Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
The celebrations lasted for a week.
In the aftermath of Voldemort’s defeat, Severus Snape gave a private deposition to a crowd including his Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, and Bartemius Crouch. Lucius Malfoy was also granted private interview, and returned home to his manor and his family chastened, but in retention of his lands and his position of governor. Sirius Black, spy, traitor, and murderer, went to Azkaban without trial, convicted by a world eager to avenge the years of Voldemort’s reign of terror.
In the aftermath of Voldemort’s defeat, the name of Harry Potter became a by-word for safety and freedom. His whereabouts were secret; it was said that Dumbledore knew, and refused to tell even the Ministry. The wizarding world began to reconstruct itself. Aurors packed Azkaban with Death Eaters, or killed those who refused to go quietly. It was a time of vicious triumph. And when, at last, the world began to settle again, and life returned, slowly, to the way it had been before the likes of Voldemort, people did their best to forget. Malfoy emerged from his manor after a year of silence. When Professor Turbute retired, Severus Snape was allowed to succeed him. Dumbledore’s school became packed with students. Diagon Alley expanded, and Hogsmeade disbanded the curfew.
A plaque was installed in the back stairwell of Tom’s Leaky Cauldron, where, it was said, a Death Eater had been cornered and captured. Simple brass mounted on cherry wood, it listed the names of those who had died or gone missing during Voldemort’s rampage. The Potters and Peter Pettigrew were boldly embossed at the top of the plaque; among the names listed were a former professor from Hogwarts, and his lost apprentice. One of Tom’s bartenders discovered the flowers one night, going back to fetch a barrel of port wine. He reported it to Tom, who thought it a kind gesture, indeed. For years after, flowers appeared, and trinkets left by guests or passerby. Tom closed the closet at the back of the stairwell and arranged the gifts on the stairs himself.
The day came when children were born who had never known Voldemort, who listened wide-eyed to stories about the dark lord and who knew him only as “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Those children anticipated the day they would go to Hogwarts with the famous Harry Potter, vanquisher of evil. They frightened each other with tales of Voldemort’s return, and held their breath when they passed graveyards, clutching charms to ward off hexes.
And years passed.
He never raised his voice with the students. He intimidated through his silence and through cutting commentary, shrivelling their mischief in its inception.
He’d yelled, just once, shouting furiously at a stupid child who spilled a cauldron full of boiling ragweed. He’d thrown up later, unable to rid his mind of the vision of the boy’s fear.
He lived a solitary life, confining himself to the dungeons at all times, emerging only for meals and then only on the insistence of the Headmaster. He tended a few experiments, read scholarly journals, avoided the newspapers. He kept to his small apprentice quarters, never moving to Turbute’s larger space. He spoke little, punished himself with silence.
At night, he dreamt of her, and he woke with her name on his lips. He hated her, but forced himself to remember her. He pictured her, her skin pale, her hands still and her red hair spread out shining over the satin lining of her coffin.
He’d told Crouch that he hadn’t known of Voldemort’s plans to track down the Potters. He hadn’t known about traitorous Sirius Black. He’d said that he wished with all his heart that he had known.
Sometimes, when an owl flew too near and was just that right shade of grey and ghostly white, a hollow spot opened up in his chest.
Dumbledore came to him, one day, and in his aged hands was a small casket. He set it on the desk, and removed the lid, and said, ‘These items are... unsuitable for her Muggle kin.’
His eyes were drawn helplessly to the contents. His voice came out hoarse. ‘Why give them to me?’
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. ‘Who else, Severus?’ He set the lid beside the casket, and stepped back. ‘You may hold them for her son, when he comes of age. But I believe some will have more significance for one who was her friend.’
There were two rings among the assortment of enchanted belongings. The wedding ring, he left for her infant son. The other he did not know, a plain silver ring with tiny engravings, though the spell signature seemed oddly familiar. He puzzled over its function, but never disturbed it with experiments. The band was too small for the width of his fingers, but he wore it in a pocket, until, eventually, he forgot it. A house elf discovered it at the bottom of the laundry, and used it to balance a short table leg.
She was the daughter of Kentley Shaklebolt. Her skin was the rich brown of caramel melting over the stove. Her forehead was a little too wide, and her mouth frowned more often than it smiled, but her hair, black and tightly curled, was always elegantly modest, and she had very fine wrists, chocolatey on the top, a paler tan beneath. She initiated their conversation, for it never would have occurred to Severus to do so. She offered him tea one day– he was a frequent customer at Kentley’s Alchemy in Diagon Alley– and served him conversation about the weather over tisane. The next week it was an exotic oolong, and he interrupted stilted comments on a passing rainstorm to express his admiration for the exquisite bouquet. It was always oolong after that.
Her brother had been one of the Aurors on the Voldemort Case, as it was called. Severus hardly knew an Auror who hadn’t been. He regarded Severus with suspicion, and when he discovered the weekly teas, Severus could hear Kingsley shouting from behind the iron-oak storeroom door. He felt oddly triumphant when she merely tossed her head and invited him to come any day he liked. And he did, just to prove he could, and when he did, he brought her a passet of darjeeling he had whimsically wrapped with a snip of ribbon. It had been only an impulsive little touch, but her fingers lingered on his as she accepted the small cloth bag, and he saw the considering look in her eyes. It made his stomach tingle.
She was nothing like Lily Potter, and in a way he was very glad for that. Their courtship was very proper, almost passionless, and in a way he was glad for that too. When he walked with Adamma, they rarely touched, though sometimes he gave in to the urge to take her wide, long-fingered hand in his. Her kiss was slow and considering, her eyes half-open and cool, but her smile was warm. When they went to bed together, in her white-washed and flower-strewn room, they lay awake afterwards and talked quietly until late in the night, and he thought he might love her.
He asked her about marriage, because he thought he ought to, because he felt he owed her at least the consideration, and when she only laughed he tried not to feel too slighted. And in fact he was glad for her practicality. Since Professor Turbute had retired Severus had been in Scotland nine months of the year, and any relationship would be, at best, strained by the distance. They would have summers together, and holidays as well, and that was enough for two private and busy people.
‘Are you my mistress, then?’ he asked her once, amused by the notion.
‘If you like,’ Adamma had replied. ‘It’s what every father wants for his little girl.’
And indeed, it had put frost on the wall already existing between Severus and Kentley Shaklebolt. Kingsley made his opinion known, but agreed not to interfere, a decision that startled Severus into half-way liking the glowering man. Almost.
It was a good arrangement, and Severus was content. At times, he was even happy, and that was well enough indeed.
He looked up to find his father standing in the doorway, and hurried to wipe his eyes. ‘Dad. How long have you been there?’
Samuel managed a smile. He nodded to the opened trunks and old luggage that littered the attic floor. ‘Going through your mother’s things?’
Benjamin shrugged, uncomfortable sharing something he’d wished to be private. ‘I thought I’d just... organise. For the move.’
His father left the doorway and crouched beside him. He lifted a dress from the trunk, running the faded cotton over his fingers, tracing a flower. ‘You shouldn’t have to do this alone.’
‘It’s all right.’
Samuel sighed, and dropped into a chair, still holding his wife’s old clothes. ‘Do you mind? London? Leaving all your friends, your school–‘
‘It’s all right, Dad.’
They sat in silence. Ben sighed, and reached into the trunk again, pulling out cracked and broken picture frames. ‘She always saved everything,’ he muttered. He set them aside, in the pile meant for the garbage. A shard of glass fell and clanked loudly. Ben lifted the frame again, meaning to pull out the rest of the glass before it could break, and saw there was still a picture. He rubbed at the dust with his thumb, cleared enough to see a young face– two young faces, boys, in Sunday best, smiling for a photographer. He blinked as the picture seemed to waver, blur... But perhaps it was just a trick of the light.
He rose, and showed the picture to his father. ‘Do you know who they are?’
Samuel glanced, then looked sharply again. ‘Where did you get that?’
‘The trunk. What’s wrong?’
Samuel tore out the backing of the frame and removed the picture. ‘They’re just... I don’t know, Ben. Just people your mother had pictures of. Relatives.’ But he pocketed the picture, and gave Ben the frame, without quite meeting his son’s eyes. He stood. ‘Don’t stay up here too long. Your mother would have liked you to spend some time with the family.’
Samuel looked back from the door, strangely wary.
‘Why didn’t any of *her* family come?’
Samuel’s hand went to his pocket, protective, it seemed, of the picture. Ben wondered. Samuel said, ‘Your mother didn’t have any family left alive. Please come down to the wake, when you can.’
Mahmoud gestured for a new drink, and took it with him to the far end of the bar. He’d watched the man sitting there for nearly a full hour now; twice the man had turned away conversations, and he hadn’t ordered anything since the tequila he had nursed to nothing. But Mahmoud had cracked tougher nuts, and he liked the looks of this one.
The man was forty, maybe forty-five, hair grey at the temples but still thick and curling. He wore a black jumper that was a few decades behind in style, and dark trousers. He wasn’t precisely handsome, but his face was appealingly thin and carved. And he had good-looking hands.
‘Young Americans,’ Mahmoud announced, sliding onto the stool beside the man, setting his drink on the counter. ‘I don’t care if the man did enough smack to down a horse. Damn fine musician. Not bad-looking either.’
He got a look. Startled look. Very pale eyes, grey probably, and far too open for someone who had, if one could judge by looks, to be at least Mahmoud’s age if not older.
‘David Bowie,’ Mahmoud elaborated. He gestured vaguely to the insistent noise of the stereos. ‘Not a fan? You must be the only one in the past two generations.’
At last the man spoke. ‘It’s good music,’ he said softly, almost too softly to be heard over the speakers.
‘I’m Mahmoud.’ He extended a hand, and the other took it, a stronger grasp than he’d have guessed. ‘Not from around here?’
‘I– no. I’m Remus.’ Remus slowly dropped his hand.
‘Unusual name. Let me guess– parents were hippies?’
He earned a new blank gaze. ‘I’m sorry,’ Remus answered. ‘My English– it’s been a long time since I spoke it.’
Native speaker, then. They didn’t come into the cities often, but Mahmoud had run across enough to have hired on a Welsh-speaking nurse. ‘No worries.’ Mahmoud sipped away the foam head of his beer, and wiped his upper lip with the back of a hand. ‘Ac yn siarad ychydig hefyd.’
He got more than he’d bargained for, when Remus returned his offering with a quick spatter of words that exceeded his slender vocabulary. Embarrassed, he was forced to hold up a hand to halt things before it got worse.
‘I’m far from fluent. I’m sorry.’ He saw the disappointment, and tried to patch it. ‘But,’ he added, ‘I’m game to hobble on. Now that I’ve got you started, I’m afraid to let you stop.’
He was working hard enough at being charming that he was proud to see Remus smile, albeit reluctantly. It was enough encouragement for him to ask, ‘Let me buy you another drink?’
‘You don’t know anything about me.’
‘Don’t I?’ He signalled for Pritchard at the tap, and looked back at Remus. ‘Let’s see. We’ve established names– I’m Mahmoud, you’re Remus– we both like David Bowie; you’re Welsh and I’m not, though I’m sure we can overcome that little hiccough. I’d say we’re well on the way to friendship, and the beer ought to take care of the rest.’
The smile was more genuine now. Remus looked away to hide it, but Mahmoud had seen, and didn’t trouble to conceal his own grin.
Pritchard brought Remus a Pilsner and took away the small tequila decanter. ‘Are you picking me up?’ Remus asked, his eyes on the glass.
That was cutting to the chase with a vengeance. ‘I’m going to give it a smashing try,’ Mahmoud admitted. He hesitated, then returned directness with directness. ‘Are you going to let me?’
Remus put the beer to his lips and drank, a deep swallow. For courage? Mahmoud wondered. But the pale eyes that turned back to him were steady, and the decision was in them as plain as day. ‘Don’t think I’m easy,’ Remus told him. ‘You’re definitely going to have to do better than one drink.’
Mahmoud grinned, and saluted the man with his own mug. ‘Point taken, my friend.’
‘Are you all right?’ he asked, disturbing the sleepy quiet of the very early morning.
‘Alla i ddim cysgu.’ Remus let out a sigh, and turned onto his stomach. Mahmoud looked to him in some anxiety, but the other man’s face was unworried, content. Reassured, Mahmoud relaxed, brushing his palm over the dimpled arc of Remus’s spine.
‘This is an intriguing tattoo,’ he observed. He traced the lines of green and blue that decorated the sharp right shoulder blade of Remus’s back. ‘Must have hurt like fuck. It’s huge.’
In the dim light escaping the gaps in the doorway, he could see Remus’s teeth show in a smile. ‘It did.’
‘When did you get it?’ A tree, he thought it might be. Or a branch, with a bird resting there. But very stylized, like the old Celtic stuff that was getting popular again. Running his fingers over it, he felt the uneven surface skin of old scars. Three, he decided. He’d been on emergency rotation long enough to have his fill of bullet wounds. He hadn’t missed that life.
‘My lieutenant did it. After my first engagement.’
‘You were in the army?’ That explained the bullets. ‘Or are you still?’
‘Not anymore.’ The shoulder twitched under his fingers, the branch moved in an invisible wind as Remus shifted in the bedsheets, a pale arm emerging from under the pillow. The quiet voice chased it. ‘I hated it.’
He was oddly relieved by the confession. ‘I never had stomach for fighting, myself,’ Mahmoud said. He lay back, staring up to the ceiling. Candidly, he admitted, ‘That’s why Wales. In part, anyway. I hate it there, in Palestine. I feel shamed every time I even think it, but it’s true. The fighting– the dying, for nothing, for revenge.’
Remus’s eyes opened, gleaming just a bit where the light reflected. ‘You’re a doctor,’ he said softly.
He knew what Remus meant. ‘I’d do more good there. They need good doctors.’
‘They need good leaders. You can’t stop a war.’
It was a raw subject, spoken so softly in the night, as if they were afraid to say it loudly. He decided not to reply, but said instead, ‘Can I see you tomorrow? Today, rather?’
A long pause followed his request. ‘Do you want to, then?’
‘Yes. I have to go to work, but we could have breakfast. Dinner, too.’
An almost-silent chuckle.
‘Well?’ He squirmed onto this side, raised himself up on an elbow. ‘I admit that all I’ve got for breakfast are beans and stale scones, but it’s yours, if you like. Enough tea to drown an elephant. I’ll take you out to dinner, good and proper.’
‘You don’t know anything about me.’
‘’Sdim rhaid i ti boeni am hynny,’ he answered drily. ‘I think we’re rather beyond that particular modesty.’
He got a real laugh this time. ‘O’r garau, ‘te. Brecwast. Pam lai?’
‘I don’t remember this many stairs,’ Remus muttered to himself. The children had long since left him behind, rushing for their trunks and the feast inside. He puffed along, hauling his suitcase and developing a stitch in his side. A tall, black-robed figure waited impatiently for him at the doors. He knew who it was, and that didn’t precisely encourage him to hurry. When he reached the head of the steps, reluctantly straightening, he abruptly forgot his plans for a suave greeting. Instead, he nodded a hello.
‘A triumphant return.’
He shifted his case to offer a hand. ‘Severus.’
Snape was taller than ever. His back was painfully straight, and his arms remained folded inside the enveloping black cloak he wore. The nose was familiar, and the black eyes that peered down that overlarge nose. Remus had told himself to expect the coldness and distance he saw in this man’s expression, but he couldn’t prevent the flash of hurt that stung his stomach.
‘Hardly triumphant,’ he replied, lowering his hand. ‘But welcome, I hope.’
There was no answering flicker across the haughty face. ‘The popular rumour was that you had finally died. You will be sure to disappoint no few of our old classmates.’
Remus smiled. If Severus was taking the trouble to spar words with him, it couldn’t be as bad as it looked.
‘I shall have to owl them immediately,’ he answered lightly.
Severus lowered his arms, sweeping the hem of his cloak back. ‘Dumbledore informed me of the Dementors on the train.’
‘Was anyone hurt?’
‘A little frightened, thanks,’ he said. ‘But all the children were fine.’
That won him an ungentlemanly snort. Then Snape turned abruptly and began energetic strides in the direction of the school. Remus caught him up easily, but found the pace wearing, and knew as soon as he drew a fatigued breath that he had been tested. So this is how it’s going to be, he thought, grimly. Well, he would play.
He touched a sable-clad arm. ‘Take it a bit slower? I’ve been– ill.’
‘Still calling it that?’ Severus halted. There was the sneer, the one Remus had feared seeing since Dumbledore had told him who exactly taught Potions. Severus was as predictable as himself, in some ways.
‘There is no reason not to,’ he countered.
‘Where one goes, will the other follow?’ He stepped closer, bringing them eye-to-eye. ‘Shall we expect Sirius Black to come beating on your door? I wonder, will you let him in? It’s been twelve years.’ He pushed his face close to Remus’s. ‘He must miss his–‘
‘Lover?’ Remus smiled, but it was stiff and he couldn’t maintain it. ‘You’re not the man to lecture on mistakes, Severus.’
‘Ah, Remus.’ Did he imagine the amusement in Dumbledore’s husky voice? Remus shifted his gaze up the steps to the Headmaster, florid in handsome summer robes and twisting the tip of his beard around a finger thoughtfully.
‘Headmaster,’ he replied, and bowed. When he straightened, Severus was gone.
Albus gestured. ‘Come inside. Tea is waiting, and I would like to talk with you.’
Installed in a leather armchair with hot tea and a cucumber sandwich plate near at hand, Remus watched the Headmaster feed slivers of potato to his songbird. Albus smiled at him, and said, ‘It is good to see you back at Hogwarts, Remus, under kinder circumstances than last.’
‘You’re too polite, sir.’ He sighed, and bit into a sandwich. ‘Did you know about the Dementors coming on the train?’
Dumbledore’s geniality faded. ‘I did not. Most unfortunate.’ He retired to his desk. ‘Your missive was terse. No students were harmed?’
He lowered his half-eaten sandwich. ‘No permanent harm. Harry... was thrown into something of a fit.’
The Headmaster’s head came up. ‘Harry?’
‘I gave him chocolate. It seemed to dissipate the affects.’
‘That was quick-witted of you.’ The old man seemed to relax. ‘We’ve had our share of scares with young Mr Potter.’ His gaze was soft. ‘He looks quite like his father.’
‘No.’ Remus cleared his throat. ‘It’s Lily. He looks like Lily.’
Dumbledore smiled. ‘I am glad to have you in his company. I hope you are as glad to be in his.’
‘I knew what you had in mind when you asked me to come.’ He finished his sandwich, and pushed the plate away. ‘Albus... you asked me to come on permanently. I don’t know if I can do that.’
‘You have other plans?’
‘You know I don’t,’ he replied softly. ‘It’s just... Being here. Under the circumstances.’
Dumbledore was buried to the moustaches in a tea cake. Innocently he murmured, ‘You mean, Sirius Black?’
He looked away. ‘Among other things.’
Dumbledore set aside his treat, dusting his hands on his robe. ‘Well. I won’t attempt to dissuade you.’ A mischievous twinkle entered his blue eyes, sparkling behind his half-moon spectacles. ‘I shall rely on the students to prey on your more vulnerable sensibilities.’
He smiled himself. ‘Please don’t, Headmaster.’
The old man laid his hands flat on the desk. ‘I will make no decisions on your employment, as I hope you will not. Now. On to more pleasant things. The professors have a standing wager; our Mr Flitwick has been hovering around Minerva for some three years. Care to enter the pool for fall term? A date before Christmas?’
‘I’d be willing to offer extra points if you do make-up work,’ Lupin was saying. ‘How about re-writing the essay? I can’t give you full credit but I’ll add to your current mark.’
Ron Weasley was looking downcast. ‘Thanks, Professor.’
‘Lupin,’ he interrupted, halting before the pair. Weasley jumped, and Snape enjoyed a surge of satisfaction in that reaction. ‘A moment of your precious time.’
Grey eyes flickered over him. ‘Of course,’ Lupin replied, with utmost courtesy. ‘Ron,’ he added, ‘You can have til Monday on that essay. I should be in my office most of the day when you get a chance to deliver it.’ He lifted a hand to Weasley’s shoulder. ‘Run along. I can smell lunch from here and I’m sure you’re starving.’
‘Sure.’ Weasley was staring at Snape, not at Lupin, and he had that blasted look on his freckled face. So suspicious. Did Weasley think he was going to disembowel someone in the hallway? Snape levelled a glare from behind frowning brows, and the little turkey took his leave. He had the nerve to keep his eyes on them until he nearly walked into a statue.
‘You always did have a flair for the dramatic,’ Lupin said softly. ‘There’s no need to glower. I assure you that everything is on the up-and-up.’
‘I missed your wit,’ Snape retorted. ‘As much as I missed your interfering ways.’
Lupin relaxed into a smile– no, not relaxed. Snape didn’t miss how the shorter man’s shoulders were bunched beneath the deep green of his cowled robe, or that his hands were hidden in the folds. Lupin had never learnt his way out of such childish, revealing gestures.
‘A moment of your time,’ Snape repeated. ‘There is something I want to show you. Accompany me to my laboratory, if you please.’
‘Of course,’ Lupin said, and fell into step with him. Snape, watching out of the corners of his eyes, saw the thin-lipped mouth fall open, and forestalled the comment he knew was coming by raising his hand. He looks so old, he thought. ‘In silence.’
Lupin closed his mouth. His hands fumbled for each other behind his back, and the bony fingers wrung together.
The walk to the dungeons seemed much longer today. Snape was vastly relieved to see the thick wooden door that heralded his private laboratory; he was also reluctant to enter, strangely reluctant. He hesitated, actually hesitated with his hand on the thick iron rung. But then he cursed himself for stalling, and threw open the door.
‘I’ve been researching this monthly potion of yours,’ he announced to the air before him, striding toward one of the desks, now piled high with scrolls and books. ‘I want to cut back on the amount of wolfsbane. Given your history with it I deem it unwise for you to develop a habit of using it.’
Lupin had come only a few steps into the room, and stood before a bookcase lined with the instruments of Snape’s chosen art. His hand was running lightly over stoppered bottles and cunningly blown glass measuring implements, barely disturbing them. ‘Is that so,’ he replied, after so long a pause Snape had begun to wonder if he were so involved with his lollygadding that he hadn’t heard.
‘That is so,’ he snapped, and slapped a tome against the edge of the desk. He caught Lupin’s flinch, and was satisfied when the werewolf turned and gave him due attention. ‘This,’ he said, holding up the book, ‘offers you an alternative.’
Lupin’s pale eyes strayed from his face. ‘Is that so.’
Snape felt his temper rising and fought to repress it. The only thing that would make this discussion worse would be repeating it, if a shouting match drove Lupin away. ‘I believe,’ he husked, ‘that it might be possible to substitute a depressant composite. It would simulate sleep; or excessive weariness, given the strength of y– of the wolf form.’
Lupin shook his head. ‘When I was a child, my parents attempted a sleeping draught. It more than did the job for me, but... the... wolf shook off as if it were water off a duck’s back.’
He already knew it would work; he well remembered the day he’d tested it on a boy who did not remember he’d done so. He said, ‘You will forgive me for not trusting the memory of a child as to the exact components of that sleeping draught. And this will be no ordinary sleeping potion. That which you consume presently is a careful balance meant to counteract many different elements of the transformation. This is a substitute of one component for another which, if I may remind you, is killing you.’
His voice had risen, and the words ‘killing you’ seemed to echo. The slightest chill of embarrassment touched the back of his neck.
Lupin at last looked up. ‘Forgive me,’ he said.
He straightened, cut. ‘No.’
For a moment Remus hesitated. But then resignation settled over his face, leaving him looking weary and ancient. ‘Forgive me someday,’ he amended softly. ‘I... won’t ask why. Perhaps I don’t deserve it. But– I miss my friend. I think you were the best friend I ever had, faults and all.’
His throat closed. He told himself it was with fury. ‘Get out.’
‘No.’ Remus sighed. ‘You want to come over, tonight?’
He felt choked. ‘You walk in here after more than a decade and expect everything to be as it was?’
‘I walk in here after more than a decade and I expect to damn well try, Severus.’
‘Get out.’ He grabbed a glass decanter to busy his hands, to occupy his vision. He thought Lupin would not leave, would try to fight it out– but he left.
He set the decanter aside, and found his hands were shaking.
Lupin’s spartan apartments were dim and quiet, the only noise the healthy fire burning in the hearth. Severus nudged the open door, and it creaked, announcing his presence irrevocably.
Lupin appeared from the bedroom, his hair wet and his shirt clinging damply to his thin chest. His expression was momentarily blank, before a tentative smile lit it. ‘You came,’ was all he said.
Severus’s voice came out harsher than he meant it to. ‘I’ve brought a test batch.’ He held up the small cauldron he carried. ‘I know the moon isn’t scheduled for some ten days. But that’s only five to see that this works as well as can be expected.’
The grey eyes, darker in the low light, faded. ‘Ah.’ He gripped the door, and brought it fully open. ‘Please come in, then.’
Severus brushed past him, and strode to desk. He pushed aside a stacked pile of rolled parchments and set his cauldron down with a satisfying thunk. He watched Lupin bend to collect the parchments as they spilled over the side of the desk, and allowed himself a small smile. He looked round the apartment, and was somehow surprised to see an old Slytherin pennant over the hearth. He’d supposed that the green robe was a tribute to Remus’s Master Asper, not to Slytherin itself. Acknowledging the irony of it all, he wondered if Potter had guessed it yet.
‘Do you need a cup or something?’ Lupin asked, tolerantly dropping the parchments into his chair. ‘Or a spoon.’
The man left, and returned from what seemed to be the bathroom with a small handled glass. He held it out silently, his eyebrow raised. Severus took it, dipped it in the softly simmering cauldron, and shook open his kerchief to wipe the rim. He handed it back to Lupin, who gazed into its contents dubiously.
‘Drink it,’ he snapped. ‘It’s no different from that concoction you take now.’
‘That’s what I’m afraid of.’ Lupin sighed. ‘Cheers,’ he muttered, and drank. Sweat had broken out on his temples by the time he finished, and his upper lip was damp with perspiration. His chest heaved, and Snape moved a step forward, watching closely.
Lupin’s eyes opened, and he thrust the cup out solidly into Severus’s hand. ‘Does it compare with your memories?’
‘The taste is proportional to your sass,’ he replied.
‘It’s no-where to go but up.’ He wiped his face, brushing his hair back from his forehead. ‘Should I let you know if I experience any untoward symptoms?’
‘Do. Anything out of the ordinary.’
‘Done, then. Stay the night.’
‘No, damn you.’ He tossed the cup to the desk. ‘Where were you all those years?’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Yes. I want to know how you managed to escape the Ministry, after setting them on me.’
The silvery hair tossed as Lupin laughed suddenly. ‘Never tell me you didn’t earn it, my very dear Severus. I notice you keep your sleeve buttoned tight.’
He curled his hands to fists, incensed. ‘Don’t pull that sanctimonious shit with me, Lupin. You toyed with the Death Eaters too!’
‘But I never joined them. And that’s the real difference, Sev, between your crime and mine.’
The urge to commit violence had rarely been so strong in him. He whispered, ‘I spent years hating you.’
A sweet smile curved Lupin’s mouth. ‘I know. Sometimes I even hated you back.’
When he could speak again, he said, ‘You’ve changed. You don’t even speak the same. Where were you?’
Lupin’s eyes were distant when he looked into them, seeing things he knew the man would never share. Lupin drew in a sudden breath, and said, ‘Please stay the night. I want you to stay the night.’
In the warm room, the fresh sheets rubbing the bare skin of his chest, Lupin stretched out not opposite, as had once been their habit, but beside him, facing him. He took Severus’s left arm, and traced the tattoo with cool, dry fingertips.
‘I missed you,’ he said.
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