It came as a great shock to Severus Snape to wake up in an unfamiliar bed.
It came as an even greater shock to realize he had no pants on.
The third and greatest shock was to discover a slim, pale arm draped across his stomach.
What did I do last night… and with whom?
Slowly, gently, he turned his head to see his sleeping companion's face…
* * *
Severus rapped smartly on the front door of number 12 Grimmauld Place. Immediately Mrs. Black's banshee-howl started up, scarcely muffled by the door.
"Shut up, shut up!" Molly Weasley flung open the door and stared at Severus with barely concealed dislike. "You're late."
Severus chose to ignore her coldness. "Am I the last one?"
"Yes." Molly was already turning and striding off to the kitchen. Biting back a scathing remark about the deterioration of English ladies' hospitality, Severus shut the front door behind himself and followed her. Mrs. Black made an obscene gesture behind his back.
As he crossed the front hall Severus glanced up and noticed several pairs of eyes gleaming at him from the landing. He paused in removing his gloves and all of the eyes retreated into the shadows. "Mr. Weasley," he said dryly.
Ron Weasley peered through the spindly banister. "Professor."
"If you and the rest of your mother's abundant brood are going to eavesdrop, at least have the decency to do it with those ostentatious Extendable Ears of yours," Severus said, striving not to laugh at the sudden blanch on the cheeks of the Gryffindor boy, his sister, and the twins behind them.
He cast a composed glance round the landing. "Lost the other two musketeers?"
"Harry and Hermione weren't allowed to come here, sir."
"Ah, yes." Severus had forgotten Dumbledore's strict edict on the presence of non-Order persons in the house. He had heard that the Death Eaters had caught wind of a secret Auror headquarters somewhere in London and were trying to track it down.
He had forgotten, too, that this was not to be mentioned to the Weasleys' children, who would insist on rounding up their entire ludicrous band and taking off on some madcap escapade, like their jaunt to the Department of Mysteries two years ago, which had ended so well for all of them.
Severus didn't hold himself liable for any of what had happened. He had tried to warn Dumbledore of the Gryffindors' rashness and insolence!
Sure enough, the girl began nervously, "Professor, we were hoping you might let us know why-"
"Severus?" Remus Lupin poked his head round the kitchen door. "We're waiting for you."
"Good evening," Severus said frostily to the Gryffindors, who nodded and shrank back towards their bedrooms.
Severus had been wanting for a long time to comment on how luxurious the dilapidated Black house must seem to children coming from a dump like the Burrow. But he abandoned the cheap satisfaction of taunting the destitute for the higher pursuits that awaited him with the Order of the Phoenix.
The meeting was brief. Dumbledore had wanted to address a few key issues: the numerous Bellatrix Lestrange sightings from helpful citizens all over Britain that they would have to sift through to find true ones (Mainly, Severus thought, the ones that did not lend Bellatrix a mermaid's tail or have her Transfiguring telephone boxes in the dead of night); the security precautions that would have to discreetly surround Harry Potter's transportation from Surrey to King's Cross Station (Brat, Severus thought automatically); the possibility of Lord Voldemort circumventing the Fidelius Charm and actually coming to number 12 Grimmauld Place; the idea of finding temporary accommodation for the Weasley brood, whom he was reluctant to have loitering in the house. Severus was deeply pleased not to have his name crop up among the suggested hosts.
"And lastly," Dumbledore said, "Igor Karkaroff."
Everyone's gaze shifted to Severus for a millisecond and away again. How did they all know about his ill-starred history with Karkaroff? He scowled. "Is that pitiable creature still alive?"
"Yes," Dumbledore said carefully, "and he's looking for you."
Severus smiled bitterly. "Let him look. I won't go looking for him."
Dumbledore returned his smile, somewhat wanly. "You don't have to."
All the others suddenly discovered great interest in the tabletop, the floor, their clasped hands, the ceiling—anywhere but at Severus.
"I invited him to stay at Hogwarts for a week." Severus went rigid. "I couldn't let him come here," Dumbledore explained. "I know you don't want to see him, but Karkaroff needs our help, at least for a little while."
Severus sulked. "It's only a week," reasoned Dumbledore gently.
"A week," said Severus, "is a long time."
After the meeting most of the Aurors stayed for drinks and coffee, but Severus rose and left silently. He was on the road when the front door opened and he heard, "Severus!"
Turning, he found Remus Lupin hurrying down the steps towards him. Severus' own black leather gloves were in his hand. "You forgot these."
"Oh. Thank you."
"I wouldn't want you catching cold," Lupin said pleasantly. "Autumn's coming, and it's been unseasonably damp lately, wouldn't you say?"
"Yes," Severus muttered.
"Won't you stay for a nightcap? You're very welcome to."
"I think not." He paused. Why haven't I walked away yet? "The house…"
"Into whose possession did it come after the unfortunate death of…" He let his sentence dangle, uncertain of how comfortable Lupin was with the subject.
"Oh, the house came to Albus, I think."
"No… yes…" Lupin trailed off, but finally admitted, "We thought it would be best not to give it to him right away. Too many bad memories."
"Not for you?"
Lupin nodded slowly. "Certainly I have my share of emotional baggage, but… Harry's doing rather worse than we'd hoped in that department right now. It's been difficult on him."
"It happened over a year ago."
"Yes, I know, but they were extremely close."
"And you and Black were not?" Why am I asking him these questions? Severus wondered.
Lupin seemed mystified. "Of course we were. He was a very good friend. You remember how we were at Hogwarts, the four of us-"
He frowned slowly. "And now there's only—me."
Deep inside him, Severus felt a twinge of remorse for having stirred up Lupin's buried griefs. "And Pettigrew," he said, and instantly regretted it.
But Lupin laughed—a touch bitterly, perhaps. "Yes, and him. But I suppose that once it really is only me left, I'll sleep better at night."
He suddenly looked as if he wished he hadn't confessed to Severus that he had trouble sleeping. Severus graciously overlooked it. "Well," he said.
"Good night," Severus said finally.
"Do you live around here?" Lupin asked suddenly.
Severus was caught off-guard and he answered, "Yes, round the corner," before he had time to think of a good evasive reply.
"Oh, quite close then? I wondered why you didn't Disapparate or leave by Floo. Perhaps I should come visit sometime."
"Yes, sometime," Severus said vaguely, in a way he hoped conveyed his thorough aversion to having Lupin visit his flat.
"All right," Lupin said awkwardly. Severus was oddly amused by the notion that the warm, friendly wizard should all of a sudden feel ill at ease. His mere presence was strangely restrictive to people's sociability.
Why haven't either of us moved?
"Good night," said Lupin.
"Good night." They both turned and walked away, Lupin back into number 12, Severus to his empty flat.
* * *
Classes resumed without much ado. Only two days after the start-of-term feast, however, Professor Snape's second-year Potions class was disturbed by a giant boom from the room above. Severus frowned in puzzlement as stone chips from the dungeon ceiling rained down upon them.
Later with his sixth-year students, he noticed the Gryffindors were being louder than usual. Halting before his favourite target, he said coldly, "Please keep your voice down, Potter, you are not addressing Professor Marchbanks."
"I'm sorry, Professor Snape," yelled Potter, clearly not sorry at all. "We've sort of lost, er, our hearing."
"Lost your hearing?" repeated Severus disdainfully. "Every one of you?"
"Pardon?" shouted all the Gryffindors. The Slytherins sniggered.
Draco Malfoy, customary smirk in place, raised his hand. "Professor, there was an explosion in their Defence Against the Dark Arts class."
"I see," Severus said. So that was the boom he'd heard earlier. "Do I even need to ask who is to blame?"
All eyes swivelled to Neville Longbottom, who flushed purple with embarrassment. Severus sighed. He didn't even have to think up a snide remark—this foolishness mocked itself quite adequately.
During the double class Longbottom miraculously avoided further humiliation (Severus did suspect Longbottom had had help from the Granger girl again, but he had spent most of the class berating Crabbe for spilling a potion and hadn't in fact witnessed the crime). But it was Potter who accidentally put in armadillo bile instead of essence of belladonna and succeeded in putting a gooey residue all over the inside of his cauldron. Severus took ten points from Gryffindor and gave the brat a detention.
That evening Potter came to dungeon six to scrub out his cauldron. Severus supervised him to ensure that he did not use any magic, though he knew from Flitwick that Potter had a commendable Scouring Charm.
As Severus skimmed through a textbook, planning his third-years' next lesson, he became distracted by the boy's expression. Potter's brow was furrowed and he was biting his lip. He had a habit of biting his lip when he concentrated, such as during exams and when he was quickly thinking up a preposterous excuse. The green eyes were narrowed and the pasty cheeks flushed. He had his shirt-sleeves rolled up to show his white forearms, reminding Severus of the ugly tattoo that marred his own left arm. Sweat trickled down his face, making the lightning-bolt scar glimmer beguilingly.
He didn't realize he was staring until Potter glanced up with an odd look. "What?" the Gryffindor asked, lifting a hand and nervously smoothing his fringe over his scar. "What are you looking at?"
Severus recovered his wits smoothly. "A boy who will keep us both here all night unless he works faster. Please, finish before my hair grows white."
Potter's expression twitched, as if there was nothing he would like better than to curse Severus' lank black hair into a Dumbledore-like snowy mane; then he returned to his disgusting cauldron.
After Potter had gone, leaving behind a spotless and somewhat thinner cauldron, Severus began marking the day's assignments. He paused on a particular parchment, one with awkward sentence structure, and handwriting as messy as its author's jet-black hair…
He shook himself mentally. What's wrong with me tonight? I can't get the arrogant little twerp out of my head!
At that moment there was a soft knock on the door. Severus rose and went to open it.
All thoughts of Harry Potter completely flew from his mind as he stared at Igor Karkaroff.
Expulsion from civilized society was not treating him well. He was gaunt and had hollow eyes. His silver hair was unkempt, his robes were crumpled and threadbare; his precious goatee had lost its point, having developed a permanent curl from his twisting it round his finger when he was agitated—which seemed to be all the time now that he was a fugitive from nearly everyone in Great Britain and the Scandinavian nations.
He was smiling, a strange, fond smile. But well did Severus remember the time when the smile reached his serious eyes.
"Severus," Karkaroff said softly.
"Karkaroff," responded Severus shortly, forsaking the use of his fellow ex-Death Eater's first name. Karkaroff noticed, and frowned.
"You act as if you do not know me."
"How I wish I didn't," Severus said coldly. "Kindly leave me in peace, I have work to do."
"It can wait," Karkaroff said carelessly, waving a hand dismissively.
The frayed sleeve fell down to Karkaroff's elbow to reveal a mass of gnarled scar tissue, livid red against the white skin of his forearm. Severus glanced away quickly, gritting his teeth, as Karkaroff swiftly drew his sleeve up to the wrist, to hide where he had tried to gouge out the Dark Mark branded there by his former master.
"That is not what you used to say to me about your own pursuits," Severus said, ignoring the motion. "Those were much more important than I ever was."
"That was years ago, Severus," said Karkaroff, exasperated, "haven't you forgiven me?"
"No, Karkaroff, I have not. And at the risk of sounding melodramatic, I don't know that I ever will."
At the same time Remus Lupin was coming to speak to Professor Snape about the next full moon. Hearing voices through the open door, he paused in the corridor, wondering who was inside with Snape.
"We were younger men then, Severus—it was a different time! I was wrong to abandon you-"
"To the wolves, as the case may be."
Lupin, recognizing Karkaroff's voice, knew he shouldn't be eavesdropping, but was paralyzed with shock and, admittedly, quite a bit of curiosity.
"To the wolves—now you are being melodramatic."
"You abandoned me to the mercy of the Death Eaters and the Aurors because you couldn't choose a side, and you thought I couldn't, either. But I did, and my choice saved me. You did not."
"Did not choose, or did not save you?" Karkaroff asked weakly.
"Both," snarled Severus. "And now you come crawling back again seeking my forgiveness? You're pathetic."
"Please, Severus, I've said I was wrong, I should have stayed by your side and fought-"
"You! You couldn't fight a Flobberworm, you spineless toad!"
Karkaroff, raking up the tatters of his dignity, drew himself up imperiously. "I was the Headmaster of the prestigious Durmstrang Academy!"
"Was," Severus said harshly, "was, was, was, because you fled in terror two years ago. Though I must admit, I am surprised that you managed to survive this long. Unpleasantly surprised," he added, and Karkaroff's hopeful expression drooped. "You've been hiding in the vile gutters of eastern Europe, by the look of your robes."
"Yes, I suppose I did. And I could have stayed there longer."
"Why did you tell Dumbledore you needed help, then?"
"For you!" Karkaroff said, stepping forward. "To beseech you for compassion. I risked everything to come back to you."
Severus moved backwards brusquely, and said, "Then you came back for nothing, Karkaroff."
"Igor," said Karkaroff softly.
"Karkaroff," Severus repeated.
"I need you back, Severus," Karkaroff whispered, moving forward again. "You put my life in order. You're the most brilliant man I have ever known and the gentlest in-"
"Stop! Don't say another word!"
"Please give me a second chance," pleaded Karkaroff.
"Seventh," whispered Severus. "Seventh chance, Karkaroff." Karkaroff stared. "Five should have been enough to warn me away, but circumstance reunited us two years ago, and like a fool I let you take advantage of me again."
"It was beautiful!"
"It was a mistake," Severus snapped. "That made six denouncements, six desertions-"
"Denouncements!" spluttered Karkaroff, "I never-"
"-and I vowed that it would not happen again," Severus went on coldly. "By God, I swore, I would never let you back into my life or my bed." He drew his wand. "I'm giving you to the count of three to leave my classroom, and I want you to stay out of my sight for the next week. One-"
Karkaroff suddenly leaned forward and kissed him.
Standing in the corridor, Lupin knew immediately what the silence meant, but still could not move.
Severus pulled away. Karkaroff's face was full of triumph.
"Three," Severus said quietly. "Reducio."
With a yell, Karkaroff was blasted back out the door, and hit the wall opposite. Lupin was shocked. Before he could open his eyes, Lupin slipped behind a mildewed tapestry hanging nearby.
"Good-bye, Karkaroff," Severus said. He shut the door and braced himself against it, breathless and weak.
Why had Dumbledore let Karkaroff come back to Britain? And why had he let the fugitive wizard come here and antagonize his former lover?
In a flash an answer came to him. The Dark Lord held grudges for a long time, especially against defectors to Dumbledore's side: Severus knew that well enough firsthand. Dumbledore was giving the ex-Headmaster of Durmstrang to the Death Eaters to be tortured and executed!
No, that didn't make any sense. Dumbledore was no sadist; in fact he absolutely detested torture. He had never even approved of having Dementors as Azkaban guards.
The other, very obvious answer now occurred to Severus. Karkaroff wasn't a sacrifice—he was bait.
What would lure in the Dark Lord? Finding out that one of his deserters was in Britain, readily available for capture. Since Severus could not be used for that purpose, Karkaroff had had to be brought back to Hogwarts.
And what would lure in Karkaroff? Severus, apparently.
As he puzzled this out he felt a pang of annoyance towards Dumbledore, whom he felt might have warned him of the existence of such a plan. In the next instant, though, he reasoned to himself that, had he been prepared for Karkaroff's return and acted unnaturally sympathetic, Karkaroff would have become suspicious and fled again.
This way, he understood, Karkaroff would stay for at least the week extended by the invitation. During the time that his attentions were diverted in the pursuit of Severus' clemency, Dumbledore could quietly arrange to have Karkaroff's presence in Britain leaked to the Death Eaters, who in turn would warn their master; and if Voldemort fell for the ruse, Dumbledore might end up with a whole new band of defendants for the Wizengamot.
Perhaps I could delay their arrest until after they murder Karkaroff, Severus thought wryly.
A knock on the door interrupted his musings. "Karkaroff, I asked you to-"
"It's Remus Lupin. May I come in?"
"Oh…" Snape was wrong-footed now, a position which ill suited him. "Yes, I- I suppose so."
Lupin entered, looking mildly curious. "Did you say 'Karkaroff'? He arrived here only an hour ago. Has he been to see you already?"
Snape scowled. "Yes." Lupin wisely opted not to press the subject.
"I wanted to speak to you about the potion for the next full moon."
"Yes, I'll have it ready. When is the full moon?"
"Next weekend, actually. Saturday night."
Snape frowned in thought. "I'll have to special-order some of the ingredients, or else go wandering about the Dark Forest trying to catch a boomslang snake… The aconite will have to be imported…" Snape pursed his lips. "It's very soon."
"Can you do it?"
Snape heaved a tremendous sigh. "I suppose so…"
"Thank you very much, Severus. I'm absolutely rubbish at Potions, I do appreciate you doing this for me."
With a false smile, Snape sneered, "What wouldn't I do for love?"
Seeing his stricken look, Lupin said, "I beg your pardon? My hearing's a bit dampened. We had rather a lot of excitement in class today, Neville accidentally blew up my desk—it was all very loud and we've gone fairly deaf…"
For the first and last time in his life, Severus Snape blessed clumsy Neville Longbottom with all his heart. "I said, what wouldn't I do for an Auror? You're welcome. Now if you'll excuse me…" He indicated the stacks of books on his desk.
"Ah, lesson plans," Lupin said with a grin. "Definitely not my favourite part of teaching."
Snape managed a thin-lipped smile in return, and kept it up until Lupin had gone. Then he shut the door, conjured a large pillow, and screamed into it until he ran out of breath.
Once the door was closed Remus started to run. He did not greet the Gryffindor trio whom he knocked over in the Entrance Hall, nor assure a bewildered Professor McGonagall that he had not lost his marbles. He ran until he reached his own office. Then he fell down on his desk, exhausted and clutching a stitch in his side.
Of course he had heard Snape perfectly well. Snape didn't know that in Defence Against the Dark Arts earlier, Remus, realizing an explosion was imminent, had had time to cast a quick Muting Charm round himself and hence had retained his hearing. He had only pretended to be suddenly deaf for the sake of Snape's dignity. He still couldn't believe what the swarthy, cold Potions Master had said.
"What wouldn't I do for love?"
Why, why had Snape said that? He hadn't been joking—the horrified look on his face afterwards had betrayed him. But—what a shock! Now Remus was so confused he didn't know what his name was or which way was up. He threw a white forearm across his sweating brow and wearily rolled over on his desk, falling to the floor with an "oof!".
* * *
The next day it began to drizzle, and the day after that to pour. By the third day it became apparent that the rain was not going to let up soon. The grounds began flooding. The lake swelled out of its shoreline and the lawns became a treacherous quagmire that mercilessly sucked up shoes and, occasionally, the feet and legs in them.
Karkaroff was not rebuffed by Snape's Reductor Curse. He persisted in visiting Severus every evening, after class—he could not risk being seen by students; at least, not until Dumbledore wanted his presence made known. Severus frequently wished he could fling Karkaroff into the lake and be rid of him.
Instead, he paid an irritated visit to the Headmaster's office.
"Come in," called Dumbledore absently from his desk.
Severus entered with a scowl. Dumbledore looked up and gave him a wan smile.
"Ah, Severus. Yes, I thought you would figure it out quickly." Severus nodded. "So you also figured out why I didn't apprise you of the plan?"
Severus nodded again. "Can't you at least make Karkaroff stay away from me?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "If it makes you feel better, I've already systematically leaked the information, but I doubt Voldemort will hear of it for at least two days. In the meantime, I am arranging for the Death Eaters to 'find' Karkaroff in London." He raised an eyebrow. "I am not, then, hearing any dissent from you on using him to lure them into our trap?"
"Absolutely not," Severus said with a shudder.
"It will be very dangerous," Dumbledore warned.
"There is a chance he could be hurt."
"Not a problem."
"It is also-"
"Albus, why are you trying to change my mind?" interrupted Severus. "I'm not Karkaroff's bloody keeper, I don't care one jot what happens to him."
"I want to be certain," Dumbledore said gently, "that you are certain."
Severus stared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, in the most frigid tone he could muster before the Headmaster. "I don't own him, I'm not responsible for him. But if you need my permission to use him as bait, you've already got it, Albus."
Dumbledore steepled his fingers and peered at Severus over the tips. "Severus, I know you and Igor Karkaroff were once very close." (More than once, Severus thought, and more than close.) "I don't normally condone manipulation and deceit, but he is a very crucial, if unwitting, part of our plan. To be perfectly frank, I want to be sure that if the plan goes awry and Karkaroff is harmed, you won't take it badly and accuse me of misreading your words."
"Then I frankly assure you, Headmaster, I will be fine. If something does happen, I will not fall to pieces and blame you for anything. Do you want a signed affidavit? I'll write it out for you: Karkaroff is a closed chapter of my life."
"If you change your mind…"
"It is always a possibility. Humans are impulsive and unpredictable by nature. You might suddenly be seized with the compulsion to tip him off. But I suppose I can't stop you from doing it. I mean, I could forbid it, but I couldn't stop it from happening."
"You could. But have faith in my fortitude, Albus, and trust that I will not succumb to his wiles again."
The Headmaster paused, and hesitated. "Remus…"
"Will have his potion by next weekend," Severus said curtly.
"Of course," said Dumbledore. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but then he smiled. "That's all, then?"No, that's not all. I'm still not over Igor and I can't get the Potter twit out of my head and without any provocation whatsoever I told Remus Lupin I was in love with him. I've been acting like a complete prat all week and I think I'm going mad and if I don't say these things in my head I'll explode…
"Yes, that's all. Good afternoon, Headmaster."
* * *
In a dark, dreary cabin in the Welsh mountains, a tall witch with sleek, dark hair knelt excitedly by her master's fireside armchair. "My lord!"
"Good evening, Bellatrix. You bring me good tidings, I presume?"
"Yes—Karkaroff—he's back in the country! I'm told he was seen skulking round London."
"I see." There was a note of intrigue in Lord Voldemort's voice, despite his aloof expression. "You wish to track him down?"
"Yes—you promised I could pay back the coward's duplicity and weakness ten times over, my lord. I must avenge my dear husband and my fellow Death Eaters, who were denounced by Karkaroff to save his own miserable hide."
"I did promise that. It will be the next best thing to retaliation against Severus Snape, won't it?"
"Very much, my lord. And are you not also eager to see the man who tried to sell all your loyal servants to the Ministry?"
Lord Voldemort nodded with a grim smile. "Notify the other Death Eaters, Bellatrix. We are going to London. We leave tonight."
* * *
Severus stood gazing into the murky cauldron, waiting for the leech juice to react with the monkshood. Lupin had just left. He'd been asking about the cost of the monkshood.
"Are you sure these ingredients weren't too expensive? I can pay you back."
"It's fine," Severus had replied curtly. Thank God Lupin hadn't heard him the other day—Severus would have died of mortification.
His gaze was unfocussed and distant; but he seemed to see images floating amid the clumps of fluxweed:
Potter, scrubbing out his cauldron, sweating and biting his lip…
Karkaroff, a broken man but still so confident, leaning forward to steal a kiss…
And then Lupin's two facets wandered in: first the kind, placid face, warm eyes, and sandy graying hair; then the werewolf-face, yellow eyes glaring down a long snout that finished in glistening fangs.
When Severus had first seen the darker side of Lupin, that night when he'd accepted a stupid dare, he'd been scared out of his wits. But now that he thought about it, he found it rather—alluring.
Harry Potter peered bravely round the door of Severus' office. The room was empty, but from a smaller chamber at the back Severus' voice rang out, cold and calm, "What do you want, Potter?"
Wiping leech juice from his hands, he stepped from the little room where he had been brewing the Wolfsbane potion for Lupin. "The essay on the Mandrake Restorative Draught," Potter said. "You said if we wanted to argue our mark we could come and-"
"To be blunt, Potter, I said that for the benefit of the Slytherins, who for once did much worse on an assignment than you. Perhaps that was because they did not have the advantage of hearing of Miss Granger's personal experience with the potion… What did you find dissatisfactory about my marking of your essay? Make it brief, I have a potion boiling."
At the end of a ten-minute discussion Potter had in fact lost another mark and was fuming. "But I know Malfoy wrote the same thing, and he didn't lose marks for it-"
"You Potters," Severus snarled, "all the same! You think you can carelessly stamp all over everyone's hard work while doing none of your own-"
"I did work hard on this essay!" Potter shouted back. "I'm only asking for fairness! Is it my fault that you're biased?"
"What would you like me to do, take marks away from Draco Malfoy too?"
"It might level the playing field!"
"And your fame, your popularity virtually from birth—was that not an advantage long before you strutted into my class?"
"I don't strut!" Potter hissed, clenching his fists.
It was a repetition of the heated scene when Severus had caught Potter snooping around in his worst memories. They had never spoken of the incident afterwards, to each other or to anyone else.
Frankly, Severus was tired of waxing eloquent over Potter like this—not tired of being cruel, never that; it was amusingly easy to push the Gryffindor's buttons. But he was tired of seeing the boy's features contorted in rage instead of smoothed by a warm encouraging smile like he gave his friends Granger, Weasley and Longbottom in Potions class when he thought Severus was not looking. Severus wished briefly that he could be on the receiving end of one of those engaging grins. Then he shook himself.
I must stop thinking of Potter this way, he told himself firmly. The thought should never have crossed my mind. I am a terrible, terrible person.
"Professor?" Potter was wearing his puzzled look. He was biting his lip, too, probably trying to imagine why Professor Snape kept drifting off.
Why do I keep finding arrogant twits attractive? First Karkaroff, now Potter—there must be someone out there who isn't a bastard; or at least, who's less of a bastard than I am.
He needed to clear Potter out of his office and return to his Wolfsbane Potion, which he was certain had boiled over by now. In annoyance he decided to put Potter's honour to a test. The brat kept claiming he wasn't conceited or scheming—fine. Severus would be the judge of that.
He made the boy a very appealing deal. "I will take the marks away from Mr. Malfoy's paper instead of yours, if you will stop arguing and leave me alone."
Potter frowned and engaged in chewing his lower lip again contemplatively. Finally he sighed and said, "No, I'd rather you didn't, if that's all right with you." He paused. "But… thank you for offering."
"Fine," said Severus curtly. "Final mark, six on ten."
"Five," Potter muttered, "you took one away just now for 'wrongfully assuming the Mandrake does not appear in Muggle literature'." He stopped just before adding, "Exactly as Malfoy wrote his essay, too."
"Six," Severus said quietly, eyes fixed on his markbook, "one point is being added for integrity." He summoned the courage to look into Potter's surprised face. "Your father would certainly have agreed to steal points from his enemy if offered the chance." He noticed the boy did not refute his statement: perhaps he had finally come to his senses about his father James' insufferable arrogances. "It is… reassuring to know that you do not resemble him in quite every aspect."
"It was a test?"
"Yes, Potter, and it was one you passed satisfactorily—though if only the same could be said of your tests in Potions, you wouldn't need to be made underhanded offers."
Potter's face twitched, and involuntarily blossomed into a smile—the first ever directed at the Potions Master. Severus struggled not to smile back as he said, "Are we finished?"
"Yes, Professor." The boy rose to leave. He hesitated, then blurted out, "Professor Snape, I really am sorry about—about having looked in the Pensieve that day. I shouldn't have been snooping, I realize that now, and I know how terrible it must have seemed, but I was just curious and-"
He stopped, realizing that he was babbling. "I- I'm just sorry."
Severus stared at him for a moment. Then he slowly extended his hand. Potter gazed at it blankly, then stuck out his own clammy hand and shook with the Potions Master. "Apology accepted, Mr. Potter," Severus said. "Never do it again."
"No." Severus arched an eyebrow. "No, Professor."
"Go then, and from now on keep your curiosity in check."
As soon as the door shut behind Potter, Severus opened the bottom drawer of his desk. At first glance it was empty, but he magically removed the false bottom to reveal a bottle of brandy. He took a fast swig and nearly fell off his chair. Then he set the bottle on his desk, his heart hammering in his chest and his head swimming.
He smiled—he shook my hand! And he passed the test. If only I wasn't in such a hurry to get him out of here, I might have admitted to being prejudiced in my marking…
He started. "Oh Christ, the Wolfsbane Potion!"
He rushed to the back room and groaned when he saw the bubbling grey potion sliming onto the floor. A quick Vanishing Spell got rid of the mess, but now he would have to start all over again… Six hours' work undone in ten minutes.
It was worth it. He smiled at me.
He jumped, hearing a voice in the office. "Severus?"
Severus moved to the doorway. "Karkaroff," he said coldly. "I thought I told you-"
"I just came to say good-bye," said Karkaroff. "I- I'm leaving. He asked me to go to London with him, and from there I may go on to Ireland. I probably won't be back here for a long time."
It's happening… The Death Eaters must already be in place. "Fine," Severus said equably.
"You're not angry that I'm going away?"
"No. Why should I be? I'm used to abandonment by now. Go to London."
"Severus, I'm here to ask if you'll come with me."
Severus jumped. "What?" He wished he hadn't drunk that brandy quite so fast. It was sloshing about in his stomach and hindering his reaction time.
"I want you to come with me," Karkaroff said, smiling hopefully. "Please, let me make up the time we lost because of my stupidity and distraction. Come to London—and perhaps beyond, if you like. Dumbledore wouldn't mind having an extra companion, I'm sure."
Yes, and the Dark Lord wouldn't mind having another deserter to hunt down and eviscerate. "No, thank you."
Karkaroff was crestfallen. "You won't come? You won't give me a chance to redeem myself, at least in your eyes? It is your opinion I value above all others."
"No," said Severus. Outwardly he was very calm—inside he was wild with panic.
"I could be persuaded to stay here," Karkaroff said slyly, "with you."
"No." Severus struggled to keep the alarm out of his voice. Calm down… concentrate on convincing him that you don't want him anymore. Which is entirely true.
He turned his back on Karkaroff and fixed his eyes on the empty cauldron in the back room. "Just go away. Don't bother trying to bloody redeem yourself in my eyes or anyone else's—you're a lily-livered frog, now and forever, and everyone knows it."
"Get away from me," Severus hissed over his shoulder.
"Severus, please…" Karkaroff's voice was breaking. "Don't send me away to my death."
"To your-" Severus wheeled to face him, his eyes wide.
"My God, you- you know! How do you know?"
"I've known since last night," Karkaroff whispered. "I have a contact in London who warned me that Bellatrix Lestrange had been spotted in Diagon Alley. This morning Dumbledore asked me to accompany him to London and I knew immediately it was a ruse. You knew, too, I suppose—why didn't you warn me, Severus? You were perfectly prepared to send me to be tortured and killed?" His eyes were pleading and the goatee was getting a firm twist. "Have I really hurt you so badly?"
"You're not meant to get killed," was all Severus could think to say.
"But there's a chance I could be."
Karkaroff suddenly flew into a rage. "Hypocrite! Deceiver!"
"I didn't know all the time," Severus protested weakly. "I only found out very recently, after you had arrived."
"But you accused me of abandoning you—or denouncing you—and now who is the absconder? Who condemns whom? This time the tables have turned, but you have not the excuses of youth or of naïveté as I did. You are completely possessed of your faculties and of hard-earned wisdom, and yet you still would have let me go!"
He paused and exhaled. Severus stared, bereft of speech. "Have you nothing to say before I go?" Karkaroff whispered.
Severus slowly stepped forward. Karkaroff closed his eyes. Severus kissed him on his hollow cheek. "Good-bye, Igor," he said softly.
Karkaroff drew back, tears glimmering in his eyes. "Good-bye, Severus. For my part… I'm sorry."
He turned and walked out.
He continued through the dungeons, out into the Entrance Hall, and straight through the front doors. Outside it was still pouring rain. He was soaked immediately, but he kept going.
He crossed the soft quagmire and halted on the edge of the swollen lake.
You're a lily-livered frog…
He plunged into the muddy waters.
It was the last cowardice of Igor's life. The weight of his robes dragged him down, and he did not fight. He let himself glide deeper in the silent, sepulchral dark. The Grindylows watched him through the reeds, but did not reach out to catch him; the merpeople circled his drifting form without disturbing his slumber. The giant squid stretched out a faltering tentacle, but withdrew it before contact.
And so he sank and he slept, and no one ever saw him again.
But Severus did not know what was happening to Igor Karkaroff. In his office he dropped heavily into his chair. His hands were trembling. He clasped them on the desktop. Then he laid down his head.
Time passed. Severus remained prone. He felt like he should be doing something. There were tests to be graded, essays to be disparaged, potions to be brewed—the Wolfsbane Potion, especially. The potion to save Lupin from becoming a monster…
Incongruous thought, really. Good Lupin, a monster!
Sensitive Lupin, warm, kind Lupin…
A hand touched his shoulder, gently smoothing the creases, shifting the burdens…
He turned quite suddenly, reached out and grabbed his guest by the front of his robes, and kissed him as hard as he could, hungrily, ravenously…
They drew apart.
"I knew you'd be back," Severus whispered.
Remus' eyes were wide. "I- I wasn't really deaf the other day, you know."
Severus was mildly surprised. "It was kind to pretend for my sake. It- it was a slip of the tongue."
"And now I'm being slipped tongue," Remus joked.
* * *
Warm in Remus' arms, Severus smiled. Remus' eyes fluttered open. "Why are you staring at me?"
"I don't know," Severus answered honestly.
"Hoping to see someone else?" Remus asked teasingly.
Severus laughed. "No."
Remus turned his head and looked around in puzzlement. "Where are we? I can't remember where we ended up last night… Is this your room? No, we're in my bed."
"Am I going to have to dash through the halls with no pants on?" Severus asked in mock-pain.
Remus rolled over and kissed him. "I don't think you're going anywhere for a while."