Part Two - B
Remus was in the Great Hall the next morning, already half-way through a light breakfast by the time Severus sat beside him. It was the only empty chair, and a pathetic hope that Remus had engineered it that way flitted through Severus's mind, before he chased it away with a scowl at Remus, of all people. Remus, whose face was still bruised. Remus, who had the gall to smile at him, softly, like they were sharing some kind of silent joke. Severus ate in silence, abandoning his plate when Remus rose to leave. He knew that both Dumbledore and Potter were staring at him, but he did not care. He followed Remus out into the corridor, and, once sure that they were alone, called out to stop him. He thought his first words to the man would be an apology, granted an inadequate one, but instead –
"Your face, is that my punishment then? More reason for the staff to hate me? Or were you aiming for guilt?" he sneered, damning himself silently for being the bastard he'd always been.
Remus hadn't turned around, but he did then, his face both tense and intensely regretful. Though Severus could not imagine what he could regret, besides ever associating with a Death Eater bastard.
"I don't want you to feel guilty, Severus. Some things…always seem inevitable for some people," he answered quietly. Students began seeping into the hallway, and Remus let himself into the closest anteroom, expecting to be followed.
"What are you on about?" Severus asked impatiently when the door was closed and warded. He tried not to wince at the distance Remus was instinctively putting between them, for protection.
"Nothing. Nothing. Only, I understand the…appeal of putting a…controlled man in his place, especially when so many things are beyond your control. You wouldn't be the…well, I've…it doesn't matter. No lasting damage. I don't want you to feel guilty, Severus, but I'd like to keep the bruises, heal naturally. It's a badge of…something," Remus finished lamely.
"Weakness?" Severus snapped.
"Maybe," Remus shrugged.
"You've been hit before, and not by me."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought you knew. You know everything. And I thought that's why it was easy for you too -,"
"You thought…I beat you because you would take it?" Severus couldn't hide the fact that he was repulsed. Nauseated.
"I don't know. I don't…I love you Severus. It doesn't matter if…it doesn't matter. I can…certain things I can take, if it's what you need of me. Or I can…"
"Shut up!" he bellowed. He couldn't stand this, couldn't stomach it. He knew that Remus was a good man who often compromised himself in order to keep his friends. He'd hated Black for using that quality in him, and now look where they were. Remus was willing to…no, Severus couldn't even think about that possibility. He'd rather kill himself than allow Remus to debase himself for Severus. Just the image of him lying on the floor, bleeding, crying…Severus couldn't stomach it.
"You'd settle for that, wouldn't you?" he asked.
"Why?" Severus asked, his voice desperate. All of him, desperate. Please don't say you do it for love, he prayed to himself. Please don't let this be love for him.
"Why do you spy, still?" Remus asked.
"It's hardly the same situation, Lupin," Severus snarled, any relief he might have felt for not hearing the wrong answer destroyed by frustration at a non-answer. "Don't compare my reparation with your lacking feelings of self-worth."
"Do you always ask questions which you think you know the answer to?" Remus sighed, his voice finally carrying something more reasonable than forgiveness.
"Must be the educator in me," Severus smirked.
"The educator in you can fuck off with the rest of you," Remus growled, moving towards the door.
"That's the most intelligent thing you've said all day," Severus countered. He'd meant to seal the fate of this doomed relationship, to say goodbye, to have the last words. To praise Remus, in his own way, for finally doing what was best for him. He should have known that things would not go his way.
"I have class. Are you coming by tonight?" Remus asked, his hand still on the doorknob.
"I can't imagine why you'd want me there," Severus answered, frowning.
"I'll always want you there. I told you that it didn't matter how you came home. I told you I'd be there. No matter what, Severus. No matter what."
"You weren't bargaining for what happened last night though," Severus whispered, all his voice would allow.
"No, but…I concede that I said the wrong thing. And you…struck out, because you could. That's no excuse, but…believe me, Severus, this is something I can forgive."
"I know. That's enough. You won't…you won't do it again." A statement of fact, not a question. Severus's heart swelled at that, half with love, half with guilt for having someone he didn't deserve.
"No. No, I swear I won't," Severus answered.
"I know. I am sorry."
"I know. I'll see you tonight." And then he was gone, and Severus could breathe.
He kept breathing easily until the 7th year Gryffindor class. Things went well, academically wise. No explosions. No petty fights. Just blinding green eyes glaring at him for two hours. Potter wasn't even trying to hide the fact that he was furious with his Potions Master, and Severus thanked God that N.E.W.T level classes were divided by house. The last thing he'd need is a junior Death Eater writing home to daddy that something was going on, of a personal nature, between the Golden Boy and himself. When the end of class came, Severus glided by Potter's cauldron, slipped in a thumbnail of powdered valerian, and walked on before the bubbles could spill over.
"And once again, Potter, you provide the class with another reason to look at you. These childish bids for attention are really getting tiresome. You will, of course, remain after class to clean up this mess. And, 10 points, I think, from Gryffindor, for wasting your classmate's time, not to mention my own. Everyone else, you are dismissed," Severus announced with a genuine smirk. He'd be failing Potter's potion as well, of course. The boy should have learned by now to watch his cauldron more carefully.
He watched in silence as the boy cleaned up the mess and gathered his things, occasionally looking up to stare at Severus with unmitigated hatred.
"Do you have something to say to me, Mr. Potter?" Severus sneered.
Potter's jaws clenched and Severus knew that, whatever it was, had to be good. Had to be something that could land Potter in detention for a long, long time.
"You are an evil man," Harry finally growled out. He was never one for self-control.
"Such a child, after all," Severus sighed in mock-disappointment. Granted, he'd nearly convinced himself that Potter had matured these past few years, but to be disappointed, he'd have to have expectations. "Still living in a world of dichotomies. Right and wrong, good and evil. In the real world, the lines are blurred."
"You're wrong," Harry countered adamantly. "Some things are absolute. Like Albus Dumbledore. He is a good man."
"So naïve! It'd be charming…if it wasn't so pathetic. After all, who do you think killed that tragic godfather of yours?" Severus had lost sight of why he was doing this. It had been a relatively easy day, all things considering. Why was he doing this?
"What? I…that was Voldemort. And Lestrange. I…Dumbledore had nothing to do with that!"
"This is getting tiresome. Well, Potter, ready to see how the big boys play? Consider. Black was a liability for our side. He was too visible for surveillance, too hotheaded for anything else. All he was good for was providing that hell hole for a base, and even that was an accident of birthright. No, Black was dangerous. You made him dangerous. And in the spying game, information doesn't come cheap. You have to give a little to get a little. It was only a matter of time until Pettigrew would find it in him to convince the Dark Lord that Black was your Achilles' heal. So your beloved Headmaster gave me the pleasurable task of trading Black's life for the schematics of a new Death Eater camp in Southern Wales." Why am I doing this, Severus asked himself. He hadn't told Remus this little tale, and Potter was sure to mention it in one of their tutorials. And then, he'd lose him all over again, after just narrowly winning him back.
"But…but the occulmancy lessons! You were training me to stop the visions! Dumbledore asked you to do that, and it would have saved Sirius, so you're wrong! You're lying!"
Severus could hear the desperation in Potter's voice. It was something he understood all too well. He was, after all, about to tear down one of the boy's heroes. He wondered if a memory charm would be more appropriate, but there were rules against that kind of thing. Something Lockhart had never bothered to learn, but Obliviate could be detected by the school's wards, a guard against lecherous professors taking advantage of their students and then wiping away the evidence with one junior-grade spell. So he went on, damning himself further, and Potter too.
"Listen to yourself, boy. Dumbledore asked me. Do you think for one moment I would have let my guard down around you, that I would allow you to see classified Order business hidden in my memories?"
"That's why you had the Headmaster's penseive."
"Yes. Now, try to keep up. Do you think the headmaster, in all his infinite wisdom, would have failed to warn me about that stunt you pulled in your fourth year with the very same penseive? It would have been a big leap of faith to assume you'd grown up and learned to respect the privacy of others."
"I don't understand."
" Naturally. Let me walk you through. Dumbledore told me to inform Voldemort of your affinity for Black. Dumbledore told me to give you access to my penseive. Dumbledore told me to catch you in the act of snooping and to react appropriately, once it became clear that you were hopeless at the task at hand. Dumbledore created a reason for the lessons to stop, he created yet another strain on our relationship that would mean you would never consider coming to me for help, he convinced Black to keep that filthy little house elf in the house, and he failed to protect Black from a second class duelist. True, he didn't want Black killed, because he was an able body, like any pawn of this war. And he was a Gryffindor, and had certain qualities that some would see as worthy. But he saw what was coming, what road he'd started you on, and he took advantage of the situation. He eliminated the chink in your armor, Potter, while at the same time forcing you to grow up just a little bit and to build up inside yourself enough anger at Voldemort to insure your loyalty to us. Oh yes, Dumbledore is good and right. He's good at manipulating people. And he was right about the best way of doing it to you."
"Then what does he have on you?" Potter asked angrily, having more restraint than Severus would have credited him with. "If you're so smart, how does he manage to convince you to half kill yourself every week for information that does no bloody good?"
"Not that it's any of your business, but the Headmaster no longer has to manipulate me. Long ago, he used my guilt. And, when it came to you, my honor and debt. But that debt's been repaid, and my guilt has dissolved, and I still go on because it is the only purpose I have. Maybe you can understand that?" Severus was bewildered and at a loss to find the point when this became a real conversation.
"There's more to my life than being the Boy Who Lived."
"Well, in that case I'm very pleased for you."
"And you're more than a spy." Potter sounded unsure, grudging, but not as if it were out of the realm of possibility.
"Yes, I'm the greasy Potions Master," Severus laughed nastily. This was getting ridiculous.
"What about Remus?" Potter finally asked. Severus had been wondering when, in the past 10 minutes, the name would have been mentioned. "I thought…aren't you something to him, too?" Which, they both knew, was a wasted question, when Potter had obviously entered into this thing certain that Severus was an abusive prick.
"I'm his penance," Severus answered, surprising himself that he was being honest, and that this was what he honestly believed.
" I don't understand."
" Then you'll have to ask him. You need to leave, anyway. My Slytherins will be coming back from classes soon and they know you don't have a detention with me."
"I still believe in good, you know? You can't argue that away."
"Again, I'm very pleased for you. It might not always be that way."
" Goodnight, Professor."
This isn't right, Severus thought, as he strained to hold himself in while making love to Remus that night. He was going slow, being gentle. Loving, it's called, he told himself, moving into and against Remus. Remus, who was being so passive. Whose hands were limply resting on his shoulders. Whose face was…God, he can't even look at me. God. Fuckfuckfuck he's crying, looking away with eyes shut and crying. And whispering, Severus just noticed. Containing a moan, a pant, he pushed in deeper, trying to get close enough to hear.
"Bless me father, for I have sinned," Remus whispered, a lost, little voice.
"What?" he choked out, not wanting to hear the answer, but asking anyway. Who said there was only room for one masochist in any given relationship?
"Penance?" Remus asked him, finally looking at him in the eyes, with his blurry blues. "Tell me, Severus, what have I done that was so heinous that I deserved you?"
This is grotesque, Severus thought, knowing that he was still buried inside Remus, but so far away at the same time. So unworthy of closeness, and so unwilling to give it up. But he did. Give it up.
"You tell me, Remus," he said, pulling away from his lover. "I'm not…good to you. I'm cruel. You've seen how cruel I can be. I can't help but feel like…I'm the price you're paying for something you think you've done wrong."
"God save me from needful things," Remus mocked under his breath. "What is this, Severus? Save the Werewolf Day? Or do you merely want me to stroke your ego, listing all the many ways that I love you, all your admirable qualities? Let me assure you, at this moment, they won't counterbalance the score of reasons that make you a fucking arsehole."
"Then we have nothing more to talk about," Severus answered coldly, hoping that his face was set enough not to betray the fact that his chest was caving in, that he was bleeding out. He stood and began to gather his clothes.
"Fuck, Severus, why is everything a fight with you?" Remus shouted, covering himself with the bed sheet. "Are you only happy when people hate you? No, don't answer. Any answer would be a lie. I've seen you happy, in this bed I've seen you happy, and you were not hated. But…why…how can you say these things to me? About me? Christ, what were you doing talking to Harry like that?"
"Potter has the discretion of…of Hagrid," Severus spluttered, hating that he'd lost his will, and nerve, to fight back.
"Don't give me that," Remus snapped. "You knew damn well he'd come to me after all those things you said. And Sirius…was all of that true, or were you just out to hurt him?"
"I can hurt him easily enough with the truth," Severus sneered.
"Yes. I can see that you can. Why…why didn't you tell me?"
Severus would have yelled if not for the utter emptiness in Remus's eyes. But what other kind of emptiness is there?
"I may have exaggerated the depth of my involvement in that situation," Severus admitted. "It's true that I told Voldemort that Potter and Black were close, and occasionally in contact, but it was already known to him. The only new information I passed on was that Potter was staying with his godfather for Christmas, and for that I was admitted into a meeting that got me the Welsh house's plans."
"Why do you want Harry to think the worst of Albus?" Remus asked. They were skirting around the real issue, but it could wait, and the diversion was a prelude of pain.
"I want him to grow out of blind faith," Severus answered.
"Do you want the same from me?" Remus whispered.
"If it's misplaced, yes," Severus answered urgently. "Yes."
"It's not in your power to judge," Remus countered. "But you try your best not to be worthy of it."
"If you want it in the baldest of terms, Lupin, you shall have it," Severus growled, exasperated by the effort of the inevitable. "I'm quite capable of fucking and being fucked by you while not caring for you at all. It's a peculiar strength of will, I grant you, but one I find immeasurably useful. However, I do care for you at the moment, and that causes me…discomfort, when I see your reactions to my casual cruelty. So either you find it in you to react appropriately when I am being a cunt, or we resign ourselves to a loveless series of one-night stands, or we say goodbye and try to forget this failed experiment in love."
The fierce shout of "Incendio," was more of a demonstration of indignation than Severus had bargained for, and he collapsed back onto the bed, cradling his flame-blistered hand, trying to suppress his unnatural instinct to lick his wounds. And then the smell of boiling flesh hit him, and he looked at his hands, at the skin burning away to muscles and tendons, and he summoned the strength he could to lean his head over the side of the bed before retching on the floor. And still, Remus did not remove the hex.
"Is this cruel enough for you, Severus?" Remus hissed.
God, hissing, hissing, Severus thought, and he was sure he said something embarrassing, something about master and please and god, fuck me, rape me, anything but don't take my hands.
"Yes," he said, calmly, speaking with a voice not his own, because his own was busy begging like the weakling he felt himself to be.
"And do you really want me to be so cruel?" Remus asked.
"No!" Severus cried. And it wasn't pain this time, physical at any rate. It was the thought of his sweet, kind, gentle, loving Remus, playing a monster, just to please him. Playing a monster, when he's been labeled one his whole life, Severus reminded himself through the pain. When it's what he fears the most.
"No, Remus, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, please don't. I love you. I love you!"
To anyone witnessing the scene, it would look like Severus was begging for his life. But it was bigger than that, and for the first time, Severus saw it. His love for…with Remus, was bigger than his life. Bigger than anything he'd ever had before. Suddenly, he felt no pain. Remus had stopped the hex, and had given him a potion and tended his wounds, and he was holding him to him, his glorious, loving, gentle skin, wrapped around Severus like it was his own. Remus was his own.
"Don't ever do that again," Severus said, voice hoarse from screaming.
"I won't," Remus answered, holding Severus even tighter.
"I mean it, Remus. Never become that, for me. I'd rather die."
"And you…you know I can take that kind of torture. Only don't make me hate you, Severus. I'd rather die."
"Me too," Severus agreed softly, feeling that Remus was about to fall asleep. It was nearing 2 in the morning. A new day, full of hope. "Me too."
A/N: The real end, a happy ending I hope. Some might choose to think that Remus and Severus won't make it…but I think they will. I'm a sucker for angst and all, but give me a happy ending any day. Anyways, I wanted to thank you all for reading, and these people for their reviews of the last two installments –
The Treacle Tart
Morrolan (it'll take me a while to recognize the new name!)