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I Died In My Dreams
Severus had already been lingering on the same paragraph of some second year's essay for at least ten minutes when he looked up and glanced around the staff room; it definitely wasn't the place where he'd usually do his work but right now he had barely half an hour left until he'd have to hand back those essays so he couldn't afford to waste time by taking them down to his office first. Although it probably wouldn't have made much of a difference since he only sat there and stared down at the paper without paying attention to what he was doing anyway.
The staff room was empty now except for him and McGonagall; he hadn't even noticed Lupin leaving. And that meant he really must have been quite lost in thought.
Severus put the parchment down onto the table and looked at the deputy headmistress. For a while she simply ignored him and continued writing and only when he was just about to give up did she stop and throw him a questioning look over the rim of her spectacles.
"What does it mean when you die in your dreams?" he asked.
McGonagall arched an eyebrow and put her quill down. "I'm afraid you're asking the wrong person. Sibyll might be of more help regarding this issue," she said.
"I don't intend to give her a reason to once more predict death and disaster in my life," he replied. "I'd just like to know what it's supposed to mean."
"I'm sorry, Severus, but I honestly don't know. I'm surprised you're even interested in it; I've always considered you much too down-to-earth to believe in something like that."
Severus hesitated for a moment. "Yes, you're probably right," he then muttered and lowered his eyes back onto his essay again, pretending not to notice that McGonagall was still looking at him. He already regretted that he'd even mentioned it and hoped she'd eventually give up and leave him alone; although he knew she most probably wouldn't.
"I suppose you have a reason for asking that other than just making a little conversation?" she asked.
"Female intuition, is it?" Severus muttered without looking up. Only when she didn't say anything in return he put down his papers again and found her looking at him with quite a worried expression on her face.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"Yes. It's nothing," Severus replied and gave her a quick courteous smile to confirm his statement. He didn't like lying to her so he told himself that actually it hadn't been a lie; after all, it was just an annoying dream, it meant nothing at all and he wouldn't think about it any longer.
It only took him one quick glance at the old clock at the other end of the room to realise that he'd probably have to hand back those essays next week. Which would definitely delight his second years because it meant they wouldn't have to write another paper over the weekend.
"So when are you leaving for that congress?" he asked while getting to his feet and gathering his papers. "Tonight?"
"Tomorrow morning," McGonagall replied. "Are you trying to get rid of me?"
"Not at all. Who's taking your classes then?"
"No one; my fourth years are going to have an early weekend."
Severus nodded and put the essays back into the shelf next to him. "What was Lupin doing here?"
"I have no idea," McGonagall replied and picked up her quill again. "I'd suppose he had something to talk about with Albus."
"Which would mean he'll leave again today."
"He might or he might not. I really can't understand why it bothers you so much; you don't even have anything to do with him," McGonagall said.
"That's just the point," Severus replied. "While I'm trying not to have anything to do with him, he seems to do exactly the opposite; he's just plain annoying. I think I've made my point very clear, so why does he even talk to me? And mind you, not about anything important of course; he's talking to me about the bloody weather..."
"He might just be trying to get to know your more sociable and talkative side."
"He's known me for long enough to know that it doesn't exist."
McGonagall couldn't hide a smile. "Remus believes in the good in man."
"Yes, I'm sure he does. Because he's naive."
"He's just friendly. He likes people."
"As I said - naive," Severus repeated. "My second years are waiting," he added and set off towards the dungeons.
Just like he'd expected, his students didn't mind not getting their essays back. At least he suspected so since none of them had asked him about it; or perhaps simply none of them had dared to say a word.
Severus had spent most of what had been left of his afternoon preparing Lupin's potion and was now sitting in his armchair and looking over at those three stacks of papers on his desk, waiting to be marked. He took a deep breath, came to the conclusion that right now he didn't even have the will to get up from this chair and decided he'd do that tomorrow. It was still over an hour till dinner so he leaned back in his chair to close his eyes just for a moment, falling asleep only seconds later.
And of course, the dream came back. He'd expected that much; after all it had been haunting him for weeks now, almost every night. It was always exactly the same dream, nothing ever changed and even though he was fully aware of the fact that he was dreaming he could never change anything either, no matter what he did. Once again he found himself standing in front of the impressive Victorian mansion in the middle of the night, surrounded by dense mist rising up from the grass. The house seemed familiar, it bore a striking resemblance to Malfoy's manor, but he didn't recognise the surroundings; the house didn't belong here.
He already knew what was to come as he started walking towards the entrance and he was right once again; as soon as he'd stepped onto the front porch, the door swung open without making a sound and allowed him into a long narrow corridor. He entered the house and the darkness inside was replaced by a blinding light as flames shot up from the ground. The whole corridor floor was on fire, but he just walked on, through the flames. In the shadows to his left and right there were dark figures, dressed in long black robes and smiling at him as he passed by. Once he'd reached the door at the end of the corridor, he stopped walking, took out his wand and let it drop to the ground before he proceeded. He stepped through the door and walked down the stone stairs that lead into a dark room. When he'd reached the end of the stairs he turned around to find them gone and nothing but a solid wall behind him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a movement, turned around again, looked down and saw a gray tabby cat sitting next to him on the ground and staring up at him. In a sudden flash of light a person appeared a few steps away from him in the middle of the room and once his eyes had gotten used to the darkness again he recognised McGonagall. She was standing there and staring at him, her expression full of hate. In one hand she held her wand, in the other a mirror. She let the mirror drop to the ground where it shattered into pieces, then she pointed her wand at him. He couldn't hear what she was saying but it caused a bolt of blue and white lightning to shoot from the tip of her wand and hit him in the chest. Severus stumbled backwards, fell to the floor and woke up, knowing he had just died.
He was breathing hard and gasping for air. That dream always left him in such a state and he was mad at himself for allowing a reaction like that; after all, it was just a dream. And quite a silly one on top of it. It didn't even feel very real, all through the dream he always knew it wasn't real. Severus took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes.
"Seems like I'm slowly but surely losing my mind...," he muttered to himself as he got back to his feet and walked to the cupboard across the room. He took a small golden key from his pocket, unlocked one of the doors and began searching through the various bottles inside the cupboard until he found a metallic phial labelled "Dreamless Sleep". It was about time to fall back on that; he hadn't had much sleep for the last two weeks and if that wouldn't change very soon he'd probably really go insane. He put the phial into his pocket and locked the door again.
During dinner Severus remained his usual quiet self, avoiding even looking in Lupin's general direction just to make sure he wouldn't get the impression that he might be in a talkative mood. Although it would always remain a mystery to him what in the world ever made Lupin think that he was interested in having a conversation with him.
He watched the first students getting up from their seats to leave the Great Hall, waited patiently for his colleagues to do the same and then got up himself and followed McGonagall to the doors.
"Could I talk to you for a minute?" he asked as soon as he'd caught up with her on the corridor outside.
"I'll walk you up to your quarters," Severus said and nodded towards the stairs; she'd sounded like she actually had better things to do so he didn't want to steal too much of her time.
"So? What is it?" McGonagall asked after they'd walked halfway up the stairs in silence.
Severus glowered at a group of second years as they ran past him down the stairs. "Are you mad at me for something?" he then asked.
"Do I have a reason to?"
"You're mad at me without any reason at all often enough," Severus replied.
"I always have a reason; you're usually simply too obstinate to see that," McGonagall said. "And no, I'm not mad at you. Not yet at least. What's wrong with you today? You're asking a lot of strange questions..."
"There's nothing wrong with me; I'm just trying to figure out what that nightmare could mean."
"And what would that have to do with me?"
"Well, actually in that nightmare it's you who kills me," Severus replied.
McGonagall frowned at him. "I'm mad at you and then I kill you?" she asked disbelievingly.
"No; I have no idea why you're doing that," he said. "Just forget about the whole thing."
McGonagall paused when she reached the door to her quarters and turned around to face him. "Dreams have absolutely no meaning at all," she said softly. "They're nothing but electrical impulses your brain is trying to interpret but since you're asleep most parts of your brain aren't functioning in their usual way and the outcome is a dream that won't make any sense."
"Quite a scientific explanation," Severus said.
"I knew you'd like it," she replied and smiled at him. "Stop thinking about it and it will go away."
Severus nodded. "I'll give it a try," he said. "Enjoy your Transfigurations convention then."
"I honestly doubt that I will," McGonagall replied.
"I'm beginning to think you're only going there every year to complain about it afterwards."
"We all need something to complain about, don't we?"
"I suppose so," Severus said and turned to leave. "Well, I still have some essays to look through; I'll see you on Saturday."
"Don't stay up all night," McGonagall called after him as he started slowly walking along the corridor.
"Yes, Ma'am," he replied, not meaning it and knowing she was fully aware of this.
As he turned the next corner he heard a sound he immediately identified as a chandelier being thrown outside through one of the large decorated windows. He started walking faster but once he got there all he found was a broken window, glass shattered on the floor and no sign of the culprit; but it wasn't difficult to figure out who was responsible for this.
"The ice is getting thin, poltergeist," Severus muttered to himself, took out his wand and repaired the window with a quick spell. "They'll throw you out of this castle sooner or later and I shall celebrate the day they do."
While he didn't stay up the whole night he still spent the better part of it reading disappointingly unsubstantial essays that would have made anyone else starting to doubt their teaching abilities. Not him though; after all it wasn't his fault that he had to waste his time with those lazy morons calling themselves students.
He woke up the next morning with an awful headache and in an unusually bad temper which made him decide to skip breakfast; he really wasn't in the mood to meet anyone. Unfortunately he didn't have a choice if he wanted to meet his students, but at least he wouldn't have talk to them.
He wasn't very surprised to find out that it didn't even seem to make a difference whether or not he said anything at all; those kids would mess things up without his help just as they did whenever he actually tried to make them do it right. But that wasn't his problem; if they didn't listen to him they probably simply didn't want to learn anything and he couldn't – and wouldn't – try to force them to either.
Due to his exceptionally bad mood that day he'd taken over a hundred points in total from all three houses, argued with Madam Hooch, told Filch that he was obviously absolutely incapable of doing his job here and successfully insulted Trelawney – and he'd accomplished all that before it was time for lunch.
Yes, it had definitely been another lovely day, he thought to himself as he stood at the open window high up in one of the tallest towers and watched the sun setting over the castle grounds.
The next day he didn't even leave his quarters before the evening. He was busy enough anyway with finishing his OWL and NEWT statistics; perhaps he'd put doing that off just a few too many times.
Carrying along the folder containing his thirty-something pages report he left his quarters to find the deputy headmistress. First he went up to the staff room where he nearly bumped into Madam Hooch as he opened the door. She glowered at him before she went back to pretending not to have noticed him at all and started walking along the corridor.
"Is McGonagall back yet?" he called after her, paying no regard to her behaviour.
"I think so," Hooch replied coldly.
Severus decided that this was probably as much of an answer as he'd get from her, threw a glance into the empty staff room and set off for McGonagall's quarters to find out for himself.
He knocked on the door, waited, knocked again and when he finally got a reply it was a rather unexpected "Who is it?" instead of the simple "Come in" he was used to.
"Me," was his meaningful reply and after he'd been waiting for another minute, lazily leaning against the doorframe, the door finally opened.
"Oh, it's you," McGonagall greeted him.
"Like I said," Severus replied as he stepped into the room. "I got your NEWT statistics," he added and handed her the folder.
"Very good," McGonagall said, took only one quick glance at the folder and placed it on her desk.
"So... how was your convention?" Severus asked and sat down in an armchair next to the window.
"Interesting," she replied.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "Now that would be a first; nothing at all to complain about? No arguments with self-righteous incompetent imbeciles?"
"Well, let's just say it was tolerable," McGonagall said and sat down opposite from him. "And did I miss anything around here?"
"Not really," he replied, thoughtfully eyeing the bronze mirror on the wall next to him. "Much to my regret the headmaster doesn't seem to want to take any measures regarding the bloody poltergeist despite the havoc he caused Thursday night, but that's not really news. I've taken seventy house points from Gryffindor and I had my reasons for that, just thought I'd tell you now so you don't have to get overly upset when you notice; that's about it."
"Am I right to assume that it had something to do with Potter?"
"Yes, you are. Forty points," he said. "If he hadn't been so insolent it might have been only thirty; twenty-five if I hadn't been so tired."
McGonagall gave him a questioning look, showing not even the indication of a smile. "Have you been summoned again?"
"No; just the nightmares still keeping me awake."
"I see," McGonagall replied and nodded. "Speaking about that, what about Potter and his nightmares? They didn't come back, did they?"
"I certainly hope not; and if they should, don't even tell me about it because I definitely don't want to get involved with this again."
"There might be other ways to deal with this problem."
Severus shrugged his shoulders; he wasn't pleased at all with how she wouldn't let go of the subject although she knew it was something he'd rather simply forget about altogether instead of discussing it over and over again. "I did the best I could and I'm still convinced that Occlumency would have been the right way; if Potter had only wanted to learn," he replied and got up from his chair. "Well, actually I just wanted to give you the report; I still have a few things to do, so I suppose I'd better be leaving again now."
At that time he didn't really know yet what exactly he had to do, but he was sure he'd find something.
Already half an hour later he'd gotten quite bored with sitting around and reading his book and tossed "A Concise History of the Relationship with the Muggle World Since the 18th Century" a few feet across the room where it landed safely on his desk. He breathed in deeply and let his gaze wander along the walls; perhaps he could rearrange his books once again. He'd already sorted them by author, by title and by subject so pretty much everything that was left now was to sort them by colour or size and neither of these made a lot of sense. And either way, all it would take was a wave of the wand so it really wasn't an activity to keep him busy the whole evening. For a Muggle it probably would have been; he'd thought about that many times already, about Muggles and how they could possibly ever get anything done – a life without magic looked like a rather tedious affair to him.
For a few minutes he just stared at the clock on the wall, contemplating if it was already late enough to go to bed, when his thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the screeching of an owl fluttering around in front of his window. Severus sighed, reluctantly pulled out his wand and waved it at the window to allow the owl inside. The bird flew across the room, towards the door, turned around and sat down on the table right in front of him. Severus sat up straight in his armchair, took the piece of parchment from the owl's leg and shot the bird an annoyed glare, immediately making it take off again.
That owl had looked a little too familiar for him to want to open that letter but if it was what he thought it was, just throwing it into the fire wouldn't make things better.
"11:30, Malfoy Manor" was all it said in the note; black ink, neat handwriting, no signature – as usually.
He leaned towards the candle on the table in front of him and burnt up the piece of parchment. At least now he wouldn't have to worry what to do with his evening; although a little chat with the Dark Lord definitely wasn't what he'd had in mind.
Severus apparated at the foot of the small hill where Malfoy Manor stood looming over the dark and misty landscape and immediately set off towards the entrance doors. He was a few minutes late already and didn't want to lose any more time.
It was a cold and stormy night so he was glad when he'd finally reached the front porch; although these gatherings usually were neither pleasant nor very interesting, at least inside it should be a bit warmer.
He'd just raised his hand to knock when the dark wooden door slowly swung open, a hand reached outside, grabbed him by his cloak and pulled him closer only to hold up a burning torch right in front of his face.
"Ah, Snape," the dark hooded figure said with a raspy voice. "You're expected."
"Get that bloody torch out of my face and keep your hands off me, will you," Severus hissed and glared at him out of narrowed eyes.
The other man immediately obeyed, let go off him and backed away a few steps to allow him inside the house. He hadn't been here in a while, not since Lucius had been arrested. The house hadn't changed at all; Narcissa had managed quite well to keep up the typical dark and brooding atmosphere of evil's natural habitat.
He continued along the corridor until he reached the door that lead down to the catacombs where he was supposed to meet the Dark Lord.
"Is he here yet?" Severus asked in a low voice as he took out his wand and handed it to the man standing next to the door. It always made him feel pretty uncomfortable to have to hand in his wand, but he knew the rules; none of them would be allowed to a private meeting with the Dark Lord while still in possession of their wands - he obviously didn't trust his faithful followers too much. Severus still found it quite ridiculous because he knew that even with his wand there'd have been very little he could have done if he'd suddenly decided to take on the most powerful evil wizard the world had ever seen.
"Not yet," the other man replied and opened the heavy iron door just to close it again right behind him as soon as he'd stepped through.
He walked down the stairs, turned left and stepped into the large underground hall. It was dark in here as well but suddenly a flash of light illuminated the room for a second, raced right past him, hit the door and slammed it shut. He blinked a few times, trying to make his eyes adjust to the darkness and to get a clearer picture of the shadowy figure standing in the middle of the room.
"Severus Snape," the voice that greeted him sounded very familiar, but there was something wrong about the typical accent and about the way she spoke. "Dear old friend of the family, loyal Death Eater."
He stood motionless in front of the magically sealed door as the torches on the walls of the room flickered to life one by one, casting an eerie glow all over the hall.
"Haven't you figured it out yet?" the voice asked and as the woman turned around he saw Minerva McGonagall standing in front of him, knowing already that it wasn't her he was facing.
"The spite and the arrogance in your voice is unmistakable, Narcissa," he replied softly.
"I was actually worried that you'd find out sooner and ruin our little plan," she said and smiled coldly.
"Congratulations then, you managed to outwit me. But what for?"
"He wanted evidence, Severus. The Dark Lord had had doubts about you for a long time now; just a few too many things went wrong whenever you had your hands in it. Just a few too many inconsistencies, mistakes and coincidences."
"Then why make such a fuss, why not simply kill me?"
Narcissa Malfoy slowly took a few steps towards him. "Because he didn't want to lose you. Not until he knew for sure," she whispered. "This masquerade wasn't quite what we had planned, but unfortunately Professor McGonagall wasn't very... cooperative."
"Where is she?" Severus asked nonchalantly, trying to give the impression as if he had no doubt that she was still alive.
"Yes, it's about time she joined us," Narcissa said in a low voice. "Go and bring her here," she told one of her cloaked lackeys who'd been standing hidden in the shadow in the corner all the time. The man grimaced slightly before he nodded and left through the door that led even further down into the dungeons.
"Transformed herself into a cat," Narcissa continued, turning to Severus again. "Obviously what they say about her skills as an animagus is true - we couldn't force her to transform back, no matter what we tried. And, as you can probably imagine, it's rather pointless to feed Veritaserum to a cat. So we had to have a change in plans and use some Polyjuice potion instead."
"All that effort just to kill me?" he said and gave her an intense look out of his unfathomable black eyes. "Somehow I really can't believe that. I think you might actually be trying to help yourself; I just hope you're not expecting to be able to take Lucius's place like this – you should know that you never will."
"You betrayed us," she glared at him out of eyes full of hatred, raised her arm and pointed her wand straight at him. "That's why."
"And are you really so sure that the Dark Lord will trust in your words more than in mine?"
"That's not even necessary. You yourself have told him everything he needed to know."
Severus arched an eyebrow. "Have I?"
She smiled victoriously. "Oh yes, you have. You just should have kept to your belief not to trust anyone but yourself; and not a Gryffindor, especially." She turned away from him and pointed her wand at a heavy black curtain on the opposite wall that moved aside and revealed a large mirror that had been mounted onto the stonewall. "Does that look familiar?"
It did. Actually it seemed to be an exact copy of the mirror he'd noticed in McGonagall's office. "Not quite," Severus replied.
"He watched you. He could hear every word you said, he could hear you talk about the Occlumency lessons you never told anyone about – that was enough," Narcissa said. "When you saw that mirror's counterpart in her office I really thought you'd notice; you just looked at it for a moment too long. But you didn't worry, did you? Blind faith, Severus. It made you weak."
"Perhaps I was lying? Didn't it ever cross your mind that I have to act like that to stay believable? You can't be so ignorant as not to realise that."
"Yes, Severus; exactly this is the brilliant basic principle of your little game, isn't it?" Narcissa said. "Whatever you do, whatever you say, you can always explain it by claiming you were just pretending, playing your role as a spy. But not anymore now, because now we know; we know that you've been trying to protect the kid all this time, we know that the old headmaster trained you so you could lie to us and we know that you trained the boy. We know about the Order – we know it all."
Severus felt his heart beating faster and cold sweat building up around his temples – he had to admit he was slowly but surely getting a little nervous. Of course he didn't want to let that show and he was glad to know that right now on the surface he looked just as calm and confident as he always did – nonetheless, he also knew that the game was over and that he could just as well show his colours now.
"You wonder how, don't you? Let's just say – we found out," Narcissa replied to the question that had never been asked and smiled mysteriously.
With a wave of her wand she made the door in the corner swing open again to allow the Death Eater she'd sent out to get McGonagall back into the room. He was now carrying a gray tabby cat, holding it by its neck with his arm outstretched in front of his body, trying to keep it as far away from him as possible. And he obviously had a reason for that, at least he already had a few deep scratches on his face and hands. He let the cat drop to the ground, it landed on its feet and hissed at him for the rude treatment before turning to Severus and giving him a long questioning look. Just a quick look back at the cat was enough to tell her that they knew and she immediately transformed back into her human form, throwing her alter ego Narcissa a derogatory glare.
"Are you all right?" Severus asked without taking his eyes off Narcissa.
"I'm so sorry," McGonagall said softly.
Severus smiled wearily to himself; she had no reason to be sorry, it wasn't her fault, it wasn't his fault, it was nobody's fault. Probably this was what they called fate; something that just happens, something nobody can be held responsible for.
"So if you want to kill me, let's just get it over with, shall we?" he said and gave Narcissa a smug smile.
"The Dark Lord would rather like to take care of you himself," she replied. "But I'm afraid that since the dear professor is of no more use to me, she's going to leave us now."
Narcissa slowly raised her wand, McGonagall held her breath and Severus took a step to the side to stand right in front of her. "I think not," he said calmly.
"Severus, don't," McGonagall whispered and put a hand on his arm to make him move aside, but he didn't. He knew very well that they were in a pretty hopeless situation but he was a dead man anyway so he could at least try to play for a little more time.
"How touching; you actually care for someone else but yourself," Narcissa said. "That's a whole new side to you."
"Yes. I'm full of surprises."
"Step aside now or I'll have to kill you right here and now."
Severus didn't move and when McGonagall tried to step away from him he reached behind his back and grabbed her by her arm. "I don't think the Dark Lord would like to hear that you already killed me when he arrives here," he said softly.
"He wouldn't object, as long as you're dead in the end," Narcissa replied.
"Do what you have to do then. You'll have to allow me a final question though; just to satisfy my curiosity."
"You've always been good with words, Severus. Still, you won't be able to talk yourself out of this."
"I'm not trying to. I'd just like to know who set the Dark Lord on my trail. Was it you? Lucius? Who wanted so desperately to get me out of the way?"
Narcissa smiled. "I suppose you could say that in some way Lucius was involved. He and many others who'd finally seen through you."
"Finally, yes. It took you long enough."
"For how long has this been going on?" Narcissa asked, eyeing him curiously.
"I changed sides so many years ago," Severus replied. "Before his first downfall."
Narcissa's expression darkened as she realised to what an extent he'd deceived them and that the man she'd entrusted with her son had actually been lying to her all along. Slowly she raised her wand and stepped towards him. "Time to say goodbye to this world, traitor," she hissed, standing only a few feet away from him now, her wand pointing straight at his chest. "Any last words?"
By now he'd really run out of ideas. And it was pointless anyway; he couldn't fight her, not without a wand.
"I'll see you in hell," he said.
He didn't care anymore; if that was how it was meant to end, it was fine with him. Suddenly the images that had been haunting him for so many nights came back to him and a smile crept onto his face – finally it made sense. McGonagall was going to kill him, just like he'd seen it in his dreams. Well, at least someone who looked like her.
"I'll wipe that smile off your face," Narcissa hissed. "Artox Mortes!"
For a split second he wondered why she hadn't cast the Killing Curse at him; then the spell hit him, knocked him off his feet and threw him to the ground.
When he noticed the metallic taste in his mouth and felt the blood soaking through his clothes he came to the conclusion that she'd probably just wanted to see him bleed. He looked up and saw Narcissa smiling at him, a cold and cruel smile. She hadn't only wanted to see him dead, she'd wanted to see him die. And she seemed pleased with what she saw.
McGonagall dropped to her knees next to him and put a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Don't touch him!" Narcissa hissed.
McGonagall didn't seem to be impressed by her, instead she put her arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer to her. Severus rested his head against her and fought the urge to just close his eyes. It was becoming harder to breathe. The world around him seemed to slowly drift away, his vision became blurry and Narcissa's voice sounded like nothing more than a faraway whisper.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw her moving towards them. She said something he didn't understand and then suddenly someone else was in the room, a familiar voice, light flashed and Narcissa Malfoy was thrown to the ground. Dumbledore. He'd obviously managed to get past the Anti-Apparition charms; Severus was glad he'd informed the headmaster about where he'd gone, just like he'd always told him to. He heard another voice – Lupin. He felt Minerva's hand on his cheek, her gentle touch, her warmth – the only light in the shadow of darkness slowly descending upon him. He was tired, so overwhelmingly tired; he couldn't fight it anymore, he just had to give in to it and let his eyes fall closed.
Hours later Minerva McGonagall was still sitting at her desk and staring out of the window into the darkness that slowly turned into the twilight of the new day about to dawn. She hadn't even thought about sleeping. There were still too many things on her mind and she knew that as soon as she'd close her eyes she'd see it again; she'd see him being hit by the curse again, she'd see him falling, bleeding – dying.
She knew that Severus would never have blamed her but she couldn't help blaming herself for being stupid enough to get kidnapped by those Death Eaters. And she felt guilty; she should have been dead now, not him.
A sudden knock on the door made her startle. For a moment she was wondering if she'd really heard or only imagined it. A quick look at the clock on the wall told her that right now was no time for visitors so she decided that she'd probably imagined it when she heard it again.
"Remus, it's late," she replied in a low voice.
"I know. I really need to talk to you."
She took a deep breath; she didn't want him around. Right now she didn't want anyone around. "Come in then." She heard the door open and close again but didn't turn around.
For a moment Lupin just stood there, leaning against the wall next to the door and watching her. "Just two minutes sooner – that's what I still blame myself for. How about you?" he then asked in a voice that sounded a bit harsher to her than normally.
"I'm sorry," McGonagall replied and rubbed her eyes. "I'm not in the mood for talking."
"Yes. I know. But I really have to talk to you now," he said, walked across the room and sat down in one of the armchairs in front of the fireplace. "Why don't you take a seat over here? Please?"
McGonagall stood up, walked across the dark room and sat down in the armchair opposite from him. Lupin smiled at her, waved his wand in the direction of the fireplace and conjured up some flickering flames.
"Look at me," he said softly.
McGonagall did and frowned. "What happened to your hair?" she asked upon realising that it was much shorter, wet and dishevelled.
"I'll have to regard it as a compliment if the hair is really the only thing you notice," he said with a smile.
"Remus, what's going on here?" she asked, sounding suddenly alarmed when she studied his face in the dim light of the burning fire.
He sighed and the smile on his face was immediately replaced by a more serious expression. "I...," he started, not quite knowing how to explain things to her although he'd spent so much time thinking about it. "I'm here because I need your help. I'm not who you think I am, at least not... well, at least not from a temporal point of view."
McGonagall stared at him at a complete loss of understanding. "I don't know what you're up to, Remus, but..."
"Just look at me," he said once more, leaning towards her and putting his hands on her shoulders. "I come from a time over a decade from here and I've come back here because I need to change something." She'd known him for so many years, already since he'd been a kid; that's why he'd come to her, because he'd been convinced that she'd recognise him. For a few endless seconds he just looked deep into her eyes and then he suddenly knew that she understood, that she really believed him. "Severus shouldn't have died today. I have to prevent all this from happening."
Minerva slowly shook her head. "Remus... as much as I wish... you know that you mustn't."
"Yes. Under normal circumstances, yes," he said, took a deep breath and leaned back in his armchair. "But this is different. His death was a main event that wasn't meant to take place. The timeline has been corrupted and I now have to correct that."
McGonagall looked at him for a long time, waiting for the information to settle and trying to make sense of things.
"So what do you need me for?" she asked eventually.
Lupin sighed in relief. "Thank you for trusting me," he said in a low voice. "I need you to tell me what happened; when and where did those Death Eaters get you, where did they come from, how many were there?"
McGonagall did the best she could to remember and tried to describe everything as exactly as possible. Lupin listened closely, nodding every now and then. As soon as she was finished, he stood up from his armchair and she did the same.
"What are you going to do now?" she asked.
"I'll go back and prevent it from happening. I'll take care of those guys before you even know they're there."
"And then today will never have happened?"
"If I succeed, yes. Then they'll never kidnap you, Narcissa Malfoy will never set foot into this castle and Severus won't be killed."
"It was four of them, Remus; you'll need help."
He nodded. "Don't worry, it will all work out," he said. "Still, a little more information might come in handy; is there anything you can tell me about Thursday night? Anything unusual, good enough to serve as evidence? It won't be easy to convince Severus, you know what a terribly distrustful person he's always been."
McGonagall couldn't tell him a lot, it just hadn't been an in any way extraordinary evening; but she could give him a very exact time which was knowledge that he'd definitely put to good use. Lupin thanked her once more and then finally turned to leave.
She followed him and held him back just as he was about to step onto the corridor.
"He won't survive this war, will he?" she asked.
Lupin hesitated for a moment, then he shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said in a low voice. "I wish I could tell you something different."
"He knew it," McGonagall said. "He's been having those nightmares about his death for days."
"I know," Lupin replied. "You told me, or rather, will tell me about it. I know you don't think much of dreams foreboding the future so just look at it as a sensitive reaction to the changes in the time continuum. From what we know that's nothing all too unusual."
"Perhaps I should have taken him more seriously when he told me about it."
Lupin shook his head. "Wouldn't have made a difference anyway," he said. "Just stop worrying about it and go to sleep now. I swear to you, I'll make sure that none of this will ever happen."
McGonagall gave him a gentle pat on the shoulder. "Watch over yourself," she said.
Lupin nodded and smiled a forced yet somewhat reassuring smile at her, turned around and strode along the corridor which was bathed in the gray twilight of the dawning day.
On his way he glanced around nervously and listened closely, making sure nobody would notice his presence here. Luckily it was still so early so he had no problem making it along the corridors and through the Entrance Hall without being seen.
Lupin decided it would be safer to go outside before he started his little trip because when he'd come back it might be a bit more crowded around here and he couldn't afford to be seen; it could put the success of his mission at risk.
It was a cold and hazy morning and it was going to be a gray and rainy day; he still remembered this day very well, although it had been quite a few years ago. Quickly he made his way across the castle grounds and came to a halt only when he'd reached a secluded spot next to a few old trees. He breathed in deeply and looked up into the brooding sky above him; he knew where this world was heading and to him the dark clouds seemed like a shadow wrapping around the world, foreboding things about to come. Right now Lupin felt like a million miles from home and more doubtful than ever before if he'd eventually make it back there.
He glanced around once more before he pulled a silver chain from the inside pocket of his vest. Attached to the chain were three pocket watches, a golden, a silver and a bronze one. He took the silver watch, carefully re-adjusted the hands and changed some of the numbers and symbols on the watch's face. Once he was done with that he repeated the same procedure with the other two watches, put them back into his pocket and disappeared into thin air.
A moment later – or rather, two and a half days earlier – he found himself standing in the same spot, surrounded by an equally cold and stormy night. He pulled out yet another pocket watch to check the local time; it was nearly eleven o'clock so mostly everyone should be asleep or at least somewhere in their rooms and out of his way. The one he needed would still be awake though – probably roaming the corridors and searching for students out past curfew. As Lupin started walking towards the castle an intense feeling crept over him that McGonagall had probably been really easy to convince, at least compared to Snape with whom he'd have to deal now.
He reached a side entrance, carefully opened the wooden door, peered into the dark corridor and when he couldn't see anyone he slipped inside and set off towards the dungeons.
In front of the door to Snape's office he hesitated for a moment, braced himself for the confrontation with a ghost from his past and then raised his hand to knock. Lupin waited but he got no reply and checked his watch once more. Severus was supposed to be in his office right now, marking essays. At least that was where Minerva had said he'd find him and if there was anyone who knew what Severus was up to, it should be her. He knocked again and then opened the door a bit, just enough to throw a quick glance into the dimly lit room and to find Severus sitting at his desk, marking essays.
"Severus? Can I come in?" he asked.
"No," Snape replied without even looking up.
"I need to talk to you."
"I don't have time for this."
Lupin sighed inaudibly and stepped inside nonetheless, closing the door behind him. "It's really important."
"Look at me, Lupin: this is what a busy person looks like; so get out before I'll have to throw you out," Severus muttered and threw him a quick glance, barely taking his eyes off the paper he was reading. "By the way, that haircut doesn't exactly make you look better; lends you the charm of a drowned rat."
Lupin smiled upon realising that he'd somehow actually missed the grumpy old git he'd grown so accustomed to over the years. "Fine. Since you're so busy I'll simply give you the short version of my story then," he said and walked across the room to lean against the wall opposite from the desk. "I'm not the Remus Lupin you know. I come from the future, I'm here to change something that has gone wrong and I need your help."
For a moment Lupin just watched Snape sitting there motionless and staring at the parchment in front of him. Then Snape shook his head, took his quill, crossed out a few paragraphs of the essay he'd been reading, put it aside and placed another one on the desk in front of him.
"Mildly entertaining story, Lupin," he muttered. "Now why don't you go and give someone else the chance to enjoy your company?"
Lupin rolled his eyes, strode across the room and placed both of his hands on Snape's desk, staring straight at him. "At least look at me before you decide not to believe me," he said.
Severus sighed, let his quill drop onto the table, leaned back in his chair and reluctantly raised his head. Their eyes met and before Lupin could say another word Snape had jumped up from his chair, drawn his wand and was pointing it right at him.
"Who the hell are you!"
Lupin instinctively took a step backwards and raised his hands. "Would you please put that wand down," he said slowly, trying to ease the situation again.
"Who are you?" Severus repeated his question while slowly walking around the desk towards him, still pointing his wand straight at his chest.
"As I just told you..."
"Cut the crap," Severus interrupted him. "You don't seriously think I'm enough of an idiot to believe such a silly story."
"Well, I knew it was going to be difficult," Lupin replied. "But look at me; you should notice I've grown a few years older."
Severus looked at him out of narrowed eyes, then he shook his head. "You'd better tell me the truth now or I'll have to force it out of you."
"I told you the truth. I can prove it to you," Lupin said; he was glad he'd actually asked McGonagall about those few more details which should hopefully be enough to make Snape believe him. Then again, he wasn't quite sure if he'd believe it himself.
"Can you?" Severus asked mockingly.
"Yes," Lupin said, carefully glancing over at the clock on the shelf. "It's twenty minutes past eleven now. In more or less exactly ten minutes two third year Gryffindors will get caught out past curfew by Minerva on the corridor leading to Gryffindor tower. And just a few minutes later Peeves will start wreaking havoc in the Entrance Hall, Filch will have a fit and the headmaster will have to come down to stop that bloody poltergeist from taking the castle to pieces."
The longer that Snape looked at him, the clearer it became to Lupin that he wouldn't believe a word. "You're a logical person; just think about it. Why should I make up such a story? Had I wanted to kill you or whatever else, I could simply have done so while you were sitting at your desk, reading papers and not even looking at me, right?"
"You might have your reasons," Severus replied.
"Why don't you just go up to Gryffindor tower and see for yourself? Please?" Lupin asked.
Severus thought about it for a moment, then he muttered a spell and snakelike cords burst from the tip of his wand, wrapping themselves around Lupin's arms and legs and throwing him to the ground, leaving him unable to get up again or to move at all. "You'll have to wait here."
"Won't be going anywhere..." Lupin muttered in reply.
Severus threw him a final glance before he turned away and strode towards the door.
"Severus?" Lupin called after him just as he was about to step out onto the corridor. "You mustn't tell anyone else about me."
"I mustn't? Why not?" Severus asked suspiciously.
"Assume just for a moment that what I'm saying is the truth then you'll understand that there should be as few people involved as possible," Lupin replied.
Severus turned around and left, heading for Gryffindor tower.
He didn't have to wait long before he heard McGonagall's footsteps echoing through the corridor, then the quick footsteps of two students and then she caught them; he didn't stay hidden behind the corner to listen to McGonagalls lecture but rather went down to the Entrance Hall to see if the second 'prediction' was true as well.
Ten minutes later he was on his way back down to the dungeons after having watched the exact scenario Lupin had described to him before; if that guy was Lupin.
Severus threw open the door to his office, slammed it shut behind him and leaned back against the wall with his arms crossed, looking down at the bound man on the floor.
"So?" Lupin asked.
"Impressive," Severus replied.
"Impressive enough for you to believe me?"
"Enough to take the time to listen to the long version of your story," Severus said, strode across the room and sat down behind his desk again.
"Would you mind awfully removing these cords first?" Remus asked but when he got no reply he decided he should rather take his chance now before Snape would change his mind again. "Very well then... It's all a bit complicated," he started.
"Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be able to follow," Severus said and leaned back in his chair.
"Fine," Lupin said. "I come from a time about fifteen years from now. We won the war, Voldemort was defeated and everyone lived happily ever after. Everyone but some former Death Eaters who were not too happy with the situation and began searching for a way to change things. The way they found was time travel; a few of them came back to your present and changed something which caused a chain reaction and in the end led to the Dark side defeating us and... well, I suppose you can imagine the consequences. So I came back here to prevent the creation of this event and thus to restore the original timeline."
"Fascinating," Severus said softly. "Unfortunately though, it's illogical. If those Death Eaters really had gone back in time and changed something you'd never have known in what way your present was affected by it and you couldn't remember anything about the alternate future you just told me about."
"And if they went back in time and changed something, the future from where they'd come would never have existed and therefore they could never have gone back in the first place; and there we have our paradox," Lupin replied and smiled weakly. "I wish I had the time to challenge your intellect to a fundamental discussion about time travel, but unfortunately we have more important things to do so I'll have to confine myself to explaining why I'm aware of both of these realities."
"Rest assured, you have my full attention," Severus said, still not sounding as if he believed a word of what he'd just heard.
"It's quite simple, really; we had a vague idea about what they were working on, so aside from just trying to track them down and arrest them, we decided to go the same way and started to conduct some research in the area of time travel ourselves," Lupin explained. "We took the castle's astronomy tower and turned it into a magically shielded place, a place partially immune to changes in the time-continuum. That's how I could come back here."
"Partially immune?" Severus asked.
"Meaning I remember both of these realities; just as if I'd lived the last fourteen years twice."
Severus looked at him for a long time, contemplating what to make of what he'd heard. "Would you believe yourself?" he finally asked.
"No," Lupin replied. "Most probably not."
Severus nodded, took out his wand, pointed it at him and made the cords around his ankles disappear. "Have a seat," he said and motioned towards a chair next to his desk.
Remus, his hands still bound, clumsily got to his feet and sat down on the chair, relieved that Snape hadn't simply killed him.
"What is this event you're talking about and why do you need me to help you?" Severus asked.
"Since it wasn't possible for me to take along anyone from my own time, we decided that you would be the most suitable person for that." Lupin hesitated, contemplating if Snape could cope with what else he had to tell him; then again, he'd simply have to, there wasn't a choice. "Regarding the incident I'm here to prevent – it kind of involves you."
Severus raised an eyebrow and threw him a questioning look.
"They killed you."
Snape just sat there, seemingly not very impressed by the prediction of his early death. "And when would that be?" he asked calmly.
"Saturday," Lupin replied. "Saturday night."
Severus picked up his quill, took a piece of parchment from the top drawer of his desk, quickly wrote down a few lines, rolled up the parchment and got up from his chair. "Excuse me for a minute," he said to a puzzled Lupin and left him alone in his office but not without placing a few charms on the door to make sure he couldn't get away if he should try to.
He quickly made his way through the sleeping castle and up to the owlery where he found one of the school owls that obviously hadn't been in the mood to spend the night hunting in the woods. He took the rolled up parchment from his pocket, attached it to the owl's leg and sent the bird on its way.
When he returned to his office and opened the door again, Lupin was still sitting in his chair, smiling broadly.
"Tempus fugit et nos fugimus in illus*," he greeted him. "Nice idea, that letter. Memorised it although I was quite convinced you'd gone nuts when I first read it."
Severus pulled out his wand and freed him from the cords around his wrists. "Why me?" he then asked and sat down at his desk again. "It doesn't really make a lot of sense, does it? To come back and kill me while they could do virtually anything?"
"Well, I'm afraid Malfoy's bearing a little grudge against you; that's probably why killing you was their first idea and it just happened to work out perfectly," Lupin replied. "Of course it also guaranteed him his master's favour; after all, he revealed the most dangerous traitor they ever had to deal with. He became Voldemort's right hand and the most powerful man on his side."
Severus nodded. "What are we going to do now?" he asked.
"Right now – nothing," Lupin replied. "Tomorrow morning we'll have to take care of four Death Eaters, one of them being your old friend Malfoy; do you think the two of us can cope with them?"
"Any time," Severus replied.
Lupin nodded. "Good," he said. "Let me give you some details then."
Snape listened patiently while Lupin told him about McGonagall, Narcissa Malfoy and how he unsuspectingly walked into their trap; he obviously left out a few details regarding how he died, but Severus wasn't quite sure if he actually wanted to know so he didn't ask.
"Why don't we simply tell McGonagall not to leave the castle at all?" he asked instead.
"No," Lupin replied and shook his head. "We've worked on this for a long time, there's an exact plan and nothing may be changed about it. You'll have to trust me there, I'm afraid."
"So will we have to kill them?"
"Yes; unfortunately the Killing Curse is the only reliable option. There's no way that I could take them back with me to have them locked up for the rest of their lives and we can't risk letting one of them get away; these four men are their only travellers and they'd try again, taking more drastic actions to guarantee their success and that might lead to changes that can't be corrected anymore."
For a while Lupin watched out of narrowed eyes as Snape played around with the wand he'd placed on his desk while staring down at a crystal paperweight, obviously lost in thought.
"Will that be a problem?" Lupin then asked.
"It's not as if I've never killed anyone before," Severus muttered in reply.
"But it's something you swore to yourself you'd never do again."
Severus threw him a suspicious glance; that was something he couldn't probably know about. Then again, he might just have figured it out by himself.
"And we're talking about people you've known for years," Lupin added.
"People about to kill me," Severus replied and stood up from his chair. "Don't worry; I won't back down."
With a snap of his fingers he put out the few candles that had been illuminating his office, leaving the room in complete darkness. When he got up and started walking towards the door Lupin jumped up as well and followed him outside.
"I'll meet you tomorrow at ten then," Severus said and set off along the corridor.
"Wait a second," Lupin said and went after him. "Where am I supposed to sleep?"
"I don't know and I honestly couldn't care less."
"Come on, Severus; where could I go without risking to be seen?"
Severus grimaced slightly upon realising that Lupin was obviously bent on making this issue his problem.
"You could let me sleep on the sofa at least," Lupin continued. "I really had a damn long journey and after all I'm here to save your life."
"Yes. Fine," Severus replied, sounding quite unnerved already and accelerating his pace so Lupin actually began to find it hard to keep up with him.
When Severus reached the door to his quarters he had to realise that unfortunately he still hadn't managed to shake Lupin off so he at least shot him another annoyed glare before unlocking the door.
"There you go – the sofa of your dreams," he said, gesturing towards the sofa next to the fireplace. He didn't even bother to put the lights on and strode across the room towards the door leading to his bedroom.
"Do you think you could perhaps get me a blanket?" Lupin asked carefully; he really found it pretty cold in here.
Severus slammed the door shut and left Lupin standing on his own in the middle of the dark room.
"Obviously not," he whispered to himself.
A second later the door opened again and Snape threw a folded up blanket straight at his head.
"Thank you," Lupin said and smiled at him. "How about you fetch me some milk and cookies now?"
"Watch it, Lupin," Severus hissed and slammed the door shut once again.
Lupin yawned, made a few very slow steps across the room and let himself fall down onto the dark green sofa.
Severus sat on his bed, thinking. Lupin had definitely given him quite a lot to think about, enough to keep him up all night. He'd told him about a future he longed for and fought for and about a future he feared and it now made him think about what he was doing, what role he actually played in this game. Until now, for some unintelligible and illogical reason, he'd always been convinced that in the end it would all work out; he'd just have to continue doing his job for Dumbledore and they'd have to make sure Potter was safe and sound and then they'd win this war. It had never even occurred to him that it might all be done in vain. Probably he'd just repressed those thoughts all this time; that was something he was extremely good at.
He rubbed his eyes, trying to shake off those worries once again; after all, it would work out. Lupin had said so. All they'd have to do was to get rid of Malfoy and his lackeys tomorrow.
Severus stood up, took off his cufflinks and placed them on his bedside table. He took a deep breath, slowly walked back across the room and opened the door to his study again.
"Lupin?" he said in a low voice.
Lupin raised his head and blinked a few times. "Yeah?" he replied sleepily.
"Will I live to see the day of his defeat?" Severus asked.
Lupin took a deep breath and slowly sat up on the sofa. "I can't tell you; you know that," he replied. "And nobody should know about their future anyway."
"That's as clear a 'no' as it can be," Severus said. "So will the Dark Lord eventually find out about me?"
Lupin nervously ran a hand through his hair, being caught between knowing that he mustn't tell him anything at all and believing that he probably deserved to know. "No," he finally said. "He never found out about you. They realised only after his downfall which side you've really been playing on."
"I suppose you won't tell me how I'll die?"
"I suppose you don't really want to know."
"Yes, you're probably right," he replied. "Can you at least tell me if it's going to be soon?" he asked matter-of-factly.
"You still have some time," Lupin said in a low voice, fearing he'd told him too much already and hoping he wouldn't ask him more questions he couldn't answer.
Severus didn't; he turned away and closed the door again. What Lupin had told him hadn't hit him as hard as he'd thought it would. Probably because he'd never truly expected to survive – thinking about it, it surprised him that he was still alive today.
He stifled a yawn and decided that it was really about time for him to go to bed now; after all he had a job to do tomorrow.
When he left his quarters the next morning, his guest was still fast asleep; Lupin couldn't have showed up for breakfast in the Great Hall anyway, so there wouldn't have been much use in waking him.
During breakfast McGonagall's place remained empty, she'd left early this morning already. Severus waited until almost everyone else had left the hall again before he approached Dumbledore and told him that he had something to do today that was slightly more important than Potions classes. The headmaster asked him a few questions, Severus answered each of them by saying that he couldn't tell him and Dumbledore eventually stopped asking, gave him a pat on the shoulder and told him to watch over himself. Severus was slightly surprised that he could get away with actually explaining nothing at all and decided that from now on he wouldn't waste both their time on the lengthy and unimportant explanations he'd always thought necessary.
He took his time on his way back to his quarters and by the time he got there Lupin was finally awake as well and already waiting for him.
"You could really have considered waking me," he said once Severus had closed the door again.
"I did consider it and decided against it."
Lupin would have liked to know why exactly he'd decided against it but swallowed his question and moved on to the next subject. "We should be leaving pretty soon. You'll have to make sure I won't be seen and get me to a place from where we can disapparate."
"Nobody will see you, everyone's in their classrooms now."
"I don't think you really understand the importance."
Severus sighed. "Fine; we'll pull a cloak over your head then."
They didn't pull a cloak over Lupin's head, made it out of the castle without meeting anyone nonetheless and apparated in a narrow alley somewhere in the middle of London at exactly one minute past ten o'clock.
"And now?" Severus asked after having studied his surroundings.
"Now we wait," Lupin replied and glanced around. "Over there," he added and pointed at a construction site on the sidewalk that was surrounded by a high wooden wall. "Wouldn't want them to see us before we see them, would we?"
Severus followed him around the construction site, leaned back against the red brick wall of an abandoned building, folded his arms and threw his companion a questioning look. Lupin pulled out one of his pocket watches and stared down at it for a while, watching the seconds ticking away.
"Eight minutes," he said then. "They'll apparate in exactly the same spot as we did. We'll have to be quick, it would be best if we got them before they even knew what hit them. Although I'd have enjoyed a little chat with old Malfoy for sure."
Severus nodded thoughtfully; he'd have had a few things to discuss with Malfoy himself, especially now that he knew what he had planned for him. He'd known Lucius for so many years already and he'd often worried that he'd be the one who'd eventually see through him. Either Malfoy or the Dark Lord himself; none of the others would ever have suspected him. They weren't clever enough and they didn't know him well enough. But then Malfoy didn't know him either. Nonetheless, somehow he'd hoped that if Lucius would notice anything suspicious about him, he might turn a blind eye, at least not turn him in right away; after all, he'd already covered up for Malfoy more than once. Then again, Lucius would sell his own mother for ten Galleons and he knew that he'd betrayed them – if his life had ever been worth anything to him, that was over now.
"How did Malfoy find out about me?" he asked and for a second Lupin looked up from his pocket watch.
"Well, after his downfall we made the mistake of handling formerly sensitive information a little too carelessly," he replied. "Of course none of us expected anything like this to happen; we thought it was over."
"As long as the idea lives on, it never will be," Severus said.
"The idea is based on hate, nobody can ever eliminate that. The only thing that counts probably is the amount of control one side has over the other."
They stood next to each other in silence until Lupin put his watch back into his pocket. "They should be here in a few seconds," he said and as he pulled out his wand, Severus did the same. "Don't hesitate," Lupin said. "As soon as they apparate, we cast our first spells."
"Don't worry," Severus replied in a low voice. He began to wonder why Lupin had taken him along if he really doubted that he could do what was asked of him but thought that now was probably not the time to ask him that.
And then they suddenly were there: four men, dressed in shabby black and silver robes had apparated in the middle of the alley, exactly on time. Lupin jumped onto the street, green lightning flashed and one of the men fell to the ground, immediately followed by one of his companions when Snape's spell hit its target. The remaining two whirled around and drew their wands but they weren't fast enough, they just hadn't been prepared for an attack. One of them was Malfoy; Severus had recognised him the moment their eyes had met, despite the hooded cloak he'd been hiding under. Severus didn't hesitate, but luckily Malfoy did; Lucius had often won against him in duels before and he might have again but this time the spell just hit him straight in the chest and threw him to the ground. Only a second after their bodies had hit the ground, all four men suddenly disappeared into thin air, leaving behind only a thin layer of greenish smoke.
"What happened to them?" Severus asked.
"Security measure, I suppose," Lupin. "They probably have the same as we do - in case of death the traveller will be immediately transported back into his own time to prevent unintentional interference."
"So that was it?"
"Just a second," Lupin said and dragged Snape along a few steps up the alley.
Before he could ask what they were waiting for now, he already spotted McGonagall crossing the street, walking along the sidewalk and past the corner where Malfoy and the others would have been waiting for her now. "There she goes, safe and sound," Lupin said. "So yes, that was it; everything should be back to normal now."
Severus nodded, put his wand back beneath his cloak and looked over at Lupin again, waiting for him to leave. But Lupin seemed to be waiting for something else, at least he just stood there, stared at the ground and didn't seem to want to go anywhere anytime soon.
"Anything else?" Severus asked after a few seconds.
Lupin looked up, cocked his head to the side and looked at him out of narrowed eyes. "I'm not sure," he replied.
"Well, if you don't know..."
"I was just thinking," Lupin said.
"Oh, I see," Severus said mockingly. "Sorry for interrupting you."
"I was thinking about... if I should tell you something."
"You know very well that you should not," Severus replied, sounding very serious now.
Lupin shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah, I know. Still... I can't imagine that anything would change for the worse if you stayed alive."
"That's the point, Lupin – you can't imagine. You don't have the slightest idea what it might cause; that's why you mustn't," Severus said. "Don't get me wrong – I am somewhat attached to life; it's a tempting idea, but it's impossible."
Lupin took a deep breath, still looking at him. "I know," he said eventually. "Still I don't like it."
"Well, your job here is done, I suppose you're going back now?" Severus asked, trying to change the subject.
"Yeah," Lupin replied and nodded. "Time for me to go back home."
"I should be leaving as well now, I might still make it back in time for Potter's class," Severus said. "Farewell then, werewolf; though I'm afraid I'll see your younger self somewhere around the castle again sooner than I'd want to."
"Actually you have good chances to run into me again tonight," Lupin said and smiled at him.
"I feared as much," Severus muttered, nodded at him and disapparated, leaving him standing alone in the middle of the alley.
For a few more minutes Lupin just stood there and stared at the empty spot where Snape had been standing, contemplating if it had been right not to tell him about what would happen and if there were other things he should have told him. He'd wanted to tell him how much he and many others appreciated all he'd done for their side; as far as he knew barely anyone had ever told him that and neither had he. And then it had suddenly been too late and he'd wished he'd told him. But now that he'd met him again he'd remembered why he'd never told him – Snape just wouldn't have wanted to hear it. Not from him or from anyone else he regarded as just another annoying incompetent fool.
He pulled out the chain with the three pocket watches, adjusted them to the correct setting, looked around once more to make sure the street was empty and then he disappeared.
Severus apparated right outside Hogwarts grounds and immediately walked up to the entrance doors. When he entered the castle everything was as pleasantly silent as it was supposed to be on an ordinary Friday morning with all the students in their classes. Quietly he closed the door again and whirled around at the sudden sound of Dumbledore's voice echoing through the Entrance Hall.
"You're back already," the headmaster said, standing in the middle of the stairs leading down from the first floor. "I assume everything worked out well?"
"Yes, of course it did," Severus replied.
"It seems you even made it back in time for your sixth years. Your visitor already left us again?"
"Yes," Severus said, once again becoming aware of the fact that you really couldn't keep anything that was going on in his school secret from him.
Dumbledore just nodded and thoughtfully looked at him in that certain way that always made Severus think he knew a lot more than he let show.
"Better get to your classroom before your students believe you won't show up and leave again," the headmaster said and Severus did as he was told, relieved to be released from this conversation without being asked questions he couldn't have answered.
Saturday evening Severus was once again prowling the corridors in search of some Gryffindor troublemakers and just as he'd walked past McGonagall's office, the door flew open and she stepped out onto the corridor.
"You have nothing better to do than to go hunting for my students, do you?" she called after him. "Are you done with your NEWT statistics yet?"
"No Ma'am, I'm not," Severus replied as he turned around to face her. "So how was your meeting?"
"Don't even ask...," she muttered in reply while stepping back inside her office and motioning him to follow. "Somehow it seems to attract more and more unpleasant people every year," she said and went back to filing papers away while Severus sat down in the chair opposite from her desk. "I am beginning to wonder why I'm even still going there. By the way, I met a former student there, Favonius Sullivan, do you remember him?"
"Yeah," he replied, mentally adding an 'unfortunately'; he couldn't have forgotten that Hufflepuff imbecile with whom he'd been forced to work in each Potions class during his fourth year, who'd ruined his Potions grade and who'd been responsible for about every detention he had had to serve that year.
"He was a year above you, wasn't he?"
"Until he was forced to repeat his fourth year, yes," Severus said.
"Yes, I thought he had to repeat a year," McGonagall replied. "However, he's going to publish his third book next month. I suppose it has something to do with Transfigurations this time and that's why he was there as well."
"Fascinating; so now he's an imbecile with a publisher. Did I only imagine that 'why-haven't-you-written-a-book-yet'-undertone in your voice?"
"Have you never considered it?" McGonagall asked.
"Why not? Money, fame, your picture on the front page? Hundreds of people waiting in front of Flourish and Blotts to get their books signed?"
He couldn't hide a smile when thinking of himself as some cheap copy of that moron Gilderoy Lockhart. "Because I have nothing to say and better things to do."
"I see," she said and sat down at her desk. "Did I miss anything around here then?"
Severus hesitated for a moment; there were things he'd have wanted to tell her, but he knew he couldn't. He'd killed two people today. And if he hadn't, he would have died. He could already have been dead no more than one or two hours from now. But now, that wouldn't happen. He'd killed two people – that was what he wanted to tell her more than anything else.
"No, not really," he said instead.
McGonagall gave him a concerned look. "You've got something on your mind," she said. "What about your nightmares?"
"I don't think they'll come back again," he replied.
"See? I told you it means nothing," McGonagall said and stood up.
Severus got up as well and followed her outside, said goodnight and continued his round through the castle. He'd nearly made it around the next corner when he spotted Lupin at the other end of the corridor.
"Ah, Severus, just the man I was looking for," Lupin quickly called after him just to make sure he couldn't pretend he hadn't noticed him. "Do you have a minute?"
Usually Severus would have replied anything from a simple 'no' to 'why don't you go and howl at the moon' but for some reason unknown even to himself, this time he didn't.
"Yes," he said instead.
Lupin stared at him for a moment, wearing quite a puzzled expression. "I don't think you ever said 'yes' before."
"And did that ever stop you? No, it didn't," Severus replied.
"You've got a point there," Lupin muttered. "However, what I actually wanted to ask you is what on earth that letter was about you sent me last night."
"What did I tell you in that letter?" Severus asked lazily, sounding as if questioning one of his students.
"You told me to memorise it, destroy it and never mention it again," Lupin replied.
"Did you memorise it?"
"Of course I did."
"Did you destroy it?"
"Sure, thrown it into the fire."
"Well done; now just never mention it again."
Lupin opened his mouth to say something but then obviously had a sudden change of mind and hesitated for a moment. "You know, you're acting a bit odd lately," he said then.
"You're always acting a bit odd and nobody ever complains about it," Severus said. "The best thing would probably be if you simply forgot about it." He thought about it for a moment and then changed his mind once again. "Or rather, don't; just do as I told you."
Lupin looked a lot more perplexed than ever before and seemed to wish he'd never asked him about it in the first place. "Fine; I'll just never talk about it again."
"See? It's that simple," Severus said. "Now how about we go up to the Three Broomsticks and have a drink?"
Lupin frowned at him and glanced around as if in search of help. "You and I?" he asked doubtfully.
"Don't panic, it's not a date," Severus replied, turned away and set into motion. "Come on."
Lupin hesitated for a second before he started to follow him along the corridor. "Sometimes, just sometimes, you really scare me," he said once he'd caught up with him.
Severus smiled to himself. He knew Lupin had to believe that he was either rather drunk already or that he'd gone completely insane; of course he couldn't know that he'd just decided it was about time for him to drink to the fact that he was still alive.
*tempus fugit et nos fugimus in illus = time flies and we fly with it
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