For all Joy wants Eternity
He didn't hear the door behind him open.
Feeling the first caress of smooth coolness against his brow, promising like a soft, refreshing breeze, Severus leaned further forward, slightly turning his head, until he could feel the window's glass touching the entire left side of his face. The warm moisture of his breath, which was partially reflected from the pane stroked his lips and tickled his nose. Slowly closing his eyes, the Slytherin let himself get carried away, got completely lost in those sensations, desperately trying to close himself off from the silent but forceful struggle against the familiar paranoia that had broken out inside him. Tried to ignore how reality, his reality, steadily rose along with the morning sun, merciless as a seething tide, rose until it would have drowned him anew in the inevitability of his existence, when...
"Good morning, Severus."
...when something inside him snapped.
Every single nerve, each muscle, his entire body immediately reacted with a speed and vehemence that gave alarming evidence of the sheer horror which had taken possession of the Slytherin the very moment the voice had registered upon him. The cold shower of terror that washed over him flooded his insides, hurled his guts up violently against his contracted throat and left his heart twitching helplessly in an iron fist of icy fear that sent its freezing breath through Severus's chest with the force of an avalanche. In a split second, all the physical and mental horror that had so often been announced by the unexpected sound of a certain bodiless voice crept all over his skin and soul, irresistibly taking hold of him. Helplessly, desperately he had to watch how his quivering consciousness resignedly submitted to the one it thought would be waiting for him, and to what was to come. Not able to summon the necessary strength to keep his body from complying with submission while seized by the customary, breathless fear, the spy had already accepted his legs moving him around, had begun to search for the remnants of his pride and now steeled himself for the hated sight of those gleaming red slits and the cruel grin he waited to be greeted with.
And he turned around for good.
When his eyes finally registered the source of those words, he was unable to tell exactly what it was that brought him closer to tears than anything other than Voldemort's cruelty had managed. Nothing since Albus's gentleness had actually made him cry, that night down in his dungeons. Maybe it was because now, he was faced by the same tenderness that had wrapped itself around him then. Tenderness that was shining in and flowing from eyes that were meeting his, eyes that didn't hold the slightest shimmering of red. Or maybe it was the warmth in that smile, the affection and shyness, yes, shyness, that were dancing around those lips at the same time, unbelievably enough. An honest, caring smile, not the cynical, grinning parody his persecution mania had made him expect.
Maybe it was just blinding relief that it was not Voldemort here in the same room with him.
When Severus thought about that moment again later, though, he became aware of the true reason for the powerful emotions that had overwhelmed him, just as suddenly and without any warning as the terror had previously. It had not been merely blind gratitude to have found himself not in the Dark Lord’s presence. Of course he had been profoundly grateful to realize that he had not awakened to his nightmares coming true yet again, but what he felt over and above that had gone so much deeper, had lit even the most forgotten spots of the darkness inside him, had warmed him like a blazing, welcoming fire.
And he would know that he owed all of it to the presence of the very man who had been standing there in the door to the bedroom. The werewolf. The Gryffindor. Remus Lupin, already fully dressed. But it was only later that Severus found the quiet and time to explore his feelings extensively enough to discover this truth - which some part of him had already been aware of for quite some time.
Now, the spy was happy to sense how the unbearable tension began to ease off, how light seemed to start spreading inside him, how the slackening grip of panic and fear slipped away more with every heartbeat. How the Gryffindor pulled him out of it with gentle insistence, with nothing more than that warm glance and that honest smile. Probably not even knowing about the healing effect that his presence had on the Slytherin.
"Are you all right, Severus?"
With part of him clearly catching the slight trace of alarm in the other man's voice, Severus let his body slowly sink against the window sill at his back. All he was able to answer with was a slow nod. Only the weak, though still heartfelt smile the vanishing tension inside him gradually gave way to seemed to convince the Gryffindor. Or so the werewolf’s smile said, which grew a little wider, but was still edged with a degree of bashfulness. Of uncertainty.
For a few moments of pleasant silence, the two of them merely held each other's glances. Shared each other's smiles.
Until Remus's voice filled the room once more.
"I hope you had a comfortable night, your having to sleep in that chair notwithstanding..."
Still smiling slightly, Severus nodded.
"That chair was more than acceptable. I can't remember when I last slept all night through until morning, but last night I was lucky enough to do so." The spy withdrew a little from the sill and straightened his body, knowing deep inside that luck had had nothing at all to do with the restful sleep of the past hours. "So yes, I guess I had a comfortable night."
Even though this was not a lie at all, Severus felt another truth, a much deeper one, pressing from inside, urging to be voiced with almost irresistibly gentle insistence. There were more words thronging on his tongue, words of deepest verity that would mortify that pathetic last sentence of his answer to the Gryffindor. They would sing of the bliss that had lain in those hours he had been allowed to spend in the eye of the storm, in complete stillness and tranquillity, unaffected for once by the violent chaos that was swirling around him. Those words would tell the story of how he had felt totally safe, had been able to rely on the constancy of the refuge he had momentarily found. Of what it meant to him to be able to give in to the comfort and indescribable bliss of feeling secure for once, to the luxury of being granted an opportunity to unreservedly trust.
Still, he deliberately swallowed each of those words. Every single one of them. One after another.
It was not that Severus was not ready for the truth. The past months had showed him very clearly, and last night had been still more lucid evidence for, what he had finally accepted in the end, even though this had not been easy.
Hours spent with the Gryffindor were like promising rays of light. All the ritual's effects would never change the fact that only Remus's presence lifted the constant pall of fear he, Severus, was living under. A fear that never quite left him, that was neither connected to the physical closeness of others, nor to being called to the Dark Lord's side, nor even to the dark forebodings which told him what would be waiting for him once he had arrived at his former master's side. The fear he felt was more diffuse, but even more profound. Not really definable, but ubiquitous. He couldn't name it, but it went deep, had become an all-embracing part of his existence, and he had to struggle hard to keep it in the tight mental grip that he had on it. Most of the time. It was a kind of fear that would scare him out of his wits should he allow it to. One that he was afraid would finally break him, even before the Dark Lord could do so physically.
And amazing as it was, the only person able to let him forget about it all, to lift the weight of nameless terror from his mind was the Gryffindor he had once nearly lost his life to. The sheer awareness of the werewolf's presence represented a feeling of safety and unquestioning confidence, created a warm, consoling cocoon of trust that Severus had never even imagined might exist. Only the knowledge of Remus being next door had granted Severus a night of purest peace.
But by no means could he tell the other man this. Tell him how desperately he had wanted to stay yesterday evening. How much he had ached to be able to let go completely. How much he'd longed to let himself fall into the soothing warmth he knew had been waiting him, which all the solace and genuine empathy of the werewolf's presence stood for. How much he'd needed that resort of peace, trust and safety only one person could grant him.
How much he needed Remus Lupin.
Calling himself to order inwardly, Severus refocused on the man in front of him. And even as he opened his mouth, he felt his own flimsy smile sneak up into his eyes.
'A most comfortable night indeed.'
A sharp knock snatched Remus's head up from the letter he had received from Harry this morning, only shortly after Severus had left, and immediately drew his glance towards the door. Even though he knew almost at once that it was Albus standing there outside his room, an ice-cold feather seemed to stroke over his heart, tantalizingly soft and whispering, making his insides freeze with the sudden certainty that there was no good news waiting on the other side of the door. Unwittingly feeling for his wand under his robes, he put the small roll of parchment aside and slowly got up from his chair, already muttering the spells and incantations to lower the wards to his quarters.
The older wizard entered swiftly, not facing Remus until he had carefully closed the door behind him. Only after the werewolf had renewed the magical protection to his rooms did Albus finally consent to meet the younger Gryffindor's eyes.
For a few unbearable seconds, Remus was forced to simply search the Headmaster's face for any hints as to why Albus had bothered to come up here personally instead of sending an owl or using the Order's means of communication. The anxiety that the werewolf saw shining in the other man's eyes and carved into his features mirrored the fear he felt himself, and when a small sigh form the Head of the Order announced the beginning of an explanation, Remus was not sure anymore whether he wanted to hear what had brought the Headmaster up to the East Tower.
"Remus, I thought it best to inform you face to face, since I have a feeling this concerns you very personally - as you yourself showed me last night."
A violent wrench took hold of the werewolf's throat. His fingers clawed around the wand in his hand.
Severus. This was about Severus.
The dread that rose inside him must have shown somehow, because the touch he felt from Albus's hand on his shoulder was a very gentle one, meant to be soothing, to calm him down, as if anything could ever...
"So far, nothing has happened, Remus. Please, relax!" The younger Gryffindor felt the sudden urge to grab the other man by his arms, to shake him and scream at him until he finally understood that the werewolf did not intend either to relax or to calm down before he knew exactly what in the name of all banshees had happened to his friend. Still, the choking that he felt in his throat kept him from making even the slightest sound.
Albus's second hand came down on Remus's other shoulder in a tender brush, and the werewolf felt the Headmaster's insistent eyes drill into his own, forcing him to concentrate, to keep on breathing.
"He was called to Voldemort this morning,” Dumbledore explained. “Very early. During his first class of the day. He didn't have time to send any owls; that's why he wasn’t able to let you know. If my calculations are correct, he left the castle about thirty minutes ago."
Slowly, gradually, Remus’s mind took in what he was told. The cold fear that he had been caught in started to ebb away as rationality began to take over, and with a bright flare-up of relief he realized that Albus was right. So far, nothing had happened, nothing beyond the usual events that determined the spy's life. Still, the trembling way that he let go of his breath revealed how profoundly he had been shaken by the mere possibility that something serious could have happened to the Slytherin. As if there could be anything more serious than what the Dark Lord would make happen to him anyway…
Remus was strongly tempted to let himself fall back into his chair. To let go of the alarm of the past few minutes. To lay back and let relief wash the residue of anxiety off him.
Had he not been gripped by the strange feeling that there was more to be told than the Headmaster had hinted at thus far.
'That’s not all, Albus, is it?'
The older wizard carefully regarded the werewolf for another moment, as if to make sure that the other man was ready for what he still had to tell him. Apparently satisfied with the growing calmness and composure that now showed on Remus's features, he shook his head before continuing.
'You can imagine that he had some difficulty complying with Voldemort's orders, teaching in front of a class as he was. He sent one of his students up to my rooms with a magically sealed and extremely brief message that he must have written right after having received the call, and I decided to take over his class myself, mainly because I hoped to be able to speak with him before he left.'
Albus's face grew very sober. With both of his hands exerting a bit more pressure on Remus's shoulders than before, he let eye contact between the werewolf and himself grow even more intense. If this was possible.
'When I arrived in the dungeons, though, he must have already been on his way to his private quarters. I found a classroom empty except for the students, and each and every one of those children’s faces was edged with dismay and uneasiness, even though they could not tell me the exact reason for this when I asked.' Another small sigh escaped the Headmaster's lips. 'But they told me something else. Obviously, Severus had somehow been aware that this call was not an ordinary one. I have no idea if the burning of the Dark Mark can be modified by Voldemort, according to the urgency or quality of what awaits. Be that as it may, Severus had left a message with the class before he departed.'
Remus watched the Headmaster's lips press together tightly when he stopped talking. Though still caught in the other man's calming gaze, the werewolf could sense the slight hesitation, feel how Albus himself was shrinking back a little from what had happened. From what he'd been told.
Afraid that the older wizard was about to decide not to share Severus's last words with him, Remus clasped the Headmaster's right forearm in a tight grip of his own, unable to keep a barely noticeable tremor out of his voice.
'What message, Albus?'
One more torturing moment of silence before the Headmaster finally went on.
'Not to wait for him.'
In the course of the morning’s remainder those five words became the object of heated discussions, hair-raising interpretations and highly controversial arguments, among students as well as within the Order, which had been summoned by the Headmaster immediately after he had left Remus's quarters.
Dragged along by the swift sequence of events, the werewolf, who was now sitting in Albus's office with his fellow Order members, had not yet been allowed to truly awake to all the possibilities that Severus's parting words implied; not until the Headmaster's voice put an end to yet another pointless and partially chaotic debate during the past hour. Albus's calm words didn't tolerate any contradiction at all, and only when the perfect silence that had fallen afterwards had lasted for a seemingly endless minute did he continue speaking.
'I know that the present situation of uncertainty is extremely frustrating. This is true for every one of us, although for different reasons. Still, the very last thing that will help us now is to wind up in speculations that will assuredly lead us nowhere.'
Fixing them all, one after another, with a grave and heavy glance, the Headmaster leaned forward in his chair.
'What we need to do now is get closer to thetrue meaning of Severus's message by ruling out possibilities. I'm quite certain that some of the rumours floating about are so very unlikely that they can be safely excluded from the beginning; and if we fall back upon reason and common sense, I'm sure we'll be able to get close to what Severus wanted to tell us.'
Remus was literally able to sense how every single person in the room tried to pull him or herself together, a collective attempt that felt like one deep, joint exhalation of breath. A grateful stillness had suddenly enveloped them all, allowing the werewolf to finally begin to get his own thoughts and emotions in order again. Until Moody's snarling voice cut into the silence.
'If you ask me, I'd say this little drama is all about wanting to be at the centre of attention once more. What exactly makes you think that Snape really intended to *tell* us something, Albus?'
It was far from the first time that Remus had to struggle hard to keep his tongue in check. The fact that certain members of the Order were not too well-disposed towards the only Slytherin among them had been something he had been able to understand most of the time since the Order had been re-founded: Severus's demeanour had never been one to win people over, and Remus had, after all, been on the receiving end of it himself. The Slytherin's past as a Death Eater was yet another thing to make him a less than popular man. But then Remus had been granted a more detailed glimpse into what had shaped the spy's life into the extremely twisted existence that it now was. He knew what Severus was going through, at least theoretically, and ever since he had known, brooking the flat rejection towards the spy shown by some members of the Order had become something that the werewolf was barely able to manage. Usually, his strong urge to defend the Slytherin was nipped in the bud by the swiftness and unerringly violating currishness with which Severus himself reacted to most of the gibes he had to take, but since the spy was not able to defend himself today...
A hot wave of gratitude washed over the werewolf when someone else stood up for the Slytherin.
'I don't think Severus would have risked dragging his students into this if he hadn't regarded this message as one of vital importance, Alastor.' Minerva's voice rang out clear and strong. Ignoring the muffled snort from Moody's direction, a clear sign that the Auror was not the least bit persuaded, the deputy headmistress turned to Dumbledore and went on. 'Speaking of which, Albus, perhaps it would be helpful if you'd repeat what the students told you this morning one more time, so that everybody will have the same information.'
Remus lifted his head, fully concentrating, all his senses alert. He had not realized until now that he didn't know the exact wording of what Severus had told his class, and from the many observant faces around him he could tell that he was not the only one still uncertain.
'A very good point, Minerva.' Albus acknowledged his deputy with an approving smile. ‘”To whoever might be taking this class over: tell them that waiting for me would be absolutely in vain." That is, precisely, what the boy from Severus's class told me.'
A short silence followed.
'And what house was this boy from?'
With another smile, the headmaster turned to where Moody was sitting.
'Slytherin, Alastor. Emrys Bunyan from Slytherin.'
Unable to hold back any longer in light of the disdainful look that had been on Moody's face when the Auror shook his head, Remus decided that it was finally time to speak up.
'I have a feeling that we should first find out once and for all who among us attaches enough relevance to that message to uncover its meaning. No offence intended, but those of us who don't consider it relevant can’t very well help those of us who do.' Looking around at all of them, the werewolf tried hard to keep the faint smile he felt slipping from his lips in place. 'I suggest that those who regard this meeting as a waste of precious time and energy should not feel obliged to stay.'
'Another very good point indeed.' Remus felt how Albus riveted his glance on him, a warm twinkling in his blue eyes. 'So, anyone who doubts the significance of the message Severus left us before he had to Apparate to Voldemort's side - and of course everybody has the right to doubt it - please feel free to leave this meeting now without hesitation!'
Beaming brightly, the old wizard leaned back in his chair to look from one member to another. Not even Alastor Moody, who knew best of any of them that there had been no intention at all to pressure anyone in Albus's words, so much as looked into the door's direction.
Remus had just enough time to catch the small gentle and reassuring smile that the headmaster sent his way before the older man's face grew completely sober once more. Before they were to finally begin discussing the possible implications of Severus's message in earnest.
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