- Story Summary:
- Lupin has a job to do concerning Snape; Snape has a job to do concerning Lupin. Sequel to "Subterfuges."
- Author's Note:
- Written with Lady Bastet.
I know I can't possibly offer to share your burden or even understand how it is for you, but if you ever need anyone...if you want someone, in any capacity, you can find me...
Lupin turned over and pulled the blanket tighter around himself. Sleep was eluding him...again. It was not the first night of unsettling thoughts he had experienced since the upheaval of recent events, not even regarding this particular issue.
Why had he made that offer to Snape, and why had he worded it like that? He had not meant it the way that it had sounded. As soon as he had spoken the words, he had known how they could be interpreted; Snape hadn't had to say anything. But of course he had. Snape never missed an opportunity for a snide remark, and Lupin's heating cheeks had not escaped him.
The offer had been involuntarily ambiguous, that was it. Wasn't it? Doubt gnawed silently in the back of his mind. If it had been an accident, then where had that feeling of relief come from when it had seemed as if Snape had not had any romantic feelings towards Lily... It was so long ago! Why did it matter? Lupin groaned as he turned again.
He finally fell into a fretful sleep haunted by images that now roamed freely in his mind with no one there to stop or divert them. And in the morning, as Lupin tried to settle his frustrated flesh, he allowed himself to fall into temptation and let wicked thoughts of naked bodies and rough caresses lead him to climax.
A few days later, Greyback called for Lupin; he wanted a word with him. The burly leader of the pack was reclining on a dirty and shabby sofa, holding court and finishing his meal as he saw Lupin come in. It was a travesty of a court, with Greyback enjoying the attentions of his followers. One of them, a long-legged female werewolf with dark, tangled hair, was even grooming him while he sucked the flesh off the bone he was holding.
"Enough!" he growled at the female and she skulked off into the shadows of the room. Greyback then turned to his progeny and smiled dangerously at him, revealing his pointed teeth. "Lupin, you are going to take care of something for me."
Lupin suppressed a shudder as Greyback threw the bone away and it clattered to the floor. He had avoided looking at it, and he refused to speculate where it had come from or even what manner of creature it had belonged to. The room was dark, even with the pale sunlight that entered through the rips in the drawn curtains. There was no beauty in those golden stripes of light; they only underlined the bizarre horror of the company and illumined things better left unseen.
"You're going to go to your old chum, Snape." Greyback grinned as he said it and there was a snickering from some of the werewolves. "And get me some of that Wolfsbane that he makes."
"He's not my friend," Lupin objected, putting on a look of distaste.
"No, that's right. He fucked up the nicest job you've ever had, didn't he? All those little lambs running around, and you had access to them all..." Greyback's eyes caught a lustful gleam at the thought, and Lupin had to steel himself to not show the revulsion he felt at the thought of Greyback in the castle...as he had been the fateful night of Dumbledore's death.
"Never mind that." Greyback grinned at him again and stretched lazily. "You're going to have the honor of doing this for me anyway. It's a very important mission, Lupin." The tone of his voice implied a threat, as did the narrowed eyes. Lupin knew that he did not want to fail Greyback. "The Dark Lord has need of my services, and I need to keep a clear head while transformed for that. We wouldn't want the wrong person to be bitten now, would we, Lupin?" The werewolf laughed loudly, a barking sound that the others picked up as well.
Greyback told Lupin where he could find Snape, ignoring his protests, and dismissed him by pulling one of the young females – probably no more than thirteen – to him for some entertainment. He pawed greedily at her pale body, and Lupin could hear the obscene sounds of pleasure from Greyback and the whimpers of what was really no more than a girl as he left the building, and he wished that he wouldn't have to return to it again.
Lupin had little trouble finding the place, though he had half-suspected that he was being sent into a trap, for it was hard to imagine Severus Snape living among Muggle rubbish in this dirty, neglected town. Yet he thought that the house looked much like Snape: dark, gloomy, and lonely among its boarded up neighbors. Spinner's End, he thought, pulling his cloak more tightly around his shoulders to ward off the chill. Well, we truly are caught in a web, aren't we, Severus?
He walked up to the door and knocked. The house was run-down and in need of some repair, Lupin saw as he waited, and even though it was situated on the edge of a Muggle village, there was something about it that told Lupin it was no stranger to magic. Nothing tangible, not anything so complicated as a spell to make it Unplottable, just an impression in the air -- something that he recognized as inherently magical, since he'd spent time away from the Wizarding world at intervals and knew what the absence of magic felt like.
When nothing seemed to move inside the house, he knocked again, a little harder. This time, his knocks gave result as the door slowly creaked open a bit. Snape's eye widened fractionally as he peered through the crack.
"I'm here on an errand from Greyback," Lupin said quickly, before Severus could decide to shut the door in his face. "He told me where to find you."
The black-haired wizard wore an extremely sour expression as he opened the door, gesturing Lupin over the threshold. "Greyback should not be sharing information about my whereabouts with one whom he knows opposes his methods," he sneered. "Wait here for a moment."
Aiming his wand at the wall of books behind him, Snape shouted, "Hide yourself, if you know what's good for you." A moment later a hidden door burst open and Snape's robes billowed behind him as he marched up the staircase it revealed. "I want you to turn yourself into a rat and leave this house at once," Lupin heard him command. "Get out and stay out for at least an hour -- go eat the rubbish down by the river."
Snape had Pettigrew in the house, Lupin realized. A wave of fury threatened to choke him; his fingers were clenched around his wand, withdrawing it, as he heard Snape continue smoothly, "You don't know how tempted I am to let your old friend end his personal vendetta. I'm sure the Dark Lord would understand my failure to protect you from someone with so many reasons to wish you dead." Lupin was already at the bottom of the stairs when he heard a squeak, then a scurrying sound that seemed to move into the walls and pass outside the house. A moment later Snape reappeared at the top of the staircase.
"Where is he?" demanded Lupin.
"I've sent him away." Snape gave him a haughty glare as he descended with a faint hint of a smile. "I couldn't very well allow you to kill one of the Dark Lord's servants in my own house. Although I did enjoy letting him know how attractive I found the prospect..."
"This isn't a matter for joking! You know what he did!"
The suggestion of cruel amusement vanished from Snape's face. "I know precisely what he did," he snapped. "That is why the Dark Lord values him, which is why I have been entrusted with his safety. Would you sacrifice me to your lust for vengeance the way you very nearly sacrificed Potter and his friends that night when you discovered that Pettigrew was alive, forgetting to take your potion?"
Lupin still had his wand out, pointed up the staircase. His hand was shaking, and he could only hope that Snape believed it to be entirely in anger; in truth he was waging a battle for control over his bitterness and shame.
"He's the reason that Lily is dead," he said in a voice that sounded steadier than he felt. "No matter what you might claim, I think that matters to you, or you wouldn't have switched sides when you did." Snape said nothing, which Lupin took as a small victory. He changed the subject: "Speaking of Wolfsbane potion, that is why I was sent here. Greyback needs it."
"I thought Fenrir prided himself on his animal nature. Why would he wish to remain rational and quiescent during the transformation? Have you offered him some...enticement, Lupin?"
Again Lupin fought to keep his fury from becoming obvious in his expression. "Greyback claims to be on a mission for your master," he spat. "He said he needed to keep his mind clear. You wouldn't want him to bite the wrong person, would you?"
Hearing the echoes of Greyback's words in his own, he could not keep from flinching, but this time Snape's expression echoed his disgust. "He claims to want the Wolfsbane in service to the Death Eaters?"
"Then why did he send you? It is not safe for you here."
"I don't know, Severus," sighed Lupin impatiently. "I didn't ask him, though I think I made it obvious that it wasn't an opportunity I relished. I suppose it's a test of loyalty -- he knows that you despise me and he expects the feeling to be mutual."
"I am not Greyback's personal apothecary..." Snape began to object.
"It isn't a test for you, it's a test for me." Just as tired and chilled as he had been walking toward the house from the river, Lupin tugged his cardigan more tightly around himself and wandered over to the fire. A chair pulled back from the table as he approached. He recognized that Snape must have meant it as an invitation to sit, but he did not. "McGonagall asked me whether I had seen you."
Snape stiffened. "What did you tell her?"
"That I'd seen you while I was with Greyback. And that you'd given me Wolfsbane. What else could I tell her?" He wondered for a moment whether Minerva might have known more than she was letting on; if Dumbledore had fully trusted any other member of the Order, it would have been his successor at Hogwarts. But she had seemed devastated by Severus' defection, becoming more emotional than he had ever witnessed, and he did not believe that her distress had all been an act for the children.
"It isn't safe for you to come here," Snape reiterated. "I've neutralized Wormtail for the moment but the Dark Lord treats him as something of a pet; it was Pettigrew who enabled him to return."
Forcing the bile from his throat, Lupin nodded, shrugging slightly. "Greyback did send me, Severus. I didn't make it up as an excuse to check up on you, if that's what you suspect." Snape narrowed his eyes, turning from him, and for a moment Lupin wondered whether he was disappointed. "Nor did I come so I could sabotage the potion, if that's what you're thinking. I don't dare interfere -- if the potion doesn't work perfectly, the pack will turn on me."
"It's no secret that I am not a supporter of Greyback. Perhaps he would suspect me instead," retorted Snape, but his eyes remained narrowed, thinking something through. "Greyback must be twenty years older than you are. He was an adult when you were a child. Why is he not aging as quickly as you are?"
"How kind of you to notice," Lupin said bitterly, unsure whether Snape had meant the query as a barb or in earnest. It was a question Lupin had often asked himself, though he did not like any of the possible conclusions. "Perhaps his metabolism is better suited to the transformation. The pain doesn't seem to incapacitate him. And, perhaps, because he is less human and more wolfish the rest of the month -- I'm sure you heard what he did to Bill Weasley..."
"I think," continued Snape, answering his own question, "that killing, and ingesting blood, must be rejuvenating for lycanthropes. That isn't something that you would advertise, is it? Is that why the condition is so much more debilitating for you than it is for him?"
To say yes would be to betray others like himself, to acknowledge the truth with which they all struggled. Snape was staring at him now; Lupin turned before the room could begin to shimmer, before he could give anything away. "Perhaps by preying on children Greyback hopes to find eternal youth," he said, his tone more harsh than he would have wished. He was an adult when you were a child. Had Snape guessed, too, the origin of Lupin's condition?
"Sit down," Snape barked crossly, waving his wand and sending a cup and saucer clattering toward Lupin from across the room. A pot followed it a moment later, pouring steaming, fragrant tea into the cup. "I will need a few minutes to bottle the Wolfsbane -- you realize that it must be transported with the utmost care and will lose its effectiveness if you allow direct sunlight to shine upon it?"
While the potions master bustled around in a hidden compartment in the bookcase, withdrawing bottles and a stoppered beakerful of dark liquid, Lupin drew in a deep breath of the sweet-smelling vapors rising from his cup and took a sip. He recognized black musli, almond extract, ginseng, sweet apple...almost immediately he felt more alert, refreshed, at ease, though whether that was from the tea itself or from Snape's rare display of concern for his well-being, he could not have said.
"How is McGonagall?" asked Snape, and then with a slightly different inflection: "And how is Nymphadora Tonks?"
"I haven't seen Tonks," Lupin replied too quickly. "She's still stationed in Hogsmeade. Even though..." He had started to say, Even though Harry Potter is not at Hogwarts before realizing that Snape probably had even less desire to know of Harry's whereabouts than he had to answer questions about them. Instead he said, "There seems to be some concern about possible Death Eater activities -- there are other children than Malfoy who may have been compromised -- and people worrying that Greyback might come after Hogwarts students in Hogsmeade. Not an unreasonable assumption, and it weighs on McGonagall. I think she often asks herself what Dumbledore would have done, if he would even have let the school reopen..."
"Dumbledore is not here. I am sure she is capable of making those decisions on her own," interrupted Snape savagely. There was a cracking noise, and he cursed as one of the little bottles shattered. For a moment he simply stood there, seemingly unaware of the blood that trickled from his hand where one of the shards of glass had cut into him.
Quickly Lupin stood, summoned a dustpan to sweep up the slivers and crossed to Snape, reaching for his hand. "You can’t keep blaming yourself," he said quietly.
"There is no question of blame," Snape snarled, jerking away as if Lupin had threatened him. "I have done what has been necessary." Guilt and bitterness were written all over his features; it did not surprise Lupin when he turned them on him. "What are you trying to prove, werewolf?"
"I'm not trying to prove anything, Severus," said Lupin patiently, reaching again for his hand. "I'm only trying to remind you that we are both in places we would rather not be."
"Really? You don't think I enjoy being the Dark Lord's most trusted servant? You think I fail to appreciate having your old friend Wormtail at my beck and call, and even Greyback requiring my favors?" Refusing to rise to the bait, Lupin pulled the injured palm closer, dislodging the glass with a muttered charm and glancing around for a potion to heal the cut. "And you -- what do you want? More Wolfsbane for yourself? A sleeping draught to dull your pain? Something to make you a more -- entertaining -- companion for Tonks?"
"Is that what you think I want?" snapped Lupin, using a nonverbal accio spell to summon the disinfectant he expected to sting the most. Almost immediately he regretted the question, for Snape gazed deep into his eyes again, and this time Lupin was not fast enough. The room shimmered around him, and the wishes he had been trying to bury since he first revealed them to Severus came surging to the front of his thoughts.
This time there was no taunting, no wicked amusement. "What are you trying to do, Lupin?" Snape hissed. "Are you finding life among the werewolves so intolerable that you would risk everything for a few minutes of distraction, or are you merely playing a game, after all?"
Lupin waited until after he had poured the ointment onto Snape's hand, hearing the other wizard's breath catch at the ache, before he answered. "I'm not playing games. I'm telling truths. You're the one who wanted to know badly enough to violate my thoughts with Legilimency. What's the matter, Severus? Losing focus? Having trouble concentrating?"
"Hardly." Straightening his back, Snape made one more attempt to withdraw his fingers from Lupin's. "You forget that I am the Dark Lord's most trusted associate, and he rewards his servants. Any of the Death Eaters would consider it a privilege, and I could have any Muggle..."
"No you couldn't. You don't dare let your guard down. I always thought you must be lonely at Hogwarts, but that was nothing to what it might be like for you now..."
"I am not yet so desperate for companionship that I would subjugate myself to a werewolf!"
Who said anything about subjugating yourself? thought Lupin viciously. Like it that way, do you? He watched Snape's eyes narrow, beady and entirely black, and thought that if Snape had heard that thought, he had deserved it. "If you prefer to be alone with your memories," he said in as calm a voice as he could muster, releasing Severus' hand at last, "I will tell Greyback that you insist upon dealing with him directly. I'll make it sound as though I'm envious; nothing would make him less likely to send me to you than believing that I don't despise you."
"I'm not even certain I believe that you came here on Greyback's orders," sneered Snape. "And even if you did, Greyback is only an instrument of the Dark Lord. He wields no real power."
"Even so, we can't afford not to do what he wants. And whether you believe I came here under Greyback's orders or if I just wanted to check up on you, you did let me in, didn't you, Severus?"
A scrabbling noise at the far wall made them both turn their heads sharply. Seizing his wand in his uninjured hand, Snape fired a bolt of red light in the direction of the sound; there was a shrill squeak and a small mouse fled into a space in the bookshelves. "Wormtail will be back any minute," Snape announced. "We cannot have this conversation here. Now, please allow me to finish bottling this potion before it is ruined."
Withdrawing reluctantly, Lupin moved back to the table and his now-cool tea. The scent and sharp taste remained invigorating, however, and he drank it slowly while Snape worked, watching him.
"Where can we have this conversation?"
"Excuse me?" asked Snape irritably.
"You said we can't have this conversation here. Where can we speak freely?"
Snape's fingers closed tightly around the bottle he was holding, whitening at the knuckles, and Lupin feared that he might face another mess of shards and jagged glass. Then he feared that Snape would merely refuse to answer the question, or to tell him that he had no intention of continuing. "You know of the house in the woods," he said finally.
"I do." Lupin felt his breathing speed up. He had not considered it likely that Snape might take him up on any offers, and now...
"You and I have a mutual problem. Greyback. Even if you could tell me precisely why he needs the potion, or whom he plans to target, neither of us could interfere at present. Yet there must be a weakness -- something to convince the Dark Lord that he is a danger to his own interests."
"You want me to spy on Greyback for you?" Lupin could not keep the surprise from his voice. He had not expected this from Severus.
"I believe we have already agreed that we each have reasons to wish him...neutralized. You will never be safe while his pack is terrorizing children and their families, giving the Ministry reason to pass further edicts restricting the rights of werewolves. And in my case...he may interfere with other plans."
"Do you know what role the Dark Lord intends for him when the struggle escalates?"
"Do you think I would tell you?" Snape frowned slightly, but Lupin wondered whether his displeasure was with the question or with the fact that he did not, in truth, know Voldemort's intentions. "You must know that I would not ask anything of you if I did not believe it to be of the utmost importance."
Lupin was not as confident in this as Snape assumed; he believed that his childhood adversary might make demands simply to manipulate him, or, if he perceived a threat, to get him out of the way. Yet the taunting had become muted, and Lupin thought Snape sounded pensive instead of dismissive. "All right," he agreed. "I'll see what I can learn. You do realize that anything I discover, I must report to the Order as well..."
Snape inclined his head in what Lupin believed to be compliance, but then it became clear that the other wizard was listening for something. Loudly he said, "Here is your Wolfsbane potion. Do try not to ruin it before you can deliver it to your pack leader."
Trying to follow Snape's eyes to wherever he believed Pettigrew might be eavesdropping, Lupin again felt loathing and disgust threaten to overwhelm him, but of course Snape had been right: if Lupin attacked Pettigrew in Snape's own house, he would leave Snape no choice but to defend the man who had betrayed Lily, James and Sirius. What was Pettigrew doing here, anyway? Was Snape keeping an eye on a weaker wizard for Voldemort? Or had Peter resumed his role as spy, making certain that the onetime Death Eater did not stray from his promises?
"Thank you for the tea, Severus," he said in an equally belligerent voice, taking the bottles of Wolfsbane potion and noting that Snape had labeled one for Greyback, another for himself. He wondered what, if anything, might be different between the two, but did not ask, hiding them in separate pockets in his cloak. "I'll let you know whether Greyback needs anything more from you," he added in case Peter was listening, offering only a cool smile when Snape glared.
Evening had fallen when he left the ugly brick house, with cold fingers of mist extending from the fetid river to which Lupin walked with his cloak pulled tight and the hood over his head. The mice among the rubbish fled from him, and he wondered whether he had taken on the aura of the dark creature that Greyback assured him he was. He glanced up at the giant mill chimney which he guessed had not been used for many years and wondered about the house he had just visited. Had it belonged to Snape's Muggle relatives? Had Severus grown up in this dirty, miserable town? And had Greyback wanted Lupin to see it, for reasons of his own?
The isolated little cottage in the woods was more the sort of place in which he would have pictured Severus, Lupin thought as he stepped gingerly among the rubbish, looking around for any sign that he was being observed. There was none, and as he prepared to Apparate he closed his hand around the bottle in his pocket which bore his own name. He had no idea what Snape was up to, few reasons to trust him and a great many to do the opposite, but he remained as certain as he had been that night in the forest that Snape's connection to the Death Eaters was not what it seemed.
If he was wrong, he doubted that he would still be alive.
"Next time, Severus, I expect some answers," he murmured, before he concentrated on Disapparating, leaving the murky river for places where shadows of a different sort awaited him.