Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
It had been two hours of work so far, and it was work for which Severus was thankful. It kept his mind off Dumbledore and his humiliating lecture. For some reason, Severus had been expecting that the headmaster, at least, would understand, and he'd been right—Dumbledore understood perfectly.
Albus Dumbledore understood that a professor at Hogwarts was putting himself in a position that stood to compromise his reputation. Witches and wizards were not so open-minded about such things that they would be willing to overlook the fact that their children's Potions master was in a homosexual relationship with a known werewolf. Severus had offered no response beyond a scowl to that; Dumbledore's protests were the same ones Severus had offered to himself already.
Dumbledore also understood that this was a war that they were fighting, and even if there were to be no daring charges made by armies of knights in shining armor, their battles were life and death. They could not afford to alienate anyone, and Severus played a role that was doubly delicate. If so much as a whisper of this relationship were to reach the ears of Voldemort or any of his supporters, Severus would be a wizard whose days were numbered.
Even more infuriating, Dumbledore also had a very basic understanding of Severus' personality and penchant for vengeance. If it did not work between Severus and Remus, would the two be able to continue functioning as part of the same team? It was a very valid question, and one to which Severus could offer no simple answer. Perhaps he could put aside such differences—after all, he put aside most of his differences with Black, he pointed out. Dumbledore had only raised a snowy eyebrow to that, but his lack of comment had spoken volumes.
By the time he finished with all the reasons for the two of them to carefully consider what they were doing and what they stood to lose, Severus had not even bothered to offer his weak defense that in the last two days, he'd felt more comfortable with Remus Lupin than he could ever remember feeling with anyone in the previous thirty-five years of his life. He'd offered no excuses, only a silence prompted by embarrassment and tempered with the consequence of the situation.
Beginning his shift of guard duty had been a welcome distraction from words that rang a little too true. He'd relieved Charlie to join Tonks, who proved to be an amusing companion given what he remembered of her from when she'd been a student, and Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was good-natured and friendly and very capable. Between the three of them, they'd managed to place a Disillusionment charm on the doghouse that sat in the shade of a large oak tree in the garden of the Dursleys' neighbors. There was something amusing about sitting in a Muggle's front lawn, unbeknownst to any of the Muggles on the street.
When Lupin arrived to relieve Tonks, dawn had already begun to color the eastern horizon with pinks and golds. Severus noticed that Lupin didn't say much, though the one time their eyes met, the unspoken exchange had relayed volumes between them; Dumbledore had apparently spoken to Lupin as well. They would have to talk of it eventually, but this was neither the time nor the place.
It might have been an interminable two hours except for Lupin's engaging Shacklebolt in conversation. Before long, the Auror was regaling them with stories of some of his closer shaves, and despite a look of feigned disinterest, Severus hung on every word of the tales. There had been a time when he, like many a young wizard, had thought he might become an Auror. That was a dream he'd dashed when he took the Dark Mark, and a dream that he doubted he would have ever achieved anyway. He had the knowledge, but not the personality.
When Minerva finally appeared to relieve Shacklebolt, Severus saw in her eyes awareness of the circumstances, and he'd been unable to face her afterwards. Conversation was stilted and forced, and after fifteen minutes or so, the three of them gave up altogether and sat in an uncomfortable silence, watching as signs of life began to show within the house at number four. There was no sign of life, however, in the window that was Harry Potter's.
Ten minutes before Severus' shift was due to end, Minerva stood.
"Where are you going?" Remus asked.
Minerva gave him a level look, and without batting an eyelash, she said, "I'm going to find a loo somewhere." Her gaze softened for a moment, and she took in both of them before her eyes settled on Severus. "I expect you will be gone before I return," she said, reaching to pat his shoulder. "So this is your admonition now—be careful tonight."
Severus nodded, and Minerva stepped out of the block of Disillusioned lawn and set off down the sidewalk at a brisk pace. For a moment, the silence lingered between the two wizards.
"What happens tonight?" Remus asked.
Severus looked at him for a long moment, then turned his attention back to the house. "Dinner with the Malfoys again," he replied.
Neither said anything for a moment, but Remus moved to sit closer to Severus. "Did Dumbledore talk to you?"
"Me too," Remus said. "He had a valid point, you know."
Which of several valid points are you conceding? Severus wondered. He kept his thoughts to himself though, concentrating instead on steeling himself for the inevitable.
"Talk to me, Severus," Remus whispered. "Don't make me have this conversation alone."
Severus sighed and looked at him. "What is there to say?" he asked. "Unless we received two very different lectures, I believe we were told unequivocally to put an end to this foolishness."
"Is it foolishness?"
"The headmaster seems to think so."
"And we're not misbehaving teenagers," Remus pointed out.
Severus frowned at him.
"I… I'm willing to risk his displeasure, personally."
For a moment, Severus was speechless. When he found his tongue again, it seemed to be operating independently of his brain. "So am I."
Remus placed a hand against Severus' cheek, turning his face towards him. Their eyes met for an instant before their lips did, and that instant was enough to convince Severus that this was right, in the most basic sense of the word.
Closing his eyes, Severus made a conscious effort to forget the rest of the world, then lost all ability of conscious thought. He was aware only that Remus had moved in front of him, arms closing around him. For a moment, he stiffened by instinct, still reluctant to surrender entirely, but the instinct passed and he pulled Remus closer.
At length, the feeling that they were being watched prompted Severus to open his eyes, and when he did so, he jerked away from Remus. Remus' eyes blinked open, and he was panting.
"What is it?" he asked, pulling his wand from his back pocket and turning to look in the direction Severus was gazing.
"That Dursley woman," Severus muttered. "She's looking this way."
Remus chuckled, pocketing his wand again. "She can't see us," he said, standing.
"Are you certain?" The woman's horse-like face had not turned by a quarter of an inch, her eyes had not wavered.
"Positive," Remus replied, placing his hands on Severus' face and pulling him down again.
Severus stiffened; that woman was taking a step in their direction, then another until she was close enough that Severus could see the whites of her eyes. "I'm not so sure," he whispered, nudging Remus. Remus turned, and jumped when he saw that she was so close.
"We can Obliviate her," Remus whispered.
Petunia Dursley stopped suddenly, her head snapping back towards the house, and for a moment she looked torn. She cast one last glance in their direction, then walked briskly back into the house. Severus released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"We're sure she's only a Muggle?" Severus asked, still peering at the Dursley house.
"Quite," Remus replied. "And quite scornful of magic. Lily was very sure that her sister hadn't a magical hair on her head."
"And I'm sure Lily's word was the final say in the mater." Severus was still watching the house, and he tensed when he felt arms encircling his waist. He half-turned, and Remus flicked his tongue against the edge of Severus' jaw.
"She can't see us," Remus repeated in a firm tone. "I could strip you here and now and do unspeakable things to you, and she would never know."
"No," Remus agreed. "But only because we're here for a reason, and snogging isn't part of the job description."
Severus just stared at him; there were no words to respond to something like that. After a moment, Remus chuckled and tightened his embrace.
"Do I get to see you again before we do this tomorrow?"
For a moment, Severus hesitated. "No," he said. "I have to get some sleep before I put myself at the mercy of the Malfoys, and I can't imagine that I'll be home before midnight."
Halfway down the block, Mundungus had appeared, hands in pockets and looking suspicious in such a neighborhood as this.
"Then I'll repeat what Minerva said," Remus murmured, placing a kiss against Severus' neck. "Be careful."
Severus leaned against Remus for the space of a heartbeat, and Remus tightened his arms around him, then the two of them straightened and stepped apart. When Mundungus crossed the Disillusionment boundary, Severus was standing against the tree, his arms folded, a disinterested look on his face.
"Well," Severus said, pushing himself away from the tree trunk. "You're on time for once."
"Now that's not fair, Snape! I—"
"I don't want to hear it. Lupin can fill you in on everything that isn't going on." Severus turned on his heel and started to stalk away.
"Have a good day, Severus," Remus called after him. After a brief pause, Severus half-glanced over his shoulder.
A little after eight that evening, Severus was wishing himself anywhere except where he was. He hated formal gatherings, and he was certain that Lucius remembered that. If it was necessary that he attend such a dinner, it would have at least been polite for his host to have informed him prior to his arrival, but Severus suspected that Lucius was making a statement. Lucius was almost always making a statement.
Severus sat stiffly at his place, midway down the table and to Lucius' left. To his right sat Edna Goyle, the spinster sister of Luther Goyle and a veritable brick of a woman with a round face and dull eyes. Her mouse brown hair left almost as much to be desired as Severus' own limp black hair did. To say that the woman was sturdy would have been a charitable description, and wholly untrue. And she was his dinner partner.
To his left sat Natasha Goyle, a petite, frail-looking woman with a pale face and a cold, calculating stare. She didn't seem big enough to have whelped a son as big as that lumbering offspring of hers, but after five minutes of stilted conversation with her, Severus had come to the conclusion that this was a witch who would move a mountain if she thought it in her way.
Across the table sat Luther Goyle, whose ability to consume food never ceased to amaze Severus, even after four years of having observed the man's son at mealtimes. Luther was not much of a conversationalist, being inclined to little more than the occasional grunt of acknowledgement. He was a well-trained guard-dog, laughing a booming laugh at Lucius' jokes, seeming to communicate entire sentences with a single nod when his wife asked a question, and never once taking his eyes from Severus.
Severus knew when he was being watched, even when it wasn't as obvious as Goyle's stare.
"Well, Severus, has Dumbledore chosen a new Defense professor yet?" Lucius asked. Seventeen heads swiveled in Severus' direction.
"If he has, he hasn't seen fit to announce it to the staff yet," Severus replied. He knew that Dumbledore had not chosen anyone to fill that post yet, but that was nothing that his host or the other guests needed to know.
"Well, I do hope he chooses someone more suitable this year," Narcissa said from the other end of the table. "Werewolves and fraudulent authors, and then that business last year. What will he do next?"
"Now, now, Narcissa, calm yourself. Dumbledore has made a few questionable decisions, no doubt about that, but I still believe he has the students' best interests in mind, misguided though his actions might be," Cornelius Fudge said, patting Narcissa's arm. Fudge occupied the position of honor at Narcissa's right, which meant that Severus couldn't see the Minister without making a conspicuous effort.
"I was under the impression that Dumbledore had lost some favor with you, Cornelius?" Lucius said, his fork paused halfway to his mouth. Heads turned towards Fudge, and Severus sighed with relief.
"We are having a personal disagreement, yes," Fudge said. "All this nonsense about You-Know-Who returning. I know that some of my senior ministers think he's as bad as the Potter boy, but I am quite sure he is still the most capable wizard to manage Hogwarts."
If Cornelius Fudge were a more astute man, he might have noticed that there were too many blank expressions at the table to be dismissed as coincidence.
"Well," Narcissa said with a sniff, "after last year, Lucius and I have been very tempted to put Draco in Durmstrang. I was not pleased about that little incident with Transfiguring him into a ferret."
"Ah, but we have Severus here to be an advocate for our children," Lucius pointed out.
"We shouldn't have to have anyone to advocate our children's rights in particular." Philippa Parkinson's assertions were met with a chorus of agreement from the others at the table. "Imagine what we would have said twenty years ago if we had ever been told that respectable, pureblooded children would need someone to specifically defend their interests? It's scandalous! Pansy was telling us all about the way the Muggle-born students are coddled and catered to, with all the teachers bending over backwards to be sure that they receive top marks."
"It is true that certain allowances have to be made for Muggleborns, but—"
"But not at the expense of my daughter," Philippa interrupted. "I am quite tired of hearing how the slightest infraction of rules results in detentions and disciplinary actions for Pansy while other children are getting away with wandering the corridors at night and venturing into the forest."
"It's not really as bad as all that, is it, Severus?" Earnest Bulstrode asked. It was obvious who Millicent favored, and it was not her delicately-boned mother.
"I can't pretend that all the students are treated equally," Severus replied. "I try to give them all the same opportunities and hold them all to the same standards, but I won't lie and say that all of my colleagues do the same."
"Vincent says Dumbledore favors the Gryffindors," Melvin Crabbe said. It was an impressively long sentence from his mouth.
"Dumbledore favors Harry Potter and his little group of friends," Severus replied, not having to feign irritation. "It has nothing to do with them being Gryffindor." Minerva favors them because they're Gryffindors. Severus didn't voice that opinion.
"Perhaps, then, we should take up a collection and send Harry Potter to Durmstrang," Lucius suggested, drawing a chuckle from the guests. "That would at least rid our children of the nonsense surrounding him."
"You have no idea who will be the next Defense professor, then?" Walden Macnair asked, looking at Severus.
Severus shook his head. "None," he replied.
"It would seem that he would have at least an idea by now, wouldn't it?" Narcissa asked.
"One would think so," Julius Parkinson agreed.
"Unless, of course, he has more important things on his agenda," Lucius replied.
"More important things?" Cornelius asked. "Such as what? He's a dedicated headmaster and one of the most powerful wizards in Europe!"
"Very powerful indeed," Lucius agreed. "One might wonder if he is no longer content to be the grandfatherly old headmaster at Hogwarts. I wonder where he has set his sights, then?"
"Perhaps he would be the next Minister," Narcissa suggested, her voice carrying a cold sarcasm. Severus didn't need to see Fudge to imagine his expression.
"He turned that down years ago," Avery replied with a dismissive gesture.
"He certainly had the support back then, though," Lucius mused. "Do you think he still has that sort of popular support?"
"Oh, without a doubt," Macnair replied. "Everyone knows and loves that old coot."
There was a general chuckle at the table.
"Well," Philippa said, taking a sip of her wine. "I suppose it will behoove us all to see to it that the position stays filled. You're not feeling poorly, are you, Minister?"
Fudge chuckled, but it sounded forced. "Of course not," he replied.
"Then we've nothing to worry about, except keeping you in office."
"Yes," Lucius said, casting a calculating look down the table. "I can't help but wonder if anyone's conviction would keep them from accepting such a prestigious position twice."
Later that evening, after most of the guests had left, Severus sat in the drawing room with Malfoy, Macnair and Avery.
"I think he's nervous, don't you?" Malfoy asked as one of the house elves filled his glass with brandy.
"He'd be a fool not to be after you pointed out what he stood to lose."
"Nonsense," Malfoy scoffed. "He has been nervous all summer, whether he admits it or not. Rumors around the Ministry, you know."
"Rumors you planted, no doubt," Severus said. The three men turned towards him, none of them saying a word.
"Of course," Malfoy replied after a moment. "A little whisper in the right corridor assures that everyone from the lowliest guard to the Head of the Department of International Cooperation knows that popular opinion would have Albus Dumbledore in that office rather than Cornelius Fudge."
"You realize, of course, that if Dumbledore were no longer at Hogwarts, the school would be in need of a new Headmaster," Avery said, swirling his brandy in his glass.
"That would stand to reason," Severus replied.
"And what more logical choice than the Head of one of the Houses?" Malfoy asked. "You are not without friends in the Ministry, you realize."
"You don't want Dumbledore in the Ministry," Severus replied, leaning back against the wingback chair. "Even if it meant replacing him with a headmaster who would be sympathetic to Slytherin."
"Of course not," Malfoy replied. "But do you think Dumbledore would accept the position, anyway?"
Severus chose not to answer rather than risking an incorrect guess.
"Of course not," Malfoy replied.
"But if Fudge were to sack the most beloved headmaster in centuries, he might as well hand in his resignation at the same time," Macnair said. "Let him take the fall."
"And if we just happen to be ready with a suggestion for the Ministry…" Avery added.
"Someone who has seen a remarkable improvement in exam scores in his field over the last several years…" Macnair offered.
"Someone who has a reputation for firmness with misbehaving students…" Avery chimed in again.
"…someone who has friends in the Ministry, of course," Malfoy said, winking. "We'll have killed two birds with one stone then."
Severus had forgotten how embroiled the Malfoys were in politics and plots. If he thought this plan was insane, Severus didn't argue with it. He didn't care if it worked or not; all he cared about was getting back into Malfoy's good graces. "What do you want me to do?"
"I knew you'd see our perspective," Malfoy said, beaming. "I just need to know if Dumbledore is considering anyone for the post."
"That's all you need to know?" Severus asked.
"That's all I need to know," Malfoy replied, still smiling. He lifted his glass. "To the next headmaster at Hogwarts."
The other two men lifted their glasses as well, and Severus joined them in the toast. If they thought it was going to be that easy to ensure his allegiance, then let them labor under that delusion.
"Something else, Severus," Macnair said. "I don't suppose I could talk an old friend into brewing a few—ah—delicate potions for me?"
You mean illegal, Severus thought. "I'm sure I might be convinced," he replied aloud.
"I will reimburse you the cost of the ingredients, of course, and a little more besides for the time."
"Well!" Malfoy said, leaning back against his chair. "Isn't this just like old times?"
It was after one when Severus Apparated into his kitchen, a list of potions that ranged from deadly poisons to mild irritants to restricted truth serums folded in his pocket. His head was spinning with everything that had happened tonight, and he had a feeling that he was going to be contributing his memories of the evening to Dumbledore's pensieve. He felt as though he had made true progress tonight, and he thought that he would make further progress still when Draco received his Hogwarts letter.
His head was also pounding, courtesy of Lucius' brandy, and he hesitated for a moment, trying to convince himself that he would be grateful for the foresight come morning if he brewed himself a Sobering Serum tonight. He was too tired to care, though, wanting nothing more than to crawl into his bed and sleep for the few hours he had until his guard shift began again.
He was on his way upstairs when a knock at the door made him stop and turn around. "Who the hell would be here this time of night?" he muttered, considering a Silencing Charm and ignoring the knocking. With a sigh, he headed back downstairs again, stalked to the door and flung it open.
Lupin was standing outside, his hand raised to knock again.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Severus snapped.
"Mind if I come in?" Lupin asked, smiling.
"Yes, as a matter of fact—"
Lupin interrupted him with a kiss, wrapping his arms around him. Severus groped blindly for the door and pushed it shut, leaning against it for support. Just as he felt himself relaxing under Lupin's touch, the kiss ended and Lupin drew back, brushing his fingers against Severus' lips.
"You were saying?" Lupin asked.
Was I? Severus closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, attempting to ignore the thrill of feather-soft touches against his lips. He cleared his throat and stepped aside, summoning all his will to do so. "It's late," he replied, though without the conviction he would have preferred.
"I'm not going to keep you up," Lupin assured him. "I only wanted to see how the evening went."
"I'll debrief everyone tomorrow when we meet—"
"I don't care about that. I want to know how you are."
Severus stared at him for a moment. "I'm fine," he replied. "Exhausted. There were more people there than I was expecting. I hate social functions." As he spoke, he found himself being guided towards the stairs.
"They didn't hurt you…"
"No curses, hexes…"
Severus stopped midway up the stairs and leaned against the wall, folding his arms and looking down at Lupin. "You were worried."
"Admit it. You were worried about me."
"Fine. I was worried. I'd worry about anyone who spent the evening with Death Eaters."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Do you worry about yourself?"
"You're alone in the presence of a Death Eater."
"Not that different," Severus muttered, stifling a yawn. Lupin nudged him further upstairs. "I know them. They were my classmates and the closest to friends I ever had. I'm not going to do anything foolish enough to turn them against me, and I'm not the sort who offends them by my existence. I'm probably safer with them than I am with most of the Order members."
Severus reached his bedroom and flicked his wand at the lamp.
"That first time, you took a Cruciatus Curse."
"That was the Dark Lord, not Lucius Malfoy."
"Then I only need to worry about you if you're accepted back into his ranks."
"And then only if I displease him again," Severus replied. "And trust me, Lupin. I have no intentions of displeasing him again any time soon. That curse is a powerful deterrent."
Severus hesitated, glancing at Lupin again before he began to undress. "Are you staying?"
"Do you want me to?"
"Do you want to?"
Lupin hesitated for a moment, and Severus mentally awarded himself the victory in that little exchange—Lupin could not logically turn the question back to him again.
"Do you mind?" Lupin asked.
Severus sat on the edge of the bed, taking off his shoes and socks. "Not at all," he replied, keeping his head down to hide the half-smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth. By the time he was barefoot, he'd regained control of his features and stood, hesitating once again.
"I—er—I hope you don't mind," Lupin began, "but I—er—took the liberty of arranging for someone to cover your shift this morning."
"You did what?"
"When you weren't back by midnight. I thought you'd be rather tired."
"Are you telling me that you've been outside my door since before midnight?" Severus asked, not sure if he was astounded or offended.
Lupin lifted Severus' robe, sliding his hands over Severus' hips and stomach as he pushed the black wool up over Severus' head. "How do you wear wool when it's so hot?" Lupin murmured against Severus' neck.
"Don't change the subject."
Lupin kissed Severus' shoulder. "Yes," he replied, pushing Severus' underpants down. Severus stepped out of them and kicked them aside, fighting the urge to cover himself. "I've been here since eleven."
Before Severus could protest, Lupin pressed him towards the bed, and as he sank into the mattress, Severus forgot that he was irritated. He hadn't realized how exhausted he was. The bed sank as Lupin settled beside him.
"Turn over," Lupin murmured, nudging Severus' shoulder.
"On your stomach," Lupin replied, nudging him again.
Severus rolled onto his stomach, but had no more than settled his head onto his folded arms when his eyes flew open again. "You're not going to—"
"Shh," Lupin whispered, placing his hands on Severus' shoulders. "I'm not going to do anything except rub your back."
"Because you like it," Lupin replied.
"No, I don't," Severus protested weakly as Lupin's hands began a slow, gentle kneading of his shoulders. It was a lie, and not even a very convincing one.
"All right, then because you're tense," Lupin said.
"Mmphm." Severus did not like for anyone to touch him, under any circumstances, but Lupin was rapidly becoming an exception to that hard and fast rule. Severus felt himself alternately tensing and relaxing as Lupin's hands pressed and stroked.
"Moody almost has a plan," Lupin told him. "We're going to get Harry on Friday if all goes well, so that will be an end to the guard shifts."
"Mmhmm." Severus let his eyes drift shut, and between Lupin's massage and inconsequential words, Severus was losing the battle for consciousness.
"Charlie's going to be going back to Romania on Thursday, and Molly's not terribly thrilled about that, of course. But do you remember that girl from Beauxbatons? Fleur Delacour? She joined us tonight, and she will be taking all of Charlie's guard shifts. She's the one who's going to take your shift this morning."
"Mmm." If Lupin was expecting coherent responses, he was going to continue to be disappointed. Severus was edging closer and closer to sleep.
"Dumbledore's got a meeting with Fudge tomorrow, and he said that he's expecting that it won't go well. He didn't make many friends at the Ministry when he stepped in on Harry's behalf, after all."
"And there's a chance of rain tomorrow. Won't that be a pleasant switch? Who would have ever thought that we'd complain about the lack of rain here? Really, though, if it starts raining, I don't think I'll ever complain about soggy days again, will you? I'm quite tired of the heat and—"
"Why are you doing this?" It took every remaining ounce of energy, but Severus rolled away, looking at Lupin.
Lupin was quiet for a moment. "Because I want you to trust me," he replied at last. "I want you to stop flinching when I touch you. And I'm hoping that if I prove to you often enough that I'm not going to hurt you—"
"I'm not afraid you, Lupin. How many times do I have to tell you that?"
Lupin lifted a hand to Severus' face. "Until I can walk up to you and put a hand on your shoulder and you don't pull away from me," he replied.
"You idiot," Severus muttered, though his words were softened a bit by his tone. "Can't we talk about this tomorrow?"
Lupin chuckled. "You're the one who started talking about it tonight," he replied. "I was just going to rub your back until you fell asleep."
"Go to sleep."
Lupin settled onto the mattress beside Severus, his hand resting on Severus' stomach. Severus closed his eyes and made a conscious effort not to flinch, though he couldn't help a slight stiffening.
"See?" Lupin asked. "You're not comfortable with me."
"Go to sleep."
"Do you want me to leave?"
"If you're not going to shut up, then yes."
For a moment, Lupin was quiet, then rolled away. Severus felt him rising off the mattress and opened his eyes.
"Now what are you doing?" Severus asked, propping himself up on one elbow.
"Leaving," Lupin replied. "I'm sorry to have bothered you."
No, Severus thought, collapsing back against his pillows again. Don't play games. Not at two in the morning. "Will you get your arse back in bed?"
The slight rustle stopped, and Severus opened one eye, squinting into the darkness. Lupin was standing there with his robe in his hands.
"Why?" Lupin asked.
"Because if you leave now, I'm going to lie here all night worrying that you're upset with me. I want you to know that I hate you for making me care whether you're upset with me or not."
This was met with silence.
"Remus, please. You want me to trust you? Look around. It's nearly two in the bloody morning and you're in my house and I haven't hexed you into a pile of paté yet. Isn't that enough?"
"When are you going to explain to me why you shy away from me?"
"I do not shy away from you."
"Then when are you going to explain—"
"Look, if I promise that I'll explain anything you want tomorrow if you'll just drop it tonight, will you come back to bed?"
There was a hesitation, then Severus felt the mattress sink again. "I'm holding you to that, you know," Remus said.
"Good night," Severus replied pointedly. After a moment, he turned onto his side, beckoning Remus into his arms.
Remus rolled onto his side and settled against him, leaving Severus to hold him from behind.
He was standing in a large, dome-shaped room, shelves lining the walls all around him. On the shelves, rows of boxes, bottles and jars gleamed in the artificially bright light, each neatly labeled, the labels facing forward. He approached one of the shelves, which was laden with boxes. Castor bean leaves. Catmint leaves. Chamomile leaves. Chickweed leaves. Cinquefoil leaves. Aconite.
Aconite? That didn't belong there. Severus reached for the box and pulled it from the shelf carefully, opening the top and peering inside. A jumble of roots lay twined together in the bottom of the box. Severus put the lid back on it again and turned to the section of shelves dedicated to roots. Holding the box of aconite in one hand, he ran the fingers of his free hand over the labels of the boxes on the shelf.
Absinthe. Acacia. Adam's Needle. Adder's Tongue. Agave. He went back to acacia, and frowned. There was no room between acacia and Adam's Needle for the box of aconite.
"Severus? Is everything all right?"
He spun, sending the shelf-lined room spinning with him. When they stopped spinning, he was facing Minerva. "Everything's fine," he replied. "I'm just trying to find a place to put the aconite."
"Where was it when you found it?"
"Over there," he replied gesturing in the direction of the shelves. There was a gaping hole where he had removed the box of aconite root, but none of the other boxes seemed in danger of collapsing, so he didn't worry about it.
"Why can't it stay where it was?"
"It doesn't belong there," Severus replied, turning to look at the shelves again. There had to be a place for it there. His eyes crawled over the boxes, labeled in his own spiky handwriting. Sirius Black. Hermione Granger. James Potter. Harry Potter. Ronald Weasley.
He jabbed a finger at the tiny crack of shadow between the boxes labeled Hermione and James. "It should go there."
Minerva peered over his shoulder, adjusting her glasses. After a moment, she shook her head. "I don't think so," she replied, taking his hand. "Let's look over here."
They passed several shelves, the boxes and jars whirling past him, labels touching his consciousness briefly before disappearing into the swirling blur of memory. Katie Bell, Lavender Brown, Colin Creevey… Hannah Abbot, Susan Bones, Eleanor Branstone… Roger Davies, Marietta Edgecomb, Kevin Entwhistle… Malfoy, Montague, Nott, Parkinson… Rows upon rows of boxes, all labeled, all in their places. Easy to find them. Colleagues on this shelf, Ravenclaws on that. Enemies, friends, childhood tormentors.
They paused briefly at the shelf where Severus had taken the aconite, and Minerva bent to look at the labels on the boxes. " Monica Acheson, Sabrina Anderson, Emmeline Atthill, Alicia Averill, Gillianne Berchet, Melanie Bowden..." Lovers in his past, a small shelf crammed with carelessly placed boxes. "I suppose you could put it here," Minerva said, gesturing at the empty spot between Karen Lovelace and Linda Makinson. "I think it makes more sense over here, though." She was leading him again, to an even smaller shelf this time. She pointed at a space between boxes labeled Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall. Trusted friends.
"But it belongs over there," he insisted, pointing again. Banes of his existence. Childhood rivals and tormentors, students who seemed bent on causing him to go gray before his time. People he didn't like, who irritated him by breathing. He was certain that this box belonged over there.
"I think you were just keeping it there," Minerva replied, taking the box from his hands. She placed it on the shelf, label facing forward. Remus Lupin. Severus peered at the box, then nodded after a moment. Perhaps it did belong here after all.
He turned to thank Minerva, but she was gone. He looked at the box on the shelf again, and removed it once more, opening it and peering inside. A delicate purple flower lay nestled against the black velvet lining. He shifted the box to one hand, touching the petals with his fingertip.
"What have you got there, Snape?"
Severus quickly capped the box and spun around, this time coming face to face with old Professor Slughorn, who had been Potions master when Severus was in school. He'd been one of the few teachers who had ever found potential in the greasy-haired, angry little boy.
"It's nothing," Severus replied, replacing the box on the shelf.
Slughorn removed the box again and peered inside without looking at the label. "Monkshood?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "You're keeping Monkshood with oak bark and thistle?"
Severus glanced at the shelf the box had come from, and sure enough, the boxes on it were labeled with a variety of harmless plant extracts. He felt foolish for putting something so deadly next to them.
"I don't know what to do with it," he said, taking the box from Slughorn once more.
"Then perhaps you should just hold it until you make up your mind."
Severus woke to the feeling of something squirming beside him. He opened his eyes slowly, and it took a moment for him to equate the silver-streaked brown hair to Remus Lupin.
The dim gray light of early morning was just beginning to diffuse the shadows of nighttime, and in that liminal time between night and day, everything looked different. Lines were not as harsh, shapes not as distinct. He could see the clock on his dresser, but he couldn't make out the time. There was a watery shadow to indicate his wardrobe, and a blur was all that he could make out of the chair in the corner.
Remus became still, then after a moment, began squirming again. Finally, Severus gave up his hopes that the other wizard would settle.
"What are you doing?" Severus murmured.
Remus stopped moving. "Trying not to wake you," he replied in a hushed whisper.
"Then stop moving around so much."
"I have to go," Remus replied. "My shift starts in less than half an hour." Severus held stubbornly to his bed partner for a moment longer before he let go. Remus rolled away from him, and even in the sticky heat of an unnaturally hot August morning, the bed felt cold and empty.
"Go back to sleep," Remus whispered, leaning down to kiss Severus' cheek. "I'm just going to borrow your shower, then I'll be gone."
Severus rolled onto his stomach, settling into the pillows again. "But you'll be back, won't you?"
"Of course," Remus replied, moving Severus' hair aside and placing another kiss against his cheek. "I'll be back when my shift is over."
Severus felt his eyes shutting again, as though his eyelids were weighted with lead and his cheeks magnets to draw them. "Be careful," he murmured. He wasn't even aware of Remus leaving the room.
Severus slept deeply, though his slumber was far from peaceful. He dreamed that he was bound and gagged in the middle of a large room while Lucius Malfoy stood over him, sneering. He was in a prison cell in Azkaban, convicted of brewing restricted substances. He was chained to a wall while a werewolf advanced on him, moonlight glinting off the chains that held him. He was in a root cellar, cowering in a corner while slugs and cockroaches advanced on him like an army. He was restrained in a chair in front of the Wizengamot, being questioned for his involvement with the Dark Lord, and this time, Dumbledore was not there to speak for him. Again and again, he found himself bound, chained, trapped and restrained, and on the rare occasions when he roamed freely, it was listlessly, looking for something unidentified.
Tossing and turning, he fought against his mind, and again and again his mind won the battle, plunging him deeper into the abyss of fear and confusion until finally, he woke to a cool cloth against his forehead. Blinking against the bright light, he squinted up at Remus, who was bathing his face.
"What are you doing?" he demanded, catching Remus' wrist. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be on duty. How did you get in here?"
"Shh," Remus said, wrenching his wrist from Severus' fingers. "I knocked, but there was no answer, so I let myself in. I guess you haven't been downstairs to change the spells on the door. You were asleep when I left, so I left my own protective charms on the door and they were still there." Remus picked up the cloth and folded it again, patting it against Severus' throat. "You were dreaming," he said, smoothing his hand over Severus' face. "And it must have been a horrible one."
Severus struggled to sit up, still blinking against the harsh light. "You still haven't answered my question. What are you doing here? You're supposed to be on duty."
Remus smiled a bit. "My shift is over," he replied.
"What time is it?"
Noon? Severus turned, putting his feet on the floor, but Remus stopped him.
"Why don't you go back to sleep?" Remus suggested.
"You just said it's nearly noon," Severus replied, stuffing his fist in his mouth to cover a yawn.
"It won't hurt you to sleep a few more hours," Remus said. "Come on, lie down again. I didn't intend to wake you."
Severus squinted at the clock, but Remus was pushing him down onto the bed again.
"Come on," he urged again. "I wouldn't mind a bit of a nap myself. It was a long night, you know."
That was all the excuse Severus needed. His eyes closed again, and he settled into the bank of pillows. A moment later, Remus sank onto the bed beside him.
Without a word, Remus reached pulled Severus against him. Severus lay stiffly for a moment, but it didn't seem worth arguing about. He rolled towards Remus, settling his head against Remus' chest. Remus stroked his back, one arm curled loosely around his shoulders. Eventually, Severus relaxed, forgetting why he objected to this.
Soon, he was asleep again, still dreaming that he was looking for something elusive, still not sure what that might be, but no longer feeling trapped and pursued. He slept peacefully for the first time in days.