Updated: 6 November 2005
disclaimer: Books, fortune and empire belong to JK Rowling. I only dally with her characters.
The next few days passed in a blur of dinner invitations for which Severus had less and less notice, and which he accepted less and less from a sense of duty and more and more because he wanted to. He'd forgotten how the world looked from the tails of Lucius' dress robes, and it was like rediscovering the sun.
The concert he hadn't been looking forward to turned out to be little more than an excuse for the elite witches and wizards to dress in their most pretentious silks and sip mediocre wine that cost four times what a bottle of better vintage should have cost. When the performance was over, Severus had been brought up to date on every scandal and tidbit of gossip from the last fifteen years, and he'd brushed elbows with half the Ministry and several celebrities, not contradicting those who introduced him as 'entirely too modest.'
No, not modest. Just too busy gathering information about his hosts and their peers to be bothered with pleasant small talk. He told himself that what he did, he did for the Order, and that appeased his conscience enough to leave him to his watching and listening. He and his conscience both knew, however, that none of the people at Cheshire Coven were of any particular interest to the Order. Most of them represented the mass of socially prominent pigeons who waddled blindly after whatever the likes of the Malfoys called fashionable. Their gossip was carefully apolitical, and Severus recognized the motive behind keeping their allegiances out of the limelight. Few of them cared enough to vocally oppose anything that was going on so long as it didn't affect them personally, and given that they were all wealthy and their Mudblood ancestors a safe three generations in the past, they were largely unaffected by the war.
The Prescots hosted a modest dinner, and they were certainly outdone by the Malfoys. But then, everyone was outdone by the Malfoys. It was a pleasant enough evening with a gracious meal and good wine, though, and Severus enjoyed a game of chess after dinner, which gave him the perfect distraction while he pretended to listen to Elias Prescot extol the virtues of his unexceptional daughter, who was a Slytherin entering her third year. Severus made neutral comments about the girl, and Elias didn't appear to realize that Severus didn't know the child from Adam. Severus beat Elias soundly, and promised a rematch sometime; a promise he did not intend to keep.
If there was a family in the wizarding world that had the potential to match the Malfoys, it was the Parkinsons. They were an old, wealthy family, just like the Malfoys, but theirs was a quieter, more refined wealth. Where the Malfoys' wealth was impossible to ignore, the Parkinsons' was easy to miss if one didn't know what one was looking at. There were no gilded mirrors on the walls, and no elaborate sixteen-course meals in dining rooms that overlooked the Salisbury Plain. At the Parkinsons' home, the wealth was in the details.
It was the paneling in the dining room, which Severus knew to be mahogany buffed to its natural glowing shine. It was the tiles in the hall, which were Italian marble. It was the rich colors of Persian rugs and the vases that were priceless artifacts from the Ming dynasty. Philippa and her daughters did not wear the latest fashions from Madam Malkin's; they wore hand-sewn linen, hand-woven to be fine as silk.
Severus was quite looking forward to the dinner until he found out that the Hogwarts owls had gone out that morning and the Parkinsons had beat the Malfoys to organizing a party to honor the two Slytherin prefects. It turned into another evening of socializing, this time at the arm of Philippa Parkinson, who was easily the most socially active and aware witch their world had seen in a century. Among Philippa's many pet projects was education reform, and she directed Severus to a lengthy conversation with Gaius Melsby, the senior official in the Department of Education. By the end of the evening, Severus had a feeling that he'd cemented his position with Melsby, and that he had an inside line to the Ministry.
All in all, it was a busy, satisfying week, and one in which Severus felt that he'd accomplished a great deal.
If there was a bitter pill in the lump of jam, it was Lupin. Between one thing and another, the two of them had not found time to be together since the night in the Shrieking Shack, and September loomed on the horizon like a monster lurking in shadows and waiting to swallow them. It was just over a week until Severus would be moving his things back to Hogwarts, and not quite two weeks before classes would begin again, and that knowledge lingered at the back of Severus' mind every time he saw Lupin across the table.
A week after Harry's trial, Dumbledore asked Severus to stay after he'd reported what he'd learned at the Parkinsons'. Sequestered in an upstairs study, Severus, Lupin, Arthur, Tonks, Kingsley and Dumbledore had been talking over the implications of the children Lupin had found during the full moon. Arthur, Tonks and Kingsley all seemed unsurprised when Dumbledore suggested someone working from inside the Ministry; apparently, there had been rumors to that effect for years.
"Why hasn't anyone done anything?" Lupin asked, looking from Tonks to Kingsley and back again.
Tonks smiled in sympathy. "Other priorities," she said. "The Ministry doesn't have the resources to pursue every allegation that comes along."
"So, three dozen children go missing from Ministry custody over the course of fifteen years, and no one questions it," Lupin said flatly.
The three Ministry representatives avoided looking at him, and after a moment of silence Dumbledore cleared his throat. "I'd say it's been going on for more than fifteen years," he said. "My guess would be something more like fifty years, judging by what I saw in the Pensieve."
"And again, no one thinks it worth pursuing."
"Be reasonable, Remus," Arthur said. "There are two ways an internal investigation comes about—someone from the Prophet gets the story and forces the Ministry's hand, or an advocate from within makes a case to the right people. There has been mention of it, but not by anyone with enough clout to make anything come of it."
"Oh, of course," Lupin replied, his eyes narrowed at the wall. "Three dozen children aren't worthy of the notice."
"Not three dozen children," Severus said, schooling his voice to disinterest. "Three dozen werewolves. Perhaps no one else is willing to say it, but I will—for all the lofty ideals our world tries to aspire to, there are those who are more important to this society."
"Now, Severus—" Arthur began, only to have his protests swallowed by Tonks' sputtering, "You can't honestly think—" and Lupin challenging, "What are you suggesting?"
"He's right," Kingsley said, raising his voice just enough to be heard over the others. They all stopped talking at once, and the sudden void was uncomfortable. "There are the things we say and the things we do, and in this case, what we say and what we do are not in agreement. We say that we, as a society and a Ministry, have a responsibility and respect for everyone in our world, but we're all adults here. We know that some witches and wizards get a bit more respect than others. Lycanthropy is a problem that Fudge would prefer would just go away, even though it isn't going to, and for all his expressions of false sympathy, it is a fact that he has never ordered more than a token investigation. Every werewolf child who disappears from Ministry custody is one more that doesn't end up on the support rosters, and that's twelve hundred Galleons a year that can go elsewhere. Not to mention the costs that are more difficult to estimate, such as the reduced staff."
Lupin's face was hard as stone, his eyes narrowed and his jaw set. Severus tried to catch his eye, but Lupin seemed to be avoiding looking at anyone.
"I think perhaps everyone would do well to note that having the courage to say what is uncomfortable does not equate to believing what is said," Dumbledore offered after a moment. "No one is condoning the Ministry's decisions, Remus, but if we're to examine them, we need to acknowledge the reasons behind it. Do you think the three dozen children you saw were all of them?"
Lupin sighed, and the discussion took an awkward turn as they tried to separate the emotional and rational angles of the topic. It was almost a relief when Dumbledore thanked Tonks, Shacklebolt and Arthur for their input and left them with an unspoken command to leave. Tonks hugged Lupin and whispered something in his ear that made him smile, and Arthur squeezed his shoulder reassuringly. Severus watched the pageantry with feigned indifference, and it wasn't until Dumbledore, Lupin and he were alone that he finally looked in Lupin's direction.
The expression on Lupin's face was a mingling of hatred, disgust, anger and sorrow, and it clawed at Severus' heart. If Dumbledore hadn't been there, Severus might have been more likely to join Lupin on the sofa and to put his arm around him and pull him close. Instead, he settled for asking, "So, what do we do to get those children out of there?"
Lupin looked up at him and smiled slightly. Severus was certain that Dumbledore hadn't missed any of the silent exchanges between them over the course of the evening, and he didn't think it was coincidence when Dumbledore ushered Severus to join Lupin on the sofa.
"I don't know," Lupin said. "I honestly don't even know if they'd come willingly."
"That would be my concern," Dumbledore said, not appearing to notice that Lupin had moved closer to Severus than was necessary. "Obvious abominations aside, what was your feeling for how they were being treated?"
Lupin exhaled slowly, and Severus brushed a hand against his arm, not caring whether Dumbledore noticed or not. It wasn't as though they had anything to hide from the headmaster. Lupin took the gesture as an invitation and placed his hand over Severus' hand. "Aside from the lack of food or proper shelter and momentarily ignoring that they're living in a forest and a twelve-year-old can't count properly and they don't seem to remember that they're human, I suppose they're being treated well enough."
"Did you have the impression that they were in immediate danger?" Dumbledore asked.
Lupin shook his head. "Other than the dangers of the situation in general, no. I had the impression that Greyback is trying to turn them to his side, not that he poses any threat to them. He's done the physical damage he's going to do. It's the emotional injuries that I'm concerned about, and I don't even know that we can heal what he's already done. He's teaching them to not trust us."
"Perhaps you can still help there," Dumbledore said.
"I don't see how. Greyback gathered the children around to hear my stories of the Ministry's injustice. I'm an example to them of why you can't trust the Ministry for Magic."
Severus snorted. "We can't trust the Ministry right now," he pointed out.
"But it isn't just the Ministry that they don't trust," Lupin said. "It's the entire wizarding world."
"Children are impressionable," Dumbledore said. "You've seen that first hand. Some of the older ones are probably capable of understanding the difference between the wizarding world and the current Ministry, that while it might be true that the Ministry is not overly concerned about them, the Ministry does not represent the entire wizarding population."
"Of course," Lupin said, his voice edged with an uncharacteristic sarcasm. "The wizarding world accepts werewolves with open arms. That's why it's always been so damn easy to find a decent job."
Severus squeezed Lupin's hand.
"Ah, I see," Dumbledore said. "You agree with Greyback's strategy then. The Ministry and the public can't be trusted, so it's preferable for werewolves to band together and turn their backs on the world that has shunned them."
Lupin looked down. "It isn't the first time I've wondered why the hell I bother," he said. "And if I hadn't made a handful of friends while I was at school, I don't know that I wouldn't be one of that band."
None of them spoke for a moment, then Dumbledore stood. "I could bury you alive with empty platitudes, Remus, but I won't. I'll leave you with only this: you have made choices in your life that have put you where you are today. You chose to come to Hogwarts, to live in relative secrecy, to take responsibility for your condition even though you were not at fault for it. You chose to make friends among the students, and you chose to carry those friendships with you. You've chosen to find ways not to accept the Ministry's handouts, and to make as normal a life for yourself as you could.
"In many ways, Remus, your choices have been among the most admirable I've ever seen, and I regret that your tenure of influence at Hogwarts was so short. Many students could have benefited from your example, particularly after it became known that you were a werewolf. You would have challenged their perceptions, one lesson at a time, one year at a time, until a generation finally grew up with the expectation that lycanthropy was an unfortunate circumstance marring the life of an otherwise normal and likable and influential wizard.
"You chose a different path, though, and I understood your decision when you gave it to me, and I understand it now. And, if you choose not to try to persuade the werewolves to give our world another chance, I will understand that decision as well. I trust your judgment, and I trust you to make the right choices. You are there to gather information—I have reasons to believe that Greyback is siding with Voldemort, and I wish to know how many werewolves he is influencing to join him. What you do beyond finding that information is your choice, and I shall leave you to it."
Lupin didn't look up as Dumbledore left the room, shutting the door behind him. For a few minutes, Severus and Lupin sat in silence, and Severus wasn't sure he wasn't infringing on Lupin's contemplation. When he tried to let go of Lupin's hand, though, Lupin squeezed his hand tighter, holding him in place. After a few minutes, Severus turned to slide his arms around Lupin's shoulders, and Lupin leaned his head against Severus' chest.
"I think you understand now," Severus whispered against Lupin's hair.
"What would you do if you were in my place?"
Severus shrugged. "I do what I can with the children of my peers," he said. "I express my displeasure when Draco is blatantly rude to Minerva or the headmaster, I make it clear that there is to be no hexing of Muggle-born students in the corridors. Sometimes I look the other way and let other people handle discipline so that I don't jeopardize my position in that circle. I can't change the way a child like Draco Malfoy has been brought up, and his father had eleven years of influence before I much more than met the boy. I can try to instill a sense of what is and what is not acceptable and appropriate behavior. So, while he might well hate Muggle-borns with the same disdain that his father does, perhaps he will learn not to express it by killing them. That, in my opinion, is a lofty enough goal with privileged pureblood brats."
Lupin exhaled sharply, not quite a laugh, but a sound of amusement.
"That doesn't really answer your question, though, does it? I don't know what I'd do if I were in your position. Perhaps try to show them what they're missing by living their entire lives in the forest. I wonder how many of them have ever tasted chocolate?"
"You think I ought to bribe them," Lupin said.
"Hardly. But perhaps show them a few good things that come out of our world, and perhaps they won't be inclined to throw the baby out with the bath water as it were." Lupin nodded, and Severus moved his hands to Lupin's face. "Know what I would do if I were you?"
Severus looked into Lupin's eyes, and it was like staring into a deep pool. He didn't need to be a Legilimens to see the first layer of Lupin's mind; it was right there, like a scene behind an open window. "I would think about more pleasant things right now."
"Really?" Lupin asked, running a hand over Severus' chest. "Any suggestions?"
"Not off hand," Severus murmured, leaning his head towards Lupin. As their lips touched, he whispered, "But surely between us we could think of a few."
"Surely," Lupin agreed.
Their lips met again, then a third time before they both stopped pretending to be shy or restrained. Severus thrust his tongue into Lupin's mouth, and Lupin tilted his head back, accepting Severus' advances for a moment before taking control of the situation himself. If only they could find a way to strike balances elsewhere as easily as they found ways to share their kisses, life would be easier on all accounts. They spent a few minutes or seconds or hours advancing on and surrendering to each other, and somehow Lupin was lying on the sofa, his head resting on the arm, while Severus trailed soft, wet kisses along his jaw while Lupin massaged his shoulders and back and arched his neck to meet Severus' mouth.
Lost in each other as they were, the sound of a throat being cleared was a rude intrusion, and they bolted apart, both wide-eyed and flushed and fumbling for their wands.
Time has an odd way of either coming to a screeching halt or careening wildly out of control when one is faced with a potentially humiliating situation. It chose a screeching halt for this occasion, which gave Severus ample time to think it over. In retrospect, he wished he hadn't reacted so quickly, as it gave the impression that he thought he was doing something wrong.
If he did have enough of a conscience to feel guilt at being caught snogging Lupin, it wasn't something he preferred the world to know about. On another level altogether, he wasn't ashamed of it. If others had a problem, it was their problem, not his. He had a general distaste for people knowing what he was up to, but when it came down to it, being caught with Lupin was little different than being caught with a girl behind the greenhouses when he was fourteen. At least, he told himself that.
But, Bertha Jorkins teasing him about kissing Florence Nattery was a bit different from a hated enemy like Sirius Black standing in the doorway with his eyes narrowed and his arms folded when Severus had been crawling over a purported rival who happened to be a good friend of the hated enemy.
Not one of the three of them spoke a word until, after an eternity of silence, Lupin said, "Hello, Sirius."
"Shut up," Sirius replied, never taking his eyes off Severus. "And you, get out."
"Sirius, I think we should sit down and discuss this like rational adults—"
"I'm not discussing anything. I want him—" Sirius jabbed his wand towards Severus "—out of my house. I'm going to be downstairs, and I swear, Snape, if you're not walking out the front door in five minutes, I'm going to do something to earn a twelve-year stay in Azkaban." He turned on his heel and stalked out of the room, slamming the door hard enough to rattle the walls.
Severus narrowed his eyes at the spot Sirius had just vacated, and he only turned to look at Lupin when he felt a hand on his back.
"I'm fine," Severus replied.
"I need to talk to him," Lupin said, and Severus nodded jerkily. "Are you going to leave or..."
"Yes. I think your friend labors under the delusion that I'd rather be here than at my own house. Pity his only means of lashing out is such an impotent command."
Lupin lowered his eyes. "Shall I come to your house this evening or should I not bother."
"How long do you think you'll be here?"
"I've no idea."
"Right, Lupin. Let me go home and just sit there and wait for you. I'll keep my schedule clear in case you make the time." Unfortunately, the grandfather clock downstairs chose that moment to strike nine, and Lupin looked at the clock on the mantle.
"I realize it isn't fair of me to ask you to put your plans on hold for me," Lupin said, his voice carrying a faint note of irony. "After I've spoken with Sirius, why don't I come to your house, and if your busy schedule permits, perhaps we could spend a few hours together. If, of course, you can pencil me in."
Severus closed his eyes and lowered his head. Do not cut off your nose to spite your face, he told himself. This isn't a matter of pride.
"Severus, look at me."
He opened his eyes and looked at Lupin.
"Do not force me to choose between you and Sirius."
Give me a little credit for intelligence, Severus thought bitterly. If I forced you to choose, I know who would have the losing end of the deal. He sighed and said aloud, "I'm sure I'll be there unless something unforeseen comes up."
"I'll come as soon as I can," Lupin assured him, taking his hand.
Severus squeezed Lupin's fingers. "I'll see you later this evening, then."
He let go of Lupin's hand and stalked out of the study. He was halfway down the hall when Lupin caught up with him. "Severus, wait."
Severus turned around to see Lupin looking at him with pleading eyes.
"Please don't slam the door this time. It will only make things worse."
Severus rolled his eyes, but he complied, because Lupin had asked it of him.
After Severus was gone, Remus made a quick circuit of the downstairs rooms, looking for Sirius. He found him in the sitting room, looking out the window.
"Well," Remus said when the silence threatened to crush them with its weight, "I hadn't really intended you to find out quite like that."
"How long has this been going on?" Sirius asked, not turning around.
"Not long," Remus replied. "A couple of weeks? Three maybe?" He settled into a chair and leaned back, making an attempt to be casual. "Don't you want to come sit down?"
"No. So, since we moved in here, in other words."
"Do you have any idea how disgusting this is?"
Remus folded his arms and looked down. "What?" he asked. "Me, or my relationship with Severus?"
Sirius turned around at that and leaned against the window frame, his arms folded across his chest as well. "Look," he said, "if this is the lifestyle you want to lead—"
"It isn't a lifestyle," Remus interrupted. "It's a relationship."
"Whatever. I'm not in the mood to argue semantics. If you want to have a five-way fuckfest with other men, that's your business, Remus. I could have lived the remainder of my life very happily not knowing your tastes, but if you'd rather have a hairy bum than a sweet pussy, that's your business."
Remus just stared at him. "I can't believe you just said that."
"Yeah, well. I can't believe I just walked in on you and Snivellus."
"That is not his name."
"It's a fuck of a lot better than anything else I can think of to call him at the moment."
"His name is Severus."
"And I suppose that when he talks about me, he says only the sweetest things."
"Actually, Sirius, this might come as a shock to you, but it isn't often that Severus and I bring you up in discussion. And on the odd occasions that he has made disparaging remarks in my hearing, I've called him on it. Though at the moment, I'm tending to side with him."
Sirius stalked across the room and flung himself into another chair, his lips pressed into a thin line. "What do you want me to say, Remus?"
Remus thought about that for a moment. It was a good question, actually. What did he want Sirius to say? "I don't know. That even if you don't approve of my choices, you still value my friendship enough to—"
"Even if I don't approve of your choices, I still value your friendship enough to be sitting here talking to you about it instead of telling you to pack your bags and get the hell out of my house."
Remus looked down. It seemed that everyone who found out about him and Severus took it a little worse than the last person had.
"You know what I want you to say?" Sirius asked.
"That you understand that this is a fucking big shock and that it's okay that I'm not pleased to find out that you're boning that greasy git. Or are you giving him arse?"
"I find remarks like that offensive, Sirius."
"It's an honest question."
"And just as I wouldn't give you the details of what I did with a woman, I'm not giving you the details of what I do with Severus."
Sirius sighed and closed his eyes. "Why Snape?" Remus had to think about that one, too, and his lack of an immediate answer seemed to prod Sirius along. "Were you just that desperate?"
"No. I chose to pursue a relationship with Severus because I wanted to."
"But why? What do you see in him?" Again, Remus didn't have an immediate response, and Sirius continued. "I'm sorry if I over-reacted. I'm trying to understand now. Really. Why Severus Snape, of all the—people? Men specifically? Were you... did you prefer boys all through school? When did that happen? Damn it, Remus! When I think of the times we shared showers and... and slept in the same bed... and..."
"Your arse was safe all those years," Remus snapped. "And the word you were looking for is 'gay'. Am I a gay man? Severus is the first and only man I've ever slept with or cared about in that sense. You take that one and work it out and when you do, be sure to tell me because I keep asking myself the same thing."
Sirius nodded. "All right. Why Snape?"
It was still a good question. Remus finally had an answer for it, though. Not the best answer and not the most honest one he'd ever crafted, but one he hoped would be enough to get Sirius to drop it. "Because it seemed like there had to be something under all the prickles and stings, and I wanted to know what it was. And I liked what I found."
"What did you find?" Sirius sounded a bit more like the old friend.
"Intelligence, wit—don't look at me like that." Sirius wore a disbelieving look on his face, but he smoothed it away to an almost comically neutral one. "He's a challenge. It's like trying to get a stray dog to come to you, and the first time he lets you touch him, it's a thrill. And even after he comes and lets you scratch his ears, he still sits just out of your reach and watches you like he's afraid you might start throwing rocks at him." Remus stopped suddenly, wondering if he'd said too much. "Don't tell Severus I told you that."
"I don't intend to speak to Severus any time soon," Sirius replied. "Intelligent, witty, a challenge. Those are reasons you might get to know someone better, yes. But how do you get to the part where you're snogging in the parlor?"
"Why do any two people become intimate? It feels good. It feels good to be in his arms, and it's gratifying to be the center of his attention, and it's an accomplishment to hear him moan."
"I did not need to hear that."
"Then you probably don't want to know that he's a good lover, either."
"Well, you asked why him, so I'm telling you. You can listen. He is a good lover—"
"If you start regaling me with details, I'm leaving the room."
"He's attentive and patient, and skilled."
"I suppose he has more practice at this than you do," Sirius said, sounding a bit smug.
"If you want to know the finer details of Severus' sex life, I suggest you ask him. I'm not gracing that with a response."
Sirius rolled his eyes.
"And he has a kindness to him—" Sirius laughed outright at this, and Remus scowled at him. "If you ever bothered to get to know him, you'd see it, too. He stayed with me after I went back to the Shrieking Shack after the last full moon."
"I've stayed with you plenty of times."
"Not the same. You've been there if I asked for anything, and you've given me a place to sleep, but he took care of me. No one's taken care of me since I was sixteen."
"I could take care of you. I can be witty and intelligent."
Remus stared at him for a minute, then frowned. "Did I just hear you correctly? Are you suggesting..."
"I'm not suggesting anything. I'm telling you that you haven't come up with a real reason yet. You've never made a pass at me, and I'm everything you just said Snape is, only I'm better at it. I'm wittier, more caring, got better marks. I'm sure as hell easier to look at.
"Don't do this to me," Remus pleaded.
"Fine. Whatever. Do whatever you want to do, fuck whomever you want to fuck and justify it however you want to justify it. But you know what, Remus? You're not doing it in this house."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me, I'm sure. I've been putting up with a lot of crap from the Order over the last couple of months. Coming and going at all hours, treating the pantry like it's a community space, Mundungus hiding stolen cauldrons, Bill and Fleur snogging in the downstairs lounge, you and Severus snogging in the upstairs study, the kids leaving dungbombs all over the floor, Fred and George and whatever they're experimenting with. I've had enough. You live here, so you're welcome to whatever room you want whenever you want it. Snape is not. I will tolerate his presence during meetings, but that's it."
Remus opened his mouth twice to protest, but closed it both times. "Very well," he said at last.
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Is that it?"
"What do you expect me to say?" Remus asked. "As you so plainly reminded me, it's your house, and you have the right to make whatever rules you please, however inconvenient they might be for me." He rose and started for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Is that another house rule? That I need to ask your permission before leaving?" Remus folded his arms and glowered darkly at Sirius. "If I may, I thought I would go to Severus' house and see if he would be interested in a little mutual cock sucking. I'm suddenly finding that I desperately miss the way his mouth feels—"
Remus made a rude gesture and stalked out of the house, slamming the door himself for once.
When he arrived at Severus' house, all the lights were out and for a moment, Remus worried that Severus wouldn't be there and he'd have to return to London too soon for his pride to handle the jolt. He knocked on the door, though, and a moment later, a light came on, then the curtains parted just enough for a shaft of light to escape the window as Severus peered out. The curtains fell shut again, and the door opened. Severus said nothing.
"May I come in?" Remus asked after a moment.
Severus moved to one side and Remus stepped through the door. Severus closed it behind him.
"You haven't spoken yet," Remus said. "That can't be good."
"Did you smooth everything over with him?" Severus asked at last, his voice controlled.
"I don't know that I'd go that far," Remus replied. "He didn't kick me out of the house and he has graciously agreed to allow you to return for meetings."
"Needless to say, he isn't overly happy with me."
"Don't give a damn?"
That brought a hint of a smile to Severus' face and he gestured to the table. "Something to drink?"
"Sure. Whatever you have."
Severus pulled out a bottle of dark liquid and two glasses, which he filled halfway. "Elderberry wine," he said as he placed one on the table in front of Remus.
"Not at all. So, what happened?"
Remus took a sip of the wine and shrugged. "I'm a bit miffed at him. If he weren't a friend, I'd have hexed him."
"Do you know how to hex people?" Severus asked. Remus narrowed his eyes and Severus frowned. "No, really. Do you?"
"Yes, I know how to hex people," Remus said, exasperated by the question. "I also know how to punch them, and Sirius almost got that too."
Severus smirked. "You didn't, though? Pity."
Remus scowled. "I was miffed with him for being less understanding about my relationship with you than you've been about my friendship with him."
The amused expression fell from Severus' face. "Well, haven't we let him spoil enough of our fun for one evening?"
Remus felt his cock stirring at the suggestion of a suggestion. "We'll have to work extra hard to make up for the lost time," he said.
Severus sighed a theatrical sigh. "I suppose we'll manage if we're dedicated."
"Shall we discuss it upstairs, then?" Remus asked.
"I suppose we might be more comfortable. Go on. I'll be up in a minute."
Remus raised an eyebrow, but gathered the bottle of wine and his glass and went upstairs. Sinking onto the bed, he looked at the wine bottle, then glanced around the room with the realization that if he were waiting for a woman, he would have lit candles and put on soft music. Perhaps it was because it had been almost two weeks since he'd last gotten out of Severus' bed, or perhaps it was the argument with Sirius and that disturbing question about why he had chosen Snape. Perhaps he desperately wanted to convince himself that it was more than lust that had led him to turn down a fling with Tonks and to jeopardize his friendship with Sirius. Perhaps there was simply a romantic in him that had been lying dormant for too long.
He ran his hand over crisp, clean sheets and smiled at the thought that Severus had put fresh sheets on the bed for him. He didn't know if it was true, but it was a nice thought, and that opened the door to another thought. If he got a smile from the thought that Severus had taken the time to change the sheets on the bed, perhaps Severus would be touched if Remus put forth a bit of effort for him. No games, they'd promised each other. No nonsense. No commitments. He would have never guessed it, but he wanted the commitment, and he wanted a bit of nonsense, and the games were harmless fun.
Finishing off his wine, Remus stood and drew his wand from his pocket. A few flicks and sweeps, and conjured candles stood on every surface, the flickering flames the only relief to the darkness. Another wave of his wand, and a soft jazz filled the room, mellow notes floating on the air. When Severus came in a few minutes later, Remus had another glass of wine in his hand and was lounging on the bed, one bare foot bouncing in time with the music.
Severus stopped in the doorway, wine in one hand and a shallow box in the other, and looked around. "What's this?" he asked, waving his wineglass at the dresser to indicate the candles.
"Ambiance," Remus replied, swinging his legs off the bed and standing. He took the box from Severus' hand and dropped it on the bed. "Come here."
"What are you doing?" Severus asked as Remus pulled him into his arms.
"Dancing," Remus said against Severus' neck. Severus tilted his head to one side as they swayed to the rhythm of the music. The jazz was the perfect music for two men to dance to, Remus realized as their bodies moved together in time with the medley of horns and pianos. There was nothing structured to the music, and they didn't need to decide who would lead, and leaning against each other was a natural prelude to kisses, which were natural preludes to arched necks, which only invited nuzzles and caresses and more kisses.
"What prompted all this?" Severus asked as Remus left a trail of kisses along his jaw line.
"Wanted to," Remus replied, licking the base of Severus' throat. "Do you want me to stop?"
"I didn't say that."
Remus put his glass on the dresser where it sparkled among the candles, the light playing off the curve of the bowl and the splash of wine that lingered in the bottom. He moved behind Severus, wrapping his arms around him and leaning his face against Severus' back, his hands on Severus' stomach, still swaying slightly with the music. Severus turned his head to look at him, and Remus took the opportunity to place a kiss at the base of Severus' neck. Moving aside the sheath of black hair and trailing kisses along Severus' neck to his shoulder.
"This is torture, you realize," Severus whispered as Remus ran his hands along Severus' stomach and over his chest.
"Is it?" he asked.
"Mmm," Severus murmured, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against Remus' head. "Blissful torture, but torture."
"Bliss," Remus repeated, nipping at Severus' ear. "Good, then?"
Remus took a step back, plucking the wineglass from Severus' hand, then lifting Severus' robe over his head. He tossed it onto a chair, where it was quickly joined by his own robe. Underpants and socks in a mingled heap on the floor, they lowered themselves onto the bed, Severus lying on his back as Remus leaned over him, kissing and caressing, ignoring his own straining cock in favor of teasing Severus' right nipple. He was rewarded by a series of tortured-sounding groans.
As Remus coursed a hand down Severus' stomach and smoothed his fingers over his hips, Severus lifted off the bed, arching into Remus' hands. As Remus ducked his head, trailing a fluttering of kisses along Severus' stomach, Severus wound his fingers into Remus' hair and stopped him.
Remus looked up. "No?" he asked.
"I was actually intending to talk to you about this before we got too involved tonight," Severus said, his voice strained. "Come here."
Remus crawled up to lie on the bed properly, settling into Severus' arms. "Is something wrong?" he asked.
"Not at all," Severus replied. "I just want to talk to you for a few minutes."
Severus was quiet for a moment, his brow furrowed, but he was absently stroking Remus' shoulder and that bolstered Remus' confidence a bit. "When we started this," Severus began at last, "we kept making the odd reference to setting boundaries, but we never got around to actually doing it."
"Have I crossed a boundary? If I did, I didn't—"
"Shh." Severus placed a finger over Remus' lips. "Stop worrying," he said. "Nothing is wrong. No one has done anything wrong. We're just talking."
Remus nodded and kissed Severus' fingertip.
"In all truthfulness, I thought that last time there might have been a boundary crossed, but I didn't want to say anything at the time because... well. I just didn't."
"Severus, I don't ever want to—"
"Shh," Severus repeated. "Perhaps I should rephrase and say that I'm talking for a few minutes. If that had been important to me, I would have said something. I'm no doormat, and I would have thought you'd realize that by now." Severus pressed Remus' head against his chest and ran his fingers through his hair. "And I had intended that we'd have this conversation again before we made it back to bed, but one thing and another, you know."
"Do we need to get up and get dressed so we can have this conversation properly?"
"I'd rather stay right here," Severus replied. "But if you think you'd rather discuss this at the kitchen table, there's no reason we couldn't. Really, though, if you'll stop interrupting, it will take less time to have the discussion that to get dressed."
Remus snorted, but nuzzled Severus' chest. "All right," he said. "Go on."
"Anyhow, I thought it was surely time to set a few boundaries, and I've been thinking about them off and on for the last week. Thinking about a lot of things, actually. I've missed waking up with you, you know."
Remus smiled and kissed Severus' chest. "I've missed it too."
"And spending so much time with you seemed to have had an interesting effect. I don't think I've spent so much time with my hand in my pants since I was a teenager." Remus laughed, and Severus shifted a bit in what might have been a shrug. "And a few days ago, it occurred to me that I was fantasizing about you, and those fantasies certainly crossed most of the boundaries I'd intended to set." Severus tightened his arms around Remus, and his voice was barely audible. "What I've been so neatly avoiding saying is this—I'm willing to try anything you're willing to try. Anything."
Remus looked up at him. "Anything, hrm?"
"Well, I do reserve the right to rescind that if you suggest something completely beyond the scope of what I'm actually willing to do, but yes. In the spirit of this discussion, at least, I'm open to suggestions."
"Anything you specifically want to try?"
Severus' eyes turned to the edge of the bed, and Remus followed his gaze to the box he'd brought with him. Squeezing Severus' hand, Remus sat up and reached for the box. He opened it to find a small jar inside, along with several magazines. "What's this?" he asked, holding the jar up to the light. Without waiting for Severus to answer, he pulled out one of the magazines and nearly dropped it when he realized what it was. The front picture showed two men against a wall, hands wrapped around their impossibly large cocks. Remus looked at Severus, who was not meeting his eyes, and whose cheeks were tinged with a faint flush.
Several of the pages were dog-eared, and Remus opened to one of them, his eyes widening slightly at the explicit images. He'd looked at half a dozen before it occurred to him that he was looking at pictures of things Severus wanted to try. His eyes widened more as he looked at the jar, then picked it up and opened it. Inside, a thick gel glistened in the candlelight. Remus touched one of the peaks and rubbed his fingers together; as he'd suspected, his fingers slipped against each other as though his skin had been replaced with silk.
"Anything in particular this time?" Remus asked, moving the box to the floor and the jar to the bedside table.
Severus didn't say anything, and Remus leaned over him, lips hovering against his throat until Severus arched his neck to meet Remus' mouth. " I don't know," he whispered, his words swallowed by a groan.
"Play it by ear, then?" Remus suggested.
Severus nodded, and Remus nudged his shoulder, urging him to roll onto his stomach. Severus leaned his head onto his folded arms and closed his eyes.
"You're nervous," Remus said as he rested a hand on Severus' shoulder. "Are you sure about this?"
"Yes," Severus replied, his voice muffled by his arms and the pillows.
Remus shifted into a seated position and smoothed his hand over Severus' shoulder blades. Every muscle in Severus' back seemed to be taut and tense, and everywhere Remus moved his hand, a stiff knot formed beneath his fingers.
This was how it had started—Severus lying on a bed, his head resting on his arms, while Remus rubbed his back. He couldn't help but wonder if they hadn't doomed themselves, flying too high too fast.
"Should I be asking if you want to do this?" Severus asked, lifting his head off the bed so that he could look at Remus.
Remus smiled and leaned over him, kissing his cheek. "Of course I do," he replied.
He straightened and began a slow, gentle massage of Severus' shoulders, his fingers kneading softly at tense muscles. Little by little, Severus relaxed under his touch, as he always did. When the tension had melted away from Severus' shoulders, Remus broadened his massage, working his hands down Severus' spine and up his back to his shoulders again. Every muscle in his back was clenched, but Remus massaged slowly and persistently, imaging that with every pass of his hands, he was kneading away some of the resistance. Eventually, it worked, though as soon as Remus' hands were at Severus' waist, the tension returned.
Every time Remus touched a new place on Severus' back, Severus tensed and the entire process started over. As he rubbed and kneaded, Remus thought it ironic that Severus needed such patient and methodical coaxing, and he was the one of them who was patient and methodic enough for this sort of work. Startlingly, though, Remus didn't feel the need to rush, nor the desire to do so, and it didn't feel like work at all.
The candles had burned low the first time Remus' fingers brushed over the curve of Severus' arse. Remus trailed his fingertips over Severus' hips and the tops of his thighs, drawing light spirals and whorls over his bum until he heard Severus' breathing change from the slow, rhythmic, almost sleepy pace to a carefully controlled gasp. After a few more minutes, Severus' hands were clutching the edge of the pillow, though Remus was sure he wasn't supposed to notice that.
"Are you going to do that all night?" Severus asked finally.
Remus leaned forward and kissed Severus' back at the base of his spine. "Do you want me to?"
Severus pushed himself up and half turned to stare at Remus in drop-jawed disbelief, and Remus' eyes coursed from his flushed face down to his shoulders and chest, and then to his cock, erect and twitching in the dim candlelight. Remus couldn't help but laugh, but he snaked an arm around Severus' waist and pulled him against him, hoping it would soften his undignified reaction to Severus' undignified reaction.
"I take it that's a no?" Remus murmured against Severus' neck.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"So are you," Remus replied, wrapping his hand around Severus' cock. Severus exhaled sharply. "Aren't you?" Remus asked, moving his hand slowly.
"Relax," Remus whispered. "If you want me to stop, tell me and I will. If you want me to slow down, tell me and I will. If you want—"
"I want you to—" Severus began, but stopped abruptly.
"Tell me," Remus murmured, his breath caressing Severus' neck. "Tell me and I will."
"This is your fault, you know," Severus grumbled.
Severus looked over his shoulder, and their faces were so close that their noses touched. The heightened color in Severus' cheeks had not faded, and he seemed to be having difficulty keeping his eyes on Remus' eyes. "Be gentle," he said softly.
Remus smiled and pressed a kiss against his lips. "Gentle as a spring breeze," he agreed, nuzzling Severus' neck.
He rolled over just enough to reach the jar on the bedside table and dipped his fingers into it. Severus closed his eyes as Remus massaged the gel between his buttocks, and he caught his lower lip between his teeth as Remus pressed a fingertip shallowly into him.
"Relax," Remus whispered again, pulling Severus against him. "Trust me." Pressing his finger in little by little, Remus nuzzled Severus' shoulder and neck, whispering words of reassurance and coaxing Severus not to fight him. Bit by bit, Severus relaxed until at last, Remus could remove his hand entirely and then slowly press his finger back into him.
He considered giving Severus warning, but he decided that as tense as Severus was, it was likely to cause them to have to start at the beginning again, so Remus gave no indication of what he was going to do before he replaced his finger with his cock. He was halfway in before Severus' eyes widened, as though he'd just realized what was happening.
"Shh," Remus whispered, wrapping his hand around Severus' cock again. "It's all right."
It was a test of his willpower to hold still and give Severus the opportunity to adjust to such an intimate invasion, but Remus survived the ordeal, then survived the first few painstaking minutes of torturously slow strokes that could hardly be called thrusts. Only when Severus began to move against Remus' hand did Remus begin a shallow thrusting that was exquisite after such restraint.
"Yes?" Remus whispered, his ability to speak coherently crushed under the strain of maintaining his gentle pace.
"Yes," Severus replied, his breathing ragged.
Remus gained speed and depth slowly, listening and watching for any indication that Severus was uncomfortable and not telling him about it. All he saw was Severus' eyelids twitching and fluttering, his lips slightly parted, and all he heard was the ragged, raspy breathing that told him Severus was enjoying himself. As long as he could hear that uneven breathing, everything was fine—Severus had the self-control of a mountain, and it was a sign that he was losing himself in the pleasure that Remus could hear any difference at all.
The first moan was musical, and Remus felt a measure of his own self-control slipping away. There was something about this—about having two hands free to caress Severus' chest and cock, about feeling Severus' head against his shoulder, about being face-level with him—that made it better than anything they'd done yet. Talented mouths and skilled fingers were extraordinary, but thrusting into him and holding him against his chest was right. He hadn't even realized he'd been longing for this connection.
Some of the candles had burned out completely and the rest were flickering low when Severus stiffened, his breath catching.
"Don't hold back," Remus whispered, his hand stroking with a deliberate slowness even as he increased the pace of his thrusting.
Severus made a tortured noise that crossed a whimper and a groan, and leaned his head back, his skull pressing against Remus' shoulder, his hands clutching at Remus' arm. His hips jerked, and Remus felt a wetness against his hand, followed by pulsing flow that coated his hand with a thick, sticky heat. As Severus went limp against him, Remus thrust harder and faster, and a moment later, he was pulling Severus tighter against him as he released.
Panting, he leaned his head against the back of Severus' shoulder, and they lay unmoving in the darkening room.
Finally, Severus rolled out of Remus' arms and retrieved his wand. Cleaning spells, drying spells, spells to put out the candles—magic was very convenient in moments when one didn't want to move but knew one had to do something before surrendering to the desire to sleep. When Severus crawled back into bed and settled into Remus' arms, they were face to face, and Remus could feel Severus' heart beating against his own.
Lifting a hand to smooth Severus' hair from his face, Remus leaned forward and kissed him gently. "I—" he began, but Severus interrupted him with another kiss.
"Don't," he whispered. "It'll only make it harder when go back to Hogwarts."
Remus nodded, tightening his arms around him. "Not saying it doesn't make it not true."