Title: Ten Aprils
Disclaimer: All belong to JKR, none belong to me
Warnings: Reference (mostly off-screen) to some or all of the following: Character death, rape, torture, abuse, abortion, miscarriage, childbirth, and unscrupulous experimentation. MPreg.
Summary: Severus must find a way for Harry to defeat Voldemort. Remus must find a way for Severus to free himself from the past. Written for the 2006 Lupin-Snape Fantasy Fest for The Senjou, who wanted mpreg, R upwards, black humour, Remus is preggers, suffers through pregnancy, Severus easing him through the whole experience in fluffy and kinky ways, I think there should be some fruit cake involved somewhere
Beta'ed by aunty_marion, bronze_ribbons, and schemingreader. Also, Chapter 1 volunteer beta'd by snegurochka_lee. Much, much love to you all is helping this story be born!
The First Trimester
I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad — as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation . . . They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (Chapter 27)
The First Month
Albus Dumbledore knew — must have known — that there was no way Severus could refuse him. His portrait smiled gently from its gilt frame, and in the blue paint of his eyes white speckles played in and out in a reasonably good approximation of twinkling.It ripped Severus' heart out to watch, and yet he couldn't tear his eyes away."There's no time for all the research that would entail," Severus said, aware of how sullen he sounded and of the weight of all the other, non-twinkling gazes that measured his every move. It was impossible for them all to forgive him, of course, and he was content to have been absolved by Dumbledore himself. It wouldn't remove the stain of murder (euthanasia, Dumbledore had argued to the Wisengamot, and they had settled on stripping Severus of his Potions and teaching credentials, his Apparition license, and every merit badge he'd ever earned in the Junior Niffler Scouts), but it kept him from despair and let him hold his head up, even amongst his enemies on both sides.
He ticked points off on his fingers. "Potter has one last indestructible Horcrux. Potter has lost his marbles entirely — you don't even know where he spends his time, these days. Off playing with the Dark Arts, most likely. Fawkes has gone missing, just when you were rather counting on his mystical whatsis. So you think that somehow a way can be found to summon a phoenix, which will then cheer Potter up, destroy the Horcrux, save the world, and probably rid the world of gum disease in the process."
Severus stared down as if he were holding something repulsive. He shook his hands outward in irritation and crossed his arms. "Never mind that scholars, mystics, and madmen have spent centuries failing to summon phoenixes. You think that if you set me sifting through all their ghastly scribblings I can do better? The appeal to my ego is… resistible. There is an army massing across the lake and we could be attacked momentarily. Your plan calls for time we don't have."
"There was no time," Albus said, and steepled his fingers. "You're looking distraught — have a Ginger Grouper, it'll put the fire back in you." He looked sternly at Severus until one of the wriggling jellied fish was thrashing about in Severus' mouth. "Poppy — " Albus nodded at the matron, who raised her knitting needles in salute — "has informed the Headmistress and me that she is now legally able to grant you nine months of uninterrupted research time. There are a few strings attached, of course, but I am confident that with this reprieve you will be able to assist Harry with the destruction of the final Horcrux."
Albus leant forward as far as he could (which was not very far — a few millimetres of oil paint; it was still disconcerting to see his nose flatten, as if against glass). "The recent deaths have affected Harry quite badly. The youngest Weasley is still in hospital, and in retrospect it was a serious error of judgement to allow Harry to participate in the raid on the werewolf camp. He is caught up in rage and vengeance. I am afraid that he will attempt — no, succeed — in casting an Unforgivable Curse, which will render him useless. A liability. You of all people know what a danger he would pose if he succumbed to the Dark Arts. He must learn how to use his resources — or all our sacrifices were for nothing. As it is, he won't be able to summon the help he needs if he cannot relocate love and loyalty within himself and strive for justice and not revenge."
"Oh, yes, brilliant idea, Potter will be delighted to take lessons in the higher values from me," Severus said. "I'm waiting for the punch line. There is one, isn't there? You're mad. Send Filius. Send Minerva. Send… send…." Who did Potter respect these days? The list from amongst the living was growing small. "I am the last person," he concluded, frowning at how pathetic his argument sounded. How did Dumbledore still manage to manipulate him from beyond the grave?
"You are the best person," Albus said, and Severus' knuckles whitened in anger. "Who knows better about love and revenge, and faithfulness?" Severus found it particularly unpleasant to have this discussion in front of his former colleagues. Minerva was listening raptly; Poppy had yet to drop a stitch; Remus, damn him, seemed to be asleep. "Filius is doing what he can with the boy, but we need someone who can sort through an incredible amount of literature, assimilate it, and develop some way that Harry can achieve a final victory. I need not tell you that we are losing this war."
Severus shoved himself up from the spindly chair Minerva used for reprimanding students and stalked to the window. He chewed and swallowed the last of the sweet with brusque, vicious efficiency, wishing his other problems were as easy to dispose of.
The sky was overcast: it had been so for weeks. Severus sometimes doubted that the sun still bothered to rise each morning.
"I can see the fires of the Da — Voldemort's army on the other side of the lake. Send me away and it'll be guaranteed that there'll be nothing but rubble for me to return to. I'd be more use in my accustomed role."
"After the raids last week, you are worse than useless as a spy," Minerva said from behind her stately desk.
"I brought down Greyback and his werewolf army," Severus hissed, eyes narrow and mouth thinning. "I was the one who captured Yaxley." He glared at Remus, who'd said a quiet thank you when Severus had freed him and not a word since.
"For which each and every one of us is grateful, Severus. But the fact of the matter is that you exposed your loyalties. So. No more spying. This way we can keep you safe, relatively, and make good use of you at the same time." Dumbledore smiled sadly. He strolled through the frames of Armando Dippet, Phineas Black, Calvina Portmanteau, and Walburgia "Rome or Bust" Boniface to stand as near to Severus as he could. Severus blinked, blaming the ginger. "I never make easy requests of you, do I."
"It's not even possible. Do you want me to quote Scamander on the subject?"
"Poppy?" Albus said. She set aside what looked like a very small but cheerful blanket in Gryffindor colours and pulled something out of her breast pocket that glittered in the dying light.
All the odd pieces of the conversation sorted themselves in an instant: Buying time. Nine months. Poppy was offering the use of her Term-turner. Severus had very little personal experience with the device. He had always recommended more immediate ways of dealing with students' unplanned pregnancies. But in theory he knew that it was possible to send the little fool back in time, usually with her irate mother, to wait out her confinement in a private clinic and return to school after the birth of the child without having missed even a day of classes. Just as Time-turners were monitored by the Ministry to prevent misuse, Term-turners were carefully enchanted to be used only for their intended purpose, and the paperwork involved was daunting. He grimaced.
"So, some girl has joined the club and you intend to punish her with the joy of my companionship for six months?" He paused, struck by a nightmarish idea. "Please, please say it isn't Granger."
"No. Me," a very hoarse voice said, and Severus felt his face twist in revulsion. Remus was watching him with a steady gaze. Severus was unnerved, not knowing when Remus had woken or how much he had overheard. It was easy to forget that Lupin had been a spy as well, succeeding Severus as their bridge to Voldemort's side by insinuating himself into Greyback's inner circle.
Remus was dressed in baggy clothes that must have come from the school lost-property bin: only the young could think of such things as fashionable. The cuffs were rolled up on the jumper and the trousers. Waif was a dreadful look on the man, although it was a slight improvement on the literal rags he had been wearing at the werewolf camp.
"I thought you were several Knuts short of a Galleon, and this proves it."
"Professor Snape," Minerva said so sharply that Severus nearly smelt ozone. "That is enough. Remus — "
"No, I really think I ought to be included in this conversation. Severus needs to understand what's being asked of him."
"I'd much rather understand how you claim to have fallen pregnant. Are you saying you were actually female and not just flaming gay all these years, and you suddenly felt broody? Impressive stubble for a girl, I must say."
Remus' face remained impassive, with not even a clench of his jaw to give away his feelings. Severus wondered whether he was Occluding; Remus raised his chin just enough to stare Severus straight in the eyes.
A challenge. Severus scowled. As Minerva poured tea, Dumbledore began to explain about Fenrir Greyback and Decimus Scaeva, who by virtue of his Danish citizenship had escaped prison following Grindelwald's defeat.
Severus looked away from Remus with the feeling that he'd missed an important part of the conversation.
He knew that name; it just took a few minutes for him to recall precisely…. Something about Grindelwald's war, something Albus had told him a long time ago when they were discussing personal regrets and the nature of evil. Ah, yes. Scaeva, who had been allowed to inflict horrors on prisoners of war. He had been a very scientifically minded torturer.
"Are you telling me that Grindelwald's Mad Butcher just went free after the war?" Severus asked incredulously.
"No," Remus said, hands wrapped around a steaming china cup patterned in the McGonagall tartan. "The Danes just objected to one of their own in Azkaban. For nearly fifty years he was kept in a medical facility where doctors tried to understand him. He did some wonderful kinetic sculptures over the years, apparently. He's good with his hands."
Poppy dropped several stitches and swore silently, Severus saw, and he leant back. Dumbledore had strolled to the edge of his frame and stood there, staring off into a still life with shrimp. Minerva quirked an eyebrow at Severus, and he looked away.
"Scaeva never saw himself as a butcher. He simply wanted to direct the evolution of wizardkind. He had the oddest interpretation of Darwin," Remus said pensively. "Following the Humane Treatment of Lycanthropes Act and the sterilisation of all female British werewolves, Greyback began a correspondence with Scaeva concerning his experiments with male pregnancy."
"Four sickly babies and how many hundreds of dead men came of that," Severus said, recalling an article he'd read years ago about the atrocities perpetuated during Grindelwald's war: human transfiguration, deliberately-induced splinching, and of course the pregnancies. The accompanying illustrations had put Severus off food for a week. Remus scrubbed at his face with one hand.
"Greyback freed Scaeva from the hospital two years ago. It didn't make much of a splash in the newspapers here — people were much more concerned with the rising tide of terror at home. Well." Remus sipped at his tea. "Greyback turned Scaeva himself and gave him free rein to try and find a way to breed werewolves."
Severus stared at Remus' stomach. "Do not tell me — "
"No," Poppy said, setting aside her knitting with a quick charm, letting it straighten itself out. "That's impossible. The curse functions more like a virus than a genetic mutation. Even with both parents lycanthropes, the child would be human. Perfectly normal."
She straightened in her chair. "There are two difficulties with the condition, however. The first is that, with werewolves, the monthly change almost always causes spontaneous abortion. The second is that the actual birth is very… difficult. The baby develops in a magically induced womb. When the child is removed it is hard to put things right again."
"Finito incantatem?" Severus suggested breezily. Everyone else flinched.
"I worked with Scaeva. He was very pleased to have an assistant who was literate," Remus said. Severus wondered whether Remus had read the same article; he likely had. "I brought all his work with me from the camp, incidentally. You're more than welcome to read through his various experiments. Finite has the unfortunate effect of destroying either the womb, child and all, or the parent. It's what we used for miscarriages. And one very unfortunate execution."
"Why are you here?" Severus asked abruptly. "I thought all the surviving werewolves were thrown into Azkaban." He let his tone suggest that they deserved it. Voldemort had turned a blind eye to Greyback's campaign of terror; werewolf attacks had reached an all-time high over the past few years. The Daily Prophet estimated that the werewolf population had more than doubled since November.
"Because I worked very hard to make Scaeva select me," Remus said. "So I would not have to kill, or turn others. Despite the fact that I knew there was practically no chance any of the pregnancies would go to term, it still felt like choosing life over death." He paused, looked at Severus, then shrugged slightly. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made to stay true to oneself — to what's right."
Severus refused to let Remus see that he'd scored a hit. "Bleed or breed, was it?"
Remus smiled, polite and artificial. "Exactly Greyback's felicitous turn of phrase, thank you. All the other breeders are at St Mungo's. I am here because Poppy brought me here. As simple as that."
"The full moon is in two days." The raid on the werewolf camp had been timed to prevent Greyback's werewolves from joining Voldemort's forces on the full moon. Severus frowned. "Wolfsbane is toxic to a fetus. Hence the Humane Treatment Act."
"It would be best," Poppy said, "for Remus not to undergo a change for the duration of the pregnancy. It can be done by simply repeating this month nine times." She handed Severus the instruction manual for the Term-turner, printed on pastel paper and decorated with little ducks and bunnies.
"The notations in red are pertinent. Do try and follow them to the letter. I've had to apply for special dispensations to four different Ministry offices, in triplicate. Surgery is scheduled for week thirty-nine, which ought to be around five this afternoon." She patted Remus reassuringly on the arm, and Severus noted the restraint with which Remus forcibly did not jerk away as if burnt. "Augustus will be coming over specially. He's becoming quite an expert in lycanthropic pregnancy."
Remus choked on his tea. "Imagine my joy. Isn't he the fellow — when Arthur Weasley — "
Poppy flicked her wand at her knitting, and it began bordering itself. "You just sit tight and relax for the next few months, let Severus get his work done, and let us worry about everything else."
Severus watched Remus take a controlled sip of tea and set his cup and saucer down carefully on the table. For the first time, he felt a grudging kind of respect for the man. Had it been him, he doubted that he could have kept himself from dashing the cupful of tea into Poppy's face.
"This is one of your worst schemes yet, Albus," Severus said, not letting himself think about Remus as anything other than the millstone being put around his neck. "Even if I discover anything useful, there is no way Potter will listen to me rationally over dinner tonight."
Albus turned back from his meditations. His eyes flicked past Severus to rest on Remus; by taking a small step backwards, Severus could see that Remus avoided that gaze. Interesting. He wondered whether a portrait was capable of Legilimency, or whether it was simply Albus' perceptiveness Remus feared.
"Surely in nine months you can think of how best to work with Harry," Dumbledore said cheerfully. "Do you think he can do it, Remus?"
Remus blinked as if caught daydreaming and cocked an eyebrow at Severus. "Shall we research alternative methods of banishment as well? Unspeakable and Unforgivable spells, and the like."
"Does Harry Potter, Dark Lord sound good to you?" Severus snapped. "Did you sleep through the entire year of Magical Theory?"
Remus nodded as if satisfied, and then glanced at Dumbledore. "It can be done."
Severus seethed — but knew, still, that whatever Albus asked of him, he would not say no.
The Second Month
An hour later, Severus found himself standing outside the Hogwarts gates with a great deal of luggage. There was a trunk filled with research materials, the empty spaces packed with food and other essentials. He had a rucksack that matched Remus', filled with his meagre, mouldering collection of Muggle clothing (fortunately, he had dissuaded Flitwick from contributing lederhosen and argyle socks), and he was wearing his smart black wool trousers with a button-down shirt and charcoal waistcoat, mainly to avoid any taint of Lupin's casual shabbiness. His black coat was too warm for mid-May, but he would need it in April. Besides, the way it flared when he walked gave him pleasure. Just because he was in hiding didn't mean he oughtn't to command respect wherever he went.
His coat pockets were weighted down with the ten sealed envelopes Hooch had prepared. Each contained the key to a Junior Niffler campsite in a secluded Wizarding area, but near enough to shops that enthusiastic Nifflers could work on their Living with Muggles Merit Badges whilst enjoying the splendours of nature. The Nifflers were keen on harmonious relations with all dumb animals — or so Severus had been told, often, as he tagged along with his older scouting relatives. They had never left any doubt about which category he fell into. The first and last camping excursion Severus had been on with the Nifflers had ended in hexes, agony, and several life-long phobias. It remained one of Severus' fondest memories of his misspent youth.
Severus shifted the rucksack straps that dug into his shoulders and reluctantly stepped forward to accept the chain that Remus held out. He had to stand too close to the man in order to get it around his own neck. Remus didn't look bothered at all. Severus carefully turned the tumblers on the Term-turner back to the day after the last full moon — April the twelfth — and gave it one sharp turn. The world whirled around him; the second it stopped he pulled out one of the envelopes at random, grabbed Remus' hand, tipped the key onto their cupped palms, and let it carry them to a destination unknown. He didn't much care where they ended up: one location was just as unbearable as another under the present circumstances. He was disappointed to find on arrival that he hadn't lost Remus, although the man looked rather ill as he surveyed the cabin before them.
They were deep in the woods, someplace with enough mountains to crop the sky severely. The cabin looked ominously like the sort of place that Junior Niffler Scouts flocked to in the summer: grubby and rustic, cobbled together with spit and wonky charms, and unlikely to have hot water. Severus unlocked the door and was met by a stench of unwashed socks and vats of curry. Remus moved around the room like a wraith, flicking his wand to send shutters flying outwards and open the dust-grimed windows to the evening air.
"It could be worse," Remus said, as cold, damp air curled around their feet. There was no wood for the great stone fireplace that sat in the centre of the building. The room they stood in served as both common room and dining area, furnished with long tables and benches and shelves with gravity-defying amounts of heavy pottery glazed brown. To the left of the fireplace was a door marked 'girls' dormitory'; to the right was the boys'. Severus smirked and lowered the trunk to the floor with a bang.
"Well, that's plain enough. You obviously get the girls' room. Make yourself at home."
Remus gave another of his unreadable stares: they were starting to get on Severus' nerves. He didn't argue but went into the girls' dorm and shut the door quietly. Severus unpacked the trunk, feeling put-upon. Remus emerged with a towel and soap just as Severus was shutting the trunk lid at last. The search for adequate bathing facilities proved futile: apparently, this campsite subscribed to the notion that a layer of dirt on the skin was character-building. Remus ended up performing his ablutions at the tap to the side of the exercise yard and returned damp and shivering. By that time Severus had a fire going and had prepared his own dinner of ham and mustard sandwiches; Remus took one look, blanched, and said a hasty goodnight. Severus told himself that this was a good thing and summoned a grimoire for a little light reading before bed.
By noon the next day, Severus was forced to admit two things to himself. First, Remus' attempts at unassisted invisibility were getting on his nerves, the gods alone knew why. Second, Remus was not eating. Normally, this would not have bothered him in the least, but Poppy had taken him aside and asked him to take care of Remus. I've never taken care of anyone in my life. It's far too late now.
"Eat something, Lupin," he said as he toasted sausages in a skillet over the fire.
"No, thank you," Remus said politely, pulling his chair closer to the open window. Severus suspected that he would have retreated outdoors had it not been raining.
"I won't force you," Severus said with a languid roll of his shoulders. Right. He'd done his duty.
"I don't eat meat."
Severus stared at him for a long moment. "Whoever heard of a vegetarian werewolf?"
"Greyback hadn't, either," Remus said, and his mouth twisted in what could not, technically, be called any kind of smile. "Drove him mad at first. He came around, though. Dried beans and rice are cheap. Even cheaper than the kinds of meat that were plentiful at the camp."
Severus frowned. "Did you tell Poppy about your diet?"
Remus crossed his arms. "Ought I to have?"
"You bloody well know you ought to have. This whole… situation… is for the baby's sake, and you're starving it." And if the baby dies, we'll have to return to Voldemort on our doorstep and still no idea of how to bring him down, Severus thought, but he refrained from mentioning this. Sensitive to his needs my hairy arse.
"I have crackers in my room," Remus said, "and honestly, I feel too ill most of the time to want anything more. I will eat eggs and cheese, and if there's tofu or tempeh to be had in town that'll be perfect. Vegetarians have babies all the time."
Severus was assailed by an image of hundreds of unshaven legs in baggy tie-dyed maternity robes. It did not help that in his mind they were all in a waddling chorus line. His mind tried to force the image of a visibly pregnant Remus Lupin on him, but he blocked it skilfully.
"Don't expect me to do your shopping, Lupin," he said, and Remus smiled, wearily.
"Poppy's told me I should be walking two hours every day. I'll be more than happy to hike out to the nearest town. I assume there is a map somewhere." He glanced around and then flicked his wand. "Accio map." A drawer slipped open, and a paper flew out. Remus caught it lazily.
"Do you have money?" Severus asked.
"Quite a bit, actually," Remus said, his voice even but still somehow hinting that the question was in poor taste. He finished looking at the map and folded it carefully into a pocket. "Both sorts, although it looks like the Muggle money will be more useful."
"Well, you seem to have come out on top," Severus said. "Did Greyback pay you for services rendered?"
Remus summoned his coat — a horrible violet anorak several sizes too large — and slipped it on. He opened the door and pulled the hood over his head. Apparently even the rain was preferable to Severus' company.
"Do not ignore me," Severus snarled, but Remus didn't look back.
"Keep a civil tongue in your head," he said, and the door snapped shut behind him.
Remus returned exactly two hours later, laden with carrier bags. Severus found it maddening that in order to indulge his curiosity he had to overcome his aversion to the man. He settled for glowering at Remus as he unpacked apples and cruciferous vegetables, tins of beans, bakery bread wrapped in brown paper, and all sorts of other mysterious Muggle bags and boxes onto the kitchen counter. One bag sat damp and untouched on the table nearest the sink. Remus found a bucket under the sink and filled it with water that he charmed cold. He then immersed a bottle of milk and some other dodgy things that might have been the yoghurt or the tofu he had threatened.
"You can help yourself," Remus said finally, taking up his wet carrier bag and heading for the bedroom.
"What's in that bag?" Severus asked, knowing as soon as he said it that he oughtn't to have succumbed to curiosity.
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Socks. Underwear. A few books to pass the time."
"Stands to reason you wouldn't help with the work."
"I'd be more than willing to give you any assistance you might need," Remus said evenly, and Severus frowned. He turned the offer over in his mind and studied Remus' face. The man seemed to be sincere. Perhaps he truly was dense enough not to know when he was insulted.
"Can you read French?"
"Not as well as I can Latin or Middle English, but it's certainly better than my Arabic."
Severus considered. "I might be able to use you."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Hold that thought while I go put on my socks."
Remus returned, wearing his new socks (Severus did not inquire about underwear) and with a box of water biscuits. He made a vague 'help yourself' gesture as he set the box on the table on his way to the kitchen. He brewed a kettleful of strong peppermint tea, filled two mugs, both horribly chipped about the rims, and set them down on the table, one in front of Severus.
Remus sat down on the bench diagonally across from Severus, and cocked his head slightly. "French," he said, letting his intonation ask the question.
Severus gestured at the large, scarred wooden box that he'd levitated onto the far end of the table, contemplated it for a moment, and then tapped it gently with his wand. The box opened outwards like a fan, revealing hundreds upon thousands of what appeared to be matchbooks.
"Minerva's idea of help," Severus said, scowling into the box. "Accio Toloze's Brief discours d'un esprit, lequel, sous la forme d'un cerf." A matchbook fluttered out of the box, enlarging into the ancient volume as it flew into Severus' hands. He flipped though it desultorily, and then tossed it to Remus, who demonstrated a true scholar's panic at the sight of the rare — if not unique — volume hurtling towards his teacup. He made a catch any librarian would have been proud of and set the book down protectively in the crook of his elbow. Severus pointed at the box. "The Hogwarts' Restricted Section in its entirety."
"Pince will have kittens," Remus said, sounding impressed. "How did you ever sneak this by her?"
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose. "She gave it to me. Obviously. This is worth more than my life is at this point."
Remus leant forward, his eyes gleaming. "Accio Necrotelicomnicon*," he said, and grinned with fierce joy as the book launched itself at him. "Our odds just rose dramatically," he said, carefully removing a biting curse and an arse-pimpling hex from the book before opening it and riffling through until he found what he wanted. A faint silvery fire rose up from the yellowed pages; Remus spoke an incantation and the fire resolved itself into a brilliant phoenix that fanned them with wings before burping up flame and charring itself out of existence.
* by Terry Pratchett
Severus blinked; Remus looked up and smiled almost conspiratorially. "Tell me what we're looking for, and I'll find it."
Remus immersed himself in study as someone abroad for many years might revel in the return to the land of his native tongue. Which, Severus supposed, was an apt enough metaphor. He doubted that the werewolves had an appreciation of scholarship, and Scaeva had used Remus as a secretary-cum-file clerk — and lab rat, of course. Fenrir, he knew, had been one step removed from illiterate, but had possessed the kind of cunning that would have welcomed Remus' debasement as a way of eliminating a potential rival. Severus had no such insecurity. He resolved to use Remus Lupin as fully as possible.
The moon waned, it rained every day, and they fell into a pattern. Remus accepted his regimen just like the model prisoner he was (was that a skill, Severus wondered, that one could list on one's CV?), without enthusiasm but without protest. He walked the required two hours each day, prepared and served the menus given in the Ministry-issued pamphlet Eating for Two! (although most days Severus enjoyed the nutritionally balanced meals whilst Remus crept about nibbling on crackers, and occasionally cheese when he felt ambitious), took his supplemental potions, and did his exercises (there was another Ministry-issued pamphlet for these, decorated with blue elephants and yellow giraffes and featuring a jolly pregnant witch in pink robes, who flashed her dimples as she failed to find her toes). Remus disappeared into his room for the night at seven, and when Severus emerged in the morning at half six for a wash at the tap in the rain Remus was usually seated at the table by the eastern window, reading.Whilst engaged in these activities, Remus kept his face completely blank and spoke as little as possible. It annoyed Severus to no end, although he couldn't say what he would have Remus change: he suspected that he himself was a little too fond of having an audience and ready targets for his frustration and boredom. He was in the habit of honing the blade of his wit on others, and Remus' frictionless surface gave him no satisfaction. He decided this was a character flaw he could live with, and determined to get under Remus' skin one way or another. All in good time.The only time Severus saw Remus break out of his lethargy was when they worked together, researching obscure spells and laws, or arguing Wizarding ethics. Severus found that he consistently underestimated Remus, and that Remus was willing to exploit this weakness in Severus. Sometimes he noticed Remus' eyes on him and suspected that Remus was also biding his time. Fine by him. He had no doubt who would come out on top when things did finally come to a head.
Their own calendar carried on into June, but in the repeating world around them the moon waxed as April became May, each night swelling further towards full. Remus became restless. Severus' sense of timing was razor-fine, and he had Poppy's instructions: make each month last as long as possible to reduce the number of time-shifts Remus would have to go through, but make certain he didn't Change. Move to a neutral point between safe-houses to go back in time, to avoid running into themselves coming or going.
Severus adjusted his robes carefully and checked his pocketwatch.
"Time to go," Severus said finally, levitating their trunk and pulling on his rucksack, which seemed to have doubled in weight (Remus had suggested that they borrow some of the cabin's amenities, blankets and the tea kettle especially). Remus pushed himself to his feet and looked around the room blankly. "We'll hike down the valley, I think, before timing it backwards."
"It was starting to feel… homely," Remus said, with a peculiar expression, like someone trying to recall the flavour of something eaten years and years ago.
"The time, Lupin."
Remus looked around the depressing dining hall one last time and then shut the door firmly. He didn't speak at all on the trail; Severus felt the weight of his silence like the pressure of a glare.
"Stop sulking, Lupin," Severus said, stopping in the clearing made by a lightning-struck oak. "Who knows, next time around we might end up at the seashore." He held out the Term-turner chain. Remus slipped it over his head, and the early summer receded into the chill of winter's end again.
The Third Month
Severus didn't know if there was a name for the new accommodation more appealing than hovel. It was one room, with a kitchen along the northern wall and a bed along the south wall under two narrow windows facing rolling hills and bracken. The centre of the room consisted of a sagging sofa backed by two sets of wire shelves that served as both cupboard (when accessed from the kitchen) and wardrobe (from the bed side). The toilet was in a lean-to at the back; the bath was tin and on a tarped-off platform beyond the toilet. Water came from a tank on the roof: when Remus tested the tap, what came out was brackish and full of feathers.
"At least it's free," Remus had said, after staring around the hovel for several long minutes in disbelief.
"It's the caretaker's house," Severus said, reading one of the yellowed notices nailed to the door. "The person who helps put up the tents and sells overpriced fags."
"Are there any tents?" Remus asked hopefully, and Severus had to admit it would be nice if there were. Remus could set up his tent… way over there, and he could set up his… way over here, and they might be able to go for days without seeing each other, if they arranged their schedules properly. But a thorough search of the campsite took only a few minutes and turned up nothing.
"We'll take turns on the bed," Remus said, eyeing the sofa. "We could perhaps Transfigure something into a curtain down the centre of the room."
"What good would that do?" Severus had replied, but now, lying on the sofa and listening to Remus' panicked breathing and noises of distress, he wished that he'd thought to Transfigure something into a wall. Telling Remus to shut up didn't work, he'd tried that twice; he cast a silencing spell around himself, but after ten minutes his own damnable curiosity forced him to look and see if the nightmare had gone away. It hadn't. Remus was curled up and shivering, with the sheets and blankets kicked onto the floor. Waste of a perfectly good bed, Severus thought, and put his bare feet to the cold linoleum floor. He walked around the sofa and into the… bedroom? bed-niche? and stared down at Remus.
"Wake up, Lupin," he said, shaking one shoulder cautiously. Remus flinched away as if burned. "You're having a nightmare." There was no response to that. With a sigh, Severus sat down on the edge of the bed.
He tried to imagine Remus as a first year student, away from home for the first time and bereft. The sort of student the prefects couldn't calm, so a runner would be sent down to drag the Head of House from his warm bed into a slovenly dormitory that always smelt of wax polish and sweets and dirty animals. His technique, honed after years of refinement for optimum soothing and minimal contact within the shortest time, involved head-patting and humming. Remus proved amenable to both, but in the process both his arms went around Severus' waist in an inescapable grip.
"You're going to be embarrassed in the morning, Lupin," he said. From where Remus' face was pressed into his hip there came a noise of protest. Severus hummed and patted some more, and found himself beginning to nod with sleep.
"Good night," he said sternly, and stood, slipping the pillow into Remus' empty arms.
It was galling that Remus remembered nothing of this the next morning.
"Sleep well?" Severus asked scathingly over his second cup of instant coffee.
Standing at the hob and keeping an eye on a mushroom, capsicum, and cheddar omelette, Remus stretched: his arching, laced fingers nearly grazed the ceiling. "Same as always. And you? Is the sofa bad?"
"Your turn tonight," Severus said automatically. He supposed that mentioning the nightmare might lead to talking about the patting and humming, and he had no doubts about which would be more personally mortifying. Remus had earned his share of nightmares. He did not talk about his experiences at the werewolf camp, but Severus inferred they had been less than pleasant.
For the next three nights Severus took great care with his silencing spells, reined in his curiosity, and slept undisturbed. The fourth night he woke thirsty in the absolute darkness. It was raining again. He stood at the sink, trying to undo the knot in his spine from the damned sagging sofa, and listened to the wind whipping at the corrugated tin of the roof. A flash of lightning lit the room in a burst of white, followed by a bone-shaking rumble seconds later. He caught a glimpse of Remus through the shelves, curled up against the wall.
It took a certain amount of humming and patting just to get Remus to unbend. By the time Remus' breathing had slowed into the cadence of calm sleep, Severus found himself stretched out on the bed with one of Remus' arms around his chest and Remus' head pressed against his shoulder. He had given up on the humming and patting but for some reason (most likely his intense loathing for the sofa springs) he was still here. The storm had passed; now all he heard was the relentless rain.
Remus sighed in his sleep, and shifted, his leg brushing past the hard-on Severus had been trying to will away, because really, what could be more ridiculous? Severus gritted his teeth and refused to allow himself to rub back. Remus' hand slid down his side slowly, over the jut of his hipbone and down to the throbbing hardness between his legs; Severus' breath caught as Remus stroked his erection through the soft fabric of his night robe. Remus's eyes were shut, his breathing regular and deep, his fingers so warm and tight with their insistent rhythm; Severus thrust into that warmth and came. When his breathing returned to normal, he slipped out of the bed, ignoring the soft whimper Remus made in his sleep, cleaned himself, and fell into well-sated sleep on the lumpy sofa.
"Sleep well?" he asked the next morning, curious despite himself. "There was a storm last night."
Remus looked up from a meal of bland crackers and mint tea. "I missed that. I don't… I have trouble sleeping, sometimes. When I do fall asleep I'm dead to the world."
"Useful skill for a spy, that," Severus said scathingly. Remus raised an eyebrow and smiled faintly.
"I don't recall sleeping through the night once while in the werewolf camp. I used to hallucinate sometimes from lack of sleep — mostly bugs crawling under my skin that I could never scratch. On the plus side, I learnt how to nap anytime, anywhere."
Severus grunted. He was familiar with Remus' nap addiction.
When Remus fell asleep on the prophecies of Spinius the Often-Inebriated after lunch, Severus couldn't blame him: the thing about lesser-known prophets was that there was a reason for their obscurity. Usually, they were complete nutters. Spinius wrote extensively about the care and feeding of the phoenixes that roosted in the volcano above his home, but he also believed that an incarnation of Siva had descended from heaven to grow messages in his pubic hair, and half his prophecies were drawings of his genitalia, upside-down. Severus worked the book out from under Remus' head. Irma would be upset if Remus drooled on Spinius' balls.
Taking advantage of the privacy, Severus summoned the book he'd hidden between volumes 34 and 35 of Ptarmigan's Lives of the Great Numerologists. Waving his wand over The Dark Arts and Cheese: Recipes for Disaster! it became She's Not Mad, She's Pregnant: suggestions for expectant fathers. He was getting quite tired of the ubiquitous bunny theme, and the cover artist for this book had also worked in little bears in coloured ribbons. If Remus ever caught him reading it… well, Obliviation would be called for.
He opened to the preface and began reading.
Congratulations! In a few short months you and your beloved blushing bride will welcome a precious addition to your family — or two, or three, or more! (see chapter 6: Magical Conception) Your mind is full of questions, but do not fear! I will guide you through the miraculous journey of gestation.
Severus snorted. It wasn't a miracle, it was a perversion and a violation. He flipped idly though the pages, his interest caught by the charts, graphs, and moving full-colour illustrations. The picture of the cervix opening was particularly gruesome. At least Lupin would be spared that. He looked up sleep.
One of the telling signs of pregnancy is a certain lethargy — exhaustion, even — which is why women with children already rarely realise their condition in the early months. If this is your first pregnancy, your helpmeet's listlessness, reluctance to cook your meals, and preference for sleeping instead of tidying house may have you wondering, "Where is the sweet witch I married?" Well, hold onto those hats, boys, because — as the Americans say — you ain't seen nothin' yet!
As pregnancy begins, your darling will not be eating for two (don't let her!) but rather sleeping for two. She will be grateful for any indulgences you make. Perhaps in these early months you might allow her to conjure food instead of cooking, or allow her to forego pressing charms on your under-robes.
Severus worried that his gagging might wake Lupin. A paragraph at the bottom of the page caught his eye.
Nightmares are very common in pregnancy, never fear! Your wife has not suddenly become a Seer, but the victim of stress and hormones. Reassure her of your love, cuddle with her, rub her feet, let her know that she and her precious child are cherished.
Severus slammed the book shut and banished it. Cherished, indeed. Well, at least Remus' night terrors were normal.
He told himself that that night and the next two, but the fourth evening found him lying awake on the sofa, again, listening to Remus cry out, again. This time Remus calmed down with frightening speed as Severus stretched out next to him. He let Remus bring him off and nearly fell asleep with Remus' arms around him. He would have to be careful, he decided, returning to the sofa. But… he didn't mind as much as he thought he would. And he found himself going to Remus almost nightly.
It was next to impossible to believe that Remus slept through these nocturnal episodes. But if he wished to maintain the illusion that he was asleep and unaware of what was happening, Severus was not bothered in the least. He didn't know what Remus got from it; he didn't care. He was sure that Remus was pretending that he was someone else — the Holyrood beater, or the brat from the Ministry. Severus could not, of course, ask, so he simply endured the sting of his miserable curiosity. It was a small enough price to pay, considering that he was sleeping well, he was getting more sex than he'd had since he was 27, and he didn't need to acknowledge it or discuss it or pretend that it was a relationship. It wasn't perfect, but under the circumstances it was damn close.
Remus seemed to be cheering up as well. He still avoided Severus as much as their cramped quarters allowed, but he was well on his way to becoming the sort of house-witch the author of She's Not Mad approved of. He started a garden of plants that he gathered on his walks and rigged a laundry in the bath. He began eating some of the meals he prepared, and stopped looking quite as scarecrow-like. Occasionally over a meal they had conversations unrelated to the day's research. Sometimes, it felt like detente.
Not that Severus cared: what happened here happened out of time. Aggravating as it was, there were simply no other outlets for social interaction, and Severus was not used to having to endure his own company for lengthy periods of time. His entire adult life had involved having convenient students to vent his frustrations on and colleagues — within and without Hogwarts — to engage in intellectually stimulating conversation and to provide the rush of power. He did not know which Remus Lupin was, scapegoat or colleague; whether to deal with him using blunt force or with cunning.
On the fifteenth day of straight rain, Severus was astoundingly bored, and he could feel the gradual wrinkling of his skin from the seeping wetness. He hated that Remus had returned from a casual two-hour stroll in the rain with carrier bags full of tempting things for tea, added some plants to the garden (which seemed to thrive without sun; Severus suspected Remus of using some very advanced herbological techniques), and settled down to work without a complaint, even though Severus had made sure to give Remus the worst two-thirds of the translation while calling it half.
Remus hummed tunelessly and settled the book on top of his stomach, chewing on his quill. Severus reread his own translation and realised that it was all drivel about the power of love and the meaning of sacrifice — absolutely nothing useful.
Severus began by complaining about the text and segued into his frustration with the research, Dumbledore's whole idea of assisting Harry, and finally began disparaging the boy and his father before him. Remus stopped trying to read while half-listening — a terribly condescending habit — and instead focussed his attention on Severus, leaning back and looking maddeningly calm.
"Who is Harry Potter, Severus?"
"He's an ignorant, arrogant ass, that's what he is."
Remus tipped his head slightly to the left. "I'll ask again. Who is he?" Severus glared. "How old is he?"
"Seventeen," Severus said, "but that doesn't — "
Remus raised a hand and looked at Severus, hard. "He is a seventeen year old boy," Remus repeated. "Do you remember when you were seventeen? Yes or no," he added, as Severus felt his face flush with anger.
"Of course I do."
"Do you remember when you were one and a half?"
"That's not the point, Lupin."
"Harry was less than one and a half the last time he saw James Potter. How much of an influence on the boy do you suppose he was?"
"You are trying to get me to think I'm unfair," Severus said through gritted teeth. "And I say that there are too many similarities between father and son."
"But are they similarities that Harry's always had, or did you create them in him?" Remus asked softly. "If you treated Harry as an extension of James from the moment you met him, it's not farfetched to think that he became like James to defend himself."
"He's the spitting image of his father!" Severus snapped.
"And he didn't even know that until he was nearly twelve years old," Remus said, with a spark of fire. "Hagrid wrote me for pictures because the boy had not even one. He lived all those years in his aunt's house of neglect and hatred without even one picture to remind him that he had ever had parents who loved him. Without knowing what his father and mother looked like." Remus half-smiled and raised an eyebrow. "I look nothing like my father. How about you?"
"There's no reason for us to talk about my father, or your father, or bloody Harry Potter's father. This is between — "
"Severus Snape and a confused boy twenty years younger than he is?" Remus suggested. "Did your mother love you less for being the spitting image of your father?"
Which was exactly why he hated godsdamned Harry Potter: trust the boy to steal that memory. He'd probably shared it with his cursed godfather — and most likely laughed. Black would certainly have laughed retelling it to all and sundry.
"You," Severus said, and there were momentarily no words to shape the rage that flooded him. "You." He was dimly aware that he was shaking, and that Remus didn't look scared even though he wanted him to be. "Will that baby look at you with the eyes of the wolf that turned you?" he asked, letting the fury build. "Will it touch you with hands the same shape as those that hurt you? Will you watch it for signs of madness? What will you say when it asks where it came from? I hope it's Greyback's," he said, voice razor-soft. "He does so love children."
"The sins of the fathers stop here," Remus said. He stared at Severus across what felt like a chasm; in the wake of blinding rage, Severus was cold. Remus looked as though he were receding, and Severus was suddenly treading water in unfathomable depths.
"Lupin," he said, aware of the stiffness of Remus' posture. Severus paused, wondering if he'd gone too far; he supposed he had. He tried to consider Remus as something other than a curiosity, tried to wonder what he would feel in a similar situation. He couldn't. He crossed his arms and frowned at Remus.
"You really don't know whose child that is, do you," he said, and Remus pushed himself up, letting his work fall, inkpot and all. He pulled on his still-wet coat, silent and pale. When he left the door slammed behind him.
"Fuck," Severus said to the empty room. He didn't feel bad. How could he? That would imply that he cared. And he didn't. He didn't give a damn about the comings and goings of Remus Lupin. The man — beast — whatever, he had nearly killed Severus twice so far. He would be a fool to consider Remus his equal.
Outside, it was dark, and the wind shook the windows in their casings. Remus had better not stay out all night in the sodding rain, Severus thought, banishing books with vicious precision. If Remus caught pneumonia he'd be forced to nurse him back to health. And if Remus caught pneumonia and died, well. Then Severus would feel like a murderer all over again. He didn't need to look at Albus' portrait to feel the weight of the headmaster's gaze: when those eyes weren't twinkling they could drag him down to parts of his soul he preferred to leave alone.
"Fuck," he said again, because if there was anything fifteen years of adolescents had taught him, it was that foul language was greatly satisfying. He set about tidying up for the night. He managed to Transfigure a fairly good partition from the most ragged blankets and set it in place with a Hover Charm. He retreated behind it with his books and his parchments and an unpleasant taste in his mouth that accompanied his lack of appetite.
When he heard the door open and shut he let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. He heard the sounds of wet clothing hitting the floor, a kettle boiling, Remus heading to the loo and back, and finally the martyred groan of the sofa. He supposed that Remus would carry on tomorrow as if nothing had happened — that seemed to be the pattern — but Severus was beginning to wonder what Remus did with all his anger. All his emotions.
Severus cast a Silencing Charm that he was sure would last until sunrise and lay down. Then he resettled himself and wished that he'd remembered to bring his toothbrush behind the curtain. He could Summon it, and a glass of water. He could just simply banish Remus and have the hovel to himself. The silence was uncomfortable and reprimanding; he did not take well to being reprimanded.
He tried very hard to think of Remus as the guilty party. Guilty for attempting to murder him, guilty for lying, guilty of trying to make Severus something he was not. Could not be. Severus pulled the pillow over his head, and then threw it to the floor. He was not a child trying to block out the terror of his parents' rows. Remus, even infuriated, was not the sort to intrude on him, haul him out of bed, slap him or shove him into the wall or force him to drink whisky. Remus would simply withdraw the tentative offering of friendship.
Severus could no more apologise than he could sprout wings and fly, and it was time Remus learnt that.
He sat up, got up, set the pillow back on the bed and pulled aside the curtain to look at Remus. The curtain had blocked out the moonlight, leaving the kitchen in darkness. Remus was curled into a tight ball on the sofa with the blanket on the floor. Remus was also crying; it was not the first time, so there was a very good chance, Severus told himself, that he was not responsible. So he wasn't sure why he felt responsible. He sighed and tried to feel put-upon instead.
"Come on, Lupin," he said, rolling Remus to his feet and half-supporting his weight as he pulled him into the bedroom. "Lie down."
"What — ?" Remus said. In the moonlight, his cheekbones were sharp and silver and his eyes flickering shadows. There would be no pretending that this hadn't happened. Remus curled up on the bed facing the wall. Severus stretched out next to him, then sat up to yank the blankets straight and fix the pillow, and when he lay back down it was on his side, one hand at Remus' waist. Remus was rigid under his touch; his breathing was fast and shallow. Severus was insulted: for all that he was and had done, he had never inspired fear in a bedmate before. Did Remus think he meant to force him out of anger? — and on the heels of that thought came the even more horrifying suspicion that Remus would simply keep his eyes shut and bear it, and say nothing come morning.
Severus slid one arm under Remus' head and his other hand down over Remus' hip and under the elastic band of his pyjamas. Remus wasn't hard: Severus wondered briefly if pregnancy caused impotence. He doubted his book addressed the question: all it said about male pregnancy was that it was a very bad idea of Grindelwald's.
He could feel the race of Remus' pulse and the rapid rise and fall of his chest, but Remus' cock responded to his touch anyway. Which was infinitely worse. You may, he thought viciously, pulling his hand up and out, his palm settling just above the pubic hair line, compare me to former lovers. You may not compare me to former abusers.
They stayed like that, Severus curled around Remus' back, long enough that Severus thought Remus must have gone to sleep. Remus' chest rose in a deep sigh that drained the tension from his body, and then he leant back against Severus slightly, one hand covering Severus' and moving it down.
Fingers interlaced, their hands moved together. Remus, it seemed, liked a harder and rougher rhythm than Severus did; it took very little time to wring a moan from him, and hardly any time after that for him to cry out, muffled against his arm, as he came.
The ability to feign sleep was seriously underrated, Severus thought, as Remus rolled over and settled bonelessly against him, head on his shoulder, one knee around Severus', an arm heavy on Severus' stomach. He wanted to ask: are you asleep, really? But he had no idea what he would do if the answer were no. He didn't want or need a lover, and especially not a pregnant lycanthope. He was Severus Snape, he was supposed to be going places with his life, he couldn't be tied down.
Except that his life seemed to have gone nowhere but downhill, and he was tied to a past riddled with deeds he'd give anything to be free of. As he finally fell asleep, the odd thought came to him that his life might have been a lot easier if he'd ever learnt how to forgive and be forgiven.
It was a consolation to watch Remus wake up and see the look of shock and dismay that echoed his own reaction perfectly. Remus wiped at his mouth and then at the damp spot on Severus' night robe and said nothing. Severus could feel the tension flowing through him, and then Remus carefully pulled back, leaving a neat hand's-width of space between them.
"Good morning," Severus said, and then he fell silent.
"Yesterday," Remus said, and stopped, obviously measuring his words. "You upset me. I love this baby — the potential of it — more than I ever thought I could, and I couldn't — can't — think of it as… tainted. It's innocent, no matter how it came to be. It's mine."
"You're disturbingly maternal," Severus said, and tried not to squirm under Remus' level gaze.
"Every child deserves to be loved simply for existing."
"But that's not how the world works, is it?"
"My parents loved me," Remus said softly, and Severus wondered if that meant that they were dead. Perhaps best not to ask.
"My father hated me. My mother took me with her when she left, but wound up leaving me with relatives who trained me to answer to Half-Blood instead of my name. Was that love?"
Remus flinched, pain crossing his face before he could hide it. Severus thought that there might be something empathetic he was missing here. But then Remus set his hand on Severus' arm and said "I'm sorry," and Severus realised that empathy ran both ways. He most assuredly could not deal with that now.
"I want to hurt you when you say that," he said. Remus looked startled but withdrew his hand immediately.
"I'll go make breakfast then, shall I?" Remus said. "Ah — if you would — " and Severus realised that Remus was trapped between himself and the wall.
Severus had a mad impulse to kiss Remus, just to see, perhaps; but the horrid taste in his mouth (should have Summoned the toothbrush, he thought again) dissuaded him. They both got up and got dressed, and the awkwardness was a looming physical presence that seemed to have elbows and knees all over the room. There was nothing but toast for breakfast, but it proved hard to choke it down anyway.
Finally, Remus set down his bread and looked up. "Last night," he began, and Severus flinched.
"I did not mean," he said, and Remus looked confused. "What I said, not what we did." Severus looked at Remus through narrowed eyes. "Is there someone — some lover — waiting for you when you get back?"
Remus shook his head. "You?" To his credit, he didn't smirk.
"Who would have me? Present company included," he added, and Remus smiled at that. It wasn't a particularly warming smile, self-deprecating and too tired to mask wariness, but something about it made the tension dissolve.
"You never asked, Severus," he said. "In addition to you being an outright bastard most of the time."
"Are you being facetious?"
Remus shrugged and got up, setting his dishes in the sink and taking his coat down from the peg behind the door. "I find a bit of humour tends to make some truths go down easier."
"Where are you going?"
"On the same walk I take every day." Remus' look was too knowing. "Need anything from the shops?"
When the door shut behind Remus, Severus frowned. He wondered what trick Remus used to partition his life off so neatly. He wondered if Dumbledore had had any idea of how close to the edge Remus was. Whether he was here to keep Remus from attempting something desperate. Or whether Remus was here for him.
The Fourth Month
Remus finished reading Severus' translation of a rather suspect fifteenth-century Chinese text that had been found under the rooftiles of a monastery in Dunhuang. He steepled his fingers and questioned Severus sharply on the differences between feng huang and zhuque in the Chinese symbolism of the phoenix. He snapped his fingers for a book, and Severus found himself on the receiving end of a lecture on the relationship of Confucian virtues to feng huang.
"Loyalty, honour, decorum, and justice," Remus said. "But also harmony and discord, the beginning and end of a new regime."
Severus stared at Remus in consternation. He had raged at Albus for his charity towards the man; kindness, he felt, had no value and no place in the academic world. He remembered Remus as a mediocre student, always in the shadows of Potter and Black. When and where had he learnt all this? Remus looked up through his overgrown fringe, his smile thin and knowing.
"Shall we take a break, Severus?" Remus asked, putting the books aside and stretching his arms up, his back cracking audibly as he twisted slowly from side to side. Severus couldn't help but be distracted, despite the fact that Remus was wearing every article of clothing he possessed, including the lilac anorak. Their latest accommodation was a rotting stable in the far north. The wind whistled through the boards continually, and the floor was frozen dirt. The first night they spent there they'd woken covered with snow that had sifted through the holes in the roof.
The only time Severus was ever warm was when he curled up with Remus at night, and then it was far too cold to do anything but sleep. Remus seemed not to mind; frustration was eating into Severus' concentration, and he loathed it.
"How, exactly, is any of that going to help us conjure up a phoenix for Potter, Lupin?" he said, and noted with satisfaction the set to the corners of Remus' mouth.
"Maybe you could tell me what ideas came to your mind while you were working on it," Remus said. He got up from the bench and went to fill the kettle with water from the iced-over rain barrel. He set it on the ground beside the table (which — like the bed — they had Transfigured out of an old door) and tapped it with his wand to start it boiling. Remus had put shelves at the back of the stall that they used as a kitchen, and he fetched down a box of oat biscuits. Comfort food, Severus thought, as Remus held out the box. He took three and waited for the tea.
"What did you do after Hogwarts?" Severus asked, even though he knew that talking about the past was a bad idea.
Remus shrugged and sat back down awkwardly. Severus suspected that he was starting to look pregnant, somewhere under his miscellany of clothes. He certainly moved as if he were pregnant, although that might just be stiffness from sleeping on a bed that turned back into a door at least twice a night.
"Odd jobs," he said. "After 1981 I travelled a bit. I've been to Dunhuang, I've seen the Muggles gaping over the dragon and the phoenix, and I've been to the actual dragon preserve. Didn't see a phoenix, though."
Severus felt a stab of annoyance. After 1981 he'd been chained to Hogwarts. "I never thought of you as scholarly," he said. "You were never particularly talented in school."
"I recall your ongoing debate with Filius when I was teaching at Hogwarts," Remus said, smiling faintly, as if he had heard Severus' unspoken as I was clearly. "You were always on about the need to weed out the plodders and nurture those with genius, to make the school more selective. You drove Filius mad. He still argues that education ought to be open to every Squib, half-breed, being, and beast with or without the qualities that assure success under the current government. I sided with him even then but I could never quite express why." He raised his chin. "I know now. One thing genius won't teach you is the perseverance to keep plodding, or the ability to find a goal worth plodding towards."
Remus' eyes reminded Severus uncomfortably of Dumbledore's stare when the diffusion of twinkling gained sudden, penetrating focus.
"Well, then, that's something you owe Greyback, isn't it? Because it's really only perverse stubbornness that's kept you alive."
"When I ought to have died as a child?" Remus said, taking a bite of biscuit and chewing deliberately.
"It would likely have been best for all concerned," Severus said. "Don't you think?"
He made the mistake of locking eyes with Remus, whose hand went automatically to his wand to Occlude. It was galling to not be trusted; it was infuriating to think that Remus wanted to hide his secrets away so blatantly. Legilimens, Severus thought, viciously.
Remus' defences were pathetic and easily demolished; really, the Order was in trouble when this was the quality of their spies. Too late, he realised he'd been manipulated into a trap.
And then he lost even his own name as Remus' memories overwhelmed him.
He was facedown in the dirt and leaves
under pressure as pain ripped through him
and he was the boy
and the man
and it could only be endured like the change
magic held him unnaturally still
whilst his body was twisted and forced
he was vomiting up blood onto the snow
he was watching his own bones as his flesh peeled back
he was still bleeding when they came for him again
he was cold and hungry and his bare feet burned on frozen ground
he was cutting a body
and the body belonged to friendship – laughter – gentle hands
he was helpless in the face of death
and it all meant nothing
he was rocking arms wrapped around himself by the row of graves
he was screaming
and then he was silent
and then he stopped fighting the chains —
Severus became dimly aware that the teakettle had stopped hissing: Remus poured tea now, carefully, hands unnaturally steady. Severus fought to recover himself from the tarpit nightmare of Remus' memories, breathing hard. Remus' calm expression hadn't slipped, but there was something wounded in his eyes that made Severus suspect that his defence had hurt him at least as much as it had Severus.
Remus set a mug by Severus' elbow and took up a quill as he spread Severus' notes out in front of him. "You need to compare what Ellnorton's saying with Padgett's observations and read between the lines," Remus said, and held out his hand to summon a book. Nothing just happened, Severus thought, and balanced that idea, the good and the bad of it. Denial and wilful thinking made the world a much easier place to live in, he supposed. "Here, you completely discounted the magical intent component."
"Intent is both puerile and inelegant."
"You say that because you're crap at it," Remus said lightly, and Severus stiffened. Ah. Remus was regrouping to attack again. "You don't trust, you don't open your heart and soul to the magic, and you certainly wouldn't allow some flighty bird to be that free with you, am I right? Very much as Harry is right now, by the way. You have to keep tight control because you are afraid of what would happen if you let go. Except that for Harry — " and here Remus took a slow sip of tea — "losing control is starting to look appealing. Unfortunately."
Severus' fingers twitched on his wand. "No adult wizard relies on intent."
"Most adult wizards aren't even conscious of how much of their magic is based on intent. It is the foundation of all they do, the way a grammar unconsciously shapes a language. What I find fascinating about you is that you have developed a form of nearly perfect intentless magic."
"Is that a compliment?"
Remus shrugged. "No. You're crippled, but you limp elegantly."
"Oh, fuck you."
"Shut your eyes," Remus said.
"I won't do anything to harm you," Remus said. "Shut your eyes. You can hang on to your wand if you like." He paused. "If it scares you, you needn't. It was just an idea."
"I don't trust your intent," Severus said flatly, but he shut his eyes. He heard the bench move as Remus stood, and the faintest warmth that suggested Remus was in front of him.
"Right hand, left cheek," Remus said, and then Severus felt the dry warmth of fingers on his face. He tried to repress the instinctive flinch. The fingers lingered there, and Severus felt branded. "Left hand, right cheek." Severus couldn't remember any time, ever, when his face had been framed like this. He was tempted to open his eyes, call off Lupin's stupid dare. It was becoming very hard to breathe.
Remus' hands slid back, his fingers combing through the hair above Severus' ears, and he spoke, softly. "I am not your enemy." His fingers curled slightly, almost as if to hold Severus still, but after a second he realised it was because Remus was leaning forward to press a kiss to his forehead.
"I deserve basic respect as a human being." Faint pressure on the right signalled another kiss to his right cheek.
"You deserve the same basic respect as a human being, and one who is deserving of and capable of love." Severus was prepared this time for the kiss to his left cheek, but completely incapable of understanding why he wasn't hexing Remus — why he sat here paralysed.
"I will not hurt you, and I'll try not to let you hurt yourself. In return, I ask that you try not to hurt me." Severus didn't want to open his eyes: to see the world again might kill the tenuous new feeling that cowered behind his ribcage. Remus' hands moved, almost setting him free, and then he felt Remus lean forward and press a final kiss to his mouth.
Severus' hands shot out and tangled in the slippery fabric of Remus' coat; he felt the chuff of air from Remus' surprise. He had meant to push Remus away, and he certainly didn't have the courage to pull him closer, so they froze like that, in, Severus holding Remus at a distance, breathing hard against the mouth pressed to his. Then Remus pulled back, and when he spoke his voice was calm and even, though hoarser than before. "You can open your eyes now."
Remus was standing, watching Severus with his head slightly cocked and a searching expression that Severus was certain he'd seen on his mother's face, years and years ago.
"Are we in agreement?" Remus asked.
"Whatever," Severus said; Remus waited. "Yes." Remus nodded once. "I am not nice," he said, slowly.
Remus smiled wryly. "I've never thought you were. Nice is not what I'm asking for. It is not even — not always — what I want."
"You're not very nice, either. But you'll be a good parent," Severus said. It was a compliment; he meant it as such. He didn't understand why Remus looked as though he'd been slapped, and then the borrowed memory of blood and fresh graves in the snow came to mind. Ah.
"I'm going for a walk," Remus said. "Do you need anything from the shops?"
"It's going to hail," Severus said: he'd thought Remus mad for buying daily newspapers, but there were advantages to knowing the weather a day before it happened.
"I have my hat," Remus said. He did, too, and it was unspeakably ugly.
Severus almost asked Remus if he wanted company on his walk. It took three days for him to actually do so, and he scowled as Remus paused, looking wary, before finally shrugging agreement.
They walked more often than not in silence. Sometimes Remus told Severus the names of the plants he carefully tucked in his pockets for replanting in the garden. Severus found he still had the habit of looking for Potions ingredients, and had to remind himself that that part of his life was done now.
Remus, he found, preferred simple things to grand panoramic vistas. Shafts of sunlight moving over the hills. Green shoots coming up through the dead leaves. Small birds with pompous Latin names, collecting bits and bobs for their nests. Rain pooling in the cup of a flower. Snow that fell, whirling and thick, from a clear blue sky.
Once they saw deer, and Remus froze, one hand on Severus' arm. They watched together until finally, with a flick of white, mother and fawn melted back into the woods. Remus let out a held breath, flashed a smile at Severus, and continued slogging through the frozen bracken.
The track over the hills was stony and wet: where the grass had been worn away there was thick mud that came nearly to Remus' boot tops. Severus, walking a pace behind, kept his eyes on the ground and on Remus' feet, to avoid the worst bits.
"I did have an idea," Remus said apologetically as they crested the rise. He had paused to catch his breath; these days, he did that more and more frequently. "It's not quite the same, but. You recall that Dumbledore's Patronus was a phoenix."
Severus frowned down at a view of empty grassy fields and far-distant cows. "A Patronus isn't the same at all. You couldn't destroy a horcrux with a Patronus, I don't think. It wouldn't burn. It's a different kind of magic."
"But if Harry could focus on changing his Patronus to a phoenix, it might help him — perhaps — become attuned. To all those ideals that phoenixes are supposed to represent. That might be enough to draw Fawkes back to him. Or any phoenix, really."
"His Patronus is his father — why would he want to give that up?"
Remus glanced sidelong at Severus. "His Patronus wasn't corporeal at the werewolf camp raid."
Damn. How had he missed that? "That's… not good."
"No." Remus took his hands out of his pockets and started the scramble down. "I thought I would try it, changing my Patronus. You might have the right of it — it might be done by concentrating on the spell itself and not personal intent. I've been practicing, but I'm afraid I've rather a problem."
Severus somehow made the slither down without falling face first in the mud and grabbed at Remus for balance.
"Show me what you've practiced," he said. Remus sighed and drew his wand.
"It's funny," he said, not looking amused. "I remember teaching Harry this — it came to him as natural as breathing. I'd been afraid — I'd thought that he might not have had enough happy memories to do this. Memories of not being hurt, not being afraid, not being alone, they're just not good enough. Anyway." He raised his wand, frowned, and spoke, softly. "Expecto patronum."
Severus blinked. Every member of the Order was drilled in the Patronus Charm until it could be cast under the most dire of circumstances. After the initial difficulty with mastery was overcome, conjuring the Patronus was almost addictive. More than one wizard compared it to masturbation: feel-good magic.
Remus couldn't even produce a spark.
"It's not that I don't have the right memories," Remus said apologetically. "I just can't reach them except through the filter of the bad."
"Did Greyback have a Legilimens working for him? Another wizard?"
Remus frowned. "Do you think it's spell damage, something like a curse?"
"That's the only thing I could help you with. If it's just you you're on your own."
"Is anything else affected?" Remus stared at him, unblinking and unresponsive; right, that might have been a stupid question. How would Remus know, under the circumstances? "Finite incantatem."
"I did try that myself," Remus said, but he brought his arm up for another attempt. "Expecto patronum."
"Try it with my wand," Severus said, holding it out, but that was no good either. He Conjured his own Patronus — weak and discorporeal as usual, but Remus wasn't in a position to sneer — with both wands. "Have you tried holding your wand with your toes? Sometimes that helps highlight problems with a spell."
Remus covered his mouth, and Severus realised by the shaking of his shoulders that he was trying to hold in laughter.
"Anyone who's ever done extensive work developing spells knows that trick, Lupin," he said, copying Remus' blandness. "It was invaluable to me in creating Sectumsempra, for example. And it also gave me an opportunity to perfect an excellent toe-reattachment charm."
The laughter exploded out of Remus, and Severus felt a horrible lightness. Good God, I wanted him to do that, he thought. I let him — made him — laugh at me. He thought of a hundred things he could say that would send Remus back into defensiveness and a thousand reasons that he should say those things. He shouldn't let Remus think that he could laugh at him. He looked at Remus, wheezing quietly into his handkerchief now. Remus' hair was dark and wet and stuck to his face and neck: Severus realised that it had started raining in earnest.
"You'll catch cold, Lupin," he said, handing back his wand. "Let's go home. Is there a better path back?"
There was, it turned out, a longer path that went around, and Severus thought they'd been right to take it: by the time they reached the sagging stable doors the rain was sweeping down in black sheets. Remus had barely been able to walk against the wind. Within their relative shelter, Severus pulled off his sodden clothing, setting warming charms on each as he draped them about. Remus was doing the same thing, but his fingers were stiff and his lips were definitely blue.
"Bed," Severus said firmly, stripping off Remus' last wet pair of trousers and a damp t-shirt before rolling him into the blankets naked. Had Remus not been clenching his jaw to keep his teeth from rattling, he'd have had something to say, Severus thought. He warmed the blankets until they were nearly hot to the touch. Remus sighed and tugged on his sleeve, pulling Severus down.
"I'm still wet," Severus said, and peeled off his vest, dropping it to the ground. "I despise camping, did you know that?" Remus's cold hands pressed against his back, and he hissed. "You're like ice."
"I haven't felt warm since… October," Remus said from under the blankets.
"Children like camping, for some reason," Severus continued, and he put one hand to Remus' stomach. The baby — the womb — could just be felt when he pressed his fingers in; Remus protested and shoved his hand away. "This one'll have camping in his blood."
"There are worse things," Remus said, and then, "Where's your wand?" Severus handed it to him. "Do you want to hear something strange?"
"Absolutely not" was on Severus' lips, but Remus had already spoken. "Sonorus."
The sounds were definitely odd, a fast regular beat audible over odd wet swooshing noises.
"Is that — is that your heartbeat?"
Remus shook his head and smiled. The lycanthrope Madonna, Severus thought, but he didn't say it.
"That's… very odd."
"It's alive. Or something."
"Or something," Remus said. "It won't be able to survive on its own until thirty-two weeks." Severus was sure that there had been a series of diagrams in She's Mad but Pregnant, pictures of foetal development, but he couldn't recall what the baby was supposed to look like. All head and stomach, he thought, and no bigger than his thumb. Remus ended the charm and handed back the wand, letting his hand trail over Severus' trousers. "You'll make the bed all wet. Take these off."
"You just want to have your wicked way with me," Severus said, but it was much warmer to be naked, with the blankets over him and spooned up around a more-or-less warm Remus. Lying like this, his cock pressed up against Remus' bare arse. He shifted, rubbing, and Remus stilled.
"We don't have to," Severus said. "I just thought — "
"No, I — it's okay, I'd like to. There's no lube, though."
"I'll find something." Severus sat up and put his feet to the cold floor. He was back in bed two minutes later with a glass jar. "Poppy's ointment base." He slid one leg between Remus' and a hand between Remus' legs. "Relax," he said, which made Remus tenser.
"It's been a while," Remus said in apology, pressing his shoulders back and reaching with one hand to stroke Severus' hip. Severus felt a flash of stolen memory: dead leaves in his mouth and no breath in his lungs, as if he were being forced into the ground itself. He wondered how people did this. He curled his left arm around Remus' head, almost an embrace and slicked one finger, found Remus' entrance, and pushed in, slowly, without stopping. Remus was still. Severus let him adjust, moving slowly; when he did feel that conscious loosening of control he slid in a second finger and twisted.
Remus cried out blindly; Severus froze.
"Does it hurt?"
Remus' hand was tight around his wrist, not letting him move, but not letting him pull out either.
"That's never happened before," Remus said, his voice ragged. Severus crooked his fingers experimentally. "Oh, gods," Remus said. "Don't, I'll come." He tugged Severus' hand free.
"Can I fuck you without hurting you?" Severus asked, dipping into the lube again.
"As long as your cock does what your fingers just did I don't care."
"And they say romance is dead," Severus muttered, which was why, the first time he entered the almost uncomfortable tightness of Remus' arse, Remus was laughing, which didn't help. "Gods, you feel good."
Remus shivered, shook his head. "Don't say that. Just get on with it."
"Right," Severus said, and pulled Remus' leg up so he could sink all the way in. Remus groaned and pushed himself back on Severus' cock. Can't get enough, can you? Severus thought, but he didn't know if that was safe to say, either. Besides, it was obvious.
He's thought that their position would be easiest on Remus, but Remus was soon demanding something less leisurely. Severus rolled sideways and Remus moved under him, head down between his elbows and arse up. Severus put both hands to Remus' hips to hold him still, and watched the slide of his cock in and out, the clench of Remus' hands on the blankets, the arch of his back. He found the right angle to make Remus writhe and then abandoned himself to the rhythm. He fumbled for the lube and slicked his palm, wrapping his hand around Remus' cock so that each thrust and pull of his hips sent Remus' cock sliding in and out of his tight grasp; Remus was wordless, now, gasping and crying out. He felt the spasm of muscle around him as Remus came; by then it was enough to send him over the edge.
Afterwards, Remus curled around him like a cat.
"That was… unbelievable," Remus said.
"The bump's pushing your insides around, that's why," Severus said, and didn't miss the gleam in Remus' eyes.
"Do you suppose it's permanent?"
"I highly doubt it. Enjoy it while you can."
"Damn right I will," Remus said. "Just let me get my breath back."
"You have got to be joking," Severus snapped. Remus wasn't. But in the end, he didn't mind, after all.
"Lupin," Severus said, much later, "I do believe I'm dead."
"Don't be dead," Remus said, nudging Severus on the shoulder. "I'm starving and I don't think I can walk."
Severus handed over his wand. "Summon something. You should have got yourself knocked up ten years ago, when I was still up for… this."
Remus grinned and held up a hand to catch a box that flew off the kitchen shelf. "Oh, you're still up for it, thank the gods. Here, have a bikkie. Wait." He pulled the hand with the digestive back and gave Severus an intense stare.
"May I kiss you? You let me once, before."
"Your priorities are wrong, Lupin," Severus said. "You don't beg to be buggered three times and then get demure about kissing."
"Hurry up, I want my bikkie."
Remus leant forwards and up and pressed his mouth to Severus'. Severus was not much acquainted with kissing, but it wasn't bad. Strange and different: Remus wasn't trying to get him into bed, so it had to mean something else. Perhaps it was gratitude. If it was, Severus didn't mind. Remus' hands were gentle on him, and he wasn't a wet, sloppy kisser. Remus shut his eyes, which made Severus smile into the kiss. Just a little. In the end it was Remus who pulled back, wincing from a kink in his neck, so Severus let him pillow his head on his arm as they ate their biscuits and watched the light from the sunrise climb the wall.
The Second Trimester
It's different with me than with other girls. They can take things naturally from people. They have fathers and brothers and aunts and uncles; but I can't be on any such relations with any one. I like to pretend that you belong to me, just to play with the idea, but of course I know you don't.
(Daddy-Long-Legs, Jean Webster)
The Fifth Month
"I never thought I'd be waking up with a bludger-smuggler," Severus said, rubbing the bump idly.
"Try being the bludger-smuggler," Remus said sleepily. "Little bastard has been kicking me in the bladder."
"Is that why you were up and down like a tart's knickers all night?"
"That and the moon," Remus said. "My bones ache."
"It's the sodding rain," Severus said.
"We need a holiday," Remus said, straight-faced, and then grinned as Severus glared at him. "Or a good breakfast. Omelette?" he asked, rolling out of bed in awkward, ungainly stages, trying not to smash his head against the upper bunk, which was too low.
The lodge they were inhabiting was nearly identical to the first, with the exception that the girls' dormitory was in a loft above the boys'. It was accessed by a ladder which acted in much the same way as the stairs to the girls' dormitories in Hogwarts. When Remus attempted to climb the ladder the first time the rungs had disappeared halfway up. The fall would have been amusing had he been a naughty Niffler scout intent on nicking knickers; it was not so for a middle-aged werewolf in a high-risk pregnancy.
Remus had insisted he was fine whilst hyperventilating, curled up protectively around the bump. Severus had levitated him into their bed in the boys' dormitory and checked Remus as thoroughly as he knew how. The only damage seemed to be several nasty bruises and a broken ankle, which Remus had put right with nearly careless ease. Later, they removed the spell on the ladder and used the upstairs room for storage, but they kept the boys' room as their bedroom, despite it being cramped and smelling repugnantly of stale sweat and other bodily fluids.
Severus stretched out over Remus' side of the bed, naked under the covers (sheets were a wonderful thing, he'd decided; their presence was a sign of advanced civilisation), and watched Remus get dressed, a mental critique running in his head. Remus apparently no longer felt the need to hide behind layers and layers of clothing, but he still did his best to conceal the bump. It wasn't working. The zip on his jeans wouldn't close, so he let them hang off his hips and walked with a very seductive roll of his hips to keep them from dropping. There was a strip of exposed stomach between the space where his boxers couldn't rise and the bottom of his vest. He wore untucked t-shirts and a tatty stained jumper that might have originally been Hagrid's: it hung nearly to his knees. Severus didn't think he could stand to look at this ensemble for the next four months.
"Haven't you any clothes that fit?" he asked, and Remus looked up from rolling his sleeves up to the elbows.
"Trousers with a waist bigger than my inseam? No — have you?"
"I'll buy you something," Severus said. "It unnerves me to know that you're walking with your trousers open all the time." Remus stared at him, wary, and Severus got out of bed himself to avoid another row. Remus had a talent for rowing, Severus had discovered.
"I'd appreciate it," Remus said as Severus yanked the door open.
"You'd better," he said, unable to meet Remus' eyes.
Remus caught at his arm, pulling him into an embrace of sorts. Severus was stiff; the bump was in the way. "Thank you," Remus said.
"Don't." Severus knew Remus wanted some kind of assurance in return, and because he knew that, it was impossible.
Remus tipped his forehead against Severus' shoulder for a second. "I know. I know. So. Omelette and coffee?"
"I'll go down into town after breakfast. Make a list. The next place we go to likely won't be so convenient." A quirk of Unplottability had put the Niffler campsite a forty minute walk from a Wizarding village to the east and a modern shopping plaza to the west. Remus regarded the latter with an almost religious awe and had filled at least one trunk with covert Tesco buys, just in case.
"I'll go with you — " Remus started, and Severus rubbed the bump again.
"You shouldn't anymore," he said, not wanting to say it. Remus had few enough pleasures, and chatting up people in shops seemed to be one of them. "You don't look fat, you look pregnant. You are starting to confuse the Muggles." Remus grimaced, and Severus found himself missing the unshuttered look Remus had when he first woke. Caution and worry added years to the man's face. On the heels of that thought, he wondered what his own face betrayed; he was good at schooling his emotions, he had to be, but no one had ever spent as much time and at such close quarters with him before. It was a terrifying thought.
"I'll give you the money, then," Remus said. "The Muggle sort."
Severus nodded sharply. "Let me put my clothes on," he said, and Remus' arms released him.
"Here," Severus said, setting two bulky carrier bags (pale yellow, decorated with big-eyed bears) on the table in front of Remus. "Enjoy."
Remus set his book aside and pulled out an assortment of boxes with a very dubious expression. Severus had made a point of having everything done up in glossy pink paper with ribbons. The ribbons had ducks on.
Remus prodded the parcels with a finger that was broken-nailed and stained with chlorophyll from the morning's gardening. "I have an aversion to wearing women's clothing," he said, finally. "It probably goes back to when I told my family I was gay, and they assumed I'd be washing out silk knickers in the bath and wearing eyeliner." Remus cocked an eyebrow at Severus. "What did your family say when you told them?"
Severus leant back in his chair and stretched his legs out. "You're making two big assumptions. First, that I would ever tell anyone in my family anything. Second, that I'm gay." He ought to have felt a warm flash of triumph as Remus' face shut down in wariness; instead, he felt locked out and annoyed. He waited for Remus to question him, but after an awkward moment, Remus shrugged, slightly.
"I see." Remus turned his attention to the first box. He undid the paper neatly and coiled the ribbon before opening the box and digging into the pink tissue paper. He took out two pairs of maternity trousers made from some stretchy material, one pair black and the other denim blue. He folded them neatly and set them on the table, then opened the second box, which held the shirts. Severus had told the shopgirl that he was shopping for a sister who was grubby and mannish and allergic to pastels and cartoon animals. She'd found plain shirts in heavy cotton ("No, she won't be nursing," he'd snapped when she'd asked about openings in the front for breasts). He'd got red, green, and a sandy sort of orange. Remus relaxed visibly as he looked them over. "These are perfect. Thank you."
"There's a jumper in there as well. And a pair of trainers — your boots are a size too small, and they have holes that you can't keep spelled shut anymore."
Remus set the clothing in two piles and, with a flick of his wand, tidied away the boxes and wrappings. "I can't remember how long it's been since I wore new clothes. It's a luxury that I intend to revel in, believe me." He glanced at Severus. "I'll just go change, shall I?"
"Bin what you're wearing," Severus called after him. "Burn it, especially the sweater."
Remus did look a bit girly, Severus decided when he reappeared. Perhaps it was the V-neck on the blue jumper, or that the trousers were cut to accommodate wider hips and a round arse. Mostly, though, it was the bump, which already nudged the fabric of the shirt out in front. Severus decided to keep his opinion to himself. He could always insult Remus later.
"It's pretty obvious, isn't it?" Remus said, patting the bump; whether in apology or embarrassment, Severus wasn't sure. "I didn't tell my parents about the baby," he said, as if he thought Severus ought to know, as if he were picking up a conversation. "They're going to get the shock of their lives."
Severus frowned. "I thought they were dead."
Remus looked surprised and sat down at the table again. "No, living in — -shire."
"You could go see them — we're only a couple of hours away."
Remus ran his hands through his hair, which was shaggy and unkempt. Severus thought — but would never say — that it looked rather good on Remus. He wasn't sure if it was nostalgia for the fashion popular in his teenaged years or because all the werewolves under Greyback had kept their heads shorn (to keep the vermin down, Remus had said, but Severus had seen their tattoos, he knew what else it meant) and he didn't want to be reminded of that when he looked at Remus.
"I've not seen them in, oh, two, three years now," Remus said. "We write, or I used to write, but. My dad's eighty-two, and he has trouble with his heart and is going deaf, and my mum's dealing with that and working besides. I find myself self-censoring to the point that I can't say anything." Remus shrugged, with another of those tight smiles.
"Which one's Muggle?" Severus asked; it felt odd to ask. It certainly wasn't polite, but Remus didn't blink.
"My dad's half," he said, and there was an empty space where the conversation hung: Severus had warned Remus off, earlier, and Remus was a quick learner. If Severus simply waited another ten seconds, Remus would start to talk about the weather, or the garden, or some dreary combination of the two.
"I'm half," Severus said. The words had an awkward, unfamiliar shape in his mouth: as a child it had been enough to make him cry, at first. Tell the half-blood his dinner's ready, Mrs Prince would say to the house-elf, even when Severus was in the same room. Don't let the half-blood touch those. She'd slapped him for ruining his second-hand schoolbooks by signing his name as Half-blood, but she'd told him he was right, that was all he'd ever be. "My father wasn't a wizard."
"I met your mother," Remus said, and looked sidelong at Severus. "You remember. After I nearly killed you the first time, that nightmarish conference with Dumbledore."
"It wasn't your fault," Severus said, grudgingly. "That time wasn't. Fucking Sirius Black, though, both times — he never was any good for you, you know."
"Says the man who puts two spoonfuls of sugar in every cup of tea," Remus said lightly, and then looked properly appalled. "No — I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be flip, don't shut me out."
"I don't recall inviting you in," Severus snapped back, and Remus' face was a mixture of frustration and regret. He cast about for some in-between topic of conversation, somewhere between soul-wrenching honesty and the disgusting weather. "Is this where you grew up?" There. Let Lupin reminisce.
Remus obliged, with stories about his childhood that somehow conveniently had nothing to do with his assault by Greyback and the way that had twisted his family out of shape as surely as the monthly change wrenched his bones apart. Severus half-listened and felt dissatisfied. A certain perverse enthusiasm on Remus' part made him suspect that Remus was having him on.
Remus finished up the anecdote he was telling about his mother, and Severus stared at him.
"The raid on the werewolf camp will be in the newspapers next Wednesday," he said. "Even out here, your parents must listen to the wireless. They won't be thinking, ah, must be another Remus Lupin who happens to be a werewolf. Didn't they come to see you at all after you were rescued?"
Thinking about the time made Severus' stomach feel queasy, so he tried not to do it as much as possible, but still he sometimes recalled what he had been — was — doing. As they sat here, at the very same time, Remus was still chained to a cement wall in Wales. The faded bruises he'd had when rescued might be livid, or they might not have been inflicted yet. There was no way to go back and save him. It was as bad as being a ghost.
"Minerva sent word, I believe," Remus said. "I couldn't have faced them then, and I still can't. There you have it. Care for tea?"
Ha, Severus thought, now he's marking his territory. Remus made him a perfect cup of tea, which was to say a very sweet one, and began pottering about with vegetables for lunch. Judging from the spices Remus was taking out, he was making yet another curry. Severus was fairly sure that it said in his paternity book that spicy foods weren't good for the pregnant; Remus had merely raised an eyebrow and said that it wasn't spicy at all. Severus could only assume this was because Remus had burnt his taste buds off in a chilli-pepper related incident, but he did know (after that unfortunate week when Remus had made nothing but sprouts and cheese) better than to fight with the cook.
Remus stayed in the kitchen after they ate, washing up and then rolling up his sleeves and attacking the tacky grime that had settled over the countertops. That was when Severus retreated to the girls' dorm for a bit of research. Even through the shut door he could hear Remus banging about below.
Three hours later, Severus was beginning to worry.
He sighed, put down the crumbling text he was trying to translate, and summoned She's Not Mad, She's Pregnant!. Severus heard Remus swear, and something crashed ominously. He ran a finger down the table of contents until he found what he wanted and opened to page eighty-six:
Just as the birds prepare a nest for their young, so your blushing bride wishes to prepare for the radiant arrival of your darling baby. During this "nesting period," she will feel compelled to clean the house and have everything in perfect readiness. Neither man nor beast can resist this driving primal urge: far be it from you, the "house-band" and fount of domestic discipline, to stand in its way. Best to be as the reed before the floodwaters.
Severus double-checked that the book was enchanted to appear as Recipes for Disaster! to any eyes but his own. He briefly contemplated what Remus would do if referred to as a blushing bride. The broodiness of a Hungarian Horntail would have nothing on it, he suspected.
Your feisty female may want to stay at home and be with her family, to sterilise the doorknobs, to prepare the nursery, or to use potent curses when muddy boots cross her freshly waxed floors. She is asserting her control over her pregnancy and her birth, and she needs your reassurance that she is right to assume her position as queen of your castle.
Severus wondered whether he could ever look at Remus with a straight face again. He might have to Obliviate himself, he thought glumly, to get that last sentence out of his mind.
Just as early pregnancy is marked by a certain listlessness, middle pregnancy can best be characterised by the word energy. This is the force of creation awakening within: many men find that they cherish their helpmeets even more as they fulfil their sacred duty. This is the time that a loving gift of crochet hooks, paint, or double-thickness rubber gloves will be well appreciated. Your companion will take the greatest pleasure from taking care of you at this time. Bring on the socks needing darning! Ask her to get your favourite recipes from your mother! Conjugal relations at this time take on an extra spice as she learns new ways to please you!
Severus shut the book with a snap and carefully misfiled it again. He took a deep breath, opened the door, and climbed down the ladder.
"There had better not be mud on those shoes," Remus said sharply. Severus stopped at the bottom, removed his shoes, set them outside the door, and returned in stocking feet. Remus eyed the holes, and Severus frowned. Darn, Severus thought, and felt his mouth twitch.
Remus had achieved a gloss on the scarred wooden floor that could only be magical, and Severus was surprised to see that the cooker had actually been olive green under all the accumulated grease. The dishes were all arrayed neatly, in order of decreasing size, along the shelf. All the dining hall tables but two had been moved to the wall opposite the door; the remaining two had been put together and covered with a crisp-looking cloth that he'd never have suspected was really a tea towel, had it not been for the border of Welsh songbirds and souvenir of written across the middle. The benches had been Transfigured into shabby but comfortable-looking chairs. It took a certain talent, Severus thought, to transform impotent rage and frustration into homely chic.
"Cleaning, are you?" Severus asked, and Remus crossed his arms. The gesture lost its impact due to the fact that it made the bump stick out, and Severus tried to stare at something else. Failed.
"You may not mind living in squalor…" Remus began, and Severus was assailed by the image of Remus in crown, robes, and sceptre. Queen of the castle, indeed. He Occluded madly and gave Remus a bland look.
"Isn't it teatime?" Severus said; but apparently that wasn't the right thing to say either. Remus glared. Severus gave up, crossed the room, and put his arms around Remus, who sighed and leant back against him.
"I think I'm going mad."
"Hormones," Severus said. "It's the nesting instinct. Chai?" Remus nodded, and Severus pointed significantly at the table. Remus took the cutlery drawer with him and cast polishing charms on the cheap aluminium flatware as Severus summoned ingredients and began boiling water in a sparkling stainless-steel pot.
"The nesting instinct, Severus?" Remus asked. Severus concentrated on getting the mixture of spices just right.
"Sugar?" he asked, but he knew Remus would say no — he always did. Severus' brain was getting cluttered up with Remus Lupin minutiae，and he didn't know what to do about it. "Nesting. Getting ready for the baby. Apparently it happens to women all the time."
"What have you been reading?" Remus asked mildly (it didn't fool Severus), checking his reflection in a teaspoon.
"Baby book," Severus said; he had many voices that he had cultivated as a teacher, and this particular tone conveyed that continuing the line of inquiry would prove unpleasant for all involved. Spices in and tea brewing, Severus rummaged through the cool box for the cream. "Mint or no mint?" he asked, taking down two cups that he swore had been brown with historic teastains just that morning.
"No mint," Remus said. "It bothers me on many levels that you are researching my madness in baby books." Severus tapped the pot impatiently with his wand to simmer the chai down: unlike most potions, he found, tea never suffered from being nudged along. After a minute he decided that it must be done, and strained it into the cups.
"Well," Severus said, setting Remus' chai down on the table in front of him, "it ought to be comforting that you can place all the blame on hormones. Is it?"
Remus blew across the tea thoughtfully. "Not at all. They're not my hormones."
"The book said that all this… nesting is simply a way of exerting control in the face of… well." Severus summoned the gingernuts (the All Butters having mysteriously disappeared between the night before and now) and set them temptingly in the centre of the table. "We won't even be here fifteen days from now."
"At least the kitchen is clean," Remus said sharply, and then lowered his chin.
"Are you going to clean every kitchen we have for the next four Aprils?" Severus asked, trying not to sound amused.
"If we have a kitchen. And probably every bathroom as well," Remus said, and took a biscuit absently.
Severus watched the crumbs accumulate on the bump, and had the niggling feeling that he knew a bit of doggerel about crumbs and robins; that he'd been taught it, years and years ago. "That was the last time I saw my mother," he said, idly picking up the dangling strand of conversation instead of sensibly cutting it off. "Several years later I heard that she emigrated."
"She was very young," Remus said. "You never tried to find her?"
"Why would I?" Severus looked at his biscuit with one bite taken out, and put it back in the box. "If she reads the papers… it can't be pleasant to find that you've given birth to a murderer."
Remus sipped his chai with admirable calm. "What about your father?" he asked, having to know he was going from frying pan to fire, but still taking the risk with a flick of his eyes in acknowledgement.
"Dead these ten years now. He left me an impressive collection of outstanding bar tabs and the stately ancestral two-up two-down. You're welcome to come and stay when this is all over," he added. "It could use a good cleaning out. The kitchen's a right disaster, and there's not enough room to swing a cat. Far too many Death Eaters know where it is, so it might not even be standing at this point. There is a spare bedroom, however." He wondered whether to mention that the former occupant of the spare bedroom had been Peter Pettigrew. Perhaps not.
Remus smiled, and Severus resisted the urge to brush at the crumbs. "It's a very kind offer, but I'd rather not have Death Eaters popping by for tea." Present company included? Severus wondered; Remus' mouth thinned and he shook his head, very slightly. Severus took up his biscuit again and ate it in four deliberate bites. "I suppose the baby might bother you," Remus added, half in question. Severus had hoped that Remus wouldn't notice his growing fascination with the bump. This baby was a curious, compelling thing. Feeling it, hearing it, watching it grow — it was addictive. He was starting to generate theories about eye colour and hair and what the weight of it might feel like in his arms.
"It's grown on me," Severus said blandly. "Though not half as much as it has on you. You ought to give it a name."
"A real name. Augustus. Egideus. Fridericus. Offylus."
Remus shifted in his chair, and crumbs showered onto the floor. Severus pretended not to notice. "Oddly enough, I feel no great urge to name it after any of the great Potions masters of the past five hundred years. Including yourself. It might be a girl, you know."
Remus snorted chai up his nose. Severus handed him a handkerchief and smirked. "No child of mine will be named for St Bugga, thank you very much. Something simple. Ann. Niall."
"That," Severus said, pointing, "is not a simple child. I'll think about it."
"Be my guest." Remus flicked his wand and every crumb shot into the air, circled in a miniature cyclone, and dropped finally into the bin.
Naming the baby became Severus' new pastime; it filled up the gaps left in conversations where previously he would have simply insulted Remus or touched off a row.
"No. No names beginning with p."
"Leolinus. Misericordia. Hieronimus."
Remus put down the spatula and turned to stare at Severus. "Where do you get these dreadful names?"
"O on the History of Magic O.W.L."
"Randy. Brandy. Tawney. Steele."
These months of domestic tranquillity, Severus decided, were having an adverse effect on the constant preparation for disaster that had sustained him all those years teaching at Hogwarts. He rubbed the welts from the stinging hex and wondered whether Remus would be interested in taking up a little recreational duelling.
"Marcus. Antonius. Julius. Gabrielus."
"You're doing better," Remus said grudgingly. He was struggling through a squatting exercise which was impossible to do gracefully with the bump throwing him off balance. "Those all have modern and feminine forms as well."
"If it's a boy it ought to be properly Classical."
"Oh, yes, because our lives were so much better as children for having a target for mockery appended from birth."
"At least you have a Muggle middle name."
"At least Severus can be shortened to a decent nickname."
"No one has ever called me Sev, on pain of death."
"Still, it's better than Remus." Severus blinked at the way Remus slurred his name so it sounded… extremely rude. "John's not much better, either." Remus rubbed his shoulders absently and went back to his exercises.
It was only much later, as Severus was clearing off the dishes from lunch and Remus was taking a nap, that Severus recalled that he didn't actually have any right to a say in the child's name. Was Remus merely being polite with him? He washed and dried the dishes and went for a walk down to the Wizarding village, mulling this over.
Remus was still sleeping when Severus got back. He disliked waking Remus up, but Remus insisted that he do so, or otherwise I'm up all night. Severus didn't mind Remus being up all night, as it usually led to other, enjoyable things, but he went in and shook Remus' shoulder briskly.
"Mmnph," Remus said, uncurling and stretching, catlike.
"Why do you let me suggest names?" Severus asked. "It's not my child." Remus looked up at him, and then moved back on the bed.
"Come here and stop towering over me." Remus waited until Severus was seated, stiffly, on the edge of the bed, and then worked an arm around Severus' waist. Remus pulled Severus closer, lightly; Severus resisted. "I want you to give the baby something. Something of yourself. You asked once, if I'd had a choice… I wouldn't have minded it being yours."
"It doesn't matter," Severus said. Remus looked — hurt? Confused? "It doesn't matter whose baby it is."
"I'm serious about the name," Remus said. "I want you to choose it. Within reason, please. I'm sure you were joking about Uvulva, but part of me fears that you're a bit too fond of Hilarius."
"Any boy named Hilarius would be tough as nails by the time he reached Hogwarts."
"Yes, but he'd hate you. Wouldn't you much rather he loved you?"
Severus took off his shoes and stretched out on the bed, hoping that Remus hadn't noticed how closely his words had hit home. He did have a name for the baby, one that he called it in his head, but he wasn't ready to tell Remus yet.
"Or she," Severus said. "It might be a girl." Remus kissed him, one of those odd things that he seemed to have got used to without ever consciously thinking about it. "Of all the things we need in life," he asked despite himself, because this was the second question occupying his brain, "can anything good come of needing each other?"
Remus shuddered against him, his breath huffing out as if he'd been punched. "No," he said finally, muffled, fingers twisting tightly in Severus' shirt. "No. Which is too bad, given how much the baby and I need you. I couldn't even stop if I had to."
"I don't mind," Severus said. "Oddly enough."
The Sixth Month
"Legilimens," Severus said, and was hit by a roil of memories that Remus tried desperately to snatch away from him. "Concentrate, damn you."
Remus caught at a laughing face, and Severus tried not to let his revulsion leak through as he saw James Potter spinning a white-gowned Lily Evans across a dance floor. Remus was dancing with Lily's sister. There were fairy lights; the music was romantic; the whole room smelt of lilies and roses. Black was there, and — blurrier in the memory — Pettigrew, and lots of people who were not Severus because he'd not got an invitation. Not that he'd have gone had Lily invited him.
"Try it now," Severus ground out, holding on to the carefree laughter and the love and companionship. Remus kept his eyes on Severus' as he tightened his grip on his wand.
"Expecto patronum," he said, and the whole memory washed away like a watercolour in rain.
"Interesting," Severus said, blinking. "That memory doesn't work, either. We might want to try something from your childhood."
"Ah, yes, because I was such a happy child," Remus said, rubbing at his forehead with the heel of his hand.
"Weren't you?" Severus asked. Remus seemed like the sort who would have had long golden days playing in green fields, with rosy cheeks and skipping ropes and balls and a healthy appetite. Although, Severus recalled suddenly, he would have had a healthy appetite for human flesh.
"I was lonely as a child," Remus said, and Severus realised with a pang that what he considered an ideal childhood Remus might not have enjoyed. He wondered if Remus would envy him the boys that Severus had played with as a child.
He'd been nine when he'd first lobbed a firewhisky bottle, charmed to burn on impact, through the window of a Muggleborn's apothecary, even though that was where he'd got his first Potions supplies. It had earned him a certain amount of respect that almost covered over the pang he felt walking by the boarded-up storefront. He'd been relieved when Mrs Prince made him stay off the street and away from that rough gang. He'd been pleased to know that there were things worse than being a half-blood. He was accepted to Hogwarts; they were not; it was both escape and an excellent revenge.
"Poor baby," Severus said acidly. He grabbed Remus' wrist and pulled him to sitting. They were currently living a Boys' Own Adventure, courtesy of a campsite apparently used for the Junior Niffler Scouts' Muggle Camping badge. Even with all the assistance that magic could provide, the two-person tent was dismal, and the squashy purple sleeping bags that Severus had conjured were only really soft until you lay down on them. "Time you were out of bed, it's your turn to burn something for breakfast."
"There's still curry in the pot," Remus said. "Fancy a curry sandwich?"
"God, no," Severus said, and kept pulling until Remus gained his feet. "What I fancy is a fry-up dripping in grease. Bacon, sausages, ham — "
"Spam," Remus said, holding on to Severus' arm tightly until the dizziness passed. "Eggs and spam, eggs, sausage, and spam, eggs and spam and bacon and spam…"
"If you start to sing, Lupin, I swear I'll buy an entire pig and eat it in front of you."
"You're letting your roots show, Severus," Remus said, and grinned. "Not a bad thing at all." Remus unzipped the tent flap and stared out at the heavy grey drizzle that never quite let up, although it occasionally increased to a downpour. "Did I remember to put a water-proofing charm on the pot last night?"
"Wonderful," Severus said, pulling on his shoes and squelching across the yard, Remus trailing after him. "Curry soup again."
"Crap." Remus stared into the pot. "Just tea for me this morning, I think."
"What you need," Severus said, boiling the mess with a vicious snap of his wand and ladling it pointedly into two bowls, "is a Remembrall." Remus carefully tipped the tea leaves into the kettle. He set it in the centre of the battered picnic table that they had placed under a mended tarp strung between three trees. The tarp tended to collect water in the centre, and bulged downwards alarmingly until someone banished the water.
There had been a memorable lunch on their third day: they had been arguing the uses of aromatic herbs in attracting a phoenix when the whole tarp and a bathtub's worth of water dropped down on them. Severus had wound up face down in the mud and had thought for the first few breathless minutes that it would be a terribly ignominious way to die; Remus, after digging Severus out, had given way to gales of laughter.
"I do have a few things on my mind," Remus said, sipping at the curry and making a face.
"It's never going to get better, you know," Severus said. "Soon enough you'll have to remember all kinds of pointless data about baby milk and nappies, run a real household complete with laundry and bathtub to scrub, and hold down a paying job since — " and Severus cut himself off, because it seemed a little crass to rub it in that werewolves were considered beasts when unemployed and therefore ineligible for the dole and, unfortunately, most paying jobs.
"Yes, indeed," Remus said, Summoning the remaining half of the rye bread and slicing it neatly with a severing charm. He handed Severus a thick slice, not even asking if Severus wanted the heel (he never did). "The Umbridge reforms are rather clever, aren't they? Greyback quoted them constantly, as a way of reminding us of our place in society. Anything he offered seemed better than that. Plenty of good people — werewolves — were led into crime and ended up in Azkaban."
"Or St Mungo's," Severus said, and Remus blinked and swallowed his bread awkwardly, as if his throat had gone dry.
"The best of them, of course, are already six feet under," Remus said.
Severus poured the tea. "No wonder you have trouble conjuring a Patronus — you're a bundle of cheer this morning, aren't you?"
Remus set his elbows on the table, laced his fingers together, and leant forward, cocking his head very slightly as if he hadn't heard Severus properly. "We're in a fucking Muggle campsite, living in a godsdamned Muggle tent which is nothing but a tarp and poles and string, and sleeping on the ground. It's rained without cease for five days, and you want me to be happy?"
"Did you kill anyone personally?" Severus asked, and Remus' knuckles whitened.
"At a very fundamental level," Remus said, "it was their lives or ours." Remus was speaking slowly, but in a way that forbore interruption. "Our medicine was their poison. The changes after I was kept from administering Wolfsbane were bloody and brutal. Only two pregnancies survived, and four men died. I don't know what I ought to have done. I couldn't think of them as babies. I thought about killing this baby as well," Remus said, and the look he gave Severus was sly in a way that made Severus cold. "I could have had my normal life back."
"It's hard to have a normal life after killing someone you love," Severus said. "Even if it is a mercy killing. Even if it ends horrible suffering."
Severus heard Remus' sharp inhalation, and then, slowly, Remus reached one arm across the table. Severus took his hand, because that seemed like the thing to do; after a heartbeat or two Remus stood, still holding his hand, and walked around the table to sit down next to him. He sighed and shifted to rest his cheek on Severus' shoulder.
"No more talk about killing the baby," Severus said firmly. "Poor bastard — he's got enough to deal with as it is."
"Or she," Remus said, and Severus shut his eyes.
Remus had slight bones (genetics, and lycanthropy before puberty, he said): his hand in Severus' was smaller. A child's hand would be half that size, a quarter; right now, according to the helpful chart at the back of She's Mad and Pregnant, the baby should measure just a bit over a foot in length and didn't even have fingernails yet. It seemed impossible that something so tiny held such potential.
She could be another Remus, Severus thought, picturing honey-coloured hair in plaits and a freckled snub nose. He might have the same patient dignity and terrible sense of humour. There would be the inevitable years of nappies and mashed swede, but then the future would unfold exponentially: from first steps to soaring on a broomstick, from first words to poly-linguism, from first smile to friends and passions. Severus had no mementos of his own babyhood, but surely his mother had seen the same things in him, once. He wondered what she would think of him now.
"Legilimens," Severus said, holding Remus' hand as well as his gaze. He was surprised by how old the memory was: Remus couldn't have been more than four or five. His mother and father, walking on either side of him, were impossibly tall, and the great steam engine before them at the station was enormous, all gleaming brass and mirror-bright paint. Severus could smell the oil, hear the whistle of escaping steam, feel the weight in his pocket of his own battered tin engine, whose charm was so old that it could barely creep a quarter of the way around its circular track before stopping. Despite himself, Severus smiled at the excitement and the giddy, childish happiness as Remus was helped up the stairs to the carriage.
"Expecto patronum," Remus said, and immediately the life washed from the scene. Severus caught a brief flash of blood cold pain and looked away immediately.
"Well, that was a crashing failure," Remus said, flopping back onto his sleeping bag.
"Better than before," Severus said. "You're still trying to keep things from me, I can't help that I get blindsided."
"Argh," Remus said, shutting his eyes and scratching the bump absently.
"I read that the sixth month of pregnancy is a time for reflecting on your own childhood and achieving inner balance and spiritual tranquillity."
"Bollocks," Remus said. "When I find that book of yours, not even Irma Pince will be able to keep me from torturing it until it screams."
"You don't sound as if you've found your inner balance," Severus said, and Summoned the tube of anti-itch cream that he'd bought from a Muggle chemists. Flipping Remus' shirt up, he squeezed a galleon-sized dollop of cream onto his palm and began to slowly rub the bump in circles. Remus stopped in the midst of his fantasy of vandalism and… purred. There really was no better word for it. Severus paid special attention to the places where Remus' nails had scraped the skin red, and on the ragged lines of old scars that had reappeared as Remus' skin stretched.
Something poked up at Severus, and he fancied he saw the heel of a foot and some toes. He rubbed it back, and Remus pushed himself up on his elbows to watch.
"He can hear you, you know," Severus said. "After he's born, he'll be able to recognise your voice. You ought to be talking to him."
"You talk more than I do," Remus said, smiling. "He'll come out lecturing." The possible foot was replaced by either the back of a tiny head or an arse. "Ow," Remus said, shifting uncomfortably. "While you're down there, tell him to stop standing on my stomach."
"There," Severus said. "Better?"
"Fantastic," Remus said. "I may be too relaxed to get up today."
"Good. I won't have to share the avocado with you."
Remus grabbed Severus' arm and pulled him down. "Wouldn't you rather work up an appetite first?"
"You don't mind," Remus said, mouth tracing the line of Severus' jaw, his tongue rasping over stubble, and then down the curve of his neck. He rucked up Severus' shirt and moved down to lap at nipples that were already hard from anticipation; and then trailed a lazy downward spiral with his tongue over Severus' stomach.
Remus pulled back just long enough to free Severus' cock from his trousers. He circled his tongue over the head, staring up at Severus through his fringe, and then slid his mouth around and down. Severus tangled his hands in Remus' hair, not pulling or pushing, just holding on as the world contracted to the heat of Remus' mouth and the pressure of his tongue and the firm, controlling strokes of his hand. The sensation built so slowly that Severus didn't realise he was on the edge until he went over, back arching from the force of orgasm and eyes shut to hold in the feeling of flying free.
"Go on," Severus said. "You're allowed a drink every now and then, you know."
"You just don't want to drink alone," Remus said, frowning at the way the purple sleeping bags refused to Transfigure into a proper sofa, but rather congealed into the sort of cheap, low-to-the-floor settee favoured by university students. It filled the tent almost totally; with Remus' trunk behind it, their bags piled on top, and laundry hanging overhead, the tent was like a cave. The dim, flickering light didn't help. Remus insisted on lighting the lantern with magical fire. "There's no danger from ashwinders in all this rain", he'd said. "The smell of kerosene makes me ill."
It did occur to Severus that he ought not to care whether Remus felt ill or not. He ought not to find it amusing to watch Remus lower himself awkwardly, or to feel a pang of envy as Remus soothed the bump after dropping the last foot down into the settee. He shouldn't be assuming that he'd be the one to extract Remus from the clutches of the settee eventually.
Thinking about these things made his head spin; he'd rather be drunk. He had walked all the way to town when it wasn't even market day, solely to buy cheap wine (although he'd picked up some herbs for Remus as well) in order to get completely and utterly smashed. He supposed it was a side-effect of all the Legilimency: he needed an escape from all that enforced intimacy, or at least to make it less alarming.
"One glassful," Severus said. He was proud of his wine glasses: they almost looked real, although they retained the thickness of the original pottery mugs and the stems still looked vaguely like handles. He poured the wine carefully and handed Remus his before folding into the opposite end of the settee. He pulled his feet up, showing off that he could. "Cheers."
Remus sipped; Severus drank; they talked about the weather and Puddlemere's chances in Quidditch and played a drinking game that Severus lost quite badly. Remus slipped slowly sideways until he was reclined like a sultan, balancing his drink on the bump. Remus summoned a packet of peppercorn crisps from his secret food stockpile, and they passed them back and forth, wiping the grease on Severus' jeans ("Well, they used to be mine," Remus said, and Severus didn't follow the logic of that, but Remus' fingers tended to linger and roam, so he thought it would be churlish to complain).
"But I don't see why they have to be so spicy," Severus said, coughing on coarsely ground black pepper and washing it down with wine.
"Well, what would you like, Severus?" Remus asked, as drunk as he was going to get on his glassful; but Severus had put away most of the rest of the bottle and was flying, now. Severus blinked the ceiling back into focus and bit his lip.
"Jammie Dodgers," he said finally.
"The biscuits?" Remus asked, sounding scandalised.
"With a cup of warm milk before bedtime," Severus said.
"Nobody likes Jammie Dodgers," Remus said, and waved a hand to indicate the world at large. "They're so… sweet. Sticky."
"Some of us, Lupin," Severus said, taking great care pronouncing Remus' name, "enjoy sweets. Bertie Botts would go under if everyone ate like you."
"And the Rotfang Conspiracy would never have got off the ground," Remus said darkly.
Severus found this terribly funny. When he'd stopped laughing and wiped his eyes on the shoulder of his shirt and drunk the rest of his wine, he stared at Remus, eyes narrowing to keep him in focus.
"Don't deny you ate the last of the cow biscuits," Severus said, and part of his brain registered with alarm that, for the first time in nearly twenty years, the word "et" had emerged from his mouth. He squinted harder at Remus to see if he'd noticed. Remus seemed oblivious.
"I did it to save you from yourself. You don't even notice you're eating until the package is empty."
"An active brain needs carbohydrates," Severus said, and Remus prodded him in the arse with his foot.
"I can see for myself where the carbohydrates are going."
"Are you insinuating — " Severus began, but he got lost somewhere in the syllables.
"Never mind, I like having something to grab onto," Remus said, with a leer.
"You're a handful yourself," Severus shot back, and Remus grinned and raised his glass in a mocking toast.
"What do you like?" Severus asked, and Remus blinked, obviously confused as to whether the conversation had gone back to biscuits or was proceeding forward to sexual positions.
"Er — what?" he said finally, and Severus leant forward. It had suddenly occurred to him that he knew very little about what Remus liked. He didn't even, he realised, know what sexual positions Remus preferred; it was rather galling. But right now he was thinking with his stomach.
"There must be some kind of sweets that you like," Severus said.
"I've always been fond of a good jalapeno ice," Remus said, and smiled in reminiscence. "Fortescue's had a wonderful one."
"That doesn't count — those ruin your mouth worse than an acid pop."
Remus bit his lip. "Fruitcake, then," he said. "My mum used to make a lovely one for the holidays. Am I allowed citron?"
"So long as you balance it with currants," Severus said. "Where's the wine gone?"
"Must be bedtime, then," Remus said. "Whoops, we are in bed already."
"Get your wand, we'll give it another try," Severus said. He had to cast Legilimens nonverbally because he didn't trust his tongue; Remus pronounced his spell perfectly as Severus was overcome by warm Christmassy memories and fruitcake with the density of lead, as well as presents and candles and the smell of pine. It was all very nice, but still it didn't work.
"Damn and buggery," Remus said.
"Get your wand out and we'll try that, then," Severus said suggestively, and Remus kissed him with a lingering kind of tenderness, although Severus suspected that he was just trying to get drunk off the wine on his lips.
"Good night," Remus said, and stretched out on the settee awkwardly, arms and legs settling naturally around Severus.
"You could, you know," Severus said, letting his head fall back heavily on Remus' arm as the tent revolved slowly around all four of its poles at once.
Remus kissed him, chastely, on the forehead. "This from the man who isn't gay. I doubt you'd like it."
"Nothing I haven't done before," Severus said, or meant to: his lips hadn't been working properly since that last kiss. "Well, good night, then."
It gave him no small amount of pleasure to take a page from Remus' book and feign sleep. Remus made a small, helpless noise, almost a laugh, and then one finger traced down the side of Severus' face. Don't pay any attention to me, I'm asleep, Severus thought, and in the next moment he felt himself beginning to fade out. Wait, no, not yet, he thought, as he recognised from the shifting of the bed and Remus' breathing that Remus was quietly masturbating. But his body refused to listen, and he sank straight into dreamless sleep.
Severus woke when the settee suddenly collapsed with a bang and became sleeping bags again. His head felt like rags, so he wasn't sure why he saw stars of pain when his head connected with the ground. He would have protested, but his mouth felt like it was stuffed with more rags. He opened one eye just enough to peer out through his eyelashes.
"Good morning," Remus said, just as painfully bright as the sunlight, and held out a glass that emitted powder-blue smoke. "I thought you might need this."
"Bless you," Severus said, and drank it in three swallows. His own morning-after potion always tasted of anise instead of mint, but Remus' was quite potent and had some invigorating agent that cleared his eyes and throat instantly. Armadillo bile, perhaps, or moonstone, although where Lupin would get those in the middle of nowhere…. More likely, something herbal, like pennyroyal. Severus narrowed his eyes as he looked up at Remus.
"Stop glowering at me," Remus said, and took the glass back, casting a cleaning charm on it before replacing it in the trunk. "You know I'm not fool enough to take a potion like that in my present condition. I didn't even get drunk last night, not like you." He pulled the blankets off Severus with ruthless cheerfulness. "High time you were out of bed. It's a gorgeous day. All the laundry's out already, and I want to get the tent aired."
"It can't be later than half six," Severus said, scandalised and developing flocks of goosebumps.
"The sun's been up for an hour, and there's eggy toast with that tomato sauce you like, and the tea's brewed and charmed."
"Bored, are you?" Severus asked, rolling upright, standing with a few audible cracks, and taking the clothes Remus handed him. "You need a hobby. Aren't you supposed to be knitting or tatting or something?"
"That must be the one hormone I've not synthesised," Remus said dryly, tying back the tent flaps and levitating the sleeping bags and blankets out onto the spider's web of clothesline that encircled the camp. "The tatting hormone."
"I need my tea," Severus said. "You're only funny after I've had two cups." He pulled on his least-favourite jumper (a McGonagall Christmas present from ten or so years back, when plaid might still have been stylish) and his shoes, well ruined by now. Remus bumped into him accidentally-on-purpose as he attempted to exit, and when Severus turned to glare, he found himself kissed so thoroughly that all the head-clearing effects of the morning-after potion were negated.
Outside, the sun was shining: the unclouded view out over the hills was glorious. Remus, surely one of the world's most musically-challenged people, was humming and on the verge of bursting into song. Severus stretched and accepted a sauce-drenched slice of eggy toast. All was right with the world.
As grating as Remus' mutilation of the top wizarding hits of the seventies had been (and disco had definitely not been a purely Muggle evil), the sudden unnatural silence that fell over the campsite when he stopped singing made Severus draw his wand automatically. He stood and ducked through the laundry and around the blankets. For a few moments he was completely lost, and then he spotted Remus' trousers, which he recalled were near the half-drowned garden.
He met Remus by the snapping row of white vests and was pulled behind a sleeping bag. Remus pressed one dirt-covered finger to Severus' mouth with just enough pressure to convince Severus that this was not the beginning of some kind of foreplay, unfortunately.
"Someone's coming," Remus said, and then Severus could hear the voices, very faintly. "I'll be in the tent."
"Do you want me to scare them off?" Severus asked, and Remus grinned even through his foul mood.
"We don't need the police called on us," he said. "Just tell them I'm ill, or something."
"They could be here for days. Weeks, even."
"They could be here now," Remus hissed, as a clear female voice called out a chipper greeting. Remus stalked back to the tent as best he could, and Severus was left to find his way out of the laundry maze and meet and greet the Muggles.
They turned out to be Muggle graduate students rambling through Roman ruins and, Severus guessed, having passionate outdoor sex: they were keen to move on once Severus talked at length about how he and his wife were enjoying the birdwatching and the quiet of the country. The girl looked like a model from a camping catalogue, all glowing black skin and lean, muscular legs showcased by shorts shorter than the weather called for. Her boyfriend looked like an American basketball player, or perhaps a pop singer. They were both French polymer scientists, it turned out.
Can't go judging books by covers, Severus thought with vast amusement as he explained how his wife was six months pregnant and too emotional to talk to strangers. Certainly no pregnant gay lycanthropes here, nor wizards, either. Just your average boring middle-aged couple.
On the coattails of that thought it occurred to him, with sudden painful clarity, that what he had was his dream of life after freedom — the wife and the child and the simple pleasures — only through a glass, darkly. He wondered if Remus felt the same way, free from the wolf for the first time in years, but now possessed by the baby. When they rejoined time, Remus would once again be a monster; Severus would resume the irascibility of a man who had deferred life until its pleasures had passed him by. He doubted that he would ever have a child of his own. The best he could hope for was to become some kind of surrogate uncle to Remus' baby, because Remus was most assuredly not his wife, despite how easily the lie rolled off his tongue.
The conversation turned easily to the ruined outpost down the hill. Severus had never seen it in the sun, so he volunteered to show the hikers the way. The boy went into archaeological ecstasies; Severus found himself enthralled by the azaleas, so brilliantly red that the hillside seemed to be burning. After commemorative photos had been taken, lunch was mentioned. From the sad crumbled walls it was only a short way in to town, and the pub and lager and roast beef sandwiches with hot, greasy chips on the side.
The girl wanted to know how long they'd been camping, and why a pregnant woman would want to be out in the rain.
"We're botanists," Severus said, and found himself in the peculiar position of wanting to confide to someone sympathetic and completely unrelated to the whole mess. He wondered if Remus felt lonely, if he wanted to unburden himself. He supposed so.
The boy wanted to know if this was their first child, and Severus said Yes unthinkingly, and tried not to notice how the girl squeezed her boyfriend's hand under the table, or how he bumped her knee. There was no way Severus could possibly explain the baby. While he enjoyed its existence to a ridiculous degree, he had trouble even explaining it to himself without acknowledging things about Remus that he was trying to pretend he didn't know. He turned the conversation to Roman masonry in self-defence.
Sometime after the second lager, Severus said goodbye to the students outside the pub. Old habits were hard to break: he had extracted their itinerary, names, and university information painlessly. They had even given him their address and asked for a baby picture. The address and name he had given them were fabrications, and he had made sure that no pictures of him would develop properly. He felt old and oddly deflated; he resolved to pick something up to placate Remus, who was sure to be in a temper.
The sun was already dropping when he returned. Most of the laundry was tidied away. There was a pot over the fire and a dish drying on the table, which had been moved back under its tarp. The garden was perfectly weed-free and glorious in the sunlight. Remus was not outside, so Severus ducked into the tent.
"Are you asleep?" he asked, setting down his bags and sitting down on the floor next to the sleeping bag.
"Yes," Remus said, eyes still shut and curled on his side around the bump.
"Liar," Severus said, and put a hand on Remus' shoulder. "Are you angry?" It was hard to tell, especially when Remus wouldn't look at him.
"I appear to have synthesised the sulking hormone," Remus said. "Personally, I think it's disgusting, and I'd rather you not witness its manifestation."
"I brought you some things," Severus said. Remus rolled over and looked straight up at him. The sunlight did odd things to Remus' eyes, Severus thought. It made the colours separate so instead of being muddy they were green and brown and grey, as clear as glass.
"Ooh, prezzies," Remus said, and smiled, stretching up a hand to stroke the side of Severus' face.
"Only if you're good," Severus said, and Remus raised an eyebrow, his smile widening.
"How good do you want me to be?" he asked, his voice throaty and low, and Severus felt his mouth twitch in amusement.
"If I'd known you'd offer sexual favours for takeaway — " he began, and Remus tackled him to the ground.
Play was not something that Severus ever did; its rules ran contrary to every instinct he possessed. He knew that it was necessary to show no weakness, to return any harm or slight tenfold. He thought that Remus knew this about him, that Remus was asking him to learn a new language. Remus certainly was making the acquisition of new vocabulary and syntax well-rewarded. The current reward involved the rather pleasant application of Remus' teeth to Severus' neck right below his ear, where he was ridiculously sensitive to the point of being ticklish.
"Back," Severus said. "The fruitcake'll never get baked if you go about distracting me like this."
It was startling how quickly Severus found himself released, dusted off, and set to mixing ingredients outside, with Remus sitting cross-legged in front of the fire, eating his kadi pakora and transfiguring Severus an oven from Danish biscuit tins and a few rocks. Remus insisted that the cakes would bake just fine in milk cartons and the conveniently-empty takeaway packs. He shut the oven door carefully, set a timing charm, and gave Severus a significant look before walking back to the tent. Severus looked at the dirty bowls and spoons, at the spilled currants gummed to the table with black treacle, and at the sway of Remus' hips. Tidying up… could wait.
"Legilimens," Severus said, panting, and felt himself swept up in the storm surge of Remus' orgasm. Feeling himself through Remus' skin, fucking and being fucked, watching the swing of his own hair and the way he blinked the sweat from his eyes — it was overwhelming. Severus came, hard, his mind going so completely blank with pleasure that he barely registered that Remus had his wand out.
"Expecto patronum," Severus heard, and he froze, hands still pushing Remus' knees up. The faintest silvery mist came from Remus' wand, and Remus grinned up at him, pleased and triumphant.
"That's it, then," Severus said, pulling out carefully and rubbing Remus' legs where the muscles had a habit of cramping painfully even without violent exertion. "Apparently, sex makes you happy. We should investigate further."
"Definitely," Remus agreed, and sent Severus out to retrieve the fruitcake from the oven. Remus insisted on wrapping most of the cakes for Christmas and other special occasions, but they ate one hot from the oven, casting cooling charms on fingers and tongues. Remus fell asleep with his head on Severus' shoulder and crumbs in his hair, and the tidying up waited until morning.
It wasn't until the third day of vigorously testing his theory that Severus realised that what Remus was using to conjure the Patronus wasn't the orgasm itself: it was the trust that let him abandon himself to Severus completely — and the feeling that Remus revealed when he did so. It was something Severus suspected was perilously close to joy.
The Seventh Month
"Oh, hell," Severus said as they stumbled out onto the matted dead grass in front of a rustic signboard advertising the Dales Lodges. He glowered at the sign and then at the breathtaking scenery. "Bloody Yorkshire."
Remus leant against the signboard and rubbed the bump: the disorientation caused by the Term-turner seemed to affect him more each time. "Bad experience with a pudding, Severus?" he asked, but it was less a joke at Severus' expense than a warning. Severus shook his head to clear it and stared out over the hills. Remus straightened his shoulders and sighed. He raised his wand and spoke the spell to levitate his trunk: he was practising intentless magic with the fervour of a convert. It grated on Severus' nerves. On the third try, the trunk bobbed up, and he waved it on ahead down the road. "I'll go ahead, shall I?"
"Put that trunk down," Severus said, belatedly recalling what Pregnancy Is Madness had to say about lifting heavy objects (it had also said that he ought to embrace the role of the knight who chivalrously eases the burdens of his damsel fair, but Severus thought that was going a bit far). Remus ignored him. Severus indulged in a good seethe for a minute before following Remus through the gate and down the overgrown path.
There were no tyre tracks in the grass, but there was a small outbuilding across from the gate that had the familiar look of a broom shed. Logic led Severus to assume that the three lodges, each surrounded by a low stone wall and facing what the owners surely referred to as the spectacular sunset vista, were a wizarding resort. Some kind of precious honeymoon accommodation, he supposed. Yorkshire was full of horrors.
"Do you want to stay in Primrose, Pansy, or Woodbine?" Remus asked, slightly breathless.
"Not fucking Pansy," Severus said. "What's that one on the end?"
"Woodbine," Remus said, and muttered the spell to move his trunk along. The weeds around the Woodbine Lodge reached well above Severus' knees. There were five steps up to a wide veranda that was covered with drifts of fallen leaves. Remus finally set the trunk down to open the door. "It looks nice," he said over his shoulder, flicking open the curtains in the lounge as he walked through (Patefacio, on the first try). "Fantastic kitchen — imagine cooking indoors again!" He opened doors along the corridor, his smile growing. "You should see the bathtub. This is better than anyplace I've been in since… well, probably since Hogwarts. I don't think Grimmauld Place counts, do you? I never was comfortable there."
"Do tell. Just because the house tried to kill you repeatedly," Severus said, setting his bag down on the sofa. "Not to mention Black."
"No, I wouldn't mention him, if I were you. Here's a pamphlet," Remus said. "Ha — I knew we'd end up in one of these places eventually." He floated the parchment over to Severus with a perfect levitation charm. Severus plucked it out of the air in annoyance.
Enjoy your confinement in one of our cosy rural self-catering lodges!
Each lodge has two bedrooms; modern kitchen with Penguin-brand Charmed Coolbox;
bathroom with WC, tub, and EZSpell Water Heater; and Pay-per-Floo access from the lounge fireplace.
Duvets and pillows are provided; please bring own bed linens and towels (or request our elf-rental service!) For the comfort of your embryo or foetus, the lodge is a no smoking zone.
Healthy two-hour walks may be taken through the scenic hills, or down to quaint and picturesque Bottomwick for shopping. (present this parchment for a 10% discount at Baby Magic)
Enjoy Quidditch? Ilkley Moor Stadium is one stop away on the Knight Bus!
The Management requests that guests avoid the haunted ravine, home to trolls, pixies, and Yorkshire's native Spectral Hounds, the Barguests (warning: barguests should not be approached at any time in the first and second trimesters).
There was a blurry picture of a barguest at the bottom of the paper. The tales Severus' gran had tormented him with as a child had always mentioned eyes as big as dinner plates. He was disturbed to see that it was true, although the dog itself was big enough that the eyes were nearly proportional. No wonder his mother had been so eager to escape Yorkshire. Severus folded the pamphlet neatly into quarters and flicked it onto the mantelpiece.The trunk scurried after Remus and settled itself under the far window. Remus threw the lid up and rummaged purposefully through an amazing collection of junk until he found a Tesco carrier bag. He straightened carefully and gave Severus a grin over his shoulder.
"I have bubble bath," he said. "Two for one sale.""What?" Severus said, blinking twice in confusion. Remus produced their two towels and the biscuit tin with the toothbrushes, flannel, and dodgy bits of soap tied up in an old sock.
"I'll be in the bath, Severus," Remus said. "There's hot running water."
"Are you suggesting that I need a bath?" Severus asked, annoyed even though he suspected it was true.
Remus snorted. "I'm hoping you'll volunteer to wash my back," he said. "Do as you please."
Remus left the bathroom door ajar; Severus could hear the water running and watch the curls of steam that drifted into the hallway. He tried to remember if he had ever taken a bubble bath in his life.
There was a first time for everything.
"Look, there's another one," Remus said, his fingers tightening around Severus' arm; not in fear, Severus thought sourly, but in some kind of nature-loving ecstasy. If the man had had a camera, Severus was sure Remus would have insisted on going further up to take commemorative photos. "I think it's a mating pair, and that's the pup."
Severus squinted into the ravine. It was full of shadows that seemed both organic and intelligent, as well as enough rough stones and boulders that they would not be able to run away easily if the barguests decided to become territorial. The dogs themselves moved in and out of the creeping darkness silently. Sometimes only the glint of red from their eyes was visible.
"They look hungry to me," Severus said.
Remus looked up with a smile that bared his canines. "They're just dogs, Severus. I'm a wolf. They won't cross me, and they won't be stupid enough to try and eat my mate."
"Tell me you're joking," Severus said, appalled, and Remus snorted in amusement.
"If werewolves really mated for life, do you know who I'd be stuck with?" Remus asked.
"Don't tell me," Severus said. "I refuse to bond over discussion of our respective lost virginities."
"It would be grisly," Remus agreed. "Speaking of hungry, by the way…."
"Very good idea," Severus said, and nodded once, sharply. "Let's go — " he bit off home and made an awkward switch — "back."
"Actually, I've bread and cheese and a flask of tea in my bag," Remus said. "I thought, seeing as it's not raining — "
"Not here," Severus said, tugging Remus back and away from the haunt of the barguests. "When we studied boggarts in school," he added, "mine was one of those creatures. I never could find anything funny about it, either."
"I didn't take that lesson," Remus said, working his way around rocks and trying not to slip into the icy waters of the stream again. His sense of balance was unreliable, and he kept one hand on the bump and the other held out, ready to flail if necessary. It should have been laughable, Severus thought, but instead he just wanted Remus back on the relative safety of the grassy slope that led up to the lodges. "Mine would have been a slavering werewolf, I suppose. I had to write an essay instead."
"Mine was a slavering werewolf after sixth year," Severus said. "Variations on a theme."
Remus' shoulders set as if he'd been struck, but he didn't look round.
"It isn't now," Severus offered, in the awkward silence.
"I would understand perfectly if it was," Remus said, lowly, edging along the bank towards the gravely spit where they had slithered down. "I never asked for it, you know. Not like — almost three-quarters of Greyback's new recruits were turned willingly, and of the rest who were turned before joining him, I was the only one he turned as a child." Remus shrugged. "It's one of those things that bothered him, why the others didn't come to see the light as I did."
"Oh, did you, then?" Severus asked.
"I can see," Remus said slowly, "the appeal, to a marginalised group, of their own community, where they can live by their own rules and without prejudice. I do not understand, however, people who ask to be marginalised. All those healthy young men Greyback has turned — they said society turned on them, but they were the ones getting obscene tattoos and deliberately frightening immigrants and the elderly. The Ministry," Remus said, with a sidelong look at Severus, "wants to wipe out lycanthropy in the U.K. They were close to their goal, too."
It made sense to Severus: if all werewolves were registered, medicated, restrained, and sterilised, if they were relegated to such lives that none but the most disaffected of Muggles would envy them, it was entirely possible. "Does that bother you?"
"Are you mad? I'd rejoice. It's a curse, it deserves to be wiped from the face of the earth. But lycanthropes… ought to be treated as people with an illness and not as criminally insane. Well. Unless they are."
"Ha," Severus said, and slid Remus a sideways look of his own. "It can't have escaped your notice that I understand the perspective of malcontent youth with bad tattoos and terror campaigns all too well."
"You could have made yourself a place in the world," Remus said. "If you had tried." He rolled his shoulders as if shaking off something uncomfortable. "History. Water under the bridge."
"No," Severus said. "It's the bedrock on which everything stands. We're cut off from the world now, but you are still a werewolf. I am still a Death Eater. It's best to face that with eyes wide open."
Remus paused on the small ridge overlooking the valley where the stream entered the river. He dropped his rucksack on the grass and sat down next to it, busying himself with the bread and cheese and cutting board. Severus dug out the flask and two mugs. He poured the tea, amused to see that Remus had charmed the flask so that his own tea came out black and Severus' came out with the milk and sugar already in (and also smelt faintly of cardamom and cloves).
"You will not be a Death Eater after Voldemort falls," Remus said, after a pensive bite of cheddar and rye. "You'll be free."
"How does it feel to be free of the curse?" Severus asked, indulging his curiosity as he picked off a pinch of cheese, ate it, and then took a pinch of bread. He liked the repetitive motion (that was how entire packages of biscuits seemed to melt away), but he could tell that it rubbed Remus the wrong way. Severus took another pinch of cheese; Remus' mouth twitched.
"Temporarily free," Remus corrected, pointedly looking down at the river instead of at Severus' hands. "It's… calming. I'm accustomed to pain and fear and dread. I don't remember a time before my life was partitioned into lunar cycles. I still feel the moon's effects, but not having to endure the change is wonderful. It will be hard going back."
"I know about that," Severus offered. "In a sense. My reprieve was eleven years."
"Mm. Yes." Remus sipped at his tea. "Do you have to pick at your food like that?"
"You'd prefer I wolf it down?"
"I'll wolf you down," Remus said, and then looked appalled.
"Don't," Severus said, trying to dam the apologies before they started. "I'll take it as the salacious innuendo you intended."
"You're too kind," Remus murmured, but he relaxed, picking up his tea and holding the cup with both hands. It had been warm enough to venture out without coats, and whilst they kept moving the chill of the wind had been refreshing. But Remus should probably not be sitting on the cold, damp grass. It wouldn't do to catch cold.
"I like you," Severus said, and glared at Remus as if assigning blame. "I will try to find a way to live with the wolf."
Remus ducked his head, trying to hide the colour that flooded into his face behind his overgrown fringe. The smile of pleasure, however, he couldn't conceal. After a minute, he set his cup down and shifted over to warm his hands on Severus, instead.
Remus lit a fire (with a certain amount of cursing: Incendio was tricky) and made hot chocolate, bitterly dark and laced with cinnamon. Severus left off trying to figure out the proper combination of runes to describe a phoenix and went to join Remus on the sofa. He put the lamps out with a pointedly non-verbal Nox.
"I could get used to this," Severus said, half-afraid that he already was used to it. It was not even very comforting to think that it was all Remus' fault.
"Is that a bad thing?" Remus asked lazily, licking a dark line of chocolate from his upper lip. "Isn't it better than being at each other's throats all the time?"
Severus tried to repress a grimace. He still had the marks from the previous night, when Remus had been at his throat, and his chest, and all up and down the insides of his thighs. Oh, yes, he blamed Remus. "This was never in my plans. I don't want to be gay, Lupin."
Remus did not smile, for which Severus grudgingly gave him credit. He nodded instead, seriously. "The term's bisexual, you know, if you like it both ways. Or perhaps straight but open-minded. But I'd be happy — more than happy — if you'd stay my lover until all this is finished," he added. "For what that's worth."
A chill ran down Severus' back like ice water. He was very aware of the space between Remus and himself; a moment ago it had been an invitation. Now, it felt like a wall. "What happens when all this is finished?"
Remus leant back. "I'm crap at Divination, but I'll tell you what I hope. That the war will end and Voldemort will be gone. That you get rid of your depressing house and move someplace quiet and intellectual, far from Yorkshire and the past. You'll realise that dream you're always on about, meet some girl and fall in love and have passels of little Snapes. You'll be happy."
"What about you?" Severus said, frowning, and watched as Remus' reverie derailed. Good, now we're both confused, Severus thought. This ought to clear things up.
"What about me," Remus said, without intonation.
"We'll just part ways? Are you planning on finding some nice boy to settle down with?" Severus stopped himself before he could continue with my baby. He had a vague mental image of the baby, wobbling along holding Remus' hand, and in his mental image he was there, watching. He would never see the baby walking if….
"Severus," Remus said softly, his face locking down like a Gringott's vault. "I plan on being dead. There's pretty much no chance that I'll survive the birth… and all. Poppy knows that she's to save the baby and not me — I made her swear it to me. Dumbledore and I had a flaming row. He thinks I'm a suicidal fool. I think he thought you'd talk me out of having the baby. Minerva sent me off with a book on how to settle your affairs, so I've been writing up my will: it's very educational. If I don't die I'll be fucked. I'm financing this adventure with money I can't repay from three different credit cards, including GoblinExpress, which is legally entitled to its pounds of flesh." Remus stopped and took a long, shuddering breath. "You know the odds of survival. You said so, back in Minerva's office. I assumed — " he stopped, and then continued, much more slowly — "I thought that was why you were kind to me."
"I am not kind," Severus said; his mouth felt the wrong shape for speaking.
Remus smiled, so faintly it almost seemed a trick of the light. "Yes, well, if the only witness were dead, who'd ever know if you lapsed?"
"Is that what you thought when we fucked? That I was doing you a kindness?"
"After being in the camp with Greyback, I was starving to be touched as if someone cared for me. Dying for it. I thought — at first — I could buy a few moments of intimacy with sex. After all, I'd sold myself for others long enough, why shouldn't I get what I want for once?" Remus pushed himself up and paced the room. "If you wanted to say I tricked you into bed, you wouldn't be wrong. But you could also consider that you got your revenge, in that I've come to care for you, very much."
Severus snorted. The idea was ridiculous. "I'm not in love with you," he said.
"You're offering me friendship, and believe me, that's a precious gift — sweeter for the time it took coming." Remus paused in front of the window and stared out. "When I die, I'll be happy knowing I loved you, and you'll know that you were loved. It makes a difference, I think."
"You're not going to die."
"I may not. But then again, I might. The odds are not good."
Severus was quiet for a moment, watching Remus. "You've had advantages no one else has had: proper diet, exercise, medical care. Poppy's one of the best Healers there is, and she's bringing in a surgeon."
"Whose specialty is Muggle medicine."
"Muggles have a better rate of survival in childbirth than we do," Severus bit out. It was glossed over in his pregnancy book, but he'd heard the debates between the pure-bloods and the Muggle-born. "Why did you think our birthrate was so appallingly low? Wizarding gynaecology is still in the Middle Ages."
Remus paused and raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know that."
"You don't know everything, Lupin. So don't tell me you're going to die."
"Would you — " Remus started, and then stopped, flushing as if slapped.
"Would I what?"
"If… if I did die… would you miss me?"
"No," Severus said. "So don't bother dying to spite me." He opened his mouth to quote Madly Pregnant on childbirth — perfectly natural, nothing to fear, practice your breathing exercises! — and then swallowed the words. A very bad idea of Grindelwald's, indeed.
"Scaeva," he said finally, and Remus' shoulders tightened. "You have all the research he was doing. I want to see it."
"Now?" Remus said, turning slightly to half-face Severus. The heavy light from the fire lit the wisps of hair that escaped Remus' clip like molten gold, and gave his skin a glow like a Renaissance angel's.
"Or we could continue to rip each other to ribbons," Severus said. "You don't fight fairly, you know. You're not supposed to use your own vulnerability as a weapon."
Remus smiled, faintly. "There are times when you can only win by surrendering all that you have. You have all of me, now."
"Research," Severus said. "Because I can't deal with that."
"Research," Remus said, and crossed the room to his trunk. He unlocked the second lock and took out a cardboard box labelled FINEST GREEN LETTUCE. "You have a high opinion of me if you think I can deal with this." He hefted the box onto the kitchen table and began taking out the contents and sorting them into piles. Severus re-lit the lamps and abandoned the sofa.
"You've been working on this," Severus said, eyeing the neat stack of medical files and sheaves of parchment sewn together with red string.
"I want to have it finished by the time we head back," Remus said. "I want people to know the truth. Here." He handed Severus a cheap notebook with cartoon ducks on the cover. "That's my summary."
Severus sat down and glanced over the charts and graphs; Remus got up to make tea. Severus wondered if there was a code behind the choices of beverages. Cocoa was seduction, obviously. Tea… tea was for being proper and practical. Damn it.
It was confusing trying to pull the pieces of Remus' case from the various charts and graphs. Remus had probably written it like that on purpose. The wording was dry and distant: statistics had a wonderful way of camouflaging human agony. Death ratios and probabilities of survival segued neatly into numerological exposition, with side notes on useful spells and nutrition. The results of Remus' clandestine experiments with Wolfsbane were outlined, but whether there had been pain and anguish involved was left up to the reader's imagination. Severus had a vivid imagination.
"Which one of these test subjects are you?" he asked: they were coded, from A to double-D.
Remus set the tea on the table, off to the side so it wouldn’t get knocked over accidentally, and Summoned the milk. "K," he said, reluctantly, as if it hurt him to give up the last vestige of his privacy. Severus flipped through the stack of medical charts, which were of course kept in strict alphabetical order. He accepted a cup of tea, sipped, gagged, glared at Remus as he added enough sugar to make it palatable, and then flipped open Remus' medical record.
At the front of the file there were a series of six colour photographs, each labelled with a month from October through April (excepting February). In each Remus stood in the same pose, naked in front of a sheet pinned to the wall. His hair was shorn, in some pictures nearly all gone; he looked unbathed, exhausted, and defiant. He had bruises and cuts in most pictures (they would have been taken following the full moon, Severus recalled). He was thin, shockingly so in March. Severus thought at first that the pictures were Muggle, but as he studied them, Remus-in-November sneezed, and a few seconds later Remus-in-April glanced sideways. Remus' preternatural stillness was disturbing. Remus-across-the-table was unable to keep still. Severus sighed in annoyance and turned the page.
"Your antenatal notes are up to date," he said, blinking at the columns listing Remus' weight, blood pressure, and a myriad of odd little symbols.
"Of course," Remus said. "There are eleven files missing, for the men at St Mungo's. It will be interesting to compare the data, afterwards."
"I think you're supposed to have gained more weight than this by now," Severus said. "You keep your own records?"
"Once a week like bloody clockwork," Remus said. "I'm a regular contributor to science, I am."
"You're an ass," Severus said absently, and turned the page. He started reading from the previous October. Scaeva wrote in a broad, sloppy hand. The conception spell was written in a convoluted shorthand: Severus would not be surprised if Scaeva had used a code that only he could decipher. Unfortunate, considering what had happened to the man.
The conception spell varied slightly each month. Severus wondered whether that had anything to do with the other fathers. He checked a few of the other files, but the identity of the embryos' other genetic source was a mystery. Something Scaeva had kept in his head, perhaps as a reminder of what would be lost if he were to die. At least the man had had proper medical training: his spells of sterility and medical Transfiguration seemed impeccable, and he seemed to have taken good care of Remus' other medical problems, which were… numerous. Bones fixed or regrown, lacerations healed, nutritive potions administered.
Reading between the lines, the other werewolves had not embraced Remus and his position in the group. It had come to a head in January, when Remus had been handed over to a group of Greyback's staunchest supporters (the failed werewolf plot to attack the Minister at a New Year's gala, Severus recalled; Greyback might not have known Remus was the leak — he let him live — but surely he'd suspected.). After two weeks, Remus was delivered back to Scaeva, who filled two pages with outrage and a catalogue of injuries internal, external, and psychological. Have adapted the Muggle method for food refusal, Scaeva wrote; Severus didn't want to know what that was. Something involving needles, most likely. It was almost funny, the hubris of one torturer complaining about the methods of others. Severus wasn't laughing.
Remus sat opposite him and fidgeted, not so much drinking his tea as fiddling with it, stirring it and spilling it and turning the cup in his hands and tapping the spoon against the saucer. Severus tried to ignore him as long as he could. "This really bothers you, doesn't it?"
"Yes," Remus said, and hiccupped. He looked alarmed and pushed away from the table, barely making it to the sink before he threw up.
"Wrong trimester," Severus said, crossing the room to rub Remus' back. "Hormones?"
"Stress," Remus muttered, and threw up again.
"Probably the hormones," Severus said, thinking out loud. "Unless you're getting a stomach virus. You can't be prone to this kind of reaction," he continued, as Remus straightened and leant back against him. Severus Banished the mess, snagged a cup with his free hand and filled it with water, handed it to Remus, and wet the tea towel. He ran it over Remus' forehead and down under his jaw. Remus rinsed and spat. "You'd never have lasted as a spy if you vomited every time you saw Greyback."
"Or Voldemort," Remus said, eyes shut and breathing shallowly. "He might have taken offence."
"He would definitely have taken offence," Severus said, thinking, Voldemort? When had Remus ever…? "You should go lie down if you're finished. Are you finished?" Remus nodded, opening his eyes and turning in the circle of Severus' arms.
"You used to sing to me," Remus said, very low. "It was comforting."
"I don't sing. Under duress I might hum."
Remus raised an eyebrow, probably the closest thing to a smile he could manage. "Your humming was a comfort to me. Just so you know."
"I've been in your head, Lupin. I have some idea…" Severus let his words trail off. "No. I probably have no idea." His hand against Remus' arm began patting automatically. "Let's go to bed," Severus said. "Sleep, that is, not — "
"I'm not damaged goods," Remus snapped.
"Oh, yes you are," Severus said, and he met Remus' eyes. "You've been damaged goods practically your whole life."
There was a pause in which there was no sound but the drip of water into the sink.
"Pot calling the kettle black," Remus said finally.
"You're fucked up, I'm fucked up, the world can fuck off."
Remus' mouth twitched, almost a smile. "How adolescent. Should we go sneak cigarettes out back?"
"Do you have any idea how bad cigarettes are for a developing child?" Severus reached down and rubbed the bump apologetically.
"I am tired," Remus said, but didn't move away.
"Then come to bed." Severus got up, waving the fire and all the lamps but one out. He gestured for Remus to walk ahead of him to the bedroom as he lit the way. In the bedroom, undressing (and hanging their clothes on hangers — civilisation was addictive), Remus' face was amused and cautious and still lined with sadness. Severus let him use the bathroom first; when it was his turn, the air was still steamy from all the scalding water Remus had conjured up, as if he'd been trying to wash away the past.
Back in the bedroom, Severus shut and locked the door out of habit. Remus was curled up on his side of the bed, but he rolled over to watch Severus with an unnervingly steady gaze.
"Shut your eyes," Severus said, and Remus did so instantly. The trusting curl of Remus' lashes against his cheek was quite possibly the most erotic thing Severus had ever seen. He ran one finger down the side of Remus' face, not missing the way Remus' breath hitched, then leant down to kiss him.
He'd have stopped had Remus frozen at his touch or attacked him wantonly; he'd have stopped, he told himself, had Remus tried to take control from him. He meant to stop, but Remus was kissing him back, both hands holding his shoulders, and Severus stopped thinking about how it ought to end and pushed the sheet down, his fingertips brushing lines down from the hollow at the base of Remus' neck and to the bump. He shoved the sheet to the side and pushed at the elastic waistband of Remus' boxers so he could run his hands across the warmth of Remus' skin unimpeded.
Remus cried out against his mouth when Severus traced his nipples. Remus refused to admit that pregnancy made his nipples hypersensitive, despite the fact that he was developing the habit of pulling his shirt away from his chest. He had hexed Severus for suggesting that a bra might ease the chafing. Severus lowered his head now and licked along Remus' neck, running his teeth down across the rapidly skipping pulse, over the tight muscle covering shoulder bones, and then attacked each nipple in turn with the sharp point of his tongue.
"Too much," Remus said, in between writhing and panting and running his hands up and down Severus' back. "May I open my eyes?"
"No," Severus said, sliding down over Remus' stomach, which fascinated him: it was like nothing he'd ever seen or touched before. Remus made one of his embarrassed noises — Severus knew without looking how his lips would twist — and his hands tried blindly to get Severus to move on. Severus tongue-fucked Remus' navel instead, letting his hands fan over the bump. No little hands or feet poked back at him: the baby seemed to sleep best when Remus was active. Severus was glad: he found the idea of a tiny voyeur off-putting.
Remus' legs beneath him were restless, his feet kneading the bed with the urgent roll of his hips. Severus shoved the boxers down and off. He moved down, feeling the awkward shift as Remus pushed himself up as if to see over the bump what Severus was doing.
"Open your eyes and I'll stop," Severus said, and Remus fell back with a groan. Severus curled one hand around the base of Remus' cock and ran his tongue across the head. Remus shuddered; Severus wrapped his mouth around the hard length and swirled his tongue over as much of the sensitive flesh as he could reach.
Remus panted with need: he was shaking, hands in Severus' hair but not pushing. Remus was very vocal, and Severus found himself inspired by the words of praise and the breathless noises and the abandon with which Remus surrendered himself. "Coming," Remus bit out finally, tugging up at Severus' shirt, as if he thought Severus hadn't minded a cock in his mouth but might mind come. Severus moved his hand faster and hollowed his cheeks, and Remus shouted as he came. Severus licked him clean and pulled Remus' boxers back on.
"That was — gods! — that was incredible," Remus said, looking boneless as he blinked up at Severus. "Do you want me to, ah — ?"
"Go to sleep," Severus said, stretching out next to Remus. The bump was hard against his stomach, and he rubbed it idly. Remus sighed and rested his cheek against Severus' head, which was on Remus' arm. Severus could feel the moment when Remus fell asleep, the sudden heaviness that settled over his body and the slow rise and fall of his chest against Severus'.
This was the oddest part of this strange truce he seemed to have fallen into, this pointless closeness. Severus understood and enjoyed sex; he did not understand the ability to simply lie about together for no reason, nor the desire to do so. But Remus, now that Severus was inside his defences, seemed to need touch more than food; and Severus found that it felt good to give that to Remus. It would have been easy enough to taunt Remus for selling himself so cheap, but when the words rose in Severus' throat he invariably swallowed them again.
Something pressed out against Remus' stomach — a foot perhaps — and Severus pressed back. Remus refused to believe that the baby was capable of any kind of interaction yet, but Severus knew better. It would follow his hand, sometimes, and reacted to his voice. With a bit of humming and patting, he could even stop its chronic hiccups that drove Remus mad.
The pregnancy book assured him that even a newborn baby was just a bundle of reflexes and that it took months for actual interaction to take place. But this was Remus' child (he had wondered, actually, about that, but Remus' notes on the conception spell made it clear that half of the genetic material used was the bearer's; he also knew now that it was a boy), and Remus was passably clever. It stood to reason that the baby would be, too.
Severus tried to get the baby to stop its enthusiastic flailing, but it seemed to share Remus' penchant for exercise as well. Remus grumbled in his sleep and half-rolled over, his knee sliding between Severus' legs and his arm going around his waist. Remus' damp hair was a tangle; he looked almost childlike as he slept. Severus ran his knuckles down Remus' cheek, and the way Remus turned into the touch suggested that Remus was nearly awake or pretending to be asleep again.
"I'm sorry for all the things that were done to you," Severus said into Remus' hair; his hand resting under Remus' jaw felt his pulse speed up. Ha, Severus thought, I'm on to you. "I'm sorry that they hurt you. I'm sorry that you were put in a position where there were no good decisions to make, and that you regret the decisions you did make." He shut his own eyes and breathed out slowly. "I will try not to hurt you. I don't want to give you more regrets."
There were more things Severus could have said, but when he closed his eyes for a moment the world fell away from him. He spent the night in dreams in which even the monstrous barguests were happy and content as they curled up around their pups to sleep.
The Eighth Month
"Finally," Severus said, setting the trunk down on the coarse, rocky sand. "I knew we'd get to the seashore eventually. Though it looks a bit cold for a bathe."
"You think?" Remus said. He did up the zip of his coat all the way to his chin and buried his hands in his pockets. The biting wind drove equal amounts of sand and snow into them. Wherever they were, mid-April was far too much like February, and nothing like the warm summery May that they had left just moments ago.
The overcast sky met seamlessly with the rough grey sea, creating the illusion that they were standing at the bottom of a grey sphere. Like being inside a marble, Severus thought. Like standing on the shore at the end of the world. The waves were worked into a frenzy by the wind, and they smashed against the sand with a force that sent spray and foam flying with a sound like thunder.
"We must be halfway to Azkaban," Severus said. "The Shetlands, perhaps."
"There's no campsite here." Remus turned in a circle. "Perhaps people sleep on the shore in summer. Or perhaps there's something inland, out of the wind. There are houses behind those pines," he added, pointing, and then hurriedly tucked his hand back into his pocket.
"Good. Let's go." Remus looked askance at this plan, and Severus cocked an eyebrow. "If anyone asks questions, I'll tell them we're ornithologists." Remus kept his level gaze fixed on Severus, who shrugged. "Fat ornithologists."
Severus had visions of a room over the pub and cosy fireside drinks, and if he had to make up stories about tit migrations to do it, well, he wasn't adverse. Everyone loved ornithologists.
But the houses — there were ten of them, five to either side of the road — were all deserted. The shop and the pub were boarded up. All the buildings were in disrepair, with broken windows and holes worn through the roofs, and the gardens that fronted the road were tangles of half-dead weeds. If they hadn't been built from stone and mortared with magic, Severus suspected they would have collapsed long ago.
"If this were a film, I wouldn't be surprised to see tumbleweeds," Remus said, standing in the centre of the road and frowning at the pub sign, which hung by one corner from a salt-corroded bracket. "Where do you suppose everyone went?"
"From the evidence at hand, I would say that anywhere else in the world would be preferable. I notice that you're not wondering why."
Remus' head snapped around, as if at some movement. He narrowed his eyes, staring off down the path they had walked up from the beach, and then shoved the hovering trunk towards the nearest house, which was half-buried under vines. "Get indoors. Now." He yanked the door open, slung the trunk in, and pulled Severus in bodily. He slammed the door shut behind them and looked around the room, exuding well-controlled panic.
"Care to enlighten me?" Severus asked, as Remus paced the front room slowly, wand out as he cast the spells to make the window glass fly back into place, fuse, and become Unbreakable. He then checked to see whether the chimney was blocked off.
Remus had mastered — more or less — the dubious skill of intentless magic, and Severus had discovered how to give shape to the magic by tracing certain runes with the wand in lieu of a simple flick and swish. There was barely a pause between Remus speaking the spell and tracing the rune hei; soot dropped into the fireplace and rose up in a dejected cloud. Remus made a satisfied noise.
"Quintapeds," Remus said, "following our trail up from the beach. We must be on the Isle of Drear. They might leave me alone — I don't know if they have a taste for lycanthropes — but they'd love you. Especially since you've got so lovely and plump. Good enough to eat."
"Fuck you," Severus started, but the cautious way Remus was inspecting the room gave him pause. "You're serious."
"Deadly," Remus said. "I suggest you help out if you want to survive the night. The island is said to attract all kinds of wild magic — there are Doxies in these curtains, I think, and the way that carpet slithers is not natural. But the important thing is to make sure the Quintapeds are all outdoors and not in, and that they stay there."
"Why would the Junior Nifflers come to the Isle of Drear? There's no merit badge for Quintaped care."
"I don't know," Remus said; apparently finished with the front room, he moved into the kitchen. "Maybe it was the wrong key."
Severus snorted and left Remus to the defence of the ground floor as he climbed the stairs. The wood under his feet was half-rotten. He wouldn't have been surprised to find a Bundimun infestation. He was certain he wouldn't find any indoor plumbing. He wondered whether there had even been such a thing when the island was abandoned.
He raked his memory for anything concerning Quintapeds and the Isle of Drear. The feud which had led to the creation of the Quintapeds and the subsequent depopulation of the island had taken place well over a hundred years ago. The Ministry of Magic had removed the island's few Muggle inhabitants and resettled them quietly; there had been no Wizarding survivors, save the MacBoon clan in all its Transfigured, hairy, carnivorous glory. The island had been made Unplottable and had gained a quiet reputation in certain circles (Potions, for example) as a haven for rare magical creatures and plants that thrived away from meddling humans. Many of those were lethal as well, Severus mused, and wondered whether he ought to tell Remus.
Grey half-light and snow drifted in through the shattered window at the head of the stairs. Some of the shards of glass had been crushed to powder, and working a proper repairing spell took concentration (Severus had not managed to learn Remus' style of natural, intuitive magic; he pretended he didn't care). The completed panes of glass were uneven and clouded with dust and carpet lint. Severus made the whole mess Unbreakable anyway.
"What do you think?" he said, turning in the direction of Remus' footsteps coming up the stairs. Except it wasn't Remus.
The Quintaped was nothing more than a mobile mouth on its five hairy legs, and it looked hungry. Severus snapped off a Stunning Spell automatically. The Quintaped stumbled, snapped its fanged jaws, shook its head, and advanced.
"Locomotor mortis," Remus shouted from the bottom of the stairs, and the Quintaped's legs froze midstep. It drooled a bit in surprise and then wobbled off-balance slowly backwards, gathering speed as it rolled down the stairs. Remus caught it with a Levitation Charm mid-bounce and waved it through the air towards the front door. "If you don't mind, Severus," he called, but Severus had already cast Alohomora. Depositing the creature on the far side of the road, Remus slammed the door shut and traced the rune shu against the wood to fortify it. After a tense minute, they heard it snuffling outside the door, but there was no attack.
"Well," Remus said. He still looked like an avenging Asura, wand out and eyes blazing, but as he stared up at Severus, some of the tension ran out of his posture and he arched an eyebrow, almost in self-mockery. "It was hiding in the cupboard."
"I think," Severus said, his own heart still racing, "we'd better work together from now on." Remus nodded as if that made perfect sense and made his way up the stairs awkwardly, one hand holding the bump and the other tight on the railing. Severus thought that Mad, Pregnant, Whatever would expect him to jump between Remus and certain danger, but it was harder being a gallant knight when the fair maiden had just as much testosterone as he did, and better reflexes.
They found one more Quintaped, nesting amongst rotting tartans in the bedroom closet. Remus missed it with a Switching Spell, but Severus collapsed it with a Jelly-legs Jinx. Remus cast a Densaugeo that made it unable to open its jaws, and they took advantage of its confusion to levitate it out the window. Remus' hasty repair of the glass was slipshod and somehow incorporated half of a rotting curtain, but Severus wasn't complaining. He dropped down onto the bed, feeling drained.
When Remus looked alarmed, Severus leapt to his feet as if the mattress were on fire, standing tense as Remus checked for vermin, curses, and any other causes of pain, suffering, and death. The only thing wrong with the bed that he found was simple age. The mattress was stuffed with rotting straw, and the bedropes were frayed to the point of snapping.
"I can fix it," Remus said. "If you could bring me the Unfrayable rope from my trunk…." He's got me fetching and carrying, Severus grumbled to himself all down and up the stairs, but when Remus had the mattress levitated and was insinuating himself into a century's worth of dust and dead bugs, Severus felt appeased enough to volunteer to make tea.
Remus looked up at Severus through the cobwebs. "Don't cook too much," he warned. "We'll have to ration food as there aren't any shops."
Severus paused. "There is the extra key," he said slowly. "We don't have to stay here."
Remus Banished the rotting ropes to the closet and began painstakingly attaching the Unfrayable rope with tidy Permanent Sticking Charms. Severus thought this was overkill — a simple Sticking Charm would have sufficed — but if Remus wanted a bed that would stand up to any amount of bouncing, he wasn't about to complain. Remus caught his eye and grinned as if he'd read the thought.
"The Quintapeds aren't really an emergency," Remus said. "They're a hazard, but we're on to them. The island is cold and hostile, but we're not in a tent. We could stay for a few days, on a trial basis." Remus shrugged in an offhand way that dislodged several spiders from his hair. "I'm used to living like this, actually — itinerant specialist in magical creatures and the Dark Arts. I'll dig you up a copy of my C.V., if you'd like." He leant on the ropes to test them. "So whether we stay or go is up to you."
Severus tilted his head and considered. "If you can get the mattress to stop reeking of mould, we might as well stay."
Remus, Severus discovered, was one of those people who hoarded. A complete turn-out of his trunk produced most of a ten kilo sack of rice (brown), a similar bag of flour (whole wheat), six packages of pasta (two-for-one sale), four bags of lentils (two green, two red), five bags of Alara muesli (the deluxe fruit and nut kind which had not been on sale: Remus shamefacedly admitted to having paid full price), assorted dented tins of beans and vegetables, two cabbages, a sack each of potatoes and onions, seven carrots with odd deformations (including one which was quite well hung, for a carrot), three partially-eaten cheeses, four well-wrapped fruitcakes, and two boxes of biscuits (Remus assured Severus that they would last the month). Severus, in his pack, had all the spices, take-away condiments, assorted teas, and three imported chocolate bars: not practical, he admitted readily, but essential. Remus laughed at him but gauged the remaining spices with his eyes.
The daily menu that Remus devised was mainly soup and pasta, with soup and rice for variety. The island had a large goat population: presumably, the Ministry had left the goats as sustenance for the Quintapeds in lieu of re-establishing human sacrifice. Severus spent the better part of a week in fits and rages about goats before he finally managed to catch one for milk. Letting it go because it happened to be male was hard, but the next time he managed to procure a lactating female (accompanied by an anxious kid). Neither he nor Remus had any clue as to how to get the milk out and into a bottle. Remus argued that Severus must have had far more familiarity with teats; Severus, that it was high time Remus learnt.The first breakfast with fresh milk on Alara instead of pasta with cheese was blissful, and Remus made no remarks besides thank you.
Severus named the goats Maia and Winifred: he didn't need a girl's name any more. The goats slept in the kitchen and snacked on the sofa and curtains. Remus turned out to be very good with them, for someone who — Severus found out — had never had a pet of any kind.
"My parents thought I was enough," Remus said, shrugging.
"Not even a toad?" Severus had bred toads as a boy.
"Be thankful," Remus said darkly, "that I never even kept fish."
Severus was hopeless with fishing spells: Remus was the one who charmed the fish from the frigid surf for Severus' dinners, and was more than willing to hex Severus for making snide comments about his commitment to vegetarianism. It was a matter of necessity, Remus said. If Severus ate animal protein and gave his rations of beans and cheese to Remus, the baby would get all the nutrients it needed.
With the spectre of starvation banished, life on Drear was tolerably pleasant. Remus knew a number of useful alarm spells to prevent surprise attacks by Quintapeds; these allowed them to explore the island in its entirety. Remus seemed particularly pleased with his reprieve from having to hide from curious eyes; he disappeared for long stretches of time. Severus certainly didn't feel compelled to spend all his time in Remus' company; that would have been morbid. But he was curious, and his curiosity led him to discover that Remus was visiting the defunct pub nearly every day.
He doubted that Remus was turning into an alcoholic: the spirits that had been charmed to survive the years were vile, and Remus was far too full of life these days. There had been an ancient darts board, but Severus didn't see games as the reason for Remus' visits, either.
The slushy rain from the morning had turned into a heavy mist that soaked everything it touched. Remus said a cheery farewell to Severus on his way out to do the day's fishing. Severus, curled up warm in front of the fire with a very difficult text, waved half-heartedly. He waited until Remus had been gone ten minutes before pulling on his coat and dashing down the puddle-ridden road to the pub
The interior of the pub seemed no different from any of the other times Severus had ventured inside. He lit his wand and looked around. Dust lay thick over the bar, the tables, the floor…
Except for a track leading to the stairs. Severus smiled.
The upstairs was brighter and frigid: there had never been glass windows here, only wooden shutters that had decayed on their twisted hinges. The scuff marks left by Remus' feet were faint, but they seemed to lead to a door halfway down the passageway. A guest room, Severus thought, perplexed.
The first thing he saw on opening the door was the typical housekeeping detritus: brooms and buckets and decaying linens. The second thing he saw, however, drove from his mind all confusion about Remus' fascination with the broom cupboard.
The darkness gathered and took sudden form as it stepped out in the shape of Severus' worst nightmare. He backed away, hitting the wall as the menacing figure loomed at him; his wand slipped through his numb fingers unnoticed. Shining beetle-black eyes flashed in triumph; the narrow mouth curled up in contempt; and Severus was lost to his personal horror.
He didn't remember falling to his knees; the first thing to penetrate the isolation of his fear was Remus' voice, loud and coldly furious:
The Boggart turned away from Severus, blurring as it changed, but Remus was faster, his wand moving in large arcs as he rapidly sketched the rune for laughter.
"Riddikulus," he said again, forcing the Boggart into the shape of a large purple chicken that ran down the passageway and back before laying a spotty egg. Remus snorted and waved his wand: the Boggart was sucked into the egg, and Remus threw it into the cupboard with vicious force.
Severus didn't remember returning to their house. Later, he suspected that Remus had been forced to levitate him. Still, that would hardly have been the most mortifying part of the whole episode.
He knew, vaguely, that he ended up wrapped in a blanket in bed, and that Remus was next to him, holding a cup of very warm mint tea to his mouth and encouraging him to drink. He felt sick, but the tea cut through the horrid taste of bile. The curtains were drawn: in the lantern-light the shadows seemed to crawl from wall to wall.
Gradually, he realised that Remus was talking. The words sounded foreign and meaningless to his ears, although the rhythm was soothing. Every now and then Remus got up and moved out of Severus' sight, but he never tried to leave the room after his first attempt to do so brought Severus clawing upright in panic.
Finally, Remus joined him in the bed, curling around Severus' back, one arm stretching protectively around Severus' stomach. Only then did Severus let his eyes close, and in that second he was lost to sleep.
"We'll go," Remus said, opening the kitchen drawers and piling their contents on the table, shoving the nearly untouched breakfast dishes aside. "We can take the spare key to the next location." He tossed back everything but a pair of scissors and a nutcracker, which he banished to the trunk. "It was stupid to stay here. Dangerous. I was stupid, to leave that Boggart lying around."
"I would have thought you'd find it amusing," Severus said. He was fully recovered, he insisted, despite the periodic fits of shivering. Remus had looked sceptical and made Severus wear his lilac anorak against the cold. Normally, Severus would have refused and taken insult, but the coat smelt like Remus: a mixture of spices, sweat, and almond soap. "Or at least be smug. Your friends would have been able to conjure Patroni from the sheer joy of seeing me reduced to tears."
"You're still crap at reading me, aren't you?" Remus said lightly. "We aren't rivals. I don't exist to try and get one over on you. I've actually got to be rather fond of you, so do excuse me for being upset that you were attacked. You didn't deserve that. I'm not glad for your misfortune. Quite the opposite, especially since it was my fault."
"I was glad of your misfortune," Severus said. "I thought you deserved it. All of it. I might see you differently now," he added; it sounded a pathetic defence to his own ears.
"Mm," Remus said. "If you perceive someone as your enemy, it does help if you don't see them as human. It makes the hate easier."
"Hate has always been very easy for me," Severus said.
Remus paused, trying futilely to keep Winifred out of the tea towels. "That's terrifying, isn't it?" he said softly, and Severus knew he was remembering the Boggart. He wondered whether Remus had recognised the Boggart for what it was immediately, or whether Remus had thought that it was him. "It is hard to know oneself a monster." He looked over at Severus cautiously. "I'm relieved to see you up and yourself this morning. I worried that the Boggart did you permanent harm. You looked — I've seen people broken, and you had that look."
Severus took one of his last digestives from the box on the table and broke it into quarters. He held one out on his palm, and Winifred abandoned the sodden towels for the biscuit, butting him for more until it was all gone. Severus scratched her idly between the eyes. "What look — sobbing and drooling?"
"Devastated," Remus said. "I'm the last person to sneer — you've seen me stripped absolutely bare, all my secrets revealed. It hurt like bloody fuck," he added absently, crossing to the trunk and jiggling the things already packed to see if there was still room for the teakettle. "But it was necessary. I'm… better, now. Stronger for it. I think it'd be ridiculous to avoid each other out of mutual painful embarrassment, so we — " he shrugged " — just go on."
"What were you doing with that Boggart?"
"Confronting my fears. Greyback. Scaeva. The future. Werewolves. The things I did. Things done to me." Remus shrugged again. "Boggarts are the poor man's Pensieve."
"Was I one of those fears?"
Remus sat back on his heels, looking up into Severus' eyes. "Never. Not once."
Severus blinked. "That's… good, I think." He gave Remus a measuring look. "You didn't do yourself any permanent harm with the Boggart, did you? I imagine that hurt like bloody fuck."
"I'm a big boy," Remus said. "I knew what I was doing and what to expect. I needed… not to be afraid anymore. I just never thought of the danger to you. We'll get you safe. Even a tent would be better — "
"We're not going anywhere," Severus said firmly. "I refuse to be driven out by a Boggart. Let's go upstairs."
Remus set the kettle down and stared at Severus searchingly. "Are you sure?"
"I may ask you to look under the bed before I fuck you on it, but yes. That's what I want."
"I ought to be the one fucking you, for all the worry you give me," Remus said, and then looked taken aback by his audacity.
"Fine," Severus said, standing up and pulling Remus to his feet. Maia and Winifred fought to climb into his chair. Severus prudently removed the biscuit box to the shelf over the door. The goats bleated and retreated to the front room to nibble desultorily on the wing-back chair. "Don't expect me to be submissive."
"Never," Remus said, grinning.
The bump made everything awkward, of course, and it turned out that, regrettably, multiple orgasms weren't contagious, but Remus was gentle and considerate to the point where Severus wanted to scream, and then he abruptly wasn't. Severus did find himself screaming then, helpless against the shocks of pleasure that made his body move mindlessly as he rode the wave of orgasm.
Afterwards, he let Remus hold him, wrapping Severus tightly in his arms, pressing his face into Severus' shoulder.
"You scared me," Remus said, lips moving against skin. "I didn't know you were missing till tea-time. I looked in every house, half-expecting to find nothing left of you but bones… I can't remember when I've been so scared."
"That's the point of Boggarts, isn't it?" Severus said, pleased with the way his voice stayed steady but worried that he might start babbling.
"I don't think tourism is ever going to be popular here," Remus said, nuzzling Severus' neck. Apologising, Severus thought, for the bite mark that was surely there.
"It's not that bad," Severus said, staring up at the water-blistered ceiling. "Excellent practice for Defence against the Dark Arts. We should bring the children."
Remus laughed against his shoulder. "Granger would be quite concerned for the Quintapeds' rights as Transfigured humans, I think. We could have a full panel discussion on the 'beast versus being' conundrum."
"You'd know more about it than I," Severus said drowsily, and shut his eyes. He was vaguely aware of Remus pulling the blankets over them.
He didn't remember wrapping himself around Remus for warmth, but he must have, because that was how he woke, hours later, with Remus' head heavy on his arm and the bump kicking him enthusiastically in the stomach. He started attempting to pat the baby into quietude. He would have to persuade Remus to teach him how to use the Boggart. It was ridiculous to be burdened with fears. He needed to let them go.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
(Walden, Henry David Thoreau)
The Ninth Month
Remus sighed with regret and set his fork down."Admitting defeat, are you?" Severus said, smirking: Remus had been trying to finish a very thick slice of the last fruitcake, but he'd made the mistake of eating his Christmas dinner beforehand.
They had ended up in a Wizarding campsite (with properly furnished tents) near another Tesco and a cupboard-sized branch of Honeydukes hidden between a Knickerbox and a nail art salon. Remus had sent Severus forth with a very long list, although it turned out that many Christmassy foods were not available in May.
They made do. The roast tofu with mint sauce had proved surprisingly edible, and Remus had made a sprout, potato, and carrot curry that was not half as vile as it sounded. Severus fixed up the cake with marzipan and icing which, though it included no magical ingredients, was still nearly Unbreakable; he wondered what he'd done wrong. From the sweet shop he had gummy anise penguins (a new Bertie Botts product) that skated and cavorted on the slick surface of the cake.
The combined effect of all this food was overwhelming even for Severus. Remus, whose appetite had disappeared almost entirely, was doomed to nibble from the start. Severus wondered whether the goats would eat the tofu; they did not handle curries well.
Remus stretched his arms over his head in a lazy laddering motion so that his shoulders cracked audibly. "When this is all over," he said, "I will eat an entire fruitcake in front of you and not let you have one bite." Two penguins skidded into each other and toppled over the cut edge of the cake. Remus picked one up, leant across the table, and fed it to Severus.
"I can live with that," Severus said, chewing. "Come here." He extracted Remus from his chair and walked him through the tent's tiny sitting room and into the bedroom. Remus stopped abruptly in the doorway, and Severus had to sidestep to avoid banging into him.
"You got me presents?" Remus said, sounding almost gleeful. He leant backwards into Severus, one hand rising to turn Severus' cheek so that he could kiss him easily with the slightest turn of his head. Severus was still not used to kissing someone who was smiling at the same time: it was a funny feeling, but he supposed it was no odder than laughing during sex. He had got used to that; he would get used to this. All he needed was practice. Perhaps he should buy presents more often.
( comments on almost-clara's art can be left here)
When Remus finally let go of his lower lip, Severus said, "They're not really for you." Remus laughed.
"You bought presents for yourself?" Remus asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Denser than the fruitcake, you are." Severus made Remus go and sit on the bed and handed him the flat square box from the top of the pile. "This one is yours, temporarily. I wouldn't have had to do this if you weren't so remiss in your preparations," he added, crossing his arms to glower down. Remus smirked and tugged at the wide black ribbon.
"These seem to be all the rage these days," Severus said into the silence as Remus set the lid aside and took the book out. The cover was patterned with clouds that drifted across a chalk-blue sky. He had chosen the book especially because it had not a single duck, rabbit, bear, or elephant.
Remus glanced up through his fringe. "A baby book?"
"Obviously," Severus said dryly. The words Baby Book were written in gold on the clouds. "My mother left me with a carrier bag of wrinkled photographs, hospital bills, broken toys, unmatched socks, and two Galleons in small change, but apparently people these days are much more organised with their children."
Remus turned to the opening page, and Severus frowned, preparing himself for Remus' reaction. The silence stretched uncomfortably thin.
"It's Correctable ink," Severus said. "If you don't — "
Remus shook his head and held up a hand, his face hidden by the fall of his hair. "Hormones," he said, and Severus saw him take a deep breath. "It's a lovely name." He turned the page with another slow rise and fall of his chest, and then flipped slowly through the rest of the book, pausing every now and then to read Severus' notes. "You've been busy." He looked up and gave Severus a slow lazy smile.
"There's still plenty left for you to write," Severus said dismissively, but he felt the tension in his shoulders melt with an unfamiliar warmth.
"Mm, I'll enjoy filling this in. I see you left all the maternal bits blank." Remus shut the book carefully, running a finger along the white ribbon that bound it. "So if the baby book is my present, what are these?" He prodded the bottom box of the stack with one cautious finger.
"Open them," Severus said, and that was all the invitation Remus needed.
It took far longer for Remus to work his way through the pile than Severus would have thought humanly possible. Everything was tiny: why did it take so long to open each and every box, unfold, admire, comment, refold, and repack? Severus supposed that this bizarre attention to clothes must be hormonal. He shoved aside a mess of wrapping paper and settled in on the bed. Tactically, he realised, this was a very bad move, as Remus immediately held the miniature robe in his hands against Severus' chest and grinned.
"I can't imagine you were ever this small."
"Aren't you glad I'm not still," Severus muttered, and Remus made a strangled noise of amused agreement. Severus took the baby robe and folded it back into the box with the others. He'd bought ten of the same on the advice of the shop girl. He'd hardly been able to believe his luck that the dresses were white, plain, and charmed to resist stains, but now they looked oddly bereft without any pastel animals. Remus seemed pleased, though, his face flushed and eyes shining.
"Look at this hat," Remus was saying. "It's adorable."
Severus winced. "Don't gush — it's disturbing. They didn't have any dignified hats. At least the crocodiles are better than rabbits or ducks."
"I think babies are supposed to be cute, not dignified," Remus said, holding up the matching sock/slipper/shoe things and quirking an eyebrow.
"You're supposed to have all this before the baby is born," Severus said. "You can't go sticking a baby into a rice sack."
Remus shrugged in resigned agreement and opened the last box.
"The girl at the shop said these are popular," Severus said offhandedly. Remus took out Runes Set to Familiar Tunes, My First Magical Bestiary, and all five volumes of the Baby Circe series (which came with free flashcards of healing plants and two whimsically charming! puppets).
Remus' eyes were round as he carefully packed it all up again.
"Thank you — I'm stunned that you did this. Happy. It all feels," Remus said, sweeping his hand through the air as if trying to catch the right words, "real. I'm just getting used to the pregnancy thing, it hadn't really hit me until now. But — next month… next month there's going to be a baby." The corners of his mouth slid up. "Erasmus?"
"It's a proper Wizarding name," Severus said, defensively. "There was Bent Erasmus, Sorcerer of Abidjan, not to mention Erasmus Larch, inventor of the warbling wobbling hex."
Remus' smile widened. "It means 'love'."
"He doesn't have to know that until he's old enough to deal with the shock," Severus snapped, and wondered how long Remus would drag the agony out. But Remus just set aside the box on his lap (well, knees, really) and stood awkwardly.
"I've presents for you as well," he said. "But we'll have to go outside for the first." He held out a hand to Severus who, after a fierce moment of self-restraint (the words I'm not the one who can barely stand upright these days were chewed and swallowed), took it and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet.
Remus led Severus outside, past the tethered goats (who butted them enthusiastically and nibbled on Remus' trousers) and across to the rise that overlooked the lake.
"This will do," he said, looking around. He took out his wand and held it ready with a look of intense concentration. "Expecto patronum." Even as he spoke he was already tracing a complicated series of runes that hung silver in the air. Through them, like light through a lens, Remus' discorporeal Patronus intensified and grew. Remus held his wand steady, bracing his wand arm with his right hand. He sketched a final rune, and the Patronus exploded outwards in a rush of wings that burnt with silver flames.
Remus lowered his wand with a sigh as the Patronus soared, climbing like a rocket.
"Sweet Merlin," Severus said, when he could talk. "You did it."
"We did it," Remus said, face turned to the sky. They watched for a few minutes, standing shoulder to shoulder, and then Remus raised his wand again. "Finite incantatem." He gave Severus a look which was both smug and shy.
"Do it again," Severus said. "Wait — tell me what you did, and then show me."
Remus' amusement seemed to increase, but he explained the sequence of the runes with the patience of a teacher. He had more trouble figuring out how to draw them whilst maintaining eye contact; it took several tries before Severus was able to keep a link to Remus' mind.
"Expecto patronum," Remus said, and Severus thought that he'd encountered another of Remus' defences, because he saw only himself.
A kiss, slow and tender; the touch of a warm hand against the bump; an argument, resolved in grudging concession; cake baked in take-away boxes. His face, dirty with mud, wild with fear; eyes squeezed shut in orgasm; eyes open with a look that Severus had never seen in a mirror — part challenge, part passion.
Severus looked away; he had to. Remus ended the spell and curled one hand around the back of Severus' neck.
"Don't look so devastated," Remus said, softly. "I did tell you I loved you." He pulled Severus forward just enough that his forehead met Remus'. "Don't let it bother you." Severus could not stand the idea of kissing Remus with Remus' memories of their kisses still fresh in his mind. Remus perhaps sensed this, because he stepped back and stretched again, trying to make his hijacked body comfortable. "Shall we stop here? I feel like I've been fending off Dementors." He turned and headed back towards the tent.
"You were practicing this with that Boggart, weren't you?" Severus said, and Remus smiled back over his shoulder.
"Of course I was. Boggarts are dead useful — I still can't believe you made me let that one go."
"I'll try the Patronus tomorrow," Severus said, as Remus held the tent flap up for him.
"No hurry," Remus said. "Let me just get your other present." He folded himself stiffly into the only comfortable chair, rubbing the bump, and Severus noted the lines of pain around his set mouth.
The occasional contractions Remus experienced alarmed Severus, despite what Your Mad, Pregnant Wife had to say (Perfectly natural! Practice your breathing exercises!). Remus refused to be fussed by what he called a bit of discomfort. Still, he had made Severus go over the conception spell until Severus was familiar enough with its properties that he could terminate it if necessary.
Severus almost wished that his magic was intent-based: he would have been happier if he knew that he couldn't kill Remus if he lacked the desire to do so. But both he and Remus knew that he could, and that he would, if only to save the baby, no matter how his heart and mind might protest.
Remus let out his breath and pulled his feet up to sit crosslegged. He raised his wand and Summoned a roll of parchment. He caught it with his free hand and levitated it in one smooth move over to where Severus sat on the spindly-legged next-most-comfortable chair. Severus plucked it out of the air gingerly. The parchment was tied in loops of ribbon patterned with ducks.
"This had better not be your will," Severus said. He meant it as a joke, but the bland mmm he got as an answer made him pause. "I refuse to inherit your debt."
"Read it first," Remus said, leaning his head back against the corner of the chair back. "I'm going to take a nap."
"Lazy sod," Severus said, and undid the ribbon.
He read the document in silence. He had no doubt that it was meticulously researched and legal. Half of it was written in Minerva McGonagall's round backhand, so it must have been something Remus had brought with him from the start. At least two feet of it Remus had added himself, with copious references to Wizarding law. The only incomplete parts were the spaces where his name had been written in pencil.
Severus read it all through once again.
"Are you asleep or pretending?" he asked finally, and one of Remus' eyes cracked open.
"Faking. But I am tired," Remus said, and yawned against the back of his hand.
"You can't give someone a baby for Christmas, it simply isn't done. Have you considered — "
Remus held up his hand, suddenly looking wide awake and deathly serious. "Please do not suggest that I haven't thought over each and every aspect of that document a thousand times in the past eight months."
He stared straight at Severus without moving his head. "I might be injured. I might die. I'm alone, Severus. I've no siblings, my friends are dead, my parents are over twice my age. Minerva thinks the Family Registry might allow my parents to gain temporary legal custody, but wouldn't let them adopt. I've a distant cousin, a lovely bigoted Pureblood matron who might be persuaded to take Erasmus in, although she might also make him live in the cupboard under the stairs. Or the Ministry might want him, out of scientific curiosity or fear."
Remus shrugged and sighed. "He should have someone who loves him if anything happens to me. You don't need to sign now — but think about it, please. If you don't want to, that's fine. I'll put my parents' names back in. I think," Remus added, his voice low and rough, "you would make a very good father."
Severus rolled the parchment up again and tied it. He stood it in the centre of the table, next to the cake where the penguins moved languidly now, their charm wearing off.
"You should go lie down," he said. "If you're tired."
Remus shook his head. "There's one more thing I want to ask of you." He rubbed at the bump with his knuckles. "When we leave here in three days, we'll be going back for only the second half of the month, due to due dates and all that." He looked at Severus as if he were looking at a stranger sent before him for judgement. "We will be going back to the day before the raid on the werewolf camp. You said, from the start, that you won't have the time to teach Harry if you go back May tenth. So — " Remus smiled at Severus' expression as comprehension seeped in — "I think you are right. You should go to him as soon as we've jumped back. You'll be able to talk to him right after the raid — lance the boil, so to speak."
"If anyone talks to him, it should be you."
"What would he gain by that? He'd not be able to see beyond outrage on my behalf. But he hates you. It would be good practice for him to have to deal with you — not unlike an inoculation to prevent disease. Let the tide of his rage break on you, and hopefully it will recede."
"You forget that I despise the arrogant brat at least as much as he does me."
"Still?" Remus asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I will when I see him," Severus growled.
"Then it will be good practice for both of you," Remus said conclusively.
"How would you manage on your own?" Severus asked, grasping at straws.
"I'll be fine. I'll take walks, take naps, write in the baby book, and generally gestate. It's only two weeks," Remus added. "The time will fly." He shifted uncomfortably, and Severus saw the bump move. "I'd go with you, but I don't think I ought to be around too many hexes or curses at this point. Do you?"
Severus pinched the bridge of his nose and mentally cursed Remus because the first panicked thought that ran through his head was I might never see you again. That was impossible to say. He refused to accept that Remus might die: it was too much like the maudlin girls' romances he'd regularly burned in the staff room. He thought Remus ought to feel guilty. "So, you're sending me to the front line, are you?"
Remus spread his hands. "You've given the baby a wonderful start on life. Now I'm asking you if you'd consider giving him a world to live in. If Voldemort wins, Erasmus and the other children will be Greyback's spoils of war."
"You really are a bastard, aren't you?" Severus said in disgust.
"I am manipulative," Remus corrected. "But I haven't hidden anything from you. I just… make certain that you can see what's right in front of you. Erasmus needs Harry to defeat Voldemort. Harry needs help. I don't." He paused, and then continued with an undercurrent of steel. "Don't confuse what's personal with what's right, please. I don't want to send you away into danger. I'll worry, even though I have faith in you. If you can explain to me why this would not be the best plan of action, I'll listen — but with my head, and not my heart."
"How long have you been planning this?" Severus asked, and braced himself for the answer.
Remus smiled in rueful acknowledgment. "I was always worried about the time frame — I think Voldemort was poised to attack within a few hours after we left. He wanted to have the werewolves with him, and it's the full moon. Some of them surely escaped the raid. If he suspects that Harry has the last Horcrux and is trying to discover how to destroy it — he will come sooner rather than later."
"Does Potter know how to destroy it?"
"Fawkes can," Remus said. "Dumbledore believed that — I believe that. Harry needs to learn how to set aside his anger and rage — his personal problems — and not bring them to a battle for justice. Fawkes will come to him if he is loyal, honourable, decorous, and just, according to every ancient source we've found on phoenixes." Remus shrugged. "He needs to become the Boy Who Could Be Sorted into Any House, in short."
"Decorous has never described Potter," Severus said. "Nor has just."
"Minerva tells me he has learnt a lot and changed a lot in the past year," Remus countered. "But his closest friends were hurt — I believe Minerva said that the Weasley girl is still in hospital?" Severus lifted one hand in acknowledgment. "You and I both know what it is like to lose all our friends to war."
Which is why I don't want to face that again, Severus thought.
"Think about it," Remus said, and pushed himself out of the chair. "I'm going to bed." When he passed Severus he paused, briefly. Severus thought that Remus was going to reach out, but then he moved on, quietly and without touching him.
Severus tidied up the remains of their dinner and set the dishes to washing themselves. He ate a penguin but wasn't hungry for anything more. He thought that he ought to be angry, but instead he just hurt. He recalled Remus saying that the fact of the baby hadn't felt real until now. Well. The fact of going back to the realities of war hadn't felt real. When Severus had thought about the future, his mind had somehow skipped over the terrors and instead settled on the continuation of this domestic interlude. He'd thought about how much a baby would weigh in his arms, about first steps and a small hand in his own, about goodnight kisses.
But this was the future, already begun.
Severus went out to feed the goats and move them under the barbeque pavilion for the night.
"What do you think?" he asked Maia, scratching the bony ridge between her eyes.
"Maa," she said, and he gave her the last carrot-top.
"He hates it when you call him that," Severus said.
"Maa," she said again, and clambered up his legs, sharp hooves finding purchase on his hipbones. He shoved her off: Remus said it was affection, but if Severus let her get away with it she ate his hair.
"If he's the mum, that doesn't make me the dad," he said. "We saved you, though, from being Quintaped snacks. Maybe we could save the world." Winifred had rolled her mushy swede out of the radius of her tether; he nudged it back in. "What do you think?"
They gave him the usual answer. He hadn't expected otherwise.
"See you in the morning, then, beasts," he said, and swept back to the tent in as much dignity as he could muster, considering that he was asking advice of goats.
The bedroom was dark. Severus lit his wand and noted that Remus was curled up on the lower bunk that they had been using for stacking laundry. Their bed remained neatly made with the duvet turned back.
"Faking sleep again?" Severus asked, but Remus was, this time, truly dead to the world. Severus stripped and slipped in behind him. He needed to press up against Remus so as not to fall out of bed. It was still light outside; this is ridiculous he thought, and fell instantly asleep.
He woke shortly before dawn to Remus' hand slowly stroking his hair and Remus' voice telling him over and over again how much he loved him. But when next he opened his eyes he was alone and he could hear Remus banging about in the kitchenette, so it was easy enough to think of it as a dream.
The sickening whirl faded, and after a minute Severus let Remus go, once he was certain that Remus wouldn't fall over.
"Well, here we are then," Remus said, and took a step away. "Do you have enough money?"
"And clean socks on, yes," Severus snapped. "Don't worry about me, worry about Harry."
"Don't let him hurt himself," Remus said, and fished the portkey bag from his anorak pocket. "Take care of the trunk, and don't let Hagrid feed the girls to any of his pets."
"Repeating yourself much?" Severus asked, annoyed and amused simultaneously.
"I know…. This is the right thing to do, but I absolutely don't have the intent to do it. I don't want to say goodbye."
"Easy enough, then — don't." Severus took in the frustration on Remus' face. "Long farewells are either pathetic or morbid, take your pick." He had the mad desire to say something; he wanted something that he didn't have the words for, and felt the familiar burn of irritation. I don't like being crippled in my magic or my mind, he thought, and for once he was the centre of his own ire.
Why can't I ask for what I want?
"Lupin," he said, and Remus shifted on his feet. "Kiss me."
Severus winced as the words came out as a question instead of a command, but Remus simply smiled and took Severus in his arms. Severus tried to put all his wanting and his worries into the kiss. Remus ran his fingers through Severus' hair, cupping the back of his head gently, as if trying to assuage the unspeakable fears. Finally, Remus pulled back. His hands drifted away as if he were setting Severus free.
"See you soon," Remus said, his mouth kiss-swollen and his eyes dark. He smiled, adjusted the straps on his pack, and disappeared as if he'd never been.
Severus combed his fingers through his own hair, levitated the trunk, took up the goats' leads, and started off down the road towards the railway station.
The Tenth Month
The first thing Severus did when he was safely hidden in the Room of Requirement was to compose a scathing letter to Minerva about Hogwarts' security. Admittedly, the school was closed and there were no students around to be endangered, but he knew that in a handful of hours the casualties from the werewolf raid would be airlifted in, accompanied by most of the surviving members of the Order of the Phoenix. In light of Voldemort's forces converging on Hogsmeade, Aurors would be pouring in as well. Severus' dungeon would be put back to its original use.
It was a touching sign of faith that Minerva hadn't changed any of the passwords or counter-spells to keep Severus out. Faith in wartime was… foolish.
The second thing he did was to inventory his resources. He'd left the goats tethered outside the groundskeeper's cottage with a stern note that the owner would be by to collect them in a fortnight. He had Remus' trunk, with enough tinned beans to last the duration. He still had the Hogwarts library's Restricted Section, although the box housing it had rattled desolately when he took it out. He was finally able to Transfigure his clothes back into comfortable robes, although with one thing and another they were very bedraggled and had developed indigo and violet spots due to an interaction between Persil and a cleaning charm.
The Room had provided him with a Spartan decor as per his request for a place for knocking sense into Harry Potter. He had a hard cot, a tiny washroom, and a table with two chairs. It was deeply, horribly boring, although he would not go so far as to call it lonely.
Severus propped the door open and went down the corridor to the window that overlooked the approach to the castle. Soon enough the first of the Kilmarnock flying carpets (a bequest Albus had wisely kept quiet about) would rise above the forest and make for the Hospital Wing.
Severus himself had arrived at Hogwarts wandless and flanked by Aurors. He would spend the next few days pickled with Veritaserum: Filius had overseen most of his interrogation, for which Severus felt the humiliation of gratitude. It had been more merciful than being sent to Azkaban.
Harry — Severus frowned. He had no idea what Harry's movements had been. Presumably, the boy had gone to the Hospital Wing to attend his injured friends. Who had been hurt? He couldn't remember. Malfoy, Bulstrode, Thomas, Weasley of course — who else?
Well, Lupin. Remus said that he wasn't as close to Harry as he wished to be, but that the boy respected him as a teacher and as a link to his parents. Severus recalled what Remus had looked like when he was rescued. Harry… would be upset.
The sun winked as something dark crossed it. Severus squinted: the first carpet was joined by nearly a dozen more, moving at great speed. He wiped his hands down the sides of his robes and went to go and lie in wait for the boy.
The plan might have gone better, he thought ruefully as he pelted through the corridor with Harry on his heels. He was much fitter than he had been, and he made a mental note to tell Lupin it wasn't fat but muscle that he'd gained. He took the corner too fast, hit the wall, and ducked as a hex hit above his head. Throwing dignity to the wind, he hiked his robes up to his knees and sprinted for the open door.Harry burst into the Room on his heels, panting with rage. Severus blocked most of his hexes with ease; the remainder he dissipated with blunt force. The boy was stronger than Severus had expected, although he lacked focus. It felt strange watching Harry: something was different.He realised with a shock that he didn't hate Harry Potter any more.
When did that happen? he wondered, studying the boy. Harry was taller, but still with a teenager's unfinished gangliness. Severus waved aside a cutting hex. It would be undignified to be downed by someone who still had horrible spots. There was a good potion you could use for those, he thought. He'd always reserved it for his NEWT-level classes, when it was years too late to save students from embarrassment.
Which wasn't, on reflection, very nice.
He wasn't very nice.
"Legilimens," he said, and Harry — the boy really hadn't paid any attention to his lessons; what on earth had Dumbledore done with him, this was no improvement — Harry raised his chin defiantly and glared directly into Severus' eyes.
Harry's rage seemed to explode out of festering memories of Severus' past iniquities, flashes of Harry's Muggle relatives, and bloody, vivid scenes from the werewolf camp raid. Through Harry's eyes he saw the Weasley boy fall, and he pursued that, watching as the Hospital Wing bed was echoed by another, with another Weasley still as death.
"Get the fuck out of my head," Harry roared. Shouting is a useless waste of energy, Severus thought, sneering, and then Harry exploded through their rapport and into Severus' mind.
Severus fought to keep his barriers down. Not defending himself against intrusion and violation: Remus was right, it hurt like bloody hell. Harry looted his mind, ripping through memories, yanking them out, shaking them.
Dumbledore. Harry wanted Dumbledore. Severus tried to maintain a dispassionate distance as Harry attempted to weave together evidence of guilt from the strands of intrigue, vows, promises, curses, and potions. You won't find what you're looking for, Severus thought, but he knew that wouldn't stop Harry. Why should it? It wouldn't have stopped him in the past, had he been free to ransack Harry's mind — or, just a few months previous, had he been given Remus's memories to twist into conspiracy, betrayal, and inhumanity.
Ah, thinking of Remus was a tactical error. Severus tried to lure Harry back to focussing on Dumbledore with memories of his last conversation with the Headmaster in his office, but Harry found the memory of Severus' interview with Minerva. He felt his chest tighten as he heard himself insulting Remus, sneering at his shabby appearance, and expressing disinterest in whether he lived or died.
Somehow, Harry had shoved him up against the wall, one hand knotted painfully in Severus' hair to keep him from turning his head aside.
"You utter bastard," Harry said, and Severus noted that at least Harry's outrage was on others' behalf. That was surely good. "Professor Lupin's in the Hospital Wing — Madame Pomfrey says, she says that — "
"I know," Severus interrupted. Harry seemed to have learnt the trick to channelling the feeling of wanting to cry into anger. He pulled up; Severus' scalp burned. "He'll be fine." Harry caught at the lie in this bland reassurance and ripped back into Severus' mind to find whatever he could of Remus. Severus breathed shallowly and attempted to draw Harry to the truth, and not to –
"You're vile," Harry spat, as Severus leant in to kiss Remus goodbye. "If you've hurt him…"
"I didn't — I don't, anymore."
"How did you escape the Aurors?" The tip of Harry's wand pushed a little harder into Severus' chest.
"I never escaped," Severus replied evenly. "They've got me now, down in the dungeons. I'll be there two, no, three days. Go and talk to me. By now I'm so full of Veritaserum that I'd tell you anything you asked."
"Professor Lupin sent you here with a time-turner?" Harry asked, belatedly curious. He was slow to waken from whatever dream world he lived in. Severus had never understood that: he believed, as Muggles put it, that knowledge was power and ignorance, weakness. He wondered now what kind of a family so crippled the curiosity of a potentially bright child.
Severus patiently returned to the conversation in Minerva's office, and this time Harry paid more attention. He seized on the fact of the pregnancy and was off again, flipping through memories of Remus so quickly that the bump grew before Severus' eyes like some kind of moving picture. He didn't, he thought ruefully, have any actual pictures of Remus' pregnancy besides the dreadful one in Remus' medical file: the baby book had several pages for mounting photos, but they were – and always would be — blank.
Harry was fascinated with the feel of the bump, the movements of the baby within. He replayed the memory of Severus' hands spanning the hardness of the bump; but when those hands began to move south, Severus cut the memory off.
"You bastard," Harry said with loathing. "Did you use the Imperius Curse on him? How did you — why did you make him do that? What did you do that you're ashamed to show me?"
"There was no force involved," Severus said. "We both wanted to have sex — has anyone ever talked to you about sex, besides Pomfrey's lecture with the colour slides of festering sores?" Harry squirmed in scarlet embarrassment. Well, who would have? Surely not the Muggles, and Black… Black was dead.
Harry looked even more horrified. "You did that with Sirius?"
"Gods, no!" Severus felt a dull amusement that the only thing he agreed with Harry about was that sex with Black would have been just … wrong. "Fascinating though my sex life may be, it's not entirely mine to expose to your prurient interest. You can desecrate my memories; I won't give you Lupin's. He doesn't need any more of that."
Harry blinked owlishly, his eyes — so very similar to Lily's — watery behind his glasses.
"Madame Pomfrey said… they raped him to make him pregnant."
Severus felt Harry grope in his mind and very delibrately closed off all paths to Remus' memories. "No. They did both, but the two are not connected. Men don't get pregnant through sex. It took magic, very dark and very wrong." Diverted away from Remus, Harry was fumbling through Severus' awkward teenaged sexual awakenings, and Severus couldn't help thinking that the violation of the mind and the violation of the body were more alike than not.
Harry flinched from that thought, his hand yanking down on Severus' hair and forcing his eyes to the floor.
"It's not the same," Harry said fiercely. "I'm not the same as them."
"Do you want to do what's right, or do you just want your revenge?" Severus asked, knowing he was parroting Remus, but he knew he was unfit as a mentor for troubled youth: his own advice would have been along the lines of stop whinging and grow up.
Harry let go of Severus' hair and pointedly wiped his hand off on the front of Severus' robes.
"I need to talk to you," Severus said.
Harry took a step back and flicked his wand. Severus felt the grip of a Full-Body Bind and thought nasty thoughts about Harry. Harry reached out, pushed on Severus' shoulder, and watched as he toppled over. Severus' shoulder hit the floor, followed by his forehead. Harry rolled him onto his back with the toe of his trainer — a shove, not quite hard enough to be considered a kick — and then leant down and shut Severus' eyes. Severus heard the door bang shut, and after a few minutes knew that he was alone.
There was not enough bad language in the world, Severus thought, to properly express his feelings about the situation. Somewhere between Russian and Urdu, he finally fell asleep.
Severus woke in the dark with a start: a literal start. He tested the Body-Bind and found that it had worn off a little. In another six to eight hours, he thought, he might be able to crawl. If Harry were waiting for Polyjuice to wear off, he'd cast the spell too hard. Of course, if he just wanted Severus to suffer, he was doing a good job.
Severus needed to piss.
He wondered where Remus was. Was he warm, safe, lonely? Your plan, he told Remus mentally, didn't take into account what to do if Potter were a complete idiot.
He lay there, futilely trying to summon his wand. He had no idea where it was. He hoped it hadn't been broken.
The door opened, and Severus smelt food. He had been trying not to think of his hunger, either.
"I brought you supper," Harry said. "Finite incantatem"
Severus lay still for a minute, carefully stretching the cramps out of his muscles, and then staggered to his feet, using the wall for support, dignity be damned. He made it to the toilet without falling, and Harry allowed him to shut the door. He washed up, inspected the dark bruise on his forehead and the places scabbing over where his teeth had come down on his lip, and raked his hair back from his face with his fingers before going out to face Harry.
Harry had opened a hamper and taken out two dishes of sandwiches, which were set on the table. Severus sat down stiffly.
"Thank you," he said, and tried not to wolf the food down too obviously. The meat was tinned and the greens wilted, and he tried not to think about the age of the tomato, but it was still delicious. Harry poured out two cups of hot tea from a flask. There was neither milk nor sugar, but Severus drank it straight and did not complain.
"The house elves are gone," Harry said. "I've been going down to the Muggle supermarket for food." He sounded almost apologetic.
"I have a Tesco card myself," Severus said, and Harry snorted. "This is delicious." The conversation was like disarming the booby-traps the Blacks had left behind in their house of horrors. Severus trod carefully.
"I saw you," Harry said. "You're downstairs. Can you tell me what Mr Shacklebolt is wearing, and what he asked you about Professor Lupin?"
Severus frowned. "The first night… I'm fairly sure he was wearing borrowed Ravenclaw Quidditch robes. His Auror's robes were too badly hexed to be worn. The second and third days…. He wore a Muggle suit once, I think he'd been to work, and the other day he had on dress robes. For a funeral." Severus looked up at Harry. "He asked me if I'd known how perilous Lupin's position had been. Why I hadn't insisted the raid take place earlier. I said — " Severus's voice flowed into lecture rhythm, because he would not suffer any interruption — "I didn't give a damn about his welfare; that he ought to have been put down years ago; that he was incompetent, naive, and dimwitted; and that anything that befell him he more than deserved."
"But now you say you're in love," Harry sneered, and Severus choked on his tea. He coughed a little longer than was necessary, giving himself time to formulate a reply. His kneejerk reaction (Fuck no!) was perhaps not what Harry needed to hear. He wheezed a little before phrasing a reply that was as Dumbledorian as possible, allowing Harry to leap to his own conclusions.
"People do fall in love after hating each other. Your parents, for example," Severus said, his voice low. "There is always the potential for change for the better."
"It's illegal for you to be here," Harry said. "I could have you thrown in Azkaban."
"That's true," Severus said evenly, even though the threat made his pulse speed up.
"Don't think that I'll ever forgive you," Harry said, and Severus noted that Harry's hand under the table was likely holding his wand aimed straight at Severus' crotch.
"No," Severus said. "Forgiveness is a bit much to ask. But Dumbledore and Lupin both think I'll somehow be able to help teach you what you'll need when you face the Dark Lord."
"Voldemort," Harry said softly, with an eerie smile. "I can feel him here." He pushed back his untidy hair to show the scar. It looked bruised, as if it were about to crack and bleed. "Can you tell me how to kill him?"
Severus twisted his words again. "I can tell you how to use the power you have."
"Love is nothing," Harry said, and his eyes were cold. "Look where love got Dumbledore… Sirius. My parents." He brought his wand up. "Go lie down on the bed," he said, waving Severus to his feet. Severus crossed the room and settled slowly on the hard mattress. Harry made him shut his own eyes this time. "Petrificus totalus," Harry said. There was a slight scuffling. "I hate you," Harry said, his voice soft with distance. "You're a murderer, a liar, and a coward. You tried to make my life hell. Dumbledore was wrong to trust you." His voice grew softer still. "You knew my parents. You could have told me about them — I would have followed you anywhere for that."
Which is precisely why, Severus thought bitterly as the door slammed shut, I never tried to befriend you, you little fool. I was a spy — what a pity our animosity prevented me from ever learning things that would have allowed your enemies to manipulate you. This time, he seethed himself to sleep.
Severus tried very hard not to lose track of the days. After four or perhaps five days had passed, he finally forced himself to ask Harry. Harry looked embarrassed: he was not enjoying his chance to play tormentor as much as he might have thought he would. Whether Harry was learning anything from Severus or not was hard to tell.
When the boy would listen, Severus talked about his parents, in as bland and non-judgemental a way as he could. Harry started to steal into Severus' mind again; then stopped, and asked. Severus gave him what he could.He told Harry about sex. For some reason, Harry's loathing of Severus seemed to make him less inhibited about asking questions. Harry was too embarrassed to ask for more memories, for which Severus was glad, but some of his questions were worse than reliving even Severus' worst sexual encounter. How do two men have sex? Harry asked. How can a man be raped? It was excruciating. Severus took malicious comfort in using precise anatomical terms as well as charts and diagrams. Someone had told the boy that if he masturbated either he'd go blind or his prick would turn black and fall off. Severus assured him that this was a lie. He hoped that wanking might improve Harry's disposition.
He told Harry, guardedly, about Dumbledore, about Remus, about himself, and about the project that they had been working on. Harry expressed a reluctant interest in learning and picked up the trick to using magic without intent easily, although he yawned through any attempt to deal with magical theory.
There had been an awkward moment when Harry had given Severus that unhinged smile again and asked if this meant that he would be able to perform Unforgivable curses now. Severus had sighed (it had been a very long day) and spread his arms.
"Go ahead," he said, beyond caring whether Harry could or couldn't.
For a very long moment Harry's wand wavered in his hand, occasionally sparking red; and then Harry lowered it and shook his head.
"I guess I'm still a coward, then," he said, his voice full of pent-up bitterness, and Severus laughed. Harry did not hex him for that, either.
"If showing mercy towards an enemy is cowardice, the gods keep me from seeing what you call courage," he said, and summoned the flask of tea and the dreadful biscuits Harry kept buying on discount (for extreme knut-pinching economy, Harry and Remus were neck-and-neck).
Harry took two biscuits and ate them together, quickly. Severus doubted he even tasted them, or noticed the crumbs that rolled down his shirt.
"Did you love Dumbledore?" Harry asked, in between gulps of tea.
Severus tapped his teacup with his wand until the tea had at least the illusion of sweetness. Harry made the same noise of disgust he always did. Severus forbore from mentioning that the noise smacked of Petunia Evans, whom he'd actually dated for a span of several months after he left school (one of the last follies Lily had ever persuaded him into, before she embarked on her own folly).
"Of course I did," Severus said. "He was my teacher, my employer, my confidante, my friend. I don't have — " he paused, sure that Harry would not understand; Remus would, he thought with an ache — "I do the kind of magic we have been practicing naturally. It is all I can do. I can't just wish something to happen, I need to use the spells. I can perform Unforgivable Curses without needing to convince myself of their necessity or rightness. When I was just a little older than you are now, I allowed myself to be used."
Harry pointed at Severus' arm with the wide-eyed look of a child pleased to be allowed into an adult conversation but not sure of what, exactly, to say. Severus nodded.
"Yes, that." He felt his lip begin to curl and reminded himself that this was not Remus, not someone who would make intuitive leaps. He needed patience. He had none. "Dumbledore took me in, and for a while — " years — "he told me what was right, and I believed him without question. Later, he taught me how to make those decisions on my own."
Harry said nothing, but his face was eloquent.
Severus smiled with dark humour. "Yes, I sometimes wish he'd done a better job as well."
"I was thinking more that you were a crap student," Harry said, smirking back, and for a moment Severus saw white rage. Then he sighed and reached for another biscuit.
"You're getting crumbs all over," Harry pronounced, another Petunia-ism. "You said that love is the key to changing the Patronus. Do you think of Remus, then, or Dumbledore?"
"I'll show you later," Severus said, and wondered if Harry would bring him a headache potion from the Hospital Wing. He might even be willing to say please to the boy.
Harry, it turned out, had never studied runes — ancient, medieval, or modern. Severus bit back a curse and summoned parchment and quill for remedial lessons. He gave Harry homework; remembering Remus' teaching method, he forced himself to say three positive things about each assignment. There wasn't any time for a setback. Harry had finally drawn a calendar on the wall, and Severus crossed off each day in red ink, trying not to panic as their remaining time became four, three, then two days.
Harry mastered the runes. Severus told him to take a day off to go visit his friends in hospital.The first time Harry conjured the phoenix Patronus was by Ginny Weasley's bedside. Molly reportedly said, "Very pretty, dear," and patted Harry on the back; but Ginny smiled for the first time since she was cursed as silver wings beat the air, then stilled as the bird settled on the bed. The tears the phoenix cried were not real and had no healing properties, but with Harry's help Ginny raised a hand and stroked the glowing head.
"She says she wants to try it as soon as she's better," Harry said, his mouth smudged with chocolate. He'd filled his pockets with sweets from the hospital kiosk. Severus took the anise penguins and thanked Harry solemnly.
Harry pulled something long and thin from his pocket and dropped it onto the table amongst the remaining tarts and biscuits.
"Rowena Ravenclaw's wand," he said through a mouthful of sugar mice. "The last Horcrux. It was up Mother Shipton's chimney, oddly enough."
Severus swore, precisely and in English so Harry would know just how much of an idiot Severus thought he was being.
Harry shrugged. "As long as you don't try to use it, it's safe. If you do, it'll either possess you or kill you. It's killed four people so far." He cocked his head. "It might react with your Mark, though, I hadn't thought of that."
Severus smiled tightly. "Please try and think before you act when we're facing the enemy."
"It doesn't burn," Harry said. "We've tried all kinds of fires. It doesn't snap, either — well, except in the form of letting off random curses if you try to bend it." He ran one finger down the shining length. "Rowan, with a golden eagle wing feather core."
"Have you asked the Grey Lady about it?" Severus asked off-handedly, summoning a treacle tart rather than risk putting his hand near the wand.
"It makes her angry. I think she thinks Voldemort did a sloppy job."
Severus snorted, then wiped the crumbs of pastry from his robes. "Probably." Voldemort's army was massing on the other side of the lake. Hogsmeade had been evacuated and was now occupied by many of the darkest creatures in the U.K. and some who'd been ferried over from the mainland. They were poised; waiting only, Severus thought, for their leader to arrive to claim the piece of his soul that sat on the table and destroy the school that had nurtured resistance against him.
"So," Harry said, shoving the Horcrux back in his pocket. "Do you want to see the Patronus?"
There were subtle differences between Harry's Patronus and Severus'. Severus' looked more precise, as if constructed from a detailed illustration in a book. Harry's was fanciful and looked like Fawkes, Severus thought.
"Finite," Harry said finally. He gave Severus a level look. "You know, I thought we were going to be practising curses. I wanted Voldemort dead — I wanted him to hurt for every pain he's ever inflicted. He is evil, I think."
"He is," Severus agreed. "And how many people have given their lives willingly to keep that evil from touching you? It would be a betrayal of that selfless love to become the same as he is. Harry Potter… Harry Potter will be the hand of justice, tempered with mercy and love."
Harry snorted. "I can tell when you're quoting someone else, you know."
"Just because Dumbledore said it first doesn't mean it's not true."
"Do you think you're going to die for me, tomorrow or the next day, when he comes?"
"I hope not," Severus said, startled into honesty, and Harry laughed at him again.
"You're thinking about Professor Lupin and the baby," Harry said. "I can tell that, too." He pushed himself to his feet. "We'll practice again tomorrow, all right?" He crossed to the door, and then turned in the doorway. "I never thought I'd say this to you, but thank you. I hope we don't die, too."
"Think happy thoughts, Potter," Severus said. "Good night."
"He's late," Harry said as Severus paced the length of the headmistress' office. "You're wearing a path in the carpet."
"I know," Severus said to both inane remarks.
Harry's insouciant athlete's slouch became even more pronounced, and he summoned the basket that he had helped pack earlier. He took out the tiny robe and held it up.
"Do you think a baby'll fit in this? It seems awfully titchy."
"Good for the first three months," Severus said. "Babies are titchy things, generally. No, fold it properly, damn it."
"Do you even know how to change a nappy?" Harry asked. The boy was trying so hard it made Severus' teeth ache.
"Let's go through the runes again, while we have the time," Severus said. "Show me the runes for summoning — no, not with your wand, here." He summoned writing materials from Minerva's desk. "Tell me the attributes of phoenixes in Asian mythology while you're at it."
Harry bent his head over the parchment. "The centaurs say that Voldemort will come tomorrow. I can feel him getting closer, you know. In my head."
Harry looked up. "You can call me Harry. I'm not in school anymore. I don't know what to call you."
Severus snorted. "You seem to manage just fine with bastard, arsehole, and sadist." Harry shook his head reproachfully. "We're not family and not friends. After the war, we'll likely not see each other again. I don't matter to you, Potter. You won't think twice about me until your own children are at Hogwarts and complaining about their teachers. You can call me Snape, or Severus, or any epithet you please."
"Is that what you think?" Harry asked, his head on one side as he looked at Severus. "You've changed. You're almost good company, now."
Severus narrowed his eyes. "You've not changed. You could still shirk for England. Write, boy. Get on with it."
Harry grinned and dipped the quill in the inkpot.
In the end it was one of the junior Aurors on a routine patrol of the hills beyond the lake who spotted Remus. Fortunately, she had had a roll of carpeting wrapped around her broomstick in case of emergency. She gave him a lift straight to the Hospital Wing balcony and was then dispatched to summon Severus, whose foul temper had been exacerbated by the annoying way people went out of their way to be sympathetic and nice to him.
Nice was useless, Severus thought as he swept down the steps, Harry half-running to keep up. He shoved the doors to the Hospital Wing open with force and swept his eyes up one side and the other, terrifying several recovering former students.
"I'll thank you not to traumatise my patients," Poppy said, drifting out of the storeroom with an enormous roll of cotton batting. She collected Severus as she passed, steering him through a curtain, down a corridor, and into a room labelled Surgery.
"Where the fuck have you been?" Severus said, and Remus returned his glare. Poppy rapped Severus sharply over the head with a tiny silver hammer that made his skull reverberate.
"Whole bloody country's gone mad," Remus said, crossing his arms. "The rail's not running and the bus refuses to make stops this far north. I've been walking for a day and a half and pissing every two hundred metres, so gods help me, Severus, if you get on my tits now I'll hex you stupid. And I really don't want to have to do that."
Severus reached out and cupped Remus' cheek, rubbing the dark smudges under his eyes. Remus stayed stiff for a moment, then let out a sigh and leant into the touch, very briefly, before moving away. "You look exhausted." Severus gave Harry a dirty look; Harry smirked, set the baby's basket down, and went out the door.
"You're no beauty yourself," Remus said. "You've gone all thin and pale again."
"You're enormous." Severus pulled Remus as close as he could, sandwiching the bump. "I worried about you," he said into Remus' hair, despite it being dirty and tangled with grass and leaves.
"We all worried," Poppy said tartly, shoving a pink gown printed with hydrangea blossoms between them. "Help him into this. Remus, give me your arm — there." She collected the blood in a small vial and swished away the puncture. "Get him clean while you're at it, Severus, and do a shaving charm from the bump down," she said, and swirled out with a rustle of starched robes.
"This is an extended exercise in humiliation," Remus muttered ten minutes later, trying to pull the hem of the hospital gown past his thighs while keeping the front from gaping open. The door opened again.
"Smile," Harry said brightly, and Remus glowered at him as the flash of the camera went off.
"Harry — " Remus began, sounding short-fused.
"Severus said you didn't have any pictures," Harry said. "Want me to take another? That one was baleful."
"Yes," Severus said, overriding Remus' snarl. "Yes," he said again, more quietly, as Remus gave him a betrayed look. "It's a good idea." He moved as if to step out of the frame, and Remus yanked him back with an evil smile.
"Your good idea, you pose," Remus said, wrapping one arm around Severus' waist and taking Severus' hand. He laced their fingers together over the bump. Severus turned his head slightly to look at Remus, who did the same. Their eyes met, and the flash went off again.
"Out," Poppy said, shooing Harry to the door (he got a good shot of her pointing finger as he went) and waving Augustus Pye in. As she shut the door, Severus felt a powerful disinfectant charm go into effect. It swept over him like a cold wind, and he felt Remus shiver.
"On the bed," Poppy said, pointing; the three steps up were obviously not meant to be manoeuvred by someone who hadn't seen his own feet in weeks.
"Don't worry," Pye said. "You're the last lycanthrope to deliver. I've had plenty of practice." Severus noted that he didn't say whether the other births had been successful or not; by Remus' frown, he knew Remus had also caught the omission. "Hold still, now."
Severus had to bite back anger as Poppy and Pye set to work. Remus seemed oblivious to it all until Pye cast a modified surgical Body-Bind and conjured up a cheery yellow curtain that he pegged up with Hover Charms to hide the bump from Remus' line of sight. Severus didn't need legilimency to feel Remus' panic. He forced himself to approach the bed. Behind the curtain, Pye was pulling what looked like Muggle instruments of torture from a string bag. He had knives. Severus raised an eyebrow at Poppy; she nodded towards Remus, effectively telling Severus to mind his own business.
"It's okay," he said, taking Remus' hand and pushing the hair back from his forehead. "Probably. Pye seems to be an utter nutcase, but we knew that, didn't we? Poppy will keep him in line. Can you talk? Do you want to?"
Severus looked at Pye, who was working within a sparkling Ball of Sterility, and then at Poppy. She flicked her wand at Remus' neck; in the moment of distraction, something slipped and blood arced up, hitting the wall and ceiling and Pye's robes. Severus felt all his own blood sink to his shoes, and looked at Remus.
"You didn't see that."
"Severus — "
"It's okay!" Severus said again, even though he hadn't Occluded like this since he'd last been questioned by the Dark Lord. Remus smiled: more of a grimace, really.
"You'll take care of the baby. Please." Remus had gone pale, and Severus shot a look at Pye, only to regret it immediately. Some things were never meant to see the light of day.
"Love you," Remus said, and Severus summoned a damp flannel to wipe Remus' face. A sudden silence fell — a spell, Severus thought — and he saw something dark dripping from the edge of the bed to the floor. Poppy rapped Severus on the shoulder with her wand, and he looked up.
"Baby," Severus said, foolishly, and leant down to kiss Remus. "You did it."
"It's quiet," Remus said. "It's not crying."
"Silencing spell. The baby's fine. He just kicked Poppy in the face," Severus said, and watched as Poppy cut the umbilical cord, took the baby over to be checked, cleaned, and wrapped in a blanket, and then laid it in the crook of Remus' arm. He wished that there were some way the Body-Bind could be taken off, but Pye was working frantically. Severus turned Remus' head with one hand and moved the blanket so that he could see.
"Monkey," Remus said, smiling. "Titchy."
"He does look rather like a monkey, doesn't he?" Severus admitted.
"Is that any way to talk about your son?" Poppy said from behind the curtain. "He's beautiful, Remus. Twenty-six hundred grams and forty-eight centimetres in length*, and a good Apgar score."
* for people deprived of metrics, this may be 5lb 12oz and 19in (am not conversion-minded).
"Hello, Erasmus," Remus said. Erasmus blinked his lashless eyes and gummed the air. "I don't know anything about babies, Poppy."
"I'll fill Severus in while you recover. By the time you're back on your feet he'll be an expert on babies, especially their care, feeding, and nappy-changing."
"I will not," Severus said, and ran the hand that wasn't holding the baby's head through Remus' hair to let him know that he was joking. Poppy fell silent again, and Severus glanced over. She was working inside the Ball of Sterility now; both of them were far too busy to keep Vanishing the blood that dripped down steadily. There were flickers of blue which Severus recognised as medical Transfiguration spells in addition to the complementary Muggle surgery. Severus looked at Remus, whose eyes were starting to flutter shut.
And then the whole castle rocked like a dropped pudding. A muted alarm went off as the surgery door banged open. Harry jerked his head at Severus. He was holding two broomsticks in his hand and wearing his Quidditch robes and the Sorting Hat. For courage, Severus supposed.
"Bloody hell," Severus said. He didn't have the time to save the world and Potter's ungrateful arse along with it, not when Remus was haemorrhaging and his son was only minutes old. He leant over Remus, pinching his arm hard until Remus opened his eyes and gave him a very drunk stare. "Don't you dare bleed to death on me, Lupin," he said. "I'll be right back."
"Love you," Remus said; or at least, his mouth moved around the shape of the words. Severus was sure that Poppy noticed, but she had her hands full of things Severus would rather not know about. Pye was — good gods — threading needles.
Severus leant down, kissed Remus hard and fast, and then strode out of the ward in a black rage. He joined Harry. They mounted their brooms and fell away from the castle. Behind them, dark clouds had begun to rise.
"Expecto Patronum," Harry said, and drew the runes in the air, where they hung there burning for a long moment.
"Concentrate, now," Severus said.
"I'm sorry," Severus said, and Potter stared at him sidelong.
"I know that too."
The runes exploded outwards into silver wings and flame as Harry's Patronus took flight. Severus conjured his own Patronus: it was awkward to do whilst hovering, but the feeling of flying alongside it was oddly calming.
"There," Harry said. They had shot past the front ranks of giants and Inferi. The defence of the castle would have to be left to others. Voldemort was summoning them. Harry's scar was inflamed; Harry didn't talk about any influence Voldemort had on his mind, but Severus knew how crap he was at Occlumency. He also knew how insistent Voldemort could be: he felt the inexorable pull through the Mark on his arm, using it to guide them over the woods, across a spit of lake that boiled with the undead and tentacles, and up the other side.
They spiralled down towards Voldemort's hilltop camp, seemingly deserted. Except for one small figure standing in a dirt circle ripped into the grass.
Voldemort looked vastly amused as they landed.
"Harry Potter," he said, smiling. Even stripped of human attractiveness, he still possessed charisma like a black hole: it sucked away resolve and desire and life. Simply being near him made you want to be noticed by him, hear his praise. The gods knew that Severus had wanted that as much as Voldemort's other followers. Voldemort was an addiction. He was like love, almost.
Through a glass, darkly.
Harry dismounted, laid his broomstick on the ground, and then stood straight, facing Voldemort across an expanse of bare soil that seemed claustrophobically small. Severus felt a flash of alarm and tried to step forward: movement was like being immersed in cold treacle.
"Are you here for parley, Harry Potter? Here to return me my property? My double-crossing spy?" Voldemort rolled his long, elegant fingers, turning his hand palm up, and then made a snatching gesture. Severus' arm exploded in pain. Voldemort opened his hand to show the ragged chunk of flesh branded with his Mark, then dropped it scornfully in the grass. Severus clenched his wand desperately, his teeth chattering as he tried to find spells to close the wound.
The two Patronuses had been circling overhead; now they swooped down, ghosting between Harry and Voldemort.
"I'm here to ask you to stop this war and your association with the Dark Arts," Harry said. Severus thought, in the part of his brain that was not concerned with pain, that this would make a wonderful Ministry-issue public-safety poster, and likely just as effective.
Voldemort was equally amused, but far less distracted.
"Give me what's mine and I might let you die peacefully. Annoy me, boy, and you'll discover I have ways of shredding your soul while you yet live."
"I like my soul intact," Harry said, and pulled the rowan wand from an inner pocket. Voldemort's inhuman eyes followed it as if mesmerised. "People keep telling me to do what's right, what's just." He paused and bit his lip. "Tom Riddle, will you destroy this Horcrux on your own and come with me back to the Ministry to answer for your crimes?"
Voldemort blinked; he was unable to hold back an incredulous smile. He drummed his fingers on the air in front of him, and Severus felt the bones beneath his wound splinter and crack.
"You are quite mad, child," he said, and his wand was in his hand suddenly, pointing straight at Severus.
Harry's own wand was pointed towards the ground, but Severus could see the tip moving, tracing the runes for the attributes of the phoenix.
The two Patronuses shot silver into the air and were joined by a third that had glided up from the direction of the lake. Severus felt short of breath, as though suffering from vertigo. He cursed Remus for a fool even as he stood straighter under Voldemort's curse. He hoped love might make a difference. The Patronuses circled each other joyously; and then, one by one, they dropped.
Each fell with unerring precision down through the Sorting Hat and into Harry's waiting form. Voldemort made one vain attempt to dissipate the third Patronus as it fell, but the hex passed through it as if through fog.
Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but the three Patronuses seemed to enfold Harry in silver fire. He shimmered like a hot road in summer and looked taller: almost, Severus thought, like the opposite of a Dementor. Harry had assumed the same aura of relentless driving force, for all that he had a boy's face and wore Quidditch robes. The Sorting Hat began to smoke on Harry's head.
Then it burst into flame. Severus felt the heat of the fire, and ashes drifted past.
Harry raised his hand blindly and caressed Fawkes' head. The phoenix shifted where it had appeared, its great talons anchored in Harry's hair.
Severus stared at the phoenix, calculating. It could save Remus, he realised, feeling the skin on his face flush from the heat. It could cry, or sing, or jig for all he cared — it had healed Harry twice from fatal injuries. Remus could live if only he could persuade Harry to let the rest of the world go hang.
He wondered if the phoenix would cry for him and for Harry.
"I'm sorry," Harry said to Fawkes, who fanned his wings to avert a hex. He held up the Ravenclaw wand, and Fawkes chirruped in question, then rose into the air as the Patronuses had.
Harry stood with the wand held over his head like a lightning rod. It was a terrible position from which to defend oneself, although Harry didn't do badly despite holding his own wand in his left hand.
Then there was a rustle from the grass at Harry's feet. Wormtail exploded up into Peter Pettigrew, arms stretching until he was arched on tip-toes, silver hand wrapped around the wand above Harry's. With his free hand he pulled Harry's fingers loose, his face twisted and his twitching nose nearly rubbing against Harry's. Harry hardly seemed to react. Severus thought the Patronuses were still working some magic through him; or perhaps Harry was finally going catatonic, cheering thought.
Pettigrew spun, still holding the wand aloft, with a cry of triumph that became a shriek of terror as Fawkes appeared directly above the wand in a burst of flame, and then dropped.
The wand stabbed through Fawkes' breast with a terrible rending sound like a bell being crushed, and then the air filled with screams. Fawkes' cry as he burned was almost musical; Pettigrew's shrill pleadings were nearly unbearable as his silver hand melted around the wand, forcing him to keep his proximity to the conflagration. Blue fire danced up his robes, blackened his face, sent up a cloying stench of burnt hair and meat. Finally the wand was consumed. Peter was a guttering torch, crumpled on the ground. Nothing remained of Fawkes but a pile of golden ash.
Voldemort seemed to have shrivelled in on himself even further. His lipless mouth spat curses at Harry, who reached up slowly to touch the remains of the Hat in his hair. He took it down. The ashes fell away, and Harry was left holding a golden circlet. Harry turned it over in his hands wonderingly.
It lay in his hands, gleaming softly in the low evening sunlight, and there was nothing in the world that Severus wanted more than to hold it, even for a moment: he could save the world himself, he could save Remus. He pushed at the heavy air that held him still; time itself seemed to have stopped within the circle.
"Now I see what you wanted," Voldemort sneered. "Will you make people bow down to you, now that you hold the power? Do you think you can supplant me?"
"We don't need a king," Harry said quietly, and Voldemort hissed. He reached out with one hand: Severus expected to see the crown fly to him, and felt despair.
"Give it to me," Voldemort said, and Severus saw Harry waver.
All along the smooth surface of the crown, Harry's fingers traced the phoenix runes. It shimmered, twisted, and sprouted wings like shaken foil. Harry let it go, and it flew straight for Voldemort, who held out both hands for it.
Odd. Severus had never thought that ultimate power would look like a butterfly. Then again, he'd never thought that love manifested itself in fruitcake, either.
The golden wings seemed to grow larger as the butterfly approached Voldemort. It went through his outstretched arms and inside him, wings beating out from his obscene form and antennae rising through his head.
Voldemort's face was a mask of the ecstasy of power. The golden colour suffused him, making his flesh appear youthful and handsome again. Harry stood watching, still wrapped in the silver nimbus of the Patronuses.
At least the end of the world is pretty, Severus thought. He was starting to see sparks fly whenever he blinked; it reminded him of the side-effects of some of his experiments in Greenhouse Two, back in fifth year.
Then the great wings beat free, and the butterfly pushed out from Voldemort's back, fluttering up into the sky until it was smaller than a Snitch, and then it was gone.
Voldemort looked as if he'd been shown heaven and then thrown back to hell: Severus felt an echo of that feeling himself. No longer anyone's Dark Lord, Tom Riddle was sagging and empty now, shrunk to smaller than a house-elf and barely able to crawl on arms and legs that atrophied even as Severus watched. Severus remembered Harry's description of the infantile Voldemort that had gone into the cauldron; he shivered as Tom Riddle finally shrivelled into a serpent, smooth in the grass.
Tiny but fiery claws came down, and the snake was gone in two snaps of the baby phoenix's sharp beak and a belch of flame.
"Well done," Severus said, still staggering under the weight of freedom of movement that came with the dissipation of Voldemort's magic. Harry shook his head in reply. "I thought we were supposed to die."
Harry walked towards Fawkes. With each step one of the Patronuses flew free. Harry scooped up the phoenix and then collected his and Severus' brooms. Night was falling now, as though hurrying to make up for lost time.
"Voldemort destroyed himself," Harry said. "We only witnessed it."
"Was it hard," Severus asked, curious despite desperately wanting to be away from this place, "to give up that much power?"
Harry handed Severus his broom with an odd look. "It was just a bit of metal," he said, shrugging. "It didn't make me happy. Can you fly one-handed? I don't think I can walk, my legs feel like a Jelly-Legs Jinx."
"I can ride," Severus said. Finding his balance one-handed was difficult, but by no means the most difficult thing he had done that day. "Your hair's gone white," he said to Harry. "A streak of silver right across your forehead."
"At least I'm not bleeding," Harry retorted, and then bit down on his lip hard.
No need to worry, Severus thought, urging the broomstick to go faster. He watched the three phoenix Patronuses soar and dive ahead of them. Harry's seemed to be developing antlers again. He would wait to yell at Poppy for allowing Remus his wand; when he got back, there were other things he wanted to do first. Things he wanted to say. He wanted to hold Erasmus. He wanted to hold Remus.
Fawkes poked his head out the top of Harry's robes and squawked plaintively. Harry ducked his head and murmured something, freeing one hand to scratch Fawkes' downy head. He looked over at Severus almost shyly. "I should feel glad, or something, but all I have is a feeling of quiet. If that makes any sense."
"Quiet is good," Severus said. Quiet was what he wanted, quiet and peace and the joy that came of doing small, simple things. He would bake Remus more fruitcake. He had felt the siren call of the crown as well, but he would have refused it for the assurance of happiness. He hoped.
As Severus watched, the third Patronus faltered in the air, wings failing to keep it aloft. It fell, and then it silently exploded out into fog and blew away.
"Finite incantatem," Harry said, and his own Patronus disappeared. He reached over to touch his wand to Severus' good hand, and Severus said the spell numbly. The air seemed colder, somehow, heavy. The last dying sunlight was long and low in the west; to the east, over the hills, the first sliver of the full moon showed, gleaming over the horizon like a scythe.
Severus bowed his head and kept grimly on their course back to the castle.
Severus set the bottle down, tossed a towel over his shoulder, and held Erasmus up with one arm while patting his back with the other. After a few minutes, Erasmus burped, hardly bringing anything up this time. Severus wiped him off and set him down in the cot. Today was Tuesday, so he turned Erasmus' head to the left. Another ten minutes of patting, and the infant's drowsy eyes drifted shut. It was all Severus could do not to fall asleep, too.
Erasmus was the one constant in what remained of Severus' life. His fractured feeding and sleeping schedule had become Severus' own: although they had begun the delicate negotiation of one uninterrupted period of sleep a day, the fine distinction between day and night was a hard thing to explain to a newborn.Erasmus was never out of Severus' sight. Poppy had finally thrown up her arms and bought Severus a baby carry by owl-order from Enchanting Baby. Severus had found a book in the hospital kiosk entitled Magical Fatherhood which assured him that it was impossible to spoil a baby; on the contrary, meeting its needs was psychologically sound. It was certainly true that Erasmus did not cry very often, and never for very long.
Severus wanted nothing more than sleep — six hours, he'd give his eye teeth for six straight hours of sleep. But he had obligations that demanded not merely compliance but diplomacy as well. He found himself making decisions that he knew he'd never have made normally. He suspected that his life would not be normal for the next seventeen years, or so.
Remus' mother had arrived at Hogwarts astride a well-kept Shooting Star shortly after midnight on the day Voldemort died. She had been escorted to the dungeons by one of the Aurors, taken one long look at the blood-splattered cage, waved off Poppy Pomfrey's explanations, and strode purposefully over to the rocking chair where Severus sat regrowing his arm bones. Severus had the feeling that the only reason she did not beat him about the head with her broom was that he was holding Erasmus.
She listened intelligently to Severus' explanation of Remus' condition. She was, of course, well acquainted with the dangers of transformation and the wolf.
He stressed first that Remus was stable now; that despite whatever frantic owl Poppy had sent there apparently was no danger. The transformation had ripped through many of Pye's surgical repairs; Remus had done as much damage to himself as he could, despite the chains. Pye, in a move that offended his professionalism to the core, had stunned Remus into unconsciousness. He had still been frantically trying to re-Transfigure everything back when Severus and Harry arrived ("I'm a Healer, not a veterinarian" he had snapped when Severus asked how bad Remus' rear leg was). Harry had walked into the cage despite Fawkes' alarmed chirping, and whatever Harry had whispered to the bird had persuaded it to cry for Remus. The worst of the wounds had knitted themselves closed, and Remus' breathing had become less laboured. Pye had pronounced Remus out of danger, and took Harry and Fawkes up to the Hospital Ward.
Remus' mother was less patient with the story of the pregnancy. She asked every question except Why didn't he tell me? Severus wouldn't have wanted to answer, anyway. He didn't want to worry you seemed such a stupid excuse.
"No one," Mrs Lupin said, her voice as dry as drought, "can break your heart like a child." She paused, drew herself up a chair, and sat down, looking Severus straight in the eyes. "There can't possibly be two Severus Snapes, can there? You're the boy Remus nearly killed — and who exposed him as… this." She gestured with one half-clenched hand at Remus in the cage. "Poppy wrote that you're lovers — don't look so appalled. Please. Don't. I want more than anything for him to be happy. I think he deserves it. But I don't know…" Her voice trailed off, and her eyes — so like Remus' — roamed over Severus' face, as if trying to read his character and his intentions. "Should I protect him from you or give you my blessing?"
"I don't know, either," Severus answered. It was the truth, but it hurt. He thought that he could hurt Remus terribly through simple carelessness, because Remus had no defences against him, anymore. He shifted Erasmus carefully, keeping the tiny, wobbly head on the towel because the baby was warm and Severus was sweating, holding him, but unwilling to set him down even for a moment.
Mrs Lupin's hand had risen, almost as if to reach out for the baby; Severus didn't think he made any visible movements, but her eyes flickered to him and she lowered her hand. "What do your parents think?" she asked.
Severus almost laughed: oh, Merlin, it's the awkward getting-to-know-you phase. "My father's dead, and I lost track of my mother years ago."
Mrs Lupin gave him a look that made him feel like a child again, alone on a train platform ready to embark on a journey.
"What an appalling state of affairs. Well. No wonder… if you haven't family to take care of you. Never mind. If you're Remus', you're part of my family now." She smiled, her face wrinkling.
"My name is Eglantine," she said, and offered Severus her hand.
"… and then she said she'd always wanted a daughter-in-law," Severus said. Remus clenched his stomach, trying not to laugh. "Thank you for the sympathy. Don't wake the baby with your caterwauling."
"It would be insult on injury to say she means well, wouldn't it?"
"She means I'm on probation of a rather extended sort." Severus looked at the clock. "Isn't it time for your mid-afternoon nap as well?"
"You're trying to get rid of me," Remus muttered, but let Severus help him to his feet for a trip to the loo. "Do you realise that this is our first time alone since — "
"Mm," Severus said, straightening the pillow and duvet with a flick of his wand. "Don't shuffle."
Remus muttered something rude under his breath as he made his way slowly across the room. The hospital was the closest to the Lupins', and the staff were accommodating and friendly, but Severus wished that it wasn't a maternity hospital catering to wealthy witches of dubious taste. Remus was in the Savannah Room: adorable cartoon giraffes, lions, and zebras wandered around the walls. The door to the loo was labelled Watering Hole. Severus sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the sign as Remus shut the door. His glare made the flamingos take flight in alarm.
"I feel as if I've trapped you," Remus said, emerging, and Severus blinked: he must have dozed off. Remus' hair was damp and combed back, and his face clean shaven. His mother had brought him a green-striped nightshirt (the hospital gowns were only available in pink and lavender) that hung in loose folds from his jutting shoulder bones down to his knees. Too thin, Severus thought. He almost missed the bump.
"Yes, I suppose you have," Severus said.
Remus paused, one hand going to his lower back with a wince. "Do you mind?"
Severus considered his words as if they were a judgment being pronounced. "I never imagined a future that looked like this, but I have what I want. If that answers your question."
Remus looked like he was about to protest. Severus got up and went to retrieve him. "I know it won't be easy. I've moved in with your parents, for Merlin's sake. You have no idea how awkward conversations with your father are." He put his arm around Remus' waist, rubbing at the ache.
Remus sighed and leant against Severus. "Trust me, I've had a few with him myself." He looked sidelong at Severus. "You haven't kissed me since — since Erasmus was born."
"I haven't been alone with you, you know," Severus said. Remus frowned. "If you really wanted to be kissed so much, you shouldn't have spent so much time unconscious. I blame you."
"Shut up," Remus said, tangling his hands in Severus' hair (for balance, Severus feared). Remus kissed him as if he'd been starving; Severus gave up trying to be gentle after Remus growled at him, and he devoured Remus back. Severus pulled Remus' hips against his, and Remus' head snapped back, exposing the length of his neck. Severus pushed wet strands of hair back and licked a trail down from Remus' jaw to the base of his neck.
The door opened.
Severus dropped his forehead onto Remus' shoulder, indulging in a quick moment of denial.
"Are we interrupting, Remus?" Eglantine (Severus could not bring himself to call her Eggy; it was almost as bad as Mum) asked; when Severus looked round, simultaneously taking a step away from Remus and trying not to look ravished, he was glad to see that she had positioned herself in the doorway. Getting caught by Oberon Lupin while snogging his son was high on the list of things Severus hoped to avoid in life.
Remus looked torn; Severus admired his mother's ability to keep him dangling on the rope of guilt.
"They're going to have a lie-down," Eglantine said over her shoulder, and there was a deep grumble from the hall. "The baby's asleep, that's why." She smiled at Remus, who shuffled over to give her a kiss on the cheek. She hugged him, and Remus said something low to his father, and then the door was shut again.
"Ye gods," Remus said, running his hands through his hair.
"You need to talk to your mother about what happened," Severus said, too tired to temper his words. "Keeping things from her hurts her more than the truth would — she's clever, I'm sure she knows more than she lets on." He paused. "She says you hardly ever wrote after — after leaving Hogwarts." Remus' eyebrows rose.
Ha, Severus thought, he knows exactly what his mother had to say to me about that. At the time, he had been enraged at the secrets and lies that had put his school and his students — and especially himself — in danger. Remus' feelings had not even crossed his mind, except for a strong wish for him to suffer. He had not thought about what the job meant to Remus, or how shaming it had been to leave in disgrace. We had our share of Howlers, Eglantine had said. Remus had distanced himself to protect them; it hadn't worked, and he said so.
"You don't need to tell your father," he added. "Not now. Let your mother decide. He still feels guilty, doesn't he?"
"Mm," Remus said. "I need to lie down now." He caught Severus' hand on the way to the bed and towed him along. "You could use some sleep, too."
"I think you could tell your mother everything. After all, we'll be living together. You should see your room," he added, sitting down on the edge of the bed and pulling his boots off. "Your mother charmed everything blue and yellow. There are yellow ducks on the curtains."
"Your desk has been replaced by a cot," Severus said, and stuffed his socks into his boots, shoving them under the bed. "Also blue and yellow. It doesn't," he added darkly, "get as much use as it should," and Remus stroked his hair in sympathy.
"Erasmus up often last night?"
"Three or four times," Severus said.
"He looks such a sweet kid, who'd have thought he was such a devil?" Remus said, pushing Severus into bed and then climbing in after him.
"It's genetic," Severus tried to say, but he yawned in the middle, and Remus laughed at him again. He shifted, giving Remus room to find a position that didn't hurt. Remus didn't like the pain-killing potions. He said they made him stupid; Severus had wondered out loud what intellectual feats Remus planned to perform from his sickbed. Remus compromised by taking just enough of the potions that he could sleep. Remus' pupils were dilated now, and Severus was glad.
When Remus had settled himself into something like ease, Severus relaxed against him carefully. This would be their first time sleeping together, too, since just after Christmas. We're doing everything backwards, Severus thought, and dropped into deep, dreamless sleep.
"I thought we had all your luggage," Severus said, glaring at the suitcase and the three carrier bags lined up neatly on the bed.
"Last minute gifts," Remus said, doing up the bottom buttons on his shirt and tucking it in. It still felt odd to see Remus' stomach flat. "Come here."
"What?" Severus said warily, and Remus raised an eyebrow. Severus glared; Remus crossed the room.
"Don't limp," Severus snapped automatically, and Remus somehow managed to combine an annoyed shove to the shoulder with an embrace that led to a kiss that ended with Severus pushed up against the wall, hands somehow tangling in Remus' overgrown hair (Eglantine had trimmed it into stylishness, giving Remus a rakish air).
"This might be our last chance to be alone for ages," Remus said finally, hands restless on Severus' body.
"But you must be grateful," Severus said, wickedly, running his hands down over Remus' arse. "So kind of your parents to let you move back in." Severus rocked his hips forward against Remus, and was rewarded by a shuddering groan that Remus muffled on his neck.
Remus pushed up against Severus, rubbing against him and biting at his neck. "Don't talk about my parents now," he said. "Tell me what you want."
"What I want," Severus said, pitching his voice to a barely audible whisper, "is to bend you over any available surface and fuck you until you see stars, so that the moment I put my hand around your cock you come screaming my name. That," he said, undoing the buttons on Remus' trousers and sliding his hand in, "is what I want."
Remus' knees buckled. "We could…." he started, his voice ragged.
"We cannot. You probably shouldn't be doing this, either."
"Don't you dare stop, oh gods, don't stop that." Remus was having the worst time getting Severus' robes open, and hissed in frustration as he encountered the trousers underneath. "Tell me you're not wearing underwear, please — ah, there."
"I'm not wearing underwear," Severus said, grabbing at Remus in turn as Remus' bare cock rubbed against his. He shifted his hand so that he was now stroking both of them together. Remus intertwined a hand with his and kissed him, pressing Severus back against the wall.
There was a frantic intensity to the wet slide of Remus' mouth, and then he went rigid against Severus, shaking and sucking the air from his lungs. Severus used the hot slickness of Remus' come to bring himself off with a few efficient strokes. He held Remus and kissed him even as he fumbled for his wand with his other hand, because Remus had only the one change of clothes and he was wearing his good robes.
Severus broke the kiss off for a rather shaky cleaning charm, and Remus laughed, arms draped around Severus' neck.
"We'll get a place of our own soon," he said, cheek smooth against Severus'. "Gods, I can't get enough of touching you."
"There's a luncheon planned in your honour in half an hour, and we shouldn't leave Erasmus alone with your parents too long. The last time your mother babysat, his wardrobe trebled," Severus said, and Remus groaned, stepping back. Severus eyed him critically. "If it's any comfort, you look well and thoroughly shagged." He tugged Remus' boxers into place and did up the trousers efficiently, straightening the horribly rumpled shirt with a charm. Before tucking it back in, he let his hands spread across Remus' stomach and the angry red scars there.
"Don't," Remus said, flushing, hands pushing at Severus' wrists, and Severus looked up sharply.
"Did I hurt you?"
"No! No, it's just — scars," Remus said, and Severus traced the worst of the scars, a thick, ragged tear that began just under Remus' ribs and ran diagonally to curl under his thigh.
"Almost looks like you were eviscerated by a werewolf," Severus said blandly. He tucked the shirt in but kept his hand pressing warm over Remus' stomach. The scars didn't bother him. They were a sign of Remus' strength: proof that Remus was a survivor. Severus had no idea how to explain this in a way that Remus would understand.
"Not funny," Remus said, but he didn't move away.
"No, it wasn't. Not one of those things we'll look back on and laugh about. Although the fact that you owe your life to Harry Potter and his firebird is amusing."
"Do you think he'll make a good godfather?"
Severus snorted. Harry had already showered Erasmus with a green knitted Acromantula, a scaled-down Firebolt, and other inappropriate toys. He had also quietly paid off Remus' bills and then told Remus it was Severus' idea. Remus had been… upset. "Why not? He's irresponsible and immature, and those seem to be the necessary qualities." Severus finished fixing his own clothes. "Shall we go, then?"
Remus took one last look around the room. "I'll be glad to get out of here," he said. Severus held the suitcase in one hand and the carrier bags in the other, and Remus opened the door for him.
"Don't limp," Severus said again, as they stepped outside and headed for the bus stop.
"Ow," Remus said, trying to walk evenly.
"You won't heal properly if you limp. It's a bad habit you don't need."
"True," Remus said, stopping at the kerb and snapping out his wand. "There are so many other bad habits I'd rather develop."
Severus was going to ask him for details, but the Knight Bus appeared in a violet clap of thunder, and he found himself squashed into an orange loveseat with Remus on his knees, seated next to a goblin in a flashy white suit who gave him a jaunty wink and waved a Puddlemere United pennant. He didn't mind. There would be time to have long conversations; time to develop habits; time to grow old together. All the time in the world.
MAY, 3 YEARS LATER
"I thought you were just going around the corner for a pint of milk," Severus said, and held up a hand. "Don't take one more step into the house like that."
He scraped his chair back and glared at Remus to let him know how much of a bother he was. Remus stopped just inside the door, carrier bag dangling from his wrist and his arms full of heavy sleeping child, and dripped.
"We'd evict anyone who abused the flooring the way you do, you know," Severus said, banishing the worst of the muck.
Remus snorted. His father had introduced Severus to an estate agent who had managed to sell the house at Spinner's End for enough to make the down payment on a derelict row of terraced houses with long sloping gardens. Even with magic, the renovations had taken over a year. The floors were scarred and stained, as were the walls, but the location — halfway between the Lupins' and the Muggle university — guaranteed paying tenants. There were a few inconveniences — No. 26's sheepdog, which was out for Remus' blood; the tenant of No. 24, who had gone missing in the wake of the Mandy Brocklehurst murder scandal; not to mention blocked toilets, gas leaks, and topless sunbathers. But Severus cherished every warped board of their independence.
"Who was it who moved the goats into the kitchen for the winter?" Remus asked with a grin, and Severus frowned. "Look, if you don't mind, I'm rather chilled…."
With a practiced flick of his wand, Severus levitated Ras out of Remus' arms and towards his bedroom. The boy wasn't half as filthy as Remus was. Severus suspected that a detour had been made to the pond, possibly to check up on ducks' eggs or frog spawn, and that Remus had kept Ras out of the muck by sacrificing his own dignity and trousers. Some might think of this as a typically Gryffindor quality, Severus mused as he settled Ras into bed, pulling off grubby trainers before covering the boy with the blanket. Severus knew Remus well enough to suspect ulterior motives.
"Care to join me?" Remus asked lazily from the shower when Severus opened the bathroom door, grinning at Severus around the shower curtain.
"No," Severus said. "The last time ended in pain and disaster."
"I think I know what we did wrong," Remus said, tilting his head back under the water and combing his fingers through to get the shampoo out. This gave Severus a very good view of Remus' pelvis, arched forward, and the evidence of his arousal.
"What we did wrong," Severus said, "was to have sex in the bath, where it is slippery and there are things about that cause bruises and broken bones when fallen on."
Remus turned the water off, shook the water from his hair, and stepped out onto the threadbare mat, which was really two threadbare towels Transfigured together (a tip from Stuart Atram's A Knut Saved). "You're standing between me and the towels," he said, with a languid, wicked grin. Severus handed him a towel wordlessly and watched as Remus wiped his face, his neck, his shoulders and back, his chest, and finally, bending over, his legs. "Was there something you wanted, Severus?"
"Ras is still asleep, and I thought perhaps you might want — "
"To shag you senseless? Brilliant idea." Remus wrapped one damp arm around Severus' waist and leant into him.
"To take a nap yourself," Severus said, shifting uncomfortably.
"I love it," Remus breathed against Severus' neck, lips brushing his skin just lightly enough to send shivers down Severus' spine, "when you conspire to get me into bed."
"I hardly need to conspire," Severus said dryly, pushing Remus out into the hall and into their bedroom. "You're easy."
"You're overdressed," Remus said, making short work of Severus' robes. "Do you not want to have sex?" Severus batted Remus' hands away from his boxers, removing them himself. "That's better." He pulled Severus back onto the bed, and their bodies tangled, winding up with Severus on top, holding Remus' wrists down with one hand. Remus rolled his hips, rubbing his cock up against Severus', and Severus stroked him back, even as he bent his head to taste Remus' mouth.
"Papa," Ras cried, and Severus finished dressing and shut the bedroom door quietly. Ras' bedroom was on the other side of the bath, barely big enough for the bed and the shelves that held his treasures: mostly oddities Harry sent from his travels as a cryptoentomologist (the most recent a set of Flying Coleoptera Snap cards). Ras was sitting up and crying, as he always did when he woke alone, and he held out his arms as Severus entered.
"Hush," Severus said, picking the boy up and settling him on his hip. "Your dad's asleep." Ras rubbed his sleep-creased, tear-blotched face into Severus' shoulder. "Do you want your tea?"
It turned out that there was nothing Ras wanted more than his tea. They went down to the kitchen and soon had rye bread with hummus and apple slices and glasses of barley tea on the table, because they were a model vegetarian family. The Lupins had been certain a child needed red meat to grow and had watched Ras anxiously, but by the time he started toddling about, Ras was bright-eyed, social, full of energy, and intensely curious. He learnt to shout Nan and Mm-da every time he saw his grandparents, and they stopped badgering Remus about his diet (it was a brief reprieve: they started worrying about toilet training a few days later).
Severus knew nothing about three year-olds in general, but he thought Ras was turning out well. Raising a child wasn't so different from putting a potion together, as Severus told Remus often. Food, shelter, rest, and exercise mixed in the proper amounts according to the directions set forth in various books. And love, Remus always added, to which the proper response was a roll of the eyes. Still, Severus believed that nurture could overcome anything nature threw their way.
Poppy had told Severus the results of Ras' paternity charm; it had been done without Remus' knowledge. Severus had, on one of his trips to Azkaban to interview Scaeva, paid a visit to the man. He was clever, handsome, morally weak, and under life sentence for serial murder; he had not been tried for assault or terrorism once the life sentence had been passed. Severus obtained the man's medical file and noted that neither cancer nor madness ran in his family. Ras looked nothing like him, save perhaps the line of the jaw and the fine sandy hair (sons favour their mothers, Eglantine had said once, and Remus had choked his tea out of his nose), so Severus was comfortable with his secret. It wasn't important, after all.
Ras talked throughout his meal with barely a pause for chewing: Severus gathered that there had been a frog, and a ladybird, and a pinecone that had gone in the water somehow. Ras pulled the pinecone out of his pocket with difficulty: he needed to hop down from his chair and use both hands to extract it. It was half-squashed, damp, and leaking sap. Severus pictured Remus trying to reason with Ras, perhaps trying to tempt him with other, bigger or whole pinecones, only to meet defeat at the pooling of tears in big brown eyes and the inversion of a trembling lower lip. The pond was in the local, Muggle park, where Summoning spells were verboten, so….
"And Daddy got in the water and got it for me," Ras said, "and I put it in my pocket. And it was in my pocket. Daddy said." He flourished his treasure and knocked over his tea.
"Are you going to take it out in the garden?" Severus asked, Summoning a towel and mopping up automatically.
"Can I have a toad?" Ras asked, getting down from his chair and running to fetch his book. He ran back (he was just losing the toddler lurch, that had had Remus and Severus wands-out for months, ready to levitate him the moment he tripped up) and threw his arms up to be pulled onto Severus' knee. "Look, Papa, toads."
"That's a Great Horned Toad," Severus said with barely a glance at the book. Toads of the World had been the big hit at Christmas; four months later it was dog-eared, memorised, and occupied a large part of Severus' subconscious. Remus said he wished Pettigrew hadn't put him off rats for life, because Ras would have loved Wind in the Willows. Severus refused to read anything with anthropomorphic animals. They offended him deeply. Hence his current predicament. "You'll be getting a toad for your birthday," he added, for the ninth time that day.
Ras nodded. "My birthday today?"
"Two weeks," Severus said, dreading all the toad conversations until then. Ras stopped complete strangers when out shopping to tell them his big news: My papa's getting me a toad, he'd say. My daddy, he's getting me a toad, too. And you know, you know what I'm going to name it? (Here he always paused until his victim replied, what?) Toad!
After the chapter on Toads of Africa, Severus persuaded Ras to go out in the garden. This was Remus' method for dealing with the boy, to put him outdoors as often as possible. Now that it was warmer, Severus didn't mind as much. It was certainly true that all the energy that was overwhelming in the house seemed perfectly natural outside.
They weeded carefully around Remus' vegetables and were debating whether a tall spiky thing with hairy leaves was a weed or not when Remus appeared in the doorway. His hair was dishevelled; he wore only his jeans, with no belt, and likely no underwear, Severus thought, checking quickly that the ogling political scientists in No. 25 weren't at their window.
"You had tea without me," Remus said, coming into the garden and letting Ras tackle him to the ground.
"You were sleeping," Severus said. Ras bounced up and down on Remus' stomach. Even the worst of the scars had faded to silver by now; most of the lingering damage was invisible and permanent anyway, so Severus turned a blind eye to Ras' enthusiastic torments. Remus hated being fussed over. "It's not our fault you're lazy." He pointed out the mystery plant and let Remus decide its fate. "You missed the toad book."
Remus tried to look sympathetic. "I'll make it up to you, I promise."
Severus looked down at Remus, head resting on locked fingers, and Remus met his eyes and smiled.
In that moment, the world stood still. They were still poor. They had chronic employment problems, Remus because the Change was harder these days, Severus because he refused to suffer fools with any semblance of gladness. There were people in both the Muggle and Wizarding worlds who crossed the street to avoid them; journalists still tried to corner them, despite it being common knowledge what Remus did to cameras, and Severus to reporters.
But there were these moments when all that faded to nothingness and all he could see was Remus, and Ras: his family. He still couldn't bring himself to say the words. But Remus' smile widened, and he mouthed his reply to Severus.
Love you, too.
::: the end :::