Notes: This is an old story that languished for so long I thought it would never be finished, but for better or worse, it finally is. It takes place sometime between GoF and HBP.
Disclaimer: None of the recognizable characters and settings in this story belong to me. They are the intellectual property of J. K. Rowling. All rights to them belong to her. I make no money from this at all, as this story exists purely for the enjoyment of any and all who wish to read it. I'm strictly in this for the fun. :)
If you've seen one tree apparently you really have seen them all. How depressingly clichéd…
Severus Snape stood in the middle of the dimly lit forest and glared around him in annoyance. Absolutely nothing looked familiar, which was only to be expected after hours of wandering around aimlessly in the dark, overgrown woods. Not that his wandering didn't have an aim, it did, though it wasn't one he'd have picked if he'd been given a choice, which he hadn't been, but he seemed no closer to realizing it now than when he'd first walked in under the trees. What an infuriating way to waste his first day back at the castle! Not that anyone seemed to care about that.
After almost two weeks in the exclusive, slimy, revolting, putrefying, disgusting, agonizing, tedious, and any other foul adjective known to man, company of the Dark Lord all he'd wanted when he finally returned to Hogwarts was a hot bath, a stiff drink, and a soft bed, but could he get that? Oh no! Perish the thought! And why not? Why, after putting himself through that torture for days on end, couldn't he get the rest and reward that he so richly deserved? Because some fool didn't bother to check the damned door!
"How stupid can they get around here anyway? No, don't go there. You don't really want to know the answer," he told himself gloomily.
Yes, since he'd been gone at the proper time of the month, and yes, since the Wolfsbane potion needs to be made fresh, they'd had no choice but to confine Lupin to the Shrieking Shack once more, but really, was it too much to ask that someone bother to inspect the place first? After all, it hadn't been used in years. Perhaps, just perhaps, some things would need to be fixed up or replaced…or simply used correctly! A sigh of utter disgust escaped his lips as he tried to decide just what he should do next.
He'd been searching the forest for hours, and in that time he'd completely lost track of any other searchers and really had absolutely no idea where he was at the moment. A true feat because he thought he knew every inch of the forest within hiking distance of the castle, but apparently not.
Not that it truly mattered. He was a long way from Hogwarts with its anti-apparition wards. He could apparate back to the castle gates any time he wanted. And Merlin did he want to! However, he knew if he went back too soon without any sign of having made any progress, Albus would just send him out again…so there wasn't much point to returning home now. And tempting as the idea was, he'd be damned if he was going to sneak into the castle like some errant child!
Damn Lupin anyway! Where the hell had he disappeared to? The full moon was a thing of the past hours ago. In fact, it was now almost the following evening. He should have come limping back to the castle with his tail between his legs long before this. Why hadn't he?
Refusing to admit to himself that he could possibly be worried, Snape sighed heavily again and struck out in a new direction.
"He'd just better not be living it up in some pub somewhere while we all comb the countryside looking for him," he thought with annoyance.
Parting a patch of dense foliage, Snape made his way carefully down a section of rough, sloping ground and into a tangle of narrow trees. Perhaps it was time to give voice to his frustrations once again.
Pausing to cup his mouth with his hands, he yelled loudly, "Lupin you idiot, can you hear me? We're all wading around in the undergrowth searching for your sorry hide! Make it worth our while you flea bitten wolf! Answer me! Are you out here?"
He paused to listen. A faint sound came from off to his left and further down in the hollow. It might have been a voice, though it hadn't used any words. In fact, it sounded like a whimper of pain, whether animal or human, he wasn't able to tell.
Unsure about what he'd heard, he yelled once more into the fading light. "Lupin? Is that you? Answer me if you can hear me!"
The whimpering came again, followed by a faint cry that might have been human. Regardless, it wasn't a reassuring sound. A shiver ran through Snape. Surely Lupin couldn't still be in animal form. It was daylight now with no moon to be seen…at least for a little while longer anyway.
Instantly wary, he drew his wand. Having its security in his hand was a distinct comfort as he turned in the direction of the sounds and continued down the slope more quickly than before. Quite abruptly the trees ended and he plunged out of the undergrowth into a bowl-shaped clearing, and there in the middle of it, lying in a puddle of blood, was a naked Remus Lupin.
For a moment Snape couldn't tell just where the blood was coming from, or even if it was Lupin's blood at all, then Lupin groaned and shifted slightly and a metallic clanking rang discordantly in the still air. Snape circled the prone figure, seeking the source of the sound and quickly spotted a large, nasty animal trap fastened tightly to Lupin's left leg.
Snape surged across the clearing and fell to his knees next to the injured wizard. Lupin was extremely pale; as well he should be after losing so much blood. Snape felt for a pulse, and Lupin groaned once more, opening his eyes.
"Severus? Is that you?" Lupin whispered in a faint voice as he tried to focus on the figure hovering above him. "I thought I was dreaming…I've…nightmares..."
Snape snorted shortly at that and answered with a touch of impatience in his tone as he examined Lupin's injuries and the trap embedded in the werewolf's shin. "Yes, it's me; now lie still so I can see what I can do to help you."
"Help me…yeah, I could use a little help. That last step was a bad one…" Lupin's voice wavered and trailed off as he lost consciousness once more.
Snape frowned and felt again for a pulse which was ragged and nowhere near as strong as it should be. Sitting back on his heels, he reached into his robes for the vials he'd hastily shoved into a pocket before heading out on this fool mission. Finding what he sought, he pulled them out, glanced at them briefly to check the condition of their contents and set them down beside him. Then he raised his wand and, aiming it at the trap on Lupin's leg, he cast a standard opening spell.
With a sharp intake of breath he threw himself quickly to the side and covered his head as his spell ricocheted off the surface of the trap. As the stream of magic shot over his head, Snape cursed loudly, then, once it was safe, he sat up and examined the trap more carefully. Apparently the nasty thing had a repelling charm on it. How wonderful.
With a sigh, he straightened up to find Lupin's red-rimmed eyes on him once more. "I guess you'll just have to use your hands, Severus," the injured man said quietly as his brows knitted together in pain. "I'd really appreciate it if you'd hurry."
Snape frowned down at Lupin and spoke softly, "I'm afraid you have me confused with Hagrid. There's little chance of me opening that monstrosity without aid."
Sweating profusely, Lupin gritted his teeth and tried to answer without screaming. "Well, could you at least try? It keeps digging deeper and deeper into my leg, and I'd really rather it didn't cut it clean off. I've gotten used to walking around on two of them, and I'd like to be able to continue with that."
Snape regarded him silently for a moment then he reached down and picked up the two vials that he'd set on the ground earlier and held them out to Lupin. "Before I attempt to exert myself in uncharacteristic heroics, you should take these. They'll help."
Frowning, Lupin looked at the vials blearily. "What's in them?"
"Well, this one is a rather nasty poison, and this one is a caustic cleaner that I use to scour out the bottoms of particularly filthy cauldrons," Snape said dryly.
Lupin looked up at him in confusion. "What??"
"Oh, you mean you want the truth rather than my simply parroting back your dearly held suspicions?" There was a harsh mocking tone to Snape's calm reply.
Lupin looked uncomfortable. "I didn't think you were trying to poison me, Severus. It's just natural to ask when someone hands you something, and you don't know what it is."
"One is a pain killer; the other is a broad spectrum healing potion. However if you still don't trust me, or you'd simply rather suffer that's fine with me. Your choice." He continued to hold out the vials to the injured man.
Lupin reached a trembling hand out to take them. "No, I've had enough suffering for the time being. Thanks."
Snape watched as the injured man gulped down both potions, then he got to his feet. Lupin looked up at him warily. "Where are you going? Don't leave me here."
Snape looked down at the ashen Lupin with a sigh, "Don't worry. I'm not going to abandon you, but you need more help than I can give you here. I'll just apparate back to the castle and fetch some aid. It won't take long. For some reason, they're all worried about you back there."
"No!" screamed Lupin as he reached out and clawed at the hem of Snape's robe. "No, don't leave me. You'll never get back here."
Snape frowned and spoke harshly, "Really, Lupin. You're a grown man. Surely you aren't afraid of being left alone in the woods for a short time? Or are you simply afraid that I won't return for you…as you probably wouldn't for me? After all these years, you still don't trust me at all, do you? How surprising." In an odd way, it was perversely comforting to know that their relationship would never really change no matter what the two of them might encounter in life.
Lupin clutched more tightly at Snape's robe and sighed heavily. "No, Severus, that's not it, really it's not. Of course, I trust you...it's just… Look don't you know where we are?"
With an impatient movement, Snape yanked his robe from Lupin's grasp and sneered, "Yes, of course I know where we are. This is the Forbidden Forest, and it has that name for a reason. I don't want to linger here for any longer than necessary, and it'll be dark soon, so if you don't mind…"
Lupin shook his head and dropped onto his back as a fresh wave of pain rippled through him. "No! Severus, listen to me, please." Mastering his pain with difficulty, he sighed tremulously and tried again, "This is the Ephemeral Valley."
Snape snorted and crossed his arms impatiently. "The Ephemeral Valley is a myth."
Lupin shook his head weakly. "No, it's not. I always thought it was a myth, too, but I've been lying here since last night watching things shift and change. It's real all right. That's probably why this trap was here. Whoever left it simply couldn't find it again. The valley is unplottable, after all. If you leave here, you'll never find your way back. Please…don't go. Don't leave me here to die alone. Please."
Snape frowned down at the pleading man. As satisfying as it was to have Lupin groveling at his feet, to his surprise, he found he couldn't simply sneer and dismiss him as easily as he'd always done in the past.
The man obviously believed what he was saying. Could he possibly be right? Could this truly be the fabled Ephemeral Valley that never remained in one place for long? Alarmed at the prospect, Snape raised his eyes to the trees that surrounded them just in time to see the view in front of him shimmer like a desert mirage. As he watched in surprise, the trees shifted and changed and the landscape altered from a gentle hill to a steep rocky slide.
A chill ran thorough him at the sudden transformation. Apparently Lupin was correct. If they left here they'd have to do it together or risk Lupin being trapped here forever. Granted that prospect had its attractive points, but he'd already wasted all afternoon searching for the man, it did seem rather pointless to simply abandon him now that he'd finally succeeded in locating him. However that did seem to mean that he'd have to find some way to get the trap off Lupin and heal his wounds well enough for the two of them to walk out of here. Unless…
"Lupin, do you feel strong enough to apparate out of here with me?"
Lupin sighed heavily as the answer to that question seemed rather obvious. "I don't have my wand on me, Severus."
Snape cocked his head and frowned down at his companion in irritation. "I realize that you twit. I meant could you manage to let me apparate both of us. It would be hard on you, but it would get us out of here together."
"But probably not in one piece! I'm not a big fan of being splinched. With the strong repelling charm on this trap it probably won't respond well to the apparition spell. I really don't want to leave my leg here where I might never find it again," exclaimed Lupin in exasperation.
Snape sighed and turned his attention to the trap once more. Apparently, he was going to have to pry it off Lupin somehow if they were ever to get out of here. With a grumble of aggravation, he knelt down again and began to examine the thing more closely. There was simply no way he was going to be able to pull it off. It was very sharp and obviously a lot stronger than he was. Lupin's leg was quite mangled, and he was probably right to think that eventually the trap would cut it off completely if left alone.
Frustrated at having been forced into this untenable situation when he should be back in the comfort of his rooms sipping a fine cognac and having a hot relaxing bath, Snape sat back and stared at the trap thoughtfully then, as the glimmer of an idea formed, he glanced around him sharply. Spotting what he needed, he got up and crossed the clearing to the edge of the wood. There he picked up a sturdy looking log and returned to Lupin's side.
"What are you going to do with that, Severus?" asked Lupin.
"Beat you over the head with it if you don't stop questioning every move I make," exclaimed Snape in a fairly mild tone.
Carefully, the Potions master wedged the log into the trap next to Lupin's leg taking a little of the pressure off the mangled flesh and giving the trap something else to bite into. Then he turned to Lupin who'd been watching him closely without further comment, conserving his energy to fight the intense pain he was still in despite the painkiller that Snape had given to him.
"I'm going to try to expand this log with a growth spell. If it works correctly the trap should loosen up enough for you to withdraw your leg from the mechanism. Do you think you can pull the leg out yourself or will you need my assistance?"
Lupin hesitated. "I think I'll probably need your help," he admitted reluctantly.
Snape nodded. "All right. Let's begin..." He cast the growth spell and both of them watched as the tightly wedged log began to expand. The trap bit more deeply into the log as it grew and, as hoped, it loosened its hold on Lupin's leg.
The moment it was feasible Snape helped Lupin ease his leg out of the trap. Just as he was laying Lupin's leg down where he could examine it more closely, the enchanted log reached the end of its endurance against the mechanism of the trap and the whole mess exploded in a flurry of splintered wood and snapping metal. Instinctively, Snape threw himself on top of the injured werewolf to protect him from more harm. Unfortunately there wasn't anything protecting Snape from damage so he felt the full force of the chunk of wood that impacted the base of his skull, knocking him unconscious.
Dazed by the sudden explosion, Lupin simply lay there for a moment, unmoving. As his senses recovered, he groaned under the heavy weight of the stunned Potions master. As time continued to pass and Snape didn't move, Lupin became alarmed. Carefully, he reached up to grasp Snape by the shoulder, shaking him gently.
"Severus? Are you all right?" he asked in concern.
When he got no response, he felt for a pulse and a shiver shot through him when his hand came away from the man's neck covered in blood.
"Damn," he murmured in a low voice. "And here I was thinking that things couldn't get any worse. That'll teach me."
Gently easing Snape's body off of his own, Lupin hitched himself up into a semi sitting position so he could get a better look at the back of Snape's head. Beneath the dark hair there was a cut and a rising lump along with quite a bit of blood. Of course, head wounds did tend to bleed profusely even when they weren't life threatening. The pulse that beat against his fingers was still vigorous, so Lupin held onto the hope that Snape wasn't too severely injured.
Suddenly, Snape groaned and opened his eyes. "What happened?" he muttered in a slightly dazed voice.
"I think the log grew too big for the trap and the whole thing exploded. Are you okay? You got hit in the head with something. Not sure if it was the trap itself or a piece of the wood." Relief flowed through Lupin to hear Snape conversing with him coherently.
Snape grunted and sat up slowly, rubbing at his head and looking askance at all the blood. "Since my head still seems to be attached to my body, I'd guess it was a piece of wood that hit me and not the trap itself. My head feels like it was inside a huge church bell when it was rung however."
"You wouldn't happen to have another dose of that painkiller you gave to me, would you?" asked Lupin softly.
Snape grimaced in irritation. "No. I would not." Further annoyed and now also in pain, Snape looked around for his wand which he found lying on the ground a few feet away. Gingerly he reached for it, trying not to jar his sore head too much in the process.
Once he had it in his hand, he performed a simple spell on the back of his head to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing, hoping that it would also speed the reduction of his rather massive headache. Then he turned back to Lupin and did the same thing to the man's now profusely bleeding leg. The werewolf would obviously require more extensive medical attention once they got out of here, but at least he'd no longer be in danger of bleeding to death.
Lupin watched Snape's movements silently, not wanting to interrupt him any more than necessary. Once his leg had stopped bleeding and Snape had collapsed back down onto the ground with a groan of relief and closed his eyes, he ventured a word of gratitude.
"Thank you for your help, Severus. I'd never have been able to get out of that thing by myself."
Snape opened his eyes and scanned the skies before he answered, noticing that the light blue of the daytime hours was deepening towards the darker shades of night. "No. I don't think you would have," he stated softly. "Now, I think it would probably be best if we both got out of here while we can. Night is upon us, and I'd rather not spend it in the forest."
Snape then tried to sit up, and fell back with a groan as his head exploded in pain. Lupin laid a hand on his shoulder. "Take it easy, Severus. I don't think we're going to be going anywhere at the moment. With that head injury, you certainly aren't up to apparating…either by yourself or with me. It might be better to spend the night here and then try to get out tomorrow."
"I'm fine," snarled Snape as he pulled his body away from Lupin's touch. "We should at least get out of this accursed valley. I don't like the idea of staying here any longer than necessary."
Lupin sighed. "Actually, we might be better off staying here. Several times while I was lying here today I heard the approach of creatures through the woods only to have the noises vanish when the valley shifted to a new location, which it seems to do frequently. What's out there will have a much harder time getting at us if we remain in here, I think."
"Maybe…" Snape admitted reluctantly. "Still what if the valley shifts so far away from the castle that it would take days to walk back?"
"We don't know that it already hasn't, and there's no way to check. If we rest here for the night, perhaps you'll feel well enough in the morning to apparate us both back to the castle. Then it won't matter. If we're stuck in the woods for the night, I just think we might be a little safer staying in here than we'd be out there."
As much as he loathed admitting that Lupin could be right about anything, Snape had a feeling that he was probably right about this. His head hurt far too much for him to be sure of safely apparating anywhere, encumbered by a passenger or not. Once the healing magic had had a chance to work, hopefully the ache would ease, and they could get out of here tomorrow, perhaps even later tonight if things went their way. Not that anything had so far. So he nodded grudgingly. "Very well. We'll stay here…for awhile anyway."
Lupin nodded in relief. "Good." He began to look around him at the scattered pieces of the exploded log. "If we could gather up these pieces of kindling, we could build a fire. That would really help. It's been rather chilly without one."
Snape looked disgusted as he slowly sat up and tried to get to his feet without losing the back of his head. "Yes, it will also act as a beacon to the native fauna. Dinner is served, come and get it."
Lupin grinned. "I always thought that fire was supposed to repel intruders myself."
"That depends on the type of intruders you're talking about, doesn't it?" Now that he'd gained his feet, Snape proceeded to gather up as much loose wood as he could find while Lupin scraped out a depression in the dirt with a piece of the metal trap that was near to hand. Between the two of them, they had a good sized fire going very quickly. Then they both sat there uneasily and stared at it to avoid staring at each other as night closed in around them.
After a time, Snape began to unbutton his loose outer robe as he watched the naked Lupin rub his hands up and down his goose flesh covered arms. Slipping the garment off of his body, he tossed it at the cold wizard and said gruffly, "Here. Cover yourself with this. I'm tired of having to look at your miserable flea bitten hide."
Lupin snatched the robe gratefully and slipped it on. "Thanks. One of the many disadvantages of my transformation is that I don't change my clothing with my body. Something an animagus simply takes for granted. I could really use the nice fur coat I had last night at the moment."
"I'm rather glad you don't have it myself," Snape muttered softly, glaring into the fire.
Lupin smiled faintly in understanding and attempted to offer some reassurance. "The moon won't be full enough to cause a change tonight, Severus. There's no need to worry. I'm sure that I'll feel a bit on edge, probably won't get much rest while the moon's up, but other than that there's nothing to worry about."
"Only a fool wouldn't be worried in the presence of a werewolf. You're a dangerous creature, Lupin. You tried to kill me once before, don't think I've forgotten. I should have my head examined for sitting here around a fire with you just before a virtually full moon rises in the sky."
Hauling himself to his feet and gritting his teeth against the throbbing in his head, Snape began to pace, staring out into the dark forest that surrounded them.
Lupin shook his head. "It always comes back to that one night, doesn't it? Even after all this time, after everything that both of us have gone through, when you look at me, that one glimpse of the wolf down that long tunnel is really all you ever see, isn't it?"
Snape's shiver had nothing to do with the cold as he shot a narrow glance at his companion. "What else is there to see? It's not everyday that your classmates try to murder you."
"No one tried to murder you, Severus."
Ignoring the pounding in his head, Snape whirled around and yelled, "Black tried! He tried and he almost succeeded, and I'm really sick of everyone ignoring that one incontrovertible fact!"
The two men glared at each other over the crackling fire. For a few moments the silence of the night was broken only by harsh breathing before Snape continued in a voice less sharp but more contemptuous and bitter. "If not murder, what else would you call it? Sending me down into that tunnel unprepared to face a monster who would rip me to shreds and feast on my bones. What other name could you possibly give to such actions? Oh, yes…a prank."
Lupin sighed. "I'm so tired of this argument…"
"That's because you know that I am right, and you simply can't admit it."
"No. It's because no matter how much we argue about this we can't change anything. All we do is wallow around in unending hatred and bitterness. We're so blinded by emotion that we can't look back at what happened objectively, and we certainly never seem to move on from it."
He looked up at Snape. "Your hate is as much a trap as that thing you just pried off my leg, Severus. It holds you in place, lets you feel comfortable and righteous while it eats away at your insides and destroys everything you are. It makes it impossible to see through the pain…to see things and people as they really are."
"What do you know about it?"
"I know that we've been beating our heads against this same wall for too damned many years. I did not try to murder you that night in the Shrieking Shack. I knew nothing about Sirius's stupid, impulsive plan!
"Has it never even occurred to you that if I'd actually killed you that night or worse, transformed you, I'd be dead now? You know how werewolves are treated in our society. You throw it in my face often enough. A werewolf who endangers others is simply hunted down and destroyed. If I'd harmed you at all my life would have been forfeit. What possible reason could I have had to endanger my own life that way? Not to mention betraying and endangering everyone who had worked so hard to help me...to give me a chance for a better future? It's ludicrous!"
"Black lured me there on purpose…he knew what I'd find…"
"Yes…stupidly, but yes, he did, but I knew nothing about it! Nothing!"
"How could you not know? He was your friend…"
"He wasn't being my friend that night! He wasn't thinking about me at all!" Lupin shouted loudly and the two men stared at each other in charged silence for a moment until Lupin looked away, back into the fire.
"Look…haven't you ever done anything stupid…without thinking it through first? Just…reacting to impulse or emotion… Then, when the consequences hit you full in the face, you feel like six kinds of a fool because how could you not see what would happen? Suddenly the answer seems so blindingly obvious when it didn't before because…well, you were just running on emotion and your brain just hadn't caught up yet. That was what that night was like…"
Lupin sighed and shook his head. "We were kids, Severus. All kids do stupid stuff that they end up regretting. Our stuff was just more stupid than most…"
Snape moved away, just beyond the range of the firelight and reflexively rubbed his left arm, staring narrowly at the huddled, miserable form by the fire.
Lupin looked up, squinting into the darkness, trying to make out Snape's expression and failing with the brightness of the fire in his eyes.
"Look, I'm sorry. If I could turn back time and change things, I would. There are so many things I'd change…so many things I regret, but life just doesn't work that way. We can learn from our past, but we can't change it. All we can do is try to do better in the future. What good does clinging to old hatreds really do us anyway?
"We're on the same side, Severus. Wouldn't life be a lot easier on both of us if we could just let this go?"
A log crumbled in the flames, shooting sparks up into the now dark night, illuminating Snape's silhouette as he turned and moved silently away from the fire. Lupin sat and listened to the restless footsteps as the man paced the perimeter of the clearing without saying a word.
Eventually, Snape returned to the fire and stared wordlessly down at his companion.
Lupin peered up at him, uneasily wishing he'd say something. Even a return to their argument would be better than this ominous silence. He'd know where they stood then. Suddenly the idea of spending the entire night sitting around this campfire with the weight of the past lying heavily between them seemed harder to bear than possibly getting lost forever in the woods. At least there they'd be moving forward.
With a sigh, Lupin shifted uneasily on the hard ground and said, "I suppose after all this time, I can't expect anything I say to change your mind about this. But I promise you, I have never wished you any harm. Not back then and not now. However, if you don't or just can't believe me, well…I suppose I can understand."
He shook his head resignedly. "If you want to walk out of here right now…alone, I won't try to stop you. When I get back, if you'd rather, I won't even mention that I saw you. You got that trap off me…gave me a fighting chance. That's enough for me. More than most people would do for someone they despised, so, what do you say? If you want to leave now, we'll just call it even and let it go at that."
Snape stared off into the darkness that surrounded the clearing for a long moment, before turning his gaze down to Lupin once more.
"Don't be an idiot. We'll leave in the morning…together." Then Snape settled down on the ground on the opposite side of the fire and closed his eyes, gripping his wand firmly in his hand. "Now shut up and get some rest, I need to try to banish this headache and that will never happen if you keep prattling away."
Lupin released a slow relieved sigh and nodded his head, a faint smile on his lips. "All right, Severus…whatever you say. Rest well."