Written as a gift for lore - who asked for a Murder Mystery - as part of Snupin Santa 2006.|
Many thanks to Femme and Kalena for the beta!
Believe In You
If Severus Snape had truly been the master of his own fate, he never would have consented to attend the banquet, but the conditions of his so-called freedom in the wake of the Second Voldemort War were such that, regardless of his own wishes, in all but the most trivial of decisions, Severus had to jump to the Ministry's tune. The song the Ministry happened to be playing this month was "Let's See If We Can Coax A Higher Approval Rating From The Public By Trotting Out Our Pet Hero Once Again."
It need hardly be said that the hero in question was not Severus Snape.
The public may have been thrilled to have the opportunity to break bread, if only at a distance, with Harry Potter, but for Severus, the fact that this particular dinner had been arranged to honour Potter was anything but thrilling. That he and Potter shared a complicated history and still owed each other an untold number of debts that would probably never be completely paid was true, but there was no question in Severus' mind that he was ever going to like Potter, and he suspected the feeling was more than mutual. In fact, he might have found some way to bow out of the dinner entirely (quick-acting, non-lethal, non-detectable poisons which could be made with the simplest of untraceable kitchen ingredients were well within his ability to brew, of course) had it not been for one thing: Remus Lupin was going to be attending.
Severus' feelings for and about Remus were...uncomfortably complex. It wasn't precisely that he liked Remus (notwithstanding the fact that most people would have found it difficult to believe that Severus liked anybody, which really wasn't far from the truth). However, it had been years since Severus had been able to fool himself into believing that he wasn't attracted to Remus, although he still had no idea why he felt such an intense pull towards someone whose personality and background and character were all almost diametrically opposed to his own.
He'd never said anything, of course, for reasons which, surprisingly, had almost nothing to do with Remus being a werewolf (or even with Remus being male) and everything to do with the very strong possibility that if Severus were to say something, the most he could hope for in return would be a vague smile and an absent-minded pat on the shoulder, neither of which he could stomach. That didn't mean that he was going to pass up an opportunity to spend time in Remus' company, even if that company had to be shared with others. It wouldn't be a comfortable evening, but the same could be said about most of the evenings he'd passed in his life, and Severus had long since grown accustomed to being uncomfortable.
Drinking steadily, Severus thought hazily as he poured himself yet another glass of Ogden's Old Firewhisky, was clearly the key to making it through a Ministry-sanctioned social event with one's dignity intact. Or...perhaps dignity wasn't precisely the correct word, he thought, as he stuck his elbow in the sherry trifle while trying unsuccessfully to set the bottle down on the suddenly tilting table.
"Would you like a hand with that?"
How in the world did Remus always manage to sound so bloody compassionate and as if he was trying with great difficulty to keep from laughing at him?
"I don't need any of your ass," Severus said haughtily, realizing a moment too late that he hadn't actually finished the sentence. "Assistance. I don't need any of your assistance, dammit."
"No, of course not," Remus said, quietly enough that none of the other people at their table could hear, not even Colin Creevey, who'd finally stopped taking pictures of Potter long enough to sit down and have some supper. Leaning in slightly, Remus reached over and took the bottle from Severus and placed it on the tray of a passing house-elf. "Do you think maybe it's the right time in the evening to start drinking coffee?"
"Whatever for?" Severus asked, honestly perplexed.
Remus looked pointedly at the half-full tumbler that Severus held in his hand.
Severus snorted. "Surely you aren't enough of a fool to believe that old crone's tale about coffee sobering one up? No...no matter how much coffee I drank, I'd still be drunk. I'd just be a more wide-awake drunk, which, on second thought, sounds like an eggs...excellent idea. Make yourself useful and pour me a cup."
Remus laughed, then did as he'd been asked.
"Cream or sugar?"
"Do I look like somebody who takes cream or sugar in his coffee?" Severus asked superciliously.
"No, but then again, you don't look like somebody who'd have a stuffed kitten tucked away in his office."
"A kitten? It's not a damned kitten, It's a stuffed dragon, and...oh, piss off, Lupin." Severus slumped down in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. Perhaps if he ripped out his tongue at the root, he could manage to keep from saying any more humiliating things around this man.
"Does this mean you don't want the coffee?" Remus asked, his voice practically dripping with insincere solicitude.
Severus said nothing, just snapped his fingers, then stared fixedly at the tabletop until Remus placed a cup of black coffee in his hand. Inside, he might have been muttering the words "thank you," but he'd be damned if he'd say them out loud.
He closed his eyes and took a moment to inhale the aroma of the freshly-brewed coffee. This seemed to be the one thing the Ministry got right on a regular basis, difficult though it was to believe. Severus lifted the cup (carefully...and with both hands) and prepared to take a drink, but before he'd had so much as a single taste, he was jolted from behind. Coffee sloshed all over the table. It was a miracle that he'd avoided covering Remus or himself with the blisteringly hot liquid.
Irate, Severus twisted around to see which clumsy oaf had bumped into him, only to discover that behind him, wand drawn, was Alastor Moody. He was standing unsteadily (unless that was an illusion caused by Severus' own state of intoxication) and glaring with both his real and his magical eyes.
"Watch where you're sitting, Death Eater."
Instinctively, Severus started to rise, but Remus' hand pressed down on his thigh, reminding him precisely how foolish it would be to engage in what would likely be seen as a hostile action on this night and in this place. There were laws governing the use of wands in Ministry buildings, of course, but Moody, that old bastard, had always been a 'cast first; worry about legalities later' kind of wizard, and Severus had no reason to think anything had changed over the past few years.
"Fuck off back to your seat, old man," Severus snarled.
Even as he spoke, he could hear the sound of Remus sighing beside him, but there was a limit to what Severus was prepared to take, even with the collective eye of the Ministry upon him.
"Yes, my seat at the head table," Moody said nastily, leaning in close enough for Severus to smell his rank breath," and not here, where they put the animals and monsters. No offense meant, Lupin."
"None taken, Alastor," Remus muttered.
Moody turned back to Severus and sneered at him. "I'll bet Lupin never told you he was supposed to be sitting up there next to Potter, did he?"
Severus' eyes darted to the side and noted a tell-tale flush on Remus' pale face.
"He probably felt sorry for you," Moody said, "Gryffindors are always sentimental...always bringing home mangy rodents and trying to turn them into pets. Now me, I'm not sentimental, and I'll tell you something, Snape. I'm never going to rest until I see you in Azkaban, where scum like you belong. I don't know how you managed to fool everybody into thinking that what you did to Albus Dumbledore was anything other than an act of cold-blooded murder, but..."
Knocking his chair over, Severus leapt up from the table, totally forgetting that there was a wand pointing at him, and reached out to grab the old Auror by the throat. Remus lunged forward and wrapped his arms around Severus's waist, pulling him back and out of the line of fire, just in time to save Severus from being the recipient of a string of nasty hexes.
Two young Aurors, who'd still been students at Hogwarts during the final days of the war, took hold of Moody and started to tug him back toward the head table, away from the flash of Creevey's ever-present camera.
"Are you all right?" Remus asked quietly, once Moody was gone.
"I'm fine," Severus said angrily, pulling himself free from Remus' grasp and hoping that nobody could hear the tremor in his voice.
"He's barmy," Creevey said, sounding in shock as he righted Severus' chair. "Fancy taking on the wizard who saved Harry Potter's life! All right, sir?"
"Yes," Severus hissed. "And if I hear one more person ask me that question, they're going to find themselves missing a few necessary internal organs."
"Severus," Remus said, concern plain in his voice. "Do you need me to...."
"I need nothing!" Severus spat. "Nothing except to be left alone!"
With that, Severus swept out of the hall.
The evening, Remus thought with a sigh as he sat down on the edge of his bed with a cup of tea and a packet of digestives, had not gone the way he'd hoped it might.
Things had actually started off fairly well. Harry hadn't kicked up a fuss about why Remus was asking to be seated at one of the tables at the far end of the room. He just rolled his eyes, muttered something about 'no taste in friends,' then made it happen. The menu itself was exceptionally good, which was quite unusual for any banquet, particularly one arranged by the Ministry. And Severus...well, he sat down beside Remus without being prompted (although, to be fair, his only option was in between Mundungus Fletcher, who looked as if he hadn't bathed for months, and a frighteningly amorous Hag), which made for a pleasant change.
There hadn't been much in the way of congenial dinnertime conversation, of course, but at least Severus was answering direct questions without complaint or excessive sarcasm these days. He did seem to be drinking quite a lot, but maybe it just seemed a lot to Remus. He'd fallen out of the habit of drinking once he realized that with one notable exception, he couldn't think of anybody he wanted to drink with. In any case, Severus seemed less unapproachable than he usually did, apart from some uncharacteristically agitated behavour that in anybody else, Remus would have thought was a bout of nerves...and then along came Alastor. With his arrival fled any possibility - slim though it had been - that Severus might consider prolonging the time they spent together that evening.
Maybe the next time Remus had to attend a Ministry gathering, he'd turn his attention to the Hag. She, at least, seemed like a sure thing.
Remus shook his head, then put the empty teacup down on the floor before turning down the bedcovers. He was just about to get into bed when he heard a strange thumping, as if somebody was trying to break his front door down. Grabbing his wand from the bedside table, he walked out into the lounge and activated the transparency spell he'd cast on the front door.
There, standing on the doorstep, forehead pressed against the door just above the door knocker and kicking at the bottom of the door, was Severus.
Mindful that if he opened the door too quickly, Severus would end up sprawled out on the floor, Remus turned the knob.
"Severus?" Remus said. "You have to step away from the door for a moment."
"Hah!" said Severus, still leaning heavily against the door. "You can't fool me like that."
Remus rolled his eyes. Whatever Severus had been doing since leaving the banquet had clearly involved quite a lot of alcohol. "I don't know what sort of trick you think I might be trying to play, but I can assure you that I don't want you to fall."
"Too late, then...isn't it?" Severus said gloomily. "I've already fallen."
"There's no time for pardons," Severus said. "You have to listen. I have a thing to say, and it's a very, very, very important thing."
"That's fine, but...."
"Very important," Severus said firmly.
"That's right," Remus said solicitously. "Very important."
"How did you know it was important?" Severus asked, suspicion plain in his voice.
"Because you told me it was."
"Oh. Right. And I'm going to tell you this very important thing, you dumberhead....what's that word, Lupin?"
Remus grinned. "Is the word dunderhead?"
"Tha's it!" Severus said victoriously. "Dumberhead!"
"Okay, Severus....I'm going to open the door all the way now, and you can tell me the very important thing you have to say inside my house. Is that all right?"
For a moment, Severus was silent - clearly his alcohol-soaked mind needed time to figure out whether doing as Remus said was in his best interest - but then, forgetting that ordinarily Remus wouldn't have been able to see him, he nodded and stepped slightly away from the door.
Once Remus opened the door completely, Severus glared in his usual fashion. "Well, are you going to invite me in or do Gryffindors have no social graces whatsoever?"
Biting his lip to keep from laughing out loud at Severus Snape fancying himself Miss Etiquette, Remus made a gesture of welcome, and Severus swept into the room.
"Can I take your cloak?"
"That won't be necessary," Severus said, shrugging the cloak off his shoulders and handing it to Remus.
"Would you like a seat?"
"No," Severus said, blinking a bit in the light of the room. "I have merely come by to make...a pronouncement."
"Ah, I see." Remus sat down on the arm of the sofa. "And what might that...pronouncement be?"
Severus shook his head. "It's a secret."
"A secret pronouncement?"
"Would you like to whisper it then?"
"To you? But it's a secret from you...or at least, I think it used to be."
Remus smiled. "I think you can tell me, Severus. I can help keep the secret."
Severus nodded gravely, then walked unsteadily across the room and leant down. "You're positive this is all right?"
"Of course it is, Severus."
"All right, then." And with that, Severus kissed Remus on the mouth.
Remus' eyes widened in shock. Severus didn't look much less surprised, almost as if he'd kissed Remus under the instructions of the Imperius.
"That was some secret," Remus said softly. Wonderful, in fact. The only thing that might have made it better was if it had lasted longer.
"That was...I wasn't supposed to share that secret, I don't think." Severus said, looking terribly uncomfortable.
"It's all right," Remus said, laying his hand on Severus' arm. "I'll keep the secret for you."
Remus nodded. "Yes. And I have a secret to share with you as well."
He stood up, then turned his head just slightly to the side and kissed Severus.
"I see," Severus said, frowning slightly. "We're even now, are we? I suppose I should be leaving."
Now it was Remus' turn to frown. What could possibly be going through that man's head?
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather stay?"
The look of shock on Severus' face was incredible, then his lip and eyebrow both curled up in what Remus thought might be Severus' drunken attempt at trying to look seductive.
"Does this mean you might...would you care to fuck?" he asked, sliding his hand down his robes and rubbing at what was a fairly prominent bulge.
Remus groaned. Two years of waiting for an opportunity like this, and when it finally arose, he couldn't say yes. Not with a clear conscience, at any rate. Or could he?
Severus leaned in and whispered in Remus' ear. "I'll let you fuck me, you know. That's a secret too, that I want you to fuck me."
"Is it?" Remus rasped, his throat dry.
"Yes," Severus said, taking one of Remus' hands and pressing it against his erection. "But it's not the biggest secret."
"No?" Remus closed his eyes and took a moment to just enjoy the sensation. He had to put a stop to things right now; Severus was enunciating far too precisely to be anything but completely soused. If he remembered this in the morning...if he remembered this, he'd never talk to Remus again. "Severus."
Remus opened his eyes and, oh God, Severus was smiling. Remus hadn't seen him smile like that in years. It was possible he'd never seen him smile like that.
"We have to stop."
"Because...we have to go to sleep now."
Severus frowned. "We do? When are we supposed to fuck then?"
Remus took a deep breath. He wanted to say 'never mind, we're supposed to fuck right this minute,' but he'd waited two years; he could surely wait...a little longer. "In the morning, Severus. If you still want to."
"Oh, I'll want to," Severus said, one eyebrow raised in a very promising manner.
The question about whether one of them would be sleeping on the couch was never actually raised. When Remus went into his bedroom to fetch a spare pillow and a blanket, Severus followed him. Without taking time to do more than remove his boots, he crawled into Remus' bed, and within moments he was fast asleep.
That night was the first time Remus had shared a bed with anybody in over three years.
"Kill me now," Severus muttered, as he tugged the covers up over his face. "Just say Avada Kedavra and get it over with. I promise my ghost will come back and speak in your defense."
Remus just smiled, then handed Severus a glass filled to the brim with a puce liquid.
"Where did you get this?" Severus asked suspiciously, sniffing at the unappealing brew.
"At the apothecary. It's one of Simpson's Ready-Brews."
"A hangover potion? And you just had to add water?" Severus asked, his voice scarcely above a whisper.
Remus nodded, then crawled back into the bed and helped Severus sit up and drink. Five minutes later, Severus was able to open his eyes without looking as if just a flicker of his eyelashes would incapacitate him for weeks.
"Feeling better?" Remus asked.
"Acceptable," Severus said in clipped tones. "Lupin, I hope you realize that I wasn't quite at my best last night."
"A little hard to miss how much you'd been drinking," Remus said, leaning back against the wall, "and I think after knowing me for thirty years and spending the night in my bed - on my side, no less - you could do me the courtesy of calling me by my name."
"I didn't think that what we were heading towards was...courtesy," Severus muttered. "But if it makes you feel better, I'll use your damned first name."
For a moment, neither of them said a word, until finally, through gritted teeth, Severus spoke.
"Thank you," Remus said. "And no, I don't think that what we're heading towards has much to do with courtesy."
"Heading?" said Severus with a frown. "Still? Last night you said...didn't you say 'no?'"
"Last night, you weren't in any state to consent to anything. But now, you seem in your right mind again. Relatively speaking, of course," Remus said.
"Yes, I am," Severus said, "But...."
Oddly aroused by the look of confusion that had replaced Severus' normal sneer, Remus slid down in the bed and pulled Severus with him. "Do you think," he said, starting to unbutton the shirt Severus had slept in, "that we might shelve any further discussion until later?"
"Yes, but...wait! Last night, I believe I said something about...being willing to...."
Remus stopped what he was doing and held the two edges of Severus' shirt together, then pressed his forehead against Severus' forehead. "We don't have to do anything yet, if you're not comfortable with it," he said. "Okay, look...do you want to forget all about this?"
"No!" There was a hint of something very much like panic in Severus' voice, as if he was afraid something precious was about to be snatched away from him. "Just...not that. Not yet."
Their foreheads still touching, Remus nodded, then slid his hands under Severus' shirt and lightly circled his thumbs around the outside of Severus' nipples. He smiled when Severus closed his eyes and moaned softly. For thirty years, he'd been trying to think of ways to get Severus to respond with something other than a sneer or an insult, and after just ten seconds of having his skin touched, the man was purring like a kneazle. If only Remus had known sooner.
Severus slipped one arm beneath Remus and, with a strength belied by his too-thin appearance, pulled Remus toward him and held him tightly, then insinuated one knee between Remus' legs.
"Clothes, dammit!" Remus said, frustrated that he hadn't thought about this before getting into bed.
Pulling back slightly, Severus slipped his arms out of his shirt and dropped it on the floor. Both men awkwardly pulled off their trousers and underpants and kicked them off beneath the covers. As soon as they were both entirely undressed, Remus pulled Severus back toward him, relishing the all-too-unfamiliar feel of skin against skin.
"...has been Glenda Chittock playing the music of your life and your afterlife on the Wizarding Wireless Network. And now, the news. Gawain Robards, speaking this morning on behalf of the MLE..."
"What the bloody hell is that?" Severus asked, rolling away from Remus and covering his ears with his hands.
"God, sorry," said Remus, reaching across Severus' bare chest. "Charmed the clock to work like a Muggle radio alarm. I must have forgot to un-set it last night. I'll just...."
"...former Auror, Alastor Moody, found dead outside his home in...."
Remus felt Severus' hand grip his arm.
"Leave it on," Severus demanded.
"Of course," Remus said, sitting up. "I'm just going to turn the volume down a bit, if you don't mind."
Severus nodded and released Remus' arm, then he too sat up, as Remus reached across him and turned the blue knob on the side of the clock.
"...locate Severus Snape to assist them with their inquiries...."
"Fucking hell," Severus said angrily, bringing his fist down on the pillow. "What in the name of fuck do they want with me this time?"
"Calm down, Severus," said Remus. "I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for...oh, hell, it's the Floo. Get under the covers."
Severus had spent too many years protecting his skin from one vindictive wizard or another to ignore this kind of advice. No sooner had he ducked under the blanket than a brilliant green flame flared in the fireplace.
"Remus? Are you awake?"
"Is that you, Kingsley?" Remus asked, squinting at the flickering image in the fire. "I wondered when you'd be calling."
"You heard then, did you?"
"About Alastor? It was just on the WWN. What the hell happened?"
Kingsley's disembodied head shook from side to side. "We don't have a clue! Or rather...we have a clue, but...Remus, do you have any idea where Severus went after he left the banquet room last night?"
Relieved that Kingsley's question didn't require him to lie, Remus just said no, but didn't elaborate any further. "Why are you looking for him?"
"After that scene at the Ministry," Kingsley said, "Severus is the prime suspect."
"That's ridiculous," Remus said. "Alastor was drunk. I think they were both drunk. But Severus would never have...."
"Severus' wand was found beside Mad-Eye's body, Remus." Remus was unable to turn around and make sure Severus remained hidden, but the sudden spike in tension radiating from the man's body told him Severus must be itching to dig through the clothes he'd been wearing the night before. "And he hasn't been home all night."
"Are you absolutely positive it was his wand?"
Kingsley's head nodded. "No question. And before you ask, we already cast Priori Incantatem. The second to last spell cast was a suffocation spell."
"What was the last spell?"
"It was an Obliviation spell, but that's not the important one. Remus...Alastor died from asphyxiation."
"Yeah. Listen, I have to get back to work, but if you hear anything, you'll contact the office, right?"
Remus raised an eyebrow. "What do you think?"
"Right...of course you will. I'll talk to you later, Remus."
"Take care, Kingsley."
No sooner had the Floo connection closed than Severus got out of bed and started to dress in the rumpled, alcohol-stained clothing he'd been wearing the night before.
"I need to leave," he said, putting on one sock and then the other. "I understand that you'll have to tell the Aurors what you know of my whereabouts eventually, but...I appreciate what you said to Shacklebolt just then, Remus. You bought me some time, and I'm grateful for that."
"You can't go yet," Remus said. "You're barely awake. Hell, you're barely sober, for that matter. How in the world do you imagine you're going to elude the Aurors in this condition?"
"I can't see that it's any of your business," Severus said, buckling his boots, then standing up and buttoning his shirt. "I'll be off as soon as...."
Remus watched as Severus slid his arms up and down the sides of the shirt, then frowned.
"What's the matter?"
"I can't find my wand."
Remus' eyes widened. "Didn't you hear what Kingsley said?"
"About my wand being found at the scene of the crime and a suffocation spell being cast? Of course I heard it, but there's no way that could be my wand," Severus said. "I must have left it in my cloak."
Remus shook his head. "I don't think so, Severus," he said. "I don't know if you remember, but I took your cloak from you when you came in last night. I'm sure I would have noticed if I'd had your wand in my hands."
Severus frowned, then walked swiftly into the lounge, with Remus close behind, and picked his cloak up off the back of the couch.. With a quick investigation, his worst fears seemed to be confirmed.
"It's not here," Severus said, starting to sound slightly panicked for the first time. "What the hell am I supposed to do now? I can't return for my belongings. I don't have any money. I can't do magic."
"You can do wandless...."
"How am I supposed to Apparate without my bloody wand?" Severus shouted. "This is insanity. Even if I'd wanted to hurt Moody...."
Remus raised an eyebrow.
"And you can fuck off with that disbelieving expression, too. I despised the man, but I never wanted to kill him. In any case, I didn't have time to do anything last night. I left the dinner, and then I came here. You can attest to that."
"Actually, I can't, Severus."
"No? Then you can go to hell. I should have known that when it came down to it, you wouldn't...."
"Severus, shut up! I didn't say I wouldn't speak in your defense. I said I can't, at least not about this. There were at least four hours between the time you left the banquet and the time you arrived here."
"No, it's not. Everybody in that Ministry hall saw you leave, and I was still there two hours later, talking to Minerva and Harry and some of the others. Once I returned home, another two hours passed before you started kicking my door down."
Severus frowned. "But...if that's true, where the hell was I before I came here?"
"Can't you remember anything?"
"Not a bloody thing. Oh, how very clever. That must be why my wand had the Obliviation spell on it."
Remus sat down heavily on the couch. Severus had to be right. And of course, the first thing the Aurors were going to think when they finally wondered about the Obliviate was that Severus cast it on himself, to avoid incriminating himself.
"You have to leave," Remus said.
Severus glanced down at the floor for a moment, then looked up with a completely impassive expression. "Of course. Having me here is putting you at risk, and I...."
"Don't be such a prat," Remus said, pushing himself back up off the couch. "I'm not concerned about myself, but sooner or later, Kingsley is going to have more questions for me, and you can't take the risk of being here in case he comes to ask the questions in person."
"And why, pray tell, aren't you suggesting I talk to Kingsley when he arrives and simply clear my name? Isn't that the straightforward Gryffindor manner of doing things?"
Remus snorted. "Just how naive do you think I am, Severus? Kingsley's my friend, but I'm under no illusions about the way the Aurors work. Clearing your name would be anything but simple. I can't imagine how it would be accomplished without a lengthy stay in Azkaban."
Just mentioning the name of the wizarding prison started a noticeable trembling in Severus' hands - the same kind that Remus had observed during Severus' month-long stay after the final days of the war, when Severus' guilt or innocence had yet to be officially determined.
"The first thing we have to do is get hold of some money," Remus said, rifling through a box that had been sitting on a bookshelf. "I have a few Galleons on hand, but nothing serious, and you can't go to Gringotts since the Aurors are bound to have the place under surveillance."
"You want to give me...." Severus looked confused for a moment, then took a deep breath and nodded. "Thank you. I'll pay you back when I can."
"There's no need," said Remus. "I'm coming with you."
"What? You can't come with me," Severus said. "Don't be a fool."
"I believe it's my decision to make."
Severus sat down on the arm of the couch. "I don't understand. Why are you doing this?"
"The least important of my three reasons is that I've been waiting for over two and a half years to get some indication that you might be interested in me..."
"Yes, and I think your behavior last night might have just tipped the scales over into the 'he just might' category." Severus flushed, but didn't disagree, which Remus was quite content to regard as an enthusiastic agreement. "The second reason I'm doing this is, quite simply, because I don't believe you killed Moody"
"Why not? I hated him."
No matter how inappropriate it was at that time, Remus couldn't help but laugh. "You hate just about everybody, Severus, or at least you act as if you do, which amounts to the same thing. Where you're concerned, that's no demonstration of guilt."
Severus stared at Remus, then narrowed his eyes. "We both know I'm capable of killing someone."
"Yes, we most certainly do." He felt a twinge of guilt when an expression of pain flashed across Severus' face. "However, self-obliviation isn't your style. You'd much rather be in full possession of your memories afterwards so that you could wallow in the guilt."
Immediately, Severus' head snapped up and he glared at Remus.
"And? You said there was a third reason you were planning on helping me."
Remus nodded. "I don't suppose you're going to be all that thrilled with the comparison, but...twenty years ago, Sirius was taken to Azkaban and left there to rot. I didn't do a damned thing to stop it, even though I had some doubts about whether he was guilty." He took a deep breath and exhaled sharply, which seemed to have the desired effect as far as keeping any stupid tears from falling was concerned. "This time, I refuse to stand aside and do nothing when someone I...care about is in the same damned position."
Severus' eyes widened. Remus knew that was a response to him admitting he cared about Severus, but Remus couldn't be sorry about what he'd said. Almost all of his life, Remus had been forced to pretend he was something he wasn't and he knew the same was true for Severus, and just look at how wonderfully both of their lives had turned out, thus far. Maybe it was time for the two of them to try honesty, for a change.
"Remus?" Harry's voice rang out from Floo. "Are you home?"
Honesty, however, didn't have to be extended to everybody...at least not just at the moment.
"Yes, I'm home, Harry," Remus called, shooing an unwilling Severus into the coat cupboard. "Give me a second, and I'll let you through."
He opened the Floo, and Harry stepped through in his characteristic fashion, only keeping himself from falling by grabbing onto the back of a conveniently-placed chair.
"Horrible news, wasn't it?" Harry said unhappily, once he was standing upright without the use of the chair-back as a prop.
"About Alastor? Yes, yes it was," agreed Remus, refraining from reminding Harry that only the week before he'd been complaining about what a horrid man Alastor was, and that the only time Harry had really liked him, was back when Alastor was actually Barty Crouch, Jr. "How did you know I'd already heard about it?"
"Kingsley told me when I came into work this morning," said Harry, sitting on the arm of the couch where Severus had been a minute earlier. "Looks like Snape did it, not that that's really much of a surprise."
Remus shook his head and opened his mouth to argue, but before he could say a word, he felt a short, sharp pain at the base of his head exactly as if somebody were trying to....use Legilimency on him. Bastard. There was going to be some discussion about the appropriate use of mind magic between friends as soon as Harry went back to work.
Or...was he at work right now?
"No, I...suppose not," Remus said carefully. "Do you have some questions for me, Harry?"
Harry looked at him in surprise, then frowned. "Well, I sort of thought it would just be a casual conversation, you know?"
Remus nodded. In truth, he believed Harry when he said that he thought that they could just have a friendly chat. The trouble was that the Ministry wouldn't consider any conversation engaged in by one of their Aurors during working hours a 'casual conversation." It was all official, and it probably wouldn't be long until Harry figured that out.
"So. You don't have any clue where Snape might have run off to, do you, Remus?
"Oh, I really can't imagine Severus running anywhere. Can you?"
Harry grinned. "Sure. A pair of green trainers and his robes flapping along behind him. Okay, so maybe not running, but...can you tell me anywhere Snape might have gone to hide out? A family home or something?"
Well, that wasn't at all difficult to keep from talking about. There was a family house up north and Remus knew where it was, but he couldn't speak about it. Albus had been its secret keeper, and he'd never had a chance to tell Severus that a few trusted people now knew its location.
"I think his family's all gone, Harry."
"Right," Harry said, jotting something down in his notebook. "And what did he say about Mad- Eye last night? Anything about wanting to get rid of him?"
"Not unless telling him to piss off back to his table counted. Honestly, Harry, there doesn't really seem to be anything that would indicate that Severus had anything to do with Alastor's death."
Harry snorted. "No, as long as we're not going to count Snape's wand being found at the crime scene and Snape himself having done a runner."
"Well, yes," said Remus with a smile. "Except for those two minor points."
"You know," Harry said. "I can say this now that I haven't been in school for years, but you're almost as bad as Hermione. Always trusting people when they don't deserve it."
"I take that as a compliment, Harry...you comparing me to Hermione."
Harry rolled his eyes, then slipped his notebook back into his pocket. "Okay, speaking of Hermione - and this is unofficial now - you know she's not seeing anyone, right? Only...I was talking about you with Tonks, and we both thought that maybe you and Hermione might...well, she's awfully smart, you know, and gets along with almost everybody."
Remus raised one eyebrow. "You and Nymphadora have been gossiping about my love life?"
Harry blushed. "Well, it wasn't exactly like that."
"No? Then why don't you tell me what it was like, because from where I'm sitting, that's precisely what it looks like.
"Sorry," he said, looking more like the frightened boy he'd been when he met Remus on the Hogwarts Express than like a Ministry Auror.
"Look, Harry...it's not that I don't appreciate your concern, but I'm quite capable of taking care of my own personal life." Such as it is, he thought ruefully. "And Nymphadora, of all people, should know better than to think Hermione would be a good match for me."
"What's wrong with Hermione?" Harry said a little belligerently, clearly getting defensive on behalf of his friend.
"Nothing at all, except that she's a woman."
Harry frowned. "But so is Tonks."
"Exactly," Remus said. "And you'll notice we're no longer together."
"Oh! You mean....oh! Do you mean...?"
"I mean precisely that," Remus said with a small smile.
"Bloody hell," said Harry, burying his face in his hands. "I'm sorry for being such a prat."
"It's all right, Harry. Honestly."
Harry looked up, then shook his head. "So...you and Sirius...never mind. It's none of my business."
"Of course it's your business, Harry. Or at least as much your business as it's the business of any of my other friends. I want you to know who I am. But that doesn't mean you or anybody else should think you have permission to make decisions about my relationships."
"I wouldn't have," Harry said indignantly. "I loved Sirius!"
"I know, Harry. And I'm happy that you would have supported us. Maybe we should have told you. But even if I had been involved with somebody you disliked intensely, it still would be my choice, and I'd expect you to honour that, if you wanted us to remain friends."
"Of course, I'd honour your choice," said Harry.
"I'm very glad to hear that. Now, if there's nothing else for the time being, I was just about to go out for a bit."
"No, that's it. I've got to go, too. A few more calls to make, and then Kingsley wants me to go back to where we found Moody this morning. See if any of the regulars at the pub across the way saw anything."
Remus nodded. "What did you say the name of that pub was again?"
For a moment, Harry frowned as if he were trying to remember whether he'd actually told Remus the name of the pub earlier, but then he shrugged and told him.
"Good lord," said Remus, grimacing. "The one in Knockturn Alley? What would either of them have been doing anywhere near The Leper's Balls?"
"You know the place?"
"Unfortunately, yes. Greyback liked to hold meetings there when he was in London. I think the rest of the clientele made him feel civilised."
"Yeah, that sounds about right," said Harry. "At least I don't think I'm going to have to go down there after the sun sets. That's something, right?"
Remus could only agree.
By the time Potter Disapparated and Remus opened the cupboard door, Severus had started to feel as if he were coming down with a temporary case of Neelda's Dementia. There was no other explanation for thinking he'd heard Potter unwittingly agree to support a...relationship between Severus and Remus.
Severus blinked as he stepped back out into the lounge, then narrowed his eyes and looked closely at the expression on Remus's face. From the ridiculous insincerity of Remus' humble victory smile, it was clear that Potter's acquiescence was no accident; he had clearly been gulled by a man he considered his father figure, which impressed Severus to no end.
"Are you absolutely certain the Hat wanted to put you into Gryffindor?" he asked.
"Aren't you tired of worrying about House allegiances yet?"
Severus didn't reply, just gazed at Remus in a manner that made it obvious how foolish he thought that particular question was, until Remus broke his stare by tugging Severus towards him. Severus might have considered that a rather forward action if he weren't just as eager to be touching Remus at that precise moment in time.
For a long moment, they just stood there with their eyes closed, mouth to mouth, barely even kissing, taking the time to familiarize themselves with the sweet/spicy/salty tastes of each other's mouths.
Then Severus took a few steps back toward the cupboard and its shadows. He pulled Remus along after him, unfastening two of Remus' shirt buttons with each step.
"You know," Remus murmured into Severus' collarbone. "We have to leave."
"So we do," Severus replied, slowly slid his hand down Remus' trousers. "Just as soon as...mmm."
And then all discussion about leaving was postponed so that this far more important activity could take place. Severus smiled as he discovered just how easy it was to silence Remus. A moment later, when Remus slipped his own hand between the flies of Severus' trousers, Remus learned how very simple it was to make Severus moan.
Severus hadn't made such sounds since he was little more than a boy, wanking under the covers with a Silencio cast over his bed-curtains, hours after his house-mates had gone to sleep. Once he'd left Hogwarts, partners had been few and far between. These unions, such as they were, tended to be silent affairs. Severus had either felt less than inspired in their company or, more often, had chosen not to give even the least indication that he was capable of losing control.
With Remus, Severus felt none of his usual reticence. For the first time in years, he was panting and licking Remus' face and stroking Remus's cock and thrusting his own cock into the warm grasp of Remus's hand. Throughout it all, Severus made a sound that could only be described as whimpering. The embarrassment he would ordinarily have felt at making such a ridiculous noise never surfaced, nor did it five minutes later, when Remus tightened his grasp one last time and Severus, for the first time in his life, actually shouted as he came, spilling his seed all over Remus' hand.
Letting his head rest on Remus' shoulder, Severus closed his eyes and took three deep breaths before being nudged lightly.
"Hey," Remus said softly. "Are you all right?"
"Better than all right, actually," said Severus, still not opening his eyes, but smiling into Remus' shoulder. He hoped Remus was, as well, but Severus had been so engulfed by his own sensations that he hadn't even...oh, bloody hell. "Did you...um...I didn't exactly notice if you'd...that is to say...."
Remus laughed. "Severus, are you trying to find out if I came?" Damned werewolf knew nothing at all about subtlety. "I came. All over your trousers, unfortunately. And now, we really have to leave."
"Where are we going?" Severus asked as Remus cast a quick cleaning spell over both of them.
"I think I'd better just show you instead of tell you," Remus said, seeming to be taking care not to meet Severus' glance. "You don't get ill from Side-Along Apparition, do you?"
"Of course not," Severus said, "but...."
"Then hold on tight," said Remus.
He wasn't about to admit it, but Remus had been absolutely right. If Remus had told him where they were going, Severus would never have agreed to go, despite the fact that it was absolutely the least likely place that anybody would go to look for Severus Snape. If only he had fewer nightmarish associations with the damned Shrieking Shack.
"It's not going to be for long," Remus said, for what had to be the sixth time since they had arrived. "There's a stasis charm on the pantry and the bed linens, and I'll start a fire before I leave. You'll be okay, right?"
It was a toss up as to what Severus most felt like doing: stomping his feet and shouting that he wasn't a baby to be afraid of being left alone, or demanding that Remus take him along, no matter where he was going. He understood what Remus had said earlier about it being too much of a risk for Severus to be seen in public, especially the places that Remus was planning on going, but the thought of being left behind to do nothing, and in this of all places, was anathema to Severus.
In the end, he did nothing. He just sat at the edge of the bed, glowering at the floor. There was a moment when Remus stroked his hair and told him to get some rest that he wanted to break his imposed silence, to tell Remus that he understood why he had to stay behind and that it was all right, but the habits of a lifetime were far too deeply ingrained for Severus to give in that easily. Finally Remus just kissed him on the top of the head and Disapparated.
No sooner had Remus left than Severus knew he'd been a fool, but by then it was too late to do anything about it. With any luck, Remus would be back eventually - surely within the next few days, at least - and until then, he'd just have to make do.
Severus got up from the musty bed, and stripped the bed linens, then went to find a fresh set in the cupboard Remus had shown him before he left. Damned good thing he'd spent his childhood living like a Muggle, Severus thought as he struggled to put the sheet on the bed, or he'd be even more useless than he already was.
He went over to the pantry, took a look and sighed. Even if it weren't for the fact that all the food was that sort that hadn't appealed to him since he was fifteen, he didn't have much of an appetite. It had nothing to do with Remus' absence. He knew that Remus might not be back for days. It wasn't as if he was going to go on hunger strike until he returned, but there was a sour feeling in the pit of Severus' stomach that he hadn't felt since the last days of the war. Food was the very last thing Severus wanted to think about.
Instead, he sat on the edge of the newly-made bed and did absolutely nothing. The sun went down, and the temperature in the room dropped a few degrees, but Severus didn't seem to notice. He didn't even bother putting on warmer clothes, although he'd seen quite a few woolen jumpers folded on the top of the dresser when he'd arrived earlier in the day. He just...sat.
When Remus Apparated into the room four hours after he'd left, Severus thought, at first, that he was just imagining Remus' presence.
"What are you doing back here?" Severus asked.
"What do you mean? I said I'd be back after I talked to some people."
"You did? When did you say that?"
Remus frowned, then sat beside Severus on the bed and touched his forehead with the back of his hand. "Are you all right?"
"Of course I am, you idiot," Severus snapped.
"Very impressive," Remus said, wrapping an old but serviceable quilt around Severus' shoulders. "I see you're refusing to let hypothermia get in the way of acting like an arse."
It wasn't as if he couldn't think of a clever rebuttal, but Severus found it was too much trouble to try to say it through chattering teeth.
"Come on," Remus said, turning back the bedcovers and patting the bed. "Get inside and warm up, and I'll see what I can do about making some tea."
Without even taking a moment to wonder why he was following the directions of his life-long antagonist without protest, Severus pulled off his boots and climbed into the bed. Remus applied a heating charm to the spare duvet, then covered Severus before to charming the teakettle to boil. "Would you like the good news or the bad news first?" Remus asked.
Severus snorted. "Do you actually have any good news?"
"Not as such," Remus said, as he poured the water into the teapot, "but I have bad news and less bad news."
"Ah, I see. Well, let's start with the less bad news first, shall we?"
Remus pulled a tray out from one of the cabinets beside the bed and placed the teapot, two teacups, and a plate of iced buns on it. Then he levitated it across the room and set it to hover as he took off his shoes and socks and got into bed beside Severus. "The less bad news is that nobody that we know wants to see you put away for life."
"And the everyday bad news?"
"Nobody actually thinks you're innocent, either."
"I see," Severus swallowed and let the hot, sweet drink start to warm him. He didn't ordinarily take sugar in his tea, as Remus knew, but this seemed to be the right time to make an exception. "And with whom did you discuss the case?"
"Minerva first," said Remus. "Then Hermione and Ron. Minerva said...."
"No, let me guess," said Severus, leaning back against the pillows. "Minerva thinks I've finally snapped. Granger thinks I need to visit a...what are they called? A psychosis doctor?"
Remus laughed. "A psychotherapist. That's two out of three, so far. What about Ron?"
"I haven't the faintest idea, but I'm certain the words 'greasy' and 'bastard' factored in there somehow. Was that it?"
"No," said Remus. "I ran into Colin Creevey when I went back to the Ministry, and he's certain it was self-defense. He said Harry would have been angry if he'd heard the way Moody was speaking to you."
"Oh, wouldn't he be surprised."
"And Nymphadora said...."
"You went to see Miss Tonks?" Severus supposed it shouldn't have come as a surprise. Remus was obviously still friendly with the girl, for some unfathomable reason. What did come as a surprise, though, was the sharp pain he felt at just the thought of Remus spending time with his former lover. Severus had envied many people for many reasons in his life, but this might very well be the first time he'd ever experienced jealousy. Odd, how very different a sensation it was. "I didn't actually plan on seeing her. I'd meant to talk to Kingsley instead, but we ran into each other in the corridor and she invited me into her office." Remus put his teacup back on the still- hovering tray and turned to Severus. "Are you warmed up now?"
"Then I think maybe we'd better pay a visit to the pub."
"Hmm...won't it look suspicious if I'm discovered there? I thought all criminals eventually returned to the scene of the crime."
Remus smiled. "You've been reading too many Muggle mystery novels, haven't you? Anyway, that's what Disillusionment charms are for. You'll need to cover your face with something, but we're unlikely to run into any passers by if I Apparate behind the pub."
"What about Potter?"
"Harry wanted to be out of there before sundown. Come on. We still have two hours to see if anybody remembers anything before the pub closes for the night."
Despite the fact that he was glad to be doing something finally, Severus discovered he was a little reluctant to leave the warm cocoon he'd been sharing with Remus. However, he forced himself to get out of bed and put on his boots, then his cloak, and a hat and scarf that Remus had found in the clothes cupboard.
Severus had never had much cause to be grateful to kneazles, but the yowling that a pair of grey toms were engaging in on the other side of the fence was all that kept the other occupant of the fenced-in yard behind the bar from hearing the loud pop as they Apparated in.
"Get back," Remus whispered, pulling Severus into the shadows with him.
"I am," Severus hissed back.
"What the hell is Colin Creevey doing here?" Remus whispered.
Severus had no more idea about Creevey's presence than he had about why Potter Apparated in less than thirty seconds later.
"It's like King's Bloody Cross around here."
Colin looked up, wide-eyed, at the sound of Harry's Apparition.
"All right, Harry?"
"I'm fine, Colin," he said. "Do you mind telling me what you're doing here? Only...we placed a security charm on the site earlier in the day, and you tripped it."
Severus pulled Remus farther back into the shadows. How incredibly lucky they were that Creevey had blundered into the Ministry security charm instead of them.
"Sorry, Harry," said Colin. "I just thought that I could get a few more pictures."
"Yeah. That's what I thought happened, but until further notice, I'm afraid the crime scene's off- limits."
"No problem, Harry," Colin said cheerfully. As Potter began to turn away, Colin lay his hand on Potter's shoulder. "So, Harry...Dennis has season tickets to Puddlemere United. They've got a match this Saturday, and I reckon it's going to be brilliant. Dennis can't go. Do you want to come with me?"
"Well...I'd need to check my schedule. I think I might have...um...a seminar to attend that day."
"Oh no," Colin said. "I checked already, and that was postponed until Wednesday."
Severus glanced at Remus, only to find him staring at Creevey. Interesting. It appeared the boy was no less obsessed with Potter than he'd been at school.
"I'll...I'll send you an owl, Colin," said Potter, looking flustered. "I'll let you know in a day or two."
Without staying to exchange any more pleasantries, Potter Disapparated. Creevey, looking longingly in the empty space Potter had been just a moment before, Disapparated a minute later.
"If you ever catch me staring at you with such an insipid expression on my face," said Severus, "hex me."
Remus smiled. "Any particular hex?"
"Something extremely painful."
"All right, so we can't actually go onto the site unless you know how to disable the security charm?"
Severus shook his head.
"I didn't think so," Remus said. "Well then, let's Apparate back out to the street and then have a nose around in the pub itself."
As they walked in the front door, Severus could see immediately why Greyback might have felt at home. It was filthy and loud and, even with the door still ajar, the smell inside was worse than his lab at Hogwarts had been on the odd occasion that the Wolfsbane had gone a bit awry. The clientele was, well, Severus thought that leaving the description at 'breathing' would probably do all right for most of them. It was certainly the most complimentary thing he could think of for any of them.
There were few beings that made Severus uncomfortable, but when Remus suggested they start by seeing if any of the staff knew anything, he was only too happy to follow Remus' lead.
However, as soon as they stepped within sight of the bar, the bartender pulled his wand from behind the counter and aimed it directly at Severus.
"Have you been Obliviated?"
Severus frowned. How in the world did this bartender know something like that?
"I told you not to come back in here ever again, and here you are, swanning in the next day as if I never said nothing."
"Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. You were swizzled, but not so much that you're going to convince me that you don't remember coming in here with that boy."
"Yes," said Remus. "I'd like to know what boy as well."
"Not the usual sort we get in here at all, not like Dracula's weedy cousin, here." Remus snorted, and it was all Severus could do to keep from smacking him. "Sort of like a mouse with brown fur, he was. Buys him a drink, and five minutes later, this one's passed out on the floor."
Severus was certain that there had been a time in his life when he had been more humiliated, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember when it might have been.
"Took forever to enervate you," the bartender said. "You just kept clutching at the barstool legs and moaning."
No, this was definitely the most humiliating moment. "Then what happened?" Remus asked.
"Well, I threw him out, didn't I? The place can't afford to have a reputation for being the sort of establishment what has wizards who can't hold their drink sleeping it off on the floor."
"And you...threw him out in the front?"
"Of course I did," the bartender said. "Not much point in tossing him out back. It's all fenced in. He'd have to have Apparated out of there, and there wasn't any chance of him being able to do that...not the state he was in."
"Did anyone go out back?"
All at once, the bartender had lost almost all of his bravado. "Might've done," he said, a bit shiftily. "Can't quite remember, at the moment."
Remus pulled some Galleons out of the pocket in his cloak and handed them to the bartender. "Is this helping your memory come back?"
The bartender didn't answer, but he did pocket the coins.
"There's sometimes a bit of action of a personal nature out back, if you take my meaning," he said.
"Would you know if the mousy-haired boy might have gone out there?"
"No idea," he said. "I keep my nose out of other people's business, just like I told your colleague earlier."
Remus frowned. "My colleague?"
"Yeah...that Auror with the whatsit...hair that kept changing colour."
"I'm not an Auror," Remus said.
"You're not? What you been asking all these questions for, then?"
Severus revised his thoughts from earlier in the day, when he'd been considering whether Remus might have been suited to Slytherin. Possibly Ravenclaw, but that was the best he could do.
"Oh, we're just conducting a bit of a private investigation."
Again, the bartender raised his wand, but this time it was pointed in both of them. "All right, get out of here, you and your mate."
Severus didn't have to think twice to follow the man's directions, and neither did Remus. "Wonderful," Severus said, once they were back out on the street. "That's twice in twenty-four hours that I've been thrown out of the same disgusting place."
Remus grinned at Severus and tugged on his scarf. "Yes, but at least this time you're still standing on your own two feet. That's a nice change, isn't it?"
"I'm glad you're finding this so bloody funny. This is my fucking life, such as it is, and I'm still no closer to figuring out...."
"We," Remus said, putting his hand over Severus' mouth. "You're not alone in this. Not this time." Remus leaned in and kissed Severus' cold, chapped lips. "We will figure this out, Severus. Trust me."
For a long moment, Severus searched Remus' face, unable to understand how it could be that Remus looked exactly the same as he always had, wearing that glimmer of amusement which had always irritated him, but the effect was entirely different. Severus did trust Remus, God help him. He shook his head. What a pair of idiots.
Perhaps Remus had some latent talent as a Legilimens, because he grinned and kissed Severus once again, this time on the tip of his nose.
"Come on then," he said. "Let's get back and...I don't suppose you happened to notice whether the charms were still in place in the pantry?"
"They are," Severus said, pulling his scarf back up over his face. "There isn't much to eat in there, but if you don't mind the trip down memory lane to our schooldays, I could fix us some bangers and mash."
Remus smiled. "Sounds perfect," he said, wrapping his arms around Severus. "You ready then?"
Severus nodded, and Remus Apparated them back to the Shrieking Shack...
...where Nymphadora Tonks and Harry Potter stood waiting for them, wands in hand.
Remus reached out to grab onto Severus again, but before they could Disapparate, Harry cast a binding spell, then transfigured the bed into a couch and had Severus and Remus sit on it.
"Oh, that's nice work, that is," said Tonks, looking admiringly at the couch. "But...tartan?"
"I reckon as long as we're in Scotland."
Tonks smiled. "Good point."
The couch, Remus thought, was surprisingly comfortable. Not at all the kind of thing the Aurors usually used for interrogations, not even if they were friends with the suspects.
"If you're here to arrest us, Lupin has absolutely nothing to do with any of this," Severus said.
"Severus, don't be an arse."
"Shut up!" Severus hissed. "There's no reason you should be incarcerated when you haven't done anything wrong."
"Except for bribery, obstruction of justice, and harboring a fugitive," Tonks said. "Wotcher, Remus."
"Hello, Nymphadora," said Remus. "What's new?"
"Not much since this afternoon," she said, turning her gaze briefly in Severus' direction. "And nobody's getting incarcerated. At least nobody in this room."
Severus scowled at her. "Excuse me if I find that a bit difficult to believe, given the leather bindings I find wrapped around myself."
"Maybe Harry and me are just kinky," she said with a grin. "Nah, Kingsley said we had to keep the two of you out of the way for a bit."
"And you couldn't think of any other means?" Remus asked.
Tonks raised one eyebrow. "Oh, I could think of quite a few, but none of them was as amusing."
"All right," Harry said, looking in the pantry. "Who's for bangers and mash? Unless you'd rather I popped out and picked up a curry in Edinburgh."
Remus narrowed his eyes at Harry. "Just a lucky guess on the food then?"
The light in the Shack was dim, but Remus was almost positive that Harry was blushing. "Well," Harry said. "About that...."
"Let me, Harry," said Tonks. "I put a monitoring spell on you, Remus."
"You what? When the hell did you do that...and why?"
"I cast the spell when you 'just happened' to pop round the Ministry this afternoon. As for the why," she said, fixing him with a glare, "it's because I'm not a moron. I didn't get my Auror's robes from a Zonko's grab bag."
"I never thought you..."
"Honestly, Remus. You spent the whole day playing amateur detective on a case you shouldn't have even had any interest in. How could you not have realised that one of our mutual friends was bound to get on the Floo and ask me what was going on?"
"Yeah," Tonks said, "Oh, is right."
Remus was almost afraid to look at Severus, for fear he'd see nothing in his face but contempt for Remus' idiocy, but when he glanced to the side, Severus actually smiled at him. It wasn't much of a smile. In fact, Remus doubted seriously that either Tonks or Harry would have recognized it as a member of the smile family. But he knew, and that was enough to allow Remus to breathe a sigh of relief.
"If we...if Lupin is not to be arrested," Severus said, "then might I ask why we're still bound?"
"Because," Harry said, "Tonks and I are waiting for word from...."
The crack of Apparition interrupted Harry's explanation, but the smile on his face when Kingsley appeared in the room told Remus exactly whose word the two young Aurors had been waiting for.
"Hello, Kingsley," said Remus. "I'd get up to greet you, but...as you see."
Kingsley smiled. "Hello Remus. Harry, you can release them now."
"Both of them?" Harry said. "Damn. I was hoping we'd get to keep Snape tied up a little longer, at least until that all that tea he had to drink today made its way through his system."
"Potter, release me this instant!"
"Come on, Harry," said Kingsley, smiling at the young man. "Let them go."
Not that Remus thought Severus would really be so foolish as to retaliate in a roomful of Aurors, but just in case, he decided to distract the man by putting his arm around Severus' shoulders.
"What are you doing?" Severus hissed.
"They've been monitoring our conversation for the past three hours, Severus. Did you think they weren't aware of our...changed circumstances?"
"I thought it was cute," Tonks said.
Harry grimaced. "I didn't."
"I hate you all," said Severus.
Remus rubbed Severus' shoulder with the edge of his thumb. "I take it you caught somebody," he said.
Kingsley nodded. "Yeah. I'll give you three guesses who it was."
"Let's just say the murderer thought he was doing our boy Harry, here, a favour."
"Oh for God's sake," Severus groaned.
"Do you know who it was?" Remus asked.
"Colin Bloody Creevey."
"Colin? How could it be him? He seems like such a sweet kid."
Severus snorted. "Yes, and you seem like a clerk in a used bookstore, right up until the time the full moon rolls around each month."
Remus raised an eyebrow. "Is that so? Then I'd suggest that somebody doesn't forget how to brew the Wolfsbane."
Severus glared, but Remus was pleased to see that Severus didn't look at all cowed by the false threats of the wolf in bookstore clerk's clothing. He was even more pleased when he took Severus' hand in his, and Severus didn't pull away.
"Kingsley," Remus said, "Why Severus? What did Colin have against him?"
"Nothing at all. In fact, in his weird way, Colin thought he was protecting Severus."
"From Alastor," said Kingsley. "He threatened Severus, so he had to die."
"He cared about Severus that much?" asked Remus.
"No," said Kingsley. "He cared that much about Harry. It's on record how many times Severus saved Harry's life, so in Colin's mind, Severus is the one who kept Harry alive for Colin to love."
"Hey, I'm standing right here. Do you think we could not talk about this at the moment?" said Harry, but nobody seemed at all interested in hearing anything he had to say.
"To be honest," Kingsley said, "you made our job a hell of a lot easier. If you hadn't shown up behind the pub when you did, Harry never would have found Colin there."
"What about the security charm?"
"It's set to ignore anybody with MLE clearance, and Creevey, who used to take photographs of crime scenes, fell under that heading."
"Here's what I can't figure out, though," Remus said. "Why did Colin try to make it look as if Severus had killed Alastor? If he really thought he owed so much to Severus, then that doesn't make any sense."
Kingsley shrugged. "Self-preservation instinct. No matter what happened, he didn't want to go to Azkaban, so when he bumped into Severus, everything fell into place for him. It was easy enough to drug Severus, take his wand, then Obliviate him, just in case he remembered something from that night."
"Hey, wait a minute," Harry said with a frown. "How was it so easy for Colin? Hell, I don't think I could get the drop on Snape."
Tonks snickered. "Because Severus went and got himself completely rat-arsed last night, that's why."
Harry and Kingsley laughed, and Remus almost laughed as well. For a minute there, it seemed like old times, sitting around the Shrieking Shack with friends and laughing at how easily they'd been able to beat the odds, once again. Laughing at how clever they all were. Laughing at - -
- - laughing at Severus.
All at once, nothing about the last twenty-four hours seemed even the slightest bit funny. Alastor Moody might have been a colossal jerk, but for years, he'd been a good Auror. He'd helped to train Kingsley. He'd fought against Voldemort. And now he was dead because of one young man's obsession.
Remus glanced over at Severus, who hadn't said a word for the past five minutes. He was looking down at the ground, his hair a curtain to hide behind.
Once again, just like when Remus was in school, dumb luck had saved the day. If it hadn't, Severus would still be a wanted man, and sooner or later, the Aurors would have caught up with him. The fact that he was innocent would have meant nothing, not so long as people believed what they wanted to believe.
"Are we free to go?" Remus asked, rising abruptly from the transfigured couch. Severus looked up and just watched him for a moment. Then he nodded and stood beside Remus.
Kingsley frowned. "Of course you are. The media's already been asked to announce that Severus is no longer being sought."
"Good." Remus nodded. "I think we'll be leaving then."
"Don't run off yet," Tonks said. "There's a great Indian place we've been planning on trying."
"Maybe some other time," said Remus. He squeezed Severus' hand and the two men Disapparated, leaving the Shack and its memories - both good and bad - behind.
In the time it took for the MLE to arrange a memorial service in honour of Alastor Moody, Severus had discovered a surprisingly simple means of living his own life without Ministry interference. All it required was that he leave England.
He had not gone alone, however.
If Remus had not been so enthusiastic about setting off on what he'd taken to calling their 'grand adventure,' it was quite likely that Severus would never have left the country. Severus hated almost everything about his life - his miserable job, his decrepit home, his lack of friends - but hating his life had become as comfortable for Severus as an old robe. He had come close to forgetting that there could be any other way to live.
Three years later...well, to say that Severus had learned to love life would have been a bit of an exaggeration.
But he and Remus had learned to love each other.
And for the first time in Severus Snape's life, he knew what it meant to be happy.