He looked into the eyes of the man who was speaking to him, his voice a harsh whisper.
Eyes that were black, that were filled with palatable hunger. With intense loneliness.
The loneliness made him hesitate.
"Please, I beg you. Don't do this to me."
The despair in those last words always shocked Bill Weasley awake from that particular nightmare.
He sat up in bed, shook his head slightly and looked around, orienting himself.
Not in Egypt. Not in his home there, but home in Britain. In a bedroom that hadn't been his for a long time. Mind, the room was always there for him should he need it.
He pushed back the covers and slipped out of bed. The floor was cold and he shivered, but barely noticed, still caught in the grip of the nightmare.
Funny that: of all the nightmares he could have of the recent war, that one haunted him the most.
He reached for the dressing gown he always brought to his parents' house. His nudity wouldn't bother them but there were others staying over in the house, in preparation for the day's funeral service. He went down the stairs, automatically stepping over the seventh step down, the one that creaked, and went into the kitchen where he quietly made himself a pot of tea.
He remembered to double the amount of leaves he added to the pot. He was used now to a stronger brew than his mother served. On the sites where he worked, the Goblin cook, who started the tea in the morning, added heaping spoons of the stuff to the pot throughout the day so that, by afternoon, a cup of tea could dissolve the patina of centuries off a brass coin. And he knew that for a fact: he'd done it.
As he waited for the pot to steep, he patted his pockets, looking for the narrow case. He was sure that the last time he'd had this dream he'd put on this dressing gown. Ah, yes, he had.
He poured himself a large mug of tea then stepped outside. His mother really hated seeing him smoke so, when in her house, he went out to the garden. He knew she could smell it on him, but at least she didn't complain about the smell in the house.
The cigarillos were a newish habit. He'd indulged now and then before the war, but since, they had become a necessary part of the ritual he engaged in to dispel the memories of the dream.
Only tonight, rather this morning – the horizon was discernable – neither the tea nor the smoke worked. Probably because Bill knew that he'd be seeing him there, at the funeral.
Who the hell would have thought the old man would have survived the war, the battles that exhausted men a quarter of his age, only to have fallen asleep in his chair at Hogwarts, never again to awake.
Bill lit a second of the thin cigars.
Voldemort had been eliminated – he still didn't know all the particulars – about six weeks ago. The few remaining Aurors, along with the remnant of the Order of the Phoenix were still cleaning up the last enclaves of Death Eater resistence. Not that there were many left alive. The Aurors were merciless in dealing with the Death Eaters who had engaged in a murdering rampage during the last days of the war. Voldemort, concerned with other matters, like the new powers Harry Potter was developing, had dropped the reins on his followers.
Bill had no longer been part of the main defence force by then, his deal with the man of his nightmare. That if he would stop volunteering for the most suicidal of missions, Bill would return to the Goblins, who were battling on their own front. Missions Bill was certain the man took because, one night, whilst on a mission of their own, Bill had finally made his move and kissed the man. Who had, for one brief moment, kissed him back before pushing him away.
"No. No. Please. Please, I beg you. Don't do this to me."
Bill pinched out the tip of his cigarillo and tossed the butt into the garden where he hoped his mother wouldn't find it.
The nightmares, he'd finally figured out, were caused not by the rejection, but by the fact that Severus Snape had begged.
The funeral was well attended in spite of the possibility of rain. Bill and all of his family were there. They'd been lucky: apart from scars and their own nightmares, the family had survived fairly intact. One of the rare few who had. Of course, Percy might never be able to leave St. Mungo's, but he was alive, happily writing and rewriting a report on the thickness of imported cauldrons.
Bill made the rounds, nodding to former schoolmates, greeting old friends, mentally making note of who wasn't there. They all carefully avoided mention of family members or friends who'd passed.
Minerva McGonagall gave the eulogy. She made it through with only two interruptions, which allowed her to catch her breath and wipe her tears. She was right, though: Dumbledore would have hated the funereal atmosphere. They should be celebrating his life, not mourning the end of it.
Only they were all too used to the mourning. Maybe, thought Bill, in a few years' time, they should hold a memorial service for the Headmaster, in the manner of which he would have approved. But not today.
He scanned the "family" side of the gathering, composed of Hogwarts' remaining staff, and couldn't find the one man he'd been hoping to see. His heart suddenly ached: had something happened and no one had thought to mention it to him? Not that any of his family knew about that night and its rejection and wanted to keep the news away from him. Rather because they wouldn't have thought of it. Snape was not a particular favourite of theirs. Harry Potter was part of the family and he doubted that the boy's relationship with Snape had improved much. One thing about Weasleys, they stuck up for their own, be they biological or adopted.
He was turning away, ready to follow the others to the funeral pyre, when he found what he'd been looking for: a tall, thin man, his cloak wrapped tightly around himself, watching from the shadows of an alcove. Bill stopped, ignoring the people who grumbled as they made their way around him.
He wasn't the only one who had spied Snape. Poppy Pomfrey, her wimple fluttering in the light breeze, suddenly broke ranks with the staff and hurried up to him. He ignored her, his entire focus on the casket being borne on the shoulders of six wizards and witches especially selected for the honour.
Bill watched as she placed her hand on Snape's shoulder, speaking to him. Snape didn't seem to be listening. His head turned, following the procession and then, when the casket had passed from view, he moved, so quickly that Madame Pomfrey staggered back.
There was something wrong. Something very wrong. As Madame Pomfrey began running after Snape, who had disappeared inside a near-by door, Bill ran to join her.
The door was by a staircase that led to the dungeons. As he ran down, Bill could hear Madame Pomfrey calling after Snape, her voice uncharacteristically fearful. He literally jumped the last dozen steps to the hallway floor.
The door to Snape's office was open. Panting from his sprint down the hallway, Bill hung onto the doorframe, suddenly terrified to make a wrong move.
"Severus, please. Listen to me. It will be all right. Severus. Please!"
Bill saw her kneeling next to the man hunched over on his knees, head bowed almost to the floor.
"Never all right," croaked Snape, his voice barely recognizable. "Never...no matter what I do...all the blood...all the deaths...how is this all right?"
"Severus, please. You must let me help you."
Snape's hysterical laughter shocked Bill.
"Help me? Help me? In Merlin's name, what bloody use would that be? Would it bring Albus back? Would it make up for..."
And the laughter segued into a keening that made it hard for Bill to breathe. After a quick check to verify they didn't have an audience, he stepped into the office, closing the door behind him. Pomfrey looked frantic at the madness evident in Snape's cries. He'd curled in on himself, a ball of trembling despair.
Bill saw Pomfrey wipe her eyes as she fumbled for her wand. He stepped up to her, his wand already in hand. "Stupefy?"
She looked up, startled, and then shook her head. "Sleep. As deep as you can make it."
"Somnus profundissimus!" Bill listened as the sounds gradually faded and the body slumped onto the floor, still curled, but with noticeably less tension.
"Thank you. I should have been ready for this, but with everything else, I..."
Bill helped her up and over to the chair that sat behind the large desk. He looked around and found a small tea pot. With another wave of his wand, a line of steam wound up from the spout. He finally had to resort to "Accio cup!" to find one so that he could pour the distraught medi-witch some of the tea.
"Chamomile," she sniffed appreciatively. "Thank you, Bill. And thank you for dealing so promptly with Professor Snape."
Bill shrugged off her thanks, more interested in the man on the floor. He crouched and, with gentle hands, turned him over onto his back. It took him a good moment to get the words out. "What's wrong with him? He looks like...death warmed over."
Madam Pomfrey blew her nose. "I could give you the long diagnosis, but in short, apart from exhaustion, he's suffering from survivor's guilt. And it's killing him."
Bill looked up from his examination. Snape had always been thin, but now he was emaciated. The bones in his face stood out in stark relief: there was no flesh on them. His clenched hands were boney, his wrists...
She placed the cup down on the desk and clasped her hands on her lap. "He eats barely enough to keep himself alive. I don't think he sleeps much. It's not just the nightmares. I can help him with that. Merlin knows, he made enough Dreamless Sleep to keep us sane in the last weeks of the war. It's just...he doesn't care. I thought he was getting better there, after Voldemort's death. Albus finally caught on that Severus was beyond exhaustion and sent him here, to see to it that everything would be ready for the start of the school year. 'We have to get back to normal as quickly as possible,' he kept saying."
She paused a long while before taking up again. "There were people who thought that putting a former Death Eater in charge of restoring Hogwarts was...unacceptable. That he...Severus was not to be trusted."
"The only good Death Eater is a dead Death Eater," offered Bill.
She nodded. "So, of course, instead of resting, of just having to oversee the work as Albus had planned, Severus... They wouldn't work under him. They didn't understand. The wizards and witches who could be spared to help here were not those who had been truly involved. They didn't know what he'd done. All the times he put his life on the line to get some..."
She reached for her handkerchief again. Her voice was muffled behind the material, but her anger was not. "For some tiny bit of information that, when combined with yet another even tinier bit, gave us what we needed to defeat Voldemort. But no, all the idiots could see was that once Severus had borne a Dark Mark on his arm...the bloody thing isn't even there any longer. It disappeared when..."
Bill stood up and went to crouch in front of her. He took one of her hands in his and slowly chaffed it, warming it up. "So Severus Snape, being Severus Snape, did the work all on his own?"
She nodded. "Basically. The house elves did what they could."
"And now that Albus Dumbledore is dead?"
She sighed. "It didn't help that Severus was the one who found him."
Bill chewed his lower lip. "Are they accusing him?"
"It's so ridiculous. Not the Minister, of course. St. Mungo's did a thorough autopsy. Not because it was Severus who found him. It's the law when a wizard dies alone. You know that, don't you?"
No, he hadn't. But he nodded just the same. It seemed to calm her.
"No, Albus's heart just stopped beating. He was, after all, over 150. But you know how some people are."
"What is Minister Pendragon going to do?"
"Well, right now, he's telling people that he has other priorities, but at some point, if it doesn't die down..."
Bill nodded. He went back to stand by the man on the floor. After a few minutes, he said, "What if Snape weren't around any more? Say, he was off isle." He turned his head to look at her. "Say, with me, in Egypt."
She sat back in the chair. "Out of sight, out of mind?"
Bill nodded. "And from what you've said, I would think that a change of scenery may be of help to Snape. I'm scheduled to be dealing with several new burial sites in the next year or so. In fact, I should be there now. I only came back for the funeral. I could leave a note for my parents that something's come up and I have to leave immediately. They'll send my things back for me. I doubt that anyone saw me come in here and I always have my portkey on me. Goblin regulations."
She thought a bit then nodded once. "Yes. All right. I'll give you a list of the potions that should prove useful in his recovery." She reached for the paper and quill on Snape's desk. "Assuming, of course, that you can get him to take any of them."
"Won't his classes miss him?"
Madame Pomfrey looked up. "Classes had just begun when Albus died. Now that Minerva is Headmistress, that'll be her problem. I'll inform her where Severus is. I'll leave it up to her who else to tell."
Bill portkeyed them back to his house near the Muggle city of Luxor. There, in the magical enclave set up by the Goblins, he watched as Severus slowly came out of the sleep he'd imposed on the man. Bill hadn't expected to be greeted with open arms, but the horror on Snape's face took him aback. That, followed by silence, refusal to take any of the potions or any food led Bill to consult with Gorkopol, the Goblin he'd worked with for some fifteen years now. The Site Manager agreed to intercede with his medical staff on Bill's behalf – not the usual course of operation as non-Goblins had their own medical personnel. Somehow Gorkopol convinced the Goblins' head physician to come out to the house and examine Severus.
The arrival of a medically trained Goblin took Severus by surprise. Enough so that the physician was able to complete his examination of the man before Severus could do more than glare at him. The Goblin merely glared back, unimpressed by the look that had sent years of Hogwarts students scurrying for the nearest bolt-hole. The physician looked over the potions, shook his head and grumbled, "Who the hell thought up these things? Quackery at best!"
It seriously worried Bill that Severus did not respond to the calumnies cast upon his beloved potions.
Out of Severus's hearing, the physician inquired why the hell was the wizard not taking the potions. When Bill explained that he refused to, the Goblin rolled his eyes, muttered a few choice words about the idiocy of non-Goblins in his own language, in which he knew Bill was fluent, and said, "Then don't ask him. You're a wizard. Make him take them!"
"Force him? Against his will?"
"Well, the bloody things won't do him much good in a bottle, now will they?" Then he sighed. "Well, even if you are our best Curse Breaker, I suppose it would be expecting too much for you to have the sense of a Goblin." Bill, used to the ways of Goblins, tried to look very humble and thankful. The physician sighed even harder, obviously feeling much put upon. "My assistant will see to it. I assume he'll have to come every time? Yes, well, three times a day until we see improvement. Which I doubt we will with these potions. I'll add some of my own. Might be interesting how they affect a non-Goblin."
Bill wisely never inquired what happened when the assistant arrived and closed the bedroom door behind him. In fact, coward that he was, he saw to it that he was busy at work the first few days when Goblin and Potions Master butted heads.
All he knew was that, after a week, though Severus still refused to talk to him, he was eating and sleeping, looking less and less like a walking skeleton each day. And that the assistant was teaching him to play Goblin chess, a form of the game that made Wizard chess look like child's play.
Bill supposed he'd finally been forgiven when one night, about a month after being spirited out of Britain, Severus suddenly said, "Who knows that I'm here?"
Bill looked up from the paper work that was the bane of his profession and pretended he wasn't stunned. "Madame Pomfrey indicated she would tell Headmistress McGonagall, who would then decide who else needed to know."
He watched as Severus continued to play with the Goblin chess figures, pulling his fingers away just in time to avoid being bitten.
"Whose idea was it?"
Bill sat back, his hands playing with the quill. "Mine."
"And this bracelet. Does it have a purpose?"
Bill caught a glimpse of the wide solid silver band that encircled Severus's right wrist. "It's to prevent you from apparating. It was the condition under which the Head of Reclamation of Goblin Antiquities permitted you to remain here with me. He didn't want me getting sidetracked, should you decide to take off. By the way, there's a Goblin tracking spell on it as well, just in case."
All he got was a slight nod, but the barrier between them seemed to have somehow been breeched and, though not loquacious, Severus did answer if now spoken to. He showed some of his old self only once, when the house elf in charge of Bill's residence replaced his black clothing with looser white garments.
When Severus demanded his clothing back, the physician's assistant, who was studying the chess board, began muttering an old Muggle song under his breath. "Mad dogs num Englishmen go out num num num num sun." In a snit, Severus used his wand to transform the clothing into something that more closely resembled his regular suit. The trousers now buttoned at the ankle, as did the cuffs on the tunic that ended at mid-calf, closed from neck to hem with a long series of small buttons.
Thus armored, Severus began venturing out.
The Goblins appreciated that their Wizard partners were not as adaptable as they were to any environment. So, they found it easier and more convenient to move their employees' residences, complete with contents, from site to site. By then, they were working at the burial tomb of some high priest the Muggles were bound to find within the decade. It was up to the team to remove all curses set on the tomb as well as any magical item that might be dangerous to the Muggles. The Gringotts Goblins had negotiated a treaty some two thousand years earlier, giving them the right to reclaim any magical item or treasure. They had less than kind words to say about the ancestors of the then local Goblin population, who had been less proprietary of such items. Their own philosophy was what fell into Gringotts hands stayed in Gringotts hands.
Severus began working with the team quite by accident.
Ashkentag, a Goblin Egyptologist, was elderly and his eyesight was not what it had once been. He hated relying on others for help in identifying the small details he was no longer able to see, even with the thick spectacles he wore. One day, Ashkentag had been blustering away at his assistant, a young Goblin newly sent out by the Head to gain experience, about his inability to write clearly and properly. Attracted by the shouted deprecations of the youth's ancestors, Severus had picked up the scroll and a quill and proceeded to rewrite the list itemizing the latest finds from the tomb. When Ashkentag saw what he was doing and pulled the scroll away from him, the Goblin was amazed to find he had no trouble reading it.
The youth suddenly found himself assisting the head digger and Severus now worked with Ashkentag. Together they identified just how valuable and/or dangerous certain ancient magical items were. Several of the older Goblins on the team were astonished when Ashkentag, with reluctant willingness, actually allowed Severus to borrow some of the catalogues he'd created over the years so that he – a mere wizard! – could study them.
Bill staggered out of the tunnel that led to the burial chamber. He leaned against one of his helpers, coughing for a moment, then straightened up. His men patted his back, one or two called out the local equivalent of job well done. Gorkopol shook his head, growling, "That was close."
Bill looked over his shoulder at the orange smoke leaking from the tunnel and shrugged. "Well, it was set by a Master. Whoever he was. And before you ask, yes, I did make notes. I'll write them up clearly so we can add them to the manual. We're bound to meet up with that wizard again before this site is done. That curse was far too tricky for it to have been a fluke."
Gorkopol merely nodded, grunting, but after all these years Bill could tell that the Goblin had been worried. With a nod of his own, he clasped Gorkopol's shoulder, his usual way of offering his thanks. He'd learnt that Goblins were not much for 'emotional outbursts', as they called them, but would accept a physical gesture. He and Gorkopol had worked out a system of communication that satisfied both of them.
"They've been working outside since you went in," Gorkopol said, knowing what was on Bill's mind. Bill looked over to the now open tent that housed the sorting and identification area of the site. He nodded and slowly strolled over.
In deference to the sun, Severus Snape was wearing a straw fedora-type hat on his head. Right now, that head was bent over a pot that had been brought out the previous day when Bill had broken through the first set of curses. Ashkentag was sitting patiently, waiting for Severus to identify some marking.
Bill stopped when a Goblin hailed him about some information he needed to get on with the work. As he went over the next steps with the Goblin, Bill kept an eye on Severus.
"Definitely Early First Dynasty."
Bill smiled as he dropped into the vacant chair between the two. "Good to know. That was the first time I've encountered that particular kind of curse. Should make it easier to deal with the next set, now that we definitely know the time period."
Severus looked up and his eyes flicked to the burn that glowed orange on his upper cheek.
Bill's grin was rather lopsided. "Ricochet," he explained. "I nearly didn't turn in time."
Severus's hand rose, as if of its own volition, and the fingers hesitated near the wound.
It was the first time ever that Severus had made a gesture towards Bill. He held his breath, wondering where it would lead. When Severus noticed Bill watching, he quickly dropped his eyes and pulled back his hand.
"Be more careful next time," growled Ashkentag. "We don't have the time to train a new Curse Breaker up to your level of expertise."
Severus's head snapped up from the scroll he had pulled towards himself. Bill caught the flash of worry in the black eyes.
"I'd miss you too, Ashkentag," Bill said with a laugh, though he still held Severus's eyes, "if anything happened to me."
Ashkentag scoffed, turned back to his dictation and had to repeat his sentence as Severus seemed not to have heard him the first time.
Bill left them to it, humming a tune popular from his school days.
The man looked up from a document he was translating.
"Could I bother you to examine why the burn doesn't seem to be responding to this salve?"
Bill knew he was taking a chance but, hell, it had been five months and he hoped this afternoon's gesture actually meant something.
Severus looked at the jar Bill handed him as he dropped into the other chair at the small table, slouching on his tail bone as he usually did. Casual, he told himself, keep it casual.
"I would need to see the burn," Severus frowned at the salve. Bill was delighted to oblige him. He sat up and leaned over. Severus's fingers slipped under his chin so that he could angle Bill's face to better see the burn.
Bill stopped himself from swallowing. Nothing to distract from the feel of those cool fingers against his warm skin. Nothing to scare them away.
"There seems to be some residue of the curse on the burn. Have you washed it properly?"
"Yes." Bill watched as Severus's face came within kissing range. No, down boy. Casual, one step at a time.
"With the usual potion. The one we use for cleaning all curse burns."
Severus let go his face with a small "Hmph!" and stood up. Bill watched him leave the room for his bedroom with a pang of loss. Well, at least the man had touched him. It was progress. Severus came back with a small green bottle and a handful of cotton batt. As though it was nothing out of the ordinary, he sat down, moistened a ball of the batt. "Lean over again. I think you'll find this potion is a little better formulated for burns of any kind."
Meaning it was one of his own. He'd begun working on some in the evenings once the house elf had vacated the cooking area. Nothing special, just the kinds of potions that a household needed and that Bill kept meaning to purchase and then forgot.
It was cold against the heat of the burn and Severus used up all the batt he'd brought before he was satisfied that the burn was properly cleansed. Bill knew that once the heat had left it meant that the burn was ready for the salve. But Severus never asked him and he didn't offer.
And he didn't ask for Severus to spread the salve either but he did, carefully dabbing it over the area, millimetre by millimetre, until Bill could feel the healing begin. And then he did it again, as if to make certain he hadn't missed any part of the burn.
Bill was very careful not to stare into Severus's eyes which were close enough for him to distinguish the black iris from the nearly as black pupils.
"There, that seems to be working now." Severus's voice was husky as though...
Bill caught the hand before it had moved an inch from his face. Severus went very still, his face freezing.
As Bill slowly brought Severus's hand to his mouth, he kept hold of the man's eyes, watching for any nuance of response other than the now blank expression in them. He turned his head slightly, placing his lips against the inner wrist of the tightly clenched hand. He could feel the blood coursing through the thin skin. With the tip of his tongue, Bill slowly traced the now risen paths of vein, sensing the faster rhythm of the blood as Severus's heart quickened.
He allowed it, Severus did, for less than a minute before his eyes warned Bill that he had gone far enough. He removed his mouth just as Severus pulled back his arm.
As Severus went to rise, Bill's hand grabbed the arm again, forcing him to sit back down.
"Why, Severus?" Bill was proud of the fact that his voice remained calm. "Just tell me why? You were kissing me back that night." Severus's body shuddered once and then stilled. His head was bent so that his eyes were on the table with its small mound of dampened batt, the green bottle, the still open jar of salve.
Bill moved so that his face was close to Severus's. "You pushed me back but you weren't repulsed by my action. Is it because you didn't want me? Is it me? You can tell me that, Severus, I won't freak out. But I don't think that's it. I could feel your heart racing just now. So just tell me why. Please."
For a moment he thought Severus was going to pull away. Stand up and tell him, in the oh so dulcet tones of the classroom, that he was a fool. That he was imagining things.
But the moment passed and all Severus did was tug slightly with his arm. Bill released it right away. And waited.
Severus sat back in his chair and, eyes on the table, he swallowed audibly. Bill sat back in his, still waiting.
Severus finally looked up, around the room, anywhere but at Bill. He wrapped his arms around himself, a gesture that seemed so part of him Bill only now noticed that, without the long sleeves of his teaching robe, the gesture was more one of self-protection than arrogant disdain.
"I..." Severus had to clear his throat. "I am cursed."
Bill wasn't certain he'd heard correctly. "Cursed?"
All right. This was not what Bill had expected. "What makes you think you're cursed, Severus?" He kept his voice from expressing incredulity. He was certain Severus had been cursed by the hundreds of students who had passed through his classroom, but he didn't think that was the kind of cursing Severus meant.
Severus closed his eyes, his chin rose. "I was cursed by Voldemort." His eyes opened and he looked at Bill. "I assume that your mother told you that I had, at one time, been part of his entourage, not as a spy for Albus, but because I believed in his objectives."
Bill licked his lower lip. Okay. Quagmire time. Go carefully, me lad, this is serious. "Actually, she didn't. Harry did, when I kept volunteering to partner you on those missions we took on."
That slightly mocking smile made an appearance. "Yes, he would. He's very protective of anyone bearing the Weasley name."
"I asked him what that had to do with the matter. I told him that I trusted you and I liked working with you. That I always enjoy working with masters of their profession. And then I told him to mind his own fucking business."
Severus blinked at that.
"Go on, Severus, you were telling me about the curse."
"Ah, yes, the curse." The wall opposite seemed to have suddenly become quite fascinating: Severus's eyes never left it. "I joined Voldemort right after leaving Hogwarts. The reason is not important. I don't defend myself. I was young, angry and incredibly stupid. And I admit being attracted to Tom Riddle as he sometimes still called himself."
Bill, who had only ever seen the new Voldemort, barely restrained himself from cringing.
"At the beginning, we were all captivated by him. And we showed it. He loved the attention. Loved that we hung onto his every word, revelled in his attention. We preened for him, in variety of ways. I created my best potions for him, working like a dog, hoping for a tidbit of approval from him."
Bill kept his face from showing any emotion: there was enough disgust in Severus's voice that he didn't need to add his own disapproval.
"He liked more than that from us. He liked us in his bed." Severus turned so that his eyes, blacker than darkest night, captured Bill's and held them. "Women, men, it didn't matter to Voldemort. And he had, on the whole, a rather attractive group of devotees. Beautiful women. Handsome men. Even beautiful men. And he took his enjoyment of them, one after the other. Until, eventually, he ran out of beautiful people and came to me. His potions lapdog."
Bill winced at the self-hatred. "Severus..."
But the man continued as though Bill hadn't spoken.
"Only by then I was less enamored. I was beginning to doubt, which had led to questions whose answers made me very uncomfortable. I'm rather certain that those questions were among the reasons Voldemort invited me to his private rooms that night. I'm sure he thought that one night of fucking and the lapdog would be happily wagging his tail again."
Bill shook his head, wanting this to stop, unable to prevent Severus from continuing.
"He was very good in bed, I'll grant him that. I learnt so many things about delaying orgasm until the act was truly a small death. But he didn't get what he wanted from me. He wanted all of me. Not just my devotion, not just my talent. He wanted my entire self: my body, my mind, my spirit, my heart. My love. And I could not – would not – give him that. No matter how many orgasms he gave me. So he cursed me."
Bill got up and went over to the cabinet where he kept the brandy. He took his time pouring out two portions, absorbing what he knew Severus probably considered to be blows to his desire for the man. Instead he thought he now knew why Severus had been so dedicated to the battle against Voldemort. But it was not the time to go into the reasons that Severus had originally felt drawn to Voldemort. There was a curse to deal with.
He placed Severus's drink on the table when he didn't unwrap his arms from his chest. Bill sat on the chair and took a sip of the brandy, hoping it would wash the taste of Severus's revelations out of his mouth.
After a minute, Severus sighed loudly and reached for his brandy.
"How does the curse work? Do you know?"
Severus nodded, staring at the amber liquid. "It causes the...recipient of my attentions to become...revolted."
"No. No, I must feel something for that person. A warm emotion. Something like hatred doesn't interfere. In other words, I can rape, but I can't... I can't make love."
For some reason that word made Bill's heart lighten up. He swirled the brandy in its glass. "How does the curse make itself felt? This revulsion."
Severus didn't answer. When Bill looked over at him, he finally placed his glass down. "It will be easier to understand if I show you."
He stood up and came around the table. He placed his hands down on the arms of Bill's chair and leaned over. Before he took Bill's mouth, his eyes darkened but Bill knew that was not with desire: it was fear.
He remembered the feel of Severus's mouth from his dreams, but he'd forgotten the reality of it. Severus placed his lips against Bill's, lightly stroking as though asking for permission to move this further. Bill opened his mouth, the tip of his tongue inviting Severus in.
The kiss was everything Bill had every imaged it would be had Severus not pushed him away that long-ago night. Severus's mouth was warm, wet, his tongue silky. But he also felt a sense of desperation on Severus's part, as though he were trying to wring every possible sensation from the kiss before 'something' happened.
Bill liked kissing. He liked taking his time, exploring and tasting his partner's mouth. He tried to get Severus to slow down but...
When it happened, it took him completely by surprise. One moment he was savouring the taste that was Severus, the next his mouth was filled with...
Severus pulled his mouth away and grimaced. He coughed and managed to gasp out, "That's what I mean."
Merlin! Bill wanted to scour the taste out of his mouth with the roughest brush and the strongest soap he could find! The foulness that filled his mouth was indescribable. Bloody hell, any more and he'd have been puking his guts up.
Severus went back to his chair and sat, eyes closed.
Bill forced himself not to go running to the bathroom for the toothpaste and mouthwash. If his mouth tasted this... "Severus, do you taste it as well?"
Bill made himself get up slowly. He went to get the brandy and picked up a bowl before coming back to the table to refill their glasses. "Take a mouthful, rinse and then spit it out, Severus. Don't swallow."
The taste must have been stronger in Severus's mouth because he rinsed much longer and, in fact, did it twice to Bill's once before he wiped the spittle off his lips. Bill sat down with the bowl in his hands and smelt it. Overlaying the bouquet of the brandy was another odor. He sneezed.
"Who has the ability to remove the bracelet?"
Bill looked up from his contemplations, lost in another world. "Huh?"
Severus had his arms wrapped around himself again. "The bracelet needs to be removed before I can apparate from here."
Bill blinked, forcing his mind to return to the room. "I don't understand. Why do you need to apparate?"
Severus's eyebrow rose though the mocking look he tried to inflict on Bill was a far cry from his usual. "To leave this place."
Bill slouched in his chair, hands still holding the bowl. "Running away, Severus?"
The mask suddenly dropped and Bill saw the man he'd found in the dungeon office, ready to break. "I have discovered...the hard way...that it is better to run away than to be kicked out. There is only so much revul...rejection even I can take, Mr. Weasley."
Bill placed the bowl on the table and rose to go kneel at the side of Severus's chair. "You expect me to let you go after you've finally admitted that you're attracted to me." It was too soon for the word love.
Severus's eyes held years of bleakness. "You've had a taste, a mere hint of what happens, Mr. Weasley. I saw your face when the curse made itself known."
Bill grinned. "Well, Severus, it's a good thing that it did. It will help a great deal."
Too quick a change for Severus. "Help?"
Bill suddenly laughed. "Dear Merlin, Severus. Have you forgotten? I'm a curse breaker! Remember!"
Severus sipped the brandy Bill had handed him, holding the glass between his two hands.
Bloody hell, thought Bill, had the man had hope so beaten... No. He'd hinted at what had happened. So kicked out of him that the mere thought of being rid of the curse had sent him to the toilet to heave?
If he ever got his hands on the fucking idiots... Pity Voldemort was dead. But the person who had left that impression on Severus...if he were alive...
He forced himself to calm down: this was not going to help the man sitting on his bed, trembling with reaction.
Bill knelt and looked up into Severus's deathly pale face. It was white, the eyes a dull black. Damn, he hoped the man was not going to go into shock on him. He placed his hands over the other's cold ones and slowly brought the brandy down from his mouth. He took the glass out of Severus's hands, setting it on the floor next to him.
"It's going to be all right, Severus. Trust me."
Severus stared at his hands now clasped between Bill's. "Please. Don't do this to me."
"Don't do what, Severus?" Bill kept his voice gentle, recognizing the despair from his dreams.
Severus only shook his head.
"You don't think I can remove the curse, is that it?"
A nod so short that he nearly missed it, even close as he was.
"Well, I think I can. I'll need a little more information from you, Severus, but I think I know what he used on you. I've read about this curse, in some of the older Goblin manuals. It's an ancient curse, but then that is my area of expertise."
Severus head came up slightly. "You think you know...?"
Bill nodded. "I have to admit that what I read didn't prepare me for the taste and the smell, but we are dealing with Predynastic curses here. Those are always rather more physical than later ones. I'll have to read up on it but Gorkopol never moves without our manuals, so it's only a matter of a little research." He reached up and brushed the hair off Severus's face. "So, old Voldie was into really ancient history, was he?"
Severus shrugged. "I really don't know. I didn't understand the language he used when he cursed me."
"Would you remember it if you heard some?"
Another shrug. And a shiver.
Bill moved his hands onto Severus's shoulders. He thought back to what he remembered of Predynastic curses. "Rîa shwy mnd rûah Nimmuarîa wshb nfr ysh..." The words had an immediate affect on Severus: he nearly jumped out of his skin. Bill shut up and handed Severus the brandy, helping him hold the glass to his mouth. When Severus took a deep breath and exhaled, saying, "Sorry about that," Bill said, "Well, now we know what we're dealing with."
"Well, can you deal with it?"
Severus had been very unfocused the whole day, so much so that even Ashkentag had commented on it. He'd snapped back, his behaviour taking the Goblin by surprise. So much so that Ashkentag mentioned it to Gorkopol who, in turn, mentioned it to Bill.
Bill had had to spend the morning breaking a particularly tricky unexpected curse that had turned one of his men into a toad. Then he'd had to supervise as one of his assistants, a witch from Beauxbatons, had practiced changing the man back, a transformation that had taken her several tries. He'd finally gotten to his research after lunch, when all work stopped in respect of the noon-day sun. Finding the actual basic curse hadn't been that difficult: Goblin resources were cross-referenced to death. He'd gone back to it at day's end, more to double-check his findings and familiarize himself with the nuances. He was always a cautious man when it came to breaking curses, but this time it was more than work: it was personal.
Bill looked up from the evening meal their house elf was serving and nodded. "I can. But the removal of this curse is a two man affair."
Severus met his eyes. "What do I have to do?"
"You have to want it to be removed."
Severus closed his eyes. His snort of laughter was anything but humourous. "I want, though I have learnt in life that what I want counts for very little."
Bill looked at the plate of lamb, roasted exactly as he liked it, and realized that he had no appetite. He lay his fork down and sat back in his chair, eyes examining the man across from him, who was also showing no interest in his meal. "And you have to trust me."
Severus shrugged slightly. "I think the fact that I placed my life into your hands when we went on missions would indicate that I do."
Bill smiled: Severus had almost sounded like his old self there. Still, the next bit might undo that. "I have to touch you and you have to hold still while I do so."
Severus's eyes went dull again, his voice reflecting his hopelessness. "If you know this curse as you say you do, then how can I allow you to touch me?"
Bill cocked his head. "According to the curse, if taste doesn't stop the lover, then touching the skin of a person cursed causes the lover's to flare up in horrible, burning lesions."
Severus, eyes bleak, nodded.
Bill put as much confidence as he could in his voice. "Won't be a problem because I know the right way of going about this."
He held Severus's eyes as he waited for him to make up his mind. "Severus, I am not underestimating what touch does. I would not submit myself to that. Not even to uncurse you. But I do know what to do."
After a moment, Severus shook his head slightly. "You'd better. Ashkentag and Gorkopol will both kill me if anything happens to you. And I doubt that it would be a quick death."
Bill, understanding the need for a little less tension, laughed in agreement. "Slow and very painful. Especially since we're only about a couple of days' curse breaking from the main burial chamber."
Severus managed a very weak smile, but it was a smile nevertheless.
Bill stood up. "I don't think we should put this off any longer."
Severus nodded. "Where do you want me?"
They went into Severus's bedroom.
"I want you to lie down on the bed. Make sure you're comfortable."
Severus looked at Bill, a hint of a smile on his tense face. With a voice that reminded Bill of the Potions classroom, he asked drily, "Do you also want me to remove my clothing?"
Bill grinned. This was more like it. "Eventually that would be very nice. Especially," he allowed his voice to dip into the lecherous, "if I were to remove mine as well."
Snape's eyebrow rose high.
Bill countered that with, "But for right now, I want you as you are."
He watched as Severus lay down flat in the middle of the bed. Bill grabbed the pillows and tossed them to the floor. "I'll just remove your boots, if I may. They don't need to be on and you'll be more comfortable with them off." He was careful not to touch Severus's skin as he unbuttoned the cuffs and pulled off the half-boots Severus favoured. They'd already activated the curse once: Bill didn't think it would take much to get it functioning once more.
"Comfortable?" Bill sat on the side of the bed.
"Yes." Said softly.
The Muggles were right, thought Bill: eyes are windows to the soul. And Severus's soul was right there for him to see.
Bill took the time to go through his own pre-curse breaking rituals, forcing aside all thoughts and emotions that might interfere with his work. He focused on calming his heartbeat and turning up his senses. A lot of curse breaking was trial and error. A good breaker depended not only on previous experiences, but on what has happening in the here and now.
And though Bill hadn't mentioned it to Severus, the curse Voldemort had used was itself a variable. Many Predynastic curses were all-purpose. Change a word here or there and you had a slightly different curse. He trusted, he hoped not arrogantly, in his own abilities and skills, but didn't think it was something Severus needed to know. Right now he needed the man as relaxed as possible.
"Before we begin, I need you to be honest with me, Severus. Since the curse comes from you, you'll know if it reactivates before I do. You need to tell me if it does. Just a word. If it's a strange taste, or a sensation of heat, or anything else. I think you may know what I mean."
Severus had been staring at the ceiling. He turned his head so that he could see Bill sitting facing him. "Yes. I know what you mean."
Bill told himself that after this was over, he might not ask Severus about the man, but he would certainly do his best to wipe any memory of him out of Severus's mind.
"Because this is a heart curse, we have to work from the left, from the extremities inward. I want you to keep your arm as relaxed as possible. If you experience any reaction, no matter how faint, you need to tell me immediately." He picked up Severus's left hand from where it lay near his hip and placed it palm up on his own palm, resting them both on his lap. "And no matter what, don't use any Magic. Can you do that?"
Bill looked over and found his comrade in arms, his former Potions Master looking back at him. He nodded and got down to work.
The curse itself was not a very difficult one. The problem lay in the pronunciation of the words used. Unfortunately, there was no one around to help him correctly say words that had been last spoken by a wizard over five thousand years ago. He could only hope that the previous day's experiment meant that Voldemort had learnt it from a Goblin source as he had. If Bill's pronunciation corresponded with Voldemort's, then this should be a fairly simple curse to break.
He took out his wand and placed the tip near the fingers that lay lax on his lap. Before he began, he looked up and smiled at Severus whose face was bare of all emotion but whose eyes blazed with determination.
"Remember, if you feel anything that you shouldn't, you have to let me know right away. It won't break my concentration. I swear."
Amazingly, Severus seemed to relax while Bill felt the tension within him rise at this sign of trust. Hell, if this didn't work... Hell, if it did and Severus didn't want him...
He forced all that out of his mind then took a deep breath steadying his hands.
The way to break Predynastic curses was simple: the words had to be said backwards. There was a problem right away.
He looked up. Severus's face had lost all colour and sweat was dripping off his clenched jaw.
A lot, thought Bill, removing his hand from Severus's so that their skin no longer touched. He had to push aside a flare of panic. What the hell was he doing wrong? Predynastic curses weren't the convoluted affairs of later dynasties. You just recited the...
"Severus. What name did Voldemort use when he cursed you?"
"Name?" Severus was still battling the pain the attempt at breaking the curse had awakened. Bill wanted to touch him, to offer him his strength in dealing with it, but he couldn't. Not now that he had done something wrong and turned the curse into something that was attacking Severus. He forced himself to remain calm.
"Yes, name. He had to curse you in his name for it to work. What name did he use? Voldemort? Riddle?"
Severus swallowed audibly, eyes closed, face frowning as he tried to find the answer to Bill's question.
"Relax. It'll be easier if you can relax, luv."
"Did he use his full name or just Tom for the curse?"
Severus grimaced as he panted. Bill wondered if there was more than pain, if taste explained the continued swallowing. Or was it the memories of that time, leaving their own bitter taste?
"All right. Relax, Severus."
After that, it was rather anti-climatic, all things considered. He resettled Severus's hand in his, and began rebreaking the curse, with the proper name this time. Immediately Severus's breathing calmed and Bill could feel the tension leave his body. The tip of his wand followed the curse back, down the middle finger, across the palm of Severus's hand, then his wrist, slowly up the arm to the shoulder and then down again to his heart.
"Ahh!" Gasped, as in surprise.
Bill glanced from the wand to Severus. There had been no more pain since he'd gotten the name right, but Severus must have felt the last of the curse break and leave him.
There was a long minute of silence as Severus dealt with that.
"How are you feeling?"
Severus chewed his bottom lip as he thought. "I never knew... It wasn't...pain. It felt...more of a heaviness. I never even realized that's what it was."
"He made it part of you. Unless the curse was activated, you weren't supposed to feel it or know it was there, not really."
"And it's gone?"
Severus, ever the doubter. He'd kept his people alive during the war, doubting all information, never taking anything as a given. Checking and double-checking sources. No wonder he'd worn himself out.
"Yes. Shall I prove it to you?"
Bill dropped his wand and picked up Severus's hand. He brought it up to his mouth and turned it that he could nuzzle the palm. The curse had had to be initiated, which explained the minute delay before the curse had begun taking full effect.
Severus's hand trembled but he didn't try to remove it. Bill flicked his tongue, licking away the sweat gathered in the folds. When nothing happened, he moved his mouth to Severus's wrist, feeling the heat, the racing of blood under his lips.
He raised his head and leered openly at the man lying there, eyes suspiciously bright. Bill lowered his head once more, eyes still holding Severus's, and dropped his open mouth onto the tight cuff. The garments Severus wore were of a loose linen weave. Bill exhaled through his mouth, his breath heating the material and the skin under it.
Severus's arm twitched but stayed where it was.
Bill slowly made his way up Severus's clothed arm, sometimes just exhaling, other times pressing his tongue against linen until it was wet with his saliva. He spent some time at the inner elbow, warming and wetting the sensitive skin there.
Severus gulped audibly and wriggled a little on the bed. His eyes grew darker. But not with fear. He began chewing lightly on his lower lip.
Bill slowly stretched out alongside of Severus, never removing his mouth, never letting go of the eyes that he was certain were encouraging him. He rested his body just a little on Severus's, knowing that the man needed time to absorb the breaking of the curse and the feel of another's body so close to his. Bill turned his attentions to the upper arm, to the biceps that flexed spasmodically under his lips. When he reached the shoulder, he raised his head and looked back at the wet trail he had blazed.
"I first noticed you in the halls," Bill rested his head on Severus's shoulder, turning it now and then while he spoke to nuzzle a spot on Severus's collarbone or on his neck, just above the tunic collar. "All that nervous energy. All those rumours in the Gryffindor common room about your skills, your knowledge of the Dark Arts. I found you fascinating. Slytherin though you were. Are."
Severus scoffed quietly but, other than that, remained still though, when Bill placed his hand over Severus's heart, he could feel it beating faster than it should.
"I liked watching you play Keeper. Not many managed to get a Quaffle past you. I even cheered for you: not, of course, when you were playing Gryffindor."
He looked up just enough to catch Severus's hint of a smile. He propped his chin up on the collarbone and sighed. "Of course, you didn't notice me. You were a high and mighty seventh year, more concerned with N.E.W.T.s than with a lowly, miserable first year."
"Such," said Severus, his voice a little rough, a little condescending, "is the way of things."
Bill nodded and found that his teeth could make themselves felt through the linen. He nipped, not hard, just enough to get a reaction.
"I admit to not thinking of you at all during the years that passed. That, too, I suppose," he teased, "is the way of things. But then came my seventh year and, lo and behold, old Humphries had retired and we had a new Potions instructor. A young man who crackled with even more of that nervous energy."
Bill looked up again. Not particularly good memories for Severus, he guessed. He'd taken his life in his hands to surrender to Dumbledore. Had suddenly faced a new career as a double agent at the same time as he took on some 300 students who were, at best, only six years his junior.
He smiled at Severus, not hiding his admiration. "Merlin, you were a bastard from the first day. The snark, the snarl, the cutting sarcasm. I was in love with you by the end of that first class."
"A masochist, are you, Mr. Weasley?" Mind, said a little breathlessly.
"No, Professor Snape. Just someone who appreciates the intelligence necessary for the quick, witty riposte. And, yes, I gave you extra points for the sarcasm. And, damn it, Severus, you were good. Not just at that, but you were a master of Potions and you demonstrated it at every turn. I hadn't been very interested in the subject, but with you, it was addictive. You...you sparkled..."
Severus snorted, obviously disagreeing. Bill punished that with a stronger nip and Severus winced slightly, only raising that haughty eyebrow of his in complaint.
"You sparkled with barely restrained energy and, though we didn't say it in your hearing, we all knew that you were not the ordinary, common garden variety Potions instructor. I learnt things in that class that I still use.
"And I loved watching you. Whether you were demonstrating how to make the perfect whatever it was you were teaching us or stripping the cockiness off one of my classmates. I had the most erotic dreams of your hands on me, your tongue..." Bill grinned at the flush that pinked Severus's cheeks. "You have no idea how hard it was to behave in your class. I wanted nothing more than a chance to get you alone, have you assign some detention so that I might be able to approach you. But I was Head Boy and Mum would have been devastated if that position had been taken away from me.
"She must have known that the Twins would destroy whatever decent reputation the Weasleys had garnered before them."
Bill laughed. "They felt they had to make up for Percy." Then he lost the laughter. "Shit, poor Percy." Bill dropped his head again and Severus's left arm came up, a little awkwardly, to settle across his shoulders. "The family changeling."
Severus said nothing, but his arm offered comfort.
"Severus, what would you have done if I'd made a pass at you back then?"
"Probably the same thing I did when you did. I'd already been cursed by then."
"Hmph. I wish you'd have told me the reason that night."
"I had other things on my mind. Priorities that were far more important at that time."
Bill nodded. He sighed, then tried for a sad, pitiful voice. "Yes, I suppose a war was rather more important than Bill Weasley's boners."
Under his ear, he felt the laughter Severus was trying to repress.
"I did notice you, you know. Back at Hogwarts."
Bill tilted his head back on Severus's shoulder so that he could see his face. "Really?" He tried to keep his delight to himself, not very successfully if he went by the expression in Severus's eyes. Hell, he hadn't known the man could laugh with those eyes. So much to learn. Thank Merlin he would now have a chance to do so.
"Really. Hard to miss a Weasley." His free hand went to the end of the long, red braid and picked up the end, giving a little wave with it.
"Do you like freckles, Severus?"
His question caused Severus to blink. "Freckles? Frankly, Bill, I've never had occasion to spend much time thinking about such things."
Bill ignored the fingers that were undoing the tie at the end of his braid, instead, watching his own as they slowly worked their way down the buttons of a tunic. "I'd like you to do so, Severus, because, you see, I'm covered in them. Thousands of them."
"Thousands?" Severus paused in his loosening of Bill's braid. "Do I detect usual Weasley exaggeration?"
Bill glared. "Weasleys do not exaggerate."
"Then I shall have to count them, shan't I?"
Bill cocked his head as though considering the offer. "That sounds like a very good idea. You know, Severus, I've often wondered exactly how many there are."
"Then let us hope something doesn't happen to make me lose precise count. I would then have to begin counting them all over again."
"Yes, indeed," said Bill, rising onto his elbows to take his lover's mouth. "Precision is very important."
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