Pairing: I had to indicate a pairing to load the story up onto the Archive; however, though it states SS/OC, and though this is a slash story, the pairing stated is a non-sexual one. You'll have to read the story to understand why.
Warning: There is a sex scene that may cause you to cringe, but it is germane to the plot. Also, there are suggestions of het relationships. <g>
Author's Note: There are two people to thank for Betrayals
Titti sent back the first preliminary draft with the note that the first half worked for her, but not the second. Thus a story grows from less than 70K to almost 700K.
Of course, not all of that was Titti's fault: my beta, Kai, was partly responsible for the growth as well. And for the final direction the story took. And for keeping my POV on track. I am always in awe of the discipline she manages to impose on me. Thanks, Kai. I know I whimper a lot but it's only because you're always right.
The story was conceived in February and was completed July 14, 2003. Coincidently, La Bastille, a day of liberation.
Also, there's a little joke in it for Merri-Todd Webster and I hope I got it right. (I am so not good with jokes.)
The cell door opened and Albus Dumbledore carefully entered, very aware of the Dementor that stood behind him.
The man sitting on the small cot that was fixed to the far wall didn't respond to the fact that he was no longer alone.
Dumbledore's voice was sharp, cold, not bothering to hide his anger at the betrayal he had suffered - they had all suffered - at the hands of this man.
Snape barely moved his head just enough to peer up through the hair which masked his face. "Ah, Headmaster. And to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"
Dumbledore slipped his hands into his sleeves to restrain himself from attacking the man he once had thought of as a colleague and a friend in the fight against Voldemore and his plans of domination.
"It's your last chance, Snape. To admit to your complicity. To explain your role in Voldemort's scheme of things." His anger boiled over. "Damn it! To make me understand why you betrayed us all."
Snape's head rested back against the bare stone wall. "And, of course, you are all so certain that I am the one who betrayed you."
Dumbledore's body jerked as he prevented it from moving towards the sarcastic voice. This time when he spoke, there was untold sadness in his voice. "You still maintain, in the face of all the evidence against you, that you didn't?"
Snape sighed and closed his eyes. His voice soft, undefensive, he said, "Albus. You know me. When I came to you to confess my role in Voldemort's plans, you were the one who convinced me...and others...that I should be put to better use. I spied for you on Voldemort. At great risk to myself. Not just the once, but yet again when Voldemort returned. I taught in your school for almost twenty years. Do you truly believe that I would betray you?"
"Is as someone else has determined it should be. Not as it truly is." Snape opened his eyes to stare at the man who had once been his leader. "Again, I ask you, do you, who knows me, truly believe that I betrayed you?"
Dumbledore sighed. "I no longer know you, Severus. I thought I did. But the evidence is overwhelmingly against you. Irrefutable evidence, presented by people who have nothing to gain by implicating you."
Snape's laugh was dry and humourless. "Neville Longbottom has nothing to gain?"
"He came to me, troubled by the information he had finally managed to decipher from his parents' diaries, and from the messages of others that he found among their papers. Though he doesn't begrudge you your treatment of him while he was your student - he understands that was the result of your feelings of guilt..."
The noise Snape made was disdainfully impolite.
Dumbledore shook his head. "We cannot ignore the truth of the statements in his parents' notes. That they suspected you from the very beginning. From the messages, that, knowing of their suspicions, you betrayed them to Voldemort. That you supervised their interrogation. That you used the information thereby gotten out of them to set up a system of moles not only within the Ministry but also within the Order of the Phoenix. That these moles did in turn provide Voldemort with the kind of information that almost allowed him to vanquish us.
"Good old Longbottom, hero of the ages." Snape's voice dripped with his usual assessment of his former student.
Dumbledore grimaced, repulsed by Snape's attitude. "Yes, he is. And he is because of the work he did breaking the codes used by his parents and their murdered compatriots. In time for us to deal with those who betrayed us."
"Of which I am, of course, the ringleader." Snape scoffed.
Dumbledore turned to leave. "You've had your chance to make reparation. You choose to deny it. You have only yourself to blame for the time you will spend here in Azkaban."
As Dumbledore went through the door the Dementor was already closing behind him, Snape spoke a final time. "You know better than that, Albus."
Severus Snape had no choice but to sit on the short, squat stool. Here, in the deepest part of Azkaban, he had no Magic. And, besides, he had learnt the hard way that it was easier to obey the gestured instructions of the Dementors on their rare few visits to his part of the dungeons.
He sat, his ankles bound to the back legs, his wrists to the side of the seat, his eyes blinded by a strip of material, and he waited.
He knew that they could come at any time. Or not at all. It was all part of the games they played with him.
And that if...when they did come, his screams would fill the small cell.
Sirius Black had survived twelve years in Azkaban, but had been placed in the upper cells. The dungeons, so Snape had been told, were for special cases. Such as himself.
Recalcitrant prisoners who would not admit the error of their ways, who would not acknowledge their guilt. Who would not beg to be forgiven.
It was all he had left: his own knowledge that he had not betrayed the members of the Order who believed he had. It was the only part of himself that remained strong.
Those who came demanding his confession had let it drop - not by accident, he was certain - that others were interested in his true confessions. In the true extent of his crimes. Of his false testimony that others who had been convicted of guilt and compliancy with the Dark Lord were in fact innocent. That they had in fact been part of the Longbottom cell, putting their lives in danger for information that would benefit the Light.
He often wondered who was supposed to be innocent.
The door to his cell was well oiled. It made no sound as it opened. But he had learnt to be attentive to noiseless changes. He felt a small draft of air on a cheek that told him his torturers had arrived.
"Welcome," he croaked aloud, knowing it would irritate them, that he would be made to pay for the small challenge to their game. Nevertheless he did it because it meant that part of him was still Severus Snape.
There were two of them. As usual. One who did nothing but watch. The other was the one he had learnt to fear. Who hurt him. Who enjoyed hurting him, all the while maintaining it was only way to get him to admit his wrongs.
He no longer knew how long this game had been played. He had long ago lost any sense of time. There was no routine here in the dungeons, nothing by which to gage time. He did, if he thought hard, remember that this might be the seventh - or was it the eight? - occasion that he was hosting these visitors.
A hand touched him. It went to the top tie of the loose shirt he had been given to wear when he'd first arrived here. He tried hard to control his body's response, but it was beyond him. His mind and his body both remembered all too well the last visit and this hand touching him.
The hand loosened the next tie and then the next. With almost gentleness, it smoothed the now open shirt off his shoulders so that his chest was bared. Fingertips lovingly skimmed from his shoulder to his waist. He could feel the satisfaction rolling off the man behind the hand as his body trembled.
At his waist, the hand released the small knot that was all that held up the loose cotton trousers that he had also been given to wear that very first day. It pushed the material aside enough to reveal his genitals, to take hold of them and display them to any eyes.
He couldn't prevent the shudder that shook his body. He could only clamp his teeth down and hope that he would survive this session without caving in to the demands. He would be driven to beg, not that begging helped. The only thing that would, he'd been told repeatedly, was a confession. And so far, he had managed to hold firm on that. But for how much longer?
The hand passed over his exposed body in the mockery of a lover's. His shudders grew stronger.
A soft laugh broke the silence. "I see you remember my touch, Traitor." The voice was educated, melodic and sensuously teasing. "Is this welcome in anticipation of our time together? Are you so pleased to have me here that you tremble for me? You know, Severus," there was a soft chuckle, "I'm beginning to think that you're being stubborn on purpose. That you're holding out on us so that we'll...I'll continue to visit you. Because our times together bring you pleasure."
Snape tried to find the spot within himself that could still shelter him. It was growing harder and harder to find. One day, he knew, it would not be there.
The hand pinched one of his nipples hard and twisted. "I asked you a question, Traitor." The voice was now more severe. "I expect to be answered."
But Snape had found his spot and braced himself for the onslaught of pain.
The hand left his body and he heard a falsely sympathetic sigh. "You would make things so much easier for yourself if you only told the truth, Severus. You would be moved into a different cell, one not set up to contain your screams. Sad though that might be, our visits would probably come to an end. But your conscience would be soothed. It would give you peace knowing that you have cleared the martyrs of the fight against the Dark Lord."
Once, Snape had responded to those possibilities but now he only conserved his strength and energy. No matter what, the pain would follow. One day his spirit would die in one of these sessions and, with some sense of satisfaction, he knew that his brain would die with it.
"Ah, well. Once more you insult our generosity." The man managed to sound reluctantly sad. "Once more you force me to deal with your intransigence. You leave me no option, Severus. Let's begin at a medium level, shall we? We want this to be a fairly decent session, don't we?"
And the pain hit.
No one noticed the two animals as they made their way down into the depths of the prison. Dementors were blind to begin with, and not all that responsive to fauna, but even they would have noticed these two.
Had there been any Dementors around to notice.
The pair scurried down the numerous unlit staircases, bellies almost to the ground, night-sensitive eyes near blind, checking for signs of the guardsmen, noses carefully sniffing each passage before plunging even deeper into the pitch-black bowels of Azkaban.
At the deepest level, they stopped, took the time both of them to carefully smell each of what turned out to be four thick doors that appeared bolted on the outside. No other locks on these doors: if rumour were true, no occupant here had the power to open a door from inside his or her cell. Anti-Magic spells, personalized for whomever was occupying the cell, took care of that.
The wolf was the one who determined which door to open. His lupine nose was better able to catch the scent, faded though it was.
The dog nodded and, in a blink, became a man. Sirius Black, with his human eyes, had to feel carefully along the door to find then slide back the bolt, the only deterrent. Appreciating the time someone had spent oiling the mechanism and the hinges, he slowly opened the door.
The cell was pitch black. With a wave of his wand, Black softly ordered up the faintest of lights. The wolf remained in the doorway, eyes focused on the passageway, ready to attack if necessary.
The wolf's attention went to the man and he took one step into the cell. The smell of fear made him want to sneeze; he caught the sound under a paw.
"Remy. He can't walk out of here."
The wolf approached and watched Black gently brush long greasy hair off the prisoner's face.
The small whimper caused him to check back in the passageway.
"No," gasped something that once might have been a voice. It sounded more like glass ripping into flesh. "No...more... pleas..."
Black carded a hand through the unwashed hair. "All right, Severus. It's going to be all right." His soft whisper barely reached the wolf's ever-alert hearing. "Worse than our worst case scenario." He squinted in the faint light at his watch. "We're cutting it close. Remy, if I bind him to you, do you think..."
The wolf left the doorway and came to stand by the bed. He gave a quick glance at its contents and then nodded. The man was skin and bones. He wouldn't be any kind of weight.
Black tore up two long strips from the man's shirt before trying to move him off the bed. At the soft moans, he lay the man back down and reached for his own handkerchief. A twirl and he had a gag which he bound carefully in the man's mouth, making certain that he could breathe. The wolf nudged his hand. "Yes, I know. I'm hurrying. Believe me, I don't like this place any more than you do."
He lay the now muted man face down on the wolf's back, using one of the strips to tie the man's arms under the wolf's neck; the other, feet under belly. The wolf was larger than normal wolves and had no trouble with the length of the man.
A word and the light went out. The wolf slunk out to the passageway. Black followed, shut and bolted the door behind them. A few words, words that Black had picked up from his days on the run, removed any scent or trace of their presence in the area and would follow them back to their craft, erasing any trail. Then he transfigured into dog and took the lead out of the dungeons of Azkaban.
They made it out of the prison, not having attracted any more attention going out than they had going in. The Dementors were safely hiding away as the lone human guard dealt with the diversion of a disabled boat of Muggles who thought they had washed up - thankfully - on an island where there was actually a lighthouse manned by people like themselves.
The wolf and the dog left by an unguarded door, out of the Muggles' sight, and headed for the rocky side of the shore, away from the distraction.
They went carefully over the sharp rocks - canine pads were susceptible to being cut on the shards - over to the boulder where they were awaited.
"Did you get him?"
Black ignored the whisper to check that Lupin and his passenger were right behind him.
"Well?" whispered a second invisible voice.
Something was lifted and the rough weave of a banned flying carpet came into partial view. Black jumped onto it, immediately nudging aside the one holding up the edge of the Invisibility Cloak. Lupin climbed up next to him. The cloak was dropped and the carpet immediately rose, pulling away from the island which housed Azkaban.
The carpet didn't stop until it had returned to its point of departure. Black remained in dog form as it eased the wolf's nervousness. Lupin was not enamored of this method of getting around: nothing to cling to, he'd protested.
And if they cared to be honest about the matter, the two driving had little experience at flying the carpet other than a trial run several years earlier, one moonless night, in the hills behind the family home. Most of their knowledge had come from an old text that a brother had sent them as a curiosity one long-ago Solstice.
Still, though the landing was a bit rough - they would all bear a few bruises - the carpet did what it was supposed to do: it got them back safe and sound, with a man whose presence would easily convict them all to Azkaban, should they be caught.
The dog and the wolf scampered off the carpet as soon as it came to a stop. The drivers jumped off and quickly rolled it up, each picking up an end and carrying it back to the dusty corner of the shed. Thank Merlin no one ever truly cleaned out a shed, only added to it! They hoped their parents would never notice that something that shouldn't have been there in the first place had been used one night of a full moon.
"Fred! George! What on earth are you two up to this time?"
The four conspirators nearly jumped out of their skins.
"Just how old do you two think you are? You're men, fully grown adults, and yet you act no older..."
Molly Weasley, dressed in a pale chenille dressing gown that had seen far too many years, stood in the entrance of the junk heap that her husband and sons called a shed.
Her mouth snapped shut as she realized that her sons were not alone. The dog transfigured into Sirius Black, a man whom she still thought of as a mad killer, no matter that he had been pardoned. Years of having her children bring home any stray that they found kept her from screaming at the sight of the wolf, which was, on second glance, too large to be a natural wolf.
Not to mention that it was carrying a limp roll of rags on its back.
"Mrs. Weasley." Black carefully stepped forward, hands open to show her that he carried nothing. Hands ready to grab her should she begin screaming or trying to run away.
"Mum." Fred stepped next to Black while George placed his hand on the wolf's head.
Molly was about to snap at them all when suddenly the wolf dropped to his foreknees and made a sound that tore through her. Pain was not something that Molly could endure, not even after successfully conducting six boisterous sons and an only slightly quieter daughter through childhood, teen years and into adulthood.
"The moon! It's setting." George knelt next to the wolf who was now lying full on the ground, twitching.
Fred and Black quickly loosened the roll of rags off the wolf's back. Molly's eyes moved from the horror of the wolf painfully transfiguring back into man to the rags that, if her ears were not deceiving her, were moaning softly.
She closed her eyes and counted to ten. Did it again. Then she opened her eyes to see a sweat-slicked man lying naked on the dirt, George's hand gently smoothing back the hair from his pale face. Fred and Black were carefully rolling the rags around, revealing an even paler face etched deeply with pain.
"Who is that?"
Her tone indicated to the twins that they had about pushed her as far as possible. They shared a look with Black who only shrugged.
George answered her. "Professor Snape."
She stared for a long minute at tips of her old slippers. "All right," she said, turning to go back to the house. "George, get Professor Lupin into your old bed. Fred, you and Mister Black carry...carry your visitor up to..." She thought a moment and looked over her shoulder at the face of the unconscious man. "Up to Ron's old room. It's the one furthest away from your father's notice. Well, what are you waiting for? Do as I say and then tell me why I am putting the safety and security of my family on the line for a convicted traitor."
Though Molly's children considered her strict, at times a taskmaster, the family discipliner, she thought of herself as a soft touch.
What other reason could there be for the fact that here she was, washing down a body that she feared she could crush if she placed just a little too much pressure on the cloth she was using to wash it. And having to pause to wipe the tears from her eyes as she went about trying to find a spell that might help heal the open sores or remove the pain from the marks of brutality.
After getting them to jump to her slightest request for hot water, her medicine chest, anything she thought she might need, she'd finally sent the twins to make breakfast while she dealt with this situation. Remus Lupin was sleeping soundly in George's bed. A comment she'd overheard as she'd climbed past the twins' old bedroom made her realize that it wouldn't the first time Lupin had awakened in George's bed.
She used her wand to direct a healing spell to a particularly ugly, deep wound and hoped that it might accomplish something. She was used to everyday cuts, bruises and injuries. She hadn't the training needed to deal with this. Not even with her children's talent for collecting injuries beyond the norm. She knew how to treat dragon burns but these? She had no idea what had caused them. At least that horrible Dark Mark was gone. Had it disappeared with Voldemort's death?
With great care, she slipped a nightshirt over the unconscious man.
"Will he live?"
She looked up to find Sirius Black standing in the doorway. "I have no idea."
Black cocked his head, resting it tiredly against the doorframe. "He's not guilty. He was railroaded. We know this for a fact but we can't prove it. Someone paid for him to be tortured. We know who did, but again, we have no proof."
Molly went back to her patient. "He needs better care than I can provide."
"Can he be moved?"
She thought a moment and then shook her head. "I think that might kill him." She leaned over and carefully tucked the covers about the thin, skeletal body. "We need to discuss this downstairs. And I for one need a strong cup of tea before we begin."
She stood up. Black slowly straightened and took a step backwards, allowing her the space to pass by him. She stopped in front of him, curious. "Which one are you mainly sleeping with?"
A long, black eyebrow rose and a certain humour filled the dark eyes. "Mainly?"
She scoffed and started down the stairs. "The twins have always shared and, I fear, always will share their toys."
Black winced. "Ouch! Thank you for the warning."
She stopped in the middle of a stairway and waited, her over-the-shoulder stare matching his raised eyebrow.
Black sat down on the upper step so that they were eye to eye. "Fred," he spoke quietly yet with certainty. "And I don't share. Nor am I shared. I made that very clear to him."
"Did Professor Lupin also make that very clear to George?"
A soft smile lifted the thin lips. Black nodded.
Molly frowned a moment then continued down the stairs. "Then you'd both better call me Molly."
Black stood up and followed her down. At the foot, he reached out and placed a hand on her arm. She turned to look at him. "Thank you, Molly. Fred calls me Rus. I prefer that to Si."
She nodded. "And what does Professor Lupin prefer?"
Black's grin lit up his tired face. "I'll leave George to answer that question. In fact, I want to be there when you ask him."
Molly sighed and pulled out her tell-mother-the-whole-truth glare. Black looked surprised and then, when she kept it up, actually wriggled a little. "He bet us that you'd never notice."
She made a small rude sound and then went to see that her sons hadn't burnt anything.
She agreed with her sons that they all needed to take the time to eat. The meal they hadn't burnt was rather silent, though she caught the worried glances between her sons and...Rus. She was helping herself to another piece of toasted bread when a man, wearing an old, bedraggled bathrobe one of the twins had left behind, joined them, looking only less tired than he had on going up.
"Remy," George got up and helped the man to a chair. Lupin smiled at him and Molly's heart skipped at the love she saw in both their eyes. She had always wondered if these two, her most insular children, would ever be able to find the kind of relationship she had had with their father for almost forty years.
"Are you sure you should be up?" George's hand remained on Lupin's arm.
Lupin nodded. "The smell of food woke me. I'll be fine once I've eaten."
Black - no, Rus, she corrected herself - sat back in his chair and, mug of tea in hand, teased, "We're to call Mrs. Weasley Molly, Remy."
Lupin grinned at her son then gave a small but elegant bow in her direction. "Molly. It is truly a pleasure to meet you."
As Lupin... Molly sighed. She'd better start thinking of him as Remy. A werewolf in the family! And a pardoned murderer! At least these two had brains. After all, Dumbledore had once hired Remy for Hogwarts. Percy's wife might be well placed for aiding Percy's ambitions, but the woman had no thoughts in her head other than fashion. Molly was dead bored with her after five minutes. She doubted that either of these new members to the family would ever be guilty of that. Unfortunately.
She waited until Remy had cleaned up his plate and Fred had gotten up to refill everyone's mugs. "All right," she announced.
Fred understood. "It all began after Ron and Hermione's wedding."
They were drunk. Rip roaring drunk.
The wedding had been a celebration of Ron's persistence, his pursuit of the woman he had recognized as his own true love in sixth year. Hermione had been anything but certain and so Ron's courtship had taken off, watched with wonder, humour and a certain rooting for the determined young man by friends and family.
For his "Mione", Ron had settled down and concentrated on his studies, completing his last two years in the top ten of his classes. Much to the surprise of several of his professors. For her, he had learnt to deal with the Muggle side of her life, making an effort to support her family's desire that she spend a couple of years studying in a Muggle university - "Just in case," her parents had said, still not certain about this wizardry thing.
He'd gone on with his own studies, in Herbology of all things, purposely having chosen the field to supplement Hermione's own studies in Potions. He'd finally won her over when, for her twenty-second birthday, he had presented her with a hybrid of the mouse-ear and the bulbous, whose "pus" could now be used as a base for potions dealing with "women's problems". He'd named the plant after her, "Grangerous Bulbous".
"Only Hermione would break down and weep over a plant with a name like that," Harry Potter had confided to the twins as they had toasted the happy couple.
There had been dozens of toasts made that night. Even after the newlyweds had left the party early for destination unknown: Ron had been very careful, knowing his brothers, for it to remain unknown. The table toasted Harry's new position as Guest Lecturer on the Dark Arts for the next year at Beauxbatons, beginning with the winter semester. Then there had been the new and still fragile relationships between the twins and their partners to celebrate. So far only Harry and the others at their table had been allowed in on that little secret.
"So," frowned Molly, a little severely, "you were all pissed out of your minds."
Remy's smile was in agreement. "Except for me. I don't drink."
Molly's eyebrow rose. "Not at all?"
Remy nodded. "I lose control once a month, I won't lose it any other time."
Molly looked at George. He squirmed in his chair, a little embarrassed.
So, thought Molly, she shouldn't have to worry about that one's drinking any more. She turned her eyes to the two others who were sharing rather guilty looks: those two, she thought, would make up for that. Maybe.
Remy took up the story. "Harry's Shadow was also sitting at our table."
Harry's Shadow, aka Neville Longbottom, had attached himself to Harry since Harry had physically come between him and an enraged Professor Severus Snape. Neville's usual incompetency had resulted in an explosion that had sent four students to the Infirmary, one seriously injured.
Since that day in seventh year Neville had barely left Harry's side. And once it had become public knowledge that he had deciphered the secrets in his parents' documents, he'd maintained that he needed Harry's support and advice on handling the Media.
Fred thought that one of the reasons Harry had accepted the position at Beauxbatons was a way of getting rid of his "Shadow". And he'd been drunk enough to say so when Remy had managed to get them out of the Great Hall at Hogwarts where the wedding feast was being held and into the fresh air.
By then, Neville had been weeping great sobs, bemoaning the fact that everyone had a better life than he had, had found their mates while his seemed not to understand that they were destined for each other. He cast yearning looks at Harry who was talking to Arthur Weasley and who, as usual, either didn't see or ignored them.
"He's got better taste than that," slurred George.
And Fred added, "Guess he's had enough of the sad puppy looks. He's probably decided that the only way to get rid of you is to go where you wouldn't be able to follow him."
"Unless," Black piped up, sarcastically, "of course, you continue being a slug and expect him to support you. The award the Ministry's given you is about used up, isn't it, Longbottom?"
Remy was taken by surprise when Longbottom stopped weeping. His face suddenly cold and far more sober than they'd seen him for some time, he sneered, "Maybe Harry should be careful. Maybe I can find something in my parents' papers that would make him seem less than he is. Take him down a peg or two."
Fred and George laughed. "Yeah, sure. Who would believe you!"
The expression of self-satisfaction on Longbottom's face made Remy remain in the shadows where he'd been listening to all this while wondering how he was going to get three drunken idiots home.
"Everyone. After all, they believed me when I `found' those papers about Snape. Bloody bastard: he's learnt to rue the day he decided to pick on me. Now his life is far more miserable than he ever made mine."
George caught the glee in Neville's voice. "You made all that up?"
Neville laughed drunkenly. "Yes. And who would have thought that a stupid, incompetent dud at wizardry like me could do that? So Harry had better pay a little more attention to me, or else..."
And with that, he staggered off to vomit in the bushes.
While so occupied, Remy hurriedly gathered his group and, with a quick spell, transported them all safely away from the secret that Longbottom had inadvertently spilled.
"And that's it?" Molly didn't deny the significance, but that wasn't much on which to base a daring rescue to Azkaban.
She glared at Remy. "Why didn't you stay and confront Longbottom?"
Remy shrugged. "I was worried. I thought that Longbottom might regret his words later on and, if he truly had fabricated the information that had sent Snape to Azkaban, well, I didn't want to put us in the same danger. I figured that if we didn't hang around, he might think he dreamt the whole revelation in a drunken stupor. Better yet, forget that he had ever mentioned it."
"What was wrong with an Obliviate?" Molly challenged him.
"It crossed my mind, but he was so drunk that..."
"We didn't leave the matter there, Molly," interrupted Rus.
The twins nodded.
"When we all sobered up the next day, we talked it over and decided, a couple of days later, to go see Longbottom about what he'd said."
"We were ready to go into his flat, you know the fancy one the Ministry's set him up in, but he had another visitor."
The four men looked at each other and then Fred said, "Draco Malfoy."
Molly sat back. "I thought Malfoy was banned from leaving Malfoy Manor."
Remy nodded. "That was the deal. There wasn't enough proof to send Draco to Azkaban: he provided enough to show that he'd taken the Death Mark under his father's Imperius. Lucius couldn't contradict that as he was dead. Then Narcissa killed herself. All they could do was confiscate the Malfoy accounts and set Draco up with a rather limited annuity on the condition that he remain on the estate. A sort of house arrest."
"They couldn't touch the actual estate," reminded Rus, "because, according to Tradition, the Manor and its grounds are classified as an inheritance, not personal property, and so have to be kept intact for his descendants, should he have any."
"Since the estate is spelled against anyone apparating in or out of it," Remy continued, "and there's some kind of Ministry watchdog that patrols the area, that meant Draco has found a way of getting in and out and getting away with it."
Molly wondered if the two men had always continued each other's conversations or a habit they'd picked up from the twins.
"Harry once told Ron," George took up, "that he had overheard a conversation between Lucius Malfoy and a Mr. Borgin..."
Molly interrupted. "That time you rescued him with the car that caused all the trouble? When he accidentally flooed into Knockturn Alley?"
"Well, it seems that there are a lot of hiding places in the manor and our guess is that Draco has far more funds at his disposal than anyone thinks."
"And the reason none of you confronted them both at that point?"
"We were outside the door, in the hallway. Listening to their conversation."
"Ears to the door." She knew her sons well.
Remy shook his head. "Not necessary. They were screaming at each other."
Rus explained, "Malfoy had somehow heard that Longbottom had gotten rather drunk at the wedding. He must know something about Neville's personality that made him take the chance of coming out to see him."
"You fucking arsehole!" snarled Malfoy. "I told you to keep your drinking under control."
"I didn't say anything!"
"How the fuck do you know? Bloody hell, Longbottom, you have to be more careful. The only good thing about all this is that the others were probably drunker than you. The Twins are notorious for their consumption when they get going and Black's no better. Where the hell was Lupin?"
"I don't know, Draco." Then Neville whined, "Can you give me some money? I'm pretty low."
There was a moment's silence and then the sound of a purse hitting something. "This is the last of it, Longbottom, until we can get Snape to break. Until we have him admit that he framed my father for his own misdeeds, that my poor sainted father was in fact a betrayed martyr, the true mole for the winning side, I need the funds for that Auror who," Malfoy spat angrily, "is taking his time getting Snape to co-operate."
"He's a strong bastard," snickered Longbottom. "I hope it takes him a while longer to break Snape. I want him to hurt like hell."
"Cruciatus does hurt like hell, but then you wouldn't know, would you, Longbottom? Spent the war hiding behind Potter's robes, didn't you? I wonder how long he'd defend you if he knew you'd invented that code and all the information in your parents' so-called diary."
"Some of it was true," whined Longbottom.
"Most of it wasn't. All of the bits dealing with Snape were the product of your very creative imagination. You know, if Snape dies before giving me a way of getting back my fortune and you your share, you can always become a writer of Muggle fiction. You have great talent for invention."
"Maybe I can invent something about you, Draco." Neville's voice was surprisingly threatening.
"Don't even think it, Nevvy." Draco's was truly frightening in its coldness. "You pretend to have power, I truly do. I don't think you'd like to live the way Snape is these days."
"What did the authorities say?"
There was a heavy silence. Molly looked at the four men. One after the other, they shrugged or grimaced.
"Who would believe us?" Remy settled back in his chair, hands folded on the table. "I'm an undependable werewolf who owes his sanity to Snape's Wolfsbane potion. Supplied to me these days by Hermione, but invented by Snape."
"I'm an ex-convict, a survivor of Azkaban, who's been pardoned, not exonerated. But, frankly, who believes me to be truly innocent?"
Molly said nothing: until this morning she too had felt that way.
"And as for us," Fred shared a look with George.
"We're the owners of a joke shop, whose funds were provided by Harry Potter. Who is, at least in public, the bosom pal of Neville Longbottom."
"Jealousy," said Molly.
The twins nodded.
"So you took it upon yourselves to..."
"Right a wrong." Remy stood up. "Severus Snape is not the most pleasant of people, but then we had a little to do with that. In our sixth year, something we did..."
"I did." Rus also stood up. "I'm old enough finally to accept responsibility for my misdeeds, Remy." He looked at Molly. "I nearly got Snape killed. One night when there was a full moon and the Wolfsbane hadn't yet been invented."
Dear Merlin! thought Molly, and hoped that her astonishment and yes, even shock were not too obvious.
Rus nodded, almost as though he knew what she was thinking. "I wasn't punished for it, not in Snape's eyes."
"Not in anyone's eyes," Remy called her attention to himself. "Done to protect me. But the lesson it seems that Snape took from that event was that his life was not important. That once more Dumbledore bent the rules for his Gryffindors at the expense of Slytherin."
"Well," Molly put on her most disapproving look, one the twins were far too familiar with, "I must admit that it would seem like that even to an outsider, Remy."
Before she could continue, Rus spoke up again. "It was one of the reasons Snape went over to Voldemort's camp."
Molly sent her `Oh, really?' glare at the man. With her peripheral vision, she could see the twins growing restless, wanting to defend their men but fully aware that they were in her house.
Remy sighed loudly. "Longbottom might have had a basis for his accusations if Snape's stomach hadn't proved to be as sensitive as it was. When he finally realized that the potions he was developing in his lab were actually being used to torture and kill wizards as well as Muggles, he went to see Albus, to turn himself in."
"Let me guess," interjected Molly. "Albus managed to convince the trial judges and the Head of the Department of Aurors that a pair of eyes and ears deep within Voldemort's circle would be of invaluable help."
"And it was," Rus agreed, a little reluctantly, Molly thought. "Until I was arrogant enough to think I was smarter than Voldemort and Harry became the Boy Who Lived."
Molly noticed that Fred reached up with a hand to cover the fist clenched by Rus's side.
Remy shook his head. "Snape's personality was never outgoing, but having to live a double life affected his humour. And that time changed him forever. Not to mention dealing for years with the continuing suspicions that Albus had been fooled by him and that he really hadn't worked for our side. In turn he became everything we'd ever accused him of being. A humourless Greasy Git. A prat. Truly guilty of making other's lives as miserable as his own. Then, when those suspicions finally settled and he might have had a chance to lose some of that reputation, Harry Potter shows up in his life and, with him, it begins all over again."
Molly sighed, thinking of the man lying unconscious in the bed upstairs. A man who had taught all of her children, including the two brats sitting at her table. He may have been strict with his students, but then he wasn't one of those new teachers who thought that education should be all fun and games. In his classes - she looked at the boys who were waiting for her response - the twins had behaved themselves. Well, to a certain point. Molly had to admit to herself that she hadn't particularly liked Snape, but she had respected his abilities. And the fact that he had been authoritarian enough to get all her boys, not just the twins, to listen and to work.
After a moment, she shook her head, "The double life, the mistrust."
"Made worse," admitted Rus, "by the fact that the other side now didn't trust him anymore than our side did."
He's an ars...a difficult man," said Remy, shrugging pardon at Molly's raised eyebrow.
Yes, indeed, they would have to watch their language around her. And their behaviour. Here she'd been thinking that at least one of them might be a calming influence on the twins and, instead, it seemed that they had found themselves partners who were a little too like them.
"But he isn't guilty of betraying us," insisted Rus.
Fred nodded in agreement. "He's the one who was betrayed."
"So," said George, "we went and got him."
The Light was what finally penetrated his consciousness.
Light. After so much Dark.
He was afraid to open his eyes, then even more frightened to realize that his eyes were open. Which was why, of course, he could see the Light.
He stared at it, finally wondering why it seemed so orange this Light that had appeared in his Dark world.
Its brightness forced him to shut his eyes, fearful that the Light would not be there if he opened them again. Fearful that it would.
In his life these past times, he lived in a Dark in which, eyes open or shut, there was no discernable difference. He had learnt the limits of his cell not from vision but from touch. He knew its dimensions, its composition from having used his hands and feet. Even when he was fed, the only reason he knew he had been was the sound of a tin plate skimming on the stone floor. He knew where to find his daily meal from the experience of carefully searching the floor of his cell on his hands and knees, afraid of missing or spilling the plate. Even when the door of his cell opened for the Dementor who would pull him off the cot and manacle him to the stool it brought in for that purpose, he still couldn't see. The Dark was absolute.
Oh, now and then, when his visitors were there, he sensed the presence of Light, but again, he had been blindfolded and could only conclude its presence from his assumption that his tormentor needed it in order to do his work properly.
But now, once he had found the courage to open his eyes, the Light remained. Orange and bright.
But why would the Light be orange? he wondered. And slipped back into sleep still wondering.
The next time he noticed the Light - still orange - he realized that the Light didn't come from the orange itself but from behind him. He'd learnt well his lessons in that Dark cell and merely accepted that fact without turning his head to verify.
Then, to the Light there was added another feature: Sound.
A voice he knew he should be listening to but since it wasn't the Voice of Pain, he preferred to concentrate on the Light, until his eyes grew heavy and he closed them once more.
"You really should try and look at me."
The Voice again. The new one. It wanted him to look at it. A direct order and he knew that those had to be obeyed, if only to postpone the pain.
With an effort that nearly exhausted him, he turned his head to the Voice and made his mind look.
A woman with red hair smiled at him. "Very good, Professor."
He frowned, wondering who this professor was.
"Would you like some broth? Chicken this time. You seemed to like it last time."
Last time? What... When...
That was far too difficult. Much easier was to open his mouth for the spoon that was making its way towards him.
And after Light, Sound, Flavour was yet another surprise.
The woman had said chicken and yes, a second mouthful certainly confirmed the flavour of chicken. Liquid, easily swallowed. Warm. With a hint of seasoning.
Not like the gluey substance that had filled the tin plate of the Dark.
He swallowed yet another of the returning spoon's contents.
Dead, he thought. I'm dead. Or this is another game they're playing with me.
He closed his eyes against that possibility and hesitated before opening his mouth for another spoon of broth.
They were giving him Light and Sound and Flavour so that he would grow stronger and then the Dark would return. And with it the pain.
He tried to prevent the whimper but it and the hot tears ignored him. So many of his body's responses were beyond his control.
He concentrated once more on finding that safe spot within himself.
"I don't know," Molly said to Sirius Black who, along with Fred, had come to see how her patient was doing. George and Remus Lupin had also come several times, all of them making it look like visits to Mother. "He regained some consciousness a couple of days ago. Very little awareness though his eyes followed the spoon as I fed him or looked at me when I spoke to him. Then, nothing."
Rus shrugged. "It's only been two weeks. Maybe that's not enough time, considering what he's endured."
Molly sighed. "There's the possibility that there may never be enough time, Rus. I think we seriously do have to consider that."
"Can we try for another couple of weeks? There's been no mention of his escape in any wizardry Media."
Molly nodded. "It makes me wonder if they've even noticed he's gone. Maybe he was left there to die."
"Well, nobody's claiming Lucius Malfoy as a victim of a Severus Snape ploy, so unless Draco's run out of money..."
The Voice was softly calling to him. The nice Voice, not the other one.
The room, he noticed, was still orange, but the colour was darker now, as though some of the Light were also darker.
It was easier this time to turn his head and obey the Voice.
"Severus, look at me."
Sev...Oh, yes, that was his name. She was telling him to look at her. So he did.
"My name is Molly Weasley," said the woman. "You taught my children. Remember?"
The woman wanted him to remember so he tried. Weasley. Weasley. Strange name. Red hair. The woman had...
"Red hair," someone said. Said what he was thinking. Not a voice he recognized. It frightened him though not the woman.
She smiled happily at him. "Yes, dear. Red hair on all of them. Do you remember? I think you only had Bill for a couple of years, but you had Charlie for most of his time at Hogwarts. Then Percy and surely you remember Fred and George?"
"Twins," whispered that other voice, once more saying what he thought.
She raised her hand to her face and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Yes, dear. The twins. They'll be delighted that you remember them. And then there was Ron and our last, Ginny."
"Yes, our only girl."
"All with red hair."
"Yes, all with red hair." And she allowed him to slip back into his world of orange Light.
The room was Dark. Not as Dark as his cell, but Dark nevertheless. It scared him. Terrified him. He had lost the orange Light and the Sound of the Voice!
He tried to move but found he hadn't the strength. He wondered who had enough strength to scream.
There was the sound of running feet and of a door - unoiled - opening.
"Severus, it's all right. You're safe. It's all right, dear. You're awake. You can stop screaming. I'm here."
And miraculously there was Light.
"Light," gasped the voice that, for some reason, caused his throat to hurt.
"Light. I'm so sorry, Severus. I should have realized. Light, of course."
And the woman sat beside him on the bed, using the corner of a sheet to wipe his face. A sheet, he gradually grew to understand, that covered him in spite of the shirt he was wearing.
Except that too was not what he had worn in the cell. It was soft and white and smelled of air and only a bit of fear.
He looked at the woman who was lighting a lamp. She'd told him her name.
She stilled and then turned to face him. "You remembered my name."
"Molly," and suddenly knew that the other voice belonged to him as the name belonged to the woman.
She nodded and came to sit by him.
"No, dear, you're not dreaming. You're safe, away from that hellhole. You're at the Burrow, our home. I doubt that you remember how you got here, but that's not important. The only thing that's important is that you're safe and you're going to get better."
That last sounded more like an order. Not knowing what else to do, he nodded.
She settled the covers about him, being careful not to touch him. "Shall I stay with you until you fall back asleep, Severus?"
And to the Sound of her voice, to a soft melody that somehow seemed familiar, he did just that.
He woke to the sound of the door opening again. It was a good sound, he decided. He liked it. As he did the smile that appeared on the woman...on Molly's face.
She set down the tray of delicious scents. "Would you like to try sitting up, Severus?"
He thought a moment and then nodded. He tried to shift his weight up onto his elbows but wasn't very successful.
"If you'll allow, I'd like to help you. I know you don't like being touched..."
How did she know that? he wondered.
"...But it would be easier for you if I could help."
He looked into her eyes and saw only kindness. He allowed his head to bend forward slightly and she carefully slipped an arm under his shoulders.
The fear was nearly overwhelming.
"Severus, look at me. See me."
And he did. It was hard but he did look at her and he did see her and the fear lessened.
She released him as soon as he had found some sort of balance so that his weight rested on his arse and not his back. She quickly piled some pillows behind him and he settled back against them with a sigh.
"That was well done, Severus. Thank you for allowing me to help you."
And the approving tone of her words filled him with a sense of victory. So much so that he didn't do more than flinch when she placed a small towel across his chest.
"You're a little too old for a bib, though I don't doubt you'll have need of one."
And with that she placed the tray on his lap. "The porridge is thinned with warm milk, but that should make it easier to swallow."
He stared at the spoon she offered and finally realized that she expected him to take it in his hand, to feed himself.
He got almost as much onto the towel as he did into himself but the sense of liberty nourished him as well as the porridge.
He wondered how he was going to be made to pay for this.
"No," she spoke strongly. "No dark thoughts. Not today. Today is for celebration."
He looked up at her, not knowing what she was talking about. Celebration? For what?
"For your being awake, for your sitting up, for your feeding yourself. Three accomplishments, Severus, and it's barely nine o'clock. I wonder what else the day has in store."
He spent the rest of the morning drowsing against the pillows. Which she saw as another accomplishment. He handled the spoon far better at lunch, another accomplishment deserving of praise. And after, he managed to ease himself down, needing her help only to pull down the long nightshirt so that it wouldn't lie under him, bundled up.
"We've just managed to get rid of some of those sores," Molly informed him. "Wouldn't do to aggravate them."
He slept the afternoon away, waking to turn onto his side and watch the pattern of shadow across the carpeted - orange - floor.
That's when it dawned on him that the orange was the colour of the carpet on the floor, of the walls, of the ceiling, of the bedspread that lay comfortably weighty on his feet, keeping them warm.
Here and there, there were words on the orange. He thought long and hard before he could decipher them. Chudley Canons.
He knew he should know what that meant. Lying in the bed, he decided that since he had nothing else to do, he would try to remember why those words were familiar.
It was only when he turned over once more with a sense of growing frustration and he noticed the people on brooms silently flying from one poster to another that the answer came to him.
"It's a Quidditch team," he said aloud. And he noticed the sound of his voice. There was something strange about it. He thought and spoke once more aloud. "It's a Quidditch team."
In his mind he compared this voice to the one he thought he should be hearing. This one was rougher, raspier. And his throat...didn't exact hurt when he spoke, but it was uncomfortable. As swallowing had been, now that he thought about it.
Ah, yes, he remembered. He had screamed a lot in the Dark. That was why his throat ached. Probably why his voice was different.
He wondered what else was different.
He rolled over onto his back and raised his hands so that they were at eye level.
Long hands. Narrow fingers. Thin. He could see the bones under the skin.
His wrist bones stood out.
As did the scars around them.
Molly found him that way, staring at his hands, turning them this way and that.
"Severus?" She spoke softly not to startle the man.
He kept his eyes on this hands. "I was tied down so I couldn't stop him from hurting me."
Molly bit her lips. She had wondered if he'd ever remember and now that he had, she wished he hadn't. It was too soon. For both of them.
She went up to the bed and saw in his eyes a battle between fear and determination.
She sat next to him, careful not to touch him. He'd screamed every time he'd been aware of her touch.
"Severus, look at me."
So far that had worked and it did yet again. She offered him one of her hands, allowing him the decision to take it. He did. Hand trembling, but he placed his nearer hand in hers.
She didn't close her own over his.
She nodded. "Yes, they hurt you. Badly, Severus. But, in the end, you won. Whatever it was they wanted from you, you didn't give it to them. What they wanted was a lie and you wouldn't lie for them."
His hand shook more but he left it there. She took that as a sign that she could close her hand a little about his and did.
In time for his to tightened on hers, painfully.
"I didn't betray anyone," he gasped desperately.
"No," she hurried to reassure him, "you didn't. You were true, Severus. You didn't betray anyone."
"You...you believe me?" Whispered doubtfully as though saying it aloud would lead to denial.
"I do. And I'm not the only one."
She said nothing but held onto his hand as gently as his crushed hers in a spurt of strength while he wept himself to sleep.
"Arthur hasn't made any kind of mention of Severus."
Molly looked at the man who was now a regular visitor at her kitchen table.
Sirius Black had been one of those wild boys who attracts all kinds of attention. Bright, handsome, charm coming out of their ears. The kind who can talk themselves out of any kind of trouble until the trouble is too serious to ignore anymore. Then they either disintegrate or turn bad.
This man had done neither. Even twelve years of Azkaban for a crime he hadn't committed hadn't destroyed him nor made him go over to Voldemort's side. He'd remained true in spite of all that. Damaged but with a sense of his old self that - strangely - made him a good partner for her wildest son.
Rus drank too much, played too much, but he had learnt when to stop. Maybe a little later than she would have liked in Fred's mate, but within tolerable limits.
George had always been the one to pull back first from any adventure, to remember things such as consequences, even if he did occasionally decide that they were worth enduring for the fun of the moment. The quieter of the twins - well, in proportion, quieter - his choice of Remus Lupin was still a little more surprising than Fred's.
Remy was truly quiet, a reader, a thoughtful man who had learnt to enjoy the simple things as they had been all he could afford. A man who enjoyed her son as much as he loved him. A man who brought out all the good things in George - his gentleness, his kindness, his humour and, yes, even his intelligence.
No matter what complaint she and Arthur had endured about the twins since their birth, a lack of intelligence was not one of them. Misuse of this intelligence, yes, but never a lack.
"Do I come up to snuff?"
Molly blinked and was slightly embarrassed to realize that she had been staring at the man sitting comfortably back in his chair. She met his challenge right on. "Yes, you know, I think you do."
And was delighted to see Sirius Black blush.
She was kind to him. "Arthur," she said, "knows about our visitor. He's been to see him several times, always when Severus is sleeping. It bothers him that he didn't see what now seems so obvious. So far I've managed to convince him to remain silent but Arthur truly dislikes injustice."
"You organized this rescue, didn't you?"
He cocked his head at her, neither confirming nor denying.
"To make up for James and Lily Potter."
He couldn't hide the pain that flashed through him. Molly reached out her hand to give his arm a reassuring squeeze and changed the topic. "I'd be happier if you drank less, Rus, because I think that's not a good thing for you or for Fred. But I think that the two of you will eventually find what you're both looking for and neither of you will need that any more."
Rus cleared his throat. "And what is it that we're both looking for, Molly?"
"Your own place in the scheme of things." She stood up. "Remy is happy to deal with the bookkeeping side of `Wheezies'. Numbers are nice concrete things, dependable things, and he likes that. Which is a good thing, considering how `ungood' the rest of you are with things such as budgets and finances. George loves developing new jokes. As do you and Fred. But one day, that won't be enough for the two of you."
"You think we're going to leave the others in a lurch?"
He sounded too neutral, which told Molly that he was feeling offended.
"Never! But one day I think the two of you are going to use those brains and that imagination you both have and make Arthur very happy by inventing things that have a bit more of a serious base than jokes."
"Jokes," said Rus, a little insulted on behalf of `Wheezies', "are serious business."
"Yes, they are. But after a while they'll grow stale. You'll find something else to play with and our world will benefit."
Rus coughed, once more covering up his embarrassment.
Molly shook her head: had no one ever set expectations on this man's shoulders? Wild boys needed someone to impose standards, even at his age. Well, it wasn't as though she hadn't any experience in that.
"Do you think I can see him when he's awake?"
Molly allowed him to shift her thoughts. Severus barely recognized himself. She would find him staring at his hands as though not understanding they were his. But he needed a little stimulus and maybe...
"Let me go up and see how he is."
How he was was out of bed, panting either from fear or exertion - probably both - on his knees by the window. She'd kept the curtains drawn back because the presence of light seemed to soothe him. He almost needed to nap after sitting up on his own, but there he was, propped up against the window sill, staring at the view.
He turned startled and lost his balance, falling face first to the floor.
Rus was suddenly behind her. He stepped around to go help Severus up but she grabbed him in time. "Don't touch him. It makes him scream."
Rus stopped, his eyes reading hers,then nodded. He approached the man who was lying on the floor, breathing heavily.
"Severus," his voice gentle and unthreatening as he crouched, just out of the man's reach. "You're still the stubbornest cuss I've ever met."
The head slowly lifted as though far too heavy for the slim neck. Black saw confusion replacing fear in the dull eyes.
That got to him. The dullness. Severus Snape had been a pain in the arse since he'd met him when they'd been all of eleven, but his eyes had always been his best feature. Dark, bright with intelligence, with his disdain for what he saw as lesser intelligence. They'd met once while both of them were working undercover and those eyes had been alive with the danger of their activities.
"Hey, remember me?" He kept his voice light.
The confusion grew and then something clicked. "Black."
Rus grinned. "Very good. Now then, Severus, do you intend to spend the rest of the day on the floor or would you like someone to help you up?"
And he offered his hand.
Snape's response was a shudder and Rus allowed his hand to drop to his knee. "Molly would like to help you up. Would you like her to help you?"
Snape was biting his lips, trying to control the responses of his body. He closed his eyes and tried once more to get at least to his knees.
Careful not to touch him, Molly spoke by his ear and he turned towards her.
"Severus, what were you trying to do, dear?"
Rus could see the effort it took to be aware of her, to focus on her, to answer her. "See if this is real."
He managed to lift himself up to his elbows which shook and finally bore his weight. Molly's hand was there and, though he couldn't prevent the gasp of fear, he leaned into it. She understood and helped him to his knees. She let him catch his breath and then, with her help, he made it up to his feet.
He looked up, gasping in air, and noticed Rus watching them from the doorway. Snape kept his eyes on him as Molly led him to the bed and he sat down suddenly on the edge. She stood by him, hands ready to help, as he caught his breath.
Rus grinned at the man who looked as though he had run a marathon. "Hello, Severus."
"You must be real because I have no reason to dream of you. Do I?"
"None in the least. Is that a problem for you, dreams and real-ness?"
Snape didn't answer, concentrating instead on getting his body to stop trembling.
Molly draped a light shawl over his shoulders. She would need to change his nightshirt as it was wet with sweat, but it was obvious Snape needed to be calm first.
Rus carefully sat cross-legged on the floor by the door. "So, Severus, why wouldn't this be real?"
Molly glared at him over Snape's head, but Rus ignored her. Somewhere in that long bag of bones was the man who had juggled a double life, who had the intelligence to create a potion for a werewolf who had once nearly killed him. Molly would take care of getting him well, he would try to get that brain functioning again.
"Severus," he insisted, but very gently.
"He liked...to play...games."
Rus could feel the anger rising in him but he kept it out of his voice. Not out of his eyes, but then Snape wasn't watching him. He was staring at his hands clasped tightly on his lap.
"Games? Somehow, Severus, I don't think you truly thought of them as games. Because for you they weren't." He took a breath to shove the anger down. "Molly here doesn't approve of games. You must remember how angry she was when Ron and Harry used the flying car to get to Hogwarts, instead of the express. The boys thought it had been a roaring good adventure and all the students in the school talked about it for a long time. But Molly didn't like that. Do you remember what she did?"
Molly went to say something but Rus raised a hand, stopping her. He gestured to Snape.
His face was wrinkled in concentration. He was trying to remember what had happened.
Molly sat on the chair she kept by the bed and waited with Rus as Severus's hands slowly released their grip on each other, as he stretched out the long fingers as though easing some cramp.
"A Howler. She sent Ron a Howler."
The head lifted and...not a smile, more of a twitch than a smile...but there was a definite lightening of expression on Snape's face.
Rus grinned back at him. "I understand he opened it at the table."
Snape gave a slight nod. "Very angry."
"Yes, she was. All because someone had played a game. So, you see, Molly would never play games with you. She would never allow anyone to play games with you either."
Snape thought on that for several minutes. They allowed him the time in silence. He looked up from his hands once more, face expressionless. Rus had to lean forward to hear the words, they were so softly spoken.
"I don't like the games they play there."
"No," Rus agreed, almost as softly. "I didn't either."
"Word is out that Snape's disappeared."
Molly looked from her preparations for the evening meal to her husband who stood in the doorway of the house.
She snorted. "Took them long enough to notice. It's been over six weeks."
Arthur nodded and, with a sigh, hung up his cloak and dropped his briefcase on the table. "The Ministry's going wild. There are rumours all over. All whispered, of course. No one is supposed to know of this so, of course, everyone does." He sighed. "Well, not everyone. But you know what I mean."
Molly casually poured him a cup of tea and fixed it for him.
"Thank you, my dear." He took his cup with one hand and then took hold of her now free hand with the other. With a smile, he kissed the palm. "I love you, you know."
Molly pretended to scoff. "After all these years?"
Arthur nibbled at the base of her thumb. "Has it been years?"
Molly smiled and bent to kiss his mouth. Arthur was worried. He always told her he loved her when he was worried. It helped him somehow.
"I think we should have `Wheezies' over for supper. Why don't you call them?"
"Molly. Is he able to travel?"
"He'll have to be."
He'd have to be, she thought, whether he truly was or wasn't. If word was out then they had to move him to a safer location.
He was doing better. He still flinched if someone came too close. She was still the only one who could touch him without the fear overwhelming him, but he was getting better control of that. He still had long periods where he seemed off in another world, but those too were lessening. Not fast enough, but once she had thought it might never even happen. But who knew how a move would affect all this progress?
Physically, he was stronger. He ate well, though not much at any time. She insisted on several small meals a day and he humoured her. He could walk about the room though he never ventured further out of it than the upstairs bathroom. Once, she had indicated that he should come downstairs. The exercise would do him good, she'd thought, and the change of scenery. It was a good day and he seemed strong. But he never managed that first step.
He was terrified of leaving his safe haven.
And now he would have no choice.
The four men who joined them took the news seriously.
Not a state in which she had often seen her sons, though she and Arthur had noted that they were more focused of late, even more so than when they had left Hogwarts and set up "Wheezies".
George sighed. "We knew that one day they would realize that he was missing."
Fred helped himself to bread and then offered it around the table. "We were very careful to leave no trace. But we all knew that at some point the hunt would be on."
Molly winced at that "hunt".
Rus closed his eyes on the first mouthful of her version of Irish stew and he made a small, appreciative sound. Molly wondered if he was even aware he did that whenever the men joined them for meals. Severus did the same thing, without the sound effects, his eyes often closing with each mouthful, as though savouring the taste. She doubted that the food in Azkaban was good for anything other than keeping a body alive.
"I know of a place where he'll be safe," Rus said. "It's off Isle and a fair distance away. I have a portkey coded for it."
They all looked at him. This, thought Molly, was news not just to her and Arthur.
Rus shrugged. "I have a cousin who's been labelled the family black sheep. He left our wizardry world behind many years ago, for his version of Muggle life. He invested in something that skyrocketed and when he sold, he was rich. Muggle rich. He cruises about the South Pacific on his boat and, though he's ancient by Muggle standards, he passes because he never stays particularly long in any port.
"Right now, he's based on some atoll, sitting in the sun, drinking whatever he drinks these days, and fishes while his capital collects interest. It's where I went after I got away, before the Triwizard Tournament fiasco. Severus will be safe with him. And it's warm there. I was always cold when I got out of Azkaban and I finally warmed up there."
"Who knows about this cousin?" Arthur was torn. He wanted Snape out of his house for fear his presence would be discovered, and then he and his family would be accused and possibly convicted of harbouring an escaped convict. But he also believed the man was not a traitor and that there should be some way of clearing him.
Molly patted his arm.
Rus thought a moment. "I do. Maybe one of the very old cousins but he left almost a hundred years ago. I do because I heard my grandparents talking about him once. He interested me when I was a child. Someone the family disapproved of. I owled him a few times and he answered on the condition that the correspondence between us remain a secret. We both liked the idea of putting one over the family. When I got away, I knew I had to gain back my strength and thought of him. He was very welcoming."
"Will he welcome Severus?" Molly worried.
"I think so. I'll portkey down with him to make sure."
Molly explained to Severus that it was time for him to leave. She went over the reasons why, his safety and security being the prime ones, but she doubted that he believed her. He lost what little animation he had and sat, eyes once more focused on his hands.
Black came to explain to him where they were going and how. Snape looked as though he were listening, but Black also had his doubts. Six weeks had not nearly been enough to recover from what had been done to Snape. But they truly didn't have much of a choice.
Snape accepted the clothes Molly lay on his bed and slowly put them on. He had begun to wear clothes - real clothes, not the shirt and trousers that he'd been given in Azkaban - instead of his nightshirt these days.
There, he'd thought it. Made himself say the word softly so that he could hear it. "Azkaban."
And sought the safe spot deep within himself.
He stood, head bowed, waiting for Black to return with the portkey, a small knapsack containing a change of clothing, two nightshirts and a bag of food at his feet.
He looked up and found Black in front of him.
Black took a step towards him and Severus forced himself not to step back. "Yes?"
"Just tell me. Are you returning me to Azkaban?"
Black looked stunned. "No!" Then calmer, "No, Severus. Why would you think that?"
"In revenge for the time I tried to have you sent back. I remembered that," he added as explanation. He was remembering more and more these days.
"No." Black shook his head. "I don't want any revenge for that. It took me a while but I understood why you wanted me sent back. You didn't believe me innocent."
"I didn't care."
Black sighed. "Leave it to you to suddenly rediscover your argumentative self now," he muttered. Louder, more firmly, he continued. "No, not then. And there was no reason to. Neither to care nor to believe. You were still very angry at the trick I played on you. The one that nearly got you killed."
Black got as close as he could to Snape without his panic-fear of being touched skyrocketing out of control. "Yes. A stupid game. But I don't play games like that any more. I know now how much they hurt. And I don't want to hurt anyone that way. Besides," he stooped and, picking up the knapsack, tossed it over his shoulder, "Molly would kill me if I hurt you." He offered Snape the small grey sock that was the portkey. It was so small that their fingers had to touch.
Snape took a deep breath, fortifying himself. He reached out and took half the small sock, shuddering when his fingers did indeed touch those of Black.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"I'm sorry, too," said Black. "Shall we go?"
Snape's fear was obvious. Bloody hell, thought Black. But then so was his courage.
He stepped touching-close to Black and nodded, ready to accept whatever awaited at the other end.
Black watched as Snape's eyes closed against his rising fear then he said the words that activated the portkey.
"We're here. You can open your eyes."
Rus looked around the beautiful lagoon that had been Sylvester Black's domain for the last dozen years or so. Snape's stillness made him look back.
"Severus. It's okay. You can open your eyes."
But something was wrong. Horribly wrong. Not only was Snape not opening his eyes, he was trembling, more and more with each passing second.
"Severus? Severus, stop that and look at me."
"Please," whispered through a mesh of fear and despair, "you said you believed me."
"I do. Severus..."
"Not here. Not again. Please, I...I can't." The fear was upgrading to terror with each word.
From behind Snape, the door of the house opened and a man stood in the doorway, watching them.
"This isn't Azkaban, Severus." Rus's sense of helplessness in face of Snape's growing terror made him snap, "What the hell makes you think it's Azkaban?"
Snape's terror was frightening, all the more so as he stood, body shuddering, head bowed, shoulders hunched up as if braced for a blow or more concentrated pain. Rus thought he had never seen anyone this terrified still under some kind of control.
"The salt." Whispered timorously in a resigned voice that cut through Rus. "I sm...smell the sal...salt in the air."
Fucking shit, thought Rus, then forced himself to calm and speak gently. The last thing Snape needed right now was his overreaction.
"Yes, we're by the ocean, but if you can smell salt, you can also feel the heat. Was Azkaban ever this warm, Severus? You have to open your eyes to see the light." Without being aware of it, Rus placed his hand on Snape's shoulder, offering encouragement. "The light here is incredible, Severus. Unlike anything else anywhere else in the world. Come on, Severus, open your eyes. You found the courage in yourself to accompany me, now find a little more to open your eyes."
It was a discernable effort, as though fighting against some spell, but Snape slowly raised his head and opened his eyes.
Rus remembered visits when Snape's eyes had been open but unseeing. "Don't just open your eyes, Severus. See."
Snape blinked against the light. He squinted his eyes against the glare of the sun.
"Didn't I tell you the light here is unbelievable?" Rus tried to find Molly's soothing tones. "See the greens of the foliage? Nothing that colour back in Britain, never mind Azkaban. And look to your left. See the water? Water in the North Atlantic is grey, not blue. Hell, that's not blue, that's turquoise. Have you ever seen its like anywhere? And the ground. Look at the ground we're standing on. It's sand. White sand."
Rus watched Snape's face intently as the grey faded and some interest began replacing the abject terror in the eyes. With his free hand, Rus dared brush back the hair that had fallen forward covering Snape's face during this small setback. "Not Azkaban, Severus. No matter how much you and I disagreed and argued, I would never do that to you."
The eyes found his face, searching for something. A small nod...a very small nod. A whispered, "Sorry."
Rus shook his head. "No. I understand. You trusted us to support you and we didn't. Hard to trust anything we say or do after that. Arrogant stupidity on my part that I never thought of it."
Snape closed his eyes, working on getting his body to still. With a flash of his old self, he muttered, "Am I suppose to protest that?"
Rus laughed aloud. Keeping a hand on Snape's shoulder, knowing that if he removed it Snape would have a hard time accepting its return, he slowly steered the man over to the porch. "I'd like you to sit and look at the colours for me. Can you do that? Careful now, step up. And another. And still another. I can testify that this rocking chair is very comfortable. Spent hours in it myself when I first got here."
And Snape allowed himself to drop into the deep rocking chair that sat on the porch overlooking the white sand, the turquoise water and the green foliage on the hill that jutted over the lagoon.
They were both startled when a large bird, brilliant with a rich yellow and blue plumage settled on the railing of the porch, its long tail nearly touching the floorboards, and took a good look at the two men. Rus recognized his cousin's macaw, the one he used to carry his messages: owls were not native to the area.
"Scurvy dog," said the bird.
Snape was surprised. "It talks," he spoke with only a hint remaining of his fear.
Rus just grunted. "This is Fiji. He's a macaw. Ignore him."
The bird ignored Rus, shuffling along the railing until he got a good look at Snape who was watching him with eyes that were a little more alert than they had been.
"Who the hell are you?" asked the bird.
Snape blinked but answered. "Severus."
The bird snorted like a pig. "Funny name."
"Fiji, be polite." The voice was not young, but was very, very soft in the air.
Snape just watched the bird now preening himself as though he hadn't heard the admonition.
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