SUMMARY: Severus is made a slave by the Ministry to be controlled by a true member of the Order. Request by knightmove
CATEGORIES: Angst, General
CHARACTERS: Remus, Severus WARNINGS: Character death
TIMELIME: Post-2nd War
A/N: I am apparently incapable of writing a story in past tense. Eep.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Harry Potter and all its related merchandise. I make no profit from this venture and mean no offence. Don't sue.
He is perfectly sedate when they escort him to his new residence. The stiffness in his muscles, the telltale limp of too long under the Cruciatus, are the only outward signs of any misdemeanour. The paperwork is stacks high, every last detail recorded by the ever-officious Ministry of Magic. Name. Date of birth. Former occupation. Date joined Death Eaters. Years in Azkaban. Previous infractions. Former owners. A practice in listing the minutiae to hide the more important fact.
Severus Snape. Slave.
He doesn't know to whom he is being taken now, but it doesn't matter anyway. No one yet has owned him and come away unscathed. His new 'master' shall be no different.
One of the Aurors knocks on the door of a small, dilapidated cottage. They are out in the middle of nowhere, probably Scotland, or maybe Wales. There is no sign of life in any direction, but a few trees with a smattering of birds trilling forlornly perched in their midst. Severus tries not to think too much about who could live in a place like this, with its unkempt garden rotting window frames.
The Aurors shuffle uneasily when no one greets them. The one in charge bangs again, harder. Severus huffs in annoyance, and watches his breath mist in the air. If there's one thing he hates more than having a 'master' is having a master who is unreliable.
There is a tingle of magic in the air, before the door is slowly swung open. A dishevelled head pokes around the edge to eye them warily. There is a fresh wound stretching over one cheek and down his neck.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" Lupin asks.
Inwardly, Severus curses.
"Ah, good morning Mr Lupin," the lead Auror smarms. "I'm here with Bondsman 2541D. I trust you've received the papers of ownership transfer?" Lupin, squinting in the bright morning light, peers at Severus in confusion.
"I'm sorry, papers?" he asks. Something like lead forms in Severus' gut. The system has never failed before; his paperwork has never gone missing. What happens if it does? It's not as if he magically becomes a free man again, no. But he might be detained in Azkaban again. The thought makes him shudder.
"You didn't get them?" the Auror asks. He seems to consider the situation with an unhopeful scowl.
"Well, never mind," Lupin says, "I'm sure the owl is just a bit lost. Do come in." He leaves the door wide open as he disappears back in to the house.
It takes a moment for Severus' eyes to adjust to the sudden darkness, though there isn't much to see. Bare floorboards, dusty rugs, stained walls, an uneven fireplace, one patched armchair with an equally patched blanket thrown haphazardly across it, a coffee table levelled with a brick, a clock with no hour hand, a sink against the far wall with a cupboard hanging beside it, and a veritable mountain of books. Nothing else. Severus has certainly been enslaved to much richer wizards. He wrinkles his nose in distaste.
"Tea, anyone?" Lupin queries, placing an old tin kettle on a hook over the fire. Severus can see the spasm of disgust on the faces of his guards.
"No thank you, Mr Lupin. Wouldn't want to get in the way," says the leader. He drops a thick roll of parchment on the coffee table. They are instructions from the Ministry, Severus knows, on the care and discipline of Bondsmen, with a particular attachment just for him: "Bondsman 2541D must be handled with extra caution. He will seek to lure you into a false sense of security. Attempts to break him in have as yet been unsuccessful, but his skills are too valuable to render him worthless. If in any doubt at all, do not hesitate to contact us at the Ministry for assistance."
"Very well then. Goodbye," Lupin says, and watches the Aurors troop out of the house to reach the edge of the anti-Apparition wards. "Pleasant lot," he comments. Severus watches in some consternation as Lupin picks up the roll of parchment and, without so much as glancing at the seal, tosses it into the fire. Within seconds the flames have caught, and all the safeguards put in for Severus' protection – and all those put in for Lupin's – are gone.
"Tea?" Lupin asks, his back turned. Severus can see his wand poking out of his pocket; it would be short work to pluck it out, cast the Killing Curse, and be free of one more 'master'. But he can still see the Aurors through the window, far too close for his comfort. Now is not the time for rashness.
"Allow me," he says smoothly, hobbling forward to take over. Lupin does not relinquish the task.
"No, no, it's fine. I rather like making tea the old-fashioned way," he says. Severus immediately steps back.
"As you wish," he says demurely. Lupin shoots him an amused glance, but does not comment. He places the tray on the floor, bending over awkwardly to put out mismatched mugs and a chipped teapot. Severus notes his hands are shaking when he lifts the tray, and balances it carefully on the coffee table. And then he looks around the room in bewilderment.
"Oh bugger," he says. Severus blinks at him. "I don't have another chair. I don't even have a spare bed! This place is barely big enough for one, I don't know how we're supposed to live like this …" His voice trails off as he disappears through the wall to the right of the fireplace. Severus is left to stare around the room, accompanied only by the crackle-pop of the fire, where the Ministry parchment has long since disintegrated into ash. There are so many books, he notes. Lupin was always the bookworm in school, too, spending more time in the library than most of Gryffindor combined. Severus was the Slytherin equivalent, and though the two were never even friendly acquaintances, they had tolerated the sight of each other with little comment. It had infuriated Potter and Black, he remembers.
His fingers itch to reach out and pick one, feel the course paper, smell that peculiar smell of old books, devour whatever is contained within. Severus is so book-hungry, he would gladly read a Muggle romance just to satisfy the need.
"… found this, which might serve," Lupin says, struggling through with another large coffee table in his grip. Severus instinctively moves to help, and together they settle it opposite the armchair. Lupin studies it critically for a moment, one finger pressed against his lips. "It's too small to do anything nice with. Unless …" He casts a speculative eye on the table covered with his books. "Severus, can you help me shift these?"
They clear the table, Lupin bemoaning the fact that the tea is cold now. Severus bites his tongue on the acerbic comments he longs to give air to. He at least has to give the impression that he is a respectful, hardworking Bondsman. Most of his previous 'masters' put down the troubles of his past ownerships to poor treatment or not enough discipline.
He's not so sure he can pull the same trick off with Lupin, who knows him so well.
"Now," says Lupin once the two tables are placed side by side, "there isn't enough space in my room for an extra bed, and the cottage isn't big enough for a spare room. We can either transfigure the tables from a chair to a bed every day until it can't take any more magic, or you can have a long sofa to sleep on. Your choice." Lupin looks at Severus expectantly, as if having the final say on any part of his life is perfectly normal. He debates demurring to Lupin's judgement, but the thought of getting to choose for himself, the weight and texture of a decision all his own, is too tempting to pass up.
"The sofa please, Master," he murmurs. Lupin visibly recoils at the title. His face is a brittle mask as he casts the complicated Transfiguration spell, then warms the tea without a word. Severus stands uncomfortably by the new green sofa, waiting for instruction. Lupin pours for them both, and eases into his armchair with a long sigh. Taking a sip from his mug, he looks up at Severus with a suddenly calculating gaze.
"I know what game you're playing, Severus," he says tiredly. There are deep shadows under his eyes, and the new scrape running across his face is an angry red. It was a full moon last night, Severus notes privately. That explains why Lupin is still in nightwear, looking pale and ill.
"Game, master?" Severus says, a last-ditch attempt at maintaining his authenticity though he knows Lupin doesn't buy it.
"Let me make something clear to you," Lupin says. "You are not a slave in this house. I will never tell you to do anything; I will not make you do something you do not want to. If these conditions are not to your liking, I will gladly contact the Ministry for you." Severus allows these words to sink in; then, watching Lupin closely, he forces his body to sit stiffly on the sofa, and pick up his tea. Without orders. Lupin smiles. "Thank you, Severus." He takes a sip from his mug. "Now, is there anything that you might like? Bearing in mind that I am a man of limited means." Immediately, Severus thinks of a wand, then of a cupboard of potions ingredients, but finally settles on something far more attainable.
"Books. I haven't read a book in years," he says. Lupin nods.
"Anything you see here, you can read. You'll have to pardon the mess. There's a distinct lack of storage space here." Severus shrugs nonchalantly, suppressing a wince when a trapped nerve makes itself known. Cruciatus always has that effect on him.
Lupin finishes his tea and struggles to his feet again. Severus thinks he can see spots of blood on his t-shirt, but doesn't feel right about asking about it. Lupin is a grown man and long used to his lycanthropy, he reasons.
"Here," Lupin says, a potion bottle in his hand. Severus takes it suspiciously. "It's just a simple Healing Potion. For the aftershocks. I know how they've been treating you." A quick sniff verifies Lupin's words, and Severus downs the lot in one go. Seconds later, there is a lazy warmth spreading through his limbs, making them limp and heavy. Lupin smiles again from his chair.
"What about you?" Severus asks at length. He is not so proud as to ignore the rare kindness offered to him. Not anymore.
"Oh, that stuff never works on me. I've built up a resistance to it," Lupin says. This piques Severus' professional interest.
"To which ingredient?" he asks.
"I've no idea. Very few Healing drafts have any effect on me now. The ones that do are far too expensive and usually have something like Phoenix tears in them." Lupin yawns suddenly, one hand held over his mouth. "Excuse me," he says sleepily. "I think I'll just go for a little nap. You can do what you want out here, I don't really mind."
"I thought I didn't need your permission?" Severus growls before he can stop himself. To his surprise, Lupin laughs.
"That's the Severus I remember," he says, and vanishes through the wall again.
Severus stares about the room much as before, only this time with much less trepidation. Lupin was always a man of his word, and Severus feels he can treat the cottage – such that it is – as his own, without fear of drastic repercussions. He isn't going to be punished here, beaten or hexed in the name of discipline.
He finds he doesn't quite know what to do with himself without orders, and it's that more than anything that makes him pick a book from the floor at random, settle more fully onto his sofa and begin to read.
The thrill of it, of turning a page to find out something knew, engrosses him so that he doesn't notice the time fly, until the day is nearly passed and Lupin – whom Severus didn't notice emerge from his room – has lit the oil lamps placed at strategic locations throughout the room.
"Hungry?" The hoarse voice in the silence shocks Severus from his book, and he blinks blearily up at Lupin. "There isn't much choice, I'm afraid. Corned beef sandwiches or tinned soup."
"Sandwiches are fine," Severus says neutrally. He doesn't quite know how to react around Lupin. There was a time once, a long time ago, when he wouldn't have thought twice about employing every ounce of sarcastic wit he had against the other man. But things are not so concrete now, and he recognises (and loathes the fact) that he is a changed man.
Still, if he is a guest more than a slave in Lupin's house, he refuses to offer to help even though he can see Lupin is aching and sore. It's a subconscious attempt to enjoy his freedom while it lasts, because there's little doubt in his mind that something will happen in his future, something that will throw him right back to where he started.
They eat in silence, Lupin studying scraps of parchment scattered about him, Severus alternating between the fire and Lupin. Occasionally, Lupin frowns at what he's reading, mouth turning down disapprovingly at the corners. There is a constant little v etched between his brows that speaks of long-endured pain. Severus ponders it, revelling in the chance to unpack his vast Potions knowledge and spread it across the expanse of his mind like rusty tools on an old worktop. He isn't particularly concerned about Lupin's discomfort; more, it is the fact that a Healing Potion can become ineffective due to overuse. Understandably, there are not many recorded instances of a human being in so much pain as to use the amount of cheaper Healing drafts Lupin must do.
He spends the rest of the evening turning the problem over and over, and when Lupin turns in for the night, leaving blankets and a pillow out, Severus himself stays up long after, happy to have something challenging to occupy his mind. He doesn't fall asleep until dawn.
There is something suspicious about Lupin's activities. Not that this isn't expected in a Gryffindor werewolf, but Lupin, Severus has come to realise, is different in many ways. Strange guests that are always immediately taken into Lupin's mysterious bedroom, hurried correspondences, and late night research sessions reminiscent of school, or the first war. True to his word, he has left Severus alone to his own devices, supplying new books as and when he can afford it for Severus' rapidly reawakening mind. Previously, Severus was too off-centred, too relieved, to do much but blindly accept the offered hospitality.
Now his mental faculties are fully functioning once more, no longer in 'survival' mode but 'live', he has the capacity to question. To wonder why he is being treated so considerately, why Lupin is not using and abusing the power the Ministry has so willingly given to him. Surely, a werewolf so accustomed to the same mistreatment Severus has suffered would be eager to exact revenge on another, especially one who had been less than accommodating in their shared past. No doubt someone at the Ministry had that in mind when placing Severus under Lupin's ownership. A trusted member of the Order of the Phoenix, yes, but a vengeful and bitter werewolf too. Or so they must have hoped.
"I found a few more books at Flourish & Blotts," Lupin says as he enters, kicking the front door shut behind him. Severus, staring moodily into the fire, shivers at the draft of icy wind that whips into the room. There is snow in Lupin's hair, glittering in the lamplight like silver highlights. His scarf and coat are sopping, and he quickly casts a Drying Charm over himself to prevent wetting any of the precious books on the floor. "They were having a sale, and I had a little money to spare," he says. Severus rouses himself to take the proffered bag, and tips out the contents on to the sofa.
"Magical theory, Charms, wizarding political history, magical bonds and contracts," he says, and shoots a critical look at Lupin's back while the other man sets about making tea. "A very … narrow selection," he notes.
"Do you disapprove? I'm sorry, Severus. I'll be sure to buy you something more entertaining next time," Lupin says lightly. China clinks as silence falls between them, like a soft blanket hiding the secrets to be found there. But Severus has quickly regained his lost curiosity, and he wants those secrets aired.
"One wonders why you bought a History of Magic book when I know full well you detested the subject in school," he says, taking the mug Lupin offers him. Sinking into his chair, Lupin sips on his tea – sickeningly sweet, Severus now knows – and lets the heat ease his arthritic fingers.
"School was many years ago, Severus," Lupin says offhandedly, "and many things change."
"As I remember it, magical theory was your specialty. Surely you wouldn't need a textbook on that," Severus says.
Lupin smiles enigmatically. "Unlike you, I only have room in my head for so much knowledge. Remembering the details of lessons way back when is not a skill I possess, sadly."
Severus scowls. Clearly, the subtle approach is not going to work with someone easily as sly as himself. So much for Gryffindor brashness. "What are you doing?" he asks bluntly.
"Defrosting," Lupin answers with a grin. Severus glares at him.
"You are in possession of a Bondsman, yet you have never given me work to do of any kind, and insist on treating me like a guest in your house. If you have no need of a Bondsman, it is your contractual duty to return me to the Ministry of Magic, yet here I sit, drinking tea and trying to decipher the meaning of your behaviour, unfathomable even for a know-it-all Gryffindor. Now, will you tell me directly, or do I have to be more underhanded in my investigations?"
Lupin stares long into his tea, chewing on his lip as he had in school, until finally meeting Severus' angry eyes. "Is it so hard for you to believe," he asks softly, "that I might be nice to you simply out of human kindness?"
"Those pompous monsters at the Ministry have deemed it illegal for Death Eaters to be treated kindly. Or is that it? Is it because you know I defected?"
Lupin shakes his head. "Were you Lucius Malfoy himself, I would not treat you any differently. I might be more cautious about turning my back, mind. But you being the spy has nothing to do with my being nice to you."
"Then what?" Severus explodes. He is tired of running in circles of logic, only to have all logical conclusions dismissed out of hand by Lupin.
"Think, Severus!" Lupin says earnestly. He is leaning forward, elbows on knees, empty teacup held limply in one hand. "Place yourself in my shoes at the end of the first war. I was just as scorned, just as abused as the Death Eaters now. The fall of grace of many in the Beast Division has improved my standing in the eyes of the Ministry, but at the expense of the humanity of others. It would be shameful and hypocritical of me to treat you as I hated being treated, and I refuse to do it." He sags, as if wearied by his explanation.
"It isn't pity, then," Severus murmurs.
"No, it isn't pity. It's empathy. You're not my slave, Severus, despite any paperwork to the contrary," Lupin says. Severus nods once. The blanket of silence falls again, thinner than before, but there are more secrets within, Severus knows.
"I've been working out the theory for a new Healing Potion," he says at length. "It would need a little experimentation, but I believe it could act as a suitable replacement." The words 'for you' hang in the air, unsaid for the sake of pride on both sides. Lupin licks his lips.
"What do you need?" he asks. Rummaging in his pocket, Severus pulls out a folded sheet of parchment.
"There's a list, if you're willing," he says. A nod, and Lupin takes it, slipping it into his own pocket.
"I'll pass it on to a friend," he says fervently. Severus sits back, satisfied. He knows he is indebted to Lupin; this is a way to pay back part of the debt.
In the evening, another acquaintance arrives, and is taken through the wall into Lupin's room where they remain for many hours. Severus reads the new books Lupin bought, forming conclusions that make him both anxious and, dare he say it, hopeful. When the visitor leaves, escorted to the door by Lupin, Severus abandons his pretence of sleep. Lupin flinches when he sees Severus wide awake and observing like a fascinating specimen.
"It's late Severus," he says.
"I'm well aware."
"Couldn't you sleep?"
Severus snorts disdainfully. "Give it up, Lupin. I know what you're doing," he says. Lupin sighs and sinks into his armchair slowly.
"It stands to reason," he says wearily. "You always were too inquisitive for your own good." Severus has a brief flash of memory, vicious teeth and a haunting wolf howl, but pushes it away.
"Who are these people who visit you?" he demands.
"They are people who, like me, disagree with the Ministry's policy of enslavement," Lupin says patiently. Severus makes a little sound of triumph.
"I knew it. You're trying to find a magical way of ending the Bondsman contracts," he says.
"Either through a pre-existing law we can invoke, or a new charm we can cast," Lupin elaborates. "Most of us are ex-Order members. It's disgusting how our sacrifices to ward off the domination of Voldemort only ended in the domination of the Ministry. It dishonours the memory of Harry and Albus, and everyone else who died in the war." Severus nods vigorously.
"I want to help," he says. Lupin purses his lips.
"Do you think that's a wise idea? You already have a long record at the Ministry. If we are caught, the last thing you need is to be traced back to –"
"I said: I want to help. Or do I no longer have the choice in this matter?" Severus snaps. Lupin rolls his eyes.
"All right! You didn't have to pull the guilt trip on me. Just so long as you understand what you're getting yourself into here."
"Would you like me to swear it for you? I, Severus Snape, a man fully compus mentus, do hereby declare myself to completely understand the implications of my actions. Satisfied?"
Lupin grins. "Fair enough. You're in. Now help me sort through these notes. The History of Magic has been boring me to tears for six weeks already."
They end up working side by side together on the sofa late into the night, sharing the limited light as they pore over old textbooks and crumbling rolls of parchment, looking for the Severus' salvation, and the restoration of the wizarding world. In the mornings, bleary eyed, they drink tea and quietly talk about anything other than their research. The Daily Prophet brings word of arrests made of 'neo-Death Eaters' and 'Death Eater sympathisers'. Lupin's efforts are feverish yet tireless. He doesn't eat or sleep well, and he jumps whenever anyone comes to the door. There are no more late night visitors.
It has become too dangerous for that.
Severus' theoretical potion works on the first attempt, much to his surprise and pleasure. Lupin uses it for two transformations, and his gratitude is evident in the way he clutches at Severus' hands when they have finished administering it.
"Wolfsbane would be better," Severus says shortly.
"If I had the money," Lupin replies, drifting into unconsciousness.
The third transformation, Severus does not have enough supplies, and cannot make the Potion. It's the first time he has witnessed the agony of the morning after a transformation, and can appreciate why Black was always so uptight about it. Not that he will ever, ever admit that out loud.
The supplies completely run out before the fourth transformation, because Lupin dares not leave the house. Arrests are happening at an alarming rate across the country; the more who are thrown in Azkaban, the less can research for the cause. Severus understands this, and is frankly concerned that Lupin is burning himself out. The fate of the world does not hinge solely on ending the enslavement of once wicked men. Lupin is entitled to a break.
Severus finds himself the one to enforce it one lunchtime, after no sleep the previous night. His eyes itchy with tiredness, muscles cramped from being bent to read heavy tomes perched on his lap, Severus finishes the last page and leans back against the sofa. Next to him, Lupin continues his laborious trawl through whatever magical theory text he has now, scribbling notes onto parchment leaning on the arm. His eyes are nestled in dark bruises, weighted with bags of exhaustion.
Scowling, Severus sets about making some food and tea for them both, and surreptitiously drops the last of the sophorous beans into Lupin's mug. They fizz and bubble before disintegrating, leaving a thin powder at the bottom that he won't notice until too late. And raw as they are, even with a werewolf's metabolism, Lupin should be asleep within minutes.
"Oh, thank you Severus," he says, taking the cup distractedly. He sips, and sips again, before his nose crinkles ever so slightly. "Does this tea taste odd to you?" Severus makes a point of drinking deeply from his own cup, and savouring the bitter taste on his tongue.
"Perhaps it's a different brand," he suggests mildly. Lupin is too preoccupied to think differently, and drinks again. Severus watches carefully for the moment when the wooziness will come, ready to catch the mug so it doesn't spill. Lupin returns to his reading.
His head nods once. Twice.
Severus takes the tea from his limp fingers. Lupin forms a mild protest, but already his eyes are sliding shut, little slits all that are left between him and sleep. Severus takes the book, and the parchment, storing them carefully in the chaotic order of the floor. "Sev'rus?" Lupin slurs. He slumps in his seat. There is no way that Severus can carry the dead-weight of a grown man through the wall; instead, he guides Lupin down until he is stretched out on the sofa, and pulls out the blankets Severus uses at night. "Not fair …" Lupin murmurs, but his voice is breathy and already sleep is taking him.
Faced relaxed, Severus thinks he looks a great deal younger than when awake, years restored to him that have demanded so much in their passing. Yawning, Severus stumbles over the piles of books to Lupin's customary armchair, and without further ado, curls up and lets exhaustion have its way.
Lupin is still out when Severus wakes long after sunset, a crick in his neck and gooseflesh covering his arms. He stands with a wince, and hobbles around the room lighting the oil lamps. His eyes sweep over the newly illuminated space, noting the haphazard piles and knowing exactly what those books have in common, and the splinters in the rotting window frames. He can admit, only to himself, that he is rather fond of this place. It has become not unlike a prison for him, but it was here he remembered how to be his own master.
With nothing else to do, and the thought of sitting in the armchair again distinctly unappealing, Severus kneels by the fire to make more tea. In this time of uncertainty, tea is the one constant that he and Lupin both thrive on. As he goes through the motions, mind in that pleasant blank state after a good sleep, he feels more than hears Lupin stir behind him.
"Urngh," comes the unintelligible groan. Sophorus beans have a terrible aftertaste, and make the recipient groggy and often bad-tempered. Steeping the tea, Severus glances over his shoulder. Lupin's face is screwed up rather comically as he squirms on the sofa, muscles uncoordinated after so long in a state of rest. He attempts to stretch, but his arms soon flop back down in protest. "Urg." Severus suppresses a smirk.
"Good evening," he says, pouring the tea. He notices rather abstractly that his hands are shaking with fatigue despite his long and restful nap. Lupin's nerve-endings must be quivering at the very thought of movement.
"Time is it?" Lupin asks, wriggling into a sitting position.
"Late," Severus answers shortly. He passes a mug to Lupin, making sure his grip is firm before letting go. Lupin sniffs warily at the contents.
"What have you put in this one?" he asks with a small smile. Severus snorts.
"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about," he sneers. Lupin grins.
"Oh, of course not," he says cheerfully, and drinks. Severus contemplates his own drink, swirling the contents gently around. He feels that tea is a bit mild for his state of mind right at this very moment.
"Do you have any whisky lying around?" he asks dubiously. Lupin looks up with a gleam in his eye.
"Not whisky, but I do have some very good brandy," he says. His attempt to stand is ridiculous in the extreme, and Severus waves him back down.
"I'll get it. Where is it?"
"Loose floorboard under the sink," Lupin says. Severus quirks an eyebrow, but refrains from commenting on such an odd storage place. The glass bottle is mostly full, dusty and faded with age. There are no expensive crystal glasses to go with it in the hidey-hole, more's the pity. He brings it over to the sofa, seating himself in the space left. Lupin takes one look at the bottle before promptly tossing his tea into the fire. Severus gladly does the same, and pours a liberal amount of the brandy into the empty mugs. Lupin raises his in a toast. "To the end of the Bondsmen contracts." Severus raises his in turn, and the pot chinks together.
They drink in silence, refilling their mugs with steadily growing amounts of alcohol, and downing them faster with each round. This is not the companionable killing of brain cells with friends, but a little bit of irresponsibility shared between the only two people left of better times.
Severus knows he is approaching drunk when he begins to turn mawkish.
He knows Lupin is drunk when he can no longer remain upright, and is leaning heavily against Severus' shoulder. He feels unnaturally warm pressed to his side, and Severus isn't quite sure what to do about it. So he does nothing. Really, between the burn of the alcohol and the heat Lupin's body produces, he's quite snug. He imagines the haziness clouding over his senses with the distinct tang of brandy might have something to do with it too.
"Sev'rus," Lupin murmurs. The world tilts to the left, and Severus finds that his head has come to rest on Lupin's. Strangely, he cannot muster the energy to move it. He's just so tired of it all. Tired of being a slave, tired of being a Death Eater, tired of fighting against an enemy that is always more powerful than himself. By the deep sigh Lupin exhales, Severus imagines he must feel the same way. They are the only two left from the original Order of the first war; they are the only two who remember what it was like to live through those days, to face the second war, and all the hardship it entailed.
No one in the world can understand what it is like for Severus, except for the man using him as a leaning post. It makes him more generous than he is usually inclined to be.
"Sev'rus," Lupin sighs again. Severus shrugs the shoulder his heavy head is perched on.
"What?" he prompts. He can feel the hesitation thrumming through Lupin's previously lax body.
"Do you remember what it was like to be young?" he asks, drawing Severus up short at the strange question. Neither he nor Lupin is old, even by Muggle standards, for neither has reached 50. Yet he knows exactly what Lupin means.
"Sometimes," he says softly. Alcohol has always loosened his tongue, acting rather like a truth serum on him. The loss of strict inhibitions is liberating but often humiliating also.
"What were we like, back then?" Severus casts his memory back, to his schooldays being bullied by Black and Potter, his twenties under the thrall of the Dark Lord, his thirties trapped in a job he never wanted.
"I was no more happy then than I am now," he growls. Lupin turns his head, digs his pointy chin into Severus' shoulder to look him squarely in the face.
"And are you happy now?" he demands. Severus finds himself trapped by the amber gaze, unable to look away.
"No more than I've ever been," he grouses sullenly. A sly smile spreads across Lupin's face.
"Good enough for me," he declares, and twists back around again. Severus can practically hear Lupin's thoughts ticking over, slipping in the alcohol but more of less stable. "I think," he says at length, sounding remarkably sober, "we were passionate. About our friends. About the wizarding world. About life. Even you must have cared about those things. You don't join the Death Eaters out of apathy." Severus has to concede that point no matter how much he wants to argue.
"Are you not still passionate?" Severus asks, then winces at the sheer … Gryffindorness of the words. Blunt and audacious. Damn alcohol.
Lupin chuckles, but the sound is wry. "I'm an old man, Severus, and there have been far too many bland years in my life."
"My, you are a maudlin drunk," Severus says, by way of completely ignoring the implications of Lupin's statement. Lupin laughs again, sleep beginning to settle into the curve of his bony shoulders. Severus feels stealing under his skin also, urging his eyes to close. He knows, distantly, that he will wake up with a terrible backache if he falls asleep where he is, squashed against the arm of the sofa with a solid man lying practically in his lap.
He finds he doesn't much care.
Next morning is chaos, and not of the ordered variety. Severus is startled into wakefulness when several Aurors Apparate in with painfully loud pops. He and Lupin both find themselves staring bleary-eyed down the length of many wands pointed unswervingly at them.
"Remus Lupin," the leader intones. He is the same man who brought Severus to the cottage in the first place. "You are under arrest for the suspicion of Death Eater sympathies and treason against the Ministry."
Before Severus' fogged brain can quite catch up with events, Lupin – with his advanced werewolf metabolism swiftly fighting off the affects of the alcohol, no doubt – has flung himself over the back of the sofa and is facing off the gathered Aurors, his wand drawn and held perfectly steady.
"I'm not going to Azkaban," he says with dead certainty. The Aurors shuffle unconsciously, changing from 'capture' to 'kill'.
"You are refusing to come peacefully into the custody of the Ministry?" the leader says. Lupin nods once. "So be it. Stu-!"
"Expelliarmus!" Lupin's spell, zealous in his desire to remain free or die trying, knocks half the Aurors flying into the far wall with a resounding crash.
"Petrificus Totalis!" Severus is honestly impressed with the speed of Lupin's spells, before his mind finally catches up with the situation and he dashes to Lupin's side. There are no Aurors left standing, but the leader is stirring by the door. "Severus," Lupin hisses, "go. Now."
"Don't be ridiculous," Severus growls.
"I'm serious. If you run now, you might have a chance –"
"Of being captured and punished for not immediately turning myself over. No thank you. If this is where it ends, so be it." Lupin gives him a considering look.
"Old men must die when the time calls for it," he says with a grim smile. Severus nods once.
The lead Auror stands, wand still in hand, his nose broken and face white with anger. Lupin takes a deep breath and waves his wand.
Severus watches, as if in slow motion, as Lupin drops to the floor. He doesn't pause when the wand skitters from his lax grip, diving for it and whirling on the last Auror standing. He doesn't think about anything at all as the spell forms on his lips.
Over at last.