Chapter 22: Forever Winter
She could have been killed, or bitten, or mauled… A dozen macabre visions of what could have happened to Sasha flew through Severus' mind as he held her tightly, resting his chin on the top of her head. This was what happened when you started caring about women; they always went and did something dangerous. Some of them even got themselves killed.
Her voice was small and muffled, coming as it did from her position, pressed against his chest. He ignored her for the moment, staring at the floor beyond her while the adrenaline flowed through his bloodstream and he tried to block out the various images of blood and screams that were going through his head.
"Severus, I need air."
It occurred to him that suffocating Sasha as he held her protectively and pondered all the ways she could have died would be the universe's ultimate joke on him, so he released her, albeit reluctantly, and stepped away, sinking down onto the couch. She remained standing, looking at him with mixture of amazement and apprehension in her eyes. Silence prevailed for a minute as he glared at her, watching her grow more and more uncomfortable under his angry gaze.
"So," he said, "you have decided to switch houses and become a brave, moronic Gryffindor. I wish you well of it."
"Moronic?" she snapped, raising one eyebrow in imitation of him. "Because I remembered that my perfume would have transferred to you and came to make sure you were all right?" She crossed her arms over her chest and glared right back at him.
"I told you to stay here unless I Flooed you for assistance –"
"-which only works until a werewolf corners you on the opposite side of a room from the fireplace-,"
She had a point there, but he was damned if he would cede this argument in any way. "When there is a set plan, Sasha, all involved in it must perform the tasks allotted to them."
"What is this, a war campaign? Should I get you a general's hat? We've already discussed you giving me orders, Severus, and came to an agreement about it. New information cropped up and I used my judgment. If you want to go back to Lupin's office and work your way out on your own, fine. I'll go fix the fondue, which is probably burned." With that, she turned and strode over to a small cauldron in the corner that he had not noticed; a thick, dark sludge was inside it, and he suddenly realized that a scent of burnt chocolate pervaded the room. Brushing a lock of hair out of her face, Sasha glared into the cauldron, then pulled out her wand and began to mutter while making stirring motions in midair. Slowly, he saw the muddy mess liquefy and glisten, reverting to the creamy texture it was supposed to have.
It smelled absolutely divine.
Trying to ignore the tantalizing scent, Severus stood up and declared, "Had you not arrived, dealing with Lupin would have meant a few simple spells. It probably would have been easier." Final words still ringing in the air, he stalked over to the door to the bedroom and entered, shutting it firmly and warding it. Once he was securely inside, he leaned against the door and began a silent countdown. Three, two, one…
Footsteps, coming towards the door. "Severus, come out of there. Honestly, you're acting like a child. You can't go off and sulk every time I piss you off, or we won't get anything done."
Now you insult me. What a wonderful strategy for reconciliation. Shifting his weight to lean more comfortably against the stone wall, he listened and waited.
An exasperated sigh came from the other side of the door, and he could picture her clearly: arms across her chest, feet planted in that butch little stance of stubbornness that was endearing when used on someone else and vexing when used on him. She was more than smart enough not to try to force the door open, which made the situation all the more amusing; her natural reaction would be to throw everything she had at it, furniture included.
"Fine. Stay in there and be a grumpy bastard. I guess I'll have to eat the fondue all by myself, then." He heard retreating footsteps and then silence. If she thought she could punish him like a child and take away his dessert, she had another thing coming. Of course, with direct force not being an option, she was probably now putting her considerable mind to forming another strategy, which made him slightly apprehensive.
"Mmmm… I do make a good fondue, if I do say so myself." This was followed by some vague sucking and slurping noises, as of someone carefully removing the chocolate from a strawberry and then eating the fruit with considerable gusto.
Nice try. A man of his considerable willpower was not going to be moved by as pathetic a seduction attempt as that.
His apprehension grew slightly.
"I guess the spell thinned the chocolate a little… Why did it have to drip all down my chest, though?" All this was said casually, in the tone of someone talking to themselves, secure in the knowledge that no one else was around. That didn't stop thoughts of chocolate-coated Sasha from floating through Severus' mind, which he effectively counteracted by thinking of Hagrid.
"Damn, it's on my bra, too."
In a bikini.
"Oh, well, I guess I'll just Scourgify it. Waste of chocolate, but there's plenty more." A long pause followed this, during which Severus tried in vain to make out any sort of noise coming from the other room.
"Oh, bugger. That wasn't supposed to happen."
"How do you un-vanish a bra?"
There was, Severus reflected as he unwarded the door and yanked it open, only so much a man could be expected to resist, and strawberry-eating, chocolate-coated, bra-less Sasha was about his limit.
Usually, suggestive sentences are used to get a man into the bedroom, not out of it… Sasha thought, as she saw the doorknob turn and watched the door fly open to reveal Severus. It was remarkable how he could be scowling ferociously and still be looking at her like she was made of chocolate, rather than wearing a bit of it. His black eyes raked from her face down to her chest, where she had carefully ladled some of the fondue down her cleavage, after unbuttoning her shirt a bit; he licked his lips.
"Come here," he said, voice husky and commanding. Even as a shiver went down her spine, Sasha resolved not to take one step towards him until a few more things had been worked out.
"What's the magic word?" she replied.
"Wrong!" she said, in her best game show host imitation. "The correct answer was 'I'm sorry.' Please try again!"
For a moment, it looked like he might go back into the bedroom; his muscles tensed at her impudence, and his eyes narrowed. Then, slowly, he stepped forward and shut the bedroom door behind him. There they stood, glaring at each other from across the room, for almost a full minute. Sasha was determined not to speak first; she wanted him to speak without being prompted, which he finally did.
"Sasha, I… may have overreacted."
"How many times do we need to have this discussion, Severus?" she said, quietly. "I'm not made of china. I occasionally put myself into dangerous situation when I feel it's necessary. I appreciate that you care, but if you could do so less… forcefully, it would make both our lives easier."
He snorted, but there was no venom behind it, and she knew she had won this battle. It was not in his nature to apologize, and she knew better than to expect groveling and tears from him; truth to tell, she didn't really mind, as long as she got her point across somehow.
"Now," she continued, reaching for a strawberry and dipping it into the chocolate, "do you have a handkerchief I could use to get this chocolate off?"
A corner of his mouth twitched and he moved over to her, never releasing her gaze. Gently, he grabbed her wrists with one of his large hands, using the other one to unbutton her shirt as he guided her onto the couch and knelt in front of her.
"I do not have a handkerchief, unfortunately. However, I think I may have an alternate solution…" Now he had one of her wrists in each hand, pushing them back to the couch as he lowered his head and began to enthusiastically clean the chocolate from her bare chest. She moaned at the touch of his tongue, and she heard him chuckle wickedly.
It took fifteen minutes for them to make their way to the bedroom, as they were impeded by trying to disrobe while not breaking contact with each other. But the bed was still there when they fell into it, entwined about each other, and it remained there until they fell asleep, much later, both very satisfied.
Lily was there, clutching a baby to her chest that he knew to be Harry. The laughter filled the air; that cold, high pitched cackle that he knew so well. It still filled him with fear, though now he was more afraid for Lily than himself. He turned towards the laughter, raising his wand and preparing to give his life for the woman he loved.
Sasha was there, laughing, with her wand pointed at Lily. The laugh was no longer high pitched; now it was her low, throaty laugh that, even at that moment, made his pulse race and his loins ache. He could not bring himself to hex her, although it could mean his and Lily's deaths, and so he braced himself for the curse he knew would fly from her wand, shutting his eyes tightly and simply yelling-
He was in bed, bolt upright, breathing hard from terror and confusion as adrenaline surged through his veins. This was one of the worse dreams about Sasha and Lily that he had had recently; never before had the scene from the Potters' house been replayed like that. Shaking, he ran a hand over his brow and found he was pouring sweat.
Arms encircled him suddenly, and he tried to fight them off, but they only tightened around him; when he felt soft hair brush his back and a soft, warm body press against him, he forced himself to relax. It was Sasha, comforting him in the best way – without clichéd words of comfort. She didn't ask him what the dream was about, or tell him that it was only a dream; instead, she just held him. Gradually, he calmed, but she did not loosen her embrace; it was as if she was trying to hold him together with her arms, lest he shatter.
He didn't recognize the simple tune she started singing; it felt like a lullaby, but it was no lullaby he knew of (not that he had an enormous knowledge of such things).
"Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise."
She continued singing for a while; the verses changed little, staying on the theme of some poor blackbird who needed to see and fly. Before he drifted off, still in her arms, he made a mental note to find out where she got these wondrously apt songs that she seemed to pull out every time he was vulnerable; they were rather remarkable.
And the last thing he did before sleep took him was bid Lily Evans a silent good-bye.
They woke early the next morning; or rather, he woke early and persuaded her, with a combination of kisses and prods, to get out of bed. She did not make it easy, as there were a number of extremely pleasant reasons for them to stay in bed, and she groggily attempted to demonstrate some of them. Minx, he thought as she finally planted her feet on the floor and groped her way to the bathroom, plump bum wiggling as she shuffled. When she returned, he had two cups of coffee ready and waiting and she gulped hers down like a gambler drinking Felix Felicis.
They were silent as they dressed and made their way through the dungeons and into the entrance hall; she smiled at him before departing for Ravenclaw Tower, presumably to change her clothes and make up some excuse for not being there when everyone else woke up. Resisting the insane urge to smile all the way to the Great Hall, Severus contented himself with replaying some of the previous nights more enjoyable moments. He was rudely interrupted in the middle of a very nice one by none other than Lupin, who had appeared out of a side corridor with scarcely a whisper. He thought his heart would stop when the other man spoke.
"Good morning, Severus." Lupin's tone was as mild and calm as ever, with no trace of suspicion or anger to suggest he remembered anything from the previous night.
"Is it?" Severus replied, careful to use his normal tone of extreme dislike and not actually look at Lupin. "I wasn't aware." That was it. No mention of last night, no wry comments about how he had slept… just the usual morning nonsense. They didn't say a word all the way up to the Head Table; Lupin spent breakfast talking to Flitwick and said nothing when Severus all but inhaled his food and left quickly.
Sasha passed Severus in the entrance hall as he exited the Great Hall; there was nothing they could really do, as she was with Hustons, but they managed to lock glances for a moment.
"Wha- Lupin!" Severus turned on the other man, snarling in irritation at being snuck up on again. "Why do you insist on stalking up on people?"
"Sorry, Severus," he replied, smiling a little. "I've been meaning to tell you-," Swiftly, he reached out and plucked something from the sleeve of Severus' robes; it was invisible until the light caught it.
"Not one of yours, I think." Lupin surveyed the long, golden strand for a moment before meeting Severus' eyes with the same penetrating gaze he had worn the previous night.
"I'm not a fool, Severus."
"I don't know what you mean-," he began, scowling as convincingly as he could under the circumstances, but he knew that it was over.
"I've known since New Years. She smelled like you that morning, and you smelled like her. And the way you look at her, too; that alone would have told me." Lupin was looking back at the hair now, face unreadable as he scrutinized it.
"It's the same way you used to look at Lily. Good day, Severus." With that, Lupin released the hair, turned, and walked away, leaving Severus to wonder if he was in very deep trouble or not. And also why he hadn't been in very deep trouble already.
Jas was prattling on about some cute Hufflepuff whom she had helped with Transfiguration that day; Sasha barely heard her, as most of her mind was busy reliving last night. She ate breakfast systematically, making the occasional sound of approval or curiosity when she felt it was expected. It was fortunate that she was known to not be morning person, as it excused her glazed expression and vague responses quite nicely.
After breakfast, Jas left to find said Hufflepuff, leaving Sasha to her own devices. She found herself ambling around the halls, occasionally humming or singing softly to herself when no one was around. She stopped at a window ledge, remembering when she had baited Decoste into insulting Severus at that very place. There wasn't much of a view that morning – the weather had been cold and foggy for weeks – but she stared out of it anyway, tugging her cloak tighter around her to ward off the chill. Mist blanketed the lake and hid all but the tallest trees in the Forbidden Forest from sight; she tried to make out the bench by the lake, but failed.
There was a soft scuffing noise behind her, as of someone carefully trying to announce their presence by scraping their shoe across the flagstones. She turned to find Lupin standing behind her with the same mild expression that he always wore, hands in the pockets of his tattered robes.
Bugger. Act normal, act normal… Act? Me? Who am I kidding? she thought, giving him what she hoped was a warm smile. "Professor Lupin, good morning. How are you?" she said, praying that her voice wasn't too cheerful and thanking Merlin for not putting on perfume after she showered. With any luck, his only clue to her identity last night would not be an issue this morning.
He shrugged and stepped over to join her in front of the window. "I'm afraid I slept badly last night, but I'm all right," he said, which made her heart stop for a moment.
Ordering herself not to react to what would, in other circumstances, be a perfectly innocuous statement, she replied, "I'm sorry, sir."
"I should think so."
Her heart dropped through her toes and into the dungeons. Turning her head to look up at him, she met the same penetrating, almost omniscient stare that the wolf had given her last night. Time to drop the act.
"I'll just go and pack my bags, shall I?" she said, attempting a wobbly smile.
"Why?" he said. He placed one hand on the window ledge and leaned on it, never taking his eyes off of her. "Because of your relationship with Severus? Sasha, I've known about that since he took you out of the storm on New Years. I was watching the map, you see," he continued, taking in her astonished face, "to make sure that he found you. Imagine my surprise when he took you back to the dungeons and you didn't leave until the next morning."
"Why didn't you tell Professor McGonagall, then?" she asked, determined to get all the information from him that she could. This was very confusing – if he had known all along, why was she not expelled and Severus not fired? Why was she not being scolded for carrying on with her teacher? Or for assisting in what was basically a robbery?
A sigh escaped him and he turned to stare out the window for a moment, seeming to collect his thoughts. When he replied, he addressed the panes of glass.
"Sasha, you know I am a werewolf. When I attended Hogwarts, special accommodations were made for me. Many people either lied for me or simply held their tongues about what I was so I could be educated and happy. Rules were bent and broken for me, even though my condition made me a danger to others. Given all that, I thought it might be a tad hypocritical for me to inform the Headmistress of your… activities with Severus." Now he looked back at her and shrugged again before he continued crossing his arms.
"You were both consenting adults, and as far as I could see, your relationship was harming nobody. You were both very discreet – though I expected nothing less of Severus – and there was no real reason to report you. Besides, there were some unexpected bonuses – Severus has been easier to deal with these past few weeks than ever, and it was rather amusing to watch you two trying so hard to keep it a secret when I already knew." A smile tugged at his lips when he said that and he stood upright, putting his hands back in his pockets.
She couldn't believe what she had just heard, but coming from someone as grounded and honest as Lupin, it seemed almost sensible. Deciding not to question good fortune, she simply said, "I'll get you back your map tomorrow, sir. And thank you."
He smiled fully then. "I'd appreciate that. And one more thing-," he said, as she turned to go find Severus and explain everything. She paused, looking back at him, wondering what else he could possibly ask her at this point.
"Do you love him?"
There was a very long pause, as Sasha regarded Lupin and mulled over her answer. To her surprise, it was not a particularly hard question for her to answer.
"No," she said. "But I could."
He nodded, as if this was exactly what he expected her to say, and then turned and walked away.
She ran into Severus halfway down the corridor; he was walking at top speed and had clearly been looking for her.
"Sasha, Lupin knows! He-,"
"-just spoke to me. And he's not going to tell, Severus."
That seemed to bring him up short; he stared at her for a minute before scowling.
"Now I suppose you'll want me to go and tell him I'm thankful for his discretion," he growled, crossing his arms.
"Severus, if you did that, he'd probably report you for acting bizarrely and ask Madam Pomfrey to ensure you were feeling all right!" she said, chuckling at the look on Lupin's face if Severus ever thanked him for something. Checking the corridor to make sure no one was around, she quickly stepped forward and yanked him down for a kiss, which he responded to with vigor.
"Let's take this somewhere more private, shall we?" he said, when they broke apart, both panting heavily. Too breathless to speak, she nodded and released him so he could get a good head start; she would follow at a good distance.
With a flick of his billowing black robes, he vanished around the corner; she waited a minute before heading after him as fast as her short legs would carry her.
And so Persephone decided to go down to Hades as often as possible, and bugger the consequences, she thought, a smile breaking onto her face. Pomegranates were not the easiest fruit in the world to eat, but damn if they weren't worth all the trouble.
A/N: And they lived (reasonably) happily ever after. Tell me what you think happens in a review. Thank you so much to everyone for reading this! It was a lot of fun to write, but I'm still glad it's over. Thanks to my wonderful beta, Book of Moonrevel, for hunting out my grammar errors and being very supportive throughout the year that it took me to write this.