is dead.” He shook Remus slightly, but the gold eyes staring up at him held no recognition.

“I can’t let you… he’s mine. I have a claim.” This time Remus spoke with total authority, and Severus was so startled by the repetition of the words he’d heard more than five years before that he dropped Remus’ limp body back onto the bed. Remus showed no sign of noticing the rough treatment; he was far too lost in the past to see anything in the present.

Severus sank back into his seat. At the time, he’d tried to ask Remus why he’d acted the way he had, why he’d challenged Greyback, but Remus had simply looked at him with terrible cold eyes and told him to get on with it, if he was prepared. Then, the reminder of what the Headmaster had told him shocked him to silence, but now he found himself burning with curiosity.

He kept asking until Remus threatened to stop visiting him in Azkaban, but that hadn’t made him less curious. Once he had been released from prison, his curiosity had to take a back seat to survival. He had no idea how Remus had talked Potter into championing his cause with the Wizengamot, but however it was done, it was done completely: he was acquitted, not pardoned.

Once he had settled into a comfortable life, he learned he wasn’t as suited to solitude as he’d thought. The first time Remus visited him, he’d been so pathetically grateful that he’d completely embarrassed himself by nearly begging him to stay for dinner.

Remus continued to visit regularly, only skipping when he was forced to travel for his work. Severus attributed his unease during the times when Remus didn’t visit twice a week to residual stress from Azkaban and forced himself to ignore how often he checked the skies for owls and peeked out the door looking for surprise visitors.

Severus spent the rest of the night casting cooling spells over Remus and trying not to think of the strange way Remus had acted the last time he visited.

The next morning, Potter peeked around the door. “You’re here, Snape? When did you get here?” He carried a tray filled with a full day’s food for at least three hearty eaters and Remus’ entire daily prescription of potions for the day. He took one look at Severus’ face and set the tray down on a table on the far side of the bed. “What? Did something happen?”

“What do you remember of the time just before you found the last Horcrux, Potter?”

Potter’s face tightened in thought. “Not much. Things were pretty crazy then. Ron was here, and Hermione was dividing her time between researching how to destroy the Horcruxes and helping me to find them. Why?”

Severus was silent for a moment, his gaze fixed on Remus. “Because something else happened. Something with the wolf pack Greyback controlled.” Severus stood, drifting almost unconsciously to stroke Remus’ hair away from his flushed cheeks. “I need to find out what was really happening.”

Potter crossed his arms. “Well, you’ll have a hell of a time doing it. Greyback is dead, remember?”

Severus controlled his sudden urge to shake the boy. “I know that, you whelp. I was there. I saw the moment when Re-Lupin killed him.…” He saw the image of Remus’ face, not triumphant as he’d expected it to be when Remus finally killed the werewolf responsible destroying so many lives, but desolate, as if Remus were aware of something else, some pain Severus hadn’t been able to see. “I saw it happen,” he finished softly.

Potter approached the bed and tried to straighten the sheets. After a few fruitless tugs, he waved his wand and the sheets twitched straight, returning to shimmering white. “He’s almost the last one. There’s only one other who’s lasted this long, so if you think there’s anything you can do, you’ll have to hurry.” He waved his wand again and Remus was propped up into a semi-seated position. The urgency of his voice contrasted with his smooth movements.

Severus stepped backwards, startled. “The last one? What, all the other werewolves are dead of this? How long has this been going on?”

Potter reached for a bowl from the tray and began to spoon porridge into Remus’ mouth, expertly catching the drips. Severus watched, realising that the confident way Potter handled the feeding implied a much longer illness than he’d previously thought.

“How long?” he repeated harshly.

Potter looked away from Remus’ face. “A little more than two weeks now. The younger ones all died almost immediately. The older ones died more slowly, but it seemed to hurt them more. We didn’t even connect it to Remus at first—he’s one of the few who’s come out of the pack to live like a hum—to live with people. The rest all stayed with the pack in the Forest. We didn’t know anything was wrong until the latest alpha, Badelt, got sick.” Potter put the mostly empty bowl back on the table and began the careful process of wiping Remus’ face clean.

“Badelt contacted the Werewolf Office, and they came screaming to Remus as soon as they saw the initial death count. Remus brought it to me and…” His hands fell to his lap, “And then he caught it. I was so afraid, but he hung on and hung on. And so did the other man, but the only thing we can find that they have in common is that they’ve been the longest on Wolfsbane, so we—“

“Called me.” Severus’ face was buried in his hands. He let his hands slide into his hair, where they clenched into fists. “You should have called sooner, Potter. We could have tried to save the others—if it’s been two weeks since Lupin fell ill—“

“No,” interrupted Potter. “No, it’s been two weeks since the pack started dying. Remus has been here about three days.”

Severus went cold. He’d seen Remus just a little less than a month ago. If Potter was correct, Lupin had lost nearly a stone in a bit less than a week. He got to his feet. “Where are the bodies, Potter? The other werewolf who’s alive? Where are they?”

Potter turned to face him. “The other man? I think Badelt’s on this floor, a few doors down.” He paused. “The bodies, though? The Ministry burned them. You might be able to catch the last two corpses before St Mungo’s gives them over to the Ministry, but the rest are gone. I’ll show you where the last of them should be.”

Severus stormed towards the door and then he stopped. “No, I need to see the living one first. But you have to get them to stop burning the corpses. I need to see them, to run tests. And I want all the files on this—what’s been tried, what’s been done.”

Potter looked at him, his expression bleak. “There’s nothing, sir. They didn’t run any tests.”

Severus felt like he’d been struck on the head. “The mediwizards haven’t tried to find out what this is? What if it’s contagious to non-lycanthropes? What if it’s curable?”

Potter’s face twisted. “The Minister told Remus that it doesn’t matter, a few werewolves here or there. He’s burning the bodies because he thinks it is contagious…” Potter looked at Remus, who was thrashing again in the bed. “I brought you here because I can’t let him die without trying everything, and you’re the only one who knows what’s really in Remus’ Wolfsbane; I know you modified it.” He raised his head and stared at Severus. “You have to save him, Snape. You just… save him.”

Severus held his gaze. “I will.” He knew he might not be able to keep his word, but he was aware of how much he owed Remus, how much of his life would be empty if Remus were dead, how much he—he refused to think about how he felt.

As he stalked down the corridor to find the other werewolf, he suddenly recalled that he’d been feeling ill himself for the past month. He knew he’d felt a connection to Remus ever since the scene in the Forest, but could this be connected to that? Behind him, he heard Potter’s quick steps in the other direction.

It was easy to find the room Badelt was in. It was almost as if he could see something in the air in front of the room, some floating dark shape. He blinked, but the shape remained cloudy and inchoate. He strode through it and into the room.

The first thing that struck him was the smell. There was a scent of pine and of pitch, but Severus assumed those came from the clothes tossed into a pile in the corner. The man himself shone with sweat that gave off the rank odour of sulphur and a strange sharp bitterness. Above all was the clear scent of oncoming death.

Severus gave himself a moment to acclimate, then moved to the bed. The patient was emaciated—whatever this disease was, it ate away at the afflicted terribly. Severus saw that Badelt was too far gone to be able to respond to him at all. With a sinking stomach, Severus pulled out his wand, closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them and whispered, “Legilimens”.

Immediately he was drowning in sensation—he felt his body wasting, his heart burning up inside him. Gritting his teeth, Severus pushed through to older memories. He looked for memories of when Badelt had first noticed he was sick. There was a flash of Remus, and Severus stopped. Carefully, he teased that memory out, but it was just Remus visiting the pack. It must have been relatively recent; Severus knew Remus hadn’t had any robes as nice as that until after the war’s end.

That memory of Remus led to others; Severus followed the chain of memories, watching Remus get younger and shabbier in each. The memories were coloured with some desperate emotion; it wasn’t until he saw Badelt put his hand on Remus’ shoulder only to have it shaken off that Severus realised he was seeing unrequited love. A flare of hot jealousy burning its way up his throat, he slipped further in, only to come to another halt when he saw himself, desperate and nearly broken.

The snatch of memory triggered his own, and he watched, horrified.

Severus knows he’s miscalculated the moment Greyback doesn’t acknowledge his status as the Dark Lord’s emissary. However, his plan for backing out of the situation gracefully dies with the feral smile that stretches across Greyback’s face.

“You know where we are,” Greyback says. “You could lead others here.” He stands proudly, unconcerned that he’s a good ten centimetres shorter than Severus. “You’ll pay for that, and then the Dark Lord will know he can’t just throw me around like he does the lot of you.”

Severus knows he can just Apparate away, so he sneers at the disgusting creature in front of him. “If anyone is going to pay for this travesty, it will be you,” he says. Just as he concentrates to Apparate to the Dark Lord, he sees Lupin’s face over Greyback’s shoulder, and the agony on it distracts him.

“Oh,” Greyback purrs, his smile now incandescently malevolent, “I wouldn’t try that. We had our resident wizard put up barriers so you can’t run away like the coward we know you really are.”

Severus' temper begins to burn, but as it’s full daylight now and weeks from the full moon, he knows he’s in no danger of being turned. He glances at Lupin, but Lupin’s face is mirror-calm now. “I’m no coward. I just don’t like filth, and the longer I stand here with all of you animals, the more cleansing I will need.” He hears the first few angry growls and tips his chin up slightly, his wand ready to fall into his hand and his two favourite curses in the back of his mind.

Greyback’s smile tilts, and he chuckles. “You’ll smell a lot more when we’re done with you.” He steps forward and is just reaching for Severus’ shoulder when Lupin’s voice cuts across the clearing.

“I can’t let you…he’s mine. I have a claim.” Lupin stands slightly separated from the rest of the pack; only one other werewolf stands near him. That werewolf’s eyes are on Lupin and Severus recognises the hopeless look in them.

He snarls, “I’m no one’s but my—Lord’s.” The sound of his voice is drowned in the mocking laughter of Greyback, who turns to face Lupin.

“You’d challenge me, for this?”

Lupin steps forward, face tight and pale. “I do.” He begins to pull his shirt off when Greyback turns and lunges at Severus. Severus flinches back, wand out.

“Petrificus Totalus”, he screams, but nothing happens. Then Greyback’s hands are on him, and they are hot and heavy, the nails like claws in the flesh of his shoulder. He feels them scrabble at his neck, and then they’re pulled away. Lupin is there, his shirt half off and his eyes pure gold. Greyback spins and throws himself at Lupin, who falls easily backwards, hitting the ground with a thump.

Greyback snaps forward, trying to bite Lupin’s neck, but somehow Lupin slithers out from under him and away, dashing straight to where Severus lies. The other werewolves have left a small space around Severus, many of them looking away from him; he hears others whisper curses at him.

Lupin doesn’t reach Severus; Greyback catches his foot and pulls him back. Severus sees the other werewolf, the one who’d looked so hopelessly at Lupin, across the cleared space—his face is tight with horror. Severus looks back at the fight to see if he can see what is so horrifying.

Lupin is on the bottom again, and one of Greyback’s claws has pierced his neck. The blood is shockingly red against Lupin's dreadful pallor. Lupin convulses and surges forward; his legs brace on Greyback and push him off.

There is a pause while the two combatants stand panting, facing each other. Lupin is slightly bent over; Greyback’s back is bloody. Severus tries to think of when Lupin could have caught his back, but he can’t. Greyback shifts to the left and Lupin follows, and Severus wants to scream that it’s a feint, that Lupin shouldn’t follow, but then it’s too late and they’ve closed again.

The two werewolves are nothing but a tangle of arms and legs on the ground, Greyback’s growl punctuated by Lupin’s deeper one. Someone yelps, and they pull apart. Lupin’s mouth is bloody, and Severus starts to move forward to help, but there’s no time. Greyback is moving again. He dives forward but Lupin is faster. He shifts just a little, and it’s clear that he’s tired, but Greyback is tiring more. As they turn, Severus can see that Greyback's arm hangs at the wrong angle.

Suddenly Greyback pulls back, his malicious smile returning. He lifts his right hand, which is covered in blood from Lupin’s neck, rubs his own bloody shoulder, then places his palm flat against his chest. “Imperium Animus,” he whispers.

Lupin cries out, eyes burning in a dead white face. He throws himself forward, arms stretching, fingers looking almost like long claws and he catches Greyback’s chin. It’s clear that he’s aimed himself badly—he’s going to move past Greyback, but before Greyback can take advantage of this, Lupin closes his hand around Greyback’s chin, and yanks.

The snapping sound of Greyback’s neck fills the clearing. Lupin lifts his face to look at Severus, and Severus sees a flicker of some terrible pain; then Lupin’s face closes to him.

“Get out of here,” he whispers. “Get on with it, if you are prepared.”

Severus stumbled back from the bed, gasping deep breaths of the thick air, but his head didn’t clear. He hadn’t let himself think of that scene in five years. Now, the memory had been impossible to escape.

He’d had time to see that, unfortunately, Badelt had no more understanding of what Greyback’s last words meant than Severus did.

Severus turned back to the bed and reached out again to see if he could find more memories. Surely there was something useful here. When he looked into Badelt’s face, he realised two things simultaneously: Badelt had been the werewolf standing next to Remus in the clearing, and he was dead.

Severus stood for a few minutes beside the bed and wondered why Remus hadn’t returned this man’s feelings. He knew Remus preferred men and this man must have been dependable and decent, if he’d been the pack alpha for five years. Giving up, Severus pulled the sheet up over Badelt’s face and left the room.

Potter was waiting in front of Remus’ room. “There you are,” he said. “I had to tell them that I needed to see the bodies myself. They’re in the morgue.” He trotted down the hall, forcing Severus to walk quickly to keep up.

The morgue was at the very back of the building, several storeys down. On the way down, Severus pondered what he knew of werewolf pack politics. He didn’t know as much as he thought he did. He’d have thought that if Remus were the one who killed the pack alpha, he’d be the new leader. Yet somehow, Badelt had ended up leading the werewolf pack. He hadn’t been able to talk them into taking the Wolfsbane, though.

Once at the morgue door, Potter waved him in. “I’m going back up to Remus. You’ll be able to find your way back, right?” Potter didn’t wait for a response, just turned and started back up the stairs.

The bodies were dreadful. Not because they were particularly offensive—they barely had any odour and were dressed in hospital gowns—but because they looked like they’d been desiccated. Severus stood over them and started on the list of spells he’d need to get information.

An hour later, he staggered away and sat down in a chair against the wall. It looked like both bodies had been eaten from the inside. Their hearts were shrivelled and dark, their lungs dusty smears against the cages of their ribs. There was nothing, nothing he could find that indicated any contagion factor, or, in fact, any infection vector at all. They’d simply burned up from the inside and died.

***

He tore up the stairs, pushing through the crowd of healers coming out of the cafeteria and galloping along the corridor. In Remus’ room, Potter stood bent over the bed, and Severus felt his heart stop. He was too late. Remus was dead.

He collapsed against the doorframe. Potter heard the sound and looked up. His face was lined with worry, but curiosity lit his eyes.

“He wants to talk to you.” Potter tilted his head slightly. “He’s been asking for you since I got back upstairs.”

Severus went slowly up to the bed. He could feel his heart beating, heavy pulses filling his head with noise. Remus lay on his back, one hand covering his eyes and the other clenched tightly in the blankets. When Severus came close, Remus’ hand fell away.

“You need to know,” he whispered, his voice thready. “You have to see. I don’t…it shouldn’t harm you, but you need to know.”

Severus leaned forward, pressing his hand to Remus’ forehead. He was still too hot, but it seemed like his temperature had come down. “Quiet,” he said, “you can tell me later.”

Remus shook his head. His face was still pale; the dark circles under his eyes made him look as if he’d been punched in both eyes. “No, you have to know now. There isn’t time to wait any more.”

At the door, Potter’s breath caught in a barely suppressed sob; some part of Severus was glad that any noise he might have made was covered by Potter’s. Remus shook his head again, his eyes never leaving Severus’ face. “Just you,” he whispered. “Tell Harry to leave.” Severus lifted his head, but Potter was already out the door. As he looked back into the room, his expression was dreadful: a mixture of despair and anger that Severus hadn’t seen since the final days of the fighting.

Remus didn’t say anything at first and Severus wondered if he was going to change his mind. Then Remus moved slightly and smiled at him. Something shifted in Severus at that smile; it was gentle and made Remus’ eyes brighten. He smiled back, helplessly. Remus struggled to sit up, and Severus reached out to help.

Remus wrapped his arms around Severus’ neck as Severus rearranged the pillows. Carefully lowering Remus down onto them, Severus wasn’t surprised at his own unwillingness to release him. Remus seemed to cling; his too-hot hands slid over Severus’ neck and shoulders and Severus swore he could feel the tips of Remus’ fingers brush his chest. He flinched, just a little, knowing that it was inappropriate for him to think of Remus in any way besides a friend, in many ways his only friend, and currently, his patient.

Remus leaned back against the pillows, his pallid skin almost as white as the fabric. “I didn’t want you to know. I thought…if I just let Badelt have the pack, that it would stop with me. I was wrong.” His expression was ravaged. “I killed all those poor people.”

“You did nothing of the kind,” Severus burst out. “There’s some illness—you had nothing to do with it.”

Remus laughed, a choked rattle. “They weren’t ill. It’s a curse. Something you never understood about werewolves, that most people don’t understand about them, is that they—we—are magical creatures. Not Dark, necessarily, just magic.” He pulled in a wheezing breath and coughed a little. “Like centaurs, or griffins.”

He rubbed his chest. “Each creature has some special magic, a specialty, you could say. House-elves are uncontrollable when their family or house is threatened. Or dusty.” He smiled, and Severus felt it go right through him. “It’s impossible to lie when you’re near griffins. Werewolves…since we’re more human than most, our magic is of a different sort.”

“This is from that spell, then?” Severus interjected, “That was five years ago.”

Remus sighed. His face tipped away from Severus. “It was. Greyback didn’t know about that curse until I found it when I was doing some research. I know you don’t think so, Severus, but this is my fault. I could have refused to search, or withheld the information, or….”

Severus reached out and gently pulled Remus’ face around to meet his gaze. “Killing that monster was a good thing. Nothing you say can convince me otherwise.” Remus flinched, and Severus pondered how odd it was that he was counselling Remus on accepting the way life was. Usually Remus was the calmer of them, the one more prone to pouring oil on the waters while he himself was the type to light that oil on fire.

“Now,” Severus continued, dropping his hand and closing it into a fist to keep from feeling the loss of Remus' cheek in it. “Tell me everything about that curse, and what I need to do to break it and you’re as good as beaten in our next chess game.”

Remus shivered. “There’s nothing you can do to break it. I knew I was dead as soon as I heard him. I didn’t think it would kill the others—I hoped that if I passed the leadership to Johan—“ he glanced up into Severus’ blank face. “Johan Badelt. I hoped that if I passed the leadership off to him, none of the other werewolves to bear the burden of the curse." His face was haunted. "I was wrong."

Severus' frustration increased at Remus’ continued delay in telling him what the curse was. Based on what he remembered, it sounded like the words of the curse meant “control life”, but that didn't explain why all the werewolves died so painfully, nor why it took them so long to do so. He could see Remus’ fever was beginning to return; his colour was becoming hectic, his eyes darkened. Severus leaned forward, brushing Remus' damp hair away from his flushed face. "Remus," Severus said softly, "which books were you using to research? Where can I find them?" If the werewolves were magical creatures, that meant traditional magical theory didn't apply.

Remus blinked up at him. "They're in my flat," he said hoarsely. "Harry knows how to get in." He began to cough, his hands coming up to rub at his chest. Severus felt his own chest clench and his breath tighten. He rubbed at his breastbone and saw Remus' eyes catch on the movement. "You don't—you can't have this. It's not possible."

Severus stood, glad to have something he could do to help. "You are correct, it isn't possible. I would assume my lack of lycanthropic infection would render me immune." He could see that Remus didn't hear him however, as his eyes had now gone completely gold, and he called out incoherently. Potter appeared at the door and Severus stopped to address him on his way out. "Do not let him die. And tell me how to get into his flat.."

***

On the way from the closest Apparition point to Remus’ flat, Severus thought back to the last time Remus had come to his cottage.

Remus had been irritable, and Severus hadn’t been able to figure out why. Usually, when Remus was in a bad mood at the beginning of a visit, Severus was able to bring him out of his funk with a new and interesting book, or a good game of chess. However, every time it seemed that Remus was relaxing, he’d rub his chest and cough.

When Severus was on his way back to the living room with a fresh pot of tea, fresh toast, and some of the dreadful chocolate-nut spread that Severus only bought for him, he tripped slightly over an upturned corner of carpet. Remus was there immediately, catching Severus’ weight against his chest and waving his wand quickly to catch the tray before everything spilled. Severus froze, the warmth of Remus’ body burning through him, making him suddenly aware of how much he wanted to touch Remus. He nearly turned his face towards Remus, wanting to feel more.

Then he remembered that Remus would never think of him that way. Remus had always been friendly, but never anything more; he’d never given Severus any indication he thought of him as anyone other than just the last one of their age group. Not wanting to expose himself, Severus jerked away from Remus so hard he staggered a bit.

When Severus turned to him, Remus’ face was open for one moment, brimming with an emotion Severus couldn’t identify. Before Severus could say anything, Remus’ expression changed to one so furious that Severus found himself retreating. Remus proceeded to rage about other people getting things they wanted, about not being able to find a job until Lovegood had got the Werewolf Laws overturned, about pack politics, and finally, oddest of all, about research being a dreadful thing and how he thought information should be left alone.

Severus, who during this entire time had slowly been backing up until he knocked against the couch, sat down hard. He tried to interrupt, but Remus just started for the door. Severus started after him, determined to try to find out what was going on, when Remus said that he’d have to be gone for a longer time than usual and Severus should just go on with things as usual. Severus could see him rubbing his chest again as he Apparated away.

***

Severus had never been to Remus’ flat; all their meetings took place in Severus’ small cottage. Remus’ flat was in a bustling shopping centre in Brighton, above a small coffee shop and near an extravagantly large bookstore. Severus was not surprised at the location—only at his own wistfulness, and desire to be there himself. The bookshelves were well organised, so it didn't take Severus long to find the books he needed. Feeling like an intruder, he fixed himself a pot of tea and sat down in the small but sunny kitchen to study.

Four hours later, he flipped the last book closed and rubbed his eyes. The oldest of the books, which he treated with great reverence as it was crumbling in his hands, included the most detailed description of magical creatures and their inherent powers that he'd ever seen. Lycanthropic magic was drawn on the strength of the pack and the will of its alpha. What Greyback had done was to tie the lives of his pack to the will of his own heart. During times of war, this spell drew upon the strength of everyone in the pack to ensure that as long as the alpha lived, they all fought with unending ferocity. Greyback’s perversion of it to ensure that they only lived if he wished them to was a true horror.

Severus assumed Greyback hadn't done a good job since none of the pack died when he was killed. Remus’ notes indicated that he believed the curse transferred itself to whoever was alpha at the time, which explained why he thought relinquishing his leadership status to Badelt would ensure the pack's survival. Something had gone wrong, however; perhaps the strength of the curse was greater than Remus expected due to Greyback’s deep hatred for him.

Severus stood, anxious to get back to St Mungo's. In his haste, he knocked against Remus' stacked notes and sent them flying. When he shuffled the notes to put them back onto the table, a page he hadn't looked at before caught his eye. Ancient Bonding Ritual, it said in Remus' neat script. Severus' eyes scanned down the page quickly, his breath stopping in shock. The other half of the curse became perfectly clear.

Severus sat down heavily in the chair, his mind whirling. Remus had claimed him, using the oldest claiming ritual werewolves had. His statement, combined with the blood he’d spilled in the fight with Greyback, had been the trigger for the first half of the ritual. No wonder he was afraid Severus might contract the illness.

Could it be possible that the action of the curse was delayed because Remus’ heart, which after his battle with Greyback was the pack leader's heart, was half-given? Would a full bond block the actions of the curse entirely? Remus’ notes indicated two parts to the bonding ritual. If the second part of the bond were performed, would it save Remus? Severus re-read the page, heart racing. He could cast the spell right now; he didn't even need to leave Remus' house.

It took him twenty minutes to gather the necessary supplies. Once he did, he stood in the kitchen staring at the small pile and wondered if he really wanted to do this. This would be permanent. There was no going back. He wondered if Remus would forgive him; this would be permanent for Remus as well. Finally he decided it was more important to save his only friend's life than anything else. They would work on how to live with it later.

In a small steel bowl he'd found in Remus' living room, the closest thing he could find to a cauldron, Severus put hair pulled from Remus' hairbrush, some stiff grey hairs found on the blankets near the foot of the bed and a quick clipping of his own hair. Closing his eyes, he took several deep breaths to try to calm himself. He hoped that he was right, and that this would work. Opening his eyes again, he took a silver bladed knife and carefully punctured the vein on the side of his neck. Blood rushed down and he quickly leaned forward so some would pour into the bowl. When the hair in the bowl was completely immersed, he stood up and muttered a quick healing spell. Then, without giving himself any time to think about it, he stuck his wand hand and the end of his wand into the bowl and said, “I accept the claim of Remus Lupin and claim Remus Lupin in return.”

His lungs seized and his heart stuttered almost to a halt. It was as if he could see and feel two places at once. He stared around at the dimly lit room in St Mungo's, which was like a double impression over the bright kitchen around him. He heard a faint echo of Potter's voice asking what was wrong when the darkness swirling in the corners of the room caught him up and enveloped him.

***

He woke up in his bed at the cottage, the morning sun shining directly into his eyes. Groaning, wondering why he felt so sore, he tried to sit up. Immediately, he felt hands pushing back on his chest and he jumped.

“Lie back,” came a voice, and Severus immediately relaxed. Then, realising what he had done, and whose voice it was, he jerked upright.

“Remus,” he croaked. Remus was healthy again, his face a natural colour and his eyes clear. His expression wasn’t, though; it threatened storms. He was glaring so hard at Severus that Severus was surprised he didn’t burst into flames. He didn’t care, at that point—he’d happily burst into flames if it meant that Remus wasn’t ill any longer.

“You are irresponsible, reckless and inconsiderate,” Remus snapped. “What were you thinking, to pull that stunt?”

Severus fell back onto his pillows again. He could feel, not only his own relief, but Remus’ anger inside himself. “I feel—“

“Yes, you idiot. You feel everything I do.” Remus rested his head in his hands, fingers buried in his hair. “You know this is permanent, right? I’ll never be—you’ll never be free.”

Severus barely heard him; he was testing out how much of what he was feeling was his own and what part was Remus’. It was interesting, and a bit distressing, to find that he was no longer entirely alone inside his own skin. With a horrified rush of understanding, he realised that this feeling was most likely what Voldemort had wanted from his connections with his followers.

He felt more than heard Remus’ sharp gasp at his side. He was staring at Severus, eyes wide and stunned. “You think I’m…why did you do this?” He stood up and backed away from the bed. Severus struggled with the blankets and sat up slowly.

“Don’t leave, Remus, please.” He pulled in a breath and then another. “I don’t think you’re like Voldemort. I just…I can feel you.”

Remus stood with his back to Severus. “Yes. That’s rather the point of this.” He sighed and turned back around. “Let’s get you cleaned up and find something to eat. I’m sure you have questions.” His voice was calm, but Severus could feel how unsettled he really was.

Severus was surprised at how unsteady he was on his feet, and was grateful for the help Remus gave him on the way to the shower, then down to the kitchen. After a quick meal of omelettes and toast, Remus made them a pot of tea and sat down.

“Why, Severus? Why did you do this?”

Severus watched the steam rising off his tea. “Can you feel anything from me?”

Remus shot him a sharp look. “I can, but it’s all very confused. You’re just recovering from the after-effects of the curse Greyback used, and you’re still a bit sick.”

Severus stared at him. “I thought you said I should be immune?”

“That was before you pulled this prank. Now, tell me, damn it. Why did you do this?”

More confident now he knew Remus couldn’t feel his emotions, Severus said, “I knew that Potter would be upset if you died, and the notes in your flat suggested that this was a way to save your life. I’d promised him—“ His throat closed and he stopped.

“Rubbish.” Remus’ voice was flat. “You didn’t read anything about the bond in the books, did you? You just read my notes and blundered into…. You can’t lie to me, Severus, any more than I can lie to you, now.” He smiled, and Severus was reminded which one of them was a vicious animal once a month.

“I wanted to,” he whispered. “I thought it would be a way to save your life and I wanted to.” The steam was making lovely patterns in the air, loops and swirls. He glanced up to see Remus staring at him blankly. Oddly enough, Remus’ lack of response gave him courage. He pulled in as deep a breath as he could. “I know you don’t want to be bonded with me, but isn’t it worth it not to be dead at least?”

The sharp look was back on Remus’ face. “You know nothing, but it’s clear that there are things I need to learn as well.” He leaned back and smiled. “Why do you think I don’t want to be bonded with you? After all, I was the one who initiated the bonding spell.”

Severus blinked, then raised a brow. “You said yourself that neither of us would ever be free again. I’d think that speaks fairly clearly.”

Remus nodded, looking thoughtful. “What made you think completing the bond would block the curse?”

Severus sipped his tea, trying to think of a way to answer the question without giving away his feelings. “I thought about that day in the Forest. I saw your notes on the spell and on the bond, and I thought that, if you’d already done the first half of the ritual, that maybe the curse couldn’t fully affect you. From there it was a simple jump to hoping—believing that a completed ritual would protect you, even at this late date.”

Remus sent him a tilted smile. “That sounds reasonable. You didn’t read anything but my notes? I think I’m flattered. You put a lot of trust in me. What if I’d been wrong? You could easily have died.” He paused and sipped his own tea. “You know, if the bond had completed itself and I’d been too close to death, you might not have survived.”

Severus tried to look like he’d thought of that, but given Remus’ slight smirk, didn’t think he’d been successful.

“Anyway,” Remus continued, “once I started to recover, and I realised that I could feel the bond’s completion, I sent Harry here. He found you on the kitchen floor, nearly dead.” Remus’ face was bleak. “Don’t do that again. I won’t survive you.”

Severus could feel himself paling. “The reverse applies, I assume.”

Remus nodded. “I think I’ve figured out why Johan and I were the only two who weren’t completely affected by the curse. Most of the pack was fairly young by that point. Greyback had killed off most of the older pack members by then.” His face was grim. “Johan and I were the only two who were …who had bonded with anyone else. The curse wasn’t originally a curse. It was meant to be a way for the pack’s leader to help form the pack into a cohesive and strong fighting unit during a battle. There’s a counter-spell, but it’s complex and I didn’t have time to finish researching it to make sure we had it right.”

“It’s a way to share out energy?” Severus sat back, thoughtful. “That could be very useful. But with whom had Badelt bonded? He seemed.…” He blushed, unable to look at Remus, who looked suddenly startled.

“Oh. Ah, me. He bonded with me.”

“What? Then why—how can you say that—“

Remus hurried into speech. “NO! I meant that he performed the first part. He didn’t tell me until after…after you went back to Voldemort, he told me.”

Severus covered his eyes with a shaking hand. He’d been so focussed on saving Remus’ life that he hadn’t even thought of anyone else having bonded with him. Just the thought of someone else being that close to his…bond mate…made sick jealousy fill his stomach. Remus seemed to understand, because he reached across the table and rested his fingers on Severus’ hand. Severus could feel his muscles relaxing at the contact, and heat flooded his body. He breathed in deeply; it felt as if he were breathing clearly for the first time in his life.

When he opened his eyes, Remus was smiling at him. “I have a question for you, Severus.” He waited until Severus made an impatient movement, then laughed slightly before continuing. “Do you believe that actions speak louder than words?”

Severus glared at him. “That’s self-evident.”

“Then why did it take you this long to figure things out?” Remus’ words sounded accusing, but his tone was …if Severus had to pick a word, it would be loving. Remus tilted his head. “What did I do, in that fight with Greyback?”

“You killed him, like the monster he was.” Severus felt himself begin to get frustrated. What did killing Greyback have to do with their situation?

“No, before that?” At Severus’ glare, he chuckled. “I knew what the bonding ritual required. I knew what it would do, to me and to you. I chose to act—to claim you—didn’t I?”

“You did.” Severus gritted his teeth.

“I thought you were loyal to Voldemort at the time.” Remus held Severus’ gaze, his own challenging. “I chose to protect you, to claim you, knowing you’d never return it, knowing you were working for and with someone with whom I could never agree…. What would you say my actions implied?”

“That you wanted to challenge Greyback? That you were looking for a way to gain control over the pack?” Severus could barely keep his voice below a shout. He hated being confused and out of control, and being able to feel Remus’ amusement wasn’t helping at all.

“Why would you choose to bind yourself to someone, knowing both that the bond is permanent and that you’ve spent years telling everyone that you will never allow someone else to control any of your life, especially after being trapped between two such difficult men?” Remus propped his chin in his hand, leaving his other hand on Severus’.

“I told you I wanted—oh.” Severus stared across the table at Remus. “Oh.” His voice was very small. He felt even smaller when Remus laughed.

“Let me show you,” Remus whispered huskily, and suddenly Severus was filled with emotions; he felt Remus’ joy, his fading worry about Severus’ health, his concern and—yes, love for Severus. Shaking, Severus tried to return the feelings, to show Remus what he felt, but somehow he was blocked. He closed his eyes and concentrated; if he could perform Legilimency, he could do this.

Across the table, Remus gasped, and then everything felt doubled; his own feelings for Remus were swept up into and combined with Remus’ for him, leaving him shaking and gasping.

“This is only the beginning of how it can be,” Remus said in a low, hot voice. “I can show you the rest, if you like.” Remus filled his mind with images of the two of them tangled in sheets, heat and moisture and throbbing need surrounding them. Severus stood, pulling Remus with him as their combined joy spiralled up inside him.

“I would like that very much,” he returned, knowing that he finally had everything he’d been looking for all his life.