Title: The Muggle War
Fandom/Rating: Harry Potter, Snape/Lupin, R
Summary and notes: This was going to be the first chapter of many in a sprawling epic, set in a future where, after the defeat of Voldemort, wizards went to war with Muggles, using terrorist tactics with apocalyptic results. Unfortunately, I was already floundering when DH came out, and afterwards I froze completely. I doubt I'll ever write the rest. But as bronze_ribbons was already kind enough to beta this, I thought, well, I ought to kick it off the hard drive. It's rather creepy. Happy Halloween!
A/N: Erm. Yes. The whole middle bit of the story does appear to be written chronologically backwards. I keep doing that. I do not know why.
She says, follow the graves
Here are special hollows for the unmended: the unclosable
wound, the irreparably scarred Queen of Spades
worn out from too many unspeakable tricks. Rabbits
transfigured into reeds thump their anguished secrets
into a wind that licks the bills of co-eds' baseball caps
but fails to rub along the proper lamp. No charmed carpet
will save them, no beanstalk offer the legholds you need
to ride the giant's wife into the softest pumpkin pudding
you ever could dream of, a cradle stuffed with straw
spun into golden feathers. If you yearn to outwit death,
first you'll have to learn what to do about the apples.
Peg Duthie (Inspired by Reb Livingston)
Good morning, Wizarding London. My idiot friend who commutes by broom tells me that it's a lovely sunny day above the ash cloud. But the pall of gloom lends a sort of ambience to this edition of Whatever Happened To? I think so, and it's my opinion that counts.
For our new listeners, this programme lets wizards and witches ask all those questions that they're afraid to ask — for example, 'Whatever happened to Dolores Jane?' If you have a question, owl it to us care of Diagon Rose. If you can answer a question or provide a lead, owl that along as well.
We'll be with you for a long depressing hour, and international news is next. If you're lucky enough to have some of your alcohol ration left after the holidays, now's a good time to get drunk.
We have four questions left over from last week. First, 'Whatever happened to T.B.,' from A.B. in Dad's Cottage. Next, 'Whatever happened to A. N. F.,' the cats want to know. F. H. wants any news from Heilgenstadt. And some idiot wants to know, 'Whatever happened to Fizzing Whizbies?' There's no bloody sugar to be had anywhere, T. T. I for one don't miss the sweets. The road to hell is paved with lemon drops.
We also have two answers to last week's questions. Mme. M., our condolences. Our staff investigated a lead and confirmed that B. and S. R. died last August in Azkaban Prison. S. L., your mother is alive and living abroad. If the Aurors haven't hunted you down already, keep an eye out for her owl.
Right. And now for this week's round. . . .
Well, that concludes another tour of Wizarding Free England. To end on a cultural note, for our Muggle appreciation corner some unbalanced moron has owled me a pair of damp pink knickers. The first listener to guess the synthetic material these offensive undergarments are made from can have them. Hm? Right, a hint. It starts with P. . . .
"I want you on the show," Severus said. "Not bloody lingerie. You." He shifted in the chair, which squeaked. Normally, he despised wicker: it looked cheap and needed constant charming to keep the dust off. But the whole bedroom set — bed, chest of drawers, mirror, and chair — had been put out for the bin men one balmy night after the second defeat of Voldemort, when Remus had been accompanying him on an evening stroll through one of the better neighbourhoods.
Just needs paint, Remus had said. The bed looks big enough for two. Severus had said something derisive about the wicker, pulling his cape closer about, and Remus had looked at him. Not a challenge, not a plea, just a simple, non-judgemental I-need-an-answer look which Severus couldn't answer because it wasn't a question. He'd handed the rolled-up Axminster over wordlessly, and Remus loaded the furniture with the ease and speed of a thief, getting most of it under the invisibility cloak that Severus had kept as a memento of the second war.
They'd arrived back in Spinner's End just shy of midnight, Severus walking in front and Remus keeping the carpet from becoming too exuberant and going more than a metre above the ground. Remus had been the one to figure out how to get everything through the upstairs front windows. He'd also charmed the wicker spotlessly clean while Severus stretched the sheets. Remus had not slept on the sofa that night, nor any night since, and he had insisted on bringing the whole ghastly furniture set when Severus was relocated to the airless, cramped seventh-floor flat. Remus had obtained, at some cost, falsified papers that identified him a Squib with an address up north, which was where he went to queue for Wizarding rations; Severus was now a resident of London, and registered for Muggle rations. Insofar as they had a home together, it consisted of shabby white wicker and promises — nothing more.
This settled awkwardly with Severus, who had been a home-owner and who had once looked forward to retiring from his profession with a pension. Remus was the opposite: he moved the furniture around so frequently that Severus suspected that he needed reassurance that his life was still portable. This was why the chair, which had been facing east by the window, was now almost directly in front of the door Severus had opened to his conservatory; and the bed, with its sprawl of werewolf, was bang up under the window.
"I want world peace and a return to the prewar balance of power between us and Muggles," Remus said, stretching a bit to bask in the near-sun. His arms were loose above his head, he was completely naked, and he had one knee up which he was bouncing sideways as if teasing Severus with flashes of his cock. The combination of total laziness and alert energy was typical of the man, Severus thought. Remus took a deep breath — Severus watched his chest rise, and fall — and looked sideways without turning his head. "It's not going to happen. Not today, at any rate."
Severus refused to let Remus draw him into another futile metaphysical discussion. "Our security's excellent, you know that. The Aurors haven't once come close to tracking us down."
"Weren't you broadcasting from broomsticks just last month?"
"And it was perfectly safe," Severus said with a dismissive sweep of his arm. He wanted to say something scathing about Remus' own war efforts, but Remus never talked. Not to Severus, and gods forbid to the Wizarding population as they huddled around their illegal wireless sets. He sighed and looked at his pocket watch. "I must be getting bored with you. This argument used to take us hours, and we're down to under a minute."
"I'm scared that I'll say something wrong and people will die," Remus said abruptly, letting his head roll to the side, his hair falling loose over his face. The hair was long enough that Severus was beginning to suspect Remus had made a vow not to cut it until — world peace, perhaps. He'd have suspected some middle-aged vanity had resulted in the growth, except that Remus had to know it looked dreadful: there were intensely sun-bleached stripes, and spots of dye that never quite washed out, some sections that were pure grey, and an ominous line of dark brown, down to Remus' ears now, that remained from the last time Remus had disappeared. Severus wanted to reach over and push the hair out of Remus' eyes, but he couldn't with the chair now so far away. He got up and went to sit on the edge of the bed instead. He wondered whether the two weeks of volcanic twilight would add another stripe to the hair beneath his hand. Remus shifted sideways but kept his eyes fixed on Severus'. "I'm scared that if you make the programme even more political, there will be crackdowns, and that you'll be in danger."
Severus knew he must have looked sour. Remus caught his arm and tugged. Severus allowed himself to be pulled down to lie on the bed, his head on Remus’ arm and Remus’ hand resting over his heart. Severus covered Remus’ hand with his own, tracing the odd scars on Remus’ fingers where the nails were missing.
"I'm not about to debate The Unreality of Muggles on the air," Severus countered dryly. Remus had read the book, which expounded the central philosophy behind the Magic-Firsters who were hell-bent on Muggle genocide, and afterwards took it outside and incendiod it at such ferocious heat that not a word remained legible in the ashes. "Do you think you’re protecting me? Or are you protecting yourself?"
Remus twisted to the side, letting one leg slide over Severus’ and tucking his head under Severus’ chin. "As a rule," he said, his voice swallowed by the fabric of Severus’ shirt, "I make my peace with what I’ve seen, or what I’ve done, or what’s been done, before I come home. You are the centre of my world. You aren’t the reason why I do what I do, but you’re the best of example of why I have to. I cling to the illusion that the place you are is still and secret. Inviolate. Possibly perfect. Stop laughing." He bumped his forehead against Severus’ ear. "I don’t want to contaminate us with the war. I’m trying to protect us."
"You are a ridiculously overwrought romantic," Severus said, moving his hand to Remus’ shoulder, and then sliding it down from his arm to his back, feeling the heat of the room mix with the heat of Remus’ skin, and the fine sweat on that skin.
"I fail to see that this is a bad thing," Remus said lazily.
"Whatever happened to Japan?" Severus asked, surprised at his own daring. Remus jerked like an animal on a choke-chain, and Severus held him, glad that he couldn’t see Remus’ face.
There was a long pause, and then Remus' hands loosened their grip and his fingers began tapping erratically instead. "When did it all start?" Remus said in a ragged voice that was nearly a whisper. "It's all a matter of balance: for every act of magical destruction, there is an equal Muggle outrage, and vice versa. I remember when we got ditoxins — "
"Dioxin," Severus corrected, before he could help himself.
" – in the tomatoes and cabbages, back when we still had the house. It was a nasty shock. We — well, you, wizards, I mean — after the Death Eaters and Voldemort the war never stopped. You had the slaughter of the giants and the goblins, werewolves, vampires, anything considered soulless, and it all worked really well for the wizard in the street."
"Wouldn't want them taking away our jobs," Severus sneered. "I feel much safer, don't you?"
Remus' hand tightened. "Better living through genocide." He pressed his face hard into Severus’ shoulder, like a child trying to breathe comfort from the weave of a blanket. "We don't see Muggle ghosts, so maybe they don't have souls. There's never been a werewolf ghost, either," he added, perhaps not so tangentially. "I go, every now and then, to the execution sites, to check."
"You have a soul," Severus said. "You know you do."
Remus shook his head. "I’m starting to wonder why I bother trying to save its dubious virtue, to be honest."
"You would make a very bad murderer," Severus said, but only because he was rather selfishly accustomed to Remus and adverse to unpleasant changes.
Remus coughed, or laughed: short staccato noises, full of pain. "You want to know what happened to Japan?"
No, Severus thought. But you shouldn’t have to bear it alone.
It had been winter then, and Severus had been almost glad that he lived eight floors up. The exercise was warming, especially carrying his daily water ration of five litres upstairs in two carrier bags with handles that dug into his palms. He was glad that magic spared him the indignity of needing to go downstairs to queue for the public toilets, or of carrying a chamber pot down. The toilet-trekking had finally done in the family across the hall, but they’d had two small children. He’d helped carry the cots and high chairs down, and when no new neighbours moved in, he had annexed two rooms from the vacated flat with a bit of transfiguration and a hammer. One he used as an extension of his greenhouse, the other to store his growing hoard of salvage.
It had been winter for far too long by then. Severus tried to stay away from known gossips, but that still didn’t stop strangers in queues from saying horrible things from behind their mufflers. Things like, One way to end global warming, I suppose (20 million cars off the road), or Perhaps they’re better off (one percent of the world’s Muggles gone and counting), or the more refreshingly honest At least I didn’t know anyone in Japan (and you likely never will now, Severus had thought with nearly murderous rage). He knew much of it was bare ignorance. The Muggle news still suffered from the shocking loss of all their orbiting cameras — it turned out that very small bits of metal and plastic, strategically Vanished or summoned, could practically bring down civilisation.
(It’s dead easy, Remus had said, grabbing his wand, once you figure out the problem of how to compensate for weightlessness with the charms calculations, and use a modified flame-freezing for re-entry. . . Here. He summoned something dirty and grey from his rucksack. Present, he’d said, and Severus contemplated the irony of getting a piece of the moon from a werewolf.)
Winter had come early, with biting gales that put the last nail in the coffin of fashion. Hats, mufflers, coats, and double and triple layers of socks beneath boots made everyone who dared to venture outside look roly-poly and jolly despite the misfortunes. Private heaters were illegal, but Remus had enchanted their sheets to a tropical warmth (he had also charmed the pillows to sound like distant surf and gulls). As the nights grew longer, they had spent more and more time in bed, in the dark.
Severus had known that Remus had been pretending that he wouldn’t have to say goodbye, but then the owl came.
"When are you leaving?" Severus had asked, not looking up from the box of tacky souvenirs he’d salvaged from an abandoned Diagon estate agent’s office.
"Today," Remus said, and Severus admired that he could sound so disbelieving, as if he’d convinced himself that the reprieve would last. "Bloody hell."
"Where are you going?"
There had been no answer to that, and Severus had looked up ready to say something sharp. But, seeing Remus burn the note on the palm of his hand with a ferocious kind of grief, Severus set down a miniature set of yodelling leiderhosen to contemplate the greater mystery of love. He supposed that he loved Remus, in the way that one comes to have a fondness for the things familiar. It wasn’t so much that Remus had a presence when he was home, as that his absence was something sharp, announcing itself in every room. Which was regrettable, certainly, given that Severus felt compelled to atone for his sins by defying the Ministry in London, and Remus atoned for his (what they were, Severus had yet to ask; on his bitterest days, he suspected guilt by association) by being part of the firebreak between the Muggles and the wizards set on exterminating them.
"I was making conversation. I don’t really care. I’d rather not know, that would be for the best, wouldn’t it?" Severus said, scraping his chair back and crossing to the cauldron where he kept his tea — his wizard's brew, Remus mocked it — stewing all day long. He dipped out two mugfuls and handed Remus one.
"Something bad is going to happen," Remus said, but Severus had known that from the moment Remus had turned their bed into a tropical resort. "We don’t know what," he added in a burst of anger. "It’s like that story about the blind mice who find an elephant — none of the pieces of information we have so far make a coherent whole."
"You’re being sent off to collect information," Severus said, rather than asked, and Remus raised an eyebrow at him through the steam as he sipped. "They’ll take care of you travelling. . . and over the full?"
"They know what I am," Remus said mildly, but he didn’t protest that he’d be home by then. He’d be gone at least two weeks, then. "I’ll send you an owl when I get there — better yet, a crow." Remus’ grin was teasing, and Severus decided that as the moodiness was over, he wouldn't be driven to open the last jar of Nutella after all.
When the first reports from Japan started trickling in, four weeks later, he realised that Remus had told him where he was going. He watched the flocks of crows circling the temple yard pyres in the shaky photograph on the front page of the Prophet and steeled himself not to wonder.
Remus would come home, or he would not. Losing sleep over it would not change a thing. The charmed pillows were intolerable, but he kept the warmed sheets because that was the practical thing to do. It was the first time that he realised that the courage of his owl-in listeners was not simply in defying the Aurors, but in formulating the questions to begin with. When someone had gone down to the corner for a pint and hadn’t returned months later, asking Whatever happened to. . . was to admit the horrors that everyone pretended did not exist.
The winter lingered, but one morning after Severus had spent hours rummaging through promising skips in one of the quarantine districts, he realised it was April already. He’d taken the easy re-sales in to the shop and haggled over commission, and noticed on his way home that there were flowers in the park. Spring, he’d thought, and had needed to take a steadying breath of air that smelt of warm, fertile earth.
He’d trudged up the stairs with the treasures of the day heavy in his rucksack. There were fewer and fewer people living on the higher levels: the hike just made the lack of electricity, heat, and running water more of a stab in the eye, Severus supposed. His landing was dark, but not dark enough that he hadn’t seen that someone was sleeping at the end of the corridor. Severus took out his keys, and the person sat up. Severus dropped his keys.
"I brought you oranges," Remus said, waving a hand vaguely towards his carry-all as he stood. He took two hasty steps forward, even as Severus did the same; and then Remus had his arms around him, collision momentum making them spin in a clumsy, off-balance circle even as Remus kissed Severus hard enough to draw the spring air from his lungs. Severus was greedy and Slytherin — he wanted and he had a damn good idea of how to get what he wanted, and he wasn’t about to let clothing or parcels or standards of decency get in the way. Remus didn’t even try to stop him.
"I missed you too," Remus said afterwards, still wrapped around Severus, half-naked and sticky and mussed.
Severus disentangled himself and picked up his keyring. "I didn’t miss you," he said, not needing to see Remus’ face to know exactly the shade of wary it was turning. He worked his way down the row of locks swiftly and yanked the door open. He held it for Remus, who avoided his gaze as he brushed past him into the kitchen. Severus caught Remus’ sleeve with one hand and locked the door with the other. "I thought you were dead." Remus looked at him then, and Severus raised and dropped a shoulder. "And you brought me oranges."
"They were expensive," Remus said, which wasn’t an apology, damn the man. It wasn’t until they’d each had a wash and changed clothes and the oranges were set in a golden pyramid on a Wedgewood dish (from a bin, but perfectly good with one good reparo) that Severus realised what Remus had meant. Remus had taken the vegetable knife from the drainboard and was attempting to peel an orange. With the bloody knife.
"For Merlin’s sake," Severus said. "Just – "
And then stopped, unable to finish the sentence, because he had got his first good look at Remus’ hands. Remus’ hands, which were missing nails on both thumbs and several fingers, and still looked raw and painful.
Remus was not only good at never saying things outright: he also excelled at hearing all the things that went unsaid. Severus saw his shoulders tighten, his elbows press against his side as if to steady himself.
"Just give me the orange," Severus finished finally, and held out a hand. His hands never shook, not even when he knew they should. He knew it was a sign of some deficiency in his soul, but let Remus be the one to puzzle away at the divorce of his emotions from his actions. He hadn’t wanted oranges in all these months, had never once catalogued them as something he desired. But it would be churlish to say so. They had, after all, been expensive.
He worked his fingers under the skin, breaking off fat slippery segments and setting them carefully on the table. He could use the peel to keep off slugs; or perhaps he would extract the oil, or grate it fine and dry it for potions. He broke the fruit into halves, leaving the albedo on, and handed Remus his. Remus ate standing and silent, one hip on the windowsill, his foot swinging loosely. Sun filled the room, lighting up Remus' hair like a halo and making his pale shadow dance across the floor towards Severus as he ate, peeling sections off deftly with his teeth and tongue. The seeds he spat into his palm, and the juice he licked neatly from his fingers.
As tea it was neither here nor there: Severus was still hungry, but he felt it would be a sacrilege to wipe away the lingering sweetness with his grey ration bread and salvaged cheese. Remus didn’t ask for anything more, just looked around the room in small furtive stabs. Looking for changes, Severus supposed. Which was stupid and not what he wanted Remus to be doing now that he was finally home.
"How long will you be staying?" Severus asked, thinking about where he had a tin or a jar that would be good for holding the seeds until he could plant them. If there were orange groves in downtown London, global warming wouldn’t be all that bad, now, would it? He thought about soil types as he wiped out a dusty jam pot, and about rainfall and marmalade and the very peculiar shirt Remus was wearing; as he held the jar out and Remus sombrely tipped the seeds in. He never once wondered whether anything would grow in the event of a volcanic eruption or two; which would have proved, had there been any doubt, that he was no Seer at all.
"You know — " Remus' expression was pinched, and Severus set the jar on the windowsill.
"I know, and I don’t want to know, and I’m sick of it all," he said. "I want you to stay. As long as you can. Your toothbrush is still in the bath. The book you were reading is in the drawer. You’ll have to get a ration card."
"In my wallet already," Remus said. He drew in a breath that was a sigh in reverse. "I've been back three days now."
"Not in hospital," Severus said, the words heavy and slow. Remus would not be allowed in hospital — more to the point, he would not make it out alive if he were fool enough to go in in the first place.
"The man I work for has a soft spot for magical creatures in distress," Remus said.
"And you were distressed." Severus found it impossible to not mention Remus' hands. Not something that he could pretend not to see, like the pinched hungry faces of children or boarded-up shopfronts. He gestured. "That's not magical torture, that's Muggle." Remus looked out the window, saving Severus from the impossible decision of whether to meet his gaze or look away.
"I was angry," Remus said, talking over what Severus was trying to say. "No. I was blindly furious. I forgot. . . that the world was out of balance. That if we were able to make tectonic plates move, the Muggles would of course have something just as terrible. Death raining down from the skies. I was tired, I'd been in downtown Osaka for close to a week with a team from the Kobe branch of the Maho-cho. We'd not counted on how ferociously secretive the Muggles would be — I half-thought that they'd been innocent or ignorant of the import of their actions."
"I understand the incomprehensibility," Severus said, and Remus turned on him, almost snarling. Remus' shoulders were taut; he took several deliberate breaths, and Severus made himself stay quiet.
"Millions dead," Remus said finally, and Severus saw his hands stretch loose of the fists they had been in. "And there had to have been witches or wizards involved to have co-ordinated the destruction so well. The Japanese Aurors tracked them with utter ruthlessness. In the end. . . two Italian Magic-Firsters and one British were apprehended and. . . executed." Remus' mouth twisted. "But we must have missed someone, because the Muggles found us, myself and a tiny old witch from the mountains of Wakayama. She died. . . quickly."
"Stop," Severus said. "Stop." Remus did, folding his arms across his chest and staring down at the floor. "If you tell me any more you'll have to obliviate me."
"I've already told you too much," Remus admitted. Severus could see that he was shaking arhythmically, tremors and deep shudders that escaped the control Severus knew he was exerting. "They didn't hurt me more than I am used to being hurt," he added, in the tone of a consolation prize. "Most of the nails grew back. The Healer I saw thinks the damage is related to the Apparation when I was rescued."
Severus was having a hard time concentrating: the words used to being hurt echoed in his ears.
Even a year ago that plain self-assessment would have enraged Severus and inspired his own wake of destruction. But loving Remus was part of his penance, and that meant never being able to hold on to him or keep him out of harm's way.
Years ago, when all this had started, he had been the harm in Remus' way. After Black had gone through the veil, Seveus had simmered with something dark and shapeless that had finally seized him one night after a late Order meeting broke up. He had in turn seized Remus Lupin and dragged him to an empty room, where he had used magic to bind Remus to the bed. He did recall later that he’d asked shall I stop and Remus had not answered: as he washed the blood off back in his own quarters, he’d convinced himself that he was not a rapist. That Remus was a Dark creature, and likely preferred it that way.
They'd fucked and fought like the cats of Kilkenny through the end of the war, and then, just when it seemed that they’d rip each other to nothingness, Severus had lost Remus in the ebb and flow of freedom. He'd known of the panicked werewolf executions and vampire stakings, and his own position had been perilous enough that he wasn’t going to ask questions.
He had seen Remus one afternoon on the Night Bus by pure serendipity, wrapped in a dirty cape and sleeping with his head pillowed on one arm, bound for Oldham. Remus had stared warily when Severus woke him, his eyes darting about like a cornered animal’s.
Somehow, Severus had invited him over for lunch the following day; a triumph for civilisation over darkness, he'd thought. Remus had appeared wearing the same clothes but carrying a paper sack with meat pasties and a tin of tea. The differences that Severus had seen in him were only partly due to the man’s fugitive status: Severus felt as if he had always seen Remus through a distorting lens. Remus had seemed more enraging and manipulative, sexier and one-dimensional. When he made himself at home in the kitchen of Severus’ house and talked, loosely but with animated pleasure, about the government and the Muggle problem, Severus had found he enjoyed the spark of connection, as if the past was a stone with its edges river-worn to softness.
"You could live here," Severus said offhandedly, as Remus did the washing up afterwards. "But it can’t be like it was before."
"How so?" Remus had asked, not even looking at Severus: he was directing a sponge-dervish at the stew that had baked onto the sides of the pot.
Severus had been at a loss for words. "I wouldn’t need to tie you down anymore," he said, and Remus’ gaze jumped to him, unguarded and curious in the few seconds before the spell polished Remus’ fingers. Remus swore, but then didn’t say anything else until the pot was gleaming on the sideboard, although his forehead was wrinkled as if in contemplation of something besides dirt and water.
He turned around, drying his hands on a tea towel as he leant back casually against the counter. "So you’re looking for a lodger? Someone to help out with the garden, and things?"
That hadn’t been what Severus had been thinking at all; that was putting a thin gloss on a charity that he doubted Remus had the resources to refuse, no matter the degradation of being demoted from lover to house-elf. "Yes," Severus said, because it was easy, but then he raised his chin, forcing Remus to meet his gaze, and scowled. "No."
"Ah," Remus said, flipping the towel over his shoulder with a snap of his wrist. He crossed to where Severus stood and cupped his cheek with one hand, rough and warm from the water. Remus was left-handed: they both tipped their heads in the same direction for their first kiss, but Remus used his hand to hold Severus still as he corrected himself. "This?" Remus said, in between his rough exploration of Severus’ mouth. "Is this what you’re looking for?"
"Shut up," Severus said, shoving Remus back against the dresser with enough force to send cups skittering off saucers. His hands were tangled in fistfuls of Remus’ hair, and Remus’ eyes were shut as he slid his palms down Severus’ back, slowly. "I simply. . . Stay," he said. "Is that so hard for you to understand?"
Remus let his head be pulled back so that Severus could trail a line of small bites down his throat. Remus was frustratingly passive, and Severus nearly shook him for it until he recalled that he’d never let Remus touch him. He’d never cared about Remus’ needs before, and he paused, wondering if Remus also wanted to make changes, or if he preferred to end up bloody. He pulled back and looked, hard, at Remus, who yanked his hands back as if burnt, looking wary.
"You needn’t tie yourself up, either," Severus said. "You can bugger off and die if you’re afraid of me."
Remus smiled, weary amusement winning over frustrated lust. "We’re going to need ground rules," he said. "I don’t fancy talking either, but it’ll save grief in the end. If you want," he added, his head tilting to the side, "we can talk in the bedroom. With divers sundry distractions." He reached out to trace Severus’ lips with a finger. "I’m not afraid of you. I never have been."
Which was all well and good — better than anything Severus had any right to expect, better than his wildest dreams, if he let himself be honest — but Remus had not been entirely honest himself. It was not only Severus that he was not afraid of: the man either had a highly undeveloped sense of self-preservation or the desire to be a martyr to the cause. He did tell Severus about his involvement with the underground group that opposed the Magic-Firsters, which he clearly saw as his duty — no, more like a calling — and no matter how much pleasure he derived from being with Severus, Severus knew he would always go away in the end.
One of those original ground rules was that they did not discuss their respective illegal activities. For several reasons, starting with the obvious occupational hazard of torture and on down to the plain fact that they both enjoyed the illusion — delusion — that the outside world did not trespass past the garden gate (or as things stood now, the front door). Severus had far more freedom than Remus, of course: while he was almost universally disliked and prohibited from practicing his trade, he was never in danger of being euthanised. As far as he knew.
So Severus did not mention his frequent trips north to Azkaban, or even the occasional visits he made across the Channel. He did not mention the names of his sources or of the other wireless broadcasters. He did not tell Remus why there was almost always Polyjuice brewing, or — on the few occasions when he was not fast enough — why he came home hexed or occasionally bruised.
Every day the world slipped further out of balance; there were no safe shelters any more.
And he was upsetting the balance at home as well, he saw, by asking Remus to speak on the wireless. Once they started using each other that way. . . Should Remus talk about the horrors he knew were taking place, would then it be reasonable — or expected — for him to ask Severus to investigate things for him?
They might yet be able to destroy each other completely, like the Kilkenny cats. Or had that been the foregone conclusion?
"Never mind," Severus said, and Remus gave him a suspicious look. Severus suddenly could not stand being in the same room with him. He went out and shut the door, rolling up his sleeves and commencing dinner preparations, assaulting the root vegetables with cold, vicious intent. They were eating better now that the smells of cooking didn't need to be hidden from the Muggles across the landing. He pitied the Muggles in a way, as they tried to conduct all the business of their lives in the few hours of rationed electricity that were all the government could provide, as they queued for baths and toilets, whereas he had hot food whenever he wanted it, and a bath, and light. The things the Muggles did to each other in the dark made the Magic-Firsters' propaganda seem almost reasonable. . . until one considered that the rapid degradation of the Muggles' world was irrevocably tied to the tumult of the Wizarding world. When thought of that way, the Magic-Firsters' methods were suicide.
Remus didn't emerge even as Severus finished the stew, and he went to look in on him. Remus was reading again. He was still naked, except for the reading glasses. Severus told him he'd ruin his eyes reading in the half-light, Remus followed him out, pulling on a loose pair of cotton trousers, and apologised for not helping with dinner. They ate in silence, Remus' abstracted and Severus' malevolently brooding. Remus did the washing up, and Severus watched him. When the last cheap aluminium spoon had been dried and tossed in the dresser drawer, Remus turned to face Severus, leaning back against the counter and crossing his arms. Severus waved the blackout curtains into place and lit the lantern with a charm.
"What's wrong?" Remus asked, and there were no words to sum the problem up neatly.
"I have something to show you," Severus said. Remus' stance as he looked at him was defensive. Severus didn’t know how to give graciously, so he simply took out his wand. "Watch."
He said the spell very clearly – almaperio — and waited a long moment until he was fairly sure that Remus could see what he saw: something like strings of candy-floss that tangled over his skin, following his every movement. He stared at Remus, chin up: the spell really ought to be self-explanatory. If he looked closely, the original whiteness of his soul shone with a brilliant light. But it was faded in most places and shot through with lines of black and green, with a bloody stain over his heart. He’d expected something of the sort when he’d first attempted the spell on himself; he’d been grateful the damage hadn’t been worse. He frowned the manifestation of his soul loose and ended the spell. Then he turned his wand on Remus.
Remus tried to say something – wait or no or stop – but Severus’ wand was on its final sideways snap, and then Remus dropped his arms as he was enveloped in dark shadow.
Severus was not surprised. He’d tried the spell on the few magical creatures he saw regularly. The house-elf who did domestic news on the wireless had a green soul; that of the centaur who was one of his main sources for illegal potions ingredients was sapphire-blue. He'd also cast it surreptiously on a few Muggles in queues: for the most part, their souls were like his. Whiter, in general, but he supposed not many of them were war criminals. Yet.
He’d not been able to find another Dark creature. The people who’d run the purges and executions had obviously never considered the great loss to science that their prejudices caused.
Remus crossed his arms. "Well, I feel much better about myself now."
"You wanted to know," Severus pointed out. "It’s not bad, as souls go. It’s intact, for one. No particular scars left by evil acts."
"It’s black," Remus said, rubbing at the darkness that seeped from his skin.
"Oh, and you thought Dark creature was a clever metaphor?" Severus said with a sneer, and ended the spell. He started giving Remus the dry academic background of the spell, but after a minute Remus’ shoulders began to shake in resigned laughter. He gave Severus a half-smile and cocked his head backwards: a summoning.
"Where did you find that spell?"
Severus set his wand down on the table and crossed the room to allow Remus to wrap him in a strong embrace.
"I made it up," he said. "Mostly. Albus. . . Albus was interested in matters of the soul. There were some useful manuscripts amongst the clobber he left me." Remus swayed slightly as he held him — not quite laughing anymore, and not quite dancing.
"You made it up," Remus said, and Severus tried to get a look at his face.
"And I’ll likely take it with me to the grave," Severus said, with a jerk of his shoulders. "It would be far too dangerous in the wrong hands."
"You made it up for me?" Remus asked, with the soft smoothness of a well-honed razor.
"For you, you daft fool," he snapped sharply. "Not one to take the existence of your soul on faith, now, are you? Maybe you’ll think twice about things now. Maybe you’ll take a bit better care." He stopped, and then made himself go on. "And maybe if you have to die, you won’t die despairing."
Remus unfolded himself from around Severus and ducked his head to kiss him, a slow lingering kiss. "I always want to come home to you," he finally said his lips moving over Severus’ own and his words filling Severus’ mouth.
Yes, well, Severus thought. His fingers traced the lines at the corners of Remus’ eyes and the arch of each eyebrow, and fanned over the freckled forehead up to his hairline. I want world peace, but I’m not expecting any soon.
But he let Remus take him to bed, and for a short sweet time he didn't need to think at all.
Remus got an owl, three days later, in the cold darkness before dawn. Severus had barely been conscious of Remus Apparating away; he had been awake and sipping coffee when Remus returned, looking haggard and sick.
"You're going again, aren't you?" he said, keeping the morning paper in front of him, but following Remus with his eyes.
"This is the worst possible scenario," Remus agreed, and there was apology in every line of his body even as he Summoned books from the bedroom and threw them helter-skelter into his carry-all. "I – I need you to stay here. At the centre of the world. I need – I need for you to survive."
Severus lowered the paper slowly. Remus stared at him, as if trying to hold him in his mind, and then shook himself out of his reverie.
"I also need some things from the greenhouse," he said, apologetically, and Severus waved his hand in a wordless go ahead. When Remus came back, Severus could smell the plants on him: poisons and citrus.
Remus kissed him. He was taut with urgency, as if he desperately needed to be somewhere an hour ago. He tried to say something, but all Severus could think was that he did not want to be the recipient of Remus' last words.
"Don’t," he said. "Just fucking go, why don’t you."
Remus kissed him once again, hard. He did up the straps on his bag and shrugged into his patched cotton jacket. He went into the bedroom, looking for his shoes, probably; when he did not re-emerge after several minutes, Severus sighed, long-suffering, and went to check on him.
Remus' shoes were lined up at the foot of the bed. Remus was gone.
Each thought there was one cat too many,
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Insteads of two cats, there weren't any.