A/N: There's an unusual lot for this one-piece fic. I'm putting them at the beginning, because I've always hated to find at the end of a story that a fourth of the scroll bar is used for author's notes. If you wish to skip them, do so, although you'll miss out on some background info.
First off, this fic is dedicated to my friend who goes by enoimreH, auroraziazan, or Jacy Adrienne. I've intended to 'give' one to her for a while, but unfortunately I haven't uploaded much new since that point. So, to Jacy-my-love, for being one of the best friends I could have possibly have found… for being there to talk and being there to listen… and, in special regards to this fic, for practically holding me by the hand as I wrote… for getting Albus and Remus to 'behave'… (I liked the tip of the hat)… for inspiring the hot chocolate… for always being her supportive, witty, and in general just bow-down-and-worship wonderful self. To you, ccc.
Now that everyone besides Jacy and I are vomiting and wondering about our sanity and sexuality (we'll humour you), onto the mechanics of this fic: first off, while Snape and Lupin may seem a tad out of character at times (particularly the latter) remind yourself that this is set ten to twelve years before we met them. And I'm sure this event impacted their future selves a great deal. Also, for purposes of convenience (and Remus-Torture) this fic uses the 'full-moon-spans-three-days' theory (so, as you can tell, this is consistent with none of my other fics).
Speaking of which… warning: Snape nastiness, Lupin torture, Dumbledore storytelling… in roughly that order. Jacy is wondering why she is stuck with this fic to be dedicated to already… Hey, everyone else has gotten their chance to speculate on how Remus found out about the attacks and such. Now it's my turn. *evil grin*
There. Was that all so hard to get through? And now the handy disclaimer:
Disclaimer: The following is not purely original fiction, but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. I will return all characters in fairly decent condition. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment.
So Glad To Break It To You
For just an instant – just an instant, mind you – Sev wondered with a touch of worry if the werewolf had any idea of what went on underneath his house. Rebel groups called this stretch of land Catacomb Abbey and used the secured stone passages underground for hideouts and strongholds. The cellar of Lupin's ramshackle quarters was used as one, if Sev remembered the maps he had drawn of this place correctly, and Sev was not one to forget such details.
Then Sev shook himself, wondering if he had lost his sanity for a moment. The reflection brought a gleeful gesture to his face that resembled a smile. For thoughts of sanity naturally led to Azkaban, which was now simultaneous with Sirius Black.
It was such a satisfying feeling, being proved right.
Catacomb Abbey was covered by early morning November grey, trees in the distance dark and limp. Not your typical good real estate, and Sev reveled at the fact. A coat of paint could have doubled the property value of Lupin's quarters. It lay lonely and isolated on top of Catacomb Abbey, where the ground was all dirt, stones, and small pathetic patches of grass fighting for survival, apart from when it rained, in which case it was a muddy mess.
Except for the werewolf's plot of land, six metres by six metres, ridiculously green with one young, recently-plotted tree. Sev snorted at the sight of it. For one, there was the tiny detail that in several years it would spill over the property line. But you couldn't honestly expect a werewolf to take note of such things, now could you?
Knocking Sev didn't bother with. No such courtesy was needed here, especially as Sev knew the werewolf would never register it. And Sev was too impatient. The night had moved slowly, very slowly. He patted the crystal in his pocket, making sure it was there, and then used an Unlocking Charm.
Thanks to the lunar cycle, the werewolf would most likely have no way of knowing what had occurred the past day or two. Sev was dead set on having the honours. He stepped into what could loosely be termed a cabin, mentally rehearsing his words. Sev had always been the worst sort of enemy to have – the intelligent sort. He knew his would-be murderer's weak spots and planned to capitalise on them.
Eventually killers get their due. I… I've paid mine… and the golden Gryffindor lions went too long on borrowed credit. It had all come crashing down now, hadn't it? Voldemort and the precious Marauders destroyed in less than forty-eight hours! Sev, for the first time in his life, was reaping rewards.
Inside was just as chilly as outside, simply with a roof. It was very stark, and, partially because of that, very tidy. There was little to keep in order.
Lupin was also devoid of this scene, which, in a way, was a relief, but Sev scowled with impatience, neither seeing nor hearing where the werewolf had secured himself. He wanted to gloat – oh, yes, indeed – but his ever-present practicality called to him. There was little, in Sev's mind, to support the theory Voldemort was truly dead, and his two-sided game went on. He hadn't the time to dawdle to find where the werewolf might be! Had he spent the night roaming outside?
Sev waited a few moments. It was not quite moonset, and any locks or charms Lupin had put up would probably expire then. Besides, he could make some adjustments while he was waiting… Sure enough, as soon as Sev's watch and lunar chart read the time of moonset, a Silencing Charm seemed to have canceled out. A pitiful series of yelps and whimpers and the cracking of bones and howls and screams and half-sobs and moans sounded from below him.
Looking down, Sev's eyes examined the floor and found a square out-of-sync with the rest of the wood. A trapdoor. Ah. And, he thought with grim relief, not one iota of magic could be traced to him yet. Pity the fools that relied on eyes and wands, and more so the ones who only used the latter.
It was easy to pry open, although Sev found magical locks on it that must have also have terminated at moonset. The steps were uneven, but it was the smell that halted him. He had met the scent of blood before, and all too well. This did not bring back any good memories, and it also made him nauseous. Tangy, tinny, sickening blood shot straight through his nostrils and filled his breath. Evaporated forms of that stuff would probably cling to his robes.
But oh well. Yet another thing to throw at the werewolf.
He trekked down the stairs, ignoring the heavy stench, the gasping of the werewolf as if he had never breathed before.
Despite his caution, blood smeared on the steps caused Sev to slip. Holding his hands out to break his fall was all that prevented him from breaking his ribs.
Nearly killed trying to get at the werewolf again.
Lupin made an indistinct, questioning sound. Ignoring the bruises – he'd endured so much worse – Sev stood before the werewolf could glimpse him on the floor.
"Aw, how terrible that sounded, werewolf. Did the transformation hurt so very much?" Sev exchanged his mocking tone for a harsh one of cold hatred. "I hope it did. I hope they hurt like hell."
"…Snape?" Lupin's voice was very groggy and filled with confusion.
"Yes. And you have terrible lighting." With no further warning, Sev whipped the crystal from his pocket out and muttered his mother's words. Dazzling diamond-like light instantly illuminated the catacomb.
It allowed Sev to see Lupin shield his eyes for a moment, blinking to adjust. Sev's lip curled at the sight of him collapsed on the floor, a naked heap of blood, dirt, punctured flesh, clearly raw skin, ashen face with several tear-streaks, flaccid and weak as a rag doll – a contemptible sight that Sev was only too happy to openly sneer at.
Instead of answering, Lupin attempted to push himself at least to sit, but was cut off mid-way of this process. Hands flattened against the floor to hold up a frame that had gotten very thin since leaving Hogwarts, the werewolf choked and coughed up blood and schmega.
Sev deliberately stared at the clots before turning his gaze to the werewolf, every inch of the creature, sparring no portion and no show of disgust, knowing it was one way to pierce Lupin's armour. And it worked. Although he tried to hide it and didn't do so half-badly, Lupin was ashamed to be seen in his state. His eyes – not gleaming yellow as many school texts would have predicted, but red and bloodshot and clouded with exhaustion – met Sev's endless black squarely.
"Still making eye contact with humans as if you actually were one," Sev continued. It had been said too often to be effective; Lupin simply continued his struggling to get off of the floor. But that was all right. Sev intended to have him in tears by the time he left. "Yet not even a polite greeting."
Lupin, who had managed to pull himself into a sitting position, sighed with a touch of annoyance. "I'm afraid I'm not fit to be a proper, gracious host to you this morning." His hoarse whisper developed a harder edge. "And do stop complaining. You came here knowing that."
"I came here only to… inform you," Sev said, with a light ominous tone that implied otherwise. "Forgive me to try to break the news to you more gently than if you overheard it elsewhere."
By now Lupin had managed to hug his knees to his chest. It also allowed him to hide behind the bloodied hair that fell to his chin. Sev would not permit him to seek the comfort of privacy in this exchange. He felt greedy and was not about to smother that fact: he wanted to see every expression, every mark of pain. "Why thank you. What is it?" Chattering teeth marred Lupin's words and the sarcasm – and the dread of what he would hear. Chilliness pervaded in the catacomb as if it were a queen on a throne.
"Not that you deserve it," Sev continued. Save the worse news of all for the end, when Sev had already worn him down. "You claim you have feelings the same as any human. Yet what of them? In the end they all come down to bloodlust."
The response was a mutter that sounded rather like: "Did he come here to start this bloody conversation again?" But yes, they did, Sev reflected. His say had always been cut short, but not now. There was no one to interrupt.
"Stand up, werewolf!" Sev ordered. Lupin flinched as the words hit his currently sensitive hearing, but stubbornly refused to move. "Now, I say, or else I'll force you to, and trust me by this, you'll wish you have just obeyed. Now stand."
"Severus…" In his weariness, the intended calm persuasiveness came out as petulance.
"I said stand – or, by Merlin, I will kill you."
The action was performed too slowly for Sev's famed intolerance. As Lupin struggling for balance on his knees, Sev charged, rammed his hands into his chest, and with a swooping motion characterised by Sev's sharp gracefulness, threw Lupin against the wall of the stone catacomb. Lupin groaned and finally opened his eyes to Sev blearily.
"Next time I tell you to do something, listen." Sev's words were a mere hiss. It was quite invaluable for what he did. "Understood? – Un-der-stood?"
Nothing made Lupin nod but fear and exhaustion. He looked nothing the part of a proud Gryffindor now, Sev thought with vindictiveness.
"How pathetic you look, werewolf. How truly pathetic. I don't see half the ghost of a certain cocky Gryffindor who apologised for attempted murder, although never seeing fit to reject who you claimed was behind it all. Remember that, werewolf? Remember when you apologised?… yet Black was still more important than atonement, wasn't he? You never truly regretted it… never truly believed you had done anything wrong. You liked it, though, didn't you? Liked licking every last bit of my blood from that place, didn't you? Didn't it taste good, good and warm and comforting? Even after the full moon, didn't you dream about another taste of it at night?"
He'd finally hit a very potent nerve, Sev knew. Lupin involuntarily let out a stricken noise, affirming Sev's suspicions.
"You'd lose the trust of anyone you have who's left if you ever did it… but those dreams still come, you know it. Even by day, sometimes your mind turns to it. Makes everything feel so good, a little human blood. And… though of course you'd never do it, oh no, not St Remmy the Humane… hasn't the thought of trapping a human… just some lousy Death Eater or doomed Muggle you know is next to be killed anyway… keeping them in with you at full moon… and you'll stop fighting it one day. You'll be cold and tired and hungry – and snap. You'll do it. As long as you're alive it's just a kill waiting to happen."
"I won't," Lupin whispered without thinking – and Sev knew without a doubt it was as much to convince himself as the man throwing the words at him like knives.
"Oh, but you have," Sev said with faint amiability. "Haven't you?" His voice turned frigid again. "Haven't you, werewolf? Instead of just taking the pain like any real human would, you've submitted, when you thought no one would know… find some poor helpless animal to comfort yourself with at full moon… no human would even think of doing anything of the sort. Oh, there's the few… the few you're supposedly trying to fight… how hypocritical…"
Lupin's eyes had gone hollow. Sev's hunch had been dead on.
"You're disgusting. You're abominable." Abruptly Sev released his hands. As it had been Lupin's only support, the only reason he had been standing, Lupin's knees buckled. Sev let the werewolf fall to his feet. To Sev's pleasure, Lupin's eyes were still fixed on him in a horrified sort of trance, breathes alternatively deep and shallow, according to his shoulders. Precisely according to schedule.
"And yet you've fooled so many. Those who have found you charming and agreeable… who even forget what a monster you are because of the face you present to the world… wolves are full of charisma. It makes it all the more easy to lure their prey… you've been subconsciously doing it all your life, making friends while the part of your head dominated by your real persona is only planning to get at their dear, precious blood…"
It was working so beautifully. Sev relished every flicker of Lupin's eyes, every twitch of uncertainty, every hitched breath… he could feel the pain nearly excluding from him, the undeniable sorrow and isolation… and the physical attributes of excruciating pain were simply icing on the cauldron cake… every deep gash, every stain of blood, the dark circles under haunted eyes…
It was not cruelty, nor was it morbidness. Sev had seen much of that in the past few years. No, this… this was fairness. The crime should hit the outlaws tenfold… and it was. Pettigrew and Potter and his wife dead in his place… Black sent to eternal hell… now only the werewolf had left to pay. Yes, it was only fair. For hadn't Sev experienced the pinnacle of pain? The nights of sleeplessness where he could only remember that his life meant nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Even Albus Dumbledore, Goodness Incarnate himself, had pretty well said as much. The gloating Black had done for the rest of their days at school… I nearly got you killed and you can't do anything about it 'cause no one cares!… and then his submission to the Dark Lord… Sev had paid. Paid dearly. In loneliness and pain and the sharp ravages of conscience, the days he had wandered streets of goodness-knowing-where, wanting to kill himself, wanting to throw his conscience to the wind, only stopped because a voice in his head was taunting him for being more afraid of life – sweet, wonderful life that so many sold their souls for – than death. Because he was not normal. Must not be. He had killed and killed because people had thought him only worthy to be killed and valued death above life and yet he was still more intelligent than the fools he knelt to every day… alienation had gripped his heart in a stranglehold and still left its marks.
Why should it not be fair for him to get what he was owed?
"It's all there…" Sev breathed. "All there inside of you, behind that front of goodwill. The façade is second nature to you… I doubt you even think about it anymore, do you? You could almost believe it… but you can never deny what your heart will truly want in the end. Love means nothing to you when compared to simple savage killing." Slowly, impressively, Sev knelt to meet Lupin's eyes, and extended a finger to his chest, pointing straight to his heart. Because of Lupin's thinness, Sev could actually feel it beating – too heavily. "It'll all in there" – he pointed now to Lupin's head – "and in there. Powerful enough to even fool Dumbledore… such scope for power, werewolf… all to be used for your own means at the end. When your store of patience runs out, you will only. Think. Of. Blood."
There was a pronounced silence that spoke just as much as Sev's words. He'd always had a talent for that. Just as gradually as before, Sev stood. Lupin's gaze did not follow him, as it was fixed miserably on the floor.
"Ah. Now… now that someone had discovered you out… can't quite look them in the eye any longer, can you? It wasn't difficult. Once I had so found out your little precious secret… I began to wonder. It even had be running in circles for a little while, I admit, werewolf. Why would you bother trying to cling to society? It rejected you again and again… with good reason… and persecuted you and tried to kill you and constantly took away your dignity… why stand for that so long when you could seek the company of the wilderness? But then… oh then, it came to me. You only wanted to get at the blood… and so much more particularly satisfying to know it was of those who had sneered at you and those who had befriended you. Look at me, werewolf. Now."
Lupin obeyed… Sev smiled with an undercurrent of sinisterness. The werewolf's eyes were quite near frantic.
Some small amount of bitterness was soothed. Although he wished Lupin had been broken further. There had been no crying yet. Sev was going for hook, lock, and sinker.
"I'm so sorry to break it to you… honestly was a tragedy."
Lupin, who had probably been worrying about what-ifs for days, was instantly on alert. Physically shaking off the hurt of Sev's previous words, Lupin waited on edge, face blank with terror. "… No… Not Lily and James… they couldn't… Sirius…"
"Sirius. Ah, yes. Sirius." Sev steepled his fingers beneath his chin a moment for extra effect. If he and Black had shared one affinity, it was drama. "I told you, when you had come begging for forgiveness… not out of sincerity, I know, but only from a desire of another fish to fry, more blood to gain trust of before you devoured… didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with your food? Of course, for all of your life you were too inhuman to understand such things… did you ever truly feel for that woman? Poor thing, her… I told you, warned you. Black would betray you all someday. He was as far-gone into darkness as yourself… the two of your equaled each other in evil. And didn't he? Didn't he? The same as yourself… lured the Potters into thinking he was their greatest friend…all along setting the trap to discard them for his own gain…"
Sev did not have to speak further. Lupin was shaking, and not purely from cold. His breath grew shallow and irregular… his pose was of a man shot. Yet he did not speak.
"And – oh dear, dear – Black was not happy to end it just there. Pity they caught him before he could dispose of you into the bargain… perhaps you were spared because he felt a kindred spirit in your own darkness… in any case, he is in Azkaban now. For life. There was no trial."
A small gasp. Lupin looked up at Sev willingly now, questioningly. "No trial? But – they can't – "
"I know of the Fidelius Charm… the same as you. And you deny it. No, no, not Sirius!"
"But… he wouldn't…" Lupin breathed, words inaudible, reminding Sev of thin, withered leaves riding wisps of wind.
"All the evidence is there… if evidence and logic mean anything to your animalistic mind. Or don't you want to believe it? Black did share your likeness to evil, after all… perhaps on some level you care about what happens to him because of your similarity in that respect… you're no better than Black, after all… or no. Perhaps you don't even care for him… if Black could be sent to Azkaban, couldn't you?"
There was only a silence that seemed to penetrate Sev's skin like the coldness.
"Is it honestly taking you so long to understand this all? How on earth do you fool people into believing you are intelligent? They – are – dead. They have died. Potter and Evans and Pettigrew. There is a funeral for the lovebirds tomorrow…"
Finally. Finally, tears formed in the edges of the werewolf's eyes. Sev let the silence drag out, and quite abruptly, Lupin started to cry in earnest, bowing his head, taking quiet but quick breathes to steady respiration and the simple concept of un-collapse. Salty tracks formed on his gaunt face.
"Oh, how pathetic. You needn't feign the tears for me, werewolf. I have you figured out… never suspected Gryffindors wept."
Absently, the werewolf made to brush some away with a finger before the motion trailed off. "I'm not ashamed to cry for them, Severus," he said, chokily yet with the sort of calm conviction that easily drove Sev into a foul mood. Suddenly tears no longer satisfied him.
"Don't even pretend you are crying for them. Or do you honestly believe you are?… it's disappointment, it is. Because you devoted half of your life to the slow, steady process of earning their trust to take their lives, and now it's all thrown away, for naught… you've been beaten to it. You're not weeping for the end of a life… you'd do the same yourself for your advantage, and you will some day… but for the loss of what you've craved so long."
Sev had pushed it too long and too far. Unexpectedly, Lupin's head snapped up. "Do you ever lay off?" he asked, voice burning with a restricted fire that could always make Sev a little unnerved, as much as he hated to admit it, even when you threw in how weak he sounded from the past two nights of transformations. "Don't try to play this card out… it's not going to work. What sort of sick mind have you, anyway? Is this making you happy – their deaths? My pain? Is it satisfying for you to try to expand on it?" His voice began to give out. "Just leave. You've had your fun. Now get the hell out of here, because yes, to your credit, I'm feeling a lot of strain, and I'd really hate to see what happens when the werewolf loses its temper, all right?"
In spite of himself, Sev stared. The werewolf seemed far from broken… Lupin had never used that sort of tone, or language, or referred to his lycanthropy in such a way, even from what Sev had overheard when he spoke with his friends.
I've pushed him over the edge, Sev thought, a little sourly. He'd rather have seen Lupin break down instead of fly into a rare temper, but he supposed that the latter was a greater accomplishment, even if it didn't feel as good to watch. The werewolf had sounded like a teenager – which was in a way fitting, since as a young teen he had spoken like an adult. In an extremely infuriating way.
While he knew he was probably beaten, Sev never bowed out in disgrace. And "probably" was a large word, after all. Even more so than the infamous "if". Sev also never gave up. "Oh, big words we're getting into. Threats, even. See what happens when you lose it? If I keep at this very long, you'll have no qualms about killing me." He made his voice indifferent, although searching for another sore spot. Lupin's bravado, when it came down to the bravado of all Gryffindors, was for the most part purely that: bravado. Bluster. He might say he didn't believe a word, but Sev had seen his eyes. "Probably has even crossed your mind already. You'll never control it, werewolf. Face up to it. It'll always be ready to catch you once – and then twice – and then thrice – and then so on and so on… until you show the true monster I know you are…"
Yes. Instinct had spoken correctly. The werewolf hadn't totally dragged his mind out of the swamp Sev had happily dug for him. His expression said as much, and the words hurt… no, they didn't hurt. But they would haunt him all of his days.
Straight into suicide, Sev hoped.
"And what exactly can you do to me right now?" Sev laughed lightly – a chilling sort of would-be chuckle, he knew. "Do you see yourself? Forget the fact that you're naked and only covered in blood – I'd be far from surprised if it wasn't your own, and even if it is, doesn't it illustrate the point? Even you don't matter… just your blood. Anything to get at it. No matter the pain of digging claws into yourself… and the fact that you have not a wand, and that you are in general completely defenceless, and huddled at my feet in the perfect position to beg for mercy, the option of which I am considering… you're as weak as a kitten. Right now you're fighting against sleep, aren't you? How could anyone be so mindless as to send themselves into this state just to satisfy a crude craving?" No haunting of the werewolf's eyes now. Only hurt borne from shame and loss of pride. Lupin could afford it. Gryffindors had it in excess.
"So go on, werewolf," Sev goaded. "Force me off. Force me from your territory. I'm waiting. Oh, this shall be amusing, quite amusing. I'm sure you must love this place as much as you detest your cage… all this scent of blood."
"I find it sickening… but it's a small price to pay," Lupin said, a desperate attempt to convince his madman tormentor to believe him and simply quit. Sev gave an ironically feral grin at it.
"Oh, I'm sure the part of you that masks itself as human does… but doesn't it excite the werewolf? Maddeningly so? Even now… every so often… you'll catch a whiff of it, and for an instant it smells so right… and then it goes, and maybe you even convince yourself it means nothing, never happened. How long will you live with your delusion that you're as much a person as 'anyone'?"
Sev loved his gift of making everyone listen to and hang on to his every word… it was such a talent, and he'd worked so long to develop it to its fullest. Every second or so Sev saw Lupin's thoughts turn for just a moment to his dead friends… but the lure of Sev's hated but hypnotic words drew him back. The struggle to try and indulge in Sev's factual news was only making the werewolf more miserable. Oh… thank Merlin Sev had that talent of working out what people were thinking – it was so very handy. And Sev loved this. It was nearly every bit as good as he had thought it would be. Revenge so sweet.
Most unfortunately, Sev ran – quite literally – into Albus Dumbledore himself on the way out of the werewolf's shoddy door.
He had been brooding the moment he left that catacomb cellar… wanting more. He had thought he was satisfied… but wasn't. His heart demanded more payment – that filthy mess of a werewolf had come little short of killing him, after all! Now Sev wanted to retrace his steps, go back… produce a silver knife… he had one at his Diagon Alley flat, but had left it so he could resist the temptation to simply kill Lupin and have it done with… slowly drive it into Lupin's skin and make him scream… and cry, no, not just cry, but sob and be driven out of his mind by pain and plead with Sev to stop it, and that he was truly sorry, and that Sev was right, he was Sev had said he was…
Even more than that. He wanted power over the werewolf. The others – they were gone, dead, or as good as – he detested the thought of Lupin going on, slowly recovering as Sev knew he would, for it was hard to deny that Lupin was strong… he wanted Lupin to live in absolute fear of him, in sleepless dread that Sev would show up and start the torture again… torture so horrible and agonising that you never grew complacent about it… so shameful that you didn't dare confess it to anyone, much less ask for help… that he would do anything at all for it to stop, to promise his very self in exchange for a moment of peace…
But it was when his thoughts turned to I want him to call me "master", damn it! that he realised – he wanted Lupin, the killer that had driven him to turn to Voldemort, to feel exactly what it felt like to be hopelessly bound to Voldemort. As Voldemort was temporarily indisposed – by Potter's son, no less, curse the boy and bless him or perhaps the other way around; Sev's thoughts on it were more confused than he could comprehend on that score – Sev was only too happy to take his place. Only on the werewolf that had tried to kill him, of course. He wasn't evil. Just vengeful. Extremely vengeful, in fact… Sev had always been intelligent, and an idealist as a child, and knew his thirst for revenge wasn't quite healthy. But he was not evil.
So while he scowled at the sight of Dumbledore, he was almost relieved. Sev hadn't the willpower to stop from going back to Lupin – this chance was once-in-a-lifetime, after all, and he ought to take advantage of it! – and the thought of becoming Voldemort was rather disconcerting. But even the sight of Dumbledore banished those thoughts with automatic self-defence.
Dumbledore had always managed just by coming into Sev's vision, at least after he had joined Voldemort, to feel inferior, which he hated to feel, and evil, which was worse… after all, Dumbledore radiated all sorts of good pureness. The combination drove Sev crazy at times, quite literally. So his quickly developed knee-jerk response was simply to justify himself. Sev doubted Albus Dumbledore the Good had that effect on anyone else.
Of course, Dumbledore, damn him and be in debt to him forever, knew precisely what he was doing here, as Sev could tell by the displeased tightening of his face. "Severus." All he does is say my name and an apology is half out of my mouth! "I did not expect to see you here."
"The feeling is mutual," Sev shrugged. There was little point in lying. Much like how Black and himself, two opposites, shared rather alarming similarities, Voldemort and Dumbledore, on the very separate ends of the spectrum, could both do little short of reading your mind.
"Severus," Dumbledore sighed, and, damn, Sev felt guilty for even incurring that tired exhale. "Why could you not let bygones be bygones?"
"All I did was inform the werewolf of his friends'… circumstances." Sev's heart pounded, whether from glee or fear of Dumbledore he could not say. "Honestly… it's not as if anyone else had bothered."
"I'm afraid I was distracted by many other matters this morning. But I did wish to be the one to break it to him."
"Early bird gets the worm." Sev bit his tongue, ramming his teeth against it sharply. He had not meant to say that aloud.
Dumbledore gave him a disarming sort of look. "Before you live by that saying, you may want to find if you are the bird or the worm, Severus."
Severus fumed. Sure, be concerned for the werewolf's feelings, but just threw out barbs like that to the worthless Slytherin, why don't you? Something in his chest struggling to get out, and he felt rather sick all the sudden. "Excuse me," he said brusquely. "I have business to attend to as well. Rather important matters, if I say so myself. You know of it. I'll give you details later – after you've finished comforting your whimpering pup."
Even Sev was surprised at his gall as he kept walking. There were few that disobeyed the man. As a matter of fact… Sev felt rather proud of himself. With a pop! he Disapparated from Catacomb Alley, bracing for the task of salvaging contacts with Death Eaters. The day would come when he would need to save this screwed-up world from itself again, after all. Sev would be there. And with the Marauders effectively taken care of, he would have far less distractions and be there even more so.
It was amazing how Snape could try his patience again and again, explore and prod at his limits… and yet Albus could not deny a strong feeling of something close to fatherly love for the young man. True, Severus had always acted rather like a rebellious teenager and likely would be stuck in that stage for the rest of his life… but perhaps it was all the more endearing. You love the people that need you, Albus had long since learned. Snape certainly needed him…
Many of the Slytherins did. Although Snape was undeniably morbid and cruel, he was strong-willed and right-minded, which was such a tough accomplishment when raised in that environment. Yes, a great number of Slytherins did murder and torture ruthlessly, slowly killing their conscience until some were barely recognisable as humans… but then, blame did not rest solely on themselves. It was what most had been taught from the cradle; the rest, from their Sorting… if it was not the influence of their Housemates, it was influence from the ones outside of Slytherin, who pigeonholed them enough that they became what they were called… Society often created its own monsters, as it had tried to do to Snape and Lupin.
Albus stood torn a moment in Lupin's poor kitchen, caught between the two of his students. Severus needed to be talked to… perhaps Albus could find that rare moment when his barriers were down and he could hit a point home to where his heart was carefully hidden from all such blows… and Remus also needed the attention of one of the very few people in the world left to care whether he lived or died. Albus knew – just Snape's stride had told him so, in addition to his crazed eyes and flash of guilt – that Snape had done far more than just "inform" Lupin. He had come with the intention of wringing out as much emotional pain as possible, to appease the starvation of his heart for… well, Snape did not know what, and sneered in his face when Albus told him what he believed it was.
Snape Apparated, seeming to settle the decision. Albus could technically follow after him, but there was time, plenty of it, to talk with Snape… and the moment Albus had entered, he'd heard a strangled sob from the cellar.
Oh, Severus, when will we ever get it to you that you will slowly destroy yourself this way? Albus wondered sadly. With a sigh, he found the trapdoor. He knew Lupin had made thorough preparations for that cellar two years ago – what had probably been a painful, hated task, the building of his own torture chamber, but Albus knew better than to interfere with well-meant help. Lupin would have to do it for the rest of his life, and dependency would help him none.
The heavy stench of blood did not halt him. Unfortunately, he had been in other such situations, terrible as it was. I only hope that one day we can help ease your suffering, Remus. Albus had a habit of talking to imaginary replicas of those he knew, saying to these mental figures what their real-life counterparts would never bear hearing. Carefully but with a worried swiftness Albus clamoured down the stairs; his concerns were only heightened by the utter silence that greeted him.
Great amounts of light would only hurt Lupin's eyes at the moment. Albus waited for what seemed a long moment before his own sight adjusted to the darkness, finally making out Lupin's outline, in a sitting position, head buried in knees and hair concealing his face. He was very still and alarmingly lifeless. Albus stepped past him for just a moment, having spotted a torn blanket in another corner of the catacomb, before hastening to Lupin. Normally using transfiguration to patch cloth together was as reliable as the Ministry of Magic, but Albus was not exactly the most powerful living wizard for nothing, and repaired the tatters to their former state of thick and warm.
It served the dual purpose of shielding Lupin from the cold and covering him to protect his dignity, draping the large, now-repaired blanket around him. Ignoring the threat of blood on his own robes, Albus knelt by him, hoping Lupin was not dead. He had seen it before, more times than he cared to count – where someone was so broken mentally that when they fell asleep, they never woke. It was the equivalent of an emotional concussion. Not helping was Lupin's physical state added to the bargain.
"Remus." Lupin did not so much as stir, so Albus placed his hands on Lupin's shoulders and simultaneously shook and rubbed them. "Remus," he said, with the warm of gentleness and firmness. "I need you to wake up, Remus."
There was a very small, soft sound resembling a faint moan. "Auhm?" Albus was relieved but did not sigh.
"There you go. Remus, it's Albus."
Lupin gradually roused himself, raising his head as much as he could, eyes full of bleariness and exhaustion and pain and questions. Albus was thankful for the latter. If Lupin had questions he had not given up. "Sir?"
"What did Severus tell you?"
It was obvious Lupin would rather not think of it. Albus pressed on; Remus needed to hear of this, needed to have a full understanding of the truth, and not tainted or polished in any way. "T-That James and – and Lily, Peter…" Lupin's voice and words faltered as he groped for the right way to even say it. "Sirius – told Voldemort – " He cut off, growing more shaky under Albus's grip. "It's – It's not…" Looking into Albus's eyes, Lupin arrived at a horrible conviction of the matter. "It is true, isn't it?"
Albus didn't so much as nod in confirmation, as obviously he had somehow said so without a gesture. Something in his own expression, full of sorrow for what had happened, had spoken much more than words could have. The muscles in Lupin's back and neck abruptly failed. Albus kept his hands firm and forced him to sit properly, holding him to the right position until his strength returned. Lupin murmured something even Albus could not discern – even Remus probably hadn't the faintest idea of what he had said. Although he tried to hide his face from Albus, but Albus made him look, to listen fully.
"You need to know the entire story of what happened, Remus."
Lips pressed together, Lupin nodded tightly.
"Sirius did tell Voldemort of Lily and James's whereabouts." It was as hard for Albus to speak as it was for Lupin to listen, and somehow this sentence was the hardest. No one suffered in death – except those left behind to mourn, and grieving was a clean, healing sort of pain. The pain of betrayal was more difficult, as Albus knew too well. How impossible it always seemed at first, as it was now – Sirius Black, the careless, loving boy, full of brains and a gift of ignoring common sense. It had always seemed he had a wonderful quality to atone for every fault. But it would soon be a fact imprinted on his heart; even now, Albus was thinking of Black's name as synonyms with murder and Death Eaters and duplicity.
Quite probably Lupin did not know of this, how he would be as saddened by Black as the rest. It would confuse him – it certainly had Albus – and possibly even disgust him. But in their own way, people like Black died. Died twice, on different levels. But Albus was trying not to digress at the moment. That would be saved for when he was alive, in private, when he could work through his own feelings. Right now there was much to be done, and feelings of others to attend to… and it would make his own hurt more bearable. It had always been how Albus handled his own emotions.
"Two nights ago Voldemort went to their hideout. He has killed Lily and James. I don't know if it was quickly, Remus. They most likely fought. They were never the sort to surrender – and they had Harry to protect. Due to their efforts, Harry survived."
Such a look that came over Lupin's face touched even Albus, who had seen every emotion known to man, at the heart. A cool outpouring of water washed out sorrow that had twisted his mind and features into a wrung rag of grief, a relief that got his breathing in good order again. "Harry… survived?
"Most fortunately, he did." He let this settle for a moment. Too much shock at once might just send Lupin into mental lockdown.
Lupin started crying again. Albus had been able to tell he had been doing so before he had arrived, but he had not shed a tear since he'd awoken. It wasn't outright weeping, simply salt-dewdrops streaming from red-ringed eyes down his unshaven face; he seemed caught between a total breakdown and a smile of relief. Otherwise he seemed calm, but Albus had expected this as one of the possibilities. Even as a child, he had a very contained demeanor. Albus was rather glad to see the emotion.
"That's – That's wonderful, of course – but how could…" Lupin's voice was failing in earnest now. Albus tried to explain it quickly without rushing; Lupin needed rest, deep, healing sleep, to recover in all manners. There was still one more night of the full moon ahead. It was probably be the most difficult Lupin had endured in his life.
"I cannot say," Albus said. "It's remarkable. Remarkable. Even more so, considering… I do believe that Lily and James directly prevented his death, leaving the strength of love and magic behind to protect him from death. Yet there is more to the story. Voldemort is gone."
Lupin did not come near to collapsing this time, but his breathing grew rather heavy.
Albus continued speaking, answering his questions before he could tire himself with the effort of speaking. "You know as well as I do that it is unlikely he is completely dead. But he is disabled and no longer a threat… has disappeared from all Foe-Glasses; those under curses bound to him have been released. Several already had come forth claiming to be under a lifelong Imperious. Seemingly he is far too weak to ever pose a threat for quite some time. The Ministry has announced that his reign of terror is completely over, never to be started again, and most believe it. Even I am planning for the time after we have pushed back the Death Eaters – peacetime. We are in the aftermath now. The war is over, Remus."
Bit by bit, Lupin's breath was beginning to regulate, although he appeared stunned at the idea. Over a decade of little but war prepared no one for the shock – and, for most, the unbounded joy – of peace.
"Unfortunately, even without their leader, some of the more… determined Death Eaters can still wreck havoc. And they have been. Sirius Black is among those." Albus had not yet removed his right hand from Lupin's shoulder, and now felt Lupin shake once – twice – stillness. His own control of emotions was all he had left. Although too grief-stricken and dumbstruck to know it just yet, Remus Lupin was now facing a very lonely existence. Albus knew well there were few, especially in the shockwaves of the war, because those who had lived through it were so very cautious, so very clingy to safety over common sense, who would ever accept Remus again. And even when they did come, Lupin had been burned once, spectacularly so. Never again would he trust as deeply, or throw himself so wholly into companionship… and even when the rare occasions kindness was offered to him, would he learn to accept it? Or would he never again allow dependency on anyone save himself?
It had always taken so little to made Lupin happy… one small sign of affection, whether a clasp on the shoulder or friendly teasing… or seeing someone else celebrating good fortune… or feeling of being needed… and he had been as ecstatic as anyone over Harry's progress in every way. Albus hoped he retained that gentle compassion. He had just tried to speak to – and failed to carry on the conversation – with a young man he had let fall to self-destruction. Oh, there was hope for Snape, certainly. It was never too late. But sometimes there was no way to reverse things but fate, and fate did not cater to anyone. She came and went as she pleased, and mortals could wait for her.
"Apparently Peter was distraught when he heard the news, understandably… and angry, Remus. Very angry. From what I can understand of the witnesses, he had tracked Sirius down to a street in Muggle London and confronted him."
"Oh, no, Wormtail. Why would you – " Lupin swallowed, obviously determined to not let his thoughts become his words. "I'm sorry. Go on."
Albus nodded sadly. "Peter was sad and furious. It is a dangerous combination. I only wished I could have spoken to him soon, but in the scheme of things at the time other matters had to be taken care of first… I certainly never expected Peter to act like that. Whether to capture or kill Sirius I cannot say; we'll likely not find out. Sirius drew out his wand first and used a very powerful curse." He paused. "It blew the street apart. They said it was… it was simply smithereens. The Muggles have proclaimed it a gas explosion, if that gives you an idea of the damage. Naturally Peter did not survive, nor did about a dozen innocent bystanders – Muggles – behind him." Albus was strong for a man of his years, and his hand again seemed to be the only thing holding Lupin up.
But there was nothing else to say. What could you possibly try to comfort with? "But you needn't worry, Remus, they're giving him the Order of Merlin, First Class"? It would be only an insult, most particularly to Peter Pettigrew's memory.
"Sirius did not try to run for it," Albus kept on after a moment. "He is insane already. He stood in that street, unharmed while all that death was about him, and laughed… understandably it disconcerted the Hit Wizards, but even though they hesitated, Sirius did not move. He has been taken to Azkaban for life."
"Severus said there was no trial," Lupin said, rather dully, not as if he were very upset over that detail compared to all the rest of it, but as if it was somehow important. And it was, Albus frowned, thinking of it. There was no doubt Black had committed the crimes accused of him, but there was serious doubt of his mental state… and Albus had never approved of Azkaban. If you sent someone there, how could you call yourselves any different from the prisoners? Azkaban was simply slow murder. Not execution, mind you, but murder – slow, painful murder in the worst way, in body and soul and mind.
"No. There wasn't. He is already in Azkaban." Lupin was wanted for "questioning", too, but this was one of the few details Albus did not think Lupin needed to hear at the moment. He had simply said that Remus was indisposed at the moment. They had known his meaning and had pursued their insistence, saying their lycanthrope experts in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures could handle it. Albus had said calmly that he was not certain where Lupin was and that he had much more to do than to track him down. It was not wholly a lie. He could not be sure of Lupin's innocence, although just the past few minutes with him told Albus that there was no way he was guilty of helping any of the crimes, but their way of interrogating Lupin would be brutal and cruel and akin in Albus's mind to Azkaban, and Albus at least wanted to give him the small favour of not going through it in his current state.
Although visibly fading into unconsciousness, Lupin persisted: "If Sir – Peter and Sirius are… can't take him, obviously… where will Harry be going?" He spoke hesitantly. Lupin would have cared for him gladly, but he was a werewolf and not permitted a ward. It would be something difficult for him to accept. "There is no one – except Lily's sister and her family… but they… they can't…"
"Harry is at the Dursleys as we speak, Remus. You understand that under any other circumstances I would have arranged his care in other quarters, perhaps even at Hogwarts, as Lily was opposed against her sister's family gaining custody of him, but Remus, Harry has just banished Voldemort – who is not dead. At some point, Voldemort is likely to want revenge… and he's very good at getting what he wants. The care of relatives has its own magic to protect him."
Lupin let out a very slow, unhappy sigh. Had he not been so thoroughly exhausted, he might have argued the point. Albus, knowing that he had sent Harry to a hard childhood, was relieved. Nearly everyone had protested and brought up some very good points against his decision, and although he knew he was in the right he felt guilty about it.
"They are not inhumane, Remus. Even had they not feared those who share his abilities so much, I doubt they will truly do any sort of harm to him. I also have contacts in the Muggle neighbourhood to watch for him. They will not beat him or hurt him."
"There are ways to harm people without ever raising a hand to them, Professor."
Albus knew he did not mean they used magic, either. He stared unflinchingly at Lupin, making his point as seriously as possible. Unfortunately, there was too much truth in Lupin's statement to dismiss it or even hide from it. Albus had seen it and Lupin had felt it – all of their respective lives. "We both know that there are," he agreed. "And while I understand you have experienced it and will never forget a moment of any of it, let us not confuse those feelings with the issue at hand."
Lupin flushed a dark red – splotchy coloured from tears and ashenness, but nevertheless he had felt the chastisement deeply.
"Still, you are sadly correct when you point out that Harry will have a tough time of it emotionally. Yet it is only until his first year, only ten years from now. Until then we will trust a number of important factors – the sort of genetics from his own strong parents, the care of those looking over him, the protection left magically from Hallowe'en night, and Harry's own character – to carry him through. We cannot sugarcoat him, Remus, as much as both of us would want to. There is the all-too-likely chance he will one day have to take a burden far larger than this. If he is not equal to it, then many, many innocents will die." His voice softened. "I do not intend to completely neglect him, only to shield him from Voldemort and the celebrity-like status he has gained. He had vanquished Voldemort. That is enough to instantly make him the most famous name in our world, and not only for now. It will be remembered for years – centuries. If there is any damage, what he will find at Hogwarts will help him greatly." A short pause. "You of all people should realise that."
Lupin's reply was very silent, very still. In all actuality, it was not a response at all, except for an involuntary sigh of weariness. His mind was done trying to digest more information.
"It's time for you to rest now, Remus. There is one more night of full moon." Still in a hollow shellshock mode, Lupin seemed to give no indication of this reminder, but Albus saw apprehensive dread deepen his features. "I will return this afternoon before moonrise if at all possible, but I must leave for now. Voldemort has left many details in his wake." Albus pulled the blanket aside.
"Of course, sir. I've done it before. I'll be fine."
"You will be. Lay down and rest." Lupin obeyed, probably not even thinking, for that was requiring too much effort. Albus helped him cover with the blanket from the coldness of the chilly stone catacomb. It would be better for Lupin to wait for moonrise upstairs, where it was somewhat warmer and had clothes and more blankets, but there was no guarantee that Albus would not be detained by some urgent matter and Lupin would simply sleep until it was too late to re-lock himself in the cellar. Hopefully Albus would return, to bring him upstairs for a few hours, to properly heal the wounds outside of the too-dark basement, perhaps to get him to eat something. He shouldn't be coddling Lupin any more than young Harry, but the immediate situation was much different. The strain might be too much, and even through there was in actuality little he could do, Albus had no wish to simply wait and find out how far Lupin's meddle could be tested.
Remus had to assume there were no sudden catastrophes that day, as Dumbledore did indeed awake him later after many hours of sleep that left him little stronger than he had been before. It was painful coming to. There was no short moment of forgetfulness or amnesia of the news. From the instant he was able to form a coherent thought – even before that, when he had forced himself to full consciousness – he remembered everything Snape and Dumbledore had told him with an iron certainness of it. No nightmare. No delusion. No wondering why his skin was covered in tears, far more than the few pain of the transformation brought from him.
Dumbledore had obviously gone through his things, because he came with simple robes, Remus's own. For some reason, Remus felt a flash of annoyance at that – Dumbledore searching through his room and goodness-knows-where else in the small home above. Then he caught himself. After everything Dumbledore had done and still was doing for him, he had little to no right to complain about a thing. Except that he's wrong about Harry. The thought came to him as a taunt; Remus shrugged it off. Irritating voices in one's head, trying to needle you into doing something stupid.
Shaking off the tiredness was easier than the cold. Remus was used to going about pretending that he was not on the verge of collapse with exhaustion – anything to keep what job you managed to wrangle. But the frigidness of the catacomb he had stayed in for over forty-eight hours had somehow squeezed into the spot his bones were supposed to occupy. His fingers were so clumsy with the clasps of his robes that Dumbledore actually had to help him get dressed – or perhaps it would have been more accurate to say Dumbledore dressed him. And tended to his injuries. And been his crutch as he re-learned the process of walking. Had his mind not been heavy with the news of his friends' state of affairs, he would have felt helpless and dependent and in general deeply humiliated. As his mind was elsewhere, he barely noticed.
Getting up the stairs was also an adventure. Remus wound up hitting his head on the silver of the trapdoor, and while he bit back the cry of pain, it did not help his disposition. Then the difference in lighting stung at his eyes. Already he was desperately wishing Dumbledore had just left him be.
"What time is it, sir?" For all he had managed to converse that morning, his voice was being deeply disobliging, so hoarse that only Dumbledore could have made out the words. Remus tried to clear his throat and came up with a mouthful of blood.
"It's three o'clock." Dumbledore could even make his swift sideways glances productive to his process of knocking about people's heads and discovering their secrets. "You have about three and a half hours."
He knew that. How could he not have memorised the exact time down to the minute for each night before the ordeal had even began?
"Also about enough time for a light tea, do you think?"
"Of course, sir." Blearily, he tried to move about his kitchen. Somehow he couldn't remember where he kept anything, and the tea wound up being the hardest thing to locate. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs. Normally he could even put up a better front for his friends, and they had seen him at his very worst, so he had little to hide from them.
Friends. Remus ordered his shoulders to stop shaking, although tears started blurring his vision again. There was a clang of fallen pans behind him.
"It's under the rack. I'm afraid I've knocked your pots over. My apologies."
"At ease," Remus said, giving a quick smile out of habit before going over to re-stack them. He'd need to wash the lot before he used them. "I'm afraid I haven't a great deal in the way of food to offer you," he said, still keeping his face blank, refusing to let either of them refer to the fact that, in all actuality, he would barely be able to feed himself tomorrow after the final leg of the full moon. Afterwards he would need to garner something else. He was out of work again. With the war over, likely he'd be even worse off, not able to help Aurors and Unspeakables with spying work. "But if you have anything in mind I'll see what we have in the pantry."
"I've brought a little over, if you'd wish."
Now the embarrassment did sting. Fifteen minutes, and Remus was already a beggar in his own house. Still his smile, while dampened, remained. "That isn't necessary," he said, a polite lie, keeping his voice even, "but it will also make for a more hearty meal. Thank you."
Dumbledore only nodded, not brushing away the thanks that needed to be said, but also not dragging it out.
"Have a seat, Professor Dumbledore. I think I remember how to work my limbs again." He was acting purely on instinct, automatically going through the motions of courtesy and functioning.
"At ease," Dumbledore quoted him, only half obeying for the next few moments. But he also pretending not to see that a new rush of tears would spill over every few moments, so Remus forgave him that. It was a tiny kitchen; somehow Dumbledore contrived not to make it feel crowded.
"You needn't bother with that," Dumbledore said lightly as Remus began to clean the pans. "You really ought to not overtax yourself at the moment, nor eat a great deal, and I'm not quite hungry. It can wait."
How did that man manage to remain so cheerful in every situation? Remus wondered. He knew he was putting on a rather good show of normalcy, but also wasn't completely hiding the sluggish feeling in every muscle. As for cheerfulness, Remus had temporarily divorced it.
He really wanted some sleep about now.
Instead he found a cup of tea handed to him. Dumbledore had poured it, obviously doubtful of his ability to handle hand-eye co-ordination at the moment. Remus had felt a little less to freezing ever since emerging from the catacomb, but it had been a gradual all-over sort of warming. Immediately his hands and stomach were hot. The rest of his body was cold. It was not an agreeable combination. He set the cup on the table and turned toward finishing the sandwiches.
"Are you sure you're not hungry?" Remus asked, gracious as always, although now it felt reactionary rather than sincere. His own stomach, quite simply, felt rotten, with the combined effect of the transformations and something that had to do with any thought of Lily, James, Harry, Peter – and Sirius. Disturbingly, Sirius most of all.
How could he do that?
He turned his thoughts to the fact that Dumbledore was speaking. "No, I'm quite fine. Sit down, Remus."
Whereas the same words from Remus had been ignored, Dumbledore's utterance of them brought about obedience. He tried to think up something remotely conversational to say. "What has been happening?" Well, so he had failed. "Anything since this morning, I mean?"
"There have been no more outright – tragedies," Dumbledore confirmed, producing a small bag of some vaguely familiar sweet from his pocket. "In fact, as for many, things have settled, and there have been celebrations all over the place. People are dancing in the streets in joy, and that's the first time I've been able to use that term literally. The Ministry is having quite a time hiding the signs of it."
His response was automatic. He had been good at doing that at school when he was thinking and yet keeping up with a conversation, but had broken the habit at Sirius's urging to be more in tune with people. Perhaps because of who had prompted him to full-time attention to others, Remus didn't feel much regret in breaking it. "Any Muggles noticed anything yet?"
"They have, in fact. Luckily they are chalking it all up to natural occurrences with their usual methods of scientific explanations." Dumbledore smiled with amusement. "Stars shooting upward is perfectly aligned with Muggle gravitation, after all, and the owls must be feeling the effect of unnatural amounts of electricity to have suddenly changed their sleeping habits."
Remus had nibbled at his sandwich a bit, and now was sure he had no intention of finishing it. His body was screaming with hunger but rebelled against the thought of actually eating anything. "What about what we're doing?"
"Oh, we've plenty of work." Dumbledore sobered some. "Nearly all the Death Eaters are still running unchecked. It'll be a rather nasty business, capturing them all. And there's the threat that one of them might claim to be the 'new Dark Lord'. When you start feeling better, I'd be more than happy for your help with a few tasks."
Remus had never been one to dwell or brood, but he felt a little ticked that the recent deaths were being blown off so carefully. Still, his answer of "Of course. I'll report to you as soon as possible" was sincere.
Dumbledore was apparently not going to divulge into the details of the said tasks. Instead there were more moments of silence as they ate. Remus nearly finished his tea and considered it progress. The thought of drinking the rest didn't appeal to him, although he was ready for any thought to take his mind off the coming night. It would be a harsh transformation, with the strain of the past two nights alone and the weakness from learning of his friends' deaths. As a werewolf he would be particularly furious. There was the chance of him destroying himself, one he chose to ignore. He really couldn't work up a great deal of worry over the idea of death at the moment. No, he was far from suicidal; Remus had always been sensible to the point of going overboard, but not having to face life was not sad.
The Order. With the four of them gone in all ways that mattered, everyone left would be needed all the more. Remus shook himself. The Order. He needed to be alive – and ready – to help end the fight completely. Concerns on the war had always before been what he had used as his reason for getting up each day, since most people as individuals rejected his very being. Too many people were at risk. They needed to be protected, and their children deserved an actual youth without fear of Voldemort or anyone tarred in the same bush.
"Did you ever try a lemon drop, Remus?"
Remus blinked. "No, sir. I've heard of them… a Muggle sweet, aren't they?"
Dumbledore positively beamed at him. "Yes indeed. Although you'd be surprised how few wizards haven't found the joys of this particular creation. Do try one."
With vague wonderings of Dumbledore's sanity, which most every Hogwarts student went through at least a good dozen times in their life, much more if they knew him well, Remus accepted one of the sticky sweets, eying it hesitantly. Well, it was small, at least. And as it turned out, it had a taste that was both sweet and sour, and it was the first thing so far that seemed to have any flavour for him. Remus couldn't quite call them delicious, but he could see that they were easy to get addicted to.
Thanks to the dual work of resolution to help the Order and the lemon drop, Remus began to feel a bit more alive, and said half as so with a more wholehearted smile when Dumbledore asked what he thought. Dumbledore, bless him, didn't go into lectures but returned the smile, starting to chat a bit about the shop he had first found the wonder sugarsnack in. Remus collected their dishes as Dumbledore spoke of how several witches and wizards and their reactions to his newfound favourites, but the headmaster cut off rather abruptly as Remus turned to the counter. "Remus," he said, "mind the sink."
Only then did Remus see how different the metal of the sink, an old-fashioned basement affair with plenty of room but nothing in the way of style, previously ironcast. He halted, gathering his thoughts and composure. "I suppose it would be best to not turn on the water, either."
"Not until we transfigurate it back. I had intended to do so when I returned but was anxious of your condition. Again, my apologies on that matter. There's quite a bit to go through."
Digesting these words, Remus looked about his kitchen. Nearly every nickel-like metal had been turned to silver. For one horrible moment he felt absolutely trapped, afraid to even move for fear he'd feel something before he saw it. And then he was angry. After all, the little place might not be much, but it was his. That bastard Snape. He had no right to even come in to inform him of anything, let alone do something of this degree.
And then he simply felt disgusted and disgusting, and very close to being sick. Snape had left his reminder good and hard for when Remus awoke, hadn't he, the clever, vicious Slytherin? His words that morning came back to Remus strongly.
He set the plates on the counter mechanically, but couldn't find the inclination to turn and face Dumbledore.
"Remus, I was thinking that I wanted to say something." The young man did not respond. "May I tell you a story?"
Sarcasm returned quicker than any real emotion. "Yes, papa, please do."
The silence Dumbledore returned said a great deal. Again Remus's face burned. "I'm sorry, sir. I – That was uncalled for."
"It was." Neutral tones. Fingers steepled in thought. "Once a young boy was sent away from a very happy childhood home to hell-in-training." Remus listened carefully, already putting his shrewdness to use deducting where this was going. "He had been raised by a very loving mother, and while the widowed woman had a little trouble with other men in her life, the boy was able to ignore this. He was extremely intelligent, had a fondness for reading, and really had a capacity to see things beyond his years, which was both a help and a hindrance."
Dumbledore popped another lemon drop into his mouth and ate it before continuing. "He – and his mother – thought that their decision was a good one. Everyone else did it, and rarely were there any sort of tragedy to mar it, so little that the thought was not even connected to their very natural action. Unfortunately, the rather conniving lad got into a rather sticky situation in it." Abruptly he halted the tale and looked directly at Remus. "Out of curiosity, who do you think this boy is?"
Remus shook his head. "I'm not entirely sure, sir." The guarded answer was all he would give without further prodding – or information.
"Then I'll tell on. Well, as he was not exactly the sort to let setbacks hold him down, he tried to adjust to this. After all, it had happened to others, others he had known of, even. His mother seemed a bit ruffled but not particularly shocked. And there were benefits to this… a few here and there. As for the numerous burdens, at least they couldn't pin him down chronically. And there was always a book to turn to when things got to the point he needed to escape them from.
"Now, ever since the certain event, few had trusted the boy very much, for was he not evil in the making? It hurt him, that was undeniable, and it was unfair, something he had never much liked. But he hid it… rather well. Almost too well. And he allowed himself to make acquaintances of all sorts, some becoming even rather close to him, at least while he was still in his preteens." Dumbledore gave him that swift glance again. "Am I talking of you or Severus?"
It took a moment of consideration.
"As you can tell, your pasts are quite similar, to be so difficult to discern."
"I believe it's Severus. Or both of us." It was the sort of double-talk Dumbledore would employ.
"The second was correct. Beginning as of now, it's the former. As the years in Slytherin went by, the friendships he had formed in his own House and others began to change. Distrust entered them, deep distrust, and it did not help that Voldemort was now commonly known among the wizarding world. He wished to help the effort… but was always turned away. Who wanted a Slytherin's help in it? Why didn't he go back to his own sort and torture Muggles? And those who did believe otherwise… did not speak. For they did not value their classmate's well-being and will above their own fear of rejection if they ever said a wrong word to his own friends."
The words hit home. Remus, abashed, kept silent.
"Those said friends were good people. They were brave, intelligent, caring, and usually acted with the best of intentions. However, as everyone has their little faults, they had theirs as well. And they were blind to their own cruelty to our story's dark horse hero.
"A certain one of this group had a situation very similar to the boy's… so much that one could almost mistake it for the other. He never much partook in these rivalries and hatreds, but also rarely raised a word against them."
Was Dumbledore actually going to say he deserved Snape's actions? Remus immediately felt a bit contrary. His headache did not help matters much.
"Yet he was of good heart as well. This Gryffindor in question was loyal and perceptive and compassionate. Just rather too afraid to speak up. And so the Slytherin slipped from his mind; the Slytherin wasn't greatly important, after all. And perhaps this attitude could almost be justified. The Slytherin had shown he could take care of himself… as the years had gone by and he was repeatedly brushed off, the Slytherin had grown withdrawn and rather moody, and had made it clear he did not want assistance or sympathy or companionship. It was very difficult to break down that front. Some tried during this time… and almost succeeded.
"Unfortunately said Slytherin had a vendetta against said Gryffindors. Some of these Gryffindors had carelessly made one-too many remarks… about his reading habits, about his clothes, about how he carried himself, about his unusual, sardonic sense of humour. As the years went by, it got nastier and nastier. Never mind that they occasionally forgot why they were fighting in the first place. They fought, and continuously. One of the Gryffindors in question, the one who had rarely badgered the Slytherin, had gone through an incident even before the Sorting… one that, unfortunately, due to the misunderstanding of a very large majority of the population, had to be kept in the strictest confidence.
"One of the Gryffindors, one who had been loyal but very temperamental, got into a scrape one evening with the loner Slytherin. The Slytherin had been having a rather rough time of it as of late. His long-held and dearly loved beliefs were slowly being destroyed by the conflicting information he gleaned day by day. His own temper was even shorter than normal, but he and this particular Gryffindor had always matched tempers and temperaments. The greatest difference is that the Gryffindor was a Gryffindor, and thus forgiven and loved. The Slytherin was a Slytherin, and therefore unfogiven and shunned and ridiculed. Both had choices to make, for both were also very powerful.
"On this day the Gryffindor made a wrong choice. Although he claimed that he was provoked, and this was true, as the Slytherin was not without blame in the affair, the Gryffindor had only himself to blame for his own decision. He took advantage of his friend's secret and the trust given to him when he was told of it."
Like Lily and James, Remus thought, breath catching as he considered the comparison. Oh, why hadn't they seen it? He had seen it… and dismissed it. No one else had condemned Sirius for that night very long. He was as far-gone into darkness as yourself… the two of your equaled each other in evil… you're no better than Black, after all… He did turn now, and met Dumbledore's gaze, an unbearably sorrowful one. Dumbledore, for the first time Remus had ever seen him, looked fully his hundred-something years.
"The Slytherin, angry, made a foolish decision. He followed the Gryffindor's bait, and, in his thirst for knowledge, nearly lost his life. The conditioned Gryffindor, who had for years allowed himself to be locked away to face his own personal horrors so as to never harm anyone else, was the only one of the trio that evening who was completely out of control of his actions. Most bitterly of all, the reason the Slytherin escaped is because the most hated Gryffindor of them all, the one who had shown him pity, rescued him.
"Still, what was nearly as bad as the identity of he who had pulled him back was the reaction. In his eyes, the headmaster who had a duty to protect him, his life, and his rights failed him that evening. And perhaps…" Dumbledore now looked very old, very sober. "… perhaps that headmaster did."
"Sir, you – no, you…"
"Remus, my decision was not benevolent to Severus. I can admit that I am not perfect, although it's quite hard to say if there was any perfect solution that night. Severus claims Sirius Black should have been expelled, or at least suspended, that evening, and that you should have been sent away. I did not agree and told him so. Even if there was not the matter of protecting you, for if I had suspended Black I would have been forced to explain the circumstances, I would have not. I thought even then that Black may be lured to the Dark Side… he and Severus were idealists. They had high beliefs. The Ministry of Magic did not exactly embody those beliefs. Black was powerful, as I said – quite talented and intelligent. If I had left him to fight on his own, without benefit of education, it was a near-certainty he would seek refuge with Voldemort, especially with his rashness. And you had no part in this. Due to the aforementioned incident, you had been full of only bloodlust that evening in place of your conscience. Which was in no way your fault.
"Still, it was difficult to explain this to Severus, who was in such a state of terrified shock and fury that he did not want reason. But I shattered his already-fragile self-esteem that night. Severus has not been shy of saying that… I had said tacitly that his life was not worth so much as a point from Gryffindor. It was wholly untrue, of course, but that is what my actions said. His idealism was shattered once more.
"You know this much of the story, Remus. You had played a part in it, and on the night of Black's actions you were affected badly by it. But there is, for Severus, far more to it. I'm wondering if you could tell me it."
Remus took a deep breath and thought. Dumbledore had managed to make Snape come very alive for him – indeed, moreso than Snape himself ever had. "I hope it is not offencive if I am incorrect on this score. Se – The Slytherin, disillusioned by the last of what our side had to offer, was still approached by Death Eaters – possibly even Voldemort himself?" He glanced at Dumbledore, who did not confirm it. "He was very talented – particularly in the Dark Arts and potions. They were willing to play on his emotions. And they showed him a world where his ideals would be upheld, where those who were wrong were punished and those like the Slytherin were not treated as they were under the current rule. Possibly even a promise of revenge against those who had 'tried to kill him' was thrown into the bargain. Severus accepted."
"You are correct. Severus was bought by that promise of a rightful world, of belonging – even of power. But the story is far from done. The Slytherin, who is now left Hogwarts, is, as established, very clever. Clever enough to soon see he was deceived, and that there was no way, seemingly, to get out. And he threw himself into something he never had before: depression. Uncontrollable rage. Self-loathing. A feeling of hopelessness and uselessness. He did not know where to turn, or how to stop, and there seemed there had never been anyone he could trust. His mother died during his schoolyears – and for that he was grateful, that she would never see what he had become."
This was a new angle. Remus had long since suspected Snape of being a Death Eater – but an unwilling one… the idea threw him through a loop. "And now he's free? Since Voldemort is gone?"
"He's been free," Dumbledore said, with such a controlled vehemence that even Remus, who was well acquainted with speaking in such a manner, stiffened. "About a year ago Severus came to me – and it must have taken him all the courage in the world to do so." He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "The Slytherin wanted out – even if it meant the headmaster shipped him off to Azkaban, or had him executed on the spot. He was driven to near-insanity by the lives he had taken and lives he had ruined. Against all prejudice, the Slytherin had a heart. He didn't often wear it on the sleeve… possibly because society glared nervously at him if he did… but he had it. The headmaster could not kill him… for he was more a victim than a victimiser. The headmaster could not extract him from Voldemort's control… because to do so would mean death, and because even if we had pulled it off, it would serve no good. The Slytherin would still be haunted, and always on the run.
"So the headmaster offered him a chance – to fight against Voldemort, to live, and to regain his own self-dignity."
"Snape is a spy?" Remus asked, completely astonished. It seemed unreal… so hard, in the first place, to think of him not being a wholehearted Death Eater, and secondly, that Snape had the courage to do so. He had always been a bit scared of a lot of things.
"Severus is a spy, for our side." Dumbledore paused, seeming to have lost appetite for lemon drops. "Or shall we say, the said Slytherin was a spy… for now he will not be needed much longer. He has given us much information on the Death Eaters already. It shall make the process of capturing them far easier. The Slytherin had suffered the past year, Remus. Terribly so. Few have made the sacrifices he has. Yet simply because his mission is drawing to a foreseeable close does not mean he is able to regain happiness. The Slytherin has become bitter and vengeful. He has fought for those who have cheated him, and it does not sit well with him.
"Last night the Slytherin was proved right. The Gryffindor, the shining star of our side, who was his mirror image, just born a tad luckier, wasted his good fortune and turned to Voldemort heartily. The Slytherin, born to evil and darkness, rose above it. Severus is a very strong man, Remus."
"Yes, sir," Remus said dully, feeling as though the lecture had gone on quite long enough. Dumbledore, however, did not seem quite finished.
"The Gryffindor of the lot who remains, who is being told this morning, is never to tell anyone of these details, of course. It is not something to be discussed again without good reason, although the Slytherin performed a very cruel deed in coming to you. Because the Slytherin is still dealing with past demons, and he is still angry. Anger is a very destructive thing, Remus. So is revenge and hatred. Remus, do not ever, ever begin to fall into that trap, because it shall kill you. You get what you want, and it's all very well and good, but it's an addiction, and it will never satisfy you. Severus's actions this morning – he had little more control over them than you did the night Black sent him down the Willow. You are a strong person yourself, Remus, a good, strong, moral person, not yet tainted by it. Don't let yourself be.
"The Slytherin found himself in the position of having James Potter, the young man who had made him swallow his pride in place of death, dead. Then Peter Pettigrew, another of the hated Gryffindors in question, was also killed – and he had predicted how it would happen. By Sirius Black. Severus had been proved right, and it was such a good feeling to him, I am supposing. There was only one person for him left to avenge upon, to feel as if he had squared the events of the past and could feel glimmers of self-esteem again."
"The werewolf who had almost killed him," Remus supplied, voice rather toneless. He had left the counter, but had not gone quite over to the table; he stood, alone, exposed, before Dumbledore, in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Dumbledore regarded him, in that damningly irritating, searching manner. "Remus," he said gently, but in that tone that commanded attention, "Severus was wrong in his actions this morning. I do not mean to imply that your blind eye at Hogwarts excuses them. But nor am I saying that because he hurt you they are excused."
"I understand that. And he didn't hurt me, sir."
"I am glad you do. I expected little less of you. Still, Severus hurt you… not physically, I daresay, but as you said, one can harm another without ever raising a hand." Dumbledore stood, all the better to look down at Remus but to force eye contact. "What sort of things did he say, Remus?"
Yet another attempt to avoid it was made; Remus shrugged. "It was not a great deal, Headmaster. Rubbing it in about what had happened, saying that he was right about Sirius, a couple of comments about lycanthropy thrown in for good measure."
"Look at me, Remus." There was an emphasis on the first word, not enough to be jarring but firm enough to garner results. "Lycanthropy is a part of you, undeniably so. But never does it make you less. You have overcome more than many others the world over. As long as you do what's right, if you follow your conscience, and care for others… it can only make you better. And for the nights like the one facing you… I do not pretend to be able to fully sympathise. I have never been through it, have never experienced the uncontrollable change of myself into a werewolf's form. Except that I do know that you have accepted large amounts of extra agony to prevent harming anyone else… that you have voluntarily locked yourself, have let go of dignity, placing life before pride, and have accepted the risk of your own life… and that you have made that sacrifice makes you as good as any person whom you might pass on the street, even if they sneer or shy away from you." Dumbledore placed a hand on his shoulders. "I am proud to know you and call you a friend, Remus."
The end of these sentences lowered Remus's head. "As am I to have earned that, sir."
"And now," Dumbledore said, slowly, sadly, "it is getting close to moonrise."
Remus gave a dismayed startle from the unexpectedness. It had not seemed they had taken very long, but a glance at Dumbledore's watch confirmed his words. That "story" took pretty bloody long, he reflected, but not angrily. "Lost track of time," he said ruefully, "but there is still enough left."
"There is one last thing," Dumbledore said. "I do not care for you in spite of your lycanthropy. Love is not selective. I remember how James and Peter and Sirius would call you 'Moony'. We care for you wholly; they did not condemn the wolf you sometimes are, and neither do I. But you have not accepted it as a part of yourself. Until you do… you will only cause yourself more pain, and words like Severus's will hurt more."
This was one Remus really could not wrap himself around. Accept the wolf? The idea was positively ridiculous, of course. Except that… Dumbledore's ideas were rarely ridiculous once you understood them. Remus had learned this through experience and trusted him on that score. But still… not only did "the wolf" cause him excruciating pain; it resembled everything one should not be – murderous and ruthless and unconscientious.
He chose to ignore those words. "If you'll excuse me, sir," he said, a tad shortly, "I need to retrieve my wand. It's buried downstairs, and it never hurts to reinforce the trapdoor."
"I shall see to it."
"I wish to do so myself."
"Can one not almost pity the wolf?" Dumbledore called after him softly. "Secured and cut off from where he would wish to be, kept to starve from what he wants?"
Remus turned sharply in sheer shock, unable to speak.
"It's needed, of course," Dumbledore said, aggravatingly placid. "Certainly we must continue to deny that part of you, and I trust you to do so. Still, it's sorrowful to see anguish in any form."
Deciding that the strain of the past few days had sent the old wizard completely off his rocker, Remus carefully tred down the stairs, face muscles tightening and wincing at the heavy stench of blood, mostly his own. It caused his stomach to begin to lurch again. Kneeling at a remembered portion of the floor, he dug through the dirt ground with his hands until his fingers brushed his wand. It would need a good cleaning after tonight. Chilliness nipped at him, and so he was not as reluctant to make his way back up again, even if it did mean facing the cryptic, quirky Dumbledore, who sometimes frankly scared him.
"I'll leave the rest of the lemon drops here if you wish. There's only about five left, but I've no use for them," Dumbledore offered.
"Er… thank you." Remus made a bit of unnecessary noise while clearing the table, non-magically, as he was used to doing things in the Muggle manner as much as wizarding, considering the time he had spent in both words, and he was still none too fond of reliance. The clatter kept the conversation to a bare minimum. Remus was grateful to Dumbledore, no doubt, but he'd had enough for one day.
In keeping with Remus's declaration, he re-secured the trapdoor himself, although Dumbledore taught him an advanced locking spell. Remus hadn't the time to go through it carefully, as there was a bit less than a half an hour before moonrise, but he made a mental note to look it up later. "I'll spell it from the inside as well in a moment," Remus said, wondering how to give Dumbledore the hint to leave. He was also going to undress before he went down to the catacomb.
"Very well." As always, understanding the situation before it was said, Dumbledore nodded. "I'm afraid I must be leaving now. There is a meeting tonight the Ministry wishes me to attend, and preparations for funerals."
Remus bit his lower lip for a moment, a childish habit he thought he had long since outgrown, before nodding as well. "Thank you for coming, Professor Dumbledore."
Dumbledore nodded again. "The same to you for your hospitality. Good-night, Remus, and good-luck." The statement might have come out as trite and thick from anyone but Dumbledore, who offered a hand and shook Remus's with the slow patience of the wisdom and care that spanned decades. As he was nearly to the door, he turned his head back to face his former student. "Remus?"
"I left some hot chocolate in the kitchen. It shall need to be warmed tomorrow, but it has exceptional flavour. I find it always does me good."
It was returned by a warm smile, lacking the hesitation and misery of the day, although his eyes were still a bit deadened and over bright since the mention of funerals. "Thanks very much."
And Dumbledore was gone, taking along most of the precious little cheer of the place. Remus was determined not to get overly melancholy, however. It would only make tonight more difficult, and he dreaded it as it was, although even when alone his face was impassive to that sort of emotion. He could work his thoughts through the events in the morning, although a chill ran through him as he stripped of his robes, somehow causing one tear.
Honestly, Lupin, get a grip, shall we? If Lily and James and Peter died for such causes – like the brave, wonderful people they are – the least you can do is not to fall to pieces at their deaths. You paid a small price.
No more tears fell. They would come to him, later, but that night his eyes remained dry, even under the clench of the transformation. Physical pain seemed so little next to the blows of the day.
Remus did not know this yet, however, as he shut the trapdoor and locked it tight, both magically and with locks in the dim light of the cellar, except that he almost welcomed the thought of the transformation – real, tangible pain that could feel and burn and give him an excuse to scream instead of this heartache that a finger could not be put to.
The lock sounded a final click. Remus Lupin, as man or wolf, was isolated from the world.