Title: House of the Rising Moon
Summary: Remus discovers that exorcising his ghosts means leaving the past behind.
Notes: Written for the shack_challenge, crossposted to lupin_snape and my own LJ
List of Items used: Piano; table; fireplace; record albums; bottles on table; phonograph player; bed; chair on platform; staircase.
Word Count: 6919
"Amidst the mists and coldest frosts, with stoutest wrists and loudest boasts, he thrusts his fist against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts."
Floorboards creaked underfoot as he crossed the room, eyes slowly moving from one detail to another, while memories hung so thickly in the air about him that he felt almost dizzy from lack of oxygen. Not all of them were good, either, although even the most unpleasant ones were ragged around the edges and sepia-tinted with age. There were ghosts here, hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, although they weren't just the lingering spirits of people who had passed beyond - not even those of Peter, or James, or even Sirius. No, the spectres that haunted the Shrieking Shack had, as always, a single point of origin, given birth by and now living to torment but one man, a man who had spent so much of his youth enclosed within these memory-soaked walls. Wizard, werewolf, teacher, fighter, and most recently, war hero - Remus John Lupin.
Ghosts... Yes, he could see them, as his amber eyes took in items both painfully familiar and those whose origin must have been more recent. There were bottles on the low, scarred table near the fireplace, not deeply grimed enough to have been contemporary with the records lying abandoned next to them. He could remember those records, could remember quiet times as he recovered from a transformation, the music lulling him and helping to ease his pain. A dark-haired form bending over him, concerned eyes and soft voice asking what he wanted to hear, what tune would distract him from the ravages of his curse. Songs that would not play again, for the phonograph that had coaxed the music from them lay in dust-covered shambles, victim to the same slow advance of time that had dusted his hair with grey as though he, too, had been left here in this place, forgotten.
Slowly he trailed one hand over the top of the ramshackle piano, fingers leaving black trails in the misty-grey film of age, sharp edged and definite. He did not touch the keys, and yet his mind obligingly supplied the crash of dissonant chords to echo in his ears, and the blurry-edged vision of hands clenching on slats of ivory as fingers cracked and broke and reformed, as fingernails sprouted into claws in an agonizing and blood-tinged rush. And over the sound of the vibrating strings and wood came a whimper, a small sound, one that shifted in register from human to animal while losing nothing of the pain it expressed.
Snatching his hand away as though burned, he closed his eyes, clenching them shut so tightly that lights flashed behind the closed lids. Breathe. In. Out. You can do this. You have to do this. In. Out...
Seconds, then minutes passed, as his breathing slowed and the prickling burn behind his eyes receded. He had known this would be painful, had known that it would scratch too harshly over the scabs that had barely begun to form on his wounded soul, but the knowledge made it no easier, had not fully prepared him for the pain. For a moment he thought of running, of turning and leaving the rotting husk of a building behind him, to weather and die with the inexorable passage of time. But part of him, the part which had let him, despite the odds, survive to see the last of his enemies fall to the forces of Light, knew that he wouldn't. He couldn't. To leave now, to leave it behind and not finish what he had come to do was to leave a tumor, an untreated cancer in his soul. He must treat it, must take steps to find the cure for the pain it represented so that he could move on, could begin to live the life which he felt had been put on hiatus twenty years before.
Finally he opened his eyes, and drew in a deep, shuddering breath that was tinged with mold and age and rot. No, he couldn't leave. He had to see this through, had to do what he had come to do no matter how much it cost him in money, time, or pain. His life, quite literally, depended on laying to rest the ghosts of his past.
There was, he knew, an exorcism to be performed... and he, Remus Lupin, was unfortunately the only one who could do it. DADA professor, uncurse thyself...
Lupin was absent from dinner again.
Severus stared intently at the empty seat where the werewolf should have been, before raising his eyes to gaze darkly at the Headmaster. Dumbledore was chatting with Flitwick, so the inquiring glance of the Potions Master went unanswered... which caused it to transform into a ferocious scowl which he directed back to his plate.
It was not the full moon, no where near, and Severus well knew it. But other than the Arrival Feast four days previously, Lupin had been absent every night from the evening meal. Normally it was the one "social" event that Dumbledore insisted that all the staff attend, whether they wished it or not - and Severus himself had rarely been excused from it in his nearly 17 years of teaching. That Lupin had apparently been allowed to forgo it rankled, proving once again that, despite his efforts in the War, Severus still couldn't ever place in Dumbledore's affections close to his precious Gryffindors.
Rising as soon as he could after the meal ended, Severus whirled from the table and began to leave the Great Hall, to return to his rooms and yet another solitary night of reading or working on his research. Why the thought of doing so no longer filled him with any real satisfaction he did not wish to analyze too closely. It was his way, his habit, as much a part of him as the somber black clothing and the deeply etched frown line between his eyes. Immutable and unchangeable. And, now that peace had claimed the Wizarding World, it was never interrupted with intrigue, spying, or summonses from high masters to perform tasks either rewarding, dangerous, or both. Only a fool would be discontent with that... wouldn't they?
"Severus," a voice said from behind him as he reached the hallway, and he turned, raising a sardonic brow at one of those higher masters - the only one now, in fact.
"Yes, Headmaster?" he asked, deep voice holding what might have been a trace of petulance. But he was too skilled of a Occlumens, and he kept his eyes carefully empty as he faced the white-bearded wizard, whose eyes were still exasperatingly prone to twinkle at him.
"Is there something wrong, dear boy?" Dumbledore asked, moving quietly to his side. The blue gaze was kind, and Severus forced himself not to react to the glimmer of concern he read in their depths. The old fool had no reason to be concerned about him.
"Why would you think that, Headmaster?" he asked neutrally, crossing his arms across his chest.
"Perhaps it was the scowl at dinner," the elderly wizard said, inclining his head at him, eyes suddenly intense. "Or perhaps it is the fact that you have called me 'Headmaster' rather than Albus twice in less than a minute."
Severus scowled. All the Occlumency in the world didn't protect him from a man who knew him so well and could read body his body language like a book. His annoyance began to border on full scale anger, the likes of which he hadn't felt in several months. No need to hide anything anymore, then.
"Is that right? Well, perhaps I feel a return to formality is in order, Headmaster," he snapped, eyes flashing.
"And why is that, Severus?" Dumbledore asked, sighing slightly, eyes taking in the stiffness of the dark-haired wizard's stance. "What has upset you?"
"Upset me? Why nothing. At least not on a personal level," he drawled nastily. "As one of your employees, however, I would like to point out the inequity you are displaying in excusing one of your staff members from functions which you require the rest of us to attend. You might wish to avoid such blatant favoritism in future, if you wish to maintain your illusion of impartiality to the students."
"The same as your illusion, Severus?" came the soft rejoinder, and the Potions Master drew up even more rigidly before, if that were possible. Dumbledore sighed once more, shaking his head, and the blue eyes were filled with genuine sadness. "I thought that you had more insight than that, my dear boy. I assume you are referring to the fact that Remus has been excused from taking dinners with us?"
"How astute," the Potions Master bit back, carefully not allowing himself to weaken at the sympathy Albus was displaying. "That is precisely what I was referring to."
"There's no need for sarcasm, Severus," the Headmaster said softly. "Nor any cause for jealousy. Remus has been excused for health reasons. With luck, he will be back taking meals with us in the near future."
"Health reasons? What bloody health reasons? He appears perfectly fine to me - or as fine as he ever does, given that chronically underfed, waif-like appearance of his." Severus refused to acknowledge the slight, quickly suppressed stab of alarm he felt. What did the werewolf's health matter, after all? This was about inequity, as it always had been.
"I am not at liberty to say," Dumbledore replied. He inclined his head again, a very faint smile touching the lips nearly hidden in his snowy beard. "Why don't you ask him about it, Severus? You would no doubt be quite interested in hearing what he has to say. If he will tell you, that is - he may choose not to share what he is doing to address this particular malady. He may not, you know. Remus is nearly as secretive as you are when he wishes to be."
"Oh, really?" His voice sounded bored, but it was merely a mask over the intrigue he felt. He realized, with a start of surprise, that one of his problems was boredom. The mere mention of a possible mystery, a puzzle to be solved, had him almost pathetically eager to escape from his routine and investigate until he had discovered everything there was to know. Thus do men of action, used to war, suffer in times of peace.
"Yes," Dumbledore said, chuckling slightly. He patted the Potions Master's arm, almost as though the wizard were one of his students - as he had been once, so long ago it seemed like another life. "Well, enjoy your evening, dear boy."
Severus didn't reply beyond a perfunctory nod, before spinning on his heel again and stalking off. Therefore he missed the speculative twinkle in Dumbledore's blue eyes. Which, all things considered, was probably a good thing for Severus' peace of mind.
Lupin was not in his rooms... or, if he were, he was most assuredly not responding to Severus' insistent knocks.
The Potions Master scowled at the plain wooden door, much as he would have scowled at the man whose quarters it sealed from him, had that man opened it. The main difference, then, was that the recipient of his dark look was completely unaffected by it, and he was left with his questions, for the moment, unanswered.
He had decided to try the direct approach first, although Albus had seemed to think it unlikely that Lupin would share the cause of his absences. Not that Severus cared a wit for Dumbledore's opinion on that score; after all, Severus was quite talented at getting information from people that they had no wish to divulge. One might even say that it was a particular talent of his.
Unfortunately, exercising that talent required that the target be in his presence.
The scowl lightened into a frown of consideration as an idea formed in his mind. By all rights, what he was contemplating was, at the very least, of suspect ethics; at worst, it was a blatant violation of the privacy of a colleague. That was, of course, only if he were caught.
Glancing down the corridor in either direction and seeing no one, Severus made up his mind. He pulled his wand, and made a few passes with it that were definitely not from anything taught in the Hogwarts curriculum. A ripple of subdued light flowed over the door, followed by soft click.
His frown turned into a smile of satisfaction. Lupin was an adequate DADA instructor, Severus admitted grudgingly to himself, but he hadn't bothered to secure his rooms with anything too complicated. In fact, the security was barely enough to defeat some of the more enterprising of the Slytherin seventh years. Surprising that the werewolf would overlook something so obvious.
Turning the knob, Severus pushed the door open and slipped quickly into the room, eyes flashing about determine if anyone were inside. From long practice he held his wand before him, alert for any potential dangers and prepared to respond. He found none, and some might have thought it odd for him to be wary in someplace as innocuous as the rooms of a fellow professor; those people, however, had never been in Severus' own rooms - and should most likely be glad that they had not.
The Potions Master relaxed slightly, and looked around once more, this time with curiosity.
The room contained no different furnishings than the standard ones which were originally supplied for any teacher, a slightly nicer version of the ones in the House common rooms, serviceable but not luxurious. The first surprise he received was in the color scheme, which was not the garish Gryffindor maroon-and-gold he had expected. Instead the furnishings were in earthen tones of green and brown and rust. Restful colors, ones designed to sink into the background - much as the werewolf himself seemed to do.
The second surprise took a moment to register, but when it did, it was far more jarring than the first. There was an almost complete lack of personal possessions. A few books were stacked neatly on one of the side tables, what looked like a hand-made afghan was thrown over the sofa, knit in colors that could only have come from the hands of Molly Weasley, and... that was it. No pictures, no knick-knacks, nothing truly personal which would allow one to identify the occupant. It had the appearance of an inn room, almost, a place where one visited, not where a person actually lived.
Severus' eyes narrowed in suspicion. Lupin was poor, he knew that, but this was quite beyond what he would have expected. Surely a disgustingly sentimental Gryffindor, no matter how poor, would have momentos, trinkets, some sort of items that were reminders of the people he had known? The Weasleys were every bit as penurious as Lupin, yet their home was full of an almost overwhelming amount of clutter. No, this was definitely not... natural. There was something about it that wasn't quite right.
Several long strides carried him to the bedroom, and he looked through the open door with a raised brow. This room appeared as bare of personal effects as the other, save for shirt and a pair of trousers which were tossed over a straight-backed chair.
Moving into the room, he reached out and picked up the light grey shirt, turning it over in his hands. It was filthy, covered in streaks of grime, and saturated with a musky scent that was undoubtedly Lupin's own. He was about to toss it back down in disgust, when he noticed something else, something that caused his mouth to draw down at the corners and a cold knot to form in his stomach. Four long, rust red stripes ran down one sleeve, as though paint-smeared fingers had been wiped down the length of the fabric. Other spots of the same color were on the sleeve, scattered about it. Innocuous seeming, perhaps, to an untrained eye, but to Severus it was perfectly obvious. The stripes, the spots were not paint, not any remnants of food or pigment. They were blood. Dried blood.
Whatever Lupin was doing suddenly seemed far more sinister - and Severus was more determined than ever to get to the bottom of it.
Remus entered the Great Hall just before breakfast, his steps dragging tiredly and echoing the exhaustion on his face. His hair was still slightly damp, as though he had overslept and rushed through his morning ablutions in order to make it on time.
Severus didn't allow his gaze to linger on the sandy-haired wizard, although he stole casual glances during throughout the meal. The werewolf had always been thin, and this was still the case - but now his cheeks were hollow from exhaustion. There was also a lingering pain in the sunken amber eyes, a darkness that had overlain the werewolf's normally calm and easy demeanor like a cloud crossing the face of the sun - dimming it, but also allowing the sharp edges of its actual shape to show through clearly.
"How are you, dear boy?" Albus asked the sandy-haired wizard, his blue eyes soft, and Severus strained to hear the low voiced answer.
"As well as can be expected, I suppose," came the soft reply. "The necessity of the pain doesn't make it any easier to bear." It wasn't said as a plea for sympathy, but stated purely as a matter of fact.
"Indeed," the Headmaster responded. "If you need any assistance, you have only to ask. I feel certain that..." His voice dropped until it became too low for Severus to make out the words.
"So you have said. Thank you, Albus - I know you mean well, but... it would just be used against me. If this got out..." The werewolf shook his head, and sighed. "I'm not ready. I know it must be done... but not yet. Not yet. Not until I am stronger."
The Headmaster patted the DADA professor comfortingly on the shoulder, and murmured something which must have been a reassurance but which Severus couldn't hear. Remus responded with a slight smile, before picking up his utensils and beginning to eat.
The Potions Master regarded the werewolf out of the corner of his eye. So, there was something that the former Gryffindor was hiding, something he didn't want revealed. And, knowing what other secrets the Headmaster had helped the man to cover up in his life, Severus felt a cold knot form in his stomach.
Twenty-five years ago, he had been obsessed with Remus Lupin. He had been jealous of the Marauders, of their friendship and their seeming invulnerability, and he had hated them for what they had put him through. But the fact of the matter was that he was a target because he kept getting in their line of fire, because he was determined to discover what it was about Lupin that drew him so, that called to him. He needed to know why the sandy-haired boy with the quiet smile and shabby robes haunted his dreams, causing him to wake up sweating and trembling in the middle of the night. Why the soft voice of the Gryffindor could send a tingle of want through him, and why his own pale hands would shake with the need, the almost insane desire to touch him. Why it was that when he looked into those amber eyes, he felt he could almost see something, something powerful, something that drew him in and hinted at things that he just needed a bit more skill to see fully, a bit more time to stare before they were all revealed...
It was an obsession that had nearly gotten him killed.
Severus would not allow it to happen again. This time, he was not obsessed. He was in control of himself and the situation. This time he was prepared.
This time, any nasty surprises were going to be Lupin's, not his.
The musty-mold scent was thick in his nostrils, and Severus had to breathe shallowly to keep himself from sneezing, lest he give away his presence and run the risk of Lupin knowing what he was up to. And given the werewolf's apparent destination, it was a risk he didn't want to take.
After the revealing conversation between Lupin and Dumbledore at breakfast, the Potions Master had quickly devised his plan of attack. It was Friday, and, for once, he had no detentions to supervise. He knew that whatever Lupin was doing, he wasn't doing it in his rooms, and, therefore, if he were going to learn what was going on, he would need to follow the other man, discover where it was that the sandy-haired wizard was disappearing to each evening.
Severus had dismissed his last class immediately at the end, rather than holding them back for a few minutes out of sheer spite, as he was quite capable of doing. Then he had slipped out through his office and into the hallway which lead to the DADA classroom, hoping to arrive before Lupin had managed to lock up and sneak off to wherever it was he went.
Luck had been with him, for as he approached he had heard Lupin talking quietly, apparently to a student, for a few minutes later a young Ravenclaw had exited the room. Severus had drawn back into an alcove, able to see the door to the room without being noticed himself, prepared to wait for his quarry to put in an appearance. He hadn't long to wait, for Lupin had exited shortly thereafter, and Severus had quickly noted the direction he took, turning down the corridor toward the teacher's quarters.
Fortunately the hallways had been devoid of students, all of whom had apparently been intent on being as far away from the classrooms as possible now that the weekend had arrived. Moving with the silence of habit and long practice - there were students who swore that the Potions Master could materialize out of thin air when they least expected it - Severus had tracked the werewolf back to his quarters.
As the dark-haired wizard had fully expected, Remus had not remained inside for very long, emerging only a few minutes later. The DADA professor had shed his teaching robes, donning in their place a pair of battered trousers, a dark shirt, and a jumper whose appearance once again bespoke a Weasley origin. In his hand was the strap of a large carry-sack, which he had placed across his shoulder. The brown fabric bulged in places with odd shapes, and Severus had frowned, wondering what on earth the other wizard was up to.
Quickly locking his door, Remus had turned and gave an obvious sigh, before heading off down another corridor... this one leading to the outside.
Still the Potions Master had trailed behind, eyes narrowed in both concentration and speculation. The werewolf had appeared in no particular hurry to get where he was going, nor did he seem, at first, to be trying to hide from sight. It was only when the sandy-haired wizard had exited the school and started across the green lawns towards the Whomping Willow that the werewolf had appeared to look about him, making certain that no one was in the area before picking up a stick, prodding the knot which stilled the branches, and entering the tunnel which led to a destination with which Severus was far too familiar.
The Shrieking Shack.
Which is how the Potions Master had come to find himself now, an hour after watching Remus enter, creeping along the filthy tunnel towards the same destination. A tunnel which seemed to press in on him from all sides, and which echoed with the remembered snarls of the monster which had once pursued him down it...
A monster who lived inside of the man who was, presumably, currently within the building at the other end.
A sneer curved the Potions Master's lips, and he reminded himself harshly that he was no longer sixteen years old. Not only that, but he had faced far worse monsters than a poor, broken-down werewolf, monsters who lived behind smiling faces and came out far more than only once per month. Childhood was far behind him, and if he could put aside the attraction he had once felt for Remus Lupin, he could also subdue the fear he felt for the wolf.
He reached the end of the tunnel, and silently opened the door at the other end.
A quick glance about showed him that the entrance was empty. He paused for a moment, listening... then he stiffened in surprise, eyes flying open. There was music coming from somewhere on the second level, the soft notes of a piano playing a song he knew he should recognize, the haunting notes echoing pathos through the dilapidated old house. After a moment his eyes widened, as his mind pulled up the composer and the title from the depths of his memory. Beethoven. Moonlight Sonata.
It could only be Lupin, of course, playing that song, in this place. Whatever possessed the DADA professor to do so was beyond him - it seemed a bit extreme even for Lupin's brand of self-deprecating humor - but Severus was grateful for the cover that the music provided for his steps as he mounted the stairs to the second floor.
The echoing notes of the broken bass chords were beautiful, and almost achingly sad, and played with a talent Severus would not have expected. Or perhaps Lupin was so intimately acquainted with this particular piece of music, with its significance, that the emotion wrung from the old instrument couldn't help but overwhelm the player... and touch the listener. The Potions Master frowned at that thought. He was here to discover what the werewolf was hiding, not to be pulled into pity - either for Lupin, or for himself.
The piece drew to a close, and Severus paused, halfway up the stairs, afraid that his footsteps would be audible when Lupin stopped. But the werewolf immediately swept into another Beethoven piece, Pathetique, and the Potions Master continued to make his way upwards.
It was dark on the second floor landing, and Severus melded into the shadows easily, making his way along the wall. There were holes riddling its length, and he gazed in through one of these, staring intently into the candlelit room where Remus sat at the piano, head bent as his hands few over the keys and wrung the music from them.
It was slightly brighter inside, and Severus made out details, some of them familiar from his last visit to the place over five years before. The piano, of course, and the chaise near the fireplace. There was a dais beyond the piano containing a chair and a once-broken phonograph, which now appeared to have been mended. As his eyes moved, he took in that the room beyond now appeared to have been cleaned, most of the clutter of bones and paper and bits of wood missing, as was the thick coating of dust that had covered every surface.
The black eyes were drawn back to the werewolf, whose face was underlit by the short, fat candles atop the piano. Then Remus raised his head slightly, and the angle of the light showed the damp trails down his face, as well as the fact that he was playing with his eyes clenched tightly shut as though he could keep any more tears from escaping.
Severus continued to stare, as Pathetique gave way to Fur Elise. He noticed then, when he tore his eyes away from Remus' grief-stricken face, that there were four picture frames atop the piano. He could guess whose images were displayed within them, but he moved, slowly and cautiously back towards the open doorway. Slipping silently past it, he looked back into the room from a different angle, and looked at the flat, two-dimensional faces who were watching the sandy-haired wizard play.
Lily Potter. James Potter. Peter Pettigrew, which surprised Severus slightly... and, of course, Sirius Black. Young faces, happy faces from a time before the Darkness had claimed all four of them, in one fashion or another.
The Beethoven continued, and at some point Remus began to speak. His tone was low, almost indistinguishable from the music, but Severus concentrated hard, picking out the words.
"I'm sorry, you know. I'm so very sorry that I couldn't save you. Any of you," the werewolf said. "I'm sorry I couldn't save you, Lily and James, from Voldemort. And I'm sorry I couldn't save you, Peter and Sirius, from yourselves."
He feel silent for several moments, the pathos of the music speaking for him. "I thought about joining you all, you know. I hate being alone, hate it that I have no one, not really. I almost did, once, but well... None of you ever understood that, especially not you, Sirius. I love you all, but part of me hates you, too. Hates you for leaving me alone. Hates you for not being here when I need you, when I was always there when you needed me. Every. Bloody. Time." The words were harsh, seeming to be pulled from him almost unwillingly, as though he hated himself for saying them. Then his voice dropped low once more, sounding more pained than ever.
"Except the time that it mattered most."
A long pause, and then there werewolf sighed. "So here I am. I have to go on, because, I suppose, that's my only choice. But to go on, I have to let you go. And it's hard. It's hard to let you go, to admit that it's over and done and that I can't go back. Maybe someday... maybe it won't hurt so much to look at your faces, and I will be able to remember what it used to be like before the pain became too much. But that isn't now. For now... I have to say goodbye. I have to find a future again before I can look at the past, or the past is all that I will ever have."
Fur Elise ended, and he swept once again into Moonlight Sonata. "This is the house of my pain. My Arcadia, my Paradise Lost. The ghosts of my youth and all that I no longer have... and I have to let it all go. I have to stop living in denial, believing that somehow, someway, I can have it all back, if only I'm good enough, or work hard enough, or wish for it enough... because it isn't going to happen." A pause, broken only by a sound that might have been a soft sob. "I have to say goodbye."
The chords of the music were hauntingly, bitterly sweet. Severus listened to the pained words, and he knew that the malady from which the werewolf suffered was not one of the body, but one of the soul. It was grief, and loneliness, and the ever present fear that now that the war was done, that he would discover that there was nothing left to move beyond to. They had spent so long fighting that the fighting had become their lives. The past enveloped them, because the past was what they had been fighting for, not the future, not really. Severus understood... and how could he not?
Had he not felt it himself?
The werewolf was speaking again, the words slightly stronger, as though having given voice to the purpose he needed to fulfill, he felt surer of himself - and of it. "I know I'm not the only one who has lost, who has paid a price beyond what anyone should ever have to pay for their sins. Harry, of course, has lost as well, and suffered for all of us. But he's young, so young. He'll be fine, he has the resilience of youth, the unquenchable urge to survive that will help him go on. Albus too, has paid dearly, but he has over a century of life before now. This war was costly to him, but he has so much more living under his belt, so much more experience and a wealth of memories to draw upon and sustain him. The others, they're all dead, or fled, or their losses were not the totality that some of us have come to know. There is only one other left now, only one who shares my pain, even though he doesn't know it. Or he didn't, until now. I may have ghosts to lay to rest, but he's a little different. He has not only to deal with ghosts, but with being haunted by a monster..."
"Isn't that right, Severus?"
Lost in the flow of words and music, the Potions Master stiffened abruptly as he realized his name had not merely been mentioned, but that he was actually being addressed directly. Opening eyes that he hadn't realized had closed in the semi-darkness, he stared into the room, directly into the intense amber gaze of the former Marauder... while the music from the piano never faltered.
"I assume you are speaking of yourself," Severus replied, regaining his composure. He had meant for the words be sharp, but somehow they came out much softer than he had intended. To his surprise he wasn't angry, and his instinctive defensive tension melted away quickly as well. Perhaps it was the fact that Lupin wasn't reacting hostilely to his presence, almost seemed, in fact, to accept it as being perfectly natural that two former enemies could be facing each other in the wreck of a house which had haunted them both for decades, while one poured out his pain and the other eavesdropped upon it.
"Of course," Lupin replied softly, turning his face away to observe his hands, as they continue to coax the music from the keys. "You've always considered me a monster, haven't you? Ever since sixth year."
"Monsters do not grieve," Severus was shocked to hear himself saying. He had no idea where the words came from, they were merely there, in the moment. Even more surprisingly, perhaps, he meant them.
"No, I suppose not," Remus agreed quietly. He finished the Sonata once again, and the last chord finally died away into the silence between them.
After a few moments, Remus looked back up at the Potions Master. "You came here for answers, didn't you, Severus? Tell me... have you gotten them? Are you satisfied with what you have learned?"
The dark-haired wizard remained silent. How was he supposed to answer that? What could he say? 'Yes, Lupin, I am satisfied that you have been allowed to skip meals so that you can deal with your emotional breakdown - I shall see you at the staff meeting in the morning?' He probably should say that, should turn and leave, safe in the knowledge that the werewolf wasn't a danger to anyone save himself. He should go back to the school and to his quiet room, to the peaceful existence that had been bought by years of blood and sweat and danger and death. Leave this ramshackle old wreck that had seen the death of his obsession, and go back to the inexorable advance of his days... alone.
"Yes, I have," he said, finally, when it it became obvious Remus was going to wait for an answer.
The werewolf gave a nod, as though satisfied with the response. Slowly, he stood up from the piano, scraping the bench back on the uneven wooden floor. Carefully, almost tenderly, he touched each of the four frames, one-by-one turning the pictures face down upon the piano. When he was finished, he moved away, walking towards the doorway until he stood only a few feet from the Potions Master, just outside the zone of 'personal space' that Severus wore about himself, almost as tangible as his robes. His amber eyes were intense again, and he inclined his head.
"I am going to walk away from this house tonight and start a new life - still at Hogwarts, still doing what I love, but I'm not going to let the shadows or the ghosts haunt me any longer." Remus paused, and his eyes grew sad once more. "I will say, for a final time, that I am sorry for what you went through at the hands of myself and my friends. I regret not standing up to James, Sirius, and Peter, and defending you as I should have. I regret what Sirius did, and the fact that his stupidity almost got you killed. I regret that you suffered at all on my account, that you were caused pain because of my weakness."
The werewolf paused again, and took a deep breath. His amber gaze was earnest, and Severus thought for a moment that something that might have been fear passed across the other man's face, before Remus squared his shoulders. "The problem I have with letting go of the past, though, is that sometimes I think the past is all I have left. Since I have apparently satisfied your curiosity, will you do the same for me, and answer a question?"
Something in those eyes, some glimmer that he couldn't name, caused a tingle to run down the Potions Master's spine. But his native caution was so deeply ingrained, so much a part of who and what he was, that it took him a moment to respond - and then, it was only by a slight inclination of his head, and the raising of one dark brow.
No mistaking the flash in the werewolf's eyes this time, although Remus apparently accepted the gesture as acquiescence. The sandy-haired wizard paused, then took a step closer, standing only a few inches away and tilting his head to look up at the slightly taller wizard. Severus held his ground, hardly aware that at the same time he was holding his breath as well.
"Once, a very long time ago, I thought that there was the potential for there to be something between us. Something meaningful, something... more than friendship. To be honest, I have always been attracted to you, and it has been my single largest regret of all that I was too afraid, that I never did anything about it. Tell me, Severus... when I walk away from here tonight and bury my past, should I bury that as well? Say the word, and it is gone forever - I will never speak of it again."
Mouth suddenly dry, Severus stared down at the other man. He hardly needed his skill at Legilimency to read the utter truth and sincerity in Remus' words. Rarely in his life had anyone offered themselves up so openly and honestly to him, not only allowing him in but practically pulling him in, begging him to read beyond the surface and discover the truths that lay within. Remus bared his soul, stripping himself far more naked to Severus' eyes than even revealing his body to a lover...
"No," the Potions Master replied. "Do not bury it."
He closed the slight remaining gap between them, and reached out, curving one long-fingered hand behind Remus' neck. They both paused for a moment, as a silent question was asked and answered between them... then lips met lips, and body met body, arms entwining and holding and touching each other with the wonder of discovery. There was longing, and a rising tide of passion, one that had them moving towards the bed beyond the piano while hands pulled at clothing, not in desperation or haste, but with sureness. Languid kisses, touches and caresses that elicited moans and sighs that melded one into the next, time having no meaning now that the past was gone, and the future was all there was.
Slowly Severus laid bare Remus' body, and was laid bare in turn, no secrets kept between them in the discovering of what pleasured each other most. And when he was finally buried in Remus' body, staring into the molten gold of his lover's impassioned gaze, Severus knew that he would never be able to accept anything less than this, the complete offering that Remus gave him freely, the all of himself.
In the depths of Remus' eyes, he had finally found what had been there twenty-five years ago, the mystery that had obsessed him but that he hadn't been able to get close enough to fully see. The ghosts of his own past, the taunts and slights and horrors were not buried, not quite yet, but the clamor of them quieted - and, for the first time, the Potions Master thought there was a chance to put them to rest, to move beyond, to let them go. He had at last found what he hadn't even realized that he had been searching for all along...
For, in the soul of Remus Lupin, what Severus had finally found was the other half of himself.