Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
Happiness is Where You Find It Chapter 1: Unexpected
Thursday, 8 July 1995
There is always a reason. Thirty-five years had taught him nothing if not the simple fact that for everything that happens, there is a reason.
Sometimes the reason is as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or in the right place at the right time, or in any place at any time. Coincidence, in other words. That is a valid reason.
Sometimes the reason is incomprehensible, sometimes it does not make itself known for many years to come. Sometimes the reason is sex, sometimes it is power, sometimes it is neither. Sometimes it is a moment of crystalline understanding, sometimes the realization creeps into your consciousness, like dawn spilling over the horizon, and you don’t even realize you’ve answered the question until the next time you think to ask it again.
Sometimes the reasons are easy to understand, and sometimes they are difficult. Sometimes you die never understanding. Sometimes even knowing isn’t enough to make you understand.
Very often, the reason is something you don't want to consider, or something you would never think to consider. Sometimes the reason defies all reason, and sometimes it makes perfect sense once you see it, and you wonder why you never saw it before. Every now and then, the reason is enough. More often, it makes a mockery of the very basic human desire to give reason to that which appears to have none.
And the answer to the question with no answer? There is always a reason.
It was this determination to find a reason that kept him awake, at least in part, and which prevented him from solving the problem, which would have been easy to solve. Should have been easy to solve, at least. He had been making a half-hearted attempt for the last two hours and had yet to make any significant headway, but at least the attempt was enjoyable of its own right.
The problem? His cock, and why it was so bloody erect.
He knew the immediate answer to the question—there had been a meeting of the Order tonight, the first since Molly had declared the kitchen of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place fit for human inhabitation. It hadn’t been the entire Order gathered, either. Just Molly and Arthur Weasley, Mad-Eye Moody, Sturgis Podmore, Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape, and Sirius and himself. Not the most intuitive crowd of people to inspire such a throbbing in Remus’ nether-regions.
And it hadn’t been McGonagall or Molly who brought it about. That was one of the things Remus was puzzling over in his head. How was it that a perfectly normal, perfectly heterosexual man such as himself ended up having such a reaction to another man?
Remus had never been one to experiment. He’d grown up with the presumption (if a naïve one) that acts of sex required at least a penis and a vagina. Over the years, he’d come to realize that there were other ways to accomplish the same ends, and some of them rather enjoyable, but when it came right down to it, it was one penis and one vagina that stoked his imagination. Preferably his penis and a very hot, tight, wet vagina. When he bestowed a little more attention to his shower than was necessary, it was a woman he always pictured. Soft lips, talented tongue, full breasts, small waist, rounded bum and a slippery, searing, soft set of lips between her legs that surrounded his cock while he pounded into her.
He wasn’t a complete prat, of course, and he knew that it took more than breasts like ripe melons to make a relationship last. A keen mind, compassion, a sense of humor and an outlook on life that was similar to his own… these were the things that mattered in a search for a life-long love. The last time he’d even managed to fool himself into believing such a thing was possible for him had been better than a decade ago. He felt justified in his fantasies of large breasts and tight pussies on beautiful women.
His definition of beauty changed often as well. There had been a time when it was red hair and emerald eyes, like Lily Evans. There had been a time when it was blond hair and blue eyes, and there had been a time when it was black hair and brown eyes. More often, though, it was just a knowledge that the woman he was fantasizing about was beautiful. A beautiful woman.
Always a woman.
If it were going to be a man-- and Remus felt he was stepping far onto a limb by even supposing it ever could be another man who would have piqued his interest in such a rudimentary way-- it would have been a man who was at least pleasing to look at. Sirius, for example, when he wasn’t wallowing in his sullen despair, was still quite an attractive man. He was gaunt now, where once his features had been chiseled, and there was a hollowness in his eyes. Still, his hair still fell into his face with the casual elegance it had twenty years ago, and on the rare occasions that he smiled, the smile transformed his face. Remus had no difficulty understanding why the girls had always melted under his gaze.
There would have been a reason for that. It would have been quite understandable if, while watching Sirius loll about in a chair, like an affable dog waiting to have his ears scratched, something affectionate had stirred in Remus and prompted him to touch that silken hair. To brush it from the other man’s face, and in so doing, to perhaps let his hand linger a little longer than was appropriate. He’d never done it, nor ever even given it much thought, but he could have seen it happening, and perhaps something more would have come of it if it ever had. And perhaps he would not have been so perplexed by it.
It was not Sirius, though. It was Snape.
Greasy git who had allowed it to ‘slip’ to the Slytherins that the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was a werewolf. The hook-nosed bastard who had spent that entire year watching him, suspecting him, determined to find something about him to despise and to take to Dumbledore. Self-righteous prick who had never thought it enough to deliver the Wolfsbane, but had to make comments in front of students that he should ‘drink that directly’. As though he were a child who couldn’t be trusted to take his medicine without mummy standing over him and watching.
When they were teenagers, Remus hadn’t liked Snape. It was easy to turn a blind eye when James and Sirius ganged up on him, even though Remus knew that as a Prefect, he should have been calling his friends down for such treatment. It was not, as Snape had suggested two years ago, a matter of cowardice. It was a simple case of not liking the one being picked on enough to stop it. It wasn’t courage he lacked, but conviction. He liked to think he’d developed a bit more conviction in the last few years, though he still couldn’t say with any surety that he would come to Snape’s aid tomorrow if Sirius tried to hex him into China.
Severus Snape was a difficult man to like, even for someone as determined to like everyone as Remus was.
He had no physical appeal—though Remus suggested that was nothing a little sun and a regular shower wouldn’t fix—and he had the personality of a jellyfish. No matter how you tried to approach him, all you got were stings. The years had tamed his temper and tempered his mouth, but he was just as cruel and malicious as he’d ever been. The man had no redeeming qualities. Not one.
And yet, tonight he’d sat at the kitchen table, leaning back in his chair, listening to Dumbledore, tracing his lips with a fingertip, and there had been something so overtly sensual about him that Remus had not been able to take his eyes off him. His facial expressions were subtle, easy to miss if you weren’t watching for them, and a flicker of an eyelash or a fleeting sneer was enough to transform his appearance for a moment. After several minutes of watching him, Remus had been startled to hear him speak. Had he always been so soft-spoken and eloquent, with a voice like silk? Remus remembered him as a foul-mouthed, greasy-haired teenager, and not even a year at Hogwarts in such close quarters with him had dislodged that pervasive image.
Forty-five minutes across the table from him in the kitchen of an ancient and dilapidated old house where even the wallpaper was cursed had made Remus very suddenly aware that Snape was no longer an awkward teenager. Listening to his five-minute speech, delivered in a tone that never rose above conversational and with an articulacy that few could match if given ample time to plan and rehearse, Remus had been mesmerized. And then the finger returned to the lips, and Remus had found himself shifting in his chair and playing unwitting host to a throbbing erection.
Lips, a finger, a satin-smooth voice with a poised self assurance. Hardly the stuff fantasies are made of, yet Remus held the result of that combination in his hand.
How did one go about fanaticizing about another man, anyway? If he were fantasizing about a woman, it would be the act of fucking her senseless. Somehow, the idea of pounding into Snape’s arse didn’t appeal to him quite as much as the idea of watching a woman squirm while he drove into her. Of course, there was more than one road to ecstasy.
Remus closed his eyes and formed an image of Snape in his mind. He imagined those lips, and attempted to see them wrapped around his aching cock, but the mental image of Snape, in any way, was enough to make his arousal wilt. Not diminish entirely, just wilt a bit. “Ah, fuck it,” he muttered, and let go of the image of Snape’s lips, and replaced it instead with a woman. A woman with a small waist and rounded bum and full breasts. With blond curls and bright blue eyes and sweet, kissable lips. He imagined her breasts bouncing as she rode atop him, her head thrown back to reveal her throat, his cock disappearing again and again into her soft, warm, wet…
He exhaled sharply and released into the wad of tissues in his hand, and after a moment, rolled out of bed and made a quick trip down the hall to the washroom.
Snape did not cross his mind for the rest of the night.
Monday, 19 July
“Remus! We’re meeting!” Sirius poked his head into the door of the room Remus was attempting to establish as an office, but was gone again almost before the words had left his mouth.
This was going to be the fourth time the Order had convened in less than two weeks, and while Remus knew that there was a great deal to discuss just now, he also knew that he was already growing tired of the constant meetings. It was all anyone talked about or thought about, and Sirius was the worst.
Remus supposed his old friend must have been bored almost out of his senses to be so excited about the meetings. Perhaps it gave him a sense that he was doing something other than just sitting and watching the world pass by. Whatever it was, Remus did not share his enthusiasm, except for one reason. Snape was at these meetings, and in the last two weeks, Remus had developed two new pastimes: watching Snape, and thinking about him.
After that first evening, Snape’s effect on him had been less physical, though Remus noted with some curiosity that as soon as Snape began tracing his lips with a fingertip, he felt a stirring. It wasn’t like the first night. Now it was more of a subtle reminder that he was quite capable of harboring sexual feelings for another man.
The real change was in the way Remus was beginning to see Snape. Somehow, the greasy git seemed to have given way to a more urbane and sophisticated image, and even while it was unnerving, it was good for several hours of distraction while he was doing tasks far less pleasant than observing Severus Snape. Mulling over every word spoken and many that were never spoken, Remus had begun to wonder if there wasn’t more to the other wizard than he’d ever given him credit for.
And it wasn’t a sexual interest. He kept reminding himself of that fact, and perhaps if he continued to do so with enough frequency, his mind would stop wandering to fantasies that bordered on sexual. They were already sensual.
There were many times when he imagined touching Severus. Just touching him. An innocent gesture—moving a stray strand of hair from his face, placing a comforting arm around his shoulders. Just shaking his hand, perhaps. Civilized, acceptable ways to touch another man. That was all. Being hypnotized by his lips and entranced with every word that came out of them was another question altogether, and one that Remus wrote off with the same ease that he wrote off the occasional desire to follow Bill Weasley and have a peek at the ‘English lessons’ he was giving to Fleur Delacour. A fleeting fantasy.
No, he told himself, all he desired with Severus was the opportunity to find out if there was a light at the end of his tunnel-like eyes. To give him the chance he’d never given him when they were children. To find out if he was really as bad as they all thought he was.
So engrossed in his musings, Remus almost plowed into the subject of his speculation on his way down stairs. “Do watch where you’re going,” Severus said. “I realize you’ve little experience with civilized society, but it is generally considered impolite to walk on other people’s feet.”
“Well, isn’t that amusing,” Sirius said, clamping a hand onto Remus’ shoulder as he joined them on the stairs. “Snivellus thinks he’s qualified to instruct someone on the finer points of civilized society.”
“I’m sure I’ve had more experience with it than you have in the last fifteen years,” Severus replied. “Or am I to believe that you had high tea and crumpets every afternoon in Azkaban?”
“And I suppose that it was the Death Eaters who made you such an expert?” Sirius snarled. Remus wished he were somewhere besides pinned between the two of them on a staircase.
“You’re quite the one to talk, aren’t you?” Severus asked, leaning forward. Remus was acutely aware that he was being pressed between the other two wizards, and it was not a comfortable position to be in.
“More so than you,” Sirius hissed. “I grew up in the world you only ever aspired to.”
“You call this civilization?” Severus asked, gesturing at the house in general. “No, Black. You’ve no concept of polite society.”
“And I suppose you learned that from your mother? When she wasn’t up to her eye sockets in firewhisky?”
Severus’ eyes gained a spark, like steel striking flint. “At least I never felt the need to turn my back on my family,” he whispered, his voice growing lower by the minute.
“No,” Sirius replied. “I walked away from what you set out to find.”
“Is everything all right?” Dumbledore’s voice held a note of concern, and Sirius and Severus traded a last glance of malice before Severus turned on his heel and descended the rest of the way into the kitchen.
Sirius followed him, pushing past Remus, and leaving Remus to meet the questioning look in Dumbledore’s eyes.
“Everything’s fine,” Remus lied, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning his eyes to the floor. “Just a slight misunderstanding.”
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, but nodded and gestured them all into the kitchen. Severus took his place between McGonagall and Dumbledore, and Molly and Arthur found their seats as well. Remus settled to the right of the foot of the table, keeping Severus in his line of vision, and Sirius settled in beside him. Bill guided Fleur to a chair with a hand beneath her elbow, and Sturgis Podmore and Mundungus Fletcher found their seats, as did two more women who were introduced as Hestia Jones and Nymphadora Tonks.
With little by way of preliminaries, they delved into the heart of the matter.
“Severus, have you any idea when Voldemort will summon you again?”
“None,” Severus replied.
“And there is nothing you can glean from Malfoy?”
Severus sighed, a restrained sound as though he were attempting not to snap. “No,” he replied. “The Dark Lord never announced his intentions. He summons us and we come, or be named traitors. I've told you this before.”
“And you find it difficult to believe that no one trusts you?” Sirius asked, sounding incredulous. Remus kicked him under the table.
“Why are you here again, Black? Oh, yes. How silly of me to forget. You contributed the house, so it would only be proper to include you.”
Remus closed a hand around Sirius’ wrist at the same time McGonagall chose to chastise them.
“Boys!” she snapped, dividing a stern glare between the three of them. Remus felt a degree of irritation to be included in that glare, but his irritation was nothing compared to the twin looks of venom that touched Sirius’ and Severus’ eyes. The two had more in common than they were willing to admit.
“He will make his summons again,” Severus said, pointedly turning away from Sirius to look at Dumbledore. “It is simply a matter of being prepared when he does.”
“And are you prepared?” McGonagall asked, her eyes softening a bit as she looked at him.
He paled slightly, and Remus frowned, wondering what it meant to be ‘prepared’.
“Yes,” Severus replied. Not even Sirius had anything to say.
Saturday, 24 July
As it happened, it was less than a week before Severus had the opportunity to discovered just how far his preparations would take him. He had spent the better part of the summer term in his home, never far from his black cloak and white mask, and at last the mark on his arm had begun to burn. It was mid-afternoon, and the sun was far too bright for it to be the perfect day and time for the Death Eaters to be convening, but they were.
Severus Disapparated, and reappeared in a dark, low-ceilinged room. For a moment, he blinked, disoriented and confused, but he snapped out of it and dropped to the ground, crawling across the floor on his stomach, as did the others who were still arriving. Senses alert, he tried to take in everything at once, to commit it all to memory: the smell of mildew, the dripping water, the stale and cold air.
He reached the Dark Lord and lowered his head, pressing his lips to the hem of his robe, then froze as he felt a booted foot on the back of his neck.
“I had expected that the next time I saw you, you would be begging for mercy.” The voice sounded as though it had died in the years since Severus had last lain prostrate before the Dark Lord.
Every fiber of his being screamed at him to speak, to begin begging for forgiveness, to offer explanations; he remembered all too well what price the Dark Lord exacted for insolence. He refrained, however. To answer the accusations without being invited to do so would invoke wrath and offense as surely as the actions leading to the accusations had.
“Stand.” He was a master of the monosyllabic order, and Severus obeyed without hesitation. Someone else made as though to rise, and a skeletal hand snaked out from the robes and sent a shower of sparks towards the offender.
“Not you,” he hissed, directing the tip of his wand to the hood of Severus’ cloak. With a skilled flick of his wrist, he sent the hood to Severus’ shoulders and tapped the mask, his wand coming dangerously close to an eye.
“Remove the mask.” Severus complied without hesitation, and as soon as the mask was gone, he felt as though half his defenses had been stripped away.
“Then flee,” he snarled to Igor Karakoff. “Flee, I will make your excuses. I, however, am remaining at Hogwarts.” He was in his dungeon classroom, Igor standing in front of him, determined to talk despite the imprudence of doing so.
He was blasting through the rosebushes… He was blasting through the hedge at the Tri-Wizard Tournament… He dropped his wand, clutching his arm, and for the space of a moment, glanced towards the forest, which was close at hand. Dumbledore and Moody were fast approaching, though.
“You knew I had summoned you,” the Dark Lord said, “and yet you did not answer the call.”
Severus closed his eyes, but the Dark Lord’s wand sliced mercilessly at his cheek and Severus' eyes watered at the stinging pain.
“I did not tell you to close your eyes,” the Dark Lord whispered. “You did not accept my last invitation to our reunion gathering. Why should I allow you to join us now?”
He was sitting in a chair in the depths of the Ministry of Magic, the chains tight around his waist and chest, pinning him to the seat. “Severus Snape is no more a Death Eater than I am,” Dumbledore proclaimed to the Wizengamot.
“I couldn’t lea—“
“I did not ask why you did not come,” the Dark Lord interrupted. “You were cowardly and foolish. I ask why I should allow you back to my ranks.”
Severus swallowed hard and hoped his voice was steady. “I have Dumbledore’s trust,” he pointed out with as much conviction as he could. “And while I have his trust, I have a position at Hogwarts, which means I have access to Potter for another three years.”
“That doddering old fool,” the Dark Lord hissed, and Severus closed his eyes again as the end of his wand dug into his neck. He didn't leave his eye shut for long, though; the Dark Lord would not be pleased if he committed the same offense twice in so short a time. “I have penetrated that school four times.”
Tread carefully, Severus, he warned himself as he lifted his head. “And four times, your agents have failed,” he pointed out.
“Are you suggesting I made errors in judgment?” It was as mild a question as that hideous voice could have been capable of asking, but Severus remembered that the softer the Dark Lord’s voice, the more dangerous his words. “It seems I recall that someone in the castle had a hand in seeing to the defeat of my agents.”
“Very well,” Severus whispered to a quivering Quirrell. “We’ll have another little chat soon, when you’ve had time to think things over and decide where your loyalties lie.”
“Where do your loyalties lie?” the Dark Lord asked, almost his casual tone belying the weight of the question.
“I remain a faithful serv—“
“Do not lie to me! It is unbecoming.” The Dark Lord delivered another blow with his wand, drawing blood across Severus’ cheek. “Where do your loyalties lie?” he repeated.
“With you, my Lord,” Severus replied, ignoring the impulse to duck his head, and ignoring the impulse to exaggerate.
“And why should I believe that?”
Severus took a deep breath and drew himself up straighter. “I have seen their defenses,” he said. “They don’t stand a chance. And I will not align myself with those who stand no chance of victory.”
“Insolent fool!” the Dark Lord hissed, and aimed his wand at Severus. “Crucio!”
Severus gasped as his nerves all stood on end, his blood turning to ice and then to lava as pain coursed through his body. He doubled over, clutching at his stomach, clinging to the knowledge of where he was and why he was here.
“Are you certain, Severus? Are you certain you wish to do this?” Dumbledore’s eyes were not twinkling for once, and a frown drew the corners of his mouth down, making him seem much older than even his advanced years.
“I am,” Severus replied.
“To do what?” The searing pain stopped. “What would you offer? Why should I not kill you? Why should I believe you are here to serve me? Do you serve two masters?”
“No,” Severus whispered, forcing himself to straighten again and to face the Dark Lord through bleary eyes. “I serve only one.”
“And why am I to think I am the only one?”
“Severus! What are you doing here? Good lord, if he finds you, you know he’s going to kill you!” Lucius ushered him into his study and shut the door as though that might serve some purpose other than to foster a false sense of security.
“I couldn’t get away,” Severus muttered in reply. “There were two students missing and another appeared to be dead. Half the audience was panicking. I simply couldn’t get away, or you know I would have been there.”
“Would you?” Lucius asked. “Draco tells me you are sympathetic to Dumbledore.”
Severus snorted. “Dumbledore gave me a job,” he said flatly. “And I am in a position to promote Slytherin interests, and those interests happen to coincide with yours.”
“I don’t know if he will allow you back into the circle,” Lucius said after a minute.
“I don’t know either,” Severus answered, “but I would rather die making the attempt than try to run from the inevitable.”
“You might well die for you foolishness,” he whispered. “Crucio!”
He was sitting at a staff meeting with Minerva and Albus. Hagrid and Lupin were added to the attendees. Moody appeared.
Through the fog of pain, Severus fed a memory of a feast; a skilled Occlumens didn’t merely block the memories he didn’t want seen, but steered the Legilimens away from those memories, offering less damning ones instead. There should be nothing connected to those names besides Hogwarts.
He was sixteen and came upon a werewolf at the end of a tunnel… he was eleven and clinging to a broom as it bucked and jerked… he was seventeen and lying on the ground in front of the Dark Lord for the first time, his heart pounding with a mixture of fear and exhilaration… he was nineteen and in the same position he was now, returning after having missed a summons, the Dark Lord angry with him and suspecting him a traitor…
“You are not one to learn from your mistakes, are you?” he hissed, and Severus raised his head, panting, shaking from the pain and the effort to remain upright. “And you will not be broken.” The end of the Dark Lord’s wand lashed against his face again, sending a white-hot explosion of pain searing through Severus’ left eye, and for one awful moment, panic welled in his chest as he realized he could not see.
“Beg.” It was a quiet command, and one from a master who knew his slaves well. There were many times when nothing more than pride sustained Severus Snape, and it had been nearly two decades since the last time he had begged anything of anyone. Physical abuse, verbal abuse, those he could stand and survive with ease, but this new order took more of him than he would have wanted to admit.
Slowly, he sank to his knees, his back still rigid, his head bowed. “I do not deserve mercy, my Lord,” he began, his speech slow and stilted, “but I ask it. I was a coward not to come before, and a fool to think you would allow my return now.” His whisper was hoarse and broken, ragged from the curse that made all his nerves explode at once. “I do not plead forgiveness, my Lord. Only the opportunity to prove my loyalty.”
There was a horrible snort in response, but Severus did not dare lift his eyes. “You did better than I would have imagined. I don’t know that I have the patience for your promises, though.” He lifted his voice to carry and echo through the room. “Does anyone here wish a faithful servant?” he called, and there was a general sense of shuffling. “I’ve little desire to give this one the chance to prove his worth, though I am willing to allow it if I needn’t be the one to look after him.”
The Dark Lord knelt and lifted Severus’ chin with his wand. Severus still couldn’t see from his left eye, but through his right, he was aware of the tip of the Dark Lord’s wand glowing faintly. He touched it to Severus’ cheek and whispered something almost unintelligible, and to Severus’ relief, his vision returned.
“Thank you, my Lord,” Severus whispered.
“Do not thank me yet,” the Dark Lord replied, lowering his wand again. “If no one will claim you, then I prefer you see where your foolishness has taken you.” He raised his voice again and addressed the others, most of whom were still prostrate. “Will no one speak for him?” he asked. For an excruciating moment, no one responded, and Severus wasn’t sure if he was more afraid someone would claim him, or that no one would.
“I will, my Lord.”
Severus couldn’t help but turn in the direction of the voice, even though he did not need to look at the masked and robed figure to know who had spoken.
“You will?” The Dark Lord lifted a hand and beckoned with curled fingers. “Come.”
Lucius Malfoy stood, rising from the ground with a certain inhibited grace, and approached with his head still bowed. He sank to his knees in front of the Dark Lord.
“You will claim him?”
There was another brief pause, and then Malfoy spoke clearly. “Yes, my Lord. It was I who brought him to your ranks to begin with, and I would prefer he not leave in disgrace. I fear it would reflect poorly on me. I believe I can remind him of his obligations.”
There was a frost to Malfoy’s voice that sent a shiver up Severus’ spine even while his pride railed against the way they were talking over him as though he was not there.
“You would put your faith in him, then?” the Dark Lord asked.
“Yes,” Malfoy replied. “And if he is a traitor, you shall hear it from my lips, my Lord, and I shall deliver him to your justice.”
“Very well,” the Dark Lord replied. “Take him and leave. I will speak with you privately, later.”
They left, which was hardly surprising. A direct command from the Dark Lord was not to be taken lightly. Malfoy saw Severus to the Leaky Cauldron and helped him to a room. Once he was settled on a bed, Malfoy leaned over, wand to Severus’ throat, and whispered, “If you think you will betray the Dark Lord, think again. I will find out, and you will regret it before I hand you over to him.” With that cheerful promise, Malfoy Disapparated.
Severus closed his eyes and grimaced, wondering what he’d just done.
He’d intended to rest for a few minutes. Just long enough to give substance to the lie that he was remaining in that rented room overnight, and then he’d intended to Floo back to Hogwarts in plain sight. As it was, he slept almost five hours, and by the time he woke, it was dark.
He rolled out of bed and groped for his wand, a moment of panic ensnaring him as he failed to find it on his person. Just as he had convinced himself that either Malfoy or the Dark Lord had relieved him of it, he spotted it lying on the bedside table.
He cast a Silencing Charm around the room and Disapparated, the crack engulfed by the charm.
Apparating took more of his energy than he’d anticipated, and when he reappeared in the drawing room at Number Twelve, he sagged against the wall for a moment, his eyes closed, breaths coming in ragged gasps. Slowly, he sank to the floor, his back against the wall.
Lupin’s voice. Severus didn’t bother to open his eyes and didn’t bother to answer.
“Are you all right?” Lupin’s voice was nearer this time, and when Severus opened his eyes a crack, Lupin’s face was right in front of his, looking concerned. Severus closed his eyes again.
“Just marvelous,” he muttered. “Find Dumbledore.” He doubted he would have concerned himself with pleasantries even if he’d felt up to par, which he did not, so he didn’t give much thought to ordering Lupin around.
“Why don’t we find a bed for you?” Lupin suggested, reaching for his arm. Severus made a half-hearted attempt to jerk away from him.
“I’m fine,” Severus insisted, though he knew he sounded somewhat less than convincing. “Just get Dumbledore.”
“You don’t look fine,” Lupin replied, tugging him to his feet. He hadn’t the energy to protest. “You look like death warmed over.”
“Not that that’s a departure from the norm, mind you,” another voice joined in, and instinctively, Severus’ hand went to his wand.
“Not now, Sirius,” Lupin said, sounding tired. He snaked an arm around Severus’ back to support him. “Either help me get him upstairs or get out of the way.”
Black apparently opted for the second suggestion, which was just as well. Severus doubted he would have taken well to the dubious aid of his nemesis. He wasn’t taking well to the dubious aid of a werewolf, either.
“Just find Dumbledore,” he muttered, jerking away from Lupin and scratching the back of his neck.
“Are you sure you don’t want to rest?” Lupin asked. The itch that had started on the back of Severus’ neck was now crawling down his spine and he shifted back and forth, but folded his arms resolutely across his chest, determined not to scratch. “Quite,” he replied.
“But you look…”
“DAMN IT, LUPIN, WILL YOU JUST GET DUMBLEDORE?” The itch on his back was growing worse, and he finally leaned against the door, rubbing his back against the frame.
Black began to chuckle. “What’s the matter?” he taunted. “Ants in your pants? Or fleas?”
Severus scowled harder. “If there are fleas in this house,” he muttered, “I’m sure you can take credit for them.”
Lupin reached for his arm again, but Black stopped him, placing a hand over his wrist. “Don’t,” he advised. “The wall paper is covered with itch-wort.” Black’s lips twisted into a horrid smile. “You’ll be enjoying the effects of that rash for weeks,” he predicted cheerfully as he turned and stalked out.
The itching was growing worse, like a thousand insects crawling all over his back and through his hair, his skin crawling with the unpleasant sensation. He closed his eyes and forced himself away from the wall. “Itch-wort wall paper,” he muttered, folding his arms again. “Leave it to the likes of a Black.” He looked at Lupin again. “Find Dumbledore,” he repeated, “and tell me where I can discuss a few things with him privately.”
Severus’ desire for a ‘private’ conversation with Dumbledore didn’t play out quite as he seemed to have had in mind. While the entire Order was not present, Remus and Sirius were. Severus had glared at both of them at first, but Dumbledore had either not noticed or done a remarkable job of pretending not to notice. To his credit, Severus did a remarkable job of pretending that neither Remus nor Sirius existed as he recounted the details of his first return to Voldemort.
It was a brief meeting, Severus’ speech punctuated only by his pausing from time to time to close his eyes or to rub his back against the chair. Remus longed to reach out for him and to scratch his back, just to offer a bit of relief from what must have been a relentless itch, but somehow he didn’t think Severus would appreciate the gesture.
When the debriefing had concluded and the four men stood, Dumbledore looked at Severus. “Are you joining us for dinner tonight?” he asked.
Severus appeared to be considering his answer for a moment, as though torn between duty and desire. “No,” he said at last. “It is best that I play out the lie at the Leaky Cauldron.” He twisted an arm behind his back and scratched. “I might make use of a shower first, if there is no objection. A pitcher of water is hardly satisfying.”
“I would have thought that was more than you were used to,” Sirius said as he shouldered his way out of the room and headed for the stairs.
Remus sighed. “The bathroom on the second floor is safe,” he offered. “But itch-wort doesn’t just wash off.”
“I know that,” Severus snapped in reply. “But I still want a damn shower if that is all right with you.”
“Itch-wort?” Dumbledore asked as Severus stalked up the stairs. Remus nodded and forked a hand through his hair.
“In the drawing room. Apparently the walls are covered in it.”
“Splendid,” Dumbledore muttered.
“Should I tell him that a shower will only make the itch worse?”
Dumbledore glanced up at the ceiling as though contemplating. “No,” he replied, shaking his head. “I’ve little doubt he is aware of that.”
“I would presume he has been hit with a Crucio,” Dumbledore replied. “It was always one of Voldemort’s favorite curses. A hot bath would go farther towards easing the pain, but I imagine a hot shower would not go amiss.”
Remus glanced upstairs too; the water had just cut on, and he could almost imagine the itch-wort coming alive. He sighed again.
“Don’t stray far from the hearth. I’ll be back in a few minutes with something for the rash and a clean robe.”
Ten minutes later, Remus stood outside the bathroom door, a jar of salve in one hand and a fresh robe draped over his other arm. The water had just cut off, and Remus took that as his cue to knock.
“Leave me alone!” Severus barked from within.
“Dumbledore left clean clothes for you,” Remus called. “I have them here.”
There was a brief hesitation, and then the door opened with a puff of steam, revealing Severus with a towel clutched round his hips, water dripping from his hair and nose. His pale skin was tinged with pink, and he radiated heat, his nipples hard against the onslaught of cold air.
“Are you going to give me my clothes or stand there like a fool?” Severus asked, his eyes narrowing. It was quite a trick, but even looking like a half-naked boiled lobster, he managed to look menacing.
Remus offered the robe and a small bag. “He said he packed a few personal effects for you as well,” Remus offered.
Severus snatched the bag and robe with his free hand, and turned back into the bathroom.
“What?” he snarled.
Remus held up the jar. “He also left a salve for the itch-wort.”
“I don’t need anything for the itch,” Severus muttered, but even as he said it, his shoulder blade twitched.
Remus uncapped the jar and dipped his fingers into the cool orange gel within. He touched Severus’ shoulder blade and Severus stiffened, but half turned again, shifting his clothes to the hand that was clutching the towel closed. “Very well,” he said stiffly. “You made your point.”
Remus capped the jar again but didn’t offer it. “Why don’t you let me rub it on your back?” he suggested, and Severus’ eyes narrowed. “No tricks. We’re not children any longer.”
Severus hesitated again, and twitched. Remus offered held the jar out to him. “I just thought I’d offer,” he said.
After another hesitation, Severus nodded jerkily. “Very well,” he said, his face darkening into a scowl. “But if you try anything, itch-wort will be the least of your problems.”
Remus snorted and gestured for him to follow. “Come on,” he said. “You can lie down in here.” He ushered Severus into the bedroom across the hall and when he was lying on his stomach on the bed, the towel still around his hips, Remus eased himself onto the mattress beside him and placed the jar of salve on the bedside table. He dipped his fingers in it and smoothed a small amount onto Severus’ shoulder, drawing a hiss from him.
“Does it hurt?” Remus asked, concerned.
“It’s cold,” Severus muttered, his voice muffled by the pillow.
Remus pointed his wand at the jar and murmured a spell, then dipped his fingers into the gel again and smoothed a little more over Severus’ shoulder blade. “How’s that?” he asked. “It isn’t too hot?”
“No,” Severus replied.
Remus spread a little more of the gel onto his back, massaging in gentle circles. “You wouldn’t believe some of the hexes and curses we’ve found in this house already,” he said conversationally as he spread the salve along Severus' spine. “Sirius was attacked by a pair of drapes last week, and Molly nearly lost a finger to the china hutch.”
“And no one has ventured past the third floor yet, but we’ve heard plenty of noises up there. I think something’s nesting up there, and Molly’s afraid it’s rats. Nasty little buggers.”
“But we’re slowly making progress. At the rate we’re going, the house might be inhabitable in another decade or so.”
Severus snorted to that, and Remus smiled, moving his hair aside. “I think Sirius is jealous that you haven’t been conscripted to cleaning and pest removal yet. All the rest of us have. Molly is quite the slave driver, you know.” He smoothed a bit of the gel onto the small of Severus’ back and pointed his wand at it again, heating it once more. “Is this helping?” he asked.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Remus said and began at the top of his shoulders again, massaging the gel into his skin in small, circular motions. Slowly, Severus began to relax, and Remus kneaded at the knotted muscles. The Cruciatus Curse worked by enraging every nerve in the body, and as the body attempted to respond to the sudden attack of stimuli, the muscles knotted and cramped painfully. It was an excruciating pain, according to texts, and texts were all Remus knew of it.
After a second layer of the gel, he began a slow, gentle massage, still talking about unimportant things, Severus still responding with inarticulate sounds of acknowledgement and relaxing by increments. It was a satisfying lull in hostilities, and as Remus continued his ministrations, a tender feeling began to emerge.
If only there were some way I could erase the pain, he thought as he continued to massage slow, steady circles over Severus’ back and shoulders. Severus' breathing was beginning to slow and grow regular, but his eyes were still open, though closing with an exaggerated blink every now and again. Remus moved his hair again, using the gesture as an excuse to let his fingertips brush against the sharp planes of Severus' cheek. He didn't move. Is lack of protest an invitation to continue?
The black eyes drifted shut again, and did not spring back open this time. His lips relaxed, losing the sneering curl that was so omnipresent. Remus’ breath caught in his throat as his lips parted. Almost mesmerized by his own gentle caresses, Remus was barely aware of his actions as he leaned forward, touching his lips softly to Severus’.
Severus’ eyes popped open wide, and in a single motion, he had rolled off the bed, tossing Remus aside, snatched up his wand, and was standing, wide-eyed across the bed, his wand aimed at Remus. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.
Remus closed his eyes and stood. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, smiling a bit ruefully. “I don’t know what came over me.” He capped the jar of itch salve and walked to the door, his hands visible. He turned around and glanced at Severus once more, his eyes flickering downward. In his haste, Severus had not snatched his towel when he rolled off the bed, though he didn’t seem aware of it just yet.
“If you want to stay and sleep for a while, no one will bother you,” Remus said as he let himself out of the room. He closed the door behind him, and just stopped himself from leaning against the wall as he sighed. That was not a good way to make a move, and any fifteen year old kid could have figured that out.
Make a move? an incredulous voice inside his head demanded. Get a grip! He isn’t your type, even if you were gay, which you are not. Just get a fucking grip.