Author Notes: Many thanks to the lovely leftsockarchive. All remaining errors belong to me.

The Very Air He Breathed

It would be his magnum opus. It would earn him a place in history as the single greatest Potions master to have ever skinned a Shrivelfig. There would be awards and accolades given during extravagant ceremonies where his name would be sung and his genius exalted.

There might even be a ball.

But, he would then have to attend said ball, and he so hated the blasted things. Okay, scratch that -- no ball. Some other method would have to be found to pay tribute to his brilliance because it was nothing short of brilliant.

Now he just had to make sure it worked.

He had begun his research decades prior during his short, but highly agonizing, stint as Potions master for "He Who Must Not Be Disagreed With For Fear of Losing A Favored Appendage." Scrolls, whose lengths could stretch to the moon and back, sat in piles in his workroom gathering dust. They were a daily reminder of the wasted hours spent poring through musty books and of all the rare potions ingredients bought and squandered, with nothing to show afterwards but a succession of paper cuts and a stiff neck. Lesser men would have given up long ago. The "badger incident" alone would have sworn some off potion making for a lifetime. But he was a Snape and failure wasn't an option--it was a way of life, and frankly he'd had enough. The years of failed attempts only further fueled his desire to find the precise formula. And find it he did. His time had finally come.

First it needed a name.

The Elixir of Invisibility was pretentious enough to please him, but sadly underrated his work. This potion didn't merely make one invisible like that insipid cloak Potter was always dragging out. This potion prevented any sound from escaping, so no footsteps would ever be heard. It blocked scent, so no smell could be detected. Done in conjunction with a simple incantation that concealed clothes, it was foolproof. For all intents and purposes the user of the potion turned into air.

The Draught of Living Air. It had a rather nice ring to it, he thought.

He carefully added three drops of pure bundimun secretion to the simmering cauldron and smiled as the mixture turned a bright orange. It was almost ready: his masterpiece, the potion that could bring down the Dark Lord and single-handedly defeat a legion of Death Eaters. How could they possibly fight an army made of nothing but vapor, after all? Yes, he could easily add 'war hero' to his growing list of achievements.

There might even be a parade.

His first night out was a complete success. He was able to move about the crowded dining hall without so much as one eyebrow raised in his general direction. Beside the fact that he was still actually a corporeal being, solid enough to knock into tables -- or careless Gryffindors who weren't watching where they were walking -- he was able to maneuver the room completely undetected.

Severus's pride in his accomplishment was beyond measure. He was able to silently interact with his environment without revealing himself. Able to remove items from the tables, hide books, and move discarded scarves, without anyone realizing anything was amiss. He could read over Granger's shoulders as she scribbled frantically in her homework journal, flick the hat off Weasley's head and watched it fall into the soup tureen, fill Finnegan's plate with Brussels sprouts and keep adding more whenever he turned his head, and pour salt in Longbottom's pumpkin juice and watch him spit it out -- all over Parvati Patil.

He topped off an already exemplary evening as -- with nothing more than an outstretched foot -- he was able to trip Potter and send him careening into the Ravenclaw table, falling straight onto Cho Chang and smashing her face in her trifle. Even with her face covered in custard, Severus could tell she was irate. The best part of all, however, was that Severus could stand right beside the whelp and laugh loudly right into his ear as Potter stammered apologetically to the fuming Chang.

Severus left the Great Hall, drank the antiserum while removing the charm on his clothes, and re-entered the chaotic room. He stalked toward the head table where he sat in his usual seat, served himself a rather generous plateful of food, and sat back watching the mayhem he was able to cause in a few minutes. This could very well have been the greatest night of his life.

Over the next few weeks Severus continued to test the potion with startlingly magnificent results. He was able to follow students, enter common rooms, and wreak havoc without ever being suspected. Who in their right mind would accuse Severus Snape of setting off dungbombs in Sybill Trelawney's tower or kicking a Bowtruckle and watching it chase Draco Malfoy around a paddock during a Care of Magical Creatures class? Severus Snape would certainly never transfigure Minerva McGonagall's hat into a tea cozy or lace Filius Flitwicks's cider with Firewhiskey so that he was thoroughly hammered for his afternoon classes. The very idea was ludicrous.

Severus had never had so much fun.

He eavesdropped on conversations, getting the sordid details to secret trysts scheduled all around the school. No snogger was safe; Severus was always waiting in a nearby bush, behind a wall, or in the very room where the misguided lovers planned to meet. It didn't matter how clever they thought they were; the second their lips brushed, he sprang. House points evaporated, detentions were plentiful, and Severus couldn't remember when he'd ever been so happy.

The only side effect he could determine was an unusually sharp increase in his appetite. He would eat three times his normal amount and still not feel full. On two separate occasions, he had to have his clothes altered to fit his expanding waistline. While he was fuller in the face, he really felt it wasn't anything to be concerned about. He was taking much more than the recommended dose, and for much longer than would probably be needed. No one else would be allowed such free range with the draught. Distribution of the potion would have to be very heavily monitored; it was to be used to win a war and not for recreational purposes. As its creator, however, Severus enjoyed certain privileges. It was only fair.

He tripped Potter at least once a day.

The real test of the potion would be the werewolf. Evading his heightened senses would be the ultimate challenge. It was more than just an overly sensitive sense of smell, though it was often joked that Lupin could smell what someone ate for breakfast the day before. Lupin's condition allowed him to sense movement in ways that others could not. It was virtually impossible to sneak up on him without his being fully aware that someone or something was nearby. Severus was fairly confident that Lupin wouldn't be able to smell or hear him, but he was still a person made of bone and muscle and, as such, easily detectable to someone with such extraordinary senses. The question was, could he fool the beast? Could he make Lupin doubt his own instincts? Could he make Lupin believe that there was nothing in the room with him but the books on his desk and the very air he breathed?

An extended Easter break presented the perfect opportunity to experiment. Severus would have two weeks free and Lupin would be at Number 12 Grimmauld Place the entire time doing research. Severus had two weeks to prove indisputably that his potion was infallible. Two weeks to test the single greatest potions innovation since Skele-gro. Two weeks to gather enough blackmail material to force Lupin into house-elfdom. Two full weeks to show Lupin that the Marauders were rank amateurs when it came to causing bedlam.

Screw the parade, screw the ball, screw the accolades; this would be his crowning glory.

He decided to walk the last two miles to the old house. The streets of London passed in a blue-black haze as he strode by, lost in thought. How should he do this? As much as he liked the idea, tripping Lupin as he walked or pouring salt in his drinks wasn't worthy of such a rare and extraordinary opportunity. It wasn't practical either. While tormenting the werewolf was foremost on his mind, the point of the experiment was to test the potion's ability to make the user imperceptible, a task that would be hard to manage if he set dungbombs off in Lupin's bedroom when there was no one else in the house to blame. No, slow and steady would win this race.

It would be very minor at first: Lupin would misplace a book or his shoes; he would turn his head for a split second, only to find his tea cup moved; his biscuit would vanish from his plate before he remembered finishing it. Lupin would start to think that he was overtired, that he was working too hard. He might start to take small breaks or open a window to get some fresh air.

Severus would momentarily stop until Lupin felt everything was normal again and lowered his defenses. Then it would escalate: the werewolf would wake up at odd times, feeling himself being jostled in his sleep, perhaps hearing a window being slammed shut in another part of the house. He would go downstairs to the main rooms and find furniture moved and books misfiled. He would look on his desk and find notes that he didn't remember writing.

When Severus was sure that Lupin was on the verge of a breakdown he would go in for the kill. Lupin would find the hem on his trousers shortened. The next day the length would be fine but the waist too tight. The next day he wouldn't find them at all. Lupin would get owls at his window with replies to letters he never sent out, shipments of supplies he never ordered. He would think he had gone insane and Severus would be a firsthand witness to it all.

It was all in the name of experimentation and progress, of course. They were at war and this could end it. This potion could save lives but it needed to be tested. Severus needed a guinea pig; he simply failed to tell Lupin that he volunteered for duty.

Severus walked up to the path that led to the house and waited for the decrepit building to materialize. When he was sure no one had seen him, he removed a vial from his inner robe pocket, said a toast in the name of experimentation and progress, and drank. His fingers tingled as the potion made its way through his body. He muttered an incantation and within seconds an empty space remained in the spot where a man once stood. Severus then reached up and knocked on the door; he wasn't expected so the house wouldn't let him in.

He began to rock back and forth on his heels as he waited, eagerness coursing through his veins. After a while, when he got no answer, he rapped harder, pounding on the wooden door with all his might. Soon he heard the angry wailing of Mrs. Black, who was not pleased to have been disturbed by someone pummeling the door to her family home. Severus stopped his assault when he heard the latch click. The door slowly creaked and swung open, revealing one befuddled amber eye.

Lupin opened the door fully and stood on the threshold looking out onto the empty street. When he stepped out to have a better look around, Severus snuck past him and entered the house. He stood in a corner and waited for Lupin to re-enter and close the door behind him.

Severus smiled as Lupin passed him in the hall, and his heart began to beat hard against his ribcage. The werewolf took several steps and suddenly paused. He turned, looking directly at the spot where the invisible man stood, and Severus held his breath; if he didn't know better he would have sworn that Lupin was looking directly into his eyes. It was as he thought: Lupin could sense a change in the air.

He tensed as Lupin walked toward him and stood petrified as Lupin reached a hand out and nearly brushed Severus's ear. Lupin adjusted a painting that stood on the wall right next to Severus's head but said nothing as he turned around and made his way down the hall to placate the still screaming portrait of the Black family matriarch.

He watched Lupin cover the painting and say whatever it was he said to quiet her down. Almost immediately, two things struck Severus. The first was how tired Lupin looked. True, he hadn't looked well in years -- he was a werewolf, how good could he look -- but he appeared particularly haggard now, as if he aged at twice the rate he should.

Secondly, as soon as the shrieking harpy was once again mute, he noticed how silent the house was. Perhaps it was because Severus was used to the house being full of Weasleys and convicts. With only Lupin there roaming the halls, it seemed oppressively quiet-- unnaturally so. It was as if the house itself knew that its owner was now dead. Severus paused to wonder if the second occurrence had somehow caused the first, if the suffocating stillness served as a constant reminder that Black was dead-- a reminder to one of the few people who actually cared it was so. And he wondered if that constant reminder had broken down an already broken man.

He shook his head and snapped himself back to reality. If Severus wasn't careful he might find himself feeling sympathy and that would not do. No one ever accomplished anything with compassion; it was an overrated and highly misused emotion and Severus had no time for such nonsense. No, he had pandemonium to create: one part mischief, one part chaos, and an inordinate amount of agony. Stir vigorously and enjoy.

Best begin slowly, he thought as he continued down the hall to the kitchen where Lupin sat having his morning coffee. Today would be best utilized with simple observation. Get an idea of how Lupin spends his day and adjust the plan of attack accordingly.

It was then that he noticed Lupin was still in his pajamas; it was nearly ten o'clock. Lupin sat with his elbows on the table, leaning over the coffee cup and inhaling the steam that rose into the air from the dark brew. Books were scattered around him, open to different pages. Note cards covered in a scratchy scrawl also littered the table. Some toast lay untouched on a nearby dish next to a container of Molly Weasley's famous blackberry jam, and amidst it all Lupin sat unmoving until long after the coffee grew cold and stopped steaming.

When he finally looked up, Severus got a good look at him. His eyes had dark bags beneath them, his hair fell gracelessly in front of his heavily-lined face, his mouth was set in a straight line. He hardly looked like Lupin at all. Where was the sanctimonious smile that always sat on his lips? Where was the self-righteous expression on his face?

After nearly an hour Lupin got up and began to scan the books that lay about the table. He read quietly, made more notes, and otherwise passed the afternoon in silence. He got up to stretch once or twice and eat some of the cold toast before diving right back into his research.

Severus sat across the room and watched him, fighting to stay awake the whole time. At one point he considered rattling the portrait of Mrs. Black because he needed to hear something, anything, other than the scraping of Lupin's quill on the note cards. It was all terribly painful to behold and it annoyed Severus to no end. This put a definite kink in his plans; even he would find little amusement in tormenting such a pathetic creature.

Darkness fell and Lupin stopped to make himself dinner. Severus smelled the food cooking on the stove and his stomach growled. He hadn't thought that Lupin would spend the entire day in the kitchen. Part of his master plan involved him eating Lupin out of house and home, making Lupin wonder where all the food went, thus supplementing his plot to lead the werewolf down the road to insanity. Now it looked as if he would have to wait until the cretin was asleep before he could eat anything. Considering how hungry the potion left him, it wasn't a pleasant option.

Lupin ate slowly and Severus watched him chew every single bite. Severus didn't remember him being such a leisurely eater; when Lupin taught at Hogwarts all those years ago he ate two and three servings at every meal in the time it took others to finish one. His enthusiasm for even that seemed to have disappeared.

Finally, as the crescent moon rose high in the night sky, Remus Lupin called it a day and left the kitchen. Severus listened to his sluggish steps as he plodded up the staircase. When he was sure he heard Lupin's bedroom door shut, Severus reached into his pocket, pulled out a vial and drank. After he muttered another incantation to restore his clothes, he stood in the kitchen fully visible and half starved.

Having been invisible for much longer than he had ever previously attempted left him lightheaded. He was relieved to be whole once more. His stomach gave a harsh growl as he opened the pantry. He was thrilled to see it bursting with food: breads, cooked meats, cheese, fruit, and that blessed jam. With little care if he left a crumb in the house, he ate until he thought he might burst. When he reached back to get a pitcher of something to drink he noticed that all the food he had eaten had been replaced and the preserving charms activated. Dumbledore must have charmed it to keep fully supplied. So much for that part of his plan; Lupin would never realized that anything was eaten.

Was anything going to go right?

As he continued to gorge himself on food -- moving from a ham steak to a chocolate cake -- it had occurred to him that he could just leave. Lupin obviously had no idea that Severus was in the room. His potion was a success. Hooray. Huzzah. He should go, tell the headmaster of his creation, win the war, and get his accolades, his ball, and his damned parade.

But what of his plan to torture Lupin? What of the pain he would be able to inflict? The blessed humiliation? He couldn't... wouldn't leave without anything to show for his time at Grimmauld Place. His Order of Merlin would have to wait; he had a marauder to torment.

Severus slept in the small office beside the library, the one he used as a makeshift laboratory when he stayed at the house for an extended period of time. No one else ever dared enter it, so he knew he would be safe. He was leery of being invisible for more than fourteen hours and needed a place where he wouldn't be discovered. While he had no proof that using the potion for a longer period of time would cause any damage, he wasn't willing to risk it. He transfigured two chairs into a cot and fell into a dreamless sleep.

He woke to the sound of the shower running upstairs. The idea of a bath excited him enough to get him to leave the still-dark office. Severus got up and went to the kitchen where he ate quickly, knowing he might not have another opportunity until late that night. When the sound of the shower stopped, he went upstairs hoping to enter the bathroom as soon as Lupin vacated it. Pausing only to drink the potion and utter the accompanying spell, he bolted up the stairs and made it up in time to see a naked Remus Lupin walk from the bathroom to his bedroom.

Naked.

Nude.

Completely devoid of any clothing.

This was definitely NOT in the plan.

It made sense, of course. Lupin thought he was alone in the house; there really was little need for modesty. Still, no clothing at all, not even a towel... It was uncivilized. Uncivilized or not, Severus suddenly found himself at the threshold of Lupin's door, staring at him while he dressed.

He was too thin by a half and terribly scarred. It surprised Severus to see so many faded white lines crisscrossing Lupin's pale skin. He knew that a werewolf had amazing powers of healing. Other than the scars made by the initial bite, the only others that would remain were from self-induced injuries. It was most likely that the four deep gashes on his shoulder were from the creature that bit him, which meant the others were….

Severus turned away. Damn all things Gryffindor; he would not feel pity. Pity was far worse than compassion and far more dangerous. He entered the bathroom and waited for Lupin to go downstairs. After he cast a silencing charm on the room, he ran the bath until the tub was full of scalding hot water. He undressed, stepped in and began to cleanse. Though he could not see his skin he knew he had nearly scrubbed half of it off. He didn't care. He needed to feel like himself again.

He would later find Lupin in the parlor drinking tea and eating actual food. Severus was glad to see that he was dressed, though he had hoped Lupin would wear robes. The soft blue sweater and faded jeans he wore left little to the imagination. It was far too easy to visualize the naked body Severus had just seen, beneath the thin material that currently covered it.

Once again Lupin sat for hours in unbearable silence, reading and making notes. Severus, thinking he might go mad, began to pace the room. "Is this all you do?" he asked ears that wouldn't hear him. "Sit and read for hours on end? I have to say I'm disappointed. I had hoped to catch you doing something more interesting: taking illegal potions, wearing women's undergarments, entertaining young boys, anything. I'd settle for seeing you bite your own toenails at this point. You have to be the single most boring person on the face of the earth. How you got mixed up with Potter and Black is beyond me."

At the mention of his former friends' names, Lupin looked up and stared at the spot where Severus stood. "Finally," Severus said enthusiastically. "It's about bloody time."

Lupin got to his feet and scanned the room. With a certain determination, he searched the room, looking behind the furniture and pulling back the curtains. He took a step closer to where Severus stood, his eyes darting around the room. He reached his hand out until he was barely an inch from Severus's nose-- but suddenly he was distracted by the sound of someone entering the house.

"Remus?" a voice called.

"Minerva?" he answered.

Severus turned to see Minerva McGonagall stride into the room. "Remus, there you are. I've brought you the materials you asked for." She reached into the pocket of her cloak and pulled out what appeared to be a cluster of shrunken books. She set them down and with a tap of her wand they grew to full size. Severus recognized several rare editions of very old books.

"These were not easy to get a hold of," she said with a smile as Lupin began to look over the material.

"I would imagine not," he said distractedly. "Thank you."

She waved him off. "It's the least I could do."

He put the book he was holding down among the others that were piled in the room and looked up at his guest. "Can I get you some tea?"

She accepted and together they entered the kitchen, followed by Severus who was thrilled to have something to listen to. Minutes later they all sat around the large table; Severus was able to slip unnoticed into a seat that he had pulled away from the table earlier. Soon two cups of tea sat steaming on the table along with a plate of scones that Severus eyed hungrily.

Lupin still seemed distracted and Minerva picked up on it. "Are you all right, Remus?"

He looked up from his tea, his forehead deeply furrowed. "I'm not sure."

"What's wrong?"

He shifted in his seat. "Nothing really. It's just that…"

"That?"

He sighed. "Minerva, do you ever get the feeling that you aren't alone?"

"Remus, I'm never alone," she said with a smile.

He tried to smile back but was having difficulty. "No, I… Both yesterday and today I've got the feeling that I'm being watched."

"Watched?"

"Yesterday someone was pounding on the front door like he was trying to knock it down. When I opened it there wasn't anyone there, but I could have sworn I felt someone pass me and enter the house."

Minerva pursed her lips as she thought over his words. "Have you noticed anything else unusual?"

"I … well, I... No, I haven't. I haven't actually heard anything other than Mrs. Black's occasional tirades. I haven't been able to smell anything odd either, which is usually a dead giveaway of another's presence. But I feel a difference. Changes in the air. Something moving. Something shifting."

"Remus," she began softly reaching a hand out and placing it over his, "I know that last year was hard on you—"

"Don't, Minerva," he said sharply as he pulled his hand away and sat upright. "Don't say it. This isn't about Sirius. I've lived enough of my life without him in it to be used to that feeling. This is something else entirely."

She considered him for a moment before she spoke again. "Are you sure Kreacher hasn't returned?"

Lupin froze. "I hadn't thought of that."

"We still haven't found him. I wouldn't put it past him to sneak back in here. I'll send over one of the Hogwarts elves to have a look around. If he's been here in the last forty-eight hours we'll find him."

"Thank you," he replied, sounding very relieved. "Enough about my failing mind though, tell me what's going on at Hogwarts." He leaned in. "Any gossip?"

"Remus, shame on you," she said reproachfully. "I am no scandalmonger."

Lupin smiled a crooked smile. "But--"

Her eyes had a very Dumbleore-esque twinkle in them as she returned Lupin a small smile. "Well, I'm not one to talk, but Filius has been drinking."

"Filius!" Lupin was stunned. "I've never seen him drink anything stronger than pear cider."

"I know, but the other day he stumbled into class, charmed Hermione Granger's robes to sprout feathers, and fell asleep after demanding she lay an egg."

The conversation continued but Severus couldn't hear it. He was too busy laughing his head off until tears ran down his face. It wasn't until he heard his own name that he stopped.

"The big news is that Severus has disappeared."

Severus turned his head sharply and he nearly jolted out of his seat.

"Disappeared?" Lupin asked. "What do you mean, disappeared? Do you think he's hurt?"

"Oh, nothing of the sort." She paused to sip her tea. "He had left word with the headmaster that he would be gone for the entire Easter break, but he left no word of his destination other than to say it was a private matter."

"Private," Lupin repeated slowly.

"Of course, the speculation is that he's in love."

Severus did jolt this time, but luckily so did Lupin, and no one noticed that his chair had moved.

"Severus Snape in love? What would give you that idea?"

"Yes," Severus squeaked. "What would give you that idea?"

"Well, several things, actually. He's put on a bit of weight in the last few months. His face is fuller and he no longer has the emaciated, skeletal look he's been sporting for years. His skin doesn't have that sallow, sickly look about it anymore. He looks good."

"He looked fine before," Lupin said in a small voice.

Both Severus and Minerva looked at Lupin as if he had just sprouted a third eye.

"Yes… well. He's been in a very good mood lately; he walks around as if he's harboring some great secret. Then he goes off and disappears for the first time for his entire tenure at Hogwarts, without letting anyone know where's he's going. It all fits."

"That's a stretch, don't you think? Isn't it possible that he just wanted to get away? He's been working nonstop since Voldemort resurfaced. He's constantly out on some mission or another. Maybe he left just to have some fun."

"Remus," she scoffed. "You've known Severus nearly all your life. Does he seem like the type to just go out and have fun?"

Lupin shrugged. "No, I suppose not. But neither does he seem like the type of person to fall head over heels in love and dash off for a romantic interlude."

"I don't know," Minerva said, giving Lupin an appraising look. "He's a passionate person, Remus."

"Passionate as in quick-tempered and easily incensed," he scoffed.

She gave him a warm smile. "Passionate as in, one with strong emotions. Fiery-tempered perhaps, but dedicated."

"I suppose," he replied, looking away.

They both paused to drink and eat some more, Minerva watching Lupin the entire time. She gave him a very scrutinizing look before asking, "Is it so difficult to picture Severus in love?"

"No, it isn't," Lupin said almost sadly. "It isn't at all."

Minerva left and Lupin stood at the window watching her walk down the footpath and Disapparate when she reached the end. He remained there, looking out the window, long after she vanished. His forehead rested on the pane; he stood so close to the window that his breath fogged up the glass. With a sigh, he reached up and slowly traced a word in the condensation before wiping it all off with his fingers. He muttered something under his breath and turned away from the window and headed back to the kitchen.

Severus walked to the window and tried to see what Lupin had written, but all that remained was the fogged outline of the spot his fingers had wiped clean. Figuring it couldn't be that important, Severus followed Lupin, who went back to gather the materials Minerva had brought him. Lupin collected the books, got a fresh butterbeer, and went upstairs to his room.

Severus took a moment to eat something, not caring that anyone who entered would see chunks of meat disappearing from a chicken leg as it was suspended in mid-air. Growing weary of the long gaps between his meals, he gathered a generous supply of food and drink and took it to the small office he slept in. After he replaced the preserving charm on the food, he went upstairs to continue his surveillance of the werewolf.

Only one door was open in the corridor-- the one to the room Lupin claimed as his own. Severus peered inside to find Lupin lying on his stomach, sprawled on his bed. He was leafing though a book as he absentmindedly chewed his lower lip, and his legs were bent at the knee, with his bare feet up in the air and crossed at the ankle. Severus froze when he saw him. It was exactly how Lupin used to lay in the grass by the Quidditch pitch a decade and a half ago. He would usually study while Black and Potter rode their brooms overhead. The only thing missing from the scene was that lump, Peter Pettigrew, sitting alongside him, cheering his other friends on as they flew about. The image was a distinct one in Severus's memory. Seeing Lupin reading on the grass was like the whistling of a blue jay-- it was a sign that spring was approaching.

Something tightened inside Severus's stomach and then slowly released as he watched Lupin read his books and make his notes. While the house was still immersed in the peculiar silence, it didn't bother him nearly as much as it had the previous day. In fact, he rather enjoyed it. He sat on the floor with his back pressed to the wall across from the bed, and listened to the scratching of the quill on the parchment. Lupin looked relaxed and strangely young as he chewed the tip of his quill. It warmed something in Severus; it reminded him of other days, before…

"Oy, Remus. You up there!" Severus heard the slamming of the front door, followed by the rush of clunky footsteps on the stairs. Soon the turquoise head of that young Auror popped in. "There you are," she said with a beaming smile.

"Hello, Nympha—""

"Remus!"

"Tonks. Sorry," he said sheepishly. "What are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you."

"My assignment was a bust so I thought I'd head over here and see if you needed help with anything." She dropped her shoulder bag on the floor and unceremoniously plopped herself on the bed, next to Lupin. "Whatcha doing?"

"Reading. Not very exciting I'm afraid."

"What are you looking for exactly?" she asked as she picked up one of the books.

"Trying to figure out which spell Voldemort's using to sustain his body."

"We don't already know that?"

"We know how he got a body. We need to figure out how he plans to keep it. The spell he used isn't a permanent one."

"Oh," she said, sounding surprised to hear the news. "Well, I doubt I could really be of any help on that front." She situated herself on the bed, resting parallel to Lupin. She pulled up slightly, her elbows sinking into the bed as she propped up her torso. "There are other things I can help you with," she said in a soft tone, a slight upturn in her lips. "You look tense. I could do something about that."

Lupin laughed. "I appreciate the offer but I'm afraid I'm gonna have to pass."

"What, again?" she said teasingly. "Sooner or later you're going to give in, you know."

"Am I?"

"Law of averages. No one can say no all the time," she said with a lighthearted smile. "It's the hair, isn't it? You do realize I can change it ?"

"I do, yes."

"You like redheads?"

He laughed. "Trust me when I say it isn't your hair."

"Breasts, then. These are too small. I only use them when I'm on duty-- the big ones get in the way."

"Your breasts are fine."

"I can make them huge. Wanna see?"

"No! Please don't." He sighed. "Generally speaking, it's the fact that you have breasts at all that's the issue."

"Oh," she said as her eyes lit up. "Sorry mate, I can't help you there. I mean I can look like a bloke, but I can't make naughty bits. Not ones that function properly."

"Well, we wouldn't want malfunctioning naughty bits now, would we?"

"Damn shame." She jumped up off the bed. "Okay, I can see this isn't going anywhere. I'm just going to grab something to eat, if you don't mind."

"Help yourself," he replied with a smile.

"Can I get you anything while I'm up?" she offered.

"I'm all set."

"Suit yourself." And she bounded out of the room and down the stairs.

Severus sat immobile throughout the exchange. What started out as simple irritation at Ms. Tonks's chirpy attitude and blinding hair turned into revulsion at the possibility of seeing her and Lupin copulate; he had just eaten after all. Now he was left in a state of minor shock at the fact that Lupin preferred men. It was common knowledge that Sirius Black was painfully heterosexual, much to the lament of many of the gay males who attended Hogwarts, but now Severus was left wondering about the true nature of their relationship. It might explain Lupin's frame of mind. As he thought of this his eyes were drawn for a second time to Lupin's bare feet, which were once again up in the air, crossed at the ankle.

"Remus, do you have any of Molly's jam?" came a shout from down the stairs.

"There should be a full jar!" he shouted back.

Severus smiled. Apparently not all the items in the pantry replenished themselves.

Several minutes later Ms. Tonks returned to the bedroom, biting into a large green apple.

"Didja 'ear 'bout Snape?" she managed between chews.

Lupin looked up and frowned. "Yes, he's disappeared."

"Mundugus reckons Snape's got himself a bird hidden away somewhere."

"That's the rumor," Lupin said as he looked back down to his book.

Tonks prattled on. "Kingsley doesn't think so."

Lupin's head shot up. "No? What does he think happened?"

"He reckons Snape's got himself a fella." She broke out in school girl giggles.

"Oh," he said, his lips twisting.

"Remus, did you and he ever--"

"No," he replied, his grin softening and his cheeks reddening. "I doubt he knows I'm gay."

"Do you not talk about it?" she asked before taking another bite out of the apple.

"I don't talk much about my private life. It tends to get me in trouble."

She smiled at him. "I'm the same way, except about the not talking bit. I can't seem to shut up. I do get in an awful lot of trouble, though."

"I would imagine."

"I got to go," she said, gathering her satchel. "Last chance for a romp or two. I can make my hair black and greasy," she taunted.

"Tempting, but I'm afraid I'll have to--"

"Oh fine," she interrupted. "Just don't say no again. It a rather ugly word and a girl can only take so much rejection. Have a good one." She waved before heading out the door.

Lupin stared blankly for a long time after she left, his eyes unfocused and glassy. He turned and lie on his back, staring expressionlessly at nothing in particular. The only sound in the room was his steady breathing. Severus didn't know how much time passed as he watched Lupin scrutinize the ceiling. He remained rooted to his spot, waiting for some sign as to what Lupin was thinking, but the werewolf remained quiet for some time. It was soon dark again, and Lupin got up and went back downstairs to eat some dinner. With the dinner dishes still on the table, he went back to his room and fell promptly asleep.

Severus, on the other hand, had a very difficult night sleeping. After taking the antiserum, he allowed himself to walk throughout the house. Several thoughts plagued his mind as he ambled through the empty, dust-filled rooms. One was that Lupin seemed genuinely concerned that no one knew his whereabouts. Lupin seemed dissatisfied, perhaps even annoyed, with the common speculation and gossip. Severus also noticed that Lupin blushed when Tonks asked him if he and Severus knew each other on a more intimate basis, a sight that surprised and somewhat pleased him. It was the fact that the sight pleased him that bothered him most of all.

When he no longer had the strength to hold up his heavy eyelids, he made his way back to his private room. After placing an extra ward on the door, he undressed and fell to his bed, where he quickly fell asleep only to dream of bare feet on fresh cut grass.

Severus awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. He buried his face in his pillow as he cursed himself for not bringing more potion supplies. The relentless growling in his stomach forced him out of bed and resulted in the devouring of a full third of his provisions before he took notice that it was past noon. As had become his routine over the past few days, he drank his potion, uttered his spell, and left his quiet room.

He walked around the house only to find it deserted. Lupin must have gone out for the day. Finding himself alone left him a bit relieved, and without giving it much thought he headed upstairs and prepared for a long hot shower. He discarded his clothes haphazardly and stepped in the tub, turning the water on as hot as it would allow.

Each drop of water bit his skin as it beat down on him. He hung his head forward and closed his eyes as a surge of water washed over him. There was a plan, wasn't there? he thought bitterly. There was a reason he was there, a reason he stuck around, but for the life of him he couldn't remember it nor did he think it truly mattered anymore. This quest for progress and experimentation had turned into something else. Suddenly, when on the verge of drowning, the door to the bathroom opened and shut. Severus froze as the sounds of someone undressing filled the small room. A moment later, Remus Lupin drew back the shower curtain and stepped inside.

Severus stood flush against the wall, his palms flat against the wet tiles. Lupin hissed as the scalding water hit his skin. He went to turn the faucet and lower the temperature and as his arm reached out, it nearly grazed Severus, who had to suck his stomach in to avoid contact. Once the water was more temperate, Lupin stepped under the stream. With water sloshing about, Severus was able to slide past the werewolf to the back of the tub. He was about to pull back the curtain, feeling Lupin wouldn't even notice his departure, when he was halted by the sound of his own name.

"Severus," Lupin said softly.

Severus felt his stomach drop at the sound of his name. He was discovered! And just when he was so very close to escaping.

"Severus," Lupin repeated. "Where have you gone?"

It was then that Severus realized that Lupin wasn't talking to him at all, that he was just wondering aloud. He made to leave again, but Lupin kept talking.

"Severus, why do you torment me so?"

Severus turned to face him. He had no idea what Lupin had meant but his tone suggested that he was hurting, and Severus found, much to his dismay, that it bothered him. He watched for a few moments, hoping to hear more, hoping Lupin would expand on his thought, but his shower mate said nothing further; he merely continued to bathe.

The scars on his body seemed to fade under the cascade of water, making his thin, pale body look smoother than the last time Severus had seen him. With his hair wet and sticking to his face, he looked younger, too-- much more like the quiet boy Severus remembered from his student days. Soon Severus was no longer thinking about escaping, instead he was mesmerized by Lupin's hands as they spread soap all over his body, by the white suds that collected at the nape of his neck, and by the way those suds traveled down his back as he rinsed off.

The taut muscles of Lupin's arms flexed and contracted beneath his skin as he continued cleansing himself. Severus's eyes followed the lines of Lupin's body, over the sharp angles of his hips to a patch of dark hair that trailed down the slightly curved abdomen. Without being able to stop himself, he followed that trail to its end and found Lupin's cock fully, almost painfully, erect. Severus licked his lips at the sight of the shaft standing proudly out of a thatch of dark curls. A groan escaped his lips when Lupin's hand reached down and encircled it, grasping it tightly.

Lupin stood under the rush of water, one arm reaching out, pressed against the tile as he tried to steady himself. The other hand was wrapped around his erection and was slowly traveling up and down, over the tip and down to his balls in sweeping strokes. Severus's eyes followed the continuous movement, and listed to the soft moans that accompanied each ragged breath. More than once he could have sworn he heard a whisper of his name float through the air.

Lupin turned so that Severus could only see his back. But as the movements quickened and the moans grew louder Severus could no longer deny his own need. He reached down to grasp his own cock and began to stroke it hurriedly, matching Lupin's momentum. Lupin gasped as his body shuddered in climax and Severus's own orgasm quickly followed.

Before Lupin could gather his wits and turn off the water, Severus got out of the tub. Without bothering to gather his clothes, he headed downstairs, cursing himself as he sped toward his private room.

"Weak-willed coward," he said venomously. "Depraved, voyeuristic pervert."

"Hello, Mr. Snape, professor, sir."

Severus stopped suddenly, nearly colliding with a chair. He turned and looked into the over- large, bugged eyes of a house-elf.

"What did you say?" he asked.

"Dobby said, 'Hello Mr. Snape, professor, sir.' Dobby forgets which title the sir prefers so he says them all."

"You… you can see me?"

Dobby blinked. "Of course, Dobby can see you, sir. You is standing right in front of Dobby, dripping all over the floor." With a snap of his fingers he dried the wet trail Severus had left behind.

"You're not supposed to be able to see me."

"Does you want me to look away, professor, sir? Until you gets your knickers on?"

"I don't wear knickers!" he snapped.

"Is you out of knickers, sir? Dobby can get you some."

"No." He paused and counted to ten before continuing. "Dobby? Is it? I am using a special potion. I'm supposed to be invisible. You shouldn't be able to see me at all."

"Dobby will close his eyes."

"No!" he growled as he ran his hands over his wet hair. "Look, either the potion's effect wore off or it doesn't work on house-elves."

"House-elf magic very potent, professor, sir. Wizard magic doesn't always work so good."

"And yet house-elves serve wizards?"

"Life is funny like that, professor, sir."

Before Severus could reply, a mercifully dressed Lupin entered the room. "Dobby, thank you for running the shower for me, but a little cooler next time. I nearly burned off my skin."

"The shower, master, sir?" Dobby looked at Professor Snape inquiringly. Snape simply glared back. "Dobby… Dobby will remember next time."

Severus released a breath he didn't realize he was holding.

"Any sign of Kreacher?" Lupin asked.

"No, master, sir. Dobby can say most certainly that no house-elf visited this house for a long time."

"Really," Lupin answered, perplexed. "I could have sworn someone's been in this house. I suppose I'm just getting paranoid."

Dobby's eyes darted from Lupin to Severus and back again. "Could be, sir. Dobby not knowing how a wizard's mind works sometimes."

"Well, in any case, thank you, Dobby. You may return to Hogwarts." Dobby bowed and headed to the front door. "Dobby," Lupin called after him. "Do you know what happened to Professor Snape?"

Dobby's eyes darted from Lupin to Severus and back again. "Professor, sir, is not at Hogwarts."

"Yes, I know. I was just wondering… Do you know where he went?"

Dobby's eyes volleyed again, this time landing on Severus. "Dobby thinks professor is where he wants to be." He looked Severus in the face and bowed again before leaving.

"I suppose he is," Lupin muttered as he went into the kitchen, leaving Severus alone to think about things he didn't want to think about.

Severus didn't bother watching Lupin that night. Instead he remained in his private room and ate every scrap of food he had stockpiled. His beautiful potion, his shining glory, his triumph, his magnum opus, was a bust. If a house-elf could see him, there was no telling who or what else would be able to as well. He would have to reconfigure the formula, possibly going back to the very beginning. There was nothing, absolutely nothing keeping him at Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

Nothing.

With no incentive to stay, Severus decided to leave the next morning. He always hated this wretched house and the sooner he could be free of it, the better.

Morning came sooner than he expected it to. He hadn't slept well the night before. His back ached, his neck was stiff, and his eyes seemed to be fused shut. He felt battered, simply exhausted, and struggled with getting up. Chances were that he was experiencing the side effects of overusing the elixir. Mixed with the fact that his ego was crushed from the failed experiment, it made for one very crabby Potions master.

He drank the potion and whispered his incantations for what he figured to be the last time and left his room. Sunlight blasted through the windows and stung the eyes which he had barely managed to convince to open. Severus paused at the end of the corridor that lead to the front door. All he needed to do was walk down the hall, past the picture of that vile woman, and he would be free to walk out the door and back to his life.

A few minutes passed as he stood there, the front door plainly in sight, but he didn't move. Several more passed while he thought of the rooms he would be returning to. A few more as he considered the world he was returning to. And then a few more as he reflected on the one he was leaving behind. Nearly an hour later, Severus wasn't thinking of anything at all.

As these thoughts of nothing swirled around his head, Lupin came down the stairs; he didn't look like he had slept any better than Severus. Lupin let out a big yawn as he walked, rubbing the night from his eyes. Apparently, he didn't see the bottom step as he missed it and stumbled to the ground. Severus, who found to his horror that he jumped to help Lupin up, was halted by the hateful screams of the house's only other resident.

"Half-blood mongrel! Half-breed scum! How dare you contaminate my house with your filth! Ungodly abomination!"

She went on and on, screaming and cursing and insulting Lupin, who quietly got up, straightened out his clothes, and walked away. He didn't bother to placate her in any way but allowed her to continue unfettered. Severus followed him to the kitchen and watched as Lupin prepared a light breakfast and leafed though the daily paper as he ate it. All the while, the spewing of Mrs. Black's venom filled the air. When Lupin was done he quietly went down the hall, replaced the moldy curtains that covered the portrait, and went upstairs.

Severus didn't know what to make of it. Was Lupin so out of touch with reality the he didn't hear the ranting, or was he so starved for company that he truly didn't mind the noise? Or maybe, like Severus himself, was he sick of the stone silence of the house?

He remained at the bottom of the staircase for some time, looking up toward the next flight and picturing Lupin lying on his bed, with his bare feet up in the air. He turned to face the door that would take him away from this place and its eerie silence. There was absolutely nothing keeping him at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, but there was nothing that was making him leave either. He turned and entered the kitchen to get something to eat; he was more ravenous than ever.

There were no other visitors to Grimmauld place over the next few days and the silence, while at times oppressive, grew comfortable. It was an easy life: no students, or worries, no pain or struggles, nothing but simply observing another. As time passed, Severus found Lupin to be truly fascinating to watch. He was so focused, so controlled, and somehow so vulnerable.

But as much as he liked it, he realized he had to stop. The effects of the long term use of the potion were becoming evident: it got harder and harder to wake up, his body ached more each day, and he would often be hit with sudden waves of nausea. It was when he had made the decision to truly leave, to finally walk out the door, that he realized he was addicted, not to the potion itself, but to the freedom that the potion provided.

Severus found he had grown to love the burn, the pricking sting that made his skin rise in gooseflesh and the hairs on his arm stand on end. He loved staring at his arm and watching the dark mark vanish into thin air. That was the real danger of the potion-- not the physical discomfort which was relatively small in comparison, but the ability to dissipate and not exist. There was a certain lightness that came with being air, and it was difficult to let that feeling go. And it grew more difficult with each passing day.

It was well before sunrise. It had been a week since Severus had begun being Lupin's shadow and it was finally time to go home. Severus found himself at the bottom of the staircase, once again staring at the front door at the end of the corridor. He turned to look up the flight of stairs and thought of Lupin, probably asleep in his bed.

Severus hadn't permitted himself to get too physically close to Lupin again, not after the incident in the shower. It brought up too many issues. But standing there now, on the cusp of saying goodbye, his resolve weakened. Before he could change his mind, he found himself at Lupin's bedside.

Someone once told Severus that he looked so young when he slept, and he hadn't realized how that was possible until he looked upon the face of Remus Lupin lit by the first rays of dawn. His face was smooth and relaxed. He looked beautifully at peace. Of its own volition, Severus's hand reached out to touch the sleeping man's face, grazing a scar that ran along his cheek.

The skin beneath his fingers was velvety soft and Severus found he lacked the strength to pull away. He ran his finger along Lupin's chin, the stubble scraping against his fingertip. It continued to explore the sleeping face, down the bridge of his nose and over his slightly chapped lips. Severus wondered if he would ever hear those lips say his name again, whispered in a way that burned his blood and broke his heart.

He pulled the thin blanket that covered Lupin's body down, exposing his slender torso. More scars, more soft skin for Severus's touch-starved fingers. Shoulders and chest and stomach were displayed before him. Severus's finger ran from neck to navel and Lupin's body arched slightly into the phantom touch. Severus paused at Lupin's lower abdomen, where the blanket had settled, and ran his forefinger just under the edge. Lupin's body was responding to his caresses, twisting beneath the curious hand, and Severus thought it a beautiful sight. The temptation was strong to reach underneath and wrap his hand around the hardening shaft, but Severus pulled back. Whether it was for Lupin's sake or his own, he couldn't tell.

Giving in to one last temptation, Severus placed a gentle kiss on Lupin's forehead. His eyelids softly fluttered and he smiled briefly before turning and going back to sleep. Severus stood over him for a moment before turning on his heel and heading for the door. He paused at the threshold and whispered, "Goodbye Remus," before hurrying down the steps and rushing out the front door.

It wasn't until he was back at Hogwarts, back in the solitude of his private quarters, that he realized he had forgotten to take the potion that morning.

The whispers started the moment he entered the Great Hall. He knew it was a mistake to eat breakfast there, but the need to immerse himself in noise, of any kind, was too strong to ignore. It would be a decision he regretted the second he walked through the entrance way. He stomped through the room, pulled out his chair at the head table, and glared at his co-workers, daring them to utter a syllable in his general direction.

His appetite had yet to diminish despite not using the potion for more than twenty-four hours. That added to his sour attitude meant he attacked his breakfast viciously. Any food within arms length disappeared quickly.

Only Hagrid, who probably didn't know better, was brave enough to interrupt. "Good to 'ave ya back, sir. Glad to see ya still got yer appetite. I s'pose you bin 'aving a good time, working it up." Severus nearly choked on his bacon as the big oaf smiled broadly.

Severus did his best to ignore them; his mind was occupied with other things. On one hand he had a week free to do whatever he wished. On the other hand, he had this free time because his wondrous plan proved to be such a sodding disaster. The idea of working on the potion anymore left him cold. He wondered if it was truly wise to pursue it now that he knew the effects first hand. With dozens of eyes sneaking glimpses at him from all points in the room, he felt exposed. Naked. He wanted more than anything else to disappear.

He sat in his armchair with a glass of brandy in his distracted hands. A knock on his door snapped him back into consciousness and nearly caused him to spill the amber liquor. He opened the door to find Remus Lupin on the other side.

"Hello, Severus."

It took Severus a moment to realize that he could talk back and be heard. "Lupin," he said softly. "Can I help you?"

"I just… May I come in?"

Severus stood immobile for a long moment before nodding tersely. As Lupin passed him he spoke: "I heard you were back. I don't know if you realize the stories your disappearance caused." He gave Severus a crooked smile.

"I… I have a vague idea, yes."

Lupin nodded. "I… I wanted… I wanted to make sure you were all right."

"I suppose you didn't believe that I ran off for a rendezvous with a paramour," he said mockingly before drinking some of the brandy he'd been holding for an hour.

Lupin's smile returned. "No. Somehow I think… I thought it was something else. You always seemed too sensible to just run off like that."

"Too stiff for romance," he said with a bit of a scowl.

Lupin shook his head. "Too dedicated to run off in the middle of a war. I can't imagine you would just leave if it didn't have a greater purpose."

Severus looked down. "I suppose there was a greater purpose, once."

"Are you ever going to say where you were?"

Severus's eyes were drawn to a scar on Lupin's cheek, and it was with a bit of heartache that he remembered how that scar felt under his fingertips. "I was… I was…"

"Where you wanted to be?" Lupin finished for him.

Severus's eyes locked with Lupin's. "Yes," he said softly. "Yes, I was."

"Well, I'm just glad you're safe," Lupin replied, seeming to sense the conversation was over. "I'll leave you to your privacy. Have a good day."

Before Severus could say anything else, Lupin was out the door.

The next Order meeting was the night before classes were to resume. Severus sat in the seat he had occupied not so long ago and was surprised at how comfortable it felt to be sitting there once again. When the meeting ended, the members scattered about, chatting and catching up with one another. In previous meetings Severus would have been the first out the door. This time he found himself lingering by the bookshelves, nursing a cup of Firewhiskey Mundungus Fletcher had poured him in celebration of his "finally getting some." Severus never cared for the brew before but found the burn oddly familiar, and somewhat comforting.

Arthur Weasley came over to speak to him, as did Nymphadora Tonks, who was pathetically transparent in her attempts to get information. Kingsley Shacklebolt did a far better job but extracted as little information. After nearly two hours the place emptied out, leaving him alone with Lupin.

"Severus, I'm surprised to still see you here," Lupin remarked as he began to gather the scrolls left on the table from the meeting. "You are usually long gone at this point."

"Yes," Severus began, a little annoyed with himself for feeling nervous. "In truth I wanted to talk to you alone."

"Yes," Lupin answered slowly.

Severus had completely forgotten what he was going to say-- something about getting past their history and possibly… possibly what? His mind was blank. He then remembered something. "I brought you a small gift."

Lupin was visibly surprised. "A gift?"

"Yes, I made an interesting discovery and I thought you might find it useful."

"And that would be?"

"Follow me."

Severus walked down the dark hallway and stopped in front of the portrait of Mrs. Black. He pulled back the moldy curtain and almost instantly she began shrieking.

"Blood traitor! Treacherous scum!"

"You remember me, how lovely," he said, his grin twisting.

"How dare you--"

"Before you go and say something you'll regret," he interrupted, "allow me to show you something." He held up a clear blue bottle. "You know those Muggles you hate so much?"

"Worthless trash –"

"You do remember. Good. Well, worthless trash or not, they are rather ingenious and have created this lovely potion. It's called turpentine."

"What do I care—"

"Oh, you will care. Allow me to demonstrate." He took out a rag onto which he poured a little bit of the foul-smelling fluid. He then took the rag and rubbed the portrait until the colors began to run on Mrs. Black's dress. Soon a faded spot appeared in the middle.

"What have you done!" she howled.

"Amazing, isn't it? Muggles created it to eat through paint."

"Savages!"

"That's one way of looking at it, yes. Now," he paused and his grin widened, "I want you to really look and see what it did to your gown and to take a moment to think about what it would do to your mouth."

"You wouldn't!" she yipped.

"Wouldn't I?"

Her eyes narrowed. "What do you want?"

"I want some peace and quiet," he said plainly. "How that is achieved it up to you."

Her hands balled into tight fists and her lips pursed so tightly Severus was sure she was about to shatter her teeth. She took several deep breaths and spoke, "Fine, but I only do so with the knowledge that purer forces will prevail and one day, when you are long dead, I can laugh over your rotting flesh."

"Charming as ever, Madam," he said with a bow and walked back down to the sitting room, leaving Lupin looking after him with his mouth hanging open.

Lupin stood thunderstruck, staring at Severus's retreating form. He turned to face Mrs. Black, who was still fuming.

"Can I help you?" she said, shaking as she kept herself in check.

Lupin smiled. "You know I'm a half-blood right?"

"Yes," she said tersely.

"And a werewolf."

"Yes."

"I'm gay, too." Her eyes went wide.

"And Sirius willed the house to me," he continued, smiling widely as she began clawing at her dress. "Yes, I'm a Muggle-loving, half-blood, homosexual werewolf and I now own this house. Anything you want to say about that?"

She went to open her mouth but looked down at a white spot on her dress. "Nothing," she growled through gritted teeth. "Nothing at all."

Lupin laughed then. He laughed louder and harder than he had in months, if not in his entire life. Severus sat on the sofa and listened to the sound as it filled the house and thought it was the loveliest thing he had ever heard.

Lupin was still laughing as he entered the room. "Severus," he managed between gasps, "I don't know how I could ever thank you."

"I'm sure I can think of something, Remus," he said softly.

Lupin stopped laughing and his smile widened. "I'm sure you could."

Finis