Chapter Nine: Crucial Conversations
The werewolf turns to the voice calling him from the fireplace. His expression darkens imperceptibly upon seeing the Potions Master's face floating in the flames.
"Severus," he greets with an emotionless voice, nevertheless adding politely: "What can I do for you?"
The Slytherin scowls, once again wondering why of all people this usually gentle, mild man has to bear the burden of lycanthropy that stands in such a stark contrast to his human demeanour.
"I need a word with you. Would you come down for a cup of tea when you have finished unpacking?"
Pale brown eyebrows rise over amber eyes that seem to say 'Severus Snape asks me politely to drink tea with him? What has this world come to?', but all Remus says is: "I have already finished, I didn't exactly have much to unpack. Do you want me to come over now?"
"The sooner, the better," Severus snarls. "Floo directly to my chambers."
And without waiting for a reply, he vanishes from the flames.
A minute later, Remus Lupin stumbles out of the large fireplace in the dungeons, catching himself gracefully after a few steps. Severus merely raises an eyebrow at him while he brushes the soot off his shabby robes, and a memory from four years ago flashes through his mind: Lupin's first day as a professor in Hogwarts, and his visit to the Potions Master to discuss the brewing of the Wolfsbane Potion for him.
It is almost scary how much the man before him has changed in the meantime. Gone is the tired, but indelible optimism, the calm strength, the kind patience, replaced by cold fatalism, suppressed ferocity, and silent danger. The werewolf holds himself with the bearing of a predator, and the amber eyes that have always been so warm and understanding are devoid of emotion, and in their depths he can see the wolf lingering, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Severus shudders inwardly and forcefully pushes away older, unwelcome memories of flashing yellow eyes, sharp claws and bared fangs. He can see that Remus is slowly losing his fight, and if they can't help him, the wolf in him will take over his mind before long and he will be lost even more surely than his Animagus friend is.
'Shall this be how the Marauders end? One dead, one gone, one lost to the darkness and another one slowly loosing his fight, dying a bit day by day. Considering what they have done to me, it should give me a certain satisfaction to watch their fate, but somehow, it does not. It only makes me sad. Dear Salazar, I think I am going soft after all. How disgusting. It's a good thing that Albus is allowing me to tell Lupin about Harry; hopefully he will agree to look after the little brat for some hours per day and give me a little peace.'
"You wanted to see me?" Remus interrupts his thoughts in the same civil, neutral tone in which he has spoken before.
"Indeed, I did. Have a seat. Creme and one sugar, if I recall correctly?"
Remus sits down on one of the sofas and gazes into the fire.
"You do, but I take neither these days. I seem to have lost my taste for sweetness somehow."
Severus raises an eyebrow at that, but just pours two cups of black tea and doesn't comment further.
"Thank you," the werewolf says politely as the Slytherin hands him one of the cups.
"You are welcome," Severus replies automatically. Despite of what people tend to think of him, his mother had taught him quite decent manners, thank you very much.
"Now what was it you wanted to talk to me about?" Remus asks indifferently.
The Potions Master leans back in his seat and sneers, regarding the other man closely. "Always so blunt. You Gryffindors just have no subtlety."
The werewolf shrugs. "I just thought you are a busy man and would like to waste as little of your precious time on me as possible."
Severus' mouth curls. "Touché," he retorts and takes a sip of his tea while cringing inwardly. This is prone to get unpleasant. He casts a concealed glance toward the little dragon that is crouching tensely around the corner and watching them with wide, emerald eyes, and just hopes they will be able to keep their tempers in check.
"So you succeeded in coming back for another year," the Slytherin begins casually. "I take it that you want me to continue brewing the Wolfsbane Potion and taking over your classes around the full moon for you?"
"Since I prefer your potion to bought ones I'd appreciate it if you could do me the favour, however as Tonks and I are going to divide the Defence classes between us, there'll be no need for you to substitute."
The dark-haired wizard frowns slightly. "And why, pray tell, would Auror Tonks do that? If last term was any indication, you appeared to manage quite well on your own."
Remus shrugs non-committally. "It seemed convenient, seeing as we are on an assignment together."
"Assignment?" Severus scowls. "During term?"
"That's why there'll be two of us." Still the same, flat voice.
"I fail to imagine what possibly could be so important that such unusual arrangements needed to be made," the Potions Master sneers.
"Fudge doesn't want the convicted Death Eaters up and around, especially Malfoy and the Lestranges. Kingsley hinted that it might have something to do with some hidden skeletons of his, and the general fragile reputation of the Ministry at the moment. I volunteered to go after dear Bellatrix, but Albus turned me down and assigned me to go after Malfoy instead with Tonks as a partner."
These words, so calmly spoken, suffice to shake Severus more deeply than any passionate display of Gryffindorish thirst for revenge, and succeed in making him throw his usual Slytherin subtlety to the winds for the moment.
"You did what?!" he exclaims.
The werewolf shrugs again. "It's not as if it's a big deal. The right timing and one good night of full moon would have gotten us rid of the mad-woman. Albus should have accepted my offer. Now I'm stuck here with an Auror who manages to fall over her own feet if she doesn't find anything else to stumble over, and have the order to catch Lucius Malfoy alive and unharmed."
"You foolish Gryffindor! Albus most probably saved your sorry fur by not allowing you to take off on that suicide mission! What were you thinking?" the Slytherin bellows.
Amber eyes start to glitter very faintly while Remus' expression darkens to a slight scowl. "I don't think that's any of your business."
"Oh," Severus says in a dangerously low voice, "but I think it is. Because I believe you were not thinking at all. You were just running away."
The glittering becomes more pronounced, but otherwise the werewolf shows no reaction to his baiting. "It seems I didn't make myself clear enough, so I'll repeat it for you. What I do or don't do, as well as what I'm thinking is none of your business. I don't know whether Albus ordered you to pry into my private life or if this is just another of your petty Slytherin schemes, but I can assure you that your sudden interest in my welfare is neither appreciated nor welcome, and I suggest you kindly keep your hare-brained assumptions about possible motivations of mine to yourself."
"Stop being an idiot!" the Potions Master snaps. "We both know that despite Albus' being an old meddler, he respects other people's free will too much to do such a thing." 'And he is certainly skilled enough at manipulating others that he has no need to be so obvious.' "And if you want me to apologize for getting you sacked three years ago, fine, I am sorry." 'Astonishingly enough, I really might be. Damn that Potter boy...' "But you cannot expect me to lean back and watch while you try your best to go out there and get yourself killed."
Remus snorts. "It surely didn't bother you before. Why this sudden change of mind?"
"Things change. I have watched your suicidal actions long enough, waiting for your so-called friends to intervene. Since they seem to be even more incapable of doing so than they are in dealing with their own lives, it is time someone competent takes matters into their hands."
The werewolf laughs harshly, humourlessly. "And that would be you? Forgive me for questioning your noble intentions, but I didn't know you offer a counselling service in your spare time."
Severus scowls. "You would be surprised. The majority of my Slytherins do not exactly have a happy home life."
Again, the other shrugs. "As fascinating as this might be, I have work to do, so unless there is anything important you wanted to talk about, I guess I'd better take my leave."
"Running away again?" the Slytherin taunts acidly.
Remus rolls his eyes. "What's this, Death Eater Anonymous? Got an assignment to assist a poor fellow in sorting out his life and getting happy again in order to make up for the horrible deeds you committed in your past, did you? Well, then go and pester someone else. I neither want nor need your 'help'."
"No, you prefer to go out and hunt your own death."
Another snort. "My, aren't we melodramatic today."
"Bloody hell, Remus, stop being such a prick!"
"I don't see why I should. After all, you have no monopoly of this particular behaviour and I'm rather sure you'd tell me much worse if I tried to stick my nose into your affairs."
'Damn, he is right! Well, one thing is certain, he surely was much easier to handle while he was still the shy, tame Gryffindor werewolf!'
"That," he replies loftily, "is beside the point. This is about you, not me."
Pale brown eyebrows rise again. "And why should my situation be any different from yours? Voldemort's prone to know that you're a traitor by now, and every time you answer his Summons, you challenge death at his order. So you're not one to speak at all."
"That's different! The risks I take are for good reasons. The information I gather by spying on the Dark Lord..."
"...Is hardly enough to speak of, especially since Voldemort changed his tactics and keeps you on a need-to-know basis, we both know that," Remus counters. "Whereas I have completed several important missions successfully this summer."
"And landed yourself in the Hospital Wing every single time!"
"As if you didn't. So where's your big difference now? I'm still waiting."
"For someone with your number of NEWTs, you can be surprisingly thick. You have people who care about you, you stupid git!" Severus snarls.
The werewolf stares at him for a second, before he laughs again, a dark, hollow laugh.
"And who should that be? The people from the Order, who are still uneasy every time I sleep at the Headquarters? My students, who either loathe me, fear me or pity me? My colleagues, who have to live with my presence because I was once more the only applicant for the DADA job besides you? Albus, for whom I'm merely a convenient tool? You, who have hated me for more than twenty years for a crime I would never have given my consent to?"
"What about Potter?"
Remus narrows his eyes, and a yellow gleam appears in their depths. "Leave Harry out of this, Severus" he growls, before rising from his seat and turns to the entrance, looking back on the Slytherin over his shoulder. "I really think I should go now. You're starting to annoy me, and we wouldn't want that, now would we?"
Severus rises, too, and glares at him coldly. "So you are going to leave him again, to let him down like that ruddy Godfather of his. Loath as I am to admit, I thought better of you."
"How dare you...!"
"He will need you, Remus. Now more than ever."
"Just. Shut. Up!" the werewolf presses through clenched teeth, the yellow gleam in his eyes getting brighter.
"No, I don't think I will. It is time you face the truth, however unpleasant it might be," the Potions Master replies firmly, trying to keep a tight grip on the fear that stirs deep in his chest.
"The truth?! You know nothing of the truth!" Remus growls with barely concealed anger.
Severus cocks a brow challengingly. "Indeed? Why don't you tell me then?"
"You miserable bastard!" the Gryffindor snarls viciously. "You want the truth? Fine! Nobody cares about me because I don't bloody want them to care!!! And do you want to know why? Because everyone who cares for me gets hurt sooner or later! My parents, my brother, you, Lily, James, Peter, Sirius, Ron, Hermione, Harry... I have enough!!! I can't bear it any more! Better alone than the cause of another's pain!"
The angry words strike the Potions Master straight into his heart. A memory flashes through his mind of another room, a circular one, and himself hurling similar words at the old, silver-haired wizard seated there behind his desk, looking at him serenely over his half-moon spectacles.
Dazed, he says: "But the Potters, Pettigrew, Black, me, the children, that wasn't your fault!"
"You don't get it," the other growls hoarsely, shaking his head, before he barks hatefully: "I failed them!!! Every single one of them! I've known Sirius better than myself, I should have expected him to do something stupid, I should have seen the signs! But I didn't, and now he is gone! I knew that the children were up to something, they kept asking me strange questions, and one night I caught their scent on an old book in the library about the Afterlife and the Veil! I should have called them to account, I should have told someone, but again, I didn't. And now they are gone!"
"YOU FUCKING LEAVE HARRY OUT OF THIS!" Remus roars, eyes flashing yellow, teeth bared, taking a menacing step towards the Slytherin.
Panic surges through the Potions Master, freezing him in place, unable to even draw his wand and defend himself against the enraged werewolf.
Teeth. Claws. Burning yellow eyes. A threatening roar. A boy, alone against a monster. Alone, alone, always alone...
<Protectiveness. Devotion. Worry. Outrage.>
A fiery blur rushes out from behind the corner and poses itself between the two wizards. Wings half-spread, crest erect to make him seem larger, the little copper and golden dragon stands protectively in front of his wizard and hisses at the werewolf, emerald eyes flashing defiantly, though Severus can see his slight trembling.
Remus pauses, uncertain what this means, and instinctively sniffs the air, trying to smell his opponent. Amber eyes go round and the yellow fire in them dies instantly, while his stance loses every trace of the predator, leaving only a confused man in it's wake.
"Harry?" he breathes. "What...? How...?"
Aenëus lowers his wings hesitantly and tilts his head to one side questioningly.
The single word carries so much pain, so much longing, that the dragon takes a cautious step towards the other wizard, sniffing the air tentatively.
Remus sinks down on one knee, reaching out his hand slowly, disbelief still painted on his face.
Aenëus starts to tremble in earnest when he catches the werewolf's scent, and lets out a desperate, anguished wail that finally shakes the Potions Master out of his stupor. He knees down as the dragon flees into his arms, shaking and moaning in distress.
<Emotional pain. Confusion! Longing. Fear!!>
"Hush, it's alright. That's Remus. You remember him, don't you?"
<Confirmation. Affection? Guilt?>
"Go to him, little one. He won't hurt you."
<Devotion. Concern? Affection! Fear.>
"I am alright. He did not seriously mean it that way. Go on."
Hesitantly, the dragon leaves his wizard's arms and slowly, cautiously approaches the Gryffindor, who is still watching him with a dazed expression. His movements are reminiscent of the way he acted at his first meal in the Hospital Wing, his tense body ready to bolt at the slightest threat. The werewolf, sensing his anxiousness, remains silent and motionless. Finally, Aenëus reaches the outstretched hand and carefully sniffs at it, before shyly butting his head against the fingers. Remus obediently starts to pet the trembling dragon, gently, tenderly, and with a choked whine that sounds like a sob, Aenëus rushes into his arms, shaking, moaning, whining, and presses his lithe body into the strong one of the wizard, who cradles him affectionately, murmuring soft nonsense.
The picture gives Severus a stab in his heart, but he pushes the feeling aside forcefully.
'Why should I be jealous of Potter's relationship with his surrogate Godfather? Ridiculous! It's what I asked for all the time, isn't it? Someone besides me to look after the little brat.'
Aenëus looks back to him at that moment, and green eyes meet black.
<Deep affection! Devotion. Worry. Guilt?>
'GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HEAD!'
The dragon flinches violently in Remus' arms, and gives a yelp of pain. The werewolf jumps, and starts to withdraw.
"Don't," the Slytherin snaps, before he heaves a defeated sigh. "That was my fault."
The other wizard nods wordlessly, resuming the embrace, and Aenëus buries his head into the shabby robes.
"I apologize for my harsh reaction, but I told you to be more sensible with that ability of yours," Severus says calmly to his dragon.
<Remorse! Confusion? Helplessness. Uncertainty. Affection! Fear of rejection!>
The Potions Master sighs in annoyance, moves over to where the dragon is still entangled in the werewolf's arms, and leans down.
Aenëus winces when he touches him, but relaxes almost immediately as his wizard strokes the smooth, golden crest.
"Silly brat," Severus mutters crankily while his dragon scrambles from Remus' embrace into his.
The werewolf finally looks up at this, and he can see unshed tears in the amber eyes. "It's really him, isn't it?" Remus asks softly.
"Yes, it is. This is what I wanted to tell you all along. Will you come and sit down and listen to what I have to say now?"
Together, they go back to the seating area in front of the fireplace and sit down on the large sofa, the dragon sprawled possessively over their laps. Severus tells Remus what happened, starting with his being called to the Department of Mysteries, describing Aenëus' behaviour in the Infirmary and Poppy's findings, outlining the legends, and ending with his task of helping Harry remember. He mentions his mental connection with Aenëus only briefly, and says nothing about the growing affection between the two of them, leaning back when he is finished and looking expectantly at the other wizard instead.
"I failed him, Severus," Remus whispers miserably, gently scratching the dragon's copper and bronze neck.
"I regret having to dampen the exclusiveness of your self-accusation, but it seems none of us were able to take the situation at his home seriously enough to take any further measures in order to ensure his safety. Even Albus did not expect that we might have to keep the boy safe from his own relatives."
The other shakes his head sadly.
"He rarely spoke of his life at his relatives' after ... the Department of Mysteries in his fifth year, but when he did, he always implied that his uncle had a foul temper and tended to physical violence. I should have understood what he wanted to tell me."
"After conferring with Albus, Minerva and Poppy, we assume that it was the first time this summer that an abuse to such an extend occurred, thus you had no way of knowing," the Slytherin argues.
"No," Remus replies bitterly, "I was away when he came to the Headquarters, out on an assignment."
"Bloody Hell, Lupin, get a grip on yourself!" Severus snaps, and the dragon on his lap flinches. He puts a soothing hand between the large wings, and continues more calmly: "You are not the only one who made mistakes. I saw how he was treated at home in his memories when I taught him Occlumency, but I was too blinded by my hate for his father and the image I subconsciously created of the boy to recognize the signs and tell Albus."
'I should have seen it coming. I, before all others, should have know. Too late now, too late.'
<Comfort! Warmth. Gratefulness. Forgiveness. Affection.>
The Potions Master raises his head and looks his colleague square in the eye. "What is done, is done, and we cannot change it. Now the only thing we can do is make it up to him. I have already started to do so. Are you willing to help me?"
"Yes, of course! Harry... Harry is all the family I've left since..." he swallows, and ends in a coarse voice: "... since Sirius fell through the Veil."
<Compassion! Regret. Guilt?>
A sudden insight makes Severus say without thinking: "You loved him."
"Yes," Remus chokes on the word, and when he repeats it, it comes out as a sob: "Yes."
Aenëus chirps worriedly, and curls himself into the werewolf's arms as his friend finally allows the tears that had been churning in him for over one year to fall freely. The little dragon proceeds to make soothing sounds as Remus cries for the love he lost, while the Potions Master decides to grant them a little privacy and retreats into the kitchen to brew a fresh pot of tea. The room is silent when he returns, werewolf and dragon are sitting side by side on the cosy sofa, and Remus' face is wearing a ghost of his old smile. Joining the other two, the Slytherin's onyx eyes meet amber ones, and it seems as if the tears succeeded in washing away the bitterness and the anger that had plagued the Gryffindor for so long, leaving the old Remus behind, tired, exhausted, but more himself than in a long time.
Aenëus snuggles into his wizard's side, and Remus' eyes brighten a bit at the sight of the Slytherin and his dragon. "He's really amazing. Even after all he went through, he still wants to love, still wants to trust. Even though I pushed him away when he tried to comfort me last summer, he still comes back. I must have done at least something right in my life if I deserved his friendship."
'Perhaps we don't deserve him at all.'
<Modesty. Love. Affection. Happiness.>
"A typical Gryffindor," Severus summarizes.
The other man's smile grows fond. "That he is, my friend, that he is. Now what can I do to help you?"
"Well, the most pressing problem is the start of term. The staff has been told that the dragon is the result of some research in conjuring I am doing for Albus, while the Dark Lord believes I'm working on it at his order, but we cannot possibly tell the students. Aenëus is still far too fragile to deal with the whole school, and I have no misconceptions about the little dunderheads' ability, or rather lack thereof, to take his shyness and self-consciousness into consideration. So I am still looking for a way to hide him from the students, since most potions last only a short while and I do not know how they would affect a dragon's metabolism anyway."
"Aenëus: a Latin expression for brazen, copper and bronze. A fitting name for his colouring," Remus muses kindly. "Have you already thought about a Disillusionment Charm to conceal him?"
"Only briefly. Skilled wizards can see through it and make out the contours of the Disillusioned body despite the charm, and we can consider all of the higher-ranking Death Eaters skilled enough. In addition, the Dark Lord checks our wands from time to time, and I would have to explain what I used the charm for." He pauses. "And lastly, I am not very good at it, as I always took potions or other measures when I was in need of concealment."
"We don't try to hide him from the Death Eater, just from a bunch of noisy teenagers," the Gryffindor argues calmly, "and I doubt that any of them except Hermione could see through the charm. As to your other objections, well, I could do the charm. I had a lot of practice during the last year."
'Damn, why didn't I think of that?'
"I believe you found the solution to our problem. Good work, Lupin!"
Remus grins mildly. "Did Severus Snape just pay me a compliment? My, what has this world come to?!" he jokes.
Severus grimaces. "I blame it on an overdose of Gryffindorishness. I have been stuck with our local celebrity for more than four weeks now."
'And I wouldn't even under Cruciatus admit that it isn't nearly as unbearable as I pretend it to be...'
<Amusement! Fondness. Devotion. Happiness.>
The other wizard laughs good-naturedly, a sound Severus hasn't heard from him since Black's demise and the dark Slytherin's heart lightens with relief. "Gryffindorishness? I didn't know a word like that even exists."
The Potions Master huffs. "It does now."
"If you say so, my friend."
Severus stills. "Do you really think of me as that?"
Remus glances up from the dragon, faint surprise in his amber eyes, and something else. "Yes. Yes, I do. You've always been special to me. I deeply regret that I didn't stand up for you to my friends, and accepted your hatred as a justified punishment. But I never gave up the hope that maybe, just maybe, we could leave all that behind us some day."
He smiles mildly, his original, warm smile. "You know, it was right what I said earlier, even if it was said in anger. You and I are very similar in many ways. No easy childhood, trouble with the Death Eaters, friends lost to Voldemort, both outcasts by the Wizarding World ... I could go on and on with the list. The causes of our hardship may be different, but the impact on our life is just the same. You gave me quite a bit to think about by what you said to me this afternoon. But will you promise me to think about it yourself as well?"
The Potions Master looks at the other man for a long while, their gazes locked firmly, before he softly says: "I think I will."
Remus' smile grows a little brighter at his words. "Very well. Now I believe we still have some plans to make concerning a certain ...celebrity?"
The Slytherin shrugs with false indifference.
"Someone has to save the saviour of the Wizarding World from himself. Seeing as I have been at it for six years now, I can as well go on."
"Mind if I join you?" the werewolf asks jokingly.
Severus smirks. "Not at all, my friend, not at all."
<Joy. Happiness. Satisfaction. Relief. Affection.>
Snuggled between the two wizards, the small dragon starts to purr.
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