A/N: This is "Jobey" with a different account for non-consistent fanfic. My other current fanfic, original short story and novel-in-progress can be viewed under that name. The prologue (which has been revised several times and is the source of much confusion and praise) is set forth in time as compared to the majority of the story. It's just that: a prologue. Doesn't follow a good timeline. Sometimes has spoilers. Is rather vague and sometimes difficult to fully comprehend. Rather slow and doesn't really kick off the plot well.
Disclaimer (which applies to all chapters of To Kneel hereafter, but which I will repeat because I am slightly paranoid and more-than-slightly-moneyless, thus resulting in a dread of finding a Warner Bros lawyer at my door): The following is not purely original fiction, but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. Why am I doing such a thing? Why does any fanfic author? Mainly because I find her world fascinating, and furthermore my own work is giving me writer's block like one wouldn't believe, not to mention headaches. I will return all characters in fairly decent condition. Songs and quotes are attributed to their authors. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment.
P.S. Big thanks to Ms. Rowling for creating these charaters, BTW. *wink*
Some consider bent knees a sign of respect, submission, shame...
Prologue - Final Lash
Day: 26 Month: 12 Year: 1978
No one had ever said that Severus Snape wasn't dedicated. For one, it wasn't true, but for most people this was only a minor detail; a very major one was the glare, black as eternal universe and twice as chilling. Severus was very good at this glare. Contrary to popular opinion, he didn't practise in front of the mirror. It was simply one of the few things his father had given to him that Severus thanked him for.
But like any dedicated duelist, Severus practised fencing and wandwork in front of a mirror. Although today his practising was rather off-kilter, only masterful because he had done it so often. It was almost sloppy.
The mirror had picked up on this. "A wee bit distracted today, Sev?"
It received a horrible scowl. Severus didn't need much motivation for his scowls, and the mirror's Scottish cackle was more than a little pinch of it. "Shut up. This staff is in a perfect position to crack you to pieces."
"Thinking of your boyfriend?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "He's not my boyfriend, for the hundredth time." This adolescent and thus whiny and unconvincing arguement was replaced by a statement given in a manner more adultish and coolly, as was becoming habitual for him: "In fact" - very icily indeed - "I might add at this juncture that I do not have such things as boyfriends."
"Didn't you see the way he was looks at sweet Miss Boyd when she visits?" giggled the mirror behind him. Severus felt a hot swoop of exasperation. Why must he be stuck in the bedroom with not one but two mirrors, two chatty and giggly mirrors, wizarding ones, no less? Even though Severus vaguely suspected Muggle mirrors did not talk at all. Anyhow, he had enough to think about; "sweet Miss Boyd" was not one of them that needed to be gone over for today. "This one isn't attracted to lads, trust me on that."
"Amazing. I believe that's the first faint glimmer of intelligence I've gotten out of either of you for the past ten years."
His voice was nearly toneless save for a bitterness beyond his years, a bitterness not even near its full capacity, a bitterness that quite silenced his two mirrors.
He was thinking of Remus, of course, and if he hadn't been going through staff drills -- why wasn't the staff focusing his attention, calming him, as it so often did? -- his blood would still be pumping. Images from the night before were flashing through his mind in the more interesting and gruesome and exhilarating of ways.
It hadn't been so bad as he thought it would be.
Severus found it interesting, with mind almost-evenly scattered amongst the staff, Remus Lupin, and his victim the night before. Very interesting, the ironies of it.
They had become... friends... yeah ('yes', Severus corrected himself mentally, too much time spent with Cletus and Christoph), that was probably the word for it... due to the staff. This may have been too simple and poetical a way to put it. Strictly, it had not been much due to a staff. But it had something to do with it all.
His victim should have ended things, but instead the victim would reconcile them -- as soon as Severus could sneak over to Lupin Manor, which had to be before holiday ended. So many things tried to end it. Why not? Severus was rather cynically frank on it all. Why should a Slytherin and a Gryffindor, unable to fit in and thus outcasted in one way or another and in more ways than one, be allowed to find something pleasant in each other's company? How dare even voluntary library meetings, let alone -- gasp and die at the thought! friendship!
The world could be so completely stupid. That was about Severus's opinion on it.
He missed Remus badly, which explained a great deal. Why his thoughts were falling into their old habits of being unorganised and unreasonable, fueled by emotion rather than the logic he prided himself on. Why he felt confused and jumbled and lonely. Why he couldn't concentrate on something so simple as a staff sunburst, something he usually could perform more than half-asleep.
They were far from lovers, thank you very much, mirrors-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands and sick-minded-Hogwarts-world (of which it should be said now that this wording as well as other's is Severus's and not neccessarily the narrator's). But Severus had no doubt they had a very special sort of relationship. If friendship was what he had with Cletus and Christoph and Evan and Stella and that Lestrange kid whose first name Severus honestly couldn't remember half the time, and what Remus had with Potter and Black and Pettigrew, then that certainly wasn't it, and Severus didn't mourn the lack of it.
Generally Remus was about the one person in the world he wouldn't mind spending nearly unlimited time with, in spite of -- most likely because of -- the fact their relationship could not be defined. They could be allies one moment, rivals the next, study partners, debaters; they could philosophise, turn straight to confiding in each other things that they never confessed to anyone else, roll right along to discussing some current event, and then be insulting each other fervently before going to a semi-friendly battle of wits, and no one was any the hurt. They had -- Severus's head nearly spun thinking about it -- they had gone through dueling tournaments as partners, had midnight and very forbidden excursions throughout the school (had broke into Liqumbaug's office -- and lived!); had gone through all eighteen volumes of Stephenno Wright but also swam in Rowena's River. There had been hours and hours with very few quite alike -- and yet they had only begun to step past being enemies less than two years ago.
Not half shoddy, especially considering how much of that time had been summer holiday, how much more of it they hadn't spoken.
Severus's stomach felt odd at it. For almost an entire year now, they had been far from whatever-they-were. Remus Lupin had stood by him on what Severus now firmly termed Nightmare Day - that horrible, ghastly day two summers ago - had listened to him and comforted him in ways no one else had ever taken the time to do... Severus had called him a monster, harrassed him, and allowed him to be tortured when it was perfectly within his power to end it.
He, Severus, actually was a git, to put it lightly. He'd not give anyone the satisfaction by admitting it, but he was. The bloody hell had gotten into him?
But he didn't ponder it. Reasons weren't important: results were -- that was his belief, in true Slytherin thinking. More of it was that he was ashamed to admit it, even to himself, and so didn't. Instead he had accepted his punishment -- long months without Remus's companionship, with deep guilt and terrifying service under a certain new regime. But he had atoned, and Severus was very eager to share this with Remus. For once he didn't mind apologising, formerly the loathing of his life, because forgiveness would be very nice.
If he grants it to you, Severus reminded himself. Don't forget what you let Father and Richaden Lupin do... He almost, but not quite, stifled a shudder at the memory.
Still, there was a strong part of him that firmly believed that such a thing would be given to him. Although he had tried hard to dismiss it as weakness, Severus very much liked what he found in excess within Remus and in very inadequate supply in himself -- that warmth, that understanding.
Sometimes he almost resented it. Was that a dangerous thought to have about the person you were planning to throw yourself upon whose mercy within a few days?
Day: 29 Month: 12 Year: 1978
Stupid Longbottoms. Neb-noses, the whole lot of them! Severus Snape fumed. Overprotective, stifling, untrusting, too blind, too annoying, too irritating… the list was a long one. It probably would've been easier to say at Hogwarts for Christmas holiday and sneak out there.
Ah, well, it was his final year. Wouldn't have to put up with them much longer.
His father had paid the Longbottom family to board and raise Severus since he was very young and his parents had separated. Severus detested it there - a noisy, brainless, fun-loving, careless lot who seemed to pity him for having no proper parents and for being so "sullen". Pity!
Severus smiled ominously, fingering for a moment the Dark Mark on his forearm. He was a Death Eater, one of the Dark Lord's own, and less than three short days ago he had killed his first man. The last thing he needed was patronising pity, and one day those thick-skulled Longbottoms would know it!
For right now, he hadn't much time and might be too late already. The Longbottoms had gone to a neighbour's for dinner and evening, and Severus had convinced them to leave him alone. He finally had a good few hours. He waited a few moments, in case someone came back for a thing forgotten, before fastening his cloak, pulling on dragonhide boots, and Apparating to Lupin Manor.
Luckily he was well-versed in this skill and had been there once before. Otherwise he would had to use Floo Powder, and Frank had an amazing ability to tell when the Powder had been so much as touched. Probably because Frank, too, used it on the sly a great deal - to visit his girlfriend, Alice Jill.
Severus was glad for his preparations in way of over clothing when he popped in front of Lupin Manor. It hadn't been a white Christmas; it had been a grey, slushy, drizzly, and in general, depressing sort of Christmas, with windshield a great deal worse than the actual temperature. Nigol Wood was a backdrop of dreariness. At the very least, the Longbottoms picked a less bleak place to live.
After one rapping of the knocker (which Severus noticed with a frown was made of silver), a sudden skid could be heard on slippery floors, and a very high-pitched squeal of fright.
The house-elf! Severus hadn't been counting on her.
The tiny elf opened the door cautiously. "Master Lupin, Sir?"
Severus smirked to himself. "No. I'm Severus Snape."
"O…Oh!" the elf cried. Severus tried to remember her name and failed. He hadn't paid too much attention his last visit.
"May I come inside? I've come to pay a visit."
The elf hesitated.
"Kebby isn't being sure if Master Lupin would like that."
Severus rolled his eyes. The worst problem about house-elves was that they couldn't think for themselves. "Did he give you any orders against it before he left?"
Reluctantly, the elf let him in, but once he was inside, out of the slush storm, Kebby turned extremely hospitable, explaining Master Lupin had gone to a Christmas affair and had not yet returned, offering to take his cloak, to bring a towel, any drink Master Snape might wish, a seat…
"No thanks, Kebby," he cut in firmly. The elf's high-pitched voice was giving him a headache, and she was talkative to boot. "I want to talk with Remus. Can you tell me where he's at?"
"In his suite, Sir."
Severus glanced around. The place was huge. "I don't know where that's at."
"Kebby will show you, Sir! Just follow Kebby!" She skipped off a little ahead of him. He bolted to keep up with her quick pace, listening to her chatter. "Master Lupin was wanting to lock Master Remus in the silver room while he was gone, but Kebby is seeing how sad Master Remus is by that, Kebby knows! So Kebby says to Master Lupin 'No, no, no, you can't possibly make Master Remus stay in there over Christmas!' He said he could, but Kebby was insisted, Sir. So Master Lupin says yes after a while because he saying his head hurt too much!"
Severus could believe her, but was glad Remus had an ally in the form of a faithful (although dim, she hadn't realised she was talking against Richaden Lupin, which she was forbidden to do) house-elf with a very persuasive voice. He was sure he'd've given into Kebby as well if it got her to shut up. But he was also furious.
"He wanted to keep Remus in there the whole time he was gone? He was planning to stay away for a day and a half! Does he often do that?"
From what Severus was able to make out from a string of ear-grating bad grammar, he discovered Lupin did that nearly every time he would be away for ample periods of time. He clenched his fists, a little angry with himself as well as Lupin.
"Can you just point me in the right direction from here? We need to talk alone."
Kebby pointed in the general direction of one wing, helpfully offering directions, and hesitantly handed him the key. After assuring her he'd be long gone before Master Lupin returned (with another grim smirk), Severus followed her words. This wing was neglected, had fallen into disrepair. Gradually he was able to figure the way because there was a layer of dust on the corridors that were unused.
"Three down from the round window. One… two… and three…" he whispered, nearly inaudibly. Then he saw what he needed the key for.
A lock on the outside? The more he learned of Richaden Lupin's ways, the less he liked him. Mouth set, he unlocked it and slipped in with characteristic noiselessness. He grew even angrier as he glanced inside. There was a lock on the inside as well - made of silver. He made out three small rooms in the suite, the best word to describe being "dingy". Bits of wood and wallpaper peeled and stuck out at intervals, small debris was on the edges of the floor.
He found his quarry in the third room, which consisted of a hard cot, a half-opened trunk with various school supplies and clothing, and at the only window - a small, shaded bay affair - was Remus, sitting in the cubbyhole. He glanced at up Severus silently from his stare out of the window, only his eyes betraying uncertainty.
Severus had been worried about what to say to open the conversation, to break the ice of this meeting, to ease into the humble pie of apology he would have to eat, to test out Remus, for days, but the moment had provided him with exactly what he wanted to say.
"He's got this whole damn manor - size of Sesame Sea - and he puts you in here?" he demanded furiously, waving a hand for emphasis, not having to say who "he" was. Neither ever had. "He" was Remus's uncle; "she" was Severus's mother. No further explanations needed, thank you very kindly.
Remus continued to stare at him for a second, apparently trying to read into him. Deducting that Severus didn't appear to have come with any resentment in his direction, he shrugged ever so slightly. "Merry Christmas to you, too."
"The elf told me some other things I wasn't keen on."
"Kebby likes to chatter," Remus agreed neutrally.
"Blasted bloody imbecile." Severus looked around uneasily, wondering where to take it from here. He waited a moment. Remus didn't ask about his sudden visit; that was one of the reasons Severus had liked him. No unnecessary questions. But it was bothersome now. He sighed. "Remus - Remus, I'm sorry. I've been ignoring you, letting Liqumbaug believe my story, because, well, because…"
"Because you thought 'it wouldn't hurt if the werewolf got a few more lashes to remember'?" Remus's tone was deadpan and strained.
Severus looked sharply at him, apprehensive, but suddenly Remus cast his eyes downward. "I apologise, Sev. I shouldn't've cast that up to you."
"Quit it. I should be apologising." Severus took a deep breath. "I've been very unreasonable about it all. I should have known you had nothing to do with it. I was just… I couldn't even control it. I was too angry. I've been a git, I know, and I came to make it up to you."
"You're just saying that. You always say the polite thing."
"No, I do. I could see exactly where you came from. I tried to look at it through you're eyes, and well. I could see why you were angry. You had nearly died because I had hid something from you, even after you had told me so many of your secrets. You had to be rescued by someone you never liked much. Sirius wouldn't apologise. And worst, Dumbledore had just tacitly said - or so it probably seemed to you, since you were awfully upset - that your life was worth negative twenty Gryffindor points and a few detentions."
Severus stared at him in awe. How did he understand him so well? Did anyone even bother to try and understand him like that?
"Yeah. That's a lot of what it was." Severus's voice shook with self-disgust. "And then Father - I kept playing at it more and more because, well, I was finally getting attention from him! It took nearly losing my life, but he was paying attention to me and concerned and fighting for me, and it just felt so good."
"I didn't know that would mean so much to you." Was Remus being sarcastic? Severus examined him carefully, but Remus only looked intent. He had missed someone listening to him.
"It - it did, I guess. I hadn't known, either. So for the past few months I've been working out a way to talk to you. I'm sorry, I really am."
"Nothing at all."
Severus sighed with relief and then glanced at his friend, his usual earnestness in plans returning. "But I didn't give you my gift yet. Come on, Remus. I was worried he had some super-charmed chains on you, but as not, we can sneak out and I'll show -"
"Er," Remus said ruefully.
" - you a hideout until -"
"Sev." Colour rising in his face, Remus tugged at the end of a thin chain. Severus followed its line to where it came to the collar of Remus's black Hogwarts robes. He only noticed now Remus was still wearing them; he had never seen him wear anything else save thrice, come to think of it, and once of those times he had been a rampaging wolf. Severus made out a circle of the chain around Remus's neck, and couldn't help but note the clever, seamless three-way clasp. It was a handy sort of thing.
"What a -" Severus called Richaden Lupin something that would have caused Mildred Longbottom to wash his mouth out with soap.
"Honestly. You find nothing wrong with torturing people, yet you're ready to commit murder when someone with complete power to do so chains someone who's not even human."
Severus shrugged. "So you're not a real person. But the Longbottoms treat their Crup better than this." He sighed and pulled out his wand. "Oh well. Easily fixed."
"Sev, no. Kebby used her magic once to get them off and transfigurated them when he got back, and he was able to tell they had been tampered with." Remus was nearly pleading; he obviously knew what Severus could do when riled, and how rarely he listened to reason.
Severus broke into a wide, sinister smile. "This is the thing, you see. Your pathetic excuse for a guardian isn't coming back."
No spelling it out for Remus. His eyes widened and he stared out the window for a moment. After a moment of silence, he turned back to Severus. "Oh."
"Oh indeed. Now come on, the Ministry'll know soon and come to get you. You're sister and her husband have custody of you next, right? No offence, but from what I heard, Athena is a prat. Here's you big chance to cut loose!"
"Why don't they know, but you do?"
"Lupin, am I a Death Eater or am I not?"
Remus shook his head. "You're still in there," he said, disappointed.
Severus rolled his eyes. "Come on. You think it's something you can just get out of, easy come, easy go?"
"You never did anything the orthodox way. I was hoping you would." He paused. "I missed that sort of thing, though. I missed you."
"I did, too. How d'you live with those - never mind," Severus amended quickly. How Remus dealt with his brainless group of Gryffindors was a mystery to him, but Remus just raised and eyebrow, and he knew not to continue. "It wasn't nothing," he changed tack, with his old habit of swinging a conversation back around by its ears. "I can't believe myself. That I blamed you, that I gave him the go-ahead when he asked…"
Remus shrugged. Something odd had happened to Remus. It took a while to study on it, but Severus abruptly figured it out: Remus had all but reached adulthood. Something about his very composed, resigned, but quietly spirited manner, a great deal different than the insecure child he had been, showed that he had grown up, and he behaved like a man who has found their strength tested and found that it was sufficient, and, Gryffindor-like, was sure he could do it again. Severus, still struggling with his choices every day, envied him that peace. "I'm sure it was partly my fault as well; in some way I deserved it."
Severus snorted. "Right. Come on, you did nothing." When Remus didn't reply, he said earnestly, "Don't think that. You don't believe it, do you? You have terrible self-esteem, Remus."
"I guess I know now that it wasn't but…" Remus swallowed. "When - when he took me in there - the only way I could…could rationalise it, deal with it, I suppose, was to bring myself to believe it was my fault and I was exactly what you were all saying."
Severus shook his head. "That's the chief difference between me and you. You're in the floor being tortured and can only deal with it by believing you deserve it; I'm on the floor being tortured and can only deal with it by believing I don't deserve it."
"Yes, you're definitely still under their rule," Remus sighed. "Sev, they're torturing you, they'll make you kill if you haven't already, and yet -"
"I was worried, I confess," Severus broke in before he could speak further. "I told you, Remus, how I was worried I couldn't kill someone. But this," he chuckled, "was easy. So convenient he was a pain in more than one place, eh? The Dark Lord was pleased to be rid of him."
"You killed someone?" Remus sighed, rubbing his temples.
"Sheesh, Remus, I thought you got what I meant. Yeah, I killed someone: your uncle!"
Remus went limp a moment, staring at him in horror. "You - you -"
"Yeah. D'you think I could come here without anything to offer you for my behaviour? I wanted to finish the assignment before I apologised… I dunno. A sort of peace offering."
Slowly, shakily, Remus stood. "You - You killed my uncle."
"Whatever happened to your ability to understand simple concepts? Yes."
There was another second of silence as Remus digested this. "You killed him."
Severus didn't think he'd ever understand Remus, whatever the vice versa was. "I didn't think you'd be upset. You have no reason to mourn him. He treated you terribly." Remus didn't seem moved. "He never did a thing to help you that he wasn't forced to do. He bullwhipped you!"
"It was not a bullwhip and he only did that once, and that was thanks to you." Remus's voice was deadly calm and quiet, but his hazel eyes were blazing. "He was my kinsman. You kill him, and what? You expect me to thank you? Be happy about it? I can't believe you, Sev. Do you even understand that you've taken a life?"
"He was worse than any dog and deserved to be treated by one. 'Kinsman', indeed - I'd be ashamed to admit relationship to him. Get a grip, Remus!"
"What?" Something seemed to have gone very askew in this conversation.
"Now wait a second, I'm trying -"
Remus had snapped. With what seemed to be one sweeping movement he had torn the curtain rod off of the window and held it in front of him like a weapon - and swung it.
Severus dodged, just barely. He whipped out his wand, swearing. "What are you attacking me for?"
"Get out of here." Remus very nearly knocked the wand from his hand.
"I did a hell of a lot of risks for you! D'you know how many strings I had to pull to get the mission to dispose of him? Remus? Are you listening?"
Whoosh went the rod through the air.
"Are you going to be sensible?"
Whap! The rod was flashed by again.
Remus maneuvered the object so the spell hit the rod - and bounced back off. It had been spelled, Severus realised, been spelled for imprisonment by Lupin so his nephew could not escape that way, either. And here was Remus defending him, defending the one who had tortured him constantly and attacking the one who had been his friend.
That thought was the end. Severus's temper flew once again. "Mobiliarbus! Detachadium!"
Remus wasn't quick enough and was thrown against the wall.
The curtain rod was flung from Remus's hand, but the usually levelheaded boy was beyond reason. He charged forward at Severus, who had stepped forward for another curse. Severus dodged backwards - and Remus suddenly choked. The chain had pulled him back, jerking him to the floor.
"See, Remus? Again. That was what Richaden Lupin had to offer you. You know, I didn't see you so upset by his untimely death when I first told you it. You stared out the window and said 'oh', if I recall right." He stared down at Remus, on the floor, trying to loosen the chain cutting into his neck. "Maybe he's just right, werewolf."
Remus mumbled something through clenched teeth.
Severus kicked him. "What was that?"
Remus up righted, a dangerous glint in his eyes. "You'd rather not know."
"I know Unforgivables." He had learned them, all right. Senior Death Eaters had used Crutiacus after Crutiacus on him until he had done them properly. It was unlikely he would ever forget them.
"It does figure." Remus rose, unflinching at his wand. "I said 'maybe you need to learn temper control'."
"I hate you." Severus pushed him down again.
"Right now it's mutual." It was true. Hatred was written all over both young faces.
Severus raised his wand again. "Hi -"
Severus instantly froze, eyes closed, and toppled to the floor.
Remus, still crouching in front of the bay window, slowly got to his feet for the final time. Scanning the doorway, he found what he had suspected - Kebby, clear but rippling and thus visible light of elf-magic shining around her. She must have used it not only to knock out Snape but to silence herself, because her eyes were red, pillowcase damp, and she was still breathing heavily in quiet sobs. She knelt to Sev.
Sev. Snape. Who was this to him? Remus wondered numbly. He hated Snape for killing in cold blood. But he knew why Sev was there with the Death Eaters, why he felt forced to do just that, and while he disliked it, could understand.
"Is he all right?" he asked quietly.
Kebby looked up, eyes shiny with tears. "Only is knocked out, Sir," she said, as softly as her squeaky voice would allow. "Kebby is sorry if she was bad, but he was about to hurt you, Sir."
"No, Kebby. Thanks very much." Leaning against the wall, he pushed his hair from his eyes. "I suppose you heard about Uncle Richaden."
Kebby nodded, tears brimming over. "Master Lupin is being dead."
"I'm sorry, Kebby. It'll be all right." House-elves held an earnest devotion to those they served, and no matter how cold and harsh Uncle Richaden was, Kebby would take his death hard.
"You is very kind, Master Remus." Kebby's head was bowed over Snape, trying to swallow the disappointment of her loss. Most house-elves hated idleness in the best of times. Remus tried to think of a way to distract her.
"Kebby, could you take this off for me?" he asked, fingering the chain.
Kebby did so, relived to have something to do. Remus breathed in relief as it was removed.
"What should we do with him?"
Remus looked down at Sev, throat caught.
"Should we be taking him to the Ministry of Magic?"
"No," Remus decided at long last. "Send him back home, Kebby." He smiled grimly. "I can't wait for him to find out that he's nothing more than a lackey errand-boy over with Voldemort. I'll laugh."
"Well you wouldn't know a diamond if you held it in your hand
The things you think are precious I can't understand."
- "Reeling in the Years", Steely Dan