A/N: Um...this is embarrassing, but yes, over a year after the last update, this story still does exist.
Chapter 17 – Growing Closer
It was Saturday night, and everyone at Hogwarts was deeply asleep – everyone but Remus. He had awoken some time ago in pain, but hadn't wanted to take the painkilling potion standing on the bedside table. He couldn't imagine that it was healthy to spend day after day filled up with potions, but even more, he still felt reluctant to simply drown out the pain the wolf had inflicted on himself over Sirius's death. Instead, he lay in the dark, willing himself to fall asleep again despite the throbbing ache in his wounds.
He didn't succeed, though, and just when he considered finally taking the potion so he'd at least get a few more hours of sleep, he heard noises from the bed next to his that made him forget about it, at least for the moment.
Just like during the night which he had spent in Remus's quarters, and also last night, Severus seemed to be having a nightmare. He was mumbling softly at first, but soon grew louder, his voice sounding as if he were in pain.
"Not the children, my Lord!" Remus heard him plead, and he shuddered to think what had to be be the cause of this dream.
The night before, he'd awoken to see Poppy sit at Severus's bedside, and he had thought it wiser not to let on that he was awake. But right now she was nowhere in sight, and Severus's dream seemed to be getting worse by the moment.
For some seconds, Remus hesitated – after only a few days, he wasn't really strong enough yet to get up – but then another pained moan from Severus took the decision away from him. He couldn't simply do nothing.
It was exhausting to even sit up, and once he was sitting on the edge of his bed, with his naked feet on the cold stone floor, he was gritting his teeth, refusing to listen to his body telling him that this was madness and he should lie down immediately.
Gripping the edge of the bedside table tightly, he managed to hoist himself to his feet – only to sway and almost fall as a sharp pain raced through his right hip. Nevertheless, he managed to somehow limp the few steps to Severus's bed, where he sat down next to the sleeping man with a sigh of relief. He was shaking, and had he stayed on his feet for another minute, he was sure he would have fainted. But he could worry about his own health later – there were more urgent matters demanding his attention.
Remus shook his head, trying to get rid of the remaining dizziness, before he reached out to Severus.
Like the nights before, Severus awoke to the sound of his own sobs, and like the nights before, there were arms around him, and softly whispered, soothing words. It took some minutes before he could calm down, and when he finally had got himself under control again, he hesitated to pull back immediately. It was still hard to let Madam Pomfrey touch him like this after only three days, but he couldn't deny how much he needed it – and liked it. Maybe he could get used to this again, as he had so many years ago.
"Severus? Are you feeling better?"
The worried question made him flinch – this was not Madam Pomfrey! A second later, Severus had jerked free of the embrace and was sitting up, staring at the pale face of Remus Lupin.
"You were dreaming, and Poppy wasn't here," the other man said. "You wouldn't wake up when I tried to wake you, so . . ."
Severus pressed his lips together and closed his eyes for some moments. There was no reason to get upset or panic now. Remus had merely helped him, like he'd done in the night after his birthday. Severus couldn't change that Remus had witnessed his nightmares, and he should be grateful instead of worrying. Remus had proven already that he was worthy of Severus's trust in this matter.
Opening his eyes again, Severus found Remus observing him with concern. It seemed that he had even backed away from him a little, now sitting closer to the edge of the bed than before. Severus took a deep breath, making an effort to relax.
"Yes, I'm better," he answered, which was rewarded with a smile from Remus.
Although he didn't understand why, this was what took away the uncomfortable feeling, and to his own surprise, Severus found himself reaching for Remus's hand, just like some days ago when they had reconciled.
"Thank you," he said softly. "For everything. I don't think I could . . . if I were you . . . "
He trailed off, not sure of what he really wanted to say, but it didn't feel all that awkward.
Remus simply smiled again. "We're friends; it's what friends do." After a moment, he added, "Do you want to talk about the dream?"
Immediately, Severus shook his head, only to reconsider some seconds later.
"It was . . . about the potion. The Imperius Potion." He looked away from Remus, suddenly unable to look him in the eye. "I'll have to test the new version soon. In the dream, they . . . they all died again."
His throat felt terribly dry, and he briefly thought about drinking from the glass of water sitting on the bedside table, but he wasn't sure if he would be able to go on should he stop talking now.
"They were all children, just like . . . the little girl last time. I made them drink, then I watched them die, one by one, and it wouldn't stop. There were more and more of them, and it just . . . it wouldn't stop!"
He could feel both of Remus's hands around his now, squeezing gently, and he was incredibly grateful for the physical connection.
"I…I don't know how long I still can . . . I mean, just look at me!"
It was an exhausting struggle to find the words to express what he felt, and Severus was sure that without the comforting feeling of Remus's warm hands around his, he would have given it up entirely.
"I'm . . . scared," he finally forced out. "That I won't make it. That I'll . . . break down and fail Albus and everyone on our side. Of what they'll do with me if they find out that I'm spying on them. And . . . and of what I'll become if the Dark Lord won't be stopped soon. I'm scared that . . . one day, I'll be used to what I have to do for him."
By now, he was whispering almost inaudibly – the last things he'd said, he hadn't even dared to admit to himself before.
He was shaking again, and only when one of Remus's hands left his and slowly came up to touch his cheek did he notice that he was crying again. Although tense, he didn't pull away, but let it happen, albeit with a feeling of complete surrealism.
"You won't get used to it." Remus sounded as certain of it as Severus wished he could be. "Just that we're here now like this, that you dream about it, that shows you'll never get used to it." He took his hand away from Severus's face and, after a short while of silence, asked softly, "Would you mind if I held you again?"
Severus didn't respond at first, not knowing what to do. But in the end, he shook his head, wishing in the same second he had not done it. There was a critical moment when Remus's arms closed around him and all he felt was the urge to get away – and then, without knowing how it had happened, he was clinging tightly to the other man. It was frightening – he would never have believed this could happen without the Mens Aperta Potion – but even more, it was relieving in a way he hadn't thought possible. He could let Madam Pomfrey comfort him, but he would never be able to talk to her like he could do with Remus.
Severus didn't know how long they would have stayed like this if he hadn't noticed that now, it was Remus who was trembling. Frowning, he pulled back to look at him.
"Are you all right?"
Remus nodded, but his smile was strained, and only now did Severus realise how exhausted he looked, and that he was in no condition to be out of bed.
"You're not." Severus' frown became even deeper. "You should never have got up in the first place; you're not strong enough."
"It's quite all right," Remus insisted, but it was nonsense, and they both knew it. He looked feverish, his skin flushed, with tiny beads of sweat on his forehead.
"You'll go back to bed immediately. And you'll take something for the pain, and the fever."
Despite being weak and in pain, Remus had to smile again. Severus's concern about his health made him feel better than any potion could have.
He turned and reached out to the bedside table to pull himself to his feet again, but slumped down again with a pained moan, his hand pressed tightly against his hip. He wouldn't be able to make it alone. When the world had stopped spinning around him, he became aware of someone sitting right next to him, and then a reluctant arm was placed around his waist.
"Let me help you get back."
Looking up, he found himself looking into the tense face of Severus and quickly nodded. It would be better to get it over with as quickly as possible.
In the end, Severus carried rather than led him back – Remus needed almost all his strength to stay conscious despite the blinding pain in his leg. After an eternity, they had made it to his bed, and somehow, without his own doing, he ended up lying, with the blanket spread over him.
Some seconds later, a spoon was held to his lips, and this time, he had no reservations to drink the potion he was offered.
"Good." The spoon disappeared again, and he could feel Severus sit down at the edge of the bed. "And now listen: you will not get up again, no matter whether or not I'll have another dream, is that clear? What were you even thinking? You can barely walk!" Severus sounded more annoyed than worried, but Remus wasn't fooled. "Why would you do something so stupid?"
Remus sighed. He couldn't possibly tell Severus the truth. "Because I'm in love with you," would only scare Severus away from him.
Looking down at the drawn face on the pillow in front of him, Severus hesitated. He believed he knew why Remus would go to such lengths to help him, and they would have to talk about it at some point. He was feeling more than just a little uncomfortable with the idea, but after all that had happened tonight, it seemed not so impossible any more to say it – maybe by tomorrow, that would have changed again.
"I think I know it anyway," he finally said, causing Remus to open his eyes and look at him in surprise. He had to force himself to not look away, and it was harder to speak the words than he had imagined at first.
"When you took me for Black, you said…that…that you were…in love with me. Severus."
There was silence for several moments, but then, slowly, Remus nodded. "It's true."
For some inexplicable reason, Severus felt incredibly relieved. He hadn't even realised until now how tensely he had waited for an answer, breath held, fists tightly clenched in his lap.
"But I don't expect anything from you," Remus went on. "Just…I'd like for us to stay friends, is that possible?"
He sounded anxious, and the only response Severus could think of was to take his hand again. It was amazing how quickly he had got used to this.
"Of course it is."
"Thank you." Remus smiled weakly, and Severus managed to return the smile for a few moments.
"I don't know what to make of it," he admitted. "But…I don't want to lose you."
"You won't," Remus said. "And I won't mention it again, you needn't worry about it."
He tried to sound confident and as if it didn't matter, but Severus only had to think of Wednesday evening to know that it wasn't true. But he didn't know what to say or do about it, and so he simply stayed silent for a while. In the end, Remus's soft, slow breathing told him that the other man had fallen asleep out of exhaustion. Despite being tired, Severs didn't go to bed immediately, but instead stayed where he was, looking down at his friend in the flickering candlelight for a long time.
Not much happened during the days after this. On Sunday evening, when Madam Pomfrey allowed Severus to leave the infirmary, he felt only marginally better than he had before the short break from his duties. He was no longer in constant danger of a physical breakdown, but he knew that it was only a matter of time until he would reach that point again. There was too much for him to do to take care of himself the way it would have been necessary.
The atmosphere between Remus and him was slightly awkward at first, but soon normalised, much to his relief. Now that they felt mostly comfortable around each other, it would have been hard to lose that feeling again.
But although neither of them mentioned what had been discussed on Saturday night during his daily visits in the infirmary, Severus found it impossible to force his thoughts away from it. They'd talk about the students or books, and sometimes, Severus would bring his chess set, and whenever Remus would smile at him or sometimes simply look at him, he would have to think of the fact that here was a man who claimed to love him…and who behaved as if he meant it.
A week passed, and the next Saturday, the day of the second testing of the Imperius Potion, came. It wasn't as bad as Severus had feared – the potion worked with some of the people he tested it on, while the others merely fell sick and ended up feverish and throwing up, but not dying.
Although it had still been a dreadful task, Severus felt greatly relieved, and when he'd finished his work and reported the good results to the Dark Lord in the late evening, he was looking forward to getting home and maybe reading some more of the Canterbury Tales to take his mind off the day's unpleasant events. He could talk about it tomorrow with Remus – he'd by now almost convinced him to read the book as well.
All his plans for the remaining evening, though, turned into ashes moments later, when he found a familiar blond figure standing next to the fireplace he'd been heading to.
Lucius smiled, darting forward and gripping Severus's arms tightly.
"Severus. Let's talk."
Half an hour later, Severus stumbled out of his own fireplace. He slumped to his knees after a few steps, shaking and barely able to keep himself from hyperventilating.
"Let's talk," Lucius had said, and that was exactly what he had done. For what had felt like forever, he'd kept Severus there, whispering into his ear, his hot breath ghosting over Severus's skin while his hands never loosened their grip on Severus's arms. Severus didn't have the faintest idea what he had talked about, since he hadn't been able to focus on anything but the other man's paralysing closeness. And whatever Lucius might have said, Severus knew it hadn't been important anyway – the only thing Lucius had wanted to achieve was antagonising him, and he'd reached that goal.
Severus closed his eyes, fighting the nausea that was welling up. As he pressed his hands against his stomach, beginning to slightly rock back and forth to help himself calm down, he suddenly found himself thinking of Remus. If Remus were here now, maybe he could help him, like he'd done when Severus had had the nightmares, and the panic attack on his birthday. But Remus was in the infirmary, and by now, it was close to midnight. He would be asleep already. And yet...
Severus forced himself to breathe slowly, the constricting feeling in his chest slowly growing weaker. It took some time until he wasn't gasping for air anymore, and some more time before he'd stopped shaking too badly and could get up again. Without bothering to renew the Glamour charm – everyone else was probably long in bed – he left his rooms and headed for the infirmary.
When he had finally arrived, he closed the door behind him with a sigh of relief. All the way here through the dark corridors of the castle, he hadn't been able to shake off a sense of complete dread, as if Lucius were to turn up behind a corner at any moment, ready to assault him again.
Turning around from the door, he saw that Remus was indeed sleeping, and they were alone. Briefly, the thought of Madam Pomfrey crossed his mind. If she'd been awake, he might have been tempted to try and ask her for help, but she was nowhere to be seen, and he wouldn't wake her for something like this.
Quietly, he made his way over to the other man's bed and sat down on the chair next to it. Remus looked better already than he had a week ago. The black eye was slowly fading, and the expression on his face was less pained than only some days ago. Instead, he looked relaxed, even smiling lightly in his sleep. For the next few minutes, all that Severus did was look at him – it seemed that he would never get tired of seeing him smile. This alone helped him feel better than he would have if he had stayed in his quarters by himself.
But the feeling of Lucius hot breath next to his ear, the sound of his voice, full of malicious glee, and the disgusting experience of being so close to him once more were still fresh in his mind. More than once, Severus meant to sense a presence behind him, or a draught of air on his skin, only to spin around and see nothing, calling himself an idiot.
In the end, after another of these moments of paranoia, he found himself reaching for Remus's hand – and pulled back again immediately. The idea of touching someone – anyone – so shortly after what had happened was not at all pleasant.
Several minutes passed in silence; then, abruptly, Remus shifted in his sleep, murmuring something unintelligible. Severus started at the sudden movement and noise, adrenaline rushing through his veins – and once more he scolded himself for being ridiculous. It seemed that he was scared of his own shadow by now!
Looking down at the sleeping man in front of him, Severus took a deep breath and again reached for his hand. He hesitated, trembling fingers hovering in the air for half a minute, before they slowly curled around Remus's limp ones.
Fighting the tension and irrational fear that threatened to break free, Severus managed to force himself to stay calm. Remus's skin was warm and soft under his touch, just like the previous times. There was no reason to worry – everything was perfectly all right.
Severus closed his eyes, his slightly shallow breathing slowly returning to normal. Yes, everything was all right. Lucius was far from here and wouldn't be able to enter Hogwarts as he pleased. He could scare Severus, make him feel miserable and filthy, but he couldn't take this away from him. And his mocking words from the past, which had haunted Severus for so long – they were lies. Nothing but lies.
"Friendship and love - you've never had them and never will."
He had Remus's friendship now, and while the idea of the other man loving him still was too alien to truly believe, he suddenly felt a fierce gratitude for knowing it. Whenever dark thoughts of being worthless and deserving the pain he was going through would threaten him in the future, he could at least cling to the fact that there was one person who thought differently.
Only that it wasn't just one. There was Madam Pomfrey as well, and Albus. Severus shook his head at the sudden insight – he had been so blind! Albus had always been there for him, and if only he had been ready to believe that it was more than a feeling of responsibility on the old man's part – something that Albus had asserted time and again – things might never have reached this point. And he had thanked Albus his care with ignoring him as much as possible. It was a miracle that the headmaster hadn't given up on him by now. But it wasn't too late yet, was it? Maybe Severus could change things between them, at least a little. He might not be able to talk about his problems with him, but he could at least let Albus know that he was grateful.
Half an hour later, Severus left the infirmary with the firm resolution to pay Albus a visit the very next morning.
Sunday Morning found Severus pacing nervously in his living room. Suddenly, there seemed to be a dozen good reasons why talking to Albus was a bad idea after all. It would be an embarrassing situation to say the very least. And maybe Albus wouldn't want to hear what he had to say anyway. Why would he be interested in anything personal that someone like Severus wanted to tell him? Severus was useful to Albus, no doubt, but maybe he had only imagined that the headmaster did truly care. He could have misinterpreted his actions – he wasn't the most experienced person when friendship was concerned.
Severus raked his fingers through his hair in frustration. This was nonsense, nothing more than silly excuses, and he knew it! Tearing his mind away from this train of thought, he turned around and, determined to get this done, hurried to the door.
Ten minutes later, he was sitting in the chair in front of Albus's desk in the headmaster's office, an awkward silence enfolding the two of them.
Albus was looking at his Potions teacher in confusion. Severus had come to his office, claiming that they needed to talk about something important, but when he'd asked him what it was, Severus had merely looked down on his hands uncomfortably, not saying anything. Albus had stayed silent as well, wanting to give Severus time to collect his thoughts, but after several minutes, there was still nothing.
"Severus?" he finally ventured carefully. "You know that whatever you want to talk about, I will listen."
The younger man nodded, but still said nothing. He was fidgeting with his hands nervously, clenching and unclenching them in his lap, and the headmaster couldn't help but worry.
"Has something happened? Something I should know of?"
He watched Severus shake his head, then nod immediately afterwards.
"Yes! Yes, something happened," Severus blurted out, his eyes still glued to his hands. "I . . . last night, I realised what a complete idiot I have been all these years. I can't believe I was so stupid . . .so blind!"
By now, Albus felt even more concerned. He had no idea what Severus was talking about, but it seemed to be immensely important to him.
"I always told myself that . . . that you only felt responsible for me, that it couldn't possibly be more. I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't. That you truly . . . that you do care, that you consider me a . . .a friend." Severus was speaking quickly, his voice harsh, the words almost tumbling over one another. "And after all that you've done, I've never . . . not once . . ."
He trailed off, then drew a shaky breath. When he spoke again, it was no more than a whisper. "I just wanted to . . . I wanted you to know . . . that . . . thank you, Albus. For everything."
Severus felt as exhausted as if he'd fought a strenuous battle. His heart was hammering wildly in his throat, and he had to keep his fists clenched to prevent them from trembling.
When Albus didn't answer for some time, he began to think that this had been a terrible mistake. Most likely, Albus didn't know what to make of his incoherent ramblings. He'd tell Severus that he didn't understand what he meant, or even worse: he would tell him that he was mistaken, and that he was only useful as a spy after all.
"Severus . . ."
Surprised by the headmaster's voice being suddenly so near, Severus looked up to see that Albus had crouched down next to his chair and was now staring at him with a strange expression. He was shocked to see that there were tears in the old man's eyes – never before had he seen him so shaken.
"You are like my own son, Severus," Albus finally said gently. "I've always wanted you to know that I care, but I didn't want to pressure you into talking with me when it was clear that you could not. I'm . . . very glad that you came to me now."
He smiled, and for the first time in years, Severus found it in him to return the smile. "I know better now. Remus . . . he made me understand some things. And I see now that what . . . what Lucius said, that nobody would want to care . . . that it wasn't true."
He was sure Albus knew what he was talking about – the headmaster had seen the memories in the Pensieve more than once.
"You told him about Lucius?" Albus sounded astonished.
"No." Severus shook his head. "I can't." After a moment, he added in a low murmur, "Not yet. Maybe . . . but not yet."
Again, he had lowered his eyes to his hands ad the topic had come up, thinking of how much fun Lucius had appeared to have the previous evening. In doing so, his eyes fell on Albus's hand, which was resting on the armrest of his chair – and before he could think better of it, he'd grasped it tightly. It felt just as warm and comforting as Remus's, and when he'd overcome the first shock at his own actions, Severus slowly allowed himself to breathe again.
The silence that followed was a comfortable one, Severus more and more relaxing. He had made the right decision in coming to talk with Albus. Only some weeks before, he wouldn't have thought it possible, and it made him wonder what else might be possible, given time.
"Yesterday," he finally whispered. "Yesterday, he . . . Lucius . . ." He couldn't go on, but it wasn't necessary.
Albus was holding his hand with both of his own now, just as Remus had done a week ago, and for a fleeting moment, Severus wished that he might also hold him like Remus had. But then the moment was gone, and suddenly, it was all too much: the other man's touch, the unfamiliar physical and emotional closeness.
Thankfully, Albus seemed to sense his discomfort, and he took his hands away and got up, making room for Severus to stand as well. With a few quick steps, Severus distanced himself from the headmaster.
"I . . . I think I'll take a walk on the grounds," he said. He needed to be alone now.
"All right. Will you come and use the Pensieve later?"
Severus nodded. He would keep their agreement, even if he should decide to tell Remus about Lucius in the future – something of which he was not yet sure at all. The idea that it might be possible had come to him only a few minutes ago when Albus had mentioned it. But there was one thing he was perfectly certain of now: that he wanted Albus to know what was happening to him, much more so than before, when he hadn't understood why the old wizard would care to know.
"I'm very proud of you, Severus," Albus said as he opened the door to leave. "Thank you."
Again, Severus merely nodded in response – it seemed that he'd run out of words for now. When he closed the door behind himself, he was glad that it was over, but also glad about of the change that had taken place between them.
For the next two hours, he took an extended walk on the school grounds and the land beyond, and after that, he busied himself with correcting essays. He spent a pleasant afternoon playing chess with Remus in the infirmary, and when he left him after dinner to go to the library and work some more on the improved Wolfsbane Potion, he felt better than he could remember feeling in years. This night, he slept without dreams for once.