A/N: Yes, it does have a sequel. About five of them, to be accurate about it.
Disclaimer: *bored* … not J.K. Rowling… don't make money off this, folks; it's private entertainment, and I use the latter of those two words loosely… I didn't create the characters… it's copyright Warner Brothers and some other people… etc… etc… etc… How many times must we go through this?
Dedication: *chuckles* The poor, impoverished, overshadowed SS/RL fleet, of course. *refers all confused readers over to the author's notes of half the fics of said ship on this site* May I humbly step aboard, comrades.
For years I resigned myself to living a life without love. Maybe, I had thought, with the trepidation of severe doubt, maybe at Hogwarts I could manage to find a friend. I craved companionship. But love? I was what a man – a lover, a husband – should protect their woman from. And it was quite easy, you know, for an eleven-year-old boy still three or four years from puberty to decide such a thing.
Hogwarts is famous and infamous, and sometimes all for the wrong reasons. There's an atmosphere there and always has been, and that is what separates it from dozens of other schools of magic. Even the most deadly of times and stuffiest of heads could not break it. I suppose one could argue that I couldn't know; I wasn't there. No, I wasn't. But I deeply believe it. I could back this belief up with first-hand accounts, but if you wish to do it yourself, you can.
Even those grown accustomed to magic and the entire world Hogwarts stands for can't help but be awed. Oh, certainly, after the first few months you're not expected to be awed, and you do grow complacent. But the delight of it never totally leaves. Tradition is never so alive and never so personable as it is in Hogwarts corridors, not with portraits and ghosts ready with tales from centuries for any open ear. The future is inviting and alive, seeping into Today just enough to give tantalising glimpses. And the present, which is what, most of all, the time we cannot forget and should never forget, is embraced heartily: it is a school, after all.
And any boarding school has the charm of freedom. In spite of all the authority from every corner, there's still a great deal of liberty. All the common rooms are generous, as are the grounds, and when in doubt, there's plenty of deserted corridors to get lost in – some not really corridors at all, but what we called 'secret passages' for lack of any better word.
I thought of some of them as other dimensions. Time stopped in them.
Some of these quite literally, places you would steal into alone and listen for the noises you never heard otherwise – your own breath, quieted in respect for silence, silence that wasn't truly silence, not with the faint cracklings of old bits of parchment blown by drafts and draughts, scurrying of the smallest inhabitants of the castle, dust filtering on nothing… and after a while, you could hear life itself, I swear to you. I concede that I've always been a hopeless romantic but you could. And while it took hours to get to that level of perception, it was always worth it and seemed like less.
Other times, time merely stopped because time no longer mattered in the moment of pure fun. A small hidden room, occupied by four boys with the ammunition of a good time, the definition of which varied by our moods. Sometimes it was three boys and a dog; Sirius liked the attention he got in his alter-form. After a while it was easy to forget it was Sirius and we would pet him. Dogs are instinctively touchable. And he enjoyed it and gloated at us. If the hidden room was very small, three boys and a rat. Wormtail took up much less room and freed it for the rest of us. Peter also liked his alter-form. I think sometimes over holiday, when he wasn't visiting with us, he would spend days as Wormtail. I cannot say quite how I knew, but I always suspected.
James was a stag-Animagus, but we were cautious about that while indoors. It was a bit difficult to explain to anyone who stumbled across us what we were doing with a stag, a moving map, and three bags of Chocolate Frogs (when an official visit to Hogsmeade hadn't been sanctioned for three months, no less). Outdoors was a different story, but that had its dangers, largest of all being caught. None of us took the time to imagine the trouble we'd be in if anyone knew. We rarely did concerning anything, but the magnitude of this little project was so great that it made our minds blank out. So we chose to ignore it.
And I had an alter-form as well. There was really nothing we didn't share in those days. But theirs were for their enjoyment and convenience, and mine was a nightmare to be alleviated. I didn't complain, as much as Sirius always tried to make me by well-meant questions. Or, at least, I hope dearly that I didn't. But a werewolf cannot change at will or control itself when it does. There were beautiful excursions at nights that were not lit by a full moon that I missed. In fifth year, sometimes I actually rode James, or rather Prongs, but over that summer I had hit my growth spurt and was far too heavy.
It was Sirius who would stay behind with me. I was shocked that he would ever chose to remain with someone else, even if only for a little while, other than James – so shocked I didn't much question it. I argued with him, of course; Sirius and I were perpetual arguers in our youth. I called them 'debates' in front of others, but they weren't – they were friendly arguments but arguments all the same.
'It's possible for me to entertain myself for a night. I might even get some studying done.'
'Studying?' Sirius would give me a pitying look. 'That settles it, Moony.' And then, 'It's not about whether or not you'll be bored or not. I don't want you to stay behind by yourself… I don't want you to think we're abandoning you.'
'Sirius – no, of cour – '
'Because,' he broke in, eyes sparkling wickedly again as he put a hand on my shoulder, 'I don't want it to be obvious when we ditch you. You're too dangerous to offend.'
That was Sirius. And of course he was joking. The thought at even being angry at him, or upset at all, never crossed my mind. Prongs and Wormtail would go out, and usually Sirius would stay with me. Instead of being the heart of the common room, he'd stay up in the dormitory with me, and we'd play games with Exploding Snap cards that weren't Snap – 'it's far more fun than the reg'lar game,' Sirius would say – and talked lazily. So much more talking goes on between two people than four.
But sometimes Sirius did go along, generally because I forced him to go and threatened all sorts of indiscretions with his current girlfriend – or girlfriends, if that were the case. He couldn't understand why I wanted an evening alone, and pretended to faint in horror when he heard I had been in the library. It was entertaining. Sirius was a brilliant actor. He'd faint and then start spasming on the floor, twitching wildly and face contorting in pain. The first time he'd done it, in first year, innocent little Remus Lupin of the sheltered home life and no experience with active, life-filled companions truly believed he was dying and made quite a scene. After finally understanding the situation, I expected him to tease me about it forever, but he never did.
Fortunately, the melodramatics took up so much of his energy and thought that he never questioned why I'd go to the library when I could've studied just as easily in my dormitory. I was a thorough, responsible student – downright dedicated next to someone like Sirius – but I rarely frequented the library during the day.
The truth was, during the day I was likely to be haunted by a roommate, or there was too much chance of a roommate being around, or hearing about it later to spoil things or ask awkward questions. By night, however, I could casually find a seat quite near Severus Snape.
The same Severus Snape who had unknowingly lent his name to Sirius's 'Exploding Snape' deck, the same Severus Snape who had exchanged vows of lifelong enmity with James, the same Severus Snape who once watched an older Slytherin beat Peter up mercilessly without a trace of concern and hadn't helped at all. At this time, in fourth year, I doubt he even knew my name. Most likely, I was simply Lupin, Potter and Black's cohort – and said Potter and Black made his life miserable. Lupin, whom he sometimes helped in Potions – or, at least, had used to. The one who asked idiotic questions and talked too quickly when he was around.
He fascinated me. In the beginning of fourth year Sirius had played some prank, the details of which were considered a little too gruesome for my distressingly alert conscience. ('Are you a Marauder or are you not, make up your mind!' Sirius had once said despairingly.) Suffice to say, I did see the end result. Dark Snape was covered with something that looked like pink cotton candy – I doubt it was anything quite so kind – that clung to him possessively. It was probably the most ridiculous sight in the world, and, like most of the Great Hall, I had doubled up with laughter.
Snape didn't laugh. I think he was too busy controlling the heavily-twitching muscle, right above the left side of his upper lip. Then he walked across the Hall to the Gryffindor table. You never saw such a parade. Even steps, controlled with a fierce edge that even made Sirius look worried. Face set so darkly that there was worry Severus might never be able to pull it out of that position. Eyes with dark smoldering black fire but emotionless.
He stopped about three centimetres from Sirius's nose.
'Haylo, Snape,' said Sirius. He never sounded so affable while addressing any Slytherin.
'I'd just like you to know…' Snape replied, in a voice so low and deadly that a sudden shiver shot straight down my spine, '… something.'
It wasn't the sharpest of insults, and Sirius relaxed, as did us three. 'Well, thankee for that information. I'm enlightened.'
'You, Black – pink is a colour much more attractive on you.'
The way that line was delivered. I knew Snape had a tongue, but somehow over the course of the summer he seemed to have shed his uncertainty and drop-of-the-hat temper. There was still laughter as he walked out of the Hall, his head held high as ever. It never occurred to me that I had fallen with a crash so hard that all of Scotland must have heard it. Rather, an urge to apologise seized me roughly, and I obeyed, feeding my fellow Gryffindors a rather poor excuse. The unintelligible mutter made up for the transparent words.
I hurried across and went a little ways down the Slytherin corridors when I caught up to him. 'Snape.'
He turned and eyed me with an emotion I couldn't name, not at fourteen. But there was a bravado of disdain hiding a wealth of struggling fury, I'm certain. How we did torture him thoughtlessly.
I felt awkward and suddenly very aware of all of my limbs. 'I'm sorry.' I hadn't intended to lower Gryffindor pride enough to sound quite that humble, but once I did it did not bother me particularly.
A sneer played on his lips. 'You were in on it?'
'Yes,' I lied, although, in truth, I was in on very few of the pranks directed his way and certainly not on this one. I didn't like the jokes on other people and instead took the role of champion of the self-deprecating humour in our quartet. But I knew if I told the truth the apology would mean nothing to him – wasn't it Sirius who had done it? And I was desperate to offer something to make him feel better about this whole affair and all the ones before. 'I shouldn't've.'
'Then why did you?' he asked after a moment's pause. He was a wordsmith, all right, but he used silence to his advantage amazingly.
'I – I don't know.'
It wasn't a very good answer, not in eloquence, not in sincerity, and certainly not for the intention that I had come to him for.
He muttered something very much like 'Gryffindors', and then said, 'I need to wash up before classes.'
'Of – Of course,' I said, thickly and flustered, and watched him go.
Afterwards I continued to watch him. I was scarcely even aware I was doing it. Somehow the way I listened harder whenever his name popped up or his voice sounded never occurred to me. If it did, subconsciously, I brushed it away by the reasonable logic that I kept an ear and eye out for my rivals. It was natural.
That, of course, didn't explain why the brief exchanges over curses and creatures stayed in my mind so prominently over all other chit-chat of the days. We were both at the top, or near it, in Defence Against the Dark Arts. In fact, my friends always encouraged me to study for those exams – it was a matter of pride to them if one of us could beat Severus Snape at one of his own games. His games included Defence Against the Dark Arts, Potions, and Flying. He had other skills, but those we didn't have to worry about. Sirius was bright, able to pass with flying colours without even trying, and James was an absolute prodigy. And there was our other prefect for Gryffindor pride: Lily Evans was a witty and diligent student who was never far behind anyone, and usually ahead. I did reasonably well, often distracted everything else in Hogwarts but still feeling enough loyalty to my parents and Albus Dumbledore to 'apply myself' (a thing Sirius was often told to do and never did). Peter struggled – but in Potions he vyed with Severus, a satisfying accomplishment, as Severus seemed to have been born in a cauldron with a stirrer in one hand and newt's eye in the other. And James could outfly him sleeping. Sirius didn't best him in a particular area except perhaps temper.
I almost always initiated those talks about whatever topic, generally Defence Against the Dark Arts. That was safest, for reasons I've already stated. But oh, I was content with anything. Right before Christmas holiday in fifth year I asked conversationally what he was doing over the holiday.
This time I could discern what was in his glance. It was irritation, angry irritation for that matter, for someone impudent enough to make such an inquiry, and also some bitterness, and actual fear. I saw that look and immediately, there was nothing more doing. I would have died for him, or to find out what was in that carefully-shielded mind. Oh, yes, I was done for.
'I'm thinking I'll celebrate Christmas,' he said, harsh and short. 'How about you?' And he didn't wait around for any reply. What I did was ponder a lot what exactly he was doing while I stayed cosily at home, happy and content in spite of my transformation. Because I got the distinct impression he was doing no celebrating. Talk of the Snapes came occasionally: obscure and not-entirely-favourable. 'They've really no – ' my mother had said once, impatiently, when I was too young, pre-Hogwarts, and then she had cut off, and so I didn't find out for quite some time what they didn't have.
I didn't suspect that I was developing a serious attraction. I was male, and he was male; I knew there were exceptions to this rule, but have never considered that I was one of them. I didn't know the signs, and continued to feed my heart, which was moving dangerously to the line where my nickname was appropriate. I started getting dazed at times, dreamy and distracted. But so were my friends, and they didn't know the signs a whole lot better.
My brother died in my fifth year. He was much older than me; we were amiable, but far from close. He had proposed to his future wife the very day I was bitten at five years old, in fact. I'm afraid my parents had gotten several shocks during this time. I mourned not him, merely his loss, but of course it hurt some.
It was not officially a kill by Voldemort or even his Death Eaters. Curious, I checked the Ministry records one day to see how many official murders by them there were. The number was sixty-nine.
Needless to say, that's a fraction of the unofficials – not even the uncertain unofficials, just the kills they dismissed instead of recording.
I'm ashamed to admit that a day after the news first reached me, I was twisting things to my advantage. I'm not particularly proud of this, but the thought during our period of Double Potions was to treat it as coolly and indifferently as Snape himself might.
'I'm really sorry to hear of that, Remus,' Lily Evans said quietly as she took her seat.
'What?' asked one of the Slytherin girls, loudly. One of her classmates, who had seen the notice, told it just equally loud tones, seemingly gleeful at telling the news, and that did hurt, but I was good at keeping neutral.
'Thanks, Lily,' I said calmly, hoping my voice carried to dark head bent over notes in the far corner.
Lily was a shrewd girl. She gave me a quizzical look that said and what's this?
Severus never appeared to give it a thought, certainly never approached me, and I later regretted the whole incident. But hindsight is called hindsight for a reason, and adolescence is the best time to experiment and make those mistakes. It's once they leave that period that the world is turned askew.
What did happen, though, was that I got a dose of acute awareness of a Voldemort who was much closer at hand than I'd expected it. It's so hard to realise unless you're in some way touched yourself. I could laugh and joke and forget about everything but the infamous moment here-and-now, but then it could steal away quickly. There was a madman on the loose, a powerful one at that.
And yet, with that to think about, and horrendous nights turning into exhilarating ones – I still had time to think about Severus Snape.
Other attempts at conversation worked better. Throughout fifth year we talked more often. Debated, more like – not arguing, as Sirius and I did, but there was almost always a difference of opinion. By the end of our school years, James had confided to me – or, rather, to all of us at the same time – that he and Lily 'spoke the same language', and that was why things were going to work out. Severus did not speak the same language I knew, but it was like listening to someone speak French – no idea what they're saying, but you love to hear it.
But in spite of the way his words seduced me into his way of thinking, at least for a long a time as we spoke, I held my ground, and was glad I did. He valued strength of mind – and had a good deal of it himself. I could sense insecurity just below the surface, but above the service was unbendable stuff.
And it showed me just how intelligent he was. There was nothing to be complacent about concerning Severus Snape. Each bit of character revealed how much more I had never seen and never suspected, and I loved each bit. Still, amazingly, I didn't know what I was feeling. I admired him, I knew that: he possessed the qualities I most cherished. Well, his morals were a little underdeveloped, but he defended even this well. And I had the distinct sense of his decency, the same decency he hid so well. The old test that goes 'would he save a cat from a burning house?' Severus was not stupid enough to risk everything and anything for such a cause, but he would have tried. I knew that.
It could be called infatuation based on assumptions, these feelings, but what I haven't explained was, in part, how carefully I watched. So many little things tell a character. No one, really, can hide it completely, although Severus did and has always done a good job of it and would if he could – which is a close thing. But he wasn't immortal. Even I'll admit that.
There was a Slytherin girl a year behind him who had wisely hid her half-blood heritage for her four years. Then came the day the Death Eaters found out and tortured her father; her Voldemort-supportive mother watched it without intervening. Lois found out from an owl one morning. I overheard the scene as not only she but the other Slytherins digested this knowledge. Lois hopped up and ran from the Great Hall – not crying, but looking so awful one wished she would. Several people made a move after her.
Then Severus stood up.
'The first person who disturbs her doesn't deserve to live – so trust me, I won't let them.'
His voice was convincing, too.
We had gotten into an astronomy debate. How we got from hexes to stars I'll never quite remember, but we got into it heatedly. You know, it's much safer to argue over the heavens. Even in the wizarding world, there's far less a chance someone will produce evidence to prove you wrong than in almost anything else.
There were a number of theories about how many satellites surrounded the sun next galaxy over, Pieces. For that matter, neither of us could quite discern why Pieces, of all names. Severus was of the belief that the witch or wizard who had first discovered it was on an ego boost and displayed his or her astrological sign. I was inclined to agree, although reasoned there might actually be an answer of logic. In any case, you could see Pieces clearly with Snape's skyscope. No such telescopes for that family.
'It'll only consent to work for someone with Beaton blood – my mother's family.' (I stored this piece of information away in my mental files, a large chunk of which was devoted to Severus.) 'But if I activate it you'll be able to see decently enough.'
'Possessive family, your mother's Beatons,' I remarked dryly.
'Yes, well, they didn't like to share,' he returned. 'I've a choking necklace that's the exact same way. Possessive and morbid.'
We chose to meet outside an a clear night after obtaining a pass from our Astronomy professor – who handed them out like sweets, quite unaware what the majority of them were actually used for, or at least choosing to ignore whatever knowledge she had on it. Severus's count was on absolutely no more than five. I was for twice that – 'give or take one, exactly one.'
'Oh, make up your mind.'
I clung to the memory of every second of that excursion on the shadowy grounds. Thinking back, I can remember the little spring winds rustling through anything that blocked the passageway of air. For once the sliver of a moon had no power over me, physically or mentally; I was wrapped up in the pleasant partnership of star-gazing. We had to fiddle a long time with that temperamental skyscope, but I was not about to complain.
'This is strong,' I couldn't help saying, a stating-the-obvious remark but one that had to be said. 'Why, I can see Phills and Juno-Hyacinth from here.'
'You don't need to keep whispering. We're not sneaking around the castle on the lookout for Mrs Norris as we add to our detention record.'
I reddened. Whispering at night was a habit, although I think mostly I was afraid to speak too loudly that night for other reasons.
After discovering just why Hogwarts Castle was a prime spot for seeing Pieces, we counted and counted again, arguing over whether certain things were planets or not. Still, we made good progress. I'm willing to say that none of the astronomers debating the subject at the same time we were had Beaton blood. The skyscope accomplished miracles, and I itched to know what sort of magic was on it. Severus would not answer that query.
At long last, we deducted eight, although we reasoned that on other nights we might see other things.
'I suppose you were partly right, Remus,' he conceded softly, and then put a hand on my shoulder to turn my gaze westernly. My heartbeat quickened. I was sure he could feel it. He could have just as easily pointed. I felt his fingers clear through my robes and my absent cloak. His hand was neither warm nor cold, soft nor hard; somehow, it felt of the abuse it had taken from so many potions ingredients. But it did not feel heavy (although not light, either), and I did not flinch from his touch as I used to with Sirius, James, and Peter. After a moment he withdrew it, but I treasured it as a sign of a growing companionship, even friendship.
'You should've worn a cloak. You're cold.'
'No, really. I'm not,' I protested quietly. Then I did not know what to say. Academics aside, I had discovered no common interest or lifestyle factor. Perhaps this should have warned me of something, but although it left me frustrated it did not end my desire to know Severus better. 'Where'd you learn about this?'
'You know – astronomy.'
'My mother taught me to use the skyscope, and I came across charts here and there. Where did you?'
'A lot of reading and staring.'
'How old were you?'
'I suppose I started at around seven, although I wasn't too good at it. It occupied me.'
He made a faint noise in his throat. 'You were odd at seven, too, weren't you?'
Odd? Me? He was one to talk, and I said as much. It was far from an insult.
And then he laughed softly. 'I'm going in,' he said, leaving my side abruptly. I worried that I'd offended him as he tucked the skyscope inside of his robes. 'G'night.'
Even contrasted with his Slytherin companions, he was abnormal. There were Rosier, Wilkes, Avery, and Lestrange – and then there was Snape. I'm sure Avery especially appreciated him: without Severus's help he would have never passed Potions. The month before the O.W.L. exams you could find Clennan Avery going around distracted and sometimes on the verge of tears. He had only taken two extra classes in third year. Now, if he failed just one leg of the O.W.L. examination, he would not be going to sixth year.
I don't know what to call Wendy Crouch of Slytherin. If you saw her, you'd know exactly what I mean by her: she somehow ran Slytherin and was queen, not just by token of being a seventh-year, but by inducing fear and dislike. It seemed Slytherins would do anything not to face Wendy Crouch – even her younger brother Barty. She was a big girl, strong without a wand and twice as dangerous with it. And the idea of having Avery disgrace the House by failing the O.W.L.s was beyond her level of tolerance. She started to publicly harass him. Avery had a bad time of it.
Apparently at some point he lashed out. Wendy did not take that well, either, and the next day rumour circled the school that at lunch Wendy Crouch was going to curse Clennan Avery into roughly six million pieces. Sirius and Peter wanted to see this; James and I went along a little less eagerly.
Anyone who wanted a show wasn't disappointed. Wendy looked the part of Queen Dowager, despite her influential father's infamed 'skimpiness' in spending for his children, having dressed for the occasion and with jewelry and other things marked in my mind as 'girl'd' and nothing more specific. But her wand was poised, and she delivered such a tongue to Avery that I began to feel rather worried for him. Then, as she started cursing, she clutched at her neck. I realised exactly what must have happened. Severus, in his way, was as loyal to his mates as any Hufflepuff, and only a Beaton could have activated the necklace to choke Wendy Crouch to within an inch of her life. Needless to say, Avery emerged from the day unscathed.
Across the courtyard, Severus and I managed to catch eyes twice – before the choking, and after. I didn't know if he either trusted me enough not to say anything or had a poor enough opinion of me to think I would forget like a typical thoughtless Gryffindor. There is, of course, the option that he wasn't sure what I'd do, and it was simply a gamble – but that's not Severus, at least when it comes to the bigger picture. He enjoys experimenting, and all ambitious Slytherins will take a risk, but he liked certainties, too. They served him best.
Then arrived the beginning of sixth year when Prongs and Wormtail were celebrating their arrival back at Hogwarts with a nighttime adventure. Sirius had stayed behind with me for the first time – this was when I first realised that I had grown, and that Prongs couldn't carry me quite so easily. This was all even before I haunted the library for Severus.
We had howled with our quills that summer as he related his problems with the girlfriend he'd broken up with at the end of fifth-year. She was amazingly persistent, and the notes she sent to Sirius were ludicrous mixtures of sappy poesy, angry and wronged threats, romantic flattery, and bad punctuation. We laughed at her heartlessly. Sirius didn't take it too seriously, although I got the impression he was annoyed. Now with school back in, she was throwing herself at his head in ways almost painful to watch.
'She might get the hint if you find another date,' I said, a little carelessly; I knew how Sirius handled girls, and although I didn't always approve I knew there was no changing him.
'Too much trouble,' he yawned.
I chortled. 'Too much trouble! Sirius, crook your finger and a girl will accompany you to Hogsmeade before you can think to crook it back.'
He grew very quiet for a moment while I dealt out onto the red carpet of our dormitory the complicated solitary game – complicated further by the Exploding Snap cards. 'I'm tired of girls.'
This was a startling announcement by 'Skirts' Black. I glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. 'I never thought I'd hear those words from your mouth, Padfoot.'
'I – aw, hell,' he said, with the air of one ready to confess all mixed with his usual devil-may-care casualness. 'I told James this already' (and this was no surprise; there was nothing he didn't confide to James) 'but, you know, I have a fun time dating when we're just talking and fooling around, you know? When someone calls you their boyfriend they open up and let you in on all sorts of things. I like getting in people's life. I'm nosy. But all the serious parts – well – I think I'm gay.'
He examined me. I'm sure I looked a little surprised.
'You know what that is, right?'
'After six years I'm not quite the innocent baby I was. Sure I know. You just caught me off guard – you sure never gave that impression.'
'Yeah, yeah, I know. I didn't give myself that impression or whatchamacallit, either.' And then another glance. 'Doesn't bug you, does it?'
I almost chuckled at the memory of another question exchanged between us in second year – wildly, in disbelief, 'You don't mind?' And Sirius hadn't; how could he think that I'd honestly not return the favour for something so comparatively small as this? 'No, of course not.'
'Good. I knew you wouldn't. Most would. People are weird, aren't they? So don't really advertise it for the moment. Slytherins would have a field day.'
'Okay, are the Exploding Snapes all set?' We played solitaire together. Sometimes all four of us played at once, although that was rare, because always one of us had something else to do.
'You really shouldn't keep calling them that,' I said absently, and then my mind instantly turned a lot less absent. I had gotten dreams of Severus lately – not the sort you're ashamed to admit to, but he was appearing in them nevertheless.
With sudden clarity, I realised exactly what my obsession with Severus Snape was. All the rest of the night I felt his hand on my shoulder again, could smell the rain's traces on the spring earth, heard breeze in my ears. And then came the one thought, a rush of despair and delight –
Over the next few months everything grew and grew. I should have seen it ready to explode in my face – but of course I didn't. The world was a wonderful, swirly place, full of lessons and plans and pranks and rushes of excitement whenever I spoke with Severus.
With him as my stimulant, I grew mentally. I worked harder and harder in all things; I developed the qualities he respected and the ones he needed. Studying was no longer a chore to put off until the night before the matter was tested: I needed to know it, because my greatest test was debating on it with Severus, who would know it frontwards and backwards and upside-down and in his sleep.
There was the challenge of watching him from the corner of my eye while ensuring no one noticed. 'What world are you in?' Sirius would asked, and I would jump guiltily. It was a wonderful world, I must say, but none of them could know about it.
I shoved back my deepest feelings, acknowledging the slim chances they would ever come to pass. They were distant hope-beacons, but I would have been happy with his friendship, and happier if he was, indeed, equally at peace with life. For his wasn't, of course; anyone could see that, or so I would think impatiently, without quite realising that I certainly hadn't for at least three years.
I did try to break myself of the unrequited attraction. It seemed to be coming to nothing after all, and although I preferred it be through me, I was almost – not quite, but almost – content with however he was happy. I had trained myself to be controlled. With my fear of how I was possessed on full moon, I hated being anything but. And adoring Severus caused so many drastic ups and downs over the littlest things. It was tiresome.
Meanwhile, I functioned normally as possible. It was our heyday of practical jokes; everyone would have been appalled if a fortnight went without a good public laugh. Stars still lit up nights where we would gallop and play in unrestricted forms, everything simplified with the absence of human emotion. I wrote my parents faithfully, wishing I could do more to compensate for my brother's death. Daily Prophets still came with horrific news, sheened over by promises that the Aurors were hot on trails of the terrorists. Schoolwork scarcely lessened: there were only two years until the dreaded N.E.W.T.s, and from the way our teachers talked it was two days till then.
Inwardly, however, I dreamed and delighted over each conversation, each vague contact, each encouragement for my emotions. I could be blindfolded and still know when Severus had entered a room, and he took up my thoughts on an almost continual basis. The dreamer dreams and the dream 'tis real yet elusive?
January, and Severus approached me with an invitation to go over some obscure Greek passages that evening in the library.
'I'd like to' – more truthful words I never said, sans the understatement – 'but I can't tonight. Would Monday do?'
He gave me a level stare – which, for once, gave me the excuse I'd always wanted. His eyes enthralled me. They were akin to night skies – dead black, and endless. You thought you could go into them but never come out. Then I caught myself and looked down quickly.
'You can't be visiting your brother this time, and Pomfrey's so on the warpath with her prevention methods that there hasn't been so much as a sniffle in the whole castle for a month.'
Oh, no. Why did I always grow attached to the people who were too intelligent to keep on fooling?
'I've – I've got detentions.' A smile, meant to be wry but probably entirely too forced. 'More childish antics and their punishment.'
I could quote him word for word; he didn't seem to recognise this phrase.
'Liar,' he snapped, and turned away sharply and decidedly. Left with the awkward hands of a traitor to the truth, I watched him leave, and felt, in black-and-white teenager fashion, my world crumble. His tone had been final. No more – I had lost whatever I'd had with him.
After several hours circling the cold grounds alone and a full moon's romp, I had accepted it, calmly. No more – no more anticipation of days with Severus as the centre. I had really been an idiot, I told myself; there hadn't been anything, I had been hopelessly romantic and silly, fifteen-year-old witches acted none the worse than I had. It was hard to let go of the wonderful colour of the experience, but I was still so hurt from Severus's tone – oh, could he ever wound with words – it was easy to convince myself that I no longer felt undying devotion and attachment and that entire bit.
It took only a day to be released from the hospital wing. I found Sirius in the common room. 'I feel like destroying you over a chessboard, Black,' I challenged.
His eyes lit up. I was startled. 'Yea! You're back, Moony.'
'You could have just visited me in the hospital wing, you know,' was my dry retort.
'No, not that. You've been downright loopy for days – no pun intended.' He threw in a patented Sirius Black Smile-of-Dazzle. If you believed him, none of his awful plays on our names were puns. Of course, I had learned not to believe him: every single one was intended. It was a lapse of his usual solid sense of humour – that, and his love for revenge.
I was on edge, wanting to ask how exactly he'd seen that, how much he suspected… but not knowing how to word it, I didn't, and instead helped him set up the game. 'I'm sorry,' I said, rather helplessly.
'Don't be,' he said, eyes fixed on the board as our pieces moved to their starting positions. 'Let me guess, though.'
By silence I refused to make any promises, but indicated that he could go ahead.
He glanced up at me knowingly. 'A crush?'
My first instinct was to deny it, but then I figured that affirming it wouldn't hurt. It would hopefully end his curiosity – because under no circumstance would I reveal who – and, anyway, I've never been the best of liars… at least, not where Severus Snape is concerned. So I nodded, looking appropriately embarrassed.
'Knew it,' he said with a triumphant grin, one that was a tad out of place. 'Knew it. Sure took you long enough.'
'All right, all right, subject over,' I said, grinning. 'I'm done, finished, out of loopyland and back to beating you so badly that you have to lie about how many moves it took when anyone asks.' And his smile just increased.
'Well, I missed you. Have a little mercy on me the next time you fall in love, Remus,' Sirius said softly.
'No "next time", Padfoot,' I said matter-of-factly. 'It's too mad. Second pawn to the left, forward two.'
The hot swoops of dashing emotions could still come whenever I sensed Severus, but I could resolutely ignore them and did. We didn't talk for days after the – well, it wasn't an incident, really, and certainly wasn't an argument, at least not a two-sided one. But after it we didn't talk, which was easy enough; our paths didn't cross unless one of us, and that was generally me, made them do so. January had almost passed when came one day that sent hope pounding through me, slamming against my chest, and flying out of my ears.
Two bits of 23 January contained all the information I needed to have to enact Sirius's plea to have mercy on him when 'next time' occurred. The first bit came in the morning, right at breakfast. James sat down at Gryffindor Table, clearly irritated. It took a lot to ruffle James. He didn't have Sirius's temper – not that he was overly calm, however. He simply was too good-natured for anything to bother him, but when it did he could be moody as the next over-wrought teenager. Severus, I think, always hated that his attempts to antagonise James always seemed to end with James laughing as if the whole thing was entertainment.
Today was one of the days his unfailing cheerfulness failed. He leaned in to Sirius, who was all ears and concern. Those two were Damon and Pythias. 'Snape,' he said, one simple word that conveyed a lot.
'What'd he do now?' Sirius growled.
'He's snooping around again! Blast him. Trying to scare it out of me about Remus. Asked the question casual as – as – ' an upset James was at a loss for a simile ' – out of the blue, "How's Remus doing?", and I almost mentioned the transformation before I thought twice. Sneaky little snake.'
'He's been asking about me?' I asked. It was a good thing I sounded worried – they took it as wariness of keeping my lycanthropy secret.
James jumped. 'Oh – you're here.' That's how uptight he was at the moment. Of course, James wasn't always observant, but today he was especially blinded.
'That's all right; I'm not traumatised for life,' I said, making a movement with my hand as if to banish his words. 'About Snape, though.'
'He's been poking around and trying to find out "what you're hiding" for bloody years,' said Sirius, in obvious agony because he wanted to yell but had to hiss very, very softly so no one would overhear.
'Last year he accused us of – well, never mind.' James shook his head, the result being his hair was even more tangled than before and sticking out at odd ends.
'What did he accuse you of?' I asked, in the steady sort of voice I found that Sirius could never defy, even if James and Peter occasionally could.
This was one of those times. They exchanged a glance, and after a silent conversation, Sirius turned to me. 'Snape said – straight to James's face – that we took you to the Shack and – and – oh, Merlin.'
'I can't say it. I hate even thinking about it.' His fists clenched.
'And that we abused you,' James supplied dully. 'In various ways. Said that he was going to prove it eventually. He somehow knew about some of your scars.'
' "By hook or by crook",' Sirius quoted, in disgust, but 'by hook or by crook' never did sound quite like Severus, even at fifteen, so I'm not sure if that is accurate.
I winced. 'How long has he been going on like this?'
'Oh, he was curious all along, but he started getting really nasty ever since third, fourth year. It must be some instinct in him – prowl about in all sorts of things he doesn't have any business being in.'
That was decided a Severus-trait. I was disturbed, equal parts disgusted and yet oddly pleased. Severus was concerned about me – whatever I was hiding, whether I was being hurt. Don't be ridiculous, I thought. He wants to see James and Sirius in trouble, that's all.
But he was curious about me, and just as persistent in his own way as I was in mine. My mind grew numb for most of breakfast. James apologised for telling me, and I told him I'd rather he had.
'We won't let him find out,' Sirius vowed.
I fell into pattern that morning, however, gradually pushing the conversation to the back of my mind as I squeezed through ever-toughening Arthimancy and Transfiguration. Those were the two classes I was getting most behind in – it was getting too advanced for me, and I was losing my thread. I revived over lunch and tried to re-read some previous Transfiguration chapters before hurrying to History of Magic, where we had a test that I had a decidedly bad feeling about. As said, I was a respectable student, but it was just one of those days where every class seems a nightmare and you realise that you had better figure out just what's going on in them.
Knowing that I would be lucky if I had scraped up a C, I found a loo with the sole purpose in mind of washing my face and reminding myself that the torture was just about over for the day. But before even touching a sink knob, I overheard a conversation between some seventh-year boys – a nasty, vulgar one, the sort I would always start to blush at and would avoid as much as possible. The room was irregular-shaped, and we couldn't see each other, but they were talking loudly, and I eavesdropped shamelessly when I heard the name 'Snape'.
The terming was nothing I was very proud at being able to decipher, but I was left in little doubt on the score, in scornful tones, that 'yeah, Snape's a queer, probably got McKenon to leave it alone by…' well, we'll leave off around there. I splashed cold water on my face desperately, not caring if they knew I was there or not.
And hope bubbled up again. Severus had shown interest in me and the possibility for an attraction was clear and open. I felt odd and funny, thinking such things and knowing that I was hankering after a homosexual relationship – but it all paled, because again I was burning and Severus Snape was every single one of my heavenly bodies that was.
Double Potions that afternoon, as the last class. It was my least favourite subject, but I had worked on it thoroughly enough that I wasn't struggling, at least for the moment. Still, I was so distracted that I made a lovely mess out of a relatively simple assignment. Severus half-sneered as the rest of the class filed out and I was still cleaning – but it was only half a sneer, and the other Gryffindors were gone.
'Severus – I apologise for lying to you.' I called. As usual, I was flustered. I stood so much in awe of him, and that combined with nerves meant that whenever I was around him I felt myself losing whatever intelligence I possessed.
'It matters not a Knut's worth to me, Lupin.'
'Would you still like to go through that Greek?'
He stopped and considered it. Hope, hope, hope all over again, and I hurt from it.
'I've finished with it. It was only lent to me.' I felt hope start to drain – but he went on, 'but I've another passage from Ptolemy. Supposedly from his academic journal, explaining why he purposefully misled Muggles.'
'Even if it's a forgery, it sounds like a good read,' I replied.
'Mr Lupin, you might want to think about finishing with that mess before you chat,' said Professor Essum. He was always perpetually annoyed by my inability to go a year without causing a disaster in the dungeons.
'Go on,' he said, dryly amused at my struggle with his beloved subject. 'I'll meet you tonight at six-thirty – library.' And then he left.
With that third bit, I was far gone again. I had my academics companion back again, and there were confusing and tantalising possibilities for more. I am hopeless, I reflected as I scrubbed out a cauldron full of stickiness.
'I don't get it.'
This was Sirius, as we approached March's full moon. He was referring to how Severus and I were not meeting at the library three or four times a week. What he didn't know, but probably guessed, was that it was more than that on the days I had convinced Sirius to go with James and Peter on their nighttime adventuring.
'He taunts you and makes us miserable – he threatens us – he's a Slytherin – probably in with that madman killing off innocent Muggles – hasn't taken a shower since he was six or something – he wants to find out your – your lycan – '
'That I'm a werewolf?' I finished coolly. Whenever Sirius felt he had to start protecting me with that politically correct term lycanthropy, I became uneasy. Because, for one, Sirius generally isn't that considerate, and I'd rather him not struggle over pronunciation when there's a perfectly easier way to say it. Most of all, though, it's because he always brings it up when he doesn't have to.
'Well – right – ' Now Sirius was flustered – certainly not something you saw everyday. ' – and you're – you're meeting him every day!'
'Not every day.'
'Well, you spend more time with him than with us!' he defended.
'Obviously you're exaggerating.'
'Remus! Why do you keep meeting him?'
'Come, Sirius,' I said diffusively, 'it's not like I'm going into the Slytherin common room and sharing a drink. We're simply studying.' And that was quite true. We sometimes talked of things other than our mutual interests of scholastics, but only sometimes.
'Since when has McGonagall or someone told us to start mapping out wizarding Babylonia?'
'They're more than just school assignments. Honestly, Sirius, you're making a big deal out of very little. Snape's very clever. I'm simply taking advantage of that. You have to admit, you – none of you – would particularly enjoy those sorts of discussions.'
He looked desperate. 'I'll learn to enjoy them – but you ought to get away from Snape. He's trying to get at you, Remus.'
'I don't know what you mean,' I said, in perfect honesty.
Sirius leaned forward, over the writing desk in our dormitory. 'He hates you, just like he hates the rest of us, and he'd love to see you hurt.'
I didn't give this a response.
'He's a bloody Death Eater, Remus!'
'I doubt it. Hard to be sure a thing under Dumbledore's eye.'
'We're Animagi and he doesn't know of it.'
He'd hit a tender point and knew it – I was always very worried that he'd discover our full moon doings. I continued to write out my Arthimancy as if I hadn't felt as if he'd slapped me, however.
'Sirius, I don't get it. Why does this bother you so much?'
'Because!' He slammed the desk with his fist. Ink spilled over onto my parchment, and I looked up, ready to give him an earful, when I saw his face was pale and his eyes overbright. He looked feverish. 'Because, Moony, you're my friend…' He choked. 'I love you, and I don't want to see you hurt. When he finds out you're a werewolf, he's going to tell everyone he can, and he'll do whatever he has to so that you're hurt and the rest of us are, too.'
I felt stifled and rather alarmed. Sirius, arms spread out to grip each side of the desk, was almost on top of me, and his eyes were passionately gazing down at me. There wasn't much of a way to get out with any grace. His I love you had been more than platonic. I mentally yelled at myself for not seeing it before. It made perfect sense with Sirius's recent behaviour.
'Sirius…' It was an imploration of some sort, the nature of which even I wasn't very certain of.
He touched my lower cheek, briefly, with the promise of a deeper caress. His skin was very warm.
'Sirius – no.' It was blunt and hurtful, but I couldn't. I loved Sirius deeply as a friend, but nothing more. His gesture felt wrong.
'If he has the chance to spread the word, he will. You know what that means – you'll have to leave. Remus, you're managed six years – why risk it now?'
Now Sirius was getting deep, and I barely knew how to handle it. Sirius was never solemn. And he was making surprising sense. I treasured certain looks Severus had given me over the last month, but they could be a combination of light and hopeful imagination, and either way, prejudice against werewolves was high. Severus also indeed liked to hurt people. It was not something I liked about him, but something I understood. He particularly liked hurting us four.
'You've made a good point,' I said neutrally.
His eyes went wide. 'You're still going to go back to him, aren't you.'
'I don't know.'
'Is it more than just studying?' His voice raised.
'No. It's only studying.'
Severus could fly off with his wordsmithing abilities, but with me he never wasted breath: 'Tomorrow, same time?'
I blinked. 'Yes.' In fact, tomorrow night was full moon. I intended to have someone tell him I was ill later, to make it more believable, and that meant lying to him now, which I didn't like.
'Hnh.' He looked at me steadfastly. 'You won't be here tomorrow.'
With a slight sigh, I dropped my head. It was the only way I could trust myself to acknowledge those words. Sirius's warnings came back to me.
If Severus had asked me now where I was going, I would have told him the truth. I had made up my mind on that score, and it wouldn't be the first time he'd asked me point-blank of my infamous disappearances. But, in an odd twist of fate, he didn't. No, rather, it wasn't an odd twist of fate, it was his own decision: Severus had his reasons, and tonight he was simply not going to ask, but accepted that I would again be going off to wherever. 'I hope your parents are okay,' he said cryptically, and we parted for the night.
At six, I had determined with my limited medical and psychological knowledge that one day I would be old enough and strong enough to transform without screaming helplessly. At sixteen, that day had yet to come. As much as I pinned my lips together, I lost as much power over them as I did everything else. And it hurt.
Sirius and Severus had gotten detention for some scrape they had gotten into that very morning, or else Sirius would be here. He had gotten into the habit of coming early to help me, and I so appreciated it, particularly the transformation from wolf back to human, because the vice versa is more dangerous. He garnered quite a few scars from when I lashed out at him, furious at what, in a wolf's eyes, was impudence. But he insisted. Sirius never took back his word in those days.
He would lay on top of me, shielding me from the openness of the inanimate world's eye, and I wouldn't have to suffer the embarrassment of James or Peter – or, rather, at this stage, Prongs and Wormtail – seeing the transformation, if they happened to be there. By forcing me to the ground and keeping my limbs in place, I couldn't start to mutilate myself midway through the change, and there was less of a chance of some bone twisting. Nothing but craziness and pain when he wasn't there, but when he was, it was pain and Padfoot – Padfoot who resembled friendship, humanity, and the promise that the ordeal would end. And Padfoot of the soft fur I would grasp at and cling to when I was human again, human and weak and desperate for comfort.
Padfoot, currently of the pumpkin-patch-detention, probably exchanging insults with Severus a mile a minute while Hagrid turned a deaf ear until, exasperated, he would tell both of them to keep their mouths shut. I smiled as I saw the scene only too clearly.
And then the transformation began.
Shortly afterwards my world was on the fulcrum that turned it upside down, but I didn't realise it. I could sense human blood, so close, so, so close, and ravaged after it. I vaguely remember starting to tear apart the trapdoor separating the tunnel from the Shack. I had never managed it before, but then, I'd never had this as a motivation. Crazy desire and strength combined.
I knew James and Severus's scents well, but I didn't place them that night, because no human recollections shone through and it didn't matter whose it was. It was the craved-for food and nothing else. They were arguing, loudly, but while I could hear them I couldn't understand their English and still don't have a recollection of what was said.
However, I do remember the triumph of the moment where I broke a hole through the wood, especially knowing that now it would be easy to work the rest of the way through. I had inched halfway out when a wand was pointed at me. Shouting, more shouting, blood was moving.
When I came 'round from my trance, the human blood was gone, although its trace lingering mockingly in the air. I rammed through the wood and proceeded on a dreadful, insane night. I had bit myself before, but never like that night. My currently wolfish mind was frustrated beyond all measure at being so near its satisfaction, and my own blood had only enough human in it to be wanted but not pleasant.
The morning came awfully, even before I had found out what happened. Physically, I was sore as ever and more so, splintered and torn from the wooden hole I had worked through, and in the stone tunnel I had hit my head against jagged rocks more than once, and to cap off all there were more gashes and deeper gashes than ever. What I could work through mentally was that there had been someone in the tunnel – someone I had almost killed – and who where they? Sirius, James, and Peter, doing something foolish and almost paying for it? Or someone else, someone who would spread the word of what had happened? I'll have to leave, I thought, with a sickening disappointed feeling that added to my nausea, and I became violently sick, which didn't help my condition at all. Madam Pomfrey was as levelheaded as ever, but I felt her hands shake as she healed me, which wasn't comforting in the least.
'Please, Madam Pomfrey – tell me what happened now,' I begged as she finished, in the stark white of the hospital wing.
In reply, she held a cup of broth up to my lips. 'Eat,' she ordered, and I did. Or, rather, I drank. By that point, it hurt too much to talk, but I guess my tacit questioning finally prompted her to say –
'James Potter and Severus Snape were down in the tunnel. Idiotic, foolish thing to do – and Potter even knowing.'
'What for?' I said, although 'croaked' might be more accurate a verb.
'Of that I have no idea and am decidedly sure I do not want to find out. I am equally certain that you need to sleep.'
'Please – did Severus tell anyone? Must I leave?'
'I said, sleep! I'll get you a Draught.'
'I can't until I know for certain either way.'
'You shall not be leaving the school so long as I have any say in it, Remus,' said another voice, deeper and trustworthy. Although I couldn't see him, it was undoubtedly Professor Dumbledore. 'Now obey Madam Pomfrey's wishes.'
'Yes, sir,' I said, or tried to, but was fast asleep before Madam Pomfrey returned. Curiosity didn't win this moment, but later I was filled in on other details, and brutally so.
I don't see how he managed to slip by Madam Pomfrey, much less talk for so long without her emerging to stop him, but he did pull all of this off. This is Severus Snape, after all.
Those endless eyes that I loved – and still did – were deadened, and the path-tunnels hollow. They were eyes devoid of life. And he was standing at the foot of my bed and terrifying me with just a look using them.
'Severus!' I whispered. 'What were you doing last night?' Then I halted as his eyes flashed. He knew, I was very certain of it, even if Dumbledore had somehow chained him to silence: he knew very well the secret to my absences. And he did not seem very accepting of it.
'No need to play games,' he snarled.
I was silent. What to say, what he believed, what had happened – I knew none of this, and those seemed very key to this conversation.
'You did well, I admit – oh, so well. It almost worked, too.'
'What almost worked?'
'Slytherin is suspected of killing. We're persecuted for life. Gryffindor does try to kill. They're off, scot-free.'
'No, Severus – ' And I was surprised at how fast my bleary mind was catching on to what had happened. 'We didn't try to kill you!'
'Black told me plainly to go to the tunnel to find out what you did when you pulled off the amazing disappearing act. Are you saying he didn't know?'
My mind jammed. Sirius? Told him to go down the tunnel? 'He – He did – know, he did know – '
'Potter must've thought at the last moment what would happen if anyone found out. A yellow streak in everyone, even Gryffindors, you know. Thought better of it – conveniently in the nick of time. He always did like playing hero.'
'Severus, you're making no sense.' I understood what he said James had done, but his reasoning was so askew and contradictory. He was nearly insane, and I could see he was hurt and frightened and wanted so badly just to hold him until he recovered and came to his senses.
'And the whole incident is tidily brushed away as if nothing happened. Funny, isn't it?' Now he was just about yelling. 'Bloody hilarious. Oh, I'll laugh at your funeral, when it all catches up to you!'
The mature and logical Severus had disappeared. I worked out what he was saying. Sirius had done something that endangered his life – and had not been punished for it, because Dumbledore had protected me by not having me implied in any part of this. And I felt for him – I didn't condone Severus's unreasonable temper, but I understood. That fragile self-esteem I had always detected in him was at the forefront, masked by a thin bravado of fury.
And protective, even lovestruck Sirius – had he been trying only to protect me, thinking if Severus had found out this way there was more of a chance of authority intervening so that he would not tell? Or was it even jealousy, suspecting my deeper feelings concerning his chief enemy? My head began to throb harder. The nap had done very little good. I realised, abruptly, what a sight I must be, and acutely noticed how much stronger at the moment he was than myself.
'Severus,' I began, and instinctively reached out a hand to his own arm.
He jerked it away. 'Don't you dare touch me, monster.'
With that, he might have well as punched me. But even while I inwardly cried out, I was also in admiration. Only he could have delivered a line like that with no awkwardness – only pure and vivid hatred that pierced.
'If you don't intend to be reasonable, then leave,' I said, with what might have been composed dignity if my throat hadn't caught. 'I'm far too tired at the moment to engage in a one-sided conversation with someone who refuses to listen to reason.'
For days, I had no idea of what I had said. But, in any case, he left.
It only took days for everything to seemingly fall back into place. It two an extra day in the hospital wing to heal, but no longer. Dumbledore came for one of his serious talks that are interspersed with whatever his pet sweet is at the moment, and at this point it was jelly babies. I talked things over with each of my friends.
Sirius was the most difficult to reconcile the night with. I was so angry with him that I wanted to cry in exasperation. He maintained that he'd done nothing wrong. That's what got me: if he had just admitted that he'd made a mistake, I could have forgiven him easily. But no, Snape deserved what was coming to him and Sirius was totally unapologetic; furthermore, Snape was a nosy bastard who had turned on me the moment he'd found out what I was, and didn't deserve my sympathy. Did all that excuse a murder attempt? I asked. He said that he hadn't realised Snape would get hurt until after it was all over, and yes, it did. But he apologised for the effects his actions had taken on me, gesturing weakly to my injuries and bandages.
'I am sorry for that, Remus.'
I forgave him that, and even forgave him for what he had done to Severus, because I knew Sirius had a hot-blooded temper with little thought for consequences and Severus most likely had provoked him greatly – but I couldn't forget. I couldn't trust him to keep silent and still, and thus couldn't trust him for anything. Besides, he was very cool about it, not giving a second thought to Severus's life. Severus's words came back to me, and if everyone had shown him even the faintest shadow of Sirius's attitude, I could understand the bitterness.
Sometimes I think I understand people too much for my own good.
Severus's other words came back to me. I could never forget anything he said, and the scene in the hospital wing was no exception. They still hurt, and Severus wasn't done. For the rest of our schooldays he took out his pent-up outrage in tormenting me in all sorts of ways. I'd give him applause for the sheer persistence, and creativity. Even the trite ones worked well. But oh, it drove me wild. I knew very well the silver dust that always wound up in my books and supplies was there via him. And while it was irritating enough physically, the fact that he'd done it hurt more.
For months my days were full of wolfsbane and silver, and then at night I'd sleep uneasily if at all. My nightmares, which reoccurred every so often from long stretches from my early childhood, returned, and every time I woke up, shaking and sweating, I knew Severus Snape was the inducer of them.
Still, I half-enjoyed the torments. I had spent years trying to get his attention, and won it so rarely: comments that went unanswered, jokes he didn't acknowledge with the faintest hint of a smile, greetings and gestures to a stone wall. Now each new episode in his campaign was another nod toward my very existence. If I couldn't mean anything to him in a positive way, I could almost reconcile myself to being what he hated. But only almost so.
Two o'clock in the morning is a dangerous hour. Even at Hogwarts it can ache with loneliness. Don't you dare touch me, monster. The one I loved above – anyone – had said that much, and despised me, refusing to let me even say that I hadn't been involved, would never have hurt him. So many other insults slung at me since that day from his mouth came back and haunted ringingly in my head until three o'clock came, and I could close my eyes in relative peace again.
The worst part, of course, was that I couldn't stop caring about him. In every move of malice I could still see a boy yearning for help, and that he was pushing me away in the exact same breath was almost unbearable. Almost, but not quite. In the dark hour of this morning – two o'clock, in fact – I remember that everything is bearable, and that the worst thing is that it will be shouldered and beared in spite of all the pain. Life went on then, and it will now. There were very pleasant bits of life back then as well, even for a queer werewolf with a broken heart and a detention record that was in the top-ten on the all time list.
Our last Hogsmeade trip of the year, and I spotted the shade of deep green that was probably made for Severus. It was a cloak, and I knew from last winter he desperately needed one. Whatever the Snapes were, they weren't wealthy. I also knew his birthday to be 11 October, exactly around the time cloaks were a necessity in Hogwarts of Scotland.
You're insane, I thought, laying the cloak on the counter and reaching for some coins. My hands were still scarred with the burns, and the coins reminded me of how I'd gotten them. Severus and Sirius had bet on the last Quidditch game, and when Severus had lost he had refused to pay Sirius, as they were still 'at outs' – not that they had ever been anything but. He gave it to me, instead, a whole handful of Sickles, in front of so many people that I couldn't do anything accept take them naturally as possible. And I had seen that slight, twisted smile as I was torn by two urges: one, to attack him until he had stopped looking so smug, and two, to touch him in quite a different way. And he needs a cloak. Sanity, cloaks…They ran together in a muddle, and I bought it, and kept it all summer, waiting to give it to him that October.
My mother came across it, laid on the bottom of my trunk, and inquired about it. Rather, she exclaimed:
'Good grief, Remus! Surely Hogwarts can't be that cold in June. Why, this is brand-new.'
'It's a birthday present.' I smiled sheepishly, heart beating rather quickly in fear of awkward questions that were sure to follow. 'I bought it early – the birthday is October – but they really needed a cloak. And of course, it's cheaper to buy it in summer.'
'October? Which of your friends has an October birthday?' she asked, running her fingers over it. I didn't know it as a sixteen-year-old boy, but later I realised it was extremely good material.
But from the tone of her voice, I knew that she knew as well as myself that none of my roommates had a birthday in that month. 'It's someone from another House, Mum. I was going to get something smaller, but I came across this and remembered from last winter that they really need a cloak.'
Her eyes went rather wise in motherly fashion as I ended my babbling. 'All right, Remus,' she said. 'Very thoughtful.' She let it go at that, thinking it was for a girl at Hogwarts that I wasn't going to admit to, and I was only too glad to let her think that. It was close to the truth, after all.
She had come to discuss something else, anyway. My parents had been owled about the tunnel incident and asked me what had happened. I told her, stripping off some details.
'That was a foolish thing Sirius did,' she said, solemnly, as she looked at me as if searching for whatever emotion I had not put in the recount of the tale. She was sitting on the other edge of my bed.
'Yes,' I agreed, heavily.
'It could've been so dangerous.'
'I know.' And then, 'Sirius promised me not to do anything like it again.'
'Oh.' She raised an eyebrow. 'And?'
'And I don't trust him wholeheartedly, but I think he can keep his mouth shut until next year, at least.'
She sighed. Sirius was always her favourite. To be completely truthful, he was her especial darling, but Sirius always hated to hear that term.
I sent the cloak anonymously and after a few days in which he probably looked over it for hexes, Severus had no qualms about wearing it. He continued his harassment, too, at a time I really thought he'd be too busy worrying about the upcoming N.E.W.T.s.
One evening that fall I found my silverware to actually be true silverware. Next to me, Peter understood what had happened without me saying a thing, and exchanged ours discretely. I was extremely lucky to have friends of that caliber. But it stung as a sharp reminder, and that evening I cried. I hadn't done so for a solid decade and was ashamed of it, but I had reached my limit and was sure I couldn't take that antagonism from my beloved Severus any longer. It was after the others were either absent from the dormitory or asleep, and I thought I was very quiet, but Sirius overheard me.
Without saying anything, he slipped through the curtains and climbed onto my bed, and held me for possibly a quarter-hour while I finished – and it felt so comfortable to finally let it out and have someone like Sirius there to offer comfort. I had forgotten that he was the source of the whole miserable affair. Right then I couldn't have been angry with him if I had tried. I was out of anger.
'Does it still hurt?' he asked, whispering, after a long while. He knew about the silverware incident.
He was so warm and solid that he was effective as Vertiaserum. 'Yes, but it doesn't bother me. Truly. It's just that he'd do it at all.'
I felt him shake – I felt every single one of his breathes, from where he had scooped me next to his chest. Then he relaxed and, several moments later, I felt him kiss me softly behind my ear. It was warm and liquid, and I allowed him to do it once again on my temple before halting it.
'All right,' he responded to my protest. 'I won't do anything you don't want me to do, okay?'
There was nothing but dark shadows and Sirius, and if it hadn't been for my still flaming attachment to Severus, I would have reversed it and allowed him to do whatever he liked with me; I was beyond caring if it was wrong or right. But I did still have Severus on my mind, and said: 'I love you dearly as a friend, Sirius. Don't be upset, please.'
He gave a low growl. 'I can't be upset with you, Moony, damn it.'
There was no way to answer this.
After a moment or so, he asked, 'Is it okay if I stay here with you until you fall asleep? You're having too many nightmares lately.'
And my heart just about melted toward him, because it was incredibly touching of him. 'Is it all right? I'd appreciate it. Thank you.'
Eventually I could close my eyes without startling, and before I fell quite asleep I felt Sirius kiss me several more times. I should have showed him I was conscious and stopped it – but I didn't, because at that moment I needed to feel loved. That's probably why prostitution is such a booming little business, because it's full of people who aren't hitting the mark quite on but keep trying. I didn't need to be kissed or given any sexual favours; I only needed Sirius there and truly caring about my well-being. For other people, less fortunate than I was that night, I think a whore is just as close as they can get to having the actual need satisfied.
Equally fortunate, however, was that he suffered his unencouraged affection as quietly as I did mine. I can say this for Sirius: he never forced me in any way, even when I did lead him on thoughtlessly.
And after a while Severus did get engrossed in N.E.W.T. preparation: he was intelligent, and also too intelligent to be complacent. He always had time to leave a painful surprise every so often, but the periods between them grew longer. Between the same mad studying and last-year antics, I had blessedly little time to think about him, in any case. He still crept into my thoughts whenever he could, but he had competition. James, Sirius, Peter, and I were occupied, wanting each prank to be our 'best yet', with the clock for schoolday fun ticking loudly. That meant quite a lot of wringing of the head and hands, as seemingly we had done everything already! And, of course, we wanted our last week, after the N.E.W.T.s, to be absolutely spectacular.
'I don't want McGonagall to sleep from that Sunday until our last day,' Sirius said, and we agreed almost viciously. We never meant to hurt anyone with the jokes, but Professor McGonagall was, unfortunately, Authority, and our natural rival, even if we did have a healthy respect for her. Sirius also wanted to pull a bonanza of a trick on Severus – one I vetoed firmly and without hesitation. He stared at me.
'You're mental! Of all people, you should want to do this!'
'Don't.' And, same as the majority of my orders, he submitted and obeyed. Just weeks before exams, I found Sirius cornering Severus in the hallway, both shouting and swearing enough that I could hide behind the bend and not be seen. But hearing my name, I eavesdropped.
'…he's stayed up nights – he's cried over you – you – you who bloody called him monster!'
'Don't take your sexual frustration out on me, Black,' Severus snapped coolly – and then made a throaty noise that indicated that Sirius had literally tried to throttle him. I slipped away, with somewhat of a headache. I couldn't see why I had to be so obsessively attracted to Severus Snape, of all people, the dark and nasty, and why Sirius Black, of all people, the one who could have anyone in the world he wanted, should feel that way toward me. It all struck me as wrong, and very heady, into the bargain.
Then I also heard: 'On most days, at least, he's far too good for you.' And that voice was Severus's.
N.E.W.T.s! We all had to pretend they didn't scare us a whit, and to our nearest and dearest we confessed sheer terror. James spent the entire night before the first day of exams murmuring in his sleep that he couldn't pass and that he was sorry. Peter spent the night more constructively: not a wink of sleep, cramming. He asked me to help him go over it with him, and it would have benefited us both, but my transformation had been too recent and I slept heavily, and had to be woken up the next morning by Sirius, who had spent the night in the common room. He told Peter he had a meeting with a girl to get out of tutoring, but in actuality he was going over potions ingredients and star charts: he told me so the next morning.
James and I were the only ones who knew that he hadn't shown any interest in a girl for three years. There were always rumours going around the school, since Sirius had not dated in years, that he preferred drawing girls into one-night stands, and a few of them lied enough for the ego-boost for Sirius not to have to lift a finger to encourage this talk.
We had to spend a day in Hogsmeade, where we could easily Portkey to and from the Ministry of Magic residences where the N.E.W.T.s were given. Last year, the seventh-years had been involved when Death Eaters made an attack on the examination rooms, and that was on everyone's mind as well. This year, that was not the case. Our first examination was Potions. Our professor whispered to me afterwards that last-minute cramming must have more merits than he'd ever acknowledged before. I took that as a good sign, in spite of the fact that, as stated, I had done no cramming and had only slept. Then Herbology, in which there weren't enough supplies to go around. That was the Ministry for you. Sirius, always solid in the subject, completely mussed up when he forgot to wrap the wizarding snapdragon roots, and it stopped him from getting the second-highest overall mark of the year. He took it in stride admirably.
'It'll be something to tell my grandkids. A lot better than saying "oh, yes, I was second to your Grandpapa Jamie".'
The worst thing about N.E.W.T.s that year was that, in remembrance of the Death Eaters' attack, they were squeezing all of them into one day. We were rotated from spot to spot quickly as blinking. By our thirty-minute lunch break I was exhausted. The full moon had been only two nights before. I could tell it was taking a toll on James and Sirius, too: they hadn't the same after-effects, but they hadn't slept, either. Peter had begged to be excused that night. I had let him, but was thinking by this point that I should've said it was on the condition that he slept rather than rushed through seven years' curriculum in two nights. He barely squirmed by the examinations.
Sirius never ate; he inhaled. This gave him time to rattle off the afternoon's schedule while the rest of us were hoping we could finish our desperately-needed lunches. I had a thundering headache and felt dull pain, usual enough, but also something sharp on my neck that was driving me crazy.
'All of us just did Charms, right? Well, Transfig right after this, McGonagall have mercy upon us when we bomb it, and then our electives. The numbers they tagged onto those classes just go one-two-three. Any idiot who took more than three has to stay afterwards. Then we all join up again for the Astronomy written test, which, of course, I'll only be able to answer one question: the pretty little one at the top that asks for your name.' (We had taken the practical Astronomy two weeks ago, when the sky was clear.) 'And our last is Defence Against the Dark Arts. Oh, hi, Remus. Congratulations on taking top spot, by the way.'
Of course I hadn't and there wasn't a surefire possibility I would, but Defence Against the Dark Arts was one of my favourite subjects. Sirius thought I was some sort of prodigy because I never looked over my notes for Defence tests. I never saw the need: it all seemed very practical. If it wasn't something I remembered, it wasn't worth knowing, and this method seemed to work: going into the N.E.W.T.s, I was second only to Severus by one and six tenths of a percent. But James, Lily, and a Ravenclaw girl, respectively, were just as close behind me. I wasn't counting any chickens yet: they might turn out to be basilisks. Still, although I didn't share Sirius's confidence, I was glad we had that to finish off the day.
And then, on the seven-minute break they gave us between Elective Three and Defence Against the Dark Arts, it happened. I passed Severus in the halls when I was trying my best to keep him firmly off my mind. I cut in front of him jerkily and went on, when I heard him give a low hiss of laughter.
'Should've had your caretaker groom you more carefully this morning, Lupin,' came his hot breath in my ear as he passed.
What? I wondered, and then instinctively reached to my neck to scratch the itchiness. Before getting my hand quite there, I realised that had been what Severus meant. I ran to a cleaning supplies closet, full of Muggle devices for Squibs the Ministry employed for such jobs, and saw the glare of a mirror – a non-magic one. There was a lightbulb overhead, with an old-fashioned Muggle tug-chain. After getting that on, I made my inspection, and found –
Of course. We had been in the Forbidden Forest two nights before, and at one point I had run off from the rest; there was a reason it was Forbidden-with-a-capital-F, after all. Probably Madam Pomfrey had removed them without saying anything, but they had laid eggs, and now they were hatching. I almost groaned aloud, horrified and humiliated. I checked my watch: four minutes left, and I wasn't sure how quickly I could find the Defence corridor, but that was a minor detail. I couldn't go with those ticks: mentally, I ignored the option.
I had my wand, but somehow had never learned a spell for removing ticks. So I did that by hand, in quick twisting motions, trying not to lose myself in disgust. The calmer I was, the faster it would be done, and I could finish the exam, and worry about complete disinfection later. Thus I took my own advice, although Severus's words hung over me. I was also terrified by the possibility I wouldn't make it to the exam in time, and might have my entire N.E.W.T.s nullified. It was especially bad knowing that my N.E.W.T. scores would be greatly used for all sorts of purposes by those with some interest, whether positive or negatives, in lycanthrope students at Hogwarts.
I used the wand to clean, but also washed my hands in the sink, scrubbing very hard with lye soap and ignoring the pain. I could have done so for ages and not felt clean, but this only took ten seconds or so: making the N.E.W.T.s on time was far more important. Then I vanquished the ticks by distractedly transfigurating them into a wooden chip and vaguely hoped it would stay that way.
A Ministry official stopped me from running in the sacred building. I prayed he wouldn't ask me my name and have it said later about uncivilised werewolves running through Ministry corridors, etc. He didn't, and ensured that I made it to the right corridor on time.
'Where were you? It almost began!' Sirius whispered.
'Will everyone please stop talking and give their attention here!' called out the witch directing the examination in a ringing voice that got the desired results. I felt Severus staring at me scornfully; when I looked for him, I found him doing exactly that. I was rattled.
She went on to explain the examination's layout: 'You will proceed through the line of obstacles here. They will get progressively more difficult and demand more skill. You may need to answer a question, envision a scenario and come up with the best solution, block a curse, or put an artifact to the proper use.'
I relaxed and grew more edgy all at once. It sounded interesting enough, and had it not been for the pressure and novelty of it, I would have enjoyed working through such a thing.
'You'll see that next to some of the stations an official is waiting. Some questions are subjective. If you defend your answer, then you are allowed to move on. If you fail a station, your examination is over. Obviously, the farther you get, the better you will do; but the skill you display in whatever you can accomplish is a factor.'
Talk of subjective; it sounded awfully subjective to me. And failing one station was the end of it! The pressure heightened. Sirius, white throughout the Ministry witch's speech, had a tinge of green as she finished.
'Ashley, Brandon, Ravenclaw.'
Poor Brandon. He was the first in everything all day, and the rest of us took our cues from how well he did.
The obstacle course was soundproof and translucent: you could neither hear nor see what he was doing, but you could see how much progress he made. He got a little over halfway through.
'Ayle, Whitney, Hufflepuff.'
Whitney failed before the halfway point, quite probably doing well but simply hit with one of those dreaded questions: the one question you don't know when you would know just about anything else they would ask you. She looked depressed.
I would have lost interest at this point, but Sirius was next. He was outwardly confident, even cocky, but when I nodded an encouragement to him then I saw his forced trouble?whattrouble? grin disappear and relax into a slight smile. He made it three-fourths of the way.
'They said my answer was wrong!' he mouthed, obviously not of the same opinion, but wasn't put out for long.
Robby Intyre was taking his turn when I felt someone behind me and stiffened, thinking it was Severus. Then I saw it was McGonagall, who went over to the Ministry witch and exchanged a few words.
'Remus Lupin of Gryffindor is indefinitely excused from the examination by request of his Head of House,' she said, with bored pompousness.
My nerves were not in any way helped by this little announcement. Everyone seemed to be tacitly asking what?, to which my equally wordless response was I don't know. I followed her into the corridor and down it into an empty room. Doing so was always ominous. You were always on your guard with Professor McGonagall, and, as usual during these circumstances, I wondered what I was in trouble for, and why she thought I would have time to worry about marauding today, of all days. The even click-click of her steps on the granite floor didn't lighten the doomful atmosphere.
Closing the door of the room, which looked to be used for no purpose at all, except to make coffee, she pulled out her wand. 'Mr Lupin, I'll be blunt, because I don't want you to miss the exam and there isn't a subtle way to say this. You have ticks, don't you?'
I turned as red as her Gryffindor pin. 'Yes – I, I only noticed them right before the exam. I thought I had gotten them out.'
'It's all right,' she said, surprisingly gentle. 'This will happen on occasion. I know it's no fault of your own – Madam Pomfrey said she had rid of some yesterday. However, we must get them out now, and I'll show you the charm for it.'
After a few embarrassing minutes, that much was done with, and I resisted the urge to ask if it had been Severus who told her until it was too late to do so anyway. When I returned, the Ls had long since passed and Peter was just emerging from the examination after making the halfway point. He later confided that he wished he could have gotten just one more question – he hated being exactly dead centre in that manner. James went in and failed at the exact same point Sirius had, and I found I had been moved to the end.
Severus's eyes were still on me; I could feel them, and, without looking, could see them glinting over maliciously. If he could lord over me, then he could feel better himself. And the more he did so, the more I cared for him. It was a vicious cycle, I realised, and even so I wasn't breaking it.
I closed my eyes and sighed. You are mental, Lupin.
He did well, of course: he only had two stations to go before failing, better than anyone else so far (and by the Ss you were pretty much at the end of the alphabet) and did so well on what he had done that his score worked out as a 106.2 percent. Someone should have applauded him, as they had when Lily Evans did only one less station than he did, but no one did. It must be admitted that Severus was a very unpopular figure; he wasn't the most endearing classmate you're liable to come across. I almost did so, but – no. I didn't meet his eye at all. Only a few Slytherins acknowledged his achievement, and not even all of them.
Jack Zibwim finished solidly enough, and by that time I was seething. I had started to recall every slight against me by the hand of Severus Snape. I really don't know why, but when I realised that he might score first in the class in not only Potions but Defence – well, I was in a nice temper, cold and furious. The odd thing is, Sirius told me later I looked eerily calm. I didn't feel it – I very much wanted to hit Severus.
I did know that being angry would not get me through the examination. I had to clear those grievances out and concentrate – not for the sake of doing better than my love/rival, but for the sake of wanting to get through the stations. Severus stared at me endlessly, but I had to leave him outside.
The beginning, of course, was simple: I could have done them in fifth year. But I was wary, especially of getting complacent. Later I wondered what sort of sarcastic remarks James might have made while going through there, but I couldn't afford to think of it then.
I had to smile at the first scenario-question. I had forty-five seconds to reply. 'What trait or possession would you most covet if confronted by a werewolf under full moon?'
That was something I wish I could have answered twelve years ago.
'The ability to shapeshift, preferably the powers of an Animagus,' I said to the official.
The officials' eyes were glazed over inside of the examination. I realised they had been potion'd to be impartial. 'Why?'
'Then I'd be able to transform into something safe. A werewolf will not attack animals and has far less interest in inanimate objects than humans, although it tends to destroy anything inanimate thing it comes across in rage.'
'The majority of your classmates would prefer a silver weapon.'
'Certainly you might kill the werewolf – with a great risk of getting bitten before that, however.'
The answer was thorough, and it helped greatly when all points were tallied.
Station 9 was most distracting. It involved arranging a series of keys into an order as directed by cryptic instructions. My mind went to Severus for the moment. It was the sort of thing he loved. But no – couldn't think of him.
And Station 18, a little after the halfway point and the one Brandon had failed, was the most enjoyable. Some of the past stations have given an award in the form of a model of some famous – or infamous – artifact. By Station 18, you had to chose which to activate in order to get past the spelled wall that barred it from whatever was ahead.
Someone with imagination set up this exam, I thought. Not a very common thing in the Ministry.
I worried about my choice, afraid it was incorrect, but went through the others, reassured myself on that point, and found it to work, although after reading the Examination Review I was informed it wasn't the best choice, and, of course, wasn't as many points. But as much as I wasn't thinking about Severus, I was, and the points didn't matter so much as getting farther than he had was.
Station 27 was the one Lily had failed; I knew she was very, very good and was wary. It turned out to be a duel with the stone pillars that marked each station. It had the advantage of shooting out curses at all points, I suppose to stimulate a duel against more than one person.
The next was the one that had collapsed Severus. It took me a while to remember it afterward: I hadn't thought about it at the time. It was a nondescript question that you might have found on a written test, to name six side effects of a certain curse. I was surprised when I recalled it. If anyone knew curses, it was Severus. Then I had to grin: even the infallible Severus could and would get nervous under pressure.
Passing it, I almost let my guard down. The next one shot out a poison before I was ready and thinking quite straight: I lost points for that, and gained some back for identifying and cleaning it properly.
And then there was only Station 30, another question, about which Dark Creature a stunning spell was effective on out of the five choices.
'Congratulations,' said the official, handing me a chocolate frog. 'You got through. The only one this year.'
'Thanks,' I said, and held it awkwardly before tossing it into the air and levitating it, checking for hexes. I examined it for two minutes before she laughed.
'There's nothing on it. But, like you supposed, Station 30 isn't about the silly question at all. It's about checking the prize. And then it being perfectly safe is a perfect excuse for me to remind you that just because this is safe, not everything is, good and long life to you, so on, so forth.'
I chuckled, having a suspicion that she had been one of the creators of the examination. 'Thank you.'
Stepping out from the long chamber of examinational torture, which isn't actually my terming but Peter's, I glanced up at the chalkboard anxiously, scarcely aware of applause. Severus still may have done better: there was only a two-question difference in what they made of our averages.
Gryffindor is a loud, noisy House, and when they celebrate one of their own the other three generally wish we would shut up. I rather did; I hadn't been so simultaneously embarrassed and excited in my life. Athena Witchenstock and Lily Evans both kissed me on the cheek, after which James pretended to hit me over the head and dared me in an unthreatening voice to go near his girl again.
Most of the others, however, had gone to gloat over the Slytherins. 'What's that, Snape?' asked Sirius in a loud voice, although he claimed later that I couldn't prove it was him, not having seen him, and he hadn't been the only one. 'Six? Point two? Ah, ah.'
'Quit it,' I said, to Sirius in specific and everyone in general. 'Severus did brilliantly.' I couldn't say more without sounding as if I were tooting my own horn, and few of them actually stopped. Severus was as deeply angry as I had been.
I had beat him out, and felt absolutely grand about it. But when I saw his eyes, he was the only other person in the room, and I wanted to kiss him until his resentment at the world melted away. If Athena hadn't been on my arm, I might've.
By the Leaving Feast for the seventh-years, most of the Slytherins were saying I had cheated at the Defence Against the Dark Arts examination. It did look awfully suspicious, with McGonagall pulling me out just moments before my turn, and then getting to take it at the very end. Not a word of this sort left Severus's lips in my hearing, but I suspected he encouraged those rumours, or, at the very least, didn't discourage them. He had wanted that top spot as badly as I had, and again I wished I hadn't. I would have given up everything for him, in spite of all the harshness of the past three years. This, Remus, is how people get into abusive relationships and won't leave. Quit it. But I didn't quit it, because I had discovered that you can want to not care for someone, but if your heart is set at quite the right angle and the person in question hits that angle just right, then you're powerless to stop it. I stopped fighting, and noted with almost apathetic interest on some chilly June nights when he still wore the cloak I had sent him October past.
I was apathetic in nothing else, with our leaving of Hogwarts so close at hand. I wasn't mourning, but I wasn't joyful, either. In Hogwarts I had found a place I was accepted and treated on fair grounds. There had been some exceptions, but they were exceptions and rare ones. I had found the friends I had never thought I would have and knew they were exceptional ones. I had been given the previously denied education. I had been taught, and trusted, and cared for. I had, in short, be allowed to set foot in what I firmly believed to be the most wonderful place on earth, and had learned to love it. Even the parts I didn't love I embraced as part of Hogwarts. I even waxed sentimental toward Filch, of all people; that was saying something, and so disturbing that I found my usual humour rising above the reluctance to leave.
Dumbledore had visited the hospital wing after my past full moon, the last to be spent at school, late at the evening in a wing devoid of everyone except Madam Pomfrey.
'I wanted to catch you before you left. This seems the most convenient time, if you're not tired.'
'No, sir,' I said, sitting up straighter. 'I'm glad to speak with you.'
We talked of all sorts of things and yet little at all for a time. That was how he worked, and when he wanted confessions or to get to his desired subject, that's how he manipulated it.
'I'd suppose you're happy to know the N.E.W.T.s are over day after tomorrow – and all examinations of the written sort are done for good.'
'I am, but I'm not,' I said honestly. 'They'll be the very last – and that's too final. I've wanted to say, sir – I've enjoyed Hogwarts. I've loved it. Thank you again, very much.'
'I'm not to be thanked for letting a young wizard come to school,' he said, but he smiled all the same. 'Although if you did want to thank me, I'd hardly refuse it.' He laid a hand over mine. 'Things will be more difficult for you than your peers always, and that means you'll be tested more than the rest. The most I can ask is that you do your best to be a credit to whatever you have been taught.' And I did intend to try.
The four of us felt we should do something for Madam Pomfrey, who'd cared for us seven years on a fairly regular basis – James with his Quidditch injuries, Sirius with his daredevil stunts, Peter with his clumsiness and, although she wasn't aware of it, broken bones gotten as a rat, and me with my transformations and infamous potion explosions. Sirius came up with several, er, inappropriate ideas, to which James refused to allow 'until I'm gone and can't be blamed for filling innocent little Sirry Black's head with such thoughts'. The night before I had come across the ticks, Peter had come across a field of 'the nicest poppies I ever saw'. So he and I went out later to search them up and to pick them.
'Probably not too creative,' he said, as we hunted by his exact but rat's-eyeview directions, in reference to her first name, Poppy, 'but they were lovely.' I didn't question how Wormtail could have seen so much of the poppies and was glad I didn't; they were spectacular ones. What I most liked was when we got around to frankly exchanging our worries about life post-school. He felt incompetent to cope with such a competitive and bustling world, and I had my worries of discrimination and prejudice; perhaps James and Sirius could afford to be cocky, as they were, after all, James and Sirius, and invincible. There was also the war to worry about. We came to no conclusions and made no life-changing vows, but it was a relief to have spilled out our concerns and know that if we were overwrought, then at least we had a friend to be overwrought with. And, most importantly, Madam Pomfrey liked the flowers. To our dismay, she started crying a little when we presented them and hugged all four of us in turn. Our unflappable nurse had never given such a display, and I'm afraid we were all rather relieved to leave the hospital wing.
There were other such farewells; Sirius was quite amused when McGonagall kissed James on the cheek and didn't let up for days on that score. The house-elves of the kitchen, a regular refuge for us, were brokenhearted and gave us enough food 'for Lily and James to set up housekeeping with,' as Sirius pointed out slyly. We nearly lived at Hagrid's for one of our last weekends, and although we nearly starved pretending to eat his food we enjoyed it thoroughly. Professor Essum of Potions bid me a sarcastic farewell of an address of a good apothecary. Seven years ago I might have been distressed, but by then I knew his way, laughed, and thanked him for not throwing me out of the classroom years before. He grinned gruffly and threw a vial as I darted out of the door ('begone wit'choo!').
We had to scrap half of our planned pranks, as in the commotion they simply fused out in the last few days. But we did dye the moat scarlet and fed the giant squid, who had lived in there an indefinite period of time, enough potion'd herrings for it to turn pure gold for a few days. The Gryffindor/Slytherin rift was booming at this point and that lake was a victory for us.
And, of course, it wouldn't have been complete without James inviting the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs over to our common room for a very noisy party shielded by silencing spells. Sirius refused to let Peter and I hide in the dormitory. We kicked him in protest, and he levitated us down the stairs. We certainly lost that battle.
The next morning, with three-fourths of the seventh-years scarcely awake, we got our final scores from our N.E.W.T.s and the overall standings. Lily Evans had set some sort of world record for possible-N.E.W.T.s-earned, which gave James the perfect opportunity to celebrate with gifts. Sirius, watching the preparations, asked him if he shouldn't just stop beating around the bush and propose? – and I believe that's what wound up happening.
In the overall averages for all seven years, James came out on top and refused to hear a word about it, and so of course everyone insisted on congratulating him. ('We love seeing your face go red, Prongsie,' was Sirius's comment.) Lily was second and Sirius sixth ('stupid Herbology, that did it'). I was eleventh, and of course Sirius had something to say about that, too; he was an opinionated young man.
'Eleventh? That ouches.'
I was relieved. If it had been tenth, as I had missed by about two or three points, then another conspiracy rumour would have started amongst any Ministry members against my admittance to Hogwarts, in that the scores had been fixed. Tenth is a pretty suspicious-looking spot. Eleventh is perfectly respectable and believable.
And although I would never had said so to Peter's face, he would have been on the top half of the list if he would have thought of sleeping the night before the exams. He was thirty-second, but he had been conditioned in almost every N.E.W.T., and that's what had hurt him most. Sirius didn't say anything to Peter, which was unusually tactful for him; Peter had nothing to be ashamed of, but Sirius always managed to make it sound that way.
'And if he had said one word about what I was going to tell my grandchildren, I think I would have snapped,' Peter muttered to me later.
Severus was fifth, and a close fifth, at that. I think he got some satisfaction out of beating out Sirius, but his eye was on James, Lily, and the two Ravenclaws ahead of him, and particularly James. Severus was always a perfectionist in addition to carrying great grudges.
Two days before term let out was the Leaving Feast. Families were invited, and plenty of parents were coming in. My mother couldn't come, and I was secretly relieved, or else she might make inquires about the cloak. My father did, however, and told me later that Mum had been bedridden by a minor stroke. I was surprised, not to mention dismayed, and definitely worried, but the only thing I could ask was what the difference was between a minor stroke and a stroke? He thought I was being flippant, and perhaps I was, because a lot had happened before he got around to telling me this.
After the younger students had been banished to bed, we started to rearrange the Hall for our incoming guests. We kept the House tables but moved them closer together, for the benefit of mixed families. Then set up the decorations that our Head Boy and Girl (also known as James and Lily) had set up a committee to decide. Those two were probably perfect for it, as no Gryffindor favouritism could be accused; they were too conscientious. Actually, most of the draperies were purple.
'Purple? Mourning, or royalty?' asked Sirius.
'Both,' said Lily, a tad shortly.
Sirius had charmed the chairs to start singing a motley collection of songs, ranging from deep A-fee-gro, a-fee-gro, a-fee-gro!s to the Mummies' recent hit 'Up in the Attic'; there were peace songs like No more green light, baby, baby and loud, harsh biker music, some Mugglish. One chair at the Slytherin table even sang 'Silent Night' in a high soprano that went unappreciated. After Lily was done deducting the criminal, McGonagall had to give him a thorough and harassed scolding. Sirius claimed he didn't know how to make 'em stop, but, Professor McGonagall, ma'am, he could poss'bly make 'em quieter. And did he mention that Gryff-gold collar she was wearing looked awf'lly fetching? Oh, and the chairs would go off at midnight.
'I think I should get credit for that timed charm, ma'am,' he said. 'It went off at sunset and goes off at the stroke of midnight. That combines nature's-time and wizards'-time, and you said so yourself that it is some work involved.' Hands behind his back and innocent-eyed as a baby. Not that McGonagall was fooled. Dumbledore knew how to reverse the charm, but Sirius had correctly counted on his love of music.
'I say we'll have to mute them, but the music is an extraordinary touch. How did you manage that charm, Mr Black?'
'Timed charms – we'll show you a few timed charms, Black,' hissed Clennan Avery as he passed with an armful of violet silk.
And once setup wasn't quite finished, but almost so, the parents poured in. That created its own set of problems. The father of one of the Gryffindor girls and Avery's father were apparently old enemies and nearly came to withdrawing wands before McGonagall separated them. The noise level increased dramatically, and it seemed no parents liked the music Sirius had given their respective table. The students, of course, were swapping chairs like chocolate frog trading cards. James's widowed father promptly sat in the a-fee-ga-row chair with a wink at Sirius. No Slytherins sat in 'Silent Night' or 'No More Green Light'. I noticed, however, that their table was as sparse as ours, with deaths of relatives.
Dumbledore's speech, thankfully, was neither too long nor overly sappy; Sirius had lived in dread of such a thing although Dumbledore had never shown an inclination toward those sorts of talks before. Then the students rushed to their dormitories for their dress robes. There was a semi-ball, and then of course a quick Leaving Ceremony in which our guardians were given the papers with our scores and official documents. Us boys were apprehensive with the horror of it becoming a teary sort of production, and then anxiousness as the girls took forever to change.
The semi-ball was a nightmare of the first order. How I had agreed to attend with Ravenclaw Athena Witchenstock as my date, I'll never know. She had been flirting in the mild Ravenclaw way all year, and at some point she had asked if I was going with anyone, and I said no, and next thing I know I'm waiting at the foot of the Ravenclaw quarters and escorting her awkwardly. Sirius sniggered loudly as she stood on tiptoe to kiss me.
I'm not speaking ill of Athena, however. She was a nice girl and as perfect a lady as if she had been royalty of centuries; she was kind and more than decent-looking, into the bargain. And she didn't even look annoyed until I had stepped on her foot for the sixth time. All in all, however, I was thankful that Sirius saved me from total alienation over in the Land of Ravenclaw by coming over and being his charming self until everyone – including myself – was at ease.
The Land of Ravenclaw was currently outside, on the front steps of the Hogwarts entrance. It was too nice a night to stay inside, really, and the ceremony was taking place out here. Still, eventually I excused myself, saying that I had to meet with my father for a few moments. Athena got up, but I told her I'd bring him over here, instead. In all truth, I wanted a few minutes to breathe.
He wasn't directly out front, and so I went around the first corner, where it was decidedly less occupied. And in the first hidden crevasse came the voice I loved and dreaded –
'Abandoning our date already?'
I turned sharply to see Severus, almost invisible in the shadow of the three-cornered crevasse and the darkening twilight.
'If I were Athena Witchenstock, I'd be relieved. I feel as if I should warn her, Lupin. She has a right to know, don't you think?'
At my side, my fist began to tighten.
'You certainly don't tend to tell people on your own. What a liar you are, in addition to a beast.'
I should have turned away, but at dusk people stop being quite so practical when faced with their heart's cherished. I was going to stand and let him rain all the insults he wanted. At least he was speaking to me. I didn't even care if they would give me nightmares later from the sting.
And I was able to stare at him, memorise his face; with us leaving, I mightn't ever be able to do so again.
'I suppose she'll be the next victim? The one you lure in close enough?' He leaned in almost imperceptibly, eyes taking on their dark crystal glint. 'Certainly a fine girl. You're picky about you blood, aren't you? I daresay you got rather too high an opinion on what was good enough for you when you donned a Hogwarts uniform – '
For my reply, I blame the moon. And I've a perfect right; it's the excuse everyone else uses for rash romantic gestures. I've repented of it at mornings at the hour of two o'clock, when the forbidden fruit sings a taunting song.
So quickly that I didn't realise what I was doing, I stepped forward and held him, tightly and mercilessly. And then I kissed him. I had never done so before to anyone, at least not in any other way except affectionate signs to relatives, and had only Sirius and Athena's chaste kisses to go on. It was low on technique and high on demand.
His lips fought mine for control, both of us wanting the upper hand, and he had experience. I only had sheer and furious desire. What little energy wasn't going into that, I was using to bury a hand into his long, silky hair, losing everything to sensation.
After a moment of this, far too long and far too short, in my opinion, he broke away so abruptly that I whimpered in frustration. He waited until our eyes locked.
'I told you, werewolf – don't touch me.'
He denied my humanity and any reciprocated feelings with that, but he then slammed me into the wall behind with his own body, and claimed my lips. Roughly, furiously, with quick bites and merciless force that nearly drove me to my knees. I obeyed his wishes this time. I didn't touch him.
Too far. If this is what will happen, I'm too far.
When he released me, I straightened. 'Good night, Snape,' I said, and left, not daring to look at him. I walked ahead to the next bend of the irregularly-shaped castle, not seeing, not thinking.
And I nearly walked into a dark-haired man with flashing amber eyes.
'You – you're a student?'
I was startled he had to ask. Sirius told me later that night that I looked as much an adult as any of them there, which also surprised me.
'I'm Severus's father. Do you know where he is?' He had a decided Scouse accent, I noted, taking him in and nearly laughing. Did I know where Severus was? Yes, sir, I left him back there when we were done snogging. In a way, I supposed I did. Hopefully he wouldn't suspect I had his taste still on my lips, that I was still mentally stroking his hair, that I was hopelessly caught up in desire as much as affection.
'I think he's back there, Mr Snape,' I said, pointing back in the direction I'd found him in somewhat vaguely.
'Thanks,' he said shortly, sounding as if he'd rather I hadn't been able to tell him, and left. I was shaken.
I found my father talking to a group deeply immersed in politics. After meeting Athena, we went off by ourselves, and that's when he told me about Mum.
Yes, I'm afraid I was very much distracted with that news.
I haven't seen Severus, in the flesh, since. It is now 1982, so early in the hours of the morning that most people refer to it as 'night'.
My days were spent directly after school in caring for my mother, who had taken very ill. Stress had caught up to her. She had a busy life, and not necessarily an easy one: her husband had been an Unspeakable for years, which is always difficult on a marriage, and her oldest son had married into a dysfunctional family before dying, and her youngest son had become a werewolf. Making matters worse, my father died a year and a half after I left Hogwarts. He had been helping the Ministry in matters against Lord Voldemort.
Lycanthropy was fortunate at this time. I had nothing to distract me from nursing Mum. I had searched and searched, but few people in the midst of war would take on anyone they didn't know, and a werewolf stood no chance. Now things are clearing, but there's precious little. It sounds cold and harsh, but when Mum dies, I will be going abroad. There is nothing in Britain, at least, nothing above the most meagre and least and work. I would not necessarily be ashamed of it, but I would rather something else, and feel that I deserve it. There are chances in other places, and now there is nothing to tie me here.
It was by Sirius's hand. Still I cannot wholly believe it. James and Lily, and their boy, Harry, who would only be two now, were prime targets. I suspect I wasn't told of all the reasons. It makes enough sense to realise that they were powerful and a hindrance to Voldemort, but I can't accept it. There was some other reason he took such risks to get them, and I was the one suspected of being their leak. I wasn't told of anything until the day Voldemort attacked the Potters.
We knew it was Sirius at this point; he was the only one who could reveal their whereabouts, by way of the Fidelius Charm. But all the Ministry's men couldn't find him, not the Hit Wizards nor the Aurors. Peter did. I can still hear Sirius teasing,
Tell your grandkids that you became an Animagus. It took three years for you to become a rat.
Sirius killed Peter, and twelve Muggle bystanders, and went berserk at around this moment. He was always a great one for laughter, but this is like no laughter he had sounded before. He became infamous for that: kill thirteen people. Laugh madly until the Hit Wizards come to take you away. It frightens me as well.
With no trial and no formalities, it's been decided without really being said that Sirius will spend his life in Azkaban. I don't know what to feel on that. On one hand… I don't believe he did it, at least not willingly. He could have been tortured to reveal the Potters' whereabouts, and then Imperius… and then another part of me looks at how he laughed and nods. He did do it.
Still, no one deserves Azkaban.
Not for life, at least.
Harry not only survived the attack, he seems to have reversed the curse, and it is Voldemort who hasn't been heard from since. Some say he has a special power, possibility a fringe benefit of being Lily and James Potter's offspring.
I believe that there's a strong, overpowering love that stays with someone and it only strengthened when you die for them.
I had tried to take Harry in, because Lily's parents had died in her schoolyears, and Mr Potter was killed in the same attack my father was. There were no relatives left on either side except Lily's sister and her family. Lily was Muggleborn, and her sister was no witch. And while Lily was no complainer, she couldn't well hide the fact that her sister had the sort of attitude toward magic that gives all Muggles a bad name.
They didn't want to take Harry and rallied and protested. I rallied and protested right with them: they didn't want him, and I did. But things were awfully suspicious: out of the infamous close four, I was the only one Sirius Black hadn't touched. Did he run out of time, or did the affection he had shown me come through enough to spare me out of everyone else? I was under watch and suspicion, and a werewolf getting a license to adopt a child is nearly as impossible as it is to not break into a sweat during N.E.W.T.s. That is to say, in plain terms, that it couldn't be done, at least not until they were satisfied I was innocent, and even then unlikely. More to the point, they've never believed I was innocent. Nothing can be proven either way.
It will be a relief to leave England.
My mother had been told of Voldemort's demise and my friends' happenings several times. She's developed severe memory loss, and after a while I couldn't stand watching her suffer the fresh grief with each new telling. I don't like to do it, but I lie to her, saying they're perfectly fine. She thinks they visit her, and that she forgets. Perhaps I am a liar, as Severus has said. But it seems the gentlest thing to do. Her health failed with each new telling of Sirius's betrayal.
She could never believe he was guilty. 'No, no, they can't send him – there. We have to appeal, Remus.'
And after a while, I learned that the answer is: 'Yes. We're working on it.' Because telling her that the Ministry will not be appealed to does nothing.
Sometimes she believes my father is alive. She'll never forget that my brother is dead, even when she sometimes starts talking to me as a six-year-old, but she'll see my father. Once she started talking to me: 'Burcet, Burcet, it hurts, dear. You know you can make it stop hurting.' I nearly blanked out on the spot, and then she went on, confiding in her husband through me. I heard more than I honestly wanted to hear. She was as open as someone under a truth serum.
'I want to see everyone happy, Burcet. You work too hard. You've forgotten how to kiss me, darling. And Remus is so helpful and so worried. I can't make him happy – do you remember the cloak, Burcet?' She grasped my hand and squeezed it with all her feeble strength. 'Do you remember the cloak?'
'Yes, Mum. I remember the cloak.'
She squinted at me, possibly in recognition, and fell into another uneasy sleep. The medi-wizards say she has six months at most, and I'm thankful. She's suffered far too long, and as much as I hate to lose her I hate to see her in such discomfort. Now, at five o'clock in the morning, she is still sound asleep, and I'm afraid to go to her for fear she's in a far deeper slumber that I'd ever be able to wake her from.
Severus loved potions. He liked their power. In his way, he was as cocky as Sirius, and thought he could do anything with them. But I deny his belief that he can stop the worst sorts of deaths. Not yet, he can't.
He's been implicated in a few trials, suspected of Death Eater activity, and always absolved in the end. But I have an instinctive feeling that he was – or is, either one. I also get the impression he was involved in my father's and James's father's death. They were drugged into being less alert, a subtle potion that smacks of Severus Snape all over. And I wish I could hate him, but I can't at two o'clock in the morning, and at all the other hours I don't even try.