He should be angry. That was his usual reaction to these things. A litany of caustic remarks, hexes and such, should be pouring from his mouth this very moment, flowing free and wild from his thin, bloodless lips. How often would the folly and foolishness of others infringe on his already limited patience? On his time?
But his words would be lost on ears that could not hear them, and what was the point, really? Why bother coming up with creative insults or inventive slurs if the target of his vitriol wasn't able to react? Where was the joy?
It was a game with him. How few words were needed to cause Potter to lash out? Weasley to blush pure crimson? Granger to put her hand down? Longbottom to whimper? Draco to pout? Albus to excuse him from tea? Minerva to shriek, "Severus!" like an irate school marm?
Lupin, however, was a challenge. The amount of venom he could ingest was remarkable. His veneer was almost impenetrable. Five points if you could make him blink repeatedly. Ten points if you could make him flinch. Twenty if you could get him to use your full name. A hundred if you could make him shout. When Lupin worked at Hogwarts as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Severus used to keep a tally of the week's points. Damn the werewolf! He never got over fifty.
Severus Snape sat in the medieval torture device the infirmary had the audacity to call a chair, and watched the steady shallow breaths of Remus Lupin. The halls were quiet in the otherwise empty medical wing. No one was supposed to be there at all, let alone a runaway werewolf who was thought dead. Severus allowed his temper to simmer, and kept the hallowed silence intact, as he sat and remembered a lifetime.
"You don't have to help me."
"Professor Sorin made it clear that the choice wasn't mine. Either you pass the potions exam with a respectable grade or my mark for the year will suffer."
"It's your own fault, you know. I don't know why you insist on correcting him in front of the entire class."
"He's incompetent, I was doing him the courtesy of letting him know."
"And you're useless. Now that we're done stating the obvious, can we please finish this potion?"
He carefully placed the dropper over the angry wound on Lupin's arm. The silver blade used to make the deep cuts inhibited the werewolf's natural healing powers. Although Snape had managed to stop the streams of blood pouring from the cuts, the cuts themselves remained open and deep. Luckily for Lupin, Snape had a supply of the only known treatment for silver gashes.
The potion had to be administered one drop at a time directly over the wound, then given a moment to seal the injury before another drop could be administered. Snape looked over the road map of cuts that ran over Lupin's thin frame and calculated the hours worth of work that lay before him. Without a word he turned back to the patient, and back to his memories.
"Thanks…thanks for everything."
"Come to Hogsmeade with us. I'll buy you a butterbeer."
"Do you think I have nothing better to do than waste my time with a Gryffindor?"
"You've been wasting your time every night for three weeks."
"That was an imposed sentence, I've since been granted release."
"Was it really that bad?"
"No…no I suppose there are worse things. A rash on my privates, for example, might be more painful."
"Fine…fine… I can take a hint. Look, if you change your mind you can meet us there. We should be at The Three Broomsticks around four."
"I went that day," he found himself saying to the silent form of Remus Lupin. "The day you invited me for a butterbeer in Hogsmeade. I sat in the corner table behind that Corithia plant that Madame Rosemerta never pruned. I watched you laughing with your friends for hours. I saw you looking back at the door whenever someone entered."
The potion burned when placed on the laceration. Snape knew that it would. Were he conscious, Lupin would be screaming with every drop. In his current state, however, he wouldn't feel anything. The entire procedure would be painless. Though Lupin was cataleptic and couldn't feel the biting sting of the potion, Snape found himself blowing gently on the healing cut anyway.
"I wanted to join you," he stated. "Does that surprise you? I grew to tolerate your presence and our mandatory partnership. I almost…I almost looked forward to working with you. When not under the influence of your Quidditch crazed cronies you were somewhat interesting. Very nearly… adequate."
He pulled back to survey his work, the shoulder he had already spent not quite an hour on. Only the faintest of white lines remained in place of the gaping cuts that had been there when Snape found him. The repaired skin was pink and smooth, and Severus found his thumb gliding over the faint scar.
"I didn't, of course," he continued. "Despite our truce, I knew I wouldn't be welcomed there. I can only imagine the scene Black would have made if I had shown up. It was almost enough, you know. The overwhelming curiosity to see his reaction to your inviting me for a drink was nearly enough to make me go. It would have been quite the spectacle. But I was in an uncharacteristically decent mood, and didn't want it spoilt by that Neanderthal you called a friend. I'm not a masochist…not always." His lips curled in a small smile as he leaned in to blow lightly on the healing cut on Lupin's forearm.
"Besides, at that point I'd grown used to watching you. A habit I haven't broken over two decades later."
"I don't trust you."
"You don't deserve to be here, to teach at this school."
"I know that as well."
"That's all you have to say for yourself?"
"Is there anything I could say that would make you change your mind?"
"Then there really is no point, is there?"
"I'll be watching you."
"I expect nothing less."
Snape worked his way down Lupin's arm, pausing at the slender wrist and the hand, palm opened to the heavens.
"You were always a fool, Lupin. A competent teacher, but a fool. And yes, there is a compliment in there if you care to look closely enough. Does that surprise you, too? You managed to surprise me, which is no easy task. I had expected you to be a miserable failure in the position, just like everyone before you. So few truly understand the beauty of the Dark Arts. So few understand that the most powerful defense is a respect for the magic and a comprehension of its origins. It isn't something to be feared, but something to be revered. It's a rather simple concept, and you…you grasped it. Perhaps it is because you are a dark creature that you had a level of comprehension to which others are not privy. Had I not hated you so intensely, I might have respected you."
He continued his work in silence. Soon, both arms were clear of abrasions. Severus turned his attention to Lupin's torso, stopping to examine a massive scar running across his chest. Four gashes ran across Lupin's upper body. Four thick scars so vivid, one would have thought they were recently made. Four lines marking the end of one life and the beginning of another, the loss of humanity and the inauguration of pain. Unable to control the compulsion, Snape found his fingers slowly grazing the remnants of the wound.
More memories came, unbidden and unwanted.
"What's wrong, Severus?"
"Nothing that concerns you."
"You're in pain."
"Can I help?"
"Can you destroy the Dark Lord?"
"Then you are as useless as ever
"Does…does it happen often?"
"Only when he decides to have a bit of fun. I imagine he is celebrating his followers' escape from Azkaban with a bit of light torture to those of us who turned away."
"He's playing with you?"
"He's reminding me I wear his mark. He is reminding me to whom I belong."
"I don't need your pity."
"It's not pity…it's commiseration. You see, I know a thing or two about dark marks that control your life. I know a thing to two about the pain that they bring with them."
"They follow us everywhere, don't they, these dark marks?" Snape uttered, his fingers still grazing the lines that decorated Lupin's chest. "They like to remind us of our place in the world, to remind us that there is no escape, because try as one might, there are things that will follow us to the grave."
Snape removed his hand and continued to administer the potion, drop by drop. Continued blowing lightly on the revived skin; soothing breaths, soothing words, meted out in secret.
"I understood what you had meant then…that we were more alike than either of us would care to admit. That we understood each other in a way others couldn't, because we are too familiar with pain to know a life without it. I never enjoyed my pain, although I felt that I deserved it for my own folly and foolishness. I never enjoyed yours either. Ah, yes, another revelation. I didn't wish you pain, Lupin. Not then…or now."
"Do you ever plan on rejoining the world of the living?"
"Lovely, good to see you haven't lost your way with words."
"I don't have the patience to deal with you now, Severus. Leave."
"I don't have the patience to deal with you and your fragility. I will not tip toe around you for fear you will break. In case you have forgotten, there is a war going on and a world to save. Your shabby presence is needed."
"You must be enjoying this. Are you happy now, Severus? He's gone. Evaporated from the world in the blink of an eye. Dispelled into the ether. Wasn't that your greatest wish?"
"You have no idea what my greatest wish is, you pathetic werewolf. I can assure you , Black has no place in it. Not all of us staked our happiness on a half crazed-"
"Don't! Don't you dare finish that sentence!"
"Or what, you'll get out of bed? You'll put down the bottle? You'll kill me with the putrid stench of a body gone weeks without a bath?"
"You have no heart at all, do you? No soul. How is it that you have lived an entire life as if you already receive the dementor's kiss?"
"Do you think you're the only one who feels pain? When did you gain the exclusive rights to that privilege? You can stay in here and fester and decompose, or you can pick yourself up and make sure Black didn't die in vain. I would think knowing the injustice dealt to him in life, you would want to see him vindicated in death."
"What do you know of justice?"
"I know justice well, even though I'll admit it's been absent from my life for a long time. I also know revenge. I know hatred. I know loss. And, I know pain. Some of us don't need the full moon to see our monsters."
"I felt responsible, you know. I felt that my words caused you to take on mission after mission, each one more dangerous than the last. I felt a guilt for which I didn't realize I still had the capacity. I felt… " He paused not really knowing how to end that statement, feeling that, perhaps, those two words were enough.
"Something must have shown on my face," he continued, "because when you disappeared, Potter looked at me with something that resembled pity, and I nearly exterminated him for it." Snape lifted the coverlet over Lupin's healed body, carefully wrapping the sensitive skin.
"And then you vanished. Dispelled into the ether like your friend. No one knew where to look for you…no one but me. Yes, you were always a fool….a fool who tried to single handedly take down a Dark Lord and a few dozen of his minions. And only I-I who understands how a dark mark and a life full of pain could make that seem like the only alternative-only I would know where to find you. Only I would know how to bring you back."
The sun was starting to rise, bathing the sleeping werewolf in the golden light of morning. Snape paused to run a fingertip across Lupin's cheek. "I don't consider this a proper excuse for hiding away again. I expect to see you at dinner, Lupin. It wouldn't do well to die right now-you would be missed."
Severus stood up straight, grabbed the torn and blood soaked remnants of his cloak, and left.
"You don't seemed surprised to see me. I find that odd because everyone else seemed shocked. Madame Pomfrey entered the infirmary and screamed when she saw me."
"Ah, one would think you were used to that sort of reaction."
"Usually only villagers brandishing pitchforks scream at the sight of me. She screamed because she wasn't expecting to see anyone at all, let alone someone she and everyone else thought dead. Minerva was stunned mute and Albus nearly choked on his lemon drops."
"Mute, you say. That's a first."
"No one knew I was there, Severus, or how I got back. More over, an examination showed that I was severely injured and that some extensive healing ointments were administered over the length of the night-eight hours at least."
"Well, good for you."
"Very good, actually, as I was attacked with silver blades and the only known cure is a salve that doesn't have a long shelf life. Someone had to have a very generous supply in reserve."
"You were fortunate that this person found you."
"I was fortunate…and I am grateful."
"Is there a point to this conversation?"
"No, not really a point as much as an invitation."
"Yes. I believe I owe you a butterbeer, and I think it's high time I paid my debt. And no hiding behind plants this time, though the corner table would be lovely."
"What…what did you say?"
"We have a lot to talk about, Severus, now that we both can talk."
"I…I don't think we do."
"It's all right. You've been wrong before."