Severus was half-way to the safety of the lower levels when, after more than a month of skilled avoidance, Lupin finally caught up with him.
"What is it, Lupin?" he said. As if he didn't know; Lupin was probably fuming at his little werewolf lessons. Not that you could tell, with him.
Lupin's smile was absurdly apologetic, as if sorry to bother him. He looked tired and distracted, as usual, the perfect picture of a schoolteacher in scuffed brown corduroys and a shirt with a quill tucked into the front pocket. He had a pile of books held against his chest. Snape wondered how hard he'd worked to perfect that utterly harmless look.
"I really thought we ought to talk about the Defence syllabus, if you're going to continue to be my substitute," he said. "My students... expressed concerns about the last lessons."
"Ah yes, and we should always let the student decide what to learn," he sneered. "In fact, I really ought to rewrite my Potions lessons to include more Quidditch."
"Don't be ridiculous, of course you can't let them rule, but you can't just ignore them, either," said Lupin.
"I certainly can. Turnabout is fair play."
Lupin smiled, as he always had at Snape's snide remarks. Snape assumed it was one more attempt to ingratiate himself, and ignored it.
"And no doubt you do it admirably," Lupin agreed, shifting his books under one arm. "But you know, it's not really just about them." He shot a glance down the empty hallway. "Could we go somewhere private?"
"No," said Snape simply. The thought of being alone with Lupin made his skin crawl. Would make any sane man's skin crawl, he thought.
"If you don't want to talk to me, I'm sure Dumbledore would be willing to –"
"Fine," snarled Snape. Dumbledore always favoured his little Gryffindors, always allowed them to fool him with their false charms. "My office."
"My office is closer," said Lupin, carefully neutral. Snape could not think of a reason not to acquiesce.
Lupin's office was eclectic and messy and smelled of old books. Lupin lit the fire with a flick of his wand, and moved to stand behind his desk.
"Have a seat," he said. Snape stayed standing.
Lupin sighed, but did not comment. He stayed standing too, leaning slightly against his desk.
It bothered Snape that he did not react. Lupin's mask of patience was practically impenetrable.
"Say your piece, Lupin."
Lupin ran a hand through his grey-flecked hair.
"Look," he said. "I don't know what you're hoping to achieve."
"That should be obvious," said Snape, baring his teeth.
"Severus..." said Lupin softly, "Do you really hate me that much?"
"I merely wish to make sure your precious students are fully informed," he snarled. "I've watched you fool people far too often with that ever-so meek manner."
Lupin looked away, down into the fire. The yellow glow threw highlights onto the lines around his eyes.
"I know I've been less than perfect," he said. "But we're both adults now, and we have to work together. Isn't it time we both put the past aside?"
"Ah," said Snape, "But it is not the past, is it? It could well enough be the present. It's in your nature."
Lupin looked up at him sharply, eyes flashing amber in the firelight.
"Surely you don't believe that what I am has any effect on –"
"Whose word do I have on that? Yours? You can hardly trust the word of a Dark creature."
"You're no stranger to Dark, Severus," said Lupin coldly, and it was a small victory to see him finally angry. That glare was strangely thrilling. "At least I am making an effort to make up for it."
A spark of pure fury lit in Snape's chest. Howdare he, when the pain of what he'd done followed him every moment of the day? When his best friend's eyes looked out from a face who loathed him, reminding him that he'd killed her, punishing him for eternity?
"Oh yes," he hissed, "You make an admirable effort. You like to merely watch the cruelty."
Lupin's ire vanished under an anguished expression, which would have satisfied Snape had he not believed it to be false. That was all Lupin was; a mask, a thin layer of feigned kindness, sad eyes hiding cowardice and fear and under it all, that frightening core of monstrous darkness.
"Severus," he said, and made a hastily aborted movement towards Snape. "You must know how sorry I am. You must believe –"
"Oh must I?" said Snape, alarmed at the closing space between them and quickly pretending he was not. "You're nothing but a fraud and a monster, and I seem to be the only one who can see it."
Snape's eyes were drawn to the involuntary clench of Lupin's fists. He found it difficult to feel satisfied by it. Lupin made him panicked and afraid.
It was understandable, of course. It was sensible. He clung to that one irrefutable memory, that glimpse of animal eyes and slavering jaws, and tried to tell himself it was wise to be afraid, even though this fear was not exactly the familiar icy clench.
"Do you really see nothing but a monster?" said Lupin. "Do you really think so little of me? There was a time when –"
"A time when what?" said Snape, too quickly. "A time when you feigned interest? When you pretended you were above your precious friends? Must have made it all the sweeter when I finally saw your true form."
"You don't seriously still believe I was in on –" snapped Lupin, then stopped. His eyes went wide, taking in all of Snape's tension, the angle of his shoulders, as if for the first time. His mouth opened on a silent vowel.
"Oh," he said eventually, too softly. "It's not really about that, is it?"
He looked up at Snape with eyes too wide and warm and knowing, and Snape took a sharp step back from them. He met the edge of a book stand, and gripped it, trying not to cling too obviously.
"I always thought..." said Lupin, soft and wondering.
Snape licked his dry lips.
"I don't know what you're babbling about, Lupin," he hissed. Lupin sat back against his desk and looked up at him sideways. Warm panic bloomed across Snape's chest and sparked against his clenched fingers.
"Don't you?" said Lupin, tone still mild, but body-language changing, subtly, into something very different.
Snape straightened, banishing teenage ghosts and teenage fear. He was still in control. He could leave.
"This conversation is over," he said, and made a move for the door.
Lupin rose quickly and reached out a hand, fingertips brushing Snape's chest, stopping him quicker than a stunning spell.
"I'm so sorry," said Lupin, coming a little closer. Snape stared at him, dizzy with the strange sharp heat of Lupin's fingers on his sternum. "I didn't know."
His eyes roamed over Snape, too confident, too comfortable with being there.
"Or at least –" he said, voice heavy with the weight of history, "I always thought, when we were sat in the library together, that you might... but I was young and stupid and you do your best not to think about that sort of thing in a situation like ours. Or maybe only I did. I couldn't have exactly – well, I've never been brave about my friends."
Snape didn't know what words to say to make Lupin stop. His almost-friendship with Lupin, cut short before it had really begun, was a betrayal and a pain that had long since been eclipsed, and he was happy for it to stay that way.
He didn't care to acknowledge how much he'd been hurt by a thing that ought to be insignificant by now.
"I should have known," Lupin said, still soft and wondering and much closer, though Snape had not seen him move. "When I was close to the full moon... the way you smelled..."
There was something dark and a little breathless in that word, and it hit something deep and frightening.
"You're insane," said Snape eventually, but his voice cracked. "I don't know what sort of depraved fantasies exist in that werewolf brain of yours, but –"
"No wonder you don't trust me," continued Lupin wryly. Hie eyes were shadowed gold in the dim light. He sounded very normal, for someone who was so completely invading Snape's personal space. "Must have been like... well, I was full-on, wasn't I? Desperate to atone for what James and Sirius did... Not that I could have known, really, what I was doing. I thought you were in love with Lily. I didn't realise..."
Quite suddenly, he gave Snape a feral grin, tinged a little with sadness, but dangerously attractive.
"Shame," he said. "Merlin, we were all such idiots then."
"Certain people," said Snape, finally gaining the strength to step away, "Clearly still are."
"You always were quick," he said. "Quicker than James or Sirius. They really hated that, you know."
Snape sneered, calmed by the mention of his hated enemies, until a flash of memory startled him, a younger Lupin smirking from behind Potter's back. Potter was spluttering, unable to formulate a decent comeback to a jibe he'd long forgotten – he'd met Lupin's kind eyes and found them sparkling with appreciation.
How could he have been so stupid as to like Lupin?
"Even if what you are implying were true – which it is not, and quite frankly the idea makes me nauseous – what, precisely, is your point? Hoping to have some hold over me? Trust me, it was a long time ago."
"Sorry, what was a long time ago?" said Lupin, eyes sparkling with triumphant amusement. Snape wanted to bite off his tongue.
Lupin's smile faded into a sigh.
"Listen," he said. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was never brave enough in school, and I'm sorry I was never part of your unhappiness, and for the record – if Sirius hadn't – well, if he hadn't pulled that supposed prank, I might have –"
"Might have what," said Snape flatly.
"Well," said Lupin, looking suddenly speculative. "I might have done something like this."
And then there was a hand on Snape's chest, firm this time, and a smooth force pushing him backwards, and a flash of a dangerous smile before firm, chapped lips pressed against his.
Snape exploded with blinding outrage and red-hot panic and a bone-deep ache of want, because this was something so utterly unacceptable for him, an almost-forgotten fantasy made real, and that was not for the likes of him. And he wanted it, he wanted inhibition gone, he wanted his pride to be able to take the blow of allowing this, but it couldn't and so his hands came up to shove Lupin away.
Lupin anticipated this, and gave his shoulder a firm shove back against the icy wall. Then Lupin opened his mouth, laved a warm tongue over his lips, sure and determined, and it felt too good to be real and too confident to be allowed. Enraged by the audacity, Severus caught a hand tight in Lupin's hair and fought back with tongue and teeth.
Lupin actually smiled into the kiss, and the brush of lips against his skin was maddening and warm and real. Severus wanted, was nothing but want mixed with pain and need, and was going to have this now, and more fool Lupin for daring to play with him.
Snape shoved Lupin, and didn't stop until they met the desk. Lupin was solid and unresisting, but Snape pinned him down anyway, pressed forward with his hips. Lupin made a noise that might have been a groan and might have been a growl; Snape heard it with a hot rush so good it hurt.
Lupin used palms and fingernails to pull Snape's hips tight against his, and Snape only knew he'd groaned when Lupin twitched and made a half-laughing noise. Snape thrust his hips, deliberately, then stopped when that alone was almost too much; Lupin threw his head back with a sharp, heartfelt exhalation.
Snape felt the loss of Lupin's mouth with an uncomfortable jolt of reality. Lupin noticed.
"Severus," he said, an appealing gravelly edge to his normally mild tones. "I like you."
Snape was surprised into a huff of breathless laughter.
"Forgive me if I cannot comfortably say the feeling is mutual," he said, dignity needling him into pulling away. Lupin's hands kept him in place.
"All right," he said. "But do you think you might be able to?"
Snape sneered to cover his panic. He couldn't answer. He'd spent too long constructing reasons why he hated Lupin just to shed them on a whim.
Lupin smiled at the sneer, not sad, just accepting. Snape's stomach jolted.
Not wanting to think any longer, Snape decided to surrender to the thing he'd already acknowledged, and tug Lupin's mouth back to his.
"I see your point," said Lupin after a moment, breathless and damp against Snape's face. "We really don't have to talk about it."
Snape was surprised to laugh again, and even surprised when Lupin gave him a slow, wicked smile, and pushed him back against his bookcase. There was something earnest and urgent about him now, uninhibited and a little wild, a little like the beast he tried to deny, and Snape was no longer afraid to admit it was thrilling and terrifying and intensely, viciously satisfying. Lupin's skin was hot under his hands, and his kiss was animal and rough with stubble, and Snape bit and thrust and clawed and loved that every sharp nail and too-keen bite seemed to elicit nothing but sharp breaths and heated moans and that slow, pleased smile against his mouth.
Lupin was the first to slide a hand through robes and under boxers, smooth and sure and hot, and Severus couldn't quite believe his own restraint, that he wasn't pulled over the edge by that alone, that he retained enough sanity to bite down on the salty skin of Lupin's neck and press a palm hard against the front of Lupin's trousers.
For a moment, there was nothing but perfect motion and rhythmic pressure, and Snape surrendered to it in the cool dark space behind his eyelids, immersed in taut, hot realness. Then Lupin pressed against him and groaned, urgent, heartfelt, human, and suddenly there was nothing more important than getting closer, having more, scrabbling to open Lupin's trousers and feeling the rough slide of skin on skin. Lupin had no difficulty matching Snape's urgency or his intention, positioning his hips and then grinding, catching onto Snape's shoulders hard enough to bruise and thrusting irregularly, fiercely, until the pressure was almost-pain, and then it was sharp and snapping like elastic. He came, a hot messy burst between their bodies, sticky and perfect. Remus followed him over the edge with a guttural groan.
When Snape opened his eyes, the world seemed grey and colourless, and he was shivering. Lupin was standing an inch away with bruised lips and a half-smile that looked as though it could burst into infectious pleasure, if only Snape gave the word.
He didn't know what to do. A teenage heartbreak, undeniable attraction, a tangled history, hot and messy sex in an office where any student might have walked in, Merlin– he did not know quite what this left, what whole this could possibly add up to.
Lupin was shaking too, and the half-smile was fading into doubt. Snape desperately wanted to follow his lead, to make it easy, but he would not have known where to start.
He opened his mouth to speak. Lupin leaned forward and kissed the words away before they could form.
"I know it's complicated," he said, buttoning his trousers and sliding his hands into the pockets. "In fact, one thing I've noticed is that you are possibly the most complicated man I have ever met."
"Dumbledore," pointed out Snape, not quite ready to try a whole sentence. Lupin grinned.
"Yes, quite possibly he's more complicated, although for all I know it could all be very simple underneath," he said. "Anyway, he's not the matter at hand." He ran a still-shaking hand through his hair, looking a little lost and faintly exasperated.
"What is the matter at hand?" said Snape, rougher than he'd like but still hitting the right notes of dark amusement.
"I don't know," said Remus. "I really don't."
They looked at each other for a long moment.
"Then it seems we are done," said Snape, straightening himself, pulling his loose muscles back to order. It took a moment's composure, but his first step toward the door was sure.
"Severus," said Lupin softly, and Snape found himself incapable of ignoring the voice.
"We're not done," he said.
Snape sneered, but he understood the meaning. This was not done – the prickling urge to kiss Lupin again was testament enough to that.
But he couldn't – not now. He needed time.
"Have a good Christmas," said Lupin, understanding. "I'll see you next term."
"If you are present at the start-of-term meeting and the crossword pages of the Prophet are not, I can promise you that you will not receive mercy."
"Didn't know you knew it was me," he said.
Snape feigned disgust, because he could not quite bring himself to smile.
"Until then," he said, because he did not know how to say all the things he wanted to, and he left the warm dark glow of Lupin's office.
No, he thought, on the lonely path to the dungeons.
They were not done yet.