Title: Journey

Disclaimer: Everything that's part of the Harry Potter world belongs to J. K. Rowling, especially the excerpts from Harry Potter and the Halfblood-Prince.

Pairing: SS/RL, implied one-sided SS/LP, implied one-sided RL/NT, implied AD/GG

Author Notes: After a longer wait, I've managed to complete chapter one of part two. I hope you're still with me and ready for another few chapters of Severus/Remus. In this chapter there's a lot of Albus and I wanted to make him more of a human-being, and somebody Severus could actually relate to. Severus is closest to him, so Dumbledore is going to disclose quite a few secrets throughout HPB and I rather liked to write it. But he is also very manipulative. I still don't know if I like him or not ^^ ... Well, please enjoy.

Kiraling: About chapter 29: You know, since I cannot have R/S as a canon pairing, I rather like Tonks/Remus, but through this fic I somehow feel less approving of it ... Probably because Severus hates the idea ^^, but they will have some happiness, and you needn't be so pessimistic, maybe they will not part forever. Oh, Jo's Voldy does seem ignorant and stupid sometimes, doesn't he? Somehow I always imagined that he must have more depths thank you for the compliment :D ... I must have Sev suffering because of Lily, and I think he would, not only because it's canon. In HBP he will think a lot about it and his feelings develop a bit. About the bonus chapter: Yeah, I felt that it was an important aspect of their friendship that they tried to keep it up even though they had grown apart. I grew attached to Sirius when I wrote that chapter, and I did want to write it so people could understand what he feels. And Remus is not alone like Sirius is, so I suppose it is alright to feel with Sirius more than with Remus ;). Thanks for staying with me :).

soniakay: Aww, I'm glad that it moved you :). Imagine me crying while I'm writing, it happens a lot ;). And the bonus chapter was for my loyal readers and reviewers, I liked to write it, and I'm glad you liked it.

Resevius: I'm glad you reviewed, no matter when ;). Glad you liked the chapter, it was difficult to write. And I always thought that there must be something more to Voldy. I suppose something did go wrong in his childhood, I agree with you there. Tonks and Lily, those two really give me nightmares ;). I'm really happy for you! It's great when something like that happens, and I'm always glad to help :D. About Remus losing his mystery: that was exactly my thinking :D. It is essential that nobody knows what he is thinking. And will Severus ever tell McGonagall ... uh, well, uhm ... I don't think so ;). But who knows?

Emily-pino: Oh, please stalk me, go ahead! ;) It's great that I could make you feel with Sirius, because (even though I'm not a big fan of his) he is really having a hard time and his side is rather tragic. I felt him too while I was writing the chapter. Still it was important to me to explain Remus's feelings for Severus, even if it was only a short explanation, because there are reasons, he doesn't just like difficult guys and I didn't just make it so to be able to write a story, I actually thought about Remus's feelings and thoughts before writing this ;). Makes it more real even to me ;). Still I think some of the charm of the story comes from the fact that Severus really has this limited view of things and we never get to see what happens from anybody else's point of view. At the same time it is interesting to use somebody else's eyes to look at Remus because he is so perfect and handsome and kind in Severus's eyes. Others see him in a different light. For example only Severus would describe Remus's eyes as golden :). Hope you like this chapter too!

Part Two - Travelling

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love's sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 36

Second Step

It was one day to the full moon, Remus had just fallen asleep – finally – and Severus felt himself slowly seized by sleep too, his eyelids drooping as the pale light of the almost full moon dimmed, probably due to a cloud blocking its way. But just as he was giving in to exhaustion there was a new light in the room, flickering, speaking. A speaking light? And it knew his name.

"Sev … erus," it said, its voice broken and unclear.

Severus sat up in bed, careful to make no noise that could wake the sleeping werewolf, whose slow breathing was louder than the light's thin voice. After looking around the dark bedroom for the light's source, Severus found a Patronus sitting on the foot of the bed, flickering in and out of focus, looking at Severus with serene eyes. But Severus could hear in the voice that was issuing from it that the man who had sent it was not in the slightest serene. It sounded as if he was dying.

"Help … Severus, help … me … Hogwarts, quick …" rasped the thin voice and the Patronus Fawkes flickered again and disappeared.

Severus stared for a moment that was far too long. Then he jumped out of bed in a haste, waking Remus in the process but without time to apologise. He pulled his robes over his head and fastened its clasps as quickly as possible, taking his wand from the nightstand, hobbling to the door while pulling his trousers up to his hips.

"Sev'r's," croaked Remus after him, "where're you goin'?"

But Severus ignored him, there was no time to lose. If Albus sent such a message there couldn't be much life left in him. He thundered down the stairs, Remus's voice ringing in his ears as he called him fearfully. But no, no turning back, only forward now, to Hogwarts, to Albus, before Death could make it there! Not Albus! No, not Albus, not yet! Not another one he was afraid to lose – and he realised that only now.

Severus stumbled and fell to the ground as he Apparated to the iron-wrought gates of Hogwarts Castle and he scrambled to his feet in a hurry, wrenching open the gates and not bothering to shut them behind him as he ran flat out past Hagrid's hut, along the lake, to the stone steps and into the Entrance Hall. He hurtled through the castle and cursed his robes as they caught on a suit of armour, which crashed to the floor with such loud banging that it would have woken the whole castle, had it not been empty. Severus found the gargoyle already waiting for him and could pass it and ascend the stairs, shouldering open the door with such force that his arm hurt from it. But all pain was forgotten when Severus found Albus, sagging in his chair, mouth gaping, eyes half-closed in eerie oblivion, his hand black as if burned and still smouldering.

Severus strode over to him, only stopping when he found a ring on the desk, ornamented with a cracked stone, and beside it Gryffindor's sword. Severus examined the ring carefully, taking out his wand to touch it, for he, unlike Albus, obviously, could see even from two feet away that this ring was better left alone. He felt the curse pulsing through the room, Dark magic radiating from the ring as his wand tip touched it. Severus had no time to waste on wondering what Albus had been doing with a cursed ring – acting automatically, he hurried to the fireplace and flooed right to his office, throwing open the door to his lab and the one to his storeroom, striding to the very back of it to rummage through one of the upper shelves until he found a big bottle of Felix Felicis, enough liquid luck for a month but maybe too little for Albus. Conjuring a goblet from thin air, Severus returned to his fireplace and flooed back to Albus, who had – if possible – grown paler and closer to death still in the short interval. Severus poured the Felix into the goblet and tossed the bottle into the fireplace as he walked towards Albus rather more timidly than he should have. Only now did his terror return to him. What would he do if Albus died? How would he – but no, no such thoughts, now focus! What to do?

Severus considered Albus's blackened hand, rolling up his sleeve to find the curse ascending, having already reached the elbow. Best try and contain it in his hand, thought Severus, passing a hand over his face feverishly. But there was no stopping it, there was no healing the damage it had done, Severus knew this kind of curse, he had so many forbidden books, knew them all by heart, knew counter-curses enough … but there was no preventing the inevitable. Severus seized his wand tightly and lifted the goblet to Albus's gaping lips, forcing him to swallow the luck he needed bitterly, while pointing his wand at Albus's injured hand to make it a prison cell for the fatal curse. He muttered under his breath all the incantations he could think of, all that might be useful, all that could possibly, with enough luck, help Albus survive, if just for a little longer. Long enough for him to tell Severus why the hell he was such a fool! Why did he have to get himself killed after so many years, far over a hundred years of awesome magic? Never an opponent or a task that could even come close to defeating him and now he put a ring to his finger that was so evidently deathly that even Potter would have seen it.

And indeed, the black curse pulled back into the hand it had originally entered by and Severus managed to contain it there, lock it in for a while until the curse would grow strong enough to break the restraints and Albus would be devoured by it. But for now Death had been thwarted. And Albus came round, his eyes fluttering open. Severus sat back and put his wand away, setting the goblet down on the table as Albus's eyes turned on him.

"Why," said Severus and had to work hard to keep fear, worry and anger out of his voice, "why did you put on that ring? It carries a curse, surely you realised that. Why even touch it?"

Albus grimaced, as if utterly disappointed, even angry with himself. "I … was a fool. Sorely tempted …"

"Tempted by what?" asked Severus but received no answer. He hated it when Albus didn't answer. He hated it that Albus knew all about him and he so little about Albus, and that Albus wanted to maintain it that way for any price. What was there that was so secret, so shameful that he would not tell it to Severus who had done so many terrible and shameful things in his life? But then again, Severus didn't talk to him about Remus, either, which didn't change the fact that Albus knew. And Severus knew that the one who gave in to temptation was not to be blamed. He would have to blame himself too. But he could and would not accuse himself of stupidity!

"It is a miracle you managed to return here!" snapped Severus furiously, anger being the strongest emotion as usual, the one he was most familiar with. "That ring carried a curse of extraordinary power, to contain it is all we can hope for; I have trapped the curse in one hand for the time being –"

Albus raised his blackened hand to look at it curiously, interestedly, as if he was only mildly concerned and not even aware that it was his own hand he was considering. "You have done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?" he said rather casually and it drove Severus mad that he was so utterly indifferent to his own approaching death. It was hard for Severus not to care. It was impossible. And he didn't want to say what he was thinking, but he had to. He was no Healer, but he knew curses better even than Albus.

"I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread, eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time."

The news didn't seem to worry Albus, in fact he seemed rather pleased. He didn't care that he was leaving everyone who held him dear behind. Everyone who relied on him. And Severus. Albus just smiled. Smiled Death in the face. "I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus," said he kindly, endowing Severus with a fatherly look as he uttered the words that reminded Severus so much of what Remus used to tell him.

"If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!" said Severus, furious, so furious, so desperate, so regretful. He should have offered his help to Albus when he had told him that he had some things to attend to, he should have assisted him in what he had wanted to do. He looked down at the ring and the sword that were gleaming in the torchlight and wondered what he could have assisted with, what had been so important about this ugly ring, that Albus had risked his life for it. And suddenly it made illogical sense that Albus would have returned to Hogwarts. "Did you think that breaking the ring would break the curse?"

"Something like that … I was delirious, no doubt …" replied Albus as he straightened himself in his chair which was painful to watch. And yet Severus thought the old man was keeping something from him once again. "Well, really, this makes matters much more straightforward," continued Albus and Severus gave him a confused look. Apparently he had missed something in his tired mind, and indeed, he had a much harder time getting over the fact that the man sitting before him was sentenced to death. Albus smiled. "I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me."

Severus sank into the chair opposite Albus and gave up on trying to force the subject of his blackened hand as Albus showed him he wasn't interested. Instead Severus had to talk about other unpleasant topics. Since Severus had returned home, and home meant – in this case – Remus's house, he had paid the remaining Malfoys a visit and had a very uncomfortable and disturbing confrontation with Draco. Severus felt his usual scowl returning to his worried face and gave in to Albus's attempt to make him talk about it.

"The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed. This is merely punishment for Lucius's recent failures. Slow torture for Draco's parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price."

"In short, the boy has had a death sentence pronounced upon him as surely as I have," said Albus and Severus hated him for it. "Now, I should have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?"

Severus didn't say anything for a few moments. He didn't want to think about it. Didn't want to admit it. Couldn't bear where this conversation was inevitably leading. Could barely hold back his premature grief about Albus's death. But there was an answer to Albus's question. An answer that Severus had been too timid to give to Remus many months ago. "That, I think, is the Dark Lord's plan," he said quietly, being rather more vague than he would have needed to be. A plain 'yes' would have been more accurate. But he couldn't possibly say it.

"Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?"

"He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes."

"And if it does fall in his grasp," said Albus and it seemed as if he didn't doubt that outcome, "I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students of Hogwarts?"

Severus gave a stiff nod, to him it was not a question that needed to be asked. He had always fulfilled his duty. He would never let anything happen to the children. He wondered if anyone knew. He wondered if it wasn't better that they didn't know.

"Good. Now then. Your first priority will be to discover what Draco is up to. A frightened teenage boy is a danger to others as well as to himself. Offer him help and guidance, he ought to accept, he likes you –"

" – much less since his father has lost favour. Draco blames me, he thinks I have usurped Lucius's position," contradicted Severus, thinking defiantly that he had never needed to take anyone's place or profit from anyone's failures to gain a better position. It was his own skill that had brought him to the Dark Lord's right hand … And he realised he shouldn't be proud of it.

"All the same, try," said Albus dismissively, obviously unaware just how stubborn teenage boys could be. "I am concerned less for myself than for accidental victims or whatever schemes might occur to the boy. Ultimately, of course, there is only one thing to be done if we are to save him from Lord Voldemort's wrath."

Severus raised his eyebrows and couldn't help his usual sarcastic mocking to seep into his voice as he replied. "Are you intending to let him kill you?"

"Certainly not," said Albus and looked at Severus with his twinkling blue eyes. "You must kill me."

Severus stared at him, absolutely shocked for a moment, incredulous. He had known that this conversation was turning into an unpleasant direction. Albus could not possibly expect him – Severus – to kill him, actually kill him after just having saved his life. Didn't he know the consequences? Didn't he know that Severus had enough of killing? That he had enough of losing everyone at his own hands? And what would Remus say? Oh, you have to kill Dumbledore? Would you like milk in your tea? Certainly not!

Behind Severus Fawkes was making horrid sounds as he gnawed on some bone and Severus found it a perfect background noise for his thoughts. He was suddenly angry again. Angry that Albus only thought of himself, that he expected Severus to take his life cold-bloodedly, even if it was doomed anyway, that he would have him suffer the consequences on his own. And he wanted to shout at him that he couldn't, wouldn't risk … losing Remus. Instead he returned to his familiar friend, sarcasm.

"Would you like me to do it now?" asked Severus, his voice dripping with irony. "Or would you like a few moments to compose an epitaph?"

"Oh, not quite yet," said Albus, smiling insolently. Severus wished he could strangle him. He wondered when it would please Albus to be killed by his most loyal friend … or rather servant. "I daresay the moment will present itself in due course. Given what has happened tonight, we can be sure that it will happen within a year."

For a moment Severus caught himself considering Albus's accident a lucky coincidence, for he was not quite sure if Albus wouldn't have asked the same of him, had he not been dying. Then he slapped himself mentally and felt suddenly cold. This was real. This was serious. Albus wanted Severus to murder him.

"If you don't mind dying, why not let Draco do it?" snapped Severus, furious, furious with Albus for all that he made him endure.

"That boy's soul is not yet so damaged," explained Albus matter-of-factly. "I would not have it ripped apart on my account."

"And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?" said Severus angrily. Obviously, just as he had thought, his well-being was of no concern, either. His soul had already been ripped into so many pieces that he could barely count them and a soul healed slowly, even with a werewolf tending to it. And after this particular deed, Severus doubted that even Remus would be strong enough to forgive. It meant nothing to Albus.

"You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation," said Albus disarmingly. "I ask this one, great favour from you, Severus, because death is coming for me as surely as the Chudley Cannons will finish bottom of this year's league. I confess I should prefer a quick, painless exit to the protracted and messy affair it will be if, for instance, Greyback is involved – I hear Voldemort has recruited him? Or dear Bellatrix who likes to play with her food before she eats it."

Albus acted as if it was a chat about who was to organise his next birthday party but Severus had got the hint. He saw it in Albus's blue eyes, in the way he looked at him, that Albus was indeed asking a huge favour because he feared suffering and … maybe because it was crucial to him that Severus should play his designated part in his well prepared plan. Severus felt that he had been asked a thousand favours in the past years but he had been paid back for them. And he could not decline. Even though he preferred the amber eyes over the blue ones.

He nodded curtly. Albus was satisfied. And Severus knew that, now, there was no turning back. The promise had been made.

"Thank you, Severus …" said Albus softly and Severus bent his head in resignation. His mind was chaotic and his heart racing. He had agreed, yes, but would he be able to do it, once the moment arrived? He doubted himself. And he didn't want to regret it. He hoped dearly that he wouldn't be able to do it. And at the same time he knew he must, for it was Dumbledore's brilliant plan that was at stake. Severus saw that plan. He would become headmaster once Dumbledore was gone and the Dark Lord had seized power. He would be in charge of the children's safety. He needed the Dark Lord's full trust to carry out Dumbledore's orders, and how better gain it than by killing Dumbledore himself? A brilliant plan indeed. And highly difficult.

Severus got up from his chair very forcefully and he swayed a little when he turned to the fireplace. He didn't get far. "Severus, wait a minute," said Dumbledore's voice, now firm again. "I need you to understand that it is crucial you do not tell anyone."

Severus turned round again and glowered down at him. Not telling Remus that Dumbledore was dying of some curse and that he would be relieved of his suffering by Severus sometime in the near future was impossible. Not only because Remus was likely to squeeze it out of him, but also because Severus would definitely lose him, should he carry out the plan without Remus's knowledge.

Albus was aware of his thoughts. "When you return home tonight," he continued, considering Severus over his half-moon spectacles, "do not tell him about anything I have told you, anything that was discussed. It is absolutely necessary that my nearing death remains a secret between you and me, that nobody knows that we have an agreement that includes your killing me on my wish."

Severus was defiant. He didn't want that. There was just one person in his life he could actually confide in and now he was supposed to keep everything from him that weighed so heavy on his already burdened shoulders? "You cannot expect me to keep it quiet from him," snapped Severus, already beyond denying that Remus and he were much more than fleeting acquaintances. Albus knew they were, though how he had found out was a mystery to Severus. "What harm will it do if he knows? I will tell him to keep it a secret!"

Albus shook his head with a sad smile. "I am sorry, Severus, but you need to understand that everyone – I say, everyone – must believe you to have betrayed the Order, and me, to serve Lord Voldemort. They must not doubt your allegiance. And Remus, I am afraid, would do anything to convince them that you aren't evil. Would perhaps let something slip, or be too poor an actor to conceal what he knows. Or worse, he might be caught communicating with you and believed a traitor himself. It is most important that you and I are the only two people to know that you are not serving Lord Voldemort. Otherwise your master will find out and our wonderful plan will fail."

"Our plan?" spat Severus angrily. "I have no idea what plan you are referring to! You order me to protect Potter, I do it, you order me to teach him Occlumency, I try my best, you ask me to kill you, I agree, but you never so much as hint at how you are going to defeat the Dark Lord, you keep it all secret, so don't talk about 'our plan'! You ask me to put everything at stake that holds me upright but you refuse to tell me what use it will be!"

"I promise you," said Albus calmly and his eyes were so sad that Severus barely recognised them, "that you will lose nothing."

Severus made a harsh movement with his arm to dismiss those words. "What do you know?"

"Remus always speaks well of you," said Albus with a smile. "I have never experienced him to keep quiet while others doubted your trustworthiness."

"He shouldn't," muttered Severus. "I've told him before, he disgraces himself by speaking well of someone like me."

"Oh, but, Severus, he, like me, cannot understand why others would doubt you, would not respect you like we do," replied Albus and when Severus huffed irritably he went on, "Everyone is a fool when they are young, not only you have made mistakes, I have, too. Even graver mistakes, since, if I may say so, the greatest minds commit the greatest follies. But you have only to be strong enough to correct them. Like I did, and like you did."

"A little late, wasn't it?" said Severus, crossing his arms over his chest, and remembering the disgusted look on Albus's face, the scathing in his eyes when they had met in the dead of night many years ago. This man had no reason to love him, and neither had Remus.

"It is never too late to correct one's mistakes, Severus," contradicted Albus, sadder still. "Though I admit, I was oftentimes tempted to agree with you in my own case of follies."

Severus sank back into the chair opposite Albus and felt like a student, talking to his teacher about some case of severe heartache. "He will not forgive me your murder," he whispered, unwilling to say it too loudly. Unwilling to admit that it was inevitable. "He will hate me. Like everyone else."

"He will do no such thing, Severus," said Albus firmly, leaning forward in his chair. "No matter how wrong it seems to him, no matter how disappointed he will be, how shocked or angry, he will forgive you …"

Severus shot him a vicious glare. "Why are you so sure?" he hissed. "What makes you believe that anyone would forgive that? I cannot even expect him to."

"He will not be able to help it," smiled Albus knowingly and suddenly he seemed thoughtful. After a moment's silence he nodded to himself with that same sad smile and sat up straight again, staring intently at Severus. "You see, Severus, I was once in love, too," he said and the sudden insight into Albus's private life was so shocking for Severus that he merely stared back at the old man. "When I was a very young man, a mere boy little older than Harry is now, I was in a very difficult situation. I had to care for my family alone, my mother had died, my father as you might know was in prison. At that difficult time in my life, there appeared a person who made my days lighter, my life easier to bear and suddenly I didn't feel confined to Godric's Hollow anymore, deprived of all freedom, but I was happy, happier than ever, because I had met someone who was so much like me, who could talk to me on eyelevel, whose magic was by no means inferior to mine … that person was brilliant and clever and cunning and … now that I talk of him like that it seems wrong to me, but love makes us blind Severus, so utterly blind …"

Severus listened transfixed, so surprised by Albus's unusual disclosure of his earlier life that he didn't want to say anything and perhaps stop the flow of words that seemed to be relieved to have finally escaped Albus's lips. Albus sighed and the reminiscent look on his face turned into a bitterness that Severus knew only too well.

"We developed plans, Severus, great, horrible plans, that I drank in just because they were uttered by his lips, and I was fascinated with him and his ideas, and I supported them, wanted to help him realise them … until an accident happened in my family … that opened my eyes. He left, and I was determined never to speak to him again. Never to see him again. Suddenly cruelly aware of my own foolhardiness. And you might have thought from a certain point of view that I had corrected my mistake too late. Yet, here I am, talking to a former Death Eater, fighting evil."

He smiled bitterly at Severus who was surprised how much Albus could tell while leaving the most important facts out. He was wondering where the story was leading. And Albus didn't seem to want to make him wait.

"But I did see him again … and when I did, he had changed so much, had become ruthless and cruel, had committed countless unforgivable, horrid crimes, that you would think I would have hated him," continued Albus, his healthy hand gripping the edge of the desk very hard. "But I could not hate him, because at the same time he had not changed at all, was still the same energetic, eager, brilliant man I had fallen in love with and I tried very hard to avoid the inevitable. I didn't want to face him in duel, I was scared of it. I was terribly selfish. But when time elapsed, it was necessary, I could no longer put it off, I had to end his path of destruction and death. And I fought him, and I won," he indicated his wand on the table, "this is all I have left of him now."

"Did you still love him?" asked Severus, breaking his silence for he needed to know, needed to be sure that this was what Albus had tried to tell him.

Albus nodded. "I did. Despite everything he had done, despite the time that had passed, the deaths and cruelties he had caused, I loved him. That is why I waited till the last moment had arrived before I faced him on the battlefield."

"How could you fight him?" asked Severus so quietly that he wasn't sure Albus would catch it. He imagined fighting Remus, possibly risking his death, and winning. It seemed an impossibility. "And win …"

Albus looked at the ceiling, folding his hands on the table with a little wince. "I believe," he said slowly, "that it was only possible because he loved me too, was hindered by the same scruples as I – which, I must admit, puts my mind a little more at ease because it shows me he was not quite as evil as everyone thought, just misguided, gravely, fatally misguided. And in the end I was just a bit better."

"Did you kill him?" asked Severus softly and could only call to mind one of Dumbledore's well-known battles with Dark wizards and that was the one with Gellert Grindelwald. But that couldn't be what Albus was referring to. Albus shook his head, his sad smile wavering.

"Oh, no," he said softly, "I could never have killed him. I took his wand and he was brought to prison. Not Azkaban … a prison on the continent, and he is there still. You see, Severus, the wrong that is done by our loved ones hurts us so much more than the wrong that is done by those we hate, and yet – and yet it is so much easier, natural even, to forgive those we love a major crime, than to forgive those we hate a mere joke. And love is stubborn, Severus, very stubborn, indeed. It just won't leave us alone once it has seized us, no matter how hard we try to shake it off."

Severus looked at Dumbledore's wand and imagined it to have been, for all these years, a reminder of the one he loved, the one he had not been able to hold on to, and lost in the end. He felt very close to Albus in that moment. Felt, for the first time, that they were not quite as dissimilar as he had always thought. He liked the idea that Albus had made mistakes in his past too, not always been perfect. It made him much more human. As did his story. And Severus actually felt comforted by the solace Albus had given, the reassurance he had offered.

"Your wand?" asked Severus, trying to distract Albus from the truth he had told not only about himself but also about Remus and, indeed, Severus.

"Not my wand," said Albus quietly and shook his head slowly, "never my wand. It is just with me for the time being. It has only been passed on to me because I defeated its former master. Hopefully I will be its last master, but who knows?"

Severus looked at him in bewilderment. "I don't know you to have another wand … have you ever since been using his wand?"

"My original wand is here," said Albus, getting up rather swiftly, seeming stronger than Severus would have believed him to be, and striding to one of his glass cabinets to open its door and take out a long wooden box. "I fear I have neglected it sorely. I haven't used it in … why, yes, fifty years now …"

Severus got up and joined him at the cabinet to look into the box that Albus held out to him. Severus was astounded at how plain a wand it was, straight and barely ornamented. "Why did you stop using it?" asked Severus while he was still pondering the fifty years Albus had mentioned, since fifty years would only leave the battle with Gellert Grindelwald as a possibility. But surely at that time there had existed several powerful wizards who needed to be stopped.

"Well, it was not as powerful, and not as dangerous as the one I had won," he explained and chuckled. "I must admit I might have been a little sentimental as well."

Severus narrowed his eyes at him as he put his hands in his pockets and strolled back to the desk. "Why are you telling me all this?" asked Severus curiously. "You never talked about yourself. And now you disclose one secret after the other."

Albus lowered himself on the desk in front of Severus and gave him an intent look. Then he smiled. "I believe I owe it to you to be a little more honest with you. After all you don't ask someone to kill you everyday … and to 'put at stake everything that holds them upright' …"

Severus averted his eyes, embarrassment burning in his stomach. Anything would be forgiven, Remus had said so, at least. He shouldn't worry more than necessary. There was no way out. No going back, just forward. And Severus realised he had no other choice but to risk losing Remus like he had lost … and the pain in his chest was excruciating. He couldn't do it. He would fail. He couldn't even think about how it would be to bear it.

"Yes," he pressed, "I will do you this one last favour … and I hope you feel guilty for doing this to me."

"Of course I do," said Albus, laying his healthy hand on Severus's shoulder to squeeze it. "I know I have always made you go through too much. But always remember that it will serve a greater purpose."

"I might not care … I might not want to sacrifice myself to your bloody purpose," said Severus roughly and stepped back from Albus. The old man smiled knowingly at him and Severus had no doubt about the fact that he was about to tell him that he was much too noble, too Gryffindor to be indifferent to the fate of the wizarding world. Severus wasn't in the mood for such insults. He heard them often enough from Remus's mouth. "Do you … still love him?" he asked to distract Albus a second time and Albus cocked his head to one side thoughtfully.

"In a way …" he replied softly. "Good night, Severus, I am deeply in your debt."

Severus looked at him for a long moment, then he turned away and walked to the fireplace to floo back to Remus. He took some Floo powder and turned back to Albus. "That man … he wouldn't happen to be …"

"An old man may keep a few secrets," smiled Albus, his eyes twinkling again. "I believe there is someone waiting for you."

Severus stiffened and scowled, tossing the powder into the fire which flared green to let him step through it. When his feet touched Remus's floorboards, the living room was silent and dark but from above his head, Severus could hear pacing steps. He had made Remus wait. He wondered what to say to him; for the first time he lied to Remus because it was absolutely necessary, and he hated it. After a moment's hesitation, Severus walked through the living room into the hall and ascended the stairs silently, slowly, towards the pacing werewolf.

As he reached the door, he leant against its frame and considered Remus, who was walking from the foot of the bed to the wall and back again in an oval, arms folded, forehead creased. The moonlight was illuminating his path and whenever it touched him he twitched slightly, and his breath quickened. Severus wondered if he had been pacing ever since Severus had left to save Albus, and suddenly the full impact of what had happened hit him and he felt as if his legs would give way any moment now. But surely, surely, in the end Albus would manage to fight the curse and would abandon the plan that Severus had reluctantly, idiotically, agreed to? He would outlive Severus for sure! But only if Severus found a way to first utter the Avada Kedavra and then kill himself quickly enough to die before the spell reached Albus. And what use would that be to anyone? He wasn't thinking sense anymore. He was a complete wreck. His mind was swirling. And he held firmly onto what Albus had said about the man he had loved, notwithstanding his many crimes. And he wondered whether Albus might not just have made it up to comfort him, or to make him comply with his wishes. Severus was good at torturing himself. And there was something that he could tell Remus.

"Couldn't your exercise have waited till tomorrow?" asked Severus quietly and the werewolf whirled round with wide eyes, sighing when realising that Severus had returned and sinking onto the bed as if there was no strength left in his body after pacing for so long.

"Thank Merlin," he breathed, rubbing his eyes. "I thought something had happened to you."

Severus approached him slowly, sitting down beside him without touching him, and looked out of the window at the nearly full moon. He felt his hands shaking and folded them to hide it from Remus. Where would Albus go when he died? The train that would take him there had already been chosen, but Severus wondered if he was in the slightest worried as to the beyond. He wished he could ask Remus.

"Where have you been?" asked Remus quietly and he seemed slightly irritated. "You didn't even say where you were going."

"There was no time," said Severus and his voice sounded much too loud for the small room and the quiet situation. "I had to help Albus. He … had a little accident."

"Is he alright?" said Remus quickly, his golden eyes sparkling in the moonlight.

Severus hesitated, meeting Remus's inquiring eyes with great difficulty. He knew he must answer, and he knew what he must answer, and never had a blunt lie left his lips so reluctantly. "Yes," he croaked, only then noticing the treacherous lump in his throat. He cleared it. "Yes, he is fine now … I was able to keep the curse he has come across at bay. He has sustained an irrevocable injury, though."

Remus nodded slowly and his soft hand touched Severus's cheek and brushed his black hair out of his face. "How lucky he is to have you," smiled Remus, apparently forgetting his irritation at Severus immediately.

"He is," agreed Severus and a mirthless smile passed over his face. It was hard to suppress the grief that was threatening to follow and Remus must have seen a shadow of it, for he frowned and leant in to seal Severus's lips with his own. Severus seized his upper arms and pulled him closer, as he withdrew, putting their foreheads together. He felt Remus's breath on his face and tried to be soothed, but he was so tense, so shaken, so utterly messed-up that he could not calm down. And Remus's uneasy squirming didn't help, either.

"You are hurting me," whispered the werewolf and Severus opened his eyes in surprise, loosening his iron grip on Remus's arms.

"I … I couldn't relax at all since … you must make me calm down!" said Severus urgently, overwhelmed by the night's events and indeed the events of the past months. He could not bear the knowledge that he would in the near future not only lose Albus to some wicked curse, but also Remus to Albus's wonderful purpose. He knew he would lose him, there was no preventing it. And what was worse: Remus would believe him to be a traitor, to have deceived him all the time, to have used him, possibly. It was unbearable. It was pure torture. He would tell Albus that he couldn't do it. But that was impossible too. It was like being trapped in a profound well with no foothold and no corners to hide in around the circular walls.

"What a night," sighed Remus and pulled Severus's robes off his sagging shoulders, pushing him down on the mattress where he lay tense and cold until the werewolf joined him and pulled the blanket over them both. His gentle hand rubbed soothing circles over Severus's chest and his lips touched Severus's jaw ever so slightly. Severus felt the tension seep out of his body with every completed circle that Remus drew on his chest and when he closed his eyes he thought he could finally set his mind in order again before maybe even drifting off to sleep. He could not keep himself from laying his arm around Remus, pressing him against his side very tightly. Maybe … but no, expecting the worst was better in this situation. It enabled him to use the time that was left till doomsday more deliberately. If only he knew exactly how much time was left. And as his tired mind rolled over and over, he wondered for a moment if the confession that was due, which it was about time to make, would perhaps make Remus forgive alleged murder and betrayal. And just before he fell asleep he thought he had almost seized enough courage to answer out loud instead of just in his thoughts as Remus said those quiet words.

"I love you."

But as usual, Severus's lips were sealed, his tongue was tied, and he disliked himself for his timidity. And for the fact that Remus didn't urge him, didn't expect a reply. That might just ensure that he would distance himself from Severus as soon as the horrible deed had been done, because he doubted Severus already, otherwise he would force him to answer, wouldn't he? Severus felt weak. And indeed like dying when sleep engulfed him.