Written for etrangere (who asked for something set during the first war with a Noir-ish atmosphere) for Snupin Santa 2006.|
Many thanks to Femme and Kalena for beta'ing!
'Twas the Night Before...
He comes into the pub every now and again, mostly on nights like this when the rain's falling and the wind's cutting like a whip and nobody's out on the streets, at least not if they have anywhere else to go. He always sits at the same table, the one farthest from the bar. On the wall over the table is a framed photograph of the Queen, taken a few years back during her Silver Jubilee year. He always glances at the photograph before he sits down, as if he were expecting it to move.
The first time Severus came in here, he was with me.
He'd had nowhere to go for the half-term holidays that autumn, with his parents both dead and gone. My family's house...well, let's just say there were spare bedrooms and leave it at that.
He hadn't said much during dinner that first night; he was quiet in that way boys have about them sometimes when they have a secret that wants telling, and as soon as we were given permission to leave the table, we went out back to smoke.
"Well?" I said in bored tones, trying (and failing utterly, I suspect) to not let him see how very much I wanted to know what he was keeping from me.
"Not here," he whispered. looking back towards the candle-lit windows. "Is there somewhere we can go? Away from wizarding ears."
"Of course," I said casually, ignoring the fact that I'd never ventured into Muggle London in my life.
We transfigured our robes into Muggle clothing: flared jeans, leather jackets, steel-capped boots...the full kit. We started walking, and before long we came upon a pub called the Serpent's Tail. We went inside. He ordered two pints of lager, then we took our drinks to the back and sat down at an empty table.
I didn't know for certain what his secret was, although I remember thinking it must have had something to do with Lord Voldemort - all the whispers in the Slytherin common room seemed to be about the Death Eaters in those days - but when he started to talk, it turned out that he had a much more interesting bit of news, one which involved Remus Lupin, who, as it turned out, was bent.
And apparently, Lupin wasn't the only one.
Severus acted like whatever was going on between him and Lupin was all about the fucking, and I didn't think to question him, not at the time. What isn't about the fucking for teenage boys?
But once I started watching him - watching them - I saw how often they traded glances when they thought nobody was paying attention. I saw how many times they both slipped out of the Great Hall before meals ended. I saw the notes, quickly read and just as quickly banished.
And later that year, after something happened (what that something was, I never discovered, but I know for damned sure it involved my brother), I saw Severus cry for the first - and last - time.
When he comes into the pub these days, he always comes in alone.
He drinks his pint alone - always just the one, no more.
And he leaves alone.
What about me, I hear you ask? Doesn't he come into this pub because of me?
Well, that's one way of looking at it.
I suppose it could be nostalgia for an evening shared with an old schoolmate that keeps him coming back to a nondescript pub in Muggle London, but whatever his reason, I know it's not to see me. What he sees when he orders his drink is a middle-aged Muggle, with thinning brown hair and watery blue eyes, running a little to fat around the middle.
As far as Severus knows - as far as any of them know - I'm dead.
And I mean to keep it that way.
At ten o'clock, Severus finishes his drink, but instead of leaving as he always does, he comes up to the bar and places another order. I nod, then pour another pint, watching him out of the corner of my eye.
The years haven't been particularly kind to him. He looks the way he used to look when he was revising for exams: like he hasn't slept, like he hasn't had time to cast a cleaning spell, like he hasn't bothered to eat. His cheekbones are sharp as knives under his pale, thin skin and there's a faint trembling in the hand that reaches across the counter to take the glass.
He goes back to his table and sits down. The minutes tick by, and Severus rubs his thumbs up and down the glass, wiping off the condensation that's gathered there.
At twelve past the hour, the door opens and in walks a man wearing a Barbour jacket, its detachable hood pulled up over his head. Severus doesn't look up, but his eyebrow twitches and he grips his glass tightly, his knuckles white with tension.
The man reaches Severus' table and stands there for a moment, waiting to be acknowledged.
"Sit down," Severus mutters, still not looking up. Surreptitiously, he draws his wand from his jacket and casts an advanced silencing charm, more than sufficient for anyplace in which there are only Muggles.
This, of course, is not such a place, but there's no reason for Severus to have been suspicious, and I settle back on my stool behind the till, surveillance spell in place, to see what news I can learn.
The man pushes the hood back, then takes off his wet jacket and hangs it over the back of the chair. He wipes his hands on his brown corduroy trousers and sits down at the table.
"It's been a long time."
Severus looks up, finally seeing Lupin for the first time. I can't see anything notable in his appearance. He looks the same as he did at school - maybe just a little paler - but Severus frowns, then he shrugs and lifts his glass, holding it up until he catches my eye.
I take a fresh pint over and set it down in front of Severus, but he pushes it across the table. As I leave, I see Lupin raise an eyebrow in surprise. "Thank you."
"I know. I'm sorry," Lupin says apologetically. "Work was a madhouse. We've taken in a shipment of...well, never mind that now. I'm here, and...I've missed you, Severus."
Severus sits back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest. "Don't waste my time with inanities," he says flatly. "I have information, and I need to know whether you can be trusted with it."
Lupin laughs, a little bitterly, then nods. "You can trust me."
"You'll forgive me if I make sure of that."
"Of course," Lupin says, frowning a little. "What do you want me to....?"
"There's no need for you to speak," Severus says in return, reaching across the table and holding Lupin's chin in one hand. Lupin covers Severus' hand with his palm, and for the briefest of moments, Severus closes his eyes, but then he pushes Lupin's hand away.
"I don't know what you think you're doing," Severus grits out between clenched teeth. "This isn't a social engagement."
He tightens his hold on Lupin's chin and looks intently into Lupin's eyes, which widen in surprise.
"You're a Legilimens?" Lupin says. "I never knew that!"
"Yes, well...we all have our little secrets, don't we?" Severus says angrily, and I think - not for the first time - that I'd give a week's pay if somebody would explain the undercurrents in this conversation.
"Forget it, Lupin," Severus says, releasing Lupin abruptly and quickly finishing the rest of his drink. "This meeting was a spectacularly stupid idea, and one we won't be repeating."
"But I don't understand...you're leaving already? What information did you have for me?"
"The information wasn't for you," Severus says. "It was for your...friends, except it looks as if you're no longer friends with them, are you?"
The normally bland expression on Lupin's face hardens. "You know nothing."
Severus snorts. "Oh, I know far more than you'd imagine after that look inside your head. I know, for example, that the Potters have disappeared and nobody's bothered to tell you where they went."
Lupin's tight-lipped lack of response tells me that Severus has hit a nerve.
He's always been adept at that.
"In any case," Severus says, getting up from his chair and taking his jacket off the hook on the wall, "You're no use to me, not if you can't pass a message to the Potters."
"I could try to..."
Severus shakes his head. "It doesn't matter. It looks as though they have their own sources - they must do, if they knew enough to go into hiding. I'll just have to find another way of paying off my debt to that bastard." Then he frowns. "Odd though, that Dumbledore says he doesn't know where they are either."
Severus and Lupin are silent then, both their brows furrowed in concentration. They look at each other, and for a moment, it seems as if they're both coming to the same conclusion about some unspoken question, but then the moment passes.
"I meant what I said, Severus." says Lupin softly. "Despite everything, I've missed you."
Severus takes a deep breath, then exhales slowly and his eyes are suddenly as soft as they've been in years. Lupin slides one hand, slowly and gently, up Severus' right arm.
He leans in towards Severus, his lips parted and a look of longing in his eyes, then all at once, Severus pulls back, the fingers of his left hand clenching tightly in Lupin's hair.
"I don't want your teeth anywhere near me, monster," he hisses, as he reaches into his pocket with his free hand.
I step out from behind the bar, the small silver closing bell in my hand.
"Time, Gentlemen!" I say. "Take it outside."
Both Severus and Lupin look over in surprise at the sound of my words, and for a second, I think it might have been a mistake to get so near to them. Lupin wrinkles his nose as if he's smelling something almost familiar in the air. He frowns, and Severus does as well, but finally they both look away again.
Severus zips his leather jacket, then reaches into his jeans pocket and throws 65p on the table.
"For your time," he says to Lupin with a sneer.
Lupin takes a deep breath and pushes the coins back toward Severus.
"You don't need to pay for my drink," he says.
"Suit yourself," Severus says dismissively as he pockets the money and stalks out of the pub.
A moment later, Lupin places a pound note on the table, and he too disappears into the London night.
Severus comes into the pub every now and again, mostly on nights like this when the rain's falling and the wind cuts like a whip and nobody's out on the streets, at least not if they have anywhere else to go.
When he comes into the pub these days, he always comes in alone.
He won't be here tomorrow night, though. Tomorrow, the pub will be too crowded, just like it always is on Muggle holidays.
Of course, tomorrow isn't just a Muggle holiday.
It's Halloween night.
October 31, 1981.