Chapter 21 : Disarmed (Part Two)

Remus had been building walls around himself for almost as long as he could remember. At first these had been purely physical. Ever since his fateful encounter with Fenrir Greyback when he was only six years old, he had been afflicted with that terrible condition known euphemistically as Lycanthropy. What this truly meant was that for three days in every lunar month he turned into a vicious killer without pity or remorse. Remorse came later – when he awoke covered in blood which was not his own, and knew with dreadful certainty that once again the wolf within had won, and had claimed another victim. Fortunately, back then, he had never had a true recollection of what he had done when the wolf was in control. All that came to him in the days that followed would be darkly shifting shadows, like half-remembered nightmares, when the feeling of terror remains wrapped around your mind like tentacles of evil long after the facts and faces of the dream have slipped into merciful oblivion.

The emotional barriers had come later - first those forced upon him by his parents, as they found it harder and harder to love the creature their son has become. They did their best to hide it from him - the pity they felt when they were forced to tend to self-inflicted wounds, the revulsion that swept over them on those dreadful mornings when, as they washed away the blood from their son's sweatsoaked body, it became clear that he was unharmed, and that once more they must seek out and bury what was left of his night's prey. But as he grew, as the wolf's hold upon him increased, so too did his detachment from his parents' reactions. A self-defense mechanism all three of them employed to maintain their sanity and sustain their ability to contain their dreadful secret.

Once at Hogwarts, with the physical defences of both Whomping Willow and Shrieking Shack in place, young Lupin had prepared himself for a life of solitude, for how could he risk allowing anyone there to learn his secret? What he had not counted on was falling in love - and such a love as he had never dreamed possible. Just being in the presence of his beloved gave him a strength he had never known before, an inner peace that flowed through him and sustained him though those pain-filled nights of torment. He knew he did not deserve to be loved, and by such a one as this, and yet that fateful morning, when he awoke on the floor of the Shack with his head cradled in those precious arms, gentle hands caressing his dampened hair, steel grey eyes gazing into his, filled not with pity but with awe and wonder, he knew in an instant that his love was returned. Theirs was not a physical love - for their love transcended such things. As long as he lived, as long as they both lived, he knew that never would two souls exist that were so much a part of one another as were the souls of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black.

Remus was chained up in a cellar that dreadful Halloween night when his world collapsed around him. By the time Dumbledore came to release him, five days had passed as he lay forgotten, near to death from dehydration. He had known instinctively that something had happened to Sirius, for why else would he have failed to come to him, to release him from his self-imposed prison and to offer comfort for pains now passed? It had seemed to him then that it would have been more merciful had Albus simply left him there to die – for how much worse it was for him to live on, knowing that his beloved had betrayed him, had betrayed them all, to the powers of darkness.

Remus had spent the past few years wandering aimlessly around Europe in search of a cure for his condition. Several times he had thought he was close to something, only to have his hopes dashed as yet another "fact" turned out to be mere rumour or superstition. The wall he had once more built around him, sustained by grief and bitterness, ensured that he was left alone just as surely as any cage would have done. At last, all hope gone, he had turned his face towards Hogwarts, and his one-time protector, Albus Dumbledore.

His arrival just over a week ago, a dishevelled wreck of a man with hardly any flesh on his bones and rags on his back where once he had proudly worn the satins and silks lavished upon him by his beloved, had gone almost unnoticed, coinciding as it did with the aftermath of Tom Riddle's attack upon Harry Potter. Until today, his presence in the castle had been revealed only to Madam Pomfrey and Minerva McGonagall. Lupin was unsure how many of those currently present knew about what James Potter had termed his "furry little problem" but he knew that one man most certainly did – and that man was Severus Snape. How would his old arch-enemy react when he realised that a potentially lethal creature was once more living at Hogwarts?

All that Remus knew was that Snape alone held a hope for him of some kind – for Snape alone amongst those who knew the truth of his condition also held the power to ameliorate that condition. He alone knew how to brew Wolfsbane, and Remus was prepared to go to any lengths to convince his erstwhile victim to take pity on him, and give him what he craved. He would beg on his hands and knees if that would help – and remembering Severus as he did he was sure that such a sight would please the man greatly. Whatever it took, that is what Remus would do – no pretences, no defences.

…...

He was getting old – old age had crept up upon him when he was not looking, and had now tapped him on the shoulder. He felt his age pressing down upon him, the weight of it forcing his shoulders to sag as he sat there at the head of the table, looking around him at the worried faces of those whom he had summoned to this all-important meeting. Just one more person to come – and that one was at the same time both the most vital and the most volatile.

Albus had known his Potions Professor for many years now – and yet he still remembered with great clarity the first time he had seen him. A pale, silent child, whose smoky grey eyes betrayed a level of understanding and of self-knowledge beyond his years. Smaller by at least a head than all his new classmates, painfully thin, yet standing ramrod straight as he waited his turn to be sorted. So this was the de-facto heir to the Prince millions – Severus Tobias Snape. And yet he looked more like the offspring of poverty stricken parents who had done their best by providing second-hand robes which almost fit, and shirts whose cuffs had only just begun to fray. Of course, the boy's grandfather had so far failed to acknowledge the child, and perhaps Eileen Prince's choice of husband had indeed been a poor one – quite literally, it seemed. Albus had smiled to himself a little at this play on words.

Back then, before Tom's betrayal, so many things had seemed amusing to Albus Dumbledore. Now, of course, his whimsical sense of humour was just a front, a means by which he defended himself from his own guilt, from the overwhelming knowledge that he alone was the cause of so much pain and suffering – just as he alone had been to blame all those years ago at Godric's Hollow when poor Ariana had become the first victim of his arrogant desire to control the fate of others.

Just as he had failed Tom Riddle, so just as surely he had failed both Remus, who sat now to his left, a mere shell of the man he could once have become, and Severus. Poor Severus, who had turned to him in vain for help and comfort when Black and the others had tormented him as a boy; whom he had watched fall ever deeper in love with the power of the Dark Arts; who had turned to Tom not out of belief in what he stood for but out of desperation to be wanted, to be needed by someone, anyone, in a world where nobody had ever made him feel that he mattered. He had betrayed Severus just as surely as Black had betrayed Lily and James Potter, and for no other reason than that he had not paid attention to the boy's cries for help, for understanding, for someone to stand between him and the dark forces which threatened to overwhelm him.

Albus knew that, whatever Minerva might think, it was not he who had saved Severus from the hands of Tom Riddle – it was Severus himself. That night, when the young man had crawled into his office, broken and bloody, it had been at his own instigation. He had chosen to return to Albus, to give him one last chance to be his saviour. And how had he been repaid for his courage? He had been forced into a life of lies and deceit – turned into Dumbledore's own creature just as surely as Tom had tried to do. With Lily's death had come the chance to pull Severus even tighter into his controlling hands, to use his guilt to obtain from him a solemn vow to protect Harry Potter by any means necessary. A vow which last week had almost cost Severus his very life.

Manipulation of others had always seemed so entertaining when he was young – now he was old, and the souls of those he had destroyed as he played his game were lining up before him as he lay awake at night, gazing reproachfully at him. Yet the face that appeared before him more than any other was no longer that of his sweet sister Ariana, but that of Severus Snape. But Severus still lived – so perhaps all was not lost. Perhaps if he released Severus from his power, if he revealed to him the truth that he had kept hidden all these years, if he finally let down all his defences, the past would be forgiven him and he could finally learn to forgive himself.

END OF CHAPTER 21