Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
To Disapparate without a destination in mind is to throw oneself to the mercy of space and time. In fact, by all rights, one shouldn't be able to Disapparate without the intention to Apparate somewhere, and perhaps in the most basic sense, he did have a destination in mind. He Disapparated with the intention of Apparating at the Dark Lord's side, flinging himself into the chaos of oblivion and trusting that the most powerful and evil wizard the world had ever seen would pluck him out of that spinning pandemonium and return him to reality.
Had he the luxury of spare thoughts, Severus might have reflected that it was ironic that he found it easier to trust the Dark Lord than he did less dangerous people.
When he solidified, Severus fell to his knees without looking around, but he did not dare to crawl forward. He would kiss the hem of the Dark Lord's robes if, and only if, he was given permission to do so. Severus held no delusions that he was in the Dark Lord's good graces at the moment, and he would not presume to so much as lick the scum from the Dark Lord's boots until he was given the command.
"Well," the Dark Lord said, approaching Severus but coming to a halt a few inches away. Severus could see nothing but the toes of his boots. "It would appear that you have learned punctuality, at least. Rise."
Severus obeyed without hesitation, rising to his knees, his eyes still trained on the ground.
"Look at me."
Severus lifted his gaze to the blood red eyes that peered from beneath a blackened hood.
"Remove your mask."
As he obeyed, a wand touched his chin, tilting his head back further, and thoughts and memories began to sift through his mind, layers of images peeling away to reveal more layers underneath. He was at the Malfoy Manor, having dinner with the elite of wizarding society. He was talking with Malfoy, Macnair and Avery. He was talking with Dumbledore and Minerva about the Defense position. He was fifteen years younger and asking for the post for the first time. Dumbledore refused it again and again, offering excuses ever more vague and flimsy as the years wore on.
As quickly and smoothly as the assault had begun, it ended, and the Dark Lord's wand left Severus chin. He jerked the wand towards the ground, and Severus prostrated himself once again.
"Malfoy tells me that you and he have been discussing the Defense Against the Dark Arts position at Hogwarts."
Severus did not lift his head. "Yes, my Lord."
"The position remains unfilled, does it not?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"You would very much like to have that position, would you not?"
Severus felt his breath catch in his throat, but he forced himself not to consider the possibility, nor the price for it. "Yes, my Lord."
Severus scrambled to his feet.
"Look at me."
He lifted his eyes, preparing for the invasion that did not come. Like a cat poising to attack a viper, the Dark Lord walked in a slow circle around Severus, the glowing red embers of his eyes never straying from Severus' kneeling form. His robes never moved, his feet made no sound. When he came to a halt again, he was standing in front of Severus, holding him captive with his stare. "If," he began in a low, silken hiss, "I were to give you that coveted position, would it assure your loyalty?" When the Dark Lord paused between words, there was no suggestion of hesitation, only of control. He did not falter, nor search for the word he wanted, he paused to allow what he had said to sink in.
"My Lord has my loyalty," Severus replied. "He needn't offer prizes to assure it."
The Dark Lord laughed an empty, hollow laugh. "You remember the words, at least, don't you?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"And I am sure that you remember that the Dark Lord rewards those who are loyal to him."
"Yes, my Lord."
"Would you like me to reward your loyalty with that position? Or do you doubt I could do it?"
"I do not doubt my Lord could do it if he so wished."
"One question answered, but not the other. Is that the reward you would like, Severus?"
Severus' mind whirled, thoughts colliding with each other as he tried to find the direction this line of questioning was taking. He could find none, but not knowing why the Dark Lord asked was not an excuse for not answering. "Yes, my Lord."
"Ask it of me," the Dark Lord whispered. "Beg it of me." He used his wand to move Severus' hair from his face. "Convince me that you are, indeed, my most loyal servant. Tell me how you could better serve me if you taught Defense Against the Dark Arts." The end of his wand came to a rest under Severus' chin again. "I want to believe it, Severus. Make me believe it."
Beyond the general sense that he was treading on thin ice, Severus had no idea what the Dark Lord was after. Even if he had known, he would not have dared to disobey. "Please, my Lord," he said, his voice not loud enough to be heard more than a foot away, "I have been loyal as your servant. Even in the years since your disappearance, I never betrayed you. I returned to your side without hesitation, and I came not in fear, but with knowledge, with a position that allows me greater access to your enemies. Your enemies are mine, my Lord, and those who serve you, those who will grow to serve you, are my charges. I advance your causes to the best of my ability, and as long as I continue to deceive Dumbledore, I am in a position to serve you in an even greater capacity. He confides in me, my Lord, reveals things to me that he does not reveal to others. He trusts me, and seeks my advice and guidance, and so long as I tread carefully, I am your route into Hogwarts, and to Harry Potter."
If the Dark Lord had eyebrows above his scarlet eyes, they might have been raised to the hairline that was also absent.
"Potter will soon be outside of my influence, though," Severus continued. "He has no hope of achieving the requirements to be in my class after this year, and I will cease to have reason to be in contact with him. He applies himself to Defense Against the Dark Arts as he has never applied himself to Potions. Many students apply themselves to Defense, entranced by the danger and the glory, in a way that they will never apply themselves to Potions. If I were to teach Defense, I would be in a position to influence what they learn. Those with the predisposition would come easily to support you, and those without would falter and fail as I instructed them in everything except what would be of use to them. If I were in the position to influence them, to teach them the thrill of power, the challenge of the Dark Arts, few would withstand the lure."
"You know much about the lure of power, don't you?" the Dark Lord asked.
Severus nodded his head in a quick bow before bringing his eyes level with the Dark Lord's again. "Yes, my Lord."
"Convincing arguments, and well-delivered. I applaud your performance." The Dark Lord shifted his wand to the crook of his elbow and clapped slowly and deliberately. "We are all adults here, though. Speak the truth, Severus. You wish the Defense Against the Dark Arts position because you excelled at it as a child, and you would like to show off. Few people recognize the value of those liquids within the cauldron, or has so much changed in the years that I have been gone? Or perhaps I read you wrong?"
"My Lord has a keen understanding of his servants' motivations."
"Remember that," the Dark Lord said. "I understand your motivations very well, and you would do well not to attempt to impress me with what we both know to be lies. You want the position because it would be beneficial for Severus Snape, not because you could better serve me from one classroom than another."
Severus looked down. "Yes, my Lord."
"And, that said, you could indeed serve me as well from one classroom as another. Presumably, you would still be in the headmaster's good graces, whatever you taught. Would you agree?"
"Yes, my Lord."
"Do not lie to me and tell me what I want to hear."
"I do not, my Lord," Severus replied, looking up again. "Dumbledore trusts me, and I believe he is fond of me. I doubt it would even matter if I were in the school—he would continue to talk with me and confide in me. That I am there makes it more convenient for him to do so, and thus he is more likely to do it. I have his trust, though, and that is not going to change."
"In that case, the only matter at question is how badly you want the position, isn't it?"
Severus nodded, and he felt the Dark Lord enter his mind again. He was dueling with Lockhart, counter-spells whipping from his wand with graceful flourishes. He was informing the Slytherins that their shoddily-clothed Professor Lupin was a werewolf. He was confronting Quirrell about the Stone. That memory lingered a long moment before it faded.
"You claim to be a faithful servant, yet you did not come to my aid three years ago," the Dark Lord said.
"I did not know you had returned," Severus answered. "I thought Quirrell wanted the Stone for himself."
"And you wanted it for yourself," the Dark Lord finished for him. "Power and prestige, your driving forces."
"Yes, my Lord."
"So we have established that it would not benefit me to see you in the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. I hardly care about the children. So that leaves you. Ask me again."
Severus' mind was reeling, but he cleared his throat. "May I have the Defense Against the Dark Arts position?" he asked.
The Dark Lord exhaled in a sharp gust of rancid breath and his lipless mouth curved into a serpentine smile. "No," he replied, drawing a twitter of laughter from the others gathered. "And I am not sure that I shouldn't put you elsewhere. Charms, perhaps? Or Transfiguration. But not even that deranged old coot would be stupid enough to employee a Transfiguration professor who did not, himself, earn the OWL. Would he?"
Severus felt his face burning and he lowered his head again, sharply enough to cause his hair to fall around his face. His pride railed at his failure being announced to his peers.
"No, I believe you are precisely where I want you after all," the Dark Lord said. "Except that you are not looking at me. I do not recall telling you to lower your eyes."
Severus lifted his eyes.
"Ah, now, why so sullen? I've told you that you may remain where you are. Am I not generous? After all, many of my servants, misguided children that they are, suffered intensely under my displeasure. You will merely continue the same inconvenience that you have suffered for fourteen years. And, if you remind me how valuable your service is, perhaps we shall repeat this conversation at this time next year."
Feeling rather like a dog with a bone dangling in front of him, Severus nodded. Regardless of where is loyalties lay, he wanted that Defense position so bad he could almost touch it.
"Have you any news to share with us?"
His eyes flicked past the Dark Lord's shoulder, to Lucius Malfoy's masked face. "Yes, my Lord," he replied, taking a deep breath as he returned his gaze to the Dark Lord's face.
"Yes?" he asked. "By all means, then, speak. Tell me what you can."
"I don't know what my Lord knows already…"
"Don't worry about what I know," the Dark Lord replied. "I know what I know. I want to know what you know. Everything you know."
Severus put all thoughts of the Defense Against the Dark Arts position to the back of his mind; he needed every scrap of mental acuity he could muster. This was the best chance he'd had and the best he was liable to have, to convince the Dark Lord of his sincerity, and to do so, he would have to make his story as convincing as possible when the reality was that he knew very little that he could reveal.
"The Order of the Phoenix has reformed," he offered, watching the Dark Lord for reaction. Any reaction at all would have been of use. "It is small, and poorly organized, but Dumbledore has begun to take measures to oppose my Lord's return."
"Does he know that I have returned?"
"Yes," Severus replied without hesitation. "Potter relayed the story in great detail."
The Dark Lord nodded. "Go on."
"They've been guarding Potter. The Dementor attack—it was known to them almost instantly. They believe you are behind it."
No expression, no response. Severus continued.
"There are members of the Order guarding Potter's home in Surrey at all times—"
"How many at a time?"
"Three. Plus someone in the neighborhood who is not a witch or wizard."
"I don't know," Severus lied.
"Malfoy! Macnair! You two come stand here. I want you to listen as well." The Dark Lord waited until they joined him before gesturing to Severus. "Severus, it seems, has been busy. Unlike the two of you, who have failed to carry out your assigned tasks so far, Severus comes to me with information that he is volunteering. Severus, continue, I want these two to see what it means to be a loyal servant."
Severus' eyes flicked to Malfoy's for a moment; Malfoy's icy gaze spoke of his displeasure, and why not? After all, Severus had been given into his guard, which meant that by rights, Malfoy would have expected to reveal this sort of information to the Dark Lord and to take the credit for it. Avoiding Lucius' eyes, Severus continued.
"The Order is ineffectual," he said. "They draw maps and make plans, but they are doing little right now."
"How many are there?" Macnair asked.
"Twenty, twenty-five perhaps," Severus replied. "I'd have to count. A small enough number that I could count."
"Names, then?" Lucius prodded him.
"I'll draw up a list if you want," Severus answered. "I doubt any names on it would surprise you. Dumbledore, Moody, the Weasleys. The same ones as last time."
"Later," the Dark Lord replied. "Are they doing anything else?"
Time for a half-truth. "Yes," he replied. "I don't know what. There is a guard detail apart from the ones guarding Potter, but I'm not sure what they're guarding."
"Where do we find them?" Macnair asked, his eyes glinting. Severus' mind was filled with images of what Macnair might do if he found the Order, and while the idea of seeing Black suffer at the hands of a known sadist held its merits, the possibility was not enough to tempt Severus to risk the rest of the Order. As he answered, it was with a grudging admission to himself that he would even lie to protect Sirius Black, though the other wizard would never know the debt he owed.
"I cannot reveal that," Severus said, keeping his voice emotionless with substantial effort.
"You're refusing to reveal it? You know, though?" Macnair looked astonished, and for good reason. No one admitted that they were withholding information from the Dark Lord.
"I know," Severus affirmed. "And I cannot say. It is beyond my control."
"Another Fidelius Charm?" the Dark Lord asked. "Very typical of him. What can you tell me?"
It was a time for caution. He needed to appear as though he were trying to tell them, though falling short of doing so. And he needed to be very sure to inform Dumbledore exactly what he told them. "It is a very Dark house," he replied after a moment. "The Darkest there is."
"Is it, now?" the Dark Lord asked, his voice conveying only mild interest. "We'll discuss that a bit more later. What else?"
He almost wished that he knew more so that he could offer more. He held one more trump, and he wasn't inclined to reveal it yet and leave himself with an empty hand. "Details," he said. "I can offer elaboration on any of the points I've already mentioned, but there are no other startling discoveries at the moment."
"Very well," the Dark Lord said. "Begin with the details."
Three hours and many details later, Severus returned to his house, but was there only long enough to stash his mask and robe before he heard the roar of the fireplace. He hurried downstairs again and into the sitting room, where Lucius was helping himself to a measure of scotch.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Severus tried not to think about what would have happened if Lucius had invited himself in when someone from the Order was present.
"Lucius," Severus said in a tone of mock civility. "What a pleasant surprise. It's been, what? Ten minutes?"
Lucius laughed and conjured a second glass, which he filled with scotch and placed an Severus' hand. "I just thought I would come and congratulate you on a job very well done. You certainly seem to be winning the Dark Lord's confidence again, don't you? Of course, if I had known the sort of information you had to offer—"
"You would have offered it on my behalf and taken full credit," Severus finished for him. "You don't honestly think I would tell you all my secrets?"
Lucius' eyes hardened for the briefest of moments, but his expression returned to the gracious, charismatic self-proclaimed aristocrat so quickly that the flicker might have been a shadow, or just Severus' imagination. "Ah, yes. Nothing like a bit of friendly competition to get into the Dark Lord's good graces to bring back fond memories, eh?"
Severus propped his feet on the coffee table and leaned back in his chair. "What do you want, Lucius?"
"Who says I have to want anything?"
"Well, common courtesy generally requires that one announce one's intentions to invade another's home, but in the case of a crisis, perhaps need would excuse the lack of consideration."
"You know, I think I liked you better as the coarse-tongued bastard son of a disgraced—"
"Watch it, Lucius."
Lucius smiled and lifted his glass in mock salute. "To our Lord's successes," he toasted.
Severus raised an eyebrow and lifted his glass as well. "To the Dark Lord."
"Quite a droll little house, you know. A bit dusty. Perhaps I should loan you the use of a few house-elves to help spruce it up a bit."
And to see what sort of incriminating evidence they could find, no doubt, Severus thought as he took a sip of his scotch. "Hardly worth the effort. As you know, I only live here a few weeks out of the year."
"Ah, but those few weeks should be a repose to refresh you for the coming term. You need a few creature comforts, Severus."
"I am quite comfortable." Severus braced himself for what he knew was coming.
"But you could be more comfortable. Actually, what you really need is a woman here. Having a willing witch with a pretty face does wonders for one's mood, you know."
Lucius hadn't changed in twenty years. "And I suppose you have just the pretty, willing witch in mind?"
Lucius smiled a broad, bright smile. "Would I have suggested it if I did not?"
"Do you have anything useful to talk about or are you just here to harass me?"
"I'm not harassing you, Severus. I'm offering to introduce you to a particularly eager and willing girl."
"I don't want a girl, Lucius."
"Woman then. She's of age."
I probably taught her. That Lucius had made it a point to mention that the witch was 'of age' made Severus suspicious that she was barely of age, and he bristled against that more when someone else was suggesting it than he had when a barely-of-age witch offered herself to him.
"Well? Aren't you even going to ask who she is?"
"Who is she, Lucius?"
Lucius grinned. "My niece, Priscilla. My younger sister's daughter, and quite anxious to stay in her Uncle Lucius' good graces."
"How old is she?"
"I told you that she's of age—"
With a chuckle, Lucius finished off his scotch. "Seventeen."
"She isn't even out of school yet! How can you offer up your own niece to a man who is old enough to—she isn't one of my students, is she?"
"Of course not," Lucius scoffed. "She's a Beauxbatons girl. Her mother wouldn't have it any other way. And quite a scrumptious little tart if I do say so. Really, Severus, if I didn't have such high moral standards, I wouldn't mind a toss with her myself."
Severus snorted and rubbed his temple. "Oh yes," he muttered. "Such high moral standards indeed. Do you really not want anything, Lucius?"
"No, of course not," came the velvet response.
"Very well. Leave."
Lucius blinked, looking quite taken aback. "I beg your pardon?"
"If you have something to say, say it. If you want something, tell me what it is. Otherwise, it's late, it's been a tiring evening and I would appreciate it if you would leave me alone."
"A tiring evening?" Lucius asked. "Odd, I always thought you enjoyed the exhilaration of a meeting, of facing the Dark Lord and coming out unscathed. Really, Severus, if three hours in the presence of friends tires you so, perhaps you've lost your edge."
"If I have, that's my business."
"You're telling me to go?"
"I don't recall stuttering."
Lucius raised an eyebrow, but stood. "Well, if you decide that your delicate condition allows you to venture out tomorrow, come join us for dinner."
"Again? What do you hope to accomplish by inviting me to dinner every other night?"
"You have grown very cynical, did you know that? If my memory serves, you've never been prone to domestic pursuits. What are you going to do if you don't come? Sit here and eat a cheese sandwich? If you don't want to come, don't come. By all means, enjoy your solitude. Merlin forbid anyone try to lure you into civilized society."
It was a bit more than a desire to retain his newly-acquired and still-precarious position in Lucius' good graces that made Severus clear his throat. "What are you planning for this dinner?"
Lucius raised his eyebrows. "Any requests? The house-elves are very accommodating."
"One," Severus replied. "No more surprise social functions."
With a laugh, Lucius inclined his head. "I'll try to keep that in mind."
As Lucius helped himself to a handful of Floo powder and stepped into the swirling emerald flames, Severus had a feeling that he would, indeed, find himself surprised again.
When Lucius was gone, Severus closed off the Floo, set a series of spells around the sitting room and retreated into the kitchen. On the wings of a Patronus, Severus sent a message to London. While he waited for a response, he opened and closed cabinet and pantry doors, looking in vain for something worth eating. His stomach grumbled at him, reminding him that his lunch had been light and several hours ago. Nothing in the kitchen held any appeal, though, so he busied himself with pacing. It was an after-effect of successfully pulling off a carefully orchestrated deception—as the tenseness seeped from his muscles, he grew restless and hungry, among other things.
His thoughts even lingered for a moment on the idea of a seventeen-year-old Malfoy girl who was willing to do anything to stay in her uncle's good graces. The idea of this faceless Priscilla Malfoy held little appeal, though, so Severus replaced her face with that of Remus Lupin and his restless hunger took on a new meaning.
After a few minutes, a silvery wisp in the shape of a bird slid through the crack under the door, delivering Dumbledore's response. He spent a few more minutes in the kitchen, making plenty of noise and moving around. When fifteen minutes had passed, he took his lamp upstairs and set it on his bedside table before dousing it. He waited a few minutes more before Apparating to London.
The Black house was dark and still by the time Severus walked through the front door, careful not to wake Mrs. Black's portrait. Dumbledore was waiting for him in the hall, and with a finger to his lips, led him upstairs, down the hall and through a door.
The upstairs sitting room was an oasis of order in a house besieged by dust bunnies. Black and Lupin were both in there already--Black draped over a chair, his arms folded across his stomach, Lupin with his head leaned back and his bare feet propped on a low stool. They were talking, but as Dumbledore ushered Severus inside and closed the door behind them, the conversation stopped.
Black turned his head and gave Severus a slow, considering look. "I guess that means he survived," he said, turning back to Lupin.
Lupin narrowed his eyes at Black, but looked at Severus sideways. "How did it go?"
Severus looked at the headmaster, who gestured to the sofa and claimed a third chair for himself. Settling onto the sofa, Severus glanced at Black again, who was ignoring him, then at Lupin, trying to decide the best way to proceed. "It went well," he said at last. "I think I made more significant overtures to returning to the Dark Lord's good graces." He began his recount of the evening, relaying some things, keeping others to himself. He told them what he'd told the Dark Lord about their location; he did not tell them about begging for the Defense position. He told them that he'd revealed most of their identities, though he didn't mention which names he'd left out. He'd reveal that to Dumbledore later. He told them about Lucius' visit afterwards, and the dinner invitation. He did not go into the details of being offered a seventeen-year-old girl. When he finished, Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully.
"It sounds as though you've had a productive evening then."
"Oh, yeah," Sirius said, swinging his legs around so that his feet rested on the floor. "Very productive. He accomplished a hell of a lot. Let's see, he gave Voldemort a list of our members, he told him what we're doing, oh, and where our headquarters are located. I'd say that's a fairly good start to undermining everything we've been doing all summer."
"I told the Dark Lord very little that he didn't already know or suspect," Severus replied, neglecting to mention that he had led the Dark Lord to believe that Sirius was hiding somewhere in the south Pacific.
"Yeah, well, you verified it for him."
"Severus took calculated risks, Sirius," Dumbledore said. "We need him to be trusted. He reveals the sorts of things Voldemort would not expect him to reveal if he held any loyalty to us."
Black snorted. "For once I agree with Voldemort apparently."
"I don't expect you to understand the delicate balance between providing enough information to convince the Dark Lord—"
"Do you have to call him that?"
"—of my sincerity—"
"That shouldn't be too hard."
"—without jeopardizing the Order's—"
"Oh, yeah. Tell him who, when and where. That's brilliant and—"
"—ability to function properly. Suffice to say that the things I chose to reveal—"
"—very discerning. Not putting any of us in danger at all."
"—are intriguing enough to interest him, yet are things the Order can compensate for—"
"I'm sure he's very interested in knowing where to station his Death Eaters."
"—simply by knowing that the Dark Lord knows."
"Don't call him that."
"Will you two stop it?" Lupin snapped. "For the love of God can't you two get it through your heads that we're on the same side?"
Black gave Lupin a hurtful look as he folded his arms and draped himself in the chair again. Severus shot Lupin a withering look and leaned back against the sofa. Dumbledore cleared his throat.
"Well said, Remus."
"Do you have anything else that we might like to know?" Black asked. "Tell the Death Eaters how to intercept our messages, perhaps?"
"Headmaster, do they have to be in here?"
"I have a few things to discuss with you and Remus, actually," the headmaster replied. "But you and I will continue this conversation later."
"I still can't believe you're involving him in this," Black muttered. "Just give him something else to blab to the Death Eaters."
Severus ignored that, though with difficulty.
"Remus is going to begin attempting to gain a position with the werewolves, and I am of the opinion that he could use a bit of instruction on the fine art of deception."
"And who better to instruct him than a first rate liar like you?" Black asked without looking at any of them.
"Sirius, can't you shut up for ten minutes?" Lupin snapped. "There's a time and a place."
Severus couldn't quite hide a smug smile. As he'd told Lupin that morning, frustration was amusing on the werewolf, anger was not. Black had managed to make him angry. Meeting Lupin's eyes for a moment, Severus felt his mouth twitch. Lupin could convey entire soliloquies with a look, and his face was telling Severus that he would not be exempt from a similar rebuke if he said one word.
That was a sobering reality. Remus Lupin, who stumbled over an innocent lie and whose face spoke volumes when he kept his mouth shut, was going to be a spy among werewolves? All traces of humor faded from his face and he looked first at Dumbledore, then at Sirius, wondering how much he dared protest while Sirius Black was draped over an arm chair like an over-grown octopus.
"And how long do I have to accomplish this miracle?" Severus asked.
"Well, the full moon is Monday," Lupin began.
"Monday?" Severus repeated. "As in this Monday? As in four days hence."
"I wasn't under the impression that the concept of 'Monday' needed any additional explanation," Lupin retorted.
Severus snorted. "Impossible."
"So you're refusing to help?" Black asked. "See, Albus? I told you he was—"
"Sirius!" Lupin glared at Black, and Black rolled his eyes, his sullen expression returning. "Why do you think it's so impossible, Severus?"
"Because you couldn't convince a dog to go after a fake throw," Severus said. He was dangerously close to forgetting that they weren't alone.
"And you think you know me that well? Honestly, contrary to popular belief, I'm not a saint. I don't like to tell lies, but that doesn't mean I can't do it if I need to."
"Very well. Prove it." Severus folded his arms and looked directly at Lupin, ignoring Dumbledore and Black.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Prove it," Severus repeated. "Lie about something. I don't care what it is, just make me believe something that isn't true."
There was a brief hesitation before Lupin cleared his throat and smiled sweetly. "Severus, you are the kindest, most considerate, most compassionate human being I have ever met."
Dumbledore's nose apparently started itching violently at that proclamation and Black laughed outright. "He got you there, Snivellus. Anyone who can say that with a straight face is a brilliant liar."
Severus ignored that. "And you expect me to believe that?" he asked Lupin. "Half of telling a convincing lie is knowing what's convincing."
With a sigh, Lupin leaned forward, his feet on the floor now, arms braced on his knees. "Look," he said, all traces of humor gone from his face and voice, "on Monday night, I am going to go in search of a pack of rogue werewolves, and provided I find them, I'm going to follow them to their lair. Whether or not I return is going to have quite a lot to do with whether or not I can convince them that I am not a threat. I know I'm not the best at deception. If I were, I wouldn't be asking your help." He sat back and folded his arms, propping his feet on the stool again. "That's for damn sure," he muttered.
For a moment, Severus could only stare at Lupin, almost wishing that he could communicate volumes with the quirk of an eyebrow. His eyes flickered to Black, who had found a piece of string and was wrapping it around his finger. He glanced at Dumbledore to find that the headmaster was studying him. Severus averted his eyes. "Do you have any idea what you're getting into?" he asked Lupin.
"That's what we're counting on you to teach him," Dumbledore said, standing and holding out a hand and beckoning to Black. "Sirius, why don't you and I go busy ourselves elsewhere? I think Severus and Remus both understand what they need to do, and we're not helping them."
Sirius glanced at Lupin.
"Go," Lupin said, waving him away.
Sirius swung his feet around to the floor and stood, but instead of following Dumbledore to the door, he advanced on Severus until he was standing inches from him, leaning over, one hand braced on the arm of the sofa and one on the back, trapping Severus. Severus swallowed a rising bubble of panic.
"If I find out you're harassing Remus, I'm going to—"
"Going to what?" Severus asked, whipping out his wand and shoving it against Black's throat. "Whatever you think you're going to do, you're going to have to move faster than that."
A look of hatred darkened Sirius' features as he looked at Severus' wand. Severus shifted his wand and gave Black a solid shove, sending him stumbling over the stool Lupin's feet were propped on. Lupin jerked his feet out of the way just before Sirius crashed into him.
"You're a shell, Black," Severus said. "If you ever had an edge over me—and if you did, his name was James Potter—you've lost it. Don't threaten me." Severus stood and pocketed his wand again, stalking to the door.
"Where are you going?" Lupin asked. Severus glanced back to find him helping Sirius to his feet.
"To the kitchen," Severus replied. "I haven't had dinner and it would appear that I'm going to be here for a while."
"Just help yourself," Black snarled, straightening his robes.
Severus conjured a gracious smile. "Why, thank you. Your hospitality is most appreciated. I believe I shall."
He slammed the door behind him and stalked downstairs to the kitchen, but drew up short as he realized that it was not empty, as he'd been expecting. Molly Weasley and her daughter and Hermione Granger were busy with cup towels and sponges, and all three heads turned in his direction as the door swung shut behind him.
For a moment, no one moved or said anything, but all their eyes were on him. Finally, Molly smiled. "Severus! Have you had a chance for dinner? We're just cleaning up but it won't take anything to get you a plate."
He hesitated, but his reticence only angered him. Why was he more willing to just help himself than to accept the offer from Molly? With considerable effort, he nodded jerkily. "Thank you."
"Ginny, fix Professor Snape a plate."
Ginny Weasley was another whose face was very expressive, though Severus didn't fool himself into thinking that she couldn't tell a convincing lie if she wanted. That he saw the look of loathing she gave him was an indication that she didn't care that he saw it. She turned and opened a cupboard, though, and pulled down a plate, which she left on the counter as she stepped into the pantry. She emerged with three bowls balanced in her hand, and took the lids off each of them. A minute later, she put the heaping plate on the table. Banging a drawer open, she took out flatware and dropped it on the table as well.
"Do you want water or tea?" she asked, sounding bored.
Molly gave her a warning look. "Water is fine," Severus replied.
Ginny retrieved a glass from the cabinet and filled it with tap water. Molly tapped her wand against it, and tiny beads of condensation were forming on it by the time Ginny placed it on the table beside his plate. "Anything else?" she asked.
"No. Thank you." He gathered the plate, glass and flatware and looked around, feeling like he was missing something.
"Here," Miss Granger said, offering a white cloth napkin.
"Thank you," he said, wondering if he'd ever said those words so many times in succession in his life.
He was halfway up the stairs again when he saw Lupin leaning against the doorframe to the sitting room, looking displeased. Severus brushed past him and cleared a place on the desk for his meal.
Lupin slammed the door and crossed the room in three long strides. "What the hell was that, Severus? You could have hurt him. He could have broken his neck falling like that."
"He's lucky I didn't slit his throat," Severus muttered, shaking out his napkin and sitting. "If I don't want you trapping me like that, you can bet your last knut I don't want him doing it." Lupin leaned against the wall, watching as Severus cut a pork chop into cubes. Lupin opened his mouth and Severus paused with his fork halfway to his. "No," he said, preempting the question he knew was coming.
Lupin pulled a face and sat in one of the wing-back chairs, his arms folded, one knee twitching. Severus ate in silence, trying to determine if this posturing was anger or frustration or something new. "Do you want some?" Severus asked, indicating the heaping plate. "Young Miss Weasley seems to think I'm eating for three."
Lupin's lips quirked up into a slight smile. "Ginny takes after her mother."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "I'm rather of the opinion that none of the Weasley offspring take after either of their parents particularly."
"Why do you say that?"
"I've never seen the open hostility from the elder Weasleys that I see daily from all of their offspring."
"Have you ever considered that perhaps that's because you are more respectful to Molly and Arthur? I tend to notice that people treat me largely the way I treat them."
"Nonsense," Severus muttered around a mouthful of carrots. "Children should be silent and respectful of their elders."
"That sounds like something my grandmother would have said."
"Do you think she was wrong?"
Lupin pulled his chair closer, and Severus gestured at the plate again. "No thanks," Lupin said. "I've already had my stuffing for the evening."
Severus snorted, and they fell quiet, nothing but the scraping of fork and knife against plate to pierce the silence. When Severus finished, he wiped his mouth and placed his napkin over the plate, which he was surprised to find was empty. Not only had Miss Weasley given him enough to feed three, he'd eaten enough to feed three. He wasn't the only one to notice.
"Did you get enough?" Lupin asked.
Severus decided to ignore the sardonic tone and accompanying expression. "I believe I did," he replied, drinking the rest of his water. As he placed the empty glass aside, he was aware that Lupin was staring at him, and he raised a querulent eyebrow.
Lupin reached for him, flicking his fingertip against the corner of his mouth. "Butter," he said, holding up his finger.
Severus leaned forward, capturing the fingertip between his lips. Raising his eyes to Lupin's face, he sucked gently, pulling the entire finger into his mouth. Slowly, he drew his lips back, releasing Lupin's finger and pressing his tongue to Lupin's palm.
Lupin turned his hand, caressing Severus' face. "What are you doing?" he asked.
Severus cocked an eyebrow and lifted his hands to Lupin's neck, splaying his fingers and running them through Lupin's hair. "Seducing you?" he suggested, standing and urging Lupin to join him.
"You're supposed to be teaching me how to be a spy," Lupin murmured, closing his eyes and leaning his head to one side as Severus nipped a kiss at the back of his jaw.
"You think an hour or two is going to make a significant difference?" Severus whispered, his breath caressing Lupin's skin.
"The door isn't locked."
"Where's that famed Gryffindor sense of adventure?"
"Shh." Severus placed a finger over Lupin's mouth, then replaced the finger with his lips. He traced his tongue over Lupin's lips, winding his fingers through his hair again. Severus drew Lupin's lower lip into his mouth, a smile curling his lips at the responding sigh. Lupin parted his lips, and Severus pressed his tongue into the other wizard's mouth, demanding and teasing by turns.
After a moment, Lupin began to respond properly, circling Severus' tongue with his own, pressing into Severus' mouth. Severus dropped one hand to Lupin's back, pressing him closer as their kiss deepened.
Lupin dropped his hands to Severus' waist, sliding them up and down his back. Severus rolled his shoulders into Lupin's touch, shifting his feet so that Lupin's thigh was caught between his own. Lupin's eyes flew open as Severus pressed his stiffening cock against Lupin's hip.
Severus paused, resting one hand against Lupin's hip, tracing the curve of his arse through his robe and giving him a moment to adjust to the shock. At least, Severus assumed that it was shock warring with pleasure on Lupin's face; Severus knew he was still always a bit shocked to rediscover that his new lover had a penis.. After a moment, Severus exhaled slowly as Lupin brushed a hand against his growing erection.
"What brought this on?" Lupin asked, tapping a finger against the base of Severus' cock.
This time Severus' hesitation had nothing to do with sympathy for the other wizard. He bought himself a moment with another kiss, debating an honest answer that would require explanation, or a suitable answer that would lead them to more interesting pursuits than conversation.
As he pulled away from the kiss, he lifted Lupin's face with a fingertip under his jaw. "You," he replied, groaning as Lupin removed his hand from its pleasurable occupation. Severus might have complained if the other wizard hadn't started inching his robe up.
Nudging his shoes off, Severus kicked them aside, lifting his arms as Lupin shoved his robe over his head and tossed it to the floor. Lupin nuzzled his neck, drawing his tongue along the edge of Severus' collar bone, and Severus rolled his head back, sighing as Lupin pressed his tongue against his throat. Hands coursing over his chest, Lupin traced a warm, wet path down to Severus' stomach, pausing to tease his navel, which was enough to make Severus dance away.
Lupin laughed, his breath electrifying as it caressed Severus' skin. "You know, I think I've claimed that spot as mine," Lupin said, pressing his tongue just under Severus' navel. Severus murmured incoherently as he felt his underpants sliding down over his hips. Lupin touched the back of his knee, and he lifted one foot, then the other, kicking his pants aside. His lips still on Severus' stomach, Lupin peeled off his socks, tossing them aside as well.
Severus groaned as Lupin nuzzled him, cupping his balls and massaging them against the base of his cock.
"How long have you been keeping this from me?" Lupin asked, looking up at him as he lowered his mouth over the head of Severus' cock.
"No," Severus choked out, drawing a shuddering breath as Lupin closed his lips around his cock. A wave of white-hot pleasure drew a strangled groan from his throat, and he swallowed hard, bracing his hands on Lupin's head. "No," he whispered, making a half-hearted effort to draw himself out of Lupin's mouth.
Lupin paused and slid his lips off him. "No?"
Closing his eyes, Severus' breathing grew heavy and strained. "No," he repeated when he was more sure of his voice. "I don't want you sucking me off tonight."
Lupin rose slowly, bringing himself eye-level with Severus. "What do you want, then?" he asked.
Severus drew Lupin's robe up in answer, shoving it over his head and tossing it into a heap with his own discarded clothes. "I want to look into your eyes," he whispered. "I want to kiss your lips. I want to feel your body against mine."
"Is that so?" Lupin asked, smiling a bit as he wrapped his fingers around Severus' cock again.
Severus grasped Lupin's hand. "If I wanted to jerk off, I could have done that already."
Lupin's playful smile faded. "What do you want, Severus?" he asked. "We haven't talked about—"
"You talk too much." Severus placed another kiss on Lupin's lips, pressing their chests together.
"Severus…" Lupin breathed. "There are boundaries—"
"There weren't last time."
"Severus, we need to discuss—"
Severus placed a finger over Lupin's lips. "Trust me," he whispered. "I'm not going to hurt you."
He slid his hand into the front of Lupin's underpants, then paused, frowning. With an effort, he took a step back, suddenly a bit too aware of his state of undress.
"Why didn't you tell me to stop?" Severus asked, snatching their robes up from the floor. He tossed the shabbier of the two to Lupin and began to jerk his own over his head.
Lupin dropped his on the floor and reached for Severus' hand, stopping him short of dressing again. "Because I didn't want you to," he replied.
"Oh, you want it do you?" Severus pulled the waistband of Lupin's underpants and looked pointedly at his flaccid cock. "Maybe you're a better liar than I gave you credit for."
Lupin snatched the robe out of Severus' hands. "Sit down," he ordered, pointing at the sofa. "I don't know how long you've been nursing some fantasy, but you caught me rather by surprise. What the hell did you get up to at that meeting, anyway? You'd think you went to an erotic display, not a gathering of Death Eaters."
Severus thought it best not to answer that question.
"You're angry with me over this, aren't you?" Lupin asked as he sat beside Severus. "Unbelievable. I'm not eighteen anymore. I don't go around half-erect all the time, just waiting for a good excuse. Do you?"
"Then stop acting like it's a personal insult. Or keep acting that way and get dressed and we'll get down to business. This conversation is effectively killing the mood."
Severus reached for Lupin, urging him into his arms. Lupin settled against his chest, and Severus stroked his hair and shoulders. He felt he owed some explanation, but based on past experiences, he didn't think it would be a good idea to say that he was less secure in his own abilities and attractiveness than he cared to admit. "Do you want to stop?" he asked.
"No," Lupin replied, turning his head to kiss Severus' shoulder. "I do want to know what we're doing, though."
Severus pushed Lupin's underpants down, and Lupin shifted, pulling them off and dropping them on the floor. Severus' hand hovered over Lupin's hip for a moment before he rested it against his arse.
"I don't know what I'm doing," Severus replied, leaning back and closing his eyes. "This was a bad idea."
"You didn't think it was a bad idea a minute ago," Lupin pointed out. "And you seemed to know exactly what you were doing."
"That was different."
"It just was."
His erection was beginning to soften, and his balls ached, but that was nothing to the stinging of his pride. He didn't think he'd ever been so humiliated, and that was saying quite a lot.
"We should get to work."
"Does this mean we're stopping?"
"Yes." Severus gave Lupin a light shove, and Lupin sat up. Severus didn't meet Lupin's eyes as he picked his robe up again and pulled it over his head.
"Why?" Lupin asked as he pulled on his own robe.
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Christ, Severus, are we back to that again?"
Severus didn't say anything as he turned his back to pull on his underpants. His cock twitched in protest at being so restricted again, but he ignored it. When he turned around again, Lupin was sitting on the sofa, his arms folded, watching.
Taking a deep breath, Severus strode to one of the chairs and sat in it, propping one ankle on the other knee. He took a steadying breath. "I suppose we had our first lesson this morning, actually," he began without preamble. "A lie should be believable and it should be uninteresting enough to not pique curiosity."
"I expect you'll need a good one to explain why you're suddenly deciding to join with them, correct?" Lupin nodded, and Severus gestured for him to give it a try. "I'm not going to concoct these stories for you," he said. "You'll remember them better if you come up with them yourself. Besides, you need to learn. You suggest a likely tale, and I'll tell you what's wrong with it."
"You think I'm going to fail horribly at this."
"I think you're more prone to honesty than deceit, and I think you're more prone to elaborate, entertaining stories than to believable ones."
Lupin frowned and looked at the floor, and Severus took the opportunity to surreptitiously adjust his distended cock.
"Wouldn't you rather be continuing—" Lupin began.
"No." Damn him for noticing.
Lupin sighed. "Lover's quarrel," he said. "We fought, and I'm distraught."
Severus snorted. "Do you know what the Death Eaters would say if someone brought that tale to them?" Lupin shook his head. "They'd ask for the woman's name and offer to accompany you to kill her." Lupin opened his mouth, protest etched all over his face. Severus held up a hand. "Too emotional. If you quarreled with someone, lover or no, you're either looking for revenge or you're looking for sympathy. They're not going to offer you sympathy, and the story sounds as though you'd abandon them and return to this mysterious lover if the opportunity arose. Or, in the case of revenge, they'll expect you to extract it at some point. Are you prepared to bite or kill to carry out the lie?"
"No," Lupin answered without hesitation.
"Then don't offer a lie that will require you to do so. Try again."
Lupin was quiet as he thought for a moment. "I want revenge on Sirius Black for killing James and Lily."
"Tempting," Severus muttered. "Very tempting. You just as good as admitted that you know where he is, though. Besides, if you wanted revenge, why do you need others to help?"
"Fine," Lupin snapped. "I've bitten someone and the Ministry is after me now."
"You're getting closer," Severus said. "But that's lesson two—if you're going to drop facts, make sure that they'll be verified in your favor. Have you bitten anyone?"
"Is the Ministry after you?"
"No more than it is any other werewolf."
"All right, that's too easy to disprove and then they know you're lying."
"What did you tell Voldemort?" Lupin asked.
Severus hesitated for a moment, looking at the floor. No one, not even Dumbledore, knew exactly what he told the Dark Lord. He flirted with the idea of lying here, but decided against it. After all, his story was a masterful creation if he did say so himself—every word of it was based on facts that the Dark Lord could verify for himself. It was solid and air-tight. "The truth," he replied finally. "That I have Dumbledore's trust, a position within the school and that the Order of the Phoenix believes I am spying on the Death Eaters. When I returned to his side, I reminded him that I have information that can be of use to him, I pointed out that I was returning, delayed though my return might have been, and that by delaying, I had secured my position with Dumbledore. I proposed that instant returned loyalty from the likes of Malfoy and Macnair was worth something less than what I brought, seeing as all they had to offer was their loyalty whereas I came with fifteen years of information."
Lupin was quiet for a long moment. "So where's the lie?" he asked at last.
"My loyalty and motivations," Severus answered. "I try not to lie about anything else. Tonight I lied about several things I would have preferred not to."
"What did you say?"
"That I don't know where Sirius Black is, though I suspect Dumbledore does," Severus replied. "That I don't know what is being guarded besides Harry Potter. That I am unable to communicate with the Order except through Albus Dumbledore." He rearranged his robe again. "Things that are too great a liability to tell."
"Do you think you can teach me to do this in four days?" Lupin asked.
"It isn't a question of whether I can teach you, but whether you can learn. This isn't like teaching Charms—I don't show you a wand technique and have you recite an incantation. Some people have an affinity for it, some don't."
"Are you angry with me?"
"No. Try another story."
"It's been over a year since I've had a job and the Ministry has made it damn near impossible for me to find one. I fucking give up. I'm tired of playing by their rules if I'm not going to get anything out of it."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "You know, that's not half bad."
"Come sit beside me? I promise I'll behave." Lupin was grinning, and that grin alone was enough to make Severus' cock rouse hopefully.
"I can't promise I will," Severus replied.
"Oh?" Lupin asked, the glint in his eyes giving lie to his mild tone. "You know, there's always the possibility that I was lying."