The Last Battlefield
Chapter 20 - Widow's Walk
The last thing he expected to find at the door was a smirking werewolf bearing an armload of papers along with his cat-in-the-cream expression. Without even a greeting, Lupin pushed in past Severus. "Paddy! I have something to show you!"
"And a good afternoon to you as well!" Severus started to slam the door. A loud squeak stopped him. Pulling the door open just a crack, he arched an eyebrow at the curly-nosed house-elf that slipped in.
"Minky is being sent to replace Dobby, sir." It bowed, scraping along the floor in its hurry through the entryway.
Severus watched it for a moment. He grunted, and closed the door again. When he turned around, Harry was at the end of the entryway, peeking through the dining room door.
"What are you doing there?" Severus asked.
Harry jumped. "Thought I heard Remus." He raked a hand through his hair, scratching at the back of his head. He glanced back at Severus. "Are you coming in?"
"Why would I want to do that?"
Harry shrugged and pushed his way in, letting the door fall mostly-shut behind him so Severus could eavesdrop. His voice rang with strained cheer as he greeted Lupin.
"Harry, remember that map of ours?" Lupin said with more glee than was good for him.
"The Marauder's Map?"
"That's the one."
"'Course I do. Why?"
"Do you know anything about Arithmancy? At all?"
Lupin hummed. "Sort of puts a crimp in my plans then."
"What d'you mean?"
"Let me show Sirius first. Severus, you might want to look at this, too. I know you're there."
With a snort, Severus stuck his face through the crack. "Not that it's any of your business, but I was just leaving."
"Hold up a minute then. Trust me, you'll want to see this."
"You haven't brought--"
"Just come here and look, all right? After that, we'll let you go."
"I told Emily never to let those pages near this house again!"
"Well, then." Lupin cast him a sly little leer. "It's a good thing she doesn't know I've nicked them, isn't it?"
Slamming the door open so hard the wall shook, Severus stormed in and tried to snatch the papers from Lupin's hand. "How dare you? That was outright theft of my property--will you hold still?"
"I'm only borrowing them." Lupin jerked the pages this way and that, keeping them just out of Severus' reach. "I found something you'll want to have a look at."
"I want those pages out of my house!" Severus made a great, clawing grab, only to have Black's massive hand plant itself in the middle of his face.
"Settle down! At least have a look."
Severus grabbed Black's wrist in both hands and wrenched away. "Both of you, out of my house this instant!"
"Sev." Harry tugged at his elbow. "At least see what it is."
"I will not! For days, that cur has been ordering me about, refusing to let me perform basic, necessary tests on a potion I need to live, acting as though he owns me--" He jumped when Harry's arms wrapped around his middle and dragged him back into a chair.
"Sit down. If it weren't important, Remus wouldn't be here. Would he?" Harry added with a bit of a growl.
"Of course not." Lupin looked sickeningly unruffled.
"You don't have to take the piss," Severus muttered. He glared at Lupin and Black, who were both leaning over the pages. "Neither of you gives a damn how insulting this is, do you?"
"On the contrary, Severus," Lupin said, licking his thumb and rifling through a few loose journal pages. "It would be more insulting if we were to ignore it. Ah, here!" He stabbed his finger down on the page. "Have a look at this, Paddy. Familiar at all?"
For a silent minute, Black's eyes ran over the page. Suddenly, he swore at the top of his lungs. "I don't fucking believe it!"
"What?" Harry tried to push his way between them without touching them.
Biting his lip and shaking his head, Black fell into a chair, his face red and contorted with stifled laughter. He looked straight at Lupin. "The Dark Mark."
Lupin nodded. "That's what Emily said."
Black finally couldn't suppress his snigger, and the wet, grating, nasal sound bounced off the walls.
Harry looked back and forth between them, his hair flying. "What? What about the Dark Mark?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing," Lupin said.
"Nope, nothing at all." Black grinned. "Except that's the same tracking equation we used in the Marauder's Map, right down to the relative variables. If someone's using this thing for location, wouldn't be much of a problem to make them think Severus is someplace in Australia."
"There's more." Lupin flipped through a couple more sheets. "Emily was telling me about this last night. The location equation has a secondary set of variables built in that refers it to what she thinks might be a send-and-receive."
"So if we changed those..." Black trailed off, his eyes glittering. His grin grew so wide it creased his nose.
"Mm-hmm. He'd be completely cut off from the rest of the Marks. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out. They couldn't even find him through a back door."
"And if you change the wrong ones, you'll kill me." Severus got to his feet. "I think I'll take my chances with things as they stand if that's all right with you."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, sit down!" Black's rough hand clamped down on his shoulder and forced him back into his chair.
"I will not sit here while you treat me like some mad experiment!"
"Allow me, Harry." One instant, the repugnant mongrel was climbing into Severus' lap; the next, Severus found himself with a lap full of repugnant mongrel. Black's idiot tail thumped against the table leg.
"GET OFF ME THIS INSTANT!" Severus roared, shoving at the mutt. Sirius, in turn, only gave a very doggy groan and lifted his massive, shaggy head to lick a trail of slobber straight up the middle of Severus' face.
"I'll bet you thought that was funny," Severus growled, dragging his sleeve down his face. The only answer he got was a slightly faster tempo to the thump, thump, thump shaking the table. Severus shot twin glares at Harry, who was snorting into his arm, and Lupin, who'd taken to biting his lip and resolutely not looking at anyone.
"Harry," Severus forced through his teeth. "Will you kindly ask your dogfather to remove his hairy self from my person before I hex him into next decade?"
"It's only for a minute, Severus. We can explain."
"I don't want explanations, Lupin. I want this mutt off me!" The weight of the huddled, shifting dog threatened to both crush Severus and upend the chair. Harry flicked his wand, and the wobbling wooden legs secured themselves to the floor. Severus growled.
"Get off me, Black."
Black shook his head and uttered a low, "Ruff."
"For the love of god! Why can't you have turned into a snake? At least then we'd have a translator!"
Harry snickered. "Sorry. I think he wants you to listen, though."
"I'm having you fixed, Black."
"All of you, settle down." Lupin flicked through the pages once more. "Now, from what I can understand, and what Emily told me, it looks like there really are both Master and Slave Marks. Emily thinks any of them can be used to locate and to activate the Proteus Charm modifiers that... well, affect the Mark. It's a bit fuzzy, though. She says there's something that still doesn't quite match up."
"Is that why I started having all the trouble with my scar last year? The numbers got mixed up?" Harry asked, leaning over and frowning at the parchment.
"Oh." Harry pulled off his glasses and polished them on his robe. "Yeah. I, um, it started hurting and blistering and stuff. Like Sev's Mark. That's, um, how... why I, um..."
Lupin blinked at him. "At least your pick-up lines are original."
"Settle down." Lupin held up his hands. "I'm sorry. That was a bit facetious of me."
"You don't say?" Severus sneered at him, trying to squash Black's head back down without a great, slobbery snout burying itself in his crotch. (Although, in a vengeful sort of way, the idea did have some degree of appeal.)
Lupin ignored him, tapping the side of his face with one pale finger. "All right, this complicates matters. If something happened and Harry is connected to the rest of the Marks--"
"He's not," Severus snapped.
All three of them looked up. (Sirius' head knocked Severus in the jaw as the mutt sat up too fast.) "Um," Harry peered at him, "how do you know?"
"How many instances of unexpected torture have you experienced in the last few weeks?"
"None, I hope. Why? What've you been doing while I'm asleep?"
"Apart from using you for experimentation?"
Severus pulled himself as tall as he could. Gazing down his nose, he asked, "What do you think brought on my last fibrillation?"
Harry and Lupin stared at him. Black fell out of his lap and rose, a moment later, beating at the sleeves of his robe. "Young man," he said in far too controlled a voice. "When--?"
"Don't call me 'young man'."
"You're four and a half months younger than I am. I'll call you whatever I fucking well please. When were you planning to mention this?"
Black pursed his mouth. Harry arched an eyebrow; he wore a scowl that only came with practise. "Try again."
"Severus." Harry scooted his chair closer, nudging past Black and leaning in. "After all the shite you've put me through, if you think I'm going to sit back and let you keep something like that to yourself, you are sorely mistaken."
"I didn't want to worry you."
"Oh, no, but dying on me the next time that thing goes off is fine." There was something fragile in the cast of Harry's skin, like porcelain, something like drawn glass in the way he quivered. When his hand clamped around Severus' jaw, though, and his fingers dug into the flesh, all Severus could see was the kiln behind his eyes that had only ever made him stronger. "You're going to fix it."
"You're going to fix it, Severus."
"Not on your life."
"You're going to fix it, Severus Perditus Snape, or so help me I'll fix it whether you want me to or not."
Severus flinched. "Don't call me that!" he spat, white flecks flying from his teeth.
"Why not? It's your name, isn't it?"
"It's my father's name!"
"And it's yours. Now, you will either repair that thing on your arm that Perditus designed, or I will call you that for the rest of your life. Got it?"
"You wouldn't dare."
"Just watch me."
Severus wrenched away from Harry's grasp. Black made a move to grab him, but Lupin put a hand on the cur's arm. Harry simply sat and stared, glaring up over the rims of his glasses.
"Well?" he asked.
Severus jerked to his feet.
Harry grabbed the front of his robe and yanked him back down. "Don't. You. Dare."
"Take your hands off me."
"Take them off me this instant!"
"Perditus. What was his middle name, by the way? Curtus, maybe? Or Eversor?"
Before he could stop himself, Severus had wrenched Harry's hand free and bent it back. Harry's other clapped over top of them. The pale pink scars where the snake had bitten him shimmered, half-faded, in the gaslights. Behind him, Lupin whispered, "Paddy, what's going on?"
"I'll explain later."
"You fucking well will not!"
"Shut up, Severus!"
"I will not shut up, Black!" He gave a little cry as Harry forced his hand back towards his wrist. The skin along his forearm drew up, grew taut and thin, the sickening skull-shaped scar pulling and warping and puckering within. "Stop this!"
"Are you going to let them fix it?"
"Unhand me!" Severus swallowed hard against the electric pains shooting up the back of his hand.
"Are you going to let them fix it, Perditus?"
"So you'd rather die and prove to the rest of us that you were never worth the effort in the first place? Perditus?"
"If you don't stop calling me that, I'll finish whatever's going on myself!" Severus wrenched away; he heard the crack before he felt it. With a little cry, he clutched his wrist to his chest. "You little wretch!"
"Oh, Hell." Black whipped out his wand. As Harry stared, his jaw going slack and the vicious light behind his eyes fading to ash, Black dropped to his knees. "It's... tarsals, right?"
"Carpals," Lupin murmured.
"Has it never occurred to you that each one has a name?" Severus gritted his teeth. He glanced up at Harry, watched the blood drain from his pallid skin until it was a faint purple.
"Well, which one is it then? You're the expert here!" Black raked a hand through his hair, looking around in a panic.
"Sorry," Harry whispered. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
"Yes, just like you didn't mean to kill the Dark Lord."
Shoving his chair back with a squeal, Harry ran out of the room so fast he lost his balance and slammed into the wall. Before Lupin or Black could move to help him, he was on his feet and running through the door. His feet pounded up the stairs.
"Oh, Hell," Lupin murmured. "I'd better--"
"Leave him," Severus growled.
"Just leave it, Moony. He needs to settle down on his own."
Lupin's mouth went thin and taut. "I wish James could hear you talking about his son that way, Sirius. You're supposed to take care of him, not leave him to do it himself." He shouldered through the door. His voice echoed back from the stairs, "Peter would have been a better godfather!"
Black gripped his head in his hands. He took a few long, deep, shuddering breaths. When he looked up, his dark eyes were red but dry. "All right. Talk me through this."
Severus was still flexing his aching wrist and hand an hour later. After repairing eight carpals, five metacarpals, and two thumb phalanges (just to be safe), Black had finally been allowed to dissolve the bone fragments. Severus muttered something to himself about the difficulty of getting a good myofascial regenerative compound.
Black checked his watch. He glanced up at the door in the middle of pacing. "Five more minutes. If they're not back down here by then, I'm going up there myself."
"Leave them be. It's not as if Lupin's going to get anywhere with him."
"I know." Black came to a halt. He stared at the floor, arms folded over his chest. "It's only four weeks now, Severus. After this, I'm not sure it's even worth wait--"
"He'll be better."
"Are you sure?"
"I'll make sure."
"If you have to say that..." Black shook his head. He fell hard into a chair, hands dangling between his knees. "You know, I think this is the only good that could have come from that annulment."
Severus' head snapped around. He stared for a long moment before he spat, "Good?"
"If it's what it takes to get Harry the help he--"
Footsteps were coming down the stairs. Severus pulled himself taut, hands in his lap, just as the door opened. Harry peeked in, glanced back, only to step in after a quiet word from Lupin. He barely glanced at Severus before he slunk around the table and perched on a far chair just next to one of the large windows. Lupin followed him, keeping one eye on Harry even as he tidied the pile of parchment.
"Where the Hell have you two been?" Black asked in a strained, high voice.
"Down the pub." Lupin flipped through the pages.
"The Muggle pub?" Black made an odd face at Lupin's robes.
"Harry loaned me a bit of kit. It's not so bad sometimes, being on the small side. Had to add a couple of notches to his belt, though." He gave Harry a soft smile; Harry didn't respond.
Lupin gave Black a weary look. "In."
"I was going to say..."
Lupin gave him a dark look. "Yes, well, not all of us can look as though we've stepped off the cover of Swish and Flick."
Both Black and Severus choked. Severus coughed into his sleeve, trying to stifle a wicked smirk. Harry looked up, brow furrowed. "What?"
"Nothing," Black said quickly. Severus arched an eyebrow at him, his smirk fighting all the more to get out.
"A, ah, publication directed primarily at men with our... tastes, Harry?" he murmured.
Harry continued to frown. Suddenly, his eyes flew wide. "There are gay wizard magazines?"
"Right down to the interactive pictures." Severus' smirk finally broke free as Black shuddered and Lupin laughed silently into the back of his hand.
"Come on, Paddy, you know you got into Peter's stash."
"I didn't know what they were!"
"Didn't stop you from reading the lot!" Lupin paused. "Well, admittedly, you were drawing funny glasses and pants on all of them. Wormtail wasn't very happy about that."
"Neither, I daresay, were the pictures." Severus snorted as Black's eye began to twitch.
"I didn't know Wormtail fancied blokes." Harry's frown returned, darker and more pensive than before. He glanced at Severus. "You--"
"Certainly not! I might have been among the less popular at Hogwarts, but I never had to stoop that low to get my jollies."
"Oh?" Lupin's eyebrows rose. "And who were you meeting in the Astronomy Tower, Severus?"
Before Severus could snarl, Black cut in. "What were you two doing down the pub?"
"Nothing," Harry mumbled.
"Having a drink and a bit of a chat."
"Chat about what?"
Harry shrugged. Lupin shook his head, "Oh, nothing. Men, women, how we'd like to strangle them sometimes."
"That's a bit crude," Severus grumped. "You could at least bother to use a proper hex, couldn't you?"
"It's not quite as satisfying, though, is it?" Lupin made a strangling motion in midair. He cast Severus a wicked little grin and picked up his pages again. "Are you ready for us to do this?"
"You're not laying a finger on me, Lupin."
"I'm sorry, but after what... I just can't allow you to risk your life like that, especially after all the trouble we've all gone through to keep you in one piece."
"What's it to you how many pieces I'm in?"
"Well, first of all, there's Harry. He'd be a bit upset."
"And it will benefit him how, should your mad experimentation fail? In a most spectacular way, I don't doubt."
"I'd rather they accidentally killed you than someone else did it on purpose."
Severus turned his head by degrees. Harry was still slumped in his chair but looking at him with grim determination. Severus tried to open his mouth to argue, but the weight of Harry's stare dragged the words back down his throat. He swallowed.
"It's too dangerous," he croaked.
"If I'm going to lose you, it's going to be on our terms, not Igor fucking Karkaroff's."
Severus dropped his eyes. "Our terms or your terms, Mister Potter?"
"Your choice, I suppose."
Severus held back a snarl. Refusing to look at any of them, he pushed back his left sleeve and rested his arm on the table. "How much have you had to drink, Lupin?"
"Only a coffee."
"Not too much to keep your hand steady, I hope."
A warm, callused hand came to gentle rest against his palm. A jagged point of gold and tarnished silver hairs ran halfway to Lupin's fingers. "Not a tremble."
Severus nodded. The tremble, it seemed, was somewhere in the depths of his belly and rising far too fast. "If anything... goes less than as planned--"
"Silence." Severus pursed his mouth, taking a long, thorough breath through his nose. "See to it Ruby isn't corrupted too horribly by those twin terrors she calls uncles, will you?"
"They'll be too scared of you to even think of it, Severus. Settle down, you don't need to watch." Lupin rubbed his palm. "Paddy, I'll need your help with some of this."
"All right. Harry, do you want to go upst--?"
There was a pause. Severus heard the creaking and cracking of Harry's ancient chair; a moment later, the one just behind him groaned and Severus felt warm breath on the crease of his elbow. He glanced down to see Harry with his chin resting on the table. Harry looked up at him with quiet resolve in his eyes: eyes that had seen far too much death, were far too calm from the months he'd spent looking from his private widow's walk.
Severus barely felt it when his old enemies held him down.
... When the Mark touched him, it burned. He tried to watch, tried to follow the path of a pale yew wand very much like his own as it traced the thin, red line upon his skin. He could understand only the odd hiss, the random syllable, from His Lord's throat. As the curve of the skull's cranium approached his elbow, he stifled a cry into an odd choking sound.
"It's all right, baby cousin," Lucius murmured into his ear. He tucked Severus' head beneath his chin, an arm around his thin shoulders, the other hand stroking his hair. "It hurt all of us once."
"Keep him still," Augustus hissed. "God knows it's the only time we'll ever ask him to do that!"
"Leave him alone, Gustus. He's only a kid."
"If he were only a kid, Lucius, he wouldn't be here, now would he?"
Lucius grunted. His arm tightened around Severus' shoulders, the sharp tips of his fingers digging into bone.
Severus could only crouch there on the cold, hard floor deep in the heart of the House of Bad Faith. Walden pinned his wrist, Augustus his elbow. His right arm was slung around Lucius' neck, throwing his entire body into a warped and wrenching angle. The hot ache in his hips and sacrum faded to a dull white noise running through his nerves, however, as the Mark chewed him. It raked claws he could feel but never see across his flesh, devouring him: skin, sinew, bone, nerve, hot writhing innards and withering soul.
The Dark Lord's pelvis was nearly level with his face. It twitched this way and that, tiny movements beneath a linen shroud as he adjusted and shifted in his efforts to leave his brand. Severus stared at it for a long time; somewhere in his bubbling stomach, he felt something odd. It was the same feeling he'd had the last time Eversor had laid a finger on him: defiant, as if he were better than this. The odd thought came unbidden that he should run, now, never look back. He stifled a shudder before it could crack through the shell of pain seeping deeper into his body. He bit his tongue until the blood ran; only the linen shroud before him prevented him from taking His Lord into his mouth in its place, something he had never done - and never would do, a voice in the back of his mind said before the pain silenced it.
The wand bit into the great blue vein running beneath his skin. A welt of blood spurted, spattering his flesh. Drops rolled down to stipple the cold granite block to which he'd been pinned. He could only turn his face to bury it in Lucius' familiar body, letting his cousin's coarse black robe soak up the irrational tears streaming from his eyes...
The last of the knifing pains began to fade within his swollen muscle. He remembered very little as he finally turned his face away from Black's chest where he'd had little choice but to hide it. He blinked a couple of times, his eyelashes sticking together.
The Mark bled. A perfect raised outline of blood stood on his arm, smeared thin here and there by the tip of Lupin's wand, trails dribbling down the sides of his pale arm to smear across the tabletop. He swallowed hard, tasting an echo of the blood through his entire mouth. Black's hand was still on his back, just below the nape of his neck, and the mongrel's chin rested in his hair.
"That should do it." Lupin wiped the tip of his wand on a bit of parchment, frowned over it for a moment, and stuck it in his pocket. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise it was going to hurt that much."
Severus shook his head and turned his face back to the wet patch he'd left. It occurred to him that he was shaking. Black's other hand still pinned his wrist, and two small hands that felt very much like Harry's squeezed his elbow, grinding it into the wood beneath.
"Can he move yet?" Harry asked in a thin voice.
Lupin shrugged. "I suppose so." He touched the warm, stinging skin around the Mark; Severus whimpered as another jolt shot through his arm and up his oesophagus. Lupin wrenched his hand away. "Give me a few minutes. I'll make a Portkey and ask Poppy for--"
"Don't." Severus barely heard his own voice.
"Don't." Untangling the fingers of his right hand from the back of Black's robe, Severus jerked and bent until he'd forced himself into a proper sitting position. He lifted his arm to stare at it, at the Mark welling young and fresh just as it had more than twenty years before. He bit his lip, his tongue, tasted no fresh blood and felt no pain where his teeth met flesh. He frowned. His eyes darted to the side.
In the middle of Black's deep blue robes hung a wet, shining spot; purple blood trickled down the middle of his chest, the imprint of teeth still clinging to the fabric. Black blinked at him, glanced down. He half-shrugged with a commiserative look. "It happens."
Severus couldn't even wipe the stuff from his mouth, only stared at his own lap, his heart slamming against his breastbone.
"At least it wasn't as traumatic as that torture mechanism was." Lupin flicked his wand with a murmured, "Scourgify!", and the cooling blood covering everything Severus could see vanished. "That one looked an awful lot like the breakdown of a Cruciatus Curse. Emily said, anyway. I wouldn't know one if it walked up and ripped my stomach out."
Lupin tried to sit down. His legs trembled, though, and he fell into his seat. He'd gone grey, his entire face and throat a paler shadow of his tarnished hair. He folded his arms over his chest and let his chin come to rest just above them. "I feel like I've just sold my soul."
Nobody answered, but Black's and Harry's chairs creaked uncomfortably.
After what felt like a long time, as the throbbing in Severus' arm receded to only the Mark itself, Harry spoke up. "Did it work?"
"Of course it worked," Black snapped.
"I don't know." Lupin's voice was soft, quiet, uncertain. "The only way to find out is to test it, and I don't want to do that again on anyone." Rubbing his eyes, he added, "Merlin, I hope it did."
"Do I need to get you home, Moony?"
Lupin shook his head. As his hand dropped from his strained eyes, which had gone a weak, washed-out tan rather than their usual warm brown, he grimaced. "Please."
"All right. No, you sit." Black stopped Lupin before he could get up and leaned over the table to straighten the messy jumble of pages. A few had smears of blood on their corners. "I don't know how you even got these away from Emily in the first place. Only thing she keeps a tighter lock on is her knickers."
Lupin said nothing, though for a moment a smile twitched on his mouth.
Black's head turned by degrees. The pages fell from his hands. "What is it with you lot and the fucking Slytherins?"
"They're not 'fucking Slytherins', Paddy."
Black grunted. "That's your opinion, mate."
"No, it's fact. They're not fucking Slytherins." Lupin rubbed his eye again. "We are."
With a groan, Black scooped up the fallen parchments. "We're getting you home and soaking your head for a while. How long have you been saving that one?"
"Month and a half, maybe?" Lupin gave a weary glance around the table. "Timing could have been better."
Harry snorted. "No shit."
Lupin closed his eyes, shaking his head a little. "I think I need to move around for a minute before I try to Apparate. Severus, could I convince you to make me a cup of tea?"
Severus arched an eyebrow at him. "That's what the house-elves are for."
"But I like the way you make it."
"Moony, the man just had his teeth sunk into my chest! I think he needs to sit down for a while!"
"Yeah," Harry murmured. "I don't think..." He trailed off. His hand clamped down around Severus' elbow again.
They stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Severus sighed and manoeuvred himself to his feet. He leaned on the table for a second, balancing himself on his right arm. "At least one of you has confidence in my abilities as a human being."
Black glowered at him. "You could have seriously injured yourself--"
"I was testing the consistency of a potion! Do you honestly believe me so incompetent I can't do that?"
"I'm still not sure those tests were--"
"It was fine! I could have done little better myself." Holding his burning left arm close to his body, he pulled himself tall. "Lupin?" He swept - or staggered - towards the kitchen.
He'd just pulled the ancient teapot with its brown-cracked glaze from its shelf when Lupin's hand fell on top of it. "I don't want any tea."
"Then why on Earth did you ask me to make you some?" Severus slammed the pot back in its place so hard he was surprised it didn't shatter.
"Harry told me about your Pensieve. And your brother."
Severus turned on his heel. A strong hand on the back of his robes stopped him before he could march out the door.
"Unhand me, Lupin."
"I said, 'unhand me'."
"Not until I've said my piece."
"What is it, that I'm a weak, pathetic, sorry wretch who can't even defend himself against a Squib? Or would you rather snarl at me over the circumstances through which I gained this?" He thrust his arm in Lupin's face. Lupin looked at it, at the thin scab already flaking free. There was something neither readable nor damning in his eyes.
"I wanted to tell you that I think you're as brave as anyone I've ever known, to come back here. I'd have been proud to have you as a brother."
"What would you know about having anyone as a brother?"
"I had a twin until I was six. Romulus didn't survive the attack. Neither did Calpurnia."
"Who on Earth is Calpurnia?"
With a frown, Severus turned just enough to look down into Lupin's calm face. A hand still gripped the back of his robes. "Is that supposed to make me feel sorry for you?"
"No. I just thought you ought to know, seeing as I know your family history. Bound in good faith, so to speak."
Severus snorted. "Tell me, Lupin, what did Romulus ever do to you?"
Lupin paused for a moment. "Nothing." He licked his lips. "If... you ever need anything... I know Sirius made this offer to Harry a few months ago, but if either of you ever need..."
"All I need at this moment is a bit of privacy. Am I allowed?"
Lupin let go of him. Severus swooped back into the dining room as well as he was able. He paused only a moment to say, "I'll be upstairs."
"No tea?" Black asked.
"I changed my mind, Paddy." Lupin closed the kitchen door quietly. "I'll have some back at Hogwarts. Harry, you might want to go with Severus, see he gets some rest like he ought to."
"I don't need an escort."
"That's all right." Harry pushed his chair back. "I was just going anyway."
"I'm capable of seeing myself--"
"I'm not seeing you anywhere. I just want to lie down for a few minutes. Going to be gone long, Sirius?"
"I don't know."
Harry paused. "You'll be back tonight, right?"
"Of course I will."
"Okay, thanks." Motioning his head towards the door without looking up, Harry said under his breath, "Come on, you greasy git."
"Rest well, both of you," Lupin murmured. He was sitting down once more, leaning on one elbow with his hand shielding his eyes.
"You too," Harry muttered. "Thanks." He hurried out. Severus paused only long enough to shoot Black a suspicious look and give Lupin a trace of a bow before he followed.
Upstairs, he found Harry pulling his, Severus', nightshirt from the wardrobe. "How's your hand?" Harry asked, holding out the shirt.
"In significantly less pain than the rest of my arm." Severus eyed the nightshirt. "What am I supposed to do with that?"
"Put it on so you can rest."
"I'm perfectly capable of deciding whether or not I need to undress in order to rest." Severus crossed to the bed and sat down on the corner, kicking his shoes off without untying them.
"You're going to ruin them."
"That's what magic's for."
"Severus..." Harry trailed off. He pulled the nightshirt to his chest. The black cotton hung down in front of his belly, far too dark like the blood on Black's robe. "I'm sorry."
"I should hope so." Clicking his tongue, Severus called in a soft voice, "Fawkes? Could you come here for a moment, please?"
Fawkes, who had been sleeping on his perch in the corner, opened one dark eye from beneath his wing. He spread his wings with a great, sluggish flap - a few crimson feathers drifted down as he did - and with a hop and a glide lighted on the bed. Severus smiled down at him and pushed back his sleeve.
"Could I have a few of them, please?"
Fawkes blinked at him, cocking his head.
"It's not what it looks like. It's only been neutralised."
The phoenix opened his beak and sang a single soft note that made the pit in Severus' chest fill with warmth. Fawkes dipped his head and blinked a trail of shining tears until every part of the Dark Mark was drowned. Severus' skin drank them, the ugly pink edges of the Mark closing and fading to a dull white. Smiling a weak smile, he ran his sore fingers along Fawkes' back; a few more feathers came loose and lingered between them.
"Almost burning day then?" he asked.
Fawkes glanced up and clicked his beak. He rubbed his downy head against Severus' palm.
Behind Severus, Harry's weight dipped the bed. "Severus?"
"What's going to happen?"
"In regards to what?"
A pause; a moist licking of lips. "Us."
"Given that I choose to place my trust in areas of magic somewhat more reliable than Divination, I wouldn't know."
"That's not what I asked you."
Silence. Severus stroked Fawkes' back; the warmth of the soft body eased some of the ache lingering in his tendons.
"I don't know." And I don't especially want to think about it.
"Do you believe me, that I don't mean to keep hurting you?"
"Then why do you do it?"
Harry said nothing. His shoes fell, one at a time, to the floor, and the bed creaked as he shifted and lay down. Severus glanced back over his shoulder just long enough to see Harry curled into a ball, facing away. A sliver of black cotton was clutched in the fingers he'd curled over his shoulder.
Perhaps in sympathy, perhaps due to the exhaustion gnawing at the space behind his eyes, Severus did much the same. Fawkes settled on his shoulder to nip at his hair.
"I wish I were Zabini," Harry whispered.
Severus frowned. "Why would you want to be him?"
"Because then I could curl up in your lap just because I want to."
"If that is what you think was going on--"
"You looked like you do when Ruby's being fussy and you're the only one who can get her settled down." Harry paused. "I want to be Ruby for a while. I think..." He trailed off in a hard swallow.
"You think what?"
"I think," Harry took a great, shuddering breath. "Maybe I keep trying to hurt you just so I can touch you without feeling like I'm being..."
"Ah." Severus closed his eyes as Fawkes pulled loose a few wiry strands that had tangled in his eyelashes. "And what makes you think I'm going to lie down and let you break every bone in my body just so you can have the satisfaction of physical contact without repercussion?"
"That's not what I--"
"But it's what you said."
The bed groaned as Harry shifted again. "Odd thing to hear from you. I'd have thought you'd be glad to have someone touching you."
"If I might remind you, I am not the one with the aversion."
"Then why don't you get Zabini to shag you?"
"I don't want Blaise to shag me." Severus gritted his teeth, trying to keep his voice low and steady. "Has it never occurred to you that I might want something other than an assisted orgasm?"
Severus flinched. He curled up on himself as though he'd been punched in the stomach. "If that's all you think I'm capable of, I'd prefer it if you left."
Only when the words were out of his mouth and an aching, spun-glass silence saturated the air did he realise what he'd said. The silence shattered, shards plunging into his flesh and bone, as Harry turned over. "What?"
"I said, Mister Potter," Severus said in a loud, clear voice despite the shaking panic growing low in his throat, "that if that's what you truly think of me, I'd rather if you went someplace else."
"You're kicking me out. Again."
"I assure you, this is the last time."
"You son of a bitch," Harry whispered. "You lying, deceitful, murdering slag--"
Severus was sitting, a finger in Harry's face, before he could stop himself. "Don't," he hissed, "call me that."
"Why not? It's true, isn't it?"
"I have only ever done what I felt was necessary to my survival."
"Like killing my snake?"
"It would have killed you. Right now, I'd rather it had."
Harry's face twisted in bare-toothed fury. He leaned forward on his hands. His face came close enough to Severus that his breath ran hot over Severus' cheek. "How dare you?" he whispered. "After everything I've done for you--"
"What about everything I've done for you?"
"You mean leave me to go through your fucking Pensieve?"
"What about all the time I spent trying to ascertain what the Dark Lord was doing in order to save your ungrateful hide? What about that little shag on my office floor? I certainly didn't ask for that, you little slut."
Harry's hand flew back. He caught it, balling it into a white-fingered fist, letting it drop to the bed. "Doesn't answer what you've done since then."
"And I suppose coming back to this house was something I'd have done of my own accord."
"Might have been."
"If that's your answer, I suggest you find yourself a Time-Turner and go and determine exactly whose Pensieve you fell into." Severus shoved him by the shoulder. "Get out of here. I'll send your things along when your fucking godfather returns."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"It's my house, and I'm telling you to get out of it."
"You don't give a damn about the house."
"Nor, at this moment, do I give a damn about you."
Severus flinched at his own lie; Harry went pale, his eyes wide and brittle and glittering. He swallowed. "Y... you don't."
Severus said nothing.
"But I've... eighteen months of my fucking life."
"Twenty. Or have you also forgotten how to count?"
"Tell me, Mister Potter, why is it that when I tell you to get out of my sight and never mar it again, you become abusive, yet when I give you my reasons you turn into a stuttering nincompoop?"
"Why do you think?" Harry yelled. "I love you!"
"You don't show it."
"How the Hell am I supposed to show it if I can't get anywhere near you?"
"Perhaps by not breaking my wrist?"
"It's fixed, isn't it?" Harry's eyes darted to Severus' left hand. "You got it sorted."
"Regardless of whether I got it sorted or not, it does not change the fact that not even Lucius or Narcissa Malfoy ever laid a finger on me in that way."
"Yeah, they only raped you and left you for dead."
"Lucius had nothing to do with that." Severus' voice was an icy, slow hiss.
"Oh, so you're sticking up for him now, but you're getting rid of me?" Harry stabbed a quick finger into Severus' Mark. "Should have let this kill you if that's how you're going to be!"
Before he could stop himself, Severus had knocked Harry's glasses off his face and thrust him into the pillows, leaning on his shoulders until both of them trembled. Harry gulped at the air. The heel of his hand dug into Severus' nose; Severus turned his head so it only pressed against his cheek.
"Get off me!" Harry snarled.
"Disapparate. I won't stop you unless you try to come back!"
For an instant, the quiver running through Harry's shoulders felt as though he was trying to vanish. He thrust one shoulder upwards, knocking Severus off just enough to roll out from his grip. "At least let me get my fucking shoes on."
"You don't need your shoes." Severus grabbed the collar of Harry's robe and wrenched him backwards. Harry made a gagging noise and dug his fingers under the fabric.
"Let go of me," he hissed. "You're hurting me!"
"No!" Harry freed his hands and reached around to the back of his neck. He yanked his collar so round jet buttons flew high in the air, raining down on the bed and Severus' back. Severus caught the back of the plum purple robe before Harry could slide completely off the bed.
"I'm getting my shoes!"
"No. You will leave as you are."
"I don't want to go anywhere! I'm definitely not doing it without my goddamned shoes!"
"I beg to differ." Severus wrapped his other hand in Harry's robe as well and fell backwards, dragging Harry with him. Harry grabbed the loose collar around his neck and wriggled out of the robe and onto the floor. He turned to face Severus, hunched and panting, eyes hooded, fingers curled into claws, tiny flecks of foam forming at the corners of his mouth.
"I hate you," he snarled.
"Then why don't you leave?"
Harry only stood there, panting, his entire body shuddering. He stared at Severus through pinprick pupils. His T-shirt had ridden up on one side, leaving a triangle of exposed, reddened flesh above his Y-fronts. "Give me my robe back, and I will."
"You leave as you are."
"It's my fucking robe."
"Fine." Harry swiped Severus' nightshirt from the bed and yanked it over his head backwards. He'd gotten one arm halfway lodged in a sleeve before he realised the buttons were running up his back. As he fought to turn the thing around, Severus reached out and grabbed him by the upper arm with all the strength he could muster.
"Take it off."
"Why? It's mine now."
"Because I said so."
"No. Let go of me."
"Why?" Severus jerked him down to eye level. "What could make the Hero of fucking Hogsmeade so terrified of being touched he'd rather break the wrist of somebody he professes to love than do anything about it?"
"I hate you."
"Yes, yes, we've all heard it. You hate me, I'm horrible, I am the bane of the known universe, thousands shrieking for my blood."
"Let go of me, right now."
"Not until I get a fucking answer."
"You know what it was, you son of a bitch."
"Haven't heard it from you."
Closing his eyes and twisting his mouth into a cold pucker, Harry pried Severus' fingers loose and slid out of his grip. The nightshirt was bunched around his neck on one side, the other sleeve hanging over his fingers and past his knee. He pulled it off and dropkicked it across the room. "Why would you need to hear it from me? It was your fucking Pensieve!" He grabbed at his robe. "Give me this. I'm leaving."
"I already told you, you leave as - you - are." Severus fished in the pocket until he pulled out the heavy bronze watch. Squeezing so hard he felt his family crest bite into his hand, he thrust it into Harry's. "Take this thing with you."
For a moment, something like horror washed over Harry's face. The watch slipped between his fingers; he barely caught it by the chain. He threw it back at Severus. "I don't want it!"
"Well, neither do I!" He slapped it into Harry's palm so hard his own flesh stung.
"It's your family's fucking watch!"
"Yes, but it's got your name on it!"
"Had yours first."
"I said, take it."
"I don't want it!"
"I don't want your fucking watch!"
"TAKE IT! GET IT OUT OF MY SIGHT!"
"NO!" Harry slammed the watch to the floor. There was a loud crack. He stepped back, staring at the floor by his feet, a look of horror stretching his face.
"What have you done?" Crawling across the bed, Severus looked over the edge to see the watch lying just next to the thin, worn rug. Its face had sprung open; the crystal lay chipped and fractured over the distorted Roman numerals. Acid welled up in his throat. Part of him trembled just like he had when Perditus learned he was a wizard; the rest tried to flood with choking sobs of inexplicable relief. His hands quivering, he reached down and picked it up.
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered.
Blinking far more than he ought to have, Severus laid the watch's remains on Harry's pillow. Crossing his legs, wrapping his hands in the bedspread until they filled with bloodless prickles, he asked without looking up, "Why should I believe you?"
"Why shouldn't you?"
"Why should I believe anyone who can't even be honest with himself?"
"Oh, right, you're one to talk about honesty! Mister 'I-Spied-On-Voldemort'? Please."
"At least I never deluded myself about my reasons for doing it." Severus snorted. "Go. I'll be better off without you."
"Whatever happened to 'you're the only thing keeping me alive'?"
"I never said that changed. I only said I'd be better off without you."
There was a pause. "I don't want you to die."
"So you'd rather I lived on and were miserable?"
Severus tossed Harry's robe at him without any real effort. "Go on, have a pleasant life. Maybe someday you'll be able to touch somebody again."
"You think I haven't tried?"
Harry's hand closed over the front of Severus' robes. He jerked him forward. "You bastard. After everything you've done to me--"
"What have I done to you? Apart from send you through my Pensieve to suffer tortures you won't even admit to."
"You lied to me. About the Unicorn Blood."
"I didn't lie. I omitted the truth."
"Oh, big difference. What about getting upset with me over telling you the truth about William? You hadn't minded so much the first time I mentioned it."
"You mean when you omitted the truth?"
Harry gritted his teeth. His fist wrapped once more around the dark green fabric. "Still didn't give you the right to do anything to me."
"What did I do?"
"You know what you did."
Arching an eyebrow, Severus glanced up. He narrowed his eyes. "No, Mister Potter, I don't know what I did. I'd quite like to if you're accusing me of something."
Harry's lip curled. "Grow up."
"I am grown up. And I'd still like to know what I did."
"You know." A tremble had started to run through Harry's fist, his arm. A few long strands of hair quivered in front of his naked eyes.
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do."
"I'd like to hear it from you, if it's all the same. At least we'd know if we're talking about the same thing."
"Oh, no, Mister Potter. You broached the subject. I'm afraid it lies with you to give clarification."
Harry swallowed hard. His jaw worked for a moment before he hissed, "Shan't."
"No, shall. I want you to tell me exactly what I've been accused of. Otherwise, how do I know you're not making it up?"
"I'm not making anything--"
"I don't know that, do I? Has it got anything to do with what you told Lupin today? For all I know, you've fed him a cauldronful of lies."
"Shut up, Severus." A muscle next to Harry's eye began to twitch.
"Did you tell him I tried to poison you with Draught of Living Death? Or that I pushed you into the Pensieve? Really, what horrible things have I done to you? What indignities of man?"
"Or might you be referring to something more recent?" Leaning forward, Severus got to his knees, fingers still fisted in the bedclothes. "Something in this house, perhaps? Did you tell him about that?"
"I said, 'shut up'." Harry's voice cracked. He closed his eyes, turning his face away from Severus.
"Your godfather knows. He knows everything that's happened to either of us. After all, you've already admitted it in front of him, practically chapter and verse."
"I'll curse you."
"Why are you having such a difficult time now? You've already accused me of this to my face."
"Then why do you need to hear itagain?"
"Tell me." Severus stared at the side of Harry's face. Harry refused to look at him.
"You're not the only one it's ever happened to, you know."
Harry hissed through his teeth. "You swore you'd never do that, you son of a bitch. You fucking promised."
"Do what? I'm notorious for forgetting my promises."
"No, I don't. Tell me."
"Tell me, Potter."
Harry's hand jerked. "I'm not a fucking coward!"
"Then what would you call it when somebody hasn't got the balls to back up his accusations with a handful of words? Are you too afraid to give something a name?"
"Shut up, shut up, shut--"
"Or are you afraid that saying it is going to make it happen again?"
"Say it! What have I done?"
"Yes! You weren't afraid to rip my tackle off over it. Why are you so goddamned terrified to say it?"
"Yes, it did! Say it!"
"Say it! What did I do, you spineless little boy?"
"SAY IT BEFORE I THROW YOU ON THIS BED AND FINISH IT!"
Harry's glassy eyes flew open. "Don't you fucking dare!"
With an almighty snarl, Severus grabbed Harry's wrist and yanked him onto the bed. Harry yelped and threw his free arm over his face. Severus wrapped a hand around his throat and snarled, "This is your final chance."
"Let go of me!"
"Are you going to say it?"
"No!" A tear slid from the corner of Harry's eye, soaking into the hair at his temple. "Let me go, please, please, let me go, I'll never bother you again. Just don't do it again, please, please, please, please..." He trailed off.
"What did I do?"
"I don't know!"
"Then why don't I give you a reminder?" Severus squeezed Harry's throat harder, letting his other hand slide down the middle of his chest towards his belly.
"Stop what? What am I doing?"
"What you did last time!"
"Oh? What's that?" His fingers trailed over an exposed patch of Harry's stomach. Harry yelped.
"Just stop it!"
"Tell me what I did!"
"This?" The tips of Severus' fingers slid just underneath the waist of Harry's pants. Harry cried out.
"STOP IT! YOU TRIED TO RAPE ME! JUST LIKE YOUR FUCKING PENSIEVE! IT'S JUST LIKE YOUR FUCKING PENSIEVE!"
The scream was still echoing off the walls as Harry's jaw went ever so slightly loose. He stared at nothing. Air ran fast and coarse through his mouth; he shuddered, and his fingers slipped from the woollen tourniquet wrapped around them. Severus drew back, sitting on his knees, his hands clutching his thighs until the last small joints turned yellow.
"You realise I shan't let you deny it again," he murmured.
Harry said nothing, simply kept staring at some point beyond the ceiling. His eyes darted towards Severus, glazed with fear.
"I'm sorry." Severus touched his hair too gently to make him flinch. "You know perfectly well I've only ever done what I felt was necessary."
Without a word, Harry slid off the edge of the bed. He got to his feet, pulling his ruined robe over his head. Plucking his wand from his pocket, he murmured a faint, "Reparo!" and buttoned it as the small, black discs flew into place.
"I'm going for a walk," he said in a very small voice.
"All right. Be back before dark if you can."
Harry made no motion that he'd heard, only toed into his trainers and stumbled out of the room with the laces trailing.
An odd, sickened feeling welling in his belly, Severus slumped onto his side. His fingers came to tangle with the chain of the ruined watch. Somewhere deep in its heart of gears and springs some stubborn bit of inexplicable magic still ticked, still pulled at wheels that refused to turn. Its hands were still, the thing dead to anyone not close enough to hear that tiny, straining, unbreakable piece of sorcery. Fawkes settled on his shoulder and sang a single, low, mournful note that eased some of the numbness in his soul.
The next thing he knew, a broad hand was shaking his shoulder. "Severus, wake up. Poppy's sent you something for your arm."
"No, she said you need to drink this cack straight away. I'm going to stand here and watch you do it if I have to." Black paused. "Harry's not here?"
Severus said nothing.
"What happened? Why's his watch smashed?"
"I did it again."
"Did what?" There was a moment of stunned, silent comprehension; something cold seemed to cut through Severus' clothes. "Oh. At least tell me he had the decency to get you back. Otherwise, I'm going to have to do a lot worse than break your face this time."
Severus turned his head, frowning. He stared up at his idiot godfather, who stared back with a look of cold resignation. "Why haven't you killed me yet?"
"Maybe I think you ought to have to live with what you've done." The bed behind Severus dipped as Black sat down. "What happened?"
"I scared the life out of him."
"Because I can't stand to see him deny himself any more."
"He's never going to admit it, you know. As much as I hate to say it, I think it's time we took him to ho... hospital." Black sniffed - not a wet sniff, but a sniff nonetheless.
"He already has."
"Severus." Black laid a hand on his shoulder again. "I know you don't agree with me, but I didn't believe you last time either."
"I'm not lying. I scared it out of him."
"You know," Black said slowly, pausing to lick his lips, "it's bad enough for you to say you did... that... again. It's worse when you lie about it to make me think I'm not going to have to lock up my own godson. Sit up."
"I'm not lying! You can ask him yourself when he comes in from his walk." Severus allowed himself to be manhandled into a sitting position. His left hand throbbed, and the flesh below his thumb had turned tender and swollen.
"All right. I will." Black picked up a large, cobalt blue phial from the bedside table and worked at the stopper. "Even if he did admit it, though, it doesn't mean he's going to get better."
"Your optimism is truly inspiring." Severus snatched the phial from Black's hands and yanked out the stopper with a motion born of practise. The heavy, sweet scent of oranges filled the air. He eyed the thick, white liquid with distaste. "How is it that something with such a pleasant scent can taste like fermented beached whale flesh?"
Black shrugged. "Any beached whale in it?"
Severus glowered at him. "No, only boiled Animagus." Still glowering, he necked back the foul, slimy stuff, trying to make it slide down his throat without touching his tongue. He pulled the empty container from his mouth with a grimace. "Doesn't precisely help that I know what's in it."
"What's that, then?"
"Many a thing you wouldn't like to think about."
"Hmm." Black recapped the phial and set it aside. "Glad you're the one drinking it, then." He motioned to the watch with his chin. "What are you going to do with it?"
"Have it repaired, I suppose."
"It's still trying to work. Only needs a bit of a nudge in the right direction."
Black arched an eyebrow. "A bit delusional, are we?"
"No, simply observant. If you'd like to take it to a proper horologist, I'm sure he could tell you I'm right. I'd recommend Hogsmeade first."
"How on Earth should I know? Your bloody godson's the one who buys his jewellery there."
Snorting, Black held out his hands. "Raging poofs, the both of you. Give it here."
"I resent that! Harry might have skipped over the mysteries of the feminine form, but I've suffered them in all their horrific glory!"
"Certainly." Severus scooped up the watch and held it over Black's hands. "If I find you've damaged this at all, I'll have your head."
"I'm not going to damage it."
Severus scowled at him for a moment before laying the watch in Black's cupped hands. He could still feel the tiny, struggling tick in the swollen flesh below his thumb. With a soft grunt, he looked away. "How is Lupin?"
"He'll live. Emily's looking after him, I think."
"Which is it? Either Emily is looking after him after he's nicked her things, or he'll live. There's no middle ground in this situation."
A weak, wheezy chuckle met his ears. "I don't know. I suspect she sort of fancies him, probably isn't too eager to kill him just yet." Black cleared his throat. "Seriously, what is it about you lot? My godson and my best friend in the world, both snatched up by Slytherins. I mean, I don't see it."
"I thought I'd already told you this. Slytherins are sexier."
"No, barking is your job." Severus stifled a yawn with the back of his hand. "Might I have a bit of privacy? I'd like to be allowed to suffer on my own, assuming you trust me not to Disapparate at the drop of a pin."
"Are you planning to?"
"At this moment, I think I'd prefer a nap."
"It's nearly time for dinner. Are you sure?"
"Very." Severus cemented the word with a weary glare. "You may wish to go and find Harry. I seem to recall him saying something about going for a walk. On the whole, I'd prefer it if he didn't freeze to death."
They both shivered at the words. Black clapped Severus on the shoulder and got to his feet. "You just keep laying about then, let us wait on you hand and foot. D'you want your nightshirt?"
"No. Thank you."
"Okay. Give us a yell if you need anything."
"Give you a clip 'round the ear if you don't shut your gob and let me have a bit of peace."
"All right, all right, I'm going." Black pushed the hair out of his face. "You realise that if you did do what you did again, I'm going to have to break your neck."
"Would it help my case if I said I never had any intentions to fully go through with it? My entire purpose was to scare Harry into... well."
"We'll see." With a dark look, Black strode towards the door. He glanced back as he was pulling it to. "Did he really admit it?"
"Screamed it. Looked more than a bit stunned with himself. Had I felt there were another way to make him do it, I'd have done that instead."
Black grunted. He cast Severus a final, resigned look and closed the door.
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