Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
Remus lay with one arm draped around Severus' shoulder, listening to the odd muffled murmur and occasional shuddering sigh as Severus slipped back into his fitful dream state. Remus wasn't sure what concerned him more: how easily Severus had agreed to this or the pained expression contorting his face.
When he'd come upstairs, it had been to find Severus thrashing about on the bed, the sheet twisted around him, pillows on the floor. At first, Remus hadn't been sure if the dream that held Severus in its clutches was a nightmare or an intense sexual fantasy, and it had seemed an intrusion to stand there watching. A stream of babbled nonsense had answered his question, though. The words, while incoherent, were laced with a tone of such fear that Remus hadn't needed to understand them to understand Severus.
He hadn't intended to wake Severus, just to soothe him back into a more gentle state of slumber, but Severus had jerked awake the instant the cool rag had touched his face. The lack of argument was evidence that he'd never woken completely to begin with.
The groans and murmuring had ceased, but Remus could feel Severus' heart pounding, could hear the quickening of his breath, and again and again, he whispered calming words while he held Severus against his chest. After a moment, Severus' breathing and heart rate would return to normal, but the respite never lasted more than a few minutes before Severus would stiffen again, the preface to a rapidly beating heart.
It had been almost an hour of this, and Remus' arm was falling asleep, but he was loath to move. He hadn't been lying when he said he could do with a nap himself, but he couldn't ignore Severus long enough to drift to sleep.
When Severus finally woke, it was a little after one, and Remus was stiff from holding him so close for so long. For a moment, Severus lay still, staring at the ceiling as though considering the situation.
"Feeling better?" Remus asked.
These words were the incantation that ended the spell. "I'm fine," Severus snapped, rolling away from him. Remus politely averted his eyes while Severus spent a moment groping for something, presumably a dressing gown or robe. He gave up and walked stiffly from the room without so much as a word. The bathroom door closed, and Remus rolled out of bed as well, straightening his shirt.
He flicked his wand at the rumpled bed, straightening the blankets and pillows, though falling short of making the bed. When he was finished, he forked a hand through his hair and went downstairs. He half intended to make some lunch, but the first three cupboards he looked in turned up nothing but dust and mismatched dishes. When he heard the water cut off upstairs, he gave up his search and filled the tea kettle instead.
A moment later, Severus came downstairs in his bare feet, his wet hair dripping onto his shoulders, his face set into a scowl. "Hungry?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
Remus shrugged. "Thought you might be."
"How touching." Severus walked past him without meeting his eyes, gesturing towards a door beside the stairs. "Pantry," he said, without elaboration.
Remus took that as an invitation to look for whatever he wanted. Inside the pantry, neatly arranged tins of vegetables and rows of boxes lined the shelves. A bin on the floor held potatoes and onions, and the lowest shelf contained canisters that proved to store flour and sugar. After a moment of looking, Remus felt Severus behind him and glanced over his shoulder.
"Perhaps if you were to tell me what you're looking for, I could help you find it," Severus suggested, his tone marked with exaggerated patience.
"What do you want?" Remus asked.
"I'm not the one nosing around in the pantry."
Leaning against the door, Remus met Severus' gaze steadily. "Don't you normally eat at some point during the day?"
"As a rule, yes."
"What do you usually have for lunch?"
For a moment, a response seemed unlikely, but Severus shrugged and turned away. "Soup. On the top shelf."
Remus reached to the top shelf and pulled down a couple of tins, looking at the labels. "Beef or vegetable?" he asked, holding one up in each hand. Severus didn't respond immediately, but Remus refused to make the decision.
After a long pause, Severus replied, "Vegetable."
"And where do you keep pots?"
"The cabinet," Severus replied, gesturing at a lower cabinet. Remus opened the door and pulled out a saucer and tapped his wand on the stove, lighting a fire. When the soup was heating, he turned back to Severus.
"See?" he asked. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
Severus raised a querulent eyebrow. "What?"
"Telling me what you want."
With a snort, Severus opened the pantry again and pulled out a box of crackers. "Do you want anything else?"
"I want you to talk to me."
"Do you want anything else I'm likely to have in the pantry?"
Severus shut the door and placed the crackers on the table, ignoring Remus as he crossed the kitchen again and pulled two bowls from an upper cabinet. Remus folded his arms and leaned against the counter, watching as Severus made a great production out of pretending he didn't have a guest in the kitchen, despite the fact that he was setting the table for two. He did a commendable job of ignoring Remus until he handed over a spoon to stir the soup with.
"Are you going to tell me now?"
"Tell you what?"
"You promised you'd tell me why you feel trapped when I touch you."
"I remember promising no such thing."
"Last night," Remus reminded him. "You promised to explain anything I asked. I'm asking why you feel trapped when I touch you."
"I do not feel trapped when you touch me."
Remus closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. "You know, talking to you is like trying to work a puzzle. If I don't say exactly the right sequence of words in exactly the right way, you deny that you know what I'm talking about."
"Then express yourself more clearly."
Remus dropped the spoon into the soup pan and turned around, a retort on his tongue until he saw the expectant look of vague, repressed humor on Severus' face. It took a moment for that unaccustomed expression to sink in. "You're laughing at me," Remus said, vaguely indignant.
"I am not laughing."
"You're enjoying this."
"You're trying to piss me off!"
"Are you angry?" Severus asked. Remus revised his opinion of Severus' expression—there was no trace of amusement on his face, only a distinct lack of the usual scowl.
"No," Remus replied.
"Then I mustn't be trying very hard."
Remus stood opening and closing his mouth for a moment. "Why are you doing that?"
"Because it's amusing."
"You know, you're going to push me too far in a minute. Then what are you going to do?"
"I'll worry about that very unlikely eventuality if it happens."
Remus turned back to the soup and stirred with a bit more vigor than was necessary, but he couldn't shake the feeling that Severus was still watching him. When he glanced over his shoulder, he proved himself right—Severus hadn't moved.
"Did I say anything?"
"You're baiting me!"
Severus rubbed his nose, his mouth twitching a bit now. "So I am."
"You're rising to the occasion."
Once again, Remus sat opening and closing his mouth before responding. "But why--?"
"You're scorching the soup."
Remus spun back to the stove and jerked the pan off the burner, but as soon as he touched the handle, he realized his error and swore a muffled curse as he dropped the hot pan on the counter with a clang.
"Did you burn yourself?" Severus asked, right behind Remus.
"Let me see," Severus commanded, the traces of humor gone from his voice. He didn't wait for Remus to comply, but took his hand, turning his palm up. "Don't you know that pans that have been on the stove are hot?" Remus attempted to jerk his hand away, but Severus held it firmly, reaching for his wand. "Anaduro," Severus murmured, and the redness faded from Remus' palm. "I didn't intend you to hurt yourself."
"I didn't intend to hurt myself," Remus replied, extracting his hand from Severus'. He levitated the pan to the table with his wand. "You can make it up to me by explaining why you flinch when I touch you."
Severus snorted. "Not very subtle," he said.
"I wasn't trying to be subtle."
They sat, and ate in silence for a moment, and Remus was certain that Severus was hoping to worm out of the promised explanation again, but Remus was determined that wasn't going to happen. After entertaining the silence for a few minutes, Remus needled him a bit.
"Well? Are you going to tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
"Enough, already. If you're going back on your word, just say so."
Severus paused, spoon halfway to his mouth. "Is that an option?"
"I can't force you to tell me anything."
"You're amusing when you're frustrated," Severus commented, stirring his soup. "Not so much so when you're angry. You're angry right now."
"I'm a bit of both, actually," Remus replied. "This is getting ridiculous."
"So you're going to tell me?"
"You could drop it."
"Then tell me why you won't tell me. Are you afraid of what I'll think?"
"I don't want to discuss it."
Severus sighed and wiped his mouth. He dropped his napkin on the table and folded his arms, affixing Remus with an emotionless stare. "Is there nothing that you don't want to discuss? Nothing in your life that you'd rather not think about or talk about?"
"Is it a painful memory?"
Severus shook his head. "You don't give up, do you?"
"It isn't a painful memory," Severus said, gathering his dishes and standing. "It isn't a difficult memory. In fact, it isn't a memory at all. It's something I don't want to talk about. Are you finished eating?"
"Yes. Why don't you want to talk a bout it?"
"Because I don't!" Severus dropped the dishes into the sink and sighed heavily. "There's nothing to explain. I don't like to feel trapped. Does that really need an explanation, anyway?"
"No," Remus admitted. "It's a common enough fear. I just thought—"
"I'm not afraid of you."
"So you keep telling me."
"It might behoove you to listen," Severus replied, turning on the water and holding his hand beneath the stream. His lips were down-turned again, the line between his brows returning. Remus sighed.
"All right, I'll drop it," he said, joining Severus at the sink. He placed a hand on Severus' shoulder, and Severus tensed. "It wouldn't kill you to trust me, though."
"And you won't die if I don't," Severus replied, stepping out of Remus' reach. "So now that we've established it isn't a matter of life or death for either of us, perhaps you're ready to accept it for the battle of wills that it is."
"I'm not the only one arguing the point."
Severus made a noise between a snort and a grunt. "I never claimed you were."
Rolling up his sleeves, Remus pointed his wand at the water and bubbles began to form. "In that case, you admit that you're just being stubborn."
"Conviction," Severus replied. "I have conviction."
"You didn't have conviction last night."
"Last night I wanted my sleep. I would have agreed to anything."
"Oh, well, that's good. So I'm always going to have to wonder if you're telling me the truth or—"
"Damn it, Lupin, quit fucking with me. No games, remember? You're trying to coerce me into talking about something I have made very clear that I don't want to discuss. Do not start with the indignation."
Remus cut off the water and turned to meet Severus' glare head-on. "How the hell am I supposed to trust you when you show no remorse while you admit that you'll tell me anything to get me to do what you want?"
"At least I'm being honest about it," Severus snapped. "You stand there feigning affront when you're every bit as manipulative as I am. That you hide behind high-minded principles of honesty doesn't change it at all."
The words stung, mostly because Remus recognized them for the truth. He folded his arms and sighed, looking at the door. "Is this how it's always going to be?" he asked after a moment. "Are we always going to resort to bickering? Because I'll tell you something, Severus, I'm tired of it already." He met Severus' eyes again. "I outgrew this kind of crap. Maybe you didn't, and I know Sirius didn't, but I did. I've had enough of petty arguments and senseless bickering. I'm not taking cheap shots at you, and I'm not going to, and if you're trying to push me to see how far I'll bend before I snap, you might as well give up. I'll walk out that door and never look back before you push me that far. This is ridiculous."
Severus said nothing, but his sullen expression did little to impress Remus.
"Stop sulking," Remus said.
"I am not sulking."
"No? What the hell do you call it?"
All traces of emotion melted from Severus' face and his chin lifted slightly. "Don't treat me like a child."
"Then act like an adult." As he said it, Remus reflected that issuing such a blatant challenge probably wasn't the most effective way to end their stand-off. Averting his eyes, he sighed and took the three steps across the kitchen that brought him to Severus' side. "I'll shelve my pride if you'll shelve yours."
Severus gave him a considering look before nodding. "Agreed."
Remus smiled and slid his hand behind Severus' neck, pulling him closer. Severus hesitated before leaning into him and their lips touched briefly. That was feeling more natural every time they did it, and it was a more pleasant way to diffuse an argument than most means he could think of.
Severus brushed his hand against Remus' jaw and the corner of his mouth twitched into a brief half-smile. "You need a shave," he said.
"That's not all I need," Remus agreed with a slight grin. "I should get back to headquarters. I'm going to have to start explaining my absences before long."
"What are you telling them?"
"Nothing so far. I've managed to avoid the need to make excuses."
Severus nodded. "If you need to make up a story, be sure to let me know what it is so I don't contradict it."
Remus frowned at the floor. "I prefer not to lie."
"Then announce it to the world," Severus snapped. "Just be sure to warn me first."
"If I'm pressed for information, I'll say I've been visiting with friends."
"That should go over well," Severus muttered. "You need to learn how to lie properly."
"I told you I prefer not to."
Severus lifted an eyebrow. "You have two options. You can lie, or tell the truth. You may be able to avoid the question, but in the end, if someone asks, you select a lie or tell the truth. If you are going to lie, be sure the lie is enough to satisfy whomever you're lying to, because if you set a person to looking for the truth, he'll usually find it."
"And what makes a lie satisfactory?" Remus asked, not expecting an answer.
"One that offers a sufficiently uninteresting possibility."
Remus gave him an odd look.
"Think it through, Lupin," Severus said. "You asked me about my past. I gave you a vague answer. Did it put you off or make you want to know more?"
"No it isn't. I could have offered a simple, boring lie the first time you asked, and you would have never thought of it again. If I had told you that I don't trust you because you're a werewolf, that would have been the end of it, would it not?"
"Is that why you don't like me coming up behind you?"
"I thought we'd agreed not to discuss that."
"So why did you bring it up?"
"Because it's an excellent illustration. In an attempt to be honest with you, I summarily piqued your interest and at this point, it would be difficult for me to tell you anything that would satisfy your curiosity. In fact, I rather suspect that you wouldn't be satisfied with anything I said, including the rather boring truth."
"What is the rather boring truth?"
"I don't want to discuss it," Severus replied. "That is the boring truth. I don't want to talk about it. That's the simple version, and it is what any lengthy version would come down to. Are you satisfied with that answer?"
"Then don't think your friends will be satisfied if you tell them your affairs are your concern."
Remus sat in one of the chairs and stared at Severus. "And what do you suggest? Because, as you said, I don't think we can avoid the question forever, and you're obviously much more skilled at this than I am." His tone was still sarcastic, and he was once again surprised when Severus had an answer.
"Stay as close to the truth as you dare," Severus replied. "You've taken a lover."
"Who? How did I meet this supposed lover?"
"Someone you've known for years," Severus replied, undaunted. "Just leave my name out of it, and refer to this person as a female, and I doubt any of your friends will connect the dots."
"They could be your friends too if you'd let them."
"I'm not wanting for friends."
"What are you going to tell your… acquaintances?"
Severus' mouth curled into a sneer. "Malfoy, you mean?" he asked. "And Nott? Macnair?"
"Call a spade a spade, Lupin. They're my friends."
"How can you be friends with people like that?"
"I might ask the same about you and Black."
Remus refrained from retorting, but only just. The conversation had too much potential to turn into another argument and he wanted to walk away without regrets this time. "What are you going to tell your friends?" he repeated.
"In the unlikely event that it comes up, I'll think of something."
"You don't think it's likely it will come up?"
"No," Severus replied. "I am usually to be found here if I'm not at Hogwarts. I'm not doing anything unusual. At least not anything they can see."
"You're very sure of that."
"Do you think I would have survived this long already if I didn't know how to keep my comings and goings a secret?"
Remus shook his head. "I need to go," he said again.
Severus jerked his head in a nod. "Enjoy the rest of your afternoon."
"You'll be at the meeting, won't you?"
"That's my intention."
"Enjoy your afternoon, too." Remus started for the door, but Severus stopped him with a light touch on his arm.
"Yes?" He half-turned to face Severus again, who looked as surprised as he felt. Severus' hand hovered near Remus' arm, as though he was trying to decide whether or not to touch him again.
Tempting though it was to take matters into his own hands, Remus waited, keeping his eyes on Severus' and watching while Severus made his decision.
At last, Severus closed the remaining distance between them and put his arms hesitantly around Remus. "I thought it likely that we wouldn't have the chance to talk this evening," he offered by way of explanation.
Remus smiled as he hugged Severus tightly, his heart soaring. "You're probably right," he said, careful to keep his tone casual. Severus reminded him of a skittish cat sometimes.
After another hesitation, Severus brushed his lips against Remus'. After a moment, he seemed to grow more comfortable with his advances and the kiss grew in intensity until Remus was left wondering why he didn't wait for Severus to make up his mind more often. It was worth it, and it was what Severus had been asking of him. Just as Remus began contemplating the necessity of returning to London after all, Severus, damn his composure, released his lips and took a step back as though nothing had happened.
"Have a good afternoon," he said, turning back into the kitchen.
Remus smiled at Severus' back. "You too," he repeated as he walked out the door, the smile still playing at his lips. When he glanced back, Remus saw that Severus was watching him from the window.
He Apparated to an alley near headquarters and shoved his hands in his pockets as he walked the half-block to the door. Number twelve emerged from the narrow space between eleven and thirteen like a balloon inflating, and he let himself in quietly, hoping to slip upstairs without notice. He was successful, and a shower and a fresh robe later, he returned downstairs to the kitchen, wondering where everyone was.
Molly was standing at the counter, and she gave him a warm smile when he leaned over her shoulder and kissed her cheek, distracting her while he snitched a bite of the carrot she was slicing. His distraction didn't work, apparently, as she batted his hand away from the bowl.
"If you're going to eat my carrots, at least have the decency to eat one I haven't already chopped," she scolded.
He grinned. "Sorry," he said as he popped the round into his mouth.
"Have you eaten yet?" she asked, looking at him critically.
"No," he lied. That was an easy one. He had a feeling that Molly knew every morsel of food that came into and left the kitchen, and she would be well aware that he hadn't eaten here. If he admitted that he'd had lunch already, she'd want to know where.
"We had tuna sandwiches for lunch," she informed him, gesturing at the counter. "Help yourself."
He lifted the towel from the bowl of tuna salad that sat under a Chilling Charm and peered at the bread. The bowl of soup he'd eaten with Severus hadn't gone far to soothe the hollow pang of hunger in his stomach, and he was more than happy to take Molly up on her offer. A moment later, he was sitting at the table with a sandwich, a glass of water, and an apple while Molly continued her chopping.
"When did you get in?" she asked as she scooped carrots into the bowl she was filling and began on an onion.
Remus' mind raced, and he chewed slowly to give himself time to think. If she was asking, did that mean she knew he hadn't been there all morning? Most likely, he decided. After all, if he'd come in directly after his shift, it would have been right in the middle of her lunch preparations and there was a good chance she would have seen or heard him come in. He took a drink of his water and cleared his throat. "I don't know," he replied in what he hoped was a casual tone. "Half an hour ago? Just long enough to have a shower."
"I thought your shift ended at eleven?"
"It did," he replied. "I ran a few errands."
Thankfully, she didn't seem keen on pressing the issue, and he finished his lunch in silence. When he took his dishes back to the sink, she gestured him away. "I'll take care of those when I was up," she assured him.
"I don't mind cleaning my own messes," he told her.
"Oh, I know. But I was hoping you'd check on Sirius."
"Sirius?" Remus asked, frowning. "What's wrong with Sirius?"
"I don't know," Molly replied. "Maybe nothing. He just seems lethargic."
"Where is he?"
"In the drawing room last time I saw him."
"Thanks." Remus headed upstairs and looked in the drawing room, but saw no one so started down the hall towards the parlor before his mind latched onto the dark form he'd seen in the drawing room. He opened the door again and squinted. There was definitely something black on the floor in the corner, just visible behind a chair.
The black thing turned out to be a tail, which thumped once in greeting as Remus shut the door behind himself and went to kneel in the corner. Padfoot lay curled on the floor, his eyes following Remus as Remus settled beside him.
"Are you all right?" Remus asked.
Padfoot just blinked, his head resting on his front paws, staring listlessly at the room.
"Come on, you mutt," Remus muttered, patting the dog's neck. Padfoot rolled onto his back and looked up at Remus, his tail thumping against the floor again.
"What? You want your belly rubbed now?" He'd meant it as a teasing gesture, but when he touched the dog's stomach, a look of doggie bliss came over Padfoot's canine features. Remus shrugged and rubbed his belly until he turned over again and nudged Remus' hand with his head.
"What are you doing, Sirius?" Remus asked as he rubbed Padfoot's ears. James had been right—Sirius made an excellent dog. The sort of faithful, playful companion that any kid would have loved, and as Remus rubbed his ears and neck, it was almost too easy to forget that there was a human mind behind those liquid brown eyes.
"Come on," Remus urged. "Don't you want to tell me what's up?"
Padfoot whined and placed his chin on the floor, covering his head with his paws. Perplexed, Remus stroked his shaggy black fur until the whimpering subsided.
"Come on, Sirius," Remus urged again. "I'm no good at understanding canine."
With a whuffling sigh, Padfoot ambled a few feet away and his shaggy black coat gave way to unkempt black hair. Sirius settled on the end of the sofa, eyes hollow and expressionless. Remus joined him.
"Going to tell me what all that was about?" Remus asked.
"That little display," Remus replied, nodding towards the corner.
Sirius shrugged. "I'm just tired," he muttered.
"Tired," Remus repeated. Sirius nodded. "Tired doesn't beg to have its belly and ears rubbed."
Sirius picked up a cushion and hugged it against his chest. "You'll rub Snuffles' ears and belly," he replied, his voice empty.
"Do you want me to rub your ears?" Remus joked, reaching a hand to Sirius' left ear, expecting him to jerk away.
Instead, Sirius turned to look at him, his eyes filled with pain. "Don't make fun of me," he whispered. "You've no idea."
Remus dropped his hand. "Why don't you explain it, then?" he suggested. Sirius tightened his grip on the cushion, and it occurred to Remus that perhaps what Sirius wanted wasn't so far from a belly-rub after all. He slid an arm around Sirius' shoulders. "Is that what you want?" he asked, pulling Sirius towards him.
Sirius closed his eyes and leaned against him.
"I'll give you a hug," Remus assured him, tightening his arms around him. "Any time you want it." He plucked the cushion from Sirius' hands and dropped it on the floor, cradling Sirius against his chest. He knew loneliness; he knew what it was to go weeks without speaking to another human, months without touching one. He couldn't fathom what it would be like to spend twelve years in solitude.
"It doesn't hurt as much when I'm a dog," Sirius whispered.
Remus smoothed his hair and shifted to a more comfortable position, not sure what to say. "The hurt is what reminds you you're human," he said at last, a variation on something Dumbledore had told him once.
"The hurt is what makes me not want to be human."
He had thought that perhaps he understood Sirius better than the others, but now he wasn't sure. In all the times he had been a monster, Remus had never not wanted to be human. Remus held him more tightly still. "Does this help?" he asked, his breath ruffling Sirius' hair. "I want to help you."
"It helps," Sirius replied, burying his face in Remus' chest.
"You have to tell me these things," Remus whispered. "If I needed something, wouldn't you give it to me if you could?"
"I'd give you anything I could, too," Remus went on, running his fingers through Sirius' hair. "I don't have a lot to give, and you know that, but I can do this. Just tell me you want it, or need it. That's all you have to do."
After a few moments, Remus began to relax his embrace until his arms were just draped around Sirius' shoulders, one hand still stroking his hair. "If you have things you need to do, I understand," Sirius said at last, starting to straighten.
Remus tightened his arms around him again. "I don't have anything so pressing that I can't put it off," he replied, urging Sirius against his chest again. Sirius leaned against him once more.
"How'd you manage that?"
"Not having anything to do?"
Remus smiled even though Sirius couldn't see it. "I didn't say I don't have anything to do," he replied. "I said I don't have anything more important to do." In reality, he had nothing at all that was pressing, but he didn't further qualify his assurances to Sirius. A little white lie did not prick at his conscience the way an out-and-out lie did.
"Thank you," Sirius said.
Remus tightened his arms around him again. "Not at all."
He had no idea when he fell asleep, only that by the time he woke and managed to convince Sirius to get up, the others were already gathering downstairs. Remus' heart lurched when he saw Severus discussing something with Dumbledore and McGonagall in one corner. He had the most ridiculous sensation that he had been cheating on Severus, even though he hadn't. He wasn't sure Sirius was even capable of being party to Remus' infidelity, even if they had wanted it.
Remus' eyes must have lingered in the corner for too long because Sirius elbowed him in the ribs. "What's so interesting?"
Remus blinked and turned his head. "Nothing," he lied.
When everyone was seated around the kitchen table, Remus found his eyes drifting towards Severus again and again. Severus was more disciplined; his eyes never wavered from Dumbledore.
In fact, Severus might have been a statue if not for the fact that he repeatedly scratched his arm, an absent gesture as though he didn't realize he was doing it. Twenty minutes into the meeting, his eyes widened and he shoved back his chair, not a word to anyone as he left several of the members blinking. It wasn't until he heard the crack upstairs that Remus realized what had just happened, and his realization came almost simultaneously with several others if the looks of sudden comprehension were any indication.
For once, even Sirius was quiet.
Nearly an hour after the meeting ended, Remus sat in the parlor, a book open on his lap though his eyes were unfocused as he stared at the page. When the door opened, he looked up, and was relieved to find it was only Dumbledore—he didn't think he had the energy for Sirius just then.
Dumbledore settled on the sofa beside him, and for a moment, neither of them spoke. Finally, Dumbledore smiled and placed a weathered old hand over his. "He'll be fine," he assured Remus. "I always have to remind myself of that, but he will be fine. He has been playing this role for so long that there are times even I am not sure it's merely an act."
Remus nodded without meeting Dumbledore's eyes.
"In the mean time, there is something I need to discuss with you. You realize, of course, that I wouldn't ask it if there were any way I could avoid it, but I find that the Order needs another set of eyes."
Remus looked at him this time. "What do you mean?"
"It's your choice, of course, but the Order needs information, and I would like to have a direct line of it. Very similar to the role Severus plays with the Death Eaters."
"You want me to become a Death Eater?" Remus shook his head, not comprehending.
"No. I would never ask you to become what you are not, and I wouldn't ask anyone to become a Death Eater. When Severus did that, it was a decision he made of his own free will. He later decided to use that decision to benefit us. But no, that is not what I am asking."
"I don't understand then," Remus said, closing his book. "What?"
"Ah, well." Dumbledore stood and peered outside. Apparently pleased with what he found or did not find, he closed the door and turned to Remus. "Voldemort's powers are far-reaching, you realize, and he has influence in many sectors. One of the more worrisome right now is the werewolves."
A cold dread seeped down Remus' spine, as though a bucket of icy water had been dropped down the back of his robe. "The werewolves," he repeated.
"Yes. I trust you are familiar with Fenrir Greyback?"
Remus' hand balled into a fist in his lap at the name. Familiar with him? With the werewolf who had bitten him because of a grudge against his father? The one who was responsible for more bites than all the other living werewolves combined? Who had provoked more general fear and precipitated more of the regulations on law-abiding werewolves than any other? "Yes," Remus replied hoarsely. "I'm familiar with the name."
"I have reason to believe that he is in direct allegiance with Voldemort, and I am certain that he is the leader of a band of rogue werewolves. I need to know what he is up to, and whether the werewolves can be turned to our side."
Remus raised an eyebrow. Turned to their side? Fat chance as long as Fudge was in office.
"And, for obvious reasons, you are the ideal candidate to be our link."
Obvious reasons. Yes. Somehow, Remus didn't think he liked Dumbledore as much as he had ten minutes ago. "So you want me to find Fenrir Greyback, join up with this pack of werewolves and convince them to oppose Voldemort?" And shall I go ahead and find a cure for lycanthropy while I'm working these miracles?
"In the long run, yes, those would be ideal goals. In the short term, I would be happy with your gathering information and bringing it back to me."
Remus closed his eyes and shook his head, his stomach churning. "I don't even know where to find them," he protested. He'd spent his entire life learning to hold onto the part of himself that was human, and now he was being asked to become one of the ones who turned his back on humans entirely. Did Dumbledore have any idea what he was asking?
"The full moon is Monday, I believe?"
Remus nodded numbly.
"I'll have Severus prepare your potion, and you can go into the forest. I'm sure you'll be able to find them from there."
Remus nodded again. "I'm sure you're right," he whispered. His mouth suddenly felt as though it was lined with cotton.
"I am not forcing you to do this, Remus," Dumbledore said, placing a hand on his arm. "I'm asking it."
And who among us can turn down any request you make? Remus thought as he stared into the darkening room. The sun was setting outside, and the light within was fading rapidly into the violet-gray that marked evening.
"And perhaps there will be an added benefit for you," Dumbledore said, smiling again.
Remus snorted softly. "What's that?" He couldn't imagine any positive spin Dumbledore might put on this request.
"I am going to suggest that you spend a bit of time learning from Severus. He is, after all—"
Remus burst out laughing, and it seemed so out of place that he was concerned for his own sanity. Just two days ago, Dumbledore had all but forbidden Severus and Remus to become further involved, and now he was pushing them together. It was unbelievable. The reminder of Severus and his position as a spy was a sobering thought, though, and the laughter died as suddenly as it had come. Remus nodded, his worry for Severus renewed and working in conjunction with what Dumbledore was asking him to do. The fear was paralyzing.
"Does this mean you're agreeable to the idea?"
"Of course," Remus muttered. "Anything for the Order."
"For what it's worth, I should not have put my two Knuts in about you and Severus," Dumbledore said. Remus looked at him again "You are both grown men, and if you have managed to find some measure of happiness together, it isn't my place to interfere. I'm as happy for you as I ever was for James and Lily, or for Frank and Alice, or for Bill and Fleur, for that matter. I've been hoping for a reconciliation between you and Severus for many years, and I've been hoping for a reconciliation between Severus and Sirius for many months now. Perhaps I have a bit more reason to hope now."
"Thank you," Remus said.
"I know my approval doesn't mean as much to you as I'd probably like to pretend—"
"It means more than you realize. I think it would mean more to Severus than you realize, too."
"Well, I'll have to be sure to tell him next time I see him," Dumbledore said with a smile.
Remus was quiet, hoping that there was a next time. Of all the things he'd been unprepared for, this worrying topped the list. He'd never spent as much time worrying about anyone as he had spent worrying about Severus in the last week.
"He'll be back," Dumbledore assured him. "And with any luck, this is a good sign. This is far sooner than we'd hoped Voldemort would summon him again."
"You'll forgive me if I don't consider it such a stroke of luck myself," Remus muttered with an unapologetic shrug. "I know it's for the good of the Order but…"
"I'll tell you a secret, Remus," Dumbledore said in a low voice. "I'm rather pleased that there is someone besides me who is worrying about the good of Severus Snape."