There were nights when the whole of Severus' life just felt like a great big joke somebody else was having at his expense and, Merlin only knew, he didn't get their sense of humour.
Of course, if any prisoner was going to escape from the inescapable Azkaban, it would have to be Sirius Black. Bloody Sirius Black, a man with a reputation worse than his own. It would have to be one of the boys who had tormented Severus throughout his school-years beyond his endurance, turning them into a living hell of bullying and abuse. It could never have been anyone he'd been even remotely friendly with, even with so many people he knew tucked away on that island in the perilous waves. And, of course, just as any crazy psychopath would do, he would head back to Hogwarts, creeping along the corridors like the echoes of an old nightmare. Not to mention that now, now, there was the added thrill of possibility that any shred of inhibition or humanity had long since made a Dementor a very tasty meal. It left Severus with the uneasy sensation that an ambush might occur him at any moment -- a feeling he hadn't had for well over a decade.
And, of course, when it came to searching the dimly lit nooks and crannies of Hogwarts to ensure Black was not lurking after his daring raid intoGryffindor tower - probably Potter the idiot let him in because of one of his inexplicably suicidal impulses - Dumbledore had to pair him with the childhood friend of the same escaped prisoner. The boy who had stood by and watched him be tormented and never lifted a finger to stop it. The boy who turned into a homicidal maniac once a month and would happily massacre any unsuspecting innocents that came his way. Some might put that down to unhappy coincidence brought about by it being an emergency situation where there was no other option. Severus' suspicions pointed towardsDumbledore being a manipulative bastard about that kind of thing. He probably didn't even realise he was doing it any more and hadn't listened to his very valid point that as Severus had been steeping rosemary all afternoon, teaching the most inept fifth years a basic Forget-Me-Not potion, the pungent sharp scent clinging to his hands and robe would undo any of Lupin's natural advantages.
They cleared the Slytherin dungeons easily enough, and then paused as the lumos wandglow choked familiar corridors with shadows that seemed to flicker movement out of the corner of Severus' eye. He owned these corridors, he was usually the stalker that swept out of the darkness to terrify hapless students sneaking around after curfew. This rising apprehension was just ridiculous...unless he considered that he was hunting a multiple murderer, with a deadly werewolf that had once tried to eat him by his side. Put like that, suddenly the fear seemed healthy and completely reasonable especially as he smelt the rosemary scent again rising from the hand currently exercising a death-grip on his wand. Rosemary for remembrance, evenMuggles knew that. Obviously it was stirring up things he had long since pushed down into the recesses of his mind in a perfectly explicable way. It wasn't him being afraid. That was a ridiculous notion.
"We should probably look in the cellar," Remus suggested, as he looked around, peering at shadows and yes, yes that was just what Severus needed to turn the whole thing into some terrible horror story. Why shouldn't they go down to the dark cellar where the monster was undoubtedly lying in wait, ready to ensure he was never seen again? About the only thing more calculated to end badly would be tramping through the darkness of the Forbidden Forest wearingacromantula attractant, and loudly decrying Centaurs as glorified donkeys.
Severus shook the idea off, refusing to entertain it, bringing a partial curl of a sneer to his lips in defiance of his emotions. He was a bullied child no longer, but a wizard more than capable of taking care of himself. A wizard who knew more than the past decade of DADA professors put together and a veritable encyclopedia of hexes and curses of his own creation. And Sirius was no monster, not even a boy with a gang ready to spring to his aid four against one, but awandless broken man who he should have no problem in defeating. This was his place at the school now, and he was more than armed to defend himself adequately.
And the hand holding his wand wasn't trembling. Not at all.
It was just cold and damp down here. And the rosemary had been particularly strong and evidently more magically potent than he realised.
"Fine," he said sharply, steadying his hand. "The basement it is. Let us proceed."
Damned if he was going to let Remus Lupin see that he was unnerved when he wouldn't even really admit it to himself. The man was likely already laughing up his sleeve at him.
The dark corridors seemed to press in on them as they proceeded through them. A thousand times Severus had walked down those same corridors without them ever seeming so claustrophobic. Silently he willed his heart to calm and beat more evenly. There was no need to be afraid, no... not to be unnerved, not afraid. He wasn't fifteen years old any more and waking from nightmares of bone white teeth snapping an inch from his eye, the hot breath of the beast on his cheek.
Distracted by that thought it was enough to set him stumbling on his robes, uncharacteristically clumsy. Remus caught his elbow, steadying him before he could fall, and Severus wrenched away with an automatic snarl that had him glaring at the werewolf, sure somehow he detected the hint of a smirk in Lupin's expression.
"You're enjoying this," he accused bitterly, furious with himself for slipping.
"Enjoying it?" For a moment Remus' amber eyes widened in the dim light before he narrowed them, evidently also tense from the way he snapped back. "Yes, because hunting down my ex-best friend who happened to aid in the killing of my other two best friends is exactly what I wanted to do this evening. Until we had this, I only had marking on the schedule, and who wants to do that?"
"Really? So you didn't suggest we go hunting down in the cellar because you just so happened to be paired with me and why not pick somewhere as dark and enclosed as possible?" Severus snapped. "Or so that, no doubt, you could play some hilarious prank involving losing the cellar door key and leaving me there. Oh, no wait.. you and your friends only did that four times before I stopped it from happening again."
Remus blinked at him, and then lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose wearily. "Shockingly, I suggested checking the cellar because I thought Si- Black might actually be there," he said, sharpness behind his mild tone. "Because I didn't realise we were still teenagers, and, amazingly, sometimes things aren't all about you."
And that put Severus on the back foot, and left him defensive and feeling idiotic all over again. Precisely how he hadn't wanted to feel, because he wasn't idiotic, just working on the basis of his own experience. He glared at Lupin, and then marched forward ahead of him, taking care not to trip this time. He was not going to be made to look a fool. Angrily he reached for the cellar door, wrenching it open defiantly, not waiting for Remus.
There was something waiting in the dark for him though -- something large which, in the light of the wand, showed as the gleam of teeth and sharp bright eyes, something which moved in the dark with a rumbling growl and snarl.
In Severus' memory, the wolf crouched.. and leaped.
~Bone white teeth, metallic scent of blood, heat and closeness of death, only a second away from ripping out his throat...~
There were ways to react to unexpected attack, and none of them should have involved stumbling backwards into Remus. Years of experience and the warm solidity of someone at his back ensured he managed to snap out a hex but Merlin knew only what it hit, or even what it was. Likely there was a wall that was never going to be the same again.
Remus gave a sharp exclamation and steadied Severus once more before he reached past him to light the room with a bright and pulsing glow. Empty.. though a door stood ajar at the other end of the cellar.
"He's gone now," Remus said grimly, and Severus could hear the frustration in that and flushed because really, what excuse was there? He'd foughtVoldemort -- with him and against him. He'd learnt better than to miss his mark because of petty childhood trauma, no matter how close to death he had come.
And yet there had been that sickening moment.. and his heart still pounded, his legs unsteady at the thought of it, all those stifled nightmare fears made flesh once more and leaping at his throat even as the scent of rosemary drifted round them, destroying any chance of tracking Black just as he predicted.
Remus glanced at him, looking ready to brush past him and onward -- because really Severus had just proven that he was no use whatsoever -- and then paused, looking at him oddly. Severus stared back, uncertain what should gather such attention. It was a few seconds before he noticed the unmistakable coolness of unbidden moisture trickling down his cheeks.
Oh no, no, no. Useless even to scrub them away, because that only drew more attention to tears. He blinked instead, furiously, trying to rid himself of something so ridiculous and pretend it was the brightness of the light.
"Takes a moment to adjust after the dark," he said, as though in explanation, and that might have worked if his voice hadn't cracked just a little, if the tears weren't treacherously drying on his cheeks, turning him into more of a snot-nosed brat than a feared and respected professor.
"Yes," Remus agreed dimming the wandlight down as if playing along with his excuse. It seemed as though he might just step past and move on but after a moment he reached -- hesitating a little -- to set a hand on Severus' shoulder, comforting and warm.
This time, Severus did not pull away. He shut his eyes instead, trying to ground himself, strangely comforted by the weight on his shoulder. So, he was scared..no, unnerved, so he was in the dark and hunting an enemy who had previously taken his efforts at defense as reasons to laugh at him and victimise him further. He could cope. He would survive at least for now.
At least, it seemed he wasn't alone. Not this time, though the irony of the source of that original fear being the one to stand by him was not lost on him. But then it was Remus next to him, not the wolf. The wolf was terrifying, dangerous, threatening to turn him into something so out of control himself, but Remus was...Remus.
"You alright to go on?" the other man asked.
"I am fine," Severus said as soon as he could trust his voice again. Still, he didn't shrug away the reassuring hand. He didn't want to be rude.
"Yeah." Remus sounded odd, and Severus opened his eyes to look at him again, barely able to see anything mark his expression. "Severus, for what was done to you.. I'm sorry."
It was an apology fifteen years too late, and Severus' eyes widened in the dark, not shielding his expression of hope for once, confident he was hidden but uncertain how to respond. Did he accept? Did he say it was nothing? But it hadn't been. It wasn't. Too little, too late, he could say. Words won't make it better. One apology and we're meant to be friends? A thousand and one retorts that had stewed over the years bubbled up and then fell away as he looked at Remus' eyes and saw a guilt there and a helplessness and an equal betrayal that made him stop and think. He had not been the only one betrayed on that night. Sirius Black would have made his friend a murderer as well as Severus himself a victim. Oh, Black would not have meant it but that would have meant little to himself being dead and his best friend who would have faced a life inAzkaban or collared and caged. Words could not erase it, no, an apology was paltry compared to the danger to his life but...
But somehow it felt better that someone had finally admitted he was wronged, even if it could serve as no more than a single stitch on a gaping wound of memory.
"Right," Severus said finally, dropping his gaze, not noticing a glistening in those amber eyes either. "We should get after him."
And there would be no speaking of this afterwards -- Severus would make sure of that. There should be no mention of the moment of weakness when hunting the man who had been both a best friend and an enemy. No mention of a gesture of comfort which had been more than he had received in over a decade and the resolve it strengthened.
Still, Severus did not forget. And if, afterwards, Severus did not focus quite so much on just happening to teach the children about werewolves, and Remus' supplies of wolfbane arrived in a slightly more timely and less obvious manner.. neither of them ever mentioned that either. And if every time he inhaled the scent of rosemary and remembered not an apology, but a warm hand on his shoulder and someone protecting his back rather than fear, then that was all to the good.
Severus remembered all of these things and later, too late, one more thing as well.
Wolves could see in the dark.