Author's Notes: Written for the Severus Snape Fuh-Q Fest as a response to the three-word challenge: gentleman, holistic, poodle. The German quotation in the fic is taken from Goethe's "Faust" and means: "So this is the poodle's core." Uttered by Faust the moment Mephistopheles changes from dog to man.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own any of the character that appear in this story. They belong to JK Rowling, Bloomsbury, Warner Bros. and Scholastic. I don't make or intend to make money of them.

The Last Resort

Part IV

By Donna Immaculata


Snape's mouth was twisted in a grim, joyless smile when he approached the dingy little pub in Theyden Bois. It was a perverted irony of fate that he should wish to go back to this damn place of this bastard, a place which, on top of everything, was currently serving as a shelter for the werewolf, the whole Weasley clan, and, since very recently, this annoying Granger girl. And yet, on this humid August night, when breathing was almost impossible in the sticky, oppressive air, he found himself thinking longingly of the dim coolness of Black's basement kitchen. He wasn't thinking longingly of Black, of course. He was glad to see him only sporadically, during the meetings of the Order, and never alone. Thank Merlin, since their fateful, shattering, disgusting encounter five weeks ago, the opportunity for a tête-à-tête has never occurred again.

He had put on a considerable fight when Albus had asked - had commanded - him to try and find out about Peter Pettigrew's whereabouts, assuming that getting a hold of Pettigrew could be a way to finally approach the Dark Lord, as well. An additional advantage - from Albus's rather questionable point of view - was the fact that Pettigrew was the witness required to clear Black from all charges.

In the course of long weeks, he had patiently combed his network of informants: former Voldemort sympathisers, revenge-seeking family members of ex-Death Eaters who had fallen out of the Dark Lord's favour and have been dealt with - people who had reason to hate the Dark Lord even more fervently than the righteous lot around Black, Potter, and the werewolf, whose triumphant virtue was more sickening than the cruel manipulations of a Lucius Malfoy - until he finally received a hint.

He had been pointed in the direction of this particular pub by the widow of a man who had died a gruesome death from the hands of Rosier, and she was ready to swear that Pettigrew had been spotted there every now and then, in his capacity as errand boy on the lookout for potential cannon fodder for the Dark Lord's camp. Snape wasn't surprised that, when he had reported about his several futile visits to the place, Black had snorted sarcastically and said that Pettigrew was very unlikely to be prancing around in public. The werewolf, however, whose capability of common sense Snape had grudgingly come to admire, had said that a man who had been declared dead fifteen years ago and who had changed beyond recognition in the course of these years could safely enter a pub where the majority of patrons had something to hide - preferably their identity and past.

Snape entered the pub feeling rather morose and hopeless. Apart from a drink or two, there was nothing he would gain from this visit. The woman's information had been less than reliable, and it was only due to Albus's cheerful optimism that he was forced to pop in twice a week, on the nights when there was no meeting of the Order and when he was not meeting up with his contacts among the Dark Lord's sympathisers.

However, the moment he sat down at the bar, the hood of his cloak pulled deeply into his face, he felt a strange prickling sensation in his forearm that told him some other person with a very active Dark Mark was sitting in close proximity.

Snape did not startle. He coldly took the drink of cheap whisky from the bartenders hand, breathed in deeply to steady himself and turned around casually to scan his surroundings for a possible Death Eater in an unsuspicious way. He was sure, the other man must feel it, too, but none of the patrons appeared unusually agitated or wary. Of course, whoever the other bearer of the Dark Mark might be, he had the great advantage over Snape that he had seen him coming in and knew that it was him who elicited the reaction.

His long fingers wrapped around the glass, he twirled the amber liquid around lazily, while his gaze wandered apparently aimlessly through the room. A sudden movement in the left-hand corner, just behind the bar, caught his attention. Snape turned his head sharply and spotted, just in time, the cowered figure of a man who tried to sneak out unseen.

The glass shattered to the floor as Snape let go of it abruptly. He slid from the stool and was gone with a swish of his robes.

The backdoor swung shut gently, and Snape glided, ghost-like, into the shadows under the tall trees. His senses heightened, he could feel rather than see a movement behind the blackberry bush, as though something were scurrying away hurriedly. Reacting within a heartbeat, he pointed his wand in this direction and whispered "Stupefy!"

Nothing happened. A few moments later, Snape moved cautiously out of the shadows and crossed the distance to the bush in three long strides. He came to a halt in a half-crouch and cast a narrow beam of light to scan the ground.

The blow came unexpectedly.

Snape was knocked off his feet and his breath was knocked out of him by the force of the impact from nowhere. His right knee collided with the ground in a painful angle and his face got slammed into the mud, but he did not lose his grip on his wand and, pointing it over his shoulder, cried 'Stupefy'. The body behind him went limp and slid off him and onto the ground.

It took Snape several seconds to wipe off the mud obscuring his view and to raise himself up, and when he did so, he was presented the unconscious form of Sirius Black, lying sprawled on the ground. Snape gaped.

For one moment, his inner Slytherin urged him to abandon all appearances of civility and simply kick the defenceless Black in the kidneys. Hard. His better instincts won the short internal struggle, and also, there was the issue of what-the-hell was Black doing there? Only Black could give the answer to that, and Snape muttered a not-quite-convinced 'Finite Incantatem' under his breath.

"What the hell are you doing here, Black?"

Snape spat the question venomously at the still-dizzy Black, who was sitting up looking very confused. Black looked up and his expression darkened.

"Oh. It's you."

"Yes, Black, it's me. Unlike you, I'm supposed to be here. Albus explained it all to you. Remember?"

Black stared slightly bemused at Snape, who was shaking with rage. "I must have Apparated on top of you." He gave his short, bark-like laugh. "Hah! It seems I do always end up on top, doesn't it?"

Snape stared. The tirade of insults that had been forming froze on his lips, and he mouthed wordlessly. Black grinned evilly. "I wish you could see the expression on your face now." He stood up smoothly and advanced on Snape using the advantage of his height to loom very effectively over the other man, who looked ready to kill.

A rustle in the blackberry bush startled both men, and they turned in the direction of the sound. Remus Lupin emerged from the shadow, a good-sized rat dangling by its tail from his hand. He frowned slightly at the sight of the apparent argument, but his voice sounded as quiet and polite as ever.

"Good evening, Severus. Sirius, it looks as though Peter's back in our midst. I found him back there, just lying in the undergrowth."

"I stunned him", Snape said through clenched teeth. His face was livid.

"You did? Well, thank you, Severus. I think we can go back to Grimmauld Place, then."

"I found him. I stunned him." Snape was positively spluttering. "You have no business here."

Lupin did not reply, but Black prodded the dangling rat with his finger and said, a trace of unveiled amusement in his voice: "That was very good of you, Snape. I'm sure this will be a feather in your cap, as soon as we hand Wormtail in."

Snape took a deep, shaky breath. A muscle in his jaw was twitching, but he regained control, and when he spoke, it was in a fairly civilised tone. "You know, Black, there's a reason why Albus has asked me to go and look for the rat. Apart from his ridiculous wish to keep you safe, he knows well enough that you can't be expected to act reasonably and that you'd be most likely to finish Pettigrew off before he can be of any use for the Order."

"I don't think it is any of your concern, Snape," Black said in a low voice, "what I'm going to do with the rat! If I wanted to kill him -"

"- you would certainly do so. We know you have no scruples whatsoever", interrupted Snape acidly. "You might want to try and use your friend as a murder weapon again, like you've -"

The rest of his sentence was lost in a groan as the air was knocked out from him by Black once again, who had spun around and slammed Snape against the nearest tree.

"You scum," Black growled in the same low voice. "You sick bastard! You enjoy this, don't you? Do you get off by the idea of causing others pain? You leave Remus alone, understand?"

Black's right hand was pinning down Snape's wand-arm to the wall. His left arm was pressed across the other man's throat, his hand clutching the hem of Snape's robe in a tight grip. They stared in each other's eyes, panting heavily. Both suddenly struck by the resemblance to their last bodily encounter in Black's kitchen.

Snape's free arm was curled up in front of his chest, and with surprising strength from a man who spent most of his life at a desk, he suddenly pushed Black's arm away, landing a heavy blow on Black's chin and causing his head to fall back, neck on the brink of snapping.

Before the opponents could go for another attack, the gap between their bodies was filled by Remus Lupin, who, moving with cat-like grace himself, had leapt between them, pressing his hands on their respective chests and pushing both men apart.

Being pushed apart with little effort, Snape and Black were both confronted with the often forgotten fact that Lupin was, indeed, not human. His physical strength, usually tucked away and buried under the layers of a lithe body, loose robes, and good manners, appeared in full effect when he separated them in one smooth, almost casual, motion. He was trembling with fury, however.

"I will hurt you both," he whispered. "You know I will."

The vibrant tension visibly vanished from the lines in Black's body. He looked down on his friend's hand pressed flatly against his chest. Lupin's fingers were ever so slightly curled, his nails applying painful pressure on Black's chest. Black bit his lower lip. Took a hesitating step back.

Something like triumph lit up Snape's features. The corner of his mouth twitched suspiciously, but in that moment, Lupin directed his burning gaze at him, and Snape froze, straightened up to his full height, and brought up his hand to wrap his fingers around Lupin's wrist. With the tree at his back, he could not retreat like Black had done. Instead, he motioned Lupin's hand down slowly, carefully, like a man dealing with a wild beast.

They had not broken their eye contact until Lupin's hand had left Snape's personal space for good. Snape's black eyes flashed briefly, his mouth twitched. He did not say anything, though.

"Don't you dare make me an issue in your displays of atrocity." Lupin's hoarse voice carried audibly through the darkness.

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