TITLE: The Nine Lives of Severus Snape

RATING: PG-13

SUMMARY: Severus goes exploring in his new Animagus form and finds more than he bargained for.

NOTES: The Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest Three Word Challenge – Patronus, slug, bubotuber. ) Thanks to Kari for her help. Special thanks to Isis for making this fic legible. And thanks to leftsockarchive for all her help. Any mistakes you find are mine.

DISCLAIMER: All Harry Potter related characters and themes belong to JK Rowling, her lawyers, publishers and everyone who is not me. I own my aged computer. I would be more than happy to trade.

The Nine Lives of Severus Snape

Severus Snape considered being indebted to Sirius Black much the same as being castrated-- fundamentally painful and not something one would eagerly allow to occur. But as he admired his new form in his grandfather's antique mirror, he couldn't help but feel somewhat beholden to said convict; were it not for the fact that Black was an Animagus, Snape would never have attempted to learn the transfiguration himself. "If that dense, dysfunctional derelict could learn to do this, so can I," he would rant night after night as he attempted to perfect the spell.

It took the better part of two years and every ounce of the little patience he possessed, but it was finally complete. And, as he examined his svelte new body, his silken, glossy fur, his sleek lines and obvious grace, he was inwardly impressed. True, he had hoped for something a little more intimidating like a viper, or functional like a raven, or cunning like a fox, but there was something to be said about this particular form, which was so unlike anything anyone would ever expect. No one would ever suspect that the small, velvety animal was the petulant Potions master. He turned to the left and admired his decidedly precocious profile. If he would have actually allowed himself to say the words, he would have to admit he was downright cute. And, since no one would ever accuse Severus Snape of being cute, no one would ever know it was him under the soft pelt.

Suddenly, it made perfect sense to him that he and Black hated each other so; it was a hatred centuries old, born on the most primitive, elemental level. One could hardly be expected to fight a millennium or two's worth of evolution, battling nature, like the opposing poles of a magnet, pushing each other apart. Like oil and water. Or in this case, like dogs and cats.

He eyed the small feline staring back at him. Save the pools of copper in his eyes, he was completely black, down to the pads of his feet and the tips of his whiskers. He was slender and streamlined. He felt light and nimble, almost sprightly, and he was terribly anxious to test out his new form on the grounds of Hogwarts.

The dungeon floor was cool on his paws as he scurried along the dark corridor. When he reached the main floor of the castle he looked around with anticipation. The world looked so different from this perspective, larger and more overwhelming than it ever was before, but also fresh and new, unsullied by his past and untouched by his present. There was no personal history to overcome or obligations to be concerned with; there was only the opportunity to explore the place he had called home for the last twenty years in a way he was never able to before.

This was quite liberating, to say the least. He was no longer Severus Snape, Potions Master, reformed Death Eater, spy, and principal of nightmares that plagued many students' nights. And, at times when he was feeling particularly merciless, most days as well. He was no longer forced to teach miscreants and reprobates, to be polite to fellow staff because they shared a common coffee maker, to play a part he neither asked for nor wanted. He didn't have to be anything. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, he was a small cat that roamed the halls of Hogwarts-- a wandering pet, a lovable stray to be petted and cooed over and ignored. For all intents and purposes, he was invisible.

It was a dream come true.

So much to see and do left him a bit overwhelmed. He had no idea where to begin. The mere anticipation of gaining entry to the places he could never otherwise visit and the people he could spy on…

He gasped…

The Gryffindors…

Dear Merlin, why hadn't he thought of this years ago? He could spy on the Gryffindors! He could finally catch them in something. Proof of the misdeeds they had been committing for years was within his grasp. Evidence of their complete disregard for the rules could be easily obtained. He could utterly destroy the little degenerates.

Oh, rapture!

A feeling of warmth spread over his body. 'So this is joy,' he thought incredulously. 'What an odd sensation.' Alas, no time to dwell on the novelty of the emotion; he had Gryffindors to entrap.

With a bounce in his step, he made his way to the Gryffindor common room--no time like the present to begin the methodical destruction of the criminally inclined. If he timed this just right, he could gather his evidence, use their furniture as a scratching post, and cough up a fur ball in their foyer before breakfast. It would be worth the loss of a night of sleep to accomplish so much on his first outing.

Upon reaching the portrait of Gryffindor's plump sentinel, Snape spoke: 'Potions master and head of Slytherin, Severus Snape is demanding entrance to the Gryffindor dorms.'

Well, it was what he meant to say, but what came out was a very stern "Meow."

"Oh, what an adorable little kitten," she squealed.

Snape snorted. 'I am a fully grown cat, thank you kindly, and I would appreciate your compliance with my request immediately.' This was verbalized as a haughty "Meow."

"Oh, you are so cute."

For the love of--'Now see here, you over-ripe hieroglyph, I don't have time to waste on your foolish--'

"Your fur is so shiny."

'I'll give you shiny you--'

But before Snape could respond, the portrait swung open and a group of students started to walk through the opening.

"Look at the kitten," Hermione Granger exclaimed.

'I am not a kitten,' Snape snorted.

"Are you lost?" She reached down to pick up the cat and held it up so they were facing each other. "What is your name, little one?"

"Don't pick it up, Hermione! You've no idea whose it is or what it is." Ron had had issues with animals ever since he found out his pet rat was a traitorous murderer. Some things were difficult to get over.

"Don't be stupid, Ron," she answered. "It's just a kitten."

He was not mollified. "Well, what's it doing hanging around our door?"

"It's probably cold and hungry."

"He smells."

"He most certainly does not."

"He smells like the Bubotuber puss we worked with in Potions today."

"No, that's just you. You really need to have that shirt laundered. Did you actually get any of it into your cauldron?" She turned her attention to Snape. "You poor little thing."

"Don't fall for that pathetic look," Ron insisted. "Could be a Slytherin cat for all you know, here to spy on us."

"Why, of course Ron, why didn't I see it. The Slytherins have sent a kitten as a secret agent! Ingenious, really."

"Just 'cause something's cute doesn't mean it's harmless!"

"Of all the asinine…"

Snape got the impression that this was going to go on for some time. He squirmed until he was free and leapt to the floor, only to land with a resounding thud on his head. So much for cats always landing on their feet. He shook off his head ache, praying for the good fortune to have only a slight concussion, when he turned to find himself face to face with a large and ill-tempered looking beast with ginger hair and scrutinizing eyes.

Crookshanks eyed the smaller cat suspiciously. 'You smell human,' he stated.

Snape shook with a start. 'Did…did you say something?'

'You smell human.' The bandy-legged tabby turned his head to the side. 'You are not one of us. You are one of them… pretending.'

'Why…Why do you say--' Crookshanks began to sniff the air around Snape as he circled him. 'What are you –'

'You do not wish to harm.' Crookshanks inhaled again. 'But your mission is not a noble one, either.'

'I have no mission.' Snape was starting to feel very uncomfortable. This animal was twice his size and he had no desire to test his claws on anything other than the furnishings of the common room, should he ever make his way inside.

'I recognize your scent.' Crookshanks continued. 'You are the bitter one.'

'I beg your pardon?' Snape was trying to determine if the cat had just insulted him or if he was sizing him up as a possible meal.

'The air around you is always bitter. You are the dark one… the crooked one,' he affirmed. 'Sour. Broken.' He took another deep breath. 'But you are not dangerous to my person.'

Snape took a tentative sniff of the air. He smelled the dampness of the rug outside the portrait, some nauseating, overly administered perfume, and a sugary confection one of the students had been eating, but nothing else. There were traces of things he couldn't place, but he had no idea how to go about deciphering what they were. 'How…how can you sense all that?' he asked.

'You are but a kit. You will learn.' Crookshanks turned and walked away.

Apparently this was not going to be as simple as he first thought.

He found the corridor deserted and the portrait closed again. With no idea what the password was and no way to articulate it even if he did find out, his plans would need to be altered. And he was so looking forward to marking his territory.

As he sat trying to figure out another way to enter the dorms, he picked up a peculiar scent in the air. He inhaled deeply, trying to interpret it in the way Crookshanks did. He had a highly developed sense of smell from decades of working with potions; this shouldn't be too difficult.

It was a strong scent…no… two scents coming from two things… but the same scent. Odd. So, two creatures were feeling the same thing. It wasn't human. It was animal…feline…female feline. Okay, so there were two felines nearby…and they were…oh dear…

They were in heat.

And they were close.

Severus Snape had little interest in women of his own species; he was fairly certain that even as a cat his proclivities would be the same. In any case, he did not wish to test out his theory at this moment. He made to leave when the source of the offensive odors greeted him. Two sets of eyes stood facing him this time and they looked… Dear Merlin…hungry.

Mrs. Norris, Filch's scraggly companion, was accompanied by what Snape was horrified to realized was Professor McGonagall, in her Animagus form. This presented several problems. By the way they were staring at Snape, they were interested in relations somewhat carnal in nature. To tell them to bugger off completely might tip them off as to who and what he really was and he was in no way willing to have his identity revealed on his first night out.

'Small thing isn't he?' Mrs. Norris hissed, her shabby whiskers twitching.

'Thin as well,' McGonagall added as she scrutinized their visitor.

'And young.' Mrs. Norris was not impressed by the small cat.

'Not too young?' McGonagall answered hopefully. She was impressed enough, for one night anyway.

'No, but too bitter,' her companion answered, crinkling her nose.

'Bitter? What do you mean bitter?'

'He is the bitter one,' Mrs. Norris clarified.

This remark obviously meant something significant to McGonagall. And not entirely pleasant. 'Severus?' McGonagall asked nervously.

'Is my…person. Severus Snape is my person,' Snape offered.

'He has a pet?' Neither Mrs. Norris nor McGonagall was buying that one.

'It would appear so,' Snape answered, slowly.

'You don't smell like one of us. You smell like one of them.' Mrs. Norris, with the air of a true Grand Inquisitor about her, stood looming over Snape. He was surprised to find that Filch's pet had all the authority and presence that he could never seem to exude himself. Filch could learn a thing or two about intimidation from his little kitty.

'Potions ingredients," Snape stammered. "I am covered in potions ingredients. I haven't been around other cats, so I smell like him.'

'How did you escape tonight?'

'He let me go. He… he wanted to clean out the area and let me go out.'

'So you are free this evening,' Mrs. Norris purred. Apparently, she was finally impressed enough -- for tonight, anyway.

'Free and available.' McGonagall seemed exceedingly pleased.

This made Snape exceedingly nervous. 'No. I really can't stay. I must go. I have a…a…a thing. A pressing …thing to get to …now…pressing."

'Don't be nervous,' one said.

'We will be gentle,' the other added.

They sauntered over to where Snape stood petrified and began to rub against him.

'Madam what are you…. Where do you think I am going to put…Do you mind?' Snape found that moving away from one only made him push further into the other. He was surrounded.

Suddenly, all movement stopped as a dark shadow eclipsed the three entangled felines. Snape looked up into the overly moist face of Fang, Hagrid's loyal mutt.

Fang cocked his head to the side and surveyed the new little kitten. Without a word he leaned in and carefully picked up Snape by the scruff of his neck. The two females hissed and whined, but to no avail. With a jaunty step, Fang carried his new friend to his home, and Snape was left wondering if he might not have been better off with the two amorous she-devils.

Fang carefully placed Snape on his favorite pillow and began to rub his wet nose on the top of the kitten's head, pinning him to the spot. The more he tried to move, the more Fang would play with him, not realizing, of course, that playing for the dog was more like excruciating torture for the cat. Snape was on the verge of transforming back to his human form when--

"Hello," a voice called from the outside. 'Salvation,' thought Snape hopefully as he mewed with all his might to catch the attention of whoever was brave enough to venture near this hovel.

"Hello, Hagrid," the voice called again. "Hagrid, I have your – Well, what do we have here?"

Snape looked up to find Remus Lupin's amber eyes surveying what had to have been a peculiar sight. A massive boor hound, slobbering profusely on a small kitt-- cat.

A. Cat.

Lupin bent down to pick up the trembling creature and Fang moaned his grief at the loss. "Leave it to Hagrid to have a pet that wants a pet," he laughed. "Fang, dear boy, I am sorry but I can't in good conscience allow you to keep this kitten. I think perhaps I should take him with me." Fang huffed and turned around, throwing his posterior in the air and showing the werewolf exactly what he thought of his suggestion. Undeterred, Lupin left the hut with the kitten in his hands.

Snape was unsure how he felt about this recent development. Though he was glad to be free of the salivating beast, and to be away from fellow cats sniffing out his emotions or his hormones, he wasn't sure his current situation was any better.

Too much history, good and bad, was associated with Remus Lupin. Severus Snape preferred to avoid contact completely. Denial was always his favorite vacation spot. But when the very thing one spends most of his life running from was keeping him warm and safe from everything else, it was time to rethink his priorities.

Snapes's priority right now was rest. He was exhausted. But getting back to his own rooms was going to be a challenge, since it seemed Lupin was adamant about going back to his own rooms and taking this stray with him. Snape decided there was nothing to be done until the werewolf fell asleep and he could slip out undetected. No, nothing to do but sit here and snuggle…ah…wait. Sit here and wait. Sitting upright. Looking menacing. Can a cat sneer?

Upon entering Lupin's rooms, Snape was instantly overcome with its warmth. Tidy and well organized, full of books and pictures and little mementos of his life. It was like looking into a Remus Lupin museum. He must have kept everything he ever owned, and he kept it all in his rooms.

Lupin's quarters were smaller than most-- a sitting room attached to a small kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom. But every square inch had some keepsake of his life. A worn quilt hung on the far wall surrounded by pictures of smiling family and laughing friends; his book shelves were full to bursting with novels, journals, photo albums, and text books. Snape recognized several texts from their school years. These rooms held everything one ever wanted to know about Remus Lupin.

Suddenly Severus Snape was in no rush to leave.

Lupin put the cat down on a pillow on his sofa and went to pour himself a drink. He eyed his companion guardedly. "You are about the blackest cat I have ever come across. Perhaps that's why I like you so much." He walked over to the sofa and sat down. "I'm a bit of a dark creature myself," he mused. "You must be thirsty. Perhaps I should have the house-elves bring you some milk?"

'I have a better idea.' Snape stood on his pillow and walked over to Lupin. Planting himself on the werewolf's lap, he placed a paw on Lupin's glass, steadying it, and began to lap up the scotch. Lupin let out a boisterous laugh.

"Well, so much for that idea. Not much of a milk drinker, I see. Lactose problem, perhaps." He began to scratch the cat behind his ears. Snape sat up. 'What…what are you… who do you think…oh…there right there…to the left…oh Merlin help me, I think I just purred.'

"Like that do you?" Lupin smiled and continued to scratch the length of the kitten's body.

"Who are you, I wonder? Did some student lose you?"

'Did you say something?' Snape's attentiveness was deliciously clouded until Lupin stopped scratching.

Lupin looked at the cat appraisingly. "We should at least give you a name. How about Midnight?"

Snape sniffed.

"All right, you don't like that one. How about…Ebony?"

Snape hissed.

"Okay. How about Onyx?"

Snape got up and turned around.

"Keep up this attitude and I will just call you…Herbert."

Snape huffed and threw his posterior in the air, showing Lupin exactly what he thought of his suggestions.

"I see you have spent a bit too much time with Fang." Lupin smiled out of the corner of his mouth. "Okay, Cat-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, it's very late. I will be retiring for the evening. You may do as you wish…though I get the feeling you would do that anyway." He sighed. "You do so remind me of someone, but I can't quite place it." He got up and gave the cat one last rub behind the ears. "Good night, little one. See you in the morning." With one last smile for his house guest, Lupin began to walk towards his bedroom.

Snape climbed to the top of the sofa and watched him go in. For a second, or two, he wanted to go over to the door to watch Lupin prepare for bed, but stopped himself. Some impulses were better left ignored.

When the light went out, Snape was left sitting in the dark. Luckily, his new form gave him night vision so he could make his way to an open window. He peered out into the darkened night to survey the area. He could follow the ledge to the ground and head back to his rooms easily enough.

Before leaving, he paused on the window sill and took one last look into the room. There was a lot of information within these walls waiting for him to discover; there was no telling what Lupin's possessions could reveal to him. It didn't escape Snape that as easily as he could leave the room, he could just as easily get back.

Severus Snape knew he was in trouble when he woke up the next morning. It wasn't the lack of sleep; four hours should be enough for any man, he'd always believed. He wasn't tired or listless, or even slightly groggy. He was alert -- and that's where the problem lay. He had dreamed last night, something he hadn't done in decades. If any image decided to interfere with his slumber, it was generally of the blood curdling, bone chilling variety. What he saw last night could only be described as a dream. A fantasy, perhaps.

There was a field…no, a meadow, green and lush and brimming with poppies. Sitting on the grass was Remus Lupin, the sunlight dancing in his honeyed eyes, his smile dazzling and bright. He was laughing and happy and so very beautiful.

Severus Snape had spent a lifetime blocking that image out, but here it was again. When he was younger that image had taunted him, mocked him, tempted him with what he could never have. It was a reminder of his shortcomings and the harshness of the world in which he lived. Now, decades later, it was back, but it didn't affect him in the same way. It saddened him and it hurt him; it was a reminder of what he could never have, of a world of which he could never be a part. It was worse now, because it was closer than it ever was, and further than it ever could have been.

He had gone to bed the previous night vowing never to go back to those quarters again, no matter what this heart said. There were too many dangers in those small rooms. He had woken up this morning knowing it was a vow he would break, and happily at that. There was so much he could find out about the man who had managed to take possession of the one piece of Snape's soul not sold to one side of the war or the other. The part he refused to let go.

Snape had no misperceptions about Lupin and their relationship; at best, it was a mutual tolerance. Romance was not something he had ever considered. But the idea of having the capability to find out a little more about the man that had somehow maneuvered his way into Snape's consciousness was too enticing a prospect.

It seemed as though Remus Lupin had just inherited a new pet.

A scratching at his window nearly made him drop his drink. Remus Lupin smiled when he saw his little furry friend at the sill. "So, you came back. I was wondering where you went off to." He picked the kitten up and brought him to the kitchen table. "If I recall correctly, this is your beverage of preference," he said while pouring some of his scotch into a saucer. He eyed the cat for a few moments before walking over to his desk and examining some papers that covered it, picking up one rather battered looking page and staring at it for several moments before placing it in his desk.

Lupin sat down to watch the small cat lap at the saucer. "I've done a bit of research on you," he began. "Seems you're a Bombay; the blackest cat there is, with copper penny eyes and an incredibly shiny coat. I wasn't sure at first, because it also said you are the friendliest breed of cat there is, loving company and wonderful with children. That is not the impression I got. Of course, we've only just met. And you did come back, so at least you like my liquor, if not my company. " He smiled. "It also said you would have your own ideas about how a house should be run, and I did get that impression. So that is what I decided to name you: 'Bombay'. How does that strike you?"

Snape had to admit he was impressed that Lupin had taken the time to find out what type of cat he was. Truth be told, he was flattered; he gave a quick nod of approval. He would be 'Bombay'.

"Excellent," Lupin replied. "Well 'Bombay', what would you like to do this evening?"

Snape knew what he wanted to do: he wanted Lupin to go to sleep so he could take a look around. But his host, it seemed, was in the mood to talk.

"We have not been formally introduced, I suppose. My name is Remus Joseph Lupin." He bowed his head slightly. "I am the current -- or recurrent -- Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher, as well as the resident werewolf." Lupin gave a lopsided grin. "Don't worry about that last remark. I am only a danger to humans, not charming little kittens."

'Cat,' Snape corrected.

Lupin looked at 'Bombay' and shook his head. "I do wonder where you came from. I asked around and no one has lost a cat, though apparently you made quite an impression on a few people. Professor McGonagall was most interested in your whereabouts."

Snape huffed, 'I bet she was.'

Lupin seemed to be amused by the cat's attitude. "You do have your opinions, don't you. Who do you remind me of?"

Snape could sense that if Lupin wondered too long, it wouldn't be difficult for him to sense that the cat was not really a cat. It was time for a clever distraction. Snape hopped off the table, walked to the book shelf, and began to scan the titles. A thin blue book wedged between a Muggle novel and an outdated Dark Arts text caught his attention. It looked strangely familiar, and he began to scratch at it. Lupin walked over to see what had interested 'Bombay' so and gave a small smile at his discovery. "Well, kitten, seems like you wish to learn more about me. My little introduction wasn't enough, I suppose." He removed the book, picked up the cat, and walked both of them over to the sofa.

Placing 'Bombay' on the pillow next to him, he opened the book and began to speak. "This is a journal I kept many years ago while I was a student here. Listen to this: 'It was a very long train ride to the castle. I spent most of it looking out of my window, at the country side passing by. Trees mostly, but occasionally we passed a pond or a small village. There are so many other students here and they have been nice, but I'm too scared to talk to them.' You see, 'Bombay', I was terribly shy. I was well aware that not all humans liked me. Some hated me, in fact. Werewolves are very misunderstood creatures. Sort of like black cats, I suppose. People don't like to let go of superstitions, no matter how silly they are."

He continued to turn pages. Snape tried to look at the passing sheets, hoping for a glimpse of something more interesting. He caught sight of a page with the words "The Marauders" scrawled in black ink across the top and jumped up. Pressing his paw onto the page, he looked up at Lupin.

"You want to know about them, aye." He sighed. "Not much to tell, I'm afraid. There was James. He died in the first War. He was funny and smart and kind. A bit of a troublemaker, but he never really meant anything by it. Though he could be pretty obnoxious when he wanted to be. In fact, his own wife, Lily, hated him for years before they finally got together. He taught me to ride a broom and to play Quidditch and insisted on teaching me how to talk to girls, which only benefited him, because I was not interested in girls and he was not interested in anything else. " He laughed for a brief second before continuing. "James was terribly foolish and terribly brave. He died protecting his son many, many years ago." Lupin paused to give a small smile to 'Bombay', who was watching him intently. He reached down and gave the cat a little scratch behind the ears. Snape involuntarily leaned in to the touch, and without realizing it, nuzzled Lupin's hand. It was a consoling gesture as much as it was an intimate one. Snape assured himself he would castigate himself later for the lapse in judgment, but he was far too comfortable to care at present.

Lupin began to talk again. "There was Sirius. He was the real troublemaker of the group; rules and regulations were mere suggestions for him. He had a thing for danger and truly enjoyed making people uncomfortable. He was terribly cocky and often rude, but would sacrifice everything for you. Imprudence and recklessness got him nearly killed in the second war. He actually disappeared for a long time until he was able to come back. That is quite a story in and of itself--"

Snape was in no mood to listen to how Black was rescued by Potter and his friends. It was bad enough having to live through it the first time, let alone relive it every time someone felt like talking about Potter's heroics or Black's bravery. It was time to refocus Lupin's thoughts. The cat mewed loudly and without a single trace of melody, and after he was sure that he had the werewolf's undivided attention, he pressed his paw again on the journal page.

"Impatient, aren't we?" he said with a smirk. "Let's see. Well, there was also Peter." He paused to gather his thoughts. "He followed James and Sirius around as if led by a leash, more than happy to aid in whatever plan they had constructed-- more often than not getting caught because he had neither James's brains nor Sirius's cunning. He was quiet like me. But where I was shy he was …well...thinking, I suppose. You see 'Bombay', the world was changing a lot back then. There were some…bad humans around and they hurt people. We were all forced to make decisions we were far too young to make. To choose sides we didn't really understand. We just all didn't choose the same side. "

There were tears beginning to form in Lupin's eyes. Suddenly Snape no longer felt like looking through the journal. He wanted to go home, back to the dankness of his dungeons where emotions had no desire to intrude. Snape hated feeling guilty. He had enough of that particular emotion to last his lifetime. He stood up and Lupin took that as in invitation to pick the cat up and place it on his lap. He began to stroke the kitten's back and Snape found himself reacting to the gentle caress and no longer thinking of returning to his cold subterranean dwelling. Snape looked up at those amber eyes; the tears that had threatened to fall earlier were now streaming down his face. Snape had no idea what to do, but knew he had to do something. With his hind legs firmly planted on Lupin's lap, he stretched up, placed two paws on the werewolf's chest, and looked him directly in the eyes. 'I'm sorry' came out as a small and gentle, "Meow."

Lupin understood.

"No need to be sorry for me. I lived long enough to see Voldemort destroyed, James's son grow up to be a fine young man and a powerful wizard, and Sirius cleared of a crime he never committed. As ironic as it sounds, out of the four of us, I am the fortunate one." Though his words were optimistic, his eyes were anything but, and Snape couldn't help but feel that it shouldn't be that way. It was inherently wrong for that depth of melancholy to gain access to those eyes. He was not the comforting type, but Snape felt compelled to do something, so without really knowing why he wriggled loose and turned onto his back. Throwing his legs in the air and kicking about, he began to mew. Lupin smiled.

'Success!'

"Thank you 'Bombay'." Much to his consternation, the feline had earned a scratch on his belly.

"In any event," Lupin continued, "bad choices or not, he's dead, too. And I wish I could say I was sorry, but I'm not. I have shed enough tears for that one. I saw that he got a proper burial and I made my peace."

Snape remembered that day. Lucius Malfoy killed Pettigrew because he was getting too close to the Dark Lord. A horribly mangled body was found on the steps of Hogwarts. Lucius's attempt at intimidation succeeded at nothing but giving Dumbledore the means to prove Sirius Black's innocence.

No one knew what do with the body. None of Pettigrew's family would acknowledge his existence; they much preferred him dead the first time. Lupin took the remnants of his childhood friend and buried him in a small Muggle cemetery in a grave simply marked 'Peter.' Snape was there that day, watching Lupin from the shadow of an elm tree on the other side of the cemetery. Not that he was concerned for the werewolf, never that, just…curious. Curiosity led Snape to watch as Lupin sat alone by the grave for three hours, quietly running his fingers through the freshly tilled dirt, his tears making a puddle on the ground.

A heavy yawn and a pair of surprisingly strong hands picking Snape up from the comfortable lap in which he was sitting broke his reverie. "I think that is enough for one night." Lupin suddenly looked very tired. He shifted to get up, and the thin blue journal fell to the floor, opening to a page towards the end of the book. Snape mewed in surprise at seeing his own name.

Lupin picked up the book and gave a long sigh. He looked at the cat, and with a grave smile said, "That, my friend, is a tale for another night." He closed the book and placed it on the sofa. "Good night, 'Bombay'." With one last scratch behind the ears, Lupin began to prepare for bed. Snape jumped on the book and mewed with all his might; Lupin was surprised but amused at the kitten's behavior. "So you want to hear about Severus, do you?"

Snape sniffed.

"Oh, very well, but not in here. I want to prepare for bed. If you are so set upon hearing about him tonight you will have to do so while I get changed."

Snape was unsure of the wisdom of his current actions. On one hand, he would get Lupin's first hand, uncensored views of him. His curiosity on the matter was certainly piqued. On the other hand, watching Lupin undress would cause more of those pesky dreams to infiltrate his sleep, probably for the rest of his life. Lupin gave him little choice as he scooped up the contemplating kitten and walked into the bedroom.

Lupin laid 'Bombay' on the top of his bed and began to undress. He removed his shirt and threw it onto his bed, where it landed directly on Snape. With a muffled 'Meow' and some energetic twisting, Snape managed to extract himself. Lupin was laughing heartily at the sight. "Sorry, 'Bombay'. That was rather rude of me." He removed the shirt entirely. Snape looked up and wished he was still underneath it; Remus Lupin stood in front of him shirtless. His shoulders were broader than Snape had realized, his chest, pale, tightly muscled and deliciously furry. Snape's eyes traveled down one particularly fascinating line of hair that trailed down Lupin's abdomen and continued to the waist of his trousers. Damn it, he was purring again.

A shirtless Lupin entered the bathroom and emerged several minutes later slightly damp, barefoot, and in pajama bottoms. He hopped on the bed and lay next to 'Bombay'. "Now you wanted to hear about Severus, did you? Well, that is a difficult thing you ask. I don't understand him very well myself, so I am not entirely sure how to explain him to you." He turned to rest on his back. "Back in school Severus wasn't very nice; that much has remained the same, I reckon. Back then, though, I think it was because he was lonely. At least, that's how I took it. Snape is what I thought I would have become if I hadn't made the friends I made: distant , aloof …isolated. He and James hated each other in a way that didn't seem possible, beyond what anyone could call a rivalry; it was more like open and hostile warfare."

Snape sniffed and Lupin lifted his head to stare at the cat. "Might I continue?" he asked. Snape shrugged and Lupin took that as permission.

"As I was saying, James and Severus hated each other. Because of that rivalry, Peter and Sirius hated him as well. They hexed each other on a pretty constant basis. It was a game I found rather cruel, but I never helped the situation. I always regretted that. My only excuse is that I was a child and going along with my friends was easier than going against them. I have always wanted to apologize to Severus, but I don't think he would ever listen to me."

'You could have tried.' Snape mewed angrily. 'You seem to have no problem telling a cat.'

"Yes, I suppose I should have tried, but on some level I think Severus needs his hate. I am not sure he can live without it. Sort of like my being a werewolf; it is part of my existence, of who I am. You really can't have one without the other because we've been sculpted by it, molded by the very thing that causes us so much pain. It is an influential part of our lives, unavoidable and constant. Does that make sense?" he asked.

'Far too much sense,' Snape mewed.

"I give Severus the only thing I can – a target. He needs someone to focus his hate on and I allow it to be me. It is the only way I can say I'm sorry without actually saying it."

Snape was dumbfounded by the revelation.

"Anyway, when Severus was younger he made some bad choices, like Peter," Lupin continued. "In the end he tried to correct them. In fact, he has spent the last twenty years or so trying to correct them. He's a lot like Sirius, I think; he has a thing for danger. As for enjoying making people uncomfortable, he has it down to an art form. He also has probably sacrificed more than anyone else did these last two wars, with little or nothing to show for it. No recognition, no thanks, nothing but the knowledge that he did what he felt was right. I respect him for that." Lupin let out a long, drawn out yawn. "It's late, 'Bombay', and I can barely keep my eyes open." A gentle 'Nox' put out all the lights in the room. "Good night."

Snape felt a strong hand grab him and he found himself being held by Lupin, close to his warm chest. There was the scent of spice in the air, a subtle mixture of sandalwood and musk, and Snape inhaled deeply. Unexpectedly, he was overwhelmed by something else lingering in the air. His senses could detect sorrow, regret, empathy, and hope. But whether it was coming from the werewolf or himself, he could not distinguish.

Snape's eyes were heavy and he wanted to close them, just for a little while. Lupin was so warm and comfortable and so close. Just a few hours respite. A quick nap after a long day.

Who would know?

There was a field…no, a meadow, green and lush and brimming with poppies. Sitting on the grass was Remus Lupin, the sunlight dancing in his honeyed eyes, his smile dazzling and bright. He was laughing and happy and so very beautiful.

Snape woke up to the first rays of sunlight illuminating Lupin's room. The werewolf lay on his side curled around the cat. Snape gave a slight stretch before carefully pulling free of the grasp. Lupin's eyes fluttered slightly before he settled back into a deep sleep. What do you dream about, Remus?, Snape thought curiously as he watched his chest rise and fall in rhythm with the soft breathing that filled the room. A small paw, timidly placed on the sleeping man's arm, was quickly removed when he stirred. Too close. Too soon. Too scared. With a somber step, Snape left Lupin's quarters and went to begin his day.

Hours dragged along slowly, minute by agonizing minute. Snape did all he could to avoid running into Remus Lupin. The air was full of the scent of sandalwood and musk and no matter where he turned it surrounded him. He needed to immerse himself in something else, and quickly. Skipping dinner, he headed to his workroom. A few hours working with the most malodorous of ingredients should do the trick.

He spent three hours working, but in the end had nothing to show for it but a singed robe. Snape's latest attempt at a slug repelling potion for Hagrid's garden was not going well. He had managed to blow up two cauldrons in perfect Longbottom fashion. When he heard the knock on his laboratory door, he was almost relieved. He needed a distraction from his distraction. Unfortunately for him, the source of the distraction was the very thing he was seeking to be distracted from in the first place.

Remus Lupin stood at his door and Severus Snape had a difficult time summoning the sneer that was normally second nature when confronted with the werewolf. "Yes?" he said sharply.

"Sorry to disturb you Severus, but I was looking for my cat. You haven't seen him, have you?"

"I was unaware you had a pet," Snape drawled.

"To be truthful, I feel like I'm the one who's the pet," he said with a smile. "Well, if you see a small black cat with exceptionally shiny fur, would you let me know? I miss him." With a quick nod of his head Lupin departed and Snape was left with the distinct impression his company was being specifically requested.

A saucer full of scotch sat waiting on Lupin's window sill. Had he ever allowed himself to do so, Snape would have smiled. "There you are." There was obvious relief in his voice. "You worried me. Where do you go during the day?" He brought the cat and the saucer in and placed both on his kitchen table. A crooked smile on his lips, Lupin watched the little kitten imbibe his liquor when there was a timid knock at the door.

Ron Weasley stood in Lupin's doorway, looking pale. The freckles on his face shone in dark contrast to his pale skin.

"Ron, what's wrong?" Lupin ushered him in and waited for him to speak.

"I…I need to ask you something." Suddenly, the seventh year looked decidedly younger.

"Go on."

"When…when you conjure a patronus, does the form mean anything specifically?" Ron asked fearfully.

Lupin's mind was reeling from what this question could possibly mean. "The form your patronus takes, you mean?"

Ron nodded.

"Well, it could mean several things," Lupin began, "Mostly it is something that has a special meaning to the person who summons it. It could be something that makes you feel safe, or happy. Something that touches you somehow."

Ron paled further. "That's what I was afraid of."

"Ron, what are you going on about?"

"Well…we've been working on them for the N.E.W.T.S. and I was finally able to invoke one. I was just a little surprised at the form." He started to squirm where he stood and suddenly seemed to find his hand fascinating.

Lupin gave a small smile at his young friend's demeanor. "What form did it take?"

After a few deep breaths and a quick swallow, Ron replied, "A…a… a dragon."

Lupin was confused. "That makes sense though, doesn't it? Your brother works with dragons. You thinking of your family makes sense considering how close you all are."

Ron interrupted. "No, you don't understand. I've been trying for years to summon one and had no success. Nothing I thought of seemed to be powerful enough to call it before. Today I was thinking of….someone, someone very specific and that's when it came out."

"It's the person you were thinking of that is upsetting you?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

Ron sighed, "Professor, think about it. I conjured a dragon."

"Oh. I see." He couldn't hide his smile.

"It's not funny." A flush of pink was covering his formerly ashen cheeks.

"There's nothing wrong with it, Ron," Lupin said, soothingly.

"Nothing wrong??!!" Ron's expression was one of utter incredulity, as though his professor was too calm in assessing what was obviously the end of the world. "Did you hear what I just said?" he asked. "For close to three years I've been trying to conjure the damn thing and never could. The only thing that makes me happy enough is the thought of the one person I hate more than anyone else in the world, and it ends up being the very form the bloody thing takes to boot. How can you say there's nothing wrong in that?"

He just shook his head. "Because there isn't. Draco brings out some strong emotions in you. You react to each other on a very visceral level, almost as if you were destined for it. You have always concentrated on the negative part of those feelings, but there are positives too, you know. Having someone who can evoke those feelings in you is a wonderful thing, and frankly quite rare. It makes us alive, to feel so fully. " He smiled. "It makes life worth living."

"But he's my enemy," he replied softly.

"Draco hasn't been your enemy for a long time. Not since the end of the war, at least."

A tight smile showed the beginnings of acceptance, which was considerable as there was a lifetime of hating to overcome. "He's not a nice person."

Lupin nodded. "True enough, but he could be."

"How do you know that?"

He put his hand on Ron's shoulder. "Because in the end, he made the right choices. It is our choices that make us what we are. Draco had little to gain and everything to lose, but he chose the right path. Even if it took him a while to find it."

"Okay," Ron conceded. "So what if he isn't the biggest git in the world. Doesn't mean he'll have anything to do with me, does it?"

"You'll never know if you don't try."

"Try what? I have no idea what is it I'm feeling."

"You can start by being friends, Ron. Just talking in the way humans do. About the weather, the world…anything. I have a feeling perhaps Draco is going through some of the same feelings you are, and trying to make heads or tails of it."

"Why do you say that?" Ron tried unsuccessfully not to show the elation that statement brought out in him.

"As I said before, you seem to bring out some pretty powerful emotions in each other. It has been mutual from day one. There are just as many good things that can cause that as there are bad. "

"I don't know. " It seemed Ron was more frightened of talking to Draco than he was of facing Voldemort, probably because he did not have a desire to kiss Voldemort.

"I have a hard time believing anything good can come out of this. I mean we might as well be talking about…you and Snape for example. Right?"

Lupin only smiled. It was then that Ron noticed he had an audience. "Hey, is that your cat?"

"Ron Weasley, meet 'Bombay'."

"We saw him a few nights ago in front of our dorms. I didn't know he was yours."

Lupin shrugged. "I sort of adopted him."

Ron's eyes narrowed at the small, very dark, very lustrous cat. "Sorry to say, I think he's a creepy little thing. All black and shiny. He looks like Snape." Snape's heart began to pound in his chest. 'Quiet, you red headed whelp, or I will--'

"I suppose he does," Lupin interjected suddenly. "Anyway, I think you should consider what we've talked about. The school year is almost over and you've really got nothing to lose by trying to be civil. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find if you are willing to go looking for it."

"Yeah, well, we'll see. Thanks professor." With one last suspicious look at 'Bombay', Ron left the rooms.

Lupin was left staring at the closed door for a long time before turning to his cat. "It's late, time for bed." He began to unbutton his shirt as he walked to his bedroom. Without turning around he said, "Are you coming?" Snape just looked at him. Something had just happened, something important, but for the life of him he didn't know what. Without so much as a mew, he followed Lupin and prepared for the night.

They fell into a routine over the next few weeks. Snape would show up at the same time every evening. Lupin would give him something to drink, and talk for a bit. Sometimes he read to his cat: excerpts from a novel, an article from the newspaper, an entry from his journal… Sometimes they would sit in silence, while Lupin gently stroked Snape's back or between his ears. Sometimes they would listen to music. And each night would end the same, with the two spooned around each other in Lupin's bed.

It was a balmy June evening; the warmth of the imminent summer was thick in the air. Snape came to the window and peered inside the rooms. He bounded inside and perched himself on the pillow that had become his own.

"Hello, 'Bombay'," Lupin said softly. "Early tonight, I see. Good. I saw something very interesting today that I'd like to share with you."

Snape lay down, placing his chin on his two front paws-- the usual position he took when Lupin was going to start telling a story.

Lupin gave him one last long look and seemed to come to a decision. "Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy were sitting by the lake together this afternoon," he began. "At first, I was simply struck with how nice it was to see them being civil to each other. Then I watched as they leaned in and kissed." Snape's eyebrows went straight up – or they would have, if he hadn't been a cat at the time. But something must have shown on his face, because Lupin nodded and said, "I was a bit dumbstruck, as well. I had a notion that there were feelings there, but I wasn't sure they could get past their history together to actually express those feelings. It is never an easy thing to do, and in their case, seemed damn near impossible. But despite my reservations and doubts they appeared to be quite happy at that moment." He ran his hand down the back of his lovely little cat.

"You can imagine how silly I felt when I realized that two boys - mostly still children - had the courage to do something I could not."

Snape sat up and stared hard into a pair of soft amber eyes.

"This has been fun, Severus," Lupin remarked in a gentle timbre. "I have enjoyed your company. In fact, I could honestly say it has been the best part of my day over these last few weeks. But I think it's time we stop playing games. We have both been pretending for far too long, I think."

In the split second between the last breath of Lupin's statement leaving his softly smiling mouth and the time those words reached his disbelieving ears, Severus Snape considered the multitude of hexes years of spying, treachery and deceit had taught him.

A Banishing Charm, perhaps? A Confundus Charm? Oblivate was always a good way to go.

No, that didn't seem right. Firstly, he had no desire to harm Remus Lupin, a fact with which he was having a hard time coming to grips. Secondly, avoiding this problem would not make it go away; it hadn't for two decades, so why would it start working now? Thirdly, and most importantly, he would need to transform to actually perform the curse which would only prove the werewolf right – and he couldn't have that.

So, Snape did the only thing a respectable and powerful wizard of his standing and lineage who was caught in such a quandary would do: he gave a long stretch and a yawn, closed his eyes, and feigned sleep.

Lupin smiled out of the corner of his mouth. "Severus, it's okay. I've known it was you since the day after I found you. Remember I spoke to Professor McGonagall and told you she was most interested in the small cat I found? Well, she was. Very interested. Mostly in the fact that the Potions master, whose sneer alone could petrify a student more readily than a basilisk's stare, kept a pet. She said she would never have believed it if the cat hadn't said so himself. I found that all quite odd, so I borrowed a certain map I think we are both well acquainted with, and when you came to visit me that night I found out for certain."

Snape gave another long yawn before turning over and curling into a ball. Lupin's smile broadened. "My instincts told me you weren't there to hurt me. Your interest in my journal confirmed that. You wanted information; you wanted knowledge. Frankly, I saw it as a way to clear the air about a few things, to say some things that I felt needed to be said. After that first night I thought for certain you wouldn't come back. When you did I was surprised…and pleased. On some level, I felt it meant you accepted what I had said."

Snape squirmed slightly.

"You have learned a great deal about me these last weeks, Severus. I think it only fair you allow me the same consideration. I have managed to learn some things about you, I think. You like jazz music and Muggle poetry. You have a peculiarly strong fondness for Agatha Christie. You have excellent taste in drink. You are opinionated, in any form, as well as arrogant and condescending." Lupin took a deep breath. "You are also compassionate. Sympathetic. And, when you think no one will find out about it, kind. You have a devilish sense of humor and a certain haughtiness that can be quite entertaining." He cocked his head to the side and leaned in, placing his mouth close to the cat's ear. "And you like to cuddle when you sleep."

At this Snape turned his head and looked at Remus Lupin, only to find that there was no malice in his stare, nothing cruel or calculating. There was warmth and understanding and…mischief, perhaps. But nothing that would indicate he was angry at the deception or looking for a fight. Oh, how much easier this would have been if he had simply revealed Snape's identity and his nightly visits to the school's populace. One decree in front of the entire school would find him publicly insulted and disgraced. To that, he could react. A small declaration of war, a few well chosen attacks, a fatal duel, and it would all be over. Nice and clean, and highly satisfying.

"Come on, Severus." The werewolf gave one last attempt . "I want to see you in your true form. I want to hear your voice say my name. Besides, I'm sick of cleaning cat fur out of my bed."

'Oh, very well.' With a sniff, Snape got up and walked, apprehensively, to the end of the sofa. A moment later, in the spot where a cat, completely black down to the pads of his feet and the tip of his whiskers, once stood, was a man, just as dark and slender and elegant. A man who was having a hard time looking at anything other than the floor.

Lupin ambled over to where he stood, and though a shorter man, he had to hold Snape by the chin and lift his face up to meet his eyes.

"It's not so bad, is it? Being in these rooms as a man and not an animal?"

"That depends on your definition of bad," came the whispered reply.

"No, it doesn't, " Lupin replied softly. "I don't want to hurt you, Severus. I've never wanted that."

"What do you want then?" Snape asked, almost sharply. "What's the point of destroying the illusion if it was…not hurting anyone?"

Lupin, whose hand was still on Snape's chin, ran his thumb over the Potions master's bottom lip. "Because it wasn't an illusion…it was a charade. And why live a farce that gives you simple satisfaction, when you can have a reality that gives you joy? Why dwell in contentment only to never truly live at all?"

"You don't know what you are asking…and you assume too much." He went to turn away but Lupin stopped him.

"I assume nothing. I am merely reiterating what your actions are declaring. And I do know what I'm asking. I'm asking for a chance to get to know you. Not as a boy, or a student, or a Death Eater, or a spy, or a teacher, or even a cat, but as a man and a friend and more."

"More?"

Bright tawny eyes danced under long eyelashes. "Especially the more."

"Lupin--"

"Remus."

"Lupin. Anything between us is not feasible. It is lunacy to even suggest it."

"Why?"

"Don't be a child. You know perfectly well why-"

"No, why did you come back? I brought you here the first night. There was nothing forcing you to return after that."

His shoulders dropped in loss. "There really is no point –"

Lupin shook his head. "Severus, just tell me why."

"Does that truly matter?"

"It does to me. Why did you come back to my rooms? To me?"

Here it was again-- an overwhelming need to hex and curse his way out of this dilemma. To escape and be rid of the accursed werewolf for good. To return to his dungeon rooms and his privacy…solitude…isolation…loneliness. Well, why did you come back?

"Because you let me."

Severus Snape liked straight lines. Clear paths and objectives. Focus and aim. And although he knew the paths we choose do not always lead us in the right direction, they should lead us to where we wish to go.

As a boy, his only objective was to prepare for his schooling. To please his father, he read and practiced spells to ensure his status. He wanted to be the best, because it was expected of him.

As a student, he worked harder, because it meant success and respect and adulation. And what else was there in the world?

As a Death Eater, he was guaranteed power. Until he realized it wasn't what he wanted.

As a spy, he was guaranteed freedom. From one pair of shackles, anyway.

As a teacher, he had earned his redemption. And paid for it dearly.

As a cat, he could enjoy it: the freedom and the redemption.

Clear lines had been drawn between action and consequence, between cause and effect.

Those precisely planned lines were intersected time and time again by the werewolf, who had managed to cut a swath through, without realizing it, for most of Snape's life. Now he was consciously asking for Snape to cross those lines himself.

He was asking to get to know the man Snape was. To be a friend to that man. And to be more.

What concerned Snape was the question: what if Lupin got to know that man? Would he still want to be a friend, let alone…more?' There were no straight lines, no guarantees, no direct connection between the action and the consequence. There was simple possibility, great risk and painful vulnerability.

But rather than run from it, he found himself embracing it. He found himself speaking from the one piece of his soul not sold to one side of the war or the other. He spoke from his heart.

"Because you let me."

And those would be the last decipherable words spoken for a very long time.

There was a field…no, a meadow, green and lush and brimming with poppies. Sitting on the grass was Remus Lupin, the sunlight dancing in his honeyed eyes, his smile dazzling and bright. He was laughing and happy and so very beautiful. Next to him was Severus Snape, a reserved smile playing on his lips.

Yes, Snape hated being indebted to Sirius Black for anything, but he was becoming more comfortable with the idea every day.

Finis